Horrific Healing

"Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places." – H. P. Lovecraft

Nuit Noire (Black Night)

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Olivier Smolders is a more or less unknown director from the Democratic Republic Of Congo that, to this date, has only one full-length feature film under his belt: the marvelous, Kafkaesque Nuit Noire (meaning “black night” in English).  I read about this particular film some years ago in what I presume to be an ad in Rue Morgue (I can’t quite remember) although it wasn’t until very recently that I actually came across a copy to add to the collection.  I am quite a fan of Franz Kafka and have been ever since I read The Metamorphosis when I was a lad although I’ve noticed that, despite his popularity in existential circles and elsewhere, it seems his influence on film has been minimal; or, perhaps it is better to say that there are only a few films I have seen that actually possess an atmosphere and aura that would be considered wholly and undeniably Kafka.  Nuit Noire, along with the likes of Soderbergh’s grossly underrated Kafka (ironic, huh?) and Polanski’s The Tenant, is one such rarity to have Kafka written all over it.

The horror elements in Nuit Noire are light at best but they’re there enough for me to justify writing about this little gem here at Horrific Healing.  While one cannot expect gallons of blood or aggression, there is an abundance of both subtle perversity and darkness (figurative and literal) throughout the film’s duration to appeal to most seasoned horror fans out there.  The dialogue throughout the picture is minimal, the tapestry of its cleverly simple yet highly metaphorical narrative instead being woven by all kinds of arresting imagery and wonderful cinematography that definitely wouldn’t be out of place amidst a David Lynch feature.  I mentioned that the narrative itself was highly metaphorical although it is also worth mentioning that the imagery is highly open to interpretation as well which, depending upon the kind of film-viewer you are, could be a positive or negative thing.  Nuit Noire, very much like the aforementioned David Lynch’s Eraserhead, is highly open to interpretation and meaning.  I personally adore this kind of filmmaking since it allows me to integrate my own interpretations and thoughts into the experience of the film without being necessarily told what I am watching, why I am watching it and how I am to logically go about the film’s content.  Nuit Noire captures this particular spirit of filmmaking perfectly.

All-in-all I was quite impressed by Nuit Noire and wish that I could get my hands on some of Olivier Smolders’ shorts because he seems to have a lot of promise as a filmmaker.  If you’re a fan of Kafka, Lynch, the arty side of horror or just art films in general, I can only recommend the immersive Nuit Noire to you in highest regards because it’s definitely worth seeking out despite its obscurity.  A surprising and wonderful gem!

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The Wicker Tree

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I imagine some of you have seen This Is Spinal Tap and, in relation to that, all I really want to say about The Wicker Tree is “shit sandwich” but, in an attempt to keep a certain level of quality to my blog, I will elaborate a little bit.

The Wicker Tree is the second part of what is apparently going to be “The Wicker Man trilogy” which unfortunately means that we’re in for yet another modern disaster exploring the themes explored so eloquently and poignantly in the first, then stand-alone film The Wicker Man from 1973.  I am all for the triumph of paganism over Christianity and, in The Wicker Man, we’re given more than a few handfuls of witty, intelligent and spirited heathen ideology that are truly a delight to behold.  The Wicker Tree, despite having the pagan sentiments, offers no new perspectives or ideas and, on the contrary, offers the same perspectives and ideas in a much less convincing and engaging fashion.  The pagan community deserves better, no doubt.

The characterization throughout The Wicker Tree is wretched.  We follow two predictable soon-to-be-wed-and-high-on-the-might-of-God southerners on their trip to Scotland (of all places) to spread the glory of God.  Yeah, the premise is ridiculous, I agree.  Granted, the deaths of said folks could have been satisfying if the film was orchestrated in such a way (I mean, after all, how couldn’t one be cheering with the heathens as the officer was torched in the first film?) but, instead, we’re given anti-climatic, unphilosophical killings that aren’t even creative or gruesome.  When the male of said couple gets eaten (quite literally) I can think of no other word than “cliché” since the scene is shot like one you’d see in any number of the dismal, subpar zombie flicks that come out by the dozens nowadays.  As for the girl’s death, well, heh, it’s perhaps the definition of anti-climatic but hopefully you’ll never find out why because you’d have to sit through nearly every minute of this atrocity to get there and it’s most definitely not worth it.

What can I say?  This film sucks and it sucks hard.  If The Wicker Man was Kill ‘Em All then The Wicker Tree is Load; If The Wicker Man was the original Psycho then The Wicker Tree is the remake … you get the picture: garbage.  I passionately adore the original The Wicker Man, it’s one of the greatest and most inventive films to come from the horror genre and is seeped in a spirited, pagan passion that one rarely, rarely sees in cinema and The Wicker Tree, for all intents and purposes, is its antitheses.  Avoid The Wicker Tree at all costs no matter how curious you are; I could have gone to the dentist or gave myself a swirly but, instead, I watched The Wicker Tree and now I am full of resentment and regret.  A shit sandwich not worth eating!

Subspecies

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Vampires films, despite a few of them being amongst my all-time favorites, usually suffer from either a lack of understanding of the Slavic origins of the vampire or a strong desire to be hip and profitable.  Whether it was The Lost Boys then or Twilight now, vampires have been frequently transformed into suave heartthrobs and successful socialites which, of course, is about as far off from their grim origins as one can get.  I enjoy the vampiric aesthetic quite a bit so even I like some of the hipper offerings of the genre (namely Interview With The Vampire, Let Me In and The Lost Boys) but, at the end of the day, I see them for what they are.  Anyway, I guess I went off on a little tangent there but, to get to the matter at hand, we’re discussing Ted Nicolaou’s 1991 effort Subspecies.

Subspecies, despite being rather campy and corny overall, manages to capture the essence of the vampire rather well.  Our antagonist isn’t some guy in a leather jacket who has used too much hair gel, he’s an ugly-as-sin wretch whose desires are misanthropic and, as they say, evil.  Despite this, however, Radu Vladislas (the vampiric antagonist) still manages to be seeped in too much corn syrup due to his general posturing, verbal expressions and, yes, his extra-long fingers don’t help matters much either.  To top it off Radu’s got some imp-like minions that assist him in his dirty work and they are like Ray Harryhausen gone bad … very bad.  These little critters just didn’t do it for me and they are perhaps the one element that strays drastically from traditional vampirism and unfortunately it’s just not a success.  Did I mention they are born out of Radu’s detached fingertips?  Indeed, it’s no joke!

All right, I’ve highlighted what I didn’t like about the film and, at this point, it probably sounds like Subspecies is substandard in every way possible, right?  Wrong.  Subspecies hit the stake right on the head in a few ways and it is these factors that undoubtedly save the film from completely falling from grace.  Subspecies was shot on-location in Romania and the Romanian characterization, honed through the use of accents and some subtle mannerisms, is a definite success throughout the film.  You genuinely feel like you’re in Romania and this kind of escapism in a movie is always more than welcome in my book.  Ted Nicolaou’s cinematography throughout the movie’s duration is also quite solid – better than you’d expect – with more than a few references to Murnau’s immortal Nosferatu shot-wise.  The subtle, quasi-pagan references are noteworthy also.

Bad script-writing, decent acting and excellent atmospherics make Subspecies something of a mixed bag.  If you’re going into this expecting something along the lines of Nosferatu or Nadja then you’re going to be sorely disappointed; on the other hand, if you’re expecting something like a Hammer studio reject than you’re definitely getting warmer.  I am a steadfast horror fan who happens to adore vampires so Subspecies, despite its numerous faults, is a flick I enjoyed well enough and is one I will probably even revisit again in a year or two; from what I understand there’s a few sequels so I may check these out in time, also.  Recommended to horror and/or vampire maniacs and no one else.

… The Silence Is Broken!

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Whew, it has been a while since I’ve come around to these parts, hasn’t it?  Life has been keeping my plate rather full as of late although thankfully I anticipate having more time and energy for my blog here much sooner than later.  I plan to spend the next few days coming up with a couple posts myself and, more importantly, reading through all of the posts I have missed since I’m sure there’s many gems from all of you that have woefully gone under my radar.  Until tomorrow, keep is bloody, raw and violent!

Five Horror Film Remakes That Are Actually Good

It’s true, I would very much like to make this list a top ten but I am hard-pressed to think of ten horror (or otherwise) film remakes that don’t suck.  I realize some remakes suck more than others and even a handful are okay (… at best) but, at the end of the day, when we’re dealing with good, well-crafted, high quality remakes it seems they’re rare diamonds amidst an expansive, horizonless rough.  There are five, however, that I think are of utmost quality and I’ve done my best to detail why below.  Feedback, as always, is encouraged and welcome!

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The Fly (1986)

David Cronenberg generally does things quite right and his 80s take on The Fly starring Vincent Price from 1958 is thoroughly spot-on.  Cronenberg modernized a woeful tale of the dangers of science and applied to it today’s generally more ambitious, narcissistic society with stunning results.  Not only does The Fly feel like a Cronenberg film through-and-through it doesn’t even feel like a remake per se making it one of the best of the best.  The ending, in classic Cronenberg tradition, is lovingly crushing and emotionally jarring and is amongst his best.

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Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers has some pretty heavy sci-fi leanings to it (very much like another film on this list) but the horrific elements stand on their own two feet well enough to make it valid for this rather short list.  While the 1978 version is certainly more visceral than the 1956 original the plot and atmosphere are both groomed to fit the original’s standards while living up to the remake’s aspirations making Invasion Of The Body Snatchers a true success.  This is often considered to be one of the best remakes around and I’m in no position to argue!

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Night Of The Living Dead (1990)

Tom Savini is a well-known name to horror fans and the one full-length film he directed that anyone cares about (after all, have you seen Chill Factor: House Call? … I didn’t think so), Night Of The Living Dead, is one of those shameless remakes that wears its original inspiration on its sleeve proudly.  One of the major problems I have with remake films is that they generally have a certain audacity about them that often makes it seem like the remake is somehow trying to trump the original and this sort of perspective is, needless to say, disastrous – some Hollywood-hired director isn’t going to be able to top directors like De Palma or Castle so, really, why even bother?  We all know why they bother, of course (here’s a hint: it starts with an “m” and ends with a “y”) but, again, the results are almost universally appalling.  Anyway, with Savini’s take on Romero’s masterpiece we’re given a film that simply tries to pay tribute to its original source material respectfully and sincerely and this is earnestly achieved ten times over.  Sure, the 1990 picture isn’t anywhere close to being as masterful as Romero’s original milestone but those familiar with the 1968 original will certainly have a blast watching Savini’s undead-laden bloodbath.

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Nosferatu: The Vampyre

Werner Herzog is not known for being a horror director and with good reason because, well, he isn’t – nevertheless, he’s an exceptional director and is perhaps one of the most talented alive today.  His take on Murnau’s legendary Nosferatu from 1922 is a truly breathtaking cinematic experience that is easily one of the most profound I’ve had.  From the cinematography to the sets to the acting we are delivered a film that is supreme on all levels and then some.  Like the Night Of The Living Dead remake, Herzog was clearly not looking to modernize or thwart the original’s legacy but, instead, to pay tribute to it and, believe me, if there was ever a success to be had from such a perspective this is a it.  A masterpiece!

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The Thing (1982)

Although John Carpenter’s The Thing could be considered in part a sci-fi picture I feel that the horror elements are more than abundant to make this a qualifiable movie for the list.  Based off of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and the literary work that inspired it – Who Goes There? by John Campbell – Carpenter took all of the buildings blocks from said film and built something truly intense, horrific and pessimistic with his unique take on a threatening, form-changing alien entity from the deep, dark reaches of the cosmos.  The Thing is universally applauded by horror fans and for good reason!  If you haven’t seen this one do so like your life and future depended on it because, who knows, our world could be next …

Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead

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Joe D’Amato is a name that is not likely to raise the eyebrows of any mainstream filmgoer, true, but those of us who spend as much time as we can digging through the archives of European horror will undoubtedly recognize the man responsible for such cult titles as Beyond The Darkness and Antropophagus.  Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead, released during what I consider to be D’Amato’s most relevant filmmaking period (1979 to 1981), is a cross between low-budget European horror and pornography.  Yup, most Euro horror movies are known for their exploitation leanings but Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead, as the title probably implies, is one to go “all the way.”

The quality of a film like this is going to drastically depend upon the reason one is watching it.  Are you watching it go get off on sex or violence or both?  I would say at least one-third (probably more) of Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead consists or either softcore or hardcore pornography whilst the rest of the film explores your usual Italian horror clichés such as poor plot development, gruesome violence and loads of atmosphere.  I, while not expecting any hardcore pornography, was certainly hoping for sleaze, atmosphere and violence and that’s exactly what I got.  If you’re looking for a horror film with any kind of substantial, coherent meaning than I suggest you not only stay away from Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead but Joe D’Amato all together as he openly admitted to sometimes putting artistic value aside in favor of producing something he felt would elicit profits.  It sounds shallow and to some extent it probably is but, then again, it was quite common in Italy during the late 70s and early 80s for filmmakers to emulate American box-office successes (something D’Amato often did) or to simply set out to make what they thought would secure some financial success so, at the end of the day, I don’t hold D’Amato’s perspective against him since sex sells and it sells well.

Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead is a one-dimensional film that is only going to appeal to a pretty niche audience, namely one looking for both sex and horror because, otherwise, there’s too much sex for horror or too much horror for sex.  I enjoyed the film’s atmosphere tremendously and felt the second-half of the film (the horror side) was more rewarding than the first, its eerie island setting being more than appropriate for the surreal, dreamlike zombie scenes that take place upon its sands.  The first half consists of sex, sex and more sex.  What more can I say?  If you’re one with unabashedly bad tastes than I highly recommend Erotic Nights Of The Living Dead to you but, otherwise, I suggest you keep your distance.  All right, now if I could only find that darn bottle cork …

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

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I recently passed up copies of both Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland that were reasonably priced and, as luck would have it, when I returned to buy them only a couple days later they were gone.  All of us horror hunters have such a tale, I’m sure, of some harder to find title we passed up that we’ve never seen again and although one can order said title online we all know it’s more exciting to actually find it at some hole-in-the-wall shop for a decent price than paying some Amazon price-gauger an absurd amount of money for a tape or disc.  Anyway, it seems that luck was on my side after all since I ran into another copy of Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (maybe it’s not as rare as I thought?) yesterday and watched it as soon as I was able, the anticipation and excitement running high.  The question remains, of course, was it worth the wait?

Okay, for starters, Sleepaway Camp II is rather different and certainly more purposefully campy and over-the-top than the original.  Whilst the original Sleepaway Camp relied more on a solid mystery plot the second film dives right into excessive sex and violence and does not relent at all … really, I mean it.  Sleepaway Camp II is 79 minutes chockfull of all the genre’s guilty pleasures with none of the genre’s substance; well, okay, the film features one overly insane moralist who only likes good boys and girls and, as you can imagine, there’s not going to be many (if any) people left standing by the tale’s end at a young adult’s summer camp where every one is fooling around with every one every chance they get.  Granted, in slasher films it is not uncommon for there to be a somewhat subtle theme of morality running throughout the film since it’s usually the teen who wasn’t smoking, drinking and being promiscuous that survives while the other ones all end up in bloody chunks but this moral theme is generally not a slasher film’s main focus.  Sleepaway Camp II, no doubt, recognized this trend in slashers and decided to take it as far as it could go with no subtlety or class.  Otherwise, the acting is actually pretty decent considering the kind of film we’re dealing with (especially Pamela Springsteen’s performance) and the gore is actually rather convincing as well.

If you’re looking for a film with any level of substance and depth I would suggest going for some Cronenberg or Lynch but, on the other hand, if you’re looking to have a good time watching a truck-load of teens getting slaughtered in a number of creative ways (how’d you like to be slowly drowned in an outhouse toilet?) then Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers is your one-way ticket to satisfaction.  There’s blood, boobs, mullets, bad jokes, shameless references to the “big three” of 80’s horror (Freddy, Jason and Leatherface) and, yes, there’s even an image of a girl on the film’s poster who never even appears in the movie … what more could you ask for?  A great, fun-filled flick that was definitely worth the wait!  Highly recommended.