Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Haunted Honeymoon – Review

Haunted Honeymoon – Review

Jan 29, 2017

reviewed by Philip
directed by Gene Wilder, 1986

I love this movie. Yes, it was nearly universally panned by critics and fans alike and currently holds a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I was captivated by it from the beginning. I found it to be genuinely scary at times (I was only 10 during my first viewing) and also found it to be quite funny. The film is certainly not able to compete with Wilder’s classic gems, such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, but there are nevertheless some wonderful “Gene” moments scattered throughout.

Larry Abbot (Wilder) and Vickie Pearle (Gilda Radner) are radio actors who are getting married. Unfortunately, Larry has been getting stage-fright that causes him unable to speak his lines correctly. They decide to get married in the huge castle where he grew up and when they travel to the site, Vickie is able to meet Larry’s family, including his great-aunt Kate portrayed by Dom DeLuise in drag. Larry’s uncle, Dr. Paul Abbot, believes Larry needs shock therapy to scare him out of his newly formed stage fright, so after letting the other family in on the secret, they begin playing tricks and stunts on Larry. Unfortunately, the horror becomes all too real when one of Larry’s cousins wants him dead.

I can remember being fascinated by Dr. Abbot’s special effects and the way they attempted to scare Larry. Lightning machines, levitation pulleys, werewolf costumes, and downright frightening masks (like the one below) kept me on the edge of my seat. Another one of Larry’s cousins, named Susan, was married to a world-renowned magician who also brought some creepiness into the film, including the ability to make his eyes glow! Throw in the fact that Larry ended up being buried alive, which has been intriguing to me since I read about magician Harry Houdini’s buried alive stunt when I was a kid, and this movie has all the right ingredients for atmospheric fun.








The cast is also fantastic. When you have Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, Dom DeLuise, and Jonathan Pryce leading the charge, you can safely assume some fun is in the works. A routine that has been done several times before in movies just so happens to be one of the best when Wilder pretends that a pair of legs that are not his own actually belong to him in order to get some police officers off his back. No one can do this kind of comedy like Wilder.

But, the movie has all kinds of flaws. The comedy is definitely cliched, there is no believability to the film, and the performances are less-than-average for this incredibly gifted cast. And yet, at the end of the day, there is just something about it that keeps me smiling. Unfortunately, this would be Radner’s final film before her untimely death.

Black Death – Review

Black Death – Review

Jan 30, 2014

reviewed by Philip
directly by Christopher Smith, 2011

Black Death is a German produced 2011 adventure/horror film directed by Christopher Smith. The movie follows an envoy of medieval soldiers, led by knight Ulric (Sean Bean), on order from the bishop of the Church to locate a remote village that has strangely been unaffected by the black plague pandemic. When the envoy stops at a monastery to ask directions, a young monk named Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) quickly volunteers to lead them to the village. His reasons are less than altruistic. Osmund’s lover, Averill, has left the safety of the monastery due to the plague having arrived there and was heading in the direction of the aforementioned village. Osmund figures this must be a sign from God that he should pursue his love and forsake the walls of a monastic life.

En route to the village the envoy encounters a young woman who is about to be burned at the stake by an angry mob for “blessing” a water well which ended up producing the arrival of the plague. Although the lady was trying to protect the village, she was nevertheless suspected of witchcraft. Osmund desires to help set the woman free and it appears that Ulric is in agreement, but after taking her off the stake, Ulric quickly slashes her throat and breaks her neck. When told by young Osmund that she “was not a witch”, Ulric explains that he acted out of mercy, since the villagers would have recaptured and burned her.

Once arriving in the forest where the village is located, Osmund locates Averill’s horse but is devastated when he also discovers her blood soaked clothing nearby. Ulric describes their real reason for being sent on their mission – the Church has learned that the village has forsook God and has turned to witchcraft. Apparently, there is talk of a necromancer living in the village, one who can bring the dead back to life. Their orders are to identify this necromancer, place him or her in a torture device, and return them to the bishop. In case you can’t tell, there is a Star Wars Episode III similarity brewing.

The two leaders of the village, Hob and Langiva, are initially very friendly and welcoming to the envoy. Langiva develops a friendship with Osmund and shows him a body they found in the forest. Sure enough, it is Averill. Extreme grief begins to negatively affect Osmund as the rest of the crew continue to discern who the necromancer really is. Osmund follows Langiva into the forest and to his astonishment and fear, watches her raise Averill back to life. He runs back to tell the envoy who have all been drugged into a deep sleep. When everyone wakes up, they are in a water pit and are told the reasons the village has enjoyed a plague free existence – they long ago renounced God and began living under the power of the necromancer. Langiva offers them freedom in return for forsaking God. They all deny the offer, except one soldier who is ultimately killed anyway (the traitor is hanged, a nice nod to the hanging of the original betrayer, Judas Iscariot). Osmund is released to spend a few moments with Averill in a tent. He notices she is unable to focus and is mentally lost. He attributes this to her being wakened from the dead and stabs her in order to give her peace. Ulric is drawn and quartered. During an ensuing scuffle, the remaining soldiers free themselves with a knife and begin to destroy the village. Langiva finally reveals the truth to Osmund. Averill was not dead, she had simply been drugged by Langiva in order to keep the village people in awe of her “power” to raise the dead. All of this finally creates such hatred in Osmund that he becomes a torturer and begins hunting down heretics in the “name of the Lord.”

Black Death attempts to ask, and perhaps in some instances answer, several spiritual and ethical questions. Does God show displeasure by sending destructive plagues? What is genuine mercy? Does the denial of God produce harmful consequences? Or is it the propagation of the gospel that is to blame for suffering? The film pits the warm hearted monk Osmund against the fundamentalist knight Ulric, but ultimately attempts to demonstrate that in the world of Christianity, the line between the two is dangerously thin. The movie attempts to show that regardless of the starting place, a life lived in the teachings and consequences of Christianity will eventually find itself bitter and alienated from anyone who might think differently. In this way, Black Death unashamedly seeks to demonstrate how the world of the 14th century and the world of the 21st century are closer than we might think. Not much has changed.

This presents an intriguing glimpse into the practical repercussions of spirituality that is based off works. With very few exceptions, the spirituality of medieval Europe was a rewards based religion where God most blesses those who most please him. Therefore, if you do good enough, God is pleased with you. If you do bad, God bumps you down a few levels on the righteousness scale. Thus, two dangers inherit with works-based religion are 1)guilt and 2)expectation. Guilt because we will always fail to keep the commands of God and expectation because when we are doing right, we expect God to appropriately respond with blessing. God becomes somewhat of a vending machine – put in the good works and we expect the machine to dispense the candy.

In that way, Black Death is correct to say that not much has changed. Despite the Protestant church’s declaration of the gospel – that we are saved by grace through faith – we nevertheless revert back to a performance based standing with God. Osmund, despite his life of devotion to God, found himself overcome with feelings of betrayal by God and anger against God because the love of his life was taken from him. The machine did not dispense the candy equal to the works given.

Where Black Death fails is in the message it was probably most attempting to convey – that religion, especially 21st century Christianity, is ultimately nothing more than fundamental hypocrites who excel at oppressing the human race. No doubt Christianity has seen its dark years and continues to cast a stain on the name of Christ through extreme groups and actions. But it is disingenuous to suggest that the actions of a small few are indicative of the whole. If Black Death is making a statement against the oppressive tendencies of the 21st church, it first needs to determine who is actually looking through too narrow a lens.

Apart from the clear spiritual implications of the film, Sean Bean is always wonderful and the direction is, for the most part, well done. There are moments when the camera could have been a bit more steady and fluid, but that is nitpicking. I found myself interested in the film, not only for the overtones of Christian thought, but also for the story itself. It’s worth a look.


Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Review

Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Review

Oct 13, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, 1949

It was the very witching hour of midnight when Ichabod pursued his travel home
The sky grew darker and darker as one by one the stars winked out their lights
The driving clouds obscured the moon from sight
Never had the schoolmaster felt so melancholy. . .so utterly alone

And with those words from the legendary Bing Crosby who narrated this timeless classic, Ichabod Crane begins his journey through the dreaded wooded home of the headless horseman.

Disney’s adaptation of  Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was originally packaged in a film called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and coupled with a version of The Wind in the Willows starring Mr. Toad. After its initial release, Disney cut the two segments to run individually. It was not until a later home video release that the two were packaged together once again in the form of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It was one of those individual showings of Sleepy Hollow that I, as a young boy, first viewed the story with wide eyes.

Disney has made a career of walking the line between funny and scary in all of its “haunted” endeavors. For the Haunted Mansion attraction lovers out there, the stories are legendary of how creators Marc Davis and Claude Coats slightly disagreed on whether the attraction should be more spooky or kooky. When it was all said and done, it seems they created a perfect balance between the two (interestingly, one of the first design concepts for the Haunted Mansion was a continuation of the story of Ichabod Crane). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow also finds the perfect balance of fright and delight. The image of Ichabod himself lets the viewer know we shouldn’t be taking this too seriously, but the build up to his encounter with the Headless Horseman is, at times, very creepy. Children will be scared just enough to keep watching, perhaps with one eye covered. Could this animated feature be a reason why I love horror so much today? Very possible.

One of the best features of Disney’s Sleep Hollow, and perhaps one of the most surprising, is its remarkable faithfulness to Irving’s original story. It is not exaggeration to suggest that this little animated feature from the Walt Disney company is one of the most faithful to the original story of any movie ever produced on Ichabod’s fight with the headless spectre. Two of the essential elements remain in this version, those being a romantic telling of the story and an ambiguous ending. Disney actually leaves the viewer wondering whether or not Ichabod survived the flaming pumpkin head being hurled at him across the bridge of safety. Such a conclusion is a rare thing for an animated children’s tale.

The visual payoff is well worth the wait in Sleepy Hollow. From start to finish the animation is crisp and effective, but the animators give us something special at the unveiling of the Headless Horseman. I’m not sure there is a more visually engaging scene in any animated feature. Although technology has certainly advanced the options for animators today, I would put Sleepy Hollow up against any modern feature in terms of its effectiveness and mood.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is the song Brom Bones sings at the Van Tassel farm during the famous Van Tassel Fall Festival (incidentally, Brom was the inspiration for the famous Disney character Gaston from Beauty and the Beast). His song occurs just before the end of the party when Ichabod would be traveling home through the forest. It takes the viewer about 6 times watching the movie to finally catch on that the background singers, mostly female, are an essential part of the song. Unfortunately you cannot make out what they are singing very well. This is significant because at one point these background vocalists sing the most important part of the story:

Brom:  “For once you cross that bridge my friends…..”
Background Voices:  “the ghost is through, his power ends.”
(Watch the video below at 3:00 to hear this part of the song)

So, without those background voices, we would miss that the Headless Horseman loses his power across the bridge. That is my only complaint with the film, although after you know what the background voices actually say, it becomes a fun part of the movie.

Disney’s version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow remains, after all these years, the best. Do yourself a favor – go watch it.

The Familiar – Review

The Familiar – Review

Oct 6, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Miles Hanon, 2009

I so badly want to like this movie. It has all the themes of a horror film I would enjoy – the most dominant being an issue of identity either in Christ or in Satan. Unfortunately the film is so poorly written and directed that any appreciation of its subtext is rendered impossible. This is a bad movie.

I was not aware of The Familiar’s explicit Christian context when I dialed it in on Netflix. This is a movie made by Christians for the purpose of sharing a Christian message. I’ve got no problem with that; we have previously argued on TheBlackestEyes.com that many horror films carry with them Christian overtones regardless of the authorial intent. Sadly, it seems those elements are more precisely and effectively captured when the film is not deliberately trying to be faith based.

The Familiar is a story about a widower named sam who has turned his life away from God and disappeared in a bottle. One fateful day his sister-in-law, Laura,  pays a visit and asks to stay for a while. Come to find out, she is possessed with a demon who Sam dealt with as a child and this demon is back to finish what he started. It all comes down to a “final showdown” between Sam and Laura where based on his courageous statement, “I belong to Christ”, Sam wins the battle.

The biggest problem with The Familiar is the lack of action. Nothing happens. I mean nothing happens. NOTHING. The film has about 3 set locations and 80% of the movie is boring, lackluster dialogue between Sam and Laura in one of these three settings (the living room, his bedroom, just outside the house). There is zero chemistry between Sam and Laura and when you add in the horrific acting, this is a movie darn near unwatchable. I really don’t know what else to say. The film looks cheap, sounds cheap, has an awful soundtrack, and provides no scares. Even when Laura is possessed, she looks exactly the same. I mean exactly.

This might be one of the more scathing reviews I have written which is too bad – the movie has a great message to share. But people are going to be too busy breaking things because of how bored they are to receive it. Trust me, stay away from this.

Deranged – Review

Deranged – Review

Oct 4, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen, 1974

Deranged is a mostly forgotten 1974 psychological horror film based on the life of legendary serial killer Ed Gein. The movie follows the life of Ezra Cobb (a great name) who must deal with the pending death of his Christian fundamentalist mother who has raised him to hate women. Soon after her death, Cobb becomes convinced she is still alive and subsequently digs up her corpse, places her back in her bedroom, and goes on with life as usual. Well, maybe not as usual because apparently the grief of her death followed by the delusion of her coming back to life made Ezra snap into, well, a deranged lunatic. He begins digging up other corpses to place in various parts of the house and when that no longer satisfies his needs, he goes looking for young women.

This little movie has several interesting tie-ins with iconic horror names. First, the movie was released in February of 1974, the same year the superior film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released. Perhaps surprisingly, TCM was released in October of that year. Most who see Deranged will assume it heavily borrowed from TCM in much of its imagery and content, but both films were operating independently of the other and were released in the same year. It seems that 1974 was the year to begin the “Ed Gein” inspiration for serial killers in horror films. To be fair, Hitchcock started the “Gein” revolution in his 1960 classic Psycho, but since 1974 virtually every horror movie that chronicles the life of a serial killer cites Ed Gein as the influence behind the madness. Deranged is probably the movie among them all which most accurately depicts the historical Gein.

Second, the make-up effects and the corpses were created by a very young Tom Savini, a name that is synonymous with horror. Savini, of course, is famous for his work on the Dead trilogy and Friday the 13th. Although this is fairly primitive work compared to what we have become accustomed to from Savini, the effects are nevertheless effective and at times disturbing.

Third, Deranged was co-directed by Alan Ormsby, a name that is sadly unfamiliar to many horror fans. Ormsby was the lead actor and writer for the 1972 cult film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Ormsby has had success outside of the horror genre as well, co-writing the script for The Substitute in 1996 which launched a successful series.

Fourth, this film is worth watching for the performance of Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb. Most folks will know Blossom for his creepy little role in Home Alone, but I always think of him as the preacher from the Sam Raimi directed The Quick and the Dead. Blossom not only looks like the historical Gein but perfectly captures the balance between a delicate, harmless, lonely man and a brutal, sadistic killer. Although TCM is a much better film than Deranged in many key areas, the only thing lacking from TCM is a true “Gein” character. Blossom nails it.

Deranged is a horror movie that must be watched and appreciated with its historical context in mind. Although the images and atmosphere of the film are still unsettling today, the content being presented to viewers in 1974 would have been breath-taking. The movie moves along slowly at times, something that is not a good thing with a running time of only 82 minutes. Yet, the realism of a mid-western boy and his mommy who know nothing of life but each other creates a chill that lasts from beginning to end. Deranged is a good movie for horror fans who can appreciate patiently waiting for the visual pay-off while enjoying a beautiful performance from a talented actor. It is recommended as an important and well-done period piece.

Chernobyl Diaries – Review

Chernobyl Diaries – Review

Jun 3, 2012

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Bradley Parker, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries is a 2012 horror film written and produced by Oren Peli, the mastermind behind the Paranormal Activity franchise. The movie follows a group of young people, two of which are brothers, in a vacation across Europe. The older and less stable brother, Paul, decides to make a slight detour from their Moscow itinerary and instead embarks on an “Extreme Tour” of Pripyat, an abandoned town that was immediately evacuated after the famous Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Although Paul’s younger brother Chris is against the idea, the rest of the group agrees to the tour and convinces Chris to come along.

The single owner and operator of the extreme tour is a big Ukrainian named Uri who makes clear that he “works alone.” He takes them in a shoddy van through a “secret” entrance into Pripyat since the main entrance has been blocked by a military squadron. They make their way into the heart of the city and begin the tour process, occasionally receiving short but helpful tips from Uri. After being attacked by a bear, they decide it is time to hit the road – Uri assures them that there will be “no extra charge for bear attack.” Strangely, the leads to the van battery have been shredded, leaving the group stranded in the heart of the city. Since the nearest checkpoint is 13 miles away and hiking at night is too dangerous, everyone agrees to stay in the van until morning.

This is when the chaos begins. For various reasons the group is led out of the van to investigate disturbances and then back into the van to tell everyone to stay put. When Chris becomes seriously injured, three of the friends decide they must find a way out of the city at any cost. Along the way, they discover horrific truths about the abandoned city – it isn’t really abandoned. Mutated creatures, presumably altered by radiation, now survive as zombies apparently under the careful watch of the Ukrainian military. By the end of the film, two of the friends have survived the attacks from the creatures, but unfortunately have to contend with being discovered by the military.

A glimpse on RottenTomatoes.com quickly reveals how unimpressed critics have been with Chernobyl Diaries – it currently holds a 22% rotten rating. The scathing reviews from the critics once again demonstrate a lack of appreciation for horror conventions. Let’s state the obvious right from the start – yes, this film incorporates a lot of tried and true horror cliches; the tour guide is the first to die, the setting is an isolated location, the vehicle won’t start, most of the lighting from the film comes from flashlights, and so on. Herein lies the basic distinction between most movie critics and most horror fans – the inclusion of these elements does not preclude a positive viewing experience for horror fans. In fact, they quite possibly could set the stage for everything we love, just so long as it is done well. That is what makes a horror fan a horror fan. We aren’t just looking for the next unique, never explored concept in film making (although it is great when that comes along!), but we instead are looking for horror films that do things well, even if it is a concept we have seen 1,000 times before.

With that in mind, Chernobyl Diaries is worth a look. The blending of a historical, disastrous event with a fictional horror story creates a terrific atmospheric setting. The creation of Pripyat is incredibly well done with the center piece being the famous Pripyat Ferris Wheel (as seen in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare). I found myself wishing the “tour” would continue a little longer just so I could learn a little more about the ghost town and nature of the evacuation. This is one of the those movies where you come home and immediately Google the real Pripyat to see how much of the film was historically accurate.

The creatures themselves were fairly bland – we never get a good view of them and they remain blurred most of the movie. As a matter of fact, most of the kills and gruesome elements of the movie take place off screen. Nevertheless, there are some effective scare moments and plenty of suspense building silence combined with a few frantic chase scenes.

By far the weakest aspect of the film was the direction of the camera – I just couldn’t help feeling like a high school student somewhat familiar with horror was manning the camera for this film. At times it was very noticeable and distracting. This, of course, is ultimately the job of directory Bradley Parker to make sure he has set up the shot in an effective manner for the camera to work its magic. Although Parker, I think, has some good ideas scattered throughout the film for the camera, I wouldn’t expect him to be directing again anytime soon.

Chernobyl Diaries is a decent, fun, entertaining summer horror movie. Certainly not one for the ages, but also not deserving of the beating it is receiving from the “critics.”