31 Days of Halloween, Halloween, Halloween traditions, horror, horror films, horror movies, Housewife, neighbors, October, Puppet Master The Littlest Reich, Stitches, Terrified, Terrifier, Terrortory 2, The Windmill
A little late but, at long last: Week Two of the 31 Days of Halloween! This week featured three unplanned variations on the word “terror” (Terrifier, Terrified and Terrortory 2), along with a couple of older favorites and one of the most gonzo, over-the-top headfucks I’ve seen in some time. With no further ado: the 31 Days of Halloween continues.
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Picking up where writer/director Damien Leone’s All Hallows’ Eve left off, Terrifier puts us back in the bad company of Art the Clown, serial killer extraordinaire. This time around, the anthology format is ditched for a more straight-forward, grindhouse slasher feel that focuses exclusively on Art and the mess he makes over the course of one very gory Halloween eve. As the body count rises, will anyone be able to put an end to the evil clown’s reign of terror?
Here’s the thing with Terrifier: it’s the cinematic equivalent of a game of freeway chicken and your appreciation of said offering will really depend on whether you swerve first. Leone and crew have perfectly captured the feel of sleazy, vile, unrepentant “golden era” slasher films, the kind that played in back-alley dives rather than big theaters. The film is ridiculously gory (one setpiece involves sawing someone in half with a hacksaw) and features truly impressive practical effects. It’s ugly, arguably misogynistic (although just as many men as women are slaughtered in the film), full of casual “acting,” oddly paced and possessed by one of the truly unforgettable modern-day boogeymen in Art the Clown. Terrifier is inventive, disgusting, tedious and, every so often, mind-blowing. It’s a film that my teenaged self would have probably obsessed over but one that my middle-aged self might accuse of trying a little too hard. If you’re looking for blood, guts and grime, look no further than Terrifier but be forewarned: this is just about as extreme as non-underground horror offerings get.
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Sleazebag birthday clown Stitches (comedian Ross Noble) meets an untimely end at the hands of a bunch of truly shitty kids. Years later, Stitches returns from the dead, seeking revenge on his now-teenaged antagonists, determined to kill them all in the clowniest of ways. It’s up to sixteen-year-old protagonist Tommy to put an end to the infernal funnyman once and for all and stop his lethal shenanigans.
Full disclosure: I’m madly in love with this film…hopelessly, completely and madly. There’s not one frame I would change, one awful character I would modify, a single catch-phrase I would delete. I think that the backstory involving the shadowy clown cabal is fascinating, fully believe that the death set-pieces easily equal the best of the Nightmare on Elm Street series (the ice cream pieta is just perfect) and consider Ross Noble’s Stitches to be one of the very best horror villains ever. The film is funny and scary, tense and silly. As far as I’m concerned, there are really only two evil clown films that ever need to be bothered with: Jon Watt’s Clown and Conor McMahon’s Stitches.
Beep, beep, Pennywise.
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The Windmill (2016)
A bus full of tourists break down during a tour of Dutch windmills and wind up at the stomping grounds of a Satanic medieval miller who ground people’s bones to make his bread. Literally. As luck would have it, the miller isn’t totally dead (these things happen) and he proceeds to cut a mighty swath through our collected stereotypes with a mighty scythe. The survivors must band together and find some way to send this particular demon straight back to Hell before they all get turned into meat scraps. Amsterdamned, indeed!
I first saw writer/director Nick Jongerius’ The Windmill as part of my effort to see every horror film released in 2016, regardless of content or quality. I didn’t expect much, at the time, but was quickly blown away by not only the film’s overall quality (it looks simply smashing) but also by how fun it ended up being. Simply put, The Windmill is a blast, the kind of old-school horror film that demands you yell at the screen and throw your fist in the air when something truly epic happens. The film isn’t perfect, mind you, but none of its flaws are critical: in pretty much every regard, The Windmill is just about as good as slick, big-screen, gory, pop-horror films get. Add in a pretty memorable villain and you have the recipe for a damned good seasonal treat.
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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)
For the latest installment in Charles Band’s long-running franchise (30 years young in 2019), the keys to the kingdom are handed over to a few interesting choices: Swedish Evil Dead devotees Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund direct, while pulp wunderkind S. Craig Zahler handles the writing duties. The results, which concern chaos and carnage at an auction devoted to the lethal puppets, are some of the bloodiest, funniest and most outrageous of the entire series.
Right off the bat, the newest Puppet Master is two things: genuinely funny and zealously determined to offend. Whether via the astoundingly gory effects (the film starts slow but ends closer to Dead Alive territory, gore-wise), the brazenly politically-incorrect humor or focus on taboo situations, this is a film that will absolutely not be for everyone.
Give it a chance, however, and the new Puppet Master reveals itself as more than just a cheap provocateur. The film is not only extremely well-made and ruthlessly effective, but it also has a genuine heart, albeit a smirking, blood-smeared one. In many ways, the film is kindred spirits with the equally raunchy Hobo With a Shotgun: if the content and grue don’t turn you off, the emotion might pull you in. Plus, that opening credit sequence really is one of the best of the whole year.
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A few years back, Turkish filmmaker Can Evrenol blew me away with a disturbing little ditty that was equal parts Reservoir Dogs and Hellraiser: Baskin was a little talky, in the opening stretch, but devolved into nothing short of a nightmare by the time it all went, literally, to Hell. Suffice to say, anticipation was pretty high for the follow-up: is there any way it could possibly be as fucked up as its predecessor?
The answer, it turns out, is a resounding “yes.” For only his second full-length, writer/director Evrenol has created something that feels like a companion piece to Ari Aster’s Hereditary, an austere, psychological nightmare that descends into complete and unmitigated, howling insanity. The less said about this, the better (some of the surprises really do need to wallop you over the head, for maximum impact) but the film manages to take elements of the aforementioned Hereditary, Aronofsky’s Mother, Phantasm, Rosemary’s Baby and H.P. Lovecraft and turn them into something completely unique and impossibly disturbing. Right on the edge between arthouse and grindhouse, I’m willing to wager that you’ll never get Housewife out of your head…for better or worse.
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Terrortory 2 (2018)
Whenever possible, I like to root for the underdog. Case in point: multi-director, indie anthology Terrortory. I screened this a few years ago for my 2016 project and was rather impressed. Despite being a micro-budget indie horror film with a mostly amateur cast, the film had tons of heart and creativity. It was nowhere close to perfect but never less than watchable. At the time, I made a personal vow to keep up with the filmmakers…and then promptly forgot all about ’em. Flash-forward to this year and I finally get to keep my promise as writer/director Kevin Kangas delivers Terrortory 2.
Like the original, the sequel is an anthology film taking place in the mystical Terrortory, a spot of land where a myriad of monsters, ghosts, demons and generally weird things all happen to hang out together. Similar to the first film, the sequel is ultra-low budget and features a cast that ranges from rather blank to decent enough. The stories range from effective to slightly less so (“The Fountain” is appropriately Lovecraftian and well-paced, whereas “The Wendigo” is nothing more than a minute-long setup for a punchline: the other handful of tales fall between these poles), the effects are decent and the original story-line is continued in a logical way. Terrortory 2 may be a far-cry from the best horror films of 2018 but it’s got more passion and heart than many films of its ilk. At this rate, I’m already booking my next trip to the Terrortory, presumably sometime around Halloween 2019.
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A sleepy, suburban neighborhood finds itself under assault from a myriad of paranormal terrors, including creepy voices in the sink, a dead child who won’t stay buried and a terrifying, gangly humanoid with a propensity for hiding under beds and emerging in the wee hours of the night. It’s up to a trio of ghost hunters, along with a local police captain, to get to the bottom of the eerie events before all Hell breaks loose and takes the suburbs with it.
This Argentinian export had ferociously good word-of-mouth at recent genre festivals, making it one of my most anticipated screenings of the year. After watching it, however, I found myself more than a little conflicted. On the one hand, Terrified does feature several instantly memorable setpieces and plenty of creepy moments: the scene involving the dead kid at the kitchen table is just about as good as horror gets, for one thing. On the other hand, the whole film is batshit crazy and makes not one whit of sense. As a champion of plenty of nonsensical films in the past, I must also freely admit that Terrified takes that inch and runs for a country mile.
Imagine a cross between more traditional entries in the Waniverse (think Insidious) and something totally nuts like Obayashi’s Hausu. Terrified has plenty of atmosphere but also plenty of insanely-loud jump scares, making it a constant see-saw between loud, obvious, dumb scares and more subtly, creepy moments. When Demian Rugna’s film works, though, it’s a pretty singular experience and one of the more memorable films of the year.
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That takes care of Week Two. As we approach the big day, stay tuned for recaps on Weeks Three and Four. Stay spooky, boos and ghouls!