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The Appointment (1981)
Genuinely foreboding supernatural thriller
The Appointment is a genuinely foreboding supernatural thriller. Intelligently conceived, meticulously paced, it quietly and deftly unravels the disquieting course of events until the astonishing final scene.
While it is set in a very ordinary, quiet English town, there is an almost palpable atmosphere of pent-up malevolence, introduced in the opening scene, and persistent throughout. Whether it emanates from a human being or it is something all together different, is left to your imagination to decide.
Ian (Edward Woodward) is about to embark on an unexpected long trip to a business meeting. His daughter (Samantha Weysom), a musically gifted but peculiar girl who is overly attached to her father, takes it to heart when he has to leave instead of attending her violin recital. The girl is cloying and demanding, driving her mother Dianna (Jane Merrow) to the edge of impatience. The girl pleads with him not to go until his tight-lipped tolerance finally snaps, only to regret it and be condemned to a restless night. Troubled by his daughter's behaviour, and anxious about the long drive the following morning, sleep eludes him, until, finally dozing off, he experiences a pervasive disturbing dream. The inclusion of dreams in films is so often fascinating, and rich in symbolism, and sometimes the dreams can be portents or forewarnings that the dreamer should heed, but rarely do.
There are carefully placed clues to caution him from taking the trip, from an incident in the garage repairing his car, to the moment, halfway to his to his journey's end, he calls home and is cut off just as his wife is telling him she had the same dream. She is feeling that something is amiss but doesn't have the chance to tell him to turn back.
Although he observes a number of troubling motifs as he drives, he cannot make sense of them and continues on. Even an opportunity to alter the outcome, when he realises his watch has stopped and inadvertently left it in the phone booth after calling his wife. He returns to retrieve it, and proceeds on his way.
Woodward is superb as an overwrought man who appears to have an unshakable feeling that things are not quite as they seem, and that his destination is also his destiny.
This film might not make you jump out of your skin, but it will haunt you with an uneasy feeling of dread long after the extraordinary ending of one man's appointment with fate.
Silent Hill (2006)
Time passer has visual appeal, but little substance
When I picked this movie from the bargain bin the title "Silent Hill" meant nothing, and it looked like an interesting horror movie. However, once I began watching it quickly became apparent it was based upon a video game. Something in the sweeping camerawork, meticulously conceived sets, and character POV, further reinforced by its endless pursuits and diversions. You can almost hear the Ching-Ching reward every time the protagonist chooses the correct path or finds a way to outdo an enemy.
The plot, such as it is, is about a sleepwalking girl, Sharon (Joelle Ferland), dreaming of going to a place called Silent Hill, so her mother, Rose (Radha Mitchell) takes her on a road trip in search of the mysterious dreamscape.
En route the car crashes and when Rose regains consciousness she finds that Sharon has disappeared, and it becomes a quest to find the child among the deserted buildings of Silent Hill. It looked, to me, a cold, misty place, of gently falling snow.
Rose spots a small figure and follows it into dark cavernous depths where she is confronted by deformed, faceless creatures, wailing and writhing before bursting into flames. From what I could gather, the story is that the town is built atop a mine that caught alight burning to death all the residents both below and above ground. It is then evident the mist is, in fact, smoke, and the snow is ash.
So far, so good...
Regrettably, the movie then lurches into countless muddled directions, involving all manner of creature and creed, and finishes in a final act of brutal revenge. The violence ls graphic and its a cockeyed journey.
Granted, there is some great body horror and special fx.
Nonetheless, the story is so convoluted, the characters so empty, that it is difficult to engage with.
Actor Sean Beans only discernible purpose is to play the anguished father at the end of the movie to distinguish between two different planes of existence.
The structure of this movie does make sense as a game designed to maximise player time by putting them in a maze-like framework -up and down, round and round,in and out-with a view to immersing them in a myriad of complicated scenarios with minimum pay offs.
"Silent Hill" may be one for game fans.
House of Darkness (2016)
Better than many big screen movies I've seen In recent years
Typically, you might not have high expectations for a made-for-television movie. However, there is no need to feel disappointed with this one. It has an intriguing narrative, first-rate acting, and many wonderfully eerie moments. It may not be as polished as big budget movies, nonetheless, there is a subtlety of style, and well-developed characterisations that are often lacking in mainstream horror films of recent times.
"House of Darkness" is a story of a family in crisis, pitted against a backdrop of an aberrant house that has as many secrets as they do.
The film starts with the leading characters attending an unsuccessful couples therapy session, whereupon Brian (Gunner Wright) and Kelly (Sara Fletcher) agree to pack up their daughter Sara (Mykayla Sohn) and move to the country in an attempt to rescue their tattered marriage. Kelly's agenda is to have another child to complete their family, while Brian's covert intent is quite different - to separate Kelly from the handsome clientele at her massage therapy business. Brian's seething jealousy drives his every action, often expressed in explosive outbursts when he is either drinking heavily or via his personal video diary, a tool suggested by the therapist. This is a neat framing device, and both Brian and Kelly's personal video diaries pop-up throughout allowing a glimpse into what the two truly feel about each other, and of their personal disintegration.
The family move in, and at first reconciliation looks possible in the bright and roomy house. Brian has his own workshop and Kelly is optimistic.
Unfortunately for Kelly, oddities become apparent almost immediately. At first she catches sight of horrible ghostly figures, and as the film progresses, she is tormented by a string of other strange manifestations that nobody else can see.
Meanwhile, daughter Sara is, in turn, sweet and innocent, melancholy, then " zoned out" in a trance-like state after which she has no recollection of her peculiar behaviour.
From here things quickly deteriorate as Brian spends increasingly more time inebriated and locked away in his workshop, and Kelly realises he is deliberately avoiding intimacy. He cannot hide his escalating antagonism and he is now having visions of his own involving sharp objects and dead bodies.
At this point the plot digresses in disappointing directions, ultimately leading to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Nonetheless, Fletcher is flawless playing a woman desperate to reunite her family despite the ghostly happenings, Sara's weird behaviour, and Brian's hostility. Wright Is ferocious as the tightly would husband, and Sohn switches adeptly between her three guises.
To be very picky, "House of Darkness" does have its drawbacks; the pace could have been tighter, the editing cleaner, and there are parts that made no sense or seemed superfluous to the story. Conversely, for much of the film, just when It began sinking into a lull, or the dialogue was particularly corny, the scene sprang back and it continued to surprise with unexpected phenomena.
I enjoyed "House of Darkness" more than most of the movies I paid to watch on the big screen in the past few years.
In keeping with most films, it draws on other influences, yet it is refreshingly original. Kudos to the filmmakers who did a great job with a small budget.
Wolf Creek (2005)
I would rather eat cat litter than watch this film again
Wolf Creek begins with a trio of young tourists exploring the Australian outback. The roles were generic, the usual tedious stereotypes perpetuated in this ilk of filmmaking.
Nonetheless, my interest piqued when their car breaks down and a local loony named Mick (John Jarratt) picks them up. They realise that Mick is definitely odd, but the question of whether to have their car towed and go with him, or be stranded in the desert all night is a moot one. A seemingly endless drive into the darkness arouses their suspicions of his true intentions too late, and they are finally delivered to a secluded location. Alarm bells go off as, by the light of the campfire, they spot a plethora of other broken down cars surrounding them and the implications are obvious and terrifying.
However, what followed was a loathsome portrayal of an unhinged man torturing his captives for the sheer pleasure of satisfying his malignant lust for pain and death.
Entertainment? No. Insight into human behaviour? No. Cautionary tale? This could be told without the explicit detail. True to life? Not really. (Wolf Creek is purportedly based upon true events of two serial killers, melded into one character). A slasher movie is only ever a slasher movie, even when trying to elevate its cause by adding the 'element of truth' tag. There are several excellent documentaries that include re-enactments of these events which give a serious sense of the brutality without having to resort to sickening exploitation.
Admittedly, I concede that I cannot abide the slasher movie genre, and Wolf Creek is a prime example of the pointless, relentless violence typified by these movies. There was nothing to lift this garbage out of the gutter, and it was one of the rare times that I found the intensity of the cruelty so offensive I walked out halfway through. I have since seen snippets of the rest of the movie, and ending, and wish I hadn't.
If watching a cheery sadist torturing and killing his victims is your idea of a good night in, Wolf Creek is probably to your taste. Serve with a side order of cat litter.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
For those who appreciate the creepiness of the art house feel horror movies of the 1980s
Prior to the onset of CGI in the 1990s, horror movies of the late 70s through the 80s pushed the boundaries of good taste using latex and glue, and enjoyed over a decade of grotesque special fx makeup and masterful puppetry to bring their gore and monsters to life on the screen. Probably because I was alive to the times I became both enthralled and aghast at the cinematic innovation of the era. Who could forget the body reconstituting from a few drops of blood in "Hellraiser" (1979), or the scuttling little spider alien face-hugger that became the jaw-dropping Giger monster in "Alien" (1979).
Films such as "The Brood" (1979), "The Thing" remake
(1982), " The Blob" remake (1988), and, of course, "The Fly" remake (1986),
took full advantage of these gruesome new leading-edge techniques.
In particular, Cronenberg and Carpenter embraced this sub-genre.
So it is with "John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness". Be prepared for grisly, body-horror effects, and a disgustingly unique method of transmission of an organism from person to person.
The story begins with something ancient and evil growing in the hidden depths of an old church. Society's outcasts surround the building with gleeful fervour, insects fester in the grounds, while a professor, a priest and a group of students must first decipher exactly what it is, in order to prevent its manifestation.
British actor Donald Pleasance is perfectly cast as the anguished priest despairing that the unthinkable is unfolding under the very institution designed to prevent its release. He enlists the aid of an incredulous professor of physics, Dr Birack (Victor Wong), and a hand-picked group of clueless students to thwart the evil before it can take purchase.
The group hunkers down to do their investigations, using computers to track the entity's gestation,when things take a srrange twist. As each fall asleep they share an identical dream with the priest, his a recurring, yet shifting nightmare that he describes as "Having previous knowledge of a future event": i.e., a premonition of the end of the world. Brian (Jameson Parker), trying to make sense of it from a scientific point of view, describes a tachyon, a hypothetical that travels faster than the speed of light. He postulates that the dreams are vehicles of a doomsday oracle meant for those living in the present, emanating in the past, to foresee the inescapable future.
As the priest prays, the team struggles to find out if it possible to avert the inevitable. Time is running out,the church has become unstable and although escape has become impossible due to the ferocious occupation by the outcasts and insects, one by one, the trapped students begin to disappear.
With increasing desperation humanity and technology take up the battle against oblivion, pitted against a barrage of nefarious obstacles.
John Carpenter is a master of slow building tension, allowing terror to simmer to the rhythm of a his familiar pulsating soundtrack.
This film is unsettling, quietly terrifying in the fashion of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers "(1986 version), another film that created stomach-churning state-of-the-art special fx using hands-on art departments.
Ultimately, the explosion of CGI in subsequent years has been both a boon and a bust in a similar way other technologies have enhanced or disrupted life. Its overuse has become repetitive and the diaphanous sheen has faded.
At the same time, non-digital, tactile fx remain an exciting and enduring motif of wondrous imagination, as is evident here.
"John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness" is maybe a little too slow for modern audiences, however, the pace pays off as the longer you watch the more chilling it becomes, the music reverberating with the sounds of a distant, deadly heartbeat. It is a treat for those who appreciate the creepiness of the art-house feel horror movies of the 1980s.
The Prodigy (2019)
A little better that the current ilk of horror movies
A nasty little offering about a boy possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. At first the boy appears to have genius qualities but as he grows up the spirit take control, creating mayhem and causing his shellshocked parents into separation. A misguided counsellor, and a nutty reincarnation expert are used to explain his condition, but the overwrought mother, for some reason, never passes the evidence on to his father.
The Prodigy moves at a steady pace with some grisly and disturbing surprises along the way.
As with many of the new made for television crop, the characters are never fleshed out, leaving the viewer indifferent to their fate, in particular the lacklustre father who is a lifeless prop.
The acting is a little stitled, the background music is grating, there are holes in the plot and it has a cheap look; In evidence is the leeching of colour, seen in the current glut of these movies, and lack of lighting expertise. Whether this is deliberate or due to the filming technique, the resulting muddy look flattens the picture and diminishes the shocks and special effects.
With a little imagination and nuance a film can be brought to life.
The Prodigy is better than many of its contemporaries, and is sure to leave a sour taste in your mouth.
The little boy is seriously creepy