Hey Comicon-ers! It’s ML Miller again with another batch of the good, the bad, and the futt-bugly in horror from the past, present, and future, high to low to no budget, and from domestic to international and beyond. So sit back, pull the covers up to your nose, ignore that strange noise coming from the closet, and enjoy this fresh batch of horror I have on tap for you today!
Click title to go directly to the review!
PURGATORY ROAD (2017)
Directed by Mark Savage
Written by Tom Parnell, Mark Savage
Starring Gary Cairns, Luke Albright, Trista Robinson, Sylvia Grace Crim, Manon Pages, Geoff Falk, Douglas Cunningham, Chace Beck, Tom Parnell, John Read, Noah Cook, Heather Cazes, Jerry Lousteau, Jeremy Sande, Jack Teague, Micheal Robinson, Jacob Craig Bullock, Michael Lebeau, Melody Brooke, Hunter McGregor, James Harlon Palmer, Dwana Haley
Find out more about this film here and @purgatoryroadmoviediary
PURGATORY ROAD is an ambitious religious slasher movie with bizarre and fascinating characters and some wickedly fun ideas that will make you overlook some of the film’s low budget setbacks.
Father Vincent (Gary Cairns) and his brother Michael (Luke Albright) drive the highways and byways across America in a mobile home souped up to be a mobile church. But because of some childhood trauma, Vincent has problems with folks who confess to stealing and those sinners end up dying. Michael, being the good brother he is, helps Vincent cover up the murders. Trista Robinson plays Mary Francis, a travelling murderess herself who likes to call in and confess her murders on a local radio show. When the three of these people meet, they form a fragile alliance giving in to Vincent and Mary Francis’ murderous desires. But just how long can this alliance last with Michael growing weary of covering up his brother’s murders, Mary Francis being a bit of a thief on top of being a murderer, and, as you remember, Vincent not liking thieves so much.
The three characters of Vincent, Michael, and Mary Francis are well developed, each feeding off of each other’s desires, quirks, and mental problems. This conflict is set up nicely and really makes for a tension filled watch as it is just a matter before these powerful forces destroy each other. Each of the characters’ pathos is well realized and it really seems writer/director Mark Savage and his co-writer Tom Parnell worked hard on making the interactions and developments between these characters feel believable and real. The destruction of this alliance is inevitable, but the trip there is a fun one.
While the film houses cool characters, the story is somewhat predictable. The focus is definitely on character and not the kills, but I kind of wish more time would have been spent on making the murderous activity a bit spicier. Unfortunately, the kills are relatively the same and the film repeats itself a few times too many, making the whole thing a bit tedious after the third or fourth time someone meets an end. There are also some definite acting problems along the way. The actors are trying their hardest to give their best performances, but I think the script calls for more than the actors can handle at times.
PURGATORY ROAD is a rarity in that the filmmakers seem to be more interested in doing some solid characterization and storytelling rather than the usual shock and awe that comes with most horror films. This type of approach to horror should be applauded and I do give it up to the film for trying to make a legitimately original film. If you look past the low budget and acting skips, there is a whole lot to like about this devious little film.
BOOK OF MONSTERS (2018)
Directed by Stewart Sparke
Written by Paul Butler
Starring Lyndsey Craine, Michaela Longden, Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton, Anna Dawson, Rose Muirhead, Steph Mossman, Nicholas Vince, Daniel Thrace, Arron Dennis, Julian Alexander, Jessica Fay, Dave Jameson, Samantha Mesagno, Julia Munder, Johnny Vivash, Mark Wilkins
Find out more about this film here and @bookofmonstersmovie
Every now and then, a film comes along that has that kind of moxie that is reminiscent of the tighten your belt and get things done attitude that makes Raimi’s original EVIL DEAD such a classic. It’s funny that the same people that poo poo new low budget horror will praise EVIL DEAD. EVIL DEAD had bad acting, low production values, and DIY effects. Still it garners accolades, but a film comes along like BOOK OF MONSTERS and people will rip on it for it’s shortcomings instead of recognize it for what it does really, really well.
Linsey Craine plays Sophie, who lost her mother at a young age, but remembers the nights she spent with her reading scary stories from an ancient book. This “Book of Monsters” left a mark on Sophie, who to this day is haunted by the passages. On her 18th birthday, Sophie and her friends decide to have a birthday party, but what they don’t know is that evil forces are approaching and they are able to make the monsters in Sophie’s storybook come to life. AS the party rages on inside the home, monsters of all shapes and sizes lurk outside and it seems that Sophie, with the help of her plucky friends Mona (Michaela Longden), Jess (Rose Muirhead) and Beth (Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton), are the only ones who can defeat this cadre of monsters.
Occasional acting flub, convenient writing cliché, and seams in the monsters practical effects aside, this is one hell of a monster movie. Sure there will be those who might find issue with some of the effects as they are pretty low fi, but paired with the way the film is edited and the ingenuity of the complex monster suits, these monsters look pretty damn good. They are original and gnarly looking monsters and they look damn nightmarish. Anyone with an appreciation for the days when practical effects were kind will have a blast with this creature feature. It’s also gory as all get out with chainsaw wielding teens and blood spattered in every direction. Again, a callback to the days when horror meant that no one gets out without a thick coat of sticky blood.
The story is familiar. The party atmosphere made me think of the story structure (specifically the final act) of WEIRD SCIENCE and the teenage antics evoke that same kind of John Hughes feel that matches the same era of the practicality of the effects. There’s teen angst, longing for love, and quests for acceptance. It’s all just covered in blood and monster parts. Plus Craine, Longden, Stanton, and Muirhead are extremely likable and fun to follow down this monstrous path. I have to admit, the accents of the cast are pretty thick, but it helped having the closed captioning on. BOOK OF MONSTERS is one hell of a creature feature. As long as you don’t go into this one expecting a polished Hollywood horror, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at this one.
THE WIND (2018)
Directed by Emma Tammi
Written by Teresa Sutherland
Starring Caitlin Gerard, Miles Anderson, Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Dylan McTee, Martin C Patterson, Ashley Zukerman
Find out more about this film here
THE WIND delivers a harrowing western horror experience in the tradition of THE VVITCH. This “LITTLE HOUSE ON THE SCARY” has all the right dramatic and terrifying beats all the way through.
Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) and her husband Isaac (Asjley Zuckerman) have built their selves a house in the Midwest, a daring feat in the late 1800’s. While they lost their first child, they are still striving in the harsh frontier, planting crops and fortifying their home for the upcoming winter season. Late in the season, a new couple arrives. The Harpers, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee). As strong as the Macklins are, the Harpers are weak. The newlyweds lack the skill or the mentality to survive in the harsh winter ahead and without children to take care of their own, Lizzy and Isaac sort of adopt these two strangers, helping them build and prepare for what is to come. While Isaac and Gideon are busy doing the “man” things, Lizzy is left to be with Emma, who proves to be a difficult and spirited lass. As the winter looms, supernatural forces that have inhabited the land for ages threaten both couples and Emma’s unborn child.
Told in a pretzeltine manner, THE WIND skips around temporally telling the tale of Lizzy’s ordeal with her child, her aid to Emma in preparing for her own child, and her arduous battle with the supernatural in the story’s present. If you don’t pay attention, one might get lost as the story skips between these three time frames plenty of times in the narrative. Fortunately, this is an engrossing tale that is easy to follow, despite the zig zag wat the story unfolds. This is due to the superb acting of Caitlin Gerard who basically carries this entire movie on her petite shoulders as Lizzy, who despite her diminutive form proves to be a powerhouse to all forms of threat.
THE WIND succeeds in incorporating the best aspects of frontier storytelling with the paranormal, only at intermittent and important times. This is a film that focuses mostly on Lizzy’s strong character. Her reactions to the harsh environment she is in, the challenging relationships she has with her husband and Emma, and the conflict she has with ancient demons that inhabit the plains only prove that she is one frontier lady not to be messed with.
The supernatural aspects are subtle, but still pack quite a punch. There are moments of sheer tension, done with simple shadows, taut editing, and fantastic reactions from Gerard that will make your toes clench. This is a fantastic story of survival that doesn’t overdo the supernatural, but still seems to work it into almost every scene. THE WIND is not an over the top effects fest. It’s a film that relies on strong performances and the ever-threatening environment to support the horror. THE WIND is a unique and harrowing film drenched in authenticity and highlighting the strong will of its protagonist. Very much recommended to be seen by all who like their horror on the sophisticated side.
I TRAPPED THE DEVIL (2019)
aka A MAN IN THE DARK
Directed by Josh Lobo
Written by Josh Lobo
Starring AJ Bowen, Scott Poythress, Susan Burke, Jocelin Donahue, John Marrott, Rowan Russell, Chris Sullivan
Find out more about this film here
Though if you’ve seen Mickey Keating’s breakout hit P.O.D., you may feel you are watching a familiar narrative, filmmaker Josh Lobo does a hell of a lot right in his directorial debut. I TRAPPED THE DEVIL is a tightly strung and surprisingly patient mental scab of a film that just can’t seem to stop picking away at itself.
AJ Bowen and Susan Burke play couple Matt and Karen, who decide to visit his brother Steve (Scott Poythress) for Christmas. Since their mother died, Matt and Steve have been distant and this is a return home for Matt, as Steve was left with their mother’s home. Unbeknownst to Matt and Karen, Steve has captured someone and locked him in the basement. This someone, according to Steve, is the Devil himself.
In P.O.D., a brother and sister go see their reclusive brother who claims to have trapped an alien in his basement. Here, the alien has been changed to the Devil (voiced by Chris Sullivan), who attempts to convince, tempt, and coerce anyone within earshot to let him out of the basement Steve has locked him in. While we don’t really get an explanation as to how Steve has accomplished this feat, I TRAPPED THE DEVIL doesn’t really need it as the story seems to have been pared down to bare basics. It’s just three people debating about what to do with a person locked in the basement and discussing whether or not that person is actually the Prince of Darkness. In order to make this film something worth watching, the cast has to be stellar and for the most part, it really is. AJ Bowen proves once again that he is one of the strongest genre actors around as Matt, who doubts his brother’s sanity and carries quite a bit of familial resentment. Susan Burke’s Karen is strong as well as the middle-woman, supporting Matt, but still attempting to help Steve, who is obviously hurting and in a bad state. Scott Poythress lacks the star potential of the other two actors, but he does play a weak and mentally unstable character very well, allowing the viewer to both feel for and hate him in equal doses as the story unfolds. To add to it all, Sullivan lends a pleasant and bizarrely normal voice to Beelzebub from behind the door. All of this playing together makes for a film that never lead me to look at my watch once.
On top of all of that, filmmaker Josh Lobo utilizes extreme camera angles, fantastically intricate set décor, and dazzling lighting to make every scene memorable. From beginning to end, this is a film that looks like every shot was meant to count. I TRAPPED THE DEVIL is not for those who need a shock a minute, but for the patient, you’re going to be wowed at what Josh Lobo has to say with this film and you’ll look forward to the bright future he has ahead of him. Plus it adds another present to be opened over and over for the Christmas season.
And finally…here’s a fan film of note. While we most likely will never see this matchup in a real-deal film, Luke Pedder took the psychopathic bull by the horns and made MICHAEL VS. JASON: EVIL EMERGES, a fan film that will be embraced by fans of the 80’s slasher films. What the film lacks in depth and insight into the two horror icons and what makes them so alike and different, it does make up in sheer, hardcore action and truly impressive effects. Personally, I would love to see a film delving into the psyches of these two modern monsters. Physically, they’re pretty evenly matched—though I feel Jason’s brute force is his best asset while Michael has more of a stealthy ninja style mastered, and all of that is featured prominently here. Sure, it feels that all we need is a wrestling ring and a giant donut of screaming fans around the whole fight, but I really liked this action-centric mashup! You can follow the filmmakers on Instagram here!
Well, that’s it for this week’s Zombies & Sharks. There’s a lot to seek out and some to steer clear from. Be sure to let me know what you think below in the comments and please share the love across the internets.
M. L. Miller does not profess to be an expert in horror, but he has seen a ton of horror films in his time. You can check out an archive of his horror reviews as well as news about his various comic book projects such as Black Mask’s GRAVETRANCERS and PIROUETTE on his website, MLMILLERWRITES.com. Follow him on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.