Hey Comicon-ers! It’s ML Miller again with another gaggle 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!
Directed by Charlie Steeds
Written by Charlie Steeds
Starring David Lenik, Rowena Bentley, Barrington De La Roche, John Lomas, Kate Davies-Speak, Dylan Curtis, Harrison Nash, Peter Cosgrove, Swainley Whipps Eden-Entwistle, Richard Myers, Daniel McKee as the Red Man!
Find out more about this film here
Though I believe WINTERSKIN tries to tell a modern tale, this one feels like a classic in almost every way. Undeniably low budget, WINTERSKIN still manages to incorporate high tension scares, stomach-churning gore, and a sense of terror snatched from some of the best Grimm, Poe, and Lovecraft tales.
A traveler named Billy (David Lenik) wounded and in search of sanctuary happens upon the solitary cabin of an elderly woman named Agnes (Rowena Bentley). As he heals, Billy begins to realize all is not right with Agnes. Turns out she must bolt the doors at night in order to protect herself and her dog from skinless monsters that lurk in the surrounding wilderness. Facing lunacy inside and true monsters inside, Billy has nowhere to hide.
Don’t think I don’t recognize the BLACK CHRISTMAS references with Billy and Agnes, because I caught that right off the bat and though this one isn’t necessarily a slasher taking place over Christmas break, it still is a winter-set horror film and I imagine the names of these characters were not made by coincidence as a fun homage to one of the best horror films of all time.
That aside, WINTERSKIN feels like a retelling of a classic fable with a cabin deep in the woods, a crone in the middle of said woods, and lurking terrors set to threaten our hapless hero. The entire narrative sounds like a story told by a campfire and feels like something wholly different than what one might expect out of low fi movies of the moment. No slashers or zombies (though I suppose the skinless monsters serve as a substitute for zombies here) here, just nicely paced moments of tension and fear peppered with some impressive practical effects.
Sure there are some moments where the acting is not the best and I feel the plot gets a bit convoluted as it nears the climax of the film. But WINTERSKIN does a lot of good. It’s unconventional horror executed in an impressive and potent way. It’s a film that will stick with you after the credits, like one of those lost finds on the video store shelf you weren’t prepared for. Be sure to check out this low fi surprise.
A RECORD OF SWEET MURDER (2014)
aka ARU YASASHIKI SATSUJINSHA NO KIROKU, A RECORD OF SWEET MURDERER
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Written by Kôji Shiraishi
Starring Je-wook Yeon, Kkobbi Kim, Tsukasa Aoi, Ryôtarô Yonemura, Kôji Shiraishi
Find out more about this film here
While A RECORD OF SWEET MURDER follows the rules of the found footage genre pretty well in order to convince the viewer of its authenticity, the lack of budget seems to highlight the weaknesses. There are a lot of admirable performances in A RECORD OF SWEET MURDER, but it isn’t enough to sustain the entire film.
When a madman escapes from an institution and goes on the run, he contacts a former schoolmate who is now an investigative reporter, asking her to document a special ritual that he feels hearkens the beginning of the end of the world. Filmed in a found footage style, the madman threatens to kill all involved if the camera stops rolling.
A RECORD OF SWEET MURDER, or A RECORD OF SWEET MURDERER if translated exactly, has a decent premise, but spends way too much time leading up to that premise. Basically, the entire film is leadup to the final few minutes. There is a lot of talking. A lot of screaming. And an uncomfortable time dedicated to degrading, raping, and accosting women in this film. There is a promise for an end of the world scenario, but anything like that occurs in the last few minutes, forcing the viewer to endure some pretty heinous acts before those promises come true. The film relies on the performances from the cast to sustain this interest, but it just doesn’t accomplish that goal. I don’t know if it is the fact that this was a foreign language film or if the actors just weren’t up to the task of being wholly convincing, but I felt as if the runtime was padded with unnecessary conflict and dialog, unnecessary characters, and extended scenes of rape, murder, and torture, in order to make this feel like a legitimate full length film.
Had A RECORD OF SWEET MURDER been a short film, I think it would have been much more successful in packing the punch it intends. Instead, I felt like there just wasn’t enough to make an entire movie here. It’s just five people trapped in a room screaming at each other and doing bad things to one another for an hour plus with some weird scenes tacked on to the end. The film does begin with some decent tension and the fact that it was able to make a whole film using one camera is technically impressive. The actors also seemed to do a decent job with what little story they were given. There just wasn’t enough story there to sustain interest, unfortunately.
Available on Netflix now!!
THE PERFECTION (2018)
Directed by Richard Shepard
Written by Eric C. Charmelo, Richard Shepard, Nicole Snyder
Starring Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Alaina Huffman, Steven Weber, Molly Grace, Glynis Davies, Winnie Hung, Christina Jastrzembska, Graeme Duffy, Milah Thompson, Mark Kandborg
I don’t want to reveal too much about this film because it is filled with twists and surprises all the way through. Or at least that’s what this film wants people to believe. And even though the term “plot twist” may mean something a bit different to me as it does to these filmmakers, I still think this film goes one plot twist too far simply for the sake of being plot twisty. Mixing elements from BLACK SWAN, HOSTEL, MARTYRS, and the best of Cronenberg’s body horror, THE PERFECTION manages to be entertaining, chilling at times, and surprisingly gory as long as you don’t think too much about the way the story is constructed.
When her aunt dies, former cellist prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) is invited by her former instructor Anton (Steven Weber) to view his latest find Lizzie (Logan Browning). Charlotte and Lizzie immediately bond due to mutual adoration and understanding of what it is like to dedicate one’s entire life to the mastery of one’s craft. Having a few days of vacation coming up, Lizzie invites Charlotte to join her. Revealing anything else would be a detriment to what this film has to offer, but it is a film best left to be experienced rather than spoiled. Go in knowing as little as possible and this film will have the intended effect.
The nineties sort of killed the trust had between viewer and filmmaker. Movies like PULP FICTION subverted expectations of how a movie should play out (though it wasn’t the first, it was a trendsetter). Films like BLAIR WITCH PROJECT made us doubt the marketing and truth behind the films. And M. Night Shyamalan made a career of injecting a clever twist at the end of the story (a habit that ended up being a bit too trite to build a sustainable career on). It was during this decade more than any that people began looking at films with a shrewder eye, trying to catch the twist or the gimmick before it is revealed. The films that were considered successful at this twist thing were the ones that had the answer provided to them all along. You were just so caught up in the performances that you just missed them and ended up being blown away by the end.
Though THE PERFECTION has quite a few twists in it, they are plot twists in name only as it simply omits information and then rewinds and reveals the info later. A good mystery has all of the clues in the first act. The trick is being clever and entertaining enough to fool the audience into not seeing them. When that information is omitted, it’s not a mystery—it’s simply something not to be trusted. And THE PERFECTION is a movie not to be trusted. It cheats by omitting entire scenes only to reveal them later to make the scene playing out more poignant or to amplify the shockeroo that comes out of nowhere…because it literally comes out of nowhere. And even if it constructed these shockeroo scenes decently, that trick is used a few times too many by the time THE PERFECTION is done. At the end point, you’re so “shocked-out” that the give-a-fig well has run dry.
What is frustrating is that THE PERFECTION doesn’t need to rely on such cheap trickery. The cast is great. GET OUT’s Allison Williams is equally charming, likable, and dangerous at the appropriate times. Logan Browning is a fantastic newcomer who is able to incite sympathy and admiration all at once. Steven Webber is, as always, unnerving and poised. The way he exemplifies the pomposity and vapidity of the artistic elite is spot on. Everyone delivers a layered performance taking each character through transformations that leave them at the end completely changed from the characters we meet at the beginning. All good stuff.
More good stuff occurs in the effects department, mixing some fantastic CG work with some even more impressively splashy practical carnage. And the stuff suggested is even more harrowing. While this definitely falls into the category of body horror, it isn’t the type of terror you would expect—especially in a Netflix film.
THE PERFECTION is not a bad movie. It’s actually extremely well done and it’s a film I quite enjoyed. But I think the filmmakers think it’s a bit too clever than it really is and falls victim to pulling the same ruse too many times.
New this week in theaters!!
Directed by David Yarovesky
Written by Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn
Starring Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Emmie Hunter, Abraham Clinkscales, Jennifer Holland, Becky Wahlstrom, Gregory Alan Williams, Annie Humphrey, Elizabeth Becka, Steve Agee, Stephen Blackehart, Michael Rooker
Find out more about this film here
I’m angry with BRIGHTBURN and it has nothing to do with the acting, the direction, the effects, the story, the ideas, the tone, or the entire movie itself. It’s not BRIGHTBURN’s fault that I’m angry. The reason why I’m angry is that practically all of the shocks, scares, surprises, and twists in BRIGHTBURN were spoiled in the three promotional trailers that played prominently to advertise the movie. And that’s a damn shame, because this is a great movie.
Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is a seemingly normal kid growing up on a farm in Brightburn, Kansas with his loving parents Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle (David Denham). Unbeknownst to Brandon, he was found by his parents in the wreckage of a spaceship that landed in their farm. When Brandon begins puberty, though, aside from the normal changes a kid goes through, he also finds that he is developing superpowers. While this story may sound similar to a squeaky-clean superhero with a cape and spitcurl, Brandon Breyer is definitely no Clark Kent, as the small town will soon understand when Brandon’s powers emerge complete and with them comes murderous and horrifying carnage.
Piggybacking on the familiarization most genre audiences has with the Superman origin (given that it has been told and retold in comics, film, and TV), BRIGHTBURN upends those expectations by replacing the well-intentioned kid from that film with Damian from THE OMEN. Jackson A. Dunn is a weird looking kid and acts equally awkward. Dunn displays a fantastic sadistic side which suggests an ominous nature even before anything treacherous happens. Banks gives a great performance as his mother, devoted in protecting him and knowing that there is a good child under all of those scary powers. And David Denman is equally great as the hapless father, trying to be the best dad he can. Overall, the performances are what sell this incredible story that the audience is familiar with yet continues to surprise all the way through (or would have, if everything hadn’t been revealed in trailers).
This is a classic tale of nature versus nurture and a rather sophisticated one at that. While Clark Kent’s story proves that despite his alien nature, the nurturing parents who found him is what gave him the humanity necessary to be the hero her grows up to become. Without them, Clark’s and Brandon’s story might have been similar. The Breyer parents are no less wholesome and hopeful than the Kents. They share strong moral values, a love and strength of familial bonds, and are genuinely good people. But all of that doesn’t seem to be a match for Brandon’s alien nature, which urges him to kill and overthrow the world. The result is a nightmare as Brandon’s humanity seems to wane the older he gets—a much more stark look at the nature of humanity. It’s not his parents that make Brandon who he is, it’s simply the lizard brain guiding his actions to become who he is meant to be. Banks’ character of Tori is excellent as the flipside to this argument. Even when faced with proof that Brandon is off, she gives in to her maternal instincts and it isn’t until the very end that she knows there is no turning back.
I think where BRIGHTBURN wanes is that everything seems to happen all at once. I wish there would have been some instances involving Brandon as a child that showed a more violent and destructive nature. Maybe a tendency to break toys, hurt animals, start fires, or have nightmares would have made the transition from normal boy to alien menace a little more convincing. There had to be some signs between the time the Breyer’s found Brandon and his 12th birthday that hinted at Brandon’s true nature. I understand that the parents were blinded and in denial that there was any indication of anything wrong, but still, some occurrences that went either unnoticed or ignored during that time would have made the entire story stronger.
Though practically everything is revealed in this film in terms of plot, themes, and even twists and shocking scenes. The gore, which the commercials can’t show, is quite proficient. The filmmakers don’t hold back in showing how gnarly Brandon’s wrath truly is and it results in some absolutely grueling effects. Not only are there some particularly wicked practical effects, but there is a lot of thought behind the psychological nature of this type of horror, specifically in terms of Brandon’s growing fascination with anatomy and gory photos. This attention to detail adds an element of unease and true terror to the film.
With Gunn doing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and SUICIDE SQUAD, it seems he is building yet a third superhero universe in the darkness of BRIGHTBURN. There is even a bit at the end that suggests more beings like Brandon that look and act surprisingly like the JLA popping up in Brandon’s world. Look for an Easter Egg tying the film in with another Gunn-take on superhero-ing towards the end too. If this is the warning shot along the bow for a new heroic universe, I say bring it on.
It looks as if MA, the most recent horror release, follows the same advertising path that BRIGHTBURN mistakenly takes, as it even shows the titular baddie sitting on a couch among the victims; revealing who lives and dies before we even get to know them in the film. Take recent failures like GRETA and THE INTRUDER and compare their trailers (which basically tell the entire story in two to three minutes) with films like the upcoming MIDSOMMAR and US, which showed shocking and provocative imagery while keeping the plot ambiguous. I know which film I would have rather seen. And by the way, which films did better at the box office, given that people’s interests were piqued rather than having their expectations dashed due to spoilers in the trailers? My message to Hollywood is to have more faith in your horror. You don’t need to show everything to the viewer to get them into the theater. People love the genre and if it’s in theaters, I’m sure there will be butts in the seats. Leave some of the surprises to be experienced in the theater and not ruined because you feel the need to prepare the sensitive audience for what they are about to experience. BRIGHTBURN already has the Superman mythos as a framework, so audiences don’t need their hand held to prepare them for this story. BRIGHTBURN is the latest victim to bad marketing and it’s such a shame, as it is a film that deserves so much more and most likely would have made bigger waves at the box office had there been a marketing team more creative enough to bring people in without revealing all of the cards in this film’s hand.
THE HEAD HUNTER (2018)
Directed by Jordan Downey
Written by Kevin Stewart, Jordan Downey
Starring Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman
Find out more about this film here
One of the best horror films of the year is THE HEAD HUNTER. It is a take no prisoners riff on fairy tales and fantasy, set in a grimy and gross world filled with mud, blood, and sinew. While kept budgetarily low, Jordan Downey manages to make a monumentally great film about revenge, axes, and monsters.
The unnamed warrior referred to only as Father in the credits (and played by Christopher Rygh) is a loner, living on the outskirts of a large kingdom. Occasionally, he will get a message arrow that alerts him of the presence of some kind of monster entering the realm. This task is always met with Father’s axe as he is determined to kill all monsters in his path, specifically the one who killed his daughter long ago. When that very monster returns, he sets out for the battle to end all battles, not giving a care whether he lives or dies—only that the monster’s head will one day decorate his wall of severed monster heads.
It’s a shame horror and fantasy don’t come together that often because I think when done well, it can be a powerful combo. Despite a lackluster ending of the series, GAME OF THRONES combined the two genres rather well with horrifying deaths, zombies, and fire breathing dragons. But instead of taking it to the epic scope of GOT, THE HEAD HUNTER tells a small, intimate, and harrowing tale that resounds loudly and violently. Not since the original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE have I seen such chilling and authentically lived in set design than in this film. Everything seems to be covered in some kind of dirt, blood, or mixture of both. The warrior lives only for revenge and therefore doesn’t really have time for cleanliness or order. The only care he takes is in preserving his body from injury (implementing a strange potion made of some pretty gnarly things) and nailing monster heads to his wall once they’ve been defeated.
Simplicity is the key word for THE HEAD HUNTER. There is very little dialog in this film, yet what filmmaker Jordan Downey does so well is communicate this entire fantastic and grimy world. Downey gives us all we need to know. This is a world populated by monsters. There is a man known for killing monsters who is fueled by revenge to kill the one who took one of his own. It is that simplicity that was captured so well in PREDATOR as a perfect man vs. nature tale. I don’t think the similarity between those two movies is a mistake as the armor the lead wears in THE HEAD HUNTER is very similar to the armor of the Predator. But filmed on such a small budget, Downey keeps the camera in close. Only giving us what we need to know in order to follow the story. The monsters themselves are shown, but not in full. But the effectiveness of their awe-inspiring horror is communicated in every drop of sweat, gob of spit, and chunk of gristle the camera instead focuses upon.
There are very few moments wasted in THE HEAD HUNTER. It is a breezy film, clocking in just around an hour and fifteen minutes. But Downey and writer Kevin Stewart prove that runtime doesn’t matter when you pack your film with so much grit and action. Bound to be a cult classic and hopefully the start of a long run of genre films from these two talented filmmakers, THE HEAD HUNTER is not to be missed for those who like their gore sopping, their action brutal, and their fantasy adorned with some sharp, sharp teeth!
And finally, here’s another great short film from the Alter Youtube series. This one is called THE BLUE DOOR and it is a glorious exercise in tension and suspense. Though not a word is uttered, it is able to convey a whole bundle of scares and frights. And the last few moments of this one are definitely going to make your blood run cold. Here is THE BLUE DOOR, directed by Paul Taylor, written and produced by Megan Pugh & Ben Clark, and starring GAME OF THRONES’ Gemma Whelan. If you like what you see here, check out Alter’s Youtube page 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.