:: Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)

The Unspeakable Challenge: day 23, movie 23

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The only documentary in our line-up, the 1999 film adaptation of Michael Lesy’s 1973 book, isn’t what you would expect to find in a review of Lovecraftian cinema.  However, if you watch the film, you will find yourself drawn down a rabbit hole of madness that the Old Gent himself would have found fascinating.

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We have Ian Holm voicing the newspaper editor Frank Cooper, as a displaced Englishman with the beginnings of a Wisconsin accent, as he sets the scene.  In the flesh, Cooper is played by Jeffrey Golden.  Cooper, we are told was the editor of the Black River Falls local newspaper, and he has a optimistic view of his state and county.

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This optimism is juxtaposed with the dark tales that will unfold.  Using the photography of Charles Van Schaick and newspaper reports from the 1890s, the director, James Marsh, delivers bleak reconstructions and dramatisations of those tales.  The stories of terrible weather, economic woes, madness, murder and suicide are woven before our eyes in sumptuous black and white, again, juxtaposed with colour footage of the region as it was at the time of filming.

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There is something deeply disturbing about the way these little newspaper reports seem divorced from the visceral nature of the reality, a dispassionate madness of it’s own, the calmness of inevitable doom.  Ian Holm’s voice is perfect for this: he reads with inflection, but without emotion.

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There is a second narrator, John Schnieder, who delivers non-newspaper reports in a low, soft whisper which is in itself deeply creepy.  There are also vox pop voice-overs and interviews with modern residents of Black River Falls, but even the way these are shot carries dark and terrible undertones. 

:: The Unspeakable Challenge: Blatant Cheating

Well, life got in the way.  When I say life I don’t mean frolicking over green hills surrounded by puppies and balloons.  I, of course, mean the soul wrenching hammering of a capricious universe on the creaking doors of sanity.  So, I fell behind in the Challenge.  Sorry about that.  In order to rectify this, I’m going to have to resort to so blatant cheating and do something I said I wouldn’t: review previously reviewed movies.  But, to save you from the boredom, what I’ll do is just post some links here relating to the relevant days and films, with some additional notes where appropriate.  Again, sorry, but life can be a spanner in the rectum of planning.

 

Day 14, Movie 14: Mr Jones

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/mr-jones-2013/

While not overt, there is some distinct Yog-Sothery going on here, with a disintegration of time and space as the main leads open a “gate” to the Dreamlands.

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Day 15, Movie 15: Banshee Chapter

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/the-banshee-chapter-2013/

Some hard HPL references, as the film is essentially a lift from “From Beyond”.

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Day 16, Movie 16: The Woods

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/the-woods-2006/

Some Shub-Niggurath syle action in a witchy-witchy fairy tale.  Very good.

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Day 17, Movie 17: Conspiracy

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/the-conspiracy-2012/

The Lovecraftian element is more of a dark atmosphere here, than in any actual references to alien gods.  But the strange cult feels Lovecraftian, rather than actually being Lovecraftian.  Great film.

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Day 18, Movie 18: Beneath

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/beneath-2013/

Is it a god?  Is it a monster?  Can it be both?  Myth and reality collide in this giant killer fish tale which reeks of deeper meaning.

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Day 19, Movie 19: Re-Animator

http://www.fangirlmag.com/movie-reviews/re-animator-1985/

An adaptation of a serial that HPL himself despised, but I think is wonderful (because… zombies). 

:: Bleeders [aka Hemoglobin] (1997)

The Unspeakable Challenge: day 13, movie 13.

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John Strauss (Roy Dupuis) suffers from a degenerative blood disease of unknown origin.  He and his wife Katharine (Kristen Lehman) track down what may be the hereditary source of the malaise that is killing him.  It seems that he is related to an old Dutch family of smugglers, the Van Dams, who escaped persecution in the Seventeenth Century by traveling to the new world.  Their crimes: sexual perversions and incest.  While John is suffering, his wife and the local alcoholic Dr Marlowe (Rutger Hauer) investigate.  Meanwhile, on the island, coffins are being broken into… from beneath, and it transpires that the Van Dam family may not be extinct after all…

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Bleeders was written by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Sushett, and Charles Adair, and is directed by Peter Svartek.  Judging by the reviews, I was expecting an infected armpit of a film.  I was actually surprised when it turned out to be not too bad.  Although it was shot in 1997, it does feel like an 80s made-for-TV movie with added sex and violence.  The script is actually good, and has a lot of similarities to O’Bannon’s other work The Resurrected, although this is in no way a film noir adaptation.  Instead we get an exposition scene setter in the 1600s with the beautiful Eva van Dam (Gillian Ferrabee) being painted by Vermeer (Pascal Gruselle) and shagging her twin brother… also played by Ferrabee.  For these perversions, the Van Dams have to flee, and settle on an Island off Maine, USA.  We then meet John Strauss, who begins the film wearing what can only be described as a “big girl’s blouse”, has a fit (so we know he’s not right), and spends most of the film looking unwell, trying to rape his wife, being more unwell, and then being unwell. 

:: The Thing (1982)

The Unspeakable Challenge: day 12, movie 12

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A spacecraft sweeps down towards Earth and disappears.  The words “The Thing” burn across the screen.  A dog is being chased by a gunman in a helicopter across the antarctic wastes.  The dog sees signs of habitation: a US station, crewed by bored scientists, battening down for the coming antarctic winter.  When the gunman opens fire, hitting one of the Americans, he is shot dead by the base commander, and the dog is taken in.  The dog, however is not what it seems, and soon the relationships between the men descend into fear and paranoia, as they begin to question who is human, and who could be… the thing

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The Thing, written by Bill Lancaster and directed by John Carpenter, is perhaps one of my favourite films of all time.  There was a period when I watched it every Sunday for about a year until my VHS tape crinkled itself into oblivion.  I used to recite it to myself when I was having trouble sleeping, and it ranks high with Jaws (1975), Dawn of The Dead (1979) and Day of the Dead (1985) as one of the films I know extremely well.  The plot is based on a novella called “Who Goes There?” written by Joseph W Campbell, and was loosely adapted as The Thing From Another World (1951).  That it deals with a shapeshifting alien rather than a vampire carrot, John Carpenter’s version takes more from the original.

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Bill Lancaster, now sadly dead, put together a really tense thriller upon which the gory garnish is an alien.  The script is beautiful, heavy with people acting in their own worse interests, even when they are trying to work together. 

:: Ghostbusters (1984)

The Unspeakable Challenge: day 11, movie 11

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Sleazy but lovable parapsychologist Peter Venkman, and his two colleagues, excitable puppy Ray Stanza and borderline autistic nerd Egon Spengler find that ghosts are real, and represent a viable business venture.  When they are evicted from their offices by the University, they go into business for themselves catching and holding ghosts.  However, something darker is rising: concert musician Dana’s apartment seems to be the epicenter not only of increase ghost activity, but also a rift that will bring forth the ancient alien god Gozer the Gozerian to annihilate the world.  The “Ghostbusters” are dragged into the situation and will find themselves unwitting guardians of the whole world…

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Ghostbusters was written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, initially for John Belushi and John Candy in the two main roles.  Belushi died, and Candy passed, leaving the roles open for Murray and Ramis to step in.  Directed by Ivan Reitman, the film takes the usual horror tropes of ghosts and paranormal investigators and pours it into a comedy with romantic elements.  And it works.  It works so well, that 30 years later a third movie has recently been green-lit ready for production, rumoured to be an all-female reboot.  There are a few reasons why Ghostbusters is so good: it’s genuinely funny, due to an expertly crafted script; the cast gels perfectly, with Bill Murray playing… well, Bill Murray as the main role.

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Although it was rewritten for him, it’s easy to see John Belushi in the role, who wouldn’t have come across quite so creepily sleazy.  The other thing that completely word is the score.    From the brilliant “Ghostbusters” theme by Ray Parker Jr, to the incidental music, it pulls everything in to a cohesive whole. 

:: Wolves 2014 Movie Review

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Wolves

Movie Review

By Jessica Dwyer

Wolves was described by writer and director David Hayter as Twilight with bite.  Haha.  Well I wouldn’t be that unkind to Wolves.  The film is formulae though, so much so it hurts.   But it is saved to a small degree by a good cast of actors who manage to make the lackluster dialog sound good and some beautiful creature design.

The film follows Cayden Richards (Lucas Till) who is going through some changes.  In what may or may not be an allegory for puberty, Cayden is turning into a werewolf.  After an incident playing football (TeenWolf anyone?) and a make out session gone wrong with his girlfriend, Cayden finds himself covered in blood and his parents partially eaten.

Going on the road to hide from the cops, he finds himself meeting Wild Joe (the always fun John Pyper-Ferguson) who is a fellow wolf.  Cayden gets him to send him on his way to where more of his kind live in an out of the way small town.  When he gets there he meets Connor (Jason Momoa who makes everything better by playing…Jason Momoa) a tough gang leader and a farmer named John Tollerman (Stephen McHattie, who still needs to do a film with Lance Henriksen as a couple of bad ass brothers.)

As the film progresses Cayden finds love (of course) with the lovely Angel (Merritt Patterson) as well as the many secrets of who and what he is.  It’s all leading to a confrontation with the lives of all he cares about at stake.

If that sounds like the plot of many other recent teen centric horror films, it’s because it is.  What sets Wolves apart are the special effects and the fact that the movie isn’t afraid to show gore (it is rated R). 

:: Blood Beach (1981)

The Unspeakable Challenge: Day 10, movie 10.

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Harry Caulder (David Huffman), a harbour cop, investigates the sudden and violent disappearance of his neighbour, Ruth (Harriet Medin) on Venice Beach, california.  When the local cops, Royko (Burt Young) and Piantadosi (Otis Young) show little interest in the case, Harry calls Ruth’s daughter Catherine (Marianna Hill), his former fiance, to come and put Ruth’s affairs in order.  Soon, other people are attacked, seemingly by the beach itself, and the police Captain (John Saxon) finally begins to take the situation seriously. Although nothing is found, the media dubs the area “Blood Beach”, and as Harry investigates further clues point to the abandoned pier, and a crazy bag-lady called Mrs Selden who lives there…

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Blood Beach was written and directed by Jeffery Bloom, as an exploitation picture in the wake of Jaws (1975).  There are a lot of references to Jaws throughout the film, but they are done totally straight, without any modicum of humour.  The tag line was “just when you though it was safe to go back in the water… you can’t get to it”, which is a play on the tag from Jaws 2.  Let me admit, before we go any further, that I absolutely love this movie.  I’ve loved it since I was a kid, watching it on VHS from being taped late-night.  It is, however, much maligned, and I really think that it’s unfair.  The film-stock is terrible, grainy and degraded; the sound quality is awful; the direction is a little plodding, and the monster at the end… well, it doesn’t hold up very well.

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And yet, the script is really good, and for the main the acting is way better than it should be, mainly because the cast take it so seriously. 

:: The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

The Unspeakable Challenge: Day 9, Movie 9.

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After a potted history of the planet, we meet Dr Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno), who discovers a fossil of what appears to be a missing link between humans and fish.  His former student, Dr David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Reed’s girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams), put together an expedition to locate more remains.  Hiring a sleazy river-boat Captain, Lucas (Nestor Paiva) and his crew, they make the way to Maia’s camp, to find the entire team killed by some kind of animal.  Pressing ahead, they decide to search the downstream lagoon, only to find that the fossil is only the remains of a species that still lurks in the black waters…

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The Creature From The Black Lagoon, directed by the excellent Jack Arnold, is just bundles of fun from beginning to end.  While the script is pretty clunky, the opening scenes heavy with clumsy exposition more suited to a radio play than the movies, the acting is actually pretty good.  Carlson, Julie Adams, and Richard Denning (as Dr Williams) are all great, negotiating the script with skill that almost makes it flow naturally.  As the movie progresses, these expository dumps fade away, and it is very, very easy to get into the characters.  One character that makes the whole film worthwhile is of course, the gill-man, played by two performers.  On land, the awkward bipedal gait is offered by Ben Chapman, while underwater the grace and menace is beautifully realised by Ricou Browning (as if this writing, still alive at the age of 83).

The direction, by Jack Arnold, the king of 50s sci-fi [The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Tarantula (1955), It Came From Outer Space (1953)] the picture is crisp in glorious black & white, the camera surprisingly mobile for a fifties picture. 

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