4 Shots From 4 Films: Castle Freak, Lord of Illusions, Species, Village of the Damned

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, we’re using 4 Shots From 4 Films to look at some of the best years that horror has to offer!

4 Shots From 4 1995 Horror Films

Castle Freak (1995, dir by Stuart Gordon)

Lord of Illusions (1995, dir by Clive Barker)

Species (1995, dir by Roger Donaldson)

Village of the Damned (1995, dir by John Carpenter)

Halloween Havoc! Book Extra: DARK DETECTIVES (Edited by Stephen Jones; Titan Books paperback 2015)

cracked rear viewer

Back in September, I was browsing at the local Barnes & Noble (as I frequently do, given the lack of independent bookstores around here) looking for something to review this Halloween season. I’d just finished with Stephen King’s REVIVAL (Pocket Books paperback, 2017), and while it’s good, everybody does King this time of year, and I wanted something different. I wandered through the fantasy section, and waaaay up on the top shelf I spotted a title that caught my interest. DARK DETECTIVES: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries, combining two of my favorite genres, horror and detective fiction! Curiosity piqued, I grabbed the book and bought it (along with the great James Lee Burke’s latest novel, ROBICHEAUX).

DARK DETECTIVES, first published as a limited edition in 1999, features ten short stories, some old, some written especially for the anthology, by authors I’m familiar with (and I assume you are too, if…

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Music Video of the Day: Hellraiser by Motörhead (1992, dir. Clive Barker)

Kirsty: I only know what it does. It hurts.

Oh, Kirsty. Yes, Hellraiser III was awful. Yes, it is sad that it’s the movie that got Motörhead’s version of Hellraiser. But it could have been worse. It could have been Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) that got this song. That would have been truly painful.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005, dir. Rick Bota)

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005, dir. Rick Bota)

In 1992 they finally got around to making a third film in the Hellraiser franchise. It really has nothing to do with the first two films. Once you’ve seen Pinhead create a cenobite with a face made of CDs, there’s no going back. If you’ve only seen the first two films, then stop there. You can watch this music video to get one, if not the only good thing about the third film–this song.

According to The Official Clive Barker website, this is what Barker said the concept for the video was:

We open on Motorhead’s performance, set a large, cavernous space. Dante-esque, dimly lit with pools of light on the band members and their instruments. As the camera moves around the space, various creatures are revealed, oily bodies shining through their ragged bits of clothing, prosthetic pieces (a claw, a beak etc.,) and bandages, stylized make-up all showing that they are THE DAMNED. All of this is shot in shadowy black and white. We also see Props from “Hellraiser 3” (the baby, signage, etc.), which become match dissolves to footage from the film itself.

Back in our black and white cavern a roadie sits in a large Overstuffed chair toward the back of the space, smoking, watching the band’s performance. Suddenly light streams in when a door crashes open. We switch to color as Pinhead makes his grand entrance, rim-lit, a delicate presence. The demons begin to writhe madly to the music. The band’s performance builds as Pinhead moves across the floor, throwing the roadie out of his chair and out of frame. Pinhead takes the seat and gulps virgin’s blood from smoking cup. From Pinhead’s point of view we watch the band.

We cut to a scene of Lemmy and Pinhead in two chairs at a gaming table. Intercutting with performance footage and Hellraiser III footage, we see Lemmy and Pinhead playing cards, drinking, Serious competitors having fun. The demons writhe behind Pinhead, the band stands behind Lemmy as the tension builds between the two.

Doug Bradley added the following in 2005 concerning Lemmy:

The card game finished with me getting the Ace of Spades, so the idea is that Lemmy wins the game but at the price of losing his soul. But that was funny, when we were playing that card game there was a decanter on the table, just as a prop, and Lemmy had a word with one of his people, the decanter disappeared but it came back again full of amber liquid which Lemmy proceeded to drink his way through while we shot that scene, like you and I would drink orange juice, while the dark pope of Hell sat on the other side of the table demurely sipping Evian water…

The attraction of this music video is when Lemmy and Pinhead play cards.

However, there are a few other things I enjoy about the video.

While the footage of the band playing is boring, I do like the reverse shot where Pinhead is at a Motörhead concert.

Why is this person wearing something similar to the jaw-breaking device from the Saw movies?

A bit of a Queen music video is going on here.

I normally don’t go for unintegrated movie footage in videos of this sort, but I appreciate that Barker left in one particular sequence from the movie. There is a scene where the cheap cenobites that Pinhead made chase Terry Farrell’s character onto a street to do a scene similar to the one from Superman II (1980).

Superman II (1980, dir. Richard Lester & Richard Donner)

And yes, Henry Cavill was in Hellraiser: Hellworld where he got killed off by Lance Henriksen, not Pinhead, since, like the other movies after IV, Hellworld was a different movie that had elements of Hellraiser grafted onto it. Pinhead doesn’t actually exist in the movie until the very end of the film.

During that street destruction scene, there are at least two places that get their signs destroyed.

Larry was a character from the first Hellraiser movie played by Andrew Robinson who would go on to be on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with Terry Farrell in 1993–one year after this movie came out.

If you have the misfortune to watch Hellraiser III, then you might notice that the statue Pinhead is in with what I remember to be trapped souls is just a tad similar to something from A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). In that movie, Freddy Krueger explains that he has gotten stronger by capturing children’s souls which he then shows as part of his flesh. I’m sure the similarities weren’t lost on the people involved in both franchises. Elm Street started back up the same year as the Hellraiser franchise started. Also, makeup artist Kevin Yagher, who did makeup on Elm Street 2, 3, and 4, would go on to direct Hellraiser IV as Alan Smithee.

Barker could have just as easily used footage from the club parts of the movie instead of Farrell running on the street. Instead, he left in those shots.

Other than those things, it’s just the song and the card playing scene, which yes, is similar to The Seventh Seal (1957) with its game of chess with Death. There’s nothing else particularly interesting. You’re watching to see Lemmy turn up a joker and the ace of spades.


Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Three

So, I have made it 11 days! I am going to try to keep it up, but there are some personal changes, job wise, possibly going on in the next week or so and I might not be able to continued watching 1  horror film a day. I will still continue to watch as many as possible, and keep posting the reviews in parts such as this – there just might not be as many films, or they might not be as frequent.

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part One

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Two

October 7th: ‘Willow Creek’ (dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)


‘Willow Creek’ is a found footage horror film that is essentially ‘The Blair Witch Project’ meets Bigfoot and it is pretty damn effective…for about 20 minutes.

The story here is simple, a couple is filming an excursion into the Six Rivers National Forest to find the site of the infamous Patterson-Gilmin film (you know, that grainy footage of some dude in a fur coat). Before trekking into the wilderness they interview locals of Willow Creek, a town that is filled with believers and non-believers, both of which pretty much make their living off the Bigfoot image. Things begin to get fishy when a group of locals start to threaten the couple and tell them to go home. Of course they don’t take this advice, and instead head into the woods. Things turn from bad to worse pretty quickly as something, or someone, starts to terrorize them during the night.

This is a film that takes a very long time for anything to really happen. Much of it is just spent trying to build some level of suspense, and set up some possible mystery about what or who is in the woods. It doesn’t really work for a few reasons.

Mainly, because like most found footage films this one has a lot of scenes that have NO real reason to be filmed. Many of which just involve the two characters driving, talking about whether or not they believe in Bigfoot. They are supposed to be making a documentary apparently. Most of what they are filming is interviews; so why the hell would they be filming conversations that aren’t interesting footage in regards to either the film, and aren’t worth recording even if they are possibly trying to remember the trip? It seems like the sole purpose of it is to show tension building between the couple…but it kills the logic of the style, taking you out of the “reality” they are trying to create.

Once things do get going it basically just becomes another ‘The Blair Witch Project’, with characters in a tent hearing noises and movement outside – but are the scares during these scenes effective? Hell yes. There is one incredible 20 minute long shot of the characters just sitting in a dimly lit tent as something outside is making noises and throwing things at them. It is quite an unsettling scene that gets right under the skin. Unfortunately it doesn’t last. By the time the next morning arrives things become a little too familiar, going from homage to straight up copying, and it isn’t hard to predict where things are going from there as the characters find themselves going in circles and losing their cool.

Other than that 20 minute stretch the film doesn’t really have anything else going for it. Sure the leads are likable and manage to keep you invested when tension is low. But that is only until their personal problems come to the surface. These two really need a whole different film to work things out. This is a bit of a spoiler, but like, yeah dude, really smart to propose to your girlfriend in the woods after receiving weird threats and finding your camp ransacked…oh, she rejected you? She says it is too soon? Maybe cause YOU DON’T EVEN LIVE TOGETHER? Why this scene is even included makes no sense to me. We don’t care enough about these characters to want to see their romantic life. And this minor conflict has NO bearing whatsoever on what came before it or what follows.

It all ultimately resulted in a film that is worthy of admiration for one great and truly eerie scene, but nothing more. It was just impossible for me to get over so many of the glaring character and film making issues to consider it anything special. And as the dust settles, I find myself now more annoyed than anything by how just disappointing it was. Because it DID have something there for a few minutes. If only. So I don’t really recommend it. Honestly, you are probably better off just checking YouTube for the long take I mentioned.

October 8th: ‘Re-Animator’ (dir. Stuart Gordon)


‘Re-Animator’ is an utterly ridiculous horror “comedy”, in the vein of ‘Dead Alive’, that relies almost completely on some crazy visual gags to create a fun and bat shit crazy – but also totally hollow – viewing experience.

The film is about a medical student whose new roommate is secretly working on a formula that he believes can bring the dead back to life. When he finds out – after a hilarious mishap with a zombie cat – he gets caught up in the weird experiments his roommate is doing in their basement. As they progress, their target for test subjects grows from cats to humans; at the same time their egotistical professor discovers their work and wants to claim it as his own.

There isn’t much to say here. The story is rather simple and moves at a very fast pace. This leaves no room for any sort of reasonable character development. I understand this isn’t trying to be some serious horror film, but the gore, effects and humor alone weren’t enough to keep me truly invested. With so much on the line for the characters, I just wished I cared at all about any of them.

Still, it is a fun watch, mainly because of how cartoonish it gets at times, so I’d recommend it if you are looking for something with a light tone, simple narrative and plenty of gore.

October 10th (Watched two to make up for missing the 9th): ‘Hellraiser’ (dir. Clive Barker)


‘Hellraiser’ is at times a grisly horror film with some great truly grotesque visual effects. It is almost completely ruined however by a lackluster and poorly paced first hour.

The film is about a man who moves into his childhood home with his wife; a wife who had a secret affair with her husband’s brother. Little do either of them know that the brother died in the house’s attic while opening a mysterious puzzle box, known as the Lament Configuration, disappearing without a trace. After an accident, the blood of the husband lands on the attic floor causing the brother’s body to re-materializes as a bloody skeleton. He uses the wife to secretly bring men to the attic so he can kill them and slowly regenerate his body. All the while, the husband’s daughter Kirsty suspects something weird is going on and tries to find out what. She discovers that the puzzle box opens a portal to some other dimension filled with “demon” Cenobites – who essentially dabble in the most extreme forms of sadomasochism one could imagine. They want to take the brother back, and also have their eyes on Kirsty.

Practically nothing eventful happens throughout much of the story. I understand a lot of it is to set up the finale, but it could have easily been condensed to allow for more to happen in the third act. There is no development of the characters in the first hour. We know fairly quickly who the adult characters are, as well as their intentions, and so did not need so much time focusing on them. The first hour is literally just the wife bringing men to the brother to be killed. Instead, the film should have focused more on Kirsty, the young daughter, who is the focus of the film in the final 30 minutes. She is the only character anyone could really care for in the whole film and yet she is thrust into danger with so little time spent developing her that any real sense of suspense over her safety is absent.

I think why I found this so disappointing was that it sets up such an interesting horror universe that did intrigue me. There is definitely a lot more to these Cenobites than we are told; and they are frightening enough to have been present and a source of scares for more than the little screen time they get here. These are all really personal gripes, and the film is not a failure. As a whole I quite enjoyed it, I just think it missed a chance to be truly great. With that said, for what seems like one of the first times in a while, I am actually now interested in seeing what the sequel of a horror film has in store.

October 10th: ‘Hellbound: Hellraise II’ (dir. Tony Randel)


‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ is the sequel to the first ‘Hellraiser’ film, and like the first is a wonderfully sick, twisted and gory horror flick that luckily, in my opinion, puts the focus were the first should have.

The film takes place right after the original left off with Kirsty in a mental ward. She tries to explain to the doctors and police what happened to her parents, but of course no one seems to believe her. No one except one doctor who has studied the Lament Configuration, the puzzle box that started it all. Based on the information he gets from Kirsty’s story, he uses the bloody mattress of Kirsty’s mother in law to bring her back to life and open the Lament Configuration. In doing so he, Kirsty and another girl at the ward – Tiffany – get trapped within the realm of the Cenobites, essentially a labyrinth of horror. Kirsty tries to find her way out with Tiffany, while also fighting off her evil mother in law, and the doctor who is turned into a Cenobite.

The first half hour was truly disappointing. It spends pretty much the entire time flashing back to the events of the first film. Considering this came out shortly after the original – and because I can only imagine those that saw this were people who already saw ‘Hellraiser’ – there was absolutely no need for any of this. Plus, because the ending to the first was were all the action was, I was hoping that would have carried over. Sadly, it was just more waiting around for something interesting to actually occur. Luckily this time it didn’t take an hour.

Once things did get going, the film turns into a twisted and warped mind trip, with the Labyrinth using nightmarish memories and gruesome visuals to confuse and frighten Kirsty and Tiffany. It is not really at all scary, but the craziness of it all is so fun to watch. Plus, it expands on the background of the Cenobites, actually making them more than two dimensional villains.

As with the first, the visuals here – specifically the make up and costumes – are very well done. In particular, I love the way the muscles were constructed when there is ever a skinless body. With all the detail that went into them, along with the creativity of some of the demons, it offset how grotesque the gore could be. In other words, I’d have been more grossed out if not for the fact that I admire it all so much.

Despite the issues I had with the first half hour the film works. It works even better when watched back to back with the first. I do ultimately think I liked this one more, but I highly recommend both ‘Hellraiser’ films…a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever say. Now I have to decide whether I want to delve deeper into the franchise…

October 11th: ‘Les Diaboliques’ (dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot)


‘Les Diaboliques’ is a cold, dark, clever and meticulous horror thriller. One that slowly lays out its plot, piece by piece, reaching an unnerving level of confusion and suspense. All ending in a wonderfully twisted, and at one point quite terrifying, finale.

To go into much detail about the plot would ruin the experience, and to give away the ending would be criminal – the film actually ends with a plea from the filmmakers for the audience to not give anything away. So I will just say that it has to do with the wife and mistress of a barbarous school Headmaster, plotting to rid themselves of his cruelty. But things do not go as planned, and a mystery filled to the brim with suspicion and fear slowly unfolds.

It might sound simple or familiar – and I am guessing at the time it wasn’t viewed that way – but ignore that, because the film is neither; instead it is truly quite brilliant and near perfect. It contains a totally adsorbing narrative that requires, and earns, every bit of the viewers attention. It creates a genuine atmosphere of suspense and uncertainty that is hard to shake.

It does it all through its technical excellency. The direction, fixating on certain locations or items to ratchet up the tension of already thrilling situations, is phenomenal and sets the tone very early on. The performances are also very good, as is the writing, with almost every character having some flaw or secret, which may or may not implicate them in the mystery at hand. It does its best to keep you guessing, and it works right up to the very last frame.

Looking back, I guess I should not be surprised by just how great the film is. It was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot who also made ‘Wages of Fear’ – arguably the tensest film ever made. It was also a masterpiece, and although I might not yet place ‘Les Diaboliques’ in that category, it is definitely not far from it.

Duke Tries A Halloween Marathon…Part Two.

This is part two of my attempt at partaking in a October horror marathon. The first part of which can be found here.

October 5th (Watched two because I didn’t have time on the 4th): ‘Frankenstein’s Army’ (dir. Richard Raaphorst)


‘Frankenstein’s Army’ is a WWII found footage film with a weirdness and creativity that makes for one fun, goofy and clever experience…if you can get past the headache inducing sound design.

The film is about a small squad of Russian soldiers, behind enemy lines, who stumble upon an eerily abandoned church. What they find inside is a lab of a decedent of Victor Frankenstein, who has been experimenting with the bodies of soldiers (friend and foe) and turning them into mindless monsters mixed with machinery of all sorts.

The film is shot in a found footage style and it actually works. The explanation behind it is essentially they are trying to make a propaganda film. There is the usual question as to why they are still filming during certain scenes, but I actually think the film as a whole would not have worked as well had it been filmed conventionally.

The best thing about the film is easily the production, at least visually. There are some really well done long takes, often with characters in the background doing things that one might miss if they aren’t paying attention. The costume/monster designs are wonderfully weird and creative. They definitely had fun with the concept, and it shows.

The only issue I had was the sound design, which was mindbogglingly annoying. I mean really bad. So screechy, scratchy and just plain irritating. I understand that because of the nature of some of the monsters and their machine parts that it would require these sorts of sounds, but ultimately they add nothing to the experience except a headache. However, this might only be me. Others might not have the same response, so I won’t really hold it against the film – I just probably will never watch it again.

Overall this is a fun, if hollow, film worthy of at least one viewing. The performances aren’t great, and the dialogue is exactly what you’d expect from this sort of film. There is no subtext and no real scares. Still, it is so creative and so bat-shit crazy at times that it would be a shame to pass it up if given the opportunity. Especially when it is a lean 84 minutes.

‘The Midnight Meat Train’ (dir. Ryûhei Kitamura)


‘The Midnight Meat Train’ is a brutal and violent horror film, that is unfortunately dragged down by some scripting and pacing issues.

The film stars Bradley Cooper as a photographer who, after being told to be a bit riskier in his search for great photos, finds himself face to face with Vinnie Jones, a butcher who is brutally murdering people on a train. Cooper begins to follow Jones in an attempt to gather evidence of the murders, all the while the darkness of the situation taking its tool emotionally on him.

The biggest issue I had was the pacing of the story as well as the characters. It is a weird situation in which I simultaneously wished it would slow down in terms of character development, while also picking up the pacing for the horror. There is such a rapid shift in the emotions of the characters that – although valid – happen way to abruptly. What is worse is that it isn’t like they don’t have enough time to draw this out. Because they do…almost too much so, to the point that I was also wishing they’d hurry up with the horror elements.

This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue if not for the fact that it made me lose interest in a lot of what was happening. I wasn’t invested in the characters or the horror because of it, and so any attempts at creating suspense were lost of me – leaving me with only the graphic and brutal kills on the train, which just aren’t my thing. I can handle gore, but find it utterly pointless – and distasteful – when there is little to no meaning behind it.

It wasn’t all bad though, with the stand out being the direction. There is some really great camerawork, especially in a scene set in an apartment. I also liked the visual contrasts between the surface and train scenes; and Vinnie Jones was cool, calm and terrifying. The ending was also great, where there is a reveal of a mythical plot line that is alluded to throughout most of the film. It is a very weird tonal shift, and goes a long way towards adding meaning to a lot of what came before it…sadly it is a case of too little too late.

Overall I didn’t hate it, but an hour in I was just ready for it to finally be over…and imagine my dismay when I realized there was another 40 minutes or so left. It is the sort of horror film in which its failings are harder for me to ignore, as I might in another film, given the content. If you are looking for just a gory horror film in which the shock value is simply the brutal violence, then this might be for you. If you are looking for something with a bit more substance, than you may want to look elsewhere.

October 6th: ‘Black Christmas’ (dir. Bob Clark)


‘Black Christmas’, considered to be one of the first ever slasher films, is an efficient, effective and highly enjoyable horror film – one I will definitely revisit often.

The film is set during Christmas at a sorority, the members of which are being harassed by someone making creepy prank calls. As many of them leave for the holiday break, one goes missing, setting off a search for her and the person calling the house. As the remaining sorority sisters try to deal with this, they begin to be killed off one by one by a killer who may potentially be someone very close to them.

The only issue I had was with a particular mannerism of the killer. The film took on a first person perspective whenever he appeared – which was effectively spooky- but there was quite a lot of moaning and weird grunts coming from him at the same time. They were meant to be eerie, and in the end worked because of the nature of his mania and the calls to the house – but it was ultimately more annoying than unsettling.

But I can easily overlook this minor issue because of just how well made the film is. There is a genuine feeling of suspense here, partly because of the whodunit nature of the murders; and also because of the closeness of the killer throughout the events of the film. You never know who it is, what will set him off, or who will be killed next – but you do know he is there, waiting.

That said, it isn’t necessarily a scary film per se, but an unsettling and bleak one. The sort that gets under your skin and sticks with you. However, with that, it has to be said that through all the bleakness, there is also a great sense of humor to the story. There is also actually a maturity and depth to the script that I wasn’t expecting. This might be set in a sorority, but it isn’t about partying and dim witted topless girls, like so many slashers that came after it. The women here are smart and mature, dealing with important family and relationship issues. This added a lot to my investment in the characters, and so made the fear of their potential demise all the more suspenseful.

The direction is great – Christmas makes for a perfect setting, at least visually. There is solid pacing and an effective slow build throughout. I was surprised how well the mystery it creates in its first few scenes holds up so well even when things slow down a bit halfway through. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that even when it might not be focused on its creepier slasher elements, it instead is focused on those previously mentioned characters – again making the suspense as the killer stalks them all the more effective. There is no real resolution to the story, but the film is less focused on the actual killer and more focused on building an atmosphere and a story that is almost mythical.

Lastly, as someone who isn’t too knowledgeable in regards to the genre, it was easy to initially think that a lot of the tropes in play were cliche…but once I took into consideration the fact that ‘Black Christmas’ came out in 1974, and was really the start of most of these, they actually added a level of admiration to my already high level of enjoyment. It might not be as good as something like ‘Halloween’, which clearly drew some influence from this, but it deserves to be considered just as much of a classic. This is easily the best film I’ve watched so far for this horror series, and one that I’d add to my list of favorite horror films of all time.

*Side note, it is absolutely hilarious that director Bob Clark also directed ‘A Christmas Story’.

Horror Song of the Day: It Was Always You, Helen from Candyman (by Phillip Glass)


Latest Horror Song of the Day comes courtesy of one Phillip Glass who was tasked with composing the film score for the film adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”. The film would become Candyman.

“It Was Always You, Helen” becomes the film’s overarching theme throughout the film. Unlike other horror themes before it, the one created by Glass for Candyman highlighted the Southern Gothic backstory of the title character and the origins of the Candyman legend. It’s been called a minimalist score, yet it’s selling the film score short, especially this theme. While Glass has become famous for his work within the minimalist music movement he actually created a very symphonic score, albeit one which focused on subtlety over bombastic.

While listened on it’s own doesn’t evoke any sort of shivers up one’s arms and back, this theme will bring about such feeling of supernatural dread when paired with the film. It’s a shame that Phillip Glass doesn’t do more horror film scores because this theme and the score for the film shows that he has a knack for it.

Horror Songs of the Day: Hellraiser Theme (Christopher Young and Coil)


For the first horror “Song of the Day” I couldn’t decide on which theme from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser I should use.

Fans of the film should know well the original theme composed by Christopher Young for the film. It’s a more orchestral theme that gives the film a sort of grand guignol grandeur. It’s an epic piece that would get used time and time again for each successive sequel. There might be some minute changes to the theme with each new film, but the basic composition remains. It’s a theme that helps one visualize forbidden texts and grimoires laying in wait for the ones brave or foolish enough to turn the page.

Then there’s the unreleased and unused theme that Barker had originally wanted to use from the industrial band Coil. This theme for the film was more about discordant melodies that harkens back to the more disturbing musical composition used for The Exorcist. It’s a theme that brings up images of the sublime and exquisite pain that Pinhead promises to those solve the Lament Configuration.

Some fans prefer the original Christopher Young suite while others have grown to love and prefer the more disturbing piece from Coil. I, for one, think both could’ve been used in the film though if I had to pick one to use as the main theme then I would go with Christopher Young’s composition.

Christopher Young Hellraiser theme

Coil Hellraiser theme

Review: The Midnight Meat Train (dir. by Kitamura Ryuhei)

There’s a certain number of books when I was much younger that I thought would’ve made for some great horror films. They were the early works by Clive Barker. Short stories collected into several volumes aptly dubbed his Books of Blood. While several short stories from these volumes were adapted to film in the intervening years most were not worth the time to watch them. So, lo and behold that when I finally saw the latest short story adapted from these collections I was genuinely surprised at how well-made and entertaining it turned out to be. The Midnight Meat Train by Japanese filmmaker Kitamura Ryuhei was a fine piece of horror filmmaking that dripped in atmosphere and a growing sense of existential dread right up to it’s very surprising end.

The Midnight Meat Train is quite a simple story when one really breaks it down to it’s component parts. It’s a crime thriller wrapped in the bloody layers of an extreme horror film. There’s a certain noirish quality to it’s storytelling as we see the film’s protagonist in Leon (Bradley Cooper). He’s a photographer struggling to find the inspiration for his next set of photographs and decides to wander the train stations at midnight to find that inspiration. It’s during one visit at night that he begins to suspect that he might’ve come across one of the latest missing persons who might’ve become a victim of the so-called “Subway Butcher”. The film shows his growing obsession in finding out if the urban legend of this so-called serial killer is actually true.

His mental state only deteriorates as the reality about the “Subway Butcher” (Vinnie Jones in one of his best roles to date) catches up to the truth on one midnight ride on the subway train. His witnessing of the killer at work brings him into a hidden world the rest of the city seems unaware or incapable of acknowledging despite the hundreds of people who go missing year in and year out for almost a hundred years. His girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) and best friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) soon become drawn into Leon’s nightmarish situation and must confront the very boogeyman who has begun to haunt Leon’s waking life.

The film is Kitamura Ryuhei’s first Hollywood film and it doesn’t diminish the talent for some creative visuals he earned while directing horror and genre films in his native Japan. He makes great use of the nighttime setting and the stark environs of the subway trains at midnight to give The Midnight Meat Train an almost black and white look punctuated by vivid splashes of visceral red during the many inventive killings by Vinnie Jones’ mute Mahogany character. Kitamura showed that he was able to squeeze as much as was possible from a script that was average at best. Especially considering that the script had to adapt one of Barker’s shorter tales.

The performances by the ensemble group led by Bradley Cooper ranged from good to excellent with the aforementioned Vinnie Jones leading the pack. Even Bradley Cooper as the tormented protagonist Leon handled the role well. I’ve never warmed to Cooper as an actor as he always came across as a smirking douchebag in almost every role he played prior to this one. He quickly shed some of that reputation for me with his performance in this film and continues to do so with every one since this film. The smirk is still there but he has managed to drop the douchebag aspect of it. I also must point out a nice turn by veteran genre actor Tony Curran as the train conductor who exuded a sense of the otherworldly and a character who held the answers to the questions brought up by the film.

Since this is a horror film one must mention it’s horrofic aspects and this film fills it’s quota of horror. The scenes where Jones’ Mahogany dispatches the unwary last riders of the train at midnight were shot extremely well and with some visual flairs Kitamura has gained a reputation for. There’s nothing cartoony about these kills unlike other slasher films of it’s type. The kills are done in a brutal fashion as meat tenderizers smash into skulls and backs. Then there are the dressing of the kills which gives meaning to the film’s title. The only part of this film which seemed so out of place, but was necessary in the film’s overall narrative was the make-up effects in the end of the dead-end tunnel where Leon finally sees the truth of why Mahogany has been killing passengers on the subway train. It’s here that the film’s budget shows. At least Kitamura was smart enough to film these scenes in very low light to hide some of the zippers and laces on the costuming.

Overall, The Midnight Meat Train was one horror film in 2008 that deserved to have been seen by more people. It’s a shame that the handling of this film’s distribution by Lionsgate bordered on the criminal as it failed to be screened  by many theaters which led to it’s failure in the box-office. This was a horror film that delivered on the goods without pandering to the torture porn crowd who had begun to dominate the scene due to the popularity of the Saw franchise. Kitamura’s first work in America showed that he brings a fresh new voice to Western horror. The film also ends up becoming the best of all the Books of Blood short story adaptations and shows that Barker’s earlier grand guignol writing phase could be adapted well to the bigscreen.

Here’s to hoping that the failure of this film in the box-office (Again, I say fuck you Lionsgate) doesn’t keep other up-and-coming horror filmmakers from tapping into Barker’s volumes of short stories for their projects. There’s horror gold to be found there and Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train was one gleaming example of it.

Shut up, Billy Dee Williams — It’s Time For Six More Trailers

Here’s the latest edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers.  (I know, I know — worst intro paragraph evuh!  Following the tradition of the Pieces trailer, which can be found below, I’m keeping things simple.  I’ll be back to my usual complicated self next week.)

1) Fear City

Believe it or not, this was directed by Abel Ferrara, the same man who directed Ms. 45Fear City is one of the few Ferrara films that I haven’t seen but the trailer just oozes sleaze doesn’t it?  And speaking of sleaze, maybe that’s what all the men in this film were putting in their hair.  Seriously, why not call it Gel City?  And how about Billy Dee Williams there, sounding like the angel of the final judgment?  Shut up, Billy Dee Williams!

2) A Cat In The Brain

This is one of Lucio Fulci’s final films and you’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it.  The film is surprisingly meta for an Italian horror film not directed by Michele Soavi.  This is the one where Fulci plays himself and attempts to personally answer his critics.  Anyway, the reason I love this trailer is because of the cat puppet that appears at the end.  It’s so cute!  (Ignore the quote from Clive Barker — he’s almost as much of a whore as Stephen King.)

3) Pieces

“It’s exactly what you think it is!”  Anyone who wants to go into advertising should watch this and learn.

4) The Stud

I imagine this is another film that’s “exactly what you think it is.”  I love trailers that show off what was considered to be chic and decadent in the past.  This is one is from the 70s.  (Surprised?)

5) Cannibal Apocalypse

While the rich people were partying in London, cannibals were apparently ruling the streets of Atlanta.  According to actor John Saxon, starring in Cannibal Apocalypse made him suicidal.  Cannibal Apocalypse is actually a pretty good film with an anti-war subtext and it features a great supporting performance from Giovanni Lombardo Radice so seriously — shut up, John Saxon!  (Actually, Saxon gives a really great performance here — of course, his character is meant to be suicidal — and he’s the main reason that Cannibal Apocalypse works.)

6) Cannibal Man

Much like Cannibal Apocalypse, Cannibal Man is actually an allegory of alienation that’s disguised as a horror movie.  Cannibal Man is a seriously strange movie and highly recommended.