Film Review: Spirits In The Dark (dir by Jozsef Gallai)

An abandoned building is just inherently creepy.

I mean, think about it.  Unlike a forest or a mountain or a canyon, a building is not something that forms naturally.  People actually have to build buildings.  Plans have to be drawn up.  Materials have to purchased.  Hours of backbreaking labor are required.  Creating a building requires work, resources, and time.  It’s not something that you do on a whim.  It’s something that’s done as a part of a larger plan.  With all of the effort that goes into creating the building, it’s always strange to come across one that has subsequently been abandoned.  You find yourself wondering what could have happened that made the inhabitants or the owners say, “We’d rather have all that hard work be for nothing than remain in this location?”

Walking through an abandoned building, it’s difficult not to think about the fact that, once upon a time, strangers that you’ll probably never meet moved through these now deserted hallways.  People worked in those empty rooms.  For a period of time, the building was probably the center of someone’s life.  Where are those people now?  Do they ever think about the past?  Do they still have memories of things that were said or thought while walking through those now-empty hallways?

Finally, there’s the constant reminders that even an abandoned building isn’t never truly abandoned.  There’s the animals that move in after the people leave.  There’s the plants the continue to grow around and, in some cases, consume the empty structure.  And, of course, there’s the reminders that you might not be the first person to have explored this empty building.  There’s the broken windows or the empty bottles or the crumpled cigarette pack, all of which remind you that others may even consider this building to be their home.  And, of course, there’s the graffiti.  Graffiti and abandoned buildings tend to go hand-in-hand.  For whatever reason, it’s often the graffiti that makes an abandoned building feel especially ominous.  Are those words on the wall a sign of ownership, an act of rebellion, or a warning?

Of course, the only thing more creepy than one abandoned building is when you come across an entire town of abandoned buildings….

And yet, as creepy as an empty building can be, it’s also hard not to be fascinated by them.  You look at them and you wonder why?  Why did everyone leave and how long will the building stand there deserted before it’s either torn down or destroyed by nature?  That’s one reason why ghost towns remains such a popular tourist destination.  They’re a reminder of just how short and fragile life can be.  You can build a home or an office but, once your time is up, it’s just going to be another abandoned building.

That’s something that Gil Spencer, the protagonist of Spirits in the Dark, understands.  Gil (played by the film’s director, Jozsef Gallai) used to love exploring abandoned buildings with his wife.  Ever since his wife’s death, Gil has struggled with being lonely and depressed.  But then, one day, something mysteriously appears on his laptop.  It appears to be a video shot by someone exploring an abandoned military complex.  The person shooting the video comes across a white pendant, one that looks exactly like the one that Gil’s wife used to wear.  While the person holds the pendant, we catch a glimpse of a ghostly figure standing a few feet away, watching.

Intrigued, Gil searches for and manages to track down the deserted complex.  As creepy as the abandoned and graffiti-covered buildings may be, Gil — who films his exploration — informs us that it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.  Even when he spots blood on the wall, he figures that it was probably just someone shooting “an indie horror film.”  But then, he comes across a mask hanging in a corner.  And then his car’s horn starts honking for no reason.  And then, things start to get really creepy!

Spirits in the Dark is a haunting and moody exercise in atmosphere and genuine creepiness.  Wisely, instead of going for easy jump scares, the film takes its time to set up both the location and the situation.  We get to know Gil and, as he makes his way through them, we also get to know the abandoned building and the surrounding wilderness.  Like Gil, we find ourselves looking at every shadow, searching for some sort of explanation.  Just like Gil, we can feel the menacing atmosphere closing in on us and we become aware of every strange noise and every possible movement in the darkness.  When the scares do come, they’re all the more effective because the film has earned the right to frighten us.  It’s a wonderfully effective and creepy movie, one that has an intriguing plot and which is distinguished by the moody cinematography and the ominous score, both of which are credited to Gergo Elekes.

Wild Eye Releasing is going to be releasing Spirits in the Dark via DVD and VOD early in 2020 so keep an eye out for it!

Film Review: The Top Rope (dir by Cody Broadway)

About halfway through the 20 minute documentary, The Top Rope, a soft-spoken, bearded man named Billy Gray says, “It’s how I’m wired.”

Billy is explaining why he spends most of his time playing a character named Hunter Grey, a viking who is, at one point, seen carrying a big axe.  (By being a viking, he explains, he can make people laugh while still being believably intimidating.)  Billy, who was a championship wrestler in high school and who comes from a long line of wrestlers, now makes his living traveling the pro wrestling circuit in Colorado.  It’s hardly glamorous.  Billy tells us stories about having to change in parking lots and says that if you have a locker room, you should consider yourself to be lucky.  He also tells us about how his family was initially dismissive of his career and how it took a while before they actually started coming to his matches.  But, whenever we actually see Billy performing and in the ring, we understand why he does it.  The crowds love watching him.  When Billy Gray’s in that ring, he’s a star.

Billy is one of several wrestlers to be interviewed in The Top Rope.  Considering that one of the main appeals of pro-wrestling is the flamboyance of the people involved, it’s tempting to be surprised to discover that, outside the ring, the majority of the participants come across as being rather soft-spoken.  Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.  One of the joys of performing, after all, is assuming a new and different persona.

For instance, a wrestler named Zach Anaya is obviously somewhat bemused with his villain status but, when we see him in the ring, we see someone who is truly enjoying playing his role.  A scene in which he jumped off a ledge and landed on top of two wrestlers below left me cringing because you could tell that, for all the talk about how pro-wrestling matches are essentially a type of performance art, the participants can still get seriously injured.  Scripted or not scripted, you have to be willing to push yourself to extremes in order to pursue it.

Also interviewed is Curtis Cole, a wrestler who rather touchingly talks about how he used to watch wrestling with his mother.  You get the feeling that, to a certain extent, he’s wrestling in her memory.  Cole also discusses the importance of having a storyline in the ring.  Without a storyline, it’s just two guys jumping on each other.  With a storyline, it becomes an epic battle of good and evil.  Cole tears up while discussing once past storyline and I have to admit that he got so emotional that even I, who has never even watched a wrestling match, started to get emotional too.  In a film full of great storytellers, Curtis Cole might be the best.

This documentary was directed by Cody Broadway, who previously directed 4 Quarters of Silence, a film about the Texas School for The Deaf’s football team.  He brings the same empathetic touch to this film.  Though the film did not make me a pro wrestling fan (to misquote Billy Gray, it’s just not how I’m wired), it did make me a fan of the men who were interviewed and it made me happy that they have this in their lives.  We’re all wired differently but, as this film demonstrates, there’s a place for all of us if we’re willing to look for it.

Film Review: The Cleaning Lady (dir by Jon Knautz)

The Cleaning Lady opens with a close-up of several mice in a box.  A hand reaches down and scoops up the mice, one-by-one.  The mice are dropped into a blender.  We watch as a finger turns the blender on.  Now, before anyone panics, we don’t actually see the mice get turned into puree or anything like that.  (Indeed, if we had, I would have stopped watching the movie right at that moment.)  Still, just the sound of that blender coming to life was enough to make me cringe.

It’s also a signal of the type of film that The Cleaning Lady is going to be.  This is a dark horror movie about some seriously damaged individuals.  If you think that things can’t get any darker than mice being dropped in a blender, just you wait.

The film opens with the travails of Alice (Alexis Kendra), who has a nice apartment and a married boyfriend.  The problem with having a married boyfriend is that, no matter how much you love him, you still have to deal with the guilt of being a homewrecker.  Unfortunately, Alice is “addicted to love” and she simply cannot seem to resist the urge to call Michael (Stelio Savante) and ask him to come over to her place.  Not even attending a support group seems to help.  (Of course, Michael does invite her to to go to Italy with him and, seriously, who could resist a free trip to Italy?)

As for Alice’s apartment, it’s nice and big but what’s the point if you can’t keep it clean and neat?  Fortunately, Shelly (Rachel Alig) is here to help!  Shelly is the cleaning lady and she has a habit of mysteriously materializing in Alice’s apartment.  At first, Alice is a little bit nervous around the heavily scarred and withdrawn Shelly.  However, Alice soon comes to appreciate Alice’s ability to unplug a drain and dispose of dead rodents.  Soon, Alice is making Shelly dinner and inviting her to stay over and watch movies.  Alice even drives Shelly home one night and is shocked to discover that Shelly apparently lives out in the middle-of-nowhere.

Now, admittedly, Alice’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic.  There’s a hint of elitism to Alice’s attempts to be nice to “the help.”  Even more importantly, spending time with Shelly gives Alice something to do other than calling up Michael.  Alice is using Shelly to break her addiction.

What Alice doesn’t realize is that 1) Shelly’s become a bit addicted to her company and 2) Shelly is willing to do just about anything to get closer to Alice.  I’m not going to spoil things by discussing just how far Shelly goes but let’s just say that things do a get a bit extreme.  And that’s even before the knives and the axes come out!

The Cleaning Lady is hardly the first horror film to be made about obsession, nor will it be the last.  That said, it’s still an effectively creepy film.  By making Alice as obsessed with Michael as Shelly is with Alice, the film brings a few unexpected wrinkles to its plot and both Alexis Kendra and Rachel Alig do a good job bringing their characters to life, with Alig even managing to generate some sympathy for poor, scarred Shelly.  Alig especially deserves credit for underplaying a few key scenes, as opposed to going full psycho.  The fact that Shelly rarely speaks above a whisper actually makes her far more intimidating than she would have been if she had spent the entire movie screaming at her prey.

All in all, this is an effective indie horror film.  Of course, after seeing the film, it’s possible that you might never look at a blender the same way again….

Lisa’s Week In Review: 5/27/19 — 6/2/19

How is it June already!?

2019 is flying by a lot faster than I thought it would. This month is going to be about playing catch-up. Interestingly, this month is also going to be about going on vacation before my summer job at the Big Brother Blog begins so we’ll see how those two goals mix.  (Fear not!  Even while I’m keeping the Big Brother Blog updated, I’ll also be posting film review here and over at Horror Critic!)

I have a feeling that a lot of the stuff that I had planned for 2019 is going to end up happening in 2020 but that’s okay. Numerically, 2020 is going to be an important year for obvious reasons.  Just remember that 2020 backwards is 0202.  Regardless, it all adds up to four.

Movies I Watched:

  1. Deadly Deception (1987)
  2. The House of Fear (1945)
  3. Mommy Group Murder (2019)
  4. Monster Island (2019)
  5. Nine (2009)
  6. Party Mom (2018)
  7. Popeye Doyle (1986)
  8. Praying Mantis (1993)
  9. Shattered Innocence (1988)
  10. SnakeEater III; His Law (1993)
  11. West Side Story (1961)
  12. Wonderland (2003)

Televisions Shows I Watched:

  1. The Amazing Race 31
  2. American Monster
  3. A.P. Bio
  4. Archer
  5. The Bachelorette
  6. Cheaters
  7. Chernobyl
  8. Degrassi
  9. DFW Golf Weekly
  10. The Face Of Evil
  11. Face the Truth
  12. Fear the Walking Dead
  13. Fosse/Verdon
  14. Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours To Hell And Back
  15. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
  16. The Judge
  17. King of the Hill
  18. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD
  19. Open House NYC
  20. Paradise Hotel
  21. Seinfeld
  22. Shipping Wars
  23. The Spanish Princess
  24. Texas Bucket List
  25. True Crime Files
  26. Twin Peaks: The Return
  27. Vida
  28. Yolo, TX

Books I Read:

  1. The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin
  2. Doctor Sleep (2013) by Stephen King
  3. The Shining (1977) by Stephen King

Music To Which I Listened:

  1. Armin van Buuren
  2. Banks
  3. Big Data
  4. Bikini Kill
  5. Billie Eilish
  6. Britney Spears
  7. The Chemical Brothers
  8. Gwen Stefani
  9. Hrdza
  10. Jakalope
  11. Katy Perry
  12. Moby
  13. Panic! At The Disco
  14. Patti Smith
  15. Siouxsie and the Banshees
  16. Sleater-Kinney
  17. Sleigh Bells
  18. The Slits
  19. Steve Aoki
  20. Taylor Swift
  21. Tiesto
  22. UPSAHL

Links From Last Week:

  1. On her photography site, Erin shared America, Empty Room, Majesty, Searching Bird, Garden Path, Patio in the Rain, and My Favorite Turtle!
  2. I reviewed the latest episode of the Amazing Race!
  3. On my music site, I shared songs from Letters From Home Singers, Sleater-Kinney, Patti Smith, Bikini Kill, Redbone, BANKS, and Siouxsie and the Banshees!
  4. The end of Monty Python? Terry Jones’ dementia is so bad he can no longer speak
  5. MTV Removes Jason Mitchell’s Movie & TV Awards Nomination in Light of Alleged Misconduct
  6. ‘Godfather’ Actor Carmine Caridi Dies at 85
  7. Moby cancels book tour after Natalie Portman controversy
  8. Marc Webb Eyed to Direct Disney’s ‘Snow White’ Remake

 Links From The Site:

  1. Case reviewed Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
  2. Erin paid tribute to Memorial Day and shared the pin-up art of George Quintana, along with sharing the following art: Off Limits, Virgin Planet (my favorite!), Mammoth Detective, Charlie Sent Me, The Warped Ones, Special Detective, and The Vice Net!
  3. Gary reviewed Gung Ho!, Family Plot, and Slap Shot!
  4. Jeff reviewed The Winds of War and War Remembrance, Slow Boy, Popeye Doyle, American Me, and Saints and Sinners!  He also shared two music videos from Rick Springfield: Bop ‘Til Your Drop and Jessie’s Girl!
  5. I shared my May Oscar Predictions and a scene from Dirty Harry!  I also shared trailers for Last Blood, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and The Kitchen!  Finally, I reviewed Monster Island and Mommy Group Murder!
  6. Ryan shared his weekly reading round-up and reviewed Bezimena, Cannonball, and Motel Universe!

Want to see what I did last week?  Click here!

Have a great week, everyone!

Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Mothra. All panning on having a great week, by the way.

Lifetime Film Review: Mommy Group Murder (dir by Nick Everhart)

There are a few lessons that I’ve learned from Lifetime movies in general and the film Mommy Group Murder in specific.

First off, don’t live in the suburbs.  Like, seriously, don’t do it.  Yes, the houses are big and everyone’s got a nice lawn and there’s always some hot guy working shirtless across the street from you.  Yes, it may seem like a nice and fun place to live but don’t be fooled.  You want to know why all those pretty and handsome people are living in the suburbs?  Because they’ve all got something to hide!  The minute they see you and your sensitive husband and your baby moving into the big, white house next door, they’re going to start plotting against you.  Next thing you know, strangers will be putting cameras in your house and having sex on your kitchen counters and you’ll be hearing weird noises at all hours of the night.

(Of course, I already live in the suburbs so I’m learning this lesson a bit too late.  Admittedly, my suburban neighborhood seems to be a bit safer than the average Lifetime suburban neighbor.  I have yet to find any hidden cameras in the house and the kitchen counters are thoroughly cleaned every day.)

Lesson number two: no matter how appealing the mysterious mansion next door might look, resist the temptation to break in and look around.  In fact, for that matter, don’t even accept an invitation to visit.  Nothing good ever happens in those mansions.  There’s always either a dead body hidden in an ice chest or someone chained up in the basement.  Once you discover something like that, you’re pretty much required by law to get involved and go to the police.  So, seriously, think before you invade.

Lesson number three: You know that person who shows up out of nowhere and suddenly wants to be your new best friend?  DON’T TRUST THEM!  When all of your old friends or your husband says that they think there’s something strange about your new BFF, LISTEN!  And when you discover that your new best friend is using an alias, ask yourself why.  Don’t just shrug and say, “Well, she just changed her name.  Big deal.”

Finally, lesson number four — and this is one that was specifically driven home by this movie: Don’t join a mommy group!  Sure, it’s tempting.  I mean, you’re suffering from crippling depression.  You’re having nightmares about someone trying to kidnap your baby.  Your new best friend suggests that maybe you need to join a mommy group so that you can talk about all of this with people who actually understand what you’re going through.  It seems like a great idea but, if Lifetime has taught us anything, it’s that these mommy groups always lead to secrets, lies, and murder!

That’s what Natalie (Leah Pipes) discovers after she befriends the mysterious Grace (Helena Mattsson).  Natalie and Grace are the center of Mommy Group Murder, a film which aired on Lifetime back in March.

Plotwise, Mommy Group Murder may seem like a typical Lifetime film.  Suburbs, adultery, murder, and a best friend that no one listens to until it’s too late, it’s all here!  However, Mommy Group Murder also features a wonderfully nuanced performance from Leah Pipes and a few twists and turns that take the movie to a slightly darker place than the average Lifetime film.  Director Nick Everhart emphasizes the darkness at the heart of the film’s story, opening with a harrowing montage of Natalie struggling to bond with her daughter and ending with a shadowy sequence that has as much in common with a horror film as a Lifetime film.

Mommy Group Murder is a nicely done, melodramatic thriller.  Watch it and learn.

Let’s Talk About Monster Island (dir by Mark Atkins)

Oh hell yeah, the Asylum strikes again!  And this time, it’s all about Kaiju, helicopters, and Eric Roberts!

Listen, folks, if you don’t get automatically excited when you see the words “Kaiju,” “helicopters,” and “Eric Roberts” all in the same sentence, I don’t know what to tell.  Obviously, you’re not the audience that this film was made for.  This is a film for people who enjoy monster mayhem, things exploding, and helicopters.  Seriously, it’s not an Asylum film without a helicopter.

Admittedly, Eric Roberts’s role is actually pretty small.  He plays Admiral Butler and he’s got an entire fleet of warships at his disposal.  You’d think that would be just what you would want when dealing with a bunch of recently awakened ancient monsters but it turns out that  the Admiral is pretty stubborn.  He’s better at shouting into telephones than understanding the logic behind Kaiju.  And if you’re saying to yourself, “Would we really want Eric Roberts to be in charge of the U.S. Navy?,” you are again missing the point.  Asylum films, like this one, create their own parallel universe.  It’s a universe where monsters live, sea creatures can take down helicopters, and, of course, Eric Roberts is going to be in charge of a battleship.

The main character is Billy Ford (Adrian Bouchet, giving a cheerfully flamboyant performance), a billionaire who operates out of a beach house and whose underwater sea mining operation may be responsible for awakening the fearsome Tengu.  (Tengu looks kind of like a giant starfish and has molten magma for blood.)  Billy has two people working in the basement of his beach house.  Cherise (Donna Cormack Thompson) has been working with him forever.  Riley (Chris Fisher, giving a nicely neurotic performance) is such a recent hire that Billy still calls him “James.”  When it becomes apparent that something has awakened at the bottom of the ocean, Billy, Cherise, and Riley head underwater to investigate.

Coming along with them is Sarah Murray (Natalie Robbie), who works for the government and who is an expert in geomythology.  Geomythology is the study of alleged references to actual geological events in mythology.  Geomythology is a real thing and, after having watched this movie, I kind of wish that I had at least minored in it.  At one point, Sarah has to go to her former Geomythology professor (Margot Wood) for advice on how to stop Tengu from destroying the world and it turns out the professor lives in this huge cabin.  There’s money to made in keeping track of the world’s Kaiju.

Anyway, needless to say, once Tengu is awakened, it’s pretty much determined to end the world.  This movie, as you can probably guess from the title, pays homage to the Japanese monster movies of old.  When flying, fire-breathing monsters start hatching from eggs and attacking the world, their battle shrieks will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie featuring Godzilla, Mothra, or Rodan.  When the film reaches the point of two giant monsters fighting each other while a bunch of human beings watch on, it’s impossible not to be reminded of Godzilla fighting King Kong.  It’s all in good fun, a monster movie made by people who loves monster movies for people who love monster movies.

Monster Island is a film to watch and to enjoy for the mayhem and the destruction.  Watch it to enjoy Eric Roberts bragging about the Navy’s new “sonar weapon.”  Watch it for the scene where one person makes the mistake of taunting one of the monsters.  (Piece of advice: Don’t ever yell “Come on!” at a create that can breathe fire.)  Watch it for giant starfish rising out of the ocean and the crashing helicopters.  Get a group of your friends together and enjoy the movie because the Asylum is back and so are the monsters and the helicopters!

Monster Island aired on the SyFy Network last night and it’ll probably air again.  Keep an eye out!

Scenes That I Love: Harry Meets The Mayor From Dirty Harry

Today, we wish a happy 89th birthday to the one and only Clint Eastwood!

At this point of his career (from which he says he is now semi-retired), Clint Eastwood has become an American icon.  In many ways, his persona epitomizes all of the contrasts and extremes of the American experience.  A political conservative who specializes in playing taciturn and rather grouchy men, he is also one of our most humanistic directors, specializing in films that often question the traditional view of history and morality.  He may have first become a star in Europe but Clint Eastwood is definitely an American original.

In honor of his birthday, I’m sharing a scene that I love from 1971’s Dirty Harry.  In this scene, Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) meets the Mayor of San Francisco (John Vernon).  The mayor is concerned that there’s a psycho on the loose, gunning people down and demanding money.  Callahan’s annoyed that he’s spent a lot of time sitting in a waiting room.  Things pretty much go downhill from there.

There’s so much that I love about this scene.  Both Eastwood and Vernon do a wonderful job playing off of each other.  The Mayor may be in charge of the city but Callahan probably didn’t vote for him.  One thing that I especially love about this scene is the look of annoyance that crosses Harry’s face whenever he’s interrupted.

And, of course, there’s that final line!  Eastwood does a great job explaining Harry’s “policy” but ultimately, it’s Vernon’s “I think he’s got a point,” that provides the perfect closing note.

Happy birthday, Mr. Eastwood!