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)

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‘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)

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‘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)

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‘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)

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‘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)

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‘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 One.


So, I think it may be fair to say that of most of the posters on this great site, I am probably the one who least enjoys the horror genre…or at least is never as excited about it as everyone else. It isn’t that I do not like horror films – there are quite a few I really love – but I just expect a lot from them. Probably – unfairly – more than I expect from other films. Why? Because I honestly think that when done right, horror films can be some of the most emotionally affecting films from any genre. But when done wrong – as I think far too many of them are – it just feels cheap and manipulative – and as someone who loves film, who loves how they can generate empathy and tell interesting stories, it always just feels like a slap to the face.

This love/hate relationship usually makes me hesitant to watch most horror films, which of course is an issue come October. This month is wall to wall horror from 12:01AM on the 1st – to midnight on Halloween. With this comes the pressure to watch a ton of horror films, and although in the past I have watched a few, I’ve never taken part in any sort of marathon that so many bloggers partake in this time of year…until now. This is part one – of what I hope will be a month long series – of quick reviews for horror films I watch this month. I hope to watch at least one a day.

October 1st: ‘Thale’ (dir. Aleksander Nordaas)

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A very low budget Norwegian fantasy/horror film, with a lot of interesting ideas, that sadly doesn’t execute on enough of them to reach any level of greatness…which I think was possible.

‘Thale’ is about two friends, working in a crime scene cleaning service, who stumble upon a hidden basement at one of the locations they have been hired to clean. Within they find a lab of sorts, and a beautiful young woman who is unable to speak – and is most certainly more than she appears to be. The result is a rather unique horror film with fantasy elements; one that thrives on atmosphere for the first hour or so, building a genuine level of suspense and mystery. It is an intriguing story, one that is slow to build but never boring. There is certainly a lot under the surface.

The only real issue I had was that there is narration throughout that tries a bit too hard to add depth to the story, both narratively and thematically, without much success. Mainly because the exposition within would benefit more from a ‘show don’t tell’ approach – and also because the actual narrative comes off as so simple that many of the themes expressed through the narration have nothing to do with what we have actually been shown.

This isn’t too big of an issue really, and I can’t fault it for trying to give more meaning to the story, but had it executed on some of the ideas it alludes to under the surface than maybe this wouldn’t have been an issue at all – especially if it had been a half hour longer, and explored the fantasy element in more detail.

Still, the performances are very good and – given its very low budget – so are the effects and overall production. It certainly has its flaws, but it still warrants a recommendation.

Oct. 2nd: ‘Pontypool’ (dir. Bruce McDonald)

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‘Pontypool’ is a mostly lean – though often convoluted – and creative horror film that builds slowly and contains just the right dash of humor. It is at times essentially ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ in film form.

It stars Stephen McHattie as an ex-shock jock who has reached a point in his career where he is stuck doing an early morning radio gig in a small Canadian town. He is quick to try to cause a stir, but his producer reminds him that the listeners just want to know the weather. As the morning slowly passes by the station begins to get weird reports of people, herds of people, swarming the streets. Whats seems to them to initially be a joke begins to turn into a life or death emergency situation where a virus is infecting the town, keeping the workers at the studio locked indoors, trying to figure out how it all started.

This isn’t the scariest horror film you will ever see, neither is it the most suspenseful – yet the development of the story, the unraveling mystery and the urgency of the performances make it an absorbing viewing experience. Things do start to get a little convoluted as we begin to better understand how the “virus” infecting people is being spread. The film seems to be making it up as it goes, and ironically it can’t seem to think of the rights words to explain what is actually happening.

But it does managed to create an interesting subtext on how language has been simplified and diminished by gossip, social websites and the media. It would also probably benefit from multiple viewings. But for now, I recommend you at least watch it once.

Oct. 3rd: ‘Pumpkinhead’ (dir. Stan Winston)

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‘Pumpkinhead’ is a creepy, cliche and cheesy as hell horror film about revenge, that manages to overcome all its faults with its brilliant creature design, a great central performance, and an emotional core that gives all the supernatural violence some resonance. The result isn’t a masterpiece – by any stretch – but it is a damn near perfect horror film for Halloween/October – especially with its eerie supernatural aesthetics.

The film stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a single father raising his son on a farm in the south. One day a group of teens (including a few blondes and a douchey “bad boy”) arrive in town. Their destination? A cabin in the woods…of course. On their way they encounter Harley at a local store he owns, which accidentally results in his son being killed by one of the teens in a dirt bike accident. The group heads for the cabin, fearing the repercussions, while Harley tracks down a creepy old lady who, according to local legend, can summon a demon-like creature to avenge the wrong doing done to a man.

From there we get a rather unoriginal creature feature – as the demon, called Pumpkinhead, hunts down the group of teens one by one. What kept this interesting, for me, was the structure of the events of the film and the development of Henriksen’s character. Henriksen is a great actor, and the bond that is built between him and his son, and the emotions he displays as he struggles with his son’s death and the revenge he seeks, manages to ground the film and gives it enough of an emotional relevancy to excuse the cheesiness of the supernatural horror elements – and some truly shitty dialogue.

On top of that are the great spooky horror aesthetics and atmosphere – moody lighting, fog…pumpkins – as well as the awesome design of the Pumpkinhead by special effects legend Stan Winston (‘Aliens’, ‘Terminator’) – who actually directed the film. It all adds up to an above average horror flick that I recommend everyone watch this October.

Opeth and Summoning: Music for October (part 7)


October has always been my favorite month. It marks the beginning of a seasonal reclamation of man by the world, in which civilization’s mask of sensibility begins to slip away. Tasteless architectural symbols of control over nature digress to their more appropriate forms, as frail refuge against forces beyond our control or comprehension. It is, to misappropriate Agalloch, “a celebration for the death of man… …and the great cold death of the Earth.”

Last year I posted a six part series on some of my favorite black metal, folk metal, and related genres for the season. I had intended to do something similar this year, but time just did not allow for it. I never got around to coming up with a central concept on which to focus. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the two bands I have listened to the most this month, Opeth and Summoning, both defy all standards of classification.

I would like to showcase both, but I can’t imagine doing so properly without embarking on a project way beyond the scope of my time and desire to write at the moment. So I will keep this short and sweet, featuring only Opeth’s Orchid (1995) and Summoning’s Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame (2001), and perhaps in the process still introduce you to some amazing music you had not heard before.


Opeth – The Apostle in Triumph

Everyone has heard Opeth, right? Their fame is fairly unprecedented among metal bands that are actually worth a damn. Yet, out of touch with what is and is not popular today as I am, I still get the impression that what I think of as Opeth is just as relatively obscure as it had been when I first heard them well over a decade ago.

Opeth as a popular band, in fact, is entirely foreign to me. Their first album to make the US charts, Damnation, came out right around the time I stopped listening to them altogether, and long after my interest had begun to wane. I was introduced to Opeth, like everyone around the turn of the century, via Demon of the Fall. My Arms Your Hearse was one of the most emotionally charged and breathtaking albums I’d ever heard. At the time, if you wanted to hear more, you had to look backwards, to Orchid and Morningrise, both of which were very different beasts. With them, if no one reminded you of the distortion and growled vocals, you might forget, amidst Akerfeldt’s soft, subtle lamentations, that you were listening to metal at all.

It took both a long time to grow on me. It’s not that they were inaccessible, but that peculiar teenage ability to focus in on a single masterpiece with no appreciation whatsoever for its surroundings had hold of me. There I was covering My Arms Your Hearse from start to finish on my new guitar (sure wish I could still do so now), and I’d listened to Morningrise maybe five times. Orchid never broke through the cellophane. I finally turned to them just barely in time to soak them up before history left them in the dust, a last minute love affair I was conscious of at the time. They ended up becoming my two favorite Opeth albums, and still are.

Even though My Arms Your Hearse was, alongside Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth, easily the most influential album in my life, Orchid and Morningrise are the two I look back on most nostalgically, and their melancholy beauty always reverberates the sensation.


Opeth – The Twilight is My Robe

So maybe Orchid isn’t really Opeth’s best album. Perhaps I am biased beyond reconciliation. But at any rate, my obsession with it certainly isn’t some subconscious desire to show I am an “old school” fan–the sort of accusation I tend to see on those rare occasions that the album is mentioned at all. Whether you find my placement of it at the top of Akerfeldt’s discography unjust or not, I encourage you to give The Apostle in Triumph and The Twilight is My Robe long hard listens. Agalloch being a decidedly winter-oriented band, I have experienced no music which captures the melancholy side of the autumnal season better than this.


Summoning – A New Power is Rising

I obsessed over The Hobbit as a child, the Lord of the Rings as a teen, and The Silmarillion in my earliest adult years. J.R.R. Tolkien pretty well haunted most of the formative years of my life, and I am forever indebted to him. A few months ago I picked up one of his books for the first time in perhaps a decade, committed to reading them all, but time simply did not allow for it. As with all undertakings though, it influenced my taste in music for the time at hand. I spent much of the summer re-exploring Summoning–a band I’d never actually encountered until Oath Bound in 2006. Thus they were readily at hand at the start of October, and since then they’ve comprised over half of everything I have listened to.

I dare say no single author has had more impact on music than Tolkien, and while I will always regard Nightfall in Middle-Earth as the greatest relevant triumph, Summoning’s discography is a close second. The one band I know of which has taken Tolkien as their lyrical and musical muse pretty much exclusively, they have forged an entirely new style of music over the years that captures that feeling I always got reading him to perfection.


Summoning – South Away

Summoning emerged from black metal, but from the very beginning they stood apart. By Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame in 2001, my favorite album of theirs, this connection had dwindled to little more than the vocals and some tremolo guitar. The constant use of keyboards (often set to replicate brass) and the heavily reverberated, slow drumming are what characterize them best, along with frequent spoken vocal loops.

Perhaps they intend to sound fairly sinister, with lyrics focused more often than not on the darker forces of Tolkien’s tales, but the effect for me is nothing of the sort. The drums paint a vast, diverse landscape of mountains, forests, rivers and plains that are entirely neutral–dangerous to be certain, but more enticing than aversive. They beckon you out to explore the unknown, steeped in mystery–a fantasy world which is here Middle-Earth, but could just as soon be your own back yard on an autumn day, when the changes at hand call on you to leave humanity behind and wander off into the amoral wilderness.


Summoning – Runes of Power

I love black metal, horror, and everything of the sort, but I think the word “neutral” best describes what I have been tapping into this Halloween season. No real glorification of evil for its own sake, nor any embrace of bygone cultures and values here. Orchid and Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame both tap into the individual’s relation to the world absent civilization’s presumptions and impositions–to the mystery of nature and the manifold possibilities within it which mundane daily life denies–be the experience melancholy or thrilling.

Poll: Which Films Are You Most Looking Forward To Seeing In October?


Last month, at this time, we asked you which films you were most looking forward to seeing in September.  The results are in and it would appear that September is going to be all about Drive, Contagion, Moneyball, and Warrior for most of our readers.   Thank you to everyone who voted.

Below, you’ll find the poll for October. Let us know which October films you’re most looking forward to seeing.  As always, please feel free to vote for up to four films.

(As for me, I voted for The Rum Diary, Footloose, In Time, and The Skin I Live In.)