A Descent into Hell: Angel Heart (1987) - A 30th Anniversary Retrospective - Dread Central
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A Descent into Hell: Angel Heart (1987) – A 30th Anniversary Retrospective

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Written and directed by British maverick filmmaker Alan Parker and adapted from the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, Angel Heart is a mystery pastiche of hardboiled film noir and psychological supernatural occult horror, a hybrid of Chandler-esque detective story and Faustian tale. The film is encapsulated in a constant atmosphere of dread and is very stylish, featuring wonderful cinematography, imaginative, and shocking imagery and an excellent blues/jazz soundtrack.

It is chock-full of highly memorable great scenes, thanks to the depth of its screenplay, innovative direction by Parker, and a career best turn from the effortlessly cool and endlessly talented screen idol Mickey Rourke. One of the most sensitive actors of his generation delivers a breathtaking performance with a very human and sympathetic portrayal of a flawed and disheveled everyman private detective. Acting legend Robert De Niro provides stellar support, whose character is the exact polar opposite – an eccentric and elegant gentlemen type. Witness awe-inspiring displays of method acting competition in the four scenes they share the screen. Veteran De Niro brings the best out in the then upcoming Rourke due to a jealous rivalry with both men trying to one up each other to prove who the better actor is.

The story begins in Brooklyn, New York, 1955. Private investigator Harry Angel (Rourke) is hired by the mysterious aristocrat Louis Cyphre (De Niro) for a missing persons case. His job is to locate a once popular singer – a big band crooner named Johnny Favorite. Favorite owes a great debt to Cyphre, who does not explicitly disclose the details of this to Angel. Cyphre goes on to tell Angel that Favorite was badly injured in World War II, suffering a severe neurological trauma, and was hospitalized and that the hospital may have falsified his records.

The ensuing investigation leads Angel to New Orleans, Louisiana, and through a nightmarish journey to discover the truth. He discovers Favorite was far from a savory character, as he was heavily mixed up in Satanism and voodoo, and everybody Angel questions ends up the victims in gruesome ritual murders, leaving him as chief suspect. Could it be that Favorite is cutting off all the loose ends and is trying to frame Angel?

Angel is also beaten up a few times along the way and experiences harrowing visions of horrific events he cannot piece together. He is suspicious of his client, Cyphre, whom he suspects knows more than he is letting on. Angel has a passionate fling with the daughter of one of Favorite’s old girlfriends, Epiphany, played by the beautiful Lisa Bonet, who oozes steamy sex appeal. Depicted here is one of the most intense and disturbing sex scenes ever committed to celluloid, with the imagery representing the act of an amoral sin.

Alan Parker gradually unravels a sinister mystery, planting subtle clues in the dialogue, and prominently uses symbolism both in Angel’s vivid and terrifying visions and in the real world of the story. Used to an unsettling effect are common everyday things, utilized as ominous signs – elevators, staircases, fans, the eating of eggs, the growing of fingernails, keys, and other certain props. Clues are also sprinkled throughout with the use of haunting music and sounds. Composer Trevor Jones’ foreboding score is a palette of blues and jazz, encompassing piano and saxophone, and employs whispers and loud heartbeats. All this provides a consistently uneasy viewing experience, right up until the shock revelation in the finale.

Parker’s approach to the material is with the emphasis on realism, and the inclusion of all things fantastically evil as its theme is purely incidental; it is a mystery for our gumshoe protagonist to solve that just so happens to involve witchcraft. All things supernatural, satanic, and voodoo are treated seriously in a matter of fact fashion with no campy hocus pocus shenanigans in sight.

The director’s attention to detail of the period setting of the ‘50s is concrete accurate, and we really get the feel of a classic detective story from the era. He takes the story out of the sole setting of New York, as it was in the source material of Hjortsberg’s book, with the majority of the film set in Louisiana. The depiction of this Southern American state is dark, gritty, and dangerous. However, also contradictive to this, Michael Seresin’s stunning desaturated cinematography captures the natural beauty of Cajun country, and you can almost feel its sweltering heat and humidity.

This is one of the most electrifying scenes between Rourke and De Niro and a prime example of the use of dialogue and symbolism as clues to the mystery…

Angel meets his client, Cyphre, in a New York restaurant. A bowl of hard-boiled eggs is on the table they are sitting at, and Cyphre picks one up and slowly starts to break its shell. Cyphre does so with such precision on the beat of every line of dialogue. When Cyphre is done, before he takes a bite, he tells Angel, “You know some religions think that the egg is the symbol of the soul; did you know that?

Angel replies, “No, I didn’t know that.”

Cyphre then sprinkles some salt on top of the egg, gives it a blow, and then asks Angel, “Would you like an egg?” Angel picks up a pinch of salt from the table, and throws it over his left shoulder. In Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, Judas has knocked over the saltcellar with his elbow. This is where the superstition comes from that spilling salt brings bad luck, as it is associated with treachery and lies. If someone spills salt, it is believed that a pinch of it thrown over their left shoulder is supposed to blind the devil, who is believed to always be standing behind us, and this distracts him from causing trouble.

Angel then replies, “No, thank you; I got a thing about chickens.” His hatred of chickens is a motif that runs through the film. Cyphre then takes a big bite out of the egg and slowly chews while having a menacing facial expression, as if he is devouring the soul and his precise taking apart of the egg’s shell beforehand is the breaking of it. Angel looks on horrified.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQfiuHK_U84

Unfortunately, at the time of the film’s release, many narrow-minded mainstream critics dismissed it as merely style over substance, with all the emotion and intelligence going over their little heads. It was also a box office disappointment, just falling short of breaking even domestically. Thankfully, over these last 30 years, wiser heads have prevailed; it has amassed a large cult following due to its home releases, and it is rightfully often cited today as one of the finest pieces of horror filmmaking.

Angel Heart is a truly astonishing film and is one of the greatest works of 80’s cinema – an irresistible cinematic treat that is powerful, mesmerizing, and original. A must-see.

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The Strangers: Prey at Night Official Site is Live and Waiting

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It was just last week that we shared the all-new trailer and poster for the upcoming sequel to writer-director Bryan Bertino’s home-invasion thriller The Strangers.

If that trailer for The Strangers: Prey at Night wasn’t interactive enough for you then you’re in luck – the film’s official site has just gone live.

The site starts off playing the film’s trailer but you can click that shite off asap and get to the other goodies.

From there the site tells you that “They’re only Strangers until you tell them your name” and then asks you for your name, your email address, and your phone number.

Yeah. Right.

That’s how they get you.

Truthfully, I’m not brave enough to put my info on the site. Not that I’m scared of, you know, a knock at the door late at night or anything… Just… I don’t feel like it is all.

If you are brave enough to give the site your info, make sure to hit us up and let us know how it goes in the comments below or on social media! If you can… Moo-haha.

Visit the site HERE.

The Stranger: Prey at Night is directed by Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) from a script by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai. It stars Martin Henderson, Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, and Lewis Pullman.

The film hits March 9, 2018.

Synopsis:
A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive. Johannes Roberts directs this horror film inspired by the 2008 smash hit THE STRANGERS.

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Exclusive: Patrick Brice on Creep 2

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Patrick Brice blipped onto our radar a couple of years back with his audacious horror film debut, Creep. He directed the film, plus he cowrote and co-starred in it with Mark Duplass (interview) (Baghead, Manson Family Vacation). Creep introduced Aaron, an affable serial killer who lures people to his remote cabin by placing ads promising a fun filmmaking experience… while you could see where the story was going in terms of plot, what made it so striking was the way in which it was written and directed. There’s a massive amount of dread throughout.

Brice is back for Creep 2 (review), and we caught up with him to ask about it.

Dread Central: It must have been hard to try to top Creep. Or did you already have a sequel in mind?

Patrick Brice: It’s funny, but when we made the first movie, we had no idea we would eventually be making a sequel. So we didn’t necessarily set ourselves up for an easy road that way. It ended up being something we had to reverse engineer a bit. And we had actually came up with maybe three or four other ideas for Creep 2 before we landed on the one that we ended up shooting. Including a feature length screenplay that I had written but I shelved because it didn’t feel right. And so, it was a combination of things in that we didn’t want to make a sequel until we knew there was an audience for it. Once we realized the first Creep had caught on in the way it did, that was when the idea of making one did started to come up a little bit. Then it wasn’t until we landed on the idea we landed on, sort of the approach we ended up taking, that things started to feel right and it started to make sense with going forward to making one.

DC: Is you audience mainly horror fans? Because it seems serial killer stories are mainstream now, what with “Hannibal” having been on network TV and now we have “Mindhunter” on Netflix.

PB: I’d say a lot of horror fans, and, I think people with masochistic tendencies as well. I think it’s a pretty dark endeavour for an audience to be brought into with that movie. I think because of the sort of minimalist approach, when you’re watching it, especially when you’re watching it alone, it demands a different kind of attention than a normal movie. Because the Creep is only two characters, if you’re an audience member, you essentially become the third character in the movie, bearing witness to it. So I’m grateful that people are willing to engage with this type of material in that way. I’m also just surprised by it because I think it’s a challenging film on some level. I think it’s a rewarding film. And I think if you’re willing to give in to the conceit of it and willing to take the ride, it is a rewarding experience, but I also completely understand anyone who’s not willing to do that, just because it is such a specific thing. And so going into a sequel, there was a certain amount of confidence that we had associated with a lot of the decisions we were making that would have felt strange and odd with the traditional movie being make in a traditional way, but because we were doing it this way and kind of replicating at least the production style of how we made the first one, we were willing to take that leap a little bit more than we would normally do.

DC: Would you consider dropping the found footage format if you do another Creep movie?

BP: Completely. I think that down the road that would be a nice surprise and a nice way to inject sort of a new form into the story telling. One of the things that’s been fun with Creep 2 and thinking about other Creep movies is giving in to that sort of style completely and letting that be something that informs the character. A huge thing with cracking the second movie was creating the character of Sara that Desiree Akhavan (interview) plays and giving her her own specific needs and motivations for being there, which then hopefully justifies the camera being on. That is the big challenge with found footage movies. It’s something that Jason Blum says that all the time, ‘don’t make a found footage movie unless the story dictates it.’ And so we knew we wanted to do it this way and so it was really delving into character and sort of the more emotional side of things to justify that.

DC: One of the intriguing things about Aaron is that he has no backstory. But it seems eventually audiences demand origin stories and prequels. Will you reveal how Aaron got started someday?

PB: It’s something that’s emerging, having made the second one. We have him tell two long monologues. And it’s detailed, it’s very specific, it makes sense as far as the character goes, but there is still this layer of knowing that this guy is a pathological liar and none of this could be true. And so the hope with that was to have this be a story that convinces Sara, the other character in the film, that it’s true but the audience once again, existing on this other level where they know what this guy’s capable of, they also know he’s a total liar and it may or may not be real.

DC: Do you see yourself ramping up the horror if there are more Creep sequels?

PB: I still think there’s a lot of places to go in terms of the horror aspect of it. I think we only scratched the surface with the second one. I think it made sense we sort of upped the blood and gore with the second movie but also, like you said, kept things pretty much in the space of just uncomfortable tension for eighty minutes. I think that’s something that always going to be our ultimate goal with these movies and that’s sort of the trademark of these movies. What’s nice about knowing that there’s other places things can go whether it be, further into the slasher genre, further into the supernatural, we’ve got some options and we’ve left a lot of doors open in terms of having other avenues to explore.

DC: Any horror stories on the horizon apart from Creep 2?

PB: Yes, actually. I’m going to be directing a few episodes of “Room 104” on HBO and at least two of them are horror based. I’m really excited about that, because I get a chance to delve into more pure classical horror than I’ve been able to do with Creep movies.

Written by Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass with Brice directing, Creep 2 stars Duplass, who reprises his role from the first film, and Desiree Akhavan.

Synopsis:
CREEP 2 stars Desiree Akhavan as Sara, a video artist whose primary focus is creating intimacy with lonely men. After finding an ad online for “video work,” she thinks she may have found the subject of her dreams. She drives to a remote house in the forest and meets a man claiming to be a serial killer (Mark Duplass). Unable to resist the chance to create a truly shocking piece of art, she agrees to spend the day with him. However, as the day goes on, she discovers she may have dug herself into a hole she can’t escape.

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Exclusive: Director Dennis Bartok and Lead Shauna MacDonald Talk Nails

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With writer and director Dennis Bartok’s feature film Nails having bowed Friday on VOD via Dark Sky Films, here’s a bit of our interview with the flick’s filmmaker, Cinelicious Pics Head of Distribution and General Manager of the American Cinematheque Bartok (he wears many hats), as well as the film’s star, Shauna MacDonald (of The Descent series).

Nails revolves around “…track star Dana Milgrom (MacDonald), who, having survived a near-death car accident, finds herself almost completely paralyzed and trapped inside her own body, and while recovering, she becomes convinced that some evil presence exists inside her hospital room and is intent on killing her,” and was executive produced by Joseph Kaufman (Assault on Precinct 13) and produced by Brendan McCarthy (Cherry Tree, The Hallow).

Bartok, who previously wrote and produced the 2006 feature anthology film Trapped Ashes, said of his approach to the narrative of Nails, “It’s very ‘anti-flight.’ Most horror movies are built around the idea that you are running away from something. The Halloween and Friday the 13th movies, there’s a mysterious creature that’s trying to track you down, or conversely you are walking into some horrible haunted house that nobody in their right mind would ever go into, for example, The Woman in Black, which is a really terrifying film. But from the very first moment Daniel Radcliffe’s character goes up to the front of that house, the audience says, ‘Turn around! Get the hell out of there! You are going to die!’ And of course he walks in. So I was really fascinated by a narrative in which the lead character was physically trapped in one space, and actually trapped in her own body. So I thought a lot about narratives like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Sea Inside and Hitchcock’s Rear Window, where the protagonist is physically handicapped and forced to confront that, so both as a writer and as a filmmaker and for Shauna it was a huge challenge, in that how do you make that (type of story) kinetic and compelling, and how do you build suspense when the lead character is trapped in the bed for eighty percent of the story?”

MacDonald said of the script’s appeal, which is a departure in ways from the action-packed The Descent films for which she’s most known, “Oddly, I don’t want to be labeled a horror girl, although the older I get, the cooler I think that sounds. Certainly in the UK they like to fit you in the box of low-budget horror films, and every year after The Descent (films) I get scripts to read, and some of them would say, ‘OK, the lead actress is tied to a stained mattress in her underwear,’ and I would be like, ‘Next!’ and for me, I knew it would be a massive acting challenge to play the lead (as it was written) in Nails, someone who is bed-ridden and paranoid and can’t speak. Her physical journey and her emotional journey is what attracted me to the role.”

“I think it’s important also that she has self-doubt,” MacDonald continues of her role, “and that she thinks she may be having a mental breakdown. No one else is seeing the things she is seeing or experiencing what she is experiencing, so I thought upon that a lot, and also I thought, as a mother of three girls myself, that the character’s connection with her daughter in the script was really heart-wrenching, and I love mother/daughter stories.”

Filmmaker Bartok added, “I thought very much about the bond between a mother and her daughter while writing it, and the sacrifice a parent would make in order to protect their child, and that was one of the main themes from the very beginning. When I set out to make the film I knew that there were two things that I needed to make it work. One was that I needed to make it scary, and to really unnerve people, and to build that suspense and a rising tension throughout, and the second thing was, that I’d really need someone amazing to play the character of Dana, because she’s in nearly every scene of the film, and we experience the story entirely through her perception. And if we hadn’t cast someone with Shauna’s acting gifts, the film would have fallen flat.”

In regards to casting the film’s antagonist, the gaunt, towering and ghostly figure of ‘Nails,’ Bartok states of actor British Richard Foster-King, of which he’d been introduced to via an audition tape for an entirely different movie, “Richard had done these beautiful movements (in that tape), as if he was swimming in the air and elongating his arms, and I think he had even crawled along the floor at one point. And as soon as I saw that tape, I said, ‘That’s it. That’s Eric Nillson. That’s Nails!’ And the producers, because they wanted to keep the budget as low as possible, had wanted to hire local actors out of Dublin, and I would look at those tapes, and they were OK, but I felt we really needed to get Richard. So bit by bit I kept saying, ‘No,’ to these other suggestions, and finally I was able to convince them to bring Richard in from London.”

As for the evolution of the character, which itself possesses some of the nuanced tragedy of Universal’s classic monsters, Bartok stated, “It was really fascinating because we had reached out to several gothic, surreal artists who had been recommended to me by various friends, and asked them to submit concept designs, and the one that we liked the best, and they were all actually excellent, was by a French photographic artist named Nihil, who takes photographs and then manipulates them digitally. So Nihil did an amazingly creepy concept, which provided the blueprint as to how we approached the character’s design. There were several steps in getting it onto the screen, though. Maybe seventy-five percent of it came from Richard’s physicality and his on screen presence, and the rest could only be achieved digitally, and we brought in an incredibly gifted visual effects artist named Eli Dorsey, who had worked on Ted Geoghegan’s film We Are Still Here. And Eli created the milky white eyes, and the dentures which kind of sit outside the palate, and the ghostly pallor. But primarily, I think its Richard’s performance which makes the character, an evil tormenting character who is also tormented, so very haunting.”

Nails also stars Ross Noble, Steve Wall, and Charlotte Bradley. You can watch the film on iTunes.

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