Okay, I am kind of a wimp. I’ll admit it. But here’s the thing, I think too many people watch horror movies with, for lack of a better term, arms crossed daring the film to scare them. They love to finish a flick and say, “That wasn’t scary! I’m so cool.” But I like to be scared. I try to let horror movies scare me. In fact, I do everything in my power to allow them to scare me. I turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and sit close to the screen. But even then some films don’t scare me.
However, sometimes I am rewarded. Case in point: this past Friday an all-new horror film hit Netflix streaming called The Ritual. I was looking forward to checking out the movie considering it was directed by a guy named David Bruckner, who is a name some might recognize for his work in solid horror anthologies such as VHS and Southbound, and others might recognize him as the guy who almost directed the latest (abandoned) Friday the 13th film.
Either way, the man made my list of horror directors to keep an eye on long ago and so when I heard he was at the helm of this creepy looking film, I jumped at the chance to give it a watch. What did I think? Well, the title of this article should give you somewhat of a clue. But just in case you don’t grasp what I’m getting at here: David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the everliving shit out of me – several times. In fact, I’m still freaked out as I type this the next morning. That’s some good stuff.
Let’s dive a bit deeper and uncover the actual experience of my terror watching the film.
Let’s start at the very beginning. The film opens with our group of buddies hanging out at a bar. I knew that the film was about a group of friends who venture out into the dark woods and befall an ominous evil, but as I popped the film on my TV this weekend I forgot how many friends there were that make it to the woods. Thus I was caught off guard with the opening of the flick in which one of the Wolfpack gets it good in a convenience store robbery gone wrong. This scene was real horror and it took me by surprise. I wasn’t terrified by the film (yet) but this beginning sure got my anxiety levels suitably piqued. Solid beginning.
From there it isn’t long before the film goes full Blair Witch. We get a rainstorm and a wooden house out in the middle of nowhere with strange witchcraft carvings in the trees and uber-creepy totems and statues placed here and there. I find The Blair Witch Project and (to a lesser degree) Adam Wingard’s sequel Blair Witch to be two of the scariest movies ever so I was ready to be terrified at this point. And it didn’t disappoint.
It wasn’t the headless Wicker Man statue that our main men find that scared me. Nope, I’ve seen things like that before in horror flicks. I’m good. It was when the group falls asleep that the first moment of genuine terror began for this guy. To set the scene, the dude who thought the Alien-Worm in Prometheus was cute lies down for the night while rain, lightning, and thunder pound outside. There is a flash of lightning, a crash of thunder. Rinse and repeat, until lightning strikes and…it doesn’t go out.
The bright white light shines into the windows like, well, that one quick scene in Blair Witch. But in this film, the light doesn’t move like a spaceship (or whatever). In this movie, it just stays on, and on, and on. My girlfriend’s little-ass dog is scared of lightning. And now so am I. Thanks, The Ritual.
From there I was a bit on edge but morning quickly followed and all was good I thought. The guys go off hiking and searching for safety when the injured one needs to sit down. Once firmly planted on his buttocks, the rest of the group know it’s going to be a while, so Timothy Spall’s kid decides to run up the hill to the top where it looks like the trees end and salvation begins. No such luck. Once he reaches the top he finds, you guessed it, only more trees. But then something creepy as all balls happens. He sees something on a tree trunk in the distance. It’s a hand… and it is way the holy f*ck up near the top of the tree. Another dead body? We could only be so lucky. Nope, the hand then moves around the side of the tree like the damn Wicked Witch of the West was creeping behind it. Little Spall screams and runs off. Good idea.
And speaking of nightmares hanging out in the woods, not long after that the movie springs what just might be the scariest moment from a recent horror film. To set the scene, the remaining guys are climbing up a steep hill and the camera sits far back and carelessly watches their struggle without lifting a finger. We watch them trudge up this hill for what seems like forever, and just when we think David Bruckner fell asleep at the camera, something moves. Deep in the dark woods, way in the background, something moves. Something f*cking BIG. This shot was genius. Learn your lessons, fellow filmmakers. Watch and rewatch and learn. This is how you scare people. No jump scares, please. Rip this shot off if you must. No one will fault you. It’s terrific.
From there the film became mostly a standard horror film. The guys get lost in the woods, dream sequences happen here and there, and some of the guys end up gutted and hung high up in the trees. Meh. Standard horror offerings if you ask me. But then the final two guys are captured and taken to a farmstead out in the woods. The place is run by older people (and one young blonde, of course) and there is something sinister upstairs. No, the actual ritual didn’t scare me. Big dudes getting pulled off by Jawa-Horse monsters isn’t going to send anyone running home to mama.
It was the damn church of the dead that got me good. Small Spall breaks free of his shackles and heads through the dark house. He hears muffled talking behind a door upstairs and cautiously enters. Inside he finds a congregation of dead bodies in pews facing towards the front of the room where what looks like the body from inside the walls in Deep Red holds court over the dead room. Creepy. For real. But then – ohhellnogetmethefuckoutofhere! – one of the bodies moves. Then another. Then Spall realizes they are all still alive! Nope, nope, nope. He appropriately kills them all with fire. Thank the Lords.
To touch on The Creature for a bit, no I didn’t find it that scary, but let me say that I respected the hell out of it. Most people I know are already saying, “It was scary up until the end with the Horse-Man“, and while I get that the film stops being scary once we know what was lurking in the woods, props must be given to Buckner and crew for their creature’s design. It is a shifting nightmare of horror that (evidently) is wrapped in actual Norse mythology. Got to love it.
In the end, David Bruckner’s The Ritual scared the hell out me on multiple occasions. This film will be a new (possibly mini) classic that friends recommend to friends for years to come. Sure it might not be the new The Witch or It Follows, but The Ritual is a solid horror film for 90% percent of its running time. And that other 10% is audacious, so you’ve got to give it that.
God bless David Bruckner’s The Ritual.
What did you think of Netflix’s The Ritual? Let us know below!
Zena’s Period Blood: Dying for a DEAD END
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
How do you turn $900,000 into $77,000,000? Offer directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa the initial amount and give them the freedom to let their minds wander. In 2003, both directors accomplished this unimaginable feat with Dead End. Under the clouds of a small budget, typical poster and insubstantial trailer, most viewers forecasted one long stretch of boredom. However, 15 minutes in and I was as hooked as a pervert in a strip club with his tax refund money. In 83 minutes, the movie unravels and exposes intelligent craftsmanship with story, acting and location, introducing us to the Harrington family and their demise.
After 20 years following the same route, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) decides to take his family down a shortcut to his in-laws home during Christmas Eve. Wife Laura (Lin Shaye) sings in the passenger seat, serving as the optimistic family unifier who is often ignored by her husband and children. Behind Frank is their oldest child Marion (Alexandra Holden), unnervingly sheltered under the arm of her soon-to-be fiancé, Brad. And forever mom’s favorite boy is Richard (Mick Cain), who rocks out to Marilyn Manson blaring in his headphones. After this brief introduction to the characters and their distinct personalities, we witness everyone fall asleep, including Frank, who refuses to let anyone else drive.
Several seconds pass before the Jeep Wagoneer veers into the opposite lane. Gradually, a honk pleads from an approaching car, startling the Harrington family and forcing Frank to fight with the wheel until he brings the Jeep to a stop. Wide-awake, the family begins to move forward, now entrapped on a new, never-ending road.
I could elaborate on so many scary details in the movie, but the never-ending road stands out the most. What makes it worse is that there are signs for a town called Marcott, with an arrow indicating the town is straight ahead. But the Harringtons never reach the town. This scares me because I believe that every human being has a mental list of things they are scared of or things they should keep an eye out for in certain situations. Unfortunately, this movie exists to expand that list. What sucks for me is that my husband likes taking back roads. Because I strive to have a happy marriage and a peaceful death, I usually fall asleep to avoid an argument and the grim reaper, both of which usually exist on these particular roads. However, I never imagined that a back road could become a never-ending road. Man that would suck!
Speaking of never-ending, the directors became devils of discomfort by never really showing the deceased’s mutilated body, leaving your brain struggling to piece together the unseen image long after the movie ends. Throughout the movie, the family and Brad are picked off one by one. We mainly suffer these devatations through the reactions of the family members that are still alive, sometimes witnessing them lift a severed ear or caress a charred hand. This movie taught me that I can still taste bile at the back of my throat when a mutilation is suggested rather than shown.
Directors Andrea and Canepa accomplished greatness in Dead End with little time and little money. It is a testament that imagination coupled with skill is the true combination to capturing a big budget feel. I hope that all the individuals behind this movie have a long, never-ending road ahead of them because they have delivered brilliance to the world. This is a good horror. Point blank. Period.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.
5 Zombie Films That Flipped The Script
The undead have long been a source of horror for cultures around the world. The thought of our loved ones returning from beyond the grave as shells of their former selves has filled countless people with feelings of dread, grief, and terror. Then there’s that whole pesky “they want to eat our flesh” thing going on. As if being in mourning wasn’t enough, now I’ve got to worry about remaining intact?
Netflix’s upcoming horror/thriller Cargo stars Martin Freeman as a man who wanders the Australian outback with 48 hours to live after being bitten by a zombie. The twist in this story is that Freeman has his one-year-old daughter with him and he needs to find a safe place for her before he turns.
Having seen the film, I can tell you that it’s pretty damn fantastic. The zombies are distinct enough that you’ll feel like you’re watching something new and the themes hinted at through the story, while not entirely unique, are so rarely touched upon in zombie films that it feels like a fascinating experience. Cargo has no issues bravely facing racism, xenophobia, environmental concerns, and the fear of loss, not only of one’s life but of all that will never be experienced. It’s horror with heart and it never shies away from that, for which I applaud it.
Because of the release of Cargo, we decided to take a look at five other zombie films that brought something new and exciting to the table.
“Stranded in rural Australia in the aftermath of a violent pandemic, an infected father desperately searches for a new home for his infant child and a means to protect her from his own changing nature.”
Cargo was directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from a script written by Ramke. It stars Martin Freeman, Anthony Hayes, Susie Porter, Caren Pistorius, Kris McQuade, Simone Landers, and David Gulpilil.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
It may not seem all that original now but George A. Romero’s 1968 classic really was revolutionary upon its release. Prior to this film, zombies were mostly thought of in terms of the Haitian folklore that was seen in movies like White Zombie. In that film, zombies weren’t mindless ghouls intent on devouring the living, they were freshly dead corpses resurrected by a Bokor (a necromancer) who wiped the mind of the zombie and made them their personal slave. Romero changed all that by taking the same concept and removing all possibility of the ghouls being controlled. Rather, they became the shuffling corpses that are now cultural icons.
Train to Busan (2016)
South Korea’s 2016 zombie film received, rightfully so, wild critical acclaim and the love of horror fans across the globe. Wasting no time in getting into the action, Train to Busan felt like a breath of fresh air because it masterfully blended humor, over-the-top action, horror, social commentary, and genuine emotion. Elements of each of these traits have been seen countless times throughout zombie films but the culmination of everything made Yeon Sang-ho’s film one of the best entries in the genre in this decade, possibly this century.
28 Days Later (2002)
Raw, gritty, vicious, and undeniably beautiful, 28 Days Later is a masterpiece of intensity and emotion. The first zombie film in many years to truly make it feel like the world was over, it created a believable story and focused on interesting, nuanced characters. As with Train to Busan and Night of the Living Dead themes of class warfare and social commentary were most certainly present, creating a film that felt fresh and exciting. There’s a reason 28 Days Later was credited with revitalizing the zombie genre and it’s because it brought new, albeit infected, blood into the mix.
Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in a dramatic role bereft of action or comedy should already clue you in that this movie is aiming to do something different but it’s the actual meat (no pun intended) and potatoes of the story that offers a fresh perspective on zombies. Schwarzenegger’s Wade is distraught and desperate after learning that his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) is infected with the “Necroambulist virus” and has days left before she changes into a cannibalistic creature. Rather than focus on the terrors of what might be, Maggie opts to focus on what we know will be lost. Maggie will never know what an adult life will be life. She will never know a love that lasts the rest of her life nor will she have the chance to be a parent. Her grief at what she will never experience is matched by Wade’s overwhelming anguish that he cannot protect his daughter or be there for all those moments that could have been.
As King Theoden mournfully stated in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, “No parent should have to bury their child.”
The Girl With All The Gifts (2016)
What if the zombie was actually the character we, the audience, were pushed to care the most about? Enter Colm McCarthy’s 2016 brilliant film The Girl With All The Gifts and you’ll have that same experience. Never failing to bring scares, the film also isn’t afraid to ask how can we love that which can put us in so much danger as well as cause us so much pain? Sennia Nanua positively shines as Melanie, a young girl infected with a fungal disease that will send her on a mindless, flesh-hungry rampage were it not for a cream that remaining humans can rub on their arms to curb her appetite. As with 28 Days Later, The Girl With All The Gifts doesn’t shy away from commentary on race and class differences. But its true strength lies in its ability to make you feel for the very thing that should strike fear into your heart.
This post was sponsored by Netflix.
Interview: Author Alex White on ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE
Titan Books new novel Alien: The Cold Forge finds a group of scientists conducting experiments on the titular beasts on a remote space station, and as you might expect, things don’t go so hot. While the basic setup may sound like familiar ground, author Alex White manages to twist and subvert expectations at nearly every turn, developing a book with some great characters, creepy horror setpieces and intriguing tweaks to the Xenomorph lifecycle.
I recently got to ask Alex some questions on Alien: The Cold Forge, covering how he got the job, alternate story concepts and if there was anything from the movies that was off bounds while he was writing the book.
Dread Central: Hi Alex. First off, could you give a quick overview of your writing career prior to Alien: The Cold Forge?
Alex White: I started out writing screenplays, which was a major part of my independent studies in college. Around 2005, I started seriously writing novels, and I sold my fifth book, Every Mountain Made Low, in 2015. My agent, Connor Goldsmith, parleyed that into the Alien deal for me, as well as my forthcoming three-book space opera, The Salvagers. The first book, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, arrives June 26th of this year.
DC: How did the concept for The Cold Forge come to you?
AW: My agent called me to let me know that I’d scored a pitch meeting with Titan editor Steve Saffel, and I had to come up with a couple of ideas, fast. I was at Adaptive Path’s UX week when Double Robotics did a presentation using their telepresence robot, and I was fascinated by the idea. What if you had one survivor in an alien outbreak who was cut off, only able to influence the outcome through telepresence? How would the other survivors react? Would they be grateful or upset?
I was also dealing with a lot of Silicon Valley tech bros at the time, and Dorian naturally evolved from the amoral folks that work at a lot of those companies. When we’re chasing profits, it’s important to ask: who gets hurt? Dorian doesn’t have that reflex.
DC: Did you pitch any other ideas for Alien stories to Titan for the book?
AW: I pitched three, but I only really remember two of them. There’s the one that eventually became The Cold Forge, and there was another that took place on a military academy on a planet overrun by aliens. The idea is that you have a bunch of troubled outcast teens who’ve been shipped away from home to get discipline, then an outbreak kills most of the adults. It sounds YA, but I wanted to turn it into full-on Lord of the Flies.
DC: Pretty much every character in The Cold Forge is flawed or corrupt in some way. Was it fun to write a story without any traditional heroes?
AW: Absolutely, because honestly, I think it represents the reality of a survival scenario. Also, can you imagine living with your coworkers for years at a time? I doubt I’d be able to survive that with a clean conscience, myself.
DC: Dorian Sudler has to one of the great all-time assholes in the franchise to date. How did you dream up such an odious character?
AW: I was dealing with a lot of Silicon Valley tech bros at the time, and Dorian naturally evolved from this utter prick of a venture capitalist who shared a cab with me one evening. When you’re dealing with big data in particular, it’s easy to violate privacy, manipulate people and outright disenfranchise folks (Check out Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil). On my product teams, we have a strict rule: “Don’t pitch me anything you don’t want used on you.” With any advancement, you might churn a good profit, but you also might end up ruining someone’s life. That’s why it’s important to ask: who gets hurt? Dorian, like that venture capitalist, doesn’t have that reflex.
DC: The relationship between Blue Marsalis and her android/nurse Marcus is also pretty intriguing, where she uses his body as an avatar to escape her own bed-ridden condition. Where did that idea come from?
AW: While I’ve already talked about Double Robotics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my friend’s father passed from complications of ALS around that time. Another friend of mine has a terminally-ill daughter, and watching the trials that poor kid has to endure is heartbreaking. I wanted the readers to feel the difficulties that come with a terminal condition, as well as the discrimination. Terminally-ill people are often treated as though they’re already dead. Friends drift away, unable to witness the pain unfolding before them.
Blue deals with all of that, especially the fact that her life is considered worthless by the others. If they’d managed to get to an escape pod, do you think Blue’s crewmates would’ve rescued her? If she’d died out there, who would’ve spoken a kind word?
DC: The Cold Forge reveals Facehuggers don’t actually implant an embryo but inject a black goo-like substance instead that rewrites DNA. Did you receive any pushback about making this change to their life cycle?
AW: Nope! It’s 100% in keeping with Alien: Covenant and you never actually see a larval injection onscreen. In fact, 20th Century Fox requested ZERO changes to the manuscript and sent a page full of compliments, which is probably a first!
DC: The book feels somewhat inspired by video game Alien: Isolation, including how the Xenos are depicted and certain passages like Sudler hiding in a weapons locker. Have you played the game?
AW: Oh, I absolutely did. My god, that game was a masterpiece. The thing that really stuck with me was the audible weight of the creatures. I’d never felt them so substantially in the movies.
DC: Are you a fan of any of the other Alien Expanded Universe stories, be it games, comics or novels?
AW: Oh yeah. In the 90s, I had every Dark Horse book and comic. I played all of the games, especially AvP and AvP 2 (and that badass Capcom beat-em-up that took all my quarters). Strangely enough, the creator of the AvP games was Rebellion, and their publishing arm is the company that bought my debut!
DC: Were there any story ideas that were off-limits while writing the book, e.g. mentioning certain characters or events from past movies?
AW: When I started writing, Covenant hadn’t come out yet, and Prometheus was considered a separate license, so I couldn’t use the black goo. About a month into my contract, Covenant came out and boom! I get to use everything I want.
DC: How have you found the fan response to the book so far?
AW: Incredible! They love it, and they’re so happy to tell me that. I’m really blown away by the kindness and excitement from this fandom. There are a lot of really great folks out there, especially the ones from AvPGalaxy.net.
DC: Would you pay another visit to the Alien universe if the opportunity presented itself?
AW: You bet! I’ve always got a few more ideas in me. I’m also planning to do a commentary on my thought process while writing the book, which you can find in my newsletter.
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