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In the House of Flies (2012)

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In the House of Flies ReviewStarring Ryan Kotack, Lindsay Smith, Ryan Barrett, Henry Rollins

Directed by Gabriel Carrer


Pity poor Heather and Steve, the fun-loving young couple we meet at the beginning of In the House of Flies, a grueling psychological endurance test of a film featuring two of the strongest, most heartbreaking performances you’ll see in any movie this year. House opens with the two as they enjoy a night out on the town – walking hand-in-hand, laughing, bopping about an arcade, and contemplating the possibility of marriage. Just as the “so 80s it hurts!” opening credit sequence ends, so does the fun: Heather and Steve get back into their car, only to find the smell of chemicals and promptly pass out.

And yeesh, is that where the nightmare begins! The two wake up and find themselves locked up in a dingy, insect-ridden basement with no exits and only a small window serving as their sole link to the outside world. Confusion sets in. Anger. Panic. Before long a telephone enters the picture, bringing with it a cold, tough voice (belonging to unseen star Henry Rollins) that issues as many insults as it does instructions, pushing the couple to the brink of sanity with his demands and jeering. The Voice promises food and water to the couple, so long as they behave and follow orders. And, unfortunately, the orders usually involve some sort of punishment – punishment the couple must dole out on each other if they wish to stay alive. Punishment such as burning themselves with matches, punching each other, and…well, I’ll say no more.

As their predicament grows worse and worse, Heather and Steve begin to deteriorate both mentally and physically. Hungry, sleep deprived, and desperate, the two are driven not only by self-preservation, but also by a revelation Heather gives Steve at the beginning of the second act that ratchets up the tension considerably (and will go unspoiled here). The more their conditions worsen, the more the two lash out. At The Voice, at each other, and even at themselves. But no matter how much they beg and plead, The Voice has no intentions of letting the couple go. At least, not without a great deal of pain first…

Given the synopsis, one might be inclined to assume that House is yet another entry in the much maligned torture porn sub-genre. And indeed, the movie does share some similarities to the first Saw film (regrettably, the line “Let’s play a game” does make an appearance). However, the movie falls more along the lines of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, as it’s more concerned with a human being’s reaction to an extreme situation in an enclosed environment rather than being a movie focused solely on torture and degradation.

While certainly not for everyone, this spare film is one of the better indie horror flicks I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year. Director Carrer shoots with a sure eye, keeping even the most hideous of moments looking pretty fantastic. He also does a great job of keeping the tension palpable, not only with the performances, but with the tiny, unnerving details he litters throughout the film (the buzzing of flies, the skittering of insects, the howling of nearby coyotes). Credit must also go to Angus McLellan’s script, which balances the horror with a great deal of character-driven drama.

Newcomers Ryan Kotack and Lindsay Smith are both stunning as the leads. Each actor gives a gut-wrenching performance, making you care for them even though their characters have little given backstory for the viewer to latch onto. It’s a testament to their abilities that they can keep the virtually plotless first act so fascinating. The entire movie hangs on these two, and they carry it admirably. Hell, speaking of the acting – Henry Rollins literally phones in his performance, and he’s utterly chilling. His villain is one mean, black-hearted son of a bitch, and Rollins plays him perfectly, refusing to put the sort of mustache-twirling, cartoony histrionics into his vocal performance a less confident actor might have been tempted to.

Not everything about the movie works as solidly, though. One wishes that The Voice might have had a sturdier motivation for what he was doing, and the writing comes up wanting a bit when In the House of Flies reaches its conclusion. In addition, some sections feel incredibly disjointed. Sometimes this helps keep the viewer off balance (a good thing), but the occasionally choppy storytelling leaves one feeling more unsatisfied than not.

Still, indie horror flicks this intense, horrific, well acted and thought-provoking are few and far between these days. If the notion of slow-burn horror films doesn’t offend you (can’t wait for the comments section below), you’d do well to pay this House a visit.

3 1/2 out of 5

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The Crucifixion Review – Should’ve Left This One Nailed to the Cross

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Starring Sophie Cookson, Corneliu Ulici, Ada Lupu

Directed by Xavier Gens


Claiming to be inspired by actual events, director Xavier Gens’ The Crucifixion forgoes the affecting shocks and awes, and instead beats its audience into the ground with a laundry-list of ho-hum dialogue and lesser-than-stellar instances…forget the priest, I need a friggin’ Red Bull.

A 2005 case is spotlighted, and it revolves around a psychotically damaged woman of the cloth (nun for all you laymen) who priests believed was inhabited by ol’ Satan himself. With one rogue priest in command who firmly believed that this was the work of something satanic, the nun was subject to a horrific exorcism in which she was chained to a cross and basically left to die, which ultimately resulted in the priest being stripped of his collar and rosary…how tragic. Enter an overzealous New York reporter (Cookson) who is intently focused upon traveling to Romania to get the scoop on the botched undertaking. After her arrival, the only point of view that seems to keep sticking with interviewees is that the man who sat close to the lord killed a helpless, innocent and stricken woman, that is until she meets up with another nun and a village priest – and their claims are of something much more sinister.

From there, the battle between good and evil rages…well, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t exactly “rage” – instead, it simmers but never boils. Unfortunately for those who came looking for some serious Father Karras action will more than likely be disappointed. The performances border on labored with cursory characters, and outside of some beautiful cinematography, this one failed to chew out of its five-point restraints.

I’d normally prattle on and on about this and that, just to keep my word limit at a bit of a stretch, but with this particular presentation, there just isn’t much to bore you all with (see what I just did there). Gens certainly had the right idea when constructing this film according to blueprints…but it’s like one of those pieces of Wal-Mart furniture that when you open the box, all you can find are the instructions that aren’t in your language – wing and a prayer…but we all know what prayers get you, don’t we, Father?

My advice to all who come seeking some hellacious activity – stick to The Exorcist and you’ll never be let down.

  • Film
2

Summary

The Crucifixion is one of those films that needs the help of the man above in order to raise its faith, but I think he might have been out to lunch when this one came around.

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User Rating 3.8 (5 votes)
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Black Christmas Blu-ray Review – Making Its U.K. Debut From 101 Films

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Starring Keir Dullea, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Art Hindle

Directed by Bob Clark

Distributed by 101 Films


There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, Black Christmas, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough Black Christmas doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. Black Christmas was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Cult label 101 Films is giving the film its U.K. debut, presenting a transfer that is nearly identical to the remastered version Scream Factory released last year in North America. That 1.85:1 1080p picture is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. Black Christmas has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less “noisy” and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable than ever. The only noticeable difference between the Scream Factory and 101 Films versions are the latter is a touch brighter, allowing for a little more detail to filter through.

Audio is available via an English LPCM 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo option. The multi-channel effort grants the unsettling soundtrack and Billy’s insane vocalizations more room to breathe, ratcheting up the creepiness thanks to the sense of immersion. Unlike the Scream Factory edition, the original mono track is not included.

Only a handful of extra features have been included, all of which can be found on the Scream Factory edition, too.

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” – Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” – The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” – This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

A handful of original TV and radio spots have been included, along with the “40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014”.

The package also includes a fold-out poster, reversible cover art, and a DVD copy.

Special Features:

  • Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
  • Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
  • Black Christmas Legacy
  • Original TV and Radio spots
  • 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
  • Black Christmas
  • Special Features
4.0

Summary

This is an easy recommendation for purchase if you live in the U.K., since this is the film’s Blu-ray debut. Stateside readers may find this region-free version attractive due to the price, but know that it does contain significantly fewer extras than the in-print Scream Factory release. Either way, fans on both sides of the Atlantic have a version worth buying.

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User Rating 3.33 (12 votes)
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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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