Directed by Mike Mendez
Five years is enough time to bring about change in anyone, wouldn’t you say? Enough time to grow, so to speak. Get in touch with your inner ghoul. Mike Mendez – if this film is any indication – has done a lot of growing, and his fascination for those lethal things that lurk in the dark hasn’t diminished any. His last effort, The Convent – which he completed five years back – was a stylized mixture of camp and over-the-top gore. A demonic nun, black light-filled, schizophrenic haunted house trip for the patience deprived horror lot who like their thrills fired into their synapses with all the power and subtlety of a canon. The Gravedancers, despite a similarly frenzied and downright vicious start, is a different entity altogether. An exacting ghost story wielding an old school fright mentality that works its way under your skin to do one mean Irish jig all over your nerves.
Mendez hasn’t lost his playful bite over years. He lays it on thick in Gravedancers‘ spook-heavy second half leaving the set-up to rely on Robert Wise-inspired shenanigans as the story introduces us to a trio of friends – Harris (Purcell), Kira (Maran) and Sid (Thomas) – who are brought together by the death of a school chum. The night of the funeral, Harris – sans wife, Allison (Kramer) – partakes in some catching up time with Kira, an old flame, and Sid. Their journey to the local pub leads to a night at the graveyard where the trio discover a poem of sorts written on a mysterious black card. Liquored up, they read the poem aloud, dancing (as it asks them to do) on some nearby graves. It’s childishly absurd and a somewhat innocent act of disrespect to the dead, there’s worse that could be done, but Sid decidedly takes the desecration a step further by pissing all over the base of a headstone.
Days pass and everyone goes about their daily routine until Kira becomes unreachable. Harris questions her whereabouts while Allison starts to get the good ol’ stalker-fashion hang-up phone calls that would imply Kira is trying to pursue Harris again. But that becomes far from the truth when the tried and true indications of a haunting begin to freak out the happily married couple in their own home. Doors open on their own. The floorboards and pipes creak and moan. Allison even hears the sound of a woman’s laughter emanating from the bedroom further driving her suspicions that Kira’s sniffing around where she doesn’t belong. Kira eventually surfaces, as does Sid who has been strangely absent since the funeral. Reunited, the trio, including Allison, learn from Vincent (Karyo) – a local paranormal specialist – that they’re being hunted by three ghosts. Specifically, three murderous spirits who didn’t take too kindly to the desecration that went on. Upon investigation, our gang further discover they only have a matter of time before the spooks gain strength and lay their prey to rest.
Gravedancers extracts the scary adult horrors of Poltergeist (you know, the “this movie should’ve been R-rated stuff”) and combines it with a ferocity akin to The Evil Dead. Mendez paces himself early on, recognizing quickly that he needs to present us with some convincing characters who won’t be upstaged by the effects. They’re not a complicated bunch. Harris and Allison are a believable pair, actress Clare Kramer playing the rightfully territorial wife especially well. Tchéky Karyo, as Vincent, and his assistant Culpepper (Megahn Perry of The Convent) become the film’s true comedic relief, a task which should have fallen on Marcus Thomas’ portrayal of Sid. He ultimately falls flat in spite of the script’s insistence to make Sid the guy film-goers should immediately connect with. You can practically hear the writers smacking their foreheads in disappointment over Thomas’ delivery. Nevertheless, the dynamic of the group is what counts here and they are a pleasing bunch to follow as they try to avoid their impending doom. Complementing the misfortune of the situation, Saw and Saw II photographer David Armstrong cuts himself loose from the sterile whites and earthy color tones of those two films to paint a cold, de-saturated portrait of Gravedancers‘ world.
Initially, Mendez sets you up for a few solid jolts through well-timed and chilling sound effects. The Haunting comes to mind, but there’s even a nice slice of J-horror when Allison discovers a black haired woman crawling across her bed. This all somewhat falls away later on for a more modern, loud, in-your-face supernatural swagger loaded with decent CG visual effects as we get some backstory on the ghosts and they begin to take on their physical manifestations (like an ax-wielding, floating crone). Audiences might take issue with the tone, however, which sustains a level of seriousness throughout – an amazing contrast to the college-level laughs of The Convent – since the film’s palpable straight-faced vibe is reliant on building anxiety through a subtler approach. In a pivotal scene involving some corpse exhumation (with wild results), though, these frights take a drastic turn and set the speed for the rest of the film. Mendez ramps up the funhouse antics loading Gravedancers‘ finale with screaming cadavers and Spectral (Hellboy) Motion-created grim grinning ghosts who are certainly not out to socialize. Punctuated by a pair of unsettling invisible attacks on the female cast, devoid of The Entity‘s exploitive edge, it’s obvious that Mendez is determined to go for the goosebumps this time around and not the funny bone. Here’s to hoping we won’t have to wait so long for his next movie.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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