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Masters of Horror: Dreams in the Witch House (DVD)

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Masters of Horror: Dreams in the Witch HouseStarring Ezra Godden, Chelah Horsdal, Campbell Lane

Directed by Stuart Gordon

Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment


The news that Stuart Gordon would be behind an episode of the first season of Masters of Horror was almost a relief to me. There are few directors working today that have produced more memorable films than Gordon; Carpenter is one. Craven another. Romero, definitely… but ultimately it’s a short list, and Gordon is certainly deserving of the Masters title.

“Dreams in the Witch House” is based on an early H.P. Lovecraft story, one that pre-dates the Cthulhu mythos, and has been a passion project for both Stuart and screenwriter Dennis Paoli for a long time. The duo had always wanted to see it realized on film, so when the Masters opportunity came up it was the perfect fit. The result is one of the more disturbing entries in the first Masters series and, for me, the one that got closest to the root of what the entire project was about.

“Dreams” is the story of a student by the name of Walter Gilman (Godden, star of Gordon’s last Lovecraft masterpiece, Dagon) who finds a room for rent in the somewhat rundown, 300-year-old titular home. He’s not interested in comfort, just quiet and privacy; a place where he can concentrate on his schoolwork and developing his theory. That theory has to do with the existence of multiple planes of reality and how, when the angles meet at the right place, a portal between realities can be opened. This is firmly in keeping with Lovecraft’s original story, though in that tale the principal character moves into the house because he knows a room exists with these exact angles. In the filmed version, Walter only figures it out upon close examination of his room, and is amazed at this stroke of luck.

His next-door neighbor is an attractive single mother named Frances (Horsdal), who he meets when she starts screaming one evening and goes over to investigate. Seems a rat is tormenting her and her baby, and he saves them by shooing the rodent into a hole in the wall and boarding it up. When he tries to tell the landlord about the rat he’s dismissed but another neighbor, Mazurowitz (Lane, in a role originally meant to be filled by Jeffrey Combs) notices him and asks a rather peculiar question; did the rat have a human face?

That night, Walter has what he believes to be a dream about a rat with a human face and goes to Mazurowitz, who tells him the story of what happened to him. There is a 300-year-old witch that lives in the house, using the angles in Walter’s room to travel through space and time. She is determined to stay alive, but can only do so through the sacrifice of infants. Mazurowitz admits he’s trapped there, having done the witches bidding for many long years, and now he fears it’s Walter’s turn. At first he doesn’t believe it to be possible, but the witch appears to him in person and almost forces him to kill Frances’ baby through no will of his own. The dreams, if one is to believe that’s what they are, get worse, until he wakes up in the library of Miskatonic University with the Necronomicon opened in front of him and sees just what the witch needs to stay alive. He tries to fight it, but in the end she is just too strong for him.

The end of the episode is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen put to film, and it’s amazing that Showtime let it stay in, even if the story did require it to end the way it did. Stuart said many times that his wife of 20+ years threatened to leave him when she saw it, and I’m sure he was only half kidding.

It’s not just the shocking images at the end of “Dreams” that makes his episode work so well, however; it’s Gordon’s inherit ability to bring so much life to his characters. During the multiple extras on this disc (which I will be getting to in a moment), it’s mentioned over and over again that Godden and Horsdal were able to rehearse together for a few days before shooting started, allowing them to get comfortable with each other than the roles they’d be playing. This connection translates to screen well which makes the story more believable because you care about these people and the danger they’re in. Godden especially does a great job once again (he owned Dagon from start to finish) and damnit I wish he’d get more work. All in all, “Dreams” was one of my favorite entries in the entire series, and not just because it was made by one of my favorite directors.

On the DVD side, Anchor Bay proves that they know what the horror fan wants to see with these discs and have loaded them with all sorts of extras that tell both the tale of how the episode was made as well as why Gordon is considered a Master of Horror.

First and foremost we have the commentary with Gordon, star Ezra Godden (back to his natural British accent, something you would never suspect him of having in his roles), and DVD producer Perry Martin. Martin does a great job of keeping things moving along, not that Gordon or Godden need a reason to talk about the episode, and it’s filled with anecdotes and history as only Stuart can tell. It’s definitely a fun track, though a lot of the information presented is mentioned in other features as well, so you won’t miss much if you choose to watch it without.

“Dreams, Darkness, and Damnation: An Interview with Stuart Gordon” is exactly what the title implies; a talk with Stuart about his beginnings in Madison, Wisconsin and later Chicago, Illinois with the Organic Theater Group, his first foray into film (the groundbreaking and unforgettable Re-Animator) all the way up to his work on Masters. Stuarts non-genre films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (which he and Brian Yuzna co-wrote), The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, and King of the Ants aren’t covered, but they are mentioned in the lengthy text biography of the director, which is a great read in and of itself.

The next featurette is the 23-minute “Working With a Master: Stuart Gordon”, featuring people like Barbara Crampton, wife and frequent cast member Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Jeffrey Combs, Ken Foree, and Brian Yuzna discussing what it’s like to work with Stuart.. This is easily the best feature on the disc; not that the rest of them are particularly bad or good, but this one really shines through because you get a much clearer idea of what Gordon is like as both a director and a person. Anchor Bay did a stellar job getting the right people together to discuss the man’s career, as well as compiling the footage that plays during the conversation and editing it all together to make it fast-paced and fun.

Next up is the 8-minute “On Set: An Interview with Chelah Horsdal”. The star discusses how she got involved in the show, what kind of research and internal struggles she went through playing the role, and of course how it was working with Gordon. Then there’s “SFX: Meet Brown Jenkin”, a look at the creation of the rat creature that makes Gilman’s life miserable featuring a chat with Howard Berger. This one’s fast, too, but goes to show how good the KNB folks are and how quick they can come up with solutions to all sorts of demands.

Finally, we have “Behind the Scenes: The Making of Dreams in the Witch House”, which is just a compilation of footage shot on-set. Usually this kind of featurette bores me to tears, but here it’s edited together in such a way as to keep flowing well, and gives you a look at the kind of prep that went on prior to shooting. Rounding out the disc there’s a set of trailers for other Masters episodes, a still gallery, DVD-ROM copies of the script, a screen saver, and the H.P. Lovecraft story on which it’s based.

I would be remiss not to mention the packaging for the DVDs. Admittedly, when I first saw what AB’s approach to them would be I was a bit taken aback, the painted covers was something I was not expecting, but when it’s in your hands you can really see what a great job they did with it. The slipcase features a metallic, shinny MOH logo and signature by the director, and each DVD in the series comes with a very cool trading card with the painted image of the director on one side and quick facts about their history on the other. One other thing I noticed which goes a long way to demonstrate that this series is about the directors first and story second; the title on the side of the DVD is simply Masters of Horror: Stuart Gordon. No mention of the title of the episode at all.

So there you have it, folks. I hope this rather exhaustive look at the second Masters of Horror DVD is enough to convince you that Anchor Bay loves both this series and the fans that support. It. They’ve gone to great lengths to be sure that these short films are given as good, if not better, treatment than some of the features they release, and to that end I say they’ve succeeded admirably.

Special Features
Audio commentary by Stuart Gordon & Ezra Godden
“Dreams, Darkness, and Damnation: An interview with Stuart Gordon”
“Behind the Scenes: Making Dreams in the Witch House”
“Working with a Master: Stuart Gordon”
“On Set: An interview with Chelah Horsdal”
“SFX: Meet Brown Jenkin”
Stuart Gordon text bio
Trailers
Still Galleries
Collectible Masters of Horror Trading Card
DVD-ROM screenplay, screensaver, and orignal H.P. Lovecraft story


5 out of 5 Mugs O’ Blood

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.59 (22 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.13 (23 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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