[Featured image – The Devil’s Candy courtesy IFC Midnight]
Another year, another bumper crop of horror movies. As always, the horror genre continues to provide truckloads of cash receipts to studios. 2017’s horror releases provided their own unique road-map of scares – from faux documentary (Creep 2), to Stephen King coming of age tale (IT), to social satire (Get Out). In a pleasant change of pace for horror fans, some of the highest grossing genre titles also earned critical raves to go with the oceans of green (IT and Get Out earning 84 and 99 percent Fresh ratings respectively at Rotten Tomatoes).
Late last year, Thrillist’s Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) by Scott Weinberg inspired me. How many of the listed movies could I watch before January 1, 2018? How would my opinions agree or clash with Mr. Weinberg’s? I started off with House on Willow Street (here at F&S) andThe Void (reviewed at SciFi4Me). However, due to things like “work” and “going to Urgent Care“, I only managed a total of 16 out of 30 movies.
Detailed reviews of my arbitrary groupings will follow. For starters, here’s my ranking of the sixteen movies I managed to watch, with Scott Weinberg’s ranking in parenthesis.
The Top Tier
1 – Raw (5)
2 – The Devil’s Candy (8)
3 – Creep 2 (16)
4 – The Void (28)
5 – Split (15)
6 – Get Out (1)
Fun Creature Features
7 – Life (17)
8 – Alien: Covenant (23)
9 – Annabelle: Creation (27)
The Stephen King Afterschool Specials
10 – Gerald’s Game (4)
11 – IT (2)
12 – 1922 (13)
Beautiful, but Remote
13 – It Comes at Night (22)
14 – A Dark Song
OK for a Matinee
15 – Cult of Chucky (30)
16 – House on Willow Street (29)
Some people have a post holiday season goal to get back in shape after too much indulgence. After reading Scott Weinberg’s “The Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far)“ on Thrillist, I have a pre-New Year’s goal. As I read through Mr. Weinberg’s list, I realized I’d only seen six of the 30(!) movies featured.
What to do?
Start a crash horror movie watching regime, of course. Thanks to Netflix I caught The Void. Now I’m only 23 movies behind instead of 30. As I go through titles I’ll put up a short review – and be better prepared to creat my own “Best of” list for posting here on Fand and Saucer and SciFi4Me/Horror4Me.
Let’s begin, shall we? The Void (2016)
Written and Directed by Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski
The Void opens with a jolt. A bedraggled young man flees an isolated country house moments before a woman is dragged outside, murdered, then set on fire. The fleeing man (Evan Stern) runs in front of the patrol car of Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole). Carter takes the badly injured man to the closest hospital.
Unfortunately for Daniel Carter, his passenger, and everyone else we meet in The Void, the soon-to-be-shuttered hospital isn’t so much a House of Healing as a Portal to Hell.
As a fan of creepy abandoned places, horror movies set in creepy abandoned places, and Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror, I was predisposed to like The Void. It makes the most of its setting, story, and characters to produce a movie that, for worked on all levels. It drew me in to its world, kept me watching, and left me eagerly waiting for The Void 2.
Besides the skillful blending of the horror elements above, The Void takes care to adhere to storytelling logic. All of the characters have a logical reason for being at the hospital (work, illness, medical emergency). The hospital’s imminent shutdown explains both the minimum number of staff and patients and no new characters showing up once the story gets moving. Anyone who’s ever had to work the last shift in a closing store or business understands this set of circumstances and the attitudes of the employees and patients stuck in it.
Directing/Writing team of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski effectively create the mundane reality of the characters and their environment. It’s easy to accept the almost imperceptible slide into unreality – the police car that suddenly seems much farther away from the hospital entrance than when we first see it, the hallucinations and visions, the sudden blurring of lines between reality and nightmare.
The cast is solid. Veteran character actors Kenneth Welsh (Dr. Powell) and Art Hindle (State Trooper Mitchell) lend gravitas to their authority figure roles. Kathleen Munroe (Deputy Carter’s estranged wife Allison), Ellen Wong (flippant student nurse Kim), and Stephanie Belding (Beverly) express both professionalism (or lack thereof for Kim) as well as sense of a closing crew’s boredom and overwork
Even the characters we only know as “The Father” (Daniel Fathers) and “The Son” (Mik Byskov) are effectively established. It’s a compliment to the entire production that every character could simply be identified in a similar way – “Old Cop”, “Young Cop” “Estranged Wife” “Pregnant Teen”, “Grandfather” and still be memorable individuals.
For a soon to be closed hopital, a LOT of people are stopping by tonight.
The Void’s practical effects recall the classic work of Rob Bottin (The Thing, 1982), Chris Walas and Stephan Dupui (The Fly, 1986), and Yûichi Matsui (Infection, 2004), even some of the later creature effects fall a bit short in execution compared to those three. By the time Daniel reaches the ultimate truth of what lies beneath the hospital, I was too wrapped up in the story to nitpick.
The dividing line between who will enjoy this movie or not can be easily summed up. Mr. Fang and Saucer took in about 30 minutes of The Void before deciding it was time to go play Candy Crush. By comparison, when Carter witnesses a skinless mass of blood and flesh uselessly bashing their head into, and through, a metal bar in a futile effort to finally die, I felt sadness and pity. It was both a total gross-out and a heartbreaking callback to the finale of Cronenberg’s The Fly, when Brundlefly pulls a gun to his head and wordlessly begs Veronica to end his existence and his torment.
The setting of The Void drew me in even as it creeped me out. Even as it transformed into a trans dimensional charnel house, I wanted to explore more of the hospital and the charnel house below it.
The ending of The Void, like final shot of The Beyond is both mystifyingly bleak – and oddly optimistic. We see two characters in a landscape that resembles a mix of Ancient Egypt and the Alien hellscape of LV-426.
Do we know where the two surviving characters are? What they’ve become? Nope and Nope. But I have a sense that, just like Ash at the end of Army of Darkness, the next chapter of their story is just beginning.
And I’d love to see it.
More more goopy Lovecraftian goodness, check out The Void Official website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.
It is available on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu
[JIGSAW image courtesy SAW official Facebook page; Mandela Van Peebles photo courtesy Lionsgate/Anderson Group Public Relations]
Live From the Bunker takes a Halloween detour into Saw territory and a discussion with actor Mandela Van Peebles. Besides being a member of an illustrious Hollywood acting family, Mandela stars in JIGSAW, the eighth movie in the long running, intensely disturbing, and very profitable Saw franchise.
Besides his role as Mitch in Jigsaw, we have a chance to talk about working with his actor/director/writer father Mario Van Peebles, the intricacies involved in working on a horror movie, and his past and future projects in the entertainment industry.
The City of Mirrors is the final book in a Pre-During-and Post-apocalyptic trilogy by Justin Cronin that began with 2010’s The Passage and continued in 2012’s The Twelve. “The Passage Trilogy” takes Post-Apocalyptic and Vampire tropes every horror fan knows and creates a saga infused with its own voice and storytelling style.
Our particular Big Bads in The Passage trilogy? Humanity itself. Spawned by (say it with me) an overzealous (Mad) Scientist working with a (of course) nefarious military super soldier program. From a single Patient Zero, twelve convicts are then infected. The only hope for the remaining human population of Earth is the youngest unwilling “participant” in this secret program, Amy NLN (No Last Name). As the books progress, the Alpha (Patient Zero) and the Omega (Amy) become the opposing beacons; Zero for the destruction of civilization, Amy for its possible rebirth.
I picked up a galley copy The Passage (2010) cold, with no prior knowledge of the author or specifics of the story. As a reading experience, this first book did everything right. It grabbed me as a reader, made me eager to commit for the long haul and see “what happens next”. A masterful combination of vivid, living characters in a familiar yet fantastical world kept me turning the pages.
I was less engaged The Twelve (2012) than The Passage. As a reader I couldn’t lose myself in the story. My lack of interest or “unputdown-ability” wasn’t the result from poor writing or a drop-off in quality from the first book to the second. Maybe the absence of some of the characters I loved from book one? A second book spent following characters I found less interesting from point A to point B?
I finished The Twelve, but I didn’t consume it with the same intense attention I devoted to The Passage.
So here’s the conclusion, the final volume in the story of Amy NLN, humanity and happens after The End of The World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI)
Is The City of Mirrors worth the reading?
Short Answer – Yes.
It’s a fitting conclusion to an epic story.
If you’ve read the previous two books, you’ll find The City of Mirrors a last adventure in a present and future that is sad and hopeful, epic and personal. The particular story of this book moves swiftly. Even digressions that seem unconnected to the main plot tie in nicely at the end. There are startlingly intimate moments contrasted with epic plot developments. I may not have agreed with every end point, but I can’t argue with how they were reached
In particular, The City of Mirrors contains one of the best fictional destructions of New York I’ve read/seen. While the glut of CGI “destruction porn” has made me nervous about reading or seeing it yet again, our characters are in the action. It’s of the most cinematic sections of the book; I felt like I was both reading words on a page while seeing them unfold as actions in my mind’s eye.
I usually don’t regret time and money spent on a book or movie if the journey is worthwhile. Any number of perceived issues I have with specific points in The City of Mirrors in no way diminishes the enormous enjoyment of the reading experience as a whole. Revisiting this world and the people I’ve come to know was both joyful and sad. I look forward to revisiting them and reliving their story.
What if the characters who wouldn’t make it past the teaser of The Walking Dead became the only people who could survive an outbreak? Heck, the main characters in Fiend wouldn’t even have speaking parts in a zombie movie. The addicts in this novel would be “Methamphetamine Zombie” and “Junkie Zombie”, shambling towards the main characters.
Chase and his fellow addict Typewriter definitely have one of the best reasons for sleeping through the Zombie Apocalypse I’ve come across – a drug-addled meth bender. Holed up in one of the less reputable areas of the Twin Cities, they make it back to “reality” only to find it’s gone, replaced by a little girl attacking a dog in the street and eating it raw.
These two try to survive, and more importantly, secure a new supply of meth, with Chase’s ex-girlfriend and her current boyfriend. Fiend has a jarring mix of humor, surrealism and sudden violence that somehow works. It takes what can be a rote story of survival and makes its own spin on the tropes. The most likely zombie bait become, in this novel, the most unlikely survivors.
The very thing that’s helping these characters survive – meth – also the main reason they may not make it. Watching them balance those two opposing drives (think clearly or take more meth) when they can barely keep a coherent thought in their minds adds to the tension.
As I write this review, I’m just over halfway finished with Fiend. But even if the last 150 pages don’t match the first half, I’ll forgive a weak finish for a book that’s kept me reading.