Tag Archives: Witch

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Horror Double Feature: Antibirth and The Love Witch

The Last KnockNo two horror films could be so diametrically opposed. Antibirth is a gritty bizarro film with a 1980’s flavor and The Love Witch comes on with romance through the eyes of a desperate woman. But are they worth watching? And if you’re a fan and supporter of “Women in Horror,” you’ll definitely be interested in these two independent movies.

We go knee deep into both features and deliver our take on Antibirth, The Love Witch, the people who made them, and the people who starred in them for better or worse – and definitely until death due us part.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TimothiousSmith @TraCee_tr @dkarner @SamesCarolyn @AFiendOnFilm @Kent_Harper @aicforever @cbkillers @RealJillyG @BleedingCritic @isaacrthorne @d_m_elms @palkodesigns @JessicaCameron_ @CarnEvilKlown @RonGizmo @CrypticPictures @nicolemalonso @OklahomaWard @missannabiller @msrobinsun @GianKeys @JeffreyVParise @antibirthmovie @nlyonne @OfficialChloeS

Before You Buy the DVD: BLAIR WITCH (2016) by Jonny Numb

[89 minutes. R. Director: Adam Wingard]

Summer, 2016. I took my seat in the theater and furrowed my brow at a trailer that seemed familiar. Kids in the woods. Handheld POV. Oops, someone dropped the camera! Blurbs from high-profile horror sites superimposed over panoramic aerial views of dense forests. Ominous, droning music.

The title? The Woods. Hmmm.

The connection to The Blair Witch Project was so transparent that part of me wouldn’t have been surprised had it been the type of De Palma-style homage that’s been all the rage with the horror kids these days. When it turned out to be a “surprise” sequel to Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s 1999 original (under the more succinct Blair Witch), it somehow lacked the cleverness of the grassroots campaign those filmmakers committed themselves to in the early days of the Internet, fooling a good chunk of the public in the process.

So, is Blair Witch an actual sequel? As handled by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (whose erratic genre track record consists of A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, and The Guest), the seeds are there, but the setup is merely an excuse to poorly reconstruct the beats of the original.

But hey: at least the technology’s been upgraded (and will look outdated in 5 years)! And there’s plenty of unnatural-seeming shaky-cam! So, yay! By the way…bitchin’ drone, man!

I’ve said it before, but 2016 has been a year of films pushing the horror genre forward. Granted, even the best efforts have borrowed parts, but are smart in how they reconfigure them into fluid fear generators. Go figure that the critically adored Wingard and the reliable Rob Zombie have delivered two of the biggest disappointments of the year, for the express reason that they so cynically fall back on “what worked before” in the very wrongheaded assumption that horror fans won’t care.

Oh, we care. And we also hope your bid for mainstream success has a Plan B, since based on the evidence here, I would say fans of Asian cinema have valid reason to fear for your remakes of I Saw the Devil and Death Note.

So let’s go there: Blair Witch is the most blatantly cynical remake since that retread of The Omen (which seemed to exist solely for its stupid 6-6-06 release date). It truly is one of those films that does nothing but update technology and make explicit things that were scarier when implied, with predictably underwhelming results. There is nothing contained within its 89 taxing, all-too-familiar minutes that justifies its existence in the slightest.

Gone is the naturalistic feel of the 1999 film. Everything in this new version is calculated and staged within an inch of its life, and our unlikable campers – even the trailer-park yokels (one of whom you’ll recognize from TV’s The Following) – look like they’d rather be modeling underwear. Are they worth mentioning by name? As Wingard and Barrett give us no reason to care, the answer is a resounding NO.

The plot is a lot of “just because” nonsense. James (James Allen McCune), little brother to The Blair Witch Project’s Heather Donahue, decides to follow in his sister’s footsteps and make a film documenting his attempt to find her in the woods of Burkittsville. His friends go along because, duh, they’re his friends. As well as Lisa (Callie Hernandez), a cinematographer/producer/I-don’t-know whose primary function seems to be keeping people sane by acting as ineffectual as possible. There is potential here: what if Heather, had she survived, reverted to a feral state in the woods, and established an alternative, primitive existence for herself – or, maybe better, reappeared as a conduit for the witch? Such development would’ve increased the emotional stakes, strengthened the character arcs, and given Blair Witch a desperately needed sense of purpose.

But that would suggest a film interested in matters of innovation and artistic integrity. (Just because it’s a remake or sequel doesn’t mean it has to be shit, but that is of no concern to Wingard and Barrett.)

The duo’s worst film, A Horrible Way to Die, ironically shows the most interest in character and setup, because it’s a perpetual wind-up device in service to a disappointing climactic payoff. In You’re Next and The Guest, the characters are hastily introduced and given flimsy pretexts for their actions, ignoring logic and reason. (We’re expected to follow along for no reason other than the promise of something “badass” occurring later down the line.) Wingard and Barrett are enemies of subtlety, and outside of some throwaway moments, nobody stops to question James’s thinking, or the legitimacy of the yokels who guide them into the woods. Characters wander off alone and are separated and inexplicably reappear and eventually die; there is nothing new here.

But remember to get some footage as you’re walking away from the vehicles, because that might foreshadow something.

On the technical side, Blair Witch is a mess. Cameras shake and fall; cutting is abrupt during action scenes; and sound effects are amplified in the name of desperate jump-scares. In other words, it reverts to the same lame tricks most mainstream horror films utilize to make lots of money these days. What’s it saying that the original still holds up – despite the countless imitators produced in its wake – and Blair Witch feels like the type of processed, shat-out imitation that most will see right through? By the time we reach a familiar (Blum)house at the climax, it’s a CGI affair punctuated by a perfectly-timed rainstorm, complete with lightning flashing through windows.

Seriously?

There were a few things I appreciated in Blair Witch: first is a unique death that, while lacking any sort of narrative logic, provides an unexpected jolt. Second is a sequence wherein a character finds herself in a tunnel beneath the house, pushing her way through an increasingly narrow space; this thrives off a sense of claustrophobia and the terror of something unknown waiting on the other side, and the minimal lighting – reminiscent of The Descent – adds to the dread. And when the aforementioned drone initially takes flight, it’s a genuinely vertiginous, majestic moment; too bad the filmmakers felt the need to repeat it two more times.

But if the worthwhile moments total under 5 minutes, you’ve failed pretty badly. To the horror sites that kept the (rather lame) “secret” of the new Blair Witch while praising all the good it would do for the genre, I hope the bump in traffic helped compensate for that weak sauce you so willingly sucked down.

1 out of 5 stars

(Deaditor’s Note: Blair Witch release date from Lionsgate is January 3, 2017.)

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) talks about horror movies at New Year’s parties and misses the countdown. His reviews also appear at loudgreenbird.com, and he judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Blair Witch photo from IndieWire.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: 2016’s Best Horror Films

The Last Knock

2016 was a pretty damn good year for horror – the movie variety, of course – and we’re happy to take a look at all those films that made the genre great. In fact, we’ll give you a reverse order countdown to the very best after we look at honorable mentions. Sure, we can wail about neon-colored witches hiding in rundown bars or something, but we won’t.

Is your favorite on the list?

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@RealJillyG @ThisIsHorror @dixiefairy @awholelottabern @KissedByFate2 @Tammysdragonfly @DarkCorners3 @LianeMoonRaven @aus_warrior @actorMartinez @DeadExitComic @GreyaABC @Brooklyn99FOX @CSINY_CBS @GrindhouseDave @d_m_elms @smburkett @DFITWmovie @RomanJossart @jessicaalba @ThomasJane @ponysmasher @LightsOutMovie @maria_bello @teresapalmer @jenamalone @10CloverfieldLn @TheWitchMovie @anyataylorjoy @NicolasWR @canevrenol @SouthboundMovie @mariaolsen66 @sunchokefilm @SarahHagan4Real @BenCresciman @barbaracrampton @mickeykeating @laurenashleycar @saulnier_jeremy @GreenRoomMovie @GreenRoomFilm @SirPatStew @MaconBlair @BlueRuinMovie @murderpartyfilm

Don’t forget to weigh in with your comments, Billy and Jonny love to respond because they don’t get out much – unless it’s keeping the zombie hordes at bay…

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Macabre Milestone: The Blair Witch Project

The Last Knock

Many dark moons ago, in 1999, a phenomenal word-of-mouth campaign brought moviegoers to the theatre to indulge in The Blair Witch Project. We take a look at the original film’s success, the subsequent sequel, and the latest movie many seemed to think was a remake. We’ll also see where the filmmakers and stars of the original are today, and how the first film changed independent filmmaking, and made found footage a legitimate horror sub-genre.

This episodes SCREAM OUTS from Twitter:

@inthenightdoc @isaacrthorne @MelanieMcCurdie @Tammysdragonfly @RonGizmo @RealJillyG @THENAMNATION @BleedingCritic @LianeMoonRaven @VicsMovieDen @PromoteHorror @AnnThraxx @Scream_Factory @AmandaBergloff @SiaraTyr @machinemeannow @Israel_Finn @DrewFromTV @GTGMcast @CrypticPictures @Sanchezonthemic @joshualeonard1 @sundancefest @deepfocusllc @corybrin @RSBrzoska @d_m_elms

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) – An Appreciation by Jonny Numb

halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-images-8b7263d5-41d2-4298-bfb5-9dc7114b896 HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

[98 minutes. R. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace]

In the featurette on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producer Irwin Yablans, going to bat for the late Moustapha Akkad, takes swing after swing at the creative team, insisting that the removal of burgeoning slasher icon Michael Myers from the series was “a bad idea,” and that he had little involvement with the film outside of “collecting a check.” This not only typifies the cynical stereotype of a film producer, but is an intriguing echo of Akkad’s own cash-grab mentality for the series, which reared its head something bigger and uglier as it continued miserably through the ‘80s and ‘90s. The franchise was never really about Michael Myers: it was about guys like Yablans and Akkad docking another yacht at the pier.

My own history with Season of the Witch – and the Halloween series overall – is odd. For the most part, I prefer the lesser-liked entries as opposed to the canonized fan favorites (I think John Carpenter’s 1978 original is, like The Shining, one of the most overrated horror films of all time). The irony is, I grew up disliking III for the reason Yablans stated – a Halloween film without Myers? That’s like a Reese’s without peanut butter – what’s the point?

But there was something to it all the same. Along with my lukewarm perception of some of the other series entries, I found myself returning to III time and again over the years.

Now I think I know why: rejected initially for its refusal to conform to what the series had established up to that point (the Michael-Loomis-Laurie triangle) – along with a title and marketing campaign that confused potential ticket-buyers – the film failed at the box office. In the ensuing years, as the producers returned to the Michael mythos (following them down the dire “Thorn” rabbit-hole), the original icon proved the law of diminishing returns with some truly abysmal outings.

This, I think, is when the attitude toward III began to change. I know several horror fans who consider it the best of the series because it ditches Michael (outside of his briefly-glimpsed movie-within-a-movie image on TV monitors), and I can imagine those – like myself – who were harsh on it before, noticing new wrinkles in its actually-very-good quality as the Michael slasher antics became indistinguishable from the imitators he spawned.

So, in a way, the producers’ insistence on driving the Myers story into the ground probably worked to III’s ultimate advantage.

While the film didn’t necessarily launch rugged tough-guy actor Tom Atkins into the stratosphere, it did establish his signature character: confident yet not macho; a deadbeat dad, yet not a bad guy; an Average Joe who still wants to do the right thing – not only for his fellow human, but for the world at large. He’s the type of doctor who goes about work with half his shirt unbuttoned, and casts a spell of desire over women almost half his age! He’s the type of blue-collar hero who does his best thinking with a six-pack of Miller or a bottle of bourbon. As typical as it sounds, we want him to save the world and get the girl at the end.

III’s reduced focus on horror is something that also may have soured word of mouth for those who actually did venture out to see it during its theatrical run. Most genre hybrids at that time (like, say, Alien) seamlessly interweaved elements of sci-fi and horror, while the semi-comedic likes of Night of the Creeps were still several years away (you could cite 1981’s Student Bodies, but that was another film that didn’t attain cult status until years later). III integrates everything from Noir (silhouetted characters, smoky bars, rain-streaked windows, seedy motel rooms) to science fiction (Atkins’ “Stop it!” plea at the end is an effective riff on “You’re next!” from Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to horror (the film takes place in the isolated town of Santa Mira, rich with banal, Lovecraft-styled menace).

Like many latter-day remakes and homages, III shares more in common with its predecessors than most of its detractors would probably like to admit: Carpenter’s Halloween is alluded to early on as “the immortal classic” and serves as the preamble to the televised “giveaway” that frames the final minutes; ditto the extensive use of over-the-shoulder shots and silhouettes of stoic characters glaring on. In a nod to Halloween II, some early action takes place in a hospital, wherein an assassin (stuntman Dick Warlock), after stalking the halls Michael Myers-style, kills a catatonic old man before proceeding to incinerate himself in the parking lot (remember when Myers went on a hospital rampage before meeting a similarly fiery “end”?).

The elements of mystery are well-integrated, and in telling a different kind of story, writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace (the It television miniseries) avoids a lot of the pitfalls that marred Carpenter’s film. What I found frustrating about the original Halloween (and something that was corrected rather well in the 1981 sequel) was the way it telegraphed its scary moments well in advance – whether by triggering an intrusive musical cue or making the viewer privy to information other characters were not.

III, on the other hand, leaves the audience to speculate on what might be happening in Santa Mira, where the lone industry is Silver Shamrock, a novelty company that manufactures Halloween masks. We pick up on information only as the characters do; thus, an atmosphere of suspense is maintained throughout – Wallace’s script may be the stuff of pulp dreams, but it’s almost brilliant in its execution. And the fact that Silver Shamrock’s founder, Conal Cochran (Robocop’s Dan O’Herlihy) ingratiatingly leaves some of Atkins’s questions unanswered upon his capture is surprisingly endearing. When revealing one of the Stonehenge stones in his factory warehouse, he laughingly states, “We had a time getting it here – you wouldn’t believe how we did it!” And honestly? That’s all we need to know.

But for those who haven’t seen it, the plot involves lifelike robots in business suits, the Celtic festival of Samhain (which, if you’ll recall, was mentioned several times in Halloween II), and a plot to kill the children of America on Halloween night.

The key supporting cast is wonderful: Stacey Nelkin plays a Nancy Drew-ish daughter pursuing the explanation for her kindly father’s murder, her performance reverberating with as much common sense as wide-eyed wonder as events unfold. O’Herlihy essays one of the most unconventional villains ever depicted on-screen; with charm to burn, he lays out his plans for world annihilation with the confidence of a Bond villain, but is never smug. If anything, his bemusement at his own fate nicely mirrors his P.T. Barnum approach to chaos. And if we want to go even further, his character is an apt corollary to Sebastian (William Sanderson) in Blade Runner (released the same year) – a lonely toymaker who relates more to automatons than people.

Granted, there are things in III that are kind of stupid: from the cheaply-affixed buttons that fall off the kids’ masks (calling into question the robots in charge of Cochran’s quality control); the way Atkins – who isn’t seen operating a computer at any point in the film – is able to easily cue up the Silver Shamrock “death feed” at the climax; and how, mere minutes before the mass murder is scheduled to occur, Atkins is able to get a national TV station on the phone and, despite his manic demeanor…well, I won’t give it away. (But seriously: in 1982, were there really only three television channels in the United States?) There’s also the “hide-behind-the-moving-mask-cart” trick that Sideshow Bob subsequently used on an episode of The Simpsons. These elements would be distracting in a lesser film, but here they add a peculiar charm.

The plot is already out there, so why not shoot for the moon – or, at the very least, Stonehenge?

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Halloween III photo from Atherton.)

Crash Discussion: Witches of Distinction

The Last KnockThe witch has been at the center of worldwide folklore for thousands of years. At times revered, and other times feared, the witch is the prime subject of many a horror, from 1922’s HAXAN to 2014’s THE WITCH. We not only look at witches throughout horror cinema, but the politics and realities of witch hunting. We’ll also look at SUSPIRIA, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, PUMPKINHEAD, BABA YAGA, LORDS OF SALEM, BLACK DEATH, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, and many more.

Crash Analysis: POISON FOR THE FAIRIES (Mexico, 1984)

Unexpected horror surprise for the humans

One of Mexico’s best in the genre

Oftentimes, when I put a movie into my Netflix queue, I know very little as to why it   64f561suddenly showed up on my recommendation page at a particular moment, and never beforehand. Therefore, somehow, someway, the unanticipated treasure, POISON FOR THE FAIRIES, found its way into my DVD player, and captured my full attention – and that’s not easy since many horrors are more prone to put me to sleep than maintain my interest. Even worse, it’s about two little girls. For me, kids ruin just about every movie I’ve ever seen (come on, didn’t you want to see Newt get annihilated in ALIENS?). But within ten minutes, I learned to trust writer/director Carlos Enrique Taboada, and I have no regrets.

POISON FOR THE FAIRIES involves young, well-to-do Flavia (Elsa María Gutiérrez in her only film role), as the new girl at school. In short order, she meets ten-year-old Veronica (Ana Patricia Royo), who claims she wants to be a witch. Soon, Veronica has Flavia by the pigtails, coercing her to take part in all things macabre.

Taboada’s narrative follows a steady pace that keeps us intrigued. After all, is Veronica really onto something about becoming a full-fledged witch, and will Flavia gain the gusto to save herself? The suspense and tension is palpable, with little childish breakaways that don’t detract from the story – and that’s because we always know something is brewing. Veronica is conniving, and it’s clear her classmates know she’s a lying, mean-spirited jerk. But Flavia’s impressionable, weak-minded, and without Veronica, she’d have no friends at all. Then again, maybe Veronica is everything Flavia wishes she could be.

Thanks to the cinematographic talents of Lupe Garcia. The color is rich and inviting, often serving as a stark contrast to the dark plotting and goings-on. To further support the strong narrative, we see this film through the eyes of the girls – or at least on their level. Just like Charles Schultz and his Peanuts characters, adults are not welcome, though we can clearly understand what they are saying in this story. Whenever an adult does appear on screen, they are never fully engaged by the camera. We see backs of heads, a hand, or even a mid-section. The only times adults grace a frame is if they are old and ugly, or deceased (I wonder how the director convinced his adult actors to not balk at their lack of screen time). Otherwise, it’s the girl’s world and the things that matter to them, their imagination, and how they see the world. What matters to Veronica most is her caretaker’s knowledge of witches and what they can do – and how they can bring about havoc. Such is the driving force behind Veronica’s desires to become a witch and take control in her lonely little world where she does nothing but covets.

In this sense, Veronica and Flavia are the same: friendless. Without each other, they’d have no contact with the world they inhabit. They are two sides of the same forgotten coin, looking to connect and be heard. Veronica, however, is full of such envy, and its subsequent hatred, she wants to destroy. Otherwise, Flavia is naïve and weak, and wants a confidante. Combined, they form a give-and-take friendship with more on the line than tea parties and playhouse time.

It’s rare to see two young actors, especially preteens, carry a movie – most notably a horror – but Gutiérrez and Royo do a masterful job thanks to Taboada’s exceptional direction, and the girls inherent skills. Royo, however, is a standout. She was actually ten when the movie was shot, yet has a presence more akin to someone twice her age. This adult nature, especially concerning facial expressions, body language and attitude, is frightening in and of itself.

The only problem with the movie is Juan Baños’s Foley work. Sadly, it’s far from subtle. For instance, he makes the girl’s footsteps sound like elephants clomping along in Mary Janes, instead of two lightweight girls jogging along tiled floors. Maybe that is why Baños found this to be his fourth and final film.

Regardless, the psychological tension and manifestations are fabulous, and the profound thematic elements from bullying to over-wrought curiosity long for acknowledgment. As with any great tale, Taboada delivers one heady horror with an ending that more than satisfies, and will leave audiences with much to discuss. My only regret is that I hadn’t heard of POISON FOR THE FAIRIES until now.

4 out of 5 stars

Whether you have seen this feature or not, what are your favorite Mexican horrors?

(Photo from SaltyFlowers.)