I recently took a spontaneous leap and signed up for Shudder – if you’re into horror or thriller films, it may well be worth checking out. It’s basically a genre-tailored version of Netflix.
Horror films are notorious when it comes to fiction – be it on film or in the pages of a book. I guess it’s because some of them are so bad – low budget filmmakers just can’t seem to keep themselves away from trying to tell scary stories.
As excruciatingly cringe-worthy as some might be, sometimes it’s a bit of fun to switch off and watch them. So, today that’s what I’ve done and I’ve taken it upon myself to review a few of them as I went.
(Take That – 2060 reunion gig)
Plot in a nutshell: A man takes a late night call from his estranged wife, and soon wishes he hadn’t.
This film could be a poster child for the term ‘low-budget’ – 90% of it takes place in one location and many of the scenes look as if they’ve been shot on a handheld camcorder, giving it that ‘straight outta film school’ vibe.
At the start there’s a really cool, old school ‘warning’ screen that comes on and says that anyone with a faint heart shouldn’t stay at watch the film. I liked that, and I also liked the use of sound and voiceovers. They’re great at building tension, and the one easy tool that a low budget filmmaker usually has in their arsenal in sound.
I don’t mind a slowburner, but this was exceptionally slow at times. In fact, for long periods of time, this almost seemed more like a relationship drama than a horror film.
The ending will no doubt shock a lot of viewers – it was quite bold! There were a few jump scenes, and there was a creepy overall feeling but I didn’t find myself walking away from it and thinking…’that was some tense shit’ so from me this gets a 2/5.
The Burning (1981)
(Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, circa 1980s)
Plot in a nutshell: A pissed-off caretaker unleashes his anger on the residents of a summer camp.
Where would any post on horror movies be complete without a slasher reference? Although I have to say, for long periods of time (particularly at the end) this one plays out more like a thriller – something which works in its favour.
I fully expected to not enjoy ‘The Burning’ at all. I thought I’d sit here in my Ivory Tower, laughing at how cheesy and poorly made it was….but I was wrong. Sure, it is cheesy and, in some points, highly predictable – but there are some good ‘jump’ scenes and the final twenty minutes of the film really got me going.
Having said that, some of the dialogue was terrible. Here are a few highlights:
“Burned so bad he’s cooked. fuckin’ big mac. overdone” (this line is spoken by a Doctor)
‘Alfred’s been prowling around the girl’s shower’
‘What do you have to say about that, Alfred?’
‘I only meant to scare her!’ (said as if it’s the most normal thing in the world)
‘Michelle! the canoes have gone”
‘What do you mean they’re gone?’
‘They’re not here!’
‘Where did you learn to build a raft?’
‘Raft building! in the boy scouts!
‘Thank God for the boy scouts!’
I believe this film was actually banned for a while in the UK due to a scene on a raft…but, compared to what we see nowadays, it’s relatively tame.
Special shoutout to Jason Alexander who is great in this – he’d eventually go on to star in Seinfeld.
The attitudes of some of the camp seniors to their girlfriends are really terrible here, they come across as absolute animals and you’re left with very little sympathy for them when they run into the killer.
These sorts of films are predictable, though and until the last portion of the film none of the characters have any fight in them, so they’re really just fodder for the killer (Cropsey is his nickname!) – they all make such stupid decisions too, it’s easy to be frustrated by it.
I did like the ending though – it was the usual kind of ‘shock’ ending that these films usually have – something that’s meant to be surprising but now does the opposite.
For me it’s a 4/5 – it’s laughable in places, but also keeps the pulse-racing and it really does hold your attention. Something which so many films miss nowadays.
(I already said, I don’t have any treats!)
Plot in a nutshell: An author goes to promote his book in Rome, and a murderer suddenly strikes.
Like a good wine selection, I don’t think any horror film list is complete without something Italian. Apparently, this was inspired by some experiences that the director (Dario Argento) actually had with a crazed fan.
While the story is mostly linear and easy to follow, it does occasionally burst into strange and fleeting dream-like sequences. Fragmented and disjointed images, accompanied by creepy music. It reminded me of the way nightmares played out.
Some of the themes are good and, again, there’s a nice use of music to elevate tension. But, as with so many horror films, the filmmaker is so hellbent on upping his bodycount that the characters continually put themselves in danger, and make silly decisions.
Some of the drama involved is very convoluted, and the acting isn’t going to be any awards any time soon – but it is entertaining, and it didn’t find my attention wavering.
The ending was silly though and, again, characters do stupid things just to put themselves in the way of danger so the body count can go up.
3/5 for me, I’d say.