[Film Review] Hereditary

by Joe Meyers

Written and Directed by Ari Aster

Starring:

Toni Collette as Annie
Gabriel Byrne as Steve
Alex Wolff as Peter
Milly Shapiro as Charlie

Release date: June 8, 2018
Run time: 2h 7min
Rated: R

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Have you ever been in your bed at night, and were suddenly convinced someone, or something!, was lurking in the darkness just waiting for the perfect moment to get you? Those moments where you hear noises behind you and your imagination runs wild with what it could be. Those goose-bump causing, adrenaline pumping seconds between thinking you see something in the corner of your room and realizing it’s the pile of laundry you put in your chair. Those terrifying occasions where your fear causes your heart to beat so loudly you think it can be heard from the other side of the house, and your mouth goes dry just as that bone-chilling tingle radiates throughout your entire body…that’s what HEREDITARY was for me.

In his first feature film, writer-director Ari Aster has crafted a horror movie that stands shoulder to shoulder with recent genre entries like THE BABADOOK, THE WITCH, and IT COMES AT NIGHT. The movie tells the story of the Graham family hurtling into a downward spiral after the death of their matriarch. That is all of the plot I’ll mention in this review, as this is a film best seen with as little information as you possibly can. I’d managed to avoid the majority of the hype surrounding its festival screenings, and all reviews prior to seeing it last Thursday night. I’m thrilled I went in without any real knowledge, or expectations, about the movie.

Aster is masterful as a writer-director here, and anything he does going forward will be on my radar. HEREDITARY is a slow burn family drama built on bleak tension, creepy moments, and oppressive dread. It won’t be for everyone, but people who love that type of horror should be thrilled. The movie doesn’t rely on jump scares, instead giving the viewer a plethora of creepy scenes that the camera lingers on. You don’t get quick edits where you’re on to the next thing here. No, Aster makes you wallow in the moment, he draws you into the film, and you experience the events along with the characters. It’s been a while since a movie has gotten under my skin, and into my brain, like this one has.

Speaking of the look of the film, Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski has put together a beautiful movie. Much of it takes place at night, and there’s many moments of something just being on the cusp of coming out of the darkness that’s done amazingly. The way the shots are framed just draws you in, and you can’t help but feel terror for the characters involved. The production design by Grace Yun, art direction by Richard T. Olson and the work of art department, and set decoration by Brian Lives are all glorious as well. They had to build the house that’s in the film from scratch, and the fantastic job they did shines through in every frame.

Colin Stetson’s score was nearly a character all on its own. It’s stunning, haunting, and used perfectly throughout the movie. The score combined with the sound design helps push you into that dreadful, creepy feeling for nearly the entirety of the film’s run time. I know A QUIET PLACE, deservedly, gets praise for its sound design, but I think HEREDITRY is neck and neck with that movie. If you see it at the cinema, grab a seat in the middle-middle of the auditorium and let the sounds envelope you as the horror unfolds before you.

Finally, I have to talk about the cast led by the brilliant Toni Collette, as Annie. There’s been chatter about her getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work here. I’m hopeful what GET OUT did at the Oscars last year will leave that door open for her this year. She’s utterly impressive and amazing in this role. Right there with her for me was Alex Wolff, playing her son Peter. I wasn’t familiar with him before seeing HEREDITARY but he does incredible work here. He does some seriously emotional heavy lifting in the role. Rounding out the family is Milly Shapiro, as the quirky and creepy daughter, Charlie, and Gabriel Byrne as the husband and father, Steve. Shaprio immediately enters the list of all-time creep kids in horror movies for me. What she can do with just a sound, a facial expression, or a body movement is impressive in building her character. While Byrne doesn’t get some of the meaty moments, he deftly handles the role of the family member trying to hold everything together as he watches it slip through his fingers.

As with all horror, this is super subjective. What I find terrifying, creepy, and nightmare inducing you may fund dull and boring. Earlier in this review I mentioned THE BABADOOK, THE WITCH, and IT COMES AT NIGHT. If you were a fan of any of those movies I think HEREDITARY might be your bag too. For me, this has become my favorite film at the near halfway point of 2018 and I can’t wait to see it again.

 

What The Hell Is Chris Watching Now? – Black Devil Doll From Hell (1984)

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“We all have our personal horror stories to tell.

May yours never be as devastating as Miss Helen Black’s.”

Well, as long as I don’t live a repressed life and pick up a random Rick James puppet from a thrift store, I think I’ll be good!

Seriously though, this is another one of those films you hear about on “so bad it’s good” lists or by word of mouth from friends that like oddball, low-budget films. And I can definitely declare that Chester N. Turner’s Black Devil Doll From Hell falls into both categories for me.

Released in 1984 after being filmed over several years on a budget of about $10,000, this felt like a labor of love to me on some levels. In comparison to stuff like Birdemic that is just so bad it’s truly bad, you get the impression that the folks behind this were actually trying to give it their best effort with what they had available. Turner even took a correspondence course on film making before starting this production. Originally intended to be part of an anthology film (Tales From The Quadead Zone, Turner’s only other film), the script ended up being too big to be just a short. So why not whip out the camcorder and the Casio keyboard (what better way to write and perform your own score and soundtrack) and make a feature-length film out of it?

Our story is that of Miss Helen Black, a devout and pure woman saving herself for marriage. One day she enters an antique shop and notices a ventriloquist dummy sporting impressive cornrow braids (which actually were inspired by Rick James). The shopkeeper warns her that the dummy’s original owner was “an East Indian” and that the doll grants the owner’s “most heartfelt desire”. She also tells Helen that she has sold the doll 4 times already, but each time the doll somehow finds its way back to the shop.

After purchasing the doll and getting home with it, Helen takes a shower with the doll sitting on the toilet. That’s when the puppet wakes and uses its apparently telekinetic powers to slowly slide open the shower curtain and get a gander at a wet, soapy, and suddenly aroused Helen!

Confused by these feelings, Helen decides to sleep on it, only to have some rather dark erotic dreams featuring the puppet. After a bit of “How’d you get over there?!?” with the puppet moving around on its own, it jumps her after another shower (just like in the dream!) and knocks her out cold. Waking up later, confused and tied to the bed, Helen is raped by the puppet. The effect this assault has on her is to awaken her repressed sexual desires to the point of her begging to be fucked by the puppet. (Funny outtake: The puppet’s head popped off during the filming of the sex scenes. Talk about getting a little head!)

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“I said, WAKE UP, BITCH!!” – The Puppet

The next day, the puppet is nowhere to be found. Cue a montage of Helen cleaning her house for the next several minutes. Sure, she can clean her house, but she can never clean this stain upon her soul. In wanton desperation to satisfy her new-found lust, she invites in a street hustler she had ignored and rebuked the day before. But even his mighty and sweaty hip action cannot satisfy her. This bit made me think Turner was probably influenced some by the classic adult film The Devil In Miss Jones, where a repressed virgin is introduced to sex and depravity after death and is eventually condemned to a Hell where she cannot get any sexual gratification, no matter how much she pleads or begs. Following the disappointing sex and Helen telling him, “Just finish up, and get the hell out”, we are given the most terrifying moment of the movie: A full-frame close-up of the street hustler giving us his “O” face. **shudder**

As with any possessed doll movie, you know things ain’t gonna end well for Helen. Granted the real life happy ending for Shirley L. Jones, who played Helen, is that she ended up marrying the director after the production was completed.

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Helen has literally fucked with this puppet for the last time . . . 

The cut I watched was just over 90 minutes on Shudder. There is a VHS cut out there that was butchered down to 70 minutes by Hollywood Home Video without Turner’s input after they had picked it up for distribution. Granted, I can see where many things could be trimmed here and there throughout, but it’s still kinda shitty to cut a person’s film without them. There remains the look and feel of having just popped in a much-loved videotape, complete with tracking distortions and warbles throughout. Given the content of the movie, by the end I felt like someone had meant to give me their home movie but accidentally gave me one of their home-made soft core fetish porn tapes instead!

Until next time, Fright Fans, keep it weird and keep watching!

[Film Review] CARGO (2018)

By Joe Meyers

Directed by: Ben Howling, and Yolanda Ramke
Written by: Yolanda Ramke

Starring:
Martin Freeman
Anthony Hayes
Caren Pistorius
David Gulpilil
Susie Porter
Kris McQuade
Bruce R. Carter
Natasha Wanganeen
Simone Landers

Release Date: 5/18/2018, Netflix

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In 2013, Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke gave us their exceptional short film CARGO, written by Ramke, about a father trying to find a safe place for his infant daughter, while he was in the midst of turning into a zombie. It premiered at the Tropfest short film festival, becoming a finalist, before going viral on YouTube. On May 18th, 2018 Howling and Ramke’s feature length version of this story, starring Martin Freeman, premiered on Netflix. Expanding a short film idea into a feature can be tricky. We’ve seen it done fairly well in recent years by the likes of LIGHTS OUT, and THE BABADOOK. I’m happy to say CARGO joins those movies as one that works, as Howling and Ramke manage to give us a film that’s equally good as a zombie movie, infection outbreak movie, a post-apocalyptic movie, and a drama.

The film begins as Andy (Martin Freeman), Kay (Susie Porter), and their infant daughter Rosie are surviving the zombie outbreak by living on a houseboat and traveling down a river in Australia hoping to find a safe and secure area. Without going into a full on exposition about the reason for the rise of the zombies, we discover the outbreak has been going on for some time, once infected via a bite you only have 48 hours before you die and turn, and world’s scientists weren’t able to come up with a cure. They did, however, manufacture medical kits for the pandemic that included a digital watch to count down your remaining 48 hours, and a cylinder that has a pneumatic spike for piercing the skull and killing the brain, among other items. Unfortunate events lead to Kay turning into a zombie, and Andy being bitten by her. He spends his next 48 hours trying to find a new, safe home for Rosie before he succumbs to the virus. In another plot running parallel to Andy and Rosie’s adventures, an Aboriginal girl named Thoomi, played wonderfully by newcomer Simone Landers, is trying to protect her zombiefied father. She believes that his spirit/soul can be returned to his body and he would be cured. Her father escapes the area she kept him in and this is the catalyst for Andy and Thoomi to meet, pushing events to their climax as Andy’s 48 hours run out.

I thought the film’s version of zombies was very well done. The way they move is creepy, it seems like they tried to make it grounded in a real world kind of way, and the way the virus works as it turns someone is unsettling. One scene in particular that occurs while Andy is nearing the end of his 48 hours stuck with me since my viewing of CARGO last week. However, I will warn you the zombies are used sparingly throughout the movie. Being set in the Australian outback, Andy and Thoomi aren’t dealing with a densely populated area teeming with the undead.

At its heart, CARGO is about family trying to protect its own in the midst of trying to cope in a world undergoing a total, societal breakdown. A great premise, spot on acting, a good script, and a wonderful job by two first time, feature film directors makes CARGO worth the time investment for a viewing. It’s a slow burn, zombie drama that feels like the offspring of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and THE DEAD, a 2010 zombie film directed by the Ford Brothers. CARGO is a great addition to the genre, like recent zombie films THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, and TRAIN TO BUSAIN.

Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties

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We give our individual top ten horror film flicks from the 1930’s in this installment of “Deadly Decades”. Enjoy!

Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties

Edit: As promised, here’s the Letterboxd list of all of our picks.
Episode 138 – Deadly Decades: The Thrilling Thirties (The Letterboxd List)