Posts Tagged ‘abandoned

11
Oct
15

Hell Night (1981) Party on, Garth!

POSTER-HELL-NIGHT

a Primal Root written review

“If you weren’t screaming, and we weren’t screaming, then someone is trying to mind fuck us here.” Seth, Hell Night

I’m not going to lie to you, there were a ton of slasher films made in the wake of the independent horror mega hit, Halloween in 1979. They all followed the formula with varying degree of success. Many tried new ground and failed to deliver the goods, others just didn’t understand the appeal and tried for a quick, meaningless cash grab, while others delivered on the gore and tits but left little to be desired in the thrill department.  Being a life long, die hard admirer of the horror genre, I am willing to give anything a go and I am always thrilled to find an example of a genre film that has every excuse in the world to be a lousy phoned in slasher flick actually put forth the effort, rises above the cliched premise, and delivers something entertaining, actually scary and downright fucking solid in execution. 1981’s Hell Night is a perfect example.

Four pledges, Marty (Linda Blair of The Exorcist and Savage Streets fame) Jeff (Peter Barton from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), Seth ( Vincent Van Patten from Rock and Roll High School) and Denise (Suki Goodwin…umm…) must go through with the initiation ritual pleasantly referred to as Hell Night which means they all must spend the night in the abandoned Garth Manor, where a dozen years or so earlier Raymond Garth murdered his wife, killed off all their deformed offspring and then committed suicide. The youngest of their spawnage, Andrew referred to as a…Gork (?), was never found and the legend goes that he still lives somewhere within Garth Manor, which contains numerous secret passages and catacombs running below the enormous mansion.

hellnightpledges3

Once the four lovely young people are locked in for the night behind the 12 foot tall wrought iron fence which encircles the property, complete with razor sharp spikes at the top where anyone trying to haul their asses over it “might cut their nuts off”, Fraternity and Sorority leaders begin a campaign of pranks in an attempt to scare the shit out of the pledges all while Seth and Denise get all weird and kinky in an upstairs bedroom playing goofy and endearing surfboard role playing, Marty and Pater spend their time chatting and forming a friendship by the living room fireplace. But it isn’t long before the presence of these young people bring to life a dark, malevolent force in the house one that strikes out at the pranksters first and then slowly, mercilessly, begins hunting down our four pledges.

Hell Night works shockingly well despite what comes across as a pretty by the numbers premise. Stick four attractive young people in a dark, forbidding location, unleash a plot contrivance to search them down and kill them one by one according their sluttiness and casual narcotics usage, leave one girl behind to kill the monster and call it a day. But where Hell Night succeeds flawlessly is actually taking the time to create real, interesting, human characters and not some phony, cynical bullshit axe fodder that you can’t wait to see get their heads ripped from their neck stumps. The young people in Hell Night are genuinely likable, shit, even relatable. And this is a huge fucking rarity for a “dead teenage” flick.

HellNightGallery3

Let’s take a moment to look at Seth, probably my favorite character in the flick. This guy is a muscle bound, blonde, weed smoking surfer guy who, according to himself, only cares about drinking, surfing and screwing. In your run of the mill slasher film, this guy would be written of as dead meat right then in there. Horny jock? That sucker is toast! But in Hell Night, these conventions are kicked to the curb and Seth is proven to be not only quite intelligent, but heroic, loyal, and resourceful. As a long time fan of the slasher genre, I can tell you, Seth’s behavior and acts of heroism are not often seen in the slasher formula. In a way, this makes Seth a kind of wild card, as we so very seldom see this kind of character, we are put of edge not knowing just what might happen to him.

That same sentiment goes for the character of Marty. Linda Blair creates a unique and admirable blue collar badass out of Marty. She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, comes from a working class family where she grew up fixing cars along with her mechanic Father (PLOT POINT!) and provides an interesting contrast to the other, more privileged, pledges.  There’s even a great extended conversation early in the film about class structure and capitalism between Marty and Jeff. It’s a fantastic moment where two characters are feeling one another out as they get to know one another along with the audience. We’re not talking anything deeply philosophical here, but it far exceeds what the format typically calls for, and that’s worth praising. These characters are real to life, identifiable and ultimately likable. We fear for them and it really does suck when these characters are killed and are no longer in the movie. You actually mourn the loss. See, this effort makes Hell Night far scarier than it’s next of kin.

Hell Night ghost projection

There are no red herrings in Hell Night, only a menacing, blood thirsty antagonist that remains hidden in the shadows for about 95% of the film’s running time. AGAIN, this works in Hell Night‘s favor, as it adds a legitimate feeling of unease and fear as we imagine just what or whom is lurking in the darkness, in those catacombs, racing towards us down the candle lit hallways of Garth Manor.  However, the number of killers at work here is left in question, which also adds to the uneasy tension Hell Night generates. But, when you stop and think about the premise of Hell Night, it does kind of dawn on you that these college kids ARE trespassing on Private Property…I guess The Garth clan has every right to butcher these assholes invading their home. Who are the real bad guys here? 😉 This flick even manages to create some genuine suspense as one young pledge, in a panic, decides to scale the high fence surrounding Garth Manor and must hoist his weight over numerous spikes poised to pierce his tender young flesh. When looking for help, all the young people can find is useless authority and they must rely on themselves, their cunning and resourcefulness to survive Hell Night.

Alright, so when all is said and done, is Hell Night original? Hardly. What it actually is, is a well crafted and performed Spook Show Haunted House. It’s genuinely thrilling, fun, and even pretty goddamn nightmarish at times. Hell Night is a sadly overlooked piece of slasher film history, one I continually wait to see it becoming rediscovered and reaching the cult status it so richly deserves. Boasting some fine performances, nasty, mean, mother fucking monsters, some outstanding cleavage from a still baby faced Linda Blair, a genuinely creepy score and the patience to really create some worthwhile characters, Hell Night is, in this filthy fright flick fan’s opinion, is one of the better slasher efforts to come out of the 1980’s.

WORD OF WARNING: There is NO nudity in Hell Night.

I’m awarding Hell Night FOUR out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets

Stay Trashy, Gang!

-Root

26
Apr
12

The Innkeepers: Clean Linens and Dead Ends

a Primal Root review

Okay Gang, I’m going to try REAL hard not to spoil anything about “The Innkeepers.” You have my word that spoilers will be kept to a minimum.

I remember hearing of Ti West’s “The House of the Devil” through the horror fan grapevine as a cinematic experience those who watched either loved or hated. I decided to give it a go and became a member of the former category. I loved “The House of the Devil” and felt it’s quirky, patient approach to building suspense and creating a genuine atmosphere of dread was so refreshing it almost felt totally new in a cinematic culture where most films are slashed to ribbons in the editing process and paced to the heart rate of a Starbucks junkie. Sure, this technique is nothing new and was perfected by the likes of Hitchcock and De Palma and Carpenter, but to see a young, fresh out the gates filmmaker like Ti West utilize a form of cinematic story telling that seemed all but forgotten instantly made the young man an artist I wanted to keep tabs on.

Enter, “The Innkeepers”, West’s most recent effort. The story of two slacker employees Claire (Sara Paxton from The Last House on the Left remake) and Luke (Pat Healy from Rescue Dawn) of the very soon to be shut down and demolished Yankee Pedlar Inn, a three story, turn of the century kind of place with awesome wallpaper, hard wood floors and the obligatory legend of a tragic death and enduring haunting therein. As the last two employees on staff at the Yankee Pedlar, Clair and Luke take the opportunity to down some cheap beer and launch a full scale investigation into the legendary haunting of deceased bride-to-be, Madeline O’Malley which Luke claims to have encountered on several occasions.

The duo busts out their recording equipment to try and capture some EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) and set the stage for the possibility of a ghostly encounter. And honestly, one gets the impression that these two are investigating more our of sheer boredom than any passionate interest. However, as some curious happenings begin to manifest around Clair and Luke they are advised by one of the only guests they have that weekend, Leanne (Kelly McGillis from Top Gun (!) ) who is a former TV actress turned psychic medium.  She comes to Claire as a friend and offers a possible guide to the spirit world while also offering some well timed significant New Age wisdom and a dark warning…

“The Innkeepers” is one scary mother fucking movie. It finally dawned on me that, really, if there’s one genre of horror sure to really get me rattled it’s the kind that involves hauntings and ghosts. Ghosts are a tricky subject in horror movies because they can be handled improperly like they were in the remake of “Paranormal Activity” (2009) or “Insidious” (2011) where everything is revealed, everything explained and everything is showcased in the light of day and leaves nothing to the imagination. I have always been of the opinion that scariest thing we will ever face is that which we don’t understand and what’s left up to us to imagine. Always, this will be far more frightening than anything a filmmaker and his effects crew could ever create and showcase.

For the majority of “The Innkeepers” we join Claire and Luke in their final, modest,  quest to seek any kind of proof of the supernatural at The Yankee Peddler. We see only what they see, hear what they hear and many times adopt their point of view as the camera track closely behind them keep the frame claustrophobic and tense as the viewer joins them in the investigation. Often there’s nothing but silence or the hum of static piping through headphones as they listen to what they’re recording. I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation being drawn in both wanting something to happen and being incredibly fucking nervous as to the when and what might be revealed or heard. It’s a film that realizes we’ve seen this sort of film before and that we are familiar with the beats. “The Innkeepers” defies our expectations and repeatedly scares the shit out of the viewer. They may be jump scares, but they are well earned and serve the purpose of the story at hand.

Not only are the scares and techniques used to deliver them excellent, but so is the cast at hand. Our star player, Sara Paxton gives a very genuine and game performance as the adorable, nerdy slacker, Claire. She finds herself in the center of the storm during the proceedings and manages to play up her distress well and also proves to be quite the comedian to boot. Paxton is imminently watchable and young actress I look forward to seeing more from. Pat Healy as Luke is a great foil to Claire and generates some great laughs with his deadpan, sarcastic performance. Like Paxton, Healy is called upon to both be very believably funny and terrified. The brother pulls it off in spades. Kelly McGillis is fantastic as the resident psychic, Leanne, a once famous TV star with a gift for communicating with the other side. As the films most prominent supporting player she proves believable and essential to the tale and really grounds the film in reality. “The Innkeepers” benefits greatly from her presence.

“The Innkeepers” brings to mind Kubrick’s “The Shining” by way of Kevin Smith’s “Clerks”. It’s the story of two intelligent but unmotivated young adults working a literal dead-end job and floating rudderless. When Clair is asked by Leanne what she does Claire can only respond with an awkward and unsure “I’m kind of between things.” as if she’s never given a single thought to what will be coming next for her.  Claire and Luke are very real and well developed characters that feel like people we know. Hell, what might be even stranger is that these characters might even be many of us, stuck in lame jobs and having resigned ourselves to them with no clue as to how we could ever better our situation.  These characters wonder the silent, ancient halls of The Yankee Peddler looking for the smallest evidence that there is something more there. Evidence that there could be any truth to legend of Madeline O’Malley. It may seem like a futile search to some, pointless even when faced with the crushing reality of oncoming unemployment, but the truth is that some of us might never find anything better than what we’ve got and grown accustomed to. Many find themselves in the exact same trap Claire and Luke find themselves in. Walking the halls of the place they can’t stand in a kind of purgatory.I can think of few things scarier than that.

Well, beside mother fucking ghosts…

The Innkeepers is an intelligent and brilliantly constructed horror film. One that doesn’t spoon feed it’s story or characters to the audience.  The Yankee Peddler itself feels like a character int he film, much in the same way The Overlook Hotel played the same sort of significance in the proceedings of The Shining. Every hall tells a story, every room has witnessed thousands of tales unfold. One can only imagine what frightening memories such a place might have. And this is the ultimate strength if “The Inkeepers”, we are given the ammunition necessary to fill in the blanks and imagine many of the films horrors. Some are blatant and in your face, but “The Innkeepers” is a smart enough film to allow room for mystery, ambiguity and interpretation.  The mark of truly good film is that it trust it’s audience and doesn’t talk down to it. “The Innkeepers” is just such a film.

It’s a slow burn that takes it’s time to build up the suspense and lay on the dread as thick as molasses while dropping in some well timed laughs and plenty of fun, snappy banter.  Ti West knocked it out of the park with this one, yes, “The Innkeepers” is well worth the visit.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

04
Jun
10

Shrooms: Drug of the Damned

a Primal Root Written Review

This review must be prefaced with the acknowledgment that I, The Primal Root, have never done drugs. I have never ingested shroom tea in my life nor have I gone out in the woods looking for a particular brand of hallucinogenic mushroom. So I must confess to having no real knowledge of the affects or the rituals regarding the usage of such fungi. However, I do love a side of sautéed mushrooms with a medium rare cut of choice beef…I’m getting off topic…

Okay gang, I just checked out the 2007 drug/slasher/haunting horror film Shrooms. The films about 2 couples and a pseudo-quasi couple, who head to Ireland specifically to hunt down some magic mushrooms and trip some balls( That is what the kids call it, right?).

Our cast of characters are a grab bag of the typical slasher flick sterotypes. We have the kung-fu stoner and his hippie girlfriend with wild underarm growth (yep, that’s her character development. Hairy armpits.) We have the pimply assed, steroid abusing, constantly horny ass hole jock guy and his vapid, angry girlfriend. And of course, we have our super cool guide to shroom land, Ireland’s native son and Mr. Coolesville himself, Jack and our blonde, Kristen Bell look-a-like obvious final girl, Tara.Tara is played by none other than Lindsey Haun! She was one of the lead alien kids in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned! She grew up, she filled out, let me tell ya.

Lindsey Haun: Our Babe in the Woods

On their way into the foggy, overcast, foreboding forest, they hit an intensely juicy goat with their van which spatters all over their window as they reach speeds upwards of 10. They all pile out of the van to take a look at the quivering, dying goat when the jock decides to abruptly end the beasts suffering with some well placed tire-iron-fu to it’s horned cranium. Mere seconds afterwards two drooling inbred forest dwellers appear in a clearing, creep over and snatch up the goat to presumably eat later. Once they’ve fucked it.

 Keep in mind, all these creepy, bloody, disturbing events take place in a span of about three minutes. This is not subtle. It’s as if life is whacking these kids across the skull with a tack hammer in a fruitless attempt to persuade our drug lusting friends to turn that van around, pick up the scripture, and just say no to drugs.

Kids being kids our troupe marches on to their camp ground, set up base, and begin hunting for the perfect mushrooms. Along the way we are informed by Jack that there are some shrooms that are incredibly deadly. These shrooms have black nipples on the top of them, are affectionately known as “Death Heads” and according to legend they allow those who ingest them to see into the future, commune with the dead, gain super strength and…I think that’s it. Also, according to science, they could also make your heart explode and make you spew blood like a geyser from Hell. Buyer beware.

Mistakes? I've made a few.

Tara is apparently a mile or so away from the rest of the group when this useful tid-bit of information is offered up and she decides, after tripping over something and falling on her face (a constant motif in this film) to eat the first mushroom she sees. Whole. No chaser. It just so happens to be a giant mushroom with *gasp* a big ol’ black nipple on top!

Right on cue Tare flips out after eating the “Death Head” shroom and starts popping and locking all over the ground. Jack carries her back to camp where she continues to hallucinate ALONE in her tent after eating possibly fatal shrooms while everyone else makes an OH so special blend of herbal tea. In the meantime, Jack tells everyone a camp fire tale about the legend surrounding the old abandoned children’s hospital nearby.

Fueled by this ghost story and intense hallucinogenic mushroom tea our group of morons start tripping out, getting lost in the woods, chatting with cows, and begin falling pray to a mysterious killer. Could it be those unaccounted for youths from the old abandoned hospital? Could it be an evil demon dressed in black? Could it all be in their heads? Could I care less?

Shrooms is a beautiful looking movie and is expertly crafted. You can tell the talent behind the lens has a great flair for setting up eye catching shots and interesting compositions. Shrooms succeeds from a technical stand point but as far as a story it kind of falls flat. The characters are all unlikable and under developed. The dialog is trite and seems out of place in a film that looks so damn good. Then again, this movie is told from the perspective of 6 people tripping out…so maybe it;s supposed to be this way? I dunno…I just think I would have liked to have known these kids better before they started getting their heads hacked into and their wieners bitten off.

Once the shrooms kick in and these kids begin freaking out it’s more annoying than scary as they scream, cry and quiver, curled up into little balls on the ground of the forest. We spend the majority of the trip with the girls who begin acting like psycho women from hell almost instantly while the men handle their trip well until they get pegged in the head with some rocks to great comedic affect. Not sure if that’s what they were going for.

Diarrhea is like a thunderstorm raging inside you.

Still, I gotta say, I watched Shrooms to the bitter end and I wasn’t bored the entire time. I found most of it to be pretty watchable and the original concept was enough to leave me wondering just what angle they were going take when the inevitable trip wore off and the twist was revealed.

But if you’ve ever been the sober one hanging out with a couple of friends who have been using you know how fucking annoying it can be to just be around them. It is no different here. These kids suck and every time one of them dies you feel a little bit of relief that you don’t have to deal with them anymore.

Shrooms is a strange brew and I am still not sure if I can wholly recommend it. It just might be a trip worth taking if you’re in the mood for something different. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Stay Trashy,
-The Primal Root




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