IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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NIGHT CREATURES (1962) (also known as CAPTAIN CLEGG) is one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing movies.

Technically not a horror movie, NIGHT CREATURES is instead an energetic and atmospheric pirate adventure, filled with mystery and intrigue, and since it was made by Hammer Films, the horror elements are certainly highlighted, including the eerie Marsh Phantoms.

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, the local reverend in the small village of Dymchurch, but all is not as it seems, as Blyss is secretly the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, who years after escaping his own execution (Hmm, sounds like something Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein once did…) settles into Dymchurch and decides to turn over a new leaf, to do good for a change. Up to a point. See, Blyss is also the leader of a secret smuggling operation which smuggles illegal goods in and out of Dymchurch and uses the mysterious Marsh Phantoms as cover.

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives with a troop of a soldiers, he sets out to expose and thwart the covert smuggling operation. Collier is also the man who spent his life chasing down Captain Clegg. Hmm. Interesting.

And this one is much more than interesting. This rousing adventure set in 18th century England is so full of atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney! It’s also a helluva entertaining story.

The cast is first-rate.

At the top is Peter Cushing, channelling the same energy he used to portray Baron Frankenstein here as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg, and he’s at it again playing the heroic villain. We should not like Clegg very much, but in Cushing’s hands, we root for him. The script by John Elder provides Cushing with many memorable moments, from his admonishing of the weasel Mr. Rash (Martin Benson)… “Mr. Rash!” to his verbal spars with Captain Collier. At one point, Blyss is doing everything in his power to make sure Collier and his men have nowhere to stay the night in Dymchurch, but Collier declares his men are definitely staying, to which Blyss utters under his breath, “Really? I wonder where?”

Another fine moment comes when Collier believes a man his men shot in the arm is Blyss, and when he grabs Blyss by the wrist, he flinches, but there’s no bullet wound. Collier asks him why he flinched when he grabbed his arm, to which Blyss answers, “It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot!”

Veteran character actor and Hammer favorite Michael Ripper delivers one of his all time best movie performances as Jeremiah Mipps, the coffin maker, Blyss’ loyal right hand man. He too has numerous memorable lines of dialogue and key moments in the film, like one where he is seen sleeping in one of his coffins. One of his better lines comes when an angered Captain Collier at discovering one of his key witnesses has been found dead, demands of Mipps to know why the man was out on the Marshes. Mipps replies, “I couldn’t well ask him, seeing that he’s dead.”

A young Oliver Reed, fresh after his performance as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) makes for a dashing young Harry Cobtree, who is also part of Blyss’ operation and is in love with Blyss’ daughter Imogene (Yvonne Romain).

And Patrick Allen is excellent as Captain Collier, the man who matches wits with Blyss throughout the movie. Allen also starred with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the science fiction thriller ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967), and his voice was also dubbed in for the character Rex Van Ryn in the Christopher Lee Hammer classic THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968).

NIGHT CREATURES also features a rousing music score by Don Banks, who also scored Hammer’s third Frankenstein movie, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Director Peter Graham Scott fills this one with lots of memorable scenes. There’s an exciting fight scene between Blyss and the hulking Mulatto who is out for revenge against Captain Clegg, and the climax to this one is also action-packed. The special effects on the Marsh Phantoms are first-rate. All in all, this is one Hammer Film you do not want to miss. It’s topnotch entertainment from beginning to end, without a slow moment in sight.

Incidentally, Hammer had to change the name of Cushing’s character from Dr. Syn to Dr. Blyss, since Disney owned the rights to the character, which is based on Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn stories. Disney made DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, which was later aired in three parts on TV on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY.

If you are looking to bust yourself out of the winter blues this January, look no further than the thrilling pirate adventure NIGHT CREATURES, which features a talented cast touting out their A-game, with Peter Cushing leading the way with yet another of his phenomenal movie performances, this time as the heroic Dr. Blyss, doing his best to move on from his villainous past as the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, but only when it suits him, as he is more than comfortable running his secret smuggling operation. And when the relentless Captain Collier arrives, the stakes are raised, and Blyss’ cover and entire operation are suddenly in jeopardy.

NIGHT CREATURES is an underrated gem, one of Hammer’s best, and a must-see for all Peter Cushing fans. But be on your guard! Captain Collier and the King’s men are on the prowl! But don’t fret. Just look to the scarecrow across the way for his signal, and if his hand moves, then it’s time to run!

—END—

Horror Movies: 2020

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Okay, here we go. Here’s my list of the horror movies I saw in 2020, from worst to first.

Enjoy!

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN

14 THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN (2020) was by far the worst horror movie I saw this year. A pointless sequel to the superior original THE BABYSITER (2017). In spite of this being a horror comedy, this one is a snooze from start to finish.

13. THE TURNING

Turn this one off. Another clunker, this horror movie based on the Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw,” and starring Mackenzie Davies and Finn Wolfhard, couldn’t turn a stomach, let alone a screw.

12. YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Haunted house thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried is just standard. Offers no surprises.

11. HIS HOUSE

Netflix thriller about a refugee couple in a haunted house has its moments, but not enough of them to really make this worth your while.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED

10. THE DARK AND THE WICKED

Dark thriller about an adult sister and brother on a farm caring for their dying father who happens to be possessed is solidly made but suffers from the “you are all victims syndrome” in that none of the folks in this movie ever stand a chance. The dark wins. Easily.

9. RELIC

Intriguing tale of a mother and daughter caring for the daughter’s ailing grandmother who also seems to be possessed. Clever allegory about dementia doesn’t entirely work but it has its moments.

8. THE WRETCHED

Story of a witch living in the woods works because the main character, a teenage boy scarred by his parents’ divorce, feels empathy for his neighbors and decides to help them fend off the witch, but he has a troubled past, which gets in the way of his heroic efforts. Well-written horror flick.

7. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS

Lively horror movie about three girlfriends who meet up with three guys at a rock concert as a serial killer is on the loose. Major plot twist takes this over-the top horror flick in an entirely different direction midway through. Takes place in the 1980s.

6. THE RENTAL

Alison Brie and Dan Stevens star in this effective thriller about two couples away for the weekend at a vacation home, very suspicious of the creepy sketchy owner. I liked this one.

5 #ALIVE

Stylish zombie thriller from South Korea is very entertaining even as it doesn’t really offer anything that is new to the zombie genre.

4. UNDERWATER

Fun underwater adventure starring Kristen Stewart . Far from perfect, but fun and suspenseful all the same.

3. ANTEBELLUM

I really liked this ambitious horror movie starring Janelle Monae about slaves on a Civil War era plantation run by sadistic Confederate soldiers. Jumps back and forth between the 1860s and modern times, and contains a VERY controversial plot twist that most fans hated. I didn’t like the twist, but I did like the movie. Powerful music score as well.

2. THE INVISIBLE MAN

Clever re-imagining of THE INVISIBLE MAN concept, stars Elizabeth Moss as a woman tormented by her supposedly deceased abusive husband. She thinks he’s invisible, her friends think she’s crazy. Works best as a psychologicial thriller. Plays its hand a bit too early, but still an above average horror movie.

SPUTNIK

  1. SPUTNIK

My favorite horror movie of 2020 is the tale of a Russian cosmonaut who returns to Earth harboring an alien creature inside his body. Oksana Akinshina steals the show as the psychologist brought in to study him. Superior horror film. Worthwhile viewing from start to finish.

And there you have it. The horror films I watched in 2020, from worst to first.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

*

– *

HUNTER HUNTER (2020) – Slow-Burn Thriller Done In By Abrupt Brutal Ending

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HUNTER HUNTER (2020) is a slow burn thriller that gradually makes its way to an exceedingly dark conclusion, meaning that whether or not you like this one will depend on how you feel about jaw-dropping agonizing endings. If you like that sort of thing, no doubt you’ll have no problem with this movie. However, if you’re like me, and prefer that if a movie goes down that rabbit hole, that there’s something more than just a an all out sense of bleakness, then you may find that this flick is not your cup of tea.

HUNTER HUNTER is the story of a family living off the grid in the woods. Anne (Camille Sullivan), her husband Joseph (Devon Sawa), and their daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) need to hunt to survive. They live in a cabin without electricity, prepare their own food, and trade furs at the local store in town for food and supplies. They live this way because Joseph doesn’t like people very much and chose this lifestyle, and Anne chose it as well when she chose him. However, tensions have arisen betwee the couple because their lifestyle is becoming more difficult to sustain, and Anne believes their daughter deserves a normal life in a real house with real friends and the chance to go to a real school.

When a wolf returns to their woods, a wolf they have encountered before, and one that Anne describes as “mean,” Joseph promises to track and kill it. But when he’s out searching for the wolf, he makes another grisly discovery, and then doesn’t return home. Meanwhile, Anne and Renee discover a ring inside some wolf scat, and they bring it to their local sheriff’s department, but the officers there tell her they can’t help her since the woods don’t fall under their jurisdicition.

However, later, the sheriff Barthes (Gabriel Daniels) begins to speculate while looking at posters of missing persons on his wall, that if that ring had been attached to a finger… and so he decides to take a drive out towards those woods.

At night, Anne and Renee hear the cries of someone in pain in the woods, and they discover a man (Nick Stahl) crying for help, and he appears to have been attacked by the wolf. They bring the stranger into their cabin to tend to his wounds.

What follows is one of the grimmest endings I’ve seen in a while.

HUNTER HUNTER is a slow-burn thriller that works well for nearly the entire movie. Written and directed by Shawn Linden, it’s a solid piece of filmmaking. The characters are fleshed out nicely, the story of the wolf works and builds suspense. All is well until the ending.

The film only runs about 90 minutes, and this solid steady pace continues nearly an hour and fifteen minutes into the film, setting the stage for a rather quick and brutal ending that for me just wasn’t satisfying after all that had come before it. It was less about it being a dark ending for me, than it being an abrupt one. I wanted more. Everything unfolds and ends quickly.

Also, the wolf is almost a Hitchcock Macguffin. The animal is not what the film is ultimately about. Its presence is integral to the plot however, as earlier Anne and Joseph wonder why it keeps coming back, and Joseph’s grisly discovery in the woods seems to be the reason why.

The screenplay is very good, the dialogue realistic.

Camille Sullivan is excellent in the lead role as Anne, and both her character and her performance are pushed to their limits in the film’s finale. Devon Sawa makes for a competent survivalist husband, although he’s absent for most of the film once he departs in search of the wolf. Summer H. Howell also turns in a very good performance as daughter Renee.

Nick Stahl is sufficiently sketchy as the stranger Lou who Anne and Renee take into their cabin. Years back, Stahl played an adult John Connor in TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003), one of the lesser effective TERMINATOR movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And both Gabriel Daniels and Lauren Cochrane add fine support as the local law enforcement officers whose banter with each other adds some light relief throughout the story.

So, I liked HUNTER HUNTER, but I did not like the ending, which lowered this one several notches. First, it’s all rather abrupt. And then, it is incredibly dark, reducing the story to a simple tale of revenge, and that’s just not what the previous hour plus of this film had been about. The one theme it confirms in the story is Joseph lives in the woods with his family because he doesn’t like or trust people, and that notion is certainly validated by film’s end, and then some! It all makes for a rather cynical piece of storytelling when you come right down to it.

If you enjoy grim horror, visceral violent tales of vengeance, you will enjoy HUNTER HUNTER.

For me, it was simply much too grim to be appreciated. Yes, bad things happen to good people, and when given the chance, these victims might strike back in the most brutal of ways. This is one such story, or at least the ending is, anyway, as the story prior was about survival, family, and doing what was necessary to provide for that family, including seeking out and taking down a threatening wolf in the surrounding woods.

The ending is about none of these things.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

10 Worst Movies of 2020

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And now for the 10 Worst Movies of 2020.

Just like with by Top 10 Best Movies List, this year’s list comes with a giant asterisk, thanks to COVID-19 closing movie theaters across the country. While I have continued to review movies throughout the year, they have been on streaming and OnDemand services, and so without national theater chains to provide the same movies for all of us, a lot of movies I saw this year, you may not have, and vice versa.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the list:

10. EMMA

This one doesn’t really belong on a Worst Movies List, but as I rank all the movies I see throughout the year, it did happen to fall 10th from the worst. This elegant version of Jane Austen’s novel is simply a colossal bore, pure and simple. Looked great, but the script and characterizations put me to sleep. Stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role as Emma, and she’s much better in the current and superior Netflix TV show THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020). The film also wastes the usually reliable Bill Nighy. One of the few movies this year I saw on the big screen. Still didn’t help.

9. COFFEE & KAREEM

Forgettable Netflix buddy comedy starring Ed Helms. So forgettable not even worth mentioning!

8. THE RHYTHM SECTION

I love Blake Lively, but this was a really stupid action movie that not even Lively could save. She plays a woman who learns that the plane crash that killed her family wasn’t an accident, and so she…with no prior experience… decides to learn how to become an international assassin to make the terrorists responsible for her family’s death pay. Yup. That’s believable. Her trainer, played by Jude Law, is so good at what he does that she becomes the female equivalent of Jason Bourne and wipes the floor with these terrorists all rather easily. The film tries for an ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) vibe, but the plot is too dumb for it to pull it off.

7. WONDER WOMAN 1984

Where to start with this one? There are so many ways that this sequel is awful. For starters, it’s everything the original WONDER WOMAN is not. I didn’t even enjoy Gal Gadot’s performance as Wonder Woman. But the biggest culprit is the script, and a plot built around a relic that… wait for it…. grants wishes! That’s right, Aladdin, you wish it, and it can happen! Heck, that’s how this story brings back a deceased character from the first movie, played by Chris Pine. No basis in reality. Instantly one of the worst DC superhero movies of all time.

6. SPENSER: CONFIDENTIAL

Another Netflix clunker. This time it’s Mark Wahlberg playing Boston private detective Spenser from the Robert B. Parker novels, only the film changes everything about the characters, and tries to turn this into a comedy. So, not only will Spenser purists be disappointed, but so will those of us who like a good comedy, since it’s not funny at all. You know things are bad when not even Alan Arkin can make you laugh!

5. THE TURNING

Forgettable horror movie starring Mackenzie Davis and Finn Wolfhard, loosely based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw. Turn this one off.

Betty Gilpin as Crystal in “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel.

4. THE HUNT

A lot of folks liked this one, a dark action thriller about a group of liberals who are hunting human prey, folks they view as right wing low lifes. Stars Betty Gilpin as the one victim who won’t quit, and yes, she is very good and the best part of this movie. But for me, the rest of this film was a misfire from start to finish.

3. LIKE A BOSS

Another unfunny comedy, this one starring Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne as friends sparring with villainess Salma Hayek over a beauty company. Very few laughs here, making it a chore to sit through.

2. WASP NETWORK

Netflix film about Cuban spies in the United States completely wastes the talents of Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Wagner Moura, and Ana de Armas. Features the most uneven script of the year, with characters appearing and then disappearing for long chunks of time. Fails to build any kind of momentum. Probably the dullest movie I watched all year.

THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN
  1. THE BABYSITER: KILLER QUEEN

My pick for the worst movie of 2020 is THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN, a testament as to why you shouldn’t make a sequel just for the same of making one. A sequel to the clever and lively horror/comedy THE BABYSTTER, this flick isn’t funny, isn’t scary, and isn’t enjoyable in the least. Terrible script. By far, the movie I enjoyed the least this year.

And there you have it, my list of the 10 Worst Movies I saw in 2020.

Okay, on to 2021!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) – World War II Haunted House Movie Not-Half Bad

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GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) offers a neat premise for a horror movie: five Allied soldiers in occupied France in 1944 are deployed to a huge mansion once home to the Nazis, and their mission is to watch over it until reinforcements arrive. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast! Because this place is haunted!

The film also gets off to a strong start with a creepy opening sequence featuring the soldiers sleeping in the woods, as one soldier awakes to spy an eerie countenance in the wooded wilderness. Yikes!

In GHOSTS OF WAR, five soldiers, Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Eugene (Skylar Astin), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), Kirk (Theo Rossi) and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), weary from battling Nazis in the French countryside, relish the mission of “house-sitting” an empty mansion for a few days. To them, it means sleeping in beds, access to food and beverages, and some much needed shelter from the unknown horrors awaiting them every day and night on their trek through the French back roads. They are rattled and on the verge of becoming unhinged. This mission has arrived at just the right time.

But their euphoria is short-lived, as they begin to see strange apparations and hear frightening sounds in the middle of the night. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the mansion is downright haunted!

As I said, GHOSTS OF WAR gets off to a creepy start with its effective opening scene, and then things continue, as the first half of this one is a solid mix of horrifying war violence combined with sinister spectral threats once the soldiers reach the mansion. It’s a winning combination.

I enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. Everything works, and there’s not a slow or dull moment to be found. About halfway through, the soldiers finally make the realization that the mansion is haunted, and actually have a refreshing conversation about just what that means: is it being haunted by a group of people who died there, or is the place itself evil, attracting spirits and demons from all over?

At this point, they decide to come up with a plan as to how to proceed, and it’s here where the film slows down a bit, as their investigation into the house’s background simply isn’t as compelling as the relentless horrors thrown at us in the film’s first half.

Then things get worse. Sort of.

See, there’s a plot twist. Ah, the dreaded plot twist! As plot twists goes, this one is pretty damn good. The problem is, its execution is pretty damn bad! The scene which reveals the twist and sets the stage for the big “reveal” of the film, is terribly written and features rushed and pretty bad dialogue. It also features a concept that doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not in the way the film tries to explain it.

But then the film continues with its “reveal” and at long last we see why things happened the way they did. This part I liked, and it does make sense, if you can get past the silly explanation scene in the middle. In other words, the “how” this is all happening still needs work, and I didn’t completely buy it, but the “why” things happened, that part did work for me.

There’s also a strong clue of a plot twist early on in the movie, which at first I thought was an example of some pretty bad film research. One of the characters references seeing old horror movies in his childhood, and mentions some films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF which wasn’t released until 1957, years after World War II! But it turns out this wasn’t an error. Nuff said about that!

GHOSTS OF WAR was written and directed by Eric Bress, who wrote the first two FINAL DESTINATION movies and also wrote and directed THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004), so he’s no stranger to bizarre time shifts in stories. I enjoyed the pace of this one during its first half which I thought was pretty relentless. Bress sets up some eerie ghost scenes as well as some brutal war-related sequences.

The story and the writing is also strong for the most part, until it reaches its ludicrous idea to enable the plot twist. If you can get past that, you won’t mind GHOSTS OF WAR. And once you get past the sloppy transition, the final reveal is actually very good and quite haunting.

The cast is solid. Brenton Thwaites is excellent as lead character Chris, the person the audience will most relate to, as the story is largely seen through his eyes. Thwaites plays Dick Grayson on the TV show TITANS (2018-present).

Skylar Astin is also very good as Eugene, the one character who can read German which becomes useful when the soldiers discover a journal left in the house written in German.

Kyle Gallner fares the best as Tappert, the most unhinged character in the group. Tapper gets carried away when encountering Nazis. He would have felt right at home in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).

Theo Rossi, who starred on the TV shows SONS OF ANARCHY (2008–2014) and LUKE CAGE (2016-2018) plays Kirk, and Alan Ritchson plays Butchie, rounding out the cast.

GHOSTS OF WAR is a decent horror movie which gets off to a riveting start before eventually becoming a mixed bag, due mostly to a sloppily conceived plot twist which fails to make a convincing transition to an otherwise chilling conclusion.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover
Print cover
For the Love of Horror cover (3)
Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GHOUL (1933)

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This is a reprint of a column I wrote for the HWA NEWSLETTER back in 2011:

One of the joys lost in today’s age of DVD collections and massive streaming video libraries is the discovery of unseen gems.  There are few things I enjoy more than watching one of my favorite classic actors— say Peter Cushing or Boris Karloff— in a film performance for the first time.  Sure, I’ve seen most of the movies these guys have made, but on purpose, I’ve yet to see them all.

 

That’s the case with today’s movie THE GHOUL (1933), a classic tale of the walking dead starring Boris Karloff fresh off playing his signature role in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  I had never seen this one before, and watching it for the first time was a pleasure.

 

Karloff plays Professor Henry Morlant, and as the film opens, Morlant is dying.  He’s sick in bed with just a few hours to live.  Not to fret, Morlant is an Egyptologist who believes in the powers of the Egyptian gods.  A wealthy man, Morlant has spent the bulk of his fortune on a jewel known as the “Eternal Light,” and he believes that with this jewel in his possession, he’ll have eternal life.

 

Morlant instructs his servant Laing (Ernest Thesiger) to bury the jewel with him, to in fact bandage it to his dead hand.  He warns Laing, however, that if anyone should steal the valuable item, he will rise from the dead to kill those who have taken the jewel so he can reclaim it and enjoy his eternal life in the next world. Hmm, if he can come back from the dead without the jewel, what does he need the jewel for in the first place?  The answer, of course, is that the Eternal Light gives him eternal life in the next life, while without it, he just comes back as a murderous ghoul.  Nice to have options!

 

Since the Eternal Light jewel is worth a fortune, everyone and his grandmother wants to steal it, including Morlant’s accountant Broughton (Cedricke Hardwicke) and a host of other unsavory characters.  It’s Laing, however, who gets to it first, and true to his word, Morlant does rise from his tomb to pursue those who stole the jewel, but since this tale plays like a mystery, with so many suspects, Morlant doesn’t know who has the jewel, and so he goes on a murder rampage in search of his treasure.

 

THE GHOUL is a fun 1930s horror movie and a nice change of pace from the Universal classics of the decade.  This one was produced in Britain and was directed by T. Hayes Hunter who imbues it with lots of creepy atmosphere.  It really does play like a mystery and at times the proceedings can get confusing as it’s difficult to tell who’s plotting against whom, and to be honest, I prefer the horrific elements of THE GHOUL over its mysterious parts.  Once Karloff rises from the grave as the murderous ghoul, the film reaches a higher level and is much more fun to watch.

 

THE GHOUL has a great cast led by Karloff, who’s at his scary best roaming the dark countryside and corridors of shadowy mansions in search of the Eternal Light jewel.  Karloff is even scary in his opening death bed scene, which is pretty amazing considering his character is confined to a bed.  He’s frightening as he threatens Ernest Thesiger that he damned well better be scared of him, because if anyone steals the jewel, he’s coming back to kill!  I think it’s easy to forget just how scary Karloff could be.  He didn’t come to be called the King of Horror for nothing.

 

He’s also wearing ghoulish make-up by Heinrich Heitfeld, which reminded me a little bit of the make-up Karloff wore in THE RAVEN (1935).

 

Ernest Thesiger [Dr. Pretorius in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)] provides another solid performance as Morlant’s servant Laing.  He gets to spend most of the picture terrified of Karloff’s ghoul.  Sir Cedricke Hardwick [Dr. Frankenstein in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), as well as many other notable film performances] gives a fine portrayal as Broughton.  He looks and acts like a character in a Dickens’ novel.  THE GHOUL also marks the film debut of Ralph Richardson as a shady minister.  Richardson’s another actor who made tons of movies, but I always remember his genre performance as the blind man in FRANKENSTEIN:  THE TRUE STORY (1973).

 

THE GHOUL also has a powerful music score by Louis Levy.

 

Rupert Downing and Leonard Hines adapted the screenplay from a play by Frank King.  Two other writers are also listed in the credits, Roland Pertwee and John Hastings Turner.  There’s nothing wrong with the script as it contains snappy dialogue and a decent story that moves right along at a nice clip.

 

THE GHOUL, with its mysterious goings-on and Egyptian folklore reminded me of two other Karloff movies, James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), which also co-starred Ernest Thesiger, and THE MUMMY (1932).

 

This holiday season THE GHOUL would make a fine stocking stuffer, a creepy addition to anyone’s gift bag, especially for the horror film connoisseur.  Just don’t steal the Eternal Light, or Karloff will be out of his tomb, back among the living to kill, kill, kill—.

 

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THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020) – Well-Made Horror Movie Devoid of Resilient Characters

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THE DARK AND THE WICKED (2020), a new horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino, is one of those horror movies that, while watching it, I enjoyed pretty much everything about it, and then it ends, and I’m left scratching my head asking, what was the point?

Did I really just spend 90 minutes watching the total destruction of a family on a farm? Yes. Why?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that movies have to have happy endings, because they don’t, and I like dark endings just as much as the next guy. But sometimes, and this is a gray area with horror movies, there just isn’t enough there. In this case, the characters don’t stand a chance and barely fight back. There’s hardly a struggle. They’re pretty much helpless victims throughout. And that’s just not enough for me to make investing 90 minutes of my time worth it.

In THE DARK AND THE WICKED, Louise (Marin Ireland) and her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) return to their family’s rural farm to help their mother (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) care for their ailing father, who’s in a bed in a near comatose state. It doesn’t take them long to see that something is not quite right with their mother, as she seems more disturbed than usual. Michael chalks it up to the way she is dealing with their dad’s condition, while Louise isn’t so sure. But when they discover their mom’s body hanging in their barn, after she had chopped off her own fingers, they realize something is very wrong.

And that something, they learn, is some supernatural force, a demon or perhaps the devil, that has its sights set upon stealing the souls of everyone inside the farmhouse. And it’s something Louise and Michael have a difficult time wrapping their heads around, since they, and their parents, are not religious.

And that’s a major theme of the movie, that you don’t have to believe in the devil to be his victim. As one character in the movie says, you may not believe in wolves, but if one corners you, it doesn’t much matter what you believe.

Louise and Michael are then faced with a threat that neither of them understands, nor do they know how to stop it.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED is a well-made horror movie by writer/director Bryan Bertino. Visually, it is full of creepy scenes throughout, scenes that work, and successfully get under one’s skin. The screenplay is also very good, with realistic dialogue and characters.

So, why didn’t I love this one? It’s as I said, that the film focuses on the two main characters Louise and Michael, and all that slowly happens to them on the farm, and they were just a bit too helpless for my liking. By the time the end credits roll, you realize you’ve just watched a story about folks succumbing to the evil predatory force which had been stalking them. Game over. Souls consumed. Pass the devil a napkin.

That’s just not my thing.

The two main leads are very good. Marin Ireland as Louise is the character who comes closest to fighting back. She at least refuses to give in and tries to understand what is happening to her parents and her family. Ireland delivers a natural, realistic performance.

As does Michael Abbott Jr. as Michael, who is somewhat lesser effective as a character, as he remains pretty clueless throughout. He’s an easy target for the devil.

The rest of the cast is fine in small supporting roles. Xander Berkeley, who’s enjoyed a long career and recently was very memorable as Gregory on THE WALKING DEAD (2016-18), has some eerie moments as a mysterious priest.

While I didn’t love THE DARK AND THE WICKED, I did like it. Bryan Bertino has made a good looking and spooky horror movie that only suffers from a one-sided story. The forces of darkness dominate this one. The people are pretty much reduced to dinner menu items. I enjoyed Bertino’s previous horror movie, THE MONSTER (2016) a bit better. Bertino also wrote and directed the major theatrical release THE STRANGERS (2008), a horror movie that a lot of people liked, but I didn’t.

THE DARK AND THE WICKED is exactly what its title implies. If you’re looking for any signs of light, any hope for humanity, or for characters who rise up and fight back, you won’t find them here.

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ANTEBELLUM (2020) – Horror Drama Thought-Provoking and Disturbing In Spite of Questionable Twist

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ANTEBELLUM (2020), a new movie written and directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, and starring singer/songwriter/actress Janelle Monae [HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and MOONLIGHT (2016)], is a powerful hybrid drama/horror movie that while not always successful remains disturbing throughout.

In fact, the first third of this movie is as unsettling an opening to a movie as I’ve seen in a while.

ANTEBELLUM begins at a southern plantation during the years of the Civil War, and it’s run by a very sadistic group of Confederate soldiers. Slaves are shot, branded, not allowed to speak without permission, and the women are regularly offered to the soldiers for sexual pleasure.

Eden (Janelle Monae) is for reasons unknown the slave who others turn to for leadership, but she resists, urging those around her to be patient for the right time. The last time she attempted an escape, people were killed, and the sadistic Senator Denton (Eric Lange) who runs the plantation branded Eden when she wouldn’t say her name. Denton has a thing for Eden and keeps her as his personal slave.

The day to day operations at the plantation are run by Captain Jasper (Jack Huston) who is exceedingly cruel.

As I said, the first third of this movie is as unpleasant at it can get and is not easy to sit through.

Then, one night, as Eden lies in bed, she hears a cell phone ringing, and when she opens her eyes she’s in the here and now in 2020 and her name is Veronica and she is a successful author with a loving husband and a cute young daughter.

Whaaaat???

What, indeed!

The film switches gears here, big time, and the audience of course is wondering, how is this going to tie in to what we saw earlier?

Rest assured, things do tie in, but it’s in a reveal that isn’t entirely successful. For starters, it reminded me an awful lot of the twist in the ill-fated THE VILLAGE (2004). It wasn’t quite as jarring as that one, but it will raise a few eyebrows, that’s for sure!

Writer/directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have constructed a story that for the most part works but doesn’t entirely. The first third of the tale, which takes place on the plantation, is heavy and disturbing. When things switch to 2020, the tone shifts, and Gabourey Sidibe and Lily Cowles liven things up with some comedic relief as Veronica’s girlfriends Dawn and Sarah. Their night on the town is a real hoot. And it’s during these sequences that there’s a sinister undercurrent, as the audience knows that at some point this is going to connect to the horrors seen in the opening of the movie.

While both these sections of the film work, they are not without their problems, as the pacing remains methodical, the emotions charged but not off the charts, the tension present, but not riveting.

And then the third act comes along. The twist is huge, and while it didn’t ruin the movie for me, it’s a challenge to accept. That being said, a lot of things have happened during the last four years that I though would never happen, and so I’m inclined to view this twist with less incredulity than I would have prior to 2016.

And if you can get past the twist, the third act is very good. It’s satisfying to watch Eden fight back after suffering thoughout all the horrors of the first act of this movie. I thought the ending was very satisfying.

The cast is very good. Janelle Monae is excellent as Eden/Veronica. I think I still prefer her performance in HIDDEN FIGURES to this one, but she still packs a wallop here. And her climactic struggle with the main female baddie Elizabeth (Jena Malone) is one of the best scenes in the movie.

Speaking of Malone, she’s cold and proper as Elizabeth, the southern belle who runs the plantation. She also gets one of the better lines in the movie when, after Eden has disposed of most of the male soldiers in her way, Elizabeth steps forward and declares that as always is the case, it takes a woman to pick things up after a man has made a mess of them.

Jack Huston, the grandson of John Huston, and nephew of Angelica Huston and Danny Huston, is annoyingly cruel as Captain Jasper. I’d say he’s the best villain in the film, except Eric Lange is just as good as the depraved Denton.

And as I said, Gabourey Sidibe and Lily Cowles are enjoyable as Veronica’s friends Dawn and Sarah.

The film also has a powerfully haunting music score by Roman GianArthur Irvin and Nate “Rocket” Wonder.

The other thing I liked about ANTEBELLUM is it contains some powerful cinematic images. The scene where the Confederate soldiers chant “blood and soil” was chilling, reminiscent of the real life scene in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

There’s also a scene featuring a statue of Robert E. Lee, and some potent images involving fire.

All in all, I liked ANTEBELLUM a lot. Not quite as good as GET OUT (2017), but certainly a horror/drama worth checking out. Some may not be able to get past the twist, but if you can, and I did, there’s a lot to like about this thought-provoking and very disturbing movie.

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HIS HOUSE (2020) – Refreshing Take on Haunted House Tale

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His House

Sometimes a film’s premise makes all the difference.

And here with HIS HOUSE (2020), a new horror movie now available on Netflix, the plot point of a refugee couple from the Sudan trying to make their way in their new home in England, only to find that it’s haunted, gives this one an edge.

It doesn’t quite lift this one on its own, but for the most part, HIS HOUSE is a decent horror movie worth checking out.

Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) survive a harrowing boat journey from the Sudan, seeking asylum in England. However, their daughter does not, as she drowns during a violent storm. While Bol and Rial mourn the loss of their daughter, they are set up in a home in a small English town, but they have to follow certain rules or else they will be deported back to the Sudan where violent tribal clashes would jeopardize their lives. One of the rules is they must stay in their home, as they are not allowed to move somewhere else.

While the house is an obvious slum, for Bol and Rial, they are happy to take it. However, soon after they move in, they realize that they are not the only ones there, as a sinister presence makes itself known, a presence that speaks to them about giving them their daughter back, but at a price and a sacrifice that is horrifying to accept.

As I said, the premise of HIS HOUSE helps this one a lot. The story of immigrants fighting to survive in a new nation speaks to current events, and the brutal tale of the Sudan exposes horrors even before the supernatural elements arrive.

I enjoyed the script by director Remi Weekes, based on a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables. The story speaks to the difficulties of trying to rebuild one’s life after devastating loss. And the revelation near the film’s end only makes this story all the more tragic.

The supernatural stuff works as well. While I wouldn’t call this one outright scary, it is very creepy, and there are some winc-inducing scenes toward the end.

I liked HIS HOUSE for the most part, although I thought the pacing was rather slow.

Both Sope Dirisu as Bol and Wunmi Mosaku as Rial are very good in their roles. They make for a convincing couple. And Matt Smith delivers a smart performance as their caseworker Mark who can’t help feeling empathy towards them.

Javier Botet plays the witch here, and he’s rather creepy. Botet has had lots of experience playing similar monster roles in SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019), SLENDER MAN (2018), and INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018), to name just a few.

HIS HOUSE didn’t knock my socks off, but it did creep me out for most of its 90 minutes, and I enjoyed it’s refreshing take on the haunted house trope.

You might want to visit.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

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girl with all the gifts poster

The best stories supersede the genre.

Take THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016), for example. While some may argue that the zombie movie has overstayed its welcome, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS approaches the trope with some fresh ideas and as a result infuses new energy into the subgenre.

The fact that this movie has a deep and clever screenplay comes as no surprise since screenwriter Mike Carey adapted the screenplay from his own very successful novel of the same name.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS takes place in the near future, where a deadly disease has turned people into flesh eating zombies. Yup, it’s another variation of the zombie apocalypse. The difference here is that a group of children hold the key to the cure.

Teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is tasked with educating these children, who are subdued and guarded 24/7 by the military, commanded here by Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), because these special children are pretty much zombies with consciousnesses who still retain their intellect and personalities.

To find the cure for the disease, scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) busily experiments on these kids and treats them like lab rats, cold to the fact that they die from her methods, a notion that does not sit well with Ms. Justineau. One of the children, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) forms a bond with Ms. Justineau, and the two grow to care for each other very much.

When the “hungries” overrun the facility, and all hell breaks loose, a small faction of survivors which include Melanie, Ms. Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, and some of his soldiers, have to find ways to survive and make their way to safety, even while Dr. Caldwell insists she is so close to a cure, and perhaps just one more experiment would do the trick, one more experiment….on Melanie.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS tells a really interesting story that as I said rises above the genre. It’s a fabulous screenplay by Mike Carey. The first half grabs you with its originality, keeping the audience guessing as to what’s going on and then keeping things intriguing. It also generates decent suspense early on. The second half of the movie, once the zombies overrun the facility, becomes much more of a standard horror flick, but it still works well.

I loved the cast. I’m a fan of Gemma Arterton, having enjoyed her work in such films as THEIR FINEST (2016) and the Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). Here she’s a caring teacher who it turns out is also as tough as nails.

Paddy Considine makes for an effective Sgt. Parks, a military man who is all about duty but grows more sympathetic as the story goes along. Considine has enjoyed notable roles in such films as THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) and on the TV show PEAKY BLINDERS (2016) where he played a very villainous priest, Father John Hughes.

And Glenn Close is deliciously cold as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, the scientist with ice in her veins. It’s a terrific performance.

But it’s Sennia Nanua who really steals the show here as young Melanie, the most intriguing character in the movie. Nanua is fantastic, and Melanie is one of the more watchable horror movie characters I’ve seen in a long while.

Director Colm McCarthy makes sure that this one remains scary even with its more literate screenplay. There are plenty of disturbing scenes, the type you expect to find in a movie about flesh eating zombies. The film also does a nice job mixing zombie horror with human horror, something the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-present) always excelled at. Some of the scenes with Dr. Caldwell are just as chilling and suspenseful as the scenes with the “hungries.”

While I slightly prefer the other zombie movie which came out in 2016, TRAIN TO BUSAN, to THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, it’s only by a hair. I thought TRAIN TO BUSAN, which is a much more traditional zombie film, pushed the envelope with its intense action sequences which were off the charts suspenseful. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, while telling a more intelligent story, never reaches the same emotional level as TRAIN TO BUSAN.

That being said, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is still an excellent movie. So much so, that it’s not only one of my favorite zombie movies of recent years, but one of my favorite horror movies.

This Halloween, if you want to watch superior horror, a frightening story wrapped around a thought-provoking concept, then you’ll definitely want to watch THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS.

It’s the perfect Halloween gift.

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