Wicker Man Comes

Not that I would know bodily, but it seems like a book being published is something like giving birth.  It takes several months (perhaps years, in the case of books) from conception to delivery and there are certain milestones along the way.  And you worry like Rosemary.  Has something gone wrong?  Is this still going to happen?  The book production process is a long and complicated one.  Just this week, however, the next recognizable stage occurred for The Wicker Man.  An ISBN has been assigned and a new book announcement has fed out through various channels.  It’s not on Amazon just yet but a Google search of 9781837643882 will bring it up.  I’d been worried about this because I saw a new book announced on The Wicker Man due out in October.  This is the fiftieth anniversary of the film, and I suspected I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed that.

Ironically, another film turns 50 this year.  The Exorcist released in December of 1973 to far greater acclaim than The Wicker Man.  Both films became classics in their own right, but The Exorcist would become a household name.  Even if they’d never seen it, most people had heard of it.  The Wicker Man is more of a cult classic.  It’s known among horror fans and a certain kind of Anglophile.  And those interested in paganism, particularly of the Celtic variety.  Although the cover isn’t available yet, I was glad to see the feed for my book going out.  It looks like I might scoop the other book by a month or so.  If that happens it will be the first time that I’ve actually had a book on horror release before Halloween.  The last two missed the deadline by a couple of months.

Having said that, if you’ve had your appointment with The Wicker Man you already know, it takes place on May Day.  And you likely know that a large number of people claim it isn’t a horror film at all.  Indeed, the horror element only becomes clear in the last ten minutes or so.  It’s the build-up that makes the movie.  And it was really a one-film wonder for the director, Robin Hardy.  He did other movies, but this was the one that lasted, and spawned imitations and parodies.  It’s exciting to see that the discriminating, or very persistent, searcher can now find the book announcement online.  I haven’t seen much to-do about the 50th anniversary just yet, but now when I do I’ll have something to point to.  More on this to come!

Monster Bride

I’ve been taken with Ed Wood lately.  It’s quite possible, lost somewhere in my memory banks, that I saw one of his movies as a kid.  If I did it would’ve been Bride of the Monster.  Just in case I hadn’t, I decided to watch it again.  As I’ve noted about Wood before, I admire someone who persists in the face of constant criticism.  Someone who refuses to back down, even if they end up alcoholic and dying too young, in poverty.  Now he’s coming to his deserved recognition.  Even if his movies weren’t intentionally bad, when I laugh out loud I’m not laughing at Ed Wood.  No, it’s the absurdity of fame and the price it both expects and exacts.  Wood paid that price and now that it’s too late he’s grown a considerable fan base.  Or maybe it’s never too late.

Bride of the Monster brings Bela Lugosi back to the screen as a mad scientist.  Rejected and mocked (I’m sure some of this was personal), he locates an isolated swamp house from which he plans his revenge on the world.  He’s somehow managed to build a nuclear reactor in his hidden lab and he intends to make a race of giants to conquer the earth.  Naturally enough, he starts with an octopus.  As the story unfolds, we learn that he was also responsible for the Loch Ness Monster.  He’s employed a human (but somehow bullet-proof) henchman, Lobo, to help him in his quest.  When a nosy reporter and her police detective boyfriend get involved, well, you might imagine the results.

The stories behind Ed Wood films, it seems, are as entertaining as the movies themselves.  This one, for example, has as its protagonist an acting unknown (Lugosi was the name draw).  Tony McCoy was the son of the owner of a meat-packing plant.  He received the lead role as part of his father’s stipulations for funding the movie.  Another stipulation was that it had to end with an atomic explosion (which it does).  Wood would go to any length to see his movies made, even agreeing to casting choices and plot points made by those who had no other connections to the film.  That’s part of the charm of Ed Wood’s movies—they were made to order.  And they demonstrate that deepest of human desires—to tell a story.  If I didn’t see this as a kid, I would’ve loved it if I had. 

Too Haunted

It’s past the season, I know.  But I have no control on when streaming services acquire new titles.  So it was winter by the time I saw Haunt.  Maybe it was the seasonal disconnect, or maybe I’m not all that fond of slashers—whatever the cause, I found it disturbing.  As a horror watcher, I really don’t like being afraid during movies.  And Haunt has those most troubling of characters—the unpredictable kind.  So let’s set this up properly.  Six young people—four women and two men—decide to visit a haunted house attraction on Halloween.  Although they take a random turn on a rural road outside Carbondale, Illinois, they end up at a haunted house attraction, with an illuminated road sign.  I’ll admit it; I don’t like fun houses.  They scare me too much.  So when the creepy clown at the entrance indicates, nonverbally, how they get in (taking no money) and puts their cell phones in a lockbox, I’d have told the others I’d wait in the car.

As we might expect, since this is horror, after a fakey plastic skeleton and some cheap props, it turns our that the terrors are real.  One by one, the young people are killed by a group that practices extreme body modification to make themselves look like real monsters.  For an unexplained reason, they kill everyone who comes to the attraction.  Sadism, one suspects, might be behind this.  In any case, it ends up with a final girl and final boy making it out alive and seeking medical attention.  The haunted house is burned down since Harper, said final girl, and her new boyfriend end up killing most of the killers.  The creepy clown, however, survives to try to hunt Harper down.

The film received pretty high ratings, but it seemed to me there wasn’t much beyond the terrors I normally experience at a fun house.  The body horror verges on torture porn, which is a sub-genre that I simply do not like.  In fact, I only watch it by accident.  My dilemma is that I don’t like to read summaries or watch trailers before seeing a movie.  I prefer to approach it fresh.  I suppose that’s why I keep a list of films that others have recommended, so I know they’re likely good.  I prefer intelligent horror rather than shock horror, although the two can overlap.  Movies that focus on the the pain humans can inflict on each other aren’t the kind I prefer.  Give me a garden-variety monster any day.  Even if it’s a winter weekend, and not Halloween.

Fostering Euro-Horror

In another example of Euro-Horror, Hatching is a remarkably effective monster movie.  Filmed in Finnish, and set in Finland, it’s a remarkable parable about families and what we reveal to the world.  An affluent family consisting of Mother, Father, Tinja, and her brother Matias, live in a beautiful house in a nice neighborhood and Mother prospers with a blog about the ideal family life.  She videos the family, especially Tinja as she prepares for a gymnastics competition.  Then a crow gets into the house, causing chaos and bringing the true nature of the perfect family to the surface.  When Mother breaks the crow’s neck, reality seeps through the internet myth of perfection.  Tinja, disturbed by what happened to the bird, locates its egg and brings it home to care for it.

Mother, it turns out, has been having an affair.  Father is shown as caring, but ineffectual.  Matias has anger issues.  Meanwhile Mother drills Tinja in gymnastics practice until her daughter’s hands are raw and bleeding.  The egg grows.  Mother confesses to Tinja that she’s in love for the first time and for real.  She begins spending weekends at her lover Tero’s house.  The now huge egg hatches into a Tinja-sized bird-like creature, sparsely feathered.  As Tinja psychologically bonds with the creature, she hides it in the house and it becomes clear that what each feels what the other feels.  Over time the bird begins to become Tinja’s double, doing those things her “perfect daughter” image would never allow her to do.

The story is a parable.  Families uphold facades while the world pays to see perfection that doesn’t really exist.  Tinja isn’t terribly fond of gymnastics, but Mother drives her to compete.  Father knows about Tero, and pretends to be okay with the affair.  Mother spends her love elsewhere while her perfect family crumbles.  The monster in the movie is the revealer of truth.  The truth doesn’t broadcast well on the Internet, which prefers fiction passed off as fact.  Although the story itself could never happen, it is a probing tale that delves into psychology and the price we pay for not being honest about ourselves.  I won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say reality seldom works out the way that we hope it will.  Euro-horror has been producing some impressive films the past few years that demonstrate the intellectual side of horror quite well.  This may be offer body horror—without becoming slashers—because they have messages waiting to hatch.


There’s some symbolism here that I haven’t had time to sort out.  (Some of us need time to just sit and think—time that work won’t allow.)  I’d been wanting to watch Jeepers Creepers for quite some time but streaming services said it was unavailable.  I suspect that was because a sequel has been running in theaters and those who own the rights want to capitalize on it.  So it goes.  When it finally did show up on Freevee, so you have to subject yourself to commercials, I had to see it.  Now I need some time to think.  In case you’re even slower than me, the film involves a couple siblings driving home for spring break when they encounter a monster/demon, Creeper.

Creeper smells peoples’ fear and consumes parts of those who have something it needs to regenerate itself.  The brother and sister encounter Creeper on one of those long stretches of road without civilization that you find in parts of America (in this case, the unspecified south).  I won’t spoil the ending, but for my money (or actually, Freevee patience), the first half is pretty scary.  The whole is not bad either.  So what do I need to think about?  Well, Creeper stores its victims’ corpses in a church basement.  The church is abandoned, but still.  This overlap between religion and horror is an aspect that has fascinated me time and again.  Shouldn’t a church be a safe place?  (For many of us, that’s a myth long debunked.)  Is it because it’s abandoned that a demonic monster has moved in?  Or does religious symbolism not bother it?  Or perhaps attract it?

Not only that, but the movie also has a prophet.  While she’s not called that, this local woman has dreams of things involving Creeper that haven’t happened yet.  Like Cassandra, however, everyone ignores her.  It seems that Jeepers Creepers experienced a budget cut during production that led to a rewritten, and cheaper, ending.  While I won’t spoil it, I will say that it is a bit of a letdown from how the film started.  A lot is left unexplained, but the story is pretty good and the acting, at least by the siblings, and the always entertaining Eileen Brennan, was impressive.  They have a way of conveying fear that’s believable and contagious.  The religion theme, however, appears to have been dropped once the church burns down.  It may be that it was somehow revisited in the ending that money forced to change.  Regardless, it is worth watching, and, if you have the time, pondering.

Bad Movies

I watch bad movies so you don’t have to.  Maybe that’s my ticket to retirement (it certainly isn’t working the usual way).  In any case, my habit of trying to find something “free” on a network I already pay for often leads to films that keep me awake on a drowsy weekend afternoon, but really don’t offer much else.  Sometimes you learn something nevertheless.  I recently watched From a Whisper to a Scream.  It was free and got more than five stars out of ten, but I didn’t really work for me, even with Vincent Price.  A vignette movie, it presents four episodes from Oldfield, Tennessee, making the claim that it’s a place infected with evil.  The first involved necrophilia, with consequences.  The second—more in a moment—was about eternal life.  Lovecraft’s circus comes to town in the third, and the fourth is about the founding of the town during the Civil War.  Of course, the framing is a “bonus” mini-story as well.

The second episode, “On the Run,” has a wounded ne’er-do-well, shot by some southern rivals, falling into a swamp boat.  He’s rescued by an older African American who lives alone in said swamp.  Noticing him practicing hoo-doo (cue The Skeleton Key), the miscreant soon figures his rescuer has found the secret of staying alive forever (which he has).  Naturally greedy, the petty criminal “kills” the African American and ransacks his shack for the secret potion that keeps him alive.  Being horror, the dead come back and the owner of the shack returns to punish the white man who is trying to steal what he already has.  The Black man had given him the potion to bring him back to life.

There’s a bit of a parable quality to this particular story.  Each vignette predictably has the evil-doer punished, with the exception of “Lovecraft’s Traveling Amusements,” where the Black woman owns those who work her carnival.  And she gets away with it.  None of the characters, apart from the Black man in the swamp and the children in “Four Soldiers,” are really sympathetic.  Religion does also come in the Civil War segment since, drawing cues from Children of the Corn, the kids have created their own god.  So, a diverting film, if not a great (or even a good) one.  This was Vincent Price’s last true horror film, making it worth seeing for that reason alone.  His role is limited to the framing story which, as we might expect, becomes part of the collection of horrors from Oldfield.

Expiration Date

One of the perils of trying to understand others—something that is vitally necessary for a humane and civil world—is facing difficult truths.  Sometimes horror makes you do that.  I’ve recently been trying to watch horror directed by women, as this gives another perspective on what’s scary.  Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, Fresh is very disturbing.  Noa is a young professional who’s not having much luck dating.  He best friend Mollie, who is African American, is the voice of reason in the film.  Noa finds internet dating services inadequate, matching her up with losers, but then she meets a handsome, funny guy in the grocery store.  She agrees to a date and they hit it off.  So far, so good.  Then he takes her to his place and abducts her.  He explains that he’s a supplier of human meat for an ultra-wealthy circle and she is to be consumed.

I won’t say much more about the plot since you may want to disturb yourself some day, but I will say that the movie reinforces something I get from reading Carmen Maria Machado:  women have to deal with men’s assumptions about their bodies.  Even the institution of marriage is all about ownership; men don’t want to pay (the key word) for supporting someone else’s child.  The nuclear family is intended to keep that at a minimum.  Just a glimpse at social standards reveals that men are held less accountable for cheating than women are, largely because there’s never a question of who someone’s mother is.  Noa’s captor is charming and nice.  He’s also a (as later revealed) Satanic psychopath.  He’s also also married, with children.

The film is disturbing on so many levels as it reflects on how a man feels he has the right, literally, to take women’s bodies.  Habeas corpus indeed.  It feels like being invited to dinner at Hannibal Lector’s house.  The religion element—for there often is one—is only revealed in two short glimpses.  One is the plate of one of the cannibals which has a Satanic symbol printed on it, and the other is a mid-credit shot of the butcher’s customers where the Satanic symbol reappears.  This theme isn’t really explored in the movie, but it is equated with “the one percent of the one percent.”  The clients are those who can afford anything and who crave the one thing they can’t have.  This is a movie to keep you up at night but it’s also one with a very strong social commentary.  That commentary is as disturbing as the entire premise of the film.

Pumpkin Season

A creature feature with a moral.  Not a bad way to think through ethical dilemmas.  You see, we don’t have a lot of extra money lying around, so when I need a pick-me-up I try to find something free to watch.  Well, free because I subscripted to Amazon Prime years and years ago for the free shipping and now it involves “free to me” streaming on select titles.  Often I learn about movies from browsing and that’s how I came across Pumpkinhead.  I’ve learned my lesson about just clicking through without checking it out ahead of time.  It turns out the Pumpkinhead, apart from having major studio backing, was pretty favorably reviewed back in 1989.  My wife and I were in Edinburgh at the time, newly wed and trying to concentrate on doctorates.  I hadn’t been bumped back into horror yet.

In any case, what is this moral?  What is this movie?  Set in the unnamed rural south, the movie involves the accidental death of a good, honest man’s son.  Some city slickers, hot rodding on dirt bikes, accidentally run the boy down.  This good man visits the local witch, against the advice of the locals, and she raises a demon for him—the eponymous Pumpkinhead—to get revenge on the meddling kids.  The moral comes in where the witch warns him that such revenge comes at a terrible price, and it does.  The man and the avenging demon begin to merge and his desire for revenge leads to his own demise.

Religion plays a role in this film as well.  One of the locals, wanting to help the final girl and her boyfriend—the only ones left alive out of the six city folk—takes them to a ruined church, figuring that a demon won’t enter hallowed ground.  He’s not exactly right about that, but an extended shot of the religious imagery makes you think about the nature of revenge and what it means in a Christian context.  Besides being the first film role for Mayim Bialik (only 13 at the time), it also spun off two sequels.  Being a good student at the time, I was completely unaware of all of this.  I learned about the film while trying to stay awake one winter afternoon and trying not to spend any money to do so.  Not a great movie, it nevertheless does feature repentance and it explores the consequences of being driven by a desire to get back at others.  And the monster isn’t bad either.

Gothic Days

The tradition of telling ghost stories during the months of long darkness has evolved over time.  Since the time seems right, I watched a movie for which I read the book some years ago.  I recall that The Woman in Black is moody, and gothic.  What I don’t remember is how it ends.  More than one source—at least one from someone I know and one from a book—suggested I should see this movie, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a haunted house movie, set in a haunted village and the production values (unlike some movies I’ve recently watched) are quite high.  This film was a reboot in a couple of ways; there was an earlier film version, and it was also a new Hammer production.  In the latter capacity it broke records for Hammer box office earnings.

You see, Hammer, in its first incarnation, struggled for any kind of respectability.  The company almost single-handedly kept horror movies alive while US studios moved more toward sci-fi-themed projects, before the rebirth of modern horror.  Fans knew to go to Hammer for their monsters, but society folks (and those who wish to be society folks) don’t find horror worth any attention.  From my amateur point-of-view, such movies give the viewer a lot to think about.  The problem, as with most underdogs, is that a few bad examples tend to get all the attention.  Life is scary.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to live it, but it does mean that we might learn something from other people’s mistakes.  Or we might find ourselves haunted.

The Woman in Black is set in Edwardian times.  (I often ponder why we still refer to historical eras by the British monarchs—Elizabeth, Victoria, Edward, etc.—in a world finally moving away from imperialism.  Still, it’s convenient.)  Perhaps not quite as evocative as the Victorian Era, but still moody enough.  Although there are some disturbing scenes, this is no slasher.  Like the novel it’s the tale of a vengeful ghost, wronged in life and out for revenge.  While the end of the movie isn’t the same as the novel (okay, so I looked it up!), it’s similar.  And perhaps it’s best considered a parable of parenting.  No amount of training can prepare you for it, and although it’s supremely rewarding, it’s also very scary.  Susan Hill, the novel’s author, lost a child and that sense of haunting pervades both book and movie.  Gothic is often about grieving, and perhaps about learning something from it.

Unfinished Business

Photo by Reid Naaykens on Unsplash

As a person who likes to finish what he starts, it’s pretty unusual for me to walk out of a movie.  When I say “walk out” I really mean “click away,” since streaming is how we watch movies these days.  Since I’ve been writing and publishing on horror movies and religion, I try to watch what I can without breaking the bank (which is pretty fragile these days with inflation and whatnot).  There have been, however, three movies, or television series converted to movies, that I have walked out in the last couple of months, all of them free.  I want credit for watching them, but sometimes I just can’t claim it.  The first one was for health reasons.  Amish Witches: The True Story of Holmes County is not a true story, but a television movie cashing in on current interest in isolationist religious movements.  I had to stop watching because the hand-held camera movement was making me extremely nauseous and time off work is too precious to waste being sick.  It wasn’t that good anyway.

Then some weeks later I started to watch Legends of Sleepy Hollow.  If you’re a regular reader you know that I’ve been on a Sleepy Hollow kick lately.  This series, about which the internet is mostly silent, is an Amazon Prime original.  It may be set in the upstate New York region around Tarrytown, but the vignettes I made it through had nothing to do with Sleepy Hollow and were thoroughly depressing rather than scary.  I decided this series, formatted somewhat like a movie, was something I just couldn’t finish.  I don’t have time for watching things that aren’t what they seem to be.

In addition to Sleepy Hollow, I’ve also been interested in holiday horror.  This is the theme of my forthcoming Wicker Man book, and I’d toyed with the idea of writing a book on the topic in general.  I knew there was a movie called Happy Horror Days, which I felt compelled to watch for any scrap of academic respectability.  (If a title tells you it’s directly on your topic, well, you investigate.)  I managed to make it to the Fourth of July before this truly execrable film just clearly became a waste of time.  The stories feel incomplete and the racist undertones (which may have been an attempt at social commentary) or that final episode left such a bad taste in my mouth that I had to walk away.  I’m not such a horror fan that I’ll watch just anything, but I don’t like to read spoilers before I watch movies.  It’s a dilemma, but to make good use of limited time I may start walking out more often.  Especially if it’s free.


For a long time I resisted seeing it.  Partially I wasn’t sure if it was any good and partially—mainly—it was because of spoilers.  Annihilation came out in 2018, just as I was reading Jeff VanderMeer’s novel upon which the movie was based.  I will always remember this because I worked in a cubicle where I couldn’t see my fellow workers and the woman in the next cube was a bit of a chatterbox.  She and one of her coworkers had seen the movie and began discussing, somewhat loudly, what’d happened.  I was in the middle of the book at the time and didn’t want any spoilers.  I’d never actually met the woman in the next cube and I couldn’t go over and tell her to stop talking about the film because one of the reasons we watch movies is to talk to one another about them.  (Mostly I do this online.)

Enough time has passed, and a different woman at work, remotely, suggested I see it.  I don’t know why the movie did so poorly at the box office.  The director, Alex Garland, has said he didn’t reread the book as he was making the film because he wanted it to be impressions of the novel rather than strictly based on it.  Even as I watched, I recalled some of what I read back in 2018.  I’ll try to limit spoilers here, but if I’m talking too loudly you can just click away (and, hopefully, come back after you’ve seen it.)  It begins when a mysterious “shimmer” appears after a meteorite strike in Florida.  Those who enter the shimmer never come out.  A team of women scientists are sent in, wondering if gender might make a difference.  One of them, Lena, volunteers because her husband did make it out and almost immediately went into a coma.

A sci-fi horror movie, I wonder if it underperformed at the box office because it stars women.  The tension builds between them as they try to figure out what’s going on within the shimmer.  Species have mutated rapidly and the predatory animals are pretty frightening.  The threat, as in VanderMeer’s novel, is ecological.  The ending, I’ll say, is quite different from the book because it was intentionally written as a trilogy and the director wanted to resolve the tension in a single film before reading the other two (which I still haven’t done).  The end result is thoughtful and tense.  The acting is good and the effects are stunning.  I’d class it with Arrival as an intellectual exploration of what it means to be part of a universe we barely begin to understand.  And kudos for having women lead the way.

Not in My House

I had a friend in seminary—nameless here because I mention no non-public figures without their permission—who invited me over for movies.  Although he was more of a comedy guy, he liked horror too and I couldn’t help but think of him when watching House (the movie, not the doctor show) recently.  The film looked familiar to me but I couldn’t recall having watched it before.  By the end I was pretty sure I’d seen it with my seminary friend one weekend afternoon.  There was too much I remembered someone else commenting upon.  A comedy-horror, House is one of those not-so-great movies that becomes a cult classic.  The monsters aren’t particularly scary, and the plot’s a bit disjointed, but still it bears repeating once every few decades.  There really isn’t any religious imagery, but it does reflect on American involvement in Vietnam.

Roger Cobb, a divorced horror writer, moves into the house where his favorite aunt died by suicide.  It’s also the house where his young son went missing years ago.  The titular house, which is, of course, haunted, is where Roger plays out his memories of Vietnam while trying to write his next book.  Monsters pop out of closets and show up at his front door as he tries to make sense of what happened to a friend in the war.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves as mirrors and doors open onto voids that confuse the narrative but make the film like a funhouse ride.  My friend, with whom I must’ve seen it, commented on several of these scenes, which is what convinced me, by the end, that this wasn’t a new film for me.

I watched monster films as a kid—I was a late monster boomer.  Kids talked about prominent horror in school—Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen—movies I didn’t see until I was an adult.  I watched a few horror movies in college and quite a few in seminary.  I moved away from them until I lost my career and then I came running back.  I’m not really sure what I’m looking for here in this haunted house.  Like most people, I don’t like being afraid, but there seems to be something hidden here.  Horror can convey meaning, even solace.  Very few people understand my use of horror for spiritual development, but it’s something with very deep roots.  And as realities in the quotidian world become more and more untenable, I’ll have at least have had some experience grappling with monsters.  Sometimes even with friends.

Skin Deep

The thing about art-house movies is they’re meant to be discussed.  I spend a lot of time alone and I watch most of my movies alone.  There’s a kind of danger in that, I suppose.  Under the Skin was recommended by one of the books I read, analyzing horror.  I knew nothing about it and it became clear from the opening that director Jonathan Glazer had been heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick.  In particular, 2001: A Space Odyssey.  There’s also the question of genre—is it science fiction or horror?  Art-house goes without saying.  The story is minimal and the movie is about images.  Even so, Glazer spent years working on the script.  The results won critical acclaim but box office failure.  We know the feeling.

So what is Under the Skin about?  Quite a bit is implied rather than stated outright.  The woman—the characters are generally unnamed—is an alien trying to learn about, while living off of, humans.  Early on she learns that sex appeal will nearly always entrap men so that they can be used for food.  Much of the film involves her driving around Scotland, seeking victims.  She has a co-conspirator who goes around making sure she leaves no traceable clues.  Conversation is minimal and shots linger to a point that viewers might feel the need for some explanation.  When she finds a victim with a deformity, the woman begins to learn empathy.  This victim is apparently set free, but is rounded up by her companion.

The woman tries to befriend a kindly man who tries to help her.  She can’t eat human food and doesn’t know to wear a coat in a Scottish winter.  The intimacy scares her and she comes across a logger in the forest with rape on his mind.  When he discovers she’s not human, he burns her to death.  Her companion, apparently seeking her, has no idea where she’s gone.  Roll credits.  As I say, the story is conveyed by the images and they stick with you.  The beautiful Scottish scenery can’t help but appeal to someone who’s lived there for a time.  The movie leaves you reflective and in the mood for conversation, the way art-house films do.  It’s also another example of Euro-horror.   This has captured my attention of late since it’s generally intelligent and light on the violence.  It makes you think.  Critics loved it, but the paying public didn’t want to hand over cash to see it.  That means, in my private calculus, that it’s well worth watching.


It might be easy to suppose that horror uses religion gratuitously.  Or it may be that the connection runs much deeper.  Yes, many people are still religious as growing numbers are becoming less so, but both kinds watch horror.  As is usual for a guy who doesn’t get out much, I learn about movies often by reading about them in various analyses.  That’s how I came across the box-office flop, Vanishing on 7th Street.  While various critics point out its flaws, to me it watches like an extended Twilight Zone episode, exploring interpersonal dynamics when a bad situation overcomes a community.  For reasons unexplained, people without a light source disappear.  This is somewhere not too far from Chicago, but we don’t know exactly where.  Five people have managed to survive and four of them end up in a bar that has power because of a back-up generator.

Jim, an African-American boy, is waiting for his mother to return to the tavern.  She was the bar tender but had run to the local church to find other people because the lights were on.  She didn’t return and three other people make their way to the bar.  Disagreeing on a course of action, or what has happened, they try to work together to stay in the light.  Jim eventually makes a break for the church.  He alone manages to survive there until daylight reveals a young girl named Briana, spotted throughout the movie, with a solar-powered flashlight.  The others have all vanished, so Jim and Briana decide to try to make it to Chicago together as night falls.

Wikipedia calls the film “post-apocalyptic,” but I would say it’s more metaphorical.  The only two characters to survive do so by finding refuge in a church.  No prayers are said, but candles keep the darkness and its dangers at bay.  There’s plenty to reflect on here, even though we don’t know what has led to this situation or why the shadows snatch people, leaving rapture piles of clothes all over the place.  Not a fast-paced movie, it’s a film with only one jump-startle and plenty of time to think.  That was my take on it.  Not all horror has to be slasher-oriented.  I was really puzzled why this one ended up with an R rating.  Sometimes horror just makes you think.  Often that thinking involves reflections on the meaning of life.  Some would call that philosophy, but those who consider the light and its relationship to darkness tend to call it religion.

For the Eyes

A Welsh horror film?  Lately Euro-horror has caught my attention.  European sensibilities give horror a distinctive flavor, and The Feast doesn’t pull the usual horror tricks.  And reading the subtitles keeps you on your toes.  It’s more a slow build that manages to be unnerving from the start.  A family of four—parents and two boys in their late teens or early twenties—is hosting a feast.  A local girl, Cadi, is hired to help cater the affair.  The family is really seeking to get a neighbor to allow exploratory mineral drilling on her land.  She refuses, horrified when they mention that they’ll only drill on the rise.  The neighbor, aghast, says they know better because they’ll awaken “her.”  The unnamed her is a goddess who is within the rise and who’s been disturbed by the family’s drilling on the land adjacent to their neighbors’ property.

A number of aspects push this beyond Euro-horror.  The goddess, treated as superstition by the family, introduces religion into the horror.  (Cadi, as it turns out, died on her way to the house and the goddess inhabited her body.)  The remote location and role of the countryside also bring this into the folk horror realm.  Having an underlying ecological message, the film is eco-horror as well.  As such it has a positive message, even as all those at the feast, apart from the uncompromising neighbor, die before the evening is out.  Gods will express their wrath.  Although there’s gore, the concept is intelligent and possessed Cady’s unwillingness to speak throughout much of the film adds to the tension.

Horror films with subtitles sometimes don’t work, but The Feast manages pretty well.  Much of the disturbing atmosphere comes from the house.  A modern construction, built over what had formerly been the family’s farm, stands in stark contrast to the natural world all around.  As is often the case in eco-horror, the land is waiting to take its revenge.  It’s a message appropriate for a time when we fail to live up to our own environmental standards, and consider the checks and balances of nature itself as “superstition.”  Maybe a goddess will not awaken and kill everyone at the dinner party, but the wealthy will not be spared, as the movie prophesies.  We share the planet and the earth allows us to survive.  There’s a sense that we deserve to be reminded that living on a finite planet requires careful stewardship of it all.  If you’re going to throw a feast, at least make sure it’s not at the expense of nature.  Some goddesses are best not aroused.