“Hellbender” shows off one family’s filmmaking talents but falls flat under the weight of its poorly developed plot and dialogue. [Fantasia International Film Festival]
From Rosemary’s Baby to False Positive, Psycho to Mommie Dearest, motherhood and the horror genre are a match made in heaven. The labyrinth of psycho-socio-political issues surrounding motherhood, pregnancy, and the mother-child relationship has truly found its home in horror cinema. One of the horror flicks showing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Hellbender, is not only about motherhood, but also stars a real-life mother-daughter duo. In fact, Hellbender was written, directed, shot, edited, scored, and produced by the four members of the Adams/Poser family: John Adams, Toby Poser and their two daughters, Lulu and Zelda Adams. All four family members also make an appearance in this occult horror film, with Zelda and Toby taking the lead roles. The family filmmaking feat is incredibly impressive, and Hellbender’s high production value showcases the family’s talents and creativity. Unfortunately, however, one little filmmaking misstep can bring a movie crashing down. In this case, that one misstep is the dialogue. While Hellbender is otherwise horrifically beautiful, the script and plot development leave much to be desired.
Explore the wonders of “Strawberry Mansion,” a love letter to the films that first sparked the imaginations of an entire generation of fantasy fans [Fantasia International Film Festival]
You don’t need a degree in film studies to make an educated guess about when a movie was made, or to at least place it within the right decade. It’s easy to recognize specific cinematic styles and themes from each decade of big-budget filmmaking, and it’s also fairly easy to date a movie based on its special effects. Innovative filmmakers have spent millions of dollars and years of their careers trying to make movies look “better” than those of yesteryear, particularly movies in the sci-fi, fantasy, action, and adventure genres. After all that work, it might seem counterintuitive for a filmmaker to purposely make a movie that looks like it was shot thirty or forty years ago. But co-writers and directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley did just that with their fantasy masterpiece Strawberry Mansion, a selection at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Strawberry Mansion fully embraces the visual style and effects of charming fantasy flicks from days past like The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Labyrinth (1986). It reminds us of a time when “special effects” and “set design” in a fantasy movie didn’t just mean CGI, bringing back fond memories of the worn-out VHS tapes that defined our idea of adventure.
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is packed with thrilling twists and turns, recreating classic adventure flicks for a new generation of young cinemagoers.
If you’ve ever stood in an hour-long line just to take your kids on a 10-minute amusement park ride, you’re probably wondering how anyone could transform the brief thrills of that attraction into an engaging feature-length movie. But, in 2003, Disney did it as only Disney can, releasing the first of five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that, together, would bring in billions at the box office. Disney has taken another stab at theme park-inspired films with Jungle Cruise, which is based on the Disneyland attraction of the same name. The ride itself was inspired by Disney’s “True Life Adventure” documentaries and has been around since the park opened in 1955. Decades later, Disney now gives the “jungle cruise” concept a new twist under the direction of Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, 2016; Run All Night 2015).
With limited resources at hand, the incredible cast and crew of A Ghost Waits truly came through with teamwork and creativity. Making the most of what they had and pooling resources from family and friends, the team shot the movie in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2016. After its first public screening at Fright Fest Glasgow in March 2020, the movie underwent a few more tweaks and changes before it was released for streaming on Arrow in February 2021. The final version of this quirky horror/romcom is a testament to the crew’s perseverance and collaborative efforts, showcasing their enormous love for filmmaking. In the words of director and co-writer Adam Stovall, the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s “the best version of itself” possible. You can now get the full scoop on the story behind the film from the interviews and commentaries included on the Blu-ray from Arrow Video, which makes the perfect gem to add to your home collection.
It’s strange to think that children born within the last eight years or so will develop their first memories in a world where social distancing and mask wearing are the norm. While most of us have made significant lifestyle adjustments during the pandemic, this group of children has never known anything different. We certainly hope things will have gone back to “normal” by the time this generation comes of age, but there’s no doubt that COVID-19 will have many lasting effects on the world. In the short film “6,480 Days,” writer/director Ran Slavin imagines a future in which the lockdown never ended, and the virus is still a very real threat. The narrator, a young man born sometime after the initial outbreak, reflects on the pre-pandemic world he never knew. But like any good post-apocalyptic vision, “6,480 Days” has a lot more to say about our current fears and attitudes than those of future generations.
Charming, well-crafted, and funny, Adam Stovall’s romance/horror mashup “A Ghost Waits” is a delightfully spooky good time.
Adam Stovall’s micro-budget flick, A Ghost Waits, makes a pretty convincing argument that romance and horror can work really well together. Stovall doesn’t simply juxtapose the genres or jump back and forth between sweet and horrific moments. Instead, he takes the time to explore the space in which romance and horror overlap. Most of A Ghost Waits is simply a fun and easy-going good time that doesn’t require you to think too much, but it’s also got a handful of breathtaking shots that will send chills down your spine (and it’s impossible to tell if those chills are the result of horror or romance). This surprising genre mashup makes the most of its limited resources, showing that craftsmanship and technique can go a long way when it comes to movie making.
Jack (MacLeod Andrews) is a handyman for a property management company. He’s pretty lonely (a fact made obvious by how much he talks to himself) and devastatingly underappreciated by his boss and friends. While working on repairs for a rental house, he quickly discovers why all the former tenants left so suddenly. The house is haunted by a self-confident, no-nonsense ghost named Muriel (Natalie Walker). For years, it’s been Muriel’s job as a “spectral agent” to scare away every single person who moves into “her” house. While Jack has pretty much the opposite job (to fix up the house so that more people can move in), the unlikely duo quickly form a bond. Of course, that bond is tested as it’s stretched between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and a good-old-fashioned lover’s dilemma ensues.
Tapping into the rich history of water-creature horror flicks, Braden R. Duemmler’s feature debut, “What Lies Below” is quite a mixed bag
As a descendant of the aquatic-creature-horror genre (sub genre? Sub-sub genre?), Braden R. Duemmeler’s feature directorial debut, What Lies Below, naturally inherited some Universal Classic Monsters nostalgia. Besides Creature from the Black Lagoon’s “Gill Man,” (1954) the common ancestor of so many cinematic water-terrors, What Lies Below also takes cues from a handful of other film classics. There’s dashes of Spielburg in the eerie lights that glow from the bottom of the lake, bits of Friday the 13th (1980) in the film’s isolated lake house setting, and echoes of dozens of teen summer camp films in the bright colors of the opening scenes. What Lies Below pulls together an eclectic mix of movie influences, but the question is whether or not all this inspiration actually works together. Although it is an entertaining thriller overall, What Lies Below takes on a bit more than it can handle. The film never quite comes into its own, jumping shakily back and forth between different themes and schemes.
Although its technical aspects are more successful than its plot and characters, torture-horror “Sleepless Beauty” makes for an interesting watch.
Excessive and explicit violence on screen always leads to questions about whether such images are necessary. If a director packs their movie with medieval torture and bodily trauma, does that violence serve a purpose, or is it simply a sadistic celebration of gore that delights in human pain? Is the audience expected to enjoy the blood and torture, or are they likely to have a more complex viewing experience? After watching the trailer for Sleepless Beauty, a torture horror film from director Pavel Khvaleev, I’ll admit that I had low expectations for the film as far as it’s use of violence, and I prepared myself for excessive gore with little meaning or thought behind it. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Sleepless Beauty, which, although by no means groundbreaking or flawless, makes a definite attempt to substantiate its numerous torture scenes with a bit of social commentary. While it does not succeed in every instance, Sleepless Beauty aims to create a sympathetic victim, explore her mental state, and ask relevant questions that go beyond the blood and guts on screen.
Dazzling fantasy “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” brings a thrilling journey of self-acceptance to life
When it comes to fantasy, I’ve always been most drawn to stories that emphasize the element of escape; stories in which the setting is not just a magical world, but a world that is within reach of our own reality. There’s something almost seductive about stories like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter Pan, or A Wrinkle in Time in which the characters just happen to stumble upon a wondrous world that’s only a flight away or behind the thin wooden back of a wardrobe. The idea that Narnia and Neverland could exist alongside reality endows my own world with a rich and thrilling potential energy. This is the sort of thrill I experienced while watching Martin Krejcí’s feature directorial debut, The True Adventures of Wolfboy, a delightful coming-of-age drama that combines the fantastical visual style of Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003) with the adventurousness of timeless teen classics like Stand by Me (1986). Although the hero of the story, Paul, (Jaeden Martell) never actually crosses over into another world, and all of his adventures could, in theory, take place in our present reality, his journey exudes such heroic grandeur and wide-eyed fantastical wonder that it captures the thrill of a fantasyland just waiting to be discovered behind a door or down a rabbit hole.
“Luz: The Flower of Evil” offers a folk-horror tale that is both all-too-realistic and wonderfully fantastical
Originally published on Elements of Madness
Last year, Ari Aster set the bar high for “daylight” horror films with Midsommar, a terrifying fantasy that casts its disturbing events against a beautiful, blossoming, sunlit backdrop. The genre-play proved to be quite successful for Aster, although the effect is not so much scary as it is genuinely disturbing. Fans of Midsommar will find a somewhat similar effect in Luz: The Flower of Evil, a folk-horror fantasy from writer/director Juan Diego Escobar Alzate. Combining the narrative elements of religious-cult horror films such as The Other Lamb (2019) with the vibrancy of Midsommar, Luz: The Flower of Evil is a stunning and layered exploration of faith, evil, and the search for meaning.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."