“Knives Out” (2019)

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Title: Knives Out

Director: Rian Johnson

Rating: Mystery / Whodunit

My Rating: 2/5

I’m well aware that this movie, which was graciously lent to me by a colleague, is not a horror movie. It can barely be described as a thriller, actually, given that it doesn’t really seem to even make a stab (har de har) at building suspense. No, Knives Out is a good, old-fashioned whodunit, with nods to classics from the genre. Knives Out also, coincidently, has a “stellar” cast of famous faces, a huge budget – $40 million – and a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And it seems I may be the cheese that stands alone here, but it’s overall impression on me was one of… tediousness.

No doubt about it, this is a beautiful looking film. It really taps into the old school, Cluedo, Agatha Christie drama of the situation. Characters dress sharply, individually defined and archetypical. It’s set in a foreboding, gothic manor where squeaky staircases and potential weapons abound. The direction and filmography is stylish and engrossing (although I could do without all the slow-mo). The acting is high camp and melodramatic- which is wholly acceptable given the genre. Toni Collette is a gem that must be protected at all costs.

And yet. And yet… this movie lost me. It lost me after 40 minutes, which is a bad sign given that it has a long run-time of over two hours. I disliked knowing the victim’s cause of death so early on in the movie, and every other twist that came afterwards just felt a bit underwhelming. The final ‘baddie’ was disappointing, as their motive didn’t feel convincing.

Recommended for fans for Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and gothic manor interior design. Not recommending viewing otherwise.


The Witch (2015)

The Witch (2015 film) - Wikipedia

Title: The Witch

Director: Robert Eggers

Genre: Supernatural / Occult Horror

Summary: In the New England of the 17th century, a banished Puritan family sets up a farm by the edge of a huge, remote forest, where no other family lives. But sinister forces then start haunting them.

Another weekend, another occult horror movie- my favourite sub-genre! And apologies if you believe that by describing this movie as ‘occult’ I’ve given away too much already- the clue is in the title. The title is sometimes styled as ‘The VVitch’, as apparently the letter ‘w’ wouldn’t have been in common usage during the period the movie is set (there’s your trivia for the day. Hopefully comes in a pub quiz sometime, when this bloody pandemic is finally over).

The Witch ticks all my boxes, so it’s no surprise I loved it. Strong female character? Tick. Witches in the forest? Tick. Ambiguous ending? Tick. Period costumes? Tick. Chime music? Tick. Satanic goats? Didn’t realize I would have such a fascination for them, but I do, so yet another tick.

There’s (not unwarranted) criticism leveled at The Witch- that it is too slow, and that it lacks the suspense and dread applicable to the horror genre. I am in two minds about this, and without getting too Freudian about it (this is a blog, not a thesis) I’m convinced that the viewer’s opinion on the Witch is rooted firmly in their upbringing. Personally, I found the whole movie terrifying – but then, I was raised in a Catholic household and hate the outdoors. Whilst I have largely cast aside any religious affinity, those childhood bonds remain strong and I’ll always have a deeply ingrained fear of possession and Satanic temptation. Likewise, I bloody hate camping and can think of nothing worse than living in a hut in the middle of a forest, cast away from any form of civilization.

But if you were raised in a non-religious setting and feel an affinity to nature, well, I can understand why this movie might be a bit of a slog to get through.

As for the ending, where Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy, who is almost too beautiful to look at this entire movie) sells her soul to the devil for a more decadent lifestyle (and with butter! Those pilgrims certainly had it tough), I found it rather…happy? Thomasin’s life up until that point had been god-awful. If she had refused Black Philip’s offer, it’s likely she would have been tormented or killed, and if not, what did she have to go back to, anyway? The Puritans certainly wouldn’t have accepted her back with open arms now she was orphaned, alone, and with a heavy cloud of doubt hanging over her. They’d probably have burned her at the stake, anyway- Thomasin might as well join a coven anyway and reap what benefits she can out of it. The final scene is aesthetically stunning, too.

I enjoyed watching this movie at the time, but it was only afterwards that I realized it had seared itself into my mind. I watched it several days ago, and it’s all I’ve been thinking about since. I think a re-watch is in order.

My Rating:

Hellraiser (1987)

Amazon.com: Hellraiser [1987] [DVD]: Movies & TV

Title: Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Summary: A couple moves to an old house to find the man’s brother and the wife’s former lover who has turned into an ugly beast. He now bids the woman to bring him human sacrifices to help him be whole again.

As a baby goth, I remember seeing Pinhead’s pierced up visage glaring at me from absolutely everywhere. All the local punk/metal/goth/hippie shops (you know the type- where you can buy Nag Champa incense alongside crotchless PVC panties with a bike chain attached) sold a variety of Hellraiser-themed merchandise- bobble heads, t-shirts, posters, buttons, whatever. There’s no denying Pinhead is a badass looking movie villain (if you can regard him as a villain).

So, watching this horror classic for the first time, I was surprised at how long it takes to actually catch a glimpse of Pinhead and his cenobite crew. It takes them over an hour to show up- and at this point, we’re already several murders into the plot! I was expecting Pinhead to be the Big Bad- stalking victims, spouting logic, looking cool in his BDSM priest get-up. Nope. For the most part, this is basically the story of the amount of effort a woman will go to to have good sex. Julia, I understand you, babe, but let’s draw the line somewhere, yeah?

The lack of cenobites, whilst surprising, didn’t deter me from how enjoyable and schlocky I found Hellraiser. It is one of the oddest horror movies I’ve ever seen- gross at times, at incredibly funny at others (Julia in a negligee and inexplicable high heels awkwardly dumping a human husk of skin into a random room as her husband comes up the stairs stands out). The plot is downright bizarre – you certainly can’t accuse Hellraiser of simply leaning into the common stereotypes or tropes.

I had no idea what kind of weird ass hell monster would show up next, or what creepy line skulking Frank was going to utter. As I mentioned before, Pinhead is marketed as the main movie villain/demon/monster, yet he is a neutral, largely ambivalent force in this movie. He’s just clocking in and doing his job, really. Major props to the special effects and makeup departments- the cenobites look amazing. I’ve read some criticism online that the SFX are horribly dated- I disagree. It’s a product of it’s time, sure, but it still looks awesome.

Speaking of looking awesome, I couldn’t get over Julia’s looks. Terrifying skinless lover/brother-in-law at home or not, she never fails to look like a Boss Bitch the entire time. This is a woman who might be killing men she picks up in hotel bars with a hammer, but goddamit if she doesn’t always make sure her manicure matches her lipstick! This woman has never met a shoulder pad or copper coloured eye shadow she doesn’t like, and that hair must take some serious blow-drying. You can tell you’d be able to smell her minutes before she arrives anywhere- the wafting scent of cigarettes, Elnett hairspray and Dior ‘Poison’. It might not be my style, but I can only admire her efforts:

I also really loved Kirsty- our Final Girl. She acted (somewhat) rationally throughout, given how insane the situation around her was. She managed to fight off creepy men, homeless bug-eating hobos, an evil step-mother and hell demons, and managed to do it in a very comfortable and appropriate pair of Levi’s and a white tee (I’m not saying all Final Girls should be dressed comfortably, but my god, it irritates me when they are in miniskirts and heels and all the male characters are dressed for Winter and this happens far too often). I loved when she whacked Chatterer around the chops with the puzzle box. Go, Kirsty!

Overall, I found Hellraiser a lot of fun to watch. I don’t find it scary at all, and I’m not in a rush to watch it again, but it watching it with a glass of wine and some pizza wasn’t a terrible way to spend a Friday evening. Also, I absolutely love both the Dragula and Face Off episodes where contestants take inspiration from Clive Barker’s universe to create their own cenobite interpretations- aesthetically, there’s no denying this is one uniquely interesting looking movie.

My Rating:

Kill List (2011)

Title: Kill List

Director: Ben Wheatley

Genre: Psychological Horror / Thriller

Plot Summary (No Spoilers): Eight months after a disastrous hit job in Kiev left him physically and mentally scarred, Jay (Neil Maskell) is pressured by his partner Gal (Michael Smiley), into taking a new assignment. As they descend into the bizarre, disturbing world of the contract, Jay’s world begins to unravel until fear and paranoia sending him reeling towards a horrifying point of no return. 

Review (spoilers!): I recently re-watched this gem of a movie on the recommendation of the /horror Reddit subgroup. I vaguely remember viewing this movie years ago when I was a little baby goth. I’m sure I watched it with an ex-boyfriend just before we split up and we were in an absolutely shambles of a relationship so I was rather distracted upon first watch. I remembered that this movie had an insane twist ending, but the passing years had wiped any specific details from my mind.

It turns out that Kill List (2011) was well worth watching again. This is a movie in two distinct acts – the first act is a family drama (and what a horrifying dysfunctional relationship we witness), the second a crime thriller, and the third act descends into a fantastic occult horror that had only been vaguely hinted at in the previous acts.

Permeating throughout the entire movie is a sense of perpetual dread and confusion. The audience is, like our rage-aholic protagonist Jay, mostly left in the dark for the majority of the running time. Just who are Jay and Gal working for? Who are they killing, and why? What’s up with Gal’s creepy new girlfriend, Fiona? Will Jay just calm the fuck down and stop with his machismo bullshit? (Answers- the cult, members of the cult as a tribute, she’s recruiting them into the cult, and … no.)

I find that British horror movies tend to be much better at creating a sense of realism t than their Hollywood counterparts. This is neither good nor bad, depending on what kind of movie you fancy watching on any given night. Yes, the cult turned out to be scary and manipulative, and it’s always unnerving to face the dark forces that control our society. But I found Jay’s horribly chaotic relationship with his wife Shel, and his obvious issues with anger and rage were far more disturbing to witness. Jay is not at all a sympathetic character. Yet he’s so out of his depth we end up sympathizing with him anyway.

As for the ending – I still love it. The twist didn’t hit me in the gut like it had the first time I watched the movie, and by the time ‘The Hunchback’ hobbled onto the screen it had already clicked in my mind exactly what kind of trouble was afoot. This didn’t lessen the movie’s impact, though, and Shel’s hysterical laughter as she lay on the ground with her dead child strapped to her back is a visceral image that burned it’s way into my subconsciousness.

And what of Jay? His disorientated, confused dead-stare at the end of the movie is entirely up to interpretation but I think that with nothing else to live for, he would end up joining the cult as their enforcer. The man clearly has a great capacity for violence, and isn’t exactly scrupulous in his choices. Or perhaps he would rampage, Rambo-style, and wipe the whole cult out. Jay isn’t the most predictable protagonist.

My only criticism, and the reason that I just don’t feel 5 skulls would be warranted for this movie, is that the ending is so abrupt and I just want to know more about this world. The ending is impressive – but a little more world-building would have been nice. The ambiguity surrounding Shel’s involvement (or not, as the case may be) with the cult could have been resolved, too.

My Rating: