Hellraiser: Judgment’s New Pinhead!

So it’s been a while since I’ve written anything basically because I just don’t have the time to do as many full movie/comicbook/whatever reviews, so I’ve been doing a lot of quick posts on Facebook or Instagram. Anyway I’m pretty excited about this: This is an image that was shared in an exclusive Bloody Disgusting article, but I’m not here to discuss their exclusive details. I’m just excited about this image and while it isn’t much to go on, it gives me some hope. When Hellraiser (9): Revelations came out, Doug Bradley, the only man to don the guise of Pinhead opted out of the film. This was becuase of, I’m sure many factors, 2 of which being that the script was barely ready and due to odd happenings within the studio, they had something crazy like a 12 day shooting schedule. Not exactly the best scenario to be in when making a sequel to a beloved horror franchise. I’m sure he was tired of being in shitty Hellraiser sequels too. To make things worse for the film, it was deemed the worst of the worst (probably by some basement dweller that just didn’t like Pinhead being recast). Now it is not a very good movie and the new Pinhead is nothing to write home about, BUT it is not the worst thing out there. Hell, it’s not even the worst Hellraiser. And that’s saying something.

When it came for Judgment to be cast, the studio again looked to Bradley to reprise the role. This did not go as planned. They asked him to sign a confidentiality agreement just to read the script, a little much to be asking a veteran of the franchise, but not really an outlandish request either. Well, he felt it was ridiculous and opted out of the film right there. I guess he had been burned by too many bad sequels and was afraid of having anything legally binding him to this project if he wasn’t going to actually participate. And in case you’re wondering, no, Clive Barker has no creative stake in this either. That had been the plan as well.

But I digress, I’m posting this to talk about the new Hellraiser and the new Pinhead. Now a few weeks back most horror sites were chiming in about this new movie and whether or not it’d be shit. They were pretty excited to tell us that Heather Langenkamp (Nancy of A Nightmare on Elm Street) would in the film and that yes, Pinhead would be recast again. This time around we got a man named Paul T. Taylor, an actor/writer you’ve never heard of, but he’s been attached to films you know. Go ahead, look him up, I’ll wait. By his looks I was not impressed (not putting his looks down, just his features in regards to Pinhead), but Dimension Films was raving about his acting and presence…though we all know to take anything Dimension says with a grain of salt.

So. Here it is. In all it’s glory: The new teaser image for Hellraiser: Judgment and Mr. Taylor as the new Pinhead. And he looks crazy good, like if you told me that was Doug Bradley I would believe you. Granted the image is artistically fuzzy, but now knowing what Paul T. Taylor looks like I can tell that’s him under there and he does look great. I am looking forward to this and I hope it does for the series what they are hoping it will. A theatrical release would be nice, but eh who knows. Anyway, I wish them  and special f/x guru-turned-director, Gary J. Tunnicliffe the best of luck.

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Annabelle

So I went to an advanced screening of Annabelle and I gotta say while not an outstanding horror film, it was much better than I expected it to be.

The point of this movie is to serve as a sort-of prequel/spin-off to James Wan’s mega-horror-hit The Conjuring. Personally, I see that film as one of the best horror movies of the last 15 years. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. knows that most of the public feels the same way which is why the marketing for this film relies so heavily on this film being connected to it. In reality, the only connection is their version of the Annabelle doll.

The film is meant to show us the origins of the Annabelle doll. Why it becomes evil, why it follows certain people around and eventually, how The Warrens ended up with her. The story opens a year before nurse Debbie and her roommate are terrorized by Annabelle. Dr. John Form [Ward Horton] and his doll collecting, pregnant wife Mia (one of many nods to Rosemary’s Baby) [Annabelle Wallis] are living in Santa Monica starting their life together. They go to church, have caring neighbors and are just happily loving life. Being 1969, the characters are shown in this strange limbo of moving out of a more wholesome time when people could leave their front doors unlocked and hearing about the Manson Family on the news (used in a more than exploitative manner here). One day John comes home with a special porcelain doll to complete a set Mia’s been putting together. She loves it, even though it’s quite hideous and merrily adds it to the collection.

The terror starts when, Annabelle Higgins, the estranged daughter of their next door neighbors returns with her crazy hippie boyfriend to wreak occult havoc on her parents. The carnage spills over into John and Mia’s home, with Mia being injured, crazy hippie guy getting shot to death by the police and Annabelle taking her own life while holding the latest addition to Mia’s collection. After this event, the couple is understandably freaked out and take a few extra precautions around the home. Being a haunted house movie, strange occurrences start up with the characters barely taking notice until a fire starts in the home putting Mia in the hospital and causing her to give birth a little early. She refuses to return to the house which is fine because John just got a job in Pasadena. So the perfect little family unit moves to a fancy apartment building near the hospital, but of course things only get worse from here. With the help of a friendly neighbor and their priest, the Forms try to figure out how to end their problem.

This is a more than obvious attempt to ride the coattails of The Conjuring, but Annabelle is actually a decent horror movie. While there is a definitive plot running throughout, loosely based on the claims of the real-life victims, the film does focus more on creepy situations than bogging us down with a lot of dragged out exposition, though some exists. I’m more than fine with that. This movie is not meant to be taken as seriously as it’s predecessor, it’s a creepy doll movie. That’s it. Oh and there’s a ghost…and a demon…and Alfre Woodard running a creepy bookstore. Don’t go in with “horror classic” expectations and you’ll be alright.

The characters are believable enough and it was nice seeing some lead actors that I’m actually unfamiliar with, other than Alfre and Tony Amendola who played Father Perez. Overall the film did rely on a lot of cheap scares, but it did manage to pull out some truly terrifying moments and imagery as well. The score and sound effects help move the scares along as you would expect and the best moments are the ones that use the “less is more” angle. Being that the director is a long time collaborator of James Wan, some instances were reminiscent of Wan’s work, which is great being that this exists in a world they both shaped for cinema. From time to time you will get a sense of “been there, done that.” Either from the stylistic tones that are clearly lifted from everything Wan has done, especially Insidious, or from the homages to horror classics, but it’s OK. This movie is still a fun, creepy ride that stands on its own, even if you haven’t seen those other films. I also really enjoyed some of the plot twists throughout. Some things actually left me guessing and I appreciate that. I can’t have all of the answers all of the time.

A true stand-out sequence that I can only call the basement/storage room/elevator scene was comprised of fantastic imagery that I haven’t seen the likes of since the original A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silent Hill 2 (the game, not the terrible movie sequel). The direction of the scene leads you down various paths so you think you know what’s going to happen next, but your expectations are cliché, and thankfully, not used. If you’re not crawling out of your seat when the elevator doors open, you never had a childhood fear of what lurked in the dark. This scene alone was almost worth the price of admission. It owes something to the two horror masterpieces I just mentioned as well as Rosemary’s Baby again.

A thought that stands out in my mind, as far as scare quality goes, is that I do not have that sense of dread making my way through my darkened house to climb into bed. That deep-rooted fear that a great horror film gives you after a late night viewing; it’s just not there this time around. However, the film did make me jump a time or two and gave me the creeps while I was viewing it and it was fun while it lasted. It’s a serviceable film, but probably won’t be remembered many years from now. If you are a big fan of these films I have to recommend seeing this. If you’re still unsure, you can always grab a cheap matinée or wait for a rental.

Maybe it’s because I initially had such low expectations, but I’m gonna give this film a solid B.

Annabelle is directed by John R. Leonetti, with James Wan serving as Executive Producer this time around. The film opens everywhere Friday October 3, 2014.

The Lords of Salem Are Waiting For You

I’ve been strangely intrigued by The Lords of Salem ever since first seeing the disjointed trailers. Gave some info, but only a little, like any good trailer should do. Feeling the same as most people, to me, Rob Zombie’s films are very hit or miss. Sometimes within one film we get a mixed bag of quality. Almost like Zombie had no idea what he wanted to do with the movie and just threw in whatever came to mind on that particular day. I felt that way about House of 1000 Corpses, but when he made it’s follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects, it seemed like he had finally started to come into his own as a director. Paying heavy homage to the redneck horror flicks of the 70’s; which I could appreciate as a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. As much as I am a fan of Devil’s Rejects, I still wanted to see him stand on his own two legs and do something that was truly his. Instead we got a somewhat decent, brutal remake of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween and a terribly awful sequel Halloween 2 (which I still really believe to be a middle finger to Dimension Films for making him do a sequel after he so clearly only wanted one film made). It seemed like he was afraid to step out of the shadow of what had come before.

Fast forward to 2013 and we get The Lords of Salem. Which is definitely Rob Zombie’s most original and possibly best film. The film opens with flashbacks to the era of the Salem Witch Trials. There’s a small coven pledging their allegiance to the Prince of Darkness and there’s a goat and weird s*** goes down and it had some of the weaker qualities of Zombie’s past ventures, but my interest was piqued, for sure.

Moving along to present day, Sheri Moon Zombie plays Heidi LaRoq, a rock radio DJ in Salem, Mass with a penchant for 70’s garb and watching old black and white movies in her apartment with her dog Troy. One night when closing up the station with her co-hosts, (played genuinely by Dawn of the Dead‘s Ken Foree and character actor Jeff Daniel Phillips; who, with his long hair and beard looks very much like Zombie himself) the receptionist tells Heidi that a weird package was left for her. Inside a strange wooden box with odd carvings is a record with creepy music that you would never want to put on after a hard night’s work. As the music plays we get flashes of the witches and Heidi looks to be getting the worst headache ever. She goes to bed and visions of hellions dance in her head. Taking place over six days the movie sends us on the downward spiral of creepiness and evil that Heidi is dragged through. I was very much pulled into the mystery and learning why Heidi has been chosen out of all the people in Salem.

When I first heard about this, I definitely wanted to say, “Why Rob? Why cast your wife in a lead role in every single movie you direct? And this isn’t to say that I disliked her in the other roles, but c’mon pal, give someone else a chance.” In Corpse/Rejects her character “Baby” was extremely annoying. I know this was the point; she played a raving lunatic pretty well, but there’s that. She was good in Halloween, but to me she just wasn’t right as Deborah Myers. Something was off. In Lords of Salem, Sheri Moon has gotten the best role of her short career. She’s a protagonist that we actually care about, even if she’s a little kooky. She’s a normal person that most people can relate to in some way; we don’t want her hurt when and if the evil is unleashed. I liked her a lot in this movie, her acting was good, she fit the part completely. Plus I really dug her in glasses, not sure what the dreads were about, but I digress.

Overall the movie itself is very reminiscent of the 1970s-80s films of Dario Argento: with the modern witchcraft plot and it’s pacing – Roman Polanski: for it’s Rosemary’s Baby subtle wickedness and sense of doom – John Carpenter: for the nod to The Fog‘s ‘not all is well in this sleepy town’ style. There is even a touch of Stanley Kubrick throughout. From the way certain shots are framed and that strange mix of Victorian and Art Deco, to geometric and sterile rooms and luminescent, rectangle nightstands and wall art that could have been found in Alex DeLarge’s bedroom. All of this in one film, but it blends together wonderfully. No single characteristic overpowering another. It works, it all works. Now you may be thinking, “Hey didn’t you say earlier that you would prefer it if Zombie would do something that was totally his? And stopped riding the wave of paralleling and imitation?” Yes. And I still feel that way. And while Lords does pay homage to classic horror styles, I refuse to categorize it as a ripoff or say it’s derivative of any other film. Some may see it as he’s still on the same path, but I see it as something new. I feel like it may be getting mixed reviews because it does have some of that old school slow-burning horror movie pacing and today’s audiences just can’t handle it. To be completely honest, this moves like a rocket compared to some of Argento’s films.

There are definitely moments where one may have the thought “What in the hell am I watching?” It’s ok, I went there too, but only a couple times. I absolutely loved the way this film was shot, especially everything that takes place in Heidi’s apartment building. It all has that wonderful vibe of a growing terror. The still that I used for the featured image above is from one of my favorite shots in the whole movie. The door to abandoned apartment #5 (where we just know that evil is brewing) slowly opens and Heidi is compelled to enter. All she finds inside is a red neon cross on the wall humming with sense of hostility and she slowly walks towards it, drawn to it. Outstanding shot.

Anyway! The cast is filled out with veterans of horror and science fiction: Dee Wallace, Bruce Davison, Meg Foster, Judy Geeson, Patricia Quinn, Maria Conchita Alonso, Andrew Prine, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig (blink and you’ll miss him) and many, many others are strewn throughout. All pull their weight in the film, making an excellent web of characters and plot. Along side Sheri Moon, Bruce Davison is a standout as author and museum curator Francis Matthias.

There’s rock music, crazy, interesting and realistic characters, witches, denizens of hell, spirits, crack smoking, death, minimal blood and old lady boobs. Lots and lots of old lady boobs. So there really is something for everyone in The Lords of Salem. I had a few gripes with the end, but it’s ok, it was enough. At one point I thought the credits were going to roll and we’d be left with absolutely no explanation. In my head I was screaming, “No! No! Do not end it like this! I’ll be so pissed!” Thankfully it did not end there.

Today’s cynical youth may not get it and leave confused or not go at all (which may explain why I was the youngest person in the theater). Fans of the classics may prefer to sit home and watch those instead. I think a lot of that attitude is unfair to this movie, but what can ya do? I enjoyed Rob Zombie’s latest project a whole lot and this is the first time I’ve actually been anxious to see what he does next.

B+