DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Harry Kumel

Written by: Harry Kumel, J.J. Amiel & Pierre Drouot

Starring: Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Delphine Seyrig & Andrea Rau

In the realm of vampire movies, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is acclaimed by certain crowds, but remains forgotten and overlooked by an equal amount of people. Those who have seen the film mostly sing its praises, but a lot of people haven’t even heard of this artistic Belgium take on the undead bloodsuckers. I never even knew this film existed until I listened to a group of critics discussing it on the Halloween episode of a certain movie podcast. Their conversation peaked my interest enough to the point where I decided to give this flick a look for this year’s horror-centric season and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Besides featuring a sound bite that I instantly recognized from Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl” (something that I thought was pretty cool), DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is a beautifully filmed and well-constructed view of vampires that offers something out of the ordinary.

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Valerie and Stefan are two newly weds with their honeymoon officially underway. After they wind up stranded in the middle of Belgium, the couple decide to spend the night at an elegant, but deserted hotel. They decide to stay a little longer when two more guests make their presence known. The mysterious new arrivals are Countess Elizabeth Bathory (yes, that Elizabeth Bathory) and her reluctant assistant, Ilona. It becomes quickly apparent that Stefan is mistreating Valerie and Countess Bathory takes an interest in their relationship. Soon, the vacationing couple find themselves under the spell of the blood-sucking Bathory and sexual Ilona.

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DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is exquisitely shot and each frame exudes a strong gothic atmosphere. The location of the deserted Belgium hotel (mostly filmed at an actual hotel as opposed to sound stages) is a great setting for this story and the sparse rooms (seeing as there are only a handful guests staying at the hotel) make it that much creepier. You get the sense that even if the characters made a commotion and needed immediate help, it wouldn’t be coming for a while. This makes certain plot developments in the second half much more believable as well. DAUGHTERS gets off to a slow deliberate pace in the beginning and then really begins to pick up once we see what Bathory and Ilona are capable of. The benefit of having this story take place among a cast of four in one main location almost makes it feel like you’re watching a play adapted onto the screen.

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Besides having an almost German Expressionist quality to the visuals and atmosphere, DAUGHTERS also utilizes a score that perfectly captures the almost magical tone of the film. The smart script carves out four unique characters and doesn’t force feed you everything that you need to know about them immediately. We know that Bathory and Ilona are trouble right from the start, but the full extent of their relationship doesn’t reveal itself until later through off-hand comments they make to one another. Stefan and Valerie seem like they were made for each other, as they say in the opening scene of the film, but their relationship begins to reveal cracks as it moves forward. DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS has a great screenplay that, though falling prey to a couple of lesbian vampire exploitation moments, tells you just enough about the story and then lets the viewer fill in the rest of the cracks by themselves.

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DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is one of the most beautifully constructed vampire movies out there and a slice of old-school gothic horror that oozes atmosphere from every scene. The performances from the cast are convincing and the characters are well written. The visuals are stunning and every scene looks like it could be framed as a beautiful portrait. The film isn’t a straight-up bloodbath as one might expect from a typical vampire film. Instead, it’s a rather classy affair, which is especially surprising when you consider that it technically falls into the whole cheesy lesbian vampire movement that was happening in the midst of 70’s horror filmmaking. I wouldn’t be surprised if DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS launched that whole movement forward to begin with. Overall, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS is a beautifully made vampire flick that’s ripe for rediscovery and one of the more underrated horror flicks to come out of the 1970’s!

Grade: A-

INBRED (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sadistic Horror Violence/Gore, Pervasive Language and some Nudity

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Directed by: Alex Chandon

Written by: Alex Chandon & Paul Shrimpton

Starring: Jo Hartley, Seamus O’Neill, James Doherty, James Burrows, Neil Leiper, Chris Waller & Nadine Rose Mulkerrin

If you were to watch 2001 MANIACS while taking acid, you’d likely be seeing something along the lines of Alex Chandon’s INBRED. This is an over-the-top, splattery take on something along the lines of DELIVERANCE. When I say splattery, I mean splattery as in this film contains gallons of guts and inventive kills from a variety of psycho rednecks. You don’t necessarily walk into a movie titled INBRED without having a good idea of what you’re in for. In the realm of hillbilly horror, this film delivers what you think it might. Sadly enough, the story is a bit of a bogged down, overly familiar mess. The effects and characters are a mixed bag as well. If you want a stupid little gorefest, then this isn’t exactly a bad way to kill the time though.

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Two social workers are escorting four juvenile delinquents to a countryside service project. Over the course of a few days, these young ruffians will do hard labor and hopefully change their futures for the better. However, a minor run-in with redneck locals quickly escalates into a full-fledged bloody accident. Desperate for help, the social workers and kids flee to the local bar…and things spiral into an out-of-control gory showdown between the band of outsiders and the inbred locals.

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Alex Chandon reminds me of Rob Zombie in that he puts way more attention into crafting creative villains than he does into writing compelling protagonists. The inbred hicks are colorful characters and each ounce of grime on them is brought through in their slimy performances. The best of the bunch is easily Seamus O’Neill who seems born to play the part of insane ringleader. For no apparent reason other than shock value, O’Neill dons black face for half of the running time and that somehow manages to make his character seem more menacing. Not only is he a bloodthirsty lunatic with a penchant for macabre “shows,” he’s a racist one too. The rest of the characters seem like they’ve literally been pulled out of a redneck community. Chandon does a great job of building an eerie atmosphere as the main victims, er, I mean characters enter a world far from their own.

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As mentioned before, the protagonists are pretty bland to begin with. There is an attempt made at fleshing them out with arguably too much build-up put into the first third of the running time. However, these interactions are dull as the characters are either straight-up slasher stereotypes or just plain unlikable from the get-go. Of course, that comes in handy when you’re watching some of the more frustrating characters bite it in horrible ways.

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Speaking of which, the deaths are inventive. There was morbid imagination put into the bloody part of this story. The gore, of which there is plenty, is a mix of practical effects and CGI. While the original cut focuses on certain bloody shots (you can see a video of this on YouTube), the R-rated version neuters most of this flick’s bite. From what you can see of the gore, the CGI looks absolutely terrible, as in Syfy Channel level bad. However, the practical effects are rather impressive and makes me wonder why Chandon didn’t keep a constant hands-on and old-school approach, because the film is best when we see exploding prosthetics and gory make-up as opposed to limbs being severed with CGI animation.

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INBRED is exactly the kind of film that the title implies it will be…for better or worse. There is imagination put into the splatter and the villains are fun to watch, but it all just makes me wish that just as much effort had been put into the protagonists and less cheap-looking CGI was implemented. If you’re bored and out of options for a quick-and-easy horror flick, then INBRED might satisfy. Otherwise, it’s just an okay, slightly underwhelming experience.

Grade: C+

WOULD YOU RATHER (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: David Guy Levy

Written by: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen

Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Logan Miller, Sasha Grey, June Squibb & Robin Lord Taylor

SAW and HOSTEL gave birth to a fad in mid-2000’s horror: Torture Porn! That name pretty much encompasses everything you’d expect within that subgenre. It’s as descriptive and self-explanatory as it can possibly be. Words can’t describe the amount of hatred that many horror fans began to feel towards the massive influx of cheap torture-porn flicks. While certain movies in this subgenre were executed in ways that felt fresh and original (the first three SAW films, HOSTEL 1 & 2, and a variety of extreme French flicks), there were far more poor excuses for horror films that were shamelessly pumped out to make a quick buck. The premise of WOULD YOU RATHER sounds like it’s yet another one of these cheap torture-porn movies, but that’s surprisingly not the case. Instead of being all about blood and guts, WOULD YOU RATHER is a devilishly clever little film that relies more on constant suspense of what’s going to happen next as opposed to shocking gore gags.

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Iris is a young woman stuck in a rut. She can’t seem to maintain a steady job, her parents are dead, and she’s been saddled with taking care of her sick brother. Iris’s situation is looking even more dire as she simply can’t afford her younger brother’s upcoming medical treatments. Like a miracle, the wealthy Shepard Lambrick walks into her doctor’s office and has a proposal for Iris. Every year, Lambrick hosts an elegant dinner party, after which, a game is played. The winner of this game walks out rich and all of their problems are solved. Taking what seems to be the only possible option available, Iris goes to Lambrick’s dinner only to discover that his party game has a nasty twist. The game is deadly version of “Would You Rather” in which electric shocks, icepicks and various other weapons are used on the players. You can guess where things go from there.

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Instead of treating its plot with a deadly straight-face and focusing on long shots of gore, WOULD YOU RATHER takes a classier approach to its disturbing premise. We get a nice slow build up that lets us care for Iris (played well by Brittany Snow) before the horrifying reveal of the game. The players all have their introductory moments that allow us to predict who might die and how. The film never goes into full-blown torture porn territory either as there’s a dark sense of humor and a few nasty twists around every corner. Director David Guy Levy takes a less-is-more approach in terms of what violence we see on-screen. There are moments where you’ll find yourself cringing not because you see a grisly bit of gore, but rather because there’s something horrible happening off-screen and we can only imagine what it looks like. That being said, we still get occasional moments of on-screen violence. Seeing as a lot of the blood is left to our imaginations, these unexpected shots become more effective as a result.

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Jeffrey Combs is clearly having a blast as Shepard Lambrick and plays his aristocratic psycho with a snarky sense of humor. You might find yourself laughing at just how much of a jerk this guy is to his already doomed victims. Equally enjoyable is Jonny Coyne (one of the more underrated actors working today) as the benevolent butler Bevins who helps administer a few of the players’ more violent choices. The only real bad performance of the film comes in Sasha Grey (yes, that Sasha Grey) trying to pull off a Southern accent that comes and goes depending on the scene. The film also runs a tad too long with one side-plot that goes nowhere and makes you wonder what was the point of even including it (taking up about 10 minutes of total screen time).

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WOULD YOU RATHER is a darkly enjoyable little horror flick that serves as a clever alternative to other gory films featuring a similar premise. This movie is elevated by most of the performances, especially that of Jeffrey Combs, and a less-is-more approach. The dark sense of humor also helps out the material considerably. If this sounds like you’re kind of film, then I’d highly recommend that you give it a look.

Grade: B

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: S. Craig Zahler

Written by: S. Craig Zahler

Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig & Geno Segers

Two genres that don’t often go together are Horror and Westerns. Combinations of the two very different genres have only been attempted a handful of times to my knowledge (THE BURROWERS, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, and TREMORS). BONE TOMAHAWK just happens to be the latest effort that tries to blend these two distinct genres into one creative story. While it definitely leans more onto the Western side before diving straight into Horror country for the final third, I can easily fathom that this film will please fans of both cinematic genres. Blending a slow brooding pace of a John Wayne flick with some graphic cannibal horror, BONE TOMAHAWK is an unexpectedly great film that came out of nowhere and knocked me on my ass.

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Bright Hope is a peaceful, out-of-the-way town that never encounters any serious problems. Tonight is different as a strange drifter has just rolled into town and caught the eye of Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell sporting a magnificent bit of facial hair). One brief confrontation later and the drifter is behind bars at the local jail with only a law man and a nurse to keep him company. This drifter’s arrival was the mere beginning of something far more sinister and the jail turns up empty in the morning. Hunt suspects that Indians might have something to do with the three disappearances and soon learns that there’s something in the wilderness that even Indians are afraid of. Taking their lives into their own hands, Sheriff Hunt brings along Arthur O’Dwyer (the missing nurse’s husband), Chicory (an old-fashioned deputy), and John Brooder (a trigger-happy bigot) on a rescue mission into some very dangerous territory.

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For a movie that’s essentially been sold as Kurt Russell fighting cannibals in the Old West, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated. I mean, sure that one sentence pitch sounds fun in and of itself, but this movie treats itself as a dark and brooding ride. Everyone is playing this ridiculous-sounding material with a believable straight face. This approach works far better than it probably should have. First-time director S. Craig Zahler (who also penned the decent ASYLUM BLACKOUT) uses a confident hand behind the camera to bring his vision to life. This feels like a slow-burn Western that just happens to have a long showdown with vicious man-eating cannibals in the final act.

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This self-serious approach can also be seen in the performances of a remarkable cast of big-name actors. Kurt Russell (who’s also starring in certain other Western that arrives later this year) is very much in his element. He’s having a blast as Sheriff Hunt and gives the performance his all, which brings to life a likable bad-ass with a heart of gold. Patrick Wilson is especially good and plays the wounded husband (he has a broken leg all throughout the film) as a determined man on a mission. Richard Jenkins brings a strong screen presence as the kindly old deputy. Meanwhile, Matthew Fox really shines as the despicable Brooder (who has an interesting motivation of his own). David Arquette and Sid Haig also make brief, memorable appearances.

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When it does get into the horror section of its story, BONE TOMAHAWK also gets extremely graphic in the violence department. Seeing as the plot involves cannibals, I was expecting gore. I just wasn’t expecting this film to have a scene that rivaled the best moment of THE GREEN INFERNO in its sheer viciousness. Even when we get severed body parts and guts spilling out onto the screen, the movie never goes into cheesy or over-the-top territory. Instead, the brutality only adds to the dark atmosphere that the movie was playing with from the very beginning.

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Though the running time might be a little too long and there’s a noticeable leap of logic made in the final moments, BONE TOMAHAWK is far better than I think anyone could have anticipated it being. The premise may sound ludicrous on paper, but the way it’s executed with an exciting new director/writer behind the camera, a rock solid cast acting their hearts out, and exciting bursts of violence transform the silly material into a seriously great time. It’s a shame that BONE TOMAHAWK didn’t hit theaters, because there are scenes that would get great audience reactions (I found myself cheering while watching it at home). If you’re craving something out-of-the-ordinary for this final week of this Halloween season (or any time really) and don’t want to make a trip to the multiplex, BONE TOMAHAWK should satisfy your craving. This is one of the best horror movies of 2015!

Grade: A-

HELLRAISER: INFERNO (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Gore, Language, Sexuality and Drug Use

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Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Written by: Paul Harris Boardman & Scott Derrickson

Starring: Craig Sheffer, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Nicholas Sadler, Noelle Evans & Doug Bradley

It’s downright shameful how mistreated the HELLRAISER franchise is. Unlike other long-running horror series, Clive Barker’s unique vision of Hell and Pandora’s Box offers up endless possibilities for a number of insane stories. The first two HELLRAISERs were great and brought some of the most bizarre imagery to ever come out of 80’s horror. The third film was a lame attempt to turn Pinhead into the next Freddy and it failed miserably. At the very least, the fourth installment was an interesting anthology that wound up being the last theatrical release of the series. HELLRAISER: INFERNO is the fifth installment and the first that went straight-to-video. In an effort to make a quick buck, Dimension Studios started throwing unrelated shelved scripts at the series and a few details were changed around to include Pinhead, the Lament Configuration and Cenobites. This really shows in INFERNO, a film that unsuccessfully tries to combine a neo-noir with the HELLRAISER mythology.

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Joseph Thorne is a loose cannon cop who doesn’t play by the rules. When he’s not solving homicides by day, he’s stealing evidence, doing cocaine and cheating with hookers by night. It’s safe to say that Joseph isn’t a nice guy and his latest case is pushing him to his limits. A bloody crime scene reveals disturbing details as a man was viciously mutilated by hooks. Joseph recovers a mysterious puzzle box found at the scene (three guesses as to what that is) and solves it. He soon finds himself in a game of cat-and-mouse with a serial killer called The Engineer and begins to have nightmarish visions of demons. You can probably guess where this is heading.

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The idea of combining other genres with HELLRAISER is not a bad one at all. In fact, I’d love to see a good noir pulled off with strong supernatural horror. That sort of happened with 1998’s underrated FALLEN and I was hoping for a little spark of that here. However, this is a generic cop movie through and through that just happens to throw a few half-assed Cenobites into the mix. There are long stretches of this film where the horror aspect doesn’t even creep in until the new writer realized that he’d gone too long without a nightmare sequence featuring Pinhead.

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Doug Bradley returns for three scenes as the iconic horror villain (two of these are nightmare sequences) and the rest of the Cenobites are generic looking. There’s a torso version of Chatter (the creepiest Cenobite of the first HELLRAISER) as well as three bland latex looking things (two female and one male). However, all of these demons combined manage to be more likable than the character of Joseph Thorne. There’s a difference between being a rough around the edges protagonist and an all-out unlikable prick. This character is very much the latter. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for his plight, because the whole time you’re hoping that someone will beat the manners back into him.

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Scott Derrickson went on to direct EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, SINISTER, and DELIVER US FROM EVIL after making this flick. You can see a certain visual style that translates through all of his films. Even though INFERNO is bland and mediocre, there’s still a good visual scheme to the whole film. While the first two-thirds of the movie are just a generic cop thriller (complete with clichéd dialogue and all), the last act is where the pacing picks up. As much as I didn’t care for the rest of this film, I enjoyed its final 20 minutes. The whole screenplay could have consisted of the last 20 minutes and I would have been fairly happy with the result. Unfortunately, it’s a long, dull slog to get to that point in the film.

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HELLRAISER: INFERNO is officially the point where I’m getting off this franchise train. While this series has such potential and promise in the right hands, it’s clear that nobody greenlighting these half-assed projects into existence gives a shit. This was literally a case where a generic cop screenplay was picked off a shelf and someone said “Just throw Pinhead in it and it will be fine.” I liked the ending of this film and Scott Derrickson brings across a good visual style, but there just isn’t much else to enjoy about this direct-to-video HELLRAISER installment. Just stick to the first two films (the fourth if you want some closure) and ignore the rest of this franchise. You’ll be happier that way.

Grade: C

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