Castle Freak

Director: Stuart Gordon (1995)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide
Find it: IMDB 

Stuart Gordon directs Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in a loose adaptation of a short HP Lovecraft story. No, not Re-Animator, nor even From Beyond; Gordon's third concoction with the same ingredients is Castle Freak, based on Lovecraft's The Outsider. In it, family man John Reilly (Combs) inherits a crusty Italian castle from his estranged mother's estate. Unfortunately, he also inherits the asshole who lives in the basement - a fugly cross between Frankenstein's Monster and something out of Wrong Turn. The titular Freak wastes little time in sleazing at John's blind daughter, murdering cats and slaughtering a visiting prostitute. Castle Freak is the most exploitative of Gordon's movies so far.

It was while watching Castle Freak that I was struck with a sudden realisation: that Stuart Gordon might just be my favourite horror director ever. He's certainly the most consistently good. From his classic Re-Animator to From Beyond (release it properly on DVD already!), Stuck and Edmond, I've never not enjoyed a Stuart Gordon film. Even The Pit and the Pendulum has its merits. Coincidentally, most of his movies star Jeffrey Combs in some capacity, and are usually inspired by HP Lovecraft, a literary favourite of mine. So as with every other Gordon movie I've seen, I loved Castle Freak. Still, it is amongst the darkest of his oeuvre. It would be the darkest, but the ending of Edmond is some haunting shit.    

Combs's John is a recovering alcoholic, struggling to make amends for accidentally blinding his daughter and killing his son. Understandably, wife Susan (Crampton) is less than able to accept his apologies. It's not long before John is driven to the nearest pub and into the arms of the village hooker. After some not very sexy sex, the beast attacks. There are some shocking moments of sexual violence to Castle Freak as the Freak chomps a good chunk out of someone's titty and then makes designs on John's scantily-clad daughter. It's truly disturbing stuff; revolting in the wrong hands. It's still revolting here, but Gordon salvages his film, saving it from becoming a complete rapey mess (although some will no doubt disagree vehemently with that assessment) like Alan Moore's Neonomicon comic book. Still, it's an uncomfortable watch; a reminder that bringing sex to the fore of a Lovecraft adaptation does not make for a pleasant mix.

Worth watching for Jeffrey Combs alone, Castle Freak is an atmospheric, disturbing piece from one of horror's most reliable and underrated directors.

The Raven

Director: James McTeigue (2012)
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson
Find it: IMDB

Quoth the raven: "I lost it. I lost it all. Faith, dignity..." John Cusack appears to have little of either in The Raven, in which he plays the great Edgar Allen Poe. Or at least, that's what the film says he does. He actually just appears to be playing John Cusack with a beard. Edgar Allan Poo, more like.

Sub-faeces related pun: The Shit and The Pendulum. Inspired by Poe's horror stories (Edgar Allan, not Cameron) a serial killer stalks the streets, offing his victims in an increasingly vicious manner. The police enlist the author himself to help them apprehend the killer. When the killer kidnaps Poe's fiancĂ©e-to-be, the disillusioned poet finds himself doubly determined to put a stop to the crimes.

It wasn't really a promising concept in the first place (especially not with it being directed by V For Vendetta wrecker James McTeigue) but its execution makes it even worse. John Cusack gives the laziest performance of his career, letting his clothes and goatee do all the talking. Only Brendan Gleeson's beard makes any sort of impact. I fell asleep five times while watching The Raven and wish I hadn't bothered waking up to finish it.

Had I slept eternally onwards, I would have been lucky enough to miss the stupid, stupid ending. It's the worst MO for a serial killer I have ever seen. I particularly liked* the part when he threatened to fuck off to France and bother Jules Verne instead. The Raven is boring, stupid and probably offensive to fans of the poet. The best thing about it is that it's entirely forgettable.

Let The Raven piss off and bother my memory nevermore. 

*Word 'like' used very loosely.


Director: Tod Browning (1932)
Starring: Harry Earles, Leila Hyams, Daisy Earles
Find it: IMDB

This year, more so than ever before, it would be fair to say that I have watched a lot of shit. With two websites (this one and the lovely and a magazine (Starburst - nothing to do with the sweets) on the go, I have had to watch a lot of movies. I've seen one about a man who tickles women to death, more found footage movies than I can care to remember, and I even had to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation again, in preparation for a magazine feature. I know, what a fucking whine. But amongst all of the shit, I've also been trying to catch up on the classics. High on my to-do list was this, Tod Browning's infamous Freaks.  

Freaks is very worthy of the 'classic' label, and I'm not just saying that because Black And White Equals Classy And Good and I don't want you all to LOL at my stupidity. It's a film about a travelling circus - the old school type with 'freaks' and muscle men who wear leotards. Its plot has Circus beauty Cleopatra (Hyams) attempt to swindle one of the 'freaks' (dwarf Hans, played by Harry Earles) out of his fortune. When she goes too far, Hans' friends and fellow 'freaks' turn on Cleopatra and her strongman boyfriend, with grisly results. Although you'll probably recognise that ending from various clip shows and documentaries, Freaks retains almost all of its power.

I totally shed a tear at the end, so poignant is the love story between Hans and Frieda (Daisy Earles). That's a little creepy when you stop to consider that Harry and Daisy Earles were siblings in real life, but we'll gloss over that. I rarely cry get anything in my eye for anything that's not a cartoon or episode of Buffy, but this ending tugged on my old heartstrings all the same (tacked on afterwards, as it may have been). Maybe it's because I'm a deformed freak too, and I also turned a woman into a duck for scorning me (well, I photoshopped her head onto a picture of a duck, anyway. It still counts).

Freaks is a classic. Even today, it's a great story, and still has the power to profoundly move its viewers. And I'm not just saying that because I don't want to look stupid.

Paranormal Activity 4

Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman (2012)
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively
Find it: IMDB

At what stage does something stop being Paranormal Activity and become a Regular Occurrence? All the activity has led to this, apparently. To be fair, Paranormal Activity 4 does head in a slightly different direction to the first three films, its threat being of a slightly different nature to which we're used to seeing. Paranormal Activity 4 is more of a spooky child movie than it is a haunted house flick.

But, in the worlds of meme Captain Picard, why the fuck, at this point, are they still recording everything they do? Aside from a little football match at the start of the film, barely any attempt is made to explain why young Alex (Newton) is recording her every move. Never before has the series' gimmick seemed so stretched and aimless.

Creepy kid Robbie (Brady Allen) and his mother move in across the street from tweenage Alex and her family. When his mother is mysteriously taken ill, Robbie comes to stay with the family. Unfortunately, the scary little shit has brought his Invisible Friend with him. Cue things flying around the house, doors slamming shut, people levitating out of beds and the whole family flying up and down stairs in hilarious Paranormal Activity style. I haven't been scared by a Paranormal Activity since the first one, but this fourth instalment isn't even remotely worrying.

There are some new ideas which work well though, particularly those which employ an Xbox's Motion Capture facilities to catch a glimpse of the demons which stalk Alex's home and the children in it. With several laptops and an Xbox all switched on at once, this family's reliance on standby mode is the reason we have global warming, people. Switch your shit off! Unfortunately, most everything else is laugh out loud funny. Alex levitating out of her bed raises a smile while the family's repeatedly being flung around the house like rag dolls is just hilarious. My favourite part of the Paranormal Activity films is the bit in which unseen forces drag the protagonists around the place; Paranormal Acivity 4 is like a spooky version of You've Been Framed in that respect.  

It's all a bit of a non-event, culminating in a reasonably interesting cliffhanger which probably won't be followed up on in the inevitable sequel. But oh, as long as they have people falling up and down the stairs some more, I'm on board for that.


Director: Conor McMahon (2012)
Starring: Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma Leah-Devereux
Find it: IMDB

Those who suffer from caulrophobia but love horror movies could do worse than Conor McMahon's Stitches - after all, whoever could be scared of cuddly Ross Noble? The stand-up comedian and serial QI gobshite tries his hand at horror movie villainy in this, an odd Irish cross between A Nightmare on Elm Street, IT and The Inbetweeners.

While attending a friend's birthday party, a gang of bastardly children accidentally murder  sweary clown-for-hire Richard 'Stitches' Grindle (Noble). Years later, at Tom's (Knight) sixteenth birthday party, Stitches is resurrected and out for revenge. Beyond its strange choice in lead actor, Stitches is an old-school slasher movie in the mold of A Nightmare on Elm Street (if you thought Freddy's one-liners were bad, just you wait until you hear one of these beauties) or Maniac Cop. His victims may be younger than we're used to, but Stitches pulls no punches in his bloody vengeance. Heads are kicked off, faces impaled, bollocks pulled off, intestines unravelled and that's not even the half of it. There's a shocking amount of gore in Stitches - very much earning the film its 18 rating.

Unfortunately, like everything else that's not James Bond, Sinister or Paranormal Activity 4, Stitches was utterly shafted upon its UK cinema release. I found myself huddled up in a completely empty screen at a shitty cinema in the middle of nowhere at 9:20 at night, so sparse were showings of the film. That's a shame, because Stitches is one of the few horror movies of 2012 that I wasn't disappointed by. Mind, I am a sucker for seeing horrible children get their deserving heads kicked off by zombie clowns.

This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Black as the comedy might be, the film is played entirely for laughs. The over the top gore makes it impossible to take seriously. Unless you have, maybe, very severe fear of clowns, Stitches isn't remotely scary. Like Noble's stand-up routines and panel show rants, the film does ramble on a bit towards the end, the youths are exceptionally horrible and the acting a bit duff. Noble is fantastic as Stitches, but alas, the hook-handed shadow of Psychoville's Mister Jelly looms large over the film. Were it not for the existence of Reece Shearsmith's fabulous creation, Stitches would be a great creation. As it is, he's merely very good.

A comedy horror with guts, gusto and plenty of grue, Stitches truly is a noble effort.