A BAD PLACE: CRESTFALLEN (review)

“Certainly there are spots which inevitably attach to themselves an atmosphere of holiness and goodness; it might not then be too fanciful to say that some houses are born bad.”

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Stephen King labels it “The Bad Place” in his masterful treatise on horror, DANSE MACABRE: A house or home that, through design or luck, houses malevolence in its foundation. Horror fiction has plenty of real estate like this: From Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher to Jackson’s aforementioned manor down to Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel – places of security and comfort that harbour anything but good intentions for those who enter its doors. Add Crestfallen Estates to the illustrious roll call of bad places, as Lauren Messervey’s debut novel , CRESTFALLEN, takes us into the aptly-named residence and its equally matched occupants.

The handful of stories found in this unique take on the horror anthology have very little in common – each one is dealing with their own unique personal horrors. What binds them together is location – the titular housing complex. Dilapidated, run-down and liberally trimmed with mold and mildew, Crestfallen is a residence in ill condition, its best days long behind it – if it ever had such days.  From the lonely barista who thinks she may have found a new BFF in her next-door neighbour, the party-girl med student who’ s on the receiving end of a series of increasingly grotesque pranks, to the son of a disgraced game show host who is forced to pay for the sins of his father, each comes through Crestfallen’s doors looking for escape, rebirth, maybe a fresh start or a quiet end to it all. But Crestfallen, and its more shadowy residents, have their own plans in mind for them, and those plans are far from philanthropic.

The anthology is always a tricky beast – the hit-to-miss ratio varying wildly between contributors and stories – but Messervey is able to overcome the pitfalls found in the sub-genre by anchoring the proceedings to one location – a sinister advent calendar with a fresh new horror behind every door. What makes it all the more impressive is the voices she takes one to tell each tale. Told in first-person perspective, Messervey finds each character’s personality and defines them with ease. Each one carrying around very real-world damage – depression, addiction, the shadow of infidelity and other sins of the past – that their new home twists and turns against them. Messervey’s also got a mean streak, as things get both physically and emotionally violent. At the end, each character is changed, scarred and broken – if they walk away at all.

Stephen King (again, I know) once wrote that “nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” Messervey understands that well, creating a heavy dread not with what we know, but what we don’t.  There’s no greater explanation or backstory for why Crestfallen is so malignant or malicious. The building’s origins are more than a mystery – they’re non-existent. It just is. And it gives the stories such a potent punch.

Crestfallen is an impressive debut, that leaves you uneasy as you turn the last page. It’s mean-spirited and doesn’t give a damn about your finer sensitivities. Whether or not Messervey chooses to tell more untold tales of her apartment building of the damned, or takes us into new and dangerous territory, I know I’m down for wherever she decides to go.

File her under “One To Watch”.

CRESTFALLEN is for sale in digital and hard copy format here.

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DISINTEGRATION (or: Fuck It)

“Do you remember when you found out you wouldn’t live forever? People don’t talk about this, but everybody had to go through it because you’re not born with that knowledge.” 

David Cronenberg

It’s been nearly eight years since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 39. I was an anomaly – no prior history (save for type 2 on my mother’s side) or obesity. A genetic fluke, a mutation, according to my clinicians.

It’s malicious, this condition. A parasitic body-horror that turns your own body against you in a conspiracy to weaken and eventually kill you. And it doesn’t get better. There’s no improvement, no eradication of the condition. There’s only maintenance and constant supervision of this presence that wants nothing more than to eat away at you, piece by piece. And with all that? Depression. Anxiety. Stress. All adding to the mix, all accelerating the decay. And if you already have depression or anxiety at the start, it only feeds faster. I have reduced sensation of varying degrees in my feet and fingertips. My vision has deteriorated significantly. I heal much slower from cuts and bruises now.

And for the past two-plus years, I have been impotent. I’m not going to sugar coat it with the “erectile dysfunction” label, because it’s a sterile and PC-clean descriptor that doesn’t convey how crippling and soul-draining the condition really is. It has broken the last shred of my self-esteem. It has affected my relationship with my wife. It has made me insecure and emasculated to the point where shutting off would be easier than feeling anything anymore. Erectile Dysfunction sounds like a malfunction with an airplane’s landing gear. Impotence means “without power” or “helpless”. And if you’ve never had a problem with your virility, you will NEVER understand just how true that definition is.

I’m getting help. I see a therapist bi-weekly to discuss the mental and emotional state of the union. I’ve shut down my social media presence for now, maybe more permanently later on, because the last thing I’m feeling is “digitally social”. I have an impending visit with a urologist to discuss possible plans of affordable treatment, if that is even an option now. I’m exercising – weights and running, nothing fancy. We’re starting a new dietary plan at home for healthier living. They’re all positive steps, and I’m glad we are doing them.

But I don’t harbour any illusions about my state. I don’t expect reversal of fortune anytime soon, possibly not at all. I have to be prepared for the possibility that it won’t get any better, that this is the new normal that my wife and I are going to have to navigate. And that it sucks. I have spent the better part of my life brushing things off – “que sera sera” and pushing onwards. I don’t know how to do that now, because I’m tired. And angry.

It’s mid-life crisis writ large and funhouse-mirror exaggerated. That slow creep of IMG_4020disintegration, accelerated and visible to the naked eye. In every sore muscle, in every numb extremity, in the reminder that I am “incomplete”.  I’m not doing this for pity or to eventually dispense some sunny-side-of-the-street bromides about how “it’ll get better” and to “keep your chin up”. Because fuck that. This sucks. I’m sharing this with anyone else going through this to say it’s okay to be angry and hurt and sad. I’m sharing this to say “guys, there’s no shame in this”. But there is rage and frustration from having that part of us taken away without our choice. So be pissed. For as long as you need and as long as it takes. Maybe you push through all this and come out better on the other side,  new men with a new perspective. Or maybe you don’t. Maybe it will finally break you and you’ll just close off.

Because sometimes, there are no solutions.

Sometimes, it doesn’t get better.

Sometimes, things just stay awful.

What you do with that knowledge, well, that’s up to you.

Me? I’m going to lie low for a while and start figuring out where to go from here.
Because I don’t want to be sad and angry anymore and I’m in dire need of a break.

 

 

Midian is Burning: Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED and Hatred in the 21st Century

 

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Artwork by Rich Kelly, courtesy of Light In The Attic Records

Originally Published November 18, 2016 for blumhouse.com

I have long been a fan of Clive Barker’s work. It started in high school with THE DAMNATION GAME and continued all the way though his collected works: movies, books, comics, video games. One of the main reasons his work has stayed with me, and I with it, is his celebration of “The Other”: a sympathetic and humanizing view of the monstrous with a subsequent demonization of man’s baser, crueler impulses. As an openly gay male, Barker’s work champions the outsider, the marginalized and nowhere is that sympathy more evident out-front than in 1990’s NIGHTBREED.

The plan was to write a piece on Barker’s self-professed “hymn to the monstrous” and its place in queer-positive cinema. A celebration of the film’s underlying messages and how far we’ve come as a society in the nearly three decades since its release.

This is not that article.

Events in the past few days have altered the content, because we’re now waking up to the notion that maybe we’re not as far along as we thought. In less than a week, we’ve watched the veneer of civility and progression slip and fall, revealing the ugliness and hatred underneath that, perhaps, we’ve known was there all along. But there is nothing noble or admirable about this kind of monster. It is the worst of humanity – the fearful,violent and small-minded who prey  So while the time is ripe for another viewing, it’s the reasons that have changed.

“I just so much wanted the film to work. And not because of artistic reasons, but because of philosophical reasons. I believed in the story. I believed that it was the closet where the homos live and that the door needed throwing open. I still do.”

Clive Barker

The antagonists in NIGHTBREED come from all corners of entrenched patriarchal systems – science, law enforcement organized religion. And this is not a random arbitrary choice. In the 1960s, this trinity would be the good guys, the forces of normalcy defending us from the weird and monstrous. Barker flips that notion on its head, turning these forces into puritanical crusaders for maintaining the status quo and the elimination of the “commies, freaks or Third World y-chromosome mutants” that threaten it.

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For Phillip Decker, psychiatrist and serial killer, it’s a class thing. With his impeccable fashion sense, his ornate office and his penchant for hunting the lower classes of society, Decker is a dark personification of the one-percent. Decker’s motivation is spelled out in no uncertain terms as he tortures a local for information.

“See, I’ve cleaned up a lot of breeders. Families like cesspools, filth making filth and I did it over and over and over again, but it was all leading me here. I was born to destroy Boone and The Breed together.”

 

bossybottomWilliam Eigerman , while not as refined and polished as Decker, is cut from the same cloth:  a man of violence and toxic masculinity, masquerading as the face of respectability – in this case, Shere Neck’s police chief. Eigerman is a fascist through and through ( his name roughly translates to “Man of Stone) with the one-two punch of “just folks” charm and brute force. His constables, loyal to the last man, eagerly follow their boss’ evry wish, partly out of fear, but mostly out of respect. Eigerman’s relationship with his troops (and presumably with the townspeople)

ashberrytempleBut the greatest threat will be found in the least likely of this trinity, the Reverend Ashberry (Malcolm Smith). In many ways, he’s the town fool, openly denigrated by Eigerman, Decker and the assembled mob of The Sons of the Free as weak, “a drunk” and “faggot”. But that all changes when Ashberry is “touched” by Baphomet, The Breed’s god-protector, during The Battle of Midian. Scarred and reconfigured by this encounter, Ashberry is a changed man. Rejected by both his god and The Breed’s, he serves a new purpose: the eradication of The Tribes of The Moon. When the wounded Eigerman begs Ashberry to take him along, the priest snaps his former tormentor’s neck without a second thought and leaves the ruins to fulfill his new destiny. While his story, and The Breed’s, was never continued in cinematic form, Barker had very specific plans for this new enemy, as seen in this passage from NIGHTBREED: THE MAKING OF THE FILM:

“There are people out there in the world who have been waiting for Ashberry. Just as there are people out there who have been waiting for Boone. Secret orders who have been waiting for their particular Lucifer. Armies waiting to rise who want a leader, and Ashberry is going to walk into their lives like I guess Hitler did; to stir up some deep feeling.”

While the director’s cut does paint a more sympathetic view of The Breed and a more damnable one of its human antagonists, there’s never been a doubt where Barker’s sympathies have always lied. In one of the movie’s most striking scenes, Lori is given a glimpse of The Breed’s suffering at the hands of man – a Bosch-like setpiece which shows the monsters being tortured and executed. It’s gruesome and unsettling and brings Lori to tears.

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FIVE FOR FIVE: SELECTIONS FOR REMAKES & REBOOTS

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Remakes. Reboots. Re-imaginings.  The names may change, but the song remains the same. Take an existing concept or title, mix it up for a new audience and hope for a financial windfall. And, as the boss pointed out earlier, we really need to stop getting bent out of shape about it. Because there are many more coming around the bend next year. How many? How’s about “lucky number 13” many .

So, instead of raging against the dying of the light, I’m going to have some fun with it. I’ve gone through my personal Library of More Movies than Common Sense and looking through the catalogue, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are very few films in our hallowed genre that are universally precious and untouchable. I’m not talking about your personal taste. I’m talking about across-the-board agreement.  JAWS. ALIEN. THE EXORCIST. A small clutch of films that are perfect in every way and require absolutely no reinterpretation.

So if we’re going to go down the cinematic path of Reuse/Recycle/Release, maybe we need to look at films that actually CAN be improved upon. The middle of the road, the also-rans and the abject failures. The films that missed the mark by an inch – or a mile – that have some wiggle room for growth.

SHOCK WAVES

Whether by late-night viewing in the early 80s, or exposure to its now-iconic box art at your local video store, you know SHOCK WAVES. Heck, a certain podcast – I won’t name names – shares its name. The plot line is simple: two couples on a day cruise that goes very wrong, when their boat ends up on a mysterious island – once the home for Nazi research into creating amphibious super-soldiers. Three guesses who begins menacing our unlucky travellers?

WHY?: SHOCK WAVES is not a bad movie in and of itself. It has a lot going for it – horror icons John Carradine and Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams in a bikini, a creepy, grimy 70s grindhouse veneer and instantly iconic antagonists – the ghoulish waterlogged zombies of Der Toten Korps. But despite their keen fashion sense, our NaziFish out-of-water are relatively bland in their methodology. They drown you. Seriously. Death comes in various forms of drowning to our hapless band of tourists. One of the poor schmucks gets bundled up inside an aquarium! They’re nothing, if not consistent. Have Der Toten dish out some more creative means of… well, Toten!It also bares mentioning that, despite their superhuman abilities, their weakness is …sunlight? At least I think that’s the case, as they almost instantly dry up and die the second you pull off their goggles. As far as weaknesses go, it’s a bit goofy. Have Der Toten dish out some more creative means of… well, Toten!

Despite its horror-comedy pedigree, DEAD SNOW managed to make their undead Wehrmacht relentless, threatening and creative in their M.O. . Applying the same brand of undead menace to SHOCK WAVES would be totally cool.

Or would that be “Toten Kool”?

Yeah. I know. I’m sorry about that. Moving on.

GHOSTS OF MARS

Hollywood’s not above cannibalizing from its heavyweights, and John Carpenter is no exception. HALLOWEEN. THE FOG. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Even THE THING – a remake itself. All have been given the redux treatment, when none were necessary. The remakes brought nothing new to the table. Even now, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is winding up to get a new interpretation. But what about one of Carpenter’s lesser entires? How about one of the films that hasn’t been swept up in the recent re-evalutaion of the man’s filmography? I’m talking about GHOSTS OF MARS, Carpenter’s “3:10 TO YUMA/ EVIL DEAD On Mars”mash-up.

WHY?: It’s an awesome premise with mediocre execution. It’s Carpenter 101, folks. A siege story with good guys and bad guys forced to team up against a hostile force that wants them dead. It’s got a badass anti-hero (post NWA/pre-ARE WE THERE YET? Ice Cube) and a kick-ass heroine (Natasha Henstridge). It’s equal parts horror, science fiction and action. It’s a bit dated and has the veneer of most early 90s genre fare, but age should never be a legitimate mark against a film. With a bit more polish, and maybe a tighter focus on one of its three sub-genres, GHOSTS 2.0 could be something really special. Make it lean, mean. Swap in Idris Elba and Lena Headey for Cube and Henstridge and I’m there with bells on.

CANDYMAN

Now, before you get the pitchforks and torches out, allow me to finish. The Bernard Rose adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, THE FORBIDDEN, is untouchable. It gave us one of the genre’s most elegant and vicious icons and elevated Tony Todd to the higher rungs of the horror totem pole. There IS no logical reason to remake it.

WHY?: But re-adapting the source material from which it came? That’s a whole other deal. While the cinematic version of Candyman has become closely tied into Barker’s cinematic legacy, it is a loose adaptation of the original short, which is a different kind of beast. The bare bones are still present – a student researching urban legends comes across the real deal – there are differences in location ( England, as opposed to the movie’s urban Chicago locale) as well as in the antagonist himself – a much creepier and less-sexy/tragic take on the character than Tony Todd’s interpretation.  It’s also a much bleaker tale, less concerned with revenge from beyond the grave and more concerned with the nature of stories and legends. It’s atmospheric and grim stuff. Suggestion: Give this film to Ben Wheatley (HIGH-RISE, KILL LIST) and we could end up with two unique interpretations of the same story. And who can argue with that kind of equation?

And continuing with the theme, as it were …

RAWHEAD REX

Instead of ramping up the umpteenth attempt to do HELLRAISER, how about a Barker story that would benefit from another go? Case in point: RAWHEAD REX, Barker’s brutal and no-holds-barred monster story and the first of the BOOKS OF BLOOD stories to be adapted for the screen.

WHY?: Because despite the cult following for the movie, it’s not very good. The pacing’s off, the monster is – being frank – goofy as hell, and it’s lacking the vicious brutality of the original short story. It’s sacrilegious, sadistic and funny in the pitchest-black of gallows humour sense. Yes, a couple of the more taboo set-pieces made it into the final cut – the “baptism by piss” scene, for example –  but it all feels watered down (pun not intended, but awesome)and neutered. Safe for general consumption. And there was NOTHING safe in Barker’s early output, especially with the child-eating, man-castrating, priest-desecrating Rawhead. It’s punk rock as all get out and doesn’t care if you get offended or not. The most important reason, though, would be Barker’s notoriously vocal displeasure with the film itself.  Hey, if Stephen King can get THE SHINING redo he’s always wanted, then we owe Barker the same courtesy.

( For reference OF “what could be”, track down the Eclipse Books adaptation by Steve Niles and Les Edwards to get a tease of what I’m talking about. It’s worth the hunt.)

 

HIGHLANDER

A non-horror entry and probably my most contentious choice.

I’m sorry. Hard truths are the worst, and sugar-coating things isn’t going to help either of us. I hope we can still be friends after this but there’s no delicate or easy way to put this. Russell Mulchay’s 1986  cult-classic is a goddamn mess. An interesting and (in spite of itself) entertaining one that has benefited from the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia (perhaps more so than others), but still a goddamned mess.

WHY? : Man… where do I begin? We have the very French Christopher Lambert as a  Scottish immortal, yet we have More Scottish Than Scotland Sean Connery playing a Spanish nobleman… by way of Egypt. His utterance of the line, “I am Juan Sánchez Villalobos Ramírez, chief metallurgist to King Charles The Fifth of Spain” with a burr as thick as Gingerbread is gloriously off-kilter. We also have Clancy Brown as the bad guy, who seems to have accidentally stumbled in from a much better movie than this (Seriously, Brown walks away from this car crash intact – he’s that good). Aside from Queen’s soundtrack, is there anything about the film that has stood the test of time and couldn’t be done better? The premise is strong, but there’s nothing about the execution – the casting, the set pieces, the dialogue, the fight choreography – that can’t be improved in a number of ways.

THE BOOGENS

With a recent surge in cult status, THE BOOGENS is pretty standard  B-Movie fare. A group of young men and ladies make their way to a cottage near a run-down mining town , the site of a notorious and tragic accident. Before long, they come across the inhabitants of the mine’s tunnels and the cause of the tragedy: tentacled, subterranean creatures referred to as The Boogens.

WHY?: A little background – THE BOOGENS was one of the first horror movies I saw as a kid. One of my gateway flicks, as it were. And it blew my fragile little mind. Scared the bejeezus out of me, too. Watching it again decades later, there’s nothing about it that’s outstanding, nor awful. It’s a middle of the road  80s creature feature. A decent enough movie with a leisurely pace, better-than-normal performance for this kind of deal and pretty goofy-but-cool rubber monsters at the heart of it all. So why do it at all? Because I would like to see it. I’d like to see someone’s new take on the creatures. I’d like to see the underground world of The Boogens developed and expanded. It’s nostalgia, plain and simple. And isn’t that why these remakes get made in the first place? Easy brand recognition and rose-coloured memories of the original are a hard lure to pass up. So if someone were to tell me that, yes, a remake of THE BOOGENS is coming down the pike, I would welcome that news and buy that ticket. And I know that somewhere, deep down, you have a BOOGENS of your own.

Because we all have our own wish list, don’t we? Yes, even you with your “all remakes are stupid”. And hey, sometimes, we get lucky and we get Cronenberg’s THE FLY or Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD. A new take on an old standby that still entertains and maybe brings something new to the legacy. Some of it’s wishful thinking, yet some of it’s closer to reality than you think. HIGHLANDER? Yup, it’s confirmed as “in development” for another go. And I’m more than okay with that.

So let’s open up the floor to you. What’s on your list? What film would you like to see get the redux treatment? Sound off below.

 

 

THE VOID: Blood, Slime and Cosmic Dread in 2017’s trippiest horror film yet.

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“There is a Hell. This is worse.”

THE VOID. It’s not a sequel. It’s not a remake or reboot. It’s an original horror flick by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski, two-fifths of Canada’s Astron-6 ( FATHER’S DAY, MANBORG, THE EDITOR ) . It’s screened at multiple festivals around the world to glowing reviews. And you’re going to love it. Now you might be saying, “that’s a pretty bold claim you’re making. How do YOU know that I’ll like it?”

Well, kids, allow me to educate you.  The official synopsis is as follows:

“When police officer Carter [Aaron Poole] discovers a bloodsoaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a bare-bones night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital where they discover a gateway to immense evil.”

Not enough? Alright, then. Feast your eyes on this:

Have I got your attention now? I would bloody well hope so but I want things to be ironclad here, and video is not enough. So, in no particular order, here are some reasons THE VOID needs to be on your must-see list. Three, to be precise.

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More than an homage: a lot of reviews and articles have called THE VOID an “80s throwback”, a pastiche of homages and shout-outs to that most influential of decades and at first glance, it’s an easy comparison to make.  But instead of “nudge-nudge, see what we did there?” fan service or post-modern deconstruction of horror cinema tropes, THE VOID takes these influences, puts them in a contemporary setting and plays them straight. No muss, no fuss. Familiar at first glance – Kostanski and Gillespie proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, with traces of Barker, Carpenter and Fulci mingling in the film’s genetic structure –  but there’s something fresh and inventive wriggling underneath the skin that elevates it beyond this “best 80s homage ever” labeling. Put simply, it’s a good tale told well and that applies to any decade, not just the 80s.

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Practical effects: For years now, we have been bemoaning the genre’s tendency to go CGI when it comes to putting monsters on the screen and, more often than not, they’re right. With THE VOID, it’s a return to latex, bladders, blood pumps and all manner of fluids. The creature work is phenomenal & the gore visceral and unsettling because of that tangibility. It’s solid work, and it should be – Kostanski and Gillespie have years of practical experience under their belts – Kostanski in practical and digital SFX, Gillespie in graphic design and art direction. Working on films such as PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK and the remakes of ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL, they know the intricacies involved in making it look good – and getting the most bang for their buck. And it shows in THE VOID.

148778719858add4be8f114Lovecraft done right: The term “Lovecraftian” gets thrown around a lot. More often than not, it’s used as a lazy shorthand for “gooey, with lots of tentacles”. In fact, Lovecraft’s brand of fiction was short on gore or shock value and dealt with more metaphysical concerns – notably, man’s insignificance compared to the vast, unknowable reaches of the beyond. And yes, while THE VOID does have its share of slimy and slithery appendages, it’s firmly rooted in Lovecraft’s ethos:  “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” Decisions are made that breach the barrier between our world and…well, somewhere else… that have dire consequences for this side of the veil. It also manages to convey one of Lovecraft’s harder tactics: less is more. We see just enough of the otherworldly horrors brought forth from the other side without a grand-full-frame reveal, which only ends up making things more unsettling.  We’re also left with no exposition dump on just what exactly is waiting in The Void, building the mystery with nightmare flashes, making the viewer fill in the blanks with their own worst fears. And that is NOT easy to pull off in a visual medium, folks, but they find that sweet spot . Kostanski and Gillespie have made a film that’s worthy of the “Lovecraftian” label. And true to form, shit gets pretty bleak.

THE VOID is trippy, relentlessly entertaining and mean as hell. A “video nasty” with modern sensibilities and flair. More often than not, horror fans are very quick to point out what’s wrong with the genre. So here’s one that gets it right. Get out there and see it. Remember, you don’t get what you want if you don’t speak up and trust me, you want this.

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THE VOID will be available on V.O.D. April 7th, with a limited theatrical run – check the listing to see if its playing near you). Home video release dates are pending,so keep your eye on Facebook, Twitter  , Instagram & the official website for updates.

F**k This Ship: 20 Years of EVENT HORIZON

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” I created the Event Horizon to reach the stars, but she’s gone much, much farther than that. She tore a hole in our universe, a gateway to another dimension. A dimension of pure chaos. Pure… evil. When she crossed over, she was just a ship. But when she came back… she was alive! Look at her, Miller. Isn’t she beautiful?

Re-evaluating movies once seen as failures has become something of a sub-genre of its own among film aficionados. A film maligned by critics and ignored at the box office is now more likely to find a fresh following among new fans through word of mouth or nostalgic endorsements from a small (but vocal) fan base. In recent years, one of the films that has gained the most from this “better late than never” retrospection is Paul Anderson’s sci-fi/horror tale, EVENT HORIZON.

The story is all too familiar to horror cinema devotees: after seeing the 130-minute cut of the film for the first time, Paramount became a little gun-shy of their finished product. For a film being released for the summer, it was considered too long and definitely far too violent & mean for summertime consumption. Anderson was forced to make cuts to the film to make it more palatable (and profitable) for mainstream audiences. To no one’s surprise, after all the fiddling and second-guessing, the end result was a low take at the box office and a heap of derision from critics. It wouldn’t be the first film to suffer this fate, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Now, in re-evaluating a film like HORIZON, there’s a tendency to treat them like some sort of lost and unappreciated classic. Let’s get this out of the way – the film has its flaws. Critics called it a pastiche of other films – THE SHINING, HELLRAISER , ALIEN and SOLARIS all get brought up  – and they’re not wrong. But considering the amount of homage that goes on in this genre, it’s unfair to take this film in particular to task. Especially when the final product works as surprisingly well as it did and what works, works really well.

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For starters, the two headliners – Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill – are both solid here. Neill’s Dr. Weir, the obsessed creator of the gravity drive, gradually slips into madness as his creation begins to work on him, molding him from its creator (father?) to a loyal servant – Renfield to its Dracula. There’s a last-minute Cenobite-like transformation for Weir in the climax, which feels tacked on but Neill’s descent into homicide and worse makes him a strong avatar for the evil ship..

event-horizon-lawrence-fishburne1Fishburne’s Miller, the captain of The Lewis & Clarke salvage ship, is straight-up, no-nonsense, placing his crew’s safety over all other concerns, even if it means putting himself in jeopardy. And he does it all with an effortless “military man” cool. The other cast members equip themselves well enough, but Neill & Fishburne keep things anchored, especially when in conflict over the mission plan.

Then there’s the titular space hulk itself, a character in its own right, and designed as such. Like a metal bird of prey, illuminated by the thunderstorm of the nearby planet it orbits, The Event Horizon seems designed for malevolence. From the long and alien passageways, to the doorways – all punctuated with sharp spikes and edges, as if the ship is making its intentions known through its architecture. At the center of it all, Weir’s Gravity Drive, a revolving puzzle-like sphere that generates and artificial black hole that bridges two points for instantaneous travel. The room is ringed by sharp spikes in the walls and a moat of brackish blood-like fluid surrounding it. Practical? No, certainly not for trans-warp space travel. But it’s visually effective and creates a great sense of dread the minute our intrepid retrieval crew steps onboard.

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But for anybody with even a passing knowledge of this film, the conversation around EVENT HORIZON always comes back to THAT scene.

You know the one. It’s why freeze-frame was invented.

The reveal of what happened to Event Horizon’s crew in that final video log is a Boschian pastiche of cruelty and bloodletting – friends and colleagues once, now doing horribly animalistic things to each other, all seen through the briefest of subliminal flashes. It’s a bravura horror set-piece, more unsettling for what’s implied than shown. I could post the clip – twenty years is well past spoiler worries now, right? – but you can find it easily on Google . Besides, without context and without the slow build-up to this reveal, it’s not going to have any impact. Instead, I’m sharing that scene’s climax – a moment of silence punctuated by Fishburne’s very matter-of-fact assessment – that acts as one of the best punchlines in horror cinema history.

 

It’s not Miller’s only common sense moment. As Weir attempts to convince Miller not to leave his ship behind, Miller responds:

” I have no intention of leaving her, Doctor. I will take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance, and then I will launch TAC missiles at the Event Horizon until I’m satisfied she’s vaporized. Fuck this ship!”

Where many horror films will have the characters do something stupid for the sake of plot momentum, HORIZON refuses to play like that and for that, it’s worthy of respect.

While interest in a director’s or extended cut is very strong, this is one of those cases where it’s just not feasible. All excised material was literally and unceremoniously dumped, eventually rediscovered in (I kid you not) a salt mine in Transylvania. The film stock was damaged beyond repair, so any and all chances of seeing HORIZON in Anderson’s original vision are dead. And yes, it’s a shame that we won’t get to see this unfiltered and uncut version, the film still stands well enough on its own as-is, warts and all.

Twenty years on, EVENT HORIZON still has the power to creep you out. And those studio heads mentioned earlier? They were right. This is a dark and mean-spirited little flick, which makes it stand out among the more jokey and self-referential scare fare of the 1990s. Perhaps more importantly, though, then what could have been for the film is what HORIZON’s success might have meant for its director. Anderson made the conscious choice to pick a hard-R horror film after MORTAL KOMBAT’s success. This meant turning down offers to direct ALIEN RESURRECTION and X-MEN. Anderson’s been doing alright, though, overseeing the incredibly successful RESIDENT EVIL film franchise. Now that he’s wrapping up that tour of duty, though, maybe we’ll get to see him get back on the path he started on with EVENT HORIZON.

In an 2012 interview for Collider.com,  Anderson spoke of the time he screened HORIZON for Kurt Russel, when the two of them were filming 1998’s SOLDIER . At the end of it, Russel told him that this would be the film he would be remembered for.

As far as legacies go, we should all be so lucky.

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SINISTER SEVEN: R.H STAVIS, LA Exorcist

Originally Published October 17, 2016 for rue-morgue.com

Possession and exorcism. Long before William Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel (and the subsequent blockbuster film adaptation) brought the topic into the public consciousness, this spiritual battle between man and otherworldly forces has been chronicled, documented and fictionalized for decades. As the 21st Century continues to truck along, though, and the nature of man’s relationship with religion and spirituality changes and evolves,  there are still some among us who walk that line between the physical and the spiritual. Which brings us to R.H. Stavis.

A Los Angeles resident, Stavis plies her trade as a writer in multiple fields – books, comics, video games, as well as screenplays for film and television. But as the old adage says, Stavis’ job does not define her. Instead, she has carved out an interesting path for herself in L.A., a path very much less travelled.

R.H. Stavis, you see, is an exorcist.  This is not a hobby for her, nor is it the dabblings of an occult dilettante. Stavis has been plying her trade for some time in Los Angeles and staked her claim in the city’s occult circles. I was able to get some time with Stavis to discuss her chosen path, where it all began and what’s waiting down the road.

Let’s start from the top: tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

I am an exorcist, first and foremost. That’s what I do, I take your demons out. Aside from that, I am also a writer for film and television. Being an exorcist just happens to be like my “Buffy calling”. So I do that for people, not as my work but because I can, if that makes sens

What was your “ground zero”, the event that set you on this path?

When I was a kid, you know how kids would say there are monsters under the bed, or monsters under the closet, and then someone comes in and shows them that there’s nothing there? Well, for me, there was actually something there. I’ve always been able to see entities – I usually call them “entities”, not “demons”. I can see entities with my eyes. I’ve always been able to do that, and when I got old enough to learn – the hard way, I guess – that not everybody does that, that that’s ‘weird’ – I stopped talking about it. I actually tried to block it out in public settings as much as possible. And then, later on in life, there was a point in myadult life where it all came rushing back, and I wasn’t as good at blocking it out anymore. So, when that happened, it was either close my mind or do something with it. I figured if I had this ability and I was, as far as I know, the only one who could see them with my eyes, then there was a reason I had that. I decided that I was going to start helping people.

In preparing for this kind of work, did you adapt the standard Catholic methodology or have you chosen a more “D.I.Y.” style in your approach?

I’m non-denominational. I’m one of those weirdos that religion has nothing to do with it. If anybody does their research on ‘entities’, they would see that they date back to ancient Sumeria. It’s actually kind of a weird issue for me because even though I am non-denominational, I often work with high- being entities too. The way I try to describe it to people is it’s a diamond-shape. We are the middle of the diamond, and that there are entities below that from us and the entities above that give to us. Those are the ones that people call angels or gods. I actually work with all of these. I work with High-Being Entities to remove Low-Being Entities, so while I don’t recognize them as “religious”, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. If that makes sense.

Los Angeles has had a long history as a hotbed of occult activity. Are these merely legends and rumours or, from what you have seen, is there substance to those claims?

There’s a lot in Los Angeles, in certain parts here. I can feel it in the ground, where dark things have happened. Mythical ideas, whether they’re true or not, of “celebrity cults” and such. All of these things do exist, and they’ve been here for a very long time. Walking through certain parts of Los Angeles, like Griffith Park for example, you can feel how dark that area is. And it has been that way for a long, long time. Maybe hundreds of years. This is a place with a lot of darkness, and its place where someone like me spends a great deal of time working on people, taking that darkness out. And places, as well.

Is there a standard operating procedure in place before you enter a hot spot, an established playbook in mind when dealing with these entities?

 No, there isn’t. I’ve done thousands of these by now, and in the beginning when I was starting out, I would speak to High Beings and download that information from them and work each individual person in that way. Now, I can’t say it’s the same every time, because it’s not. Each person is dealing with something different. There are a lot of entities that will continue to show up, so I have a very specific idea on how to get those ones out, but every person is different, and the reasons they have it can be different, so that’s where everything changes. And buildings are always different, too. So when a person comes in I can speak to their High Beings and I can tell them what’s going on with them and then we proceed into what we are going to do. Like I said, it’s slightly different for everyone. There are certain things that I’ll always do. Certain beings that I work with that I will always call in. I make different cleansing incenses for people. That kind of stuff will always be going on. But if I were in a pinch and I didn’t have any of those things, I could still do it.

We’ve all seen the pyrotechnic-heavy view of possessions and exorcisms in the movies – shattered mirrors, levitation and the possibility of death – which are obviously amped up for dramatic impact. Have you encountered any cases or situations where that level of threat presents itself?

Always. They’re always dangerous, for me. Not everything that’s attached to people is dangerous to the point of death, though. When I talk to people about entities and what they have and what they don’t, I refer to those ones as “movie-style” entities – the very dramatic, the more brazen. Half the time, the larger ones, the ones that have the strength that “movie-style” entities are trying to portray, they stay hidden. They wouldn’t be like “hey, look at me!” It’s usually the smaller entities that will puff themselves up like cats. That doesn’t happen a lot with the top of the food chain, which is what I call The Realmwalker, or what other people might refer to as The Devil. That thing doesn’t like to show itself. It only participates in places or people that are world-changers. It has no interest in a girl in a farm in Wisconsin, unless she’s going to be a world-changer. So there are instances where I deal with entities like that, but they are much rarer. Most of the population doesn’t carry something like that. Most people are not world changers.

Considering the nature of your field of work, has there even been any offers to follow you around, document and/or adapt your experiences for television, film, etc.?

I actually can tell you this today. I have approval today to start talking about a memoir coming out with HarperCollins. So you’re the first to know. Fall 2017 is our slated date with bay Street Books. I have a film in the works right now, more of fictionalized account and there may or may not be this amazing documentary. I can’t say much, but there may be an exorcism involved. And I’ve been offered reality shows a bunch, but I have declined all of those. I’m very excited about all of that. Working with Bay Street and Harper Collins has been a real treat, because they’ve been really enthusiastic about from day one. It’s really exciting to get that information out to people who are not here  in L.A., and may not know what they’ve got going on. And how to potentially fix that for themselves. All of that is really good because unless I travel, I’m only able to do this in one place. Honestly, it’s going to be crazy.

You can follow the exploits of R.H. Stavis on Facebook and Twitter, as well as updates on her expanding list of projects.