“House of Fears” meanders from a brief, jarring cold open to a scene of Rocky Point Haunted House designer Cydney Neil (appearing as herself) investigating an African mine, to teen stepsisters Hailey and Samantha (Corri English and Sandra McCoy) getting escorted to a party by their parents.
The 'dark ride' is a venerable staple of fairs, carnivals and theme parks. Sometimes they're innocuous, like Disney's cheery “It's a Small World,” and sometimes they're a bit more sinister, but no matter what mood they try to capture, a theatrically-lit enclosed space full of animatronics is always uncanny.
Films that 'save' a generation of horror cinema often leave a legacy of low-budget atrocity in their wake, but it sometimes feels like no movie has inspired so many terrible movies as Scream. Indeed, the premise of kids who know everything about horror movies being trapped in a horror movie scenario sounds as if it a) cannot fail and b) writes itself. For these same reasons, the self-aware teen slasher is tempting to untalented screenwriters – it's practically a Mad Libs, really.
“The Gravedancers” is a frustrating film. It wears its ambitions very plainly and comes just close enough to sticking it that you get a very full sense of what the movie might have been if it were directed by Sam Raimi or a younger Peter Jackson. Like some of the other veterans of the first After Dark Horrorfest - “Wicked Little Things” and “Dark Ride” come to mind most readily - “Gravedancers” is compelling and entertaining, but ultimately constrained by a budget that cannot keep pace with its concept.
Along with topics like boobs and gore and clever one-liners, horror cinema also probes other subjects with the same aplomb. Subjects like the moral repercussions of transhumanist science, the blurring of the line between man and God and the depredations of the white military industrial complex upon the natural world. Both of these themes resonate deeply in the 2007 Canadian made-for-TV movie “Hybrid,” albeit without the same level of care and thought that went into this year's “Splice,” which is clearly a film strongly influenced by “Hybrid.”
In the horror drought that follows October, people get desperate for scares – desperate enough to wade into the Watch Instantly vaults and watch damn near anything in hope that it will be either sufferable or incredibad, which is how I imagine most viewers will find “Are You Scared?” Unfortunately, the film evokes neither of those adjectives.
The failsafe horror formula in the first half of this new century seems to be summed up by the following formula: “There's a [mundane object] that's haunted, and when you [interact with] it, it kills you. There's a videotape that's haunted, and if you watch it, it kills you. There's a house that's haunted, and if you go inside, it kills you. There's a cellphone that's haunted, and if you answer it, it kills you. There's a tie tac that's haunted, and if you wear it, it kills you. There's a bed that's haunted and when you sleep on the bed, it eats you. You know how it goes.
The last of Robert E. Howard’s seminal pulp heroes to get the film treatment, “Solomon Kane” fares better than Kull, but (perhaps just barely) eludes the classic appeal of John Milus’s “Conan the Barbarian.” Unfortunately “Kane,” which is already on DVD in its native United Kingdom, is unlikely to see a wide theatrical release in the US, joining Jonathan Levine’s “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” among the rolls of genre films that have garnered critical acclaim on the festival circuit but then vanished into distribution limbo.
We believe in systems. Each of the promises society implicitly makes to us each day, they are enforced, codified and guaranteed by a system. We might doubt its efficacy, yes, or question the competence of the necessary bureaucracy, but the system persists despite itself, replacing fetishes and the knucklebones of saints in a secular world.
When systems break down, when they fail, that's when we feel fear. When we comprehend that they have betrayed us, dread. Horror is an examination of what happens when the universe breaks its promises.
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