The Blog

Site News, Reviews & Miscellany

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Anything For Jackson (Canada, 2020)

Anything For Jackson is a last-minute addition to my list. I had originally planned to review Strip Nude For Your Killer today, but decided I was in the mood for something a bit more contemporary. Anything For Jackson had garnered some good reviews. And given the podcast, how could I pass up on a name like that?

anything for jackson 1

Synopsis

Audrey and Henry are a perfectly pleasant couple of senior citizens living in suburban Canada. Henry is a GP, working at a small surgery, and Audrey is an old-fashioned homemaker. They are also devout Satanists, performing regular black masses with their coven at the local community centre. Satanism isn’t just a religion for them, however — it is a means to an end. And that end is bringing their beloved grandson Jackson back from the dead.

After procuring an ancient grimoire, Audrey and Henry have learned the basics of necromancy and demonology. They decide to put this knowledge to work, kidnapping one of Henry’s patients, Becker, a pregnant woman with no family ties. Using their limited understanding of black magic, the couple attempt to bind the spirit of their dead grandson into Becker’s unborn child.

Of course, this goes horribly wrong and their home becomes infested with spirits of the unquiet dead. Can Audrey and Henry turn things around? Will Becker manage to escape? And is it really a good idea to call upon that one creepy coven member for help? Things are going to get nasty.

anything for jackson 2

General Thoughts

I am a sucker for villains with sympathetic motivations. While grieving relatives trying to raise loved ones from the dead is a horror staple, Anything For Jackson portrays it well enough to feel fresh. The simple matter of Audrey and Henry being grandparents changes the dynamic, their age making them seem harmless and trustworthy. Even when they do the most horrible things, we can’t help but root for them on some level. They’re just so damn nice.

Their situation is made all the more compelling by just how out of their depth they are. These are two grieving people, driven to extreme action, using tools they only think they understand. While we may sympathise with their desperation, it only leads to greater and greater suffering.

One of the ghosts haunting Audrey and Henry’s home is played by Troy James, a contortionist who has made a career playing movie monsters. While his weird, disjointed way of scuttling across the ground is unnerving, it’s become overused. My reaction when he appeared here was less revulsion and more just, “Oh, it’s him again.”

On the other hand, that old woman who keeps flossing her teeth out? She’s creepy!

anything for jackson 3

Verdict

While Anything For Jackson isn’t in the running for my pick of the month, it is a solid, entertaining horror film. More importantly, it is a fine example of how weird, nasty, supernatural horror has made a comeback. The premise feels like it might have come from a lurid ’80s paperback with a leering demon on the cover. How Anything For Jackson differs from the horrors of the ’80s, however, is that it takes its subject matter more seriously. That is not to say that Anything For Jackson is devoid of humour, just that it is surprisingly straight-faced. Its characters are eccentric, but they’re not jokes. The ghosts and demons are genuinely scary and not even slightly campy. This is a dark story told in a spirit of fun.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

The Lighthouse (USA, 2019)

Over the past couple of years, a ludicrous number of people have told me to watch The Lighthouse. Everything I heard made it sound like exactly the kind of film I love. Robert Eggers’ previous feature, The Witch, was remarkable and I’ve been keen to see what he did next. The only reason I’ve dragged my heels is that it’s taken this long to turn up on any of my streaming services. Happily, it’s been worth the wait.

the lighhouse 1

Synopsis

Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) has taken on a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island. He is working under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a more experienced keeper. From the outset, the relationship between the two men is strained as Wake delegates all the heavy labour while denying Winslow access to the lantern room. Wake, in turn, dislikes Winslow for being taciturn and refusing to drink with him at mealtimes.

As he goes about his duties, Winslow is tormented by a gull. Wake warns him that it would be bad luck to kill the creature, but Winslow eventually snaps and beats it to death. The wind immediately changes, signalling rough weather ahead.

A storm hits the island on the day Winslow’s contract comes to an end. With the wind and rain rising, the relief vessel never arrives. The two men, stranded on the island with dwindling supplies, descend into drunkenness and madness, revealing terrible secrets and committing even more terrible acts.

the lighthouse 2

General Thoughts

Visually, The Lighthouse looks like it could have been made 100 or more years ago. The grainy black-and-white photography, stark lighting and square aspect ratio make it seem like a lost artefact from the age of silent film, although it is very much a talkie. Of course, some of the more extreme content would never have made it onto the screen in those days, even before the Hays Code. Although the lack of colour softens the effect, there is a lot of death and mutilation in The Lighthouse, and a surprising amount of sexuality.

Both Pattinson and Dafoe turn in amazing performances. Almost every scene is charged with intense emotion, whether simmering or in full force. Still, Pattinson is upstaged by the belligerent gull every time it comes on screen. Whoever trained the bird deserves an award of their own. I have never seen a bird convey such pure malice. It is a worthy animal successor to Black Philip.

While the tone and story are completely different, I kept thinking of the 2017 film, Cold Skin. Both it and The Lighthouse share a premise of a younger lighthouse keeper coming to work for a more experienced one on a remote island. In Cold Skin, however, it is not just isolation and madness threatening the two men, but something altogether more Lovecraftian.

It is a weird experience watching The Lighthouse over 18 months into the pandemic. For many of us, isolation has become an everyday fact of life. Watching these two men stripped of their social graces and then their sanity resonates all too well. I hope most of us still fart less enthusiastically, however.

the lighthouse 3

Verdict

The Lighthouse is everything I hoped it would be. As some of the other selections this month have shown, it is all too easy for a slow, moody horror film to fall prey to tedium. There is no risk of that here. Just watching the two leads arguing over the mundane details of keeping the lighthouse running is tense enough. Once the delusions and violence set in, every scene crackles with dark energy.

Like The Witch, this is a relatively straightforward story, told with imagination. The final act is a little more oblique in places, filled with mythological allusions. Some key revelations slip out as hints or in the midst of insane diatribes, demanding our attention. Even then, everything is wrapped up nicely enough that I cannot imagine the resolution frustrating frustrating too many people.

The fact that I’m not sure if The Lighthouse will be my pick of the month owes more to the strength of the other films than any weakness here. This is an excellent piece of work.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italy, 1972)

It is mandatory for my October Horror Movie Challenge to include something by Lucio Fulci. If I’ve scheduled too many serious, weighty films, I can always count on Fulci’s sheer bloody insanity to shake the cobwebs loose. The problem is, as with Val Lewton, I’ve large exhausted his horror catalogue. I’ve watched almost all the classics, as well as a few real turkeys (New York Ripper, I’m looking at you!), and I’m down to the last few. Don’t Torture a Duckling has been on my list forever. Let’s see if it does the job.

don't torture a duckling 1

Synopsis

Three teenage boys in a small Italian town keep causing trouble, spying on their neighbours’ sexual exploits and bullying a simple-minded local. A local witch places a curse upon them, ramming needles into wax effigies. Shortly afterwards, the boys start dying, all strangled or drowned. A variety of people, including the witch, are blamed for the murders, but each in turn proves innocent.

So who is killing these children? Does it have anything to do with witchcraft? Is it all linked to the attractive young woman with a dark past who recently returned to town? Can the authorities keep the rising panic under control? And what does all of this have to do with ducklings anyway?

don't torture a duckling 2

General Thoughts

1970s Italian horror films had the best titles! Most of Fulci’s films have much plainer names but this one is delightfully baroque. Only his A Cat in the Brain comes anywhere near.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is the closest I’ve seen to Fulci making a classic giallo. It’s a bloody murder mystery with psychosexual underpinnings. At the same time, it doesn’t incorporate many of the classic giallo tropes. While there are weird flourishes, there is nothing dreamlike in this film. We don’t get to see the murders taking place, only their aftermath. And simply making the victims teenage boys sets it apart in the genre.

The sexuality in this film is uncomfortable. This is not just the usual disconnect between contemporary mores and those of the ’70s. The boys at the heart of the film are young, maybe 13 or 14. Scenes of them spying on prostitutes or being teased by a sexually aggressive older woman are clearly meant to make us squirm. And they do.

While this is far from Fulci’s weirdest film, there are some wonderfully eccentric characters. Although he hardly gets any screen time, Francesco, the male witch, is a highlight. I could happily have watched a film just about him.

And although the witchcraft in this film is, arguably, hokum, the witch hunting isn’t. Don’t Torture a Duckling is at its strongest when showing us the damage caused by suspicion and false accusations. The murders themselves pale in comparison to the damage done by the community in response.

don't torture a duckling 3

Verdict

Don’t Torture a Duckling is a fine thriller but it doesn’t quite deliver what I love about Fulci. While it definitely has weird and macabre elements, it is not as insanely imaginative and uncomfortable as his later films. During the first act, I almost felt like I was watching a soap opera, just one with more dead children than usual. Only the absurd gore of the final scene feels like it could come from a later Fulci effort.

But this doesn’t mean that Don’t Torture a Duckling is a bad film. It is entertaining, strange and challenging. If you have any interest in ’70s Italian horror (and what right-thinking person hasn’t?), you will find plenty to engage you here. Just don’t expect the manic bloody surrealism of vintage Fulci.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

Sator (USA, 2019)

If you asked, I probably say that my ideal horror film would be something slow and creepy, rooted in folk horror. My experiences this month are making me reconsider this, however. Between my lack of engagement with Hagazussa and The Eyes of My Mother, and now this film, maybe my tastes are changing. With its more esoteric elements, Sator isn’t precisely a folk horror film, but its woodland setting certainly ties it to the genre. But beyond that, I’d struggle to say what it is. And maybe that’s the problem.

Sator 1

Synopsis

Bear with me. There isn’t enough of a plot for me to synopsise Sator easily. Judging by the lack of synopses on any of the usual film sites, I’m not the only person to struggle with this.

Basically, there’s a man in a woodland cabin. Creepy things happen there and in the surrounding woodlands. This all ties in with his family, especially his senile grandmother, who talks about being in contact with a demonic entity called Sator. Oh, and there seems to be a cult.

Sator 2

General Thoughts

This is a slow film that relies entirely on atmosphere. It is 14 minutes before there is any actual dialogue. Until this point, we just hear weird, rambling monologues. In general, the dialogue is mumbled and oblique enough as to challenge us to care about what anyone is actually saying.

One nice visual touch is the switch between colour and black and white, with changes in aspect ratio, whenever we flash back. It does feel like watching someone’s home movies, filling in a few details of the family history.

Sator 3

Verdict

I want to feel something about Sator or to have deep, contemplative thoughts about it, but I’m coming up empty. There just wasn’t enough here that I could connect with in any way. It was certainly eerie and pretty to look at. A few times it managed to make me uncomfortable. But in the end, there just wasn’t much there.

Sator definitely prioritises style over substance. That is not to say that there is no substance — just that it works hard to be oblique. I’ve been told that the film’s depths open up when you read about how the filmmaker worked aspects of his own family life into the narrative. That’s fine, and even a little intriguing, but a film needs to stand on its own merits. I am old and grumpy and I do not want to have to do homework to find a horror film engaging.

As much as I love folk horror, maybe I’ve just had too much of people running around in darkened woods, chasing creepy sounds. If I were to be dismissive, I’d just say that Sator is a mash-up of The Blair Witch Project and The Witch, but without the emotional depth of the latter. It does deserve a better appraisal than that, however. While it may not have worked for me, I do admire its aspirations. I’ll just leave appreciation to those who got more from its mysteries.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!

By Scott Dorward

OHMC 2021 logo

mon mon mon MONSTERS (Taiwan, 2017)

mon mon mon MONSTERS was another random selection, plucked from my streaming subscriptions to flesh out this month’s list. I knew nothing about it beyond it being a Taiwanese film with an awful title. While I get what they were going for with that name, the tweeness almost put me off. I’m glad it didn’t. This has proved the biggest surprise of the month so far.

mon mon mon MONSTERS 1

Synopsis

Lin Shuwei is the kind of nerdy, overachieving high school pupil that other students love to torment. And torment him they do. No matter how brutal the bullying becomes, his teacher turns a blind eye. When a group of troublemakers frames Lin for stealing class funds, Lin proves innocence. His teacher punishes him anyway, alongside the actual perpetrators.

This punishment takes the form of community service at a shelter for the elderly. Predictably, the boys spend their time abusing the residents instead of helping. Late one night, the boys encounter a pair of humanoid creatures hunting the residents. Following an altercation, the boys knock out the younger of these two and take it back to their hideout.

Over the course of days, the boys torture the creature, pulling teeth and extracting blood. They learn that, like a vampire, it is vulnerable to sunlight and feeds on human blood. As they find ways to use their captive’s powers, the older creature comes looking for her kin, leaving a trail of bodies in her wake.

mon mon mon MONSTERS 2

General Thoughts

There are so many scenes in mon mon mon MONSTERS that start off comedic but turn into something much nastier. This is a film of dizzying tonal shifts, all deployed expertly. Every time we start succumbing to the film’s superficial good humour, it slaps us hard, reminding us what we are really watching. It is like being in the company of a glibly charming psychopath whose mask keeps slipping.

This is reinforced by the presence of a genuine psychopath. Tuan Renhao, the leader of the gang, is terrifying. His boyish good looks and affable manner are weapons, ready to be dropped in favour of violence at any moment. We can’t help but give into his charisma, despite knowing what a monster he is. This is a skin-crawling study in manipulation.

The actual monsters, as creepy as they appear, are far more sympathetic. These grey-skinned, feral vampires have mouths full of shark’s teeth and scuttle across walls like spiders. They are undeniably monstrous, hunting vulnerable humans for food. At the same time, they are a family unit who care for each other and display real emotional vulnerability. The older creature’s grief and anger are both frightening and heart-rending. This is the perfect counterpoint to the boys’ callousness and cruelty.

Like vampires, the gang’s monstrous nature is contagious. Their influence transforms Lin as much as any vampiric bite. By the end of the film, it feels like he is capable of anything.

mon mon mon MONSTERS 3

Verdict

With its glossy visuals and lively pace, mon mon mon MONSTERS feels lighter than it is. It wears the mask of a teen comedy, hiding something horrible underneath. The sheer style and energy reminded me of Edgar Wright’s work. But where most horror comedies use their lighter moments to soften or counterpoint the darker ones, here they just lull us into briefly forgetting what kind of film we are watching.

I was genuinely surprised at how brutal mon mon mon MONSTERS is. The older monster’s hunt for her companion is merciless. She kills violently and efficiently, without hesitation. In a couple of especially gruesome scenes, she despatches dozens of people in minutes, tearing through them like a machine. And the ending is so absolutely pitch dark that it left me shocked.

There is not a single scene in mon mon mon MONSTERS that fails to engage. It is efficiently and mercilessly scripted and executed. This is the kind of seemingly effortless filmmaking that makes you wonder why all horror films can’t be as good. Highly recommended.

The October Horror Movie Challenge

Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.

If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:

  1. Possessor (2020)
  2. The Boogey Man (1980)
  3. Jakob’s Wife (2021)
  4. The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
  5. Cold Hell (2017)
  6. Seance (2021)
  7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
  8. Dachra (2018)
  9. Isle of the Dead (1945)
  10. After Midnight (2019)
  11. The Baby (1973)
  12. Hagazussa (2017)
  13. Frightmare (1974)
  14. The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  15. Dave Made a Maze (2017)
  16. Raw (2016)
  17. The Old Ways (2020)
  18. Terror Train (1980)
  19. mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
  20. Sator (2019)
  21. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
  22. The Lighthouse (2019)
  23. Anything For Jackson (2020)
  24. Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
  25. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
  26. The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
  27. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  28. The Wizard of Gore (1970)
  29. Fingers (2019)
  30. Lake Bodom (2016)
  31. Island of Lost Souls (1932)

A Final Note

If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.

If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!