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By Scott Dorward

October Horror Movie Challenge

The Battery (USA, 2012)

“We’re not going anywhere. Mickey, that’s the point.”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Black Sheep, I am utterly burnt-out on zombie films. It’s got to the stage where I actively avoid anything that involves zombies. Sometimes, enough people with similar tastes recommend one to me that I’m tempted to try it. This is why I relented on Train to Busan. While it was well-made, it was still just another zombie film and did nothing to rekindle my excitement.

The Battery is the first zombie film I’ve watched since then. So, did this one bite me?

the battery 1

Synopsis

There has been a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse. Mercifully, The Battery assumes we have seen enough of these and leaves us to extrapolate what we need to. Ben and Mickey are our survivors du jour, a mismatched pair of former baseball players brought together by circumstance rather than friendship.

The two men are travelling across New England, foraging for supplies, never staying in one place. Mickey is completely dissociated from their situation. He spends his time listening to music on headphones with no regard for how vulnerable this makes him. Ben is the driving force of the pair, laying down the laws of survival.

When Mickey finds some walkie-talkies in an abandoned house, they bring him into contact with a standoffish woman named Annie. She is part of a commune of survivors called The Orchard. This, she keeps telling Mickey, is not what it seems.

Energised by the possibility of restoring some form of permanence to their lives, Mikey leads Ben towards disaster.

the battery 2

General Thoughts

Fucking zombies. I remember watching Day of the Dead at the cinema in 1985 and wishing there could be more films like this. Even with this third instalment and the various Italian knock-offs, Romero’s take on zombies felt exciting and dangerous. I suspect that somewhere, when I made that wish, a finger curled on a monkey’s paw.

Horror as a genre has always been prone to cheap cash-ins. Zombie films just made this easier. Anyone with a camera, a bit of fake blood, and access to some quiet locations could make one. And dear God they did. Even before The Walking Dead staggered its way onto television, long overstaying its welcome, the rotting corpse of zombie cinema was stinking up horror. It has been at least ten years since I have been able to watch a zombie on the screen without groaning more than it does.

At least The Battery is more of a character portrait of its two leads than a straight zombie film. For most of the first two acts, we barely see any zombies. Those our protagonists do encounter present no serious threat. In fact, when Mickey is stalked by the undead form of a young woman, his reaction is to masturbate over her.

What’s more important is the developing relationship between the two leads. They were members of the same baseball team but barely interacted before things fell apart. Now, Ben has taken it upon himself to protect Mickey, often to Mickey’s irritation. While their ongoing disagreement about whether to settle in one place or move on every day divides them, the two begin to forge some form of uneasy friendship. Maybe Ben’s strategy of always being in motion should have warned them of the danger of attachments, however.

The zombies in The Battery are shamblers, weak individually but deadly in numbers. This is a point very much in its favour. Back before my love of zombie films rotted away, the slow, shuffling hordes of the dead always appealed more than any running, screeching rage monsters. They represented the implacable inevitability of death. You can run, escaping in the short-term, but they will always catch you in the end. Slow zombies are not predators — they are an existential crisis on legs. This is something The Battery definitely gets right.

the battery 3

Verdict

Like a number of films I’ve watched this month, The Battery is a slow burn. This is a film more concerned with ennui than terror. It spends most of the first act just following these two men around New England, Mickey’s headphones providing a musical soundtrack to their journeys through picturesque but desolate locales. There is some interaction between Ben and Mickey, but the emphasis is more on portraying their alienation. This came very close to exhausting my patience.

Fortunately, as our leads connect with each other and, especially, as the temptation of The Orchard enters their lives, the film becomes more dynamic. This is essential, as the final act of the film is largely a slow, drawn-out siege, with Ben and Mickey trapped in a hopeless situation. If the film had spent less time making us care about them as people, this might have been interminable. As things stand, it’s tense and even somewhat moving.

So has The Battery electrified my love of the zombie genre? It’s certainly the best zombie film I’ve seen in a very long time, but that could be as much of a plaudit as naming my favourite bout of food poisoning. I certainly don’t resent having watched it, and the latter half of the film engaged me more than I thought it possibly could. If you haven’t come to dislike the genre as much as I have, you may find a lot to enjoy here. Still, I can’t see myself shambling off to watch any more zombie films for some time.

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:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

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

October Horror Movie Challenge

Black Sheep (New Zealand, 2006)

“Considering I’ve been attacked by genetically engineered monsters, jumped off a moving vehicle, been chased across a paddock, dragged into a torture chamber, pulled into a mountain of rotting flesh… Yes, my hormones do need fucking balancing!”

People have been recommending Black Sheep to me for as long as it’s been around. I made a mental note to check it out, although the premise sounded a bit too twee for me to prioritise it. Now that the October Horror Movie Challenge has finally given me an excuse to watch it, I can see how wrong I was to leave things this long.

black sheep 1

Synopsis

Following a terrifying childhood incident engineered by his brother Angus, Henry has a paralysing fear of sheep. This led him to flee the family sheep farm 15 years ago. Now, he has returned briefly to sell his share of the business to Angus. Unfortunately for Henry, he has chosen the worst possible day to do this.

Ecowarriors Experience and Grant are gathering information about genetic experiments on the farm for an exposé. And, to be fair, they have a point: the farm is a hotbed of mad science. When Grant makes a botched attempt to steal a failed experiment, everything goes a bit 28 Days Later. Except with sheep.

As the ovine rage virus spreads through the flock, sheep become rampaging predators, tearing apart unwary humans and feasting on their entrails. Those lucky enough to survive such attacks with only a bite find themselves metamorphosing into weresheep — bipedal monstrosities with the same bloody appetites.

Unable to escape, Henry teams up with surviving farmers and ecowarriors alike to prevent the infection spreading. Because, let’s face it, if there’s one place you really don’t want the sheep to turn against humanity, it’s New Zealand.

black sheep 2

General Thoughts

One of the joys of Black Sheep is the utter disconnect between tone and content. This is a slickly made film with a light, comic touch and a bouncy soundtrack that evokes Danny Elfman. The story and production cleave to the tropes of family-friendly blockbusters. It has a charismatic male lead overcoming childhood trauma. He falls into a will-they-won’t-they flirtation with an attractive, quirky young woman. They are accompanied on their adventures by comic-relief sidekicks, facing off against an unambiguously evil villain. Hell, they’re even saved by a dog at one point.

And yet it is filled with extreme gore, body horror, and just a touch of bestiality. This all goes beyond the horror/comedy balance of even something like Shaun of the Dead. People have their faces ripped off and run around in agony. One victim tries to fend off his attackers with his own severed foot. And there is an admittedly funny scene in which a character has his penis torn off by a hungry ewe. Black Sheep is not a film for polite company. It is a wolf in blood-soaked sheep’s clothing.

black sheep 3

Verdict

I’ve wondered in recent years whether anything might rekindle my interest in the zombie genre. While Black Sheep isn’t precisely a zombie film, it uses all the same tropes. Our heroes must fight off carnivorous hordes of mindless predators. They are badly outnumbered, running from one bad situation to the next. Being bitten turns you into one of the monsters. It’s all there, just with a little more wool than usual. And, yet, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Black Sheep gets full marks for pushing a fundamentally silly premise to weird extremes. It plays with horror tropes, turning the audience’s familiarity with them into part of the fun. This is a film that will constantly have you wondering whether what you just saw really just happened.

There is little negative that I can find to say about Black Sheep. It’s superficial, but it’s meant to be. The tropes are all familiar ones, but they are thoroughly lampooned. I suppose you may be disappointed if you’re looking for emotional depth or genuine scares. Still, I think that most horror fans will find at least something to enjoy here.

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:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

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

October Horror Movie Challenge

The Witch Who Came From the Sea (USA, 1976)

“My poppy used to say, ‘Come with me and we’ll get lost at sea, Molly my lass.’ And we got lost at sea so many, many times.”

Well, I think I’ve just watched the weirdest film I’m going to see this year. This is going to be a hard review to write. I genuinely don’t know what to make of The Witch Who Came From the Sea. It’s barely a horror film but it is repellently horrific. Almost everything about it feels cheap and amateurish but it is compelling viewing. And while the story is simple and makes perfect sense, I am having a great deal of trouble processing it. Maybe writing this review will help me unpick it all.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea 1

Synopsis

Molly’s life revolves around looking after her sister’s two young sons, working in a bar, drinking herself into blackouts, and killing men. These last two activities stem from unresolved trauma, following her repeated sexual abuse by her father when she was a child. While her sister Cathy remembers their childhood only too well, Molly has blocked it out, creating a heroic mythology about her father being a sea captain who went down with his ship.

The men Molly is attracted to are ones she has seen on TV — sports stars and actors. Television is the lens through which she sees the world. When Molly kills, she does so ritualistically and brutally, castrating her victims. At the same time, she seems capable of maintaining loving-if-strained relationships with the men and women in her life. Alcohol simply gives her licence to let out the sea witch within her.

We watch Molly bounce through a series of relationships and assignations. Some end in violence; all lead to heartache. She is a tragic figure, caught up in delusion and impulses she cannot control. At the same time, she is undoubtedly a monster.

Of course, everything comes crashing down on Molly as horrible truths come to light. This was never going to be a film with a happy ending. The final scene is especially hard to watch, as we imagine the lifelong impact it is going to have on her two young nephews.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea 2

General Thoughts

I didn’t realise until I looked it up afterwards that The Witch Who Came From the Sea was one of the original video nasties. In 1983, this was one of the dozens of films caught up in the tabloid furore about the corrupting influence of horror videos. While its prosecution for obscenity fell apart, it remained unavailable in the UK until 2006.

The aspects that seem shocking to a modern audience may not be the same ones as led to its vilification in the 1980s. While the tortures Molly inflicts on her victims are repellent, their depiction seems tame now. There is plenty of blood but the budget clearly didn’t run to prosthetic wounds. When someone is cut with a razor, for example, the area is slathered with cheap stage blood but appears otherwise undamaged. The effect is not quite laughable but it is unconvincing.

On the other hand, there is a scene towards the end of the film in which Molly’s father rapes her. While not explicit, it is a lengthy shot of a large middle-aged man simulating sexual assault on a girl in her early teens. It’s hard to imagine how this scene could have been shot without it being deeply uncomfortable for the young actress. Watching it is one of those experiences where thinking about what is happening behind the camera is at least as disturbing as what we see on screen. Either way, I can imagine this being a hard watch for a lot of viewers.

The Witch Who Came From the Sea 3

Verdict

Everything about The Witch Who Came From the Sea feels wrong. I almost gave up in the first few minutes because it was so grating. The poor audio dubbing, grainy film, stilted acting and artificial dialogue made it feel like a bad student film. And yet…

The Witch Who Came From the Sea desperately wants to be Repulsion. The amateurishness of the production makes it into something far weirder, however. Counterintuitively, this may be its strongest feature. Like the cumulative effect of all the strange angles in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the sheer oddness of every aspect of this film transforms it into something unique and disturbing. Whether or not this makes it a good film is highly debatable.

I really don’t know who I would recommend The Witch Who Came From the Sea to. It’s certainly not a film I regret watching, unlike, say, Cannibal Holocaust, but it wasn’t fun in any way. If you like cinematic oddities such as the early films of John Waters or some of the nastier exploitation films of the ’70s, you may appreciate the aesthetic. And even if you end up disliking it, at least this won’t be because it’s generic or forgettable. This is a film that doesn’t care if you hate it.

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:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

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

October Horror Movie Challenge

Deep Dark (USA, 2015)

“I’m gonna need a lot of blood.”

My method of picking candidates for the October Horror Movie Challenge is as chaotic as everything else in my life. Some are films that I’ve been meaning to watch for years; others have been recommended to me by people with similar tastes; and, a few, I just picked at random from streaming services. I chose Deep Dark simply because it involved a weird hole (more on that later). This has proved to be a stroke of luck!

Deep Dark 1

Synopsis

Hermann Haig has a dream. As a visionary young artist, he sees the beauty in mobiles. Sadly for him, the rest of the world does not. He dreams of having his work displayed in a glamorous gallery owned by the equally glamorous Devora. Sadly, Hermann’s attempt to gain her attention ends in catastrophe and a lot of blood.

In desperation, Hermann calls his uncle Felix, a successful artist living a life of indolent luxury. Felix offers a solution — Hermann needs to rent his old apartment, where his career took off. This will give Hermann the inspiration he needs. Happily, Felix now owns the building and can lease him the room for, well, pretty much all the money Hermann has.

When Hermann arrives at the apartment, he finds that it’s a dump. The only furniture is a mattress on the ground. What wallpaper there is hangs off the walls. And, behind a picture of a peacock, there is a hole in the plasterboard.

After two weeks, Hermann hits rock bottom. Just as he is ready to give up, the hole begins to communicate with him. At first, this is in the form of notes tied to lengths of thread. Later, however, the hole develops the mellifluous voice of a woman.

This, Hermann discovers, is his uncle’s one-time muse. She has guided many artists over the years, bringing them to greatness. The hole disgorges lumps of organic matter that Hermann incorporates into his mobiles, making them irresistible to anyone who sees them.

Of course, all this comes at a price. Rather than blood sacrifices or the promise of his immortal soul, the hole just wants Hermann’s love. As their relationship intensifies, however, the hole grows jealous and demanding. When Hermann falls for gallery owner Devora, tragedy becomes inevitable.

Deep Dark 2

General Thoughts

When we were putting out our lockdown specials for our Patreon backers, I read Kathe Koja’s The Cipher and watched The Hill and the Hole within a week of each other. Around the same time, I stumbled upon Deep Dark and The Hole in the Ground, and toyed with the idea of a special episode about magical holes. It seemed like a suitably odd theme to explore. Sadly, I didn’t have time to watch them all before our next recording, but kept those last two films on my list.

The Hole in the Ground proved to be an interesting if slightly flat Irish folk horror tale that did, indeed, involve a creepy hole in the ground. It has been somewhat overshadowed in my mind by the far superior The Hallow, which explores some of the same ideas.

When I read the premise of Deep Dark, I wondered if it owed anything to The Cipher. The premise of artists obsessed with a magical hole in a dingy apartment building seemed pretty specific. In execution, Deep Dark is completely different, going for discomfort rather than existential horror. The tone reminded me more of oddball black comedies like Eating Raoul or The Dark Backward. I still can’t help but wonder if The Cipher was an inspiration., however

As an aside, Deep Dark opens with a scene that nearly made me turn it off in the first minute. Uncle Felix is in bed and notices a thread poking out of his stomach. He pulls on it, unravelling his navel in a gout of blood. I had a number of nightmares like this when I was a kid and seeing it on the screen produced a visceral sense of fear and disgust that I rarely get from films. It’s strange to see my nightmares on-screen so vividly. I’m not sure if I liked the experience.

Deep Dark 3

Verdict

One of the highlights of previous October Horror Movie Challenges has been stumbling into weird films I may not have watched otherwise and falling in love with them. Deep Dark would have passed under my radar if I had not been looking for lots of films I hadn’t seen. I have no idea why it’s not better known. It certainly deserves to be.

While definitely a horror film, Deep Dark is not scary in any respect. A few scenes offer a slight sense of dread, but most of the film is simply macabre fun. That’s not to say it feels innocent or harmless — there is plenty of blood, disgust and sexual transgression. It’s just that the film never tries to frighten us. And that’s fine.

Deep Dark is going to stick with me. It hit all the right notes of comedy, horror and just sheer wrongness. While the story is a simple one, it has enough imagination and emotional depth to hook you in and keep you gripped. 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:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

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

October Horror Movie Challenge

Night of the Demons (USA, 1988)

“Eat a bowl of fuck!”

Sometimes you want to sip fine wine from a crystal glass, swirling it around to let it breathe, appreciating the bouquet and savouring every mouthful; and sometimes you just want to sit on a cemetery wall by moonlight, necking supermarket-brand cider straight from the bottle. Barring a couple of exceptions, I have chosen too many worthy, aspirational horror films this month. Most horror just isn’t like that, however. It’s hard to think of another genre that’s filled with as much cheap, unapologetic, joyous trash. So, here comes Night of the Demons!

Night of the Demons 1

Synopsis

Creepy goth girl Angela has invited a bunch of thirty-year-old teenagers to her Halloween party. The characters are pretty much the stereotypes you’d imagine. This saves any effort in getting to know them.

The party, of course, takes place at the local abandoned funeral parlour. This sinister old structure is located atop a hill, surrounded by underground rivers, and on the site of a Native American, um, well, some kind of bad place. Oh, and it’s filled with demons.

“A haunted house is a house with ghosts in it, the spirits of people who’ve died. The spirits living in a house possessed have never existed in human form; they’ve only existed in spirit form. They’re pure evil. They’re demons.”

For all the build-up, it takes some time for us to actually meet any demons. Instead, we’re treated to lots of teenage hijinks in the abandoned funeral parlour. Happily, after all the drinking, flirting and messing around with coffins, the partygoers finally decide to get down to some serious occult shit. These are the people Jack Chick warned us about.

The demons only gain a cloven-foothold once the kids try some daft ritual with a mirror and accidentally smash it, letting the bad things out. Even then, the spirits take their time possessing people, spreading via deep, lingering kisses like some kind of satanic STD. Once they get going, however, they stalk, seduce and slash with gleeful abandon. The kids who have managed to stay human find themselves trapped in the old building, and the body count grows.

Night of the Demons 2

General Thoughts

For those of us old enough to remember the ’80s, just watching the opening of Night of the Demons is like stepping into a time machine. Pounding synths… Badly drawn title art… Linnea Quigley! It’s like coming home.

Given that Angela goes out of her way to tell us that demons aren’t the spirits of people come from the dead, I have to wonder why they’re hanging around an abandoned funeral home. Maybe they just liked to watch the old necrophile who used to run the place going about his business. It doesn’t really matter, though. This isn’t a film that’s meant to make sense.

Like any good exploitation film, Night of the Demons is filled with gore and nudity, often in the same scene. Unsurprisingly, the nudity is almost all female, with some downright voyeuristic camera work early on. A highlight is the unsettling disappearing act Linnea Quigley (I’m sure her character has a name but I can only think of her as “Linnea Quigley”) plays with a tube of lipstick and her nipple.

Another scene, involving a severed arm, feels like a half-hearted reinvention of the severed hand shenanigans from Evil Dead II. In fact, the whole film feels like a much less artful knock-off of the Evil Dead franchise, bereft of Raimi’s wit and inventiveness.

There is a little less gore than I expected, in frequency if not in quantity. When a character does get injured or killed, there is plenty of blood. While the film looks cheap in almost every respect, it seems they saved their budget for makeup effects.

Night of the Demons 3

Verdict

Night of the Demons is a deeply silly film. Happily, it knows what it is and makes no attempt to take itself seriously. While it falls just short of being a parody, it comes perilously close. The characters barely extend to two dimensions. Their dialogue is filled with exchanges like, “A funeral parlour? Way out here?” “Well, sure. It’s nice and cosy, right next to the old cemetery.” And the acting is barely up to the standards of porn.

In any other film, these might be problems. In Night of the Demons, they’re virtues. Each clumsy character interaction, badly written scene and cheap set just adds to the overall charm of the thing. Whatever the opposite of pretension is, this is it. This is a film made for groups of friends to watch in chemically altered states, shouting along with the mayhem.

The only real complaint I have about Night of the Demons is that it takes too long to get to the good bits. While the build-up is entertaining enough, it’s over halfway into the film before the first demon appears and almost an hour before anyone is killed. That is a lot of foreplay for the cinematic equivalent of a knee-trembler out by the bins behind the kebab shop.

I’d be interested in hearing how younger viewers find the film. The casual sexism and creaky social mores of the times might be off-putting to some, but it’s hard to see any ill-intent here. It was just the ’80s. Of course, this could just be the pernicious effects of nostalgia. Do let me know your opinion!

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:

Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.

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!