A Playground for Authors Jason White and Michael Schutz-Ryan

Review

Dogtooth (2009)

Written by Michael Schutz-Ryan

Poster for DogtoothDogtooth is not a horror movie, but its twisted themes and dark storyline certainly warrant a mention here. The 2009 Greek film (and 2011 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film) tells the tale of the sheltered lives of three siblings, whose names are never revealed. A son and his two sisters are held captive by their parents, probably to safeguard them from the evils of the world, but we are never explicitly told their reasons. The absence of the question, “Why?” illustrates the foreign film sensibility that sets Dogtooth a step above the thrillers Hollywood pumps out. The movie knows that the “why” doesn’t matter when the “what” is so compelling.

The film opens with a tape-recorded vocabulary lesson, redefining words indicative of a world beyond the family’s back yard. “Sea” is a leather chair with wooden arms. “Motorway” is a very strong wind. Their routine is comprised of tests and challenges to earn rewards—mostly the honor of choosing the night’s entertainment. One of the most popular choices is videos—simply home movies of the family. The siblings come up with their own twisted games, too. The youngest delights in games of “endurance,” to see who can stand pain the longest.

Dad—the only one to leave the “compound”—brings home a woman, a co-worker, to fulfill his son’s maturing sexual needs. This is followed by a cheery group pose with the woman because the family doesn’t “have one with Christina yet.” Just how long has this been going on? Unsatisfied with the robotic sex, Christina begins to trade petty possessions for cunnilingus with the elder sister. Who Man covered in blood from Dogtooththen persuades her younger sister to lick her, and a recurring black comedy ensues as the girl takes to licking the elbows, ears, shoulders of her family members. It is one of these trades with Christina that open the elder girl’s mind to the great big world.

Wondering yet how the parents explain the airplanes flying overhead? Or what they say about the discovery of a cat in the garden—a creature the siblings have never seen nor heard of? Let’s just say that they are a deviously ingenious couple.

The film shows us this bizarre family right at their tipping point. The maturing children are beginning to doubt, to question. It is, of course, the son’s sexual awareness that brings in the outsider, and is therefore the catalyst for the final catastrophe. But it is the elder daughter’s plight that we most connect with. She has grown impatient and longs to know what lies beyond the property-enclosing fence.

Revealed with a sort of clinical detachment, the film doesn’t judge these people or events. It presents its own stark reality and allows us to laugh or cringe however a particular scene strikes us. Dogtooth is truly unique, dark, and disturbing, told with the abject realism only found in foreign and indie films. It may not be horror, but anyone interested in the more subtle terrors of the human mind will find much to like with this one.

Four Dweller Heads!

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Screen shot from Dogtooth

 

 

 


Night of the Creeps (1986)

Poster art for Night of the CreepsAs a kid and also a teenager, it was typical of me to “fall head over heals” over one of the female members of my peer group, whenever I had a peer group. If I didn’t have a group of friends, I’d fall for the prettiest, in my eyes anyway, girl who sat closest to me in class. Or one I saw most often in the cafeteria. I was an odd child, completely sold by television and Hollywood on the idea of love and all the great things it seemed to promise.

It wasn’t until I had my heart torn from my chest and stomped on (I’d like to add here that there was no real fault in the person who did the tearing–I blame stupid, cheesy movies for that), that I realized the realities of love and loss. Looking back, however, I did fall for some of the most interesting girls. My favourite was a young woman in high school who had a bright red mohawk and wore knee-high Doc Martins. She kicked serious ass and took no shit.

I digress. This post isn’t supposed to be about my stupid, pathetic childhood. No, this is about Night of the Creeps from 1986. This one was written and directed by Fred Dekker, and stars Tom Atkins (who is awesomely funny in parts of this), Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, and Jill Witlow. And, if you watch this one closely, you can see just how pathetic I probably was as a teen.

The story involves two college friends, Chris and J. C., as they try to make friends and, more importantly, get laid. After a brief black and white prologue, which is pretty cool in its fifties popcorn horror movie style, the story opens like an eighties party movie as Chris and JC are at a frat party, where they don’t belong, and Chris falls in love when he sees the very pretty Cynthia from a distance.

JC and Chris

JC and Chris

He is hypnotized by her beauty. And during the course of the next hour he does nothing but lament his desire for her to dump her asshole boyfriend and be with him.

Oh, and there are alien brain parasites that crawl around the campus throughout the movie. They look and behave like slugs might on meth. Every once in a while, one of these slugs will force its way down the throat of an unsuspecting college kid. As it is a brain parasite, it kills its victim and then controls their body. The “zombie” like creatures then stumble around until the time is right and their heads explode, unleashing a new batch of alien brain parasites into the world.

What this movie has working for it is the comedy. Night of the Creeps does not take itself seriously, and so the audience probably shouldn’t either. The gore is top notch when those Picture of head explodingheads pop open, and Tom Atkins, who plays an alcoholic cop investigating a murder (his main suspects are Chris and JC, of course), has moments that made me laugh pretty hard.

Overall, I found myself checking my cellphone a lot on this one. Maybe that’s because I’d cringe every time Chris moaned over Cynthia. There is one part where JC tells Chris off and puts him in his place. I had to say bravo, JC. Bravo! My inner child wept pathetically, but adult me was proud.

3 out of 4 Dweller Heads.

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Found (2012)

By Michael Schutz-Ryan.

Poster art for the movie FoundFound is a 2012 horror film directed by Scott Schirmer and co-written by Schirmer and Todd Rigney (based on his novel). I was deeply affected by this film and just may be ruined from ever enjoying another movie.

The plot of the film is deliciously simple: a young boy discovers that his older brother is a serial killer and must then battle his inner demons to determine if he is headed down that same path. It is beautifully shot with vibrant colors and clever camera angles to reflect a twelve-year-old’s imagination.

Found is, first and foremost, a study of our protagonist. Twelve-year-old Marty (delicately, intelligently played by young Gavin Brown) is a sensitive, nearly friendless boy, obsessed with horror movies. Actual time and care is spent developing his character. I usually despise voiceovers, but Marty’s intimate conversations with the audience suck us right into his stream of consciousness. Though I haven’t read it, I suspect the novel is the major influence in these lines. The effect is that the audience becomes Marty’s only true friend.

Gas mask from FoundAs we are now allied with Marty, the subplot of bullying nails the frustration and cloying loneliness of being the outcast. When Marty’s only on-screen friend forsakes him, we feel the heartbreak. The rationalization of the betrayal is as stark as reality. All the elements click in this scene where Marty takes a slight cue from his brother and dishes out a bit of revenge. And here—just as later when he unleashes on bully Trevor—we rejoice in Marty’s cruelty.

An entire paper could be written on the Headless video Marty finds in brother Steve’s room and watches with his friend. (This movie-within-a-movie was later expanded into its own film by Arthur Cullipher, Todd Rigney, and Shane Beasley, who all worked on Foundhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ns2U6gXbMFU) This slasher movie is an exercise in envelope-pushing depravity. Not only has it clearly inspired Steve’s murders, but we are strongly led to believe (I think) that it is the video-taped trophy of an actual killer. As sick and twisted as Headless is (and it really is), the genius of it lies in its filming. Scott Schirmer could have called for Gaspar Noé-style ultra realism, but instead went in a direction of slightly more fantastic imagery—which matches the very texture of our movie. Don’t get me wrong, the level of brutality is stunning and doesn’t exactly look fake, but such things as jump cuts and obvious editing clue us into the direction that it is perhaps indie horror gone mad.

The major theme in Found is burgeoning sadism. Marty’s young mind clearly roils in confusion: he’s teased and beat up at school—should he fight back? Is his love of horror movies an early indication that he will end up a killer like his brother? The only thing he never debates is whether to expose his brother. In Marty’s world, that is unthinkable. But is it to protect his idolized sibling, or to disguise his curiosity? And this all begs the question, does “found” refer to Marty finding the heads in the bag, or finding himself?

Found blew me away. This film resonated with me unlike any other I have seen. Perhaps that is because it connected with my personal experiences with surprising precision. In many ways I was Marty. I, too, grew up as the shy, sensitive, picked-on kid, also obsessed with horror movies I was way too young to be watching. And the Indiana landscape of this movie was an easy substitute for my own small-town Wisconsin home. Or perhaps it is because this is a genius film, presenting an unfiltered, unapologetic view of a young boy facing very adult situations. With a button ending that perfectly caps this empathetic thrill ride. I cannot recommend this film enough.

Mask from Headless


EPISODE 27: Carrie 2013

Click below to play:

EPISODE 27: Carrie 2013.

Capture from Carrie 2013 remake

This week your host, Jason White, and co-host, Michael Schutz-Ryan, discuss the 2013 remake of the Stephen King classic, Carrie. Michael didn’t like the film while Jason did. Tune in to find out why.

Also, there is the horror news which involves some Penny Dreadful and horror literature releases.


Darkness Dwells Welcomes Michael Schutz-Ryan

A picture of Michael Schutz-RyanAnyone listening to the Darkness Dwells podcast should know by now that I’ve taken on a co-host. His name is Michael Schutz-Ryan, and he is the writer of the novel Blood Vengeance. I chose Michael because of a few different conversations we had about horror movies, especially the day he messaged me over Facebook to see if I had seen the movie Tusk or not. I have seen it, so we discussed what we both felt were strengths and weaknesses of the movie, which somehow led to our discussing a mutual love for Rob Zombie films.

As he’s been on the show before, I knew we could talk without any real barriers. In short, we get along just smashing!

My plans for the blog, however, do not end with Michael, though. I want to grow the Darkness Dwells blog into a small network of writers where we review horror movies and books and, more importantly, become a massive news source for horror literature, including reviews, release dates on novels, interviews, and whatever else our imaginations can conjure. This will create a need for a website makeover sometime in the future, but hey, this blog is now a year old. It took me this long to find Michael, so let’s take it one step at a time. Baby steps, my friends. Baby steps.

As for the podcast, I think Michael and I will do just fine as we discuss the macabre on the big screen of moving pictures.

What it comes down to is that I’ve had big plans for the blog, which includes the podcast, from day one. I want to share my love of horror literature and movies with the world. I also would like to create a place online where people can go to get the latest on horror literature news.

This will probably take some time, so if you’re getting excited I suggest you have a beverage and take a deep breath. Patience will be of virtue here.

So, please welcome Michael aboard as the first team member of Darkness Dwells. He’s an awesome writer and a great dude to talk with. And thanks,
Michael, for your enthusiasm and input. It will be fun, I’m sure.

Cover for Blood Vengeance

Blood Vengeance by Michael Schutz-Ryan


Tourist Trap (1979)

Poster art for Tourist TrapHow does one go about describing a movie like Tourist Trap, never mind reviewing it? This movie is like another example of David Lynch chewing on some peyote and then waxing poetic about slasher films (see what I did there, with waxing?). Now, I’ve seen my fair share of fucked up movies, I do love horror movies after all, the stranger the better, but 1979’s Tourist Trap takes the cake.

Or, at least, it comes comes close.

Tourist Trap is directed by David Schmoeller. You might recognize the name from movies such as Puppetmaster, Netherworld, and Crawlspace. While those movies have their place in horror cinema history, again, Tourist Trap takes the cake.

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EPISODE 16: Biting the Bit Vol. 04 – Dissecting The Babadook

Picture of The BabadookEPISODE 16: Biting the Bit Vol. 04 – Dissecting The Babadook.

Welcome to episode 16! This week your host Jason White explores insanity in horror fiction, both in movies and literature. What sparked off this topic was my viewing the movie The Babadook recently. The movie blew me away. One thing I loved about the movie is that it keeps you guessing as to whether or not what you’re watching is real or if the story’s protagonist is going insane. There’s evidence towards both sides, but I think that the movie is about insanity, and I explore why later in the episode. So, Warning, there will be spoilers.

I also discuss the interesting haunted house story archetype that often plays with this insanity/supernatural idea.

There’s a top 5 list of Is It Insane? Horror Stories.

And some cool tunes.

So, let’s get it on, shall we?

All songs available to buy from Amazon and iTunes:

-This House is Haunted by Alice Cooper

Waiting for the Darkness by Attika 7

You can reach the show online @:

Twitter:@darkdweller74

Facebook: Reach me or Darkness Dwells group

Email: darknessdwells74@gmail.com

Voice mail: 206-600-4257


EPISODE 11: Biting the Bit Vol. 02 – Nightbreed the Director’s cut

Awesome art depicting The OutsiderWelcome to episode 11 of Darkness Dwells!

Click to listen: EPISODE 11: Biting the Bit Vol. 02 – Nightbreed the Director’s cut.

This week we have a themed episode that surrounds the release of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, the director’s cut. I take a look at the movie and discuss.

There’s also a top five list of favorite movies with outsider protagonists.

I also take a look at H. P. Lovecraft’s story, The Outsider.

Also, there is some great tunes AND

There’s a contest! All you have to do is review the Darkness Dwells Podcast on iTunes and then take a screen shot of your review and email it to the show. The winner will receive a $25 dollar gift card from Amazon.com in their email. Due date is Dec 8th with winner being announced and rewarded on Dec 15th.

All music available via Amazon.com and iTunes:

Outsider by The Restarts

Almost Human by Kiss

Scary  Monsters (and Super Creeps) by David Bowie

THANK YOU FOR LISTENING!


Big Ass Spider

Cover for Big Ass Spider

Big Ass Spider

I read about the making of Big Ass Spider in Fangoria. I wish I could offer the issue number, but I cannot find the magazine here at home, and the Internet is useless when trying to find this type of information on Fangoria issues. I blame Fangoria, by the way, on the latter of that, and also my impatience.

Anyway, what I read about the movie made it sound as though it would be a fun romp through giant spider madness, calling upon old giant monster movies from the 1950s along with the wit of newer horror movies, such as Shaun of the Dead. Now, it has been some time since I read that article, so I ask that you please remember this if I get any of the facts within said article wrong (and if I am wrong, please let me know!) But trust me on this if nothing else. The movie was promised to be fun within that article.

And fun it was. But I am left to wonder if too much fun can hinder a movie, hold it back from its true potential.

I doubt it. I mean, it’s called Big Ass Spider, right? When a viewer comes to a title like this, there’s nothing they can expect but silly banter between characters and even worse special effects. The thing about this one, however, is that the special effects are not always that bad. There is a scene where the spider is jumping, leaping through a great space really, and it looks so real that the sun even reflects off its exoskeleton in exactly the way it should. Attention to detail like that can be invaluable, and for this movie, it works really well.

The acting never really strays from what it’s supposed to be. Our main character, Alex Mathis is, as you might expect, an exterminator. We follow him as he follows this spider that continues to grow and grow, despite gunshots and military offensive. To be honest, I’m not sure how bullets and tank fire couldn’t penetrate this spider’s armour, but hey, my belief is supposed to be suspended, right?

Big Ass Spider on top of a high highscraper

Big Ass Spider looks a little like King Kong here, no?

Anyway, we follow Mathis as he travels with his new sidekick Jose, a security guard from the hospital. The banter between Alex and Jose possibly make this movie as enjoyable as it is. The typical sub-plot of a dude in love with a girl totally out of his league but finds that she like him a lot too is way over done in horror, It’s become a cliche really (one that even I use in my own fiction), but here it gets a little annoying. I feel that this could have been fixed, and perhaps made more believable, simply with a little better writing, direction, and acting.

All said, though, Big Ass Spider is not a bad movie. I mean, yeah, it’s bad. But it’s meant to be bad. Never once does this movie forget exactly what it is. If anything, Big Ass Spider attempts to build upon the B Movie market and finally add some quality. Whether or not it succeeds I’m going to guess is really up to the viewer. Some people are going to come to this one and despite the obvious title they will do nothing but judge and hate the thing from the beginning. Others will come knowing that they’re in for something meant to be cheap and fun and find themselves having a great time. Then others yet, like me, will come to it knowing what it is and still find flaws within it.

But that’s the point of a B Movie. It is flawed. And it knows its flawed. Big Ass Spiders is certainly flawed, but I think that it’s fun enough to keep a serious fan of this genre going until its ending.

Just turn off that goddamn ticker of a brain that likes to pick apart things it has no right to pick apart.

And then, enjoy!

I give this one 3.5 Dweller Heads out of five. Rounded up to four because it’s that good!

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A picture of Alex and Jose

Our Loveable Duo: Alex and Jose


Splinter (2008)

splinter-posterDirector: Toby Wilkins

Staring: Shea WhighamJill WagnerPaulo Costanzo

Splinter, I have to say, was a pleasant surprise. Good monster movies are hard to find today. Don’t get me wrong, there are a decent amount of good horror movies coming out these days, what with James Wan and crew continuously producing creepy ghost and possession movies, amongst others, but monster movies have become a rare commodity. I love a good monster movie, John Carpenter’s The Thing being one of my first and still a favourite today. And speaking of The Thing …

Splinter, from 2008, has a lot to owe The Thing. It’s about a fungus that, when even a sliver of it stabs into your skin, it slowly takes you, its victim, over and turns you into what it wants.

This can result into some seriously painful situations for our poor victims as some succumb to this violently aggressive fungus. Which makes this movie fun and, sometimes, hard to watch.

No movie, however, is perfect, and there certainly are some flaws with this one. Nothing severe enough to take you out of the experience too far and make you question why you’re watching this piece of crap. No, and that’s because Splinter is far from a piece of crap. The problems that arise are probably result of time and budget constraints. But who knows. Maybe I’m just full of myself, blowing hot air out my mouth.

We start the movie with a young couple on a supposed camping trip. Polly and Seth at least try to make the trip a success, but Seth botches it with his tent pitching ineptitude (there’s no puns there). Considering his knowledge of forestry, as we soon learn while they head off looking for a motel to stay at for the night, one has to wonder if Seth didn’t botch it up on purpose … Yeah, Seth. I went there!

Anyhoo, Along the highway they come across what is seemingly a woman in need of help. She jumps out onto the road at them, looking all sick and despondent. It would be anyone’s moral obligation to stop and help her, right?

Enter Lacey and Dennis. Two individuals, another couple it seems, on the run. Now, all this happens within the first ten minutes, so I don’t think I’m ruining anything. Dennis, who’s clearly in charge, highjacks Polly’s vehicle and they head off down the road of despair.

Night comes and Polly runs over some sort of creature, causing their rear tire to blow. It’s at this point we find out that, yes, Lacey, Dennis’s girlfriend, is not only sick with drug withdrawal, but she’s clearly out of her skull. She thinks that they ran over her dog, which never existed in the viewers eyes and even Dennis is like, “The dog died a long time ago.”

Seth and Lacey investigate the road kill while Dennis and Polly work on changing the ruined tire. There’s something … different with whatever it was they ran over. There’s spikes all over it, something like a porcupine, but smaller and somehow deadlier. What they don’t know is that those very spikes knocked out their antifreeze, and so once they’re back on the road, the engine soon overheats.

Thankfully, there’s a gas station close by, and so they stop.

This is where things go from bad to worse real quick. Gas Station attendant afflicted with the splinter fungus   They quickly find that there’s nobody behind the till at this gas station, and then learn as to exactly what has happen to the poor bastard. When Lacey heads to the restroom, she runs into our poor gas jockey, who apparently has a serious fungal disease. It’s so bad, in fact, that his last words are, “Kill me.”

That’s where I’m going to leave the story. Obviously, the movie becomes a sort of isolated invasion where our characters are stuck in the gas station convenience store, fending off the monster and trying to survive.

Picture of Splinter's monster Over all, it’s a fun ride. The acting, up to a certain point, is top notch, and the monster… Well, the monster is one part that I had a problem with. You can tell by the short glimpses you get that the monster is indeed well done, but we don’t ever get a good look at what, exactly, this creature looks like as it gathers and joins its victims’ corpses into one, horrid-looking … thing.

I wanted that closer look, but we don’t get it until the end. And when we do get it, it looks like cheap computer graphics. And, technically, it’s still not a clear shot. The picture to the right here is one of the quick, sudden pictures that we do get. But the picture moves too quickly for us to get a solid view.

The acting, as mentioned, is really well-done. Also mention, it’s really well-done to a point. Somewher close to the end the acting sort of takes a backseat to the monster  and its desire to consume, or assimilate (however you at it) our characters. I really don’t want to say the part that bothered me most, because it will give away part of the movie that is fun and cringe-worthy to watch, despite the sudden change of acting skills.

Perhaps this part of the movie was rushed?

Whatever. It’s not important. What is important is that Splinter is a capable, well-done horror monster movie. If you’re a fan of this genre, you owe it to yourself to give it a look. It’s got some really gory moments with horrific scenes that will probably follow you for the rest of your days.

I therefor award Splinter 3.5 CHUD-Dwellers out of five, rounded up to four to save embarrassing myself with my photoshopping skills.

 

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shea-whigham-in-splinter-(2008)

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