Showing posts with label witches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label witches. Show all posts

Jun 18, 2020

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2016)


If nothing else, give The Last Witch Hunter credit for one thing: it doesn't attempt, yet again, to concoct a period horror piece draped in drippy surroundings, Viking beards, and really heavy-handed themes about God and faith (which were a lot more relevant back then, being that there were only about thirty people on the entire planet, and 28 of them believed in God). Filmmaker Christopher Smith has already had the first and ultimate word on the subject with his excellent and criminally overlooked Black Death, but then a major studio felt we needed a cheap imitation, and so they made their own version with Nicolas Cage. (It was Season of the Witch. It sucked.) Though The Last Witch Hunter may lack in most areas, at least the writers and director Breck Eisner had the idea to fast-forward the plot after its plague-era opening into modern times. It's a silly concept, made sillier by seeing how it actually plays out, but if a film is going to be mediocre, at least it can do so in the streets of New York and not slimy caves or muddy swamps where the audience has no choice but to be depressed and underwhelmed.

The Last Witch Hunter plays out in a very post-Supernatural world, making sure to include small batches of people working toward the cause of eradicating a supernatural threat (in this case, witches), along with the idea that witches just kind of hang out with each other in dusty New York lofts, so taking them out in large chunks at a time is pretty easy. Runes, sigils, finely dressed monster hunters, and a horde of CGI is on-hand to invoke the endless debacle of the Winchester Brothers, only this time it's not a decade-running horror series that actually started off excellently and then began running out of ideas halfway through, but a bloated feature film that pretty much didn't know what to do right from the start. In a film called The Last Witch Hunter, the titular hero hunts exactly one witch...twice. He may be the last, but he certainly ain't the best.


Vin Diesel isn't an actor so much as he is a performer. He is frequently cast because studios and/or directors want their audience to just know what kind of experience to anticipate before they ever see a single trailer or production still. Diesel, who hasn't given anything resembling a performance since 2006's Find Me Guilty, has skirted by all this time on his admittedly physically intimidating appearance despite the fact that he kinda/sorta looks like a giant cartoon baby -- a giant cartoon baby that, for sure, could rip my head off and throw it behind his over-sized crib. But intimidation can only get you so far. Predictable and similar critiques have been thrown at guys like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme over the years, but at least they had the foresight to embrace the why of their popularity and show signs of life every so often. Lack of acting abilities could be reasonably counteracted by charisma. Vin Diesel has not gotten this memo. He recites his dialogue like an idling engine, and if his face moves, that means he's trying to emote. He's infinitely more interested in twirling his head-smashing weapons behind him as they make that whoosh sound so his prey knows he's really, really good at head-smashing. Fill the screen with all the bodily mayhem and CGI you want, but if your hero is boring, then your movie is boring. That's movie science.

The supporting cast of Michael Caine (I'm still trying to figure out that one), Elijah Wood (Maniac), and the beautiful Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones; last night's dreams) threaten to offer much needed variety to the plot, but everyone's roles unfold with such telegraphed predictability that there's nothing left for them to do besides go through the motions: Caine looks sad and old, and says things sadly and oldly; Wood looks wide-eyed, precocious, and dorky; and Rose Leslie, well... The Last Witch Hunter's running time would've been better spent with her reading aloud from the script while every so often pushing a stray hair behind her ear and looking directly into the camera -- all while knowing she was looking only at me.


Director Breck Eisner hasn't exactly hit any of his films out of the park, as he's released one slice of studio tentpole escapism after another that have resulted neither in critical favoring nor box office success (although I unashamedly enjoy his redux of The Crazies). While he is capable of some decent directorial flare (again, I'm talking about The Crazies), The Last Witch Hunter drowns in so much CGI that it's hard to see what's going on around it. The buzzing flies and the smoky vapors and the screaming witch faces and the fire and the oh my lord it's all just so exhausting. The combination of Vin Diesel, Breck Eisner, and PG-13 monster violence was likely never going to result in a modern classic, but it could've at least made for 100 minutes of reasonable entertainment that, when it was over, didn't make you think, "I don't even remember what happened." Maybe it was black magic.

The Last Witch Hunter isn't Vin Diesel's worst movie, but it's not up there anywhere close to his best. If you're a fan of goth chic/GQ wardrobes, witches, and Vin Diesel smiling every half hour, The Last Witch Hunter has come to bewitch you.

"You're a witch!"


Jun 4, 2020

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)



It's an undated 18th-century Austria, and two witch-hunters - Lord Cumberland (Henry Lom) and his apprentice, Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier), have come to a small village to root out its witchy influence. Already in attendance is Albino (pronounced Al-bee-no, and played by Reggie Nalder), the acting witch-hunter and all-around misogynist, who accuses any woman of witchcraft if she does not submit to his sexual demands. At first, Lord Cumberland seems to be rational, punishing Albino for his behavior and removing him from his service, but Cumberland soon lets the power go to his head and acts on his sexual desires much in the same way. His young apprentice has no choice to rebel, and that may have more than a little to do with the fact that he's begun falling in love with the beautiful and sultry Vanessa Benedikt (Olivera Katarina). Things soon spiral out of control as Lord Cumberland and his peons begin accusing the most random of people as being in league with the devil; the biggest offense, it would seem, is causing impotence in men. 

Talk about a limp reason! (Terrible.)


Goddamn, Udo Kier was handsome in his youth, wasn't he? What a handsome man! Look at those eyes! Why was he never cast as a James Bond villain? He's the perfect amount of handsome and miscellaneous European. They should have cast him in “A Man Too Handsome,” and James Bond would’ve fought how handsome he was. (This would have been one of the Timothy Dalton ones.) Man, I wish he'd come save me from Henry Lom!

Uh oh, I've really gotten off track here. I better get back to the film.

It goes without saying that Mark of the Devil, more than anything, is about men forcing their dominion over women, threatening them with torture and death should they not submit to their sexual whims. The majority of the men in the film are either villainous, or spineless and weak. Count von Meruh is the only decent male and ultimately ends up paying the price for it. Take that, add a few scenes of bodily torment, and what you have is an exploitation film masquerading as European gothic, but despite those specific tropes, Mark of the Devil did well enough financially that a sequel was commissioned, which maintains a religious vibe, retains Reggie Nalder in a different (and again villainous role), and tosses out the rest.

Mark of the Devil was a reactionary film based mostly off the success of 1968's Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price. Though the two films share a similar plot (that of witch-finding/destroying), Mark of the Devil is fine existing in shadow of the former so long as it gets to inflict all kinds of pain against its characters as well as revulsion against its audience.

Upon the film's premiere, sick bags were handed out to theatergoers who were there to see what was being marketed as "positively the most horrifying film ever made," which had been rated "V for violence." What that means in modern speak, by which time films that include a man's penis being bitten off and eaten by piranha have the potential to go theatrical, is that forty years later, it all plays rather tamely. Despite the tongues being ripped out and the bodies being stretched on the rack and the bed of nails poking all the butts, it doesn't quite retain the same amount of shock and horror as it did then. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, since that's not the reason one should go see a film - regardless of it being horror – but that's really all Mark of the Devil had to which it could lay claim at that time. If we're being fair, it was an unoriginal plot conceived by piggy-backing off another infamous horror film (that underwent its own cuts to avoid getting a "V for violence" rating [just kidding, that doesn't exist]), but after all these years, the shock of the "violence" has worn off. Because of that, there’s not much else to carry the film beyond the array of very interesting and memorable performances (the best probably being the absolutely slimy role of Albino by Reggie Nalder).

Obviously, films have no choice, regardless of when they take place, but to reflect the zeitgeist of the times, and Mark of the Devil is no exception. While it was the brutality that drove audiences to see the film after word-of-mouth had begun spreading, it undoubtedly played much differently back then compared to how it plays today. Thankfully, though time has counteracted the appeal it once had, enough was left in place to justify first-timers to give it a chance. Of all the films made during this era, it's more that Mark of the Devil is one of the more infamous rather than the one of the better made, but that's okay. Sometimes that's reason enough.


Aug 11, 2019

THE WITCH (2016)



I’m reticent to call The Witch a horror film, even though it utterly is. Because doing so would call forth images of how the current horror film has come to look: lazy remakes of classic titles, CGI monsters, buckets of blood, or even old-school classy approaches that avoid cheap tricks, but which at least provide a visceral jolt to the audience every so often to remind them that they are, indeed, watching a horror film.

The Witch isn’t interested in doing any of this. It very much wants to get under the audience’s skin and unnerve them in ways they aren’t used to, but its approach is tremendously different from the current crop of fright flicks at the theater. It’s not a spoiler to say that this isn’t a case of “Is there a witch, or is it all in the heads of this family recently excommunicated from their former home?” There is a very real and tangible threat. It exists among this displaced, God-fearing family, looming over their new patchwork home in the woods like the night sky. Quick and hazy sightings of the force haunting them, rarely glimpsed but ever changing, heighten its malignancy. Like another witchy horror flick—The Blair Witch Project—the thing going bump in the night is never made a primary on-screen force. It’s not hiding behind closet doors or hovering in the background of a mirror’s reflection. Its existence is felt in every frame, even if its visage is hardly sighted—a masterful accomplishment for any filmmaker, but especially for one making his directorial debut.

Horror films are easy to construct, but difficult to render effectively. It’s easy to scare the audience, but difficult to earn those scares through classy and clever execution. And it’s tremendously difficult to establish dread from the very first frame. So few horror films know how to accomplish this. We can throw out The Shining as an example, and even more recently, Scott Derrickson’s Sinister. If the inescapable feeling of dread permeates from the onset, before a single horrific incident has occurred, that’s not just rare, but nearly unheard of. Filmmakers don’t know how to do it, so they open their film with a kill, and end it with a monster literally screaming into the camera. And in between: heads fly off, or ghostly faces drip. It’s tiring, and it’s cliché, and it’s boring, and The Witch is the antithesis to all of that.


Like The Blair Witch Project, The Witch is destined for a viewers’ revolt. In fact, it’s already here. “Overhyped.” “Overrated.” The dreaded IMDB bomb: “Worst movie EVAR.” Maybe The Witch should have remained a quiet title, released to VOD and then later to home video, but A24 Films boldly called the bluff of horror fans demanding smart and original material, rolling out the film in their widest release so far. And they get immense credit for having such faith in writer/director Robert Eggers’ debut. But The Witch is not a Friday night “I’m bored, let’s go to the movies” kind of film. It’s not ideal drive-in fodder (yes, they still exist). It’s not a party film like The Evil Dead. If there were ever any film worthy of closing the drapes, turning off the lights, and immersing in the environment of a horror film, The Witch is it. To experience it any other way is to rob yourself of an honestly unsettling experience.

The Witch's impressive sound design adds to that experience. A film that relies on utter silence, complemented by a chilling musical score by Mark Korven, The Witch makes great use of environmental ambiance, filling in those long stretches of silence, though a combination of textbook-authentic dialogue matched with actor Ralph Ineson's baritone voice and accent may have you leaping for the subtitles. Of all the horror films to watch with at least an average home theater surround sound, The Witch is a prime candidate.

If you have not yet taken The Witch plunge, please do so. But before you do, watch it with a mindset that’s different from what the film’s marketing has enforced. Don’t think of it as a horror film, but as a family drama that just so happens to contain horror elements. Sit down with it knowing that its eerie events are going to unfold at a slow pace, that the antagonist will be constantly felt but not seen, and that it will provide no easy answers. But ideally, sit down with it knowing that while the shadowy thing in the dark is a dangerous and terrifying threat…it’s not the only one.


May 31, 2019

TEEN WITCH (1989)


During my virginal viewing of Teen Witch, it was inevitable that my mind be blown. As someone who adores cinematic misfires – films being the equivalent of “ideas that seemed good at the time” – the triumphant Teen Witch offered much entertainment.

The plot – so ludicrous.

The hair – so big.

The fashions – so ‘80s.

The random dance and rap sequences – so inexplicably present.

All of Teen Witch plays like a dream. At no point does it feel like it takes place in a real reality, and even for a movie reality it seems to be making it up as it goes.


Is it a musical?

No, not really.

Then why do people randomly break into song and, apparently, use musical interludes to solve conflicts using the hip-hop masterpiece “Top That”? (Speaking of, what’s particularly amazing about the “Top That” rap sequence is that it’s not one of those musical moments where the entire cast break into song. Rather, a handful of teenage boys are just out in the street randomly rapping and dancing with each other, and our femmes encounter this with a detectible look of apprehension. It’s kind of amazing — especially when the girl in the bucket hat gets magic courage and starts frontin’ Greaser Ryan Reynolds, who seems offended that she’s not steppin’ off.)

Is it a comedy?

Why yes, sometimes it is.

But how do you separate the intentional from the unintentional? Sure, it’s funny when Louise uses witchcraft to make her least favorite teacher take off his clothes during class in a Rated-PG manner, but is it supposed to be funny when during a pivotal emotional moment where Louise decides she doesn’t need witchcraft to fall in love that right behind her there’s an extra who looks like a demonic Jerry Seinfeld wearing a hideous sweater and dancing in the most awkward way possible while staring right at her?

  
Is it a dramatic, Hughes-ish, coming-of-age that real teens can relate to?

“Be happy with your non-witch form” is the lesson learned, so…maybe?

I…honestly don’t know.

Teen Witch is very ‘80s, and it’s interesting to see how much has changed in teen culture and the films that depict it, along with how much has been retained. Once Louise transitions from ugly duckling to beautiful swan, wearing Lauper-type ensembles comprised of bright colors and tutus, she becomes adorable. But the pre-witch version of Louise, in her frumpy clothes, her gigantic coats, her bulky sweaters, was still obviously adorable anyway. No amount of flat hair or awkward behavior was going to camouflage that. And that’s still a popular trope that’s been parodied in recent years – the beautiful girl that no one could see was beautiful because she wore glasses. However, amusingly, what the ‘80s depicted as the nerd – thick glasses, sweater vests, pompadours – is the version of today’s hipster and can be found in every catalog for Old Navy. See below:


Repeating my recent loss of innocence as it pertains to Teen Witch, I understand that I am treading on sacred ground. The catalyst for Teen Witch ending up on my reviewer radar was the announcement of the title on the Blu-ray format and the subsequent outrageous amount of enthusiasm for its release and the adoration of this title. Post-viewing, as I was walking around in a daze and inquiring if any colleagues had managed to get the license plate number off the bus that ran me down – aka, seen Teen Witch – I received a handful of disparate responses. One among them: “Um…TOP THAT is my favorite song!” 

How do you argue with that? I mean, listen to that soundtrack! Quick, pick your poison. What’s your favorite. “High School Blues”? “I Like Boys”? Perhaps “What Are You Doing About Love”? Spoiler: they’re all stupid! But I’ll be damned if they don’t add to Teen Witch‘s enjoyment.

Nostalgia is powerful. It can result in everything from fond memories to sheer denial. If I had grown up with Teen Witch in the same way many others did, perhaps my response to it would be different. And maybe these people recognize Teen Witch as cheesy, silly, irreverent, and somewhat poorly made at times (in one scene I swear Zelda Rubinstein is reading her lines off cue cards like Christopher Walken during an SNL skit), but it’s also admittedly perfectly harmless and certainly worthy of your embrace. And anyone who knows me knows that I’ve embraced much worse for far less. One thing is for certain: while watching Teen Witch, I was never bored, never not entertained, and I’ll probably never forget it.

Top that!


Aug 25, 2014

REVIEW: THE FORBIDDEN GIRL


I was just saying to my mother the other day, "You know what I could go for? One of those sexy, witchy, witch-sex movies."

Then I came home, looked in my mailbox, and grinned. Inception Media had heard my utterances on the late-summer wind and sent me a copy of The Forbidden Girl to review.

My pants were never the same.

A late-night rendezvous between Toby, the son of an apparent religious fanatic, and his girlfriend, Katie, goes pretty sour after she shows him the locket that she's wearing around her neck, which attracts some kind of black-smoke demon that comes and takes her away. See, it was really important to Toby's priest pops that Toby remain all chaste and stuff, so obviously sneaking off to see Katie, Kewpie-doll-voice seductress that she is, was a horrendous idea. With Toby's father newly headless and Katie kidnapped, poor Toby goes rather mad from this and spends the next six years in a mental institution while simultaneously and miraculously not aging whatsoever. After fibbing his way through a gab session with his doctor, Toby is released to salvage the rest of his young life. He begins a tutoring job for a very eccentric couple who live in an isolated old mansion, throughout which Toby seems to sense Katie attempting to communicate with him. When Toby meets his student, Laura, who to him appears to be his missing beloved Katie, well, things get real awkward real fast.


The Forbidden Girl
is a beautifully photographed film with better-than-average special effects that unfortunately still ends up being kind of a mess. Creepy visuals and impressive set designs promise a story engaging and unique that, though it tries, never manages to be more than almost perfunctory. Tonally, the film is similar to William Malone's Parasomnia, though it shares that film's woes as well - essentially, both are impressively realized dreamscape films that exist solely to show off the interesting and disturbing visuals on display. There's no doubt about it that Till Hastreiter knows how to direct, present a beautiful image, and work within his budget (though the day-for-night shooting needs a little work). For once the acting in a low budget horror film isn't entirely deplorable. Our lead (Peter Gadiot) is earnest and likable, and his strange new employer is suitably a big creep. But again, both seem committed to a story that never quite established what it wants to be. Horror? Whimsical fantasy? Teen love? (Gross.)

Never would I accuse The Forbidden Girl of being artistically hollow, as there is a genuine attempt to present a story as engaging as the visuals are compelling, but the script never manages to be more than this thing that ultimately ends up getting in the way of the next creepy or stunning set-piece.

It hits video tomorrow.


Jul 20, 2014

RETURN OF THE WITCH-FINDERS

Police Warn Children Are At Risk Over Return of the Witch-Finders

Children in Britain are increasingly at risk of being branded as witches and tortured, police are claiming, following the high-profile case of Kristy Bamu – tortured and murdered by his brother for being a kindoki witch.

The threat comes from the rise of the West African belief, which states children can be possessed by evil spirits, according to a specialist unit set up to investigate witchcraft.

It is thought to be widespread among some immigrant communities, fuelled by a growing number of small fundamentalist Christian churches.

The belief is not confined to the poor or ill-educated and many cases of children being abused may never be uncovered, the officers fear.

Det Supt Terry Sharpe, leader of specialist witchcraft unit Project Violet, said: "We know this is an under-reported crime and a hidden crime."

The warning came after a London couple were convicted yesterday of torturing a 15-year-old boy to death because they were convinced he was possessed by evil spirits.

Murderer Eric Bikubi – who with his partner, Magelai Bamu, subjected her younger brother, Kristy, to four days of torment before drowning him – was obsessed with kindoki.

Kristy, 15, was attacked with a hammer, knife, and pliers before being drowned in a bath after he begged to be allowed to die.

Kristy and his four other siblings were staying with the couple at their east London flat over Christmas 2010. But when Kristy wet himself, Bikubi – described as "feral and out of control" – took it as a sign he was possessed by evil spirits.

The boy was beaten for four days before he was killed.

The couple even forced his brothers and sisters to join in the "staggering act of depravity and cruelty."

At one point, Bamu, 29, twisted her brother’s ears with a pair of pliers before ordering her 21-year-old sister, Kelly, to do the same. Kristy suffered 130 injuries; a metal screw, which he was forced to eat, was found in his bowel.

The boy’s parents, Pierre and Jacqueline, who live in Paris, yesterday said they took "no comfort" from the guilty verdicts.

But a family statement read: "To know that Magalie did nothing to save him makes the pain that much worse. We are still unaware of the full extent of the brutality – we  cannot bring ourselves to hear it."

In a phone call on Christmas Day, Bamu told her father: "Dad, you’ve got to pick up the children – they’re witches, and you’re a witch, too."

Kristy’s younger brother, then 13, told the Old Bailey he and his older brother Yves, 22, were forced to join Bikubi as he broke tiles over Kristy’s head.

His teeth were also smashed and his finger broken with a claw hammer.

It was one of 83 witchcraft cases Project Violet has investigated in London in the past ten years

Expert Dr Richard Hoskins said kindoki was widespread in the country where Bamu and Bikubi were born. He added: "Kindoki remains a force that is feared by lots of people over here, even here in London."

Story and image source.