Zombos Says: Good (But an extreme gore effect is jarringly unexpected)
Movies about dwelling places holding dark secrets, hidden passageways, and maniacal intentions are the no-brainers of the horror genre. Just think of Crawlspace (1986), or The People Under the Stairs (1991), or Thir13en Ghosts (2001). Such places take on an horrific character all their own, and a good movie or book presents that character foremost in as many scenes or chapters as possible.
Of course, visually speaking, for a movie it's relatively easy. Just spend as much time as you can in the endless hallways, the old apartments, and that stifling basement you don't want to find yourself in. That will do the trick. Havenhurst has all of that, and old fixtures, the quiet rooms, the spooky closets, and the permanent and transitory residents one would need for the terrors to begin. And a very, very, slow elevator when your dying for speediness. And a dungeon-like basement waiting for you if you misbehave.
Jackie (Julie Benz) takes up residence at the stuffy and musty Havenhurst apartment building after her rehabilitation from her addiction to alcohol. She has been a neglectful and self-destructive mother (we learn that from her fitful nightmares), but she is aiming for a fresh start with the help of her detective friend, Tim (Josh Stamberg), and her counselor who referred her to Havenhurst (wink, wink; hard to say if he is on the up and up here, but I sense a sequel may address that).
She takes up residence in her missing friend's spacious, but oddly suffocatingly close, apartment. Her friend, Danielle (Danielle Harris in a brief appearance before she disappears), has left all her photographs and antique cameras behind. Jackie suspects foul play. Jackie soon realizes Havenhurst is full of foul play. Cue the terror. Director and writer Andrew C. Erin, along with Daniel Farrands co-writing, are not too sure in how they play that foul terror, though. Not so much a mystery, not so much a slasher, not so much a gorehound delight, but a little bit of each moves the story along. Some of the movie posters show Jed (Douglas Tait), a mushroomy-skinned denizen of the hidden passageways, trapdoors, and sudden long drops to the basement, so not much mystery there. Hint! He is dressed a bit like a Hostel hosing-it-downman doing superintendent work in his spare time. So we know Jed's role in all of this right off the bat.
His brother, Ezra (Matt Lasky) is the building's handyman. He is good at cleaning up Jed's bloody messes. Both of them are dutiful sons to Eleanor (Fionnula Flannagan). She runs the building and decides who stays or gets evicted. After Jackie takes a drink too many, there is an understated scene where Eleanor goes to a large antique cabinet, opens it to reveal dozens of pegged apartment keys, and reverses the one to Jackie's apartment. That's when you notice a few other keys had already been flipped over, just like Jackie's. Needless to say, you don't want to be like Jackie, and those others, and have your key reversed in that big old cabinet.
A hidden door in the laundry room (yes, me too! I hate creepy laundry rooms with hidden doors.) is revealed, as are the surprisingly versatile hallways and walls, in the photographs Danielle had left behind. Jackie investigates, get's her detective friend involved, and befriend's Sarah (Belle Shouse), a foster child who has her own secret room to hide from her foster parents. Sarah's parents eventually get evicted too, and that's where the gore kicks in. It seems out of place in this Gothic chiller and the camera stays too long admiring it. But soon the running away from Jed begins and the family that slays together is revealed, giving explanation to the building's unique luxury-to-die-for features.
The ending is a bummer as it clearly is done to set up the franchise for Jed and the building's future apartment dwellers. But there is more to tell about Havenhurst, so hopefully we will see the sequel soon. That deadly family tradition needs further exploration and I'm very curious to know what Jed does in his spare time. When he's not butchering tenants.
A courtesy screening link was provided for this review.
A confounding script mishandled by inexperienced direction.
Frustration is more likely to occur watching Death Passage (originally Lemon Tree Passage, 2014) than chills. James Campbell's direction is a jumbled mixture of mystery, bewildering ghostly occurrences, and insufficient clarity to progress the story where it would have done the most good to build suspense instead of confusion. It's a ghost story loosely built around the Australian Lemon Tree Passage Ghost, but the ghost here has nothing to do with that other ghost, so you may wonder why they even bothered.
Once again, American tourists in Australia get into mischief. Of course, American tourists in horror movies always get into mischief and usually die horribly. In this movie, the mystery is whose death is fostering more death and why. Slasher film dynamics, urged on with a Grudge overlay, begin the victim pile up while the camera can't decide which one to focus on more--the slashing, the mystery, or the jumble of victimizations, familiar dialog, and murky flashbacks through it all. Given a pacing sensibility that would be more at home in the 1970s (or perhaps even a VHS shelf-warmer in the 1980s), there isn't much to engage the eye or the mind here, although the production is more than competent and the actors do provide the necessary energy, even if their characters are so much the worse from horror movie character-template wear and tear. More style, less muddle, now that would have greatly helped the storyline.
The muddling begins when American brother and sister Toby and Amelia (Tim Pocock and Pippa Black), and along-for-the-trip Maya (Jessica Tovey), befriend Aussies Geordie and Oscar (Tim Phillips and Andrew Ryan) at the beach. True to quick-scripting form, Geordie is the soft-spoken, sensitive type and Oscar is the loud, carefree sidekick who builds big dicks out of sand. Which, as we already know, is a great way to break the ice with American tourists. A quick round of cricket and some ghost storytelling by a bonfire ensues. The Lemon Tree Passage Ghost comes up and soon they are driving down that road to see its ghostly light. A flash of light does appear as they speed along the road, but that is all they, and we, see of that roadside ghost. It's the other ghost they pick up that commands the storyline from this point on.
What could have been a refreshing switcheroo is quickly not. Not enough sense or terror is generated as the mystery progresses but does not deepen. Maya starts flipping out from frenzied visions (shown in too much closeup motion) as she becomes possessed. Sam (Nicholas Gunn), Geordie's brother, is bedeviled by an unseen force. Maya's new found friends and fellow travelers start flipping out and eventually dying around her. (What, spoiler? This is a contemporary horror movie silly. Victims die; get over it). Sam's off on his own most of the time, dealing with his own nightmare. What is happening to Sam and to Maya is kept separate until most of the running time is spent, then slammed together for a quick denouement.
When the explanation for all this mayhem finally comes it is a letdown, leaving you with the feeling that too many rewrites had left it mostly stuck in the keyboard. One curious thing: aside from the overuse of fade to black scene shifts, a quick scene switch causes a bewildering how did that happen moment, with someone suddenly tied to a tree.
Now that was spooky.
A screening link was provided for this review, courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures.
This Mexican lobby card is puzzling. The inset scene is from Boris Karloff's The Terror, but the title translates to Boris Karloff's Bedlam. The jumble of illustrations seems like a different lobby card was used and Karloff's face was added for obvious reasons (hint: El Maestro Del Terror) to create this one. Still colorful enough to catch attention. I don't recall seeing big...chains...in The Terror either.
Nice publicity inset photo on this Mexican lobby card for The Spider Woman (La Mujer Arana). I'm a bit confused by the couple shown at the bottom left, however, as they detract from the main illustration.
A fantastic Mexican lobby card for Tarzan and the Huntress (Tarzan Y La Cazadora), the color, main image of Tarzan, and the inset scene are well balanced for dramatic effect. Leaving the left hand hidden behind the picture does slightly mar an otherwise eye-catching layout.
These scans for the Captive Wild Woman pressbook are courtesy of Tony Rivers (Teenage Horror Factory), whose crush on Acquanetta knows no bounds. I'm glad I didn't bid on this one on emovieposter.com since Tony would have gone ape if I had even tried to outbid him. But gracious collector that he is, he always shares. Some critics and fans consider the "ape movies" an oddity in the various movie studios' B movie productions. I don't (well, okay, maybe Robot Monster is an exception). I like them. I would also argue that movies like The Monster and the Girl and Captive Wild Woman tap into a social vibe and a stylish art form that make them more than just watching a man in a gorilla costume. I'll be writing more about The Monster and the Girl in the upcoming Unsung Horrors, Vol. 2, from the We Belong Dead magazine gang.
Here's the tabloid herald for Shock Corridor. Lots of exploitation-sell, such as "shocking world of psychos and sex-maddened women exposed!" and "the snake-pit world revealed in all its outrages!" Now, of course, it sounds like just another day in politics. Back then, though, it meant something!
I'll list Shock Corridor under non-horror but it terrified me when I first saw it on television in cathode ray tube black and white. So, yes, I was too young for it. But it still scares me. A journalist fakes insanity to go after a story. The story starts to go after him instead. Here's the pressbook to serve as a warning to you. But definitely see it. It just may scare and unsettle you as much as it did me.
Here's Devilina issue 1 from Atlas. I'll refrain from any "hot" jokes. The cover for this issue was flipped to grace the cover of Vampirella issue 111, and the artist, Pulojar, also used the rather sexy pose for Lassiter issue 21. Lots of devilish illustrations, with an article by Gary Gerani titled Filmdom's Vampire Lovers, to help keep you from over-heating. Oh, shoot, I made a "hot" joke, didn't I?