October 2006

Voodoo Moon

Voodoo Moon Before sitting down to write this review, I took a quick look at the IMDb to get an idea of how the film had gone down elsewhere. Apparently it hasn’t been too popular so far so I find myself going against the grain here because I quite liked it.

Granted, the idea of a final apocalyptic battle between good and evil is a tad overused. It’s also true that many of the characters (John Amos and Jeffrey Combs spring to mind here) are woefully underused. And some of the dialogue is jarringly expositional, to say the least.

But there are also several criticisms levelled at Voodoo Moon that centre on the pace of the film, the lack of gore and the relatively low body count. These complaints, I think, say more about the reviewers’ expectations of the film than about the film itself.

The plot revolves around Cole (Eric Mabius), a trench coat clad demon hunter (I know, shades of Constantine, but bear with me) who returns to Louisiana 20 years after his home town was destroyed. Here, he meets up with the only other survivor of the disaster – his sister, Heather (Charisma Carpenter) – who has the uncanny ability to draw the future.

On the opposing side we have Daniel (Rik Young), who is evil incarnate and has existed in many forms – both before and during the time that the film takes place. Rik Young does do a very good job of portraying Daniel as being very smooth but not the sort of person you want to find yourself on the wrong side of.

Daniel, it emerges, was responsible for the destruction of Cole and Heather’s home town and it’s Daniel that Cole has been chasing for the past twenty years. Although Cole has scored a number of victories, Daniel keeps returning – each time stronger than the last. Cole has concluded that a final showdown is needed, and that it has to happen in the same place as it all started.

Much of the film is taken up by a cat-and-mouse game between Cole, who is trying to draw a collection of friends together for this final confrontation, and Daniel, who is determined to bump off as many of Cole’s friends as possible beforehand.

Although there are several quite explicit scenes, Voodoo Moon is much less of a splatter fest than most modern horror films and, instead, works more as a very atmospheric drama in which much of the narrative is constructed as a series of backstories as Cole’s friends start to come together.

This is a surprisingly effective approach to storytelling but does have a drawback in that, by the climax of the film, we have a lot more characters than anyone really knows what to do with. Fewer characters with much more time spent on each would, in my view, be the biggest single improvement that could be made to this film.

While there is much in Voodoo Moon that can be criticised, I do think that writer/director Kevin VanHook has tried to do something a bit different within the horror genre. And, while it is a bit uneven in places, he is broadly successful.

LovecraCked! The Movie

LovecraCked poster LovecracKed! The Movie is an anthology of nine films, all inspired – to a greater or lesser extent – by the writings of HP Lovecraft, and tied together with a running narrative from the world’s worst investigative journalist (Elias). As with all anthologies, some of the films work better than others but in this case the hits far outnumber the misses.

But before we get into the films themselves, the running narrative really does deserve a mention. Built around an episode of the snappily named “Obscure Writers of Supernatural Horror and Science Fiction,” the narrative parodies the sort of entertainment documentaries that spend a great deal of time telling you very little indeed – or nothing, in this case. It’s all very silly – repeatedly scaling new heights of absurdity – but consistently amusing and often very funny indeed.

So on to the films.

The Statement of Randolph Carter is a pretty much straight retelling of the short story of the same name in which Randolph Carter (Jeffrey Velazquez) explains the disappearance of his companion, Harley Warren (John Seaman). As such, the film highlights both the strengths and the weaknesses of Lovecraft’s writing. On the downside, Lovecraft did have a tin ear for dialogue and his portentous tones are faithfully, and entertainingly, reproduced in voiceover form. More positively, Lovecraft also recognised that it is better to hint at the horrors and leave as much as possible to the imagination of the audience than to overwhelm us with increasingly explicit detail; and this is something that writer/director Jane Rose has fully taken aboard. The Statement of Randolph Carter is an immensely atmospheric film that makes full use of both the setting and soundtrack to deliver a genuinely chilling climax.

For my money, however, the best of the bunch would have to be Remain. What makes this story of a painter (Mike Withstandley) driven to insanity by something in his paintings stand out is the animation, specifically the style of the animation. Everything – including the acting – is shot in stop-motion, creating a look as disturbing as it is hallucinogenic. Not only does the painter descend into madness, but he does a pretty good job of dragging the rest of us along with him.

And while we’re on the subject of insanity, now seems a good time to mention Alecto. At first sight, a psychological thriller about a violinist driven mad by a piece of music feels like a less than perfect fit with the tone and inspiration of the other films in this anthology. But given that madness was a common theme in Lovecraft’s writing, I’m not about to get too pedantic here – especially when you consider how good this film is on its own terms. With some stunning cinematography and a plot that slowly and satisfyingly comes together as the film progresses, Alecto is a very impressive piece of cinema and one that will probably get better on repeated viewings.

Honourable mentions should also go to the black and white entries, Chaos of Flesh and the gloriously messy BugBoy, both of which execute a simple idea stylishly, effectively and without any unnecessary padding. Ideal short films in other words.

And then there’s Re-Penetrator.

Within the horror film crowd, HP Lovecraft’s most celebrated story is probably Herbert West: Reanimator which Lovecraft wrote as a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and which Stuart Gordon turned into a film in 1985. Re-Penetrator is the, um, adult version of Re-Animator and if hot zombie porn floats your boat, then this is the film for you.

Both History of the Lurkers and Witch’s Spring contain some good ideas which, unfortunately, don’t quite come off – due to a slightly predictable feel in the case of Witch’s Spring and a weak ending in the case of History of the Lurkers.

The whole package is rounded out with And This Was a Good Day, a cut-out animated music video, and a blooper reel that is well worth watching to the end.

There have been many attempts to turn HP Lovecraft’s stories into films and many films that claim to have been inspired by him (63 according to the IMDb) and many of these have been less than successful. In that light, Elias deserves a great deal of credit for managing to bring together a well crafted and generally entertaining collection of films – even the misses aren’t that bad – that successfully celebrate both the writer and the spirit of independent cinema.

I’m not sure how well this film will go down with the purists, but for the rest of us it’s a fine collection of films and one that really does include something for everyone.