Each month, we’ll take you on a trip down the proverbial video aisle to look at some of the latest and best indie horror releases you need to check out.
There were usually a few reasons why I took a chance renting a movie when wandering up and down the aisles at the video store. Scanning countless films, reading dozens of synopsis on the back, and choosing one over all the rest was a daunting but enjoyable adventure I looked forward to every week. But ultimately it usually boiled down to three key factors: the premise, the cover, and maybe it starred an actor or actress that I liked.
There are two titles in this month’s article that fit nicely into the three key factors described above. It brought me joy to discover these 2 films based on what helped my decision making as a teenager going back and forth between VHS cartridges. Book of Monsters has both an awesome sounding premise and the all important eye catching cover. On the other hand, Hunting Lands doesn’t have the best cover but it does feature Nicole Cinaglia, an actress that I really like. These films are both excellent in very different ways, and I hope some readers give them a chance and experience the same joy I did watching them! That said, let’s begin our monthly walk down the video aisle.
Book of Monsters
(Available now on digital and Blu-ray)
Book of Monsters is the stuff of video store rental legend, those movies you took a chance on because it sounded decent and the cover was awesome. Then you stayed up past midnight on a Saturday because you watched it twice, and rented it again the next week. Helping to locate and bring attention to movies like this is exactly the reason why I started this monthly article! The film starts on a dark and stormy night in an attic as the camera closes in on an old book. What follows is a ridiculously fun, blood spattered, teen comedy/monster movie mash up. The performances are great and the practical effect creatures and monsters look fantastic and menacing. The female leads are just perfect here, I would love to see them all again in a sequel! From the makeup to the music and everything in between, Book of Monsters is all around awesome and one of my favorite films of the year so far.
“Sophie’s 18th birthday becomes a bloodbath when monsters descend upon her house and start to devour the party guests. Sophie and her friends must rally together to send their party crashers back to hell.”
FIRST LOOK: THE TOP OF THE RELEASE PILE
Very voyeuristic and quiet, Hunting Lands is a highly compelling watch steeped in film noir. The crisp and clean feeling of the cold snow is skillfully contrasted with damaged, lost characters and shabby dwellings like seedy motels, small used car lots and townie bars. One sequence plays out like a silent film as body language tells the story while quiet, foreboding strings play over the action. The Hunting Lands title doesn’t just refer to the woods where main character Frank lives. A large part of the film takes place on the streets of a small town as Frank is trailing his suspect, Lance. Lance is played by Joe Raffa, who exudes a nervous energy and looks perfectly smarmy behind his thick mustache, working mans tie, and LL Bean scarf. Because he is watched from a distance for half the film, Raffa’s performance is largely silent, relying on physicality to portray his character and he is absolutely superb in the role. Strikingly gloomy and beautifully shot, Hunting Lands comes highly recommended.
“Reclusive veteran Frank Olsen yearns to escape from the complexities of the modern world. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, the world comes looking for him. When he discovers a discarded, beaten woman fighting for her life in the snow, Frank must decide whether to continue to turn his back on society or confront the world he loathes.”
The film starts heavy and sets a dark tone fast, showing the difficult lives the sisters have led. While the opening hits some run of the mill beats, it does the job and shows how the father abused the innocence out of the sisters as little girls. The sisters, played by Madeleine Wade and Augie Duke, do great work portraying the damaged women and demonstrate a sisterly chemistry, especially during the seance sequence. Madeleine Wade is powerful as Grace, showing a vulnerability that borders on dangerous as the story progresses. Once the action gets going, I give the film credit for not shying away from exploring some deep psychological issues the sisters suffer from as a result of their abuse as children. I also really enjoyed the lighting and atmosphere of Blood Craft — it gave the film a secretive, supernatural and oddly appropriate intoxicating feel. The movie ended up going all out and fully embracing the themes of revenge, loss, abuse, and empowerment in surprising and highly entertaining ways. It may be a bit on the nose at times, but I recommend Blood Craft for a solid, twist-filled, late night viewing.
“Two sisters who suffered abuse as children at the hands of their sadistic father decide, after his death, to use witchcraft to bring his spirit back to get revenge.”
Division 19 presents a world in the not too distant future that is consumed in a chaotic mix of control, surveillance, fear, and mass consumption. It’s a place and time that is lacking hope and full of noise as sirens or constant, blaring commercials are the soundtrack to this dystopian world. While the government is monetizing the penal system in the form of the ultimate reality TV, the viewer is left wondering who has the looser morality here, the prisoners or the so called leaders of the country? Division 19 has a look that far exceeds it’s budget and has many surprising, dramatic moments that find its characters struggling to hold on to their humanism, and that was something I wasn’t expecting. This isn’t just another dystopian, sci-fi, adventure movie, it smartly wrestles with themes of humanity and corruptness and I recommend it.
“2039. Jails have been turned into online portals where the public gets to choose what prisoners eat, wear, watch and who they fight. So successful is Panopticon TV, it is about to be rolled out to a whole town, providing subscribers even more choice.”
I know what you’re thinking here: this is an obvious rip off of Pet Sematary! I’m here to tell you that Pet Graveyard has a lot more in common with Flatliners and Final Destination. And as cool as those comparisons sound, Pet Graveyard ends up feeling pretty lifeless. The script doesn’t explore at all the themes of death and a lot of the scenes and sequences feel overly long. By the final act the film enters slasher-lite territory and leaves the story struggling to fill the film’s run time in a meaningful way. Overall the film felt like it was floundering and only hinting at any real ideas and questions without making the effort to challenge the characters and their beliefs once they start messing around with death. It’s a shame because that cat is a creepy looking thing and the Grim Reaper gives viewers a couple cool deaths. Unfortunately there’s nothing to see or recommend here.
“A group of teens are tormented by the Grim Reaper and his pet after undergoing an experiment that allows them to revisit the dead.”
Apparently Sony tried to block the release of Flay because of the antagonist’s similar appearance to the studio’s Slender Man. While Sony succeeded in delaying the release of Flay and the appearances are similar, the stories couldn’t be more different. The evil in Flay is a curse left by a powerful Native American shaman a long time ago that is recently unleashed. I’ll give the film credit for really investing in the Flay character. It gives a brief back story, layers the mythology by creating dark, dream-like signature moments that give the curse a physical, malevolent presence, and creates a genuinely scary and interesting villain. I can definitely see a sequel here. The acting is pretty decent for the most part with Elle LaMont and Johnny Walter sharing great onscreen chemistry. The script doesn’t offer any real surprises and doesn’t provide the best dialogue at times, but it does put in the effort to tell a good tale and that effort is matched by the filmmakers to make Flay a solid flick that is well worth checking out.
“After the death of her mother, an estranged daughter struggles to save her brother, and those around her from a malevolent faceless spirit.”
TO BE WATCHED: MORE GREAT HORROR
While the CGI monster is a bit of an initial turn off, I’m always down for a good creature feature! The thing I like about this trailer is how everything appears to go absolute bonkers as the film goes on. Looks like it could be a good time.
“During a visit with friends, Sara begins having visions and is attacked by an unearthly creature in her friend’s swimming pool. She discovers that anyone who comes into contact with the water is in danger and is driven to confront the mystical and malevolent creature lurking in the depths.”
I just love the combination of horror and Westerns! Seemingly playing off the old horror trope, “it was just the wind,” the trailer for The Wind has that wonderfully suspenseful feel of something lurking just out of sight. With all the open space of the Old West, there’s no way you’re all alone.
“A supernatural thriller set in the Western frontier of the late 1800s, The Wind stars Caitlin Gerard as a plains-woman driven mad by the harshness and isolation of the untamed land.”
You have to watch out for those proper, well-to-do folk who live out in the countryside! This film looks like it’s a solid mix of horror and ham it up performances from its antagonists. And how cool is that voice over in the trailer?
“An expecting Mother (Rachel) and husband (Matt) crash their car in the countryside and are offered shelter by a farmer and his wife. Rachel soon realizes the farmer’s children are in fact stolen. Just as they try to escape from the farm Rachel goes into labor.”
Body at Brighton Rock
I really dug Roxanne Benjamin’s segments in Southbound and XX, so I’m looking forward to her feature debut here. The trailer has such a tense feel and the film appears to make the most out of its survive-a-night-in-the-woods premise.
“A park ranger spends the night guarding a potential crime scene on a remote mountain trail.”
I Trapped the Devil
The premise of this film sounds like a slam dunk, and with Jocelyn Donahue and AJ Bowen in the cast, I already have enough info to want to check it out – even before seeing the poster (which just got released) or the trailer (which still hasn’t been released). But keep an eye on this one. It’s currently screening at several big film festivals ahead of its upcoming theatrical and digital release.
“Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace and joyful family reunions. But when Matt and his wife Karen show up unannounced at the home of his estranged brother Steve to celebrate the holidays, they are instead greeted with a horrifying surprise: trapped in the basement is a man. But not just any man. Steve believes that his hostage is none other than the devil himself.”