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Notes from the Basement 9-14-2018

Massacre at First Draft: Thirteen Movies That Didn’t Make the Final Cut

Don’t Breathe (2016)

The movie starts with an aerial shot of a quiet neighborhood street at dawn. It looks idyllic from up high, but as we get closer, we see that the houses are abandoned. We are in one of the abandoned neighborhoods of Detroit, a ghost town in search for a ghost story.

A man drags a body down the middle of the street.

Despite that jarring opening sequence, Don’t Breathe starts as a traditional home-invasion thriller. The key difference is that our main characters are the ones doing the invading. We meet Rocky, a desperate woman who robs the remaining occupied homes with the help of her boyfriend, known only as Money, and his partner, Alex.

Money gets a tip that there’s a house in a deserted neighborhood where the sole remaining occupant has $300,000 stashed away somewhere inside. The guy is a war veteran who has lived alone ever since his daughter died in a car accident.

They stake out the house. They see the man walking his Rottweiler. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the man is blind.

This development bothers Rocky, but Money says, “Just because he’s blind doesn’t mean he’s a saint.”

Money has no clue how right he is.

This movie starts as a home-invasion thriller, but once the three crooks break in, the film grows as dark. Our victim is not as helpless as they initially thought.

This dwelling is a Hell House, where every noise is a threat, and every new room the group enters is a trap. As Rocky flees deeper into the maniac’s home, you can feel hope fading away. And what awaits Rocky in the depths of this house might be a fate worse than death.

For a simple story told well, with plenty of grotesque surprises, give Don’t Breathe a look.

 

As Above, So Below (2014)

I usually don’t like found-footage films. For the most part, I find them uninspired and repetitive. So, imagine my surprise when I put found footage movies on my list.

This one is a real redheaded stepchild. It’s both a found-footage horror film and a surreal horror film, and that is one fucked-up combination. It never stood a chance with most critics or horror fans.

I stand behind my support for As Above, So Below, an eerie and experimental horror film that I applaud for daring to try something unusual.

The story follows Scarlett Marlowe, a young Scholar who studies alchemy. She’s searching for the Philosopher’s Stone which, legends say, can turn base metals into gold.

The Philosopher’s Stone is also said to give eternal life.

During an excursion to Iraq, Scarlett finds a statue covered in Aramaic text that gives clues to the location of the Stone. After she discovers a few more pieces to the puzzle, Scarlett decodes coordinates that show where the Philosopher’s Stone is.

It rests 370 feet beneath the streets of Paris, somewhere deep within the 200 miles of tunnels that make up the legendary Catacombs.

Surrounded by the remains of 6 million corpses.

Scarlett recruits one of her friends, some “urban explorers,” and a documentarian, to sneak into the forbidden and unexplored areas of the catacombs. There’s footage in the actual catacombs. It certainly sets the right tone.

Scarlett and her team split off from the safe paths within the catacombs, and they find the mouth of a tunnel buried under a pile of human bones. They need to crawl through to enter this new realm.

As they venture further into the pitch-black tunnel, and they descend deeper down into the bowels of the earth.

They hear voices.

The movie kicks into surreal overdrive as they find unmapped chambers and tunnels. When they are hundreds of feet below street level, they see a piano. One of the group members remarks they had one just like it in their childhood home, but it had a dead key. He presses the key on this piano.

It is dead.

In As Above, So Below, this buried world under our world is a place where gravity bends.  Sound bends.

Time bends.

Reality bends.

There are uneven moments in the film, mostly because of the limiting tropes of a found-footage movie. However, the cleverness of the surreal moments makes this a fun watch.

If you like horror movies that want to blow your mind as well as scare you, try As Above, So Below.

When Animals Dream (2014)

When Animals Dream is a Danish horror film that uses lycanthropy to discuss how a girl’s body changes during puberty. The film also tells a tragic love story built on loneliness, isolation, and a deep need to be understood.

But When Animals Dream is a darker dive. It unflinchingly shows how cruel teenage girls can become, seemingly overnight, when the chemicals in her maturing body tell her that her family doesn’t matter.  This movie uses an emotional stew of grief, resentment and selfishness to create a monster that is painfully relatable and despairingly recognizable.

There is a ruthlessness to Marie in how she deals with people and how she craves sex. The dramatic moments of the film are as unsettling to watch as the supernatural elements. This girl on the edge of womanhood heartlessly and effortlessly rips people apart, both figuratively and literally. When Animals Dream is a hidden gem.

 

Last Shift (2014)

This film would make an excellent double feature with The Void (2017). Instead of a hospital, Last Shift features a police station. Something inhuman lurks the halls in both films, but where The Void is gonzo, Last Shift is a slow burn.

In Last Shift, it’s a female rookie’s first night on the job. She’s assigned to the desk at the station, but the station is permanently closing in the morning.  She’s supposed to let the cleanup crew in when they show. She’s not to leave the building.

The desk sergeant informs her that all the 911 phones are being re-routed to the new station. It will be a quiet night, he says, as he leaves her alone in the building.

She starts getting 911 emergency calls.

They come from people who have already been murdered. They were all murdered by members of a sinister cult, whose leader was killed in the holding cell of the very station she’s guarding. The officer realizes she’s not alone in the station anymore.

And you’ll have to watch the movie to find out what’s in there with her. Last Shift is a tense, slow-burn horror movie about the ambiguity of good and evil.

The Neon Demon (2016)

When this next movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, people either booed it or gave it a standing ovation. And, in all honesty, The Neon Demon will kindle both responses in most viewers. I don’t believe that is accidental. This is a beautiful movie about ugly things that shows how flexible horror can be. That makes it challenging.

The plot follows a young model who runs off to Los Angeles to find fame Her natural beauty and innocence draw the attention of jaded photographers. It also draws the attention, and the jealousy, of the older models in the agency. That kind of attention can be deadly.

The movie opens with a gorgeous model in a stunning dress laying on an antique sofa. It looks very Vogue, except for her slashed throat and the blood running down her arm.

It’s an illusion for a fetishistic glamour photo shoot. This movie is all about fantasy, the artifice of glamour, and the temporary power of beauty. But it is also about worshipping false idols, and rituals, and sacrifices.

Our young model fascinates the top photographers because her beauty is completely natural. Virginal. She stands out because every other model we meet has had cosmetic surgery to their bodies. Once you cut away a part of yourself, you lose your innocence, which is something no surgery can correct.

Our young model gets the showcase role at a prestigious fashion show. With that the ritual begins. Is she transforming into the new Virgin Queen, or is she the new Virgin Sacrifice?

The surface beauty of abstract visuals can’t hide the sense of menace underneath the shallow surface of The Neon Demon. Oncethe ritual of fame and glamor begins, the movie becomes a surreal nightmare. In the end, I think you’ll be shocked to see how far the film decides to go. Boo it or applaud it, The Neon Demon makes my list because it walks the razor’s edge of horrible/beautiful.

Cub (2014)

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can catch you off guard. You think you know what you’re in for, but even an obvious premise can blindside you when it’s in the hands of an artist. Or a maniac.

I think we’re closer to maniac country with the Belgian horror movie, Cub. The premise is as old as the campfire tale that’s told at the start of the film itself. A group of Cub Scouts camp out in the woods and the Counselors tell a campfire story about a werewolf who stalks the very same woods where they’re camping.

And the story turns out to be true. Well…kind of true.

The reality is much more twisted than any werewolf, but it is just as feral and dangerous. As the Cub Scouts try to escape whatever this beast is, they stumble upon another horror.

The woods are covered with hidden, deadly traps.

This is a perverse little nightmare of a film. A lot of movies put kids in peril, but very few of them go very far with that. And if they do, the kids are usually teenagers. This film uses twelve-year-old boys that look like they are twelve years old.

And when the carnage happens, and the body count rises you realize the director is committed to “going all the way.” You will know the scene when you see it…holy shit.

Cub makes my list not only because of the size of its balls but because it shocked me. It made me acknowledge the brutality on the screen, and it made me realize that I often detach myself from the carnage I see in movies, and I don’t let it sink in. Cub removed those filters from me. Recommended, but know what you’re getting into.

The Horror Movie Lightning Round

There have been many excellent horror films in just the last five years, and there’s a great diversity in tone and styles amongst them. Perhaps you need a few more choices to get you to dive into your horror restorative, so let’s go into a lightning round!

If you like psychological horror films that keep you questioning fact from fiction, I recommend two excellent ultra-low budget films.

Pod (2015)

Two siblings try to do an intervention on their unstable Army Veteran brother, who has barricaded himself in the family cabin. He believes the military experimented on him and had been monitoring him. The paranoid vet has removed several of his teeth, where he was sure they put the tracking device.

He says he’s on alert now, because the military has sent a pod assassin, a hybrid creature, to kill him. He can prove it because he has the monster locked in the basement.

What’s in the basement? Watch Pod and find out.

They Look Like People (2016)

A chance encounter in New York City reunites two childhood friends, Christian, who is living comfortably in the City, and Wyatt who is transient. Christian invites Wyatt to stay with him, but he’s unaware that Wyatt is there with a sinister purpose.

Wyatt believes that the people he loves are turning into evil creatures and nobody else sees it.Wyatt is there to find out if Christian can be saved, or not.

What happens? Watch They Look Like People to find out.

If you like horror movies about cults, we got those, too! The next two films will give you some of that “old time religion.”

The Veil (2016)

In The Veil, the sole survivor of a Suicide Cult returns to the abandoned religious compound with a documentary crew on the 25th anniversary of the massacre. Little does the survivor know that the documentarians found newly-recovered footage that was hidden on the compound, and they want her to watch it and comment on it live.

When they watch the film, it doesn’t take long to realize it was meant to be found by them. What’s on the film? Watch The Veil. Make sure you watch it to the very end. Hint, hint.

Ritual (2013)

If you want to see something raw, and creepy, and nihilistic, this is the movie for you. A man gets a hysterical late-night phone call from his estranged wife. She is in a motel where she has just killed a man who was trying to kidnap her, and she needs his help.

The ex-husband drives to the motel, and he decides to put the body in the dead man’s trunk. When he opens the trunk, he finds a portable kill room full of knives and ropes.

And a camcorder.

The ex-husband takes the camera into the motel room, and they watch the tape, and they watch a woman being murdered in a satanic ritual. And then, there’s a loud knock on the motel room door. For a dose of cinema-verite nastiness, watch Ritual.

Sometimes a horror movie is so well-made, and so true to its convictions, that you must applaud it for succeeding at its intentions. Even if it intended to throw you into a black pit of despair. It’s not that these movies are hardcore gore flicks. It’s because there are scenes that are so tragic, and so horrible, and so pitiful, if you think about them too long they hurt your soul.

Well, for those of you who want to take a walk on the dire side, I recommend the next two films.

Under the Skin (2014)

In Under the Skin, an alien disguised as a beautiful woman seduces lonely men in Scotland. When she takes them home…the room itself starts to absorb them like they are in black quicksand. She’s a Venus fly trap, and this is how she eats.

This movie is so unsettling because it’s told from the emotionless point of view of the alien.

She watches a couple accidentally drown on a beach and ignores the crying baby they left behind.

The victims she lures home are only guilty of being lonely, and sad, and desperate for touch. Some of the men are disfigured, and they react like stray dogs when she touches them. Their vulnerability in their last moments is heartbreaking, nearly too much to watch.

And yet. The movie is so haunting and so hypnotic, and so…beautiful.

But Under the Skin doesn’t hold a candle to the horrible despair at the center of the next film.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

I disliked this movie when I first saw it, even though it takes the kind of risks I usually applaud. The film hit me as so cold, and cruel, and so full of a painful loneliness, it repelled me. It was only because of other horror fans whose opinions I respect that I gave it another watch.

And now it’s on my list because it is so fiercely unique and so effective. What’s it about? All I’ll say is that it’s about a very, very lonely girl. With very little on-screen gore, it takes torture, both physical and mental, to an existential level. Watch The Eyes of My Mother, but go only if you’re willing to be made vulnerable by what you see.