A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, disturbing images, terror and language.

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Written by: Wes Craven

Directed by: Wes Craven

Starring: John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund

A Nightmare on Elm Street launched the popularity of the production company, New Line, and generated a long string of sequels and even a tie in with Jason Vorhees. A Nightmare on Elm Street is an iconic horror film that I’ve seen over 20-30 times throughout my life. To say the least, I’m pretty burned out on this film and usually don’t think about revisiting it due to my familiarity with it. Before this viewing, the last time I had seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was introducing my little brother to it and when I imagined watching it from fresh eyes, I realized why the film is such a popular horror film. From one scene to another it just slowly raises intensity with each horrifying sequence. When I put in this film for this Halloween season, I tried my best to imagine myself as if this was the first time viewing this film and separate it from the lore of the later films and see it as a stand alone horror film.

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A group of teenagers have been having strange nightmares that share one thing in common, a deformed man with a striped sweater and a glove fixed up with knives. After one of the teenagers is brutally murdered in their sleep, her boyfriend is framed for the murder and is put in prison. Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), along with her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp), wants to get to the bottom of what is really going on and who this fedora wearing murderer (Robert Englund) really is.

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This film is easily one of the most brilliant ideas for a horror film ever created and one of the most haunting executions of an idea. The persona of Fred Krueger, played to perfection by Robert Englund, gives you this intimidating vibe while still giving you this odd sense of charm like a spider, lurking in the dark, just waiting for the right victim. The score of the film will be permanently ingrained into my brain as it is easily one of the most memorable horror scores next to Jaws and Psycho. The minute details added to this movie are part of what make it so special, such as the graying of Nancy’s hair and the many ideas of simple horrific imagery.

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There were a few scenes scattered throughout that the cheesy acting made me cringe. But, you really shouldn’t expect A-list acting from a film that was so low budget and wasn’t made to be a hit film. The scares themselves are very genuinely frightening, and each shot is absolutely revolutionary in the world of horror cinema. The humor given from Robert Englund is one of my favorite aspects of each of the Nightmare films just for how much fun it creates and the creativity and range of ideas that have since come from this original balls to the wall film.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street will always be seen as an American horror classic. The unapologetic nature of the film makes it so daring and such an entertaining piece of film. I doubt anybody reading this has never seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, but if you haven’t, definitely go out and pick up a copy and check it out to put you in the right mood for your October season.

Grade: A

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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(based on the 1981 novel by Thomas Harris)

Written by: Ted Tally

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, and Anthony Heald

The Silence of the Lambs is a film that is immensely praised and has been reviewed and critiqued to the smallest of details. Therefore, I can’t personally say anything that hasn’t been said by half of the United States already (unless I was Derrick “Hannibal is better than Silence of the Lambs” Carter). Hannibal Lecter is a pop culture horror icon who is easily recognized by the average person without having even viewed the movie. The real question for me when I sat down to watch this film again is, does it still hold up as it did when I first fell in love with the brilliantly edited storytelling?

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Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a FBI agent in training who is sent to talk to the meticulous and cunning psychiatric cannibal, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Starling is put on an odd case of a serial killer who takes to skinning his victims, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). As another girl is kidnapped and time is running shorter, Starling realizes that her hope lies in Lecter who seems to have the answers to Buffalo Bill’s identity. But, Hannibal is only willing to tell under one condition, Clarice must open up her darkest secrets with him.

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Silence is probably one of the darkest and most disturbing films that I’ve ever experienced due to it’s ominous simplicity and intense subjects. It’s so brilliant and the scariness behind this film isn’t in the fact that a lot happens, because there really isn’t much going on. But, it’s the fact that it seems so realistic, these characters are so sinister due to their complex personalities and the desire we see in these horrific eyes cast an aura around this film that goes beyond the realm of the visual and eventually retreats back into the most depraved places.

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The acting across the board is absolutely superb. The only person that I really did not like or understand is Clarice’s friend who shows up in the last 30 minutes just to explain shit to her. I found that her purpose was literally to run down one hall, explain stuff blatantly to Clarice, and then root her on at her graduation. There just wasn’t any depth or reason in this cliche, completely undeveloped character. This is my only complaint with this nearly flawless masterpiece.

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The Silence of the Lambs is easily one of the most brilliant horror/psychological thriller films ever made because it doesn’t try to throw gore and scary looking things in your face. It doesn’t try to scare you at all, it uses real situations and without forcing them it makes the sequences absolutely bone-chilling. This is a mental rollercoaster of a film and shows that action and gore isn’t everything. I’m sorry, Derrick, but Hannibal falls way short of the simple brilliance of The Silence of the Lambs.

Grade: A+

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Del Tenney

Written by: Del Tenney

Starring: William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Betty Hyatt Linton, and Dan Stapleton

Jerry Gross slapped this film into a double feature with I Drink Your Blood, just to make some money off an old lackluster rip off of James Bond. This film isn’t worth half of what I Drink Your Blood sets up for it beforehand and is a sad excuse for a horror film. I am not rating this like a normal film either. There just isn’t much to enjoy here at all unless you like being bored out of your mind.

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Bond wannabe, Tom Harris (William Joyce), is paid to investigate Voodoo Island. Why is it called Voodoo Island, you may ask? Well, to your surprise, you will find that the island is full of people from an African tribe practicing voodoo (shocker). Upon arrival, everyone is being attacked by mindless, bug-eyed monsters who look like someone just rubbed dirt and mud all over the actor’s faces. In a cliche tidal wave of twists and turns, Tom Harris must get to the bottom of what is causing these zombies (hint: it may be voodoo, or science…i don’t know, maybe both).

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50% of this movie is people dancing and acting out fake rituals that are very uninteresting. The other 50% is full of tacked on characters, a slow plot that goes exactly like any average episode of Scooby Doo but less entertaining and stretched out into a feature length film. The most entertaining parts are when the zombies are running around and giving everyone the death stare (quite literally).

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There is an actress in this film that is in about half the film who is so god damn annoying, it pushed me almost to turning the damn movie off, to be completely honest. I really don’t know what else to say about this film. Literally it’s dancing and bad acting in the style of Scooby Doo with Bond substances. I would recommend you just leave this double feature with I Drink Your Blood. (sorry for the short review, I thought I wouldn’t waste our time with another paragraph or two)

Grade: D-

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: X for graphic violence

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Directed by: David Durston

Written by: David Durston

Starring: Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, Jadine Wong, and Rhonda Fultz

The film that is notorious for being the first movie to receive an X rating purely on violence, I Drink Your Blood is a great place to start for someone who is interested in diving into grindhouse films. The backstory and idea of the film is honestly much greater than the film is present. But, you don’t put in a grindhouse film and expect it to be well made. If you want a mainstream, interesting horror film, this is nowhere near your ball park. So, I must review this film in a completely different way than a mainstream film.

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A small town is terrorized by a group of satanic worshiping, acid tripping hippies who take over a hotel and destroying anything in sight. After a young boy is harassed and his sister is raped and grandpa is beaten, he decides to take it upon himself to get back at the hippies. The boy shoots and kills a dog who is infected with rabies, then he retrieves the dog’s blood in a syringe. The next day, the boy injects the blood into all of the hippies meat pies, and soon they’re all foaming at the mouth and trying to rip everyone to shreds!

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I am gonna start this off with a warning to all the people who want to see this, there is a good amount of animal cruelty (chicken getting it’s throat cut, dead rats being put over a fire, a dog presumably lying “dead”, and a dead goat being dragged around). The director, David Durston, has been quoted saying “the only animal that was harmed during the making of the film was the chicken at the beginning of the film”. I expected this film to be much more balls to the wall than it was, but I gave it a second spin and some thought and I think I Drink Your Blood is pretty balls to the wall for the decade it was released.

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The story behind the theatrical releasing of I Drink Your Blood is actually very interesting. The producer, Jerry Gross, had sent out all the reels to the theaters across the nation and upon arrival, a huge uproar came forward about it being X rated and the theater’s were rejecting the reels. So, Jerry Gross told every theater that they could have the projectionist cut the film for how they deem it fit for their community. Which means that everyone saw different cuts of the film during the original release of this film and is what gave I Drink Your Blood a lot of it’s publicity.

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Bhaskar, who plays one of the main villains, is great at acting with his body but seems to fall short with his vocal acting. The dubbing in this film isn’t great but adds to the charm of a grindhouse film. The film keeps the pace steadily going and you don’t really ever get lost. Some sequences are laughably silly and the use of funk music in the more intense scenes makes for a few laughs. The biggest complaint that I have for this film is that the synthesizers that play constantly throughout the film get really annoying, especially if you’re watching it while people are trying to sleep.

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The biggest thing about a grindhouse film that I look for is if I had fun or not. There’s really no point in watching a grindhouse film other than to have fun with it. With I Drink Your Blood, I personally had a blast watching it and would recommend anybody wanting to dive into this gritty side of cinema to check this one out. This film isn’t for everybody but it certainly entertained the hell outta me.

Grade: B-

 

House 2: The Second Story (1987)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Written by: Ethan Wiley and Fred Dekker

Directed by: Ethan Wiley

Starring: Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Royal Dano, Lar Park Lincoln, and John Ratzenberger

Well…that was pretty wild. Uh… where to begin? What in the actual fuck am I supposed to say or feel about this travesty that’s surprisingly entertaining. The first House was honestly so disappointing to me that I had a blast with this one. Caterpillar dogs, a mummified great-great grandfather, a zombie cowboy, a baby pterodactyl, and a crystal skull (watch out Indiana) that gives eternal life. What a roller coaster of entertainment that’s really a technical train wreck.

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Jesse (Arye Gross) is digging up his past (quite literally) as he goes back to live in his childhood home where his parents were killed with his wife, Kate (Lar Park Lincoln). When his party animal best friend, Charlie (Jonathan Stark), pays a visit, they begin to uncover a dark past to the house that resides around the possession of a crystal skull. They dig up Jesse’s great-great grandfather who will do “everything” he can to keep the skull in his possession as multiple dimensions open up in the house and everything you can think of is after the skull. Most notably, a zombie cowboy that has some severe beef with the mummified grand-dad.

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I have to say that House 2 is some of the most cheesy fun that I’ve seen in the longest time. A completely dumb, turn your mind off type of movie. There’s many plot holes and very dumb decisions that are made numerous times, such as the skull constantly being left right out in the open. But, the film is interesting in that it is not a real sequel and works well as a stand alone film. The first House is very overrated, in my opinion. There just isn’t enough stuff for me to really get into the movie and really care at all about what is going on. So, when I put this one on, I really had the lowest expectations possible and was surprised that this movie actually lives up to the cheesy fun that I had originally expected from the first film.

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I can easily agree with most that this film is still wholly mediocre and doesn’t live up to the credentials surrounding the film, such as being under the production of Sean S. Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame. Plus, the ending is probably one of the worst endings to a horror movie that I’ve ever witnessed. This movie is really hard to call an actual horror film because it has some horror elements but it feels much more like a kiddie adventure-western film with a mummy and zombie cowboy, with a hint of a haunted house atmosphere. When compared to the other films in the large category of horror comedy, it definitely rests towards the bottom.

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All in all, if I was looking for some good films to get into the Halloween spirit, I would definitely skip this one. But, for some cheesy entertainment, definitely give it a try any of the other 11 months in the year. The first two House films are complete opposites in the way of atmosphere, scares, and overall enjoyment. I personally enjoyed this film much more due to the amount of in-your-face random occurrences that plague the entire film. I wouldn’t rush out to see this, but if you got some extra time and come across a cheap copy of it, definitely give it some mindless time.

Grade: B-

House (1985)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for adult situations, language, and violence

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Written by: Ethan Wiley and Fred Dekker

Directed by: Steve Miner

Starring: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, and Kay Lenz

From Friday the 13th reoccurring director, Steve Miner, comes a fun, dimwitted horror film filled with wonderful make up and creature effects. House does a great job of using great imaginative ideas in a creative way. The delivery of the film is generally very shaky and at times feel more like the pilot to a Tales From The Darkside reboot series (take that or leave it as you will). If it tells you anything about what kind of film this is, the story was written by the director of Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad and also went on to direct many Tales From The Crypt episodes.

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Roger Cobb (William Katt) is a Vietnam vet turned successful horror novelist. After his son goes missing while at his elderly aunt’s house, and soon after the aunt kills herself, Roger decides that it is a good idea to stay in his aunt’s house to write his new novel based on his Vietnam experiences. Weird occurrences go on late at night, and demons both mental and physical can’t be driven away. Roger begins to wonder if there is more going on with the house than he originally expected.

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This is not a great film by any means, it may not be even a good film. But, it is definitely a blast for anybody who enjoys cheesy good stories and great special effects. I do have a big problem understanding what House is really trying to be, though. It’s like the writers were unsure if they wanted it to be serious or goofy, and it makes you uncomfortable when they put all these deep elements that don’t work into the mix. House has great comedic sequences though, and succeeds at showing the life of a well known author.

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Most of this film really feels like a high budget made for television or direct to video flick. The acting is sub-par from every actor and actress and the development really feels like it would work better on prime time than on the big screen. There are some very interesting ideas strewn throughout, but unfortunately the execution of the ideas really fall flat due to the unprofessional take on the story. I can definitely see where the love for this film comes from, though.

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There is some good scare tactics in this film that make up for some of the faults. It’s all really just bad storytelling but still a lot of fun. Roger’s flashbacks to Vietnam could have been executed in a better way by the kids in my freshman video class, honestly. But, even then, you still are having so much fun watching these goofy ass cliche sequences of the tough soldier and the captain that nobody likes, and it tries so hard to make you care about these characters while being made with every lazy story shortcut they could muster up.

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In the end, it’s just exactly what it is, a bunch of crazy effects made to wow you, which work. Plus, a very sloppily written story that fails at half of what it sets out to achieve. Then, a very amateurish cast that pulls me back a little bit further from having an all out fun time. Still worth giving a watch in my opinion if you’re into goofy horror comedies that would probably do better as a 30 minute episode rather than a feature length film.

Grade: C

Carrie (1976)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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(based on the novel by Stephen King)

Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, and Piper Laurie

Carrie White is a pop culture horror icon that came from the mind of the widely acclaimed Stephen King. Growing up as a big King fan, I hold a special place for a large amount of his work and films adapted from his work. I have previously read Carrie before watching this film for this review. With a new look towards this film, It really doesn’t hold up as well as the book does. But, it still does the best it can and has some of the greatest performances and editing in horror film history.

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Carrieta White (Sissy Spacek) is the poor, laughing stock of the school. Raised in a bible thumping household, Carrie knows nothing outside the bounds of what her mother (Piper Laurie) will allow. After a confrontation occurs in the girl’s locker room over the knowledge (or more lack there of) menstrual processes. Out of pity, a young girl asks her boyfriend (William Katt) to ask Carrie to prom. But, what people don’t know is that Carrie has a special power. A power to disrupt her environment without moving a muscle. Will this end in happiness or heartbreak?? Life or death?? Anybody who has seen the theatrical poster probably knows the answer.

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I’ve always had a big problem with Carrie adaptions for the fact that they fail to cast Carrie correctly. Yes, Sissy Spacek is an amazing actress and kills (quite literally) as Carrie. But, Carrie is supposed to be the average chubby, underappreciated girl with zits you can find at any high school in the U.S., not the good looking actresses that always seem to be cast as Carrie. As a Stephen King adaption, Carrie is great as it stays pretty close to the book and has it’s own cinematic spin on the story. However, as a Brian De Palma film, it is definitely nowhere near his best work.

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The chemistry between Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie is dreadfully realistic. I find myself cringing in intensity throughout their entire sequences together. They both were nominated for Best Actress in a lead and supporting role. The film from beginning to end is very slow up until the notorious prom climax. There are a few scenes that keep you going, but more often then not, I found myself having trouble keeping my attention on the film due to it’s average teenage drama build with some extraordinary occurences.

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Carrie is a must watch for horror/De Palma/Stephen King fans, no matter what though. Despite any flaws I found to pick out, this film is easily one of the best horror films adapted from King’s work, under Misery and The Shining. This film is very easy to find, and more likely than not, you’ve already seen this film. I personally don’t have the love for Carrie that I know many other people possess. Carrie has been praised to death, and for relatively good enough reason. A good watch that’s worth buying for your October season.

Grade: A-

Hereditary (2018)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity

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Written by: Ari Aster

Directed by: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Woolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne

In between all the basic horror movies along the lines of The Conjuring to Annabelle to The Boy to The Bye Bye Man, you can find some really unique films that could easily be seen as classics in the future such as Insidious, Sinister, It Follows, The Babadook, and even Mother! if you count that as a horror movie (Most people find it pretty horrifying). Here we have a film that is a very original and intriguing new vision in horror that I personally feel can be ranked up with the best horror films of the last decade.

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After a bipolar woman’s (Toni Collette) mother dies, she still holds harsh resentment to her for her overbearing parenting. When her daughter (Milly Shapiro) begins to act extremely odd after her mother dies, she begins to wonder what was really going on between her young daughter and her mother. The hidden truth begins to unravel as time goes on, and the family falls apart as things become more supernatural.

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I had to take a while to really think about what I should say about this film and even now I’m not completely sure how to put it all together into one review. There’s some very disturbing visuals and events that occur throughout the film. It’s already gotten a ton of flack for being indecisive on what type of film it is. From what I saw, I thought the director was going for an homage to classic horror films by creating a supernatural story and atmosphere that captures the essence of The Exorcist, cinematography that reminds me of Kubrick’s work, especially The Shining, and a surreal ending that seems semi-Lynchian.

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I honestly think people are being way too harsh to Hereditary. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but at least it was an original and interesting new idea that isn’t the same film that’s been made a million times. The CGI flies are probably the worst part about this whole film, the actor’s were sitting there swatting at nothing and none of the flies around them reacted. Also, at the very end of the film, it spells everything out for the audience with this person explaining everything, in case you didn’t get it the first time, and it ruins a very sinister feeling that the film possessed in the finale leading up.

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The good thing is that the acting is generally very professional and well done. Milly Shapiro makes a wonderful on screen prescence with her odd features and even odder personality. The one performance that kinda put me off was the one given by Alex Wolff who hams it up with his cries in certain scenes. I will say that in one of the most critical scenes in the film, he really stands his ground and holds up in a believable manner.

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Cinematically, Hereditary is a very intelligently made horror film. They create some very interesting shots throughout (frame within a frame and upside down shots just to scrape the surface). A large portion of this film feels less like a horror film and more like a family drama. I’ve heard a lot of people call this a slow burn and say it’s very boring. I honestly didn’t think this film was slow at all, I feel that it just took it’s time to develop the story and characters, which isn’t a bad thing. All in all, don’t let what people are saying turn you away from this great horror film, it’s one of the best that I’ve seen in a long time.

Grade: A

Mark of the Devil (1970)

Review by Carson Hearne

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Written by: Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven

Directed by: Michael Armstrong

Starring: Herbert Lom, Olivera Vuco, Udo Kier, Reggie Nalder, and Herbert Fux

Upon seeing any promotional material for this film, one may expect this to be a disgusting, torture porn exploitation flick that takes things way too far. While there is torture and other horrible acts, this film actually handles itself as more of a drama than a horror film. Surprisingly, Mark of the Devil holds up due to it’s dark undertones and historical commentary on religious retribution. One may be surprised to find out that this was originally written as an Jess Franco-esque Dracula film. What comes out in the end is a very artistic and enjoyable film that is it’s own style.

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1700 A.D., Austria, after a town’s witchfinder (Reggie Nalder) has become out of hand, forcing himself upon women and then claiming them as witches, Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) and his apprentice (Udo Kier) come to restore order. After falling in love with a young woman (Olivera Vuco) who’s accused of witchcraft, the apprentice begins to question his master’s practices while witnessing countless accounts of murder, rape, and injustice.

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The fact that this film is so entertaining and well made says a lot. Especially since there were many problems during the production of this film of the producer and director constantly being at each other’s throats; until Michael Armstrong was ultimately thrown off the project. Adrian Hoven had a grudge with Armstrong from the beginning, since he was granted the director’s chair and he drastically changed Hoven’s original script. Armstrong was only interested in making a great historical piece that pays homage to Vincent Price’s film Witchfinder General. Adrian Hoven original envisioned a hokey little trash film that he was upset never was carried out.

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With that being said, you would expect this film to be an absolute disaster of mixing styles and ideas. But, after Armstrong was kicked off the project, Hoven had realized that he had to keep continuity and made the decision to keep Armstrong’s style and general idea of the film (other than the ending which was originally a surreal, dark demise). Everything about this film just works so well. The cinematography is so stylistic and intense. The score is triumphant as well as deeply disturbing; it’s also a score that you would expect to be in a big budget historical film.

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The acting all across the board is very professional and each performance is memorable for different reasons. Even small side characters stick out in your head long afterwards. It feels like these people spent a long time to become their characters and they all do a great job making you hate and love them. Udo Kier, who has been in almost 200 films, is very entertaining on screen even though this was his first color film. The production design for Mark of the Devil is top notch and really feels more documentary like than fictional in some scenes.

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There’s really not much I can pick out about Mark of the Devil that I didn’t enjoy. Some parts are very badly dubbed and the kids are horrible at acting sad. But, other than those things there really isn’t much else that I don’t like. Some scenes feel like something out of a nightmare and some scenes are really intense. Mark of the Devil is a very smart film that shouldn’t really be considered a pure exploitation film, and contains an underlying message that is still generally relevant.

Grade: A-

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