Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Kit Power
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I saw five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the month of September. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Severe spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
Back to London for this one, for one last visit to the BFI - Screen 3 this time. Which is a lovely cinema, but lacks the mind-buggering scale of the IMax.
My stepson was also in tow (last seen watching IT with me at our local multiplex <http://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/king-on-screen-4-it >) and we got ourselves situated in good time for lights down. I hadn’t seen the movie before. My mind had slotted it in as a late 80’s film (possibly confusing it with The Fog), but one I’d heard very good things about. It swiftly became obvious to me that I’d gotten that hilariously wrong, and also that I was watching something not merely pretty good but actually kind of magnificent.
I can’t speak to the colour version - I have since caught a brief section of it on TV, before swiftly turning over - but the black and white print we saw oozes atmosphere and menace. It is gorgeously shot, and of course the lack of colour gives the titular mist a luminosity that is deeply atmospheric and sinister, even before its nature is revealed. Later, when the monsters start to show up, it’s even more effective, rendering what I suspect might in color be some slightly shaky CGI into an unnerving, visceral experience. Interestingly, for me the black and white didn’t negatively impact at all on any of the gorier moments, either, with the black blood inviting just as much of a reaction as the red would have done.
And it’s worth reiterating King’s central storytelling philosophy here; in On Writing, he makes no secret of his disdain for advanced plotting, instead insisting that plot is, in essence, what happens when characters meet circumstance. The story of The Mist is an exemplar of this kind of King storytelling, with a vivid cast of characters trapped in a mundane environment made horrific by it’s surroundings. Apply heat until characters come to a boil, then watch them melt.
Given that, casting is hugely important, especially with the ensemble nature of the piece. Luckily, the cast was, I thought, uniformly brilliant. Thomas Jane has a blue collar everyman vibe to him - a kind of gritty, rougher Tom Hanks quality - which feels like it should be at odds with his profession as a fantasy and horror artist (one who appears to be working on a Stephen King book cover, to judge by the painting on display at the start of the film), but Jane sells it well, playing off the character as taciturn, withdrawn. It works, and sells both his relationship with his kid and with his neighbour (Andre Braugher, kicking every bit as much arse here as he did in Homicide: Life on the Streets).
But honestly, I’m struggling to think of a weak link. It was kind of odd seeing so many future Walking Dead alumni facing a different horror apocalypse, but you can see why the casting director of that show thought of them, based on this. The group dynamics are brilliantly played, with many of the best scenes created not through big action set pieces (though we have those, and they are glorious) but through groups of people simply talking, discussing, arguing, trying to puzzle out what is going on and what to do next.
At heart, it’s a very claustrophobic piece, and the basic theres are expressed pretty clearly by a small group of the characters themselves, as they debate what they can tell the larger group about the tentacle that just killed a kid as he tried to fix the generator: civilised behaviour is dependant entirely upon the trappings of civilisation, and that absent those structures and controls, things - people - quickly spiral out of control and into destructive, evil behaviour.
It’s not a terribly comforting view of humanity (and,as I get older, one I find less and less convincing as a Deep Truth) but bloody hell it makes for good horror stories, and certainly plays expertly on our own darkest fears about ourselves.
So the movie handles this well, with uniformly superb performances and intelligent, unflashy filmmaking. And while the initial tentacle attack via the loading bay felt just a touch overplayed, the two later action set pieces, especially the ill-fated drug store raid, are magnificent. That sequence really is everything you want from action horror - atmospheric, creeping dread, the fake out jump scare, incredible lighting and intelligent shot choices, and then the reveal that our heros are in very, very deep shit. The spider monsters are vile, and the moment they burrowed out of the captured soldier’s stomach was genuinely skin-crawling.
But for all of the adrenaline rush of that sequence, the later bug attack on the store, and the final mad dash to the car, the greater horror of the film comes from the deterioration of the survivors, as the bleakness of the situation presses down on them. The monsters outside the store are horrific, but it’s the ones inside the store that are ultimately more disturbing. The capacity for ordinary people to become part of horrific movements, and buy into demagoguery and/or religious extremism, is an anxiety King returns to again and again throughout his work, but it’s never writ larger or with bloodier clarity than in The Mist, and Darabont seems to have fully grasped this as being the true guts of the story. The script and direction reflect that, and allow the horror of fear driving desperation and barbarism to play out with truly uncomfortable clarity.
The ending of the movie takes that bleakness to it’s logical conclusion, and is stunning in its brutality. Jane knocks it out of the park in the final scene, becoming utterly undone by what he has to do… especially as the final gut punch lands and he realises he had to do no such thing. In the end, even the good people weren't immune to the warping effect of terror and desperation, and even the very best of intentions led to damnation.
It’s a genuinely shocking conclusion that elevates an already superbly made movie to something approaching genius. And as the credits rolled, the sounds of people exhaling rolled over the cinema, a collective expression of shock and relief. Quite a moment.
The Mist is one of King's finest novellas - maybe the finest - and with this film, Frank Darabont has delivered a movie the equal of the source material.
In fact, with that ending, he may even have surpassed it. I don’t have much higher praise than that.
This was a fantastic end to my mini King film festival.
Or so I thought.
Turns out, Netflix had a surprise in store for me, in October…
The Unseen stars Jasmine Hyde as Gemma, an audiobook narrator whose young son tragically drowns in an indoor pool accident shortly after the film begins. The resulting sense of guilt and loss that Gemma feels manifests in a series of never-ending panic attacks; these panic attacks are made even more upsetting by their ability to cause Gemma's vision to become blurred to the point of complete disorientation. As Gemma and her husband spiral into a bottomless pit of despair and an inability to deal with their senses of guilt and Gemma's increasing frequency of the debilitating panic attacks, they decide to try and get away from it all by taking a weekend trip to a country house owned by Paul.
Gemma met Paul thanks to a random encounter during one of her panic attacks, when Paul helped her to get through it, but is Paul the good samaritan that he first appears or is there a more profound and darker reason for his good deeds? However, during their weekend getaway, Gemma's panic attacks continue to get worse, and their relationship finally starts to unravel, to a point where Paul may just get exactly what he wanted all along.
The Unseen is a refreshing if that is the right word, entry in what is now becoming an overcrowded market of low budget thrillers/horror films. The film is shot on a shoestring budget, however where many of other films of this type waste their money on silly special effects or stupid jump scares, The Unseen uses its tight budget and filming time to construct a film based around some compelling performances and a powerful and emotionally charged script.
The Unseen straddles many genres, at times it is unsure whether it wants to be a thriller, a supernatural mystery or a domestic drama, this uncertainty on the whole works very well. The hints of some sort of spectral presence that are scattered throughout the film help to keep the viewer guessing as to what is really going on, this sense of confusion is aided by the brilliant cinematic portrayal of Gemma's panic attacks. When Gemma suffers from one the viewer is given an insight into the utter sense of confusion and despair she feels by allowing the viewer to witness what she sees and feels thanks to a massively disorientating blurred screen effect and a perfectly pitched soundtrack. The film may slightly overuse this impact and its function to "signal" specific plot events, but even so, this is a clever and brave cinematic effect that fully delivers on its intended function.
The film's unwillingness to fully commit to one genre, to some, might feel somewhat wishy-washy, but this reviewer loved this approach, it allowed the film to flex its dramatic muscles and gives the actors a lot of room to deliver some terrific performances, and when the film finally settles on an actual direction in the final acts it adds to the power of the film.
As mentioned previously The Unseen is carried by some truly magnificent performances. Jasmine Hyde's performance as Gemma is heartbreaking, raw and fascinating; you are drawn into her world with an utter sense of futility and panic, her pain becomes your pain.
Richard Flood's portrayal of her husband is one of the most emotionally charged depictions of a grieving father you are likely to see. His sense of loss and helplessness from the loss of his child and his inability to help his grieving wife is devastating; this is a performance that will punch you hard in your soul.
Even Simon Cotton's performance as Paul is finely tuned and effective one. A charismatic and chilling presence, Cotton oozes a like a malignant stain across the lives of Gemma and Will.
The Unseen is a brooding, slow burner of a film, a disturbing and emotionally devastating look at the loss and grief suffered by the death of a loved one. A compelling narrative boosted by stunning performances and elegant cinematography, it is a welcome change to the standard fare offered to horror fans these days.
By John Boden
In a Williamsburg hotel lobby, years ago, I stood and talked to Mike Lombardo, for hours. We talked writing and stories and horror films and cartoons and television. At one point he told me about a short story he'd gotten published called "I'm Dreaming of A White Doomsday" and after he recounted the thing to me, I was stunned by the idea's brilliance. He then went on the tell me he and his Reel Splatter Productions team was planning on making a movie from it. The next few years were marked with progress reports from him, and I was even lucky enough to see it in pieces when initial shooting was completed but all the behind-the-scenes sorcery had not been implemented. Even in its barest bones stage, it was staggering.
It's now December 2017, and I can reveal that I've been fortunate enough to have seen his a few times now and it is every bit as amazing as I'd hoped it would be. It's tough for me not to be biased, not be looking through the tear-stained goggles of how fucking proud of this kid I am. But here goes.
I'm Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is a different kind of film, touted as both a horror film and a post-apocalyptic nightmare--and it is both of those things but fleetingly--what it really is, at its core, is fear boiled down. The terror of that fraying tether you hold as the world finally snapping. The lovely balloon you look to for a smile and some uplifting feelings floating up, up and away.
A woman and her son are left alone in a sort of makeshift bomb shelter in their basement. Her husband has gone foraging for supplies some time ago and not returned. Her days are spent wallowing in worry and grief while she tried to keep up a cheerful facade for young Riley. As times marches on--and I mean heavy booted stomping kind of marching here--things look grim, and it gets very dark.
I could easily explain more but the less you know, the more impact this will have. The film is quite superb. From the beautiful camera work and outstanding set design to the top-notch acting, most notably Hope Bikle and young Reeve Blazi in the starring roles. The story is scalpel-sharp and the details immaculate. The real star of this film, however, is the tone. The sense of melancholy fear that prickles your neck and makes your heart ache is in damn near every minute of this thing. It is a truly wondrous achievement and in a perfect world, destined to become a holiday classic.
With help from Executive Producer Brian Keene (you've heard of him, no doubt) I'm Dreaming Of A White Doomsday is playing festivals. And you'd do wise to try and catch it. And by that I mean, you have to keep them eyes peeled for a showing near you. Hopefully sometime soon it'll play a wider release or be available to buy or something. Keep checking www.reelsplatter.com for any and all updates.
BY JOE X YOUNG
The song ‘Shoot the sherbet to me Herbert’ has the classic line ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream’ but in the case of this DVD there isn’t a whole lot to scream about. The core concept here is sound enough with a psychotic ice cream man driving around the neighbourhood and killing random people, which isn’t a new idea (Clint Howard did it better in ‘The Ice Cream Man’ back in 1995) but with the right treatment it could be a good one.
Having read the cover blurb and quotes on the DVD (image above) I was quite looking forward to this but was left wondering if I’d actually seen the same film as the other reviewers. The killer on the front of the DVD isn’t in the film and bears no resemblance to the actual one who is on the back of the DVD cover, which is understandable given how vanilla the real one looks. You can’t judge a movie by its cover, but it should at least have the right people on it. Anyway, that’s a minor issue but it is indicative of what we get with the film as it promises far more than it delivers.
The film is set in a standard suburban location which is normal, but the killings, as few as they are, are of occupants of the same street and not all happening the same night, which is just plain dumb. There’s hardly a mention of the people who have been killed off, no mention of where the bodies are taken to and zero Police presence, all of which stretch credibility. There are some good points of which all of the general technical aspects are crisp and clean and the acting from all concerned is believable to a higher than average degree for low budget horror even if the dialogue is borderline tedious, so it is somewhat sad to see such a polished production fall flat because of essentially one problem… The script sucks.
Deanna Russo stars as Mary, a thirtysomething housewife/freelance writer who has returned to her old neighbourhood to set up home and await the arrival of her husband and children a few days later. Deanna is pleasant enough and wholly believable in the role.
Mary has a dalliance with a neighbouring student called Max played by John Redlinger who, armed with a six pack (and we are not just talking beer), a bag of weed and rampant testosterone decides upon getting some milf action, which unfortunately becomes a major focal point of the film. All very stereotypical, as are the entire cast so there’s really nothing new to see here. Emil Johnsen as the ice cream man is about as scary as bellybutton fluff, which I think is more a case of him doing his best with the material he was given than anything else. On second viewing I’m of the opinion that the film was aiming for a slightly comical approach, but that fell flat if indeed it was the intent.
Okay, so the seasoned horror fan will have encountered several dozen dumb ass plots and some often ridiculous devices which the viewer is to treat as mental bubble-gum, and we do so because it’s all just entertainment. This is where The Ice Cream Truck has a fundamental flaw, it’s just not entertaining. Much of why I found it that way is because of the general setup regarding the Truck and the driver. I don’t know much about the vehicle except to say that it looks like it hails from the 50s or 60s and is in beautiful condition, it’s a panel Truck with a step in rear containing chest freezers with an old-fashioned limited selection of scoop ice cream, so all very traditional and charming. The ice cream man himself is also charming, wearing a traditional white outfit and speaking as if he just stepped out of Pleasantville, which although it sets apart from the more gruesome portrayals of ice cream men it also ramps up his visibility, which surely isn’t a good idea for a serial killer.
In the recent Stephen King series Mr Mercedes the psychopath is a part-time ice cream man, he has a contemporary Truck and clothing and is all rather non-descript. He spies on the detective random times during daylight whilst selling ice creams but never commits a crime whilst doing so. That’s a proper portrayal, he doesn’t make himself obvious and even though his presence attracts attention it is assumed he’s just there to sell ices and nothing more, so he is effectively hiding in plain sight. In The Ice Cream Truck the killer is basically as thick as pigshit. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, yet we are expected to believe that a man in a classic vehicle which plays a tune deliberately intended to draw attention will not be noticed when he’s killing someone, getting his crisp white outfit plastered in blood and then casually, slowly driving away with the tune still playing. All that’s missing is a huge neon sign on top of the Truck saying ‘serial killer’ with an arrow pointing at the driver.
On the subject of the tune that the Truck is playing it is called ’Turkey in the Straw’, but is probably better known as either a playground song ‘do your ears hang low’ or a more recent take on it ‘Chain Hang Low’ by ‘Jibbs’ which features an Ice Cream Truck in the video, leading me to wonder if this somehow inspired the film… perhaps not.
I realise it’s just entertainment or is supposed to be, and I also know I’m a harsh audience, so if this sort of thing doesn’t matter to you then please feel free to ignore what I say here and give the film a shot. It only matters to me because it shifts my focus from the enjoyment of the medium, so instead of sitting back and relaxing I find myself leaning forward, often gesticulating and saying out loud ‘dafuq’ or some other such expletive and thinking more about how the hell the ice cream man is going to get the blood out of a white cotton outfit as even on a cold wash it’s bound to stain. There’s not much in the way of murders happening in this film and it has a twist ending which didn’t do a lot for me either, all of which is a bloody shame because the cinematography and sound are all perfectly good and even the acting in general is fine.
I know there are many people who have put their hearts and souls into making The Ice Cream Truck and they are quite probably highly proud of the achievement, especially when they are given such sterling reviews from other sources and I wish them well, honest I do, because at least they are getting off their arses and doing something. I always feel mean when giving a bad review, but better that than ignoring it.
If you decide you want to check it out for yourself then stop them and buy one.