Format: Blue-ray Release date: 15 May 2017 Distributor: Eureka Entertainment Director: Sidney J. Furie Writer: Frank De Filetta (original novel and screenplay) Cast: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, David Labiosa
Sidney Furie’s disturbing, ambiguous 80s poltergeist tale brings up difficult issues surrounding sexual assault.
Sidney J. Furie’s sunshine-set supernatural horror, The Entity, is based on an alleged true story, ‘a story so shocking, so threatening, it will frighten you beyond all imagination’. Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is the single mother of three children, a teenage boy (David Labiosa) and two younger girls, struggling to get by in Southern California. Our brief introduction to Carla is set to menacing, clanging noises; after an exhausting day, she returns to the safety of her modest bungalow, only to be viciously attacked in her own bed by an unseen assailant. Her cries bring her son running, but a search of their home uncovers nothing – no perpetrator, no forced entry, no unlocked doors.
Cast: Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant, Larry Fessenden
A stylish riff on Repulsion that pays homage to a number of other arthouse horror classics.
A chilly art-horror exercise from writer-director Mickey Keating (Pod), who reunites with lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter – but here gives her the crazy role rather than asking her to be the ‘normal’ character. Indeed, the film is pretty much built around Carter’s presence as a stylish beauty with distracted eyes – she’s virtually the whole show, and luckily is strong enough to carry a picture that sometimes can’t make up its mind whether it’s more than a collage of homages (we checked off The Shining, Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Ms 45, The Tenant and others) couched in coolly gorgeous black and white (the only colour is lettering used in chapter headings).
In New York – perhaps circa 1970, though that’s not quite clear – an unnamed woman (Carter) takes a caretaker job (from sinister Sean Young) in an old house that has given rise to many ghost stories and whose previous caretaker has taken a suicide leap off the roof. The house is pristine – and, as a real location, interestingly narrow – but has a single locked room the Madame warns ‘darling’ away from – later, when opened, the contents are terrifying to the protagonist but not shown to us. The woman finds an inverted crucifix necklace in a drawer and later a random guy (Brian Morvant) in the street gives it back to her, claiming she’s dropped it… She becomes convinced that the guy did something avenge-worthy to her (she has scars on her ribs – except when she doesn’t) and sets out to stalk him and pick him up in a bar, leading to an uncomfortable flirtation/confrontation, which pays off with a stabbing and extensive (if tactfully shot) dismemberment. Not only isn’t it clear that the victim is the guilty party who (presumably) raped ‘darling’, it’s ambiguous as to whether she’s remembering something that happened to her – or has filled her blank soul with a trauma inherited from the previous caretaker, and liable to be passed on to the next (Helen Rogers), who turns up during the end credits to replay the opening scene.
Glass Eye Pix mascots Larry Fessenden and John Speredakos show up as cops, barging in just as the heroine has been pared down to a screaming, primal creature. Many reviewers are puzzled or infuriated by the refusal to state clearly what’s going on, but the inferences seem plain to me… and the cloudy areas deliberate. Carter – who was in Jugface too – has something of the pop art look of a 1960s Italian comic heroine, with bobbed hair, carefully applied make-up (we see her doing it) and an array of little black dresses. Her stare is discomforting, yet undeniably sexy – raising the creepy possibility that she’s attractive to her victim because she’s mad rather than in spite of her mental troubles, be they her own or imposed on her by the house. Short enough not to wear out its welcome, this is an intriguing entry in the recent spate of post-millennial Repulsion redos (Goddess of Love, Sun Choke, Broken).
A horror-imbued, science-fiction-tinged tale of rebirth and new beginnings, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s second feature avoids genre clichés to deliver an anxious exploration of romantic love. It follows young American Evan as he runs away to Italy after grief gets him into trouble at home. Coasting along with two loud Brits he met at his hostel, he arrives at a small seaside village, where he encounters the beguiling Louise, all sultry Mediterranean charm and free-spirited elusiveness. As their romance develops in this dreamy setting, it soon becomes apparent that Louise hides a dangerous, ancient secret.
A searching, fretful film, Spring probes the essence of love through earnest (at times a little clunky) dialogue. With a creature that could be a vampire, a zombie, a mutant, or a predatory animal, the horror elements are used to reveal a deep unease about the strange nature of women and their bodily transformations, as well as an intense yearning to find a way of making someone yours forever. It is the story of a taming of sorts, of the monstrous, menacing other, but also of one’s own fears, although that taming seems a little too much like wishful thinking for the resolution to be entirely convincing.
In his single-minded pursuit of love, Evan is endearingly naïve and single-minded. More experienced in many ways, Louise seems stronger and wiser, but her characterisation does not ring quite true, and she feels more like a fantasy than a real person. As she springs up in the village square almost like the incarnation of Evan’s desire, it is possible to imagine that she was conjured up by his imagination while he drifts in this far-off, foreign place.
The setting, near Pompeii, with the volcano as background, is used to great effect to create the feel of something archaic and primeval. The premise for the horrific aspect of the story is fascinating, with its insistence on scientific explanation over the supernatural, which is also part of Benson and Moorhead’s refusal to fall into easy genre categories. The story is firmly grounded in nature, with many inserts of insects, as well as unhurried sequences showing Evan’s work at the farm where he is staying, surveying the olive trees, the caterpillars that eat them and the strange brown goo produced by root rot.
Visually, it is a tremendously assured and inventive film that mixes detailed close-ups and startling aerial shots, small scale and large scale, to inscribe the nascent intimacy of the two lovers against the wider panorama of life. It is this ambition of vision together with the freshness of their talent that makes Benson and Moorhead ones to watch, and despite its weaknesses, the film as a whole, in its imperfect quest for love, has a winning dark charm.
The question is as old as cinema itself: what would you do for stardom? Sarah is an aspiring actress rotting in a two-bit job surrounded by dead-end pretentious hipster friends. But she is different – she knows she will make it no matter what. So when Astraeus Pictures offers her the lead in their latest production, ‘Silent Scream’, she grasps the opportunity with both hands. However, Astraeus Pictures is a strange company and Sarah will be plunged into uncharted depths of darkness before she can become the star she believes herself to be.
Like a head-on collision between Rosermary’s Baby and Day of the Locust, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch’s brilliant Starry Eyes is a cautionary tale like no other: set among the dregs behind the glamour of LA, the film paints the portrait of a woman metamorphosing both literally and figuratively. Boasting eye-popping special effects and a killer synth score, Starry Eyes harks back to the Hollywood cinema of a bygone era: smart, frightening and terrifically acted, this is the sort of filmmaking that the genre deserves to see more often.
The directing duo handle the mood with aplomb: LA feels like a sun-drenched nightmare, and as Alex starts to lose her grip on reality, her surroundings change accordingly. The music plays an important role: evocative of Carpenter et al., its synth edges go some way towards creating a vision of LA in which things are askew – the sense that something is wrong not just with Sarah but everyone occupying the city is an idea that gets reiterated at every turn.
It is to the credit of the directors that in Astraeus Pictures they create a wholly believable organization that offers Sarah a Faustian pact: by keeping their presence largely confined to the shadows, only ever feeding enough information to keep the viewer intrigued, Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch ensure the threat that they present remains uncertain and terrifying throughout.
On a side note, it is a joy to see Pat Healy in the film, however small his role, and special mention must go to Sarah’s group of friends, who seem to combine the worst qualities of young filmmakers in a way that is never too over the top.
Starry Eyes builds to an eye-gouging, head-spinning climax without ever losing track of its aim and it is this singularity of vision that made it a favourite at Film4 FrightFest and one of the clear winners of this year’s genre offerings.