Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Horror Round Up: Crimson Peak, The Last Witch Hunter, Hellraiser 7-9

Today is Halloween, which at least for those of us in the United States is, like Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal.  I've been gearing up for the last week by watching horror movies, which I have reviewed for your convenience.  Here are some movies that might make your Halloween a little creepier.

Crimson Peak

This newest offering from director Guillermo del Toro is as much a gothic romance as it is a ghost story (a point highlighted by the fact that the main character, Edith, is an author working on a ghost story to which she is told to add some romance).  There's less ghostly creepiness than I was expecting, and a good chunk of the movie doesn't even take place in that lushly designed English manor from the previews (get ready for a lot of Buffalo, New York, circa 1901).

Nonetheless, using the ghosts sparingly works.  We're shown just enough to maintain a timbre of dread.  When the ghosts do show up, they're as beautiful as they are horrifying.  And when we do get to that creepy mansion, the sets become characters in their own right.  See the preview below for some great shots of both the ghosts and the sets.  I definitely recommend seeing this one on the big screen if you can.

Occasionally the plot drags on a bit (especially toward the beginning), but if you trust that it's setting you up for some good old fashioned spookiness, you won't be disappointed.

As in a lot of horror fiction, one of the central questions of Crimson Peak becomes: who are the real monsters - the living or the dead?  The ghosts aren't the only creepy things in this movie.

The Last Witch Hunter

Someone finally gave Vin Diesel a break from those Fast and Furious movies so that he could star in this surprisingly fun urban fantasy.  It feels like a campaign in the role-playing game, Mage: The Ascension, which isn't surprising considering Vin Diesel's frequently avowed love of Dungeons & Dragons.  There are reports that the main character is loosely based on one of Diesel's D&D characters (see this article for details).

I'm not normally a big fan of urban fantasy.  I like my fantasy to be as far removed from the real world as possible.  I just don't care if there's a secret cabal of werewolves in the sewers of Chicago or vampires lurking in the Hot Topic at your local mall.  But somehow The Last Witch Hunter made me actually care about a secret order that hunts misbehaving witches while sparing the good ones (and there are good witches, one of which is played by Rose Leslie, who you might remember as Ygritte from Game of Thrones).  The title character is a witch hunter, aided by an order of Catholic priests (two of which are played by Michael Caine and Elijiah Wood).

Witches killed the main character's wife and child 800 years ago and it was the Witch Queen who cursed him with ever lasting life (yeah, he's been hunting witches for 800 years).  Now you might think a lot of witch hating would follow from all this, but that's not the case.  In fact, Kaulder (Diesel) even teams up with one of the good witches to hunt the nasty ones.  This raises a worthwhile question: If witch hunters and witches can get along, why can't we?

Is this high art?  No, but it's not pretending to be.  It's not nearly at the level of atmospheric creepiness as Crimson Peak, but if you're looking for a fun time with a dash of Halloween spirit, this one might conjure up the spell you're looking for.

Hellraiser 7-9

I've always loved the Hellraiser movies.  Maybe it's the weirdness of Clive Barker's imagination.  Maybe it's the Lovecraftian notion of beings from another dimension summoned by strange artifacts.  Maybe it's the reflections on pleasure and pain.  Maybe I just think Pinhead is cool.  Whatever the reason, a bit over a year ago I decided to watch all the Hellraiser movies.  Yes, there are nine of them.  Now that I've watched all nine, I agree with Katie Rife, who wrote this aptly titled article: "Watching all 9 Hellraiser movies is an exercise in mashochism."

In the last few days I've watched the last three: Hellraiser: Deader (2005), Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005), and Hellraiser: Revelations (2011).  The first two were okay.  Revelations is the ghoulish abomination of the series, and not in a good way.

Let's start with Deader.  Like most latter day Hellraiser movies, this one tries to stay hip by glomming on to whatever's popular at the time.  For example, in the previous installment, Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), you get to see Dean Winters (Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock) do his best to be a character from Se7en or Memento.  It's no coincidence that Deader was released the same year as Hostel (2005).  Both involve horrific happenings in a thoroughly Other-ized Eastern Europe.  In Deader, a journalist goes to Romania to investigate some crazy death cult.  What follows is hard to describe, as in genuinely confusing, not just because I want to avoid spoilers.  Suffice it to say, there's a puzzle cube (aka, the Lament Configuration) and Pinhead and his Cenobite friends make their (far too few) appearances.  Some thoughts about death ensue.  Not particularly deep thoughts, but interesting nonetheless.

Released just a few months after Deader, Hellworld starts with a group of young people who are addicted to an MMORPG called - you guessed it! - Hellworld. Hence, the tag line on the poster above: "Evil goes online."  What follows is the Hellraiser answer to the Scream movies: a self-aware meta-parody in which the Hellraiser universe is the basis of a video game and (allegedly) not real.  In fact, you might wonder if the premise of this one is that Pinhead and company have really been figments of people's macabre imaginations all along.  Of course, while you are wondering this, the Cenobites might descend upon you, anyway, especially if, like the characters of Hellworld, you get invited to a big creepy house for a hedonistic party in which guests are picked off one by one.  Oh, and Lance Henrikson is perfect as the creepy host of the party.  Of the last few Hellraiser movies, this was my favorite.

What to say about Revelations?  An unholy abomination that should never have seen the light of day?  A steaming pile of dripping wet garbage?  A movie that, at a very short 75 minutes, was about 80 minutes too long?

"You're not my real Pinhead!"
Of the many terrible things about this movie, the worst is that Pinhead is no longer played by Doug Bradley, the only actor to show up in all previous eight films.  When I heard about this, I thought, "Well, under all the make up, nails, and heavy leather costuming, maybe you won't be able to tell.  Maybe the new guy will pull it off."  Oh, how wrong I was!  The new Pinhead is just bad.  Like the whole movie.  The plot revolves around two obnoxious California teenagers who go to Tijuana, which in Revelations is basically one giant back alley at a movie studio.  Interspersed with occasional obnoxious "found footage" sequences, we eventually meet their obnoxious rich white California families, too, and... really I don't know what they were trying to do with this one.  I normally try to find something good about any movie I watch, but honestly the only good thing I can say about Revelations is that it was over in 75 minutes.  Unless your idea of spookiness is how such a flaming pile of schlock could get made and be called a Hellraiser movie, this one will add nothing to your Halloween festivities.

In fact, here's my trick or treat wish for the world: let's all pretend there are only eight Hellraiser movies.

Happy Halloween!


  1. Crimson Peak looks like something I could really enjoy. Besides, Guillermo del Toro hasn't let me down so far.

    By the way, I just read your post about The Martian and it was great, I just wrote about it in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

    I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



    1. Thanks for your comment! Crimson Peak is really great for spooky atmosphere, but it takes time to get there. Let me know what you think.

      Thanks for sharing your blog. I love that it's bilingual! I'm now following you.