Little known fact about me: before taking up the call to metal for Nine Circles, I used to write about movies. A lot. Since 2005 I wrote film reviews for various blogs and sites, and for the past three years have been participating in a massive horror marathon over on Letterboxed called Hoop-tober, where under a strict set of guidelines around what you could watch hundreds of horror fans would attempt to watch and review 31 horror films in 31 days (you can see my picks for 2014, 2015, and 2016 and if you love horror, I encourage you to give it a shot). So when our Stalwart Editor™ asked if I was interested in doing some type of horror column I jumped at the chance. With so many streaming options and even some services dedicated to curating horror there’s a lot to wade through, so each month I’ll be spending some words talking about new releases, streaming picks, and some of my favorite classics, cult or otherwise.
We’ll play around a bit with format, but for today I want to talk about a trio of films definitely worth a watch and readily available for your discerning eye: The Girl with All the Gifts, Under the Shadow, and the remastered classic Phantasm.
You tell me Glenn Close and Paddy Considine are in a zombie movie and I’m there. You tell me it’s a zombie movie starring those two and written by Mike Carey, writer of the great Vertigo/DC comic Lucifer and that’s just icing on the cake. And while it’s true there’s nothing particularly new that The Girl With All the Gifts brings to the zombie table, the performances of the players, especially newcomer Sennia Nuana as the titular “girl” elevate an engaging story about a worldwide plague that turns the infected into “hungries” and the young child who can potentially provide a cure into a moving and meditative look at what we do in the name of humanity.
Under the guiding hand of Carey and director Colm McCarthy the serious subject matter is buried under a ton of gore and zombie attacks, although please note: these “zombies” are very much in the 20 Days Later sprinting infected variety, so if you’re looking for a more traditional, Romero-esque undead infestation you might want to try elsewhere. Anyone else looking for some serious fun and great performances with a dose of social conscious should definitely check out The Girl With All the Gifts.
The Girl With All the Gifts comes out February 24 in select theaters and to rent on your preferred streaming service.
The power in Under the Shadow comes not so much from the central spook, in this case a djinn that terrorizes a mother and daughter in 1980s Iran, but in the beautifully realized world that first time writer/director Babak Anvari constructs. I’ve always been fascinated in what terrifies other cultures and how that plays with or against our own distinctly American fears, and where Under the Shadow succeeds is in painting a very real portrait of what it was to kill in the 80s during the Iran/Iraq conflict, and even more specifically what it was like to be a woman with liberal ideas during that time period.
Narges Rashidi plays Shideh, a former medical student barred from continuing her studies after being branded a revolutionary who is left to care for her young daughter after her husband is drafted into service. When an unexploded bomb crashes into their apartment building (shades and echoes of Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone) something is released, although the tenants fleeing swear it’s because of the threat of more bombs being dropped. Shideh slowly to think otherwise as more and more unsettling things begin to occur, and as the supernatural tension ratchets up Anvari wisely keeps the focus on Shideh, her daughter, and her increasing frustration with her situation. The direction and acting are top-notch, there are enough jump scares to goose you at least once, but the real gift is in seeing a foreign reality so wonderfully executed.
Under the Shadow is available to rent and purchase now, and can be found streaming on Netflix
Oh, Phantasm. You of the glorious metal death ball (I always think of Vicious Rumors debut album when I see it) and the Tall Man…how I love you. For those not in the know, Phantasm (and its sequels, the most recent of which I plan to do next month) is the waked-out trip of a horror film from the mind of Don Coscarelli, who wrote, directed, photographed, edited and co-produced the 1979 film, giving audiences not only a new icon of the genre in the wonderfully menacing Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm), but also a film that is a flag-bearer for originality and creativity on a minuscule budget.
Most people who haven’t seen the film are most likely familiar with its major instrument of carnage: a flying metallic sphere with wicked little blades that burrow into your brain and funnel out the blood at the mental command of the Tall Man. But what is the film actually about? Mike (the young one) and Jody (the older, cooler one) are brothers trying to cope with the death of their parents. Mike begins to notice that things aren’t as normal as they appear at the local mortuary: for one thing, the manager of the place is able to carry a full casket by himself (in a nice homage to Nosferatu) with ease. Events go into overdrive when evil, hooded dwarfs show up and before you know it Mike, Jody, and their ice-cream truck driving friend Reggie are running for their lives as they become embroiled in a plan to extract the souls of the dead and ship them to an alien world as slavery.
Yes, you read that right. This mutha goes into Outer Space.
More I should not say, if you haven’t seen Phantasm you need to, and if you’ve seen it but haven’t seen the beautifully 4k restoration done by Bad Robot (yup, JJ Abrams is behind this) you owe it to yourself to see it again. Completely ahead of its time in 1979, it’s still a fun midnight movie blast in 2017.
Phantasm: Remastered is available to rent and purchase now, and can be found streaming on Shudder
Look for this column to be (roughly) monthly, and if you have any recommendations or requests to review for future installments let me know.
Until then, keep it Blood Red.