Horror 365, Movie 85: Commune

Cross the haunted past aspect of The Shining with Jaume Balagueró’s To Let. Toss in some creepified fairy tale references then strip the whole thing bare. You may very well end up with something like Tom Perrett’s Commune.

This is actually a semi-repost from a number of years back in an earlier (2016) iteration of this blog. I saw a recent post from Tom Perrett recalling his short film, so I thought it a good idea to revisit my original review. Here’s how the whole thing started.

Blogferatu has a page on The Twitters. We’re all in this together, so I follow many of the blogs, podcasts, indie authors, and indie films/filmmakers I come across. Pretty much as a matter of course, I followed Commune.

To this day I am so glad I did.

First, I got a polite, fairly standard acknowledgement for following plus a link to the trailer. The trailer has a simple enough jumpscare, but it worked, so I just had to see the whole thing.

I messaged Commune’s Twitter page asking where I could see the film. Much as I’d love to have caught the premiere screening back then at the London Independent Film Festival, that was/is kind of a haul from Norfolk, Virgina. Perrett responded saying they were hoping to get the film into some US festivals, but I could see the online screener if I was up for reviewing it.

Indeed.

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“Lots of space, interesting décor”

The scenario is, again, simple enough. One might be tempted to say too simple (Perrett himself suggests, on one level, it’s “a man walking around an old house”). It would be unfortunate to succumb to such temptation.

Commune opens with an agent letting the protagonist, Tom (Tom Weller), into a house. A voicemail from The Guardian Agency describes the house (built in the 1930s), Tom’s duties (basically keep out squatters), and mentions the place once housed a commune.

The interior is a shambles, but there’s a sense that the house has been occupied a number of times (and recently) since the 1930s: board games strewn about, a fairly new looking ping pong table, a baby carriage (that can’t bode well).

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“Join us”

Weller is good. His character is ill at ease and more than a little at that. I fully buy into his apprehension which Perrett capitalizes on with effective use of some techniques horror gamers will be familiar with.

For one thing, everything creaks: walls, floors, ceilings, doors, bookshelves.

Everything. All the time.

Like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, sound in Commune maintains Weller’s (and our) constant atmosphere of menace. The bending and blurring of the scenes that accompany the appearance of the malevolent spirit is another unsettling technique in games like Amnesia and Hektor. It’s even better here.

Our dread is further reinforced by things that go unexplained: the squatter Tom encounters, the attic, the commune alluded to in the first minute of the film (and its creepy Rosicrucian-like flyer similar to the ads in the tabloids my grandmother used to read).

Nor is there any clarification of what is a dream or a flashback showing the haunter. Either is arguable, but I’m inclined toward dream. It starts after Tom turns in for the night, and there’s a disconcerting Alice In Wonderland image.

Dream, flashback, interestingly it doesn’t matter. We don’t need to know definitively. Both work.

It’s worth noting that there are other references to fairy tales and children’s stories. In the dream sequence, there’s a children’s book, The Wolf And The Seven Little Kids, itself a Grimm’s fairy tale. As in so much myth, fairy tale, and folklore, it takes the wolf three tries to get into the house and devour the goats. Perrett mentions being “enchanted by the magical storytelling of films from an early age.” Small wonder, then, that the story in Commune unfolds over three days.

All of this got me so caught up waiting for the film’s climax that I never saw the resolution coming. Not for a second. Obvioulsy I’m not about to discuss that. When I finished Commune, I was already impressed. That was only amplified by finding out it was shot in one weekend and cost £5000.

Some time has passed since I first wrote this, and I remain confident we’ll see more and bigger things from Perrett.

And I can’t wait.


SKULLS
13 (for many reasons, not the least of which being a fine example of what can be done on a minimal budget)
BODIES
1 offscreen
Available on Vimeo and YouTube

Horror 365, Movie 84: Death Game

Well before Don’t Breathe, Hush, The Strangers, Funny Games, and so on, there was already a slew of home invasion kinds of movies–things like When A Stranger Calls, Straw Dogs, and the wildly overrated Last House On The Left. In the midst of all this came the much lesser known Death Game (1977) which is also well before Don’t Fuck With Cats. Trust me. It all makes sense.

This is one weeeeiiiirrrrd flick, and discussing it requires a megadose of spoilers.

First, there are six characters, but only half actually matter. We have husband and wife Karen and George Manning, housekeeper Mrs. Grossman, Donna, Jackson, and a delivery boy. We’ll get to the actors later.

So–here we are in 1975 San Francisco. Karen has to fly off on a family emergency leaving George on his own for a weekend. His first night alone, there’s a knock on the door. He answers to find two soaked young women, Donna and Jackson. Turns out they’re looking for a party and have gotten lost. They ask to use George’s phone, and he lets them stay and dry out, dry their hair and clothes (he gives them robes), and hang out until a friend comes to pick them up.

Well, before you know it they’ve ended up seducing him. Never saw that comin’ didja? What follows is an tedious, cringe-worthy three-way sex montage that goes on for far too painfully long and is underscored by some stereotypically porny “bow-chicka-wow-wow” riffs. The “friend” never shows up, so Donna and Jackson stay the night. In the morning, they make breakfast and start misbehaving like a couple of ill-mannered high schoolers.

Eventually George gets fed up and threatens to call the police. This is when Jackson reveals that they’re both underage. After much shrill yelling and argument, they finally decided that George can drop them off in the city. He does, stops for some groceries, and goes home only to find that his new friends are already back waiting for him. Never saw that comin’ didja?

What ensues is a night of torture, shrill laughter and shrieking, humiliation, a mock trial, an unconscious delivery boy drowned in a giant fish tank, and a cat that Donna launches through a closed window (this is surprisingly important it turns out). Reading back over this synopsis might tempt one to think, “I’d watch that.” This would be an unwise assumption. On one hand, it’s interesting that Donna and Jackson are the only ones with any agency in the movie. On the other hand, the entire proceeding comes off as disjointed, annoying, directionless, and downright silly.

The sad irony is that what’s most interesting about Death Game is who’s involved with it. Let’s start with the three main characters.
George Manning– A 70s porn-stached Seymour Cassell who’d go on to appear in a number of John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson films.
Donna– A very young Colleen Camp. If you wonder where you’ve seen her, it was probably some character part somewhere, such as Julie’s mom in Valley Girl.
Jackson– Sondra Locke in an unusually non-Eastwood production. That’s not entirely true as the screenplay is by frequent Eastwood collaborator Jo Helms.

But wait! There’s more.

Also involved in the writing was Don Bluth who brought us All Dogs Go To Heaven, Thumbelina, The Secret Of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and a bunch of other thankfully non-Disney animated features.

I’ve saved the best for last. The production designer was Jack Fisk which is not all that noteworthy. However, one of the set dressers was his wife–Sissy Spacek. Working alongside her was a very young Bill Paxton who started out as a set dresser at 18.

And there is even more irony to be had! At dawn, Jackson makes as if she’s about to take a cleaver to the hurt, trussed up George, then purposely misses. Inexplicably, she tells Donna, “It’s time to go,” and they leave. Remember that cat? Well, as Donna and Jackson skip across a street, they are mowed down by an oncoming van. On the side of the van are the letters SPCA, and the credits roll to the sound of barking dogs.

Wowzers.

And there’s today’s lesson–Don’t Fuck With Cats. Told ya it’d all make sense.


SKULLS
13 (admittedly I was torn. It’s not an Unwatchable 1 because it’s not totally unwatchable. It’s not a Watch It Forget It 4 because I’ll certainly never be able to get it outta my head. It’s not a Fun Entertaining 8 cuz it’s not fun, Definitely Well Worth Seeing as a 10, a Damn Fine Bit Of Cinema at an 11, nor anywhere close to Perfect at a 12.5–this leaves me no choice but to make it Required Viewing. Cuz damn).
BODIES
2 women
1 drowned delivery boy
1 defenestrated cat
Available in poor quality on YouTube

Horror 365, Movie(s) 83: Victim Zero

We here at Castle Blogferatu pride ourselves on giving credit where credit is due. A while ago, a blog I read had a discussion about identifying with characters in books and movies. I tried desperately to find my comments about that. No dice. And I can’t for the life of me remember what blog the conversation started on (I read lots of ’em). If it was you, and you’re reading this, let me know, so I can give you credit damn it!

Right. So my response to this discussion was that I often feel more like I want to be the character (and I’ll explore the implications of that another time). To be completely above board though, I have to admit that the character I would want to be hardly ever matches up with the character I actually would be.

Case in point, victims in horror movies. Many of us probably like to think we’re brave, tough, level-headed, resourceful, and quick-thinking. We’re Buffy. The Winchesters. Ripley. MacGyver (but with monsters and willing to kill people). If not, a lot of us would probably like to at least be as plucky as Tucker and Dale.

The truth is very different. I submit that vast numbers of us would qualify much more quickly as victims and not just any victims. Not even the first victim. A big ol’ heapin’ heppin’ of us may very well be Victim Zero.

What’s Victim Zero?

Like Patient Zero starting an epidemic, Victim Zero starts the process by which some monster or evil begins its attempted takeover of the world. That’s why Victim Zero isn’t the same as merely a first victim and why you don’t see Victim Zero in every horror movie.

I’ll give you an example. My co-conspirator and I were walking home from Café Stella, a coffee shop we frequent and that I’ve been known to practically live at. I saw something on the sidewalk. Specifically because I didn’t know what it was, I poked at it with my shoe. I’ve seen enough horror and science fiction to know better. I did it anyway.

Turns out it was just a black, plastic handle off of something. Sigh. So much for becoming Venom. But what if it was some unknown, fast-moving, alien bug thing that gets inside you, takes over your body, reproduces, and makes you seek out other victims so it can spread?

Hey, you never know. And that would have made me Victim Zero.

Here’s a typical scenario. Something from space crashes to Earth (usually a meteor). Some guy (always a guy) finds it. More often than not he pokes at it (usually with a stick). I read somewhere that when they find mammoth remains in tar pits or that may have fallen off cliffs or through ice, the overwhelming majority of them are adolescent males and hardly, if ever, adult females. That makes sense, and some things literally never change.

This is why the person poking and/or looking into the weird meteor/space pod thing is always a dude (I sheepishly refer you back to my previous personal anecdote). So much for Darwin. Anyway, once the badger is poked, as it were, any number of things is possible. For instance, if some parasitic, alien, slug-thing jumps out and takes the guy over, you end up with a Slurpie Movie, something like Slither or Night Of The Creeps.

Some things literally never change, and if you take away the crash landing, you end up with Alien (arguably the ultimate Slurpie Franchise).

This is by no means limited, however, to Slurpie Movies. Take away the parasitic alien slug-things, and you still end up with “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill” in Creepshow. And all of these scenes pay homage directly to the first person to ever pick up a stick and poke the gooey center of a meteor: the unnamed Old Man from The Blob (1988 remake included).

All of which brings me to 2017’s not great but still kinda fun Life. Daniel Espinosa’s take on the “poke it with a stick scene” is right there in the trailers. Again, some things literally never change.

Ironic since Life pretty much played out like The Blob meets Alien. Still, it was fun to see Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal get taken down by a giant space amoeba.

But that’s only one scenario. There are plenty of variations. Take the geniuses who break into the lab and free the chimps in 28 Days Later. One chimp attacks and infects one of these fuckwits, and we’re off to the races (literally since the infected are pretty damn quick). There’s also Hellraiser to consider. Taken on its own instead of a massive story arc, Victim Zero is Frank Cotton.

So what have we learned boys and girls? Exactly what my dear old dad used to tell me when we he was working in his gargage: “Leave shit alone.” Then again, as a kid, he got bitten by a rat when he went digging through a wood pile to find it. Hypocrite.