From September 15th until October 30th, I’ll be watching at least one new to me horror film every day, and providing collections of capsule reviews week by week. On Halloween itself, as ever, I’m planning an all day marathon of some of my favourite horror films.
I hope you’ll find it interesting following as I dig further into a genre I’ve always loved, and maybe find some hidden gems along the way yourselves.
Now… Prepare yourself for Horrorthon 4
The Collector (2009)
Dir: Marcus Dunstan
Apparently, this was originally conceived as a prequel to Saw, but when the screenplay was rejected for that idea, it was re-jigged as a standalone, which has now received its own sequel, if not one that has birthed a franchise on the level of Saw.
The premise is simple. Recently released ex-con Arkin (Josh Stewart) has been doing maintenance work for a wealthy family. They’re going away for a fortnight so Arkin, needing money urgently, decides to rob them. However, he turns up to discover that there is another person in the house, and that he has kidnapped the family and filled the house with deadly traps.
Leaving aside the massive logic gap of the ridiculous amount of time it would have taken to set up all the traps within the house (I’d love to get a contractor to assess how long, but working on your own I’d guess at multiple days), The Collector is pretty well constructed. The setup is dealt with quickly and efficiently and while Arkin isn’t the most sympathetic of protagonists, we get on side with him because at least once the situation he’s walked into becomes clear, he sincerely tries to save the family.
There isn’t much space for complex acting work here, but Josh Stewart is a solid leading man. The rest of the roles lean into tropes from the silent masked killer, to the older daughter (Madeline Zima) who is largely along to provide some incredibly gratuitous nudity and the younger daughter (Karley Scott Collins) who is there purely to be saved. The rest of the cast are essentially fodder.
To his credit, director Marcus Dunstan finds a few creative ways to put his cast through this meat grinder of a house. It’s never particularly scary, but gorehounds will find plenty of cringe inducing moments here. The effects are well done too, on what can’t have been a large budget.
The Collector is a pretty basic movie, it’s quite silly if you stop and think at all, derivative of Saw and has a terrible Se7en knockoff title sequence. That said it delivers what it promises. The performances are decent and the direction proficient, throwing up a few images and moments that will stick with you. It’s perhaps best summed up by saying that if this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll like this.
Killer Nun (1979)
Dir: Giulio Berruti
The video nasties are what got me into horror. As film fan growing up in the ’90s, I hated the idea that there was this whole category of films that was just shut off to me, so when they started to re-emerge in the early 2000s, the likes of The Beyond and Cannibal Holocaust were among the first steps I took into the genre. I’m not sure why I never got to this one.
Killer Nun delivers what it promises. Anita Ekberg stars as Sister Gertrude, a nun working in a hospital. Since an operation a few months ago, she’s been a morphine addict and is now experiencing visions of murder, which begin to come true on the ward. Is she doing the killing, or just seeing it in a drug induced haze?
Director Giulio Berruti serves up all the nudity and violence that you’d expect of a nunsploitation film, but it’s not hard to see why Killer Nun attracted the DPP’s attention back in the panic around the video nasties, because sometimes it goes notably hard with its violent sequences. An attack on an elderly patient, who gets pins inserted into her face and eye, is still skin-crawlingly nasty. Through the dubbing, it’s not always easy to tell much about the performances, but Ekberg definitely underplays compared to a lot of what we see in the genre.
The final twist in the story isn’t especially surprising, but it does give an extra horrifying dimension to the film in its closing moments. On the whole, this may not be one of the best video nasties, but it’s another worth thanking the DPP for accidentally preserving.
The Collection (2012)
Dir: Marcus Dunstan
As is often the case with sequels, The Collection, which follows essentially directly on from The Collector, goes bigger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The film picks up with Arkin (Josh Stewart, returning from the original) still locked in the case from the end of the last film, now placed in The Collector’s newest elaborate trap, this one in a nightclub. He manages to escape and in his place Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) is captured. Elena’s father (Christopher McDonald) hires a group of mercenaries to find The Collector’s lair and resccue his daughter, and they recruit Arkin to help them.
If The Collector was silly the second you paused to think about it, The Collection doesn’t require that much consideration. Dunstan and team embrace and double down on the sheer ludicrousness of the way the killer sets up his traps with a deliriously gory opening sequence in the nightclub, which features a bladed threshing machine cutting clubbers in half, just for starters. This is before we get to the, in essence, zombified people that have previously been collected, who attack the mercenaries and exist largely as cannon fodder to give the film extra meat to put through the slaughterhouse.
Again, the film is well designed, and Stewart, Fitzpatrick and Lee Tergesen (as the leader of the mercenaries) are all perfectly good in their parts, and there’s a creepy role for Erin Way as a young collected, but upping the scale doesn’t mean there’s any more depth here. The Collector himself remains a remote figure, not a particularly interesting villain behind the traps and the banter between the mercs is very standard issue and quite dull.
The splatter can be fun here, and again it’s always good to see practical effects, but the tension of the original isn’t there.
Dir: Ti West
When Ti West began getting acclaim for House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, I was unconvinced, finding them both of them to be slow burns to the point of excruciating tedium. However, I felt he’d hit a stride with his western, In a Valley of Violence and X, returning him to full on horror, is another fine piece of genre cinema.
X finds a group of filmmakers heading to deserted farm to make a ‘dirty movie’. Young director Caleb (Owen Campbell) wants to prove that he can make a porn film into a piece of art, but producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), and stars Maxine (Mia Goth), Bobby Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi) are just looking for fun, money and fame. Caleb’s girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega, following her role in Scream 2022 by staking her claim as a contemporary scream queen) is along for the ride and to operate the boom. But when the old couple who own the farm discover what’s going on, things take a turn for the bloody.
I’ll give Ti West this, it takes some serious confidence, when your influences are as iconic as those on X, to wear them so boldly on your sleeve as he does here. It also takes some serious skill to get away with those explicit nods, and most of the time, he does. This is an affectionate throwback to grindhouse cinema, from possibly hundreds of ’60s and ’70s softcore and hardcore films (he namechecks Debbie Does Dallas), to psychobiddy films like Strait Jacket, and iconic touchstones like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a particular shot of Maxine looking in the door to the farmhouse is an all but direct quote). Perhaps the most upfront nod is to Psycho, which the film references by name, before pulling the exact trick it’s referencing. It’s a bold gambit, and one that works.
X is very much a film of two halves. The first is a relatively playful drama, with some horror undertones as the group encounters the old couple, who are both decidedly creepy. It’s a slow burn, this first hour, but the cast play off each other well, the dialogue is fun, and West doesn’t allow his characters to be simply stereotypes. Bobby-Lynne, for instance, is definitely the good time girl you’d expect a pornstar to be, but we can also see that she’s got a sense of where she wants this to take her, and she gets what Caleb is trying to do, even suggesting a shot to him early on.
The second half goes full on for bloody slasher madness, complete with what appear to be fully practical effects (the major prosthetic make up is hugely impressive). West also misleads us, making us think that one character is going to end up being his final girl, only to go a different way late on. The deaths are impressively realised and bloody, with the first being perhaps the most striking, as the blood drenches the lights of a van, and thus the screen, in red. I’m not sure that the film quite hits the pathos it seems to be going for with its ‘villain’, despite an impressive (dual) performance, but that might well change once it’s seen in the full context of the series.
X is a throwback in all the best ways, with a deep respect for the films that have influenced it, while being more than a hollow echo of them, as many latter day grindhouse homages can.
Dir: Adam Green
College student Ben (Joel David Moore) isn’t having a good time at Mardi Gras, because all he can think about is his long term girlfriend who just dumped him, so he ropes his friend Marcus (Deon Richmond) into taking a haunted swamp tour. When their boat crashes, the tour group have to walk through the swamp which, legend has it, is inhabited by Victor Crowley, who will kill anyone who comes near his home.
Old school American horror, the tagline has it. That’s pretty much correct, the first instalment of Adam Green’s now four film long franchise is a determinedly retro throwback to ’80s style slashers with a killer who roams a Louisana swamp, plentiful practical gore, gratuitous nudity and while there is humour it feels as though Green is deliberately running against the grain of post-horror, meta-horror or any irony.
Hatchet isn’t looking for deep emotional resonance. It gives Crowley a tragic backstory, but it’s not particularly interested in the why of his killing, it just wants to find creative ways to cut people into little pieces, which it manages admirably. Kane Hodder wears another make up well, and brings presence, if not a lot of personality, to Crowley. If the gore has aged well, the nudity, which comes courtesy of one character making a Girls Gone Wild style video and having the two girls with him (Mercedes McNab and Joleigh Fioreavanti) flash the camera at every opportunity, hasn’t. It just feels a bit queasy now, and more so because Green isn’t making any kind of critique of it here.
On the plus side, Tamara Feldman’s Marybeth, who has come on the swamp tour purposely looking for Crowley, makes for a strong final girl, if anything she’s fiercer than Joel Moore (whiny and irritating as ever).
There’s not much to Hatchet, but it’s well paced, and a generally fun throwback to a time when practical effects and traditional slashers ruled.
Hatchet 2 (2010)
Dir: Adam Green
Hatchet 2 picks up seconds after the end of the first film, with Marybeth (now played by Danielle Harris) escaping the swamp and Crowley, but then recruiting Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd, upgraded from his cameo in the first film to co-lead here) to put together a team to go back, retrieve the bodies of her father and brother, and kill Crowley. This goes as well as you might expect.
Adam Green keeps up the gorefest, if anything, he doubles down on it here, and that’s where the film remains fun. Otherwise, this is a little bit of a letdown after the first film. While Hatchet didn’t have the richest characters in the world, getting to the swamp and Crowley’s attacks was at least some fun. Here it all feels very procedural. A very long scene between Todd and Harris lays out a lot of exposition, and Harris in particular couldn’t seem less invested. I’m not sure why Tamara Feldman didn’t come back for more, but I wish she had.
The beginning is also dragged down by a lengthy flashback to Victor Crowley’s origins, with an out of make up role for Kane Hodder as Crowley’s father. Hodder is great at what he does: a brilliant stuntman, he brings life to the monsters he plays. As a straight actor, there’s very little there, and he can’t pull off the emotional beats asked of him here.
Once the film gets to it, though it simply replicates the beats of the first film, the kill filled second half is great fun, as is ticking off all the horror nerd nods in the casting of the group that goes in after Crowley, but the moments between those gleefully splattery kills are a bit of a chore this rime round.
My Little Eye (2002)
Dir: Marc Evans
One of, if not the first horror film to take on the idea of reality TV on the internet, it’s fascinating now both in how dated and how prescient it feels. The idea of live streaming had barely come to fruition 20 years ago, and if anything the way My Little Eye depicts it is probably ahead of what, say, the Big Brother livestream was like at the time. Starting with the sound of a dial up modem puts the film firmly in its era, as we meet five people in their twenties who are recruited to spend six months together in a house. The prize is a million dollars, and if anyone leaves, everyone loses.
The aesthetic works well. It’s ironic that watching this on DVD in 2002 would have looked better than the video you could see on the internet, perhaps to the point that at times it broke the verisimilitude, but if anything it goes the other way in these days of 4K streaming. However, most of the camera usage is very believable. A few angles feel unmotivated (are the cast wearing body cameras? The film never says they are, but these cheats are few and far between, and otherwise Marc Evans and editor Mags Arnold create a credible patchwork. The performances are also credible, the characters fall into stereotypes: the slutty one, the rebellious one, the guy with a crush, the good girl etc, in a way that feels like reality TV portrayal. It’s worth noting that most of the cast are relatively little known now as then, but Bradley Cooper pops up for about 10 minutes in a very early role.
It’s only towards the end, as the gears really start to turn that things feel contrived within the film, rather than just within the narrative the show is building. There are some twists, but the red herrings are clear enough that they come off as heavily signposted. It’s not badly done, it just plays rather more conventionally now, but that too might be the cost of 20 years of distance and a lot of other films playing with the subject since.
Two decades have strangely made My Little Eye both more and less interesting. It’s worth another look through the cracked lens of hindsight.