The American Scream (2012) Halloween may be over, but for a small group of dedicated individuals known as house haunters, planning for October 31st is a year-long process. This surprisingly insightful documentary by Michael Stephenson (Best Worst Movie) follows three families in Fairhaven, Massachusetts that set up elaborate, immersive Halloween home displays. We get an intimate look at what goes on behind the scenes to create these displays, some of which blur the line between amateur and professional efforts, and the people that make them happen. Stephenson obviously has a lot of affection for his subject. His documentary could easily have been an excuse to showcase the talents of a few eccentric goofballs, but instead takes the time to get to know the human stories behind the obsession. The American Scream chooses to focus on the sense of community generated as family and friends band together for a common cause. The film is currently available through streaming outlets or you can purchase it directly through the official web site. Highly recommended.
Rating: ****. Available on Netflix Streaming and Amazon Instant Video
Hansel & Gretel (2007) This bewildering adult fairy tale from writer/director Pil-Sung Yim is loosely based on the classic children’s tale. While driving home to his wife and child, Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) loses control of his car and crashes. He wakes up in a forest, and a young girl leads him to a house in the woods, where she and her siblings reside. Everything seems a little too bright and saccharine sweet for Eun-Soo’s taste, but the trap has already sprung. He’s become entangled in the children’s web, and escape is seemingly impossible. The story plays a bit like the “It’s a Good Life” episode of The Twilight Zone, but that’s over-simplifying things somewhat. It’s a hallucinatory, nightmarish odyssey into a world fueled by childhood psychological trauma.
Rating: *** ½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
Saint Nick (aka: Sint) (2010) Writer/director Dick Maas’ (The Lift, Amsterdamned) Christmas-themed horror flick starts promising enough, with a prologue set in 1492, explaining Saint Nicholas’ (Huub Stapel) awful origins and inevitable demise. The prologue continues in 1968, in which a boy witnesses the resurrected saint murdering his family. The bulk of the film takes place in modern-day Amsterdam, as the boy, now a middle-aged cop (played by Bert Luppes), pursues Saint Nicholas in an effort to prevent more holiday bloodshed. Saint Nick is sporadically entertaining, but never really takes off. What begins as an offbeat take on Christmas traditions devolves into a rather pedestrian horror flick. The paucity of interesting or likable characters makes it difficult to care who lives and who dies. Saint Nicholas, who resembles a combination of Freddy Krueger and Santa Claus, never seems to display much logic in his selection of victims, picking off people randomly. RareExports, this isn’t.
Rating: ** ½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming (Note: the streaming version is dubbed in English)
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) I really wanted to like this movie. Too bad it felt like a bunch of other movies slapped together, with all vestiges of coherence leeched out. This pretentious, ponderous exercise plays like an early 80s Cronenberg film (think Scanners), and also borrows liberally from Kubrick, Argento and early George Lucas (THX 1138). Beyond the Black Rainbow suffers from many of the same problems that plague 2009’s Amer, being far too derivative and self-conscious of its inspirations to stand on its own. A few interesting visuals don’t compensate for all of the mumbling of quasi-profound dialogue, and scenes that drag on way too long. Stay far away!
Rating: * ½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming.