Women in Horror Month: Night of the Witch (2017)

Kicking off Women in Horror Month is the first of the ten films I’ll be watching and reviewing this month: Zena S. Dixon‘s short Night of the Witch.

The film opens on a young man walking alone at night. A voice-over reveals that this is part of a recurring dream, always the same, always with him wandering down the same dark sidewalk. “I don’t know where I’m going,” he says, “I just know I have to keep walking.”

He hears footsteps behind him, but as soon as he turns, as always, the footsteps cease and no one is there. When he continues on they start again, faster this time, and accompanied by low, sinister growling. He starts to run, abandoning the sidewalk and taking off into the bushes. The unseen assailant follows and the growling gets louder until you can almost feel whatever beast is lurking in the darkness breathing down our hero’s (and our own) neck.

The young man jolts awake in his apartment, visibly shaken by the nightmare. A uniform draped across the headboard of the bed reveals that he has served in the military — perhaps a veteran just returned home from overseas.

He breathes a sigh of relief that the dream is over only to freeze in fear a moment later: a black-clad figure hovers in the corner of this bedroom, presumably the titular witch and the monster that has been haunting his dreams. As he fights this supernatural intruder, the viewer is left to decide for themselves what is real and what is not.

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Women in Horror Month 2018

February is the ninth annual Women in Horror Month! WiHM celebrates ladies in the genre both on screen, behind the camera, and in any other form of art and media.

Here at Goddesses & Monsters, I’m going to use WiHM as an opportunity to watch and write about horror films directed by women. I chose ten films, both feature-length and short films, that I have never seen before:

Blood Hunters (2017, dir. Tricia Lee)
The Invitation (2015, dir. Karyn Kusama)
The Love Witch (2016, dir. Anna Biller)
Night of the Witch (2017, dir. Zena S. Dixon)
Paralysis (2015, dir. R. Shanea Williams)
Trouble Every Day (2001, dir. Claire Denis)
The Velvet Vampire (1970, dir. Stephanie Rothman)
Venefica (2016, dir. Maria Wilson)
Vore (2017, dir. Lauren Erwin)
XX (2017, dir. Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin & Karyn Kusama)

Feel free to subscribe to the blog — or follow me on Twitter — to get notified when reviews are posted!

And be sure to check out the official WiHM website for more info and events showcasing women in horror next month and all year long!

Annabelle: Creation (2017)

The Conjuring was the film that made me take a renewed interest in current horror. I can’t hide from my past as a highly pretentious Classic Horror Snob(tm), completely anti-anything made after ~1980, but, while classic horror is still the nearest and dearest to my heart, I can say that in recent years I’ve repented, seen the light, and opened my mind to the world of 21st Century horror. The Conjuring played a big part in that, after I (somewhat begrudgingly) agreed to see it at the theater with a friend and actually fucking loved it. So, naturally, I took a special interest in the franchise it spawned.

Unfortunately, none of the following films have lived up to the first. Annabelle was a complete snooze fest. The Conjuring 2 was good, but it wasn’t great. I had higher hopes for Annabelle: Creation, which looked incredibly promising from the first teaser, and it seemed that the creative team behind it might have learned from the mistakes of the first installment of the spin-off series and crafted a deserving origin story for Annabelle.

That turned out to be only about half true. Annabelle: Creation is certainly an improvement on the underwhelming first movie, but it still suffers from unoriginal storytelling and predictability. There are some effective scares, but many of them are, ultimately, fillers and there is very little substance to back up what otherwise might have made a superbly creepy film.

(*Note: Since this is the “newest” movie I’ve ever posted about, now would probably be a good time to mention that this isn’t going to be spoiler free.)

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Black Christmas (1974)

Once upon a time, there was a little Halloween special called Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. First aired in 2004 and rerun for several years following, it counted down the most terrifying moments in movie history, from the silent era to the early 2000’s. I was 17 when it originally aired and, though I had grown up with horror movies, this list was directly responsible for expanding my horizons into new, uncharted territory. It introduced me to many films I had never heard of before, ranging from 1999’s Japanese tour de force Audition to the Universal classic The Black Cat, both of which would become personal favorites of mine. (That being said, it’s also responsible for my watching things like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes that I still, to this day, wish I could erase from my memory, but — well, no “best of” list is perfect.)

It also introduced me to a film called Black Christmas.

Given Black Christmas‘ reputation as essentially the godmother of the slasher genre, in which I was becoming completely entrenched at that age, it was one of the first films from Bravo’s countdown that I wanted to check off my list. At that time there was still a video rental place in town, and while they had already largely made the transition to DVD for the more recent movies, they still had an extensive VHS collection of films from the 70’s – 90’s. There I found Black Christmas and ran home to giddily consume this important piece of genre history.

It fucked me up.

This holiday weekend, thirteen years later, I watched it again for the first time since — and it still fucks me up.

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The Witches (1966)

Hammer’s The Witches is an odd film.

Based on the novel The Devil’s Own, written by Norah Lofts under pseudonym Peter Curtis, it follows a teacher to a small town that is under the thumb of witchcraft. Although The Witches came a couple of years ahead of the folk horror boom of the late 60’s/early 70’s, which brought us both fantastic films like The Wicker Man and overrated crap like Witchfinder General (fight me), it would be right at home in a collection of highlights of the genre. The film is set in the isolated English village of Heddaby, where it is quickly apparent all is not as it seems. I hesitate to compare this film too much to The Wicker Man, but there’s a definite Summerisle vibe to Heddaby — everyone’s a little too happy, a little too close-knit, and very obviously in on some big local secret. The only difference is the residents of Summerisle openly reveled in their paganism, whereas we’re made to wonder, for a while, which residents of Heddaby are the titular witches.

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Excision (2012): My Teen Angst has a Body Count

Excision is one of those films I’ve been meaning to watch for what feels like forever. I’ve heard about it from every horror fan I know and seen it on dozens of rec lists, but somehow I never got around to it until now. Admittedly, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t live up to the hype; that turned out not to be the case, and though I felt like I had already heard so much about it, I was still taken by surprise by how good and in-your-face gruesome it is.

The film centers around Pauline, a misfit high school senior with a tense home life and an obsession with surgery. It’s immediately evident, from the film’s opening scene onward, that her fascination is darker and more complicated than a simple interest in medical science. Pauline’s visually elaborate sexual fantasies are filled with blood and mutilation and occasionally veer into necrophiliac territory. The scenes are grotesque and stunning from a visual point of view, and they leave you repulsed and wondering when — not if — Pauline’s fantasies are finally going to spill over into real life.

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