retro horror

All posts tagged retro horror

See Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl Exclusively on Shudder

Published May 4, 2017 by rmpixie

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (2016, 1 hr, 16 mins)

With all the generic horrors out there, I’m always thrilled to see what terrors Shudder Canada has to offer. This time, they’ve brought us director and writer A.D. Calvo who takes us back in time to combine a lonely teenage girl, unrequited love, creepy gothic horror and a retro vibe for his latest film Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl.

Adele (Erin Wilhelmi) is sent by her unfeeling mother to look after her agoraphobic aunt Dora (Susan Kellerman) in the hopes that they will inherit her fortune. In a large, rambling house, Adele must follow neatly written instructions left by her aunt who never emerges from her bedroom. Her duties include:  preparing very specific meals of sardines, crackers and tea, keeping quiet in the house, and she is banned from having any visitors to the house whatsoever. A tall order for a young woman almost out of her teenage years, but Adele seems to be a bit of a misfit and introvert with no friends. When she meets the beautiful and mysterious Beth (Quinn Shephard) in town, they strike up a friendship and become very close. As Adele loses herself in the glow of Beth’s friendship, her attention shifts from her aunt’s well-being to romantic feelings towards her newfound friend and she makes choices that will lead her down a dangerous path.

Not being familiar with the several horror/fantasy movies Calvo has under his belt, I was pleasantly surprised with Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl as my introduction to his work. This Sitges and Fantastic Fest 2016 selection brings a gothic, romantic feel that made me think of classic horror writers such as Edgar Allan Poe. I enjoyed the quiet suspense of this film and felt for Adele and her predicament, but also raised an eyebrow at her childish self-centeredness. Her adoration of Beth and attempts to mimic her cool sophistication and careless attitude shows her desperation to find a connection since she’s mistreated by her aunt and mother. It’s a gothic horror romance and coming of age story all in one.

He also throws in some good old-fashioned morals that no gothic horror would be complete without.  We see this when Adele finds an underlined passage in Aunt Dora’s bible, namely Matthew 6:19-20:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”

I’m no biblical expert, but it’s clear that greed and what motivates us to be self-serving is central and justifies Aunt Dora’s paranoia. In Adele’s case, it’s not only her poor upbringing, neglect and the prospect of having some money and nice things, but also falling in love and wanting to impress Beth. Both blind her from the realities of her surroundings.  It’s a nice touch without having to spell out the storyline.

I thought the same-sex love story was refreshing and even though it came from a male director, it didn’t feel exploitative and the young but seasoned actors made the most of the tentative affair.  Shephard certainly smouldered like a teenage beauty queen as Beth and Wilhelmi played Adele with an awkward, wide-eyed innocence that drew a certain amount of sympathy. Even when Adele’s actions become morally questionable, there is a sense that she isn’t really bad, just inexperienced.

The set design and wardrobe captured the early 80’s vibe for a believable period horror, and I really enjoyed the old school hits Adele listens to, the eerie scoring, and sound design. And if you’re looking for a weird retro horror finale, you’ll definitely find it here, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable. This climax stayed true to old school horrors and had a myriad of influences from Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Black Sabbath (The Drop of Water segment) that Calvo has mentioned, to the more modern I Am the Pretty Thing in the House and House of the Devil. None of these films are perfect, but like Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, they tell a compelling and interesting story.

I recommend checking out Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, but you’ll need to stick with this slow burn story. It has a lot of meat on its bones for a low budget, and there is plenty to speculate well after the film is over. Watch this bit of nostalgic horror fun with a really creepy ending on Shudder now!

Annabelle: Play Date From Hell

Published October 14, 2014 by rmpixie

annabelle

Annabelle (2014, 1 hr, 38 mins)

Remember that creepy doll from The Conjuring?  The one based on the real Annabelle ragdoll paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren kept (and still keep) behind glass because she was so supernaturally dangerous?  Well her story is finally here, presented as a prequel to the wildly successful possession film about a family plagued by angry spirits.

Annabelle starts out with the seemingly normal life of a normal couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis) a year before the Perron family experience their nightmare.  Happy and expecting their first child, they are god-fearing, wholesome and sweet, and John has a bright if not stressful future as a doctor.  One evening, after a mild spat, John presents Mia with one of the ugliest and creepiest dolls you will ever see to complete her rare, ugly and creepy doll collection in their baby’s nursery.  After a home invasion where murderous cult members attack John and Mia, a series of chilling events escalate into a battle between good, evil and innocent souls.

I think I am the only person who enjoyed this movie.  After reading countless reviews slamming this film, I am going out on a limb to say that this is a solid prequel. The Conjuring is a hard act to follow, so to put that much expectation on a second film is a little unfair, especially when the writer, Gary Dauberman, is creating an entire background for the doll instead of picking and choosing from factual accounts found in The Conjuring.  I wonder if it’s younger reviewers who don’t like the old school references and low-fi horror?  Or maybe I am becoming senile?  I personally appreciated the nods to classic films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, from the protagonists names honouring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, to the somewhat gloomy apartment they move to, and the archetypical priest, but maybe I am too simple in my tastes?  Who knows.  You may also notice lead actress Wallis’ first name Annabelle is a weird coincidence, and her uncanny resemblance to Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s late wife who was tragically murdered by Charles Manson and his followers while she was pregnant.  It is a clever mix of casting, historical events, and writing that perpetuates a feel and style of vintage horror that doesn’t become campy or tongue-in-cheek.  This is due in part to the great sets and wardrobe, and minimal but seamless special effects to respect the classic forerunners.

Low tech doesn’t mean the film wasn’t scary though.  I enjoyed the jump scares and really dark, chilling scenes that will be nightmare fodder for years to come.  There are also a couple of old school household accidents involving a sewing machine and Jiffy Pop that I was constantly warned about as a kid.  And that doll?  Annabelle’s design, created by special fx artist Tony Rosen, was absolutely hair-raising.   As the evil grew within, her already disturbing face became more hideous in the most subtle but spine-tingling way.  Her lack of movement was also key in this film.  They didn’t cheapen the terror by making her walk around or move a limb.  It created a fantastically sickening anticipation and authentic fear.  I think a lot of people will wonder why these dolls in general were so ugly, but we have to remember the aesthetics of the time.  Creepy looking dolls were a thing back then.  I know because I had a 3 foot Wendy Walker doll that freaked me out a little as a child, in fact, I bet we all had that one doll or toy we had to turn away in order to fall asleep.

The performances were good and almost reminiscent of the vintage General Hospital episodes that Mia watched.  Again, not campy, but understated to mimic the wholesome values of the times, although the motherhood message was a little overdone.  I really enjoyed Evelyn, played by the ageless Alfre Woodard, the book store owner that befriends and eventually helps Mia.  I am so grateful that she wasn’t a stereotype of what Hollywood would paint an African-American woman to be in the late 60’s (whatever that is!).  Her character was a grieving mother who felt a kinship with Mia, and this role could have been played by anyone.  Kudos to the casting team and producers for choosing a woman of colour.  My only issue with the film is the introduction of some children in Mia’s building.  I wished they would have explored their characters.  Also look out for my favourite demon/composer Joseph Bishara, the go-to for the James Wan team of terror, who is always terrifying.

I will state again, at the risk of having popcorn or a shoe thrown at me, that I liked Annabelle.  I might be alone in my enjoyment, but I think it’s good for younger horror fans who haven’t experienced the classics yet, and great for us oldies who love a good throwback that pays homage to well-made vintage horror.

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