Mystery

Nine Dead (2010)

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Nine Dead has a fairly simple premise; nine strangers are put in a room and one is killed at random every ten minutes until they figure out how they are connected. The strangers are from all walks of life, from a catholic priest to a strip club owning loan shark via a Chinese shop owner who doesn’t speak English and a slimey paedophile. It also includes a feisty district attorney played by Melissa Joan Hart aka Sabrina the teenage witch and her ex, a cop played by William Lee Scott (The Butterfly Effect). For strangers who have been kidnapped over the course of several days they are remarkably clean and well looked after and not particularly panicked about being held hostage. The main issue I have with the film however is the reaction of the hostages. Instead of trying to find out the connection, most of them spend the time complaining and moaning about each other.

Nine Dead is Chris Shadley’s first feature film as director and I think it shows, there was much more that could be developed in the film, particularly the back stories of the patients. There is some uses of flashbacks to explain the connection, but they could have been utilised more thoroughly in fleshing out the characters and building up tension. However, the plot and particularly the connection between the hostages was very good, I didn’t work it out until right at the end.

As with all similar films there is a twist at the end, however in this film I really didn’t like it; the twist didn’t fit with the rest of the story and whilst it was “explained” I feel it was only included because the writer felt that a twist was required. I think it would have been a much better film if the twist-time was spent bulking out the back stories and improving the tension in the room.

Nine Dead is an average watch that is neither particularly gory or frightening but does entertain for the duration of the film. I would recommend it to fans of the Saw films who have run out of similar films to watch.

This is quite a short review as there isn’t really much to say about it – it is neither good nor bad and generally quite forgettable.

Rating: 3/5

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The House On Haunted Hill (1959)

the house on haunted hill

The House On Haunted Hill is another 1950s low budget horror film from director William Castle (Thirteen Ghosts, The Tingler) which along with Thirteen Ghosts was remade into a film bearing little resemblance in the late 1990s/early 2000s. The House On Haunted Hill has a simple premise, five people are invited to spend the night in a haunted house for $10,000 (approximately $80,000 in today’s money) – if they stay there until the next morning. Whilst I have no problems with this as an idea, it doesn’t stack up with the fact that everyone is locked in the house at midnight meaning nobody can leave, the only way out is through a steel door and all the windows have maximum security bars on (Why? There are many such questions in this film, don’t look too closely at it). Why add the proviso that you have to stay until morning if there is no physical way to leave?

The five people invited to the house are all unknown to one another and vary from test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long, The Big Valley) through to psychiatrist David Trent (Alan Marshal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) along with newspaper columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum, Hit and Run), Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig, Giant) who works for their host and the house’s owner (as in the film’s contemporary The Bat the hosts are merely renting the mansion), Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Rosemary’s Baby ) The party is hosted by Frederick Loren, played by Vincent Price (House of Wax and numerous other horror films in the 50s and 60s), although he keeps insisting that it is in fact his wife’s (Carol Ohmart, Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told), party. It soon becomes clear that there is a lot of bad feelings between the Lorens and it is a distinct possibility that Mrs Loren will meet a similar fate to Frederick’s previous three wives who mysteriously died.

Whilst the ghosts make an appearance at the start of the film with falling chandeliers and decapitated heads appearing then disappearing it is never quite explained if they are real ghosts or merely props in the web if deceit. I would guess at the latter for some are revealed to have human origins, such as the floating old woman who Nora meets in a pitch black room who turns out to be the elderly blind housekeeper (although why she seemingly glides across the floor rather than walks is again unexplained).

The House On Haunted Hill is undeniably sexist with much talk of ‘hysterical women’. Ignoring this fact the film doesn’t deliver what the title promises. There is only a slight nod towards the supernatural which is completely discarded by the end of the film. As previously mentioned, there are many inexplicable plot devices, such as the guests receiving a loaded revolver each to defend themselves from the ghosts. The worst and most grating feature, however, is the vat of acid strong enough to dissolve flesh in minutes in the basement revealed by a trapped door. The explanation of the vat is equally weak; it was a previous owner’s from experimenting on different types of wine (and coincidently where his wife died).

Unless you are a particular fan of 1950’s mystery thrillers or Vincent Price I wouldn’t recommend The House On Haunted Hill there are simply too many grating plot points.

Rating: 2/5

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Gossip (2000)

 

Just a short review today because I have been super busy moving house (and I’ve got a cold).

 

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Whilst not technically a traditional horror film, Gossip has nevertheless earned its place on this blog for not only the subject matter (rape) but because of the worrying fact that it could happen in real life. Gossip tells the story of how a rumour can quickly gain a life of its own and the disastrous consequences it could have.

Three college students, Derrick, Cathy and Travis played by James Marsden (X-Men), Lena Heady (Cersei  Lannister in Game of Thrones) and Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) respectively decide to make up and trace the track of a rumour for their final psychology project.  When Derrick oversees Beau (Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek) pressurising his girlfriend Naomi (Kate Hudson, The Skeleton Key) into having sex at a party before Naomi passes out and Beau leaves her to sleep it off, the three have the perfect situation to test their theory about gossip. Before long the rumour takes a dark turn and mutates into Beau raping Naomi which he (obviously) denies. The film soon spirals down a dark path with both Beau’s and Naomi’s lives ruined by the rumour as he gets arrested and she has a nervous breakdown. However more interesting than the unfortunate plight of the two lovers is the effect that this rumour has on the trio that began it all of who react in very different ways revealing their true character.

The film has a very interesting and stylistic aesthetic, based in New York everything is dark with no soft corners. What I find most telling is the couch in Derrick’s loft which he shares with Cathy and Travis. The couch is painted (presumably by Travis who has the tortured artist thing down to a tee) with a portrait of the three friends but only Derrick has a mouth, the other two just have blurred regions and it was ultimately Derrick’s idea and it is by his lead that the three let the rumour continue to the dramatic end.

Don’t watch Gossip if you are looking for out-and-out scare fest or gore but if you are in the mood for a thought provoking and slick film then Gossip is right for you.

Rating: 4/5

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The Bat (1959)


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Set primarily in “The Oaks”, a large mansion rented by murder mystery author Cornelia Van Gorder played by Agnes Moorhead (Bewitched, Citizen Kane), The Bat is a quintessential 1950s murder mystery film containing a masked serial killer and a million stolen dollars hidden somewhere in the house. When arriving in the small town, Cornelia learns that a masked serial killer known as the eponymous “Bat” a faceless man who kills women by ripping their throats out with steel claws and unfortunately for her, the crimes were committed in and around The Oaks. Cornelia is undeterred and stays in the house, however she loses all of her servants except her faithful maid, Lizzy, played by Lenita Lane (The Gay Deception – I wonder what that is about!?). The relationship between Lizzy and Miss Cordy as she calls Cornelia is very close and more like an old married couple than employee/employer, indeed when scared there is much clutching of one another and sharing the bedroom.

On a routine visit to the bank we are introduced to the remaining characters in the play including Victor and Dale Bailey, the vice president of the bank and his wife, played by Mike Steele (The Rockford Files) and Elaine Edwards (Curse of the Faceless Man) respectively and Lieutenant Andy Anderson (Gavin Gordon, The Bride of Frankenstein), the local law enforcer. In this unfortunate scene we learn that the president of the bank and owner of The Oaks has stolen $1 million (over $8 million in today’s money) and has headed off to the forest with Doctor Malcolm Wells, played by horror aficionado Vincent Price (House of Wax). Victor Bailey informs Anderson of this not in a private office but in the middle of the bank separated from the rest of the office by a hip-high wall, this strikes me a very silly as surely people would overhear and start a riot on the bank? Only Dr Wells returns from the forest alive and soon the serial killer is back to his old tricks, searching the house for the missing money and killing anyone who gets in his way.

There is a decent stream of dead bodies and mystery with several curve balls thrown in as to the identity of the killer. Indeed, it kept me guessing and changing my mind as to who I thought it was. I also liked the portrayal of women in the film, it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, that is; 1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man. Unlike many films the killer is fallible, making a huge racket and alerting people when looking for the money, but equally The Bat is not inept. One thing that did irritate me about The Bat though was the method for killing, the steel claws are incredibly impractical and whilst it makes an effective silhouette, a faceless man in a suit and hat with these giant curved claws I feel it would have restricted a lot of his movement. Although there are a lot of murders in the film there is not a single drop of blood on screen, indeed in one of the cases I wasn’t sure if the victim had been killed or just knocked unconscious! I would recommend The Bat to any fan of murder mysteries.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: This 1959 offering is not the first time The Bat has been on screen, in fact it is based on a 1920 Broadway play and had been adapted into a film of the same name in 1926 and as The Bat Whisperers in 1930.