…Both of which are actually just horror movie reviews, one very bad and one very, very good.
Bad news first. Cave (2016, streaming now on Netflix).
One of my fave horror films of all time is Neil Marshall’s The Descent (if you’d like to read about how much I loved it, you can here). It’s about a group of lady cavers whose expedition goes horrifically awry when they cross paths with a pack of subhuman cannibalistic things. If you like creature features with lots of gore and little, if any, CGI, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The bad news is Cave is nothing like that movie (though I can’t be faulted for thinking so with this ad copy: “A group of former military elites set out to explore an uncharted abyss, not knowing their worst nightmare is waiting for them deep beneath the ground.”)
Spoilers, but you’ll thank me later for the time I’ll save you.
Here’s the poster, in hopes that you’ll recognize it and steer clear.
Three “military elites” (who must have immediately forgotten all their training on discharge), an attractive couple and a goofy fifth wheel who I think had previously dated the woman, go caving in an uncharted mountain. “Are we sure about this? People have died in there,” says hunky lover boy (HLB). “Yeah, but we’re in a different league!” goofy wheel (GW) says reassuringly.
Before we get to the mountain though, the movie goes out of its way to make sure we realize just how difficult this is for GW. HLB and lady (she’s the only lady, no nickname necessary) have very vocal sex the night before in a bed six feet away from GW (VERY considerate. One of my least favorite college roommates did the same thing to me regularly). And practically every moment he’s on camera alone, he’s gazing at her hungrily and obviously (she notices, being a military elite).
I won’t give you a complete blow-by-blow. One moment that stands out is early in the cave, GW discovers a vintage army helmet (he assumes Nazi. HLB says Russian. “Military elite,” remember). He ditches his 21st century caver helmet in favor of looking cool (unsuccessfully). “I doubt that’s rated for impacts,” says HLB. “Aww, who cares?” scoffs GW. You’re in a “different league,” alright. OF STUPIDITY.
Things go awry, naturally, but unfortunately for the sensible and non-rapey HLB, who falls prey to a malfunctioning air tube for the underwater section of the trip. He scrambles to the surface just in time, only to be met by GW, who inexplicably pushes him back under. What’s the thought process here? That lady will fall back in love with him, as if these are her only two choices? At the very least, won’t this make the rest of the expedition a tad awkward?
Lady barely has time to grieve him before he miraculously gasps back to life…whereupon the second they’re alone together, GW abandons all pretense and chokes him, just as lady comes around the corner. Well, now it’s REALLY awkward and GW resorts to stalking her in the pitch black cavern with infrared goggles, Jame Gumb style. Shame, crappy Norwegian movie.
I won’t spoil anymore, though really, would you care? I stopped caring when I realized their “worst nightmare” wasn’t bloodthirsty man-things but instead a creepy man-baby who couldn’t stand being friend-zoned. I don’t want to spend another second on this waste of 77 minutes, when I have such good news for you.
Hell House, LLC
You’d think being such a horror fanatic I’d be all over haunted houses. And I was, until the year my friends and I visited Brutal Planet at our local Six Flags. This was right around the time haunted houses started becoming way more intense, breaking past the threshold of papier-mâché mechanical vignettes and moving into elaborately costumed actors that come out of the walls at you. You’d think signs stating reassuringly, “We won’t touch you if you don’t touch us” would be, well, reassuring. They weren’t for me. Two minutes in and I was literally half blind with terror, looking only for an exit (it didn’t help that my friends had shoved me to the front of the group, using me as a human shield. I was wearing Tabby like a backpack, she didn’t see a damn thing. “That wasn’t so bad!” she announced once we’d finally escaped with our lives).
I haven’t gone near anything more realistic than Pirates of the Caribbean since.
It amazes me that evil people haven’t taken advantage of haunted house tours. People expect to see gruesome things with people screaming, and who can tell real from fake with shadowy rooms and a constant din of moans and wails?
So count me out, please.
Hell House, LLC (streaming on Amazon Prime) is about a popup Halloween company deciding to take their hugely popular Hell House attraction to the remote town of Abaddon, NY (not real, I checked. I recognized it as a demonic name and I was skeptical that New England Puritan settlers would name anything after a demon). They decide to use the old Abaddon Hotel, which has a bloody history of murders and suicides. The point of making it remote is to force the troupe to stay in it for the month it takes to get ready to open.
First, this is a “found footage” movie, which has earned quite a bad name after a million terrible Blair Witch copycats. This one is kept fresh by interspersing interviews with survivors and news coverage. It pretty effectively builds dread just through eyewitnesses either being unable to describe what they saw, or being so shell shocked they’re physically unable to talk about it (or killing themselves weeks later).
The whole month of setting up is documented on video, showing bizarre and unsettling events slowly ramping up. Like what happens to poor Paul, whose bedroom I think is nearest the basement that seems to be the base camp of Satan.
There’s some trouble with a clown mannequin that won’t stay put…
…and lots of unexplained things happening that unfortunately are either chalked up to the deliberate creepiness they’re trying to achieve, or Paul being a known unreliable spaz.
The lion’s share of video is taken by Paul, and you have to forgive a lot of heavy panting and F-bombs dropped as his terror mounts. But I’ve realized that a big part of a successful horror movie is an actor that can really sell their terror. It becomes contagious to the audience (assuming nothing screws it up to pull them out of the story). And Paul (Gore Abrams) is one helluva salesman.
(Full disclosure: I started watching this in bed in the dark, but turned it off 30 minutes in, 20% because I was afraid of falling asleep (not at all a commentary on the movie; my Tempurpedic has a powerful siren song), 80% because the dread was too much and I truly felt there was emotional scarring on the way.
I finished in the light of day, and I’m pleased to report the scarring was only minimally reduced.)
It all builds to opening night, captured by a tour-goer and uploaded to YouTube–a very confusing sequence climaxing in people trying to get into the basement being blocked by a stampede of people desperately trying to get out of the basement.
I’ll have to watch again, as I said it’s very confusing, but again, the level of terror being sold by the stampede was very much contagious.
The ending is a bit weak, though it could’ve been worse. I’m not going to spoil. This movie is so deliciously terrifying that I wish I could erase my memory and watch it totally fresh again. It succeeds because the scares aren’t sophisticated, you know how they’re all done (mostly things being moved around off camera, ooooh, spooooooky) (and no CGI, THANK YOU JESUS) but damn if they don’t still make the hair on your neck stand up. Or jump out of your skin even when you expect something to happen.
This movie had me saying out loud, “Hell, no, don’t go down there” or “What’s wrong with you fool, get out of there!” The rest of the time, I had a big grin on my face enjoying the thrill ride (without playing the part of human shield). This is a no-brainer Blu-Ray buy.