We provide reviews and recommendations for all things horror. We are particularly fond of 80s, foreign, independent, cult and B horror movies. Please use the menu on the top left of the screen to view our archives or to learn more about us.
My old scoutmaster used to say ‘If the shortcut was a shortcut, it wouldn’t be called a shortcut, it would be called a route’.
A lads weekend hiking and camping turns into a nightmare when they get lost and encounter a bunch of backwoods hillbillies up to no good. A familiar premise, no? The Ritual is basically The Descent: This Time With Men. We’ve got a group of dudes that have suffered a loss that has eroded relationships and left guilt-scars, and a trip to the wilds to honor their friend that goes disastrously wrong. Or maybe it’s The Blair Witch: Midlife Crisis. So yes, this is bad news first: the script isn’t original; it hits all the beats you expect. Oh hey, the lads need to take a shortcut, and then they get lost, and then they turn on each other. Stunning turns of events, these. The good news: the film is still a compelling, scary watch.
Ulver album covers or shots from The Ritual? You decide.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Lead Rafe Spall exudes grief in every scene he’s in and smokes a lot, which I guess stands in for solid dialog. Director David Bruckner gets great performances from everyone, and the film is gorgeous. Every shot is some kind of black metal album cover artist’s dream – misty mountain forests, decrepit cabins filled with arcane artifacts, and glowing alpine meadows make this film a delight to watch. Without spoiling anything, there’s another bit of design work here that’s truly excellent and strange. If only the script were up to these high standards. I’m not blaming the scriptwriter here – perhaps the problem is in the source novel by Adam Neville? I really don’t know, as I haven’t read it. What’s here is a cleanly written, slight variation of something we’ve already seen many times before. There seems to be an attempt to explore the nature of survival, of being a survivor or coming to terms with the nature of survival, or maybe it’s about finding your inner animal, I really don’t know; it’s all rather murky.
“Let’s stay here. It looks super safe,” said no one ever.
If I sound like I’m really down on The Ritual, I’m not. I really enjoyed it, and I recommend it to everyone looking for a solid horror. I love creepy forests and cabins and ancient rituals. It’s atmospheric as hell, gorgeous, well acted and effectively spooky, it just doesn’t do anything hasn’t been done before.
Before sitting down to write this, I suffered two total party kills in a row. I got cocky – a few expeditions went about as well as could be expected, meaning: everyone escaped from death’s grasp, no one went too insane, treasures were seized and monsters were slain. A couple of my so-called heroes had leveled up. Surely now was the time for bravery. Alas, my foolhardiness had a high price in souls; everyone died. No worries. I had my B team. Into the dungeon went the lot of them, rested and confident, only to find the same fate as the previous party. Is this fun? Yes, yes it is.
See, Darkest Dungeon is trying to teach you, if you’d only just watch and listen and take your punishment. Expecting ample, congenial handholding tutorials will only lead to disappointment. Darkest Dungeon doesn’t do handholding. It doesn’t even have hands to hold. Maybe you reach out and find a stinging hook, or a slime-wreathed and suckered tentacle, or your grasp finds only bloody stumps. Whatever Darkest Dungeon has at the end of its appendages, it loves to thrash you with them. If you grew up in the nascent years of video gaming where games expected you to do some work, you’ll be right at home here. There’s a willful and chilly opaqueness about Darkest Dungeon, but if you embrace it, that’s where the fun is had. Each savage defeat is a lesson in its arcane systems.
Well, except the times that it’s not. When the dice roll and come up all wrong. A common complaint here: the random number generation aspect. Yes, there is a heavy element of randomness to Darkest Dungeon, and sometimes, no matter how you prepare the bulwark against them, the stars just don’t ever seem to be right. If that sets you on edge before you have even set out, then perhaps you should rethink a journey to this benighted Hamlet. It can definitely be frustrating, but in a game about encroaching corruption and cosmic horror, a little chaos seems about right. The most enlightening perspective shift I had was hearing the relationship between the heroes and the town explained like this: the heroes are the bullets, the town is the gun. If you own a gun, you expect to lose a few bullets.
So, what is it you do in Darkest Dungeon? You play a sort of town manager, upgrading the facilities in the town, hiring adventurers, outfitting them, caring for them, and then sending them off to quest at terrible locations. At these locations you explore, hallway by hallway and room by room, until the quest is complete, you retreat, or everyone is dead. As the adventurers explore, they suffer the psychological effects of the horrors they encounter which may manifest in positive or negative ways. Most often, it’s that darned negative that comes up. You can choose to treat these mental maladies, ride them out and see what happens – will they rush to steal when the party encounters chests in the dungeon, or perhaps they’ll be barred from visiting the brothel – or you can cut them loose. All of this is wrapped in Wayne June’s incredible narration. Each upgrade, each victory and defeat, every progression and every setback is narrated, and it’s fantastic. It’s written in the purplish, halcyon-days-of-Weird-Tales style of writers such as Lovecraft and Clarke Ashton Smith, and there is no narrator better suited to the task than June.
Darkest Dungeon is a wonderful game. The art by Chris Bourassa is incredible as you can readily see, evoking a gloriously pulpy Hammer Films meets Lovecraft world of misted alleys and monsters. The soundtrack by Stuart Chatwood is a perfectly dismal and doom-laden affair. Darkest Dungeon is great no matter the system, but if you have a Nintendo Switch and don’t care about the modding potential that the PC release provides, grab it there. The controls are a little clunky due to their mouse and keyboard roots, the text a little small, but there is nothing here that can’t be expertly wielded in little time. Having the ability to quickly delve a dungeon and then sleep the system is a great experience – get your team suited and booted before bed, then roll them out while you train to work. It’s liberating to be able to take your punishment wherever and whenever you want.
If you possess the mettle, buy this game. It’s horrific in all the right ways.
Hello all, we have launched a new contest! You can win a Freddy glove pillow from Horror Decor. Simply install our Android app, and post a comment on this post to tell us you’ve done so. The randomly chosen winner will be announced on the app in 5 days.
“This house knows everything about you. Leave while you can!”
I have no recollection of why I wanted to see House. When I was a kid, I was curious about horror films, but I was also absolutely terrified of them; the terror would win out over the curiosity every time. Was it the tag line, “Ding dong, you’re dead?” The affable presence of Cheers’ George Wendt? The awesome video nasty box art? I don’t know – likely a magical combination of all of these things that could only exist in the 80s. Whatever it was, I did rent it, and found it weird as hell. Thirty years hence, it’s still weird as hell, and I still love it.
Is there a more depressing premise for a horror comedy than this: Roger Cobb (William Katt), best selling horror author, moves into his aunt’s house after her suicide. There, he holes up in an attempt to deal with the trauma of his Vietnam tour through the writing of a book about his experiences and recover from the recent disappearance of his son and subsequent collapse of his marriage.
We’re treated to Cobb’s memories of the loss of his son and the horrors of the Vietnam war, the former through a deluge of a possible drowning and a sinister black car squealing away in tire smoke and the horrors of the Vietnam war. Horrifying stuff. And yet, the film is funny. Much of that is Wendt and Katt, who get along quite well together. There’s lots of gags, like the above dismembered hand, and there’s a warmth towards the films characters. As a horror, it’s not particularly scary, but it’s genuinely fascinating, spooky, strange stuff, particularly the cosmic dreamlands that the house seems to crouch upon.
Taking plenty of inspiration from Poltergeist and Evil Dead, House finds its own weird, fantastical path. House is still a refreshingly strange, messy film, and still feels unique, with a typically great Harry Manfredini score. Give the door a knock and see if you feel at home – there’s nothing out there like this.
It’s fitting that Ridley Scott chooses to reference Frankenstein heavily in his third entry into the Alien franchise. While Ridley wants us to see David, evil android from Prometheus, as a kind of hybrid creation/god melding of Frankenstein and his monster, it is instead more fitting to see the similarities between the monster and the film itself. While both film and monster possess a kind of beauty and wonder, both are hideous, misshapen, misguided attempts at creation that result in disaster. Yep – Alien: Covenant sucks. In a gorgeous way.
It’s not that there isn’t anything to enjoy here. There are definitely pleasures to be found in Alien: Covenant. It’s beautiful, for one, much as Prometheus was. There’s great acting on hand, with all the cast doing well for themselves, and Fassbender absolutely kills it as David. The first half of the film feels like a decent mimic of Alien, and is mostly pretty good despite a few bits of clunky dialogue and the unshakable feeling that it’s all just a retread of what has been done before, and done better. Still, that’s okay for a franchise with two masterpieces and three pieces of crap (five, if you count the AvP films). The film is also incredibly beautiful. There are echoes of Lynd Ward’s Frankenstein illustrations, of Dore’s Paradise Lost images; of course, Giger’s influence is everywhere. Sets are vast and Gothic and eerie, and there is some of Lovecraft’s Cyclopean cities of ancient alien civilizations. It’s gory and frightening at times. There are a bunch of super cool set pieces that are done with a master’s hand. Much like my experience of seeing Prometheus in the theatre, the moment to moment can be enjoyable, but nothing meshes well together, and the structure is so shakily held together on a story level that the further the film progresses, the more it collapses until you’re left with a giant, confusing mess.
Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are strange films in that they’re gigantic budget productions of terrible scripts, helmed by a master filmmaker with tremendous casts and crew. If these films were low budget, took themselves less seriously, weren’t Alien films, they’d probably be a lot of fun – cool horror B pictures, very Friday the 13th in space. It’s the seriousness, the pretentiousness and the attempt to tell a prequel story expanding on the lore of Alien where it all goes wrong. The dialog is false and tone-deaf, and none of it makes any sense at all. I’ll also posit that telling the origin of the original alien is just a bad idea. Horror films are similar to fairy tales – the best monsters represent deep-rooted fears of humanity, and they don’t need dramatic, overly explicit back stories. A crew of space truckers happening upon a strange alien ship that had been wiped out by a bizarre, completely alien predator doesn’t need any more exploration or lore – there’s enough there to foment wonder and fear; exploring the back story, at least the way Ridley Scott has so far done, destroys the beauty, the fear and wonder and poetry of one of the greatest monsters ever created.
I love Alien. It’s a tremendous film, and a perfect horror film. I’m not sure who Alien: Covenant is for. It won’t please Prometheus fans as it doesn’t deliver on the mysteries presented their (and in fact delivers one of the greatest audience f-you’s since Alien 3 by killing off both Shaw and all of the engineers, all before Covenant begins, of course), and it won’t please Alien fans as it gets too Prometheusy up in there. It’s like Ridley took the criticism of Prometheus to heart, and then just got it all wrong again, making the same mistakes and also making things worse. If he had delivered on the mysteries of the engineers and continued Shaw’s journey, at least Covenant would be true to the story and the audience. Instead, we get an unsatisfying hybrid of Alien and Prometheus that doesn’t make a lick of sense and will manage to piss of both fans.