Summer of Horror: The Hallow, The Pact, Plan 9 From Outer Space Two hidden Netflix gems and a classic stinker

The Hallow

The Hallow

From just the Netflix description, what you gather about The Hallow is: A family moves into a remote house on the edge of a foreboding forest, where demonic figures plot to steal their baby. Starring two Game of Thrones actors. Sound suspiciously familiar? Well, hold your horses. That description is exactly where the similarities to The Witch end.

For one thing, the movie is set in the modern day, which isn’t immediately apparent from the Netflix listing. But more importantly, the tone and style (and monster) of this film couldn’t be more different from The Witch. Those baffled by that movie’s languid pace, almost undetectably subtle dread and impenetrable colonial accents might find this straightforward cabin in the woods story easier to get into. 

This is a movie that really knows how to work with the limitations of its budget and independent-ness. The cast is limited to just four or five speaking roles and two locations. But where most 2015 independent horror films with monsters would choose to build their creatures in computers, The Hallow uses primarily practical effects, with CGI accompaniment. We’re starting to realize that’s still the most believable method, 23 years after Jurassic Park did it. The monsters are really well designed and horrifying to behold, and they don’t blow their wad by revealing them too early.

The only thing that keeps this from being an enthusiastic recommendation is the pacing of the first half. We don’t get enough time to know the central couple as real characters, and they barely seem to speak to each other before all Hell breaks loose. Horror pays off big dividends when you gradually dial up the terror in the first two acts, but The Hallow goes from “mysterious bumps in the night” to “fight for your life” mode in an instant. Also it does one of those fourth wall-breaking, “one last jump scare before the credits” things, which I don’t even feel bad about spoiling because they’re terribly tacky.

Still, I can easily recommend The Hallow, if for no other reason than it avoids using demons in an era when horror is ALWAYS about demons.

The Pact

The Pact

We have no shortage of haunted house movies right now. But simple, straightforward haunted house movies are still rare compared to the much more common demonic monster-fests exemplified by the work of James Wan. It’s not that I have a problem with those, but it’s refreshing to see a ghost story that makes due on just bumps in the night and shadowy figures, without needing an assist from Satan.

The Pact might be a victim of its terribly generic poster (and title, which even after seeing the film I have no idea what it means). I scrolled past it countless times on Netflix, put off by the 90’s era CGI face. It got decent reviews, but seemed to make utterly zero impact when it released in 2012. It also suffers from some glaringly bad acting in the first 5 minutes. Yet, it very quickly recovers and ends up being ones of the scariest haunted house movies I’ve seen. No joke. There were moments I felt genuinely tempted to look away. As my wife noted, a horror movie can get a ton of mileage out of one effective, early scare, leaving the viewer on guard and off balance for the rest of the movie. The Ring pulled this off to great effect, and so does The Pact.

But it also has strong scares sprinkled throughout the run time. Most are of the “now there’s someone/something right there” variety. There’s also kind of a third act twist that re-contextualizes much of what we’ve seen without ruining the suspense or undercutting the paranormal angle.

Be warned: This movie boasts a Casper Van Dien appearance, looking like a poor man’s Viggo Mortensen. And he does a good job! Hell, this movie may be a candidate for a Halloween season screening at Camp Awesome…

Plan 9 From Outer Space

Plan 9

Here it is, the turd to end all turds. The Ed Wood disasterpiece that birthed the tradition of irony viewing. “The worst movie of all time.”

Yeah, it’s a fuckin’ disaster. There’s not a whole lot more to say about it that hasn’t already been said on Mystery Science Theater 3000, along with countless other “reviews” throughout history. The Tim Burton film Ed Wood revolves largely around the making of this movie (seeing it made me just want to watch Ed Wood again). All the famous gaffes are right there on the screen, easy to spot. Strings on flying saucers, shadows cast by boom mics (on space), cardboard tombstones being kicked over by actors, airplane cockpits with nothing in them but two chairs and a clipboard… the list goes on.

At times Plan 9 edges into that sweet “so bad it’s good” territory that Bad Horror Movie nights thrive on, especially when you have the opportunity to quote dialogue like “Future events such as these may affect you in the future”. But more often it’s just boring. The cheapness and cut corners are all so glaringly obvious, and it’s clear much of the plot was made up on the fly to justify some of the stock footage they happened to obtain, and to get the most mileage out of four meager, sparsely decorated sets.

So is it really the worst movie of all time? Of course not. I’ve seen other movies from this era that were almost this bad. And there’s so much self-released “independent” dreck out there now, it’s impossible for any movie to claim that title. But it definitely earns its reputation.

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