The Phantom’s Chilling Winter Horror Picks!

Winter Chills

The Phantom of the Ville highlights the best recent releases for cold winter nights’ viewings.

Good Evening, fright fans, it’s the Phantom of the Ville coming to you from my deep, dank crypt where I’ve been in a state of winter hibernation since the doors to my private mausoleum froze shut in early January. But I haven’t spent the entire winter in unnatural slumber because my crypt is wired for Wi-Fi, Netflix and Blu-ray, and there have been a number of great new releases that can feed the savage beast of winter discontent.

Here are my top recommendations!

winter chills

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight: New on Blu-ray and streaming this week, DC Comics’ animated film branch presents this R-rated adaption of the first Elseworlds graphic novel which imagines the Dark Knight as he might have existed in the late 1800’s gaslight illuminated streets of Gotham City. Gotham is plagued by a string of grisly murders that are claimed to be the continued work of Whitechapel serial killer, Jack the Ripper, and Batman must uses his skills as both detective and crime fighter to stop him.

This 75 minute animated feature diverges a bit from the graphic novel’s source material, especially during the climax and the reveal of the Ripper’s true identity, so even if you’ve read the comic version don’t expect that you know how this steampunk styled adventure ends. The R-rating seems to have been applied due more to the nature of the story than anything that happens onscreen, but there are a few splashes of blood and some subdued sexually suggestive scenes. The period setting results in a more muted color palette than one usually enjoys in these animated releases, but the turn-of-the-century mood feels authentic.

For die-hard Batman fans, there’s fun to be had in spotting many of the Dark Knight’s familiar foes and friends in their Victorian era guises. The horror scenes generate only mild suspense, but the face-to-face confrontations between Batman and the Ripper are genuinely fun and exciting. While not among the very best of the DC animated efforts, “Gotham by Gaslight” is a must watch for Ripper aficionados.

winter chills

Brawl on Cell Block 99: While not strictly horror in the common use of the term, there was no other film released in all of 2017 that shocked and stunned me the way that this little film did. New on Blu-ray and On Demand, “Brawl on Cell Block 99” stars Vince Vaughn as a down-on-his-luck bruiser who finds himself in prison after a botched drug deal gone wrong. Vaughn becomes the reluctant, brutal puppet of an international drug czar who has kidnapped his pregnant girlfriend played by Louisville native Jennifer Carpenter. His only chance to save the life of his unborn child is to engage in an escalating series of bone crunching acts of violence.

Only director S. Craig Zahler’s sophomore effort following 2015’s brutal cannibal Western, “Bone Tomahawk” featuring Kurt Russell, “Brawl on Cell Block 99” puts Zahler at the very top of my list of directors to watch. It’s now my opinion that Zahler may be the next Tarantino of violent cinema. Vince Vaughn delivers an antihero performance so unexpected and so captivating that I would never have thought him capable of anything like this after a decade of softball romcoms and family comedies. If you’re one of those people hung up by Vaughn’s appearance, think back to your perception of Heath Ledger before you witnessed his final performance in “The Dark Knight.” You didn’t see that performance coming, did you? Same thing with Vaughn here. Just try to get the final moments of this film out of your head.

winter chills

Hell Night: New from Shout Factory’s Blu-ray releasing arm of cult horror titles comes this mostly unheralded and under-seen slasher classic from 1981 staring Linda Blair in one of her best genre films that is not “The Exorcist”. Released during the height of the early 80’s slasher movie boom, “Hell Night” follows a group of fraternity pledges and their dates who are forced to spend the night in the reportedly haunted Garth Manor where a series of gruesome murders took place a decade earlier.

Hell Night” stands out from the glut of other slasher movies released during the early 80’s by melding the Gothic horror trappings of the 1960’s and 70’s with the bloody murder porn of the new generation of knife/ax/chainsaw wielding psychopaths. The moldy mansion setting with its trap doors, secret passageways and hidden crypts clashes sharply with the trend of summer camps and abandoned barns usually seen in the “Friday the 13th” films and all of its’ kin. But the murder scenes are every bit as gory and garish as any of the genre’s beloved scared cows.

The cast led by final girl, Linda Blair, is game for the gory shenanigans with PeterFriday the 13th: The Final ChapterBarton and, especially, VincentRock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolVan Patten delivering memorable performances. Shout Factory’s new 4K transfer finally gives the film’s atmospheric lighting and set design the credit it was due.

winter chills

It (2017): New to Blu-ray, Andy (“Mama”) Muschietti’s surprisingly solid feature remake of Stephen King’s Derry set classic shocked Hollywood by becoming one of the biggest blockbuster hits of the year. On a budget of $35 million, “It” became the number seven box-office champion of 2017, topping comic book mega-budget hits like “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Justice League”. So you don’t need me to tell you it’s pretty damn scary.

Going in, I didn’t think that there was any way that anybody was going to make me forget Tim Curry’s terrifying performance of Pennywise the Dancing Clown from the 1990 miniseries version of the same book, but Bill Skarsgard pulled a red balloon from out of his trick bag and did the impossible. Skarsgard’s Pennywise is both terrifying and captivating in the way that Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter was in “Silence of the Lambs“. I became even more impressed with his physical performance and mannerisms when I later learned that his droopy lazy eye in the opening sequence was done on set without the aid of CGI.

Changing the setting of the story from the 1950’s to the 1980’s was an inspired choice that allowed a whole new generation of 80’s kids who are now the biggest horror consuming demographic to more easily identify with the characters and therefore get more easily seduced by the charming cast before the most horrific things begin to happen to them. This film and “Stranger Things” brought the vibe of 80’s horror back to 2017 in a big way.

winter chills

Matinee: New from Shout Factory Blu-ray comes this little piece of B-movie nostalgia from director Joe (“Gremlins”, “The Howling”) Dante. A box-office dud when it was released in 1993, “Matinee” is criminally under-seen and underappreciated by genre movie fans, and that needs to change. Clearly the film’s subject matter was far too niche for the multiplex crowd as at its’ core, “Matinee” is a celebration of the B-movie exploitation classics of William Castle like “House on Haunted Hill,” “The Tingler” and “13 Ghosts”. It almost requires the viewer to be appreciative of the ballyhoo and showmanship Castle put into his low budget pictures when he generated buzz by wiring electric shocks to theater seats and by sending prop skeletons into the theater audience during his film’s climax. Castle was “King of the Gimmicks”.

Set during the Cold War paranoia of the Cuban Missile Crisis, “Matinee” is a charming coming-of-age story that follows 15 year old military brat, Gene Loomis, who deals with the pressures of growing up by reading Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine and attending science fiction matinees with his younger brother every Saturday at the local theater. It’s there he encounters cult movie maker, Lawrence Woolsey played by John Goodman, who is on the road trying to sell his latest cheesy, low budget opus, “Mant”.

The film within the film, “Mant”, alone is worth the price of the Blu-ray, and there is a special feature included here that compiles the whole mini-feature to watch as a complete short film. But for fans of classic horror and science fiction cinema and the folks who made that magic happen, there is much, much more to love here. If you’ve never seen “Matinee”, now is the time to remedy that gap in your life.

winter chills

The Shape of Water: Guillermo del Toro’s adult love letter to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” is everything I could have ever dreamed it could be as well as a much better road map on how to modernize the Universal Monsters than the failed attempt at the Dark Universe attempted in the Tom Cruise action vehicle, “The Mummy”. It’s beautiful. It’s weird. In some ways it’s just plain wrong, and I love it!

Sally Hawkins plays a mute employee of a Kafkaesque company in some sort of an alternate 1960’s period setting who discovers the company is holding and terribly mistreating an amphibious creature taken from the Amazon. Her boss, played by Lexington native Michael Shannon, hates the creature and plans on using it to advance his position within the company. Hawkins plans to save the creature leads her to a cross species relationship that could save her soul or destroy the lives of all of them.

The Shape of Water” is the kind of silver screen magic that fans of classic horror, science fiction and fantasy are rarely treated to; an original passion project of a very unique and quirky artist whose fevered monster movie dreams have somehow found themselves made real.

The Phantom of The Ville

Write a Review


Comments are closed.