Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Horror Block – July 2014

Posted: August 3, 2014 by Jenny Dreadful in Reviews, Shopping

jennydWell hello there, horror friends! What have you been up to? Moving right past my embarrassing absence like nothing happened… I am enjoying the hell out of sic-fi and horror this year! Snowpiercer, Guardians of the Galaxy, the reissue of Death Spa… 2014 has been a wonderful time for cinema so far, and I truly believe my greatest adventures are yet to come. More on that later.

horrorblockToday, I’m here to tell you that I am really excited about the new service Horror Block! What’s Horror Block, you ask??? Let’s go back… wayyyy back in time… to a week and a half ago…

My husband (aka Russell aka crowbait) received a video game “mystery box” in the mail. It included 2 console games and 1 t-shirt and all 3 items were a total surprise. Delightful! He’d ordered this kind of thing before, usually big boxes full of anime dvds. I’m not really into anime and my video games tastes are very narrow, but I always get REALLY excited when one of these boxes arrives. OMIGOD OPEN IT, RUSSELL. OPEN IT!!!

I’ve been jealous of these mystery boxes for a while, but this latest delivery sparked an obsession. Why haven’t I seen mystery packs of horror movies? I want them! Trying to pressure my buddies at Diabolik DVD to offer them hasn’t worked, so I went on an internet quest for fun horror themed mystery boxes. While I never found exactly what I was looking for (movie packs), I did indeed find some fun options! The Box of Dread, organized by genre website Dread Central, and Horror Block, organized by the folks behind mystery box subscription service Nerd Block.

I was determined to sign up for SOMETHING to scratch this bizarre mystery itch, and I was really torn. Box of Dread does occasionally come with movies, which was my main target, but photos of past boxes didn’t excite me.  Horror Block seemed to favor toys, which isn’t really my thing either. After a little more research, however, Horror Block won the day. Here’s why:

  • Each Horror Block comes with the latest issue of Rue Morgue.
  • Each package comes with a horror-themed t-shirt in your size (meaning you select your shirt type and size when you sign up).
  •  The next block (their second set) was shipping in 2 days.

I’d wanted to sign up for Rue Morgue or Fangoria in the near future anyway and finding horror apparel sized for women is always a challenge. The cost of signing up for Canada-based Horror Block here in the States is just under $30 (including shipping). That’s typically the cost of the magazine and a nerdy shirt alone, meaning everything else is a fun bonus. Add near-instant gratification? Sold. I signed up immediately and waiting for my first box to arrive has been difficult. On Thursday, after 6 days of cold sweats and sleepless nights, it finally came! Let’s take a look.

Horror Block July 2014

The items are packed up in a rather stylish box, complete with bloody handprint and Walking Dead reference. Very nice!

TheBox

Note: Subscribers outside Canada, beware! If you want to maintain your surprise until the second you lift the lid, avoid the Customs Declaration sticker on the box. It lists somewhat spoilery descriptions of the contents. Personally, I avoided looking at the sticker, but delaying the reveal by mere seconds won’t be a priority for everyone.

What’s inside? Here’s what we found…

sharknado

A Funko Pop! Sharknado figure! The folks at Nerd Block promised one Sharknado-related item in the July package and I was hoping this would be it. Score! If you desire a tornado shark of your own, you can find these guys for about $10 in the wild. This little guy might have to live at my desk at work.

shirt

 A Lost Boys Frog Brothers shirt! I never would have expected that. Love the surprise, love the design. This one’s a winner. Horror apparel prices vary, but the designers of the shirt, ShirtPunch!, sell their tees for about $10.

Note: Ladies, I’m going to give you the kind of info I always want to find. This is the fitted girl’s tee option in L and I’m in the neighborhood of 38-30. Not sure how it will fare in the wash, but out of the box, the fit is good.

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A Nightmare Before Christmas Series 1 Trading Figure. It’s a “blind box”… sort of… I mean, the name of the character is right there on the package, so…? Anyway, the point is this item varies from box to box and not every subscriber gets the same figure. As you can see, I got Dr. Finklestein. Even though I’m not very into toys, I love this little guy! The detail is very impressive. The good doctor, his wheelchair (with working wheels), and his brain are all separate pieces. If this is the quality that can be expected, I’m tempted to track down more characters. Prices for these guys are all over the map, depending on whether you want a single or a set. Based on what I can find online, let’s set this figure at about $10 average value.

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Alien pinback buttons featuring the Xenomorph lifecycle! Wow! I don’t know where I’m putting them, but I love them. A little confused internet research and I’m guessing $6 value.

Also included is a Zumbies: Walking Thread charm doll; another one that varies from box to box. This is the one item I’m not really into, but I think we’ll put him to work when we need to decorate the Christmas tree this year. He would fit in well with Jack Skellington and his crew. Looks like you can find these fellas for about $8.

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Last but not least… the latest issue of Canadian genre magazine Rue Morgue,  featuring stories on The Crow, Motel Hell, Phantom of the Paradise, and more. As previously mentioned, getting this magazine every month was one of the features that convinced me to sign up. I am pleased. $10 value.

So that’s my entire Horror Block stash!

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I am very satisfied with my first mystery box; a collection of items valued at far more than the $19.99 + shipping that I paid for it. I would recommend signing up to any horror fan who likes fun. You have 22 days to mull it over.

I will continue my subscription, and I’ll be sure to update you when the next package comes next month! What shirt will I get? Will they ever include movies? I can’t wait to find out.

Love and lacerations,

Jenny

The Ripleys (Awards Season Part 2)

Posted: March 2, 2014 by StayFrosty in Film, Reviews

frosty In Part 2 of our awards season posts, we do horror Oscars style!  But since we’re clearly way cooler than the Oscars, we call our awards The Ripleys.  Because you can’t get much cooler than that.

Best Actress – Katharine Isabelle, American Mary - I’ve already discussed American Mary and its many merits (including Isabelle’s acting) in a review earlier in the year, but it’s worth mentioning again that Katherine Isabelle brings a whole new dimension to the slasher villain – if villain is even the right word.  Regardless, I loved seeing a woman take on a role typically played by men, and kick ass doing it.  Kudos to Isabelle and the Soska sisters for showing people that it’s not the gender of the slasher that matters.

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Best Actor – Elijah Wood, Maniac remake – Considering we barely see Wood for the entirety of the film, why give him the award?  Because even though he isn’t seen much, his presence permeates every frame of the film and when we do see him, he makes it count.  Fans of “Sin City” already knew Wood could handle seriously and creepy roles.  But he takes it to another level as Frank, creating a deeply unsettling character that still somehow elicits the viewers’ empathy.  While Wood was only booked for 8 days on this film, he came to set every day to deliver his lines off screen, and that kind of devotion helps illustrate just how much he gave for this film.  He takes this character to another level, and is mesmerizing whether you can see him or not.

maniac

Best Supporting Actor – Patrick Wilson, Insidious Chapter 2 & The Conjuring – Wilson, originally a Broadway star, has always been terrific in whatever movie he’s in, whether playing a possible pedophile in Hard Candy or out-singing everyone in Phantom of the Opera.  But when he and James Wan teamed up, we got magic.  Wilson gives great performances in both Insidious Chapter 2 and The Conjuring this year, and while his parts may not be the most flashy, he always brings solidity and honesty to his roles.  I definitely hope he and Wan continue to work together in the future.

The-Conjuring-Patrick-Wilson

Best Gore – Evil Dead remake – There’s really no competition here.  If you’ve seen the Evil Dead remake, you know the gore was elevated to Grand Guignol levels of insanity, especially in the last 15 minutes of the film.  It goes beyond just gore to an art form.  A gross, wonderful art form.

evil dead 2013

Best Cinematography – Maniac

Best Short – “Safe Haven” from V/H/S 2  - It’s no secret that I love a good cultist movie (or short, as the case may be), but making an effective cult is no easy task.  From the opening minutes of “Safe Haven”, directors Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans create a deeply unsettling atmosphere, even during scenes that seem innocuous.  And once this thing gets going, it does not disappoint.  The ending might be a little divisive (it was clearly a choice by the directors, one I understood better the second time around), but this short takes the madness of the last day of a cult and drags you right into the terrifying middle of it.  When I say all hell breaks loose, I really mean it.  So worth your time.

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Best Poster – You’re Next – In this case, I think the poster can speak for itself:

You're Next poster

frostyJust in time for the Oscars, FGSG presents our two part awards season posts!  We begin with the best 13 films we experienced in 2013.  Usually we tackle this together, but life is really busy for JennyD right now, so this is mainly my list.  I freely admit there were some great movies playing at festivals this year that I wasn’t able to see, so this list reflects all the films I was able to see during 2013.  I probably missed a few excellent ones, but hey, what can I do?  I won’t pretend money and time aren’t a factor, but I/we did the best we could to see as much as possible.  So here they are, the top 13 of 2013:

1.  American Mary – I wrote about American Mary earlier this year – http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/9-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-american-mary/

2.  The Bay – Found footage might seem like it’s on the way out, but clever movies like Chronicle and The Bay show us that there’s still life in it yet – and in the case of The Bay, that life is parasitic and gross.  Directed by Barry Levinson (who created such classic as Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam and Bugsy) originally wanted to create a documentary about the pollution invading the Chesapeake Bay but, in his own words, “nobody cares­—people say, ‘It’s polluted, so what?’ I said no. But a few months later, I thought, ‘We’ve gathered all this research; why don’t we tweak it for a theatrical release? We can scare an audience with a story that is 80 to 85 percent science and facts.’”  And it works – knowing this movie was based mainly on fact added to its intensity for me.  Utilizing all different types of found footage such as cell phone cameras and security videos, the main source comes from a small time news broadcast whose anchor (Kether Donohue) is on the island to cover the town’s Fourth of July celebration.  And that makes perfect sense because if there’s one thing I learned from the movies, it’s that when there’s danger happening close on some kind of holiday, you must never, NEVER close the beaches!

the bay

3.  Berberian Sound Studio – A giallo that isn’t (sort of), BSS stars Tobey Jones as Gilderoy, a sound engineer who travels to Italy to work on what he thinks is a documentary about horses, but turns out to be something more sinister. Or is Gilderoy’s mind deteriorating and nothing is what it seems?  That BSS gives no clear answers might be frustrating to some, but those who are willing to go with it will find themselves sucked into a strange, beautiful mind-whammy of a movie.  And considering the title, do I even need to tell you that the sound is just divine?

4.  The Conjuring – I don’t know if it was the best of the year, but it was definitely one of my favorites to watch this year.  Wan knows how to create a roller coaster ride of a film without resorting to cheap stings and crappy CGI.  It’s classic haunted house filmmaking at its most enjoyable.  Sit back, leave your cynicism at the door, and enjoy the ride.

Conjuring 1

5.  Europa Report

6.  Evil Dead remake – JennyD and I covered the Evil Dead remake earlier in the year.  http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/8-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-evil-dead-2013/

7.  Insidious Chapter 2 – While not as strong as the original Insidious, Chapter 2 still offers some great classic scares and excellent acting.  Wan is on a roll.

8.  The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh – I covered TLWaToRL during the Halloween season this year – check out my review – http://finalgirlsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/3-more-days-til-halloween-presenting-the-last-will-and-testament-of-rosalind-leigh/

The-Last-Will-and-Testament-of-Rosalind-Leigh-2012-Movie-Poster

9.  Maniac remake – Choosing to remake a film like Maniac takes bravery – the original is famous not just for its immense amounts of disturbing gore and content, but also for the creepy/yucky yet somehow sympathetic presence of Joe Spinell in the main role.  Any attempt to redo this film was going to be a tough sell to genre fans.  Thankfully, director Frank Khalfoun found a whole new direction in which to take the story of Frank, a dangerously repressed man for whom violence is the norm.  By choosing to shot the film entirely in first person POV, Khalfoun gives us no choice but to identify/empathize with Frank, something that many audience members found difficult to handle.  I found it an extremely effective decision, and not the only good one this guy made.  Elijah Wood (Frodo from Lord of the Rings) was cast as Frank, an extreme departure from Joe Spinell’s intimidating presence .  Having a talented actor and horror fan in the first person perspective instead of just anyone creates a whole difference experience while watching the film.  I was pleased the studio didn’t force Khalfoun to choose based on the rationale that since you won’t see the actor for most of the film, it won’t matter who you put in the shoes.   The film is beautifully shot – the first person POV never feels like a gimmick and the slick neons on the rain make a beautiful backdrop for Frank’s brutal business.  Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth it for those who think they can handle it.

Maniac

10.  Stoker

11.  V/H/S 2

12.  You’re Next – Sharni Vincent leads You’re Next as a new type of Final Girl – the one you don’t see coming.  You’re Next boasts an excellent cast, including Vincent, Barbara Crampton and Ti West (among others), as a family (along with some significant others) meeting up in a remote house for an incredibly awkward gathering that turns deadly when strangers in animal masks target them all for death.  Or is there more going on than meets the eye???? I don’t want to give anything away, but Sharni Vincent plays an excellent cross between Ripley and Sally Hardesty – she’s tough as nails but is still scared and damaged by the horrible experience she goes through.  One of the better home invasion efforts in recent memory.

You're next 1

13.  The World’s End – Hilarous!  Of course, when you combine the skills of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s pretty hard for a film to be bad.  The last of the “Cornetto” trilogy (which also includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), The World’s End follows a group of school friends (led by Pegg and Frost) as they reunite in their hometown to finish the epic pub crawl they never completed in their youth.  Unbeknownst to them, however, their town has changed a bit since they were younger, and they find themselves overrun by villainy as they try to both save the world and get a drunk as possible.  Many laughs and even a few touching moments occur.  It was tough to choose between this and This is the End, but the combo of Wright, Pegg and Frost is hard to beat.

The World's End

frostyIn an interiview, writer/director of The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh Rodrigo Gudino stated he wanted the film to be more like a literary experience than a cinematic one, and I believe he succeeds in this endeavor.

This is the first full-length feature for the founding editor and president of Rue Morgue magazine – he created four well-received shorts before TLW&ToRL – and while I haven’t seen the shorts yet, if they are anywhere near as thoughtful and intelligent as this film, I’m sure they will be a treat.

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Writer/Director Rodrigo Gudino

A very basic plot summary (and it’s staying basic so as not to give anything away):  Leon (Aaron Poole), an antiques collector, inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover that she had been living in a shrine devoted to a mysterious cult.  At first he’s skeptical (aren’t they all?), but as time goes on he begins to suspect he may not be alone in the house.

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Aaron Poole as Leon. Also, a terrifying angel. Don’t blink!

Let’s start at the very beginning – the first line of the film.  Taking a page (GET IT???) from Shirley Jackson and The Haunting, the opening line is just killer (that one wasn’t a pun.  It’s a really good line, really good opening scene).  In fact, the opening reminded me very much of films like The Uninvited and The Haunting, but I thought it suited his intentions for the film.  And it’s spoken with the lovely, fragile, emotion-filled voice of Vanessa Redgrave, rarely seen but felt throughout.  Gudino keeps the beginning subtle, using long tracking shots and Redgrave’s voice to establish both the character of the house and the film as a whole.

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Speaking of The Haunting, in TLW&ToRL, much like the 1963 classic, the house here is also a character, and it is perfect – lovely architecture, loads of creepy stuff, odd hallways and dark corners.  Everything one could want from a haunted house.  Gudiono gives the house its own gaze, like it’s the eyes of the film itself, and that is an excellent choice.  And we, the viewers, look through the perspective of the house, leaving us a little off-center and disjointed – how can we be a house and not with the main character?  Leon leaves and returns, but we are always in the house.  But it totally works.  Points to the production design team, because the whole thing is lovely.  And creepy.  Lovely/creepy.

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I can’t find a great shot of the house, but trust me, it’s awesome.

Gudino doesn’t telegraph much either; in fact, most information must be overheard or observed.  Not much is freely given to the viewer, but that kept me engaged – you gotta work for it in this one.  Gudino makes very intelligent choices about what not to show – he lets our imaginations fill in what goes on, who is behind the voices, etc.

There are some awesome standout scenes (one with a journal comes to mind), and on the whole the film really works.  It has a very 60s/70s feel to it but I’m betting that was purposeful, because many of the films from that era were allowed to breathe a little more, take more time to create an atmosphere before jumping into the crazy shit.  And I must admit, I did not see the twist coming at all.  So of course I loved that.

Before I wrap up, I want to talk about the poster for this film.   Much like the super excellent Absentia, TLW&ToRL‘s poster does not help the movie at all.  There’s more than one version, but instead of sticking with this nice subtle version:

The-Last-Will-and-Testament-of-Rosalind-Leigh-2012-Movie-Poster

We got this:

rosalindleigh1

Which is NOTHING like the film!!!  Sheesh movie poster people, can you TRY to make something that remotely conveys the atmosphere and flavor of the movie you’re advertising?  Just a thought.  You’re not doing these films any favors here. People are missing out on great movies because of these posters!  Knock it off!

Okay, now that that’s done, I totally recommend TLW&ToRL, but you have to ignore the poster and allow the film to unspool in its own way.  If you can do that, you will not be disappointed.

4 More Days til Halloween – presenting Kathe Koja

Posted: October 27, 2013 by StayFrosty in Books, Reviews

frostyKathe Koja is the author of The Cipher (1991), one of the books I read on random internet recommendation.  I am very glad I did, because it’s one of the weirdest, most interesting books I’ve devoured in a long time.  Koja won the Bram Stoker Award and the Locus Award for her first novel The Cipher, which was also nominated for the Philip K Dick Award.  It hasn’t been available for a long time, but is now available on e-book with a new forward by the author.

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Trust me when I tell you that The Cipher is difficult to explain.  See, there’s this hole in an apartment building, where would-be poet Nicholas lives, which has fascinated both him and his sometimes lover (and super-strange lady) Nakota.  The hole, which is dubbed “The Funhole”, is not living but alive all the same.  Whoever comes into contact with it is changed, has already lost their control.  It attracts more people, things get weirder.  I really can’t say much more than that.

Koja isn’t a straightforward horror author – many people say she isn’t a horror author at all.  But whatever she is, it’s exciting and interesting.  She’s been compared to a poet, and I can see where those comparisons are coming from.  The language in The Cipher isn’t straightforward, and there is a lyrical sense/nonsense to it.  But it’s such beautiful, terrifying lyrics.

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Kathe Koja

Koja’s works are divisive – I’ve seen glowing and scathing reviews for the same novel right next to each other, which only makes me want to read her work more.  We are lucky that Koja’s older works are coming back in e-book editions.  Her 1993 novel, Skin, was just released last month.  I am downloading it right now.  Books not yet in digital format can be purchased used on Amazon.

It’s not an easy read, but The Cipher – and Koja – are worth your time.

frosty         Mary SanGiovanni’s works are a fast read, and I mean that as a compliment.  They’re like a roller coaster, the one that shoots you out at 60 mph – strong starts, fast, intense ride, sometimes ends too soon, but looking forward to the next one.  As I haven’t read everything by SanGiovanni and am currently reading her novel Thrall (set in Jersey!), I’ll concentrate most of my attention on her Hollower trilogy, which encompasses The Hollower, Found You, and The Triumvirate, respectively.

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The works of Mary SanGiovanni

In the Hollower, something alien is stalking residents of Lakehaven, New Jersey. It can’t see them, hear them, or touch them, but it knows them — their fears, their insecurities, and their secrets. It knows how to destroy them from the inside out. And it won’t stop until each of them is dead. Dave Kohlar has never felt like he was good for anything. But when his sanity, his life, and the safety of his only family and friends is in danger, he has to look inside himself for a strength that his otherwordly enemy can’t touch — strength that can hopefully save them all. (plot synopsis shamelessly borrowed from Amazon).

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One of SanGiovanni’s strengths is that she’s not afraid to put her characters through the wringer – and what a wringer it is.  She doesn’t pull punches on the red stuff, the monsters, or in describing the mental and emotional toll fighting evil can take on normal people.  And that’s one of the things that make these novels so interesting to read.  These people pay a price, they suffer, they die to fight this thing.  Some of the characters return for the sequel(s), and I remember feeling so bad for them – haven’t they been through enough?!?!  But that’s the sign that the writer is doing their job, and she does it very well.  By book three I felt exhausted for some of these poor people, but I still wanted to keep reading.

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Mary SanGiovanni

She’s also not afraid to kill off major characters, which keeps the reader engaged, since they have no idea who may or may not be around by the end of the chapter, let alone the end of the series.  With so many books and movies telegraphing their every move, SanGiovanni keeps us guessing.

Mary SanGiovanni’s official website:  http://www.marysangiovanni.com/ (you can purchase all of her available novels and short stories here)

frosty       I remember the first time I saw Lewis Allen’s excellent 1944 ghost story The Uninvited – I was a young kid, around 10, I watched it on VHS and it scared the shit out of me.  Other than The Spiral Staircase (which scared me more than any other film ever, with the possible exception of Jaws, but that had extenuating circumstances…) I was so unsettled even long after the credits rolled.  And while the memory of that fear kept me from rewatching The Spiral Staircase until after college, I didn’t have the choice to rewatch The Uninvited – the movie vanished and was only available overseas.  It’s a crime that it took this long for such a quality film to make its way to the States, but I am so glad that it did.

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The story of The Uninvited (based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel “Uneasy Freehold”) starts in 1937, when London composer/music critic Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder, The Premature Burial) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story) fall in love with Windward House, an abandoned seaside house. They purchase it for an unusually low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).

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Pamela (Ruth Hussey) and Rick (Ray Milland)

Rick and Pamela meet Beech’s 20-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), who lives with her grandfather a nearby town. Despite the fact that her mother died within its confines and her grandfather forbids her to enter it, Stella is deeply attached to the house and the sale of it upsets her greatly.  However, when Rick begins to fall for her, she finds her way into Windward House.

The Fitzgeralds’ are initially excited by the house and enjoy exploring all its nooks and crannies.  But it doesn’t take long to ruin their joy when they find an artist’s studio that’s much colder than the rest of the house and hear the heart-wrenching sobs of an unseen woman.  Though skeptical at first, Rick and Pamela soon accept that Windward House is haunted.

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I won’t reveal any more of the plot here, I want you to experience it for yourself.  What makes The Uninvited so different from the other ghost movies of its era is that it’s among the first Hollywood movies to show a haunting a supernatural event.  In this era ghosts were usually played for comedy or as misdirection for very human crimes.  Director Allen chooses to bring the ghosts out into the light – Pamela and Rick meet the ghost(s) head on.  There’s no doubt that the house is haunted.  It was an innovative choice for that time, and it still works today.

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The Uninvited retains the beautiful long shadows and dark contrast lighting common to the films of that era – DP Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Black and White Lighting in 1945.  Also much like the films of that period, the gore is essentially nonexistent.  But that doesn’t lessen the beauty or the quality of the film in any way.

I can’t overstate how excited I am that everyone can finally see this film!  And with Criterion behind the DVD and Blu-ray release, what a way to see it for the first time – or even the 10th time!  You need to see this movie, and you need to see it now.  You won’t be disappointed.