It just wouldn’t be October without a Blumhouse film or one of those gory compilation efforts. Yes, we were given the ludicrous Malignant last month and Criterion channel subscribers can dip into classic Universal horror, but for my money it’s really Halloween season now and time to sweep in the autumn chills.
Luckily, there are other options as well, and like they did last year, the Blumhouse studio has collected four diverse films streaming on Amazon Prime.
For one’s vampire fix, there’s Maritte Lee Go’s Black As Night. Satisfyingly wallowing in the age-old vampire tropes while twisting a story with a modern sociological bent, teenager Shawna (Asjha Cooper) begins her summer vacation with her best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido) hoping to simply soak up the sun in the French Quarter. It’s not long before she and a group of friends (played by Mason Beauchamp and Abbie Gayle) are stuck in the middle of a centuries long battle between warring factions of a vampire coven.
Striking a balanced tone that alternates between teen fiction humor and a grotesquely imaginative creature-feature, Black As Night gains considerable energy after 800 year old Babineaux (the always steely Keith David) shows up, hell bent on speeding up the cosmic friction of our world’s protests, riots and general discomfort with each other. It’s an interesting post modern spin on the old Transylvania myth of sexy immortality. These vampires want reparations and revenge.
With a sleek visual design and some terrifying vampire visages, Black As Night is an enjoyable thriller with a bit more on its mind than bites of flesh.
Less successful is Ryan Zaragoza’s Madres. A potpourri of horror cliches, Zaragoza’s minor thriller touches on everything from eco horror to standard haunted house fare. The problem is that his film about a pregnant Diana (Ariana Guerra) and her husband (Tenocha Huerta) relocating to “the armpit of California” as a family member describes it, swerves between a lot of ideas without ever really generating any tension among any of them.
What begins as a haunted house affair when the couple move into a recently abandoned farm house soon turns more sinister as talks about curses and shaman protection permeates their daily existence, mostly from the townsfolk and a curioso shop owner (played by Elpidia Carillo).
Complicating matters are the worsening conditions of the very pregnant Diana, which takes her into the abnormal atmosphere of the local hospital and its doctor (Robert Larriviere). There are slow-burn horror films and then there are just uninteresting ones. Sadly, Madres falls into the latter category.
The film with the biggest star power is writer-director Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor. With more than a whiff of Suspiria (1977) in its narrative about a dancer (Barbara Hershey) and her dissolution into a witches coven while being entombed in an elderly care center, The Manor certainly isn’t the visually striking masterpiece of Argento, but it has its moments in theme.
After suffering a mild stroke at her 70th birthday party, Judith (Hershey) is forced to move into the titular location where she quickly learns something insidious is lurking the halls at night. Other residents try to warn her. The orderlies are especially brutal in keeping everyone in their rooms at night. And then there’s the overly friendly other patients played by Bruce Davison, Fran Bennett and Jill Larson.
Though it resuscitates ideas done before- even going so far as to name check that British oddity classic The Wicker Man (1973)- The Manor is a low key chiller made all the more enjoyable by Hershey’s performance and an ending that doesn’t quite go the way one expects.
Black As Night and Bingo Hell (not reviewed) began streaming on Amazon Prime October 1st.
Madres and The Manor begins streaming on Amazon Prime Friday October 8th.