SHOCKTOBER 2015: THE PACT (Nicholas McCarthy, 2012) & THE CANAL (Ivan Kavanagh, 2014)

When I chose these two films to watch, mostly at random, I didn’t expect there to be so many similarities between them! It’s almost creepy to think about, unless you consider that contemporary haunted house horror films share a lot of the same genetics. Both The Pact and The Canal try to do something new with the haunted house trope, with varying levels of success.

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The Pact is the story of Annie, who, after her estranged mother’s death, is cajoled by her older sister to come back home for her mother’s funeral. When she arrives in town, however, she finds her sister has disappeared, leaving her young daughter behind. Annie must figure out the truth about what happened to her sister, and what’s behind the spooky happenings in the house, both of which might be related to Annie and her sister’s harshly abusive upbringing at the hands of their mother.

The Canal is also about a haunted house, but with a much more brutal relationship to the ghosts of the past. David, his wife, and his young son all live happily in a Victorian house by a canal, until David has some suspicions and finds out his wife is cheating on him, and planning to leave him. That same night, his wife is found murdered, her body surfacing in the canal. All signs point to David, but he insists that murderous ghosts in the house have something to do with her murder.

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Both films rely on technology to help the characters figure out their relationship with the ghosts – Annie gets a mysterious text with an unknown address, and when she looks it up on Google Maps, she sees the above ghost; while David, a film preservationist by trade, films the house and the canal with a turn-of-the-century camera he believes can capture the ghosts. Both films even have video calls with ghosts in them!

David’s obsession with film, and what it can show him about things that he cannot see with the naked eye (or cannot prove exist to others) reminded me of one of our all-time favorite films, Arrebato– David even holds up his film to the light to try to prove he’s right, in a seeming homage to one of Arrebato‘s most enduring images. The appearance of ghosts after you see David’s film is also reminiscent of The Ring, and The Canal shares that film’s obsession with seeing that which we are most afraid of.

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The similarities continue: both films are set at/around Christmas, and characters peeping through holes in the walls and hiding in secret passageways within the house are recurring themes in both. It’s the third-act reveals that separates the good from the mediocre. The Pact finds real heart and redemption in its finale (even as it switches from a haunted house film to more of a slasher thriller), while The Canal is brutal (particularly against women) until the very end. Whereas The Canal director Ivan Kavanagh might have thought he was being shocking, instead it’s just a needlessly depressing parade of horrors, one after the other.

The performances also differentiate the films: The Pact stars Caity Lotz, who I was happy to see, as she’s one of my favorite recurring actors on Mad Men, who brings a tough vulnerability to Annie. This is a woman who has been through a horrifically abusive childhood, yet has the strength to come back to the former house of horrors and solve her family’s ghastly secrets. The Canal, on the other hand, stars Rupert Evans in a relatively thankless role as David. He’s never a nice guy, he has violent fantasies about killing his cheating wife, and is basically threatening and/or frightening to every woman in the film. There’s no one to cheer for, even if we think that David is being falsely accused. At the end of the day, I’ll always take the woman with heart over the man who is filled with impotent rage.

 

SHOCKTOBER 2015: DEAD CREATURES (Andrew Parkinson, 2001)

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Dead Creatures is a cannibal film with brutal kidnapping, cannibalism, and murder, and yet it doesn’t feel like a traditional horror film. The film rolls out its premise slooooowly – the first scenes juxtapose a group of women hanging out, smoking pot, and sleeping in hovels with graphic shots of disembodied arms and legs being dismantled by knife. One of the women is literally falling apart, with chunks of skin missing from her face and hands. There is clearly something wrong – but what, exactly?

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The film doesn’t go too  much into the mythology of its disease, which is something I generally appreciate in horror film – too many movies try to over-explain their plot, to the advantage of no one. The women are all afflicted with a vampire-esque cannibalistic disease, and stick together in small groups and share their fresh meat in order to survive. I loved how the film portrays these small societies of women – killing and robbing to get along, helping one another and living in a nonhierarchical structure – even killing members of the “tribe” once their disease progresses too far.

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There is a subplot involving an older man who is obsessed with finding these cannibals, one young woman in particular, but it’s thankfully  just used as a sidebar in order to give the film a semblance of narrative structure. With a bit more adventurous cinematography and different choices (soundtrack, for sure), Dead Creatures could have been a remarkable feminist-horror-film-as-parable; instead, it’s not a bad choice for your Shocktober viewing, but nothing extraordinarily memorable.

SHOCKTOBER 2015: CORRUPTION (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1968)

 

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Dana: This year’s Shocktober festivities began with a bang with Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption, starring Peter Cushing as a distinguished surgeon whose model fianceé has a nasty accident involving her face and a flood lamp. Overcome with grief, he devotes his life to finding a cure for her scarred face, which leads him down a path of murder and, well, corruption.

Darren: A surgeon who must operate upon the dead (and, ultimately, the living) is certainly well in the wheelhouse of Cushing, who took more than a few turns playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but all Gothic trappings are switched for mod-a-go-go London and tasteful cutaways are switched for startlingly brutal murder scenes. Meanwhile, complications grow ever more difficult to avoid — Cushing’s fiance’ (Sue Lloyd, probably best known from The Ipcress File) develops a Lady Macbethesque need for any and all to die in order to keep her power, an attempt at bringing a young hitchhiker back to the house leads to home invasion and ghastly discoveries, and all the while Cushing’s future brother-in-law keeps giving him the razz about ethics and decency.

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Dana: It might not seem like a stretch for Cushing, a man whose name is synonymous with mid-century British horror, but this is quite a different film for the actor best known as Van Helsing – he’s the (reluctant) villain of the film, using corpses to find the parts he needs, until he realizes live victims will do better. He’s a wild-eyed, wild-haired madman who kills prostitutes and train passengers with bloody brutality.


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Darren: What Corruption does well is continue building the pitch, adding pressure to Cushing’s ever-increasing series of problems: throughout the film, he seems like a man in a world he doesn’t understand and for which he is entirely unequipped — he’s belittled by the fashionable, the strong, those without any morality whatsoever, so that by the time we get to the finale (I won’t spoil it, but it’s nuts) it seems the only way such a film could end.

Dana: Sue Lloyd is great as the burned woman who eggs her husband on more and more to help her regain her lost beauty. There’s one particularly great scene in which Lyon, surrounded by mirrors reflecting her damaged face, smashes mirror upon mirror until they are as broken as she sees herself. As I said on TwitterCorruption is one part Hammer horror film, two parts HG Lewis execution, and, for some reason, one part Straw Dogs subplot. Not a bad way to start the month!