Mini-Reviews: Dark Corners, Head Trauma, Nightwish

This Week: Altered Realities, Missing Memories

January 24 2013 Categorized Under: Movie Reviews No Commented
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I haven’t done mini-reviews since this site first came into being, but I’ve been watching a whole pants-load of horror flicks lately (thanks, Netflix) and I’m too lazy to write up huge 1,000-word essays on each one. So let’s give the minis another shot. The three movies I’m writing about today fall into the category of the Altered-Reality – they have protagonists who believe that what they are experiencing is “real” or “true”, but due to circumstances they are not aware of (usually something to do with missing/repressed memories), one day they realize they’re in The Matrix. So lets have a look at Dark Corners, Head Trauma, and Nightwish.

Dark Corners (2006)
Directed by: Ray Gower
Starring: Thora Birch, Toby Stephens, Christien Anholt, Joanna Hole, Lorraine Bruce, Ray Charleson, Michael J. Reynolds, Alan Perrin, Oliver Price

Thora Birch in Dark Corners

The Sorority Girl vs The Goth Girl

Dark Corners is an entry into one of those “what-is-real?” horrors, the kind you have seen in films like Jacob’s Ladder or Hellraiser: Inferno or more recently, Triangle. Thora Birch (American Beauty, Ghost World) plays Susan, a blonde in a happy marriage who wants to have children but needs fertility treatment to help her conceive. She has been having lots of nightmares where she wakes up as “Karen”, a down-on-her-luck brunette who inhabits a Lynchian wasteland and is constantly stalked by a twisted killer, and that’s not when she’s being accosted by dead people come to life. Susan visits psychoanalyst Dr. Woodleigh (Toby Stephens), who tells her that her nightmares stem from her fears of being unable to have children, and the killer was her interpretation of the night-stalker, something she saw on the TV news. A session of hypnosis results in dream-girl Karen being killed, but Dr. Woodleigh tells Susan it’s symbolic of her nightmares coming to an end.

Yeah, fat chance. Once Susan undergoes a procedure related to her IVF therapy, the nightmares return. Karen is somehow resurrected, but the killer is still stalking her, deciding to take out her co-worker Mary (Lorraine Bruce) down at the funeral home (of course Karen works at the funeral home – everything about this girl’s life is darque). Things start getting weirder when we realize that Susan and Karen seem to be dreaming each other, and the other connections they share (besides resembling each other) seem to be the same TV news broadcast about the same evil night-stalker. Nicknamed Needletooth, the killer (Oliver Price) seems to exist in both “realities” and starts taking out each of Susan/Karen’s loved ones. Their lives start to mirror one another – Susan’s IVF results in her pregnancy with twins, while Karen’s twins are the result of nightly rapes by the Needletooth killer, who soon decides he wants the babies for himself, and before they’re born if you know what I’m saying. There’s an icky scene where the killer has Karen tied down and extracts a fetus from her while strange vagrants enjoy the show. Dark Corners is filled with occasional nasty bits like that but it’s all tinged with a dreamlike quality that makes it go down easier. If you start to feel like what you’re watching isn’t quite real, you’re on the right track.

Dark Corners Horror

Hell of a trek for a rave party.

Dark Corners gets a good performance out of Thora Birch, who has to play the victim (well, two victims) in various states of emotional and physical duress. She’s helped by her supporting cast, the best of which are amusing turns from Ray Charleson (the mortician with a dark sense of humor) and Alan Perrin (a “blind” detective in Susan and Karen’s reality). The look of the film is somewhat rough and low-budget, but writer/directory Ray Gower adds a little bit of style to his shots, and I liked the light/dark duality of Susan and Karen’s worlds. I also liked the lockbox metaphor of repressed memory and the “fence” that separates the light and dark worlds, which the killer is able to climb and thus move back and forth between them effortlessly. The conclusion is served up with a nice bitter twist, the punchline to a karmic joke best described by Thora Birch earlier in the film: “I think that’s what Hell is – having your sins pulled out from the dark corners of your soul and served up to in this endless loop of torture.”

Buy Dark Corners on DVD

Head Trauma (2006)
Directed by: Lance Weiler
Starring: Vince Mola, Jamil A.C. Mangan, Mary Monahan, Meryl Lynn Brown, Brandee Sanders, Jim Sullivan, Louis A. Bisignani

Vince Mola in Head Trauma

I need Advil, Coffee, and Cigarettes, stat!

Head Trauma is a low-key mystery about a middle aged guy named George (Vince Mola) who isn’t exactly stable. After living life as a drifter, he finally returns to his hometown many years later when his grandmother dies and he moves back into her house. However, the house is a complete disaster and has been condemned, but George decides to fight the city while attempting to restore the place. By a payphone he notices a religious brochure with a figure of death at the top and the words “Nothing but Grief,” which serves as a good running pathos through the film. Not only does he get grief from the city, grief from a flooded basement, and grief from his neighbor/enemy Chester (Jim Sullivan), George has to deal with repressed memories that are trying to force their way to the surface. There’s also a possibility that vagrants have been practicing voodoo in the house, which may now be haunted.

Head Trauma takes its time and is better for it. George’s headaches seem tied to the dilapidated house – is the place cursed, or is it just George? I liked how his gradual disintegration leads to uncomfortable moments like when he refuses to leave the home of a woman he hasn’t seen in years (Mary Monahan) and repeatedly asks if he can stay over, or the scene where he finally snaps on Chester (well, that guy had it coming). The ending of Head Trauma is familiar to anybody who has seen The Machinist, Chasing Sleep, Session 9, et al., but the revelation to George of what has been forgotten is something particularly tragic. Like Trevor Reznik discovers in The Machinist, shit happens, and some events are tragic enough that they cast a wide net, affecting more than the immediate victims. Like George’s doomed family home, the good old days are gone; only when you make your peace with the past can you move on.

Head Trauma - George and Mary

Did they say if they could special order the SW Holiday Special?

Trivia: Head Trauma was directed by Lance Weiler, who had a hand in 1998’s The Last Broadcast, the mockumentary-type thriller that competed with The Blair Witch Project (and lost).

Buy Head Trauma on DVD

Nightwish (1990)
Directed by: Bruce R. Cook
Starring: Alisha Das, Elizabeth Kaitan, Brian Thompson, Jack Starrett, Clayton Rohner, Artur Cybulski, Robert Tessier, Tom Dugan

Nightwish 1990 - Seance Scene

They conjured up a minty fresh Tasmanian Devil!

This is a weird one. Nightwish is about a bunch of graduate students who go out to a cabin in the desert to document supernatural phenomena, sorta like in The Legend of Hell House, but in the style of an 80s B-movie (the film was released on video in 1990). It starts off in the manner of sci-fi/horror/fantasy pics like Dreamscape, where Donna (Elizabeth Kaitan, from Friday the 13th Part 7) is attacked on her prom night by cannibals only to find herself in an isolation tank, with her dreams being monitored by her student colleagues as well as an off-balanced professor played by Jack Starrett.

Brian Thompson in Nightwish

I am so gonna kick Agent Mulder’s ass!

Next thing you know, they’re being driven out into the desert to their next assignment by an also-menacing dude named Dean (Brian Thompson, who played the bounty hunter on The X-Files). Dean swerves to hit a rabbit in the road, saying “The fields are his… the road is mine!” Along the way they discuss the legends of the area they are traveling to, which includes otherworldly creatures coming up out of the ground, aliens setting up shop to experiment on humans, demons roaming around, the unusual dip in the magnetic field, and the legend of the mine owner who’s kid was killed in an earthquake (Dean regrets that the other children didn’t also bite the big one).

Dean is a textbook example of sanity compared to the unbalanced doc, who takes the experiments way too far. Eventually, everybody is tied up and doc’s slow-witted assistant Stanley (Robert Tessier) is killing people who don’t cooperate (the “finger” scene is unexpectedly disturbing). But then again, maybe there’s a demon that is causing hallucinations and making everybody paranoid. By the time Kim (Alisha Das) stumbles upon an alien plot to breed humans, you may start guessing the ending early. I was slightly disappointed that solving the riddle of Nightwish was a little too easy, but the final scene is interesting – something surreal and clever in its nod to both the The Wizard of Oz and Zhuangzi’s butterfly dream: “Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

The rest of Nighwish is too disjointed, with multiple themes that never really intersect. It’s like the director came up with various ideas and then dropped them. To make up for it, there’s some decent special effects involving alien breeding scenarios, nudity (Elizabeth Kaitan and Alisha Das), Alisha Das having sex with a ghost, and some interesting visuals bringing to mind some Stephen Sayadian weirdness mixed with something you might see in Night Train to Terror. How come my dreams aren’t like this?

Elizabeth Kaitan - Nightwish

Dream Weaver, I believe you can get me through the nii-iiiii–ight

Buy Nightwish on VHS

Questions asked by Dark Corners, Head Trauma, and Nightwish: What is the true reality? Does it matter, as long as we can get bacon in it?

– Bill Gordon

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