The Hole In The Ground (Hulu)

Despite some echoes of The Babadook in its story of a newly-single mother attempting to cling to her offspring's love and her own sanity, The Hole In The Ground is merely a competent supernatural thriller, though it is a promising first effort from writer-director Lee Cronin. The film is overflowing with omens and portents of things to come, but when evil finally does arrive, it comes as a table-tossing jump scare that was spoiled in the trailer.

Seána Kerslake as Sarah O'Neil and James Quinn Markey as her son Chris fulfill their roles admirably; I would like to see what Cronin would do with a more fleshed-out script.

The Head Hunter (Shudder)

Writer-director Jordan Downey and co-writer Kevin Stewart painted themselves into a marvelous corner with the scenario they devised for The Head Hunter; with just a few dozen words of spoken monologue throughout the film, they have little opportunity to say anything about the events on screen, so they are obligated to put their story on display. Budget considerations clearly limited the amount of monster action they could actually provide, but, with meticulous and precise sound design, they are able to bind your attention to the screen throughout. 

There is little to be spoiled here; in the first minutes of the film, Christopher Rygh, as the lead character, pledges to protect his daughter, and the balance of the film is devoted to the warrior, now alone, in pursuit of vengeance, as he expands his collection of monstrous heads that he mounts on pikes surrounding his well.

Budget constraints are, unfortunately, more of a problem in the film’s final minutes, where the narrative as it stands requires some imaginative leaps on the part of the viewer.

I had a general idea of what had occurred, but had to seek spoilers on the net before feeling at all confident in my grasp of the conclusion. (If you feel similarly at sea, use these search terms: Head Hunter Ending Discussion *spoilers* reddit)

In closing, thanks go to the head hunters at Shudder.com for retrieving grisly souvenirs like The Head Hunter, which otherwise might get lost beneath the radar.

Happy Death Day/Happy Death Day 2U (HBO)

The film Groundhog Day has a plot that, if you think about it, can be easily warped into a horror-suspense scenario; what greater existential horror can there be than to repeat the same day, endlessly toward infinity?

With Happy Death Day, a nod is made in that direction, but the arcane twists and turns of the plot become too unwieldy to allow suspense to firmly take the reins; the screenwriters instead lean into slasher film tropes and a few easy laughs. Its sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, mentions quantum mechanics to supply a rationale for what Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day both left inexplicable, but the device serves only to further twist the already too-twisty plot. One saving grace of the sequel is that the film’s attempts at humor are more frequently successful, though by a slim margin.

Nightcrawler (TUBI)

As a screenwriter, Dan Gilroy has shown his skill at science fiction, with Reel Steel (adapted from Richard Matheson’s short story “Steel”) and Freejack (based on Robert Sheckley’s novel, “Immortality, Inc.”), but his debut as a writer-director was a mold-breaking psychological thriller featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as a human monster whose evil seems almost commonplace. 

Gyllenhaal’s character, Louis Bloom, is a petty thief who steals copper wire and whatever else of value he can grab at construction sites, to sell at a scrapyard. On the way home from one evening’s thievery, he witnesses a car crash, and sees several photojournalists arrive on the scene to record the carnage. Engaging one videographer in conversation, Bloom learns that TV stations are eager for dramatic footage that will enhance their newscasts. He subsequently steals a bicycle that he pawns to finance the acquisition of a police radio scanner and a camcorder.

Because of the speed with which he learns the ins and outs of his new business, and a deficiency he seems to have in human emotion, Bloom appears to be an autistic savant, which proves to be an advantage in expanding his business; but, since his business milks profit from the pain of others, he soon learns to disregard ethical boundaries, with horrific results.

Despite the wide range of roles in which Gyllenhaal inspires awe with his ability to bring dimension to the character of Louis Bloom (newspaper reports that the actor maintained a diet of chewing gum during the shoot; such reports may be an exaggeration, but the gaunt and hungry look of Bloom suits the overly ambitious character perfectly).

Under The Skin (Netflix)

The greatest charm of Under the Skin is that none of its story is spoon-fed to you. Without at least two viewings, it’s unlikely that anyone can tell you its story coherently; and becoming acquainted with the story that it tells is considerably less fun when it comes via spoilers rather than direct experience. 

So… go watch this film at least once before continuing this review…

Done? Still a bit confused, maybe? Perhaps you should watch it just once more…

The film opens with a single light-source, as if, perhaps, we are staring into the lens of a film projector. The round flare of the light-source is soon replaced by the image of an eye, soon joined on the soundtrack by the voice of Scarlett Johansson, speaking random words. We then see a motorcycle rider collect the body of a woman from a roadside ravine, and put her in the back of a truck. The truck either contains, or is connected to, a vast, empty void, where Scarlett strips the body of its clothes and dresses in them herself. At the end of this sequence, the body shows at last a sign of life by shedding a single tear; Scarlett ignores this, concentrating instead on the behavior of an ant.

At this point, we are just ten minutes into the film and we have a ton to unpack. The film begins with the arrival of an alien intelligence, that is shaped by its programming to conform to the behavior of the intelligent inhabitants of earth. On the completion of its programming, it is presented with the body of a being that preceded it on the same mission, and seems to have failed. It dons the clothing of its predecessor, ignoring its tear because such things are not part of its mission, yet the behavior of an ant does interest her. It is this curiosity, and the single tear of her fellow alien that sets up the possibility of change for her.

There’s plenty more, which I’ll leave for your enjoyment.

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In the 1970s, while working in the distribution department of a major book publisher, Robert Martin enrolled in a writer’s workshop conducted by Henry Beard, one of the founders of National Lampoon magazine, and Anthony Hiss, an editor at The New Yorker.

With their training, and a resume that (falsely) claimed a Liberal Arts degree from Brown University, along with some freelance writing samples from newspapers and “men’s entertainment” magazines, he gained the assignment from the publishers of STARLOG magazine to edit their new sister magazine, FANGORIA. By emulating the horror film magazines that he loved, The Monster Times and Castle of Frankenstein in particular, he was able to make FANGORIA the most successful magazine of its kind in publishing history. After leaving the editor’s chair in 1986, he began working with his most admired filmmaker, Frank Henenlotter, first adapting Henenlotter's screenplay Brain Damage into a short novel, then co-writing the screenplays for the films Frankenhooker and Basket Case 3. He now lives in semi-retirement in Las Vegas, Nevada.