There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Bad Blood: The Movie
If you like your horror extra splatter-y, you’ll probably get a kick out of Bad Blood, which manages to make a werewolf story feel relatively fresh by swapping in a were-frog. In her feature debut, Mary Malloy stars as Victoria, a college student who becomes infected with a disease that turns her into a bloodthirsty frog monster every time the moon is full. Fortunately, there’s an antidote that can stave off the transformation for a month at a time; unfortunately, her stepdad concludes she must be hooked on drugs and destroys her only vial, sparking a mad dash to secure another dose before she transforms and starts ripping people to shreds again.
Bad Blood exists in a strange state of limbo; it’s not quite scary or funny enough to be described as a horror-comedy, and there are flourishes—like an oddball private investigator who routinely slips into fantasies about beating his clients to death—that feel like they belong to a totally different movie. But at a slender 81 minutes, Bad Blood certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the above-average creature effects are enough to make this feel like a long-lost installment of Tales From the Crypt. —Scott Meslow
Screens Saturday, Oct. 8 at 10 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theater.
Sadako vs. Kayako
What do you do when your horror franchise is running out of steam? Mash it up with another horror franchise that’s running out of steam, and see if that’s enough to convince audiences to show up again. In the grand tradition of crossovers like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator comes Sadako vs. Kayako, which pits the creepy ghost from The Ring (star of 14 movies and counting) against the creepy ghost from Ju-On: The Grudge (with a mere 12 movies under her belt). Unfortunately—like pretty much every other horror crossover—the idea is promising in concept, but underwhelming in execution.
Though the title of Sadako vs. Kayako builds expectations for a battle between two of the most iconic characters from the J-Horror boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sadako vs. Kayako actually keeps the titular ghosts split up for the vast majority of its runtime. Instead, we spend most of the movie following a few dull human protagonists: two friends who watch Sadako’s infamous cursed videotape, and a young schoolgirl who wanders into a house haunted by Kayako.
When the dual narratives finally cross paths near the end of the movie, Sadako vs. Kayako makes good on its title, as the would-be victims of The Ring and Ju-On curses use themselves as bait to draw the two ghosts into the same room. The resulting standoff isn’t exactly scary—nothing in Sadako vs. Kayako is—but it does, at last, deliver the campy fun the rest of the movie is lacking. —Scott Meslow
Screens Thursday, Oct. 6 at 9:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theater.
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa hearkens back to the hypnotic, skin-crawling tension of his 1997 masterpiece Cure with Creepy, a horror-thriller that fully earns its title by the time the credits roll.
After a violent standoff with a psychopath, police detective Takakura retires from the force and attempts to start a new life as a criminology professor—even moving into a new house in a clear effort to leave the past behind. But at the behest of an old colleague, Takakura can’t resist getting drawn into one last unsolved mystery: the inexplicable disappearance of a mother, father, and son, leaving their daughter behind. Meanwhile, Takakura’s wife Yasuko endures a series of strange conversations with their new neighbor Nishino, who haphazardly seesaws between being both discomfortingly aloof and friendly. It’s never quite clear how, or even if, all these unnerving stories will end up fitting together—but by the time Creepy reaches its shattering ending, you’ll be shivering right along with it.
Creepy is unusually long (145 minutes) and languorously paced, but it rewards patient viewership with a series of twists, expertly withheld until the maximum point of impact. This is a film that successfully balances its pulpier genre trappings with a haunting meditation on the nature of 21st century relationships—with our neighbors, our friends, our spouses, and ourselves—and dares us to interrogate what we find. —Scott Meslow
Screens Saturday, Oct. 8 at 2 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theater.
Neither Heaven Nor Earth
Neither Heaven Nor Earth is not a horror film in the traditional sense. There are no monsters, zombies, or gore. Director Clément Cogitore does not rely on “gotcha” scares, and instead aims to provoke a growing sense of unease. He succeeds, thanks to a deft ability to mix gritty realism with allegory.
Captain Antarès Bonassieu serves in Afghanistan as part of the French army, and he commands quiet authority over his men. Tedium fills their days, at least until there are sudden bursts of gunfire. On a routine mission, a strange thing happens: two of the Captain’s men disappear, without a trace or explanation. The men go through the motions of a search, maintaining order, at least until another two soldiers also disappear. The Captain wants to preserve discipline, but anxiety and superstition get in the way.
If Neither Heaven Nor Earth has an equivalent from the United States, then it would be the HBO series The Leftovers. Both use a fantastical disappearance as an opportunity to explore darker, more resonant themes. While The Leftovers is explicitly about modern life and the need to grieve, then Cogitore’s debut is about the effects of war. Take your pick for what disappearances symbolize, whether it’s the eroding morality of the occupation or PTSD.
This is a film that does not bother with easy answers or cheap thrills. It demands a lot of its audience—the style is elliptical, shot to look like a Kafkaesque nightmare—and the only payoff is disquiet. But for patient audiences who do not think in strict genre terms, there is plenty here that’ll creep you out. —Alan Zilberman
Screens Friday, Oct. 7 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theater.
The horror-comedy Another Evil is so slight and bizarre that it’s easy to miss what director Carson D. Mell accomplishes. Neither the comedy nor the horror are obvious, since the premise relies on increasingly bizarre behavior.
The cast is full of character actors who are recognizable as “that guy from that show,” which helps add credibility to the low-key pace. Dan (Steve Zissis, Togetherness) is a painter who discovers that his vacation home is haunted. After sending home his family until the house is properly exorcised, Dan hires the ghost hunter Joey (Dan Bakkedah, Veep). Joey does not impress, exactly, since he dismisses the ghosts as benign, so Dan hires Os (Mark Proksch, The Office) for a second opinion.
Os is a wonderful comic invention. He seems competent at his job, with a mix of folksy wisdom and pseudoscience to back him up, but he’s also an awkward creep who uses ghost hunting to force a friendship between him and Dan. The comic payoff can be awkward, like a spooky episode of The Office, but more often the jokes bubble upward as actors deadpan over-the-top dialogue. There is an amazing sustained monologue where Os describes his sexual fantasies, and his sincerity is what makes the language all the more crazed and hilarious.
Hardcore horror fans needn’t worry that Another Evil comes with scares, too. Mell opts for jump scares, which are funny as well since his creature design is surreal in kind of a goofy way. This is a comedy where no scene goes for the immediate payoff, and you’re never quite sure whether you’ll laugh or cover your eyes in terror. Such a balance requires nerve, as well as a delicate touch, and luckily Mell has both. This film could be the announcement of a major horror filmmaker. —Alan Zilberman
Screens Sunday, Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theater.