A Trio of Devils and Djinns!
by Kristin Battestella
Layfolk beware! These millennial pictures both foreign and domestic have supernatural inns, suspicious country homes, and demonic genies with more than their fair share of devilish tricks, tempts, and perils.
House – Sheriff Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and two couples at a rundown out of place Alabama inn encounter serial killers and the supernatural along with the promise of “Rest for the weary soul” in this 2008 heavy. Despite cliché driving montages, rainstorms, dirt roads, and yuppies with no cell phone reception, this isn't a standard teen slasher romp and feels more in the spirit of seventies horrors beware thanks to old time fixtures, chiming clocks, an Art Deco patina, and out of service “Ma Bell.” The dining table is set, the inn staff is old fashioned in their language and attitudes, and the power goes out just as the killer outside has trapped everyone on the awkward inside – askew angles and distorted camerawork reflect the internal tensions and panic. Newspaper clippings and flashes of past sins piece together the in limbo abstracts as our players are divided by maze-like trickery, meat lockers, ice perils, and fun house horrors done without any hollow jump scares. The dialogue isn't always good, and the flashy overkill is unnecessary once the tale is in hand – trust your story instead of laying on the distortions. Perhaps this is the struggle of what to keep or lose in adapting the Ted Dekker and Frank E. Peretti novel, for the editing can be uneven, leaving people in peril to see what's happening to others or backtracking when there is immediate action. Back and forth shouting is tiring, and the scares resort to typical wet dark basement tunnels when the house upstairs has a unique, otherworldly character. The finale is also slightly busy, with obvious who is who good versus evil manifestations, creepy kids, purgatory debates, and a battle for one's soul at stake. Fortunately, the older cast does well as the tense vignettes reveal ill histories and cult symbols. With all this weird, the audience has to see what's what before the killer's timeline is up and his demands are met. While not perfect, the bizarre, multi-layered story here has enough intriguing substance for some post-viewing discussions.
Sheitan – Paris clubs and an invitation to a country retreat promise saucy fun in this 2006 French horror parable starring “housekeeper” Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises). Granted, some characters are typical homophobic horny jerks. The dated fashions, club scene, and subtitled slang feel nineties poser, too – boss dig it fly homie where's your crib, et cetera et cetera. Quick editing and strobe camerawork is too in your face, but most of the quips and cruising stupidity is bemusing. It's Christmas but warnings of not deserving forgiveness for knowing what we do are ignored, and Cassel's Joseph is a little too touchy with the young ladies – he squirts some symbolic goat's milk directly into their mouths, too. This isn't his usual handsome self either, but a creepy, grinning, country bowl legged racist with a dog named Cerberus and forceful authority of other bizarre, deformed villagers. Their chateau is old, crumbling past its glory with weird doll parts, effigies, and goats. There's nudity of course, but incestuous tales, bestiality, and a hidden, pregnant wife add a discomforting weirdness to the quirky humor and modern Jean Rollin spirit. Symbolic apples, snakes, vultures, gluttony, and Magi motifs accent names such as Mary, Joseph, Eve, and Styxx while religious table talk asks who's a believer or a sinner. While the ninety-four minutes could have been trimmed in slow, titillation spots, the plot confusions leave whether something satanic is at work in this crazy house or not open to debate. Try hard ignorance and bad sex flashbacks sidetrack from the escalating story at hand, but these dumbasses are so desperate for a good time they never wonder why a girl would pick up strangers in a club and invite them home for Christmas. Hello! Flickering lights, creepy bathtubs, locusts, chases, and finale twists bring the violence to a gross head alongside some insane visions and mutilations. To some this may be more eccentric rather than horror, but there is some seriously disturbing imagery nonetheless.
Wishmaster – I Dream of Jeannie spoiled us on the nature of granting wishes, and a malevolent, puckish Djinn runs amok in this 1997 Wes Craven produced dark fantasy starring Andrew Divoff (Air Force One) and Freddy Krueger Robert England with a cameo from Candyman Tony Todd. Opening scrolls telling of unholy potential immediately set a fiery mood alongside an 1127 Persia apothecary, potions, cauldrons, mystical gems, and alchemy. Present day rock outs, tennis yuppies, and smarmy auctioneers are dated, yet there's a frightfully fantastic mixing with modern industrial thanks to maze-like museums, living statues, and slimy cadavers. Some hokey effects also feel too eighties, but payphones and answering machines that say Pacific Bell and Bell South, whoa! Skeletons and more effective gore accent the too good to be true, “All you have to do is ask” tricks, leaving the regretful and maimed in our djinn's wake. He's not lying in saying he only bargains with what people give him – reminding viewers to speak carefully when wishing someone was dead or offering to sell one's soul for a cigarette. Such suspense is fine on its own without circling zooms and crescendos, for we want to see the antagonist's personality, interconnected visions, and growing powers. Ironically, we like Tammy Lauren (Homefront) less, but she isn't stupid or made a bimbo while investigating the Zoroastrian myths. Although the escalating creepy crawlies are fun, the plot descends into set chases, explosions, and ineffective shootouts with some deus ex machina in outwitting the djinn. The ancient prologue, first act release, and collecting of restoring skingraphs or eyeballs are also similar to Dracula 2000 and The Mummy – evil flirts, shops, preys, leaving boils along the way. This girl power action horror pace feels like a precursor to more recent spectacles, and while we chuckle at the un-scary B movie fun, it's pleasing to see the non-Western horror of this demented little cautionary tale.