Horror Movie Review: The Sacrament
It always frustrates me, as a horror fan, when a crappy new movie hits the theaters and everyone says things like “the horror genre is dead,” or “horror movies aren’t what they used to be.” Both of these statements couldn’t possibly be further from the truth, not in the present time and quite frankly not ever.
Sure, it may seem that way if all you’re watching is theatrical horror, but as anyone who spends more time on their couch renting movies On Demand than they do sitting in a theater and watching the next money-making generic horror movie can attest, the horror genre is not only alive and well right now, but it’s thriving. And if you need any proof of that, look no further than The Sacrament.
The latest film from Ti West, who has done nothing but impress with previous efforts like House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, The Sacrament – produced by Eli Roth – hit VOD outlets this week, after scooping up high praise and critical acclaim on the festival circuit.
Inspired by the infamous Jonestown Massacre of 1978, where cult leader Jim Jones coerced nearly 1,000 of his followers into taking their own lives, the film centers on the employees of a media outlet who travel to a remote commune called Eden Parish, intent on documenting what’s really going on in the supposed ‘paradise.’ While at first everyone seems happy and at peace, including photographer Patrick’s sister Caroline – whose letter to him led to the group making the trek – it soon becomes clear that something sinister lurks beneath the facade of happiness, non-violence, and peaceful living. Too good to be true? Yea, you could say that.
Whenever I read a review of a Ti West film, it’s pretty much a given that at some point my eyes are going to scan past the words ‘slow burn’ – I admit, my reviews of both House of the Devil and The Innkeepers contained that very same grouping of words. West has proven himself time and time again to be the master of this so-called slow-burn approach to filmmaking, which essentially is just pretentious movie reviewer lingo for ‘the dude knows how to tell a really good story.’ And if you’re asking me, The Sacrament is to date the best story he’s ever told.
When I say that you could’ve walked a giant pink elephant into my living room earlier today, at any given point while I was watching The Sacrament, and my eyes still would’ve remained locked on the TV, I’m probably exaggerating. At least a tiny bit. But I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that The Sacrament is one of the most gripping horror films to come along in recent years, as well as one of the most truly horrifying horror films that this jaded horror fan has ever seen.
I’ve never been big into movies about things like demonic possession and paranormal entities, because I’m just not all that much of a believer in that sort of stuff, and so those kinds of movies never really succeed in scaring me. What I do believe in, and what truly does terrify me, is the evil that we human beings are capable of, and The Sacrament is about as horrifying a descent into the darkness of man that’s ever been committed to celluloid.
Before anything even happens, West imbues the proceedings with an atmosphere thick with dread, as we of course know that Eden Parish is far from the paradise that the protagonists are hoping that it is, in the same way, those of us who watch The Walking Dead knew that Terminus wasn’t going to turn out to be any sort of safe haven. And like the masterful storyteller that he is, West takes his sweet time in setting the stage before the shit hits the fan, letting us breathe in that dread-filled air for an almost unbearable amount of time, before the Kool-Aid starts flowing and the bullets start flying. I’m not going to claim it’s an enjoyable experience, but goddamn is it effective. And isn’t horror at its best when it’s horrifying, rather than fun to watch?
Yes, the film is presented in that POV ‘found footage’ style that we’re all so sick of, but please don’t let that turn you off in any way. The Sacrament serves as a much-needed reminder that the found footage style is actually an incredibly effective way to tell a story when it’s used to tell the stories that it should be used to tell, and this is indeed one of those stories that there really wasn’t any other way to tell. When used properly, the POV presentation really immerses you in what’s going on, and what the characters are experiencing, and you can trust me when I say that West uses it here to enhance the story, rather than tossing it into the proceedings as a cheap gimmick.
The performances all around are incredibly solid, with genre faves AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg once again reminding us all why they’re so popular and beloved on social media, and why horror filmmakers keep casting them in their movies. Not only are they great actors but they’re also likable guys, and that’s such a crucial element of the film, given that the story is being told from their perspective. It also doesn’t hurt matters any that they have such a great rapport, after having worked together a few times in the past.
But the star of the show here is without question Gene Jones, who plays the leader of the not so idyllic commune. Referred to by his followers simply as Father, the character is one of the most memorably terrifying bad guys in the genre’s recent past, right up there with Red State‘s Abin Cooper (portrayed by the always fantastic Michael Parks). Father is terrifying in that Charles Manson sort of way, in the sense that you know he’s not just capable of extreme evil himself, but that he talks such a good game that you believe he’s just as capable of making others carry out his dirty deeds for him.
And that right there is what’s so terrifying about the film, as a whole; it’s so completely believable because this kind of thing actually happens. Though it’s of course only a movie, The Sacrament makes you think about the real event that it was inspired by, and it really makes you realize how easy it is for one well-spoken man to pray on impressionable people, and sell them on doing horrible things. Everything from the Manson family murders to Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror comes to mind, and by tapping into that very real darkness of humanity, West has come out the other end with a horror film that truly earns its genre classification. This, right here, is true horror, and I can promise you will be chilled to the core when all is said and done.
With The Sacrament, Ti West has once again proven that he’s one of the best things the horror genre has currently got going for it, and I again must reiterate that I feel this is his best work to date. If you think ‘horror is dead,’ all I ask is that you watch this movie, and then let me know if you still feel the same way.
Horror is far from dead, my friends. You’re just going to have to start looking outside of the theater to find it. And you can begin your journey with The Sacrament.
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘Bury The Bride’
Bachelorette parties can be such a disaster.
June Hamilton (Scout Taylor-Compton, Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN) has invited a group of friends and her sister Sadie (Krsy Fox, Allegoria) to her new humble abode to party and to meet her new hubby to be. Having to drive out far into the treacherous desert to a shotgun shack with no one else around, ‘cabin in the woods’ or rather ‘cabin in the desert’ jokes ensue as the red flags rise up one after another. Warning signs that are inevitably buried under a wave of alcohol, games, and unburied drama between the bride, family, and friends. But when June’s fiancee shows up with some gritty, redneck buddies of his own the party really gets started…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bury The Bride going in, but was pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and turns it took! Taking tried and true genres like ‘backwoods horror’, ‘redneck horror’, and the always entertaining ‘marital horror’ to craft something that caught me rather off guard. Directed and co-written by Spider One and co-written by co-star Krsy Fox, Bury The Bride is a truly fun and stylized horror hybrid with plenty of gore and thrills to keep this bachelorette party interesting. For the sake of leaving things to the viewers, I’ll keep details and spoilers to a minimum.
Being such a tight-knit plot, the cast and cast of characters are key to making the plot work. Both sides of the marital line, from June’s urban friends and sister to redneck husband to be David’s (Dylan Rourke) macho buds, play well off of one another as the tensions rise. This creates a distinct dynamic that comes into play as the desert hijinks escalate. Prominently, there’s Chaz Bono as David’s mute sidekick of sorts, Puppy. His expressions and reactions to the ladies and his browbeating friends were a highlight to be sure.
Though a bit of a minimalist plot and cast, Bury The Bride makes the most of its characters and setting to make a truly fun and entertaining bridal horror movie that takes you for a loop. Go in blind, and bring a good gift! Available now on Tubi.
Panic Fest 2023 Review: Final Summer
August 16th, 1991. Final Day of summer camp at Camp Silverlake, Illinois. Tragedy has struck. A young camper has died while hiking under the care of camp counselor Lexi (Jenna Kohn). The grandson of alleged campfire story monster Warren Copper (Robert Gerard Anderson), it only adds to the tension s its announced that this tragedy among other factors has led to the dissolution and sale of Camp Silverlake for good. Now left behind to clean up the mess as the campsite gets ready for the chopping block, a killer with a skull mask and an axe has taken to killing every camp counselor they can find. But is it an actual ghost story come to life, the real Warren Copper, or someone or something else entirely?
Final Summer is a pretty entertaining summer camp slasher homage, particularly to the more grounded and brutal seasonal horrors of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Madman. Complete with bloody stabbings, beheadings, and bludgeonings that are not played for laughs or winks or nods. It’s a pretty simple premise. Bunch of camp counselors marooned at an isolated and shutting down camp getting picked off one by one. But, the cast and through-line still make it an entertaining ride and it sticks the aesthetic of the time period and style of slasher to make it enthralling if you’re a particularly big fan of Sumer Camp Slashers. Though set in 1991, and with some fashion and then present, it doesn’t quite utilize the time period to its fullest. Extra kudos for featuring some veteran actors of the genre like Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ own Tommy Jarvis, Thom Matthews as the local sheriff.
And of course, every great slasher needs a great villain and The Skull Mask is an interesting one that stands out. Wearing a simple outdoors get-up and the creepy, featureless formfitting skull mask, he rasps, walks, and slices his way throughout the campsite. Once scene that pops to mind was a brutal beating involving a sports trophy. Once the counselors realize there’s a killer in their midst in the dark of night on Camp Silverlake, it leads to a high energy stalk and chase that keeps its momentum to the end.
So, if you’re in the mood for a summer camp slasher movie that reflects the genre boom at its heyday, Final Summer may be the kind of film you’d like to watch near the campfire, enjoying s’mores, and hoping there’s not a masked madman nearby…
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘The Once And Future Smash/End Zone 2’
Freddy Krueger. Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. These are just a few examples of many slasher killers who have ingrained themselves into pop culture and have attained immortality. Both in that no matter how many times they die, they keep coming back and how their franchises just won’t stay dead so long as they have a fandom to revitalize them. Like Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, they live on so long as the fan believe they will. It’s in this way that even the most obscure horror icon can have a shot at a comeback. And the actors that portrayed them.
This is the set-up to The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 created by Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein. In the sixties, the first true sports themed slasher was created with the film End Zone and it’s more popular follow up End Zone 2 in 1970. The film followed the football themed cannibal Smashmouth and was portrayed by both the egotistical diva Mikey Smash (Michael St. Michaels, The Greasy Strangler) and the “Touchdown!” catchphrase slinging William Mouth (Bill Weeden, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.) with both men laying claim to the character and creating a rivalry that would last decades. Now, 50 years later, a studio is lining up an End Zone requel and both olden actors are determined to return as Smashmouth while attending a horror convention. Leading to a battle for the ages for fandom and gory glory!
The Once And Future Smash and its companion End Zone 2 stand on their own both as loving satires of horror, slashers, fandom, remake trends, and horror conventions and as their own fictional horror franchise complete with lore and history. The Once And Future Smash is a funny mockumentary with bite as it delves deep into the horrifying and competitive world of the convention circuit and the lives of guests and fans. Largely following Mikey and William as they both desperately try and regain their former perceived glory and leading to all manner of awkward and hilarious inconveniences such as being booked to the same table- despite absolutely hating each other! The cast complimented by A.J. Cutler as the put upon A.J. Working as Mikey Smash’s assistant due to a vow by his father who worked on the original movies as Smashmouth’s partner in crime, A.J. works well as the straight man to the antics of the former horror stars in their demands and as tensions heat up. Having to go all manner of demeaning treatment and leading to A.J. wanting to escape the madness from behind the scenes.
And being a mockumentary, it only makes sense that there would be a wide roster of experts, filmmakers, and talking heads to interview on the subject of the End Zone franchise and history. Featuring a wide variety of icons and memorable appearances such as Lloyd Kaufman, Richard Elfman, Laurene Landon, Jared Rivet, Jim Branscome, and many more. Giving an air of legitimacy to End Zone being such a fondly looked upon slasher, or smasher, film series and Smashmouth being deserving of his infamy. Each interview providing further context to the weird details and backstory surrounding the End Zone series and grounding the idea further to make it like a palpably real series of films. From stating their favorite scenes from the movies, to adding bits about behind the scene drama, to how it influenced even their own works in the genre. Many points being very clever parodies of other horror franchise drama and trivia such as Friday The 13th and Halloween among many others, further adding fun parallels
At the end of the day however, The Once And Future Smash is a love letter to the horror genre and the fandoms that have arisen around them. Despite the conflicts and issues that can arise from nostalgia and trying to revive those stories for modern day cinema, they left a positive impact on their audiences and something for fans to rally together for. This mockumentary does for horror fandom and franchises what Christopher Guest’s movies did for dog shows and folk music.
Conversely, End Zone 2 makes for a fun as hell slasher throwback (or smasher, considering that Smashmouth pulps and drinks his victims with a blender due to his grotesquely broken jaw.) Allegedly restored from lost 16mm elements, the hour long 1970 slasher takes place 15 years later from the original End Zone and the Donner High Massacre perpetrated by Angela Smazmoth as Nancy and her friends try to move on from the horror by having a reunion at a cabin in the woods. Only to fall victim to Angela’s son, Smashmouth and his partner in crime, A.J.! Who will survive and who will be pureed?
End Zone 2 both stands on its own and compliments The Once And Future Smash both as a companion piece and a genuinely entertaining throwback horror film on its own. Homaging other slasher franchises and trends of yesteryear while forming its own identity with Smashmouth. A bit Friday The 13th, a little Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a dash A Nightmare On Elm Street in a fun football theme. While both movies can be viewed individually, you get the best out of the two as a double feature as lore about End Zone 2 and the stories of its production history from The Once And Future Smash come into play.
Overall, The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 are two highly inventive films that deconstruct, reconstruct, and lovingly goof on everything from slasher franchises, horror conventions, and the true terror of behind the scenes drama. And here’s hoping we’ll one day truly see more Smashmouth in the future!