Set in conflict of the Iran-Iraq war, the young and educated Shideh living in war-frightened Tehran becomes forced to succumb to patriarchal dogma after participating in a revolution against Iran’s standing principals. Her husband’s conscription sends his medical experience to the battle front while she settles into her role as a stay at-home mother to their young daughter and despite pleas from her husband, the stubborn Shideh will not vacate her apartment building home even when the threat of an Iraqi attack is imminent. When a dud ballistic missile crashes into the apartment about them, nearly breaking through their ceiling, the fear of a sinister presence circulates amongst the tenants that drives them one-by-one from the building with the prospect of an Iraqi attack to further motivate as a logical decider. An unsuperstitious Shideh remains until her daughter’s imagery whims and unwavering fever begin to form a more terrorizing atmosphere that even has her questioning the shadowy company of evil.
Not many horror films scare nowadays. “Under the Shadow” is not one of those films. The debut feature film of writer-director Babak Anvari posses a rare commodity of grueling fear set inside an already tense backdrop of the 1980’s Iran-Iraqi war. Anvari, the Tehran born Iranian nationality who was engulfed religiously in the culture, borrowed and rendered his from his family’s stories of supernatural pre-Islamic demons whisking through the wind toward those swimming in sorrow and fear; those demons were also labeled djinns. As a child born in the 80’s, Anvari had to rely and family to obtain a sense of the anxious air suffocating those taut by potential missle strikes as well as political and social punitive measures going against the grain. The UK based independent production company, Wigwam Films, financed the BAFTA winner for an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer as well as receiving other nomination nods in other categories, serving as one of young production company’s shining stars early in the tenure.
Wrought by the explosive squabbles of two sovereign nations and incepted with archaic folklore, Shideh’s bound and torn between reality and the prospect of superstition, a role dutifully played by another Iranian born, Narges Rashidi, whose family moved to Berlin and she studied acting, scoring a minor role in the motion picture adaptation of the science fiction television series, “Aeon Flux,” and in the 2009 comedy-horror “Must Love Death.” Rashidi courts Sheideh approvingly with sincere strife over how women serving beneath men in 1980’s Iran as well as struggling to overcome that internal conflict as the mirror image of herself, meaning her daughter, when a phantom prowler is afoot. Portraying Shideah’s daughter, Dorsa, and the frequent link between the Djinn’s world and her own is Avin Manshadi in her debut performance. Manshadi’s round cheeks and doughy eyes set upon a physique stilling lingering some ounces of baby fat has little range, but most creepy kids and in creepy kid horror films rarely do. Rashidi and Manshadi fend well for themselves as the sole two characters cornered by war and Shideh’s personal vendetta against her country, her husband, and even her daughter to prove she isn’t useless as the motif lets on. “Under the Shadow” rounds out with Bobby Naderi (“Bright”), Aram Ghasemy, Soussan Farroknia, Behi Djanati Atai, and Ray Haratian (“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”).
“Under the Shadow” finds itself in a subgenre nearly all it’s own as the variety of djinn-horror anemically pops up every so often as an unpopular and uncoiled viper, unlike the antagonist powerhouses of zombies and ghosts that’ve reigned supreme over the last two decades, and though Anvari’s film shares little with Robert Kurtzman’s demonic djinn of 1997’s “Wishmaster,” “Under the Shadow” has more in common with the late Tobe Hooper’s last film, entitled simply Djinn, before his death. Both are built on the substructure of an Arabic/Muslin mythology, set on an apartment building locale, and exhibit the malevolency side of the djinn, but Babak Anvari accomplishes a great feat on his very first attempt – a stiffly frightening air of a phenomenally harrowing horror story. Anvari patiently stacks blocks of tension, one on top of another, without a hint of quivering throughout the acts and what’s more astonishing is that all the acts deliver different notes prosed to detail that secures a simmering, shivering plot. To praise Anvari more, the young filmmaker leaves nothing to chance by closing with an open ending for the mind to assemble information and interpret the events; a classic directorial tool used by some of the greats.
Shuttering in the dark has never been so delectable with “Under the Shadow” inside a packed, limited edition Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. The LE runs with only 2000 copies sheathed inside a rigid slipcover with covert art by science fiction artist, Christopher Shy. Global horror aficionados will rejoice to learn that the UK BD disc is region free and presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, that’ll be available February 10th. Unfortunately, Second Sight Films provided a DVD-R Blu-ray screener so I’m unable to speak upon the video and audio aside from what’s already been stated. I will say the subtitles were accurate and timely paced. There were special features on the disc, including segmented interviews with director Babak Anvari, lead actress Narges Rashidi, producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill, cinematographer Kit Fraser along with an audio commentary Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham and Anvari’s short film “Two and Two.” Press release also mentioned the release includes a soft cover book with new essays from Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept illustrations and a poster featuring new artwork. “Under the Shadow” must be watched in the dark, alone, and with the volume up, maximizing the crawling chill down the spine and raising all the micro hairs on every square inch of skin.
A graduate dream research group experiment on paranormal and sensory deprivation sleep patterns involving controlling their own dreams, even if their terrifying, and examining their own deaths but when they pivot to investigate supernatural activity inside an isolated compound mansion in the midst of an arid desert, the four students and their eccentric teacher conjure malevolencies that include satanic rituals and alien encounters. With their professor spearheading an underlying motive to use them for his diabolical plans, the hesitant and scared group must decide to either force their participation or try and escape their instructors madness, but when the lines of reality blur, friend becomes foe and foe becomes friend with casualties in the middle on all sides as grisly depictions of death and suffering question whether their nightmares are spilling into reality.
Subconscious surrealism on an ultimate terror coaster from writer-director Bruce R. Cook with an unspeakable horror in every corner, from flesh eating extraterrestrials to disillusioned Mad Doctors, in the nightmare-inducing “Nightwish!” The 1989 made and 1990 released “Nightwish” is produced by Paul White and Keith Walley, both of whom collaboratively funded through their Wild Street Pictures production company the early 1990s horror which included another Unearthed Classics release, spine #2, “The Dark Side of the Moon” and, also, put a little cash into the Jeffrey Combs cult favorite, the Brian Yuzna sequel of “Re-Animator,” “Bride of Re-Animator.” However, the real star of the filming crew is none other than Sean McLin. Before going full fledge into being a camera operator, especially around the early days of Power Rangers’ television series, McLin had a short stint as director of photography and his cinematography beyond divine that engrossed to draw audiences into odd angles, mind-boggling depth play, and just colors after colors of spectre ghoulishness. McLin provided a pure motley of mental macabre of the Gregory Nicotero (“Day of the Dead”), Robert Kurtzman (“Lord of Illusions”), and Howard Berger (“In The Mouth of Madness”) powerhouse effects team.
The central characters essentially encompass four graduate students – Bill (Artur Cybulski), Jack (“April Fools’s Day’s” Clayton Rohner), Donna (“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood’s” Elizabeth Kaitan), and Kim (Alisha Das) – along with their stern professor played by the solemn faced Jack Starrett (“Grizzly II: The Concert”). Relatively low on the totem poll names when considering a main cast; hell, I only know Clayton Rohner from his role in the mid-80’s teen transgender appropriation film, “Just One of the Guys” as well as being Admiral Jameson on one episode of Star Trek: TNG. Yet, the combination of crew talent along with the chiseled define facial features of a one Brian Thompson (“Cobra”), the meshed cast suffer no visible calamities or outright fumbles of performance as they each carrier about equal weight into a floating, weightless, construct of boiling human antagonizing fear. The cast rounds out with colorful supporting performances of a muscle head henchmen by Robert Tessier (“The Sword and the Sorcerer”) and the nitwit gate keeper, also animal feeder, Wendall played by Tom Dugan. Yet, Thompson tops the more colorful performances as Dean whose Kim’s ruggedly, manly boyfriend that’s more confident jock without the loss of brain cells. Thompson’s at the height of career, sporing a tank top for most of the film that puts his muscular form on display, but he isn’t the only actor to bare skin as Elizabeth Kaitan and, especially, Alisha Das bare a bit of flesh for the sake of providing a sexual desire to story.
“Nightwish” understandably has a hard chronicle to follow because any film, regardless of genre, incorporating dreams or delving into the state of madness is definitively ambiguous at best, hard to follow, and puts minds into high gear to either understand the just what the hell is going on or to make sense of the chain of events to deduct a reasonable explanation. Sure, over thinking “Nightwish” as a complex construct can be dead wrong. There could be simplicity strewn about and, maybe, we’re too dense or too complicated ourself be aware of the obvious, but Cook certainly knew how to piece together a disjointed storyline that distinctly defines part A of the plot, but parts B and C are so well blend together that the clarity of part A starts to disintegrate and more questions than answers starting whizzing through our think box. “Nightwish” epitomizes the resemblance of nightmare residue and is best left open for personal interpretation.
Spine #3 from Unearthed Films Classics label comes “Nightwish” onto Blu-ray distributed by MVD Visual. The Blu-ray is presented 1080p in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio through a newly restored 4k transfer, but the transfer, perhaps from the best negative possible, has some minuscule wear with faint scratches and dirt impressions; however, the definition and the color palette ultimately overrun the set hard grain with the minor damage also being an after thought. The uncompressed English 2.0 PCM has a better grade in comparison to the video with clear dialogue and a robust soundtrack throughout to which the ambience is nearly overshadows by but does present itself despite the lack of inertia to progress. Special features include a commentary track with Wild Street Pictures producer Paul White and the president and founder of Unearthed Films Stephen Biro. Also available is a photo gallery, trailers, and an extensive cast and crew bio booklet filled also with production notes and a slew of high resolution stills that’s great to flip through. As another judiciously placed classic for Unearthed Films, “Nightwish” is a dream come true for viewers that combines the effects talents of Nicotero, Kurtzman, and Berger with the terrifying ferocity of facing death through in the dark subconsciousness.
Welcome back! And, boy, it sure does feel good to be back in the wide world of evil! With a new job, new wife, and practically a whole new life, my once idle hands were struggling to juggle my new found life. Where to begin? What to say? How can I build up that base I had over a year ago! Has the evil come back to me to guide my hands again? Has my “dark passenger” returned? (Dexter reference as I’ve caught up on all 7 seasons in the last month). We’ll see what happens with Its Bloggin’ Evil. No one knows where this road may lead the amateur horror fan site. I might not be as swanky by going to all the conventions and movie screenings like Freddy in Space.com or be an ultra-reviewer like Cinesploitation.com (whom I use to write for). Both of those sites have shunned me from doing what I need to do, what I care to do, what I love to do.
Lets start this off on the right severed foot with Phantasm II. You may be wondering why Phantasm II. Well, it just happened to be on HBO Zone last night and I sat, with my now wife, and we watched. I subjected her to Angus Scrimm’s The Tall Man and the othet dimension dwelling evil dwarfs. You would think one like myself owns all the Phantasm films. Don’t get me wrong, I do! I proudly bought the limited edition UK Sphere box set and have yet to open the sucker. I joyfully viewed after years of not opening the box set and not viewing the film anywhere else. My eyes were glued to the 32” TV and I probably had the wide and bright eyes of a fat kid in a candy store. What a way to start off (or to rekindle) It’s Bloggin’ Evil!
Don Coscarelli’s sequel just brings a grin from ear to ear even if the writing is a bit over-the-top, but hey, that’s the masterful dialogue of the 80’s and who can argue with that? Some might also dislike Phantasm II for the scab step-in roll filler James LeGros to fill the shoes of A. Michael Baldwin’s original character Mike. LeGros became the one who “shan’t be named” because Baldwin continued the character in the third and fourth sequel. However, Phantasm II brings back the deadly spheres, the pint sized evil dwarfs, and always sinister, never a minister, The Tall Man with special effects that are the epitome of 80’s glory. As you can see from the image on the left, this is what to expect – in case you’re sheltered self never seen Phantasm II. You can thank Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero who had a helping hand in creating realistically stunning exaggerations of body horror. Throw Mark Shostrom into the mix and you have a party of special effects gold.
Next stop – John Carpenter’s They Live!
Obey The very same night as Phantasm II, I sat on our couch thinking what to do with my wife. We had no plans for a Friday night (sans boring married couple). She had no idea what to do. That is when it donned on me! I remembered that the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA was having a 25th Anniversary screening of They Live. After fairly little convincing, I managed to get my wife to come along to the 10:10pm showing. I think she was glad she attended because the turn out better than what she expected. Conform When we screened Night Breed months ago, the turn out was not as grand and we didn’t receive any free swag! For They Live, fans of the cult film flooded the theatre and the freebies was a pair of black shades, two pieces of a bubblegum, and a “Chew Bubblegum Kick Ass” sticker with Roddy Piper!
As you can see, we had lots of fun. The 35mm screening had all the imperfection glory, but that won’t deter us fans away from catching all of Roddy Piper’s catch phrases. You never know how outdated a film can be after 2.5 decades, but the dialogue and the actions of 80’s filmmaking leads my heart home. We will attend more screenings at Colonial especially Hammer Film’s The Brides of Dracula and Grisly in the coming months. I can’t wait!