The horror movie double bill is an old staple of movie-going, from the days when Universal used to offer monster “mash-ups” of their favourite creatures (and which were often advertised as providing “twice the fright”), through to the radiation-derived monsters of the Fifties, to Hammer’s doubling up on their own brand of Gothic horror. These days, the horror movie double bill is largely forgotten in cinemas, and the good old days of the horror all-nighter is virtually a thing of the past (except at Halloween… sometimes). But thanks to the joys of DVD and Blu-ray, those days can be recreated at home (though as we’ll see from the movies below, not always so successfully). With that in mind, and with the faint whiff of nostalgia hanging in the air, welcome to the first in an ongoing series of reviews that will feature horror movie double bills.
D: Casey La Scala / 88m
Cast: Johnny Pacar, Shaun Sipos, Bryan Dechart, Alexa Vega, Italia Ricci, Liz E. Morgan, John Pyper-Ferguson
It’s the wedding day of Skylar (Vega) and Dan (Dechart). The celebrations are in full swing when suddenly the sound of a loud trumpet is heard and several of the guests drop dead on the spot, including Skylar’s parents. Pandemonium ensues, along with what seems like an earthquake, as the ground ruptures and buildings collapse. The newly married couple, along with their friends Tommy (Pacar) and Jack (Sipos) go in search of Jack’s girlfriend Allison (Ricci), who left the reception earlier on. Skylar is convinced that what is happening is the Rapture, when God calls all pure souls to Heaven while those that remain begin to endure seven years of Tribulation.
A priest at a nearby church, Pastor Shay (Pyper-Ferguson), confirms Skylar’s belief but her friends question why he hasn’t been claimed. This leads to all of them, in their own ways, questioning their belief in God and their individual faith in Him. As they continue to search for Allison, Skylar is badly injured; when they find Allison, they all head for the nearest hospital to seek medical help for Skylar. Once there, it becomes clear that the Rapture is now claiming the lives of those who refute God’s existence, putting everyone at risk. And with that knowledge, each of the friends has a difficult choice to make in regard to their future.
The Rapture is proving to be a resilient modus operandi for horror movie makers at the moment, with The Remaining the latest in an unconnected series of movies that take this particular Biblical warning (from Revelations if you want to check it out) and seek to show the end of the world as spectacularly as they can. This movie is more apocalyptic than most and features winged demons who carry off certain members of the cast as required, along with collapsing buildings and the kind of devastation that causes insurance companies to go bust overnight. It’s turgid stuff, crammed with moments of po-faced seriousness, its characters stopping every five minutes to question their religious values and Christian beliefs. While there’s no doubt some people might stop to do this, the idea that it would be a group of young twenty-somethings is never quite convincing enough.
Forged out of a desire to see what it would be like to make a global version of Paranormal Activity, La Scala has created a movie that’s similar in scope and approach to Chronicle (2012), but with a cast that can’t match that movie’s group of actors for experience and intensity. The use of found footage interspersed with traditional camerawork is often annoying (though necessary), and the inclusion of overwrought scenes of peril – while often impressive given the movie’s budget – grab the attention but seem designed to add some much-needed eye candy to a movie that’s been filmed throughout in as bland and unexciting a style as possible. The movie ends with a scene that contradicts its own raison d’être, but does at least prohibit the idea of a sequel (so that’s one benefit of the world ending).
Rating: 5/10 – even for this particular horror sub-genre, The Remaining is a movie that often makes you wish you’d been taken by the Rapture right at the start; still, it does try its best, and while some viewers will quickly express their dissatisfaction at the friends’ behaviour, there’s enough here to warrant a look, and it’s nowhere near as bad as Left Behind (2014).
D: David Campbell / 84m
Cast: Jessica Tovey, Nicholas Gunn, Pippa Black, Tim Phillipps, Andrew Ryan, Tim Pocock, Piera Forde
American backpackers Amelia (Black), Maya (Tovey), and her brother Toby (Pocock) meet Aussie mates Oscar (Ryan) and Geordie (Phillipps), and after spending an evening with them, are invited back to Oscar’s house, where he lives with his brother, Sam (Gunn). Geordie has told them the story of Lemon Tree Passage, a stretch of road nearby where the tale goes, if you drive fast enough you’ll see the ghost of a man who was killed there several years before. Deciding that it’ll be a good idea to see if the story is true, all five travel out to Lemon Tree Passage and put the legend to the test. On their first try they see a bright light that appears out of nowhere and follows them along the road before disappearing. When they try it again, but with Geordie left at the roadside at the spot where they first saw the light, things take a strange turn.
Geordie disappears, and the rest of the group begin to experience strange phenomena happening around their car. Maya begins to have strange visions of a young girl called Brianna (Forde) who may or may have not been killed in the woods that surround them. Supernatural events continue to occur, and Sam is drawn to the area as well, leading to a revelation and a confrontation that proves to have nothing to do with the ghost of Lemon Tree Passage, but which is far more dangerous.
Taking as its basic premise the real-life urban legend of the ghost of Lemon Tree Passage Road in New South Wales, Campbell’s debut feature soon abandons its spooky set up in favour of a more convoluted and awkwardly presented storyline involving a murdered teenager, possession, revenge from beyond the grave, a lot of aimless wandering in the woods, tepid scares, and ridiculous plot developments. The reason for all this is sound enough, but in the hands of Campbell and co-screenwriter Erica Brien, is extrapolated into a complicated mess that cries out for some well-judged simplicity. Lemon Tree Passage is yet another movie where strange things happen either out of context, or because the script can’t come up with anything else to help move the plot forward more effectively.
With a script that undermines itself at every turn, it’s unsurprising that the cast are unable to elevate the material, or do anything with it that will improve matters. There are a handful of deaths – though why they should be happening is never explained – and a couple of shocks that are signposted too eagerly to have any real impact; it all leaves the viewer suspecting that Campbell and Brien took the idea of the ghost, didn’t know how to take it further, and instead, came up with the revenge tale that’s seen here. As it is, Campbell shows some promise as a director, creating a creepy menace in parts, and of the cast, Tovey fares better than the rest (but not by much). There’s a good deal of padding in the movie’s final third as the story unravels, and Sam King’s cinematography is rarely atmospheric enough to make up for the script’s deficiencies.
Rating: 4/10 – a good idea that’s left by the wayside in favour of a confused, improbable plot, Lemon Tree Passage is a disappointing entry in the urban legend horror sub-genre; absurd and unnecessarily confusing, it struggles to make sense throughout and has too many WTF? moments for comfort.