Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren has now been furloughed for approximately the length of time it takes to listen to one song by Tool. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth
Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren had to pick himself up off the floor when he discovered Kelli Maroney was following him on Twitter (and upon re-reading this, he’ll be picking himself up off the floor again). Say hi to him on Twitter – doesn’t matter if you’re not Kelli Maroney: @darren_gaskell
*** WARNING: SOME MINOR SPOILERS LIE AHEAD AND THERE ARE A FEW SWEARS TOO – SORRY, WE KNOW IT’S NOT BIG OR CLEVER BUT NEITHER ARE WE ***
Darren: Time for the triple feature of the virtual cinema trip we’ve embarked upon here. Two shorts and one feature.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE (2020)
Darren: The first short – Spiritual Practice. Directed by Patrick Rea who also made Rattle, which we saw at the SoHome Horror Festival.
Dr. Lauren: Yes.
Darren: I think we both enjoyed Rattle. It was very short and to the point.
Dr. Lauren: Yes, I did enjoy Rattle.
Darren: This is a bit longer, around ten minutes. It starts off with an exorcism but it goes in a slightly different direction.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah. I’m not gonna lie, when it first started and there was this apostle Latin American guy doing an exorcism I thought “Oh, for fuck’s sake” but it quickly takes a turn and veers off into very different territory which made me happy.
Darren: It starts off, very, er…
Dr. Lauren: Tropey.
Darren: Yes, it starts off very tropey but it does this purposely. You’re initially led down a path and you might think “Not another one of these” but a couple of minutes in something else happens which takes you out of the usual exorcism stuff.
Dr. Lauren: It sounded like it was going out to a lot of film festivals but I guess as film festival season is scuppered this year things might go the way of SoHome and be online. Or it might appear later in the year if festivals physically start up again so keep an eye out for it.
Darren: Hopefully it will get out there, it’s the sort of thing that will play well against a lot of different horror movies. For festivals that play shorts with features, Spiritual Practice is not so out there that it won’t match up with anything. Also, it’s one of the those shorts which stops at a very specific point. It’s almost like a calling card for a feature.
Dr. Lauren: I thought that as well. I’d be quite happy seeing this turned into a feature. It leaves you wanting more, you want to find out about what’s going on.
Darren: Yeah, they drop the cliffhanger on you then roll the credits.
Dr. Lauren: Just to give a little more about the set up, we see an exorcism in progress. There’s a girl in a bed, she’s possessed by a demon, there’s what looks to be a priest trying to perform the exorcism and when we find out a bit more about what’s happening the demon is brought out of the girl but it doesn’t completely go away. I don’t want to say any more than that because I don’t want to spoil it. I wasn’t actually expecting it to go where it went.
Darren: No. As soon as if left the girl and someone said “Check it hasn’t gone anywhere else”, I thought “Well, it’s gone there, hasn’t it”. And it wasn’t where I thought it had gone! Nice bit of misdirection.
Dr. Lauren. Yeah, definitely. One to watch out for. Will be interested to see if it does get turned into a feature.
Darren: It builds its world pretty efficiently within the limited timeframe and sets you up for wanting to know what comes next.
Darren: Our second short is Quaranstein, which is quite frankly one of the most bonkers things I’ve seen recently.
Dr. Lauren: Even more bonkers than Witchstars*?
Darren: It’s bonkers in a slightly different way than Witchstars. Witchstars was so bonkers that after about an hour I thought “Oh, I’ve fucking had enough of this” whereas Quaranstein is 21 minutes long and it’s not nearly as tiring. It’s out there but you can definitely take it, partly because it’s so crazy and partly because it’s short enough.
Dr. Lauren: It’s from Brian Lonano, who’s probably best known for his Gwilliam short films and also things like Crow Hand and also BFF Girls with Jill Sixx, which I’ve not seen…
Darren: I’ve seen BFF Girls. Again, it’s a bit out there bit I enjoyed it.
Dr. Lauren: I’m a big fan of Brian Lonano. With this one, we saw it because our friend Rob Nevitt, who runs the Celluloid Screams festival, had been sharing the link to it. Brian, I guess, got together some of his mates to retell the story of Frankenstein through the medium of lots of different directors doing different segments of the story and then putting them together to make a Quaranstein beast.
Darren: It is a Frankenstein’s monster of a short because it’s patched together from various bits and pieces. It’s not like an anthology because it’s one story, told by different filmmakers in a number of different formats including stop motion. It’s a patchwork of various styles which you think might not work but it does.
Dr. Lauren: There were several points during this where I absolutely laughed my arse off.
Darren: Yes. I was laughing quite loudly at a lot of what goes on. I think the humour’s in the same vein as Gwilliam. It’s not quite as disgusting. Gwilliam continues to be one of the wrongest things I’ve ever seen.
Dr. Lauren: You never forget your Gwilliam.
Darren: Don’t get me wrong, I thought Gwilliam was absolutely hilarious but it’s also unbelievably revolting at the same time.
Dr. Lauren: There’s only one blowjob joke in this one.
Darren: There is. They can’t resist chucking that in at one point. It’s earned, though, because it’s a callback to something else in a previous work.
Dr. Lauren: I’m just going to throw this out. Gwilliam is in this film and he turns up as a reliable and legal source of brains.
Darren: As soon as Gwilliam showed up, I can’t sum up the joy I felt. I was so glad he came back.
Dr. Lauren: You were all “This is all I wanted”!
Darren: I was like “I don’t care what happens in the rest of the movie now because Gwilliam’s appeared”.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it was great. He is in it right at the beginning but then we head off into the rest of the tale. I think some of the segments work a little bit better than others but by and large I thought they were all pretty good. I’ve watched it a few times now and I enjoyed it more with each subsequent watch.
Darren: I’ve seen it a couple of times and on the first run through there’s so many different changes of style it doesn’t necessarily lead you into the next bit easily and as it jumps about you can get a bit disoriented. Once you’re used to how it’s set up and once you’re used to how the style can change quite drastically every few minutes then a second watch removes those potential problems. The styles are so contrasting – purposely – that you might be left a bit dazzled that one minute it’s like an old Universal monster movie and then it’s stop motion and then it’s a sitcom parody.
Dr. Lauren: There’s one section that’s like an 8-bit computer game.
Darren: Oh yes! That was brilliant! It’s almost like characters in Final Fantasy talking to each other. I can imagine that anyone not brought up on that may be slightly confused.
Dr. Lauren: My favourite bits were the angry mob chase with the attack dog that was actually a cat, the end credit sequence with the song, the scene where Frankenstein runs out of toilet paper because he’s in quarantine and…oh my God, when Frankenstein wanders into the blind guy’s Tiki bar and they’re drinking Mai Tais!
Darren: I guess that’s probably the point in this short at which you’ll find out if you’re gonna go with it or not. It’s so leftfield. Because there’s a blind person in it I was reminded a little bit of Toxic Avenger with his girlfriend. There’s a similar joke with a cane and the fact that the blind guy obviously can’t see the monster in front of him. But from then on, the whole thing with the Tiki bar and the luau and the buffet that Frankenstein is called upon to eat, that’s not like Toxic Avenger at all.
Dr. Lauren: The meat that he takes off the barbeque and keeps burning himself on!
Darren: Yes. In a short that’s full of batshit insane scenes, that was the most batshit insane of them all.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it was hilarious.
Darren: It was very funny. I’d recommend it to people who like Brian Lonano’s stuff and I’d recommend it to horror fans. I’m not sure I’d just drop it in front of anyone though. I know that if I said “Give this a watch” there are some people who’d say “What the fuck is this?”.
Dr. Lauren: I don’t know if they intended to do anything with it or whether it was a bit of fun during lockdown but if you’ve got 20 minutes spare, go and have a look because it’s worth a watch.
Darren: Oh, yeah. They seem to have put it together as a fun project but it’s a lot better than many bigger budget shorts out there. So if they did do this as a bit of a laugh they’ve actually come up with a pretty decent end product.
Dr. Lauren: It’s the sort of thing that I’d imagine would be on some Blu-Ray extras if Brian Lonano ever does a feature film. It’d be an Easter Egg or something.
Darren: This ought to be on it and, obviously, Gwilliam ought to be on it as a special feature. I’d just like people that haven’t experienced Gwilliam to suddenly have it thrust upon them as part of the extras that they never expected.
Dr. Lauren: Oh, God.
SCHOOL SPIRITS (2017)
Starring: Tiffany Alvord, Teala Dunn, Piper Curda
Writers: Caitlin Kleppinger, Christina Kleppinger (original story by Christopher Babers and Terrance Hines)
Director: Allison Eckert
Darren: Moving on from the shorts to the main feature.
Dr. Lauren: Yay! The feature!
Darren: A film which is obviously aimed squarely at the two of us.
[Dr. Lauren starts laughing]
Darren: It’s a teen horror movie called School Spirits. It’s about a girl called Zoey who moves from the big city to a small town and she has to deal with the bullies, the jocks and the nerds at her new high school as well as some ghostly goings on.
Dr. Lauren: Yes. One thing I did notice from the get-go on this one is that there’s a female director, two female writers and three females in the lead roles which I was very happy about.
Darren: That’s great to see. And the tech nerd in this one is a girl.
Dr. Lauren: Hurray! Anything promoting women and girls in science is always a good thing.
Darren: It has a lot of positive things to recommend it. The guys in the movie are basically there to be ignored or to get possessed. Which I have absolutely no problem with.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it was fun enough. I noticed that one of the supporting characters is played by Piper Curda who was in The Wretched which I was the other night.
Darren: Haven’t seen that yet.
Dr. Lauren: It turns out that she used to be a Disney actress so she was in a bunch of teeny films, series, whatever. I didn’t get that from her performance in The Wretched at all but I did see some of that in School Spirits. In terms of who it’s aimed at – very clearly not me – I’d say between fantasy for older children and something like The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina.
Darren: Yeah, it’s between those. It’s aimed slightly older than Goosebumps, although I loved the Goosebumps film, I thought it was brilliant. This isn’t quite as successful in terms of scares as Goosebumps. There’s a decent enough scare for this type of thing when they’re looking around a house but, in general, the horror here is dialled down quite a lot.
Dr. Lauren: There’s a lot of teen gateway horror out there which is a lot darker than this. Stuff like Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, even though they’re aimed at that teenage demographic they do go to some pretty dark places. This is in keeping with the more Disney end of things if that makes sense.
Darren: Yes, I get what you’re saying. Even the big bad isn’t that scary. It’s creepy but it’s not going to give anybody nightmares.
Dr. Lauren: I thought it looked good. There were bits where I thought the CGI let it down but overall it was fine and the villain was pretty cool.
Darren: I had the same issues with the CGI. I don’t necessarily think they needed to go that way for the villain. I know what they were driving at but it was too much. The extra effects didn’t really work. The villain could have been a supernatural presence that looked like a normal person. They didn’t need the bells and whistles.
Dr. Lauren: I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down really negative on it at all. It’s just not a film that was made for me. The performances were pretty good and there was nothing especially wrong with it. It’s a little bit slow in places.
Darren: It does take a while to get going.
Dr. Lauren: There’s not really much ghost action in the first half hour.
Darren: There’s a little bit at the start but by the time they actually go to the haunted house that’s forty minutes in. I’m guessing that budgetary restrictions meant they cut down on the ghost action.
Dr. Lauren: Possibly. It was fine, probably not something I would gone to the cinema to see unless I was taking a younger relative who was interested in it. I think if I’d have been about 12 when this came out I’d have probably lapped it up. I remember I was about 15 or so when….what year did The Craft come out?
Darren: Was it ’96? I really should know this because I fucking love The Craft.
[FACT CHECK: It was 1996. Darren fucking loves The Craft.]
Dr. Lauren: I reckon this could be a movie that grabs kids at a very specific age and will stay with them.
Darren: I did make the joke that this film was for neither of us but, having said that, if it’s well-made enough then it should still work. I mean, The Craft clearly isn’t aimed at me either but The Craft’s a brilliant movie. It doesn’t have to be full of gore and terrifying moments and I think School Spirits more or less works on its own level. It’s not going to stick in the memory for long but it was fun enough. I didn’t have a terrible time with it. The one thing I will say is that the lead actress is very expressive to a strange degree.
Dr. Lauren: Did you think so? I didn’t really notice that.
Darren: Well, she’s like…okay, this isn’t going to come across very well in a written review but every time someone said something to her she was like…
[Darren goes through a series of reaction shots to demonstrate]
Dr. Lauren: Can we get any stills of this?
Darren: I am NOT posting stills of me doing that. It’s not a bad performance but set against everyone else….her face was doing a lot of acting.
Dr. Lauren: Did you think she was over-egging it a bit?
Darren: I think you’ve got a play it a little bit over the top because of the material and I’m not saying she was at all bad. It just seemed slightly off at times. Her face was going for it. The number of expressions she pulled during the film…
Dr. Lauren: I thought that a bit about the kid across the street.
[NOTE: That’s the kid across the street from Zoey in the movie, not the kid across the street from Dr. Lauren’s house. Or is it?]
Dr. Lauren: I didn’t find it overly distracting.
Darren: Zoey had most of the exposition and plot beats to get through, so if the director was saying to her that she needed to sell confusion or exasperation or whatever, well, she definitely sells it. There’s a lot going on in that face.
Dr. Lauren: So, what would you score it out of five?
Darren: Well, this is going to be difficult as it’s clearly not my usual sort of thing but to be perfectly honest it’s a damn fucking sight better than Human Zoo is. If someone offered me a choice of just Human Zoo or School Spirits to watch now I’d say “Yep, School Spirits, stick it on”. I’m probably right in the middle on this one, two and a half out of five.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, I was thinking of scoring it a three. Pretty middle of the road but also there’s a caveat of it not being aimed at me. If you’re wanting your kids to watch something in terms of horror that’s a step up from Hocus Pocus but perhaps not as much of a step up as Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark then that’s kind of where it’s sitting.
Darren: It’s perfectly fine at what it does. I went to see Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark at the cinema and it has a 15 certificate in the UK. There were adults that were cowering at some points. At the side of that, School Spirits is a much more gentle way to ease into the horror genre.
Dr. Lauren: Yeah, something like junior Ghostbusters.
Darren: I don’t think it’s a film that either of us can sit here and be mean about. It does what it does reasonably well and I’m fairly sure that it’ll land with its target audience.
Dr. Lauren: 3 /5
Darren: 2.5 / 5
*Check our review of Witchstars in our SoHome Horror Festival features article, elsewhere on this very site at this very link: http://thehorrorcist.com/dr-lauren-darrens-sohome-horror-festival-the-features/