Hellbender, Ghost Ship, 30 Days of Night, and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days
Reviews for Week 161
This week, we’ll watch a wild collection of films, from the new coming-of-age witchcraft story, “Hellbender” to a classic early 2000s ghost story in “Ghost Ship” and two really good vampire films, “30 Days of Night” and it’s somewhat lesser quality sequel, “Dark Days.”
Watch for the bonus reviews this week, coming to your email shortly!
“Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” from 1989
“How to Make a Monster” from 1958
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30 Days of Night (2007)
Directed by David Slade
Written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie, Brian Nelson
Stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston
Run Time: 1 Hour, 53 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Vampires don’t have to worry about sunlight if the sun never rises, right? That’s the basic premise here, and it’s a pretty good one. Way up North in winter, the sun sets and stays down. The vampires are dangerous and creepy, the effects are great, the acting is good. This one is a winner that we enjoyed just as much on our second watching.
We see that Barrow Alaska is surrounded by eighty miles of barren wilderness, cut off every winter for thirty days of night. There’s a huge, dark ship just off the coast, apparently frozen in the ice. A very cold-looking man trudges through the snowy hills until he sees the town in the distance. It is now the last day of sun.
Eben Oleson finds a pit full of cell phones out in the snow; they’ve been burned. What could that be all about? They watch the last sunset for nearly a month. Eben is the sheriff. They change the population sign to read “Population 152.”
Eben and his wife Stella are separated, and she’s waiting for the last flight out. A lot of people can’t stand a month in the dark, so they’re all leaving town. Meanwhile, across town. someone kills all the sled dogs. Stella’s truck hits some road equipment, and she has to call Eben for help. Eben sends Deputy Billy to go help her while he checks out the dead dogs. Stella misses the plane and is now trapped in Barrow for a month.
Eben gets called to the utilidor for a vandalism problem. They have a huge trash grinder, and they found a bunch of helicopter parts in it. Someone destroyed the town’s only copter. The power goes off at the town’s cell and radio tower, and something kills the attendant rather viciously. All the Internet and phones go out shortly after that.
There’s a weird stranger at the town diner, and he wants to eat raw hamburger. Eben arrests the guy with Stella’s help. He immediately suspects the stranger is behind all the vandalism. The stranger seems to think something’s coming. “So helpless against what’s coming…” Power goes off all over town.
Eben goes to the cell tower and finds Gus’s head. Something kills John and Ally, who lost their dogs earlier. Eben and Stella soon realize that the town is under an attack of some kind; this is confirmed when someone jumps on the roof of the car when they get back to town.
We finally see the attackers; it’s a clan of vampires, all speaking a foreign language. They say to remember to separate all heads from bodies. There’s a couple of vampires who appear to be leaders, but Marlowe appears to be the main boss. “We should have come here ages ago,” he says.
A group of people take shelter in the diner. Eben’s brother Jake is with them. It’s soon open season on humans in the town as the vampires play without anything to stop them. Eben sends the survivors to go hide in an abandoned home’s attic while he and Stela go after bear traps. Several vampires attack their car, and they finally get a look at what’s been killing them. Jake suggests that they’re vampires, but that’s impossible, right?
Pretty much everyone is now hiding in the attic, including an old man with dementia. The vampires are moving from house to house. The group makes plans to move to the utilidor where they can last the month. They hear a woman screaming for help outside, but they realize that she’s bait.
Eben finds John, whose dogs were killed. He’d been attacked, but they didn't take his head, so he’s one of them now. Eben hacks his head off with an ax. Back at the house, the old dementia-man starts causing trouble and escapes outside. That goes about like you’d expect.
On day 18, a snowstorm kicks in, so they use that cover to move. They stop at the general store and kill a little girl vampire. Stella figures out that they don’t like sunlight, and she knows where there are some grow lamps.
Eben runs to Grandma’s house and starts the generator. He gets the grow lights ready as the vampires approach. Meanwhile, the other humans head to the police station. The vampires are suspicious that it’s a trap, but one of them charges in and is burned by the lights. They cut off the generator, so that’s the end of that plan.
Beau decides it’s his turn next, and he gets in a trencher and kills a bunch of the vampires with his shotgun and then several more as he blows himself up with dynamite.
Day 27 arrives, and they’re still hiding in the police station. They see a signal across the street; they think Billy is still alive. He killed his own wife and kids so they wouldn’t be killed by the vampires but then couldn’t kill himself. When they get back to the police station, everyone is gone, so they try to head to the utilidor.
The interior of the utilidor is a big maze of tunnels and passages. A vampire attacks Billy and Eben, but he ends up in the grinding machine. Stella is trapped hiding under a car outside as the vampires surround her. Eben notices that the streets are filling with oil; the vampires have burst the pipeline to destroy the town and all evidence of their existence.
In desperation, Eben injects himself with vampire blood, hoping to fight the monsters as one of them. As he starts to turn, he walks to where the others are waiting. He and Marlowe fight one-on-one as the others watch. Marlowe loses badly. As the sun begins to come up, the others leave.
Eben and Stella then sit and watch the sunrise. Eben turns to dust.
Isolation is often a good part of horror films, and this one nailed that in the first ten minutes. The sets and the town really make the film; people do live in places like this, but it’s definitely not easy or always safe.
The mostly non-vocal screaming of the vampires and the fact that they don’t speak English helps keep the monsters from being at all sympathetic. They are very animalistic and don’t seem like they could ever live in civilization. They are almost pure beast, but they are very smart. And also really messy eaters.
This is absolutely one of the best recent vampire films.
30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)
Directed by Ben Ketai
Written by Steve Niles, Ben Katai, Ben Templesmith
Stars Kiele Sanchez, Rhys Coiro, Diora Baird
Run Time: 1 Hour, 32 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a surprisingly well done sequel to the first movie, with a different actress playing the heroine. She sells being the same person and does a great job. The supporting cast are all good. The story has some issues and raises some questions, but it’s a very watchable and entertaining movie overall.
We pick up right where we left off, with Eben turning to dust as Stella (who looks like a different actress now) watches. She recaps what happened. No one believed what really happened, so they rebuilt the town. “I never wanted a war,” she says. As credits roll, we read that they have been in several large cities. Someone named Dane has written to her explaining that they’re in Los Angeles now.
She tells the truth to groups of people, but people laugh. She says every time that she gives one of these talks, a couple of vampires show up. This time, she’s rigged the auditorium with sun lamps. She hits the lights, and a couple of the audience members go up in flames. She’s immediately arrested. Agent Norris of the FBI wants her to say it was a hoax. We don’t get any details; could they be in on it?
When she gets home to her motel room, there’s a bunch of people there, all sent by Dane. They all lost someone to the vampires, but no one ever believes them either. The group has been hunting vampires for years. Amber, Todd, and Paul want Stella to join them in the hunt. Amber spots a vampire outside, and they all wait for him to come in. Enough bullets to the head does the trick. Stella decides to go with the hunters.
Paul explains that Lilith is the leader of the vampires, and Agent Norris is one of the “bugeaters.” If they could kill Lilith, their entire network would fall apart. They go to meet Dane, who is a vampire himself. He was only superficially wounded, so he’s been able to hold onto his humanity. He’s got a while refrigerator full of blood. He explains that Lilith and her people are hiding in subterranean tunnels under the city. Lilith was behind the attack on Barrow.
Meanwhile, Agent Norris goes to see Lilith, and Lilith specifically asks about Stella, and she’s not pleased with his answer.
Stella and the other three hunters go into the sewers that lead to the tunnels where Lilith is supposed to be. They soon find a man hanging upside down bleeding into a bucket. Maybe not surprisingly, it’s an ambush. Todd is bitten and starts to change. Stella shows the others how to kill a vampire. Night falls, and Dane comes to lead them out.
They capture one of the vampires and take him home to interrogate. He explains that there will soon be another feast where the sun doesn’t rise. Only Lilith knows which town will be the target. Stella explains that the sun sets in three days. They let him go and follow him through the apparently completely abandoned streets of Los Angeles and blow up a bunch of them, but Lilith wasn’t there. They rescue a girl prisoner, Jennifer.
For some reason, Stella and Paul decide to stop and have sex. Across town, Lilith orders Norris to kill an innocent to prove his loyalty. He tears out her throat with his human teeth. Lilith approves and feeds Norris her blood.
Jennifer explains that the vampires brought her to town on a large ship. She thinks Lilith stays on the ship. Norris shows up and kills Dane as the others drive away. Jennifer leads them to the ship. Stella wants to board the ship and stop it from leaving, but Paul says they don’t even have a plan. Their last three plans worked so well…
Stella, Paul, and Amber go inside the ship and see that dead vampires can be reconstituted and resuscitated with blood– if they have their head. They find the captain, who says the ship is headed to Wainwright Alaska. Before they can get any more exposition, the vamps grab Amber and drag her away.
Paul and Stella are captured and finally get to meet Lilith, who orders the others to “bleed them out.” Norris cuts Paul but then fights Stella, which goes badly. They don’t really know how the ship works, so they just smash everything. Lilith bites Paul.
Stella and Lilith fight. Stella hides in Lilith’s bathtub of blood until just the right moment when she leaps up and hacks off Lilith’s head. The other vampires come in and step aside, letting her go. She goes up to the bridge and calls the Coast Guard. Naturally, it was all kept secret afterwards.
Stella goes back to Barrow and digs up Eben’s body. She cuts herself and drips blood onto his burnt remains. Then she waits…
It definitely adds to the lore of the vampires, but it raises some questions. The monsters in the first film were so viciously feral, most of the ones here feel positively civilized in comparison. Having a queen vampire gives them a weakness that the first group didn’t have. Also, why do they all dress like goth-kid vampire wannabes? Several of them looked like they watched “Dark City” too many times.
These vampires seem to be surviving just fine in the big city, so what was the need for another Barrow-like attack? A long sea voyage seems to be a big risk for a few-weeks-long hunting trip when they aren’t at all short of food.
It’s all right. The idea of vampire hunters has been done better. This one drags a bit in a few places and there are lots of plot holes. Still, it seemed better on this second rewatch than it was when it came out; maybe I just had higher expectations after watching the first film.
Short Film: Movin Day (2022)
Directed by Craig Low
Written by Craig Low
Stars Nathalia Castellon, Greg Santos, Erika Medina, and Asher Sears
Run Time: 4 Minutes
How much of your partner's past should you really unpack? When a newly engaged couple moves in together, they quickly discover some skeletons should stay in the closet.
“No more secrets, let’s just keep everything out in the open, OK?” She says.
Why does that big box have a sad face on it? Sometimes, even “snugglebears” can be scary.
That’s all I’ve got to say. It’s short, it looks good and is well-acted. Watch it now!
Ghost Ship (2002)
Directed by Steve Beck
Written by Mark Hanlon, John Pogue
Stars Julianna Margulies, Gabriel Byrne, Ron Eldard
Run Time: 1 Hour, 31 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It starts with one heck of an opening scene. And then it’s okay after that. The effects are good, the acting is decent from some powerhouse actors, the script is okay and kind of by the book. It’s entertaining and a good watch, but peaks quickly then tapers off somewhat.
We begin on a cruise ship. As credits roll, the lounge singer is entertaining the formally-dressed dancers in the ballroom. It’s all very elegant, and from the hairstyles, it appears to be the late 1950s. A little girl looks really bored. The captain asks the little girl to dance. Someone starts an engine, and a wheel starts to spool a cable very, very quickly. The cable whips through the crowd cutting everyone in half except for the little girl, who was too short. They all look surprised as their clothes, arms, legs, and torso fall in a pile. Everyone dies.
In the present day, Murphy, Dodge, Greer, Epps, and the crew of the Arctic Warrior rush to save a sinking ship. They are salvage experts. They’re very good at what they do. Ferriman, some young guy at a bar that they don’t know, comes over and tells them that he knows about an abandoned ship in international waters. Their own ship has problems, and they’ve all been at sea too long, but they decide to go after it. After a bit of glitchiness with their radar, they soon find the ship. Actually, they run right into the side of the thing.
Murphy knows all about The Antonia Grazia, which has been missing since 1962. It’s a rusted mess, but it’s intact and still floats. Greer and Ferriman stay behind on the Arctic Warrior, where the radio stops working. Epps thinks she saw a little girl downstairs, but no one else saw anything. They find a digital watch, which means someone has been here since 1962. They all return to their own ship for the night.
Morning comes, and they learn that the Antonia has a hole and is sinking. Greer wants to call for help, but Murphy says they don’t want extra visitors. While Santos starts to repair their own engines, the others work on fixing the hole in the big ship. Murphy checks out the captain’s cabin. Epps finds evidence of old gunfire in the empty swimming pool and then sees the girl again; she falls and bleeds into a hole in the floor. Then the pool fills with blood as soon as she leaves.
Epps and Ferriman find several bodies that have been there for less than a month. Everyone finds little things that shouldn’t be there. Ferrimen finds a whole crate full of gold bars– several crates. They all decide to take the gold and leave the big ship to sink. Meanwhile, on the Arctic Warrior, a canister of propane turns itself on. The little girl screams for them to stop, but the boat explodes, killing Santos. They all argue about what to do next.
Dodge and Munder eat forty year old beans out of a can which turn to maggots. Murphy starts drinking again, this time with the ghost of the dead captain. Greer whines about making bad choices until the ballroom reassembles itself. Epps tries to track down what happened to Katie, the only child registered to be on board and finds her corpse hanging in her room.
Katie’s ghost talks to Epps. The captains talk about the gold being cursed; this isn’t the first ship that died. Francesca seduces Greer in the ballroom and tricks him into falling down an elevator shaft. Katie explains that all the ghosts are trapped here. She talks about “him” who has a quota of souls to fill.
Murphy attacks Epps, thinking she’s the ghost of Santos. Ferriman interrupts the fight. They lock Murphy up for everyone’s safety, and then they start working to repair the damaged hull. They patch the holes and start pumping out the water.
Katie leads Epps to Greer’s body. Then she shows Epps what happened to the crew and passengers. Beyond the cable accident, many were poisoned as well. Robbers looking for the gold killed the survivors. They were the ones who hanged Katie, she didn’t do it herself. Various back stabbings and betrayals led to everyone else dying. Then she sees… Ferriman sucking their souls out.
Epps runs to release Murphy, but she’s too late, as his compartment has flooded. Meanwhile, the ship’s engines eat Munder. Ferriman turns on Dodge, and they also end up fighting. Dodge shoots Ferriman with a shotgun at close range. Ferriman gets back up.
Dodge tries to talk Epps into keeping all the gold, but Epps realizes that it’s the gold that’s actually cursed. She’s wired the whole place to blow up. Dodge then morphs into Ferriman. Ferriman explains that he’s a salvager too, but he’s a salvager of souls working for Hell. They start to fight, but Epps detonates the explosive and starts the ship sinking fast. As the ship floods, Katie shows Epps the way out, and we see all the dead souls escaping as well.
The next morning, Epps is picked up by a passing cruise ship. As she’s loaded into the ambulance on land, she sees Ferriman loading his gold aboard that ship…
It’s not as bad as a lot of people say. The characters do make one stupid decision after another, but it doesn’t get boring and is fairly well done. I’m not sure why they decided to kill Gabriel Byrne’s character off-screen; that was a weird choice.
The opening scene is an absolute classic, but the rest is pretty by-the-numbers and almost forgettable.
Directed by John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser
Written by John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser
Stars Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams
Run Time: 1 Hour, 26 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This was a very interesting take on witch lore, with a young teen coming of age. The cinematography, effets, and acting are all great. It’s a slow burn that makes you figure things out as it goes along.
We start with a bunch of women hanging another in the woods. They pull the rope, and the victim goes up, choking and gagging. Soon, she stops kicking. Then, the twitching and growling starts. One of the women on the ground opens fire, shooting repeatedly, but the victim just gets more agitated. Then the body ignites and launches up into the air like a rocket. Credits roll.
Izzy and her mother are practicing in their two person band called Hellbender, complete with costumes and makeup. We see that they live in a really isolated area out in the country on a big patch of land. While her mother’s off to the store, Izzy is out in the woods and hears laughing out there. In town, an old man, probably confused, thinks the mother was his grandmother’s nurse many years ago, but she couldn’t be that old. Izzy thinks the laugh in the woods was a ghost.
Mother goes out to the woods later and assembles a talisman with sticks, berries, hair, and blood. That evening, Mother and Izzy eat moss and pine cones for dinner. The next morning, Mother draws that same symbol in blood on the table.
Izzy is out walking, and a strange man wanders in; he’s lost in the woods and wants directions. Mother leads the man further into the woods and uses magic to turn him to dust. It’s clear that Mother doesn’t want Izzy to have any outside influences. Izzy believes she’s sick and contagious, that’s what mother has always told her.
Izzy goes off in the direction the man spoke of and runs into another girl, Amber, who lives on the same mountain. Izzy knows she’s breaking the rules, but she’s homeschooled and never met anyone her own age before. It turns out, this isn’t even her house, she just breaks in from time to time to use the pool. While she’s away, Mother goes into a locked room, touches a book, and gets a weird vision.
Izzy tells her mother that she’d like to play Hellbender in front of a real audience. Mother warns that Izzy can’t be around anyone– ever.
Izzy goes back to the pool house with Amber and a couple of other teens. Izzy plays the drums for them, and they love it. She also drinks her first tequila, along with an earthworm placed inside. She mentions that she’s a strict vegetarian, but eats the worm anyway. She screams in horror after swallowing it. The owners of the house arrive, and everyone runs for the hills.
On the way home, Izzy hears voices in the woods. The owner of the house confronts Izzy, and she looks at him funny…
When Izzy gets home, Mother is not pleased. She explains that she ate a live worm. Izzy says that Amber’s uncle has been missing for two days; he’s the one Mother dusted in the woods.
Izzy goes into Mother’s secret room and finds the book. She also gets a vision. Mother explains that the worm didn’t make Izzy crazy, the worm’s life did. “Try a rat. or a dog. or a deer. It’s all in the pumping of the blood.” “What happens if we eat people?” “Then you’ll know power.” Was that a dream or was that real?
Mother admits that Izzy isn’t really sick. She and her mother split and eat a caterpillar. Then they both do some magic. Izzy spends several days practicing her magic and getting used to it. We see that she goes out at night and does things that she lies about to her mother.
Mother finds bones in the woods; “I’ve been seeing a lot of bones lately, all stripped clean lately,” she says. She doesn’t know what Izzy’s been doing at night.
A ranger comes around asking about the missing man; they suspect a mountain lion. They say they haven’t seen one, and he goes away.
Mother starts to find the magical symbol next to some of the bones in the snow. She starts figuring out something is up with Izzy.
“I love you so much I might eat you up,” Mother says. She then extolls the wonders of eating maggots. Then they get high on life force and puke blood on each other. Mother relates that Izzy’s grandmother once ate an entire village, then sewed her mouth shut out of guilt. She was then hanged. Mother thinks that she’s about 147 years old.
Izzy goes to town and apologizes to Amber. Amber says that the house owner was attacked by a wild animal. Amber is rude, and Izzy doesn’t like that.
Mother finds her secret room unlocked and the book is gone. She immediately knows what Izzy has become. She then finds a really strange living tunnel in the basement and starts crawling. She finds Amber down there, and she’s in pretty bad shape. This is Izzy’s happy place, and Izzy arrives. Mother swears she raised Izzy to be good, not evil. Izzy tells Mother that she’s in denial; she was every bit the monster that Izzy has become. It runs in the family.
Will they make peace? Or just have dinner?
The visuals here are excellent. Great cinematography, especially in all the outdoor scenes in the woods and mountains. The performances are good, and although we developed theories early on, we had no idea exactly where it was all going. It’s almost like we get to learn about a race of human-like beings, very powerful, who have lived alongside the human race since the beginning.
It’s a slow burn, and you know it’s not going to end well for someone, but even up to the end, you aren’t sure who’s going to survive all this.
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