The Hunt, Prisoners of the Ghostland, The Terror, and The Wicker Man
Horror Bulletin #155
This week, we’ll watch “Prisoners of the Ghostland” from 2021, “The Hunt” from 2020, “The Terror” from 1963, and “The Wicker Man” from 1973. That’s quite a random selection, but it’ll be fun!
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Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021)
• Directed by Sion Sono
• Written by Aaron Hendry, Reza Size Safai
• Stars Nicolas Cage, Sohia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 43 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
There’s a rough story among the chaos and weirdness of this one. There are zombies, but it’s more of a surreal adventure tale that seems to be inspired by a Manga with an extra dose of weirdness. Nic Cage fits right into this oddity of a movie. All the cast does a great job in fact.
Nic Cage, as Hero, robs a bank in modern-day Japan. Bernice and two friends escape from the governor’s house and get into a car. She wakes up in an industrial, post-apocalyptic setting. Credits roll.
Hero wakes up tied to a chair in what appears to be an old west setting populated entirely by Asian people. The governor arrives and they drag Hero out of the sheriff’s office. He explains that his granddaughter Bernice has gone missing. He wants Hero to go and retrieve her. They stop for a brief musical number.
The road outside the immediate area is populated by bandits, or maybe ghosts. The governor explains that the suit he just gave Hero is loaded with explosive devices. If Hero doesn’t pay along and rescue Bernice, he’s going to explode. If he does, he’s free. Hero dumps the fancy sports car given to him and takes a kid’s bicycle instead.
He soon crashes and wakes up in the same industrial weirdness that we saw Bernice in earlier. This is the Ghostland, a land of no escape. He soon finds Bernice and drags her away on a cart. Then his left testicle explodes.
We flash back to the bank robbery. His partner went berserk and killed everyone in the bank. Young Bernice was there and was shot in the leg; then she went home with the governor.
We return to the present, and zombies attack! No, wait, they all just vanished into thin air.
Yeah, I should have stopped with the exploding testicle thing, shouldn’t I? This movie is just a disjointed sequence of cool-looking but unconnected sequences of things happening. Lots and lots of stuff happens, but it doesn’t necessarily affect the story. The further it goes, the stranger it gets.
It’s a very colorful mesh-mash of genres and ideas, sometimes funny, sometimes just weird. The costumes and visuals are complicated and fascinating. I would have guessed that it must have been based on a manga, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It certainly looks like one.
It looks like it was expensive to film. Most of it makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s really cool to see.
The Hunt (2020)
• Directed by Craig Zobel
• Written by Nick Case, Damon Lindelof
• Stars Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
People are being hunted for sport. Because there was a phony conspiracy theory that people were being hunted for sport. So they hunt people for sport to show them that people aren’t being hunted for sport. Wait, what? It’s complicated. It’s a political satire of very extreme liberals vs. very extreme conservatives. Who comes out ahead? Nobody really.
Six people text message each other about hunting down Deplorables in the woods. Next thing we know, the group of snobs are on an airplane. Suddenly a stewardess freaks out, “One of them’s awake!” The doctor tells him to lay down and then stabs him in the neck. Finally, a woman kills the man with a high heel in the eye.
Later, multiple people awaken outdoors with gags padlocked on their heads. Several of these gagged people converge on a box in the middle of a field. Inside the box is a tiny pig and a big selection of weapons.
Abruptly, someone out in the woods starts shooting at them. There are death traps in the field. And landmines. The number of “players” drops quickly. Three of them make it to a gas station, but the people running the station aren’t exactly helpful.
The radio sounds; a couple more are on the way. The next woman to arrive, however, turns the tables on the shopkeepers. Crystal teams up with another guy named Gary who tells that he read that the liberal elites kidnap and hunt down people. He read it on social media. They hop aboard a moving freight train to escape.
The train is stopped by soldiers. There’s a bunch of refugees on the train including one guy who is one of the hunters. He dies explosively, but Gary and Crystal end up in a refugee camp. They also meet up with Don, another “player.”
A government guy from the embassy picks them up, and Crystal throws him out of the car and runs him over - she knows he was a phony. They find Gary dead in the trunk along with some money and a map. Crystal tells a messed-up version of the tortoise and the hare story.
Meanwhile, back where everything started, the liberal elites have their base. Crystal and Don return and start killing liberals. Soon, Crystal is all that’s left— er, right. One of them tells Crystal where to find Athena, the leader.
Flashback to one year ago, where Athena was CEO of a company that got hacked. Her superiors read her the text discussion from the opening sequence. She says the whole thing about hunting people for sport was just a joke they were playing; it’s not real. Who would possibly think it was real? Well, extreme conservatives that’s who - it’s become a conspiracy theory on the web. They tell her she has to resign like everyone else on the text message.
So she makes it real to punish those dumb and gullible enough to think it was real. She and her team track down bloggers, podcasters, and other people who were spreading stories about “Manorgate.” We see the selection process for their victims.
Soon, Athena and Crystal are face to face in the Manor. Athena says the Tweets and text messages really were a joke; after the fallout, they started doing it for real. Crystal tells her that she’s not the person who did the tweet; it’s all mistaken identity. She knows the other Crystal from her town that Athena meant to take.
The two fight in the kitchen. For a long, evenly matched time. They stab each other and discuss “Animal Farm” until Athena dies.
It’s clearly political satire with liberals versus conservatives, and they both get slammed pretty hard here. The deaths are generally cool and interesting, often coming out of nowhere. There's a lot of blood spatter and gore mixed in with good jokes.
It’s all fun and games until Hilary Swank shows up and starts explaining things, then all the fun drops off. The final fight goes on for way too long. It’s an entertaining and pretty original movie with an ending that’s on the weak side. Though in the end the tortoise does win the race. Or is it the hare that wins?
The Wicker Man (1973)
• Directed by Robin Hardy
• Written by Anthony Shaffer, David Pinner
• Stars Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 28 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
After seeing it previously on commercial television in a chopped up and censored format, it was refreshing seeing it whole and uncut. If you haven’t seen it that way, we highly recommend it - it is so much more entertaining. It’s creepy, unsettling, and suspenseful. Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward are both great, as is the supporting cast.
Sergeant Howie flies over the tiny, remote Scottish island village of Summerisle. His seaplane lands, but the harbormaster won’t let him disembark. Still, he’s a policeman, so he insists. Everyone watches; they Clearly don’t get many visitors here.
Howie was sent an anonymous letter saying a girl is missing and photo, but all the men say they haven’t seen the girl before. The letter says it’s May Morrison’s twelve-year-old daughter, Rowan, but the men at the dock say it isn’t.
He talks to May Morrison, and she does have a daughter, but the girl in the photo isn’t her. She shows him her nine-year-old daughter Myrtle. Myrtle says Rowan is a hare that lives out in the fields.
He goes to the inn, and everyone stops talking when he walks in the room. He meets Willow, the innkeeper’s daughter. The whole place breaks out in a bawdy song, but Howie doesn’t really approve. He’s all police business; no fun at all. Later that evening he goes for a walk, and finds a bunch of couples having sex outdoors.
Howie goes back to his room and prays. He’s a very religious man. Willow sings a song and taps on the wall in the room next to Howie. He hears it all and is both turned on and repulsed by his feelings. He tells her this the next morning, and she says that with that attitude, he probably doesn’t want to be there for May Day.
He goes to school the next morning and watches Miss Rose, the teacher, explain that the maypole is a “phallic symbol representing the penis.” Howie is ultra-prudish and says he’s going to file a report on this. He’s very bossy and demanding. He finds Rowan Morrison’s name in the register; they’ve all been lying.
Miss Rose says Rowan never existed, but won’t say that she’s dead. “When human life is over, the soul returns to trees, water, fire, and animals.” He is astounded that they teach the students this stuff and not Christianity.
He finds Rowan’s grave; the gravedigger says she’s been dead six or seven months. He goes back to May Morrison, who feeds a girl frog for a sore throat. He starts to think the whole town is mad. Everyone keeps telling Howie he needs to talk to Lord Summerisle, but Howie avoids him.
Next, Howie goes to an oddly-stocked pharmacy. He goes to Summerisle’s Estate and watches a bunch of naked girls dancing around in a ritual.
Summerisle says they don’t murder people here, as they’re deeply religious, a statement to which Howie takes offense. He says they should all be learning about Jesus instead. Summerisle says that the old gods aren’t dead here; the island has been like this for centuries. His grandfather came up with the idea of growing special fruits on the island. The pagan religion fit in and took over. The island thrived with exports, and he revels in it. He should, practically living like a king.
They exhume Rowan, and Rowan is, in fact, a rabbit. He confronts Summerisle, but he makes light of the whole mystery. Howie says he’s going home tomorrow to report the whole thing, especially all the “pagan debauchery” on “this heathen island.”
He researches May Day, which sounds a lot like a masked festival and parade. Howie suspects that Rowan is going to be a sacrifice to the crops because they failed last year. In the morning Howie goes back to his plane, but it won’t start. He goes back to town and witnesses preparation for May Day; he hears Summerisle discuss the symbolic sacrifices that will occur - he becomes more sure Rowan is in real danger.
Howie starts searching every house for Rowan. He finds lots of weird villagers, but not the girl. He goes to his inn room for a nap, and Willow and her father try to drug him by burning a dead woman’s hand. Howie overhears this and gets out.
He knocks Willow’s father over the head and steals his costume and mask. He joins the parade in disguise, which is a fascinating bunch of characters.
At the end of the parade, Howie finally spots Rowan and runs up to rescue her. The two run into a cave to escape. They climb out of a hole on the other side of the caves. Lord Summerisle and the others are waiting for them. “Did I do it right?” She asks. Summerisle says she did it beautifully.
She wasn’t the sacrifice, she was the bait. Only the best human sacrifice will satisfy the harvest god. They want himbecause he’s a Christian virgin who came there of his own free will. They’ve organized and manipulated everything to bring him personally to the island.
Summerisle explains that they offer him a martyr’s death. “It is time to keep your appointment with the wicker man.” He threatens and begs them to let him go. They lead him to a huge wicker man statue atop the cliffs. He really freaks out when he sees what they intend to do with him. They force him inside with pigs, chickens, and other livestock.
They set fire to the wicker man and they all sing.
I’d seen this before long ago, on network TV probably in the early 80s. I don’t remember so much music and singing and nudity. I also don’t remember the parade or the rituals either. Now that I’ve seen the real thing, I have to wonder how much that old version was butchered by the censors.
Times have changed, but I don’t know how much. This took place in 1973, and the way Howie goes on and on about it being a Christian country. I wonder how much the force of law really was guided by religion that recently.
Christopher Lee always said this was one of his best and favorite roles out of more than 300 films. Edward Woodward is the hero of the story, but he’s not even remotely likable. The people on the island, however, look like they have a lot of fun. This was intentional, of course. It’s really good!
The Terror (1963)
• Directed by Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola
• Written by Leo Gordon, Jack Hill
• Stars Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 21 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s got ghosts, witchery, murder, a bit of a mystery. There’s powerhouse direction and actors. Great sets and location. It should be really good, right? Well… It’s really talky, low on action, slow on horror. For long stretches it seemed like it could have been a stage play. Watchable, but not great.
Baron von Leppe wanders around his castle on the cliff. He enters a secret chamber. He follows a trail of blood, and he finds an ancient-looking skeleton. Credits roll.
Lt. Andre Duvalier rides his horse along the beach. He’s lost his regiment and needs directions. He spots a silent woman and follows her; she is Helene. He watches her walk into the ocean and disappear; he looks but can’t find her.
He awakens in the care of an old woman in the forest. Her bird’s name is Helene, and she has a nearly-mute assistant named Gustav.
That night, he finds Helene (the girl) again, and they kiss. He follows her through the woods until Gustav stops him from walking into quicksand. Gustav explains that the girl is possessed and can’t help herself. She’s being held in the castle. The old woman warns him not to go to the castle, as the girl isn’t real. Duvalier insists and goes looking for the castle.
Duvalier soon finds it (it’s pretty hard to miss). Baron von Leppe answers the door and tells Duvalier to go away. Duvalier uses his military influence to force his way in. Von Leppe denies there are any women in the castle, but Duvalier knows what he saw. Von Leppe shows her a painting of his wife, dead for ten years. It’s her.
That night, Duvalier hears some creepy weirdness outside his door. The door is locked, so he can’t check it out. When he finally gets the door open, no one is there. He spots Helene outside and follows her into a crypt where he finds the Baroness’s tomb.
Duvalier confronts Stefan the servant, and the servant begs Duvalier to just leave his old master alone. Instead, he goes straight to the Baron, who is evasive. Eventually, the baron admits his wife and her death. He murdered her and her lovers when he caught her cheating. He hasn’t left the castle in twenty years. The ghost has been appearing for about two years.
Gustav runs into Helene/Ilsa. He wants to help her, but she explains the old woman commands her now. Stefan goes to see the old woman and sees her hypnotizing the girl. The old woman wants vengeance on the baron. Stefan comes in and confronts the old witch; he wants her to move out by tomorrow.
Duvalier hears Helene’s voice calling for him to help her. Later, he hears the baron talking to her in the same room, but he goes in and she’s not there.
Helene the bird pecks out Gustav’s eyes as Duvalier watches him fall off a cliff. Helene the girl comes to Duvalier and tells him the crypt must be destroyed. She says she’s dead, but he tries to convince her that she isn’t.
Duvalier goes downstairs and follows the baron into his crypt chambers under the castle. He hears Helene talking to the baron. “You must do it. It’s the only way we can be together,” she says. Duvalier rushes in, but she’s gone.
Duvalier and Stefan go into the chapel behind the sealed crypt. They go back into the castle and look into the Baroness’s bedroom. Helene appears again, telling the baron to kill himself to be with her forever.
Duvalier catches the old witch in the cemetery. This whole thing is a plot to trick the baron into killing himself. This is all in revenge for killing her son along with the Baroness.
Stefan runs inside to stop the baron but gets locked out instead. Stefan reveals that it was actually Eric who killed the baron twenty years ago - he took the baron’s place. The witch has tricked her own son into killing himself. Lightning strikes her and she bursts into flame.
The baron plans to flood the cellars and crypt with seawater. Stefan and Duvalier try to break in and stop him. The baron opens the floodgate and dies battling Helene.
Duvalier breaks in just in time to save Helene. He tells her “You’re free now,” and she turns into a rotten corpse. Oops, she was dead after all.
The water pressure is too much, and the whole castle collapses on top of the baron and Stefan.
Jack Nicholson spoke in a monotone throughout the film. I wonder how many films he did before he learned to act? He wasn’t very good in The Raven , but that was a small, mostly-comedic role— this is a starring role.
There’s mystery and suspense here, but it’s all stretched out for far too long. Many scenes feel like filler, and the acting feels like a high school stage play. It’s so talky, and there’s no action.
It’s really all an overly-convoluted twenty-year plan for revenge that really doesn’t pay to overthink.
Short Film: Knock Knock (2022)
• Directed by Alex Magaña
• Written by Alex Magaña
• Stars Becca Buckalew, Willow Grey
• Run Time: 4:30
• Watch it at:
While staying out of town on business on New Year’s Eve, a woman hears a loud knock knock coming from the hotel room next to hers. The desk clerk says there’s no one else on her floor, but he agrees to send up a maid to check the room. It goes badly.
This looks like it was probably a student film or something as there’s no sets other than an actual hotel room and hallway and only two actors. Still, it’s suspenseful, creepy, and very well made, definitely worth a six-minute investment.
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