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The Revenant Review

Horror Film History, Analysis, and Reviews

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1988

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Hobgoblins (1988)

This review is part of the Horror’s “Worst” Films: Tasteless Entertainment or Endurance Test? series.

Horror’s “Worst” Films – Hobgoblins (1988)

Rick Sloane, after seeing the popularity of pint-sized creature features like Gremlins (1984), Ghoulies (1984), and Critters (1986), decided to capitalize on the trend by creating 1988’s Hobgoblins. The film gained its certified awfulness after being relentlessly riffed upon on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and show writer Paul Chaplin later reflected,

“Oh, man. You have no idea the torture it was to watch this movie several times in the space of a week. It shoots right to the top of the list of the worst movies we’ve ever done. Speaking personally, the only one I hated as much was probably Overdrawn At The Memory Bank, and even that experience bred a less intense sort of hate, leaving an aftertaste not quite so malignant and foul. On the bright side, there’s potential for a real peace in Northern Ireland for the first time in living memory. At least this movie did nothing to prevent that.”

Hobgoblins attempts, and fails, to be a sex-comedy horror film. There isn’t a funny joke to be found, and it’s the only sex-comedy I’ve come across that makes intercourse look unappealing. The acting is awful, but even if it were good one is unlikely to want to see any of these characters live more than a few seconds after they’re introduced. One dumbfounding scene involves a rake fight in which two guys endlessly strike the handles together. Perhaps even more unnecessary is the musical live performance we get at Club Scum, where the movie stops so we can see an entire song being played.

Hobgoblins 1988 still

Most hilarious of all, however, are the creatures themselves. Sloane has stated that he didn’t see the hobgoblins until just before scheduling was set to begin, and they’re a far cry from the world of Jim Henson. What we get are hand-puppets and plush toys that barely move – if they move at all – and watching the actors fight with them, rolling around on the ground, is a sight to behold. Honestly, it’s the only genuine laugh you’re likely to get out of the film. It’s not high entertainment, but it is a tasteless form of one.

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Movie Review – Alice (1988)

Movie Review – Alice (1988)

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) has long been touted as the ideal children’s tale, but even as a kid I felt that there was something sinister about it. Perhaps Wonderland seemed like a fun and magical place to visit to other kids, but the maliciously grinning Cheshire Cat, oyster gobbling Walrus, decapitating queen, and rules which seemed to change at a whim were the brick and mortar of nightmare worlds to me. When I read the book as an adult, I still couldn’t see the story as anything but maddeningly nefarious.

In 1988 the surrealist Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer made his own interpretation of the tale, and the macabre puppets and disturbing imagery are for my money, despite its relative obscurity, the closest adaptation in spirit of Carroll’s whimsical story. It begins with the lines, in Alice’s voiceover, “Alice thought to herself… Alice thought to herself, ‘Now you will see a film… made for children… perhaps…’ But, I nearly forgot… you must… close your eyes… otherwise… you won’t see anything.”

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In a 2011 interview with Electric Sheep Magazine, Švankmajer said of his adaptation of Carroll’s book, which he called “one of the most important and amazing books produced by this civilization,” that

“So far all adaptations of Alice (including the latest by Tim Burton) present it as a fairy tale, but Carroll wrote it as a dream. And between a dream and a fairy tale there is a fundamental difference. While a fairy tale has got an educational aspect – it works with the moral of the lifted forefinger (good overcomes evil), dream, as an expression of our unconscious, uncompromisingly pursues the realisation of our most secret wishes without considering rational and moral inhibitions, because it is driven by the principle of pleasure. My Alice is a realised dream.”

As I began watching the film with my wife, I commented aloud that this was supposedly considered somewhat of a horror film. My wife looked with wide eyes and nodded, telling me – her desensitized husband – that yes, this movie was absolutely horrifying. Švankmajer’s Wonderland is populated with animated skeletal and taxidermic animals. The White Rabbit frees himself from a display case by removing the nails from his paws and feeds on sawdust to keep his stuffed carcass inflated. The stop-motion animation which brings these creatures to life is some of the finest I’ve seen.

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Alice’s (Kristýna Kohoutová) world is almost entirely indoors, surrounded by an impressive array of antiques. We see only two outdoor scenes, one of which is a fantasy and the other of which is barren of vegetation, and Wonderland is arranged with the understanding and interpretation of a young girl who lives her life almost completely within a single home, and a single room without windows at that. The animals we see are essentially dead, and we can presume that Alice has had very little experience with live ones. Except for the skeletons, everything in Wonderland is artificial. Of his approach to these aspects of the film, Švankmajer says,

“Animation is, so far, the only way of breathing life into inanimate things. Children’s games work with the same magic. This kind of magic is the point where childhood and animation intersect with each other… I like things that have passed through human hands. Things that have been touched. Such things are charged with emotions that are capable of revealing themselves under certain, extremely sensitive circumstances. I collect such objects, surround myself with them and in the end I cast such ‘fetishes’ in my films. That’s also the reason why I don’t like computer animation. Virtual reality doesn’t have a tactile dimension. Objects and figures created on a computer have no past.”

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Švankmajer also gives Alice an appropriate mean streak, dispelling notions of sweet, innocent little girls. There can also be read in this a slight political metaphor, especially in the trial scene. The director had, of course, recollections of the Slánský trial from 1952, which was an orchestrated show-trial designed to quell a discordant faction of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Taking cues from and buckling to pressure from the Soviet Union, Rudolf Slánský, the party’s General Secretary, was put on trial with others who were chosen to serve as warnings to their respective groups of what might happen for their potential disobedience. This political farce is reflected, albeit only slightly, in Alice’s trial before the king and queen. Of this, Švankmajer says,

“An absurd court hearing with Alice (‘off with her head,’ shouted the Queen) obviously recalls the political trials of the 50s. Of course Alice, compared with the accused from that time, doesn’t respect the official script. It was just a minor analogy, I didn’t shoot the film because of that. But each imaginative work has got within itself, from its very essence, a subversive charge, because it knocks down the notion of lived-through reality as the only one possible.”

Alice is an entirely unique film which has the capacity to awe and unnerve. It’s certainly not designed or recommended for mainstream audiences, but for those looking for a macabre interpretation on a beloved children’s classic that can surprise and unsettle a viewer, if not exactly frighten them, Alice is most highly recommended. Children’s viewing, this is not.

Grade: B

Movie Review – Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Movie Review – Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), the sequel to 1987’s Hellraiser, is the perfect companion piece to the previous film. I cannot watch the first without immediately wanting to watch the second, and in many ways the two feel like segmented parts of a single feature. Taking place immediately after events of the first film, the plot follows Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) as she tries to use the Lament Configuration, a demonic puzzle box, to open a portal to Hell to retrieve her father, who she believes is suffering there. With her is a fellow hospital patient and mute teenage girl named Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) who has a knack for solving puzzles and whose talent has been exploited by Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who himself is trying to solve the box to seek the legendary experiences of the Cenobites. Channard resurrects Julia (Clare Higgins), seeking her help, and all four end up descending into the regions of Hell.

Directed by Tony Randel, with a screenplay by Peter Atkins based upon a story by Clive Barker, Hellbound plays far more like a horror fantasy. In fact, as Kirsty is running through the mazes of Hell, which looks very much inspired by an M.C. Escher drawing, in search of her father, I can’t help but be reminded of Sarah running through the Goblin King’s realm in search of her brother in 1986’s Labyrinth. This bend towards storybook fantasy is even admitted by the characters when Julia tells Kirsty, “They didn’t tell you, did they? They’ve changed the rules of the fairy tale. I’m no longer just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen. So come on!” and then, “Take your best shot, Snow White!” This allows the more unbelievable plot twists to be more acceptable if viewers see them through this fantastical, almost dreamlike lens.

Hellbound Hellraiser II 1988 still

The themes of excess, desensitization, and desire from the first film remain strong, with the turning Leviathan in the center of Hell’s maze being referred to by Julia as “God of flesh, hunger, and desire.” Of the puzzle box, Pinhead says, “It is not hands that summon us. It is desire.” Hell is of one’s own making, taking the forms that the individual’s mind creates. As Channard tells his students while he performs brain surgery:

“The mind is a labyrinth, ladies and gentlemen, a puzzle. And while the paths of the brain are plainly visible, its ways deceptively apparent, its destinations are unknown. Its secrets still secret. And, if we are honest, it is the lure of the labyrinth that draws us to our chosen field to unlock those secrets. Others have been here before us and have left us signs, but we, as explorers of the mind, must devote our lives and energies to going further to tread the unknown corridors in order to find ultimately, the final solution. We have to see, we have to know…”

For Frank, Kirsty’s villainous uncle from the first film, Hell is nude women writhing, whimpering and moaning with desire, begging to be touched but always unreachable. Even in Hell there is no satisfaction, and that is the worst torture.

Hellbound is rich with imaginative filmmaking and impressive gore. Julia’s rebirth through the bloodstained mattress, in particular, is masterful. However, its style outweighs its attempt at character development, with Julia being the only character with any real nuance. Really, the Cenobites are awesome to behold but this is ultimately her movie, as Barker had originally intended Pinhead to end here and Julia to step up as the main franchise villain. However, Clare Higgins was uninterested in reprising her role in further films, which is actually a shame as her character’s progression was the most interesting arc through both entries.

Though I know many disagree with me, I prefer this installment to the first film, if only by a small measure. Its style has always spoken to me and the audacity of its dark reverie has continuously drawn me in. When I think of the franchise, this film and its images are what are conjured in my mind. It’s nightmarish and attractive all at once, as a movie with Hellraiser’s themes should be.

Grade: B

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