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With Lady Pam De Graff

Lady Pam De GraffTHE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2015) Canada
WRITTEN BY: Matt Venne
DIRECTED BY: Steven R. Monroe
FEATURING: Sarah Lind, Devon Sawa, Gina Holden, Peter MacNeill, Daina Leitold, Julia Arkos, Tom McLaren
GENRE: OCCULT
TAGS: horror
RATING: 5 PINTS OF BLOOD

PLOT: Occult poster child Molly Hartley again finds herself in a web of black magic when Satan steals her body on her 24th birthday.

Comments: It's been six years since Molly Hartley decided having Satanic powers isn't such a bad thing after all, at the end of The Haunting Of Molly Hartley (2008). That's the movie in which a schoolgirl discovers her parents made a pact with the devil which vests on her 18th birthday. Now Molly is 24 and her penchant for black magic has served her well, facilitating a fast-track career in finance. Being Satan's minion turns out to have its less than glamorous side however, when the Devil snatches her sumptuous physique and turns it into a sperm dumpster as part of his scheme to give birth to an Anti-Christ.

 

 

 

When bodies pile up during Molly's sordid and excessive birthday celebration, her garbled explanation results in a state-mandated rest at the local Shady Acres. Within the padded walls of the mental institution, Molly's possession goes full-tilt boogie, showcasing all the standard tropes and idioms of previous exorcism films, including an ever worsening case of facial dermatitis. There's also the usual levitation over her bed, inviting onlookers to fornicate with her, and the always obligatory projectile-vomiting of green pea soup-like substances. Molly's delicate condition is even worse than a frat-party bender and the resulting hangover, but there might be a chance for deliverance for when she meets an enigmatic nuthouse priest who was sent to the booby hatch for murdering the subject of his last exorcism.

 

Despite a racy story, one may find a couple of faults with this direct-to-video effort. First, it's derivative. We've seen this all before, but for those who haven't, i.e., the younger generation, it's a decent enough possession movie, although youngsters may lament the absence of annoying teenagers and rap music. The rest of you will find that absence refreshing.

Secondly, The Exorcism of Molly Hartley takes generous artistic license with reality. Fortunate timing and lucky coincidences help the story along. Some non-occult events in the movie just wouldn't go down in real life the way they do in the movie. One finds this true of many other genres however, such as cop thrillers.

Consider also that occult stories are by their very nature necessarily full of logic gaps. For instance, why can witches be tied to a stake and burned? If they have the power to put a curse on their executioners, can't they make the fire go out as well? If body-possessing demons, with all their gnarly super powers hate holy water, why can't they just make it evaporate before an exorcising priest throws it on them? I'm not purist when it comes to horror. I can forgive a little artistic license if the story is colorful or I get to see a good monster.

In Molly Hartley, we not only get a salacious story and a good monster, but an insane asylum setting and an assortment of disturbing characters from a ruined priest with a tortured conscience, to gun-wielding booby-hatch orderlies. You may decide that the little noted, critically-panned Molly Hartley movies are run-of-the-mill, yet will like them anyway. They aren't especially innovative, but like most Canadian horror, they deliver.

And typical of most Canadian horror, they're free of the more irritatingly corny clichés audiences must endure in their US counterparts, such as the nearly Disney-esque dumbing down of almost everything in Drag Me To Hell.


There's just something unabashed, unapologetic, and straight-forward about the Molly Hartley movies that makes them appealing. Both The Haunting Of, and The Exorcism Of Molly Hartley get right to the point and move along quickly. Although they lack striking artistry and constitute what one might term, "stock horror movies," in being so, they satiate the average viewer's desire for a basic horror fix.


 

 

You can also stream this movie on Amazon Prime!


Lady Pam De GraffTHE VANGUARD (2008) UK/independent
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Matthew Hope
FEATURING: Ray Bullock Jr., Karen Admiraal, Jack Bailey, Terry Cole, Karen Admiraal, Jack Bailey, Terry Cole, Emma Hayden,
GENRE: HORROR
TAGS: zombies! action, sci-fi
RATING: 5 PINTS OF BLOOD

PLOT: In this truly unusual man in the wilderness survival yarn, the subject of a dystopian future ekes out a brutish living while fighting off fast-moving, humanoid cannibals.


COMMENTS: The Vanguard has an unlikely premise, but its singular atmosphere and intense, believable action scenes make it a special find.

We grow weary of hundreds of zombie movies. A new one is released bi-monthly. Frankly, George Romero got it right with Night Of The Living Dead (1968) and Dawn Of The Dead (1978). Those two entries pretty well cover the genre. So many subsequent efforts are poorly plotted showcases for special effects splatter, and little else. 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) are exceptions that add a fresh perspective to the familiar genre.

Rarely, something different comes along. One example is Scooter McRae's avant-garde 1994 entry, Shatter Dead. Another is Robin Campillo's socially existential 2004, They Came Back (French), reprised via Fabrice Gobert's 2012-2015 TV series, Les Revenants, aka The Returned.

Matthew Hope's 2008 under-rated, small-budget sleeper, The Vanguard is another groovy anomaly in this otherwise tired horror sub-genre.

In The Vanguard, Max Carter (Ray Bullock Jr.), finds he is a rare survivor of a disastrous world defined by post-oil boom corporate wars, anti-resistance death squads, and GMO "human" berserkers known as "Biosyns." The later, crazed zombies are the result of a mass pacification drug gone awry -some mumbo jumbo about recombinant DNA, blah, blah, blah. (When a movie's preface is so convoluted that it must be related via lengthy text at the film's commencement, you should watch out -yet while the Vanguard fails here, like Star Wars, it turns out to be pretty entertaining after all.)

Carter himself is an initially comical character, with beard and sunglasses, gallivanting about the countryside on a kid's bike. But once we see him in action, in some truly horrific killing scenes, we better appreciate him. Which is not to say that The Vanguard takes itself too seriously to be a little tongue-in-cheek here and there. It's just that the zombie-killing survival sequences of ultra-violence are so sudden and graphic that the grim reality they depict overshadows any satirical element. And while it's bloody and briefly funny in a few places, it should be emphasized that The Vanguard is neither campy, nor a gratuitous splatter-fest...well, maybe not too campy, or too much of a splatter fest. (Does blood splashing all over the camera lens make it a" fest?")

Regarding the backstory, in The Vanguard, we presume the aforementioned "resistance" consists of those former work-a-day Joes unwilling to submit to a not very well-defined, totalitarian corporate regimen. We imagine this as being biologically merged into a sterile business cubicle while a synthetic brain chip convinces you that you actually like it "doing stuff on a computer" 23 hours a day.

If that's all too complicated and sounds silly, it is. In reality the world population will exponentially decrease when the oil runs out, and multinational corporations, manufacturing, distribution, telecommunications, the power grid -everything really, probably including social order, will collapse, plunging us back to at least the 1700's, or more likely, the barbarous era.

But for the purpose of this week's movie, whether or not the premise makes sense doesn't matter. The thrust of The Vanguard is that Carter has to subsist in the outback as a hunter-gatherer, dodging lurking zombies and the occasional non-discriminating soldiers sent to thin out those zombies, and any stray non-conformists. This idea itself could have led to a neat political story, but the Vanguard's emphasis is on the spooks.

These are not plodding, clumsy zombies. To the contrary, The Vanguard's flesh-hungry ones are fast, tireless, and resourceful. They operate in predatory packs, like hyenas and jackals.

As in Cornel Wilde's 1969 adventure, The Naked Prey, there is little dialogue in The Vanguard and most of the story consists of pursuit. Carter briefly narrates here and there, thinking in voice-over reflections, what he would convey to his dead father about the state of things. Instead of being chased by murderous tribesmen as Cornel Wilde is in The Naked Prey, Carter is prowled after by Argus-eyed cannibals.


With this in mind, one can easily overlook the far-fetched dystopian premise. The explanation for the undead really doesn't matter, and writer/director Matthew Hope would have done well to follow George Romero's example in Dawn Of The Dead, in which Romero provides no explanation for his zombies. Romero learned his lesson after having limited Night Of The Living Dead with a rationalization which became instant fodder for scientific criticism, and soon prematurely dated the film.

Backstory premise ignored, the Vanguard is at its core, an exiting, Paleolithic-style survival flick. Carter uses not firearms, but tomahawks and spears, and while their steel composition technically spells out, "iron age," the term, "Paleolithic" paints the primal, savage, survival of the fittest existence into which Carter's circumstances thrust him.

The Vanguard's filming is kinetic, with much of the story occurring on the run, but camera work is solid and clear, not like the shaky, constricted framing which plagues a current rash of "found footage" films.

There are a few faults. The Vanguard's narrative comes in fits and starts and the pacing is uneven. Much of the film is seat-of-the-pants action, but the plot wanders later when Max collaborates with a disillusioned army deserter. A redeeming feature of The Vanguard is the originality and credibility of the zombie encounter violence. Mere Olympic competition split second advantages of skill and lightning speed reactions separate Carter from being a survivor of each scrimmage or becoming zombie lunch.

While writer/director Matthew Hope could have benefited from some story editing, his strong point is his ability to tell a tale with pictures. Film is a visual medium, and conveying substantial meaning with just images to the exclusion of words is a special skill not at every filmmaker's command. It is precisely this aspect of the movie which bestows upon The Vanguard its distinct look and feel, and makes all that textual explanation at the story's opening unnecessary.


 

 

You can also stream this movie on Amazon!



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