The Horrific Real-Life 'Snowtown Murders,' Plus a Look at the Sundance 2013 Midnight Movies

The Horrific Real-Life 'Snowtown Murders,' Plus a Look at the Sundance 2013 Midnight Movies

Nov 29, 2012

Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.

Ethan Hawke Sinister

Latest Horror News

Hawke and Headey will Purge next May – Ethan Hawke must like this whole horror-movie thing. After appearing as a conflicted vampire in Daybreakers and in the sleeper hit Sinister, the actor can now start promoting the official release of The Purge.

The film, which finds Hawke and Lena Headey living in an overcrowded world where crime and murder are legal for one 12-hour period per year, debuts on May 31.

The micro-budgeted film seems like an odd title for a release right at the start of the summer season (it’s opening the weekend after Memorial Day), but we’ll see how it goes. 

Town That Dreaded Sundown getting remake treatment – What’s the latest horror film scheduled for a remake? If you guessed The Town That Dread Sundown, you can clearly read the titles before the posts.

MGM is reportedly asking writers to submit ideas on how to update the 1976 Charles B. Pierce film with an eye toward remaking it in the very near future.

The original is a bit of a cult classic, focusing on a hooded killer who terrorized Texarkana in 1946. The real-life crimes that inspired the film remain unsolved. Have a peek at the original trailer below and see what you think. 

Del Toro’s InSane lands new developer – Game publisher THQ is in a fight for its life, and as stock prices have continued to plummet, the company has had to drop some interesting projects from the development roster. One of the most disappointing casualties was Guillermo del Toro’s InSane.

The Lovecraftian horror title had generated a fair amount of buzz based on the filmmaker’s involvement, but the planned trilogy of horror-based titles was ultimately deemed too expensive for the company to proceed. With his walking papers in hand, del Toro set about finding a new home for his game – and he’s apparently found it.

While there’s been no official announcement, the director reports that he’s found a new developer for the game and that plans are afoot to get it back up and running soon. Good news for gamers who like their titles on the spooky side for sure. 

First trailer for Dark Hollow debuts – Paul Campion has revealed the first teaser for his adaptation of Brian Keene’s horror novel Dark Hollow... and it’s quite intriguing.

The brief clip doesn’t reveal much, but it does give us our first glimpse at Hylinus, the evil satyr abducting local women. The creature is being designed by the FX wizards at WETA, so we have really high hopes for this movie. Check out the clip below. 

Horror Review

Snowtown Murders posterThere are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to horrific cinema: there’s the group that wants their horror films to be like the funhouse at the carnival (meaning you might get a jump or two, but it’s all safe and entertaining and you might even laugh once the credits have rolled), and then there are those who believe that horror should be, well, genuinely horrifying. There’s not a universally right or wrong answer when it comes to which side is right – it’s all a matter of personal preference. That being said, I love both kinds of horror films. However, if film is really supposed to serve as representation or re-creation of real life, then I think the truly special horror films should be horrifying.

Most filmmakers don’t go this route because it limits the audience. People who want genuinely disturbing cinema are a minority. Film is both an art and a business, with business often trumping the art part. That doesn’t mean we never get genuinely disturbing horror films, though, because we do. Sometimes, they’re not even marketed as horror flicks in the first place.

Take, for instance, Justin Kurzel’s The Snowtown Murders. This 2011 film was marketed as a dark drama based on a series of real-life killings in Australia. There are no final girls running around, no abandoned campgrounds where a bad deed once happened, and no supernatural monsters. Instead, Kurzel’s film gives us something much more terrifying: abject poverty, child abuse and some truly heinous people committing awful crimes.

The film focuses on Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway), a teenager living in a poor neighborhood with his mother and siblings. When the boys are left in the care of a pedophile neighbor (who assaults them all), it opens the door for the arrival of John Bunting (Daniel Henshall). Bunting is outraged by what’s happened to the boys, and along with a friend, begins to worm his way into the family’s life by making the neighbor’s existence a living hell. Once he’s in, it becomes clear to Jamie that Bunting isn’t what he seems to be – he’s a bullying homophobe who’s out to kill homosexuals and pedophiles. The film chronicles how the boy gets caught up in Bunting’s terrible web.

The “based on a true story” angle gives Kurzel’s film some added resonance. While many would balk at a fictional film filled with these horrible acts, it’s somehow more tolerable to audiences if they know it all really happened. Kurzel seems well aware of this and uses it to his advantage – crafting one of the darkest and bleakest films I’ve seen in quite some time.

The Snowtown Murders isn’t a pleasant film. There’s an air of despair and hopelessness running through the whole thing, and it makes another great example for those who would argue that the worst evil is often the most banal. There’s nothing interesting or exciting about Bunting or his actions – this isn’t the standard Hollywood horror flick, interested in flashy kills and cool killers. This film has more in common with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than Friday the 13th.

Telling the tale from Jamie’s perspective is clearly the right decision. In a film lacking in sympathetic characters, Jamie is the only one we can even sort of relate to as an audience. No one will condone the character’s actions as the film marches toward its inevitable conclusion, but we understand how he ends up where he does. This is a young man who’s been betrayed by every male figure in his life – from his absentee father to his abusive neighbor, to his predatory half-brother, to Bunting. We may not be entirely sympathetic, but we still feel for the kid. He never had a chance.

Pittaway and Henshall both turn in great performances. Many of the performers in the film aren’t actors, which makes for some very interesting characters. Part of the way Kurzel keeps his audience off balance is by blurring the line between feature film and documentary – and this reliance on locals only helps his cause. Half the reason The Snowtown Murders is so disturbing comes from knowing that it’s based on a true story. The other half is watching it and wondering if you’re seeing the actual crimes as they’re committed.

Given that this is Kurzel’s first feature, his work is certainly impressive, but not without some minor flaws. At exactly two hours in length, The Snowtown Murders isn’t an inherently long film, but it feels longer than it is. Kurzel is so intent on creating this atmosphere of dread and abject emptiness that he occasionally wallows in his scenes. There are some slow moments in the movie – and it’s nice as far as re-creating “real life” goes, but the best films should always try to mirror real life minus the boring bits – and Kurzel occasionally misses the mark here.

It’s hard to hold that against the film, though. The Snowtown Murders will lull you into a sense of hopeless despair at every turn, and the slower moments simply give the audience time to regain its bearings. This is a bleak and dark film, which means those folks who expect their horror films to be like a trip to the local haunted house will surely be unhappy with what’s on display here. This is real horror – ugly and mean and capable of hurting you if you’re not careful. It’s not overtly gory (there is one intense scene, but most of the really gruesome stuff is kept offscreen) and it’s not a jump-scare kind of event. This is something deeper than all that – this is about evil and suffering and despair. The Snowtown Murders isn’t an easy film to watch, but it will linger with you for days once you’ve seen it.


2013 Sundance Film Festival Midnight Movies

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival is slowly unraveling its program over the next week or so, and today came its Park City at Midnight slate (as well as Spotlight and New Frontier), featuring a lot of the darker, edgier (and weirder) stuff -- otherwise known as our favorite category. I'll dive into this later on in the month, but for starters here's the list of movies, including the sequel to VHS (yes, they made it already!), S-VHS (pictured above). 

From horror flicks to comedies to works that defy any genre, these unruly films will keep you edge-seated and wide awake. Each is a world premiere.
Ass Backwards / U.S.A. (Director: Chris Nelson, Screenwriters: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson) — Loveable losers Kate and Chloe take a road trip back to their hometown to claim the beauty pageant crown that eluded them as children, only to discover what really counts: friendship. Cast: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Alicia Silverstone, Jon Cryer, Brian Geraghty.
Hell Baby / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon) — An expectant couple moves into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans – a house with a demonic curse. Things spiral out of control and soon only the Vatican's elite exorcism team can save the pair – or can it? Cast: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Key, Riki Lindhome, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel.
In Fear / United Kingdom (Directed and story by: Jeremy Lovering) — Trapped in a maze of country roads with only their vehicle for protection, Tom and Lucy are terrorized by an unseen tormentor exploiting their worst fears. Eventually they realize they've let the evil in – it’s sitting in their car. Cast: Alice Englert, Iain De Caestecker, Allen Leech.
kink (documentary) / U.S.A. (Director: Christina Voros) — A story of sex, submission and big business is told through the eyes of the unlikely pornographers whose nine-to-five work days are spent within the confines of the San Francisco Armory building, home to the sprawling porn production facilities of
The Rambler / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Calvin Lee Reeder) — After being released from prison, a man known as “The Rambler” stumbles upon a strange mystery as he attempts the treacherous journey through back roads and small towns en route to reconnecting with his long-lost brother. Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady, Scott Sharot.
S-VHS / U.S.A., Canada (Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Edúardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener, Screenwriters: Simon Barrett, Jamie Nash, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans, John Davies) — Searching for a missing student, two private investigators break into his abandoned house and find another collection of mysterious VHS tapes. In viewing the horrific contents of each cassette, they realize there may be terrifying motives behind the student’s disappearance. Cast: Adam Wingard, Lawrence Levine, L.C Holt, Kelsy Abbott, Hannah Hughes.
Virtually Heroes / U.S.A. (Director: GJ Echternkamp, Screenwriter: Matt Yamashita) — Two self-aware characters in a Call of Duty-style video game struggle with their screwy, frustrating existence. To find answers, one abandons his partner and mission, seeking to unravel the cheat codes of life. Cast: Robert Baker, Brent Chase, Katie Savoy, Mark Hamill, Ben Messmer.
We Are What We Are / U.S.A. (Director: Jim Mickle, Screenwriters: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle) — A devastating storm washes up clues that lead authorities closer and closer to the cannibalistic Parker family. Cast: Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner, Michael Parks, Wyatt Russell, Kelly McGillis.

Horror on the Horizon

With Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, and Christmas still just off on the horizon, studios have apparently decided there’s time to slip in a few horror flicks before Santa does his thing.

November 30 sees the arrival of two new horror flicks: one in wide release, one limited.

The limited title is Steven C. Miller’s remake of the controversial Silent Night, Deadly Night. The new version is simply called Silent Night, but will once again features a murderous Santa punishing those who’ve been naughty.

The bigger title opening on the last day of November is Marcus Dunstan’s The Collection. The sequel to cult favorite The Collector features more gore, more diabolical traps, and the return of the masked madman from the original. We’re hoping this one lives up to expectations.

Unfortunately, after that mini-explosion of frightful flicks, the first week of December is completely dead... and not in a good way.

Horror at Home

Things aren’t much brighter on the homefront in December either. The month gets off to a good start with the release of V/H/S on December 4 (also joined by the home video debut of the aforementioned Silent Night), but the week of December 11 is pretty light on good gore.

The undead Osama bin Laden makes his debut in Ozombie and an anniversary disc for House of Terror (which no one was clamoring for), but that’s about it. We expect it will be pretty dead on the horror front until after the New Year, but the good news is that January is like the new October for scary movies. 


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