Friday, 29 April 2016

Dead By Dawn 2016: Men & Chicken (2015)


In some ways, Men & Chicken may seem an odd choice to close a horror festival like Dead By Dawn. But it doesn't take long to deliver the kind of content that you can easily see appealing to organiser Adele Hartley.

Men & Chicken may end up exploring some very interesting ideas about happiness and family, but it begins with scenes of a man visiting his dying father, slightly perturbed when questions are asked about the whereabouts of his brother, while another man attends a date with a wheelchair-bound psychotherapist, most probably because he thinks that a meal and evening out with the lady will be more rewarding, and less expensive, than actually paying for the therapy that he needs. And that's enough to warn viewers about characters they are about to spend the duration of the movie watching.

David Dencik and Mads Mikkelsen play those two men. They are two brothers named, respectively, Gabriel and Elias. Although brothers, their dead father informs them (through the medium of videotape) that they don't have the same mother. And their dead father isn't actually their father. This information sends them on a journey to discover just where they came from, why their father abandoned them, and whether or not they can do better than the miserable existence they seem to be wading through. It turns out that they have a few brothers, all easily identified by the fact that they all have harelips, along with one or two other abnormalities.


Travelling through territory that includes black comedy, seems to reference The Island Of Doctor Moreau, feels at times akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and wraps up a surprisingly optimistic core with surrounding layers of cynicism and despair, Men & Chicken is  a slow burn with many small pleasures despite having few surprises. It's certainly an unusual story, don't get me wrong, but most viewers should be able to realise where the third act will end up as soon as the movie starts to properly plot out the slight narrative.

All of the cast do a great job, but most of the laughs come from Mikkelsen, partly because his role here is so removed from other, more suave, characters that he's portrayed in recent years. Dencik also does a great job, despite being almost the straight man of the piece, but singling him out is slightly unfair to the others, who all get at least one memorable moment. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Soren Malling, and Nicolas Bro may not be recognisable names, at least not to general audiences outwith their home countries, but they easily hold their own.

It's slightly overlong, and strains at times to keep the viewer on board, but writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen manages to take all of the oddness and unpleasantness and turn it into something surprisingly . . . . . . . okay, maybe sweet is the wrong word, but it all feels very human during the final scenes, which is amazing considering the animalistic behaviour of most of the protagonists.

7/10

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Men-And-Chicken-Mads-Mikkelsen/dp/B01DEAIAJU?ie=UTF8&keywords=men%20and%20chicken&qid=1459601262&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_dvd_3&sr=8-1


And that is it for another year at Dead By Dawn. Thanks, as ever, to Adele Hartley, her helpers, The Filmhouse team, and everyone who gets along to make the festival what it is. Even my loony mates.

Dead By Dawn 2016: The Shorts.


As there is only one movie left for me to cover in my look back over Dead By Dawn 2016 (I had to miss the last two features, with an import disc allowing me to see Men And Chicken just in time for this coverage) I thought that this would be a good place to quickly review the shorts. All of them.

The 2D & Deranged selection were as follows:

Alt-Tab - mad genius. My personal selection for the best animated short. 9/10.

Francis - a gorgeous campfire tale with an amusing punchline. 7/10.

  
Other Lily - Interesting and quirky, with a nice line in that particular feeling you get when trying to get to sleep despite feeling terrified. 7/10.

Mute - absolutely brilliant. Would have been my choice for best animated short if not just beaten by Alt-Tab. 9/10.


Frozen Blood Test - most will have seen this by now. It's worth watching again. And again. And again. 8/10.


Then you had some of the usual What You Make It selection, a typically eclectic mix:

La Seance - an interesting look at a very particular branch of photography. 7/10.

The Nest - many will have already seen this Cronenberg short. That doesn't make it any less unnerving. 7/10.


The House Is Innocent - a highly amusing look at the warm and witty couple who own an infamous murder home. 8/10.

How Deep Can I Go? - strong contender for my favourite of the fest until some other choices were shown. You may agree with me when you watch it. 9/10.



Death In Bloom - enjoyable and amusing look at death dealing with a slightly fussy customer who just wants her final moments to be perfect. 6/10.

Saturday had a short programme that reminded us all of Where The Wild Things Are:

Boniato - an interesting and impressive little monster movie that could easily be expanded upon, I think. 8/10.
I still prefer Play Dead, however, from the same talented people. So here is Play Dead for you to enjoy.



The Bridge Partner - very droll, but also very amusing. 7/10.

L'ours Noir - an absolutely hilarious look at how not to attract the attention of bears. 9/10.

Foxglove - strange and flawed, this one didn't really work for me. 3/10.

Bad Throttle - a great punchline makes this well worth seeing on a big screen, but it's overlong when you consider the joke. 6/10.

Three short movies made up the Apocalypse Soon section:

Graffiti - a quiet but enjoyable tale set in Pripyat. 7/10.

The Disappearance Of Willie Bingham - starts decent, gets better, and becomes downright horrifying as things go on. Brilliant, bleak stuff. 8/10.

Monsters - my personal choice for the best short film of the festival. Amazing stuff. 10/10.



Last, but by no means least, we have I Blame The Parents, and this lot included:

Viking - a brother and sister give their dad a send off while also revelling in the fact that he's finally shuffled off this mortal coil. 7/10.

Honor Student - more like a music video, this is no less impactful during its final moments. 7/10.

Black Eyes - almost feels like Harold & Maude remade with two child stars. Wonderful stuff. 8/10.

De Kleinzoon AKA The Grandson - dark, witty, and with a fantastic punchline. 9/10.

Blight - superb stuff, yet another short film that easily feels ripe for expansion. It's all about a priest helping a family deal with their possessed and pregnant daughter. 9/10.

The Babysitter Murders - this won best short film of the festival. While it's polished, amusing stuff, and benefits from a layer of meta winks and nods, it's also far too predictable, and ever so slightly smug. But most people seemed to disagree with me. And I still really enjoyed it, regardless. 7/10.

And that covers them all. If you like what you have seen here then please do share the love for these talented film-makers, and keep an eye out for the other titles mentioned here. You won't regret it.

Dead By Dawn 2016: She Who Must Burn (2015)

I REALLY want to punch Shane Twerdum in the face. REALLY HARD. That's nothing personal against Twerdum, although I understand why that would be hard to believe, but it's a testament to how great he is in his portrayal of a particularly reprehensible character in She Who Must Burn. Watch the movie and tell me I'm wrong.

Twerdum plays Jeremiah Baarker, a fanatic evangelist who ends up leading his "followers" to ever more dangerous and violent acts as they attempt to convince people that everything is part of god's plan. A woman should always do as her husband wants. Everything is justified if it is done in the name of the almighty. And abortion is a huge sin. It's this last part, more than any other, that drives Baarker again and again to butt heads with Angela (Sarah Smyth), a wman who offers advice to other women, and in some cases help to escape abuse.

There are a number of other characters mixed in to the plot of She Who Must Burn and I'm not ignoring them here as any comment on their depictions, or the talents of the actors in those roles. I'm simply choosing to focus on Jeremiah and Angela because they represent the eye of the storm here. Despite the two characters not actually sharing too much screentime together, relatively speaking, the film often feels like a two-hander in the way that it's either showing events as viewed through one filter or the other.

Twerdum may have been thinking of giving himself the best role when he wrote the script with director Larry Kent, but this never feels like any kind of vanity project. It's not even as morally simplistic as it could be, mainly thanks to a quietly audacious and thought-provoking finale that will lead to some interesting questions and conversations after the credits roll.

Smyth is also very good, despite the fact that she has the less showy role, and she's believable as a woman with no major aims or agenda other than helping out others in times of distress. She's obviously a strong individual, and this comes over in both her moments of comforting others and her confrontations with those protesting outside her home.

Abortion and religious extremism aren't necessarily ingredients for a fun time at the movies, and you'll struggle to come out of She Who Must Burn and tell others that you enjoyed it, in the traditional sense, but this is well worth your time. It's an interesting story, it's told well, and some of the attitudes on display serve as a sombre reminder of attitudes that we still need to, sadly, work against in these more (supposedly) enlightened times.

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8/10


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Dead By Dawn 2016: Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex (2015)

Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex is another documentary about the special people who have made our special effects over the years. But what separates this from the likes of Nightmare Factory and other documentaries covering similar territory? Well, first of all, this one isn't just looking at the KNB EFX Group. Secondly, it's both a more specific look at the designers and how their passion has helped craft so many memorable designs over the years and yet also a wider look at the many departments now working together to design and operate one creature. It may start back in the early days of cinema but it doesn't forget to look forward at the potential still ahead of us. Sometimes that is viewed with optimism and sometimes there's an inevitable tinge of sadness as practical work is overshadowed and/or replaced by computers.

Because there's no real plot to discuss, obviously, and no performances to weigh up, none of the usual movie review stuff, I'll just use this paragraph to reel off a list of names. Some, but not all, of the people appearing onscreen to talk about special effects and creature design are: the Chiodo brothers, Rick Baker, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, John Landis, Phil Tippett, Greg Nicotero, Kevin Smith, Tom Woodruff Jr, Mick Garris, and Matt Winston. It's an impressive selection, no doubt, but the notable omission of Tom Savini (who is only ever namechecked once) makes it feel slightly incomplete. And I'm always a bit miffed, as a huge fan of his work, whenever the mad genius of Screaming Mad George is overlooked.

Directors Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet do a very good job of getting the right people to wax lyrically about their perspective on the industry, whether it's Phil Tippett sharing his passion for model work, the Chiodo brothers being shown alongside both Killer Klowns and Critters, or Tom Woodruff Jr admitting that he doesn't remember his work on Mortal Kombat with too much fondness. Dante and Landis are both great talkers, as usual, and Kevin Smith speaks for us all when describing how he views any shark to this day because of Jaws.

There's not much else to say about this documentary. Fans of horror, and fans of special effects, should already know that they want to see it. Others can take or leave it, as they see fit. It's certainly recommended for fans of all kinds of cinema though.

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7/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: From Beyond (1986)

This review first appeared, in a very similar form, on Flickfeast.


Director Stuart Gordon reunites a few cast members from Re-Animator (Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs) in another movie based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft and while it may not quite reach the giddy highs that the exploits of Herbert West did, it’s a solid horror that holds up surprisingly well.

Starting off with a very similar short, sharp shock sequence a la Re-Animator, we get to encounter Crawford Tillinghast (played by Combs) as he escapes from an experiment gone awry that has resulted in the death of Dr Pretorius (Ted Sorel). Pretorius was working on an invention known as a resonator that would help to stimulate the pineal gland and show more of that which normally remains unseen all around us. It worked too well, unfortunately, and while seeing amazing sights those using the resonator also attract bigger problems. Barbara Crampton plays Dr. Katherine McMichaels, a misguided professional who thinks that the way to help Tillinghast (now staying in a ward for those with mental problems) is to take him back to the scene of the carnage, accompanied by a large security presence in the shape of Ken Foree, and to re-enact the experiment. Of course that should be a good idea. I’m sure nothing at all will go wrong with that progressive method of helping a person many have already assumed mentally unbalanced. Quelle surprise, things start to go bad and then go from bad to worse.

This movie is a whole lot of fun for fans of horror and fans of any of the lead actors. Taking a very slight Lovecraft tale as its basis, it does very well in using the central concept (and let’s not overlook the great Brian Yuzna’s influence in the writing department here) and expanding upon it to create something truly memorable and entertaining. The special effects vary throughout the movie but many of them are very well done indeed, and there are certainly one or two moments that will make you queasy if you’re not already TOO hardened to everything the genre can throw at you.

Gordon paces things perfectly with that great intro then a nice build-up interspersed by a few quick fright/shock moments until we get to an all-out insanely entertaining final reel that feels more like a Frank Henenlotter movie at times but is all the more fun for it. Revisit this film if you have not seen it in a while and, like me, you may be pleasantly surprised at how well it stands up. And newcomers? Give it a try, you may end up liking it too. Although, do be warned, it also feels very much of the '80s (which remains a big plus point for me, although some don't view things the same way).

One final note . . . . . for one scene alone, seared on my memory at a tender age, this remains the lovely Barbara Crampton’s finest hour. Fans will already be smiling in acknowledgement while all other red-blooded males should definitely check it out just to fall in lust with the woman. What a gal.

From Beyond was followed up in this late late Dead By Dawn 2016 show by the superb Dead & Buried. I admit that my eyelids didn't allow me to stick it out until the end, but here is my review from my last viewing of that particular slice of horror greatness.

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8/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: We Go On (2016)

After the madness of YellowBrickRoad, writer-directors Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton return with another impressive horror entry. While more traditional in style and aim than their debut feature, this remains something a bit different. Yet it also ladles on the atmosphere and traditional scares with a skill rarely seen at this level (not to dismiss the many fine horror movies we see every year, I am just emphasising that this is a top-tier flick with very few of the flaws we usually see associated with considerably lower budgets).

Clark Freeman plays Miles, a young man who seems to be afraid of almost everything in the world around him. Especially cars. He's one of the few people who doesn't drive. In an effort to release himself from his paralysing fears, Miles overs a large financial reward to anyone who can prove that there is something after death. He wants to take some comfort in the fact that we go on, hence the title. After wading through a large pile of kooks and deluded responses, he narrows his potential candidated down to just a few. Heading off to meet each one, with his mother (Annette O'Toole) in tow, he soon finds that there may not be any proof out there. Until it appears right under his nose. And then he might wish he hadn't started on this journey.

There are only two main problems with We Go On. First of all, Freeman isn't the best lead. He's not terrible, by any means, but it certainly takes a while to warm to his character. After some careful consideration, I concluded that this was due more to Freeman's performance than the writing, which is pretty solid throughout. The second main problem is a surprising lack of tension during some sequences. There's atmosphere and some wonderfully spooky details, and a few fantastic jump scares, but the tension dissipates once some rules are laid down and you know what can and cannot occur. That doesn't make the experience of some of the main characters any less harrowing, however, and it's a minor flaw when the rest of the actual horror content is so well handled.

As well as Freeman and O'Toole (who is wonderful, by the way, in her portrayal of a mother who will go to almost any lengths to keep her son safe and well), the cast includes John Glover in a small role (making the film an extra little treat for Smallville fans), Giovanna Zacarias as an alleged psychic plagued by the presence of spirits around her, Jay Dunn as a lovesick stranger, and Laura Heisler as a young woman trying to keep a dangerous individual out of her life. All of these people interconnnect in ways that feel nicely plausible without ever seeming too contrived, in the context of the main premise.

Holland and Mitton have certainly learned a thing or two over the past few years, although I am still also a huge fan of their debut, and We Go On uses almost every trick in the book to deliver the chills. The visuals and production design are solid, the audio moves up and down to prime you for those big scares, and the script manages to satisfy everyone while also still leaving room for some personal interpretation.

If you enjoyed some of the bigger supernatural hits from the last decade or so (The Sixth Sense, Stir Of Echoes, White Noise, etc) then you should love this one. It's up there with the very best of 'em.

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8/10


Dead By Dawn 2016: The Corpse Of Anna Fritz (2015)

Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) is a beautiful celebrity. And as this movie begins, you may not be surprised to know, she is dead. Her corpse is being held overnight in a hospital morgue before being further dealt with elsewhere. Pau (Albert Carbo) works at this hospital, and he receives a visit from two friends (Ivan, played by Cristian Valencia, and Javi, played by Bernat Saumell) before they are all due to go out partying. Which is when things start to get dark. Very dark indeed.

I'm not going to say any more about the plot details here because the less you know going into this movie the better. Suffice to say that this is a deeply unpleasant and uncomfortable viewing experience, to start with. But stick with it and you'll be rewarded with a damn fine, and extremely tense, thriller that rattles along nicely for the duration of its relatively short runtime.

Director Hector Hernandez Vicens, who also co-wrote the movie with Isaac P. Creus, skates to the very edge of what many will consider immoral and distressing before starting to then add complexity to the scenario and connect more strongly with viewers who will start pondering just what they would do if thrust into a similar situation (not that, I hope to god, any one of us WOULD be thrust into a situation like this).

All of the cast do a fantastic job, although I could easily make the obvious joke about Ribas corpsing on camera, and it's impressive to think about your opinions of each character at the end compared to how you may have been viewing them at the very beginning of the movie. I also won't be going into any more detail here because discussing the character developments could be as damaging to your experience of the movie as discussing the plot details. This is a film about a wild situation, about morality and consequences, and it moves from scene to scene thanks to the actions of the main characters.

Although it's no blockbuster, with the hospital really the only setting of the movie, The Corpse Of Anna Fritz never feels lacking in any way. The budget has been put to great use, with extra focus on the cold, impressive camerawork and framing. Moving between the morgue itself and some other parts of the hospital also helps to release viewers from any potential feelings of claustrophobia and think of the film taking place in a world other than just an unconnected independent movie universe (look, we all love independent movies but we've also all seen a number of films that take place in one room or building with nothing but stock footage trying to convince us that there's still a big world outside).

As a look at the strange allure of celebrity, this works. As a look at the strange effect of testosterone mixed in with peer pressure, this works. As a tense and unique thriller, this works. Basically, yes, this works for film fans who have the stomach to handle the unpleasant premise.

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8/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: Antibirth (2016)

I started off laughing at Antibirth. It wasn't exactly a hard film to find amusing. But then it keeps on going and I just found myself laughing less. And less. And less. Until I eventually stopped. But still the movie kept going, throwing quirky black comedy beat after quirky black comedy beat at me. The last ten minutes or so put a smile back on my face, but that still wasn't enough to make up for the preceding 80+ minutes (that felt much longer to me).

Natasha Lyonne plays Lou, a young woman who spends her time getting drunk, stoned, or drunk and stoned. Chloe Sevigny is her best friend, and seems to enjoy spending a lot of her time the same way. And another couple of plot strands feature Mark Webber as a supplier of drugs and girls while Meg Tilly pops up to portray a character I can't even be bothered explaining. I'm sorry. I really can't. She's not exactly Miss Exposition, I guess, but she's certainly not far from it. Anyway, let's get back to Lou. Things get very interesting for her when she finds out that she's pregnant. Unfortunately, she cannot recall how this happened. In fact, she's pretty sure that it shouldn't actually BE happening to her. Has she blanked out during a sex session that led to her impregnation? Or is the explanation a stranger one?

Writer-director Danny Perez sure knows how to enjoy himself. Thankfully, there are times when that enjoyment seeps off the screen. It just doesn't happen as often as it should, or as often as it needs to. And he wears away your goodwill by piling on the quick cuts and clumsy editing as things become more frenetic and strange en route to the finale. Lyonne help to make things bearable, she's always fairly enjoyable and this is just the right type of role that lets her shine, as does Sevigny, Webber, and even Tilly (despite her thankless role I was just happy to see her again - not sure what else she's been doing lately but it's not been on my radar anyway).

If you like your horror to be less horrifying and more steeped in surrealism then this might just be a little cracker for you. And the practical effects used in the final, wild scenes almost make up for everything that has come along beforehand. Unfirtunately, this just didn't strike a chord with me at all. Which left me sitting there in growing discomfort and gloom while others laughed at the collection of disconnected moments of weirdness.

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3/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: Der Bunker (2015)

Written and directed by Nikias Chryssos, Der Bunker is a strange, dark comedy that the helmsman himself introduced at Dead By Dawn 2016 by humorously explaining that the audience was about to view a film about a typical German family. The characters featured here are anything but typical, of course, with even the more sympathetic individuals seeming to have left a few too many toys in their attic.

Pit Bukowski plays a young man who ends up renting a room in the bunker of the title. His room is spartan, with not even a window to the world outside. But this may be just the thing for him, as he throws himself into his work. Also inhabiting this strange home are a mother and father, played by Oona von Maydell and David Scheller, respectively, and their young boy, Klaus (played by Daniel Fripan). Klaus is, apparently, destined to become President, although this looks less and less likely when he starts to slide backwards in his home education. Mother and father decide that it might be best for the newcomer to teach their son, and it's not long before their demands start to strain both teacher and pupil.

Some people in the audience for Der Bunker didn't like it as much as I did. Some viewed it as yet another film doing little more than parading a bunch of freaks and weirdos onscreen with very little point to it all. And I can absolutely see their point. But this film really tickled me, and impressed me with the way it moved from strange to stranger to outright bonkers. And who says that every film has to have a point anyway?

While none of the cast have to worry about subtlety or nuance, they can't really be faulted for their performances either. Fripan is especially amusing as a boy who claims to be eight years old despite the fact that he's clearly much older. Bukowski is probably the next person to raise the most smiles, begining with an air of general bemusement until eventually succumbing to some of the strange ways that his hosts make seem normal in their home.

The title may bring about visions of drab colours and depressing brick and/or metal surroundings but it must be said that Chryssos also makes the wise decision to intersperse the bleaker scenes with splashes of colour, and even some lively and uncoordinated dancing. Oh, and there's also . . . . . . . . . . Heinrich (but you'll have to watch the movie to see what he adds to the proceedings).

And that's really all I have to say about this quirky delight. Well, that and the fact that if you can imagine Takashi Miike making a German movie then it may well end up exactly like this. Which I mean as a high compliment.

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8/10

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Dead By Dawn 2016: Astraea (2015)

Astraea is a post-apocalyptic movie that to sketch out the big picture by layering and providing extra detail to a small selection of main characters who become a flawed, tumultuous, family unit.

Nerea Duhart is the titular character, a young girl journeying across the isolated countryside with her brother, Matthew (Scotty Crowe). They have survived a strange world-altering event, in which people simply fell down dead on the spot, and Astraea is convinced that a couple of relatives have survived. She's convinced of this because she believes herself to be slightly telepathic. But she and Matthew both end up surprised when they spot James (Dan O'Brien) and Callie (Jessica Cummings). Initially just glad to meet some other people who may be able to help them plan their journey, Astraea and Matthew soon start to become more and more attached to their new "friends".

Boasting a quartet of wonderful performances, a solid script from Ashlin Halfnight (and if that's not the name of a cool vampire slayer then I don't know what is), and competent direction from Kristjan Thor, Astraea certainly has one or two moments familiar to fans of this subgenre, but also manages to steer things far enough away from the well-trodden path to make the movie feel almost original and fresh. It works best when viewed as a drama about the family dynamic being tested under extremely stressful circumstances, but that doesn't ever allow the background to ever disappear. Motivations are almost always based on the exceptional landscape, with even simple targets called into question if they don't benefit some short-term plans.

Crowe and Cummings both do very well with their characters, but it's hard to argue against them being the weaker two of the four. Duhart and O'Brien are the stronger participants, thanks to the development of their characters and also some slightly stronger performances, with Duhart particularly impressive considering how she has to mix childish innocence with an ability to face the desolate world she now inhabits.

All in all, this is a film that plays to its strengths. In fact, it makes every factor into a strength. The low budget isn't ever on your mind. Neither is the small cast, or the limited locations. All you will think about is a real world that has been affected by a strange blight, and the people trying to survive in it. At least until the end credits have rolled.

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7/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Like it or not, The Hills Have Eyes is arguably almost single-handedly responsible for the "hillbilly cannibal" subgenre that has given us the Wrong Turn series, Hillside Cannibals, Jug Face and the comedic stylings of Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. It's also the film that saw writer-director transition from the down 'n' dirty roughness of The Last House On The Left to a more polished approach that we see him stretching his legs in some strange and unique genre fare before becoming the franchise-spawner that he was by the late 20th century (a status I would have to acknowledge here, after his passing).

A family are travelling through a remote area of America when they find themselves targetted by a bunch of savage hill-dwellers. And that's really all you need to know about the film. It's a very pure set-up, allowing Craven to continue his look at the thin boundary between civility and savagery while also providing more than a fair share of shocks and tense moments. The film has dated, that's true, but it retains a rawness and off-kilter aura that makes it easy to hold up as a bit of a classic, albeit one with a few forgivable flaws.

Dee Wallace is one of the familiar faces among the group of potential victims, and she's always good to see onscreen for genre fans. But she's joined here by John Steadman, Russ Grieve, Virginia Vincent, and a few others. It's the villains of the piece, however, who are the real headliners, as evidenced by much of the marketing material. James Whitworth is Jupiter, the head of the violent and deadly family living in the hills. He's memorable, and suitably scary, but it's Michael Berryman who is rightly remembered for his portrayal of Pluto. Berryman mixes his unique appearance with animalistic behaviour that makes him fascinating to watch, even as things start to get worse and worse for the poor family being besieged by savages.

If you consider yourself a horror fan then I consider this essential viewing. Not just because of the influence upon the subgenre already mentioned, but also because of seeing a stepping stone in the career of Craven. It's fascinating to see someone manage to tone down a cinematic primal scream into something more acceptable to mass audiences while somehow not diluting the power of his work. If only more knew how to do it. But, then again, that's why Wes Craven was as revered as he was. And rightfully so.

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9/10

Dead By Dawn 2016: New Nightmare (1994)

AKA Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

The story, in brief: Freddy Krueger is an incarnation of an ancient evil, according to Wes Craven (played in the film by . . . Wes Craven), and the stories/movies were actually keeping him somewhat in control but now that he/it is being left to rot away it is time for fiction to come crashing back into reality. What better way for Freddy to get back into our world than through Heather Langenkamp's young son, Dylan (played by Miko Hughes)? Reality is, after all, simply a cinema-screen's width away. And there's sometimes no better cinema screen than the imagination of a child.

This is an interesting, and sadly overlooked, entry in the franchise, that is of importance to genre fans who want to see the ideas in Scream before they became Scream. Craven uses this movie to explore the boundaries between reality and fiction and to subvert many of the horror clich├ęs while at the same time using them to get classic scares. He also manages, impressively, to get Freddy (Robert Englund again, of course) back to being a genuinely scary figure. This is helped by Freddy receiving a makeover that makes him look even more evil than he ever did before. In fact, this and the "devil" Freddy look from FvJ are probably his scariest incarnations.

Langenkamp does slightly better here, playing a version of herself, but I still wish she'd never burdened the entire series with her presence. She's a great gal, and does well to revisit a character she could have ditched a long time ago, but there are many better actresses out there. It has to be said that everyone (Langenkamp, Englund, Saxon and even Craven, although he's the least of them) does well in bravely portraying versions of themselves. And Lin Shaye is back in a minor role, although she may be the only one returning from the first movie NOT to be playing themselves.

This movie, more than any other in the entire series, has intelligence, a great storyline and moments that offer something to really disturb most viewers (parents may feel especially unnerved with some scenes). It also has a number of great callbacks to the first movie and some nice references to classic "horror" stories, Hansel And Gretel being the most obvious one. The second best entry in the series and well worth giving another chance to if you disliked it the first time because it was "too different".

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8/10


Dead By Dawn 2016: Decay (2015)

The more I think about Decay, the more I realise that I actually quite enjoyed it. That's mainly due to the central performance by Rob Zabrecky, but it's also thanks to writer-director Joseph Wartnerchaney's ability to deftly blend the more potentially repulsive moments with strangely uplifting imagery (perhaps best exemplified in a scene which has the main character lovingly bathing a young woman who isn't quite as pretty as he views her, to put it mildly).

Zabrecky plays Jonathan, a man plagued by some severe OCD and other mental health issues. As some flashbacks show, this all stems from some poor treatment at the hands of his unstable mother (Lisa Howard). When Jonathan walks in on two young girls trespassing in his home this starts off a chain of events that takes him on a journey that may just leave him feeling quite a bit better while some other people start to feel worse and worse.

Wartnerchaney has taken some dark subject matter here (death and decay, obviously, but there are also wince-inducing moments of child cruelty) and made something surprisingly amusing and, at times, affecting. It's far from perfect, with the 98 minute runtime feeling much longer and a few tediously obvious "revelations" during the third act, but what's on display is impressive enough to make this talent, in terms of both the director and his leading man, worth keeping an eye out for in future.

Zabrecky is quiet throughout most of the film. He's also suitably twitchy when he needs to be, which is fairly often. Although he's not the only person onscreen, and not in every scene, this feels very muc like a one man show at times. Which makes his performance one that I don't mind heaping some praise on. Whether you end up liking the film or hating it, it's hard to deny how the performance from Zabrecky keeps you onside long after you should be sticking around.

Although it seems to have enough substance to it, the biggest problem with Decay may be that it just feels a bit too flimsy for a full feature. There are certainly one or two sequences that you can't help feeling would have made great subject matter for short films. But I don't think that should stop people from checking it out. Even if you may end up clockwatching before the end credits roll.

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6/10



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Dead By Dawn 2016: Yr Ymadawiad AKA The Passing (2015)

Essentially a three-hander featuring Mark Lewis Jones, Annes Elwy and Dyfan Dwyfor, The Passing (AKA Yr Ymadawiad) is a real slow-burner that just manages to make the finale a worthwhile one for patient viewers. Just.

Elwy and Dwyfor play Sara and Iwan, two people dragged from a car accident by a hermit-like man named Stanley (played by Jones). Looking at their isolated environment as a bit of a blessing, Sara and Iwan start to consider staying longer than their recovery time, with few, if any, objections from Stanley.

It's hard to write too much about The Passing because what you get is a truly beautiful piece of cinema with very little else seeming to take up the runtime, superficially. Below the surface, however, there's plenty to keep your attention as you watch the main characters go on about their lives, interact with one another, and start to change.

The script by Ed Talfan, fully in Welsh (just to warn those few people who still insist that they don't like to "read" films with subtitles - you heathens), may be sparse when it comes to dialogue, but there's plenty said without words being spoken. Director Gareth Bryn, who has a decent background in TV already on his way to this cinematic feature debut, clearly has faith in the material, and he's helped immensely by his crew. I'm not lying when I say that I can't recall a miserable environment (in terms of both characters and bad weather) looking so gorgeous. 

Elwy, Dwyfor and Jones are pretty excellent throughout. It's hard to really describe how well they do with what they're given, considering that this feels like a movie mixing the traditional with a certain unusual approach. Film is a visual medium, of course, but it's hard to sometimes fully appreciate movies that focus on that aspect when so many movies cram in great soundtrack choices and cool lines of dialogue you can repeat for many years after your first viewing. The Passing is a work of art, but it would be an empty work of art without the weight added by the small cast.

Reading this review, I really feel as if I am selling this film short. But it has to be said that many should approach this with caution. Overdo the praise here and people will watch it while wondering just what the hell I enjoyed so much about it. So I'd rather keep expectations lowered. If you can handle the sedate pacing and focus on visuals then you will find this a solid piece of work. Anyone waiting for the next reboot of Friday The 13th should look elsewhere.

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7/10


Dead By Dawn 2016: Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Jacob's Ladder is one of those movies that I missed when it first came out. And I didn't catch it until approximately fifteen years. I appreciate that many other movies came and went in that time that were influenced by this one, but I've still never quite loved it as much as many other horror fans. It's a good film, don't get me wrong, and the cast is a wonderful one. It's just never as horrifying or downright eerie as it could be, especially when you compare most of the movie to a few of the impressively unnerving images that are produced in the first half of the film.

Tim Robbins plays Jacob Singer, a Vietnam veteran who starts to have dark and unsettling visions that affect his health and daily behaviour. It's also making things difficult with his girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Pena). Are the visions the result of some experimentation on his unit during wartime? Are they signs of a mental breakdown? Or are they something more sinister?

Director Adrian Lyne works confidently here, and also makes popular that special effect that we will refer to by the technical term "really fast shakey head and blurry face moves". He doesn't rush things, even when the third act will probably be obvious to many viewers. This is a film more about the journey than the final destination, funnily enough, and that journey is interspersed with some fantastic phantasmagoria.

The script, by Bruce Joel Rubin, is equally confident, taking the time to flesh out a number of the supporting characters while leaving plenty of breathing room for the moments of tension and spookiness. In fact, it could bee argued that the main strength of the film is how it gets you to invest in a number of people who could so easily have been consigned to much smaller roles without any real damage to the central horror strand of the narrative.

That's also helped by the casting. Robbins has always impressed me in the way that he can equally use his full height to his advantage or fold himself up to make himself more vulnerable, depending on the role. This is somewhere in between, with Jacob a man who has clearly left his army days far behind him yet retains the strength to withhold a sustained attack on his mental faculties. Pena is a strong woman opposite him, alternating between sympathy for what Jacob appears to be going through and reminding him that she will only put up with so much shit. Elsewhere, Danny Aiello is a chiropractor who tries his best to guide Jacob through his dark path, Jason Alexander pops up momentarily to portray a lawyer who may or may not end up helping the ex-soldiers find out what was done to them, and Pruitt Taylor Vince, Ving Rhames, Eriq La Salle, and one or two others play the men who fought alongside Jacob in his platoon.

As influential as it is derivative, Jacob's Ladder remains an impressive horror that is relatively interesting and intelligent throughout, and also played completely straight. Which perhaps explains, more than the actual premise, why it went down so well in 1990, when first released.

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7/10


Dead By Dawn 2016: K-Shop (2015)

K-Shop is an acerbic commentary on the binge drinking culture of Brits out for a big weekend. It's also interested in the power of minor celebrity in a world that lets these people away with, and sometimes even seems to encourage, some pretty morally bankrupt behaviour. And it's a bit of a kebab-centric riff on the tale of Sweeney Todd. Which would all be much more enjoyable if it didn't run for about 115 minutes, making it feel approximately 100 minutes too long. Writer/director Dan Pringle had a good idea for his feature debut, and I imagine that he may have envisioned the central premise with a couple of main scenes bookending the whole thing, but he then made the mistake of turning into something rambling and irritating, much like many of the drunkards who end up onscreen.

Ziad Abaza plays Salah, a young man who takes a break from his studies to help out his father with the kebab shop that he's been running, thanklessly, for a number of years. The parade of pissed up ingrates soon begin to take their toll on Malik, and his studies. His father ends up suffering even more after one too many incidents affecting his health. And when one confrontation goes too far it turns out that any meat can be added to the rotating kebab. And it ends up being surprisngly tasty, according to some details scattered throughout that end up showing how well the shop does (although this isn't ever at the forefront of the action).

There are moments to enjoy here. The material lends itself to a darkly comedic vibe, obviously, and I can't deny how satisfying it was when Salah finally put certain individuals in their place (and that place is on a kebab). But Pringle never hits the nail on the head. He seems too distracted by a few different ideas that he then dwells on for too long. Take the moments that sketch out the character of Jason Brown (a local z-list celebrity played by Scot Williams). Although he's very much needed in the movie, ultimately, he feels completely superfluous to events. As does a young lad named Malik (played by Reece Noi). And even a woman named Sarah, played by Kristin Atherton. Again, these characters are needed for a number of reasons. But Pringle doesn't use them half as well as he should. Which is a shame, because he bagged himself a pretty great little cast.

Abaza is very good in the lead role, and you stay on his side at almost every moment (although that's also to do with the quality of the acting from those playing his potential victims), Williams is suitably cocky and shallow, while Noi and Atherton show Abaza other potential reflections of himself, and what his influence could mean.

Some might think my rating here is generous. I'm sure the director and his cast would think it woefully below-par. I think it's pretty much spot on. This is a competent film with one or two good ideas. It just somehow manages to both stretch those ideas too thin and not do enough with them, as paradoxical as that sounds.

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4/10



Monday, 25 April 2016

Dead By Dawn 2016: Green Room (2015)

AKA that film that features Patrick Stewart as the leader of a bunch of neo-Nazis. AKA "Do you feel lucky, punk?"

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who previously gave us the excellent Blue Ruin (and before that gave us Murder Party - which I have yet to watch), Green Room could accurately be described as a snarling beast of a film. It feels raw and visceral throughout, and not just because the main protagonists are members of a punk rock band who prefer their vocals to be primal and full of anger.

The band is made up of Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner. They're not having a very good time, having to siphon petrol to keep their van on the road and being interviewed by someone who no longer has a show on air . . . . . . . . and can't get them the decent gig that they thought they were travelling to. To make amends, they are offered a gig elsewhere. It's the middle of nowhere. Most of the audience seem to be of a certain political leaning, to put it nicely, but the band figure that they can insult them, play a few songs, and make out with a few hundred dollars for their troubles. Which isn't bad at all. And then someone pops into a room backstage and witnesses some people around a fresh corpse. Which is when things start to go from bad to worse to the stuff of nightmares.

Green Room is a lean, nasty, grimy thriller that feels very much like something from an earlier decade. Thankfully, it manages to feel that way without making too many obvious nods and winks to viewers. The most obvious jumping off point would be the classic Assault On Precinct 13, and one or two other John Carpenter movies, but these characters, and this level of violence and brutality, could have stepped out from any number of xploitation movies from the '70s and '80s.

But I don't want to spoil your expectations with hyperbole here. Don't go into the movie expecting a) wall to wall violence and b) nastiness unlike anything you've ever witnessed before. No. What Saulnier does so well is litter his movie with moments to make you wince and scenes that often take a left turn when you thought they were moving right (no pun intended).

All of the aforementioned cast members do a very good job, even when jumping around and trying to look like punk rockers, and Patrick Stewart certainly makes a great impression with his relatively limited amount of screentime, but there are also fantastic turns from Mark Webber and Macon Blair, to name but two of a handful of people I could have singled out. Imogen Poots is a bit out of place here, but I like her anyway and she's not exactly stinking up the entire film. She just doesn't really seem to fit into this world.

If you're hoping for another Blue Ruin then this isn't for you. But if you're hoping for a film that uses fight dogs, box cutters, guns, fire extinguishers, and plenty of fake blood then get to this as soon as possible. Personally, I think this is the better film. But that just says a lot more about my mental state than the difference in quality between the two.

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9/10