Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Prime Time: Truth Or Dare (2013)

Directed by, co-written by, and starring Jessica Cameron, Truth Or Dare is a film so desperate to shock that it becomes dull well before the halfway point. Highly derivative, there were already other Truth Or Dare movies (directed by Tim Ritter, and Cameron had even starred in one of his movies before stepping up to make this) and fans of extreme Japanese cinema will be familiar with the Red Room movies, films that this also owes quite a debt to, it's a great shame that those involved didn't put their energies into something less obvious and cynical.

The plot revolves around a group of online celebs who call themselves the Truth Or Daredevilers. They get fans and online hits from extreme stunts, upsetting one individual when their most recent antics involve a death (minor spoiler ahead)... that turns out to be fake.

Will some horror fans find enough here to enjoy? Yes. Some will revel in the fake gore, able to overlook the weak script and ridiculousness of it all (one character seems barely pained by the finale, one lives way beyond their expected time of death), and Cameron and co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins were obviously too busy squeezing in hot button skeletons in the closet to bother about anything else. You get infidelity, pedophilia, incest, transgenderism, and some nastiness with a bottle that comes closest to those Red Room exploits (anyone who has seen those will remember the lightbulb scene).  Obviously desperate to be edgy and offensive, and I am sure some viewers will be offended, the script just comes across as puerile and tiresome.

The acting is, sadly, not good enough to help the script. Cameron, Heather Dorff, and Devanny Pinn all cry and swear a lot, as do Brandon van Vliet and Shelby Stehlin (the main ones I remember). They may look upset but it's never anywhere near the hysteria and terror that you could imagine people experiencing in this situation. Ryan Kiser isn't even that good as the crazed "game master" but he gets one moment at the very end of the film that shows he could have done a bit better with more interesting material.

So how does Cameron, who has a fanbase among horror fans, do with the direction? Not good. All of the flaws feel like they lie at her feet, as a result of not being able to make the best use of the low budget, not giving up her "star" role to anyone else, and generally putting together something that feels cheap, lazy, and rushed.

I guess fans are happy to support Cameron, regardless of the quality of her work. I am not a fan, from what I have seen so far. And am therefore happy to advise people to avoid this one.

2/10

I dare you to buy it here.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Hocus Pocus (1993)

It’s certainly worth remembering how much nostalgia can colour your view of things when you revisit a film like Hocus Pocus, a film that I was probably a bit too old to enjoy when it was initially released and most certainly too old to enjoy it nowadays, at the ripe old age of “I spent a lot of my teenage years wondering which of my mates could help me win a quest on Knightmare” years old.

This is a tale of three witches, the Sanderson sisters (played by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker). They are your standard, evil witches. In an attempt to stay young forever, they need to drain life force from children. And that gets them in trouble. It gets them a death by hanging. Except death isn’t always the full stop for witches that it is for us mere mortals. Many years later, a young lad who is new in town (Max, played by Omri Katz) decides that it would be good to see what happens when a virgin lights the black flame candle. And what happens is exactly what is said to happen – the witches come back. And they have one night to gain immortality or be turned to dust by sunrise. It’s up to Max and Allison (played by Vinessa Shaw) to stop them, helped along the way by Dani (Thora Birch, playing the little sister to Max) and a talking cat (voiced by Jason Marsden).

There's fun to be had here, especially in any scene that has Midler front and centre, relishing every line that she delivers in her amusingly over the top portrayal, and Hocus Pocus is still one of those movies that I believe serves as a nice introductory "horror" for kids who like some spookiness in their viewing selections. If you can overlook the dated CGI, there's the talking cat to enjoy, an inept zombie, a lively spellbook, lots of fun confusion as the witches encounter the modern world, and a fun rendition of "I Put A Spell On You".

As well as all that, however, you also get the levels of annoying overacting that serve to remind you that this is a typical Disney movie. Not all live action Disney movies suffer from this, but most do. Katz, Shaw, and Birch are all okay in their roles, with Birch easier to excuse as the youngest of the three, but all have their moments. Midler and co. are easier to tolerate because of the characters they're playing. The worst of the offenders are Sean Murray, who plays a young man named Thackery, and Marsden as the voice to the cat (Thackery was transformed as part of a curse, both actors portray the same character), but Tobias Jelinek and Larry Bagby give pretty poor performances as a pair of local bullies, and Doug Jones is stuck with having to overplay things as he pursues the kids in zombie form.

The direction by Kenny Ortega is acceptable, I guess, but there are one or two great moments that show how much better this could have been, with just a little more thought and care for the style of the whole thing, and the script, by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, ranks about the same. There are some very good lines, but also so many scenes that you know could have been filled with a lot more of them. This was a premise full of potential, and only some of it is realised.

There will be people who read this review and hate me, despite the fact that I don't hate the film. A lot of people still absolutely love it. I cannot bring myself to dislike it, despite it not holding up for me so much nowadays, but it's one I would only recommend to anyone wanting to introduce younger viewers to it. You'll still be able to enjoy it for yourself, but watching them enjoy it is an added bonus.

6/10

You can buy the movie on this shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Mubi Monday: Village Of The Damned (1995)

The second reworking of classic sci-fi horror material by director John Carpenter, this is much less successful than his previous attempt. Perhaps it's because the original was already a pretty perfect adaptation of the John Wyndham novel, "The Midwich Cuckoos", or perhaps it was just too lacklustre in all departments, from cast to cinematography, through to score and direction.

You will probably already know the plot. A small village is temporarily knocked out. Completely. Everyone just passes out, and anyone trying to enter just passes out as soon as they step within a certain radius of the location. Then everyone wakes up, and nothing seems different. It becomes clear, however, that all of the females who can bear children have become pregnant. And when those children are born they are all very similar in their physical characteristics. And they share the ability to read the minds of the people around them. Not only that, they can influence people to do things, even if that leads to self-harm or death for the person being controlled. Someone has to stop them, but it may already be too late.

Village Of The Damned is not a BAD film, not exactly. It's certainly not the worst from Carpenter, but the titles in his filmography that rank below this at least had some interesting ideas and imagination, even if the execution of the material was flawed. This is just a film that feels exactly like what it was, a contractual obligation. It's hard to think of a better way to update this material but I am sure there is one. There has to be a better approach than just taking the main plot points and including some moments of unimpressive violence and death.

I always enjoy seeing Christopher Reeve onscreen (this was the last film he completed before the horse riding accident that left him paralysed) and this is another role that makes use of his stoic nature and dependability. He's really the only lead character who remains interesting throughout, with anyone else - Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Hamill, etc - either hampered by the script or their unsuitability to the roles assigned to them. Thankfully, there's a great little turn from the legend that is George 'Buck' Flower and the kids are all easy enough to dislike, even if they often emanate an air of irritability rather than pure evil.

This is TV movie stuff when it should have been much better. It's not as if Carpenter wouldn't be a fan of this kind of material, making it all the more surprising that he didn't try to put more of a stamp on the script, credited to David Himmelstein, and either update the material in a much smarter way or use the central idea as a springboard for something that diverted further from the source novel.

It's not a painful viewing experience, but that's really the best thing I can say about it. It's arguably the worst film in Carpenter's filmography, because at least the other films that could be nominated for that title had some imagination and atmosphere to them. They felt like John Carpenter films, even as they started to fall apart. This doesn't.

4/10

This mediocre movie can be bought here.
Americans can buy it here.



Sunday, 28 October 2018

Netflix And Chill: Ouija: Origin Of Evil (2016)

I had heard that this prequel to Ouija was actually quite a good horror movie but I just couldn't bring myself to give it a watch before now. Yes, it was directed by Mike Flanagan, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Howard, but it was a prequel to Ouija, which was just crap. I should have had faith, in both the people who advised me that I would enjoy this film and the talent of Flanagan (who hasn't done anything yet that I have really disliked).

Set in the 1960s, this is the tale of a widow (Lina Zander, played by Annalise Basso) and her two daughters (Alice, played by Elizabeth Reaser, and Doris, played by Lulu Wilson). Lina offers readings to people in order to make money, helped by her daughters (who hide away and help to create the effects that show contact has been made with the spirit world), and it looks like they can add to the whole performance when they find an old Ouija board. Unfortunately, they break a number of the golden rules, which lets an evil force into their lives, communicating to everyone through young Doris.

There are a number of jump scares here, and a number of absolutely predictable moments (one or two repeated from the first film), but Flanagan also knows how to just creep viewers out. Once the opening act of the movie is done, with characters established and the Ouija board made use of, things start to get freaky very quickly. And the scares are all the better because of being grounded in a film that feels close enough to something from at least a few decades ago. This may not be a 100% accurate period film but there are enough touches, from the opening credits to the appearance of the film (even including added "cigarette burns" for extra authenticity), to make it feel like something you would have caught in the early days of VHS.

The performances are all excellent, with Basso, Reaser, and Wilson wonderful in their individual turns and also as a strained family unit, and there's a fine supporting turn from Henry Thomas, playing a priest/teacher who helps the family figure out just how bad things are for them. Parker Mack may be the least of the central cast members, playing the young man, Mikey, who is forging a relationship with Alice, but he is also good in his role.

A couple of visual tricks may be overdone, although the white-eyed and gaping-mouthed look never stops being scary to me, and there's obviously the fact that those who watched the first film will know how things should play out, but none of that stops Ouija: Origin Of Evil being a surprisingly brilliant mainstream horror that manages to hit the beats that it has to while also providing a few hair-raising surprises along the way.

Although you can watch this, and enjoy it, by itself, I still grudgingly encourage others to watch the first film first, if only to give you more appreciation when you then see how Flanagan and Howard tied things together here.

8/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Shudder Saturday: Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

How do you make a film that follows on from the enormous success of The Blair Witch Project? You can either do it all over again, but show everything instead of showing nothing and throw in lots of jump scares (as Adam Wingard did) or you can take a radically different approach, instead choosing to comment on the reaction to the first film and the way in which everyone so easily believed that it was based on a truth, a blind acceptance of media in an age that had shown media manipulation to now be as easy as making yourself a packed lunch for work.

The focus of the plot here seems to be a bunch of people who head out to take a tour of the woods near Burkitsville (location of the first movie). They're being shown around by Jeffrey (Jeffrey Donovan), who has previously spent some time in a mental health facility. The main characters are Tristen (played by Tristen Skyler, known nowadays as Tristine Skyler), her partner Stephen (Stephen Barker Turner), a goth girl named Kim (Kim Director), and a white witchy woman named Erica (Erica Leerhsen).

That's the plot, but it's not what the film is about. As things start to develop, things become more and more meta, spiralling in on itself like a snake trying to devour it's tail. For anyone wondering why Joe Berlinger (better known for his documentaries at this point) would even want to direct this, from a script he co-wrote with Dick Beebe, it soon becomes obvious when the story being depicted onscreen starts to fragment and weave in and out of any narrative strand that makes sense.

There may have been some (a lot?) of studio interference here, seeming to be most obvious in a few of the more standard scare moments, but the bad doesn't outweigh the good, despite the reputation that this film gained, a reputation I personally put down to that Halloween III: Season Of The Witch effect. Fans decided that they would rather have more of the same than something that took them on a very different stroll through the woods. Berlinger knows that, and perhaps makes it easier for critics to savage the film by slyly setting up to look as if they will play out that way before pulling the rug out from everyone. It is, to me, why I also enjoy the lack of subtlety in the opening act: clips with Burkitsville locals that echo the early footage from the first movie, the immediate reveal of the character who has had mental health problems, the assembly of the core group of stereotypes, the opening credits having "Disposable Teens" over the top of them. It also wouldn't have helped that the film is, essentially, a slap in the face to everyone who absolutely bought into the hype for The Blair Witch Project. It's a movie version of someone waving their hands around and shouting "you believed this? You actually thought this was real???"

It used to be said that the camera never lies, but it's also said that the camera adds ten pounds to your weight. Nowadays, neither of those statements seem correct. The camera almost always lies, either depending on how the image is manipulated or how the context is twisted or hidden. That has grown exponentially in the internet age and, for me, that is what the book of shadows refers to. The internet. A place where every "page" has the potential to captivate someone and change their mind about something. A place where you can challenge yourself or find plenty to support your own beliefs, whatever they may be. It's out there, a worldwide spell cast by all of us, without any limits in place, and it's important to remember that with every single click we make, both as a user and a creator.

The script may not be as sharp or smart as it could be, and the direction is a bit messy at times, but the biggest weakness here is the cast. Aside from Donovan and Director, and Lanny Flaherty (playing a local Sheriff), the performances range from embarrassingly bad to just about tolerable. Leerhsen is the worst offender, but there are a number of times when Turner and Skyler do their best to match her.

Despite these imperfections, Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 holds up for me as a smart and sophisticated horror movie. I encourage people to revisit it, or finally give it a watch for the first time. You're unlikely to enjoy it as much as I do, but I hope that it might one day rise above the unwarranted bad reputation that has been attached to it since it was initially released.

8/10

Anyone else who likes the movie can buy it here.
Americans can pick it up here.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Filmstruck Friday: The Lure (2015)

If I told you that The Lure was a film about killer mermaids then you'd not be bothered by me reviewing it as a horror movie, I assume. You might even be unphased if I told you that it uses the mermaids as proxies for many people in the world around us who are exploited, shaped into something else, and then left in a state that doesn't allow them to just slip back into their former life. But if I told you that it was also a musical, didn't really have many moments of tension or scares, and is basically a strange and cool updating of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Andersen tale, not the Disney animated film), then I can understand that you might balk at the idea of me including it as a horror viewing. Well, I'm counting it.

Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszanska play the two mermaids, Silver and Golden. They encounter a band singing on a beach one evening and end up going along with them to a nightclub, where they are eventually turned into part of the act. They become singers, stripping as well, and seem to go down well with the clientele. Unfortunately, Silver can't control the urge to go out at night and find someone to eat while Golden finds herself falling in love with the bass player of the band (Jakub Gierszal). Things start to turn sour.

Written by Robert Bolesto, The Lure is quite the entertaining genre mash up. After a very brief prologue that sets up the meeting of the characters, things become very cool and pop-tastic, staying that way for a little while before showing the struggle that the two leads will face (one due to love, one due to staying true to her own nature). It's a smooth transition, allowing viewers to accept the central idea well enough before playing around with it and introducing all of the other main plot points. The dialogue may not be the best you will hear but this is a film more interested in using the fantastical to explore issues that affect people every day.

Director Agnieszka Smoczynska does a fantastic job, moving on from a selection of shorts and TV work to her debut feature with a good eye and plenty of confidence required to handle the imagery, tone, and performances. Even during the busiest, and strangest, moments, she never loses her eye on the focus of the tale. And she's also very good at handling the musical moments (there are some enjoyable, lively, tunes here).

Mazurek and Olszanska both do well in their roles, expressing plenty with just a look as they sometimes communicate telepathically, and comfortable in the fact that they have to be fairly nude for most of the runtime. Geirszal is also good, Marcin Kowalczyk makes a good impression as another land-living creature from the sea (he is, in fact, playing an incarnation of Triton), and Kinga Preis and Magdalena Cielecka are both very good as performers affected by the introduction of the mermaids into their lives/performing group.

If you go into The Lure expecting a standard horror movie then you're going to be VERY disappointed, despite the fact that it is tagged in that way. That is just one part of it (and you get a few moments of bloodshed and quick violence to warrant that). But the horror here stems from mistreatment and abuse that may feel over the top here, because of the main environments and the central characters, but is actually not too many steps away from a version of reality that many victims suffer through. That's what makes The Lure so effective and powerful, once you realise that the sheen of fantasy is just sugar-coating a very bitter pill.

8/10
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.


Thursday, 25 October 2018

Jackals (2017)

Imagine, if you can, that you were trying to watch the very enjoyable You're Next. But nobody will give you any peace. You have to try to engage in conversations, someone has decided to visit and show you their new (crying) baby, and your bladder has decided to play up for the day, deciding that the last coffee you had was enough to take you over the edge, meaning that you have to nip to the loo every 10 minutes. The pause button on your player is broken so you end up just dipping in and out of the film, getting random bits of information without making sense of the whole plot.

Then you decide to make your own horror movie, one that you feel will be an excellent little horror film in the same vein as You're Next. That movie would be Jackals, a disappointingly pointless mess that never truly engages the viewer and draws them in. But at least you included home invasion horror, people wearing animal masks, and a plot point about someone who used to be in a cult.

The plot is all about a family unit trying to deprogram one of their own, having stolen him away from the cult he now considers his true family. While he resists their attempts to return him to his precious state, the cult members gather outside and start terrorising the family.

It makes sense that this is the first feature script from Jared Rivet, who doesn't create good enough characters, doesn't effectively build tension, and ruins any potential the premise could have with every main story beat, all the way to the tediously predictable final scenes.

What doesn't make sense is the fact that this is far from director Kevin Greutert's first rodeo. He previously directed Jessabelle AND the sixth and seventh instalments in the Saw franchise (two instalments I really enjoyed). So it makes me think that he initially saw something in the script that was then lost during the transition from page to screen.

The cast don't help either. They're not awful, and you get lead roles for people like Johnathon Schaech and Deborah Kara Unger, but a couple of them (Ben Sullivan and Nick Roux, playing the brothers, the former being the brainwashed cult member) aren't as good as they should be. Stephen Dorff is wasted in his small role, and Chelsea Ricketts tries her best but is given the worst parts of the script to deal with, in terms of her reactions to events and characterisation.

If you're desperate for something to watch, and it's streaming somewhere for free, then you may enjoy Jackals. I mean . . . I'm sure someone could enjoy it. But I would implore you to search for something, anything, different. Because the only thing this has going for it is a degree of competence on the tech side of things. No fun, no thrills, no tension, just technical competence.

3/10

You can, if you wish, buy Jackals here.
Americans can buy it here.


Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Prime Time: Nightmare Beach (1989)

Nightmare Beach starts with an execution, the execution of a biker named Diablo. He claims to have been set up, and also vows revenge. Skipping forward a year, it's Spring Break time in Miami. Two friends (Nicolas de Toth and Rawley Valverde) join in with the drinking and partying, but soon find their fun being spoiled by a number of inconvenient deaths. Yes, a mysterious biker is picking off a number of revellers, often killing them with a fatal dose of electicity. It's eventually up to Skip (De Toth) and a young woman named Gail (Sarah Buxton) to uncover the identity of the biker, and try to put an end to his killing spree.

Released in 1989, nightmare Beach feels every bit like a film made much earlier in that decade. It has a bit more of a sheen to it, perhaps, but the pacing and characterisations already feel quite archaic (especially most of the moments involving Valverde, the kind of guy who enjoys telling a woman that smiling more would make her much prettier). Perhaps that didn't seem so obvious back when it was released, and there are a number of films from the end of the decade, and even the start of the '90s, that feel almost designed as quintessential slices of '80s cheese. It makes the film impossible to take seriously now, however, but also helps to make it a hugely entertaining experience.

Directed by Umberto Lenzi, who wasn't really happy with the film he ended up making and so credited himself under the name of writer Harry Kirkpatrick, this is a real bag of mixed treats. People looking for a quality classic horror can skip it just now and look for something else, but those of us in the mood for entertaining trash? This is a perfect pick.

De Toth, Valverde, and Buxton are a mixed trio of central performers. None are really memorable, but they're fine. Genre fans will have more fun with the "old guard" onscreen here. You have a small role for Michael Parks, and fun turns from Lance LeGault, as a reverend, and John Saxon, playing a tough cop who may or may not have something to hide. Luis Valderrama is a biker spoiling for a fight, and Yamilet Hidalgo makes quite an impression as his fiery girlfriend.

Despite the attempted mystery element, it's hard to care about the identity of the biker. What matters here are the death scenes, all of them surprisingly impressive and somehow managing to feel different from one another while often managing to use the same method of murder. The pacing is perfect, with deaths interspersed by moments of humour and gratuitous sequences like a wet t-shirt competition (hey, it's Spring Break), and there are enough enjoyable random diversions (e.g. the plot strand with the thief that plays out and then just... ends) that will soon lead you to realise that this is not a film concerned with a cohesive narrative that makes complete sense.

It's a fun time by the beach, that's all. Watch it when you're in the mood for sand, sex, and senseless murders committed by a vengeful biker.

7/10

Pick up the bluray here.
Americans can get a disc here.



Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Devil's Doorway (2018)

Let me get the basics out of the way first. The Devil's Doorway is a sorta-found footage movie (that's the context, but there's a bit of editing on display and very occasional score, unless my ears deceive me). It's about two priests, the elder Father Thomas (Lalor Roddy) and the young Father John (Ciaran Flynn), who visit a Magdalene Laundry to verify a possible miracle; a statue that has been known to weep blood. Father John records as much as possible, Father Thomas spends a lot of time doubting what he sees happen around him, and both men soon find that there are terrible secrets to be unearthed in this nun-staffed institute for "fallen women".

The fact that this is the feature debut of director Aislinn Clarke (who also co-wrote the script with Martin Brennan and Michael B. Jackson) is very impressive. There may be a lack of subtlety throughout, some will be put off by the number of jump scares and you could roll your eyes at a some of the details (the obviousness of naming a doubtful priest Thomas being one of them), but that's offset by an impressive atmosphere of dread and imagery that constantly unnerves viewers by interspersing all of the bigger scare moments with little touches of sheer creepiness. My first viewing was punctuated by moments of me jumping out of my skin and turning away from the screen, sometimes only processing what had just happened as I watched the aftermath while my heartrate started to return to normal. I may have also loosed a few profanities, on occasion.

Roddy is absolutely fantastic in his role, helping to take the film up a notch with his believable performance, and Flynn works well alongside him. There are also good performances from Helena Bereen as the Mother Superior and Lauren Coe as a young, afflicted, woman named Kathleen. The former is the typical indomitable figure in this kind of environment, the latter turns up as the film becomes more intense than it already was.

You can take this film exactly as it is and be very entertained and scared. It's brilliantly constructed and the building momentum allows for less time to spend questioning the way everything plays out. But the unexpectedly great thing about The Devil's Doorway is that, underpinning everything, is a damming commentary on a legacy of troubling behaviour AND issues that still affect many women in Ireland to this day (the film premiered on the same day in 2018 as the Irish referendum on its abortion laws), and it does so without taking anything away from the horror. In fact, you could easily say that as you become aware of that strong subtext (some may call it just text, some may not give it a thought while being terrified) it all starts to add to the horror, especially as you think back to the time period of the film and how many women lived through at least some of what is shown onscreen. I would argue that the subject matter transforms some of the more clich├ęd images into more affecting and haunting elements.

Although it has some flaws, to be expected in most debut features, this is a fierce and powerful horror film that has enough intelligence to compensate for the negatives. I can easily see it becoming a bit of a favourite for horror fans, and it's definitely a new contender to sit near the top of any "best found footage movies" list.

Well done to Clarke on her achievement. I cannot wait to see what she chooses to do next.

8/10

The Devil's Doorway is currently available to rent or buy in digital form here.
Americans can also stream, or buy themselves a nice shiny disc here.



Monday, 22 October 2018

Mubi Monday: It Follows (2014)

It Follows is the popular horror movie written and directed by David Robert Mitchell that updates the classic idea of "Casting The Runes" by turning the curse into a STD. It's a hugely entertaining film, with a few fantastic set-pieces throughout, but also massively flawed, in ways that will be covered shortly.

Maika Monroe plays Jay, a young woman who finds her life thrown into chaos after a sexual encounter with a young man (Jake Weary) who has deliberately chosen to pass on a deadly curse. He immediately informs Jay of the situation: it will appear to her in humanoid form that anyone "uninfected" will be unable to see, it doesn't move quickly but is relentless, she will die if it gets hold of her, the only way to become safe is to pass it along, if Jay is caught and killed then it will go back to pursuing the previous victim. Jay tries to explain everything to some of her family and friends, and it's no surprise that they find it hard to believe until they start to see things that are scary and inexplicable. Can they help Jay to stay safe, and is there a way to break the cycle?

There's a lot to like here, not least of all the lead performance from Monroe. She's very easy to like, which helps to make up for the lack of real personality in the mixed group of supporting players (Keir Gilchrist has an understandable crush on Monroe's character, Olivia Luccardi has a memorable moment in which she ends a thought by breaking wind, and that covers the "highlights" of moments that don't focus on Monroe). The general dialogue is good, pacing is brisk, and there's a good synth soundtrack by Rich "Disasterpeace" Vreeland (despite the overused trick of the volume increasing in a way that signifies an approaching terror, not unlike THAT cue in the John Williams score for Jaws). You also get good special effects, all the more effective for being used quite sparingly, and the strength of that main premise.

Mitchell shows great confidence for his second feature, but his creation of such a great central conceit is as frustrating as it is entertaining and intriguing. Considering the potential here, there are a number of ways in which It Follows lets down viewers. First of all, moments that play things out with the potential to comment on abuse, and particularly sexual abuse, seem to veer close to saying something meaningful and then swerve away at the last minute. It's not that any horror film MUST have more to it than the superficial tension and scares, but Mitchell occasionally shows that he knows the potential of his premise (e.g. the scene in which police are questioning Monroe over her sexual encounter, certain specific incarnations of the curse) and that is what makes it harder to overlook.

It's also hard to view the curse as anything but inevitable, which is another problem. This isn't something you can pass onto someone else and be done with, nor is it something you can surreptitiously return to the person who initially gave it to you. It's a constant thing, as explained in the film, because once you pass it along to someone then that will only give you a temporary reprieve until the next person is killed. That's fine for the duration of the movie, and it ends with a suitable final image, but it's no good once you start to think outside the confines of that runtime.

Those things are easier to forgive, however, than the main thing to take viewers out of the movie, which is a truly dire third act that involves the worst plan to try to capture an evil entity since Ray, Egon, and Peter tried to jump on that ghost in the library at the start of Ghostbusters. In all seriousness, if anyone can explain to me why that was the big plan then please let me know. I understand that the characters soon realise it won't work, as things start to happen, but I don't understand how they reached their flawed conclusion in the first place. Are we just supposed to believe that the character who came up with the idea is a complete idiot, making the others more idiotic for going along with the scheme?

And yet, despite those big mis-steps, the film still works. It's a fantastic mood piece, with that score matched by some fine, creeping, cinematography (by Mike Gioulakis), and manages to keep you suspending disbelief for a good hour or so. And it also gains points for trying something a bit different.

7/10

You can buy It Follows here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Netflix And Chill: Malevolent (2018)

Malevolent starts off well enough. Set in Scotland in the 1980s, it's the tale of a brother and sister (Jackson and Angela, played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes and Florence Pugh) who, along with a couple of friends, make themselves money by going in to locations that are apparently haunted and conducting a "clearance". It's quite an easy gig, and they have their patter down to a fine art, but it's not long into the movie when things start to become a lot less fake than usual. Things start to get odd for Angela during what should be a regular, easy, gig. Then things go from bad to worse when they are hired by a woman (Celia Imrie) who claims to be plagued by the spirits of noisy children in her home.

It's not that the acting here is bad, not really. Imrie may be the veteran, and she's good fun in her role, but the performances from Lloyd-Hughes and Pugh are decent enough, as is the supporting turn from Scott Chambers (playing the other main member of the group; Georgina Bevan is also onscreen but given so little to do that she barely makes an impression). James Cosmo is as good as ever in his small role, Niall Greig Fulton does okay, and that covers the main characters.

The script isn't really that bad either. Written by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos (based on the novel "Hush" by the latter), it mixes in enough melodrama and decent ideas to create a heady brew. You have a dead parent who was apparently insane, claiming to be contacted by spirits. You have the dynamic of the brother and sister relationship, with the male pushing his female sibling into situations that she starts to find increasingly uncomfortable. And you have the character played by Imrie, eccentric and mysterious, perhaps innocent but perhaps not-so-innocent. There are even one or two decent scares in the first half of the film. Then the second half starts up, moving everything along to a third act that is horribly muddled and misjudged, sacrificing any creepy atmosphere for violence and any subtlety for crude simplicity. It becomes embarrassing long before the whole debacle draws to a depressingly dull conclusion.

Director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson (credited as just Olaf De Fleur) doesn't help. His background, a filmography that includes a number of documentary features and standard fictions, seems to have left him ill-prepared for this kind of material. This may explain why he does better in the earlier scenes that feature the strangeness developing in the background of the central relationship dynamics. And if it was his decision to accompany some spooky visuals in the second half of the movie with horribly unnecessary "spooky" voices then he really helped to undermine what could have been a decent little ghost story before that sharp turn to the violence.

I started off this review trying to be kind, as usual, but the more time I spent writing about it, the angrier I got. It's just so bloody annoying. Especially after a solid, if unspectacular, opening act. So much is left unexplored (background of the characters, emotional baggage, even the fact that it is set in the 1980s . . . something I assumed would figure into the plot but it never does) that the viewing experience just becomes more and more frustrating.

Some will be able to watch this and not become as irked as I was. Good for them. I suggest most people skip this and instead pick one of the MANY better horror titles available.

3/10

You can grab some horror movies here.
Americans can get some tricks or treats here.


Shudder Saturday: The Witch In The Window (2018)

I was very much looking forward to seeing The Witch In The Window but I couldn't, for the life of me, remember why. And then I took note of the writer and director. It's one Andy Mitton, a man who had previously thrilled me with YellowBrickRoad (a divisive, but downright impressive, feature debut) and the even better, although much more standard, We Go On. Both were horror movies made by someone who knows how to mix unease and subtle details with some perfectly-executed jump scares. But, perhaps tellingly, both were co-created with Jesse Holland.

The story here is all about a father (Simon, played by Alex Draper) and son (Finn, played by Charlie Tacker) who are having some time together while the father attempts to apparently "flip" a house. To flip a property is to buy it, hopefully at a low price, and then do enough decent work on it to be able to sell it for a profit. It's a gamble, but Simon has done it a few times now. Unfortunately, this latest property has a bigger problem than any structural or decorative issues. It has the spirit of a witch (Lydia, played by Carol Stanzione), and she sits at the window. What follows is a supernatural tale that focuses equally on the father and son relationship than the scares.

Despite one or two very good scares, The Witch In The Window feels reminiscent of the darker films that Disney gave us back when they tried to create some family-friendly horror movies. Even the title is close enough to The Watcher In The Woods for me to suspect that this is exactly what Mitton was aiming for. Therefore I am inclined to assume the personal responsibility for my lack of love for the movie. I liked it, it's a nicely put together film, but I didn't love it as I had hoped I would. Of course, I wasn't expecting a sweet father and son movie with occasional creepiness. I somehow expected a nerve-jangling experience more akin to We Go On.

Draper and Tacker aren't the best actors but their relationship feels very real, and that's the main thing. Both are coming to the same point from different directions, with the father wanting to be cool with his son but not in a way that will negate rules laid down by his mother (Arija Bareikis) and the son testing boundaries and getting things off his chest while they have their time together. It's this aspect of the film that works best, that strange blend of familiarity and awkwardness that happens when parents reconnect with their children after any time apart. The small main cast is fleshed out by Greg Naughton (who does okay as a nearby neighbour/handyman who knows the history of the house) and Stanzione (effectively creepy).

There are two standout sequences that should manage to give you goosebumps, making this worth your time (and it runs for just under 80 minutes), but I think it's important for people, especially anyone looking for standard horror thrills, to know that the heart of the film is not a scary or evil one.

Going back then, and reappraising the film for what it is instead of what I was expecting, how does it fare? Well, it's fine. I'm surprised that Mitton couldn't get it to generally look and sound better (sorry, it often feels cheap, which he generally avoided in previous movies). It would have also been nice to get to know Simon and Finn a bit more, and to find out why the parents separated. And it's a shame that the tone just doesn't work. Once the "horror" starts to happen, it rarely has any impact. Everything is shown so plainly and calmly that any tension is washed away, none of the characters feel truly endangered, and the short runtime makes it feel that everything rushes to end just as it was building up to something more effective.

The ending is good, however, with a bittersweet resolution for some of the main characters, and the moments that feel most authentic and honest are the moments that will stay with you after the end credits. Even if, like me, you were hoping for some more scares.

6/10

Get yourself some horror treats here.
Americans can get some horror here.


Friday, 19 October 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Les Diaboliques (1955)

Paul Meurisse plays Michael Delassalle, a school principal who is disliked by both his wife (Christina, played by Vera Clouzot) and his mistress (Nicole, played by Simone Signoret). They dislike him so much that they plot together to kill him. But the murder is the easy part. Things start to unravel when the body disappears, an unusual turn of events that puts even more strain on the weak heart of Christina, gives both women reason to mistrust one another, and creates quite the atmosphere of unease at the school.

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who has more than one masterpiece in his filmography, this is about as wonderful and twisted a thriller as you can get, with just a tinge of the supernatural to allow it to have one toe dipped in the horror genre (anyone in any doubt about that just needs to remember the final scene). Clouzot is an expert at creating tension, with a number of scenes here akin to a tightened spring, going and going until you just know that it will snap uncoiled at any moment.

The script, adapted by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, with some input from others, from the novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, is judged to perfection. Characters are set up quickly in the opening scenes, motivations are established, and then it's on to the more dastardly work, when things start to alternate between that tension and a certain amount of playfulness. Even the finale manages to provide explanations without feeling as if everything has stopped just for the sake of exposition, meaning that not one moment of the (approximately) 90-minute runtime feels unnecessary or wasted.

Mesdames Clouzot and Signoret are both fantastic in the main roles, the former constantly pained and strained while the latter tries to keep her cool in the face of a situation growing ever more improbable and stressful. Meurisse, despite not actually being on screen in non-corpse form for too long, also does a great job, enjoyably delivering lines of dialogue that show just how callous and unlikable he is. There are some other memorable characters here, but Charles Vanel is the main standout, a policeman who offers to help a distraught Christina after she has been to the morgue to identify a body she assumes will be her "missing" husband.

There may be modern movie viewers who watch Les Diaboliques and find themselves looking out for twists and turns, confident that they know how things are going to pan out and feeling as if they've seen it all before. I would ask those people to not do that. Don't try to second-guess the film, just sit back and enjoy it all. Yes, it may do some things that will feel familiar, but this is a film from the mid-1950s, meaning most of the other films that you have seen covering similar territory have most likely been influenced by this. And it's a damn fine film to be influenced by.

9/10

There's a lovely edition of the film here.
Americans can buy it here.


Thursday, 18 October 2018

Hungerford (2014)

There are two things I try to remember when writing movie reviews. One, found footage is a style, not a genre. Two, personally insulting anyone who has made a film is neither big nor clever. I may have slipped up once or twice, especially when discussing found footage movies, but I don't think I have ever used a review to launch into a personal attack. I'm not going to change my ways now, but Hungerford made it very difficult.

It's all Drew Casson's fault. He directed Hungerford. He also co-wrote it, with Jess Cleverly and Sarah Perugia. And he gave himself the lead role. And edited it. And did the visual effects. All of those things are commendable, especially when I think of how tough I find it to manage the most minor photo editing tasks on my laptop. It is also often, for micro-budget movies, necessary. If you can wear so many hats at once then that is a few less people who need to be on the payroll. But I can't help thinking that Hungerford is a film that came about because Casson thought he could film him and his other cast members having a lark, use some basic computer knowledge to add to the footage, make up a slight plot that wouldn't need any logic or believability, and then fob it off to undemanding horror fans who will watch any old nonsense. Which wouldn't be so bad if he was good enough in any of his main roles, but he really isn't.

The plot itself is really quite simple. Basically, some young residents of the city of Hungerford get a bit of a surprise when some really bad weather strikes all of a sudden and people start acting odd. The main characters are Cowen (played by Casson, and even the fact that the main character is called Cowen keeps making me irrationally angry, for some reason) and his mates, Adam (Tom Scarlett), Kipper (Sam Carter), and Philippa AKA Phil (Georgia Bradley, the best person in the cast). There's also Janine (Kitty Speed), a young woman Cowen likes. Y'know . . . LIKES likes.

Let's start with the acting then. Bradley does well, but she's the only one. Speed, Scarlett and Carter never seem naturalistic, or even remotely believable, in their roles, and Casson is even worse, because he manages to act badly while also trying to give himself as many heroic shots and flattering angles  as possible.

But even the best actors may have struggled to elevate such a weak script, another area in which Casson had a hand (as mentioned), and another area in which he proves to be, well, just not up to the job (although Cleverly and Perugia can share the blame there). And the material also isn't helped by the direction (Casson), editing (Casson), or VFX (Casson, who shows some potential here, but really should have worked with some minor, unsettling, details to build a bigger picture instead of stretching things too far beyond his reach).

You also get that usual pitfall of many found footage movies; the moments in which you can't believe that someone would keep filming. There are gore gags of varying quality, moments of violence that lack any shock or tension, and a feeling of randomness to almost every aspect of the storyline, from who could end up in peril to trauma from wounds, even right down to the perceived essence of the main characters.

Yet, despite Casson simply not being up to the jobs that he gives himself, I have still decided to bite my tongue and grudgingly give the guy a point for at least getting his film made. In fact, this even has a sequel, which I know I will end up watching some day. There's a slim chance that Casson could deliver some better results with some more money to play with, especially if he utilises different people to write, edit, star, and deal with VFX.

3/10

Here's the site for the film.


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Prime Time: The Monster Club (1981)

An Amicus anthology horror movie in almost every way, apart from the fact that it came along a few years after Amicus was no longer active, The Monster Club is a mixed experience for fans of these films, and fans of the stars involved.

John Carradine plays a horror writer who has some blood drawn from his system by a polite vampire (Vincent Price) before the grateful drinker invites him along to the titular club. There, in between a number of stage acts, he is told three spooky stories. The first is all about a creature known as a Shadmock (played by James Laurenson), the second is a comedic tale about a vampire (Richard Johnson), and the third is all about a village full of ghouls.

Carradine may be playing an onscreen version of R. Chetwynd Hayes (the author of the source material, even if the stories changed a fair bit from book to screenplay form, the latter written by Valerie and Edward Abraham), and there may be some obvious winks and gags for horror film fans (such as a character named Lintom Busotsky, a crude and simple play on the name of producer Milton Subotsky), but it's a great shame that the majority of the film avoids other opportunities for some meta humour. What we get, instead, are some moments that show director Roy Ward Baker doing his damnedest to prove that he could supply entertainment for modern horror audiences who had turned their backs on the comforting bloodshed supplied by the likes of Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, etc. I might find it amusing to watch a song performed by B. A. Robertson, and there's a great gag involving a stripper (although the film is a pretty tame affair with no nudity shown), but it's hard to imagine anyone viewing the film in 1981 leaving the cinema with anything other than a sense of disappointment. I have always had a soft spot for it, but that's because I first saw it as a pre-teen.

Price is as much fun as he usually is, Carradine spends most of his time looking around in mild bemusement (no surprise, considering the strange assortment of masks being worn by the people pretending to be monsters in the club), and the best performance in the three tales comes from Laurenson, playing a sweet and tragic, but also dangerous, creature. Barbara Kellerman and Simon Ward are also involved in his story, and both do well enough to make it the most consistently enjoyable one. The second tale, featuring Johnson, is a big step down, with Britt Ekland and Donald Pleasence wasted in their supporting roles, although it's at least fun to see Pleasence given much lighter material in the genre than he was usually given. Stuart Whitman, Lesley Dunlop, and Patrick Magee star in the third, and final, tale. They do well enough, but it's more about the atmosphere, with the main village feeling like a small British counterpart to the location features in The City Of The Dead.

The execution of the material is fairly clumsy, the humour is a lot more childish than viewers may expect (making this a surprisingly okay choice for a family viewing), and it's a far cry from the past glories of the British horror movie industry. Having said that, you get to spend time with some enjoyably familiar faces, the penny-pinching doesn't remove the sheer sense of fun, and there's actually a pretty good punchline to round it all off. It's not a good movie, but it has a charm to it that may lead to you occasionally thinking as fondly of it as I do.

5/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.



Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Incident In A Ghostland AKA Ghostland (2018)

Although it often feels like a step up from his previous feature film (The Tall Man), Incident In A Ghostland once again shows that writer-director Pascal Laugier is a man who knows how to take some great ideas and squander them for the sake of some misguided attempts to wrongfoot viewers.

It's not long into Incident In A Ghostland when things get uncomfortable and nasty. A woman (Mylene Farmer) and her two daughters (Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson) find themselves terrorised by a pair of vicious home invaders. As things build up, temporary relief from the onslaught comes when an adult incarnation of one of the girls (Crystal Reed) wakes up from a nightmare. She has suffered ever since that fateful night but at least it is all now behind her . . . or is the past about to catch up with her?

Jones/Reed and Hickson/Anastasia Phillips are both very good as, respectively, the younger and older incarnations of Beth and Vera, with the younger actresses having to put themselves through the wringer as their characters suffer through more and more violence. Farmer is also very good as the loving mother who wants to protect her daughters from harm, and both Rob Archer and Kevin Power do as well as can be expected while pigeonholed as the one-note psychos.

It's interesting that this movie begins with a quote about H. P. Lovecraft, for two reasons. First of all, the quote is one of the few moments of humour in the film. It's attributed to the main character played by Jones/Reed, summing up her literary aspirations and her main obsession. Second, it is in his fine essay, "Supernatural Horror In Literature", that I learned of the term conte cruel, a style of storytelling "in which the wrenching of the emotions is accomplished through dramatic tantalisations, frustrations, and gruesome physical horrors." Sound familiar? It's certainly something that Laugier is known for, with others giving it the modern label of torture porn.

Sadly, despite the humour and self-awareness shown by that opening quote, this is a movie that shows Laugier to be uninterested in anything other than pain and suffering, which becomes tiresome rather quickly, especially after scenes that hint at a much better tale to be told. We could have had a very smart and resonant film here. Early scenes show Reed being helpless, and even disbelieving, as her sister continues to suffer and be abused by unseen assailants. There are two possibilities in those moments, considering what we know at the time. Either an abuse survivor is so damaged by her experience that she cannot return to any state of normality, or someone is still being abused while the loved ones around her are unable to see it. Both of those ideas are intriguing, and both are immediately dropped as soon as Laugier can get back to simplistic moments of abuse and torture.

The film manages to avoid being a complete waste of time thanks to the scream-filled performances of the main actresses, some great production design, and the first 15-20 minutes. But everything else ensures that it also manages to be a crushing disappointment, especially if you were hoping for something with a bit of depth to it. Which actually puts it right on par with his previous feature.

4/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.




Monday, 15 October 2018

Mubi Monday: Mandy (2018)

Something a bit different this week, and something that keeps me on track with the horror element for the month. MUBI now has a MUBI Go feature, offering subscribers a cinema ticket to one film per week, subject to availability at your local cinemas. And this week they offered up Mandy. Well, it would have been rude to refuse the offer.

Panos Cosmatos made quite a name for himself with his feature debut, Beyond The Black Rainbow. I still haven't seen that film, despite all the praise heaped upon it, but I couldn't resist the pull of Mandy when it was sold to me as, essentially, Nicolas Cage angrily battling demons.

Cage lives with the woman he loves (Mandy, played by Andrea Riseborough) in a cabin in the woods. It seems to be an idyllic life they lead, with Cage working hard during the day so that he can relax and watch Nightbeast with his loved one in the evening. But that is all spoiled when an evil cult member spies Mandy and decides that he has to have her. So he sends some demon bikers along, which is when things start to get completely insane.

The first reason to see Mandy is the glorious visual style of Cosmatos. Almost every frame is painted like the lurid cover of some pulp sci-fi or fantasy novel. This is a landscape that feels like someone has blended the works of Michael Moorcock and Piers Anthony and then poured them directly onto the screen. It's a truly stunning feast for the eyes. Based on this, and from what I had heard already, I really do need to see Beyond The Black Rainbow ASAP. Cosmatos may not have churned out many movies but his quality over quantity approach means I can be fully caught up very quickly.

The second reason to see this movie is Nicolas Cage. The rest of the cast all do a good job (Riseborough is always pretty great, Linus Roache and Ned Dennehy are two of the main cult members, and you get fantastic small turns from Richard Brake and Bill Duke) but Cage is the one going through a transformation here, from simple man living in contentment to grief-stricken victim to, well, a weapon-wielding kind of demi-god. The shooting style helps to show this, as Cage becomes stronger and stronger on his quest for vengeance, culminating in some final scenes that I won't detail here. Let me just say that I would love to see his character able to reappear in some future film that develops him further.

Other reasons to see the movie include the lush score by the late Johann Johannson, a crazy Cheddar Goblin advert (a turning point for the whole movie, created by someone who helped make the viral hit "Too Many Cooks"), a sparse script that still manages to contain a number of chilling lines, and the fact that it's the best Hellraiser movie in almost two decades, even if it's not ACTUALLY an instalment of that franchise.

Well worth seeing on the big screen, you won't believe your eyes and ears. And you may well find yourself, as I did, eagerly awaiting a repeat viewing. It's an audio-visual experience that I can see myself wanting to have again and again and again.

9/10

A lot of people may want to buy the soundtrack here.
Americans can buy it here.





Sunday, 14 October 2018

Netflix And Chill: Apostle (2018)

The latest film from writer-director Gareth Evans is a world away from the action movies that made him a favourite among film fans. There is violence here, but it's often slow and excruciating, rather than the wham bam fist and foot work displayed in the likes of The Raid. He has, of course, done horror before (in V/H/S 2), and there are a number of elements here that run alongside that particular segment, but this is a much more restrained and strange bit of work.

Dan Stevens plays a young man, Thomas, who is sent on a mission to retrieve his kidnapped sister. He is to locate her and make sure she is safe, and only then is he to make a payment of the ransom demanded for her. Unfortunately, the isolated religious cult that has her in their grasp is aware that someone will be coming. That makes his mission all the harder, as does the mysterious truth that he starts to uncover about the mystery at the heart of the cult.

Stevens is as good as he always is in the lead role, Michael Sheen plays the leader of the cult with aplomb (and, god, I wish Sheen picked up more roles, it feels like forever since I have seen him really sink his teeth into a role as good as this one), Mark Lewis Jones is menacing as an acolyte who starts to think things should be done differently, apparently for the benefit of the people, and there are excellent supporting turns from Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth, Lucy Boynton, Sharon Morgan, and Paul Higgins.

There's a good film here, it's all put together well by Evans, helped enrmously by that great cast that he's assembled, but the biggest problem with Apostle is that it's never as good as the many films that seem to have so clearly influenced it (the main title being The Wicker Man, of course, but there are also shades of Witchfinder General, The Blood On Satan's Claw, and every movie that has come along in the intervening years, from The Village to A Field In England). A number of those movies are hard to equal, of course, but if you're going to evoke them so clearly then you'd better be prepared to pull out all the stops and try your best to get even close to them. It doesn't feel as if Evans tried as hard as he could, instead being distracted by plot elements that come together for a disappointingly predictable climax (which is not the same as a disappointing climax, and it must be said that it fits well enough for the film we are given).

There are a few standout scenes, a couple of them so wince-inducing that even hardened gorehounds may be surprised when they occur, but this is a 130-minute film that still manages to feel as if it doesn't give you enough meaty chunks in the broth it is offering, if that analogy makes sense to anyone but me. You will be entertained at times, you will be intrigued, but most viewers will find that neither of those feelings last all the way through to the end credits.

Apostle is definitely worth your time. Just don't listen to the many articles that have already popped up declaring it as the new unmissable, most terrifying, most brutal movie on Netflix. Hyperbole is where the traffic is, a lack of hyperbole is usually where the truth lies.

7/10

Treat yourself to The Raid movies here.
Americans can get a videotape here.

Or click either link and browse.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Shudder Saturday: Terrified AKA Aterrados (2017)

Written and directed by Demian Rugna, Terrified is all about a policeman (Funes, played by Maxi Ghione) who ends up accompanying three researchers (played by Norberto Gonzalo, Elvira Onetto, and George Lewis) as they try to get to the bottom of some supernatural events that have plagued a small neighbourhood. That's the main part of the story, but that all unfolds after a number of creepy events depicted, almost vignettes, that feature a) a woman telling her husband that she heard voices comeing from the kitchen sink telling her that they were going to kill her, b) a man being tormented every night by a ghost or creature who is stopping him from resting peacefully, and c) a dead young boy reappearing in his home, seemingly still dead but with no explanation as to how he got there. These elements all intertwine during the second half of the film, more or less, but as they play out in the first act it almost seems as if Terrified might be an anthology horror movie.

And, in a way, it is. Although the form starts to adhere more closely to a standard narrative film, despite some playing about with the chronology of events, so many of the set-pieces feel as if they could be individual little tales, presented as they are with either such a great flourish or such a great "punchline". As well as an anthology horror movie, Terrified ALSO plays out very much like a survival horror videogame. I know that may be enough to put many people off but don't be dissuaded. Considering the fact that Ghione plays someone with a medical condition that means he really doesn't want to spend too much time being too frightened, I was very much reminded of my first time playing Silent Hill many years ago, wandering around a mysterious environment while the heart monitor conveyed to me how afraid the main character was, and so how on edge I was while playing the game.

Everyone onscreen does well, acting opposite a variety of special effects, from creepy creatures to levitating home furnishings. As well as the people mentioned, you also have Agustin Rittano and Demian Salomon as two men who have been greatly affected by the events, and Ariel Chavarria is very good as the shaken mother of the strangely-mobile dead child.

But all kudos really goes to Rugna, who starts the film off in an impressively eerie way before taking viewers on a fun thrill ride for the rest of the runtime. This is not a film without humour, but be warned that the humour is only there as a temporary release in between more frights. It's very smart, although I know a few people who prefer their horror movies to have no humour in the mix at all, and allows Rugna to draw out the moments of tension right up to a near-unbearable extreme.

There are flaws. It's hard to see how everything quite fits together, there's no obvious starting point for events (not that there has to be), and a past case is mentioned without enough detail to even make it worth including. Some people may also dislike a few of the computer-generated special effects, although I thought they were generally well done and worked well alongside a lot of the practical work. But all of these things are easy to overlook while being so effectively made to squirm in your seat by Rugna.

If you like a good ghost story, and if you appreciate being in the hands of a filmmaker who can both make you jump by showing you something you didn't want to see and also make you very nervous by NOT showing you something that others are reacting to, then Terrified is highly recommended. It might even leave you . . . well, I am sure you can guess what state it might leave you in.

8/10

There's nothing obvious I can recommend to purchase here so here's a general link.
And here's Amazon.com.


Friday, 12 October 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Carnival Of Souls is a film all about a young woman named Mary (played by Candace Hilligoss). She is involved in a car crash at the start of the movie, somehow then walking away from the scene, without any memory of just how, and continuing on her journey. She's moving to another city, where she has been hired as a church organist. Unfortunately, she starts to see a strange, ghoulish, figure appearing in her life, a silent man who frightens Mary and makes her feel that she is going crazy. But the truth may be even worse than that.

Considering how effective and influential it is, Carnival Of Souls STILL doesn't really seem to be as celebrated as it should be. And trying to praise it without going into too much detail is difficult, but essential to preserve the impact of the movie for many who have still not yet marked it off their viewing lists.

Director Herk Harvey (who also plays that ghoulish man) somehow managed to take his limited resources and make a genre classic, albeit one that cherishes atmosphere and nightmare moments over decent acting or dialogue. Not to unfairly dismiss the script, written by John Clifford. There are some decent exchanges here and there, especially during a bizarre date scene between Mary and a young man named John (Sidney Berger), but the film has actual spoken words low on the list of priorities.

The same can be said for the actual acting. Hilligoss does okay in the main role, often looking wide-eyed and frightened, but it's hard not to think of many actresses being able to do a better job. That may all have been down to Harvey, of course, who obviously had a certain vision in mind, and her acting at least works better accompanied by the fine, creepy, score from Gene Moore. It's not often that I highlight the excellent use of an organ outwith the realm of adult sex films, but this is definitely worth mentioning. Back to the cast though, and you also get Berger doing just okay in his role, Frances Feist as a landlady, and Art Ellison as the minister who has hired Mary for her new job. Most of these cast members have very few other film credits, Berger only appearing in this and the 1998 (loose) remake, but they do what Harvey needs them to do.

You could say that Carnival Of Souls is a film all about the ending. It's certainly an effective and memorable finale. But it's so much more than just that, mainly because the whole film builds towards it, with Harvey proving to be quite a dab hand at creating and sustaining an atmosphere of foreboding and dread. It's a shame that he never gave us any more feature films (the rest of his filmography is made up of documentary shorts) but it would be a much greater shame if people stopped remembering him as a great talent, a creator of one outright classic little horror movie that casts a very long shadow over the genre to this day.

9/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy the movie here.


Thursday, 11 October 2018

Eyeball (1975)

Eyeball, directed by Umberto Lenzi (who also co-wrote the film with Felix Tusell), is a giallo film that almost slavishly follows the established rules of the form. If you know what to expect then you're going to have a lot of fun. If you are looking for some of the best examples, the more stylish and gorgeous ones, then this isn't the film for you.

The premise is simple. A killer starts to slice their way through the tourists who are all on the same coach trip. The killer wears red and has a thing for removing an eyeball from each of his/her victims. Who could be the knife-wielder? Is it Mark Burton (played by John Richardson), a man who thinks his own wife might be the culprit due to his infidelity with Paulette Stone (played by Martine Brochard)? Is it the clergyman who seems to be going out of his way to look more suspicious than most of the other tour group members? It could be anyone, although the list of possible suspects starts to narrow down as the corpses start to pile up.

Although you may struggle to figure out who the killer is, with the exception of viewers who may have an unerring nose for sniffing out culprits, it becomes more and more obvious as Eyeball plays out just who ISN'T the killer. If you're being shown someone close to every murder scene, if they are walking around under a mobile neon sign that says "killer, killer", then it's unlikely to be them. Both the script and direction play up this side of things, with Lenzi clearly setting out to make something fun more than something to be celebrated as a masterclass in tension and horror, and it is all part of the film's charm.

Richardson and Brochard are the leads, both doing decent work for this kind of film (including moments of overacting, of course, and some casual callousness towards others as the situation starts to get worse), George Rigaud is that twitchy and suspicious clergyman, Andres Mejuto is the Inspector trying to find the killer, and the stunning Mirta Miller plays a stunning female photographer. You also get Ines Pellegrini, playing a model being photographed by Miller, Daniele Vargas and Silvia Solar as a married couple, and Marta May as the wronged wife of Richardson's character, as well as quite a few others (special mention to Raf Baldassarre as the leering tour guide, Martinez).

There are so many things that Eyeball isn't. It's not the best giallo, it's not the best Lenzi movie, it's not the best cast, and not even the best film about a killer removing eyeballs from victims. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that it IS an amusing bit of entertainment from start to finish. You could even say that it's . . . worth keeping an eye out for (bdaump-tsshhhhh).

6/10

There's a fine Blu-ray presentation here.
Americans can buy a version of it here.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Prime Time: The Ferryman (2018)

The Ferryman is one of those little movies that I wanted to like more than I did. It's obviously not able to compete with other films that have bigger budgets (a bigger budget, in this instance, being anything over about £100) but that doesn't deter writer-director Elliott Maguire.

Nicola Holt plays Mara, a young woman who wakes up in hospital after an attempted suicide. She is embarrassed and angry, especially when she is then greeted by her father (Garth Maunders), a man who has never been in her life before now. Trying to move on with her life, Mara starts to hear and see a figure who tells her that others will pay for her living, and what that means becomes clear as people around her start to die.

Look, I have still never made my own movie. I'm sure it's an achievement just to get something completed and out there to an audience. That being said, The Ferryman comes in at the very minimal end of that scale of what could be considered a feature film. Shot on an iPhone, it's a murky mess in many scenes, not helped by some inconsistent sound design that doesn't always stay sharp enough during standard conversations but usually improves in moments that are focused on horror.

Holt and Maunders both try hard in their roles, although the seemingly small age gap between them makes it very difficult to believe that they are daughter and father, and they certainly stand out as being better than most of the other people onscreen (Azz Mohammed being the worst of a bad bunch, playing a detective as if he was being fed his lines just seconds before reciting them).

On the plus side, the runtime is relatively short and sweet (about 75 minutes) and Maguire has tried to tackle some interesting ideas. It's also to his credit that he didn't make this yet another found footage movie to add to the ever-growing pile. Sadly, the interesting ideas are buried under a lot of dull visuals and a weak script.

Any horror fans will be able to see how things are going to pan out after the first few scenes, which makes the rest of the film little more than a waiting game until you get to the predictable finale, sadly. With some more resources, and a better script, Maguire might be able to come up with a follow up to his debut feature that will better showcase his talents, but he's sold himself short here.

Having said all that, IF you have nothing better to do for 75 minutes and you're struggling to find a horror film that you haven't already seen then there are worse films to give support to. It's pretty bad, yes, but it's admirable that Maguire didn't take any easy options, and at least tried to do something a bit different.

3/10

The Ferryman is available on Amazon Prime now.


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

MTOS: Asian Horror

If you saw the last #mtos post here then you should know what it's all about. Basically, a load of questions are set that will provide us with the opportunity to discuss a movie topic on Sunday (hence Movie Talk On Sunday) with the hashtag #mtos helping you to find everyone involved.

October is the month of horror, of course, and last week saw a great discussion on British horror from #mtos host Film File. This week we're moving away from the UK. It's time to discuss some fine Asian horror. I hope you join us in . . . .  seven dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyys. Sorry, five days. I meant to request that you join us in five days.



1) Kwaidan and Onibaba were both released in 1964. Have you seen them, as influential as they are, and do you have a favourite of the two? #mtos

2) Hausu is a VERY different kind of horror film IMO, and it's madder than a bag of badgers, but it's a kind of mad I love. Please tell me I'm not alone. And how you came to love it. #mtos

3) It's fair to say that the love (or resurgence of love) for Asian horror was kicked off by Ringu, and The Grudge series. What was your entry point, and what impressed you the most about it? #mtos

4) A number of tropes have been established in Asian horror movies. Is there one that makes you roll your eyes (Sadako style) every time it crops up, or are they part of the fun? #mtos

5) Sadako Vs Kayako (2016), was this the ultimate battle of evil that fans never knew they wanted? Was it too silly? And who did you want to win? #mtos

6) Takashi Miike, Takashi Shimizu, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon. So many great directors. Who has a filmography that you are most familiar with, and what do they bring to the genre that makes them worth seeking out? #mtos

7) I Saw The Devil, Cold Fish, The Chaser, there are also many horrors from this area with non-supernatural villains. Do you prefer these to the familiar ghosts, and do you have an outright favourite? #mtos

8) Culturally, why do you think Asia, and specifically Japan, manage to craft such creepy films within environments that are often modern, sleek, and heavily populated? #mtos

9) As well as spooky, Asian horror can provide some extreme fare. Have you seen any of those (e.g. the infamous Guinea Pig movies, Grotesque, The Butcher) or do you wonder how anyone can enjoy such nastiness? #mtos

10) Let's end with a recommendation. Tell people the one Asian horror movie that you feel is underseen or just essential viewing for genre fans. #mtos

And that is that. Don't let any of this conversation make you nervous as you get ready for bed this evening. Just relax, make sure the TV is unplugged, don't answer any anonymous numbers on your mobile phone, ignore the creaking stairs, and stay away from anyone with their personal collection of acupuncture needles and piano wire . . . "kiri kiri kiri, kiri . . . kiri . . . kiri."