Saturday 31 October 2020

Shudder Saturday: Jeruzalem (2015)

Largely shot in the "found footage" style, Jeruzalem is a horror movie that has a couple of good ideas contained within it, yet ultimately fumbles things as it tries to get more and more terrifying on the way to the final scene. It also isn't helped by the better moments reminding you of things you already saw in the superior [*Rec] series.

Danielle Jadelyn is Sarah Pullman, a young woman about to set off on a holiday to Tel Aviv with her friend, Rachel (Yael Grobglas). Sarah is still grieving the loss of her brother, and Rachel hopes the holiday will help her improve her state of mind. Given a gift from her father, a pair of Google glass spectacles, Sarah can hopefully have the holiday of a lifetime. Changing plans when they meet a young man, Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), who is interested in religious mythology, our leads decide to head to Jerusalem instead. They get rooms in a hostel, where they meet the charming Omar (Tom Graziani), and all seems good. Unfortunately, Jerusalem is about to go through a very bad time, involving dark forces and dangerous entities that act a bit like zombies.

Here are things that Jeruzalem gets right. It generally uses proper names when referencing the technology (which is always preferable to making them all up, where you end up with someone logging into Friendbook and Generic Telecall app), the central characters are likeable, and the creatures are well-realised once they start bringing chaos to the city.

And here's what it gets wrong. As with so many of these films, the gimmick of the style is forced, especially in the third act. It all gets a bit too jittery and hard to keep track of in places. The characters are made to be increasingly stupid, in an attempt to draw everything out for the finale. And there's a plot beat during the last ten minutes that is only saved from being one of the dumbest things I have seen in the past decade of horror because the past decade of horror has had some amazingly dumb stuff in it.

The cast all do a decent job, but they suffer when the script forces them to stay on the tracks laid out for them by writer-directors the PAZ brothers (Doron Paz and Yoav Paz). The good ideas impress by the halfway point, but quickly lose their lustre when the film devolves into the usual shaky-cam, dark pathways, and jump scares.

Planting itself exactly at the mid-point of any random selection of found footage horrors that you could select, Jeruzalem isn't a terrible way to spend just over 90 minutes. There's some very impressive imagery dotted throughout, usually just a brief glimpse as characters run away in fear. It's just a shame that it couldn't have been a bit better. And a bit less silly in places.


Friday 30 October 2020

The Owners (2020)

It’s a premise we have seen before, in various ways, but The Owners has a lot of grim fun with the premise of some crime-minded people breaking into a house that has some dark, potentially deadly, secret hidden within.

Sylvester McCoy and Rita Tushingham play the elderly couple who have their home invaded by some youths who intend to empty their safe. Ian Kenny is Nathan, who has also brought along his girlfriend, Mary (Maisie Williams). Andrew Ellis is Terry, a slightly timid lad who seems to have a crush on Mary. And then you have the tough leader, Gaz (Jake Curran). Once the group starts to meet some resistance from their elderly victims, Gaz is the one willing to go further than anyone else to scare, or hurt, people who are between him and his potential payday. Why wouldn’t anyone just have over their money? What do they have to hide?

Based on a graphic novel, Une Nuir De Pleine Lune (by Hermann and Yves H), director Julius Berg makes an impressive feature debut with something that manages to take viewers through familiar territory while saving one or two decent plot turns to try and make the third act a pleasant surprise. And it works, thanks to the performances, and the script, co-written by Berg and Mathieu Gompel, with some help from Geoff Cox.

Although Williams may be the main draw here, to those that know her so well after years spent watching Game Of Thrones, there isn’t really a bad performance from the main players, and both McCoy and Tushingham are a treat in every scene. Starting off completely sweet and innocent, and vulnerable, the two then get to have a lot of fun once things start coming undone. Both are on top form, but Tushingham is particularly good in the way she seems to ebb in and out of clarity, making you wonder if she has dementia or is sometimes playing up that notion.

Some may roll their eyes during the first half, worried that it is all a bit too silly and cliched. Stick with it, I would say it is worth your time, at least until you get to see the older characters become more active. Then you can enjoy a few moments of viciousness, some fun cat and mouse action, and an impressively twisted final act.


Thursday 29 October 2020

Let's Scare Julie (2020)

Okay, you're best not to go into Let's Scare Julie looking forward to something presented in what is supposed to look like one long take. It doesn't manage to keep that up, which wouldn't be so bad if the edits didn't feel so unnecessary, as if someone had just forgotten it was supposed to be a gimmick used to sell the movie. You're also best not to go into Let's Scare Julie if you're looking forward to a superior horror movie. It is not. I have seen some people praise this, and it is one of those instances when I start to worry that I have somehow seen some completely different movie from them.

The plot involves a group of girls having a sleepover, kind of. They seem to be fairly typical teenagers, in the way they don't care too much about the repercussions of teasing one another and plotting against others outwith their group. That leads to them heading across the road, to play a prank on a reclusive young woman named Julie. Emma (Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson) stays behind though, looking after her little sister, Lilly (Dakota Baccelli). The prank doesn't go according to plan, which puts everyone in danger. Including Emma and Lilly.

There's a point near the start of Let's Scare Julie when you may get your hopes up that it has something interesting to say. Something that makes the grating performances and faux-gimmickry worthwhile. The girls are teasing Emma, and the dynamic seems to fluctuate between jokey camaraderie and a real streak of meanness. The prank at the heart of the movie is something that provides potential relief for Emma, a standard case of one victim having a breather while tormenters move on another victim. But these are Emma's friends, so the way they have been teasing her cannot be that bad. Can it?

Never mind though, the film doesn't stray too far down that path. Instead, writer-director Jud Cremata simply presents a horror film with too few scares, too little to care about, and too many moments that underline just how carelessly everything is thrown together. The most obvious example is the way in which the girls are jumping about and giggling one moment, telling each other they need to be very quiet as they sneak around the house the next, and then shrieking and making more noise later. It's incredibly insulting to viewers, and cannot be dismissed by shrugging and saying "black magic".

I don't want to be too rude to the young cast, which is why I am not naming more of the characters, or the actresses playing them (as this is almost an all-female cast), but it's worth mentioning that both Johnson and Baccelli are easily the best performers onscreen. Baccelli is also the youngest, so that may give you an idea of how I rated the others.

I struggle to think what Cremata was actually aiming for here. If he wanted to give viewers one of the more painful horror movies in recent years (not counting the million movies with the name Amityville or Krampus shoehorned into the title) then he succeeded. If the aim was something a bit different, and still scary, then he failed. Miserably. I could go on and on about every single thing that caused me annoyance, but that would end up being the kind of hyperbolic review I try to avoid. I just hope that some people trust me when I advise that this is absolutely not worth your time, unless you have to choose between this and some dross called The Amityville Krampus.


Wednesday 28 October 2020

Prime Time: 10/31 (2017)

A horror anthology featuring the talents of Brett DeJager, Rocky Gray, Zane Hershberger, JohnWilliam Holt, Hunter Johnson, Justin M. Seaman and Jason Turner, 10/31 (which is the date of Halloween, although here in the UK we would use the better date format of 31/10) tries to be a bit of entertaining fun for horror fans, providing five tales hosted by Malvolia (Jennifer Nangle).

The five tales are "The Old Hag", "Trespassers", "Killing The Dance", "Halloween Blizzard Of '91" and "The Samhain Slasher". All of them have a chance of amusing you if you pick this film for a Halloween viewing (and that is a theme running throughout, so at least it has a consistent feel), but only two really worked for me. The best one is "Killing The Dance", which just needed a bit more spit and polish to make truly great. Perhaps it is telling that this one is the only tale with a separate director and writer. The other really good one is "The Old Hag", which benefits from a creepy central character, then almost undoes everything with a lame final jump scare akin to those videos you get sent on social media (you know the ones).

"The Samhain Slasher" is the worst of the bunch, saved by a decent bit of gore, but the best thing about 10/31 is that even the other weak stories aren't as bad as many others you have seen in the many anthology horrors that have appeared on streaming services over the past few years. I've enjoyed many unexpected treats, but also seen some truly dire short stories that seemed to be edited in because they were cheap and had a bit of blood in them.

The acting is as varying in quality as the tales, but nobody made me so angry that I feel the need to call them out. It may be entirely coincidental that the worst performances appear in the weakest tales, and it is hard to pinpoint what is worse, the material or the performances, so just be generally warned about both “The Samhain Slasher” and “Halloween Blizzard Of ‘91”.

On the plus side, the wraparound moments are minimal, simple bookends to present the tales, the seasonal vibe is strong throughout, and five tales being crammed in to a not-overlong runtime mean that you are usually not too far away from something that may amuse you.


Tuesday 27 October 2020

The Witches (2020)

I was not won over when I saw the trailer for The Witches, a remake of the 1990 Nicolas Roeg film, one of the most legendarily-terrifying movies aimed at kids, adapted from the book by Roald Dahl. It looked as if it had been completely sanitised, and the choice of Anne Hathaway as the main villain seemed like a bit of miscasting.

Well, while it's worth bearing in mind that it has been many years since I last saw the original movie, this ended up being a decent remake/re-adaptation. The biggest problem it has is that it feels quite redundant. I don't recall anyone crying out for another version of the tale, and the film itself, while very competent, and enjoyable, just never gives you anything to make it more worthy of your time than the previous incarnation, which is now 30 years old.

Witches are everywhere. And they hate children. When our young hero (Jahzir Bruno), actually named Hero Boy, and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) head away for a break at a lovely hotel, they don't realise that their timing could not be worse. The hotel is also hosting a meeting for a number of witches, led by the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway). They have a plan for children, and that plan involves turning them into mice. All of them. Our young hero gets caught overhearing this plan, so is immediately mouse-ified, alongside a young man named Bruno Jenkins (Codie-Lei Eastick). Accompanied by a surprise ally, the mice must reach grandma, tell her what is going on, and find out if there's a way to reverse the effects of the potion.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro, The Witches gets a number of important things right. It keeps things quite scary, especially for younger viewers (parents may want to either check this over beforehand or be prepared for extra-tight cuddles while watching). It transfers the action to 1960s America without losing anything vital to the overall tone or atmosphere. The cast are also a bonus. Bruno does well with his screentime, Spencer is a wonderful grandma, Stanley Tucci is excellent as the hotel manager, and Hathaway is clearly having a lot of fun in her role, complete with an undetermined accent and inability to comprehend people around her who don't give her immediate agreement and compliance. You also get an enjoyable voiceover from Chris Rock.

It's a shame that the main thing it gets wrong is something many can probably guess before even seeing one second of the film. Yes, with Robert Zemeckis at the helm you get an over-reliance on CGI, some of it nicely done and some of it that will make you yearn for some practical effects. I like the depiction of the witches when shown in their natural form (bald, with claws, no toes on their feet, and wide mouths with sharp teeth), but even that serves as a reminder of how great the practical effects were in the 1990 movie. And as for the CGI mice, let's not dwell on those. There's a pretty decent black cat that I was impressed by, and numerous enjoyable little touches here and there, but it's definitely a case of Mr. Zemeckis once again playing with some of his favourite new toys while some old dependables could have worked equally well.

So, unless my memory is blanking out one, we have had three movies in the past decade or so made from Roald Dahl books that had been filmed before. One was quite bad, one was quite good, and now this one sits almost squarely in the middle. I enjoyed it while it was on, but I won't rush to rewatch it, and am now more eager than ever to revisit the version that terrified me when I was young (and I wasn't even that young, being about 15-16 when it was released).


Monday 26 October 2020

Mubi Monday: The Falling (2014)

Take a little bit of Picnic At Hanging Rock, add a smattering of The Crucible, and then underpin with the turbulent emotions of a young girl struggling to maintain any kind of relationship with her single mother and you have The Falling, an intriguing drama that benefits from a superb cast, all giving great performances, and a script that keeps diving deeper into darkness as things build towards the end of a particular journey for the lead character.

Maisie Williams is Lydia Lamont, a young girl who is best friends with Abbie Mortimer (Florence Pugh). It comes to light that Abbie is pregnant, which creates a strain between the two of them. A tragedy soon occurs, which then leads to an outbreak of fainting spells throughout their school. Is there something real behind these incidents, or is Lydia somehow influencing all of the other girls around her?

Written and directed by Carol Morley, this is very much a film that keeps digging further and further into a pit of grime, culminating in a third-act that isn't afraid to truly shock viewers, but not in a way that feels like it is being gratuitous or exploitative. Along with the fainting spells, Lydia is falling further further into a spiral of poor mental health, spurred on by her thoughts about her own life and her mother, all to the fore while she has less to distract her from her home situation.

Initially showing a typical clear divide between the girls and their teachers, lines start to blur while the latter characters start to struggle to maintain their composure, either due to the thoughts they start to have about their own lives or the growing show of strength required to try bringing the girls back in line.

Williams is very good in her role, giving a performance full of twitches and meanness that isn't reduced to JUST the twitches and meanness. Pugh has a lot less screentime, but brings her usual charisma to help her character cast a large shadow over all of the proceedings (all the more impressive, considering this is her first film role). Maxine Peake is Eileen Lamont, Lydia's mother, and gives an excellent and nervy turn, and Joe Cole plays Kenneth, Lydia's brother, a young man who makes some absolutely horrible decisions. Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan are the two main teachers, and both excellent in their roles, and you get decent roles for Anna Burnett, Hannah Rose Caton, Morfydd Clark, and others.

Deceptive, in terms of how far away the feeling of the ending is from the feeling of the start, The Falling is an excellent British drama that manages to feel both traditionally grounded and psychologically complex, probing some very unexpected areas. Recommended.


Sunday 25 October 2020

Netflix And Chill: Case 39 (2009)

A high point in the filmographies of both director Christian Alvart and writer Ray Wright, Case 39 is a slick and enjoyable, and quite ridiculous, mainstream horror movie that takes some familiar faces and unapologetically keeps them grounded in circumstances that keep getting more and more outrageous.

Renée Zellweger is Emily Jenkins, a social worker who finds her spidey-sense tingling when she is handed the file for her 39th "live" case, that of young Lilith Sullivan (Jodelle Ferland). It looks as if Lilith is being threatened by her parents (played by Callum Keith Rennie and Kerry O'Malley), and Emily wants to get her to a safe space, helped by her boss (Wayne, played by Adrian Lester), a psychologist friend (Doug, played by Bradley Cooper), and a detective (Ian McShane). But things star to occur that make Emily think she has misread the situation. Were people trying to harm Lilith? Or were they trying to protect themselves from something else?

I first watched Case 39 a few years ago. It was never high on my list of priorities, and I basically dismissed it as a very standard horror movie, with twists and turns easily spotted by those with even the most cursory interest in the horror genre. That was probably a little bit unfair. Although full of moments that you've seen before, Case 39 also has a few really good set-pieces and tries to plot everything out with a passing nod to some kind of reality. 

Alvart directs it well enough, making good use of some decent CGI and not shying away from some of the bloodier moments (one or two should make you wince). Wright clearly knows that he's walking a tightrope between something nasty and something quite silly, and he shows that in a number of scenes in the third act that allow for some more playful interactions between Emily and Lilith, with a more truthful picture exposed and the two characters testing one another.

Zellweger is very good in her lead role, whether she's a concerned worker or someone who ends up at the end of her rope. McShane puts in another of the many great performances he has been delivering over the past few decades, Lester and Cooper are both very good (with the latter getting what I would say are the two best scenes in the movie), Rennie and O'Malley get interesting character arcs, and Ferland has a lot of fun in her role. Everyone pitches their performance at just the right level, which helps enormously, especially as things hurtle towards an enjoyably entertaining ending.

Still not a title I would suggest people prioritise over many other viewing options, Case 39 does at least deliver a fun time for those after some undemanding horror. And it's a nice riff on the many "bad seed" movies we have seen over the years. It's also a reminder to check out the wonderful cosplays that Ferland does nowadays (check her out on Instagram at . . . @jodellecosplays).


Saturday 24 October 2020

Shudder Saturday: 32 Malasana Street (2020)

Blending The Amityville Horror with Poltergeist, adding just a touch of The Evil Dead, AND season one of Channel Zero, and spicing it all up with some Spanish seasoning, 32 Malasana Street is an absolutely fantastic horror movie for those who don’t mind the kind of tricks and scares we have seen so often in the more successful mainstream horrors, as long as they don’t mind reading subtitles at the same time. The very end wanders into potentially problematic territory, certainly in a way that the horror genre has been criticised for before, but, when you think about who the real villains are, it almost gets away with it. 

The story is quite simple. A family move into an apartment. That apartment is a bit creepy. The family have different strains on their relationships, including a grandfather who sometimes loses his bearings and the financial burden of getting their new home, and the increasing danger from whatever presence lurks in their home leads to them digging away at a backstory that we all know should be brought to a head before it all ends. 

There’s nothing here that is new or groundbreaking. What you get are some well-developed characters (not all of them, but most) and some perfectly-executed scare moments. One particular method is repeated a few times, but it is easy to forgive as it is so well done.

Director Albert Pintó, who has a couple of features and quite a few shorts to his name already, proves himself very capable of crafting a fantastic atmosphere of tension and creepiness. The script, co-written by a quartet of writers, tries to throw a few twists and turns in, not all of them successful, but it’s admirable in the way it underplays one or two moments, taking circumstances that have affected the characters and using them to keep turning the knife, as it were, to various degrees. 

The cast are all superb. Although Begoña Vargas and Iván Marcos are the mother and father of the main family unit, and although both are great in their roles, Bea Segura and Iván Renedo are often the focus of the frights, playing the daughter and youngest son, respectively. José Luis de Madariaga is the confused grandparent, and Sergio Castellanos is the older son, involved in some scenes that very effectively make use of a washing line and communication via hand-written notes. 

I can understand if people watch this and roll their eyes at the moments they feel they have seen so many times before, from the child wandering closer to danger as he seeks a toy that has rolled too far away to the very final shot, but I think it is worth bearing in mind that watching something that does all of the genre tricks so well makes it all too easy to forget how often you have sat through films that have done all of the same thing, but far less effectively. 


I have had a horrible week. Feel free to buy me a coffee here -

Friday 23 October 2020

Scared Stiff (1953)

A remake of The Ghost Breakers, with the same director, and one of the same writers, behind the camera, Scared Stiff is a lot of fun, but only IF you can tolerate the whacky antics of Jerry Lewis, here doing his loud manchild schtick.

Lizabeth Scott plays  Mary, a woman who has just inherited a property on a small island near Cuba. That's all well and good, but the property is said to be highly haunted. Heading that way, she ends up joined by Larry Todd (Dean Martin) and his friend, Myron (Lewis). Todd is a nightclub singer who thinks he has shot a gangster. Myron seems to have no  main job role, other than to annoy his friend. Hijinks ensue.

I've always had a soft spot for Scared Stiff, having seen and enjoyed it before The Ghost Breakers, and I think it remains a great vehicle for Martin and Lewis. Their very first scenes play out in typical fashion, and the film premise allows them a good bit of room to play around (most notably in the amusing scene that has Lewis dressed up and miming to a Carmen Miranda song). Both the laughs and the spooky trappings are generally heightened here, compared to the 1940 movie, but it works well because the leads are equally bigger “personalities” than Hope and co. 

Walter DeLeon doesn’t need to change too much of the core of his script, and I am not sure if the way the material is adapted for the stars falls to him or co-writer Herbert Baker, who had already worked with Martin and Lewis, but it’s nicely transposed to something the same as The Ghost Breakers . . . but different.

Marshall directs the material as well as he did previously, with the longer runtime reflecting the extra moments that allow Martin and Lewis to step aside from the main thrust of the plot to get up to some of their familiar antics.

Maybe a bit harder to recommend than the previous version of this film, because it depends more on how you feel about the leads (particularly Lewis), but Scared Stiff stands up as a spooky comedy that delivers a wonderful mix of haunted house tropes and chuckles in the third act. I still like it, I still rate it as one of the better Martin and Lewis pairings, and I still urge others to at least check it out. 


Thursday 22 October 2020

The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Bob Hope is Larry Lawrence in this spooky comedy that remains a great template for this kind of thing. Take some ghosts and ghoulies. Add a hero who can pretend to have courage for a moment, than ensure we all know how scared he is at all times. And have a criminal sub-plot that may or may not mean the supernatural elements are faked. 

One thing leads to another in a busy opening sequence, and Larry Lawrence thinks he has accidentally shot someone dead. Someone that has people who will in turn shoot him back. He ends up bundling himself into the travelling trunk of Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard). Mary is heading to an inherited property on a small Cuban island. It is allegedly haunted. And there is even a zombie living nearby. Hearing of this strange situation, and noting the insistence of someone wanting to keep Mary away, Larry decides to put himself forward as a man who can investigate such matters, and sets out to do so in the company of his servant, Alex (Willie Best). 

Adapted from a popular stage play, which had been adapted for the screen twice before (silent movies, both now considered lost), this stands out as a near-perfect blend of thrills, chills, and giggles for viewers. Walter DeLeon adapts the play well, making it a fine fit for Hope and his usual style of gaggery, and George Marshall directs it all at a nicely zippy pace. There are no huge set-pieces, but lots of small ones that flow into one another as the entertainment factor remains high throughout. 

Hope is at his easygoing best here, enjoying himself in a character that's about 50/50 when it comes to cowardice and courage, and Goddard is one of those classic leading ladies from this era who lights up the screen whenever she appears, so the banter between the two is very enjoyable. While his role is often just the comedy relief, certainly in the last third of the movie, Best proves himself to be just as amusing and entertaining as the leads, and makes this more than just a two-hander. Paul Lukas is suave and sneaky as someone advising against visiting the haunted property, Anthony Quinn is a possible villain, and Richard Carlson is the smooth and charming Geoff Montgomery.

Some of the jokes have aged worse than others, especially a number of exchanges between Hope and Best, and there is a slight creakiness to it all (everything creaks slightly when it is 80 years old), but this is one of those films that I think everyone should see at least once. It's a classic, in its own way. It just isn't the kind of classic included in most conversations that cover The Classics.

And how can you not enjoy a comedy that has the line "The girls call me Pilgrim, because every time I dance with one I make a little progress."? 


Wednesday 21 October 2020

Prime Time: Demon House (2018)

I used to love the TV show "Most Haunted". There was a time there when I was slightly addicted. I even watched one of their live events. And then one day I just stopped. There was only so much table-tipping I could stomach, only so much nonsense being spewed by Derek Acorah, and only so much padding around entirely explicable phenomena that were put forward as definite signs of the undead trying to make contact.

It turns out that Zak Bagans, who wrote, directed, and stars in this "documentary", is most famous for working on an American show that is the equivalent of "Most Haunted". I have never seen that show, "Ghost Adventures", but I now know that I definitely wouldn't ever want to watch it. Because Bagans is a mixture of all of the things that immediately start to irritate me. He has to make everything extra dramatic, and emphasises things about three times in a row to make sure you get how dramatic it really is. If any coincidence can be played up for spookiness then it is. And he wears sunglasses in doors. Yeah, not my type of guy at all. Will I also openly question the veracity of what he puts onscreen here, from the witness testimonies to his own encounters? Maybe, but I wouldn't put anything in stronger terms, mainly because Americans can be so damn litigous.

There is a plot here. Bagans ends up buying a house that was at the centre of the Ammons case, an alleged haunting that featured some very dark and disturbing events. The previous residents of the house are so scares that they generally won't even talk to Bagans, for fear of any insidious force reaching them again. So Bagans talks to everyone else he can get hold of, from police officers to a relative of the affected family, and a few more. They talk and he gets to repeat what they say, with added dramatic emphasis. And you get some weird things happening on camera, which you are free to view as real events or not.

The thing is, deep down, I no longer believe in the supernatural, ghosts or demons. I used to. And I still believe that we don't know how everything happens in the world around us, especially when it comes to our death (as we're all made up of energy), our memories, and our sensory perception being affected by both of those things. I also wouldn't stay in any allegedly haunted house for £10,000. I am just too much of a scaredy cat, and my imagination runs wild at the slightest little noise. So Demon House should have worked better for me than it did. I still expected to roll my eyes, but was looking forward to a few small chills and thrills throughout. I got none.

Most of that is the fault of Bagans, who seems so obviously desperate to put himself at the centre of a hot story that he will buy a notorious house, get people around him agitated by his methods, and then posit himself as the one person striving to be strong enough to face the dark forces swirling all around us. I hope I never see him in any feature again. And I'm amazed the house didn't growl "get out" at him, a la Amityville. I know I would have.


Tuesday 20 October 2020

The Wolf Of Snow Hollow (2020)

Remember the excellent Thunder Road, the film from Jim Cummings that gained him a lot of love, and fans, just a couple of years ago. It was all about a cop trying to keep his head, and his job, while grieving and going through some turbulence in his personal life. Cummings was excellent as the director, writer, and star. And he's equally good here, in a film that walks a surprisingly similar path, while adding an element of potential lyncathropy.

Cummings is John Marshall, a police officer who is working under the extra strain of trying to ensure his father, the Sheriff (Robert Forster), gives himself time to get the right medical treatment that he needs. Marshall is also about to take custody of his teenage daughter (Jenna, played by Chloe East), attends meetings for issues with alcohol, and things go from bad to worse when horribly mauled dead bodies start turning up in his small town. People start to speculate that it could be a werewolf, considering the damage and the fact that there was a full moon, but Marshall thinks that idea is ridiculous.

Once again deftly mixing comedy and drama, but with an added dash of horror this time, Cummings effectively uses The Wolf Of Snow Hollow to slightly push out the boundary line of his comfort zone. So much of this is familiar to those who enjoyed his previous feature, yet the one brand new additional ingredient allows it to feel a step or two removed from just being a retread.

Having said that, the horror of the premise is often left to just provide an undercurrent to the standard tensions and headaches for the small-town police force. I wouldn't want to whole-heartedly recommend this to someone wanting scares or a full-blooded werewolf movie, but I would definitely encourage anyone and everyone to at least give it a go. It's a wonderfully quirky and entertaining blend of Silver Bullet, Thunder Road, and Fargo, so you should know already if there's enough here to keep you amused.

Cummings is once again a perfect fit for his lead role, and manages to keep viewers onside with a character who is essentially quite inept and obstinate at times. Riki Lindhome is just as good in the main supporting role, Officer Julia Robson, and Forster is given a number of little moments that feel sadly fitting for one of his final roles. East is very good as the teen daughter dealing with a difficult relationship with her father, and both Jimmy Tatro and Daniel Fenton Anderson are highlights, the former a partner of the first victim and the latter a grumpy coroner.

I had already seen a decent amount of love for this before getting to it myself, which was a good sign, but it's hard to think of who will enjoy it the most. I think you just have to go into it as a film fan, first and foremost, and forget all about any genre labels. Which I know is the best way to go into any film, but we all know that rarely happens.


Monday 19 October 2020

Mubi Monday: The Other Lamb (2019)

A look at a cult, the warping of religion, and the constant use of women in assigned roles that serve men, The Other Lamb is definitely an interesting and thought-provoking work of art. It also has a lot of stark beauty throughout. Which makes it a shame that it falls a bit short of greatness, feeling just a little bit undercooked and not quite as focused and sharp as it could be. 

The plot is quite simple. Raffey Cassidy plays Selah, a young woman who is part of a cult under the leadership of Michiel Huisman (“the shepherd”). She is due to become the latest in a series of wives, which is the way to ascend on their chosen path. But the lead up to the crucial moment gives Selah time to consider the truth behind the way she and her companions are being treated. Is it really the right and proper way to show love and enlightenment? Or is it symptomatic of something else, something much more familiar to so many women?

Working from a screenplay by Catherine S. McMullen, director Malgorzata Szumowska creates a constant sense of unease and intrigue here that allows viewers to know, from the very beginning, that the patriarchy and misogyny on display are not going to remain accepted as the norm from everyone involved in the story. 

Selah has some disturbing visions, obviously displaying the troubling thoughts starting to froth and ferment in her mind, and those visions somehow feel both metaphorical and fantastical and also grounded and realistic. Szumowska takes care to keep context to a minimum at the earliest stages, layering it all on as the story goes on and allowing it to enrich the bigger picture. 

There's something wonderful about the way The Other Lamb manages to deliver what you may expect from it while also doing everything in a way that seems to keep holding back any moment of real . . . catharsis/redemption/celebration. There's a very effective, and fitting, end to things, but it's easy to see that some people will be unmoved by it, leaving them to shrug and sigh as the end credits roll while others can still ruminate on the beautiful bleakness they've just been served up.

Everyone does good work here, and I'll also note Mallory Adams for her performance, but the film really belongs to Cassidy. Huisman, as good as he is, actually remains a presence in the film due to the shadow he casts over everyone, the power he holds, and the scenes that have him actually present and interacting with others slightly undermine the idea of him (which I assume is one of the points that the movie is making). Moving convincingly from wide-eyed innocent girl to a young woman who wants to ask some important questions, Cassidy is perfect in the lead role. She's been building up a solid filmography over the past decade, and I see no reason why that will stop happening over the next decade.

Quietly powerful, The Other Lamb is a supernatural-tinged work of art that I highly recommend to those with the patience for it. I think it could also end up pairing nicely with The Beguiled (1971, not seen the new version yet), but maybe it's just me thinking that.


I feel the need, the need for a nice . . . coffee

Sunday 18 October 2020

Netflix And Chill: A. M. I. (2019)

Let me get this out of the way right now. If I see a dumber "horror" movie than A. M. I. this year then I will be shocked. I knew I was going to get something dumb, I just hadn't figured on it being quite SO dumb. And the horror content is so light that I am really not sure it counts. Without meaning to sound like an ass, I wonder if writer-director Rusty Nixon intended this as a black comedy, and just couldn't quite nail down the tone.

As I sometimes do, I'm going to share the IMDb summary here: "A seventeen year old girl forms a co-dependent relationship with an artificial intelligence on her phone and goes on a murderous rampage."

That's all the description of this movie you need. That's it, the summation is spot on. The only thing it doesn't really make clear is just how quickly things go from kind of normal to absolute insanity. The runtime here is 77 minutes, and I'd say there's almost a full hour of the lead (Cassie, played by Debs Howard) being absolutely bonkers. All because she downloads an AI app for her phone that has a voice similar to that of her dead mother. And if there's one thing her dead mother can help her with it is punishing the betrayal of others by pushing Cassie to murder.

Look, if there's a movie based around a phone app then I will watch it. I know they won't all be like Her. But some of them (like Hellphone) are a LOT of fun. Others (like Bedeviled) are a bit less fun, but still mildly amusing. I even quite liked the silliness of Countdown. So I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, and have no problem admitting that. But you still need to make it feel remotely possible, maybe without having a character who is clearly unhinged from the very first scenes.

I feel sorry for Howard, who at least gets to light up a little bit in scenes that have her embracing her insanity. Maybe the solution was to stick with that all along, have Cassie just looking for any excuse to start killing people. Sam Robert Muik doesn't come out of things too badly, playing a boyfriend who is so unrelentingly awful that you can't help but enjoy the route to his inevitable comeuppance. Nobody else makes much of an impression though, with the exception of Veronica Hampson, who arguably starts Cassie on her downward spiral by being an absolute snake.

Nixon may not have created the original story idea here, and maybe something was lost as he expanded it into a feature from that central concept, but he's the one to blame. He makes so many wrong decisions, takes the film down such an absolutely ridiculous path without helping to ground viewers in a way that could prepare them better for the outright silliness, and there are moments when you can visualise a much better movie in your own head. It should be fun. It's not. And the punchline is one of the worst I have seen in years.


Nobody wants to buy me a coffee this weekend? *insert sad face emoji here*

Saturday 17 October 2020

Shudder Saturday: Psychotic! (2016)

Written and directed by Maxwell Frey and Derek Gibbons, it's not really a big surprise to find that Psychotic! has starring roles for, yep, Maxwell Frey and Derek Gibbons. Because there's no other reason for this to exist, it's simply a vanity project that has about two semi-decent gags in amongst a whole runtime full of tedium.

It's essentially a slasher movie, but the idea is that there's a killer making his way through a group of people who it's hard to care about anyway. I think that is the idea. You also get a playful notion that these party-hopping hipsters are either never too concerned about a real-life problem (aka a serial killer) harshing their buzz and that they're all as destructive to one another anyway, just without the sharp bits of metal to go full on stabby stabby.

There's maybe more to it, but I don't have the energy or enthusiasm to word things any better after suffering through this. The point is that you might get something more from it. I'll still disagree with you that anything more you get is enough to make it worth your time.

The script is a complete mess. It's not funny enough, not smart enough to make the main points that it wants to make, and gives you characters that you just hope to see die as quickly as possible (which I know can often be the case with any slasher movie, but it's not done properly here).

Nothing is helped by the performances either. Frey and Gibbons may have fancied themselves as decent film-makers, which they're clearly not, but it's even worse that they also fancied themselves as decent actors. This may have been done for budgetary reasons alone, but I somehow doubt it. Kristen Martin does well, playing a young woman named Roxy, but she's just about the only decent performer in a cast almost uniformly stacked with people who really aren't up to the task.

The biggest problem with Psychotic! is that it doesn't work in any conceivable way. The slasher element is appallingly mishandled, the comedy is poor, when it is present, and the main idea isn't strong enough to build an entire movie around. This was obviously created by people who thought they were on to a winner, and those people were helped along by others who got carried along by their enthusiasm. Unfortunately, someone should have been brutally honest, which would have saved us all a bit of pain. Although it just avoids being one of the most boring movies I have ever seen, Psychotic! is so bad, with a dash of smugness, that I don't see it being beaten for the title of most annoying viewing of 2020.


Buy me a coffee here -

Friday 16 October 2020

You Should Have Left (2020)

Although released in 2020, You Should Have Left feels very much like a film that could have easily been a 2000 option. In fact, it has more than a few similarities with a major 2000 hit, which I won't mention here, because that would spoil things somewhat. It's not a bad film, I actually really enjoyed it, but it is quite a safe and predictable one, ultimately.

Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried are the couple who move into a strange holiday home in Wales. It's just them and their daughter, Ella (Avery Essex). And whatever else resides in the house. Because the house definitely has something in there, be it a supernatural presence or just a constant disregard for the everyday rules of physics. Doors lead to other doors, leading to other doors. The house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside (not in a fun TARDIS way). And time moves in mysterious ways once you start wandering through the various corridors and rooms. It's not entirely unironic that Mr Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon stars in a film set in a house which keeps changing by many degrees.

Written and directed by David Koepp, based on the novel by Daniel Kehlmann, what you end up with is a very traditional tale of the supernatural that feels a bit fresh and unique because of the very modern home used as the main setting. Well, it feels that way until you get to the grand finale, which actually provides an explanation that you almost refuse to believe, because it's the most obvious of all possible explanations (in terms of genre plotting, not in terms of everyday life). That doesn't detract from how effective the rest of the film is, and doesn't in itself ruin the whole thing. It's just a shame that there wasn't a more interesting and unique way to bring everything to a close in the third act.

Bacon and Seyfried are both excellent in their roles, despite the latter being about thirty years younger than the former (something I thought would be used within the actual plot, but really isn't . . . so I guess that is still just mainstream movies being mainstream movies, right?), but it's hard to truly buy them as a loving, married couple. Viewers see them with some  strain already on their relationship, and it takes time to tease out the details. Unfortunately, the damage is already done by then. It's almost impossible to think of how they got together, how they connected, and how they have stayed together for as long as they have. Essex is a very good young actress, managing to show a balance between being afraid and having the kind of open mind that can allow children to accept more weirdness than adults would put up with.

This review seems more critical than I intended. The more I thought about the movie, the more I could think of that was wrong. But, and this is important, I didn't really think of all of these flaws while the film was playing. I enjoyed the strangeness, enjoyed the spookiness, even enjoyed predicting some of the third act beats. You Should Have Left is far from perfect, and there are many ways in which it could have been improved, but it's an enjoyable attempt to do something familiar in a way that feels slightly new.


Buy me "a coffee" here, if you like any of my reviews, or even if you hate them and want me to get over-caffeinated -

Thursday 15 October 2020

Deep Blue Sea 3 (2020)

The first Deep Blue Sea movie remains one of my favourite shark movies of all time. Despite some glaring issues, and any shark movie has to do a lot to swim out from underneath the mighty shadow of Jaws, it's a fantastic mix of fun, thrills, and spectacle. And I never thought it would be the start of a movie series, but here we are. Deep Blue Sea 2, on the other hands, was one of the worst sequels I have ever seen. And I have seen pretty much every major horror franchise instalment (and ALL of the Puppet Master movies).

I wasn't too enthusiastic about checking out this third shark-infested outing. Writer Dirk Blackman has few credits to his name, with the biggest being arguably the worst of the Underworld movies, and director John Pogue didn't really impress me with his helming of The Quiet Ones (one of only four movies he has directed, although he has also written a number of fun screenplays, if you can define The Skulls movies as fun, which I can).

Tania Raymonde plays Emma Collins, a marine biologist studying the effects of climate change on a small atoll that is sinking further into the sea, and is no longer inhabited by more than a handful of people (most of them being part of the science team). Things get interesting when Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic) and Lucas (Bren Foster) turn up, looking for some very aggressive bull sharks that they believe have made a beeline for the atoll. Richard and Emma have some history, whereas Lucas has no such ties. He has the men under his command, and won't think twice about using some of the weaponry and hardware that could cause as much damage to the atoll as it could to the sharks.

While the second Deep Blue Sea movie felt like some low-budget parody of the first, this feels like a fun retread that is happy to sculpt some different meat on to the bones (no, don't ask me why I went with that bizarre and gross metaphor). The sharks are still motivated by certain factors, and the sinking atoll makes for an interesting environment in which to place all the action. And speaking of action, it's so much better this time around than it was in the second film. The effects are decent, the pacing isn't too bad, and the overall effect is to turn Deep Blue Sea into a name I now wouldn't mind being stretched out for a number of tenuously-connected sequels.

Raymonde is a decent lead, Buzolic and Foster are both suitably shady in different ways, and the other standout is Emerson Brooks, playing the toughest member of the science team, and the main hope for leading a fight back if/when things turn messy.

It certainly still feels weighed down by the limited budget and resources, but Deep Blue Sea 3 puts a lot more action and enjoyable shark moments onscreen than you'd expect, especially if you endured the previous outing. It's no classic, still not anywhere close to being as good as the first movie, but it's not a bad way to pass 90 minutes or so.


Wednesday 14 October 2020

Prime Time: Shakma (1990)

The trailer is infamous, and the film actually manages to live up to that level of excitement, but there are still not enough people who have experienced the full glory of Shakma for themselves. If you are within that demographic, you should really change that.

Shakma is a vicious baboon. He's made even more vicious after being administered a drug that is supposed to calm him down, but ends up having the exact opposite effect. This means that Shakma is an added menace when a medical professor (Roddy McDowall) and a bunch of his students are all playing a live action role playing game in their research facility building. The building is all set up for their game, people speak to one another on various walkie talkies, and Shakma starts to cause carnage and death before the players start to figure out what is going on.

Written by Roger Engle, his only credit, and co-directed by Hugh Parks and Tom Logan, Shakma has the potential to be absolutely awful, considering the silliness of certain plot elements. It ends up being quite thrilling, however, because of how dangerous it feels throughout. A lot of editing and canny camerawork is involved to show the baboon being vicious and violent, but there are still many moments that have you fearing for the cast members.

Speaking of the cast members, McDowall is the biggest name here, but it's obvious that he's been picked for a prime role that allows him to lend his wonderful presence to the film without getting overly involved with the more intense sequences that will involve some of the younger players. Christopher Atkins is the lead, even if that only becomes clear after the opening third is out of the way, and he is joined by Amanda Wyss, Ari Meyers, Robb Morris, Tre Laughlin, and a few others.

But it's Shakma who holds your interest most, especially during the many moments that depict him going absolutely mental at closed doors. Shakma does not like having his routes blocked by doors, that much is clear. He's terrifying for every minute he's onscreen, even when not supposed to be as terrifying as he is later. I would not want to be stuck anywhere with an angry baboon, and Shakma seems to be about the angriest baboon I have seen in my life.

Things are set up well enough, with the measures taken to allow the gamers to play their strange game in peace, and there are logical reasons for most of the major plot beats, making this a more grounded and coherent piece of work than you'd think it would be. I am sure it would have been easy enough for people to be lazy and shrug, "some people are in a building and a baboon goes on the rampage", but kudos to the creators for putting some thought into things, making it a more believable, and slightly darker, film.

Watch it, be thrilled by it, and watch it again. Oh, and definitely head to YouTube to check out the trailer. Shakma!


Tuesday 13 October 2020

The Honeymoon Phase (2019)

Written and directed by Phillip G. Carroll Jr., and starring his wife (Chloe Carroll) in a main role, The Honeymoon Phase is a fairly low-budget sci-fi horror that has an interesting idea at the heart of it, and then spoils that idea by throwing in some mishandled twists and turns.

Tom (Jim Schubin) and Eve (Carroll) are a couple who could do with some money to help them along in life. So they pretend to be married, which means they can enrol themselves in a scientific study of couples that seems to be aiming to find out just what makes "the honeymoon phase" so enjoyable, and how that feeling can endure throughout a long relationship. Things start off well enough, but soon change. Are Tom and Eve being manipulated by the people running the study, or are they just growing apart while forced to spend so much time together?

There's a lot to enjoy/admire here. Carroll Jr. has made good use of his budget, and wisely gone for a film that pushes ideas ahead of any attempts at spectacle and gore. The pacing isn't too bad, although I have issues with the plotting, and the way things are structured (this is a film in which you are told something at the start that taints the whole viewing experience, and I think the film would have been better with a bit more of a straightforward chronological approach to the events). There are two main turns that the plot takes, and I have problems with both of them for different reasons. One isn't given nearly enough explanation, considering how it plays out in terms of timing, while the other just feels disappointingly predictable, considering the many ways in which Carroll Jr. could have taken the material.

It also doesn't help that the nepotism doesn't seem to be a very wise choice, although it may have saved some money in the budget, and made it easier to get some of the scenes shot (not every actress would have gone along with some of the content). Carroll is just not very good in her role, sad to say, and has to suffer at the hands of the script more than Schubin, who is better overall. The two help one another in a few scenes, but that's only temporary. When the script calls for the relationship to start fraying, leading to possible division between the two of them, it becomes more obvious that one actor is better than the other. François Chau is very good in his small role, overseeing the whole study, and Tara Westwood is someone giving the appearance of being helpful, although Eve stops perceiving her that way as she starts to have very different thoughts on the way the study is going.

What we could have had here is a film that thoughtfully looks at how people put on their best faces at the start of a relationship, sometimes wearing masks that slip ever so gradually over time until one partner looks over to find the other unrecognisable. You can still read that into the movie, but it feels entirely incidental. What you get instead is a promising feature debut that suffers from taking a path that seems far less interesting than some others that were available.


Monday 12 October 2020

Mubi Monday: The Selfish Giant (2013)

Very loosely based on a short story of the same name, by Oscar Wilde nonetheless, The Selfish Giant is the kind of working-class drama that us Brits can do so well, and it's a most impressive feature debut from writer-director Clio Barnard (who would do equally good work with her next film too, Dark River).

Conner Chapman is Arbor, a bit of a scally, to put it mildly, and his best friend is Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Both boys are out to make some cash, with Arbor the more desperate of the two, hoping to help his mother out of some bad debt. Bunking off school when they can, until they are suspended, the two boys spend their time trying to get Kitten (Sean Gilder) to give them a chance. He owns a local scrapyard, and won't question the legitimacy of their finds. But Arbor starts to push more and more, driven by the quest for a bigger payday.

Anchored by two child performances that are simply superb, The Selfish Giant is a film that you suspect from the very beginning isn't going to end well for everyone. Part of you may wait patiently to see Arbor get his comeuppance, but knowing that he drags Swifty along with him makes it always bittersweet when you suspect things are due to go wrong. 

Barnard does a great job of getting the performances from her young leads that match the material without softening the edges. Arbor will make you angry at times, especially throughout most of the first half of the movie, but you get to see moments that clarify his motivation, making him a bit easier to warm to, in between his mood swings and tantrums. Swifty is easily led astray, but you can see a small ray of hope for him to change his life around, especially as he bonds with the large horse owned by Kitten.

Chapman and Thomas are both excellent in their roles, surrounded by a fine selection of reliable adult co-stars, including Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Rebecca Manley, and fleeting appearances from Ralph Ineson, Ian Burfield, Steve Evets, and Siobhan Finneran.

The young leads may not create a fantasy world for themselves, certainly not in a way we usually see with children onscreen escaping reality, but they risk a similar lack of attachment to events around them as they start to reach further and higher for some kind of envisioned rope ladder that they see as a possible escape route from their daily lives. It's easy to believe in though, especially for those who have any experience of poverty and struggles. The more gravity tries to keep you pinned to the ground, the harder you work to believe in anything that may lift you up, whether that is using some of your money to buy lottery tickets or believing that anyone in the government will work hard to help change the circumstances that you've been surrounded by every day.

Not a fun watch, although there are moments of levity here and there, The Selfish Giant is definitely worthwhile. If you're unfamiliar with the struggle depicted here, perhaps just take a moment once the end credits roll to check up on the current stats in the UK regarding poverty, regional economic failures, and the many people who are stuck in a life that seems to be a million miles away from your own.


Sunday 11 October 2020

Netflix And Chill: Hubie Halloween (2020)

As happens with pretty much every Adam Sandler movie nowadays (every one that isn't directed by the Safdie brothers anyway), the trailer for Hubie Halloween was met with much eye-rolling and groans of despair. Everyone keeps assuming that his next project will be that deliberate attempt to make his worst ever movie after being snubbed by Mr. Oscar. This is, once again, not true. Although it may feel like it to some people.

Sandler is Hubie Dubois, a man devoted to helping the people of his hometown, Salem, and keeping them safe. And none of them really appreciate his work, or the impressive array of extras that he has fitted to his Thermos flask. Maybe that will change this year though, considering there's an escaped patient from a local institution, and a deadly presence that seems to be whisking away a number of residents. The people in trouble may not like Hubie Dubois, but that won't stop him from trying to save them. Which is why the lovely Violet Valentine finds him so attractive.

Directed by Steve Brill, and co-written by Sandler and Tim Herlihy, this is a typical Sandler joint in so many ways. The cast includes Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, and more familiar faces (and things start with a fun little gag involving Ben Stiller reprising a role from far in his past), this is a performance from Sandler that has him putting on an annoying voice, and the whole thing requires a suspension of disbelief that will be a lot harder for those who dislike the lead.

The cast all do well though, especially when not playing characters who are harder to believe (Julie Bowen suffers the most here, as her character is the one inexplicably attracted to Hubie). Noah Schnapp and Paris Berelc are Tommy and Megan, a young maybe-couple who help Hubie, and are in turn helped by him, and there are very fun turns from Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, June Squibb (playing Hubie's mother, and rocking a number of amusingly inappropriate t-shirts), Ray Liotta, Karan Brar, and Shaquille O'Neal. Everyone seems to be having a really good time, but not in the overly smug way that can emanate from films like the Grown Ups movies. In this case, those having a good time onscreen are also helping viewers to have just as good a time. Sandler is arguably the worst person in a main role, because of his penchant for silly voices, but his character is pitched almost at just the right level, firmly in between sweet and innocent and annoying as hell. This film won't win him any new fans, but I don't think he's been bothered about converting people for many years now.

Hubie Halloween is not the funniest film you'll see this year. It's not one of the best. It's not even the best thing that Netflix has delivered in time for seasonal entertainment on the run up to Halloween this year. But it IS a fun family film that actually does a great job of mixing some laughs with a surprisingly hefty dollop of spooky atmosphere. These are safe scares, and this is a safe film, but everyone deserves to enjoy some thrills and chills during October, and this is an attempt to provide a seasonal treat for everyone.


Saturday 10 October 2020

Shudder Saturday: Boys In The Trees (2016)

Writer-director Nicholas Verso has crafted quite the little gem here, and my biggest worry is that it will be marketed as a horror movie to horror fans who won't quite appreciate the mix of teen angst and fantastical elements. Not that horror fans aren't often an inclusive and accepting crowd, but rather some films are sold in such a way that expectations are created/raised, without a note about the film sitting within the horror genre without really being a more straightforward horror. It happens quite a lot, which is why I often try to note it in reviews, hoping that I can recommend something I liked a lot without misrepresenting it to others.

The film is all about Corey (Toby Wallace) and Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), two teens who are now moving in very different circles after they spent so much time being firm friends. Corey now hangs about with Jango (Justin Holborow) and his little gang, while Jonah is a bit of an outcast, and often the victim of bullying from Jango and co. Corey is also now starting to view himself differently as he considers how he appears to Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann), a young woman he is interested in. Anyway, events conspire to bring Corey and Jonah together for a walk homeward on Halloween, 1997. Jonah starts to tell some spooky tales, but the scariest thing in the night may be the perils of growing up under the constant weight of peer pressure.

Clocking in with a runtime of just under two hours, Boys In The Trees is a film not rushing viewers towards any kind of spectacular finale. In fact, if you don't predict at least one major moment here then you haven't watched many horror movies at all. It is, to use a cliché, more about the journey than the destination. But that journey is an almost perfect to enjoy on a dark night in October.

There are things that Verso gets wrong, especially when it comes to some of the dialogue scattered throughout the script, but they are all easy to forgive when he gets so much right. The tone throughout, whether it's the mid-to-late '90s vibe, and soundtrack, or the crisp and chilly darkness of an outdoor walk on Halloween, is perfect. The cast, and their performances, all work brilliantly, and help to make it easier to accept the uneven way in which things are weighted, in terms of emotional impact. You also get occasional individual moments that showcase the blending of reality/memories with strange characters and shadows that feel a bit too lively. More of those moments would have been welcome, but the way they come and go emphasise the push and pull between the two leads, one being more reluctant to look back at the past and remember the sense of magic than the other.

Wallace and McGrath work well together, feeling more like brothers at times than friends (which is absolutely in line with how best friends do feel), and they're even good enough to make the sillier lines in the script still feel acceptable. Holborow does what he can with his character, but his actions make him impossible to like whenever he's onscreen. If there's one major flaw, it's that Jango is so constant and forceful in his bullying that you find it harder and harder to believe that Corey would have ever fallen in with him and his crowd. Ruhlmann does good work, and her character feels very much like the kind of young woman who could be both cool enough and also more mature to make some teenage wannabe-Romeo want to change the error of his ways.

Weaving between dreams and nightmares, both real and imagined, Boys In The Trees is a wonderful concoction that taps right into memories many of us will have, even if we've buried them deep in the recesses of our minds. It's well worth your time, and emanates that special Halloween atmosphere from almost every night-time scene.


Friday 9 October 2020

A Werewolf In England (2020)

Writer-director Charlie Steeds seems like a lovely man. And he's certainly been doing his best in recent years to provide horror fans with a number of British genre flicks. So it's with no great relish that I warn people to avoid A Werewolf In England, which is arguably even worse than most of The Howling sequels (yes, I know what I am saying, unfortunately).

Tim Cartwright is Horrace, a man in charge of a prisoner (Archie, played by Reece Connolly) who is to be sentenced to death. They have to shelter at an inn for the night, and it turns out that those running the inn have some guests marked as potential food for some local werewolves.

On the one hand, fair play to Steeds for not letting his limited resources narrow his vision. Where some people might just figure out a way to make this a modern horror movie with one main creature, Steeds has decided to set this in years gone by, and to show multiple werewolves. On the other hand, there's a fine difference between genius and stupidity. Worrying about making one werewolf that looks good enough to be shown onscreen is one thing. Having more than one, or editing to make it look that way, doesn't feel like a wise decision, especially when things aren't quite as polished and effective as they could be (to put it nicely). The first full werewolf sighting is disappointing, and things don't get any better.

Oh well, at least the script is energetic and full of good humour, eh. No. Those involved with the film may have thought that, but it's not. Humour, like horror, is very subjective, but there's something far too on the nose about the potential metaphor that came to my mind as I had to endure a drawn-out scene in which a werewolf inadvertently sprayed two main characters with liquid shit. Nothing feels well thought out, and the second half feels very much like a lot of padding around whatever gags Steeds thought would be enough to make the movie worthwhile.

I wouldn't say that Cartwright and Connolly were bad, not exactly, but they're given material that needs them to do a lot of mugging and overacting in ways that don't really show them in their best light. Natalie Martins fares a little better, playing an "employee" at the inn, named Jane, but most of the cast are left to the same fate as the leads.

I like the attitude of Steeds, he doesn't seem to be in the mindset that so many others might adopt while working on independent British horrors and he's certainly trying to be prolific without necessarily joining in with the titles that feel like they've come out of some British manufacturing line (the ones that feel like British companies emulating The Asylum). It's just maybe worth remembering that quality over quantity can also be a good thing. 


Nothing like this is IN the movie.

Thursday 8 October 2020

The Monster Project (2017)

Devon (Justin Bruening) and Jamal (Jamal Quezaire) are a pair of filmmakers who have a plan. Well, Devon has a plan. It involves getting filmed interviews with people who claim to be real monsters. They form a little group, with Devon's ex, Murielle (Murielle Zuker), and Bryan (Toby Hemingway), a recovering addict, and set up to film in an isolated house. The three main monsters to be interviewed are a vampire (Shayla, played by Yvonne Zima), a skinwalker (Steven, played by Steven Flores), and a woman who claims to be possessed by a demon (Shiori, played by Shiori Ideta).

There’s a general rule to supposed “found footage” movies. I may have mentioned it before. The quicker things move into night-vision mode, the weaker it is. The Monster Project turns off the lights about halfway through.

Directed by Victor Mathieu, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Corbin Billings and Shariya Lynn, there’s a decent idea at the heart of this. It also makes a wise decision in having the character of Bryan being someone who may not trust his instincts until things are getting crazier and crazier. It is just a shame that it then settles for being a very standard, and very disappointing, “found footage” movie. I used quotation marks there as this has a number of details that stop it from being as authentic as some other movies done in this style.

The effects are quite well done, and the plotting is about as good as you can expect from something with this premise, but a lot of the dialogue is weak, there are no surprises, and it never feels more energised, even during a third act that starts to feel like the moments that the film-makers were all looking forward to recording.

Zima is the absolute highlight, her vampire character causing friction within the group when she reveals a truth she then claims she didn’t realise was a secret. She is dark, playful, sexy, and deadly all in one. Nobody else comes close to her presence, although Ideta does very well with her turn. Hemingway also does a decent job, which almost makes up for the other leads. Quezaire suffers the most, written almost exactly like the black characters used to show the comedic and misrepresentative examples of stock black characters in Not Another Teen Movie.

That premise is enough to buy this some goodwill, but not quite enough to forgive it for the cumulation of every wrong choice that makes up the second half. Almost worth your time, and I am sure one or two people will absolutely love it.


Wednesday 7 October 2020

Prime Time: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Directed by Amy Holden Jones and written by Rita Mae Brown, The Slumber Party Massacre is all about, well, I guess the title tells you all you need to know.

What you have here is a slasher movie that filters the subgenre through a feminist lens. Just kidding. What you really have here is a slasher movie pretty much like every other slasher movie, except the killer uses a really big drill on his victims (even if the deaths still end up somehow being not as bloody as you might think).

Trish (Michele Michaels) is the girl throwing the titular party. She did invite new girl, Valerie (Robin Stille), but Valerie decided not to accept the invite after hearing Trish and her friends making fun of her. She ends up babysitting her sister, Courtney (Jennifer Meyers), instead. But everyone will end up sharing the terrifying experience, surely, or they wouldn’t all be introduced in a slasher movie.

Originally intended to be a parody of slasher movies, Slumber Party Massacre ended up being a more straightforward horror, but nowhere near as straightforward as most. The script from Brown certainly feels more self-aware and playful than many other slasher movie scripts from this time, and the direction from Jones keeps the emphasis on the silliness of the main premise and the light atmosphere of a fun slumber party. The girls chat away to one another, boys decide to show up and try their luck, pizza and beers are to be consumed, and everything feels surprisingly convincing, for this kind of film.

The cast aren’t that memorable, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it means nobody is all that awful either. Michaels is the one setting up the main premise, Stille is someone you always know has the potential to be final girl material (unless she's killed off in a major surprise move), and Meyers is a lot of fun as the typical younger sister who wants to be allowed to do more. Michael Villela is a lot of fun as the killer, Ryan Kennedy is amusing as the "cool" adult neighbour, Mr. Contant, and the always-welcome Brinke Stevens is as welcome as always, in the role of Linda.

A lot of people prefer the daffy sequel to this first instalment. I sit on the other side of that fence. This feels like a really fun time, but without ever sacrificing the small moments of tension and the standard template for slasher movies. As Rick Astley might say, and I paraphrase, "it knows the rules, and so do I". It may not do anything perfectly, but it does everything well. I actually rate this quite highly in any selection of slasher flicks from the 1980s. I hope others agree.


Tuesday 6 October 2020

Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)

I may have lost count, but I am pretty sure this must be about the seventieth Hellraiser movie, and it is time for writer Gary J. Tunnicliffe to step up and direct, after doing such a sterling job of almost destroying the entire series with his work on the script for the previous outing.

Two detectives, who also both happen to be brothers, Sean Carter (Damon Carney) and David Carter (Randy Wayne), are investigating crimes committed by a deranged serial killer. They don't seem to realise that this is the work of Pinhead (played this time by Paul T. Taylor) and his main assistant here, The Auditor (played by Tunnicliffe). To try and help things along, the two male detectives are joined by a female, Christine Egerton (Alexandra Harris), and things start creeping towards an ending you can see coming a mile or two away.

I think (not completely sure though) that this is a Hellraiser movie written AS a Hellraiser movie (unlike so many instalments on the series that were just movies with Pinhead and cenobites shoehorned in). There are some times when it doesn’t feel Hellraiser-y enough, mainly because so much of the plot feels like a standard serial killer movie, but the horror aspects are very effective throughout.

The one thing I know for certain is that, perhaps due to such a low bar being set the last time around, this is a much better film than the last one. The plot is slim, although Tunnicliffe certainly tries his best to make it feel a bit weightier, and I will admit that there are a couple of really good ideas here, and the use of the demonic entities allows for some excellent set-pieces.

The cast are a mixed bunch. Carney and Wayne are a couple of poor leads, although Harris does a lot better, making the men more tolerable whenever she is sharing the screen with them. Tunnicliffe is enjoyable as The Auditor and Taylor is a worthy successor to Bradley as the most iconic of the cenobites. Having said that, he apparently tried to give a different interpretation of the character, yet it feels very much like he was playing things safe by trying to imitate the best person to forever be associated with the role. I can take or leave everyone else, although I think it is worth mentioning “the jury” as a highlight.

I am as surprised as anyone else might be to say that I quite enjoyed this. It works for fans of the series, and it also works as a fairly stand-alone horror flick. Tunnicliffe has almost done enough to make me forgive him for the previous Hellraiser movie he created. Almost.