Sunday, 24 October 2021

Netflix And Chill: There's Someone Inside Your House (2021)

Perhaps still best known for the two Creep movies that many keep thinking of as Mark Duplass movies (maybe because of his input, or maybe it's just me), Patrick Brice has been building an enjoyably twisted filmography over the past decade or so. I still wouldn't have considered him as the first choice to direct this teen slasher movie, based on a novel by Stephanie Perkins, but he soon shows that he's more than up to the task.

Someone is killing the students of Osborne High, with the death scene relating to some secret that is then shared around with everyone else at the school. This probably wouldn't worry anyone who manages to live their life without any secrets, but almost everyone has a secret. Makani (Sydney Park) has a big secret, a reason she moved away from where she used to live, so she starts to worry when that will catch up with her. She also has a small group of close friends (Alex, Zach, Darby, and Rodrigo) that expands by one when they welcome bullied football player, Caleb, among them. And she has an attraction to the one boy who is the immediate prime suspect when the killings begin, Ollie (Théodore Pellerin).

Both the best and the worst thing about There’s Someone Inside Your House is the fact that it is a very straightforward, non-ironic, slasher movie. You don’t get a lot of winks and gags, which means the pure and serious approach actually feels more interesting and unique now, compared to the many slasher movies we have seen that need to be loaded with references to past glories.

Henry Hayden’s screenplay puts everything together well enough, despite not throwing around enough red herrings, and you have a good selection of characters who manage to stand out from the crowd without ever seeming invulnerable. Brice works well with what he’s given, setting up the deaths as the set-pieces they should be and building up a head of steam towards a third act where we get the expected “unmasking” and final battle. The killer isn’t ever all that menacing or convincing when all is finally revealed, but that is compensated for by the messages running throughout the rest of the film, and the gory kills.

Park is a decent lead, a young woman with a troubled past who could also be a suspect in a killing spree, and Pellerin is enjoyable as the misfit who probably isn’t the evil sociopath that everyone takes him for. Elsewhere, Ashjha Cooper, Dale Whibley, Jesse LaTourette, and Diego Josef are a good selection of actors playing the core group, and Burkely Duffield is easy to like as the footballer who ends up joining their group. There are other people here, all doing good work, but the focus stays on the main group of friends trying to act as if they don’t have any secrets while avoiding a killer who could prove otherwise.

Satisfyingly bloody, and enjoyably teen-oriented without feeling too inconsequential or silly, There’s Someone Inside Your House turns out to be one of the better slasher movies of the last few years. And it doesn’t end with an obvious attempt to stretch things out into a series (famous last words).

7/10

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Saturday, 23 October 2021

Shudder Saturday: Boo! (2018)

If you want a slick and enjoyable mainstream horror movie then you're probably best staying away from Boo! It's not as if it's a terrible movie, not really, but it so consistently mishandles the material (and the central plot hinges on an idea that could have been used well) that it only really works well as a shining example of how not to present a horror movie. This is one to watch when you're feeling a bit jaded and needing a reminder of why so many people watch and enjoy the content from Blumhouse and people like James Wan.

The main storyline is simple. A family receive a "boo" on their doorstep. It's something that apparently should be passed along, otherwise those receiving it are stuck with a curse, but they don't. The father instead decides to burn the piece of paper that has a rhyme written on it. This leads to every family member having visions relating to their greatest fears, and it develops and widens cracks in their relationships, adding more and more tension until things reach an inevitably damaging conclusion.

The fictional feature debut from director Luke Jaden (who has a filmography that includes a documentary and a number of shorts), Boo! shows someone who knows what they're supposed to be doing, but just somehow can't quite get anything right. The script, co-written by Jaden and Diane Michelle, isn't terrible, certainly not compared to the many worse horror movies out there, but the execution is either flat or a bit muddled. It doesn't help that things really start with the arrival of the curse, without letting viewers see some of the underlying issues within the family unit that will be exploited throughout the rest of the movie. Okay, maybe that's a script issue, but it otherwise does an okay job, unsupported by the film-making techniques that feel as if they are going through the motions.

The cast don't help. Jaden Piner and Aurora Perrineau aren't as bad as Caleb and Morgan, respectively, but Jill Marie Jones is a bit weaker, and Rob Zabrecky doesn't find the right tone for his character, a man of faith who would much prefer things if his family pretended that they never had any problems. Charley Palmer Rothwell doesn't do too bad, playing the boyfriend of Perrineau's character, but his character feels a bit wasted (again, okay, highlighting that the script has a few more flaws than I initially thought).

Despite one or two individual moments that simply focus on being enjoyably creepy, this is a Halloween movie that never really feels like it is all taking place on Halloween. It's almost as if everyone forgot the events unfold on Halloween night, which should have been an easy plus point for the film.

Not painful, not laughably bad, just really disappointing. And not worth your time.

3/10

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Friday, 22 October 2021

The Blackwell Ghost 3 (2019)

Moving away from the storyline explored in the first two movies, Turner Clay extends his movie series with a visit to a house that once contained a serial killer, James Lightfoot. It’s all to do with a woman that he has been seeing in his dreams, a woman who was a victim of the killer, and Clay believes he is now more than prepared to try and contact any restless spirit.

It’s quite hard to imagine writing a full review for each instalment in this movie series (and I have now seen four of them in total) because a lot of the basic elements are actually the same, usually with one main gimmick added (here it is small wooden tiles with letters printed on them). Credit where credit is due, however, Clay definitely manages to subtly escalate events on a journey that manages to both look amateurish and half-baked and also very well planned.

There’s more activity happening here, more obvious signs of something being in the house with our lead, but it’s not at all ridiculous. Once again, the most implausible part of this movie is how long Clay sticks around after things start getting very scary. You would not catch me being so brave. Then again, the motivation that Clay has is twofold, with the way he wants to document events and his burning curiosity for what he views as a good mystery.

As the one main character onscreen for most of the runtime, Clay continues to be good company. His reactions are believable, his acting convinced throughout, and the documentary format allows viewers to watch something that we know has been deliberately crafted with music and a created narrative. If you actually believe in ghosts then this series could easily pass itself off as being absolutely real.

Those interested in the history being explored in the first two movies may be annoyed by the sudden new direction, which is continued in the next film, but I keep thinking that Clay will eventually bring things back to what started it all. This particular instalment may not add much to his overarching storyline (of there IS an overarching storyline), but it’s another solid bit of spookiness that gets in and gets the job done at just over 70 minutes. Which makes it a very easy viewing choice.

6/10

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Thursday, 21 October 2021

The Blackwell Ghost 2 (2018)

Thinking back on it, I MAY have been a bit harsh on The Blackwell Ghost when I finally checked it out. My main problem with it was the fact that it was stuck in a middle ground, authentic in the format being emulated, to the detriment of potential scares, and then obviously unreal by the time the end credits rolled.

This first sequel (and I have discovered that there are now about five of these movies, as of today) picks up almost exactly where the first film left off. Film-maker Turner Clay even uses the reactions to the first movie, good and bad, and decides to film his continuing investigation at the house that may well be home to a very active spirit.

This is better than the first movie. So much better, in fact, that it has made me eager to see every film in the series. I am sure that many people could feel the exact opposite way, but the fact that this time around had me not even once wondering if this was real made it a more enjoyable viewing experience.

I’m not sure if he had everything planned out well in advance, or if he figured out how to expand things when he decided to make the sequels, but Clay plots everything out well enough, starting with an interesting, and quite macabre, discovery that leads him back to the location of the previous movie. The extra details revealed may not be astounding, but they continue to create an interesting bigger picture that allows Clay to set up more scares and tricks.

Although he’s not going to be nominated for any major awards any time soon, Clay acts convincingly enough in front of the camera (and he’s in front of the camera for most of the movie). My biggest issue with the performance, and film, is the way he tolerates activity that would have scared many others away quite quickly. But maybe that is just a reflection of my own wussiness.

Longer than the first film, but still not long enough to make it tiresome, this could have been a near-perfect horror film to watch during the spooky season. Unfortunately, a coda that allows Clay to present salvaged material has the film ending with a bit of a whimper, moments after it could have ended with a big scare sequence. 

I know it’s an obvious comparison point, but fans of the Paranormal Activity series should definitely check this out. I have a long way to go through the series yet, but it may end up being better. It certainly already manages to incrementally increase the storyline without making things too convoluted.

7/10

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Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Prime Time: Route 666 (2001)

Between the late ‘90s and early 2000s, a lot of movies limped through to VHS as DVD was taking over as the main home entertainment format of choice. They were, to make an obvious point, basically the last of the straight to video titles that you might check out in the hope of occasionally finding a real gem. Those titles then started being released on DVD, and appeared on the shelves in your local supermarket, and now you can only really find them if you search through the weekly selection of films released directly to streaming platforms. It’s a lot harder to find the hidden treasure, but it is a lot easier to avoid the trash.

Route 666 is a 2001 film that I discovered on VHS when it was first released. Let’s just say that, well, it’s not a treasure.

Lou Diamond Phillips is Jack La Roca, an agent who is determined to track down a federal witness, who prefers to go by the name of Rabbit (Steven Williams), and transport him to where he needs to be by the next day. And that is why he and the team working under him (including characters played by Lori Petty and Dale Midkiff) end up taking a section of backroad that isn’t supposed to be used by travellers. It’s not long before some evil zombies appear, members of a chain gang who died on that road many years ago.

Director William Wesley, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Fivelson and Thomas Weber, takes a decent premise and sadly mishandles what could have been fun material. There’s a lot wrong here, but the biggest flaw is perhaps just the fact that this film was released in 2001. Despite the weak dialogue here, everything would have been more enjoyable if it had been made a decade or so previously, with everyone leaning harder into the cheesy lines and the practical effects given a chance to shine. It would have also given an aura of star power to Phillips that is missing here, because it now feels like he’s taken on this job while not being inundated with film offers.

Not that Phillips is terrible, but he isn’t great. He knows what he is working with, but he doesn’t ever quite find the right approach to it. Neither do many of the other cast members, including Petty. Midkiff knows what he’s doing, and has fun in his role, and Williams does his best in a role that allows him to steal pretty much every scene he’s in. The other cast member worth mentioning is L. Q. Jones as a Sheriff who may know exactly why people shouldn’t be driving along “route 666”.

But everybody suffers from the choices made in the presentation, from the disappointing lack of good gore gags (and the opportunities were there for some great moments) to the choppy editing and slow-motion used every time the deadly zombies make their entrance. The connections between certain characters are laughable, the “rules” that limit the actions of the zombies aren’t utilised well, and Wesley constantly fails to get just the right tone. 

But this was a rewatch, and I cannot promise I won’t ever watch it again. More because of the memories I have of checking it out on VHS back when it was first released than the quality of the film itself.

4/10

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Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Halloween Kills (2021)

Here's a bit of a shocker. I wasn't a big fan of Halloween (2018). Despite my problems with it, however, it was impossible for me to deny that it was an attempt to set right a franchise that had so often gone off into choppy waters, to put it mildly. Halloween Kills is worse than the film that preceded it. The big surprise is that I think it is arguably worse than every film that preceded it. 

Following on immediately from the end of the previous film, Halloween Kills is the tale of Michael Myers getting out of a burning house and killing a whole load of people on his way to wherever he may want to be heading. Is that wherever Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is? Is it his childhood home? Is it somewhere he can face off against an angry mob who rally around the chant that "evil dies tonight"? Wherever it is, events are interrupted by numerous flashbacks to scenes that show the aftermath of that fateful night all those years ago. The night he came home.

David Gordon Green is back in the director's chair again, and he co-wrote the script with Danny McBride and Scott Teems (the former also returning to the same role he had on the last film). So let me start by saying what this film gets right. Entertaining scenes of mayhem and death. This feels like the Halloween movie with the biggest bodycount yet, and the kills have a decent mix of variety and brutality. Michael Myers is as unstoppable as ever when he's all revved up for a major killing spree. 

The other thing the film gets right is the score, making plenty use of classic music cues in the right places.

That's it. That's all this movie gets right, and that's why it manages to do what I thought was impossible, become a new low point for the series.

Now let's go through the many things that the film gets wrong. 

The cast. They're either not that good (Andi Matichak still fails to make much of an impression as young Allyson, granddaughter of the legend that is Laurie Strode), unceremoniously sidelined because they need to be held back for the next - final - instalment (Jamie Lee Curtis), or forced to make one bad decision after another on the way to an ending that treats them as badly as any minor supporting character. This applies to Judy Greer, Robert Longstreet, and Anthony Michael Hall, among others. The fact that Hall is playing Tommy Doyle, joined here by Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards reprising her role), makes the misuse of his character arguably more egregious than the misuse of any other characters.

The many nods to other movies that everyone wants to pretend doesn't exist in this timeline. This has been a pet peeve of mine before, but it's even worse this time when so many details seem to have been included for fans to point out as nods to previous visits to Haddonfield.

Leading on from the previous point, there is almost no scene in Halloween Kills that doesn't highlight either some dialogue, character, or scene from the 1978 movie. It makes up what feels like the majority of the runtime, and it's bloody infuriating. This is a film that shows a flashback of Michael Myers clambering over a car just to allow the film-makers to feel smug when they show a near-identical shot of Michael Myers clambering over a car. There is a big difference between dropping in references to please fans and making your film little more than a collage of those references.

The many scenes that are supposed to show the events of Haddonfield in the 1970s generally look well, but they are a) totally unnecessary, and b) full of choices made by people who wanted to recreate certain moments and characters without considering whether or not they should. This leads to intrusive camerawork and some terrible audio that can take viewers out of the movie.

Any commentary on trauma and mob mentality is undermined by the weak script. Why bring so many characters back if you’re only going to use them to make the same mistakes that everyone makes in these movies? They even mistake someone else for Michael Myers, which I think it the third or fourth time that idea has been used in these movies. There are individual moments that have characters showing how affected they have been by the night that terrified the entire town, but they are disappointingly brief. And none of the mob mentality stuff works, with no real feeling of “angry villagers with torches” ever coming close to actually causing a problem for the monster they want to drive away.

Halloween Kills has worked for a hell of a lot of people, and it seems to have been a big hit at the box office already, so you may end up at the opposite end of the spectrum from me. Some people have heard the film criticised and wondered what viewers were expecting. I’ll tell you. All this had to do was be true to the characters, true to the idea of making it a worthwhile story branching directly from the events of the original movie, and full of good kills. At least the kills are good. 

Sadly, any other film in the series manages to do what it sets out to do better than this, which even keeps our favourite scream queen so far away from most main scenes that it’s akin to watching a cut of Aliens re-edited to keep Ripley in stasis for most of the runtime.

Worst. Halloween. Ever. (so far)

4/10

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Monday, 18 October 2021

Mubi Monday: Prevenge (2016)

Sickeningly talented Alice Lowe serves as writer, director, and star in this violent horror comedy that's about pregnancy, responsibility, and revenge. But mainly pregnancy. 

Lowe is Ruth, a heavily pregnant woman who has recently lost her partner. The details of her partner's death are unclear, although it's implied that there was an incident involving a number of other people on some climbing trip. And those other people must die. Because baby says so. Which means, in between dealing with a midwife she cannot be bothered making small talk with (played by Jo Hartley), Ruth heads out and about to kill the people seen as responsible for her widowed state. Some of them don't seem like bad people (e.g. an instructor named Tom, played by Kayvan Novak). Some of them do (e.g. the horrible DJ Dan, played by Tom Davis). But should any of them be blamed for what could have been a tragic accident? 

Lowe is on great form here, and she never really disappoints. Deciding to make your feature directorial debut is one thing, doing it while heavily pregnant is another. Somehow managing to maintain the energy levels required for a very (impressively) quick film shoot, she takes all of the various emotions that can accompany any pregnancy and layers them with both horror and comedy trimmings. This isn't a pregnant woman who smiles as she is complemented on her glow, it's a woman gritting her teeth as she builds up a cloud of rage on her way to committing murder, while also trying not to wet herself or spontaneously lactate.

The simple shooting style might be in line with what you'd expect from a quick, and relatively cheap, little black comedy, but there's a lot here that marks Lowe out as equally talented behind the camera. The sharp script seems almost a given, but her shot choices and editing (with cinematography by Ryan Eddleston and editing by Matteo Bini) show someone not willing to remain confined in what we might consider the standard "Brit-flick" look. There's also a very enjoyable score accompanying the visuals.

The actors already mentioned do great work, but there are also fantastic turns from Kate Dickie, Mike Wozniak, Tom Meeten, and Gemma Whelan, although nobody given any screentime lets the side down. It's Lowe who is the star though, and with good reason. Not only does she deliver every wonderful line of dialogue so well, she really conveys the mental state of a woman who knows her mental state is broken, but is constantly trying to decide if she wants to fix it or just go with the flow. If Prevenge is basically a slasher movie (and it is . . . the template is used well, especially with the tragedy that motivates our killer) then Lowe allows Ruth to become one of the few slashers that you end up rooting for, most of the time.

With a great mix of laughs and nastiness, an intriguing central concept and execution reminiscent of early Cronenberg, and perfect performances from all involved, this proves to be well worth all of the hard labour involved. 

Yes, I ended with THAT pun.

8/10

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Sunday, 17 October 2021

Netflix And Chill: No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

An interesting horror movie that tries to present something a bit different, and manages to weave in a strong bit of social commentary in the midst of the standard thrills and chills, No One Gets Out Alive is a decent directorial feature debut from Santiago Menghini, who has honed his craft over the past few years crafting numerous shorts. It doesn't ever really click everything into place though, which seems to stem from the script, by Jon Croker and Fernanda Coppel, and may well stem from the novel, by Adam Nevill, that they were adapting.

Cristina Rodlo plays Ambar, a young woman looking to settle in America and make a decent life for herself after a lot of time spent caring for her sick, now-deceased, mother. Ambar starts working in a tough job, trying to get enough money together for a decent fake ID that she needs for a better job, and she puts down a deposit for a room in a boarding house that seems to mainly contain young women like herself. The landlord, Red (Marc Menchaca), doesn't forewarn anyone staying in the building that there's something a little off, to say the least, with his brother, Becker (David Figlioli), and Ambar finds out just how bad her situation is when she is no longer able to break free from the building.

Nicely shot throughout, and with a steady pacing that spaces out the chills without ever leaving viewers hanging for too long, it is easier to praise No One Gets Out Alive than it is to criticise it. But the bad eventually outweighs the good, particularly in a final act that seems to throw in too many elements without a satisfying explanation for any of them. I may have missed a small detail here or there, I’m far from infallible, but I think that everyone involved was so busy enjoying their thematic weaving and the set-pieces that they figured it would be better not to over-explain things. They’re right, to a degree, but a couple of important details added would have improved my own experience with the whole thing.

Rodlo is a good lead, a strong young woman in a very vulnerable position, and both Menchaca and Figlioli are convincingly intimidating. Moronke Akinola does well in a small, but key, role, and David Barrera is, well, he’s present for a few scenes (no comment on his performance, his character just feels a bit extraneous).

Maybe a bit bloodless for some viewers, and certainly uneven in the choices it makes to add tension at certain points, No One Gets Out Alive is made with good intentions and no small amount of skill. It’s a solid thriller movie, edged into the horror genre by a few main plot beats, and it is worth your time. It just falls short of being great.

6/10

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

When A Stranger Calls (1979)

If you haven't seen When A Stranger Calls in many years then you should do yourself a favour and rewatch it. It's not the film you remember it being. Well, that's not quite true. The first 20 minutes or so are exactly the film you remember it being, but then you have over an hour that explores three very different characters and how they are joined together on their journey through life.

Carol Kane plays Jill, the young babysitter who is terrorised by a mystery caller while she is babysitting two children. All he keeps asking is "have you checked the children?" and Kane becomes so unnerved that she calls the police, who do their best to reassure her while eventually attempting to trace the origin of the call. As tension builds and nerves are shredded, this extended set-piece eventually ends before viewers are taken seven years into the future. Curt Duncan (the caller/killer, played by Tony Beckley) has escaped from a psychiatric facility, a private eye named Clifford (Charles Durning) has been hired to track him down, and Jill is now a married mother of her own two children. 

Directed by Fred Walton, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Feke (expanding their short, "THe Sitter"), When A Stranger Calls is an interesting psychological horror, for the most part, that fortunately came along before the main wave of slashers that would take over the horror genre for most of the first half of the 1980s. More akin to films like Maniac and Don't Go In The House, this tries to separate itself from a crowded field by showing not only the actions of the killer, but also the effects on others who have crossed paths with him, be it a surviving victim or a determined ex-cop, and it does a great job of both providing some tension and thrills and also exploring how major trauma can reverberate through lives that have been shattered in different ways.

Kane is very good as Jill, although she's more convincing as the vulnerable babysitter at the start of the movie than as the woman shown in the third act. Durning is an excellent unstoppable force, a man now determined to stop a killer in a way that will guarantee he never gets to cause harm to anyone ever again. Then you have Beckley, who lends his character an awkwardness and a disconnect that makes him scarier than so many other, more physically intimidating, killers. Although there are other people giving decent performances here, it's the central trio of Kane, Beckley, and Durning that remains the focus of the thing.

The look and feel of the film may not be very cinematic, it often feels like a very well done TV movie, but the script elevates this into a bit of a minor classic (with that opening sequence so impressive that it has been reworked and homaged many times since, most famously for the opening of Scream). Neither Walton nor Feke would deliver anything else close to this in their film careers, but this alone should have been enough to have their names more celebrated than they are today.

8/10

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Friday, 15 October 2021

The Unholy (2021)

There are far too few movies based on the excellent novels of James Herbert, who gave us The Rats trilogy, The Fog (not the same story as the John Carpenter movie), The Magic Cottage, Creed, and many others. From what I can recall, movie-wise, we’ve had a film that just happened to be about killer rats and the nice-but-dull Haunted. So I was very excited when I discovered that The Unholy is a film based on Shrine, a Herbert novel I read many years ago. It’s not exactly a great movie, but it is easily the best adaptation of Herbert’s work so far.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Gerry Fenn, a newspaper reporter who has ruined his reputation by fabricating a story. So he ends up taking on the smaller jobs, the thankless jobs, for lower rates or pay. That is how he ends up in a small town trying to make a decent story around a marked cow. He then almost hits young Alice (Cricket Brown) with his car. Alice speaks, despite the fact that she hasn’t spoken before. Gerry senses there may be something to explore, and then he ends up with the chance to present what could be the biggest story of his career. Alice is seeing the vision of a spirit. And miracles are happening. As Gerry investigates things further, however, he discovers that the spirit may not be what it claims to be.

Written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, The Unholy is a solid story marred by the addition of some CGI and jump scares. It manages to deliver some excellent moments though, making use of a decent cast to tell a story that unfolds in a genuinely interesting, albeit slightly predictable, way. The destination may be obvious, but the journey of the flawed main character is better than that shown in many other mainstream horror movies.

Morgan is on good form in the lead role, his obvious charm no longer working on people who were “burned” by his past behaviour. He conveys determination and insight when he is finally moved to go back to doing his job properly, and he’s easy enough to like even when he’s acting like a bit of a lowlife in the first few scenes. Brown is a believable innocent caught up in some very strange events, she does well alongside both Morgan and William Sadler, the latter playing a caring priest who views the miraculous with caution, knowing that evil can use good to get a foothold within the minds and souls of unsuspecting victims. Cary Elwes and Diogo Morgado turn up to make the most of the opportunity to increase the numbers of a potential global congregation. And Katie Aselton is absolutely fine as a local woman who starts to help Morgan, after an initial meeting that doesn’t endear him to her (of course), and plays an important role in helping piece everything together in time for the grand finale.

Although I have complained here about some CGI and jump scares, I should clarify that it’s not all something to hold against the film. The effects are generally pretty well done, it would just have been better to see more practical work at times, and a couple of the jump scares are executed well enough to make them worthwhile. But the best thing here is the story, a journey for a central character that allows him a chance to truly face up to his past, and indeed even use his sullied reputation in a way that could end up saving lives. Everything at least feels as if it was put together by people really wanting to present audiences with something entertaining that doesn’t overstay its welcome. They succeeded, even if this may be destined to be forgotten a few months from now.

6/10

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Thursday, 14 October 2021

Bad Candy (2020)

There are a few different ways to do a horror anthology movie. Okay, there are two main ways. First, have a decent wraparound for a number of tales that you want to present together in a feature. Second, have the tales interweave with both each other and the framing device. Bad Candy aims for the latter, but in such a half-hearted manner that it feels like a lazy attempt to improve a film that needed a lot more work done to it.

Corey Taylor plays a DJ named Chilly Billy. Along with his assistant, Paul (Zach Galligan), he wants to hear about, and relate, some classic scary stories on Halloween night. Not things that are obviously complete fiction, but things that "happened to a friend of a friend of mine". He gets enough tales to fill some airtime, but there might also be something else heading towards the radio station. Something that could provide the material for a whole new tale.

Co-written and co-directed by Scott B. Hansen and Desiree Connell (with a story credit for Thacker Hoffman), this is a film that feels as if it is made by people inexperienced in the writing and directing of feature films. That's true, to a degree. Although one has a larger filmography than the other, a lot of work has been spent on other formats, or in other departments. 

Aside from Taylor and Galligan, who both do just fine in their roles (Taylor being the better of the two in his DJ mode, surprisingly), the other cast members who stand out are Kevin Wayne, playing a nasty stepfather, and Haley Leary, a morgue attendant who gets a bit carried away one night, leading to the best punchline in the whole film.

The big problem here is that nothing feels properly thought out or cared for. A recurring character is an evil clown figure, which is someone wearing a familiar clown mask that we've seen many times before. He has no personality, no real sense that he's the one deserving to punish others for their wrongdoings, so all you have is someone wandering around being more annoying than scary. None of the morality tales feel quite right either, with the characters not given enough decent writing to get viewers even remotely on their side, or just interested in the tale that is unfolding, before events start hurtling towards a grisly end that often feels a bit like overkill. Then there's the whole last section, the sequence which has some of the story elements crashing into the framing device. It may work on a basic level, but it doesn't work as a satisfying end to the entire film.

I have to grudgingly admit that this is far from the worst horror anthology I have seen, but it's also far from the best. Not one moment here hasn't already been done better in some other movie, which makes it feel more redundant than most. And the atmosphere was much MUCH better in both Tales Of Halloween and Trick 'r' Treat. So watch either of those instead.

4/10

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Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Prime Time: Flatliners (1990)

Intense lighting in every shot, hidden wind machines blowing about the hair of the lead actors, Kiefer Sutherland floating through tree branches, Flatliners may have been released in 1990 but it is so ‘80s that it’s almost hilarious at times.

Sutherland plays a med student who comes up with a bizarre plan. He thinks that science can be advanced if you can spend some time exploring the world of death and then return to the world of the living. He enlists the help of others (Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt) in his quest to play god. People take their turn on the table, being killed and then brought back to life. But they don’t come back alone. Sins from their past cling to them like a rain-sodden jacket.

Director Joel Schumacher takes a decent idea and makes it a fun star vehicle for some hot properties. That’s absolutely fine, and there are also some light scares dotted throughout, but it’s not a film anyone should seek out if they’re after proper tension and scares. This is a gateway flick, I guess, a teen horror with very little bloodshed and only one character ever feeling in proper danger. And for those of a certain age, it has that glow of nostalgia. 

Peter Filardi doesn’t do a bad job with his first feature screenplay, despite the obvious relative restrictions of having some big star power involved. Everyone has a quick and easy “hook” (be it Baldwin’s character videotaping his sexual trysts, or the others carrying around deep-rooted guilt for actions, or inaction), and the main morality lesson at the heart of it, aside from the dangers of playing god, is a solid one.

Baldwin aside, because he is arguably the blandest of the Baldwins, the central cast here are fine company. Sutherland happily goes over the top, far too cocky from the very beginning and very shaken up by the most dangerous of the “visions” that the main characters have. Bacon and Roberts are wavering needles on a moral compass, and work well, although there’s no chemistry in the scenes between them that are supposed to show them growing a bit closer together. And then there is Oliver Platt, an actor who elevates everything that he works on. He is his usual excellent self here, commenting on the situation as a witness who hasn’t been on the same journey as the other characters. Joshua Rudoy is an entertainingly vicious spirit, dressed in a red coat that inevitably brings to mind an older horror movie many consider a masterpiece, and Kimberly Scott has a nice moment, playing an older version of a young girl who was horribly bullied by one of our leads.

None of the sets look like anything other than cool movie sets, the score by James Newton Howard seems designed to underline every scare and attempts at emotion, and Schumacher moves his stars through the story like, well, stars being moved through a story, as opposed to fleshed out fictional characters, but none of these things really matter. If anything, they make Flatliners as enjoyable as it is. The sense of every main scene being so obviously staged, the feeling of stars being selected to turn up and be stars, the stranger highs and lows of the journey, it’s all a strangely cosy way to put together a slick chiller. And it guarantees that the film itself never actually flatlines.

7/10

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Tuesday, 12 October 2021

My Little Eye (2002)

Directed by Marc Evans, My Little Eye is an oft-forgotten horror movie that holds up surprisingly well today, and could be argued as one of the better “found footage” films of the past two decades.

The plot is simple enough. Five individuals are selected for a competition. If they all stay in an isolated house for six months then they get a big cash prize. But if one person leaves then nobody gets anything. As time creeps towards the end date, things start to happen that freak out the contestants. Are they being toyed with by someone who has stalked them to their location, or is it the company running the competition trying to get someone to leave, and therefore saving them a lot of money?

The house has cameras everywhere, with the easy explanation being that the house occupants also have their lives broadcast over the internet for the duration of their stay, and that provides the “found footage” style, as if certain shots are being selected by someone watching the events unfold through a website. It doesn’t stay true to that format, but even editing choices and effects can be explained by the idea of someone working on the shots before presenting it to the website subscribers.

Each character onscreen is eventually able to stand out from the others, and the cast works perfectly. Sean Cw Johnson is Matt, a sort of sensitive Jock type, Stephen O’Reilly is the potentially mentally fragile Danny, Laura Regan is a young woman, Emma, with a history that she worries may end up catching up to her, Jennifer Sky is the fame-seeking Charlie, and Kris Lemche is the smart and sardonic Rex. The group dynamic shifts and changes believably enough, and there is always a good enough reason for those potentially in peril to try riding things out until the proper end is in sight.

The script, by David Hilton and James Watkins, does a great job of creeping further and further away from the initial “Big Brother” premise to something much more sinister, bringing in an extra character (played by Bradley Cooper) at just the right time and turning the screws tighter and tighter in the third act.

Some viewers may have issues with the pacing and the style of the film, but it really doesn’t do much wrong for what is being presented. Evans may not have many features to his credit, spending more time on TV work (although a number of those are TV movies), but he shows major talent here and I wish he would dive fully back into the horror genre one day. 

8 /10

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Monday, 11 October 2021

Mubi Monday: Shelley (2016)

The idea of pregnancy has been used often throughout cinema. It leads to life, of course, but that life is preceded by months of a woman struggling to take care of two, or more, individuals in the same body. There’s vulnerability inherent in being pregnant, and that makes it crop up quite often in thrillers and horror movies that can become more uncomfortable than most other genre plot devices. Just ask anyone how highly they rate Rosemary's Baby.

Shelley begins in a very low-key way, being all about a young woman, Elena, hired to help in the household of an older couple. As a bit of time passes, and the trio grow closer, Elena agrees to become a surrogate mother, helping the couple realise a dream. And that is when, ever so subtly at first, things start to turn stranger. Darker. Elena isn’t sure of exactly what is inside her. 

The main couple here are played by Ellen Dorrit Peterson and Peter Christofferson, playing Louise and Kasper. They're not necessarily bad people, certainly not obviously and overtly bad anyway, and Peterson and Christofferson play their parts perfectly, developing a bond with Stratan's character that wobbles between interested employers and good friends who really care. Stratan herself is also very good in her role, a standard helper who gets herself into a bit of a sticky situation with a mix of naïveté and a real willingness to do something very good for other people. The other main character is Leo, played by Björn Andrésen, and it's another performance that works exactly as director Ali Abbasi needs it to. Andrésen is an interesting presence, lending no small amount of magnetism to a portrayal of someone who might be a bit of an angel, devil, or both.

Abbasi, who also came up with the main idea that was then turned into a full screenplay by Maren Louise Käehne, manages to build a sense of unease throughout his feature debut. He also, perhaps more impressively, manages to maintain a sense of ambiguity throughout the film, arguably all the way up to an ending that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. It's not a perfect film, with the main problem being the glacial pace that may put many viewers off, but it's an interesting and rewarding experience for those patient enough. And if you enjoy this then you can move on to Border, the next, and even better, film from Abassi.

It's missing something, one extra big shock or plot development, but Shelley is a worthwhile drama that creeps into horror territory for its second half. Although both Abbasi and Käehne do well, and although the technical side of things maintains a consistent level of quality throughout, it's the performances that ensure everything rises above average. Give it a watch if you're in the mood for something classed as horror that is removed from the more common genre clichés.

7/10

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Sunday, 10 October 2021

Netflix And Chill: School Of The Damned (2019)

Springboarding from a famous tale written by John Wyndham, "The Midwich Cuckoos", which was subsequently adapted into an excellent film, Village Of The Damned (remade with disappointing results by John Carpenter in the mid-1990s), School Of The Damned is a bizarre British horror movie. One main reason for the strangeness of the final result is the mishandling of the tone, something that might be blamed equally on the rather inexperienced due of director Peter Vincent (making his feature debut here), and writer Philip Dyas (who now has three films to his credit).

James Groom is the Mr. Middleton, the newest teacher to arrive at Herbert West Grammar School. He soon realises that one young man, Georgie (Max Mistry), is a bit of a trouble-maker, but he doesn't know that some of the other pupils have a way of bringing everyone into line, or punishing them for their misbehaviour. The main youngster to be wary of is Sarah (Amelie Willis), often working in tandem with her sister, Jemima (Sophie Willis).

Although I am *spoiler* not going to give this a very high rating (it just never even does well enough to be classed as average), it's a film that I'm not going to get to angry about. The acting may be wildly varying in quality, the script may be weaker than the tea my gran used to occasionally make from the second use of the teabag, and the deaths are disappointingly unentertaining, but at least it's a film that feels as if those involved were trying to make something. They don't succeed, but you can see pieces put in place for what could have been a much better film than the one we got.

As mentioned above, the big problem is the tone. Transplanting the essence of the classic tale to modern times should have given the writer and director the confidence to change more, either updating the ways in which the kids could cause harm with their power (e.g. mobile phones, internet, etc) or highlighting the comedic aspect of adults being so worried about affecting the children in their care. None of that happens, although there are a couple of moments that show both Vincent and Dyas were clearly trying to lace the material with humour.

Mistry isn't too bad, playing the kind of bully who would have been given a decent backstory in Grange Hill, and Groom benefits from being the way in which viewers get to find their way into the movie world, but there's nobody else to single out for praise. On the plus side, as I am feeling charitable, I am not going to single anybody out for criticism either. I could, but I won't.

According to the trivia on IMDb for this movie, the script was written within two weeks and it was shot in 8 days in a school populated by students, with some of them appearing in the film. Seeing the film, with its lack of any decent style or polish, and the sore lack of wit, that's not hard to believe. Perhaps those behind the camera should fight to get some more prep and shooting time on their next project. It surely couldn't hurt.

3/10

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Shudder Saturday: V/H/S/94

Although I didn't really enjoy the last outing for this anthology horror series (V/H/S Viral), I have to admit that the format has been used to deliver more hits than misses. There are many good names involved, and this is one series that usually gets you interested because of who is behind, rather than in front of, the camera, and the aesthetic allows those involved to easily distract viewers from any FX shortcomings (not that there necessarily ARE any FX shortcomings).

The wraparound tale here concerns a police S.W.A.T. team storming into a building that is full of people who have been collecting real-life horrors on videotape. The cult members, because it IS a cult, have often removed their eyes, and their legacy is left behind in tape form, items ready to be played/viewed by the unsuspecting officers. First up, the tale of some kind of "rat man" living in a storm drain. Then you have a woman looking after a body in a funeral parlour, and she soon discovers that the dead don't always remain as stationary as they should. There's a mad scientist tale next, with a different S.W.A.T. team bursting in to put an end to his lunacy and then finding themselves attacked by his creations. Last, a small militia group are shown creating a deadly weapon, but it's one that proves more dangerous to themselves than to anyone they plan to attack.

Whatever you end up thinking of every individual tale here, and there’s even room for a small fake advert directed by Steve Kostanski that adds to the fun, it is easy to see that every segment tries to marry creativity with some impressive gore gags. It is also easy to see that the V/H/S series creates premises that allow the idea of the camera running at all times to feel more natural than it does in so many other found footage films.

Timo Tjahjanto  is the standout here, delivering the third tale, a cross between Frankenstein’s Army and Tokyo Gore Police (with a, perhaps inevitable, hint of Doom), but nobody really disappoints. Simon Barrett takes his time to build to a wild finale in “The Empty Wake”, Chloe Okuno starts things off on the right foot with “Storm Drain”, and Ryan Prows tries to put an interesting spin on a very familiar concept in the final tale, “Terror”. Even the wraparound, written and directed by Jennifer Reeder, works better than many other anthology wraparounds I can think of, in terms of allowing an extra tale to unfold while maintaining a consistent aesthetic.

Although I am not naming any of the main cast members, everyone gives a decent performance. They’re just never the focus of the film. The focus stays on the atmosphere of dread, grime, and potential nastiness. This is inherently helped by the lo-fi VHS effects, complete with variable lighting and audio and picture quality apparently affected by the limitations of the format, and that is how this series has managed to succeed where so many others have failed.

An enjoyable bit of entertainment to check out when you want a dose of horror, V/H/S/94, unlike the previous entry, now has me very keen for any next instalment that may come along. 

7/10

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Friday, 8 October 2021

The Demons Of Ludlow (1983)

Ludlow is a small town, but it has been plagued with mysterious deaths and tragedies over the years. Celebrations are happening though, and the town has been gifted a piano. Yayyyyy. But it's a haunted piano. Booooo. It's the kind of piano that can tinkle its own keys when wanting to create some extra spookiness, and that seems to spur on spirits who want to do things like . . . move fireside pokers around behind people. The spirits also kill, when the budget and plotting allows it. Debra (Stephanie Cushna) is a reporter digging around for a story on the town, as she used to live there until moving away at the age of 9, and Paul Bentzen is a local preacher who seems to sense that something is turning rotten in the middle of the planned festivities.

Directed by (the notorious) Bill Rebane, a man who certainly never let things like a lack of funds, or decent actors, stop him from getting a film made, The Demons Of Ludlow is, much like one of his other movies, The Giant Spider Invasion, a terrible horror movie that I cannot stop having a soft spot for. I recognise both as being genuinely terrible films, and the rose-tinted glasses don't filter out the sheer awfulness of them, but they also make me smile, both for what is onscreen and how I fell for them when I was a young boy. The Giant Spider Invasion is a film I enjoyed on a small TV screen, being impressed by the terrible special effects and scared by the spiders, and The Demons Of Ludlow was one of the first videotapes I bought for myself after being lured in by a lurid cover that promised so much more than the film delivered. 

Rebane is working from a poor script, written by William Arthur (with Alan Ross credited for additional dialogue), but he does nothing to help himself, or any of his actors. Viewers get to see people with bad make-up on their faces portraying spirits, they get to see wires on any household objects being moved about by invisible entities, and they get to see a lot of bad acting. The special effects aren't very special, the piano keys play ominously when things are about to get spookier (well . . . supposedly spookier), and a number of scenes feel very sluggish, making this feel like it runs for much longer than the 90-ish-minute runtime.

Cushna isn't too bad in her role, and C. Dave Davis is certainly decent value as the Mayor, but the other cast members range from the average to the godawful. Bentzen is at the latter end of that scale, his particular style harder to overlook when he is in so many scenes.

I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, unless you're looking to torture someone for an evening. Yet I have now watched it myself three times. Why? There are so many other movies I have still to watch for the first time. But I owned this on VHS, and gave up on it the first time I tried to watch it as a teenager, then owned it in a cheap DVD pack. Now, because of the strange and interesting times we live in, I now own this on Blu-ray. I'll probably watch it again one day, and I'll definitely look forward to diving into the special features. Meanwhile, I advise most sane people to stay far away from it.

3/10

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Thursday, 7 October 2021

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

I enjoyed Escape Room. I also enjoyed Escape Room. And I will enjoy any number of films that feature escape rooms at the heart of their plot, as I have said before. It’s a cool concept, and the films often allow you to expect some gory death moments while “playing along” with the main characters.

The plot to this is very simple. After the events of the first film, Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller) set out to find the creators of the dangerous game they were caught up in. They want justice to be served. That ends up with them dragged into more escape rooms, this time alongside other survivors (hence the title). An underground train, a bank, a seaside shack, and even a scene that looks like any number of NYC streets are all scenes full of puzzles they have to solve before the timer runs out.

There are a lot of people who worked together this time around to get the screenplay done, so I will just mention the returning Maria Melnik. While it may seem like far more bodies than necessary, every individual scenario is enjoyably intricate in the slotting together of the puzzle pieces so I cannot complain about more brainpower being used to focus on the fun extended set-pieces.

Director Adam Robitel is back in the big chair, and he sticks with the approach that served him well enough in the first film. Show the room, let the camera pick up small details, hone in on different clues as the players agonise over their next move. You get secret switches, deadly lasers, electric shocks, “quicksand”, acid raining down, and much more, and Robitel almost always shows a small effect of these elements before preparing for at least one major death.

Although the focus is always on the rooms themselves, both Russell and Miller acquit themselves admirably enough in their roles. Holland Roden, Indya Moore, Thomas Cocquerel, and Carlito Olivero also do fine, although it’s Roden standing out from the other players. Then you have scenes featuring Isabelle Fuhrman and James Frain that attempt to frame the whole story in a way that is pretty unnecessary. Look, I appreciate trying to show that there actually is someone creating these puzzles, but the logic of the movie has already asked me to switch off my brain and not overthink it, considering just how much money and resources would be needed for each scenario, so shoehorning in some backstory at this point does more harm than good.

As expected, this wasn’t quite as good as the first film. It’s not bad though, and certainly not bad enough to dissuade me from watching any other movies that use the idea, or even the same title. They may not be amazing, or stuffed with surprises, but they are enjoyably unpretentious and entertaining.

6/10

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Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Prime Time: The Curse Of Halloween Jack (2019)

Here's that rare beast, a film so irritatingly lazy and awful that I don't even want to waste time by trying to summarise the plot. So allow me to share with you how it is detailed on IMDb - "Notorious cult The Lords of Samhain resurrect long dead serial killer Halloween Jack and all hell breaks loose in the town of Dunwich." Trust me when I tell you that the film isn't as good as that summary may suggest.

Written and directed by the prolific Andrew Jones (who also gave us Robert and Cabin 28, to name the two other films from him that I have inadvertently endured), this is one of many cheap horror movies that seem to be cropping up with tiresome regularity nowadays. Arguably in line with the kind of stuff that would go straight to video about 15-20 years ago, although that's quite insulting to some of the fine movies I have discovered in that format, this is something that feels designed simply to sucker people in. The clues were there as soon as, if not before, I pressed play.

First of all, the title is clearly tempting to those seeking a horror movie when they want to cram in some more genre fare throughout the month of October. Anything with Halloween in the title will get people mildly interested. Halloween Jack? Jack-o-lanterns may be involved, or there may be references to Jack Skellington. Not at all. It's simply a name based on familiar terms that will fool casual browsers.

Second, the town of Dunwich seems to be based in the UK. Which would make the events of the film set in the UK. But there are a number of little touches, and wobbly accents, that make you think that Jones wanted to have the film set in America. Maybe that was in the early stages of the script, before the budget ensured that there wouldn't be money to dress and detail everything to make it convincingly American. Maybe Jones couldn't make up his mind. Or maybe he just didn't care about anything like continuity or in-world logic, or the possibility of helping viewers to enjoy their viewing experience.

Third, there are many scenes without any real sense of location. Shots are either tight and keeping focus away from anything in the background that shouldn't be there or they are able to show off a more general and nondescript bigger space when the lighting is kept low and no recognisable landmarks are looming over the actors. This happens often in low-budget/independent movies, but there are ways to make it a lot less noticeable. 

As for the actors, it would be too easy, and a bit rude, to single out those who don't do a very good job. I'm only going to mention two people here. Tiffany Ceri was okay, despite the horribly weak script (and it is HORRIBLY weak, but full of dialogue exchanges that Jones either thinks highly of or assumes will further pad out the runtime). Peter Cosgrove is also worth mentioning, playing Duke Tanner. Unfortunately, his character is one of the most annoying I can think of in the horror genre. He's supposed to be the grizzled veteran who knows the danger that everyone is in, and he has an awful fake American accent throughout, but he's asked to deliver every line in a stilted and breathy manner. That wouldn't have been quite so bad if we weren't stuck listening to him for almost a full ten minutes in the final act of the film, a stretch of time that brings everything to an absolute halt while Cosgrove's character delivers all of the exposition that could have been drip-fed elsewhere throughout the slim runtime.

I don't like to review movies without offering some constructive criticism, but there are a few occasions when there isn't anything to say that can sweeten the bitter pill being administered. The score is sometimes alright, I guess, and that is genuinely the only positive I can remember from a film I am already trying to wipe from my memory. Oh, the main character design wasn't actually that bad, to be fair. Nothing else worked, from the dialogue to the performances, from the camerawork to the disappointing death scenes.

2/10

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Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Uncanny Annie (2019)

The easiest way to describe Uncanny Annie is as a horror riff on Jumanji, an idea that has been used a few times now, with varying results. 

A group of friends get together to play some board games during the spooky season, one year on from the death of one of their number. They find a game called Uncanny Annie and start to play, thinking it will be very easy. It won’t be easy though. Not at all. Because the game features a mischievous and deadly spirit, Annie, who always wants to win.

Although feature length, and screened a couple of years ago at a horror film festival (maybe more than one, I’m not sure), Uncanny Annie is actually the first episode of the second season of Into The Dark, a horror anthology TV show. This explains why the opportunity to direct is given to Paul Davis, while the writing is handed over to Alan Blake Bachelor and James Bachelor. These people have very limited experience in the movie world, going by their filmographies, but this format allows them to stretch their legs and work within a premise that may well provide the best mix of restrictions and freedom.

Adelaide Kane, Georgie Flores, and Paige McGhee play the three main female leads, and all of them do just fine with what they’re given, which asks them to quickly react believably to a situation that quickly turns from the slightly unusual to the absolutely insane. There are also some male characters, but the only one standing out is played by Jacques Colimon. The males seem to be set up as the ones destined to be killed off quicker, setting things up for at least one young woman to face off against Annie. And speaking of Annie, that role goes to Karlisha Hurley, who is hampered by the script mishandling her character. Annie actually feels like the most extraneous character, and the film could have been improved by not feeling the need to personify the evil spirit of the game.

Passable enough, even if it lacks any major scares or decent kills, this comes closer to making the most of the central idea than some other movies that have tried it. It still doesn’t do enough though, and is hampered by Annie herself. There are a couple of sequences that stand out from the rest of the film, and it seems like most of the game rules are followed quite well, but the whole thing could have been more fun, or made more tense, by some important tweaks to characters and the group dynamic.

You might end up enjoying this more than I did, although I suspect most people will think I was too generous (as usual). Either way, you could do worse than taking a roll of the dice on this one when lining up a selection of horror movie viewings.

5/10

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Monday, 4 October 2021

Mubi Monday: New Order (2020)

It is hard to know where to start with New Order, even in terms of discussing the plot. It all really starts with a violent attempt by the lower classes to overthrow the upper classes. But it actually all starts at a wedding, a big event where a man is reduced to begging a former employer to help him pay for hospital treatment that his daughter needs. But take a further step back, it all starts with that man being spoken to by a doctor in a busy hospital full of desperate people. Ultimately, it starts where it ends. A Mexico in disarray, with huge disparity between those with power and those without.

Writer-director Michel Franco delivers an impressively challenging work here, one that feels timely while we watch the world around us almost tear apart. There are places where people rely on food banks, and are currently trying to keep hold of a £20 top up benefit payment that has kept them alive for the past year or so. Elsewhere, rich assholes are indulging their fantasies of having a trip into space.

The cast are all good, but there are few characters who actually feel like the focus of the film. Marianne is one, and of most interest because she is one of the few shown to be in a position to help people while also having the mind to do so, and Cristian and Daniel have different attitudes to the unfolding anarchy. These characters are played, respectively, by Naian González Norvind, Fernando Cautle, and Diego Boneta. All three do good work, but Norvind is the real heart of the film, showing the contradictions and hypocrisies of the order as it was and as it changes.

It may take a sharp shock to upset the status quo, but Franco knows that any attempted revolutions can be usurped and twisted by those wanting to wrestle power into their own hands for more than just monetary gain. This is the most important point being made in the film. Radical change is good, but it is vital to make that change without leaving any space for opportunists to work with.

Perhaps unsatisfying in the second half, as it becomes harder to find any one person to root for as things continue to come undone in a society verging closer and closer to irreversible chaos, New Order tries to be as invigorating as it is unsettling. That is how I viewed it anyway, a rallying cry for a new order (obviously) accompanied by a strong word of caution. Maybe not  emphasising “better the devil you know”, but certainly reminding viewers that we’re all often stuck in different sections of Hell and the best we can usually do is turn the thermometer down for a while.

8/10

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Sunday, 3 October 2021

Netflix And Chill: The Haunting (1999)

If there's one film that epitomised all of the worst decisions made by people remaking horror movies in the '90s and start of the 21st century, it's The Haunting. This is a film that I remember being bad, but revisiting it showed me just how much I had managed to block out of my memory in the two decades since I last gave it a watch.

Liam Neeson plays Dr. David Marrow, a man wanting to conduct an experiment in the effects of fear. But he doesn't want any of his subjects to know that, which is why he advertises for people to take part in an experiment on sleeping problems. He gains access to a large house, and a trio of characters played by Catherine Zeta-Jones (Theo), Owen Wilson (Luke), and Lili Taylor (Nell). Nell is the most timid of the three, but she also seems to be the one that the house takes the most interest in. Because the house definitely has a heartbeat within it, a spirit, and an agenda. Or is that just how Nell is viewing things?

The first screenplay written by David Self, working from the source material by Shirley Jackson, it's obvious from very early on that this is a film intending to be very different from the original. The focus is on the CGI used here, and the movie plays out as if nobody involved is even aware of the original (with its superb way of creating atmosphere and tension without showing too much, and sometimes not showing anything at all).

Despite Self's wobbly script, however, the blame seems to lie more squarely on the shoulders of director Jan de Bont (a man who went into a serious downward slide after such a great directorial debut, Speed). The Haunting has some nice camerawork, and the production design looks gorgeous when it's not being marred by the CGI, but nothing else to recommend it. Even the central performances are disappointing.

Neeson is at his blandest, Zeta-Jones is almost comically "in heat", or so it seems in some scenes, and Owen Wilson is someone I enjoy seeing onscreen, but fits a couple of other genres much more comfortably than he fits horror. Then we have Taylor, who is often good, yet she also struggles with the fact that her character is tense and hyper-neurotic from almost her very first scene. It's a performance without any real nuance, and again seems to come from the direction of the film.

You should never automatically dismiss a remake. We've had some interesting films over the past few decades that have shown how remakes don't have to be a complete failure, and nor do they have to be slavishly copying the original film. You should dismiss The Haunting though. It's not one of those films that is underserving of its reputation. If anything, it's worse than some people remember. The Jerry Goldsmith score is quite nice, as is a lot of the production design. The rest can be consigned to the wastebin of history.

3/10

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Saturday, 2 October 2021

Shudder Saturday: Seance (2021)

This is on me. Totally. I saw the trailer for this and allowed myself to start feeling optimistic. It looked like an enjoyable horror movie with the emphasis on scares and a spooky atmosphere. That ended up not being the case. What we have is something on a par with a few other horror movies from recent years, a bit of a throwback that doesn't do enough to refresh or twist the tired material.

Suki Waterhouse plays Camille Meadows, a young woman who arrives at the Fairfield Academy. Her arrival comes not long after the death of a student, a death apparently caused by a ritual not a million miles away from the whole "Bloody Mary" thing that many people are familiar with. Quickly making enemies with a particular clique, Camille soon discovers that Fairfield Academy may have a ghost or two wandering the rooms, and someone may want her to reveal what really happened to cause their death.

Written and directed by Simon Barrett, who has previously directed a segment or two for the V/H/S series (and has written some great films, such as You're Next and The Guest, and the oft-forgotten Dead Birds), this is a film that very deliberately chooses to go in one particular direction in the third act, and that direction didn't feel like the right choice for me. That's a real shame, particularly when one or two moments in the first 2/3 of the movie are enjoyably spooky and hinting at a much better movie (the same movie that the trailer seemed to be selling).

Waterhouse isn't a very good lead, although she's not helped by the way her character is written, and none of the other main cast members do enough to stand out. Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis, Ella-Rae Smith, Stephanie Sy, Djouliet Amara, Jade MIchael, and Seamus Patterson are all getting name-checked here because of their screentime, but I'd say that only Sy and Smith come close to making a decent impression, portraying two very different characters that at least don't feel as interchangeable as everyone else in the main group.

I suspect a lot of people will like this much more than I did. It's technically very well done, and I appreciate the fact that Barrett isn't afraid to make use of things like flickering lights and ghostly figures glimpsed ever so briefly alongside some of those flickers, but it feels like Barrett started the film with one approach in mind and then began to doubt himself. He should have had a bit more faith in his own ability to use, and revel in, the ghostly aspect of his plot. Somewhat paradoxically, something so old-fashioned and "creaky" feels fresher and more enjoyable than the familiar third act, which basically turns into a bit of a Scooby-Doo ending (without the fun).

It's not a terrible viewing experience, and does enough in between the dull moments to just about make up for those dull moments, but it's disappointing. Very disappointing. Although it would have been less disappointing if it had been released about twenty years ago, when most of the big supernatural films released went for the same kind of ending.

4/10

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Friday, 1 October 2021

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)

Writer-director Bob Kelljan doesn't have too many movies to his credit. That's a shame, considering how good this one is. He also did the sequel, which I will be checking out soon, and the enjoyable, if inferior to the first, Scream, Blacula, Scream.

Robert Quarry plays Count Yorga, a mysterious and debonaire man who has moved to America from Bulgaria. Ingratiating himself with some locals, the Count also professes to have a talent for mediumship. This makes him interesting to Donna (Donna Anders), a young woman who would like to contact her dead mother. Things don't go according to plan for Donna, but maybe they do for Count Yorga, who starts to munch his way through her friends. He starts with Paul (Michael Murphy) and Erica (Judy Lang), attacking them when they get stuck in some mud after dropping him off back at his home, but looks forward to killing, or feeding off, all of them. Dr. James Hayes (Roger Perry) might be able to save them, or some of them. He's at least willing to eventually acknowledge that the problem could be vampirism.

Although there are one or two mis-steps here, including some narration from George Macready that unnecessarily sets up some of the rules of vampire lore, Count Yorga, Vampire is a bit of a minor classic in the crowded vampire movie sub-genre. It feels very much like a film poised between the traditional cinematic vampires of the past, many of whom were beautiful creatures until the fangs were bared, and the films that were more overtly exploring the sexual and sensual intimacy of mesmerising people and converting them with a bite on the neck. There are moments here that impress with their strange creepiness, be it a woman trying to drain blood from a kitten or a third act that mixes the usual vampire brides with moments of the head vampire toying with his prey.

Quarry is superb in the main role, as smooth and polite as expected when maintaining his air of civility, yet all too able to despatch his victims with all of the cool dispassion of someone prepping a microwavable ready meal. His casting is a major coup for Kelljan, who repays his lead with a script that serves him up a number of individual fantastic scenes, not least of which occurs when a group of people visit the Count at his home, trying to find some clue about the whereabouts of missing people while Yorga plays the perfect host. Perry is decent enough in his role, playing a character with enough courage to make up for the fact that he may be woefully unprepared to tackle the full reality of the situation, and Anders is very good as the woman manipulated by promise of being able to communicate with her dead mother. Edward Walsh is fun to watch as Brudah, a memorable manservant to the Count, and everyone else, from Murphy and Lang to Edward Walsh, Julie Conners, Paul Hansen, Sybil Scotford, and Marsha Jordan, puts in solid work.

HIGHLY recommended, especially to vampire movie fans (obviously), I'd even be tempted to put Count Yorga, Vampire up there with the very best of them. It's a contender for a place on any Top 10 list. Top 20, at the very least. If you have also been sleeping on this one for years, as I did, then change that as soon as possible. You won't regret it.

9/10

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