Sunday, 31 October 2021

Netflix And Chill: Bad Hair (2020)

With that title, the central concept (a killer hair weave), and the cool company environment that is the main setting for the film, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Bad Hair is basically another film just like Slaxx. Thankfully, that isn't the case. Not that I disliked Slaxx, not at all, but I just wanted another unique film that didn't feel too similar to anything else around. Bad Hair delivered.

Our main character is Anna (Elle Lorraine), a black woman working at a company that essentially feels like the BET version of MTV. It's an image-conscious place, and Anna is encouraged to change her image. That leads to her getting a new hair weave, which she soon starts to realise can control her as it kills people around her. And there's a chance that her boss, Zora (Vanessa Williams), has the same problem.

Written and directed by Justin Simien, Bad Hair takes what could be a ridiculous concept and uses it to make a number of interesting points. Once you've sat through this, there's a lot more to discuss than you could have anticipated. And I'll circle back to a couple of those points after mentioning the main cast members.

Lorraine is excellent in the main role, as timid and downtrodden as any other character I can think of from the past few years before growing in confidence and power, ultimately being dragged into situations by her hair until she tries to figure out how to change things. Williams is used well for her role, a bit more in line with her work on Ugly Betty than her other movie roles. Jay Pharoah, Usher, and Steve Zissis play three very different male characters, all doing well with what they're given, and James Van Der Beek makes an appearance that feels slightly incongruous until he reappears just before the end credits roll. Elsewhere, there are roles, big and small, for Lena Waithe, Judith Scott, Ashley Blaine Featherston, Kelly Rowland, and Laverne Cox, with everyone playing things nicely straight, kind of, in between the moments of fearsome follicle foul play.

Now to those points being made in a movie about a killer weave. As the movie started, I realised that this was an interesting way to explore something that, as is so often the case, affects women a lot more than it affects men. I'm not going to be silly and claim that no woman wants to be caught on a "bad hair day", but any hair problems can definitely throw the life of a woman into turmoil, particularly anything that stays there as a permanent problem. Just look at the shock some people still experience when they see any bald woman. This is enough to make Bad Hair more interesting than it otherwise might be, but it also layers in a commentary on the pervasive control of those who get a new weave on their head (which provides a way of controlling many African American women in a way that allows a dangerous plantation owner to essentially maintain a number of unwilling slaves).

Despite the comedy inherent here, Bad Hair is a fairly straightforward horror, and one that manages to do what so many of the best horrors do so well, provide a metaphor for some aspect of our society that we would rather glimpse in a mirror than look at straight on. It’s definitely worth a watch, and has potential for a sequel that goes further and gets even wilder.

8/10

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Saturday, 30 October 2021

Shudder Saturday: Just Before Dawn (1981)

Some traditional “hillbilly horror” shenanigans, Just Before Dawn puts a bunch of characters in the middle of nowhere, has them being targeted by some uncivilised people who seem to live in the woods, and sets up some set-pieces that have people killed off while the survivors slowly realise that they are now being hunted.

Directed by Jeff Lieberman, who also wrote the screenplay with Mark Arywitz, fleshing out a concept by Jonas Middleton, Just Before Dawn isn't a bad example of this type of thing. It has everything in place that you'd expect, from the characters all peeling off from the crowd to be isolated and easier to kill to a small twist when the main killers are revealed. It has killers who are very basic in their killing methods, and oblivious "city folk" who don't have any idea of the kind of danger they're putting themselves in.

Unfortunately, it's not half as mean as it could be. Considering the slasher movies of the era, as well as the brutality of films that preceded it (such as Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes), this is a disappointingly tame affair that doesn't even decide to wallow in some of the pain and bloodshed. It doesn't even make you feel properly uncomfortable as certain characters act in some way that you know is just for the benefit of luring in another victim.

The cast doesn't help, with nobody really standing out for the right reasons. Gregg Henry and Deborah Benson are Warren and Constance, who may or may not be selected to survive until the end credits roll, and Chris Lemmon and Jamie Rose play Jonathan and Megan, two characters who we sense are more ill-fated than the others once they go skinny dipping. Ralph Seymour is Daniel, who gets to do very little before things turn dangerous for him, and Mike Kellin is Ty, the character warning people that he has witnessed a gruesome murder, but is also rambling and drunk. Then you have George Kennedy, playing a forest ranger named Roy McLean. Kennedy is a welcome presence onscreen, despite making a lot of dubious film choices throughout the 1970s and '80s, but his character comes perilously close to being a deus ex machina when he becomes more involved in the unfolding events.

It's a shame that this doesn't do any more than the bare minimum throughout, from the kills to the audio work, because the bare minimum is done well enough, and presents what viewers of this particular sub-genre have come to expect. There's no more here though, and it's odd to see that this is a film with a reputation that has grown over the past few decades. It's competent, which is never the word I want to end a movie review on, but here we are. Just Before Dawn - completely competent.

5/10

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Friday, 29 October 2021

The Blackwell Ghost 5 (2020)

The fifth, and final (at this time), instalment in The Blackwell Ghost movie series, and maybe writer-director-star Turner Clay needs to move on to a whole new project now. Because this is the worst one of them all.

The slim plot has Clay returning to the property that he also visited during the past couple of movies. A message is found that helps to decipher a note/map, and the noises have been continuing, perhaps trying to get Clay to turn his attention to a specific space. That’s all there is to this, it’s another puzzle piece being slotted into place, and the very end of the movie only feels one half step further along than the beginning of the movie.

It’s even harder to discuss this movie than it was to discuss any of the previous instalments, because Clay now feels as if he is dragging his feet. The first third, roughly, actually covers the story that was already told at the very end of the last movie, and the repeated rhythm of the plotting feels tired and overstretched.

Clay remains the biggest strength of these movies, his personality a good mix of the curious, the stubborn, and the foolhardy. He’s a good person to spend some time with, he creates some decent atmosphere and potential scares with a varied selection of small tricks and details, and he makes himself a vital part of the story without making it too irritating or narcissistic (although, obviously, being a writer-director-star surely comes about from a mix of necessity and narcissism).

Despite being the biggest strength, however, Clay is also, as the creative force driving this series, the biggest weakness. Because my interest in this plot started to wane during the last movie, and I don’t think I once cared about where things might be going this time around. Although no one film feels overlong, we’ve now reached the point where this particular narrative strand has overstayed its welcome.

I would still recommend that anyone invested in the series should check this out. I don’t think it will remain the final instalment in the series, and I know I will keep watching whatever Clay delivers next, but it’s a relatively low price, in terms of your money and your time, to support someone who, bad or good, at least tries to craft an interesting and spooky tale with very limited resources.

And there are still one or two moments that will have viewers tensing up during a first viewing, even if there’s no big payoff here.

4/10

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Thursday, 28 October 2021

Death Screams (1982)

A 1982 slasher movie that many probably thought was lost in the mists of time, Death Screams is a film that has recently been (re)discovered by horror movie fans who may have bought the new shiny disc version of it. It's not necessarily deserving of the treatment it has received though, but there's definitely some bizarre fun here for those who love this particular sub-genre.

There's a small town, there's a group of young people being played by actors who seem to already be in their mid-30s, and there's a red herring or two while unsuspecting victims are being stalked and slashed. It's quite standard stuff. Lily Carpenter (played by Susan Kiger) may or may not end up hooking up with the Coach, Neil (Martin Tucker), while Ramona (Jennifer Chase) may or may not end up hooking up with anyone that she wants to charm with her unsubtle seduction techniques. Meanwhile, Sheriff Avery (William T. Hicks) might start becoming more ready to discharge his firearm as the bodies begin to pile up.

Although this is the only feature film written by Paul C. Elliott, I was surprised to see that director David Nelson has a bit more contained in his filmography. Death Screams has all the hallmarks of a film made by people who only ever got to try this once. From the poor dialogue throughout to the wonderfully bizarre final reveal (a motivation for the killer that doesn't even feel like a proper motivation), the clumsily-executed death scenes, and the many potential plot threads that go absolutely nowhere, this is a film that feels more shambolic than anything else. It's certainly not tense or scary, not at any point.

There’s no memorable score, the camerawork is flat and murky, the lack of logic helps to make some scenes more comedic than intended, and it’s hard to think of any one thing that would make you care about the characters here, or the events unfolding. Yet it manages to do just enough to somehow stay above the worst slasher movies I have seen. There are a couple of decent images here and there, and you get a few of the characters managing to stand out, if sometimes for the wrong reasons (let’s not dissect the performance from Hanns Manship, playing someone who had their brain affected by a car accident some time in the past). 

Kiger and Chase are the highlights of the film, playing two very different characters, while Tucker is the main male character that the film chooses to focus on for most of the runtime, which allows him to be a bit more memorable than almost every other male onscreen. 

If you think I view this as a bit of a failure then you would be correct. Some of the kills are difficult to see, there’s a complete lack of things that make sense, and the interplay between the various characters is pointless and often dull. But if you think I won’t recommend it to fans of ‘80s horror then think again. It’s one of those bad movies that you may end up loving because it was made by people trying to do decent work with very limited resources. I can easily see myself rewatching this ahead of many other, slicker, movies.

6/10

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Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Prime Time: Prey (2016)

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Having delivered a wide variety of movies over the past four or five decades, writer-director Dick Maas is someone who certainly likes to create stories around high concepts. He's done a killer lift movie, which he also remade into one of my favourite "bad" movies (Down), Amsterdamned is a late eighties slasher set amongst the canals of Amsterdam, Sint shows a bad side of St. Nicholas, and here we have Prey, a film all about a large lion that has decided to pad around Amsterdam and eat some of the citizens.

The plot to this one is covered in that last sentence. Seriously. That's it. Sophie van Winden plays Lizzy, an expert called in to help the investigation. Mark Frost is a wheelchair-bound hunter who may be able to help. And there are some other people who are on hand to try trapping the dangerous big cat. This isn't a film about anything else though. In the way that Mark Kermode argues that Jaws is not about the shark, Prey is about nothing more than the man-eating lion. And, also unlike that classic shark movie, Maas isn't ever really coy about showing the central creature, not after a decent bit of teasing for most of the first act. That doesn't mean that the special effects stand up to such exposure.

First of all, it is worth noting that the only version of this I could find to watch was dubbed. Unless it is an animated movie or a martial arts movie from the ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s, dubbing is never the way I like to watch any non-English movies. It definitely works against Prey, with no characters able to deliver any emotion or nuance in their vocal deliveries, but that wouldn’t be so harmful to the film if the rest of it was consistently silly and entertaining.

It’s certainly silly, but it’s never as entertaining as it could be. The opening third of the movie, where the main characters are a few more steps behind the lion, which we see taking down prey with a mix of audio cues and sudden sprays of blood, ends up being the best part. A chase that shows a food delivery driver being hunted marks the end of that particularly fun portion of the film, to me, and shows the lion in all its glory, but also shows up the imperfect fakery of it.

Van Winden isn’t a bad lead, and she does an admirable job of trying to sell the terrible dialogue and character interactions. Frost gets to barge into the film and be a much bigger personality than anyone else onscreen, which makes him a welcome presence. Julian Looman is the third main character, and he’s one of those people who ends up with a much better fate than he deserves.

Maas certainly tries to have fun with the core idea, and that’s clear in a couple of main set-pieces, but he doesn’t have enough fuel in the tank to get much further than the halfway point. The third act, which should be tense and fun and more entertaining, is just surprisingly dull. Although there’s a final few minutes before the end credits roll that are better than anything else in the entire second half.

Not unwatchable, and I can imagine it being much better in a subtitled version, but Prey is a lot less simple fun than I expected it to be. And I can be very easily pleased.

4/10

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

The Blackwell Ghost 4 (2020)

Turner Clay returns with yet another instalment in his ghost-hunting adventure, returning to the property that he stayed in last time, and the fourth movie is where the downward slide begins. It now feels far too drawn out, with the new gimmicks still feeling far too familiar and tired.

What you have this time around is more background to the main case now being investigated by Clay, and details about a coded message sent to the police. Viewers are also told that Clay is having some difficulties, having spent too much money on his travels to contact spirits. The extra aspect this time around is a converted “speak and spell” device that Clay hopes will allow for more direct communication.

I am not sure how nice or harsh to be here. There isn’t anything presented here that is any better or worse than what we’ve had before, and there’s a very good scare at the end. You also get a properly satisfying sequence that seems to provide some solid answers and tie together some of the spooky occurrences. But they feel very much like Clay now splicing together footage that he held back from the last time around. The differences aren’t different enough, the development of the tension and scares don’t offer enough reward for the way in which viewers have their patience tested.

On the plus side, Clay remains a pleasant host, showing his mood deteriorating without ever becoming an outright asshole. And the format continues to work a lot better than it would if he had tried to present this as “found footage” without as much context. The big problem here is that the central mystery doesn’t hold our interest as strongly as Clay seems to think it will. It’s an extension of a tangent that makes the series name less and less relevant.

As dismissive as it may seem, I would say that those who have enjoyed the first three movies should at least stick things out for now. Clay deserves your time and financial contribution, if not for this particular instalment then at least for getting this far with limited resources and a good dollop of inventiveness. He has put a lot more effort into his work than so many others who would grab a phone camera and have a friend make some loud noises off-camera.

5/10

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Monday, 25 October 2021

Mubi Monday: Le Week-End (2013)

A tale of love, financial woes, and relationship stagnation, Le Week-End is a film that so often risks falling into a precipice no viewer cares to look into, but also keeps pulling things back. It could have been impossible to care about the central characters, but the main performances get around that issue.

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are a married couple who are spending some time in Paris, hoping to maybe rekindle a spark that seems to have dwindled to nearly nothing over the years. They cannot afford to eat in the places they used to, cannot afford the lovely hotel room they have booked into, and cannot afford to support a friend who is oblivious to their problems. But that friend, Jeff Goldblum, may provide them with an opportunity to be completely honest, to confess their current woes and put all their cards on the table.

Directed by Roger Michell and written by Hanif Kureishi, Le Week-End is, from start to finish, a film that tiptoes around the very edges of preciousness and cutesy affectation. This seems to be a major case of upper-middle-class people with “first world problems”, and that’s not a very engaging viewing experience for most people. Thankfully, Kureishi knows how to flesh out the characters and have their journey show what they are losing balanced by what they gain, and you could argue that they gain everything they need by the time the end credits roll. And Michell manages to keep Paris looking lovely as he maintains focus on a small cast of strong actors.

Broadbent may not be at his best here, but he certainly has a couple of his best moments, one being a speech and one being a lovely bit of physical work. Duncan is easily equal to him, having to work a bit harder, in subtle ways, because of the way her husband views her (vision shaded by jealousy and insecurity). Goldblum is the perfect third party, showing a life that the leads have been used to, effortlessly charming and erudite, yet also exemplifying the overwhelming need to finally be as honest as possible, even if that seems painful.

There are different lessons that you can take from Le Week-End, whether you see how important it is to recognise the strong core of love in any long-lasting relationship or how, as cheesy as it may sound, the truth can set you free. A problem shared is a problem halved, and other homilies, etc.

Aside from that, even if you don’t think this film has anything to offer you, the three main performances make it worth your time. So I recommend it, but with reservations for those who may bristle throughout most of the first half.

7/10

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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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