April 1, 2020

NHE Modern Horror Classics: Saw (2004)


Not for the first time in this series the one film per director rule became difficult when assessing the career so far of James Wan. Wan may not be one of this writer personal favourite horror directors, but it is inarguable that no horror director has been more successful since the turn of the millennium. In fact, in terms of pure box office, he is the most successful horror director of all time. Also, whether you are a fan or not it is pretty staggering that he co-created not one, not two but three of horror’s most successful franchises in the Saw series, The Conjuring Universe and the Insidious franchise.

Which one to go for though? Well, it seemed obvious that it should be either “The Conjuring” or “Saw.” The former being Wan’s biggest horror hit both commercially and critically while the latter being his most influential. What swung it in favour of “Saw” was it was the film that had the greatest impact on the direction of mainstream American horror. In the same way “Scream” had changed Hollywood horror in the 90’s “Saw” changed it in the 00’s ushering in what is referred to as the “torture porn” era. A term both Wan and Saw co-creator Leigh Whannell dislike and don’t associate with the film. A position that is not as entirely unreasonable as for all the originals nastiness it has nowhere near the gory excess of it sequels and is more of a horror suspense thriller than “torture porn.”

Part of the reason it seems to be remembered that way is the scenes with the elaborate torture set-up devised by the Jigsaw killer are amongst the most memorable. Particularly the reverse-bear trap sequence (which also featured in the short which preceded this film and is now referred to as “Saw 0.5”). Not only are these scenes the most striking they are also the most inventive in what could have been a relatively conventional serial killer thriller.

Looking back it is easy to forget that that particular scene and most of the sequences that landed the film with the “torture porn” tag happen in the opening half-hour. Much of the rest the film focuses on Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and photographer’s Adam’s (Leigh Whannell) attempts to escape being chained up in a large dilapidated bathroom and flashbacks to how they got there although there are other nasty moments later on notably Dr. Gordon sawing his foot off near the end.

Torture scene’s aside the thing that stood out about the movie was its brutal, nihilistic tone. The mood here standing in stark contrast to the tongue-in-cheek tone of many horror movies of the time that were still desperately trying to cash in on the “Scream” formula. Here was a film instead harkening back to the darker horror of the ’70s or early ’80s. Also in terms of plot with its complex flashback-within-flashback structure, it cut above your generic killer slashing down teens plot. Not that “Saw” was entirely original as clearly, it owes a great debt to “Seven.” Not only having a very similar visual aesthetic to that film but the scenes where Detectives Tapp (Danny Glover), Kerry (Dina Meyer) and Steven Sing (Ken Leung) discover the bodies of The Jigsaw Killer’s torture victims feel identical to the crime scene scenes in “Seven.”

The likeness to “Seven” extends beyond that and into the central conceit that this is a killer who kills with a twisted moral logic. In the case of John Doe as a biblical punishment for the “seven deadly sins” while in the case of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) punishing those he believes to be squandering life spurred on by his own terminal illness. The parallels, as demonstrated, are evident but to say it is a simple pale imitation, as some critics of the time did, would be to overstate the case. As not only is there a clear difference in the motive the central killers also feel different too. John Doe’s character comes across a semi-realistic portrait of a serial killer whereas Jigsaw from the off feels more like purely horror bogeyman villain in the model of Jason or Michael Myers even if there is nothing supernatural about him.

Indeed, for all the movie’s grimy and grimly believable trappings there is also some over-top more campy horror elements too. Chief amongst them being Jigsaw himself. This element is most clearly seen in a scene where Detective’s Tapp and Sing nearly capture Jigsaw only for him to slip through their fingers in true comic book villain style. On top of that he is wearing a ceremonial hooded robe for dramatic effect. Granted this is done so as to hide the identity of the true villain of the piece until the twist at the end. Also, what a twist it is with the “corpse” that had been on the floor between Dr. Gordon and Adam suddenly rising up and revealing himself to be “Jigsaw.” We suddenly realise that this is John Kramer whom we had early observed in a blink-and-you-miss-it scene where we see him in a hospital bed.

Now, you could argue the twist stretches plausibility too far. You may also argue that it is annoying because it is one of those twists that there is no real way to guess. However, that being said it is a pretty damn effective twist in the tale and must rank up there with horrors most iconic twists. Curiously, while many saw this ending as the creators leaving a door open for a sequel the creators see it differently. With writer and star Whannell saying in a 2010 AV Club interview: “…there is something about that ending of Saw we thought was quite final, that door shutting and everything going dark.”[1]

Things did not work out that way with the series almost becoming a Halloween tradition for a while spawning seven sequels (Saw II-VII plus Jigsaw). Unusually unlike most horror franchises all of these sequels reached cinemas and turned it into one of the most successful horror franchises ever with only “The Conjuring” and “Alien” franchises drawing more at the worldwide box office. Not that financial success equals critical acclaim as most of the sequels were rightly panned critically. Moreover, for all its status in the horror pantheon now even this film received mixed reviews at the time. In all fairness, though some of these were clearly came from critics who are sniffly dismissive when it comes to horror and “Saw” both now and in times to come will be remembered as a significant entry in 21st-century horror.

[1] https://film.avclub.com/saw-creators-leigh-whannell-and-james-wan-1798222299

March 27, 2020

Review: Daniel Isn’t Real


Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Starring: ​Patrick Schwarzenegger, Miles Robbins, Sasha Lane, Mary Stuart Masterson, Hannah Marks, Chuk Iwuji

Run Time: 100mins

Adam Egypt Mortimer's second feature arrives on streaming with a lot of hype in horror circles following a successful festival circuit run, even picking up an award at the prestigious Sitges festival. The question does it live up to the hype? The answer is well, sort of.

Certainly, it has an interesting conceit as a violent interaction with his mentally ill mother (Masterson) resurrects our leads Luke (Robbins) childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Schwarzenneger) back into his life. Initially, Daniel seems to spur him but quickly becomes increasingly more malevolent. Of course, while this does end up taking us into some very Fight Club-esque territory, the twist here is Luke always knows Daniel is a product of his mind and a possible symptom of schizophrenia. Or is he? As from the off, there is a suggestion something else is going on. More of which later.

Before we get to that, though, we open with Luke as a boy (Griffin Robert Faulkner) and see how Daniel first came into Luke's life after he witnesses the aftermath of a violent crime. This opening stretch is strong, effectively showing the bond between the two and anchored by Masterson's performance as the mother who at first welcomes her child's imaginary playmate before becoming increasingly more fearful of its influence. It is only a shame we don't have more time with Masterson's character, which is effectively sidelined after the first act.

Masterson's character is not only one to be sidelined, though, as, outside the central pairing of Luke and Daniel, few of the characters really register. This lack of character development is a real shame as it wastes the talents of a decent ensemble. It is particularly egregious in the case of Sasha Lane, who, while doing the best with what she has got, is confined to the generic role of feisty/quirky love interest.

Luckily, given few others are given oxygen, both Robbins and Schwarzenegger are excellent in their respective roles. Robbins is convincing throughout Luke's evolution from college recluse to swaggering intellectual to fearing for his mind. Schwarzenegger is the real show-stealer though initially imbuing Daniel with a toxic oily charm before becoming progressively more unhinged. Sure it is an exercise in scenery-chewing but eminently watchable one.

Another major plus is the horror itself, as there are some decent scares throughout. Mortimer is clearly in his element here. While many of the narrative beats feel generic, the visual horror elements feel unique. Even if some feel reminiscent of "Jacob's Ladder," there are several surreal, nightmarish images here that are likely to linger in the memory long after viewing them. The action in the third act also takes a pleasingly surreal bent that may split audiences but, for this reviewer, really worked. Mortimer should also be commended for his tackling of mental illness, which, largely, avoids feeling exploitative in the way it so often is in horror films.

Overall: A frustrating watch as "Daniel Isn't Real" is a good horror film that feels like it should be a great one. As the movie's compelling lead performances and memorable visuals can't quite overcome generic story elements and two-dimensional characters.


​"Daniel Isn't Real" is now available on Shudder

February 5, 2020

Review: Bliss (2019)

Director: Joe Begos

Starring: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt

Run Time: 80mins

​"Bliss" is the third feature from cult director Joe Begos who has built up a cult following on the back of his previous two efforts "The Mind Eyes" and "Almost Human." A following that is surely only set to enlarge on the back of this eye-scorching, mind-bending hallucinatory vampire tale.
A tale that is set in a current-day scuzzball vision of LA of the kind rarely seen on screen now but eminently familiar to fans of 70s/80s exploitation cinema. And tells the story of Dezzy (Madison), an artist struggling to finish her masterpiece, which ends up becoming a vampire thanks to one of her hipster pals.
Not that the movie dives straight to that moment. No, despite the film's brief run time, it is surprisingly leisurely paced. A factor that works to films advantage as we get to acquaint ourselves with Dezzy pre being turned and to soak in the sleazy atmosphere Begos has constructed as Dezzy drives and wanders the LA streets generally in a drug and booze-fuelled haze. And make no mistake about this is totally Madison's film. She puts in an utterly compelling performance and makes what could easily be an utterly obnoxious character, one that an audience still kind roots for, even when she starts bumping people off.
In some ways, it is just as well as that Madison's performance pulls focus from the other characters as it smooths over the fact that many of them are paper-thin. That said, both Jeremy Gardner and Graham Skipper put in solid performances as Dezzy's boyfriend Clive and drug-dealing mate Hadrian, respectively. Both are also given a bit of personality too, unlike the couple who turn her Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield) and Courtney (Tru Collins), who seem like walking hipster vamp stereotypes.
The scene where Dezzy gets turned by them is also a bit off — coming off like a scene straight out of an early 90s erotic thriller complete with a cheesy score.
None of which should put you off as despite its flaws, this is one of the most entertaining, bloodiest, and stylish vampire efforts in years as the movies bold, neon-drenched, psychotropic visuals are what make an impression. Making the viewer viscerally feel like they are being sucked into the same trippy hellscape Dezzy is descending. Whether deliberately or not, the visuals immediately bring to mind the like of "Mandy," "Enter the Void," and "Only God Forgives."
Begos's most notable influence here though is Abel Ferrara. As the film has a similar grimy, lo-fi feel as "The Addiction" as well as drawing the same line between vampirism and drug addiction. However, instead of getting that film's heavy existentialism here, we get it fused with the nihilistic punk rock energy of "Driller Killer."
You could argue there is a lack of depth here, and this is a case of "style over substance," and there is possibly some merit too that, but still, it is hard not to be won over when the style on display is quite this irresistible.
Overall: A trippy, gory, intense visual assault of a movie with a star turn from Madison that should delight gorehounds and fans of exploitation cinema everywhere. Between this and the highly touted upcoming "VFW," 2020 will surely be Begos's big breakthrough year.


January 31, 2020

NHE Modern Horror Classics: Gozu (2003)


Takashi Miike is one of the most insanely prolific directors of recent times having made over 100 features since his debut back in 1991. Miike is has worked in many different genres but is most renowned for his horror and yakuza films. He also has a reputation for making films that are extremely violent and bizarre although this as he also made period pieces and even family-friendly fare like “Zebraman.”

When it came down to pick what Miike film to include here, it was a tough choice. First, there is “Audition” the film that still stands as his finest. However, that could not be included as although it got its Western release in 2001, it is a 90s film coming out in 1999. Next, there was “Ichi the Killer” again a great film, but the question became, is it a horror? In the end, though despite all that films gore it just does not feel like a horror movie but just a grotesquely violent action film. Removing those two left your writer here with three options “Visitor Q,” “The Happiness of the Katkuris” (both made in the same year as Ichi the Killer) and this film. All three are great, and all three are almost equally bonkers; however “Gozu” is possibly the most bonkers. And this is certainly saying something considering “The Happiness of the Katukuris” is a comedy-musical-horror which features Claymation zombies and zaps from farcical comedy to bloody murders to song and dance numbers. The other reason I landed on this film is it is one of my personal Miike favourites and I feel it does get the recognition of the others mentioned.

Granted the movie is not precisely audience friendly. You will also have a good idea of whether this is the kind of picture in the opening ten minutes as the first scene is demented. The film opens with a fuzzy TV screen then we get a series of unsettling hard-to-make-out images and garbled conversation. Panning out we see a restaurant filled with Yakuza members waiting for their boss in a restaurant while the garbled conversation from the TV continues to underscore the scene to discombobulating effect. The next thing we know one of the gangsters Ozaki (Shô Aikawa) is informing the boss (Renji Ishibashi) that a Chihuahua he sees outside the restaurant window is a “Yakuza attack dog.” Ozaki then proceeds to beat this poor pooch to a bloody pulp including swinging it around his head and smashing it against the window.

In terms of opening gambits it is a startling one and sets the surreal and unsettling tone for the rest of the movie through most of the rest is neither as frantic nor wacky as this beginning. In fact, one of the criticisms frequently levelled at the film comes down to the languid pacing over its 129 minutes. The running time is another beef some had with it. In fairness, there are periods where the plot stalls a little and the running time does feel overstretched. The languid pacing it could be argued suits the mysterious and unnerving atmosphere Miike creates. For those willing to take the ride, “Gozu” is the kind of the film you truly inhabit the journey it takes you on rather than just let wash over you. It is a film packed with symbolism and metaphor which can be debated long after viewing.

The journey we go on focuses on Minami (Yûta Sone) who is assigned to take Ozaki to Nagoya to have him taken out after his mental breakdown. Minami reluctantly accepts this assignment as he sees Ozaki as a mentor figure plus he once saved his life. Things are made easier after a situation goes down where Minami accidentally kills Ozaki. Or not, as the case may be as upon stopping at a café in Nagoya Minami returns to find Ozaki gone. The majority of the rest of the plot concerns Minami’s search for Ozaki.

The above synopsis makes the remainder of proceedings sound like a fairly straightforward mystery. As you will have gathered that is not the case. At this juncture, we come to another of the movies perceived failings its disjointed nature. Now disjointed it most certainly is oft resembling a series of bizarre vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative. However, these weird snapshots are eminently engaging, and the wacko grotesques who seem to populate Nagoya and torment Minami are strikingly memorable. From the Innkeeper who lactates industrial quantities of the milk to the Yazuka who has a half white face to a guy who obsessively says the same thing about the weather in any scene, he appears. And frankly, that is the tip the iceberg of all the weird goings on here.

In many ways, the film is like nothing you have seen being its own very strange beast. That said it is not entirely without reference point as there is a clear Lynchian feel to proceedings with the likes of “Twin Peaks” and “Lost Highway” particularly coming to mind. The latter mainly coming to mind due to a similar dark, oppressive atmosphere and also just like in that movie one character inexplicably returns having switched genders. You never feel that Miike is trying to ape Lynch though.

In the end, while there is plenty of schizoid moments, there is the question of whether or not it is a real horror being more of a strange hybrid of different genres. Plus there is little in the way of gore or jumps. There is no question though that it sets out to disturb and there are several scenes that are bound to leave viewers icky and uncomfortable. Such as the dream sequence where Minami has a queasy encounter with a man with a cow’s head (Gozu translates as cow head) wearing nothing but pants or the truly messed-up ending that needs to be seen to be believed.

One last questions remain though, and that is what's it all about? Well like any film packed with metaphor it can be interpreted in many different ways. Some people think it is all about the rebirth of Ozaki from a violent man to a more enlightened. Some think it is about Minami’s sexual awakening (he is a virgin) while others argue it is about coming to terms with the homosexual desire he has for Ozaki. As Miike has not commented on what his intentions were, it could be all these or something else entirely. Whatever the truth it is a weird odyssey that this writer recommends more horror fans take.

Not, as mentioned, a view a lot of people take as “Gozu” received mixed reviews on release and in subsequent years seems to be generally viewed as a middling work in his extensive canon. That said as with many Miike works it does have a cult following even if one not as extensive as the likes of “Audition” or “Ichi, the Killer.”

January 17, 2020

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)


We return once again to Asian horror with this one, but instead of another J-horror outing we have our first South Korean or K-horror, as it is referred to, effort in “Tale of Two Sisters.” There are some superficial similarities to the previous Japanese works talked about previously. For instance, there are more lank hair vengeful spirits, and it does feature one scene with a twitchy pale-faced spectre. Overall though the story and feel here is entirely different.

The plot of the movie is inspired by a Jongeon dynasty era (14th-19th Century) Korean folk tale “Janghwa Hongryeon jeon” which has been adapted for the screen five times before this was made although those were direct adaptations which this feature is not. Director Kim-Jee Woon using that tale as the basis of the plot before leaping off in his own direction. A direction which curiously mixes psychological thriller, supernatural horror, and family melodrama.

Like the previous Asian horror entries, this film moves at its own pace, in no rush to speed to its denouement. Unlike the J-horror entries discussed there is more familiarity here for a western audience. There are a few examples of this one of which is the fairy tale trope of the evil stepmother (even if this not quite what it first appears, more of which later). Also, there is a distinct Hitchcockian flavour to proceedings.

The central focus of the tale is the eponymous two sisters Soo Mi (Lim Soo-Jung) and Su-Yeun (Moon Geun-Young) who are settling in again to their family home with their father Moo-Hyeon (Kim Kap-Soo) and stepmother Eun-Yoo (Yun Jung-ah). From the off it is unclear what is going on as the story open with Soo Mi in a mental hospital so when it cuts to the sisters arriving at the family home the viewer is left unsure whether she is coming back from that mental hospital or the tale is being told in flashback. The only any genre-savvy audience will be aware of is that we cannot fully trust what we see as we are viewing what is happening via Soo-Mi, who is cut in the archetypal unreliable narrator. At this point, some of you may be rolling your eyes. Yes, it would be to the say the unreliable narrator is an overused trope but it can still be effective when used well, and here it is.

Genre-savvy audiences will also sense that there will be a twist in this tale although it is a fair bet most will not guess it (kudos to anyone who does). Coincidentally the twist here and the twist in “Switchblade Romance” are similar as both involve characters with a dissociative identity disorder who are menaced by characters who turn out to be themselves. In this case, it is the version of the stepmother Eun-Yoo we have seen for most of the movie who turns not to be real, but a manifestation of Soo-Mi’s disorder and she has been switching between personalities throughout hurting herself. That is not the only twist though as we also realise that Soo-Mi has been hallucinating Su-Yeun all this time, unable to accept her death. If that was not enough, we also get a bit of another twist about the stepmother too, the real one that is. No wonder many viewers were left confused.

In all fairness, though these twists do not open up the same sort of plot holes, it does in “Switchblade Romance.” Also, the reveal does not affect the re-watch value in quite the same way as it does with that film. As the twist is cleverly seeded throughout and there is much fun to be had in spotting the clues to the reality here that you might miss upon first viewing of the movie such as the shifts in colour scheme which suggests we are moving between Soo-Mi’s reality and actual reality. Finally, while this use of mental illness as a narrative device is naturally problematic, there is obvious care been put into making Soo-Mi seem like a believable and empathetic character which means it never feels as cheap and hackneyed as it does in many films that employ similar twists.

As much as I have discussed the twist, unlike some films with a big plot reveal at the end, this movie is much more than its twist. First, off it is a beautiful film to look, and this look and design play off wonderfully with the gothic melodrama atmosphere which Kim-Jee Woon tries to and succeeds in creating.

Also, while for a horror movie the scares are relatively scarce each of the horror sequences is meticulously constructed and hits home when they do come along. The film also features one of horror’s great weird dinners which as discussed in the “28 Days Later” is a surprisingly common trope. It is in this dinner sequence that Yun Jung-ah as the imagined evil stepmother comes into her own, dialling it up to 11, all maniacal laughter and glaring eyes. The scene builds wonderfully starting as merely an awkward dinner with an over-enthusiastic hostess and then slowly cranking up to one pure hysteria and terror. Amongst several great scenes, it is the stand-out scene of the movie.

“A Tale of Two Sisters” ended being a big hit upon release becoming the first Korean horror cross-over hit as well as the biggest Korean horror of all time. In his next couple of films, Kim-Jee Woon would move away from the horror genre, but he did return to the genre for the outstanding “I Saw the Devil.” A horror movie which would easily rank as one of the best of horrors of the last decade which made the decision on which of them to include incredibly difficult with this only winning out by the narrowest of margins.

Inevitably the movie got a US remake confusingly called “The Uninvited” (2009). I say confusingly as you may assume it is a remake of that other 2003 South Korean horror film actually called “The Uninvited” or for that matter any of the several other movies with that same title. Despite a reasonable cast including the likes of David Strathairn and Elizabeth Banks typically the Hollywood remake could not hold a candle to the original and received lukewarm reviews. Thankfully it has been largely forgotten while the original remains a stellar entry in the 21st Century horror canon.

January 3, 2020

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Switchblade Romance (2003)

Switchblade Romance

“Switchblade Romance” is neither the debut feature by Alexandre Aja nor is it the first film to be labelled under the New French Extreme label (a term first derogatorily coined by Artforum critic Jonathan Quandt). However, it was key to the development of both Aja’s career and the New French Extreme. For Aja, it brought him to the attention of an international audience. Regarding the New French Extreme, the movie was one of the first (the first was Claire Denis’s “Trouble Every Day”) purely horror features in this body of films that was at this more associated with the art-house and spearheaded a revival of French horror which would go on to include the likes of “Sheitan”, “Ils”, “Frontier(s)”,  “À l'interieur”, “Martyrs” and “Calvaire” (which is generally put under the same banner despite being Belgian).

The film was not only influential in terms of its impact on French horror, but it also seemed to predict the direction horror was about to take. With audiences both tiring of self-referential slashers and the Asian ghost story market reaching saturation point many horror filmmakers started to look back at the grindhouse era for inspiration. Leading to the “torture porn” craze that would come to dominate horror cinema in the mid-late 2000s for better or worse depending on your perspective and, of which, there will be plenty more discussion of as we go on.

For all the movies significance in the 21st Century horror canon, it is not without its flaws. Chief amongst them is it has one of the silliest twist endings in horror. Now if you have not seen the film and don’t want the twist spoilt for you then stop reading now. So, now that is out the way here it is basically Marie (Cecille de France), whom we assume as viewers, has been hiding from and tracking the nameless serial killer (Phillipe Nahon) who kidnaps her best friend Alex (Maiwenn) as well as brutally butchering Alex’s family is actually the killer herself and the male figure we think to be the killer is merely her mental projection.

Now as previously stated this is a ridiculous twist, but crucially it does not, for this writer at least, completely capsize the movie nor does it completely it rob the work of re-watch value (I shall concede it does make it slightly less interesting though). Also, the twist does not open as many plot holes as you might first imagine when you consider that we the audience have been viewing the events through the deluded memories of Marie. Even with that though certain scenes and events do not make an iota of sense when the twist is revealed as their times where Marie would have had to be in two places at once and others she would not have been there to witness. For example; an early scene where the “killer” is seen in his van next to Alexia’s families’ farmhouse fellating himself with a severed head before Marie and Alexia reach the farmhouse. Plus there is some interactions that make no sense such as when Marie rushes into a gas station to hide from the “killer,” and then the “killer” comes in, and the gas station attendant reacts as if its two separate people.

There are plenty of other head-scratchers you will be sure to be mulling over long after you see the film but if you are a fan of grindhouse your still likely to be a fan as there is an evident affection for those films throughout as the feature wears its influences on its sleeve. Most strongly the influence of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which is paid homage to both in the opening dream sequence and the chainsaw-wielding finale. Also for all the flaws, a lot of which stem from that ending, there is a lot of good here too as, much like the original title suggests, Aja certainly knows how to crank up the tension in a scene. There is also plenty to enjoy for splatter fans as there are several well-staged gory set-pieces. Again these show Aja’s horror fandom as the gory effects were provided by Giannetto De Rossi who also provided effects for the likes of “Zombie Flesh Eaters.”

Finally, the other thing that makes this a gripping movie-watching experience is the performance from De France as Marie she makes the character both vulnerable and resilient and is consistently engaging on-screen presence. Even more impressive is that due to the strength of De France’s performance you can still find yourself oddly rooting for Marie on the second or third viewing despite the fact you have the foreknowledge she is hunting down herself.

Of course, all of this is only the opinion of this critic, many critics of the time and since were less than impressed with movie only holding a 40% Rotten Tomato score and the late great Roger Ebert saying: "The philosopher Thomas Hobbes tells us life can be 'poor, nasty, brutish and short.' So is this movie."  There were several others such sneering reviews which attacked movie and director for the level of gratuitous violence and the plot logic which we have gone over. Some of them had a point, but still, you feel there is a toying with horror cliché at work here, particularly in relation to the relationship between “final girl” and killer that was overlooked or deliberately dismissed by the most ardent critics of the feature.

None of the criticism or controversy stopped horror nor did it damage the career of Aja who has gone on to direct several Hollywood horrors with mixed results. As while his remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” is one of the few modern remakes worth your time he has also made rubbish like Kiefer Sutherland-starring supernatural thriller “Mirrors,” which is itself a remake of a South Korean feature “Into the Mirror.” Aja certainly remains a fun horror director and his latest "Crawl" was particularly decent. However, “Switchblade Romance” will probably remain his calling card as nothing he has made since has quite matched its sheer visceral power (even if “The Hills Have Eyes” remake runs it close).

December 20, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)


The director of Bubba Ho-Tep, Don Coscarelli, is in this writer’s opinion one of the great American horror directors but seems to remain remarkably underrated. He may not be in the same league with the likes of Carpenter, Romero or Craven but given that he has given us the Phantasm series and this film he should not be seen as that far off. As well as that, while not quite as good as some of the movies mentioned above, he made the underrated gem that is John Dies at the End and outside of horror the cheesy but entertaining sword-and-sorcery cult classic Beastmaster

It is hard to pinpoint why Coscarelli remains so underappreciated I suspect it is due to the often confusing, dream-like nature of much of his output and the scrappy quality of his films in terms of effects and editing. Bubba Ho-Tep is no different in these regards as while more linear than say Phantasm there is still a something weird and dream-like to some of it and there is scrappiness to it, but that is undoubtedly part of the charm.

The movie started life as a short story by Joe R Landsdale before being picked up by Coscarelli after having eye caught by dustjacket which proclaimed Elvis battles Mummy! Lansdale was shocked that Coscarelli wanted to buy the rights as he assumed it would be the last of his stories that someone would want to make into a movie but made it into a film he did, and we can all be thankful for that.

As you have probably guessed by now, your writer here is a big fan of this movie. However, that does not mean I am blind to its flaws such as the convoluted plotting, and some of the humour leans a little too heavy on toilet and erection based gags that can at times be eye-roll worthy. Also not all the actors are not precisely blue-chip. It should be noted the ones that matter are though which brings us to the performance of Bruce Campbell.

There is no doubt a crucial part of Bubba Ho-Tep’s appeal is the performance given by Campbell as Sebastian Haff/Elvis. That plus the chemistry that he has with Ossie Davis who plays a black John F Kennedy and is his friend and ally in fighting the mummy.  Both of these elements greatly help to ground film as let’s face it Elvis and black JFK fighting a redneck mummy who is stealing the souls of retirement home residents via their anus is a very, very silly (albeit hilarious) concept. There is nothing within that concept that screams pathos or intelligence but all those are here and while some of that is in the script a lot of it comes out the central performances particularly Campbell who put in one of the finest and in some ways most nuanced performances of his career. As while the film leans on Campbell’s natural strength like his flair for slapstick and his quippy line delivery, there is a real gravitas and melancholy to his performance which again may seem surprising given the context.

If you have not seen the film, you may be thinking, but they are not really Elvis and JFK in the story right? Well even within the context of the story doubt is cast on both. According to Campbell’s Elvis he got tired of fame and swapped identities with an Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff, and it was Sebastian Haff who died not him. The plot leads us to believe this is Elvis but the door is left open the character is delusional. Even more, doubt is cast on the JFK character as even Campbell’s Elvis believes him to be delusional which lead to a hilarious scene where Davis’s JFK explains “That's how clever they are. They dyed me this colour, all over. Can you think of a better way to hide the truth than that?” Frankly, it’s hard to argue with that!

The above is just one of the many quotable lines peppered throughout the movie many of which are nabbed by Davis even if Campbell gets his fair share of zingers too like “Even a big bitch cockroach like you should know... never, but never, fuck with the King.” Delivered after fighting off a scarab in his room.

In amongst all the monster silliness, you may wonder where this previously mentioned pathos is. Well as previously stated a lot of that comes through Campbell’s performance, but the script also tackles the vagaries of both aging and fame in a way that takes you by surprise and the movie ends up being by genuinely quite touching in its wacky way. These elements are both what makes the film so memorable and the reason why many will struggle with it as it is a monster movie, a farcical comedy and melancholy drama all at once. The gears shifts between these modes are not always seamless but, by and large, Coscarelli pulls it off.

Given Bubba Ho-Tep does have its foot in so many differing it was, of course, a nightmare in terms of marketing. Coscarelli had a smart solution for this however by getting only 32 prints made and “roadshowing” the film around various film festivals which led to it reaching cult status before it hit DVD given the strength of reviews and word-of-mouth. That cult status has only grown in the years since its release.

There have also long been rumours of a sequel first taunted in a joke post credit title that announced Elvis would return in Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires. No serious plans were made then, but Coscarelli has tried to get a follow-up film of the ground but to no avail. Coscarelli also mooted the idea of a TV show in a 2018 interview with Syfy saying:

“Bubba Ho-Tep, as detailed in the book, we had a lot of setbacks with regard to a lack of involvement with Bruce Campbell on the thing. He gave such a memorable performance, it was very hard to do something without him involved. Again, I think that that story would make for a great sequel or series.”

So fans could yet see Elvis ride again, the only downside being it would not be Campbell playing him.

December 6, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)

Ju-On The Grudge 2002

Even now if you ask people to name a Japanese horror film, if they know any at all, the most likely answer you would get is either this film or Ringu. Both of which were the most popular films of the early 00s J-Horror craze. Not that necessarily makes this film one of the best as many would consider Ju-on: The Grudge to be weaker than some other such as Ringu or Pulse (Kairo) for example. While that maybe there are still many memorable and you can certainly see the films appeal.

The curious thing about Ju-on: The Grudge is that this is actually the third entry in a long-running franchise created by director Takashi Shimizu which is still going to this day and was also the first in the franchise to get a cinematic release. You may assume that you when need to see the first two entries (Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2) to view this one, but you do not necessarily. As all of the films work both as part of the franchise and as individual films. The connecting factor being the haunted house of the deceased Saeki family. According to the film's mythology, a curse was created after Takeo Saeki (Takashi Matsuyama) murdered his wife Kayako (Takako Fuji), son Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) and the family cat in a jealous rage after finding out Kayako had a crush on another man. This curse follows anybody who enters the house and also turned Kayako into a vengeful spirit and the franchise's central antagonist.

Like all of the films in the Ju-on series Ju-on: The Grudge does not have a plot per se but is instead told in a series of loosely connected vignettes. Confusing matters further, these vignettes do not unfold in chronological order, so you always have to think where you are in the narrative timeline. In the first of these vignettes, we follow Rika (Megumi Okina) as she is sent to Saeki house as a carer for a senior woman. Rika, as it turns out, is the films nominal lead as she appears in more than one of the vignettes unlike most of the other characters.

Each of the vignettes run in roughly the same order with characters ending up in the cursed house for one reason or other, the curse then following with the back home or at work or whatever and then spreading to other characters they encounter before being bumped off by Kayako’s spirit. All of which makes the film sound very formulaic and a bit boring. The former is true as Shimizu has created a blueprint for these films and is very much sticking. The latter, however, is not there is plenty here to hold your attention as there is plenty of tension here to keep you hooked into the story and Shimizu maintains a profoundly creepy atmosphere throughout proceedings.

Arguably the scares have lost some of their initial power as audiences are more familiar with the chalk-faced, twitchy, clicky ghosts that populate many a J-Horror but there is still stuff to get under your skin on the evidence here. Notably in scenes such as the one where Kayako come spider-like out a room and stalks one of the characters down the stairs in the old Saeko home or the scene where you see another set of hands in the back of Rika’s head when she is showering. Also the horrendous croaking noise Kayako is just as unsettling now as when the film was released.

Not all the jumps work, and some of the fake-out (generally cat-based) scares are more funny than scary, but the horror set-ups along with the atmosphere are where the movie, and by extension, the franchise is at its strongest. As discussed there are plenty of weaknesses too as well as the ones already mentioned it would be fair to say there is little in the way of character development and the acting is of variable quality. The movie is also guilty of the Hollywood studio horror thing of laying on the musical cues thick to signpost this is going to be a scary bit, get ready to be scared now!

These were all flaws that critics at the time pounced on, and despite its rather stellar reputation as a horror fan favourite it received decidedly mixed reviews with a current Metacritic score of 48 and an RT score of 64%.

Inevitably for any popular non-English language horror film, there was a remake, just called The Grudge, made in 2004, which is actually the same year Ju-on: The Grudge got its official UK and US release. Unusually the Sarah Michelle Gellar starring remake did not relocate the action to somewhere in the States but is still set in Tokyo. The lack of location was not the only unusual thing about the remake as the director of the remake is none other than Takashi Shimizu. The other curious about the remake is that basically a facsimile of Ju-on: The Grudge with the main difference being the English speaking cast. So if you have seen The Grudge, you have essentially seen this movie.

Shimizu also went to direct a sequel to both this movie and the English language. Confusingly unlike the original and its remake Ju-on: The Grudge 2 and The Grudge 2 have separate storylines although they do follow the same non-linear chapter based. After four Ju-on movies and two American ones, The Grudge movies Shimizu left the franchise but it very much rolled on without him as there was another direct-to-DVD American sequel released in 2009 as well another five entries in the original Japanese series. The last of these entries being 2016’s Sadako vs. Kayako which sees the antagonists of both the Ring and Ju-on franchises face off in a movie that started life as internet joke and was met with a mixed to poor reaction upon release. If you thought that is the end of The Grudge franchise though think again as there is an English language reboot set to hit screens early next month. Proof, if proof were needed, you can never keep a horror franchise down for long.

November 22, 2019

NHE’s Modern Classics: 28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later

”28 Days Later” is not only one of the most iconic horror films of the 21st Century’s but also a pivotal one regarding British horror. 2002 turned out to be a landmark year for British horror films as it also saw the release of “Dog’s Soldier’s.” Both of these films led to the re-emergence of the UK horror film scene which it had been mostly dormant in the ’90s. Not that there were no horror movies from our fair isle in the 90s just most of them were rubbish, and it would be uncontroversial to call it one of the worst decades for British Horror, if not the worst.

Funny then, that the film the re-sparked the UK scene did not come from some with a track record in the genre but Danny Boyle who was at that point most known for “Trainspotting” and had not made a horror film before nor has he since. Boyle is now, of course, considered one of this country’s finest genre filmmakers and has long established his “national treasure” status but at this stage, he was looking for a career renaissance after two critical and commercial failure in “A Life Less than Ordinary” and “The Beach.” With even Boyle later openly disliking.

Both “A Life Less than Ordinary” and “The Beach” were glossier Hollywood productions and in the latter cases much bigger budgeted than Boyle had been used too. “28 Days Later” on the other hand saw Boyle come back to his roots not just due to it being a smaller British production but also it has a more rough and ready shooting style. You sense this was as much of a practical choice as an aesthetic one as the use of digital camcorders allowed Boyle’s crew to set up and move on quickly which came in useful for capturing many of the film’s most memorable shots of capturing desolate streets and empty motorways on the hoof.

The most iconic of which is where we see Jim (Cillian Murphy) standing on an empty Westminster bridge with Big Ben looming in the background. In fact, that whole section at the start where Jim wanders around a deserted London is so memorable that many forget that the film does not open with it but instead with a prologue where we see how the “rage” virus escaped in the first place.

The use of digital camcorders did not just help with shooting on quick turnaround, but it also suits the movie, in terms, of giving it a grittier, documentary-like look which makes the action that unfolds feel more visceral and realistic. There is something about this use of digital over film that suits the frenzied energy and kinetic pace that Boyle keeps going over its near 2 hours running time. It also seems to be appropriate for this British urban tale differentiating from glossier American zombie films. Not that "28 Day's Later" is really a zombie film as the hordes are not undead but infected with a virus. This fact did not, however, stop lots of subsequent zombie films take inspiration from 28 Days and introducing running zombies as a thing.

Away from the look of the film, there is a great deal else to admire about “28 Days Later”. For example, anyone who has seen it will remember John Murphy’s pulsating score which greatly adds to the tension of proceedings particularly the instrumental track "In the House – In a Heartbeat" which scores the climactic confrontation in the mansion house.

Director Boyle was also bold in his casting decision with the leads being played by, then, relative unknowns Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris. Both of whom excel in their roles with Murphy playing everyman Jim who has just woken from a coma and Harris playing Selina who, initially at least, is a hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners survivor. Murphy and Harris both brilliantly portray their characters journey with Jim becoming more of survivor while Selina comes to show other things are going on underneath all those hard edges. Balancing out the fresh faces Boyle also cast experienced character actors Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston, both of whom leave there mark on the film although in very different ways.

Gleeson plays Frank a father who, along with his daughter, teams up with Jim and Selina to travel to a potential safe haven in Manchester. Frank is possibly the warmest and funniest character in the film and the relationship with his daughter Hannah is also nicely played. All this plus the brief sunny patch in the movie makes it all the more gut-wrenching when he is killed after becoming infected. Eccleston’s role as Major Henry West is entirely different initially seeming like a possible saviour before quickly revealing himself to be unhinged. The point this is revealed is a scene where our protagonists are welcomed with a dinner by Major West and his soldiers only for it to become one of the most unnerving dinner scenes this side of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Not that Major West think he is doing anything unhinged, in fact, from his point of view his actions, which presumably most viewing would see as despicable, seem not only logical but vital for survival. Something which is a recurring theme both what would you do to survive in a situation like that? Moreover, is there meaning beyond mere survival in a world like that? No easy answers are given. Herein lies another key strength to the movie namely that while you can enjoy it as a pure piece of entertainment with explosive set-pieces, gory deaths, and kinetically charged action sequences, there is also plenty morally and intellectually absorbing elements bubbling under the surface for those inclined to engage with the feature.

While there is not much to criticise here, it would be fair to say the film never quite matches the intensity of its opening 20 minutes. On the other hand, it would be accurate to say that opening is up there with the very best in horror, so it is understandable the film is unable to sustain the same level of ferocity. If there is another criticism to be made it would be Garland script between its environmental allegory, political commentary, and ethical debate is thematically over-stuffed meaning not everything is explored as fully as it could be. In subsequent years this has become a hallmark of Garland’s work, but then again I would rather have that than puerile entertainments devoid of value.

Some of these weaknesses were also picked up by critics at the time but mainly “28 Days Later” was a major critical as well as commercial hit. The film also went to win several accolades and has only gone on to grow in stature ranking seventh in Bloody Disgusting top 20 Horror films of the Decade (the 2000’s). Also in that rarest of occurrences, it spawned a solid sequel in 2007’s “28 Weeks Later” which while no match for the original does a good job of building upon the world established by its predecessor. There has also long been talk of a “28 Months Later” to complete the trilogy but that project never really got off the ground and now seems unlikely to be made.  

November 8, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

Pulse (Kairo) (2001)

At the turn of the millennium horror, fans on both sides of the Atlantic were fast tiring of the self-referential slasher cycle kicked off by “Scream.” To the extent that there are horror fans to this day that hate “Scream” not so much, it appears, for anything the movie itself did but because of the wave of poor imitations it inspired. Due to this fatigue with mainstream American horror, fans looked elsewhere for their kicks and the J-Horror craze kicked in gear first off with “Ringu” (which was made in 1998 but did not receive a UK release until 2000) which was a like a breath of fresh air in a sea of generic horrors of the time.

Many believe that “Pulse” could have played a bigger role in that craze where it not for the Weinstein’s who bought the rights for it in order to make a remake. The Weinstein’s then stopped it from receiving a general release in the US at the time. Meaning this 2001 film did not hit American cinemas until late 2005 while in the UK it did not reach the big screen until early 2006 by which time the J-Horror craze had petered out. Despite this “Pulse” still managed to pick up a cult following due to many enterprising horror fans getting it on import DVDs.

 Whether it would have made a bigger splash with a wider release at the time is a matter as in many ways “Pulse” is less accessible than say “Ringu” or “Ju-On: The Grudge.” Both of which with their pale-faced jerkily moving ghost where unique at the time but at least they still have relatively familiar genre pacing and storylines you can follow if you are paying attention. Whereas “Pulse” not only has glacial pacing but narratively, with its crazy tale of internet ghosts which make people commit suicide, is a jumble even if you are watching in close detail. Not that this should come as a surprise to anybody anyone familiar with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director who has made his name making genre features but with an off-beat auteurist twist.

So while “Pulse” maybe a ghost story it is one less concerned with scare than it is with mood, atmosphere, and cultural commentary. The latter being the irony that in a world ever closer connected by the internet that people have never been more isolated and lonely. Not an original point or one it drives home subtly but one that seems prescient give this was made in 2001 when the internet had nowhere near the role it plays in people’s lives that it does now. Also unlike many films which have dealt with the same topic of loneliness in the digital age, few have the same impact or feeling as Kurosawa packs in every frame of the movie with a sense of dread and melancholy that resonates and makes it feel more than mere tutting ludditism.

 As well as referring to the effect of the internet the film’s social commentary also specifically looks at Japan and how work and education trump interpersonal relationships with the film given extra resonance given the very real spate of suicides which occurred in Japan, at the time, due to the economic downturn in the late ’90s.

A lot is going on here, not all of which is made explicit which is the same with the plot very little of which is explained. Questions such as how do people end up in spectral/internet realm? How do the ghosts appear in the Forbidden Rooms? What is the significance of the red tape? Why do all the victims leave behind a black stain where their corpse was?

Moreover, many others are left unanswered. Loose ends and unanswered questions are not necessarily a bad thing but the plot logic, or lack thereof, does test the patience at times. The movie also escalates from ghost story to apocalyptic dystopia without warning.

 The lack of coherence is not the only issue as there is also almost no attempt at characterisation. The ensemble is more character traits than characters as we have the cute nerdy computer girl (Harue), the laidback technophobe (Ryosuke) and the shy plant shop employee and caring friend (Michi). These characters incidentally are the three lead characters. You could take this as a sign of lazy writing, but equally, you can see this is a sign of tieing in with movies theory of the increased atomisation of modern culture due to technology, and therefore it makes a kind of sense we know nothing about the characters inner lives. Not necessarily a theory your writer here ascribes too but a possibility nonetheless.

Despite its flaws though “Pulse” is undoubtedly a film packed with memorable imagery and is likely to resonate long after you watch it. Amongst stand-outs is an excellently composed sequence where we see a woman commit suicide by leaping from a water tower. A woman who we initially see in the background of the frame as Michi (Kumiko Aso) is taking a phone call in the foreground only for her turn round in time to see the woman plummet to her death. What makes the scene more unnerving is the lack of reaction of the people walking down the street with only Michi going over to survey the horrific scene. This scene is not the only one to leave an indelible mark as there is a few other scattered throughout including one which impressively makes hands coming over a couch seem unsettling.

Predictably given the films oblique, even by Kurosawa’s standards, nature the reviews upon its release in the West were mixed with some hailing it a J-Horror classic while others were left baffled but overall the critical reaction it received was positive. The same could not be said for the dumbed-down 2006 remake which was critically savaged upon release for stripping out the creepy atmospherics and adding in a bunch of horror clichés. Possibly the saddest thing about the remake, besides the aforementioned, is that the late Wes Craven has a writing credit although at the time of release he stated: "I have had no influence at all on the film they are about to release.”[1]  After he had been removed as director and replaced by Jim Sonzero, Craven’s screenplay was also rewritten by Ray Wright so we will never know if Craven’s “Pulse” would have been better, but it seems safe to bet it certainly could not have be any worse. 

​Despite the remakes, critical beatdown and the lack of audience appreciation Hollywood decided to make two direct-to-DVD sequels (both 2008) which received even worse reviews. None of this in the end truly tarnished the original as the movie retains its cult classic status while thankfully the remake and especially the remakes sequels have been largely forgotten about.
[1] Losing the Pulse, by Calum Waddell, Fangoria Magazine, No. 255, August 2006

November 1, 2019

Review: Nightmare Cinema (2018)

Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, David Slade, Ryuhei Kitamura

​Starring: Mickey Rourke, Richard Chamberlain, Elizabeth Reaser, Zarah Mahler, Sarah Withers, Eric Nelsen, Maurice Benard, Adam Godley, Patrick Wilson, Faly Rakotohavan, Annabeth Gish.

​Run Time: 119 mins

​"Nightmare Cinema" is the latest in a long line of horror anthology's to pop up in the last decade with the format becoming particularly popular again on the back of the V/H/S trilogy. It is an anthology that comes with a real pedigree as Mick Garris conceived it as a quasi-follow-up to his famed "Masters of Horror" series. The other directors involved here include the legendary Joe Dante (Gremlins), Ryūhei Kitamura (Midnight Meat Train), David Slade (30 Days of Night), and Alejandro Brugues (Juan of the Dead).

Garris himself provides the framing device as each story begins with a character inexplicably drawn into a seemingly abandoned run by a man simply known as "The Projectionist." A sinister figure played by Mickey Rourke. Rourke fans should not get too excited, though, as while heavily advertised, he is only on screen for a couple of scenes and seems to be mainly on autopilot.

After a quick intro, then we dive into our first story, "The Thing in the Woods," which may come from the least know of the bunch (Brugues) but is possibly the strongest of the segments. The story starts as a reasonably straightforward slasher parody, but halfway through takes an unexpected and inventive left turn. Honestly, if it had stayed as a slasher parody, it would have still been very entertaining as it effectively skewers a bunch of the genre clichés, and the cast is amusingly faux-wooden but the turn it takes, takes it to a different level.

A shame then that ​the next two up can't quite match that level. Not to say that they are rubbish as they are not. In fact, both Dante's "Mirare" and Kitamura's "Mashit" are solidly entertaining. The former is a tale of weird plastic surgery that trundles along a bit but does have a wonderfully slimy performance from 60's matinee idol Richard Chamberlain and a suitably nasty pay-off. The latter is an over-the-top tale of demonic possession at a Catholic girl’s school, which does little new with that particular well-worn territory but makes up for what it lacks in originality in attitude and gore. Even if you do wish, Kitamura had pushed the goofiness a little more.

In the fourth segment, "Welcome to Egress," we reach the peak of the opening story again as Slade delivers a surreal Lynchian tale set in a doctor's reception and shot in visually striking monochrome. It is difficult to say too much else about it without spoiling it, but it should be said that Elizabeth Reaser puts in an excellent performance as the possibly unhinged female lead.

After that, it is regrettable we end on the weakest of the bunch "The Dead," directed by Garris. This entry concerns a prodigal teen piano player Riley (Faly Rakotohavan), who, after a nearly deadly attack, ends up being able to see dead people. Admittedly while not terrible, this tale just feels flat with no real dramatic tension, little in the way of decent scares, and a sense that we have seen this all before and done better at that.

Overall: Like most horror anthologies, "Nightmare Cinema" is a mixed bag, but unlike most, it ends up in credit as out of the five stories; two are okay, two are excellent, and only one falls flat. All things considered a worthy addition in the horror anthology canon. 


​You can watch "Nightmare Cinema" on Shudder here

October 25, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: The Devil’s Backbone (2001)


From comic book films like “Hellboy” to the blockbuster action of “Pacific Rim” to the majestic fantasy of his masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth” Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the best genre directors of the 21st Century. It was certainly difficult to pick one film for Del Toro for the book as most of his films have some horror element. Yes, even his Academy Award-winning feature “The Shape of Water” has a touch of horror about it even although it is mainly a romantic-fantasy.

Del Toro frequent mixing of genre also makes it difficult to establish which of his films you consider to be horror. From his 21st Century filmography, there is two that stand out as being horror films this film and “Crimson Peak.” Between these two it was easy to pick which one should be included on the list. Your writer here would like to state before continuing that I consider “Crimson Peak” to be nowhere near as bad as many people claim. There is much fun to be had with that films brand of overblown Gothic horror, and performance-wise Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston make for an impressive triumvirate.  However, suffice to say it is nowhere near as good as “The Devil’s Backbone.”

Tragic to think then the movie was nearly never made. The reason for this was partly that Del Toro was considering giving up filmmaking after his bruising first Hollywood experience on the Weinstein produced “Mimic.” On that movie, he frequently clashed with Harvey and Bob Weinstein and felt the film had been taken out from under him. The other reason was he could not getting fund for the story in its original form (then set during the Mexican Revolution) which he pitched to the Mexican Film Institute. The film institute rejected it on the grounds it was “too big” of a film. The movie was however saved with the intervention of Pedro Almovodar. Almovodar had admired Del Toro’s work and had passingly said to the director if he ever wanted to make a film in Spain he would produce. In 1997, Del Toro “took a chance and wrote to Pedro and said, ‘Remember that conversation we had?’”[1].. He did indeed, and the rest as they say is his history.


The change of filming location did not alter the plot too much, but the backdrop of the story did move from being the Mexican Revolution to the Spanish Civil War. The plot focuses on Carlos (Fernando Tielve), a 12-year-old boy who finds himself at a leftist orphanage following the death of his father. Carlos soon discovers that the orphanage is haunted and hides some dark secrets.

Given a quick synopsis “The Devils Backbone” may seem like a regular ghost story but this is Del Toro we are talking about and as is usual with his films things are not that straightforward. Far from being your regulation haunted house pic, this films mixes horror with drama, coming-of-age and Western elements with John Ford’s “The Searchers” being one of Del Toro’s touchstones during the film. The Western influence is strong throughout with many of the outdoor shots being composed like a Western, and the orphanage itself is made to look like one of those barricaded forts seen in so many Westerns.

Like with many a Del Toro it is not the supposed monster, in this case, the ghost that is the villain here but human cruelty, the cruelest character being Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Even this character though is not without his sympathies. His actions are frequently despicable and grow more so as the film goes so you actively cheer on his demise, but there are also times you can see Jacinto is a man still viciously lashing out against festering childhood wounds. That is one of the critical strengths of the movie all the key players are given psychological depth and believable motivations in a way often missing in mainstream horror.

Jacinto not the ghost child Santi (Andreas Munoz) may be the real threat in the movie, but that does not mean the ghost doesn’t look creepy, far from it. The design of Santi is very creepy indeed with his ashen white complexion (inspired by Sadako in “Ringu”), cracked porcelain-like face and the blood that emanates from a head wound like a mist. There also some eerily atmospheric scenes involving the ghost before we, the audience, realise he does not pose a threat. Particularly in an early scene where Carlos first catches sight of him in lower reaches of the Orphanage building.

As well as the design of the ghost being outstanding the overall design of the movie is equally gorgeous and gothic. The film’s budget was actually only 3-4 million Euros, but from the look of it, you would imagine that the budget was far higher than that which is a testament to both Del Toro as a filmmaker and the skill of his crew.

The design is not the only outstanding element though as there also many great performances here. Notably from Del Toro favourite Federico Lupe as the kindly Professor Casare. Also in fine form is Marissa Paredes as head of the orphanage Carmen, Eduardo Noriega as the aforementioned Jacinto as well as Fernando Tielves who is excellent as the young protagonist Carlos.

Upon release the film was not met with quite the same adulation as its sister picture “Pans Labyrinth“ (Which Del Toro recommends you watch with this film) it was still met overwhelmingly positive reviews and was a modest box office success. As mentioned earlier Del Toro’s career would go from strength to strength from here culminating, of course, in his Oscar win for “The Shape of Water.” However, this film still ranks as one of the visionary filmmakers finest and up until recently was the one that Del Toro himself cited as his favourite amongst his works.

[1] All Guillermo Del Toro quotes taken from “Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone” by Matt Zoller and Simon Abrams

October 11, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: American Psycho (2000)


​When the novel “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis was released in 1991 it came out to a hailstorm of controversy. As it would turn out the cinematic version would be no different. In fact long before it was released in cinemas in 2000 the project went through various controversies. In some ways it is surprising it reached the screen at all with producer Edward R. Pressman originally buying the property in 1992 and turning various scripts over the years before settling on the script of eventual director Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. This process included a script by Ellis himself which Pressman described as “completely pornographic and ending with a musical number”[1] and as interesting as that sounds it is easy to see why they did not go in that direction.

Settling on script, director and lead star Christian Bale did not end the productions troubles. First there was the wrangling with studio who thought the project needed a starrier lead which led to Leonardo Dicaprio been thrust on to the director much to her annoyance. It is easy see why as while in his current vintage it is possible envisage DiCaprio in the part, let’s face it his role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” is not a thousand miles away, back then in his post-Titanic period  he would have been ridiculous in the part. Harron well knew this but her objections only led to her being sidelined, and Oliver Stone put in her place as director. Again as great a director as Stone is satire is not really his forte and given the usual standard of his female characters you figure the film might have ended up in even more hot water than it eventually did. Both Harron and Bale held tight as they felt this version would inevitably fall through which it duly did and saw them both return to the project.

Given the events leading up to the shoot it is not surprising that the shoot itself was set with difficulty. Not that this had to do with on-set issues but more to do with outside factors such as brands mentioned in the movie pulling out or distancing themselves from it or various people trying to have the production shut down with feminist icon Gloria Steinman prominent amongst them. Another prominent thorn in the side of Harron during production was C-CAVE (Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment) who linked the novel to the case of notorious Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo. This was due to a copy of the novel being discovered on his bedside table upon his arrest. Although the copy of the novel was later thought to be owned by his wife rather than the barely literate Bernardo. The group also threatened to protest the filming throughout. In the end these protests never came to fruition however that did not stop the protests becoming part of the films myth. As Harron wryly points out “As so often happens, a tabloid frenzy had been mistaken for real life.” [2]

The tabloid frenzy did not abate when the movie was released. This frenzy is more connected with the times than the movie itself as this was 2000 and Post-Columbine there had been much debate about the influence of certain movies and musicians. The movie itself is not the gorefest or the exercise in torture porn you would expect if you were just reading the headlines of the time. For one up until near the end there is not a great deal of gore. Also while there are bloody set-pieces that is not the main thrust here. The movie is more focused on satirising the vanity, greed and obliviousness of this gilded class of Wall Street traders. The central joke being Bateman could get away with committing these murders under everyone’s nose as long as he follows the social conventions of high society. Then again did he commit the murders? While the novel makes it very ambiguous whether he is a murderer or just a sociopath with homicidal tendencies the movie seems to explicitly state it is latter before confusing things with the final scene. Whether or not the murders happen has been a matter of keen debate amongst horror fans ever since.

In the end it does really matter what side of the debate you fall down on as it does little to take away from this excellent. There are several stand-out moments but this personal favourite is the “Hip to Be Square” scene in which Bateman bloodily butchers Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to the sounds of Huey Lewis and the News. This is a scene of perfectly pitched black comedy and is emblematic of the film generally with it mixtures of nasty violence and jet-black. Not an easy balancing act but one that Harron manages exceedingly well. It is a great scene for Bale to show off his acting chops too as he progressively becomes more unhinged during his monologue on Huey Lewis before going completely beserk at the end, only to casually sort himself and light a cigar once the deed is done.

It is ironic that many movie insiders had told Bale the film would be “career suicide” as it turned out to be quite the opposite. As while the feature itself got a mixed critical reception Bale was unanimously praised his performance and, as you will know, went on to much bigger things on the back of it. Most of the criticism focused on the ironic gaze of the violence, misogyny and the satire being repetitive. The latter element is partially true as the story does make some of the same points about 80s materialism and greed culture repeatedly. In terms of the other criticism this seems unfair as the view of the violence is dispassionate as we the viewer are seeing these act through the lens of Bateman but never does the film empathise with that view and there is still scenes that are properly shocking. Similarly while there is a lot of misogyny on display the film never feels itself misogynistic. In fact Harron is clearly satirising misogyny.

In terms of legacy “American Psycho” spawned a truly terrible direct-to-video sequel and there was a mooted TV series that never got made. Funnily enough the former initially had nothing to do with “American Psycho” and was then retconned into being a sequel which is only notable for starring a young Mila Kunis and weirdly William Shatner. Thankfully not many people know about the sequel leaving the films real legacy as being one of the first great horrors of the 21st Century as well being a great snapshot on male narcissism (something that feels even more relevant now).

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/film/2000/mar/24/fiction.breteastonellis

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2000/04/09/movies/film-the-risky-territory-of-american-psycho.html

October 9, 2019

Review: In Search of Darkness

In Search of Darkness

Given the current cultural obsession with the 1980s and the amount of 80s throwback horror movies that have come out in the last few years, it feels like there is no better time to look back on the decade that many (although should be said not all) consider as horror's finest.

​This is precisely what this documentary sets out to do over its gargantuan 258-minute running time as it goes chronologically through each year of the decade, highlighting a number of the most notable horror films of each year. Director David Weiner tells this story through an impressive array of talking heads including iconic horror directors (John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, Stuart Gordon etc.) and stars (Babara Crampton, Doug Bradley, Heather Langenkamp, Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley etc, etc.) as well as other luminaries from the horror business. Plus, several horror pundits culled from a host of horror magazines, websites, TV shows, and podcasts and, somewhat randomly, Slipknot lead singer, Corey Taylor. 

​The talking head format can often feel a bit rote nowadays, but when the roster of talking head is this impressive, then it is hard to quibble, and the vast majority of contributors are insightful and interesting. Some particular standouts are Tom Atkins, who ​provides the possible highlight of the documentary with his rendition of the Silver Shamrock theme from Halloween III and Larry Cohen, who undoubtedly has the funniest on-set stories.

​Not only does the film tell the story of 80s horror by going through films from each year but also goes is into many side topics, including why we watch horror? The most iconic villains of the 80s, the role of special effects in horror, how the genre reflected the times, and much more. Ironically given the length of the documentary, it feels like none of these topics are given enough time to breathe fully, and each topic could have probably filled a documentary on their own. ​Despite this, each is interestingly dealt with by the assembled contributors. And listening to the likes of Crampton, Langenkamp, Caroline Williams (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Lori Cardille (Day of The Dead) and Robbi Morgan (Friday the 13th) debate the role of women in horror and whether 80s horror nudity went too far makes for particularly fascinating viewing.

The undoubted attraction of the film, though, is the discussion of ​ the decades' classics ​ from The Shining to The Thing to Hellraiser to Re-Animator to Evil Dead II, etc. from many of the people who made them. Plus, we get all of the 80's entries in the Halloween, Friday the 13th (bar Part 5), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (bar Part 2) franchises. The film selection overall highlights the most iconic pictures of the decade, but sometimes the choices seem a little screwy or at least in part influenced by the talking heads they have brought together.

Of course, drawing up a definitive list is difficult, and there will always be quibbles over what's included and what's not. But there are some notable absentees such as "The Hitcher," "Street Trash," "Maniac Cop," "Bad Taste" ​and "Prince of Darkness" (Particularly odd given we have Carpenter talking about every other horror he made in the 80s) to name a few. Also, it would be fair to say this is a mostly US-centric look at the genre of this era. As all of the great Italian horrors of the 80s' is completely ignored, as are other European classics such as "Possession."

None of which discredits the project but simply highlights just how impossible a task it is to cover all of 80s horror and its cultural underpinnings in a single documentary. But as impossible as it may be, Weiner and his assembled cast of contributors have made a more than admirable attempt at it. And in the end, it mostly does what it sets out to do in providing us with quite probably the most comprehensive look at 80s horror to date.

Overall: ​A thoroughly entertaining documentary that provides a treasure trove of fun anecdotes and insightful analysis for hardened horror hounds. The only real downside is it would have been better as 10-part miniseries. 


​"In Search of Darkness" is available for pre-order here

​You can also watch the trailer for it here

September 27, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Final Destination (2000)


While this series delves more into the indie side of horror, I thought it silly to ignore some of the more mainstream releases. The reason for Final Destination’s inclusion is, not only did it kick one of the biggest horror franchises of the 21st Century’s first decade but also your writer here considers it to be one of the most fun franchise of the 21st Century so far. There is little doubt these are silly movies right enough, but for pure popcorn horror thrills most of the “Final Destination” films work a treat.

The 2000 original started life as an X-Files spec script by screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick way back in 1994. A fact well known by fans but maybe less known was when the first draft of the screenplay, then titled “Flight 180”, was sent to New Line Cinema, the project executive took it to read on the flight to read. A decision he changed upon realising that he was on Flight 180 from LA to New York and praying it would land safely which it did.

The X-Files connection remained as after New Line bought the Reddick treatment and brought him on to write the first draft they then brought in eventual director James Wong and Glen Morgan to rework it both of whom had written for the show. In the end, Wong and Morgan rewrote the script, but Reddick’s story and concept remained.

 In some ways, the movie is quite an inventive mix of teen slasher, disaster movie & X-Files episode. The latter aspect is particularly accentuated by the two FBI Agent characters in the film. That said Agent’s Wiene and Schreck (get it? As in Robert Weine and Max Schreck, there are also several other horror referencing character names in the movie) are no Mulder & Scully. In many ways, it looks and feels like that kind of late 90’s/early 00’s Post-Scream slasher.  You can certainly see this in the casting with many of the cast coming off the back of successful teen movies or TV shows at the time such as Sean William Scott (American Pie), Ali Larter (Varsity Blue), Kerr Smith (Dawson’s Creek) and lead Devon Sawa (Idle Hands). The difference here being there is no monster or physical killer instead these teens are stalked by death itself. Not some black hooded version of death either as the studio wanted but an unseen elemental force.

There may be several outlandish and over-the-top moments in the movie, but it does have very creepy opening effectively using sound and music cues as well as clever edits to make what is really just a scene of someone packing seem sinister. The eerie atmosphere is kept well in the opening act in the lead up to the plane disaster something helped out a lot by Sawa’s performance as lead character Alex Browning who envisages the plane's explosion and set off the events of the rest of the film. Other acting performances in the movie are less decent as is to be somewhat expected in this type of movie. There is however a great cameo from Tony Todd who would go on to be a franchise regular. However, those going to see it for the great acting but the deaths. Here the movie delivers for the most part.

The over-elaborate deaths are the thing that is most entertaining and central to the appeal of the film and the franchise. Now some of these over-elaborate accidents are genuinely effective, and some are just ludicrous. Take the first post plane accident death for example. Here the character of Tod (Chad E. Donella) is killed by a chain reaction of things that lead him to be strangled by a cord in the bathtub. Not too ludicrous you would think but more so when you see the scene where he appears to be stalked by the water that he eventually slips on to fall into the tub. Even more hilariously it snakes away post-kill. That is not the most overblown or convoluted death though that honour goes to the death of Miss Lewton (Kristen Cloke) who dies in a chain of events too convoluted to go into, but it ends with her being impaled with a falling knife and her house exploding. Not that this is necessarily a complaint as it is very entertaining to watch.

The most brutally effective and best deaths though are also the simple ones like Amanda Detmer’s characters death via speeding bus or the decapitation of Sean William Scott’s character. The funny thing about the former is you know it is going to happen, but it still works. Much like a joke that you know what the punchline is going to be but laugh nonetheless.

Upon release, the movie did poorly critically but did pick up the odd positive review most notably from the late Roger Ebert who gave it three out of four stars. Also in 2010, the film was featured on a Metacritic list entitled 15 Movies the Critics Got Wrong. It is easy to why critics took against as, as previously mentioned, this is a silly movie, and few would claim stone-cold classic horror status for it. However it’s also easy to see why audiences liked it as the film has a killer concept, some great deaths and it is just very fun.

The same can be said for the franchise it spawned as, except for the fourth one, all of them are solidly entertaining films. Sure it is the same formula repeated in different settings but each entry has a lot of fun with that formula, and there are several stand-out deaths peppered throughout. The Final Destination is also one of the few horror franchises to go out on a high with many sighting “Final Destination 5” as their favourite one. That film also cleverly brings the series full circle by tying into the original giving the franchise a fitting end. We can only hope this fitting conclusion will not be ruined by the long rumoured but as of yet unmade “Final Destination 6”.

September 13, 2019

NHE’s Modern Horror Classics: Ginger Snaps (2000)

Ginger Snaps (2000)

​Werewolves have always been the poor relation when it comes to cinematic monsters while most horror fans can name several great vampire or zombie movies they would struggle to come up with a handful of werewolf ones. Certain movies do immediately spring to mind when you think of great werewolf films such as The Wolf Man (1941), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Howling (1981) and The Company of Wolves (1984) however there is not that many more after that. This movie however also belongs in that company and is one of the two excellent werewolf films made since the turn of the millennium, the other being Dog Soldiers.

Like many a cult success, however, this low-budget Canadian feature took a while before it reached its audience and gained the cult reputation that it has today. Things started positively enough for the film as it premiered to a good reaction at the 2000 Munich Film Festival and based off of that there was a buzz around it when it was shown at The Toronto Film Festival the same year. It was after this it started to have problems as due to poor market handling the movie pretty much disappeared only to resurface for a brief theatrical run in 2001. It was not a disaster at the box office but not a blazing success either. It would be on the DVD/VHS market where it would find its true success though and 18 years after it still holds a cult appeal and is now regularly listed as one of the all-time great werewolf films.

The movie itself centers of the Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katherine Isabelle), who are death-obsessed teenage sisters. Their obsession is on display in the title sequence where we get a montage of photos the girls have taken where they have elaborately staged their own violent “deaths.” It turns out they did this as part of a school project much to the shock and disgust of their teacher. While they are busy doing that there are a lot of strange goings on in their neighbourhood as several dogs in the area turning up mutilated which is rumoured to be the work of some mysterious beast. Inevitably these two things collide as Ginger is attacked by the beast mere moments after getting her first period (which is worth noting as the film plays heavy on lycanthropy being a puberty metaphor). After this Ginger starts changing in attitude and appearance something that most around including their mother Pamela (Mimi Rogers) put down to the onset of womanhood but her sister knows that it is down to something more sinister and suspects Ginger is now a werewolf, which of course she is!

After this, we are soon following the path of carnage that Ginger paves, but the movie is not really about that as this is a horror movie very much rooted in character, namely the characters of Brigitte and Ginger. Both Perkins and Isabelle excel in their roles both in terms of convincing as sisters and making their characters believable teens and not the kind of stock characters you are likely to find in your average slasher horror movie.

Regarding the other characters, it was noted by many critics at the time that Mimi Rogers’s role as the mum is an odd fit and even unsettled the film. There is a certain amount of truth to this as Rogers’s performance is quite bizarre and the wackiness of her character does not seem to fit in with the tone of the movie. That may be the case but for this writer it still kind of works in a weird way and it is a never less than watchable performance.

The film may be character-based, but that does not mean it’s skimp on the horror. Quite the contrary as the film set out its stall in the pre-title sequence where a mother comes across their son playing with something in a sandbox which she discovers to her horror to be a severed dog paw. We then pan to the remains of the dog scored by the screams of the woman. There are several more brutal dismemberments throughout the film. These scenes are generally well-staged and brutally effective. Also while the film has a slow build, it cranks up to some entertaining carnage in the end.

 Further on the horror, it also good that the filmmakers do not show the werewolf a lot. Instead, there is a lot of the monster in the shadows and us as the viewer seeing the aftermath of attacks. Although this was probably done as much for budgetary reasons as it was for stylistic ones, it is done well all the same.

“Ginger Snaps” also stood out at the time due to the fact not only were the central characters female but so was the screenwriter, Karen Walton. This female-ness may not seem unusual now as there has been more and more female horror filmmakers and writers appearing in the last few years, but this was much less common in 2000. Walton did not go on to do further work in horror but is a regular TV writer/producer and was one of the regular writers on “Orphan Black” which was co-created by the director of this film, John Fawcett.

As I mentioned earlier while not a commercial success initially the picture did find an audience on home video. Due to this success, the film got two follow-ups, a sequel, and a prequel. These movies “Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed” and “Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning” were filmed back-to-back in 2003 and were obviously cash-in's. The most surprising thing about them though is while not as good as the original both are solid features. The second film sees Perkins return and, much like “Halloween II” follows directly where the first film left off while the third reunites Isabelle and Perkins and see them as 19th Century versions of the Fitzgerald sisters.

Aside from the follow-ups “Ginger Snaps” also gave us one of the horror stars of the new millennium in Katherine Isabelle. It is only a shame that equally talented Perkins did not go on to such heights, although she has appeared in several films & TV series since this flick. Isabelle and she will also always be fondly remembered for this film which turned out to be one of the first horror classics of the 21st Century.      

July 24, 2019

Review: DeadTectives

Director: Tony West

Starring: Chris Geere, Tina Ivlev, David Newman, Martha Higareda, José María de Tavira

Run Time: 92mins

There may be plenty of other haunted house movies spoofs (including the execrable “A Haunted House”), but it does not feel as over-saturated in the way that the zom-com does. Giving this movie a slightly easier task to stand out, something it mostly fails to do although it does in flashes.

Things start well enough with a promising set-up skewering the ghost hunting shows which populate cable television. The opening scene sees our hapless team of paranormal investigators led by Sam Whitner (Geere) trying to convince a terrified bakehouse owner that the property is haunted using a variety of dirty tricks to improve their dwindling rating. There is fun to be had here, and the movie nicely skewers the tropes of the genre from the flashy visuals to over-the-top narration, etc.

The initial promise is not followed up on as in the next scene; we are introduced to an unbearably obnoxious TV exec who plans to axe the show. He however gives the team, which also consists of Sam’s brother Lloyd (Newman), his fiancée Kate (Ivlev) and Javier (De Tavira), one last chance by sending them to “Mexico’s Most Haunted House” with a new producer Abril (Higareda) and FX guy Bob (Mark Riley) in tow. This scene is both excruciatingly unfunny and sets the template for the movie, which seems to believe all the lines are much funnier just by being delivered very, VERY LOUDLY.

On top of that, the majority of the gags are signposted a mile away. Including the central joke that, of course, the Mexican house is haunted for real. Not that they initially realise as the team thinks the ghostly happenings are simply the work of their special effects guy — a half-decent gag but one that is overstretched. Much like a lot of jokes here such as the only one who does believe is ghost-obsessed Lloyd, who is ridiculed and ignored beyond the point it makes sense plot-wise. Not that everything is a miss here as there is the occasional gem but for the most part these raise chuckles rather than real guffaws.

On the positive side, Geere is an engaging presence and makes a good fist of parodying the type of host you get on one of those paranormal investigation shows. He also successfully manages to make an oft unlikable character sympathetic and rounded. An attribute sorely lacking for some characters particularly the screechy ratings-obsessed Abril and the grizzled horror cliché Bob, both of whom are entirely one-note. Also, despite a decent performance from Ivlev, the character of Kate rarely gets the chance to break out further than your typical harassed-girlfriend-who-has-to-put-up-with-a-man-child role.

Frustratingly things get quite good in the climax. Suddenly the comedy clicks more, dropping the need to block capitalise every punch line. Plus, the relationships are played more endearingly, and you actually find yourself rooting for the team. Shame it all comes so late in the day.

Overall: A very hit-and-miss affair that occasionally manages to skewer paranormal investigation shows cleverly and features a decent central turn from Geere but is just as frequently more loud and obnoxious than funny. Ultimately it’s unlikely to be remembered long after watching.


“DeadTectives” is available on Shudder UK here

July 10, 2019

Review: Party Hard, Die Young

Director: Dominik Hartl

Starring: Elisabeth Wabitsch, Antonia Moretti, Marlon Boess, Markus Freistätter, Michael Glantschnig

Run Time: 92mins

Austria is not renowned for its horror films and what horror movie it is known for tend to be of more artsy bent such as “Funny Games” and “Goodnight, Mummy.” Not a tag you could put “Party Hard, Die Young” though as it falls squarely into familiar slasher territory.

However, while many aspects of the plot and characters will be familiar (perhaps overly-familiar) to slasher fans from the group irritating horny teens that are bumped off one by one to the revenge plot, there are nifty elements which refresh the old format.

The set-up is certainly simple enough as we meet a class of Austrian school-leavers who gone to X-Jam in Croatia for a week of partying, drinking and, they hope, sexual activity.  The group is for the most part thinly sketched as you get the jock type, the joker, the queen bee, etc. The exceptions are the characters of Julia (Elisabeth Wabitsch), and Jessica (Antonia Moretti) who are individually better drawn plus their relationship as best friends is quickly established. Wabistch performance, in particular, standouts as you genuinely care about her characters fate in a way you so rarely do in this sub-genre.

Hartl also makes each kill in the movie feel consequential in a way that feels refreshing, and while the reveal behind what is motivating the murders is not new, there is a bit more emotional weight behind it than you may expect from the way things kick off.  There is also a commendable attempted commentary on toxic masculinity which kind of works even if it is somewhat negated by the many leering shots of scantily clad young women in the opening half.

The fact the film shot on location at X-Jam while it was ongoing also gives proceedings a unique twist. Plus the location’s party-mad vibe lends a rare air of plausibility to the frequently used device of authority figures refusing to believe, until near the end, there is a killer on the loose despite mounting evidence.

The main innovation here, though is Hartl’s decent use of modern technology with shots being shown as YouTube clips or Instavideos or Snapchat’s popping up on the screen. All of which feels entirely natural in a film about young people but are devices still under-utilised in the horror genre as only a handful of horror flicks have exploited modern technology without it seeming clunky e.g., “Cam,” “Unfriended.”

Overall: An effective little slasher that punches above your standard slasher fare due to its fun use of technology, unique location, slick direction, and a sterling central performance from Wabistsch.


Party Hard, Die Young is now available on Shudder UK here

July 3, 2019

NHE’s EIFF 2019 Round-up

Historically the Edinburgh International Film Festival has not been renowned for giving horror movies much love. However, that seems to have changed in recent times with more and more horror (and genre efforts generally) sneaking their way into the program. Something that we here at New Horror Express is a heartening development.

The only unfortunate thing being that we did not get to catch all this year’s horror efforts missing out on German zombie flick “Ever After (Endzeit)” and Aussie slasher “The Furies” both of which seem to be well received by critics and audiences alike. Here however is a quick round-up of some the films we did manage to catch over the course of the festival:


Eight years after the original actress Pollyanna McIntosh returns to one of her role as The Woman. This time, however, that character takes a back seat with the main focus being Darlin (Lauryn Canny) whom we presume is The Woman’s teenage daughter.

A character we first see dropped off by at a hospital bloody and naked where she is subsequently taken in to care by a Catholic orphanage for girls where she is to be “civilised.”

This change of character focus is far from the only difference as McIntosh as well as starring takes over the reins from Lucky McKee as both writer and director for this effort. Also, those expecting this follow-up to simply follow the blueprint of the original are in for a shock as “Darlin'” is a markedly different beast.

First off Mcintosh has decided to lean into the comedy much more than its nastier predecessor. Also, this is a way more empathetic and humane film than “The Woman.” Sure, initially Darlin is every bit as feral as The Woman, but there is also a real sweetness to the character, and you empathise with her plight at the care home. Here, of course, there are similarities with the movie asking the same questions about supposed civilised society. There is a far more religious satire bent to this here though.

The film’s anti-religious satire element though does not really work as all of the pictures targets are too on-the-nose. On top of which Brian Batt’s Bishop character is so cartoonishly evil, you feel the only thing he is missing is a moustache to twirl.

Away from the religious stuff and occasionally clunky script, there is a lot to like particularly Canny’s excellent central performance. Also, there are some wonderfully darkly comedic set-pieces, and it is very handsomely shot film it’s sun-dappled look giving it a real fairy tale feel. Plus, Mcintosh’s rousing feminist finale is sure to put a smile on your face. All in all, a worthy companion piece to “The Woman” and a solid start to McIntosh’s directorial career.


Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRes8oVEdg4

The Wind

In her debut feature director, Emma Tammi delivers an impressively heady brew in this gothic horror western.

The story focuses on Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) a tough 19th Century frontierswoman who, due to tragic circumstances, finds herself alone in an isolated ranch. Over the course of the films running time, she descends into madness. Or does she? Maybe she is, in fact, being menaced by supernatural forces. We are not sure as like many things in the movie, it is left somewhat opaque.

Some of it ends up being a little too opaque as the non-linear flashback-heavy narrative can be hard to track of and proves downright frustrating at times. These frustrations however never threaten to topple proceedings as the film hinges on atmosphere far more than on narrative. Moreover, what an atmosphere it is as Tammi creates an effectively oppressive mood to the piece.

The most obvious comparison in terms of mood here is “The Witch,” another slice of Americana folk horror. Funnily, even share the fact that both feature an evil goat (although the one featured is not quite Black Philip). Much like that picture every aspect here is made to unsettle and give a sense of isolation from the sound design with the constantly howling wind of the title to the beautifully shot evocative use of the Western frontier landscape.

The mood may be impressive, but the movie really sings as an incredible performance by Gerard matches it. She is given a difficult task as she is the only presence on screen for the bulk of the film. However, it is a task she is more than up to equally convincing as the hardened survivor we first encounter, and the mentally fractured figure she becomes by the end.

Also, despite the fact, this is mainly a slow-burn psychological thriller Tammi manages to throw a couple of genuine jump scares here and there. The jumps made more effective by being genuinely unexpected, unlike in so many mainstream horrors about things that go bump in the night.

“The Wind,” despite its narrative flaws, is an excellent mood piece which may frustrate some but is sure to be lapped up by lovers of intelligent indie horror. It also marks Tammi as a major new horror talent, and it will be fascinating to see what she does next.


Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVZBNT0Ap-A


Director Emily Harris’s debut feature is the latest retelling of Sheridan Le ‘Fanu’s 19th Century vampire novel (which predates Bram ‘Stoker’s Dracula). However, while it is a tale that may have been told several times before it has probably never been told quite like this as Harris has chosen to put the supernatural elements on the back burner focusing her attention instead on the central lesbian love story.

Before we get to the love story though the plot’s initial focus is on the daily life of Lara (Hannah Rae) who lives a cosseted life confined mainly to her father Mr. ‘Bauer’s (Greg Wise) mansion while being left under the stern tutelage of Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine). Fontaine along with teaching Lara needlepoint and the like also forces to carry out tasks using her right hand as the left is seen to be sinful. Her strictly routined life is thrown for a loop though by arrival of the mysterious Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) who is taken by Mr. Bauer after being injured in a carriage crash.

It is at this point the picture kicks into gear as while well-acted the story feels quite languorous in the beginning. The same could be said for plot overall as it feels a bit thin at times. Not to mention the coming-of-age love story is not absorbing it is, and both Rae and Lingnau give touching, vulnerable performances, but the viewer is continuously kept at ‘arm’s length, and there are parts which feel dramatically inert. Which is particularly frustrating as it is clearly an intelligently made film with real things to say about female empowerment and people’s rush to persecute the “other.”

While there may be some quibbles in the story and pacing department, there can be no such complaints when it comes to the look of the movie. As nearly every scene looks beautiful and it easy to see that director Harris comes from a fine art background given how meticulously composed each and every shot is. You could easily frame any number of the candle-lit interiors or loving shots of nature here.

“Carmilla” is undoubtedly an interesting version of the material but one that could have been a whole lot better if only it dared to inject a bit of the full-bloodied melodrama it steadfastly sidesteps.


The Dead Don’t Die

Jim Jarmusch while not known for his genre output he has actually tried out various genres be it Western (Dead Man) or Action (Ghost Dog) and this is the second time he has tried out the horror after 2013’s hypnotic vampire effort “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

Granted none of these were straight ahead genre efforts and were all done in a dry, laconically paced style that Jarmusch has built his reputation upon. So does he similarly subvert the zom-com with this? Not really.

Sure there are elements that seem in keeping with the director’s style particularly Adam Driver and Bill Murray’s deadpanning cops, Officer Ronnie and Chief Cliff, who are the first to be aware of the zombie menace who descend on Centreville. Also, Tilda Swinton Scottish-accented samurai wielding funeral director Zelda feels like a very Jarmusch touch, but much of the rest of the film feels very familiar from several other zombie flicks.

Like many a zombie movie, the main seems to be satirical with zombies roaming about staring at their phones or returning to favourite shops or in case of Iggy Pop’s zombie desperately searching for coffee. In what is a funny cameo. All of this consumerist satire stuff is fine when done well, but here it feels too heavy-handed, and you can’t help feel Romero did this all better forty years ago.

A feeling compounded by the frequent references to Romero amongst the myriad other movie references, some of which feel forced. Particularly a random conversation about the layout of the Bates Motel. Similarly, some of the meta-humour feels shoehorned in although some of is pretty humorous particularly in the opening where Murray is trying to place the song on the radio and Driver informs him it’s the theme song.

Most of this makes it sound like this is an effort to be avoided, but that would be unfair. As for all the films flaws, there is also a breezy likability to proceedings, and while there might not be belly laughs, there is still chuckles throughout. Certainly, Murray and Driver bounce off well together, and Swinton gives a committedly demented performance. The rest of all-star cast from Tom Waits to Steve Buscemi to Danny Glover to Chloe Sevigny generally acquit themselves well too.  Plus you will be humming the theme song for days.

“The Dead Don’t Die,” in the end, maybe a middling Jarmusch effort but it still manages to be an amiable zom-com that probably doesn’t the shellacking it received in some quarters.


Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs5ZOcU6Bnw

“The Dead Don’t Die” will be released in the UK on 12th July

March 6, 2019

Review: Piercing

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa

Run Time: 81min

“Piercing” is director Nicolas Pesce’s follow up to his 2016 art-house horror “The Eyes of My Mother.” A film that while not a massive hit was enough of critical and cult success to get Pesce marked out as one of the bright young voices of horror (he is only 29). Not only that, but it also brought him to major studio attention as he currently post-production on the latest reboot of “The Grudge.”

Given the impression he made with his debut, it must have been tempting to do something similar. However, Pesce has gone for something slightly less arty and a little more pulpy in this adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel. That said, it is similarly stylized like his first film, and it is just as weird albeit in a different way. There is, for instance, a curious mix of genres with black comedy, erotic thriller, and horror all mingling together. How much of the odd tonal shifts are ripped directly from pages of the book and how much is pure Pesce is difficult to know having not read the novel.

The story set-up itself is straightforward enough. We have Reed (Abbott) who is a businessman with a young family who tells his wife he is going away on business, but he actually plans to go to a hotel to kill a prostitute to quell his murderous fantasies. The prostitute in question is Jackie (Wasikowska) who turns out not to be what she first appears. To say much more of the plot would spoil the curious twists and turns. Also, much like the many of the giallo’s the movie is paying tribute the plot is beside the point and it’s easy to see why some will write this off as an indulgent exercise in style over substance.

An assessment which is not far off the mark but the movie is raised by the performances of both Abbott and Wasikowska. Their characters are thinly written, but both give committedly bizarre performances that bring Reed and Jackie to life. They also have excellent on-screen chemistry which helps a lot.  Also, while the self-conscious cool maybe off-putting for some there is something delightful about the dedicated retro-style. From the use of miniatures for the buildings to the deployment of back-projection as well as the use of music from the likes of “Deep Red,” “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.” and more. It is clear from the off we are not in the real world but a purely cinematic one.

Aside from the production design and the lead performances, there are some great individual scenes; such as the darkly humorous sequence where Reed practices his murder method before Jackie arrives in his hotel room. There are several other surreally blackly comical moments like this. The film really flies into gear in its final act too, but unfortunately, this good work is slightly undone by its abrupt and unsatisfying ending.

Overall: A weird, albeit stylishly made, curio which is an eminently watchable but somewhat slight sophomore effort from director Pesce.


February 15, 2019

Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Director: Xavier Burgin

Starring : Keith David, Ken Foree, Dr. Robin R Means Coleman, Tananarive Due, Ashlee Blackwell, Tony Todd, Rusty Cundieff, Ernest R. Dickerson, Rachel True, Paula Jai Parker

Run Time: 83mins

Black horror currently seems to be having a moment which is due primarily to the sterling critical and commercial success of “Get Out” which has opened many doors for black horror filmmakers. Of course, as any dedicated horror fan would know the story of black horror cinema is much bigger than “Get Out.” The rest of the story is what this excellent documentary sets out to illuminate.

Shudder’s first original documentary does, however, start with “Get Out” (whose director Jordan Peele is a contributor on this film) briefly discussing its impact before circling back to the early days of cinema starting with “Birth of a Nation.” That movie may seem like an odd starting point for a horror documentary, but as is succinctly put by the various talking head such as Dr. Robin R Means Coleman, whose book the documentary is based on, it feels like a horror movie to a black audience. Not only that it set a template for years to come in how black characters were portrayed not just in horror but in Hollywood movies generally.

Unsurprisingly, the negative stereotypes and clichés around black characters is a large part of the discussion here be it the evil voodoo priestess or the sassy best friend or the sacrificial black person who is only there to sacrifice their lives for the lead white character, etc. All these roles are cleverly picked apart and deconstructed by academics like the aforementioned Dr. Coleman, Tananarive Due, and Ashlee Blackwell. Each of whom also gives great insight into these topics as well as informatively providing the social context that they arose out of it.

As is highlighted social context is, of course, critical here. A case in point is “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) as while the fact the film had a black lead was always going to be explosive at the time of release, it was particularly so due to coming out as it did in the same year as the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Please do not get the wrong impression though dear reader this documentary is neither heavy nor is it dryly academic; it is instead a celebration of black horror cinema. It is also very entertaining featuring interviews with a variety of filmmakers, writers, and actors. Formally the film is quite simple interspersing as it does talking head interviews with clips from a variety of horror movies. There is quite a fun conceit though as the interviews, for the most part, take place in a cinema with the stars watching some of the movie discussed. Some of the contributors are also paired up lending a natural conversational feel to proceedings. This format also leads to some of the most entertaining and revealing moments such as “Blacula” director William Crain discussing his creative battles on that film with twitchy execs with “Tales from the Hood” actress Paula Jai Parker. Also, the banter between Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”) and Keith David (“The Thing”) is priceless.

 Whether you are a casual horror fan or a dedicated horror obsessive, you will almost certainly learn something new here as well as pick up some film recommendations. It was indeed good to see underrated classics like “Ganga & Hess” being highlighted. Even if some spotlighted where over-praised, e.g. “Bones” most were given the props they deserve while also being aware of their flaws, e.g. many of the Blaxploitation films. Either way you will want to stick on one of the featured movies after you have watched this.

Overall: A highly watchable and informative documentary which is essential viewing for anyone who cares about the history of horror.


You can watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror on Shudder here

February 1, 2019

Review: Velvet Buzzsaw

Director: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette John Malkovich

Run Time: 113mins

Horror has seen it all killer cars, dogs, mirrors you name it but killer paintings? That might be a new one (although it probably has been done) and it would be about the only new thing in this sophomore effort from “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy. Not to say there is not much to enjoy here as the feature is a campy delight but just to say there are clichés and stereotypes abound.

Certainly, anyone expecting the same razor-sharp satire displayed in the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring “Nightcrawler” will be sorely disappointed. As where that film cleverly satirised the world of the paparazzi and asked intelligent questions about the role, this movie takes obvious pot shots at the commercial art world. A world ripe for satire indeed but given it has been so heavily satirised before it is hard to say anything new and so many of the gags here feel tired. For example, a bit where an art dealer mistakes a pile of garbage bags in an art studio as an artwork seems particularly hack. There are more bits like this, and you may feel they lack the any of the same bite shown in the likes of last year’s “The Square.”

The characters seem similarly one-note a revolving line-up of bitchy, pretentious and shallow art dealers, artists and critics. However, some of these characters are still entertaining given the relish they are played by some of the cast. In particular, Jake Gyllenhaal’s who camps it up to 11 as flamboyantly vicious art critic Morf Vandewalt. Yes, once again the effete razor-tongued art critic is a well-worn trope but Gyllenhaal’s wild-eyed bug-eyed performance brings the character especially the more the movie wears on, and Morf’s sanity starts to fray. Gyllenhaal is not the only one having a ball though as both Toni Colette and Rene Russo bring a similar devilish glee to their respective roles as conniving art dealer Gretchen and ruthless gallery owner Rhodora.

What of these killer paintings then, you may ask? Ah yes as this piece is not only an art satire but a supernatural horror centring on a series of paintings by unknown artist discovered by Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who so happens to work for Rhodora after the artist died in her apartment block. After this bad things start happening to all those who try to profit from them. The horror element, like the satire element, is not as clever as it thinks it is. Also for a movie that is aiming for something arty it’s funny it is not above using a classic cat based fake-out jump scare. On the flip side, some of the deaths are well staged, and there are moments of surreal horror flourishes that really land such when one character ends up turning into graffiti.

In the end “Velvet Buzzsaw” is probably best summed up by itself when Morf manically describes his theory of the cursed paintings to Rhodora and she pithily replies; “A bit baroque, isn’t it?” Indeed.

Overall: If you are looking for intelligent horror, a truly scathing satire or a thought-provoking critique on art vs. commerce look elsewhere, but if you want some campy fun on a Friday night this movie could be just the thing.


December 28, 2018

Review: Bird Box

Director: Susanne Bier

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson

Run Time: 124 mins

Since arriving on Netflix, last Friday “Bird Box” has received mixed reviews. Which may have been the case no matter what but you wonder how much that has been influenced by the movie coming out in the same as “A Quiet Place” as this is essentially “A Blind Place” (mixed with a dash of “The Mist”). To be fair though the film is based on a 2014 novel and would have been in production at a similar time.

The comparison does it little favours as it lacks the nerve-shredding tension of that film. However, the same level of the tension would have been difficult to create here given the story structure here that interweaves two different time periods. In one of these Malorie (Sandra Bullock) attempts a treacherous river journey with her two children. We also flashback-and-forth to five years earlier where the unseen force that drives most of society to commit suicide first struck. Here is another key advantage “A Quiet Place” has as there is a tangible threat. The unseen deadly force in this movie being something that is much easier to make threatening in a novel than it is cinematically. Director Bier does, however, do an excellent job of making this invisible force seem ominous when it does strike. Bullock’s performance as Malorie also grounds the stories reality.

Malorie is by far the most rounded character and is given a genuine psychological depth. Many of the other characters we are introduced when the event first happens not so much. As Malorie finds herself stuck in a house with other survivors many of whom barely register. From the ones that do most are clichéd from the wide-eyed innocent Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) to the wearily stereotypical black comic relief character Charlie (Lil Rel Howery) to the asshole in every post-apocalyptic group Douglas (John Malkovich). There is however great fun to be had watching Malkovich play the asshole.

Not all the characters are poorly drawn though. Despite a short amount of screen time, Sarah Paulson makes an impression as Malorie’s sister Jessica, and it is a shame there relationship could not be further explored. Trevante Rhodes also impresses as Malorie’s love interest, Tom. Yes, the character is probably a tad too much on the saintly side, but the relationship between Tom and Malorie is the most convincing in the film and is quite touching as well.

There may be plenty of flaws in characterisation, and the plot logic is oft-times screwy, but there is also plenty to admire here. The premise is interesting, the whole thing is beautifully shot, and the story is never less than engaging.  Also, Malorie’s journey down the river with her two children is rung not just for all the suspense it is worth but for every emotion too. It would take a hard heart not to be moved by it by the time the story reaches its conclusion.

Overall: While not as great as you feel it could have been “Bird Box” still hits many of the right post-apocalyptic notes as well as providing some truly heartbreaking moments.


December 23, 2018

Review: The House that Jack Built

Director: Lars Von Trier

Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Riley Keough

Run Time: 152 mins

It would be an understatement to say that Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy. Having carved a reputation for himself as one of European cinema’s enfant terrible dating back to his debut feature “Breaking the Waves.” This film may, however, be his most controversial work to date. Certainly, that is the impression you would get give its reception at Cannes where there was said to be several walkouts. That said reactions at film festivals do tend to be exaggerated.

Given what people may have heard you would be forgiven for thinking the work it is a splatterfest, it’s not. However, this is a profoundly nasty tale which includes moments of animal abuse (it should be stated not real animal abuse), child murder and torture amongst its many unpleasantries.

 “The House that Jack Built” centres on serial killer Jack (Matt Dillon) who we follow over 12 years in the 70s and 80s. The framing device for the movie is Jack recounts five randomly chosen incidents of murder to Verge (Bruno Ganz). During these dialogues, Jack also frequently goes off on tangents about art, poetry and particularly architecture. These dialogues with Verge can be engaging but also shows Von Trier at his most pretentious. They become particularly grating when they smugly point out plot flaws as if Von Trier wants to pre-empt criticism of some of the more grossly unrealistic moments.

Like many films in Von Trier filmography, there is an autobiographical element. In that, you can frequently interpret Jack’s dialogues with Verge as Von Trier’s conversation with his critics particularly in the frequent accusation of his movies being misogynistic. The misogynistic tag has seemed unfair at times, particularly in connection with “Antichrist,” but you would be hard-pressed to defend this movie against such accusations. Granted you can show acts of misogyny on screen without being misogynistic but the way the film, at times, indulges Jack’s narrative voice and the fact most of the female victims don’t even get a name makes for uncomfortable viewing.

There would be those who would say it is not supposed to be comfortable viewing, and they would be right.  However, there seems to be a lot of intentional button-pushing here that has little value beyond trying to shock and offend. The zenith of which occurs in a particularly disturbing scene where Jack hunts a woman (played Sofie Gråbøl) and her two children. These overt attempts to shock will work on some as it did at Cannes, but many will merely find it tiresome. Much like the adolescent nihilism that pervades proceedings with the film repeatedly making the same points about what a cruel and indifferent universe we live in.

Possibly the most annoying thing about the movie is it is not all terrible. Von Trier is still a great filmmaker, and there is some striking imagery in the film especially in its finale. There are also some excellent moments of dry black comedy, and Matt Dillon delivers a brilliantly oddball performance. Pity that so much else here is such a slog.

Overall: A fitfully engaging work from one of cinema’s most notable agent provocateurs but ultimately one that provides little beyond its desire to shock.


December 14, 2018

Review: Leprechaun Returns

Director: Steven Kostanski

Starring: Taylor Spreitler, Linden Porco, Pepi Sonuga, Sai Bennett, Emily Reid

Run Time: 86mins

Remarkably this is the eighth entry in the Leprechaun franchise. Remarkable not necessarily for the number of entries but as the Leprechaun franchise has never been as well-loved as some of horror’s other iconic franchises and not only that it is one of the most critically reviled franchises in horror. To give you an idea of how much no fewer than four entries have a 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

As you might surmise expectations for this newest chapter are suitably low especially as this is a made for Scyfy production. This latest instalment is also the second feature in the franchise not to feature Warwick Davis, the other being the god-awful “Leprechaun: Origins” which featured former WWE star Hornswoggle in the role and was the most recent entry until now. Not that this movie has anything to do with that one. In fact, following the route of this year’s Halloween, this feature ignores all the sequels in the franchise and leads on directly from the original. Taking place 25 years after the events of the first film (which came out in 1993).

The plot here centres on Lila (Taylor Spreitler) who is the daughter of the original films heroine Tory Reding (Who was played by a Pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston). She is returning to the house of the original at Devil’s Lake which is now an Eco-House run by a sorority. Unsurprisingly there is no return from Aniston, it is explained her character has passed away, but there is a fun cameo appearance Mark Holton who reprises his role as Ozzie from the original. The rest of the characters are your usual slasher fare. There is some effort to make Lila’s sorority sisters intelligent as they are all academic high-flyers instead of the bimbo characters associated with the sub-genre. However, as soon as the killing starts they end up being just as silly and two-dimensional as your standard slasher character.

On the plus side little time is wasted before the Leprechaun is brought back to life and the killing begins. Here is where the films strength lies as there is plenty of amusing gory moments. Also while some may complain at Warwick Davis’s aforementioned absence, Linden Porco acquits himself well as the eponymous villain. Granted some of his rhyming post-kill one-liners grate but overall Porco delivers a fun performance equal parts mischievous and malicious. Spreitler’s also provides a good foil for them, and their interactions are amongst the film’s most entertaining.

Not everything works some of the jokes clunk, most of the action is textbook slasher stuff, and the acting is the variable, but director Kostanski (The Void, Astron 6) keeps it all going at breezy pace and delivers some good kills in what is one of the better Leprechaun outings.

Overall: “Leprechaun Returns” might not be great but it is a solid enough reboot that is better than anyone had the right to expect.


December 7, 2018

Review – Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil

Director: Paul Urkijo Alijo

Starring: Kandido Uranga, Uma Bracaglia, Eneko Sagardoy

Run Time: 98mins

Paul Urikjo Alijo’s debut feature, Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil, actually debuted at Sitges last year. The film then toured the horror/fantasy festival circuit to plenty of acclaim before it landed on Netflix. It is a matter of thorny debate how good streaming services are for films like this and the detrimental effects of the likes of Netflix on the festival circuit. It would be accurate to say though that being on the streaming giant gives a chance for movies such as Erremantari to be seen by more people which is a good thing as this is a little gem of a film that deserved to be seen by a wider audience.

The story takes places in a small Spanish village in the 1840s where an investigator (Ortzi Acosta) arrives to investigate the disappearance of some gold that was stolen during the First Carlist War. His chief suspect being Patxi (Kandido Uranga) a hermit blacksmith who the rest of the village appear to fear. The investigation is beside the point though as this fable-like tale focuses on Patxi and a deal he made with a demon Sartael (Eneko Sagardoy). Not that this is a spoiler as we are told of the blacksmith’s demonic pact in the beautifully animated prologue. The other main focus is Usue (Uma Bracaglia) a rebellious little girl whose mother killed herself.

Given this is a Spanish fantasy-horror seen mainly from a child’s point of view it is hard to escape the Del Toro comparisons. This story even touches a bit on the same themes of grief, loss, and oppression (state & religious) as the likes of “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” However, it does so in a more heavy handed, broad brush strokes manner. Which is not to say it does not tell its story as well as it remains entertaining throughout. The film is unusual as well as it is Basque language films which is a rarity (there is an English dub but many have noted this make it seem silly and you are better sticking with the original language with subs).

Tonally the piece is curious as it starts as a brooding Gothic fairy tale but becomes more comical as the plot unfolds particularly after the introduction of Sartael. This tonal shift is not a bad thing necessarily as Sagardoy chews the screen with maximum glee (as the demon who looks not dissimilar to Tim Curry’s Satan in “Legend”). They say the devil gets all the best lines and that is certainly true here. You can’t help but feel though that film is strongest in its opening half when the focus is on the more human stories on Patxi and Usue. Both of whom are played superbly by Uranga and Bracaglia respectively and form the beating heart of the film. Concerning the other characters, much of the rest of village though is your stereotypical torch-wielding yokels that generally populate fairy tales.

The film does end on a high though with a hell set finale which is beautifully staged and impressively done particularly given its budget level.

Overall: Despite the tonal inconsistencies and clichéd elements this is a thoroughly entertaining fantasy-horror tale told with real brio and complete with visual imagination and a trio of enjoyable performances from Uranga, Bracaglia and Sagardoy.


November 30, 2018

Review – Cam

Film by: Daniel Goldhaber & Isa Mazzei

Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters

Run Time: 94mins

“Cam” is the latest hyped horror to hit Netflix and is said to be “freaking everyone out.” It has certainly been a strong year in horror for the streaming giant with the likes of “Veronica,” “Cargo” and “Apostle” all getting decent receptions. That is also before we even get to the success of TV show “The Haunting of Hill House.” Shall “Cam” be another horror hit for the company? Early reactions suggest so.

The premise of the movie is a relatively simple one of stolen identity. Telling the story of Alice (Madeline Brewer) an intelligent, ambitious young woman who does camgirl shows, under the pseudonym Lola_Lola, in her house and hopes of becoming the most-watched girl on the site using a variety of shock tactics to so. Just as she appears to be going up the rankings, she discovers she has been replaced on her show by a woman who is the exact double of her. She then sets out to find out how this could happen and who this woman is. It is a very Hitchcockian set-up but one that is made to feel current due to the filmmakers, unusually the film is credited to both director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei, clever use of technology.

Not that any of this arrives until the end of the first act as the opening half an hour or so merely focuses on Alice’s life and her cam show performances. A smart move on the filmmaker’s part as it grounds Alice’s reality and makes us root for her once the stolen identity plot. This component is essential to making the movie work as the story largely rests on Brewer’s shoulders. A factor she deals with well in what is an excellent performance.

These early scenes are filmed with an almost documentarian eye and realistically paints that world. Not that this should be surprising given as writer Mazzei’s own camgirl experiences. Also while it could be argued how feminist the film there is a clear subversion of the male gaze going on here. As all the camshow scenes are not in the least titillating instead portraying the often grimy reality of it. Particularly the opening scene where Alice fakes a suicide with some of her online admirers actively baying her into it.   The cam scenes are also visually interesting as their Day-Glo surrealism contrasts well with the documentary look of the real world scenes.

If there are drawbacks here, it is you get the sense the filmmakers did not quite know how to wrap this mystery up as the conclusion leaves far more questions than answer. Not that everything has to be cut and dry, just that there is something slightly unsatisfying about the ending. There are also times it feels merely like an extended “Black Mirror” episode. Regarding the actual horror as well you feel that the filmmakers could have added more scares or cranked up the suspense more. Although it is telling that some of the most horrifying scenes are Alice’s real-world interactions with men who know or find out she is a sex worker.

Overall: A decent film with an excellent central performance which gives a fascinating look at the world of camming as well as delivering an intriguing central mystery even if it does not entirely pay off on its excellent initial set-up.


November 23, 2018

Review – Suspiria (2018)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloe Grace Moretz, Alek Wek, Angela Winkler

Run Time: 152 mins


Remakes are always tricky propositions especially within the horror genre where films have such dedicated fanbases. This trickiness counts for double when you are remaking a movie like Suspiria which is considered an all-time horror classic.  Also given the critical snobbery often surrounding horror it seems especially risky for Oscar-nominated arthouse darling Luca Guadagnino to take on this project. So was it worth the risk? Mostly but not entirely is the answer to that.

It was entirely apparent from the trailers that this Suspiria was going to be different. The most immediately noticeable difference is the visual palette. This Suspiria looks very grey, sombre and more not unlike say, a Michal Haneke film, which is a considerable distance from the colour drenched original. Also, this movie has moved the action from Freiburg to Berlin. With Guadagnino stating in interviews, he wanted to make a film which also looked into the socio-political climate of late 70’s Berlin. A noble purpose but this is one of the elements that does not work. All the references to the Baader-Meinhoff complex and the politics of the time feel shoe-horned in and superfluous to the central plot.

The central plot, or certainly it’s beginning, is one of the things that has not changed. As just like the original we have a newcomer American dancer Suzie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arriving at a prestigious German dance academy supervised by Madam Blanc (Tilda Swinton). An Academy that just so happens to be run by a coven of witches. Many of the plot beats of the original remain here but with slightly different twists. Such as one of the students, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), disappearing at the start and Suzie’s best friend Sara (Mia Goth) finding the coven’s secret lair.

In terms of the horror on display here, there is undoubtedly some compelling moments, the death of one of the dancers being a genuinely wince-inducing moment. There is also a couple of dream sequence which are unsettling. However, there is a curious lack of tension or suspense to proceedings. Something horrible happens then the film meanders on then another horrible thing happens etc.  This lack of momentum can be frustrating, and there are times the movie does not seem to be going anywhere. The film particularly stalls when following Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton) whose sub-plot while necessary to an extent could have been cut down. The same criticism could also extend to the film’s epic 2 ½ hour running time.

There is also plenty to admire here though as the performances across the board are strong particularly Swinton’s multi-faceted performance as Madame Blanc. The dance sequences are also intense and exhilarating spectacles imbued with a brooding horror. Getting under your skin in a way you wish more of the film did.

Overall: As a remake it can’t compare to Argento’s original. As a movie itself, it is overlong and overstuffed but also at times captivating and unsettling.


November 2, 2018

Review – Summer of 84

Director: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell

Starring: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye       

Run Time: 105mins

RKSS films, the people who brought you “Turbo Kid,” are back with another slice of 80’s nostalgia in “Summer of 84”. Given the sea of 80’s inspired TV shows and movies that have come out in recent years, this might be seen by some viewers as a bad thing. Also given this is a Coming-of-Age thriller there will be inevitable comparisons to “Stranger Things” even although the plot is entirely different.

The central story focuses on Davey (Graham Verchere), a conspiracy-obsessed teen who starts to suspect that his next-door neighbour Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer) is a serial killer. His friend’s Dale (Caleb Emery), Tommy (Judah Lewis) and Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) are initially sceptical about Davey’s theories but eventually decide to go along. The group’s investigation takes up the bulk of the movie.

As a horror, it is a slow burn affair which focuses more on creating a foreboding atmosphere rather than gory thrills. Also while some may guess early whether or not the next door neighbour is indeed a serial killer the filmmakers do well to keep the mystery going throughout the film.

There is much to admire here as the period detail is excellent and it is clear to see the filmmaker’s genuine love of all things 1980’s. There is no sense that this is cynical bandwagon jumping. It is also clear that they wanted to make their own story within the 80’s style and not just be a mere pastiche of the movies they are paying tribute too, such as Amblin films. Some of the classic 80’s elements really work too, from an entertaining investigation montage scene to the synth-heavy soundtrack.

Not everything works so well though. As while the central character of Davey is likable and compelling, the rest of the gang seem both annoying and underwritten. Particularly Tommy who is that archetypal obnoxious loudmouth character whose behaviour is excused by the fact that he has terrible parents and an even more obnoxious brother in what seems like lazy writing. Talking of lazy writing the only female character of note, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye), is risibly underwritten cool dream girl who only real purpose is to be pined after, and become a quasi-love interest, for our lead. However, Skovbye does her best to give the character some spark.

Some lazy writing aside there is much to enjoy here, and the film cranks into gear in the final stretch paying off all the tension that was expertly built up throughout the film.

Overall: “Summer of 84” is not doing anything new and can at times feel clichéd but it also a highly enjoyable Coming-of-Age story with a decent lead performance, engaging plot and a cracking synth score.


October 29, 2018

Review: Halloween (2018)

Director: David Gordon Green

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilgnier, Will Patton

Run Time: 106mins


Believe or not this latest addition to the “Halloween” franchise, the 11th entry, is brought to us by the same people who brought us “Pineapple Express” in David Gordon Green (director/co-writer) and Danny McBride (co-writer). A combination we know can do comedy but what about horror? It turns out they do know their horror or at least “Halloween” as this movie is a fitting tribute to the original while managing to do its own thing for the most part.

It fits too that in a franchise with an incredibly convoluted history that this film adds to that confusion by ignoring all previous sequels and being a direct follow up to the original. So in this timeline, Michael Myers was arrested after the events of the original and has been in a secure asylum for 40 years. We first see Michael as two investigative journalists go to visit him. It is a very evocative opening scene as we see Michael chained up in a chessboard style courtyard with his back turned to us. The camera teases glimpses of his face but never shows his full face giving him an even more sinister air.

The investigative journalist’s angle is good as it gives us the audience a very easy to catch up on what has been happening in Haddonfield over the last 40 years particularly with Laurie Strode (Lee Curtis). It turns out she has two failed marriages, had her daughter taken off her and is now living as a hermit in a fortified house, seemingly waiting for Michaels return. In this opening section, we also get to see the strained relationship she has with her daughter Karen (Greer) and her better relationship with granddaughter Allyson (Matichak). The relationship between these three generations of Strode women forms the emotional core of the movie.

After this opening section, Michael inevitably escapes after a botched prison transfer and starts killing once again. Once the killing begins the film very much goes into traditional slasher territory. This element is one of the things that is likely to delight some while frustrating others as the movie feels like a slasher that could have been made in the pre-“Scream” era. As for the most part events are played with a straight bat, and there is little in the way of snarkiness or post-modernism here which may come as a surprise giving the creative talents involved. However, for the most part, this works well, but it does mean there are a bunch of characters who either you don’t care about or are actively happy to see bumped off by Michael.

As mentioned at the start of the review there are many nods to the original. While sometimes this seems a tad forced there are some instances of this that work well. Particularly the scenes that invert the original and highlight the oddly symbiotic relationship between Michael and Laurie. The other big nod to the original is that we have John Carpenter back doing the soundtrack the first time he has done a “Halloween” soundtrack since 1981’s “Halloween II.”

While there may be some skewy plot logic, annoying characters and some silly moments this latest “Halloween” does deliver some brutal kills, develops the relationship of Strode women well and has an absolutely barnstorming performance from Jamie Lee Curtis.

Overall: “Halloween” 2018 can’t compete with the original but is a never less than entertaining, pleasingly throwback slasher and ranks as one of the best entries in the franchise.


October 24, 2018

Review: The Witch in the Window

Director: Andy Mitton

Starring: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione

Run Time: 77mins


“Witch in The Window” is Andy Mitton’s first solo directorial feature after previously making “YellowBrickRoad” and “We Go On” with his screen collaborator Jesse Holland. Much like those films, this film has picked up plaudits on the festival circuit after premiering at Fantasia Fest in July. The movie also sees Mitton reunite with actor Alex Draper who is a long-time acquaintance of Mitton’s and one of the stars of “YellowBrickRoad.”

The plot focuses on Draper’s character divorced dad Simon who takes his twelve-year-old son Finn (Tacker) on a trip to fix up a house he has bought to flip in rural Vermont. However, it is not too long before they hear of the previous owner who died there Lydia who was believed to be a witch by her neighbours. Of course, as this is a horror movie soon after creepy things start to happen.

That said while there is no doubt this a horror movie this is not your straightforward haunted house tale. For one the film is as much a family drama as it is a horror. As the central narrative is about an absentee father trying to reconnect with his son, a plot that could easily tip into lazy sentimentally but instead is beautifully built up here. A good part of this is to do with the acting both from Draper and Tacker who both create rounded, believable characters. Even if Finn initially does come off as your stereotypical sullen adolescent.

The movie also wrong-foots the viewer as most of the jumps and scares happen in the daytime instead of at night. Talking of the jumps and scares these are sparsely peppered throughout the films short running time. Probably too sparsely for quite a few horror fans. Even fans of slow-burn horror may find themselves wanting a few more jumps to have been thrown into the mix. The jumps there are though are well-executed.

While the movie is low on jumps, it is high on atmosphere. There is a certain claustrophobia about the film as we are rarely away from the house and everything about the house is made to feel sinister. Also, Lydia (Carol Stanzione) is a creepily effective villain. There is also a sequence towards the end where the film really lets loose which is very well done, but part of you wishes there had been a tad more of that in what is otherwise an impressive movie.


Overall: Some may quibble about the number of scares, but this slow-burn tale comes with great atmosphere, believable characters and an interesting spin on the old haunted house set-up.



Now Available on Shudder

October 19, 2018

Review: Mandy

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache

Running Time: 110mins


It has been eight years since Panos Cosmatos eye-lacerating, mind-melting debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” came out. While not a well-known film it is one that picked up a small but dedicated following that was eager to know what Cosmatos would do next. Anticipation grew further when this film finally hit at Sundance in January to rave reviews. However those who were not lucky enough to see it there had to wait until June to get even a trailer but now the wait is over, and “Mandy” has finally hit cinemas. Was it worth the wait? Well if you’re a fan of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” or Nicolas Cage almost certainly.

The movie is not the same as Cosmatos’s debut though as while it may be similarly visually intense, 80’s inspired, neon-soaked and trippy but it has much more of a plot throughline. In fact, in narrative terms, it is relatively simple. The film is set in 1983 where lumberjack Red Miller (Cage) is living out in the woods with his partner Mandy Bloom (Riseborough). Mandy is subsequently abducted and then murdered by a hippie cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Roache). These events inevitably lead Red on a path of revenge. This plot is the kind of plot set-up that will be very familiar to any action movie fan as it has been used innumerable times.

However, the plot of the movie is entirely beside the point here. No the magic of the film lies in its visual invention, atmosphere and a barnstorming performance from Nicolas Cage. As this is really Cage’s movie in many ways. With all the drugged –out madness going on you need a central figure to match that and Cage can certainly do that. It is often easy to disregard Cage given all the dross he stars in but this film reminds you what a talent he can be. As the performance he gives here is easily his best since “Kick-Ass” and should go down as one of his all-time best. That is not too disregard the other actors as the like of Roache and Riseborough give decent performance as well. Plus there is some decent cameos from Bill Duke and Richard Brakes.

If there is a weakness, it is it would have been good to see the character of Mandy fleshed out a bit. Due to Riseborough quality acting, you do get a sense of Mandy, but it would have been good to spend a little more time with the character. Also not unlike the films of Nicholas Winding Refn it is likely some will bristle against the film surface sheen and too-cool-for-school vibe. That may be a tad unfair though as you do sense this picture was a real labour of love for Cosmastos, and he is not just being cool for cools sake. There also no doubting his visual sense of flair from all the psychedelic interludes to the animated dream sequences to even the more naturalistic looking scenes early this is a stunning film to look at. Aside from his superb direction and the aforementioned Cage performance, the film also has a pulsing synth soundtrack provided by Jóhann Jóhannsson which fit perfectly with the films 80’s horror vibe. It is one of the year’s best and sadly the last one we shall hear from Johannson after he passed away earlier in the year.


Overall: “Mandy” is an intense, gory, eyeball-frazzling, atmospheric, mind-bending, weirdly beautiful audio-visual experience that is worth the price of admission for Cage’s tour-de-force performance alone.


September 13, 2018

Review: Bad Samaritan

Director: Dean Devlin

Starring: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon, Jacqueline Byers

Running Time: 110mins

While Dean Devlin’s has had a long career as a screenwriter, “Bad Samaritan” is only his second directorial effort. His first effort was last year’s critical stinker “Geostorm”. Just because that was bad though that does not necessarily mean this effort would follow suit but unfortunately it is. This is a shame in a way as there is some genuine talent involved here and a couple of decent performances from David Tennant and Robert Sheehan.

The story itself focuses on Sean Falco (Sheehan) a part-time photographer and small-time thief. He gets a surprise while robbing the house of businessman Cale Ehrendreich (Tennant) as he discovers a girl Katie (Condon), chained up in one of the rooms. This scene is one of the few genuinely effective jump scares in the movie as a flash from a camera reveals the shackled girl in the corner of the darkened room. After this discovery, Falco initially tries to free her before he gets scared and runs. This finding then sets off a chain of events where Falco gets trapped in a game of cat-and-mouse with businessman/serial killer Erendreich.

In fairness to the film, the tempo is kept high and it is quite watchable but there is a lot of issues here. Chief amongst these issues is the misogynistic nature of the movie. This problem is ironic in a way as you feel the movie is trying to make some comment on toxic masculinity with the character of Erendreich. The film however undercuts any point like this with it’s treatment of the female characters. Particularly as it fails to give even the main female characters Katie and Falco’s girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) any level of real characterisation. Plus, the way the latter character is side-lined and forgotten about will particularly stick in many a viewer’s throats.

Over the course of the movie, there are also plenty of clichés abound. From our reluctant anti-hero to the comic relief best friend to various comically inept cops to the dogged FBI investigator who is obsessed with our villain to Erendrecih himself who is always three steps ahead until the plot says otherwise. Talking of the plot while the movie starts out as a relatively grounded cat-and-mouse thriller it gets increasingly more ridiculous as the plot unfolds. By the end of the film, Tennant is not so much chewing the scenery as devouring it. This fact is not a problem in itself as Tennant whiny thin-skinned and OTT portrayal of Erendreich is one of the highlights of the film. The problem with it is that we have seen Tennant do a very similar character better in “Jessica Jones”.


Overall: “Bad Samaritan is a fitfully entertaining and has a couple of standout jumps. However, it is also largely a predictable and clichéd serial-killer thriller made worse by its woeful treatment of its female characters.


August 30, 2018

Review: Upgrade

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Harrison Gilbertson, Benedict Hardie, Betty Gabriel

Run time: 100mins


“Upgrade” is the latest feature from Leigh Whannell. Surprisingly despite being a prolific horror screenwriter and co-creating two of the biggest horror franchises of the last 15 years in “Saw” and “Insidious”, this is only his second directorial feature.

Unlike a lot of his output, this film is not straight up horror instead it mashes up sci-fi, action, horror and even a bit of comedy too. You might think sticking all these elements would make the movie messy but Whannell manages to get away with it for the most part. That said if you have seen some of Whannell’s other work you will not be surprised by the level of nastiness on display.

The film starts with a neat touch with the production credits and the title being readout by a synthetic female voiceover, represented visually by sound waves. The story takes place in a near-future where technology controls nearly all aspects of life. It is a vision of the future that is both futuristic and retro as it calls to mind the look of various sci-fi actioners from the late 80’s/early 90’s, the film being particularly heavily indebted to Robocop.

The focus of the plot is technophobe Grey Trace (Marshall-Green), who spends his days repairing vintage cars for a dwindling clientele while his wife Asha (Vallejo) works for a tech company. After an idyllic opening between husband and wife, you know that tragedy is just around the corner. Right on cue, she is murdered and he is left paralyzed by a gang after the two survive a car crash. His only hope to walk again is an advanced experimental computer chip called STEM. The chip is provided by sinister tech billionaire Eron Keen (Gilbertson) who just so happen to be one of Trace’s clientele.

The chip, of course, not only allows Trace to walk but gives him superhuman reflexes and fighting skills. Meaning he can take revenge on his wife’s killers. As premises go it is one that has been seen a thousand times before. However, this is a movie that is more about execution than anything else and it does execute its action beats very well. There are several balletic and brutal fight sequences throughout that are as thrilling as they are entertaining. In fact, all the action choreography is excellent including a very well staged car chase near the end. The cinematography is also a real highlight with there being several visually sumptuous shots throughout the movie.

Character-wise it is hard to invest in anyone other than Trace himself. Trace might be your typical action hero in some regards but Marshall-Green manages to give him a depth and humour too. The only real issue with the character being the way he flip-flops from being terrified of what is happening to his body to a wise-cracking hero and back a little schizophrenically. Plot-wise it is nothing to write home about either but the film does deliver some nice twists near the very end.


Overall: An expertly paced retro cyber thriller that may not be particularly original but is an entertaining thrill-ride and provides plenty of brutal set-pieces that genre fans should lap up.


August 22, 2018

Review: The Meg

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose

Running Time: 113mins

The Meg is an odd film in many regards. Odd in that both director Turteltaub and star Statham openly complained that the film hitting screens is a watered down version of the original cut. The film is also odd because this is a big-budget blockbuster taking inspiration from mock-buster merchants Asylum. As let’s face this is just a bigger budget, slightly better-acted version of movies like Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. There is also a cynicism to the movie as, like many recent blockbusters, it tries to pander to the Chinese market. Despite these issues, there is still plenty of fun to be had here.

The movie opens with an underwater rescue mission that goes awry. Statham is traumatized by the event after losing his two best friends and thinking he saw a Megalodon which nobody believes him about. The movie then cuts to five years later when Statham is called out of retirement to save his ex-wife who is trapped in a sub on the bottom of the sea being menaced by, you guessed it, a Megalodon.

We meet the rest of the characters in an underwater research facility. This being a summer blockbuster most of the characters are fairly stock like the asshole billionaire, the wise-cracking black guy, the young child who is smarter than all the adults, etc. Some of the characters do manage to stand out however. Other than Statham the two standouts are father-daughter scientists Zhang (Winston Chao) and Suyin (Bingbing Li). Suyin, in particular, manages to cut above the standard love interest character she is so clearly meant to be.

In the end, this is clearly Statham’s film. He steals pretty much all of the best lines as well as the best action sequences. Not that there is anything wrong with that as Statham is in fine form. There is also a lot of fun to be had with seeing him going one on one with a giant shark. The shark itself is well-rendered and proves an imposing threat. The movies action set-pieces also can’t be faulted, particularly the Sanya bay set finale.

The Meg is a stupid movie and knows it. The film probably could have pushed the boat out more in terms of gore and mayhem but it is still fun in the end.

Overall: The Meg is a traditional summer blockbuster that provides solid popcorn entertainment.


May 18, 2018

Review: Revenge

Directed by: Coralie Fargeat

Starring:  Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède

Run Time: 108mins

Despite only being afforded a very limited release at the cinema Revenge is already one of the most talked about horror movies of 2018. This is not only because it is a rape-revenge movie, that most sordid and exploitative of all horror sub-genre, directed by a woman but also because it takes a more feminist twist on the sub-genre. This is a fact that is being celebrated, at least in some quarters, as quite ground-breaking indeed, although whether this is so is up for debate as there is certainly a bunch of stuff here borrowed from other movies with the director herself citing “Mad Max”, “Rambo” and “Kill Bill” as key influences. This may seem as surprising for a horror movie but it make sense once you have seen the film. In terms of other films that cover similar terrain you can see some influence from the likes of “Irreversible” and “Baise Moi”, however this movie is nowhere near as grim as either of those works. That being said, just because a film generously lifts from others does not mean it is of poor quality or that is does not have its own identity and this one more than proves it as it is excellent and stands on its own two feet.

The movie tells the story of Jen (Matilda Lutz), a young American girl who has been whisked away for a dirty weekend in the desert by her wealthy married lover Richard (Kevin Janssens). Their party is unceremoniously crashed when Richard’s two friends and business associates Stanley (Vincent Colombe) and Dmitiri (Guillaume Bouchède) arrive early for the group’s annual hunting trip. From the very moment Stanley and Dmitiri arrive there is a gut-wrenching tension as the viewer is immediately aware that only bad things await our heroine and director Fargeat wrings this tension for everything it is worth. Fargeat also makes the interesting decision to not make Jen a wallflower but a young girl who is playing with and flaunting her sexuality. This element is well employed when the rape does come, as the director uses it to make a (not subtle but entirely worthwhile) point about victim blaming culture. This is further illustrated when Jen’s rapist tries to sickeningly self-justify how she “wants it”.

This is only the start of Jen’s nightmare though as Richard shows his true colours when he tries to buy her silence. She then appears to be killed when trying to escape from the three men. I say appears as, of course, this is a rape-revenge movie and Jen must come back for her revenge. This is where the movie changes gears a little and it becomes more of an action-horror as our heroine tools up to hunt down her attackers while riding a motorbike through the vast desert landscape looking pretty  cool indeed. It is at this point where the aforementioned influences of the likes of “Mad Max” and “Kill Bill” start to shine through. Also in the way Jen is miraculously reborn it seems somewhat akin to a superhero origin tale. This is not quite accurate though as even while she is taking her revenge she never feels like an invincible heroine scything through her foes, there is always a vulnerability and girlishness to the character. While she has few lines, Lutz, manages to convincingly convey both the gritty survivor and the vulnerable girl. The other actors generally play their part well too, particularly Colombe who convinces a slimy cowardly creep Stanley who is also probably the best written and most convincing of the three attackers.

Away from the central plot it must be mentioned that this film is exceptional on a technical level. It has been shot with a ton of visual flair and the editing is super-slick. There is bunch of scenes that are excellent in these terms but it is a hallucination sequence in the middle of the film that particularly stands out. Another thing the film has going for it is all the carnage in the film is played out to a pulsating Carpenter-esque soundtrack.


Overall: In an outstanding feature debut Coralie Fargeat has delivered probably the most fun rape-revenge movie you will ever see while subverting genre tropes along the way.



March 21, 2018

Review: Veronica

Director: Paco Plaza

Starring: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer, Ivan Chavero

Running Time: 105mins

When a movie comes along that is dubbed as the “scariest movie ever” it is often met with understandable eye rolls from horror fans as this is something that seems to happen once every couple of years and often these are a) Far from the scariest movie ever and b) Frequently not even that good. This why when I came to  watch “Veronica”  it was with such trepidation as it has been hyped up in this way ever since it hit the Toronto Film Festival last September (although it came out in its native Spain the month before). I did have some hope though, given the directorial pedigree of Paco Plaza who has already delivered one of the great horror movies of the 21st Century so far in the form of [REC].

The film is loosely based on the real story of Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro, a teenager, who died mysteriously mere months after playing with Ouija board back in the early 90’s. The thing that makes this case even more exceptional is the policeman on the case alleged to have witnessed paranormal events during his investigations and it is the only time in Spanish history such phenomena has been written into an official police report.

As mentioned the film only takes inspiration from this story and does not draw directly from it. Instead the film tells the story of Veronica (Sandra Escacena) who is one of four siblings, the other three of which she mainly looks after due to her mother’s long working hours. The trouble starts for her when she, along two friends, conducts a séance with a Ouija board, in the basement of their school’s basement. The impetus behind this being the hope she can make contact with her deceased father. The scene in which this unfold is incredibly effective as the girls choose to do this while the rest of the school are out looking at an eclipse and the cutting between the séance and the eclipse gives it that extra layer of foreboding.

Predictably the girls do not make contact with Veronica’s dad but do unleash evil forces that only our protagonist can see and soon seem to haunting her house as well as her dreams. None of which sound like anything horror fans have not seen many times before and it isn’t but some of the best horrors, or films in general, are the ones that can make old hat material seem fresh or give it their own particular spin and this is exactly what this movie does.

That said not everything totally works; for example there is a blinding smoking nun character who gives our protagonist cryptic doomy warnings throughout the movie. Now while she is an entertaining character it also, maybe, just that bit too over-ripe and OTT for a movie that seems to be generally aiming for an unsettling, grounded tone.

Aside from this OTT element and the odd genre clichés there is little to complain about this piece of cinema and what really makes the movie sing is characterisation. Sandra Escacena is excellent in the title role and the character herself seems fully formed and you quickly immerse yourself into her world. Also the relationship between her and her two sisters Lucia (Bruna González) and Irene (Claudia Placer) and brother Antonito (Ivan Chavero) is beautifully drawn. The believability of their sibling bond also makes it all the more heart-breaking and tense when the ghosts/ evil spirits look to be coming after not just Veronica but her brother and sisters too. To say anymore would be to spoil the film and we would not want that now so I shall say no more on the story. I will however say other things that really bring the movie to life is the interesting use of traditional creepy horror music and 80’s synth horror music, the excellent cinematography and strong directing.

In the end is this the “scariest movie ever?” No, no it is not but is this a movie that is an early contender for horror movie of the year? Yes it most certainly is.

Overall: “Veronica” may lack in originality of concept but it more than makes up for it in the effective execution of that concept.


February 25, 2018

Review: Mayhem

Director: Joe Lynch

Starring: Steven Yuen, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie

Running Time: 87mins

Often two movies come out at the same time, that have been developed separately and simultaneously without one having knowledge of the other, that work on similar or even the same themes. It is generally the case that whichever is released second is compared to or even sometimes seen as ripping off the first. This is the case here with “Mayhem” coming out hot on the heels of “The Belko Experiment”. Although in this particular case it is a little unfair as while broadly similar this is set up differently to that film. As “The Belko Experiment” is more of a “Battle Royale” deal with office workers made to kill each other as part of a game. Where in this movie a virus makes them do it (which in some ways makes it more similar to 28 Days Later or the comic book “Crossed”)

The virus is called ID7 which makes anyone exposed to it completely free of any inhibitions and makes them act out all their most violent and sexual impulses or as the film puts it makes the viruses victim “pure Id”. The effects of the drug are illustrated in a violent opening narrated by our protagonist Derek Cho (Steven Yuen of “The Walking Dead”) who explains he is the lawyer that found a loophole which means nobody can be held legally responsible for their actions while under the influence of the virus. The use of Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” during this montage of violence also brings to mind “A Clockwork Orange” (a presumably deliberate nod by the director).

After that we are told about Cho’s job at a high powered law firm and how he went from wide eyed and enthusiastic to being another soul crushed by the corporate world. There are several stabs at corporate satire throughout the film which are fitfully funny and effective but really amount to little more than giving the corporate world the finger.

It seems unlikely though you will come to watch a movie called “Mayhem” for its nuance or biting satire but more for the violence and gore which it delivers in spade’s once the virus inevitably spreads through Derek’s office. This could not happen at a more convenient time for him as he has just been fired after being set up for something he did not do. He knows he now has window to carve his way to the top of the building to prove his firing was unjust to the board on the top floor and he is not liable for any the damage he causes on his way there until the virus wears off. He is helped on his mission by Melanie (Samara Weaving) who is a defendant he turned away but whom reluctantly teams up with him as she also want to get to his bosses.

From this point on the film is a series of increasingly over-the-top violent set-pieces. Which sounds dismissive but is not entirely as many of these gory standoffs are very entertaining indeed and in something of a throwback we even get a weapon tooling-up montage at one stage which is fun and generally fun is the operative word here. There is lots of fun to be had with this movie from the gore to the one-liners to the fight choreography to the chemistry between Yuen and Weaving (who similarly impressed in “The Babysitter”). Also Yuen acquits himself well in what is, his first, leading man role to date.

That said it also all feels a bit weightless as we know there is not going to be any consequences to this violence right from the very off and this means there is no sense of jeopardy  nor emotion and the violence washes over you much like in a video game. In fact as our duo have to achieve certain things to continually progress their way up the building it is very much structured like a video game as well as bring to mind the film “The Raid”. All that said the movie always remains nothing less than watchable.

Overall: This is neither the scariest nor the smartest of horror movies you are likely to see but it does have likable performance, some witty dialogue, is well paced and has plenty of OTT gore which makes it a decent Saturday night, switch-your-brain-off, type of flick.


December 5, 2017

Review: The Babysitter

Director: McG

Cast: Judah Lewis, Samara Weaving, Robbie Amell, Hana Mae Lee, Bella Thorne, Andrew Batchelor

Running Time: 85mins

Not just content with taking over television with their original content Netflix more and more are aiming to do the same with the movies releasing a number of Netflix original films. These are not just your regular TV movies either as this year we have already seen critically acclaimed releases such as Okja and the Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) coming from the company.

The Babysitter is one of their latest releases and more specifically their most recent delve into the horror genre. As this is kind of like a horror spin on Home Alone. Oddly a very similarly themed movie, “Better Watch Out”, will be coming out in the UK in just next week.

That is not the only odd thing here though as McG the movies director is not known for his work in the horror genre, bar exec producing Supernatural, and is most noted for his action work. Not that he is a director who has had much critical love over the years with his biggest films, “Charlie Angels”, “Charlie’s Angel’s: Full Throttle”, “Terminator: Salvation” and “This Mean’s War”, generally receiving responses running the gamut from tepid to outright hostile.

It is not likely that this film will do much to change that. Not that is outright awful or anything but it is not exactly very good either. The basic set-up is fun though as our main protagonist Cole (Judah Lewis) decides to stay up late to see what his babysitter Bee (Samara Weaving), who he has crush on, gets up to with her friend when he goes to sleep. Obviously he thinks it is something sexy but turns out Bee is the head of a fledgling satanic cult (this is not a spoiler as you will know this if you have seen the trailer).

One of the early strong point, before this revelation, is the relationship between Bee and Cole which is genuinely quite sweet and given she is supposed to be in her late teens and he is 12 manages to stay just the right side of creepy. This strength is somewhat offset by the knowingness of the film right from off. Now everything from “Scream” to “Cabin in the Woods” have shown this does not have to be a minus and can be done well but here it is done in a fairly clunky and grating way. Also the flashy graphics that splash across the screen to introduce characters or show up certain phrases seems like a forced attempt to seem “hip”. As well as that both McG’s action movie and music video backgrounds are plain to see as there is an overabundance of freeze frames and hyperactive camera work.

Once the horror kicks in there is definitely some fun to be had, as the gore effects are decent and some of the kills are pretty funny, as many of Bee’s friends and fellow cult member accidently walk in to their own death. Again though many a horror fan will feel this device was better used in “Tucker & Dale Vs Evil”.

While clearly trying to play with genre stereotypes the extended cast feel very clichéd as in the cult group we have a psychotic jock (Robbie Amell), a slutty cheerleader (Bella Thorne), a weirdo (Hana Mae Lee) and a pretty offensive black comic relief character (Andrew Batchelor) whose only contribution is to be hysterical and crack crass sex-related jokes. You think we would have been past that by now but nope.

On the plus side of the ledger the cast are mostly good. Both Judah Lewis who  goes from scared little boy to mini badass and Samara Weaving who goes from sweet, funny, pop-culture referencing babysitter to fiery, psychopathic, satanic cult  leader are excellent in their roles and are the beating heart of the movie. Robbie Amell should also be praised for making the most of his psycho jock character, delivering some of the movie’s funniest lines and stealing most of the scenes he is in.

Overall: There is some fun to be had here as it is fast-paced, there is some decent kills, and a few very good performances. However there is a sense the movie thinks it is way smarter than it is, it is frequently heavy handed and clunky in execution and there is an overarching sense that much of this has been done better elsewhere.




November 4, 2017

Review: Final Girls Presents – We are the weirdos

We are the Weirdo’s was the latest event hosted by the Final Girls group that have hosted various screenings up and down the UK which primarily focus on women in horror both in front of and behind the camera. This latest project was a showcase of 10 short films all directed by women. Final Girl co-founders Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe provided an intro before the shorts where they actually explained that they accepted short submissions from anyone and did not originally envision a purely female directed line-up. However of all the entries they received (over 1300, many of which they noted were awful but they also noted there was several great ones and it was hard to narrow to 10) the best ones, or the one that most resonated with them the most, were the female directed ones they were about to present and it has certainly been a fruitful time for women in horror recently with the last few years bringing us the likes of “The Babadook” (Jennifer Kent), “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Ana Lily Amirpour), “The Invitation” (Karyn Kusama), “The Love Witch” (Anna Biller), and “Raw” (Julia Ducournau). That in mind it also seems hard to argue with the poster tagline for the event which is “The Future of Horror is Female”. After the intro we dived into the films:

The Puppet Man (Dir: Jacqueline Castel)

Right from the off everything about this short scream’s 80’s from the music (provided by John Carpenter himself!) to the titles to the lighting it is a very clear homage to 80’s slashers. The set-up is simple with a group of friends entering a bar after-hours were they convince the barman to give them a drink and then started to be picked off one-by-one by a supernatural killer. In some ways it is a slight short. It unravels in an entirely predictable manner. It also cheesy and hammily acted (although I presume deliberately so for the most part) and it kind of does not add up to much. That said there is a goofy joy to it and a nice cameo from John Carpenter as a taxi driver. While some of the individual shots are also impressively staged given it could not have had that much of a budget. So despite some shortcomings most horror fans should get a kick out of it.


Undress Me (Dir: Amelia Moses)

While not as overtly reference laden as the opening film this one also brought to mind a lot of other films, mostly the body horror of David Cronenberg. It tells a tale of a socially awkward girl who hooks up with a guy at a party only for her start falling apart…literally! It is certainly a gruesome watch as gore effects, as the poor girls skin begins to peel away, are brutally realistic. It is an uneven watch though as while it touches on some decent themes about fears of female sexuality and female’s fears around sex it feels like more could have been done with these. The acting is solid but unremarkable and it probably could have been a little tighter. All that said you could certainly see potential here.


Pulse (Dir: Becki Pantling)

The third short told a story of a husband attempting to cheat on his wife only to be stopped in his tracks as his technology, first his phone then other appliances, start to turn against him. Which is because they have been taken over by a ghostly bride. This particular tale brought at least one very decent jump scare but it seemed overall overshadowed by it influences, most notably the influence of the Ring and similar J-Horror. Also the way it was filmed, as if you are watching the whole thing over a webcam, may have seemed like an innovative choice but to your reviewer here it seemed on the gimmicky side and did not add much to proceedings.


I Should Have Run (Dir: Gabriela Staniszewska)

Of the 10 shorts on display this had to be one of most innovative and original. Certainly unlike the 3 which proceeded it was difficult to come up with obvious cinematic reference points. It was very simple tale playing on the age old fear of walking through a dark park home alone at night but it tells that tale very effectively. It also tells it in a unique way as there is no dialogue only a poetic verse narration. While it is generally excellent what makes it all the more remarkable is that was made on a budget of only £200! If there a slight knock to be made it is that director Staniszewska is possibly not the greatest actress as her reactions are a bit over-the-top but that does not lessen the  overall brilliance of  this atmospheric piece.


Sorry, We’re Closed (Dir: Alexis Makepeace)

We open here in a café in Vancouver. Waitress Charlotte is being chatted up a bit by a customer late night which, as you may guess, it does not turn out well for him. While still horror this is obviously played more laughs. With its bright colour palette and soapy acting there is a pleasing Twin Peak’s vibe to this one. On the downside Charlotte’s switch from “ordinary” waitress to sociopath seem quiet jarring and sudden and the filmmaker could have spent a minute or two giving the viewer a greater sense of her built up frustrations at the daily indignities she has put up from sleazy male customers. Mixed but it is still watchably grisly fun.


A Mother of Monsters (Dir. Julia Zanin de Paula)

This effort was both brilliant and frustrating. It was brilliant in look and the set-up really drew you in. The opening scene where a circus family stand around a table performing some unseen ritual is a magnificently evocative one. The visual stylings are effective. The circus setting and off kilter, dream/nightmare-like nature of it bringing the Jodorowsky classic Santa Sangre strongly to mind. Adding to the nightmare sense is the jarring disorienting editing which is music video like or like the best of Rob Zombie (say what you want about Zombie but there is a visual brio to his best work). The frustrating element comes towards the end after setting up this world beautifully and tapping into your dark imagination as to where it might go, it goes in a rather boring torture porn direction which felt a little hack given what had gone before and, for your reviewer here anyway, took the sting out of the tale. That said based on the visual imagination and editing I would very interested to see where this director goes next in her career.


Dead. Tissue. Love (Dir. Natasha Austin-Green)

The only non-fiction short of the bunch. This is an intriguing and beautifully filmed, if not wholly convincing, short documentary that touches on a very taboo subject. Namely Necrophilia. With the unseen narrator being a real life Necrophiliac. Now in case you are wondering, “why is she not in jail?” The narrator explains that neither she nor many of the people she knows in this subculture have actually slept with a corpse but thought of corpses and dead flesh do excite them sexually. While the narrator tells her tale there is a tableaux of images that come across the screen including many of insects and parasites (possibly symbolising decomposition), various models in corpse like states (which was both chilling and very well done) and beautifully shots vistas of mountains and forests. This last element left your reviewer somewhat confused but could have just been visual light relief given the subject matter. In some ways it did not seem to quite hold together but it was a curious peek into an unseen and taboo subculture.


Don’t Think of A Pink Elephant (Dir. Suraya Raja)

Well the previous entry was the only documentary and this one was the only animated feature of the bunch. As it uses stop-motion to tell the story of a teenage girl called Layla who keeps having intrusive thoughts of either murder or self-mutilation every time she picks up or comes in to contact with sharp objects. While obviously in this character it is done to the most exaggerated degree, the animation, does very deeply tap into that fear that a lot of people have of “what is the worst that could happen or I could do with this?” when people pick up a sharp object be it a pizza cutter or a pair of garden shears. In a very short time it fleshes out this character and her fears effectively and not only that her relationship with her annoying little brother is beautifully drawn as well. It was a scary, humorous, touching, absolute gem of a short.


Shortcut (Dir. Prano Bailey-Bond)

Shortcut is a very short short. Clocking a mere 5 minutes and basically it is a set-up to a gag. A gag where the punch line is really quite obvious. Here is the thing though despite the obviousness of what that punch line is. It does not make it any less hilarious. It is an excellent illustration of that certain type of guy that is boorish, loud, think he is always right and always, ALWAYS thinks he knows the best shortcuts to take wherever he maybe. You crave to see this obnoxious character get his just desserts and, of course, he does and in hysterical fashion. Also while I did say it is obvious when you watch it, I am not going to spoil that fashion here. Suffice it to say that it got a belly laugh from your reviewer as well as the rest of the audience in the cinema too.


I Want You Inside Me (Dir. Alice Shindelar)

This was a second viewing for this one as I had previously seen it earlier on in the year at the Dead by Dawn festival. As is quite often the case I actually thought it was better the second time round which is curious as it has a twist ending, where you understand the precise meaning of the title, and usually things that have a twist the effect is lessened upon rewatching. However before the ending there is an engaging mystery as an innocent teen loses her virginity in a cave in the woods only for her to blackout on the point of orgasm and her boyfriend to disappear. Did he just leave? Or was it something more sinister? Other than the mystery it also funny with our heroine’s snarky best friend being a particular humorous stand-out. As well as these elements there also interesting comment on burgeoning sexuality and feminine sexual power. Although what you will probably most remember is that hilariously horrifying end.


Overall: While not all of the shorts were winners none of them were duds either. All of them had some merit and all in all it was a good showcase of some of horror film’s future talents.