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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
NHE host Scott Murphy chats to writer/director/actor and pop-up bar owner Graham Skipper about a range of his projects including his directorial effort “Sequence Break”, one of his latest acting roles in Joe Begos’s “Bliss” and his horror themed bar the Rated R Speakeasy.
Over the course, we particularly deep delve into his “Sequence Break” in terms of how he first got inspired to write/direct the film, the casting of picture (including why he didn’t cast himself), the shoot of the film and also how the deal with Shudder came about.
That is not all as we also chat to Graham about how he came to be involved in the LA horror scene, his thoughts on the current horror landscape and what it was like to work with horror royalty like Barbara Crampton.
Check out the “Sequence Break” trailer here
You can watch “Sequence Break” on Shudder here
Check out the “Bliss” trailer here
Graham Skipper will be in attendance at Arrow’s Frightfest for the UK Premiere of “Bliss” on Friday 23rd August. You can buy tickets here
If you live in the States you can check if the Rated R Speakeasy bar will be swinging by your town soon here
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
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