Tag Archives for " Surreal "

May 21, 2020

Review: Blood Machines (2019)


Director: ​​Seth Ickerman

Starring:​ ​​Anders Heinrichsen, Christian Erickson,Elisa Lasowski, Joelle Berckmans, Natasha Cashman, Walter Dickerson

​Run Time: 50mins

​Right from the off, you know “Blood Machines” is going to be a unique prospect. Partly this comes down how it is being presented as the 50-minute film has been chopped into three chapters and is being dubbed as a “Shudder Original Experience.” Partly it comes down to its singular eyeball scorching visual style, which is both highly reminiscent of the 80s while also being its own thing.

Undoubtedly the first thing that strikes you about the project, which a sequel to Carpenter Brut’s music video “Turbo Killer,” is just quite how beautiful it is. This thing positively drips style. Every frame is like a psychedelic comic strip come to life. Moebius would be proud. As mentioned, there is a clear 80s influence both in the look (it is positively awash with neon) and Carpenter Brut’s pounding synth score, which adds a lot to the atmosphere of the piece.

It is clear from every aspect of the visual effects and production design that director Seth Ickerman (who was also visual effects supervisor and production designer on it) has put a great deal of thought into the look of this universe. And as in exercise in world-building, it is great. ​

However, to say, the project is narratively slight would be an underestimate. The plot, such as it is, focuses on two space hunters, Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen) and Lago (Christian Erickson), who encounter a tribe of female scavengers. One of whom, Corey (Elisa Lasowski), performs the miracle of birthing an AI female ghost from their spaceship. This event then leads the pair on an intergalactic chase.

To some extent, to say much more would spoil it but then again what constitutes as the plot here is largely beside the point. Instead Ickerman is  clearly more interested in hurtling the viewer through a surreal cosmic kaleidoscope. And as thrilling as that often is and as memorable as certain images are, there is part of you that can’t help but want a little more.

The accusation of “style over substance” is often over-used. As even directors who often get that tag (Argento, De Palma, Refn, etc.) frequently produce work that does have more going for that just the look, be it deranged plots, interesting characters, or a certain intensity. Here though, the majority of proceedings feel, in some ways, curiously flat, and the accusation does seem appropriate here.

Also, while most of the actors play their parts well and Elisa Lasowski, in particular, is a striking screen presence, but there is little that makes their characters stand out. A possible exception is Vascan, but that is only down to how unlikeable he is and not in a particularly memorable or interesting way. There is also something slightly grating about the “isn’t this so arty” use of female nudity.

 “Blood Machines” is great to look at, has a great soundtrack, and has a wonderfully surreal imagination to it. However, the lack of engagement elsewhere ultimately leaves it hollow, making it feel like an overextended music video. Which is frustrating as there tantalising hints at a greater mythology there that could have made it something great.

Overall: If you are willing to switch off your brain and let it all wash over you, you are in for a helluva trip. If you are looking for anything else, though, you may be in for a frustrating watch.


“Blood Machines” is available on Shudder now!

You can watch the trailer here

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

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 6, 2020

Episode 42 – Juan Ortiz


Episode 42 – Juan Ortiz

00:00 / 00:48:37

NHE host Scott Murphy chats to director Juan Ortiz about his second feature “Fingers,” which we talked about after its European premiere at Frightfest back in August, his experience of which we talk a little bit about in our conversation.

In the interview, Juan tells us all about the origins of the movie, the picture’s lengthy development, and how his script evolved over that process. Also, some of the reactions he received from actors to the movie’s oddball story. There is also some discussion about whether Juan set out to make a strange film or whether this is just naturally the type of story that he wants to tell. He also speaks to us about if he is fed up with the movie being so frequently compared to “The Greasy Strangler.”

Away from the movie Juan talks about his directorial influences, the difficulties of getting any indie flick made and how his next projects are going to be very, very different from “Fingers.”

You can watch the “Fingers” trailer here