Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Lion King

Nope, not the movie. As many Edinburgh residents can't have failed to notice by now, Disney's The Lion King stage musical has rocked up to The Playhouse. Are tickets still available for this show, running until 18th January 2014? Probably, but you may end up spending a bit more because this has been playing to packed houses since it started here on 11th October.

The story is the same as it was in the movie, unsurprisingly, as Simba the lion cub is put in a horrible situation by his uncle Scar and blames himself for the loss of his father, Mufasa (the king). This is all a big power play by Scar, who wants to rule the land and also use some subordinate hyenas to keep everyone in place, and it may pan out brilliantly for him. However, Simba has time to grow older and wiser, with the help of two new friends, Timon and Pumbaa.

So, where do I begin to show my ignorance when it comes to reviewing something of this quality?

Here's the touring cast list, and I apologise for not being able to specifically name-check any of the great actors involved in the show I watched last night. I always miss those opening announcements, either due to bad hearing in my old age or some last-minute excited murmuring from the audience, before the lights dim and a respectful hush descends.

Everyone was good, with the likes of Timon and Pumbaa easily getting most of the laughs, of course. The hyenas were also fun, and Scar was as smooth and menacing as he is in the movie. Other highlights were the characters of Zazu and Rafiki. Simba, Nala, Mufasa et al are all fine, but, as is often the way with Disney tales, it's the comedic supporting cast and the villain getting to steal the show.

Mind you, they have an abundance of visual gorgeousness to compete against, and it's actually the style, colours and sheer creativity that will be seared upon your memory as you leave the theatre. Director Julie Taymor (who gave us the visionary film version of Titus, among others) is the main person to have influenced the adaptation of the movie to the stage, and it shows.

From the opening number - "Circle Of Life" - to the grand finale, this is a veritable feast for the eyes at every turn. And, when sitting in your seats, DO turn. Animals make their way down the aisles and onto the stage as the story begins, while the second half of the show starts off with a variety of birds "flying" to the stage after spending some time over the heads of the audience. There are elephants, giraffes, zebras, and much, much more. It's a veritable menagerie of musical mammals.

As for the sets and scenery, while the show does remains very faithful to the film it flows and makes use of the theatrical trappings beautifully. Two sets, in particular, stand out, those being Pride Rock and the Elephant Graveyard. In line with every other aspect of the production, they give a great sense of grand scale, while also moving smoothly into place wherever and whenever needed.

Perhaps it's not quite as magical and entertaining as Beauty & The Beast, which I was lucky enough to see almost a decade or so ago, but it's yet another triumph for Disney. And, yes, I am very pleased with myself for getting all the way to the end of this review without calling the show "a roaring success."


Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

I enjoyed the movie version of Silent Hill. I have fond memories of playing the game many years ago and the movie recreated a lot of imagery that I'll always remember with fondness (fondness = paralysing fear as I played the game at night with the lights out and then started to panic whenever I heard a siren signalling the approach of "the darkness"). So when I started to hear the negative reaction towards this sequel I still held onto hope. Some people had, after all, hated the first movie.

Alas, the majority were right on this occasion. Silent Hill: Revelation is rubbish. It's a lot of cool imagery from the games created thanks to some varying CGI with nothing substantial to call an actual plot. Of course, the plot of the first movie wasn't exactly anything to write home about, but it did enough to get by while the atmosphere was heaped on in thick, thick spoonfuls.

Adelaide Clemens plays a young woman who lives a transient, anonymous life. This is all done because her dad (Sean Bean) has warned her that Silent Hill wants to claim her. He's right. But changing address and keeping a low profile isn't enough to stop Silent Hill reaching out and trying to get what it wants. The darkness starts to fall, bringing strange visions with it.

Written and directed by Michael J. Bassett (who, of course, had the mythology of the games - adapted into a movie idea by Laurent Hadida - to work from), this film just doesn't work as a film. There are individual moments that manage to impress, such as a sequence involving the famous, creepy, nurse characters, but these are few and far between. Any twists and turns can be predicted well ahead of time, the CGI varies wildly between great and godawful and there are exactly zero characters that viewers will care about.

Clemens is okay in the lead role, she's just stuck with bad material, and Sean Bean and Radha Mitchell don't have much time onscreen as her parents, but everyone else is wasted, with Martin Donovan almost managing to be the exception. When a film with so much potential manages to squander the talents of Deborah Kara Unger, Carrie-Anne Moss AND Malcolm McDowell then it deserves any critical lashing that it receives (and this did receive a fair bit already). As for Kit Harington, his role is such a bag of cliches and signposted moments that he's not really required to give any kind of performance, he just has to hit his marks and spout horrible dialogue. Okay, okay, he has to give SOME kind of performance, of course, but it's impossible to judge thanks to the treatment of his character, which seems to have been written by a particularly low-level Auto-scripting program.

There's enough here, on the surface, to almost make the movie worth a watch. It's below average, but some of the visuals are enjoyable and I, for one, like getting to revisit parts of Silent Hill. Your best option, however, is to simply rewatch the first movie. Or, if you're a gamer, replay the videogames.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Silent Hill (2006)

I'm not a big gamer. I've never been that talented when it came to playing videogames so I never threw myself into them as some of my friends did. In fact, playing FIFA was just like reliving a miserable childhood at high school in which I was always picked last for the football team, because of my innate inability to actually play all that well. But there were some games that managed to get me hooked. Games like Destruction Derby and Gran Turismo on the Playstation. Games like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. And, yes, even Silent Hill, which was a nerve-jangling blend of images culled from the nightmares of the most fevered brain. A number of videogames from that generation have been made into movies, with varying degrees of success. I never thought that Silent Hill would lend itself particularly well to the medium of film, but I was happily proven wrong when I saw the final result.

The film begins with two parents (Sean Bean and Radha Mitchell) worried about their adopted young daughter (Jodelle Ferland). She's prone to sleepwalking and has been muttering about a place called Silent Hill. At her wit's end, the mother takes off with her daughter to visit Silent Hill and find out just where their little girl came from. As she approaches the town she is a suspicious police officer (Laurie Holden) attempts to stop her, which leads to a bit of a driving malfunction. Moments later, the mother is looking for her daughter in Silent Hill, the police officer is pursuing the mother and the father is setting off to find his family, having not been informed of the plan. It's not long until the sirens wail in Silent Hill and The Darkness descends.

Written by Roger Avary, with some creative input from director Christophe Gans and Nicolas Boukhrief, Silent Hill may not be the most densely plotted horror movie ever, but that's not a problem when the visuals and atmosphere are so impressive. Everything is in line with the game, or at least my memories of the game, and there are plenty of nice touches here and there for fans to spot and enjoy (the radio crackling static when danger is nearby being one of the most obvious).

The cast is solid for a film of this type. Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean are pretty bland in their roles, as is Laurie Holden, but Jodelle Ferland outshines her adult co-stars, and support from Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates and Alice Krige helps a lot. Krige, especially, revels in a role that feels as if it was written with her in mind. And then there are the many physical performers who managed to bring alive the stranger inhabitants of Silent Hill, the creatures and humanoids who can raise goosebumps just in the way they move around. Fans of cenobites will love the bizarre and horrifying menagerie of monsters on display here.

With a decent backstory teased out en route to a grand finale, Silent Hill manages to be more than just a bunch of impressive visuals (unlike the sequel, THAT review is coming soon). It's respectful to the games that it sprang from, and it's also respectful to horror fans in the way that it keeps creating the chills while also never skimping on some great, gory moments.

I understand people being hesitant to check out any movie based on a videogame - we've all been burned at least one time too many - but this is one well worth checking out.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Humanoids From The Deep (1980)

Humanoids From The Deep is ridiculous. It aims to entertain by throwing gratuitous nudity and gore onscreen whenever possible. The acting is patchy, at best, and the titular creatures are a few performers in rubber suits, albeit pretty decent ones. It's hard to really care for any of the main characters and a number of people are introduced for the sole purpose of being maimed and killed by the aquatic humanoids. So it's not high art, by any means, but I ended up enjoying it a hell of a lot. Part of me knows that I should at least have the good grace to look slightly ashamed of this fact, but I'm not. Not at all.

The plot is summed up in the title, really, although there is a bit more to it. There's some animosity and division in a small village as some residents look forward to a change they think will be for the better while some others think that it will have a huge negative impact, there are scientific experiments that you might already have guessed end up affecting some of the sea life and there are various girls who get topless with very little persuading. Okay, the latter isn't a major plot point, but it's a bit of a plus.

Starring Doug McClure (no stranger to fending off men in rubber suits), Ann Turkel and Vic Morrow, the cast all do what is asked of them and keep impressively straight-faced when approached by monsters. Anthony Pena is pretty good as Johnny Eagle, the young man who most vehemently opposes the potential developments in the area, and fans of ventriloquist David Strassman will be amused by his appearance, alongside a very early version of Chuck Wood.

William Martin (using the name Frederick James) wrote the screenplay and Barbara Peeters sat in the director's chair, but that was only convenient until more gratuitous nudity was requested by producer Roger Corman. Peeters didn't think the film would benefit from these scenes, and refused to shoot them, which led to Corman getting someone else (an uncredited Jimmy T. Murakami) to film extra footage. Personally, I think that the film benefits immensely from this decision. It's lowest common denominator stuff, of course, but I can't imagine the movie being half as entertaining without it.

For anyone who wants meaningful, beautiful, classic horror . . . . . . look elsewhere. But if you're after blood, boobs and beasties then this might just be for you.


Monday, 28 October 2013

The American Scream (2012)

Halloween has always been a much bigger holiday over in America than it has been here in the UK, which is something I have always found a great shame. Thankfully, I do my bit when I can. October is a month for me to watch as many horror movies as possible, I try to watch Trick 'r' Treat or Halloween or one of its many sequels on the big night itself and I've recently started another tradition (I hope) of making things a bit spooky for my daughter and me to eat sweets, tell stories and have some horror-themed fun. It's a time for flickering candles, scary stories, scary movies and sometimes even a bit of fancy dress. The American Scream is a documentary about people who put me to shame with their Halloween activities. These people plan ahead and put a hell of a lot of work in to turn their homes into a "Haunted Home" for the evening, a place where neighbours and friends and trick or treaters come to test their nerves.

Victor Bariteau is the man to beat when it comes to Halloween experiences. He's a perfectionist and a talented craftsman and technician. That quest for perfection, however, causes him a lot of extra stress as Halloween draws ever closer. It's hard work and he demands a lot of himself, and others, but anyone who has ever been through one of Victor's Haunted Homes will probably say that it's all worth it in the end. Once they've recovered. Manny Souza is a man who stays not too far along from Victor and became infected with the Halloween Haunted Home bug a little while ago. He's not a perfectionist, but he tries to put quantity over quantity in an attempt to make it a great experience. Then there is Matthew Brodeur and his father, Richard. They don't make things with quite the same level of professionalism, but they have their heart in the right place.

Director Michael Stephenson makes this all seem to come together effortlessly, mainly because he's gifted with such good participants. Whether they aim for perfection or just some ramshackle fun, the people in front of the camera have an affection for Halloween that's infectious. It's a testament to how everyone is presented that viewers will soon stop wondering just why they put so much time and energy (and, often, money) into something so temporary.

If you're like me, and I know many people who are (thankfully), then you will enjoy spending some time with other people who set out to entertain and scare others for very little reward, save the satisfaction that comes from being "the best Haunted Home on the block."

It's not a documentary up there with the very best, it's just a bit too insubstantial and also fails to hold interest during scenes that show Bariteau attending seminars and considering how to turn his passion into a living, but it's a lot of fun and, of course, full of the Halloween spirit.

Oh, and be sure to check out Ghoulie Manor, if you're in the area.


Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Funhouse (1981)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I just don't understand how Tobe Hooper managed to create something as fantastic as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Nothing else that he's directed has even come close to showing any sign of talent. Poltergeist has the fingerprints of Spielberg all over it, no matter who the actual director was. Lifeforce is a movie I love and hate in equal measure (the new Bluray release - here - is essential). Invaders From Mars was a terrible remake, Crocodile was average, Mortuary was okay and only Toolbox Murders managed to keep me thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

The Funhouse has a fair number of fans. It's a fairly simple premise - a bunch of young 'uns decide to stay in the titular funhouse after the fair winds down and end up getting in a bit of trouble - but it has great potential. Unfortunately, Tobe Hooper (working from a script by Lawrence Block) fails to deliver on that potential.

There are some things here that work. The atmosphere and visual style of the carnival is among the very best to be put onscreen (up there with the great carnival fun of Ghoulies II) and there are some great prosthetics used to create one particularly memorable character.

Unfortunately, that's about it. The cast are okay, I guess. Elizabeth Berridge is a decent, albeit bland, nominal lead, and she's surrounded by a bunch of people that I couldn't bring myself to care about. It's not all their fault. That script by Block is strong when it comes to the full-on carnival moments but weak when it comes to the main characters.

It's also a film that's not that scary for a horror movie. Of course, that's not always the worst crime for a horror movie to commit (as strange as it seems), but this just doesn't have enough going on to keep viewers engaged. The first half of the movie is, to put it bluntly, pretty boring. When things start to actually happen it's still not as exciting as it could/should be, with Hooper seemingly reticent to add any tension or draw out any potential set-pieces. And the less said about the finale, the better.

I may well give The Funhouse another try some day, it's certainly not bad enough to completely dismiss and I still ended up buying the impressive Bluray from Arrow, but for now I am standing with the other people I know who just didn't get the love for this one. Give it a watch and see where you stand.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Zombie Apocalypse (2011)

It's another movie from The Asylum and it's another low-budget zombie movie from some global production line that seems to do nothing more than churn out low-budget zombie movies. And yet I keep watching, because if a movie has a zombie in it then I'll give it a go. A lack of budget CAN be a good thing when the director and crew find other ways to cover their shortcomings. Of course, that's rarely the case with movies from The Asylum. They not only fail to cover their shortcomings, but they coat them in neon paint and place them in position to be seen by all and sundry. I love and hate them in equal measure.

In Zombie Apocalypse there's been a bit of a zombie apocalypse, as if you couldn't have figured that out from the title. The opening of the movie isn't too bad, sketching out a timeline of events and showing things on a global scale. Sadly, it's all downhill from there. Viewers are forced to spend time with some of the worst survivors of a zombie epidemic that I can think of. One of them is played by Taryn Manning, none of them would be alive if this movie was trying to provide a semblance of reality. It's okay, however, because they're soon joined by a group that includes Ving Rhames, and we all know that Ving Rhames is a bad motherfucker who can fend off zombies. These people then wander around, killing zombies and making a number of bad decisions, until they meet more people. Then they all wander around some more, aiming for a dock that should allow them to catch a ferry to their ultimate destination. Because there's nothing more reliable in the midst of a zombie outbreak than a scheduled ferry service.

Nick Lyon is the man trying to lead from the director's chair, but he's hampered by the script from Brooks Peck and Craig Engler. Scripts have never been strong in movies from The Asylum so it's hard to hate Peck and Engler for not rocking the boat. It's just a shame that they made the movie so dull. A few CGI-enhanced deaths in the opening scenes provide a bit of fun, but they soon become tiring when you start to spot the same special effect being used again and again (which is also another signature move from The Asylum).

As for the cast, Manning seems to be fleeting in and out of a vegetative state for most of the movie, Rhames repeats some of his standard tough guy act, and the likes of Eddie Steeples, Gary Weeks and Johnny Pacar try to look handsome and/or strong and/or vulnerable while Lesley-Ann Brandt, Lilan Bowden and Anya Monzikova try to look pretty and/or strong and/or vulnerable.

This is not the worst zombie movie ever made, by a long shot, but that says more about the amount of shockingly bad zombie movies out there than it does about the quality of this one. Zombie Apocalypse might be an adequate time-waster for you, but only if you've exhausted ALL other possibilities.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Clownhouse (1989)

Clownhouse, it's a movie that's impossible to review without discussing the events that occurred behind the scenes. Writer-director Victor Salva was convicted of sexual misconduct with one of the young stars of the movie and spent a year in prison. This penchant for young boys has made viewing many of his films a strange, disturbing experience (once you know about the man behind the movies you can't watch the likes of Powder and Jeepers Creepers 2 in the same light), but it makes viewing Clownhouse - the scene of the crime, as it were - a particularly skin-crawling experience.

Having said that, everyone who knows me should know that I strive to view and review films outwith other factors that may distort opinion. I wasn't going to write the paragraph above, but then assumed that people would think I had viewed the film without knowing about the horrible background to it. Now that we've mentioned it, let's move on to just reviewing the movie because that's about the only thing I'm good for. Sometimes.

Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh and a young Sam Rockwell (making his film debut) are three young brothers who go to the circus and then return home. Unfortunately, this happens to be the night on which three dangerous lunatics have escaped from a nearby institution. Three dangerous lunatics who kill three clowns and take their place. Casey (Winters) has a major fear of clowns anyway, so when he starts seeing the creepier-than-usual clowns near his home his warnings aren't heeded. Especially not by the oldest boy (Rockwell). The clowns keep getting closer, and they're not out to make people laugh.

As previously mentioned, this was written and directed by Victor Salva, a director who seems to keep making movies that I enjoy. Clownhouse has a fairly good reputation among horror fans and it's easy to see why. The atmosphere builds throughout, becoming extremely creepy in the second half of the film, and the scares are often developed in a low-key manner as opposed to just making viewers jump (although there ARE jump scares).

The acting from the three lads playing the brothers is just fine. Rockwell, even at such a young age, gives a glimpse of the annoying/charming and cocky persona he would go on to make his signature role in later life, Winters is a bundle of nerves and McHugh is . . . . . . . . the other one (and is perfectly acceptable in the role). The three men playing the dangerous clowns? Well, let's be honest, their performance is made more effective by the fact that they're made up as clowns. Even before It traumatised my generation, we all knew that clowns were just damn creepy.

Clownhouse is a decent, though unspectacular, horror movie that plays nicely on that healthy fear most of us have had at some point - clowns (coulrophobia being the official term for it). Sadly, it's also a movie made all the creepier for all the wrong reasons, and a hard one to watch impartially once you know just what happened on the set.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Vampire Circus (1972)

A young woman (Domini Blythe) steals away children for her vampire lover (Robert Tayman), much to the obvious dismay of her husband (Laurence Payne). When he gets the locals with him, it soon becomes a standard mob situation. The woman is punished and then driven back into the castle of her lover, to die with him as it is set on fire. Some years later, the local village is suffering from a mysterious disease. It is quarantined and left to rot away while the inhabitants struggle to find a cure and end their bad luck. They believe it is a curse, laid upon them by the vampire they defeated. When a travelling circus breaks through the quarantine it at first looks set to bring some much-needed cheer and distraction to everyone, but it soon becomes clear that they have other reasons for visiting the area.

While there are some familiar faces onscreen here (with Thorley Walters being probably the one most recognisable to Hammer fans), this is very much a film populated by lesser-known names on both sides of the camera. Adrienne Corri makes quite an impression as the gypsy woman leading the circus into town, young John Moulder-Brown isn't too bad and Dave Prowse is strong and silent as the Strongman, of course.

The screenplay by Judson Kinberg doesn't have much in the way of great, memorable dialogue, but it does have a selection of nice ideas throughout, nicely executed by director Robert Young. Those ideas include a fantastic routine between a circus man and a feral woman fighting/dancing with him, some interesting use of mirrors and the fun being had by some of the circus performers before they show their true colours.

The mix of vampirism and carnival atmosphere should be a winner, but the film never takes off. It's surprisingly flat throughout, before spoiling everything with a finale that just throws together too many silly moments to make it worthwhile. As the end credits roll, viewers will be left feeling majorly dissatisfied. Which is never good.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012)

Before we begin, here is my review for Wrong Turn.
And Wrong Turn 2: Dead End.
And Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead.
And, of course, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings.

The Wrong Turn franchise has proven, surprisingly enough, to be a consistently enjoyable series of movies. Each film takes the standard killer hillbilly horror archetype and just has fun with it, which makes for something hard to hate, even when standards slip below par.

This instalment has writer-director Declan O'Brien back in the main role, a man who may have made a mis-step with the third movie, but has shown how suited he is to the series since he started working from his own scripts.

The plot is as slight as it is illogical and enjoyable. A bunch of young folk turn up to enjoy the Mountain Man festival in West Virginian one Halloween and end up getting busted by the local Sheriff (Camilla Arfwedson). That would be bad enough, but they also end up being targeted by some killer cannibals. Their chances of survival may improve if the leader of these particular mountain men (Maynard, played by Doug Bradley) is released from the jail cell alongside their own.

The cast aren't too bad. Arfwedson is a little weak as the Sheriff, the group of youngsters (including Simon Ginty, Oliver Hoare, Paul Luebke, Roxanne McKee and Amy Lennox) all do enough to get by and Bradley has a lot of fun in his best role in some years, from the few that I've seen anyway. The script gets slightly carried away when it comes to his ramblings, but that's forgivable.
With a cast of disposable characters, the setting of a small town in which everyone not involved in the main story disappears within the first 20 minutes and gory set-pieces, this is a movie that puts fun ahead of everything else. Some of the deaths are quick, standard fatalities, but some are truly memorable, either due to nastiness or inventiveness or both.

If handled properly, I see no reason why this franchise can't squeeze out an extra one or two instalments. Who knew that all these Wrong Turns would make something right?


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Demons 2 (1986)

For anyone who'd like to read my review of Demons first . . . . . . . . here it is. Demons 2 is a lot of fun. It's not as much fun as Demons, and it's not an accomplished movie in many ways, but fans of the first film will have a lot of fun here.

The plot, what little there is of it, sees a bunch of people in an apartment block scared to death when the place is infested by demons. It really puts a dampener on the birthday party being thrown for Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) and provides an unexpected extra workout for the folk who are in the gymnasium based on a lower ground floor (motivated by the great Bobby Rhodes).

With plenty of extra, vulnerable people to watch out for in this instalment - a pregnant woman, a child - it's clear that this movie wants to up the nastiness of the first movie. But it simply can't. The first movie was such a great premise, and had such a great selection of characters, that this sequel fights a losing battle every time it tries to provide something that's "the same, but different."

Director Lamberto Bava (who wrote the script with the same collaborators who helped him write the first movie - Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti) does great with his mix of style and sleaze. The movie may seem a bit slow to start, but the first time a demon enters the apartment building via a TV screen is a highlight of the movie, and a moment I remember from seeing the trailer years ago. A trailer that made this movie a must-see. From then on, things step up a gear. Blood is spilt, mutations occur and there's an absolutely bonkers scene that tries hard to wring tension out of a woman fighting a slimy demon muppet creature. It's a shame that we spend more time outwith the main building for no discernible reason, but I'm sure they were just trying to break up the main set-pieces and stretch out the budget. Perhaps.

The acting isn't great, but everyone involved is happy enough to get caught up in the demon infestation so that's really all that counts. Tassoni is particularly poor in her early scenes, I'm afraid, but David Knight and Nancy Brilli are better, with the latter playing the pregnant woman who is one of the most vulnerable during the demonic invasion. I already mentioned the great Bobby Rhodes being great, and there's also a very young Asia Argento acting scared as chaos and death surround her.

With a number of cast members returning from the first movie, another great '80s soundtrack and impressive gore effects during the scenes in which people transform into demons, this is an easy film for fans of the first movie to enjoy. It's definitely a return trip to a well that didn't hold much water in the first place.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Children Of The Corn (2009)

Another version of the short story by Stephen King, this time around the tale of "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" is given the TV movie treatment. It's not really a straight remake of the 1984 movie because it can claim to be based on the original story, but it's a lesser take on the material, whichever way you scythe it.

David Anders and Kandyse McClure play the married couple this time around, with their drive about to be interrupted by a bunch of nasty kids who do as they're told by young preacher boy, Isaac (Preston Bailey). No adults have been allowed to live in the small town of Gatlin in decades, and the kids are out to make sure that things stay that way.

Written and directed by Donald P. Borchers (with, of course, no small amount of help from Mr. King), this movie stinks as bad as many of the other corny kid movies to have been released over the years. It's so bad that it seems to have been designed that way.

Take everything that you enjoyed about the original movie - the cast, the opening bit of nastiness, the strange vibe of the middle section - and just keep those things in mind as you struggle through this, because it's removed all of those things.

Anders and McClure are ill-served by the script, stuck with portraying characters who are unlikable from their very first scenes together. The fact that there aren't even any attempts to get the audience to warm to them as the situation they find themselves in becomes clear is testament to how flawed the script is. And then, in the final third of the movie, Anders is stuck with at least one memorably bad moment, which will at least make viewers laugh. Bailey and Daniel Newman (Malachai) are both okay, I guess, but they just don't measure up to the performances that John Franklin and Courtney Gains gave in the same roles.

There are one or two moments that are average, at best, if you're in a charitable mood (as I often am) and that's why I've given this a rating that I view as a generous one. There are many other people who wouldn't be so kind.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Frankenweenie (2012)

The past year has seen quite a selection of animated horror movies aimed at kids. We've had the surprisingly amusing Hotel Transylvania, the easy-to-adore ParaNorman and this one, Tim Burton's expansion of his own short movie. The fact that they all appeared was a pleasant surprise. The fact that they were all good-to-great is unbelievable. Which all helps to illustrate how great Frankenweenie is when I say that it's the best of the three.

Frankenweenie isn't a movie that fills every scene with gags and references. At least, that's not how it seems at the time. But the more observant viewer will notice that every scene IS filled with gags and references. And they're pretty damn great, all the better for being subtle and never forced.

The story is quite a simple one. Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loves his dog, Sparky, almost as much as he loves science. So when his dog is prematurely sent to the great big kennel in the sky, Victor attempts to reanimate him. And he does. Sparky may have a few minor problems to sort out (the electricity in his body isn't very safe for others and parts of him sometimes fall off) but he seems to be pretty good, otherwise. And at least he's alive. It's not long until others start to suspect that Victor is hiding something, and they want a part of it.

Written by John August (based on the short film written by Leonard Ripps, that was based on the story idea by Tim Burton), Frankenweenie is sweet without ever seeming sickly, it's smart without ever seeming smug and it's consistently amusing without ever highlighting the comedy. It's also a typical Tim Burton movie while also not feeling entirely like a Tim Burton movie. I think that's due to the fact that despite this being a tale of death and misadventure it never really feels as if it's dwelling on any macabre details, despite the fact that they are strewn throughout the movie.

The vocal cast - Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, and others - all do great work, but it's the animation, unsurprisingly, that really makes this a winner. Every character is memorable, every scene has numerous little details to spot and Vincent Price fans will just love the character of Mr. Rzykruski, designed to look very much like the great man himself..

If you want a modern day Universal horror movie aimed at kids that features a windmill (that may or may not end up burning at some point), an Igor character type, thunder and lightning, some mischievous sea monkeys and plenty of heart, then this is the film for you.


Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Craft (1996)

The Craft is a lot of fun. In fact, for a horror movie aimed at teenaged girls it's probably more fun than many people expected it to be. I used to love it. Rewatching it nowadays, however, reminds me of just how light and fluffy it all is. There are dark moments, undeniably, but a lot of the movie plays out like an extended episode of My First Coven (or My Little Crony, if you will). I still enjoy it, and it's so much better than any post-millennial horror movies aimed at teenage girls that I can think of, but it has, pardon the pun, lost some of its charm.

Robin Tunney plays Sarah, the new girl in town, a girl who eventually finds acceptance from a trio comprised of Neve Campbell, Rachel True and their nominal leader, Fairuza Balk. It turns out that the three girls have been just waiting for a fourth. They dabble in witchcraft, you see, and with the right fourth person they could really tap into some strong stuff. Or so they hope. As it turns out, they're correct. What starts off as a bit of fun - revenge against a bully, a love spell - soon turns darker and more dangerous. Sarah decides that enough is enough, but the other three girls have other ideas. If Sarah isn't with them . . . . . . . . . then she's against them.

Mixing in some witchcraft with standard teen fare, The Craft has one major plus point going for it, two if you count the decent, for the time, special effects, and that's the cast. Robin Tunney is actually the weakest member of the cast, but does okay in the main role. The second weakest member of the cast is Neve Campbell, unconvincing as a young woman who has spent so many years dealing with some major scar tissue all over her body before finding a way to look beautiful and feel confident. Rachel True is quite good, always convincing as someone genuinely conflicted by the power being used by the group, and both Christine Taylor and Skeet Ulrich are enjoyable as two very different kinds of assholes. Breckin Meyer is fun to watch, but he's only in a couple of scenes and only doing the schtick that he's done in almost every other movie that he's starred in. Then there's Fairuza Balk. Balk is fantastic throughout, it's hard to take your eyes off her. She's one of the most interesting, and fun, villains to be found in any horror movie from the '90s. You just know that her background isn't a warm and happy one, a lot of her behaviour is made up of standard defence mechanisms, but she still has good intentions even when things start turning bad.

Director Andrew Fleming doesn't take any risks, but he does just fine with the pacing of the movie and the various set-pieces. The runtime is approximately 100 minutes, the story is set up very quickly and there aren't too many moments that feel as if they're just padding. Mind you, this may be due more to the fact that Peter Filardi wrote a relatively fat-free script sprinkled with some good one-liners.

It may go without saying, but fans of Charmed will want to check this one out. And fans of teen movies that are given a hint of darkness. Oh, and fans of Fairuza Balk.


Friday, 18 October 2013

The Gorgon (1964)

A Hammer horror movie starring both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. People who know me will know that as soon as The Gorgon started I suspected that I was on to a winner.

Cushing plays Dr. Namaroff, a man who has seen a number of strange deaths in his village. He's not, however, doing anything to draw attention to those deaths, despite the protests of his assistant, Carla (Barbara Shelley). As the villagers, and local law enforcement (led by Inspector Kanof, played by Patrick Troughton), stay on edge, more bodies start to turn up. Bodies of people who have been turned to stone. Richard Pasco plays a young man who may be next in line to get petrified, literally, but he might do okay if he heeds the advice from the visiting Professor Karl Meister (Christopher Lee).

Written by John Gilling (based on the story by J. Llewellyn Devine), The Gorgon is a pleasant surprise for a number of reasons. First of all, let's be upfront here, it should be ridiculous. A movie that's possibly about a gorgon in more modern times - well, it's set in the early 20th century - is something that viewers shouldn't be able to just watch without using all of their energy on the suspension of disbelief. But Gilling just keeps things rattling along so enjoyable, with enough ambiguity, that picking it apart is never a priority.

Terence Fisher directs with his usual style and technical competence. He makes the most out of every set (which are all up to the high standards set by the better movies in the Hammer horror filmography) and creates a nice blend of the melodramatic and the ethereal as the plot unfolds.

As for the cast, Cushing and Lee are both fantastic. The only downside is that they don't share the screen together for more than a minute or two. Shelley is a delight in what may be her best role from the many she was given by Hammer, and Pasco is a decent enough, if slightly bland, potential hero. Troughton is consistently brilliant as the Inspector obeying orders weighted by money more than the law of the land.

The Gorgon falls just short of greatness, simply because the premise is, as a Monty Python character might say, "a bit silly" but it's well worth your time and surprisingly entertaining from start to finish. If you end up hating it then I'll accuse you of being made of stone (*badump-tsshhhhh*).


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Children Of The Corn: Genesis (2011)

To my surprise, Children Of The Corn: Genesis (the eight instalment in the Children Of The Corn franchise - not including the 2009 remake/reinterpretation) managed to defy the odds and not be a complete stinker, like most of the movies to have come before it. It's not a good film, but the fact that it's almost passable for 90 minutes is pretty amazing. Or should that be . . . . . a-maize-ing? Sorry, I'll try never to make that gag again.

Tim Rock and Kellen Coleman play a young couple, Tim and Allie, who end up stuck in the middle of nowhere after their car breaks down. Allie is expecting their first child, so Tim wants to get them safe and comfortable as quickly as possible. When they knock on the door of a stranger (Preacher, played by Billy Drago) they are hoping for kindness, but instead encounter mild hostility and then some disturbing revelations about the man's wife (Barbara Nedeljakova), and child. But it quickly becomes difficult to figure out what's true and what's false. All Tim and Allie know is that they're not getting to go anywhere soon.

Writer-director Joel Soisson has been slogging away for a while now in the world of franchise sequels (his past efforts include movies in the Prophecy series and the follow-ups to the Pulse remake) and this is in line with his previous directorial outings. He manages to make movies that are watchable, even if they're not movies that you'd rush to rewatch.

He's helped here by the cast. Rock and Coleman do well in the lead roles, they may not be star names or overly endowed with talent, but they're far better than anyone given the leading role in the previous few movies in the series. Billy Drago does his usual good work, Nedeljakova is adequate in her role and Duane Whitaker is good to see when he pops up for one or two scenes.

At this point, after enduring so many of them, I'd be hesitant to recommend any of these movies, but if you absolutely have to watch them all, as I did, then "Genesis" is one of the best of a bad bunch.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Pit (1981)

One of the strangest and quirkiest horror movies that I've seen in some time, The Pit is a curio well worth seeking out if you're a fan of the bizarre.

Directed by Lew Lehman, and written by Ian A. Stuart, it's all about a young boy (Jamie, played by Sammy Snyders) who's a bit strange. Well, he may be a bit strange or he may just be reacting to how people treat him. When he finds a pit in the middle of some local woods he also finds some monsters at the bottom of it. Monsters that eat people. With the carefree manner of a child, Jamie decides to solve his problems by dropping them . . . . . . . . down the pit.

In many ways this movie feels quite dated, but that doesn't matter when the end result is so strange and strangely special (I enjoyed the movie but I know of a few folk who love it). I'd even have to say that the movie seems to revel in willingly defying/breaking conventions, something else which adds to its appeal.

The central premise is, of course, dressed up to feel quite different from anything else you could think of comparing it to. It's not actually any different from so many other movies in which a character finds a way (natural or unnatural) to exact some revenge, but the tone straddling standard horror fare and awkward coming-of-age stuff makes it seem that way.

Snyders is a lot of fun in the main role, playing someone quite easy to dislike. Jamie is supposed to be twelve years old, but he never acts that age. Sometimes he acts much younger than his years, other times he acts much older. Jeannie Elias is okay, though stuck with a role that's not as much fun, playing a babysitter who tries to connect with Jamie even as he continually pushes at the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Laura Hollingsworth is the other person worth noting, playing a librarian who resents young Jamie's behaviour but also has her own issues bubbling just below the surface (or, at least, that's how it seemed to me).

The Pit is definitely worth a watch. Whether you'll end up enjoying it or not will probably depend on how you react to the warped humour of the whole thing. I'm now a fan, but most people know how warped my own sense of humour can be anyway.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Smash Cut (2009)

As Smash Cut played out I knew that I should be rolling my eyes and grimacing at the mix of awful comedy and ridiculous gore I was watching. I knew that, I really did. But I enjoyed myself. The film wasn't good, by conventional standards, but it featured some familiar faces being silly and appearing to enjoy themselves and that was infectious. Of course, many other things are infectious that people don't want passed on to them so I'll forgive you if you decide to avoid this one.

David Hess plays a director who has had enough. He's often shafted by money men, he can never get onscreen what he actually envisions in his mind, audiences laugh at the end results and the critics have a field day as they shred his reputation. When he accidentally kills a young woman (Jennilee Murray) he realises what he needs to make his masterpiece. Real blood and gore. Real death. Reel death. But as he tries to get his film finished he is being watched by an undercover reporter (Sasha Grey) and a private detective (Jesse Buck).

An overt homage to the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis (the man himself has a cameo role and is the source of some choice quotes at the very beginning of the film), this is a cheap and cheerful slice of splattery madness. The script by Ian Driscoll isn't great, by any means, but it does have some amusing lines and references for fans of Lewis. The direction by Lee Demarbre is pretty slapdash, which is, of course, in line with the essence of the whole enterprise.

Hess goes over the top whenever he gets the chance, which is in almost every scene, poor Michael Berryman appears in a few scenes with a wig so horrendous that I started to suspect it may actually be an escaped Tribble and Mr. H. G. Lewis is really the only one of the big horror names to survive his limited screentime with dignity intact. Sasha Grey isn't terrible, but that may be more down to the fact that I've been, ummmmm, a fan of her work for some time as opposed to her acting skills. Jesse Buck basically gets to lark around for the entire movie, and he does okay. I guess. There are other actors, but none giving performances worth highlighting.

If you like the movies being homaged then you should get some pleasure from Smash Cut. If you don't, I encourage you to choose something - anything - else.


This review, and many more, appear in my shiny e-book. Every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Night Of The Creeps (1986)

The 80s were good for Fred Dekker, the writer-director behind both this movie and, the much-loved, The Monster Squad. Those two movies garnered him a loyal fan-base for life, and rightly so.

Night Of The Creeps is all about little, parasitic aliens that take over human bodies and turn them into deadly zombies. This is a big pain in the backside for Chris (Jason Lively), who is finally getting a chance to woo Cynthia (Jill Whitlow), a girl he has fallen in love with. With gruff Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins) trying to figure out what's going on as bodies start to, apparently, wander off on their own it's not long until the living have to band together to keep the living dead at bay.

A cross between '50s sci-fi B-movie, teen comedy and zombie flick, Night Of The Creeps really does remain a hugely enjoyable little film that should be seen and appreciated by as many genre fans as possible. A lot of the movie may be wish-fulfilment stuff usually delivered by John Hughes back in the '80s, but that doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment.

Tom Atkins has never been more fun (his "thrill me" answering of the telephone just one small, enjoyable nuance from a selection of many), the rest of the young stars are good enough (Steve Marshall as the best buddy, J.C., strikes just the right balance between confident and irritating) and Jill Whitlow's character is easy enough to grow fond of, making the lengths that Chris will go to to keep her safe all the more believable. Allan Kayser is an easy-to-hate douchebag named Brad, and there's also a nice little Dick Miller cameo for fans to watch out for.

With a sharp script, many wonderful, individual moments and pacing that perfectly delivers a number of little, eerie moments before building up to an all-out battle of a finale, the movie delivers just the right mix of fun, thrills and overall entertainment. Fans of sci-fi and horror will enjoy the fact that all of the main characters are named after the likes of Raimi, Carpenter, Cronenberg, etc and the more eagle-eyed viewers should easily spot a piece of graffiti exclaiming "GO MONSTER SQUAD".

It's not perfect though, by any means. What are the main flaws? Well, there aren't many scenes that are actually tense, even when things are supposed to be getting that way, and the last ten minutes or so are a bit of a let-down compared to the fun had beforehand. Despite those things, this remains the best parasitic, zombie-creating, alien horror comedy ever made. Yep, it's still better than Slither.


Get yourself this All-Region Blu and enjoy -

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Children Of The Corn: Revelation (2001)

Continuing the trend of the Children Of The Corn franchise to sap every ounce of fun out of the premise and make each instalment in the series a chore to sit through, Children Of The Corn: Revelation quickly announces that it's in line with the standards of the preceding movies by being pretty awful from the very first scene and not improving for the next 80-90 minutes.

Claudette Mink stars as Jamie, a young woman who travels to a small town in search of her grandmother. Gramma has disappeared, you see, and Jamie is worried. It's not long until she's starting to see some strange sights and finding out that not all children are nice and innocent. She does have a local law enforcer (Kyle Cassie) trying to help her, but horror fans will know that things are probably going to get worse before they get any better. Especially with Michael Ironside wandering around as a rambling priest.

I know that this is saying something, but the script by S. J. Smith may be the worst yet in this series (and, god help me, I STILL have a couple of movies to go). It's appalling in almost every aspect. Characters are introduced without care, and sometimes removed from the film in the same way, while the central plot is so piss poor that it's actually insulting. Yes, even after the awfulness of the other Corny movies . . . . . . . THIS is the worst, and most insulting, of them all.

The direction by Guy Magar feels suspiciously like direction from someone who signed on, realised what a piece of shit they were stuck with and just tried their best to get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. If only viewers could take the same approach.

Claudette Mink, Kyle Cassie, Mighty Michael Ironside, Troy Yorke, Crystal Lowe and Michael Rogers can't do anything to help polish this turd. The stench is so strong that it sticks to them, making it difficult to tell who actually stinks and who is being made extra stinky by the surrounding movie.

Anyone else who gets to this point in the franchise will, I'm sure, start to wish that the first movie had never been made. Or that the short story had never been written. Or that the planet didn't have corn.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Resolution (2012)

Resolution is a smart, effective, low-budget horror movie that showcases just what can be done when ideas and execution exceed budgetary limitations. Written by Justin Benson, who co-directed the movie with Aaron Moorhead, it's an impressive achievement that many horror fans have already discovered since it appeared on Netflix recently.

Peter Cilella plays Michael, a man who heads out to visit his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran). Chris has a drug problem and Michael wants to help him kick the habit and make his life better. Unfortunately, Chris doesn't actually want to clean up his act so Michael is forced to restrain his friend and put him through some unpleasant cold turkey. As if that wasn't a stressful enough situation, it turns out that Michael and Chris are, apparently, being watched and recorded by someone.

Although it's essentially a two-hander, Resolution does have a supporting cast of characters intruding on the lives of the two leads every now and again. The acting is very good from everyone involved, and I was very pleased to see a small role for the fine gentleman known as Bill Oberst Jr. Bill plays a character named Byron, someone who may know more about the local area than he lets on to Michael. Byron, however, isn't the only character who seems to know more than the two leads. Resolution is very much a film disproving the motto of "ignorance is bliss" while also reminding viewers that knowledge isn't always power. You need the right knowledge.

The script is pretty sparse, but there are enough good lines throughout to make it worth keeping your ears open. Despite the movie being about some bigger mystery, one conversation between Chris and Michael that lets them discuss another important aspect of the film, control, is as smart as it is truthful and even painful (for those who have been in a similiar situation).

The direction from Moorhead and Benson may be unspectacular, and everything about the film seems slightly subdued, but that's fine for the material. It doesn't need to shout or throw the camera around for added effect. It's happy enough, instead, to take the time required to make something quietly unsettling for horror movie fans after something that feels unique.


Friday, 11 October 2013

The Phantom Of The Opera (1962)

A version of the classic Gaston Leroux tale that never seems to receive much love from fans, Hammer take on The Phantom Of The Opera and provide horror fans with a delightful interpretation of the famous story.

Herbert Lom, obviously masked for most of the runtime, plays the Phantom this time around. Eschewing the doomed romance at the heart of the classic tale, the Phantom till ends up after a young singer named Christine (Heather Sears) to make her into an unforgettable star of the stage. Christine, for her part, seems nice enough. When she's not being uncomfortably chatted up by Lord Ambrose D'Arcy (Michael Gough) she is developing a relationship with the handsome Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza). But the Phantom has a habit of reminding people that he's around.

Directed by Terence Fisher, The Phantom Of The Opera is as lavish and baroque as you'd expect, at times. The main opera being performed is all about the life of Joan Of Arc and the sets and design are both wonderfully theatrical and also nicely settled within a typical Hammer budget. In fact, there are only a few sets used in the movie, or it at least seems that way, but each one is so carefully put together and made into such a nice showpiece that the relatively small scale of the production is covered up, and even turned into an asset.

The script by Anthony Hinds takes the classic tale and adds some nice twists to it, making it fresh while never betraying the essence of the material. This has never been my favourite of the beloved horror classics and, personally, I enjoyed the changes that were made. Perhaps the fact that this is overlooked so often tells me hat other Phantom fans didn't like the changes as much as I did.

Sears is fine in the role of Christine, and de Souza is an okay leading man, but this movie belongs to two men, Lom and Gough. The former gives a great physical performance, and also does sterling work in a pre-Phantom flashback sequence that reveals the backstory of the character and the cause of his rage, while the latter has so much fun being nasty to everyone around him that this ends up being one of his best roles. Michael Ripper has a VERY small role (billed, I believe, as Cabbie #1) and Patrick Troughton steals his main scene, playing a callous and carefree ratcatcher.

Give this one a go sometime, especially if you've forgotten about it while catching other interpretations of the story. You might just end up liking it as much as I did.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Creepshow III (2006)

Creepshow was a fantastic anthology horror movie. Creepshow 2 was a lesser, though still enjoyable, sequel. Creepshow III isn't quite as bad as I remember, but it's certainly a big step down from the first two movies.

Five stories, that's what we get this time around. Back in line with the original, after the second movie pared things down to three stories plus a fun wraparound tale. The makers of the movie were obviously hoping to make up for the lack of quality with some extra quantity. They may not succeed, but they come close, with only the second and final tale really outstaying their welcome.

First up, we join a young woman named Alice (Stephanie Pettee) who shows just how unpleasant she is before having her life made a lot more troublesome by a new universal TV remote control being used by her father.
The second tale is all about a young man (AJ Bowen) who finds a radio that starts to guide him through his life and push him into making some tough decisions. Things look as if they'll all end well, but only if he follows the advice of the voice speaking to him through the radio.
Third is my favourite. A call girl named Rachael (Camille Lacey) heads off to meet a client (Victor, played by Ryan Carty). But Rachel isn't really the best woman to call when you're feeling lonely and in need of physical contact. She likes to make contact with one of her many knives. Things don't look too good for Victor.
The fourth tale is the funniest of the lot, although all of the stories have some dark humour running through them, as a Professor (Emmet McGuire) invites two former students to his home to meet his new wife (Bo Kresic). The two students know that the Professor has always had a wicked sense of humour, and they start to think that they are having their legs pulled.
Last, and least, is a tale about a horrible doctor (Kris Allen) being haunted by the ghost of a homeless man who ate a bad hot dog. Yes, you read that right. I'll say no more about it.

With bad acting from almost everyone involved, AJ Bowen is the exception, as you'd expect, and no real care taken with the script or direction (both coming from Ana Clavell and James Dudelson), I can understand why fans of the previous Creepshow movies may view this as a bit of a slap in the face. It doesn't feel like a Creepshow movie.

As a standard anthology movie, however, it doesn't do too badly. People wanting to be more critical of the movie have a fair point when they mark it down for not living up to the name that it's cashing in on, but I felt that the good almost outweighed the bad. Almost. The humour running through every story may not always be successful, but it's occasionally enjoyable and at least shows that those making the movie remembered that it was supposed to be fun. The special effects are pretty solid, and there are some nice, gloopy moments here and there that should please gorehounds.

I've kind of painted myself into a corner here, getting a bit too defensive without articulating everything as well as I could/should. I guess, as ever, it's just a reminder that sometimes even a movie that so many others consider awful can do enough to make for a mildly entertaining time-waster.Not one to pay good money for, but if you get the chance to see it for free, or dirt cheap, then you might enjoy a few moments. Or you may just end up hating me for reminding you of its existence.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dead Before Dawn (2012)

A horror comedy written by Tim Doiron and directed by April Mullen, Dead Before Dawn (or Dead Before Dawn 3D if you happen to see it in 3D) is enjoyable enough but suffers from constantly trying too hard. The characters are slightly over the top, the premise is taken that little bit too far (albeit with amusing effect) and many of the jokes feel forced, either thanks to the chain of events leading up to the punchlines or simply the techniques used in the camerawork and editing.

Devon Bostick plays the lead character, a young man named Casper Galloway who finds himself in a bit of trouble when he's tasked with minding his grandfather's store one evening. The store is filled with all kinds of strange objects, including one particular receptacle that will curse anyone who breaks it in a very specific way. In fact, those present when the receptacle breaks end up creating the curse themselves. Some friends and associates may think that they're having fun when they come up with the craziest, scariest curse they can think of but Casper is petrified. Will he, and the others, make it through the night? Or will the curse - which makes everyone they look at commit suicide and come back as a zombie demon (zemon) - not actually come true? Look at the title of the movie and figure that one out for yourself.

Bostick is good fun in the lead role, and there's decent support from Martha MacIsaac, Brandon Jay McLaren, Brittany Allen and also director Mullen (with a fun, though very small, role for Christopher Lloyd). The style of acting may be slightly over the top and goofy, but it suits the way that Mullen and Dorion have decided to treat the material.

The earlier scenes are the best, before the characters realise that the curse has actually begun. Seeing the characters interact with people who then rush to commit suicide is both darkly comedic and also quite eerie at times. But once that warped gag is used a couple of times it becomes tired. Then it's used again and again while the zemons start to rise and scare the lead characters, despite the fact that they never really feel like a viable threat.

Light, harmless and enjoyable enough, Dead Before Dawn falls far below the standard set beside so many other horror comedies over the years. It's worth a watch, I guess, but it should never be a top priority.


Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Kiss Of The Damned (2012)

Vampire movies are much like the creatures themselves, just when you think they've been killed a drop of fresh blood comes along to bring them back to life. Well . . . . . . undead life. You know what I mean. There have been some very good vampire movies in recent years to reassure any horror fans who thought that the subgenre had been sentenced to death by sparkles.  Just last week I highly recommended We Are The Night and now I can highly recommend Kiss Of The Damned.

Josephine de la Baume plays Djuna, a vampire who tries to live in harmony with humans. She keeps her emotions in check and hunts animals to quench her bloodthirst. That delicate balance is threatened when she meets, and falls for, a young man named Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia). Things are almost completely turned upside down by the arrival of Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), Djuna's sister. Mimi likes to feed when she can and likes only the best blood that she can get down her throat - human blood.

Written and directed by Xan Cassavetes, Kiss Of The Damned movie is a vampire movie steeped in the fine tradition of many that have come before it. There are many moments that are inarguably sexy, but there are also just as many moments that remind viewers of the bad side of being a sexy vampire. The addiction, the aftermath, the analogy of vampirism as a STD. The aesthetic of the film, as many others have already noted, is a blend of Jean Rollin and The Hunger, with that favourite trope of the subgenre, the brat who doesn't seem able to maintain self-control.

The cast are okay, with de la Baume and Mesquida making up for their weaknesses with their general air of European savoire faire, and Anna Mouglalis and Riley Keough doing great work in much smaller, though no less impactful, roles. As for the men, Milo Ventimiglia is very good as Paolo. The script makes his integration into the world of Djuna a smooth and believable one, and Ventimiglia seems just as easygoing and adaptable as the character needs to be. Michael Rapaport does well in a supporting role, but he's one of the few people ill-served by the script, his character feeling (albeit rightly so) that he's wandered in from another movie altogether.

Kiss Of The Damned is a quality film. It tries to throw one or two enjoyable surprised into the mix, it's never dull, the blood gets to flow and there are a few scenes that are, as mentioned above, just downright sexy. It's a very traditional mix of vampiric moments that Cassavetes somehow manages to make seem more than just tired, stale cliches.


Monday, 7 October 2013

Battledogs (2013)

When a young woman (Ariana Richards) turns a bit funny as she arrives at a New York airport she ends up causing quite a major situation. You see, she infects a number of people with what becomes known as the lupine virus. That means that when people get agitated they turn into werewolves. Vicious werewolves that appear to have jumped out of the nearest Playstation One. Anyway, Craig Sheffer and Kate Vernon play two people wanting to find a cure and help the situation, Dennis Haysbert is an uncaring military leader who wants to harness the power of the lupine virus and weaponise it, and Ernie Hudson pops up just long enough for fans of Ghostbusters to say: "look, Ernie Hudson."

This is how the main creatures look
Directed by Alexander Yellen and written by Shane Van Dyke, Battledogs may be full of horrible dialogue, uneven acting and special effects so bad that they will make your eyes water, but it also manages to be surprisingly enjoyable. God knows that I was expecting to do little more than endure this one, I'm as surprised as anyone else to have found a number of redeeming features.

THIS is a battledog!!!!!!!
The first redeeming feature is the cast. Although they are given the unenviable task of trying to polish a turd, forgive the expression, most of them still try to sell the ridiculous premise. Haysbert may be given the worst treatment by the script, but Sheffer, Hudson, Richards and Vernon all fare slightly better. They're not giving great performances, but they don't do too badly. Of course, maybe I was just expecting a LOT worse.

The second redeeming feature is the pacing of the thing. This starts off at a fair pace and never really lets up until the very end. Yes, there are inevitable moments of downtime but nothing ever gets so bad that you start clockwatching.

Third, there's just a healthy sense of fun about the whole thing. It's not being tongue-in-cheek, it's not trying to be some minor cult hit, but this aims to please. Despite the relatively small budget, it throws in many creature moments and keeps trying to punch above its weight. Most of those punches miss, but it's hard not to grudgingly admire the attempt.

Battledogs is NOT a good movie, yet I didn't hate it. I could bring myself to watch it again. But only if I really had to.



Sunday, 6 October 2013

Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974)

In some ways this is a typical Hammer outing and, yet, in so many other ways it is definitely one of their more unusual releases. A lot of the credit must go to writer-director Brian Clemens, and I must express my regret that he didn't direct any other movies, either for Hammer or anyone else who could have utilised his vivid imagination and talent.

A number of young women are found dead or dying in the English countryside, they have blood on their lips and have aged terribly in the space of just a fleeting moment. What can be the cause of this? The local doctor (Dr Marcus, played by John Carson) feels that his good friend Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) will be able to get to the bottom of things. There is foul play here and no man is better than Kronos for dealing with such dark matters, ably assisted as he is by the hunch-backed Professor Hieronymus Grost (and "what he doesn't know about vampirism wouldn't fill a flea's codpiece"). Oh, did I say vampirism? Yes, that is the root cause of the problem here, and, while this may not come as much of a surprise, the way the attacks occur in daylight and the revelation that every vampire needs a different method of being despatched help to keep this film feeling fresher than many other Hammer vampire movies.

With the added lure of the beautiful Caroline Munro, playing Carla, and the usual Hammer production values (hmmm, okay, the films may have varied at times but this one looks good enough to me), this is a great film for fans who want their standard fare with some nice, quirky touches. The vampires also have reflections, nothing here is rooted so deeply into the accepted mythos that it cannot be turned on it's head. We also get some wonderful moments and additional titbits such as buried dead toads coming back to life if a vampire walks over/close enough to them and the fact that the cross only protects those who believe in it. I do not know if these have ever had any basis in the lore of olden days but they are fascinating and enjoyable new additions to the proceedings.

The acting is fairly good all round (although John Cater is the standout as the Professor), there are enough red herrings to keep you wondering who is the ultimate baddie (surely that Durward family has some skeleton in the closet . . . or what about the local thug in ye olde tavern?), the script is full of both light and very, very dark humour (most notably in a scene with Grost and Kronos trying to find out how to kill a vampire they have restrained) and the pace never flags as our swashbuckling hero strives to save the English countryside and, of course, his companions. A wonderful little movie that deserves to be seen by fans of the genre and the company it came from.


Saturday, 5 October 2013

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Following Creepshow was always going to be a tough job, but I'm pleased to say that Creepshow 2 holds up as a decent little sequel. It's not on a par with the greatness of the original movie, but there's something for everyone and the mix of horror drawn from comic tales is once again nicely evoked, this time with animated sequences in between each tale.

Slimming down from five tales to only three, things begin with Old Chief Woodenhead, which is all about a nice, elderly couple (played by George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) who are sorely wronged. But their fates will be avenged. The second tale is my favourite of the three. The Raft, a tale of four young folk who swim out to spend some time on a raft and end up trapped by . . . . . . . . . something that looks like an oil slick but devours animals like The Blob. Last, but not least, comes The Hitchhiker, the tale of an unfaithful wife (Lois Chiles) driving home from her latest tumble between the sheets and hitting a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) in her haste. She drives off, but it turns out that the hitchhiker still needs a lift.

Based on stories by Stephen King, this was written for the screen by George A. Romero (with some uncredited help from Lucille Fletcher, apparently) and directed by Michael Gornick. It lacks the commitment to that gaudy E.C. Comics style that the original movie had but the crudely animated sequences linking each of the tales do enough to remind viewers of the thrill felt when encountering these horror tales for the first time.

The cast all do a decent enough job. This was the last movie role for Dorothy Lamour, and she and George Kennedy make such a sweet pairing that it's not the worst swansong she could have gone for. The stars of The Raft - Paul Satterfield, Daniel Beer, Jeremy Green and Page Hannah - are there to play second fiddle of the featured creature, and that's what they do. Lois Chiles is saddled with too many moments that have her filling out backstory by talking to herself during her drive, but Tom Wright fares better with the main line that he gets to repeat, catchphrase-like. Tom Savini appears, although he's pretty much unrecognisable, as The Creep and Stephen King is fun to spot as a helpful truck driver.

While it doesn't ever hit the heights of the first movie, this is still a lot of fun for horror fans and it just manages not to outstay its welcome. It's an easy watch, nothing more and nothing less.