Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Clean Break

CLEAN BREAK ***


Shown at a sold-out screening at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival in November, Clean Break is the provocative story of a psychotic woman who enters relationships with men and manipulates them in whatever way she can to make her happy. And, simply put, conveys one message: always do what the woman says (that, or never enter a relationship with one!)

Full review here: http://www.horrortalk.com/movie-reviews/4009-clean-break-movie-review.html

Saturday, 9 November 2013

[EVENT] Fabio Frizzi Live Halloween Set


What Goblin was to Dario Argento, Fabio Frizzi was to Lucio Fulci - necessary. The success of Fulci’s household horror movies, many of which have become die-hard classics in the 20 odd years since he has passed, has been attributed not only to their graphic visceral effects but Frizzi’s animated scores that helped bring his visions to life.

Thanks to Death Waltz Recording Company and Paint It Black, Frizzi - Fulci’s right-hand music man and thus composer behind some of horror’s most beloved scores - made his UK debut on Halloween (Thurs 31st) to play a live compilation of his proudest works, complemented by a projection of the corresponding movie’s visuals, to a packed audience of genre fanatics. Officially titled ‘Fabio 2 Frizzi’, the show’s chilling setting in Union Chapel (Islington, London) couldn’t have been more atmospherically fitting than a field full of zombies. 


For Frizzi, his mission for this momentous occasion was to bring his music back to life, “just like the characters in so many Lucio Fulci movies.”

Aptly beginning his set with the theme from his first collaborative movie with Fulci in 1978, Spaghetti Western Silver Saddle, he then paused for an overwhelmingly positive reception before turning back the calendar pages a few years to his very first years as a composer, the days when, as he rightfully professed, “music and cinema were better than today”. 

In the early 70s Frizzi formed a trio with musicians Vince Tempera and Franco Bixio with the collective aim to produce scores for film and television. One of their numerous low-budget Italian movie scores was in 1975 for Spaghetti Western Four of the Apocalypse, which Frizzi and his orchestra reveled in revisiting to its London audience. It was the movie where Fulci and Frizzi first met. And the rest really is history.


The melodic retro pop of his spaghetti western scores almost made me forget about the initial pull of the night. But soon enough, those well-acquainted dark, electric vibes of scores from City of the Living Dead, Contraband, The Psychic and Zombie Flesh Eaters pulsated around the church, the latter receiving perhaps the biggest reaction as its chiming musicality echoed around the hall until its very last dramatic drum beat. 

The master flitted between singing, playing guitar and composing his 7-piece band and F2F Orchestra, of which compiled a superb entourage of violinists, guitarists, keyboards, percussionists and a breathtaking female vocalist who drew out every note of City of the Living Dead with perfection. Their skill and energy was inspirational, and an enthusiastic crowd did everything to make them aware of it. Everyone contributing to the ambience was having a good time.

As the night closed in, his beautiful rendition of Nina Rota’s theme to Frederico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973) brought a heartfelt sting to watery eyes, succeeding to remind us not only of his great contribution to the horror genre but also his doubtless and worthy status as one of our greatest composers.

And Frizzi hasn’t only spent the last few years rehearsing the songs he wrote two to three decades ago; two newer pieces revealed the connoisseur hasn’t lost his touch. If there was reason to buy the vinyl records released by Death Waltz, having these two tracks was as good as any.

An encore was inevitable - not only due to the continuous support of the crowd and the good-spirited ensemble, but because something very crucial was missing. Frizzi rhetorically questioned what had so far been absent in the set, and the audience responded to his good-humoured jive with a few laughs and shout-outs. On that note, away they went with what many had been so desperately waiting to hear - The Beyond. And true to say it was beyond (‘scuse the pun) what I’d ever imagined. Worth the wait.

A standing ovation applauded everyone involved and greeted a beaming Frizzi with both eyes full of gratitude. Drinks in the bar upstairs allowed time for goggling at fancy dress efforts and washing down the aftermath adrenalin.

And there you have it, a Halloween that will be hard, maybe even impossible, to beat. 

Friday, 1 November 2013

[EVENT] Frightfest Halloween All-Nighter


Frightfest’s Halloween All-nighter, the third and final event of its annual calendar, returned to VUE West End last Saturday (26th) to screen six movies over fourteen hours through the night. This year, co-organisers Alan Jones, Paul McEvoy and Ian Rattray introduced four UK premieres and two previews to a (very nearly) packed screen, hosting a number of special guests and flinging out a number of cool merchandise.
 

The UK premiere of SOULMATE was the first movie on the bill and the first of the night’s many directorial feature debuts. Axelle Carolyn flew in from LA to introduce her supernatural drama alongside executive producer Neil Marshall (The Descent) and leading cast members Anna Walton (Hellboy 2) and Tanya Myers (Casualty).
 
Synopsis: After a failed suicide attempt, Audrey (Walton) moves to a cottage in a remote rural Welsh village to escape her miserable life and come to terms with the tragic death of her husband. But when she starts to feel a haunting presence in the cottage, its tragic history begins to surface as she learns that she is not alone in her grieving.  

“It’s an old fashioned, atmospheric, dramatic film… inspired by classic ghost stories”, explains Carolyn. “It’s a little bit different.”

Its amalgamation of classic literature and themes of romanticism are certainly refreshing amidst the long runs of supernatural horrors driven by evil paranormal presences and countless jump scares. It’s a simple tale concentrated in fantastical elements, and the gloomy disposition of the Welsh countryside conveys a chilling atmosphere. Walton delivers a fine performance oozing with melancholy, saying of the screenplay: “I thought it was a very sensitive and honest betrayal of someone dealing with grief.” 

Though it may tug at fear and sadness, it never really commits to a deeper emotional substance with regards to Audrey and ghost Douglas (Tom Wisdom), and we beg for a more meaningful outcome than what the uninspiring ending offers. 

A Q&A about life and death (cheerier than it sounds) ended with Marshall discussing his next project after Games of Thrones, the remake of Norwegian film-footage film Troll Hunter, in which he anticipated the audience’s grunts with an “I know, boo hiss.” Yes, boo hiss indeed.

RATING: 2.5

 
The much-anticipated PATRICK remake was up next for its UK premiere and third screening worldwide. Another feature debut in the line-up sees Doc-God Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood, Machete Maidens Unleashed!) re-envisage Richard Franklin’s 1978 beloved Hitchcockian homage.
 

For those unfamiliar with the story… 

Synopsis: Nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson) takes a job at a private psychiatric clinic in the secluded outback and soon develops an interest with the patient behind door 15. Handsome Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) is a comatose, following a bathtub incident with his mother and her lover, and is the goldenboy of Doctor Roget (Charles Dance) unethical experiments. But his unhealthy fondness for Jackie becomes dangerous when his telekinetic powers start ruling her life.

For what seems to be a pointless remake, Hartley’s rendering was pretty much as expected. The structure was annoyingly formulaic; the gory effects unjust and out of place with its gothic tone; and the intriguing elements of the original’s mystery were instead replaced with outright shock. Not to mention that it crescendos at thirty minutes and defiantly plods through the motions until it comes to an underwhelming hault. Thankfully, an unrelentingly raucous, electrifying score by Pino Donnagio (known mostly for his sound work on the likes of Carrie and The Howling) strikes an appropriate pulsating energy into every scene and rightfully deserves all the attention it demands throughout.

Vinson plays perhaps her most convincing role yet and fellow nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant) provokes a few welcome gags. It’s clear that Hartley made this picture through his love and respect of Ozploitation classics. But Franklin’s original was undeniably flawed. And this is disastrously so.

Star and (as Alan dubbed) “exploitation scream queen” Sharni Vinson (Bait 3D, You’re Next) blessed us with her presence and answered questions about being an actress before talking about her recent heavy involvement in horror and if she’d stick to the genre.

“It’s not intentional, I just take what lands in my lap at the right time. It just so happened that the last three were horror… I went through all the horror movies at a young age. I love horror and I love action… I wouldn’t not do a horror but I wouldn’t not not do a horror,” she said.

What we do know is that Vinson is not against the idea of doing sequels to her two 2013 horros. But the Final Girl raised a very valid point – “All my co-stars die, so who would I work with?”

Patrick is set to be released theatrically in the US next spring but has not yet secured a UK distributor.
 
RATING: 2
 
A quick swap around in the schedule meant that MARK OF THE DEVIL saw us into the next day. If you were coming to this event for one reason, it was to witness the first public screening of this notorious 1970 West German film, banned in several countries and having gained a reputation as one of the most violent and exploitative films in cinema history, with viewers being given sick bags upon watching the film.
 
What’s more, director Michael Armstrong (The Haunted House of Horrors, House of the Long Shadows) was there to mark the occasion. A humble introduction from Armstrong ended on: “I hope the film isn’t too much torture to sit through…!” And on that note, the curtains drew and in came Michael Holm’s deceivingly harmonious melodic score.

 
Synopsis: In 18th century Austria, a callous, hard-knuckled witch-hunter (Reggie Nalder) spreads terror around his town, hastily accusing its women of witchcraft and delighting in watching them burn to the stake. Infamous witch-hunter Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) arrives in town, ordered by the Crown to enforce his righteous judgement alongside his doting apprentice Count Christian (Udo Keir). But when Christian catches his mentor murdering a town official, he questions his religious teachings, and rebels to take justice into his own hands.

“Yes I wanted to make a film that was accumatively violent… I made a movie that was meant to upset and disturb,” said Armstrong. Mark Of The Devil is one hour and forty minutes of incessant macabre torture, from whip slashings to hangings, from burnings to tongue removal. And though it’s fictitious, it has overwhelming elements of authenticity; the three witch cases that the film centers were based on real cases and almost all the instruments in the movie replicate the ones used to perform torture.

Though its infamous ‘V for vomit’ stigma shouldn’t cloud its historic relevance, the moral message which opens the film is ultimately unmaintained and inferior to its graphic motive. Still, it’s an involving story with a pleasingly surprising end and, despite falling short to cheesy, melodramatic moments, is largely credible. He’s no Vincent Price (who starred in Michael Reeves’ 1968 Witchfinder General) but Hom makes for a loathsome villain, whilst Nalder too impressively bears a repugnant evil.

To this day, Armstrong doesn’t quite know why it was banned and was astounded how much it was attacked and ridiculed on release. “I was called every name under the sun,” he said. “I’m grateful that now people come up to me and have seen the movie as I intended it.”
Anchor Bay has picked up the title and it will be released on Blu-ray before Christmas. The perfect stocking filler.
Armstrong also revealed his plans to publish the complete works of his (40) movie’s screenplays as a collectors set to help gain recognition for those who, he thinks, are largely unaccredited and undermined in the industry.
RATING: 4
 
3am, Sunday morning. The clocks had just gone back an hour. Half way through. If there was the slightest temptation to rest your eyes in the next film, it was immediately dashed upon realising that DISCOPATH was up next. Beating with energy and louder than disco halls in full swing, director Renaud Gauthier’s debut feature is aesthetically a stomping masterpiece.  
 
Synopsis: A shy New Yorker, Duane Lewis (Jeremie Earp), leads a mundane city life until he is exposed to a new genre of music: disco. Its pulsating rhythm sparks an uncontrollable murderous tendency in him, which he finds is related to a childhood trauma, and he soon becomes one of America’s most dangerous serial killers. 
  
“When I was young I used to get scared by a couple of disco songs. I always thought there was a scary element to disco,” said Gauthier. I don’t think there’s a medical term for that fear, but it certainly makes for an original screenplay. This retro-crazed slasher screams fun and downright funky. The concept isn’t a complex one and doesn’t go out of its way to experiment with generic slasher conventions, nor does it impress as a particular engaging manhunt. It’s authenticity and charm lies instead in its overt pastiche and remarkable ability to re-capture the 70s era. “We worked hard to create a 1970s feel with 2013 equipment,” said Gauthier.

 
Gauthier explained his experience as an art director and a self-professed collector of everything, so he was able to use his own knowledge and enthusiasm to design sets and his own items as costume and props. The Carpenter and Giallo-influenced disco score is relentless and, though Gauthier’s limited budget prevented him using the era’s big boys (he said Bee Gees wanted $50,000 to use one of their tracks), is well-guided to complement, and emotionally and aesthetically enhance, the content’s wavering pace and intense dramatic elements.
 
We were glad to hear that Gauthier is back next year with two horror projects: a 1972 Giallo (currently unnamed) and Aqua Splash, which features a waterpark and razorblades – yikes! As for the former, with Gauthier’s evident spot-on ability to recreate a past era, it’s likely that we could see a much-needed truly authentic Giallo homage.
 
After a crowd member made himself known and performed a scarily enthusiastic breakdance sequence, revealing he’d consumed far too much caffeine for everybody already, cue break.
 
RATING: 3.5
 
When something is likened to The Thing, you envisage a worn out sci-fi thriller formula of unidentifiable mutants inhabiting the snowy mountains where a group of scientists sit ignorantly unaware that they’re the next victims. But Austrian sci-fi horror THE STATION by Marvin Kren succeeds to avoid such stereotype with nail-biting suspense, poignant moments and convincing bold effects.   
 
Synopsis: A group of scientists based at a station in the German Alps are investigating an unfamiliar liquid that is seeping from the mountains and transforming nearby wildlife into monstrous mutants. When tech guy Janek’s (Gerhard Liebmann) beloved dog is attacked by one, he and his team become even more determined to eliminate whatever is threatening the group and the Environment Ministers that are on their way to their station. 

 
Disturbing discoveries, bloody outcomes and encounters with beetle-fox hybrids and giant horn-bearing eagles, this is as close as you’re going to get to ‘The Thing meets Alien’. But what really defines its respect is The Station’s character-focused persona, as true in Kren’s zombie spin-off Rammbock, which allows room for emotional twists and turns, not to mention an unexpected shock ending.
The Station will be released next year by Studio Canal.
RATING: 3.5
 
Backed by Slasher Films (co-founded by Guns ‘n’ Roses rock god Slash), Gore Verbinski’s visionary protégé, Anthony Leonardi III, makes his feature directorial debut with NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR.
 
Synopsis: Priest Dan moves his family to small town Stull, Kansas to be the new pastor after its long-time Priest Kingsman readies to retire. But their hope for a more idyllic life seems unlikely when they realise they are to be the sleepy community’s latest ceremonial sacrifices to an evil Beast that lurks in the depths of the church, one of the seven gateways to hell.
 
Reminiscent of the likes of The Gathering and The Shrine, such horror pics tend to compel in its well-contrived backstory of some heinous ancient, mythic or religious (hell sometimes all three) curse or presence at the hands of a cult. But here, there are no efforts to bring in any background explanation whatsoever, let alone anything remotely original, rendering its copycat themes puzzling and utterly pointless. The acting is as wooden as the plot and the generic family isn’t worth giving two hoots about.



Though its special effects are by no means poor - its uncanny imagery provokes more than a few unnerving shifts in your seat - what you see is what you get with this evil spirited terror tale, and unfortunately that isn’t a great deal. And you didn’t even have to be wide awake to see through it.
RATING: 1.5
 
7:20am and a sleepy crowd raise from their seats, realise the copious amounts of sugar, grease and caffeine that they’ve savaged through, and head home for a well-earned kip. A generally mixed line-up and a great turn out from special guests and fans yet again succeed to soften the blow of the end of the August festival. Thank you Frightfest. Until next year.

The Frightfest All-Nighter is also being held this Saturday 3rd November at Glasgow, Basildon, Poole, Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as in Bristol on Saturday 16th November. Tickets can be purchased on the Frightfest website, where more details on the featured films for each event can be found.
 


Monday, 21 October 2013

The Last Horror Movie

THE LAST HORROR MOVIE ***

In the run up to the DVD release of Julian Richards' Shiver, Virgil Entertainment have re-released his 2003 found-footage mockumentary horror, The Last Horror Movie.


Meet Max (Kevin Howarth), a serial killer who is making an amateur film about his murders. Hiring an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record his “intelligent movie about death” and self-narrating his day-to-day proceedings, Max gives us an explicit and immersive look into his profile.

Initially, it’s Max’s smarmy, self-celebratory attitude that hooks our attention as he talks to the movie’s viewer (us) with a controlled poise and convincing deliberation, justifying his random killings through absurd theories, and purposely questioning their natural inquisition and moral plight through the watching of his acts. Howarth (Razor Blade Smile, Summer Scars, The Seasoning House) is more than convincing during his largely one-man show and, true to most roles he adopts, manages to be both scarily harrowing and unconventionally charming.

As he hides behind his wedding videographer career and buttons up his sheep’s clothing in family company, Max’s self-righteous display is truly an absorbing observation, and one which intensifies when we see the fatal attacks in his amateur home videos. The snuff movie or ‘snuff film’ has been a reoccurring plot device for filmmakers for decades and one to primarily shock and distort the line between real and fictional killings. Here, director Julian Richards combines slasher conventions with lingering shots and vivid close-ups of the deaths’ entirety. Graphic? Yes. Brutal? Absolutely. But while it is Max’ simplistic methods and amateur skill that make those scenes that much more titillating, it can sometimes comes across a bit silly and, whether or not intended, its mockumentary style often detracts from the horror.

The autobiographical concept wears thin after a while and, although the outcome of him and his (‘trophy’) movie manages to warrant a strong interest till the end, his rambling tumbles as he delves into ‘serial killer’s best practise’ and ‘tips on how to kill’ in the final twenty minutes. Whatever Max’s, or indeed Richards’, message is trying to say or do through the movie, it gets a little lost in translation at this point and becomes repetitive and almost overly self-explanatory – even to the point where it feels the need to explain the movie’s title.
 


VERDICT: Richards’ takes us on an involving and entertaining journey into the psyche of a serial killer, succeeding to shock through the unnerving tropes of the snuff film. Unfortunately, for an audience that will feel the need to uncover a deeper message than what’s visible at the surface, they will be left disappointed. With a sore brain.


(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Darklands

DARKLANDS ***

In the run up to the DVD release of Julian Richards' Shiver, MVD Entertainment have re-released his 1996 mystery crime thriller, Darklands.



 
When investigative reporter Frazier discovers that the murder of a trainee reporter’s brother and the sacrifice of an animal in the local church may be linked to a local druid cult, he is determined to solve the mystery and seek justice. But in doing so, he finds himself knee-deep in devil worship, satanic rituals and deviant conspiracies. Past the point of no return, Frazier must battle with his dark past to try to fit the pieces together and put an end to those who walk the ‘darklands’. Otherwise human sacrifice may mark his fate.

A mystery crime thriller imbued with religious extremism, Darklands is for the most part a slow burner, and at times dwindles its running time away. Frazier’s love interest Rachel both attracts and distracts him from his involvement in the crimes, while his amateurish detective work unravels the cultural demonizing connotations of the extremist cult and society’s stereotypes of the gypsy suspects occupying hostile, primitive and violent existences. As disclosed information reveals betrayal and deceit by those around him, we encounter the path of Frazier’s progressive awareness until its bloody end.

But although these topics are thought-provoking and the chases stirring alongside its conventional 1990s energetic score, Darklands takes its time to up the momentum to Julian Richards’ standards. Ultimately it’s the behind-the-scenes activity of the celtic cult that provides the electrifying pace and suspense. Dressed in thick make up and ritualistic paint, and dancing in rings of fire, the traditional satanic group led by a deep-voiced, calmly spoken chief may be all too obviously reminiscent of The Wicker Man (1973), but is nonetheless mystifyingly fantastical in its underworld of urban Wales setting – something in which Richards’ excels. Gruesome depictions of throat-slitting animals and bludgeoning murders for their sacrificial ceremonies make up much of the gory sequences and are, too, effectively simplistic but realistic.

With such a dominating screen presence, it’s no surprise Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger, The Bank Job, Eastenders) made many future appearances in the genre. Largely a one man operation, he holds his own as the paranoid journalist transitions from the hunter to the hunted, and stands out amongst the largely melodramatic performances, as does Dave Duffy (The Secret of Roan Inish, Hamlet) as the cult’s initiator.


VERDICT: As one of the Richards’ first crime thrillers, Darklands bravely dances around then-controversial themes with a good script to match an unforeseen finale, even if it fails to expose them from the get go.


(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Byzantium

BYZANTIUM ***

From the director of Interview With A Vampire comes another gothic vampire tale, this time set in urban Ireland and based around Moira Buffini's 2008 play, A Vampire Story.


 

Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her daughter Eleanor (Soairse Ronan) are vampires, roaming from one city to the next in constant escape of the dark past that seems all too quick on their heels. The two rogues lead lives of lies with ever-changing identities and achieve survival through preying on weak lives and exploiting them for their needs. Clara prostitutes herself to filth on the street for fleeting company, quick feeds and fast cash, while Eleanor simply exists to float around and stick it out. But when they settle in a small seaside town and Eleanor finds a light in the darkness with Frank, relationships are tested and their habitual existence questioned forever.

Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, Interview With A Vampire) certainly has a knack for bringing an unnerving realism to his dark fairytales, as vampiresses walk the pavements alongside an ignorant humanity and inhabit the seediest corners of urban Ireland. It’s a stark example of Gothic fiction, brought to life through nightmarish circumstances, scene-after-scene depictions of morbid dystopias, and a story spanning a vast timeline dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.

But Byzantium seems a few years too late to claim a gothic revival, and thus stands more as a British amalgamation of borrowed concepts. The theme of the roaming, suburban vampire on the run who struggles to live with the consequences of their immortality in a modern society stemmed from European horrors like Let The Right One In (2007), We Are What We Are (2010) and We Are The Night (2010). Even the mythical context of their existence is reminiscent of the ancient folklore so commonly depicted in contemporary fictional works like TV drama Vampire Diaries.
 

However, where similar works have kept its immortals almost isolated to their own segregated fold, Byzantium’s protagonists are very emerged into society, and it’s that physical involvement that allows it to flourish with its characters and lead performances.

Eleanor is the narrator, the window from which we are invited into their secretive world, and the film’s more intriguing character. Ronan embodies a mature role as the righteous, good-willed monster, and impresses in her natural effortless to transition seamlessly into the innocent, childlike girl. We observe Eleanor’s coming-of-age tale through a series of self-prose, of which she confesses her haunting past to subconscious minds and blank pages as a vehicle to dispose of her pain. The predominantly classical score is chilling, complementing her thoughts and revealing the melancholy of her existence. 
 

But it’s the torn relationships Eleanor has with Clara and Frank that really exposes the strengths of Moira Buffini’s original play, A Vampire Story, which she adapted for Byzantium’s screenplay. While Eleanor damns Clara’s moral behaviour and is frustrated at the unforeseeable prosperity in their nomadic lifestyle, she shows strong affection towards her mother and an incapability to live without her. After stumbling upon Frank - a sorry, friendless soul recovering from Leukaemia who takes an immediate fancy to her – their oddities attract and their befitting bond grows to be the most touching and complex of all. Ronan and Landry Jones (The Last Exorcism, Antirival) must be the best in the business at performing awkward but endearing character roles. And together, they shine on the screen.
 

From the trickling drops of blood from a hanky to the gushing blood red waterfall, the exotic cinematography throughout is stunning, the imagery equally so. Unfortunately, the story is quick to lose direction after an hour when its attention switches from neat character interaction to the trudging back-story, which becomes confused with an overabundance of mythical substance. The tone too becomes warped as the initial efforts to create an enchantingly eerie mood become sporadic, giving way to irrelevant action set pieces and a hasty rush to end with some sort of climatic finale.

 
VERDICT: Ultimately, though Byzantium excels in creating an alluring atmosphere, it fails to maintain an enchanting hold by veering down an over complex route. Thus it escapes by the mere skin of its teeth through captivating visuals and superb lead performances.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

FRIGHTFEST: The Borderlands

THE BORDERLANDS ***

Elliot Goldner’s found-footage feature debut may sound like another crummy camera recording fresh from the tapes. But have they ever featured a bat-shit crazy priest and a church with a mind of its own before? 


Two Vatican investigators Mark (Adrian McArdle) and Deacon (Gordon Kennedy) are sent along with techie Gray (Robin Hill) to a newly-opened church in the British West Country after its priest reports that paranormal activity had recently taken place during a Christening there.

Largely exposed through the found-footage medium, The Borderlands succeeds in its amalgamation of clever paranormal scrutiny and some of the creepiest church scenes in horror history. Playing with atypical religious characters; Gray’s overbearing dry humour; and intent to prove rationality, it allows us to follow a modern day sceptical pursuit into the unknown. Familiar to the concept of Eli Roth’s The Last Exorcism, it’s the believers who have encountered false claims and explained the seemingly supernatural only to do so again the next time round, that initially snatches our attention. 

When the team reach their cottage in the middle of nowhere, the rural landscape’s uninviting The Wicker Man-esque austerity provokes an instant discomfort and an unwelcoming eeriness. The dark, sinister tone is sealed as a curious, well-contrived backstory of the church, matched with the character’s anecdotal experiences, unveils themes of satanic cultism and ancient supernatural myth, bringing much more contextual scope to the film’s provincial, small country setting.

But what is most satisfying is that, though the character’s collective situation – the investigation – is intriguing, it’s the individual problems of Deacon and the unnerving mystery surrounding Father Crellick that really keeps you guessing. The slow progression of the blossoming friendship and harnessing respect between Deacon and Gray also provides a tangible feel to their nightmare. Here, character development is given more than a mere scribble on the screenplay.

A universal fault of found-footage film is often its inability to account for hidden cameras and constant filming in times of crisis. Thankfully, Goldner’s ensures it’s fully justified and the static positioning of the cameras allow for lingering scenes of observation. As wispy crys lurk in the walls and crucifix’ fly from the altar, the audience are given the green light to watch strange occurrences met by characters’ reactions, rather than being thrown around the screen via a manic handheld camera as soon as there’s the slightest bump in the night. For once, it doesn’t feel as though you’re being guarded of the true horrors. Sights and sounds are amplified, and it’s petrifying. However, though Gray’s bold hilarity and absurd comments warrant a few early laughs, his continuous commentary when the lights go off is a little distracting when, really, silence would’ve received the biggest payoff.

Ultimately though, it’s the unspectacular end climax that lets it down. A lazy, too-soon cut-off leaves too many questions unanswered and presents an open-ended ambiguity that does little to spur a tangible explanation, even when pushing to the very limits of your imagination. A little betrayed, you can’t help but think that the clever premise has amounted to zilch.
 
 
VERDICT: A lousy ending casts a disparaging shadow on what was, up until that point, a enjoyable viewing. Nonetheless, Goldner has proven that found-footage (or in this case, forever-forgotten-footage) is not dead, and that there is something to be said for fantastic production in the subgenre.
 
 
(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Monday, 30 September 2013

Silent Cry

SILENT CRY ***

In the run up to the DVD release of Julian Richards' Shiver, MVD Entertainment will rerelease his 2002 crime thriller Silent Cry at the end of next month.


Rachel Stewart is over the moon when she bares her first child. But when she is told only hours later that her newborn son Charlie has mysteriously died, a mother’s dream becomes a mother’s nightmare as her world collapses. Adamant that something sinister has come into play and that Charlie is still alive, Rachel follows her maternal instincts to search for answers, and finds a painful, dark truth on the way.

The chase is racy and attentive and the scriptwriting direct and well-controlled, entwining themes of betrayal, abduction and conspiracy whilst avoiding the usual pitfalls of wasting time with unnecessary plot twists and turns.

But Richards offers us more than a conventional, cut-to-the-chase crime thriller; Taking the reigns of 20th century cinematic social realism, Silent Cry addresses the ills of urban society as the underclass adopt the prostitutes, drug addicts, lager louts and the typical ‘street trash’ labels that go with it, whilst the real wrongdoers stand protected behind the name of the law. It’s by no means a truly provocative statement, but it helps to revoke the gritty, smutty landscape of the urban underworld of London and, if nothing else, does wonders to provoke a nostalgic TV cop drama feel – despite turning it on its head. After all, everybody loves a plot at the hands of a corrupt cop or a deceitful doctor.

Batting for a single mother woman who has lost her baby is often easy as pie, and here, Emily Woof ensures it’s a doddle. Throwing everything she has into the desperate but determined character of Rachel, Woof is able to strike an admiral balance of the sympathetic, maternal figure and the gutsy, nothing-to-lose heroine – a female character not undeserved of the occasional air punch.

Though the acting sometimes creeps into squally soap opera territory, Woof’s performance is matched by a strong supporting role from Douglas Henshall, whose character as the goodwilled former-homeless cleaner Daniel that helps Rachel, wins us over and makes for an unlikely but interesting straggly-haired hero. TV legends Clive Russell (Great Expectations, The 13th Warrior) and Kevin Whately (Inspector Morse), as well as Craig Kelly (Titanic) also make up Richards’ star studded cast.

Not forgetting that Richards’ work was more classified within the thriller and drama genres at this time in his career, there’s nothing particularly gory in Silent Cry. Gun shots, a stab in the back (literally and metaphorically) and a walk down prostitute alley is about as graphic as it gets. Its brutality is instead more visceral and lies in the mystery surrounding the baby’s whereabouts and the harrowing situation of a mother without her only child.
 
 
VERDICT: Effective, haunting and full of suspense from beginning to end, this well-rounded production certainly warrants a thriving comeback at the end of the year.
 
 
(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Insidious: Chapter 2

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 ***


2013 has been a good year for James Wan, bringing two highly anticipated spooks to our screens; earlier this spring came his first haunted horror with The Conjuring and, now, two months later, the inevitable sequel of his 2010 Insidious looks to wrap up his involvement in the continuing franchise.
 
 
Insidious: Chapter 2 marks the Australian’s fifth horror movie and, to no-ones surprise, resumes from Insidious’ substandard finale, signposted as a carry on through the bang in which the title ‘Insidious’ explodes onto the screen. Though Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai’s (Rose Byrne) comatose son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) was brought back from ‘The Further’, Wan’s fictitious realm of the dead, the Lambert’s connection to the malevolent spirit world remains strong and unshakeable.

The suspicious mental state of Josh continues into the second and is by far the more interesting activity in the sequel, as is the return of our beloved heroine Elise (Lin Shaye), now dead but as determined to help the family as ever. Though the sequel primarily stands to wrap up the first, it serves up a worthy standalone plot with more to like than dislike. Insights into The Further and its transitory connections with the real world are given priority over the generic haunted house conventions, deriving a less familiar and more nightmarish dark fantasy feel. Saying that, it disappointingly suffers creatively from a lack of other worldly atmosphere, with the bleak look of the misty realm itself not revealing much more scope than what we see in the first.

But what triumphs for the sequel is that it scares. Fewer bumps in the night make way for more aesthetically obvious haunts as the evil spirits are more personified in actual figures and more two dimensional characters than simply through their possessions and supernatural activities (though that’s not to say we don’t get the odd rolling musical toy and self-playing piano). It’s certainly not the slow-burn, creeping around dark corners with a torch movie that the first claimed. Instead, when it really gets going and the spirits come to being, a constant crescendo of boisterous, shrill and deafening noise accompanies garish close-ups to fill the screen in a real attack of the senses. Though not a particularly preferred, effective or original tactic, its ambitiousness to experiment with a different tone is something to be admired.
 

And where frights come, fun is quick on its heel. Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), the comedic duo that are seemingly compulsory for the modern horror movie, are reprised in jolly spirits, tastefully providing a few harmless giggles through dumb and dumber slapstick moments and eye-rolling one liners, but never really fitting into the mould any more so this time round.

The childhood backstory of Josh and continuous revelations from start to finish displays smart script writing from Wan and Leigh Whannell at its best, whilst too succumbing to the trappings of seeming unnecessarily busy and over-explanatory for its own good. Some scenes can easily be branded pointless. Nevertheless it brings an acceptable ending and a necessary part two to the frustratingly incomplete premise of the first. Having conjured up a number of stirs and scares in his first horror of the year, Wan wraps up 2013 with a noteworthy sequel and a promise to continue his efforts in the genre. Even if his next bill is Fast and Furious 7.
 
 
VERDICT: Though not edging close to its true potential, this sequel a step up from the first in terms of both plot and scares, giving you more than enough to digest in its multi-layered script. An inevitably marmite film from Wan bound to divide audiences.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

FRIGHTFEST: Big Bad Wolves

BIG BAD WOLVES *****


From the creators who brought us the first ever Israeli horror film - the unexpected and refreshing slasher flick Rabies - comes, yes, the second ever Israeli horror film. The darkly comic revenge thriller Big Bad Wolves is the duo’s next project and sees vigilante cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) stuck in the immoral mix between a gentle teacher (Rotem Keinan) accused of murdering a young girl and the dead girl’s vengeful father Gidi (Thazi Grad) who has kidnapped him to torture at his secluded cabin.


For the two pioneering directors it’s a bold move away from the slasher genre and a career-defining step towards the unhappy-ending vengeance story. Weaving three very different characters into an unlikely trio and unfamiliar situation, Big Bad Wolves is clearly in pursuit of, and given the scope to toy with, first-time reactions, amateur criminality and unforeseen circumstances. The moral efficacy of the torture induces a see-saw of decisions, while the ambiguousness of the teacher’s innocence upholds the strained tension until the bitter end.

But, repeating a trick from Rabies, it’s the timely comedic moments that are peppered almost too inappropriately between the disturbing themes of paedophilia and child rape that really hones in on its intricacy and exhibits its diverse capabilities. It’s a risky way to play and a hard balance to strike to avoid making light of the dreadful act, but Keshales and Papushado hit gold in distracting from the underlying raw tension with neat one-liners and gawky situations too opportune to refuse a chuckle.  
Perhaps one of the most memorable is when Gidi’s elderly father stumbles upon his mess in the basement after popping round for soup. Thanks to a full house of superb and complementary performances and smart script writing, a serial of hoots follow as one unplanned misfortune and ‘food’ mistake leads to the next.

Though often conventionally characteristic of a revenge movie, it’s by no means a contender for shocking brutality or extreme torture porn, and it doesn’t intend to be. Instead, the interest in each of the character’s methods and reactions takes precedence over the finger and toe chopping, providing much more of a slow-burn thriller intermittently vamped up with bursts of shocking revelation and emotional outpour. The violence is a reminder of the seriousness of the accusations, the comedy a niggling cue that it’s okay to have a little fun. Together they act to fine tune a tangible yet truly horrifying and mesmerising atmosphere that keeps the shocks and surprises rife.
 
 
VERDICT: A bold, gutsy and sophisticated effort from Keshales and Papushado that will undoubtedly further help their deserved cause: to keep that very bright spotlight on Israeli horror.
 
 
(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Saturday, 24 August 2013

FRIGHTFEST: Cheap Thrills

CHEAP THRILLS ****

What would you do for $250,000? Such provocative questions have invited much scope for fun and psychological interest in the genre, as human morals are measured and tested against the want for financial reward. Would You Rather? is one of the recent ventures to have hopped aboard this concept and here, in his directorial debut, E.L. Katz examines this dark theme in this black comedy horror.


When middle-aged new father Craig wakes up one morning to find an eviction notice stapled to his door and is let go from his job later that day, he hits a dead end. His financial worries for his wife and newborn are unfaceable as he watches the weight of the world sit unfairly on his shoulders from a tacky bar down town. So when he bumps into an old friend who starts getting friendly with rich couple Colin and Violet, Craig wilfully joins in and thinks he’s struck gold when the couple start giving them money to down their shots. But things turn violent and start reaching absurd extremities when the ‘game’ is resumed at their mansion and money begins to be bet in its thousands. 
 

The one night that comprises the plot’s framework starts out like a more mature Hangover with drinking dares, goofy behaviour and laddish bets eliciting random boozy intimacy. Though this provokes a few sleazy sniggers, its familiarity will cause a few to sneer at its tediousness. But the interest is quick to pick up when the tipsy trio and an unconscious Craig head back to the mansion, and when its initial turning point sees a domineering Vince persuade Craig to turn the tables and put the power in their hands. From then onwards the situation walks an intriguing line and this soon to be overused concept heads down a more ambitious and fulfilling path. Friendships are tested and the primal desperation for money takes a back seat to competition, greediness and revenge. Personalities unravel and switch places, while the point of no return fades into the bleak distance as the two friends battle it out for Colin’s cash.

Exactly what it says on the tin, the cheap thrills are plentiful with its sheer, trenchant brutality (some that deserve a ‘don’t try this at home’ forewarning label), while its contrasting overt dark undertones are well handled to bring more depth and substance to the predicament of Katz’s characters. The theory that ‘money makes people do mad things, just as people do mad things for money’ couldn’t be better envisaged, as Katz gives Cheap Thrills the edge by interestingly perceiving both angles from the rich and powerful members of society to the working class. 

Katz really knows how to throw an unconventional party and it’s certainly one you wouldn’t decline an invitation for a back row seat. But even when things get out of hand and the party really peaks, the decisions of every character retain their reasonability and we stay surprised at their next move again and again.

Healy (The Innkeepers, Compliance) really does shine as a family man in despair that pushes his own limits to the point of frenzy, while Embry makes for a satisfying mismatch for the underdog. Koechner tones down his characteristic brashness but is as eccentric and dominant as ever, as his manipulative character gets his kicks from destroying the lives of others. And, while Paxton has a more subtle role than she’s been used to in Last House in the Left (2009), The Innkeepers (2011) and, more recently, Static (2013), she plays her part as Colin’s spoilt, inconspicuously twisted trophy girlfriend.

Its hybridity of genres provides an entertaining and well-balanced flick, naturally playing off serious elements with a comic value – a trait which was no doubt an influence from his former involvement in the genre and working relationship with Adam Wingard (having written and produced Home Sick and co-written Pop Skull, among several other credits.) Toying with black humour and calamity until the bitter (and it’s a very bitter) end, the final scene ends it the only way it could have – with one cruel, inappropriate yet fitting chuckle.

 
 
VERDICT: A smart and damn right fun flick- a good time to be had by all. Having already been acquired to direct a segment of anthology ABCs of Death 2, which is set to be released next year, it wouldn’t be surprising if Katz became a household name in horror.

 
(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

FRIGHTFEST: Painless (Insensibles)

PAINLESS (INSENSIBLES) *****


This long-awaited, Spanish-language debut feature from Carlos Juan Medina presents a powerful and heart-rending dual-story that fictionally scrutinizes the painful consequences that surfaced from a disrupted Civil War Spain.

In two interweaving stories, one tale set during the Spanish Civil War sees a young boy amidst a group of peculiar children who are sectioned and used as experimental subjects in a prison because they are incapable of feeling pain, while the other takes place decades later in the present time and follows a surgeon trace his family history to try and save himself from a fatal disease.

Writer Luiso Berdejo ([Rec], Quarantine, [Rec 3]) channels the contrasting stories through David’s journey to dig into his family’s past, coupled with intermittent flashbacks of the Spanish war conveying the context. Berdejo to and fros between the two until they eventually cross paths, making this sophisticated and allegorical storytelling an ambitious project for the first-time Spanish director.

But it’s the first scene in which Medina proves his capability; in the pre-cred sequence two young girls play nonchalantly with fire as one is ablaze and unknowingly catches the mortal other alight. It’s a chilling sequence and one that immediately establishes Medina’s haunting and dramatic tone for the rest of film. The somewhat bright and familiar scenes of the present provide a striking balance to the more disturbing and poignant settings of the other, allowing stark but fluid transitions.
 













The tragedies that unfold during the War invasion are the more enticing and dramatic of the two, and are emblematic of the true horror stories in history that took place during the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Its delineation bears a salient likeness to Del Toro’s masterful accounts through the eyes of a child who is the victim of child abuse or experiencing a lurid youthful struggle – something that has become much missed since the Spanish auteur has seemingly departed his trademark. The identity of the professor who tries to understand the children’s condition shines a light on the opposing theories and unregulated treatment of pre-World-War-II medical science, while the psyche of the imprisoned boy and affected persons is positioned as the definitive and direct result.

The performances by all are solid, and a dignified precedent is set on the psychological states of each character. Sorrowful expression, a sickening desperation to forget and the consequences of secret pasts shape the majority of the characters, and their connections with one another and to the prison are central to the story. With a running time of 100 minutes, and considering many modern day pictures don’t hold back to break the 2 hour mark, a lengthier commitment to the character development of the significant adults wouldn’t have gone amiss. Nevertheless, its operatic silences are consuming, and these are the places in the stories that rightfully receive the most deliberation. Painless transitions from one abhorrent, nightmarish environment to the next, but Medina excels in creating an aesthetically pleasing picture, the cinematography of the brash surroundings the most strangely beautiful and delicate of its kind.

Digging deep to evoke every emotion, Painless defiantly upholds its sincerity in a complex series of powerful and melancholic scenes, peaking in its most theatrical and operatic moments.


VERDICT: A fine and exemplary, carefully crafted work of art, Medina executes emotionally-charged scenes from the first to the last, time and time again, in what can only be described as a remarkable modern masterpiece.
 

(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

uwantme2killhim?

UWANTME2KILLHIM? ****
 
 
In his first feature since The Amityville Horror in 2005, Andrew Douglas tackles another true story, this time of two teen boys who made legal history in 2003 when they were caught up in a criminal internet-fuelled incident. The investigation into the serious but uncanny crime and the court case battle that followed was notoriously concealed from the public and media domain, and now, ten years on, Douglas’ depiction of this urban tragedy attempts to unveil the true events whilst examining the potential of the internet and the calamitous consequences it can have for both individuals and society.


Confident and popular schoolboy Mark (the legal pseudonyms of both boys are used), played by Jamie Blackley (London Boulevard), is full of life, his overt boisterousness and tongue ‘n’ cheek manner as endearing as his cyber teen romance with his chatroom sweetheart Rachel (Jaime Winstone). But when Rachel, who cannot reveal herself due to being signed up to witness protection program to protect her abusive and criminal boyfriend, tells Mark to watch out for her loner brother and his classmate John (Toby Regbo), the two boy’s kindling bromance plunges them into a disastrous, life-changing predicament.

FeardotCom (2002), Cry Wolf (2005), Untraceable (2008) and Chatroom (2010) are amongst those that have acted to unveil the horrors and the lessons to be learnt from the consequential use of cyberchat, and uwantmetokillhim? too tackles this incessant  continual human concern – a concern that has been troubling our ever-growing instant-messaging cyber world long before the Facebook era.
Nowadays it’s not an uncommon feature of films to uncover true stories and Douglas does well to divulge the story through a deserved and insightful realism whilst ensuring not to surpass the dramatic elements of his own vision of the account or forego the moulding of his two subjects’ characterisation.

As Jack takes ‘weird’ john under his wing, their bourgeoning relationship carries some profound heartfelt moments and in turn the sincerity of the boy’s troubles involving. The chemistry of Blackley and Regbo is electric, often touching, and the initial prioritisation and vast depth given to understanding their friendship allows Douglas to effectively captivate the viewers before honing in on the harrowing reality of Mark and John’s fate.

 
It’s only when the situation escalates and Mark loses control to the power of public order institutions that, had it not been based on a true story, is where you’d think its credibility wavers. Mark’s wordly inexperience and naivety edges exploitation to the forefront of the plot’s focus henceforth as his lonely quandary spirals down a tragedy of manipulation, deceit, sociopathicism and demented fantasy. It provokes a few ‘what if’ and ‘what now’ scenarios, without overly squandering the opportunity, and Blackley excels in communicating Mark’s self-battle and moral struggle.

A few unexplained inconsistencies arise as it nears its conclusion and its shortcomings lean towards a rather abrupt ending after the sudden realisation of the truth; the lack of insight into the aftermath can only be down to the legalities of the two subject’s undisclosed identities. But these slight inadequacies do not undermine Douglas’ extensive efforts to tell the tale, and thus it succeeds all-around as a tense, gripping and absorbing cyber chiller that all too truly exposes the disastrous and powerful effects of internet abuse.


VERDICT: An unnerving story that will resonate with most and make even the internet-savvy shiver, uwantme2killhim? goes further than its predecessors to expose the vulnerability of youths in todays digital world.