Beyond The Gates (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_btg1Beyond the Gates (2016)

Director: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton

Out now on UK DVD

“Most of this junk just blends together”

Estranged brothers Gordon (Skipper) and John (Williamson) reunite when they have to close up their father’s video rental store because their father has been missing for seven months. In the back office they find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Gordon takes it back to his father’s house where he’s staying and along with his fiancé Margot (Grant) and John, they decide to play the game. Surprise, surprise, Beyond the Gates has them trapped in a deadly game. The stakes, no less than their lives.

A lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies in particular, set out with the premise of “a deadly game that must be played to completion”. It’s not exactly an original concept, and it has been done better in other films. Beyond the Gates has a few charms but they can’t make up for slow pacing a mediocre script and modest acting. The film rides high on the recent wave of nostalgia that is sweeping films and horror right now. This is the third or fourth attempt at an 80s throwback I’ve seen and it’s not the strongest entry. Beyond leans a little heavily on viewers fondly remembering the days of video rental stores and knowing what a VCR game is. The film then has to explain what a VCR game is because even if you grew up with a VCR, the games where a niche market. Maybe not the strongest premise for a movie, when it has to be explained even to people as old as I am.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_1Premise aside Beyond the Gates is a mixed bag. The pace is slow. The board game is played out over days instead of forcing the characters to play through all at once. The game itself is overly easy, the clues dull. A lot of time is wasted in conversation as the characters flip back and forth, alternately trying to quit the game and progress. The film feels a lot longer than its lean run time of 84 minutes. The build up to actually playing the game is long as well. First we have to meet Gordon and John, then Gordon’s fiancé Margot, then John’s gross redneck friend Hank (Justin Welborn), THEN we have to establish the relationships and antagonisms between all of these characters. THEN they start the game. THEN people start dying.

What the film was actually good at, was not the horror aspects, or the VCR game shtick. It was actually an interesting film about estranged brothers with a troubled past and uneasy relationship mending fences. I actually felt the same way watching Beyond the Gates as I did watching The Innkeepers, which was a great romantic comedy and a terrible horror movie. Beyond the Gates was a good family drama about reconciliation and a pretty mediocre horror film.

But, the horror wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of practical effects used for gruesome death scenes that were pretty entertaining. However that’s about the best that can be said for the horror side of things. Unfortunately amusing death scenes don’t make up for the slow pace.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_2Kudos for: Gordon’s nerdy hipster vibe

Lesson learned: It takes more than a synth soundtrack to cash in on nostalgia.

6/10

Scars (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_scarsScars (2016)

Starring: Danielle Cole, Neale Kimmel, Matt Wells
Written by: Sean K Robb
Directed by: Sean K Robb

Out NOW on UK DVD from LEFT Films

A few months back, I reviewed a movie titled Even Lambs Have Teeth. It was a visceral movie about two girls making the move from victim to aggressor, and it had style and a definite entertainment factor. Scars is along the same basic lines, but distinctly lacking in entertainment factor, and depth of moral questioning about killing. Sad thing is, it has style, or glimpses of it, and should be much more watchable than it is.

There are two girls, Scarlett (Kimmel) and Scar (Cole). Scarlett is a habitual manipulator, who makes her living and gets her kicks out of sleeping with married men, and then blackmailing them. She is callous, unfeeling and not a very good blackmailer; after a string of emotionally-attached guys are hurt and ultimately succumb to her scam, one particular john is not so willing to be screwed around. When she pushes her luck and they get into a fight in a dark alley, Scar appears from the shadows to knock him dead.

rsz_scars1It would be OK, I suppose, if their gig was as vigilantes, saving people from violent street attacks; but they quickly develop a taste for killing men, apparently for no other reason than that things with penises are inevitable woman-users and abusers. Scar’s mantra, and the movie’s tagline, is ‘Killing Dudes is Easy’. But making a movie about killing dudes watchable is not so easy, it would seem.

The structure of the movie shows attempts at creativity and interesting cinematography, but it comes together in a very disjointed fashion. A soap-opera style opening credit sequence à la Murder She Wrote is particularly inspired, making use of noir visuals, and heavy ‘beauty’ imagery that seemed to suggest a much more thematic work than what ultimately follows. Later attempts to add realism with claustrophobically-cropped shots sadly come off as cheap; frequent use of single camera angles for extended shots make for a static, almost theatrical viewing experience, and there is a generally down-market feel to the whole film.

Ultimately, Scars is a slow and uninspiring movie. The pace of the action drags in between stylish shots of Scar applying copious black make-up, limping along between plain walls from a single focal point, while not a lot happens. Danielle Cole was clearly chosen for her looks over her acting ability, while Neale Kimmel is quite forgettable, as is her character. But even this needn’t have mattered. Scars could have been a much more compelling experience had it taken its strife for striking and distinct visuals all the way.

rsz_scars2We are supposed to get the impression of madness in at least one of the girls, but it is sparsely expressed in a very sterile and bland manner. Writer-director Sean K Robb would have benefitted from taking more influence from Rodriguez, Tarantino, even Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which proved that style and flair can make a movie watchable despite questionable plot and characters. It is not sombre and brooding enough to be as slow as it is, and not bold and colourful enough to be as stylish as it wants to be. It is unfortunately just a dull film.

5/10

Vampires (1998) Blu-Ray Review

rsz_john_carpenters_vampiresJOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998) (BLU RAY)

Director: John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Tim Guinee
Running time: 108 minutes
Released by Powerhouse Films (Indicator Label) on Limited Dual Format Edition (7000 copies). Region Free. Out now.

Powerhouse’s Indicator label is a relatively new addition to the horror genre market but it has already impressed collectors with its clean presentations and wealth of extras. Following their excellent release of Carpenter’s Christine adaptation last year they are now adding two more of his back catalogue titles, Ghost of Mars and Vampires.

The Film: Based on John Steakley’s 1990 novel Vampire$, the film marked Carpenter’s 19th feature. It follows a similar premise to the novel as Jack Crow (James Woods) leads his team of vampire hunters including Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) across New Mexico flushing out vampire nests and tracking down Masters. However, after clearing out one particular nest his team is ambushed during celebrations by a centuries’ old Master called Valek (Eric Draven lookalike, Thomas Ian Griffith) and Crow’s team is brutally murdered. Along with a freshly bitten hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee), his only surviving team member Montoya and a young priest, Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), Crow hunts Valek across the desert plains as he tries to stop an ancient ritual being fulfilled.

I had not seen John Carpenter’s Vampires since its release at the cinema back in the late Nineties. I remember being less than impressed at the time and unfortunately almost two decades later nothing has changed my opinion. The film is a horror/western hybrid and it is just bad. It outstays its welcome at almost two hours and sadly it doesn’t even work as a ‘tits, guns and fangs’ B-movie because the production values are just too damn good.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_1The acting is abysmal as James Woods doesn’t just ham it up, he literally chews up scenery in every shot he is in (check out the moment where he first meets the Catholic priests). The fight scenes look amateurish, for example Valek kicks a chair at someone but uses such little force it only just reaches its intended victim and as for Don Jakoby’s script, well where to start. I am certainly no prude but by today’s standards it is an embarrassment, littered with casual misogyny and homophobia. Woods character utters the majority of it and whilst there is a certain irony that the villain Valek does indeed look European (“Eurotrash”) and dresses in effeminate (“fag”) clothing, I am not sure the film is meta enough to have made that connection.

The only positives I can say about Vampires is that Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger’s make-up effects are excellent and in most cases are clearly too good for such a weak film. For example, the scene where Valek takes revenge on Crow’s team at a motel is a particular highlight. Vampires also marked Carpenter’s 15th original score and whilst it continues his interest working with synths, this time he has skewed his sound into a Western aesthetic as he pays homage to the classics of Ford, Hawks and Peckinpah.

The Disc: The main feature is presented uncut and picture quality throughout is very good, there are a few scenes where the image appears a little soft but for the most part detail is impressive. The film is dowsed in filters during the daytime scenes which gives the picture a red hue as though dusk is never far away. Night scenes are suitably dark but detail is never lost and as night fades into morning, those filters come into play again without detail ever suffering.

Sound options include 5.1 Surround Sound track and Stereo Audio. I watched the feature in 5.1 Surround and there were no notable issues. Carpenter’s score sounded crisp and prevalent, whilst dialogue was audible throughout even during some of the heavy firearm sequences. I also checked and English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing are available on the disc.

There is no specific Chapters menu on the disc, however the feature has been separated into 13 chapters once the film is playing.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_2Special Features:

Audio commentary with director John Carpenter: A very dry commentary from Carpenter which mainly involves him describing what is happening on screen, rather than sharing interesting anecdotes. A missed opportunity, especially as there are several long periods of silence.

The Guardian Interview with John Carpenter – Part One, 1962-1983 (38 mins) the director discusses his career with Nigel Floyd at the National Film Theatre, London (filmed on 29th July 1994). Without a doubt the best aspect of the entire disc. Carpenter discusses his childhood memories and early attempts at filmmaking gradually leading to a formal education at film school. He describes how he got into screenplay writing and the critical reception of Assault on Precinct 13 in Europe finally leading to recognition State side. The origin of Michael Myers, his attitude to director’s cuts, The Fog, Escape From New York and a very interesting story about a preview screening of The Thing are also covered. In my opinion, this extra is more enjoyable than the main feature. Part 2 covering his more recent films is included on Powerhouse’s Ghosts of Mars release.

Behind the scenes (1999, 6 mins), Cast & Crew Interviews (1999, 9 mins), B-roll footage (1999, 9 mins). These three vintage additions can be played together as a ‘making of’ documentary or as separate interviews plus footage. Interviews with Carpenter, Woods, Baldwin, Lee, the SFX crew including Greg Nicotero are included but as they are essentially several mini-featurettes there is a lot of repetition in each section. However, each section adds a little extra information as you go through them chronologically.

Isolated score – Viewers can experience John Carpenter’s original soundtrack music as the film plays out with all other sound effects muted. It is a nice addition for fans but for the rest of us, it depends how eager you are to sit through the film again. It may have worked better as a literal isolated score track with a dynamic image gallery.

rsz_john_carpenters_vampires_3Original theatrical trailer – It does exactly what it says on the tin. Remastered in HD.

It is worth noting that during all the extras and particularly the vintage featurettes, there is very little mention that Vampires is actually based on Steakley’s novel and is not Carpenter’s own work. Instead, there is a strong emphasis on this being John Carpenter’s Vampires, presumably in a bid to sell it to his devoted fans. It would have been nice to have an extra about the man behind the original source material.

Also, whilst not included with the screener copy the sell-through edition includes an exclusive 20-page booklet with a new essay by Kim Newman, and a 2015 interview with John Carpenter about Vampires.

In conclusion: Powerhouse’s Indicator label continues to impress and as a back catalogue title with a limited audience, this is an impressive release. However Vampires is one of Carpenter’s weaker entries and despite the excellent Guardian interview, I can only recommend this release to die-hard fans.

Rated: 3/10

Dark Web: Steven Hickey’s Essential Guide To Creepypasta – Part 39: Sally (Play With Me)!

creepypastaDARK WEB: STEVEN HICKEY’S ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA – PART 39: SALLY (PLAY WITH ME)

As I’ve written here before in my coverage of 1999 and Where Bad Kids Go, there are few evils in the world as monstrous as those sick individuals who prey on children. It is the acts of the likes of the Moors Murderers, Fred and Rose West, and Ian Huntley that are the real world’s most disturbing horror stories. This week’s Dark Web feature is about a Pasta that combines elements of these true-life horrors with a traditional vengeful ghost story to chilling effect. This is the story of Sally, Play With Me.

The story of Sally first appeared online at author and DeviantArtist, La-Mishi-Mish’s (formerly Kiki-Hyuga) page on 29 February 2012. You can read it at: http://la-mishi-mish.deviantart.com/art/CreepyPasta-Play-with-me-287823665
It recounts the story of young Sally, a sweet eight-year-old girl who is full of the innocence of youth. However, she finds herself plunged into a nightmare when her abusive and manipulative uncle Johnny comes to visit. After a horrifying ordeal (which, thankfully, is implied rather than graphically described), she looks to tell her parents about what she went through. Unable to process what they’re being told, the girl’s mother and father enter a state of denial. Later, Johnny overhears the two discussing their concerns – and decides to punish the girl for breaking her silence. However, Sally’s story does not end there…

The writing gets a tiny bit rough at times – which is only to be expected when you take the author’s relative inexperience into account – however, the story is strong and shocking, and (like some of the very finest horror stories) there is a real sense of pathos to Play With Me. Even as she becomes something terrifying, one can never forget that Sally is a victim herself. In her own story, Sally is far from the worst monster.

rsz_past_by_isaacostaIn a lot of ways she is reminiscent of Ring’s Sadako (or Samara for those only familiar with the remake), a sympathetic innocent who becomes corrupted by the horrors inflicted upon her. However, lets us not forget that here in the West, children are regularly used to invoke fear. We have an ageing population, one that has every reason to fear the next, younger generation. After all, ultimately, they are going to replace each of us.

What’s more, young children are far less rational or controlled than grown-ups. Their emotions are volatile, their brains just alien enough to make them unpredictable, and their different view of the world makes children pretty unfathomable to a large section of adult society. Of course, corruption of youth and innocence is a huge part of the Creepypasta movement – it’s the reason why there are hundreds and hundreds of ‘lost episode’ pastas relating to children’s programmes, such as Squidward’s Suicide or Suicide Mouse, and (as far as I’m aware) not a single one related to adult programming such as The Sopranos, 24 or Breaking Bad. There’s something inherently unsettling about taking childhood, the time in which you were meant to be most carefree, most safe, and reawakening those deep dark fears that came with the times.

The official term for a fear of children is paedophobia, and the reasons for which somebody might be afflicted with it are many, but it’s clearly common enough for Hollywood to have taken notice. Spooky kids are bread and butter in horror movies, and Sally definitely falls into the spooky category. She’s also a character that has seen a predominantly warm welcome from the Creepypasta community. There are plenty of pictures of the character on DeviantArt, plus an unofficial spin-off story, Will You Play With Me?, which was posted over at Creepypasta.com by user D.S. Ozolnieks (http://www.creepypasta.com/will-you-play-with-me/). Will You Play With Me? tells the story of an unfortunate individual who happens to cross paths with Sally.

There are also plenty of those ever-present readings online, including one by the heavyweight champion of the Creepypasta Reading scene, Mr Creepypasta, (which you can listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKJb4hU-4qc) and the equally impressive Creeps McPasta here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3K6X2yXL44.

This is a character who has touched, and terrified, thousands of people, and as such has taken on iconic status with some sections of the fandom.

I was lucky enough to speak with the character’s creator, La-Mishi-Mish, and she gave me some frank, brave answers to my questions, answers which some readers may find upsetting.
Our interview follows below.

UK HORROR SCENE: In your own words, tell us a little about Sally/Play With Me?

LA-MISHI-MISH: Play With Me is based on an eight year old girl named Sally. It takes place during a summer in the Sixties, and unfortunately, it will be her last summer to experience any true happiness or freedom as a child. I won’t go into full detail into the story for those who are possibly interested in reading it, but it let’s just say it does not have a happy ending. Sally, however, is your typical ‘good daughter’ who wants to make her parents happy and proud of her. And people like her never deserve what she does go through.

rsz_sally_1_by_la_mishi_mishUKHS: What served as your inspiration for the character?

LMM: Sally is 100% based and inspired off of my mother. I, again, won’t go into too much detail of her past, but my mother is a survivor of incest and many, many other things. She honestly should not be here alive after what she has been through, but I’m supremely grateful that she is. I honestly don’t know what I would do if she wasn’t here today. But despite everything my mother has gone through, she still lives every day to the fullest no matter what may come crashing down on her, and I wanted to incorporate that into Sally’s character, before and after her events in the story.

UKHS: Which idea came to you first, the image or the story?

LMM: The image came first. It wouldn’t surprise me if no one believes what I’ll say next but, my family and I are, ‘different’. Different as in we are able to see or feel spirits or anything paranormal. When I was little, I had two ‘imaginary friends’. One named Sally, the other Sarah. Sally wore pink, Sarah wore purple. Sally was a brunette while Sarah was blonde. Of course when I told my mother this, she never wrote it off as them being ‘imaginary’, but simply accepted that I, like her, could see spirits/ghosts. I don’t see them as much now, but I like to think they’re still here watching over us. Anything I do happen to see is out of the corner of my eye, my mother and brother Logan however, can see them clearly, as if they are real people.

But after I came up with my initial idea of who my protagonist would look like in my story, it was then I decided to base one of the many things my mother had gone through herself as a child, as the story itself. Albeit a far ‘tamer’ version. But my mother always wanted to ‘be’ a cartoon character in some way, so I created Sally and Play With Me in her honor.

UKHS: Are you a fan of Creepypasta? If so, what is your favourite Creepypasta by a creator other than yourself?

LMM: I’m a fan of SOME Creepypasta, but not all. If I may be honest, I haven’t been up to date with any recently popular CP’s. But if I was to choose a handful of my personal it would be these: My very first Creepypasta story I ever read, was BEN: Haunted Majora’s Mask. It’s quite a read, but definitely worth every minute you spend on it. Creeped me out to no end. Then there’s the unforgettable Jeff the Killer, Mr. Widemouth, Clifton Bunny Man, Huntsville Camping Trip, The Thing That Stalks The Fields, Eyeless Jack, Smile.Dog, Squidward’s Suicide, Cupcakes, The Willow Men, Julia Legare, Tourist Trap, LSD: Dream Emulator, Bubby the Clown, Herobrine, Disneyland 1999, Lavender Town, Russian Sleep Experiment, just to name a few. They’re all great in my opinion.

UKHS: Why do you think Creepypastas in general, and especially Sally/Play With Me, have been so popular with the fans?

LMM: I think Creepypasta itself is online scary stories that can be shared and told countless of times. People love scary stories, no matter how scary or even silly it may be. Seeing how you can use the internet for almost anything, creating and sharing something like stories would be easy to do.
I’m not sure how my story got so popular, but in a way I’m kinda honored, if not flattered it did. I’m not too confident in my written work as I am in my drawings, but it gives me some feeling of accomplishment.

rsz_sally_profile_sheet_by_la_mishi_mishUKHS: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of?

LMM: I don’t read much literature (I’m more into manga), but from what I remember, one of my favorite authors was Laurie Faria Stolarz and her book series, Blue is for Nightmares. I unfortunately only got up to a certain point in the series because I couldn’t find the rest of the books, but from what I remember it’s a wonderful series. I highly recommend it to anyone who is into mystery novels.

UKHS: What work of your own are you most proud of?

LMM: That’s a tough question, I’m very hard on myself at times with my artwork, whether it be drawn or written. But right now I am pretty proud of my Play With Me story. I never expected a silly little story I made in honor of my mom would get popular in any form. Art wise? That’s a little tough because, there’s tons of pieces that I personally feel proud of, but too many to list on here.

UKHS: The fans are very passionate about the character. Are there any examples of fan art, such as images, films or readings, in particular that have impressed you?

LMM: Yes actually, I do have a few favourites that I’d be happy to show you.
http://mio-m3.deviantart.com/art/Sally-638350582
http://a-b-b-a.deviantart.com/art/sleeping-beauty-640341677
http://isaacosta.deviantart.com/art/Past-601597215
http://tokami-fuko.deviantart.com/art/PLAY-WITH-ME-569240024
http://delucat.deviantart.com/art/Cosplay-Creepypasta-Jeff-The-Killer-with-Sally-556864766
http://havenrelis.deviantart.com/art/Sally-progress-pics-546588727
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3K6X2yXL44

UKHS: Your artwork is incredible. Where did you learn to create such evocative images? How do you get inspiration for the creative process?

LMM: Awah, thank you so much haha, I’m flattered to hear that. I first started drawing when I was five. I always loved watching my aunt Cheyenne draw little comics and characters, so when I turned eight I wanted her to teach me how to draw. She taught me the basics, but after that I’ve been self taught. I wish it was easier to ‘print’ out the images one can visualise in one’s head, but when my art does come close to it, it’s a great accomplishment. My inspiration almost always stems from my emotions to my music that I listen to. A simple song can easily spark up many upon many ideas for pictures.

UKHS: Will you ever return to the story of Sally in the future? And what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead?

LMM: I’m actually in the process of giving my Play With Me story a sort of ‘reboot’. Not to replace the previous story, mind you, just to have a little fun to add more to it and see if the public will like it. I will admit that I could have done lots more to my story, but regardless of what anyone says about it, I am happy with how the story turned out. I don’t know if you’ve read my fan story Origin of Eyeless Jack (http://la-mishi-mish.deviantart.com/art/Origin-of-Eyeless-Jack-363990065), but I also plan on creating one for BEN: Haunted Majoras Mask. They have nothing to do with the original, of course, but they too are also for fun. And in the future, I just hope people enjoy what I continue to post up in my gallery, whether it be literature or artwork.

rsz_sally2UKHS: And finally, are there any sites or projects that you’d like me to send my readers to for more of your work?

LMM: Well, there’s obviously my deviantART page: La-Mishi-Mish.deviantart.com, that’s where I post most if not all my work. Then there’s my artblog over on Tumblr, http://artofakiki.tumblr.com. And finally, if one is even interested, my YouTube channel. I have tons of old videos of my first years on YouTube itself, but now has small voice acting tidbits of the Five Nights at Freddy’s animatronics and other shenanigans. Just search up ‘La Mishi Mish’ and you should be able to find me with no problem (UKHS: the channel is here: https://www.youtube.com/user/HyuugaKiki100). With my current living conditions, I am unable to upload constant videos on my channel, but hopefully one day that will change.

UKHS: Thank you for speaking with me.

Sally is one of those Creepypasta characters who has become an integral part of the scene for several fans. Join me next time when I’ll be speaking with the creator of another iconic web-horror character…

Havenhurst (2016) Review

Havenhurst posterHavenhurst (2016)

Director: Andrew C. Erin

Starring: Julie Benz, Belle Shouse, Fionnula Flanagan, Josh Stamberg

Havenhurst is now available on Cable VOD and Digital HD platforms, including Charter Spectrum, Comcast, DirecTV Cinema, Dish, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and more

“Clean slate. Fresh start. The rest is up to you.”

Genre darling Julie Benz stars in this entertaining thriller. She plays Jackie, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab who goes to stay in an apartment building that takes in various addicts and offer them a home, as long as they obey the rules. Her landlady Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan) offers a warm welcome with a side helping of veiled threats. Jackie is welcome to stay for as long she wants but she mustn’t return to her old habits or she’ll face eviction. Jackie agrees to the terms, but she has another motive for taking the apartment in Havenhurst. Jackie’s friend Danielle has recently disappeared from the building without notice and Jackie wants to find out what happened to her. Luckily she is the newest occupant of the apartment Danielle has just vacated. During her search, Jackie meets some of the other residents, including a young girl named Sarah (Shouse) who reminds Jackie of her tragic past.

rsz_havenhurst_3Havenhurst doesn’t exactly break new ground. And I was surprised that I guessed the nature of the apartment building so quickly. Not that the film tries for a big reveal, but literally, my first thought was correct. Still, that doesn’t matter so much with such enjoyable performances and a smoothly told story. Julie Benz is in good form and Fionnula Flanagan, despite the small part, shines brightly as the overbearing landlady with a very dark secret. Sadly, the villains don’t get much screen time. At least not as much as they rightly deserve. Especially given the slasher roots of Havenhurst. Shouse is a talented young actress and does a decent job as the quiet and traumatized Sarah.

There are a couple of gory scenes but there was certainly room for many more, and it feels a bit like a lost opportunity. I’m not generally fan of torture porn, but this movie could have used a bit more blood and guts. Though, there is at least one scene very heavy on the guts. The practical effects are also a welcome change of pace. No CGI that’s noticeable at least (which is always the best kind of CG). Not that there is great emphasis on special effects. Havenhurst depends more on suspense rather than effects.

There are few places where the movie falls flat. There are an unfortunate amount of jump scares that aren’t scary. The director would have been better off aiming for psychological thrills or, again, gore, instead. There are a lot of side characters who don’t get much, if any development. Jackie’s friend Tim (Josh Stamberg) is more plot device than character. He’s a cop. He’s her friend… and that’s it. There is nothing to indicate how they met, how they know each other, how long they’ve known each other. Same goes for the creepy building superintendant and Eleanor’s son Ezra (Matt Lasky)who could have had a much larger and more threatening part, but appears in only about three scenes. Both Tim and Ezra are wasted opportunities script-wise.

rsz_havenhurst_2While Havenhurst isn’t exactly an amazing film, it entertains and provides a coherent, well told story. Julie Benz fans in particular will enjoy her in this starring role. Just be sure to curb your expectations, and settle in for a decent little thriller with a nice kick at the end.
Kudos for: Julie Benz rocking the brunette dye job.

Lesson learned: Always read the lease agreement.

7/10

An Interview with Director Steven Kastrissios ahead of World Prem of BLOODLANDS at FrightFest Glasgow!

rsz_bloodlands-steven_kastrissiosAn Interview with Director Steven Kastrissios ahead of World Prem of BLOODLANDS at FrightFest Glasgow!

Ahead of the World Premiere of his latest film BLOODLANDS at Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow, Steven Kastrissios discusses the challenges of making the world’s first Albanian / Australian horror film.

So what have you been doing in the eight years since making your amazing debut with THE HORSEMAN ?

Writing. I was just 24 when I shot ‘The Horseman’ and it was only my second feature script, so I wanted to expand my horizons and I wrote many scripts in completely different genres and styles. I developed other little projects and came close to doing other features with other people’s scripts but for various reasons they fell through, usually over the script. I also stumbled into music and that bled into my film work too.

How did BLOODLANDS come about as the first Australian/Albanian collaboration?

Coffee with my Albanian-Australian friend, Dritan Arbana. He told me about the blood-feuds and I instantly saw an idea for a story and also importantly, how to make it a viable production with limited means. Dritan is an actor with no experience or desire to be a film producer, but I trusted him and anointed him as my producing-partner and two or three months after that coffee, we were in Albania prepping the shoot.

Why have the Albanians shied away from the genre up to now? Because their own history is so frightening?

I’m not Albanian, so I can’t answer this exactly, but from what the crew told me, they had a solid industry decades ago with the USSR influenced propaganda films, but their local industry has had limited opportunities since. They tend to like local comedies more and deal with the issue of blood-feuds as straight dramas, which there has been plenty. There were no stunt-coordinators, armourers, special-effects make-up artists we could find there, so limitations like that would make it difficult for any budding local genre filmmakers. I have a post-production background so I had the advantage of knowing how to design shots where we only had to do certain minimal things on-set, like very simple make-up, and the rest would be completed in post. We could do things safely too, like have real guns but no ammunition on set. Not even dummy cartridges. No explosive squibs too. All this stuff would be done through a subtle use of VFX.

When did you come across the legend of the Shtriga?

During my initial research. There’s various types of witches in the Albanian and Balkan cultures. There’s even a witch that will maim you if you waste bread, so they have a witch for everything there! And fortunately the Shtriga myth fitted perfectly with the backstory I had in mind for my witch.

Directing the movie in a foreign language? Much more difficult surely because you need to understand the performance shadings?

This was just another hurdle we had to jump through collectively, but people learn fast and adapt so it wasn’t a big problem and most of the cast/crew spoke English, so I had a team of translators around me at all times for when someone needed help understanding me and vice versa. Whilst I don’t have an ear for Albanian, I did have the advantage of being the writer and the fact that I’d based the main characters on my own family, meant that I knew these characters inside and out.

rsz_bloodlands-web1How did you go about tackling the portrayal of Albanian people and their culture, which to outsiders still carries a lot of negative clichés?

I was not aware of the clichés so much, coming from Australia. Dritan filled me in on countless tales of Albania, but what we were exploring was at the end of the day, a horror story with fantasy elements. So we weren’t necessarily tied down to absolute reality all the time and the film is lens in a way that embraces the ominous horror elements, wherever we found them. And the story is set in the mountains of a rural village, so we weren’t exploring modern city life with local crime figures, which may be the clichés people speak of.

The Albania I saw, mainly when we were location scouting, knocking on doors and seeing into people’s home lives, gave me confidence to know that the story I’d written in Sydney felt authentic to Albania. Anything that didn’t fit we re-wrote with either the actors or with Dritan’s consultation beforehand, who translated the script for me. I’m half Greek and Albania and Greece share a border, so there was that familiarity for me as well. Although the two countries certainly have significant cultural differences, there is still a Mediterranean through-line that is similar.

What will Albanian audiences make of it do you think? When will it be released there? Will the film kickstart a genre industry in Albania do you think? Or hope?

I have no idea. I made the film for a global audience. The Albanian sensibilities in the arts is unique to itself, so it could go either way. There was certainly a lot of interest in the project when we were there shooting, so I would imagine there would be a natural curiosity about the country’s first horror film.

Are the Albanian cast stars in their own right, or did you discover them? 

They are all stars in my eyes. Gëzim Rudi who plays the father is one the most recognisable actors in Albania. Ilire Vinca who plays the Shtriga was in The Forgiveness of Blood and Suela Bako, playing the mother, has had a lot of experience too and is a filmmaker herself. But it’s the feature debut for most of the cast I believe.

Bearing in mind how difficult it is to get indie genre films released, was it a conscious decision to not make the film in the English language?

Certainly having non-English language does hurt sales internationally, but what’s the alternative? Having Albanians speak English instead? People have suggested that, but I think that’s a terrible decision long-term that would seriously compromise this project. Albanian is an ancient language rarely heard outside of the region and it’s one of the few that has no root in other languages, so we should preserve it. Global audiences obviously do find foreign cultures of interest so we have that on our side and people so far do seem to be genuinely intrigued in a horror film about an Albanian witch!

And finally, what next?

I’m developing another little project while I make my first serious attempts to go to USA with a script I’ve been developing. In the past I only sent one script out to a handful of people in USA, and I wasn’t even there to do the pitch meetings, as I was based in Sydney and focusing on Australian projects mainly, with no desire to move. But after the fun I had in Albania and the speed of which it came together, I’m all for working internationally.

BLOODLANDS is showing at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sat 25 Feb, 2.20pm as part of Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow 2017.

Killer Piñata (2015) Review

rsz_kp1Killer Piñata (2015)
Directed by: Stephen Tramontana
Written by: Megan Macmanus and Stephen Tramontana from a story by Nick Weeks.
Starring: Lindsay Ashcroft, Nate Bryan, Eliza-Jane Morris, Steven James Price and Joette Waters.

Available here – http://lcfilmsonline.com/product/killer-pinata-bluray-dvd-or-limited-edition-vhs/

A possessed piñata, seeking to avenge the savagery that humanity has inflicted on his kind, picks off a group of friends, one by one, in an unending night of terror.

There has always been a trend in the horror industry for films with titles that make us grimace. These are the titles that we’re almost embarrassed to say aloud for fear that someone will think we’re condoning the pas complique of their unashamed simplicity. Back in 1964 we were watching Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. In 1966 Don Weis gave us The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. More recently, we’ve sat through Sharknado and all its sequels (including Feeding Frenzy and Heart of Sharkness). And now, thanks to Stephen Tramontana, we can all sit back and bask in the glory of the title that is Killer Piñata.

I did not sit down in front of this movie expecting finesse, sophistication or subtlety. I’m stupid, but I’m not that stupid. I did not expect cutting edge special effects or award-winning acting. In truth, I went into this film with very low expectations, and I was not disappointed.

The film opens in the Candyworld toy store and it appears there’s been an incident. The hook-handed shopkeeper (Joette Waters, The Night-Like Daydreams of Wolfgang Deedle, Dead Girls, and His Dream, His Nightmare) finds a former cashier sprawled dead on the floor. In blood, with one finger, the cashier has started to write a final message, identifying her killer. She only got halfway through the word and we see the letters P I Ñ A.

rsz_kp2Jump forward a little in time and David Goodman (Steven James Price, I’m Fine, Welcome to Dreadville V: Souls of Mischief, and Not Another Zombie Movie) is bursting into Candyworld, desperate to buy a piñata or three for his son’s birthday party celebrations. Obviously, he buys the one labelled ‘DO NOT CELL’, and this is how the unlikely mayhem moves from Candyworld into suburbia.

Despite the ludicrousness of the plot, I have to admit there is something a little unsettling about the ritual of beating a piñata. Piñatas are usually pretty. They’re usually small to the point of being vulnerable. And they’re invariably filled with appetising and appealing sweets. So, given all these positive qualities of a piñata, why do we encourage children to string them up like war criminals and then take a bat to them like Robert De Niro in The Untouchables?

Clearly the Killer Piñata, seeing his kith and kin succumb to this fate, is pondering the same question. And, if we sidestep the notion of him being sentient and possessing motility, we can understand why pathological vengeance becomes his raison d’etre.

rsz_kp3This is not a film to take seriously. It’s a film to watch with drunken friends. It’s a film to watch with people who appreciate surrealist comedy. It’s a film to watch with those who enjoy the OTT reactions of those under attack from the Papier Mache paws of a killer piñata. Given the current political climate of the world, with so many reasons to be unhappy, fearful and worried, this movie offers a chance to laugh at the absurd and embrace the notion of ridiculousness. I think it’s fair say that this Killer Piñata can’t be beaten. 7/10

Abandoned Dead (2017) DVD Review

rsz_1adABANDONED DEAD (2017)

Dir- Mark W. Curran

Starring- Sarah Nicklin, Judith O’Dea, Carlos Ramirez, Robert E Wilhelm

UK DVD Release – Feb 27th 2017 from LEFT FILMS

A security guard’s sudden night shift at an addiction clinic and the sinister goings on that befall this luckless worker are the main plot focus for Mark W. Curran’s independent horror ABANDONED DEAD, that whilst showing some of its budget constraints and at times flaws slipping through the cracks does also allow it’s director and main star to showcase their talent on a shoestring.

Rachel (Nicklin) is on her way home from a day shift but at the last minute she is called up by her boss to cover a late shift over the memorial day weekend and being at night is something that she is not too keen on since she has a “problem with night-time” (sure that’s known as fear of the dark?). Given a quick tour of the addiction clinic that’s her work place for the night, she is warned by the secretary who is about to leave her, to lock the doors at all times (that rule will be broken) and being assured not be afraid despite learning that the clinic is in a bad area and that addicts have tendency to try and break into the building for extra methadone. Once she is the only person there its not long before strange things start to happen, weird noises and voices Rachel starts to hear and soon she finds herself possibly the focus of a killer or supernatural presence that wants to end her shift pretty abruptly and some of this may also tie in with a detective (Ramirez) investigating a spate of murders and disappearances linked to the clinic.

rsz_1ad1Whilst ABANDONED DEAD is clearly a low budgeted feature and that does unfortunately seep through during its short and sweet running time of 77 minutes, there are still moments within the film to appreciate amongst the faults and the director clearly knows how to pace and set up a story well and given the limitations of the budget he has still managed to make an interesting feature that knows not to stretch beyond its means and also not deliver a slowly driven feature that can be the fault of many an independent film. Yes, as mentioned there are flaws. Aside from a decent performance by Nicklin, some of the other acting seems a bit ropey and hammy including a scene with a caretaker of the building who for some reason might be linked to the dead, skinned cats that are lying about outside the clinic and some hammy acting from a mad doctor (Wilhelm) who could be linked to the disappearances that have occurred at the clinic and seems to be more interested in performing surgery of the less life saving kind.

Some effects in the film don’t fully work an example of which is a shot of a female ghoul that looks a bit hokey to the point of not being scary but more laughable, yet at the same time effects are kept to a minimum which in the long run is a good decision from a production standpoint and the final twist is pretty easy to figure out and at times seems a pretty obvious sign post once the film escalates to its final conclusion. The police detective as well seems a bit like he’s popped up from another film with earlier scenes of him wandering around a city night-scape accompanied with a voice over monologue trying to sound like a film noir private detective. His inclusion, at first, seems a bit of a confusing character in terms of what his position will be towards the films proceeding story and the scenes of him wandering around to drag and add an uneven tone. But then in retrospect this could be a neat ploy by Curran that plays into the films final twist.

rsz_1ad2Incidentally the horror buffs and geeks around will be pleased to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Judith O’Dea in a brief role as a doctor. Despite some flaws and a predictable twist there is still much to enjoy in ABANDONED DEAD and its in the later part of the twist that some neat and stylish scenes are executed that clearly shows Curran has a talent and a knack of leading a story into an atmospheric conclusion and in these latter parts there are scenes that are unnerving in their portrayal. Whilst certain parts of the film look a bit weak its hard not to be impressed by this neatly packed supernatural thriller that offers creepy moments, confident direction and a willingness to express some maturity and aspiration beyond its limitations.

6/10

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #17 – Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

rsz_tucker_and_dale_posterJoin Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Title: Tucker and Dale VS. Evil

Year: 2010

Director: Eli Craig

Starring: Tyler Labine, Alan Tyduck, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss

Netflix Rating: 4.5 stars

Seen it before: No

First Impressions: At first I thought I was in DEEP trouble judging by the dumb title. BUT then I saw who it was starring! Tyler Labine!!! He is a long time favorite of mine and tragically underrated. He’s a goddamn national treasure! Alan Tyduck is good too…So I felt assured by the stars and the rating that this will be good. It promises to be a horror comedy, let’s find out if it delivers. Fingers crossed.

The Verdict: Tucker and Dale VS Evil is a fun film that subverts the “killer hillbilly” trope so painfully common to horror films.

rsz_tucker_and_dale_3Tucker (Tyduk) and his friend Dale (Labine)are on their way to Tucker’s newly purchased dream vacation home. On the way they run into a group of college students who are on their way to get drunk in the woods over the weekend. Dale tries to talk to one of the college girls at a gas station stop but the college kinds, raised on a steady diet of Wrong Turn, flee. Dale and Tucker encounter the college kids again as they’re doing a little night fishing on the lake. One of the kids, Allison (Bowden) falls in the lake and hits her head. Dale jumps in to rescue her but all Allison’s friends see is a hillbilly taking away their friend. And so begins an epic case of misunderstanding and brutal accidental deaths, while a very confused Tucker and Dale think they are caught in a mass suicide pact of college kids.

The fun is both the college students falling into the assumption that any hillbilly must be a killer hillbilly, and Tucker and Dale’s reactions to all the death and mayhem happening around them. There are a number of great deaths, soured by an unfortunate amount of CGI. The CGI is very poor and very obvious. Most of the impalements are done digitally and there are quite a few impalements. The movie makes up for some of it’s worse effects with really good trauma make-up. Especially in the case of poor Tucker who takes most of the damage. But practical gore effects would have elevated the film and been a great parody of older horror hillbilly films like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

rsz_tucker_and_dale_2Still, that is a small complaint. The acting is great. The comedic timing of Tyduck and Labine is perfectly on point. The actual villain of the film emerges in the form Chad (Jesse Moss) a preppy college kid who slowly becomes unhinged as his personal demons overtake him. The death scenes are hilarious and there is a lot of great repartee.

This is an older film, but if you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it. It’s not the goriest horror comedy, or maybe even the funniest, but it’s an original and subversive take on a classic trope and manages to breathe new life into one of the more obnoxious horror tropes.

Rating: 8/10

Ghosts of Darkness (2017) Review

GhostsOfDarkness-POSTER_BILLING - 350-EditedGhosts of Darkness (2017)

Written & Directed By: David Ryan Keith
Produced By: Lorraine Keith
Starring: Michael Koltes, Paul Flannery, Steve Weston, Lisa Livingstone, Liam Matheson, Morgan Faith Keith, Cameron Mowatt, Lindsay Cromar.
Release Date: March 7th, 2017 on VOD, and June 6th on DVD
Trailer Link: https://youtu.be/8FR5Uq9MMiU

Introduction:
Ghosts of Darkness, is the third feature film, to come from Scottish Writer/Director David Ryan Keith, and was part of the official selection of films at the ‘Bram Stoker International Film Festival, 2016.

The two previous feature films, were 2011’s zom/com spectacular, Attack Of The Herbals, and 2014’s bloodthirsty slasher, The Redwood Massacre’, which had the classic tale of teens in the woods, being hunted and slaughtered. Both of the films are clever in their storytelling, and choice of sub genre, with the two films following completely different paths. To that end, Ghosts of Darkness, certainly follows in the footsteps of its predecessors in following a different path, and for me, this film feels like it’s got its serious face on, and has more ambition and maturity to it.

Filmed in Scotland, Ghosts Of Darkness is the first feature film, that the talented Scottish director has made in the paranormal genre. The film secured worldwide distribution, before a scene had even been filmed, with American distribution company Uncork’d Entertainment in August of 2015.

god_promoshot44Synopsis:
On the strength of their reputations, Jack Donovan (Koltes), a paranormal investigator, and Jonathan Blazer (Flannery), a powerful psychic, are paired together in a large manor house with a very dark and shady past, in the hope of solving a mystery, that has had people guessing since the 1800’s.

To do this, Donovan and Blazer will be locked in the house for three nights, to record their findings and prove once and for all, if there really are secrets lurking within the walls. After starting their investigation, they discover that there’s more than one, very real paranormal entity, that means to do them harm. The two men must put their differences aside, if they want to survive their stay at Richmond Manor.

Review:
Ghosts of Darkness, is a celebration and a triumph, for Scottish indie-horror, film making. Do not make the mistake, of thinking this is another film, that’s riding the coattails of paranormal activity. This is a film that stands on it its own two feet.

demon7Creating a film about two men, running round a house chasing ghosts, is by no means an easy thing to do. It could have been so easy for things to have gone stale and fallen flat, but the dialogue is slick, witty and funny. There are moments of major intrigue that build suspense, and when things get going, the non stop action does not let the film fall into the trap of becoming a sleeping aid. The pacing of the film is great. Its not a film you have to be patient with, and then only delivers the frights at the end. Its gripping the whole way through, particularly the relationship between Blazer and Donovan, and the development of their characters. The pair, seemed so at ease, not only with each other, but in the roles they were portraying. Its obvious there was a good camaraderie between Koltes and Flannery, because although their characters are very chalk and cheese, they worked so well together. You are taken on a wonderful journey with the pair, from them butting heads, to forming a mutual respect, and most important of all, a real friendship.

Upon the two protagonists being introduced to us, they both start to go about their work, and have a very different approach towards getting started. Blazer is looking for something to drink, and Donovan gets out all of his fancy gadgets, and goes about setting them up. Little do they know at this point, that within the walls of Richmond Manor, there really are things that go bump in the night.To begin with, the two are dealing with ghosts that merely tease them with noises, apparitions, and actions akin to poltergeist activity. But when demons enter the fray, things go from bad to worse, as they start to prey on their inner most feelings and fears. Things then turn to acts of physical harm, use of sharp weapons, extreme violence, and much worse.

1The special effects and makeup team that worked on this film, need to take a bow. The ghosts and demons look genuinely threatening and scary. The eyes are the window to the soul, and firstly with the ghosts, the big black eyes show us an element of pure evil and bad intentions. The blackness in the eyes, reminded somewhat, of a film called ‘Grave Encounters’, which was terrifying, so this really worked well. The skin, as you would expect for a ghost is very pale, almost grey, and is made up to look dead and scarred. Its been done very effectively and the demons look incredible.

They really are the epitome of evil. If you had one of these walking towards you in a dark house in the middle of the night, you’d have a heart attack. Its hard to imagine that there is actually a person under that make up and that its not something straight from the necronomicon. The time and detail that has gone into that has gone into creating the gaping wounds and decomposing flesh is astonishing.

Score: 8/10