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Palette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

rsz_51tshpgfpulPalette of the Improbable: Tales of Horror & Darkness by Steve Vasquez – Book Review

Available HERE

Totalling seven stories, Palette of the Improbable (PotI) plays host to a number of (as you may have guessed) improbable stories and scenarios. These range from deals with The Devil, paranormal hauntings and time travel. It really is a mixed bag where we end up with varying degrees of success. The overarching theme that binds it all together is the improbability that these stories might take place in the real world, and that is very much the case for the most part. However, in blatant contradiction to what I just said; three of the total seven stories I could very well imagine may have happened at some point in time, in some guise, somewhere in the world. But this only adds to both the horror and tragedy conveyed in these particular stories (“God Works in Mysterious Ways”, “Good Night, Sleep Tight” and “A Hand Is a Terrible Thing to Waste”).

If we can define “palette” as the range of colours available to an artist. Here we must transform colours to words. If words, like colours, are combined to create the finished product; we are left with a narrow range. To this collections fault it contains one too many cliches which take away from the occasional brilliance that lurks just beneath the surface. Before we go any further, let me just say, if you’re looking for a quick read with smatterings of horror and darker themes, PotI is worth picking up. Let me make that clear. However, the execution of some of the stories leaves a lot to be desired. I think it is also worth mentioning, there also seemed to be a trend of suspicion towards women. This is particularly evident in some of the earlier stories we are presented with. Whether this was intentional or not, is not known to me at this point in time, but it did jump out at me and I’m not exactly a chest thumping feminist.

I found myself on the fence for the most part while reading these stories. There were a few glimmers of great writing only to become dull again when the next cliche rolled around. “Through the Wormhole Darkly” for example, contained some great detail and background knowledge in some areas but then contained some anachronisms which undercut some great moments. Maybe some greater care is needed to tidy up these small issues for future stories from Vasquez, which I strongly encourage him to continue. The variety of stories was great, you never knew where the next one would take you and that shows a versatility from Vasquez to his credit. There was a familiarity to the stories, but then again there is to most stories in this day and age.

Maybe feeling more like a pulp novel than anything else. I would still recommend PotI for a quick read (under an hour in total). Being overall a bit rough around the edges, there is certainly room for improvement and some of these stories could definitely be fleshed out a bit more (I’m looking at you “Good Night, Sleep Tight”). There is a creepy opener and a light hearted close. I wanted to keep this review brief as I don’t want to ruin any of this compelling little stories.

The take home message is give this short story collection a chance, despite its flaws.

6/10

First full length trailer for Stephen King’s IT lands – watch it here!

OK time to fess up, when I heard of a re-make of IT being made into a feature then I was apoplectic with rage . I am a huge fan of the original 1990 mini-series and I can’t think of Pennywise without Tim Curry popping in my head. But the images over the last few months and recent teaser have whet my appetite BUT now the full length trailer has hit and by god it looks stunning. I was literally on the edge on my office chair after 30 seconds. It looks and has the feels of everything I could hope for.

So check it out here and let us know on the UK Horror Scene  twitter page – http://www.twitter.com/ukhorrorscene what you think!!

 

Essex Spacebin (2016) Review

rsz_spacebinEssex Spacebin (2016)

Writers/Directors: Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead

Starring: Lorraine Malby, Caryl Griffith, Joerg Stadler

To quote Charles Manson: You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody’s crazy. This sentiment I feel couldn’t ring any truer with Essex Spacebin which was unleashed on the world back in December 2016. Essex Spacebin is a twisted tale which follows protagonist Lorraine’s journey to another dimension in Essex. Not sold yet?

All round debuts by Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead, from directing to acting, these guys introduce us to their world like an acid trip without the chemicals. Our protagonist Lorraine is portrayed by Lorraine Malby who’s previous works include Born to be Kind and Cleaning in progress. Lorraine’s tale begins from a very early age when she encounters a gentleman on a beach who explains his quest to find the key for the stargate, a portal which connects our world to a different universe.

The story then picks up many years later with Lorraine now an obese senior marketing executive for a chicken shop. Determined not to let the chains of reality hold her down Lorraine is on a quest to find the gate through to a different world while trying to not lose her family in the process. Now that we’ve established the basis of this tale, the energy of this Essex Spacebin does not let up for one second. Like an attack on the senses I found that while trying to keep up with the dialogue there was always something visually that made this a challenge to do so. From milk bottles being bounced off characters faces to stealing televisions, if the Directors intention was to make the viewer feel exhausted they have smashed it out of the park.

rsz_spacebin1Very much the visual equivalent of ADHD, it can be hard at times to gauge the overall plot and journey of the characters which adds to the intensity and makes the viewer questioning what could happen next which in the Essex space bins case is anywhere. Ceephax Acid Crew provide the music throughout the feature and they really compliment the outlandish scenes and helps the overall flow of the film.

All the fundamental traits that make a B-movie are very present, from the charm of low production but colossal ideas to non-convincing but believable acting. This film oozes creativity but can be hard to appreciate with the fast-paced nature of the dialogue and plot. I can draw parallels between films such as the Greasy Srrangler and Toxic Avenger in many ways. Essex Spacebin feels very much like a film that was made for a certain audience, not intended for mass appeal and more trying to appeal to a cult film following.

rsz_spacebin2As debut directors, it’s exciting to see where they go from here as originality and creativity can be few and far between these days which brings me back to my opening. As Charles Manson rightly said if back in the day being crazy meant something and nowadays everyone’s crazy, I expect to see Philip Thompson and David Hollinshead do something pretty fucking crazy.

4/10

Network announce the new HD Restoration of Jack the Ripper On Blu-ray and DVD from 27th March 2017

rsz_jackNetwork announce the new HD Restoration of Jack the Ripper On Blu-ray and DVD from 27th March 2017

Double Oscar Winner Michael Caine heads a star-studded cast in this acclaimed dramatisation of the hunt for the notorious serial killer who preyed on the prostitutes of London’s East End – Jack the Ripper.

Made for the 1988 centenary of the infamous murders, the production team were granted unprecedented access to Home Office files on the Ripper case – the resulting two-part miniseries winning Caine a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the dogged Scotland Yard detective Frederick Abberline. Co-starring Lewis Collins (The Professionals), Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman), Ray McAnally (My Left Foot, The Mission), and Armand Assante (Judge Dredd, American Gangster). Jack the Ripper is presented here as a brand-new High Definition restoration from original film materials, in its original aspect ratio with a brand-new Dolby 5.1 mix.

In the autumn of 1888, Chief Inspector Abberline is sent to investigate the murder and mutilation of a prostitute. On the teeming streets of Whitechapel others soon meet the same fate and a press frenzy ensues. With “Jack the Ripper” terrorising London and both the police and outraged public clamouring for a conclusion, Abberline and his partner, Godley, work doggedly through their list of suspects – more than one of whom has royal connections.

Eureka Entertainment to release THE ENTITY on Blu-ray from 15 May 2017

rsz_33057361341_088f7583b8_zA Story So Shocking, So Threatening, It Will Frighten You Beyond All Imagination!

Eureka Entertainment to release THE ENTITY, the ultimate story of supernatural terror starring Barbara Hershey, on Blu-ray from 15 May 2017.

Academy Award nominee Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a hard-working single mother who, one terrible night is raped in her bedroom by someone – or something – that she cannot see. Met with sceptical psychiatrists, she is repeatedly attacked in her car, in the bath, and in front of her children. Could this be a case of hysteria, a manifestation of childhood sexual trauma, or something even more horrific?

Now, with a group of daring parapsychologists, Carla will attempt an unthinkable experiment: to seduce, trap and ultimately capture the depraved spectral fury that is The Entity. Eureka Entertainment is proud to present this ground-breaking horror on Blu-ray.

BARBARA HERSHEY | RON SILVER | DAVID LABIOSA | GEORGE COLE 1982 | 119 minutes | 2.35:1 OAR | USA | Supernatural / Horror | Colour | 15 May 2017 Certificate 18 | Director SYDNEY FURIE | Language ENGLISH | Subtitles ENGLISH SDH (Optional) Blu-ray Cat. No. EKA70247 | Blu-ray Barcode 5060000702477 | Blu-ray RRP £14.99

Satanic (2016) Review

rsz_satanicSatanic (2016)

Director: Jeffrey G. Hunt

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Steven Krueger, Clara Mamet, Justin Chon, Sophie Dalah

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

“One devil shrine does not a douche-bag make.”

Satanic starts off promising, with good production values and a talented cast lead by Sarah Hyland from Modern Family. Unfortunately it goes downhill pretty quickly, failing to deliver on the occult thrills promised by the title.

Chloe (Hyland), David (Krueger), Elise(Mamet)and Seth(Chon) are on their way to Coachella with a two day stop in Los Angeles for their own private murder tour. Chloe’s cousin Elise and her boyfriend Seth are little baby goths looking to hit some Satanic hotspots, like the Church of Satan LA chapter. They check into a dive hotel room where a woman named Laney Gore slit her own throat back in the 70s. The budding young Satanists, Elise and Seth try to contact the deceased while Chloe pouts nervously and her preppy boyfriend David makes snide remarks. That is everything you need to know about the characters, and as much depth as any of them truly have.

rsz_satanic_1Back to the plot. Elise and Seth are in charge of the LA itinerary while David complains constantly but drives them around anyway. After a rude reception at the Church of Satan Elise and Seth get booted out of a magic store at knifepoint. The group decides to follow the clerk after he leaves the store, to find out if he’s really a Satanist or just a jerk. Well, he turns out to be a Satanist and our intrepid Scooby Gang interrupts a ritual of some kind, and are driven off again, this time at gunpoint. Seth, who is definitely the Shaggy of the group, drops his phone at the site of the ritual. The next day they get a call from Alice, who may, or may not have been a ritual sacrifice. And then a bunch more stuff happens. The plot is honestly exhausting to try and describe because it accomplishes so very little in so very much time. There’s a lot going on but not much happening.

The acting is good. The characters aren’t particularly sympathetic except for doe-eyed Chloe, who is sympathetic because she 1-has empathy and 2-has giant doe eyes that would emote with or without her. The other young actors all have impressive resumes and it’s the script that fails them, not their talents. They are given shallow characters with very little personality to work with, and even so they manage to act through trite dialogue and well worn horror clichés.

Satanic seems likes it’s trying to be a throwback to the 1970’s wave of occult inspired films. At the same time it doesn’t seem aware that those films exist and that they did it better. It’s a shallow satanic film as these things go, lacking the accoutrements and ambiance of older occult movies. There are some stock standard robes, a satanic alter… and not much else. Even the locales aren’t gothic.

rsz_satanic_3The actual interesting bits kick in about fifty minutes into the film, but by then it’s too little too late. And then the film STILL has to wander around doing not much of anything, except lots of screaming, for another twenty minutes. The majority of special effects are back loaded into the last half of the film as well, and none of them are worth much of a mention except that for most of the movie I wondered if there were even going to BE any special effects. I am almost sad that my question was answered. The ending is a boring mess

Kudos for: Hardcore, but not too hardcore Satanists.

Lesson learned: Just take the murder tour bus, it’ll save time.

4/10

Grimm Entertainment sign BED OF THE DEAD and THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD for the UK from Breakthrough Entertainment

rsz_bedBED OF THE DEAD and THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD set for Summer 2017 UK home entertainment releases

BED OF THE DEAD marks the directorial debut of award-winning cinematographer Jeff Maher

Acclaimed actor Stu Stone (Donnie Darko) makes his directorial debut with award-winning “stoner horror” THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD

The UK’s Grimm Entertainment celebrate their signing of two widely lauded genre films from Canada’s Breakthrough Entertainment: Black Fawn Films’ BED OF THE DEAD and Five Seven Film’s THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD.

Black Fawn Films (Bite, Antisocial 1&2, Let Her Out) are set to unleash another genre favourite with BED OF THE DEAD, the tale of a haunted antique bed which brings whoever lies within to a gruesome end. Starring Colin Price (The Heretics), Samantha Cole (Friends With Benefits TV series) and Dennis Andres (The Strain TV series), BED OF THE DEAD premiered at Fantasia International Film Festival and has since played at Toronto After Dark, FrightFest, Berlin Fantasy Film Fest and Other Worlds in rsz_kirbyAustin, Texas.

In THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD, a group of stoned, horny teens decide to investigate the famed hauntings on Kirby Road for themselves. Directed by actor Stu Stone (Donnie Darko), the film stars Nina Kiri (Let Her Out), Chris Kapeleris (The Kennedys After Camelot) and Sammi Barber (Precious Cargo). Last year, KIRBY ROAD won Best Horror Feature at the Toronto Independent Film Festival as well as Best Director and Best Cinematography at CineView Film Festival. The film has been released in the US and Canada and sold out within its first week on shelves in Walmart.

See the international trailers here:

BED OF THE DEAD – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrlIC7zACfQ

THE HAUNTED HOUSE ON KIRBY ROAD – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TusDzBgrmE&t=2s

 

Don’t Knock Twice (2016) Review

rsz_dkt_poster_1_sheetDON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

Starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran

Directed by Caradog W. James

Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler

DON’T KNOCK TWICE is released in cinemas and On Demand from 31st March and DVD 3rd April

A mother desperate to reconnect with her troubled daughter becomes embroiled in the urban legend of a demonic witch”.

Welsh filmmaker Caradog W. James burst onto the genre scene in 2013 with stylish sci-fi thriller The Machine, which has gained quite the cult following in the time since its release. Low on budget but high on style, The Machine was a homegrown attempt at a Hollywood quality product and, buoyed by two great lead performances, it very nearly achieved it.

James is back now with Don’t Knock Twice, and this time he’s shed the sci-fi and opted for a very traditional attempt at supernatural horror. From the opening titles to the very last frame, James distinct and slick visual style is evident. He packs every scene with inventive lighting and colour, and visceral camerawork, the whole film a feast for the eyes. It makes a change from the usual gritty handheld that we get, with composed shots that give everything a very high end feel.

rsz_1rsz_054Another aspect that really helps this thick and polished atmosphere is the score from James Edward Barker and genre fave Steve Moore. While sometimes slightly intrusive, the duo have nonetheless come up with an eerie and memorable theme for the film that reminded me very much of Charles Bernstein’s classic Elm Street score.

The performances are great if purposely subdued. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Oculus) conveys much more than the script by Howl writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Olster allows, and Lucy Boynton, who I caught recently in the absolutely stunning February, is equally innocent and edgy as her troubled mothers equally troubled daughter. It was also great to see Nick Moran of Lock Stock pop up, for a stock cop character that becomes much more interesting as the story progresses . As the film went on though I felt slightly disconnected with the characters. It’s not the fault of the cast, with both Sackhoff and Boynton doing great work. But the pace of the film leaves very little room for character development, often in a rush to deliver a trailer shot or a jump scare.

rsz_097This in turn affects the actual scares of the film. If we don’t care much about the characters, we don’t fear for them either. Same goes for the antagonist. The film plays its cards a little too early, foregoing the subtle build up and showing most of the big bad quite early, again, rendering it a little less scary. And while the design is indeed creepy and has rightly been earning praise, it reminded me a little too much of the antagonist in last years risible Lights Out.

It’s a shame that one came first because Don’t Knock Twice is easily the better of the two films. I watched an analysis of James Wan’s work recently, observing how he creates an effective jump scare, and the secret is all in the build up. Wan will milk the suspense for as long as he can, avoiding an onslaught of stingers for one big, terrifyingly effective one. But here, everything that can be a jump scare, is a jump scare. And so, they’re less effective.

rsz_163As it is, Don’t Knock Twice reminded me very much of another British film that attempted to emulate the big budget Hollywood style, action movie Welcome To The Punch. On a surface level, they get everything right, but there’s just something missing. The story lacks originality by default and scenes of exposition stop the film dead. But none of this is enough to take away from what is an ambitious chiller. If you’re a fan of Mama, Insidious, or any one of Blumhouse’s productions, you’ll find a lot of enjoyment in this, and it’s great to see Caradog W. James becoming one of the most visually striking directors on this side of the shore. Hollywood must be calling.

7/10

Zombie Cats From Mars (2015) Review

Zombie Cats PosterZombie Cats From Mars (2015)

Director: Montetré

Starring: Bransen Sands Koehler, Benni Harper, Janae’ Werner

“Death is a cat from Mars”

For awhile now I have been riding high on a good run of micro-budget, self-aware, indie horror flicks. I had hoped that Zombie Cats From Mars would continue this run and be a worthy follow-up to personal classics like Attack of the Killer Shrews and First Man on Mars. Sadly the winning streak is over.

Zombie Cats From Mars is a tough one to sit through. Amateur in every way, shape and form. One IMDB member called it a “web series masquerading as a film”. Which it certainly could be. But I’m not going to try and find out, the movie doesn’t warrant the research.

The plot is simple. A cat from Mars lands on Earth and begins terrorizing a Portland (Oregon) neighborhood. The Martian cat somehow enlists–possibly through mind control– earth cats who join in the carnage. There is a whole absurd legend about a cat named Lord Sassafras and how humans banished him to Mars and now he’s come back for revenge and to rule the universe. Or something. Hard to tell. The legend is read out loud by one of the “actors” who read it too quickly and didn’t enunciate. Billy (Koehler), the main character, puts two and two together and comes up with cats. Well, he doesn’t so much as come up with the answer as read his grandfather’s book about the secret history of cats from Mars (written in ballpoint pen I would like to add). Billy decides he must fight the cats on his own using their weakness, Holy water.

rsz_zombie_cats_2Pretty much every single minute of Zombie Cats from Mars is painful to watch. Everything about it is bad, and not in a good way. The acting is terrible, it’s really a bunch of amateurs and their friends making a movie (or web series) in their back yard and the digital effects would embarrass even Ed Wood Jr. The dialogue has nothing to do with how human beings speak, and is actually bad enough to be distracting, making the viewer question WHY the character is spouting such nonsense every few lines. And it’s not just the dialogue which is bad, the poor writing extends to plotting, and character development, of which there is none. The camera work is also particularly heinous, shots are blurry until the camera can auto-focus. And it’s obvious the film was shot on a video camera. The sound is terrible, the dialogue is frequently soft and drowned out by background noises or echoes. The attacking cats were obvious plush toys which the actors (I hate even calling them that) had to pretend to wrestle with. The cat scratch make-up effects were actually not too terrible, but also incredibly simple and let me just say, mortician’s wax goes a long way.

The one and only laugh is when one of the zombie cats gets out a hacksaw and cuts the gas line. Shot entirely from the “cat’s” POV it’s amusing to watch kitty paws operate a hacksaw. There are several scenes from “kitty vision” with puppet cat paws performing various actions that are pretty funny. If the entire film had been done in “kitty vision” it might have had a gimmick that would have made it bearable to watch. Instead there are only a couple salvageable scenes lost in an abyss of clumping cat litter.

rsz_zombie_cats_3Kudos for: Any house cat that can inflict blunt force trauma

Lesson learned: Portland in NOT the new Hollywood

2/10

Get Out (2017) Review

rsz_goposterGET OUT (Dir- Jordan Peele, USA, 2017)

Starring- Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel

In Cinemas now

Arriving on a lot of critical acclaim and a hit opening weekend at the US box office Jordan Peele’s GET OUT is one of those horror films that combines both sharp satire and creepy unease to maximum effect. Rather than hit below the belt at an obvious choice of redneck racist southern hillbilly’s he goes for the throat of liberal attitudes towards race and benefits from a sharp underpinning of characters that come off as more patronising and cringe worthy but underneath it all is a sense of danger and nastiness which slowly reveals its true face strengthening the films genre credentials.

Photographer Chris (Kaluuya) is preparing with his girlfriend Rose (Williams) to spend a weekend at her parents. Chris is obviously concerned about the trip since as he says he’s black and his girlfriend is white, though Rose assures him that her parents are very liberal and that her dad would “have voted for Obama for a third term if he could.” Naturally this is one of the first things Dean Armitage (Whitford) points out when he meets Chris along with his wife Missy (Keener) who in the first meeting with their daughter’s new boyfriend seems friendly at first though with moments of cringe worthiness, especially when Dean is making the aforementioned Obama comment and showing Chris the many souvenirs he has picked up on his travels. Dean also apologies to Chris for the presence of black groundskeeper Walter (Henderson) and servant Georgina (Gabriel) as if it seems too much of a cliched throwback to the past even though Dean states that the two where helpers to his parents and didn’t want to see them go.

rsz_go2The same weekend there is a party at the Armitages household where local guests come around and seemingly Chris finds the presence and the patronising comments of liking Tiger Woods and that black is the new black etc too much to take. Though the odd behaviour of the only black guest at the party and the increasingly strange reactions Chris finds from speaking to the Walter and Georgina starts to freak him out to the point. With contact to his best friend Rod (a brilliant laugh out performance from Howery) he starts to pick up on clues that something is not right with whats going on and that maybe he might be better away from “too many white people.”

From the start GET OUT pitches its subversion on its sleeve in a clever skewering of convention. The opening scene features a black man walking through a tree and hedge lined suburb, uncomfortable and out of place with the setting and a car pulling up beside him blaring out “Run Rabbit Run” on the stereo. Peele sets a fantastic switch around of the white suburban middle class fear of ending up in the wrong side of town and feeling misplaced. At the same time this recalls the suburban terror and unease of HALLOWEEN and more recently IT FOLLOWS where the white picket fence hides something more darker and hidden. It’s this opening scene that sets off Peele with both his fulfilment of genre recognition and satire as lets face it even if there is bite in the films humour and portrayal of liberal racism, this is also a horror film and our director doesn’t want you to forget that.

rsz_go3It’s the opening scenes that are brilliantly written, witty and well performed by the cast that keeps us engaged with some of the awkwardness of Chris’s situation, particularly an excellent turn from Whitford as the head of the household who seems eager to please but as Rose states, doesn’t seem to have an off button. Yet throughout these opening scenes there’s a clever build up of unease throughout whether its the odd behaviour of the two servants or Missy’s insistence on placing Chris under hypnosis seemingly to cure him of his habit of smoking, which is a superb, unnerving and stylishly nightmarish sequence.

Even in the presence of the party with the guests and their consistently patronising questioning of the only black man surrounded by white folk, which is both awkward and cringe worthy then devolves into a more darker prospect in one particular moment which when revealed adds a chilling twist to set up the films final section. In the final section of the film there’s a twist that seems pretty predictable but then we are confronted with an even more bizarre and darker turn of events that bends the film into the realms of schlock yet still retains the films twisted subversion.

rsz_go4Much can be made of the films placing at a time when racial tension is still a relevant subject in the States and there’s no denying that Peele’s film picks up on this simmering tension and fears felt by black Americans. Even in the films climax with the arrival of a police car, this sight feels more like a possible threat rather than the usual sign of assurance. GET OUT is superbly written and a brilliant example of horror as social satire delivered with veritable wit and unease that both has a deep genre quality and sharp swipe at liberal attitudes towards race that cuts deep as well as being very funny. It will certainly make you think twice about being put under hypnosis!

9/10