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At The Cemetery Gates: Year One – Book review

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There’s something simple and evocative about the words cemetery gates, isn’t there? A pair of rusted, wrought iron doorways, ready to creak open and welcome you into a world of death. Or maybe you’re a Pantera fan like me and you’re thinking of Dimebag’s noodling giving way to that crushing riff.

At The Cemetery Gates Year One has that same kind of promise in its title, bringing to mind a person on the verge of some creepy discovery, and the cover is similarly creepy, with a Stephen Gammell kind of vibe to it. But a good cover & title isn’t everything, as I found once I stepped inside the world of John Brhel and Joe Sullivan.

The collection kicks off with A Dark and Desolate Recurrence, featuring a couple trapped in their car during a blizzard, saved by a mysterious figure. This turns into a bewildering “who owns this house?” story, culminating in a clumsily-delivered ghost encounter. This suffers from don’t go upstairs syndrome where all logic is thrown out and you end up yelling at the characters for making bad decisions. The couple hear murderous noises upstairs…so decide to look for something to eat. That kind of thing. It’s a weird choice of opener, seeing as there are far stronger stories in the collection.

Only problem is, those strong stories take a good long while to materialise. With 14 stories to pick through, I found myself nitpicking more than enjoying the variety of tales on offer. Many of the stories share a fascination with time loops which gets wearying after a while, and the more varied stories veer from a sub-par Psycho imitations to a subversion of teen slasher tropes which still feels like it’s been done before.

And so it continues, with characters sharing uninteresting, everyday conversations before anything happens, over-explaining of ideas or feelings, and a general lack of scares or chills. I was ready to give up entirely but I’m not a quitter. I don’t walk out of movies and I always finish a book no matter how much I don’t want to.

Good thing I did, because some of the later stories are actually pretty good. There’s a blast of dark comedy in New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, some Evil Dead style schlock in the fun-but-flawed The Call is Coming From Inside the House, more pitch-black humour in An Epistle From the Dead. It’s just a shame that the final story falls back into the same ponderous over-explaining of the twist that the earlier stories were guilty of.

This is a shaggy haircut of a book, desperately in need of a good trim, a bit of pampering to make it shine. As is, it’s too flat and dull to recommend, with only a few decent stories in the bunch, but this is year one. Styles change, and maybe after a few seasons have passed, there’ll be something more vibrant coming from these two author’s heads.

Score: 3/10

Book links:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MFZXHJJ/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.comk/dp/B01MFZXHJJ/

The Railway Carriage / Megan: Gets a special edition DVD release

rsz_ds1The Railway Carriage / Megan: Special edition DVD

The Railway Carriage will be released on DVD this April along with the short film Megan in a special edition DVD which will also feature trailers and interviews with lead actor Dean Sills. Dean Sills (Up North) plays the lead in both shorts and each one is directed by Ross Adgar.

‘The Railway Carriage’ is a psychological horror short film in which the lead character (John) is trapped in a dream like world where there is no easy escape. Throughout he is beset with flashbacks, vague memories that explain why he is trapped in a train carriage again and again. Is someone testing him? Has he done something so bad his mind has trapped itself in a strange repeating labyrinth? Through the memories and objects he finds in the carriage, John tries to find a way out of the nightmare world he has brought on himself!

‘The Railway Carriage’ made its international film premiere at Nightpiece film festival at The Edinburgh Fringe on Saturday 29th August 2015 and since then it has had much success with screening at a number of film festivals including Starburst International Film Festival in Manchester, last year. ‘The Railway Carriage’ was shot on location at Elsecar Heritage Railway in South Yorkshire, England, UK. Sills enjoyed working with the young director Ross Adgar so much that he teamed up with him again last year in the short film ‘Megan.’

Cast
John   ………..            Dean Sills
Teenaged Boy  …….  David Chambers
Teenaged Girl ……..  Geri Preston
Ex-Wife     ………..    Tasha Evans
John’s Friend ……..    Mitchell Hone
Newsreader  ……..     Rosanne Priest

dsmegan‘Megan’ In a post apocalyptic world one man embarks on a journey to find his girlfriend, Megan. Megan and her boyfriend Callum get separated during a virus outbreak in the summer of 2016, she pleads with Callum to promise to kill her if she becomes infected with the virus and ends up walking out when he won’t consider killing her if she  becomes infected, the story moves forward 5 years and deals with the impact and consequences of what happened and Callum’s quest to find Megan.

Ross Adgar’s short film boldly creates a parallel Britain living a dystopian reality with a great deal of help from the use of a black and white filter and some really great location shooting.

The film has not had a festival run like ‘The Railway Carriage’ and the only public screening so far was at Cast in Doncaster in the UK, last September. Ross Adgar is growing as a director and this was a much bigger shoot than ‘The Railway Carriage’ which he and  actor Dean Sills both found more challenging due to a number of reasons including the weather. The cast includes many actors from ‘Up North’, the Essex TV show written by Dean Sills and directed by Steve Call. Steve Call even helped out behind the camera in ‘Megan.’

Cast
Callum    …….     Dean Sills
Megan     ……..    Carley Motley
Stephen   ………   Ross Marshall
Scavenger ……..   Mitchell Hone
Soldier      ………  Kuljit Singh
Public Announcer  ……..  Samantha Senior

The special Edition DVD contains both short films plus trailers, interviews and the soundtrack to ‘Megan’ along with many stills from the shoot.
Thanks to Adgar Productions, the DVD will be available to buy this April at Amazon.com

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4819090/?ref_=nm_knf_t4
https://www.facebook.com/The-Railway-Carriage-1457082814587031/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysf2eDENNS0

https://www.facebook.com/DEAN-SILLS-Actor-and-Freelance-writer-457478424320885/?fref=photo
and you can follow Dean Sills on Twitter: @dean_sills
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6398472/?ref_=nm_knf_t3
https://www.facebook.com/MeganShortFilmAdgarProductions/

The Eyes of My Mother (2016) Review

rsz_eyes1The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

Written & Directed by Nicolas Pesce.

Starring: Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Olivia Bond.

In UK Cinemas from March 24th

What’s it all about?
Francisca spends most of her life isolated from society. Her surgeon mother teaches her skills and when she is brutally murdered by a passing stranger (Will Brill) Francisca soon finds those skills to be handy when it comes to keeping ‘friends’.

As a debut picture this is an impressive one. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it or not, but, I stayed with it, curious as to where it would ultimately go. It’s a strange one, the performances are good, but are they great? I’m still not sure. Did I like Francisca? Did I sympathise with her or not?

I’m baffled. Now, don’t misunderstand, it’s not a weight I will carry with me. It’s no burden, but, sitting here, writing this…well, I’m lost. There are moments when you feel for Francisca (played as an adult by Kila Magalhaes) as her life has been twisted tragically as a child. Then, there are times when she seems to show understanding that what she is doing is wrong. Still, Magalhaes does a nice job in the lead role as do the rest of the cast.

rsz_eyes2The script, though not moving along quickly enough, is fine. Overall, Pesce has done very well. Shot in black and white, there is a nice mood to it and it feels like the right choice for the film, rather than a pretentious one. The story is tragic, it’s characters pained, but, there’s just not enough to make you love it. I imagine a lot of viewers will like it, a few will not. I wonder if many will join me in my befuddlement.

Still, here at the end of my musings, I just don’t know if I liked it or not. I doubt I’ll watch it again, but, I’ll certainly keep an eye out for Pesce’s next movie ‘Piercing’.

6/10

Stake Land 2 Hits UK DVD on April 3rd

rsz_sStake Land II hits UK DVD on April 3rd

Death is no escape

A scary, bloody and action-packed follow up to the 2010 horror hit, with Nick Damici returning as Mister, the vampire hunter, roaming a post apocalyptic landscape and delivering bloody justice one sharp stake at a time. Watch the world die with a scream – lots of them.

Starring
Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases, Cold In July, We Are What We Are)
Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl, Revenge, Stake Land)
Laura Abramsen (Wolfcop)

Directors
Dan Berk, Robert Olsen (The Body)

Executive Producer
Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are)

rsz_s2Producer
Larry Fessenden (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil)

Synopsis:
Older and weathered, when New Eden is destroyed, and his wife and child murdered by the revived vampire Brotherhood, Martin (Connor Paolo, Gossip Girl, Stake Land) suddenly finds himself alone in the desolate badlands of America. With only one goal, to avenge the death of his family, Martin must find his mentor and legendary vampire hunter, Mister, to achieve his mission. But in a world ravaged by vampires, once again, he must fight to survive and no-one can be trusted.

Stake Land II is the much anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed Stake Land, reuniting the forceful duo in this bloody and spine-chilling gore-fest!

“You’re alive – act like it”

rsz_s3The stakes are raised in this sequel to Jim Mickle’s 2010 horror hit, with original star, and writer, the gruff, gravelly-voiced Nick Damici (who, on any other planet, would be a superstar by now), returning as the no nonsense vampire hunter Mister, and produced by Mickle and horror genre favourite Larry Fessenden (The House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) through his Glass Eye Pics studio.

Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen hit the ground running here, picking up where the final film left of and plunging the viewer into the world of the wheezing, wrathful berserkers, as Martin (Connor Paolo from Gossip Girl, Revenge, Stake Land), sets out to find truly nasty fanged fiend The Mother (Kristina Hughes), and discovers the vampires aren’t his only problem in a world where survivors will do anything to get by. The film also brings back genre hero Mister to dispense killer lines (“You got your whole life to die, kid – no point rushing it”) and carnage the only way he knows how.

A Cure For Wellness (2016) Review

rsz_cfw1A CURE FOR WELLNESS (Dir- Gore Verbinski, USA, 2016)

Starring- Dane DeHaan, Jason Issacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener

A CURE FOR WELLNESS arrives with a decent publicity campaign, a trailer espousing its glossy often hallucinating visuals and interesting psychological horror and a chance for a leading man role for Dane DeHaan. With a $40 million budget behind its no surprise that the studios will be wanting the film to score big at the box office yet at the same time with the subject matter at hand and it’s genre credentials can the film summon the appetite for an audience willing to go along with the mystery especially when they see the running time of almost 2 ½ hours, which even for genre films is a lengthy prospect.

The story focuses on Lockhart (DeHaan) an arrogant young executive who has just been promoted into a new position. However his first job that he is pretty much forced to take, since the executive members of the board know about some financial wrong doings he has committed to get to where he is, is to go to a luxury health spa in Switzerland to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who has written a letter to the board that suggests he has turned his back on the cut throat nastiness of his profession and rather wants to remain at getting better and proclaim his intentions of not returning. Pembroke has gone all Colonel Kurtz and Lockhart on arrival gets no easy answers and whilst on his way from the institute he is involved in a car crash he wakes up with a plaster cast on his leg and back at the “wellness centre” run by Dr Volmer (Issacs). Whilst at first the centre seems seemingly straightforward and lavishly set out and while Lockhart starts to undergo the centres procedures of the “treatment” that the rich clientele pay good money for, its not long before he and ourselves begin to see odd cracks and sinister goings on occurring that hide an altogether darker form of rejuvenation. Not at least is the presence of mysterious young girl, Hannah (Goth) who may have a more prominent link to the spa.

rsz_cfw3First of all the impressive production value of A CURE FOR WELLNESS shines throughout, with Verbinski and his cinematographer Bojan Bazelli making full use of the buildings historical ambience and its lush setting within the Swiss Alps, with fantastic wide shots of the stunning vista. As well as the impressive production design the film benefits from its 1:85 widescreen frame which emphasises the claustrophobia of the institute and closing in of Lockhart’s consistent sleuthing and sneaking around into the unauthorised areas of the building adding a creepy aesthetic to the films structure and also unveiling what’s hidden in the vaults that contrasts the grand opulence and beauty of the upstairs where the patients are pampered and cared for and offered decadent food for dinner. Verbinski confidently manages to use the building to build up the sense of dread and paranoia that will eventually unleash itself on our central character. As Lockhart, DeHann engages enough credibility into his leading man role and surprisingly looks pretty unwell to begin with and therefore maybe an impromptu stay at the spa might be good for him. Though for me its Issacs as the sinister Volmer who pulls off the best role in the film, both having fun with his Doctor role/torturer and eventually becoming the films villain in remarkable if slightly unconvincing ways.

rsz_cfw4Goth also remains a mysterious presence as Hannah whose innocence and turn into womanhood becomes a significant factor in the final part. Though as much as production values and decent entertaining performances are its saving graces, the film lacks strong pacing throughout, and as mentioned before, running in at 146 minutes this does over run and could do with at least 30 minutes taken out. This lengthy running time also causes unconvincing actions in the characters and plot devices that surely would be followed through in another film such as Lockhart noticing a hospital assistant pushing a stretcher with what looks like a corpse on it covered by a blanket being pushed into one of the only remaining buildings from when the spa was originally a castle and rather than act on this our main protagonist doesn’t end getting to this section of the building until at least an hour later. The factor of predictability also kicks in towards the films final third which will make its audience, if they’re wise enough, realise where the film is heading towards and whilst the atmosphere remains a strong factor in the film there are few scares throughout and where the film does benefit from in a wearing its genre credentials on its sleeve is in certain nasty and icky scenes of torture involving eels and one which involves a nasty use of a dentist drill which will have you wincing in your seat.

rsz_cfw2Part of me probably feels that rather than being a feature A CURE FOR WELLNESS might have worked better as a one off mini series for television or even a one off 8 part series such as the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE which itself had a lot of cinematic quality. This would allow the story to generate more interest, develop the back story and expand on further supporting characters. As a feature overall, whilst displaying a grandiose quality and some superb cinematography and production design, A CURE FOR WELLNESS seems to be stretching its length out to the point that it crams in plenty of back story and certain scenes that hamper the films pace and could have been cut out which would not have affected the overall tone of the finished product.

6/10

Chopping Mall (1986) Review

rsz_cm1CHOPPING MALL (1986) – AKA Kilbots / R.O.B.O.T

Dir: Jim Wynorski

Stars: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, Russell Todd, Barbara Crampton

Jim Wynorski (AKA Sam Pepperman, AKA Rip Masters, AKA Jay Andrews, AKA Harold Blueberry, etc, etc) has been writing, directing and producing (mainly B) movies since the early 80s. His varied career has seen him involved with projects like family films (A Doggone Christmas), mainstream comedies (Screwballs), bizarre creature features (Cobragator, Piranhaconda, The Return of Swamp Thing), softcore titilation (Busty Cops, The Hills Have Thighs, The Bare Wench Project), out-and-out porn (The Breastford Wives) and some more conventional horror (976 Evil 2, Ghoulies 4, Cheerleader Massacre, Sorrority House Massacre 2).

His second movie as a director is an example of Wynorski’s forays into straight horror; 1986’s Chopping Mall. The premise is straightforward – a group of teenage shopping mall workers decide to stay in the mall after closing one night, in order to have a party. The only problem is the mall’s new security system – an armour-plated lockdown, making escape impossible, and three heavily armed security droids which have turned rogue killers……

rsz_1cm2Although perhaps not Wynorski’s best known (or well budgeted) film, Chopping Mall is arguably his most successful in terms of what it sets out to do. The basic set-up and the clever use of venue create a thrilling environment which immediately involves the viewer and captures their imagination. In terms of efficient simplicity, it is not unreasonable to compare Chopping Mall with Halloween or Dawn of the Dead, although it is perhaps not quite in that league in terms of overall quality.

There are some familiar faces in the cast, Barbara Crampton and Friday 13th Part 2’s Russell Todd are amongst the “teenage” party goers and there are amusing cameos from Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov and Dick Miller. The script and the performances aren’t brilliant, but they don’t need to be and the cast enter into the swing of things with silly gusto as they are chased about the three levels of the mall by the killer robots.

There is an overriding sense of fun to the whole movie; every time the caterpillar-tracked driods despatch a victim, they say, in clipped, robotic tones , “thank you, have a nice day!” During the final credits, each cast member’s face is shown next to their name, except Suzee Slater, whose portrait is that of an exploding head – watch the movie to find out why.

rsz_cm3Even in 1986, Chopping Mall didn’t exactly break any new ground; there were already enough “teens in peril” slasher movies that every character in the movie was already a stereotype and we get the usual jump scares and gratuitous topless scenes. However, the setting and execution make Chopping Mall an effective and fun horror movie and the killer robots are a welcome change from the ubiquitous masked psycho. If you ever had the run of a large empty building as a kid, then you will understand the feeling of adventure and excitement that Chopping Mall conveys. A minor footnote in 80s horror and definitely worthy of your attention.

8/10