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Ashley Lister

About Ashley Lister

Ashley R Lister is a UK based writer. Aside from being a lecturer in creative writing and an occasional performance poet, he is also the author of the horror novel Raven and Skull. When he's not writing, Ashley likes to unwind in front of quality horror movies.

Population Zero (2016) Review

rsz_pz1Population Zero (2016)

Directed by: Julian T Pinder, Adam Levins
Written by: Jeff Staranchuck
Starring: Julian T Pinder, Julian Robino

Out NOW on demand from Frightfest Presents

“In 2009 three young men were killed in a remote part of Yellowstone National Park. The only thing more shocking than the crime itself are the bizarre events that followed.”

I do not consider myself a gullible person. As the old joke goes, I can almost always tell when a dinosaur in a movie is real or not. And yet, when I got to the end Population Zero, I jumped onto Google to try and find out if I’d watched a movie or a documentary. And, even though I now know it was only a movie, I’m still unsettled by the truth that underpins the story.

Population Zero is presented as a documentary. The phrase mockumentary, although technically accurate, seems to suggest a light-hearted tone in the mode of This is Spinal Tap or The Office. However, rather than focusing on humour, Population Zero narrates a puzzling story that begins with a brutal and motiveless murder, goes on to expose a cruel legal loophole, and carries on with further twists and turns that never overstep the bounds of plausibility.

rsz_pz2According to Wikipedia, “the filmmakers were inspired to make the movie after learning of the existence of the “Zone of Death”, a small portion of Yellowstone National Park, that under the Sixth Amendment’s Vicinage Clause, would enable “The Perfect Crime”.” The perfect crime in this case is the unmotivated murder of three innocent young men. It’s a perfect crime because, thanks to a legal loophole, even though the murderer has confessed his guilt, he is able to walk free.

This sounds like a ridiculous notion but the idea is based on a hypothetical argument from American lawyers and it’s presented in a truly convincing way. The footage of TV reporters discussing the Yellowstone Murders, the in camera court drawings, the grainy still photographs and the crackly confession from a police station’s CCTV footage, all lend a sense of credibility and gravitas to the story’s not-that-fantastical premise. Also, since we’re discussing a country that has elected Trump as president, the idea that America contains a fifty-square mile strip of national park where motiveless murders can be committed without repercussion, does not seem so farfetched.

Julian T Pinder, who usually stays on the director’s side of the camera, carries himself well as the too-curious-for-his-own-good documentary maker at the heart of this story. Pinder was the director of the 2012 documentary, Trouble in the Peace, an exploration of the poisons and upsets that come with fracking. Cleverly, giving the storyworld a more focused sense of reality through intertextuality, Trouble in the Peace is mentioned as Pinder explains why he thinks he was contacted with information about the Yellowstone Murders.

rsz_pz3This was an intelligent film that suggested fear on so many levels. There are the fears that come from a system that fails the community it’s meant to protect; there are the fears that come from the potential brutality of the unknown and irrational amongst us; there are the fears we share of being abused by greedy and uncaring corporations; and the fear that any one of us could become a real victim to the boundless appetites of any of the above.

Well worth watching. 10/10

Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey. (2014) Review

deadly4Deadly Virtues: Love. Honour. Obey. (2014)

Directed by: Ate de Jong
Written by: Mark Rogers
Starring: Edward Akrout, Matt Barber and Megan Maczko

“A stranger breaks into the house of a couple, ties up the husband and, having a whole weekend at his hand, plays a slow game with the woman, a game of threats, fear, obedience – and intimacy.”

People often complain about excesses of sex and violence in the horror genre but, in truth, it’s rare that these two elements are successfully brought together on screen. Films like Zombie Strippers (2008), Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1998) and Nightmare Sisters (1988), whilst attempting to blend those genres that titillate and terrify, usually end up producing a concoction that doesn’t excite on any level.

And, I must admit, during the first few moments of Deadly Virtues: Love. Honor. Obey., I did worry that the filmed sex was going to prove as disappointing as the experience usually is in real life. In the first moments of the film we discover it’s a Friday evening and we are following a mysterious figure entering a suburban home. Clearly he has no right to be there, as is suggested by his furtive manner, his penchant for sniffing the shoes that he finds in the house, and the fact that the owners are oblivious to him.

deadly2We know the owners are oblivious because, although they’re off-screen, they’re engaged in the sort of noisy sex that would make most neighbours believe the couple were watching one of the Saw movies. Or strangling an unwanted piglet. The unseen man grunts and wheezes like an asthmatic bulldog humping a reluctant chew toy. When the intruder bursts in on the scene the tension of this movie really kicks in and we, the audience, begin a rollercoaster ride of genuine horror. The cast in this film do an excellent job.

We first meet Tom (Matt Barber: Downton Abbey, Dracula and Being Human) whilst he’s behind his wife, banging away at her with a level of mechanised ferocity that seems to indicate more industry than intimacy. Tom is taken out of the equation early on in this film but his presence remains as a focal point for some particularly pleasing torture and abuse. At the same point when we meet Tom, we’re also given our first glimpse of Alison (Megan Maczko: Me and Orson Welles, A Hologram for the King and The In-Between). If Tom looks like he’s an overenthusiastic participant in the intimacy, Alison looks like she’d rather be grouting the kitchen. As the story progresses we learn there are lots of things Alison would rather be doing than Tom, but I won’t give away any spoilers here.

deadly3The final member of the cast is the sinister intruder, Aaron (Edward Akrout: The Hollow Crown, The Borgias and Mr Selfridge). Aaron is a man of mystery, a master of shibaru and an extremely focused (if uninvited and unwanted) houseguest. From the first moment when he has Alison alone, when he says, “You belong to me now,” he comes across as a dangerous and unpredictable threat. Perhaps he’s best summed up in the exchange where Alison sobs at him, “Why are you doing this to us?” Aaron laughs confidently and simply responds, “Why not?”

From beginning to end this is a film that pushes boundaries and explores the very real horror of assault and sexual violence, as well as the vast difference between sex and intimacy. The acting is superb. Mark Rogers’s script is strong and credible and Ate de Jong’s direction is flawless. For narrative tension, for an unsettling sense of realism and for a disquieting sense of menace, this is a film that will genuinely make you squirm in your seat.

10/10

Capture Kill Release (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_capturekillrelease_keyart_samCapture Kill Release (2016)

Directed by: Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart
Written by: Nick McAnulty
Starring: Jennifer Fraser, Farhang Ghajar and Jon Gates

“A couple plots to murder a random stranger just for the thrill of it, but things turn ugly when one of them decides not to go through with it.”

Found footage films are almost certainly here to stay. Since the Blair Witch came wobbling onto our screens back in 1999, it seems that the number of found footage movies has been increasing steadily. Some of these, such as Rec, Troll Hunter, Exhibit A, Cloverfield and Quarantine, have been beautiful examples of the genre.

And there are others, which I won’t mention here, which don’t quite tick all the boxes. There is something about the idea of characters holding the camera that draws us into this subgenre of film. We live in a world of Snapchat, Skype and Facetime. We’re all adept at holding a camera and this familiarity makes it easy for us to identify with the characters on screen. We think, “I’ve held a wobbly camera like that before: I can empathise with this character.”

rsz_cuffsCapture Kill Release begins with Jennifer (Jennifer Fraser: winner of Best Newcomer at the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, and winner of Best Actress at HorrorQuest Film Festival and Louisville Fright Night Film Fest) unwrapping her new camera. This is the camera through which we see most of the movie. This is the camera she’s going to use to record every step of the hobby she wants to take up. And we soon find out that her intended hobby is homicide, with aspirations to become a serial killer.

Jennifer’s somewhat pussy-whipped husband, Farhang (Farhang Ghajar: Dark Matter, Man Seeking Woman and Uncle Brian) seems supportive of her plans. He helps his wife as they go shopping for shovels, axes, rope and plastic sheeting. He holds the camera when ordered. He even helps with practice runs as they dissect slabs of meat in the bathtub, so they have a better understanding of how to use a bone saw to carve up cadavers.

And whilst all of this has vague echoes of Zack and Miri Make a Porno (or maybe Zack and Miri Make a Snuff Flick) there is an obvious lack of parity in the commitment that this couple demonstrate to the completion of their shared goals. Jennifer is determined and focused. Farhang is not quite so resolute. Consequently, when Jennifer extends a dinner invitation to homeless Gary (Jon Gates: Something to Hide), with the subtext that he won’t have to worry about being homeless for much longer, it comes as no surprise to the astute viewer to see that Farhang does not share her enthusiasm for postprandial homicide. This is where we first see a rift between the couple rearing its ugly head.

rsz_farhang3Capture Kill Release is a fun slice of grisly entertainment. Farhang’s uneasy relationship with murder plays neatly against Jennifer’s enthusiastic acceptance of her vocation. The dynamics between the pair are almost as much fun to watch as the gruesome gore of butchery and barbarism that occurs in the second act of the film. Jennifer Fraser deserved the awards she’s won for this role. The whole film deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Nick McAnulty and Brian Allan Stewart have done a superb job in bringing this story to life and, if you get a chance to watch this unsettling home movie, it won’t disappoint.

8/10

Bloodrunners (2017) Review

rsz_1rsz_bloodrunners_poster_hiresBloodrunners (2017)

Directed by: Dan Lantz.
Written by: Dan Lantz and Michael McFadden.
Starring: Ice-T, Michael McFadden, Chris James Boylan and Airen DeLaMater.

For more information visit – www.bloodrunnersmovie.com

“Set in 1930s prohibition, a corrupt cop discovers that the popular speakeasy in town has been infiltrated by vampires”.

I often wonder if vampires should still be included as one of the horror story’s staple monsters. In the seventies and eighties Anne Rice made vampires mysterious & sexy. In the nineties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer made vampires fun. In the noughties, the Twilight series seemed to emasculate vampires and sprinkle their embarrassed memory with glittery sparkles. As a consequence of so much distillation, dilution and homogenisation, our modern-day vampires are now so far removed from their ancestors (such as Nosferatu, Varney the Vampire and Dracula), that they come across as homeopathic incarnations. They are as scary as the risk of not having checked your entitlement to PPI. Which is why it was kind of refreshing to watch Bloodrunners.

Director Dan Lantz (Bloodlust Zombies, Ninja Babes from Space and Modern Marvels) brings his capable hand to a cleverly-crafted story of vampires in the time of the prohibition. The conceit of vampires shipping bottles of blood across the country gives motive to a plot that is carefully balanced and enjoyable from start to finish.

rsz_br_prod_still00104Early on we’re introduced to slightly-corrupt-cop, Sergeant Jack Malone (Michael McFadden: The Breaks, Bull and Gotham). Jack later describes his motive for joining the police force, with the words, “I was handy with a gun and I needed a job.” It’s this pragmatic attitude that makes him likeable throughout the film. Jack’s backstory, which includes some of the guilt and PTSD he’d suffered as a participant in the first world war, was an intelligent contribution to the narrative and allowed for his character develop.

The background romance between Willie (Chris Boylan: Killers, Redcoats and Zeroes) and Anna (Airen DeLaMater: Apparition, A Crime to Remember and Redrum) is probably not the most compelling subplot you’re likely to encounter this season. I say this, although I’m willing to admit my lack of investment in this detail is likely down to my own puerile response of giggling when Anna was desperately calling for help from her beau by shouting, “Willie! Willie! Willie!”

But it is Chesterfield (Ice-T: Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Johnny Mnemonic and Tank Girl) who steals this movie. Commanding every scene he’s in, Chester is presented as a talented showman able to command the stage of his speakeasy; a skilled smuggler who can slip illicit drinks past the authorities; and an uber-competent gangster who doesn’t suffer fools. He has a suave sense of dress, a harem of women at his command, and his own personal finger collection. The fact that he’s also a vampire is a detail that only serves to make him more likeable.

rsz_br_prod_still00063I genuinely enjoyed this one. It’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been invested in recreating the authentic look of 1933 New Jersey. The cars and clothes make the experience immersive. The special effects are sophisticated and the whole feel has a strong sense of the dangerous theatrics that we once used to associate with vampires. More importantly, this film should be seen just for those of us who’ve wanted to see Ice-T say the words, “Human blood should be enjoyed like fine wine.”

Well worth your time. 8/10

Voodoo (2017) Review

rsz_voodoo1Voodoo (2017)
Directed by: Tom Costabile.
Written by: Tom Costabile.
Starring: Samantha Stewart, Ruth Reynolds, Dominic Matteucci.

When Dani, an innocent southern girl, vacations to Los Angeles to evade her increasingly complicated life, she learns that escaping her past isn’t as easy as she hoped.”

One of the things I always find curious about horror movies is the way so many hateful characters are introduced in the first act. It’s as though those characters are deliberately written into the story so I can despise them and look forward to their eventual demise before the finale.

This is particularly obvious in classic slasher movies, such as Friday 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Nightmare on Elm Street, where the opening scenes introduce a rabble of boisterous American youths, many full of chemicals, most driven by libidinous desires, and each one spewing an excess of unmemorable dialogue. Some of these characters are so unlikeable, I imagine, if I’d fallen into their world (perhaps in a meta-moment such as that which forms the USP of Final Girls) I’d likely be pushing Vorhees, Leatherface or Krueger aside so I could personally take a shot at eviscerating one of these irritating characters.

Voodoo follows this trope of introducing us to characters who are difficult (if not impossible) to like. First is Dani (Samantha Stewart: Days of Our Lives, All About Lizzie and The Mystery of Casa Matusita). We meet Dani as she’s travelling in a taxi and boring the driver to distraction with her incessant and vacuous babble. Dani is visiting her friend Stacy (Ruth Reynolds: The Art of Storytelling, The Guest House and Kook) who seems slightly more likable but I think this suggestion of appeal is only in comparison to Dani. Stacy is hosting a modest pool party when we meet her. She is brash and daring and untidy to a point where we almost empathise with her. But, as the introduction progresses, we learn she is as Valley-Girl-vapid as Dani.

rsz_voodoo2The conceit of this movie is that we’re watching the story develop through the footage from Dani’s camcorder. I did think there were a handful of clever uses with this device, such as the beach scene, where the audience discovers something that the characters don’t know in a well-crafted example of dramatic irony. However, I also thought that the use of the camcorder meant that some of the shots looked stilted and contrived. More importantly, in the final forty minutes of the film, I spent way too long wondering who was holding the camera and filming events.

And, I think it was the final forty minutes that let the film down for me. Up to that point there had been an attractive cast, a mysterious backstory where we discover Dani has incurred the wrath of her ex-boyfriend’s voodoo-proficient wife, and a guest appearance from Ron Jeremy (Orgazmo, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Justice League of Porn Star Heroes). In real terms, I don’t think you can ask for much more from any movie.

But, in the final forty minutes, the film falls into an orgiastic excess of underworld horror and unmotivated violence. There is rape, branding, demons and distress and a hell of a lot of screaming. In truth, there was so much screaming I began to wish Dani would start talking again because I was almost missing her uninteresting dialogue.

rsz_voodoo3Voodoo is a clever idea and the majority of the story is well-acted. The effects are convincing and the whole piece does have some genuinely unsettling moments. However, the final stretch of the movie was difficult to watch with too much screaming and not enough scope to connect with the characters. Ultimately, I think the script in this section could have been much tighter, which is a shame because, without this lapse in the film’s standards, I do think the finished product would have been a lot more enjoyable.

6/10

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

Blood Punch (2014) DVD Review

rsz_bloodpunchBlood Punch (2014)
Starring: Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet and Ari Boyland
Writer: Eddie Guzelian
Director: Madellaine Paxson

Out in the UK on Jan 16th – Blood Punch will be available for purchase from ASDA, HMV, Fopp, Amazon, The Hunt and Base. And available for streaming from iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Vubiquity, TalkTalk and Vimeo on Demand.

A young man is lured into a dangerous love triangle that begins to take a series of shocking and grisly supernatural turns.

Milton (Milo Cawthorne, Deathgasm, Mega Time Squad, ASH vs Evil Dead and When We Go to War) wakes up on Tuesday morning. He wakes to the annoying sound of wind chimes and the urgent need to puke. We can see he’s been sleeping on the couch at a hunting cabin. The walls are littered with brutal reminders of murder and mutilation (such as axes, crossbows, mantraps and mounted hunting trophies). And, once Milton has looked up from the toilet bowl he’s been worshipping, he finds himself staring at a tablet that bears a note saying ‘PLAY ME’.

The intrigue deepens when Milton presses play and finds the tablet contains footage of himself, explaining how the current situation has come about. His surprise at seeing himself on the screen is not because he was wasted the previous night, or because he’s endured some memory-eradicating substance. The reason turns out to be far more ingenious.

rsz_bp1The content of the tablet leads to a little bit of backstory and a proper introduction to the story’s hero.

Milton had been incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre. He’d been there because he was a chemistry student and he’d been caught using his knowledge of chemicals to cook crystal meth. Whilst appearing to repent for his sins, and maybe take a step toward atonement, he encounters a shed load of trouble in the shape of Skyler (Olivia Tennet, Lord of the Rings, Boogeyman and Shortland Street).

Skyler is a forthright character and conducts herself with a ruthless determination that is irresistible. She is looking for a meth cook and she uses her feminine wiles to tempt Milton to fill her vacancy. After showing him that crystal meth has a positive effect on her libido, it doesn’t take long before Skyler’s convinced Milton to join her. She’s even arranged to have her psychotic boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland, The Tribe, Shortland Street, Power Rangers R.P.M.) organize a jail break. And, for Milton, this is where the troubles really begin.

As a story, Blood Punch has traces of Breaking Bad, Cabin in the Woods and Groundhog Day in its structure – but it is so much more than merely a homage to existing works. One of the clever things about this film is the way everything is made to look so effortless. The story, in less capable hands, could have been confusing and nonsensical. Instead, it’s compelling, quirky and intriguing. The characters, drug dealers, psychopaths and the criminally insensitive, could have been difficult to like. But, instead, they come across as relatable, likeable and even loveable.

rsz_bpIt’s easy to see why Blood Punch has won so many awards (Phoenix International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival: Best Horror Feature 2015; New Orleans Horror Film Festival: Best Feature Film 2014; Hoboken International Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Actress 2014). The film has a compelling story that comes from a well-crafted script. The acting is strong and confident from a cast who know what they’re doing. The direction is masterful and assured throughout.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough and would say it’s one of the best horror films I’ve watched in a long time: 10/10.

Never Open The Door (2014) Review

notd1Never Open the Door (2014)
Starring: Jessica Sonneborn, Deborah Venegas, Kristina Page
Writers: Christopher Maltauro & Vito Trabucco
Director: Vito Trabucco

Out Now – On Demand & DVD / BluRay in North America

Three happy couples enjoy the holidays in a cozy secluded cabin in the woods when they are suddenly interrupted by an unprecedented event that will forever change their lives.

I have to disagree with the synopsis above. The three couples are not happy. And they don’t appear to be enjoying their holiday. In the opening scenes they are presented as bitter and argumentative. They are the sort of people who you hope will suffer miserably before the end of the movie. Fortunately, something malicious is rushing toward the house and we keep our fingers crossed that its malevolent intentions will be wrought upon the aforementioned not-so-happy couples. We see the world from this entity’s feral perspective and we know, whatever it is, it means business.

So, we have the ‘cabin in the woods’ format of a horror story, with a cast of repellent disposables and a burgeoning (but as yet unidentified) threat. However, whilst this may sound like something that’s been done a million times before, Never Open the Door manages to throw out some wonderful surprises and it’s a movie that is well worth investigating.

notd4I’ll offer a couple of caveats before I continue. I didn’t think the dialogue was particularly strong. Verbal exchanges between main characters repeatedly fall into shouted and unimaginative repetition. However, whilst I think this is a valid criticism of the film, I should also add, if I was ever suffering through a real-life ‘cabin in the woods’ horror, I suspect my dialogue would likely be shouted, unimaginative and repetitive. I’m also tempted to say the acting was a little wooden but that interpretation could have been a knock-on effect caused by the previously mentioned script/dialogue issues.

The opening scene is dominated by Luke (Mike Wood, Chupacabra Territory, Bloody Bloody Bible Camp and Vamps in the City). Boorish Luke sits at the head of the table, shouting over other conversationalists and genuinely making things uncomfortable for his wife, Maria (Deborah Venegas, The Haunting of Alice D, Bloody Bloody Bible Camp and What Goes On). He also makes things uncomfortable for Angel (Kristina Page, The Haunting of Alice D, Piranha Sharks and Crack Whore) and Isaac (Matthew Aidan, Bloody Bloody Bible Camp, Pain is Beautiful and Dead Season). Meanwhile, at the same table, Terrance (George Troester, No Ordinary BJ, Crack Whore and Rock in a Hard Place) is making things uncomfortable for Tess (Jessica Sonneborn, One Night of Fear, Dog Eat Dog and The Haunting of Alice D). It’s all delightfully uncomfortable and a guilty part of me is gleefully hoping that some (or all) of these unlikeables are going to meet the nasty and grim conclusion they deserve.

notd3And so, when someone knocks at the door, and Tess goes to answer it, the story immediately goes into full-horror mode. Clearly Tess hasn’t read the title of the movie (Never Open the Door), because she opens the door. And, after the initial shock of a stranger arriving and inciting mayhem amongst the sextet, the story moves away from the predictable and begins to explore some new and very interesting territory. Never Open the Door is filmed in black and white and, at 64 minutes running time, it is longer than a short but shorter than a feature. And all of this works for the movie. The brevity allows it to have a swift pace and leave the audience breathless. The absence of colour allows for Vito Trabuco’s direction (Bloody Bloody Bible Camp, Slices and Watch the Pretty Girls Suffer) to play with light and darkness to profound and unsettling effect.

Because of its brevity, I won’t say anything more about the plot or the surprises that populate the narrative. What I will say is, Never Open the Door has some genuinely unsettling moments and a plot twist that I’m still trying to comprehend two days after watching. If you want to see something different from the ‘cabin in the woods’ format, you need to watch Never Open the Door: 8/10.

The Anatomy of Monsters (2014) Review

aom1The Anatomy of Monsters (2014)

Starring: Tabitha Bastien, Jesse Lee Keeter, Conner Marx and Keiko Green
Writer/Director : Byron C Miller

Andrew lures a woman to a motel room with homicidal intentions. He quickly discovers that she may be more dangerous than he could ever imagine. What follows is a deadly game of wits, and a soul bearing confession.

The Anatomy of Monsters is an intelligent approach to the notion of serial killers as the big bad of a horror movie. The story starts where we’re introduced to Andrew, (Jesse Lee Keeter from Glitch, &@ and Semi-Secret). Andrew is a brooding individual who gives off an impression of being a sinister character. Consequently, when he enters a bar and strikes up a conversation with Sarah (Tabitha Bastien from Imagination Thief, Spook Me Baby One More Time and Run, Hide, Die) we feel that this isn’t going to end well.

And, even though the couple hit it off and head back to her motel room with the obvious intention of mutually satisfying shenanigans, there is still that notion that things are going to go badly for one or the other of them. It doesn’t help when Sarah finds a pair of handcuffs in her luggage and offers to model them for Andrew’s benefit. We watch her snap the cuffs behind her back and think clichéd phrases such as ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’. Except, Sarah is no meek lamb, and the organizer of the evening’s slaughter has not yet been decided.

aom2This is a stylish piece of misdirection because, whilst the audience are being led to believe that Sarah is putting her head in the lion’s metaphorical mouth, it transpires that she has the same nefarious appetites that have made Andrew such a dark and brooding character in the film’s opening scenes.

It would be easy to criticize parts of this film for falling foul of unwritten film-making law. There is a lot of narrative exposition in the motel room as the pair discuss motives. A lot of the story is told through flashbacks as Andrew and Sarah relive important episodes in their respective careers as homicidal murderers. To make matters more confusing, there are flashbacks within flashbacks, which seldom help to convey a cogent narrative. However, Byron C Miller’s direction is strong and confident and the story unfolds in a coherent fashion. There are twists and turns, all supported by a pleasant narrative tension throughout.

One of the predominant themes is Sarah’s memories of her relationship with Nick (Conner Marx from If There’s a Hell Below, Never and The Gamers: Hands of Fate). From the moment the pair connect we’re left worrying as to whether or not Sarah’s serial killer tendencies are going to intervene and bring the relationship to an abrupt end. And, throughout the whole of the film, we’re left wondering whether Andrew or Sarah will be the one to walk out of the motel room.

The Anatomy of Monsters is a lot of fun that manages to do an awful lot with a modest cast. Well worth checking out: 8/10.

Grave Walkers (2015) Review

gw1Grave Walkers (2015)

Starring: Charlene Amoia, Vladimir Kulich and Tony Todd
Writer: Ari Kirschenbaum
Director: Ari Kirschenbaum

Out NOW on DVD from Matchbox Films

Supernatural forces are locked into a college town police force’s basement jail. The sheriff and his deputies are subjected to psychic attacks, preying on the fears of the loyal officers and only those with the strongest wills can survive.

Grave Walkers begins in black and white on a Halloween night. We see Deputy Hancock (Charlotte Amoia from How I Met Your Mother, NCIS: New Orleans and Adrenaline) having to put an injured stag out of its misery. Hancock gets called to a nearby incident, because of the date it’s suspected to be a college prank, and in those first few minutes we’re subjected to some of the film’s most unsettling scenes.

Hancock comes face to face with a zombie/demon, complete with glowing eyes and malicious intent. In the monochrome lighting, this has the same sinister verismo quality that can be seen in found-footage horror, such as the night scenes in Blair Witch. Hancock has little resource available to her except to cuff the zombie/demon and take the creature back to the local sheriff’s jail.

gw3One of the most innovative ideas in this film is the demon’s malevolent influence on those nearby. Sheriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich from The 13th Warrior, The Equalizer, Vikings and Angel) doesn’t see the creature as a zombie/demon: he sees his hated late father. Deputy Eric (J, Richey Nash from Hitting the Cycle, Staying Alive and Bat $#*! Crazy) doesn’t see the creature as a zombie/demon: he sees the Bear Mountain Killer – the sadist whose reign of terror inspired Eric to join the police force. Others see the zombie/demon as specific menaces from their pasts and, each of them wants to kill this perceived nemesis.

Deputy Hancock, most strong-willed of the group, has to repeatedly threaten violent repercussions to anyone who attempts to take the law into their own hands.

I’ll admit here that this movie didn’t work for me. The film started off scary. There were flashes of colour between the black and white footage, disturbing images that were bloody and diabolical. But, halfway through, the film seemed to become a comedy and the serious themes were transformed into a comical pastiche. Don’t get me wrong: there is something vaguely absurd about the notion of zombies and humour can often work as a counterpoint to horror. This worked to good effect in Shaun of The Dead, Zombieland and Me and My Mates Vs the Zombie Apocalypse.
However, in Grave Walkers, the balance struck me as a little off.

gw2The film begins as a credible horror, and then seems to drift into comedy – as though the horror is no longer working. The black and white footage is atmospheric but the shifts into colour break the suspension of disbelief. When the film does shift fully into colour, similar to the shift Dorothy experiences when she lands at the foot of the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz, it’s another reminder of the artifice of the narrative.

There were some great ideas in Grave Walkers and, if the film had stuck to being either a horror or a comedy, it might have managed its aims far more successfully. The special effects were sophisticated and convincing. The notion of characters becoming undone by the exacerbation of their own private hatreds was ingenious. And, of course, Tony Todd (Candyman, House of Grimm and the Final Destination franchise) is a bankable addition to any horror film. His pot-smoking pastor, who faces a hoard of glowing-green-eyed zombie/demons, was one of the genuine highlights of the latter half of the film.

gw4In truth, I can see that this one would prove entertaining for many. The film was original, innovative and stylish in places. My only issue was, whilst it was stylish in places, sometimes the film seemed to sacrifice substance and story for the sake of style: 5/10.