Frank Turner

About Frank Turner

A lover of the macabre, Gothic and surreal I have been a horror fan since childhood, whether it be on a screen (Hitchcock's The Birds), on a page (Richard Laymon) or hanging on a wall (Graham Humphreys). My love for horror has spanned almost 30 years. Now an avid collector of Grindhouse/Exploitation/80's sleaze and the odd modern horror film, I can be found at horror festivals and conventions. I host my own horror blog Grave Misdemeanours and I can also be found on both Twitter (@GMisdemeanours) and Instagram (gravemisdemeanours). Plus, I am currently developing my first novel (horror genre, obviously!).

Bella In The Wych Elm (2017) Short Film Review

rsz_bellaBELLA IN THE WYCH ELM (2017) – Short

Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter
Cast: Lee Mark Jones, James Underwood, Traci Templer, James Taylor
Running time: 36 minutes
Distributed by Carnie Film Production.

In 1943 four young boys were out poaching illegally on the Hagley Hall estate in Worcestershire when they discovered a human skull hidden inside a wych elm tree trunk. Initially reluctant to tell anyone, one of the boys was too shocked by their discovery and confessed all to his parents. Upon police investigation, an almost complete human skeleton was found forced inside the trunk of the tree, with a hand discovered some distance away.

Bella in the Wych Elm is a black and white documentary short which tells the tale of the skeleton from discovery to her presumed identification. It was two years in the making and is clearly a labour of love for all those involved with two versions of the film existing, the original and a special silent movie edition with intertitles. I watched the original version which is narrated by ‘Tatty’ Dave Jones, who has a very broad Birmingham accent and he relays the tale as if chatting to you over a pint in your local pub. The film is made to look old and damaged with the filmmakers citing influences ranging from early silent films such as Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), the works of Guy Maddin, the book and film of Wisconsin Death Trip and exploitation pseudo-documentaries such as Legend of the Witches (1969).

rsz_bella_2It was deduced from forensic examination that the body was forced into the trunk whilst still warm as it could not have been achieved once rigor mortis had set in. However, the discovery did not really come into public conscience until three years later in 1944 when the first graffiti message relating to the mystery appeared on a wall in Upper Dean Street, Birmingham, reading “Who put Bella down the Wych Elm – Hagley Wood”. Since the 1970s the Hagley Obelisk near to where her remains were discovered has also been sporadically defaced with graffiti asking “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?”

Rutter’s short places the story in the realms of witchcraft and ritualistic murder, although the reality of her death is shown to be far less fantastical. He drops in a couple of very effective scares, what appears to be an original score and his influences, in particular Haxan, are definitely apparent.

Bella_SkullHowever, the short is also strongly tied to its geographical roots and it would be hard to imagine it having the same provincial tone if made by a non-local film crew. Although limited by a low budget at times, this creepy little tale lingers after the closing credits and comes recommended. 6/10

Bella in the Wych Elm has its premiere at Kidderminster Town Hall on 19th July 2017. More information can be found on Facebook (@BellaInTheWychElm) and Twitter (@Bella_Wych_Elm).

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

Fright Night (1985) Eureka Blu-Ray Review

fright-night-1FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
Running time: 106 minutes

Released by Eureka! Entertainment on standard dual format (Blu Ray/DVD) 10th April 2017
(An exclusive Zavvi limited edition steelbook released 26th December 2016 is now OOP)

The UK has been waiting what seems like centuries for a decent release of Tom Holland’s fangtastic 80’s cult classic on any format. Thankfully Eureka! Entertainment have finally delivered on a disc which is surely destined to become one of the must-have blu ray releases of 2017.

The Film: For those unacquainted with Fright Night, it follows teenage horror fanatic Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his ongoing attempts to prove to his mother, girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) that his charismatic new neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. His suspicions are further confounded by the strange activities he sees going on next door including a coffin being taking into the property and Jerry’s friend and live-in helper Billy (Jonathan Stark) assisting with all daytime activities.

As his mother and friends believe him to be crazy, he goes to the one person he is convinced will believe him and be able to help. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is the presenter of his favourite late night horror show Fright Night, however he is just that – a TV personality – and not an actual vampire hunter. However, as Charley’s girlfriend and best friend become seduced by Jerry’s charms, it is up to Charley and Peter to destroy the evil next-door and hopefully save the neighbourhood.

Following a rather lacklustre remake in 2011 starring the late Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and David Tennant, this release of the original (and best) version of Holland’s homage to horror and vampire lore is an essential purchase for any horror fan. For those new to it, Fright Night is intentionally a horror comedy however its attention to providing full on gore and graphic transformation scenes is also the reason it ranked the second highest grossing horror film of 1985 behind Freddy’s Revenge.

fright-night-2The Disc: I never saw the previous US Twilight Time or European blu ray releases of the film, so cannot offer comparisons but this release is based on the Sony 4K scan of the original negative overseen by renowned film restoration specialist Grover Crisp. It looks excellent and is certainly a vast improvement over my DVD copy or any version I’ve seen before on TV. There is a more natural colour palette, finer image detail and Crisp has ensured that classic 80’s look and ‘sheen’ isn’t lost in the restoration. Like a severed artery the film is overflowing with old school SFX and whilst on blu ray some of these do stand out more prominently, it is such a pleasure not to be browbeaten with CGI and instead I was left with a nostalgic glow. I watched the film again in its original Stereo and had no concerns with dialogue or indeed Brad Fiedel’s excellent score. Eureka! have also included a 5.1 Surround Sound option for those wanting a more immersive experience and English SDH subtitles. Sadly, they have not included a chapter menu on either the main menu or via pop-up menu, although this was apparently also lacking on previous releases.

Special Features: Apart from the excellent transfer, what really makes this release of Fright Night an undead treat is the wealth of extras which run at just over six hours. Eureka! have really spoilt fans with the highlight being an edited (two and a half hour version) of Dead Mouse Productions recent You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. A retrospective piece that includes contemporary interviews with cast, crew and many more it mainly focuses on the first Fright Night film and follows the film’s inception, production, casting, special effects, memories of filming and the film’s sleeper success. Fright Night: Part 2 (1988) is also mentioned but fans will need to pick up the full documentary for more in-depth discussion about the sequel.

Fear Fest 2008 Reunion (54 mins) is a panel discussion with cast and crew from both Fright Night and Fright Night: Part 2. There is some repetition from the documentary however we learn more about the sequel, including its now infamous troubled release and the change in attitudes to sexuality and diversity between both films. Holland also mentions upcoming talks for a possible remake/sequel and the script variations he is aware of.

Shock Till You Drop – Choice Cuts (28mins) is an interview with Tom Holland where he discusses his involvement with The Beast Within (1982), his work on Psycho 2 (1983), its release, effect on his career and his views on the studio system. He also discusses his transition from a theatre and TV actor to writer including early writing credits, the initial inception of Fright Night and the film’s major influences.

Vintage Electronic Press Kit (93 mins) is a nice addition but is taken from a VHS copy (with clock counter) and therefore suffers from vertical rolls and frequent cut outs. The kit includes US reviews, two music videos, a making of, three featurettes, news wraps, open end interviews and TV scene clips.

What is Fright Night? (11 mins) is a talking heads piece which appears to be an additional segment from the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. Cast and crew from both original Fright Night films discuss what they believe the films are about.

fright-night-3Tom Holland: Writing Horror (9 mins) is a special feature which is also available on the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary disc. Despite the title, it has little to do with his writing techniques and is mostly about his directing style. There is also some information overlap from the Choice Cuts extra.

Roddy McDowall: Apes to Bats (21 mins) is a featurette about the actor’s history in Hollywood and cast and crew from both Fright Night films reminisce about their time with him. Again, there is some information overlap from the Choice Cuts and Reunion extras.

Also included are two theatrical trailers (G and R rated versions), plus an image gallery of 64 behind the scenes, props and memorabilia photos.

In conclusion, Eureka! have done the UK proud in bringing Holland’s cult classic to our shores in a release it totally deserves. However, folks will have to wait until April 2017 for it to hit the shelves but I can tell you it is absolutely worth the wait… Until then, be as a cool as Brewster and pick up a copy of the Dead Mouse Productions excellent documentary and pray that one day Fright Night: Part 2 gets a similarly stunning release.

Aloys (2016) Review

aloys-1ALOYS (2016)

Director/Writer/Editor: Tobias Nolle

Cast: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck

Running time: 91 minutes

Out now on the Eureka! label (DVD/Blu-Ray dual format)

Aloys marks Nolle’s feature debut and after receiving its UK premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2016, it now finds its place in the Eureka label’s distinct European arthouse catalogue. A bleak and slow drama-fantasy, it is very much a mood piece and does not appear to hold much mainstream appeal, however as a calling card for Nolle’s cinematic eye it shows definite promise.

The film follows Aloys Adorn, a middle aged private detective who views life through a video camera. He secretly records the lives of those around him such as a philandering husband, a child playing, animals and a lonely woman. He watches these recordings alone in his flat, perhaps dreaming of one day connecting with the outside world and people around him. However, when his father dies he is so grief stricken that he is haunted by visions of him around the flat and his structured and voyeuristic lifestyle is thrown into chaos.

aloys-2After getting drunk one night, he wakes up on public transport to find that his video camera and recordings have been stolen and soon after, a mysterious woman calls to blackmail him. She offers to return the tapes if Aloys will try an obscure Japanese invention called ‘telephone walking’ with her, which involves using his imagination as their only connection. As he is drawn into her game, he begins to fall in love with the voice on the other end of the phone and the she opens up a new connection that may allow him to break out of his solitary world.

Swiss filmmaker Nolle and his cinematographer Simon Guy Fassler provide Aloys with an intriguing visual style, however it is sadly the only memorable thing about the film. They litter it with fantastical and metaphorical scenes of Aloys alone in a forest entwined in a phone cord or pushing down trees, of him walking around town with colour drained from the real world or imagining his female blackmailer is by his side. The moments of ‘telephone walking’ towards the end of the film suggest Aloys life is slowly gaining colour as his love for this woman emerges. However, Nolle plays so much with fantasy and reality that we are never truly sure what is real, therefore leaving the viewer with a sense of disconnect throughout the film.

aloys-3Aloys is a difficult film to recommend because it is incredibly slow and relies too heavily on its visuals to carry the story. Whilst a few scenes reminded me of Let The Right One In and Audition in their depiction of loneliness, it lacks the underlying intrigue or drive of either of those films. Nolle is certainly a director to watch out for although I would be interested to see what he could do with another writer’s narrative.

Rated: 2/10

Observance (2015) DVD Review

observance1OBSERVANCE (2015)

Director: Joseph Sims-Dennett
Cast: Lindsay Farris, Stephanie King
Running time: 90 minutes
Out now on Soda Pictures DVD

Observance played the festival circuit over a year ago and had a limited release in its native Australia in early 2016. It recently played at Grimmfest 2016 and is now making its home entertainment debut on DVD in the UK, which feels like its natural home.

Following the death of his son and subsequent estrangement from his wife, private investigator Parker (Lindsay Farris) is facing bankruptcy so he takes a job watching a young woman. Told by his employer that it is easy money, he holes himself up in an abandoned tenement building opposite her flat, however the purpose of the investigation remains a mystery and something may be lurking in the flat with him. Dreams of his dead son and strange goings on inside the building suggest Parker may be slowly losing his mind, or is he?

observance2Joseph Sims-Dennett’s latest feature is a low budget psychological thriller which plays on atmospherics rather than gore and despite a slow start, it surprisingly creeped the hell out of this reviewer by the time its closing credits rolled up. It has three narrative strands running through it which play out over seven days; the investigator’s grief, the fate of the observed and a third which is best unknown prior to viewing but has an influence over both of them. The narratives intertwine in surrealist imagery with filmic beats harking back to thrillers like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, however the pace of the feature suggests lofty arthouse aspirations with nods to Fellini and Polanski.

The film plays out in three main environments, the two flats and a coastal location which works in its favour because it feels incredibly claustrophobic. As Parker disintegrates mentally, the viewer has little to distract them from the imagery and therefore any jumps scares are intensified. The film’s tone and pacing won’t be to everyone’s taste and not everything is explained by the film’s end, however this adds to its surrealist nature.

David Gaylard’s sound design is key to the atmosphere of the film and those familiar with David Lynch will recognise the ramped up generic sounds of everyday life. Whilst cinematographer Rodrigo Vidal-Dawson manages to make daylight eerie with a scene towards the end involving Parker and a figure dowsed in filtered light one of the creepiest things I have seen in a while.

observance3Observance deserves to find an audience on DVD, although it demands the viewer to become immersed in it succumbing not only to Parker’s mental state but also its arthouse pretensions. This may prove challenging for some as it is a slow burner however the pay-off, whilst a little Blair Witch in nature, is worth the effort. Recommended viewing with the lights off, curtains shut and an open mind.

Rated: 6/10

Bite (2015) DVD Review

biteBITE (2015)

Director: Chad Archibald
Cast: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen, Jordan Grey
Running time: 85 minutes
Out now on Second Sight DVD.

Bite was knocking around the festival circuit over a year ago and is only now finding its way onto DVD in the UK. Whilst low budget films can take a while to find a home beyond the festivals, it is apparent why Bite has taken so long to surface and its lack of budget harms it in more ways than a pesky insect bite on the thigh.

The story follows Casey (Elma Begovic) who gets the aforementioned nasty nip whilst on a bachelorette holiday with her friends Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen). Whilst there she goes off the rails and decides that she cannot get married and on her return home the bite starts to become more infected leading to some odd changes in her physicality and behaviours. With her anxiety levels about the impending nuptials are already sky high and being further complicated by a fiancé with familial expectations, Casey becomes more and more unhinged.

bite1In short, Bite is a modern, very low budget take on The Fly with Casey turning into a human/insect hybrid. Whilst this might sound like an intriguing premise, sadly much of the budget appears to have been spent on gallons of lubricant in an attempt to add a gross out factor as Casey gradually transforms. However, it just looks really cheap and when she starts giving birth to translucent eggs (think large caviar!), the film becomes almost comedic in tone rather than disgusting. Plus, the moment she starts spewing acidic bile at people and turns her flat into a nest, then you just recall better films, in particular the xenomorph sprang to mind.

Despite the lack of budget there a few nice touches, for example the first time Casey’s hearing becomes more sophisticated is nicely conveyed by her fiancé taking ages to reach the flat and it is apparent she is hearing a conversation taking place well out of normal hearing range. At one point, she wears a black and gold striped t-shirt which looks like a bee which foreshadows her complete transformation, plus she falls asleep in a bathtub and appears to have underwater breathing capabilities.

However, these few positives are constantly undermined by amateurish acting, a poorly developed script and a lack of attention to narrative common sense (check out the scene with the cops and guys in hazmat suits). The film also introduces us to a terrible looking CGI tail on Casey towards the end and it completely distracts the viewer from moments which should be tense.

It is never nice to knock low budget horror films because many are made with a passion for a genre which is constantly struggling for new ideas and voices. However, Bite just feels lazy in its conception and the cheap SFX make a mockery of any gross out aspirations. Check out Cronenberg’s The Fly instead.

Rated: 2/10

Viral (2016) Review

Viral DVDVIRAL (2016)

Running Time: 85 mins

Directors: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman

Cast: Sofia Black-D’Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Travis Tope, Michael Kelly.

UK DVD Release: 17th October 2016 (Blumhouse/Lionsgate UK)

Emma (Black-D’Elia) and her sister Stacey (Tipton) are the new girls in town, slowly fitting in at a new high school, making boys heads turn and coping with the embarrassment of their father (Kelly) being a member of the faculty. As news of a biological pandemic starts saturating the local and national news, the threat becomes reality when Emma’s best friend, Gracie collapses and starts vomiting blood whilst at school.

Gradually more become infected and their small community is quarantined and placed under martial law. With their parents stuck behind the county barrier, the girls have to fend for themselves as the military start exterminating infected households and the infected start amassing. In an attempt to escape the chaos, the sisters and Evan (Emma’s secret high school crush) take refuge in her home, however one of them has a deadly secret.

viral4Viral plays out like a cross between Fox’s The Strain and 28 Days/Weeks Later. Whether it be worms squirming about under their host’s skin, the method of infection or a nest scene, the film plunders its influences shamelessly. The infected even make a clicking sound similar to the vampires in The Strain. Viral is also squarely aimed at the mid-teen to early twenties market and initially the opening scenes feel like an update of Rodriguez’s The Faculty but without that film’s self-referential wit. However, the story does work for the older viewer and some of the later scenes are reminiscent of 28 Weeks Later, plus not all logic is lost as mobile phone signals go down. Also, the use of flares to highlight infected households at night stood out as a nice touch.

The film is directed by Joost and Schulman, a ‘next-gen’ horror team who also made Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) (one of the franchise’s better sequels) and the recent Nerve (2016). However, where those films had some genuinely thrilling and scary moments, Viral never really scares and instead goes for the gross out factor. Anyone who suffers with trypophobia (a fear of clusters of holes) should be wary as numerous footage of real-life Bot Fly extractions left this reviewer wincing. An attempt to base the biological pandemic in reality works to a degree and it also leads to one of the film’s most tense scenes.

Viral2Originally slated for a US theatrical release in February 2016, it has since been relegated to ‘on demand’ and will finally reach UK shores later this year via the DVD route. Following the Blumhouse tradition of producing low budget horror, the film does indeed have a very straight-to-DVD feel about it. However, various set pieces and the ending have big aspirations and are executed fairly effectively with panoramic and aerial shots, plus the acting is generally watchable. Considering the variable quality of most new-gen horror these days, Viral fares relatively well and whilst it probably won’t feature on any best of lists, it’s certainly not a bad way to spend an evening.

Rated: 6/10

Road Games (2015) DVD Review

Road Games (1)ROAD GAMES (2015)

Director/Writer: Abner Pastoll

Cast: Andrew Simpson, Josephine de La Baume, Frederic Pierrot, Barbara Crampton

Running Time: 95 mins

UK DVD Release: 29th August 2016 from Icon & Frightfest Presents

A killer is on the loose in the French countryside. Jack (Simpson) and Veronique (de La Baume) are two hitchhikers who come across one another after Veronique’s lift goes badly wrong. A friendship is forged as they figure safety in numbers is better than travelling solo and then they meet Grizard (Pierrot). He agrees to give them a lift and provide hospitality at his country mansion but on arrival and after meeting his wife, Mary (Crampton), all is not quite as it appears.

Not to be mistaken as a remake of the Australian 1981 thriller, Road Games is a British-French co-production, executive produced by Crampton and directed by Pastoll who has previously directed short films and the thriller Shooting Shona (2004). The script is a mixture of French and English so subsequently subtitles are frequent and at times Jack’s lack of French vocabulary is used to moderately suspenseful effect. The cinematography by Eben Bolton follows the general rules of the horror genre with dusty, dimly-lit rooms littered with creepy art pieces plus several aerial shots early on in the story help convey just how isolated the characters are from seeking help when events take a darker aspect in the finale.

Road Games (2)Pastoll’s feature is competently made but sadly it suffers from a complete lack of any real tension. We have a lot of scenes of Jack and Veronique wandering around country lanes attempting to hitch lifts early on and very little actually happens until the final half-hour. Once the narrative moves location to the mansion, even then Pastoll fails to ignite any real sense of dread. For example, a mildly unsettling dinner scene where Crampton acts increasingly unhinged is neutered by an extremely odd tone and very sad to report, some rather bad acting.

Also, a scene involving a local farmer, whom may or may not have something to do with the murders, hints at a homage to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but the film never runs with it and instead the viewer is left recalling a far scarier film. Daniel Elms’ music direction also needs mentioning as frequently it does not match the tone of the narrative and as such becomes very overbearing during sinister moments when perhaps silence may have better served the scene.

Road Games (3)Pastoll has stated his feature owes much to And Soon The Darkness (1970), another thriller which is similarly set in the French countryside but is about the disappearance of a young female cyclist. It also reminded this reviewer of Haute Tension (2003) but only very briefly and any recollections of that film were instantly quashed by an unintentionally comedic scene involving a hay bale. It is evident why Frightfest have championed this film considering its cast and storyline but after the excellent We Are Still Here (2015), it is sad to report that it is a minor misstep for Crampton and one which might be best forgotten by her legion of fans. Similarly, Pierrot has done better work on TV (Les Revenants) and Simpson fared better in last year’s, The Survivalist.

Road Games is not a film worth thumbing a lift for.

Rated: 4/10