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James Pemberton

About James Pemberton

James has been a horror fan ever since he was 6 when he used to watch hammer horror films on late night tv. He is currently living and working in Manchester, occasionally gets work on helping out with short films and music videos, and in his other spare time like to go to heavy metal gigs, cinema and horror film festivals and has attended Frightfest in London 3 years in a row, as well as Frightfest Glasgow, and Grimm up North festival. He is planning on trying to get to either Fantasia in Montreal or Sitges in Spain, some point in his life!

The Void (2016) Review

rsz_void1THE VOID (Dirs- Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski, CANADA, 2016)

Starring- Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Art Hindle

Out now on Demand + DVD & Blu-Ray from Signature Entertainment.

After making an impression at a series of festival screenings, THE VOID arrives on blu ray and digital download after a very (almost non-existent) cinema release, in what will be a format where it can find a more appreciative audience, as the film harks back to memories of VHS horror flicks and those sort of films you found in the local rental store that had garish hand drawn covers and as a kid you immediately wanted to rent out. The memory of the 80’s genre cinema and creature prosthetics and even the looming influence of John Carpenter, is further emphasised since some of the films influences can be found in his classics THE THING and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

rsz_void2Starting off with a bang the film opens with two people running from a farmhouse in terror one of whom is shot down and killed by two strangers who state that the other person “won’t get very far.” Said fleeing injured person runs out onto a road and encounters Sheriff Carter (Poole) who drives the guy to the nearest available hospital, which in turn is closing down after a fire gutted much of its basement and is surviving on a small skeleton crew of doctors and nurses including Carter’s wife Alison (Munroe) who has separated from him since the death of their child during birth. It’s not long before the hospital is under siege from mysterious hooded figures who are intent on not letting anyone escape from the hospital which comes under attack from all manner of messed up creatures. With tempers fraying between Carter and the two men from the start of the film who know more than the staff and become valuable allies, they soon start to realise that the hospital might be the basis for someone or something with a more darker purpose than they imagined.

rsz_void3Gillespie and Kostanski know how to kick off the film in the right way and they keep this energy up throughout the running time almost not letting go of the full throttle pace of the film. Managing to cram small bits of back story of the hospital and the characters, the film maintains its focus on the situation and is blessed with the perfect setting. PRECINCT 13 springs to mind in this aspect of the closing down hospital, a skeleton crew of mismatched individuals some of whom might be a threat, surrounded by a mostly silent enemy. However the extra level of tension is added in that what ever the hooded figures threatening the characters outside is also manifesting itself inside in a much more horrific way and its this concept that allows the true stars of the film to shine or rather spill its guts onto the screen, which is the effects. Both horrifying in an almost surrealist creation of disgust and innovative, the creature effects are superbly done and its a credit to the directors and the effects team to go along with the use of prosthetics. Its no surprise to know that the two directors have backgrounds in art and practical effects on some big budgeted films and that experience has allowed them to bring it to the full in their own picture.

rsz_void4Whilst there are a few cracks in the story and at times background detail seems to be missed, the film runs at a decent pace to almost allow you to forgive some minor plot holes as it’s main focus is on the action and some impressive set pieces. The cast handle the proceedings well, managing to portray convincing normal small town people trapped in an unbelievable situation, particularly Kenneth Welsh as Dr Powell whose brief part leads to a more significant and deciding character that changes and significantly influences the second half of the story. Cult film fans will also recognise Art Hindle star of the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE BROOD in a small role.

rsz_void5THE VOID is going to go down well with hardcore horror fans and it’s damn enjoyable. Admittedly you can spot the genre references through and through from Carpenter’s aforementioned classics mentioned before to HELLRAISER, with a splattering of THE BEYOND especially in the films final sequence as well. But as genre films go you cannot fault its ambition and drive and the directors have a love and an appreciation of the horror film. It will have any self respecting genre fan loving it’s use of traditional prosthetic effects and watching it with a huge smile on their face, since it has the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.


Stake Land 2 (2016) Review

rsz_stake1STAKE LAND 2 (Dirs- Dan Berk, Robert Olsen, USA 2016)

Starring- Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Kristina Hughes, Bonnie Dennison

Out NOW on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

Jim Mickle’s STAKE LAND was a surprisingly effective flick back in 2010 as it at least tried to bring back the vampire into a more darker and gritty combination of post apocalyptic western and straight up serious horror. The film carried a bleak almost nihilistic world view in parts backed up with interesting and empathetic characters most notably Nick Damici’s vampire hunter Mister and the young lad he takes under his wing, Martin, played by Connor Paolo as they navigate the ravaged American landscape on their way to find New Eden in Canada, the last hope of a safe refuge.

The film picks up with Martin and the girl he left with at the end of the last film, Peggy (Dennison) now living with a kid of their own. Tragedy rears its ugly head as we learn in flashback that Peggy and Martin’s daughter were slain by a new leader of the religious nutter group, The Brotherhood, who where one of the main human threats from the first film. This new head is called The Mother (Hughes) who has control over the mutant berserker vampires that spread the epidemic in the first place and who The Brotherhood worship as their new god intent on their mission of wiping out the remaining heathens in the world.

rsz_stake2Martin sets out on a quest for vengeance encountering un-trust worthy folk along the way including an elderly couple whose hospitality hides a sinister purpose (seems pretty obvious in the long run) and a band of humans who seem to be trading other unfortunate captive humans and forcing them into fighting. Its this point where Martin meets back up with Mister who has found a feral women he has called Lady (Abramsen) and they soon return back wandering the waste land in search of The Mother, meeting up with two old friends of Mister’s, Bat (Petersen) and Doc Earl (Williams) on a mission that sees them facing persistent struggle and possible doom.

It was surprising to hear that this film originally had its premiere on the SyFy channel in the states, which is more at home to screening first time premieres of films about mutated ghost sharks and the like. The SyFy channel premiere doesn’t really do it justice and despite a few festival screenings this time round unlike its predecessor STAKE LAND 2 goes straight to DVD in the UK. This shouldn’t put anyone off as this is a decent sequel and whilst it doesn’t have the strength of the first one and in some ways less of a budget the film still retains the bleak world view of the original. Naturally in post apocalyptic times we are reminded of the futility of society and its complete breakdown due to collapse in institutions and this sequel keeps up that notion even if I would say borrowing very slightly from THE WALKING DEAD and that series bleak world view, which in turn I felt certainly must have had some of the original STAKE LAND’s inspiration rub off on it in the latter seasons of that show.

rsz_stake3But then post apocalyptic films have always traded on our fears of epidemic, nuclear war and the breakdown of the world and rationale humans turning on other humans an idea which always works well and forever will be present and in current uncertain world climate even more relevant. Paolo and Damici, both excellent in this, reprise their roles as Mister and Martin and its good to see them return since their pairing was one of the first films strengths. A nice connection is played out with the tragic incident at the start that befalls Martin and with one that happened to Mister in the past, who sees Martin change and slowly start to become what he used to be even though he sees a better future and character for the boy. They are backed up with support from Petersen and Williams who lend a pair of bad ass characters also driven numb by the bleakness of the world.

rsz_stake4Directing duo Berk and Olsen handle the film with confidence and pace the story into new territories alongside introducing new past story traits to strengthen the characters even though in some respects it lessens the hidden past mystery of Mister. They also benefit from a great use of the shooting location of Saskatchewan that adds to the vast loneliness of the post apocalyptic landscape and an almost Western-esque feel. Credit should also be given to the make up effects work which manages to be effective adding an ugly look to the vamps as well as making the head vamp, The Mother, look albino in a way and strangely like Tilda Swinton but with long hair and one eye. In the outset this sequel, whilst might not be as sprinkled with the originality of the first film still manages to be an entertaining 81 minutes that delivers some fantastic scenes of mutant vampire action and gore amongst the dramatic human moments.


My Little Sister (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_mls1MY LITTLE SISTER (Dirs- Maurizio Del Piccolo, Roberto Del Piccolo, ITALY, 2016)

Starring- Holli Dillon, Mattia Rosellini, David White, Astrid Di Bon

Out NOW on UK DVD from Left Films

The woods are always a great setting for a horror film and the natural habit is greatly used in this gritty stalk and slash thriller with elements of a torture porn flick thrown in for good measure. Whilst it’s low budget from the start and the setting pretty much confirms that since what’s the better way than to use a sparse woodland area without having to spend money on difficult locations that can be inevitably hampered by unsanctioned walk on cameos by members of the public and MY LITTLE SISTER uses the woodland to its extent.

The plot is basic in that it starts off with a couple going deep into a forest to meet up with some friends. They bump into the oft used horror character of the scary local, warning them that Little Sister will get them and to not take the non-threatening name lightly. Naturally they ignore this nutter’s warnings and its not long before the couple are having to fight off this vicious killer wearing what looks like a human skin mask and who has a nice line of peeling men’s faces off while making their loved ones watch on in horror, fulfilling the torture porn feel of the film from scene one. Throw into this a suspicious derelict farm house which seems to be the home of the killer and a mad women who wanders around the woods, seemingly harmless but somehow has a link to the house and to the madman.

rsz_mls2Opening with a nicely done scene of brutality with some unfortunate captives being tortured by the aforementioned Little Sister including one man being removed of his face in grizzly and impressive effects fashion MY LITTLE SISTER starts off in impressive attention grabbing kick off. This opening allows the Del Piccolo’s to start off strong and keep the viewer interested and to stay on board for the duration. Whilst there’s no doubt there are some flaws in this film there is also a lot to be impressed about. The central bad guy Little Sister or as he is also known by his really name, Igor, my have one of the most daftest sounding nick names for a bad guy but somehow comes across off as an effective villain with a grim mask made up of faces of previous victims looking pretty grim and unnerving.

rsz_mls3With hunchbacked slouch and stumbling walk as well he is the typical slasher bad guy one with a handicap yet somehow this still doesn’t impead him and he manages to outwit able bodied victims easily, which is also a classic trait of the slasher film. There is no doubt that the directors have been studying their horror homework as there’s the standard reference to slasher flicks and also a nice reference to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which plays into the backstory of the little sister and his family abode, a run down and decaying farm house which is a nice backdrop to the film and as a set is an impressive find for the film-makers. Though like any horror film you wonder why a character running from a mad man would take a chance running into a clearly deserted grim farm house knowing clearly well this might not be a place with a welcoming or comforting vibe.

rsz_mls4Clearly the film does have a few flaws. Dialogue wise the decision to go with an Italian cast speaking English seems somewhat unusual and whilst the dialogue is minimal the lines delivered seem stunted and flawed. This is marred by some wooden dialogue and admittedly were not here to witness a master-class in acting but it seems at times unintentionally comic particularly from the doom saying woodsman who is known in the cast as Ben. His delivery of the aforementioned “you’ll all be doomed” speech comes off as more cheesy and it doesn’t really help that he has an axe in his hand which makes him look more like a threatening local hill billy rather than a to be laughed at idiot local. At times less dialogue and maybe even no dialogue would have been a better choice or route to choose that could have added an originality to the piece. The cinematography is impressive for much of the running time though some earlier shots suffer from a slight sense of amateurish filming. As if part of the earlier section of the film is shot on a smartphone as it has that sense of image stability and picture panning which feels as if the screen is being dragged rather than the camera being moved.

rsz_mls5It’s not an overly original piece of film-making we have on hand here and with some flaws there’s still plenty to admire in MY LITTLE SISTER and the Del Piccolo’s have put their heart and time into this. To their credit they pull it off efficiently and with some gritty style, it has an unironic full on traditional slasher film feel, with an intention of trying to possibly set up a titular horror character in the form of Little Sister.


Ibiza Undead (2016) Review

iu1IBIZA UNDEAD (Dir- Andy Edwards, UK, 2016)

Starring- Jordan Coulson, Cara Theobold, Ed Kear, Homer Todiwala, Emily Atack, Matt King, Marcia Do Vales

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

Zombies go on holiday and the last place you would expect it to end up at would be in the Spanish party capital. Renowned for being a mecca of massive club nights, cheap booze and drunken horny teenagers who are more commonly seen to end up collapsing outside a club spewing up their guts and being filmed for a tawdry late night holiday expose of boozed up Brits abroad, IBIZA UNDEAD attempts to combine that tradition (sort of) with an attack of the living dead kind. Admittedly horror and comedy can be tricky bedfellows but with a decent and eye catching title can Edward’s film make the heads of genre fans tick whilst delivering gut busting belly laughs and gut munching?

Three mates, Alex (Coulson), Big Jim (Kear) and Az (Todiwala) are off to Ibiza for a holiday of “booze” and “bitches.” Lo and behold though Alex being a cheapskate hasn’t changed the name on the fourth plane ticket and his ex-girlfriend, who dumped him, Ellie (Theobold), is still coming along much to the annoyance of his mates. They meet up with Alex’s big sister Liz (Atack) who has rented a villa to stay at. Rather than hang out with his sister and her mates who don’t want him there in the first place, Alex and the boys hit the town, managing to meet an angry club girl street promoter (Do Vales) who recommends the the best club in town which is run by shady owner Karl (King) who has smuggled zombies into an already over run by the living dead England, onto the holiday island to be part of his club’s main dance attraction. However a shipwrecked boat full of zombies that was caused by the actions of a dimwit underling of Karl and Big Jim’s stupid decision to feed the undead dancers booze sets off an attack that causes the island to be overran by the rotten kind of tourist who wants to dine on the all you can eat buffet of booze soaked youngsters.

iu4Pitching itself clearly as a combination of THE INBETWEENERS and SHAUN OF THE DEAD, IBIZA UNDEAD does manage to pull out some likeable elements and set pieces throughout its flawed, often uneven 95 minutes. The entertaining irony that is obvious in the film and is pitched nicely is that as much as Ibiza in real life has had an influx of drunken loutish debauched British youngsters invading the island and bringing down some areas over many years since its rise as a party capital, in IBIZA UNDEAD its the Brits again who cause the zombie epidemic. Partly through Big Jim giving booze to zombies and dodgy Karl importing them illegally to his club. It’s a nice swipe at British attitudes and loutish behaviour abroad that is reckless and clueless to its effects. There’s also an interesting brief side story mentioned at the start that explains how Britain is under a zombie epidemic currently controlled by the military and that a certain political party is blaming it on immigrants. The film does deliver at least a decent bit of zombie carnage though not much gore, aside from a pretty grim amputation scene that is played for dark manic gallows humour and is one of the highlights of the film as it sets out to shock in its over the top gleeful gory-ness.

iu3Though the use of CGI blood is an annoyance and one thing that still perplexes me as to why filmmakers would use it. Added to this the cast are obviously having fun and enjoying it but there performances are pitched between mildly irritating to annoying especially Kear as Big Jim. Playing a type of Nick Frost Ed character from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, Big Jim is the loud mouth of the group but unlike the character from SHAUN who is clueless to his idiocy, Big Jim just comes off as sounding crass and annoying with his constant boasts of sexual prowess and wanting to find all the “sluts” which seem almost demeaning rather than being funny. Even in a moment, which is well delivered, where Jim exposes some vulnerability to Liz, he soon steps back into his annoying one note bullshit artist role and returns to grate your nerves.

Whilst the film does balance humour and gore reasonably well in certain areas of the narrative, other scenes come across entirely forced and almost uneven. Such as one character, who I wont reveal but still MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, who makes an unusual entirely selfless decision and soon regrets it due to his own lack of knowledge. Yet rather than suggest that the same character could pop up in a later comic reveal towards the end, instead it ends up on a rather sombre note that perceives a grizzly fate that seems entirely out of touch with the films tone.

iu2Admittedly in a sub-genre that is always cramming out more fresh/rotten corpses off the production line, in the zombie film arena its hard not to admire parts of IBIZA UNDEAD with its attempt to combine a drunken Brit twat’s abroad vibe with laddish humour with gut munching undead. And Edwards works well with the limited budget he has and certainly pitching this at an audience who are fans of THE INBETWEENERS and, well fans of zombies. But in the end the proceedings come off as predictable, flawed and whose characters might drive some viewers to actually not care at all what happens to them and whether they get off the Island or not.


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!


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.


Ghosts Of Mars (2001) Review

rsz_gom1GHOSTS OF MARS (Dir- John Carpenter, USA, 2001)

Starring- Natasha Hentsridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Richard Cetrone

Out now on Bluray/DVD Dual Format from Indicator

Probably the last time John Carpenter made a feature with a pretty significant budget and with studio backing GHOSTS OF MARS was not well received on release, particularly by Carpenter fans and didn’t play well at the box office and burning out the horror auteur in the process and it would be 5 years later, with his superb entry into the first season of MASTERS OF HORROR with CIGARETTE BURNS, that he would get behind the camera and another 9 until he went back to a full feature with the entertaining if uneven THE WARD. Since then Carpenter has gone to music releasing two albums and even performing live (the privilege I got to see last October) and a return to cinema is unlikely even though he recently sent out a post on social media putting his backing behind a brand new version of HALLOWEEN to be written by Danny McBride and David Gordon Green with Green also in the directors chair, even hinting he might do the music. But how about his later films or the last one he did before taking a long break? Powerhouse releasing have also put out versions of CHRISTINE and also VAMPIRES and have now gone onto to do GHOSTS OF MARS, a film that personally I’ve only seen parts of and since on its release I heard a lot of negative reaction and therefore kind of avoided a full watch of it. It’s like the later Argento films some I have avoided and some I’ve seen and there’s that semblance of a once great master now treading the boards and disappointing fans who expect another return to form (though I do like MOTHER OF TEARS though for its camp madness). So how about GHOSTS OF MARS on a full watch then and how does it hold up, should it be re-discovered and given a better chance?

rsz_gom2It’s the year 2176 and Mars has been colonized by pesky humans with 84% of it terraformed, as a helpful intro narrator tells us (sly hints at the opening of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK). A train arrives at a station unmanned and on auto pilot and the only passenger on board is a Mars Police Officer, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) who is handcuffed to a bunk bed. She is then interrogated by a committee who want her to recall why her mission to pick up a dangerous prisoner, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) failed and in flashback Ballard recounts the events which are the focus of the film. Belonging to a team led by Commander Braddock (Grier), along with a consistently flirty/sleazy Sgt Jericho (Statham) and a rookie Kincaid (DuVall) their mission was to arrive at a mining outpost to pick up Williams and transport him back for trial. Yet on arrival the town is deserted and the corpses they find hanging upside down, minus a head, in a bar is not a good sign. Only soon they realise that the townsfolk have turned into crazed savages brought about from disembodied spirits that where unleashed after a underground doorway was broken in another mining colony. The spirits the aforementioned Ghosts Of Mars are not too keen on the humans invading their planet and invoke a savage primal urge which result in a destruction of human civility. Naturally the cops and the thugs led by Williams and some other (expendable) townsfolk in the jail band together to take on the possessed savages and try and reach the train to get the hell out of dodge.

rsz_gom5After seeing the film in full I will admit that I enjoyed GHOSTS OF MARS and in all honesty its an entertaining slice of cheesy B-movie fun. But looking into it you can see both its flaws and its quality’s and most of all you can see a director reviving moments of his previous classic films and also tipping a hat to a genre he loves, the western which he already paid tribute to in his classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 which is a partial retread/re-imaging etc of RIO BRAVO. There’s even scenes that remind you of Carpenter’s clever use of widescreen frame in essentially highlighting foreground information to the audience that the character’s haven’t noticed, such as a scene of a doorknob being slowly turned unbeknownst to those in the background and we know from its movements that what will be on the other side of the door wont be nice. Essentially GHOSTS takes bits from PRECINCT 13 and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and updates it with a futuristic setting on another planet, accompanied by the directors slight use of synth which is mostly overdubbed with a pounding heavy metal soundtrack courtesy of Anthrax.

rsz_gom3It all plods along at a decent rate and whilst it does essentially break out into lots of turned-savaged humans being gunned down in mass numbers which tend to drag and stifle the action sequences Carpenter knows how to pace the film, to keep it basic. The dialogue and acting is ropey at best and character wise like the story is basic to a minimum with only Ballard being given a slight addiction to a narcotic which essentially becomes a saving grace for her not to be possessed by the Martian spirit and as the main bad guy, Ice Cube is just essentially Ice Cube and equips himself well in the bad ass role, plus has one of the best character names in the film, Desolation Williams, which is what people who are stuck for naming new born children should call their newborn or if they have a pet cat or dog to name them that instead! Whilst its nowhere near the quality of THE THING or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THEY LIVE or other carpenter classics (please insert name of John Carpenter classic here), GHOSTS is a wholly entertaining ride and whilst it wont hold a candle up to his previous works the film none-the-less deserves maybe a bit more revaluation in that whilst it has flaws throughout it still contains slight nods to Carpenter’s previous work and retains the B-movie style and grit of his early low budget flicks.

rsz_gom4As a thought maybe Carpenter knew that it was time to call it a day on making big budget films, that the demands of producers and studios would become too much for this film and even future projects so why not finish now on a entertaining slice of big budget B-movie inspired flick, cause at least now he has made some fantastic music and so in the end calling it a day could be seen as being beneficial for both himself and his fans.


Original stereo audio
Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
Audio commentary by director John Carpenter and actor Natasha Henstridge
Scoring ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 6 mins): behind the scenes at the recording sessions with John Carpenter and bands Anthrax and Buckethead as they record the score for Ghosts of Mars
Special Effects Deconstruction (2001, 7 mins)
Video Diary: Red Desert Nights – Making ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 17 mins)
Original theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton
Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
UK Blu-ray premiere

Abandoned Dead (2017) DVD Review

rsz_1adABANDONED DEAD (2017)

Dir- Mark W. Curran

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

UK DVD Release – Feb 27th 2017 from LEFT FILMS

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

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

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

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

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


The Driller Killer (1979) Arrow Video Review


(Dir- Abel Ferrara, USA, 1979)

Starring- Jimmy Laine, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day

Out NOW from Arrow Video!

“Notorious video nasty” is the one term used to describe Ferrara’s low budget exploitation flick. Yet its notoriety and inclusion on the video nasties list in the UK primarily comes from the it’s brutally up front and infamous video cover, which features a man with a drill bit going into his forehead, screaming with blood rushing down his face, a testament to the almost recognisable aspect of shock advertising employed by the people who exhibited exploitation films in cinemas only a few years before the dawn of VHS, with a tactical blatant use of shocking title and gaudy often graphic cover promising lurid and unspeakable thrills. Most of the time the films on the nasties list where a disappointment and only a few often proved to be exceptional and DRILLER KILLER is one of them and is now getting a brand new dual Blu-ray and DVD release from the folks at Arrow.


Ferrara’s film stands out from the video nasty crowd in that it purposefully invokes different genres such as character study, black comedy, psychological thriller and of course horror. Its a portrait of struggling painter Reno (Jimmy Lane, but actually Ferrara under a pseudo name) and his attempts to fend of piling up rent, bills, complaints from his girlfriend Carol (Marz) and her on/off lover Pamela (Day) and the racket created by a punk band who move in downstairs brought in by Carol called Tony Coca-Cola and The Roosters consistently practising day and night. All these aspects start to affect Reno’s psyche leading to a change in mental state and the purchase of a battery pack that can power a portable drill and send him on a killing spree of New York’s drunk vagrants, a group he has a fear of becoming part of and a defenceless one at that who he takes out his rage on instead of those causing him grief in the first place.

dk3Shot in 16mm THE DRILLER KILLER ranks up there with films that document a period in the time of New York of the late 70’s and early 80’s such as TAXI DRIVER, MANIAC, BASKET CASE, COMBAT SHOCK and even part of NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN in its portrayal of a city in the midst of sleazy often dangerous areas, exploitation cinemas, punk bars, artists apartments and in this films case a massive homeless problem brought in part by the closure of mental hospitals (which is briefly mentioned in the shot of a front cover of a newspaper). This is the period before Rudolph Giuliani cleaned up the city in the early 90’s, of a city that had a grit and rough edge to it and often a sense of desperation which is perfectly captured by Ferrara who has even hailed this a documentary in parts, and in some respects the rough edge of the film adds a realist approach and makes a perfect nightmarish setting for the action as Reno’s mind slowly starts to break and he succumbs to violent urges.

The film has an almost languid freestyle approach to the pacing with occasional scenes of the Roosters band practising, Reno trying to finish his painting, trying to get money off his art agent and also witnessing the homeless problem and violent crime around the city and this slow style is punctuated by viscerally brutal scenes of violence sound tracked by a hypnotically, psycho-esque synth score that acts in a JAWS type of way of building the ensuing attack on vagrants, with Reno being the proverbial shark wandering the streets with his power drill stalking his prey. Its this style and energy which makes the film work and stand out amongst the “notorious video nasty” label and earns it a level of realism towards the genre and might put those expecting it to be a straightforward horror, off. Admittedly even amongst the drilling and blood there’s an attempt to skewer horror clichés, such as a scene where Reno sees Carol and Pamela sleeping in bed and its suggested that he is about to kill them in that build up where the murderer strikes yet this ends in no carnage but with Reno just staring at them making it an anti climatic scene altogether and could almost buy into Ferrara’s explanation that he classes this film as a black comedy.

dk2Throughout the viewing of DRILLER KILLER there’s a sense of seeing Ferrara taking his first steps at themes that would punctuate his work throughout his career, especially the use of the setting of New York and its effect on an individual that would become more common especially in his next film MS 45: ANGEL OF VENGEANCE, the superb KING OF NEW YORK, his masterpiece BAD LIEUTENANT and his other (meta) horror themed film, the philosophical vampire flick THE ADDICTION. It is also a chance to see the second film (his first being a porn film called 9 LIVES OF A WET PUSSY) from a director who has remained constantly interesting, changing and ever evolving.



Of course when it comes to extras Arrow tend to pull out all the stops on gathering enough for film fans to pick over and whilst it might not be a jam packed package, there is a nice selection of features that complement the main film. Most notably impressive is the addition of a feature length documentary by Ferrara and the first time its been released in the UK of MULBERRY STREET, which chronicles the directors neighbourhood one which he has grown up in and used in his films and that he lives in and the various characters that populate all based around the traditional Italian feast of San Gennaro. It’s an interesting documentary that gains engaging insight into the working of a community and the ever increasing commercialisation of traditional areas of New York as well as featuring the weird sight of Matthew Modine on a segway scooter.

dk4Added to this we also have LAINE AND ABEL which is a brand new interview with the director, WILLING AND ABEL: FERRAROLOGY 101 a superb and insightful visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, trailers and a funny audio commentary with Ferrara and Brad Stevens author of ABEL FERRARA: THE MORAL VISION (the best book on the director that you should seek out), which whilst offering insights into the film also allows Ferrara to take sly digs at his work (my favourite quote on the commentary track by him “finally a god-damn zoom shot…after an hour!”). Added to this the contents of the package include a booklet and reversible sleeve featuring new art work by the Twins of Evil on one side, and a recreation of that notorious video nasty sleeve on the other so you can shock your neighbours when they come round (if you trust them!). Credit should be given to the transfer as this looks the best I’ve seen this film in, well, since I first encountered it on the cut release back in the late 90’s.

Arrow have gone back to the original negatives and spruced it up nicely making the film look and still, retain the grittiness of its urban landscape but at the same time cleaning it up nicely and creating a brighter more sharper picture. This again is another example of Arrow’s commendable work in restoring classic often looked down upon genre fare that would usually get sub standard releases and not display any effort put into it, though here, again they have made another fine example of there dominance in the cult genre home entertainment field.


James Pemberton’s Top Films of 2016 !!

James Pemberton’s Top Films of 2016 !!

It’s that time of year again where we take in what we’ve seen over the past 12 months and condense it into a best of list. Whilst 2016 to some has been a bit of a depressing year in terms of news story’s, with more terrorist incidents plaguing mainland Europe, countless deaths of celebrated personality’s (R.I.P David Bowie), the UK deciding to take the drop off the cliff and vote to leave the European union (though some will no doubt like that and wont see it as depressing, I for one is still in a state of confusion) and the ensuing rise in hate crime and clear divisions within the UK, and then finally the USA deciding to elect a misogynistic, racist, former reality TV host as the next President elect in the form of Donald Trump, you’d think the world is about to slip into complete chaos, I don’t think it will but you never know and anyway if it does I’m sure it will supply some good inspiration for future horror films. Yes that’s what where here to discuss, horror films and which ones stood out for me in this year. It’s certainly been a strong year and with a return to Edinburgh’s wonderful Dead By Dawn for myself this year and attendance at a strong and superb Grimmfest this past October, the festival circuit has also produced some surprises that will hopefully be out on general release soon. Here then is my list, its not done in alphabetical order but rather in order of time in the year I saw them, and its not the standard ten more like eleven or twelve or thirteen, maybe, I don’t know its been hard to whittle this down, see what you think…….

btBONE TOMAHAWK (Dir- S Craig Zahler, USA, 2015)

Thankfully getting a release, albeit brief, at the cinemas, Zahler’s film is a fantastic, brilliantly written and often brutal combination of western and horror film. Working almost like an inversion of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS it follows Kurt Russell, leading a posse of townsfolk after a group of cannibalistic troglodyte tribes people kidnap some of the residents. Working on a superb script and attracting a great cast who give it there all and take the proceedings seriously, with some superb roles from Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox the film is a great slow burn to begin with establishing the characters on their mission and then exploding into some strong, gripping and very bloody action with the cross over into the cannibal tribes territory and the groups initial underestimation of the savagery that they come up against. Destined to become a cult classic, BONE TOMAHAWK will probably shock those going into it thinking its a western as be prepared this might be the first time you can say a film has elements of classics of the wild west genre crossed with an Italian cannibal movie.

the-witch-poster1THE WITCH (Dir- Robert Eggers, USA, 2015)

Eggers period piece horror flick will no doubt make it onto the list of many horror fans and even normal best of list’s of this year, if it didn’t already do so on its festival run last year. A completely evocative, uneasy, eerie and disturbing “New England Folk-tale,” Eggers film places a puritanical family and there decision to leave a community rather than face banishment and establish there own land holding and living space in an area next to a large secluded forest far away from any community. There decision brings about strange happenings, tragedy and eventual relapse into possible madness, suggestions of punishment from god for sinning and the overall break up of the family unit, possibly caused by the unknown forces and possible witches that supposedly lurk in the woods. With a script that is written and performed as spoken dialogue from the period and with a superb and evocative production design that lend the film its authenticity THE WITCH looks and sounds fantastic as well as creating the respected unease through its unsettling soundtrack that complements the action, suggesting to the viewer that what we could be watching is a collective delusion rather than an actual supernatural force. We could see the break up of the family as a warning, a folk-tale uttered to those around that time, never to leave the community or face the possibility of gods wrath and being at the mercy of whatever lurks outside. Like IT FOLLOWS last year THE WITCH is a fantastic example of highly original film-making that breathes new life and makes you respect the genre even more. It will no doubt be interesting to see how Egger’s takes on the material in his next film, a re-make of NOSFERATU.

green-room-poster-02GREEN ROOM (Dir- Jeremy Saulnier, USA, 2015)

One of the first feature I viewed at this years Dead By Dawn, my first return back to the wonderful Edinburgh based horror film festival after 8 years and a great start to boot. Saulnier’s previous film before this, BLUE RUIN, made my best of list in 2014 and the hype and expectation for this third feature by him was certainly high. It does not fail and manages to knock up the tension and intensity in its story of a group of punk musicians, The Aint Rights, who witness a murder after playing a gig at a neo-Nazi run backwoods bar. Having to hold up in the so called green room, the punks have to fight it out against the Nazi’s in gruesome, often darkly comic blitz of action. Whilst in his previous film Saulnier managed to inject a pretty un-original story of a man out for revenge, completely out of his depth and craft something unique and highly entertaining, he again adapts the same method for a group of punks out of there element against a group of ruthless individuals, organised in military fashion by there commander in chief and owner of the bar, Darcy (a brilliant against turn from Patrick Stewart). As well as containing a brilliant soundtrack (the bands rendition of Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off is a superbly hilarious and tense scene), the film speeds along at a fast pace and never lets up in the tense stand off between either side. Its a shame to see that not long after this films release one of its stars, Anton Yelchin, tragically died in a freak auto-mobile accident at his home in Los Angeles. Yelchin is well known for his performance as Chekov in the STAR TREK film re-boots, yet he has previously shown in this film, Jim Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE and even the flawed ODD THOMAS, often interesting and intense characters and showed that he was an actor who would have had a promising future ahead, but unfortunately had that cut short.

antibirth-posterANTIBIRTH (Dir- Danny Perez, USA, 2016)

Again premiered at Dead By Dawn, Perez’s mad, trippy, off the wall stoner horror was quite unlike anything I’ve seen this year. The film focuses on Lou (Natasha Lyonne) who lives and works in a town full of drug addled marines and spends most of her time partying, getting stoned and taking any other drug available. After one particular warehouse party she wakes up and finds herself afflicted with a strange illness that brings on signs of pregnancy as well as weird visions and spends most of the film trying retrace her steps of what happened whilst getting fucked up on many recreational toxins in the process. Elements of conspiracy thriller, science fiction, body horror and of course stoner comedy abound in a completely original, often hilarious film that somehow leaving you with the feeling of loving it and going along with the films insanity, makes you want to see it again to make sure you did see what you just saw. Perez has crafted a superb film that came out of nowhere and has its own level of uniqueness to recommend to anyone, well those willing to take the ride. Aided by a superb performance from Lyonne, who is the most reckless character on screen trying to find out what is happening to her but all the time getting wrecked. It’s credit to Lyonne manages to make Lou become an engaging character rather than someone to pity, or have one of those ‘life changing’ moments in the film where the character changes their bad habits. No Lou essentially doesn’t care and would rather get smashed which makes her somehow likeable and a perfect character to accompany the films mad and original tone.

neon-demon-movie-posterTHE NEON DEMON (Dir- Nicolas Winding Refn, USA/DENMARK/FRANCE, 2016)

A film that’s likely to divide audience into definite hate it or love it camps, THE NEON DEMON for me fits into the latter group. A hypnotic, dark descent into neon lit world of Los Angeles fashion industry with almost fairy tale like influenced tone in its story of a young wannabe fashion model trying to make it as a model and falling into a clique of other more experienced models who want to literally feed on her beauty. Refn again singles himself out as a maverick and original director. Invoking brilliant stylised frames and characters almost made to look like a fashion shoot. The director still knows how to deliver the requisite shock scenes and violence that add an exploitation esque showman tone to his picture making it uniquely original in its combination of art house and genre. There are two brilliant central performances from Elle Fanning and Jena Malone as the young model Jesse and the make up artist who brings her into the fashion clique who have their sights set on devouring the new blood and a fantastic against type performance from Keanu Reeves as a sleazy scumbag of a motel owner. Refn makes films for himself and that’s clear from the outset and THE NEON DEMON will confuse but at the same time it makes for unconventional and original viewing, blessed with a strong singular visual style and like his previous works another superb soundtrack.

dontbreatheDON’T BREATHE (Dir- Fede Alvarez, USA, 2016)

Admittedly I wasn’t that struck on Alvarez’s previous film, the much hyped remake of THE EVIL DEAD and ended up feeling disappointed by it finding it to end up in that typical style of modern day horror remakes that offers sepia toned washed out visuals and loses the fun and charm of the original source material. Yet his brand new film took me by surprise and learning nothing about it before seeing it on its initial cinema release ended up being hooked by its tense, simple story of three thieves trying to break into the house of a blind war veteran and steal the loot that he has kept locked up inside. Accept nothing goes to plan and the thieves end up facing a more clever and ruthless foe in the blind war veteran who also doesn’t want these thieves finding out what he has in his basement. Combining some smart and tense thrills with its use of camera style and trickery, including a brilliant sequence shot entirely in what looks like night vision where the actors seem like they are generally walking around in complete darkness. Alvarez manages to crank up the action and combines this with a dark and somewhat nasty twist that lends the film another perspective that will change audiences sympathy to the characters involved. He is well helped by the young trio of actors who handle there roles as the clueless thieves well, one of whom, played by Jane Levy, is one of the main characters to be the most empathetic to the audience as she is looking to use the money from this score to get out of the crap home life she has. Except its Stephen Lang as the Blind Man who manages to pull off a fantastic physical performance, at first seemingly innocent and vunreable to the youngsters yet convincingly turning the table on them and exploiting there underestimation to his full advantage. A simple story that at first seems unoriginal in set up but thanks to Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues, manages to lend it an intense and unique edge that holds the viewer in its vice like grip for its brief running time.

train-to-busan-posterTRAIN TO BUSAN (Dir- Sang-ho Yeon, SOUTH KOREA, 2016)

Arriving with a lot of hype since its premiere at Cannes earlier this year and then its screening as the closing film of this years Frightfest, TRAIN TO BUSAN was added to the Grimmfest line up un-surprisingly and certainly had expectations highly raised. It didn’t disappoint and delivers on all fronts in action, characters, emotion, tension and spectacle. Simple set up story of a estranged father, more obsessed with his work, taking his daughter to see her mother who he has recently split from. But whilst the train to Busan is leaving Seoul station a zombie virus starts to break out and unfortunately one of the infected has managed to sneak on board, leading to our two central characters banding together with others to try and make there way to the front of the train and avoid becoming one of the undead. Yeon manages to orchestrate some superb action scenes throughout, a central character who at first seems a bit arrogant yet becomes the main hero of the piece, who has to struggle with the situation all the while protecting his child which again lends the film another added element of danger and like the train itself starts slow on the tracks but then speeds up and grips the audience throughout to its emotional conclusion. Asian cinema manages to somehow always impress and deliver dramatic nuanced characters that the audience care for making there scenes of willing sacrificial bravery all the more powerful and its a trait that it is good at. Added to that the film is a fantastic blockbuster and might just be the best blockbuster made this year, over what ever superhero stuff came out from Marvel or DC this year (I don’t know I haven’t seen anything) and demands to be seen on the big screen. Like DONT BREATHE previously on my list, it’s a simple premise handled brilliantly see it know as they are already planning the inevitable English language remake!

trash-fire-2016TRASH FIRE (Dir- Richard Bates Jr, USA, 2016)

Bates Jr’s last film, SUBURBAN GOTHIC, almost made my 2014 list, but thankfully he has come back with another twisted, often funny take on a completely dysfunctional family that certainly owes more to the dark nature of his first film EXCISION, with its balance of black comedy and tragedy. The film follows misanthropic Owen (Adrian Grenier) and his attempts to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Timbur) who is pregnant and his reunion with his relatives, including his horrible and very religious grandmother Violet (Fionnula Flanagan) and his sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) who was disfigured in a fire Owen inadvertently caused in his past and which left his parents dead. Its a completely uneasy and often disturbing, acidic reunion and the film burns a crescendo up to an unexpected ending that certainly shocks in its unpredictability. Bates is fantastic in creating his character’s both realistic and clearly flawed and manages to crank out some laughs in the films early scenes which are both twisted and brutally honest and its in this initial first half where the film starts off like a relationship comedy, up until Owen goes back to his homestead and the second part of the picture starts to take an unexpected twisted turn which highlights certain character’s damages, hypocrisy’s and possible relapses back into madness. With three films to his name Bates is slowly turning out to be one of the best talents in the genre, managing to crank out often startling, sharp and original material.

tonight%20she%20comes%20festival%20posterTONIGHT SHE COMES (Dir- Matt Stuertz, USA, 2016)

This came out of nowhere. A directorial debut for Stuertz and a world premiere at Grimmfest, TONIGHT SHE COMES can be described as just an insane ride of dumb, promiscuous teenagers meeting at a cabin in the woods, a naked almost possessed looking women covered in blood and a group of devil worshipping hill-billy’s who turn out to be the more saner (if that’s possible in this film) and level headed of character’s involved. Both startling in its execution, sleazy in its lay out and with plenty of blood on offer the film is a fantastic homage to extreme horror, late 70’s/early 80’s slasher films, even the more ridiculous entry’s of the slasher genre (the ones such as the later HALLOWEEN films that go far away from Carpenter’s original), carried with a frenetic pace that makes you wonder what turn the film is going to take next and then surprising you when it takes you on another completely insane angle. It also has a scene which I think must have used tons of blood to almost numbing effect. A crazed, confident and fantastic debut and one that I hope gets a decent release as its certainly to be enjoyed on the big screen on a loud sound system, cause just as the film states at the start its meant “to be played loud.”

prevenge_01-600x400PREVENGE (Dir- Alice Lowe, UK, 2016)

Written, directed and starring Lowe whilst she was pregnant, PREVENGE might be the first prenatal serial killer movie, made by a pregnant women. The end product is however a superb, darkly comic, often bloody serial killer horror about the trauma of loss and a maternal fear of pregnancy, with its central character being driven to kill supposedly by the voice of her unborn child. Lowe manages to make a central character be at once both unsympathetic but also engaging in the process and her portrayal of Ruth is not one of a vulnerable pregnant women who will be in danger at any moment, but instead is someone who is strong, very aggressive and violent and possibly mentally disturbed, yet feels justified in her quest for vengeance on an un-caring and hypocritical society that she sees. Like the film she starred in with another actor who went onto make his own film Steve Oram (who went onto make AAAAAH!), SIGHTSEERS, PREVENGE contains that quaint near obvious recognition of the landscape of Britain and its inner city’s and towns populated with its often sleazy, tragic and patronising character’s, that will be familiar to many viewers and combines it with a darkly comic and savage serial killer flick. Adding again as mentioned in my original review, another superb British addition to the genre with its highly original and often subversive take on a the psychotic killer flick. This has recently been announced
to be released on February 10th , in 2017 just in time for Valentines day so it will make a perfect date movie!

i-am-not-a-serial-killer-movie-poster-2016-1020776401I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (Dir- Billy O’Brien, IRELAND/UK, 2016)

One of the last films I saw this year at a preview screening and yet somehow it still has remained to me a great film to end the year on. A fantastic tale of a social awkward teenager with slight sociopathic problems, tracking down a spate of serial killings in his home town and inevitably awaking his own potentially dangerous urges, the film is boasted by superb cinematography done in 16mm that catches the grit and snow of the town setting and its darkened hidden night-time. It also boasts two superb performances from Max Records and the ever brilliant Christopher Lloyd and if you haven’t read Dan Wells original novel that this is based on then the twist that occurs in the film is at once predictable but then throws another twist into the works that completely changes the course of the picture. A fantastic piece that deserves more recognition and hopefully will gain a cult following in due course as its not hard to see the comparisons that many have been making with this film and DONNIE DARKO as it does contain that unusual charm of unlikely, almost socially awkward high school loner living in a small town and witnessing events that are highly unusual.


A list of films that like the heading says, almost made the list, all very good and should be seen…….

CURTAIN (Dir- Jaron Henrie-McCrea, USA, 2015)

Originally screened at Frightfest 2015 and released on their label this year, CURTAIN is one of the films that has a ridiculous premise on paper (a women discovers a portal in her bathroom wall that keeps taking the shower curtains and ends up in a lot of trouble with weird cults and demons) but manages to pull it off completely remaining a quirky superb and nicely paced 76 minutes. A superb, often rough around the edges low budget horror that has a likeable and offbeat edge to it that makes it a must see.

WE GO ON (Dir- Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton, USA, 2016)

Screened at Dead By Dawn the new film from the directors of YELLOWBRICKROAD is a superb and twisting supernatural thriller that throws a distinctive and brand new take on a genre that sometimes relies too heavily on jump shocks. Yes the shocks are in this film but they are delivered along with a superb brilliantly paced story that throws up a few surprises along the way and confirms this duo of directors as a strong genre talent to look forward to.

THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ (Dir- Hector Hernandez Vicens, SPAIN, 2015)

Again screened at Dead By Dawn, a surprisingly brutal, raw and disturbing study of macho attitudes, celebrity culture, desire, control and necrophilia that will unnerve and possibly anger some viewers, but this is the directors intention and it doesn’t slip into exploitation. Superbly acted by all involved and running in at a neat 76 minutes that doesn’t let up in its pacing and in its disturbing nature.

DIRECTORS CUT (Dir- Adam Rifkin, USA, 2016)

Joyously daft and darkly comic directors cut version of a sub-standard serial killer flick, yet the person who has done the directors cut and is providing the voice over seems more and more obsessed with the original films lead actress. With some brilliant laugh out loud moments, an idea that sounds possibly interesting to begin with and somehow could work or fail badly, is pulled of with superb blackly comic glee.

THE GREASY STRANGLER (Dir- Jim Hoskins, USA, 2016)

Fucked up is probably the best to describe Hoskins darkly comic horror thriller/serial killer thriller/family drama and its all the better for it. A mental stream of random scenes, gore, grease and fire hose penises combined with a love or recognition/tribute to midnight cinema, this is a film that left me baffled, confused but loving its insanity. Not for everyone might also be another way to describe this.

RAW (Dir- Julia Ducournau, FRANCE/BELGIUM, 2016)

A queasy, intelligent study of cannibalism and coming of age for a young veterinarian student who undergoes a brutal hazing ritual and starts to develop a taste for meat, RAW is a film that lies in a meta horror tradition of films that approach a particularly dark subject and combine it with normal traits that add a another level to the film that is partly a body horror flick. Not as vom-inducing as the reports of people passing out at its Toronto Film Fest premiere would have you believe, it still manages to contain some brutal and realistic effects work and carries an intelligent, effective and original approach to the genre.

And finally a few honourable mentions to Ben Wheatley’s very good and confident adaption of JG Ballard’s HIGH RISE, Joseph Wartnerchaney’s superb study of a mentally damaged loner in DECAY, Karyn Kusama’s portrayal of a separated couples uncomfortable reunion that takes a turn for the worse in THE INVITATION and a chance to catch the JJ Abram’s backed 4K restoration of Don Coscarelli’s masterpiece PHANTASM which looked great on the big screen and a fitting tribute to one of its most famous character’s The Tall Man, and the man who played him, Angus Scrimm, who sadly passed away at the start of this year. R.I.P Tall Man!

One more final thing THE WORST FILM OF THE YEAR!!!

classroom6-posterYes it has been a strong year for genre cinema but alas there will always be stuff that comes out that you think, how and why did that get made. Originally I was going to nominate BLAIR WITCH but felt that was more disappointing than anything else, as from a technical stand point its well done despite it being a pretty unoriginal found footage film, plus I’m sure its director and writer, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who have already shown they can create decent genre flicks, will go onto something better and a lot more memorable. However my nomination for worst film of the year will have to go to CLASSROOM 6 which is ironically is a found footage flick and the laziest kind, with a predictable plot that carries every cliched found footage trait in the book. It’s enough to make you see why some horror fans don’t like this sub genre and to make you wonder why this managed to get a release!

So that’s the 2016 list done and a strong year at that in the genre, plus on a side note I got to see John Carpenter play live which will go down as the best gig of this year!!! What does 2017 have in store for us? More of the same I hope, so see you in another 12 months, cause I’m done with this list now and will finally bugger off. Have a Great Krampus day and a New Calender date change day as well!