Oliver Ryder

About Oliver Ryder

Ever since he saw 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' at the tender age of five, Oli was dragged into the wonderfully disturbing world of horror and has never looked back. He enjoys all things macabre, dark comedy, penguins and likes his coffee black just like his metal.

Poltergeist (2015) Review

polt1Poltergeist (2015)

Dir: Gil Kenan

Written By: David Lindsay-Abaire

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Saxon Sharbino and Jane Adams

MGM/Ghosthouse

Running Time- 93 Mins

Having moved into their new home, the Bowens soon find themselves the target of a malevolent supernatural force that seems to be targeting their youngest daughter.

Let’s not sugar-coat things, 2015 has, thus far, been an absolutely terrible year for horror. After riding the seemingly endless roller-coaster of thrills and chills of the past two years, it was sadly inevitable that the good times would have to end at some point. The severity of the impact of the headache-inducing comedown has still been a shock, to put it mildly. An endless barrage of needless sequels to already tired and lazy franchises is still to come, It Follows was monumentally over-hyped and quite frankly, the less said about the odious Unfriended, the better.

Things certainly didn’t look to get any better with the promise of yet another pointless remake in Poltergeist. It should be noted that it does have had horror legend, Sam Raimi, as producer, who has much highlighted the notion that this film was to breathe new life and scares to the foundation of the original. This little caveat of promotion, however, should be remembered as being the same one he used when describing the Evil Dead ‘update’. Need any more be said?

polt2Films must be judged to rise and fall entirely on their own merits however. If Poltergeist 2015 is therefore to be assessed as its own individual creation, it is very very little more than a lowest common denominator haunted house horror. The film’s bag of tricks that it attempts to use in order to shock and spook is empty, a void of imagination or originality. To be brutally frank, were it not for the prestige of the film’s name, or the star power of Sam Rockwell, this is Tesco bargain bin-fodder at its most mediocre.

To begin with, the Bowens are a remarkably unlikeable family. What little attempts to give them any more depth than being average, white and middle class solely comes in the form of the fact that they are apparently ‘broke’. This set-up is dropped repeatedly like a particularly slippery bar of soap, by the woefully clunky script with exposition and ‘scare set-ups’ rammed in with the grace of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. For a family with no money, the luxuries of a flat-screen TV and various other flashy mod-cons seem to be ever-present. The height of this ridiculousness is found in the obnoxiously blunt piece of product placement, where a drone is used to capture what the ‘other world’ looks like on camera. Yes, really.

More sympathy or a stronger sense of connection might have been evoked from an audience if any of the family could actually do that little thing required usually of actors…and that is to actually be able to act. It beggars belief that of the presumably thousands of auditions, the production team settled on a boy who delivers every line in the same monotone drone with a blank face to match, a surly teenager devoid of any defining character and an annoying little brat who should have been left in the other world and never seen again. With a surly mother figure in Rosemarie DeWitt and a very much ‘for the money’ phoned in performance from Jared Harris (hilariously creaky Oirish accent in tow), the adults fare absolutely no better.

polt3Mercifully, there is one figure who prevents the film from being an outright disaster. Sam Rockwell, the man who consistently has had to come to the aid of some pretty poor films in the past is forced to do so here yet again. Rockwell easily pulls of the cool dad figure, cracking wise and horsing around with his kids but it’s the fact that he’s the only actor here who shows emotion and vulnerability that barely lifts up the film from being nothing but a tedious headache. Even Rockwell, however, can’t completely save the film from being such a mediocre slog, indeed, as the film progresses, it becomes more and more evident that he is bored and no longer enjoying the responsibility of having to hold everything else up. Perhaps the film’s greatest mistake is that in casting an actor with such natural charisma as with no-one to bounce it off with, all the other actors pale greatly and detrimentally in comparison.

It would be wrong to claim that the original Poltergeist is an untouchable solid gold masterpiece. The primary element of the original that still holds up to this day, however, is its undeniable sense of charm and indeed, warmth. The entire piece has a surprisingly winsome attitude, much like the films of producer, Steven Spielberg (the debate still continues as to whether or not he really directed it). Crucially, the scares in the original are built up very gradually and to start with, the family treat the supernatural occurrences as a bit of fun. Where the remake dramatically falls down is in its desperate attempt to keep up the current ‘quiet quiet quiet BANG!” craze. There are moments in which it does try admirably to build up tension, the clever use of cutting off a soundtrack is most effective but then it gets bored and resorts to a load of crash-bang-wallop CGI that looks horrifically creaky and laughable.

Without going into too great detail, there are several allusions the film makes that could have dramatically changed its direction and really could have made it stand out from the pack of copy/pastewithabitmoreCGI remakes and be its own beast. Sadly, the film eschews the opportunity to travel down the murky waters of ‘originality’ and instead favours the woeful misappropriation of the creepy clown doll scare from the first film. Clearly the lesson from Annabelle of “for god’s sake that doll is obviously evil, just look at it and throw it in the bin’ was not heeded and what was such a masterfully patient build up fright from the original, becomes a completely dispensable piece of fan-service in 2015.

polt4Poltergeist 2015 is a film that looks and feels tired and is extremely tiresome. Whilst we horror fans can cry blue murder when the classics are tinkered in ways we find abhorrent (ie Rob Zombie’s Halloween to name the most obvious example), at least a little bit of passion was put into such projects. There is no passion, no desire to make people scared or even thrilled here, Poltergeist is nothing more than a studio machine, designed to extract your money by reeling you in using the name and then convincing you that you want more of this rubbish by the film’s sure fire box-office success.

Here’s hoping The Gallows and The Hallow can breathe life back into horror in 2015.

Verdict: Dull, entirely forgettable and beyond even the power of Sam Rockwell to be saved by.

2/10

The Samurai (2014) Review

thesamuraidvdThe Samurai (2014)

Dir: Till Kleinert

Written by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane

Running Time – 80 mins.

UK DVD Release April 13th from Peccadillo Pictures

Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).

With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.

The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.

samdvd1Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.

Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.

Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.

samdvd2To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.

The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.

There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.

samdvd3An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

DVD Extra Features: UK Exclusive Interview with Director & Cast, Audio Commentary and Making Of Featurette

THE SAMURAI is released on DVD and On-Demand from April 13th from Peccadillo Pictures. You can order from Amazon, HMV, iTunes and all good retailers.

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (2014)

wib1The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (2014)

Dir: Tom Harper

Written by: Jon Croker and Susan Hill (story)

Starring: Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Irvine, Helen McCrory, Oaklee Pendergast and Adrian Rawlins

Running Time –98 mins

During WWII, a group of children and their two teachers are evacuated to the run down and dilapidated Eel Marsh House in Crythin Gifford. It soon becomes apparent that the house is still home to a previous resident with designs on one of the children, the ghostly Woman in Black.

With the first WIB film doing a mostly admirable job of recapturing the essence of what made Hammer Horror so great and staying faithful (until the silly ending) to the original novel, it was hard to really see the need for a follow-up. With the novel’s author, Susan Hill, on hand for the story, this lessened the feel of a cash-grabbing franchise and it is true to say that there certainly was scope to bring back the icon of spookiness that is the Woman in Black herself.

WIB4It comes as somewhat of a surprise that the film does have a fairly decent stab at trying to keep the classic spirit of Hammer alive from the first film. Despite the fact that it has already had the perfect setting laid out on a plate, director, Tom Harper, clearly understands just how crucial it is to create the perfect atmosphere. The over-bearing, impenetrably thick fog still lies heavily over the gloriously Gothic architecture, setting imaginations alight as to what terrors are lurking inside it. It is also fascinating to see how beautifully the film captures the oppressively vast Nine Lives causeway and is able to deftly counter balance this with the narrow and shadowed claustrophobic corridors of Eel Marsh House itself.

The decision to keep the WIB as almost a piece of the scenery is also a master-stroke. Over-exposure to anything will lessen the fear-factor and it is an astute trick that for much of the film, she merely glimpsed out of the corner of the screen or blended into the shadows. This adds the extra fear that she could be literally anywhere, watching and supplements the air of tension and dread whenever there is a night-time scene. To those who have seen the first film and the stage play, the most terrifying element in the rocking chair is still present and still just as capable at causing an eruption of goosebumps. It says a great deal to the credit of the film that even the sickeningly endless noise that signifies that it is going to appear soon still makes it just as terrifying, even when you know what is coming.

It has to be noted that a key area in which the film falls short is in not having a strong enough lead for the audience to identify with. It is true that actress, Phoebe Fox, is not given an easy task to make us care, due to incredibly clunky and dull dialogue. Her performance, much like the rest of the cast, is entirely forgettable and more akin to the stiff upper lip-ness for a particularly spooky episode of Downton Abbey.

WIB3Conviction is, perhaps, the key thing that’s lacking, few of the cast seem to be properly terrified of the events happening around them and the budding romance between Fox and an on auto-pilot, Jeremy Irvine, is about as scintillating as two slices of bread lying on top one another.

One of the scariest elements of the first film was the total sense of isolation that we as an audience experienced with Radcliffe. Alone and cut off from the mainland with only a horrific supernatural presence for company, this feeling is lost completely when there are so many characters on the island and in the house. The film also makes a huge mistake in moving some of the action to an airfield and its underground bunker. This completely dispenses of the gloriously creepy setting of Eel Marsh House in favour of a bland setting that does not match up to the film’s primary focus of being a classic and contained ghost story.

The fact that we as an audience are now aware of the Woman in Black’s motivation from the first film also diminishes the wonderful sense of mystery that was slowly unravelled as the terror mounted. With what little distinctly uninteresting back story that is given to the two leads, it is fairly simple to figure out in precisely which direction the film is going and ultimately, their fates. The tremendously Gothic sense of loss of grievance so well conveyed by Radcliffe is all but non-existent here as the two lifeless performances, combined with the wooden dialogue does little to win over any sympathy.

WIB2The sequel certainly did not learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. The final act of the film takes a huge nose dive after it had done such an admirable job at replicating the original’s superbly chilling atmosphere. With a load of expensive-looking pyrotechnics being set off in the airfield and a splurge of CGI nonsense come the final confrontation, there is a tremendous sense of frustration at the fact that the film almost couldn’t seem to resist the urge to show off its budget. With a pathetic repeated use of a stinger ending, both WIB films unfortunately seem to have lacked the courage to do something different and daring, when there was ample opportunity, and instead go for the easy, modern option and as a result, end up feeling quite pedestrian.

Certainly much better than could have been anticipated, however, a lack of properly defined characters and over-reliance on cheap jump scares sadly prohibits the film from matching the Gothic grace of the first film.

Verdict: 6/10

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

theden10) The Den: The initial idea of a constant filming through the POV of a webcam on a Chat Roulette-type website, seemed a tad gimmicky. Surprisingly, however this film was masterful in how it maintained both credibility and a tight pace. There was a great and unnerving sense of voyeurism that made the film a decidedly uncomfortable watch and with than the odd well crafted jump scare. A watch through your fingers denouement and the lingering worry of being watched through your laptop for weeks afterwards.

9) Wolfcop: It’s been far too long since there was a genuinely great werewolf film and Wolfcop ended such a drought in spectacular fashion. A real labour of love that worshiped all the ridiculous tropes of the genre and celebrated them in delightfully gruey style. The special effects and transformation sequences were fantastic as well as liberal lashings of OTT gore. With a wickedly sharp script and an incredibly game cast, Wolfcop is destined for cult status, a perfect party horror film.

olla8) Only Lovers Left Alive: Naval-gazing pretentious rubbish to some, intoxicating gothic romance to others. The endless loving bond between the impossibly attractive Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton is the key hook to a film in which, admittedly, very little happens but it serves as an immaculately presented character piece. They both cannot bear to live forever without one another and director, Jim Jarmusch makes you feel like a part of their romance. Typical vampiric behaviour is restricted and set in a world where they are very much the norm, Hiddlestone’s Adam is even an elusive rock star. Full of incredibly dry moments of humour, such as blood popsicles and set to a gorgeously brooding soundtrack, it’s a classic vampire film.

7) We Are What We Are: Decent English-language remakes are becoming much less of a rare beast these days and WAWWA is the prime example of how a remake can be its own beast. A sublime piece of understatement, where the word ‘Cannibal’ doesn’t even appear until half-way into the film and the atmosphere of looming dread is allowed to permeate deeply into your consciousness. When the violence hits, it hits hard and it made that much more intense for lulling you into a false sense of security beforehand. With a superb turn from Bill Sage as the Father and a subtle hint of an anti-organised religion message, it can be argued to be even better than its predecessor.

dersamurai6) Der Samurai: A Lynch-ian, erotic thrill-ride quite unlike anything else released this year. The image of a man with lipstick, in a dress and a samurai sword sounds ridiculous but thanks to the intimidating performance of Pit Bukowski, it becomes an icon of fear. With the small European town where everyone knows everyone bathed in a hazy blood red, there is a haunting fable-like quality that adds an extra layer to what is a profoundly intriguing film. Dealing both with the beast that dwells within us all and small town fear of the strange and unknown, the film’s strongly sexual charge combines extreme violence with horrifying beauty. The two-hander of Michel Diercks and Bukowski essentially playing two sides of the same person is incredible to watch and you don’t dare take your attention off it for a second. Pure cinematic marmite.

5) Starry Eyes: A pitch-black exploration of the vicious film studio system and the perilous desire for fame are mixed together with cults and body horror to create a deliciously dark cocktail of fear. Alex Essoe delivers a stunningly assured performance that sees her squeezed painfully through an emotional wringer. The unflinchingly stark and cruel audition scenes show her being humiliated, throwing frighteningly intense fits and yanking out huge clumps of her hair with some truly wince-inducing sound effects. It is a brave choice to not have her be a completely sympathetic lead and yet it is impossible not to be horrified as one scene shows her undergoing a sickening metamorphosis. With a gorgeously hazy soundtrack and filmed in a classic almost VHS style, Starry Eyes does a brilliant job of getting well and truly under your skin.

oculusp4) Oculus: An unexpected hit that delivered intelligent scares with a real knack for putting ice down your back. Karren Gillan’s performance is a total knock-out, presenting a wonderfully bold, brash and independent female character in the vein of a Nancy, Laurie or Sydney. Gillan is determined to fight the evil head on and wouldn’t be caught dead running away in skimpy clothing. Ingeniously, much of the violence is only hinted at, which makes a particularly nasty scene involving a light bulb, a genuine shock. It is both wonderful and unnerving that, much like the characters, you often forget about the mirror being the antagonist and as with the constant twisting time-shifts, you too become victim to the Lasser Glass cruelly twisting your perception of reality. A true breath of fresh air, a fun frightener that stands head and shoulders above its mainstream contemporaries.

3) The Guest: More of a thriller than director, Adam Winguard’s previously brilliant effort in You’re Next but certainly no less fun or inventive. Making more than the odd homage to classic 80s films (Halloween III in particular), The Guest is a gleeful romp with its tongue at times very firmly in cheek and at others, a surprising level of menace. A star-making performance from Dan Stevens sees him combining an effortless charm with a cold blooded, steely and dangerous veneer. From the word go, it is clear there is something not quite right about him as he prays on an emotionally vulnerable small town family, mourning the death of their military son. An equally brilliant and feisty performance comes from newcomer, Maika Monroe, who, much like Sarah Conner, has the responsibility of taking down a lethal killing machine in Steven’s seemingly nice guy, David. With its painfully funny gallows humour and some intense action sequences, especially in the film’s last act, ‘The Guest’ is a gleefully demented delight.

babadookp2) The Babadook: Mercifully, the hype this film managed to rapidly accumulate was more than justified. The Babadook is a classic horror film in the making, that should be held up as the bench-mark as to what horror filmmakers should be aspiring to create. The cold and almost German expressionism film style is sharpened like a deadly weapon by director, Jennifer Kent, to ramp up the fear factor to white-knuckle armrest gripping heights. An organically fraught relationship between single mother and son is pitch perfectly portrayed by Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman.

We see both characters in an intense struggle with a supernatural force and yet, like so many classic stories, the real meaning to the film is a mother learning how to love her son Crucially, we care about the characters and do not want to see them come to harm and this is what makes the scares here truly blood chilling. The world’s freakiest pop-up book is matched only by the wise decision to obscure the Babadook as much as possible. Kent hits the nail directly on the head that making the audience use their imagination is infinitely more frightening than just showing them. A beautifully dark and twisted fairytale, the monster’s onomatopoeic croak is a call that is sure to haunt audiences for many years to come.

dmarrow1) Digging Up The Marrow: With almost every possible detail shrouded in mystery, Adam Green’s latest effort was able to achieve almost the impossible in presenting something genuinely unseen before. Almost indefinable in its style and thusly, very difficult to talk about without spoiling too many juicy surprises. Whenever you think you get a grasp on where the film is going, it violently turns your expectations inside out and creates a perfect capture of the pure essence of fear of the unknown.

To give as broad a picture as possible, the film concerns the real life existence of monsters and the attempt to find and document them where they live, in The Marrow. Shot in documentary style and with all cast members, including Green himself playing themselves, the first deftly clever trick Green plays is to have the incredible Ray Wise as the only actor playing a part. To say anymore about the plot would sadly ruin what is a film full of dark secrets and layers, like a twisted Russian doll. It is a film that demands to be experienced rather than read about as this would lessen the effect of what can be called one of the scariest films of the past two decades.

Whilst there is still a tremendous sense of fun about the film, Green and his friends make for a loveable bunch with much goofy behaviour, there are several moments of pure, undiluted terror. The scariest part of all, however, is the film’s insidious ability to get inside your head. It may sound laughable, but this film makes you believe by constantly blurring the lines of reality with such finesse you don’t realise it’s happening. Maybe there really are monsters out there and maybe this film will make you a believer too…A masterpiece that will hopefully one day get the recognition it truly deserves.

Der Samurai (2014) Review

DS1 (1)Der Samurai (2014)

Dir: Till Kleinert

Written by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane

Running Time – 80 mins.

UK Première: Frightfest 2014

Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).

With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.

The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.

DS2Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.

Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.

DS3Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.

To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.

The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.

DS4There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.

An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

31 Days of Horror: #25 – Sleepy Hollow

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SHSleepy Hollow (1999)

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker, story Andrew Kevin Walker & Kevin Yagher, based upon The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

Starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Christopher Walken

It’s unclear why this deliciously dark slice of campy fun is so overlooked in Tim Burton’s back catalogue. Converting the classic tale of terror by Washington Irving into a playful whodoneit romp results in the perfect blend of the downright over the top and silly mixed with several choice scary moments.

The plethora of acting talent adds a great sheen of class and it is clear they are having the time of their lives with tongues very firmly in cheek. Depp’s detective, Ichabod Crane, is a fantastic fish out water performance. His cynical cowardliness and stiff-upper lip are violently stripped from him when confronted with bucket loads of blood and the genuine threat of the supernatural Headless Horseman. His numerous awkward reactions to the horrors he faces are nothing short of hilarious.

Along with superb acting, the gorgeous art style is distinctly none more gothic. The barren black forest trees, muted clothing, austere buildings and thick mists are combined with the film’s pleasantly self-aware nature that creates a wonderful ghost train. Indeed, it is evocative of a Hammer Horror. Guaranteed to inspire shrieks of both laughter and fear, Sleepy Hollow is a perfect fit for a fun Halloween viewing.

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31 Days of Horror: #20 – The Company of Wolves

31 Days of Horror: #20 – The Company of Wolves

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

Company.WolvesThe Company of Wolves (1984)

Directed by Neil Jordan
Written by Angela Carter and Neil Jordan, from the story by Angela Carter

Starring Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea & David Warner

The mother of all twisted fairytale horror. From the perversely wonderful mind of the late Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves is a powerful, sexually charged re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood. In taking such a classic tale and raising the horror element, it is able to tap into and draw out a childhood fear of one of the first monsters audiences were made to be scared of.

Bathed in autumnal lighting, the film does little to hide that it takes places on a set, adding to the unnerving sense of hyper-reality that is eerily blurred so often throughout. The compact trees and pokey huts also give the film an uncomfortably high and effective level of claustrophobia. The key werewolf transformation scene is a thing of terrifying beauty. The inhuman noises and growls are matched up to strikingly visceral and bloody special effects. Too often ignored in lists of great werewolf horror, its erotic allure brilliantly sets it far apart in quality.

A stunning cast is fronted by Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen, whose sexual awakening and transformation into a woman is the central crux of a film layered with subtext and symbolism. Dark, brooding and disturbingly enchanting, an alternative Halloween delight.

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The Babadook (2014) Review

B1The Babadook (2014)

Dir: Jennifer Kent

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinny, Benjamin Winspear

Running Time – 92 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After losing her husband to an accident on her way to give birth to her son, Amelia (Davis), struggles to cope with her demanding and difficult child, Samuel (Wiseman). Upon discovering a disturbing children’s pop-up book called ‘Mister Babadook’, strange occurrences plague their home and Samuel becomes convinced that the Babadook monster is real.

It’s an all too familiar set-up, a weird child who claims to see monsters and the doubting adults who don’t believe them until it’s too late. So how does The Babadook distinguish itself from the multitude of similar horror films? Thanks to the stunningly assured debut directorial vision of Jennifer Kent, The Babadook doesn’t so much as distinguish itself, rather, it towers above all the competition of films of the same ilk.

With a beautifully dark yet stark colour palate of greys, dull blues and of course, blacks, The Babadook takes place in an austere and bleak Australian town. This excellent establishment of a morbid reality is key to heightening the haunting blurring and ambiguity that is to come later. This flawless art style is matched by the ominous and deceptively sweet-sounding chimes of the soundtrack that add an extra spine-tingling chill to the nightmare fairytale feel of the film.

B4It terms of scares, The Babadook is a proud disciple of the less is more discipline. There is a constant, genuinely terrifying sense of dread from start to finish. This atmosphere is the embodiment of the feeling of being all alone in a house and yet with the sense of being watched. With nearly all the horror contained within the house, aside from a shocking sequence set in a car, the brilliant containment of the action adds to a sense of claustrophobia and no escape.

The monster itself, is a marvellous creation and made all the better for almost always being completely obscured. What the audience does see is almost solely shapes in the shadows, wonderfully evocative of early German expressionism. Just what it is or how it got there remains superbly shrouded in mystery. It could easily just be seen as an average ghoul but there’s several other ways it could be interpreted, just one of them being if it’s actually real and not a manifestation in one of the character’s minds. Certainly what is undeniable is the terrifying onomatopoeic croak it makes.

By far the scariest part of the film is the pop up book. A gross, horrifying perversion of a childhood bedtime story that is seen to almost come to life and simply cannot be gotten rid of. Much like the entire film, it is so simple and yet immaculately presented and hits home in chill-factor with deadly precision.

Strong horror performances are so often ignored in the mainstream awards, making it a pre-determined criminal act that the powerhouse of a performance of Essie Davis as the mother, Amelia, could easily be passed over. Going through a severe emotional wringer, the audience sees Davis enduring a crippling depression that consumes her completely. Kent starkly captures her feeling of total isolation by having her been visibly alienated from both her sister and work colleagues.

B3The cold attitude she has to her son is equally fascinating and particularly dark, certain to lose any sense of sympathy from some watchers. It can only be described as a stunning masterstroke to see her gradual character development as she goes from being a repressed waif like figure to an unhinged and forceful brute. The film wisely leaves the question of possession or madness up in the air as the real focus is on a guilt-ridden mother learning to finally come to love her son. Hauntingly moving in the best possible way.

Young newcomer, Noah Wiseman also delivers a fantastic performance that encapsulates an incredibly believable depiction of a so called ‘problem child’. What frustrates so much about most children in horror is that they’re either disgustingly adorable or just plain creepy. Wiseman is able to balance both displays of obnoxious, selfish and over-protective behaviour that are tempered by some startlingly tender moments. Fundamentally, he is a sweet boy, both smothered and shunned by his mother and who has no friends and therefore it would take a harsh soul not to feel an incredible amount of sympathy towards him. His temper tantrums and shrieking cries of “Don’t Let Him In!” are fantastically piercing and full of raw acting emotion well beyond his years. The completely authentic reactions and dynamic he has with Davis are both integral not only to the development and believability of the characters but also to making the scares and dramatic moments hit with a terribly awesome impact.

With an unexpected but refreshing ending, aside from the fantastic acting turns, the real strength of The Babadook lies in its engaging layers of substantial subtext. Packing the thrills and chills of The Others but with the heavy raw emotion of We Need To Talk About Kevin. The film is a challenging exploration of the social standard that all parents must love their children. Such a focus is certain to spark debate amongst audiences and even, it has to be said, enjoyment of the film could hinge entirely on whether or not the two main characters can be seen to be sympathetic.

B5A genuinely chilling thrill-fest that perfectly taps into the childhood fear of a monster in the closet. With stellar performances from the mother and son leads, this is so much more than your average bogeyman horror. Packed full of intriguing subtext and many covering your face with your hands moments, The Babadook serves as a reminder as to everything a horror film should be.

Rating: 10/10

31 Days of Horror: #14 – Tweet-Along Special! Halloween III: Season of the Witch

31 Days of Horror: #14 – Tweet-Along Special! Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

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hallo3Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Written & Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin & Dan O’Herlihy

Get over the lack of Michael Myers and see Halloween III as the fascinatingly bizarre piece of genius that is really is. The plot of a novelty mask company’s evil plot to tailor a mass child genocide is as daft as it is terrifying. With humanity’s last hope resting in Tom Atkins and his marvellous moustache, SOTW is a great Halloween watch, not just for taking place on the night itself but for its breezily bonkers set-up.

Whilst there are elements that haven’t aged well, such as some laughably wooden acting, there are still two stand out scenes who’s power to shock have not aged a day. The death of a child onscreen will always be impactful and HIII packs a particularly gruesome punch in that regard, as well as its shocking ending.

With a gorgeous synth-heavy soundtrack provided by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, despite the exaggerated plot, the overall terrifying feel of how plausible and human the horror is has been perfectly carried on from the first two films. A cult hit that’s gradually picking up more love, seek out this misunderstood treasure this Halloween.
Be warned: Once heard, the Silver Shamrock jingle is in your head for life.

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Creep (2014) Review

C1Creep (2014)

Dir: Patrick Brice

Written by: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Running Time – 81 mins.

European Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After answering an advert for $1000 for one day’s filming, Aaron (Brice) meets up with the eccentric Josef (Duplass). At first, Josef appears to be kooky but harmless but as the evening goes on, his behaviour becomes progressively strange before turning outright dangerous.

Craigslist certainly never seems to carry a great reputation when it comes to various films that have used it as a starting point. Whilst many go for the more sordid sexual route, Creep uses a deceptively sweet and innocent angle in order to craft something infinitely more effectively sinister. With a cast of only two, Creep is a distinct cut above most found footage horror in that they are both likeable, interesting and do not spend their time running around, bathed in the green and black of night vision.

Aaron (Brice) is, crucially, not a profoundly unlikeable jerk like so many other found footage protagonists. He is relatable, polite and good hearted. When most would have been incredibly awkward and desperate to get away from, Josef, he stays and makes the effort to befriend him. His naivety is, of course, his downfall and it is incredibly refreshing to convincingly feel the same terror as the character with the camera after Josef (Brice) is exposed.

C2Josef himself, is a wonderfully complex character. Whilst there is the initial sympathy towards him when his reason for wanting to be filmed is revealed, there is the constant sense that there is far more to him than meets the eye. His off the wall nature is, at first, charming and this adds further to the blood-chilling revelation of what sort of man he really is later in the film. It must be remembered that he is human, not a monster and whilst he does and has done horrible things in the film, it is to the immense credit of Brice’s performance that he is still, shockingly, sympathetic.

The interaction between the two is essential and adds an extra layer of effectiveness to the film. With largely improvised dialogue, the flow of conversation and gradual development of both their relationship and characters feels brilliantly natural and believable. This, ultimately, helps and audience to invest in them more as people, not characters, which is hugely beneficial as the film slowly reveals what it’s been hiding, there’s the extra danger of human unpredictability.

One ever present staple of the found footage horror rears its ugly head in the form of the jump scare. Within the first 20 or so minutes, Josef jumps out at the camera from a hidden spot far too many times and it becomes instantly tiresome, before the film has even properly started to get going. When your best hand at scares is having someone jump out and scream “Boo!”, there is a serious problem. The incredibly deliberate weapon foreshadowing feels very contrived also.

C4That being said, the first half of the film has a wonderfully uneasy feel about it. Gradually, the conversations between the men get more uncomfortable and in doing very little, there is a palpable atmosphere of dread that is created out of minimal effort. The peak of this comes in the form of an “off-camera” conversation where Josef tells an incredibly dark story, concerning his wife. It is an incredibly uncomfortable listen as it leaves the audience unsure as to whether or not it is ok to laugh. The story itself is both bizarre and horrifying and does a great job of conjuring up a sense of being very ill at ease.

Sadly, the superb air of tension gets thrown off balance in the second half of the film. The isolated setting of the cabin is replaced by Aaron’s urban apartment and the film becomes a stalker based set-up. Whilst Aaron still receives bizarre gifts and videos from Josef, there is a notable lack of pace or anything dramatic, the attempted jokes end up falling flat and the night in which Josef prowls around the apartment is overdone and un-engaging. Whilst proceedings take a dark turn come the finale, there is the unshakable feel that the film would have been infinitely better served cutting the length and restricting the action to the cabin and the very clear end point it could have used.

Despite the notable slump, there are two enormously impressive moments that proved to be genuinely terrifying. The iconic image of Josef’s silhouette, backlit by a bright light is masterfully put together and is visually striking. Not only does is look incredible, but it is literally the point of no return in the film, as he invites Aaron back inside his home for a drink as the audience scream internally for him to get away. The second moment is sadly at the end of the film and to spoil it would ruin its huge impact. Suffice to say, it is a stunningly long drawn out piece of nail-biting tension that is brilliantly almost unwatchable.

C3It has to be said, as well, that the film did a fantastic job at making the cheap and silly ‘Mr Peachfuzz’ wolf mask scary in one heart-stopping scene. Whilst the film hardly has endless re-watch potential, it would be interesting to see it again, just to pick up on the clues of the larger and incredibly chilling picture throughout.
Creep is certainly one of a very select number of found footage films to actually feel authentic. With two superb performances and two remarkably well shot scenes of enormous tension, it was so close to being a classic of the subgenre.

An over-reliance on cheap jump scares and a dramatic drop in the pacing in the film’s second act, however, results in the film letting itself down. There is great potential here from the writing partners and future found footage horror could definitely learn lessons from it.

Rating: 6/10