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.

Halloween (1978) Review

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Halloween (1978)

Dir. John Carpenter

Starring – Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes (Loomis), Tony Moran.

A six year old boy named Michael Myers is locked away in a mental institution for murdering his sister on Halloween night. Fifteen years after the incident, Michael Myers escapes from the institution to return to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois and bring death and terror to the quiet community.
“What’s the Bogeyman?”

Well, just where on earth do you begin with ‘Halloween’? So much has been written about without question THE definitive slasher film that it seems difficult to know exactly what to say to offer any different perspective. However, one thing that separates this article from any other is my very fond…if that’s the right word, own personal recollection of how I first encountered ‘The Shape’. Blessed with incredibly liberal parents, in the very early development stages of my obsession with horror, I was handed the special lenticular edition DVD,  and I can still recall the elicit chill I got when I first saw the mixed image of the now famous hauntingly blank face coupled with a butcher’s knife that turns into a pumpkin.

Whilst I can not exactly remember when it was I first watched ‘Halloween’ for the first time, what I do remember is being absolutely petrified. I was completely absorbed in the gripping narrative and my nerves were in shreds from the unrelenting menacing pacing. Augmented by one of the most spectacular and since continuously ripped-off endings, ‘Halloween’ leaves you cold, shivering and for the next few days checking around every corner. Since that intense first viewing, Halloween instantly became one of my favourite films of all time and one I watch religiously every October 31st.

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I am sure that very little of what I am about to say in my appreciation of this masterpiece of the genre hasn’t been said or thought of before but it remains an honour and a privilege to be able to share just how much this film means to me and just why I and so many others uphold it with such regard.
Let’s begin with the man or rather ‘The Shape’ himself, Michael Myers. Just whispering the name to yourself is enough to give your body a quick tremor, a simple name yet one still capable of instilling fear. At the very beginning of the film, as the viewer we are literally seeing thing from Michael’s point of view, a highly disturbing trick that immediately creates a sense of unease and dread. After we a physically made to feel as if we have taken part in a grisly murder ourselves, the film completely pulls the carpet from under you as the screen quickly switches to the third person perspective and we see that the kill was in fact a child. With such a heavy-hitting introduction, it was safe to assume that absolutely all bets would be off to even attempt to predict what was going to happen next.

Not letting the feeling of complete dread abide for one minute, Carpenter racks up the fear-factor even higher as we jump fifteen years into the future and witness Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) being accompanied by a nurse in a car on a dark and stormy night to transport the now adult Michael to a court hearing. Seeing the rather lax approach to inmate security, panic instantly sets in as a figure is suddenly seen to run across the car’s roof and then promptly steal the car and drive away. If we can forget for one moment all the sequels that came later, (except for II, III and H20) the truly terrifying aspect of Michael Myers is that he has absolutely no motivation for what he’s doing. All other slasher icons such as Freddy or Jason have a mantra firmly in place but with Michael, there is no rhyme nor reason and this is precisely what makes his continuously illusive presence in the film that much more frightening.

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Arguably, the film’s greatest lines go to the fantastic Donald Pleasence on the subject of this total lack of motivation, “I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong.”
It takes no poor upbringing, bullying or murderous mob to provoke the human Myers to commit these acts, he is just pure, concentrated evil. No other horror film has ever been able to create such a character of complete remorselessness before or even since.
The reason why both the credits and Carpenter himself refer to him only as ‘The Shape’ can be seen in the fact that until towards the grand finale, Michael is only glimpsed from a distance, or obscured standing in the far corner of the camera. Whilst hardly a muscle-bound colossus, Myers still strikes an imposing figure with a hidden unearthly strength that’s covered up by the seemingly unimposing boiler suit. The key focus of the costume and the element that defines Michael as the product of nightmares? THAT mask.

To think that this iconic image very nearly didn’t happen, when the film was originally entitled ‘The Babysitter Murders’ and the mask was to be a less than impressive ‘bloody clown’. As legend has it, due to the production’s extremely tight budget, the options were the clown mask or a mask of sci-fi legend, William Shatner. The film crew took the latter option, turned the mask inside out, painted it white and the legendary blank, emotionless and heart-stopping visage was born.

One of the most surprising things about ‘Halloween’ is that considering the sheer levels of dread it is able to conjure up, there is hardly any blood visible throughout. This is entirely down to that fact that even in the relatively early stages of the ‘horror’ genre being born into what we know and love today, Carpenter realised that subtly and what we think we see are infinitely more impactful and disturbing than lashings of grot and intestines. Myers is a silent killer, using his trademark butcher’s knife for the majority of the small body count of five (and a dog), never saying a word, lurking in the shadows and using no morbid puns after his latest dispatch.

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One of the more understated scary moments for me is the scene were Michael appears in the doorway in a bed sheet, wearing Bob’s glasses. Now on paper this sounds like the most childish attempt at a scare ever (didn’t stop Parasnoremal Inactivity though did it?), and yet there’s something quite terrifying about the idea of a child under a sheet pretending to be a ghost being so perverted in this way. All Michael needs to do is stand there completely motionless and it is testament to Carpenter’s unholy brilliant power to frighten that this simple moment remains devastatingly chill-inducing.

It should be remembered, however, that a vital ingredient to creating a truly scary horror film is a hero the audience can get invested in and empathise with. Quite honestly, despite some note-worthy peers in ‘Nightmare’s Nancy, ‘Scream’s Sidney and the Fitzgerald sisters of ‘Ginger Snaps’ etc, there is only one true Scream Queen and that is Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut role as Laurie Strode. The pitch-perfect antithesis to her antagonistic rival, the self-proclaimed ‘Girl Scout’ is a loving, caring and gentle young woman who your heart goes out to almost the second you first see her on screen.

A stereotype of lazy characterisation in the slasher genre is the extenuation of the ‘final girl’s ‘virginal’ qualities, especially when placed next to her more ‘free and easy’ friends. This is a stereotype that Carpenter is more than willing to buck, however, as not only are Laurie’s friends just as down to earth and she is, but Laurie herself is no ‘pure angel’, committing a total slasher-film no-no of smoking weed. Where ‘Halloween’ and Jamie Lee Curtis’ real strength in brilliant lead characterisation lies is to be found in the film’s peeping through your fingers climax.

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Most ‘final girls’ can often be found to be running around shrieking and in hysterical tears, not Laurie Strode, she is made of much sterner stuff and that’s exactly why we as an audience love her. Not only does she display unbelievable strength of character and affection to fight to save the children, but she faces one of cinema’s most terrifying boogiemen head on, stabbing him with a knitting needle and a coat hanger. A frickin’ COAT HANGER! If that doesn’t convince you of the awesome power of Laurie Strode then frankly you have no pulse and no business here.

Whilst a film’s score is not an area I often delve into, ‘Halloween’ has quite possibly the most iconic and chilling themes of all time (‘Exorcist’ disqualified for using a pre-existing song). The simple repeated notes that surge through the entire film in various forms become like a demented heartbeat and are able to create a sense of dread, catching you off guard, especially during moments where you think everything is alright and then brutally helping to ramp up the tension with what is being depicted on the screen.

The final piece of the puzzle into just what makes this film the tour de force of terror that it is can be found in director and writer and now firmly established horror legend, John Carpenter. Whilst it is much to the chagrin of Carpentites like myself to have to admit that ‘Halloween’ is not the first ever completely original slasher, piped to the post of course by Hitchcock’s classic ‘Psycho’ and Bob Clark’s phenomenal ‘Black Christmas’. The fact remains, however, that despite borrowing from old techniques, Carpenter wrote his own new rule book on the slasher and the horror film with the wonderful ‘less is more’ approach and there has been no other film to have stamped its mark on the genre and be the key influence to so many other horror films quite like ‘Halloween’.

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Carpenter has a disturbingly natural talent throughout his career for tapping into our collective subconscious, playing on our primal fears in ‘Halloween’s case of our childhood nightmare of ‘The Bogeyman’ and continuously capturing the feeling of a cold hand gripping your heart and not letting go until long after the hauntingly open ending. Not a single frame of ‘Halloween’ is wasted, the low-level lighting casting shadows everywhere and seldom ever does Carpenter relinquish the intensity, keep the tension quite literally on a knife’s edge.

The sad element to ‘Halloween’s legacy is the fact that there will quite simply never be another film like it. I hope I am wrong, but we live in a world now where audiences always demand answers, reasons and God help us, ‘happy endings’…then the pathetic telegraphed ‘stinger’. You have to wonder, given the current state of horror, just how ‘Halloween’ would be received if it was released today. More than likely, it would be criticised for being ‘dull’, tame for a lack of bloodshed and why oh why are there no jump-scares or bits of ‘found footage’? (Let’s not talk about ‘Resurrection’, eh?).

I feel that the best example to sum up the film’s ethos of ‘less is more’ is to be found, strangely enough, in the very opening title card. This may not make any sense but try and stay with me on this one, have you ever really looked at the pumpkin that the camera slowly zooms in on during the opening credits? I truly do not know if it is just me, but when I carved the same design for a recent Halloween, I’d never really noticed how deceptively disturbing it is.

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To all outward appearances, it is your basic Jack-o’-lantern, but if you really look closely, observe the odd scar going from the mouth straight to the nose, the hollow grin and most of all the eyes, much like the film’s antagonist, blank and emotionless yet with a terrifyingly remorseless fire hiding behind them. I have no idea if this was Carpenter’s intention, but for me, both the film and Michael Myers’ power to scare is summed up by this one haunting image that never fails to make to want to listen as hard as you can and hope that you do not hear the sound of heavy, mask-covered breathing nearby…

Verdict: Oh come on it’s a classic, there will never be another film like it. 10/10

PS. Please note that I have taken the high-road with this article and not made any reference to my feelings regarding Rob Zombie’s remakes…that is for another time…

A Field In England (2013) Review

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A Field In England (2013)

Director: Ben Wheatley.

Starring: Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Peter Ferdinando, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover and Julian Barratt.

Set during the English Civil War, the scholarly and cowardly Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) is travelling with a group of deserters in a hunt to find a devious alchemist named O’Neil (Michael Smiley). Soon, however, the group are captured by O’Neil himself, who uses his black magic to force the men to aid him in finding buried treasure in the field.

Where to begin with what will surely be one of the most divisive films of the year? Well let’s start with my own personal reaction to it shall we? I absolutely loved every second of it.
There, well now that’s alienated a good majority of you who I imagine are right now shaking your heads and tutting with distain (I also watch you sleep). For those of you who still care to read on, I’ll do my best to explain exactly why.
It is certainly not impossible to see just why many people have been left disappointed or completely bamboozled by Ben Wheatley’s forth effort. Without a doubt, for a man who already seems to specialise in ‘out there’ film making that has already earned him many fans, this is beyond all thereof its predecessors in terms of sheer (if you’ll forgive the term) ‘head fuckery’.

With only the most basic of narratives in places, ‘Field’ is designed to be an experience rather than the dare I say ‘conventional’ structure of Wheatley’s previous films. Using social media, the filmmakers strongly encouraged during off all light-sources and sitting as close to the television/screen/laptop as possible, a savvy way of making the impact of some of the film’s more surreal elements have an even greater effect. In this regard, ‘Field’ will be seen both positively and negatively to be an ‘endurance’, never relenting in his harsh and distorted vision. This is a ride you can either hold on to for dear life to and enjoy or let go and be alienated with complete indifference.

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With any film such as this that knows of its power to alienate comes resentment of those left out of the loop of enjoyment. The twitter-verse in the wake of the film was a fascinating smorgasbord of opinion, with those left cold accusing those who loved it as being fans of snobby cinema, thinking they’re being really profound with their appreciation of something that was actually hollow and meaningless. However, I am certain that this was not Wheatley’s intention and unlike the arthouse nonsense of directors like Terrance Malick, I see Wheatley following the school of David Lynch.

There is a meaning to the film, but Wheatley is encouraging us as an audience to take whatever we want from it, to see what we want to see and hopefully never give us an answer. For me personally, I see it very much as representative of the uncertainty of the period, where a nation was doubting the existence of God for the first time and the fear and panic of being truly alone in the world in attempt to find courage. If you ever read a more up-itself sentence on UK Horror Scene, then I’d be amazed.
From a filmmaking perspective, quite how Wheatley and his crew were able to create such a gorgeous looking film in only 12 days remains, like many other aspects of the film, a complete mystery. Losing no impact for being in black and white, the otherwise uninteresting fields are made to look like the most breathtaking vistas in the world. Wheatley’s love for Britain is conveyed throughout all his films and it remains a shame that he seems to be one the few director capable of making the country look fantastic as it truly is. A new technique comes in the form of eerie freeze-frames that have a brilliantly strange portrait-like quality that look so fantastic that you’d want to hang them on your wall as a disturbing conversation starter.

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Where Wheatley really excels though is capturing the grot and filth of the time, pulling no punches with several wince-inducing violent and disgusting images that lesser directors wouldn’t dare attempt. The film earns its ‘weird’ stripes for the use of brutally simple and yet retina-scrambling camera trickery such as mirror images moulding into one, sped-up segments and of course an enormous black planet threatening to block out the sun.
Despite these polarising elements, where ‘Field’ really surprises is in just how funny it is. Much the same as ‘Sightseers’, Amy Jump’s script is wholesomely British in every aspect, cleverly exacting humour while using the dialect of the time. Richard Glover’s nameless poor man with his bumbling good nature (who many will recognise as Carapod inventor Martin from ‘Sightseers’) steals most of the limelight in this respect; however Shearsmith, a master of dark cult comedy is the film’s true comic backbone.

With his proper way of speaking and his cowardly manner, Shearsmith is definitely the audience representative in the film, thrown into an insane world that is completely unlike anything we are used to and who you can’t help but root for, even if admittedly the film is not a character-driven piece.
Michael Smiley, who most will have taken to their hearts as the ever-dancing techno raver ‘Tyers’ in Spaced, seems to be a man on a mission to complete change people’s perception of him as an actor. This was first hinted at in his serious turn as the semi in control best friend Gal in Wheatley’s ‘Kill List’, but as O’Neil, Smiley is completely let loose and becomes a deceptively intimidating presence.

Striking an imposing figure not a million miles removed from Vincent Price’s ‘Witchfinder General’, seldom raising his voice Smiley is still able to fix audiences and the characters with a piercing stare that is often hard to meet directly. Wheatley wisely chooses to keep all his cards close to his chest, giving away almost no proper back story to O’Neil, shrouding him in an impenetrable mist of mystery that greatly augments the film’s intent to keep its audience shivering cold and alone in the dark.

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The film’s quickest jump from sheer terror to funny silliness happens early on in one of the many scenes that really stay with you. From inside O’Neil’s tent, we hear blood-curdling screams from Shearsmith who then emerges bound by a rope with his trademark eerie grin, requiring no make-up, to a hauntingly atmospheric score. In the next breath, he is running around the field with the men, using his rope as a leash to the accompaniment of the music of ‘Pop goes the Weasel’.

Who knows what Wheatley was smoking when he came up with this idea, but this film certainly makes you feel you’d inhaled by proxy.
The sure source of great debate that, considering its small running time, I have barely scratched the surface of, ‘A Field In England’ is yet another blisteringly impactful hit from Ben Wheatley, a man who I hold in the highest regard as being the most important and unpredictable new filmmaker working today.
“OPEN UP AND LET THE DEVIL IN!”

Verdict: 10/10

V/H/S (2012) Second Honeymoon & Tuesday 17th Reviews

VHS1 (1) Perhaps the answer to just how the slasher film is fairing in today’s horror landscape can be determined by my inability to think of any slasher film of any note or that I had liked in recent years. The only examples of the slasher genre that I could think of was the above segments from recent portmanteau horror ‘V/H/S’. This brought me to a terrifying realisation at just how dead in the water the slasher may well be, that I simply could not think of one no matter how hard I tried.

It should be remembered though that the horror genre is an ever changing and dynamic beast. Horror films can almost be compared to being in a cycle where one facet of the genre such as possession films will be all the rage for a while until audiences get sick of them and the sub-genre is bled until it becomes a shriveled up mass to make way for the latest ‘fad’. With the ‘found footage’ genre mercifully finally being in its death rows, there is every chance that slashers could make their long-overdue comeback into the public conscious. The small glimpses we’ve seen of Adam Wingard’s (who also directed V/H/S’s wraparound story) ‘You’re Next’ just may be the film to put the masked knife-wielders back on the map, spawning your inspiration for Halloween costumes for many years to come.

It is ironic, therefore, that despite my now total lack of patience with ‘found footage’ horror that I choose to highlight two short found footage segments in order to cast a wry eye over the state of the modern slasher film.

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Second Honeymoon: A young couple are on a tour of the American West and staying in a roadside motel. Alongside struggling to maintain their strained relationship, the pair are being stalked by a mysterious masked and hooded figure carrying a switchblade.

Starting with ‘Second Honeymoon’, directed by Ti West. This is considered by many to be the weakest of the segments in V/H/S, as it lacks the more all out shocks and violence of the other installments, save for the last couple of minutes. For me personally, I am still balancing precariously on a 6-way fence having still not made my mind up about which segment is my favourite. This is not to suggest that I do not see just why people like this segment the least. Ti West is already an incredibly love/hate director with all the elements I love about his style of handling horror proving to be absolute anathema to others. The edge ‘Honeymoon’ has over the other segments is that it is by far the most believable and a rigid grounding in reality is often what makes West’s films hit home so hard. In the very limited time of the segment, we get a strong idea of the couple’s rocky relationship and the great acting on the parts of Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal, often makes us, the viewer, feel incredibly awkward for feeling as if we are directly spying in on them through a seedy secret keyhole. By far the most impactful moment and possibly my favourite in all of ‘V/H/S’, is when the video camera is turned on late at night and it becomes clear that it is not one of the couple who is holding it. It was a genuinely chilling moment that has not lessened on repeat viewing and unlike most slashers that would literally go straight for the jugular and kill, West’s savvy directing reigns it back to make the shocking end to the segment feel even more like it came from out of nowhere. As with ‘Halloween’, ‘Honeymoon’ is far from a shower of red red kroovy and consequently, serves to make the sight of it that have much more impact when it is finally seen. ‘Honeymoon’ is definitely a good place to start for future slashers, with an emphasis on subtly and character development as opposed to overtly grizzly kills.
Verdict: 9/10

VHS3Tuesday 17th: A group of college students are heading to the woods for a camping weekend. After messing about in the lake and taking drugs, it is soon revealed that the woods have a dark history and that one of the group has brought them there to serve a dark purpose. 

‘Tuesday the 17th’ as the title may not very subtly imply is a complete ‘Friday 13th’ send-up, with a lake, nudity, cheerleaders and those who take drugs being punished in nasty ways. Without a doubt, this is ‘V/H/S’s most fun and slightly tongue in cheek segment, which is always an important aspect to any slasher. It should be remembered that too much parody and the audience will be lead to believe it’s a comedy…or just really badly made. Aside from the more humorous elements, there is a wickedly brilliant dark streak that runs through ‘17th’, alluded to in the several heart-stopping quick flashes of completely desecrated corpses, glazed over as ‘faults’ in the camera and then building up to a slasher stalker completely unlike any other. To say any more would ruin the trick and the goggle-eyed stare you will have as you witness something both truly unique and yet so simple you’ll wonder just how no-one else thought of it before. Conversely to ‘Honeymoon’ the deaths here are brutal with a capital B and extremely wince-inducing. Director Glenn McQuaid is to be commended for expertly dodging expectation as well as really ramping up the carnage and craziness come the end of the segment. The best thing that ‘17th’ offers to the slasher genre is to show that, amazingly, there are still avenues yet to be travelled, ideas not yet tested and most crucially of all that keeping it simple can often prove to be hugely effective. Despite all the new ideas it offers up, ‘17th’, like many modern slashers, wears its fanboy tattoo of its influences with pride. For example, every single character in the group of friends is a pure-blooded stereotype and you can instantly single out the final girl as soon as you first see her. Similarly, the location is one we’ve seen a thousand times and just how often are we going to see a body floating dead in a lake for the rest of our lives in horror films? In light of the evidence brought forward by ‘17th’, as long as it’s done well, then we as a discerning horror audience will not care…though maybe, unlike the ‘Friday 13th’ saga, it should leave it at just the one story.
Verdict: 8/10

So what’s my conclusion about the future of the slasher genre based on these segments from ‘V/H/S’? Surprisingly encouraging despite what I initially thought. There are still fresh ideas out there, people still get a kick out of a figure in a creepy mask and a ‘slasher’ is arguably the most ideal way for any budding director to make their mark on the horror genre. I eagerly await whatever future franchise comes next to slice up the cine-reel once again. 

World War Z (2013) Cinematic Review

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World War Z (2013)

Dir. Marc Forster    –  116 Minutes

Starring – Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz.

Retired United Nations worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) must leave his family in order to travel the world in search of the origin of a global zombie epidemic that threatens to wipe out humanity.
Having never read the cult classic novel by Max Brooks, and stayed clear of the details of the film’s much publicised troubled development history, I can safely say that I was able to approach ‘WWZ’ with a completely open mind and ready to judge its merits solely as a film. After two hours of torturously slow pacing and lifeless acting I can attest that ‘WWZ’ can be seen as the absolute nadir of an already zombie-saturated film market.

These days you simply cannot move for a wide variety of entertainment mediums all jumping on the zombie bandwagon, but ‘WWZ’ offers absolutely nothing new and quite frankly could be used as compelling evidence in the case that maybe it’s time to stop the enforced love-in with the walking dead.
The main problems with ‘WWZ’ are both its too wide scope and the overall way in which director Marc Forster chooses to handle the actual zombie apocalypse. Initially, the film is commendable for leaping straight into proceedings, quite literally the second scene is when everything goes to pot for humanity. However, the second the cringe-worthy CGI zombies show up is the cue for both a series of lifeless set pieces and the onslaught of unnecessary shaky-cam.

To use a hackneyed derogatory term by labelling ‘WWZ’ to be a ‘film by committee’, gives the film far too much credit in that this implies that more than one person actually put any though into it at all. A more apt title would be ‘Around the world with Brad Pitt (and his hair)’ as the film does turn into a sight-seeing tour of exotic locations tempered only by the fact that they have been ravaged with destruction as a result of the global zombie epidemic. The only thing to tie the various locations together is the flimsy plot-glue of ‘Patient Zero’, an unnamed and only briefly seen character believed to be the cause of the zombie outbreak.

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The film fails spectacularly in the overall development of this narrative, it is completely muddled and there is little to no vigour to conjure up any excitement for what will happen next. The zombies themselves only turn up for the ‘bits to use in the trailer’ moments, and then the film starts to follow a tired and dull formula of Pitt learning a little bit more, frowning and staring into the distance, then wondering how his family are, and repeat.
The film goes into complete overkill in how much it attempts to force upon the viewer just how ‘against the odds’ Pitt (and his hair) are and how he, as nothing more than a peace talker cum bodyguard is our last possible hope at salvation. You could imagine every scene ending with the over the top trumpet ‘waa waa waa waaaaa’ as gee Brad’s got himself into a pickle this time! How’s he gonna get out of this one? By far the silliest predicament is the zombie attack on the plane, and the way in which it’s handled goes so far as to make fun B-movie send up ‘Snakes on a Plane’ look like pure arthouse cinema. The world’s smallest grenade explosion occurs, zombies are sucked out into the atmosphere and Pitt’s mighty lion’s mane of blonde hair blows majestically in the air.

Those who love to pick the zombie genre’s repeated inconsistency of how people seem to be able to keep so clean will have a field day with this one, as it looks as though Brad Pitt’s all ready to go to the set of some glamorous shampoo product commercial.
One of the film’s main stumbling blocks is the fact that zombie films arguably work best only when there’s an overriding metaphor behind them. The classic Romero films retain their impact as they all serve as a black mirror to various troubling aspects of human society (consumerism, racism etc), whilst ‘WWZ’ is only focused on the concept of the zombie apocalypse itself, and how many things it gets blow up. As a result, it feels shallow with no direction and empty apart from whatever it is that is keeping Pitt’s hair looking so vibrant and glossy.
Earlier this year the surprisingly brilliant ‘Warm Bodies’ was released, a fantastically left of centre ‘zombie romance’ which proved that there is both still life and different places for the zombie genre to go and maintain its popularity. It’s just a shame that it preceded ‘WWZ’, as it would serve as the perfect antidote this over-produced mess.

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You only have to look at the spate of zom-coms to know that much humour can easily be derived from the shuffling dead, but crucially ‘WWZ’ is not intended to be a comedy. This, however, appeared to be lost on the audience I was in, an entirely mixed demographic united in uproarious giggles at the pathetic chompy wide-eyed brain-munchers and from the obnoxiously self-aggrandising proceedings slowly trudging their way across the screen.
There are several positively side-splittingly funny moments in the film such as one of the many ‘last hope for mankind’ men running up a plane ramp and accidentally shooting himself, riding bikes in order to avoid zombie detection, a satellite phone going off at a very bad time and topped off with Peter Capaldi as Captain Obvious, repeating everything the audience has already seen just in case they are too thick to remember it. With incidents such as these, you can be forgiven for pondering if the filmmakers got to a point where they’d just given up on attempting to salvage anything of any note and start taking the ‘micky’ out of their own film. If so I would actually have rated ‘WWZ’ higher as a zombie parody done with a straight face, the idea of the filmmakers actually being serious making it all the more amusing.
The climax is preceded in all its sickeningly sweet glory by one of the most disgustingly obvious examples of product placement ever seen in a movie, erecting yet another concrete wall between any possible empathy from the audience and the film itself. It would be vindictive of me to single out the product’s company in particular, so let’s just say that it is a beverage Pitt needs to drink in order to give him some pep, see? The ‘ending’ of the film itself is so insufferably saccharine that you almost feel it rotting your eyes like bad candy. As we’ve been given little to no time at all to properly get to know or heaven forbid develop the characters of the family, we, as an audience, simply do not care and shed no tears of joy when they are reunited.

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Whilst Pitt is a fantastically engaging and dynamic actor, he is completely the wrong choice for this film. Similarly to another lead character in a big-budget summer release currently stinking up multiplexes (the one with a silly big S across his chest), because he’s a big name actor, this is a big budget film and because audience’s these days tend to baulk at anything unexpected or remotely upsetting, there is absolutely no tension or question that he will live to the end of the film and be reunited with his family. This cripples any notion of fear factor or even any real ability to root for him since we already know that no matter how great and desperate the odds, he will pull through unscathed.
I know that it unfair to compare different entertainment mediums, however, recent ‘zombie’ smash-hit game ‘The Last of Us’ was able to establish a devastatingly effective emotional attachment to its characters in the opening prologue of less than 20 minutes. ‘WWZ’ does not come even remotely close to pulling the audience’s collective heartstrings for its entire ungodly 2 hour running time.
Stay indoors and watch ‘Dawn of the Dead’, either version, it’s still a better use of your time than ‘World War Zzzzzzzzzzzzz’
Verdict: 1/10

The Last Exorcism – Part 2 (2013) Film Review

 

The Last Exorcism Part 2 (2013)

Dir. Ed Gass-Donnelly

Starring – Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark.

After the events of the first film, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) takes refuge in a home for wayward girls in New Orleans. After receiving ghostly visitations from her father, she learns that the demon Abalam is looking for her, his work  far from over.

With ‘The Last Exorcism’ proving to be a wonderfully chilling shot in the arm of the even then tired ‘found footage’ genre, expectations were naturally high for the sequel. With a sequel, the story could be expanded, the character of Nell developed even more and the problem of that bloody awful ending hopefully ironed out.

Perhaps the alarm bells should have been ringing with the incredibly embarrassing title, or perhaps even more so when looking back historically at what other ‘Exorcism’ film sequels have taught us. Not to worry though dear reader, there are plenty of differences between this film and the snore-fest that was ‘The Exorcist II’….in this film, there are flies instead of locusts….

The film plays almost like a game of Possession Film Bingo, having you scream inwardly at the endless barrage of key scenes or jump scares shamelessly ripped-off from other possession films. Worst of all is the film taking more than its fair share of pointers from the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films.

The reason why I loved the first film so much was it was the total antithesis to those piles of garbage, intense, scary and above all you were able to suspend disbelief and actually think what you were watching was real. The jump-scares in the film are both unbearably half-baked and derivative and ultimately it is just a tragedy to see a film franchise that had such potential simply pander to the Friday night hysterical shrieking audience market.

The film’s erratic jumping from scene to scene is akin to an indecisive child in a toy box. As soon as it finds an idea that could genuinely be interesting and take the film in a surprisingly different direction, it throws it away without so much of a second glance. The biggest offense the film commits in this sense is when Nell’s housemates actually discover the ‘found footage’ from the first film of her being possessed on the internet in what can possibly be described as the only time ‘found footage’ has actually been ‘found’.

 

You would be forgiven for thinking that this could open up a really interesting angle on the tired genre, but no, like everything else it’s thrown into the fire without a care and just leaves you feeling annoyed that you aren’t watching the first film again. Entire plot points are forgotten about, forcing you to rack your brains to figure out what on earth is exactly supposed to be going on. However, this is a film that absolutely does not deserve any of your mental agility and quite frankly even after you’d figured out what the film was trying to say, you’d still be left rolling your eyes at its stupidity.

I have always thought that New Orleans remains a severely under-used setting for a horror film, with the brilliantly creepy and ornate St. Louis Cemetery. With ‘Part II’ however, it could be set literally anywhere in America and represents a terrible missed-opportunity. The best the film could muster in terms of ‘scares’ was the fear-inducing sight of a human statue, on a par with ‘Parasnoremal Inactivity 3’s ‘child under a sheet’ for most pathetic attempt at eliciting fear in the entire horror genre. The ghostly spirits in Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ were by far more terrifying than anything in this film and it made proper use of how spooky New Orleans can be.

The saddest part of this film is that it throws an overbearingly wet blanket on the fantastic performance of Ashley Bell as Nell. Bell was the key source of what made the original work so well, nailing the perfect mix of starting off sweet and naive then brilliantly offsetting this with her terrifying contortions and adorable but evil smile. Bell is given absolutely nothing to do in this film, other than looked shocked, sweet and naive and more often than not no more than a hysterical shrieking wreck. At no point do we even see her possessed and the ‘exorcism’ itself only happens in the film’s dying breaths. What cannot be debated, however is just how hard she is trying with what little she’s been given, almost worthy of a medal for continuing to give a gutsy and well realised performance in a film where lesser actresses wouldn’t have bothered.

It was always going to be difficult to top the first film, but unbelievably the sequel did have the edge in one respect which as you may have guessed was the ending. Whilst by no means perfect or even terribly satisfactory, this film has a proper conclusion that is clever, a tad creepy and also sadly the only moment where the film remembers the humorous edge of the original.

 

By the time this superior ending does turn up however you have long since stopped caring and it would have taken ‘Se7en’ levels of  a spectacular ending to have shaken you out of the coma of boredom this film lulls you into.

The only hope left for this franchise now is to follow the same path of the ‘Exorcist’ anthology, to have the third part be a completely fresh story and also to completely ignore EVERYTHING that happened in the second one!
2/10

The Purge (2013) Review

 

USA, 2022. Crime and unemployment have never been lower and America is once again a proud and powerful country. However, all this has been made possible by the introduction of the annual 12 hour Purge when all crime, including murder is legal and all emergency services suspended.

Let me start by saying that unlike many others who scorned it with derision, I found the concept of ‘The Purge’ really grabbing and whilst it would be very difficult to argue the idea is not a million miles removed from something like ‘The Hunger Games’, the more realistic setting of a not too distant future America is refreshing as this takes place in a world that looks no different from our own but obviously becomes horribly twisted as the events in The Purge itself start to play out.
What really surprised me was the power of the opening pre-Purge section, brilliantly setting the scene and placing the audience right into the heart of an already established world. We hear and see news reports disturbingly treating the Purge as something normal, even celebrating its release of hatred that builds up in people and how it is greatly benefiting America.

We follow yuppie security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) on his way to get to his family home before the ‘lockdown’ and start of the Purge. We get the basic family set-up, gentle mum, weird teenage boy and rebellious teenage daughter. The gentle tension builds up deftly as we draw nearer to the start of the Purge, Sandin locks up his high security house…then as soon as the first gunshots are fired, the entire bottom of the film falls out and so begins an agonisingly slow and dull trudge of yet another house invasion horror.
It’s the strange case of a ‘house invasion’ horror where the invasion doesn’t happen until towards the very end, reducing a great concept from the start into something so tired and conventional. So predictable every was every jump scare and every ‘shocking’ twist that you could practically sing along with the film, the jumps so telegraphed and ‘twists’ that you could see coming from miles away.

The only real ‘twist’ which isn’t giving anything too serious away, is that the house invaders themselves are from rich upbringing and not the stereotypical thugs from other films of this ilk. With the lifeless pacing and lack of anything really happening, at one stage, the film follows Hawke and Headey simply walking about the house in the dark for such a long time I wasn’t sure if the film had got stuck on a loop.
In a bizarre way, ‘The Purge’ can be likened to another recent horror featuring Hawke, ‘Daybreakers’, in which all the hard work of establishing fantastic setting of an alien world on top of our own completely ultimately was completely let down when the threadbare plot turns up. Along with last year’s ‘Sinister’ that’s yet another poor horror film to star Ethan Hawke. I’m not saying it’s his fault or anything, but…
With regards to acting, it still continues to amaze me that Ethan Hawke is able to find work. All his emotions just seem off to me, that he’s never really horrified by the events going on around him, just a bit put-out. He does a great job at the start as a cocky security salesman but as soon as the proverbial hits the fan, out comes his trademark goggle-eyes and hanging lip that makes you want to yell at the screen and tell him to shut his mouth. Worse still is the mistreatment of great talent Lena Headey, the once proud Lannister reduced to a screaming and hysterical wife, the constant foil of her husband’s stupid plans and the moronic acts of her irritating children.

 

King Joffrey may be one of television’s nastiest characters ever, but at least he’s not an idiot, the son is the one responsible for all that happens to them and never seems to get away scot free! The bright shining diamond in the rough, however, is young Rhys Wakefield, the ‘leader’ of the invaders. Using an enjoyably disturbing polite attitude and an eerie smile, Wakefield literally seems to be the only actor aware of the dross he’s in and takes great pleasure in chewing the scenery to great and unnerving effect.

I could certainly see him as being a strong contender for the next ‘Joker’, just so long as he chooses better films in future.
I’m sure some people will say that I’m giving the film far too much credit by wondering if it was trying to make a cultural statement. Was it about gun crime?  The tight grip of religion on America? The extreme inequality of the rich over the poor? The only issue on which the film seemed to stand so very firmly on was that by far the best way to show how violence is such a terrible thing was to show as much awesome and slick looking violence as they possibly could into a 15-rated film.
If the film was restricted to a short of the first 20 minutes only, it would be remembered for being a wonderfully engaging and disturbing chiller of our world gone mad that made you shudder to think of the terrible possibility of that becoming reality. As it is, the brilliant pre-packaging gives way to a mess of a film that goes beyond tedious and you’ve already forgotten as soon as the lights go up.

4/10

American Mary (2012) Review

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American Mary (2012)

Universal Pictures UK

Dir. Jen & Sylvia Soska

Mary Mason, a young med school student training to be a surgeon gets dragged into a world of underground surgery and body modification.
The first thing to say for ‘Mary’ is that it’s an entirely different beast to the Soska Sisters’ debut ‘Dead Hooker In A Trunk’, a gleefully demented exploitation that never paused for breath but with an unexpected heart of gold. With ‘Mary’, gone is the breakneck speed and wild abandon of its predecessor but crucially the inventiveness and pure sense that the Soskas are loving every minute of making the film is simply impossible not to rub off on you.
Whilst her Horror Icon status has of course already been cemented in the fantastic ‘Ginger Snaps’ trilogy, Katherine Isabelle is still a hugely engaging screen presence who doesn’t  receive anything near the amount of praise she deserves. She portrays Mary really as a true ‘every girl’ who is just as shocked and partly disturbed as we are with our first encounters to this underground world of body modification. It is a true testament to her skill as an actress that we experience her slow organic progression into becoming more assertive and devious along with her, so much show that the film can be read as a character study of the lengths to which someone will go not only to assert their independence but to fight back at those who would seek to suppress her in terrible ways.

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Not that this is a one woman show, however, the support characters such as Betty-Boop obsessed Beatrice (Tristan Risk) are both fascinating and great fun (Beatrice getting by far the funniest line so far this year, which I won’t repeat as it’s terribly rude!) The Soskas themselves also turn up as body-modification fanatics with hilariously vampish eastern European accents and most interestingly of all, the Soskas actually spend time to develop characters such as strip club owner Billy (Antonio Cupo) and the club security (Sean Amsing), giving them actual depth, development and interesting dialogue when others films would simply look past them.
Deceptively deep is, sadly what will put people off this film. With an attractive blood-stained woman on the front, gore-hounds will dive head first into what they might think is a female-lead ‘Saw’ and end up disappointed. Not that ‘Mary’ shies away from the red red kroovy, far from it, certain scenes of surgery are brilliantly stomach-churning, but the way it’s done is more akin to David Cronenberg,  almost classy and yet done in a brutally harsh light. The fact that the Soskas chose a seldom properly touched upon subject of body modification adds further to just how much this film stands out. They have no interest in stereotypically branding all these people as ‘weird’ or ‘freaks’ but expertly present them as a surprisingly caring community, often with moving back stories about how their modifications are the only think that make them feel comfortable in their own skin.

Jen and Sylvia Soska, directors of American Mary
It remains frustrating that as soon as the ugly subject of rape rears into view which is does in ‘Mary’ in a brutally frank and uncomfortable way, the consensus is to lump all the films that try to deal with it into the same restricting box of ‘rape revenge’. ‘Mary’ is certainly not a ‘rape revenge’ horror as has been misinterpreted by many other reviews. To say that it was only this act in the film that changes Mary into an underground surgeon bent on revenge  is grossly simplistic, the film is far more concerned about Mary’s journey of self-discovery/decent into darkness and the fact that the Soskas chose not to simply gloss over or tantalise as many other films have done represents a bold step in the right direction for how to properly handle such a disturbing scene.
By far the most remarkable aspect of ‘Mary’ is just how gorgeous it looks. On an incredibly limited budget, the Soskas bathe the screen in the most intoxicating reds and blues that add a wonderful Lynchian hyper-reality the perfectly complements the bizarre twisting and turning plot.

The standout sequence is of course Billy’s dream sequence in which he sees Mary pole dancing whilst bathed in blood, a moment that not only neatly sums up the whole look and style of the film but one that really stays with you long after the credits.
I know it’s dull to go along with what seemingly everyone else’s opinion but believe me there is a very good reason why this film and consequently the Soska Sisters are on everyone’s lips at the moment. Phrases like ‘future classic’ are thrown around too often when they really should just be reserved for masterpieces such as this. ‘American Mary’ truly is like nothing else out there, seek it out NOW or risk being left behind.
10/10