Blood Punch (2014) DVD Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Night of Something Strange (2016) Review

rsz_112819375_994557477247045_1782208119961988031_oNIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE (2016)

Dir: Jonathan Straiton
Stars: Rebecca C. Kasek, Trey Harrison, Michael Merchant, Toni Anne Gambale, John Walsh, Tarrence Taylor, Nicola Fiore, Wayne W. Johnson, Janet Mayson, Kirk La Salle, Al Lawler

Released by Hurricane Bridge Entertainment. See it at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on 21 January at 5.30pm.

Night of Something Strange opens with a messy sequence in which we discover the origin of an STD that transforms its victims into ravenous rapist-zombies(!). From here we meet a gang of youngsters on a Spring Break road trip. There’s good girl Christine (Rebecca C. Kasek), her best friend Carrie (Toni Anne Gambale), Carrie’s obnoxious boyfriend Freddy (Michael Merchant), nerdy Jason (John Walsh) and pothead Brooklyn (Tarrence Taylor). On the way to a party destination, they choose to stop over in a seedy motel. Also at the motel are bad chick Pam (Nicola Fiore) and her tough boyfriend Dirk (Trey Harrison) who are hooking up for a night of passion. However, unbeknownst to our horny high-schoolers, the infected necrophiliac who kickstarted this whole mess is on his way to the motel…

Inside the first six minutes of Night of Something Strange we are treated to a prolonged sequence of necrophilia, a man urinating in a woman’s face before he violently rapes her, a bloody wound complete with arterial spray and somebody ripping out an unspecified, but gore-soaked part of a woman’s genitalia with his bare hands, then eating it. Then the film REALLY gets going.

rsz_14917277_1155870461115745_3324279579145028734_oIf that sounds a bit much for you, then you should probably steer clear. Night of Something Strange is a shocking movie that is full-on, in your face, and legitimately disgusting at times… and THAT is why it is so good. Think classic Eighties splatter horror-comedy Night of the Creeps crossed with the excesses of South Park — NoSS is chock-full of gross-out moments, from sexual misadventures to a veritable explosion of body-fluids. As such, it’s absolutely hilarious!

It certainly helps that these moments are brought to life with visual effects and make-up far more impressive than NoSS’s modest budget might lead to you expect. But over-performing is pretty much the norm for this movie.

Take the cast — I think it’s safe to say that most of the leads in the movie probably won’t be immediately recognisable to many viewers, but that doesn’t stop them from knocking their performances out of the park. Harrison does a tremendous job of delivering some killer tough-guy lines with a straight face, while the impressive Kasek shows some real potential as a future Scream Queen. Gambale shows real dedication to her craft with a couple of her scenes, as does the simply fantastic Merchant. It is Merchant’s crass Freddy who very nearly steals the film. Merchant is brave, utterly shameless and throws himself into his role with gusto. He’s awesome! Elsewhere, Fiores clearly has fun playing the witchy Pam and she’s a joy to watch.

rsz_12513692_1002519173117542_1525579911595151897_oOf course, the actors are only as good as the material they’re given to work with, and the writing team of director Straiton, Ron Bonk and Mean Gene deliver great dialogue, some brilliant set-pieces and a plot with some pretty out-there twists. The violent monsters are suitably terrifying villains, especially the menacing Wayne W. Johnson as the lead undead sex-fiend, Cornelius. As the zombies mutate even further later in the flick, their genitalia transforming into lethal weapons, they become reminiscent of the ‘sickos’ in Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse segment, Planet Terror, and, along with the laughs and outlandish action, the film even manages to pack in some well-crafted scares and some intense sequences.

This is all under the steady guidance of director Jonathan Straiton, whose keen eye for a good shot is a massive contributing factor to the success of NoSS. Bravo sir!

rsz_11157579_843957512307043_3862393676166830435_oAn unapologetic fist (or perhaps another body appendage) in the face, Night of Something Strange takes your typical Eighties splatter horror flick, sticks it in a blender with some late Nineties gross-out humour, and produces a heady, hilarious, horrific cocktail that really does need to be seen on the big screen with a crowd of laughing, shrieking, gasping genre fans. This is the ultimate horror party movie and it needs to be seen the right way!

7/10

The Driller Killer (1979) Arrow Video Review

dk1THE DRILLER KILLER – REVIEW

(Dir- Abel Ferrara, USA, 1979)

Starring- Jimmy Laine, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day

Out NOW from Arrow Video!

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

THE FILM

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

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

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

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

9/10

EXTRAS

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

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

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

9/10

Never Open The Door (2014) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet (2016) Review

rsz_petPET (2016)

Directed By: Carles Torrens
Written By: Jeremy Slater
Starring: Dominic Monaghan, Ksenia Solo, Jennette McCurdy
Score: 8/10

Introduction
‘Pet’, is an independent, psychological horror/thriller, that is being compared to the likes of ‘Hard Candy’, due to its claustrophobic nature. An announcement was made that the film would make its world premier in March 2016, at the SXSW Festival, and was very well received. ‘Pet’ was released theatrically on December 2nd, 2016 and will be available on VOD and DVD on December 27th, 2016.

Synopsis:
Seth (Dominic Monaghan), is a down on his luck young man, who works at an animal shelter. One day on his way home from work, a girl who he has not seen for years, but had crushed on in school, gets on the bus. She is a beautiful, young woman, called Holly (Ksenia Solo). He starts to stalk Holly, firstly, online on her tinder profile, and then moving on to following her around at nights in the dark, and repeatedly going to see her at work where she is waitress.  Lacking the confidence to ask her out, he decides he has had enough, and kidnaps Holly, and puts her in a cage in the basement of the animal shelter where he works. In this tale full of twists and turns, is Holly who he thinks she is and who will end up the real victim?

rsz_1pet2Review:
This is a full on roller coaster of a film that will have you gripped from start to finish. The further into the film you get, you find out about more about the characters disturbing secrets, and of Seth and Holly’s night time activities. The character development is absolutely superb, and the performances from the films two main characters is brilliant, and both play their parts incredibly well. Their back stories aren’t thrown at you in one big lump, but are more drip fed to you, leaving you locked on, craving more information about the pair, and wanting to know what depths each are prepared to go to, to satisfy their own personal lusts and desires. As more of this awesome story unfolds, the twists are brilliant and well thought out. As you venture into the awesome finale, you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation, of how this power struggle, between the two will ultimately play out.

Dominic Monaghan, who portrays the character ‘Seth’, is presented as a loner and a nobody who is invisible to the world. We see his boundaries completely disappear, as his lust for Holly turns to infatuation and his is mind descends further into madness and obscurity. He meticulously plans the kidnapping and incarceration of Holly, as he works towards what is his ultimate goal of having this girl as his pet, someone he can have power over, and control. You get the sense from him that there may be no limits of what he is capable of. His intentions are not of a sexual nature and he keeps repeating to Holly that he wants to help her. He seems to want to systematically break her down psychologically. But the more he thinks he is succeeding with his plan he is actually playing straight into Holly’s hands, who has got plans of her own.

rsz_pet4Ksenia Solo, who portrays Holly, is the girl that Seth becomes completely obsessed with. From the day she first met Seth on a bus ride home from work, she becomes more and more conscious of the fact, that Seth is popping up everywhere she goes. She finds herself constantly looking over her shoulder and develops a huge sense of paranoia. Once kidnapped, and as each day goes by, we find out more about Seth’s prisoner, and Holly is definitely not what she first appears to be. Seth is presented with some major problems that he could never have anticipated, turning the film completely on its head and presenting the unusual situation which sees the hostage take complete control from the confines of her cage.

The pacing of each scene is brilliant. You’re not left lingering and waiting for something to happen ,in saying that after what are some pretty heated conversations between the two, you have the time to digest the mind games being played and prepare yourself for whatever is coming next.
The scenes filmed in the basement between Seth, and Holly are so intense and enticing and what compliments this greatly is the dialogue, it’s simply brilliant. The exchanges between the pair intensify with each visit, and with this, we see the balance of power shift back and forth between the hostage and her keeper. After they’re through talking for the day, each of them are left with some food for thought, and sit rehearsing how they’re going to play out their next move in this most dangerous game of cat and mouse.

rsz_pet3Final Thoughts:
Although this film was the lowest grossing film of any theatrical release in 2016, taking in a measly $70, I’m struggling to come to terms with how such a good film can slump so badly in the theatres. It may be a lack of publicity, or just a sign of the times, with films being so readily available online… or simply that the film was released at a time, where it was swamped by bigger box office films. This really is one of the best psychological films that has come out in quite some time. Its extremely clever, brilliantly written, and fantastically performed. I expect that this film will do much better when released on VOD and will be one that i’m sure will be appreciated for the fine film that it is.

8/10

And Now The Screaming Starts #5 – ‘Cushing, The Creature and The Curse: A Peek at Hammer’s Franken-Frights!

“And Now The Screaming Starts!” – UKHS’ Regular Hammer / Amicus Feature by Rosie Gibbs

antss‘Cushing, The Creature and The Curse: A Peek at Hammer’s Franken-Frights!’

It is now 200 years since the 18-year-old Mary Shelley first began writing her classic tale of ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’, and in the two centuries that have passed since she first crafted the original story countless subsequent stories, television programmes, plays and of course motion pictures have surfaced which either re-tell or are in certain ways clearly inspired by Shelley’s novel concerning the young doctor Victor Frankenstein and his quest to create new life through scientific study and experiment. Hammer Productions is certainly one film production company which focused on Shelley’s Creature – eventually to become of course one of the line-up of ‘classic’ monsters alongside Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman etc. – and took inspiration from it to create spin-off tales of its own.

Shelley’s tale and monster became legendary certainly, and their posterity has in no small way been assisted by Hammer Productions, and in turn its most prolific and long-standing director – the late Terence Fisher. Hammer actually made a total of seven ‘Frankenstein’-based pictures, over the course of fifteen years, and while they each achieved varying degrees of success, it can certainly be argued that a good chunk of the clout the company eventually gained as a film-making business was down to Shelley’s notorious doctor and his insatiable thirst for cracking the secret to creating life, and any success they gleaned down largely to Fisher’s direction. Indeed, Hammer charted through these seven different films what could be called a ‘Life and Times’ saga of Victor Frankenstein (or the Baron as he would become known in this particular medium) – brought to life himself in all but one of these films by the incomparable Peter Cushing (and in the seventh, it must be mentioned, by the excellent Ralph Bates). In this article, we take a glance at three of Fisher’s ‘Franken-films’ – at the particular Creatures brought forth in each, the representation of the Baron himself, and how Hammer contributed to the development and furthering of the Frankenstein story…

franken1‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957)

The first of the true Hammer ‘horrors’, this film also saw Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing acting on celluloid together for the very first time. Terence Fisher achieved in this first Frankenstein flick commercial and critical success, with Hammer stalwarts Jimmy Sangster and Anthony Hinds providing screenplay and production respectively in what many critics hail as a ‘return to form’ for the horror genre, which had in the 1950’s seen something of a lull in its ability to pull in the crowds at the box office since the heyday of the original Universal ‘monster movies’ of the 1930’s and 40’s.

In Hammer’s first crack at the Baron’s life tale, we are given (I suppose naturally) more of an insight into his early life; we see him take on the baronetcy at an early age after his father’s death – with characteristic curtness and practicality – and meet his wife Elizabeth (Hazel Court), as well as nurture an amiable working relationship with his tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). Life is toddling along enjoyably for the Baron until his ‘ideas’ and experiments begin to really take hold of him and he first suggests his plans for what will become his life’s work. Cushing in this film initially presents us with a slightly more sympathetic Frankenstein – certainly single-minded and brusque but not necessarily heartless.

franken2However, when re-animation becomes his obsession, he gradually morphs into a maid-bonking, manipulative, typically self-absorbed mad scientist, showing little to no regard for his wife, friends or indeed Christopher Lee’s wonderfully confused, child-like Creature. The progressively more diabolical Baron was lapped up by cinema-goers at the time and Fisher’s directorial eye created rich, colourful cinematography which would have packed an extra punch in line with the higher level of gore – many critics of the time found the picture distasteful and ‘salacious’, and that was even after a sequence involving Cushing nonchalantly dipping a severed head in acid was cut out for British audiences!

The film overall is a striking debut for Hammer which is still today an entertaining version of the classic Gothic tale which serves as a timeless warning against playing God, as well as having the honour of establishing both Fisher as a bankable director and Hammer as a fondly-loved film production company featuring rich talent, both in front of and behind the lens.

franken3Frankenstein Created Woman’ (1967)

With Fisher once again at the helm, and Cushing in his fourth appearance as the Baron,this much-loved Hammer offering released a decade after ‘Curse’ was produced by Anthony Nelson Keys with Anthony Hinds taking screen writing credit again. Coming after earlier Hammer sequels ‘The Revenge of Frankenstein’ and ‘The Evil of Frankenstein’, which saw the legend foray into brain transplantation and again general re-animation of male corpses / living subjects, the company this time offered a new slant on the tale – touching on the theme of the soul and its transference to flesh, between different bodies and genders, no less.

Baron Frankenstein, now living in an atypical ‘mittel-Europe’ town much the staple of Hammer story-telling, finds himself embroiled in the initially tragic story of tavern hired hand Hans (Robert Morris) and his sweetheart Christina (Susan Denberg), who is taunted over her facial disfigurement by three local yobs. In revenge for Hans having stood up to them, they ransack her family’s tavern and brutally murder her father – and Hans is unjustly found guilty of the crime and guillotined. Distraught, Christina immediately drowns herself. The Baron, having been handily working on experiments to determine whether or not the soul departs the body at the point of death, manages after some time to transplant Hans’ soul into Christina’s now re-animated body – her mind that of an amnesiac, but her soul full of Hans’ vengeful lust for the murder of the three villains.

‘Woman’ (admittedly a Franken-flick which doesn’t lend itself amicably to the one-word title abbreviation) does seem to stand out from the others in a number of ways – most obviously in that the Creature is for the first time a female. Perhaps this is not a staggeringly ‘out of the box’ deviation from the original story, but what I personally like is that unlike in the Shelley tale, or indeed in the classic 1935 film ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ in which a female creature is manufactured purely to provide a companion for the lonely male one, in this we see the female being re-animated to carry out a certain task, i.e. a murder of vengeance – Hammer could have easily have gone down the simple ‘make a mate’ route here and still had a success on their hands but they chose this plot line instead.

franken4Of course, Christina’s mind is still dulled and her body is still beautiful, and the very soul that drives her basically to live is still that of a man, but at least the film in the end creates a woman who is dangerous rather than distressed. Cushing’s Baron in this film, while still of course an obviously vital component, somewhat takes a smaller spotlight in favour of the young romance and the central theme of Christina’s agenda, however he is shown as less of a brute and more of a logically detached, morally ambivalent character who focuses on his work as virulently as ever but perhaps with less of a flagrant disregard for any person or thing which might stand in his way.

The originality of the plot provides arguably a less shock-heavy, gory feel to this film in comparison to the other Hammer Frankensteins – no angry marching mobs, death-defying stunts or fights to the death at the climax here, yet this gentler outing is still sensationalist and gory enough to have satisfied 60’s horror buffs. Indeed, it is the one of the few Hammer features to properly explore the notion of the soul and theories surrounding the concept – of course even the title references the Bible and the Creation myth. Martin Scorcese is reportedly a big fan of the film, having been quoted as saying, “…here they actually isolate the soul, a bright blue shining translucent ball. The implied metaphysics is something close to sublime.”

Whether or not Hammer were trying to delve especially deeply into such matters is anyone’s guess, but the film I believe is certainly one of the strongest of Hammer’s successful 1960’s period – and through it the Shelley legend gains a fresh twist which whilst not at this point ardently feminist, certainly provides us with a brutal broad who is no creature’s Bride!

franken5‘Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell’ (1974)

The final Hammer ‘Franken-film’, which would also sadly prove to be Terence Fisher’s final picture before his death, was released after 1969’s haunting ‘Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed’ and 1970’s black comedy of sorts, ‘Horror of Frankenstein’. The picture emerged at the tail-end of Hammer’s decades-long journey in film – actually the fourth from last. I personally feel, and I’m sure I’m not alone, that in these swansong years, Hammer went out with a bang in releasing belters such as ‘Hands of the Ripper’, ‘Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde’, ‘Vampire Circus’ and ‘Twins of Evil’. Amongst these excellent sensations is ‘Hell’ – in which we find Cushing’s Baron hiding out in a Carlsbad asylum for the criminally insane, under the pseudonym Karl Victor.

Here, posing as the asylum’s official physician, the diabolical doctor is still merrily carrying out his experiments on illicitly-acquired cadavers safe in the knowledge that those in the outside world now believe him to be good and dead. Surgeon Simon Helder (played by one of my favourite Hammer alumni, Shane Briant) is sentenced to a spell in the asylum, and the Baron secretly reveals his true identity to him, convincing him to assist him in his scientific undertakings. The two work together to re-animate the remains of a hulking inmate (none other than David Prowse) and initially the subject seems to be successfully brought to full living state in a non-chaotic manner. However, the Baron, unbeknownst to Helder, begins to make attempts to add new parts to their creature from the bodies of further recently-deceased inmates – and their deaths seem to be occurring with more and more alarming frequency…

In ‘Hell’, possibly the most sensationalist of the Franken-films from Hammer, we get the full schlock treatment – we are after all in the pitiful and highly unsavoury surroundings of an eighteenth century insane asylum (a hell in itself of sorts, and an undesirable home for a character whom by now has become utterly undesirable in Hammer’s imagining, although Shelley herself probably would not have intended that). Fisher and Hinds came up with gore aplenty in this one, including a particularly vicious (though not entirely brutish) Creature, rather squirm-inducing torture and implied deaths, fiendish asylum staff and a rather brutal finale (even after re-writes and cuts were enforced).

franken6In terms of the Baron, we are led to believe at first that perhaps his self-imposed incarceration has softened him a little in his later years as he seems genuinely, if curtly, concerned for the inmates’ health, not to mention the protection of the female ones from the lechery of the asylum director – however we soon discover his predilection for putting his work waaaay before ethics of any kind is still completely present and correct. Cushing delivers a witty, brilliant as ever performance in his last outing as the Baron and Hammer delivers a late-to-the-table treat for horror fans, more garish than most of the other incarnations of the tale but certainly just as satisfying.

So there you are – three of Hammer’s takes on the Frankenstein legend in a nutshell, all differing in theme, in style, in doctors, but all undoubtedly taking the legend in new directions for better or worse. The legend will, as they all do, live on and keep re-animating itself, but as far as I can see in comparison to recent films based on the legend – ‘Victor Frankenstein’, ‘I, Frankenstein’ etc. – Hammer has done the best job so far in fleshing out the story in a variety of gripping if not always audience-jolting ways (okay, I’m a little biased). Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Frankenstein’ aside, it may be that the story should be left well alone for a good few years and allowed to rest, safe in the knowledge that these tales were spun from it and should still be enjoyed nostalgically and joyously from time to time. To end with Terence Fisher’s own words, speaking about ‘Hell’, “You’ve had so many monsters that by (this point) at last you say where this monster has come from. He comes from Hell, from Evil, from Frankenstein’s mistaken belief that he is the creator of man, which of course he isn’t, and will never succeed in being.”

Wake In Fear aka All I Need (2016) Review

rsz_wake-in-fear-2016WAKE IN FEAR aka All I Need  (2016)

Starring Caitlin Stasey, Leah McKendrick and Rachel Melvin

Written & Directed by Dylan K. Narang

Available now On Demand from Grimm Entertainment!!

“The paths of a desperate man and an imprisoned young woman cross unexpectedly in the den of a mysterious killer”

Chloe (Caitlin Stasey, All Cheerleaders Die) wakes tied up in a dingy hotel room, surrounded by either dead or soon to be women just like her. She quickly realises they are all victims of a lunatic who is killing them one by one. To survive, she must somehow escape. Meanwhile, Andrew (Markus Taylor, Deadheads) is a down on his luck father who needs cash quick. When he receives a mysterious package and delivery instruction, he is offered a chance by a mystery man over the phone to make a lot of money. But at what cost?

By design a film of two halves, Wake In Fear is much better than it’s by the numbers synopsis sounds. Avoiding torture porn cliches in turn of a fairly tense cat and mouse game punctuated by sudden and brutal violence, the motel set portion is by far the best. But the parallel storyline does add a sense of mystery that we don’t normally get and I have to say, I was hooked. The film manages to be claustrophobic and mysterious all at the same time.

Narang directs with a sure hand but his budget restricts him in the exterior set scenes. But technically, anytime we’re in the motel room, the film is firing on all cylinders.

wifThe performances worked very well here. With Narang keeping dialogue and exposition to a minimum, it was left to purely physical performances to immerse you and I have to say, Caitlin Stasey was truly standout. Her heroine was fascinating, at first a whimpering wreck, but hiding a strength, resilience and intelligence that comes in very handy. Narang also obeys the first rule of scriptwriting, which is “put your lead through hell”. Stasey was put through the wringer over and over again and managed to convey true fear and agony in a way we rarely get to see in these types of films. As the co-lead Andrew, Markus Taylor fared a little less, but he was saddled with the less intense storyline and was left talking to a cheesy Russian accent on the phone for a lot of the film. But he does well with what he’s got.

The main flaw here was pacing, even for such a slim runtime. Suspense and tension is vital in horror, and a lot of the time it worked very well here. However, there were certain scenes of tension that went on way too long, and at the characters expense, in an effort to pad out the runtime. One early sequence had a character debate what to do for so long it almost became funny. We get it, your legs are nweak, but get bloody moving somehow, it’s not a tricky choice! A peeve I had throughout was how clean cut the dead bodies around Chloe were. I don’t think I even saw any fatal wounds on them. Little details like that could have really increased the impact. Also, the reveal of just what the hell is going on is a bit of a letdown.

wif1Wake In Fear, with its parallel storylines waiting to connect, it’s throw you right in there pacing, and it’s perverse killer hunting scantily clad women scenes really reminded me of the works of late horror author Richard Laymon, particularly his grim classic Endless Night. Hell, even the title, short sweet and unspecific, would look right at home on the cover of one of his paperbacks. And as someone who is still waiting for an honest to god cinematic adaptation of one of Laymon’s macabre masterpieces, I was pretty satisfied.

7/10

Dead End aka Drifter (2016) Review

rsz_deadendDEAD END aka DRIFTER (2016)

Starring Aria Emory, Drew Harwood and Monique Rosario

Directed by Chris von Hoffman

Written by Chris von Hoffman and Aria Emory

UK DVD Release from High Fliers Films on March 6th

A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics“.

The story of Drifter pretty much goes like this. If you take the Gecko Brothers from Tarantino and Rodriguez’s classic From Dusk Till Dawn, roughed them up and put them in the middle of an arid post-apocalyptic, just about to go Mad Max wasteland, and then had them stumble upon the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and their mutant cousins from The Hills Have Eyes, then you’ve pretty much got it.

Seriously. The script actually replicates wholesale dialogue, even scenes, from those films and others. This kind of thing is basically the reason I’ve grown so tired of Tarantino and Rob Zombie. So why the high rating?

rsz_deadend1Because this film is an absolute assault on the senses, that’s why. In his feature debut, director Hoffman, a veteran of music videos and short films, has less directed the script as directed the living shit out of his script. Imprinting a gritty, flashy, grimy and relentless vision all of his own, Drifter is less directed and more choreographed, like an 80’s dubstep goth rave in the desert. There are images here that are truly stunning, the way Hoffman frames the landscape, follows his characters, captures the day and the night. It all feels iconic. His energy behind the camera is non stop, reaching even crazier heights in the moments of savagery.

And choreography is nothing without music. My oh my, the soundtrack in this rhymes with the visuals in a way we rarely see these days. It’s a pulsing, pounding, monstrous beast from Nao Sato, and it’s a marvel. I swear there were moments in this film where the combination of movement, framing, action and soundtrack nearly had me cheering. Everything just clicks to create a sensory overload. I think this is what makes the film work so well. The script and story may lack originality, but its execution is anything but derivative. The feel of this film, the texture of it, the sound of it, is like nothing I remember seeing. Yes, it’s showy and attention seeking but it bloody well deserves it. Drifter is Hoffman trying not to make a splash, but to kick all the water out of the tub. And I need to own this soundtrack immediately.

The performances are also extremely fun. As our heroes, Emory and Howard take stock characters and rough them right up, make them lived in and raw. But our villains have the most fun. James McCabe is fantastically sinister as the childlike patriarch of the clan, Doyle, and Rebecca Frasier is the most devious white trash doll you will find. But the standout was Anthony Ficco as the Danny Zuko on acid Latos. A twitchy, nightmarish bottle of bloodthirsty rage, he’s a fantastic villain.

rsz_deadend2Although technically the film is a striking marvel, with sights and sounds that are seared into my brain, it’s a real shame that the script is such a hodgepodge of scenes and dialogue from other movies. In this case it’s not a deal breaker, but it would’ve elevated this to cult-classic status. But maybe the reason it’s all so blatant is because that was the point. So, if Drifter is a love-letter to a particularly grimy type of cinema, it’s a kinetic and visceral success. But we will have to wait for the next film from Hoffman for originality.

As it stands, Drifter is an everything and the kitchen sink project done right. An angry, vicious, grindhouse fever dream.

8/10

Pitchfork (2016) Review

unspecifiedPITCHFORK (2016)

Dir: Glenn Douglas Packard

Stars: Brian Raetz, Lindsey Nicole Dresbach, Ryan T. Moore, Celina Beach, Derek Reynolds, Carol Ludwick, Addisyn Wallace, Daniel Wilkinson

Released by Uncork’d Entertainment in the US on 13 January. UK release TBC.

Hunter (Brian Raetz) is a young gay man who has recently come out. He is now travelling across the country to his parents’ farmhouse home, hoping to rebuild his relationship with his father, Wayne (Derek Reynolds), who is struggling with the revelation. For moral support — and with the promise of a wild barn dance — Hunter travels with a large group of friends. The night of the party comes and personal revelations threaten to destroy friendships… but as the group is reeling, a mask-wearing, fork-handed psychopath (Daniel Wilkinson) attacks with terrifying ferocity. As the bodycount mounts the group faces a fight for survival. Who will last until morning?

There are few things as exciting when watching indie movies as that feeling that you’ve discovered a talent who is going to go on to make a big splash. Pitchfork is packed with such individuals. Director/co-writer Glenn Douglas Packard is certainly among these. From the atmospheric opening sequence, during which a camera swoops through corn fields as a breathy voice sings ‘He’s Got Whole World In His Hands’, the film is a real treat for the eyes. Cinematographer Rey Guttierez ensures that the movie looks better than its humble indie roots might lead you to expect.

15665681_239714283116088_8026690676146962274_nThere’s a nice reason for Hunter and his pals to be heading to the countryside and shows some wit by Packard and fellow writer/producer Daryll F. Gariglio, although I did have a slight issue with the pacing. After an obligatory early kill scene, I felt the movie became a little derailed by a lengthy sequence in which we received some character development and a fun but unnecessary barn dance. These scenes aren’t bad per se, but they fail to continue to cultivate the atmosphere of dread fostered earlier. Luckily, when Pitchfork reappears, Packard is quick to reinstate that same creepy atmosphere.

While I mention that early kill scene, it, along with a couple of others, is one that does feel a little lascivious in the way it depicts the female form. I know there’s a history of titillation in slasher flicks but I do feel that a couple of the shots were a little gratuitous.
Leading man Raetz is another of those talents from whom I expect to see more in the future. He’s likeable and a decent actor. The same can also be said of the lovely Lindsey Nicole Dresbach, who has scream queen written all over her.

15621970_239713629782820_881264707710373854_nI also loved the work of Celina Beach, and I’m pretty sure a large part of this comes from her considerable charisma. On a similar note, Ryan T. Moore also delivers as jock Matt, while none of the rest of the youngsters let the side down. One of the real surprises of the film was the excellent young Addisyn Wallace. It’s great to see such confident work from an actress her age. Elsewhere, Daniel Wilkinson is brilliant as Pitchfork. Sure, the role is largely brought to life through physical gestures and movement, much like your classic slasher villains, but Wilkinson adds a number of frightening ticks and twitches to his character, and his depraved antics make him seem legitimately out of his mind.

He’s aided by the striking character design. The effects work on the titular pronged attachment that replaces his left hand is great, while Wilkinson’s lean, rangy physique helps him stand out. However, while I was a big fan of this look, I do think some viewers may find the ‘furry’ mask a little goofy. Perhaps the execution could have been better? Of course, a decent cast are only as good as the plot they have to work with, and this story has some nice twists and turns, plus it affords us some good set-pieces. There’s not too much graphic gore on display, but there are a couple of sustained torture sequences that are seriously intense.

15590170_239713789782804_4385783501945955202_nAll in all, Pitchfork isn’t a perfect slasher movie but it is very good. It may have its flaws, but there is more than enough here to warrant checking the film out when it is released on Friday 13th January — and on that date, how can you NOT want to give a promising new slasher a chance?

7/10

John Dies At The End (2012) Review

mv5bmtuynziynzc0mv5bml5banbnxkftztcwotm5odg1oa-_v1_John Dies At The End (2012)

Directed By: Don Coscarelli
Written by: David Wong (Author) and Don Coscarelli (Screen Adaption)
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti. Arnie Blondestone, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman
Release Date: 22 March 2013
Score: 9/10

Introduction
‘John Dies At The End’, is a horror/comedy/fantasy film, which stretched my mind to lengths I never thought possible. Not only is this film extremely clever, its absolutely hilarious, and terrifying at the same time.
You’d be forgiven, for thinking that the title of the film, perhaps ruins the ending, and things don’t really end to well for John, but you’ll soon come to find out, that things are not quite as clear cut as they may seem.

Synopsis:
There’s a drug called ‘Soy Sauce’. The sauce for short. The people that use it, or come into contact with it, develop the ability to travel through time and space, to different dimensions. When they come back, sometimes, they’re no longer human, and bring back with them, all manor of demonic creatures, and worst of all, an evil entity, that goes by the name of Kurok, intent on wiping out humanity. The fate of the world, is in the hands of John and Dave. Two college drop out, lay about’s, who’s day job revolves around being demon spiritualist/exorcists, kicking the ass out of anything evil coming over to their plane. The pair are about to embark on a make or break journey to face evil, and save the world.

john-dies-at-the-end_10Review:
From the director of the hilarious horror/comedy ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’, comes ‘John Dies At The End’.
The way the film begins, does not ease you in gently, and this is a good thing. The energy needs to be up to make something like this work, and it does, to great effect. This is one of those films that will immediately encapsulate you. It’s not a film to watch on a Friday night with a beer and a group of friends, who are going to talk through the integral parts of the formation of the plot, and then 10 minutes later, say this film is confusing, and they don’t know whats going on.

The first few lines of dialogue, are both confusing but utterly intriguing and leave you wanting to know more about what this guy is babbling on about. As the story is further introduced to you, in what I can only describe, as some of the most insane, and best delivered dialogue, my ears have had the privilege of hearing, you begin to understand more of how this man known as David Wong, has come to be who he is, and form an appreciation for what he does, what he has been through, and what he is going to go through.

Lets set the scene. David Wong, sits down for an interview with a journalist called Arnie. He wants to make public, the adventures that he and John have been through, Therefore, you can probably guess that the plot centres around a flash back, were David recounts his story, of a series of fascinating, and utterly terrifying events. It revolve’s around he and his friend John, how they came into contact with ‘The Soy Sauce’, and how their lives dramatically changed from that very moment.

john-dies-at-the-end-soy-sauce-550x229The soy sauce, which is also referred to as ‘The Sauce’ is a horrible looking black goop in a syringe, its alive. It will literally grow spores, turn into a small fly and find its way into your body. If you come into contact with it, you’re whole world is going to change, and you’re life is never going to be the same again.  The sauce isn’t evil, and doesn’t use a person as a host. It heightens every sense, and opens up many gateways. Your brain will work faster than any computer, you can communicate telepathically, you can pass between dimensional planes, and scariest of all, you can see the evil creatures that are hidden just out of sight, that are all around us. The kind that you only see in the corner of your eye, if you concentrate hard enough, and you’re unlucky enough to see it. The grease trap of the universe is in your line of sight, and you can fight or die, or, be consumed by evil, and used as a host to serve its will, and then die. Either way, you’re gonna need to get your pistol, and get ready.

In every good film, next to the lead characters, there’s always the person in the supporting role, that just ties it all together nicely. In this film, its the detective. His dialogue is brilliant. Like all the dialogue in the film. not only is it clever, but it has wit, and humour.
One seen in particular, at ‘Robert Marley’s’ trailer, the detective comes into his own, and the film goes up another level from this point.

maxresdefaultThe evil creatures Dave and John are fighting against, and the way the evil trying to consume the earth, always needs a host, to fulfil its will, they all have a feeling of the creature(s) in John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. They’re gross, hideous looking things, and the poor souls that become the hosts to these things, once they’re no longer of any use, they meet a truly brutal, and vicious end to their existence.

Make no mistake about it… As wonderful as the fantasy element is in this film, and how funny it is, and how witty, and clever the dialogue is… the horror element is brutal. There is one scene especially, when they pass to another dimension, that sees something you could only attribute to the nazi’s. Human beings are thrown into a mass grave while still alive, and then the rest of that scene becomes animated, like something akin to Tarantino’s Kill Bill… I will say that the violence is not human on human, but there is lots of blood, dismemberment and decapitation. ‘Groovy’.

2016 saw the revival of scary clowns, both in film and popular culture. In this film, there is no clowns, ghosts, or zombies. But if spiders, snakes, and creatures so disgusting, your mind couldn’t even begin to comprehend them, make you squeamish, then you’ll be watching this film through your fingers.

But never fear, because alongside David and John, is their boss, and all round bad ass, ‘Marconi’. The superb ‘Clancy Brown’ portrays this living god superbly. He is a mentalist/spiritualist/exorcist and everything else all in one. With a single thought, or the mere muttering of a single word, he can make a demon literally explode. If our two hero’s find themselves literally up to their necks in it, enter ‘Marconi’ with the solution.

john-dies-review-3Since first seeing this film, it’s one of those that I have always gone back to, and will regularly recommend to anyone looking for a decent film. When I speak about it to people, and they have no clue what i’m talking about, it shouldn’t, but it astounds me that this film never got more coverage than it did. It has a cult following sure, and maybe its better that way. The majority of the better films are. The film isn’t just solid, it isn’t just funny, dark, and outlandish… its completely brilliant and enlightening, and a film that everyone should see at least once in their life.

9/10