Swings & Roundabouts (2016) Short Film Review


Starring John Williams

Written & Directed by Peter Mckeirnon

Run Time – 8 minutes

“Eric was always the child nobody liked. He never knew why, it was just the way things were..”

Made for an estimated £300, Swings and Roundabouts is a fun and darkly comic little horror that subverts audience expectations, a macabre little warning not to judge a book by its cover, or indeed a person.

Through his narration, we learn that our lead Eric is a self-proclaimed outcast, a loner, on the outskirts of society since a child. His mother would force him to play with other children, even though they would torment and bully him before pushing him away.

But things have changed now. Eric is an adult, in body if not in mind. He goes to the park, and gets ready to play…

But not in ways you might expect.

sr2Until the very final frames, writer and director Mckeirnon is skilfully playing on audience expectation. With his mentally disabled lead, he lures you down a path you think you have seen before. How many mentally disabled man-child serial killers have we seen in movies and TV? Bloody hundreds, it’s a fairly typical cliché and for a most of its 8 minute runtime it feels like Swings & Roundabouts is going that route, albeit with a darkly comic wit and expertise. And maybe it does! There’s a certain ambiguity behind that innocent smile and the excitable tics of Eric’s.

But then the final shots introduce a completely different genre, and you realise you’ve never seen this genre from this type of characters point of view. It’s great!

Despite some minor sound and editing hiccups, Swings & Roundabouts is a lovely, funny and ingenious chiller, with plenty to think about after the credits roll.


Beta Test (2016) Review

betatest1Beta Test (2016)

Director: Nicholas Gyeney

Stars: Manu Bennett, Larenz Tate, Linden Ashby

In 2009 an action/sci-fi/thriller with a budget of 50 million dollars came to theaters. Despite starring one of the top male actors of the time, it only grossed 40 million and scored consistently low with critics. That film was called Gamer. This year, 2016, a film with a budget of less than 2 million took a strikingly similar concept and improved upon it in almost every way.

Beta Test is a film that succeeds largely on the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers up plenty of exciting action for B movie lovers. Beta Test introduces us to Max Troy (Larenz Tate) an awarded gamer testing out the newest game from Sentinel, the big corporate baddy causing all the havoc. Max finds that every crime he commits in the game is happening on the news in real life. He is actually controlling Orson Creed (Manu Bennett) creator of the technology that allows Max to do so. Despite Creed having invented it for good, Kincaid (Linden Ashby) head of Sentinel, has other more sinister ideas for its use. Kincaid has kidnapped Creed’s wife and is now forcing him, literally against his will through the video game technology, to carry out horrific crimes. Creed and his player, Max, have to team up to save Creed’s wife and stop Kincaid from destroying the city.

Sound familiar? That’s completely okay.

betatest3Despite it’s similarities to 2009’s Gamer, a complete failure of a film in my opinion, it improves upon it in so many ways with far less resources. This is for all intents and purposes a B movie by definition and that’s one of its best qualities. By not taking itself too seriously this fun concept works. It goes as far as making the third act action sequences reminiscent of video game levels and boss battles. Otherwise the plot is largely forgettable which would hurt the film if it didn’t poke fun at a basic plot with a satirical sense of humor.

The most exciting thing to come out of Beta Test was hands down Manu Bennett. Being a huge fan of both Spartacus and Arrow I was excited to see him in a lead action role. He definitely has the gruff action hero look down and he kicks ass. Bennett isn’t a bad actor either so my hope is he’ll start showing up on people’s radar for larger roles. He could easily become the next generation of action star, a Jason Statham if you will, which I believe we’re due for.

Most of the action sequences in Beta Test were daringly fluid. Only a few times I felt they focused too much on the gaming animation taking away from the action. They largely made up for it in the third act “continuous shot” that found Bennett laying through endless thugs one by one. For action and violence junkies it was definitely satisfying. Particularly since in film today where continuous and intricate action sequences are becoming increasingly popular and for a lower end film to execute something equally as entertaining it’s definitely a testament to great film work.

betatest2Overall, Beta Test was a joy ride catering to a B movie formula while not taking itself too seriously. It improves a failed concept and displays impressive action despite some forgettable plot points. Action aficionados would enjoy this piece as some great ground work for a possible next generation action hero.

I’m giving Beta Test a 7.5/10.

Spaghetti Man (2016) Review

spaghettiman-posterSpaghetti Man (2016)

Director: Mark Potts

Starring: Ben Crutcher, Winston Carter, Brand Rackley, Leigh Wulff, Joe LoCicero

“Drink that spaghetti pee.”

The self serving lead character of Spaghettiman is middle aged slacker Clark. He could be 20, he could be 40. He represents a mind-set more than an age. After gaining powers when his (or rather his friends) microwave malfunctions nuking a bowl of spaghetti, Clark, played by Ben Crutcher, gains the power of spaghetti. He pees spaghetti, he bleeds spaghetti, and he can sling spaghetti from his hands fast enough to disarm villains. His roommate and sole friend Dale (Winston Carter) thinks Clark should become a true hero, doing what’s right for the good of the city. Instead Clark uses his newfound superpowers to make cash. He saves people from muggings and purse-snatchings then demands a reward in the form of whatever they have in their wallet. Frustrated with Clark’s attitude Dale takes it upon himself to make Clark the hero he thinks Spaghetti Man should be.

spaghettiman-1A wonderful dismantling of superheroes and their mythos. Truly a slacker hero for our time. Or at least the one we deserve. Spaghetti Man is perhaps one of the best superhero films since The Specials. Yes the effects are cheap. Yes the acting is uneven. But the story of what a person with a broken moral compass and a stupid superpower would do is real and funny and kind of dumb.

In terms of superheroes bigger isn’t always better. What is missing from most superhero films is basic humanity. And not the noble sort of “greater good” humanity. I’m talking about the rest of us who are lazy and cowardly and would use our powers to make a quick buck so we wouldn’t have to go out and get a real job. Those of us whose idea of a good disguise would just be a paper bag over our head and who wouldn’t say no to a free meal. That’s the genius of Spaghetti Man. The everyman, or very substandard everyman given something slightly extraordinary and carrying on as usual.

So, the plot, concept, and even the script are great. But the acting is where things stumble. Everyone is just a little flat and it feels like there wasn’t much rehearsal time. The acting gets a bit better once you settle into the movie and the plot takes over. But the first few scenes are rough. At first I thought I’d made a terrible mistake watching Spaghetti Man, but it got better the longer I stayed. Sadly it would have been a stellar film if only the acting could have kept up with such a well written script. However everything else is enjoyable enough that in this rare instance the acting can be ignored.

spaghettiman-2Fans of superheroes will enjoy the post-modern take-down of superheroes films and people who hate superhero movies might like this smaller, closer, slice-of-life film.

Kudos for: Spaghetti slinging action
Lesson learned: Spaghetti is as dangerous as it is tasty


31 (2016) Review

31-131 (2016)

Dir – Rob Zombie

Starring- Sheri Moon Zombie, Richard Brake, Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs

In Cinemas Now!

Rob Zombie has certainly made an interesting output in his work in the horror genre. Starting with HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES which was almost maybe too self referential and highlighted his obsession with white trash low life characters. This would further appear in his best film THE DEVILS REJECTS a particularly brutal western-like exploitation film which further extended the characters featured in CORPSES. However he took a misstep in his directing output with the HALLOWEEN re-makes, particularly the god awful HALLOWEEN 2 and his last film THE LORDS OF SALEM divided many critics, though I feel it was an excellent return to form and despite some flaws showed that Zombie had matured in some respects as a director and showed he could handle more narrative and atmospheric based horror that didn’t have to rely on shock and gore so to speak. Now we come to 31 his latest entry and it seems like Zombie is going back to some of the trademarks that set him up in CORPSES and DEVILS REJECTS that of backwoods locations and white trash low life characters meeting even more truly trashy and nastier characters.

31-3Set in 1976 on Halloween, the film follows carnival workers (Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Philips, Meg Foster, Laurence Hilton Jacobs) who while travelling onto their next job are captured and find themselves chained up in an abandoned location. They are then forced into a game, organised or rather hosted by Malcolm McDowell where they have to survive 10 hours against a varied group of psychotic killers in clown make up including a Nazi dwarf, two chainsaw wielding brothers and an articulate and nasty character played by Richard Brake. Its simple set up that runs fast and bloody and isn’t considered with being an in depth study of the human condition and man’s inhumanity to man. Rather it’s a straightforward game of death or as a friend who saw this at Frightfest put it, its THE RUNNING MAN meets HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPSES.

31-4After the mostly subdued more unsettling style of his previous film LORDS OF SALEM, Zombie has returned to the style of his earlier work. He lets it go full tilt to the max with blood and gore and foul mouthed almost deliberately designed to cause offence dialogue that ain’t subtle on any level. He has come back to what he knows best and that’s a grindhouse style gory horror with sleazy white trash characters, upping the shock factor and even throwing in a Nazi dwarf for good measure to tick that politically incorrect box. A showman he definitely is, particularly if you have seen him live with his band and this is reflected in his films. He knows how to deliver the goods, the meat and the spectacle to a point that this film had to be submitted to the MPAA a few times with various cuts requested to the gore to avoid the dreaded NC-17 and get the all important R rating. He orchestrates the action well and its not long before it introduces the travelling carnival workers, dispensing of the lesser known ones in the group and goes into focusing on the remaining members and their forced battle against some vicious opponents.

31-5As well as THE RUNNING MAN I was also reminded of the controversial PlayStation game MANHUNT as it too had you as a character traversing various characters intent on smashing your skull in or killing you in an brutal manner and like a computer game 31 almost has that feel of the characters going up every level and facing tougher opponents until they finally come to the big boss which in this case is Richard Brake’s Doom Head. Much has been said of Brake’s performance and its deserving of credit. Brake is an actor who has been mainly in smaller supporting roles usually playing creeps and one of those faces who you will have noticed from something you’ve seen before usually big budget (he played the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents in BATMAN BEGINS for trivia nerds out there). Though here Zombie allows him to excel as Doom Head, a nasty, almost misogynistic piece of work who is called in by those in charge of the game as the final opponent who can bring an end to the competitors.

31-6The film is not without his flaws though and that lies mainly in some of the use of shaky camerawork during the fight sequences that when utilised can be irritating and make it impossible in parts to see what is going on. Its also not hard to see how this film will be as divisive as some of Zombie’s other flicks and will fall under those who hate it and those who like it or think its not bad at least. Suffice to say I kind of fall under the latter camp as It is entertaining enough, fast paced, relentlessly nasty to hold your attention and blessed with some excellent production and character design and on top of that he has also arranged another excellent soundtrack to accompany the action.

But like much of Zombie’s films there are flaws that can be ironed out and parts which can be taken out and a certain sense of over indulgence in some of the early scenes. Though its fair to say that he has managed to make a straightforward and simple fight to the death story that is very much his version of THE RUNNING MAN and sometimes a film does what it does well by keeping it simple.


First Man On Mars (2016) Review

fmom1First Man on Mars (2016)

Director: Mike Lyddon

Starring: Marcelle Shaneyfelt, Benjamin Wood, Kirk Jordan, Kelly Murtagh, Jeffrey Estiverne

“Guess we can always use a redshirt.”

First Man on Mars is bad. It’s SO bad. It’s so gloriously, hilariously bad. But first things first. The plot. Billionaire Eli Cologne (Benjamin Wood) wants to be the first man on Mars. He privately funds his own Mars mission back in 2003 and makes it to the red planet. He then promptly becomes infected with some kind of Mars germs and high tails it back to earth. His ship lands in Louisiana during hurricane Katrina and Eli has been lost for all these years. A couple of back-woods rednecks find his ship and accidentally trigger a rescue beacon. Cue the scientists. They come rushing to Black Bayou to find Cologne and bring him home. Of course by now Cologne has become a killer mutant wandering the swamps in search of people to eat and shiny, shiny gold.

So, what’s so great about a terrible movie? Well First Man on Mars is a funny parody of 1950s B-movies and 70’s schlock. There is so much fun packed into this cheap little movie, the laughs just keep coming, though admittedly most of them are pretty low-brow. But everything from the first frame of the film is designed to be bad and it succeeds at being bad wonderfully. It brings to mind a raunchier Skeleton of Cadavra Cave.

fmom2The special effects are hilarious and come right out of a 1950s sci-fi flick. The Mars lander and rocket are both obviously toys. They even squeeze in some stock footage, a staple of 50s films. There is a great dream sequence with a really bad stop motion animated alien. The list goes on and on. From the goofy scientists to some of the worst acting ever seen, First Man on Mars has at all. The script is chock full of sly pop culture and sci-fi references which actually make it better. There are a lot of great one-liners and clever dialogue. Even the acting, quite a bit of which is either painfully bad or the accomplishment of such nuanced actors that they can play bad acting to the hilt, works.

The best of the worst acting award goes to Sherriff Ruffman played by Kirk Jordan. Best worst supporting actor is Deputy Sample played by Jeffrey Estiverne. Best bad actress in a lead role goes to Marcelle Shaneyfelt who plays the not-very-professional Dr Martine Munro. Best supporting actress, the hilarious and very feisty Russian model Porscha played by Kelly Murtagh. And last, but not least, the award for literally doing it all, goes to director, writer, editor, animator, sound guy and special effects person, Mike Lyddon. And those are only a few of his credits on this film.

fmom3First Man on Mars may not be as gory or as nuanced as other horror comedies, but it manages to deliver a hilarious parody. It will be loved or reviled for one thing and one thing only, it’s a dirt cheap bad film. But Lyddon knew he was making a bad movie on purpose and he ran with it.

Kudos for: Potterotica
Lesson learned: Shiny, shiny gold!

Blackburn (2015) Review

blackburn1Blackburn (2015)

Director: Lauro Chartrand

Starring: Sarah Lind, Zack Peladeau, Emilie Ullerup, Calum Worthy

Out now on DVD from Matchbox Films

“I thought at least you were smart.”

Five college students on break head for a… wait for it… cabin in the woods. But– twist– they never make it. Instead they are boxed in by a forest fire and a rockslide. With no where to stay and nothing to eat they make their way back to the only civilization around for miles, a rundown gas station run by the creepiest old ladies ever. The students decide to camp out in an abandoned mine until the road is cleared. But they aren’t alone in the mine. One by one they are picked off and must fight or perish.

Despite the painfully typical plot Blackburn is an above average low budget slasher. Entertainingly written with some good quips and snappy dialogue it delivers a fun thrill ride with a bit of gore and an entertaining cast of really decent actors. The characters are pretty much stock standard slasher heroes, but they get more development than usual and the skill of the scriptwriter really comes across. Jade, the lead character, ably played by Sarah Lind, is smart, motivated, and her motives are explained very clearly. Chelsea, played by Emilie Ullerup offers some welcome comic relief and it was nice that the typical ‘bitchy blonde’ got to stretch a bit.

blackburn2The best characters in the whole film (and I would watch an entire movie about them) are the creepy old lady twin sisters who run the semi-abandoned gas station out collegiate crew find themselves stranded at. Played by Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins, they are weird, funny and utterly disgusting.

Blackburn doesn’t really blaze any new trails in horror, but at least it entertains. The plot takes some nice twists and turns, and there is a surprising amount of tension. The gore effects are better than average but suffer from a lack of screen time. Instead there are gore montages, that undercut the effectiveness a little. It looks like someone actually carved up some real (probably animal) carcasses to get the creepiest shots. There are some brutal deaths and maiming which horror fiends should appreciate. The burn make-ups on the villains are a bit stiff and honestly look like make-up. They did their best to film around the make-up but it’s still noticeable. It would have been more effective to skip the burn make-up or tone it down. But that is really a small nit-pick. Just consider some of the cheesier effects part of Blackburn’s low-budget charms.

blackburn3Blackburn is so entertaining on so many levels that it deserves a chance. It’s a solid slasher, with a lean story and good acting. There aren’t many movies that can claim all of the above. And read the end credits, they are hilarious and completely worth it.

Kudos for: Cast in order of death
Lesson learned: Don’t teach taxidermy in a mental asylum


Consumption (2016) Review

consumption1Consumption (2016)

Written & Directed by Brandon Scullion

Starring Sarah Greyson, Arielle Brachfield, David Lautman

UK DVD release October 10th from LEFT Films

“In the snowy Utah mountains, an ancient being terrorizes four friends as they try to survive.”

If movies have taught me one thing, it’s that you should never go on holiday in the woods to a remote cabin with friends. It never ends well. It usually ends badly. Very badly. This is information I’ve gleaned from a variety of informative films including The Cabin in the Woods, Cabin Fever, The Evil Dead, Dead Snow, Tucker and Dale Vs Evil, Zombeavers and many, many others. The latest film to put me off the idea of spending a weekend away in the not-so-great outdoors is Consumption.

The film introduces us to four friends, each of whom (we discover later) is harbouring a substantial secret. They’ve driven from LA up to the desolate snowy wilderness of the Utah mountains for a remote weekend getaway.
David Lautman (Broken Horses, Ru, Making the Rules) is playing Seth, the designated driver for the group. He looks tired and we later discover this is not just because of the arduous journey. Seth sets the tone for the movie when he asks his passengers, “Do you know any good ghost stories?”

consumption4When he gets no response, Seth shares the quirky story of the disappearing bride: a ghostly figure who is often seen standing at the side of the road by passing motorists and then mysteriously disappears from view. It’s also in this scene that Seth shares the secret that his mother has recently died.

In the car are Becca (Sarah Greyson: animation production assistant from The Simpsons and reality star from Road Rules and The Challenge), Mallory (Arielle Brachfield: The Haunting of Whaley House, Chemical Peel, Axeman) and Eric (Chris Dorman: 8.13, Halloween: The Bogeyman is Coming, Blood Bath and Beyond). It’s clear that tempers are a little frayed amongst the four of them when they arrive but, after a drive from LA to Utah I suspect any of us would be a little road-raw.

There are some scenes in this movie that we’ve all seen before. Seth is defensive with regards to the bags he has brought – and it transpires there is good reason for his defensiveness. The foursome are greeted at the door to their accommodation by ‘the Pats’, Patrick and Patricia Smith, played with a delightful blend of the frenetic and the friendly by Geoffrey Gould (Pride of Strathmoor, Careful What You Wish For, Everything) and Nancy Wolfe (Helter Skelter, Horror in the Attic, Mark of the Witch).

consumption3The Pats seem to have a strong religious agenda which doesn’t accommodate Mallory’s atheist views. Later we discover that their religious beliefs are very important to them. And then we have a brief appearance by a wood-chopping Myles Cranford (Hunter Gatherer, Interwoven, Erasing Eden) as Ferry, who gives the group the cryptic warning, “You’re not supposed to be here. That’s exactly what they want.” Ferry then spends the remainder of the film looking obscenely cool with a long-handled axe propped on his shoulder.

To some extent we have seen most of these horror tropes before but, if they weren’t included in a cabin-in-the-woods-type film, as viewers we’d be disappointed by their absence. I did enjoy the camerawork of this movie. There were some shifts in image that hastened the speed of the narrative but also leant something to the sense of the uncanny that was being presented. I also thought there were a couple of surprises that I hadn’t anticipated and they made the whole experience all the more entertaining. Maria Olsen (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Paranormal Activity 3, Starry Eyes) as always, takes on a disconcerting role and delivers a quality performance. I also thought there was some deliciously dark humour apparent in the background of this one.

consumption2The version of this film that I saw had a major issue with sound quality. Background noise repeatedly fought and won over dialogue, making it difficult to follow some of the narrative. However, that could be an issue that’s since been resolved. If not for those sound issues, I’d have marked this higher. The film does steer away from traditional narrative approaches – and that can always make for interesting viewing. If you’re inviting friends over to your remote cabin for the weekend, Consumption would be ideal viewing material and deserves a respectable 6/10.

The Dark Tapes (2017) Review

darktapes1The Dark Tapes (2017) Review

Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown

Writer: Michael McQuown

Stars: David Hull, Brittany Underwood, Cortney Palm

Runtime: 98 min

Plot (from IMDB) – A genre-defying mixture of horror, sci-fi, myth, mystery and thrills told as four interlocking tales in one intelligent anthology. Ghosts, spirits, creatures, demons and more from the paranormal world collide with rational curiosity.

It’s getting to that time of year again when my family start to get excited about the horror aficionado’s favourite time of year, Halloween! As well as sorting out the kids costumes, one of the things we do in our house is work out what our Halloween night film marathon will consist of. Normally, the only anthology we would choose to watch is the fantastic “Trick r Treat,” as in our experience no other anthology has lived up to its standards. So when I got the chance to review the new “found footage” anthology, The Dark Tapes, I was both curious and excited to see if it could punch above its weight and compare to our Halloween favourite.

darktapes2“The Dark Tapes”, the brainchild of writer/director Michael McQuown and his co-director, veteran make up artist Vincent J. Guastini, is a found footage anthology that mixes sci-fi, horror and mystery throughout its four interlinked segments. I know it might sound like a rip off of the likes of V/H/S/ and the afore mentioned Trick r Treat, but the originality of the segments endings make it worth the watch.

Before we get into the film’s main segments, we are treated to a tone setting intro where we see Marie (SARAH CASTRO) and Sam (DAVID BANKS) arriving at theatre that appears to be the scene of some sort of gruesome murder. There’s a blood stained bed, and weird recording equipment strewn all over. There is also a video camera, which when turned on take us into the first segment.

That first segment is called “To Catch a Demon” and is “recorded” by physics professor, Martin (David Rountree), his assistant Nicolle (Cortney Palm of SUSHI GIRL’S fame!)and Jason (Matt Magnusson), who has been hired to record an experiment. We find out that Martin has suffered a kind of sleep paralysis for years where he feels he is visited by “something.” He is now determined to prove that these things are actually inter-dimensional beings trapped in our world. Naturally, our trio of brainiacs get a little more than they bargained for!

darktapes6It’s the subject of these beings, and why we perceive them as terrifying that links us nicely into segment two, “The Hunters and the Hunted”. This segment is one that you have to stick with right to the end. At first, I just rolled my eyes as it looked like it was just going to be another rehash of the oversold “family moves into a haunted house, but refuse to just move out” story. But seriously, make sure you watch it all the way through, as the payoff is more than worth it…

Third up, and in the position that we normally call the “piss break” segment (if were watching it in the cinema) as its normally the weakest of the anthology to set up a big finale, is “Cam Girls.” We meet Caitlin (Emilia Ares Zoryan), who has recently moved to “The City” and has even more recently started a relationship with Sindy (Anna Rose Moore). Sindy loves nothing more than having sex on camera for paying punters, but one day she decides to give one lucky guy a free show. Gerry (Aral Gibble), the “winner”, is told to prepare for the show of his life, but unfortunately the girls actually meant the LAST show of his life. This is a real “WHAT THE FUCK” segment.

darktapes4To finish off, we visit the world of alien abduction with “Amanda’s Revenge.” Amanda (Brittany Underwood) is at a party is slipped a date rape drug by a guy she considered one of her best friends, but luckily is rescued from the inevitable rape that would have taken place. Unfortunately, she starts experiencing strange (what she considers) side effects, such as time loss, black outs and personality changes. She tries everything to sort them out to no avail, until part of her ordeal comes back to her. She decides she know what to do put things right and starts formulating a plan, but does it work? I’m going to leave this one here as it’s a payoff that is worth seeing unspoilt!

Now that we have done with the plot (sorry if it was long winded), I think I’ll start with the films negatives. Firstly, is an issue which plagues all low budget film makers, and that is the production values. Now, I’m sure like me you will have seen a lot worse, but it still detracts from the overall viewing experience. On the same lines, the creature effects in the film are really bad, and we found ourselves chuckling at them while ever they were on screen.

darktapes5Secondly while the endings and payoff’s of the segments are generally impressive, the themes themselves are very unoriginal, and can be found better done elsewhere. It’s a shame, as if the segments as a whole were as original as the endings, then we would be on to a real winner.

Lastly, is a sub-genre wide issue with found footage style films. Why the hell would they be carrying a camera? Segment one get around this, as does section 3, but the others just made no sense. With the amount of these style films being churned out, film makers really need to be creative to solve this issue.

OK, on to my favourite bit, the positives! Firstly, I have to mention the acting. Anyone who watches indie films will know just how diverse the acting quality can be. In The Dark Tapes, the creators manage to get decent performances from almost the entire cast, which is a testament to their ability as film makes as much as the actors ability. I think Cortney Palm is the standout, but everyone does themselves proud.

Secondly, the scripts, which are great for all four segments. A particular gem though is “The Hunters and the Hunted.” The actors were given a terrific short story to work with. The dialogue was crisp and never felt like the cast had to force the lines.

darktapes3To wrap this review up, I have to say I wish there was more money to make the film. If McQuown could have afforded better production values and creature design it would, along with the great acting and impressive scripts, made this a must see movie. He attempted to gat around the constraints by focussing more on storytelling and character work, and to an extent it worked. If you can overlook the issues I’ve outlined, then I’m pretty sure you will be entertained!


The Neon Dead (2015)

neondeadThe Neon Dead (2015)

Director: Torey Haas

Stars: Marie Barker, Greg Garrison, D. Dylan Schettina

Writer: Torey Haas

For as long as I have been watching horror, it seems that the it has been the de facto genre for first time film makers to cut their teeth on. In a way, it makes me proud that the genre I love has helped blood some of the best directors in the game. The latest rookie director to choose a horror film to lose his directorial virginity is The Neon Dead’s Tory Haas. So will we be holding Haas in the same esteem as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, well, read on and find out!

The Neon Dead introduces us to Desmond (played by Greg Garrison) and his best friend Jake (D. Dylan Schettina). The two gamer nerds spend the day counting the hours away in their day job in a shop, because by night they are paranormal investigators and exterminators! One night they get a call from Allison(Marie Barker), who has just found out the home she has inherited is haunted by some weird glowing demons.

the-neon-dead-1At first, Desmond doesn’t believe Allison, but all that changes when Jake comes into contact with one of the glowing entities and becomes their latest victim. Once Desmond kicks into action and takes the fight to the monsters, Allison realises that one of her distant relatives was the one who summoned the creatures way back in the 19th century to be his own personal slaves.

Now that our dynamic duo (and what is left of poor old Jake) know more about the entities, they start to turn the tables on them and even manage to get some to turn on their glowing kin. However, battered and bruised, it is Desmond who must face his fears and go one on one with the day glow evil in a colourful, final battle!

As already mentioned, The Neon Dead is both written and directed by débutante Torey Haas. Although he does a decent job with the directing, the script is a little threadbare. One of the biggest issues with the script is the lack of solid and consistent mythology when it comes to the creatures. We find out they are not zombies, but intact possessed corpses, and that they are called Z’athax (The Pale King), but thats it. Some are able to be killed with plain old table salt, but others need to be killed with weapons, but its never explained why(or if it did, I missed it on all three watch throughs).

the-neon-dead-5Another issue is the flash backs written into the film, they just feel “off”. In them we see things like the rituals that summoned the creatures. The problem is the serious tone contrasts with the more light hearted feel of the rest of the film.

Haas did a lot of things right though. the pacing(outside of the flash backs) was fine, and the decision to bath most scenes in a green and red light makes the glowing monsters look great. In fact, I liked the general monster designs a lot. The big bad at the end looked especially impressive.

The acting is what you would expect from a low budget film. The stand out is Marie Barker, who’s portrayal of the delightfully confused, but scrappy Allison. Also, praise must be given for the comic performances of both Garrison and Schettina as the wisecracking Desmond and nerdy Jake respectively.

I feel the special effects team in particular deserves a special mentioning this review. Granted, none of the effects are groundbreaking, but some of the things they pull off, such as the impressive vortex scene, on such a small budget is nothing short of extraordinary!

the-neon-dead-3To sum it up, The Neon Dead is like a lot of low budget horror’s these days. It has lots of good, entertaining moments, but is let down by a few glaring issues. It seems to me that Haas aimed for a film with the feel of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, but unfortunately he has just missed the target. It is a decent watch though, and if you are looking for an entertaining bit of horror with some comedy mixed in, the I’d defiantly give it a chance!

Hot Button Politics and Attack The Block!

atb1Hot button politics and ‘Attack the Block.’

I’m going to lay down a marker right now; Attack the Block is one of the most crudely underrated films of recent years. A brilliant film and for my mind the 21st Century’s Evil Dead. Gory, low budget (by today’s standards), funny, fast paced and a superb soundtrack by Basement Jaxx together with composer Steven Price. A soundtrack that combines electronica with classic overblown horror music. It is not straight horror in the manner of Evil Dead, but its not hard to see where comparisons can be drawn.

In terms of genre literacy, it leans heavily on Aliens – with it being an action sci-fi film following a ragtag group outnumbered by a hostile alien force – and the literature of J.G. Ballard and John Wyndham. Both of whom are explicitly referenced in the film (keep your eyes on the signs)

Moreover, though writer and director Joe Cornish put together a daring film about poverty, racism, police profiling and the brutal gentrification of London.

atb2Set on a fictional council estate high rise in Brixton, although shot across several areas of London, we are first presented with our hero, Moses (John Boyega in his breakout role), intimidating and threatening a woman (Jodie Whittaker’s Sam) and mugging her. It’s a shocking, fast paced start to a concise, punchy 84-minute runtime.

It doesn’t take long for Cornish and Boyega, who instantly presents a captivating presence and imposing charisma, to establish Moses as fighter. An anti-hero making the best of a bad break. An orphan striving for respect in a hostile environment. Moses is a survivor who does what simply does needs to be done. As the alien invasion wears on and closes in what we see is a leader. Resourceful, courageous and unflinching from danger.

Samantha, the trainee nurse, from a more middle class area but newly moved into “The Block” represents much of the audience. She demonstrates, in the beginning, how most of us would react but wouldn’t like to think we would. Instantly taking the events that have befallen her with hostility and suspicion of everyone. A sense that she looks down the nose at the area and the locals before coming to understand that this is a tight knit community bound by loyalty, a sense of quiet dignity and mistrust of outsiders, especially authority.

atb3At one point during the film, Moses and his gang, on the run from increasing numbers of hostile aliens, theorize that the government released the creatures into the area to get rid of the “problematic” locals. There is a lot to that, London was already in the midst of “gentrification.” With the middle classes being forced out of areas such as Camden due to rising property prices to residential areas slightly further out. Poor, predominantly black people living on the edge of areas of great wealth, areas such as Tower Hamlets, looking right across to Canary Wharf. Those aliens represent that social cleansing driven by property developers and, ugh, Boris.

There is plenty in here about police profiling and institutional racism too, specifically within the ending which was unsettlingly prescient.


The ending shows a community cheering their local hero Moses, as he’s arrested presumably for multiple murders that he didn’t commit, and tensions on the edge of boiling over with police. Just a few months after this film was first shown at “South By South West” riots erupted in London after the police shooting of Mark Duggan. One wonders whether Joe Cornish sensed those something of those simmering tensions during the eight weeks of night shoots

atb4At the time despite receiving a warm critical reception and having awards success on the indie film awards scene it was fairly low key on release. John Boyega stamped his mark as a star of the future. Still, it is a film overlooked and even not seen by many but I predict, as time goes on this will be seen as a bonafide cult classic.

Its better than New Kids on the Block that’s for damn sure…