The Evil Gene (2015) Review

teg1THE EVIL GENE (2015)

Starring Richard Speight Jr, Cameron Richardson and Lindsey Ginter

Written & Directed by Kathryn F. Taylor

FBI agent Griff Krenshaw is dispatched to solve a murder at a federal correctional facility for inmates with a rare genetic defect that leads to psychosis and violence. Once there, Griff becomes convinced that the facility is being plagued by much darker forces“.

Griff Krenshaw is having a bit of a bad time of it. A bit of a loner and dedicated to his job, he is sent to Godfrey, a correctional facility dealing with special case inmates cursed with the titular condition. His mission, to solve the mystery of whether a renowned doctor there commuted suicide, or there is something more disturbing going on. But ghosts from Krenshaw’s past and the atmosphere of violence in the facility begin to mess with his head…

The Evil Gene is the filmmaking début of Kathryn F. Taylor, and while there are some some hiccups typical of low budget offerings along the way, the film actually has a pretty consistent atmosphere of foreboding and a decent pace. While the direction is unshowy it also makes the use of the grey sets and dark corridors of the facility, creating an eerie mood that took me by surprise.

While most of the performances are rudimentary, lead Speight Jr does well as the dogged FBI agent. The longer Krenshaw spends in the facility, the more his paranoia builds and darker sides of his own personality reveal themselves. Speight handles it all with great poise. But aside from one or two inmates who give it their all, everyone else utters their mundane dialogue in a pretty wooden way. But bizarrely, it all adds to the slightly off kilter mood. Intentional or not, I have to admit it kind of works.

A few distracting issues arise when the director decides to shoot random scenes with what appear to be a GoPro. Badly lit and incredible shaky and amateur looking, it really clashes with the otherwise quite professional, if pedestrian appearance of the rest of the film.

I think what really sets The Evil Gene apart from the usual DTV fodder is that it actually has something to say! There are themes at work here on the effects of nature versus nurture, what makes a person violent and homicidal. Is it in the genes? Drugs? Upbringing? Or could it be something much more sinister? In exploring these themes, the film never drags or becomes preachy and pretentious. Indeed, it moves too quickly in too short a runtime to do that.

The Evil Gene often comes off like a minor episode of The X Files, with its moody colour palette and exposition-filled mystery. Add a dash of Shutter Island and Stonehearst Asylum, and you have a decent time waster. As a first time filmmaker, Taylor shows plenty of promise and must be respected for attempting to make a more mature and meaningful thriller than we normally see at this budget level. It’s not entirely successful, and it’s not going to change your world, but there are worse ways to spend 80 minutes!

6/10

Can’t Come out to Play aka The Harvest (2013) DVD Review

ccotpCan’t Come out to Play aka The Harvest (2013)

Directed By: John McNaughton

Written By: Stephen Lancellotti

Starring: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Natasha Callis, Charlie Tahan

UK DVD Release – June 22nd from Signature Entertainment

From the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer comes this Horror/Thriller that follows the stories of two children in rural America – Maryann who has begrudgingly moved in with her Grandparents following her parents’ death; and Andy, a sickly frail boy whose life is strictly controlled and limited by his mother, who is also a doctor. Predictably through a chance encounter they become friends, but this friendship threatens to upheave the solitary environment that has been created for Andy, and raises the question of what his parents’ true intentions are.

While this film takes on some rather dark themes and has its unpleasant moments, to call it a horror seems a fair stretch of the genre for me. A laughably melodramatic opening scene and stodgy exposition through the opening act would have you think you’ve accidentally put on one of those obscure movie channels that play films about ‘finding the real meaning of family’ or something like that. In fact the strongest horror element for me was when I said to myself “Oh look it’s the girl from The Possession” when Maryann first appeared on screen.

ccotp2The surprising thing about it all however, is that once the film gets going, it’s actually alright. It never feels like it’s trying to be a horror, so I imagine the confusion comes from some marketing department who didn’t know how to sell a dark melodrama starring likeable children in a pretty grim situation, so decided to pretend it’s a horror movie, complete with a generic silvery-blue cover that depicts Andy as some wheelchair-bound zombie. The point is however that I don’t think it’s fair to blame the film or the filmmakers for it not being what it’s made out to be. The cast are all great, making the best of a fairly by-the-numbers script that nonetheless manages to throw in a couple of unforeseen curveballs (a bit like the unfortunate sod in the puzzling opening scene).

It’s at times contrived, and many characters’ actions don’t hold up to scrutiny but the film manages to make you feel enough sympathy for the lead children to care about what happens, Samantha Morton goes increasingly off the rails as the mother to terrifying effect, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel’s General Zod) remains spineless for this movie as the down beaten husband, and Peter Fonda plays the cool yet entirely two dimensional Grandfather, cropping up occasionally for some light relief to say “far out” a lot.

Some character development occurs throughout the movie, largely focused on the mother in fact, but it would have been nice to see some more. Especially between the children; there’s no ‘coming-of-age’ feeling to their friendship, it’s very naïve and bland, contrary to the dark tone of practically everything else in the movie. Though the subject matter would allow it, the film never goes anywhere near as dark as pitch black, settling on fairly mild-mannered unpleasantry; a murky grey. Never dwelling on anything too nasty, once again the cast are relied on to create any real sense of dread or sympathy for characters.

ccotp3 (1)Anyone reading this site is quite likely looking for a horror movie. If so, Can’t Come Out To Play is not what you’re looking for. I can see a lot of people buying this movie under false impressions being bitterly disappointed and rather confused. For what it is though, this is a reasonable effort at a dark melodrama with a great cast and interesting concept let down by a lack of character development and shoddy scriptwriting. I don’t see it finding its audience, whoever that is, and to be brutally honest it won’t be a great loss to the world.

5/10

Deadly Waters (2015) Review

deadlywatersDeadly Waters (2015)

Directed by: Tyler-James, Catherine Carpenter

Written By: Tyler-James

Starring: Becky Fletcher, Bruce Langley, Natalie Amanda Gray

Production Company – Proportion Productions

Deadly Waters follows Jake, a young newspaper reporter in a seaside town, investigating a series of men disappearing over the last number of years. Some believe they simply ran away, some that there’s a killer on the loose, but local legend persists that the shores are visited by beautiful Sirens who feed on the men who are invariably attracted to them. When Jake splits up with his girlfriend it just so happens that he encounters a stunning young lady washed up on the beach who may well answer the question of what exactly is happening to these men!

This is a zero-budget production and while it occasionally shows – certain night time scenes are barely visible – it is on the whole very competent; aside from the few issues at night, it is shot very nicely with care having gone into many of the shots rather than a “get it in the can & move on ASAP” attitude that a lot of these sorts of films have when faced with constraints of time & money. It’s a clear indication that this film aspires to rise above the limitations that some might put on it.

deadlywaters1The story is somewhat straight-forward but this is used to an advantage, creating a dark fairy-tale feel contrary to the mundane setting of Brighton (I’m sure it’s a lovely place really…). The dark, sombre story of Jake & the Siren is interspersed with segments that switch to a more Grindhouse, excessive tone, with some locals heading to the beach for sex & debauchery, ultimately getting chomped by the Sirens.

Obviously added to lighten the mood & add some action there’s the standard servings of boobs & gore aplenty, but I thought they didn’t stray far enough away from the serious tone to be comic relief & did not end up being a bit awkward or feeling out of place. This is only a handful of short sequences though, so not a deal breaker.

The cast are very good; while Bruce Langley has the difficult issue of playing a character who spends most of his time pouting, he pulls it off well, aided by a script that pushes his character far enough into self-pity without making him look like a miserable teenager. The stand-out however is Becky Fletcher who has practically no lines but still plays the Siren as a terrifying, mesmerising character.

deadlywaters2This is the feature debut of the two directors, and considering this plus the zero budget the result is incredibly impressive. Some admiration is in order simply to get a watchable movie made under these circumstances. Deadly Waters is much more than that however, and shows great promise for a duo who clearly take care in their film making. I will be very keen to see what they manage with bigger budgets, which I hope this film will allow them to achieve.

6/10

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The Zombie King (2013) Review

zk1The Zombie King (2013)

Directed by: Aiden Belizare

Written By: Rebecca Claire-Evans, Jennifer Chippindale, George McClusky & Lisa Strobl

Starring: Edward Furlong, Corey Feldman, George McCluskey, David McClelland

UK DVD Release – 24th August 2015 from High Fliers Films

Zombie King is a low budget British horror-comedy, pitting unlikely heroes against hordes of the undead in an unnamed rural English town, with a couple of gleeful 80’s cameos; Edward Furlong, famous for playing John Connor in Terminator 2; and Corey Feldman, star of most of the cult movies from the decade. Cleverly opening right in the middle of the action, explanations and character building are saved for a bit later as the main trio are equally clueless about the horrors that are hunting them down, and about each other’s stories.

The trio is comprised of a milkman, a postman and a traffic warden, all hilariously remaining in full uniform for the duration of the movie. Instantly the tense chemistry of the three is brilliant, all three characters finding time to hurl insults at each other whilst hiding from and fighting off the zombies. The balance is carefully managed, with the comedy being genuinely funny, whether it’s slapstick visual gags or verbal abuse between the cast. But the comedy doesn’t overpower the horror elements either; it’s never white-knuckle terrifying but it never tries to be, still offering up plenty of tense moments and plenty of scares.

zk4They soon meet more survivors, and the troupe grows to become quite large but the majority of the cast do a great job, and are all given their own moments to shine; some as comic relief, but others with some real stories to tell about the events. Either way, no one feels like unnecessary zombie-fodder so it’s a real surprise to see which characters are inevitably chomped. All this is interspersed with brief glimpses of Furlong’s side-plot; a melodramatic but genuinely affecting sequence that obviously becomes relevant as the movie progresses.

Many films suffer from a half-way slump and this is no exception; midway through the plot everything slows down almost to a halt, and it seems a bit unsure where it’s going but it picks up again soon enough for a great finale featuring a delightfully eccentric performance from Feldman as the malevolent Voodoo god Kalfu.

Visually this film doesn’t reflect its low budget – shot very nicely in various locations showing off the English Countryside, much of the gore is obscured or just out of shot. These moments don’t stick out though, it feels more a stylistic choice than a disappointing restriction. That isn’t to say there’s no gore though! When we do see any however it’s visceral and gruesome, not at all cheesy or comical.

zk3The zombie genre has become incredibly saturated, and while this film doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to the scene I can’t think of many recent entries that manage so well in simultaneously balancing emotional and tense survival horror with laugh-out-loud comedy. Not even switching scene-by-scene, the tone can shift in the blink of an eye making it a surprisingly unpredictable movie, and a very enjoyable, involving one. Being a British Zom-Com there is one obvious comparison that people will make – the two films have many more differences but with so many dark edges this film is like a much grittier version of Shaun of the Dead. Well worth a look.

8/10

P.O.V (2014) Review

povP.O.V (2014)

Written & Directed by: Richard Anthony Dunford

Starring: Tom Clear, Karl Kennedy-Williams, Tuula Costelloe

After being dumped by his girlfriend, Zack’s big brother decides to throw him a house party in the derelict old retirement home he has been refurbishing. The building has a history; the previous owner believed the residents has become possessed by demons so locked all the doors and set the place on fire. During the party Zack’s friends start to fall victim to the same curse. –iMDB

With the controversial, yet nonetheless unstoppable force of found footage horror in the last decade giving us a taste of first-person terror, it only seems a natural progression to make a film that is ACTUALLY first person, that is, seen through the eyes of a character. In 2012, Elijah Wood starred in the ultra-stylish, ultra-violent remake of Maniac that was shot entirely from his character’s perspective. Other than this, the closest to first person horror I have come across is the likes of the spy-glasses sequences in the V/H/S movies.

A major reason for this lack of FPV horror is likely the incredible technical effort it takes to pull this camera trick off. Plenty of slashers have a first person sequence or two, but an entire movie is quite a feat, and Frank Khalfoun had $6 million for Maniac. Step in Richard Anthony Dunford, who has just released P.O.V. which, as the name suggests, is another foray into first person horror, albeit one made for under £10,000 (or in film-making terms, nothing).

pov1The plot in P.O.V is quite straight-forward, and doesn’t offer any massive surprises but it’s nonetheless perfectly reasonable and features a wide cast of well-written characters, all of whom we either love or hate as intended, played by a cast that are pretty convincing across the board – something unusual for zero-budget movies. There were a few times I felt like the film was spending a lot of time heavy-handedly driving home a single point about one or two characters, but this is still better than the countless bigger-budget horrors that devote at least as much time to filler scenes developing nothing!

It appears that the first person view is pulled off with a GoPro or something along those lines. While that may sound crude to more technical-minded horror fans, it’s actually very efficient, allowing the camera to genuinely go wherever our characters does and permits some incredibly long single-shot sequences to take place. All this makes the film incredibly immersive, which is of course the primary purpose. As the main character starts to see strange things happening around him, there are some decent subtle visual effects that really make you double-take.

As the action ramps up, the first person element comes into its own, with a number of incredibly tense cat-and-mouse sequences and a few actually decent jump scares. Working with very little a great deal of effort has been put into creating an atmosphere; despite being set entirely in broad daylight there are some very creepy moments. In a strange way, the mundane location and daytime setting perhaps make the events more unsettling as it’s completely opposite to the standard horror setup.

POV2There is no escaping the fact that this film was made for practically no money; it’s definitely best to have this fact in mind before watching it as the settings & events are unavoidably limited by the available resources. But that said, as a no-frills experiment in first-person horror it is very respectable and makes great use of the perspective in a number of different scenarios. 7/10.

POV is available to watch on TheHorrorShow.TV . Check it out and support indie UK horror !

Watch POV here –   http://thehorrorshow.tv/movie-display/pov-2014

American Ghost Story (aka Devil’s Mile) (2014) DVD Review

americanghostAmerican Ghost Story (a.k.a. Devil’s Mile) (2014)

Written & Directed by: Joseph O’Brien

Starring: David Hayter, Maria Del Mar, Casey Hudecki

Out Now from Metrodome

Joseph O’Brien’s feature directing début, this is a low-budget affair that turns a fairly standard gangster/revenge set-up into a genre-bending supernatural nightmare. Three kidnappers are transporting their latest victims; two Japanese girls; intending to deliver them to their boss, the mysterious and much feared Mr. Arkadi. The three of them all seem to be at varying points in the process of a nervous breakdown, and have the sort of group chemistry that could easily see them kill each other over a game of charades. The freeway is taking too long, so one of them suggests taking a shortcut down an unmarked, desolate side road. After a cryptically foreboding warning from a shopkeeper is ignored & the troupe continue on the road it’s unsurprising that everything soon starts to go horribly wrong for all involved.

Many issues are evident from the beginning of this film – jilted scripts & uneven acting make the hardened criminals’ squabbling feel more like siblings fighting over Pokemon cards on a road trip, and daytime scenes are treated with the most appalling grading that makes everything painfully overexposed & bleached out. Thankfully, however, after stumbling through the first act more and more promise starts to creep through, and night time scenes are completely the opposite: giallo-style imagery with high contrast with coloured lights gives the film a stylish appearance; it’s surely no coincidence that the majority of the second and third acts take place at night.

devilsmile1One particular set-piece sets the main events into motion, and despite what is clearly a shoestring budget, O’Brien has created an action-packed & dramatic sequence skilfully. This flair for set-pieces carries throughout the film, albeit visibly restrained by the lack of resources. The main ‘villain’ is lifted directly from every single Asian horror movie you’ve seen, but is put to unique use in this type of storyline and occasionally takes on a far more terrifying form that is only let down by brief glimpses of generally adequately-disguised sub-par effects.

After the awkward first act sets up the characters, the issues with acting and script do subside, leaving room for some unexpectedly deep moments exploring the motivations and histories of the characters. The quality remains patchy however, with the script sometimes becoming a bit of a slog, and the performances sometimes appearing wooden, but there are more than a few moments where it all somehow manages to click into place, and once again in these points it’s clear that O’Brien has potential. The final moments tie up the story in an admittedly unexpected twist, but not one that particularly makes much sense. Containing the level of logic that would be acceptable in a short film, where the sole presentation of an interesting concept is enough, the ‘final reveal’ does not stand up to the scrutiny that a 90 minute feature warrants.

devilsmile3This is not a great movie. Not even a great low-budget movie. But to watch it with a critical eye there are more than enough moments that O’Brien displays great potential with the visuals, the writing, and the whole style of his filmmaking to stop them feeling like happy accidents. Even if this film misses the mark at least as often as it hits, displaying a strong, unique vision (even if it is comprised almost entirely of borrowed concepts like a scrapbook of horror) and no end of ambition I am still very interested to see what he is capable of with a bigger budget.

4/10.

American Ghost Story is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/American-Ghost-Story-David-Hayter/dp/B00PY6PD0C/

Frankenstein vs The Mummy (2015) DVD Review

fvsm1Frankenstein vs The Mummy (2015) DVD Review

Written & Directed by: Damien Leone

Starring: Max Rhyser, Ashton Leigh, Boomer Tibbs

Frankenstein vs The Mummy is released in the UK on DVD April 13th 2015 from Image Entertainment

“The mummy of a cursed pharaoh and a reanimated corpse terrorize a medical university. Only an Egyptologist and a college professor, the deranged Dr. Frankenstein, may be able to stop the creatures before it’s too late.”

King Kong vs. Godzilla, Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator; just a few of the countless ‘face-off’ movies that have hit screens through cinematic history. But as each of them promises an exciting clash of two beloved characters, almost without fail they are a disappointment to fans of both franchises, and to everyone else for that matter. Here, however we have arguably the two most iconic movie monsters of all time facing off, but the makers are not tied to franchises, allowing them to reinvent the monsters to fit the modern-day setting and to have their own set of rules – could this finally be the ultimate ‘face-off’ event we’ve been waiting for? No.

Running 110 minutes, a great deal of time is dedicated to building up the characters and themes of this story. The unfortunate and somewhat paradoxical reality however is that the themes aren’t developed beyond brief introductions and the characters are beyond two-dimensional, verging on non-existent, resulting in extended scenes of characters saying nothing of interest, supported by a script that is like wading through treacle and acting abilities that that vary from wooden to downright atrocious.

fvsm3The single female character is terribly unfortunate in having all the “female horror character” tropes attributed to her alone: love interest for the male lead, damsel in distress for BOTH monsters, rape victim, and she seems to get slapped to the floor in every second scene.

It seems unfair to pick so harshly at this lack of development, because no one watches a B-Movie like this for characterisation and deep discussion. The trouble is that despite the marketing suggesting so, it doesn’t think it is a B-Movie. Aside from a couple of decent gory scenes and one unexpected visual gag involving the Mummy and a severed facial feature, it’s all so serious, so slow and brooding but with nothing of substance to brood about that it’s as dry and lifeless as a real life Mummy in a museum. Don’t even get the idea that it could be “so-bad-it’s-good”. It’s just bad.

On to what positives I can extract from this test of endurance, the effects are very good – Frankenstein and the Mummy, along with all the gore, are achieved through very effective practical effects. The new designs of the monsters are genuinely creepy and avoid the more corny elements that are easy to fall foul of. An interesting twist is made to the character of Frankenstein at one point, but otherwise the two are reserved for brief scenes of gore and given very little to do in the movie.

fvsm2Now perhaps the most important thing of all is the stand-off. Certainly the name, the cover art & the tagline “The Epic Battle Has Begun” would suggest so. So, for anyone who wants to avoid the turgid surroundings I’ll let you in on a secret: the two monsters first meet at 1 hour & 38 minutes into the movie. The fight is over 3 minutes later. And it’s not a very good fight at all. So the whole raison d’être of this movie feels like an afterthought, like the makers have just ticked a necessary box. Some great effects and a couple of decent kills are all that redeem this film, but they don’t come close to making it feel worthwhile.

2/10

ABCs of Death 2 (2014) DVD Review

abcs2dvdABCs of Death 2 (2014)

Various Writers, Directors & Stars

Producers – Ant Timpson & Tim League

UK DVD Release – 23rd March 2015 from Monster Pictures

“Another 26-chapter anthology that showcases death in all its vicious wonder and brutal beauty.”
Anthologies are always divisive in the horror community, not least collaborative releases like this series and V/H/S – some find the sharp shifts in tone & content and most importantly the uneven quality a turn-off while others enjoy the opportunity to discover directors established and new to the scene trying out new ideas, or just having a bit of fun (or in Ti West’s case, offending and disappointing practically everyone). I have to say I’m quite firmly in the second camp – I think the idea behind ABCs of Death is fantastic, where 26 directors each choose a letter of the alphabet & are given $5000 to produce a short. As with the first instalment, and with every collaborative anthology movie I’ve seen, it goes without saying that the resulting shorts vary wildly; some are slickly produced on the meagre budget while some look like a few friends bought some ketchup & spent the rest of the money on booze. I think it’s only fair to judge them individually before remarking on the movie as a whole, so first I’m going to look at each segment.

A is for Amateur – Directed by E.L. Katz (Cheap Thrills)
This is a stylishly shot short about a hitman that balances comedy & tension superbly. It’s not massively gory but I personally find myself squirming more at someone slamming their hand down on a nail than someone getting their arm chopped off, so it was suitably cringeworthy for me. The final scene feels disappointingly scruffy in comparison to the rest but overall it’s a very decent bit of fun. 7/10

B is for Badger – Directed by Juilan Barratt (The Mighty Boosh)
Fake B-Roll footage from a nature documentary, I’m really happy to see some dry, sarcastic, and ultimately goofy British humour here. Barratt also stars as the smarmy host of the documentary, building a hateful character in a matter of a couple of minutes. No scares but some very funny gruesome moments, this would not be out of place in a Monty Python episode, and that’s very high praise in my books. 8/10

C is for Capital Punishment – Directed by Julian Gilbey (A Lonely Place to Die)
The Brits are taking over this movie! A strange ‘local’ court convenes in a pub to sentence a man accused of kidnapping a young girl. Think The League of Gentlemen without any comedy. This short swiftly creates a high-tension situation and has a particular protracted scene of gore that is shot so directly, in daylight, with astonishingly good effects, that it’s the first time gore alone has made me feel physically sick in a number of years. For that alone I’d give it credit, but the short also carries a heavy message. You can’t ask for much more than this offers. 9/10

d is for delousedD is for Deloused – Directed by Robert Morgan
A stop-motion short that is impenetrable in the sense that I have no idea what it was about, it nonetheless offers excellent twisted, gruesome visuals from the beginning. If Jan Svankmajer directed an episode of Salad Fingers you’d end up with this. 8/10

E is for Equlibrium – Directed by Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead)
Two castaways meet a beautiful woman in this funny, dialogue-free short. Despite extremely heavy-handed grading it’s shot very simply, with long handheld takes that have a few tricks up their sleeves in some impossible timing. This camera trickery alone makes the short worthwhile, otherwise it’s enjoyably whimsical, even if certain members of the audience might not find it’s ending so funny… 6/10

F is for Falling – Directed by Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves)
An Arab boy encounters an Israeli woman who has crash-landed her parachute in a tree. Respect is due to the duo for submitting a serious segment to this anthology but while it’s clearly trying to convey some meaningful point, it’s not entirely clear what it is. It isn’t boring, but unfortunately forgettable. 5/10

G is for Grandad – Directed by Jim Hosking
An irritating young man lives with his Grandfather, berating him for his outdated ways & décor. It feels odd straight away, but soon becomes much more so. It’s shot well but features a specific type of humour where things are straight up odd for the sake of it and I just found it a bit pointless. 4/10.

H is for Head Games – Directed by Bill Plympton
Animated in a deliberately scruffy, scribbly style, a man & woman kiss resulting in bizarre visuals assumably representing some sort of “battle” between them. There’s no denying the imagination shown, but I’d expect to find this in the ‘dark part of youtube’ rather than here. 3/10.

I is for Invincible – Directed by Erik Matti
A group of siblings are trying to kill their seemingly invincible mother to inherit her wealth. This is brilliantly shot, with hyper-real visuals and gothic set design. The sheer desperation of the siblings is hilarious, and the ending is somewhat inevitable but it doesn’t take away from the rest of the short. 7/10.

J-is-for-Jesus-1-ABCs-of-Death-620x400J is for Jesus – Directed by Dennison Ramalho
A tense opening soon turns into a brutal depiction of a wealthy man having his gay son tortured by some sort of priests to ‘cure’ him. Nightmarish visuals portray the victim’s fear brilliantly, and the whole thing is very well acted. Another meaningful entry, it covers a topic rarely touched on in horror. 8/10.

K is for Knell – Directed by Kristine Buozyte & Bruno Samper (Vanishing Waves)
A woman sees an strange “goo-orb” floating over a neighbouring apartment block before everyone inside starts killing each other. Soon this black goo starts pouring into her apartment. I didn’t find it anywhere near as tense or clever as it seems to aim for & the woman never seems more than slightly troubled by what’s happening. The effects of the “goo-orb” are the main highlight here. 2/10.

L is for Legacy – Directed by Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen
An African tribe set out to sacrifice a man, but things to wrong resulting in a visit from one of the worst movie monsters I’ve ever seen. The acting & effects are beyond awful, making it hilarious for the wrong reasons. It is the first Nigerian horror movie I’ve seen though so that’s something I guess. 1/10.

M is for Masticate – Directed by Robert Boocheck
Somehow the winner of a competition set out for the public to submit their ‘M’ entries, this features an almost nude man in contact lenses running amok down a street in slow motion, with garish contrasty visuals like a 90’s music video. The final comic reveal pushes the limits of tasteless humour but I suppose this film isn’t supposed to take the moral high ground. 4/10.

N is for Nexus – Directed by Larry Fessenden (Beneath)
A young man hurries across town to meet his girlfriend on Halloween. Camerawork is very basic, verging on awful, making it on one hand come across as amateurish, but on the other it works in giving the short a claustrophobic and disorientating feel. It is however quite clever, with a morbid ending that works brilliantly with the title. 6/10.

O is for ochlocracyO is for Ochlocracy (Mob Rule) – Directed by Hajime Ohata
This Japanese short puts zombies in control of a court, trying the uninfected humans who were killing zombies before a serum was found to reanimate them. A brilliant twist on the old zombie trope, it builds up its mini-universe with a number of great ideas & plenty of awesome imagery. 9/10.

P is for P-P-P-P-SCARY!!! – Directed by Todd Rohal
Filmed in the style of a 1920’s short, with three characters talking like they belong in a Looney Tunes cartoon, this runs the risk of being plain annoying, but kept my attention whilst they encounter a creepy man and a baby. It’s totally bizarre; I’m not entirely sure what I watched. 5/10.

Q is for Questionnaire – Directed by Rodney Ascher (Room 237)
A rather simple, streamlined short featuring a man excelling at a street-side intelligence test. I can’t say much more without spoiling anything but it’s unexpected, funny and unpleasant in equal measures. 7/10.

R is for Roulette – Directed by Marvin Kren (Blood Glacier)
A black & white noir showing three people playing Russian Roulette in a basement, this is high-energy despite no action, with excellent acting & skilled editing drawing every bit of tension out of the situation. A very clever ending defies our assumptions of the game’s purpose. 8/10.

S is for Split – Directed by Juan Martinez Moreno
A man phones his wife while away on business. This is shot very simply, but a cleverly employed split-screen effects means we are constantly watching every character & their actions/reactions, never cutting away. Unashamedly brutal in places, but the ending is slightly underwhelming. 7/10.

t is for torture pornT is for Torture Porn – Directed by Jen & Sylvia Soska (American Mary)
A young woman is being treated awfully at an audition by the misogynistic crew, making an unexpected discovery after forcing her to undress. It offers up some disturbing imagery with the unpredictable twist but it did still feel a bit weak. 7/10.

U is for Utopia – Directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)
Visually stunning with fantastic effects, this is a very slick portrayal of a seemingly perfect future with a dark twist. Straight forward, with the simple message that perfection isn’t necessarily all that great being portrayed very effectively without being totally overt. 9/10.

V is for Vacation – Directed by Jerome Sable (Stage Fright)
A guy videocalls his girlfriend from his hotel while on holiday, the entire short being seen as though we are looking at the girlfriend’s phone. It’s pulled off pretty well but the plot amounts to little more than an excuse for nudity & gore. 5/10.

W is for Wish – Directed by Steven Kostanski (Manborg)
If you saw Manborg you know what to expect from this short, featuring two boys who wish themselves into the world of their favourite toys with gruesome results. It features the same deliberate, faux-retro visual style mixing squishy practical effects, miniatures & stop motion creatures together with some ropey greenscreen work. It looks terrible and the acting is awful, but just like Manborg it’s all clearly deliberate and somehow being so bad makes it fantastic. 9/10.

X is for Xylophone –Directed by Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo (Inside & Livid)
A little girl is playing her toy Xylophone as her mother sits by. This compact short ends on a mortifying, taboo-breaking image that genuinely shocked me, and crucially makes that seem like a good thing. An understated gothic styling really adds another layer to this short. 9/10.

y is for youthY is for Youth – Directed by Soichi Umezawa
A teenage girl fantasises about various brutal & imaginative ways for her abusive & neglectful parents to die. Her internal monologue narrates the gruesome and totally bizarre imagery, all pulled off with rudimental but effective practical effects. I think it could only be a Japanese short that could manage so well in portraying hilariously ridiculous visuals whilst simultaneously invoking genuine sympathy for the main character. Very basic filming works in its favour, with some fantastic editing elevating it further. 9/10.

Z is for Zygote – Directed by Chris Nash
Dark fantasy & body horror meet in this twisted short about a woman eating mysterious roots to prolong her pregnancy while waiting for her husband to return from wherever he’s gone. The child continues to grow however, and the effects are fantastic at selling impossible to comprehend images. Defying the odds, it gets many times more horrifying before the end. I loved this short but if I met the person who dreamt these images up I don’t know if I’d shake their hand or run away! 9/10.

All in all, it’s obviously a mixed bag, but that is unavoidable when 26 very different directors are given free reign. That said, the good outweighs the bad and there are very only a small handful of segments that I thought were awful. While many anthologies have the luxury of mixing the order to perhaps bury a poorer segment in between particularly good ones for example, ABCs restricts itself to a definite order, so there are some unfortunate low points, particularly in the middle from K to M, but luckily the last 4 are consistently some of the strongest in the whole film.

It’s interesting also to see how many segments take the opportunity to say something, rather than just being exploitative. Speaking of which, sit through (or fast-forward) the gargantuan credit sequence for a cool post-credits scene with a cameo from a certain controversial figure. Taking an average of my scores for the shorts works out to about 6.5/10 and actually, factoring in the cool styling between segments and generally the fact that I love the whole idea, despite the restrictions of the anthology format meaning it’s not consistently great from start to end, I think that’s near enough right.
7/10.

The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman (2014) DVD Review

14770303938_52d1081ec1_zThe Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman (2014)

Directed By – Will’ Terran

Starring – Stewart O’Reilly, Nicola Posener, Raquel Cassidy

Run Time – 81 minutes

Adam hasn’t left his flat in six months for fear of being attacked. Creating conversational videos of his favourite movie star Starlet Maddinson has kept him just about the right side of sane over that time. Just about. When a straightforward encounter causes Adam’s worst fears to come true, a malevolent psycho begins a campaign of intimidation and intrusion into Adam’s home. As the world shrinks around him and the company of Starlet Maddinson’s image turns on him, reality blurs with nightmare to tear Adam’s private little world apart. – Black Barn Productions

The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman is a gripping study of agoraphobia & the related issues of anxiety and depression that emerge from Adam’s self-imposed isolation. It was clearly produced on a very tight budget, but the vast majority of this film manages to rise above the constraints this often gives to a film. Anyone who has sat through any number of feature-length no-budget movies at film festivals or the like will know the required mentality where every technical flaw or moment of poor acting can be overlooked, that you can gleam some positives from the sheer fact that they managed to get the film made at all. Twisted Death… does not require this at all. It stands on its own through very finely tuned pacing and a whole host of brilliant ideas.

14956579702_2412e5958c_zTaking place entirely in the confines of Adam’s flat, who is also the only main character and whose bored, deliberately monotone voice provides a narration, this film defies tried & tested ways of keeping an audience entertained for a feature length, but manages it better than many big-budget films with far wider scopes. There isn’t a single scene that feels pointless, or padded out for length; we’re given a half-heartedly optimistic insight into the world Adam has created for himself in his tiny flat, before slowly we get glimpses of the darker side to his solitude and illness. Without stopping him from being relatable, his own paranoia seeping through to the audience as tension is built out of the smallest things. As reality becomes harder to define in Adam’s world, key scenes offer some incredible imagery –one particular scene featuring nothing but his computer was jaw-droppingly intense and I genuinely couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

Technically this film is impressive too; black and white is often used as an “instant art” attachment by inexperienced film-makers, but here it was clearly considered from the beginning of production, with fantastic use of light and shadows reminding us that even in modern times where Hollywood relies on super-saturated visuals, black and white movies can still be beautiful. Except for in just one scene, the subtle effects are well pulled off, and are very effective in creating a sense of paranoia & providing a handful of genuinely unsettling images. Stewart O’Reilly (as Adam) is the only actor given very much to work with and does a very good job with it, but Nicola Posener (playing Starlet Maddinson) also shows great promise in her brief scenes throughout the film.

14956918355_5434a6f355_zGiven the title of this film, along with the tagline “In The End He Will Die” that clears up any ambiguity there may have been, and the promotional website hewilldie.com, there are no prizes for guessing how this film ends. Spoiling the ending of a film in its promotion is of course an odd deliberate choice, often one consigned to bumbling marketing departments, but here it works to give the movie a certain morbid inevitability, and forces us to ask for the duration of the movie; “how?”. Clues are scattered throughout the movie, but still the final revelations are quite unexpected and shocking, ending what was already an incredibly engrossing, suspenseful film that deals intelligently with the very real issues of mental health alongside the more fantastical nightmarish visuals, on an unpredictable high note.

9/10

For more info click on the following links

http://blackbarnproductions.co.uk

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