Beyond The Gates (2016) Review

rsz_1rsz_btg1Beyond the Gates (2016)

Director: Jackson Stewart

Starring: Graham Skipper, Chase Williamson, Brea Grant, Barbara Crampton

Out now on UK DVD

“Most of this junk just blends together”

Estranged brothers Gordon (Skipper) and John (Williamson) reunite when they have to close up their father’s video rental store because their father has been missing for seven months. In the back office they find a VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Gordon takes it back to his father’s house where he’s staying and along with his fiancé Margot (Grant) and John, they decide to play the game. Surprise, surprise, Beyond the Gates has them trapped in a deadly game. The stakes, no less than their lives.

A lot of movies, and a lot of horror movies in particular, set out with the premise of “a deadly game that must be played to completion”. It’s not exactly an original concept, and it has been done better in other films. Beyond the Gates has a few charms but they can’t make up for slow pacing a mediocre script and modest acting. The film rides high on the recent wave of nostalgia that is sweeping films and horror right now. This is the third or fourth attempt at an 80s throwback I’ve seen and it’s not the strongest entry. Beyond leans a little heavily on viewers fondly remembering the days of video rental stores and knowing what a VCR game is. The film then has to explain what a VCR game is because even if you grew up with a VCR, the games where a niche market. Maybe not the strongest premise for a movie, when it has to be explained even to people as old as I am.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_1Premise aside Beyond the Gates is a mixed bag. The pace is slow. The board game is played out over days instead of forcing the characters to play through all at once. The game itself is overly easy, the clues dull. A lot of time is wasted in conversation as the characters flip back and forth, alternately trying to quit the game and progress. The film feels a lot longer than its lean run time of 84 minutes. The build up to actually playing the game is long as well. First we have to meet Gordon and John, then Gordon’s fiancé Margot, then John’s gross redneck friend Hank (Justin Welborn), THEN we have to establish the relationships and antagonisms between all of these characters. THEN they start the game. THEN people start dying.

What the film was actually good at, was not the horror aspects, or the VCR game shtick. It was actually an interesting film about estranged brothers with a troubled past and uneasy relationship mending fences. I actually felt the same way watching Beyond the Gates as I did watching The Innkeepers, which was a great romantic comedy and a terrible horror movie. Beyond the Gates was a good family drama about reconciliation and a pretty mediocre horror film.

But, the horror wasn’t all bad. There were a lot of practical effects used for gruesome death scenes that were pretty entertaining. However that’s about the best that can be said for the horror side of things. Unfortunately amusing death scenes don’t make up for the slow pace.

rsz_beyond_the_gates_2Kudos for: Gordon’s nerdy hipster vibe

Lesson learned: It takes more than a synth soundtrack to cash in on nostalgia.

6/10

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

Sparks (2013) DVD Review

OBBY DVD‘SPARKS’ 2013 DVD

Starring: Chase Williamson, Ashley Bell, Clancy Brown, William Katt, Jake Busey, Merina Squerciati, Clint Howard, Scott Rinker

Written by: Christopher Folino

Directed by: Todd Burrows, Christopher Folino

Out in the UK on DVD & BluRay- April 7th 2014 from Image Entertainment

It’s fair to say that I have a soft spot for a good comic-book film adaptation. I’m also a big believer in the creative DIY spirit and admire those who, instead of waiting for the near-impossible breaks like most, instead find the time, money and motivation to get their work out there. The production website proudly states that ”Sparks is a true independent film. It’s not a studio backed, Kickstarter or crowd sourced funded film. We have day jobs just like you!” SPARKS is based on an indie comic series by Christopher Folino, who also wrote and co-directed the film .

The tone of the film feels very much like the 1940s golden age scenes from Watchmen, perhaps with a touch of The Shadow thrown in. The story is mainly told via the superhero Sparks (Chase Williams – John Dies at the End) who recounts his tragic tale to a journalist on a rainy Gotham-like rooftop as an unknown enemy grows closer for a final stand-off. The story centres around his relationship with his poorly named female partner Lady Heavenly, nicely played by the sultry Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism).

sparks2The once happy crime-fighting duo find their relationship rocked by a run-in with the creepy killer Matanza (William Katt – Carrie), which leaves Sparks in the gutter and blundering his way through a bizarre mystery in a way that is equal parts Rorscach and The Dude. Things get more interesting when Clancy Brown (aka the Kurgan himself) shows up to point the now broken Sparks at those partly responsible for ruining his life and help him to hit back.

Whilst the story didn’t blow me away it did keep me intrigued, particularly when the mystery element took over. Whilst some hero cliches are observed like the death of his parents, a few curve balls are also thrown that kept me guessing. For example at one strange drunken point in his decline Sparks meets a Lex Luthor look-a-like who Sparks then bizarely begins to pimp a female friend out to.

Some mastery of the camera and editing process is clearly shown and the clever use of present day exteriors manages to successfully create an air of the era without the need for Hollywood dollars. It seems as though the outfits of the two leads were meant to reflect the era in their under-statement, but I think more thought could have gone into this seeing as it adds a cheapness to the production that isn’t as evident in the leather garb of the cool looking bad guys. Bell gets away with a budget Sally Jupiter look because of her stunning looks but Williamson fairs worse in what looks very like a poorly fitted outfit from a Nightwing fan film. Thankfully he sheds the spandex after the first third of the film and wisely moves into more of a Peter Petrelli phase.

sparks3The limitations of the indie budget become more obvious in some of the fx heavy scenes i.e. Spark’s origin sequence, but the complex body morphing throughout is very convincingly handled and compliments the strong cinematography of the film in general.

Like it’s title character SPARKS doesn’t always deliver the punch it should, but for the most part I found this to be a fun and intriguing comic-book period piece. Williamson plays a decent tainted hero, Bell has effortless cool as a sassy super-heroine and it’s always good to see the Kurgan getting work!

Overall rating: 6.5/10

www.sparksmovie.com/

Review: Jim Connolly

John Dies At The End (2012) DVD Review

johndateJOHN DIES AT THE END (2012) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Paul Giamatti, Chase Williamson, Clancy Brown, Rob Mayes

Written by: Don Coscarelli, David Wong (story)

UK Certification: 18

DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 99 minutes

Directed by: Don Coscarelli

The great Don Coscarelli created Phantasm, one of my favourite horror series of all time, and in recent years has been lauded for bringing Joe Lansdale’s novella to the screen in the cult-tastic Bubba Ho-Tep. His new film, John Dies at the End keeps him in Bubba’s territory of the trippy scenario as he adapts David Wong’s (Jason Pargin) book that was first published as a webserial in 2001, before hitting print in 2007.

Our two heroes of the story are Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) who are old high school buddies turned spiritual exorcists albeit with a quasi-psychic element. At the start of the film we find Dave separated from John as he begins to confide to a reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) the details of their special powers and the current perilous situation they find themselves in.

JOHN DIES 003The aforementioned situation regards the somewhat apocalyptic headache of the pending end of the world which may be the result of the sentient alien drug that has been dubbed ‘soy sauce’. This narcotic gives people psychic abilities such as being aware of events that are yet to take place – all well and good you may think, but alas ingestion of the drug actually turns you into a host for an alien monster with designs firmly on ruling the planet.

Dave tells Arnie how at a party one evening he received a phone call from John who seemed to be in quite a state. He ended his night out to attend to his friend, but when he found him it seemed obvious that he’d taken something, a something which transpired to be ‘soy sauce’. Dave relays to Arnie that he too managed to accidentally take a hit of the drug, which although initially disorientating, he soon realised that the only way to get to the bottom of his friends precarious situation was to stay on the substance.

This meeting between Dave and Arnie Blondestone provides the glue to holding the film together, as outside of this the movie is peppered with random events, surrealism and insane humour that could have easily lead it into disarray. Here though Coscarelli gets it spot on and manages to preserve a narrative that allows the film a level of unhinged craziness whilst retaining the backbone of a storyline.

JOHN DIES 002The film has so much to recommend about it, from the gonzo plot to the brilliant lead pairing of Williamson and Mayes – both of whom have little feature film experience yet turn in natural, confident performances with sparkling chemistry between the two of them. We’re also treated to a few cameos from the likes of Clancy Brown, Doug Jones and (of course) the inimitable Angus Scrimm.

John Dies at the End is an unconventional film amidst a sea of predictability in the movie world. It’s a genre bending mind melt which makes you double up with laughter one minute and cover your eyes in disgust the next. While most of our horror icons from the late 70s seem content in semi-retirement or trawling out the same old schlock, Don Coscarelli once again shows his ingenuity and provides us with an immensely enjoyable piece of cinema.

 

8.5 out of 10

 

Extras:

None

Slight bone of contention here – this film is released in the UK as an exclusive to the supermarket chain ASDA. I understand that this is a regular occurrence in today’s difficult retail environment with stores seeking to gain advantage over each other, but to be honest if there was a film most ill-suited for display alongside the mainstream dross of a supermarket top 40, it’s John Dies at the End.

Surprisingly the film is released in the UK by label par excellence Eureka, them of Masters of Cinema idolization – and rightly so. It came as a surprise then for it a) not to be released on blu-ray and b) to be a bare bones release. There may be more to it than that with regard to contractual stipulations, but sadly when asked about any future plans for a better edition of JDATE they didn’t comment.

So there you have it, a bona fide cult movie that lives up to its heady reputation given an uninspiringly vanilla release and consigned to the mediocrity of a supermarket shelf.

Ugh.