Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) Review

FF bannerLost_Soul_poster[1]Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Dir: David Gregory

Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, Hugh Dickson

97 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

The incredible, true behind the scenes story of Richard Stanley’s now infamous Dr Moreau remake, told by the people who were really there.

Its wordy title notwithstanding, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard’s Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau is a remarkably enthralling documentary feature. Borne of director David Gregory’s lengthy conversations with the incomparably eccentric, goth overlord Richard Stanley, it charts the unmitigated disaster that was his attempt to remake the classic The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

Lost_1[1]Stanley himself is the focus of the piece, and rightly so. An articulate, intelligent, and very passionate man with a demonstrable love of horror, he is a fascinating character and it’s an absolute joy to listen to him chat away for an hour and a half. That the story is so utterly bizarre, and true, is just the icing on the cake because, after watching Lost Soul, it becomes clear that one could easily listen to Stanley discuss anything.

His loyal friend, and star of what would become the 1996, Marlon Brando vehicle that was released worldwide, Fairuza Baulk (the really goth one from The Craft) is another great talking head – even if she does look kind of creepy after years of plastic surgery – and their enduring respect for each other is wonderful.

It’s clear from listening to Stanley that he had real passion for the piece, that he just wanted to do it justice after reading the source material and falling in love with it. The accompanying artwork, of which we are given just short glimpses, is truly spectacular.

Lost_2[1]The attention to detail on the creatures, for example, is breath-taking, and to hear of the troubles he had with New Line and Bob Shaye in spite of how much work he had put in is heartbreaking, even if it does give us an interesting insight into how the movie business works.

At its core, Lost Soul offers a very dark, yet ultimately factual, glimpse into Hollywood and, in particular, how everyone is disposable in the movie world. In spite of how much of Dr. Moreau was his vision, Stanley was replaced without a second thought, his dreams crashed and his job lost. Although Brando’s demands on the set of the film, once Stanley was kicked off, are legendary the stories cast members tell of he and Val Kilmer acting like dicks are hilarious, it’s all in good fun up until the point you realise these people actually had to work alongside them.

The film set was plagued with almost unbelievable amounts of bad luck, and although it was eventually released (and panned), working on it essentially ended Stanley’s career. Happily, though, he is not jaded and it is perhaps his optimistic outlook that makes Lost Soul a less bleak film than it could’ve been.

Lost_3[1]Naturally, the recent news that he may get to make his Dr. Moreau after all makes Lost Soul even more heart-warming but as it is, this is one of the most captivating, bizarre stories ever committed to film. It is a story that must be told and it is truly wonderful that now, finally, Stanley has been given a proper chance to tell it.

Don’t let its lengthy title put you off, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau is one of the most captivating documentaries you’re ever likely to see, made all the more shocking because it’s true.

Rating: 9/10

Doc of The Dead (2014) Review

FF bannerDoc_Of_The_Dead_poster[1]Doc Of The Dead (2014)

Dir: Alexandre O. Philippe
Written By: Alexandre O. Philippe, Chad Herschberger
Starring: George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell, Simon Pegg, Max Brooks

81 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

This love letter to the zombie genre includes testimonials from experts such as Romero himself, and a guide on how to survive the apocalypse, should it abound any time soon.

A documentary on the overdone zombie genre, from the man who brought us the entertaining The People Vs. George Lucas, featuring interviews with everyone from George A. Romero to Simon Pegg sounds like a right laugh. There’s a hundred years of material to excavate, and millions of fans all over the world, not to mention the fact the un-dead are hotter property now than ever before. Unfortunately, unless you’re really into zombies – like, name your first born Barbara, into them – then this is going to feel like a particularly long hour and a bit.

To be fair, Alexandre O. Philippe kicks it all off well, with fake news footage proclaiming a zombie outbreak, along with testimonials from randomers who chat while the supposed un-dead lurk behind them. This is followed by some interesting insights from Romero, Pegg, Bruce Campbell and later Max Brooks, son of Mel, who penned the hugely-popular Zombie Survival Guide, along with World War Z. There’s decent footage of panels and some discussion about the insane popularity of the genre, the breakthrough hits that started it all, and where it could possibly be headed in the future.

Doc1[1]

George A Romero

Unfortunately, where Doc Of The Dead starts to sag considerably is when Philippe explores other areas, such as zombie beauty contests, zombie walks and, weirdest of all, the multitude of zombie survival supply stores that have sprung up, seemingly overnight, in the US to cater for an outbreak. None of it is particularly enlightening, the message of everyone involved gets quite repetitive – zombies are big money right now, we get it – and, considering the majority of patrons for this kind of documentary will be choosing it because they love Dawn, Night, Shaun, etc., there isn’t quite enough information on that side of things at all. Given the amount of interesting people willing to chat to Philippe, he doesn’t exploit their knowledge, nor does he make any of them the subjects of the piece.

Much too long is spent in the company of various purveyors of zombie holocaust survival goods, a group of people who would be interesting if the fact they’re profiting off the paranoia of others wasn’t so deplorable. It’s weird that these things exist, but not so weird that a substantial section of a documentary should be dedicated to picking their brains (no pun intended). There are some interesting insights from the experts, for example Romero didn’t think of his monsters as zombies until they were called as such, even though he’s responsible for re-writing the zombie rulebook. 9/11 is seen as the tipping point for zombie culture at large, and many people believe the attraction to the un-dead is based off our own desire to have a dress rehearsal for what’s to come.

The interludes with the Geekscape group save Doc Of The Dead from lulling into a coma, but it does lapse significantly in the middle, and it ends with a thud as opposed to a bang. It’s not clear whether this is due to a lack of focus – zombies, as an area of study, is pretty expansive – or because the director thinks information such as why there are zombie weddings is more exciting than it actually is. Even Romero wonders who zombie fans actually are, and, watching this film, you’d be forgiven for thinking everyone is. Passing reference is made to those who don’t appreciate the “z” word, such as 28 Days Later director Danny Boyle, but these avenues aren’t explored. As far as Philippe is concerned, everyone loves zombies.

Doc2[1]

Bruce Campbell

Unfortunately, this all amounts to little more than an ill-defined retrospective that aims to decipher why zombies are so popular. As for the future of zombies, well, apparently we can expect them to become even more prevalent in popular culture.

Doc Of The Dead professes to be the definitive documentary on the un-dead. If it is, then there isn’t as much life in the old guys as we thought.

Rating: 5/10

Creep (2014) Review

C1Creep (2014)

Dir: Patrick Brice

Written by: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Running Time – 81 mins.

European Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After answering an advert for $1000 for one day’s filming, Aaron (Brice) meets up with the eccentric Josef (Duplass). At first, Josef appears to be kooky but harmless but as the evening goes on, his behaviour becomes progressively strange before turning outright dangerous.

Craigslist certainly never seems to carry a great reputation when it comes to various films that have used it as a starting point. Whilst many go for the more sordid sexual route, Creep uses a deceptively sweet and innocent angle in order to craft something infinitely more effectively sinister. With a cast of only two, Creep is a distinct cut above most found footage horror in that they are both likeable, interesting and do not spend their time running around, bathed in the green and black of night vision.

Aaron (Brice) is, crucially, not a profoundly unlikeable jerk like so many other found footage protagonists. He is relatable, polite and good hearted. When most would have been incredibly awkward and desperate to get away from, Josef, he stays and makes the effort to befriend him. His naivety is, of course, his downfall and it is incredibly refreshing to convincingly feel the same terror as the character with the camera after Josef (Brice) is exposed.

C2Josef himself, is a wonderfully complex character. Whilst there is the initial sympathy towards him when his reason for wanting to be filmed is revealed, there is the constant sense that there is far more to him than meets the eye. His off the wall nature is, at first, charming and this adds further to the blood-chilling revelation of what sort of man he really is later in the film. It must be remembered that he is human, not a monster and whilst he does and has done horrible things in the film, it is to the immense credit of Brice’s performance that he is still, shockingly, sympathetic.

The interaction between the two is essential and adds an extra layer of effectiveness to the film. With largely improvised dialogue, the flow of conversation and gradual development of both their relationship and characters feels brilliantly natural and believable. This, ultimately, helps and audience to invest in them more as people, not characters, which is hugely beneficial as the film slowly reveals what it’s been hiding, there’s the extra danger of human unpredictability.

One ever present staple of the found footage horror rears its ugly head in the form of the jump scare. Within the first 20 or so minutes, Josef jumps out at the camera from a hidden spot far too many times and it becomes instantly tiresome, before the film has even properly started to get going. When your best hand at scares is having someone jump out and scream “Boo!”, there is a serious problem. The incredibly deliberate weapon foreshadowing feels very contrived also.

C4That being said, the first half of the film has a wonderfully uneasy feel about it. Gradually, the conversations between the men get more uncomfortable and in doing very little, there is a palpable atmosphere of dread that is created out of minimal effort. The peak of this comes in the form of an “off-camera” conversation where Josef tells an incredibly dark story, concerning his wife. It is an incredibly uncomfortable listen as it leaves the audience unsure as to whether or not it is ok to laugh. The story itself is both bizarre and horrifying and does a great job of conjuring up a sense of being very ill at ease.

Sadly, the superb air of tension gets thrown off balance in the second half of the film. The isolated setting of the cabin is replaced by Aaron’s urban apartment and the film becomes a stalker based set-up. Whilst Aaron still receives bizarre gifts and videos from Josef, there is a notable lack of pace or anything dramatic, the attempted jokes end up falling flat and the night in which Josef prowls around the apartment is overdone and un-engaging. Whilst proceedings take a dark turn come the finale, there is the unshakable feel that the film would have been infinitely better served cutting the length and restricting the action to the cabin and the very clear end point it could have used.

Despite the notable slump, there are two enormously impressive moments that proved to be genuinely terrifying. The iconic image of Josef’s silhouette, backlit by a bright light is masterfully put together and is visually striking. Not only does is look incredible, but it is literally the point of no return in the film, as he invites Aaron back inside his home for a drink as the audience scream internally for him to get away. The second moment is sadly at the end of the film and to spoil it would ruin its huge impact. Suffice to say, it is a stunningly long drawn out piece of nail-biting tension that is brilliantly almost unwatchable.

C3It has to be said, as well, that the film did a fantastic job at making the cheap and silly ‘Mr Peachfuzz’ wolf mask scary in one heart-stopping scene. Whilst the film hardly has endless re-watch potential, it would be interesting to see it again, just to pick up on the clues of the larger and incredibly chilling picture throughout.
Creep is certainly one of a very select number of found footage films to actually feel authentic. With two superb performances and two remarkably well shot scenes of enormous tension, it was so close to being a classic of the subgenre.

An over-reliance on cheap jump scares and a dramatic drop in the pacing in the film’s second act, however, results in the film letting itself down. There is great potential here from the writing partners and future found footage horror could definitely learn lessons from it.

Rating: 6/10

The Sleeping Room (2014) Review

sleeping1The Sleeping Room (2014)

Dir: John Shackleton

Written by: Alex Chandon, Ross Jameson, John Shackelton

Starring: Leila Mimmack, Joseph Beattie, David Sibley, Julie Graham, Christopher Adamson

Running Time – 75 mins.

World Premiere: Frightfest 2014

When visiting a reclusive client, call girl Blue (Mimmack), becomes fascinated with the disturbing mysteries contained within his flat in a decaying Regency terraced house. The more she uncovers, the more her life becomes at risk from both human and supernatural forces.

Brighton is certainly not the first location that springs to mind when thinking of a setting for a horror film. With a reputation for being a fun day out on the pier with the family, there was a brilliant opportunity for the gloss to be stripped back and for a film to focus on a terrifying, ghostly hidden world along the seafront.

Sadly, however, ‘The Sleeping Room’ is a film with almost no distinguishing qualities that simply has no real idea of what it wants to be. With the narrative’s central focus on a small call girl operation, it could have been a gritty kitchen-sink thriller in the vein of the marvellous London to Brighton but the choice to add an undercooked supernatural element both confuses and confounds.

sleeping2It is only natural that when dealing with the seedy sex trade, there would be some unsavoury characters, however, the scowling pimp and boozy matron are but two of the painfully stereotypical characters that infest the film’s limited cast. The interaction between these terribly cookie cutter rough types is paper thin and there is no sense of development of any of their characters. Any notion of sympathy or intimidation is totally non-existent as no effort has been made to give them any discernible life or heft.

With a completely uneven pace that jumps from a murmur to full on screaming at the flick of a switch, very often it is a mystery as to what is even going on onscreen and why should audiences care. There is a highly questionable use of a false ending, shown at the start of the film that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Perhaps the filmmakers were labouring under the delusion that it would trick audiences into thinking that they could tell what was going to happen. This fails spectacularly in this endeavour and it is not impressive, just resulting in much head-scratching confusion.

The film’s plot is a violently tangled series of knots of various narrative strands and half touched-upon dull tangents. Several different stories are haphazardly crammed together in an attempt to flesh out the film’s ghostly link to the past but the whole operation is a failure. When it comes to trying to juggle elements of both a supernatural chiller and gritty thriller, the film ends up dropping them all, resulting in something that is ultimately dull, lifeless and un-engaging.

sleeping3The film’s strongest acquisition is in the leading role of Blue, played with incredible confidence and shining understated talent by Leila Mimmack. The key to the effectiveness of her performance that she completely breaks down the stereotypical walls that surround the character of a call girl. She is not vapid, slutty or even remotely fragile, on several occasions when facing both abuse and fear of death, she more than stands up for herself.

Although her performance is, arguably, the only truly effective thing in the film, it is still very difficult to have any sympathy or investment in her character. In spite of the fact that she is the only one who has any semblance of development, the audience still do not get enough time to get to get a real feel for her or have any significant sense of threat when she is in danger.

When the film occasionally portends to be a horror film, it at least appears to be about a malevolent spirit of the cultist who previously lived in the house. That’s what it seems to be but the film is at times, indecipherable as to what its actual focus is on. Whilst there is some semblance of a disturbing past that could have spring boarded the possession angle, it is just not explained properly. As a result of having no clear idea how or why Bill (Beattie) gets possessed, his violent outbursts and murderous grin just come across as lazy and daft.

The use of a Poundland-eqsue scarecrow mask as the icon of fear is embarrassing and feels incredibly tired and beyond hackneyed. Even as a last resort for creating any sort of terror, what very few attempts at jump scares there are, almost every single one fails to raise even a twitch. The film’s final act crams in the slasher element as a great deal of plasma is spilt, but it is far too late in the day to be effective. Even for its brief running time, it completely outstays its welcome.

sleeping4There is certainly one element of the film that does show a sign of creativity. This can be found in the incredibly creepy footage contained within the classic seaside stable of a mutoscope. The film itself is of a perverse, satanic ritual persuasion and the jittery movements caused by the grainy picture create a genuine sense of unease that is, sadly, completely absent from the rest of the film.

Whilst Mimmack’s performance is superb, sadly, it is drowned in a sea of mediocrity and almost laughable confusion. The Sleeping Room completely lacks anything remotely gripping or anything that makes it stand out in the slightest.

A befuddling mess.

Rating: 2/10

SHE (short film 2014) – Review

FF bannershepicSHE (short) (2014)

Dir: Mark Vessey, Chelsey Burdon
Written By: Mark Vessey, Chelsey Burdon
Starring: Fiona Dourif, Philip James
15 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

A woman trapped in an abusive relationship decides to take revenge on her lover, just in time for their anniversary celebrations.

Following a stunning, breakthrough performance in last year’s well-received Curse Of Chucky, alongside her father Brad, the talented Fiona Dourif further solidifies her burgeoning Scream Queen reputation in SHE, which premièred at Frightfest 2014, as a woman forced to turn to drastic measures in order to punish the man who has been abusing her.

Opening with a shot of a couple waking up in bed together – quickly followed by a well-judged, but still rough, rape sequence over some chopped carrots – Dourif’s beautifully pained face remains the focus of this nasty little short throughout. Clearly terrified of Philip James’s He, Dourif epitomises the idea of a trapped, hopeless victim, with a quickly shut door symbolising her lack of an escape.

However, when she turns, and her eyes darken, what should be jarring instead makes perfect sense. Although we only know She for a short time, her transition from desperate woman to triumphant revenge-seeker is totally justified. Considering the two only have one line of dialogue between them, it’s a testament to the strength of their performances that their entire, fractured history is communicated with just a few shared glances.

David Meadows’ – whose credits include The Human Centipede II and III – cinematography contrasts harsh, stark whites against deep, gooey reds. The home the couple shares feels clinical, the interior almost surgical, while every object seems somehow phallic in nature. Sound is of the utmost importance here, too, with the butchering of a carrot by She, and a piece of meat by He, of particular significance.

The first shock of blood is great, but the money shot that follows it is worth watching the film for alone. Boasting some seriously impressive, practical special effects, it’s lengthy and effectively nasty. In fact, when SHE screened at Frightfest, the sequence was met with audible gasps from the audience – in particular, the males present – and it’s easy to see why.

shepic1The parting shot is nicely creepy, too, although it’s subtler than what came before. Considering this was announced as the first in a trilogy, upon its festival debut, it stands to reason that the final glimpse of She is what it is. It will be interesting to see how the story progresses, in light of what state He is in at the end, too.

Special thanks are given to the Soska sisters, following the credits, and their influence on young filmmakers Burdon and Vessey is evident. Their output, too, is gory, thought-provoking and arguably feminist in tone. But SHE has a fire that is entirely its, or rather her, own, one that burns fiercely and is present in the tiniest flicker of a candle’s flame, or the deadly gleam of a steak knife.

Rating: 7/10

SHE will be screened at Grimmfest on October 2nd – info HERE

The Last Showing (2014) Review

FF bannerThe-Last-Showing-poster_newThe Last Showing (2014)

Dir: Phil Hawkins

Written By: Phil Hawkins

Starring: Robert Englund, Emily Berrington, Finn Jones

Running Time – 85 mins.

UK Premiere : Frightfest 2014

An elderly projectionist, hurt at his life’s passion being rendered unimportant as a result of the influx of digital media, decides to get revenge by trapping an unsuspecting young couple in a cinema and utilising them as the doomed protagonists in his very own horror movie.

At the recent Flashback Weekend, in Chicago, legendary horror icon Robert Englund donned his infamous Freddy Krueger make-up, supposedly, for the last time, breaking the hearts of millions of fans who simply cannot imagine the man as anyone else – let alone, another villain.

Here, as spurned projectionist Stuart, he’s virtually unrecognisable from the Englund we know and love, his features hidden beneath dowdy spectacles, a fusty moustache and a frumpy cardigan, all of which combine to make him look much older than his 67 years. If one were to sit down and imagine the exact opposite villain to the vicious, wise-cracking Krueger, Stuart would be him. It’s wonderful, then, that Englund inhabits the character just as much, if not more, than that which made his name.

lastshowing1Phil Hawkins, who takes writing, producing and directing credits, is noted mostly for his work in commercials, but The Last Showing is the work of a seasoned pro, its scope impressively ambitious – especially considering it takes place entirely in a single location. Finn Jones (of Hollyoaks and Game Of Thrones fame) and Emily Berrington (currently being very shrill and irritating in box office hit The Inbetweeners 2) are young couple Martin and Allie, who attend a midnight screening of The Hills Have Eyes 2 – “It’s pre-Elm Street, so it is an acquired taste” is just one of many on-the-nose references – to their detriment.

The setting for The Last Showing is novel, but the premise is not – it’s simply a case of the fed up Stuart choosing two unlucky people and then manipulating them into doing what he wants. In choosing the cinema, however, Hawkins puts an interesting spin on an all-too-familiar idea, while Richard Dodgers’ lively score ensures the mood never lulls, even when Finn is standing around, reading instructions off a screen.

The cinema itself is presented as Stuart’s personal playground, with him in control of everything from the lights to the doors to the escalators. Allie and Martin are, essentially, pulled into a game of cat and mouse but a crucial third act twist reveals that she isn’t quite sure from whom she should be running, which is just one example of Stuart’s very clever manipulation. Thankfully, he isn’t a one-note villain. He isn’t cruel or sadistic, at one point explaining to a victim he’s choking with a film reel that he finds torture porn distasteful, and he doesn’t intend for his film to revert to such ghastly tactics in order to be successfully scary.

lastshowing2Happily, this is the case for The Last Showing also, as there is virtually no bloodshed throughout, with the emphasis on psychological warfare instead of mindless violence. This could easily have been a very gruesome affair, and indeed the blurb sells it as though it might be, but to Hawkins’ credit, the tension is built without the need for someone to be hoisted up and slashed repeatedly for ten minutes.

Englund makes Stuart an incredibly empathetic villain, particularly when he tells his ex-manager “This is just a job to you, this was my life” One suspects that Hawkins has a lot to say about the decline of projectionists in the UK, too, and rightly so. Stuart’s is a very real, quite heart-breaking predicament and, much like the couple he traps, he has no control over it. Although he is, ultimately, a very disturbed individual, it’s difficult not to root for him, even with a strong performance from Finn Jones juxtaposed against his own.

Martin spends much of the film alone, taking instructions from Stuart, and yet it never once feels as though Jones is reciting lines or acting without thinking. He reacts the way most normal people would, given the circumstances, and when Allie starts to turn on him, it’s terribly frustrating. However, this is Englund’s film and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else giving a central performance quite as nuanced as his portrayal of Stuart.

The-Last-Showing-Allie-Emily-BerringtonThe denouement lets the character down slightly, and some may argue it’s a bit too easy, but Stuart is so enthralling as a character that it doesn’t really matter. Although it may not seem like the most claustrophobic of settings, a massive, multiplex cinema suddenly feels tiny once the protagonists are trapped inside and, thanks to some clever tricks, escape never truly feels possible, which is how most of the film’s scare factor is achieved.

The Last Showing manages to be consistently thrilling and exciting thanks to a key central performance from Englund and a great location in which he can properly let loose. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it’s impressively ambitious and thoroughly enjoyable. Whether Englund really has said goodbye to Freddy Krueger for good remains to be seen, but if he continues to choose meaty roles like this it won’t matter either way – the best is yet to come.

Rating: 7/10
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The Last Showing features on the Main Screens at Frightfest on Friday, August 22nd
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