The Haunting of Alice D (2014) Review

aliced1The Haunting of Alice D (2014)

Director: Jessica Sonneborn

Starring: Juan Reidinger, Aaron Massey, Megan Hensley, Kristina Page, Jessica Sonneborn, Kane Hodder

On VOD now!!

“Not here, I want a nicer room.”

Joe Davenport (Reidinger) gathers his high school friends for a party at the old family manor, a restored brothel that’s been in the family since the days of Sir Davenport ( played in flashbacks by Kane Hodder), a ruthless pimp who drove one of his girls to suicide. The prostitute Alice D. now haunts the old brothel where she took her life. Party boy Joe hires a trio of prostitutes for the evening’s entertainment in his old family den of iniquity. As the party heats up so too does the ghostly happenings.

The Haunting of Alice D is a mixed bag. The acting is rough. Watching awkward conversations poorly acted is about seventy percent of the film. The sexism and misogyny is laid on pretty thick as well, making some scenes almost unbearable when coupled with the poor delivery. There is a decent thirty percent of pretty tolerable acting rounding it out.

aliced2But the haunting part is actually pretty cool. I’ll admit the movie even made me jump three times. Yes that’s an exact number. All three were jump scares, but very good ones and not cheesy fake-outs. So, if you can somehow settle in, and NOT turn Alice off in the first twenty minutes it turns into a pretty good haunted house movie with a nice array practical effects. Director Sonneborn uses some nice shadow work, moving objects, and an increasing sense of dread and violence. If only better actors had been cast this would have been a great ghost story. Unfortunately some of the acting drags it down.

A few other problems were the sound, and setting. The back ground noise and music drowns out the dialogue a lot of the time, which with this calibre of acting is a mixed blessing. And the setting, well, there were hypothetically two. The movie opens in a strip club that looked like the set of a Rococo period piece complete with fancy wallpaper, full daylight, and a couch. Then the film detours for one scene with unimportant characters in their crummy one room apartment before shifting to the Davenport Manor. Which, kudos, was pretty damn fine. I don’t know where this house was but it was impressive. As many of the characters themselves comment upon before giving info-dumps about the history of the Davenport brothel and the sad tale of Alice D. Also included are several flashbacks to the 1890s which do a creditable job of building character and don’t look half bad.

aliced3Now, the lighting… The lighting was bright. Really bright in a lot of the film, as if a floodlight were the lighting rig of choice. It’s certainly not the usual horror movie murk. And Sonneborn never met a lens flare she didn’t like. But somehow it works MOST of the time. That’s a pretty hefty most, because when the lighting isn’t working it sticks out painfully.

The ending is confused and two characters the audience has forgotten about by then show up to confuse things further. But there is a hint of an alternate ending, at least that’s what I got out of it. Sadly my theory can’t be discussed without spoilers.

Alice D somehow manages what most poorly acted ghost stories don’t, and that’s to be just the tiniest bit scary and relatively enjoyable. Though take that with a grain of salt. This movie won’t be for everyone, but haunted house aficionados might want to give it a try. If nothing else you can make fun of the acting.

aliced4Kudos for: Worst strip club ever

Lesson Learned: NOTHING good ever came from under the bed

Rating: 6/10

Ghost Story (1981) Blu-Ray Review

ghoststory1Ghost Story (1981)

Running time: 88 minutes

Director: John Irvin

Cast: Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, Craig Wasson, Alice Krige

UK Blu-Ray Release December 7th from Second Sight

Ghost Story is an enticing proposition from the off; who doesn’t want to see a horror film boasting the collective acting royalty of Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Houseman and Melvyn Douglas? Originally released in 1981, the film is an old fashioned tale, sliced with 80’s horror and old school special effects. On December 7th it will be available on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, with a plethora of special features including the director’s audio commentary, Alice Krige’s exploration of her character and the genesis of Ghost story with original author Peter Straub.

ghoststory2So, picture the scene; our four elderly characters (Ricky, Edward, Sears and John) reside in a small New England town where they regularly meet as members of The Chowder Society. On dark atmospheric evenings they regale each other with ghostly, frightening tales, subsequently scaring the hell out of one another. Juxtapose this opening scene with an upscale New York apartment, where we witness Edward’s son, David, fall to his death after he sees his fiancé transform in to a decaying corpse. After the low key and tense opening, this comes as something of a shock and definitely not what you might be expecting. The story then weaves its way back to New England as David’s twin brother, Don (both parts played by Craig Wasson) heads home for his brother’s funeral and to see his starchy and difficult father.

This is where things begin to really take shape. The Chowder Society are haunted by vivid, terrifying nightmares and Edward (Douglas Fairbanks Jnr) falls to his death from a nearby bridge. Suspicious of both his father and brother’s death, Don begins to scratch the surface of what is really going on, linking events to his recent relationship with mysterious English woman Alma Mobley (Star Trek’s Alice Krige). Don’s questioning slowly unearths secrets long buried and it becomes clear that there is more to the Chowder Society than meets the eye.

ghoststory3Loosely based upon a book of the same name by veteran horror writer Peter Straub, the screenplay for Ghost Story is written by Lawrence D. Cohen, who also penned the glorious Carrie. Although not in the Carrie stakes, the story here is accomplished and knows how to build upon itself, finding its way to a great climax. The one thing to be said is that there are a couple of characters (The Bates) who are never fully explained and appear to exist merely to progress the plot forward. It’s a shame as they create some great sinister moments and actually end up feeling woefully underused.

Having said that, John Irvin directs his stars expertly, there is a definite classic feel to the storytelling and the numerous flashbacks are a treat, filling in the blanks and unravelling the story before us, as if we were sitting at the fire with The Chowder Society themselves. The joy of a good flashback can be a hard thing to beat and here we get two crackers; one relaying Don’s brief relationship with the haunting Alma, and two; the Chowder Society as young men, a past that perhaps holds all the answers.

Fred Astaire and John Houseman in particular are fantastic throughout the film, Astaire providing a softer edge and a sense of conscience to the dominant Houseman, who manages to be imposing and unnerving even without speaking.

ghoststory4Ghost Story definitely feels like an 80’s film (possibly even late 70’s) so it is fairly dated, but in all honesty it’s all the more charming for it. The effects may not terrify modern audiences but there is a shock value and who doesn’t love some old fashioned horror? It feels like a hark back to the sort of film you might have seen as a kid, managing to sneak downstairs late at night and turn the TV back on. I found it all genuinely unsettling, from the nightmarish terrors of the Chowder Society’s dreams to the unearthly Alma; the whole tone left me a little nervous to turn the light off.

6 out of 10

Che Gilson’s Netflix Roulette #8 – The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Join Che as she plays Netflix Roulette and watches a randomly selected horror film. Will it be awesome? Will it be torture? What horrors await?? Find out every month with Netflix Roulette!

Hell House posterTitle: The Legend of Hell House

Year: 1973

Director: John Hough

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Pamela Franklin, Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Roland Culver, Peter Bowles

Netflix Rating: 3.3

Seen it before: Yes

First Impressions: Well I have not only seen it before I have read the book by Richard Matheson. A long time ago I watched some of this on TV, thought it was dumb and turned the channel. BUT later on I read the book and then watched the movie again and really enjoyed it. Though I will say the film makers had to cut a lot from the book. The book is well worth reading as the events that happen in the house are much more horrific than they could put on screen.

Hell House 1The Verdict: Still good. I suppose someone at some point will make an incredibly NOT scary remake of this movie. But until then we have this film! Which isn’t really THAT scary, but very suspenseful and well done. Well, mostly well done.

My one beef The Legend of Hell House is how small the house it. I know it’s set, but it’s also a tiny set. The house described in the book is described as an almost Hearst Castle like abomination tucked in the middle of nowhere Maine.

Complaints about the set aside Hell House is still fun. I’ve seen it a couple times now and I’m glad I finally gave it a fair chance.

Hell House 3A dying old industrialist puts together a small team of scientists and psychics and send them to the super haunted Belasco house. Their mission: to find proof of life after death. The team consists of Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) and his wife Ann Gayle Hunnicutt), psychic medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and the only survivor of the last expedition to Hell House (or at least the only sane one) Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall). Dr. Barrett is convinced that he has the answer to banishing the haunting in the form of an experimental machine. Fischer is in it for the money and Florence is a true believer.

What the film touches on but doesn’t fully delve into is the way in which the spirit of the house psycho-sexually manipulates both Ann and Florence. Though Florence mistakes a maligh spirit for the ghost of Belasco’s son Daniell and pays for it with her sanity. The horrific history of the house is also left out for the most part. Though Roddy McDowall gives a list of the atrocities committed in Hell House, it’s much more interesting and graphic in the book. So read the book because I can’t talk about it without spoiling the awesome horror. But the film adaptation is actually quite faithful as adaptations go. Is Hell House a classic? It’s certainly a minor one though not one that automatically springs to mind when someone mentions horror films.

Hell House 2Definitely recommended to fans of haunted houses and classic horror. The effects are all practical/optical, and yes a few look cheap. But director Hough accomplishes a lot of creepy atmosphere with sound effects and objects moving on their own (AKA practical effects). All the actors are excellent and every single one of them respected actors of television, film and stage. It’s the acting and the story that really elevate Hell House and I’d honestly rather watch Hell House than a mediocre modern haunted house flick.

Rating: 7/10

Farhope Tower (2015) Review

farhope1Farhope Tower (Canada, 2015)

Dir: April Mullen

Starring: John White, Evan Williams, April Mullen

UK Release TBC

Plot: A group of paranormal investigators on the verge of breaking into the big time, decide to shoot their pilot episode at the infamous Farhope Tower. The building is an obsession for team leader Jake (White), so much so that he previously swore to Andre (Williams) that they would never return to Farhope Tower. But with so much on the line, it’s the only choice. Once inside the tower, it’s more than they bargained for, the strange activity going on inside the building and the slipping mental state of Jake might be the end for them all.

This is the second film I have seen of April Mullen’s, the first being 88 which I saw at the Glasgow Fright Fest back in February. She’s a talented upcoming director and I was excited to see more of her work. Farhope Tower is her contribution to the current slew of haunted house films that has been favoured in horror cinema with every Insidious and Paranormal Activity instalment that Blumhouse releases. Thankfully Mullen decides to veer away from the found footage style and gives us something with more of a kinship to The Shining or the Amityville Horror.

farhope2That similarity is most prevalent in the character of Jake, the Jack Torrence or George Lutz of Farhope Tower, who starts off as the reliable man and soon descends into violence and madness. While the building itself is a menacing character with it’s changing layout, it’s spikes in EMF readings and other ghostly behaviour, Jake is the main threat of this film and White really commands the attention of the audience. He’s very menacing as he begins to ramble and scream at the other members of his team, especially when they’re split up.

The other actors in the film are alright but they lack the physical acting ability when it comes to fighting against themselves, acting under the invisible puppet strings of the tower. They give it their best shot but I feel like they couldn’t get passed the awkwardness of fighting the advancing menace of your own hands. Wildly flailing your arms like Olive Oyl in Popeye just doesn’t feel like you’re actually possessed. It just comes off as silly or forced. It’s a bit of a shame.

The other problem I had with Farhope Tower was the ending, I’ll resist spoiling it for anyone who wants to see it for themselves but again it feels forced. Jake’s malice manifests to it’s peak but it does feel that it peaks too soon, that Jake should have tried harder to fight the control of the tower. There should be more internal conflict between the murderous wish and his desire to save Zoe (Mullen), his pregnant girlfriend.

farhope3I do feel a little disappointed with how Farhope Tower turned out, I still think that Mullen is a tremendous talent. However 88 is still the stronger film and I recommend it highly, yet I’d still recommend Farhope Tower to anyone who’s curious or a particularly big fan of haunted house movies.

4/10

Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014) Review

wib2-1Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014)

Directed by: Tom Harper

Written by: Jon Croker and Susan Hill (Writer and Story)

Starring: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Oaklee Pendergast

UK Release: Out July 13th 2015 from Entertainment One

Runtime: 98mins

After the success of the 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill’s best-selling horror story, it was clear that a sequel would be in the works. Many had high expectations for the film as the stage adaptation is very highly spoken of, and if it can do that well on a stage the possibilities for the big screen are endless. Seeing “The Woman in Black” at the cinema with friends, I am definitely one of the many who is guilty of intending to view it purely because I wished to see what Daniel Radcliffe would be like in a role other than Harry Potter. Having said that I was not disappointed with the film and when hearing about the release of a sequel I knew it was one that I must see.

40 years after the Arthur Kipps’ (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter, Horns) haunting experience at Eel Marsh House, with the hate-fuelled Jennet (the Woman in Black herself!) and we are in the midst of World War II. London is in chaos with people seeking shelter in the underground tunnels during bombings and all that can be heard it the crashing of buildings falling and the air raid siren screaming away.

wib2-3Many city children were evacuated to the countryside during this time and so we see teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox – Switch, A Poet in New York) and her Head Mistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory – Penny Dreadful, Skyfall) accompanying a group of children onto the train in an attempt to get them to safety. Of course, the perfect place to evacuate young children is El Marsh House, the kind of place that gives you the chills just looking at it from afar never mind stepping inside it and anyone watching who has seen the first film knows that “safe” is certainly not a word to describe this house.

As the horrors of the house seem to unfold one after the other, Eve enlists the help of the dashing war pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine – War Horse, Now Is Good) to help her figure out what is happening. Edward (Oaklee Pendergast – Wer, The Impossible) seems to be the one at the centre of everything, which effects Eve for reasons that you discover throughout the feature. His appearance within the film reminded me very much of Damien from The Omen (2006), which added to the overall dark feel. Jennet most definitely takes the rhyme from the first movie almost as gospel, ‘Wherever she’s seen, and whoever by / One thing’s for certain, a child shall die.’

The scares are similar to its predecessor, noisy and full of melancholy; but effective, I was taken aback a few times, jumping noisily in my chair, which my partner found amusing. Yet I feel this film, as a whole, seems more elegant and flows a lot more effortlessly than the first. Of the two I definitely preferred the latter, feeling that it focuses more within the actual house and marsh rather than, as in the first one, moving backwards and forwards between the village and the house again and again.

The Woman In Black: The Angel of DeathWe are still left with things to learn about the demented Woman in Black, meaning that the whole film isn’t all just about scaring it’s viewer, and still isn’t just relaying the same information that we received in “The Woman in Black”. It ends with the possibility of a sequel, but personally I hope they don’t keep churning them out, as is happening with so many franchises now.

Don’t forget “She never forgives. She never forgets. She never left.”

7/10

Housebound (2014) Review

HouseboundHousebound (2014) – Review

UK Cinema Release Date: 3rd July 2015

UK DVD Release: July 20th from Metrodome Distribution

Writer & Director: Gerard Johnstone

Producer: Luke Sharpe

Starring: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Ryan Lampp

Runtime: 1 hour 46 mins

UK Certificate: 18

Life’s not gone so well thus far for young Kylie Bucknell (O’Reilly) – a youth blighted by addiction and crime which has led her to being nicked for rather expertly blowing up a cash machine, a misdemeanour that’s landed her a sentence of house arrest for eight months, electronic tag and all, in her childhood home occupied by her chipper, relentless chatterbox mother Miriam (played brilliantly by Te Wiata). During her reluctant return to the fold, Kylie discovers that Mum still believes, as she has always done, that their creaky, dingy old house is haunted by an unhappy presence – and bumps in the night that Kylie herself remembers from her childhood are still very much a regular occurrence. With so much time on her hands, Kylie begins to wonder if the place really is haunted and sets out to discover the truth, assisted by well-meaning yet slightly bumbling security officer Amos (Waru)…

housebound-1‘Housebound’ is the directorial début for New Zealand television writer Gerard Johnstone, and his first film offering has a bit of everything; it’s in almost equal parts frightener, slasher, comedy, melodrama and mystery, brought to life within the confines of an excellent location – the house itself is drably decorated in vaguely 1940’s chic and is labyrinthine in size and structure, adding to the claustrophobic tension Kylie is experiencing and making the viewer often unsure whereabouts in the place they are at any one time.

The cast is excellent across the board and Morgana O’Reilly shines as the miserable, selfish and at times aggressive Kylie, a highly unsympathetic character who nevertheless wins the audience over and compels them to root for her in her quest to uncover the mystery, whilst at all times providing lashings of humour from well-written dialogue involving constant sniping between herself and Miriam, who together make an excellent mother-daughter dysfunctional double act (“We live on the Twin Coast Highway, Kylie – lots of tourists drive through here!” “Yeah, at warp fuckin’ speed!”).

I won’t beat about the bush – I absolutely loved ‘Housebound’. I would call it easily one of the best horrors of the 2010s so far and it will definitely become a firm favourite in my collection. The snappy script, characteristic deadpan Kiwi humour and cleverly constructed storyline make for a fantastic romp of a time for the viewer and despite a not-talking-zillions budget, the special effects (showcasing a good dose of gore without overkill) are really impressive, as is the set design and the slightly campy, memorable soundtrack.

housebound2There are twists and turns within the plot, leading to shocks and no small amount of unexpected pathos as Kylie is confronted with the truth about the house’s past and indeed her own mistakes. There are genuine, fairly subtle and commendably creative scares but the film joyously embraces out-and-out silliness too in its bloodier and more menacing moments which are just hilarious! Basically, I just described all the hallmarks of everything I personally ask for in an excellent horror film – ‘Housebound’ certainly delivered for me and if you look for the same in your horror, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!

9/10

Haunted aka Bad Building (2015) Review

Bad Building PosterHaunted aka Bad Building (2015)

Director: Philip Granger

Starring: Jimmy Breau, Yuki Morita, Will E. McDonald, Taylor Hastings

UK DVD release 14th September 2015 from High Fliers Films

“You’re lucky I’m not a dickhead like you.”

A TV show host is given one last chance to investigate a haunted building in order to boost his ratings or his show will be cancelled. The brooding Desmond building, so deadly it now stands empty, held in perpetuity by the city and guarded by ineffectual rent-a-cops. The show’s host, Johnny Craig (played by Jimmy Breau) takes his band of cameramen, co-hosts, a psychic and a team of urban explorers, and breaks into the ill fated Desmond.

Haunted is basically Grave Encounters without the slow build. The ghostly shenanigans begin immediately as the team makes their way into the Desmond from service tunnels running beneath the city. The team is split up as they become lost and confused in the labyrinthine interior. The problem with forgoing the slow build is that a bunch of cheese semi-transparent ghosts are on screen immediately cutting the tension and, well, being cheesy.

Bad Building 1There is no character development either, which is complicated by a large cast. There is the TV crew of something like four or five people, maybe seven people, none of whom have very defined roles except the one guy in charge of B-roll. Two more producers out in a van monitoring the video feed. Two or three urban explorers who insist on not being filmed but end up on camera anyway. And finally the two security guards. The characters are a hazy amoebic blob it’s hard to remember who is who as they are picked off one-by-one by the building.

None of them are memorable. I’m not even sure all of them had names. Luckily some of them have some amusing deaths, including one by pigeon spikes. If there is a star, it’s the building itself. Director Philip Granger found some nicely decrepit settings to film in, of all sorts of description. There are marble halls, Victorian enclaves, modern bathrooms, bank vaults, and corridors of peeling paint. The multitude of locations jive with the building’s history. As it was developed and added onto over the years in various attempts to make it into something.

Bad Building 2Haunted isn’t actually terrible, despite the many things it fails to deliver and or execute. It’s just sort of forgettable. And thankfully, and I cannot stress this enough, thankfully it is not a found footage movie.

Kudos for: Pigeon spikes of doom

Final lesson: No one pays security guards for cursed buildings enough.

5/10

The Haunting Of Radcliffe House (aka Altar) (2014) DVD Review

radcliffe1The Haunting Of Radcliffe House (aka Altar) (2014)

Writer & Director: Nick Willing

Cast: Matthew Modine, Olivia Williams, Antonia Clarke, Adam Thomas Clarke

Running Time: 89 minutes

UK DVD Release date: 11th May 2015

UK Certificate: 15

A decent premise with some good performances, but it just falls short of the mark.

The Haunting of Radcliffe House (originally entitled Altar) starts promisingly, establishing our expectations and tantalising us with memories of classics such as The Shining and The Innocents. Unfortunately however, it just can’t live up to such lofty heights and you may be left wondering if the original intention was somewhat watered down.

The story begins when Meg Hamilton (Olivia Williams, Sixth Sense) takes her family to an empty old countryside house that she is renovating for a wealthy client and which the family will make their home for the next few months. Naturally however, the house has a rather dark past and we swiftly learn that the previous owner (an artist) dabbled in the occult, murdered his wife and subsequently committed suicide. Local people are wary of the house and not overly willing to help Meg with her renovation work, then strange images appear in photographs and ghostly figures stalk the grounds. Whilst this might send most of us screaming for the door, the family’s resources are tight, so they have little choice but to make the best of what we all know will turn in to a very bad situation.

radcliffe2Meg’s husband, Alec, a struggling artist looking for his next flash of inspiration finds it’s not long before he feels the dark force of the house and its history spreading over him. Matthew Modine does a good job of portraying the slowly possessed Alec, particularly in the early part of the film, where the gradual obsession and introspective attitude of the character works well. As he begins to make an artistic breakthrough, his relationship with his wife becomes unsettling and you find yourself drawn in psychologically; a scene where Alec massages his wife particularly disturbs. Olivia Williams plays well against Modine’s Alec, as she becomes equally confused and disgusted by his behaviour. It is these intimate moments spent together that engage and leave you wanting more, however it tends to feel as if the surface is merely scratched before the scalpel is put away.

When daughter Penny (Antonia Clarke) finally encounters the ghostly apparition of the murdered wife (Isabella) it doesn’t quite have the effect it should, relying perhaps too much on jump cuts and camera technique rather than the actors themselves. Having said that, Clarke does a great job of portraying the terrified Penny, and it will be interesting to see what roles she will take on next.

With the growing presence of the ghostly Isabella and the possession of Alec, the setting should rise to the occasion. Yet I found myself looking for shadows and straining for figures, waiting for the terror to unfurl and disappointed that it never really did. When one creeping figure does cause a jump, I wasn’t quite clear who or what it was meant to be. Equally, the back story of the original owners never feels fully explored and what we do learn just doesn’t quite add up. Craving further depths to the psychological nature of the story, the film doesn’t sit together well as a whole.

The Haunting of Radcliffe HallWriter and Director Nick Willing has a good body of work behind him and he does create some nice moments; the walls breathing, long corridor shots, the sense of the house being in control and changing at will. Yet, unfortunately, the story doesn’t convince and you’re left feeling that the boundaries could have been pushed further. On the whole, The Haunting of Radcliffe House should have been so much more than the sum of its parts.

5 out of 10

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/

Curse of The Witching Tree (2015) DVD Review

witchingtreeCurse of The Witching Tree (2015)

Writer, Producer, Director: James Crow

Cast: Sarah Rose Denton, Lucy Clarvis, Lawrence Weller

Running Time: 90 minutes

UK Release date: 18th May 2015

UK Certificate: 15

A classic tale of a cursed past brought bang up to date with unexpected scares to boot.

Opening with an atmospheric and concise prologue, we learn the story of a local woman who was accused of brutally murdering her son and subsequently hung as a witch. She cursed a nearby tree and all the children who played around it, causing further loss and horror. Flash forward 500 years and a troubled family move in to their new home, an old farmhouse near the woods and the cursed tree itself. Their arrival sets in motion a chain of events that reawakens the ghosts of the past and the family find themselves terrorised in the midst of this classic horror setting.

Dropping us straight in to the action, the plot moves along swiftly, exploring the tensions and issues faced by the family. With their father being in a coma and a new environment to adapt too, they have enough on their plate. So when the son (Jake) is bullied in to playing with a Ouija board and unleashes old spirits, he finds both himself and his family in grave danger. The script is exceptionally well structured and cleverly weaves the different story strands together. The family’s own personal troubles compliment the main plot, adding a depth to the film that otherwise might be lacking.

kid bath 2James Crow, writing, producing and directing his first feature, has not only constructed a strong story, but also displays a talent for pacing and style. Haunting music hits you from the very outset, adding to the production value and opening up what is essentially a small scale story. It’s a smart choice that adds style to a well-produced film. From the beginning the tension is slowly built, with small scale scares that genuinely make you jump. The action then moves along at a pace that would be hard to fault. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional horror cliché, such as taking a bath at an inappropriate moment, but rather than jar, these moments are executed cleverly enough for you to smile and enjoy.

Further in to the film, we are introduced to some important new characters that serve to add another layer and provide more information for both the audience and the existing characters. It is a credit to both Crow and the actors themselves that this manages to feel natural rather than too contrived. There are a few moments that feel a little expository, but again, I was happy to overlook them in order to get to the next scare.

The main cast deliver some great performances, particularly Lucy Clarvis (as daughter Emma) who seems a visually perfect actress for the horror genre. She has an ethereal, light quality but also exudes a strong presence. As she drives the story forward, she creates a believable, relatable character. Sarah Rose Denton and Lawrence Weller (as mother Amber and son Jake) complete the strong central trio. Although I was initially distracted by the feeling that Sarah Rose looked a little young to be playing Lucy’s mother, her performance won me over. Equally, Lawrence (in his first film role) does a sterling job of portraying the terrorised young boy.

screaming with blood eyesThe Curse of the Witching Tree ties together all its elements to create a well-rounded horror film and for a 15 certificate, there are more scares and disturbing images than you might think. It may be that there is a little too much going on at times, but when you are having this much fun, that seems like a churlish comment. Ultimately, Crow juggles the domestic and the horror plot expertly and delivers a glorious ending that definitely hits the mark.

7 out of 10

Curse of The Witching Tree is available to order from Amazon UK here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Curse-Witching-Tree-Sarah-Denton/dp/B00SX54D9S