My Little Sister (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_mls1MY LITTLE SISTER (Dirs- Maurizio Del Piccolo, Roberto Del Piccolo, ITALY, 2016)

Starring- Holli Dillon, Mattia Rosellini, David White, Astrid Di Bon

Out NOW on UK DVD from Left Films

The woods are always a great setting for a horror film and the natural habit is greatly used in this gritty stalk and slash thriller with elements of a torture porn flick thrown in for good measure. Whilst it’s low budget from the start and the setting pretty much confirms that since what’s the better way than to use a sparse woodland area without having to spend money on difficult locations that can be inevitably hampered by unsanctioned walk on cameos by members of the public and MY LITTLE SISTER uses the woodland to its extent.

The plot is basic in that it starts off with a couple going deep into a forest to meet up with some friends. They bump into the oft used horror character of the scary local, warning them that Little Sister will get them and to not take the non-threatening name lightly. Naturally they ignore this nutter’s warnings and its not long before the couple are having to fight off this vicious killer wearing what looks like a human skin mask and who has a nice line of peeling men’s faces off while making their loved ones watch on in horror, fulfilling the torture porn feel of the film from scene one. Throw into this a suspicious derelict farm house which seems to be the home of the killer and a mad women who wanders around the woods, seemingly harmless but somehow has a link to the house and to the madman.

rsz_mls2Opening with a nicely done scene of brutality with some unfortunate captives being tortured by the aforementioned Little Sister including one man being removed of his face in grizzly and impressive effects fashion MY LITTLE SISTER starts off in impressive attention grabbing kick off. This opening allows the Del Piccolo’s to start off strong and keep the viewer interested and to stay on board for the duration. Whilst there’s no doubt there are some flaws in this film there is also a lot to be impressed about. The central bad guy Little Sister or as he is also known by his really name, Igor, my have one of the most daftest sounding nick names for a bad guy but somehow comes across off as an effective villain with a grim mask made up of faces of previous victims looking pretty grim and unnerving.

rsz_mls3With hunchbacked slouch and stumbling walk as well he is the typical slasher bad guy one with a handicap yet somehow this still doesn’t impead him and he manages to outwit able bodied victims easily, which is also a classic trait of the slasher film. There is no doubt that the directors have been studying their horror homework as there’s the standard reference to slasher flicks and also a nice reference to the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which plays into the backstory of the little sister and his family abode, a run down and decaying farm house which is a nice backdrop to the film and as a set is an impressive find for the film-makers. Though like any horror film you wonder why a character running from a mad man would take a chance running into a clearly deserted grim farm house knowing clearly well this might not be a place with a welcoming or comforting vibe.

rsz_mls4Clearly the film does have a few flaws. Dialogue wise the decision to go with an Italian cast speaking English seems somewhat unusual and whilst the dialogue is minimal the lines delivered seem stunted and flawed. This is marred by some wooden dialogue and admittedly were not here to witness a master-class in acting but it seems at times unintentionally comic particularly from the doom saying woodsman who is known in the cast as Ben. His delivery of the aforementioned “you’ll all be doomed” speech comes off as more cheesy and it doesn’t really help that he has an axe in his hand which makes him look more like a threatening local hill billy rather than a to be laughed at idiot local. At times less dialogue and maybe even no dialogue would have been a better choice or route to choose that could have added an originality to the piece. The cinematography is impressive for much of the running time though some earlier shots suffer from a slight sense of amateurish filming. As if part of the earlier section of the film is shot on a smartphone as it has that sense of image stability and picture panning which feels as if the screen is being dragged rather than the camera being moved.

rsz_mls5It’s not an overly original piece of film-making we have on hand here and with some flaws there’s still plenty to admire in MY LITTLE SISTER and the Del Piccolo’s have put their heart and time into this. To their credit they pull it off efficiently and with some gritty style, it has an unironic full on traditional slasher film feel, with an intention of trying to possibly set up a titular horror character in the form of Little Sister.

6/10

Satanic (2016) Review

rsz_satanicSatanic (2016)

Director: Jeffrey G. Hunt

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Steven Krueger, Clara Mamet, Justin Chon, Sophie Dalah

Out NOW on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

“One devil shrine does not a douche-bag make.”

Satanic starts off promising, with good production values and a talented cast lead by Sarah Hyland from Modern Family. Unfortunately it goes downhill pretty quickly, failing to deliver on the occult thrills promised by the title.

Chloe (Hyland), David (Krueger), Elise(Mamet)and Seth(Chon) are on their way to Coachella with a two day stop in Los Angeles for their own private murder tour. Chloe’s cousin Elise and her boyfriend Seth are little baby goths looking to hit some Satanic hotspots, like the Church of Satan LA chapter. They check into a dive hotel room where a woman named Laney Gore slit her own throat back in the 70s. The budding young Satanists, Elise and Seth try to contact the deceased while Chloe pouts nervously and her preppy boyfriend David makes snide remarks. That is everything you need to know about the characters, and as much depth as any of them truly have.

rsz_satanic_1Back to the plot. Elise and Seth are in charge of the LA itinerary while David complains constantly but drives them around anyway. After a rude reception at the Church of Satan Elise and Seth get booted out of a magic store at knifepoint. The group decides to follow the clerk after he leaves the store, to find out if he’s really a Satanist or just a jerk. Well, he turns out to be a Satanist and our intrepid Scooby Gang interrupts a ritual of some kind, and are driven off again, this time at gunpoint. Seth, who is definitely the Shaggy of the group, drops his phone at the site of the ritual. The next day they get a call from Alice, who may, or may not have been a ritual sacrifice. And then a bunch more stuff happens. The plot is honestly exhausting to try and describe because it accomplishes so very little in so very much time. There’s a lot going on but not much happening.

The acting is good. The characters aren’t particularly sympathetic except for doe-eyed Chloe, who is sympathetic because she 1-has empathy and 2-has giant doe eyes that would emote with or without her. The other young actors all have impressive resumes and it’s the script that fails them, not their talents. They are given shallow characters with very little personality to work with, and even so they manage to act through trite dialogue and well worn horror clichés.

Satanic seems likes it’s trying to be a throwback to the 1970’s wave of occult inspired films. At the same time it doesn’t seem aware that those films exist and that they did it better. It’s a shallow satanic film as these things go, lacking the accoutrements and ambiance of older occult movies. There are some stock standard robes, a satanic alter… and not much else. Even the locales aren’t gothic.

rsz_satanic_3The actual interesting bits kick in about fifty minutes into the film, but by then it’s too little too late. And then the film STILL has to wander around doing not much of anything, except lots of screaming, for another twenty minutes. The majority of special effects are back loaded into the last half of the film as well, and none of them are worth much of a mention except that for most of the movie I wondered if there were even going to BE any special effects. I am almost sad that my question was answered. The ending is a boring mess

Kudos for: Hardcore, but not too hardcore Satanists.

Lesson learned: Just take the murder tour bus, it’ll save time.

4/10

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

Havenhurst (2016) Review

Havenhurst posterHavenhurst (2016)

Director: Andrew C. Erin

Starring: Julie Benz, Belle Shouse, Fionnula Flanagan, Josh Stamberg

Havenhurst is now available on Cable VOD and Digital HD platforms, including Charter Spectrum, Comcast, DirecTV Cinema, Dish, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and more

“Clean slate. Fresh start. The rest is up to you.”

Genre darling Julie Benz stars in this entertaining thriller. She plays Jackie, an alcoholic fresh out of rehab who goes to stay in an apartment building that takes in various addicts and offer them a home, as long as they obey the rules. Her landlady Eleanor (Fionnula Flanagan) offers a warm welcome with a side helping of veiled threats. Jackie is welcome to stay for as long she wants but she mustn’t return to her old habits or she’ll face eviction. Jackie agrees to the terms, but she has another motive for taking the apartment in Havenhurst. Jackie’s friend Danielle has recently disappeared from the building without notice and Jackie wants to find out what happened to her. Luckily she is the newest occupant of the apartment Danielle has just vacated. During her search, Jackie meets some of the other residents, including a young girl named Sarah (Shouse) who reminds Jackie of her tragic past.

rsz_havenhurst_3Havenhurst doesn’t exactly break new ground. And I was surprised that I guessed the nature of the apartment building so quickly. Not that the film tries for a big reveal, but literally, my first thought was correct. Still, that doesn’t matter so much with such enjoyable performances and a smoothly told story. Julie Benz is in good form and Fionnula Flanagan, despite the small part, shines brightly as the overbearing landlady with a very dark secret. Sadly, the villains don’t get much screen time. At least not as much as they rightly deserve. Especially given the slasher roots of Havenhurst. Shouse is a talented young actress and does a decent job as the quiet and traumatized Sarah.

There are a couple of gory scenes but there was certainly room for many more, and it feels a bit like a lost opportunity. I’m not generally fan of torture porn, but this movie could have used a bit more blood and guts. Though, there is at least one scene very heavy on the guts. The practical effects are also a welcome change of pace. No CGI that’s noticeable at least (which is always the best kind of CG). Not that there is great emphasis on special effects. Havenhurst depends more on suspense rather than effects.

There are few places where the movie falls flat. There are an unfortunate amount of jump scares that aren’t scary. The director would have been better off aiming for psychological thrills or, again, gore, instead. There are a lot of side characters who don’t get much, if any development. Jackie’s friend Tim (Josh Stamberg) is more plot device than character. He’s a cop. He’s her friend… and that’s it. There is nothing to indicate how they met, how they know each other, how long they’ve known each other. Same goes for the creepy building superintendant and Eleanor’s son Ezra (Matt Lasky)who could have had a much larger and more threatening part, but appears in only about three scenes. Both Tim and Ezra are wasted opportunities script-wise.

rsz_havenhurst_2While Havenhurst isn’t exactly an amazing film, it entertains and provides a coherent, well told story. Julie Benz fans in particular will enjoy her in this starring role. Just be sure to curb your expectations, and settle in for a decent little thriller with a nice kick at the end.
Kudos for: Julie Benz rocking the brunette dye job.

Lesson learned: Always read the lease agreement.

7/10

Abandoned Dead (2017) DVD Review

rsz_1adABANDONED DEAD (2017)

Dir- Mark W. Curran

Starring- Sarah Nicklin, Judith O’Dea, Carlos Ramirez, Robert E Wilhelm

UK DVD Release – Feb 27th 2017 from LEFT FILMS

A security guard’s sudden night shift at an addiction clinic and the sinister goings on that befall this luckless worker are the main plot focus for Mark W. Curran’s independent horror ABANDONED DEAD, that whilst showing some of its budget constraints and at times flaws slipping through the cracks does also allow it’s director and main star to showcase their talent on a shoestring.

Rachel (Nicklin) is on her way home from a day shift but at the last minute she is called up by her boss to cover a late shift over the memorial day weekend and being at night is something that she is not too keen on since she has a “problem with night-time” (sure that’s known as fear of the dark?). Given a quick tour of the addiction clinic that’s her work place for the night, she is warned by the secretary who is about to leave her, to lock the doors at all times (that rule will be broken) and being assured not be afraid despite learning that the clinic is in a bad area and that addicts have tendency to try and break into the building for extra methadone. Once she is the only person there its not long before strange things start to happen, weird noises and voices Rachel starts to hear and soon she finds herself possibly the focus of a killer or supernatural presence that wants to end her shift pretty abruptly and some of this may also tie in with a detective (Ramirez) investigating a spate of murders and disappearances linked to the clinic.

rsz_1ad1Whilst ABANDONED DEAD is clearly a low budgeted feature and that does unfortunately seep through during its short and sweet running time of 77 minutes, there are still moments within the film to appreciate amongst the faults and the director clearly knows how to pace and set up a story well and given the limitations of the budget he has still managed to make an interesting feature that knows not to stretch beyond its means and also not deliver a slowly driven feature that can be the fault of many an independent film. Yes, as mentioned there are flaws. Aside from a decent performance by Nicklin, some of the other acting seems a bit ropey and hammy including a scene with a caretaker of the building who for some reason might be linked to the dead, skinned cats that are lying about outside the clinic and some hammy acting from a mad doctor (Wilhelm) who could be linked to the disappearances that have occurred at the clinic and seems to be more interested in performing surgery of the less life saving kind.

Some effects in the film don’t fully work an example of which is a shot of a female ghoul that looks a bit hokey to the point of not being scary but more laughable, yet at the same time effects are kept to a minimum which in the long run is a good decision from a production standpoint and the final twist is pretty easy to figure out and at times seems a pretty obvious sign post once the film escalates to its final conclusion. The police detective as well seems a bit like he’s popped up from another film with earlier scenes of him wandering around a city night-scape accompanied with a voice over monologue trying to sound like a film noir private detective. His inclusion, at first, seems a bit of a confusing character in terms of what his position will be towards the films proceeding story and the scenes of him wandering around to drag and add an uneven tone. But then in retrospect this could be a neat ploy by Curran that plays into the films final twist.

rsz_1ad2Incidentally the horror buffs and geeks around will be pleased to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Judith O’Dea in a brief role as a doctor. Despite some flaws and a predictable twist there is still much to enjoy in ABANDONED DEAD and its in the later part of the twist that some neat and stylish scenes are executed that clearly shows Curran has a talent and a knack of leading a story into an atmospheric conclusion and in these latter parts there are scenes that are unnerving in their portrayal. Whilst certain parts of the film look a bit weak its hard not to be impressed by this neatly packed supernatural thriller that offers creepy moments, confident direction and a willingness to express some maturity and aspiration beyond its limitations.

6/10

Slasher House 2 (2016) Review

14368789_1267178763315526_1562502904226346982_nSLASHER HOUSE II (2016)

Dir: MJ Dixon
Stars: Francesca Louise White, Luna Wolf, Sophie Portman, Jamie B. Chambers, Sam Cullingworth, David Hon Ma Chu

Released by Mycho Entertainment.

Red (Francesca Louise White, taking over the role from Eleanor James) is still hunting her father, The Demon (Jamie B. Chambers), the serial killer who slaughtered her family. Aided by tech-savvy assistant Luse (Sophie Portman), she investigates a number of murders, hoping each one will lead her to her nemesis. On one of these cases that she saves the life of stripper Amber (Luna Wolf), an individual who goes on to become a valuable ally. After crossing paths with a team of heavily armed operatives obsessed with capturing slashers, Red once again finds herself in a series of pitched battles against a host of monstrous adversaries — each leading her one step closer to the truth about the mysterious Slasher House…

Something that has struck me with MJ Dixon’s Mychoverse series of horror movies is his visual style. Think slashers by way of Argento, with a striking colour palette of blood reds and other-worldly greens.   Slasher House II takes his unique style to the next level, with the bright wigs of female leads, Red and Amber, making them look more like anime heroines than live-action characters.

With more money spent on this than his previous films, the fruits of Dixon’s labours are clear to see. As well as enhanced production values in the look of the film, it’s also reflected in some ambitious effects sequences from Bam Goodall (the Gravestone puppet is very cool, while the scenes with Molly Bannister’s, ahem, friends are another triumph) and some great fight choreography. However, if you’re more used to larger budget horror such as Blumhouse’s output, this may seem a little rough.

13769509_1216502365049833_7221261266634105140_nNevertheless, SHII marks a new kind of Mychoverse movie, with a more action-packed, Blade-esque feel. There are some excellent set-pieces in which White shows impressive martial arts moves — but that’s not all she offers. She delivers some great one-liners with a snarky, world-weary ease that makes her Red a very different character to James’s helpless amnesiac from the previous film. Wolf brings humanity and humour to the movie. She’s got an inherent likeability that marks her out as one to watch. While Portman doesn’t have as much screentime as the other two ladies, she makes the most of it.

Dixon writes fine dialogue and tells a suitably satisfying story for his cast that successfully expands on and encourages viewers to revisit Slasher House. It offers twists and turns, while the non-linear structure adds some depth to the storytelling process. I love that this is movie builds on the Mychoverse mythology, including shoutouts to its predecessor while blowing the story wide open to make a bigger, more complex world.
However, this may pose a problem for casual fans in that it relies on the viewer knowing the original movie, characters and mythos. If you haven’t seen it (or the other Mychoverse movies), you might struggle to make sense of this.

Speaking of these stories, viewers of the previous movie will be aware that several of Slasher House’s villains received their own spin-off films in the form of Legacy of Thorn, Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown, and Hollower. So, even though we’ve had no official confirmation yet, it’s probably safe to assume that we’ll see more of these new movie maniacs. I’d most like to see a Gravestone solo flick. His scenes were so marvellously executed, Dixon already has the framework to create a must-watch slasher/comedy.

13710015_1211177188915684_1585350713468624285_nMJ Dixon is a fan of horror, sci-fi and action, and all the cool genre-blenders that combine these. His are films by a fan, for the fans. The Mychoverse is a love-letter to the genre… and Slasher House II might just be the best example yet. It’s fun, witty and furthers the rich mythos of the Slasher House universe. Think Blade II meets Halloween with a little Anime thrown in.

I would recommend this movie just on Mycho’s sheer ambition, but it’s a genuinely good film and one I implore you to check out.

8/10

Attack of the Killer Shrews (2016) Review

rsz_ks1Attack of the Killer Shrews (2016)

Director: Ken Consentino

Starring: Bill Kennedy, Elizabeth Houlihan, Jonathon Rogers, Cheryl Szymczak, Marcus Ganci-Rotella

The DVD is $12 plus shipping and can be found at http://www.killershrewmovie.com 

“A movie about hope, redemption and ice cream.”

So, what do you do with a $2000 movie budget? If you’re smart you realize your limitations and you make a terrible version of an already legendarily bad movie The Killer Shrews. Last seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Attack of the Killer Shrews, is, if anything worse than the original. But fear not! It’s all in the name of comedy. This slapstick reimagining of a movie about giant killer shrews (originally played by dogs dressed in mops) stays close to the absurdity of the original, tosses out any attempt to be serious and just runs with it. The dialogue, the sound effects, even the introduction by Lloyd Kaufman of Toxic Avenger fame, all serve to create a parody of bad films that’s just a parody but is also a bad low-budget film itself.

There are almost too many delightful things going on on-screen to list, but I’m going to give you a few of them. The sets are terrible, the props are terrible, the gunfire is bad CGI, the police boat is a jet ski with cardboard bits glued on, the nuclear missile is made of tape, cardboard and paint, and that’s just a short list. Not a scene goes by where purposefully bad things aren’t happening. Honestly there almost aren’t words for this film. But again, here are a few, funny, terrible, cheap, and hilarious.

rsz_ks2So, what’s the actual plot? Well, a scientist cooks up some giant killer shrews in his lab and they escape. The shrews terrorize various denizens of the town including Professor Perry, his diner guests, starlet Fiona Rae, literary agent Lewis and his girlfriend Cassandra. Sherriff Blake saves the day, sort of, but only after a lot of running and screaming. Now, if you all remember the original film you are probably hoping the shrews are dogs wearing mops again. Unfortunately they aren’t. BUT they are spectacularly cheap props and sometimes a person in a gorilla suit from the Halloween Store.

There are a ton of laughs to be had in this movie, both with it, and at its expense, but it’s worth watching, especially with other people. I watched it alone and found the second half dragging, which would have been alleviated by a having some friends to laugh at it with. The foley also deserves special mention for the cartoon sound effects added in. The rest of the sound, including the dialogue is hit or miss. Which is unfortunate as some of the jokes would have been even better if they had been audible. And a special, special mention for the opening credits which are, again, hilariously bad stop-motion animation and comprise a more or less accurate summary of the film.

And. the last burning question, What is Lloyd Kaufman doing in this film? Well, he introduces Attack of the Killer Shrews, and bonus, stay until after the credits, he appears again to wrap things up. According to IMBD the real reason he was there is that he was in town. It would be very interesting to see what filmmaker Ken Cosentino could do with a budget, considering he accomplished a minor miracle of comedy with $2000. Maybe one day we will get to find out.

rsz_ks3Kudos for: “What the fuck is that thing?” (the actual thing, and no it’s not a shrew)

Lesson learned: When in doubt, squeaky toy SFX

8/10

Blood Punch (2014) DVD Review

rsz_bloodpunchBlood Punch (2014)
Starring: Milo Cawthorne, Olivia Tennet and Ari Boyland
Writer: Eddie Guzelian
Director: Madellaine Paxson

Out in the UK on Jan 16th – Blood Punch will be available for purchase from ASDA, HMV, Fopp, Amazon, The Hunt and Base. And available for streaming from iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Vubiquity, TalkTalk and Vimeo on Demand.

A young man is lured into a dangerous love triangle that begins to take a series of shocking and grisly supernatural turns.

Milton (Milo Cawthorne, Deathgasm, Mega Time Squad, ASH vs Evil Dead and When We Go to War) wakes up on Tuesday morning. He wakes to the annoying sound of wind chimes and the urgent need to puke. We can see he’s been sleeping on the couch at a hunting cabin. The walls are littered with brutal reminders of murder and mutilation (such as axes, crossbows, mantraps and mounted hunting trophies). And, once Milton has looked up from the toilet bowl he’s been worshipping, he finds himself staring at a tablet that bears a note saying ‘PLAY ME’.

The intrigue deepens when Milton presses play and finds the tablet contains footage of himself, explaining how the current situation has come about. His surprise at seeing himself on the screen is not because he was wasted the previous night, or because he’s endured some memory-eradicating substance. The reason turns out to be far more ingenious.

rsz_bp1The content of the tablet leads to a little bit of backstory and a proper introduction to the story’s hero.

Milton had been incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre. He’d been there because he was a chemistry student and he’d been caught using his knowledge of chemicals to cook crystal meth. Whilst appearing to repent for his sins, and maybe take a step toward atonement, he encounters a shed load of trouble in the shape of Skyler (Olivia Tennet, Lord of the Rings, Boogeyman and Shortland Street).

Skyler is a forthright character and conducts herself with a ruthless determination that is irresistible. She is looking for a meth cook and she uses her feminine wiles to tempt Milton to fill her vacancy. After showing him that crystal meth has a positive effect on her libido, it doesn’t take long before Skyler’s convinced Milton to join her. She’s even arranged to have her psychotic boyfriend Russell (Ari Boyland, The Tribe, Shortland Street, Power Rangers R.P.M.) organize a jail break. And, for Milton, this is where the troubles really begin.

As a story, Blood Punch has traces of Breaking Bad, Cabin in the Woods and Groundhog Day in its structure – but it is so much more than merely a homage to existing works. One of the clever things about this film is the way everything is made to look so effortless. The story, in less capable hands, could have been confusing and nonsensical. Instead, it’s compelling, quirky and intriguing. The characters, drug dealers, psychopaths and the criminally insensitive, could have been difficult to like. But, instead, they come across as relatable, likeable and even loveable.

rsz_bpIt’s easy to see why Blood Punch has won so many awards (Phoenix International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival: Best Horror Feature 2015; New Orleans Horror Film Festival: Best Feature Film 2014; Hoboken International Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Actress 2014). The film has a compelling story that comes from a well-crafted script. The acting is strong and confident from a cast who know what they’re doing. The direction is masterful and assured throughout.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough and would say it’s one of the best horror films I’ve watched in a long time: 10/10.

Let’s Be Evil (2016) Review

lbe1LET’S BE EVIL (2016)

Starring Elizabeth Morris, Elliot James Langdridge, Isabelle Allen and Kara Tointon

Directed by Martin Owen

Written by Martin Owen, Elizabeth Morris and Jonathan Willis

“Three chaperones are hired to supervise an advanced learning program for gifted children, who wear Augmented Reality Glasses to assist their education. Contained within an underground research facility, events quickly spiral out of control”.

Augmented Reality is a big deal at the moment, and has been for a while. At least I’ve heard it is. I remember working at a popular DVD/Music store a few years ago and ever big release on Blu came with an augmented thingy-ma-jiggy that I never had a chance to look at myself. Nowadays the rise of VR and 360 degree filming is huge, so particularly in the use of marketing for horror movies.

When Jenny (Morris) gets a job as a nanny to a bunch of gifted children in an underground research facility, she never for one second suspects things are going to get Sinister. No sooner than you say “The Kids Aren’t Alright” then Jenny realises, well, the kids ain’t alright…

The small cast do well with very thinly written characters. Leading the pack co-writer Elizabeth Morris plays the archetypal sweet and innocent one, Kara Tointon (Eastenders, Last Passenger) is the…well, I think they were going for hippy free spirit but it’s a bit vague. Standing out is Elliot James Langdridge (Hollyoaks, Northern Soul, Habit) who really puts effort to add distinctive quirks to his rebellious role. His sleeping style was particularly amusing. But the decision for the British performers to play it American was a strange one. Is that really what it takes to woo the US market?

lbe2Martin Owen, who made the solid and stylish LA Slasher a bit ago opts to shoot the vast majority of the film from the POV of the characters Augmented Reality Glasses. This is a double-edged sword. Up until the halfway point it really feels like you’re watching a pretty bland and pretty long cut-scene in a FPS game. If nothing is really happening, then it just feels like a gimmick. Which let’s be honest, it is. However, at about the 50 minute mark when some actual horror starts happening, there are moments when the technique works really well. But it’s undeniable that the POV creates more of a disconnect with each character, which is obviously the opposite of the effect they intended.

Besides the hit and miss visual style, the main issue here is the script. The story feels less like a coherent tale and more of an excuse to exploit the Augmented Reality angle. The dialogue and characterisation suffer from what I call “Paul WS Anderson Syndrome”. Instead of feeling like real people, these are just stock characters from other B Movies. In a similar way to the Resident Evil movies, Let’s Be Evil begins to follow a map and reach the next level narrative. Add to that a Red Queen style Siri programme that sounds like the thing out of Snog Marry Avoid, and evil children in an underground facility, and it appears inspiration came from a lot of the wrong places. To be honest, the motivation, abilities and point of the Augmented Reality stuff was all lost on me. But it all looked very pretty.

Let’s Be Evil is a fun flick though. Even in the first half, the pace never falters and it’s a brisk 80 minutes or so. The shooting style at the very least separates it from other low budget horrors, and the colour scheme, full of neon lights and on-screen graphics. Also, the score by Julian Scherle is great. Equal parts John Carpenter and Daft Punk, it really helps immerse you in this technological world.

lbe3But in the end, Let’s Be Evil is hard to recommend as anything more than a bit of quick, cheap fluff. With plot-holes and narrative inconsistencies, and ending that left me scratching my head, Let’s Be Evil is best enjoyed with the brain switched off. The best way to sum it up is Lawnmower Man meets Mind Ripper with a dash of Village of the Damned. Take that as you will.

6/10

Good Tidings (2016) Review

goodtidings1GOOD TIDINGS (2016)

Starring Alan Mulhall, Julia Walsh and Claire Crossland

Directed by Stuart W. Bedford

Written by Stuart W. Bedford, Giovanni Gentile and Stu Jopia

“A homeless war veteran with a checkered past must rely on a side of himself once thought buried when he and his companions are targeted by three vicious psychopaths wearing Santa costumes on Christmas Day”.

**Apologies in advance for the terrible Xmas puns contained in this review, you have been warned**

Aside from Halloween, Christmas is the holiday season used most in the horror genre. Is it the constant colour red? The fact that we’re celebrating the birth of the most popular cult leader in the history of the earth? Or is it the fact that it’s all about adults telling their kids it’s absolutely fine a fat guy in a beard is breaking and entering your home while they sleep, and they better be good or else? Either way, I agree. I love the presents, I love the turkey, but there’s something sinister about the season to be jolly.

goodtidings3And it’s created some chilling Christmas crackers too. From Silent Night, Deadly Night to Black Christmas, from the very first A Christmas Carol to Bill Murray classic Scrooged, there have been some quality Yuletide horror flicks. But recently there have been a lot of duff ones, mainly revolving around the Krampus. Honestly. Check them out on the DVD shelves when they are no doubt re-released this December. Or don’t. Because they’re mostly dreck unfortunately.

Which is why it gives me great pleasure to say that Good Tidings is definitely, indisputably one of the better ones in recent years. And it’s BRITISH! Look at us, at it again with the top horror.

Sam (Mulhall) is a stoic war veteran who is surviving on the streets of Liverpool on Christmas Day in an abandoned court with a rag tag group of vagrants. Everything is jolly enough as they make the best with what little they have, until the three of the most insane Saint Nick’s ever to grace the big-screen lock them inside and begin gleefully hunting them all one by one. It seems it no longer matters who’s naughty and who’s nice. As one character states, they’re just cattle, to be slaughtered. But Sam isn’t going down without a fight.

There’s so much for horror fans to love in Good Tidings.

goodtidings2Stuart W. Bedford directs with a keen eye, and together with a witty script makes damn well sure that every scene is either filled with Christmas spirit or buckets of blood. Aided ably by cinematographer Shane de Almeida, he creates some truly iconic frames, and he a great handle on the atmosphere and tension. Add to that some nice and nasty practical FX and a wonderful score by Liam W. Ashcroft that alternates between grind house synth, and a paganist twist on well known Christmas songs that is truly haunting, and you have a very polished package!

The performances are also well above what you expect for a low-budget offering like this. Mulhall had me on the fence at first with his brooding tough guy style, but as the film went on he completely won me over, and was a refreshing change to the usual final girl type we get in slasher films. Claire Crossland was lovely and sympathetic as an ex-heroin addict, and Julia Walsh as the momma bear of the homeless was actually quite heartbreaking. As for our trio of Santas, imagine if the lurching, cackling inbreds from Wrong Turn stumbled upon some Santa gear and you wouldn’t be far off. Brutal, unapologetic and quite mischievous, they were a hoot.

There are faults along the way. Some of the direction seemed limited by the location and space, CGI blood poked its ugly nose in occasionally, the pacing could have been punchier and some of the dialogue was distractingly “Hollywood”. Also, the score on occasion segued into a funky pop synth that was well-intentioned but didn’t hit the right notes for me. But none of this was enough to warrant a lump of coal.

goodtidings4Fun, gripping, often exciting and always entertaining, Good Tidings is the right kind of low-budget horror. Now, what are you waiting for? Put it on your Christmas list!

8/10