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

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

Hunters Lodge (2016) Review

rsz_hl1HUNTERS LODGE (2016)

Starring Tim Ahern, Janis Ahern and Nicola Wright

Written & Directed by Martyn Tott

“A war veteran discovers treachery, murder and ghosts from his past at a remote island lodge funeral. Psycho thriller”.

It’s always the most exciting when reviewing a film you have absolutely no prior knowledge of. When something slips under the radar it can sometimes be a sign of the films quality, or lack thereof. But every once in awhile, you find a gem.

Hunters Lodge isn’t quite a gem, but it was definitely an enjoyable experience. A no budget psychological thriller with a combined cast and crew of EIGHT (!!!), with filmmaker Martyn Tott multi-tasking as writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor, Hunters Lodge is a labour of love for all involved and that love is quite infectious.

Set almost completely in the titular location, Hunters Lodge tells the story of Harry (Tim Ahern), a war veteran who, despite being haunted by his violent history, is a genuinely nice guy. He travels to the lodge for his old friend Peter’s funeral, and is greeted by Peter’s nephew Eddy (Matt Oliver), his wife Sue (Nicola Wright), Eddy’s cousin Penny (Kim Driver) and caretaker Jackie (Janis Ahern). The longer Harry stays at the lodge, the clearer it becomes to him that something sinister is going on…

rsz_hl2Hunters Lodge plays like an Agatha Christie stageplay crossed with an old school ghost story like The Changeling, with a slightly Gothic atmosphere and constant talk of inheritance and family ties. It’s melodramatic but I suppose that goes with the territory. Visually, the piece is quite polished, with layered lighting and a lovely location. Unfortunately the editing and sound design lets it down slightly. Dialogue is crisp and clear but the musical interludes are sometimes repetitive and ill-fitting, and attempts to jazz up the style in the edit misfire. In the first half of the movie, that is…However, the story is always coherent, which makes a change for a no-budget film. I must mention a sequence halfway through the film too. A nightmarish scene set in Harry’s room, it does absolute wonders with sound, lighting and framing, and really stands apart from everything else. I have to hand it to Tott for single handedly creating this section of the film, it’s very inspired. Just shows what can be achieved with no money and lots of imagination.

As a matter of fact, one thing that Hunters Lodge has to its advantage that similar films don’t, is it’s cast. Veteran character actors Tim and Janis Ahern have incredible charisma and likability and it’s clear these characters were written with them in mind as they are perfect and disappear into the roles. Matt Oliver and Nicola Wright are also engagingly mysterious as the Brits, offering plenty of subtext to their characters. In terms of acting and dialogue, the film works wonders.

rsz_hl3Occasionally sluggish in pace and hampered by a pretty predictable story, Hunters Lodge nonetheless deserves your attention for it’s fantastic performances and some very creative filmmaking. For a no budget film, Tott has still managed to make something cinematic. It really makes you wonder what he and his cast could do with a bit of money and extra crew. Check it out.

7/10

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.

Fright Night (1985) Eureka Blu-Ray Review

fright-night-1FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
Running time: 106 minutes

Released by Eureka! Entertainment on standard dual format (Blu Ray/DVD) 10th April 2017
(An exclusive Zavvi limited edition steelbook released 26th December 2016 is now OOP)

The UK has been waiting what seems like centuries for a decent release of Tom Holland’s fangtastic 80’s cult classic on any format. Thankfully Eureka! Entertainment have finally delivered on a disc which is surely destined to become one of the must-have blu ray releases of 2017.

The Film: For those unacquainted with Fright Night, it follows teenage horror fanatic Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) and his ongoing attempts to prove to his mother, girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) that his charismatic new neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. His suspicions are further confounded by the strange activities he sees going on next door including a coffin being taking into the property and Jerry’s friend and live-in helper Billy (Jonathan Stark) assisting with all daytime activities.

As his mother and friends believe him to be crazy, he goes to the one person he is convinced will believe him and be able to help. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is the presenter of his favourite late night horror show Fright Night, however he is just that – a TV personality – and not an actual vampire hunter. However, as Charley’s girlfriend and best friend become seduced by Jerry’s charms, it is up to Charley and Peter to destroy the evil next-door and hopefully save the neighbourhood.

Following a rather lacklustre remake in 2011 starring the late Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and David Tennant, this release of the original (and best) version of Holland’s homage to horror and vampire lore is an essential purchase for any horror fan. For those new to it, Fright Night is intentionally a horror comedy however its attention to providing full on gore and graphic transformation scenes is also the reason it ranked the second highest grossing horror film of 1985 behind Freddy’s Revenge.

fright-night-2The Disc: I never saw the previous US Twilight Time or European blu ray releases of the film, so cannot offer comparisons but this release is based on the Sony 4K scan of the original negative overseen by renowned film restoration specialist Grover Crisp. It looks excellent and is certainly a vast improvement over my DVD copy or any version I’ve seen before on TV. There is a more natural colour palette, finer image detail and Crisp has ensured that classic 80’s look and ‘sheen’ isn’t lost in the restoration. Like a severed artery the film is overflowing with old school SFX and whilst on blu ray some of these do stand out more prominently, it is such a pleasure not to be browbeaten with CGI and instead I was left with a nostalgic glow. I watched the film again in its original Stereo and had no concerns with dialogue or indeed Brad Fiedel’s excellent score. Eureka! have also included a 5.1 Surround Sound option for those wanting a more immersive experience and English SDH subtitles. Sadly, they have not included a chapter menu on either the main menu or via pop-up menu, although this was apparently also lacking on previous releases.

Special Features: Apart from the excellent transfer, what really makes this release of Fright Night an undead treat is the wealth of extras which run at just over six hours. Eureka! have really spoilt fans with the highlight being an edited (two and a half hour version) of Dead Mouse Productions recent You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. A retrospective piece that includes contemporary interviews with cast, crew and many more it mainly focuses on the first Fright Night film and follows the film’s inception, production, casting, special effects, memories of filming and the film’s sleeper success. Fright Night: Part 2 (1988) is also mentioned but fans will need to pick up the full documentary for more in-depth discussion about the sequel.

Fear Fest 2008 Reunion (54 mins) is a panel discussion with cast and crew from both Fright Night and Fright Night: Part 2. There is some repetition from the documentary however we learn more about the sequel, including its now infamous troubled release and the change in attitudes to sexuality and diversity between both films. Holland also mentions upcoming talks for a possible remake/sequel and the script variations he is aware of.

Shock Till You Drop – Choice Cuts (28mins) is an interview with Tom Holland where he discusses his involvement with The Beast Within (1982), his work on Psycho 2 (1983), its release, effect on his career and his views on the studio system. He also discusses his transition from a theatre and TV actor to writer including early writing credits, the initial inception of Fright Night and the film’s major influences.

Vintage Electronic Press Kit (93 mins) is a nice addition but is taken from a VHS copy (with clock counter) and therefore suffers from vertical rolls and frequent cut outs. The kit includes US reviews, two music videos, a making of, three featurettes, news wraps, open end interviews and TV scene clips.

What is Fright Night? (11 mins) is a talking heads piece which appears to be an additional segment from the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary. Cast and crew from both original Fright Night films discuss what they believe the films are about.

fright-night-3Tom Holland: Writing Horror (9 mins) is a special feature which is also available on the You’re So Cool Brewster documentary disc. Despite the title, it has little to do with his writing techniques and is mostly about his directing style. There is also some information overlap from the Choice Cuts extra.

Roddy McDowall: Apes to Bats (21 mins) is a featurette about the actor’s history in Hollywood and cast and crew from both Fright Night films reminisce about their time with him. Again, there is some information overlap from the Choice Cuts and Reunion extras.

Also included are two theatrical trailers (G and R rated versions), plus an image gallery of 64 behind the scenes, props and memorabilia photos.

In conclusion, Eureka! have done the UK proud in bringing Holland’s cult classic to our shores in a release it totally deserves. However, folks will have to wait until April 2017 for it to hit the shelves but I can tell you it is absolutely worth the wait… Until then, be as a cool as Brewster and pick up a copy of the Dead Mouse Productions excellent documentary and pray that one day Fright Night: Part 2 gets a similarly stunning release.

Steven Hickey’s Top 10 Horror Films 2016

Steven Hickey’s Top 10 Horror Films 2016

Just a quick word to start, this has been a very tough list to compile, mainly due to the consistency of the output in the genre this year. I’ve seen very few poor horror movies over the past 12 months, but by the same token, I’m not sure there’s been a real, stand-out obvious modern classic along the lines of The Babadook, It Follows or Crimson Peak. At different points throughout the year each of my top five occupied the top spot (and there is some debate as to whether at least four of them are even horror movies!).
With that in mind, allow me to present my 10 personal favourite horror films of 2016.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Under The Shadow, The Eyes of My Mother, 31, Hush, The Shallows

10. BLAIR WITCH
Dir: Adam Wingard
Stars: James Allan McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Honestly, if the rest of the film was as good as the last 15 minutes or so of Adam Wingard’s surprise sequel to the 1999 hit, there’s a very good chance that it would be sitting at Number One on this list. Unfortunately, this film is not as groundbreaking as its predecessor and some of the characterisation falls flat.
However, I really do think that the climactic sequence within the confines of that familiar house in the woods is arguably the most terrifying and chillingly effective horror scene of the year, one that single-handedly buys the movie a place on this list.

hollwer9. HOLLOWER
Dir: MJ Dixon
Stars: Adam Dillon, Becca Talulah, Nicholas Vince
UK-based micro-budget maestro MJ Dixon has created something astonishing with his Mycho-verse horror franchise. From Slasher House to its sequels Legacy of Thorn and Cleaver, these connected films show tremendous imagination and visual flair.
And Hollower is quite possibly his best effort yet. A taut, lean psychological chiller with a trio of great performances from Dillon, Talulah and Vince, it’s also the most mature and frightening film from Dixon yet. The bar has been raised for Slasher House II — if it lives up this one expect to see that movie on this list next year.

8. PHANTASM RAVAGER
Dir: David Hartman
Stars: Reggie Bannister, A. Michael Baldwin, Dawn Cody, Angus Scrimm
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series is one of the most creative horror series there is. There were times when I thought this final chapter would never come.
Then Ravager arrived and somehow managed to be both perfect and disappointing. It gave the fans a real sense of closure, presenting a ballsy, brave conclusion to the tale of Reggie, Mike, Jody and, of course, the sinister Tall Man. Yet as a standalone film for the uninitiated it lacked frights and a sense of cohesion.
But that’s Phantasm for you, a dream-like paradox, tonally uneven but full of heart. We may never see its likes again.

the-witch-poster17. THE WITCH
Dir: Robert Eggers
Stars: Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Kate Dickie
I’m bracing myself for flak here. The critically acclaimed genre movie of the year was visually spectacular, very deep and different to everything else and… well, a bit dry. There can be no faulting the look of The WItch, the tone, the nightmarish imagery or the stunning performances (everybody in this film is incredible, even the goat!). But I found the story a little flat and ultimately, didn’t care enough about the characters. I’m sure this will be the top horror flick for plenty of people and I can understand that decision – but it was a little too cold and detached for me.

6. TRAIN TO BUSAN
Dir: Sang-ho Yeon
Stars: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma, Eui-sung Kim
28 Days Later on a train in Korea. So I wrote in my review of this absolutely brilliant zombie flick back in October and that description is still so apt.
It’s intense, frenetic and breathes fresh life into a subgenre that, like its undead monsters, has been shuffling towards obsoletion. It’s gory, pulse-poundingly action-packed and it doesn’t relent for a single moment, yet still manages to weave a sentimental story about a fraught father-daughter relationship as it does so. A genuine triumph.

conjuring25. THE CONJURING 2
Dir: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmigia, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe
Much like its predecessor trumped big studio horror rival Insidious: Chapter 2, its sequel surpasses this year’s Ouija sequel and Lights Out. It packs more frights, more heart and some seriously impressive film-making from modern-horror master James than either of its big rivals and delivers some of the very best spooky moments of the year. I can’t be the only fan to hope that Wan’s franchise about real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren runs and runs – if the next film is even half as good as this we have a real treat in store.

4. DON’T BREATHE
Dir: Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang
Sometimes the most simple premise delivers the most effective results. Fede Alvarez’s nail-biting thriller about three burglars who pick the wrong house is a perfect case in point. Built around a powerhouse performance from Avatar tough-guy Stephen Lang, this is a film that is utterly gripping and will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also boasts a couple of seriously out-there plot developments that do a wonderful job of establishing the robbers’ blind-victim as far less sympathetic and one of the most intimidating screen characters of the year. A must-see.

the_monster_poster3. THE MONSTER
Dir: Bryan Bertino
Stars: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine
This was a film that flew under my radar, then slapped me square in the face when it arrived. Another deceptively simple tale about an alcoholic, The Monster is about a neglectful mother, the tumultuous relationship she has with her damaged young daughter, and a fateful night in which their car strikes, well, a monster. A moving and layered character piece is told in flashback throughout the ongoing game of cat and mouse, the film is both heart-breaking and heart-stoppingly tense. What’s more the central pair of Kazan and Ballentine are amazing. Powerful and brilliant.

2. THE GREEN ROOM
Dir: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Joe Cole, Alia Shawcat, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
Assault on Precinct 13 with a punk rock band. A good siege movie is tough to pull off. This is an excellent one. Notable for being one of the brilliant Anton Yelchin’s last roles before his tragic death, this is a tight and surprisingly bloody thriller which ratchets up the tension to nearly unbearable levels and refuses to let up. The cast is fantastic, the direction assured and the plot utterly riveting. For a long, long time, this was my favourite film of the year and remains one that I whole-heartedly recommend.

i-am-not-a-serial-killer-movie-poster-2016-10207764011. I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER
Dir: Billy O’Brien
Stars: Christopher Lloyd, Max Records, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary
This is not a perfect film, and I’m not sure if it’s even a horror movie, but of all the flicks I’ve watched this year, few have had such a strong effect on me. You’re better off going in not knowing anything, but this darkly comic tale about a borderline psychopathic teen who comes to believe a murderous monster may be operating in his town is hilarious, frightening, disturbing, achingly hip and utterly unlike anything else you’ll see this year. Both Lloyd and Records are awesome and so is this film. These reasons, and so many more, are why I crown it the best of 2016.

And finally
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
SADAKO V KAYAKO
Dir: Kôji Shiraishi
Stars: Mizuki Yamamoto, Aimi Satsukawa, Masahiro Komoto, Masaki Saisho, Elly Nanami
In truth, Sadako v Kayako really isn’t that bad a film. The problem is that, considering the source material, it should have been brilliant. I absolutely love the Ring series and I’m a huge fan of the Ju-On franchise, and this just doesn’t get close to the heights of either of them. It doesn’t help that the titular battle gets just a couple of minutes of screentime, and ultimately this just feels like a terrible missed opportunity.

 

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

Top 10 Horror Films of 2016 by Elliott Maguire

swmb110. SHE WHO MUST BURN

Something that has and will always fascinate me is religion, and what those devoted to their God will do in their name. She Who Must Burn examines this in such a realistic way it’s almost a docu-drama. A horrifying look at religious extremism in a small town with a sense of inevitability and dread that is palpable.

9. CREEPY

Another title that completely caught me off guard, this dense, slow-burning psychological thriller was all about the characters and the performances, and oh boy did they do a good job of getting right under your skin, especially Teruyuki Kagawa as the last person you would want living next door. Truly the work of a master filmmaker, like the characters in the final frames, Creepy will leave you scarred.

tank8. TANK 432

Coming from Ben Wheatley’s frequent collaborator Nick Gillespie, I had high expectations for Tank 432 until I saw the trailer. Then I thought I had all the twists figured out. So happy I was wrong. This was a much smarter film than its surface would suggest, a hallucinogenic trip to to into the belly of the bull. War is hell indeed.

7. THE CONJURING 2

This was the most purely entertaining cinema going experience of the year for me. An epic horror crowd pleaser, every inch of the screen was used to smartly construct some of the biggest jump scares of 2016. Emotional, terrifying and full of wonder, this was just so much fun.

invitaqtion6. THE INVITATION

From the writers of Night At The Museum and the director of Aeon Flux and Jennifer’s Body…I didn’t see this going well. But imagine my surprise when this turned out to be one of the smartest and most  disturbing paranoid thrillers I’d seen in years. An absolute must-see.

5. TABLOID VIVANT

I had never heard of Tabloid Vivant until I watched it for a review, and I still don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. This is an art house film, literally about art, but don’t let that put you off. It’s also accessible, transgressive, imaginative, stylish, unique, funny and in the end quite tragic. It’s also available on Amazon Prime now, so I say open your mind and give it a go.

mindseyeeeee4. THE MIND’S EYE

Our fearless leader Andy Deen recommended this to me and all I can say is fuck me gently with a chainsaw, this is just the shot in the arm jaded horror fans are looking for. Lovingly retro without being cutesy, this is too drawer indie filmmaking. Complex characters, in a simple story told with passion, vigour and ingenuity. It’s stunning. For fans of Cronenberg, Verhoeven and Eric Red, it has to be seen. Bravo Joe Begos. Bravo.

3. GREEN ROOM

I think this was the film I was anticipating the most this year, and it exceeded my expectations. After this and Blue Ruin, Saulnier has the directorial and storytelling vision that I can relate to the most. This is old school genre filmmaking, the Walter Hill or John Carpenter kind. Every shot is thoughtful, every line important, and every scene of violence painful. Led by the late, great Anton Yelchin as an unconventional hero, this really is one of the most visceral and uncompromising horror films of the year.

2. HIGH RISE

Ben Wheatley can do no wrong in my book. He’s a true visionary whose films are always distinctive and High Rise was no different. Disturbing, hilarious, anarchic and horrifyingly relevant right now, this one will is going to stand the test of time.

wailing1. THE WAILING

I still can’t stop thinking about The Wailing. It’s such a layered and literate story, that takes its time burrowing into your consciousness. This is the ultimate kind of horror. It ticks all the boxes, but it all feels natural. Psychologically devastating, horrifyingly violent, and emotionally engaging, there truly hasn’t been a film like this in years. Steeped in folklore and character, this feels like an adaptation of an amazing Stephen King novel. It’s not, but it’s seriously that rich and imaginative. If anything comes close to it in 2017 it will be a very good year for horror.

Honourable Mention: THE NEIGHBOUR

The Neighbour is bound to be one of those films that flies under the radar, but, even though it’s technically more of a thriller than horror, it’s well worth checking out. A tight, smart, brutal crime thriller with standout turns from Josh Stewart and Alex Essoe.

Biggest Letdown: LIGHTS OUT

I’m a big fan of David F. Sandberg’s short films and an even bigger fan of James Wan’s. It should be a match made in horror heaven, but I found this a poorly developed effort. Dumb characters, an uninvolving plot and unimaginative scares made this extremely forgettable unfortunately.

Biggest Surprise: THE INVITATION

5 Most Anticipated for 2017:

a-cure-for-wellness-uk-movie-posterA CURE FOR WELLNESS

Gore Verbinski returns to the horror genre with what looks like a visually stunning mind-fuck. I don’t want to know anything about this going in but I can’t wait to watch it and find out.

GET OUT

A racially-fuelled Wicker Man from Jordan Peele and Jason Blum? Hell yes. I don’t think this could’ve been made at a better time and can’t wait to see what’s surprises it has in store.

PREVENGE

Everything about this, from the story behind it’s making to the concept, excites me. Everything I’ve heard so far tells me Alice Lowe has made a defining British cult classic.

leatherface_2016_posterLEATHERFACE

The directors of INSIDE. Directing a TEXAS CHAINSAW film. As a horror road trip. With STEPHEN FUCKING DORFF. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG TO COME OUT!?! There is absolutely no way this can be as bad as the last one, so just put the ultra violence in my eyeballs now!!!

THE DEVIL’S CANDY

I’m a HUGE fan of The Loved Ones, and have been patiently waiting on another Sean Byrne film. Another unique eye with a huge passion for the genre, he’s a fantastic talent and this melding of a metal and the supernatural sounds awesome

We Have A Copy of The Church on DVD to Give Away from Shameless Films.

churchThanks to our good friends at Shameless we have 1 x DVD of Michele Soavi’s stunning The Church (La Chiesa) to give away to a lucky UK reader.

The Church is available from Shameless Films here – http://www.shameless-films.com/shop/The-Church-aka-La-Chiesa.html

There’s an ancient evil lurking beneath…THE CHURCH!
Stunning visuals, creepy atmospheric horror and gasp-inducing shock! From director Michele Soavi (DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, THE SECT) and writer Dario Argento, comes the first ever UK Blu-ray release of this Italian horror classic.

After Teutonic Knights massacre a village of ‘witches’ in medieval times, the sinister religious order builds a gothic Church on the site of the atrocity. Hundreds of years later, the church’s librarian (Tomas Arana) accidentally unleashes whatever darkness was laid in the church’s ground that terrible day. At the mercy of the waking demons and satanic spirits, the churchgoers who’ve been trapped inside by the building’s ancient mechanisms soon succumb to the evil in an orgy of diabolic-lust and merciless slaughter. With a brooding score from genre cohorts Keith Emerson and Goblin, Soavi ramps the dread up to 666 before building to a blood-curdling finale!

Shameless is honoured to present its Yell’o® release of the 1st ever 2K HD restored and longest ever version, made from crypt materials and now entirely faithful to Soavi’s original vision. How long has it been since your last confession?… Never repent! Just be suave!

This Shameless presentation of Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH is complete and uncut. Made from a 2k transfer of the original negative, the film was restored respecting its original colour palette and the formidable craftsmanship of director Soavi and his team. Similarly, THE CHURCH is presented in its original Stereo sound as originally created by its makers.

To be in with a chance of winning this amazing DVD then you must be in the UK and then simply email comp@ukhorrorscene.com with your name and full address and put Church in the subject line. A winner will be chosen at random when the competition ends on Sunday 6th January.

Thanks and good luck!!

BB (2016) Review

bbfilm1BB (2016)

Starring Jennifer Mae, Elissa Wagner and Carlos Velarde

Written & Directed by CJ Wallis

BB is the provocative story of a girl named Leah who, under the name “Candy Cummings”, performs strip shows online from her apartment for thousands of strangers per day, never fully knowing the extent of evils that will be watching on the other side of the screen”.

Shot with a hypnotic voyeurism set to a dizzying soundscape of dark pop, BB is an unexpectedly masterful surprise, a crushing and tense thriller about sex and obsession in the modern age. So singular in style and content, it’s Spring Breakers by way of Nicolas Roeg. Unlikely to get the wide release and recognition it deserves due to its graphic content, BB is something you should all seek out.

bbfilm2Leah Lamont (Mae) is a confident woman. But she has money troubles, and wants to pay for the woman she loves more than anything in the world, Alina (Victoria Fox) to be able to get back home to Bucharest to see her family. So she becomes a cam girl, earning cash through online chat rooms to an audience of thousands. When Alina eventually goes to Bucharest, leaving Leah home alone and continuing with the work, Leah comes to discover that a lot of her audience are genuine, lonely guys, completely innocent. But one of them, under the pseudonym of HornyHal (Hanson) is dangerously obsessed with her. In a world so connected but disconnected, how can you ever really know how safe you are?

In his self-funded feature length directorial début, CJ Wallis presents us with one of the most challenging and honest portrayals of psychosis and paranoia in the internet age. Writing, directing, and editing, Wallis is in complete command of the entire piece. Hallucinogenic but completely coherent, he puts you right in the mindset of both our protagonist and antagonist. With the whirling kinetics of Leah, you feel the heartbreak and confusion and drug-addled desperation of a tough but compassionate and troubled young woman. Through the static confessional of HornyHal, layers of humanity are shown in what is not your typical stalker. Both of these individuals are isolated and alone, and are dealing with betrayal and love in very different but reflective ways. The biggest skill Wallis shows is in the pacing and structure of the whole enterprise. We know both characters inside out before anything horrible starts occurring. It’s a slow-build that moves at a whip if that makes sense. The narrative unfolds like the peeling of an onion, layer after layer revealed as the tension grows suffocating.

bbfilm3Jennifer Mae is a tour de force as Leah. Confident in both her sexuality and lifestyle but hiding a troubled past and her own obsessions, Leah is anything but a victim. Mae completely owns the character, natural and naked in body and soul. Hanson is equal parts sympathetic and haunting as HornyHal, only growing stronger as more shades of his character are revealed. Watching the simpatico and contrasts in the two characters really was enthralling to watch.

Many titles in horror and art house cinema are using graphic depictions of sexuality to express their themes, and also, let’s face it, to gain notoriety. But BB is one of the first to show sexuality and the expression of it as not something to be hidden away and ashamed of, but something to be proud of, something completely natural. Sexuality is the individuals to do what they wish with, whether with those that you love or to make money and bring a spark of happiness to someone lonely over the net. It is an individual choice, and one to be celebrated. Throughout BB, the filmmakers never judge Leah for her cam girl work. The fact that she attracts an obsessed stalker is not her fault. It is his. What BB does highlight is the danger of the Internet and how easy it is to get a person, wherever they may be, and how the concept of love can be perceived very differently between people.

bbfilm4If there were any faults, it’s that the story wraps itself up not neatly but maybe too quickly. But overall, with its hypnotic repetition of sound and sight and relevant themes of connection in a forever evolving digital society, and outstanding lead performances, BB is a provocative, transgressive yet very accessible piece of cinema. I look forward to seeing what else Willis and Mae get up to in the future.

8/10

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