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

The Hours Till Daylight (2015) Review

hourstilldaylight1The Hours Till Daylight (USA, 2015)
Dir: Jon Garcia
Starring: Quinn Allan, Vannessa Vasquez, Carlos Sepulveda

Plot: Marco (Allan) has grown up with a fear of the dark. Despite the best efforts of his parents, he has never been able to shake the fear, or more specifically of what hides in the darkness. About to become a parent himself, Marco takes action to face up to the demon that plagues him, for the sake of his family.

Director Jon Garcia has a number of films under his belt, but The Hours Till Daylight is his first attempt at the horror genre. He’s taking a stab at the haunting sub-genre that has remained in vogue since Paranormal Activity. Can Garcia’s film stand out amongst all the Insidiouses, Ouijas, and Conjurings?

The first thing that stands out for The Hours Till Daylight is the casting. This is not a white Hollywood film. It focuses on a Latin American family, their community, and their beliefs when it comes to the supernatural. A mixture of superstition and Catholic upbringing. Based on Garcia’s previous films, his faith is an important influence on his work. While many films throw in some religious elements to commit to genre tropes, the demons, the exorcist priest, it feels like Garcia is much more aware of the religious significance of the imagery he is using.

hourstilldaylight2Garcia uses childhood fears and religious demons, and builds up the fear slowly. The choice of score keeps the atmosphere tense as he establishes his characters, setting the stakes that Marco is fighting for. The film also uses a lot of flashbacks to Marco’s childhood, and you can feel in these scenes that it’s not just a literal demon that Marco is combating. His fear of the dark as a child is met with the frustration of his parents. They just want him to grow out of it.

With films like The Babadook championing subtext in monsters, The Hours Till Daylight joins the trend. Marco’s battle with his demon seems to be a battle with himself, to become an adult that can raise a child. This demon that is his insecurities, that he isn’t good enough.

With this singular subtextual motivation, the film builds towards it’s final goal. At times this can be painfully slow, however the film makes up for it with a big set piece ending. The banishment ritual. It’s an impressive scene, although some of the demon effects are a little cheap looking but that’s fine for a low budget film. They’re not over-used. There’s some less than subtle religious imagery that made it feel a little preachy but otherwise it promotes positivity, that we can fight our demons.

hourstilldaylight3While there are some moments in the film that I felt were a little dull, it’s something a little different. It feels a lot more personal than the usual blockbuster horror in the cinema. It’s not full of jump scares and there’s no franchise-able monster. It’s just a creepy haunting story. That’s what will make The Hours Till Daylight stand out from the rest.

7/10

Man Underground (2016) – A Fantasia Fest review

manundergroundMAN UNDERGROUND – FANTASIA FEST REVIEW (2016)

Starring George Basil, Pamela Fila and Andy Rocco

Written & Directed by Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine

A reclusive conspiracy theorist enlists people from his small town to help him make a low-budget over about his experience encountering aliens while working as a geologist for the US government”.

I’m a big fan of conspiracies. Ever since primary school and I can’t really put my finger on why but my guess it was down to The X Files. Soon after I became obsessed with that show (and Gillian Anderson) I started buying Sightings magazine, researching the paranormal…me and a similar-minded classmate would pace the yard while everyone else played football, plotting to sneak out in the middle of the night, go to Nevada (like you do) and break into Area 51.

Good times.

ManUnderground_Still_1So I love movies that explore conspiracy theories too, but even more so, those people like me, who are the theorists. There’s just something about a character who believes in the unbelievable, but is doubted by the rest of society. Are they paranoid, or are they right? It always works.

MAN UNDERGROUND follows Willem Koda, as he scrapes by a reclusive living with the help of his only friend Todd, doing small talks about his past experiences and conspiracy theories regarding alien life. Until Todd suggests that in order to get his message across better, they make a no-budget backyard movie. In the hope that it can reach a wider audience. Koda enlists the help of a sweet local waitress named Flossie, but the progress on the film is hampered by Koda’s paranoia and social awkwardness.

Instead of the usual thriller treatment, though, Man Underground goes a more low-key, indie drama route, and to brilliant effect. At least for a pleasant hour or so, we get to know the characters, chuckle at Koda’s awkward interactions with other “normal” people…and then something happens.

ManUnderground_Still_2Working from a keenly observant and patient script from writer director duo Borowiec and Marine, Basil dominates almost every scene with his self-serious and deadpan Koda. He’s simply magnetic as an intelligent but deeply paranoid and egotistical dude, his eyes telling us so much. As the layers of Koda’s mind and background are peeled back as the film goes on, Basil goes from strength to strength. I can just see them calling “CUT!” on set and Basil still being locked in as Koda, his probing gaze freaking out everyone in set. Rocco is also great as Todd, an outwardly simple guy with a lot of heart, and Fila steals scenes, especially in her audition for Koda’s movie. It reminded me very much of a similarly moving scene in Super 8 but with grown ups.

But all this subtle direction, lived in acting and witty dialogue is all a façade. Because, without spoiling anything obviously, the filmmakers are lulling you into a false sense of security, and deliver a tense, unsettling and ambiguous third act that really sticks with you. And it’s not like it changes genres or anything like that, or even becomes less believable. It’s just a subtle and well-earned change of tone. It’s incredible to watch and really sets Man Underground apart from other mumblecore indies of the same ilk. But you’ll have to take my word for it. I ain’t spoiling shit.

ManUnderground_Still_5Man Underground is a special little film that knows exactly what it’s doing and exactly what the audience thinks it’s doing, and it’s this commitment to the unexpected, and it’s truthfulness regarding its themes of manners and paranoid, that make it one of the highlights of this year.

Watch the skies…

8/10

Model Hunger (2016) Review

modelhunger1Model Hunger (USA, 2016)
Dir: Debbie Rochon
Starring: Tiffany Shepis, Lynn Lowry, Suzi Lorraine

Plot: Deep in her suburban neighbourhood, Ginny (Lowry) preys on the young girls of the area. Full of bitter rage from years of insecurity and exploitation, Ginny has become a violent cannibal who preaches the sins of body shaming. A failed modelling career has her fixated on the “twigs”, the skinny girls who are buying into the system that destroyed her. Her violent spree hits a bump when new neighbour, Debbie (Shepis) becomes suspicious of Ginny’s actions.

Model Hunger is the directorial début of Debbie Rochon, a horror icon from her years in the genre. Clearly taking inspiration from the independent films from Troma that she has starred in, including Tromeo and Juliet, this a small budget horror film that answers to no one other than the film makers. It’s a film with a message, tackling issues on body shaming, a very feminist message despite the screenplay being written by James Mogart.

The message of this film is the strongest element of the film, however it’s not immediately clear what that message is for much of the film’s duration. The film’s villain, Ginny and it’s hero, Debbie are separated for the majority of the film, with a relationship similar to Hitchcock’s The Rear Window. Debbie’s slowly growing aware of Ginny’s crimes but remains only a spectator until the final act. Ginny is the main focus of the film and the audience is often privvy to the thoughts running through her head as she chooses her victims. We hear all the venomous thoughts as she tears down her victim’s characters, accusing them of being sexually promiscuous, judgemental, and brainless. It’s uncertain if we’re supposed to be on Ginny’s side because she acts like a champion against unrealistic body expectations and the male gaze. Yet she’s a murderous cannibal.

modelhunger2Model Hunger features a television show called Suzi’s Secret, a shopping network channel that preaches for plus-size women. Ginny’s obsessed with the show, despite not being a plus-sized woman. The host Suzi (Lorraine) goes on about the hardships, that she wants to feel sexy but still eat, and how she makes clothes for “real women with real curves.” Suzi spreads hate about skinny women and continues the cycle of women hating women. In an abrupt change of character, Suzi delivers the line that confirms that this is what the whole film is about, that women hating women is as toxic as the men who police women’s bodies, and that it needs to stop. It’s a little out of character for Suzi as she has been going on about how all the skinny women are not real women but it’s good clarification of the film’s message.

The character of Debbie is a little hollow by comparison to Ginny, although the do attempt to give her a bit of depth through tragedy, an abusive mother giving her body issues, problems with mental illness, yet it’s hard to see her motivations for getting involved with Ginny’s murders. Debbie is a little too self-involved at times, particularly the moment where she slams the door in the face of a young Jehovah’s Witness girl and watches her walk next door to Ginny’s house, the woman she suspects is murdering people. It’s an aspect of Debbie’s personality that made her seem unrealistic, but this film is pretty far from realistic.

When speaking of the realism of this film, it’s never really explained why Ginny has become a cannibal. It’s good for gore but there’s no motivation for it. The murdering I can understand, it’s misguided rage, although even that is a little over the top. Ginny’s suffering at the hands of sleazy men in the modelling and fashion industry is more likely to make her hate men than women, but that’s misguided rage.

modelhunger3Despite the lack of realism, the message of the film is important. However the delivery of that message was hard to draw out under all the gore and sometimes feels secondary to the gore. I can’t help but feel that this might be due to the writer, James Mogart having not live with the constant body shaming that women go through. Rochon has been able to guide the message with her directing but it still lacks the focus that could have made this a gruesome social commentary.

6/10

Hank Boyd Is Dead (2015) Review

hankboyd1Hank Boyd Is Dead (2015)

Running Time: 76 minutes

Writer & Director: Sean Melia

Cast: Stefanie E. Frame, David Christopher Wells, Liv Rooth, Michael Hogan, Carole Monferdini, Arthur Aulisi

Hank Boyd is dead. There you have it. The title of this darkly comic horror film leaves you in little doubt as to what to expect when you sit down to watch the story unfold. The question is, can Director Sean Melia deliver on what feels like a promise to entertain, amuse and horrify in equal measure?

We begin by meeting Sarah, who is making her way to the Boyd house to cater for the funeral of Hank (he’s dead remember). We discover, alongside Sarah, that Hank has killed himself in custody after being found guilty of the murder of a young woman. In time, Sarah will realise that this is not entirely the whole truth. From the very outset of the film, the story is interspersed with old home footage (presumably depicting the Boyd family as children) and whilst the old footage is a nice touch, it unfortunately becomes woefully over used, flashing back continually throughout the story without adding much value. The film also cuts away to an interview being conducted with two as yet unseen characters who have more to reveal about the Boyd family’s past.

hankboyd2The interview seems out of sync with the action taking place in the house and ends up feeling included merely to fill in the gaps of the back story. It’s a shame, as both concepts could have enhanced the film, had they ever actually hit their stride.

Back inside the house, Sarah, alone and uneasy, hears strange noises from upstairs and goes to investigate. Before she can discover anything, she is stopped by David, Hank’s brother, who also happens to be a cop; a particularly shifty and sinister one. His colleague Ray, sits outside guarding the house and it is clear the two are partners in crime. The rest of the family then fall in to place, with confused and forgetful mother Beverley and childlike sister Aubrey. There are one or two nice moments; Aubrey’s dramatic winks towards a dolls cabinet (and subsequently towards the audience) and Beverley’s over the top demands are amusing. However, the humour sits oddly and never fully takes flight.

hankboyd3After Sarah overhears David and Ray speaking she realises that maybe Hank wasn’t guilty of murder at all. She is now in grave danger, as David knows they have been overheard and will stop at nothing to protect his totally dysfunctional family. At this point of the film, our interest peaks, it feels like everything has been established, and that the dark and amusing tale should now let rip. However, as the story lurches from extreme to distasteful extreme, it’s a shame that by this point, you don’t feel more invested in the story, but the characters aren’t appealing enough or clever enough in their insanity to really engage.

From here on out, events turn rather more horrific and to be honest, somewhat farcical. When a reporter arrives on the doorstep, he seems to be there merely to serve the role of yet more story exposition and subsequent victim. There is also a weird revelation of incest, complete with make out moment and romantic music, plus the revelation of what Sarah heard upstairs earlier and a bloody rising body count. It’s a shame but you are left feeling that literally everything has been thrown at the screen in an effort to see what sticks. To be fair, there are a couple of wryly humorous moments that made me titter; murderous carnage in the basement whilst the neighbours sit upstairs and David’s blatant disregard for anyone or anything by the end of the film. Unfortunately it all just felt a little too late.

hankboyd4Veering between thriller, horror and black comedy, it feels like the film never really hits its mark. Not funny enough for a black comedy and feeling a little too bright and glossy for a disturbed horror, it seemed to fall in to an odd middle ground. The concept is a decent one and undoubtedly there will be some that enjoy, but ultimately it feels like it hasn’t quite decided what sort of film it wants to be.

4 out of 10

The Before Time (2014) Review

thebeforetime1The Before Time (2014)

Director: Miguel Müller

Stars: Jules Hartley, Danielle Baker, Phillip Andre Botello

Plot (From IMDB) When two rival crews head into the desert to shoot a reality show based on a buried Navajo treasure, they discover that truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s more dangerous. Something wants them from digging deeper and from escaping the desert alive.

When I saw the details of Miguel Müller’s directorial début, “The Before Time”, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Another found footage film”, I said to myself. But, as with all horror movies I am asked to review, I went into it with a totally clear mind.

“The Before Time” begins with a news report detailing a gruesome murder scene in which the decapitated bodies of a group of fortune hunters had been found on Native American land, near the Californian border. It is here we learn if what will become one of the films subplots, namely the animosity between two beautiful female news anchors, when one muscles in on the others shot.

Then we jump to a production meeting(this is one of the problems with found footage films, they just “jump” around from one scene to another) where we find an executive point out that among the bodies, a single gold coin is found, that’s got more than a passing resemblance to some legendary Navajo gold. Naturally, this stereotypically sleazy executive Daniel (Ted Jonas) decides this story is an ideal vehicle for a reality show.

thebeforetime2But not content with with putting his crew in danger, he decides to hire another and pit them against each other. Enter the two rivals i mentioned earlier, named Kimberley (Jules Hartley-What Happens in Vegas) and Cate (Danielle Baker). With their crews in tow, they head out in search of the Native American treasure (which never ends well)!

The Before Time is a pretty paint by numbers found footage movie, and while it isn’t all bad I felt it was guilty of a horror movies biggest crime, as for the most part, it was plain boring. It may just be the fact that this sort of film has been made to death, and if you have seen one found footage film, then you will be able to guess where this film is going. Most scenes feel limp and just don’t flow together very well.

The acting is, mostly anyway, wooden and uninspiring. The characters just don’t feel authentic, with next to no character development. It doesn’t help that there is no visible chemistry between any of the cast. Maybe the film would have been better if they had focused on developing the characters rather than try limp attempts at satire. Also, the “spooky” Natives, are about as scary and unsettling as new born baby!

Its all a shame, as there are a few clever ideas here, and towards the end especially, there are one or two genuinely unsettling moments. The thick atmosphere that has built in the final act is complemented by some solid jump scares. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to save the film.

thebeforetime3While found footage films have the advantage that they are relatively cheap and easy to make, the sheer number of them means that the have to have something special to stand out, which the Before Time doesn’t. The long periods where nothing even remotely interesting happens and lack of character development mean that I would probably give this one a miss.

3/10

Creature Designers – The Frankenstein Complex (2015) Review

creaturedesigners1Creature Designers – The Frankenstein Complex (USA, 2015)
Dir: Gilles Penso & Alexandre Poncet
Starring: Rick Baker, Guillermo del Toro, Phil Tippett

Plot: This documentary takes us through the history of the films that brought us monsters and the men who created them. Highlighting the films and filmmakers who revolutionised the art of creature creation, from Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera, to the mind-boggling effects in The Thing created by Rob Bottin.

I don’t think any film genre can boast fans who care about special effects as highly as horror fans. Horror fans recognise the artistry and hard work that goes into all the monsters that fill our favourite films. We raise our voices against the use of CG effects when practical effects would do the job better. We care deeply about how are monsters are made. Creature Designers – The Frankenstein Complex shows a similar fondness and care about on screen monsters, and spotlights the men who birthed them.

This documentary isn’t just a series of clips from famous monster films with narration over the top. It’s interview heavy, allowing the men who worked behind the scenes to let us hear about the joy that creating these creatures gave them, but also the sadness that has come from working in an industry that is struggling in the face of newer technology.

CreatureDesigners2This isn’t a pro-practical effects and anti-cgi documentary, the positives of both techniques are discussed and acknowledged, but you can see that some of these men, these artists have been a little wounded by the changing technology. Men who worked with stop-motion, men like Phil Tippett have lost a lot of work and respect in the growth of CGI. You only need to hear about the treatment of Rick Baker during the creation of Men In Black to see how the hard work just isn’t getting the same reward these days.

Creature Designers is a fascinating documentary because it shows how the film industry changed with groundbreaking films like Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and The Abyss. It shows how the men tasked with creating strange and exciting creatures had to break the mould to bring these things to life. Films like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 which are heralded for their CGI effects are shown here for their equally revolutionary practical effects that were ignored in favour of the CGI.

creaturedesigners3This is the kind of documentary that people who want to make films, both from a beginner level to the seasoned professional should watch to inspire confidence in the older techniques. The studio executives who have long since lost confidence in practical effects because they’re afraid that it won’t bring the spectacle to put butts in cinema seats need to watch this. After seeing the practical effects that were supposed to be in the prequel to The Thing, that were replaced by underwhelming CGI, it’s important that filmmakers don’t forget that these are tools that we can still use. This should be message of preservation, rather than a love letter to the monster makers we left behind.

8/10

The Ninth Configuration (1980) Blu-Ray review

ninth1THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (Dir- William Peter Blatty, USA, 1980)

Starring- Stacey Keach, Scott Wilson, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Robert Loggia, Moses Gunn

Out Now on UK DVD & Blu-Ray from Second Sight

William Peter Blatty will most notably be known for his novel of THE EXORCIST and also for the screenplay of the film. Though despite numerous screenwriting credits, Blatty has rarely dealt directly with cinema and has only made two films, including the superb and underrated EXORCIST 3 and before that, this film, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Yet each of his foray’s into cinema, along with the original screenplay for the EXORCIST, EXORCIST 3 (based on his own novel LEGION) and CONFIGURATION deal with the directors primarily Christian themes of good and evil, the questioning of faith and how can such bad things happen in a world to the innocent and good and to those who believe in God and how his characters deal with these contradictions.

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is one such complex example and having not seen it for a long time after first watching it on Channel Four in a director approved version (broadcast late 90’s/early 00’s maybe?), it remains a baffling, deliberately disjointed exercise that on this viewing has cleared up a lot more than the first watch yet still confuses and confounds.

The film is set in a castle, stylised with gargoyles and sculptures of menacing, yet awesome looking hooded figures. This castle is owned by the U.S. military who have made it a makeshift home for mentally disturbed soldiers and those of military command. On arrival to this asylum is Colonel Kane (Keach) who has been assigned to take over treatment of the patients. He meets Colonel Fell (Flanders) who helps him get used to the patients one of whom is Reno (Miller) who is trying to stage a play of the works of Shakespeare with a cast of dogs. But its former astronaut Cutshaw (Wilson) who Kane takes an interest in. He has been confined into this castle since he was dragged form the capsule of a failed Moon launch suffering an apparent mental breakdown.

ninth4Cutshaw engages Kane with questions on the existence of god and the idea of self sacrifice for the benefit of others. Kane seems to approach his patients with an apparent calmness indulging their every mean no matter how daft. Though it starts to become unclear as to whether Kane has some apparent motive behind his supposed therapy or whether he has suffered from traumas himself that he wants to forget.

Admittedly it’s hard to pinpoint what type of film THE NINTH CONFIGURATION is. A comedy. A serious drama focusing on the effects of war and duty on soldiers. Or is it a psychological thriller with theological overtones. The fact that it is hard to categorise makes the film unique in it’s own way and also frustrating in another. After seeing this a long time ago I couldn’t quite fathom what I saw and in some respects didn’t like it. Maybe I was expecting another EXORCIST style horror and my expectations where of course not met and that could just be a nice reflection on the way that as viewers/fans we expect the creator of a well known possession horror film to come up with another possession horror film and to follow through with more of the same and not confuse us with something they might want to try and to experiment with.

ninth5Though on this viewing I came away with more of an appreciation for the film. Even if that appreciation is still met with confusion. Whilst THE EXORCIST detailed a battle between good and evil over the soul of a teenage girl and the testing of faith of a catholic priest, THE NINTH CONFIGURATION debates the inherit belief in god and whether he exists in a world that allows such inhumane acts to occur and the idea of beneficial self sacrifice. In this case the debate is done between a former astronaut and a Colonel who seems to be hiding some past trauma from his previous calls of duty. Blatty handles this material well amidst the madness and chaos of the asylum with Miller auditioning dogs for roles in his Shakespeare production, Moses Gunn dressed as a black superman and Robert Loggia doing a karaoke rendition of Al Jolson in black face.

To say that the film doesn’t have a dark twisted sense of humour would be an understatement, after all we are in the midst of a group of nut jobs, to use the crude phrase. Though its these twists and turns throughout that somehow make the film uneven often at times hard to fathom especially if you are viewing this for the first time. As often as some segments are bizarre and funny we then enter into some scenes that are intense and dark. Most notably in the bar room scene where Kane and Cutshaw encounter a biker gang. It’s both at times slightly absurd in it’s depiction of the gang and intense in building up to an inevitable violent crescendo. Performance wise it’s certainly Keach and Wilson who are both excellent in their respective roles. Keach especially, who seems both world weary and drained from his time in the military and eventually conveying the build up of anger that soon reveals his character’s true nature.

ninth2.jpgIt’s a surprise to hear that he was a last minute replacement after previous star Nicol Williamson was fired after he threw a phone through a hotel window in the films location in Budapest. The supporting players seem to chew the scenery in many respects which when conveying patients in an asylum is probably good thing, especially Miller who is fantastic especially when berating dogs he auditions for his play. Cult film fans should also keep an eye out for an appearance from MANIAC star Joe Spinell who plays Miller’s “theatrical” assistant a role which wasn’t written in but somehow Spinell convinced Blatty to cast him. Visually the film is splendid with it’s castle setting being a striking superb setting and as one of the characters states in the film, with the presence of the gargoyles, seems to be the most unlikeliest place to treat the mentally ill. It also features some striking scenes most notably the superb image of a crucified figure of Jesus on the moon. A lunar crucifixion that is both startling, unusual and outlandish mirroring the state of most of the character’s in the film.

Blatty has said of his film as being the true sequel to THE EXORCIST, with EXORCIST 3 or as it was originally meant to be called LEGION, being a conclusion of a trilogy of films dealing with theological issues. Raised a Jesuit, Blatty is serious in his approach to debating the existence of a greater higher power and in many respects even those of a non belief position, can admire the man’s approach as he tackles themes with an intelligent discourse. Though most of all THE NINTH CONFIGURATION as much as it is confusing often at times frustrating is unique, one of a kind in a way, a film that without the association of the author and screenwriter of one of the most successful horror movies of all time would probably have never been green lit for production.

ninth3Even now the film stands out as an original mish-mash of theological debate, twisted surreal humour and maddening intense visuals orchestrated by someone who doesn’t care for the demands of a straightforward narrative and after 35 years the film still retains a cult following and with this new Blu Ray release from Second Sight will no doubt confront and confuse a new generation.

7.5/10

Bonus Features:

– English Subtitles for The Hard of Hearing
– Audio Commentary by Writer/ Director William Peter Blatty
– ‘The Writer/ Producer/ Director’ – Interview With William Peter Blatty
– ‘Confessions of Kane’ – Interview With Actor Stacy Keach – ‘The Debrief Of Sgt. Christian’ – Interview With Actor Stephen Powers
– ‘Designing The Configuration’ Interviews With Production Designer William Malley and Art Director J. Dennis Washington
– ‘Killer On My Mind’ – Interview With Soundtrack Composer Barry De Vorzon
– ‘The Party Behind The Curtain’ – Interviews With Actors Tom Atkins, Jason Miller, Richard Lynch and William Peter Blatty
– Mark Kermode Introduction Featurette
– Deleted Scenes and Outtakes

Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion – Book Review

arrowbook1Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion – Book Review

Hardcover: 246 pages
Publisher: Arrow; 1st edition (11 April 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0993306012
ISBN-13: 978-0993306013
Product Dimensions: 28 x 3 x 22 cm

Is it possible to love a book too much? I’m not talking about going all the way…that’s a really good way to get paper cuts you definitely don’t want to explain in the doctor’s office. No, I’m talking about reading a book over and over, poring over the details like an Edgar Wright movie, finding more and more nuggets of goodness the longer you look.

And so we come to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion. For the last seven years, Arrow Video have been putting out quality reissues of all your favourite pieces of off-kilter cinema, from trash epics like Hell Comes to Frogtown, to cult offerings like Night of the Comet. If you ever glimpsed the cover on a plastic rack of de-boxed sleeves in the local video store, back in the glory days of VHS tapes, chances are Arrow have the distribution rights. They love cult movies, so putting out a book celebrating them and their creators makes a lot of sense.

arrowbook2For your money, you get a collection of 30 essays covering the history & making of movies ranging from Battle Royale to Zombie Flesh Eaters, plus the effects they had on cinema in general. You also get glances back at influential directors, actors and genres. Snippets of interviews, both recent and historical, add valuable and interesting insights into the film-making process, and the influences which shaped some of the most beloved genre classics.

There’s a lot to take in here, and a lot to like, from the recreations of artwork and stills from the movies discussed, to fascinating behind-the-scenes information. Films you may have overlooked, are shown to have layers far deeper that you might expect. There’s a touching history of Wes Craven’s contributions to the horror genre, an analysis of Romero’s zombie (and non-zombie) works through the years, and a superb look back at Vincent Price’s time in the movies, drawing from old interviews. This was my favourite essay in the bunch, but then, I could read about Price – and imagine his voice – all day if I could. The history of the giallo written by Michael Mackenzie was also a great read; but again, as a big giallo fan, I’d happily eat up anything to do with that genre.

The only thing knocking this book down from a perfect score-perch is the fact that many of these essays have been printed before, in the booklets accompanying the films they mention. Not a terrible thing, as even an avid collector like me doesn’t own every one of these movies (or at least, not the Arrow versions), but devout Arrow fans may be disappointed to find they already much of what’s been collected here.

arrowbook5This is more than just a regathering of old material though (and arguably easier to refer back to than a DVD booklet); it’s a loving look at the films which exist on the edges of the mainstream, slowly pushing their weird tentacles into the public consciousness. Just like the world of cult cinema itself, there’s something for almost every genre fan here, from spaghetti westerns to food horror, highbrow Asian cinema to lowbrow video nasties. Recommended for horror fans and cinema junkies alike.

Score: 8/10

Book links:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0993306012/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0993306012/

You can read more about Arrow releases at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk and follow them @ArrowFilmsVideo for release info and general horror-related goodness.

P.S. The answer is no. You can’t love a book too much. Just don’t expect them to spoon you back at night.

Estranged (2015) Review

estrangeddvd1Estranged (UK, 2015)
Dir: Adam Levins
Starring: Amy Mason, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas

Out now on DVD & VOD from FrightFest Presents and Icon !

Plot: When an accident ends her years of travelling, January (Mason) returns home in a wheelchair, struggling with severe memory loss. Accompanied by boyfriend, Callum, January’s return to the family she refused to speak about sparks a mystery about her past. What had she been running away from and is the danger still there?

Estranged is another of the FrightFest Presents collection, poached for distribution from the many horror films that grace the screen at the prestigious London-based horror festival. Not quite as oddball as some of their other picks including The Sand, and Curtain, instead Estranged is more of a slow, tense thriller. From first time feature director, Adam Levins, we get a moody and atmospheric film full of mystery and suspense.

While amnesia has been used before many times to draw out a mystery, it never really feels forced in Estranged. The opening accident feels very relatable, the consequence of being a little too care-free on holiday and it all going horribly wrong. However this is probably the only bit of the film that feels grounded in reality. Once the film arrives at it’s main location, the family manor, it feels like we’re also arriving in a different era. Everything just feels old, almost Gothic, and the mobile phones seen earlier disappear into some technological void. Not necessarily a bad thing but it does feel more like they are ignoring the story-telling problems of modern technology rather than dealing with it.

estrangeddvd2The cast do a great job, specifically Cosmo as the hulking patriarch, who swings between severely threatening and deeply compassionate towards his family, making him something all the more terrifying. The family come across as strange and suspicious but not overtly so, it has to be drawn out making the audience question what is the secrets they hold.

The unveiling of those secrets is not the most clear, often answering questions with more questions. This is more frustrating that intriguing and I often felt a little lost. Eventually the secrets are revealed more clearly but at that point it just feels like they’re giving you the answers rather than letting you solve the mystery yourself.

While Estranged’s main focus is the mystery of it’s plot, the story also goes to some dark places with scenes of violence and torture. The torture doesn’t really get too vicious, which is great if you don’t really enjoy torture films. However if you do enjoy extreme violence, you’re going to find the violence a bit toothless. It’s easy to be concerned for January, but there doesn’t seem to be much need for concern when it feels like her abusers are pulling their punches.

estrangeddvd3While watching Estranged, I couldn’t help but think of Lucky McKee’s The Woman another film focused around a pretty fucked up family. Estranged doesn’t quite hit the same level as The Woman, but it could have. It’s dark enough at times, but I think the general time-warped feeling of this film really keeps it from getting under the skin of the audience. If it felt a little more modern, it might have felt a little more real, and painful.

6/10