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Get Out (2017) Review

rsz_goposterGET OUT (Dir- Jordan Peele, USA, 2017)

Starring- Daniel Kaluuya, Alison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel

In Cinemas now

Arriving on a lot of critical acclaim and a hit opening weekend at the US box office Jordan Peele’s GET OUT is one of those horror films that combines both sharp satire and creepy unease to maximum effect. Rather than hit below the belt at an obvious choice of redneck racist southern hillbilly’s he goes for the throat of liberal attitudes towards race and benefits from a sharp underpinning of characters that come off as more patronising and cringe worthy but underneath it all is a sense of danger and nastiness which slowly reveals its true face strengthening the films genre credentials.

Photographer Chris (Kaluuya) is preparing with his girlfriend Rose (Williams) to spend a weekend at her parents. Chris is obviously concerned about the trip since as he says he’s black and his girlfriend is white, though Rose assures him that her parents are very liberal and that her dad would “have voted for Obama for a third term if he could.” Naturally this is one of the first things Dean Armitage (Whitford) points out when he meets Chris along with his wife Missy (Keener) who in the first meeting with their daughter’s new boyfriend seems friendly at first though with moments of cringe worthiness, especially when Dean is making the aforementioned Obama comment and showing Chris the many souvenirs he has picked up on his travels. Dean also apologies to Chris for the presence of black groundskeeper Walter (Henderson) and servant Georgina (Gabriel) as if it seems too much of a cliched throwback to the past even though Dean states that the two where helpers to his parents and didn’t want to see them go.

rsz_go2The same weekend there is a party at the Armitages household where local guests come around and seemingly Chris finds the presence and the patronising comments of liking Tiger Woods and that black is the new black etc too much to take. Though the odd behaviour of the only black guest at the party and the increasingly strange reactions Chris finds from speaking to the Walter and Georgina starts to freak him out to the point. With contact to his best friend Rod (a brilliant laugh out performance from Howery) he starts to pick up on clues that something is not right with whats going on and that maybe he might be better away from “too many white people.”

From the start GET OUT pitches its subversion on its sleeve in a clever skewering of convention. The opening scene features a black man walking through a tree and hedge lined suburb, uncomfortable and out of place with the setting and a car pulling up beside him blaring out “Run Rabbit Run” on the stereo. Peele sets a fantastic switch around of the white suburban middle class fear of ending up in the wrong side of town and feeling misplaced. At the same time this recalls the suburban terror and unease of HALLOWEEN and more recently IT FOLLOWS where the white picket fence hides something more darker and hidden. It’s this opening scene that sets off Peele with both his fulfilment of genre recognition and satire as lets face it even if there is bite in the films humour and portrayal of liberal racism, this is also a horror film and our director doesn’t want you to forget that.

rsz_go3It’s the opening scenes that are brilliantly written, witty and well performed by the cast that keeps us engaged with some of the awkwardness of Chris’s situation, particularly an excellent turn from Whitford as the head of the household who seems eager to please but as Rose states, doesn’t seem to have an off button. Yet throughout these opening scenes there’s a clever build up of unease throughout whether its the odd behaviour of the two servants or Missy’s insistence on placing Chris under hypnosis seemingly to cure him of his habit of smoking, which is a superb, unnerving and stylishly nightmarish sequence.

Even in the presence of the party with the guests and their consistently patronising questioning of the only black man surrounded by white folk, which is both awkward and cringe worthy then devolves into a more darker prospect in one particular moment which when revealed adds a chilling twist to set up the films final section. In the final section of the film there’s a twist that seems pretty predictable but then we are confronted with an even more bizarre and darker turn of events that bends the film into the realms of schlock yet still retains the films twisted subversion.

rsz_go4Much can be made of the films placing at a time when racial tension is still a relevant subject in the States and there’s no denying that Peele’s film picks up on this simmering tension and fears felt by black Americans. Even in the films climax with the arrival of a police car, this sight feels more like a possible threat rather than the usual sign of assurance. GET OUT is superbly written and a brilliant example of horror as social satire delivered with veritable wit and unease that both has a deep genre quality and sharp swipe at liberal attitudes towards race that cuts deep as well as being very funny. It will certainly make you think twice about being put under hypnosis!

9/10

A Cure For Wellness (2016) Review

rsz_cfw1A CURE FOR WELLNESS (Dir- Gore Verbinski, USA, 2016)

Starring- Dane DeHaan, Jason Issacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Harry Groener

A CURE FOR WELLNESS arrives with a decent publicity campaign, a trailer espousing its glossy often hallucinating visuals and interesting psychological horror and a chance for a leading man role for Dane DeHaan. With a $40 million budget behind its no surprise that the studios will be wanting the film to score big at the box office yet at the same time with the subject matter at hand and it’s genre credentials can the film summon the appetite for an audience willing to go along with the mystery especially when they see the running time of almost 2 ½ hours, which even for genre films is a lengthy prospect.

The story focuses on Lockhart (DeHaan) an arrogant young executive who has just been promoted into a new position. However his first job that he is pretty much forced to take, since the executive members of the board know about some financial wrong doings he has committed to get to where he is, is to go to a luxury health spa in Switzerland to bring back the CEO, Pembroke (Groener) who has written a letter to the board that suggests he has turned his back on the cut throat nastiness of his profession and rather wants to remain at getting better and proclaim his intentions of not returning. Pembroke has gone all Colonel Kurtz and Lockhart on arrival gets no easy answers and whilst on his way from the institute he is involved in a car crash he wakes up with a plaster cast on his leg and back at the “wellness centre” run by Dr Volmer (Issacs). Whilst at first the centre seems seemingly straightforward and lavishly set out and while Lockhart starts to undergo the centres procedures of the “treatment” that the rich clientele pay good money for, its not long before he and ourselves begin to see odd cracks and sinister goings on occurring that hide an altogether darker form of rejuvenation. Not at least is the presence of mysterious young girl, Hannah (Goth) who may have a more prominent link to the spa.

rsz_cfw3First of all the impressive production value of A CURE FOR WELLNESS shines throughout, with Verbinski and his cinematographer Bojan Bazelli making full use of the buildings historical ambience and its lush setting within the Swiss Alps, with fantastic wide shots of the stunning vista. As well as the impressive production design the film benefits from its 1:85 widescreen frame which emphasises the claustrophobia of the institute and closing in of Lockhart’s consistent sleuthing and sneaking around into the unauthorised areas of the building adding a creepy aesthetic to the films structure and also unveiling what’s hidden in the vaults that contrasts the grand opulence and beauty of the upstairs where the patients are pampered and cared for and offered decadent food for dinner. Verbinski confidently manages to use the building to build up the sense of dread and paranoia that will eventually unleash itself on our central character. As Lockhart, DeHann engages enough credibility into his leading man role and surprisingly looks pretty unwell to begin with and therefore maybe an impromptu stay at the spa might be good for him. Though for me its Issacs as the sinister Volmer who pulls off the best role in the film, both having fun with his Doctor role/torturer and eventually becoming the films villain in remarkable if slightly unconvincing ways.

rsz_cfw4Goth also remains a mysterious presence as Hannah whose innocence and turn into womanhood becomes a significant factor in the final part. Though as much as production values and decent entertaining performances are its saving graces, the film lacks strong pacing throughout, and as mentioned before, running in at 146 minutes this does over run and could do with at least 30 minutes taken out. This lengthy running time also causes unconvincing actions in the characters and plot devices that surely would be followed through in another film such as Lockhart noticing a hospital assistant pushing a stretcher with what looks like a corpse on it covered by a blanket being pushed into one of the only remaining buildings from when the spa was originally a castle and rather than act on this our main protagonist doesn’t end getting to this section of the building until at least an hour later. The factor of predictability also kicks in towards the films final third which will make its audience, if they’re wise enough, realise where the film is heading towards and whilst the atmosphere remains a strong factor in the film there are few scares throughout and where the film does benefit from in a wearing its genre credentials on its sleeve is in certain nasty and icky scenes of torture involving eels and one which involves a nasty use of a dentist drill which will have you wincing in your seat.

rsz_cfw2Part of me probably feels that rather than being a feature A CURE FOR WELLNESS might have worked better as a one off mini series for television or even a one off 8 part series such as the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE which itself had a lot of cinematic quality. This would allow the story to generate more interest, develop the back story and expand on further supporting characters. As a feature overall, whilst displaying a grandiose quality and some superb cinematography and production design, A CURE FOR WELLNESS seems to be stretching its length out to the point that it crams in plenty of back story and certain scenes that hamper the films pace and could have been cut out which would not have affected the overall tone of the finished product.

6/10

Ghosts Of Mars (2001) Review

rsz_gom1GHOSTS OF MARS (Dir- John Carpenter, USA, 2001)

Starring- Natasha Hentsridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Richard Cetrone

Out now on Bluray/DVD Dual Format from Indicator

Probably the last time John Carpenter made a feature with a pretty significant budget and with studio backing GHOSTS OF MARS was not well received on release, particularly by Carpenter fans and didn’t play well at the box office and burning out the horror auteur in the process and it would be 5 years later, with his superb entry into the first season of MASTERS OF HORROR with CIGARETTE BURNS, that he would get behind the camera and another 9 until he went back to a full feature with the entertaining if uneven THE WARD. Since then Carpenter has gone to music releasing two albums and even performing live (the privilege I got to see last October) and a return to cinema is unlikely even though he recently sent out a post on social media putting his backing behind a brand new version of HALLOWEEN to be written by Danny McBride and David Gordon Green with Green also in the directors chair, even hinting he might do the music. But how about his later films or the last one he did before taking a long break? Powerhouse releasing have also put out versions of CHRISTINE and also VAMPIRES and have now gone onto to do GHOSTS OF MARS, a film that personally I’ve only seen parts of and since on its release I heard a lot of negative reaction and therefore kind of avoided a full watch of it. It’s like the later Argento films some I have avoided and some I’ve seen and there’s that semblance of a once great master now treading the boards and disappointing fans who expect another return to form (though I do like MOTHER OF TEARS though for its camp madness). So how about GHOSTS OF MARS on a full watch then and how does it hold up, should it be re-discovered and given a better chance?

rsz_gom2It’s the year 2176 and Mars has been colonized by pesky humans with 84% of it terraformed, as a helpful intro narrator tells us (sly hints at the opening of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK). A train arrives at a station unmanned and on auto pilot and the only passenger on board is a Mars Police Officer, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Henstridge) who is handcuffed to a bunk bed. She is then interrogated by a committee who want her to recall why her mission to pick up a dangerous prisoner, Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) failed and in flashback Ballard recounts the events which are the focus of the film. Belonging to a team led by Commander Braddock (Grier), along with a consistently flirty/sleazy Sgt Jericho (Statham) and a rookie Kincaid (DuVall) their mission was to arrive at a mining outpost to pick up Williams and transport him back for trial. Yet on arrival the town is deserted and the corpses they find hanging upside down, minus a head, in a bar is not a good sign. Only soon they realise that the townsfolk have turned into crazed savages brought about from disembodied spirits that where unleashed after a underground doorway was broken in another mining colony. The spirits the aforementioned Ghosts Of Mars are not too keen on the humans invading their planet and invoke a savage primal urge which result in a destruction of human civility. Naturally the cops and the thugs led by Williams and some other (expendable) townsfolk in the jail band together to take on the possessed savages and try and reach the train to get the hell out of dodge.

rsz_gom5After seeing the film in full I will admit that I enjoyed GHOSTS OF MARS and in all honesty its an entertaining slice of cheesy B-movie fun. But looking into it you can see both its flaws and its quality’s and most of all you can see a director reviving moments of his previous classic films and also tipping a hat to a genre he loves, the western which he already paid tribute to in his classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 which is a partial retread/re-imaging etc of RIO BRAVO. There’s even scenes that remind you of Carpenter’s clever use of widescreen frame in essentially highlighting foreground information to the audience that the character’s haven’t noticed, such as a scene of a doorknob being slowly turned unbeknownst to those in the background and we know from its movements that what will be on the other side of the door wont be nice. Essentially GHOSTS takes bits from PRECINCT 13 and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and updates it with a futuristic setting on another planet, accompanied by the directors slight use of synth which is mostly overdubbed with a pounding heavy metal soundtrack courtesy of Anthrax.

rsz_gom3It all plods along at a decent rate and whilst it does essentially break out into lots of turned-savaged humans being gunned down in mass numbers which tend to drag and stifle the action sequences Carpenter knows how to pace the film, to keep it basic. The dialogue and acting is ropey at best and character wise like the story is basic to a minimum with only Ballard being given a slight addiction to a narcotic which essentially becomes a saving grace for her not to be possessed by the Martian spirit and as the main bad guy, Ice Cube is just essentially Ice Cube and equips himself well in the bad ass role, plus has one of the best character names in the film, Desolation Williams, which is what people who are stuck for naming new born children should call their newborn or if they have a pet cat or dog to name them that instead! Whilst its nowhere near the quality of THE THING or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or THEY LIVE or other carpenter classics (please insert name of John Carpenter classic here), GHOSTS is a wholly entertaining ride and whilst it wont hold a candle up to his previous works the film none-the-less deserves maybe a bit more revaluation in that whilst it has flaws throughout it still contains slight nods to Carpenter’s previous work and retains the B-movie style and grit of his early low budget flicks.

rsz_gom4As a thought maybe Carpenter knew that it was time to call it a day on making big budget films, that the demands of producers and studios would become too much for this film and even future projects so why not finish now on a entertaining slice of big budget B-movie inspired flick, cause at least now he has made some fantastic music and so in the end calling it a day could be seen as being beneficial for both himself and his fans.

6/10

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
Original stereo audio
Alternative 5.1 surround sound track
Audio commentary by director John Carpenter and actor Natasha Henstridge
Scoring ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 6 mins): behind the scenes at the recording sessions with John Carpenter and bands Anthrax and Buckethead as they record the score for Ghosts of Mars
Special Effects Deconstruction (2001, 7 mins)
Video Diary: Red Desert Nights – Making ‘Ghosts of Mars’ (2001, 17 mins)
Original theatrical trailer
New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Nick Pinkerton
Limited Dual Format Edition of 5,000 copies
UK Blu-ray premiere

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

The Driller Killer (1979) Arrow Video Review

dk1THE DRILLER KILLER – REVIEW

(Dir- Abel Ferrara, USA, 1979)

Starring- Jimmy Laine, Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day

Out NOW from Arrow Video!

“Notorious video nasty” is the one term used to describe Ferrara’s low budget exploitation flick. Yet its notoriety and inclusion on the video nasties list in the UK primarily comes from the it’s brutally up front and infamous video cover, which features a man with a drill bit going into his forehead, screaming with blood rushing down his face, a testament to the almost recognisable aspect of shock advertising employed by the people who exhibited exploitation films in cinemas only a few years before the dawn of VHS, with a tactical blatant use of shocking title and gaudy often graphic cover promising lurid and unspeakable thrills. Most of the time the films on the nasties list where a disappointment and only a few often proved to be exceptional and DRILLER KILLER is one of them and is now getting a brand new dual Blu-ray and DVD release from the folks at Arrow.

THE FILM

Ferrara’s film stands out from the video nasty crowd in that it purposefully invokes different genres such as character study, black comedy, psychological thriller and of course horror. Its a portrait of struggling painter Reno (Jimmy Lane, but actually Ferrara under a pseudo name) and his attempts to fend of piling up rent, bills, complaints from his girlfriend Carol (Marz) and her on/off lover Pamela (Day) and the racket created by a punk band who move in downstairs brought in by Carol called Tony Coca-Cola and The Roosters consistently practising day and night. All these aspects start to affect Reno’s psyche leading to a change in mental state and the purchase of a battery pack that can power a portable drill and send him on a killing spree of New York’s drunk vagrants, a group he has a fear of becoming part of and a defenceless one at that who he takes out his rage on instead of those causing him grief in the first place.

dk3Shot in 16mm THE DRILLER KILLER ranks up there with films that document a period in the time of New York of the late 70’s and early 80’s such as TAXI DRIVER, MANIAC, BASKET CASE, COMBAT SHOCK and even part of NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN in its portrayal of a city in the midst of sleazy often dangerous areas, exploitation cinemas, punk bars, artists apartments and in this films case a massive homeless problem brought in part by the closure of mental hospitals (which is briefly mentioned in the shot of a front cover of a newspaper). This is the period before Rudolph Giuliani cleaned up the city in the early 90’s, of a city that had a grit and rough edge to it and often a sense of desperation which is perfectly captured by Ferrara who has even hailed this a documentary in parts, and in some respects the rough edge of the film adds a realist approach and makes a perfect nightmarish setting for the action as Reno’s mind slowly starts to break and he succumbs to violent urges.

The film has an almost languid freestyle approach to the pacing with occasional scenes of the Roosters band practising, Reno trying to finish his painting, trying to get money off his art agent and also witnessing the homeless problem and violent crime around the city and this slow style is punctuated by viscerally brutal scenes of violence sound tracked by a hypnotically, psycho-esque synth score that acts in a JAWS type of way of building the ensuing attack on vagrants, with Reno being the proverbial shark wandering the streets with his power drill stalking his prey. Its this style and energy which makes the film work and stand out amongst the “notorious video nasty” label and earns it a level of realism towards the genre and might put those expecting it to be a straightforward horror, off. Admittedly even amongst the drilling and blood there’s an attempt to skewer horror clichés, such as a scene where Reno sees Carol and Pamela sleeping in bed and its suggested that he is about to kill them in that build up where the murderer strikes yet this ends in no carnage but with Reno just staring at them making it an anti climatic scene altogether and could almost buy into Ferrara’s explanation that he classes this film as a black comedy.

dk2Throughout the viewing of DRILLER KILLER there’s a sense of seeing Ferrara taking his first steps at themes that would punctuate his work throughout his career, especially the use of the setting of New York and its effect on an individual that would become more common especially in his next film MS 45: ANGEL OF VENGEANCE, the superb KING OF NEW YORK, his masterpiece BAD LIEUTENANT and his other (meta) horror themed film, the philosophical vampire flick THE ADDICTION. It is also a chance to see the second film (his first being a porn film called 9 LIVES OF A WET PUSSY) from a director who has remained constantly interesting, changing and ever evolving.

9/10

EXTRAS

Of course when it comes to extras Arrow tend to pull out all the stops on gathering enough for film fans to pick over and whilst it might not be a jam packed package, there is a nice selection of features that complement the main film. Most notably impressive is the addition of a feature length documentary by Ferrara and the first time its been released in the UK of MULBERRY STREET, which chronicles the directors neighbourhood one which he has grown up in and used in his films and that he lives in and the various characters that populate all based around the traditional Italian feast of San Gennaro. It’s an interesting documentary that gains engaging insight into the working of a community and the ever increasing commercialisation of traditional areas of New York as well as featuring the weird sight of Matthew Modine on a segway scooter.

dk4Added to this we also have LAINE AND ABEL which is a brand new interview with the director, WILLING AND ABEL: FERRAROLOGY 101 a superb and insightful visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, trailers and a funny audio commentary with Ferrara and Brad Stevens author of ABEL FERRARA: THE MORAL VISION (the best book on the director that you should seek out), which whilst offering insights into the film also allows Ferrara to take sly digs at his work (my favourite quote on the commentary track by him “finally a god-damn zoom shot…after an hour!”). Added to this the contents of the package include a booklet and reversible sleeve featuring new art work by the Twins of Evil on one side, and a recreation of that notorious video nasty sleeve on the other so you can shock your neighbours when they come round (if you trust them!). Credit should be given to the transfer as this looks the best I’ve seen this film in, well, since I first encountered it on the cut release back in the late 90’s.

Arrow have gone back to the original negatives and spruced it up nicely making the film look and still, retain the grittiness of its urban landscape but at the same time cleaning it up nicely and creating a brighter more sharper picture. This again is another example of Arrow’s commendable work in restoring classic often looked down upon genre fare that would usually get sub standard releases and not display any effort put into it, though here, again they have made another fine example of there dominance in the cult genre home entertainment field.

9/10

James Pemberton’s Top Films of 2016 !!

James Pemberton’s Top Films of 2016 !!

It’s that time of year again where we take in what we’ve seen over the past 12 months and condense it into a best of list. Whilst 2016 to some has been a bit of a depressing year in terms of news story’s, with more terrorist incidents plaguing mainland Europe, countless deaths of celebrated personality’s (R.I.P David Bowie), the UK deciding to take the drop off the cliff and vote to leave the European union (though some will no doubt like that and wont see it as depressing, I for one is still in a state of confusion) and the ensuing rise in hate crime and clear divisions within the UK, and then finally the USA deciding to elect a misogynistic, racist, former reality TV host as the next President elect in the form of Donald Trump, you’d think the world is about to slip into complete chaos, I don’t think it will but you never know and anyway if it does I’m sure it will supply some good inspiration for future horror films. Yes that’s what where here to discuss, horror films and which ones stood out for me in this year. It’s certainly been a strong year and with a return to Edinburgh’s wonderful Dead By Dawn for myself this year and attendance at a strong and superb Grimmfest this past October, the festival circuit has also produced some surprises that will hopefully be out on general release soon. Here then is my list, its not done in alphabetical order but rather in order of time in the year I saw them, and its not the standard ten more like eleven or twelve or thirteen, maybe, I don’t know its been hard to whittle this down, see what you think…….

btBONE TOMAHAWK (Dir- S Craig Zahler, USA, 2015)

Thankfully getting a release, albeit brief, at the cinemas, Zahler’s film is a fantastic, brilliantly written and often brutal combination of western and horror film. Working almost like an inversion of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS it follows Kurt Russell, leading a posse of townsfolk after a group of cannibalistic troglodyte tribes people kidnap some of the residents. Working on a superb script and attracting a great cast who give it there all and take the proceedings seriously, with some superb roles from Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox the film is a great slow burn to begin with establishing the characters on their mission and then exploding into some strong, gripping and very bloody action with the cross over into the cannibal tribes territory and the groups initial underestimation of the savagery that they come up against. Destined to become a cult classic, BONE TOMAHAWK will probably shock those going into it thinking its a western as be prepared this might be the first time you can say a film has elements of classics of the wild west genre crossed with an Italian cannibal movie.

the-witch-poster1THE WITCH (Dir- Robert Eggers, USA, 2015)

Eggers period piece horror flick will no doubt make it onto the list of many horror fans and even normal best of list’s of this year, if it didn’t already do so on its festival run last year. A completely evocative, uneasy, eerie and disturbing “New England Folk-tale,” Eggers film places a puritanical family and there decision to leave a community rather than face banishment and establish there own land holding and living space in an area next to a large secluded forest far away from any community. There decision brings about strange happenings, tragedy and eventual relapse into possible madness, suggestions of punishment from god for sinning and the overall break up of the family unit, possibly caused by the unknown forces and possible witches that supposedly lurk in the woods. With a script that is written and performed as spoken dialogue from the period and with a superb and evocative production design that lend the film its authenticity THE WITCH looks and sounds fantastic as well as creating the respected unease through its unsettling soundtrack that complements the action, suggesting to the viewer that what we could be watching is a collective delusion rather than an actual supernatural force. We could see the break up of the family as a warning, a folk-tale uttered to those around that time, never to leave the community or face the possibility of gods wrath and being at the mercy of whatever lurks outside. Like IT FOLLOWS last year THE WITCH is a fantastic example of highly original film-making that breathes new life and makes you respect the genre even more. It will no doubt be interesting to see how Egger’s takes on the material in his next film, a re-make of NOSFERATU.

green-room-poster-02GREEN ROOM (Dir- Jeremy Saulnier, USA, 2015)

One of the first feature I viewed at this years Dead By Dawn, my first return back to the wonderful Edinburgh based horror film festival after 8 years and a great start to boot. Saulnier’s previous film before this, BLUE RUIN, made my best of list in 2014 and the hype and expectation for this third feature by him was certainly high. It does not fail and manages to knock up the tension and intensity in its story of a group of punk musicians, The Aint Rights, who witness a murder after playing a gig at a neo-Nazi run backwoods bar. Having to hold up in the so called green room, the punks have to fight it out against the Nazi’s in gruesome, often darkly comic blitz of action. Whilst in his previous film Saulnier managed to inject a pretty un-original story of a man out for revenge, completely out of his depth and craft something unique and highly entertaining, he again adapts the same method for a group of punks out of there element against a group of ruthless individuals, organised in military fashion by there commander in chief and owner of the bar, Darcy (a brilliant against turn from Patrick Stewart). As well as containing a brilliant soundtrack (the bands rendition of Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off is a superbly hilarious and tense scene), the film speeds along at a fast pace and never lets up in the tense stand off between either side. Its a shame to see that not long after this films release one of its stars, Anton Yelchin, tragically died in a freak auto-mobile accident at his home in Los Angeles. Yelchin is well known for his performance as Chekov in the STAR TREK film re-boots, yet he has previously shown in this film, Jim Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE and even the flawed ODD THOMAS, often interesting and intense characters and showed that he was an actor who would have had a promising future ahead, but unfortunately had that cut short.

antibirth-posterANTIBIRTH (Dir- Danny Perez, USA, 2016)

Again premiered at Dead By Dawn, Perez’s mad, trippy, off the wall stoner horror was quite unlike anything I’ve seen this year. The film focuses on Lou (Natasha Lyonne) who lives and works in a town full of drug addled marines and spends most of her time partying, getting stoned and taking any other drug available. After one particular warehouse party she wakes up and finds herself afflicted with a strange illness that brings on signs of pregnancy as well as weird visions and spends most of the film trying retrace her steps of what happened whilst getting fucked up on many recreational toxins in the process. Elements of conspiracy thriller, science fiction, body horror and of course stoner comedy abound in a completely original, often hilarious film that somehow leaving you with the feeling of loving it and going along with the films insanity, makes you want to see it again to make sure you did see what you just saw. Perez has crafted a superb film that came out of nowhere and has its own level of uniqueness to recommend to anyone, well those willing to take the ride. Aided by a superb performance from Lyonne, who is the most reckless character on screen trying to find out what is happening to her but all the time getting wrecked. It’s credit to Lyonne manages to make Lou become an engaging character rather than someone to pity, or have one of those ‘life changing’ moments in the film where the character changes their bad habits. No Lou essentially doesn’t care and would rather get smashed which makes her somehow likeable and a perfect character to accompany the films mad and original tone.

neon-demon-movie-posterTHE NEON DEMON (Dir- Nicolas Winding Refn, USA/DENMARK/FRANCE, 2016)

A film that’s likely to divide audience into definite hate it or love it camps, THE NEON DEMON for me fits into the latter group. A hypnotic, dark descent into neon lit world of Los Angeles fashion industry with almost fairy tale like influenced tone in its story of a young wannabe fashion model trying to make it as a model and falling into a clique of other more experienced models who want to literally feed on her beauty. Refn again singles himself out as a maverick and original director. Invoking brilliant stylised frames and characters almost made to look like a fashion shoot. The director still knows how to deliver the requisite shock scenes and violence that add an exploitation esque showman tone to his picture making it uniquely original in its combination of art house and genre. There are two brilliant central performances from Elle Fanning and Jena Malone as the young model Jesse and the make up artist who brings her into the fashion clique who have their sights set on devouring the new blood and a fantastic against type performance from Keanu Reeves as a sleazy scumbag of a motel owner. Refn makes films for himself and that’s clear from the outset and THE NEON DEMON will confuse but at the same time it makes for unconventional and original viewing, blessed with a strong singular visual style and like his previous works another superb soundtrack.

dontbreatheDON’T BREATHE (Dir- Fede Alvarez, USA, 2016)

Admittedly I wasn’t that struck on Alvarez’s previous film, the much hyped remake of THE EVIL DEAD and ended up feeling disappointed by it finding it to end up in that typical style of modern day horror remakes that offers sepia toned washed out visuals and loses the fun and charm of the original source material. Yet his brand new film took me by surprise and learning nothing about it before seeing it on its initial cinema release ended up being hooked by its tense, simple story of three thieves trying to break into the house of a blind war veteran and steal the loot that he has kept locked up inside. Accept nothing goes to plan and the thieves end up facing a more clever and ruthless foe in the blind war veteran who also doesn’t want these thieves finding out what he has in his basement. Combining some smart and tense thrills with its use of camera style and trickery, including a brilliant sequence shot entirely in what looks like night vision where the actors seem like they are generally walking around in complete darkness. Alvarez manages to crank up the action and combines this with a dark and somewhat nasty twist that lends the film another perspective that will change audiences sympathy to the characters involved. He is well helped by the young trio of actors who handle there roles as the clueless thieves well, one of whom, played by Jane Levy, is one of the main characters to be the most empathetic to the audience as she is looking to use the money from this score to get out of the crap home life she has. Except its Stephen Lang as the Blind Man who manages to pull off a fantastic physical performance, at first seemingly innocent and vunreable to the youngsters yet convincingly turning the table on them and exploiting there underestimation to his full advantage. A simple story that at first seems unoriginal in set up but thanks to Alvarez and his co-writer Rodo Sayagues, manages to lend it an intense and unique edge that holds the viewer in its vice like grip for its brief running time.

train-to-busan-posterTRAIN TO BUSAN (Dir- Sang-ho Yeon, SOUTH KOREA, 2016)

Arriving with a lot of hype since its premiere at Cannes earlier this year and then its screening as the closing film of this years Frightfest, TRAIN TO BUSAN was added to the Grimmfest line up un-surprisingly and certainly had expectations highly raised. It didn’t disappoint and delivers on all fronts in action, characters, emotion, tension and spectacle. Simple set up story of a estranged father, more obsessed with his work, taking his daughter to see her mother who he has recently split from. But whilst the train to Busan is leaving Seoul station a zombie virus starts to break out and unfortunately one of the infected has managed to sneak on board, leading to our two central characters banding together with others to try and make there way to the front of the train and avoid becoming one of the undead. Yeon manages to orchestrate some superb action scenes throughout, a central character who at first seems a bit arrogant yet becomes the main hero of the piece, who has to struggle with the situation all the while protecting his child which again lends the film another added element of danger and like the train itself starts slow on the tracks but then speeds up and grips the audience throughout to its emotional conclusion. Asian cinema manages to somehow always impress and deliver dramatic nuanced characters that the audience care for making there scenes of willing sacrificial bravery all the more powerful and its a trait that it is good at. Added to that the film is a fantastic blockbuster and might just be the best blockbuster made this year, over what ever superhero stuff came out from Marvel or DC this year (I don’t know I haven’t seen anything) and demands to be seen on the big screen. Like DONT BREATHE previously on my list, it’s a simple premise handled brilliantly see it know as they are already planning the inevitable English language remake!

trash-fire-2016TRASH FIRE (Dir- Richard Bates Jr, USA, 2016)

Bates Jr’s last film, SUBURBAN GOTHIC, almost made my 2014 list, but thankfully he has come back with another twisted, often funny take on a completely dysfunctional family that certainly owes more to the dark nature of his first film EXCISION, with its balance of black comedy and tragedy. The film follows misanthropic Owen (Adrian Grenier) and his attempts to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Timbur) who is pregnant and his reunion with his relatives, including his horrible and very religious grandmother Violet (Fionnula Flanagan) and his sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) who was disfigured in a fire Owen inadvertently caused in his past and which left his parents dead. Its a completely uneasy and often disturbing, acidic reunion and the film burns a crescendo up to an unexpected ending that certainly shocks in its unpredictability. Bates is fantastic in creating his character’s both realistic and clearly flawed and manages to crank out some laughs in the films early scenes which are both twisted and brutally honest and its in this initial first half where the film starts off like a relationship comedy, up until Owen goes back to his homestead and the second part of the picture starts to take an unexpected twisted turn which highlights certain character’s damages, hypocrisy’s and possible relapses back into madness. With three films to his name Bates is slowly turning out to be one of the best talents in the genre, managing to crank out often startling, sharp and original material.

tonight%20she%20comes%20festival%20posterTONIGHT SHE COMES (Dir- Matt Stuertz, USA, 2016)

This came out of nowhere. A directorial debut for Stuertz and a world premiere at Grimmfest, TONIGHT SHE COMES can be described as just an insane ride of dumb, promiscuous teenagers meeting at a cabin in the woods, a naked almost possessed looking women covered in blood and a group of devil worshipping hill-billy’s who turn out to be the more saner (if that’s possible in this film) and level headed of character’s involved. Both startling in its execution, sleazy in its lay out and with plenty of blood on offer the film is a fantastic homage to extreme horror, late 70’s/early 80’s slasher films, even the more ridiculous entry’s of the slasher genre (the ones such as the later HALLOWEEN films that go far away from Carpenter’s original), carried with a frenetic pace that makes you wonder what turn the film is going to take next and then surprising you when it takes you on another completely insane angle. It also has a scene which I think must have used tons of blood to almost numbing effect. A crazed, confident and fantastic debut and one that I hope gets a decent release as its certainly to be enjoyed on the big screen on a loud sound system, cause just as the film states at the start its meant “to be played loud.”

prevenge_01-600x400PREVENGE (Dir- Alice Lowe, UK, 2016)

Written, directed and starring Lowe whilst she was pregnant, PREVENGE might be the first prenatal serial killer movie, made by a pregnant women. The end product is however a superb, darkly comic, often bloody serial killer horror about the trauma of loss and a maternal fear of pregnancy, with its central character being driven to kill supposedly by the voice of her unborn child. Lowe manages to make a central character be at once both unsympathetic but also engaging in the process and her portrayal of Ruth is not one of a vulnerable pregnant women who will be in danger at any moment, but instead is someone who is strong, very aggressive and violent and possibly mentally disturbed, yet feels justified in her quest for vengeance on an un-caring and hypocritical society that she sees. Like the film she starred in with another actor who went onto make his own film Steve Oram (who went onto make AAAAAH!), SIGHTSEERS, PREVENGE contains that quaint near obvious recognition of the landscape of Britain and its inner city’s and towns populated with its often sleazy, tragic and patronising character’s, that will be familiar to many viewers and combines it with a darkly comic and savage serial killer flick. Adding again as mentioned in my original review, another superb British addition to the genre with its highly original and often subversive take on a the psychotic killer flick. This has recently been announced
to be released on February 10th , in 2017 just in time for Valentines day so it will make a perfect date movie!

i-am-not-a-serial-killer-movie-poster-2016-1020776401I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (Dir- Billy O’Brien, IRELAND/UK, 2016)

One of the last films I saw this year at a preview screening and yet somehow it still has remained to me a great film to end the year on. A fantastic tale of a social awkward teenager with slight sociopathic problems, tracking down a spate of serial killings in his home town and inevitably awaking his own potentially dangerous urges, the film is boasted by superb cinematography done in 16mm that catches the grit and snow of the town setting and its darkened hidden night-time. It also boasts two superb performances from Max Records and the ever brilliant Christopher Lloyd and if you haven’t read Dan Wells original novel that this is based on then the twist that occurs in the film is at once predictable but then throws another twist into the works that completely changes the course of the picture. A fantastic piece that deserves more recognition and hopefully will gain a cult following in due course as its not hard to see the comparisons that many have been making with this film and DONNIE DARKO as it does contain that unusual charm of unlikely, almost socially awkward high school loner living in a small town and witnessing events that are highly unusual.

FILMS THAT ALMOST MADE MY LIST…..

A list of films that like the heading says, almost made the list, all very good and should be seen…….

CURTAIN (Dir- Jaron Henrie-McCrea, USA, 2015)

Originally screened at Frightfest 2015 and released on their label this year, CURTAIN is one of the films that has a ridiculous premise on paper (a women discovers a portal in her bathroom wall that keeps taking the shower curtains and ends up in a lot of trouble with weird cults and demons) but manages to pull it off completely remaining a quirky superb and nicely paced 76 minutes. A superb, often rough around the edges low budget horror that has a likeable and offbeat edge to it that makes it a must see.

WE GO ON (Dir- Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton, USA, 2016)

Screened at Dead By Dawn the new film from the directors of YELLOWBRICKROAD is a superb and twisting supernatural thriller that throws a distinctive and brand new take on a genre that sometimes relies too heavily on jump shocks. Yes the shocks are in this film but they are delivered along with a superb brilliantly paced story that throws up a few surprises along the way and confirms this duo of directors as a strong genre talent to look forward to.

THE CORPSE OF ANNA FRITZ (Dir- Hector Hernandez Vicens, SPAIN, 2015)

Again screened at Dead By Dawn, a surprisingly brutal, raw and disturbing study of macho attitudes, celebrity culture, desire, control and necrophilia that will unnerve and possibly anger some viewers, but this is the directors intention and it doesn’t slip into exploitation. Superbly acted by all involved and running in at a neat 76 minutes that doesn’t let up in its pacing and in its disturbing nature.

DIRECTORS CUT (Dir- Adam Rifkin, USA, 2016)

Joyously daft and darkly comic directors cut version of a sub-standard serial killer flick, yet the person who has done the directors cut and is providing the voice over seems more and more obsessed with the original films lead actress. With some brilliant laugh out loud moments, an idea that sounds possibly interesting to begin with and somehow could work or fail badly, is pulled of with superb blackly comic glee.

THE GREASY STRANGLER (Dir- Jim Hoskins, USA, 2016)

Fucked up is probably the best to describe Hoskins darkly comic horror thriller/serial killer thriller/family drama and its all the better for it. A mental stream of random scenes, gore, grease and fire hose penises combined with a love or recognition/tribute to midnight cinema, this is a film that left me baffled, confused but loving its insanity. Not for everyone might also be another way to describe this.

RAW (Dir- Julia Ducournau, FRANCE/BELGIUM, 2016)

A queasy, intelligent study of cannibalism and coming of age for a young veterinarian student who undergoes a brutal hazing ritual and starts to develop a taste for meat, RAW is a film that lies in a meta horror tradition of films that approach a particularly dark subject and combine it with normal traits that add a another level to the film that is partly a body horror flick. Not as vom-inducing as the reports of people passing out at its Toronto Film Fest premiere would have you believe, it still manages to contain some brutal and realistic effects work and carries an intelligent, effective and original approach to the genre.

And finally a few honourable mentions to Ben Wheatley’s very good and confident adaption of JG Ballard’s HIGH RISE, Joseph Wartnerchaney’s superb study of a mentally damaged loner in DECAY, Karyn Kusama’s portrayal of a separated couples uncomfortable reunion that takes a turn for the worse in THE INVITATION and a chance to catch the JJ Abram’s backed 4K restoration of Don Coscarelli’s masterpiece PHANTASM which looked great on the big screen and a fitting tribute to one of its most famous character’s The Tall Man, and the man who played him, Angus Scrimm, who sadly passed away at the start of this year. R.I.P Tall Man!

One more final thing THE WORST FILM OF THE YEAR!!!

classroom6-posterYes it has been a strong year for genre cinema but alas there will always be stuff that comes out that you think, how and why did that get made. Originally I was going to nominate BLAIR WITCH but felt that was more disappointing than anything else, as from a technical stand point its well done despite it being a pretty unoriginal found footage film, plus I’m sure its director and writer, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who have already shown they can create decent genre flicks, will go onto something better and a lot more memorable. However my nomination for worst film of the year will have to go to CLASSROOM 6 which is ironically is a found footage flick and the laziest kind, with a predictable plot that carries every cliched found footage trait in the book. It’s enough to make you see why some horror fans don’t like this sub genre and to make you wonder why this managed to get a release!

So that’s the 2016 list done and a strong year at that in the genre, plus on a side note I got to see John Carpenter play live which will go down as the best gig of this year!!! What does 2017 have in store for us? More of the same I hope, so see you in another 12 months, cause I’m done with this list now and will finally bugger off. Have a Great Krampus day and a New Calender date change day as well!

 

I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016) Review

ianasc1I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (Dir- Billy O’Brien, IRELAND/UK, 2016)

Starring- Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary, Lucy Lawton

Out in UK Cinemas 9th December

Recently viewed at a special screening hosted by Grimm Up North, before the screening took place Grimm’s head honcho Simeon Halligan did a brief quiz asking what film the director, Billy O’Brien, had previously done. Trying to job my consistently leaking brain I could vaguely remember, however when it turned out to be ISOLATION, I was kicking myself. O’Brien’s first feature was an impressive and taut début that benefited from the ironically isolated setting and marked a director to keep an eye out for. After certainly a long gap in between films and only one full feature to his name O’Brien has however been busy trying to bring Dan Wells novel to the screen having to navigate the various problems of funding that inevitably hampers a film such as this. However his patience has worked off and what we get is a feature that plays on expectations and relies on an interesting central and pretty troubled, borderline sociopathic character as its lead.

John Wayne Cleaver (Records) is a troubled, well rather very troubled teenager living in a snowy mid-western town which is currently being plagued by some strange serial murders. These murders ironically provide business for his family’s funeral home, in which John assists in the preparation process of the cadavers before the service along with his long suffering mother April (Fraser) who has to cope with being called into school when John does write up assignments on serial killers. Naturally he stands out as the unusual weird, creepy kid prone to confrontations in the lunch hall with bully’s. He has help from a therapist Dr Neblin (Geary) who gets him to use coping mechanisms from curbing his violent sociopathic urges. Yet his obsession with the current serial murders happening around him starts to bring out John’s inquisitive and dangerous side and this leads him to suspect that his elderly neighbour Crowley (Lloyd) is hiding something that may be linked to the killings.

This is not the first time that I’ve said this in a review, but to reveal any more would ruin I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, as there’s a twist in this that throws everything off balance and a twist that is a daring one at that. Even myself while watching the film predicted what was going to happen but then I was wrong as there’s a further revelation I did not expect at all and made an interesting spike in the story that turns it into a new even almost genre bending angle which benefits the material as it blends normal serial killer thriller tropes with other genre elements to create something original and almost un-classifiable in terms of genre. O’Brien handles the proceedings efficiently and confidently taking time and introducing us into the world of John and his dysfunctional family and his own sociopathic tendencies.

A great scene has John being confronted by the arch-typical bully at a school Halloween dance and rather than whimper or look away from the thug, he stares at them smiling, explaining politely that he’s thinking about killing him but doesn’t want to do that but has to think that in order to curb him from acting on it. It’s a well written scene that both skewers the bully and bullied dynamic and will have anyone who faced this in high school cheering or laughing along. Records is brilliant as John and nails the role perfectly managing to make a character who is un-predictable at best but somehow is completely engaging and likeable as the misfit who turns amateur sleuth.
Records who has been on hiatus from acting since the Jonah Hill comedy THE SITTER, is a revelation as he makes John a realistic character in the way you can see there would be many teenagers who are like this, sociopathic, oddball but somehow more interesting than most others of his age. He is also brilliantly complemented by Lloyd as neighbour Crowley, a kindly old man, who somehow is hiding something that he doesn’t want anyone to see.

ianasc5Lloyd manages to convey perfectly the ageing process, and despite his character’s revelations we start to somehow convey sympathy for him as the film progresses. As a veteran actor Lloyd has always been associated with the Doc Brown role from BACK TO THE FUTURE and whilst he may have been pigeon-holed into comedy roles before, he has shown he can play dramatic and complex character’s. Just witness his brilliant support turn in the 1995 darkly comic gangster thriller THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU’RE DEAD. Now he can add I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER to this list in showing that the actor can still produce interesting roles in his later years.

Added to this O’Brien is helped by fantastic 16mm cinematography by Robbie Ryan which captures the snowy, bleak landscape of the mid-western town in a grainy look that emphasises the small town setting and the night time scenes shot, also project the dark isolated area as if to hide something threatening in the darkness that might be watching our character’s. The only downsides, which there is little of, is the initial first twist which is pretty easy to see, however this is further turned upside down by the previously mentioned further twist. The twist itself might end up throwing and disappointing viewers expecting a straightforward serial killer thriller, who may not be willing to accept the outcome of it and find it a hindrance to the overall plot.

ianasc3There is also a relationship between John and another girl Brook(Lawton) which doesn’t seem fully realised and somehow is not explored more and could have been something taken from the original source novel that worked in that medium but not fully realised in the film version. Yet these are small discrepancies and criticisms in what is a highly entertaining and original film that skewers conventions and creates realistic likeable character’s, in a real world setting thrown into a dark situation that is sprinkled with some dark humour.

In a strong year for horror overall this is a great film to end it on (unless something turns up between now and the 31st December that is even better) and its a testament to the genre that it can still throw out material that confidently bends expectations.

8.5/10

Prevenge (2016) Review

prevenge4PREVENGE (Dir- Alice Lowe, UK, 2016)

Starring- Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis

After a screening at London Film Festival, Alice Lowe’s directorial début is the first film to kick off a pre-Halloween weekend small season of horror films at Manchester’s HOME cinema, which includes many interesting titles already screened from the LIFF line up, with RAW, WE ARE THE FLESH and the new 4K restoration of PHANTASM. It’s great to see this season on in what is essentially an art-house cinema, albeit an impressive one and as its an inaugural event here’s hoping it continues the following year after this as with so many horror films being released at the moment and the majority only making their way to Blu Ray, DVD or VOD releases this gives a good chance to catch something that wont necessarily make it onto the cinema. That said the opening film is the directorial debut of actress Alice Lowe and a fantastically dark, funny and often pitch black serial killer movie and maybe the first film where the killer in question is pregnant.

Lowe plays Ruth a heavily pregnant women who is recently bereaved after the father of her unborn child died in a climbing accident. Ruth wants to take revenge on those responsible and in many ways on society in general that pitches its condescending attitude towards pregnant women. She encounters various sleazy male characters along the way including a pet shop owner who has a really crass array of flirtation that just border on the worse kind of double-entendre and a 70’s disco DJ who throws up in his afro wig and still lives with his elderly mum. Some of these people are nasty and sleazy and in some respects don’t gain our sympathy for being rid of. Though Ruth does end up taking the lives of some who don’t seem to deserve it. The only thing that sets Ruth apart or has her believing that what she is doing is right is the fact that she believes her unborn child is telling her to kill. Is Ruth just suffering from paranoid delusion and a fractured mind, or is it the fear of responsibility and neglect she feels in having to bring a child into this world on her own that has set her off?

prevenge3What struck me most about PREVENGE is the treatment of its main character. Pregnant women in films always seem to be the ones who are the weakest, always having to be looked after and sometimes in danger of having their water break and the first labour pains to happen at an inconvenient moment. Ruth on the other hand is the opposite and is the strongest character in the film though for reasons that are entirely wrong. For one thing she’s a character that is conflicting in that she is both unsympathetic, yet strangely by the end of the film you end up feeling a certain slight tinge of sympathy for her and her quest for vengeance on what she sees as a hypocritical society. In many respects she is an anti hero, a Travis Bickle type character, yet rather than her targets being drug dealers and “scum of the earth” Ruth sets her sights on those she feels are repellent, have no idea of what its like to lose someone or bear the responsibility of bringing a life into this world. Its a potent mind set that drives her character to believe that her unborn child is giving her instructions to kill.

But this is a manifestation of the rage she feels at society and some of the condescending attitude towards pregnant women, most notably in the form of a midwife (Jo Hartley) who almost delivers her talks to Ruth in a child like calmed manner as if she is trained to project her voice in that way. Most of the scenes involving Ruth and the midwife are superbly written, such as when the health official on finding out that Ruth’s husband is dead, states that its natures way, to which Ruth sarcastically replies “Well nature’s a bit of a cunt.” Another exchange that is perfectly captured between the two is when the Midwife mentions social services, which understandably sends Ruth off in a near panic attack instantly making her think that her child will be taken away, realistically showing whenever social services is mentioned it can send any parent or expectant mother into a panic.

prevenge5The central performances from these two actresses are some of the best in the film. Particular praise should go to Lowe, who in true guerilla style film-making method was 6 months pregnant whilst making the film. Her character of Ruth is repellent in her actions, yet anchors the film and keeps us fixed witnessing her killing spree whilst her actions as a pregnant single mother is a complete subversion of what we idealise the expectant female to be. Film wise this reminded me strangely enough of Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD from 1976, where the kids are the murderers in that film and the main female character featured is also an expectant mother. Though tonally this reminds me of Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK, which used the horror film template to focus on maternal anxiety’s. However this film takes a more darker edge to its story and its this that might put some people off from relating to the film’s central character and some may find her killing spree somehow a bit unbelievable in that there seems to be a distance from a real world setting, despite its English surroundings, that Ruth would be caught pretty quickly by the authority’s, especially with some of the areas where she commits her murders.

prevenge2Like her co-star in the fantastic Ben Wheatley directed SIGHTSEERS, Steve Oram who directed AAAAAAH!, released last year, Lowe has confidently jumped from in front of the screen to behind the screen (well also still starring in the film so technically still in front of the screen) and has crafted a neat, often very funny, but in many ways bleak psycho thriller of brooding maternal fear that embraces an alternative look at established roles of motherhood and pregnancy in its own violent manner and its great to see the British genre scene producing surprising and original, often transgressive work.

8.5/10

Tonight She Comes – An Interview With Director Matt Stuertz

gf2016MATT STUERTZ interview- Grimmfest Sunday 9th October 2016

On the final day of Grimmfest I took some time to sit down with TONIGHT SHE COMES director Matt Stuertz whose film had just had its première to have a chat about his brilliantly bonkers gore laden movie and it’s inception.

James Pemberton- First of all I really enjoyed the film, it was awesome and completely mental.

Matt Stuertz– Thanks. My thought was that hopefully no one going into this movie is going to predict where its going to go and so far everyone I have talked to has been like “yeah didn’t thought it was gonna go there!”

JP – First to start off with can you give us a bit of background of yourself, where you started off with and how you got to making your first feature?

MS – Yeah,yeah, I’m from the US, kind of the midwest, like right in the middle of the country and I made a ton of shorts before this and I met half of the people that was in this movie (TONIGHT SHE COMES) beforehand doing horror shorts and random youtube videos. I made a little found footage movie which stars one of the actors from TONIGHT SHE COMES which is coming out in a week. Then I was like lets do something way bigger than that, way crazier and when I was writing the film I was “Let me write the craziest thing possible and its gonna be impossible to film and I’m never gonna get money to film it….who cares lets just do it anyway,” and then that happened and I gave the script to people and they really liked it and I was wow I didn’t expect them to like it as much as they do and I was just talking to these regular people and they where really digging this insane script and yeah it came together really fast.

JP – You mentioned in the Q and A after the film, an influence of 70’s and 80’s horror films. Anything in particular or was it a mish-mash of different influences from different films?

MS – Yeah I mean basically any big slasher film, I love the whole Friday 13th series, part 7 is one of my favourites and a lot of the movies that people hate like the middle weird franchise entries like HALLOWEEN 4 to 6. HALLOWEEN 6 in particular I love but a lot of people think its trash, but I like it a lot. But then I would draw some weird influence from ROSEMARY’S BABY or HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, these serious arty sort of movies that are fantastic and then take some tiny elements from that and throwing them into this insane, wacky slasher film.

mattsuarez1JP – I certainly liked the characters, they reminded me a bit of TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL where the rednecks are the heroes and I thought there was a little bit of the influence from that film where the inner city folk come out to the country are technological/mobile phone obsessed, pretty ignorant and just want to get wasted and have sex…..

MS – …….and then they accidentally die. Yeah TUCKER AND DALE was one of the best comedy horrors of all time. I sort of wanted to take these people that are sort of standard average people, but I didn’t want them to be the bad guys so I wanted them to be the heroes for a little bit, but I also wanted to take the rednecks, though in this case there not like good natured rednecks there pretty legit bad guys but wanted to force them into a situation where the heroes and villains combine together to combat the greater evil. I always love villains in films, in slasher films you always like the bad guys but I wanted to take the bad guys and mix them up with the good guys and kind of throw things around in a weird way.

JP – Can I ask how you got the film funded, was it through a independent funding/finance or crowd funding route?

MS – It was independent financing, basically I talked to a lot of people who made smaller investments and was like “hey guys I’ve made some stuff before, you can totally trust me I’m gonna make this movie it’s gonna be really good and your gonna like it,” and luckily they believed me, but honestly most of my investors probably would hate the movie and never watch it, but they where nice enough to believe in me and give me some money and make this thing.

JP – You sort of mentioned that the investors didn’t know what they where putting their money into other than a film, were there any who were wanting to see a script beforehand?

MS – Luckily no. I lucked out on this and had total creative freedom and really some of them where like “Would we really want to watch this movie?” and I was like no you should never watch this. But they where like “alright we trust you, where super happy for you, horror’s not really our thing but we want you to be successful at this.” So I had a lot of friends who I talked to, a lot of people I know who have been really great and could not have made this movie without them and huge thanks for them who gave me money to make this thing.

tsc1JP – So this is your world premiere, how did you find it?

MS – Oh man, I had a blast in the audience. This is the first time I’ve watched it in a theatre with more than two people, just hearing people laugh at the jokes. I didn’t expect it to get more laughter than I thought it would at stuff that was supposed to be kind of funny but this is what I wanted it. Some movies you want people to be quiet and not talk, I want people in this movie to be loud as possible, it was pretty amazing just the response. The Q and A afterwards was great and so was speaking to individual people after the screening.

JP – I want to talk about the soundtrack, which carry’s on this resurgence of 80’s themed horror synth scores particularly as you had the same composer as the previous film screened today BEYOND THE GATES (composer Wojciech Golczewski), was this sort of what you had in mind for the composition did you want an 80’s style soundtrack?

MS – Oh totally. I spoke to Wojciech who did the soundtrack, I’m a huge fan of synth and Carpenter is the master of that, I told him I wanted this to be a synth soundtrack and “basically don’t give me anything that’s not from an old-school keyboard.” He told me he was way into it and he was going to go as lo-fi as possible. A lot of it was from one keyboard in particular and I was like yes that’s amazing. He loved 80’s films as well but didn’t want it to be exactly like an 80’s film and did his modern twist on the 80’s and it works really well. He’s been really great to work with and gave him a lot of freedom which he was happy with. I had a temp score for the film and the temp score sucks and luckily his score was completely better.

JP – I want to talk about the excesses and effects work, particularly the final part where there was so much blood and people cutting each other up bleeding over a pentagram, but this ties in that you used a lot of practical effects and no CGI.

MS – Yeah I wanted to go as practical as possible, there was a few CG elements used to just to blend things together but as much as possible I wanted it to be practical. There was gore stuff we had to cut out and it was crazy cause we went through so much blood. The really funny thing was the house we filmed in was rented through someone on the crew who knew someone, and we paid them for it and they let us use it. We were coming in drawing pentagrams on the floor and covering everything with blood and hope it washed off otherwise the owners would turn up and be like “what the hell have you done to our quiet country home?”

tonightshecomesJP  -After this what’s on the horizon are we going to get a sequel like TONIGHT SHE COMES AGAIN?

MS – Honestly If someone wanted to give me money for a sequel I would be so down for it. I have some insane ideas for a sequel which would be literally like nothing like this movie at all. It would be like kind of in the way in it being totally unexpected like everything you expect from a sequel I would throw that out. This would be like when you watch it you would be like how is this even a sequel to that film but it is. Then on the other hand I do have some other script’s I’m working on some pretty crazy body horror stuff. It would take it in a totally different tone than this but takes it pretty extreme with the gore and heavy, heavy effects, like as much as possible, I love effect shots and want to do that as much as possible.

JP – As for TONIGHT SHE COMES are you taking it to any other festivals this year?

MS – Yeah we are taking it to Leeds film festival at the end of a night of horror and heard some of the other films on that line up which will be a blast. Then where taking it over to America and I will be really curious to see what the reaction is from a U.S. audience compared to a European audience, as I know certain things are considered a bit extreme by Americans but not so over here so it will be interesting to see the response I will get from different crowds.

That’s right kids as Matt said TONIGHT SHE COMES is on at Leeds Film Festival Night Of The Dead all-nighter on Friday 11th November at the Hyde Park Picturehouse and is well worth staying up all night to watch!

Big thanks to Matt Stuertz for taking his time for this interview.

The Greasy Strangler (2016) Review

greasy1THE GREASY STRANGLER (Dir- Jim Hosking,USA, 2016)

Starring- Michael St Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex, Joel David Walters

Out NOW on UK DVD & Blu-Ray from Spirit Entertainment

From seeing the trailer earlier this year THE GREASY STRANGLER is one of those films that was on my radar from seeing the preview and wondering what on earth is this in front of my eyes? Something that from the trailer looked part gross out comedy and real life cartoon the film arrives with a certain heavy credential with Ben Wheatley as executive producer and Elijah Wood as producer on board respectively, the film will have a broad appeal and seems to be designed form the out set as not for everyone. But if you can take on board its absurdity and midnight movie credentials then THE GREASY STRANGLER might appeal to those who like their films with a bit of madness, crudeness and greasyness.

Big Ronnie (Michaels) and his son Big Brayden (Elobar) run a disco walking tour, a very dubious tour based on such facts as “this is where Kool from Kool and The Gang used to work.” However unbeknown to Brayden is the fact that Big Ronnie is the Greasy Strangler (a plot point that isn’t much of a spoiler since its made clear from the first murder scene), a ghastly site of a man who covers himself from head to toe in grease and goes round strangling unfortunate strangers, only then cleaning the grease off in a car wash owned by Ronnie’s blind friend Big Paul (Gex).

greasy2In this set up comes Janet (De Razzo) who was on one of the walking tours. Brayden falls for Janet and the two start seeing each other, yet Ronnie is jealous and also starts to try and get into her as well leading to constant bickering and arguments between father and son and to Brayden leading his own investigation into the Greasy Strangler after his friend Oinker (Walters) falls victim to killer.

Somehow through the grease, gore and madness of the film and its loose plot there is a strange story or family drama type set up of father and son getting back together. Throughout the film they constantly berate each other often uttering the line “I call bullshit on that!” which seems to be the films catchphrase, well that and “Bullshit” and “Bullshit artist.” However as the film progresses and it reaches its conclusion there’s a simple story about father and son seemingly connecting via the inclusion of serial murder and a women/love interest. Whilst the film does have a plot so to speak, the initial depiction of it seems to have been projected through a random stream of consciousness in a world set in the underside of Los Angeles that seems entirely other worldly even David Lynch esque in some parts.

greasy3It’s no surprise that this film has a midnight movie feel to it like Lynch’s début ERASERHEAD and even echoing the early works of John Walters such as PINK FLAMINGOS. Whilst it may not have the requisite charm of those works and maybe trailing in their path THE GREASY STRANGLER still remains a site to behold with grotesque imagery such as eyeballs being popped out, faces being caved in in almost cartoon like fashion and Big Ronnie’s ridiculous fire hose penis and on top of that is his obsession with grease which is hilariously grotesque and visually ugly such as when he demands Brayden take the sausages he has cooked lathered in grease to be taken back as they’re “not greasy enough,” or when he buys a hot dog from a street vendor and covers it in grease from a bucket filled of the disgusting yellow substance.

This is all brought on around scenes of random comic situations, madness and dialogue such as an Indian tourist trying to pronounce the word “Potato” much to the confusion of a Senegalese tourist all seemingly absurd in its depiction yet fitting in the film sense of randomness and at the same time sound-tracked by a score that seems completely off the wall and unusual as it is annoying yet creating the perfect accompanying lunatic score that trails off like some music coming from a deranged persons mind.

greasy4Admittedly this wont be for everyone and its a film that is going to split the audience and would be the worst date movie choice ever. But if your willing to go along with it and have a warped sense of humour like myself then you might well be willing to spend a and hour and a half in the demented world of THE GREASY STRANGLER and enjoy it’s absurdity and grotesque imagery. Put it this way of you recommend this film to friends then most likely two things will happen. Some of them will like it and be grateful for your recommendation and others will hate you for it and probably never ever trust your film choices again!

8/10