James Simpson’s World of Horror: REC Apocalypse (Spain, 2014)

James Simpson’s World of Horror: REC Apocalypse (Spain, 2014)

Director: Jaume Balaguero
Starring: Manuela Velasco, Hector Colome, Paco Manzanedorec4cover

Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Run time: 1 hour 34 minutes
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from 2nd March

Angela Vidal wakes up in a high-security quarantine facility, the sole survivor and witness to the horrific events inside an apartment block plagued by an unspeakable evil. But does she remember what happened to her? Is she carrying the mysterious virus responsible for the horrors of that night? Distrust and uncertainty soon spreads throughout the isolated facility as their suspicions are confirmed and new, even deadlier forms of evil take hold. – Entertainment One

A journey that has taken several years and a handful of movies comes to an end in the fourth REC title – Apocalypse.

Discarding of the horror humour vibe of the previous entry this thankfully attempts to be more serious and in keeping with the originals intense atmosphere. Although it doesn’t fully revert to REC or REC 2 as the use of first person or ‘found footage’ is all but ignored. The only time it crops up is when some CCTV footage is briefly used. For the most, however, Apocalypse reclaims some of the franchises past glory.

rec4angVelasco as ever is a brilliant actress. Sadly she is not used as often in this film as she had been in the past and as it is obvious this character is something of a new ‘final girl’ icon’ (pardon the cliché) in the horror genre it is a disappointment that she is under utilized.

The scares are lacking for quite a while, only really going to ‘REC extreme intensity level’ for the closing 15 minutes. Occasionally a fright crops up during the first 70 or so minutes of the run time although it feels more like an exercise in pacing the viewer for the ‘main event’ than being anything too meaningful.

When the frights do arrival they have the intensity that is expected for a movie with the prefix REC. When the hapless victims are claimed by the virus/demon it is in a visceral manner that looks gritty and sublime. There is one sequence featuring possessed monkeys (yes, you read that correctly) that is hi-octane and has some impressive effects.

rec4 (1)Is it the glorious end fans have wanted? Not quite, the first two instalments set the bar so high that even a sequel with ‘Apocalypse’ in its title would never be able to meet such high expectations. This being the horror genre, there will be a way to make more REC movies or even a reboot of the series some years down the line. But for now, this is an acceptable horror flick.

Verdict.
Taken on its own merits this is a fine horror but based on past glories this could have (and should have) been so much better.

6 out of 10.

@JSimpsonWriter

James Simpson’s Christmas World of Horror: 36:15 Code Pere Noel (France, 1989)

3615 1James Simpson’s Christmas World of Horror: 36:15 Code Pere Noel (France, 1989)

Director: Rene Manzor
Starring: Patrick Floersheim, Alain Musy, Louis Ducreux

aka Deadly Games, Game Over

Language: French
Run time: 1 hour 28 minutes.

It’s Christmas and while horror fans watch festive favourites like Christmas Evil and Black Christmas, World of Horror went for a unique French seasonal offering…

Some claim this film ‘inspired’ Home Alone, which came out a year after 36:15. While the better known Home Alone does have elements of the French horror/slasher the idea this inspired a family friendly Hollywood popcorn movie is ludicrous. For a start, a dog isn’t kicked and stabbed to death in Home Alone, is it? The general concept of 36:15 (kid fleeing from, then fighting back against, a home invader) is the only thing that is noticeably lifted for Chris Columbus’ effort.

The French ‘version’ is much more graphic, dark and has aspects of the slasher sub-genre of horror. The above mentioned killing of a dog, around 30 minutes in, startlingly lets viewers know Thomas is in grave danger when the psycho Santa breaks into his house. There is very little humour, if at all, as the story becomes more and more sadistic.

3615 2The violence is often extreme and happens to Thomas, not just Pere Noel. Stabbings, people being shot, broken legs and Pere being set on fire are just some of the violent set pieces within the film. As the run time passes by it becomes apparent somebody will be dead when the end credits roll. Although sometimes the continuity lets down the tension built by any violent acts. In one scene Pere picks up a homemade bomb that Thomas has made. The footage cuts to a different scene, it is assumed the bomb will explode off camera. Yet when Pere is next on screen minutes later he appears to have not been victim to a close up blast from a bomb. So did it happen or had he thrown the weapon away before it went off? The viewer never finds out.

Continuity often lets down 36:15, it seems the director is willing to overlook certain things that may hinder what is in store for the movie next. It will cause confusion at times and at others, such as the unexplained bomb non-event, create annoyance.

Floersheim as the evil/crazed Santa is definitely menacing and a good piece of casting. He has a mad eyed stare that creates a genuine aura of lunacy about him. He rarely speaks, most of his facial expressions make up for the lack of dialogue and heightens his performance.

3615 4The movie, as a whole, features very little talking. This means the French language barrier is not much of an issue for English speaking viewers. Most of the talking is limited to the scenes that see Thomas’ mother frantically driving home to check on him (she’s certainly in for a shock).

With some quite graphic slasher-esque moments and a convincing performance by Floersheim this is a fun French festive horror.

@JSimpsonWriter

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Timecrimes (Spain, 2007)

timecrimesJames Simpson’s World of Horror: Timecrimes (Spain, 2007)

Director: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Karra Elejalde, Barbara Geonaga, Nacho Vigalondo, Candela Fernandez

aka: Los Cronocrimenes
Language: Spanish with English subtitles.
Run time: 1 hour 47 minutes.

The UKHS world tour of horror is back on the road and returns to that hotbed of brilliant 21st century world cinema, Spain…

Hector (Elejalde) and his wife (Fernandez) have just moved into a new home and are busy making it over. One day Hector returns from shopping and joins his wife in the back garden. It look likes the countryside that surrounds them and Hector likes to admire it with a pair of binoculars. While doing this he spots a young woman (Geonaga) removing her t-shirt and exposing her bare breasts, stood in some woods. His wife leaves and Hector decides to go into the woods and find out more about this woman. When he manages to locate her she is naked and unconscious and he is attacked by a man with his head wrapped with bandages.

Fleeing from the man Hector staggers into the fenced off grounds of a building that he hasn’t seen before. Fearing the bandaged man will attack again he pleads with someone in the building (played by Viglando) to help him. They tell him to get into a large pod, which he does so willingly. What Hector doesn’t know is that this is some form of a time machine and he is sent back in time to when he earlier returned from the shops. He now needs answers to what’s going on and how to ‘get back’ to his own time as history repeats itself…

The plot is elaborate and sophisticated with it’s use of time travel. As the story develops more and more complications stemming from Hector’s initial travel back in time take place. Director and writer Viglando challenges himself with a script that has several different things happening at once, although it doesn’t appear this way at first. As if to make things harder for himself Viglando also plays the scientist that controls the time machine, a good performance is put forward.

timecrimes1The more desperate Hector becomes in his efforts to ‘restore’ things to the way they were the more the story throws another issue his way, things on screen become increasingly complex. Viglando manages to fill the movie with multiple events that work and make sense and, while it may be a slight effort to keep up, all of these things come together at the end of Timecrimes. All the strands are tied nicely together, pardon the cliché, allowing the films impact to be more rewarding.

This isn’t to say Timecrimes is without it’s faults. One being the flimsy way in which certain events happen. As detailed above numerous aspects make sense, or at least entertain enough to fool the viewer into thinking they do, yet others fall short. The first travel back in time by Hector is never explained (no more will be said as this may be a spoiler in some way), the facility he finds that has a time machine in it is ‘just there’ and the science behind said time machine isn’t touched upon. Hector just so happens to live near a building that contains a time machine for reasons never explained.

Another issue to take note of is why he is sent back in time to the point in which he sees the girl topless. Why then of all times and not something more moribund such as Hector doing the dishes (not that he is seen doing this in Timecrimes, it’s just an example). After all, it is seeing the topless woman that causes him to find the time machine in the first place. But he just so happens to go back to then. It is assumed this is because, otherwise, the film would be incredibly short and devoid of much drama. Hector ‘caught in a loop’ is what the plot requires without further explanation.

Elejalde as Hector is a convincing lead and carries much of the screen time. He portrays the role as a happy and cheerful man yet as he experiences the consequences of time travel he slowly becomes a bitter and aggressive man. Initially he seems hesitant to manipulate people to do what he wants although by the end he is forceful and dangerous. Elejalde’s numerous performances are believable and heighten the drama when required.

For some years an English language remake has been rumoured. If any remake were to take place it is hoped the plotholes of the original will be filled in, allowing for some merit of a retooling (instead of another duff US-version of a loved foreign language movie).

timecrimeshectorTimecrimes is a thrilling and uncanny depiction of a man struggling to regain the life he has suddenly lost in a very unexpected way, which incorporates an engaging story (barring it’s weaknesses) and is finely made. The vision of Hector wearing the bandages is an enduring image of Spanish horror.

8 out of 10.

Readily available on DVD and VOD streaming services.

@JSimpsonWriter

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Mahakaal (India, 1993)

mahakaalposterJames Simpson’s World of Horror: Mahakaal (India, 1993)
aka Time of Death
Translation of Indian title: Monster

Director: Shyan Ramsay & Tulsi Ramsay
Starring: Archana Puran Singh, Johnny Lever, Karan Shah, Kunkia

Language: Hindi with English subtitles
Run Time: 2hrs 12mins

The ‘Bollywood Elm Street’, Mahakaal follows a group of teens as they go about their lives socialising and going to college yet they are plagued by dreams of a hideous figure stalking them. Anita (Puran Singh) seems to suffer this realistic and terrifying dreams the most and wants to know why the same man appears in all of them. But as her friends start to die in their sleep she finds out a horrible family secret that put things into perspective.

Considering it’s source material is Elm Street it doesn’t use much from the film. It seems to have taken the concept of Krueger and worked loosely around it. The opening sequence is similar to that of the original and at one point a female character ‘pulls off’ the demons face like Tina did to Freddy. The scene where Tina appears dead, in a body-bag, to Nancy at school is recycled. After Seema is killed she does this to Anita. The variation is that she attacks Anita allowing the Monster to strike.

As a result a lot of Mahakaal is original and some of the main story developments are a little questionable. A group of ‘delinquents’ encounter Anita in a garden near the college and decide it would be OK to gang rape her. Luckily her boyfriend and his friends save the day, resulting in a badly choreographed group fight. Overall the way men treat women in this film is objectifying and degrading.

mahakaalmonsterThe scenes with the monster are good, although brief. The lighting, added with the smoke machines, gives a spooky atmosphere when the ‘teens’ are in his domain. He is a tall, bulky man with very little or noticeable burns to his face. The direction concentrates on his creepy eyes, obviously the Ramsay brothers feel this is a disturbing enough look for their picture. The monster was supposedly a crazy man named Shaakal that killed children in order to enhance his supernatural powers. The reason he plagues Anita is because it was her father that killed him after Shaakal had killed their youngest child Mohini. Again, this is similar to Elm Street .

These college students all appear to be well into their twenties, not in their late teens. And that’s because they are in that age group. Singh was 27 while Verma was 24. When the film was released they would have been even older. Mahakaal was filmed in 1988 and wasn’t released until 1993.

Longtime Bollywood actor Johnny Lever gives the standout performances as a outrageously camp café owner. In his café he dances around to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ while screaming, grabbing his crotch and going all goggle-eyed. When not dancing he minces around saying how he had auditioned for a part in a Ramsay brothers film. They had a “big meaty part” for him, apparently (oo-er).

The Ramsay Brothers are the directors of Mahakaal and big names in India. As the hotel manager Lever is also a pervy sex pest that lusts after any women he sees. There is even a scene when the ‘café owner’ catches the manager peaking through a keyhole at a woman undressing, resulting in a over the top gurning contest between the two. Of course split screen technology was used for this completely frivolous scene.

Typical Bollywood numbers happen for no reason, singing about the usual topics of these songs. One song features the line “Let me kiss your charms, with my eyes.” Pardon? Another song is about how they like picnics. These songs go on for quite a while when they do happen.

mahakaaltitleMahakaal is way too long, it lasts a whopping 2hr 12mins for something that should have ended at least half an hour earlier. By the time the horror takes over the comedy and singing aspects of Mahakaal the film is already 90 minutes in and has tested the viewers patience. They still manage to slip in another song and dance number, sadly.

A film that is at times exciting, scary, dull and boring Mahakaal has its moments but ignores horror in favour of Bollywood-eqsue moments of fancy. It could have been better, considering its source material.

4 out of 10

 

World of Horror Interview: Filip Tegstedt director of Marianne (2011)

marianneposterWorld of Horror Special: Filip Tegstedt Interview (Director of Marianne)

A few weeks ago World of Horror returned to Sweden to take a look at Marianne – a brooding tale about guilt and nightmares. It’s director Filip Tegstedt was more than happy to do an interview with James Simpson to reveal more about his film and the woes of online piracy…

UKHS: How did Marianne come into existence?

FT: Basically Marianne was the end of a ten year struggle to get into the film industry. I’d gone to film school and studied screenwriting, made short films and worked as production assistant in TV for a while but finally I decided the only way I was ever going to become a writer/director would be to go independent and produce the film myself.

UKHS: You make good use of Norse/Swedish folklore, was that an idea you already had in mind for a film?

FT: Yes, that and to make a personal film about the town I grew up in, and to make a kitchen sink-realism horror film.

mariannefilip

Filip on set

UKHS: How did you cast the film?

FT: I used actors with a connection to that part of Sweden, so they would have the right dialect. Thomas Hedengran was a friend of my screenwriting teacher. I found Sandra Larsson through an online film worker website. Tintin Anderzon is one of my favorite Swedish actresses and a Guldbagge winner, which is the Swedish equivalent of an Oscar. Dylan M. Johansson was already a friend of mine, and we’d made a short web series before the film. Peter Stormare came on board at the last minute. We were lucky to get him, he just happened to be shooting another film a few hours further north so he stopped to do a few scenes with us.

UKHS: Hedengran is intense in his role, how was he to work with from the point of view of a director?

FT: Very professional. I think most of the crew worked a lot harder whenever he was on set because of his experience.

mariannecast

The Cast on the set of Marianne

UKHS: It has been said he and Larsson had good chemistry (which is noticeable to any viewer), did you know this in advance or was it a pleasant surprise?

FT: It’s probably a combination of a lot of different things, like the atmosphere on set etc. Sandra was really good and gave all she had to the performance of course, but it’s also things like Thomas’ ability and willingness to support her performance. So I guess things just clicked everywhere.

UKHS: How did you go about filming Marianne?

FT: We did everything as simple as we could. No visual effects or computer enhancements, and 95% of the film is just natural lighting. I wanted to keep things more documentary, so we just filmed everything as it was on set. That way I think we brought the drama closer to the viewer but we also saved a lot of rigging time which would have either extended the shoot or allowed for fewer takes on each scene.

Most of the scenes we did a wide shot, and then a two camera set up with a close up plus a medium shot and then switched those. That gave us a lot of material to go through, and because we didn’t have enough time in editing I think there’s room for a brand new Redux cut with better pacing and more wide shots. I’m thinking about doing that if there’s time and money.

mariannefilip2

Filip Tegstedt

UKHS: The movie is available on various media platforms, do you think this is integral to a films success in the 21st century?

FT: Yeah, with the piracy being such a major problem as it is, we have to do whatever we can to reach an audience.

UKHS: Are you planning to make another movie soon?

FT: I’d like to make another film, but as it is I’m working a day job to pay off the financing loan on this one and that’s taking all the time and money from me at the moment. Again, that’s the problem with piracy. Someone ripped the DVD and leaked it two weeks before the film was released in Sweden in 2012 and it’s taken this long to even get it out on iTunes internationally because of it. We’ll see what happens. I’ve got another five years to pay off the financing for this. After that, who knows?

Marianne is available on region 2 DVD, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo and more.
Marianne Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarianneMovie
UKHS review of Marianne: http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/james-simpsons-world-horror-marianne-sweden-2011/

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Marianne (Sweden, 2011)

marianne1James Simpson’s World of Horror: Marianne (Sweden, 2011)

Director – Filip Tegstedt

Starring – Thomas Hedengran, Sandra Larsson, Dylan M. Johansson

Language – Swedish with English subtitles

Run Time – 1hr 42mins

A family go on a trip to some woods during which the father, Krister (Hedengran), sneaks away to talk to his mistress on his phone. His young daughter over hears him.

The girl grows up to be Sandra (Larsson). Her mother has just died in a horrible car crash on a bridge leaving Sandra with just her father and newborn baby sister. Sandra is upset with what has happened to her mother as well as her fathers on/off affairs from over the years. Krister seems to be ignoring it and going about his life as if nothing has happened. Krister starts to find it hard falling asleep, then feels going to sleep will cause something bad to happen to him. He imagines that a mysterious woman is visiting him in the night and wants to kill him. His ice-cold demeanour starts to crack as he becomes paranoid that something terrible will happen to him.

What starts out as a movie about a family bereavement turns into a dark, psychological story of a man being plagued by what appears to be a demon of Swedish/Norse folklore. It’s a slow burning and entertaining journey.

MARIANNE1 (1)The horror of what happens in someone’s head following a traumatic event is the main plot point of Marianne. The character of Krister is left detached from the rest of the world following the accident on the bridge. It is through this detachment that the bulk of his psychological issues arise. At first he seems to be a bullish, unemotional man although the façade begins to drop during meetings with his therapist Sven. Krister eventually changes, from a man who doesn’t indulge in emotions to a man who is so desperate to deal with the night terrors he willingly does whatever Stiff tells him. It’s a startling transformation that shows Krister knows more than he is letting on, why else would it happen?

It is the character of Stiff that is ultimately the only one that stands by Krister when his talk of being harassed takes over his life. At the start of Marianne he is treated as a hopeless pothead that isn’t the ideal boyfriend for the daughter Sandra. His talk of Swedish folklore is dismissed and he is belittled. But when Krister fears sleep and what it brings causes a dramatic shift in emotions towards Stiff as Krister seeks his advice on dream-catchers and how to stop evil spirits entering the house. The role of Stiff is also there to help explain to viewers the story of the Mare: an evil spirit responsible for nightmares. It’s fitting that the only person to believe Krister is the same person he treated with disdain.

Thomas Hedengran, as the struggling Krister, is the outstanding performer in Marianne. He comes across as a serious, logical man who resists giving in to emotions, even when his loved ones die. Of course he is a man with a secret so the character will be use to putting on a pokerface. Sandra Larsson as the teenage daughter seems to be the emotional one as she screams at her father and storms out of the house during numerous scenes. Larsson has a chemistry with Hedengran that allows their many tension filled scenes to feel authentic.

MARIANNE3The direction is solid, most notably during the moments when the Mare ‘visits’ Krister as he is drifting into sleep. You see hints or brief glimpses of this spirit as it is lurking over the bed, leaning over into the face of the distressed man. It creates an atmosphere of claustrophobia which some readers may have experienced. The inability to fully sleep as something feels ‘wrong’ or uncanny about your surroundings is un-nerving. Tegstedt has realized just how horrible the thought of being watched over as you sleep can be and exploits this wonderfully. The opening sequence of the camera following a car is very reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) – the camera up in the air moving backwards as a car, containing Krister and family, drives forward.

A disturbing portrayal of bereavement and sleep deprivation, Marianne is a brooding Swedish film that is worth seeing alongside other recent horror hits of Sweden like Let the Right One In and Wither.

7 out of 10.

Marianne Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MarianneMovie

Available on region 2 DVD, and online via iTunes, Vimeo and more.

 

 

James Simpson’s World of Horror: The Devil’s Rock (New Zealand, 2011)

devilsrockDVDJames Simpson’s World of Horror: The Devil’s Rock (New Zealand, 2011)

The mission to find little known horror movies from around the world continues in an attempt to discover any ‘hidden treasures’…

Director – Paul Campion

Starring – Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater

Language – English

Run Time – 82 minutes

It’s the night before D-Day in 1944, two Kiwi soldiers Grogan (Hall) and Tane (Drinkwater) sneak onto one of the Nazi occupied Channel Islands, Forau Island, in an effort to distract the enemy. They slowly advance across the landmine filled beach and come to a doorway that leads to a bunker below crowd. The men hear screams coming from within and Grogan decides to enter. Tane eventually goes down and he finds a horrific sight of blood on the walls and body parts on the floor. On a table he finds a small book containg black magic spells and drawings. Just then he is brutally killed by a hiding Nazi named Meyer. Grogan re-appears to see what has happened to Tane but is attacked and tied up by Meyer. The captor reveals that the screams are coming from a woman chained up and she is the devil. Grogan thinks Meyer is insane and manages to escape only to receive a big shock when he tries to rescue the chained woman.

devilsrock1An intense and well acted movie, The Devil’s Rock is a brilliant New Zealand horror, filmed in Wellington despite its Channel Islands setting, which ticks a lot of boxes.

The premise, two men in a bunker with an unspeakable evil, brings about a narrative that is almost a ‘two hander’ as Hall and Sunderland take up most of the screen time. Lengthy periods are of just these two characters sat at a table trying to outwit each other at first, leading to Meyer trying to convince Grogan of the woman’s true identity.

When we see this woman, who magically takes the form of Grogan’s dead wife, played by Varela, the movie takes a step away from horror and concentrates on the soldiers grief of being manipulated by this ‘thing’ claiming to be his wife. She is trying to convince him to unchain her, although Meyer claims this will unleash the evil within her. Varela does appear in devil/demon form and it’s quite a sight.

devilsrock2The film builds the tension as Meyer and Grogan decide how to deal with the demon problem. Meyer insists they need to send her back to hell with the help of the book discovered earlier. The Devil’s Rock then takes on a tone that is similar to that of an occult movie as the history of the demon and what happened before the two soldiers arrived on the island is explained. Sunderland excels in these moments as a fine actor.

The ending piles up the tension as the men attempt to stop the demon and some plot twists cause doubt to surround their fate. The script is strong despite how many things happen at once during the final scene of the film.

A movie the New Zealand film industry can be proud of, The Devil’s Rock is an enthralling watch.

8 out of 10.

This is James’ 50th movie review for UK Horror Scene since he began writing for UKHS in May 2013.

James Simpson’s World of Horror: X-Cross (Japan, 2007) aka XX

 

x-cross1James Simpson’s World of Horror: X-Cross (Japan, 2007) aka XX

The mission to find lesser known horror movies from around the world continues in an attempt to discover any ‘hidden treasures’…

Director – Kenta Fukasaku

Starring – Nao Matsushita, Shoko Nakagawa, Ami Suzuki

Language – Japanese with English subtitles

Run Time – 95 minutes

Shiyori (Matsushita) and Aiko (Suzuki) are two friends that decide they need to get away from urban life and have a relaxing few days at a remote hot springs spa. The people who run this spa and live in the surrounding village are very weird and all have a limp in their left leg. The friends have a falling out while bathing in the springs when it emerges Shiyori can’t get over her cheating ex-boyfriend while Aiko is boastful of having so many boyfriends at once she can’t remember their names. Shiyori storms off back to the cabin where she discovers a ringing mobile phone in a closet. On the other end is a distraught man – the phone belongs to his (now missing) sister he is trying to warn to leave the spa. He tells Shiyori that the people running the resort are part of a cult that believes in chopping the left leg off visiting women and then sacrificing the same women to ‘the mountain’. Shiyori tries to find Aiko and leave, but the cult members chase after them and want the girls to become ‘living sacrifices’…

x-cross2It should be said that this film is full of plot twists and flashbacks that happen so frequent that it does become a struggle to keep track of them. If the viewer can cope with this and ‘stay on top’ of the issues then the film is highly entertaining.

Kenta Fukasaku, as some of you may recognise the name, is the director of Battle Royale II (2003). He took over the reigns of this movie after his father, and director of the original Battle Royale, Kinji died at the start of filming. Kenta’s entry into the BR cannon failed to live up to his fathers vision and wasn’t warmly welcomed by fans. He did have a hefty reputation to live up to, however. Some years, and films, later he would direct the odd and quirky X-Cross.

x-cross3Almost straight away X-Cross uses flashbacks to explain or expand on what is happening on-screen. Shiyori finding the phone and being told to get out by a stranger is followed up with a flashback to her and her friend on their way to the spa/resort. As the movie progresses and she finds herself in greater trouble with the cult the flashbacks to previously unseen events fill in the gaps. The shifting of the narrative can be confusing and even ruins the flow of the film but it is rewarding if the viewer persists.

The explanation of the cult and its need to chop off/mutilate peoples left legs is a little shaky. The brother-on-the-phone explains this during one of his many phone calls to Shiroyi: the cult have been cut off from society for hundreds of years, members leave the village to lure back victims, there is no record of their village anywhere. It seems way too far-fetched. There is also Reika, dressed all in black and with an eye-patch, who tracks the women down to the resort and attempts to kill Akio (one of Aiko’s many boyfriends is already in a relationship with this woman). Her weapon of choice is a large pair of scissors. Come the end of X-Cross she suddenly has a giant pair of scissors that she uses in a scene of slapstick hyper-violence. She is the films stand out character. At end you are almost cheering her as she encounters the cult that is chasing after her as a potential victim, with bloody consequences.

x-cross4The ending is packed with twists that attempt to keep people guessing the outcome of Shiroyi and Aiko’s fleeing of the secluded village. These are quite predictable yet entertaining regardless.

Fukasaku delivers an interesting J-Horror that doesn’t rely on other aspects of the genre that are so popular. A welcome addition to any fan’s collection if they don’t have it already. X-Cross shows that Fukasaku can make a fun movie, after all.

7 out of 10.

 

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Harpoon (Iceland 2009)

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Harpoon (Iceland 2009) aka The Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre

harpoon1The mission to find little seen horror movies from around the world continues in an attempt to discover any ‘hidden treasures’…

Director – Julius Kemp

Starring – Pihla Viitala, Miranda Hennessy, Gunnar Hansen

Language – English with occasional Icelandic (subtitled)

Off the coast of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, a group of tourists pay to take part in a whale watching expedition on the ship of Captain Petur (Hansen). They are a mixed lot who seem to have little in common other than wanting to see whales. Thanks to a freak accident Petur is killed and the tourists panic about being on a ship in the middle of the sea with no one to steer. This panic is worsened when the only remaining crew member immediately leaves the ship in a life boat: they are now stranded. Their hopes rise when they see a nearby vessel, but the ‘crew’ of that ship don’t seem interested in helping the tourists. They want them dead…

Not many films have came out of Iceland over the decades, which may be understandable for such an isolated and sparsely populated country (population: 1.2million). Some of the movies to be made never receive much attention in other countries, further diminishing any impact the tiny Icelandic film industry may have. Occasionally some do garner press or praise or gains a much wider viewing than hoped for. Harpoon/Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre is one of the ‘breakout’ pictures from the Land of Fire and Ice.

harpoon2This may, in part, be to do with a wise bit of casting for this flick. Gunnar Hansen, Leatherface from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, appears as the ill-fated captain. He obviously has a well known name in the world of horror films. He was also born in Reykjavik, Iceland so is a native who has achieved fame and fortune away from his homeland, only to now return to his ‘roots’. Hansen is good in his role although his character doesn’t make it beyond 25 minutes into the runtime before he is unexpectedly killed by a clumsy tourist. But by that point he has served his purpose: to draw potential viewers into the movie.

Harpoon isn’t overly original, some DVD covers compare it to Texas Chainsaw Massacre but this could again be due to the involvement of Mr. Hansen. It definitely does have major elements of TCM yet they come nowhere near to their inspiration for horror and excitement.

The setting of the boat could have been promising but feels restrictive in places and limits the action. It does lend itself to some creative kill scenes once the bloodshed begins, but for most the film the characters run around the lower decks of the ship in an attempt to avoid the crazy killers.

harpoon3Despite the minor issues RWWM is a fun movie, its relatively short runtime of 83 minutes flies by and when the killers start to attack the tourists the pace of the film becomes quicker and more entertaining. There are a few good gory scenes to please gore-hounds, too.

A middle of the road horror that has its moments, Iceland’s standing in the World of Horror is a fun and easy watch.

7 out of 10.

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Beyond the Grave (Brazil, 2010)

 

James Simpson’s World of Horror: Beyond the Grave (Brazil, 2010)

beyondthegraveAfter 6 months of ‘touring’ Europe for its little seen recent horror gems, James Simpson was inspired to review titles from the whole world of horror cinema as there is so much on offer outside of UK Horror Scene’s ‘territory’.

With the 2014 World Cup starting in Brazil he decided that the host country should be the very first to feature in the new regular UKHS series named World Horror Review. He examines zombie flick Beyond the Grave. And, no, he couldn’t come up with a more original name than World of Horror …

Director – Davi de Oliveira Pinheiro

Starring – Rafael Tombini, Alvaro Rose Costa, Luciana Verch

Language – Portuguese (with English subtitles)

The ‘Officer’ (Tombini) drives around the empty roads of Brazil following an unexplained zombie virus outbreak that have left the countries town’s and cities falling to pieces. As he tries to survive various encounters with the undead he is tracking down a serial killer known as ‘The Dark Rider’ (played by a number of people throughout) – a spirit that takes over peoples bodies that takes pleasure in killing, and taking the bones, of the few surviving humans that it runs into. The Officer one day finds a young, mute girl and her boyfriend as they attempt to search an abandoned building for food or weapons. He befriends them and they drive the long empty roads meeting more survivors, more undead and, eventually, the Dark Rider and it’s crew along the way.

beyondthegrave2A very mixed film, Beyond the Grave has dashes of some great zombie movies of the past that hint at something good but ultimately throws it away for dreary and dull plotting. The make up effects of some of the undead is similar to that of Fulci’s Zombi/Zombie Flesh Eaters.

As for the Zombi comparison we see one zombie in Beyond the Grave is restrained by a noose in an empty room during one scene. One oddball character vents his frustration by ‘torturing’ it in some grisly ways. He hacks its stomach open and pulls out its guts, he rams a pocket knife up its nose and, ultimately, sets it on fire and watches in glee. It is one of the most violent moments of the film.

The plot is often muddled and confusing. The role of the Dark Rider isn’t fully explained and it takes way too long for the character to finally show up in the film. Much of the screen time is solely the Officer. As a result we see him walking around buildings or roads not saying anything. While this isn’t fully bad, there are scenes that are powerful despite no dialogue, it is frustrating when some ‘good’ finally does happen only for another 6 minute long moment of silence-while-walking-around to ruin the flow.

beyondthegrave3There is one, crucial, moment in the film that defies logic. After all that has happened before it when this moment arrives you assume the movie is about to deliver its ‘pay-off’ only for a swerve to happen that will have viewers scratching their heads. It’s pointless and insulting that it would be included.

Ultimately there are a few good and entertaining moments in Beyond the Grave but there is a lot of dross, too.

4 out of 10.