Digging Up The Marrow (2014) Review

FF bannerMarrow_poster[1]Digging Up The Marrow (2014)

Dir: Adam Green

Written By: Adam Green

Starring: Adam Green, Ray Wise, Will Barratt

98 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

While filming a documentary about monsters, filmmaker Adam Green is contacted by an ex-police officer who believes he has found the entrance to their underground world.

Digging Up The Marrow has no trailer, no teasers, and barely a poster to signal its existence. And that is exactly how writer-director Adam Green wants to present it to you.

Inspired by the true story of a fan that contacted Green and informed him that Victor Crowley is real and he’d got his story all wrong, the film took four years to complete and is, by all accounts, a labour of love. It’s also one of the most remarkable, modern horror movies you’re likely to see.

Filmed in the style of a documentary – it’s more of a mockumentary even though, as Green argues, it isn’t exactly Spinal Tap – Marrow follows the man himself, along with his buddy Will Barratt, as they embark upon a strange journey to discover whether monsters are, in fact, real. The always welcome Ray Wise plays grizzled former cop William Dekker, a man who claims to know where the entrance to the monsters’ secret world (the Marrow of the title) lays, and who agrees to take Green, Barratt and their many cameras there. To say any more would risk spoiling the fun, and this is the definition of a film one must go into completely green (no pun intended), but suffice to say nothing is what it seems and anything is possible.

Marrow1[1]Anyone who’s grown up feeling more at home on the dark side will find plenty to love about Digging Up The Marrow, which opens with testimonies from horror experts such as Lloyd Kaufman, Evan Dickson and even Green’s dearly-departed buddy Dave Brockie who proclaims, in full Oderus Orgungus getup, that he’s always been a monster and when he dies, he’ll be a dead monster. Green’s buddies pop up all over the place throughout the flick, but Kane Hodder (who starred as Victor Crowley in Green’s Hatchet trilogy) steals the show as he watches creepy footage with the eager filmmaker only to dismiss it all as a hoax – “Found footage, that hasn’t been done before” he quips, dashing his hopes.

The many additions of “real” people give Marrow a more realistic, documentary feel in spite of the casting of Wise. Green was conscious that audiences might think they were being tricked, hence his decision to cast a known actor in the lead role, but certain commentators have called bullshit on this, claiming they believed the film to be the real deal until he showed up as Dekker. This argument is, of course, ridiculous as anyone who has caught the film can attest – it’s about monsters, after all.

Digging Up The Marrow is an old school horror flick. There is no violence or gore whatsoever, and yet the tension and the threat are so real, it’s suffocating even when it goes a bit ghost train-y, with a succession of incredibly effective jump scares – none of which are cued by the usual screech of violins, thankfully. Green is a proponent of practical effects over CGI, with his Hatchet series in particular making a case for the resurgence of gooey latex. He notes that horror “is scariest when it’s real” and, without giving too much away, the SFX in Marrow prove even further that there is something much more frightening about an actual, three-dimensional presence, which simply cannot be replicated on a computer. The film’s title is inspired by an art show that Green’s friend Alex Pardee did about monsters, and the attention to detail really shows, even down to the gorgeous poster artwork.

Considering it’s presented as a documentary, and might be seen by some as a really weird vanity project, Green chooses to present himself in a nicely self-deprecating manner. We’re first introduced to him as Barratt suggests that maybe they should hire an actor to play him, and his eye-rolling, yet ultimately desperate-to-believe, childlike reactions to Dekker’s claims make his outlandish stories come to life. The film also provides an interesting look into the inner workings behind Green’s production company Ariescope, and even his home life (though he was quick to point out that he did not use his real house for filming) with his wife, whom he has since divorced. It’s rare that we get such an insight into the personal life of a filmmaker, even one as open as Green, so it’s nice to be allowed in a little bit.

Marrow2[1]In spite of its well-judged undercurrent of self-referential humour – and it is very funny – Digging Up The Marrow is a profoundly scary film. Green himself starts off as a bit of sceptic, and his reactions to Dekker’s increasingly wild claims make the first act slip by without the audience realising they are being lulled into a false sense of security, allowing for one of the greatest frights in modern horror to occur – and it really must be experienced, words cannot do it justice. The closing sequence is truly terrifying, especially considering what’s come before it, and it’s impossible to look away even though hiding behind one’s hands seems like the smartest option. It’s testament to Green’s skills as a filmmaker, and indeed his knowledge as a horror fan, that Marrow moves along so seamlessly in spite of its lack of any obvious narrative structure. When the end comes, it’s a shock – as well it should be.

Digging Up The Marrow is not the best horror movie you’re going to see this year, because chances are you won’t get to see it. But it is the best horror release of the year by far, even without a release, and it further proves that Adam Green is one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working within the genre. If you’ve never taken him seriously before, now is the time to start.

Rating: 9/10

The Signal (2014) Review

FF bannerSignal_poster[1]The Signal (2014)

Dir: William Eubank
Written By: Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank, David Frigerio
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Brenthon Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp

97 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014 (13 February 2015 nationwide)

After following a hacker to an isolated location, a trio of friends awaken to find themselves captured by a mysterious organisation, and their bids to escape are sadly futile.

Ending Frightfest on a sci-fi note was a risky decision, as the organisers themselves sheepishly admitted on closing night. On the one hand, the film in question could be the new Alien, in which case the fans would eat it up. On the other, it could be The Signal.

To be fair, there is a lot to like about the film, the latest from writer-director William Eubank, and his second voyage into the world of sci-fi. It’s just not really the best note on which to end Frighfest. Eubank, who has worked mainly as a cinematographer, has utilised his background knowledge to ensure The Signal looks absolutely stunning and the opening moments, in particular, capture the vast landscape of Middle America wonderfully. His story is also well-served by a minimalist score by Nima Fakhrara, while rising star Brenton Thwaites does a good job portraying the wounded, tortured protagonist.

At first, The Signal centres on a hacker and his efforts to thwart Thwaites’ character Nic, and his buddy’s, plans – unfortunately, this is also when the movie is at its most exciting. After leading them to an isolated location, the two, alongside token chick Haley (Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke) find themselves in grave danger and are ultimately kidnapped. In these introductory moments the film really works quite well. In establishing an internet-centric premise, it feels fresh and topical, the threat real yet still unknown. Where it falls apart, and begins to sag into sleep-inducing levels of dullness, is when the sci-fi conspiracy thriller elements start to arise.

Signal_2[1]The always-wonderful Laurence Fishburne (currently kicking ass in NBC’s Hannibal) is the head of the supposedly helpful organisation, whose facility Nic and his mates find themselves desperately trying to escape upon waking up. It’s impossible for the man to be bad in anything, and he has some great lines here, but it almost feels as though he’s sleep-walking his way through the film at times, and who could blame him? It gets increasingly repetitive as Fishburne’s ominous bad guy sits opposite Thwaites’ supposed hero, shooting the shit for what feels like hours, their discussions leading to absolutely nothing.

There is a moment, about midway through, when Nic and his (male) friend realise certain body parts have been reassembled using robotics and our hero double-checks to ensure his penis is still intact. This is probably the lightest moment in the entire film, and it flits by so fast that it almost doesn’t register. There is a sense that certain comedic elements were left on the cutting room floor, and if kept in they may have saved The Signal from plodding along as it does. The robot limbs make the boys look a bit like Transformers, and when Cooke’s character takes centre-stage again it’s a slow trudge towards a nonsensical, ultimately predictable conclusion.

Thwaites is great in the lead, but Cooke is not Final Girl material (funny, considering she’s heading up the Halloween season’s genre offering, Ouija) and their supposed relationship rings very hollow as there is absolutely zero chemistry between them. In fact, if Nic were to confess his undying love for Fishburne’s character, it’d almost be more believable. His friendship with his best buddy (played by Beau Knapp, who starred in No One Lives, the polar opposite to this film) is under-baked and he’s dropped midway through like he never even existed.

Signal_3[1]The Signal is a frustrating movie. There is a good film buried underneath everything, but it ends as soon as Nic wakes up in the creepy institute. And, if you haven’t guessed the big twist the second he sits down opposite Fishburne, then this may be the first sci-fi flick you’ve ever endured in which case please, go and watch something a bit more exciting.

It looks gorgeous, the score is wonderful and Thwaites is charismatic in the lead role but ultimately, The Signal is little more than a derivative, repetitive take on a story we’ve seen a million times before, and better. Dull, plodding and uninspired, it’s style over substance in the worst possible way.

Rating: 4/10

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) Review

FF bannerLost_Soul_poster[1]Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)

Dir: David Gregory

Starring: Richard Stanley, Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, Hugh Dickson

97 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

The incredible, true behind the scenes story of Richard Stanley’s now infamous Dr Moreau remake, told by the people who were really there.

Its wordy title notwithstanding, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard’s Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau is a remarkably enthralling documentary feature. Borne of director David Gregory’s lengthy conversations with the incomparably eccentric, goth overlord Richard Stanley, it charts the unmitigated disaster that was his attempt to remake the classic The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

Lost_1[1]Stanley himself is the focus of the piece, and rightly so. An articulate, intelligent, and very passionate man with a demonstrable love of horror, he is a fascinating character and it’s an absolute joy to listen to him chat away for an hour and a half. That the story is so utterly bizarre, and true, is just the icing on the cake because, after watching Lost Soul, it becomes clear that one could easily listen to Stanley discuss anything.

His loyal friend, and star of what would become the 1996, Marlon Brando vehicle that was released worldwide, Fairuza Baulk (the really goth one from The Craft) is another great talking head – even if she does look kind of creepy after years of plastic surgery – and their enduring respect for each other is wonderful.

It’s clear from listening to Stanley that he had real passion for the piece, that he just wanted to do it justice after reading the source material and falling in love with it. The accompanying artwork, of which we are given just short glimpses, is truly spectacular.

Lost_2[1]The attention to detail on the creatures, for example, is breath-taking, and to hear of the troubles he had with New Line and Bob Shaye in spite of how much work he had put in is heartbreaking, even if it does give us an interesting insight into how the movie business works.

At its core, Lost Soul offers a very dark, yet ultimately factual, glimpse into Hollywood and, in particular, how everyone is disposable in the movie world. In spite of how much of Dr. Moreau was his vision, Stanley was replaced without a second thought, his dreams crashed and his job lost. Although Brando’s demands on the set of the film, once Stanley was kicked off, are legendary the stories cast members tell of he and Val Kilmer acting like dicks are hilarious, it’s all in good fun up until the point you realise these people actually had to work alongside them.

The film set was plagued with almost unbelievable amounts of bad luck, and although it was eventually released (and panned), working on it essentially ended Stanley’s career. Happily, though, he is not jaded and it is perhaps his optimistic outlook that makes Lost Soul a less bleak film than it could’ve been.

Lost_3[1]Naturally, the recent news that he may get to make his Dr. Moreau after all makes Lost Soul even more heart-warming but as it is, this is one of the most captivating, bizarre stories ever committed to film. It is a story that must be told and it is truly wonderful that now, finally, Stanley has been given a proper chance to tell it.

Don’t let its lengthy title put you off, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau is one of the most captivating documentaries you’re ever likely to see, made all the more shocking because it’s true.

Rating: 9/10

Wolfcop (2014) Review

FF bannerWolfcop_poster[1]Wolfcop (2014)

Dir: Lowell Dean
Written By: Lowell Dean, Bannister Bergen
Starring: Leo Fafard, Jonathan Cherry, Sarah Lind, Amy Matysio

79 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014 and out on DVD now

It’s exactly what it sounds like – a police officer turns into a werewolf, fights crime and uncovers a whole heap of wrongdoing in a quiet, Canadian town.

Wolfcop – both the man, and the film – is exactly what one might expect, a werewolf police officer who solves crimes and drinks too much and runs riot with all the chicks in an otherwise run of the mill Canadian mountain town. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of film, well, then you should probably avoid Zombeavers, too while you’re at it.

The superb Leo Fafard is Lou, a grumpy, alcoholic police officer bored with his life and literally drinking from the moment he wakes up until his head hits the pillow once again. Everything changes when, as a result of a mysterious ritual, he is reborn a werewolf. Suddenly he cares, not just about himself but the welfare of the town and makes it his mission to save its inhabitants from further evildoing.

Wolfcop shares many similarities with the sadly short-lived, but hilarious, Canadian horror TV show Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil. The Satanists are presented in much the same way – though, sadly, the hapless Atticus isn’t in charge of them – and the humour is so tongue-in-cheek, the appendage might as well be poking out of each character’s face.

Wolf_3[1]The charm of the film is thanks, mostly, to Fafard who somehow manages to make the hideous, messy character of Lou a hero and a man whom we can really get behind. He also takes part in one of the weirdest sex scenes in cinema history, and gives us a good shot of his (sizeable) wolf dick, too. His is a physical role, by all accounts, but he takes to it well, effortlessly stealing each scene.

Considering Wolfop is as blatantly silly as it is, the transformation sequence is awe-inspiring. Lou’s body contorts and splits and jerks and spasms, all while the camera glides over it, never once pulling away in an effort to convince us it’s not worth seeing. It probably goes without saying, but Wolfcop tends to show rather than tell, and is all the better for it.

Gut-wrenching violence is perfectly executed onscreen thanks to some awesome effects work that makes the gore – particularly during Lou’s transformation – so three-dimensional, you almost want to reach out and lick it. Almost. Director/writer Lowell Dean has but a few indie credits to his name, making Wolfcop all the more surprising an entry into the low-budget, tongue-in-cheek creature feature sub-subgenre. The clever, canny script, on which he collaborated with the brilliantly-named Bannister Bergen, encourages repeat viewings, just so certain lines can be endlessly quoted with friends.

Wolfcop is definitely a party film, but its heart is in the right place and, although troubled Lou doesn’t quite find love, his bromance with Willie (played by Jonathan Cherry, whose past credits include Final Destination 2 and the infamous Uwe Boll-helmed House Of The Dead adaptation) is strangely sweet, given the situation the two find themselves in. Without it, Wolfcop might have felt a bit heartless, but Willie rounds out Lou’s character, he gives him a kind-of conscience in a way.

Wolf_2[1]Much like Zombeavers, which also enjoyed the perfect late-night spot at Frightfest, Wolfcop is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film. Just reading the title, you should know whether or not it’s for you. The marketing team for the flick outdid themselves, giving free mints, T-shirts, posters, and everything in between at the ‘fest, and their postcards were even handed out during the Sleepy Queue back in June. But, funnily enough, the promotion wasn’t entirely necessary (although we all appreciate some free swag) because the film stands on its own.

Wolfcop more than succeeds as a comedy/horror/spoof/creature feature hybrid. Funny, gory and with an assured central performance from Leo Fafard, it is destined to achieve cult status. Seek it now or forever live your life without wolf dick.

Rating: 8/10

UKHS talk to The Last Showing Director Phil Hawkins & Producer Alexandra Baranska

FF bannerWriter/director Phil Hawkins and producer Alexandra Baranska talk to UK Horror Scene’s Joey Keogh about their work on The Last Showing at Frightfest 2014

The Last Showing is the new feature from Phil Hawkins, starring horror icon Robert Englund. Check out our post-Frightfest review of The Last Showing right here [LINK]. We also interviewed Englund [HERE].

Camera: Richard Waters
Follow Joey on Twitter: @JoeyLDG

Show Pieces (2014) Review

FF bannerShow_Pieces_poster[1]Show Pieces (2014)

Dir: Mitch Jenkins, Paul Chessell
Written By: Alan Moore
Starring: Siobhan Hewlett, Darrell D’Silva, Robert Goodman, Khandie Kisses

80 mins. total (approx.)

UK release: Frightfest 2014

A trio of shorts, all based around the idea of death, purgatory and the afterlife, from the twisted creative mind of the great Alan Moore.

Legendary comic book artist Alan Moore’s first foray into writing for the screen is a mixed bag of odd little shorts, each of which is designed to thrust the audience further into the depths of the soul, the mind and hell. And, naturally, they all take place over the course of one, ill-fated Friday night in Northampton. What else could we expect from a man who openly, and vehemently, denounces cinematic adaptations of his work?

Act Of Faith establishes the theme with the accidental suicide of a young woman, intending to asphyxiate herself for a romantic entanglement with her man, Jimmy’s End takes place entirely in the titular pub, where people only seem to arrive, not leave – “It’s like something from forty years ago” Jimmy notes grimly – and His Heavy Heart represents the stage of purgatory where a soul is deemed either good enough to go to Heaven or, er, not.

Moore informed those in attendance at his Frightfest Q&A that he envisioned Show Pieces as a TV series, and it’s easy to consider it being more fleshed out that way, and resonating better as a result. As it stands, as a combined feature in three parts, Show Pieces works just fine but, as is the case with most shorts, when taken separately, there are certain aspects that work better than others.

Show_1[1]Act Of Faith is the most memorable addition, spooky and atmospheric and impossible to really decipher until it’s too late. Jimmy’s End has good intentions but overstays its welcome, while His Heavy Heart is an exercise in self control, so maddening is the repetition of the two antagonists, so uncomfortable the predicament of the main character.

The central idea of it is horrifying, and the setting is inspired, but it feels overlong and would perhaps be better stretched to two TV episodes, with a cliff-hanger in between. The three could be easily repositioned as individual, one act plays either, with the theatre setting allowing the monologues to breathe so everything wouldn’t feel quite so rushed.

As is to be expected, Moore’s writing cannot be faulted and the visual flair with which his horrible stories are presented is impressive. During the Q&A, he revealed his inspiration as the worlds of entertainment and dreams, and blurring the lines between the two, describing the writing process as “like writing a combic book”

Andrew Buckley is astonishing as an evil clown, but even his nonsense wears slightly thin as His Heavy Heart trundles on. There is an element of very dark humour to the proceedings, and he delivers most of the caustic laughs, but it isn’t enough to garner genuine interest in what’s going to happen to the protagonist.

Show_2[1]Much like Moore’s work in general, Show Pieces is a collection that will either inspire or depress. The central ideas are great, and it is defiantly dark in tone, but it does all get a bit heavy after a while. It’s style over substance, to a certain extent, but when this much visual flair is on show, it’s difficult to argue with it. Moore gets his ideas across well, and the acting is consistently great.

Show Pieces won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and it remains to be seen whether a TV series would perhaps do it better justice, but as it stands, it is an impressive piece of work from a genuine artist.

Rating: 6/10

Open Windows (2014) Review

FF bannerOpen_Windows_poster[1]Open Windows (2014)

Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

Written By: Nacho Vigalondo

Starring: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Iván González

100 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

Following her refusal to have dinner with a competition winner, a diva actress finds herself at the mercy of a hacker and the unsuspecting man he’s chosen to do his bidding.

Much like the similarly-themed The Den, which also screened at Frightfestthis year, Elijah Wood vehicle Open Windows is presented entirely via computer screens. Where The Den utilised this gimmick to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia, Open Windows establishes a race against time that begins almost as soon as its protagonist first logs on.

Wood, who is quickly making a name for himself in genre pictures following a star turn in Franck Khalfoun’s stunning 2012 Maniac reboot, is Nick, a normal guy who runs a website in support of popular actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). After winning a competition to have dinner with Jill, Nick suddenly finds himself at the mercy of a ruthless hacker who can control pretty much any electronic device within a certain remit, including Nick’s computer, Jill’s mobile phone and every laptop in a ten mile radius. Although he’s clearly an evil genius, the hacker (voiced by Kill List’s Neil Maskell, weirdly enough) speaks with a thick Cockney accent, meaning much of his dialogue comes across a bit funnier than is perhaps intended.

Open_1[1]A decent premise is stretched slightly thin over a 100-minute running time, but Wood is an enigmatic screen presence and he does desperate, weak everyman well. Grey, last seen overacting in the rather good Would You Rather, is a good fit for the spoilt Jill, a woman who believes she’s worth far more than she is, and whose strength of character is perhaps a bit lacking. She overacts once again, even when she’s starring in the film within the film, but she seems more comfortable here at least. There’s a nod to her previous career as a porn star too, which hints that maybe she’s got a sense of humour about herself.

Written and directed by Timecrimes’ Nacho Vigalondo, who also contributed a segment to V/H/S: Viral, Open Windows is a fast-paced, understandably silly film that believes its plot is much cleverer than it actually is. The Den took a bigger risk by limiting the action to one PC monitor and one woman. Open Windows branches out by encompassing every screen in L.A. and, at times, it feels almost too inclusive. Vigaolondo may be making a point about privacy and internet security, but the film doesn’t seem to really understand either. A subplot, involving a Paris-based group of hackers, provides much-needed respite from Nick’s troubles, as the dudes in question believe him to be a legendary terrorist known as Nevada, and consistently refer to him by that title in spite of how irritated he gets. In a film that seems to take itself more seriously than is necessary, it’s a nice addition.

With a minimal score, and absolutely zero jump scares, Open Windows is a refreshingly low key thriller. There’s an inventive, albeit slightly unrealistic, twist and the tension is built remarkably well considering Wood spends most of his time talking to a various screens. The technology may be a bit out there, but it’s still fun to marvel at, even if the majority of people will roll their eyes at how easily each device is comprised – although, in the wake of the iCloud leak, it may be more true to life than we can imagine. The biggest issue is that, without giving in to the madness, it’s difficult to get lost in the narrative and there are some who will refuse to buy into the terror plot at all, because it is overcomplicated and outlandish.

Open_2[1]Open Windows is a diverting enough flick, once the required suspension of disbelief is attained, and the leads are likeable, but IT experts best steer clear – there are moments when even the most dim computer user will call bullshit over what the mysterious hacker seems to be able to control.

Rating: 6/10

Late Phases (2014) Review

FF bannerLate_Phases_poster.1Late Phases (2014)

Dir: Adrián García Bogliano
Written By: Eric Stolze
Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tina Louise

95 mins.

UK release: Frightfest 2014

Grumpy war vet Ambrose (Damici) moves into a sleepy retirement community, only to discover the place is besieged by werewolves.

It’s sadly rare that a blind person takes centre-stage in any film, let alone in horror, which requires so much to be glimpsed around dark corners. But such is the case with Late Phases, a blackly comic, heart wrenching, incredibly poignant portrayal of a stubborn man, his fractured relationship with his son, and a pack of werewolves who are running riot in the retirement village in which he’s just reluctantly taken up a spot.

In less capable hands, protagonist Ambrose could’ve been a horrible, bitter asshole but the talented Nick Damici (who’s becoming something of a genre staple, following scene-stealing turns in We Are What We Are and Cold In July) makes him an incredibly nuanced, likeable character in spite of his obvious stubbornness. A man who is all-too-aware of his own mortality, Ambrose flatly tells nosy neighbours “I’d see you out, but I’m blind” and has impassioned discussions with a local priest (played by the wonderful Tom Noonan) about the meaning of life and the supposed existence of God.

It’s a difficult role – not least because Damici has to remain bug-eyed for the entirety of the flick – made near impossible by the looming presence of bloodthirsty lycans. Played straight, as a simple father-son conflict drama, Late Phases could’ve been great, but with the inclusion of the mythical creatures, and the scare factor that comes with them, it’s outstanding. Where similarly-themed genre offerings might shy away from showing everything, utilising clever cuts to make the transformation sequences seem more viable, here director Bogliano gives us the money shot in a gloriously extended sequence that shows every contortion, every hair, every split piece of skin.

Late_1.1Late Phases actually boasts some of the most effective werewolf transformation sequences in horror, even if technically its protagonist doesn’t get to see them. And it’s scary as hell, too, with the first, particularly brutal, kill dropped on Ambrose’s very first night in the village. Stuck having to listen through the walls, his neighbour’s blood-curdling screams are terrifying, and when his beloved guide dog – his only real friend – falls victim, too, the threat becomes horribly real. There’s an element of sameness to werewolf movies and, particularly in recent years with the rubbishy CGI creations of the Twilight franchise, they seem to have lost their bite. Late Phases is inventive with the subgenre, even with something as simple as one of the beasts darting past a window or when a group of them crowd around a body.

Director Bogliano, who has several no-budget genre credits to his name including the B short in ABCs Of Death, has truly created something wonderful here. The script, by Eric Stolze, who penned Under The Bed, straddles a careful line between melodrama and genuine pathos, with a streak of perfectly-judged, pitch-black humour running underneath. However, major kudos must go to Wojciech Golczewski, for a superb score that is omnipresent, yet not invasive.

From the opening moments to the final, bloody, brutal battle, it trundles along, championing Ambrose and signalling something sinister is afoot but never overstaying its welcome. Much of mainstream, modern horror relies on signalling a scare is coming with a shriek of violin or a shock of piano keys, but Golczewski is cleverer than that. He weaves his notes in until they become one with the film, until they are part of Ambrose’s journey.

Speaking of whom, Damici gives a revelatory performance as Ambrose. Empathetic, resourceful and relentlessly cranky, his deadpan delivery is a joy to behold and a voicemail he leaves his son is disarmingly poignant. When he explains that, by the time he went blind, he “couldn’t stand to look at the world anyway” it’s difficult not to agree with him, and the amount of fight he puts up in the final act is truly remarkable, not just in spite of his disability.

Late_3.1Late Phases is that rare surprise in horror – smart, poetic, funny and very scary, it serves as a much-needed reminder that sticking to a formula isn’t always the best idea, and that sometimes, even the most seemingly overdone creatures can be given life to feature again.

Gorgeously shot, beautifully scored, with a pitch perfect lead performance from Damici and arguably the best werewolf transformation sequence since John Landis’ seminal creature feature, Late Phases is a genre masterpiece with more depth, more scope and more vision than much of the current landscape combined.

Rating: 9/10

Remake Rumble: Round 6 Halloween (1978) vs Halloween (2007)

Remake Rumble: Round 6
Halloween.1978.posterHalloween (1978)Halloween.2007.poster.000
Halloween (2007)

Not all remakes are created equal, but sometimes the battle lines between the original film and the so-called “re-imagining” aren’t as clear as they may first appear. In this new, regular feature Joey Keogh pitches a chosen horror film against its remade counterpart, to answer that oft-debated question – is there ever any justification for “rebooting” a horror movie? And, dare we even suggest, can a remake ever surpass the original?

In honour of the spookiest night of the year, the Remake Rumble pits John Carpenter’s seminal slasher against Rob Zombie’s divisive 2007 remake, neither of which requires much introduction.

When Rob Zombie first announced he would be remaking one of the most famous, and universally well-liked horror movies of all time, fans were understandably up in arms – how dare he think he can do better than the master of horror himself? What was the director of gorefest House of 1000 Corpses going to do with our beloved Michael Myers? However, it was nothing compared to the backlash he received following the flick’s release, which bordered on murderous. The main issue people seem to have with his take is that it either tries too hard to surpass the original or that it attempts to remake it almost frame for frame. The real issue with Zombie’s Halloween (2007) is that it does both.


Halloween 1978

Halloween (1978) is an institution. For many of us, it was an introduction to the world of genre films, a benchmark by which we judge every horror movie imaginable. And it helps that it’s still really bloody scary. Nowadays, when Carpenter’s masterpiece screens at late-night showings or on re-releases around that time of year, the film is often met with barely-concealed giggles from an audience who grew up being terrified of it but can now spot the holes – how does Myers seem to be able to teleport everywhere? Why is he hiding in the washing? How come nobody seems to be able to outrun him?

A horror nut himself, one suspects Zombie was one of those kids who grew up not just fearing Michael Myers, but idolising him. When it came time to tell his story, Zombie endeavoured to create a history for the guy that would do his infamous, Halloween night killing spree justice. To his credit, the idea of Michael coming from a horrible, white trash household with a stripper for a mother is interesting, if not terribly inventive. The kid we meet in 1978, after he’s just stabbed his sister, is not the kid we meet in 2007, but thankfully Daeg Faerch (who was replaced in the sequel with a much less scary child) is a fine actor, and when he pulls down the clown mask before his first kill, echoing his 1978 counterpart’s being taken off post-stab, it’s a truly dread-inducing moment.

Likewise, Michael’s incarceration in an institution for the criminally insane, which takes up an entire act of Zombie’s film, gives us another potentially fascinating glimpse into his psyche, even if his wall of masks hints more that he’s secretly a member of Slipknot than a brooding, psychotic killer. Watched over by the well-meaning Dr. Loomis (skilfully played by the legendary Malcolm Mc Dowell), we see Michael’s slow drudge into complete and utter apathy, the moment he stops talking for good signalling that there is no longer anything decent there.


Halloween 2007

For the first two acts, Zombie’s film is very nearly a masterpiece all on its own. Certain parts are overdone, and if you’ve caught the Director’s Cut then you’ve seen the ludicrous, redneck rape sequence, but for the most part it all fits together nicely in its own rough, white trash kind of way. The moment when “Mikey” kills his only sympathiser, played by Danny Trejo, has divided audiences but Zombie left it in to show how cold and evil Myers truly is. Whether it fits or not is a matter of opinion, but suffices to say Zombie made his point.

Where the film begins to lose its way is when Myers makes his way back to Haddonfield in search of his sister, Laurie (played by Scout Taylor Compton, who goes full emo in the sequel) and her slutty friends, one of whom is played by the somehow still teenage looking Danielle Harris. Although the final act isn’t as close to the original as certain detractors would have you believe, it does follow much the same formula as the original film with just one, key difference – it isn’t nearly as frightening.

There are some set-pieces that work, in particular when Laurie is crawling through the gaps in the walls of the old Myers house to escape her brother, or when he strands her in an empty swimming pool, full of autumn leaves, and slowly advances on her. But these moments aren’t quite stand-out enough to make up for the fact that Zombie hasn’t done anything else with the “Halloween” part of the Halloween mythos. It’s a damn shame too because the film ends with a memorable, blood-curdling scream, while the famous line “Was that the bogeyman?” signals one of the best jump scares in the entire flick.


Halloween 1978

Carpenter’s Halloween isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. Still terrifying to this day and with one of the creepiest scores in film history, it’s the perfect example of how to establish brooding, nail-biting tension without feeling the need to rely on cheap scares, or to ramp up the gore. It’s nonsensical in parts – how does Myers manage to move so quickly from place to place, without being spotted? – but the premise is still solid – as noted in Scream 4, there’s something really frightening about a guy with a knife who just…snaps.

Nobody could claim Zombie’s remake is perfect, but what’s most disappointing about it is that it very nearly could’ve been. The first two acts are solid, they’re not to everyone’s tastes but they are expertly crafted for a modern audience who demand gore, swearing and violence before they’ll pay any attention. Regardless of whether you agree that Michael Myers’ upbringing makes any sense, it’s still undeniably cool to see him as a snotty little kid, wearing his mask and torturing his pet rat (and later his sister). This is Michael Myers for a new generation, he doesn’t just stalk and slash, he revels in the murders and his first victim (sadly, one of the Spy Kids who has grown up to be a right dick in spite of his espionage adventures) is killed brutally and, somewhat shockingly, in broad daylight.


Halloween 2007

Although Zombie wanted Michael to be a cold, sadistic killer, when he meets Laurie, removes his mask and thrusts a photo of the two of them towards her, it hints that maybe there is a heart underneath somewhere. This thread is picked up again in the sequel, to varying effect, but as it stands, it’s an interesting moment on its own even if it doesn’t really fit. Much of the hatred aimed at Zombie’s remake is either at the portrayal of Michael, as played by hulking ex-wrestler Tyler Mane, or that of Laurie, but both characters are consistently modern versions of their 1978 selves. Carpenter himself allegedly refuses to watch the film, as he doesn’t want to be put in the position of criticising his friend’s vision, but he supposedly advised Zombie to make the story his own. For the most part, he did.

Although it’s easy to hate Rob Zombie for remaking a horror classic, kudos should be given to him for trying to make Halloween his own. He did not surpass the original, but the first two acts of his rough, redneck, modern take on the Myers legacy hint that he could have. As it stands, there’s only really one Halloween, but the remake makes a respectable stab (sorry) at doing justice to its incredible legacy.

Winner: Halloween (original)

Halloween.WinnerWinner: Halloween (original)

31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

31 Days of Horror: #30 – Hocus Pocus

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

HPHocus Pocus (1993)

Directed by Kenny Ortega
Written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, story by Mick Garris & David Kirschner

Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

There simply cannot be a Halloween discussion without mentioning the one, the only, Hocus Pocus. Full disclosure – this film must be watched, in its entirety, each and every time it’s broadcast on television (which is a lot), regardless of what time of year it is. But, on Halloween night, it’s particularly special. Long the chosen flick for exhausted trick ‘r’ treaters, intent on getting through their sacks of sweets before the night was out, Hocus Pocus takes on a special quality in adulthood. The tale of three, ancient witches, brought back to life in the modern day by some unsuspecting teenagers is somehow even more magical the older one gets.

Hocus Pocus is like a big, warm blanket we can wrap around ourselves when we’re sick, tired or just fed up with being adults. But, on Halloween, it becomes something more. On Halloween, the magic of Hocus Pocus is undeniable. A film that, much like its three villains/antiheroes, does not age, Hocus Pocus is best watched with young children who, for some terrible reason, are unaware of its existence. Educate them on its brilliance before next year and watch it instantly become their favourite holiday flick.

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