STARRY EYES UK DVD release date 16th March 2015

starryeyes1STARRY EYES UK DVD release date 16th March 2015

“A knockout performance by Alex Essoe”
VARIETY

“Horror fans should keep their eyes on the filmmakers and Essoe, who gives a star-making performance”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

 

“A mumblegore Mulholland Drive”
GROLSCH FILM WORKS

A FILM BY KEVIN KOLSCH & DENNIS WIDMYER

STARRING ALEX ESSOE, AMANDA FULLER & NOAH SEGAN

Determined to make it as an actress in Hollywood, Sarah Walker spends her days working a dead-end job, enduring petty friendships and going on countless casting calls in hopes of catching her big break.

After a series of strange auditions, Sarah lands the leading role in a new film from a mysterious production company. But with this opportunity comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her both mentally and physically into something beautiful… and all together terrifying.

From the producer of Cheap Thrills and Jodorowsky’s Dune, Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kolsch’s STARRY EYES is an occult tale of ambition, possession, and the true cost of fame.

Release date 16th March 2015
Certificate TBC & Running time 98 Minutes
DVD RRP / £14.99

And if you missed the UKHS review of Starry Eyes by the great Oli Ryder then click HERE and read what all the fuss is about !!

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

Oli Ryder’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014

theden10) The Den: The initial idea of a constant filming through the POV of a webcam on a Chat Roulette-type website, seemed a tad gimmicky. Surprisingly, however this film was masterful in how it maintained both credibility and a tight pace. There was a great and unnerving sense of voyeurism that made the film a decidedly uncomfortable watch and with than the odd well crafted jump scare. A watch through your fingers denouement and the lingering worry of being watched through your laptop for weeks afterwards.

9) Wolfcop: It’s been far too long since there was a genuinely great werewolf film and Wolfcop ended such a drought in spectacular fashion. A real labour of love that worshiped all the ridiculous tropes of the genre and celebrated them in delightfully gruey style. The special effects and transformation sequences were fantastic as well as liberal lashings of OTT gore. With a wickedly sharp script and an incredibly game cast, Wolfcop is destined for cult status, a perfect party horror film.

olla8) Only Lovers Left Alive: Naval-gazing pretentious rubbish to some, intoxicating gothic romance to others. The endless loving bond between the impossibly attractive Tom Hiddlestone and Tilda Swinton is the key hook to a film in which, admittedly, very little happens but it serves as an immaculately presented character piece. They both cannot bear to live forever without one another and director, Jim Jarmusch makes you feel like a part of their romance. Typical vampiric behaviour is restricted and set in a world where they are very much the norm, Hiddlestone’s Adam is even an elusive rock star. Full of incredibly dry moments of humour, such as blood popsicles and set to a gorgeously brooding soundtrack, it’s a classic vampire film.

7) We Are What We Are: Decent English-language remakes are becoming much less of a rare beast these days and WAWWA is the prime example of how a remake can be its own beast. A sublime piece of understatement, where the word ‘Cannibal’ doesn’t even appear until half-way into the film and the atmosphere of looming dread is allowed to permeate deeply into your consciousness. When the violence hits, it hits hard and it made that much more intense for lulling you into a false sense of security beforehand. With a superb turn from Bill Sage as the Father and a subtle hint of an anti-organised religion message, it can be argued to be even better than its predecessor.

dersamurai6) Der Samurai: A Lynch-ian, erotic thrill-ride quite unlike anything else released this year. The image of a man with lipstick, in a dress and a samurai sword sounds ridiculous but thanks to the intimidating performance of Pit Bukowski, it becomes an icon of fear. With the small European town where everyone knows everyone bathed in a hazy blood red, there is a haunting fable-like quality that adds an extra layer to what is a profoundly intriguing film. Dealing both with the beast that dwells within us all and small town fear of the strange and unknown, the film’s strongly sexual charge combines extreme violence with horrifying beauty. The two-hander of Michel Diercks and Bukowski essentially playing two sides of the same person is incredible to watch and you don’t dare take your attention off it for a second. Pure cinematic marmite.

5) Starry Eyes: A pitch-black exploration of the vicious film studio system and the perilous desire for fame are mixed together with cults and body horror to create a deliciously dark cocktail of fear. Alex Essoe delivers a stunningly assured performance that sees her squeezed painfully through an emotional wringer. The unflinchingly stark and cruel audition scenes show her being humiliated, throwing frighteningly intense fits and yanking out huge clumps of her hair with some truly wince-inducing sound effects. It is a brave choice to not have her be a completely sympathetic lead and yet it is impossible not to be horrified as one scene shows her undergoing a sickening metamorphosis. With a gorgeously hazy soundtrack and filmed in a classic almost VHS style, Starry Eyes does a brilliant job of getting well and truly under your skin.

oculusp4) Oculus: An unexpected hit that delivered intelligent scares with a real knack for putting ice down your back. Karren Gillan’s performance is a total knock-out, presenting a wonderfully bold, brash and independent female character in the vein of a Nancy, Laurie or Sydney. Gillan is determined to fight the evil head on and wouldn’t be caught dead running away in skimpy clothing. Ingeniously, much of the violence is only hinted at, which makes a particularly nasty scene involving a light bulb, a genuine shock. It is both wonderful and unnerving that, much like the characters, you often forget about the mirror being the antagonist and as with the constant twisting time-shifts, you too become victim to the Lasser Glass cruelly twisting your perception of reality. A true breath of fresh air, a fun frightener that stands head and shoulders above its mainstream contemporaries.

3) The Guest: More of a thriller than director, Adam Winguard’s previously brilliant effort in You’re Next but certainly no less fun or inventive. Making more than the odd homage to classic 80s films (Halloween III in particular), The Guest is a gleeful romp with its tongue at times very firmly in cheek and at others, a surprising level of menace. A star-making performance from Dan Stevens sees him combining an effortless charm with a cold blooded, steely and dangerous veneer. From the word go, it is clear there is something not quite right about him as he prays on an emotionally vulnerable small town family, mourning the death of their military son. An equally brilliant and feisty performance comes from newcomer, Maika Monroe, who, much like Sarah Conner, has the responsibility of taking down a lethal killing machine in Steven’s seemingly nice guy, David. With its painfully funny gallows humour and some intense action sequences, especially in the film’s last act, ‘The Guest’ is a gleefully demented delight.

babadookp2) The Babadook: Mercifully, the hype this film managed to rapidly accumulate was more than justified. The Babadook is a classic horror film in the making, that should be held up as the bench-mark as to what horror filmmakers should be aspiring to create. The cold and almost German expressionism film style is sharpened like a deadly weapon by director, Jennifer Kent, to ramp up the fear factor to white-knuckle armrest gripping heights. An organically fraught relationship between single mother and son is pitch perfectly portrayed by Essie Davis and the young Noah Wiseman.

We see both characters in an intense struggle with a supernatural force and yet, like so many classic stories, the real meaning to the film is a mother learning how to love her son Crucially, we care about the characters and do not want to see them come to harm and this is what makes the scares here truly blood chilling. The world’s freakiest pop-up book is matched only by the wise decision to obscure the Babadook as much as possible. Kent hits the nail directly on the head that making the audience use their imagination is infinitely more frightening than just showing them. A beautifully dark and twisted fairytale, the monster’s onomatopoeic croak is a call that is sure to haunt audiences for many years to come.

dmarrow1) Digging Up The Marrow: With almost every possible detail shrouded in mystery, Adam Green’s latest effort was able to achieve almost the impossible in presenting something genuinely unseen before. Almost indefinable in its style and thusly, very difficult to talk about without spoiling too many juicy surprises. Whenever you think you get a grasp on where the film is going, it violently turns your expectations inside out and creates a perfect capture of the pure essence of fear of the unknown.

To give as broad a picture as possible, the film concerns the real life existence of monsters and the attempt to find and document them where they live, in The Marrow. Shot in documentary style and with all cast members, including Green himself playing themselves, the first deftly clever trick Green plays is to have the incredible Ray Wise as the only actor playing a part. To say anymore about the plot would sadly ruin what is a film full of dark secrets and layers, like a twisted Russian doll. It is a film that demands to be experienced rather than read about as this would lessen the effect of what can be called one of the scariest films of the past two decades.

Whilst there is still a tremendous sense of fun about the film, Green and his friends make for a loveable bunch with much goofy behaviour, there are several moments of pure, undiluted terror. The scariest part of all, however, is the film’s insidious ability to get inside your head. It may sound laughable, but this film makes you believe by constantly blurring the lines of reality with such finesse you don’t realise it’s happening. Maybe there really are monsters out there and maybe this film will make you a believer too…A masterpiece that will hopefully one day get the recognition it truly deserves.

Der Samurai (2014) Review

DS1 (1)Der Samurai (2014)

Dir: Till Kleinert

Written by: Till Kleinert

Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uwe Preuss, Kaja Blanchnik, Christopher Kane

Running Time – 80 mins.

UK Première: Frightfest 2014

Small town policeman, Jakob (Diercks), is dealing with a wolf terrorising the town when he receives a mysterious package. When he goes to deliver it, he discovers a man wearing a white dress and lipstick, hiding in an abandoned house. The package contains a samurai sword and Jakob soon finds himself in a disturbing battle of wits against The Samurai (Bukowski).

With the striking image of a man dressed in a wedding dress and brandishing a samurai sword on its poster, Der Samurai instantly has your attention as to just what on earth such a film could be like or even about. To go into any great detail regarding the plot would be equivalent to revealing the method of a magic trick, director, Till Kleinert, has created something truly unique and very special here. If ever there was a film that needs to be experienced rather than just seen, it’s Der Samurai.

The action all takes place of the course of one night in real time and it is astounding just how much ground is covered of varying subjects and ideas throughout. Embracing a Brothers Grimm style, this twisted fairytale can be said to embody a perfect representation of discipline fighting against chaos as well as the Cherokee legend of the two warring wolves that lie inside every man. To be blunt, the film is evocative of David Lynch if he had directed The Dark Knight.

DS2Kleinert has stated that he took experience from passing sleepy European towns on the train and wondering what mysteries they concealed. The sense of a compact small town creates a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere, everyone seems to know everyone and their business and anything that breaks away from the normality of their existence is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. This is where the homoerotic subtext to the film really comes to the fore in terms of getting a better understanding of the lead character in Jakob and how he is regarded by the townspeople.

Diercks plays Jakob fantastically as a mild-mannered and fundamentally good guy, caring for his dementia-suffering grandmother, who finds himself repressed, isolated and frustrated at the small town rigid mindset shared by seemingly all except him. From his interactions with the other townspeople, it is evident that he is marginalised for being different and not fitting in with their behaviour. This is slowly revealed to be as a result of his unsure sexuality which is only truly brought out of him come the arrival of the Samurai, his polar opposite of character. It is fascinating and so well captured in his performance that the audience sees Jakob desperately attempting to upholding the law and order but is constantly dropping his guard to the Samurai’s magnetism. He is so enticed by the excitement of the danger of the unknown and the break from convention that the Samurai represents to him. He is given so many chances to stop the Samurai and yet he doesn’t. The film is almost capturing his proper awakening into deciding on what sort of person he really is which is both haunting and unshakably engaging.

DS3Kleinert is so expert at showing and not telling with his characters. A great deal of character development and history is done solely through allusion and subtext. Certain tweaks in the character’s behaviour or even simple surrounding objects are given huge significance to delving a little deeper into a film that has so much rich intrigue beneath the surface.

To perfectly counter-balance Diercks more restrained performance, Bukowski’s nameless Samurai is a limitless battery of danger and unpredictability. He is never once given any back story and no logic is ever really given to his actions, he is pure and simply a bold agent of chaos set to shake the foundations of the sleepy town to its core. When the camera zooms in on his menacing features, it is often difficult to not look away in simple intimidation at how powerful and threatening a force of nature his character is. Not once do the audience ever feel safe in his presence and yet, much like Jakob, it is impossible to not be drawn into his frightening erotic dynamism. Perhaps the greatest facet of Bukowski’s performance, is the fact that is able to make the initially risible image of a man in a wedding dress and makeup holding a samurai sword so terrifying with his wolf-like predatory instinct.

The visual presentation of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The camera has a beautiful haze-like quality and liberally uses harsh red lighting that further presses the idea home that this is all somehow magical and possibly, isn’t real. Amongst the film’s many stand-out sequences include a brutal bloodshed viewed from a fascinatingly bizarre upside-down angle, a hugely Twin Peaks-eqsue club scene and a gorgeous shot of the police car headlights. The lights are barely visible through an impenetrable mist and surrounded by the dense forest that hides so many secrets and mysteries.

DS4There are images that are forever burnt onto the retinas of those who see the film and the impact endures. The iconic image of the Samurai himself is matched with a beautiful near final shot of blood splattering combined with fireworks, the twisted grin of the Samurai as a post-credits extra and the hypnotic and surreal dance the leads perform by a bonfire surrounded by corpses. The violence is often highly extreme and yet pulled off with astounding grace and flair without ever showing off.

An intoxicating, darkly erotic nightmare with two incredible lead performances that balance out as a perfect ying/yang partnership. Pure European Marmite cinema that’s certain to leave many completely cold whilst others are utterly enraptured and haunted by it.

Rating: 10/10

31 Days of Horror: #14 – Tweet-Along Special! Halloween III: Season of the Witch

31 Days of Horror: #14 – Tweet-Along Special! Halloween III: Season of the Witch

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

Tweet along with UK Horror Scene live tonight! 9PM BST #UKHSHal3

hallo3Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Written & Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin & Dan O’Herlihy

Get over the lack of Michael Myers and see Halloween III as the fascinatingly bizarre piece of genius that is really is. The plot of a novelty mask company’s evil plot to tailor a mass child genocide is as daft as it is terrifying. With humanity’s last hope resting in Tom Atkins and his marvellous moustache, SOTW is a great Halloween watch, not just for taking place on the night itself but for its breezily bonkers set-up.

Whilst there are elements that haven’t aged well, such as some laughably wooden acting, there are still two stand out scenes who’s power to shock have not aged a day. The death of a child onscreen will always be impactful and HIII packs a particularly gruesome punch in that regard, as well as its shocking ending.

With a gorgeous synth-heavy soundtrack provided by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth, despite the exaggerated plot, the overall terrifying feel of how plausible and human the horror is has been perfectly carried on from the first two films. A cult hit that’s gradually picking up more love, seek out this misunderstood treasure this Halloween.
Be warned: Once heard, the Silver Shamrock jingle is in your head for life.

Join UK Horror Scene’s live Halloween III: Season of the Witch tweet-along tonight!

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Creep (2014) Review

C1Creep (2014)

Dir: Patrick Brice

Written by: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass

Running Time – 81 mins.

European Premiere: Frightfest 2014

After answering an advert for $1000 for one day’s filming, Aaron (Brice) meets up with the eccentric Josef (Duplass). At first, Josef appears to be kooky but harmless but as the evening goes on, his behaviour becomes progressively strange before turning outright dangerous.

Craigslist certainly never seems to carry a great reputation when it comes to various films that have used it as a starting point. Whilst many go for the more sordid sexual route, Creep uses a deceptively sweet and innocent angle in order to craft something infinitely more effectively sinister. With a cast of only two, Creep is a distinct cut above most found footage horror in that they are both likeable, interesting and do not spend their time running around, bathed in the green and black of night vision.

Aaron (Brice) is, crucially, not a profoundly unlikeable jerk like so many other found footage protagonists. He is relatable, polite and good hearted. When most would have been incredibly awkward and desperate to get away from, Josef, he stays and makes the effort to befriend him. His naivety is, of course, his downfall and it is incredibly refreshing to convincingly feel the same terror as the character with the camera after Josef (Brice) is exposed.

C2Josef himself, is a wonderfully complex character. Whilst there is the initial sympathy towards him when his reason for wanting to be filmed is revealed, there is the constant sense that there is far more to him than meets the eye. His off the wall nature is, at first, charming and this adds further to the blood-chilling revelation of what sort of man he really is later in the film. It must be remembered that he is human, not a monster and whilst he does and has done horrible things in the film, it is to the immense credit of Brice’s performance that he is still, shockingly, sympathetic.

The interaction between the two is essential and adds an extra layer of effectiveness to the film. With largely improvised dialogue, the flow of conversation and gradual development of both their relationship and characters feels brilliantly natural and believable. This, ultimately, helps and audience to invest in them more as people, not characters, which is hugely beneficial as the film slowly reveals what it’s been hiding, there’s the extra danger of human unpredictability.

One ever present staple of the found footage horror rears its ugly head in the form of the jump scare. Within the first 20 or so minutes, Josef jumps out at the camera from a hidden spot far too many times and it becomes instantly tiresome, before the film has even properly started to get going. When your best hand at scares is having someone jump out and scream “Boo!”, there is a serious problem. The incredibly deliberate weapon foreshadowing feels very contrived also.

C4That being said, the first half of the film has a wonderfully uneasy feel about it. Gradually, the conversations between the men get more uncomfortable and in doing very little, there is a palpable atmosphere of dread that is created out of minimal effort. The peak of this comes in the form of an “off-camera” conversation where Josef tells an incredibly dark story, concerning his wife. It is an incredibly uncomfortable listen as it leaves the audience unsure as to whether or not it is ok to laugh. The story itself is both bizarre and horrifying and does a great job of conjuring up a sense of being very ill at ease.

Sadly, the superb air of tension gets thrown off balance in the second half of the film. The isolated setting of the cabin is replaced by Aaron’s urban apartment and the film becomes a stalker based set-up. Whilst Aaron still receives bizarre gifts and videos from Josef, there is a notable lack of pace or anything dramatic, the attempted jokes end up falling flat and the night in which Josef prowls around the apartment is overdone and un-engaging. Whilst proceedings take a dark turn come the finale, there is the unshakable feel that the film would have been infinitely better served cutting the length and restricting the action to the cabin and the very clear end point it could have used.

Despite the notable slump, there are two enormously impressive moments that proved to be genuinely terrifying. The iconic image of Josef’s silhouette, backlit by a bright light is masterfully put together and is visually striking. Not only does is look incredible, but it is literally the point of no return in the film, as he invites Aaron back inside his home for a drink as the audience scream internally for him to get away. The second moment is sadly at the end of the film and to spoil it would ruin its huge impact. Suffice to say, it is a stunningly long drawn out piece of nail-biting tension that is brilliantly almost unwatchable.

C3It has to be said, as well, that the film did a fantastic job at making the cheap and silly ‘Mr Peachfuzz’ wolf mask scary in one heart-stopping scene. Whilst the film hardly has endless re-watch potential, it would be interesting to see it again, just to pick up on the clues of the larger and incredibly chilling picture throughout.
Creep is certainly one of a very select number of found footage films to actually feel authentic. With two superb performances and two remarkably well shot scenes of enormous tension, it was so close to being a classic of the subgenre.

An over-reliance on cheap jump scares and a dramatic drop in the pacing in the film’s second act, however, results in the film letting itself down. There is great potential here from the writing partners and future found footage horror could definitely learn lessons from it.

Rating: 6/10

The Sleeping Room (2014) Review

sleeping1The Sleeping Room (2014)

Dir: John Shackleton

Written by: Alex Chandon, Ross Jameson, John Shackelton

Starring: Leila Mimmack, Joseph Beattie, David Sibley, Julie Graham, Christopher Adamson

Running Time – 75 mins.

World Premiere: Frightfest 2014

When visiting a reclusive client, call girl Blue (Mimmack), becomes fascinated with the disturbing mysteries contained within his flat in a decaying Regency terraced house. The more she uncovers, the more her life becomes at risk from both human and supernatural forces.

Brighton is certainly not the first location that springs to mind when thinking of a setting for a horror film. With a reputation for being a fun day out on the pier with the family, there was a brilliant opportunity for the gloss to be stripped back and for a film to focus on a terrifying, ghostly hidden world along the seafront.

Sadly, however, ‘The Sleeping Room’ is a film with almost no distinguishing qualities that simply has no real idea of what it wants to be. With the narrative’s central focus on a small call girl operation, it could have been a gritty kitchen-sink thriller in the vein of the marvellous London to Brighton but the choice to add an undercooked supernatural element both confuses and confounds.

sleeping2It is only natural that when dealing with the seedy sex trade, there would be some unsavoury characters, however, the scowling pimp and boozy matron are but two of the painfully stereotypical characters that infest the film’s limited cast. The interaction between these terribly cookie cutter rough types is paper thin and there is no sense of development of any of their characters. Any notion of sympathy or intimidation is totally non-existent as no effort has been made to give them any discernible life or heft.

With a completely uneven pace that jumps from a murmur to full on screaming at the flick of a switch, very often it is a mystery as to what is even going on onscreen and why should audiences care. There is a highly questionable use of a false ending, shown at the start of the film that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. Perhaps the filmmakers were labouring under the delusion that it would trick audiences into thinking that they could tell what was going to happen. This fails spectacularly in this endeavour and it is not impressive, just resulting in much head-scratching confusion.

The film’s plot is a violently tangled series of knots of various narrative strands and half touched-upon dull tangents. Several different stories are haphazardly crammed together in an attempt to flesh out the film’s ghostly link to the past but the whole operation is a failure. When it comes to trying to juggle elements of both a supernatural chiller and gritty thriller, the film ends up dropping them all, resulting in something that is ultimately dull, lifeless and un-engaging.

sleeping3The film’s strongest acquisition is in the leading role of Blue, played with incredible confidence and shining understated talent by Leila Mimmack. The key to the effectiveness of her performance that she completely breaks down the stereotypical walls that surround the character of a call girl. She is not vapid, slutty or even remotely fragile, on several occasions when facing both abuse and fear of death, she more than stands up for herself.

Although her performance is, arguably, the only truly effective thing in the film, it is still very difficult to have any sympathy or investment in her character. In spite of the fact that she is the only one who has any semblance of development, the audience still do not get enough time to get to get a real feel for her or have any significant sense of threat when she is in danger.

When the film occasionally portends to be a horror film, it at least appears to be about a malevolent spirit of the cultist who previously lived in the house. That’s what it seems to be but the film is at times, indecipherable as to what its actual focus is on. Whilst there is some semblance of a disturbing past that could have spring boarded the possession angle, it is just not explained properly. As a result of having no clear idea how or why Bill (Beattie) gets possessed, his violent outbursts and murderous grin just come across as lazy and daft.

The use of a Poundland-eqsue scarecrow mask as the icon of fear is embarrassing and feels incredibly tired and beyond hackneyed. Even as a last resort for creating any sort of terror, what very few attempts at jump scares there are, almost every single one fails to raise even a twitch. The film’s final act crams in the slasher element as a great deal of plasma is spilt, but it is far too late in the day to be effective. Even for its brief running time, it completely outstays its welcome.

sleeping4There is certainly one element of the film that does show a sign of creativity. This can be found in the incredibly creepy footage contained within the classic seaside stable of a mutoscope. The film itself is of a perverse, satanic ritual persuasion and the jittery movements caused by the grainy picture create a genuine sense of unease that is, sadly, completely absent from the rest of the film.

Whilst Mimmack’s performance is superb, sadly, it is drowned in a sea of mediocrity and almost laughable confusion. The Sleeping Room completely lacks anything remotely gripping or anything that makes it stand out in the slightest.

A befuddling mess.

Rating: 2/10

Starry Eyes (2014) Review

S1Starry Eyes (2014)

Dir: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Written by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer

Starring: Alex Essoe, Noah Segan, Pat Healy, Amanda Fuller, Shane Coffey, Louis Dezseran

Running Time – 96 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

When struggling actress, Sarah (Essoe), successfully auditioning for the mysterious Astraeus Pictures’ film ‘The Silver Scream’, it seems to be a dream come true. As her body starts to undergo strange changes and she witnesses disturbing visions, Sarah discovers that her fame must come at a terrible price.

The all true tale of the vicious Hollywood system chewing up and spitting out the unfortunate souls yearning for their big break is certainly nothing new. Through Kolsch and Widmyer’s collective twisted imagination, however, Starry Eyes is a terrifyingly grim depiction of the lengths to which people will go to achieve their dreams.

The entire film hinges on the stellar performance from Alex Essoe. Appearing at the centre of almost every scene, she is deftly able to convey an enormous spectrum of various states of emotion. Sarah initially appears to be a typical vulnerable and naive girl with sky high dreams but is constantly beaten down by her minimum wage job and her incredibly bitchy and equally desperate faceless LA friends.

S2The real hook to her brilliant character development, is the fact that whilst she is able to win over the audience’s sympathy, there are moments where her selfish desire for fame flares up violently, counterbalancing her weak demeanour. Intriguingly, the film sets up the idea that despite all the madness she undergoes, she has always been disturbed and the ‘audition process’ is the final thing to push her over the edge.

This is represented through some intensely physical scenes, in one she re-enacts a horrifyingly convincing fit and is seen throughout the film to be constantly pulling out large chunks of her hair. The film’s immaculate sound design makes every wince-inducing rip become deafening and stomach-bothering. The very literal change the audience see her go through is a fantastic example of a truly twisted fairytale character, as she blossoms from being meek and shy to something entrancing and deadly.

The fact that the film is able to conjure up so much dread and tension with mere suggestion and dark shadows is hugely commendable. Whilst the film transforms to be more physical, it is predominantly a mental horror that insidiously gets inside of the heads of the audience so frighteningly discreetly. There is such a painstaking effort made to create a gradual terrifying escalation of raw horror, so that the ultimate payoff of the gloriously grand finale hits home with a far greater impact. The recurring use of incredibly contained and drawn out corridor shots are fantastically evocative of early Roman Polanski. The sense of impending doom with every echoing step taken adds further to the constant underlying, armrest-ripping tension that grabs the entire film in a suffocating stranglehold.

S3It is rare when the influence of two directors mixes so well but the very distinct Cronenberg body horror adds another disgustingly delicious element to the film. Having literally sold her soul, Sarah disintegrates onscreen, coughing up maggots as her teeth and nails fall out. It is easy to see that the film’s message concerns the price of fame and the metamorphosis so many actors must endure to be appealing and relevant. In Starry Eyes, it is at the actual cost of Sarah’s humanity as her desire for fame has utterly consumed her.

The film holds absolutely nothing back when it comes to a blunt and horrifying exploration of the exploitation that particularly budding actresses endure in the Hollywood system. Capturing the truly terrifying spirit of auditions, Sarah is forced to strip and abuse herself before a panel of two monstrously cold and unfeeling judges. The sickening process is exasperated by a profoundly skin-crawling performance from Louis Dezseran as the Producer. With a hauntingly false smile, the aging Producer’s sexual advances belie the terrifying plan he has for Sarah, where the film spectacularly descends into madness.

Towards the end of the film, the subtler approach is brutally offset by an incredibly violent scene that features, amongst other items, the novel use of a dumbbell. It would be fair to say that for some, this ruins the film’s more psychological set-up. Conversely, however, this scene, when combined with the body horror can be seen as being so much more effective and shocking because the majority of the film takes the more mental approach.

One of the most important elements of the film is how the city of Los Angeles almost becomes a character itself. Bathed in a constant fuzzy haze, the dense mist that lies heavily over the city permeates into the story itself as everything is superbly shrouded in mystery. The grey and almost apocalyptic aesthetic perfectly depicts the dirty and unpalatable LA that is so often covered up. The film’s dark focus on the notion that beneath the glamour, lays the monster, serves as a perfect allegory for the plot.

S4Frightfest 2014 was a year notable for its soundtracks and Jonathan Snipes’ eerie composition fits Starry Eyes like a glove. The combination of synthesisers with nursery school chimes produces a truly haunting and chilling effect, like icy nails down the spine. Matching the film’s disquieting ability to get under the audience’s skin, the soundtrack is also a vital part of Starry Eye’s wonderful constant blurring between reality and fiction. Jumping from a calm false sense of security to knife’s edge tension in a heartbeat, it is a piece of genius and its importance to the film’s ability to disturb cannot be understated.

A truly spectacular performance from Essoe, combined with a killer soundtrack and a constant underlying terror made Starry Eyes one of the highlights of the festival. Such a masterful grasp of tension and the creation of genuine fear of the unexpected also sees directors Kolsch and Widmyer as very exciting prospects for the future. Intense, uncomfortable and bloody brilliant.

Rating: 10/10

R100 (2013) Review

R1R100 (2013)

Dir: Hitoshi Matsumoto

Written by: Hitoshi Matsumoto, Mitsuyoshi Takasu, Tomoji Hasegawa, Koji Ema, Mitsuru Kuramoto

Starring: Nao Omori, Lindsay Hayward, Mao Daichi, Hairi Katagiri, Gin Maeda

Running Time – 100 mins.

UK Première: Frightfest 2014

Average man, Takafumi ,(Omori) joins a mysterious society that consists entirely of women in bondage clothing who specialise in sexual humiliation. The society has a strict rule of a one year membership and no cancellations, under any circumstances.

Japanese cinema is often readily identified as being somewhat of an acquired taste. When they turn their hand to horror, often the gore is taken to beyond extreme levels. When they do comedy, a great deal of the humour runs the risk of being lost in translation due to their renowned eccentricities. Many Japanese films can be described more as mood pieces with less attention paid to a flowing narrative and a greater emphasis on total reckless abandon of throwing hundreds of ideas at the wall just to see if anything sticks. This brings things neatly to the absurdist majesty of R100.

Much like the classically demented Hausu, the film is a glorious mix of various film styles. A melting pot of horror, comedy, drama, erotica and war films are all shoved into a blender to produce something that is totally unique. It is of tremendous credit to director, Matsumoto, that he is able to balance all these wildly different elements and somehow, incredibly, the film never feels muddled or incoherent. With a wickedly sharp sense of humour, R100 is nothing short of a surrealist trip that is quite unlike anything else seen all year.

R2It’s a blessed breath of fresh air with so much of today’s films being tiresomely predictable that R100 is so perfectly perplexing. Just when it feels as though one could get a handle on what’s going on, the film violently and spectacularly veers off in a completely unforeseeable direction.

The film packs a tremendous curve-ball behind its back, which to spoil, would ruin the magic and sheer wonder of it. When it first appears in the film, it appears to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. As its relevance is slowly revealed, after completely throwing off the film’s rhythm, it is almost worthy of a standing ovation for its sheer bonkers audacity. Painfully funny and carrying a clear message, it’s an absolute piece of genius.

Stylistically, the film has a superb almost high-end VHS-like quality. It is fascinating to see that, predominantly, the film’s colour palate is restricted to the most neutral and dull colours. The lead characters mainly wear greys and whites whilst their surroundings are often a mixture of muted browns and pale cream. This is done not only to augment the idea of Takafumi’s dull life but to further make the PVC bondage outfits of the Goddesses strikingly stand out. Taking up the whole focus onscreen, Matsumoto succeeds in making the audience as in awe and as terrified of them as the characters are themselves.

The Goddesses are a fantastic creation, heavily eroticised to draw you in before suffering the stings of their speciality punishments. With infamous titles such as the Goddess of Gobbling or Saliva, it is not hard to imagine just what these particular ‘skills’ will be, the film taking maniacal delight in displaying them in full force. Brilliantly opting to use practical effects, the ‘gobbling’ itself sees the Goddess swallowing people whole, whilst the Goddess of Saliva steals the show for the film’s most stomach-churning scene. Armed with various foodstuffs, the Goddess liberally spits repeatedly all over a gagged and bound Takafumi until it almost becomes too hard and disgusting to watch.

R3Although the film is primarily comedic, the film earned its place at Frightfest with the mysterious, almost Hellraiser-like focus on pain and humiliation for pleasure. The punishments that Takafumi endures begin as simple things like having his sushi meal repeatedly smushed up, then slowly and menacingly, they progress to brutal assaults in the street and threats on the well-being of his family.

One element of the film that is intriguingly never explained is just why Takafumi joins the club. Many theories can be raised, including sexual frustration or his overwhelming burden of responsibility but ultimately, it is a savvy move on the part of Matsumoto to not spell it out. R100 is a film that delights in all of its mysteries and even if half of them were revealed, it still wonderfully wouldn’t make much more sense.

It has to be said that beneath all the madness is an incredibly moving and poignant story of the struggle of an effectively single parent. Whilst it is sure to be far from the film’s main talking points, it is absolutely vital that the pandemonium is weighed down so effectively by the central narrative. For the majority of the film, the fact that it is played completely straight elevates the humour even further, but on the few occasions it is serious, the performances are simply spectacular.

Seeing Takafumi wearily coping with his wife’s coma whilst trying to put on a brave face for his absolutely adorable son makes for an incredibly tender watch. There is one scene where his father in law breaks down at his daughter’s bedside that is legitimately heartbreaking. Having this thrown into the stew of saucy madness, it results in the film being surprisingly sweet, in an incredibly ‘out-there’ way.

R4With its completely off the wall style, R100 is a film that is certain to split opinion clean down the line. Many will be left completely exhausted and become irritably flummoxed at not being able to clearly decipher head nor tail of what is going on. For those who enjoy true originality and the glorious rush of the onslaught of bizarreness, R100 is an absolute gem sure to leave you with a giddy smile on your face.

Rating: 9/10

Preservation (2014) Review

Pres1Preservation (2014)

Dir: Christopher Denham

Written by: Christopher Denham

Starring: Wrenn Schmidt, Pablo Schreiber, Aaron Staton

Running Time – 90 mins.

UK Premiere: Frightfest 2014

A family on a hunting trip in the woods wake up in the morning to discover their tent and all their camping gear missing. In the harsh wilderness, the family soon realise that the X on each of their foreheads represent that the hunters have become the hunted…

Actor turned director, Christopher Denham’s sophomore effort follows what appears to be quite an unremarkable family who suddenly find themselves thrown into a life or death situation. Whilst it does very little to reinvent the wheel, it is worth highlighting the undeniable talent that shines through.

The majority of the film is restricted to its three principle actors, with two brothers in Sean (Schreiber) and Mike (Staton) with Mike’s wife, Wit (Schmidt). The rapport and interaction between them feels genuine and like a real living family. This, unfortunately, makes their clunky dialogue that much more of a let-down. Revealing necessary bits of exposition, such as Sean’s discharge from the military, through the use of mapped-out, solely plot-driven interactions, feels forced and uneven. Nowhere is more evident than when Sean recounts a Greek myth which more or less spells out that Wit is to be the sole survivor of the film. This removes any sense of dramatic tension as to who will survive their ordeal and leads to an overbearing sense of predictability.

Pres3Despite her character arc being preset like a GPS route, Schmidt is able to make Wit feisty and determined, easily getting the audience on her side. Her progression from mild innocent to bloody avenger is organic and well developed. Whilst it is fantastic to see an independent female character overcoming the odds, the narrative structure of hunters becoming the hunted and then turned around again is overdone and all too familiar.

Initially, the film feels as though its focus is going to be on the questionable mental state of Sean. Considering the identity of the real antagonists, it feels like a missed opportunity that the film does not go down the more engaging path of post-war stress syndrome that it seemed to be so brilliantly setting up. It is never properly explained as to why Sean was discharged and his skill with weapons, combined with seeming affections for his sister in law, could have resulted in an emotionally-led stalker thriller.

Once the killers are unveiled, there is, sadly, a great sense of deflation and loss of intrigue. With their incredibly cheap Halloween masks, the film goes from an intriguing slow-burn build up to a lazy, stereotypical hoodie horror. Spotty slashers are one thing but the film really shoots itself in the foot with a highly risible slo-mo scene of them riding their BMXs in an attempt to look intimidating. With the promise of a potential psychological piece so cruelly snatched away, to be presented with a trio of text-speaking adolescents leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

It is always problematic whenever the logic behind the killers’ actions can be explained with a ‘just because’. Such logic is unsatisfactory and the film never attempts to properly give the teenagers any true sense of identity or purpose. We see that one likes to play violent videogames on his smart phone, which could be the film’s attempted message that videogame violence breeds actual sadistic tendencies. Hopefully, this is not the case as it would have made the film feel akin to lazy tabloid scaremongering.

Pres2All the faults with the antagonists to one side, there is a chillingly effective scene involving one on the phone to his mother. With Wit tied to a table behind him, the boy cheerfully tells his mum that he’ll be home soon with an air of innocence that brilliantly gives nothing of his brutal true nature away.

The film’s standout quality is just how immaculately it is presented. Eschewing the grimy dull sludge colour scheme that usually accompanies hoodie horror, the cinematography is, at times, breathtaking. The sense of total isolation is perfectly captured as the trees and mountains seem both vast and impenetrable. Whilst seemingly idyllic, the elements of the hot, secretive and dry forest are superbly another foe the characters have to contend with. One murder scene takes place beautifully illuminated by the hazy light of emergency flares, whilst another features a porta-loo.

It seems ridiculous to imagine but Denham conjures up a scene of extreme tension when Mike finds himself under siege in such a confined space. The tight and constrained camera angles combine with machetes attacking from all sides; create a real piece de resistance of terror in the most unlikely of settings.

Pres4It feels a shame to have to lump this film into the hoodie horror category when it shows such signs of true innovation. It is head and shoulders above its peers but for Denham’s directorial career to flourish, he must avoid falling back onto lazy tropes in future. A well-acted, beautifully shot film that, frustratingly, could have been so much more.

Rating: 5/10

As Above, So Below (2014) Review

aasb1As Above, So Below (2014)

Dir: John Erick Dowdle

Starring: Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar

Running Time- 93 mins

Adventurous scholar of the ancient art of alchemy, Scarlet (Weeks), is convinced that she has discovered the hidden location of the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. Accompanied by a ramshackle group of treasure hunters, they soon discover terrifying secrets buried deep within the Catacombs under Paris.

The bones of approximately six million people lining the walls of the labyrinthine Catacombs are an absolute godsend of a setting for a horror film. Were it not for the fact that such an intriguingly macabre location actually exists, it almost would seem too far-fetched to be believable in a work of fiction.

Not taking the worn-thin route of ghost hunters, the film fantastically dares to be different in centring the narrative on the search for a long lost artefact. This is far more in the vein of a big budget Hollywood adventure film and is welcomingly unexpected for a film that appeared to be yet another found footage piece.

The film begins with a taught and pacey thrill-ride where the audience is thrown right into the action, capturing a feeling of unprepared excitement. Following lead Scarlet, her search for clues to the stone’s location leads her to a series of forbidden Middle-Eastern tunnels. As the tunnels are about to be blown up, a brilliantly tense set-piece sees her trying to escape, rubble flying at the camera from all directions and a mysterious hanging man.

aasb2The elements of an adventure story are by far and away, the film’s most entertaining moments. Scenes involving having to set-fire to the back of a stone to find hidden clues or having to move certain stones in the right order to avoid being crushed have all the giddy abandon of a National Treasure film. Whilst this starts out as being enjoyably daft, the riddle-solving and characters all shouting at one another becomes laughably more reminiscent of the Crystal Maze, the film only becoming entertaining if it can be imagined that Richard O’Brien is watching them all just off-screen and cackling maniacally.

It was a bold move to add so many historical elements to a film whose primary focus is to scare. As a result of this, however, the number of times the two scholarly characters take time out to give a brief history lesson to the camera means that the film’s momentum is dropped like soap repeatedly throughout. With the action taking place, conveniently, away from the iconic area of the Catacombs, the ‘preserved’ historical sections of the labyrinth end up looking far too much like purpose-built sets. The idea that the treasure room hasn’t been touched in centuries holds no water as a result of its shabby, cheap presentation and the historical credibility vanishes instantly.
After taking an irritating amount of time to actually get to the Catacombs, the film turns into a hard and uninspiring slog.

With the combination of feeble dialogue and awkward, stilted interaction between characters, what could have been an adventurous romp turns onto a bordering act of attrition. The few narrative turns are stupidly predictable and what little development the characters undergo doesn’t make them any more likeable or interesting.

aasb3It is a shame to say that this drop in intrigue extends to Weeks as well. As things get progressively worse for the doomed non-entities, she becomes far too cold and carries the unpalatable air of ‘British-ness’. With an upper lip so stiff it’s practically starched, her steely resolve to remain in a tranquil state and progress forward is completely unbelievable and jars with the reality aspect of the found footage genre. With a slapdash attempt at redemption and aspirations of giving her character depth badly rushed at the end, what started out as a fresh, strong and independent character, ends up as dull and indistinguishable.

The claustrophobia of the enclosed maze of the dead is, initially, superbly captured and adds greatly to the unnerving atmosphere. Whilst the direct closeness of the go-pro cams is effective, it becomes too familiar incredibly quickly. With the central aspect of the film’s fear factor so reliant on the feeling of claustrophobia, in its absence, the film feels hollow and dull.

Any horror film that attempts to use the fear of confined spaces is, predictably, going to be forced to be put in comparison to infamous claustro-horror, The Descent. If AS,SB wanted to avoid any lines of similarity being drawn, it certainly didn’t do itself any favours by having a near mirrored scene of the lead actress swimming in a pool of blood.

The encompassing theme of past guilt coming back to punish the characters is woven into the narrative with all the finesse of a rhino attempting ballet. Painfully obvious set-ups are littered throughout the film, as characters signpost relevant bits of back story like enormous neon signs in appallingly bad exchanges. It becomes hard to stomach that this very silly film is taking the audience for idiots, too slow to keep up with its ‘brilliantly complex’ plot. Even with this very stretched central idea in place, the film chooses to lazily throw in staples random jump scares, creepy hooded figures and rock monsters, because why the hell not? Relevance and explanation can go and hang so long as there’s something that can pop out and go “Boo!”

aasb4As Above, So Below cannot be faulted for attempting to do something surprisingly inventive with the found footage genre. Perhaps, were it played more broadly for laughs, the unlikely bedfellows of horror and exploration adventure might have produced a more enjoyable offspring. With a near absence of scares and a narrative so poorly defined it becomes hilarious, AA,SB is entirely forgetful and completely lacklustre.

Rating: 3/10