The Void (2016) Review

rsz_void1THE VOID (Dirs- Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski, CANADA, 2016)

Starring- Aaron Poole, Kathleen Munroe, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Art Hindle

Out now on Demand + DVD & Blu-Ray from Signature Entertainment.

After making an impression at a series of festival screenings, THE VOID arrives on blu ray and digital download after a very (almost non-existent) cinema release, in what will be a format where it can find a more appreciative audience, as the film harks back to memories of VHS horror flicks and those sort of films you found in the local rental store that had garish hand drawn covers and as a kid you immediately wanted to rent out. The memory of the 80’s genre cinema and creature prosthetics and even the looming influence of John Carpenter, is further emphasised since some of the films influences can be found in his classics THE THING and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

rsz_void2Starting off with a bang the film opens with two people running from a farmhouse in terror one of whom is shot down and killed by two strangers who state that the other person “won’t get very far.” Said fleeing injured person runs out onto a road and encounters Sheriff Carter (Poole) who drives the guy to the nearest available hospital, which in turn is closing down after a fire gutted much of its basement and is surviving on a small skeleton crew of doctors and nurses including Carter’s wife Alison (Munroe) who has separated from him since the death of their child during birth. It’s not long before the hospital is under siege from mysterious hooded figures who are intent on not letting anyone escape from the hospital which comes under attack from all manner of messed up creatures. With tempers fraying between Carter and the two men from the start of the film who know more than the staff and become valuable allies, they soon start to realise that the hospital might be the basis for someone or something with a more darker purpose than they imagined.

rsz_void3Gillespie and Kostanski know how to kick off the film in the right way and they keep this energy up throughout the running time almost not letting go of the full throttle pace of the film. Managing to cram small bits of back story of the hospital and the characters, the film maintains its focus on the situation and is blessed with the perfect setting. PRECINCT 13 springs to mind in this aspect of the closing down hospital, a skeleton crew of mismatched individuals some of whom might be a threat, surrounded by a mostly silent enemy. However the extra level of tension is added in that what ever the hooded figures threatening the characters outside is also manifesting itself inside in a much more horrific way and its this concept that allows the true stars of the film to shine or rather spill its guts onto the screen, which is the effects. Both horrifying in an almost surrealist creation of disgust and innovative, the creature effects are superbly done and its a credit to the directors and the effects team to go along with the use of prosthetics. Its no surprise to know that the two directors have backgrounds in art and practical effects on some big budgeted films and that experience has allowed them to bring it to the full in their own picture.

rsz_void4Whilst there are a few cracks in the story and at times background detail seems to be missed, the film runs at a decent pace to almost allow you to forgive some minor plot holes as it’s main focus is on the action and some impressive set pieces. The cast handle the proceedings well, managing to portray convincing normal small town people trapped in an unbelievable situation, particularly Kenneth Welsh as Dr Powell whose brief part leads to a more significant and deciding character that changes and significantly influences the second half of the story. Cult film fans will also recognise Art Hindle star of the 70’s version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE BROOD in a small role.

rsz_void5THE VOID is going to go down well with hardcore horror fans and it’s damn enjoyable. Admittedly you can spot the genre references through and through from Carpenter’s aforementioned classics mentioned before to HELLRAISER, with a splattering of THE BEYOND especially in the films final sequence as well. But as genre films go you cannot fault its ambition and drive and the directors have a love and an appreciation of the horror film. It will have any self respecting genre fan loving it’s use of traditional prosthetic effects and watching it with a huge smile on their face, since it has the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.

8.5/10

Shut In (2016) Review

rsz_shut1Shut In (2016)

Running time: 91 minutes

Director: Farren Blackburn

Cast: Naomi Watts, Oliver Platt, Charlie Heaton, Jacob Tremblay

Out NOW on UK DVD from Arrow Films

A strong cast head up this psychological thriller whose script was plucked from the 2012 Blacklist; a list of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. So, in some respects, Shut In has a lot to live up to from the very outset.

Naomi Watts plays Mary Portman, a clinical psychologist who has reluctantly agreed to send her eighteen year old son, Stephen, away from home due to his increasingly out of control behaviour. Her husband re-assures her it is for the best but after he and Stephen leave, an argument results in a horrific car accident, killing father and leaving Stephen (Charlie Heaton, fresh from the Netflix hit Stranger Things) unresponsive and wheelchair bound.

rsz_shut2Skipping six months forward, Mary struggles to cope alone with her severely disabled son whilst still running her practice. They live remotely and Mary has little outside help, bar her assistant, Lucy and her therapist, Dr Wilson (a reliable Oliver Platt), who converses with Mary over Skype.

When a patient of Mary’s; nine year old Tom (an underused Jacob Tremblay) runs away from his care home, she finds him having broken in to her car and hiding in the back seat. Wanting to help she takes the child in to her home but he soon disappears in to the night and the hunt for the missing boy begins. Due to the extreme weather and impending storm, it is swiftly believed the boy has died and Mary begins to to be tormented by visions of the child.

As the strain of caring for her son bears heavily down on her, her nightmares escalate. She hears noises throughout the house, believes she sees Tom at her bedroom door and then disturbingly finds scratches on the side of her son’s face. Seeking help from Dr Wilson, he re-assures her that this all just a vivid dream. That stress and the difficult situation is taking it’s toll. Obviously, we realise there is more here than meets the eye and the truth slowly starts to present itself.

Shut In takes the single setting premise and crafts an interesting story around its limitations. Stephen finds himself ‘shut in’ his own body post-accident, whilst Mary has become ‘shut in’ her own home and possibly her own mind.

The film starts promisingly, the story is established quickly and it drip feeds information as it progresses. We learn that Stephen is in fact Mary’s stepson and it was ultimately her decision to send him away. As her guilt eats away at her, the boundaries between reality and Mary’s dreams become blurred and you are pulled further in to seeing things from her perspective. It is in these scenes that the strength of the film lies; the image of Mary bathing Stephen, discovering him alone outside and the ghostly appearances of Tom. Director Farren Blackburn, teases you with the anticipation of the shock and then delivers on that promise, providing some genuine jumpscares. Having directed such UK television staples as Casualty and Silent Witness, it’s clear that Blackburn can create a polished thriller.

rsz_shut3However, is it all rather too polished, if indeed that can be levelled as a criticism? It feels that there could be more beneath the surface of the story that is left untapped. As the film moves in to its final act, it starts to lose some of it’s atmosphere; heading towards a more predictable conclusion than you might have hoped for. You start to question certain characters actions and moments begins to feel plotted. With the limited setting and relatively small cast there is nowhere to hide and although the performances are good, there are no iconic characters or moments that linger with you once the film has ended. By taking very few risks, you are left feeling like you have seen this all before.

Whilst not hugely innovative, Shut In is still a solid piece of filmmaking, albeit probably not one that will resonate in your memory in years to come.

6 out of 10

Ghosthunters (2016) Review

rsz_gh1Ghosthunters (2016) Review

Director: Pearry Reginald Teo

Starring: Francesca Santoro, Stephen Manley, David O’Donnell, Liz Fenning, Crystal Web.

Out now on UK DVD from High Fliers Films

“Ghost DNA.”

After Henry’s wife and daughter are murdered in an abandoned house used by a serial killer, he and his group of ghosthunters go back in to extract their souls. Henry (Stephen Manly) and his friends have been working on a machine to find and preserve ectoplasm. They were testing the machine at the site of the murders when everything went wrong. Now Henry and his cohorts face the angry victims of the serial killer. A serial killer who may not be done.

Well, it sounds okay in theory. And it’s certainly not the worst movie ever. It’s an Asylum film. So that right there should tell you a lot about Ghosthunters. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Ghosthunters manages to be a mediocre supernatural thriller. It has some fun special effects and creepy ghosts. The jump scares aren’t terribly effective, they pop up right about where expected, negating their effectiveness.

There is also a delightful amount of techno-babble the likes of which haven’t been heard since Star Trek went off the air. The techno-babble actually makes for a pretty hilarious scene of really terrible exposition about the ghost hunting machine. It’s basically a ghost trap from Ghostbusters. Don’t give it too much thought.

rsz_gh2Aside from the mediocre plot there is also plenty of mediocre characters performed by so-so actors. The good news is that no one is stand-out terrible. The problem is they are also stuck with a pretty ridiculous script. The most weighty role is given to Manly who does pretty good as the grief stricken Henry but could have brought a lot more personality to the role. Especially since one of the major twists hangs on his. David O’Donnell plays Henry’s friend and confidant Neal who built the ghost trapping machine. Neal also brings along his reporter girlfriend Amy played by Francesca Santoro, who is arguably the main character, but nothing in the movie indicates that fact. Then there is computer programmer Jessica played by Liz Fenning. Crystal Web plays the sadly under-utilized psychic Devon. No one has much character development and nothing more is known about the characters at the end of the film as was known in the beginning.

There are a lot of wasted opportunities in Ghosthunters too. Devon brings a knowledge of the occult to the “science” of paranormal investigating, and in a good scene that goes nowhere, she tries to trap the ghosts in the house using salt. The combination of the occult and science would have been a really interesting development. But the script slogs along with paint-by-number predictably.

The best thing about the film are possibly the props. The best prop in the entire movie is a pair of steampunk styled ghost spotting goggles. Second runner-up is a steampunk styled plague doctor mask worn by the killer. Sadly the ghost trapping machine itself is a bland jumble of spare parts that look like they could be anything. The rest of the special effects are okay, but not great. There is some CGI enhancement of the ghosts, but it looks like most of the effects were achieved practically. It’s not a special effect heavy film, probably due to budget constraints, and it manages with what it has. Over all Ghosthunters is pretty skippable.

gh3Kudos for: The organ music.

Lesson Learned: Say ghost DNA often enough and it just sounds silly.

5/10

Doll In The Dark (2016) Review

rsz_doll_in_the_dark_2d_dvd_tempDOLL IN THE DARK (2016)

Starring Amy Crowdis, Robin Taylor and Josh Caras

Directed by Alejandro Daniel

Available now from Safecracker pictures – http://www.safecrackerfilmdistribution.com/

A lonely young woman whose only companion is a creepy life size doll, finds her loose grip on sanity slipping away when she makes a real friend“.

I like to do a bit of research on films I watch before I review them, not for spoilers or anything that might influence the review, but more out of curiosity. What else has the filmmaker done? Where did they start? All that kind of stuff. Sometimes you find stuff much more interesting than that, and in the case of Doll In The Dark, I was a bit shocked.

So here’s what I unearthed.

Doll In The Dark was made in 2009 under the title The Melancholy Fantastic. It did the festival circuit until 2011 and then subsequently vanished into thin air.

That is until co-lead Robin Taylor landed the role of Oswald Cobblepot on hit TV show Gotham, and now it’s being released under the title Doll In The Dark, no doubt to cash in on the casting of a then-unknown Taylor. Now, I don’t mind the title, it seems quite apt to the story, but something else has changed on its way to release and I don’t think it has done it any favours. More in that later though.

rsz_doll1Doll In The Dark tells the quaint story of Melanie Crow (Crowdis), a sweet but lonely woman who lives and interacts with a very crude and creepy life size doll. She treats this doll like a real person, even taking it out for a drive with her every now and then. It’s clear that Melanie is lonely, and more than a little mentally unstable. And then she meets emo Dukken (Taylor) a quirky, confident outsider in black eyeliner who is curious about Melanie and gradually spends more and more time with her. As he gets to know Melanie, he also gets to know her doll…

This kind of film is all about the performances, and thankfully our two leads are on the ball, particularly Taylor who really shows a manic and likeable energy. Crowdis is shaky at first, but her naivety all works to make her character both cute and creepy. Together they make these offbeat characters very relatable somehow.

Writer and director Daniel does fine work with what looked like a very low-budget. His direction is pleasant and focuses on the characters rather than showing off, so it’s all quite low key but hey, it’s a low-key film.

But there was something missing from the overall experience, and I think I know why. Doing a bit of sleuthing, I found there is TWO versions of this film on IMDb. One called Doll In The Dark, another under the original title of The Melancholy Fantastic. The listing under the original title has different artwork obviously, but it also has a different runtime. The original runtime, going off IMDb, was 1 hour 40 mins. The version titled Doll In The Dark, that I watched, was 1 hour 13 mins. And six minutes of that were credits!!!

rsz_doll2So there’s about 30 mins that has for whatever reason been left on the cutting room floor, and I’m a big fan of tight runtimes but here it feels like half the story is missing, most of the nuance, maybe even a whole subplot, and I think it harms the finished product. I’d be very intrigued to see the 1 hour 40 cut.

As it is, Doll In The Dark is a pleasant and well-acted addition to the creepy loner subgenre. Fans of Excision, Love Object and the mummy of them all, May, will find something to like here. It’s just a shame so much of its missing.

6/10

Slasher House 2 (2016) Review

14368789_1267178763315526_1562502904226346982_nSLASHER HOUSE II (2016)

Dir: MJ Dixon
Stars: Francesca Louise White, Luna Wolf, Sophie Portman, Jamie B. Chambers, Sam Cullingworth, David Hon Ma Chu

Released by Mycho Entertainment.

Red (Francesca Louise White, taking over the role from Eleanor James) is still hunting her father, The Demon (Jamie B. Chambers), the serial killer who slaughtered her family. Aided by tech-savvy assistant Luse (Sophie Portman), she investigates a number of murders, hoping each one will lead her to her nemesis. On one of these cases that she saves the life of stripper Amber (Luna Wolf), an individual who goes on to become a valuable ally. After crossing paths with a team of heavily armed operatives obsessed with capturing slashers, Red once again finds herself in a series of pitched battles against a host of monstrous adversaries — each leading her one step closer to the truth about the mysterious Slasher House…

Something that has struck me with MJ Dixon’s Mychoverse series of horror movies is his visual style. Think slashers by way of Argento, with a striking colour palette of blood reds and other-worldly greens.   Slasher House II takes his unique style to the next level, with the bright wigs of female leads, Red and Amber, making them look more like anime heroines than live-action characters.

With more money spent on this than his previous films, the fruits of Dixon’s labours are clear to see. As well as enhanced production values in the look of the film, it’s also reflected in some ambitious effects sequences from Bam Goodall (the Gravestone puppet is very cool, while the scenes with Molly Bannister’s, ahem, friends are another triumph) and some great fight choreography. However, if you’re more used to larger budget horror such as Blumhouse’s output, this may seem a little rough.

13769509_1216502365049833_7221261266634105140_nNevertheless, SHII marks a new kind of Mychoverse movie, with a more action-packed, Blade-esque feel. There are some excellent set-pieces in which White shows impressive martial arts moves — but that’s not all she offers. She delivers some great one-liners with a snarky, world-weary ease that makes her Red a very different character to James’s helpless amnesiac from the previous film. Wolf brings humanity and humour to the movie. She’s got an inherent likeability that marks her out as one to watch. While Portman doesn’t have as much screentime as the other two ladies, she makes the most of it.

Dixon writes fine dialogue and tells a suitably satisfying story for his cast that successfully expands on and encourages viewers to revisit Slasher House. It offers twists and turns, while the non-linear structure adds some depth to the storytelling process. I love that this is movie builds on the Mychoverse mythology, including shoutouts to its predecessor while blowing the story wide open to make a bigger, more complex world.
However, this may pose a problem for casual fans in that it relies on the viewer knowing the original movie, characters and mythos. If you haven’t seen it (or the other Mychoverse movies), you might struggle to make sense of this.

Speaking of these stories, viewers of the previous movie will be aware that several of Slasher House’s villains received their own spin-off films in the form of Legacy of Thorn, Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown, and Hollower. So, even though we’ve had no official confirmation yet, it’s probably safe to assume that we’ll see more of these new movie maniacs. I’d most like to see a Gravestone solo flick. His scenes were so marvellously executed, Dixon already has the framework to create a must-watch slasher/comedy.

13710015_1211177188915684_1585350713468624285_nMJ Dixon is a fan of horror, sci-fi and action, and all the cool genre-blenders that combine these. His are films by a fan, for the fans. The Mychoverse is a love-letter to the genre… and Slasher House II might just be the best example yet. It’s fun, witty and furthers the rich mythos of the Slasher House universe. Think Blade II meets Halloween with a little Anime thrown in.

I would recommend this movie just on Mycho’s sheer ambition, but it’s a genuinely good film and one I implore you to check out.

8/10

Little Dead Rotting Hood (2016) Review

lrrh1Little Dead Rotting Hood (2016)

Director: Jared Cohn

Starring: Eric Balfour, Bianca A. Santos, Romeo Miller, Patrick Muldoon, Heather Tom

UK DVD Release from High Fliers films on Feb 20th 2017

“She was kind of crexy though.”

Little Dead Rotting Hood offers up a bizarre Asylum romp, retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it wasn’t that fun to watch, but it also wasn’t that bad (also an Asylum hallmark. If their motto isn’t “crank out ’em out fast and cheap” is should be). But I digress.

A small town in Pennsylvania is threatened with supernatural violence. What begins with a series of abnormal wolf attacks, escalates into a threat from werewolves bent on destroying the town. The only person who can save the town is Sammy (Bianca Santos) who has received a supernatural gift of her own from her grandmother (Marina Sirtis) and by night turns into the werewolf slaying, undead zombie, Little Red Rotting Hood.

All of that sounds pretty good in theory. But a couple things mire down the film. For starters there are A LOT of plot elements that for the first half of the film feel like disparate movies mashed together in way that doesn’t make any sort of sense. And secondly there are few too many very good actors star alongside some not very good newcomers. Though even some of the bigger names to be phoning in their performance *coughEricBalfour*. And sadly, don’t get too excited by the presence of Marina Sirtis, she dies before the opening credits in a role that is little more than a cameo.

lrrh2The first twenty minutes of the film at least are dedicated to nameless townies having parties and getting attacked by wolves. That’s when Sherriff Adam (Balfour) steps in to try and figure out what is happening. He gets help from state policewoman Officer Victoria, who has been tracking similar wolf attacks the state. During a manhunt to exterminate the rogue wolves, the sheriff and his deputy are nearly killed. They are saved by Sammy in her zombie form. That’s when the sheriff realizes more is going than just a killer wolf. There are lots of plot points, tacked on story lines- like the sheriff’s kids coming for a visit during the all the mayhem, a mysterious stranger who may or may not be in league with the wolves, and FINALLY a prophecy about a werewolf to end all werewolves, the Den Mother (no I’m not pulling your leg). Little Dead Rotting Hood is also left open for a sequel.

Somehow this muddy mess manages to be fairly entertaining. There are some fun action sequences, a diverse cast, cheap CGI werewolves and bizarre choices for wardrobe. Sammy’s tiny shorts are a weird throwback to another time, and her red cape looks like cheap crushed velvet. It was just a weird over-all look. The gore make-up was pretty decent, there are few fun and bloody deaths. And the death of poor Deputy Henry (Muldoon) comes with a fun editing mistake.

Despite being a mess, or maybe because of it, Little Dead Rotting Hood is an OK bad movie, though I would only recommend watching it if you are in the mood for a bad movie. Don’t go in expecting too much and you’ll be fine.

lrrh3Kudos for: Diverse casting

Lesson learned: Just spring for the premium velvet cloak it will look better on screen

Rating: 5/10

Night of Something Strange (2016) Review

rsz_112819375_994557477247045_1782208119961988031_oNIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE (2016)

Dir: Jonathan Straiton
Stars: Rebecca C. Kasek, Trey Harrison, Michael Merchant, Toni Anne Gambale, John Walsh, Tarrence Taylor, Nicola Fiore, Wayne W. Johnson, Janet Mayson, Kirk La Salle, Al Lawler

Released by Hurricane Bridge Entertainment. See it at the Horror-on-Sea Film Festival on 21 January at 5.30pm.

Night of Something Strange opens with a messy sequence in which we discover the origin of an STD that transforms its victims into ravenous rapist-zombies(!). From here we meet a gang of youngsters on a Spring Break road trip. There’s good girl Christine (Rebecca C. Kasek), her best friend Carrie (Toni Anne Gambale), Carrie’s obnoxious boyfriend Freddy (Michael Merchant), nerdy Jason (John Walsh) and pothead Brooklyn (Tarrence Taylor). On the way to a party destination, they choose to stop over in a seedy motel. Also at the motel are bad chick Pam (Nicola Fiore) and her tough boyfriend Dirk (Trey Harrison) who are hooking up for a night of passion. However, unbeknownst to our horny high-schoolers, the infected necrophiliac who kickstarted this whole mess is on his way to the motel…

Inside the first six minutes of Night of Something Strange we are treated to a prolonged sequence of necrophilia, a man urinating in a woman’s face before he violently rapes her, a bloody wound complete with arterial spray and somebody ripping out an unspecified, but gore-soaked part of a woman’s genitalia with his bare hands, then eating it. Then the film REALLY gets going.

rsz_14917277_1155870461115745_3324279579145028734_oIf that sounds a bit much for you, then you should probably steer clear. Night of Something Strange is a shocking movie that is full-on, in your face, and legitimately disgusting at times… and THAT is why it is so good. Think classic Eighties splatter horror-comedy Night of the Creeps crossed with the excesses of South Park — NoSS is chock-full of gross-out moments, from sexual misadventures to a veritable explosion of body-fluids. As such, it’s absolutely hilarious!

It certainly helps that these moments are brought to life with visual effects and make-up far more impressive than NoSS’s modest budget might lead to you expect. But over-performing is pretty much the norm for this movie.

Take the cast — I think it’s safe to say that most of the leads in the movie probably won’t be immediately recognisable to many viewers, but that doesn’t stop them from knocking their performances out of the park. Harrison does a tremendous job of delivering some killer tough-guy lines with a straight face, while the impressive Kasek shows some real potential as a future Scream Queen. Gambale shows real dedication to her craft with a couple of her scenes, as does the simply fantastic Merchant. It is Merchant’s crass Freddy who very nearly steals the film. Merchant is brave, utterly shameless and throws himself into his role with gusto. He’s awesome! Elsewhere, Fiores clearly has fun playing the witchy Pam and she’s a joy to watch.

rsz_12513692_1002519173117542_1525579911595151897_oOf course, the actors are only as good as the material they’re given to work with, and the writing team of director Straiton, Ron Bonk and Mean Gene deliver great dialogue, some brilliant set-pieces and a plot with some pretty out-there twists. The violent monsters are suitably terrifying villains, especially the menacing Wayne W. Johnson as the lead undead sex-fiend, Cornelius. As the zombies mutate even further later in the flick, their genitalia transforming into lethal weapons, they become reminiscent of the ‘sickos’ in Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse segment, Planet Terror, and, along with the laughs and outlandish action, the film even manages to pack in some well-crafted scares and some intense sequences.

This is all under the steady guidance of director Jonathan Straiton, whose keen eye for a good shot is a massive contributing factor to the success of NoSS. Bravo sir!

rsz_11157579_843957512307043_3862393676166830435_oAn unapologetic fist (or perhaps another body appendage) in the face, Night of Something Strange takes your typical Eighties splatter horror flick, sticks it in a blender with some late Nineties gross-out humour, and produces a heady, hilarious, horrific cocktail that really does need to be seen on the big screen with a crowd of laughing, shrieking, gasping genre fans. This is the ultimate horror party movie and it needs to be seen the right way!

7/10

Dead End aka Drifter (2016) Review

rsz_deadendDEAD END aka DRIFTER (2016)

Starring Aria Emory, Drew Harwood and Monique Rosario

Directed by Chris von Hoffman

Written by Chris von Hoffman and Aria Emory

UK DVD Release from High Fliers Films on March 6th

A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics“.

The story of Drifter pretty much goes like this. If you take the Gecko Brothers from Tarantino and Rodriguez’s classic From Dusk Till Dawn, roughed them up and put them in the middle of an arid post-apocalyptic, just about to go Mad Max wasteland, and then had them stumble upon the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and their mutant cousins from The Hills Have Eyes, then you’ve pretty much got it.

Seriously. The script actually replicates wholesale dialogue, even scenes, from those films and others. This kind of thing is basically the reason I’ve grown so tired of Tarantino and Rob Zombie. So why the high rating?

rsz_deadend1Because this film is an absolute assault on the senses, that’s why. In his feature debut, director Hoffman, a veteran of music videos and short films, has less directed the script as directed the living shit out of his script. Imprinting a gritty, flashy, grimy and relentless vision all of his own, Drifter is less directed and more choreographed, like an 80’s dubstep goth rave in the desert. There are images here that are truly stunning, the way Hoffman frames the landscape, follows his characters, captures the day and the night. It all feels iconic. His energy behind the camera is non stop, reaching even crazier heights in the moments of savagery.

And choreography is nothing without music. My oh my, the soundtrack in this rhymes with the visuals in a way we rarely see these days. It’s a pulsing, pounding, monstrous beast from Nao Sato, and it’s a marvel. I swear there were moments in this film where the combination of movement, framing, action and soundtrack nearly had me cheering. Everything just clicks to create a sensory overload. I think this is what makes the film work so well. The script and story may lack originality, but its execution is anything but derivative. The feel of this film, the texture of it, the sound of it, is like nothing I remember seeing. Yes, it’s showy and attention seeking but it bloody well deserves it. Drifter is Hoffman trying not to make a splash, but to kick all the water out of the tub. And I need to own this soundtrack immediately.

The performances are also extremely fun. As our heroes, Emory and Howard take stock characters and rough them right up, make them lived in and raw. But our villains have the most fun. James McCabe is fantastically sinister as the childlike patriarch of the clan, Doyle, and Rebecca Frasier is the most devious white trash doll you will find. But the standout was Anthony Ficco as the Danny Zuko on acid Latos. A twitchy, nightmarish bottle of bloodthirsty rage, he’s a fantastic villain.

rsz_deadend2Although technically the film is a striking marvel, with sights and sounds that are seared into my brain, it’s a real shame that the script is such a hodgepodge of scenes and dialogue from other movies. In this case it’s not a deal breaker, but it would’ve elevated this to cult-classic status. But maybe the reason it’s all so blatant is because that was the point. So, if Drifter is a love-letter to a particularly grimy type of cinema, it’s a kinetic and visceral success. But we will have to wait for the next film from Hoffman for originality.

As it stands, Drifter is an everything and the kitchen sink project done right. An angry, vicious, grindhouse fever dream.

8/10

Grave Walkers (2015) Review

gw1Grave Walkers (2015)

Starring: Charlene Amoia, Vladimir Kulich and Tony Todd
Writer: Ari Kirschenbaum
Director: Ari Kirschenbaum

Out NOW on DVD from Matchbox Films

Supernatural forces are locked into a college town police force’s basement jail. The sheriff and his deputies are subjected to psychic attacks, preying on the fears of the loyal officers and only those with the strongest wills can survive.

Grave Walkers begins in black and white on a Halloween night. We see Deputy Hancock (Charlotte Amoia from How I Met Your Mother, NCIS: New Orleans and Adrenaline) having to put an injured stag out of its misery. Hancock gets called to a nearby incident, because of the date it’s suspected to be a college prank, and in those first few minutes we’re subjected to some of the film’s most unsettling scenes.

Hancock comes face to face with a zombie/demon, complete with glowing eyes and malicious intent. In the monochrome lighting, this has the same sinister verismo quality that can be seen in found-footage horror, such as the night scenes in Blair Witch. Hancock has little resource available to her except to cuff the zombie/demon and take the creature back to the local sheriff’s jail.

gw3One of the most innovative ideas in this film is the demon’s malevolent influence on those nearby. Sheriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich from The 13th Warrior, The Equalizer, Vikings and Angel) doesn’t see the creature as a zombie/demon: he sees his hated late father. Deputy Eric (J, Richey Nash from Hitting the Cycle, Staying Alive and Bat $#*! Crazy) doesn’t see the creature as a zombie/demon: he sees the Bear Mountain Killer – the sadist whose reign of terror inspired Eric to join the police force. Others see the zombie/demon as specific menaces from their pasts and, each of them wants to kill this perceived nemesis.

Deputy Hancock, most strong-willed of the group, has to repeatedly threaten violent repercussions to anyone who attempts to take the law into their own hands.

I’ll admit here that this movie didn’t work for me. The film started off scary. There were flashes of colour between the black and white footage, disturbing images that were bloody and diabolical. But, halfway through, the film seemed to become a comedy and the serious themes were transformed into a comical pastiche. Don’t get me wrong: there is something vaguely absurd about the notion of zombies and humour can often work as a counterpoint to horror. This worked to good effect in Shaun of The Dead, Zombieland and Me and My Mates Vs the Zombie Apocalypse.
However, in Grave Walkers, the balance struck me as a little off.

gw2The film begins as a credible horror, and then seems to drift into comedy – as though the horror is no longer working. The black and white footage is atmospheric but the shifts into colour break the suspension of disbelief. When the film does shift fully into colour, similar to the shift Dorothy experiences when she lands at the foot of the yellow brick road in The Wizard of Oz, it’s another reminder of the artifice of the narrative.

There were some great ideas in Grave Walkers and, if the film had stuck to being either a horror or a comedy, it might have managed its aims far more successfully. The special effects were sophisticated and convincing. The notion of characters becoming undone by the exacerbation of their own private hatreds was ingenious. And, of course, Tony Todd (Candyman, House of Grimm and the Final Destination franchise) is a bankable addition to any horror film. His pot-smoking pastor, who faces a hoard of glowing-green-eyed zombie/demons, was one of the genuine highlights of the latter half of the film.

gw4In truth, I can see that this one would prove entertaining for many. The film was original, innovative and stylish in places. My only issue was, whilst it was stylish in places, sometimes the film seemed to sacrifice substance and story for the sake of style: 5/10.

Let’s Be Evil (2016) Review

lbe1LET’S BE EVIL (2016)

Starring Elizabeth Morris, Elliot James Langdridge, Isabelle Allen and Kara Tointon

Directed by Martin Owen

Written by Martin Owen, Elizabeth Morris and Jonathan Willis

“Three chaperones are hired to supervise an advanced learning program for gifted children, who wear Augmented Reality Glasses to assist their education. Contained within an underground research facility, events quickly spiral out of control”.

Augmented Reality is a big deal at the moment, and has been for a while. At least I’ve heard it is. I remember working at a popular DVD/Music store a few years ago and ever big release on Blu came with an augmented thingy-ma-jiggy that I never had a chance to look at myself. Nowadays the rise of VR and 360 degree filming is huge, so particularly in the use of marketing for horror movies.

When Jenny (Morris) gets a job as a nanny to a bunch of gifted children in an underground research facility, she never for one second suspects things are going to get Sinister. No sooner than you say “The Kids Aren’t Alright” then Jenny realises, well, the kids ain’t alright…

The small cast do well with very thinly written characters. Leading the pack co-writer Elizabeth Morris plays the archetypal sweet and innocent one, Kara Tointon (Eastenders, Last Passenger) is the…well, I think they were going for hippy free spirit but it’s a bit vague. Standing out is Elliot James Langdridge (Hollyoaks, Northern Soul, Habit) who really puts effort to add distinctive quirks to his rebellious role. His sleeping style was particularly amusing. But the decision for the British performers to play it American was a strange one. Is that really what it takes to woo the US market?

lbe2Martin Owen, who made the solid and stylish LA Slasher a bit ago opts to shoot the vast majority of the film from the POV of the characters Augmented Reality Glasses. This is a double-edged sword. Up until the halfway point it really feels like you’re watching a pretty bland and pretty long cut-scene in a FPS game. If nothing is really happening, then it just feels like a gimmick. Which let’s be honest, it is. However, at about the 50 minute mark when some actual horror starts happening, there are moments when the technique works really well. But it’s undeniable that the POV creates more of a disconnect with each character, which is obviously the opposite of the effect they intended.

Besides the hit and miss visual style, the main issue here is the script. The story feels less like a coherent tale and more of an excuse to exploit the Augmented Reality angle. The dialogue and characterisation suffer from what I call “Paul WS Anderson Syndrome”. Instead of feeling like real people, these are just stock characters from other B Movies. In a similar way to the Resident Evil movies, Let’s Be Evil begins to follow a map and reach the next level narrative. Add to that a Red Queen style Siri programme that sounds like the thing out of Snog Marry Avoid, and evil children in an underground facility, and it appears inspiration came from a lot of the wrong places. To be honest, the motivation, abilities and point of the Augmented Reality stuff was all lost on me. But it all looked very pretty.

Let’s Be Evil is a fun flick though. Even in the first half, the pace never falters and it’s a brisk 80 minutes or so. The shooting style at the very least separates it from other low budget horrors, and the colour scheme, full of neon lights and on-screen graphics. Also, the score by Julian Scherle is great. Equal parts John Carpenter and Daft Punk, it really helps immerse you in this technological world.

lbe3But in the end, Let’s Be Evil is hard to recommend as anything more than a bit of quick, cheap fluff. With plot-holes and narrative inconsistencies, and ending that left me scratching my head, Let’s Be Evil is best enjoyed with the brain switched off. The best way to sum it up is Lawnmower Man meets Mind Ripper with a dash of Village of the Damned. Take that as you will.

6/10