A Year in The ‘Knife’ of A Low-Budget Horror Filmmaker: February

mjfeb1A YEAR IN THE ‘KNIFE’ OF A LOWBUDGET HORROR FILMMAKER : FEBRUARY

February is a strange month for anyone really, it’s your follow through month. All the things you promised yourself you’d change in the New Year are either cast aside or pushed forward with conviction. I think being an indie filmmaker is kind of like that all year round, you need to keep conviction and follow through to make sure that things get done and more importantly, finished.

mjfeb2This month I’ve been working feverishly on making sure that our latest feature Legacy Of Thorn is ready for its cast and crew premiere on February 28th. The film was supposed to be finished in October, however after our sound guy bailed in September with no notice. We spent 2 months trying to replace him, which only wasted more time, before I bit the bullet and took over sound duties myself once again.

This of course knocked the film back by about another 2 months, during this time I made the choice to add a mid credits sequence and that of course set us back a little bit longer, since October I have left the house about 6 times, it took over our Christmas, our New Year and countless other important things, but on Friday the film locked with everything in place and is now ready for its screening only one week before it’s premiere.

mjfeb3I couldn’t have done it without conviction, I had to knuckle down and just push through, it was tough, but that is the difference between a finished movie and an abandoned one. I learned the hard way with my first film that if you don’t take charge then it can slip away too easily and as a result that caused my first film Creepsville a delay of nearly 5 years. My point is that things go wrong, and like with resolutions, when things get tough, it’s easy to push it to the wayside and give up and that’s fine as long as you’re willing to accept defeat.

mjfeb4The price for that, though, is not finishing whatever it is you started. Sometimes you can’t make that an option. You have to have belief in yourself and your abilities in order to succeed in the movie industry, or almost any other industry, and some days that’s tough, especially when you feel like you’ve already given all you’ve got.

Yet in the end you have to remind yourself of one thing. Yeah, some days you work 20 hours and find yourself getting nowhere and some days…Well you get to spend your days pulling people’s heads off and crushing them til their eyes pop out. MJ

 

http://mycho.co.uk

http://iwasateenagefilmmaker.blogspot.com

http://slasherhouse.com http://legacyofthorn.com

Death aka After Death (2012) DVD Review

DEATH 001DEATH aka AFTER DEATH (2012) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Claira Watson Parr, Ben Shockley, Nicola Goodchild, Jonathan Hansler

Written by: Martin Gooch

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £14.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 100 minutes

Directed by: Martin Gooch

UK Release Date: 3rd March 2014

Manipulation. I guess everyone manipulates something to differing degrees, whether its exaggerating man-flu to gain a few days off work, or cajoling your mate to buy the first pint as you “don’t have any money”. It’s an everyday human trait for which DVD companies are no different. They know what sells, and they know what attracts the eye as us laymen (and women) scour the shelves of the DVD rental store for some scary entertainment. The sleeve for Death is prime example with a hooded skeleton figure staring at you above a quote from Ain’t it Cool that states “Death movie of the year!” and a tagline reading “the collector of souls”. They have you in the palm of their hand.

DEATH 002Stifle that impulse buy though UKHS reader, for this cynical sonuvabitch has done some digging and lo and behold the actual quote from AICN reads “the feel-good movie about death of the year!”. So it’s a feel-good movie – ok, so let’s check out the website. Scrolling down the homepage we can see a poster for the movie which features the two leads lying on the grass, heads touching which resembles Richard Curtis more than Dan Curtis. With said poster adorned with “Dr. Who meets Mike Leigh”(Raindance), and an alternate tag-line of “a beautifully British mysterious sci-fi comedy” I think we may have been fooled!

It’s not the filmmakers fault, they just needed their movie distributing. I remember speaking to an unnamed director of an excellent low budget horror last year and he hold me how disappointed he was about the artwork they used as well as the lack of proof reading on the box. As it happens it’s the same distributor Three Wolves who have once again taken someone’s labour of love and targeted at a group of people that most likely won’t care for it all that much. At any rate, rant over and whether it qualifies for the pages of UKHS or not, it’s only fair to give it an unbiased review.

Eloise (Watson Parr) has just received some terrible news, a phone call from her Uncle Simon (Linal Haft) informs her of the death of her last surviving parent, her father. After years apart this gives the opportunity for the family (two brothers and two sisters) to reunite at the palatial family home. It’s a fascinating assembly of people from TV personality Yossarian (Shockley) “I don’t watch daytime TV… I’m on it” *winks*, to the older sister Suki (Goodchild) who finds it hard to conceal her resentment towards him. We swiftly discover from a raft of press clippings that their father James was a notable scientist. Eloise wants to get into his lab to survey the scene, but it’s locked and the absence of a key is notable.

It’s not long before the strained relationships between the siblings come to the fore as they argue about their reasons for leaving seven years ago. It turns out their deceased father accidentally caused the death of their brother Tom. Before they can decide what to do with the property though they have a visit from their father’s solicitor who tells them that their father had defaulted on several loans, and that the property is about to be demolished. Needless to say this news only exacerbates the tensions in the house, and adding to that is Yoassarian who swears that he has just seen Tom. Everyone obviously dismisses this, but what was their father working on up until he died?

DEATH 003Schizophrenic may be the best way to describe After Death as it veers from kitchen sink melodrama to comedy to afterlife themed sci-fi. It’s quite a heady combination that at times leaves the viewer a little bit disorientated as to where it actually wants to go. Added to this is a Leslie Phillips cameo and heavily Roger Taylor orientated soundtrack – it really is a staggering blend. Surprisingly though, most of the time it actually does work and with a genuinely intriguing backbone of a storyline, it does keep you entertained.

That said, there are a few stilted performances in the movie but credit must go to Claira Watson Parr who carries much of the film in her brilliant mascara clad role of Eloise. After Death is far from perfect, but it would be a hard-nosed individual that would dwell upon its failings. After watching it though, I again come back to it being completely misrepresented in its packaging. This barmy decision will lead the film to miss out on finding an audience that will really appreciate it – and there is an audience there. Instead, it will be picked up by horror fans via supermarket impulse purchases and be in the main totally rejected. It’s a shame as I’d like to see it succeed, but alas in this guise it’s likely to fail

6 out of 10

*n.b – those dimwits at Three Wolves have also raised the classification to a ‘15’ despite it being rated ‘12’ by the BBFC. Another canny ploy to drive sales. 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

OOnly Lovers Left Alive (2014)

123 mins

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddlestone, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska and Anton Yelchin

Two vampires Adam (Hiddlestone) and Eve (Swinton) have been in a centuries-long relationship and are reuniting, after time spent apart, in Detroit, where Adam spends his time secluded in his music studio, producing his ‘funeral music’ that has earnt him a huge cult following. The pair face a struggle to find a constant source of pure blood supply as well as the imminent arrival of Eve’s sister, Ava (Wasikowska) who has a history of losing control of her ‘hunger’…

It is a sad fact that it has been a long time since a modern day classic vampire film has emerged. The last truly fantastic example was David Slade’s frankly terrifying adaptation of the ‘30 Days of Night’ series which did a superb job of making vampires a proper image of pure fear once again. There was also the cult-hit ‘Queen of the Damned’ at the peak of the nu-metal craze with its kick-ass soundtrack and heavy emphasis on sex appeal and of course Coppola’s masterpiece in ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, with Gary Oldman providing the best ever turn as Dracula (I went there) and the film bathed in gloriously OTT lashings of stylised gothic romance.

O1 So where does ‘Only Lovers left Alive’ come into the equation of vampire films? Simply put, it’s a future classic that officially has set the new bar for vampire films to come. Of course, this is an opinion that will certainly not be shared by all. Indeed, many will simply loathe this film and call it arty hipster pretentious wank and if this review works on any level, you’ll hopefully be able to see precisely how people could have such drastically contrasting opinions!

Possibly the main stickler for many will be the plot or rather, in the negative view, distinct lack of one. My brief synopsis at the beginning only dealt with one particular incident in a film that is far more content to let mood and atmosphere take precedence. On top of this, the film’s main focus is just to stare longingly like a besotted teenager at the deep gothic romance that sizzles between its lead characters. Oh and they’re friends with the still alive Christopher Marlowe (Hurt) and the adorably hopeless Ian (Yelchin) who is Adam’s manager of sorts.

Much time in the film is dedicated to lengthy discussions about famous authors, books, instruments, musicians and great thinkers. Some will derive great humour from the cheeky nods to various pieces of classical culture but this is sure to alienate those who are less ‘cultured’ and certainly to mainstream culture would smack of trying to be incredibly ‘hipster’ for the sake of it. It is debatable as to whether or not the film is actually in on the joke, Adam sternly rebukes Ava when she asks for a digital download of his music (he favours vinyl, of course) and Ian is made to look very desperate when putting on his own pair of sunglasses in a club to try and fit in with the undead trio.

O2 Short of Adam’s dramatic threats of suicide to escape the ‘zombies’ (regular people), a certain nasty incident that befalls hapless Ian and the need to obtain pure blood, there is very little by means of narrative drive. In place of punctual neck puncturing, the film devotes to time to simply following the lead couple as they take in the dark and desolate city of Detroit on their many drives at night. This is certain to infuriate most but the film has this deceptively vampiric way of drawing you in and leaving all desires for tension or even conflict behind. A comparison could be made that is almost as if Nic Winding Refn helmed his own version of the still over-looked ‘Near Dark’, with extra layers of gothic romance turned up to 11.

It must really irk Jim Jarmusch that the perfect tagline for the film has already been inappropriately used by the first ‘Twilight’ film. “When you can live forever, what do you live for?” is much better suited to OLLA as it is the crux of what makes the incendiary onscreen romance between Hiddleston and Swinton so compelling. Yes some may find their constant lounging around in each other’s arms and endless fawning over one another distasteful, but what Jarmusch has expertly captured is the idea that each means absolutely everything in the world to the other. This is the kind of epic love story done on such a small scale that we have not seen in a long time, or certainly not as well conveyed by two of Britain’s most talented actors.

03We are invited by Jarmusch to almost feel like an unseen third party in their relationship, that they love each other so uncontrollably that it can’t help but over-spill and wash over the audience. It’s not all passionate embraces and endless shagging however, the two share their squabbles that remain even after their third wedding but also they, like the film, have a very dry sense of humour about their vampire status. The film’s standout scene is when the two of them share blood popsicles together, yes an easy gag but one that works perfectly.

Hiddleston oozes the vampiric sex appeal of the ‘troubled artist’,  a mess of black hair covers his face and he spends most of the time shirtless but never is he insufferably moody, just an alluring misanthrope who is more than capable of holding your attention with a piercing stare (move over Loki). Swinton provides the ‘brighter’ counterpart, a novel and nature lover who seems to be the only being capable of eliciting a smile out of  Hiddleston and the pair have such a firey  onscreen chemistry that fits together like ying and yang. A PROPER undead romance done properly and one that rivals even Oldman’s Dracula and Ryder’s Mina, that’s how powerful it is!

O4The delicious black cherry on top of the film’s dense trance-like atmosphere is the mind-meltingly perfect moody tones of the soundtrack, helmed by Jozef van Wissem and Squrl. Adam’s ‘funeral music’ is featured heavily throughout as it perfectly encapsulates his doom-laden and nihilistic attitude of life and when things start to go wrong for the characters. When the music transcends from simply being background to a key component of the overall success of the film, again much like with Winding Refn’s work, clearly it’s working perfectly. The moody tones are wonderfully counter-balanced by one scene when Adam and Eve dance to a poppy vinyl track in one of the film’s few outward examples of being even remotely ‘cheery’.

Ultimately, the film’s appeal is aimed directly at those who revel in the gothic romance element of the vampire mythos. Those who prefer their coffin-dwellers with more bite and less navel-gazing had best steer clear but what cannot be denied is that this film has all the makings of a genre classic that will be taken and poured over for years to come.

Verdict: An intoxicating piece of pure gothic cinema, the likes of which we have not seen in many a year. Excruciatingly slow for many but for others, a bewitching, profoundly romantic delight 10/10   

Barricade (2012) DVD Review

BARRICADE 001BARRICADE (2012) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Eric McCormack, Jody Thompson, Conner Dwelly, Ryan Grantham

Written by: Michaelbrent Collings

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 78 minutes

Directed by: Andrew Currie

UK Release Date: 3rd March 2014

In no time at all WWE studios seem to have collected a production catalogue of over 30 films, all with varying degrees of success. For every See No Evil (2006), there’s The Chaperone (2011), and with an upcoming slate that includes The Marine 4 and Jingle all the Way 2 – with Larry the Cable Guy replacing Arnie no less, they show little sign of abating. I must admit though, Barricade really appealed to me. It’s helmed by Andrew Currie who shot the excellent and little seen Fido (2006) where a young boy’s best friend is a mild mannered six foot tall zombie (Billy Connolly), and the premise seemed to have small scale character driven piece written all over it.

BARRICADE 002Beginning with a lush overhead autumnal shot of suburbia we meet the Shade family. Straight off the bat we find Leah (Thompson) suggesting to her husband Terrance (McCormack) that they go away for Christmas to an old cabin (actually a palatial two storey wood-built house) where she used to spend her winters. However, when we next see Terrance he’s driving the family car to the suggested lodge but without Leah. By the time he stops to pick up the keys for the cabin from the local store owner, we discover that his wife has passed away. To begin with we have no explanation of his wife’s death aside from a few flashbacks which gradually piece together what happened.

Terrance finally arrives at the shack in the dark of night and ushers in his children Cynthia (Dwelly) and Jake (Grantham), although they’re a little apprehensive at the prospect of isolation, and coupled with the odd creaking door and the sight of a few taxidermist creations, it’s not the most settling evening. Also as Terrance sees out the evening with a few beers, he’s sure he catches sight of a woman’s face on the window. Racing outside there’s nothing to be found, but what of the hand print that remains the following morning? What too of the strange hacking coughs that each of the family seems to have acquired? Cut off from civilisation and with a ferocious blizzard on the way, Terrance has some decisions to make to ensure the survival of his family.

Despite the great premise for Barricade as well as the handy running time, a sense of deep sighing boredom enters the fray about halfway in to the movie. It just feels so badly structured and lacking a defined narrative. The flashbacks to Terrance’s time spent with his wife don’t add anything to the film the way they’re scattered haphazardly around the movie, while the overall “is it a monster? Is it a virus? Is it a ghost?” theories distract from the central aspect of the picture which is essentially a guy attempting to revive his strained relationship with his kids.

BARRICADE 003Barricade should be claustrophobic and tense, but ends up just being frustrating and falls technically short with badly set up scenes and poor lighting. The ending attempts to clean things up a little but only leaves more questions unanswered. I think if this was a genuinely poor movie, I’d be happy to consign it to the DTV obscurity and forget about it forever. The problem is that Barricade had the ingredients for something memorable, which makes its failure all the more frustrating.

3 out of 10

Frankenstein – The True Story (1973) DVD Review

fr5Frankenstein – The True Story (1973)

Release Date: 10 March 2014. Cert: 12
RRP: £15.99. Running Time: 181 mins
Cat.No: 2NDVD3256. Ratio: Original Ratio ; 4:3
Region code: 2. Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0

Director: Jack Smight / Screenplay: Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy

Bonus feature: introduction by James Mason

A prelude (or, meaningless, self-indulgent waffle)

There could be a few deluded fools out there who might be mistaken by the title of this article from quite possibly the finest science fiction, fantasy and horror blog on the planet (that’s this blog by the way, just in case you were sat there thinking which one you had missed out on reading). Yes, there are some that may have read the word ‘Frankenstein’ and wrongly assumed that I was about to write a review on the CGI infested abomination and bastardisation of a genre classic that was the risible piece of excremental tosh that recently infested the cinema – I, Frankenstein.

However, putting my distaste (I’m not sure if you noticed that) aside in regard to that pitiful excuse of a horror film for a moment, it could well be that there are some of you out there in internetland who for some unknown twisted reason actually enjoyed it. Of course, I’m not one to judge another persons taste or right to like what they want, everyone after all is entitled to their opinion, but if you did enjoy that heap of muscle-bound superficial codswallop them you are clinically insane. Take my word for it, I have a degree in Psychology and know all about weird and twisted behaviour.

So, I suppose some review of it could be in order then, after all, this blog is supposed to reflect my balanced thoughts on a wide range of material. So OK, I saw the movie a week or so ago and quite frankly it is 2 hours or so of my life that I wish I could get back. There you go.

fr2No, this piece is definitely not anything at all to do with that reprehensible piece of lazy special effects rubbish. This review is of a far finer, intelligent and thought provoking interpretation of perhaps THE classic of Gothic horror literature than that piece of worthless junk.

A bit of history (or, more self indulgent historical waffle)

Many of us know the story behind the story of Frankenstein, but I’ll briefly mention it just in case there are any half-wits out there that think I, Frankenstein is where the it all actually started. The cultural phenomenon that is Frankenstein actually all began on the shores of Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816 when a group of literary friends, including a certain Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, in an effort to pass the time challenged each other to come up with a frightening ghost story. Shelley’s future wife, 19 year old Mary, was part of the entourage, eventually came up with an idea based upon a recent dream that she had experienced and which soon after she would put to paper. The title of which was Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

It was a story that was to immediately tap into the the depths of our collective psyche with its themes of human loss, creation of life, motherhood and above all, the lengths a human being will go to scientifically manipulate and alter the laws of existence itself.

A year later the novel was finished and initially published anonymously, for this was a time when a woman and writing (particularly Gothic Horror writing) rarely went together without some form of public ridicule. By the time the revised second edition was published in 1823, this time under Mary’s name, the story had already accrued had a number of theatrical adaptations. This trend for constantly re-imagining the complex psychological and moral themes that are found in Shelley’s original text continues to this day, albeit usually in far more simplistic terms (stand up I, Frankenstein – you know I’m talking about you!).

Frankenstein and his CreatureAs far as I’ve been able to determine, since that date at the early part of the 19th century, there have been approximately 200 million billion trillion versions of Frankenstein in all its cinematic, literary, Graphic novel, television and radio forms. I’ve checked, it’s a pretty accurate number………trust me.

So it’s quite obvious that I’m not alone when I say that the story of the creation of life from the dead that originated nearly 200 years ago on the shores of Lake Geneva hasn’t just been a personal favourite of mine. Indeed I have gone on record on a number of occasions in this very blog naming James Whale’s near genius adaptation for a Universal Pictures’ Frankenstein as being my ‘first love’ of horror. The Universal produced series of movies movies with Boris Karloff et al were, and still arguably are, the most synonymous association between cinema and the original story – though the Universal adaptations and Karloff’s majestic monster are a million miles away from the what Mary Shelley first imagined. It’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed with the story that Mary wrote and so it seems is mostly everyone else on the planet. Way to capture the public’s imagination, Girl.

The review of Frankenstein:The True Story (1973). (Or, finally getting to the point and losing the waffle)

So when the marvellous people at Second Sight Films sent me the preview disc of the soon to be released gem of an adaptation, I was genuinely excited. Excited, because it was the chance to revisit a version that I first saw and loved many, many moons ago, and also excited because it was the chance to talk about a version of the man and his monster that actually didn’t make me want to stick my head in a plugged in food blender (yes, I, Frankenstein, I’m talking about you again)

fr1But what is so wonderful about this particular version, I hear you ask. Well according to the promotional material that came with the DVD it is claimed that it is “One of the most acclaimed versions of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein: The True Story, featuring a stellar all-star cast makes its UK DVD debut thanks to Second Sight Films”

“Stellar all-star cast?” A bold claim indeed. We’ll see, Second Sight Films, we’ll see. Frankenstein: The True Story is an American 1973 made for TV two-part production, which back in the 1970’s could often be a very hit or miss affair in terms of authentic production and lazy cliched casting by the studios. However, the blurb isn’t wrong, for the cast list reads like a veritable who’s who of British character actors….well, don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.

Frankenstein: The True story.
Starring;
James Mason
Leonard Whiting
David McCallum
Jane (delicious) Seymour
Tom Baker.
Sir Ralph Richardson
Sir John Gielgud

Not bad, not bad at all. So far so good. However I do have one small word of warning out there for all Mary Shelley aficionados and lovers of her sacred text, who are under the assumption from the title that this is a faithful line by line adaptation, because it’s not. For despite the title, there are a more than a few major embellishments of the original storyline and narrative, but I assure you that the movie doesn’t suffer at all for it, quite the contrary as it happens. Let me explain.

Now then mate, you know where I can lay my hands on some spare body parts?

fr4The storyline is set in 19th century England, where Dr Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) is rather bitter and devastated over his brother’s death as a result of drowning and soon develops an obsession that he, and not god, should ultimately have the power over life and death. In essence, he is searching for the ability to bring life back from death itself.

Following a chance encounter with the bonkers Dr Henry Clerval (David McCallum), a surgeon who is experimenting with research in precisely this area. They soon begin to work together and Victor achieves what was previously thought impossible, the ability to create life from death. The result is the creation of a handsome, charismatic, highly intelligent young man – Adam (Michael Sarrazin), from rescued body parts (as you do).

At first the experiment seems a total success, not only does Adam (Adam – get it?) become alive, but he becomes the centre of attention amongst the socialites of London society with his good looks and charisma. However, unforeseen problems in the experimental process see Adam begin to physically degenerate and soon the involvement of evil and mad as a box of Frogs scientist Dr Polidori (James Mason) who, after appearing on the scene, goes on to make the proceedings even worse. For you see, Dr Polidori has the intention to create a female version of the creature in the form of an even more attractive creation, the simply excruciatingly delicious Jane Seymour. You may think that creating Jane Seymour as a companion might make things pretty good (well they would for me). Well actually, this in turn simply leads to further shocking and unimaginable horror as the story proceeds to its ever inevitable explosive climax.

Be honest – does my bum look big in this?
fr3I said a few moments ago that the term ‘True Story’ might be somewhat of a misnomer – this movie does indeed deviate from Shelley’s original text on number of major points. However, what I love about this adaptation is that it still retains much of the genuine Gothic nature, theme and tone of her work. This adaptation is actually a million miles closer to the complex and textured layers of the themes in the book than any of the (often still great) versions of the story have ever been.

This attention to the complex themes is an an obvious strength of the production, though it could for some people be something of a weakness. I say that because the running time of 3 hours may seem like something of an over-exertion for some in these more modern days of instant gratification. There will be those who find the pacing and time spent on strange things like characterisation, dialogue containing actual intelligence and performances that provide added gravitas to the text, as something that gets in the way of enjoying any thrills and chills. I don’t want to sound aloof and elitist when it comes to horror, but those are the very details of the genre that float my particular boat, however I know that there will be some for who regard such a production being flawed due to it’s lack of blood soaked horror.

Now this could get awkward…..
It is clear that a huge amount of money was spent on this truly sumptuous production, visually it is lovely with its richness of colour and texture combined with a truly remarkable attention to historical detail are at times breathtaking. The quality of the look of the film is also in part no small thanks to the restoration work that Second Sight Films have put into the movie prior to its release on the 10th March. Visually, it is a sublime treat.

Be assured, Frankenstein:The True Story is no US made faux-European monstrosity of a production with bad accents and flimsy sets, it has a genuine authentic heart and soul. This authenticity is applied in no small way to the inspired portrayal of the monster, Adam, who initially is the epitome of a beautiful creation with his brooding good looks and genuine charisma, but who slowly begins to disintegrate (literally) into a pathetic shambles of a creature. I, as many people, always felt more than a little sorry for the monster in this story, particularly Karloff’s masterful portrayal. However, the performance of Michael Sarrazin here takes that sense of sympathy to an almost unbearable level as we the audience are moved to emotions of extreme pity at Adams plight and the treatment that he receives from those that previous feted him as the prefect creation. For me, as a long time lover of Mary Shelley’s slice of literary genius, this is quite possibly one of the finest adaptations of it ever made.

fr7If anyone is still in some doubt about whether Frankenstein: The True Story is worth watching – I suggest you look at the picture to the right. I think it says it all……….

I’ll give the film 9 out of 10 and to the picture of Jane Seymour, at least 10 – as it were.

Frankenstein: The True Story is released on DVD by Second Sight Films on the 10th March 2014.

Stranger By The Lake (2013)

S1Stranger By The Lake (2013)

101 mins

Dir: Alain Guiraudie

Starring: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumcao and Jerome Chappatte

Franck (Deladonchamps), frequents a secluded beach spot that is a secret cruising hot spot during a hot summer in France. Whilst there he befriends the miserable and detached Henri (d’Assmcao) and becomes entranced by the mysterious and dashing Michel (Paou). When Franck sees Michel murder his lover, he becomes drawn into a case of lust and deceit as the authorities close in.

 Well a first for UKHS I think, a cautious exercise of toe-tipping into the waters of homo-erotic cinema! Although with enough of a horror-inspired twist to ensure that there is a reason this review is featured on the site! The film arrived with a great deal of critical acclaim and with much promise of a shockingly frank presentation of an area of gay culture in the form of cruising that had not been explored since…well…William Friedkin’s equally controversy-baiting ‘Cruising’ way back in 1980.

S2So what’s all the fuss about I hear you cry? Well some indication is given immediately by the surprisingly rare 18 Certificate bearing the ‘Contains REAL sex’ classification. It certainly wasn’t kidding. Whilst the naked female form is in somewhat of a gross abundance in mainstream cinema, the private parts of men remain largely just that, private. The film almost seemed to be in a desperate mission to make up for lost time as there were more crystal clear depictions of Johnsons (“Lebowski”) than you could shake a stick at to use a poorly judged idiom.

It is interesting that last year’s (magnificent) ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ and the current controversy-baiting circus helmed by one naughty ‘Persona non Grata’ Dane in ‘Nymphomaniac’ have drawn such a piranha-like media frenzy, that this film has somehow limboed its way under the radar. Using pornographic stunt actors, the film has no intention of sparing the rod (Stop sniggering at the back!) and fully holds an uncompromising light up to the perhaps ‘seedier’ side of the gay community.

S3However, for a film that claims to have its main focus on a gritty murder thriller, it is undeniable that all too often, the cracks of having little else to say and a restrictive setting are loosely paved over with the sweaty glossy sheen (oo-er) of explicit scenes of gay sex. Of course, this is intrinsic to the narrative and it is interesting to see such a little covered area explored, but at times I did feel as if the original intention behind the film was purely for erotica that hastily had a murder plot stitched on to give it some arthouse credibility.

Despite all this, however, where the film truly excels is when it keeps focus of its murder-based narrative. It works along the classic ensnaring trap of lust that keeps the young Franck from turning in Michel who he actively saw do the murder. With no hesitation, he covers for Michel at every turn, even though he is terrified that at any point, Michel might turn on him and he may end up with the same fate. The calm and idyllic lake setting almost becomes a character in itself, holding so many secrets beneath its seemingly paradise-like veneer that the grizzly acts that take place seem that much more stark and intimidating when placed in such a setting.

S4 The two stand out moments include one after the murder when Michel invites Franck to swim with him in the same lake where he committed the murder. The moment is superbly played out without any grand flourishes as we can see the fear and uncertainty painfully painted on Franck’s face and then the tension is ramped up on a knife’s edge as Michel swims slowly towards him.

This is only bettered by the scene of the murder itself, we see it all play out from a distance and Franck’s p.o.v as Michel drowns his lover, showing absolutely no remorse and then just walk away. There is no doom-laden soundtrack or great uses of camera techniques, infact, the camera is somewhat grainy, but it is so unblinkingly direct that it feels terrifyingly intense and ‘real’. The denouement ramps up the almost lazy pacing to almost become a menacing slasher film and yet with a brilliantly disarming final twist that I dare not ruin here.

The notion of the ‘cruising code’ of mystery and hidden identity is perfectly portrayed by all the principal actors as they all are seemingly hiding something and their combined air of mystique never relents, even despite their close scrutiny under the camera and script of Guiraudie. Franck is a likeable and sympathetic lead who forms an amicable if not sexual relationship with the humorously miserly Henri and yet we are shocked that driven by lust, he covers for the slimy and brutish Michel.

It is never properly explained what Henri’s intentions are by purposefully distancing himself from the group of cruisers and above all, just who is the monster that lurks beneath the ‘hunky’ visage of Michel. Paou delivers a powerfully unnerving performance, not once do you ever feel safe in his presence and it may be an old trick, but at one moment when he stares down the camera, it is impossible to not flinch and look away.

S5This certainly will not be to everyone’s taste who frequent the site but for those of you whose interest I’ve been able to prick (Mind like a sewer you have…), I would definitely recommend seeking it out for those who enjoy perhaps the ‘artier’ side of things.

A valiant step in the right direction for demonstrating the effectiveness of the minimalist chills however, one that may be guilty or leaning to heavily on its erotic charge rather than a proper narrative.

 

Verdict: At times, this is an unnervingly calm on the surface chiller that covers up a huge amount of menace. However, too often it descends into overtly attempting to provoke shock in order to compensate for lack of substance. 7/10

The Devil In The Woods aka The Barrens (2013) DVD Review

DEVIL 001THE DEVIL IN THE WOODS aka THE BARRENS (2013) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Stephen Moyer, Mia Kirshner, Allie MacDonald, Peter DaCunha

Written by: Darren Lynn Bousman

UK Certification: 15

UK RRP: £12.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

UK Release Date: 3rd March 2014

I think I first became aware of the Jersey Devil during season one of the X Files in ‘93/94. Unbeknown to me this was the long standing myth of a legendary creature or cryptid which was said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. It is indeed a very intriguing legend with plenty of sightings, and since this X Files episode it was referenced more frequently in popular culture in such films as The Last Broadcast and The 13th Sign. The latest film to feature this legend is Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Barrens, or thanks to a mid-Atlantic name change The Devil in the Woods. After hitting five home runs with Saw II, III and IV, Repo: The Genetic Opera and Mother’s Day, Bousman became a little unstuck in the disappointing 11:11:11. Irrespective of this slight wobble though, he has become a director whose work I really look forward to seeing.

DEVIL 002After a teasing pre-credits sequence where a young couple (Erica and Dale) discover a mutilated animal corpse – but seem to escape themselves, we switch to the Vineyard family home where dad Richard (Moyer) is busy packing the car while son Danny (DaCunha) is moping around the neighbourhood handing out posters of his missing dog. Meanwhile, in the house daughter Sadie (MacDonald) is bemoaning the idea that she has to still go away with her parents despite her being 17, while mum Cynthia (Kirshner) tends to agree that dragging a grouchy teenager away from her friends may lead to a somewhat tense time away.

They head to Pinewoods National Park deep in the heart of the Pine Barrens, and as they do so Sadie revels in reading a story about the legend of the Jersey Devil to an obviously terrified Danny. However, before you can say ‘flying biped’, Richard slams on the breaks to avoid crashing into the dismembered corpse of a deer which does very little to ease the bubbling familial tensions. As they settle into the camp the local warden attempts to pacify the family with dubious reasoning for the appearance of the deer, while at the same time warning them to be cautious about ‘bear attacks’. The National Park isn’t the same in this modern era for Richard. He’s come to spread his father’s ashes and reminisce about the days that he was brought here as a child, but in a busy camp with people engaging continually with smartphones, tablets and other devices, Richard begins to slowly unravel much to the horror of his family.

Less the expected creature feature, The Devil in the Woods is more gradual psychological and mental breakdown. This may change its appeal as Devil really does take its time to get inside Richard’s head, with a first hour that apart from a couple of shocks is primarily a character study of our leading man. In fact I think that’s what Bousman wants the viewer to wonder – is the Jersey Devil haunting these woods, or is it simply the unravelling mind of a disturbed man.

DEVIL 003It’s a bold aim, and one that will reduce the number of people that get to the see the film, or at least frustrate those that wander in to await something more conventional. It is a low budget film shot in a mere 18 days, and in all honesty these constraints render it difficult to convey what was presumably intended. Despite this though, Devil deserves credit for the bravery of the route it takes, as does Moyer who puts in a quite sinister performance and conveys a total emotional breakdown with aplomb.

6 out of 10

Argento’s Dracula (A.K.A. Dracula 3D) (2012) Review

ad1Argento’s Dracula (2012)
(A.K.A. Dracula 3D)
Dir. Dario Argento

In a post-TWILIGHT world, perhaps there is no better time than now to re-introduce Dracula, as Bram Stoker envisioned him, to the movie-going public. A true Prince of Darkness, his tale should be one of Old World tyranny forged in the flames of war, a noble predator barely able to contain a feral bloodthirst. It should be about animal magnetism thrusting its trouser bulge toward the face of repressed Victorian high society. A beast in velvet.
And what better filmmaker to do so than super-stylish purveyor of violence as art, Dario Argento? What could go wrong?

Quite a bit, it seems. Following an opening sequence whereby a farm girl, Tanja, sneaks off during a storm to rendezvous with her lover, and then get attacked by a giant owl, we move into familiar Dracula territory. Jonathan Harker travels from somewhere (not England that much is clear) to Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula. He has been hired to organize the count’s considerable library.

Harker’s first night there, Tanja, whose body had disappeared from the local cemetery, shows up in all her undead bodacious glory and tries to seduce Harker, only to have Dracula interrupt. She tries again the next night, only to have Drac pop in, bitch slap her, and bite Harker himself, he remains a prisoner at Castle Dracula. Meanwhile, Harker’s wife, Mina, goes to Transylvania, looking for her husband, there she meets Dracula, who mesmerizes her. We learn the count has orchestrated the events leading up to their meeting; Mina resembles his old flame Dolinger, who died centuries before.

ad2Mina returns to the home of her friend, Lucy Kisslinger, who soon becomes mysteriously ill and dies after secret nocturnal visits from Dracula. Lucy’s father calls upon Abraham Van Helsing, played by Rutger Hauer, who arrives on scene and makes preparations to slay the Prince of Darkness himself.

Clearly, ARGENTO’S DRACULA takes some liberties with Stoker’s text, which is nothing unusual when it comes to adaptations of the classic novel.  In addition to the dispatching of Harker early on and the reincarnation love story between Drac and Mina (which I am completely sick of seeing), most of the other differences lie in small details. The lunatic servant Renfield is not your fly-eating Dwight Frye, but an utter nutter who bites everyone he sees. Lucy is able to hide her bite marks from her father as Drac has been draining her by sucking on the back of her left knee.

And Dracula is … different. Played by German actor Thomas Kretschmann, he’s neither Bela Lugosi nor Christopher Lee, Frank Langella nor Gary Oldman. If only he had a long white moustache, he might be the most accurate depiction of Stoker’s Dracula I can recall seeing. He is cold yet not wooden, aristocratic in a higher than thou but not a wine and cheese snob kind of way, and possesses a restrained violence when he is not, well, killing people.

ad4He’s like a Nazi commander character without all the goose stepping and Siege Heil-ing. Maybe a bit like Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds if he was centuries old and needed to drink the blood of innocents to live, or at least he is until he starts shapeshifting. Presumably to get the most out of the 3D effects in the movie, Dracula changes into a wolf, a wolf man, an owl, and even a giant praying mantis. Seriously.

Not surprisingly, ARGENTO’S DRACULA lays on heaps on female nudity (Miriam Giavolnelli who played Tanja is a “gifted” actress, as a quick Google search will reveal), violence and gore. One can’t help but smile when a pissed off Dracula, disappointed townsfolk have broken a pact with him, enters a room as a cloud of flies, slashes throats, bites off faces, throws a sword through a near-escapee, and then compels a police captain to blow his own brains out with a black powder pistol.
It’s partial revision of Stoker’s novel, the good pacing, and the boobs and blood, make ARGENTO’S DRACULA somewhat entertaining.

But …
ARGENTO’S DRACULA suffers from its budget. Simply put, it looks cheap.
Yes, Argento delivers some very nice atmospheric scenes with multi-coloured lighting that would make Mario Bava proud.

ad5But these in no way make up for the computer-generated imagery which ruins the film.
Being an avid horror fan, I am no stranger to low budget films, some of which are excellent and perhaps are even better because of their limited budget, forcing the filmmakers to rely on suspense, intimation, atmosphere, and heaven forbid, writing, to make up for the limited effects.

The problem with ARGENTO’S DRACULA is that it looks like a made-for-TV movie. True, a made-for-TV movie with copious amounts of sex and violence but crap nonetheless. Actually watching it in 3D will not save it. Aside from Kretschmann as Deacula, Marta Gastini as Mina, who reminds me of a young Olivia Hussey, and of course, Rutger Hauer as Van Helsing, who here is HOBO WITH A WAVERING ILL-DEFINED EUROPEAN ACCENT, the acting is not good.

The international cast, who hail mainly from Italy, Spain and Germany, is a bit off-putting. They are not dubbed, but because they all have different accents, it’s a bit unclear as to where everyone is from.  This really takes you out of the film. Lucy, played by Dario Argento, is Italian and has an Italian father who would not look out of place on the Sopranos.Then you have a German Dracula, Spanish Harker, faux-Dutch (?) Van Helsing …

ad6In many ways Argento’s Dracula is exactly what you’d expect. The women. The violence. Some stylish flourishes. The plot is barebones, and what is there moves along like a skeleton train on fire, making stops at one violent scene after another. After midnight, and after a few drinks, it might be for good for a few laughs.

But in the light of day, you’ll likely agree that this vampire film sucks.

4/10

An Interview with Banshee Chapter director Blair Erickson by Dave Wain

BANSHEE 001An Interview with Banshee Chapter director Blair Erickson by Dave Wain.

The Banshee Chapter – synopsis.

Journalist Anne Roland explores the disturbing links behind her friend’s sudden disappearance, an ominous government research chemical, and a disturbing radio broadcast of unknown origin.

 

UKHS) Hi Blair, can I begin with asking if the whole issue of this type of Government ‘research’ was something you were aware of prior to the movie, or did your first knowledge come with the story from Daniel Healy?

BE) I had been an avid researcher of the subject for years before the story started to take shape. I found the idea fascinating and began writing drafts that speculated and explored all number of crazy areas. Daniel Healy helped me shape it into a much more solid narrative structure, and really bringing out the more terrifying aspects of the tale.

BC07UKHS) I think the subject matter is fascinating, and with it being rooted in historical fact I found it to be a film that should really engage the viewer. How have you found the response since its release – both critically and from movie-goers?

BE) It seems to elicit quite a lot of terror from many audience members and
critics. We’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reviews and “scariest film”
awards.

But mostly it’s been really gratifying to hear from fans that our creepy
little horror tale scared the hell out of them. Several people have claimed
we caused them to soil their pants. Others say it almost caused them a
heart attack. I just want to go on record and say that the makers of
Banshee Chapter are not responsible for any health issues suffered during
the viewing of the film.

BC14UKHS) One of the most enjoyable aspects I found was the chemistry between Anne and Thomas, I thought they really worked well together and it added to the films narrative in essentially providing two very well rounded and believable characters. I find horror movies can often slip into the predictable character profile of generic caricatures. You must be thrilled with how the two lead performances turned out?

BE) Yeah that’s true. There’s a lot of generic characters in bad horror. Whereas good horror is usually defined by its characters. In this case, we had two terrific actors, Ted Levine and Katia Winter, who were really able to bring their roles to life.

The toughest part is always maintaining that serious commitment to the role and taking risks with the characters. You want to push something in a way that feels new and explores something unexpected. Mixing a straight laced millennial girl with a deranged counter culture author from the baby boom generation has a lot of fun social subtext that you rarely get to see.

BC09UKHS) The usage of found footage in the film is fairly minimal. Were you ever tempted to shoot the whole film from this perspective? How do you feel about found footage in general?

BE) I love a few found footage films. Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity are terrific examples of how well that technique can work if you really work to build that immersion. In our film we toyed with the idea of shooting the whole thing that way, but ultimately found it to be too restrictive on the narrative.

Doing found footage for all the archival events allowed us to subtly blend real footage into the recreated stuff. It added to the realism of the story. And then shooting in that kind of cinema verite flavor for modern events kept a kind of realism on the story that pulled together all the strange surreal elements of government conspiracy and Lovecraftian horrors.

BC15UKHS) One of the most notable things with Banshee Chapter is its ability to create atmospheric scares. For example the scene where Anne discovers that somebody is already in the building she’s snooping around, and that they entered a number of minutes prior to her going in. Many other horror’s would implement a jolting shock right there – but you don’t. You let the tension gradually build until its palpable. Its quite a rare technique these days. What was your thinking behind it?

BE) A long dreadful period of silence is far more terrifying. It allows you plenty of time to consider and anticipate and imagine what’s coming. It forces your brain into the same anxiety that Anne is feeling at that moment. And for a brief moment you completely share her fear and forget that it’s only a movie.

The film is really mostly about what’s going on inside our brains, in many ways.

BC10UKHS) I said in my review for UK Horror Scene that Banshee Chapter was the first seriously scary release of 2014. It really did unnerve me! What do you find scary? Indeed – what are your influences in the horror genre?
BE) Growing up I was always into Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, and Jacob’s Ladder. I loved the over-the-top gory H.P. Lovecraft movies of Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon. I think those probably introduced me to the writer himself. And even the Spielberg films like Jaws and Poltergeist had a big impact on what was possible with horror. It really could explore anything.

My influences in film tend to be all over the map. Not just in horror.  I always loved Michael Mann’s run-and-gun shooting style in Heat and Collateral. David Fincher’s surreal camera and sound style blurring lines between truth and illusion always got me. And even a lot of documentary work, like Errol Morris’s Fog of War fascinated me.

BC05UKHS) Now that everything has wrapped and the film is on general release, how pleased are you with the finished product?

BE) I’m really happy with it. I’m mostly thrilled that the story scares the hell out of so many audience members. On that side, it’s clearly mission accomplished. The film is a success for me on that, no question.

UKHS) It was your directorial debut – is directing something you’ll return to?

BE) Already working on the next one. It’s incredibly different than this one. Can’t wait to share it.

 

Many thanks to Blair Erickson and you can get hold of Banshee Chapter from the links below!

Amazon: HERE 

ITunes: HERE

Savages Crossing (2011) DVD Review

SAVAGES 001SAVAGES CROSSING (2011) DVD

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: John Jarratt, Craig McLachlan, Chris Haywood, Sacha Horler

Written by: John Jarratt, Cody Jarrett

UK Certification: 18

UK RRP: £9.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 82 minutes

Directed by: Kevin James Dobson

UK Release Date: 24th February 2014

I’ve always had a soft spot for Aussie genre movies – or Ozploitation as they may be referred as. Next of Kin (1982) is often regarded as one of the best, certainly Tarantino backs that assertion in the superb documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008), and here we have the star of that movie and general Aussie cult film icon – John Jarratt, who both writes (with wife Cody) and stars in this picture alongside Craig McLachlan (Neighbours). Remember Craig McLachlan? Remember his music career? I actually bought his hit 7” single ‘Hey Mona’ because I was 12 and knew no better. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever confessed to that… catharsis.

SAVAGES 002Anyway, on with the film and the setting is the Wonga Road Warehouse which is about to become a meeting place for a collection of characters. We have Damien (Charlie Jarratt) and Sue (Angela Punch McGregor), a mother and son who are currently fleeing from Phil (John Jarratt) their father and husband respectively who has a dangerous reputation. Also present are friends Shae (Sacha Horler) and Mickey (Rebecca Smart), bar owners Mory (McLachlan) and Kate (Jessica Napier), and a cop (Chris Haywood).

The reason they’re holed up in this outback hostelry is due to the extreme weather conditions going on outside. It’s the storm of the century, with flash flooding rampant, roads impassable and a general air of danger. All that they can do is assemble in the pub and wait it out until conditions get a little safer outside. Soon enough the patrons are dubiously welcome the arrival of Phil, although we’re left in the dark as to a) where he’s been, and b) why his wife and son are so eager to get away from him. All we know is that they seem terrified of him, whilst Phil comes across as a bullish, arrogant man with a propensity for violence. It’s not long before the rest of the people holed up here get the gist that something is wrong between the family. However, with the severity of the storm meaning no-one in, no-one out, it is about to become a long tense night where everything is not always as straight forward as it seems.

Released no doubt to coincide with Jarratt reprising his role in the second Wolf Creek film, this small time Aussie feature filmed back in 2009 is actually a tense little horror-thriller. Undoubtedly shot on a small budget, and with Jarratt taking the role of writer, producer and star, it was presumably a labour of love. Thankfully with it being almost a one location picture, it takes heed from that often ignored piece of advice of ‘keep it simple’, while having the pleasure of seeing Jarratt work his magic as a loose cannon for 80 minutes was satisfying indeed.

SAVAGES 003Some of the supporting cast for me were a little one dimensional, but irrespective of that they all gave solid performances in particular McLachlan as the ballsy landlord. One of the most impressive aspects of the film was the recreation of the storm which was done brilliantly and manages to authentically convey the ferocity of it onscreen. Despite not having mass appeal, Savages Crossing does come recommended. If you have the patience for a slow moving potboiler of a thriller, it’s definitely worth more than a brass razoo.

6 out of 10