Predator: Dark Ages (2015) – Comic-Con Premiere Review & Watch the Film!

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I have returned, like a six foot Hobbit, to my quiet little village in the Highlands safely and relatively unscathed, if exhausted and penniless, after a voyage to the big city of London where I attended my first Comic-Con. It was the most incredible three days; surrounded by cosplayers, merchandise, artists, food, and weird “squashy loaf of bread” toys from Japan. I was also lucky enough to drop by the world premiere of Predator fan-film “Predator: Dark Ages” followed by a Q&A from the cast & crew. The film has since been made available online, it follows my mini review.

This is just awesome.

Walking into the Vidzone tent to see an independent fan film I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. My fears were dispelled about 0.3 seconds into the movie however, when it was evident that this is an incredibly slickly produced short. Running just over 25 minutes, the budget of about £13,000 is a bit more than nothing, but it has been very well spent; the quality of this film could easily sit aside professionally produced films that cost many times that amount per minute. The cast have a very impressive collective CV, and it shows. A tightly written script that restrains itself to only a handful of cheeky throwbacks to other entries in the franchise is carried brilliantly by the cast. A slow build pays off with fantastic effects, brutal gore and brilliant fight scenes – everything a fan of the original movie(s) could have hoped for.

“U HAVIN A GIGGLE M8?”

The tropes of the two genres have been thrown together perfectly, to the point that it doesn’t feel like a fan film theorising “What would happen if…”, but it feels like a legitimate entry to the franchise, and a bloody good one at that. It doesn’t take liberties with the material, remaining wholly faithful in tone and content, but does give a great insight to the nature of the Predator that I think also fits brilliantly with the franchise as a whole. One question threatened to tear the fim apart, as to why the Predator still has the laser gun & heat tracking technology 1000 years ago, but this was calmly shut down by the director who pointed out that they had this technology 3000 years ago in the Aztec sections of Alien vs. Predator. So there.

I wish I could find something bad to say about this film, but it’s too difficult. All I can say is watch it NOW!

10/10

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Extraterrestrial (2014) – Review

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Just in case the Vicious Brothers felt they were risking becoming typecast as supernatural found-footage directors after their incredibly well-received Grave Encounters and its sequel they took a sudden turn with this movie, a mostly traditionally-shot Sci-Fi/horror mashup pitting the standard troupe of teenagers partying in a cabin in the woods against vicious (heh) alien invaders.

Like moths, actors are attracted to blue lights

That’s about all there is to say about the setup of the movie. The opening scene sets the tone pretty firmly; with incredible visual flair a poor sod is zapped away by some unknown presence, leaving local police baffled, especially since the phone box disintegrated with him. This strong sense of visuals carries through the movie with no end of red and blue lights and a very modern glossy sheen to everything, it looks like something the 1980’s could only have dreamed of. Once we finally see them fully the design of the aliens is basically the standard “alien” trope, nothing particularly original, but this is often the point of the movie in my opinion; so many elements are throwbacks to standard tropes of the Sci-Fi and horror genres, it’s doesn’t seem like an entirely original movie was the aim, more a unique blend of the two genres in their purest forms – a cinematic smoothie. This could be seen as a strength or a weakness for different people but for me the result was such a bizarre, jarring experience that I actually loved every minute of it.

It’s like this, but imagine Drew Barrymore getting her face torn off in 1.5 seconds

It jumps wildly from “cabin in the woods” slasher to government conspiracy to all-out alien action, with characters and tropes of each genre, often interacting with each other with such dissonant tones and various concurrent plot threads that could never belong together in the same movie unless it was helmed by the gleeful, almost stubborn persistence that the Vicious Brothers have shown here. As such it’s not always easy to determine what will happen next – it could be argued that much of the plot is cliched with hindsight but the question remains which genre’s cliches the next plot twist will adhere to! The main cast are perfectly likeable; performances aren’t stand-out but neither are they awful; and certain characters are given some heartfelt backstories and relations that are often fairly predictable but still give a welcome human depth to the plot and characters.

“Terribly sorry to interrupt your soirée, but someone appears to have left their headlights on”

I’m sure this isn’t a film for everyone – some other reviews I’ve read confirm this, but for me it was a consistently entertaining ride and I would happily watch it again. While this is of course far from the first Sci-Fi-Horror, and no question far from the best (though it has some extremely high competition against Alien & co.), it is quite unique in the way it merges the two genres as separate entities rather than settling on some middle ground. As would be expected for the established horror directors the horror elements of this movie are very effective – plenty of tense cat & mouse sequences, a number of decent scares and some brutal gore should satisfy any horror fiend who doesn’t mind a film that plays on the genre conventions & doesn’t always take itself too seriously.

7/10

The Babadook (2014) – Review (and the curse of high expectations)

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I’m quite late to the game in watching The Babadook but it was quite nice to let the dust settle from critics clamouring to declare it the greatest horror movie ever made, that I could at least try and approach it without ridiculous expectations. While the crazy expectations such acclaim can give a film, there are still many such horrors that have met or exceeded my high hopes – REC, The Mist, Let the Right One In, all massively acclaimed but I loved them still. Unfortunately I found The Babadook was not able to live up to its reputation. Though I’m not sure if it ever could have.

“See there are no mons- OH GOD SOMEONE HID A CAMERA UNDER THE BED”

Following Amelia, an exhausted widow who balances her job as a care home assistant with single-handedly raising Samuel, a little shit of a son who, aged six years old, has a preoccupation with fighting off a monster and so builds plot devices from scrap around the house that fire heavy balls, darts and so on like a miniature Australian John Kramer. Unfortunately his teachers aren’t so impressed with his ingenuity when he takes his dart gun to school, pushing Amelia even closer to some sort of breaking point. Luckily, just as things seem unbearably awful for this poor innocent woman, a creepy storybook mysteriously appears in Samuel’s bookcase, called The Babadook, the sort of thing that would have been created if Dr Seuss had taken a really bad acid trip one night. Naturally, this story does nothing to calm Samuel’s monster fantasies and as everyone gets completely worn out and stressed out it seems more and more likely that The Babadook is paying the household a visit.

GREAT IDEA. Find a creepy book lying around and read it to your paranoid child.

This is far from a terrible film; produced on a relatively slim budget of $2 million it looks fantastic and the two main characters are played brilliantly – especially Noah Wiseman as Samuel who is not only a child actor who isn’t pailful to watch, but is genuinely affecting and seems to take the schizophrenic switches from screaming brat to caring son in his stride. So too, the writer/director Jennifer Kent has cleverly acknowledged that even when we’ve spent 20 minutes pulling our hair out watching the boy screaming and kicking, the SECOND she shows him scared and crying, our hearts involuntarily melt to become putty in her hands. But after seeing so many 5 star reviews, a 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating and so on, niggling issues that I’d usually pass off become sticking points. Secondary characters are terribly two-dimensional: one or two are kind of stuck in their own world, too busy to pay full attention to Amelia’s issues which is realistic, but when she’s turned away from a police station by officers who think it’s hilariously contrived for a visibly stressed, bedraggled young widow to be worried that someone’s stalking her and her child it’s one of those moments where the I think the film would be markedly improved if the whole scene was removed. One or two other issues I had would require me massively spoiling the movie which I certainly won’t do, but suffice to say I was at one point rolling my eyes waiting for a certain character to say “I’m free now!” & dissolve into a thousand butterflies as some music reaches a passionate crescendo.

SHUT. UP.

Onto The Babadook itself, the design is a cool throwback to the horror movies of the 1920’s with Lon Chaney and co., with extreme make-up and wide eyes that always look far more unsettling than they ought to. The movement of the monster is decidedly low-fi, throwing back to the earlier cinema, not least the films made by Georges Méliès around the 1890’s/1900’s which are actually incorporated into a dream sequence at one point. But despite all these cool visuals and a creepy design there never really seemed to be any particularly scary moments. Many people have already picked up on the admirable avoidance of cheap jump scares, but it’s a shame that nothing scary takes their place.

Some people complain about the lo-fi effects but I thought they were quite effective…

Despite what sounds like a pretty negative review I’m going to say it clearly – this is a very good film. Not only given the budget; it is a genuinely good film regardless. But it is far from the scariest I’ve seen, even from the last couple of years, and it is certainly not without its flaws. Had I picked it up unwittingly in HMV having never heard of it I don’t think I’d have been blown away necessarily, but I’d have been much more impressed I’m sure. That’s of course no fault of the film itself so it’s a shame, but I ended up underwhelmed – ultimately while The Babadook is among the better horrors of the last few years I feel this is an unfortunate case where a film’s reputation has become too much for it to live up to.

7/10

The Zombie King (2013) – Review for ukhorrorscene

Unusual in the horror genre, this is a low budget zombie movie. However, with a lot of dry British humour and cameos from Edward Furlong & Corey Feldman it stands out a bit more than the standard fare. Despite being made in 2013 it’s only getting a UK DVD release this August. Is the saying true; “good things come to those who wait”? My review is on ukhorrorscene here!
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Watch Eli Roth’s bizarre student movie from 1994!

Eli Roth’s YouTube channel Crypt TV, dedicated to the odd and unusual, has just uploaded their founder’s student film from 1994; Restaurant Dogs. It’s not a particularly big revelation to see Eli Roth reveling in excess and gratuity, but fans of his often divisive movies should be pleased with this 10 minutes or so of “What the Fuck-ery”, and for anyone else it’s an interesting insight into the already anarchic, very early work of the student that’d eventually become a major player in the horror world. Some unashamedly lo-fi Python-esque animation with incredibly squishy gore effects make it a delirious zero-budget delight, and it’ll tide us over for a while as we wait until The Green Inferno FINALLY gets released, some time in 2043.

P.O.V (2014) – Review for ukhorrorscene

Now available to watch on VOD site TheHorrorShow.tv, P.O.V is a truly independent, zero-budget UK horror that is shot – as my more astute readers may have guessed from the title – entirely in first person. Not in the ‘found footage’ sense; we actually see through the character’s eyes. Incredibly ambitious, this winds up being a decent film for the non-existent budget. Click the poster to take a look at my review!

If that doesn’t work, click here. Or just click there anyway. I dunno,it’s your call.

PS: I spent a couple of days writing the review, and so on, repeatedly seeing this poster, but only now did I realise there are demons crawling out of his eye-holes. I am incredibly unhappy about this and shall spend the rest of the day crying in the corner. Enjoy my review with this in mind! pov

American Ghost Story – a.k.a. Devil’s Mile (2014) – Review for ukhorrorscene

An interesting concept, blending a standard American road movie with Supernatural, J-Horror elements and Giallo-style visuals, American Ghost Story is the new painfully generic, cash-in name for Devil’s Mile, featuring an equally irrelevant and boring cover image. Oh well, the film isn’t THAT great anyway. More on that if you click the image below!
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Frankenstein vs. The Mummy (2015) – Review for ukhorrorscene

 Here’s another DVD review for ukhorrorscene. This time featuring the ultimate face-off of two of the most iconic movie monsters of all time, Frankenstein vs. The Mummy is out in the UK next week & I believe it’s already out in the US. I’ll say now that I enjoyed writing this review far more than any moment of the movie itself, so it may be worth a look!

Click the poster to read:

fvsm1

As Above, So Below (2014) – Review – “Indiana Bones!?”

Hello there everyone! I have been somewhat quiet the last week or two, largely because I went on a trip to Paris. This is not purely to boast about my travels; I visited the Catacombs while there so I opted to watch this on my return because it’s based almost entirely in them. I read terrible reviews when it first came out & thought the nostalgia might at least make it bearable.

Yet another entry into the found footage genre (I seem to be watching a lot of them lately, this is genuinely not a conscious decision), As Above, So Below opens on Scarlett, a female version of indiana Jones, sneaking into a strictly off-limits abandoned Iranian mine where she believes her late father had pinpointed the location of a terribly important undiscovered artifact that might lead her one step closer to his life goal of finding the Philosopher’s Stone (spoiler: it was found in Hogwarts like 20 years ago). She does indeed find the Rose Stone but barely makes it out alive as it just so happens to be the day the government have decided to blow up the dangerous passageways once and for all. She winds up in Paris where, unable to decipher some ancient text, she must reunite with her ex whom she abandoned in a Turkish Prison, and who spends his spare time breaking into old churches and fixing the clock mechanisms. With Benji making a documentary about her expedition the three go around Parisian landmarks looking for clues & solving tricksy puzzles like a photorealistic Professor Layton game. It’s absolutely ridiculous, I actually had to pause the film at one point because I was crying with laughter as the characters intuitively solve centuries, but it moves with such pace; like a true adventure B-Movie it doesn’t feel the need to apologise for being so silly; and the cast do a great job at conveying the eccentric & likeable characters that it’s incredibly fun.

“Let’s split up and search for clues!”

All the bonkers running around Paris inevitably leads them to venture into the Catacombs, under the guidance of Papillon & his friends who have unprecedented knowledge of the passages, apparently because all the young attractive characters don’t need jobs to support their expensive hobbies. It’s impressive to note that all the underground scenes were actually filmed in the Catacombs beneath Paris, which were filled with the bones of 6 million residents a few hundred years ago due to overflowing graveyards. It goes without saying that this lends an authenticity to the film and the labyrinthine corridors’ eerie quality & gruesome residents make it perfect for a horror movie setting. Some ‘odd’ events are the worst that happen however, with the Scooby Gang’s treasure hunt taking centre stage. I was happily swept away by it, but did realise after an hour that I’d forgotten this was meant to be a horror movie. Luckily the writers seemed to realise the same thing, because the final act has some genuinely creepy and surprising moments & brings the movie to a great climax. Unusually some heartfelt themes are also evident in this final act, raising it above much of the found footage dross out there.

……. oh sorry, back to the review.

If you go into this expecting a start-to-finish scare-fest as the marketing suggests you may well be disappointed, because it’s much more a found-footage adventure movie for the first two-thirds, turning into a horror towards the end. I think it would have been much more clever to market it as such, with the horror “twist” being a surprise rather than an overdue expectation. As it stands, it’s hard to defend much of the silliness, but I personally found it incredibly enjoyable & would happily watch it again as it is great fun, with some decent scares thrown in for good measure. Surely even the most hardened horror buff can have some fun occasionally?

6/10

ABCs of Death 2 – Review on ukhorrorscene

Any of you in America have been able to see this film for ages but it’s only coming out on DVD here in the UK on Monday! And because of this I have reviewed it for UK Horror Scene – read my in-depth (but spoiler-free as always!) review HERE!

PS I am going to be in Paris for the next week (I’m writing this on a Megabus) so there is not likely to be any reviews from me in that time. Stop crying, I’ll be back soon enough!