Yuletide Terror – Christmas Evil (1980)

Christmas-Evil-Poster.png

This post is part of my Yuletide Terror season where I am reviewing various alternative Christmas movies.

Christmas Evil, sometimes also referred to as You Better Watch Out, or the completely irrelevant title Trouble in Toyland, is one of the more obscure Christmas horror movies out there, but over time it has gained a cult status, with its fans including controversial director John Waters who has declared it “the greatest Christmas movie ever made”. Certainly a big statement to live up to. Does it manage to, and does it deserve its cult status?

christmasevil3

I had to put an image of the split focus shot just because it’s cool

The film is often marketed as though it is a typical 80’s slasher. I went in expecting silly festive themed kills and hoping for nothing more than to be entertained. This in my opinion is a huge injustice. It turns out to be a really very dark character study taking the form of a slasher horror. In fact, the kills are quite few and far between, albeit very nasty when they do come around. The story follows Harry, who as a child witnessed his Dad dressed as Santa groping his Mum which causes some Christmas-related trauma in the young boy’s mind resulting in a twisted obsession with Christmas when he is a middle-aged man. Living alone in his permanently decorated apartment, like some sort of self-styled Santa he keeps watch on the children in his neighborhood, noting down their activities in his naughty or nice books. He also works in a toy factory; he’s by far the most enthusiastic employee but this is both mocked and taken advantage of by his co-workers. This Christmas he cracks entirely and he goes on a spree dressed as Santa, simultaneously dishing out gifts to children and getting gruesome revenge on those who have wronged him.

christmasevil2

I could make a joke about sliding down a  chimney but this is a classy site

This is a premise that could have gotten very silly in the wrong hands if overdone, but this film doesn’t take that route, instead risking being boring. Many scenes depicting Harry’s descent into madness are uncomfortably long and surprisingly understated. Far from being boring though, these drawn out scenes display the brilliant performance by Brandon Maggart; one scene in particular sees him cheerfully humming a Christmas tune to a little toy soldier. As he considers his revenge on a Co-worker who humiliated him the tune turns more and more dark and angry until, in his frustration, he breaks the toy. On paper it’s a very uneventful scene filmed in one static shot but Maggart’s performance makes it so powerful that I still get a chill thinking about it some days after seeing the film. He is able to switch from jolly Father Christmas-esque chuckling to empty, self-loathing scowl in a terrifying instant and I never felt his insanity was overdone to the point that it can become unintentionally funny, like many horror movies have a habit of, and it is certainly never played for laughs, even if the movie in general does have a fair share of dark tongue-in-cheek humor.

christmasevil1

The budget isn’t THAT low, it’s supposed to be a painted van

As would be expected, the madness grows as the film goes on, yet it never loses focus on the characters, also including Harry’s younger brother & his family. Everything builds to a crescendo that provides the film with what I think is actually one of my favourite movie endings. It’s a very brave choice on the makers’ part as it might feel at first like a drastic shift in tone but I think it actually fits perfectly to the themes of the film. Contrary to my expectations this is not a cheesy, trashy slasher, but a genuinely excellent film that left a lasting impression on me and one that I would recommend to many people, not just those who enjoy horror movies. Whether John Waters is correct and it is truly “The greatest Christmas movie ever” is something that very much depends on your personal taste; not everyone wants such a dark and nasty story to be associated with the season, but if you’re looking for a Christmas movie that is the total opposite to what we have come to expect from the genre, then I don’t think you can get much better than Christmas Evil. Personally, I’ll take John Waters’ side and agree that it’s up there among the greatest.

9/10

Yuletide Terror – Krampus (2015)

krampus.jpg

This review is part of my Yuletide Terror season where I am reviewing various alternative Christmas movies.

There’s a particular sub genre of horror that creates a very specific tone where you feel like you’re watching a family-friendly fantasy movie and a brutal horror at the same time. Different entries in this genre shift the balance between the fantasy fun and the more grim elements, such as the almost-family-friendly-but-a-bit-nasty Gremlins, all the way to the definitely-not-family-friendly-but-still-a-fantasy Pans Labyrinth. Either way, both of these movies remain favourites of mine in the way they touch on both my still strong childhood love of fantasy movies as well as my adult passion for horror movies. It seems to be the perfect fit, in the right hands, to make a Christmas themed movie that fits in this category, with the sentimentality of the season making a stark contrast against the darkness of horror. Michael Dougherty’s Krampus took on this challenge very recently, in 2015.

Krampus

Erm… *poke*

This fantasy/horror/comedy features Max, a little boy whose love of Christmas is tainted by the annual gathering of his dysfunctional family. When he allows his ‘Christmas spirit’ to die, as the rest of his family’s has long since done, it leaves room for Krampus, the dark alternate to Santa Claus to pay a visit. With a storyline that could have easily been drawn from a dark children’s book rather than a horror screenplay the film chooses the path of a true horror movie, with Krampus’ gifts to the family, and his eventual eventual visit being the centre of many gruesome setpieces, featuring awesome practical effects by Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop. Krampus’ ‘little helpers’ have some of the most original, creepy creature designs I’ve seen in a long time, and they work alongside the great visual style of the film that starts off like a perfect family Christmas movie before blending seamlessly with and morphing into pure horror movie. The cast are great, working with a script that is consistently very funny (only when it tries to be!), and actually genuinely affecting when called for. That brings me to the greatest strength of this film: despite the hilariously cynical opening sequence depicting the chaos and stress of Christmas shopping in a department store and the gory horror throughout the second and third acts, the core of this film is, without irony, a typical Christmas fable where a young boy & his family rediscover the meaning of Christmas.

Krampus

Oi nob did you get your licence in the mail yeah?

The plot suffers from the typical half-way lag when it reaches the the “we have to form a plan” stage, but it picks up again quickly enough to an action-packed third act that doesn’t lose track of the plot and point of the movie. It’s become almost standard in horror nowadays, after the threat has been banished and the story has come to an end, to have a tacked-on final scene where it suddenly returns with a smash cut to black and the credits roll. This scene is at best corny fun in the right hands but more often than not I find it incredibly tiring. This film however returns to the old-fashioned technique of actually having a good final surprise up its sleeve. I shall say no more of course, but the ending of this film is certainly one of the most effective in modern horror and rounds up an incredibly entertaining Christmas horror movie that doesn’t betray the cosy tone that we have come to expect from films made for this time of year while simultaneously proving to be a very effective, scary and bloody horror movie with fantastic creature design. This will remain a staple for future Christmases for me I am quite sure.

8/10

Yuletide Terror – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

santa-claus-movie-poster

This post is the first part of my Yuletide Terror season, featuring all sorts of ‘alternative’ Christmas movies; it’ll mainly be horror, but I’m starting with this Sci-Fi oddity from 1964

There’s a special place in most nerds’ hearts for the Sci-Fi B-Movies of the 1950′; despite the often terrible acting, and often terrible effects, and often terrible storylines there is an innocent charm and defiant inventiveness about them that is rarely matched by any other genre and/or time period of films. There are of course some excellent examples of effects (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and some genuinely good films among this genre, but my point is that even those that fall short of the expected standard often have some lovable quality that makes them entertaining in a way that cannot be equaled. So, when this genre became rather mainstream if not over-saturated by the 1960’s it seems only natural that someone would think to make a Christmas movie in the genre. So was born Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Surely the combination of Christmas charm and B-Movie charm is a sure fire way to a cult classic? Well…

I don’t know which one we should be more afraid of…

The film’s opening credits are accompanied by the bizarre surfer rock-esque theme song performed by the Seventh Circle of Hell Children’s Choir. The few minutes the credits last ends up being somewhat like being punched in the ears repeatedly with concrete fists, but in retrospect I think that a further 80 minutes of exactly that may be more enjoyable than the film itself. These 80 minutes are stuffed with filler; people taking an uncomfortably long time to pull levers, long boring scenes of air force stock footage, and similar. However the moments that do contain a plot revolve around the inhabitants of Mars who are noticing their children become particularly despondent each year around the month of ‘Septober’ (yeah), which happens to be December on Earth. Because they are all able to watch TV transmissions from Earth (yeah) they are aware of Christmas and the excitement of Santa arriving so the Martian leader sets out to kidnap Santa and bring Christmas joy to his people’s children.

“For the last time Mr Clause; we are NOT children!”

In itself the plot allows for exactly what this says on the box; an weird, yet inventive and enjoyable Christmas-themed B-Movie; but the execution is just awful on every level without any charm or redemption. There isn’t an actor in the movie who I’d say is even acceptable; the children are unbearable, the ‘comic relief Martian’ merely waves his arms around all the time in a feeble attempt to make us laugh, while the other Martians are so flat-toned that it feels like it’s meant to make them seem scary in some way but it just makes everything they say incredibly boring (which is a real problem when they take up at least 90% of the movie). The real star should of course be Santa, but even he is played like a geriatric alcoholic who makes awkward and entirely unfunny jokes at every opportunity (even his own abduction), and who has such little wit & awareness that he ends up being saved more than a couple of times by the 8 & 10 year old children abducted from Earth alongside him who you’d think he really should be protecting.

santamartians2

There’s probably a Japanese mange subculture dedicated to this

I spoke previously of poor effects in B-Movies being accepted in their own way, but this really pushes the limit. Even though my cheaply produced DVD of the movie has an awful, perhaps even VHS-sourced transfer, I could see the awful sets, botched together costumes, and don’t even get me started on the Polar Bear that is CLEARLY a man in a suit. The Martians are people wearing far-too-tight green costumes with enormous helmets sporting tubes and antennae at various angles with green/silver paint roughly smeared on their faces with a coverage that varies depending on the sweatiness of the actor. The worst effects of all are hard to pick, but perhaps it comes in the scene set in one of Mars’ great forests; a too long, panning, establishing shot suggests they were proud of the work here but some red lumps resembling tree branches with fake spiders webs strewn over them would not be good enough even for Ed Wood’s Mars-based feature. Speaking of Mars’ great forests; any movie is allowed some passes from real-world logic, and any Sci-Fi movie some techno-babble, but that isn’t to say the script can be comprised of nothing but the above elements. At every stage it’s totally unclear how characters know certain things, such as one of Santa’s Elves exclaiming “They’re Martians!” when the green-paint-smeared humanoids walk in even though they are the first creatures on planet Earth ever to witness the aliens. I always work to avoid spoilers in my reviews so I can’t be more specific because most of the major plot points in this film require the writers to simply assume that a character knows something that is otherwise totally unexplained, or for a threat to suddenly have a fatal weakness that had previously gone unmentioned. The quote “It… it turned into a toy!” should be enough explanation for anyone who has already seen this film.

“Can I get my make-up redone?” “KEEP ROLLING!”

This film stands with one foot in the so-bad-it’s-good section of cinema that I adore so much, but never manages to remain for too long. The unintentional jokes wear thin after a while, when the intentional jokes remind us they did expect us to laugh at this film for entirely different reasons, and it all becomes rather tiresome after a while. It does remain good-bad enough in sporadic bursts however to be entertaining for the most hardy aficionados of crap cinema, just don’t expect to introduce anyone to the potential joy of terrible movies with this one. You have to WANT to find this one funny to have any chance of finding some dark enjoyment here. It’s a challenge, believe me.

1/10

Warcraft: The Beginning (2016) – Review

warcraft

It’s hard to find a video-game-to-movie adaptation that truly stands on its own as a great film. I’ll always argue that Silent Hill is an excellent horror movie no matter what anyone else says provided we don’t speak about the sequel, Revelation, but it seems that this is my personal exception to the rule and was by no means unanimously successful among movie-goers as well as fans of the games. The hierarchy of video game adaptations goes down and down from here, through the campy but occasionally enjoyable Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Tomb Raider franchises, landing at the bottom of the deep, dark pit where the downright offensive and grotesque adaptation of Super Mario Bros. lies. 2016 threatens to break the curse of the video game adaptation (a phrase that countless movies have proudly declared in the past before running away with their tails between their legs) with the releases of the hugely anticipated Assassin’s Creed movie and before that, this one; an adaptation of the ridiculously popular, ridiculously huge MMORPG video game World of Warcraft. Does it truly “break the curse” as many others have tried and failed, or does it land in the pile of at-best-near-misses with every other adaptation to precede it?

warcraft2_zps9zqwvp3d

Warcraft is rarely subtle

Warcraft is high fantasy, there is no way of avoiding that. The story follows various orc clans that have been united into a single Horde by the Shaman Gul’dan in order to travel through a magical portal powered by the life force of living creatures to the human realm of Azeroth because their realm, Draenor, is polluted and dead. Naturally the king of Azeroth is not too chuffed when the Orcs start raiding villages across the realm, and so sets out to stop them, assisted by the Guardian Mage, Medivh. The film doesn’t even take a modern Game of Thrones-style approach where it is a very human drama set in a fantasy world; director Duncan Jones dives headfirst into the fantasy, forcing us to accept that magic and monsters are very real and ever-present in this world. This works to the film’s advantage, because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to dumb down the fantasy elements from the games to appease cynical audiences, and certainly doesn’t seem to be copying the style of other successful fantasy franchises from recent years.While Lord of the Rings certainly didn’t shy away from fantastic elements this movie is much more gleeful and action-packed. With a bright visual style that allows anything magical to glow neon colours and larger-than-life monsters to scatter humans like ragdolls in battle scenes that certainly don’t hold back on the violence yet still somehow manage to get the family friendly certifications, this really feels like what filmmakers of the 80’s would have created had they access to the visual effects of today.

warcraft2_zps9zqwvp3d

Power Rangers wished it looked this cool

These visual effects are what would always make or break this film. Many wished for an entirely CG movie of Warcraft, but after the lukewarm figures for Beowulf, Christmas Carol, and the most recent disaster of Mars Needs Moms I imagine producers are very wary of “realistic CGI”, motion captured films for some time. This left fans worrying about whether the makers could successfully sell live-action humans interacting with unearthly CGI creatures without it looking like a poor mime act, and for these creatures to display enough emotion to allow them to become main characters rather than plasticy dead-eyed mannequins (I refer you to every scene with Azog in The Hobbit trilogy for an example of both of these tasks going terribly wrong…) The first scene featuring our hero Orc, Durotan, puts all these worries to rest. A static, silent close-up shot of his face as he sits over his pregnant wife, tears are subtly brimming in his eyes. It’s astounding how touching this entirely computerized little moment is; Durotan’s face and eyes hold so much emotion and life. The effects never drop below this quality in fact. Whether by controlled firelight as in this scene or in broad daylight (always the true test for CG characters) the Orcs and other creatures really do seem to exist alongside and interact with the human actors. I’ve always championed practical effects in fantasy but have to begrudgingly admit that this movie chose correctly to do everything with CGI.

“I look good”

Where the effects are the strongest point of the movies its weakest point isn’t necessarily the plot itself, but in how the plot is put across. Many sources have quoted Duncan Jones on his original cut being a whole 40 minutes longer, and the cuts really do show. This film has an entirely new universe to establish, a rather dense plot with multiple lead characters to build up, and a number of epic battle scenes; all a lot to do in barely 120 minutes. All these things are managed, but only just so. Many scenes are reduced to simple, colour-by-numbers exposition. We sometimes even don’t get an establishing shot, and more often than not we have no room to breathe and explore this beautifully realised world, we just get a brief scene where characters explain what they feel or plan to do or so on, and we instantly cut straight to the next scene. It makes seemingly interesting and charismatic characters struggle to really capture our feelings, and causes confusion to uninformed viewers. It’s interesting that those I watched the film with didn’t feel things were so rushed and confusing when they are World of Warcraft veterans whereas I haven’t spent a single minute on the game (I play Hearthstone, a card game based on some WoW characters but I had no idea of their backstories or the world in general). It’s clear that those who already understand this world don’t need a guiding hand, but many other people, myself included, need this fundamental understanding to be taught to us. Even for established fans, it would be nice to see a wider world realised on screen. Brief glimpses of the detail that the film could have gone into, such as a Murloc visible in a stream, and a certain comical spell being used on a guard are small tastes of what could have been. Let’s just hope we one day see a Lord of the Rings-esque Extended Cut. It is either a cynical cash-grabbing move where the home video extended cut is inevitable, or it is a nervous studio hacking away in the belief that audiences can’t handle long runtimes despite every superhero movie of late seeming to last seven hours by which time the next sequel has already been released.

The editor, ready to do his work on Warcraft

All considered, the best way I can summarise my opinion of Warcraft is that it is a brilliant high-fantasy movie that has been unnecessarily cut down to its bones. Incredible visuals, brilliantly choreographed battle scenes, lovable leads (both live action and CG) all work together in an engrossing and entertaining plot that just runs by too quickly. I feel like Duncan Jones may have actually come closer to breaking the Video Game Adaptation Curse than any other has, but the curse came back to get him at the final editing hurdle, resulting in a movie that should prove very successful among established fans of the franchise, but risks alienating or confusing newcomers who don’t pay enough attention to take in new information in every minute of the runtime. PLEASE give us the original cut, Legendary! And if not, at least let the already-announced sequels spend a bit more time in the world.

7/10

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015) – Review & Retrospective

thc3poster

The main part of this review was written for the awesome folk at Acting Hour

Has there been a more divisive franchise in recent years than The Human Centipede? Tom Six’s 2009 original introduced us to the mad scientist Dr Heiter’s stomach-churning, “100% medically accurate” idea of attaching three people anus-to-mouth to form the continuous digestive passage of the titular creation. Filmed clinically and largely straight-faced some saw the film as body horror gone too far; a sick fantasy reserved for the darkest deluded souls; while others saw a sly humour weaved into the grossness. This divide couldn’t have been clearer in my local cinema where my friends and I sat laughing while others walked out in disgust. So too this image clearly reveals which side of the fence I found myself on. Never is anything played for laughs, but all through the film there seems to be a tongue firmly lodged in Six’s cheek. Also Dieter Laser’s Dr Heiter is a true horror villain: understatedly eccentric with a natural air of unhinged terror about him, he really makes the film.

“This was a TERRIBLE idea”

2011’s sequel seemed to be Six’s personal address towards everyone who commented on the first by defiantly raising two fingers – those who derided it as sick were shown just how bad things could be; those who loved it and wanted more were given something almost impossible to enjoy; and those who sneered that the original was too tame were taught to be careful what they wish for. A clever bit of meta-film-making saw the sequel set in the “real world” where Laurence R. Harvey plays Martin; a devoted fan of the original movie. Martin is severely mentally challenged, beaten and abused by all those who should care for him, creating a much darker and unpleasant character study than the first. Shot in dingy black & white, with filthy locations and unrelentingly brutal violence as Martin haphazardly mutilates and staples together now twelve individuals for his homage to Heiter’s fictional creation, it is among the most unpleasant films I’ve ever seen. It was initially refused certification by the BBFC, a rare decision effectively banning the movie in the UK; a decision that was soon overturned following public backlash and a swathe of cuts, but the franchise had already attained widespread infamy through the free publicity that only a banned movie can garner. Did I enjoy the Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence? No. But I love the sheer belligerence it displays, and I think you have to at least acknowledge the success with which Six fulfills his intent of creating a hateful, near-unwatchable experience.

“Oh god what have I done”

Finally, fast forward to 2015 and the much-awaited-by-some third and final part to the trilogy is finally released with a glitzy L.A. premiere, a number of famous faces in the cast, and a scope & production value far greater than its predecessors. Don’t get the idea that The Human Centipede has gone ‘mainstream’ though; the gleeful tagline “100% Politically Incorrect” suggests this films tone will be far from the tried and tested horror-by-numbers sensibilities of a Blumhouse Production. The main question that dampered the hype building up to release was whether, after two whole films, the concept of the Human Centipede itself had anything left to offer.

Set in the fictional George H.W. Bush Penitentiary in the middle of the Texan desert, the deranged, racist, and misogynist warden Bill Boss and his simpering accountant Dwight Butler are played respectively by Dieter Laser & Laurence R. Harvey, both of whom played the main characters in the previous two installments. Yes, this film pushes the meta styling of the second movie to Inception-style lengths by having both films existing in this fictional setting, making the original essentially a film-within-a-film-within-a-film. Unruly prisoners and sprialling costs (unaided by Boss’ tendency to inflict a few injuries on his patrols) prompt Eric Roberts’ Governer Hughes to insist on major changes else the duo are fired. After a string of failed schemes aiming to achieve Boss’ dream of domination over the prison, each involving some form of torture or dismemberment towards the prisoners, Dwight suggests they take inspiration from the infamous Human Centipede movies.

That’s… er, lovely

This film is not going to win any Oscars. In place of any strong characterisation or plot, each scene is intended to repluse and offend, with no taboo left untouched. Most people have a certain topic that hits a raw nerve & offends them. Rest assured that this film will certainly address it at least once. The thing is that it is done with such mindless glee, never hesitating for a second, that I found myself laughing at the most abhorrent things. I’m not sure how to defend the idea that a boiling waterboarding scene could be in any way funny, but it is, along with the countless unthinkable things that are done in this movie. Of course Six’s unflinchingly twisted screenplay and grindhouse-style direction are accountable, but I think a fair share of the humour comes from Dieter Laser’s performance that can only be described as insane. He’s a strange man to look at anyway; his skeletal features accentuated by a completely shaved head, atop a gangly frame that moves with such deliberate control, he seems more like an alien that’s doing a mediocre job at pretending to be a human. Every action is so overblown and expressive, and every line is screamed out loud with such manic passion. The combination of wild agression and his thick German accent results in a good portion of his lines being barely distinguishable, but some grotesque gesticulations tend to fill in any blanks as to what he was referring to. Laurence R. Harvey is not given the opportunity to steal the show in the way Laser does, but seems just as comfortable in this overblown comedic style of acting as he did in the brutally grim, straight-faced style of the second installment to the franchise. Just like Laser, though, he seems to really become his character – every action & intonation seems considered. Six has either had an enormous stroke of luck or has done a fantastic job (or probably a combination of the two) in searching out these two actors for his trilogy.

NO DEITER. PUT IT DOWN.

One surprising bit of casting comes in Tom Six, cast as himself. When the duo decide to form their prison human centipede, they naturally call on the director for advice. In brilliant self-parodying narcissism, Six gives himself his own theme music whenever he enters the prison, and allows a minute or two for characters to fawn over him & discuss the cultural impact of the two previous Human Centipede movies. In an answer to every cringeworthy director cameo (Tarantino, I’m looking at you…), Six creates a charicateur of himself in moments that are so deliberately cringeworthy they’re hilarious.

“… with barbed wire?”

This is the best looking film of the trilogy. After the simple, clinical look of the first, and the grimy, handheld, snuff-esque aesthetic of the second, this has a real American indie film look to it, with the Texan location offering wide, empty vistas, sweeping camera movements and a warm colour grade. If it wasn’t for every single moment of the movie being entirely inappropriate, this wouldn’t look out of place at Sundance or the like. Six has clearly realised his Human Centipede concept, no matter how many legs it may have, can only run so far: managing to squeeze two films out of it without it feeling unnecessary was impressive, but a third really would have pushed it too far. As such, the ‘pede itself is really a footnote to the wider story of the prison; merely the method by which Boss aims to take control of his prison. Little time is dedicated to the process of creating it, or even to the finished piece. An astute move when horror sequels often tend to repeat the same formula over and over until no one notices they stop making them.

He chose this over watching yet another Paranormal Activity sequel

The last thing I want to touch on is something only available on the DVD & Blu-Ray release of this film: the alternative ending. As always, I will give no spoilers, but rather than a different ending, this is an additional scene that plays after the final moments of the movie. True to the spirit of the franchise, it creates a canonical nightmare that is the most bitter, cynical and ultimately hilarious “Fuck You” to everyone. It’s the sort of ending that you’d see as a cruel joke on a forum somewhere. It’s fair to say I’m gutted this wasn’t kept in the final cut of the movie as I’d love to hear more reactions on it. I can understand it being cut as people who haven’t seen the first two films will have no idea what’s going on, but for those familiar with the series I consider this the “true” ending.

Both expressions sum up my reaction to the alternate ending

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is an anarchic and outrageous film; it gleefully over-achieves on its clear-set goal of offending anyone and everyone and manages to be incredibly funny in the process. In case you had any doubts before sitting down to watch it, you will certainly realise you’re a terrible person for laughing at half of the moments in this movie. You’ll definitely want to carefully pick who you watch this with, but with a hand-picked group of equally twisted friends this is a hilariously disgusting experience with some magnificent performances that rounds off the trilogy with excessive, self-referential style.

8/10

Extraterrestrial (2014) – Review

extraterrestrial

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)

babadook

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!
zk1

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

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