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?



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!

Chappie (2015) – Review


I’m going to start this review with a sentence very similar to a lot of other people’s reviews of Chappie that I’ve read: I absolutely loved District 9 and was incredibly excited to see what Blomkamp was able to do with a similar, alternate-reality South African setting, a higher budget, and assumably more experience. I still haven’t seen Elysium, partially due to laziness, partially because I can’t stand Matt Damon, but largely because of the bad things I’ve heard about it. Even Blomkamp himself recently said he “fucked it up”, so I’m still not dying to see it. Back to Chappie however; based on his 2004 short Tetra Vaal,  merging Blomkamp’s brilliant way of creating an overblown, yet entirely believable alternate world with ideas reminiscent of Robocop, Artificial Intelligence, et al, pitting foul-mouthed underworld gangsters against high-tech scientists, and throwing in a couple of sick He-Man: Masters of the Universe references, this is by no means a “safe” blockbuster. In fact, this film is absolutely barmy, whether that’s a good thing or not.

“Right, imagine there was a ROBOT, that was a COP…”

This film is all over the place. That isn’t even necessarily a bad thing; it’s consistently entertaining, and it’s very hard to predict what is going to happen next when you aren’t always entirely sure what just happened. That’s not to say the film is hard to understand, but it relentlessly fires what feel like key scenes at you like a cinematic gatling gun, each offering up new moral questions, plot threads, motifs, or setpieces. For every idea to be fully developed and resolved the film could easily run four hours or more. What we’re left with is not necessarily a film that makes us think about any of the interesting & well-meaning, but ultimately half-baked issues for a particularly long time, but a ridiculously fun rollercoaster that would not be out of place in a 1980’s video store.

Ninja spends the film making silly faces and talking in gibberish, like an alien who’s pretending to be a human.

Another layer to the unique experience that Chappie offers is just how incredibly odd certain aspects of it are, mostly in the casting and direction of the characters. The oddest thing of all is Die Antwoord. Everything about them really. In fact, I was tempted to subtitle this review “Why Antwoord?” or “Die AntWhy?” but they’re both terrible ideas. Yolandi and the embarassingly named Ninja play characters of the same names, who drive around in their incredibly ‘gangsta’ style whilst listening to music by Die Antwoord (or some approximation of music anyway) and wearing Die Antwoord merchandise. This confused me perhaps much more than it should have done, as I tried to work out whether Die Antwoord exist in this movie’s universe and they are playing their own fans, whether they were depicting fictional equivalents of themselves, or what the hell was going on with this cross-promotional nightmare. Ninja is incredibly unlikable, a trait that it seems is not so much the result of good acting, but reality shining through the fiction. Apparently he was a total nob on set, with Neill Blomkamp writing him out of pickups just so he didn’t have to bear with him on set, and an unnamed cast member referring to him as “that pile of shit”. Yolandi, however, is impossible to define. Frankly I find her irritating to look at with her otherworldly make-up & garish clothing, her voice is grating and her acting resembles the panicked enthusiasm of a high school drama fanatic. But somehow she’s so damned likable that I feel immensely guilty for finding her annoying, a really warmed to her character as the film progressed. Dev Patel is once again playing a cardboard cutout of himself, with an emotional range that extends from slightly happy to slightly upset while Hugh Jackman & Sigourney weaver are fantastic, with Weaver playing an unquestionable authority figure and Jackman being so angry even Wolverine would be passing him a Mars Bar to try and calm him down. Most of these characters are so extreme, and feel deliberately two-dimensional without becoming hollow and boring. It’s all like a live-action cartoon. Not an adaptation of a cartoon, literally a live-action cartoon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for me, but may make outsiders of other viewers.

“I am SO mad right now! 😡 #angry”

Saving the best for last, Chappie himself is truly the star of this film. His character seems to be developed far greater than any human on screen (perhaps in a deliberate move, nudging us towards the central questions the movie presents). Little touches in his movements, intonations in his voice, and subtle expressions created only by a small LED panel & some moving bars on his “face” all contribute to conveying this. You really feel for his character, no matter how much Ninja & co aim to twist his morals, no matter how foul his language becomes in some hilarious scenes, he consistently retains a childlike innocence & an unquestioning loyalty that is impossible to dislike. I’m a special effects snob; bad CGI takes me right out of a film; but I realised through the third act that I had genuinely forgotten Chappie was not really there. His interaction with the real world and actors is pulled off stunningly but filmed in such a matter-of-fact manner. It’s all very reminiscent of the incredible FX work on District 9, and showcases what is clearly a strength in Blomkamp’s filmmaking.

OOOOH THIS PICTURE MOVES!!! Oh and effects are very good.

It’s not going to be a film for everyone, I feel many of the points I made could be seen as good or bad depending on your view, and throwing in countless logical anomalies (“How is this arms dealer so easy to steal from?” etc) it’s easy to see how someone could write a scathing review but I found it entertaining from beginning to end & the two hours flew by and that’s enough for me. It’s so odd I see it becoming something of a cult hit over time, not least because it straddles being far too good to be an all-out B-Movie, but is far too ridiculous to be a mainstream, serious film. Unashamedly unique, there’s a hundred things I’d have done differently if I’d made it, but this is Neill Blomkamp’s film – he’s certainly made it his own. And that’s an increasingly rare trait in big-budget films these days.


The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman (2014) – Review on ukhorrorscene

Exciting news! I am going to be writing for, reviewing new DVD releases and the like. I’ll still be posting regular nonsense on here, along with the occasional link to external reviews I do for ukhorrorscene. My first review for them went up yesterday, of the excellent low budget British psychological horror, The Twisted Death of a Lonely Madman. Click the image to give it a read!


Hate Crime (2013) – Review – was it right to ban this film?

hate crime

This film is the center of a whole lot of controversy in the UK right now because our classification board, the BBFC, has refused to grant it a certificate. This means it is completely banned for sale or broadcast of any kind, unlike in America for example where a film can be released “unrated”. If you exclude a few extreme pornos, this makes Hate Crime only the fourth movie have been banned here in the last decade after the awful Japanese torture film Grotesque, Bunny Game (which I have not seen), and perhaps most famously The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence), which was rather soon granted an 18 certificate after a few minutes of cuts following an online backlash against the decision. The debate has opened up once again, weighing up freedom of speech against the perceived harm these films may cause. The only options for someone in this country to see Hate Crime are to wait weeks for a DVD to be imported, or to illegally download it (which I legitimately do not endorse). I was lucky enough however to have director James Cullen Bressack let me see this film so I could make my own mind up about this whole furore.

Hate Crime follows the home video of a Jewish family celebrating their young son’s birthday. Very soon into the film their home is broken into by three Neo-Nazis who commandeer the camera as they degrade, torture, rape, and murder members of the family. It’s an undeniably grim prospect for a movie, and touches on a variety of incredibly sensitive topics, but this film does not tread lightly, diving headfirst into the brutality. Unflinching and persistent, this film is a truly unpleasant experience – the things the family endure are sadistic and inhuman, and added to that, the family have no dark secrets, no connection to the invaders; the film doesn’t offer the slightest bit of motivation behind the attack beyond warped prejudice. But that’s the whole point; not everything always ties up neatly and it makes the film feel like a frighteningly realistic representation of such attacks that occur all too often in real life. Horrific things are done to the characters but this is normally just out of shot or otherwise obscured leaving the gruesome details to our imagination. So there is very little gore and no graphic nudity in this film, defying what I had prepared myself for given the BBFC’s ruling. This, along with the pervasively grim tone, complete absence of comic relief & lack of any music or score, prevents the film sensationalizing the violence, and from feeling like it’s intended to be entertaining in any way.

This is what happens if the BBFC don’t prevent us from seeing nasty things.

Some incredibly poor acting in the opening scene got me worried, but the sudden shift in tone brings with it a far higher standard of acting from the family, and from the invaders themselves, leaping around in an animalistic, drug-fueled frenzy. The actors do an incredible job, genuinely quite terrifying at times, without making it come across as humorous in a manner that reminded me of a much darker version of the droogs in A Clockwork Orange. As the film develops it’s clear the attackers are not a well-organised group with their own conflicts and in one case, some severe issues. It’s far from sympathetic given the horrific things they do, but it’s a brave choice to make them a bit more than faceless masked maniacs. Giving the camera to the attackers allows this to happen, but also gives an interesting new perspective on the home invasion genre; instead of the camera lingering on a victim hiding in the shadows for example, we see the killer furiously searching. It’s actually no less tense this way; either way we desperately don’t want them to be found.

The new production of The Producers took a dark turn

Not pretending to be “based on a true story”, the film takes a somewhat classier approach by ending on a title card stating the rising number of hate crimes in the US & the simple message that “Hate & Prejudice still exists today”. There aren’t many totally new ideas in the film, and there’s a distinct lack of development in the family’s characters, but the unusual twist on the well-trodden genre is plenty enough to make it’s mark, and running almost entirely in a faux one-shot, this film offers an unflinching, gut-wrenching & terrifying view of one of the most unimaginable true-life horrors.



Back to the BBFC’s decision however. Their full statement is available here. I understand when the likes of Cannibal Holocaust are banned in their uncut versions in this country because of the scenes featuring staged animal cruelty making it illegal. The same if any film featured other illegal content like paedophilia or whatever else real-life footage some twisted mind thought might be a good idea. The question here though, is the fact that such footage has victims: in the case of every horror movie banned by the BBFC in recent years, the footage has been entirely staged, consenting & fictional, therefore entirely without victims, so the banning isn’t protecting anyone involved in production or preventing future crimes. We then must go to the potential impact the movies have on individuals and society. If this film somehow gave the impression that the attackers were somehow justified in their actions, even made them slightly relatable I could understand it being considered morally unacceptable, perhaps even verging on some sort of propaganda. But the fact of the matter is this film is black & white on the issue: the family are good people, the attackers are very bad & what they do is unthinkably terrible. So the BBFC’s statement that “this work, even if confined to adults… would risk potential harm” is utter nonsense. The vast majority of the population are perfectly capable of understanding that breaking into a family’s home & torturing them is not okay, and anyone who sees a film / video game / any media with violent content like this and thinks “oh boy, I really want to do that!” clearly has some major issues already & needs serious help regardless of whether Hate Crime is on the shelves of HMV or not. The suggestion that the film “would be unacceptable to broad public opinion” is entirely missing the point of extreme cinema, and could be extended to a world where no media can be released in case it might upset a few people, as though we’re all incapable of simply not watching something we don’t like, or of dealing with the unpleasant truths of modern society, much like when you tell a small child to look away from nasty images on the 6 o clock news. They also say that “Little context is provided for the violence beyond an on-screen statement at the end of the film that the two attackers who escaped were subsequently apprehended and that the one surviving family member was released from captivity”. This genuinely makes me quite angry – not only are they willfully missing the point of the movie; that these attacks genuinely do happen for no reason & that is why it is so horrific; but they are omitting the last two, by far most important on-screen messages explaining the uncomfortable yet nonetheless true context of the movie in the real world. It’s one of those cases where someone isn’t directly lying, but is deliberately misrepresenting the truth to make themselves seem right, and I think that is absolutely unacceptable for an organisation with such responsibilities to twist the reality in such a way. I would like to believe that enough pressure can be put on the BBFC, as was with The Human Centipede 2, for them to reverse the decision, but it certainly seems that, since no gore or nudity is featured, it’s the tone of the film that is considered unacceptable, so we may have to accept for now that the people in control of our media have decided we’re not morally mature or intelligent enough to see films that shine a light on incredibly dark sides of real life unless there’s a person on screen for the duration repeating “THIS IS WRONG. DO NOT DO THIS.” like a CBeebies special on “not killing people”.


Wolfcop (2014) – Review


Sometimes a movie comes along with a title that makes me say to myself “I need to see that”. Coupled with the awesome art on the DVD case Wolfcop had me sold without question. This instant, unquestioning enthusiasm with little to go on has lead to some fantastic surprises, but also a great deal of disappointments making a quick sale on a great title alone (Osombie?). The basic premise of Wolfcop is pretty self-explanatory, but to be clear it follows Lou, a slacking, alcoholic policeman in a small Canadian town, who has some sort of curse put on him that turns him into a werewolf. The newfound power he has when transformed prompts him to begin a crusade against the local gang leader, as the titular uniformed “Wolfcop”.

It’s a werewolf. Who’s also a cop…

There’s a strong tone of a deliberately “cult” movie here, with fantastic practical effects defying the $1 million budget, red & blue lights painting every second shot like something straight out of the 80’s & a script overflowing with wolf puns that does a reasonable job at balancing the level of groans and laughs. Depite a short runtime just shy of 80 minutes however, it seems to go by very slowly when much of the film feels far too polite for it’s sleazy, gory ambitions. It was such a recurring problem for me that I actually started to wonder if it was some play on Canadian stereotypes against the loud, brash American standard for such movies, but whenever the tough-talking police chief chastised Lou, or his over-achieving colleague put him down a notch, no matter how harsh the words were, the delivery felt like the characters immediately regretted what they’d said. Even when the brutal gang leader stabs one of his cronies’ eyes out he looks and sounds like he’s about to apologise profusely for calling him nasty names. It all takes away from the gritty, trashy feel it seems to be emulating. Whether the result of a poor cast, or a deliberate decision it really didn’t work for me, and detracted from what could have been a fun, bolshy script.


All is forgiven in the action scenes, though, however far and few between they may be. I’ve already mentioned the effects but fuck it, I’m going back to them. They’re genuinely very good, and not in a condescending “well, they did a good job with what they had” way; I was surprised to see how low the budget was after seeing the quality & screen time of the all-practical effects. We get more than one “transformation” scene, each focusing on different aspects of Lou turning into a werewolf. The first glimpse we get, showing a certain body part transforming, will have at least half of the audience wincing in agony but is the first example of multiple gruesome visual gags that rival Peter Jackson’s early horrors for inventiveness and hilarity. The brilliant pacing of this handful of high-energy scenes is about enough to nudge this movie into being worth a watch when elsewhere there’s very little bite not much to get excited about.


Rubber (2010) – Review


B-Movies have always relied on simple set-ups, often so simple they’re summed up by the title itself. Earth vs. Flying Saucers, The Fly, Night of the Living Dead and so on. More ridiculous single-title premises include The Wasp Woman, The Killer Shrews, and over time these bizarre creations lead to self-aware stupidity such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes in 1978 and countless buzzword combinations throughout the 1980’s, often “Cannibal” or “Zombie” followed by gruesome or apocalyptic word. Fast forward to 2010 and Rubber is released, threatening to trump even Killer Tomatoes for a single-mindedly ridiculous concept – a movie about a killer tyre. Selling itself as a straight-up B-Movie, it’s very soon evident however that this is something else; instilling various arthouse-y ideas into the plot results in an even stranger movie than the concept suggests.

This is the main character – it’s a tyre that kills people…

Opening with a long take of a car slowly knocking down chairs placed irregularly on a road, a police officer climbs out of the boot of the car to deliver a long monologue directly to camera about the following film having “no reason”, much like many other films that have “no reason”, such as E.T.: “Why is E.T. brown instead of green? No reason”. Odd attempts at humour sneak in; “Why does J.F.K. end in the sudden assassination of the president? No reason.”. They aren’t particularly funny, but add to a bizarre, hypnotic feeling that this film has where nothing is anywhere near as clever as it seems to think it is. The reveal of an in-movie “audience” watching Robert from afar as he discovers his ability to make small animals & people’s heads explode is another layer of this incredibly frustrating yet oddly compelling self-awareness running throughout the film. Sequences later on in the movie push the self-reference even further but I realised after the first half an hour or so that I’d all but submitted to the dreamlike surreality of it.

It’s a film about a killer tyre…

Shot on a Canon DSLR with a slim budget of around $500,000, this film looks a great deal better than you might expect. Great use of the desert landcapes gives a desolate, slow-paced feel, even though the film never drags. At least 80% of the effects for Robert (the name given to the tyre in the credits) are obviously someone just out of shot making it move in a lifelike manner or the cameraman giving it a little nudge to keep on rolling along, but the remaining shots depict Robert some impossible to replicate actions in wide shots that really make you pay attention. Never resorting to CGI, these shots are achieved with a brilliant remote control gimmick that director Quentin Dupieux likens to a hamster wheel. Nonetheless, whether you’re happy about it or not is irrelevant; the result is it really does seem like this tyre is alive. The action is far from non-stop as may have been expected prior to watching the movie, but when Robert does get murderous the practical effects are wonderfully gruesome, so we’re not entirely denied the B-Movie nonsense that was promised, and aside from the fourth-wall-breaking winks and nudges, the moments of more conventional humour are actually pretty funny.

Seriously, it’s about a tyre. Called Robert.

This is actually my second time watching Rubber, and it’s only after this second viewing that I read some interviews with Quentin Dupieux. Where I had expected him to claim some sort of hidden higher purpose to the film; some sort of commentary on film-making, audiences in general, or perhaps even something as pretentious as “the nature of reality”, the matter-of-fact and humorous insight into his method of writing the movie where he simply put in things he thought might be funny or interested him brings it all back to the opening scene’s monologue: there is truly “no reason” to any of it. It’s not a film for everyone; people attracted by the “Killer Tyre” concept expecting a stupid gore-fest will certainly be scratching their heads after a short while. Even knowing there isn’t a hidden subtext there remains a sense of pretention about it – perhaps even unintentional – but as a hypnotic, incomprehensible, and downright odd take on a B-Movie this serves as a fascinating curio as long as you manage to let yourself… roll with it… ugh.


Devil’s Due (2014) – A Defensive Review


Horror fans don’t always have it easy, especially in recent years. All too often a new film appears with a punchy, appealing trailer and an interesting concept; you don’t expect it to be the best film ever made but you at least hope for something decent, before lacklustre reviews dash your hopes. You may drag yourself to the cinema for the disappointment, or await home release but you already know this is just another fruitless endeavour. Devil’s Due, from the L.A. filmmaker group Radio Silence was one such movie it seemed, with pretty harsh reviews, a 4.0 rating on IMDb, 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a relatively weak box office taking. Nonetheless I was drawn away from my better judgement by my memories of the promising trailer and Radio Silence’s previous effort on the brilliant 10/31/98 segment of V/H/S to buy the DVD and half-heartedly hope it wasn’t a waste of a fiver.

I loved it.

Opening to a montage of footage showing Zach & Samantha, a young couple getting married & going on their honeymoon, the film spends the first 10 minutes or so reiterating the point that they’re really nice people and really love each other in scenes that look and feel more like B-Roll footage from a Disney Channel movie. However some silly decisions on their part lead to an incredibly swift change in tone and some brilliant imagery surprisingly early on that most lazily produced found footage movies would save for the final act. They return home & Samantha discovers she’s pregnant. We follow their home videos recorded through the pregnancy, ultimately charting the gradual possession of Samantha caused by whatever is really growing inside her.

“I’m so glad our every move is being recorded – I’m sure nothing bad will happen”

One of the major criticisms of this film is it’s similarity to Rosemary’s Baby. Maybe I’m too used to a world where truly original ideas in cinema are scarce, but this makes it one of very few “possessed pregnancy” movies that I’m aware of, when there are countless movies that fit in genres such as “young girl gets possessed”, “masked maniac kills some teens”, “our new house might be haunted” and so on that are able to get great reviews despite being every bit as derivative as this movie. Also, like most other found-footage movies, you do occasionally ask yourself whether you’d really keep filming in the situations the characters find themselves, but a brief moment of self-referential cheese near the beginning explains away the handheld footage, plus the introduction of static cameras halfway through actually works really well in adding a level of mystery to the plot. Pacing is also well handled; the 90 minutes are pretty well packed with actual plot rather than pointless filler and long shots of nothing happening, and it is surprisingly unpredictable as to where it goes in each scene – unusual goings on aren’t limited to night-vision shenanigans as Paranormal Activity seems to have created a found footage standard for, and there are some inspired uses of the first-person perspective creating a couple of incredibly tense sequences, and elsewhere providing some fantastic visuals. The general sense of dread & mystery and frequent creepy images are the main sources of horror here; though there are a number of jump scares they’re all visible a mile off, so it’s thankful that they didn’t rely solely on these.

“She’s sits for hours on end in crudely carved satanic symbols? It’s just hormones.”

At the end of the day, this film doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, and has it’s fair share of silly moments but it tells an involving story with a believable and likeable cast of characters and I think it contains some of the best uses of found footage I’ve seen. Of course everyone has a different opinon, but I am very surprised to see just how differently I feel about this film to the majority of reviewers out there.


Grave Encounters (2011) – Review


I avoid being too specific regarding particular plot points, but there are minor spoilers in this review. I think I’m the last horror fan who hasn’t seen this film anyway so it shouldn’t matter!

Found footage divides opinion in the horror community; some see it is a lazy, cheap way to avoid making a “proper” horror movie or rue the seasickness-inducing camerawork where others love the realism and involvement it can create. It has certainly been abused repeatedly, resulting in what seems an acceptable standard where nothing happens for 45 minutes before a few unexplained events occur and action scenes consist of a camera being thrown around. However, I think it’s unfair to tarnish the entire genre, because among the awful entries such as the aptly-named Atrocious, the 76 Paranormal Activity movies, and those nondescript ones that always appear in Tesco’s Bargain Chart with the same blue & silver filter on their box art, there have been some excellent uses of the style in the V/H/S shorts, and some genuinely brilliant found footage movies such as [REC] 1 & 2, and Cloverfield. The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters is one of these found footage films, but I never got round to watching it despite hearing from everywhere that it was one of the top ones of the genre. I approached cautiously, wondering whether this would indeed find itself on the esteemed list of “found footage films that aren’t terrible”.

In the movie, Grave Encounters is a new ghost-hunting TV series, filming it’s sixth (and apparently final) episode in an abandoned asylum. Opening with a delightfully ham-fisted sequence of a TV Producer being interviewed about the footage we’re due to see, telling us straight to the camera that “THIS IS NOT A MOVIE” and so on, it’s hard to tell whether it’s intentionally funny or a misguided attempt at tension building. Soon into the main part of the movie however, it’s clear there’s a sharp sense of humor running underneath. Subtle moments between the crew and various background actions are not just comic relief though, they lend a real authenticity to the film & it’s characters. The cast & directors achieve a rare feat here – not just for found footage, but for horror in general – every character is believable and likeable. It’s true here that very little actually happens for the first 30 minutes or so but it’s still compelling to watch for the above reasons.

It gets scarier than this.

With so much to be said about the funny side of the film, it may sound like it forgets it’s supposed to be a horror. But that is far from true: a real sense of dread builds up throughout this first part. It’s hard to say exactly where it comes from, but it’s ever present that something isn’t right and I found myself nervously eyeing up every door and window whenever the film cut to the static night-vision cameras positioned around the asylum. It goes without saying that their plan to film an episode & get out does eventually go terribly wrong, and it’s here that the asylum takes on a brilliantly claustrophobic, labyrinthine quality, the cast evoke a tangible feeling of despair & desperation, and some incredibly effective scares with pretty horrific imagery keep the tension at breaking point, even managing to distract from a few brief glimpses of rather ropey CGI. It’s all building beautifully towards a final reveal. A final reveal that never arrives.

There are nicer ways to leave your other half a message in the morning.

The last act of this film is where it let me down unfortunately. Some big questions are opened up & no explanations are offered, with the final sequences dissipating much of the tension and a final scare that isn’t all that scary. I’m all for a film letting us decide for ourselves if it doesn’t want to spoon-feed the audience, but this time it didn’t work for me. The found-footage format doesn’t allow the explanation to be some sort of madness on the character’s part as I feel is hinted towards because the whole point is we are seeing these things happening. It leaves the only real conclusion for every loose end to be “ghosts did it” which isn’t quite enough for me. It’s clear with hindsight that this film isn’t meant to be looked at so literally, there’s a lot to be said about how the events & fates of certain characters relate to the historical use of the building in quite a powerful allegorical manner. At the very least, this is two thirds of a fantastic movie; everything is done right until the closing 10 minutes, and an otherwise slightly disappointing last act still leaves us to think about some important issues. It either addresses or steers clear of many of the issues made about found footage movies, so it remains a great example of how the genre can be done well. And you won’t even get motion sickness from watching it.


Pet Shop of Horrors (1999) – Anime Review


A four part anime mini-series based on the collection of manga books, Pet Shop of Horrors stars the mysterious, androgynous Count D who runs an equally mysterious pet shop in the heart of L.A.’s Chinatown. It goes without saying that the Count doesn’t really deal in hamsters and goldfish; every creature sold in the store comes with a strict contract and quite often a rather dark secret, introducing Leon, a detective investigating a series of unusual deaths – all of whom seem to have at one point visited this pet shop in Chinatown . Each episode focuses on a different customer of the store, looking at the events leading to them entering the shop and the consequences their pets bring upon them.

Excuse me Sir, you have a “What the fuck is that?” on your shoulder

The individual stories are really interesting – cherry picked from the manga (which I have not read) they are each quite unique but always very dark, looking at deep issues in the featured characters. The imagery the creatures provide to the stories varies from unsettling to beautiful, and occasionally both at once. This, coupled with the neo-gothic design and a dreamlike haze added to many of the scenes makes this a visually powerful series. Sound design is less impressive – the 90’s drum n’ bass soundtrack attempts to be brooding and mysterious but ultimately, no matter how they may have tried to do something unusual the high-tempo drums don’t lend well to the twisted, suspenseful scenes. Plus on a personal level I found it bloody irritating.

Come on now, the music isn’t THAT bad.

The major downfall of the series however, is the overbearing storyline, or lack thereof; for the first few episodes the interaction between Count D & Leon is set up to be quite gripping; the makings of a cat & mouse battle of wits are planted; and it’s clear that there’s much more to learn about The Count himself. It has a slow burn feel to it, so that it’s only really by episode 3 perhaps that I started to get to know the recurring characters and everything points towards it lasting more like 12 episodes. But by the end of the fourth & final episode the loose ends aren’t even slightly tied up. If anything, the final revelation of this episode makes it even more frustrating to see the series end, as the wider implications would make a great story. I don’t know if a lack of budget forced this to be so short, but it feels more like a feature-length trailer for the manga than a standalone anime in its own right which is a great shame. If viewed purely as an anthology for the individual stories and the grotesque & wonderful images they supply however, it’s definitely worth a look. Just don’t expect the main storyline to go anywhere.