30 Days of Fright – 10: Fright Night (1985)

Before he tried acting and ended up ruining his career, Dane Cook was a stand-up comedian in the same vein as Denis Leary (that is, he stole his material from others and presented it slightly differently) and one of “his” routines was about everyone having a friend who’s a gobshite. The trick is to look at your friends and identify the one who’s the gobshite; if you can’t it’s because it’s you! This idea almost certainly extends to other character traits both positive and negative and works regardless of the size of your social circle. Consider the handful of people you know well. One of them should be the cool one – if you can’t figure out which it is then congratulations, it’s probably you. Now consider that one of your group is probably deranged…
Fright Night (1985) is set in middle America slap bang in the middle of the 1980’s and features all the delightful trappings of that most wonderful and awful of decades. Charlie (William Ragsdale) is a teenager living with his mother and is going out with girl-next-door type Amy (Amanda Bearse, who played one of the neighbours in Married With Children). Charlie’s favourite TV show is the late night horror movie theatre “Fright Night” presented by self-proclaimed vampire killer Peter Vincent (a nod to both Peter Cushing and Vincent Price played by Roddy McDowall). When Charlie notices one night that his new neighbours are prowling about in the garden moving what appears to be a coffin into the basement, Amy assumes that Charlie has been watching too much TV and isn’t paying her enough attention.
Charlie’s suspicions grow as a spate of murders take place in the area and one of the victims Charlie had seen going into the house next door the day before she turned up dead. Keeping a close eye on the neighbours Charlie spies one of them with a girl one night and notices the fangs, long fingers and nails, and general vampire-ish aspect of the dude before coming to the completely rational conclusion that the lad next door is a creature of the night. The vampire spots Charlie and it quickly becomes clear that Charlie’s life is now in real danger.
Charlie calls on his friend “Evil Ed” (who is properly deranged) for help and some guidance on how best to ward off the vampire next door. Armed with Crucifixes and garlic Charlie prepares to do battle but decides to call in his hero Peter Vincent for some professional help, without realising that just because you play a vampire killer on TV doesn’t really qualify you for doing battle with real nosferatu…
The teenage vampire – arch-enemy of the orthodontist
Fright Night is billed as a comedy-horror and it is to an extent  though the comedy in the film is at times subtle enough not to be noticeable so it rather feels like it’s just another silly vampire movie where a young lad fights a Dracula style baddie. While that analysis is certainly reasonable it doesn’t do the film justice. What Fright Night is at its heart is a fun homage to the Hammer Horror Dracula movies and all those monster-killer films and TV shows of the late seventies. This hits home when you see the effect of one of the vampires in the film rising straight up out of a coffin which is direct from Nosferatu but was perfected in loads of Dracula films. That’s when it occurred to me how Fright Night really saluted the films that inspired it.
The key strength of Fright Night and the thing that separates it so dramatically from more recent vampire films is that it’s so loyal to the vampire myth. All the best bits of vampire lore are present and feature as plot points in the film; you have no power over a vampire if you invite them in to your house and they won’t come in unless invited, vampires sleep in coffins, they can transform into creatures like bats and occasionally wolves and while in bat form they can fly, Crucifixes ward them off as long as the operator has faith themselves, Holy Water is bad news regardless of the religious orientation of the person doing the sprinkling, wooden stakes through the heart will kill them, they have fangs and must drink blood to survive, and most importantly in sunlight they don’t fucking sparkle – they die!
When you see this list of vampire necessities it’s easy to recognise a good list of vampire terms and conditions, but what you’re actually seeing is the interpretation of the vampire myth that was codified by all those Hammer Horror films and their ilk. The idea of a vampire with all the trappings, like the Holy water and the coffins is no more traditional than the notion of a daywalking vamp (though the spakling thing is plain old bullshit).
Fright Night makes its rediculous setup work well by leaning on younger actors who seemed to have a good time making the film and perhaps because of this the quality of the acting was raised to a standard slightly higher than necessary. Don’t get me wrong, everyone in this picture is hamming it up as much as they can, but that’s the point and it works well. McDowall as the vampire hunter and Chris Sarandan as Jerry the vampire knock the most craic out of  their roles as they have by far the most interesting characters, with the possible exception of Evil Ed played by Stephen Geoffreys. Evil Ed (or just Evil to his friends) is brilliant, a rare character in a film as he’s actually a bit of a character and one who is nicely mental. In an odd twist, Geoffreys went on to have a successful career in hardcore gay porn (I know this from IMDB.com, not from experience!) so he’s either living the dream (his own personal dream that is) or he’s living the cliche.

The special effects used in Fright Night are pretty good and along with the treatment of the source material are a highlight of the film as at the time the option of CGI wasn’t available and animation effects had backfired too often to be really usable leaving only physical models as the best option for creature effects, and they’re used really well. The creatures like the bat-like monster near the end and the vampire skeleton are excellent but some of the make-up effects don’t stand up to scrutiny (or High Definition) as well as they might.

Fright Night has all the silly elements of a film of its day but it also has all the best elements as well. The vampires are what you expect, the characters are likeable, and in the end it all boils down to a good old fashioned fight between good and evil, so you know who to cheer for. Fright Night is a great slice of 80’s Americana; it’s easy to see why there’s a remake.
Two Thumbs Up for Fright Night.
Links to a film about “Trad Vamps” (which would be a cool name for a Ceili band)

30 Days of Fright – 09: Heartless

When horror moves away from the simple morality of the slasher film, questions about the nature of hope inevitably arise. Situational as well as supernatural horrors present characters with massive challenges that take away hope for the future or for their happiness, and it’s the job of those characters to overcome those challenges. Rarely though does the triumph of the human soul win out in the end despite whatever takes place before the final credits roll. More often, no matter how it’s dressed up, what actually happens is that selfishness and self-preservation get’s the protagonist though things.
Shy photographer Jamie (Jim Sturgess) is out and about one night, prowling the gritty streets of inner city London in the opening scenes of Heartless(2009) looking for cool snaps to take. As he goes about his business he spots an unusual stranger who he follows to some waste ground by an abandoned house. There he hears someone screaming and upon further investigation sees that the stranger and their friends are actually a group of hoodie-wearing monsters who are in the process of brutally killing someone. Jamie gets away after being spotted by one of the creatures and tries to not to let what he’s seen get to him.
He’s massively unsuccessful in this endeavour as the news is filled with terrible details of brutal crimes and the world seems like a nasty hopeless place, even the local corner shop owner offers Jamie guns for sale if he ever wants some extra protection. Family life for Jamie doesn’t help as, loving and all as his mum and brother are, they are all grieving the loss of Jamie’s Dad and all their moments of happiness are tinged with sadness. On top of this Jamie’s nephew is at a difficult age and seems to be mixed up in something bad which adds an extra stress to life. Jamie’s mum is worried for him as he’s had a difficult time growing up and there appears to have been an attempt at suicide in his past. Jamie has a large series of birthmarks covering his face, neck, and one arm and he’s very self-conscious about it, often wearing hoodies to help cover that side of his face.
One night, Jamie and his mother are attacked by the gang of monsters who give Jamie a hiding but murder his mum by throwing a petrol bomb at her and letting her burn to death. After getting out of hospital Jamie swears revenge and picks up a gun for himself at the shop. As well as the shooter, Jamie gets a new neighbour, a young man who’d been a gang-banger himself but is now turning his life around and getting an education. They become friends and Jamie gets some insights into the gangs and the way their territories work.
Of course, as the world is conspiring against Jamie, the neighbour gets murdered too. While dealing with the shock of another loss Jamie starts playing with the gun and gets close to using it on himself until he gets a text message on his neighbours mobile phone that he’d left behind him in Jamie’s place. Surprised at this, Jamie follows the instructions on the phone and goes to visit a mysterious man called Papa B, who offers Jamie a deal. Papa B is a demon who claims to be working to advance mankind by creating enough chaos in the world to force people to develop themselves (much like the neighbour who was improving himself). Papa B offers to remove Jamie’s birthmark in exchange for occasional acts of graffiti and Jamie accepts, but as everyone knows, when you make a deal with the Devil, the Devil lies…
I’m looking at you… from under my big hood!
The making of Heartless was very firmly focused on the photographer character of Jamie (pun very much intended) and in this it paid off. Not often in a horror film do you encounter a character that’s as well developed (pun intended again) as Jamie – his relatively limited life experience has surprising depth that enables him to be a good photographer, he has recognisable personality traits, and he has hopes for the future that he believes are unattainable – like the house and the wife and the kids version of the future he thinks has already been denied to him because of his skin condition. Like all tragic figures he is the architect of his own misery and downfall. Jamie’s shy because he’s so self-conscious so in a very human way it’s his own behaviour that’s denying him the things he wants. When he and the audience are shown what really happened to him after making his deal his tragedy is only compounded by the realisation that the destiny he wanted was his to have if only he changed his point of view.
…but it’s my strong hand, child!
 Jamie’s gain in terms of character development is everyone else’s loss. The other characters are totally undeveloped and merely there to fill the empty spaces with people that sound like they might belong there; generic characters like “Mum” and “Brother” and “neighbour” and “Bloke who runs the shop” – speaking of which, he was brutal and his dialogue was a fucking embarrassment. Papa B wasn’t bad, just going through the motions of being a demon in a shitty flat, the little girl was OK too but I admit I expected more from her character as the movie progressed. The best character after Jamie was definitely the “Weapons Man” who was sent by Papa B to assist Jamie fulfil his side of the bargain.  Madly over the top and completely foul-mouthed, I liked him. If there’s ever a sequel to Heartless I hope it features the Weapons Man in the lead role, maybe just following him as he goes about his business being vaguely threatening in that East London way.
The special effects in Heartless are reasonable. The CGI demons that feature are the kind of thing to be expected in a film of this vintage and are about as believable as any CGI effect can be (that is utterly unbelievable). I can’t decide if I liked the costume effect of the man who’d been burned with a Molotov cocktail as I’m not sure if it was realistic or not as I’ve thankfully never encountered anybody with third degree burns over 100% of their body so I’ve no frame of reference – from a distance it looked very good. The other burning effects were hit and miss, swinging between very realistic and not. The violent and gory scenes were well handled with one of the murders very well presented (just to be clear I’m talking about effects here and not the quality of a good murder – I have different blog for that!)
On the whole Heartlessisn’t a bad story, just not a great one. The twisting nature of the final act of the film especially left something to be desired as it took a little while to determine what was actually going on in two or three threads of the story as they all got tied up. The bit about the girlfriend was a head scratcher but necessary in order to fill in the blanks left when Jamie realises what really happened to him, the piece about the gangster suffered from the exact same problem and when he turned up near the end I had to work to remember when he’d been introduced and just what the hell was he doing there.
A dark movie,Heartless is filled with tragedy and tells of removing hope from the already hopeless. In the telling of this story it succeeds but, if for no other reason than the nature of the content I would be reluctant to sit through it again. Even the closing scene, supposed to offer some hint at potential redemption is just to heavy handed and saccharine and totally at odds with the ninety minutes that preceded it that it felt like something tacked on to the end as the result of what some test audience said.
Horror can be a thrill ride, or a morality play, or horror can be truly horrific by simply showing the often brutal face of the world to us as it is. Whether Heartless really needed to add in a bunch of demons and a Faustian deal in order to drag this idea out of the realm of drama is open to some debate.
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Heartless
Here are some heartless feckin links for ya:

30 Days of Fright – 08: New Moon

Imagine you were a vampire, with all the advantages of immortality and the intrinsic beauty that comes with being a nasty little goblin of the underworld. With all that power at your disposal, would you spend your days being a miserable bastard in some shitty small town in chilly northern America with a girl who looks like a horse hanging out of you the whole time? Of course not, it wasn’t believable in one film so I was curious as to how you’d get another go at the cinema out of this bullshit…

As her eighteenth birthday approaches, New Moon opens with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) struggling to deal with one of the practicalities of loving a vampire. She dreams of her dear old Granny meeting Edward (Robert Pattinson) in a field one day but she realises that it’s not her Gran but actually herself as an old woman having aged naturally while Eddie stayed his youthful immortal self. With this on her mind, Bella tries to go about the normal business of girls her age which basically consists of going to school and looking moody.

Edward’s family, the Cullen’s (a group of adopted vampire kids looked after by Dr. And Mrs. Cullen) throw a little party for Bella’s birthday at their house and during the giving of the presents Bella gets a paper cut which sets off one of the vampires who isn’t fully house trained. This gets Edward thinking about just how wise it is keeping a human about the place when he and his kind have such murderous instincts. About this time Carlisle Cullen decides that he has to move on as he looks a lot younger than he’s supposed to be and people around him are starting to notice. Edward decides that he’s going to go as well and put some distance between him and Bella as he feels she should have a normal life and not have to worry about the technicalities of going out with a disgusting bloodsucker like himself. Eddie has also been thinking about their situation and he’s come to the conclusion that the only way it could work is to make Bella a vampire and that’s something he can’t do as it would damn her soul.

With Edward out of the picture, Bella gets down to doing some serious moping about and manages to sit in the same chair looking out the window for about four months without ever changing her clothes. When she’s not busy being a moody drink of piss, she’s flat out screaming her head off in her sleep as she’s haunted with terrible nightmares of her lost love. Her days at school are filled with avoiding her friends which only serves to demonstrate just how useless a bunch they are when things get tough. She finally manages to get a grip on herself and slowly tries to deal with her plight by hanging out with Jacob, a local native American boy she knows from when she was much younger. She picks up  two wrecked motorbikes and gets Jacob to restore them while she sits and watches for a few weeks in an example of exploitation of the red man not seen in America since some Europeans purchased the continent for a handful of beads and a dose of smallpox.

Bella begins to experience hallucinations of Edward whenever she might be in danger, like going down the wrong street in a bad part of town or riding a restored motorbike without a crash helmet. Bella puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations in an effort to see more of Edward instead of doing the rational thing of seeing a psychiatrist or other mental health professional to help her with the fact that she’s seeing things and hearing voices. Her friend Jacob also turns out to be in need of some medical help as he develops a bad fever one night and disappears for a while, though Bella thinks that Jacob is in fact just avoiding her as she rejected his romantic advances. Bella goes to find Jacob down on the reservation (apparently the only reservation in the US without a casino) and finds that he’s a changed man, with his hair cut short, sporting a tattoo, and running with the wrong sort of people all the while not wearing much clothes. After a bit of back and forth it turns out that Jacob is a werewolf and so are his mates and that they’ve been hunting some vampires (left over from the first film) who’ve been knocking about with plans to kill Bella.

Off in exile Edward has gotten wind of Bella’s daredevil antics and believes that one of her little vision-inducing activities has actually killed her and so he decides to top himself as immortality isn’t worth enduring if the girl he dumped, who was probably going to snuff it sometime in the next seventy or eighty years anyway, has died – as long as no-one stops him in the nick of time…

A cinema-goer reacts to the news that they made a few more of these fucking Twilight films!

I shall cut to the inevitable chase; New Moon is an overly long and deeply unoriginal piece of shit film. It’s two desperately boring hours of a mopey bitch pining for a creepy girly boy who you know will turn up again before the film is over and very little else. Edward just pisses off as soon as he could at the start of the wretched movie, in fact he ran away so fast I half expected him to have knocked Bella up or something. Edward’s departure is too much of a convenience and is only offered up so that Jacob could be properly introduced as a character. Jacob is actually not that bad a character but he seems to unfortunately suffer from the same problem as everyone else in the small town of Forks – he seems to think Bella is the only woman in the entire world worth a damn and that is frankly too unbelievable even for a movie where vampires sparkle and werewolves prowl around whether there’s a full moon or not.

Kristen Stewart’s Bella is too unattractive and uninteresting a person for it to be realistic that everyone in town is chasing after her. The Cullen’s are fawning over her from the start (though to be fair one of them openly wants to eat her), the kids in school are obsessed with her, and now the werewolves are all into Bella-mania. Love triangles are the staple of many’s a fine story but the apex of this one is a droopy faced misery – the lads in Forks must have been really hard up.

Speaking of the love aspect leads me to the real horror of New Moon. The film rips off one major source and that’s Mr. William Shakespeare and his tragic play Romeo and Juliet.What makes this crime so heinous is that New Moon flaunts the fact from early on that it’s lifting it’s central theme from that play, the only twist being that Edward’s already dead. What I want to know is, seeing as Romeo and Juliet is a short play, why did it take two long fucking hours to re-tell that story? And why even pretend that the poor teen wolf Jacob was ever in with a chance with a go on Bella?

Just like the fist Twilight film there is very little to redeem New Moon. Sadly, the decent music from the first movie is absent, replaced with a succession of radio-friendly but easily forgotten tunes that no doubt sold well on iTunes, easily forgotten except for the song “Meet Me on the Equinox” by Death Cab For Cutie – I really like that song and it’s a shame it only featured on the end credits. The film is slightly better made than its predecessor, the lighting is better, the effects have been given some thought, and the locations are well used. The big redemption for me however was the fact that the Cullen’s began to address the whole damnation of the soul thing that bothered me so much about the first Twilight. New Moon doesn’t really resolve this problem but it at least admits that it’s there.

Doesn’t stop New Moon from being shit though.

Two Thumbs Down for New Moon.

Click the links for more info about Vampires and Werewolves that are afraid of the dark:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twilight_Saga:_New_Moon
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1259571/

30 Days of Fright – 07: The Fourth Kind

Documentaries are not boring. Many of them involve killing and lately loads of them are about big scary aliens!

The Fourth Kind (2009) presents itself as a documentary that has certain scenes dramatised for the purposes of telling the story of events that occurred in Nome, in northern Alaska in the year 2000. The Film begins with Mila Jovovich addressing the audience directly and outlining what they are about to see.

Jovovich plays the part of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist who, while treating a group of patients in Nome, herself got mixed up the events that took place there. She explains that all of the events in the film are backed up with documented proof in the forms of video and audio recordings and interviews with those involved, particularly Dr. Tyler herself. The director of the film, Olatunde Osunsanmi, interviews the real Dr. Tyler who tells the story of what happened to her and her family and patients in Alaska.
In 2000, Dr. Tyler and her husband were practicing psychologists who were involved in research in Alaska. Abigail’s husband Will is murdered one night while they both slept in bed and Tyler and her family were grieving his loss, with the Tyler children badly affected by the trauma. Two months after the murder, Dr. Tyler is working with a group of patients who all begin reporting the exact same problem. They all wake up in the middle of the night, every night, and notice a large white owl outside their window staring at them that won’t go away no matter what. One of the patients agrees to a form of hypnotherapy and while under reveals that the owl is in his bedroom standing over him and that it’s not an owl at all. The patient gets violent, obviously terrified, so Tyler wakes up from the hypnotic state and he goes home.
That night, Dr. Tyler is called to the patient’s house which is surrounded by cops as the man has pulled a gun on his family and is screaming for Dr. Tyler’s help. She gets there and talks to the man briefly before he shoots and kills his wife and children before quickly turning the gun on himself. Disturbed by this turn of events some of Tyler’s other patients go under hypnosis and reveal similar disturbing details of their nocturnal visitors that leads Tyler to the inevitable conclusion that the people of Nome are the victims of a series of on-going alien abductions. Tyler herself seems to be troubled by something visiting her as she accidentally leaves her dictaphone on one night in her bedroom and it records sounds of her screaming and an unusual voice speaking a strange language…
 ….and then I’m gonna show her my ‘O’ face… giggity!
The Fourth Kind is normally classified as a pure Sci Fi film, though some reviewers like to call it “spooky” or “creepy”. The reason I included it on the list of 30 Days of Fright movies is because the first time I saw it, it really gave me the creeps. Actually, that’s not true, it scared the piss out of me! Trust me Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a horror film!
The concept behind The Fourth Kind is that of the faux documentary. In order to have the audience accept that what they’re seeing is real, the entire film is dressed up in the way those re-enactment documentaries are that you see on the Discovery channel or the National Geographic channel, only this time they managed to get a known actress involved to play the lead. There’s a strong reliance on video footage allegedly recorded by Tyler and by the Nome police department as well as excerpts from taped recordings of Tyler’s sessions with her patients. The interview itself is really only used to hold the narrative together and to keep things progressing in the order they should. Of course, the whole thing is bullshit, every bit of the story is fiction and everyone is an actor, but that’s to be expected otherwise you’d have heard about all this years ago.
The way the film is presented is very clever. The way the screen splits to show how the actors are acting out the real footage is an exceptionally smart device, especially as the acted scenes aren’t perfect copies and allow for small amounts of artistic license. When characters are introduced the name of the actor playing them is flashed up on screen and the character name is either real or marked as an alias in order to protect the real person. All these tricks get you into a place where you do start to believe what you’re seeing, but it’s the supposedly real footage that packs the biggest punch and is also the biggest let down.
There are only a handful of scenes that Dr. Tyler recorded that are shown to the audience, and there are two or three recoded by the police. Tyler’s material focuses on her patients and herself going through hypnotherapy and show, albeit in a heavily distorted fashion, what happens in those sessions. The one scene where the dude in the bed freaks out is by far the best scene in the whole film and rightly put the shits up me the first time I viewed it. The two cop recordings, taken from dashboard cameras in their cars, which stick in my head are the weakest parts of the film as they are the most unbelievable, with one showing the murder/suicide and the other meant to be showing an alien spacecraft.
The first time I watched The Fourth Kind I wasn’t sure about it. Yes it was scary as a horror film should be but was it any good? The second time (last night) was a less frightening experience but I enjoyed the film more. There are some really smart bits in it – I really liked the hints that the Tyler’s were in Nome looking for aliens or whatever was causing the towns high missing persons rate, and there are other details that are just excellent (I won’t divulge them as they’d be spoilers). However, I’m not sure how well the film would work on an urban audience. If you live in a rural area then you can relate to the isolation that permeates the film and that’s needed to build the fear of being snatched away without anyone noticing.
The Fourth Kind has its weaknesses (like Jovovich rehashing her performance from Joan of Arc) but it also its strengths, and it’s scary enough to deserve its place on my list.
Two Thumbs Up for The Fourth Kind
A Guide to Internet Links:
The First Kind: Links to email
The Second Kind: Links to news sites
The Third Kind: Porn, of course!
The Fourth Kind: Links to details of last nights film

30 Days of Fright – 06: The Broken

High-concept horror is a rare thing. Most horror films focus on building dread over time and then reaching a scary and/or action packed ending, or they go for the jump out of your seat type of fright where things happen suddenly giving the audience a shock; those types of film are more like roller coasters despite whatever artistic content they may contain. There are a few thinking man’s horror films out there but the majority of studios, film-makers, and audiences find that intelligence and horror don’t tend to make good bedfellows. Of course, there are clever horror films but rarely does the genre go beyond that, perhaps because if the story deals with horrific situations then it can be better dealt with in a more traditional drama, or if the story is going for a supernatural slant then too much has to be accepted on faith for any highbrow thought to be able to accept what’s going on.

The Broken (2008) follows Gina McVey (played by Lena Headey; Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones), a radiologist working in central London as she goes about her business in her seemingly perfect life. She’s beautiful, well-dressed, has a boyfriend who’s a successful architect, she’s doing well enough at work to be able to afford a nice flat in London, her father works for the American ambassador (so I guess she has dual-citizenship lurking in a drawer somewhere, though with a name like McVey (regardless of the spelling) I’m not sure how welcome the family are back in the good old US of A), she has a brother who’s an artist who is living with a girl he loves, and all is right with the world. The only tragedy that seems to have befallen McVey is the death of her mother when Gina was about thirteen.
Gina’s Dad comes home one night to his empty house, as is his custom, and he attacks the decanter of whiskey as it’s his birthday and he’s all alone. Except he’s not. There’s someone else in the house prowling about, but it turns out to be his family setting him up for a scare as part of a surprise party they’re throwing for him. This little fright turns into a happy dinner spent with Daddy McVey’s kids and their partners, happy that is until a mirror that had been hit against during the “SURPRISE!” bit finally falls off the wall and shatters all over the gaff.
The next day, Gina gets a funny feeling at work, a feeling that is heighted when a colleague swears he just saw her leave the building for the night. Heading out herself to use a payphone outside the hospital, Gina gets the shock of her life when she sees herself drive by in her own car. Following the car into an underground car park she pursues the driver into an apartment where she finds a picture of herself and her Dad.
Gina drives away from the apartment in her Jeep after something apparently traumatic happened. She’s distracted, looking around her and in the rear view mirror to the point of distraction, right up to the moment when she has a head-on collision with a taxi. McVey is rushed to hospital but none of her injuries are serious, just bumps and bruises; the only thing worrying her doctors are the gaps in her memory right before the accident – from the time she encountered the look-alike up to going to the hospital. She remembers bits but nothing makes sense.
Once discharged from the hospital Gina goes to stay with her boyfriend but he seems like a changed man, radically different from the man she loved before her accident. He’s cold, distant, and slightly threatening to her and she confides this to a counsellor she’s seeing for her memory problems. He diagnoses a deeper trauma in her brain and recommends more tests. Unsure if what’s occurring is in her head or not, Gina’s fears grow as she investigates some strange occurrences around her boyfriend’s apartment and in the wider world. Finally she begins to remember what happened in her doppelgangers apartment, and so remembers the terrifying truth that’s threatening her whole family…
It’ll never heal if you don’t stop picking at it!
The Broken is an attempt at really serious horror. The concept behind the film is way out there and not something that you see too often outside of leftfield episodes of Star Trek. On top of this, The Broken also tries to be a clever movie, and there are times when this works but not enough to save the film from itself.
Gina McVey is the most neutral horror film character out there. Not once did I give a shit what was happening to her. In The Exorcist when the little girl Regan is going through the medical tests you feel sorry for her as it all seems to frighten her. On the other hand, in The Broken McVey gets her melon scanned and she’s told it’s possible that she’s got some rare brain disorder and I was all like “Good! Serves the snooty cow right!” Out of all the characters in the film, her Dad is the only sympathetic one on screen as he’s obviously still grieving the death of his wife after all these years and he loves his kids, so he’s OK. McVey’s brother and his girlfriend seem OK too, but they’re underdeveloped so it’s hard to give too much of shit about them.
As the “horror” unfolds the attempts at building dread don’t work as they nearly always go nowhere and are accompanied by repeating images and rehashes of scenes that have already been and gone more than once. When what’s happening is revealed to the audience the whole jig is up and there’s little point watching all the way to the end as what happened in the apartment before the crash is so obvious it’s funny. The biggest flaw with The Broken is not in trying to tell its little horror story but in trying to put in a twist as well.  In fact, the film opens with a big Edgar Allan Poe quote on screen and from then on I jokingly threw out a raft of possible twists that were going to feature in the film (much like the scene in The IT Crowd where Douglas Reynholm tries to guess the twist at the end of a DVD he’s watching), sadly one of my guesses was bang on the mark – and this was ninety minutes before it was revealed.
Two Thumbs Down for The Broken.
:sknil detaler eivom fo noitcelloc lausu eht era ereH

30 Days of Fright – 05: After.Life

It may seem obvious but it needs saying: In a movie so much rests on the actors. Bad acting can ruin a great story, and while nothing can really salvage a poor story good acting can at least numb the pain of the viewing. In horror you do tend to see some decent actors occasionally strutting their stuff. I’m not sure why but they all take a crack at it, maybe they’re looking for a challenge, or maybe they’re slumming it for the sake of a rounded CV, or more likely for a rounded paycheque.

After.Life (2009) stars Liam Neeson as Eliot Deacon a funeral director with a big funeral home in a small town somewhere in America. He seems to take extraordinary care of the deceased and knows just what would be appropriate for their service often putting out the favourite flowers of those who’d passed away without having to be told.
In the same town, Christina Ricci is elementary school teacher Anna Taylor who is going out with local lawyer Paul played by some pleb. Like most teachers Anna is slightly unstable (I’m joking (or am I?)) and at dinner one night a row breaks out between her and the boyfriend just before he was going to propose. Anna rushes out into the dark and stormy night, sitting into her car and tearing off before he can stop her.
Anna then wakes up on the slab at the funeral home where she meets Deacon who’s getting ready to prepare her body for her funeral, scheduled in three days time. Anna points out that she’s not dead, what with the waking up and breathing and talking and all, but Deacon points out that every dead person that hits his table says the same thing and that she’s very dead after she crashed her car. Deacon goes on to explain that he has the rather unfortunate gift of being able to communicate with the recently deceased and so he tries to help them with the transition onto the next life. It turns out that most people, like Anna, cling to life and have to get some help otherwise they’ll never be ready and the transition will be extremely hard on them while those they leave behind will suffer too until the dead are laid to rest.
Anna calls bullshit on this line and comes to the conclusion that Deacon is a creepy murderer with a taste for burying people alive. Deacon spends the next three days trying to convince Anna to accept her fate as she’s most definitely a corpse and therefore bugger all can be done for her at this point. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Paul is badly upset by her untimely passing and all he wants to do is say his goodbyes to her privately. However, seeing as how he hadn’t got around to the actual proposal before Anna supposedly kicked the bucket he’s not technically family and so Deacon won’t let him have a private audience with her. Paul grows increasingly suspicious of Deacon and tries to get the help of the local police who are convinced he’s nothing more than a grieving boyfriend.
Following her “death”, one of Anna’s students, an eleven year old boy called Jack (haven’t a clue who played him, no-one famous anyway) begins to hang out at funerals, becoming fascinated with them as only a small boy can. Deacon befriends Jack and tells him about his gift for communicating with the dead, a gift he thinks Jack also possesses as Jack claims to have seen Anna stood at a window of the funeral home. Jack tells Paul of what he’s seen and this only further convinces Paul that Anna is still alive so, torn between his belief in her up-and-aboutedness and the progress of his grieving, he attempts to determine the truth just as the time comes for Anna’s funeral…
Playing Hide & Seek with Wednesday Addams was always going to end badly

After.Life is something of a horror and something of a thriller but it’s hard to figure out which it is and that’s the whole point of the film. After.Life is deliberately ambiguous as the audience are supposed to decide for themselves just what exactly the fuck is going on. The choices boil down to this: either Anna is dead and Deacon has a terrible gift that he tries to do his best with, or Anna is alive and Deacon is a serial killer burying people alive when he thinks they haven’t lived as full a life as they should have. After watching the film the choice is very much yours as there’s plenty of evidence both ways while logic (not something often present in Hollywood) gets in the way just to muddy the waters further.

If Anna is dead then did Deacon really give her drugs as part of the process of readying a body for burial? And how did that work – if you’re dead then there’s no circulation so how did intravenous drugs do anything without some sort of a pump? Why did he keep turning the temperature down in the mortuary? And why did Jack give his little clue (I won’t reveal what it was) as to what Deacon was up to?
If Anna is alive then how did she get to Deacon’s table? Was it really just a series of mistakes made by paramedics, doctors, and so on? If so, it must happen all the time and funeral directors everywhere must be encountering people (professionally) who aren’t dead all the time. If this is isolated to the town where Deacon operates then he must have a series of accomplices who provide victims or the local medical and law enforcement establishment must all be massively incompetent and Deacon is merely leveraging this for his twisted purposes. Also, if Anna is alive, why was she never hungry or thirsty, and while bodily functions are mentioned all the time, why does she never nip to the toilet?
I suspect that you’re not really meant to question Afer.Life too deeply as neither option really stands up to scrutiny and that’s what writer and director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo probably intended. The ambiguity present in After.Life is the main source of the enjoyment of the flick and in that regard it works well. The film is well paced and directed and there’s little to fault in its execution. The only real problem I saw with it was the casting.
Liam Neeson is a great actor. There’s nothing more to say about that so he’s free to go. The plebs who played the lawyer and the kid are off the hook too as they turned up and did what they were supposed to. However, Ms. Ricci…
When Christina Ricci burst onto the scene as Wednesday in The Addams Family she set the bar very high for herself at quite a young age. In that film she was perfectly cast as the sinister psychopathic child out to kill her brother with a series of deadly childhood games including the brilliantly titled “Is There a God?” featuring an electric chair. However, something bothered me about Ricci even back then and it was her looks, especially the poor girl’s forehead. What a vast amount of real estate she has between her eyes and her hairline. I thought she’d grow out of it or at least employ the aid of some sort of specialist barber who’d be able to cover the dreadful expanse with a wig or something.
Ricci is not a terribly bad looking woman, as can be seen in Sleepy Hollow where she tidied herself up a bit (probably because Johnny Depp is enough weird for one movie by himself without Ricci adding to things) but in After.Life she looked like death warmed up from the start of the film well before the dead or alive part begins. This helps the idea at the core of the film but her appearance is just too off-putting, made all the worse by the fact that she spends about a third of the film utterly naked. This isn’t me just being mean for the sake of it, Ricci’s look is heightened by the style of makeup used for After.Life and it just makes her look like the weird kid who over did the costume for Halloween as opposed to a young woman desperately trying to discover what plain of existence she’s currently on. I am forced to wonder what this film would have been like with someone else in the role of Anna. Considering the amount of nudity, preferably someone hot!
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for After.Life

Yes, there are links after death, here they are:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/After.Life
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0838247/

30 Days of Fright – 04: [REC]2

I read an article recently about Kevin Smith, the bloke behind such films as Dogma, Clerks, Mallrats, and Jersey Girl. In the article it stated that Smith was pulling away from making movies within the studio system, the inference being that he’d go back to the small-scale indie style that made him such as success in the first place. Smith said he liked doing things that way as kids who see those movies are encouraged to try making their own films with their friends as it all feels like something anyone could do and be successful at. Once you add in some big name actors or other expensive element it makes movie-making feel like the domain of only those with the money to pay for it. I wonder then if, in addition to the perceived “realism”, there’s something to be said for the first-person, shot on a video camera and recovered later, style of film made famous by the likes of Blair Witch that might actually redeem that shitty style of film? With the exception of Cloverfield and one or two others, this style produces films that anyone could take a crack at themselves.

It would be nice if there was an upside to this type of movie as it’s a shit excuse for getting material on screen.
 This type of movie makes me as angry as this dude
(and I don’t care if the picture has copyright, I nicked it, and I’d do it again!)
Picking up the action from the closing moments of the first movie, the action in [REC]2 switches from inside the apartment building in Barcelona where the zombie outbreak is taking place to the emergency services responding to the crisis, in particular a SWAT team en route to kick some ass or whatever it is SWAT teams do nowadays. The boys are tooled up for some serious trouble and are packing assault weapons, a battering ram, and the ever-popular pump action shotgun. Each of the SWAT team are sporting the latest in miniature video cameras attached to their helmets and one of the crew has a broadcast quality video camera with spotlight as they’ve been ordered to document their activities in the apartments.
Upon arrival the SWAT team are met by a bloke from the Ministry of Health called Owen who is to go in with them and is in charge. Due to the nature of the health risks associated with what’s going on inside, the building has been sealed in plastic and there’s an air-lock type entrance rigged up, everyone going in has to wear gas-masks, and only Owen can get them back out as he has a radio with voice recognition which is needed to get the doors open again.
Once inside Owen tells the lads that the masks were purely for show as the infection isn’t airborne. He goes on to explain that his mission is to get to the cause of the outbreak and gather a sample of some description. As the SWAT team move up through the building they encounter signs of a bloodbath everywhere but very little activity until they near the penthouse apartment and meet their first zombies. Once in the penthouse all hell breaks loose and SWAT team members are lost in an increasingly desperate fight against rampaging zombies. At this point Owen is forced to reveal that he’s not actually from the Ministry of Health but is in fact a Catholic Priest… and the zombies crawling all over the gaff aren’t suffering from some terrible disease at all, but are actually victims of something far more sinister…
 A la tuhuelpa legria macarena, Que tuhuelce paralla legria cosabuena, 
A la tuhuelpa legria macarena, Eeeh, macarena!

I enjoyed the first [REC], the quirky little indie horror film from Spain, so I was keen to see the follow-up if for no other reason than to find out how they justified another ninety minutes of raw-footage type film-making. The methods used to get away with this in [REC]2 show a depth not normally seen in a little sequel like this but more often feature in the types of movies where you’ve seen them all  before. The SWAT team with the helmet cams are a direct rip from Aliens, but thankfully this is acknowledged by the team leader having a dodgy camera (like Drake did in Aliens) and by one of the team keeping his shotgun close (like Hicks who kept his handy “for close encounters”). Making them bring a big-ass video camera around with them so they could document what goes down is a bit of stretch though especially as Owen flat out states that he and his lot would never let the truth of the outbreak get out.
What’s nice is that this excuse for footage only covers the first third or so of the film when suddenly it flips over to the recording from a video camera belonging to some teenagers who were in the middle of orchestrating a prank on the roof of the building opposite and who, thanks to their pesky curiosity, get mixed up in the zombie goings-on across the street. Their video only covers the next third where it again changes to the other video camera in the building… the one from the first film. Throughout these switches the timeline is preserved with only brief overlaps in the action to help the audience keep their bearings. For me, the first-person filming style is getting really old at this point and unfortunately [REC]2really overcooks certain pieces, like where the helmet cams record gunplay which looks so much like a video game that I’m forced to wonder if there’s a game tie-in somewhere out there. Other scenes then look so much like regular movie style action that it jars you out of the immersive experience the footage was meant to induce.
It is important to point out at this point that the way the movie is filmed is the only failing it has. [REC]2is excellent! When faced with the challenge of making a sequel to the first [REC] the two lads who returned to the Directors chairs from the first movie decided to dial everything up as far as they could and it worked a charm. The SWAT team angle, the nature of the outbreak, the truth behind the zombies, and the twists near the end are flat out genius. There are scenes where you want the action to take a sinister turn – and it does!!! Adults kill children, children kill adults, and zombies kill everyone regardless of age. There’s blood everywhere, a decent religious angle, guns, mayhem, and videotape.
The issues around subtitles in a fast paced film persist from the original but that just can’t be helped as anything is better than dubbing, except maybe a tiny little person in the corner of the screen doing sign-language; everyone hates that shit, even the deaf.

Two Thumbs Up for [REC]2

Aquí hay algunos enlaces de Internet para usted!:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REC_2
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1245112/

30 Days of Fright – 03: Deathwatch

The horror of war is a cliché that like most clichés, catchphrases, and stereotypes, has some basis in truth no matter how small. In the case of warfare there is no doubting just how horrific the experience is even for those who luckily have no direct exposure to such violence. Considering how awful the concept of war is it’s no surprise that there are so few actual horror films with a wartime setting. There’s no real need for them. Just make a regular war film and you have all the elements necessary – oftentimes including a supernatural disregard for life on behalf of most involved.

Deathwatch (2002) is set in the final part of World War 1 and tells of a squad of British soldiers getting ready to go “over the top” one night. The squad is under the direct command of a snooty officer and contains all the other usual suspects for a bunch of soldiers; there’s the gritty world-weary sergeant, the religious one, the smooth one, the psychotic one, and the young innocent one who happens to be the main character, and a few others to fill out the numbers. The young innocent one, Shakespeare (Jamie Bell from Billy Elliot), is only 16 and like so many eejits of his generation lied about his age so he could sign up with the notion of fighting for King and Country (whereas King and Country had the notion of slaughtering as many 16 – 30 year olds they could get their hands on). On the night in question young Shakespeare loses what little nerve he had and turns coward, unable to climb up the ladder into almost certain death (what a wuss) until his good old sarge promises to stick with him.
Once up and over the squad face into heavy fire from machine guns, motor explosions, and then the dreaded gas. Sometime later and after much confusion the squad find themselves roaming around in no-man’s land in a cloud of gas that mercifully turns out to only be fog. Wandering around aimlessly for a while they come across a German trench occupied by a handful of soldiers all apparently more afraid of something in the trench then they are of the British. Easily capturing the trench after murdering the surrendering soldiers the squad settle in to await rescue.
The lads quickly discover that all is not right in the trench, from the large number of dead bodies, to the radio that occasionally mistakenly reports the squads’ death and the strange feelings of rage and paranoia that grip the men. A surviving German soldier is discovered and he reveals that similar trouble befell his men too and that eventually the squad will all turn on themselves to the point of killing each other to prevent anyone ever leaving the trench…
World War One came to an end once both sides realised it was quicker to just shoot 50,000 of their own men every day*
Like I said, I think the reason no one bothers with a horror film set during a war is that war is so bad already there’s no way you can really make it any more horrific then it already is. Deathwatch tries and falls flat. Not only is the film cursed with all the difficulties of making a horror but it also had to contend with trying to make a war movie at the same time, and as any military strategist will tell you, you should never try to fight on two fronts at the same time unless you’re very, very sure of what you’re doing.
Firstly the war film problems: Anytime you make a film about a bunch of men fighting together on the same side you run into severe character development problems because when you want to use an ensemble cast in a film you need to find ways for the audience to easily tell people apart and then to relate to those people. Deathwatch cracks out all the old tricks to try to accomplish this, using the opening scene to show each man displaying his particular character trait – the smooth one combing his hair as bombs drop, the religious one having a good old pray, the innocent one being scared, and the psycho one being a psycho (what else could he do?). Each of these lads are all in the same basic uniform but each has added his own little twist like the tartan on the Scottish lad to the weird barbarian style waistcoat the nutter prefers. But, once the action kicks off, you’ll be lucky to keep track of one or two out of the whole bunch. When things get quiet again you can pick them apart but you’re so busy doing that that you miss what’s going on.
The issues with ensemble casts in uniform are so great and dealt with in such an unsophisticated manner in Deathwatch that you see the inevitable end coming a mile away as those you had trouble following (and really didn’t give a shit about) are killed off one by one.
As for the horror problems there are two biggies worth mentioning and they’re among the worst failings of horror films. Firstly, it’s very hard to determine what the hell is meant to be happening. The lads are in a creepy trench. It’s weird in the trench and there are scary noises. The boys turn on each other. Um, the end! What the fuck? What was the point? That’s worse than an episode of Lost! Deathwatch fails the fundamental test of any film, it’s impossible to retell the whole story as I just don’t know what happened. I guess that the film-makers wanted to leave as much up to the audience as possible but by the end of the film all you’ve seen is some soldiers killed with little in the line of reason behind it. As a metaphor for war it’s not bad, but as a horror film it’s shite.
The second horror failing however is the unforgivable sin of not making the film scary. Deathwatch is eerie which is not something you see too often but it’s not frightening at all. At points it’s cool and at other times gross (there’s one brilliant effect where an injured man has been attacked by rats) but there are too many times where it’s confusing or silly. It’s never scary and you never fear for anyone in the film, most of the time you’re glad when someone gets killed, which makes you no better than every other warmonger out there.
Two Thumbs Down for Deathwatch
*I nicked that joke from Blackadder – someone who knew a truckload about World War One

30 Days of Fright – 02: Halloween II (2009)

Horror is a funny old business. Setting out to make a career in this particular genre requires a certain mindset. No matter the media, be it books, comics, music, TV, or cinema, when you decide that horror is for you then you just have to accept a few fundamental truths. You will wear a lot of black. You will start talking in an overly dramatic fashion and say the word “Greetings” instead of “Hello”. You will get funny looks from people in the street, especially small children and elderly women. You might get a tattoo. Of a bat.

There are some obvious and famous folk who have made successful careers from Horror. Stephen King, Ozzy Ozbourne, Garth Marenghi, Dani Flith, and the musician and director of last nights film, Rob Zombie – a man so dedicated to horror that he changed his name to Zombie, for crying out loud.

Picking up the story immediately after the events of the 2007 film, Halloween II opens with the sheriff of Haddonfield finding young Laurie Strode walking along in the rain, clutching a gun, drenched in blood, badly injured and severely traumatised. The action moves along as expected, following the police response to Michael Myers murdering rampage including the collection of the bodies and Laurie’s emergency treatment at the hospital where she undergoes surgery for her wounds. As she sleeps off the anaesthetic a rather improbable accident befalls the van transporting Myers body and it’s revealed that he’s not as dead as was thought.
One year later we discover that Lauire isn’t doing very well. She’s living with the sheriff and his daughter (who had also been badly hurt by Myers) and is somewhat off the rails and undergoing therapy to help her deal with the previous October, especially the deaths of her parents. Meanwhile, Loomis the doctor who had been working the Michael Myers case, is on tour for his latest book about Myers and his family and is coming to Haddonfield for Halloween in order to help the promotion of the book, regardless of the objections of the families involved.
Despite everything Laurie had been through she remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that she’s Myers sister until Loomis’ book spills the beans further traumatising her, just as a large stranger bearing a striking resemblance to her dear brother approaches Haddonfield just in time for the 31st.
I gave you blood, blood, gallons of the stuff, I gave you all that you could drink and it has never been enough…
Sequels to remakes can work as was seen with the follow-up to the reworked Texas Chainsaw Massacre; in the case of Halloween II the film doesn’t quite click as a sequel even though it does everything a sequel should, it continues the story and answers the questions concerning what happened after the events of the first film. Where Halloween II slips in this regard is that even though Rob Zombie directed both films there is a marked difference in style between the two outings.
In the first Zombie Halloween (now there’s a great name for a film!) Rob managed to contain his usual stylistic leanings and made a really good but understated film. In Halloween II he let rip and seems to have approached the making of the movie in the same way as he makes albums or tours, where every woman on screen is covered in tattoos, there’s a grungy graffiti look to every building and the cutting edge of fashion is what punks were wearing in 1975. This works really well in only one scene in the film, the Halloween party, where it all fits and feels OK. The rest of the time it only serves to make the people you should be cheering for incredibly unlikeable.
Zombie’s style is the root of the major problems with Halloween II. Laurie’s character has gone through an awful lot and it’s easy to see how she’d stray from the path she was on at the start of the first film, but in changing her from the sweet kid she was to the hard-rocking messed up chick she is in the follow-up makes her hard to like as a person. The same goes for her friends too as they’re all cut from roughly the same cloth; all except one girl who appears to have been done up to resemble Laurie from the first film and is therefore the only one the audience can appreciate.
In dealing with the character of Myers himself, Zombie’s first film delved into the background of the character and the motivations for and slide into proper psychopathy. This made Myers a more interesting and believable character then he perhaps deserves and it also set the bar very high for his further development and story. In this film a more supernatural side to Michael has been introduced, starting off with what appear to be visions of his mother and his own younger self that eventually graduate up to the level of ghosts that haunt him and encourage his pursuit of mayhem.
The visions only serve to get in the way and don’t add much at all. As a slasher flick no motivations are needed beyond “he’s a nutter” and having a supernatural slant only makes the whole thing unbelievable and therefore much less scary. If Myers is just a fruitloop who works out a lot then what he gets up to could happen anywhere, even where you live. But if his is a ghost story then we’re safe if we don’t believe in such things.
On the up side, Weird Al makes a cameo appearance as himself and asks the question everybody asks of the Halloween movies, that is, are we talking about the Austin Powers Mike Myers here? (I made that joke back in 2009 too – so Weird Al is a thieving gypsy!).
I came away from Halloween II planning to give it a low score, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. As bad and all as this film is, it’s strangely haunting. All day today the visuals, particularly the visions Myers experiences and the off-kilter night club scene,  have been stuck in my head and there’s something to be said for that. Rob Zombie has managed to really muck up the Halloween franchise with this film but it firmly stands as a triumph of style. Shame there wasn’t more substance.
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Halloween II (2009)
Has your big brother flipped out and tried to kill you and all your friends? Click the links for help!

30 Days of Fright – 01: Candyman

Once upon a time I was a city dweller. I grew up in a major metropolis that can sometimes be beautiful and sometimes brutal. In the modern urban jungle man has adapted his ways to suit his environment, but man is a creature of habit and one of those long established habits is the use of stories to pass along history and to teach acceptable behaviours, hence the urban myth.

Candyman (1992) stars Virgina Madsen as Helen Lyle, a researcher at a university in Chicago who is writing a thesis on urban myths with her friend Bernadette. During the course of her research she encounters the myth of Candyman to whom some local murders have been attributed. The Candyman story is concentrated on a parcel of land that had been developed into a housing project. In the late 1800’s, while the area was still farms and plantations, a young black man had been brutally murdered after knocking up a local white chick. Now, according to the myth, it’s possible to summon the vengeful spirit of Candyman by saying his name five times into a mirror.

Helen digs into the story when she discovers that, unlike the usual urban myths that all seem to be removed from the person who tells them (in a “it happened to a friend of my sisters room-mates cousins barber” type way) this legend has some verifiable facts as do the murders that have been blamed on it. Venturing into the gang-controlled projects Helen meets with the neighbour of a murder-victim who firmly believes that Candyman is the killer.

Things turn sour for Helen when she runs afoul of a local gang-banger who’s been using the name Candyman to instil fear in the locals. Thinking that that was all there was to the story Helen gets the shock of her life when she is stalked by a tall man with a distinctive voice and a hook for a hand who demands that Helen believe in him and who sets about destroying her life by framing her for a series of crimes and getting her locked away in the local asylum. Helen slowly realises that perhaps she shouldn’t have said Candyman five times when in front of her mirror, not even for a joke…

A vicious murderer with a distinctive voice – Candyman!

Bitch, what?!?

Candyman is a flick I hadn’t seen in years, and as distanced as I was from the film it was easy to get hung up on the saying his name in the mirror idea which is just a re-work of the Bloody Mary myth. However, imagine my surprise when I watched Candyman last night and it dawned on me that this is a brilliant movie!

This is a film where everything works as it should. The music by Philip Glass sets each scene perfectly, the casting choices were inspired, the setting was ideally modern and creepy, and the story by Clive Barker is solid. Virginia Madsen is great as Helen and she carries her scenes well, but she is utterly upstaged by Tony Todd who plays Candyman himself. Todd is a very tall man and is able therefore to be imposing and scary, but add in the amazing deep voice he carries around with him and you’re onto a total winner with him as a baddie from beyond the grave. Cut off his arm and stick a hook into the stump and you’re in Oscar territory!

The gore and horror that’s present in the film are understated considering that Candyman is very firmly a slasher movie though more time is given over to the urban myth aspect then the cutting people up with hooks aspect. The urban myth hadn’t really been tapped for too many films when Candyman hit the theatres so it was a refreshing way of conjuring up a villain to go an a killing spree in the windy city, it also meant that more thought went into the film-making as they didn’t want to screw up the opportunity of making a mark with urban legends. There are some very clever touches in Candyman, especially the racial and social commentary that’s present in every discussion of housing projects, though also in the little touches like the baby licking Candyman’s finger (it would have tasted of honey as he’d been covered in the stuff as he was tortured to death).

Sadly though the familiarity of the method for getting Candyman to appear, that is to say his name into the mirror five times, is a direct lift from Bloody Mary and it’s a legend that is too familiar to be overwritten by an unknown like Candyman, every time someone says “Candyman” into a mirror a voice in your head corrects them to “Bloody Mary”. This is really the films only failing but mercifully it doesn’t get in the way too much and never robs from the enjoyment. So when you get a chance, find yourself a decent sized mirror, dim the lights, and stick on a Christina Aguilera CD and let the dozy cow say his name five times!

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Candyman.

He’s a one stop shop, makes my panties drop, He’s a sweet talkin’ sugar coated Candyman…. wait, what? Here are some links:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candyman_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103919/

30 Days of Fright – Prologue

The final days of September 2011 were, in Ireland and the UK, unseasonally warm with the all too short days sunny and hot. This unusual weather is far from what we’re used to but no one missed the chance at some point to enjoy the heat, if only for a little while. The first of October has arrived and brought with it the wet and grey conditions we’re far more accustomed to. Looking back over the past week it feels like summer had one last dying gasp and that October has turned up in its funeral clothes to mourn the seasons loss and trumpet the impending winter. In a matter of hours thoughts that were sunny  and bright have turned to darkness.

The darkness of a winter in the northern hemisphere is welcome as it brings the chance to sit by the fire and enjoy hearty foods and strong drink to fortify against the cold gloom. It also brings the quiet fear of what may lurk in those long nights and that makes it the perfect time to play to those fears and enjoy a series of horror films that can only make matters worse!

My annual quest to bleat on about films most people don’t care about in a funny manner has morphed from an interesting distraction in the weeks before Halloween into a full-blown crusade to bring the true value of these films to the masses in a funny manner. I’m also keen to find out how long I can keep this type of bullshit going for!

Like the very best self-imposed nonsense a small collection of rules and procedures have sprung up around the 30 Days of Fright, and these rules are once again unchanged. I’ve assembled a small collection of DVD’s and recordings off the TV and compiled a list of films to be viewed and reviewed. Should something interesting cross my path then it’ll get snuck in, especially if someone makes a suggestion or request for a particular film to get the treatment.

The previous years reviews are available for your consideration here: 2008, here: 2009, and here: 2010 and hopefully like the first three years you’ll find year four to be entertaining, a bit of a laugh, and maybe just maybe a little bit interesting.

The scoring system is the same as it ever was, with each film rated on it’s merits and assigned a final score on my rather unusual thumb-based scale:

Two Thumbs Firmly Down = One of the worst films ever, never mention this film to anyone nevermind actually watching it!

Two Thumbs Down = A crap fest

One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down = Meh, don’t go out of your way for it but don’t try to avoid it either

Two Thumbs Up = A brilliant movie, well worth a look

Two Thumbs Firmly Up = A must see, a trully excellent motion picture you should make it your business to see as soon as you can

There is another score that is only used in the most extreme of cases: No Thumbs = no rating as the film is beneath contempt due to the handling of its subject matter – when you consider that these are horror films then that’s a pretty extreme rating to get and has so far, only been applied to one nasty little film.

Now the fun starts as the first film gets its showing tonight… let the 30 Days of Fright begin!