30 Days of Fright – 30: The Exorcist 3

I am often asked about what horror films I’ve seen that are good and scary. There are a few that have been spooky enough to give me chills and there’s the one or two films I always recommend when someone wants to sit in and get frightened by a film, but in reality, as an adult who is now seriously desensitised to most of the material in a common-or-garden horror film, it is rare for me to see a film that I’d call honestly scary. This was not always the case. When younger I was frightened by all sorts of films from actual horror like Poltergeist to (allegedly) comedies like Ghostbusters; there are loads of films that have scenes that put the shits up me rightly. But there has always been one film lurking in the shadows that, when I first saw it aged about 14 or so, terrified me.

Continuing the story fifteen years after the events in The Exorcist and wisely ignoring that The Exorcist 2 ever happened, The Exorcist 3 (1990) returns to Georgetown in Washington DC where a string of unusual murders take place, each with a religious aspect. The first victim is a young boy who’s been drugged, crucified, decapitated, and had his head replaced with one from a statue. The lead investigator on the case is Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott, who we saw recently in another horror film), the same copper who investigated the death of the film director in the first film and who had befriended Fr. Karras before his untimely end.

The anniversary of the death of Fr. Karras is always a sad time for Kinderman as well as for a friend of his, Fr. Dyer, who also knew Karras well. The two lads always go to the cinema to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the anniversary in order to cheer each other up. Whatever cheer Kinderman has is quickly gone though as another religious murder occurs, this time a priest in a confessional, and things go from bad to worse when the crime lab reports that there are a different set of fingerprints at the second crime scene from those found at the first, indicating more than one killer.

Kinderman notices details from each murder that are the same as the MO of a serial killer known as the Gemini who died fifteen years previously. Details of the Gemini’s killings had never been fully revealed to the press in order to make it easier to tell nutters who claimed to be the murderer apart from the real thing, so the chances of a copycat being at work are slim.

Fr. Dyer is admitted to hospital for “tests” and quickly becomes victim number three with another of the Gemini’s calling cards left at the scene. Kinderman talks to the head of the psychiatric ward who informs him of one of the long-term patients who is kept in secure isolation. Admitted to the hospital fifteen years before suffering from severe amnesia he slipped into a catatonic state and stayed that way until he recently became violent and started making outrageous claims. Kinderman pays a visit to the looney in cell 11 and is shocked by how, every now and then, in a certain light, the man who’s now claiming to be the Gemini killer looks just like the long-dead Fr. Karras…

Oooh, I’m real evil and there’s nowt you can do about it!!!
Lemme tell ya what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna cut yo willy off!
You haven’t got a scissors big enough, LOL!

If there’s something you treasure from when you were younger like a film or TV show then please, please, do not watch it again as an adult because very few things will live up to our memories of them. When sitting down to watch Exorcist 3 for the first time since 1991 I felt more than a little trepidation as it had so effectively frightened me when I was a kid. I was looking forward to the parts that had worked their magic so well all those years ago. And I was crushed by my disappointment, because Exorcist 3 is rubbish!!!!!

Allow me to explain. When I was 14, I and a group of other young lads were staying over at a friends house and, as is the custom, a series of action and horror films were watched while pizza was consumed. The last film of about four or five that night was The Exorcist 3 and I was the only one left awake to watch it, alone in the dark if you will. Exorcist 3 is infamous in horror circles for one scene, the scene in the hospital where… actually, never mind, here’s the video:

This bit comes out of nowhere and scared the fucking bejeezus out of me (aged 14, in the dark, alone, 3 or 4 in the morning, just to put that in context). There was no crying or wailing, no shouting or pleading for help, no running into another room, in fact I didn’t even stop the movie. I didn’t fucking sleep either! The scene where the figure in white chases after the nurse in Exorcist 3 was, until last night, the most frightening scene in a film I had ever seen. But, probably because of the terrror, I had remembered it slightly differently, so in my mind it was a headless statue that chased the nurse, which is much more scary then a gobshite in a sheet chasing after a nurse. So now, the power of Exorcist 3 is destroyed and so is my love of the film, which it didn’t really deserve in the end.

The first two sequels to The Exorcist have a bit of a twisted history to them with the list of people wanting to be associated with them far shorter then the list of people who ran a mile when asked if they were interested. Exorcist 2 is an utter disaster, cobbled together from bits of footage left over from the first film it makes no sense and had to be ignored by everyone after it came out. Exorcist 3 had a better chance, in that the original director was brought back as was the author of the original book, William Peter Blatty. However, things fell apart pretty quickly when the director did a runner leaving Blatty to do everything. Once he’d filmed his “masterpiece” the studio got their hooks into it and tacked on a new ending so as to justify calling it an Exorcist movie (Blatty had rather annoyingly left out an actual exorcism in his version).

So, once again the resulting film was a bit of a mess filled with unusual dream sequences that don’t explain anything but only confuse instead. The director Robert Roderiegez once said that if you need to pad out a film that’s too short then just add in a few dream sequences and that certainly seems to have happened here. As well as dream sequences, there’s a fair bit of retconning going on in Exorcist 3 and the backstory has been changed to accommodate things like how Kinderman and Karras were supposedly really close which is not something you saw in the original Exorcist.

Exorcist 3 is definitely better then the second film but it still treats people who have seen the first one very badly. I’m glad I knew the version of this film that played in my head for twenty years as it was an incredibly frightening film, it’s such a shame that the real thing is so poor.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Exorcist 3.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcist_III
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099528/

30 Days of Fright – 29: The Devil Inside

Ever since the heyday of creepy films with priests in them in the early seventies, Hollywood and everyone else in the film business, have been trying to recapture the menace and genuine fear that a good dose of religion can bring to a story. This is no easy task as the world has changed a lot since then and for many organised religion is not the big part of their lives it once was. Films are different too, not as gritty or harsh and, mostly, not as good.

The Devil Inside (2012) starts off in 1989 with a mix of TV reports and videotaped police crime scene footage showing the details of the murder of three people at the hands of Maria Rossi as an exorcism was being performed on her. Through more TV reports we are shown that Maria was found to be mad and ended up committed to an asylum.

Now, after learning about her mother and the murders from her father before his death,  Maria’s daughter Isabella is making a documentary about her dear old mum and the practice of exorcisms. Maria has been transferred from the US to a psychiatric hospital in Rome, near the Vatican. Travelling to Rome, Isabella hopes to find out more about exorcism from the high-ups in the Church as well as reuniting with her mammy.

In Rome, Isabella visits a school for exorcists where clergy and civilians can go to learn the theory of casting out demons. Through the school she meets a couple of young priests who are well into the whole thing as well as some laypeople who are a little more sceptical.The priests bring Isabella along to see an exorcism first hand in an effort to convince her that exorcisms are real and necessary. From there she goes to the hospital where she spends some quality time with her raving lunatic of a mother. Maria is not a shining example of the effectiveness of the Italian mental health system as she sits in her room all day and divides her time between drawing unusual pictures and cutting inverted crosses into her flesh. Her only other hobbies are shouting anti-religious obscenities at hospital staff and violent outbursts.

Isabella’s meeting with Maria goes as well as you’d expect, with Maria, in her mental way, giving out to Isabella for having an abortion when she’s not busy talking in unusual accents or screaming her head off. Isabella is initially upset by the visit but later realises that there was no way her mum could have known about the abortion as she’d had it some years previously and told no-one. She goes to see the two priests from the exorcist school and shows them the video of her visiting her ma. They quickly decide to pay a call on Maria in the hospital as they believe that she is still possessed by whatever entity the exorcism in ’89 was trying to drive out. The lads are well intentioned but out of their depth and while trying to cast out whatever is troubling Maria they unleash something terrifying…

Maria’s un-necessarily tight trousers give her terrible backdraft problems after a rotten kabab
Even a person as well known for their hatred of found footage/first person shooter style films like me can see why they lend themselves to stories about exorcism. If I were ever in a situation where an exorcism was likely to be taking place near me, I would grab a video camera before things got rolling just in case Satan himself should pop out of the victims mouth and run around the place. That’s the kind of thing that would get you a few hits on You Tube!

Understanding the appeal of such films however does in no way what so ever justify this shitty, lazy approach to movie making and it makes it hard to appreciate the story for what it is when so much hangs on the visual style. Hard, but not impossible, for after watching The Devil Inside, I feel that I can appreciate it for exactly what it is: a large piece of shit left inside your favourite pair of boots that you didn’t notice until it was too late.

The Devil Inside might have been a half-decent short film. If it was only ten minutes long and told the story it did it could have been an enjoyable little thing and people would love it. As a full-length feature film it’s about eighty minutes too long. Once the opening scenes have been and gone, where you see the original murders and you hear the details of the exorcism being performed on Maria Rossi, then there is no need to see the rest of the film as you know what’s going to happen, the only twist is how (and why) to move the action to Italy (though no good reason is ever given for the Roman holiday).

Isabella’s quest to understand her mother is an admirable one but you know, you just fucking know, that the woman is possessed by demons and that any hint of mental illness is a red herring. In one scene there’s a discussion of the mechanics of exorcisms and the concept of demons leaping from one person to another is mentioned so you know, you just fucking know, that the demon will jump from Maria to pretty much everyone else. Armed with these details you actually know more then the makers of the film did, because anyone with any imagination could figure out how the film was going to end, anyone that is, except the people who actually made The Devil Inside.

It’s not unfair to say that The Devil Inside has one of, if not the, worst ending to a film I have ever seen. I won’t spoil the ending by giving away what happened because I haven’t a clue what happened, the film just ends and you are prompted to visit a website to discover more details. I’m not kidding, you’re honestly told to go to a fucking website! I actually did and was surprised to find a website as shit as the film it’s related to, which is saying something!

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Devil Inside.

Possession is nine Links of the law:
Official Site: http://www.devilinsidemovie.com/
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1560985/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_Inside_%28film%29

30 Days of Fright – 28: The Last Exorcism

There are supposedly several professions that, due to the nature of the work involved or the typical lifestyles of the people who do those jobs, are forced to pay more for insurance than other professions. So, fighter pilots tend to pay more than horologists (for those of you who are right now asking themselves “what’s a horologist?” it’s a watchmaker, get a fucking education!) as they are perhaps more likely to speed when driving; lawyers pay more than carpenters as they tend to be pissheads; and dentists pay more then everyone else as dentists tend to be more suicidal. What I find surprising about the whole insurance thing when it comes to jobs is that cameramen can get insured at all, considering how many of them get into trouble when making shows for the History Channel or Discovery Science.

Presented as a documentary, The Last Exorcism (2010) follows Reverend Cotton Marcus as he works with a film crew to expose one of the nasty swindles being perpetrated by various churches in the deep south of the United States. Marcus himself is a preacher and exorcist but has always known that the exorcism business was a con. His conscience got the better of him one day after he read an article about a child suffering from autism who had died while undergoing an exorcism and so he decided to expose the fraud of that practice through the medium of film.

As a well known exorcist (with a website) Marcus often gets requests for assistance from those who believe a family member has been possessed. He takes a random request and decides to follow up on it, with the film crew in tow.

Travelling to a very rural part of Louisiana, Rev. Marcus meets widowed farmer Louis Sweetzer whose daughter Nell has allegedly been bothering some of the animals at night (by “bothering” what I mean is she’s been going out and slaughtering them in the most horrific manner possible and leaving their guts spread about the place) while supposedly possessed by some demon. Nell is a strange child and incredibly naive for a girl of sixteen, almost certainly as a result of her father’s insistence that she be home-schooled and not venture too far from the farm since the death of her mother.

Using his arsenal of gadgets and tricks Marcus goes through the motions of the exorcism, claiming that Nell had been possessed by a nasty demon that was having it’s wicked way with her. With the exorcism over and Sweetzer happy, Marcus takes his fee and heads to a motel for the evening. That night he is shocked to find Nell in his motel room in some distress. He and the camera crew take her to the hospital but nothing is found to be wrong with her.

Marcus pays a visit to the church where the Sweetzers used to go and meets with Pastor Manley in an effort to find out more about the family and what might really be going on with them, though as the Sweetzers haven’t been in contact with the church for some years, Manley can tell him very little.

Once Nell gets home she attacks her brother with a knife forcing her Dad to take him to the hospital. Marcus and the crew stay with her at the farm in order to have a bit of a poke around, just as a very disturbed Nell turns extremely violent towards them…

Rev. Marcus gets his new bed delivered and finds that it came with a free girl – hallelujah!

The Last Exorcism is a found footage film, though this time the footage wasn’t from some teenagers camcorder but an actual documentary was supposedly being produced. The film that you watch is the footage edited together into the beginnings of that documentary. The thing is, the early part of the film has a proper documentary feel to it with people’s names flashed up on screen as they first appear, but as the film goes along, the documentary feeling is lost and what you’re left with is more like found footage, in that it’s as if it came straight out of the camera.

I give the film makers credit for going down the documentary route in the way they did, as Rev. Marcus motivations for getting involved are believable and the visual style of the first half of The Last Exorcism is very much like something you’d see on the Discovery Channel, but the second act, where all the juicy stuff is, goes off the rails a little in order to justify that juicy stuff getting onto the screen.

The premise of the story is an enticing hook, getting into how a disillusioned clergyman wants to expose the fraud he has been a part of for so many years. Once Rev. Marcus explains his position on exorcisms and how they’re all nonsense used to defraud the gullible, from the start you know without a shadow of a doubt that, in this movie anyway, exorcisms are absolutely necessary and something terrible is going to happen.

Rev. Marcus’s journey through the film is better then most of the characters in a film like this. He’s initially presented as a hero, someone exposing the way some religious types take advantage of their congregations – keep an eye out for the scene where he preaches the recipe for banana bread and gets an “Amen” on cue anyway. How he is perceived changes though when he performs the “exorcism” and reveals all the tricks of the trade. This puts him in a different light and he’s shown for the con-man he really is. The father who asked for Marcus’s help, Louis Sweetzer, becomes the sympathetic character as he’s a true believer who’s being taken advantage of. What makes matters much worse is that there is obviously something wrong with Nell Sweetzer and Marcus’ cavalier attitude to what he’s doing at this point is endangering her. As the final act approaches Marcus moves back into the hero role as he finally shows genuine concern for Nell and, through his acts and deeds, behaves like the man of God he’s always claimed to be.

For a change, some thought seems to have genuinely gone into how to motivate the main character to do what he does. In so many films you find yourself wondering why the hell the protagonist is getting up to the things they do while in The Last Exorcism it’s Rev. Marcus’ concern for the girl Nell that prompts him to stick around long after most people (social services included) would have said “fuck it” and gone home. 

As a character study of Rev. Marcus, The Last Exorcism works well, but the other main character, Nell is a different matter. As the shut-in sixteen year old girl with some serious baggage, the way she is portrayed is hard to watch and while the questions of mental illness that surround her make her a character you want to feel sorry for, for some reason you just don’t. I’m not sure if the performance from Ashley Bell or if the direction or writing is at fault, but I didn’t care for or about her.

The deep south setting for The Last Exorcism is excellent, with the mix of rural isolation, heat, and strong religion all adding to the atmosphere. The ending is brilliant but if anything it maybe too subtle and it plays out a little too quickly so if you blink you could miss it, making it worth while to take a second look at the last ten minutes or so.

The Last Exorcism is a decent film but is hampered by the found footage style chosen for it and as a regular movie it could have been great. As it is, The Last Exorcism is good, just not good enough.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Last Exorcism.

The Links Exorcism:
Official Site: http://www.thelastexorcism.com/index.html
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1320244/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Exorcism

30 Days of Fright – 27: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Throughout history mental illness has been misdiagnosed as demonic possession which has led to severe and tragic consequences for so many of the victims.Over the centuries, as medical science advanced and a greater knowledge and understanding of psychiatric and psychological issues became commonplace, the need for exorcisms decreased and now the only encounter most people have with the practice is through films and TV. Which is terrible really, I mean, while everyone’s been out chasing after the nutters and fruitcakes and worrying about their “feelings” and “civil rights” no one has spared a thought for the poor old exorcists now out of a job. It’s not as if they could transfer their skills to another industry either…

One Big Mac meal with a strawberry milkshake and an apple pie – I’ve purged the pie of demons but it’s still as hot as Hell so please be careful. Enjoy your meal!

Claiming to be based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) quietly opens with a medical examiner paying a visit to a simple family (bumpkins) out in the country. One of the daughters has died and the  medical examiner states that he doesn’t believe it was natural causes. A priest, Fr. Richard Moore is present in the house as is a cop who arrests the priest for negligent homicide.

Fr. Moore’s case is assigned a prosecutor, a religious man called Ethan Thomas who will prosecute with impartiality, and the diocese hires a bad-ass criminal defence lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who claims no religious beliefs at all. As the trial begins it is revealed that Fr. Moore was performing an exorcism on the girl who died, the Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) of the film’s title.

From then on the story of what happened to Emily is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the progression of the trial. With the trial under way we see how Emily left the simple life behind her and went of to university to study to become a teacher. While away at college, Emily had begun to experience a series of terrifying episodes that appear to be the result of demonic possession. Witnesses are called by both sides that offer testimony that sometimes corroborate the possession story or counter with medical evidence that Emily was actually suffering from a severe form of epilepsy or psychosis.

Fr. Moore is convinced that Emily was possessed and that the exorcism was the right course of action despite the tragic outcome and all he wants is to be able to tell Emily’s story from the stand in the courtroom. However, the trial does not go well and Fr. Moore seems destined to loose, just as he warns his lawyer that there are dark forces at work around the trial and that everyone involved is in grave danger…

Unable to find a blanket to hide under, Emily tries the “Na, na, na, I can’t hear you” approach to combating demons

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a fascinating blend of courtroom drama and horror that manages to hook the viewer in the way that a really good episode of Law and Order used to be able to. The courtroom drama is something so commonplace on TV that everyone is familiar with it so Emily Rose is grounded in comfortable territory from the start. The court setting also provides a nice “good versus evil” plot that cleverly reflects the allegedly demonic battle between the same forces ranging in and around young Miss Rose.

The details of the possession rip you out of the comfortable court and manage to unsettle the viewer well with the supernatural scenes offering some nice little frights, like the demons Emily sees everywhere, or the bit where she’s contorted on the floor in an inhuman pose.The scene where she is bouncing up and down from kneeling to standing and back again over and over is frankly fucking creepy.

Overall, the possession scenes are well handled with the effects subtle and unnerving.There are some clues in the film, like how it’s raining in certain scenes like the many of the flashbacks that lead me to believe that there’s more to The Exorcism of Emily Rose than is immediately apparent on a casual viewing, though I think I’ll leave a more in-depth analysis to someone with more time for such things like a film student or other shiftless layabout.

The big set piece of Emily Rose is the exorcism itself, which surprisingly takes place about three quarters of the way through the film. The scene unfolds well and had the potential to be frightening enough but lacks the punch needed to really make the audience feel scared; it’s almost as if the director held back when he really needed to press on. Unfortunately, when the script for the exorcism scene was being written the writer didn’t hold back and had poor old Emily possessed with not one demon or spirit but with loads of the buggers which claim they were each responsible for the actions of various evil people throughout history, a concept I quite liked. The problem was in claiming that one of the demons was actually Lucifer himself, which was a bit much.

The other thing that was a bit much for The Exorcism of Emily Rose was Tom Wilkinson as the priest Fr. Moore. Wilkinson is known for his performances in Batman Begins, The Kennedys, and most notably in Michael Clayton, and he’s the kind of actor who just can’t help himself when he makes a film but always does his very best with the material. He’s just a little too good in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and he just dominates every scene he is in, showing up everyone else in the process.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

I have exorcised the Links:
Details of the True Story: http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/emilyrose.php
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0404032/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcism_of_Emily_Rose

30 Days of Fright – 26: Psycho

When I was a child I thought as a child, I acted as a child, I spoke as a child, as the biblical quote tells us. This I think is probably true of most people who go through a childhood, with the exception of those weird kids who seem to be born with the mentality of a forty-year old. You may have noticed that I left out the second part of the verse, the bit about putting away childish things, as quite frankly I think the subject of some people’s ability to grow up is a debate best left for another day (and I’m not keen on drawing too much attention to myself on that one). Looking back at when I was a nipper I often think about extremes of emotion; times when I was particularly happy or particularly sad, or especially in the case of writing about horror as I sometimes do, times when I was afraid.

There were few films or TV programs that I remember frightening me significantly when I was much younger but that doesn’t mean that there were none at all. One particular episode of one particular TV program sticks in my head as giving me a fright when I was a little tot, and that was a disturbing episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This show, presented by the famously odd, rotund director of hit movies like The Birds, North by Northwest, and of course Psycho, featured a new story each week that had a nasty twist at the end. Today, nearly thirty years later, I have a vivid memory of the closing scenes of this one particular episode and how it freaked me out. I didn’t scream or cry or anything gay like that, but I did run out to the kitchen to my mother for a little reassurance, and I think maybe a biscuit.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was developed based on Hitchcock’s reputation as a successful director of unusual and macabre films. A few years ago I got an opportunity to watch Rear Window and found that I really enjoyed it and, for the first time since that fateful episode of his TV show, I was able to appreciate the true mastery of his art that Hitchcock possessed. However, despite my newfound enjoyment of a Hitchcock film, and despite the numerous Oscars won and nominated for, and despite his cool, creepy voice and mannerisms, and despite the cinematic and cultural boundaries he redefined, to me Alfred Hitchcock always has been, and always will be, nothing only a fat fuck!*
 Alfred Hitchcock: Oscar Winning Director and Corpulent Son of a Bitch
Modern audiences may think they know controversy in the picture house, but there’s very little out today that divided cinema-goers the way Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) did. Starting off on a lazy December Friday afternoon in Arizona, we meet Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who’s just enjoyed a lunchtime rendezvous with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Loomis is a bit down on his luck as he’s going through the financial struggles that come with being on the losing side of a divorce settlement. Marion isn’t completely happy with their sordid arrangement and craves the respectability associated with being a married woman (times being radically different in 1960).
Returning to work at a local estate agent, Marion is forced to endure the double-whammy of her annoying fellow secretary who bangs on about how great it is to be married, as well as the unwanted advances of a cowboy-hat-wearing provincial who’s just bought a house off her boss. After boasting about how he’s rich enough to buy happiness he hands over forty grand in cash to cover the price of the house he’s buying for his daughter. Marion’s boss doesn’t like keeping cash in the office so she’s despatched to the bank to lodge the loot before skipping off home early as she’s been complaining of a headache.
Marion decides to avoid the bank and instead pocket the dough in order to kick-start a new life with Sam. Fleeing town in her car she makes haste for California stopping along the way to pick up a new set of wheels as she’s inadvertently managed to attract the attention of an overly diligent policeman. As she heads west the weather takes a turn for the worse so Marion stops for the night in an out of the way motel off the road off the main road (so, in the middle of nowhere), where she is the only guest that night.
The motel is run by an introverted but charming young man called Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives nearby in a large house with his invalid mother, who despite being confined to her room is still able to exert a terrifying amount of control over Norman’s life. Over a dinner of sandwiches Norman tells Marion of how the death of his father followed by the death of the man who would have been his step-father years later affected his mother and how he’s trapped by circumstances and duty. This story touches Marion and she decides to go home with the money and try to make good. However, before she can do that, she is brutally murdered in what’s probably the most famous death scene in movie history.
A week after the murder, Marion’s sister Lila turns up at Sam’s place looking for her and for the missing money. At this point, as well as everyone back home being worried sick,  the police haven’t been brought into things so it’s still possible that Marion could escape a charge of theft if she just returns the cash.  Lila has been followed to Sam’s place by a private detective who’s also looking for Marion, but is really looking for the money. The private dick puts in some serious leg work, visiting all the nearby hotels and motels, until he finally ends up at the Bate’s place…
Norman Bates is imagining you naked

is a whole film, it is more than just one scene but you’d never think it whenever you talk to someone about the film or see any references to it on TV. It might be because that scene is such a powerful piece of cinema, or it might be because the rest of the film is actually quite strange, or (and I think this is most likely) it might be because most people have never fucking seen Psycho.

The chances that most people haven’t seen Psycho is a shame because it’s good; really, really good. The story that’s told is one the surface a simple morality tale about how if you go about stealing money it will eventually lead to your brutal murder in an out of the way motel, but the slow burner way in which it unfolds and they way the tension is built up is pure genius. Making young Norman Bates as unassuming and charming as Perkins played him was the master stroke of the whole thing as he simply embodies the notion of the serial killer being just like everyone else.

The acting in general is great, particularly Anthony Perkins as Norman, though there are one or two shaky moments, ironically when he’s trying to act nervous and shaky. If he only had to play quiet he’d have been perfect all the way through the film. Janet Leigh gets all the glory but it was Anthony Perkins who really carried the film along with John Gavin as Loomis.

Hitchcock really stirred things up in 1960 with Psycho, adding in levels of sex and violence that are tame by today’s standards but unseen in a film of this standard in America at that time. In so doing, he managed to set in motion events that lead to massive increases in tolerance for certain subjects in art forms, like films, while simultaneously reducing the levels of censorship Hollywood had put up with until then. The really clever part was making Psycho such a good film.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Psycho. 

*I know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, I’ll be the first to admit that, but that sack of shit scared the piss out of me with that goddamn TV program of his and I’m not quick to forgive the prick over it.

Psychotic Links for the discerning Motel visitor:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054215/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho_%28film%29

30 Days of Fright – 25: Dracula

I wonder what defines a film adaptation of a book? How much of the story or dialogue, or characters need to make it onto the screen for the film to be able to honestly say that it’s an adaptation of a given book. From experience it seems that really all that has to happen is for a film to have the same name as a book and maybe feature a character with the same name as one from that book, and the scumbags from the marketing department slap “adapted from the novel by…” on the opening credits.

The opening credits of Dracula (1931) roll accompanied by music from Swan Lake which is unusual to say the least. The film proper starts with a carriage taking people across the Carpathian mountains on Walpurgisnacht, so the carriage is in a big hurry to make it to the inn before sundown, due to the evil that will be walking the earth that night. One of the travellers doesn’t want to stay at the inn but instead wants to go onto meet another carriage that will take him on to castle Dracula, much to the dismay of the inn keeper, who tells of Count Dracula and his wives (yes, wives as in more than one, maybe he was a Mormon?) and how they’re all shapeshifting vampires. The eager gentleman is on business however and has to go to the castle immediately, so an old woman gives him a crucifix to protect him up at the castle and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the young mans departure.

Castle Dracula appears to be abandoned and large parts are in ruins and infested with wild animals. The Count himself appears and introduces himself to the young man who we learn is a Mr. Renfield and who has kept his visit to Transylvania a secret as per Dracula’s instruction. The purpose of his trip is for Dracula to sign a lease on Carfax Abbey back in England and Dracula plans to travel to England the very next evening to take up residence in his new digs. Later that night, poor old Renfield suffers a turn after an encounter with a large bat and collapses in his room just as Dracula’s three wives approach, though Dracula himself turns up and sends them away before moving in and attacking Renfield himself.

The action then moves to the Vesta, the ship carrying Dracula and Renfield (who’s now a slave to Dracula obsessed with drinking the blood of “small lives” like insects) to England. By the time the ship reaches England there’s no one aboard left alive except Renfield who has gone totally around the twist and is committed to an asylum, conveniently located next to Carfax Abbey, Drac’s new crash pad.

With Dracula loose in London, no flower-girl is safe and he gets down to some murder almost straight away. Once he’s fed he ponces around town in his best clobber and takes in a show. At the show Dracula meets his new neighbours, Dr. Seward who runs the asylum next door; Mina the doctors daughter; Jonathon Harker, Mina’s fiance; and Lucy, the puzzle-factory’s owner’s daughter’s friend who takes a shine to the count. Dracula is a bit odd and talks about death and such, though they put it down to him being from a shit-hole in Eastern Europe as opposed to him being a raving looney and vampire.

Dracula makes a move on Lucy and ends up killing her, leaving a bunch of medical professionals who investigate her death to wonder how she lost so much blood so quickly. Meanwhile, Renfield is having a hard time in hospital as the staff are reluctant to let him eat the flies and spiders that pass his way and his case attracts the attention of Prof. Van Helsing, who studies Renfield’s blood and decides that Renfield is a bit of a vampire. To prove his conclusions the professor confronts Renfield with some wolfbane and puts his bad reaction down to vampirism (as opposed to maybe an allergy).

Shortly after Mina is attacked and is unwell as a result. Those around Mina try to figure out who the vampire is behind the attacks just as Count Dracula pays a visit and Van Helsing notices that he has no reflection in a mirror…

Itsyyyy, Bitsyyyy Spiiiiiderrr, she crahwled up da wahter spowt!

For me, the quintessential Dracula film will need to feature a few core components and thankfully they are all present in the ’31 Dracula. The count himself, Mina, Jonny Harker, Renfield, and vampires that avoid sunlight are all requirements, but there are a couple of pieces of dialogue I always like to hear in a Drac outing and they both occur near the start; when the Count hears the wolves howl and says to Harker “Ah, the children of the night, what music they make” and when he tells Harker “I never drink… wine” during the dinner early on. Both these made into Dracula though there is a major difference in how it did both those scenes, and that was no Harker!

In this version it’s Renfield who goes to Transylvania and brings Dracula to England to wreck havoc, which actually makes a lot more sense as it’s never been clear to me how Renfield fell under Dracula’s spell before Harker encounters him in Transylvania (unless Renfield had been there earlier and returned or something, then why send Harker if that was the case? – this is what happens when you adapt a book written by a drunken Irishman!) Seeing as how Renfield is the one to go east, Dracula doesn’t become interested in Mina or any of the rest of the gang until he gets to England and actually meets them, which also makes a bit more sense as Drac was heading to England anyway which is why he was picking up some property there.

With Renfield taking more of a centre stage role, Harker is left in the background, so Dracula makes this Harker into a bit of gobshite. Renfield, as played by Dwight Frye (who played the doctors assistant Fritz in Frankenstein) is proper disturbing when he’s playing the man gone mad, and his maniacal laugh is a fucking nasty (and therefore amazing) piece of acting. In fact, Renfield is one of the best things in Dracula, after Dracula himself, as he gets the most pivotal role and has the best death in the film too, when he ses his end is near and his conscience is getting the better of him for all the flies and spiders he’s murdered and realises that the afterlife might not be as kind to him as he’d always hoped.

The other stellar performance in Dracula is of course Bela Lugosi as the Count. Lugosi’s accent (which was actually his own, he didn’t really “act” all that much in Dracula) was perfect for the role and he managed to play the vampire aristocrat exceptionally well. The scenes featuring Dracula and Van Helsing together are the best in the movie as the way the vampire and Van Helsing play off each other is brilliant.

There were some pretty decent special effects for a film that’s now over eighty years old, and I especially liked the scene early on where Dracula walks through the cobwebs without disturbing them – the accompanying analogy of the spider spinning a web to catch an unsuspecting fly was a nice touch too. Some of the other effects are as good as you could reasonably expect from a film of this vintage, though the absence of a reflection for the Count is particularly well done while the bat effects are shite.

Throughout Dracula there is only one scene with any music and that’s set at a concert so the music is coming from the stage, apart from that and the opening credits there’s no soundtrack to Dracula, so all the scenes are left to hang on dialogue alone and the resulting silences are fucking creepy. Once you’re in immersed in Dracula you don’t feel like you’re watching a film at all seeing as how there are no musical cues to tell you when a scene is dramatic or romantic or going to be scary.

This Dracula strayed from the book that inspired it but that really didn’t matter as the result was so good (despite a bit of a chopped off ending) and became so iconic that the version of the vampire Count from Transylvania that it presented is now how most people imagine him.

Two Thumbs Up for Dracula.

I vant to cleek on yoor Leenks:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula_%281931_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021814/

30 Days of Fright – 24: The Wolf Man

When you see a film at the time of its first release you are seeing it at the right time. If a film contains subtexts or commentaries about the state of the world or is trying to make some political point or other, then it helps to be aware of the situation in the intuitive way that can only come from living through the right period in history. When you see a film donkeys years after it was first made then you need to bear in mind what was going on at the time as the flick may contain some references to those events, or it may just have some cheap looking effects because all the money was being used at the time to pay for World War 2.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) sets things in motion in The Wolf Man (1941) by returning to his ancestoral home in Britain after years away in America, where he tries to bury the hatchet with his dear old Dad after the death of his older brother in a hunting accident. Larry’s Dad, Sir John Talbot is the lord of the manor and patron of the nearby village and he encourages Larry to get to know the place and become involved in the running of the estate.

Larry impresses his father with the technical skills he picked up while stateside including a knowledge of advanced optics which he puts to use in repairing his Dad’s telescope. While testing the telescope Larry spies an attractive girl down in the village and he heads into town to meet her. The girl, Gwen, runs an antique shop and Larry buys a cane for himself so as not to appear too creepy (though that ship had well and truly sailed after Larry comes across as the stalker of the century by telling Gwen he could see into her room). The cane is topped with a silver wolf’s head and pentagram design and Larry carries it around with himself all the time (just in case he runs into Gwen; that way she’d believe that he really wanted it as opposed to copping onto the truth that he just wants into her knickers).

Larry talks Gwen into “going for a walk” with him that night, though she drags her friend Jenny along too, and all three end up at a nearby gypsy camp where they can get their fortunes told. Along the way the women tall Larry about all the local folklore which for some reason is fixated on Werewolves. Later that night, as they make to leave the halting site Jenny is attacked by a large dog and Larry tries to save her. He beats the creature to death with his cane but is bitten in the process and is too late to save Jenny.

The next morning Larry is visited by the local constabulary who are investigating two deaths at the pikey encampment, that of Jenny and a traveller named Bela (played by none other than Bela Lugosi of Dracula fame). Bela had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument and Larry’s cane was found next to him. Larry can’t believe the story he’s told so he tells his side of things about how he killed an animal with his cane and had been bitten, though when he tries to show the copper the wound he received it has disappeared.

Trying to get a handle on what’s going on, Larry nips back down to the knackers to try to gather some information. There he meets Bela’s mother who has a strange tale to tell about her son as well as some really bad news for Larry, just as the wolfbane starts to bloom, and the autumn moon gets bright…

As the rohypnol works its magic, Larry tries to decide what bit to eat first

The Wolf Man managed to become the standard by which early werewolf movies were judged and for all the right reasons as it’s quite good. While most people think of the dodgy effects of the transformation from man into wolf, which were limited at the time due to technology and a massive global war ranging on and making things hard to come by, The Wolf Man is really a master class in setting an atmosphere in a film. From the moment Larry lands back home the film sets the stage for something weird to happen, and once he makes it down town you just know things are going to kick off.

The quiet little village just oozes menace and the inhabitants add to that notion with the little rhyme they all know and recite at the drop of a hat:

Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night,
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
It’s as if they all know some dark secret and have no intention of letting you in on it until it’s too late. The village lorded over by Talbot and his son is like something from a H.P. Lovecraft novel, as a setting and place of foreboding it’s that well constructed.

What really makes The Wolf Man are the performances, with Lon Chaney especially excellent as Larry Talbot, the poor prick who catches a wicked dose of lycanthropy off the gyppo’s. He was VERY American though and it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that after only eighteen years away in the colonies he’d gone quite so native; I would have expected more of a mix of an accent then the pure Californian he one ran with (and I’m a bit of an expert on the subject, if I do say so myself!).

The surprise cast member in The Wolf Man was Bela Lugosi, who was pretty severely typecast when you think about it, what with the vampire Dracula or the gate selling/wife beating/bare knuckle fighting/horse trading traveller Bela both examples of what passes for Romanian aristocracy. As Lugosi was Romanian though there were probably very few roles out there for him beyond vampire or pikey.

Larry beats a knacker (Good Man!)

The Wolf Man single handedly defined and to an extent killed the warewolf film as the iconic images of a hairy Lon Chaney amount to what passes for such a creature in too many minds. The Wolf Man is a creepy film that while isn’t scary does qualify as horror by dwelling not on the killing the creature does but rather on psychological impact on the victim of the curse and those around him.

Two Thumbs Up for The Wolf Man.

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wolf_Man_%281941_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034398/

30 Days of Fright – 23: Frankenstein

Everything and everyone eventually gets old. There’s no escaping that simple reality. You can stay young at heart of course and try to stay in touch with your inner child, but the laws of physics dictate that time flows along in one direction and there’s bugger all we can do about it. However, just because something is old doesn’t have to mean that it’s rubbish, nor does it necessarily have to mean that it’s any good either.

Frankenstein (1931) introduces a quite frankly mental version of the good doctor who along with his assistant Fritz (not Igor) likes to dabble in a little bit of body snatching after dark, and happily digs up fresh corpses from their graves even going as far as to cut down a dead man from the gallows. Dr. Henry Frankenstein is collecting body parts for a set of unholy experiments concerning reanimation.

Henry’s devotion to his idea of science has led to him cutting off all ties with his friends and family including his fiancée Elizabeth, who’s worried sick about him. She contacts her friend Victor and confides in him about her concerns and together they travel to see Henry’s professor Dr. Waldman to find out what Henry’s been up to and to get a little help refocusing the young man on less intensive matters than his work.

Dr. Waldman is less than helpful really, pointing out that poor old Henry’s gone round the bend on the subject of creating life. Waldman, Victor, and Elizabeth go to visit Henry in the old watchtower he’s converted into a laboratory. As they arrive a storm is in full swing and Henry’s not happy to see them, only reluctantly letting them in to get out of the wind and rain.

Once inside they get a look around the lab and through that a look into the twisted mind of young Frankenstein. Henry plans to use the lightning from the storm to blast life into the body he’s cobbled together from spare bits and at the right moment lightning strikes.

Revelling in his triumph, Dr. Frankenstein finally gets rid of the last of the marbles that were rattling around in his head just as the poor creature he built stumbles about the place much like a monstrous child unaware of his own strength… and escapes.

Even seven foot tall flat-headed monsters go cross eyed after a severe kick in the nads

The ’31 Frankenstein is a strange film to say the least. The oddest thing is how out of time the movie is with some of the settings and costumes suited to a film set in the nineteenth century with then other things that, I guess, were contemporary in 1931. These anachronisms serve to set the viewer on edge early in the film which helps to gloss over some of the other strange things, like “Henry” Frankenstein? What the hell’s up with that? And just who or what is Fritz the hunchbacked assistant? 

More seriously, there are times in Frankenstein where it seems like the film was being made with more then just a nod to the original story by Mary Shelly (though in the credits for Frankenstein she’s credited as “Mrs. Percy Shelly”). There are scenes where Henry’s experiments are looked at as stepping on God’s toes and the scene where the monster comes to life was subject to censorship when it came out due to Henry screaming “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”.

Apart from the religious subtext, there are some very disturbing moments in Frankenstein, with the most well known and definitely most awful scene being the one where the creature accidentally kills a little girl by drowning her. This single thirty seconds of footage turns Frankenstein from a quaint and quirky little retelling of the well known story to a flat out horror film, and from that point on it stays firmly in the horror genre, making the last ten to fifteen minutes (with angry villagers with flaming torches and everything) really excellent.

The last bit aside though, the majority of Frankenstein feels too disjointed, too all over the place, and when the final act is played out and you see how coherent it could have been, then all those odd out of place things in the rest of the film serve to make it feel cheap and stupid. Perversely, if the end of the film wasn’t as good as it is, then the whole film would feel better. The good bits really show up the bad.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Frankenstein.

The Links! They’re ALIVE!!!!!:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021884/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankenstein_%281931_film%29

30 Days of Fright – 22: Nosferatu the Vampyre

I can’t stand to be conned, duped, swindled, or tricked; not many people I know enjoy such an experience. What I really hate is when you go about buying something thinking you’re getting one thing and then end up getting something completely different. Different and shit.

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) is a German retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and remake/homage to the classic 1921 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. Moving the actoin from London to Wismar in Germany, Nosferatu tells of young Jonathan Harker, an estate agent who’s given an important assignment by his weird boss Renfield to sell a large though derelict house in Wismar to the even weirder Count Dracula. Harker travels for weeks to Dracula’s castle in rural Transylvania in order to get the contract for the house signed.

Once in the same parish as Dracula’s place, Harker has a tough time getting up to the castle as none of the locals are willing to lend a carriage or even a horse to anyone planning on making that journey. The only thing the natives give Harker (apart from a hard time and bad dinner) is advice about vampires, which he puts down to just being bumpkin bullshit. Making the last of the trip on foot, Harker finally makes it up to the castle, which isn’t in the best of repair, and encounters Dracula. The Count turns out to be a raving lunatic and chronic shut-in, pale form the lack of sunlight and just a little bit odd in his mannerisms and general appearance.

Relations between Harker and the Count are a little strained but when Harker inadvertently shows Dracula a picture of his bird Lucy, Dracula changes his tune and quickly signs the contract, apparently motivated by the knowledge that his new Wismar gaff is only around the corner from Jonathan and Lucy’s place. The next day Harker sees some of Dracula’s men loading coffins onto carts and realises that they’re to be shipped to Wismar. After a little investigating he realises he was wrong to dismiss the warnings he’d received as Dracula is every bit the vampire and is making his way to Harker’s home town…

God help me I’m so sick of those Twilight films making us vampires out to be big wimps
 Oh, Count Dracula, the vampires in Twilight are so romantic
What the fuck did you just say?

The vampires in Twilight… they’re really… romantic… and sparkly!

Nom, Nom, Nom.

When I purchased Nosferatu the Vampyre on DVD I thought I was buying the 1921 film not some fucked up late seventies German nonsense. I didn’t realise my mistake until after the opening credits. The opening is in colour and not the glorious black and white I was expecting and that was my first clue that there was something wrong. Try to imagine my shock when the film kicked off and it finally sank in that I was not watching a classic piece of German expressionist cinema but rather some bastards shallow attempt to cash in on a cool name for a film.

Well, actually Nosferatu the Vampyre is a remake of the ’21 film so it’s supposed to be similar to it’s inspiration and it was the cover of the DVD that duped me, so whoever made that up is the person who’s really on my shit list, not the film-makers, so I did try to be fair to the film.

The film is dirt!

Nosferatu the Vampyre is dull, overly long, full of what I suppose are meant to be “artistic” images but are actually just weird clips of bats and rats, badly acted, and just fucking German! I have no problem with German cinema, I’ve enjoyed a good few movies from that part of the world, but the German films I’ve liked have been proper German, in that they were in the language with English subtitles. The version of Nosferatu the Vampyre I saw was in English. Did you catch that? The VERSION I saw was in English!

When Nosferatu the Vampyre was made., all the scenes that features anyone talking were filmed twice, once in the actors native tongue (German) and then filmed again in English so that the film could be sold in English speaking countries without dubbing or subtitles. A nice enough idea on paper, but the actors weren’t really comfortable chatting in English so every scene comes across as wooden and badly staged.

Apparently the film is better in German but I find that hard to believe as all the rubbish bits will still be in it and if anything it will be longer than it already is. As a quirky bit of cinema trivia Nosferatu the Vampyre is interesting enough for how it was made and then remade straight away, but seeing as how it’s not the film I was expecting, as far as I’m concerned it’ll never be more than a sham.

Two Thumbs Down for Nosferatu the Vampyre.

Fake Links:

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosferatu_the_Vampyre
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079641/

30 Days of Fright – 21: Ghostbusters

Everything I know about career advancement I learned from watching Robocop. But I also learned a few other important things about life from other films. Some of the things I’ve learned include not to feed certain people after midnight, never to run up the stairs when you can get out the front door, never to bring a knife to a gun fight, and perhaps most importantly of all, if someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes!

Ghostbusters (1984) begins with three “scientists” Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd) , and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) from Columbia University in New York, investigating the sighting of a ghost at the city’s main library. Unable to do anything about the ghost and frightened away by spectre the three return to the university to discover that they are being kicked off the campus and that their research grants have been cut off. Effectively out of a job they do what most people did in the early part of the 80’s boom and decide to go into business for themselves, as paranormal investigators and eliminators using equipment they designed and built themselves.

They set up shop in a disused fire station, buy a busted up old ambulance to drive around town in, put some ads on TV, and then sit about waiting for customers. One customer does finally show up in the form of Dana Barrett (Sigorney Weaver), a classical musician who experienced some unusual goings on in the kitchen of her Central Park West apartment. The lads set about looking into her case with Peter particularly interested because he fancies Dana. A brief look about the apartment reveals nothing and Venkman finds himself kicked out after making a move on Dana.

Finally a more substantial customer calls and the boys successfully capture a ghost that had been plaguing a downtown hotel for years. News of their exploits spreads around New York and the Ghostbusters become minor celebrities as they’re inundated with work. Forced to hire some additional help they recruit Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) who joins the team but is horrified to learn that there appears to be something very wrong in the city as the level of paranormal activity is much higher than usual and the containment system used to hold the trapped ghosts is approaching capacity.

The Ghostbusters success attracts the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency who send Walter Peck (William Atherton) to investigate what the lads are up to. At the same time as Peck’s investigation develops into serious action, the disturbances in Dana’s apartment increase severely and she is attacked by something terrible but that turns out to only be the harbinger of something worse…

Despite appearances to the contrary the boys were not actually making a weird porn film

“Who you gonna call?” “GHOSTBUSTERS!” Everyone knows this movie and I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it. But right now I know that there are people reading this who are thinking “But, Ghostbusters isn’t a horror film, what’s it doing on the list?” Allow me to address that.

Ghostbusters was released with great fanfare in the UK just in time for Christmas 1984, and that was when I saw it first in the cinema. I was eight years old. For the most part, Ghostbusters is a comedy, there’s some decent humour, some great special effects, and the ghosts like the iconic Slimer, aren’t all that scary. Except for that fucking bitch ghost in the library at the beginning.

Fuck you it’s a comedy!

That library ghost was the only bit I’d look away at whenever re-watching Ghostbusters for years after, so from my point of view (and I suspect one or two other people’s) Ghostbusters managed to be a more frightening film than most of the pure horrors that have ever been released.

Its ability to scare small children aside, Ghostbusters is a wonderful film that crosses two or three big categories. Yes, it is a comedy there’s no denying that, but it also has a lot of science fiction elements, some horror bits, and some great action scenes. Twenty Eight years after I first saw this film though, the thing that really struck me about it last night what extremely down to earth, blue collar types the main characters are. At the start of the film, when the dean is kicking them out of the university he accuses Venkman of treating science like a dodge. That’s not strictly true as in the story Venkman holds PhD’s in both Psychology and Parapsychology, so he didn’t exactly dodge doing several years of work to get those. It’s more like he stayed in college because he had nothing better to do and, with the exception of Egon, that seems to be the case for them all.

At the beginning of Ghostbusters, Venkman doesn’t think the ghost catching thing will work and he’s not even convinced there is such a thing until he sees the one in the library (the scary bitch); all his work at the university revolved around ESP and such. Stantz and Spengler were genuinely interested in catching a ghost, Spengler from the research point of view and Stantz from the true believer perspective – he’s the only one at the start of the film who seems genuinely excited by and interested in the paranormal. Once they loose their university funding, they go out and start a business, not because they want to be rich but because there’s nothing else to do. All the way through the movie, all the lads are hardworking, normal blokes, with nothing special about them except their jobs, which they manage to reduce down to the level of exterminators, even though they’re each walking around with a portable particle accelerator strapped to their backs (and if you listen carefully in the dining room scene you’ll hear Venkman reveal that he knows a lot more about the Proton Pack’s operation then you’d expect!).

It’s probably a little too easy to rush to say that Ghostbusters is a good film without at least trying to be critical of it, but as I watched it there was nothing I could find that took away from it at all, no insight I could garner at the expense of anyone or anything in it. Ghostbusters stands the test of time extremely well and as such it’s not too easy to say that it’s a great film.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Ghostbusters.

Have you or any of your family ever seen a spook, spectre or these Links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087332/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostbusters

30 Days of Fright – 20: Twilight: Eclipse

You may be aware of a popular television series called Strictly Come Dancing (as it’s called on UK television, in the US it’s called Dancing with the Stars). The premise of Strictly is that a celebrity of varying quality, from washed up has been to well-known presenter or soap star, is partnered with a professional dancer who then teaches them to dance a new routine each week. A panel of judges issue their opinions on the quality of the dancing along with a score and the public then vote on which celebrity/dancer pairing should be kicked off the show or saved for another week.

The dances each celeb has to learn are all quite complicated and technical and have to be done just so. The costumes and props have to be just right as well and there’s a lot of sequins, latex, open-shirts, un-necessarily tight trousers, fake tan, and brightly coloured dresses (and the girls’ outfits are quite something too) but as camp and all as Strictly Come Dancing is it’s still nothing compared to a Twilight film!

Strictly Come Dancing, a popular show among fans of Right Said Fred’s dress sense
The opening scene of Twilight: Eclipse (2010) introduces a young man called Riley Biers who is attacked and bitten by something unseen one rainy night in Seattle. Switching to Forks, we find Bella and Edward sitting in a field of wild flowers reading love poems (told you it was gay). Edward is keen to marry Bella and she’s anxious to become a vampire so that the two of them can spend eternity with each other, though Edward is reluctant to condemn her to that existence just yet and she’s not quite ready for marriage, so it’s all very comp-li-ca-ted, dar-ling. With their high school graduation, which marks the time Bella is supposed to become a vampire, rapidly approaching Eddie and Izzie are both facing into big changes in their lives/deaths.

Riley’s disappearance in Seattle following the attack turns out to be just one example of several such incidents that have been plaguing that city that the Cullen family have been taking an interest in as they seem to be the type of thing that newly made vampires (called “New Borns” in Twilight speak) would be getting up to and the Cullens are worried that someone is deliberately creating vampires near by, and that the Volturi (the head vampires) will turn up and raise all sorts of hell, particularly when they see yer one Bella is still human. Their investigations reveal that the vampire Victoria (from the the first movie) is in the area and (like everyone else in the pacific northwest) has the hots for young Miss Swan and that a vampire, other than Edward, has been in Bella’s bedroom.

Meanwhile, to make matters even more awkward, Jacob the Werewolf, who had stopped talking to Bella because he loves her but she doesn’t love him, is needed to provide Bella with some security while the Cullens try to find the vampire or vampires who are coming after her. Jacob and Bella get to spend some quality time together and she slowly begins to realise that she might actually have feelings for him after all which puts a bit of a strain on her relationship with Edward just as she needs him most…

Carlisle keeps the Cullens in the background, even though they’re the best thing in these fucking films

OK then, another Twilight film… Let me start by saying this, if I were a member of the target audience for these films and books (and I thank my personal Gods that I am not) I would be extremely pissed off at Twilight: Eclipse. At the end of the last film, the Cullens made a deal with the local werewolves not to make vampires and Bella was to be the exception to this once she married Edward, so the big set up was that there’d be a wedding and all the hoopla that goes with it. Now, along comes Eclipse and from the start there’s talk of marriage, and that talk goes on for an hour and a half, and at the end of the film whadda get? A fucking engagement! I thought that’s what happened at the end of the last one of these films? Eclipse is nothing more than the same shit on a different day.

Here’s how the Twilight films break down in terms of plot:

1. Twilight: Down in the mouth horsey-featured girl meets effeminate boy in school who turns out to be the worlds worst vampire and they fall in love despite him being clinically dead and her looking like she is. Vampires try to kill horsey girl.

2. New Moon: Horsey chick and girly vampire struggle to be together due to their respective disabilities (Him – vampire, Her – moody bitch). Girly vampire goes away. Horsey girl hangs out with wolf boy. Wolf boy loves horsey girl. Vampires try to kill horsey girl. Girly vampire comes back.

3. Eclipse: Horsey chick and girly vampire struggle to be together due to their respective disabilities (Him – vampire, Her – moody bitch). Girly vampire goes away. Horsey girl hangs out with wolf boy. Wolf boy loves horsey girl. Vampires try to kill horsey girl. Girly vampire comes back.

Basically, the first three films in the Twilight Saga are all about vampires with more sense than Edward trying to kill Bella, and the second two are the same film dressed up slightly differently, like how Days of Thunder is really the same film as Top Gun only re-done for race cars. As to why the vampires are always wanting to murder her, well that’s definitely more believable than everyone in Forks loving Bella so much; in fact, if the Twilight saga had actually been a collection of short films about vampires trying to murder Bella Swan without all the romance shite, I probably would have been a fan!

Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that the central piece to the story is the love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Making one film out of that story was pushing it but two is flat out taking the piss, especially as so little is offered to continue this nonsense. Jacob continues to pine for Bella long after she told him to get lost and now it seems that all that moping after her might pay off as Jacob is brought back so as to add a little tension into things. At no point does he, or Edward really, do anything that would be worthy of Bella’s affection. Jacob hasn’t changed a bit since the last film and all he does is bang on about his feelings for her and that seems to be enough to get under her skin and make her admit that she does love him after all. If any of that kind of stuff had any basis outside of the raving fantasies of hormonal teenagers then the lives of everybody on the planet would be radically different as we all would have hooked up with whoever we had a crush on when we were seventeen (so, in my case Gillian Anderson had a lucky escape).

Dana Scully: I spent a whole long weekend in 1993 pining over you and you never even wrote back to me… bitch!

To be fair, that whole love triangle thing did lead to one decent scene, where Jacob has to snuggle up to Bella to keep her warm when she and Edward are in a tent on a cold night (seriously there’s a scene like this in Eclipse, I couldn’t make this shit up). Bella falls asleep and Eddie and Jake have a bit of a chat; it’s a stupid scene but the banter between the two lads is pretty good even though the whole thing is lost on Bella herself as the only reason Jacob has to be there is because Edward has no body heat of his own seeing as how he’s a fucking corpse.

I could never really enjoy a Twilight movie the way they’re meant to be enjoyed because I’m not an adolescent girl and because as films go the Twilight’s are pretty stupid. Eclipse commits a cardinal sin by being extremely lazy and simply rehashes the basic stroryline from New Moon. Once again, the only hope for something decent to emerge from a Twilight, that is more of Carlisle Cullen and his family, is ruined when Eclipse tries to show some of the Cullen’s histories in the form of flashbacks but for some inexplicable reason all the juicy stuff is left out. Carlisle seriously needs a film of his own as he’s the best thing in Twilight by a country mile.

Thankfully the Twilight phenomenon seems to be fading and soon all that will be left will be a handful of ruined careers and the occasional reference to Teams Edward or Jacob. One unexpected casualty of the Twilight films might be Dakota Fanning, as quite frankly she was brutal in Eclipse as one of the Volturi which is a crying shame, though when you think about it, what actor in their right mind would want to be known for doing their best work in a Twilight film?

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for Twilight: Eclipse.

Here’s what legendary Friends of Dorothy and Strictly Come Dancing costume designers Right Said Fred had to say:

I’m too sexy for Twi-light, too sexy for Twi-light, be-cause it’s shi-ite!

Thanks, Fred.

Try not to get Eclipsed by these links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1325004/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twilight_Saga:_Eclipse

30 Days of Fright – 19: Pet Sematary

Early on in Poltergeist the mum and little girl in that film bury a dead canary in a shoebox in the garden (at least I hope it was dead, that little girl was a bit… off, if you know what I mean). There are really only two reasons for giving a family pet a good Christian burial; sentimental reasons especially if there are children involved, and because a dead animal lying about the place starts to stink after a while.

Swapping life in the city of Chicago for the gentler pace of life to be found in small town America, Pet Sematary (1989) introduces Dr. Louis and Mrs Rachel Creed and their young children Ellie and Gage as they move into their new home. Louis makes friends with his neighbour from across the road Judd, an older gentleman who enjoys telling stories and drinking beer. Near the Creed’s new house is a path that leads into the woods and it intrigues everyone.

One day Judd and Louis and his brood head down the path for a walk and Jud shows them the unusual “Pet Sematary” located at the end of the path. Local children have been burying their dead pets for years in the makeshift cemetery; even Jud buried a dog there when he was a boy. Judd tells some tall tales about the place and how it used to be an Indian burial ground and that it’s supposedly haunted, but in a good way, but mostly he warns about the road outside the Creed’s gaff that’s responsible for the high death toll among cherished cats and dogs.
One day at work, Dr. Creed treats a patient who’d been hit by a truck on the road but he is unable to save the boy, Victor, as his injuries are just too severe. That night, Louis experiences what he thinks to be a dream about Victor, in which his ghost leads him to the pet cemetery to warn him about the place. When Louis wakes up, his feet are covered in muck (and the bed’s a right mess).
Not long after, Ellie’s pet cat Church is killed on the road while Rachel is away visiting family with the children. Worried about how Ellie will take the bad news Louis delays telling her and Judd advises him not to say a word but instead to bury the cat in a certain remote part of the cemetery that bears al the hallmarks of a proper Indian burial ground. Jud explains that this part of the cemetery has the ability to bring animals back from the dead so if Louis inters the cat there, he should be back in time for when Ellie gets back with her mother and brother.
Sure enough, the cat comes back the very next day, and apart from a bad attitude and worse smell, he seems none the worse for his time as road kill. Now believing in the power of the grounds behind the pet cemetery Louis asks Judd if a person had ever been buried there. Jud is horrified at the idea and acts like it’s the most outrageous thing he’s ever heard, though it’s pretty clear he knows more then he’s letting on, and when Louis’ young son Gage is killed on the road outside the house, Louis quickly discovers all the dark secrets Judd knows of the Pet Sematary…
Herman Munster realises that he didn’t need to fart after all…

As Stephen King has never been shy of a bit of publicity, and as Pet Sematary is based on a Stephen King book of the same name, it’s no big surprise that he turned up in the movie, getting a neat little cameo as the preacher.

Lord, give me the strength to write a book that can be enjoyed by people over the age of sixteen…

What is a big surprise though is just how similar Stephen King looks like that other horror author, Garth Marenghi…

Separated at birth (and then fed a few pies) or what?!

On a more serious note, Pet Sematary is a deeply disturbing film having selected the impact the death of a child has on a family as the core of the story being told. Like most Hollywood films however, the nature of that trauma is dressed up as something that invariably destroys the marriage of the parents, though in the case of this movie that gives the father the opportunity to do his grisly work and reanimate his deceased nipper.

The scenes after the death of the boy are dog rough. From the exhumation onwards Pet Sematary seems to have lost the run of itself, casts off all inhibitions, and goes full bore in trying to shock the viewer; the second half of the film bears little resemblance to the first.

The real star of Pet Sematary is Fred Gwynne as the neighbour Jud. If you’re old enough to remember the re-runs (or supremely ancient enough to remember the first showing) of The Munsters, you’ll recognise Gwynne as Herman Munster. I’m not sure if he was hamming up his role as Jud or if he was playing it straight and that’s just the way he is, but either way he’s brilliant.

The other actor worth a mention is Denise Crosby as the mother Rachel. It was nice to see her in a feature film as most people know her as Tasha Yar from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Without wanting to give too much away about Pet Semetary having watched Crosby’s performance I couldn’t help but wonder if she’s a female Sean Bean, as she has a tendency to get killed in everything she’s in (check out Deep Impact for another example of this).

While the end scenes dealing with the reanimated child are the most unsettling, the effects used are also the most shoddy and you need to suspend disbelief in order to get into what’s being portrayed on screen, though when you consider what exactly that is you might be better off not getting into it too much.
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Pet Semetary.

Buried down the back like a rotten old dog, here are some links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098084/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_Sematary_%28film%29

30 Days of Fright – 18: The Cabin in the Woods

It happens, from time to time, that a film comes along that fits into a genre and simultaneously challenges the accepted wisdom of that genre. In so doing, not only does such a film provide an insight and analysis into the make up of the type of film it presents itself as, but it also makes it really fucking difficult for people like me (smart arses) to review! The Cabin in the Woods is such a film.

The story told in The Cabin in the Woods is impossible to review without giving away some of the details that honestly, if you haven’t seen it, you would be better off not knowing until you do. Even watching the trailer gives hints of things that might start you off trying to guess what’s going on in the film before you see it (that was definitely the case with me, anyway), so I need to mix things up a bit here, firstly by starting at the end:

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Cabin in the Woods.

The Cabin in the Woods is an excellent, excellent film. If you haven’t seen it then stop reading and go find a copy as soon as you can, but trust me, it’s brilliant!

If you haven’t seen it but plan on reading ahead like that little prick in school who reads ahead a bit so that it looks like they know all the answers and appear smarter then they really are (i.e. me) then be warned:


The following review contains spoilers
If you wish to remain in the dark then stop reading
Please go see this film as soon as you can
Then come back and read the review!


The Cabin in the Woods starts off with two engineer types making small talk as they get ready to work over a weekend. Exactly what it is they do is not clear but they seem to work for a large corporation or public utility like the electricity company and they talk and act like they are just cogs in a very large wheel.

That same weekend some college students are getting ready to head away for a camping trip. There are five young ‘uns made up of the sort of characters you find in every horror film; there’s the jock Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the booky lad Holden (Jesse Williams), the stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), the slutty girl Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and the unattached kinda booky ordinary girl next door but still attractive one Dana (Kristen Connelly). Curt and Jules are a couple and they are trying to hook their friend Holden up with Dana, while Marty is a friend but is really just along for comic relief purposes. They are travelling in a camper van up the mountains to stay in Curt’s cousin’s new place, the titular cabin in the woods.

En route they stop for petrol and directions and run into a cantankerous old bastard in charge of the last filling station for miles. He is a right prick and is incredibly rude to them, singling out Jules for some abuse as he calls her a whore to her face and in front of her boyfriend, who shows huge restraint and just gets the gang back on the road as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the two engineers are working away, continuing preparations for their work. This includes getting staff from other departments in their organisation to visit them in the control room where they work and place unusual bets. Once they’re ready, they get down to doing whatever the hell it is they do.

The kids arrive at the cabin and settle in, picking out rooms and such. Dana settles into her room by unpacking and starting to get changed. At the same time in an adjoining room, Holden discovers a two-way mirror hidden behind a rather gruesome picture, that allows him to see into Dana’s room. Before she reveals too much of herself, Holden does the decent thing and lets her know he can see her. In a further act of chivalry he swaps rooms with her so she needn’t feel uncomfortable.

The fact that Holden and Dana have swapped rooms is something the two engineers make note of and it becomes apparent that they are monitoring everything that’s going on in the cabin. They even receive a bizarre phone call from the old fucker at the petrol station telling them about the kids.

That night, as the group set about making merry, they discover a cellar beneath the cabin that contains a vast assortment of old items. Among the collection is a diary of a young girl who once lived in the cabin and was subjected to severe abuse at the hands of her deeply religious and extreme red in the neck family, the Buckners. As Dana reads aloud from the diary she inadvertently summons the zombified remains of the Buckners who approach the cabin, while two engineers in a control room watch with interest…

Dana and Marty enjoy a nice relaxing weekend away

The Cabin in the Woods is an example of a perfect horror film! Everything, absolutely everything, is just excellent in this film. The story, the characters, and even the effects are spot on. This is one of those rare times when the film exceeded the hype by a long way.

The twisted version of the classic “teenagers in a remote cabin attacked by something scary” story that’s presented in Cabin is utter genius with the reasoning behind the organisation that orchestrates the whole thing giving the film a grand scope and purpose that far exceeds anything else in its class. The final third of the film, where the big reveal takes place, is so extreme and yet so compelling that I found myself thinking about it long after the film was over. There are several scenes and pieces of dialogue that just stuck in my head and I found myself nicely disturbed by some of the content, though not because it was bloody or gory (which it is) but because the ideas presented are just horrific.

Humour is used extensively throughout The Cabin in the Woods and at times it feels almost like a comedy. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the two engineers are at the heart of most of the funny sections and they play their parts well. I’ve been a long-time fan of Whitford’s ever since The West Wing and it was a delight to see him do so well in such a good film. The way he meets his fate is exquisite not just as a plotline but as an amazing special effect and fine piece of comedy! The humour is rampant but Cabin is firmly a horror film and there are scenes that are absolutely not for the squeamish with visuals and sound effects that will make you squirm.

One thing does give me pause about The Cabin in the Woods, and that’s the writer Drew Goddard. He was the man who wrote the creature feature Cloverfield and as people who know me know, I had a bit of a rough time with that movie and I am now deeply concerned that the same thing might be happening again. I saw Cloverfield in the cinema and I loved it. I mean I LOVED it! I went mad for that movie and thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen. When it came out on DVD I bought it the day it was released, that’s how much I loved it. Imagine how utterly crushed I was when I brought the DVD home, sat down to watch it, and realised half way through that it was shite. As a once off, Cloverfield was awesome, but once you knew how it ended you could never enjoy the film in the same way again. Cloverfield was no Usual Suspects, there was no compelling plot that was made the better for knowing the ending; there was never going to be a reason to watch Cloverfield over and over again and love it more each time. Cloverfield was shit. I hope and pray that The Cabin in the Woods is better the next time I see it because right now, to me, it’s high concept horror at it’s best.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for The Cabin in the Woods.

Some Links in the Woods:
Official Site: http://discoverthecabininthewoods.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cabin_in_the_Woods
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1259521/

30 Days of Fright – 17: The Changeling

I would like someday to live in a big mansion style house, somewhere with lots of rooms that can each be dedicated to a specific task, like a music room, computer room, gaming room, maybe a little cinema, and so on. Considering how so many older house often have a spooky aspect to them it might be nice to have a room dedicated to seances, so when the local ghost hunting types turn up (usually around Hallowe’en) I could have a room all ready for them, nice and far away from the non-lunatics.

The Changeling starts off in late November in upstate New York, where a family on vacation are having car trouble and we meet John Russell (George C. Scott who you might know from Patton) and his wife and daughter pushing their car through the snow to get to a phone. While on the phone trying to get help, Russell witnesses the death of his wife and daughter in a freak traffic accident involving a truck skidding on the icy road.

Some months later Russell, an accomplished composer, packs up his home in New York and moves to Seattle to start teaching at the university there. He moves into an old Victorian mansion maintained by the local historical society and gets down to work and coming to terms with his tragic loss. The house is old and hasn’t been lived in for ages so it’s no shock to anyone that there are the occasional odd noises about the place. However, the noises grow in intensity and objects begin to move of their own accord to the point where Russell can’t ignore it.

He investigates the house and learns some of its past including its previous owners as well as discovering some rooms that haven’t been entered in nearly a century. One of the rooms seems to have belonged to a child and in there he uncovers a music box that plays a tune he had composed himself. Russell decides that there is something supernatural going on and he seeks help. A seance is held and a medium reveals that there is something unsettled, inhuman, and lurking in the house…

Russell knew that an old house can be hard to heat
The Chageling is a spooky film. The settings, the people, and the story are just plain spooky, though the story is an example of a tale that anyone who’s seen a horror film in the past thirty years is very familiar with. The key to that eerieness has to be the quiet, understated manner in which the story unfolds and how the settings are used. The house for example is perfect for the film; old in a Victorian style and just rambling enough that it’s impossible to know what’s going on in every part of it at any one time, it manages to give the creeps without even trying.

Scott’s performance as Russell in The Changeling is remarkable. In the early stages of the film he goes from happy family man to grieving father and husband with an honest depth that makes you really feel for him. The scene where he’s explaining the grieving process to his friends in Seattle is a particular triumph and displays his talent incredibly well. Once the activities in the house kick off you can see how and why he throws himself into getting to the bottom of the mystery as an obvious distraction to the pain he carries with him. All the while everything feels restrained, like Russell is normally the type to bottle up emotion and really only expresses himself through his music, which is how I imagine a lot of great artists and musicians must really be like.

The only failing with the film is in how the story shifts in emphasis from ghostly horror to a less supernatural mystery in the last third. All the effort expanded in creating such a wonderful atmosphere is glossed over once Russell starts to confront people with the things he knows. This is salvaged somewhat near the end but at that point the mood is gone. Regardless of this, The Changeling seems to have been the inspiration behind a lot of horror films that came after it, with the likes of The Ring heavily inspired by many of the concepts present, giving The Changeling a far-reaching legacy that is to be admired.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Changeling.

Changeable Links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080516/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Changeling_(film)

30 Days of Fright – 16: The Wicker Tree

Beginning in Texas, USA, The Wicker Tree (2010) sees virgin country-pop singing sensation Beth Boothby and her equally untouched fiancé Steve preparing for a trip to Scotland where they intend to spread the good word in keeping with their evangelical Christian born-again stance on life. In Scotland they are put up by Sir Lachlan Morrison and his wife who provide them with access to and credibility among the local heathens even as the media drag up Beth’s less than wholesome past.

Beth and Steve try out their door to door brand of God-bothering in the more urban areas of southern Scotland and are totally ignored. Switching to the countryside they get a warmer welcome but are confused by the natives interest in more pagan style religions, with many people claiming to worship a goddess in that hipp-dippy style of goddess worship where every little thing is the manifestation of the bitch, from a nearby river to the moon and everything in between.

As Beth and Steve encounter the locals their host, Lachlan, is busy with the nuclear power plant he runs, though his idea of running the place is really to continue to cover up an accident that happened some time previously, the result of which is a poisoned water table which has rendered everyone nearby sterile.

With May Day approaching, many of the villagers are busy with preparations for the festivities and Lachlan reveals to Beth and Steve that he wishes them to play very special roles as part of the fun, though he fails to mention exactly what’s expected of them…

A scene from Dobbin the Pantomime Horse’s little known Sex Tape
Someone, somewhere thinks that The Wicker Tree is a good film. Statistically, there has to be somebody out there who thinks that. That person is deserving of our pity and scorn as they, whoever they may be, is a fucking idiot. The Wicker Tree is such a terrible film that it makes me a little bit sad, incredibly disappointed, and wild fucking angry!
Ever since The WickerMan graced the silver screen back in 1973 and reminded us all why cinema was invented, people have been trying to cash in on the story. When Nicholas Cage made such a balls of his attempt back in 2006 I thought that would be the end of it as no one would wanted to be tarred with that brush. Of course, there was always the chance that some reckless fool would try to create a “good” remake or sequel in order to break whatever jinx had fallen on the franchise but that notion had always been the stuff of nightmares. It never occurred to me that the reckless fool who’d actually take a crack at it would be Robin Hardy, the man who directed the original!
Hardy did a great job with The Wicker Man, of that there is no doubt, but after nearly thirty years of being told how great his film is he finally believed that hype and made a follow up. The mistake Hardy made this time around was tackling the writing bit himself as well as the direction. The Wicker Tree uses the exact formula as the ’73 flick. There’s a bunch of Scottish people who follow a pagan religion, an outsider (or two) who are deeply religious virgins, a threat to the pagans of a failure of the harvest of sorts, and a May Day ritual that needs some extra participants.
The Wicker Tree fails so utterly because there’s nothing like the levels of conflict between the two worlds of Pagans versus Christians that should exist. That absence is a mistake in the writing and the direction so both problems are Hardy’s fault. Without the sense of two worlds colliding there’s nothing to do while watching The Wicker Tree except wait for the inevitable end which is such an anti-climax that it gives the film a made for TV quality.
The Wicker Tree is so bad I have to give it the lowest score going, but I would advise anyone interested in cinema and film production to watch it as a fine example of a film in which everything, and I mean literally everything, is shit.
Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Wicker Tree.

More Wicker Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wicker_Tree
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0323808/


30 Days of Fright – 15: Outpost: Black Sun

Apparently it is possible to get too much of a good thing. I’m not sure if that’s really the case. I wonder if you start off getting a load of a good thing and then that thing stops being good and that’s where the trouble kicks off? What if you were getting a load of a good thing and it kept getting better? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Somewhere in South America at the start of Outpost: Black Sun (2012), a rotten old geezer is awaiting death in a nursing home, whiling away the hours playing board games and forgetting things. A young woman called Helena turns up at the home to see this particular chap, claiming to be his niece. In fact, she turns out to be some sort of bad ass there to hurry up his dying process as he’s an old Nazi who’s been hiding out for years. She baulks at actually killing him as she’s after his old boss, the uber-Nazi Klausener, who ran the concentration camp where her grand parents died. After breaking his fingers and nicking some WW2 memorabilia from him, she splits when he gives her a lead on his old manager.

Travelling to Eastern Europe on the trail of Klausener, Helena hooks up with Wallace a scientist who is on a search of his own for a certain piece of long lost German built technology from the mid-nineteen forties. The part of the country they are in has become a restricted zone and there are a large number of military personnel operating in the area from a variety of unknown nations and other organisations. At the centre of the restricted zone is the item Wallace is after which is causing a large and ever-expanding magnetic field to cover the region for several miles and is somehow creating an army of reanimated Nazi’s.

Helena and Wallace travel into the zone as far as they can before the field causes their car to conk out. Moving ahead on foot they soon start to encounter un-dead Wehrmacht types before they encounter some quite alive soldiers who are making their way towards the same machine as Wallace is after, though they’re on a mission to disable it in order to stop the hoards of zombies before they march all over Europe.

Rammstein on tour

It took a while for me to run into some Nazi zombies until they finally turned up for me in the first Outpost film. Once you’ve seen a Nazi zombie or two running around the Eastern European countryside there’s only one thing you want from that point in your life onwards. More Nazi Zombies!!!! Outpost: Black Sun delivers on all fronts, and then some!

The way the story moves from the end of the first film to the start of this one is excellent. When you see the details of the magnetic field expanding all over the place you know that there’ll be zombies everywhere and they’ll be right hard to kill. This develops the action aspects of the film well and once again the military details are great, from the way the squads of soldiers move to the way they shout “contact” whenever they start shooting up the place, even down to the look of the portable EMP weapons they carry around; everything feels just right even if it’s not all that accurate or in the case of the EMP even realistic.

Just like the first Outpost, and just like any film featuring lots of soldiers (like this one for example), telling everyone apart can be a hassle and ultimately not worth the effort, it’s better for everyone to just focus on the lead characters though in Black Sun the tried and tested trick of giving the soldiers uniquely identifying traits is employed, this time the squad are all from different parts of the UK, so there’s the squad leader with an educated neutral UK accent, the semi-psycho from Scotland (who gets the best lines), and the smart arse from London (who also gets some good dialogue). In the real British army there must be whole squads of lads from roughly the same place, so here’s hoping they never do anything to deserve having a film made about them because you’ll end up with another Black Hawk Down and not have a clue what’s happening.

Nazi Zombies make for excellent villains, making the most out of two of Hollywood’s old reliable baddies. Zombies have always been hard to deal with with the traditional approach to killing them being to remove the head or put a bullet through what’s left of the brain. In the Outpost movies the zombies have an electromagnetic aspect to them so there’s the added problem of needing to deal with that somehow, which is a nuisance to be sure but not insurmountable. What bothers me about the Nazi Zombies in both the Outpost films is that, when confronted with them, no-one tried pretending to be German, or a Nazi. If these guys are Nazi’s first, which they seem to be as they’re following a command structure, then surely if you could convince them you were on their side they should leave you alone, or at worst detain you for questioning? If these buckaroos are zombies first and foremost then that was a pretty stupid plan for continuing the Thousand Year Reich, even for Nazi’s, the masters of stupid fucking plans.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Outpost: Black Sun

Concentrate now, these Links are a gas:
Official Site: http://www.outpostblacksun.com/
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1418712/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outpost_%28film%29#Sequel

30 Days of Fright – 14: The Thing (2011)

This is notorious gobshite Jar Jar Binks:

Like most notorious gobshites, Jar Jar made a successful career for himself in politics

Opinion on Jar Jar Binks splits fans of Star Wars into two camps: those who hate Jar Jar and those who really fucking hate Jar Jar. Whichever camp you belong to though, there is no denying that the three Star Wars prequels are just that, prequels. They start off with little orphan Anakin Skywalker, off out in the desert playing with robots and racing pods for fun, and follow him as he grows up into a fine young man committing genocide on a galactic scale for fun. If, on the other hand, in Episode 1 Anakin was a bloke in his late teens/early twenties, working on a farm for his uncle who then went off to fight in a galactic rebellion then it wouldn’t have been a prequel, it would have been a remake.

Across the barren, frozen wastelands of the South Pole, The Thing (2011), opens with three hardy Norwegian bucks travelling along in a snow cat following an unusual signal they’re receiving. As they speed along the ice, a crevice splits open and the snow cat tumbles into it. Wedged towards the bottom, the headlights shine onto something buried beneath the ice, something spaceship shaped.

The Norwegian dudes are part of a research team based down in Antarctica and the head of the team, Dr. Halvorson, recruits Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the chick from Final Destination 3) to come down to the Pole to check out the discovery as she’s some sort of top palaeontologist (and that’d be a useful expertise to have on the team if you thought that maybe dinosaurs had crashed their spaceship down there).

The team visit the ship under the ice and from there go to the research station to inspect a specimen of one of the creatures from the ship that had been recovered from the ice, which is why Kate is really there. The creature is a large, almost insectoid type thing (hence the name of the film) with arms and/or legs everywhere. Dr. Halvorson insists on getting a tissue sample from the beast before packing it off for proper investigation in a lab somewhere.

That night, all the gang are celebrating the fact that they’ve discovered proof of extraterrestrial life, when the creature in the ice rather predictably wakes up and bursts free of its chilly tomb. Once out and about the monster works its way through the members of the research team (literally works its way through them), hell bent on killing all round itself. With the number of dead stacking up, Kate and the remaining team members make the horrifying discovery that the creature is able to mimic other living things and that one of Norwegian lads might actually be from much further away than Norway…

Dinner’s served!

The latest version of The Thing is nothing more than a remake tarted up as a prequel (proof of this comes in the opening titles where you find out that the film is called “The Thing” whereas the film it’s supposedly prequeling is called “The Thing“). The most damning evidence of all for this conclusion however comes from the piss-poor way the final scene was tacked onto the end of the movie in order to provide a bridge into the film it was allegedly preceding; honestly, the film was over and the credits had started to roll when suddenly an extra bit is cut in to deal with how the story gets to the opening scene of the 1982 film. It was as if the producers were sitting in the test screening back at the studio and when the film was over someone jumped up and went “Holy shit! This is meant to be a fucking sequel!!! How does this lead into the other fucking film? We can’t fucking release this! The nerds will fucking crucify us!” (In my imaginings Hollywood types tend to curse a lot).

Having acknowledged their blunder in not actually making a prequel at all but instead a bit of a remake, how does the 2011 The Thing stack up? Not too well I’m afraid. The original was a wonderfully stark, foreboding, isolated, lonely horror film with an original setting, quirky characters, and some excellent effects. The 2011 film uses the same premise, roughly the same setting, and adds three things to the original formula without any added benefit: a spaceship, a computer, and some women.

Allow me to to address the last item on that list first. The first The Thing was an all male affair. Set as it was in a research station in the South Pole in 1982, that was either incredibly accurate or woefully unrealistic; having never been to a research station in the South Pole in the early eighties I have no idea what the staffing levels were like when looked at by gender. However, as a film, it seemed realistic that those types of places were among the last bastions of truly sexist recruitment policies. In the 2011 film, the producers were quick to get a couple of girls into the mix and this I found to be far more sexist than if they’d left the cast all-dude.

Putting the couple of women into the film is an such an obvious difference from the first one that it draws your attention immediately and makes you wonder why it was done. Was it the case that the story was better told by having a strong heroine? Perhaps. Strong female characters are no different from strong male characters just as weak female characters are no different from weak male characters (lilly-livered nancy boys!). Was it a case of political correctness? This seems more likely; putting a woman front and centre does highlight the difference between the 2011 film and the 1982 film and so allows everyone to feel good about it. But this is a pretty cynical ploy to appease who exactly? Is there a strong lobby out there for more women in horror films? Last time I looked the vast majority of horror movies depended on girls being the most baddest bad-asses they can be so how could anyone who’s ever seen a film like this be worried that women are under-represented?

Maybe the idea was to get more women into the cinema to see The Thing? That’s possible, and almost reasonable, except none of the marketing materials for the film (that I saw anyway) indicated that there was a female protagonist. Perhaps, most sexist of all the possibilities, was that a leading lady was introduced as audiences were more likely to be afraid for her, believing that she wouldn’t be able to look after herself and was therefore in the most danger. This is, like I mentioned, the cornerstone of loads of horror films, but hardly any of those films were remakes (pretending to be prequels) that had a male lead replaced with a girl.

The overuse of CGI was inevitable for The Thing and in it’s own way not too bad. But when looked at in terms of the film it was claiming to lead into you see immediately how shitty an approach to effects CGI can be. The original film used extensive stop motion and model and make up effects with stunning results and is rightly held up as an example of how to do this sort of creature effects. The 2011 film used some physical models from what I could see, but still depended heavily on the old computer effects. What bothered me about the CGI is that the artificial nature of the technology removes any semblance of emotion from what you’re watching. When you see someone attacked by an amorphous alien creature that proceeds to consume their hapless victim’s living flesh you’re supposed to think “by Jesus, that looks sore!”, but if the effect is handled by a computer then it’s hard to feel too bad about some pixels on the screen getting all blurry.

My final gripe is with the spaceship. The ship kicks off this version of The Thing and kinda ends with it too (except for the tacked on scene mentioned above). Showing a spaceship removes all mystery surrounding the creature and what it’s up to. In the original movie the creature springs out of nowhere and scares the bejesus out of everyone, particularly the audience. With the ship on display from the get go, quickly followed up by an alien in a block of ice, all doubt about the nature of the creature is gone and it’s really just a waiting game until the killing starts. Not very scary at all, and not much of a prequel either.

Two Thumbs Down for The Thing (2011)

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0905372/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thing_%282011_film%29

30 Days of Fright – 13: Suck

I like a wide variety of musical types, bands, and singers, but I know that the bands and music I would consider to be my favourites do not appeal to everyone, as most people are plebs with no taste. Knowing that taste is such an important factor in music it takes a brave soul to set out to make a film, in or around the horror genre, about music and bands and things, as no matter what direction you go with it you’re likely to annoy someone. Unless the music you choose is Norwegian Black Metal as anyone with any class at all loves that shit.

Really, what’s not to like?

“The Winners” are the band at the heart of Suck (2009) and are struggling their way on tour around the U.S. and Canada. Struggling is the operative word as The Winners do not live up to their name and are shite and doing poorly as a result. Their only real asset is their bass player, Jennifer, the only chick in the band, who always manages to turn heads whenever the band play. The band is also made up of singer Joey, lead guitarist Tyler, drummer Sam, and handyman Hugo. They’re managed by Jeff, an incompetent pisshead who’s unable to secure a half-decent gig for the band.

After one show, Jennifer is lured away by some dude for a night out. When she turns up the following morning she’s a different person; more sultry, far paler, and sick as a dog. The rest of the group put this down to having partied too hard the night before, or maybe as a come down from some drug she may have taken. However, as they travel onwards it’s apparent that there’s something else wrong with Jennifer as she’s using her sexuality a lot more when on stage; and her playing, which was good already, has improved; and she’s getting even more attention then she did; and she’s a vampire.

Jennifer’s vampiric ways prove to be contagious as the rest of the band slowly succumb to her charms and the lure of the lifestyle that goes with being one of the children of the night. As the lads turn vampire the fortunes of the band improve as the vampire thing is just the gimmick they needed to get the fan attention they craved. As their star rises though, they attract the attention of an erstwhile vampire hunter who would (like anyone) love to put an end to some celebrities…

Not for the first time, Jerry regrets not getting that job at the Apple store

Suck is not a musical but instead a film about music. As such, it depends heavily on cameo appearances from various rock stars playing either themselves or as full blown characters. Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, and Henry Rollins are among the recognisable faces that turn up during the film. Moby even appears as “Beef”, the dog-rough, tattooed lead singer of a meat orientated band from Buffalo, and he was good even though the follow up jokes about “eating Beef” fall a little flat, but he was also indicative of the trick the producers were trying to pull. Getting lots of famous people to pop up from time to time in a film like Suck distracts from the weaknesses the movie suffers from.

Suck is a small-time movie. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, many small movies are great, but Suck, regardless of all the famous people that they managed to get to appear in it, feels… small. The story is small, the settings are small, the effects are small… and it’s kinda shit too, but in a good way. The biggest thing about the film is its heart. The ideas are all OK and the general point of the film is quite fun, it’s just a shame that it wasn’t made by some people with a bit more talent. The best way I can put it is that Suck is one of those movies that will turn up late at night on the SyFy channel, if it hasn’t already.

That aside, there is still a lot to like about Suck and there are some quite funny moments and dialogue. Even some of the characters are quite compelling, especially Malcolm McDowell as the vampire hunter (though if I were him I’d be very worried about the state of my career after this flick and Halloween 2). I also liked the border crossing guard who’s a prick until he realises the guys are in a band so he lets them go as he was in a band himself and seeing Jennifer throw up into her bag really brings him back. Jennifer also gets one of the lines of the film where she asks for help and bluntly states that she wants someone to dismember a body and dispose of it.

Vampires and other dark creatures would find a home in rock music, what with all the black t-shirts and tattoos of bats, but I would have thought that only certain types of rock bands would be completely comfortable with bloodsuckers, and the clean cut, non-bat-tattoo types in The Winners don’t seem the type as they’re more Weezer than Black Sabbath. Whatever their influences, their music is fucking terrible – but that might be the joke (honestly, I’m not sure).
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Suck.
Sucky Little Links:

30 Days of Fright – 12: Scream 3

Parody can be surprisingly dangerous when it doesn’t take itself seriously enough as it can move towards standard issue comedy. Scream had quite a light touch regarding its inspiration; it had to otherwise all you had was another Scary Movie, which were great in their own right, but far more heavy handed. Scream was about homage and entertainment and a good fright. The biggest dangers faced by the Scream franchise was that it would end up getting mean, sloppy, and purely money driven; in other words too much like the films it was based on.

Continuing the story some time after the events of the second film, Scream 3 kicks off with Cotton Weary, the kinda baddie from earlier in the series, receiving one of the iconic Scream phone calls that tells him that a killer is waiting for him at his home in Hollywood. Worried about his girlfriend, Cotton hurries home where the ghostface killer is indeed waiting and who proceeds to murder Cotton and his missus.

The cop assigned to the case (none other than Patrick Dempsey made famous by girly tear-jerker Grays Anatomy) contacts Gale Weathers (played by Courtney Cox, made famous by girly laugh-fest Friends) , the authority on all things to do with the gang from Woodsboro for a bit of advice. Gale heads to tinsel-town to check out what’s going on there, and she discovers her old boyfriend Dewey (played by David Arquette, made famous by…. fuck knows) working as an advisor to the producers of the latest Stab movie.

Gale and Dewey play detective and look into what’s occurring and what it has to do with the Stab movie, all the time without the help of Sidney, the main chick from the first two movies, who has taken to the life of a recluse as she’s more than a little bit concerned about being brutally murdered at any moment. One of the actresses from Stab is bumped off by the killer who then takes to tormenting Sidney by phone. The long-distance needling does the trick and Sidney goes to Hollywood to confront the latest in a string of potential murderers to find out just why everyone’s been so keen to kill her for all these years…

Jesus, Noooooooooooooo!!!!
Fucking Hell, it can’t be true, please say it isn’t true!!!!
 Yep, yer man from Gray’s Anatomy plays the cop!
Scream 3 starts out really badly and just gets worse with every passing minute. In fact, Scream 3 is so bad it’s barely watchable at all. The opening scene with Cotton Weary sets the tone of the film as an expensively produced, yet slapped together mess of a production. The setting has changed again, there’s a bunch of new people to be killed off, and some stupid reasoning has been concocted to gel the whole thing together, but that’s it; there’s no real thought or feeling put into the film and there’s no way it could ever make you believe that someone really wanted to make it in order to fulfil a burning desire to tell a story that was important to them.

In the absence of any guiding principle, the “script” was mashed up and twisted and bares all the hallmarks of having been rewritten while the film was being made. As a result Scream 3 doesn’t know what it wanted to be and so ends up mostly as an outright comedy, though it’s not clear that this was all together intentional.

With the setting moved to Hollywood the movie couldn’t help itself and focused more on the oddities of that city and the type of people who live there instead of worrying itself about giving the audience a good old fright. As a comedy set in Hollywood Scream 3 bears a striking resemblance not to any of the Scary Movies, which is the now obvious comparison, but more to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, to the point that there are a lot of cameos in Scream 3 taken straight from that film, cameos like Carrie Fisher as well as Jay and Silent Bob themselves, I shit you not!

Fucking Jay & Silent Bob in Scream 3

As part three in the series a big deal is made about movie trilogies and the rules that allegedly govern them; things like how all the rules are changed and even main characters can be killed off. With all the talk about trilogies in the film they leave out the obvious – that a lot of third films are not wanted. Some are, like when the second two films in a series are really a two part story themselves, like Empire and Jedi or even the less well loved Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, but most are more like the third X-Men or Spider-Man movies. Just like the worst trilogies that overplay something, with Scream 3, you’ve had your fill of people getting stabbed to death, it was really time for something new.

The acting is atrocious, Courtney Cox is diabolical in Scream 3, and dragging out the same old core characters and then adding in some new ones is too simple a ploy – if a character wasn’t in the last film then their chances of surviving this one were slim from the outset. The characters in Scream 3 are so weak they even had to squeeze in characters from earlier films that were dead, that’s how hard up they were.

Something has always bothered me about the Scream films and it really bothered me third time out. There was never a supernatural element to the Scream films, all the baddies were people with murderous tendencies. So, knowing this, why was everyone so scared and acted so stupidly? Never mind running up stairs why didn’t someone try punching the fucker with the knife? Or better yet hitting them with a big stick? For the most part, everyone just runs around screaming and then dies. Probably as they were ready to do anything to get out of this crock of shit film.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for Scream 3

Read Links, Avoid Film:

30 Days of Fright – 11: Urban Legend

I really enjoy a good urban legend. I like those mad stories of how someone stuck a razor blade into an apple given out to trick or treaters on Hallowe’en (like in Halloween 2 – actually, according to Snopes.com that story is true!), or the story about the escaped lunatic beating on the roof of a car with the head of its missing driver, or the one about the groom walking out of his wedding after revealing that the bride and best man were really good friends. Some of those tall tales are just plain funny while some of them are really quite horrific, so of course there’s a movie or two about urban legends.

The cleverly named Urban Legend (1998) opens on a wonderfully clichéd “dark and stormy night” that you don’t really see that often in films. University student Michelle is driving home from somewhere on the night in question and stops for go-go juice. The petrol station attendant is more than a little creepy though that’s largely due to his ramshackle appearance and speech impediment. He manages to lure Michelle inside the petrol station under the false pretence that there’s a problem with her credit card and that the card company are on the phone and need to speak with her. When Michele realises that there’s no one on the phone and that the attendant wants something unmentionable from her, she makes a break for it and speeds away in her jeep, just as the attendant overcomes his stutter to shout that there’s someone on the back seat!

Whoever it was hiding in the car murders Michelle with an axe and sets of a chain of events on the campus of Pendleton University, where we meet Natalie and her student chums, Brenda, Parker, Sasha, and Paul (Jared Leto – I’m only mentioning the famous actors this time). Parker regales the rest of the bunch with a story about one of the student halls of residence on the campus that is now closed as a result, Parker claims, of a massacre that took place there about twenty five years previously.

The next day, Paul gets into a spot of bother with the university authorities who are not happy that he’s written a front page article for the campus newspaper detailing the murder of one of the students by an axe-weilding psycho and are censoring him by stopping the distribution of the paper. It’s from the newspaper that Natalie finds out about the murder and she’s pretty upset by it. That night she goes for a drive with another of the group, Damon (Joshua Jackson – from Fringe and some other soppy girly shite from a few years back), who uses the opportunity to make a move on Natalie. She rejects him and he steps out of the car to answer the call of nature before returning to the college. While outside the car Damon is attacked and left hanging from a tree with the other end of the rope tied to the car. The killer startles Natalie and she attempts to drive away, thus killing Damon in the process.

With Michelle and now Damon dead in ways that resemble well known urban legends it quickly becomes apparent to Natalie that there’s something very wrong on campus and she tries to warn her friends, but they’re not too inclined to heed her warnings despite the danger to themselves…

Pacey gets a mouthful; Jared Leto wanted for questioning

There’s a lot to like about Urban Legend, much like the legends themselves. Urban legends, or modern folklore, or whatever you want to call them are fun, scary stories that are designed to frighten a little in order to teach a lesson about the hazards of modern living and as such form a great basis for a horror film. With such great source material the only real challenge to making a film about urban legends is how to tie them all together into a complete story. In Urban Legend they manage to do that quite nicely and, almost, believably, though due to the quantity of legends used it does feel like all you’re doing is lurching from one legend to the next.

The legends used in the film are all quite low-key and therefore didn’t overly tax the effects department. Unfortunately, those types of legends don’t offer much in the way of scares either when you see them on the screen, even though they might be quite powerful when told in front of the fire on a dark night, or in the break room of a stormy Tuesday afternoon. 

Urban Legend occurred at a perfect time for films of this kind as a lot of TV shows had created minor stars of people who were around the right age to be in a film like this and at the same time horror was going through a bit of a resurgence. Particularly worthy of note were Jared Leto as Paul, Alicia Witt as Natalie, Robert Englund (yes, the Freddie Kruger Robert Englund) as the Professor, and even Joshua Jackson (from Dawson’s Creek) turned in the right kind of performance.

As you might imagine there’s a a load of trivia associated with this film (check out the links below for more details) and a lot of urban legends are referenced throughout the film without being major plot points. Other little bits feature and I especially liked the  Dawson’s Creek joke at Jackson’s expense (when he starts his car the theme music from that show is playing on the radio) but they could have made more of Robert Englund’s past.

Urban Legend is an enjoyable, harmless little movie with lots of details you might recognise, much like the stories that inspired the film.

One Up and One Thumb Down for Urban Legend.

Here are some Links that actually happened to my cousins room-mates dogs groomers best friend:
Snopes: http://www.snopes.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_Legend_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0146336/

30 Days of Fright – 10: The Pact

A non-event is a terrible thing. That awful feeling that you get when something you were hoping would be really good or exciting turns out to be dull as dishwater can be so crushingly disappointing that it can ruin your entire day if you let it. Anyone who looks forward to anything in life is setting themselves up for a let down from time to time but if the only alternative is to never get excited over things then you are better off running that risk; that’s really living!

The Pact (2012) opens on a downer, with a young woman called Nicole planning her mother’s funeral. Nicole is trying to get her sister Annie to come home in order to attend the funeral and to help sort out the house. Neither Annie nor Nicole were particularly fond of their dear departed mum but Annie is adamant that she’s not going to bother going.

One night, shortly before the funeral, Nicole is disturbed by something in the house and goes to investigate and that’s the last we or anyone else sees of her. Annie does make it to the funeral but Nicole never shows, instead she meets her cousin Liz who’d been looking after Nicole’s young daughter Eva. All three of them stay in the house that night and try to figure out where Nicole may be, assuming that she’d gone back to the old drug loving ways of her youth.

That night there’s a series of disturbances in the house and Annie is attacked by some violent, invisible force. Liz vanishes from the house and Annie flees with the child. Annie goes to the police to report the two disappearances and the events in the house but, unsurprisingly, they’re not inclined to believe her. One of the law men, Bill Creek (Casper Van Dien) thinks that Annie had something to do with the disappearances herself and invented her story to deflect blame.

Unwilling to stay in the house, Annie stays at a motel the next night and sees a series of odd visions. Annie investigates further and goes through her mothers papers. She discovers a set of blueprints for her mothers house and notices that they feature a room in the house that she was unaware of despite having grown up there.

Seeking help from an unusual source, Annie contacts a girl, Stevie, who she was in high school with who allegedly possessed psychic powers. Annie gets her to visit the house and go into the newly uncovered room. Stevie has a grand mall spaz attack and repeats the name Judas over and over again before she’s dragged out of the house  by one of her friends.

Looking into the name Judas on-line, Annie finds the usual biblical references and also a mention of a serial killer operating in her neighbourhood several years prior and who had a strong link to her family…

Psychic Stevie: Pre-spaz. Check out her new show, late night on TV3

I have as of today seen The Pact twice, having managed to catch it in the cinema when it was first released. This is not a film for the cinema (I certainly didn’t enjoy it there anyway) but I thought it might be worth a second look in just in case I’d missed something, or that maybe the cinema setting had just been too much for a small film. After taking that second look it’s clear that The Pact has a lot of troubles stemming from one all-encompassing one.

The biggest problem is that there’s fuck all to say about The Pact. It’s slow, dragged out, shit that has a dodgy start, poor middle, and weak ending. There’s little to redeem it and so little goes on in it that there’s not much to actually review.

While it’s a common complaint for a lot of films, in The Pact it is especially hard to find any level of sympathy for anybody in the film. The two sisters Nicole and Annie had a tough childhood. So what? None of that’s explained anywhere so you never know what it was they went through. Maybe they were terribly abused or maybe they just didn’t get that pony they wanted for Christmas. I don’t know, so I don’t care.

There’s something spooky in the house that makes people vanish and it has something to do with a serial killer no one’s ever heard of that has some connection to the girls family. Yawn. There’s a supernatural element that is going somewhere, all to do with a restless spirit guiding Annie to some much needed resolution; but suddenly, there’s a rational explanation for everything and the ghostly happenings are all forgotten, not that it really matters. The whole ninety-odd minutes is jam packed wall to wall with shit you don’t care about because the film is just so boring due to the incredibly slow pacing.

The Pact is a stunningly slow film; it’s so slow and dragged out it should be shown to the terminally ill in an effort to drag out their final days as while it’s only an hour and a half long it feels like days pass during a viewing. The Pact has to be one of the best non-event movies of all time.

There are one or two positive things to be said about The Pact. There are some half-decent attempts at scares so maybe 7/10 for effort on that front, but it just takes too long to get to them and the gaps between the interesting bits are intolerable. The other highlight was seeing Casper Van Dien getting work again as the cop Bill Creek, and he has by far the best line of the film, though if you liked him in Sleepy Hollow or Starship Troopers, then it would be best if you avoid watching The Pact, not that it has anything to do with Casper Van Dien, it’s just that it’s shite.

Two Thumbs Down for The Pact.

Casper Van Links:
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2040560/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pact_%282012_film%29

30 Days of Fright – 09: Chernobyl Diaries

Horror is supposed to be shocking, that’s kinda the point. In developing a shock or fright the makers of a movie need to play on fear and make the audience uncomfortable, that way, when things turn out to be OK and the viewer realises that they’re safe and well, they’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling and will decide that they like the film they’re watching. There must be loads and loads of ways to make an audience feel uncomfortable but some might not be best used in a film designed for entertainment purposes.

The start of Chernobyl Diaries (2012) introduces us to to a bunch of young American’s, Chris, Natalie, and Amanda,  travelling across Europe to meet Chris’ brother Paul in Kiev. Chris is planning to propose to his girlfriend Natalie in Moscow and has brought Amanda along to help her get over a recent break up (which is pretty fucking sinister really. I mean, “Hi Amanda, I know you’ve just moved to splitsville but would you mind dragging across Europe so you can watch me propose to my long term girlfriend in a massively romantic gesture?” What a prick Chris is! I liked him from the start!).

Once in Kiev we’re introduced to Paul who is a bit of a gobshite. He’s been living in Kiev for a while and has gotten to know a local dude, Uri, who runs an “Extreme Tourism” business, though he really only seems to offer one tour and that’s of the city of Prypiat about 100km away. What makes the tour so extreme is that Prypiat is the town where the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant used to live and the city has been deserted ever since the hurried forced evacuation in 1986.

Uri has two other customers for the Prypiat tour, an Aussie called Michael and his girlfriend Zoe, and they and the rest of the gang pile into Uri’s cold war era van and head off on their tour. Uri is an ex-military type and he knows the guards manning the checkpoint into the exclusion zone around the city but that doesn’t mean they’re prepared to let him in, stating that there’s “maintenance” going on. Uri is a resourceful bloke so he takes a less known route through the forest into the deserted city.

Prypiat turns out to be a fascinating ghost town and everyone is impressed and a little awed by the desolation. Even Uri’s lame jokes strike a cord and a good time is had. The good vibes soon vanish when the group are startled by a large bear roaming around in one of the apartment blocks and they decide to leave, only something in Prypiat doesn’t want them to go…

Paul farted!

Why did it take 26 years for a film like Chernobyl Diaries to be made? The answer is pretty obvious really. Because it’s a massively insensitive exploitation of a film, that’s why. Everything about this film is about praying on the intended audiences (i.e. non-Ukrainian teenagers) lack of knowledge about Eastern Europe, the Chernobyl accident, the effects of radiation, and the trustworthiness of former USSR ex-special forces dudes.

Believing that the audience would be utterly clueless when watching Chernobyl Diaries gave the film-makers incredible freedom to use the old style soviet city in any way they liked. The setting of Prypiat is undeniably awesome, but the poor buggers didn’t have a clue what to do with it.

Setting a film in and around Chernobyl really gives you three options:

  1. Monsters: creatures like Godzilla or the beastie from Cloverfield, some hideous genetically altered animal created by the fallout from the reactor meltdown
  2. Ghosts: of the now dead inhabitants – there are some issues with this as I for one have no clue how many people actually died in Prypiat at the time of the accident or subsequently after they’d moved away, but there’s certainly no big harm in having some phantoms causing a stir in the (old) USSR as you could make them quite sympathetic characters
  3. Mutants: The safest bet on the surface and the one ran with in Chernobyl Diaries, but also the most controversial as the events there took place well within living memory there are some people living with deformities as a result, and labelling anyone who suffered in or after Prypiat as villains is treading on thin ice. Mutated people tend not to be all that scary either as once you hear the explanation for what happened to them you’ll start to feel sorry for them (unless it was their own fault, and no one was going to use that argument in a film about Chernobyl).

Choice of antagonists aside, Chernobyl Diaries is well made. The sets are spectacular and really do invoke those documentary images of the empty city that you see on the Discovery Channel every April around the anniversary of the explosion. It’s by no means one of those first person perspective films, unlike the director Oren Peli’s other well known work Paranormal Activity, but there are one or two scenes of video camera footage and they work well to add an air of realism to the film.

The characters and actors behind them are likeable enough, normal types, nothing too special. The presence of an Australian tourist is a nice touch as those fuckers get everywhere. The issue with the the characters is, like far too many of these films, that they aren’t written or presented in a way that makes you give a shit about them or even want to give a shit about them. This simple problem, not making more out of the characters other than victims in waiting, starts a rot in a film like Chernobyl Diaries that overwhelms it and eventually brings it down.

Chernobyl Diaries fails to frighten as no sense of dread could be established and maintained for long enough for it to work. Out of all the people in the film the only one I liked and wanted to see more of was Uri the tour guide. It’s not that there was a lot of depth to him or anything, it’s just that he had a cool van and a shooter, and in Chernobyl Diaries that made him the most interesting person in the whole production.

As a result of the real life disaster in Chernobyl, a lot of people got very sick and died or passed along severe health issues to their children. There’s no sensitive way to deal with that in the setting of a horror film which is probably why the makers of Chernobyl Diaries didn’t bother trying. Why they didn’t bother making a film that was more than just mediocre is another question.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Chernobyl Diaries.

Ось деякі посилання про фільм минулої ночі і в Чорнобильській благодійність:
Chernobyl Children International: http://www.chernobyl-international.com/index.aspx
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_Diaries
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1991245/

30 Days of Fright – 08: Halloween 2 (1981)

Some people are batshit crazy. There’s no easy way to say it and there’s definitely no politically correct way to say it (no matter how hard you try), some people are just loopy. Screwballs. Nutters. Line workers at the puzzle factory. Thankfully, no matter what mental malady a person may be suffering from they can always turn that condition into an asset and secure employment as a provider of psychiatric care to other psychos.

Set on October 31st 1978, the same Halloween night as in the first film, Halloween 2 (1981) continues the story of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she and wacky, incompetent, psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) confront Michael Myers. Loomis finally gives up on all those years of medical training and experience and just shoots Myers as he remembers to old adage about how doctors can hide their mistakes in the graveyard.Loomis isn’t a bad shot and manages to pump six rounds into Myers but is horrified to discover that Myers hasn’t been stopped and has managed to escape.

The emergency services arrive and take Laurie off to the hospital and Loomis off to search for Myers, who’s out and about in downtown Haddonfield and finds the time to murder a girl before discovering that Laurie, the one that got away, has been taken to the hospital. Now knowing where she is, and for some unknown reason, obsessed with her, Mike heads off to the hospital to get Laurie.

Laurie is in a right old state after the night she’s just had, and has a couple of broken bones and a stab wound so the doctor looking after her has dosed her to the eyeballs with some sedatives. While under, Laurie experiences visions of a young boy in a mental hospital and more disturbingly of her own apparent adoption by her parents.

Myers makes his way to the hospital and once there he starts into his usual brand of mayhem, by cutting off the phones, slashing the tyres of the cars in the parking lot, and then getting down to some wholesale murder, working his way through the hospital staff to get to Laurie.

Loomis meanwhile is off with the Sheriff and makes some shocking discoveries about Myers’ true nature and that of his family…

Look, no hands! Nurse Jill meets Michael Myers for the first time and gets instantly pregnant

It’s no secret that I don’t think much of the original Halloween from back in 1978, and that I believe that people who bang on about it being a great horror film have probably never seen it. However, when it hit the cinemas in the late seventies, people did go to see it in their droves and so it spawned a handful of sequels. In going about putting together a sequel it must be very easy to just do enough to get by, safe in the knowledge that the cash will come tumble in regardless of whatever crap gets flung at the screen.

Everybody knows the deal with sequels so no one really expects that much from them. Of course, the film-makers know that expectations are going to be low for a second film in a series so if they want to cause a stir all they have to do is make a decent film. There have been one or two cases of this in the past but they are extremely rare. Halloween 2 is not one of those rare films, it was never going to create a stir by being stunningly good, but it is actually quite good. No, to call it good is a bot too much, actually, it’s not that its good its more that it’s not completely shit.

The way the film continues the story in such a literal way, by recapping the final moments of the first film and then carrying on, seems like a risky move for a film of this calibre but it paid off. The join between the two films is almost seamless and you’re sucked back into the events of that October 31st very quickly. I do wonder what it would be like to watch the two films one after the other as I can only imagine that a whole pile of mistakes and continuity errors must have crept into the second film that you’d only be aware of after a recent viewing of the first film.Without that “luxury” I didn’t really notice anything glaring and certainly nothing that would have ruined the enjoyment of the film.

A couple of good choices in the plot really helped Halloween 2. Jamie Lee Curtis’ character Laurie isn’t in it that much, despite being the focus of the whole thing, which is good as she’d gone from being a dowdy cow in the first film to being a dowdy cow in a hospital gown in the second. Donald Pleasance as Loomis seems to be in Halloween 2 a lot more then he was in the first one, which is good because he’s madder then the patients he’s allegedly treating (that is if shooting them multiple times, reloading, and shooting them some more can be classed as “treatment” – Loomis’ medical competency once again gets called into question every time he opens his mouth in this flick).

There are some other nice touches in Halloween 2, like the people of Haddonfield finally copping on to the fact that there’s been a lot of murders in the area overnight and that those left alive in the town either know the victims or are related to them! There’s also a clever in joke about a mother taking her young son to the hospital in the middle of all the action. The young lad in question is dressed like a cowboy and has obviously been out trick or treating and has fallen victim to the urban legend of someone sticking a razor blade into an apple. It’s a sick joke but perfect for a Halloween movie.

Overall the effects are somewhat muted as is the violence, for a brutal killing machine Myers seems a little bit squeamish.This reduces Myers effectiveness as a villain and that only serves to draw the audiences attention to the fact that Halloween 2, despite its good points, is a little bit boring; once thing that really sticks out is that there’s just too much of the film set in the hospital as so little goes on there for such a long time, and all during that time hardly any of the main characters feature.

Halloween 2 (1981) does well for a sequel in its class and it’s certainly miles better then the remake/reboot Halloween 2 (2009). This is a film made a little bit for entertainment but mostly for cashing in but it can still teach us something; be really, really careful where you get psychiatric help from as some shrinks will only make matters worse, just ask Michael Myers.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Halloween 2

Jamie Links Curtis:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween_2
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082495/

30 Days of Fright – 07: Silent Hill

When writing a story choosing where the action takes place is all important. Some great films have used unusual settings to emphasise key points in the plot, like Dawn of the Dead occurring in a shopping mall of all places, Devil taking place in a lift, and The Haunting in Connecticut happening in… well, Connecticut.

Based on the video game of the same name, Silent Hill (2006) kicks off with a young girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) off out sleepwalking one night. Her mother Rose (Radha Mitchell) and her dad Christopher (Sean Bean no less) chase after her across roads and fields and when they final catch up to her she’s murmuring the words “Silent Hill” in her sleep. It turns out that this is a frequent occurrence and poor old Sharon is always banging on about Silent Hill without understanding why she’s doing it.

Rose and Chris, who it turns out are not Sharon’s biological parents but rather adopted Sharon not too long ago, are getting rightly pissed off that the kid they got is turning out to be faulty. Chris wants to bring the girl to the doctors as he thinks she’s just a little bit loopy and some nice pharmaceuticals will sort her out. Rose, on the other hand, thinks there’s more to this whole Silent Hill thing and begins to look into what it means. Discovering a that Silent Hill is actually a town not too far away, Rose sets off with Sharon one day to see what she can find out.

Silent Hill turns out to be an abandoned mining town, abandoned due to the massive subterranean mine fire that has been raging for the past thirty years. Rose manages to arose the suspicions of a local bike cop, Cybil Bennet (Laurie Holden) who follows her into the town. On the way in both Rose and the cop suffer separate accidents and awake to find themselves stuck in Silent Hill as fog and ash obscures everything, with young Sharon missing.

Rose begins to search for Sharon and as she looks around the town she discovers that Silent Hill is not exactly deserted, the inhabitants aren’t all exactly human, and that there’s a very sinister link between her daughter and that strange town.

Sean Bean in a stunning career move, not dying in a film

Any film based on a video game is going to have a hard time to get passed the material that inspired it as fans of that game are going to make up the first section of the audience that the film makers are aiming for. This is a bit of an odd idea when you think about it. If you’re a big fan of a game you know its story, and if you’re any good at it (or just plugged away it it for long enough) then you know how the story ends. For those not familiar with the game, like me, any film has to stand or fall on it’s own merits, and in the case of Silent Hill it falls with a big splat.

Silent Hill is one of those tragically shit films that took a solid idea and wiped it’s arse with it. The basic storyline isn’t spectacular really, just a bunch of odd goings on in a remote town with a relatively mundane cause behind them, but what was a brilliant plot device was setting the action in a town evacuated because of a mine fire. You see, there really is a town like that, though it’s not called Silent Hill, in fact it’s really called Centralia and it was the other inspiration behind the film.

A ghost town is a magnificently creepy setting for a horror film made even better with the addition of the fires of hell literally burning under the ground and spewing out poisonous gases everywhere. With a location like that you’d imagine that any old gobshite would be able to make a scary movie there, but the gobsites they got for Silent Hill weren’t any old gobshites, they were the extra special Hollywood kind that can ruin anything.

Silent Hill is basically a filmed version of a video game complete with CGI monsters at every turn, platforms and obstacles to be overcome, and even end of level bosses to be defeated. This video game style narrative leaves nothing surprising in the plot and so Silent Hill is in no way frightening. There are a couple of decent gory bits, usually revolving around people either on fire or having been on fire but there’s no scare worth mentioning and nothing to make you jump.

The performances are shoddy in the extreme, with not even Sean Bean able to elevate this crap-fest despite his best efforts at an American accent (which is always funny to hear him do). Silent Hill is notable for the fact that at no point in the film does Sean Bean’s character die, which is one of the few horror aspects present in the whole sorry effort. The only other cast members worth mentioning are Laurie Holden as the cop as she plays Andrea in The Walking Dead, and Alice Krige as the head baddie as she was in Star Trek: First Contact though I only mention these two for the trivia factor as they were as bad as everyone else in Silent Hill.

Silent Hill is a terrible film, but worse then that, it’s a real missed opportunity; the team behind the film had the chance to make a defining ghost town film with an excellent setting but went for the easy option and simply made the film of the game. However, they have hopefully inspired someone else to take a look at a mine fire town to set a horror film in, and that tiny sliver of hope is the only thing keeping Silent Hill from the very bottom of the barrel.

Two Thumbs Down for Silent Hill.

Silent Links:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Hill_%28film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384537/

30 Days of Fright – 06: Fright Night (2011)

Back in the mid-nineties there was a band called Space who released a song called Neighbourhood. In this song, they detailed all the little secrets of the people living in their area, spilling the beans on how everyone in the locale was mad in their own little way. I like this tune because I like the idea that you can never tell what dirty little goings on occur behind closed doors. There’s something delicious about the notion that on those who go out and about wearing a mask of respectability could be up to anything when they’re at home, and whatever it is it’s probably disgusting!

Who lives in a house like this…?

Set in a very odd suburb of Las Vegas, Fright Night (2011) opens with a teenage boy roaming around his house during what appears to be a bloody home invasion. His parents and sister are dead and he seeks refuge from their attackers by hiding under his parents bed, a not altogether stupid strategy as his Dad keeps a gun under the mattress. As he struggles with the trigger lock, the bed is pulled away and he is taken by the attacker, who doesn’t look at all like your regular criminal.

The next young man we meet is Charley (played by Anton Yelchin – you may know him as Chekov from the latest Star Trek movie), an apparently quite popular young lad who’s popularity is growing further thanks to his romantic entanglement with the attractive Amy (played by Imogen Poots – you may know her as Tammy, the girl from 28 Weeks Later). Charley lives with his mother Jane in that same unusual suburb after his Dad did a runner. Jane is a real estate agent and she’s just off loaded the house next door to construction worker Jerry (played by Colin Farrell – you may know him from Daredevil or The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). Jerry is a bit of a charmer and manages to catch Jane’s eye though at first this doesn’t bother Charley as Jerry seems pretty cool.

At school, Charley’s social status has been steadily improving ever since he started shunning his geeky friends in favour of a more in crowd, which seems to have been a factor in his snaring Amy as a girlfriend. However, one of his old nerdy chums, Ed (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse who you may know as Red Mist from Kick-Ass), just won’t go away and Charley is forced into talking to him. Ed is worried about the number of kids who’ve been missing school lately and wants Charley to come with him to find out if one of them, who Ed and Charley once hung out with, is OK.

Their investigation reveals nothing, as the friends house is deserted. Ed reveals that he has a theory about the kids and Charley’s new neighbour. He’s convinced that Jerry is in fact a vampire and he’s the reason so many are missing. Charley decides that enough’s enough and goes home, leaving Ed to get home himself. On the way, Ed runs into Jerry who is in fact a creature of the night and who turns Ed into a bloodsucker.With Ed now missing, Charley slowly starts to believe that there might be something suspicious about the pale man next door who only works after dark and won’t come in unless he’s invited…

Charley didn’t realise that crucifixes have no power over Irish guys in their mid-thirties

The 2011 edition of Fright Night is a loyal update of the 1985 original, but not just in terms of following the original script, but also by keeping true to the spirit of the first movie. The story is faithfully handled and modernised nicely without trampling all over the important elements, and while it wasn’t a slavish adaptation there were some very recognisable parts up to whole scenes that came almost straight from the ’85 flick.

The Acting was all top-notch with David Tennant providing a real surprise, and a good one as he was excellent as the re-imagined Peter Vincent (this time an extreme magician type who collects supernatural stuff as opposed to a late-night TV show host). Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots both handled their roles very well, though it was a little hard at times to believe that a bloke like him was going out with a girl like her.

There is a high level of humour in Fright Night but, much like the original, it’s sometimes pretty subtle so I’m not sure if you could classify Fright Night as a flat-out comedy, it’s more like a light hearted horror. A film like that could never deliver any real scares and Fright Night is no exception; this is a film about fun with only mild hints of horror, though the way the way Jerry holds onto his victims for a while in order to feed off them slowly is a pretty disturbing thought.

The whole production is stylishly crafted, and I particularly liked the graphics and music used for the opening and end credits which included one of those songs that features sound clips from the film, the type of track that was once really popular in the 1980’s but that you don’t get with a lot of films any more.

Fight Night would have gotten my top rating but for two things. Firstly, it was made for 3D so there’s too many shots of things flying towards the viewer, blood splatters and the like. This leads to the second problem, as in order to get those splatters to go in the right direction it was necessary to turn to CGI to get the job done. While the effects department had the PC warmed up for that task, they then decided to do a few other bits and pieces, including some of the vampire effects, which is unfortunate as it severely reduced the impact of the vampires by making them more like something from a Sci Fi film then a horror; a solid make-up effect would have been a much better choice.

Sadly, these shortcomings are enough to lower the score as they do break you out of the action as you shout “for fuck’s sake” at the screen every time it happens, but they don’t ruin the film entirely. The remake of Fright Night is an enjoyable, fun, and stylish movie that keeps the vampire tradition alive, much like the original did.

Two Thumbs Up for Fright Night (2011)

Hiya Colin Farrell – all the Links say he’s pretty fly… for an Irish guy:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fright_Night_%282011_film%29
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1438176/