John Wick

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Keanu keeps knocking them out of the park – he’s probably the most successful diverse A-List male star at this point in time. By that I mean that he bounces between genre films, smaller budgets, huge budgets, all generally with great box office success and audience enjoyment. John Wick is another action notch on his cap and while it doesn’t come near the majesty of The Matrix it’s still another fun, ridiculous slice of bullet mayhem and grim faces.

Sometimes in action movies, simplicity is best. We’ve seen a lot of overly grim, or needlessly convoluted, or overblown epic action movies in recent years so to have a plot stripped back to basics is pleasing. What’s equally important is that the complexity and finesse which the plot lacks is transposed onto the action – which is fantastic. As always, Reeves fully commits to this side of his character – the unstoppable hitman who never lacks a sleeve to whip out a pistil from. This being a Reeves vehicle, there is a certain moody quality to proceedings – dialogue is light, facial expressions are as blank as the victims of his bullet storm. The cast spices up any gaps in acting exuberance, with veterans such as Ian McShane and John Leguizamo bringing exactly what you would expect them too and Alfie Allen and Michael Nyqvist heading up the villains. Co Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch bring a certain brutal realism to the over the top frenetic action – the pair well versed in action and stunt co-ordination having worked with Reeves during The Matrix Trilogy. The sort of balletic gunplay merged with martial arts with be familiar to fans of The Matrix and shows that the directors have a love for the films of John Woo and friends, and the minimalist characterization of European action heroes of old.

The plot, already the subject of many a meme long before I’d even seen the film, sees John Wick mourning the recent death of his wife. She left him a puppy, hoping he could find some comfort in overcoming his grief. Enter Russian gangsters who take a fancy to Wick’s vintage Mustang – they attack his house, steal his car, and kill the dog. Wick, we learn, is a recently retired Hitman – the best in the business, and he wants revenge. The rest of the film is little more than a sequence of action set-pieces and world-building. A puzzle unfolds with each new face Wick interacts with – a random guy on a street may be a deadly assassin, a luxurious hotel is a hub for the world’s payed killers, and we get snippets of information about their rules, integrity, history, the people who hire them and the people they re paid to kill. It’s all very shadowy but it quickly reaches the point where it seems pretty much every person in the world is involved.

As furious and neck-snapping as the action is, there’s still an inevitability to it all – you know what the outcome will be – but that’s not necessarily a criticism. We’re here to see the ‘good guy’ win, and it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of faceless or gimmicky henchmen are sent his way. It takes the final premise of Game Of Death – fighting a procession of increasingly deadly warriors to reach the end goal – to the next level, toning down the philosophy but instead crafting a world of intrigue and danger. It’s the sort of film which has a charm and enthusiasm which will win over viewers who don’t usually care for this sort of thing and with the style and invention to please hardened action fans.

Let us know what you think of John Wick in the comments!

The Divide

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Michael Biehn is a national treasure. Scratch that; he’s whatever the planetary equivalent is. Universal Treasure? Milky Way Treasure? Whether it be his most well known hits such as The Terminator or Aliens to cult movies like Cherry Falls, or even his own directorial work in The Victim he’s always a fully committed bad-ass. In short, I’ll watch anything he’s attached to, even something which was as critically slaughtered as this. Normally I would go in cautious, but a brief look at the rest of the cast – Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B Vance raises hopes. The fact that it was directed by Xavier Gens, whose Frontiers is one of the best horror movies since 2000 cements it for me. The cherry on top is the premise – a group of New Yorkers are trapped in a basement after a catastrophic event. That sort of fixed location story is always intriguing to me, and a good director and writer can wring gut-loads of tension from a small budget. Is it as bad as everyone has claimed?

The film gets straight to the point – there is no build up or warning and within the opening seconds some sort of explosion rocks an apartment building in New York – as people run for cover, a small group decides to escape to the basement. The building superintendent Micky (Biehn) lives there and isn’t pleased that others have crashed his survivalist dream. We meet a girl called Eva and her boyfriend Sam, brothers Josh and Adrian and their friend Bobby, a young girl and her mother Marilyn, and another dude. Micky tries to enforce his will on the group and the various parties butt heads and discuss what happened. Just as it looked like this would be the continuing sequence for the rest of the movie, a group of dudes in Hazmat suits burst in with guns and kidnap the little girl before running out, but not before the group fights back and takes out a few of the intruders. Understanding that the air outside is infected they formulate a plan to get the girl back.

At this point in the movie I hoped the narrative would continue in this twisting manner but we quickly revert back to the group’s infighting and attempts to survive. It doesn’t take long for secrets to be uncovered, sides to form, and minds to slip towards insanity, all while the lethal air outside threatens to seep in. Rather than the descent into violence and madness feeling natural, it comes across as both abrupt and hardly surprising because several of the characters are dicks to begin with. The performances are fine across the board and quite a few of the cast go above and beyond, fully committing to the growing madness. The story and the colour palette grow continually grim and there is sporadic physical and sexual violence, though few surprises. Throughout, it seems unlikely that there is going to be a happy ending.

Horror fans looking for thrills and shocks won’t find what they’re looking for here, but they will find a fairly dark vision of people in an impossible position. Biehn, and most of the cast play generally unlikable people who progressively get worse, but their performances are strong enough to cover the issues which are inherent in watching characters we don’t like. Gens wallows in the filth and misery and doesn’t explore some of the film’s early surprises or obvious questions. Due to all of this, it’s likely that the film will only find fans if they enjoy the premise or the stars, but it’s worth a watch for those of us interested in humanity’s collapse.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Divide!

It Comes At Night

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I’m sure it has been said before, but I’ll take the bait – ‘what comes at night’? The cynical part of me wants to say that the name was crafted carefully to cash in on a resurgent horror market, and certainly the backlash the film received by the horror community supports this theory. The realist in me acknowledges that this feeling is a symptom of a larger problem; the growing disparity between fan and critical consensus as exemplified by the juvenile antics on such adolescent sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. This insidious ownership of a product you have zero claim in, this growing distrust of critics by the public concerning things which don’t really matter, is like a disease swarming from city apartment blocks to backwoods retreats where the custodians of opinions board up their windows to prevent unwarranted discussion with the outside world and the comfort of a hazmat suited confirmation bias is the only thing blocking your own enlightenment.

I’ve written before about the subjects of fanboyism, the role of the critic, and the toxic entitlement as consumers feel to the point that we feel like we have to protect the movies or music or videogames or books we love. I get it; we’ve all had that pang of thinking what the hell does this guy know – he doesn’t like (insert favourite thing), what a moron. I know! I’ll go and review bomb everything he’s ever written – that’ll teach him! And it will teach him – that you’re the moron. We like different things – Critics just tend to be able to speak more knowledgeably and with greater experience about these things than most. Maybe they come to a film with a certain approach. Maybe they come with a certain bias. You’re lying if you say you don’t, or an even bigger moron than you already appear. With the explosion of the internet, every twat with an internet connection and an interest in movies can call himself a critic. I’ve written thousands of reviews and I in no way consider myself to be a critic. I just like watching, talking, and writing about movies.

While there are few certainties when it comes to opinion or something as intangible as movies and criticism, there are instances when a critic just simply gets it wrong. There are plenty of critics, or just plain fans and reviewers like myself who I more often than not disagree with, and there are plenty who I by and large agree with, or at least respect. Am I going to quiver and mewl like a newborn lamb with its throat caught in the jaws of a wolf, because someone gave a movie I rated a 91, a mere 76? No, because I’m not an asshole. At the time of writing, It Comes At Night has a Critical score of 87, and an Audience Score of 44 on RT. Look at any popular Horror release of the last few years, and in almost every case you’ll see something similar. The Witch, The Babadook, and the newly released The Joker all have a large gap between audience and critical feeling. Do I care? No – I barely find it interesting, but I acknowledge it’s a talking point. I know people get deep into the impact these scores have – advertisers using the higher score in trailers, audiences in turn being hyped up for something they later hate or getting up in arms because something they consider to be better gets buried because of the lack of critical interest. It’s all valid. But in this day and age, it’s all pointless. My advice? Take a step away from it all. Sites like RT exist only to get money. Critics are paid for their work. You simply sit and watch. Just ignore the reviews – the movie still exists, as do you, so let the two of you be the only relationship that matters.

It Comes At Night is a horror movie. It attempts to scare and disturb the viewer, and it attempts to make the viewer think by loosely placing us in the secluded house our protagonists eek out their final days in. As the film opens, we know the world has gone to hell due to the spread of some killer disease. It’s a premise we’ve seen since the dawn of time and a fear we all have, because it is a real, valid threat. Old gramps has somehow contracted the thing, so it’s out to the yard for a bit of marshmallow and OAP cooking. That leaves Mum, Dad, and pervy teenage son who live with no clear purpose beyond trying to not get sick. Oh, there’s a dog too – because there’s always a dog. One night they catch another survivor breaking into their house, tie him to a tree, and beat some good old fashioned truth out of him. Seeing he isn’t sick and cautiously believing he’s legit, they allow him and his wife and son to move in. As time progresses, they help each other out, yet the mutual distrust is still bubbling under the surface.

And that’s it really. Something happens near the end which propels us towards the bleak conclusion. The scenes of the pervy son seem shoe-horned in, his nightmares edited in such a way that they realized they wouldn’t be able to sell the movie without some actual generic horror. If they are supposed to be ambiguous or prophetic or suggestive, they’re not, and horror fans will be more than familiar with each stunt pulled. It’s still interesting – none of the performances are outstanding beyond some screaming in the final moments, but the coldness does add to the overall tone of hopelessness. As much as I hate to use the term ‘elevated horror’ because as far as I can tell that term simply means horror without humour, that’s what they’ve gone for here. The house is suitably shadowy and the director does manage to squeeze out some memorable shots and some low-level tension, but for me it neither scares nor does anything particularly new or well. The characters feel as empty as the first victim in a slasher movie and with no end game in mind the film simply drifts towards its inevitable conclusion. Credit for ending it the way they did, rather than leaving a glimmer of light. Did I like it? I didn’t hate it? It didn’t make me care enough to go and check out how anyone else felt about it. Put most simply – in my opinion, it’s neither 44% bad, nor 87% good.

But let me know how you felt about it in the comment – are you more on the critics’ side or the fans?

Creepshow 2

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Creepshow is a mainstay of Halloween viewing for me. It’s that combination of ghoulish fun and macabre humour which makes it endlessly rewatchable and a perfect gateway movie for younger fiends. Plus, the fact that it’s an anthology means you can step away to grab more snacks without pausing, or check that the lady you have tied up in the basement hasn’t escaped; you’ll need her for later.

Creepshow 2 is, obviously, the follow-up and features more grisly tales penned by Stephen King. George Romero steps down from the Director’s Chair and writes the screenplay instead, while his frequent cinematographer Michael Gornick directs. While certain elements remain – the use of effects, the authentic comic book style, the film is not near the same level as the first. The stories, the cast and performances, the humour, and the thrills all suffer, meaning Creepshow 2 is merely a watchable, not essential anthology.

The wraparound is one of the more notable aspects of Creepshow 2, acting like more of a standalone segment than what the first delivers. We follow a boy who eagerly awaits the next edition of the Creepshow comic. It is delivered by The Creep himself and the film switches neatly from live action to animation. This is fairly well done, although now the actual animation is looks dated and cheap. Also, The Creep’s head is clearly nothing more than a giant cock and balls. These animated sequences return between each main segment as we follow the boy’s quest to pick up his venus fly-trap and get home without being attacked by bullies. Added together, these pieces form a long enough segment, but I can’t shake the feeling that this was padding given that two further planned stories by King were removed from production and inclusion.

Out first story eases us in, with a languid, over-long intro to tell of a couple of old-timers living in a ruined shell of a town who are terrorized by local hoodlums. The old-timers are played by the film’s big-hitters – Dorothy Lamour (in her final film) and George Kennedy. They add a touch of class, but it’s a pity the story is a non-mover. The couple are friendly with the local Native Americans, but when the hoodlums cause havoc in their store, the Old Chief Woodenhead statue who adorns the store-front comes to live and hunts down the bad guys. There are some genuinely cool facial effects here, but the story takes too long to get moving.

Next up is the best segment, sadly let down by being shorter and more amateurish than it should have been. The Raft is a favourite among Constant Readers, but the adaptation is another case of ‘what works on page doesn’t work on screen’. It’s still the best segment in the movie, but with a longer running time and better cast it could have rivaled the best offerings from the first movie. Four college aged kids are heading to a secluded lake for a day of drink and debauchery – the major selling point being that there is a large floating raft in the middle of the lake. The only way to get there is to swim, so they strip off, leave their clothes and food behind, and swim over. As they reach the raft, they notice something else floating in the water and it soon becomes clear that the thing is attracted to them. Not long after, one of the group is gruesomely pulled into the water and devoured by the foreign lifeform. The rest of the segment is mostly screaming and not a lot of thinking as the survivors are picked off. The segment lacks the thought and tension of the original story, and it’s one which deserves a modern retelling. Although imagining four modern day kids leaving their phones on the shore takes too much suspension of belief.

The final story almost works – having Lois Chiles talk to herself would be all fine and well if the dialogue was interesting, and ,the idea of an undead hitch-hiker is nifty. The set up is too long and a more ambiguous character would have lent some depth rather than the ‘here’s a self-interested lady who’s having an affair so she’s clearly evil – I hope she gets some ironic comeuppance’. Again, a little more thought, and this could have been a stronger segment. I get the feeling that this one would creep out younger viewers – the thought and the sight of the hitch-hiker, his body getting progressively more battered and deformed, relentlessly chasing Lois is something appealing – both funny and nightmarish, but it feels a little flat. We do get another classic Stephen King cameo as a mumbling trucker which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

I’m not sure what is missing from Creepshow 2 beyond more care and experience behind the scenes. The first and last segment are overlong and the middle is too short – another story could have balanced things, Lord knows there are still plenty of unfilmed King shorts. It’s middling tier Horror Anthology fare, and if it wasn’t for the title and the fact that King and Romero were involved, it’s likely this would have been swept under the rug long ago. There are good ideas here, and potential for a stronger installment, but as it stands it’s really only one for die-hard anthologists, King, and Romero fans. One final personal note – I always loved the poster for Creepshow 2; it was one which stayed with me for the years between seeing the poster and seeing the film.

Trilogy Of Terror

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As a horror movie fan, I’m a member of various groups on Facebook. Those groups feature the same movies, actors, and arguments over and over again as you may expect. One type of post which comes along every so often is ‘what scared you as a kid’ and one image which is typically given in response is the image at the top of this post. Yes, that cute little fella apparently spawned millions of nightmares in the bedrooms of millions of kids all around the world – but it was from a movie I had never seen. Somehow I had made it into my thirties without ever seeing Trilogy Of Terror – one of the most famous horror anthologies. It’s time to right that wrong.

It’s difficult to understate the loss the movie world suffered when Karen Black died a few years ago. From appearances in cult movies such as Easy Rider and Dogtown, to mainstream hits like Nashville and Five Easy Pieces, the horror world quickly claimed her as one of their own. With Burnt Offerings near the start of her career to House Of 1000 Corpses near the end, she was an icon of the genre. Trilogy Of Terror is a masterclass from Karen Black, appearing as no less than four wildly differing characters over the three stories we are told. Dan Curtis directs, himself no stranger to the horror genre having crafted cult series Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and many others. The three stories here are each solid, offering different ideas – some of which seem ahead of the curve, even if one is the obvious standout. Based on stories by Richard Matheson, it’s hardly surprising the tales have credibility and twists.

In Julie, Karen stars as a college professor who receives unwanted advances from one of her students – Chad. The story covers obsession, perversion, voyeurism, and date rape, with Chad pursuing Julie for sexually sadistic purposes. Julie meanwhile, has her own plans. In the second story Black plays two sisters – Millicent And Therese – one being dour and repressed, the other direct and adventurous. Even with voodoo and rivalry and psychoanalysis, it’s the weakest of the bunch – raised by Black’s performance. The finaly story is the one I hear mentioned regularly on the horror pages and forums – Amelia. Following on from the other stories, the title is the name of the main character. I feel this has been to the detriment of the story because no-one even remembers the name, only calling it ‘that one with the creepy African doll which comes to life’. That’s a pretty apt title.

Presumably a lot of people saw this in their youth and it stayed with them. Fair enough – it does a job of portraying the doll in a creepy light, it’s certainly a freaky looking wee bastard, and Black’s performance convincingly conveys the peril. One thing keeps coming back to me though – it’s a doll. Doll horror movies, or even movies with smaller creatures in the vein of Critters, Ghoulies etc, are one step past ridiculous for me. If people are genuinely afraid of these things when they’re young, it’s a fear that passed me by. I can’t take them seriously and I almost take them as a full blown comedy. I do’t know about you, but when I was young I viewed my toys – my He-Man, Transformers, MUSCLE men etc, as my protectors – coming alive to stand guard against nightly threats and terrors. If they happened to turn evil? Well then I’d kick them over and casually walk out of the room.

So even though the scares don’t work for me, I appreciate that they do for others and Curtis manages to create both creeping dread and efficient jump-scares. It’s the most straight tale of terror in the bunch, the most visceral even if it doesn’t rely on gore. Indeed, none of the stories are bloody and most are psychological in nature. It’s a brief watch, both fun and interesting, and if anything it’s a must due to the pedigree involved. The fact that none of the segments are weak will make it a seasonal favourite for horror fans – this horror fan just isn’t creeped out by dolls.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Trilogy Of Terror!

Zombie Creeping Flesh

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Sometimes, you just have to go Italian. Whether it be Ice Cream, football, or movies, Italy has an exotic credibility which other Countries lack – a cultural history going back thousands of years showcasing some of the greatest minds, innovations, and pieces of art our species has ever known. Which brings me aptly to Zombie Creeping Flesh, as seminal a slice of outspoken, challenging genre fiction as you’ll ever see.

Or perhaps, more accurately, a flaccid turd. See, sometimes you go Italian and you remember that at least Hollywood’s horror efforts of the 80s had a budget, maybe a professional actor or two, and didn’t rely on whatever passed for Google translate in pre-Internet days. Zombie Creeping Flesh cashes in on many other stronger Italian gore movies – Zombie Flesh Eaters being one of the most obvious flag-bearers – while borrowing liberally from Romero’s masterworks. It’s a mess by anyone’s standards, and the use of several Goblin tracks taken from other movie soundtracks simply serves to remind you that you could be watching those movies instead.

Still, there are positives. credible and otherwise. Zombie Creeping Flesh (also known as Hell Of The Living Dead; also known as Virus), is helmed by Bruno Mattei who had a varied career in Cinema by the time he took on this project. Known to horror fans for his Nazi exploitation films, he would eventually become known for dubious unofficial remakes and sequels and spins of Hollywood hits – Shocking Dark Terminator 2, Robowars, Strike Commando, and of course the ever delightful Women In Prison sub-genre. You’d think some coherence of plot and some degree of care, or at least the ability to shoot another take if one of the zombie extras was snickering clearly in the background would have been borne out of his years of experience, but no. The film leaps about in time and from scene to scene without explanation, weaving through its bare-bones plot with the grace of a turd dropping from ass to bowl. Somewhere in there is an admittedly interesting environmental subtext, but it’s hardly Romero level satire. What we have is a bunch of scientists causing a zombie outbreak, and the military and journalists caught between trying to contain it, report on it, and escape from it – and even that brief sentence is more complex than the plot. As if to highlight this fact, a notable slice of the running time is taken up by largely unrelated scenes of animals running, hunting and assorted tribal and wildlife footage – surprisingly it isn’t even Mondo stuff, just generic ‘oh look, an elephant’.

So we start with a faintly amusing scene of Scientists realising they have unleashed some toxic gas which turns you into a flesh eating zombie – it amounts basically to someone (a rat) pressing the wrong button. Within moments there is shouting and running and sudden neck chewing. The Scientists are overrun. We skip confusingly to a random mansion where a group of the least threatening hippy-terrorists this side of the Gluten Free Coffee Shop down my road are holding some people hostage. I have no idea who the hostages are, and neither it seems do our gun-totin’ heroes who blast there way in to the room in cavalier fashion, brandishing their firearms in the most bizarre and ineffective way I have ever seen. I think the terrorists wanted the Government/Scientists in the opening scene to stop polluting the world or cutting down trees or something, but it’s not very clear. We then skip to Papa New Guinea where our elite team of 4 marines (who look like went for a few pints down their local in 1976 and never left) because they have to investigate why the Scientists haven’t been communicating, but rather than land at the camp the have to trek for days through the jungle first? By this point I’d lost track of what was going on. They meet a Journalist lady and her porn star cameraman who are maybe doing a report on the Scientists. Zombies attack and rather than leave immediately, they head to the Plant.

There are several bizarre and hilarious moments throughout – in fact most of it is bizarre. The lead actress – her thing seems to be to repeatedly widen and shrink her eyes, when talking, when reacting, when screaming – it’s like she’s in a constant state of surprise, open wide, shrink, open wide, shrink, expand, dilate, repeat. The zombies are at times masters of stealth and dumber than a group of Big Brother presenters. As alluded to already, the zombie performers are hilarious – most are low on make-up but high on not knowing what a camera is as they visibly smirk quite jovially on their swaying arm march of doom. Every so often one catches a squib to the chest – the effects being mostly shoddy – but there is one great moment later in the film when the group is trying to escape in a car only for one zombie to casually open the door of the moving car and get in. From barely being able to walk for most of the movie to struggling to maneuver their way through a front door, this particular zombie has clearly evolved and re-mastered the art of chasing an Uber.

Maybe the strangest scene takes place after one of the several arguments between the soldiers and the journos and moments after they almost died in gruesome fashion. They are suddenly sitting in around a slide in a back garden before one of them goes ‘weee down the slide’ and they all laugh and stare at the camera for a solid ten seconds. Then one of them looks around and says something like ‘Oh, there’s a house, we’d better check it out’. It’s like something from Garth Marenghi complete with bad dubbing. The dubbing and dialogue throughout is cause for giggles too, though I imagine it must be difficult to match meaningful dialogue to the actors’ mouths after the fact. I imagine none of you reading this will feel the desire to watch the movie, but Spoiler Alert if you must, most of the team die in the most unlikely ways. We get the requisite ‘stand with your back to the door’ even though you know there are hundreds of creatures waiting to literally eat you outside. We’ve seen how weak these creatures are – moreso even than in Romero’s hits, yet one guy simply yells as three crowd round him instead of lightly shoulder charging them and walking past, then another guy who has proven to be a reckless badass simply allows himself to be pulled in by a few after taking on a bunch easily himself, multiple times. I assume the running time was getting on and they needing to dispatch our heroes in as cheap a way as possible.

At least we get a suitably bleak ending as Screamy Wide-Eyes Magee has a fist shoved through her mouth and pops her eyes out – though how the survivors allowed fifty zombies to creep up on them is anyone’s guess. Naturally, we also are treated to a shock/twist ending as it turns out that the zombies have reached US shores – how, is anyone’s guess but it wouldn’t be a zombie movie if it didn’t end with everyone in the entire world dying. This is a hard one to recommend to anyone who doesn’t enjoy Italian horror and it’s hardly one of the bright lights. Still, if you haven’t seen it you might get a chuckle out of it this Halloween.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Zombie Creeping Flesh!

A Quiet Place

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You probably know by now that I tend to wait a few years before catching up on new movies – I can’t be arsed driving to the nearest Cinema unless it’s something massive that I need to see, and there’s so many films old and foreign and not released in Cinemas that I watch as well/instead. The downside is that it’s a pain trying to avoid spoilers and by the time I get to writing a review, nobody cares about it anymore. I liked A Quiet Place but enough time has passed and the hype has died down now to the extent that I can say it’s not as good or as revolutionary as many would have you believe and despite an A List cast and interesting premise/gimmick, there’s essentially nothing here you haven’t seen before. The film also falls into standard horror tropes of stupid people doing stupid things for contrived reasons. But we’ll get to that.

The films begins at some point in time past an unexplored cataclysmic event. It appears that most of the human population of the world has been killed by some sort of alien/monster invader who attack by sound. Quite why we were so easily beaten is anyone’s guess but lets suspend such disbelief. We meet one family – a husband and wife and their three young children. The family have all adapted to living, communicating, and travelling in almost complete silence, existing in a remote farm on the outskirts of a remote farm. In the opening scenes we learn, in horrific fashion, just why it is so important to keep quiet. We then flash forward some time to see that the family is still trying to recover from that opening tragedy – dad and daughter have a lack of communication and unspoken blame/guilt thing going on, and mum is heavily pregnant. Daughter is mostly deaf and dad is trying to fix her hearing aid – this seems like it will be important later. Stuff happens and the family home is attacked.

A Quiet Place definitely feels like a B-Movie made for people who don’t like B-Movies. First, there’s the big budget and A-List cast, and secondly it’s made with more skill and subtlety than these sorts of films typically are. At its core though, it’s the same film you’ve seen a hundred times over elsewhere. It is better made but makes most of the same concessions to elicit fear and tension and falls into most of the usual pitfalls and tropes. Like your favourite slasher movie, there are several key moments when you’ll be shaking your head at the decisions characters make, when a more obvious and simple choice would have resolved a problem or saved a life. It lacks the gore and extreme action of many of these films, but makes up for it with a degree of seriousness, drama, and hopeless atmosphere. The most impressive element is the dedication to silence and use of sound, which a lesser film would abandon or fruitlessly exploit. The film was a surprise smash hit, latching on to the current run of so-called (terribly named) elevated horror, and a sequel is currently in the works (and may even be released by the time I post this). The cast each perform their roles with great skill and dedication, with Blunt and Krasinski adept and the young Simmonds and Jupe looking like future stars.

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Quiet Place!

V/H/S

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A number of obvious positives came from the onslaught of found footage films – it opened the door for new voices in genre cinema who could make a legitimate movie on a shoestring and cash in on the trend (counterpoint being every fool with a camera thought they could do it); studios and directors could make movies with little budget and almost guarantee a considerable profit (counterpoint being that it encouraged a host of copycats with a reduction in quality); it offered both long-standing and original voices a new creative outlet along with near full creative control thanks to the money involved being so low and the inherent restrictions forcing filmmakers to think outside the box (this didn’t last long). VHS came in the middle of the Found Footage run of infamy and ticks each of the positives above in some way. Up and coming directors such as Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, and Radio Silence had a podium to shout from, showing us what delights and horrors lurked under their kilts, and a near certainty that they would reach a larger audience than they had up to that point. Did they use that power for good?

VHS is an anthology film, and as such there is a mixed bag; different stories, different styles, some segments good, other segments not so good. The gristle tying it all together is the use of found footage, each story peppered with gore and shocks. The wraparound conceit follows a group of hoodlums who, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial KIller style film their adventures. Their latest mission is unusual – an unseen benefactor pays them to break into a house to steal a single VHS tape. The gang discovers a corpse in a room filled with screens, and videotapes by the box load scattered around the house. While they start collecting the tapes, one guy decides to pop one in and watch. Each tape reveals a new story, and at the end of each new story one of the gang members vanishes – maybe that corpse isn’t so dead?

As with most wraparound stories, there isn’t much substance or payoff, but given the short running time there’s still intrigue and scares. It’s far from the worst wraparound, and it actually tonally fits with the rest of the content. The first story – Amateur Night – follows a trio of scumbags who bring a couple of young women back to a motel room with the intention of secretly filming them having sex. They quickly find their chauvinist ways turned back upon them as one of the women has plans of her own. It’s a fun, masochistic twist on the ‘boys will be boys’ events of recent history, it’s a sleazy tale with a sting. Ti West, probably the most accomplished director of the bunch, gives us a simple near – one room story as a married couple head on a Second Honeymoon. In their motel room, a disoriented woman knocks and asks the husband if he can give her a ride the following day – he refuses. Later that night the woman breaks into the room, turns on the camera, and films herself on the sleeping couple’s bed with a knife, before stealing some money. The next night she has followed them to their next destination. Again, there’s not much to it, but Ti West makes anything watchable and as always there is a twist of sorts.

Tuesday The 17th may be my favourite of the bunch – a camping trip gone wrong like so many others in Horror history. A group of friends has been convinced to go on the trip by a new friend and on the trip the new friend begins to tell them of how all her friends were killed at the same place one year earlier. Before long, a near-invisible killer, cloaked almost like the Predator begins picking them off. The killer is called The Glitch, and it’s a great idea, a figure which literally glitches across the screen, appearing suddenly behind characters, wobbling in and out of vision in static waves. The plot is light, but the idea and execution of the creature is good fun. The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger is a Joe Swanberg helmed Skype chat style short. It details the chats Emily has with her boyfriend James as she becomes increasingly unhinged – believing her room is haunted and that the lump in her arm is something sinister. I’d forgotten about this segment more than any other, but it has its moments.

The final story is the effects and tricks bonanza. Radio Silence’s 10/31/98 follows four friends heading to a Halloween party, but ending up in the wrong place. Stumbling upon some sort of, what they believe to be, demonic ritual or exorcism the boys fight back against ghostly arms and unseen forces. It’s a lot of fun but again there’s some sort of ‘women cannot be trusted’ vibe going on –  running theme in a number of the shorts. The wraparound concludes and the film ends. As a whole, I didn’t find any of the segments notably weak – each has a charm and each is solid, with some being more inventive or interesting than others. I don’t know if the woman thing was intentional or sub-conscious or me reading too much into it, but it becomes noticeable. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll probably see it or go looking for it. On the flip side, the men in several cases are portrayed as dicks or morons too, though each segment is brief enough that the strength of the idea overrides the dislike of any character. The Found Footage approach is used differently in each piece and it doesn’t becomes tiresome or nauseating, each director making sure there’s a stylistic and relevant reason for it. Anthology films are quick and easy watches and can make for a decent introduction to horror. Also, you shouldn’t get through Halloween without watching at least one or two. If you haven’t seen V/H/S, it’s one of the stronger recent efforts.

Let us know in the comments what you think of V/H/S!

The Sand

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I know I’ve been posting reviews of shark movies quite a bit recently so just to change things up a little I thought I’d take twenty paces backwards onto the beach and talk about The Sand – a strange little movie which merges the slasher tropes inherent in many shark movies with the tongue in cheek laughs of Tremors. It’s another low budget film which relies on its premise to suck you in (pun not intended, actually) and thanks to some not terrible performances and effects, it’s quite fun.

For horror fans that is. People not interested in horror or shlock will steer clear; anyone who doesn’t find the idea of a bunch of pretty young things stranded on a man-eating beach hilarious won’t ever find their way to the film. That’s right folks, in The Sand our antagonist is the title character, sand with the strength to suck you down like a Sarlacc, sand with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Sand which surrounds a group of college students as they wake up from a drunken beach party and begins to pick them off like a post-college job picks off your dreams. You’d think this was produced by Roger Corman.

I didn’t recognise any of the cast beyond a late cameo by a familiar face, but by and large they do the job of ‘person about to be eaten’ or hero quite well. Naturally we have to have a pile of dramatic conflict thrown in – there are boyfriends and girlfriends, there is jealousy, unrequited love, all the stuff you would expect. There’s also a dude trapped in a barrel. The characters wake up scattered about the beach – one in a barrel, one on a picnic table, some in cars, some in a lifeguard house. It’s not long before one of them has touched the sand and is sucked in, in pleasingly gory fashion. It’s hundreds of metres to the nearest road and (you have to suspend your disbelief for this one) all of their phones are either dead or packed away beyond reach. It’s hard making horror movies these days, as so much could be resolved with a simple phone call.

As the film saunters along, the gang explore various ways to escape and survive which lead to some tense enough moments, particularly a couple of scenes involving the hood of a car. You’re not going to chew your nails, but it’s much better than what you would expect from the type of film. The effects are by and large very good, at least until we get to the finale – the make-up and gore providing the sorts of moments us horror fiends love to see. It’s cheesy, but the fact that it is self-aware without being ridiculous increases its charm. It doesn’t patronize the viewer while admitting it’s nonsense. While the ending feels a little lazy and set up for a sequel which never came (yet) the story runs its course by the time we pass the 80 minute mark. With obvious parallels to Blood Beach, The Sand is a fun B-Movie which revels in blood and boobs without tipping over the top into lunacy, and would make a good party movie.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Sand!

Sanctum

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It seemed like a good idea. An adventure movie with input from James Cameron, set in the claustrophobic world of underground caves and which promised unique visuals, thrills, and realism. That world is not one we see nearly enough of, and you can count the number of good films with such a location on one finger – hint – it’s called The Descent. So what the hell went wrong with this then?

It’s pretty clear early on what the problems are and that they’re unlikely to be overcome. In the opening scenes we are treated to the terrible delivery of some pretty bad dialogue and it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re dealing with a shoddy screenplay and some less than desirable actors – either that or they’re horribly miscast. It’s not hyperbole for me to state that every line in the opening 20 minutes is stilted and delivered in a knowing, winking way, almost as if it’s a first read through. In fact, it felt like a porno or a Carry On movie, but without the sex. We meet a group of explorers who are investigating a labyrinthine subterranean cave system. There’s the fun-loving billionaire who…. likes caves? He brings along his girlfriend – an avid something or other, and a teenager called Josh who looks like he walked out of a gnarly amateur skateboard video – fish-eye lens and all. Josh’s dad is the world renowned, never heard of him, diving expert Frank McGuire – a man so dedicated to fingering caves that he has had no time for fingering (hugging) his son. He’s a complete asshole. There’s a bunch of other explorer types helping out. You can already tell how these relationships are going to go, and the beats they’re going to take along the way. There isn’t an ounce of originality in the script when it comes to character or drama. The stupid thing is – nobody in the real world speaks, acts, or behaves like any of these buffoons. Early on one character says to another ‘Promise me you won’t let me fall’ – I wonder if that’s going to come back and bite them.

It all feels more Congo than Jurassic Park. Those movies at least had a sense of fun – this is all very po-faced or making jokes in that self-aware manner. So, they’re down this cave, hole thing, and – wait a minute – all these guys are divers? So that’s where Jimmy Cameron comes in. In order to explore the cave system they have to dive, so we get all of this wonderful dialogue about diving equipment and safety and fuck it there’s a giant storm coming so rather than climbing out lets forget all about that and plow ahead. Oops, now somebody’s dead. Seriously? I’ve no idea why or how this woman dies – I know nothing about diving – but basically she is swimming along, something happens and she immediately freaks out. She tries to share air with Frank, but this is beyond her abilities and Frank takes the breather from her and watches her drown. This kind of makes sense, but it’s filmed so horribly that it’s not clear what happened. Everybody blames everybody else. Josh decides to climb out before the storm blocks them completely. Why anyone decides against this is a mystery. Why some of the group do leave, never to be heard from again is a mystery. Why Josh decides to turn back and join his father is a mystery. You’ve just accused each other of murder and hated each other your entire lives, but maybe sudden death will bring us both together.

You can guess how the rest goes – the cave picks off the group one by one in increasingly pointless ways and arguments continue to get heated. Someone gets the bends, not sure why, someone refuses to wear a wetsuit, someone cracks their skull, someone’s hair gets caught and everyone freaks out inexplicably because they try to free themselves, someone drowns, and as expected, someone falls on a stalagmite. It’s all very very silly. It is watchable, barely, thanks to some great visuals. Not amazing, not what they are hyped to be, but certainly not the sort of thing we’re exposed to frequently. The action is sparse and lacking in threat, the film moves slower than a bubble on a lake, and we’re given no reason to care about anything that happens. Some day, someone will make a good film set in this sort of location – with the claustrophobic tension and characters it deserves, while retaining realism. As it stands, this is mostly a shambles and one to skip.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Sanctum!