Cam

The first thing my wife said when watching this was ‘there’s a lot of tits in this for being rated 15’. I was thinking the same thing, although I hadn’t noticed the Netflix age rating until she brought it up. Yes, there are quite a lot of tits in Cam, which only seems right given the subject matter. It’s just sleazy and voyeuristic enough without bordering on outright porn in its very lightweight depiction and discussion of the latest sell your sexuality craze.

Viewers in the UK will likely be aware of TV channels such as Babestation. I’m sure they have similar stuff in the US and around the world – late night channels which are little more than women in various states of undress, gyrating around and mimicking sex acts for the viewer. Viewers are encouraged to call in and get one on one time with the girls but if you don’t want to fork over the cash, you can simply watch, presumably with one hand down your gunks. In other words, it’s dumb, exploitative, and ugly; in other words, it’s great. Similar websites exist for the same purposes, if simple porn isn’t interactive enough for you. Admittedly, it’s not a rabbit hole I’ve ever been down but there are plenty of non-porn or softcore versions all over the web that it’s easy to stumble upon – Twitch girl gamers with huge cleavage, girls and guys simply eating or reading in front of the camera for your likes and cash – every possible fetish is catered for and it is a massive business that will seem bewildering to most but is only becoming more commonplace. Taken further – basically every YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram page is set up in the same way, for likes, for attention, for money, clicks, and affirmation. Hell, even this blog. But believe me, the people in this movie look a lot better with their tits out than I do.

So what’s it all about – a scathing satire of this modern societal behaviour? A deep dive into the psyche of the individual and the populace who drive this shift in morality? No, I can’t say that any of those critiques hold true although in the opening moments I assumed this was the way the movie was going to go, wrapped in a story of identity theft and horror. We follow our main protagonist Alice – your typical view of a Millennial who seems to exist almost entirely online. She is a Cam girl, and has her eyes set upon a top 50 spot in her website of choice. There is a funny moment later on when we see just how many accounts there are – in the tens of thousands – which gives a giggle concerning the prevalence of the phenomena. It seems like in order to reach the hallowed Top 50, you need to perform more and more extreme acts – show more skin, a little bit of S&M, dressing up to satisfy your flighty viewers’ whims. Alice is shown to be manipulating it all for her own gains – she is paid in tokens which translate to hard cash – and doesn’t balk at spending five grand on a new sofa. She’s doing alright, but starts to get more fame and attention due to her stunts regarding violence. One event in particular seems to get her a lot of notice and as she laps up her new found infamy her online and offline life begin to merge and collapse.

There’s another Alice out there – breaking Alice’s own rules of things she will never do. This Alice has her face, her voice, but is willing to do those things Alice will not – and she starts to take Alice’s viewers away. Soon Alice is blocked from her account. Soon she begins seeing her online fans on the street, in her local stores. Soon she is the one being manipulated and she becomes the viewer, logging in and forcing the new Alice, paying the new Alice into certain acts in the hope of finding out what the hell is going on. It’s an interesting place to start for a story, but one which deserves a better pay off. It’s listed as a horror movie, but it’s absolutely more of a thriller – there is little horror to be found and any thrills and drama come out of mystery rather than fear or tension. It’s all a bit silly though it does appear to take itself seriously. The writers and director have a good grasp of the material, from the perspective of people who exist in this world, and while Alice herself is an interesting enough character played with spark by Madeline Brewer, the surrounding characters are mostly surface and irrelevant, and any deeper meaning beyond ‘wouldn’t this be spooky if it happened to you’ is never unwrapped. We do get some moments between Alice and tech people, between Alice and the Police, and between Alice and other Cam girls which uncover some of the trials and dangers and pressure the people living in this world must go through, but these came across as basic laughs more than outright satire.

The film is around 90 minutes long so it doesn’t wear out its welcome at any point. I know my wife had mostly given up caring by the end while I was still interested enough to see how it all panned out and if there would be any late twists. Once it becomes a procedural drama with Alice putting on her Detective cap and investigating any potential leads, the film loses a little of its spark. I was happy to learn about the people in front of and behind the camera ensuring this business continues to exist and evolve – it’s absolutely an interesting world and I’d like to have learned more about the people behind the curtain or the people pulling the strings. I’m torn between thinking the film doesn’t go far (or at all) enough with its horror, or whether it should have removed any horror elements completely. I think the latter would have made a better film, but the former would have become a very silly horror albeit set in a unique world. It’s a shame then that we don’t delve more into the exploitative aspects, the satire, and the realism as such an existence is ripe for peeling back and peering inside.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Cam!

My Soul To Take

The late, great, Wes Craven ended his career with the final part of his Scream series, and this badly received film which I had avoided for some time. Having now seen it, it is difficult to not agree with the critics who savaged it for being muddled and formulaic – but is it really that bad?

Honestly, no. It’s not good, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is well enough acted and like many of Craven’s middling or lesser films it suffers from wasted opportunities. With any Craven film you go in with certain hopes and expectations, so when those are not met the frustration and disappointment is heightened. A director making this as their first film would still be criticized, but may be encouraged to improve, but Craven as an experienced and successful horror maestro should have known and done better.

The story begins around sixteen years in the past as a deranged conflicted man murders his wife in front of their daughter before being shot by the police. As he is being taken to hospital, he somehow wakes, causes the ambulance to crash, and escapes. We flash forward sixteen years and learn that the killer has become something of a local boogeyman – the local kids meeting on the eve of his disappearance each year to perform a ritual to prevent his return. The main players were all born on this date and are known as the Riverton Seven. I’m not sure how likely it is for seven kids to be born on the same day in a small town, and I’m not sure why the killer, now known as The Ripper decides to hunt them down instead of anyone else, but that’s the gist of the plot. We meet Bug, the quiet outsider of the group who is continuously picked on, his smart ass friend Alex, jock Brandon, ring-leader Fang, as well as a pretty one, a blind one, a religious one, and a creative one. As you would expect, they begin to get picked off.

This raises further questions – Bug is our protagonist and throughout the movie he is accused of and mocked for being in and out of institutions – none of this is explored. Each time someone is killed, he begins to exhibit their traits and mimics their voices and behaviour, making it look as if he is the killer. Again, none of this is really dealt with or explained, or leads anywhere beyond trying to make the audience suspect him. The film throws curve-balls later to point us in the direction of the other survivors until the final muddled minutes. Nothing is ever surprising and the twists mostly miss the mark. You’re likely wondering why you should watch this. As mentioned, most of the cast are good and a few of the faces will be familiar in earlier roles. The kills are gore-lite but effective enough for someone just getting into horror. There are funny moment, both intentional and otherwise, and every so often you’re reminded of Craven’s better works. The idea of a killer possibly leaping from body to body is one that is not often explored in cinema, with Fallen remaining the best example – there is potential here for something better but whether it was a case of too many ideas or a bad script, or nobody knowing what they wanted, the end product doesn’t work. It’s difficult to recommend this now to anyone beyond Craven fans and horror fans in general. There are much better films out there in the genre, films which do better with similar ideas, and much better films by Craven, but as one of the final works by one of the legends of the genre it should nevertheless be required viewing.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of My Soul To Take!

We Are Still Here

We Are Still Here was one of the most well-received small horror movies of 2015, with critics praising its scares and invention. Naturally, this immediately popped onto my radar. Fresh ideas are often found in smaller or indie movies, but can struggle due to budget concerns, and inexperienced performers, directors, writers etc. While there are no big names here, there are notable performers and names that horror fans will be familiar with and as with most films in the genre, it’s best going in with a open and unspoiled mind.

The film follows grieving middle aged parents Anne and Paul (played by Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) as they move to a new house in the hope that a fresh change will rouse them from their depression. Before long, a creepy neighbour arrives and tells them to leave because the house has a wicked history. Anne believes the spirit of her dead son is in the house and as the film progresses, various secrets surrounding the house and the town are uncovered leaving Anne, Paul, and their friends Jacob and May in mortal danger.

It’s always great seeing horror movies outside of the scope of the teen perspective. I love slashers and teen oriented horror as much as anyone, but it’s great to see other characters of a more varied age too. Our four main characters are older and while there are a few minor younger characters, they are not the focus. That is helped when you have industry icons like Crampton and Larry Fessenden along for the ride. Geoghegan shows a sure hand and while the piece is moody he knows when to let rip with a jump scare or a slice of gore – there’s a particularly nice headshot here if you’re into that sort of thing. Good make-up and effects for a low budget film too, and the film uses that budget to its credit keeping largely to a single location. Some viewers may rate it as a slow burner, but in truth it doesn’t take long before bad stuff starts happening, and the looming tension and weirdness then explodes at the end.

We Are Still Here, in spite of good reviews, hasn’t found the audience in the same way as similar style films such as The Witch or The House Of The Devil have, but it’s a horror movie for horror fans with enough quality that even less regular genre viewers will get something out of.

Extinction (2015)

Post apocalypse fiction has always been my jam – since I was a kid and wasn’t aware it was even a genre. Nowadays, every third movie, book, or video-game is set in some post apocalyptic universe while back then you maybe got one release a year. It’s saturated beyond the point of return, but it doesn’t stop creatives churning them out. Most now aren’t very good and have fallen into an endless loop of recycling, but every so often I still dip my toes in to see if there is anything fresh. 2015’s Extinction is a low budget affair featuring Matthew Fox as one of three survivors of some little seen zombie related event and deals with standard survivalist and philosophical themes. You probably haven’t seen it, but if you’re in the mood, maybe you should.

The film opens with a bus packed with civilians being escorted by the army to a safe haven – we aren’t shown or told why. Before long, the bus is attacked and Matthew Fox’s Patrick, Jeffrey Donovan’s Jack, Valeria Verau’s Emma, and a baby escape the carnage. We flash forward nine years and baby Lu is now a precocious child, living with her father Jack. Patrick lives next door, but the two men are at war due to some unspoken occurrence in the intervening years. Emma is dead. It seems to be permanently winter, and while the zombies are gone they haven’t seen another living person. Jack tries to keep up a normal life of brushing teeth and teacher Maths to Lu, while Patrick gets drunk and tries to contact the outside world with his radio, sometimes heading into town to scavenge. As this is a horror movie, you know they won’t be alone for long.

Those looking for a standard zombie fest will be disappointed – the film only has a couple of brief attacks before the climax and so the film is more about guilt and forgiveness as flashbacks and events fill in the gaps and attempt to reconcile the protagonists. The zombies here are more like the creatures from The Descent – blind mutants which Gollum around the place and rely entirely on sound to find their prey. The brief attacks are basic enough gags you’ve seen before, but the climax does allow for a certain amount of tension provided you’ve bought in to the characters and story. It ends with your standard siege, with the survivors walled inside their home as the creatures tear their way inside. Director Miguel Angel Vivas uses these moments to show off his ability – a few nice panning shots of the creatures inside the walls of the house are well done, while the quirk of the creatures being blind pays off.

There is one major negative and one major positive. The film doesn’t have the money to really pull off what it wants to – some of the effects, particularly in showing off the devastation of the world, are cheap and pull you out of the story. A few moments when characters are travelling on snowmobile or are attacked look too fake. It’s a pity, because when they rely on make-up and physical performers for the final scenes, those look perfectly acceptable. The major plus is having a great trio of actors to tell the story. Fox is great as always, able to sway between drunken despair and action man status effortlessly, while Donovan conveys fear, anger, and hopelessness with a deft care. The stand out may be Quinn McColgan as young Lu – the child who has only ever known winter, a world with only two men, yet still dreams of exploration and other kids. Good child actors are a rarity, but McColgan holds her own – not only convincingly portraying the character and delivering her lines with emotion, but paying attention to the story when she isn’t speaking – a trait which often goes noticed when the camera isn’t focusing on you as a performer. McColgan was of course by this point an experienced actor, so it’s hardly a surprise.

So who is this movie for? Most horror fans are going to go for the mainline films or the very well reviewed indies, while your standard movie fan won’t go out of their way to catch it. Fans of the cast should find it a decent showcase and for anybody interested in a slow-burning story with some slightly unusual creature action this is better than most VOD fare. If more money had been thrown at it, it would have reached its full potential.

Let us know what you thought of Extinction in the comments!

Resident Evil 2

*Originally written in 2004

Like Alien and Aliens, if the first Resident Evil was all about atmosphere, the second is all about action. The film takes off from exactly where the first film ended, with Alice waking in a hospital of some sort, alone, walking out into the city street with a shotgun to find that Raccoon has been decimated. Cars are overturned, on fire, bodies are strewn, and there are no signs of life. This, like the first had potential. Unfortunately it does not live up to expectations, but still manages to be decent.

Residents of Raccoon City are trying to flee, but are being stopped by soldiers who will shoot anyone who approaches. They are trapped, and the zombie infection is spreading quickly. As night approaches, the survivors try to find refuge, led by Jill Valentine – STARS member and character from the game series. She takes a reporter, a taxi driver and others into her protection. Also sent in are an elite group of ex-criminal marines who are mostly wiped out – the survivors Nicholi and Carlos join Jill’s group and later meet Alice, who seems to be different than before. Dr. Ashford is outside the city, and via cameras watches the survivors. His young daughter is still alive somewhere in the city and he phones them with an offer – if they can rescue her, he will airlift all of them to safety. However, an evil army dude has other ideas, and the powerful NEMESIS has been sent in to kill all remaining STARS members.

The film has a fair amount of action, but unfortunately the director decides to use that useless fast cut yet slowed to blur style which is one of the most awful inventions in cinema and means we rarely see what is going on. The introduction of a few game characters is good, but they do not get the emotion from us that they do in the games, and in truth the script does not give them the chance. The taxi character is completely pointless and from the start we want him to die, though he did get a few laughs in the screening I attended. Alice has become super-human and her relationship with the Nemesis is the main reason for watching. It does get better towards the end, and a few twists at add some quality. I was almost misled towards the end when the copter crashes in Arklay, that perhaps now the characters would find a mansion and the real Resident Evil would begin. Something else happened though, setting up another sequel which again looks to have potential. Jovovich is good again, but because of her new found power we feel less for her. The renegade survivors could be better in any subsequent film, and Fehr and Guillory are both okay. With some better editing and direction this would have been better. Still, it’s worth seeing for fans of the series.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Resident Evil 2!

Friend Request

No spoilers – not really -but there’s a trend in recent horror movies where they have a decent idea or interesting set-up, go through the requisite jump-scares (fair enough) but then they have no clue how to end it. It’s like they get to the last page of the script and have no clue what’s supposed to happen. You see this in so many movies, and you see it in Friend Request. An alternate opinion is that you know exactly how it’s going to end based on roughly the first ten minutes. That’s exactly how I felt with Friend Request – I knew within the first ten minutes exactly what the final scene was probably going to be, even though there was enough potential to take it in different directions. Even though that final scene and the last pieces of set up don’t necessarily make sense, but they kept painting themselves into a corner….

Simon Verhoeven (no relationship to Mr. Robocop) directs this modern pseudo techno-horror movie. The opening scenes introduce us to Laura, a more or less popular University student going through all the usual stuff millennials apparently go through – posting selfies and pictures with their friends, drinking, clubbing, studying. She is a sweet woman, nothing special – in other words she could be you. Feeling sorry for one of the loners in her class, she strikes up a friendship with a girl called Marina. She’s a little odd, artistic, but soon becomes very clingy and angry to the point that Laura has to unfriend her. Marina kills herself on camera, and Laura feels guilty. Things get weirder when someone apparently takes over Laura’s profile, posting videos of the suicide and causing the police to sniff around and people to begin unfriending her.

Things start out well enough – I liked the set up of the suicide from the outset before briefly flicking back in time, and all of the online stuff was authentic. The friendship in the little group felt genuine, but none of the characters have much time or writing spent on making them feel human. There’s the best friend, the boyfriend, the geeky one, the funny one, and the other one, but they’re merely there to set up the kills and jumpscares. The scares are by the numbers but effective enough, at least at the start. Once you’ve seen one you have an idea of what is coming and they lack any tension beyond waiting for the boom and appearance. There’s isn’t enough exploration of the mythology behind it all and it eventually becomes too procedural like The Ring remake as the survivors race to appease the evil stalking them.

Verhoeven doesn’t direct with any notable flair and as mentioned the writing is precisely what you would expect from a teen-oriented modern horror movie. There is the bewildering inclusion of some keystone cops antics, with a pair of detectives who don’t seem to give a damn about what is going on and who I imagine were supposed to be there for comic relief but add nothing beyond wondering why they are there. There isn’t a lot of gore to be found for anyone worried about or looking for it, the performances are fine with talent such as Alycia Debnam Carey doing what she can. I’m surprised this made such little money at the Box Office – less than 10 million doesn’t sound right- but if that’s the case then this clearly isn’t something audiences were looking for. It’s better than the numbers suggest, it’s worth streaming, but the central ideas of cyber-stalking and internet addiction which are worth exploring through a horror lens aren’t fully realized. As is the case with many of these types of films – there’s a better film here, but it’s not the one we’ve been given.

Someone’s Watching Me

For years I’ve been trying to find a movie that I caught bits of once when I was in holiday in Spain. Helpfully, I can’t remember if the film was in English or any of the actors. It wasn’t subtitled, but that doesn’t help either. The film seemed to be set in an apartment block, though it could have been offices, and appeared to be about a woman being chased by a killer. Lots of stairwells. Perpetual night. I remember it having a distinct vibe, like it was a late 70s movie, though it could just as well have been 80s or 90s. What can I say – I was young, I wasn’t, or couldn’t pay much attention, and I only saw a few minutes. Actually, it could have been a TV episode too, but it didn’t feel that way. When I first read the synopsis for Someone’s Watching Me I thought this could be the one, and the more I thought about it, the more I remember the film feeling like something Carpenter would have made. Spoiler alert – this is not the same movie, and my search continues.

Someone’s Watching Me is loosely based on a true event which occurred in the 1970s involving a woman living in an apartment block, and a stalker watching her every move. John Carpenter at this time had directed a couple of movies to varying degrees of success and was writing and selling scripts – this is before Halloween. After writing the script it was decided to make it as a TV movie which afforded Carpenter an essence of control and freedom, and it was through these experiences he was able to hone the techniques which would turn him into the Master Of Horror.

The film follows a woman played by Lauren Hutton who has moved to LA looking for work. Shortly after she moves into an apartment, she begins receiving strange repeated phone calls and gifts from an unknown person or persons. Feeling unsafe and watched, she goes to the police but as there is no specific threat or immediate danger, they send her on her way. Things continue to escalate, and with the help of her co-workers she plots to turn the tables on her stalker and get to the bottom of the mystery.

The film has various obvious nods to Hitchcock, in theme, tone, stylistically, and it is an efficient thriller for its time. Watching now it feels more like a curio given what we know Carpenter would unleash afterwards and there won’t be anything a modern viewer hasn’t seen countless times. Back in the late 70s, the idea of stalkers and being watched was still fresh enough that stay at home mums, housewives, and working single gals would have been suitably freaked out if they caught the movie. Hutton puts in a vigorous performance and her character is a precursor to many of the final girls who would come along after. She is backed by a number of Carpenter regulars – namely Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau – and while the film doesn’t have many of the Carpenter trademarks – soundtrack, mood, and a tighter control of the tension, there is enough on display to suggest he was a talent on the rise.

Someone’s Watching Me is a brisk, taut, well-acted piece of late 70s thrills focusing on a steady build rather than gore or outlandish surprises, and it’s a must for any Carpenter fan who has not yet taken the plunge. Let us know in the comments what you think of the movie!

Blood Father

Mel Gibson, eh? He’s a bit of a lad. An action hero with genuine acting chops, a hit with the ladies, a writer, a director, and a man with any number of successes and awards to his name. Then it all went a bit wrong. Since then, Gibson’s career has been on an upwards trajectory again. Sure, the kids don’t really know him and he hasn’t donned a cape or CG suit to go arsing about with the rest of the Marvel cowboys but he has been at it from the 70s and not a decade has passed without him contributing to a masterpiece of some sort. Gibson returned to acting acclaim with the little seen Jodie Foster film The Beaver followed by a strong of commendable action flicks, all culminating in Hacksaw Ridge – a successful return to directing. Blood Father was released in the same year and is another violent and grim outing for the star and isn’t without a certain sly sense of humour and style.

The film opens by following a junkie girl buying a bunch of ammunition at a gun store – her boyfriend is part of a Latino gang and they are heading to wipe out a family they believe stole from them. Lydia is offered a gun and forced to stand watch, interacting with a couple of kids at the property until her boyfriend Jonah asks her to prove her loyalty and love by killing one of the tenants. Refusing, the accidentally shoots him and flees. Meanwhile, her ex con father John is living in a remote desert trailer park, keeping out of trouble and giving the locals tattoos. They have been estranged for a number of years, but when Lydia calls him he heads to pick her up, thus beginning a rekindling of their relationship as they flee across the country from cops, gangbangers, and bikers. Plot-wise there is nothing you haven’t seen before and on the surface it’s a straightforward action thriller. The quality is raised by having a terrific cast – Gibson as John lends a grizzled class and backstreet philosophy to the character, and William H Macy, Diego Luna, and Michael Parks lend credibility. Erin Moriarty gives another full-blooded performance as Lydia, a sly and messed up kid with an almost hopeless future and a worse past. Rounding out the group is Jean Francois Richet, a director known for handling action and tension well, but not someone who has directed regularly enough to become a household name.

Where Blood Father excels beyond expectations is in the little character moments – Gibson has a rapport with Moriarty and you get the sense that these characters exist in a tangible world with their frayed relationships and encounters. Gibson whips out his chopper (ahem) and travels the little known dusty trails of the US in search of ways to protect his daughter – turning both to ex convict pals still in prison and nazi-loving bikers. The characters are aware of the irony in turning to these groups for help, and the tongue in cheek delivery and tone downplays the hopelessness of it all, keeping things fun and fast moving. The action is never prolonged and follows a recent trend of rapid-fire set-pieces which get the point across with minimal fuss. From a trailer park shootout to a desert bike chase to the valley set climax, action is seen to be quick and bloody rather than stylized or glorified. Action fans may be disappointed that there isn’t enough of this, but the character pay-off makes up for any lack of action in my eyes.

Blood Father isn’t going to change anyone’s world or set a new precedent in the genre, but it is a reminder that Gibson is one of the industry’s greatest manic screen presences and can handle swathes of dialogue as well as a pistol or bike and it remains an entertaining romp with more style and class than most straight to DVD and a nice diversion from the billion dollar efforts which we can’t escape from on the big screen.

Eaten Alive

Tobe Hooper sure likes them weirdo, murderin’ yokels. As if he couldn’t get enough of all the dead skin wearin’, chainsaw totin’, blood suckin’ hicks in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre he takes us back into familiar territory with Eaten Alive – the loosely factual based story about an unhinged hotel (?) owner with a swamp instead of a backyard, and a croc instead of a dog. After the success of his breakthrough film it appeared that Hooper was safely giving the audience more of the same – but is it as good as its predecessor?

No is the short answer. There are many reasons why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is held in such high esteem and many horror films are not. That doesn’t mean Eaten Alive isn’t worth watching – for horror fans it’s fairly close to essential viewing given the director’s pedigree, and it stars a varied cast making some interesting choices. The film starts with a lead character fake-out a la Psycho or Scream – a young woman called Clara is a somewhat reluctant prostitute working in a small town brothel. Her reluctance causes her boss to chuck her out, and she is advised to walk to a nearby hotel for the night. Lets back up – the film actually opens with a nice crotch shot as Robert Englund utters the Kill Bill inspiring ‘my name’s Buck and I like to…’ you get the idea. It’s not often that Englund gets to play a ladies man, but here we assume he has the stamina and libido of an adolescent rabbit, casting off Clara before having a threesome, before picking up a girl in a bar. The film takes place over the course of a single night – a few hours – so that Buck fella must hella fuck.

Clara finds her way to the hotel, run by the muttering unhinged Judd (Neville Brand), who recognises her as coming from the brothel. Ol’ Judd isn’t a fan of such things so he grabs his handy scythe and dispatches of Clara, feeding her to his pet crocodile. The remainder of the film is Judd’s night being disturbed by additional visitors – Buck and his girl, the local Sheriff, a bickering husband and wife and their daughter and dog, and Clara’s father and sister hot on her trail. There are quite a few comparisons to be made between this and TCM – there is a similar low grade, dirty look to the cinematography, although at times there are bizarre saturated reds and backlights. Both films feature women in peril, both feature an unhinged man using a farming tool to murderous ends, and both films are incredibly noisy, with screams and shrieks and a buzzing atypical score. The scares here don’t work nearly as well though and there is a more voyeuristic, lurid tone with plenty of boobs on display and a little more blood. The crocodile never feels like a threat and is mostly used as a disposal unit, and Judd pales as a villain in comparison to any of the TCM family.

Where the film at times surpasses TCM is in its performances. There are some truly WTF moments when it comes to the acting and some strange choices which hurt overall, but Hooper is in command of professional actors this time around. TCM’s heroine Marilyn Burns appears here too in a role that largely recalls Sally from that film. It’s the characterisation which lets the film and the performances down – Burns plays a wife and mother who moves between hating and loving her husband and giving him drugs? She is wearing a wig when she first arrives and it’s unclear if she is supposed to be some sort of criminal. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for her then when Judd kills her husband and ties her to a bed for who knows what. Roy, her husband, is played by William Finley who gets the lion’s share of bad moments, wailing and stretching and overacting to the point of underacting. At first he is confident, then he has an inexplicable breakdown, before turning into some attempt at a vengeful hero. Judd all the while stumbles around the hotel, muttering and groaning to himself. Neville Brand has a great voice for Cinema, a deep, low tone which instantly grabs your attention, but it isn’t put to use here – hi mutterings mostly indecipherable. He’s never less than manic, hopping about on one good leg and displaying a range of tics but like his pet you imagine that a good stiff boot in the nuts would put him down easily enough.

The better performances come with Mel Ferrer and Crystin Sinclaire as Clara’s siblings. Ferrer aches with loss and guilt and a touch of manic desperation himself, while Sinclaire is the spitting image of Hilary Swank. Sinclaire doesn’t get a lot to do, but she has a confident presence and allure which makes you wonder why she never became a star. The Sheriff, as played by the ever familiar Stuart Whitman, adds his own brand of tainted understanding. Rounding out things are a young Kyle Richards as the annoying, screeching child who is chased under the house but won’t scream when there’s actually someone there who can help her, and Buck’s pickup Janus Blythe who brings another layer of amusing sleaze – both decent performances. The performance and appearance of the croc is underwhelming – it’s hidden for most of the film, but when it does pop out it doesn’t look the best – think Jaws but cheaper.

I never got around to seeing Eaten Alive until recently – it wasn’t the easiest movie to get a hold of and it never struck me as a must-see. For some reason I always assumed it was a cannibal movie and combined with it being hard to get a hold of I assumed that all meant that it probably wasn’t very good. There is an Italian cannibal movie with the same name, so somewhere along the way I merged the two in my own mind. It’s worth seeing, both as a follow-up to one of the greatest of all time, and as a quirky slice of Southern grime. Just why is there a hotel out there in the middle of nothing? Why does Clara have to struggle through a bushy forest to find her way to it – isn’t there a path? Should we assume Judd has been killing all of his guests? If he remorselessly wipes out several in this single night, then we have to assume he has done it before giving him a probably high kill rate and surely then the authorities would have been knocking on his door years before? In any case, it’s not a film you’re supposed to question – it’s played more to make you uncomfortable rather than outright scare you, and there has always been something about crazed loner hicks which has both entertained and put me on edge. While there isn’t anything a dedicated horror fan won’t have seen here before, it’s exactly the sort of film a dedicated horror fan should still get a kick out of.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Eaten Alive!

Ring 0

*Originally written in 2004

If you enjoy real, fill your pants atmosphere in films – that creeping feeling of dread usually reserved for coming face to face with your own personal phobia, then watch this and prepare yourself – the final fifteen minutes may well be the most heart-stopping, chilling fifteen minutes you will ever witness.

Just a warning though; it is slow paced, even more so than Ringu, a complaint many people seem to have with these movies, and the first time I watched it I wasn’t sure if it was leading anywhere. My problem was that I was watching it and comparing it to Ringu in my mind. The last few scenes changed my mind. The next time I watched, my mind was clear, and it scared the wits out of me. The few scary moments before the final scenes are pretty good, employing classic ‘should I look behind me’? techniques much like the previous films, but before I get to the final scenes, I’ll explain everything else.

The film begins in modern day Japan – someone has heard a rumour about a videotape with a curse… then we flashback thirty years or so and meet the Evil Spirit Sadako… only to find she is a beautiful young woman, a talented actress though shy, and misunderstood. Sadako Yamamura is part of an acting school, and her first role is a few days away. She keeps to herself, but the attentions of Toyama infuriate the other girls, who can’t understand what he sees in her when he could have any of them. The girls get jealous, and a number of deaths occur mysteriously. The story also follows a journalist who has traced down Sadako – she is the widow of a man who died, also under mysterious circumstances at the hands of, she believes, Sadako’s estranged mother. Sadako’s mother was famed for her supposed supernatural abilities, and killed herself a short while ago. The journalist wants to find out the truth, and finds Sadako just before opening night. Paying one of the jealous girls to mess with the audio equipment, hoping to get a reaction from Sadako, the play begins to go wrong, and in a Carrie-like scene, everyone blames Sadako. Then the fun really begins…

Up to this point, the film is equal parts chilling, beautiful, and to a certain extent confusing. The acting has been very good from everyone, especially Yukie Nakama who drags out our sympathy. Toyama is the only person who trusts Sadako, and tries to defend her, eventually leading to one of the most tragic scenes I can recall seeing. Every scene is shot trying to balance beauty with the creation of fear, a wonderful irony considering Sadako’s own birth and life – she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and is capable of great beauty, but all she seems to do is scare and kill.

I’ve probably hyped the film too much now, but the final scenes in the forest and Sadako’s old home are really that good. Terrifying, and directed brilliantly – watch for the way the forest suddenly changes colour from green and full of life, to that Sepia tinge used in the first films to show both the past and the afterlife. And watch in the background for a long haired figure in white floating past the trees. One of the most underrated horror movies of recent years, mainly because it can seem confusing at first glance, and because very few questions are actually answered. The point is, the questions are there to be asked, for us to work them out ourselves – we become like the journalists in each of the movies, drawing ourselves closer into the tragedy and threat of Sadako’s life until we cannot escape.