Children Of The Corn

childrenofthecorn

I can’t be specific on dates, but Children Of The Corn was one of the first horror movies I remember discovering. Like I mentioned in my Creepshow 2 review, posters can have a powerful effect on a growing, inquisitive, impressionable mind. Over time I somehow gained information about the story and the movie and began to form my own version of it in my head, but I didn’t get to see it until years later. There’s a danger of being let down after consciously or subconsciously hyping a movie, but where Children Of The Corn is concerned, the mystery and tone conveyed in the opening portions of the movie aligned with the picture I’d created in my mind. Watching again years later, it’s clear that there are better King adaptations and it that it has plenty of shortcomings. I still feel that it captures the essence of the unknown which juvenile and growing horror fans find so alluring, even if it doesn’t have enough bite to hold an adult audience in its thrall.

Adapted from King’s 1978 Night Shift short, Children Of The Corn is the first of (somehow) ten movies in a series which I can only assume grows increasingly <corny> as it progresses. King wrote the original screenplay, but as was normal for the time another writer would come in to usurp the script and focus more on violence than drama. The original story is a simple one – a bickering couple are driving through the US heartland, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, only to become lost and encounter a savage backwater. The key difference here being that the savages are a bunch of kids, creepy religious zealot kids who follow an unseen God known as ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’. The movie keeps the basics in check, albeit offering less in the way of marital distress and more in the way of heroic dads and wholesome family dynamics.

We open in pleasingly creepy fashion, as Isaac – moon-faced pre-teen leader of the group sends the crazed Malachi and friends on a poison and murder spree through their hometown, Gatlin. It’s a simple farming town, and the crops have been failing, which Isaac takes to mean their God is not pleased. And we all know how to appease an angry, malevolent God. Cut to a few years later and a ‘just about to be famous for Terminator’ Linda Hamilton (Vicky) and boyfriend Peter Horton (But) heading up river to start a new life. Driving through endless miles of nothing, their subdued fears about the future are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a child bouncing under the wheels of their car. After initially thinking they hit and killed him, they come to understand that he was already dead. The boy was trying to escape Isaac and his murderous ways, but ended up being sacrificed to the God of Buick. Should they leave him and go on their way? Should they drop the body off in a local town? Should they take him to a big city hospital, or the Police Station in local Gatlin? This being a horror movie, the pair make the wrong choice and quickly find themselves in a world of pitchforks and pasty teens.

The film isn’t as shlocky as some early King adaptations, surprising perhaps given the subject matter. Likewise, it isn’t anywhere near the level of his biggest films of the period – Carrie or The Shining. To its credit, it isn’t all silly surface scares – that sense of the unknown and of being lost permeates the atmosphere in the opening scenes and its an atmosphere which works for me personally having been a child with a heightened fear of being lost or left behind in a new place. Outside of personal feelings, the film is an obvious parable for religious fundamentalism and the dangers of allowing any cult to take power. I like this angle, as ham-fisted as it may be delivered here, and I’m sure a more dedicated experienced director and writer combo could do something stronger with the material viewed in this way. There are of course numerous departures from the source material, fleshing out the cult and delivering a less downbeat ending for example. It’s well enough shot, using the open and wide landscape to decent effect, and by and large the cast serve their purpose – all the more impressive given that many of them are kids. Hamilton doesn’t get to show off her later chops, but is more than the withering lead lady of the piece you might expect from such a film, and gets just as much screen time and action as Horton. They work well as a couple and spend much of the film apart dealing with various factions within Gatlin, again equipping themselves admirably.

Is it top tier King? No, but that’s generally reserved for his more classy material or when a classy director gets a hold of his work. But it’s serviceable enough for most viewers to get something out of it, and good enough that many King and horror fans might rank it as a second tier adaptation. In any case, in this strange time of locked doors and empty streets we find ourselves in it’s worth a watch to remind ourselves what the outdoors look like – and that what’s out there may want us for lunch.

Let us know what you think of Children Of The Corn in the comments!

February (The Blackcoat’s Daughter)

636263875690370004-the-blackcoat-s-daughter-DF-155-rgb

Two things brought me to this film – beyond it simply being a horror movie. The first, is that I love Emma Roberts as an actress, and second is that the guys over on The Shockwaves Podcast wouldn’t shut the hell up about it. No-one else loves horror more than those guys and as well as being involved in the industry, their regular show features horror writers, directors, actors and more – with one episode featuring February’s director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony). I’ve watched it – is it any good?

Aside from what I’ve mentioned already, the film has two major things going for it – how it looks, and its atmosphere – both cold and distant, both interweaving, and that coldness blitzes its way into every other aspect. The characters speak and act in a disaffected way, there are long staring shots of emptiness, and the snowy landscape a la The Shining adds to a sense of unease and claustrophobia. It’s a frequently beautiful, startling movie which aims at the heights set by Let The Right One In, but doesn’t quite get there. The unease is shown to be formed by and coupled with an unraveling mystery and twists which, me being me, were fairly obvious. Unfortunately the film by its very nature will likely frustrate casual viewers and if Perkins has his heart set on loftier ideals and audiences the coldness emitting from the characters is one I reciprocated towards them – I just didn’t care about them or any of what was going on, as intriguing and watchable as it was.

February (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) will find a cult audience but I don’t think it’s a movie which will demand the rewatches which cult movies often do. Certainly once certain reveals are made some may want to revisit to tie the various strings together, but for me a revisit needs to be fun. Ostensibly, the film is about girls in a secluded Catholic school, staying behind while most of the students and staff have left for a week. One of the girls is an unusual Freshman, the other a promiscuous older teen. It would be unfair to say more, but there are creepy figures, rituals, blood, and blades. It’s a film which has been marketed as a straight horror film but it’s not so simple dealing instead with mental illness, possible possession,  guilt, and loss.

The cast fare well with the material – Shipka, Boynton, and Roberts are each compelling performers, and the cast is rounded out by the likes of James Remar and Lauren Holly in minor supporting roles. There’s plenty for them to do but they are restrained by Perkins’s direction and vision for the film meaning that most lines are delivered as if from behind a curtain, most performances being more like a ventriloquist’s dummy. That’s what they’re going for and if you’re into the style then it’s perfect. For me, I felt like I was being asked to care about these people but being given no reason to. Unlike many horror films, the characters aren’t jerks – they’re just faceless shells who suffer some terrible shit. The film isn’t as good as it thinks it is, or as it needs to be, but what do I know – check it out for yourself.

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

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2008!

love_exposure4.jpg

2008 was a great year for cinema – quite a few of my picks here made my end of decade post, and a number of the more obvious choices will appear on many critics’ best of lists. Lets get the almosts out of the way first:

Son Of Rambow is an early Will Poulter showcase – he continues to be a star in the making but hasn’t quite caught on the way he deserves to have yet. It’s a funny and charming coming of age film about two friends – both outcasts in their own way, and from different social backgrounds as tends to be the way with these films. The hook is that they’re both Rambo fans and decide to go make their own homage movie. The best moments are just the boys arsing about trying to do stunts and make an action movie. Director Garth Jennings would go on to make Sing but is perhaps best known in Britain for his various comedy performances and involvement with some of the biggest names. You know he’s respected when the likes of Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes, Adam Buxton, and Eric Sykes all pop up here. Wall-E is, well you should know it by now. I didn’t love it first time around but came to enjoy it more when watching it with my kids later. A film of two distinct halves – the first being Wall-E alone on Earth and the second an ever more realistic vision of a future where we’re all fattyies 100% reliant upon technology and entertainment. Fred Willard even pops up later, so extra points there.

Equally charming is another Ghibli treat – Ponyo is the delightful tale of a boy and his… fish. A magic fish of course. It’s basically The Little Mermaid but without the forced romance and drag witch. It’s Miyazaki so you know you’re in for a beautiful, heart-melting experience. It’s just a sweet story with enough imagination to charm viewers of any age. The Informers on the other hand is not about charm. It’s all about disgust, malaise, debauchery. And it’s wonderful. I almost had this in my top ten, and in truth I feel like adding it in there instead of number ten, but why bother. I don’t really understand why this film has flown under the radar. For the sleaze balls you have any number of Amber Heard nude scenes, and for everyone else it’s a Bret Easton Elis story directed by the guy who made Buffalo Soldiers. If you need more, and I get why many will, just check out the cast – Brad Renfro, Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mickey Rourke, Chris Isaak, Rhys Ifans. The film received almost universal shrugs and derision with most people completely missing out on the fact that it is supposed to be one big nightmare – a satire on vapid existence, on wealth, and not so much the pursuit of fame or money – just the complete lack of meaning behind it all. It might not be for everyone, but it honestly deserves for recognition.

10: Johnny Mad Dog (France/Liberia) Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Johnny Mad Dog is the film that I kept saying ‘Don’t you mean Johnny Mad Dog’ to when people began talking about Beast Of No Nation. It’s almost the same film – the main difference being the lack of an Idris Elba. If I can say anything to convince you to watch it, it’s just that – Beasts Of No Nation, but earlier. If anything it’s more gritty, more brutal, and the fact that almost all of it focuses on the kids makes it all the more upsetting. There’s also a definite sense of the bizarre given some of the antics the child soldiers get up to – not to mention their costumes.

9: Pontypool (Canada) Bruce McDonald

Even though I’ll watch any old rubbish horror movie, it’s the ones with an interesting premise that pull me in and stick with me. Pontypool has one of the most intriguing you’ll ever hear – a disease (?) is spreading and seems to be passed on via language – certain words – and those who succumb become slightly more sentient versions of the 28 Days Later creatures – manic, violent, and equally likely to kill themselves as batter you to death. On its own that’s enough to get me invested, but throw in the setting – an isolated radio station where a late night DJ and his skeleton staff suspect something is amiss as they  receive unusual calls. It’s still fresh now, and it plays admirably with its low budget and central ideas.

8: Cloverfield (US) Matt Reeves

The big surprise of the year, though looking back the biggest surprise seems to be that everyone was surprised by it. Buoyed by an excellent marketing run, Cloverfield also uses the hand-held fashion of the time to craft a literal Escape From New York. My problem with the film was always the characters – there isn’t anyone here you give a shit about and if we’d been allowed to feel an ounce of affinity with them this would probably be higher up my list. The story is simple – something crash lands in New York City and begins attacking everyone and everything. It’s some sort of gargantuan alien creature scene only in brief glimpses on news reports and through flashes between skyscrapers. I have zero problem with the shaky cam – this is the perfect film for it even though the whole ‘I have to document this’ excuse falls apart pretty quickly. The shaky cam heightens to war-torn confusion of it all – people don’t have any idea what is happening in the middle of a battlefield – you’re only concern is getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and that’s what we see. It’s a rollercoaster ride, wisely helped by the inclusion of smaller aliens and while it doesn’t live up to the promise, in reality could we have expected much better?

7: Rambo (US/Thailand) Sylvester Stallone

Who’d have thought it – the return of John Rambo? And who’d have expected it to actually be both good and faithful? When Stallone wants to, he can still pull it out of the bag. This is just ridiculous carnage – an 80s Action movie with an 80s Action hero, but with the violence blown up to 11. The plot is almost irrelevant – Rambo is helping out a bunch of missionaries who get caught up in an Asian war zone – but at least it isn’t completely vapid. The supporting cast contribute well – Julie Benz and Graham McTavish the obvious standouts. Stallone keeps the pace ticking along until the brutal climax and there’s simply something comforting about seeing an old character resurrected from your childhood, whether they’re standing on stage, swinging a lightsaber, or in this case, ripping out throats with their bare hands.

6: Ip Man (HK) Wilson Yip

From ripping out throats, to jabbing them 48 times in one second. Donnie Yen has been a beast for at least thirty years now, but the Ip Man series may be his crowning achievement. Beyond being a showcase for his badassery, and beyond hitting that personal sweet spot for me of being both a martial arts movie and telling a (sort of) history of Bruce Lee, you have Wilson Yip – the director who seems to know how to get the best performance from Yen. Yip and Yen have teamed multiple times and have a shared understanding of choreography and character to the extent that, and I know it’s a cliche, but that watching the fights are more akin to watching a dance – with the added benefit of it not being a fucking dance. The fights in Ip Man are so painstakingly practised and directed that each one is a thing of beauty – all heightened by the fact that we come to care for the guy and his family.

Ip Man is a martial arts teacher in a very large pool – at this place and point at time it seemed like every street in the vast city has multiple competing martial arts schools – each with their own styles, fighters, masters, and rivalry. Ip Man stands out by being almost invisible – he isn’t interested in getting into disputes or proving he’s the best, but simply wants to train, learn, and live out a peaceful existence. It’s not necessarily a unique story when it comes to the genre, but in Yen we get a sympathetic human we can stand behind rather than the standard faceless pile of fists and feet. When the Japanese invades, Ip and his family lose their home and business and he is forced into mining to make ends meet. It turns out that the Japanese are offering additional food to the Chinese if they take part in unsanctioned fights – except that the Japanese military have been killing some of the Chinese fighters when they lose. Ip is understandably enraged and wipes out a number of the Japanese fighters which attracts the attention of their General.

Plot is often secondary in Martial Arts movies which generally means ridicule for the more discerning critic. Placing this in a ‘genuine historical setting’ (seen from the Chinese side) helps matters and this becomes a standard enough story of heroism, patriotism, glory, and family values that you’ve likely seen before in Chinese Martial Arts. But it’s the fights, the nuances, and the performances which raise this above the myriad others. I’d probably recommend starting here for anyone interested in Donnie Yen and it’s a high budget, classy starting point for anyone keen to gateway into the genre. As someone who has seen the dregs on offer, this is light-years ahead and offers incredible, breathless action.

5: Let The Right One In (Sweden) Tomas Alfredson

So far the horror films on my list this year haven’t been out and out scare-fests, but have rather been subtle, introspective, or done something new with an old favourite. Let The Right One In captures each of those points – taking the vampire mythology and offering new twists, yet makes it a character piece, a romance of sorts, a coming of age story, and drip-feeds us dread, unsavoury pedophilia subtext, while being shot through the lens of abandoned beauty. This was one of the first modern horror movies which truly cared about how it looked and sounded and how both were portrayed – the current wave of so called elevated horror all owe something to Let The Right One In.

Like Ip Man, this is something of a sweet spot movie for me. I love vampire movies and horror, and I love coming of age films – especially ones which feel genuine, ones which I can relate to. I didn’t know too many vampires growing up, but isolation, bullying, looking for close friendships are things I know all too well as do many others. The film downplays much of the horror and mythology and the darker elements of the novel and focuses instead on the friendship and loneliness and need. Oskar is a boy with no friends, no confidence, bullied into fantasizing about bloody revenge. Eli is a vampire who needs to feed and tasks a familiar with killing on her behalf so that she can keep living. For much of the film Oskar doesn’t know the truth, and even when he does their established friendship works, even if it does take on some sour, manipulative notes. Hell, who wouldn’t want an all powerful vampire in their corner?

The film doesn’t take a jumpscare approach, rather relying on the horror inherent in its ideas – needing to kill, needing to protect a killer, bullying, abuse. It all looks gorgeous too – there’s something wonderful about snowy nights and landscapes on screen, about quiet moments shattered by sudden violence. It’s a horror movie for critics to appreciate, for non-horror viewers to get on board with even though they’ll brand it a thriller, and it should of course please horror nerds. With two great lead performances, a career defining directorial from Alfredson, and shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema who earned Her, Interstellar, and Dunkirk from this.

4: Departures (Japan) Yojiro Takita

As the 2000s went on I began to side more with South Korean cinema than Japanese. After the J-Horror bubble burst, only the obvious big hitters like Koreeda and Miike and Sono were repeatedly bringing the goods. Departures came out of the blue, surprising everyone to win the Best Foreign Oscar this year over some front-runners. It, and the three movies remaining on this list are covered in more detail in my end of decade favourites list. It’s a film which caught me off guard and may do the same for you – the director I only knew from the decent enough Hiroyuki Sanada vehicle Onmyiji, and out of the cast it was really only Ryoko Hirosue I knew – from her days as a Nintendo model and Wasabi. It’s tender, heart-tugging, funny, and has one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

3: Martyrs (France) Pascal Laugier

So, America had the whole Torture Porn market cornered. Then Spain came along and said ‘hold my scalpel’. Then France beheaded the lot of them with a baguette and farted in their general direction. There’s a reason why there is a whole movement called French Extremism, and Martyrs is the peak. It’s just brutal, exhausting, and difficult to get through yet utterly compelling, impossible to forget, and once its over you know you’re going to be drawn back to it again to experience the twists once more. It made my end of decade list, so read more there. Quite simply, if you’re a horror fan you need to see it. If you’re not… it might put you off the genre forever or become one of your all time favourites. There are those horror movies which even the most ardent anti-horror film critic can’t deny – this is one of them.

2: The Dark Knight (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s one of the biggest, most popular, and best movies of the decade – of the last two decades. You know it, you love it.

1: Love Exposure (Japan) Sion Sono

There are some movies you want everyone to see. Each of us finds a small handful of movies each year that no-one seems to know about and you tell all of your friends and co-workers and anyone you can get your hands on because, dammit, those movies need to be seen. Love Exposure is near the top of that list for me. It’s just perfect and is everything I love about film, somehow. It’s… not really anything. It’s not horror, it’s not action… it is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama… it’s just a bit of everything shat into a blender and squirted out into a four hour long cup, whatever the hell that means. Sion Sono, like other madcap hero Takashi Miike, does whatever he wants it seems. There’s just no way any other person on the face of the planet at any other time in the history of the world could make the films these guys do. Sono in this case has dealt with suicides and cults in Suicide Club, revenge in Hazard, comedy in Into A Dream, horror in Exte, drama in Land Of Hope, musical in Tokyo Tribe, and brutal thrillers in Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance. Love Exposure trumps them all, with its panty obsessed fetish ninjas, budgie-shouldered cult leaders, daddy-pleasing pervs, child-slapping religious nutcases, and all the rest. I suppose in the end it’s a romance – my kind of romance. It should have been at the Oscars for Best Picture, Sono should have been down for best director, and Hikari Mitsushima should have won Best Actress. But who cares about awards – if you love Cinema, even if you have a passing interest in movies, you have an obligation to see Love Exposure. I know most people hate it when someone one really pushes a movie onto you – I get that too – but believe me when I say that your life will be better with this in it.

Let me know your favourites of 2008!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2009!

warc

Greetings, Glancers! We kicked things off with the controversial 2010 and we now start moving backwards into the mists of time to have a laugh at my other misguided choices of least favourite films from each year. What does 2009 have in store for us? Have a look below.

Watchmen

Zack Snyder had been on a roll for me – Dawn Of The Dead is one of the all time great remakes, 300 is a silly, stylish slice of violent fun based on one of my favourite stories. It made sense that he would tackle a comic book adaptation, and adapt one of the less mainstream series. As you’ll see me say frequently in these posts – it’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s just not very good. Or more appropriately, it just didn’t work for me. On the plus side it looks great – not quite on par with the visu-shock of Sin City, but it certainly fits the bill of standing apart from the ‘realism’ of Marvels visual output. But like everything else Snyder has released since Watchmen, it’s so overfed on plot, so packed with stuff, that in the end I don’t care about any of it. I can’t remember any of the character’s names – Blue Cock – was that one? Outfit Girl? Running Dude? Wrong Face? Fuck knows. It’s another example of a film which should have been something I thoroughly enjoyed, but instead it was overblown and forgettable.

Wolverine

The X-Men movie series got off to a bang – the first two movies remain two of the finest comic book movies ever. Then some nameless twat got a hold of the series and ruined it for part 3 – one of the worst movies ever made. Luckily the series returned (and then subsequently fucked up again) and we got a series of spin off based on everyone’s favourite beardo, Wolverine. Like Watchman, this should have been something I enjoyed, but it’s drivel. If I can’t remember what anyone was called in Watchmen, I can’t remember anything that happened in Wolverine. I think there was snow in one scene. Maybe I was drunk when I watched it? In any case it went in both eyes, and straight out the back of my skull with zero recollection of what happened.

The Hangover

If the 2010s saw the rise of Alpha male bullshit, then the Noughties have a lot to answer for. I’m not saying The Hangover is to blame for a lot of the sickening sexual entitlement we see today across the entertainment industry, and up and down through politics… I’m not saying it’s even to blame for a rise in the absolutely terrible junk which passes for comedy in Hollywood these days. What I am saying is that it’s a pretty shitty movie, vastly overrated, and at least influenced a number of people to see the protagonists as worthy role models. It’s the ultimate bro movie, and for that reason alone, it deserves to be called out as the piece of shit it is.

The Hurt Locker

I was the first person to applaud when Katheryn Bigelow won her Oscar. But that was more as a sign of respect for her work on Near Dark, Strange Days, Point Break. She’s a terrific director. The Hurt Locker… I still don’t get why it is so acclaimed. A character study of little insight, a drama without tension. You notice how the acclaim for Renner’s performance seem to focus on his physical appearance – the fact that he’s not some Tom Cruise lookalike or hunk? You may as well start handing out Oscars for actresses based on how impressive their tits are. At best it is a very well made, good looking drama which was released at exactly the right time. At worst it’s an unrealistic Hallmark movie that just happens to have a master director in charge.

Halloween II

Ho-lee-shit. Listen, I didn’t mind the first Rob Zombie Halloween. He wanted to do his own thing, so by all means give it a go. The second effort is possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Where to begin? There’s no sense writing a badly articulated diatribe about this – it’s so laughably bad that Police Academy 7 is ashamed of it.

Fame

That’s right, you can pretty much bet that if a crappy musical came out in any given year, it’ll be on my list – if I’ve had the misfortune to have seen it. The original is pretty terrible outside of the fact that it has some ripping tunes. This is the same, but worse, and without the ripping tunes.

An Education

Cripes this was banal, with a small disinterested ‘b’. The film which sadly unleashed Carey Mulligan on the world, it tells the story of… well I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter does it? I don’t think I’ve yawned through a movie more than this – to its credit I didn’t fall asleep (that’s reserved for made for TV court dramas with names like Breach Of Contract or Justice For Bob, or Mrs Smith Gets A Divorce And Then Has A Custody Battle Over Her Infant Son, Jonas). 

The Fourth Kind

I’m a big fan of Milla Johovich. Sure the quality of her movies rarely goes higher than mindless action, but she’s always committed. The Fourth Kind seemed right up my alley until I watched it and wondered where are the scares that hardened horror fans seemed to be freaked out by. Remember that Ant And Dec movie Alien Autopsy? It had more scares than this.

The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson had long been one of my favourite directors, from his early shlock, through The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures. The LOTR trilogy is peerless. King Kong was a good 2 hour movie, blown up to off-putting CG-worship proportions. Then came The Lovely Bones – a misguided and offensive mess which looks as if it was made by a team who had never worked with each other before and had no experience of working on film. I’ve never read the source material – it always seemed like one of those Jodi Picault books to give housewives something to cry about. The movie certainly gave me something to cry about – the fact that Peter Jackson could have ever made something so insipid.

Lesbian Vampire Killers

I mean, it was going to be this or one of the shitty Ricky Gervais romps, wasn’t it? As much as I am mystified by people who enjoy Gervais, at least his films are generally competent. This isn’t, and has the added flaw of starring James Corden, whose one high moment was appearing in a Tango advert. It also stars Matthew Horne, whose one high moment is having a funny surname.

Let me know in the comments which of the films above you think I’ve got wrong. Are there some you love? Which movies released in 2009 would be at the bottom of your pile?

Radius

radius.jpg

I want to gorge on films with a fanciful, intriguing premise, something unique, rather than the next multi-million dollar blockbuster. That’s what draws me to little known and little seen films such as this, and why I give a blank stare if someone asks if I’ve seen The Avengers IV: Iron Ass. The premise here, which expands outwards like a ripple the more we learn, is that a man wakes up from a car crash with memory loss, but anyone who comes within a certain distance of him drops dead. So we have the tried and tested memory loss mystery unraveling – something seen in plenty of movies – confounded by a new and deadly ability which he needs to understand.

Radius scratches the low-fi Sci-fi itch I get after seeing too many generic action movies or Sci-fi films which cover their cracks and ideas void with millions of dollars and famous faces. It’s nice to reset, be challenged, and be introduced to new faces and ideas. It can be tricky because, while there are a lot of filmmakers out there striving to bring their passion projects to the screen, many of them simply aren’t very good or are either too obtuse or amateurish for most viewers. Radius deserves to be seen – it’s not the most outlandish, it is generally well acted, shot, directed, and has a solid score – but it plays maybe one or two twists too many and sometimes fails when both trying to explain matters and when leaving things open ended. I got the sense that, while I enjoyed it, many viewers would be frustrated by the lack of guidance, the lack of answers, or indeed by the lack of really pushing any boundaries.

Written and directed by Caroline Lebreche and Steeve Leonard, Radius stars Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan as the man who inadvertently kills anything he comes near, and the woman who finds him but seems immune to his power. Don’t worry subtitle-phobes, the names may sound French, but the movie is all in English. The film ticks plenty of boxes for me – unusual set up and mystery, small primary cast, it’s as much a road movie as it is a Sci-fi, and it’s little known so you can get a little dopamine rush when you tell your friends about it. Horror fans will get a kick out of this – it’s not exactly supposed to be scary, but just the notion of being able to kill people by being near them sounds like a horror movie setup. There are a bunch of kills, but they’re rarely bloody and more of the ‘dude walks forwards then falls down dead’ style, and one of the twists late in the film hints at more horrific beginnings.

I had plenty of fun with Radius although I didn’t always like the directions the story wanted to go. It always felt like one step away from falling into absurdity or needless complexity. There is enough restraint in the storytelling that we are afforded the respect to fill in the gaps ourselves, but a few leaps of faith are required too. I can’t say I was ever drawn in by the characters on any meaningful emotion level and the script doesn’t leave a lot of room for ruminating or romance or outbursts, yet I was happy to follow these characters until the end of their journey. It’s not going to be for everyone, but for anybody else who enjoys imaginative setups such as this, or who want to reset after one too many blockbusters, you might get a kick out of this.

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

Captain America – The First Avenger

Cap

I have a habit of writing an introduction to my movie reviews long before writing anything else. For example, I’m writing this opening paragraph on 27th October 2017 – I probably won’t write the rest for a few months after and then post the thing months after that. As I write, I have really only started to embark on my Marvel Movie adventure, having never really been swept up in the whole universe. I’m pretty much the prime target audience, having grown up with these characters in their various guises. However, none of the movies I’d seen really reached out to me in the way that say, a Batman movie, or The Crow, or 1978’s Superman did. I’d seen The Avengers, the first Iron Man, some of the early Hulk movies where there was a new actor each time, but they all felt identikit and meh. Lots of ‘splosions and lots of meandering plot which really boiled down to big man saving world and/or girl from big bad man. I didn’t go in to The First Avenger with too many expectations, but I was nevertheless keen to see what the fuss (of the extended universe) was all about.

Our story begins in present day as a mysterious aircraft is discovered in The Arctic. We flip back to the 1940s and get a battle scene where Nazis are doing a bit of mystical treasure hunting – finding something called The Tesseract which can grant them massive power. Cut to the US and we meet the scrawny Steve Rogers, your typical old school white patriot who wants to sign up to the Army to help in the war but is turned down for being sickly and weak. Impressed by his resolve, he is snapped up by a US experimental intelligence team who give him some magic juice, turning him into a Super Solider – a much stronger and faster version of himself. He is now Captain America and while acting as a symbol for all that is good, holy, and American, he chases down the evil Nazi (who also took the magic juice but something went wrong with his experiment) and lots of fights and ‘splosions happen.

First the positives – good effects, good attention to detail in all aspects, especially in creating a believable 1940s world. Not being a fan of Chris Evans beforehand, he is good in the role and abandons all of the annoying ticks and quirks from his earlier movies making him a well-rounded, if a little bland, action hero. The rest of the cast do their jobs as expected, Hugo Weaving having fun as the villain and Hayley Atwell adding some spunk as Peggy Carter. That’s pretty much it – it works as a world building movie and all the expected cameos and geeky nods are there. As an origin story it ticks all of the boxes. The main negative, as I alluded to in the intro all those months ago (now writing on 20th July 2018) is that it’s all so plain. Maybe I’m not the target audience anymore – I’m not wowed by anything, the geeky nods don’t do a lot for me, and there’s an air of ‘seen it before’ about it all. The conflict never seems real, we know how the film is going to end, and try as they might to form some sort of tortured love story, it never comes off. There’s not enough here for me to sink my teeth into. In another world this would be just a very average action movie – it is a very average action movie – but in our world that’s seemingly enough to warrant making almost half a billion dollars at the box office. I can’t come off as too critical – clearly a lot of work goes into a film on such a grand scale and clearly a lot of people love it – it’s fine, I just need something more these days.

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

Best Director – 1977

Official Nominations: Woody Allen. Steven Spielberg. Fred Zinnemann. Herbert Ross. George Lucas.

This is a bit of a no contest for me. Really it’s a three horse race, but as time goes on that Allen win looks more and more concerning. Annie Hall is likely his crowning achievement but when viewed alongside Close Encounters Of A Third Kind and Star Wars it pales by some distance. Allen very much has a style which doesn’t change from movie to movie and his films are more concerned with script than direction. The amount of effort which went into both of those sci-fi classics from all corners, the influence…. it all dwarfs the other nominees combined. This is the perfect example of the Turning Point (pun intended) in Hollywood, with the Academy as always lagging behind the populace. We have poor old Fred Zinnemann and Herbert Ross – both no strangers to Oscars – getting what amounts to little more than traditional votes. That’s not truly fair given that both their films notched up additional nominations this year and both aren’t 100% old fashioned Oscar bait, but when viewed against the modern stylings of the other three films and directors it’s clear there is a generational gap. Generational gaps are one thing, but when making my choices here it’s all about quality. The Turning Point and Julia are no doubt well directed, but they are hardly innovative, both directors have made superior movies, and there are some other notable films from the year which probably should have made the cut over those two.

We know Woody Allen is out, and that leaves Spielberg and Lucas. Spielberg already had Jaws in his pocket by this point while Lucas had American Graffiti. Any other year Spielberg would be the choice here, but Lucas unleashed a little something called Star Wars upon the world With each new year a whole slew of blockbusters and special effects bonanzas swarm through the cinema but they are so lacking in energy and originality and are so cookie cutter that it’s difficult to differentiate between one and the other. With each viewing of those, it becomes increasingly clear just what an achievement A New Hope was – from the impossible odds of getting it done on time, the often horrid conditions making it, a cast of mostly unknowns with a couple of old-school leading actors, from creating visual and sound effects and techniques never seen before, right down to the handling of story, characters, and universe – it has to be Lucas for the win.

My Winner: George Lucas

star-wars-40th-anniversary

My Nominations: George Lucas. Steven Spielberg. Robert Altman. Sam Peckinpah. Ridley Scott. David Lynch. William Freidkin. Dario Argento. Luis Bunuel.

There was a number of war epics this year and depending on your preference for scale or action or story or character, you could name any of the directors here. My vote goes for Peckinpah and his violent anti-glory Cross Of Iron which acts as a precursor to many of the more downbeat and political war films of the subsequent ten years. Regardless of which area you decide to focus on, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists is probably the most consistent war film of the year and hits all of the aforementioned boxes, showing that Scott had a handle on each and could combine them within a historical setting and a large scope. Say what you will about Lynch or Eraserhead but you won’t see a more unique and nightmarish vision in 1977 than his tale of isolation, fear, and weirdness. In a time when everyone was pre-occupied with grand battles and huge budgets, Lynch goes grainy black and white to show an industrial wasteland, a bewildered man, and a screeching mutant. William Friedkin updates The Grapes Of Wrath with his toe-curling exercise in tension Sorceror while Dario Argento perfects his colourful giallo vision and penchant for stylish violence and madness with Suspiria. Luis Bunuel’s films are more often than not experimental, and while less overt in its art That Obscure Object Of Desire pushes traditional storytelling to certain limits and beyond. Finally, Robert Altman treads more fully into experimental territory with 3 Women – a film based on a dream and given a dreamlike quality in its depiction of relationships in a town on the edge of nowhere.

I know I’m not impartial, but I think time has proven that any one of my additional nominees are more worthy than the three official ones I left off. As much as I’d be happy with any of my other picks getting the win, I think we have to still go with Beardy Magee.

My Winner: George Lucas.

Let us know your winner in the comments!

It Comes At Night

1260268_it-comes-at-night-film

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?

Trilogy Of Terror

trilogy-of-terror-horro-tv-movie-anthology-zuni-evil-doll.jpg

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!

V/H/S

VHS_Tape_Banner_12_07_12

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!