The Nightman Scoring System (c) Movie Edition

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Six years ago I unleashed the Nightman Scoring System (c) upon the world and since then it has been a huge success; a grand total of zero people have used in for reviewing albums. Rather than quit while I’m ahead, I’ve decided to present a movie edition of the system. It’s like a movie edition of Trivial Pursuit, but with less arguments and headbutting your Grandmother. Go read the original post first for some lengthy reasoning. If not, here’s a short recap; I don’t like giving scores in reviews, but if I absolutely had to I would bring up the most important components of the Product into equal parts and score each part individually thereby giving a more credible, less partisan overall rating. I split the Product into 20 parts, each part has a total possible 5 points, giving a total possible score of 100 – nice for percentages. While personal preference will still come into play, it will be further balanced by other components – you may love something which was a commercial flop so you can’t possibly give it a high rating in a Sales category. Furthermore, you may hate something which sold millions, but you are forced to give it a high score in a Sales category. This loose rigidity should further keeps things fair in preventing the most staunch, anti-genre critics from giving high or low ratings in certain categories.

So, what makes a movie and how do we break it down into components? A lot of people are involved in movie making, and handily they are essentially already split into different parts – wardrobe, editing, directing, music, acting etc. You can look to existing Award ceremonies or other reviewers and critics to see which pieces of movies are most discussed. The below 20 categories are my choices – most of them you can’t argue with, but I’m sure I’ve missed a few which you think are important or which could replace some which I have given. You can switch those out, remove some, or add some, but you must remember that each category must have equal rating – you cannot change that. Sales are NOT more important that critical consensus. Music is NOT more important than wardrobe. You will have your preferences – I sure as hell do – but to give a fair score everything must be weighted equally. I do think there is room here for 25 components, giving each a weighting of four points, but I’ll stick with 20 for now. Lets check out my components and some description and ‘rules’ around each.

Sales: We begin with the easy components. You can’t get away from sales. Money is what makes the Business work. Your indie/arthouse/foreign/not commercial movie might be awesome, but if it doesn’t sell, then it isn’t successful. With all these categories there are variants – a movie with a budget of $10,000 which goes on to make $10 million would be seen as a huge success. A movie with a $50 million budget which makes $55 million would not be a success – but it still hit $55 million. A film might get strong sales in its home country, but weak sales worldwide – what were its targets before release? Do you factor in DVD/home sales? Basically there is a little wriggle room in here for what you think gets a high score – something like Paranormal Activity or Avatar gets a 5, while something like Heaven’s Gate would be a flop. A good way of thinking about it is if it loses money on it’s budget, it can’t get higher than a score of 3, if it exceeds it’s budget, it can’t get less than 3.

Chart: Chart and Sales are different. A film may reach number 1 in Charts in various countries, but drop out of the top 10 the following week. On the flip side, a film may not reach the top 5 in the US but not fall out of the top 10 for a number of weeks.

Critical Consensus: This is where Rotten Tomatoes etc come in. You should not only look at critical reviews, but fan reviews too. If a film gets rave critical reviews, but muted fan response it can’t get a 5. Likewise, a film could be a strong fan favourite but get a ‘meh’ from critics – can’t get a 5. A 5 is reserved for movies which are loved by fans and critics, a 1 is where most in both groups give the movie a bad review.

Director: Self explanatory – how good is the Direction? This is subjective, but try to be objective. If the director wins or is nominated for awards for the movie, chances are it deserves a high score. If the director is merely competent, takes chances, if it’s a first movie versus a veteran director, all of these things should be considered.

Performances: Self explanatory – how good are the performances? Possibly you could divide this category in two – lead performances and everything else. Again it is subjective – I’m not a huge Kevin Spacey fan in that I find his performances limited and samey, but I’m in the vast minority there. Again you look to award wins and nominations, but for the most part if you know and watch enough movies, you’ll know if a performance is good, terrific, average, bad, or awful.

Music: How good is the score? Did you buy or download the soundtrack or does a particular piece infiltrate your sub-conscious? When you hear the soundtrack do you automatically think of the movie or if someone talks about the movie can you hear the music in your head? Does the music compliment the mood, tone, theme? This is more than just ‘I hate jazz, the soundtrack is jazz, so it gets a score of 1’ and it is more than ‘it has a single important song so automatically gets a score of 5’.

Cinematography: How good does the movie look? Look for unique shots, beautiful camera work and framing. Is it distinct? A bad movie can look breathtaking. A great or entertaining movie can have bland or by the numbers cinematography.

Writing: It doesn’t matter if the screenplay is adapted or original as long as it’s good. Is it over-burdened with description and exposition? Does the plot makes sense, or does it takes leaps of logic? Is it consistent or overly simplistic? Is the dialogue authentic, quotable, interesting? Do you believe the characters would do and say what they do and say? Everything from quips to speeches to plot to background text (posters, advertisements and other written text you see on screen – think of Simpsons gags like store names) should be considered under writing.

Wardrobe: Clothes. I don’t know much about them. I wear them to cover my nuts and that’s about it. But costumes and wardrobe are important for movies – they make the characters leap off the screen and heighten performances – what would Vader look like without his mask and cape? Well, Jedi spoiled that for us. Are the costumes authentic when they need to be? Is the care and dedication into costume clear or do they seem like an afterthought?

Editing: A film with bad editing can be a mess. It can destroy consistency, ruin plot, and cause the timing off the film to be off. Editing is part of the overall style and when done right can be immediately noticeable or not noticeable at all.

Make up and Hair: Another piece I don’t pay much attention too and I was almost going to merge it with Costume. Make-up however is where it’s at for me – I couldn’t care less about hair. Make-up though – The Elephant Man, Nightmare On Elm Street… need I say more? I think only something truly iconic or groundbreaking should ever get a 5 here, while on the flipper only something with zero effort or disastrously awful should get a 1.

Effects: Special effect, visual effects, practical effects, digital effects, into the pot you go. Again, look at how groundbreaking they are and look at the time they were made – something groundbreaking in 1980 will look like muck today so consider time’s whorish saunter too. Also consider if the effects add anything to the film or take anything away – does an effect suddenly pull you out of the narrative, does it look fake, or are the effects so conjoined to plot that the film would fail without them?

Art and Set: The opposing side of cinematography, how impressive are the sets? Care, love, dedication, skill, realism, imagination and all the rest of it should be thought of before giving a score.

Sound: I was almost going to get rid of this one entirely and replace it with something like plot, separated from writing. As much as I don’t care about Sound, or really notice it, it is nevertheless an important part of a movie. Editing, mixing, volume, coherence, consistency, realism, ingenuity, all go towards creating the soundscape of a movie.

Cultural Significance: How much impact does a film have on the general public? Not every film can have the impact of a Casablanca or a Star Wars. Also, it is difficult to gauge that level of significance upon release – partly why I wait a while after release before reviewing a film. You could look at hype up to and at the time of a release, and that is important, but you can also look at the number of sequels a film generates, the amount of fan-fiction or buzz or blogging that goes on afterwards. Does the dialogue seep into everyday conversations? Is the movie referenced in other works? Does a particular moment or style or character or device crafted in the movie get used again in later movies? How much are people still talking about it in 1 or 10 or 50 years time?

Accomplishment: To score this you need to understand the movie’s goals. If it’s a horror movie did it scare you? Did it scare others? If a comedy, how much laughter did it generate? Did you cry when you were supposed to? How successful was the movie in doing what it set out to do?

Stunts: Some people might replace this component with something else. Almost every film, if not every film has some sort of stunt. Even the most bland drama will have some element of stunt work or stunt performance. If it doesn’t, then feel free to exclude this category and put something else in its place. More importantly – what are you doing watching a film with no stunts, you big weirdo? With stunts we generally think of the biggest and best. That is definitely something to think about, especially in movies where action is heavy. You may think this category then is biased towards a certain type of movie – that’s kind of fair enough but it’s probably likely that stunt heavy movies will fall down in other categories that stunt-lite movies will not.

Originality: When we think about originality, we’re not only talking about being the first movie in a particular genre. Movies can show originality in most of the above categories and more. A new camera technique, a new type of squib, a new brand of performance, an original script, hell even something new like an original viral advertising is all part and parcel of things. If the film does nothing new, copies other better or more successful movies, or just seems like a cash-in, then it’s probably going to get a low score here.

Miscellaneous: Like my music system, this is for anything else you think I have missed, or that you may have missed. Any smaller components which still make up the final package – a nifty poster, a trailer, animal performers (which along with voice work should be considered in the performance category), I don’t know. Again, replace this one with another category entirely if you feel something major has been missed.

Personal: This is your own personal score, just for your bias – even if a film does reasonably well in most of the above categories but you still hate it, go ahead and pop a 1 in here. If your favourite movie of all time happens to be Police Academy 7, feel free to slap a fat 5 here.

There you have it. Try to review a few films using this system. Even better, get a group of your friends, fellow bloggers, or film geeks to choose a film at random – a new release, or an old movie you haven’t watched yet, and each review it to see how you compare in each category and how close or far apart your overall scores are. Like any good review it should act as a discussion point – friends gathering around a few pints (not coffee…. never coffee) and argue over each component and try to find common ground to use when reviewing in the future. Let me know in the comments what you think of this flawless system and if there is anything you wold change. Happy watching and talking!

Goodnight Mommy

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*Spoilers beyond!

When your trailer is proclaimed as the scariest ever, you’d better back that shit up by making an equally terrifying whole. That trailer went viral in 2015, and as a horror fan it was a bold claim that I needed to verify. What I will say about the trailer is that it makes the movie look like something it isn’t. I didn’t find the trailer scary in the slightest but it did look ominous and interesting and had enough potential to make me want to see the whole thing. Now that I have seen it, did the final product live up to that potential?

Well…. no. Goodnight Mommy does have an interesting premise but misses out on creating any real sense of paranoia or dread. There is maybe a single page’s worth of dialogue in the entire movie, no real action appears until the final twenty minutes of an unnecessarily stretched running time, none of the ideas it purports are explored, and the whole thing is simply dull. We have meandering, lingering shots of empty rooms, the Austrian countryside, and people sitting, staring, walking, and we have unsympathetic and ultimately uninteresting characters leaping to conclusions and exhibiting behavior that seems to have no plausibility or reason. If we compare it to a movie such as, say A Tale Of Two Sisters, the difference in quality is vast. You could argue that it is an invalid comparison but it’s clear the makers desperately wanted to make something in that vein. A Tale Of Two Sisters makes use of its absolutely gorgeous cinematography and colour palette, and isn’t merely there to remind us that the family is isolated. The performances in Goodnight Mommy are sterile, while A Tale Of Two Sisters is visceral, and perhaps most crucially the Asian film is genuinely unsettling and scary.

Goodnight Mommy tells the story of two brothers who apparently live alone in a large house far from civilization, until one day a woman claiming to be their mother returns home from an operation. She is shrouded in bandages and seems to be grumpy and detached compared to when she left. The boys are left to their own devices but they begin to wonder if the woman in their house is an impostor – naturally they leap to the next logical step of torture (in fairness they do try to reach out to a priest, but he takes them home – knowingly). There is a supposed twist, but it’s unclear if the viewer was meant to know it before the official reveal or during one of the several unofficial reveals, or even during the first ten or 15 minutes of the movie where it is fairly obvious anyway. Several notable clichés are invoked such as the good old ‘outsider comes to the rescue only to be distracted at the crucial moment’ and the ‘almost escapes but is caught by something which would never happen in reality’. It’s muddled and plain and boring, and it isn’t redeemed by a better final twenty minutes. There are ideas, there is potential, and some of the scenes towards the end might even cause a hardened horror fan to cringe, but there isn’t enough to recommend. It’s a case of wanting to grab the filmmakers by the shoulders and scream in their faces ‘you’re doing it wrong! I know you’re better than this!’

By all means, watch this if you were genuinely creeped out by the trailer – I mean, check out the many many glowing reviews this has received by better people and clearer voices than me and mine. I can’t say I was disappointed by this as I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end this is a fairly tame thriller that both abandons and under uses its ideas. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie!

Disturbia

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Shia LaBeouf, eh? He’s always up to something. But before he became whatever the hell he is now he was a pretty nifty actor, always engaging and capable of carrying big budget movies. Disturbia is a movie from his prime – taking the paranoia and general plot details from movies such as Rear Window and updating them for today’s market. It may not be the classic that Hitchcock’s movie was, but it’s still and exciting and entertaining flick with an easy blend between tension, humour, and angst.

LaBeouf plays a school kid Kale whose life is turned upside when his dad is killed in a car accident – the brief introduction suggests he’s a good kid. After this incident, Kale becomes more disinterested in school, life, etc and after one of his teachers mentions the accident Kale flips and attacks the twat. All this happens just so that he is put under house arrest, rather than breaking his leg Jimmy Stewart style. He is housebound and cannot leave his grounds without the police (including a cousin of his teacher) pouncing. In the background we hear news reports of missing people and a potential serial killer, and a new family moves in next door with an enticing young daughter. Kale and his pervy best friend Ronnie give in to boredom and spend their days spying on the neighbours – watching the daughter undress, swim, exercise, argue with her parents, and another neighbour who is always bringing women back to his house late at night. As time goes on Kale meets the girl next door – Ashley, and becomes convinced that the man in the other house – Robert – is the killer from the news reports.

Like Rear Window much of the first half of Disturbia focuses on humour, paranoia, and friendship of the central characters. There is more of a romantic angle and there is the relationship between Kale and his mother to consider (though this isn’t as developed as it could have been)- the film has more going on that you may assume. That being said, it lacks the true voyeurism and style of Hitchcock’s classic, but makes up for this with pace and charm. LaBeouf makes for a strong lead that the audience will always get behind, and both Yoo and Roemer support admirably. The final stages of the film descend into a more overt horror style as the killer always seems one step ahead in a game of cat and mouse which could leave Kale, his family, and friends all dead and the killer blameless. The modern technological updates serve the story well and prove that a good idea can be both universal and timeless if treated with understanding and respect.

While Disturbia may not have you on the edge of your seat with suspense or keep you guessing and second guessing like Hitchcock’s film does, it will keep you engaged and has plenty of thrills, laughs, and excitement to entertain today’s supposedly short attention span viewers. Let us know in the comments what you thought of Disturbia.

Stripes

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I think I have come to a shocking revelation; I’m not a huge Bill Murray fan. Sure I like him, and I enjoy plenty of the movies he has been in – particularly in the early days, but he’s rarely laugh out loud funny for me. Stripes is another good Billy Murray movie where he is supported by an terrific comedy cast – it is those guys who evoke the most laughter from me and I always get that gnawing suspicion that this film, and even a few other Murray classic might have been better with someone else in his place. Blasphemy, I know! I’ve no idea who that other person may be but still, that suspicion rears its head, chomping away at me and saying everyone else is laughing, why aren’t you laughing you weirdo? Stripes is one late 70s, early 80s cult comedy classic that had always somehow passed me by – while plenty of the films made around the same time by the same cast, writers, directors are ones I grew up with, Stripes is a film I only came to in recent years.

Murray plays a deadbeat taxi driver who loses his job, girlfriend, and apartment after a particularly bad day – in classic Murray fashion this all drifts off his back in a carefree way. Looking for something to pass the time rather than any higher notion, he encourages his friend (Harold Ramis) to join the army with him. As this is the 80s, they set off and hi-jinks ensue. We meet a variety of cadets and commanders, as portrayed by some of Hollywood’s finest and a fair few up and coming comedy stars – Warren Oates, PJ Soles, Judge Reinhold, and John Candy are some of the recognizable faces. Like any other number of movies of similar ilk, we get training skits showing how Ramis and Murray rub against authority but eventually, and nonsensically, they complete training and are sent on a top secret mission.

To the film’s credit, it resolves the conflict between maintaining a semblance of plot while the slacker skits are played out – the comedians are given free-rein, but only as much as the plot will allow. The plot is by the by, but it’s enough to keep us engaged whereas a series of unrelated bits would have just fallen flat. The comedy mixes slapstick with deadpan slacker humour, light satire, visual gags, and mini stand-up routines. It doesn’t go the juvenile way of Police Academy though there are moments of raunch and sex comedy, and the general tone is one of playful anarchy. If it was one I grew up with, like the aforementioned cop series, or some of John Candy’s hits, then I’m sure I would hold more fondness for this, but watching as a new customer it gets a few laughs, chuckles, and holds the attention, but not much more than that.

Is Stripes one of your favourite comedy’s? How do you think it ranks alongside other comedies of the time and subsequent slacker type movies? Let us know in the comments!

Race With The Devil

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It’s Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, motorbikes, and devil worshippers – what more could you possibly want? Yes, it’s another one of those American attempts at a Hammer movie and although it isn’t going to win any awards or top any lists it’s still plenty of fun.

The two couples in this movie are not quite yuppies but they definitely symbolize the ‘city’ in the good old fashioned city vs country trope which appears all the time in horror movies. Oates and Fonda are (not brothers, I could have sworn they were) owners of a Motorcycle shop and have just splashed out on what classed as a fancy RV in the 70s. Rather than hop down to Florida for a few weeks on a beach, they load their motorbikes onto the back of the RV, load their wives inside (and an annoying dog) and hit the road for a spot of camping and dirt riding (of the motorcycle and sexual variety). After pulling over in a random field they stick on the Barbie, make some cocktails, and enjoy staring up at the stars and shooting the shit. As the little ladies get ready for bed, Oates and Fonda stumble upon some hippy ritual with masked weirdos and exposed titties. But wait, this ain’t just any old ritual, it’s a good old fashioned sacrifice! And now they’ve been spotted – run!

You can gauge the paths the film is going to tread from fairly early on – the vague, non-committal answers from the local townsfolk, the suspicious glances, and investigations into demons and witchcraft. As with all these films there is deception and chasing, but this one offers less horror and more action than you would expect. In many ways this feels like a halloween episode of CHiPs or Knight Rider than an actual horror film, but that’s no bad thing from where I’m sitting. The endless Zulu-like parade of bad guys makes you think that half the State is populated by evil devil worshippers and the way they just keep coming after the four campers is quite funny – the public chases and massive amounts of damage are sure to draw a hell of a lot more attention to their antics than if they had just let the witnesses get away and rant to some cops in the big city who wouldn’t be arsed to investigate.

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Like I said, this ain’t gonna light anyone’s fire too brightly, but it makes for an entertaining evening for fans of the genre or the stars while remaining an interesting relic of days gone by. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie.

Girlhood

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I had been looking forward to this one after reading nothing but good reviews, along with the fact that I typically enjoy coming of age movies. In truth I was a little underwhelmed by Girlhood; it’s a good movie, but there was too much of a personal detachment for me which came more from a lack of emotion conveyed on screen rather than me being a British white thirtysomething bloke. If anything it suggests a promising future for its director and stars.

Girlhood follows a few months in the life of a teenage girl who lives in a tower block complex – the sort you would expect to find in any populous city. She is protective of her younger sister, scared of her older brother, and feels trapped by her surroundings and life – the choices, options, and ability to simply live life the way you want to are limited. We see a host of tropes from similar movies or movies set in similar territory – the hoodlums lurking in the shadows, the invisible parents or adult authority, the contrast between the dim, dark housing development and the bright city lights and delights. That’s not to say the film simply rolls out trope after trope – it engages them and acknowledges them as true to life occurrences. With this approach, the film moves in a matter of fact way – nothing seems startling or out of place, but neither is anything shocking or exciting.

Marieme has been told that she cannot continue her schoolwork due to bad grades (or possibly race and class), and facing a bleak future she decides to go against everything she knows and speaks with a bunch of girls who appear to be part of a gang. Initially it is obvious she is out of place, but the girls accept her and she is quickly drawn into a world of theft, dancing, petty fighting, and general chav activity – but also friendship unlike anything she had experienced before. It is during these moments that the movie has its finest moments – the scenes of young women simply loving being round one another and feeling like they can take on the world are among the most exuberant and honest in film. The film attempts to take a darker turn later in the film as Marieme becomes a drug mule, loses her femininity or accentuates it in a deliberately cartoonish manner, and soon loses faith in her current path – she sees no future for herself in this direction and yet cannot accept returning to any past life. For me, the film loses its way in these moments – Marieme becomes a less interesting character, we lose her friendship with Lady, Fily, and Adiatou, and nothing really happens. It’s clear that the viewer is being shown, not for the first time, that even a strong woman will struggle given the poor choices she has ahead of her and we appreciate that there is little Marieme can do to improve her situation.

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The problem with Marieme is that, even though she is conflicted, she never truly becomes a fascinating character. There are moments, but not enough for us to sympathise with her – this is also hindered by the fact that for most viewers she repeatedly picks the worst option from the choices she has. It’s an annoyance of seeing potential wasted, of watching someone who is essentially good going nowhere. Karidja Toure is very good in the role, transforming from a meek nobody, to an effervescent girl, to a tired, hopeless woman. Assa Sylla is also strong as Lady – the whole cast in general are good at giving realistic portrayals. Sciamma, whose Water Lillies I enjoyed, gives another complex view of growing up as a girl – the hope, the fear, the love and the despair, and most importantly the friendships. The camera frequently moves in a slow panning motion, keeping the viewer as an outsider who cannot quite grasp the struggles of the character, and there is a heavy reliance on music and light. The soundtrack feels retro but uses modern pop music too, yet it lacks a punch or a hook outside of the obvious Diamonds scene. From an emotional standpoint, I always felt that feelings were skirted or on the fringe – perhaps deliberate, though maybe not. I felt like the friendship was real, but there wasn’t enough to make me laugh or love, scream or cry about. The most upsetting scene was possibly seeing Marieme’s little sister possibly following in her footsteps, but this wasn’t explored further.

In all, this is a film which most viewers will likely enjoy more than I did, but for me it is not up to films such as Stand By Me, Now And Then, or even The Virgin Suicides or Little Women –  though perhaps those are not all valid comparisons. A film like this relies on a likable cast and understanding director – both of which are checked boxes here, but they also need poignancy, a certain nostalgic charm or sense of empathy, and that intangible atmosphere which draws us back for repeated viewings and which makes us want to spend more time in the presence of the characters and their world. Girlhood for me doesn’t quite hit all of those notes, and while it is a more grim film than those previously mentioned, it is the lack of emotion which dulls the viewer and keeps us at arm’s length.

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

Wolfcop

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Lets get the cliché comparisons out of the way – it’s Teen Wolf meets The Evil Dead! Or something along those lines. I wasn’t expecting too much from Wolfcop, and although it’s the sort of film I generally (or used to) enjoy for inherent cult silliness, genuinely good films in this vein have been few and far between in recent years. Thankfully Wolfcop is an enjoyable romp with plenty of laugh out loud moments and a great soundtrack. It doesn’t take itself too seriously (because of course you wouldn’t) and although it clearly has a low budget, most of the effects are good, most of the performances are passable, and I suspect most viewers will be entertained on some level.

The plot goes something like this – a small town down and out alcoholic cop whose only interest in life is when the next booze break is, suddenly becomes empowered to take out the trash when he discovers he is a werewolf. Rather than the usual tropes of trying to hide this fact from everyone, he embraces it, slaps on his badge and side-arm, and goes out to rid the town of crime, a la Robocop. While it seems like the main goal of the film is to watch him take out local drug dealers and gangsters, the film introduces a twist later when a group aware of the existence of werewolves begins to cause trouble.

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I don’t want to say too much more on the plot, not because there are any genuine game-changing spoilers, but because you should watch the fun unravel for yourself. It does take some time before the wolf antics begin, but the film and central characters are interesting enough before that point to carry things. Once the werewolf emerges, the entertainment, and gore, levels are dialed up and you’ll be giggling like a child at the silliness, the one-liners, and the visual gags. We get a funny spin on the werewolf transformation scene (with one body part change being particularly amusing), quotable dialogue, a funny side-kick, and good performances from Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, and Jonathan Cherry (though the rest of the cast don’t come off as well). The plot is a little haphazard and cliché-ridden, but you don’t go in expecting miracles. What may be the strongest piece of the puzzle is the soundtrack by Shooting Guns – a heady mix of guitars, noise, and electronica which is prominent throughout, varied, and memorable. If you enjoy cult films, cheesy horror comedies, or simply like the title of the film then give Wolfcop a go before all your friends see it.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Wolfcop – is it up there with An American Werewolf In London, or down there with An American Werewolf In Paris?