Train To Busan

By now if you haven’t seen Train To Busan you’ve probably at least heard of it – breaking box office records and hearts at a furious pace. If indeed you haven’t seen it, you need to set aside a couple of hours, right now, and watch it – Train To Busan is the horror movie of the year and shows that there is still plenty of life left in the shambling undead genre providing you have the right people behind and in front of the camera.

Train To Busan gets right what many horror films get wrong – character. Too often character is sacrificed for plot, or worse, for kills. I love a good beheading or stabbing as much as the next horror fan, but sometimes we want more – more substance, more feeling and care. Cannon Fodder is all well and good, but the impact when someone we actually like, or actively dislike bites the dust is more powerful and the memory of their death and the associated emotional weight stays with us longer. There’s an old belief/saying/remark that I generally accept as containing a lot of truth – that the best horror films are often made by people who don’t make horror movies. While that’s not true across the board, it does sometimes take a person outside of the genre to bring something truly unique or horrifying to the butcher’s table. While Yeon Sang Ho was no stranger to dark material, it would be difficult to classify his previous work as strictly horror – his debut animated feature The King Of Pigs an unsettling look at violence, class, bullying, masculinity, and the follow up The Fake is an equally divisive, unflinching depiction of religion and abuse of power. Train To Busan was the director’s first Live Action movie, and although he filmed it alongside the animated prequel Seoul Station, it depicts a level of character building and command of genre usually reserved for the greatest directors.

At just under 2 hours, Train To Busan covers a lot of ground and gets off the ground within moments – we meet the ‘bit of a dick’ protagonist – a divorcee who apparently cares more for his job than his young daughter. As her Birthday present, she wants to visit her mother in Busan and her dad reluctantly agrees to take her. As they get on the train we pass by several other characters – a working class tough guy with his pregnant wife, a superior wealthy business men, estranged elderly sisters, and a school baseball team with their own interconnected dramas. Just as the train is setting off, a young, sick, injured woman collapses into one of the carriages and the fun begins as she decides to take a chomp out of one of the train workers. The way the ‘virus’ spreads here is more akin to 28 Days Later where a serious bite will result in death and ‘turning’ in a matter of seconds. Within minutes the train is in chaos, with factions being formed, people being slaughtered, some hiding, some fighting, some locking others away to their doom, all while the train scurries along to its final destination.

The pace with which the virus spreads is matched by the plot pacing and direction. There is rarely a moment to breath or relax without some new twist or threat emerging. The characters from different backgrounds all react to the carnage differently, yet all want to survive. The arguments here are of course reminiscent of NOTLD and Day Of The Dead with each voice and ego demanding to be heard and refusing to accept any other opinion as valid. There are a number of terrific set pieces, from scrolling beat-em up fight scenes through zombie filled carriages, to white knuckle tension filled moments as one group tries to lock out another, to the seeming safety of arriving at another station only to find it completely overrun too. Indeed, most of the excitement and scares of the film come from the pacing and the character driven plot, rather than jump-scares or gore.

While the film has its bloody moments, it isn’t overly gory or off-putting for newcomers. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the action and invention, while new fans will likely be sucked in by the story which is frequently heartbreaking. The performances from top to bottom are great, something vital when you are relying so heavily on character, and most of the writing is on point too. You’ll have fun guessing who, if anyone, will make it to Busan, and the energetic nature of the film will have you thirsting for a rewatch. This is a highly entertaining, game-changing zombie film which reinvigorates a genre bloated by the procession of Walking Dead episodes and clones and frequently equals the heights that the best of the genre has to offer while encouraging those unfamiliar with these types of movies to get on board.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Train To Busan!

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Final Destination

*Originally written in 2003

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Of the teen horror movies which appeared in the Nineties era, most were dumb gore-fests with cheap shocks and a sexy, young cast. However, there were two stand outs: Scream, of course, and Final Destination. Both are intelligent, both have involving story lines, good characters, genuine shocks, and grisly deaths. While Scream was full of parodies and self-referential stuff, Final Destination played on our fear of death – the one common denominator which we all cannot avoid. While it does make jokes about itself and its genre, they are fewer than Scream, and do not go as over the top as some other films. The director fills every scene with real tension and fear, and successfully combines this with excellent set pieces and stunts, as well as sustaining a brilliant story. There are few films that can do this so we should admire Final Destination.

128 students are planning to travel to France with their teachers for one last big school trip. The plane crashes, killing everyone on board. We then flashback and realise that it was the premonition of one of the students, Alex. He has been having a strange day, and when he sees that his premonition is coming true he tries to get everyone off the plane. Like a certain Twilight Zone episode he succeeds in only causing a minor panic and some embarrassment, but is fortuitously thrown off the plane together with a few others who got involved. As they wait in the airport Alex relates what he saw and of course no one believes him. Suddenly the plane explodes – his premonition came true. In the aftermath, some of the survivors mourn, others see it as a second chance, the cops become interested in how Alex knew what was going to happen, and Alex has further visions. Soon the survivors are killed in bizarre ways, and the cops believe it is Alex. Alex thinks that death is stalking them because they cheated it, and he works out the order that they will die in, believing that if they can understand the visions and prevent themselves from dying again, they will be safe. This will not be easy though, as death can, and does strike from everywhere.

The idea behind the story is excellent, and it is stylishly and effectively executed. It will appeal to the teen audience it is aimed at, but also older viewers as it is a very thought-provoking, existential film when stripped back. One character, Carter, believes he is in control of his own life, not some invisible force, and at one point tries to prove this by parking on train tracks in front of an approaching train. Alex becomes increasingly paranoid, hiding in a hut from death, safe-proofing it in every way he can. Clear tries to be strong, has learnt to be this way through a tough childhood and cannot believe that all life is is a series of days avoiding death. The other survivors all have their individuality, and are not pastiches of other characters from teen movies. The performances are each outstanding, even from Sean William Scott who proves he is better than just being Stiffler forever. The side plot of the cops believing Alex is behind the deaths adds a depth which most teen horror films do not have.

Wong’s direction is very stylish, and the deaths and set pieces are some of the most innovative ever, recalling the style of Argento. That everything is a potential killer is an idea ripe for exploitation. Wong also creates a massive amount of tension throughout, peaking with each death – the train and car scene will get the most flabby heart racing, the teacher in the kitchen is brilliantly staged within every fork and implement seeming deadly. The opening 15 minutes have to be among the most tense and exciting 15 minutes in horror movie history, confirming all those with a fear of flying to stay firmly on the ground. The film shows how we are not immortal, and without the humorous moments it might become too much.

There are many famous shock moments, the bus scene being the most notorious – many have complained about this being stupid and unrealistic, but if Death was stalking you, of course it would try to put the approaching bus under a veil of silence. The premise may seem too far-fetched for people, but this is primarily for a horror crowd who come baying for the blood, and we do appreciate it more when our intelligence isn’t insulted. Death here as a character does have a sense of humour, each death being ironic, gruesome or made to look like an accident, but this is all the more terrifying, that this force is coming after us for entertainment. Death wants immediate pay back for those who cheated it, but in the style of a Bond villain, likes to play with its victims first. Of course the deaths may seem impossible in the real world, but if it is Death stalking us, I think it has the power to bend a few rules. Most criticism I have read of this film is petty and unexplained, but I can understand why some would be put off by it. For clever, shocking, exciting teen horror movies, there are very few better than this.

What do you think of Final Destination and its many sequels – let us know in the comments!

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?

Street Trash

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A cult ‘classic’, Street Trash is a film I have known about since my childhood but somehow was never able to get my hands on till recently. I’d seen small bits and pieces of it before and had read various accounts calling it deliciously gruesome, offensive etc – all the things I look for in a horror movie, naturally. Having finally seen it I can’t say that time has been good to it in most respects, from the dated effects to the unfortunate misogyny. The film’s rampant disregard for women is in truth the only offensive thing here, and while yes we are supposed to be dealing with Street Trash and other assorted dregs dredged from society’s rim, it nevertheless feels like it is reveling in its attitudes.

Like any number of other 80s horror movies, Street Trash deals with toxic waste, or ooze, or some sort of chemical mistake. While some movies use this formula to turn hapless victims in to zombies, here the stuff (in the form of a new brand of alcohol) turns our already near-zombified morons to mush, hissing, melting, and occasionally exploding into colourful puddles of cartoon gore. That’s the biggest letdown of a film I had heard so much about – the low budget is obvious and the effects are poor in the few instances they are actually shown. In many cases we simply get reaction shots of the victim’s tortured face, or the sickened grimaces of bystanders, while squelching, farting sounds bubble into our ear holes. There are a few interesting moments and deaths which would have been more potent at the time of release, but it doesn’t come close to the quality of effects or inventiveness of many other films from the same era.

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Having said already that the film treats the female characters mostly as meat or figures of ridicule or hatred, it’s ironic then that the script is the highlight of the film. The dialogue is well written and peppered with one-liners, many dated, many funny, and it fizzes along when it needs to. It’s a shame then that the story is not interesting, the characters unappealing, and the plot bounces around in different directions which all end up going to the same unfortunate place. There are some funny moments and with a higher budget or better effects some of the kills would possibly be rightly seen as classics – where else are you going to see a man melting to nothing while sitting on the can, and then accidentally flush himself away? Other positives include some of the performances – Mike Lackey as the hero (?) is basically excellent, and the city looks ugly and hopeless. In an attempt to make some sort of epic comparing all layers of society as monsters, we get a large cast of characters who sort of intertwine, from Fred and his brother who live in a junkyard with a variety of other hoodlums, to the broken and crazed Vietnam vet Bronson who claims to be King of the yard, to the obese actual owner of the yard and his receptionist, to a burly cop trying to cut out the crime Bronson and his bunch are unleashing, to an Italian American mobster cliché who is having a feud with a mouthy restaurant doorman. With more time and effort, this could have been a gore-filled, low rent Pulp Fiction for the 80s, but instead it comes over as a series of skits. I dearly wanted to like and even love Street Trash, but aside from some good ideas and bad intentions, it doesn’t work. It’s passable, cheesy entertainment that I would still recommend all horror fans see, but unless you grew up with it I can’t see it converting too many new fans.

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Let us know in the comments what you think of Street Trash – is it one of your favourites, or should it be confined to the scrap heap?

Evil Dead

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How many times has the remake versus original conversation taken place over the last few decades, whether over the net with like-minded bloggers or over beers and Scampi Fries with friends? Although the number of remakes in recent years has sky-rocketed to ridiculous levels, the general consensus remains that remakes are generally weaker than the original. We’re not here to discuss that argument today, though feel free to leave your comments on the matter below, but instead we’re simply going to review the film on its own merits as much as possible. This ‘new’ Evil Dead takes the premise to it’s most basic premise – a group of friends are tormented by horrific forces whilst staying in a cabin far from civilization – and dispenses with much of the humour of the originals. It’s gory, it’s grim, it’s great.

You know the original story, right? Group of college kids head off to a secluded cabin for a weekend. Evil Dead takes a cue from its modern gritty brethren and adds a millennial generation twist – one of the friends is an addict (I want to say heroin?) and her friends are taking her out to the middle of nowhere to get clean. That’s a bad idea in and of itself, but we already know from the prologue that things are likely to get worse (the prologue showing a nice bit of capture, setting on fire, and headshots). Before long a certain book is found, a certain verse is read, and a certain ancient evil is awoken. From that point on the film moves at a frantic pace as people are possessed and injured and killed in gruesome ways.

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The cast is a step up from the original, that much is obvious. Sure, we don’t have Bruce Campbell, but we do have Lou Taylor Pucci – a vastly gifted and underappreciated actor, and Jane Levy as the female lead who tows the line between addict, demon, and warrior. The story does try to merge the whole getting over addiction thing with a violent exorcism but lets not pretend we’re here for anything other than blood and guts – the story does what it needs to, removing some of the gaps from the original and adding some emotion and character. What we lose is much of the humour, the slapstick invention – it’s here, but in much smaller doses. It’s a fine balancing act – the original succeeded because no-one has really seen anything like it, but having that mix of comedy and gore nowadays is especially difficult as we have now seen so many attempts at it.

I can see some fans of the original series being too precious to get on board with this remake, but I believe most fans of the original are fans first and foremost because they love horror. This is a horror movie, with all the blood and violence you could hope for, as well as some fairly effective scares. It’s not going to change the world like Raimi’s movies did, but it is going to entertain and gross-out. It’s easily one of the better remakes of recent times and is deserving of your time. Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this remake or if you feel it is another inferior and needless cash-in.

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What did you think of this remake? Had you seen the original already, or did this make you want to go back and find the 80’s classic? Let us know in the comments!

The House Of The Devil

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Ti West has been carving a name for himself in the horror world for quite a few years now, earning critical praise if not quite the commercial recognition he deserves. In a run that any director should be proud of, West crafted this nifty little throwback to the Seventies slasher, with nods to many classics, and showing an eye for flair, and for creating tension similar to those masters De Palma, Carpenter, and Hitchcock. From the setting to the soundtrack to the camerawork to the title credits, House Of The Devil is a fun, loving dedication to an interesting time in horror – one ripe for ridicule, but also for respect.

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I love the introduction to House Of The West instantly transporting you to a more simple, better time for horror. We get an authentic retro opening credits sequence with big Yellow writing, hilarious, apt zoom shots and freeze frames, and 80s music blasting out of a walkman. There’s a case for saying that this intro is the best part of the movie, and it’s difficult to argue against that, but to say what follows isn’t great would be a foolish disservice. The retro look and feel is seen throughout, thanks to filming with 16mm and keeping a number of techniques familiar to 70s and 80s horror fans prevalent throughout. It’s not just in the stylistic approach – the hair and clothes and vehicles etc are all authentic, but in an interesting twist it takes the slasher sub-genre and gives it the slow-burning treatment. Aside from a few obvious classic, the slasher is more about gore and over the top kills and buck a minute thrills than creating tension or atmosphere. West keeps the kills and blood to a minimum until the conclusion, and even though there are few answers or reveals until close to the end, we are shown enough, and know enough that something isn’t right.

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West’s direction is assured, that’s easily enough established in the opening moments, so what of the rest of the cast? We have a pleasing range of familiar icons and fresh faces, and there are no let downs. A trait of the cheapest and sleaziest, and even the most popular horror films of the 70s and 80s were the less than stellar performances from less than household names – there would usually be a decent leading lady, and one reputable actor surrounded by people who had just enrolled in Acting 101 never mind those who had graduated from it. Dee Wallace appears in an early, minor role to set the tone of horror pedigree, but it is a soft spoken Tom Noohan who leads the way, a man known for many creepy roles. His wife in the film is played by another less known horror actress Mary Woronov, and they make a formidable pairing, both charming and affable and unnerving like a certain other sociable couple from Rosemary’s Baby, hint hint. Added to the cast in lesser roles are AJ Bowen who is gradually making his name known in horror circles, and Greta Gerwig who it seems just needs the right film to hit the big time after a number of well received performances. Our Scream Queen though is played by Jocelin Donahue who does a great job as both plucky heroine, 80s college girl, and distressed damsel, fighting, kicking, stabbing her way through a chaotic conclusion. For sections of the film she is alone and has to act by herself, managing to hold this scenes without issue.

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These sections all lead towards a final vague reveal and some fine carnage. The only scene of violence before the final section is a pretty shocking gun-blast to the face for one unfortunate victim, but those last moments are a gripping mix of chase and torture, yet another game of cat and mouse in a large, shadow and secret filled house, but rather than simply re-tread old ground, West tries to actually make things scary rather than gory. The film and the payoff may not be perfect for all horror fans, but I was happy. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a reason behind all the violence and it’s fairly stock horror stuff, and even though there are brief hints throughout, it isn’t truly reveled until the final moments. Definitely a film which horror aficionados will appreciate more than the casual fan, but there is plenty to love here for those not accustomed to hockey masks and human centipedes.

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Have you seen The House Of The Devil? What did you make of the retro stylings of the movie and do you think it will be a future cult hit? Let us know in the comments!

Embodiment Of Evil

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I surprised myself when I realised I had never seen a José Marins film, given that I’m a fan of all things horror, cult, weird, and gore. I’d heard of Coffin Joe before but never knew the extent of his ‘importance’ in this feverish section of the movie community. I suppose The Embodiment Of Evil is not the best place to start as it is the third part of a trilogy, but as this is hardcore, grindhouse stuff watching five minutes can be just as enjoyable or sickening, enlightening or boring as watching an entire series.

Coffin Joe is a rather messed up Undertaker whos has spent the last forty years growing his hair and nails in an asylum/prison after murdering countless people. His life has been led by his quest for the perfect woman; a woman he believes his good enough to give birth to his son and heir. Unfortunately for him every woman he meets fails to live up to his high standards and they inevitably get torturted, murdered, and if they’re lucky, eaten. After forty years though he is deemed safe and is released. Met by his own version of Igor (Bruno) he returns home to find he is something of a legend and hero to all the local maniacs. Immediately he begins his quest once more, sending out these followers to bring him back the choicest slices of women in the land.

Of course this is little more than a thank you to fans in finishing a beloved trilogy, a cash in on the recent trend for gore and grindhouse, and an excuse to chuck a pile of blood over the screen. Luckily for me i’m all for that sort of thing. Where such films are concerned I usually don’t care for much of a plot as that is never the point; all you need to know is where the bad guy is and what he is going to do to his victims. I’m not a fan however of poor acting, no matter how campy or how pointless the film may be and there is some poorness here. Joe has been around for decades though and knows what his audience expects, skulking around like every Vincent Price, Bela, Karloff etc character there has ever been. His character is interesting to an extent though nothing we see is particularly shocking, new, or frightening. I would have expected a few shocks but at least there is plenty of gore. There are a few particularly nice scenes, nothing as inventive as Argento but still fun to watch. Thankfully the production values are high enough that it doesn’t become a pain to watch, there are some nice, funny attempts at artistic, surrealist stuff but on the whole it’s how many die and will Joe get what he wants. If you’re a fan of this type of movie you’ll get something from it. If not you’ll likely never see it or be horrified or bored. Overall a decent attempt, a fond farewell (perhaps) to a much loved character and one whose history I will have to delve into later.