Baskin

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A Turkish horror movie about a bunch of cops who somehow end up in Hell? Sign me (the hell) up! Except, that’s not really what happens. This is a Turkish Horror film – yep, but one which has more in common with the surreal elements of Lynch and Dali. It follows a bunch of cops, but they’re all assholes. Whether or not they end up in Hell is up for interpretation, like the rest of the movie. Basically I was going in expecting Aliens, but ended up experiencing a cross between Vinyan and Triangle – watch the latter, not the former.

What the balls am I talking about anyway? The opening of the film is promising, evocative of Argento, and of Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness. A young boy wakes in bed, disturbed by female moans coming from his parents’ bedroom. After creeping through his house, a withered, robed arm emerges from the boy’s bedroom and he screams – standard nightmare fare. The film cuts to what appears to be a remote and rundown restaurant where five policemen are talking about football and their sexual histories. There is a brief altercation with the staff where it becomes apparent that the cops may be abusing their power. Additionally, one of the cops suffers a momentary psychological breakdown. Also; frogs. A call for support comes in from another patrol, and the group heads off in their van to help and on route the group comments on the local lore and spooky stories surrounding the village they are driving to. After a few bumps they reach their destination – which turns out to be their FINAL DESTINATION!

It’s a film of two halves, as the old cliche goes, building up the characters, such as they are, and then throwing them into danger. The second half is clearly the more interesting and vibrant and violent. It’s where the director pulls down his fly and whips out six inches of tricks for his and our pleasure. The ‘Hell’ is almost a Clive Barker vision – from the perspective of mixing pleasure and pain, not of demons. It is a place of madness, inhabited by hooded, savaged, bandaged figures who writhe, fuck, torture, and tear. Director Can Evrenol isn’t outlandish with his visuals, perhaps due to budget constraints than creative preferences, but does lend a memorable darkness and gory finale. The place is a type of Hell, but it could just as easily be a building filled with cult members or good old fashioned movie crazies. What they want is unclear – the script spinning off vague poetry and debauched philosophy. The interesting moments for me are where time becomes loose and the film starts to collapse in upon itself – several characters seem aware of this slippage and the film bounces about between time and space leaving the viewer grasping for solid ground. The chief bad guy hints at fore knowledge of the characters and events and there other multiple hints that the film is only going to end one way – I don’t know if what happens was meant to be a twist as it is a fairly familiar trope which I called out about fifteen minutes before it happened. Still, I do enjoy stories of this nature, where time becomes a toy of some greater force.

Gore fans will flock to this, but it isn’t your standard slasher fare – it does have more in common with the more stylized and artistic films of the 70s and 80s – look to Italy for more famous work, but it doesn’t revel in carnage or come close to the levels of blood letting of recent US hits. The performances are fine too, the only standout being Mehmet Cerrahoglu as the creepy little leader – this is surely partly to do with his appearance as well as his acting ability, though there is some Col. Kurtz channeling in there. It’s a film which will find a cult audience and do well with critics, and it will be good to see where Evrenol can go next – anyone who aims for a unique or, at worst, different from the mainstream, visual and storytelling approach gets my vote, even if those approaches have been witnessed on the genre fringes for decades.

Have you seen Baskin? 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.

The Last Exorcism 2

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Nell returns in this interesting sequel to the found footage hit which doesn’t do enough to answer the questions viewers would have been asking after the credits rolled on the first movie. The film drops the found footage, leaves behind the documentary style, and instead adopts a more traditional approach as we find Nell trying to re-integrate with society by moving in to a halfway house for teenage girls. Rather than getting any explanation on what happened at the end of the last movie or what has happened to Nell or other characters in the interim, we pick up some time after with an apparently possessed Nell lurking in a random house. After recuperating in hospital, she is taken in by the kindly Frank, makes friends, gets a job, and begins to move on with a new life of freedom and individuality. It isn’t long before hooded figures begin stalking her, strange phenomenon breaks out in the house, and somebody finds clips of the found footage depicting the previous film on Youtube and all Hell breaks loose, literally.

While the film does contain the odd (tame) scare, it simply doesn’t have the heart and soul of its predecessor. While Part I was a genuine attempt to tell a powerful, disturbing story with twists and turns, Part II is clearly a cash-in with little regard for its central character or for existing fans. It’s a shame because there are a lot of things that work here, and Bell once again throws every ounce of her being into the performance – creating a horror icon deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Carrie, Freddy, or Michael Myers. We have strong supporting work too in minor roles – Watson as Frank is a sympathetic figure and Julia Garner’s Gwen tows the line between good and evil. The idea of Nell trying to move on is commendable, the setting opens the doors for many ideas which never come to fruition, and the conclusion is pleasingly nefarious. What doesn’t work is the gaps in the story – we could have had Nell attempting to recount where she has been, or some sort of additional closure. The omniscient hooded figures and just-introduced characters who seem to know Nell and her demon don’t have enough history to make us interested, and the Order Of The Right Hand, apparently sent to help Nell are completely useless in their jobs and again appear out of nowhere with no back story to allow us to care.

Fans of the first film will likely want to catch up with Nell and see how everything turns out, but I imagine most will be disappointed. While there is a glacial tone and the gnawing sense that things will soon go wrong, and while certain characters are ambiguous enough for us to question their intentions, these things are inferior to how they are executed in Part 1. Stick around for the last 10 minutes and enjoy it for another excellent performance by Ashley Bell.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism Part 2 and if you felt if lived up to its predecessor!

The Last Exorcism

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Horror moves in ever decreasing circles; one big idea comes along, is successful, and then breeds ever more numerous and more inferior spawn. The same can be said for other genres, and film and art in general, but it’s rarely more true, obvious, and barrel-scraping than in horror. As the genre dragged itself from the tattered, splattered remains of Torture Porn, the spectre of Handheld began to loom large. Paranormal Activity brought back the low budget innovation and shocks of The Blair Witch Project and updated its post-grunge malaise into the tech-obsessed, tech-scared new millennium. The ever decreasing circles rapidly became a noose to the point that shaky-cam and found-footage became terms which strangled imagination and left viewers dangling in disappointed, unexpected boredom. In general, I’m more forgiving of these films, even those which rely on obscure jump-scares and long periods of quiet before sudden deafening bangs in lieu of genuine tension and frights – as long as the premise is good, the idea interesting, and the filmmakers work with heart rather than greed. But like those long periods of quiet, every so often after a long period of similarly uninspired dross there comes the sudden deafening bang of quality.

The Last Exorcism looks from its trailer, from its premise, like just another found-footage film. It bears all the hallmarks of the sub-sub-genre, and it has its fair share of shaky camera work. However, thanks to some genuinely stunning performances and an honest attempt at tweaking the tropes and conventions and doing something more than just ticking boxes, it ends up being one of the best horror movies of the last few years. We have periods of silence but also genuine tension, and we have jump scares working along side surprising frights and moments that will chill. We have a strong cast and an assured director in Daniel Sturmm who knows exactly when to give a glimpse of what’s lurking inside his box or tricks, and when to rip the lid off.

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The film follows a loose documentary style formula, with a disillusioned Minister who has lost his faith plying his trade as a travelling exorcist. Sick of himself, sick of the people he meets, sick of religion, and sick of tricking people into believing he is saving them and thereby perpetuating their beliefs he decides to bring a film crew along on his last exorcism – he is going to show the world that he, and many like him are, a fraud. Accepting a request from a backwater town, he and the crew travel to the Sweetzer family farm to cast out the demon Abalam who, it appears, has taken over their sweet and innocent teenage daughter, Nell. Marcus explains to the camera that he has seen many patterns and similar cases over the years, and as he prepares for his mumbo jumbo and ritual, he tells us how to perform a fake exorcism. Having done his job and headed for home, things take an unexpected turn as Nell somehow tracks him down and is in a worse state than before his exorcism. From this point, the film unleashes all manner of scares and tricks as we are left to second guess motives and next steps. The plot twists and turns, offers a few red herrings, and nothing is clear until the final moments.

What I enjoyed most about the film is the performance of Ashley Bell as Nell. This is clearly a highly talented actress who should go on to future stardom. Her performance is visceral and charged with emotion, filled with subtle little ticks and looks, and she easily conveys naivety, fear, and possessed rage. It’s a performance which reminds me of Weaver in Aliens, Hamilton in T2, and Sheryl Lee in Fire Walk With Me in that it is full blooded, wildly energetic yet focused, and almost takes on a life of its own outside of the confines of the film. She deserved an Oscar nod for her work here, and it’s a shame she wasn’t recognised. Horror fans may be sick to their guts of found footage and exorcism films, but The Last Exorcism is the cream of the crop and shows what can be achieved in this style.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism and how it ranks alongside other exorcism movies.

Rosewood Lane

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A film which centres on its two fallen stars – actress Rose McGowan, and Director Victor Salva – who have both had significant hits in their careers, but now seem to be treading water. McGowan can be a great actress, and Silva is known to be quite handy with a horror story – with a very decent surrounding cast and an interesting premise, could this be a pleasant surprise?

Well, not really. The plot is scattered, that decent cast featuring Lin Shaye, Ray Wise, and Bill Faberbache are underused, some characters come and go with little explanation, and the motives for the main players are rarely clear. McGowan plays a radio host therapist, whose own dark past presumably helps her speak to listeners in an understanding way. When her father dies, she moves back to the house she grew up, and was abused in. There are whispers of what her father did, there are shows of emotion and she wants revenge, not against her father but against the person she believes killed him – it’s all very confused. Her boyfriend is really her ex, he’s a cop or a DA or something, and he may or may not think that she’s a little unhinged after her father dies.

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Sonny (McGowan) moves in to her childhood home and her creepy neighbour tells her about the creepy paperboy. True enough, the paperboy is creepy, creeping to her door and asking if she wants a deliver, and sneaking away. Things happen, viewers yawn, and Sonny thinks the boy is both stalking her and murdered her dad. Half the police force of the US appear to be investigating her every whim, no-one believes her, but the boy keeps up his threats, sneaking into houses and calling her radio show to give veiled clues and creepy hints. More things happen, the boy makes a final attack, and the movie ends, naturally with an ambiguous conclusion.

I wish I could like this film, but it’s like some writer sketched a few ideas, someone else saw him writing those ideas and tried to recall everything by stealing a glance over his shoulder, then that someone else wrote a script which was rewritten on a daily basis once filming started. The premise has of course been done to death before, but home invasion and paranoia never gets old if its done well. Here we have some shadowy, unthreatening child who could be a demon/ghost/satanic triplet/Obama/other who decides to annoy McGowan for unexplained reasons. I don’t mind unexplained – in fact, I like being challenged and being faced with ambiguity and open questions, however this just smacks of the writers and director having no clue what they are trying to do. Wise does a good job, and I honestly have no idea if McGowan was good, average, or terrible because her face is like a PSA against botox. Honestly, looking at her was the most horrifying thing of the film, and I’m not saying that to shame or be sarcastic, but it’s genuinely saddening and scary that so many people at such a young age are going down this route – and it almost never goes well. Anyway, if you don’t like boys on bicycles, you may or may not get a kick out of this.

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Let us know in the comments if you have seen this and what you thought of it!

Grave Encounters 2

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Picking up shortly after where we finished on the first film, GE2 is that curio of the horror genre – the sequel, which acts as both a sequel and a remake. The film largely treads the same ground as the first, albeit with a different group of characters, but at the same time ties together a few loose threads from the first, offers some new mythology, and attempts to propel the series in a new direction. It doesn’t always work, and the film threatens to lose its way towards the end, and while not as frightening as the first due to a variety of similar scare techniques, it hits more than it misses and is well worth a watch.

Grave Encounters 2 is a meta spin on the shaky-cam sub genre; The film opens by telling us of the surprise success of the first film, showing a bunch of vloggers and reviewers giving their thoughts on it. We flip to one such fan, film student Alex, who decides to make a documentary about the first film with the conceit being that he believes the events of the first film to be real. It’s like a reversal of the real life events which followed the release of Cannibal Holocaust (with the filmmakers having to prove to Courts that they had not made a snuff movie). Alex investigates further and finds out that everyone involved in the first film has either gone missing or died (aside from the directors and producer). After some online probing, he receives an invitation to the abandoned asylum where the original movie was shot. With his film student friends in tow, he sets of to make his own film.

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From this point on the movie follows the same process as the first movie – the gang are locked inside, freaked out by some subtle events, and are unable to escape. Things quickly get out of hand, lives are lost, and the survivors try to get out at any cost. Many of the scares are the same -same style, same rooms from the original, but in some cases with a bigger oomph. Even when they are telegraphed they’re still effective, and I have to admire that I had a lot of fun with this one too. It was enjoyable to revisit the sets we were familiar with, and the film plays a lot more with reality which was one of the aspects I loved about the original. There is a section of Grave Encounters 2 when it genuinely seems like everything is going to be okay, that they have genuinely escaped (leaving you to wonder what the rest of the running time will consist of), only for the rug to be pulled away once more. The mythology is expanded upon, we meet a familiar face, and the film takes a final twist towards the end leaving things open-ended enough for another entry.

Although the cast isn’t particularly notable, I do feel it is better this time around, or at least we learn a little bit more about this group. Richard Harmon and Leanne Lapp are both good, as is a performance by one of the original’s cast. The effects are again a mixture of old fashioned magic tricks and CG – the CG looking a little better than the original but still fairly silly. That sense of inevitability, joined with the pace mean a fun time all round like the first. If you liked the first there shouldn’t be a reason why you wouldn’t get a kick out of this too – unless you don’t like the potentially confusing meta and mythology expansion.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of this sequel – did it live up (or down) to your expectations or did it surprise you?

Grave Encounters

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I’ve never watched any of those Most Haunted type shows but I enjoy a good ghost story, Creepypasta, or shaky cam horror movie as much as anyone, and I’ll forgive any budget, acting, or other concerns if the movie does what it is supposed to – scare. Grave Encounters has a number of issues to be concerned about, but it also has good jump scares, creates some high moments of tension, and is overall a fun time.

If you’ve seen any films like this before then you’ll know the basic formula. A group of people, armed with audio and video (or digital) equipment set out to capture proof of X. A few bizarre and slight events occur at the offset exciting the group, but these events soon escalate until each member is fighting for their life. Grave Encounters is no different in that respect, but it harnesses the ripe for satire nature of the aforementioned Most Haunted shows – shows where self-important and deluded people manipulate themselves and the audience for views. Within this movie, Grave Encounters was one such show; Only five episodes were aired, showing presenter Lance Preston going around various supposedly haunted sites in the USA. Episode 6, we are told, was to focus on the famous Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (in reality Riverview Hospital – which you’ll recognise from a host of shows and movies). Collingwood has been closed for decades and has always faced rumours and stories about being the most haunted place in America. We meet the crew – mostly charlatans or typical crew members just going about their job as anyone would. After a brief tour and some interviews, the crew are locked in the hospital by the caretaker as night falls.

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Early thrills are by the numbers – doors and windows opening and closing, creepy wheelchairs moving by themselves, strange sounds emanating from the dark corridors. Things soon ramp up when the occult expert Sasha has a brush with something on camera. Freaking out, the group decides to wait for dawn in one room together. Dawn comes and goes, but outside it is perpetual night and all attempts at escape simply lead back to the hospital. It’s at this point where the Vicious Brothers tighten the noose, throwing some inventive scares at us. Many of these are similar to what have been experience on Paranormal Activity but with a greater emphasis on effects and energy. By the film’s end there are some events which hint at time looping upon itself or becoming uncertain, and we get the sense that no-one is getting out.

I had a lot of fun with Grave Encounters; it’s a perfect popcorn horror movie, best experience in a screaming crowd. That said, much of it has been seen and done before and aside from Sean Rogerson as Lance, the cast is interchangeable and unremarkable. Those CG face effects are pretty ropey the first time you see them and you know they’re going to look rapidly more ridiculous as time marches one. But the film has a big bag of tricks which the directors are more than happy to tear open and lob at you as if they are clearing a nursery of grenades. I appreciate the attempt at explanation which hints at a wider story, but the film could have been just as effective with no explanation at all. This is all explored more in the sequel – as are some of the tricks which the hospital or its inhabitants play on those unfortunate enough to enter. I do enjoy films which trick the viewer into thinking there is an obvious escape or solution, only to make it clear to us that the world of the film isn’t playing by our rules – opening a door to find a brick wall behind it, or the rewinding of the camera in Funny Games come to mind. Grave Encounters experiments with these ideas and makes the movie that bit more interesting.

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Horror fans should recommend this as one of the better found footage movies of the recent million or so – it’s entertaining, has a good premise, decent execution, and some interesting ideas. The films moves swiftly, the scares and excitement come thick and fast, and the story leaves room for discussion and further entries. Let us know in the comments if you have seen Grave Encounters and what you thought of it!