Bait

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Why do we do it? Or more specifically, why do I do it? You can count the number of good, truly good shark movies on one hand and yet I watch as many of the bad ones as I can, knowing full well they are going to be bad. Is it my inherent love for the mysterious creatures? Is it because most shark movies are horror movies and an excuse to watch annoying people get chomped to pieces? Is it the hope that maybe one day someone will make another truly good one? I think it’s all of those things – I’ve always loved sharks and horror movies, and I always hope that another good one will appear. Reading the synopsis of shark movies, and knowing the companies and money involved before hand is a valid way of anticipating if the film will be good, but as I’ve said, that won’t put me off; it may not be good, but it could still be entertaining.

Bait has the following synopsis:

‘A freak tsunami traps a group of people in a submerged grocery store. As they try to escape, they are hunted by white sharks that are hungry for meat’

Aren’t most tsunamis freak events? Also, that kind of makes it sound as if the grocery store was already submerged. I assume they mean Great White Sharks too, and the fact that they’re hungry for meat goes without saying. If I was trapped in a grocery store, you’d better believe I’d be looting it to the bone. And I wouldn’t be starting with the meat, no, I’d be filling my face with sweets and crisps first – all that top shelf stuff (matron). Plus, that synopsis makes me think of two other movies I’d like to see – one set in a world where all shops are underwater, like The Jetsons but with water instead of space. So.. Spongebob, I guess. Secondly, a movie about a freakshow tsunami – a giant supafly wave which does funky dances and wears an afro.

All in all, I don’t mind the idea for this – it has potential, merging survival horror with loose disaster movie and siege movie tropes. I imagine John Carpenter having a go at this – it’s basically Assault On Precinct 13 but with sharks instead of gangstas and crap instead of goodness. Honestly, it’s not all that bad. In terms of being a cheap B movie, it’s perfectly watchable and gives enough attention to its characters that we have a passing interest in their fates, if not care. The acting is a notch above what you would expect from these things, with famous faces like Sharni Vinson and Julian McMahon providing the ‘oh, I know that guy’ moments. The film also spends time building up to the main scenario, introducing various characters and conflicts before releasing the sharks. It begins with a tragic event as lifeguard Josh watches his friend Rory be killed by a shark during a rescue. Rory was brother to Tina, Tina was engaged to Josh. Flashforward a year and Josh and Tina have split up, with Josh now working in a supermarket. Tina shows up with her new boyfriend – uh oh. Worse, a couple of criminals show up too in a botched armed robbery – oh no. Worse still, a tsunami drops, trapping the staff, shoppers, and criminals together – oopsy. Then to spice things up further, some sharks have been washed in by the tsunami, and I have a feeling they like the taste of young pretty flesh.

At times it feels like there are too many characters, each with their own crap. There are security guards, criminals, managers, shoplifters, couples galore, dogs, and some are revealed to be intertwined and some are revealed to be dicks. There are a couple of ‘twists’ though I pissed off my wife by calling them out long before they were revealed, as I always do. I won’t spoil them here, but they seemed fairly obvious even to me. There was a great moment where it looked like the dog was killed, only for a later cop-out. Hey, I love dogs but I love it just as much when people who moan about dogs being killed in movies (which almost never happens) are frightened that the dogs will be hurt. The dog here especially is more than deserving of being gobbled. But as mentioned, there is a lot going on, characters trying to resolve their differences all while working together (or not) to try to survive and escape. Certain characters are split off from the main group, some have selfish motives, others are fish fodder.

The gore and kills are as you would expect – a lot of improbable shark action and even more improbable attempts to hunt and kill the sharks. The CG isn’t great but it’s still a level or twelve above Sharknado – you’ll get a laugh out of it but can still suspend your disbelieve enough to not let it get in the way of the story. The film is actually known as Bait 3D – so you know you’re going to get some of those scenes to make the 3D stand out. Naturally I watched in 2D, so these scenes added to the ridicule. In terms of pacing and action, the film rattles along nicely and while it hits all of the expected notes, it does so in a fun way. I was never bored even though I’ve seen it all before. It’s much better than the ‘so bad it’s good’ shark movies, but still a way behind Jaws and… Jaws 2. Thanks to an interesting premise, a decent cast of recognizable faces, and actual attention to building story and character (somewhat), Bait is a film for anyone who enjoys shark movies or animal attack movies in general.

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

Attack Of The Adult Babies

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As an ardent fan of all things fucked up, I often get questioned by the more straight-laced members of my social circle – ‘what the hell is wrong with me’. I mean, if you have to ask, you’re never gonna get it – right? The truth is, I don’t know. None of us can truly know and people much smarter than me have tried to answer – what drives us to watching horror, or the bizarre, and beyond? What drives people to make art and entertainment based in these worlds, with these ideas? We don’t know, but we are a community, and for better or worse we can smell our own. It’s interesting then that Emmerdale’s Paddy – Dominic Brunt – is a proponent of these creations as he doesn’t seem like ‘one of us’. Of course I’m conflating his character in the TV soap with the real person I know little about. It appears he is one of us; since branching out as a director he has created a number of commendable and interesting films which are likely to never be seen by anyone who isn’t like me – they are low budget, they are weird, and while I can’t honestly say if they’re any good, I enjoy them and will gladly tell other like me to give them a shot. Anyone else? Stay far away.

The film poses a vital question we’ve all pondered upon once or twice – what if the power of the world’s elite was being provided by an immortal God of Feces? What if the way to ultimate wealth, power, and influence was to drink this God’s milk, shit, then feed the shit back to the God and have the God shit giant gold nuggets? That’s what we’re dealing with in Attack Of The Adult Babies, as a family of four infiltrates the country mansion of an elite gathering to retrieve some information – forced at gunpoint by a couple of bumbling criminals. We learn that not all is what it seems within the family, or within the mansion, and what at first seems like some bizarre old white dude’s sex fetish cult becomes even more strange. I think I remember Eurotrash exploring real people who get their kicks by dressing as babies and having sexy nurses ‘look after them’, so the idea is grounded in some fucked up sense of reality. People, eh? Bunch of freaks the lot of us.

The film has a lot of comparisons with former notable works of depravity – The Human Centipede, Salo, Guest House Paradiso, and strives to be a more lurid version of Animal Farm or a British version of Society. There’s no guesswork with the satire but the film seems more concerned with using the satire to allow for lots of gore and loads of, well, shit. Which is perfectly fine for me of course – the film doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest and it’s much worse when your attempts at mixing satire with exploitation are done in a po-faced, drenched in vanity way. Brunt merges slapstick humour with toilet humour, literally, gore gags, knowing nods, and every so often the jokes land. Like some of the aforementioned films it all becomes so ridiculous that you’re swept along with it, providing you haven’t turned it off.

Stay around and you’ll find a few familiar faces among the mostly amateur or little known performers – Roger Stiles from Coronation Street as the dad, Uncle Peter from Reeves And Mortimer, Faith Dingle from Emmerdale, and Martin from The Human Centipede Part II. With this being a mostly low budget affair, even though British audiences will recognise some of the cast, we do still have to deal with some dodgy acting, some terrible accents, and an overall cheap feel. Thankfully most of the special effects, ranging from practical blood spurts to puppetry and claymation, all get the full attention they deserve – it’s clear this is where the money went. While still cheap, it’s all tactile and done with love and reverence in a way that makes the glossy big budget films feel sterile. You can stride through any number of holes in the plot and asking why there isn’t any security inside or in the grounds of the central mansion (given these are supposed to be the most important people in the country) is futile. I imagine The Daily Mail would have a field day if they got in with their cameras. Actually, The Daily Mail would probably cover it up or blame those loony liberal lefties of being behind it all. Likewise, no-one in the film seems to know how to defend themselves, standing and apparently willing to receive a blade to the eye or a bullet up the ass, and everybody apparently loves to show off their bubbling, gushing wounds before they die.

The film will succeed or fail depending on your love of the different types and tropes of exploitation. We have a number of funny, over the top kills, but then we have an overly long intermission scene which feels too much like a nod to Tarantino. The soundtrack is decent enough and while much of the dialogue ranges from pleasingly puerile to predictable and character names fall into the old trap of naming characters after real life notorious figures or famous fictional characters, it does feature one of the best lines of the year – taken in its context of course -‘missed both me legs’. There are actually some nice shots – near the climax as one battered protagonist stumbles from one end of a room to another and slumps on the floor, followed by a group of axe wielding adult babies is of particular note.

It all leads to a bloody climax a la Braindead, but with added shit.   If you’re a fan of Guest House Paradiso’s vomit-filled climax, then you’ll probably enjoy the closing minutes of Attack Of The Adult Babies – though it’s not the mouth expelling fluid here. It’s even funnier because of the stiff upper lip, super posh high society delivery of the lines, cheesy as many of them are. Just when you think that’s the end, we have time for some trippy stuff which is a bit silly and the film may have been better served without it. Just when you think that’s the end, we get some claymation and a final few minutes which goes all out buck nuts with giant shit Gods, rewinding film, and an alien spacecraft heading towards Earth. In other words, Brunt is having a whale of a time and the rest of us are welcome to join in.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Attack Of The Adult Babies – or am I the only one who has taken the plunge?

Cam

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTT – Top 10 Wes Craven Movies

Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a minute (do the kidz still say that?) since I’ve squeezed out one of these, but luckily I’ve had a lot of fibre recently and things are moving again, if you take my meaning. Wes Craven is one of my favourite directors of all time but I’ll be the first to admit he’s made a lot of rubbish over the years. He’s one of my favourites because when his films are good, they are second to none. There’s basically three tiers to Craven movies – Iconic, okay, and crap. Most people agree on what’s iconic, everyone disagrees on what’s crap/okay. No matter where you stand, there’s no doubting his place in horror, inventing or reinventing pieces of the genre at least three times, and providing us with some of the best scares, best villains, best heroes, and best movies in horror history.

10. The People Under The Stairs

It’s true to say that most people love this more than I do. I like it, but I don’t have the nostalgic connection to it which most fans have. My favourite thing about it is the Twin Peaks connection – Wendy Robie and Everett McGill star again as another unusual pairing. The story and the film, are fairly unique, but then again we’re talking late 80s, early 90s horror – a time when anything goes, so when we’re talking about a ghetto kid trying to save his family from being evicted by a pair of murderous landlords and their cannibal children, you know you’re on safe enough territory. It’s certainly funny, it’s borders on outright weird, you’d never see anything like it getting made today, and there’s plenty of gore.

9. Swamp Thing

This little seen action/comedy/horror hybrid is well worth a watch for anyone bored with today’s superhero stories and want something a little different. This is certainly a little different, Craven this time dealing with more established stars and a bigger budget than his earlier 70s work. While campy and not going for the jugular as he had been known for, this still has plenty of violence and sexy times and features genre favourites Adrienne Barbeau and Ray Wise.

8. Red Eye

A late in the game box office and critical success for Craven, this is a surprisingly straight, taut, and effective thriller which holds up well today. Featuring reliable performers Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, and Brian Cox it is another entry in the ‘bad shit happens on a plane’ sub-genre. It has the twists of Scream without the meta stuff and plays out like a modern Hitchcock film, cranking up the tension until the climax. This gets straight to the point, plays its game with no chaff, and remains gripping throughout.

7. The Hills Have Eyes

Here’s an interesting one – I much prefer the remake of this. Craven’s ideas are solid and the story and characters all in place, but it lacks the budget and power to be executed fully. The remake has the money and conviction and it is wonderfully brutal in all the most delightful ways. Still, this is the original and therefore worth giving due attention and respect. Like his previous film, this works as a nightmare scenario of US family values, of how simply and quickly the perfect family can devolve into gruesome violence. The film follows the extended Carter family on a road trip who take a wrong turn and end up being picked off by another family – albeit deformed cannibals. The invention and wit and energy here tends to surpass most modern horror but is only defeated by the lack of money to fully pull off everything required to make it perfect.

6. Scream 3

Often seen as the weakest in the series, while that may be true it always holds a special place in my heart. It was the first in the series I saw in the Cinema and brought along my girlfriend at the time who was also a series fan. The ideas were wearing thin at this point, but there are enough trilogy smarts and in jokes to still make it a fun ride. With Neve, Courtney, David and co all returning, that affinity with the characters is still present and I enjoy the callbacks to the previous entries. The series remains one of the best written and fun in horror, and it’ll always be dear to me, even if it isn’t a patch on Part 1.

5. Music Of The Heart

I imagine I’ll get a lot of heat for this one, but for some reason I’ve always enjoyed the ‘tough kids get won over by teacher’ movies. I don’t know why, but they give me a kick. To see Wes Craven making one, to see Wes Craven directing a Meryl Streep movie, is still hilarious to me, and I think he pulls it off. Sure, there isn’t an original bone in its body, but it proves that Craven can work completely outside horror and make an effective light-hearted drama. Streep even got nominated for an Oscar, as did the title track, but it was a box office flop. It’s a little overlong and probably came out a few years too late, but it’s still one of my under the radar favourites.

4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Craven’s first experiment with meta or post modern horror or whatever the hell you want to call it, sees him returning to his most famous franchise and ostensibly releasing his most feared creation upon the real world. New Nightmare’s set up is that Heather Langenkamp – Nancy from the original movie – is married and has a son, and that the boy’s nightmares about Freddy are somehow bringing the clawed killer into the real world. This means we have various actors, writers, and directors playing themselves while being stalked by Kruger. It’s clever, and it’s violent, with Robert Englund playing himself, playing traditional Freddy, and playing the all new, more vicious Freddy.

3. The Last House On The Left

Englund’s first impact on the horror scene was this low budget exploitation movie about a family resorting to revenge and torture upon the rapists and killers who did the same to their daughters. It’s a film of two halves, each half complementing the other while advancing the plot and showing how violence begets violence. The first half follows a couple of teenage girls heading to a concert but who are attacked by a group of killers, the second finds the killers accidentally stopping off at the parent’s house and seeing the tables turned. It’s not an easy watch and Craven doesn’t hold back in his depictions of torture, rape, and murder. The remake ups the budget and gore and makes for an interesting companion piece, but for me it lacks the gut punch and shock of the original.

2. Scream

My top two picks aren’t going to surprise anyone. Scream is a perfect film in my eyes. I understand why others will disagree with me and I’m not so blind to agreeing with its criticism, but that doesn’t change how I feel about it. It’s my generation’s horror movie and even though I was 13 or 14 when it released it still felt like it was made for me. I understood most of the references, I loved the twists, I recognised most of the characters in myself and people I knew, the dialogue was sharp, and the cast was peppered with people I either already loved or would come to. It gave us two new horror icons in killer Ghostface and heroine Sydney, played by my other world wife Neve Campbell. It’s funny, stylish, and has some great scares and kills, and it’s a movie I’ll never tire of.

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The only film which could beat Scream is my favourite horror movie of all time. This is the one which got me into horror, even before I’d watched it. I knew Kruger, I knew the plot, and I’d seen bits of it when I was a child, and the artwork in the video stores always intrigued me. It’s one of Craven’s most successful movies, it’s his best work, his most inventive, and it is even critically acclaimed to a certain degree – not always unusual for horror, but definitely rate for one so visceral. The film and its villain gained iconic status leading to a long series of spin-offs and sequels, none of which have matched the skill and precision of the original. Langenkamp and Englund are terrific, the effects are nightmarish, and the idea of someone stalking your dreams (for the sins of your parents no less) remains potent. Horror often bleeds into fantasy, but I don’t think it was ever worked so successfully than with this undoubted masterpiece.

Let us know in the comments which movies you would include in your Top Ten Wes Craven list!

My Soul To Take

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

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

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

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

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

We Are Still Here

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

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

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

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

Extinction (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend Request

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

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

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

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

Eaten Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ring 0

*Originally written in 2004

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

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

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

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

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