It Comes At Night

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I’m sure it has been said before, but I’ll take the bait – ‘what comes at night’? The cynical part of me wants to say that the name was crafted carefully to cash in on a resurgent horror market, and certainly the backlash the film received by the horror community supports this theory. The realist in me acknowledges that this feeling is a symptom of a larger problem; the growing disparity between fan and critical consensus as exemplified by the juvenile antics on such adolescent sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. This insidious ownership of a product you have zero claim in, this growing distrust of critics by the public concerning things which don’t really matter, is like a disease swarming from city apartment blocks to backwoods retreats where the custodians of opinions board up their windows to prevent unwarranted discussion with the outside world and the comfort of a hazmat suited confirmation bias is the only thing blocking your own enlightenment.

I’ve written before about the subjects of fanboyism, the role of the critic, and the toxic entitlement as consumers feel to the point that we feel like we have to protect the movies or music or videogames or books we love. I get it; we’ve all had that pang of thinking what the hell does this guy know – he doesn’t like (insert favourite thing), what a moron. I know! I’ll go and review bomb everything he’s ever written – that’ll teach him! And it will teach him – that you’re the moron. We like different things – Critics just tend to be able to speak more knowledgeably and with greater experience about these things than most. Maybe they come to a film with a certain approach. Maybe they come with a certain bias. You’re lying if you say you don’t, or an even bigger moron than you already appear. With the explosion of the internet, every twat with an internet connection and an interest in movies can call himself a critic. I’ve written thousands of reviews and I in no way consider myself to be a critic. I just like watching, talking, and writing about movies.

While there are few certainties when it comes to opinion or something as intangible as movies and criticism, there are instances when a critic just simply gets it wrong. There are plenty of critics, or just plain fans and reviewers like myself who I more often than not disagree with, and there are plenty who I by and large agree with, or at least respect. Am I going to quiver and mewl like a newborn lamb with its throat caught in the jaws of a wolf, because someone gave a movie I rated a 91, a mere 76? No, because I’m not an asshole. At the time of writing, It Comes At Night has a Critical score of 87, and an Audience Score of 44 on RT. Look at any popular Horror release of the last few years, and in almost every case you’ll see something similar. The Witch, The Babadook, and the newly released The Joker all have a large gap between audience and critical feeling. Do I care? No – I barely find it interesting, but I acknowledge it’s a talking point. I know people get deep into the impact these scores have – advertisers using the higher score in trailers, audiences in turn being hyped up for something they later hate or getting up in arms because something they consider to be better gets buried because of the lack of critical interest. It’s all valid. But in this day and age, it’s all pointless. My advice? Take a step away from it all. Sites like RT exist only to get money. Critics are paid for their work. You simply sit and watch. Just ignore the reviews – the movie still exists, as do you, so let the two of you be the only relationship that matters.

It Comes At Night is a horror movie. It attempts to scare and disturb the viewer, and it attempts to make the viewer think by loosely placing us in the secluded house our protagonists eek out their final days in. As the film opens, we know the world has gone to hell due to the spread of some killer disease. It’s a premise we’ve seen since the dawn of time and a fear we all have, because it is a real, valid threat. Old gramps has somehow contracted the thing, so it’s out to the yard for a bit of marshmallow and OAP cooking. That leaves Mum, Dad, and pervy teenage son who live with no clear purpose beyond trying to not get sick. Oh, there’s a dog too – because there’s always a dog. One night they catch another survivor breaking into their house, tie him to a tree, and beat some good old fashioned truth out of him. Seeing he isn’t sick and cautiously believing he’s legit, they allow him and his wife and son to move in. As time progresses, they help each other out, yet the mutual distrust is still bubbling under the surface.

And that’s it really. Something happens near the end which propels us towards the bleak conclusion. The scenes of the pervy son seem shoe-horned in, his nightmares edited in such a way that they realized they wouldn’t be able to sell the movie without some actual generic horror. If they are supposed to be ambiguous or prophetic or suggestive, they’re not, and horror fans will be more than familiar with each stunt pulled. It’s still interesting – none of the performances are outstanding beyond some screaming in the final moments, but the coldness does add to the overall tone of hopelessness. As much as I hate to use the term ‘elevated horror’ because as far as I can tell that term simply means horror without humour, that’s what they’ve gone for here. The house is suitably shadowy and the director does manage to squeeze out some memorable shots and some low-level tension, but for me it neither scares nor does anything particularly new or well. The characters feel as empty as the first victim in a slasher movie and with no end game in mind the film simply drifts towards its inevitable conclusion. Credit for ending it the way they did, rather than leaving a glimmer of light. Did I like it? I didn’t hate it? It didn’t make me care enough to go and check out how anyone else felt about it. Put most simply – in my opinion, it’s neither 44% bad, nor 87% good.

But let me know how you felt about it in the comment – are you more on the critics’ side or the fans?

TTT – Top Ten Stephen King Movies

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Greetings, Glancers! As you’ve no doubt witnessed over the last few years, uber-author and all round good guy Stephen King has been in the midst of a cinematic resurgence. While not the extended universe I was hoping for, we have been treated to a tonne of movies and series based on novels, shorts, and napkin scribbles by the master of horror. Since the release of Carrie in the late 70s, there has been roughly, roughly, fifty eight billion adaptations of his work and neither he, nor those who wish to put his work on the screen, are showing signs of slowing down. Which is terrific for me because he has been my favourite writer for most of my life, great for you because you get to read my lists on the subject, and wonderful for everyone because we are treated to some fun and frightening viewing experiences.

I’ll be writing two posts on King adaptations – this one is purely for movies, and the next one will be for TV shows and mini-series. Within minutes of me posting them, they will probably be out of date as another 10 adaptations will have been made. Here we go then – my favourite Stephen King movies – released on the big screen, straight to video, or through streaming services. I’m going with alphabetical order because I can’t be arsed ranking these. Get busy readin’, or get busy dyin’!

Apt Pupil

I was originally going to include thirteen movies here – with The Dead Zone and The Green Mile making up the numbers. I cut those two, which left me with Eleven. I decided to cut Carrie over Apt Pupil, because everyone picks Carrie. I love Carrie, as well as the other two I cut, but I feel like Apt Pupil deserves more recognition. The film should have been a hit at release, considering it was Bryan Singer’s follow-up to Who Is Keyser Soze The Movie, but it didn’t land. Now, when it should be getting re-evaluated, the accusations against Bryan Singer have ensured that most people are keeping at a distance from the film. It’s that rare King adaptation which doesn’t feature any supernatural activity. What it does have, is an interest in the heart of evil as young Brad Renfro becomes obsessed with the brutality of World War II and strikes up a relationship with an elderly man in his neighbourhood who he believes to be a Nazi. The short is one of King’s darkest, most riveting reads and the film feeds off this malevolent energy thanks to Singer’s sure hand and two superlative, committed performances from Ian McKellen and the late, great Brad Renfro. Like the best of Horror, it’s an uncomfortable watch.

Creepshow

I covered Creepshow recently in my TTT George Romero movies, so go check that out. Great movie, great anthology.

It

One of my favourite books, and with the 90s mini-series being a firm favourite, the hype for a big screen It was real. The movie went through a few incarnations before Muschetti came on and finished Chapter One. I’m including Chapters One and Two together as it really is two halves of the same story. Both films are similar enough that you could watch the whole thing in one numb-arsed sitting, even though most fans and critics seem to prefer the first chapter. I’m old enough to remember the same arguments going one when the mini-series first came out – that the kids section was better. In all honesty love them both and would happily have watched four more hours. Sure the de-aging effects are dicey, the CG is at times a let down, Mike is reduced to a quivering weirdo as an adult, and it does feel somewhat repetitive, but I found the charm and banter between the adults just as endearing as the kids. In essence, it’s a scary and efficient horror story featuring a near perfect villain which preys on kids and which adults can’t see. Skarsgard is a great Pennywise – the performances all around are excellent – but it gets the most important pieces of the source material correct – the tone and that sense of binding, unbreakable friendship.

Misery

The only King adaptation to win an Oscar – not overly strange if you consider his shlock, but very strange when you consider his ‘more literary’ pieces. When a talented director and cast takes a King text and treats it with reverence, it will strike gold. Misery is a prime example of this and it could so easily have become just another crazy white woman movie. With Rob Reiner on an incredible run, he takes two seasoned performers and allows the film to be almost entirely by their command. The game of wits becomes a game of cat and mouse until the tables are eventually flipped. Bates and Caan have rarely been better and Reiner doesn’t shy away from some good old fashioned, ankle-snapping violence. It has no business being as good as this.

Pet Sematary

Hands down King’s most devastating and horrifying work, thanks to personal experience it’s not one I would recommend reading while pregnant or with a young child. We all know ‘dead is better’ and we know the film does have a certain reliance on gore and grisly effects, but there are numerous chilling moments and an honestly unnerving performance from young Miko Hughes. What could be worse than losing a child? Pet Sematary delves deep into this question and poses several horrible answers.

Stand By Me

Reiner’s first effort is many fans’ personal favourite. Like It, it features that Band Of Outsiders vibe which is always appealing and a nostalgic quality which reminds us of our own youthful adventures, loves, fears, and mistakes, and how time has a way of glossing over the cracks yet leaving a bittersweet taste of regret. We get older, we change, and we sometimes forget, but once in a while something makes us remember a time we can’t quite return to. It’s so much more than the tale of four friends on a trek to see a dead body – while The Body is not exactly a Maguffin – it’s more about the journey, the relationships, and what the discovery of that body represents to each of them. It’s about growing up, losing innocence, remembering, and it all plays through the eyes of a great cast – Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry O’Connell, Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, John Cusack.

The Mist

Another ensemble, this time dealing with a more direct and present horror. The Mist is one horror, the creatures of varying sizes and types in the mist are another, and the opposing voices in the store they hold up in is another. Another successful film based on a short, the film follows primarily a father and son shopping after a storm when a sudden all encompassing Mist swarms over their town. The store is packed with workers and other townsfolk, and eventually the military, and once the monsters show up and begin attacking and killing, it seems to some that the end is nigh. And when push comes to shove, it turns out they’re right. It’s a great ensemble piece at times let down by the effects, but in terms of efficiently telling a story about society’s breakdown against a horrific backdrop, and an ending which has gone in film lore, it’s one of the best.

The Running Man

They’ve been trying to get a remake of The Running Man up and, ahem, running for decades now. I say remake, but in most cases it sounds like they want to make a film more akin to the source material. Because make no mistake, The Running Man is more of an Arnie movie than a Stephen King movie. Still, he wrote the original and however loose of an adaptation this is, it still is. You can call it silly or smart, it certainly ticks boxes in both categories, but in the end it’s one the better end of the scale of Arnie mowing down bad guys and quipping. There are some bizarre casting choices and some legit great performances – I only wish we could send a few celebs onto this show for real.

The Shawshank Redemption

What else needs to be said about The Shawshank Redemption? It’s already frequently named as one of the best films ever, and it’s one of those rare instances where almost everyone agrees that it’s great. It is.

The Shining

You know it, I know it. Say what you like about the differences between book and movie – we all know King’s comments on Kubrick’s work over the years. I look at them as the separate things they are – both men are legends and both deserve to do whatever the hell they like when creating. It’s one of my favourite King books, it’s one of my favourite King movies, and both are classics in their respective mediums. I remember the first time I saw this, I was babysitting for some kids a few houses down the road. Free fridge, free house, the dark, and The Shining, and a creepy walk home around Midnight as I pondered over what I’d just seen and what might be creeping up behind me.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite Stephen King movies are, and stay tuned for my favourite Stephen King TV and Mini-Series adaptations!

 

Creepshow 2

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Creepshow is a mainstay of Halloween viewing for me. It’s that combination of ghoulish fun and macabre humour which makes it endlessly rewatchable and a perfect gateway movie for younger fiends. Plus, the fact that it’s an anthology means you can step away to grab more snacks without pausing, or check that the lady you have tied up in the basement hasn’t escaped; you’ll need her for later.

Creepshow 2 is, obviously, the follow-up and features more grisly tales penned by Stephen King. George Romero steps down from the Director’s Chair and writes the screenplay instead, while his frequent cinematographer Michael Gornick directs. While certain elements remain – the use of effects, the authentic comic book style, the film is not near the same level as the first. The stories, the cast and performances, the humour, and the thrills all suffer, meaning Creepshow 2 is merely a watchable, not essential anthology.

The wraparound is one of the more notable aspects of Creepshow 2, acting like more of a standalone segment than what the first delivers. We follow a boy who eagerly awaits the next edition of the Creepshow comic. It is delivered by The Creep himself and the film switches neatly from live action to animation. This is fairly well done, although now the actual animation is looks dated and cheap. Also, The Creep’s head is clearly nothing more than a giant cock and balls. These animated sequences return between each main segment as we follow the boy’s quest to pick up his venus fly-trap and get home without being attacked by bullies. Added together, these pieces form a long enough segment, but I can’t shake the feeling that this was padding given that two further planned stories by King were removed from production and inclusion.

Out first story eases us in, with a languid, over-long intro to tell of a couple of old-timers living in a ruined shell of a town who are terrorized by local hoodlums. The old-timers are played by the film’s big-hitters – Dorothy Lamour (in her final film) and George Kennedy. They add a touch of class, but it’s a pity the story is a non-mover. The couple are friendly with the local Native Americans, but when the hoodlums cause havoc in their store, the Old Chief Woodenhead statue who adorns the store-front comes to live and hunts down the bad guys. There are some genuinely cool facial effects here, but the story takes too long to get moving.

Next up is the best segment, sadly let down by being shorter and more amateurish than it should have been. The Raft is a favourite among Constant Readers, but the adaptation is another case of ‘what works on page doesn’t work on screen’. It’s still the best segment in the movie, but with a longer running time and better cast it could have rivaled the best offerings from the first movie. Four college aged kids are heading to a secluded lake for a day of drink and debauchery – the major selling point being that there is a large floating raft in the middle of the lake. The only way to get there is to swim, so they strip off, leave their clothes and food behind, and swim over. As they reach the raft, they notice something else floating in the water and it soon becomes clear that the thing is attracted to them. Not long after, one of the group is gruesomely pulled into the water and devoured by the foreign lifeform. The rest of the segment is mostly screaming and not a lot of thinking as the survivors are picked off. The segment lacks the thought and tension of the original story, and it’s one which deserves a modern retelling. Although imagining four modern day kids leaving their phones on the shore takes too much suspension of belief.

The final story almost works – having Lois Chiles talk to herself would be all fine and well if the dialogue was interesting, and ,the idea of an undead hitch-hiker is nifty. The set up is too long and a more ambiguous character would have lent some depth rather than the ‘here’s a self-interested lady who’s having an affair so she’s clearly evil – I hope she gets some ironic comeuppance’. Again, a little more thought, and this could have been a stronger segment. I get the feeling that this one would creep out younger viewers – the thought and the sight of the hitch-hiker, his body getting progressively more battered and deformed, relentlessly chasing Lois is something appealing – both funny and nightmarish, but it feels a little flat. We do get another classic Stephen King cameo as a mumbling trucker which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

I’m not sure what is missing from Creepshow 2 beyond more care and experience behind the scenes. The first and last segment are overlong and the middle is too short – another story could have balanced things, Lord knows there are still plenty of unfilmed King shorts. It’s middling tier Horror Anthology fare, and if it wasn’t for the title and the fact that King and Romero were involved, it’s likely this would have been swept under the rug long ago. There are good ideas here, and potential for a stronger installment, but as it stands it’s really only one for die-hard anthologists, King, and Romero fans. One final personal note – I always loved the poster for Creepshow 2; it was one which stayed with me for the years between seeing the poster and seeing the film.

Trilogy Of Terror

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As a horror movie fan, I’m a member of various groups on Facebook. Those groups feature the same movies, actors, and arguments over and over again as you may expect. One type of post which comes along every so often is ‘what scared you as a kid’ and one image which is typically given in response is the image at the top of this post. Yes, that cute little fella apparently spawned millions of nightmares in the bedrooms of millions of kids all around the world – but it was from a movie I had never seen. Somehow I had made it into my thirties without ever seeing Trilogy Of Terror – one of the most famous horror anthologies. It’s time to right that wrong.

It’s difficult to understate the loss the movie world suffered when Karen Black died a few years ago. From appearances in cult movies such as Easy Rider and Dogtown, to mainstream hits like Nashville and Five Easy Pieces, the horror world quickly claimed her as one of their own. With Burnt Offerings near the start of her career to House Of 1000 Corpses near the end, she was an icon of the genre. Trilogy Of Terror is a masterclass from Karen Black, appearing as no less than four wildly differing characters over the three stories we are told. Dan Curtis directs, himself no stranger to the horror genre having crafted cult series Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and many others. The three stories here are each solid, offering different ideas – some of which seem ahead of the curve, even if one is the obvious standout. Based on stories by Richard Matheson, it’s hardly surprising the tales have credibility and twists.

In Julie, Karen stars as a college professor who receives unwanted advances from one of her students – Chad. The story covers obsession, perversion, voyeurism, and date rape, with Chad pursuing Julie for sexually sadistic purposes. Julie meanwhile, has her own plans. In the second story Black plays two sisters – Millicent And Therese – one being dour and repressed, the other direct and adventurous. Even with voodoo and rivalry and psychoanalysis, it’s the weakest of the bunch – raised by Black’s performance. The finaly story is the one I hear mentioned regularly on the horror pages and forums – Amelia. Following on from the other stories, the title is the name of the main character. I feel this has been to the detriment of the story because no-one even remembers the name, only calling it ‘that one with the creepy African doll which comes to life’. That’s a pretty apt title.

Presumably a lot of people saw this in their youth and it stayed with them. Fair enough – it does a job of portraying the doll in a creepy light, it’s certainly a freaky looking wee bastard, and Black’s performance convincingly conveys the peril. One thing keeps coming back to me though – it’s a doll. Doll horror movies, or even movies with smaller creatures in the vein of Critters, Ghoulies etc, are one step past ridiculous for me. If people are genuinely afraid of these things when they’re young, it’s a fear that passed me by. I can’t take them seriously and I almost take them as a full blown comedy. I do’t know about you, but when I was young I viewed my toys – my He-Man, Transformers, MUSCLE men etc, as my protectors – coming alive to stand guard against nightly threats and terrors. If they happened to turn evil? Well then I’d kick them over and casually walk out of the room.

So even though the scares don’t work for me, I appreciate that they do for others and Curtis manages to create both creeping dread and efficient jump-scares. It’s the most straight tale of terror in the bunch, the most visceral even if it doesn’t rely on gore. Indeed, none of the stories are bloody and most are psychological in nature. It’s a brief watch, both fun and interesting, and if anything it’s a must due to the pedigree involved. The fact that none of the segments are weak will make it a seasonal favourite for horror fans – this horror fan just isn’t creeped out by dolls.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Trilogy Of Terror!

Zombie Creeping Flesh

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Sometimes, you just have to go Italian. Whether it be Ice Cream, football, or movies, Italy has an exotic credibility which other Countries lack – a cultural history going back thousands of years showcasing some of the greatest minds, innovations, and pieces of art our species has ever known. Which brings me aptly to Zombie Creeping Flesh, as seminal a slice of outspoken, challenging genre fiction as you’ll ever see.

Or perhaps, more accurately, a flaccid turd. See, sometimes you go Italian and you remember that at least Hollywood’s horror efforts of the 80s had a budget, maybe a professional actor or two, and didn’t rely on whatever passed for Google translate in pre-Internet days. Zombie Creeping Flesh cashes in on many other stronger Italian gore movies – Zombie Flesh Eaters being one of the most obvious flag-bearers – while borrowing liberally from Romero’s masterworks. It’s a mess by anyone’s standards, and the use of several Goblin tracks taken from other movie soundtracks simply serves to remind you that you could be watching those movies instead.

Still, there are positives. credible and otherwise. Zombie Creeping Flesh (also known as Hell Of The Living Dead; also known as Virus), is helmed by Bruno Mattei who had a varied career in Cinema by the time he took on this project. Known to horror fans for his Nazi exploitation films, he would eventually become known for dubious unofficial remakes and sequels and spins of Hollywood hits – Shocking Dark Terminator 2, Robowars, Strike Commando, and of course the ever delightful Women In Prison sub-genre. You’d think some coherence of plot and some degree of care, or at least the ability to shoot another take if one of the zombie extras was snickering clearly in the background would have been borne out of his years of experience, but no. The film leaps about in time and from scene to scene without explanation, weaving through its bare-bones plot with the grace of a turd dropping from ass to bowl. Somewhere in there is an admittedly interesting environmental subtext, but it’s hardly Romero level satire. What we have is a bunch of scientists causing a zombie outbreak, and the military and journalists caught between trying to contain it, report on it, and escape from it – and even that brief sentence is more complex than the plot. As if to highlight this fact, a notable slice of the running time is taken up by largely unrelated scenes of animals running, hunting and assorted tribal and wildlife footage – surprisingly it isn’t even Mondo stuff, just generic ‘oh look, an elephant’.

So we start with a faintly amusing scene of Scientists realising they have unleashed some toxic gas which turns you into a flesh eating zombie – it amounts basically to someone (a rat) pressing the wrong button. Within moments there is shouting and running and sudden neck chewing. The Scientists are overrun. We skip confusingly to a random mansion where a group of the least threatening hippy-terrorists this side of the Gluten Free Coffee Shop down my road are holding some people hostage. I have no idea who the hostages are, and neither it seems do our gun-totin’ heroes who blast there way in to the room in cavalier fashion, brandishing their firearms in the most bizarre and ineffective way I have ever seen. I think the terrorists wanted the Government/Scientists in the opening scene to stop polluting the world or cutting down trees or something, but it’s not very clear. We then skip to Papa New Guinea where our elite team of 4 marines (who look like went for a few pints down their local in 1976 and never left) because they have to investigate why the Scientists haven’t been communicating, but rather than land at the camp the have to trek for days through the jungle first? By this point I’d lost track of what was going on. They meet a Journalist lady and her porn star cameraman who are maybe doing a report on the Scientists. Zombies attack and rather than leave immediately, they head to the Plant.

There are several bizarre and hilarious moments throughout – in fact most of it is bizarre. The lead actress – her thing seems to be to repeatedly widen and shrink her eyes, when talking, when reacting, when screaming – it’s like she’s in a constant state of surprise, open wide, shrink, open wide, shrink, expand, dilate, repeat. The zombies are at times masters of stealth and dumber than a group of Big Brother presenters. As alluded to already, the zombie performers are hilarious – most are low on make-up but high on not knowing what a camera is as they visibly smirk quite jovially on their swaying arm march of doom. Every so often one catches a squib to the chest – the effects being mostly shoddy – but there is one great moment later in the film when the group is trying to escape in a car only for one zombie to casually open the door of the moving car and get in. From barely being able to walk for most of the movie to struggling to maneuver their way through a front door, this particular zombie has clearly evolved and re-mastered the art of chasing an Uber.

Maybe the strangest scene takes place after one of the several arguments between the soldiers and the journos and moments after they almost died in gruesome fashion. They are suddenly sitting in around a slide in a back garden before one of them goes ‘weee down the slide’ and they all laugh and stare at the camera for a solid ten seconds. Then one of them looks around and says something like ‘Oh, there’s a house, we’d better check it out’. It’s like something from Garth Marenghi complete with bad dubbing. The dubbing and dialogue throughout is cause for giggles too, though I imagine it must be difficult to match meaningful dialogue to the actors’ mouths after the fact. I imagine none of you reading this will feel the desire to watch the movie, but Spoiler Alert if you must, most of the team die in the most unlikely ways. We get the requisite ‘stand with your back to the door’ even though you know there are hundreds of creatures waiting to literally eat you outside. We’ve seen how weak these creatures are – moreso even than in Romero’s hits, yet one guy simply yells as three crowd round him instead of lightly shoulder charging them and walking past, then another guy who has proven to be a reckless badass simply allows himself to be pulled in by a few after taking on a bunch easily himself, multiple times. I assume the running time was getting on and they needing to dispatch our heroes in as cheap a way as possible.

At least we get a suitably bleak ending as Screamy Wide-Eyes Magee has a fist shoved through her mouth and pops her eyes out – though how the survivors allowed fifty zombies to creep up on them is anyone’s guess. Naturally, we also are treated to a shock/twist ending as it turns out that the zombies have reached US shores – how, is anyone’s guess but it wouldn’t be a zombie movie if it didn’t end with everyone in the entire world dying. This is a hard one to recommend to anyone who doesn’t enjoy Italian horror and it’s hardly one of the bright lights. Still, if you haven’t seen it you might get a chuckle out of it this Halloween.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Zombie Creeping Flesh!

A Quiet Place

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You probably know by now that I tend to wait a few years before catching up on new movies – I can’t be arsed driving to the nearest Cinema unless it’s something massive that I need to see, and there’s so many films old and foreign and not released in Cinemas that I watch as well/instead. The downside is that it’s a pain trying to avoid spoilers and by the time I get to writing a review, nobody cares about it anymore. I liked A Quiet Place but enough time has passed and the hype has died down now to the extent that I can say it’s not as good or as revolutionary as many would have you believe and despite an A List cast and interesting premise/gimmick, there’s essentially nothing here you haven’t seen before. The film also falls into standard horror tropes of stupid people doing stupid things for contrived reasons. But we’ll get to that.

The films begins at some point in time past an unexplored cataclysmic event. It appears that most of the human population of the world has been killed by some sort of alien/monster invader who attack by sound. Quite why we were so easily beaten is anyone’s guess but lets suspend such disbelief. We meet one family – a husband and wife and their three young children. The family have all adapted to living, communicating, and travelling in almost complete silence, existing in a remote farm on the outskirts of a remote farm. In the opening scenes we learn, in horrific fashion, just why it is so important to keep quiet. We then flash forward some time to see that the family is still trying to recover from that opening tragedy – dad and daughter have a lack of communication and unspoken blame/guilt thing going on, and mum is heavily pregnant. Daughter is mostly deaf and dad is trying to fix her hearing aid – this seems like it will be important later. Stuff happens and the family home is attacked.

A Quiet Place definitely feels like a B-Movie made for people who don’t like B-Movies. First, there’s the big budget and A-List cast, and secondly it’s made with more skill and subtlety than these sorts of films typically are. At its core though, it’s the same film you’ve seen a hundred times over elsewhere. It is better made but makes most of the same concessions to elicit fear and tension and falls into most of the usual pitfalls and tropes. Like your favourite slasher movie, there are several key moments when you’ll be shaking your head at the decisions characters make, when a more obvious and simple choice would have resolved a problem or saved a life. It lacks the gore and extreme action of many of these films, but makes up for it with a degree of seriousness, drama, and hopeless atmosphere. The most impressive element is the dedication to silence and use of sound, which a lesser film would abandon or fruitlessly exploit. The film was a surprise smash hit, latching on to the current run of so-called (terribly named) elevated horror, and a sequel is currently in the works (and may even be released by the time I post this). The cast each perform their roles with great skill and dedication, with Blunt and Krasinski adept and the young Simmonds and Jupe looking like future stars.

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Quiet Place!

V/H/S

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A number of obvious positives came from the onslaught of found footage films – it opened the door for new voices in genre cinema who could make a legitimate movie on a shoestring and cash in on the trend (counterpoint being every fool with a camera thought they could do it); studios and directors could make movies with little budget and almost guarantee a considerable profit (counterpoint being that it encouraged a host of copycats with a reduction in quality); it offered both long-standing and original voices a new creative outlet along with near full creative control thanks to the money involved being so low and the inherent restrictions forcing filmmakers to think outside the box (this didn’t last long). VHS came in the middle of the Found Footage run of infamy and ticks each of the positives above in some way. Up and coming directors such as Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, and Radio Silence had a podium to shout from, showing us what delights and horrors lurked under their kilts, and a near certainty that they would reach a larger audience than they had up to that point. Did they use that power for good?

VHS is an anthology film, and as such there is a mixed bag; different stories, different styles, some segments good, other segments not so good. The gristle tying it all together is the use of found footage, each story peppered with gore and shocks. The wraparound conceit follows a group of hoodlums who, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial KIller style film their adventures. Their latest mission is unusual – an unseen benefactor pays them to break into a house to steal a single VHS tape. The gang discovers a corpse in a room filled with screens, and videotapes by the box load scattered around the house. While they start collecting the tapes, one guy decides to pop one in and watch. Each tape reveals a new story, and at the end of each new story one of the gang members vanishes – maybe that corpse isn’t so dead?

As with most wraparound stories, there isn’t much substance or payoff, but given the short running time there’s still intrigue and scares. It’s far from the worst wraparound, and it actually tonally fits with the rest of the content. The first story – Amateur Night – follows a trio of scumbags who bring a couple of young women back to a motel room with the intention of secretly filming them having sex. They quickly find their chauvinist ways turned back upon them as one of the women has plans of her own. It’s a fun, masochistic twist on the ‘boys will be boys’ events of recent history, it’s a sleazy tale with a sting. Ti West, probably the most accomplished director of the bunch, gives us a simple near – one room story as a married couple head on a Second Honeymoon. In their motel room, a disoriented woman knocks and asks the husband if he can give her a ride the following day – he refuses. Later that night the woman breaks into the room, turns on the camera, and films herself on the sleeping couple’s bed with a knife, before stealing some money. The next night she has followed them to their next destination. Again, there’s not much to it, but Ti West makes anything watchable and as always there is a twist of sorts.

Tuesday The 17th may be my favourite of the bunch – a camping trip gone wrong like so many others in Horror history. A group of friends has been convinced to go on the trip by a new friend and on the trip the new friend begins to tell them of how all her friends were killed at the same place one year earlier. Before long, a near-invisible killer, cloaked almost like the Predator begins picking them off. The killer is called The Glitch, and it’s a great idea, a figure which literally glitches across the screen, appearing suddenly behind characters, wobbling in and out of vision in static waves. The plot is light, but the idea and execution of the creature is good fun. The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger is a Joe Swanberg helmed Skype chat style short. It details the chats Emily has with her boyfriend James as she becomes increasingly unhinged – believing her room is haunted and that the lump in her arm is something sinister. I’d forgotten about this segment more than any other, but it has its moments.

The final story is the effects and tricks bonanza. Radio Silence’s 10/31/98 follows four friends heading to a Halloween party, but ending up in the wrong place. Stumbling upon some sort of, what they believe to be, demonic ritual or exorcism the boys fight back against ghostly arms and unseen forces. It’s a lot of fun but again there’s some sort of ‘women cannot be trusted’ vibe going on –  running theme in a number of the shorts. The wraparound concludes and the film ends. As a whole, I didn’t find any of the segments notably weak – each has a charm and each is solid, with some being more inventive or interesting than others. I don’t know if the woman thing was intentional or sub-conscious or me reading too much into it, but it becomes noticeable. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll probably see it or go looking for it. On the flip side, the men in several cases are portrayed as dicks or morons too, though each segment is brief enough that the strength of the idea overrides the dislike of any character. The Found Footage approach is used differently in each piece and it doesn’t becomes tiresome or nauseating, each director making sure there’s a stylistic and relevant reason for it. Anthology films are quick and easy watches and can make for a decent introduction to horror. Also, you shouldn’t get through Halloween without watching at least one or two. If you haven’t seen V/H/S, it’s one of the stronger recent efforts.

Let us know in the comments what you think of V/H/S!

The Sand

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I know I’ve been posting reviews of shark movies quite a bit recently so just to change things up a little I thought I’d take twenty paces backwards onto the beach and talk about The Sand – a strange little movie which merges the slasher tropes inherent in many shark movies with the tongue in cheek laughs of Tremors. It’s another low budget film which relies on its premise to suck you in (pun not intended, actually) and thanks to some not terrible performances and effects, it’s quite fun.

For horror fans that is. People not interested in horror or shlock will steer clear; anyone who doesn’t find the idea of a bunch of pretty young things stranded on a man-eating beach hilarious won’t ever find their way to the film. That’s right folks, in The Sand our antagonist is the title character, sand with the strength to suck you down like a Sarlacc, sand with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Sand which surrounds a group of college students as they wake up from a drunken beach party and begins to pick them off like a post-college job picks off your dreams. You’d think this was produced by Roger Corman.

I didn’t recognise any of the cast beyond a late cameo by a familiar face, but by and large they do the job of ‘person about to be eaten’ or hero quite well. Naturally we have to have a pile of dramatic conflict thrown in – there are boyfriends and girlfriends, there is jealousy, unrequited love, all the stuff you would expect. There’s also a dude trapped in a barrel. The characters wake up scattered about the beach – one in a barrel, one on a picnic table, some in cars, some in a lifeguard house. It’s not long before one of them has touched the sand and is sucked in, in pleasingly gory fashion. It’s hundreds of metres to the nearest road and (you have to suspend your disbelief for this one) all of their phones are either dead or packed away beyond reach. It’s hard making horror movies these days, as so much could be resolved with a simple phone call.

As the film saunters along, the gang explore various ways to escape and survive which lead to some tense enough moments, particularly a couple of scenes involving the hood of a car. You’re not going to chew your nails, but it’s much better than what you would expect from the type of film. The effects are by and large very good, at least until we get to the finale – the make-up and gore providing the sorts of moments us horror fiends love to see. It’s cheesy, but the fact that it is self-aware without being ridiculous increases its charm. It doesn’t patronize the viewer while admitting it’s nonsense. While the ending feels a little lazy and set up for a sequel which never came (yet) the story runs its course by the time we pass the 80 minute mark. With obvious parallels to Blood Beach, The Sand is a fun B-Movie which revels in blood and boobs without tipping over the top into lunacy, and would make a good party movie.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Sand!

Nightman’s 31 Days Of Horror For 2019

(Note – I wrote this on August 15th 2019)

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Greetings, Glancers! I’m going to call this at the outset – I probably won’t complete this mission. Contrary to the four billion or so posts I write every week about movies and music, I don’t watch as many movies as I used to – at least not on a regular basis. So much of my time outside of work and family stuff is taken up by gaming and TV, reading and writing and hunting tramps – that I don’t have the luxury to watch a movie a day. I wanted to give it a shot, and if I can rope in the kids and wife to help out it will make things easier. Therefore, the post below actually contains more than 31 films – some will be family friendly, some will be more thriller based to rope my wife in, some are classics I’ve already seen and try to watch every Halloween, but most will be films I haven’t seen yet or haven’t watched in a long time.

That’s about it – I know many of my fellow bloggers and horror movie fan friends will be doing something similar. If I get through 10 of these I’ll be happy, but whatever I don’t cover I’ll aim to finish by the end of the year. Reviews will come at some point. I’ve picked movies which are currently on/should be on Amazon, Netflix, Now TV, or I have recorded at some point off TV. Here we go:

Ghost Stories          Freehold          Aaron’s Blood          The Laplace’s Demon

The House With A Clock In Its Walls            Thirteen Ghosts

Take Shelter          Poltergeist Remake          Halloween (Original)

Halloween 2018     Deadtime Stories      Body Count

They Remain          Ghost Ship         The Phoenix Tapes 97          Ouija

The Perfection       The Purge          It Comes At Night          Trick R Treat

The Girl With All The Gifts             Love           Would You Rather

The Divide            Silent House Remake          House

Cube Zero             The Love Witch          Pet          Bordello Of Blood

Inferno                 Crawl                 Goosebumps 2

It Chapter 2         Dead Of Night (both)    Hell Fest

Let me know in the comments if you’re undertaking a similar challenge. If you’re not that brave, feel free to share any of the scary movies you plan to watch in October and those you watch each Halloween!

The Innkeepers

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Ti West has been making ripples in the horror world for almost twenty years, with a number of low budget indie entries being well received in the horror community – with The House Of The Devil the praise went farther afield. With The Innkeepers, Ti West tells an updated version of the classic haunted house story, moving the action to a hotel in the midst of closing down, and featuring much of his trademark humour, character focus, and building of tension.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are the two leads and take up most of the running time together. They have a certain chemistry which will be familiar to anyone forced to work in a confined space day in day out with the same person or group of people. As characters, they hit if off and clash like an affable old married couple, and as actors we believe that they have been through some boring shit together. They are twenty-somethings working purely to pay the bills and for something to do, with marginally grander schemes and hopes, biding their time in an old Hotel in its final weekend before closure. Aside from their shared flitting aimlessness, both are amateur ghost enthusiasts and have been hoping to record some paranormal activity in their last night on the job – the hotel having a history of spooky encounters and a sordid past. Stumbling upon their relative seclusion and ghost-hunting is a faded Hollywood starlet played by Kelly McGillis (in another interesting horror role for the actress). She just wants a room for the night and doesn’t want to be disturbed, especially by Paxton’s Claire who is a bit of a fangirl. Luke (Healy) and Claire use their ghost-hunting equipment and soon begin to pick up creepy voices and music before the apparitions reveal themselves.

While not West’s breakthrough movie, this is the one which garnered him the most critical attention and became his biggest hit. The film has an old-fashioned horror feel, a subtle, creeping approach to scares, and using atmosphere over jumps and gore. The script and direction are light and playful both honouring the history of haunted house movies while giving them a modern gloss and respect. Once the second half reveals come and the mythology of the house is made known, the scares come faster after the largely comedic, slacker style first half. The three main performances are solid and likable, Paxton and Healy are easy to relate to, and even though there’s nothing new here it feels fresh, especially in an era of loud bang scares and CG blood spatter. It isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it’s a fun movie for those who don’t mind a bit of backstory and set up before the pay-off.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Innkeepers!