Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Review: Tokyo Vampire Hotel

What the balls!? I feel like I could begin any post about Sion Sono with that time-honoured phrase, and I could probably just end the review right there. That wouldn’t be fair to the madcap artistry of Sono, or his fans, or anyone who stumbled upon this very odd Amazon Prime show from the Japanese master. Having been a fan of Sono’s work since the late 90s or early 2000s, a part of me wants to get all of these posts out of the way so that once his first US movie is released – the upcoming Prisoners Of The Ghostland In starring Nic Cage – people will have a nice spot to find reviews of his other work. And party because everyone Tom, Harry, and Dickhead who has never watched a foreign movie in their life is going to jump on the bandwagon, assuming Prisoners is going to be as wacky and successful as I’m hoping. 

A very brief intro to the dude if you’re new here, or to Sion Sono; he’s a Japanese movie and TV director, and he also writes. He is one of a batch of very interesting and unique Japanese filmmakers whose work divides opinion and is frequently controversial, bewildering, and critically acclaimed. If there’s one aspect which sets him apart from his peers, I would offer that it’s his use of music and editing – songs and recurring score motifs feature heavily in his work, and he frequently breaks rules and fourth walls with his editing and directing techniques. Most people will know of his work either by name or by notoriety – Suicide Club (famous for its opening shot of school girls leaping to their deaths in front of a train), Tag (already meme bait thanks to its wacky intro where a bus of school kids and teachers are sliced in half by an invisible force), and Tokyo Tribe (an unusual Japanese hip hop musical). He started out in the 80s as a director of ‘Pink Movies’ and has tried his hand (successfully) in most genres you can think of – straight supernatural horror with Exte, poignant drama in The Land Of Hope, thrillers with Cold Fish and Himizu, fantasy courtesy of Love and Peace, and of course whatever the hell Love Exposure (arguably the best film of the last twenty years) is. While he recently did a show with Netflix – the unsurprisingly controversial (and good) The Forest Of Love – he worked with Amazon Studios first on his 9 part series of whatthefuckery known as Tokyo Vampire Hotel.

The title tells you the basics – there’s a hotel in Tokyo used by vampires – but within minutes (and throughout the entire running time) the plot becomes grossly overcomplicated, confusing, and increasingly bizarre. But don’t worry – it’s purposefully silly, it has one fanged tongue firmly in the corner of its mouth, and it’s ridiculously violent and perverse; in short, it’s wonderful. It will be difficult to write about any of this without getting into spoiler territory, but I’ll do my best to summarize the premise without giving too much away – it’s enough to simply say that there are tonnes of characters whose significance wax and wane drastically, and that certain story elements and twists are introduced which may be important and others which seem important but aren’t. A. Lot. Happens.

We begin with a young girl called Minami who is out with her friends one night. Out of nowhere, a violent gang enters the restaurant she’s in and murders everybody. They apparently let Minami live. Then a rival gang comes and there’s a huge shoot-out – everybody wants this girl. Turns out the gangs are from rival vampire clans and a prophecy foretold the importance of Minami, sort of explaining why they are fighting over her. Meanwhile, there’s a fancy pants party going on in an exuberant hotel. It’s an Invitation only affair, and while some of the guests seem to know one another, most are strangers who think they are being selected for some sort of game or dating show. Our host – Yamada – is a charismatic vampire of some respected standing and he informs the guests that they have been purposely selected because of their hyperactive libidos, and that in a few hours time an apocalyptic event is going to end all life on the planet. The sex fiends will be the last surviving people on the world and it will be their job to shag as much as possible and have as many delicious babies as possible so that the vampires have a never-ending food supply. That’s about the gist of everything, but a succession of new plot reveals and characters lets us know that there’s a hell of a lot more going on under the surface – literally.

It is a confusing show and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who bows out early. Anyone already a fan of Sono should stick around, and anyone who becomes curiously invested in any of what’s going on – the story, the characters, the punk tone, the gorgeous and zany look and feel of the things – will be rewarded with layer after layer of bonkers goodness. Everything about the show is wildly over the top – the acting, the violence, the seedy nature, the secrets. Sometimes in a show like this you need an anchor to keep you grounded – maybe you find that in Minami, maybe you find it in the vampire K, maybe it’s your need to find out what the hell the point of any of it is – for me it was simply to enjoy living inside Sono’s brilliant, demented mind for another few hours. The story has plenty of moments of intrigue and the characters who come and go at a moment’s notice all have their charm, but it’s how Sono squishes all of these aspects together in an apparent middle finger to form and expectation which kept me watching until the end. If you’re looking for a satisfying story with a beginning, middle, and end which follows the outlined premise you’ll probably be disappointed, but if you’re after a big pile of wacky stuff to laugh at and tell your mates about all punctuated by moments of sublime cinematic beauty, then Tokyo Vampire Hotel may be for you. There’s nothing like it on the market now – I’m not sure if there has ever been anything like it – and there’s no-one quiet like Sion Sono.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tokyo Vampire Hotel!

The Wisher

*Originally written in 2003

Spliced (Movie Review) | Bloody Good Horror

Another cheap horror movie which borrows heavily from both big and cult hits of the genre, but one which manages to be quite enjoyable even if we have seen it all before. There are some good performances, some not so good, a few typical scares and jokes (some which hit, some which miss), a fair amount of blood, a simple but well executed story, and quite a creepy bad guy. Probably not worth searching for, but worth watching if it is on TV especially if you are a horror fan.

Mary is a teenage girl with a love for horror movies, always searching for the next scare. When she hears about a new film called The Wisher which has been getting good reviews from terrified audiences, she and her friends go to see it, against her father’s wishes. Mary has a habit of sleepwalking which her father believes is caused by all the rubbish she watches. A short time into the movie, Mary vomits and leaves knowing the film is too much for her. After an argument with her father she wishes he would just go away. Soon her father is dead, and Mary believes she keeps seeing the Wisher creature from the movie. She becomes paranoid and after a few more gory events related to what she has innocently wished for, she believes that The Wisher, or someone dressed up as him is stalking her, obsessively carrying out her wishes in the worst way possible. She finds out that the film makers imbued the film with subliminal messages, and thinks that school hunk Brad, who likes her, has been hypnotised by the film. She tries to find a way to reverse the process, planning to watch the film to see how it ended. The Wisher is on to her plan though…

Although everything is pretty predictable there is still enough fun to warrant watching this. There is some cheesy dialogue and effects, and you would think that once you believed that your wishes were coming true you would immediately wish for The Wisher to leave. Liane Balaban is very good as Mary, at times carrying the film on her own, and Ron Silver is good though seems uninterested in a smaller role. The rest of the cast are OK, but the film is quick and never tries to over-achieve. The Wisher itself does look scarier than your typical cheap horror movie bad guy, and the director’s best moments are when the Wisher is stalking in the shadows or on reflections. There is not much heavy violence and nothing is over-the-top. Give it a go if it’s on, but do not expect a masterpiece, just a quick piece of entertainment.

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

Life

Life movie review & film summary (2017) | Roger Ebert

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that travelling to space will either lead to jolly adventures with feisty bikini clad Princesses and furries, or gruesome/slimy/explosive death. Life explores the second option, placing the viewer in a realistic present day landscape rather than the not too distant future of Alien – one of several movies it is more than inspired by. By camping us inside the orbital real world ISS alongside a skeleton crew of cross-continental familiar faces, yet giving us fleeting glimpses of what is happening back home – births, parades, cute kids asking cute questions – Life aims to alarm us into thinking what if the guys up there right now discover something hostile?

We join our crew of six as they collect soil samples from Mars which may contain evidence of <insert title here>. Turns out there is life out there, of the single celled variety, and turns out the cell just needs a touch of glucose to get it up in the morning. One taste of sugar and the little bastard begins sprouting, stretching, and expanding. Like all babies, translucent or otherwise, it wants to explore and wreck shit. Once named (by some cute Earthlings), Calvin crushes his daddy’s hand, yeets out, and begins an adolescent rampage. While the film has rightly been called an inferior mixture of Gravity and Alien, it’s probably more accurate to say that it’s a retelling of every parent’s experience with a toddler ever, with more CG. Like every movie set in space, there’s a frantic race against time, lots of clamouring to solve impossible problems, and people picked off one by one as they fight for survival and try to prevent the ever growing, increasingly wobbly Calvin making his way to the good ol’ US of Earth.

It’s a fine watch from start to finish, without really offering anything new. It feels more like a case of updating every aspect of the movies it apes; updated special effects, updated creature effects, updated dialogue – everything to make the film more appealing to today’s audience. The only time the movie puts its neck on the line is with its ending – a refreshingly un-Hollywood ending but one you know is coming so that, once again, it comes as no surprise and dilutes any shock value it was meant to generate. Most attempts at fleshing out each character – and to the film’s credit it does try to do this – most of these attempts feel trite and not genuine. Rather than any individuality, the film offers a stock archetype and then gives each one a single thing which marks them as different from the other. Sanada is Japanese, and has a kid on the way. There’s the disabled dude who, for some reason, becomes obsessive at bringing Calvin to life, Gyllenhaal is calm and cold, but is perfectly happy living in Space, Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynolds etc. Each aspect totalled up amounts to a perfectly average film – if you haven’t seen Alien or Gravity then maybe this will have more of an impact on you and for a night in it passes the time without forcing you to think or become too invested, while equally staving off the boredom.

Let us know what you think of Life in the comments!

The Slumber Party Massacre

The Collinsport Historical Society: Monster Serial: THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE, 1982

When you call your movie ‘The Slumber Party Massacre’, there are certain things an audience might expect; namely, a slumber party, possibly some sort of massacre, and perhaps that massacre will happen at a slumber party. The periphery information – what the theme of the Slumber Party is, who is in attendance, who is doing the massacring, and why these people are being massacred – well that’s left to the excited viewer to uncover, but presumably each of these questions would also be answered. The Slumber Party Massacre answers every one of these questions – there is a slumber party (attended by a bunch of peppy high school seniors), there is a massacre (instigated by a good old fashioned escaped crim who takes a liking to this particular group of friends), the massacre does happen at the slumber party (and a little precursor or two beforehand), the theme of the slumber party is simply to drink and get stoned and bitch about people – and some of these people even show up to be massacred too. Basically, there’s a whole lot of massacring at this slumber party.

What else should be in a film with this name? If you answered boobs, then you’re correct! Boobs should be present, and boobs are present. Quite often in fact. If you’re wondering why I’m asking all these bizarre, vaguely humours questions – it’s not merely because I’m a lazy, unfunny writer, but it’s because they’re actually relevant to the context of the movie. The film was originally written as a parody or satire of the booming slasher genre – while it was never going to be as meta as Scream, it was still designed to poke fun at the exploitative nature of the genre – the male gaze and full frontal antics, the ludicrous violence, the empty-headed characters, nonsensical plots, and the killers and their ridiculous agenda/weapons/masks/unkillability. At some point between script and filming the unthinkable happened and the film instead switched into being the exact sort of film it was meant to be satirizing. What this means is that we have a film filled with the blood, guts, bad guys, killings, and boobs of your usual sleaze’n’slash-fest, but a script with strange in-jokes, characters who seem more savvy than they should be, and some proto-feminist turns. In short, it’s fucking bizarre.

While you’re not going to highlight any of the performances as notable, everyone here is passable and entertaining, from the cannon fodder to the cannon. As bad as you’re expecting a film with this title to be, you’ll enjoy it in spite of yourself. Horror fans will enjoy the niche it owns along with the kills, the various trappings and tropes, and any non-horror fans will get a kick out of how silly it all is. On the surface it’s a typical slasher following a bunch of girls being stalked by a crazed killer and his powerdrill (shlong), and as they get picked off one by one the survivors begin to fight back in a last gasp attempt at survival. It’s just over an hour long, and as such makes for a curious and simple good time – the perfect horror party movie before moving on to something more substantial.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Slumber Party Massacre!

Blood Fest

Blood Fest (2018) – Review | Mana Pop

I seem to start a lot of posts these days with the phrase ‘if you’re a regular to this blog’, which suggests I’m covering a lot of the same topics on a loop, but if you’re a regular to this blog then you’ll know I love fiction and movies set around theme parks, fun parks, carnivals and the like. In recent years we’ve had a few films in this vein, expanding out to also cover the Escape Room craze, and in 2018 alone we confusingly had Hell Fest and Blood Fest – two films set inside the curious theme parky world of Horror-Cons.

Blood Fest begins promisingly, with a mother and son snuggled up watching horror movies on the sofa. The mum goes into the kitchen to grab more popcorn, and when she doesn’t come back the son goes to the kitchen only to find a masked killer standing over his mum’s bloodied body. Flashforward to present day and the boy is now a teenager obsessed with Horror movies, while his dad is a psychologist who argues against Horror and other violent forms of media as they lead to the sort of disorders or crimes which led to his wife’s death. It’s a decent setup, and even though all I expect or want from a movie like this is some fun chase and kill shenanigans using the location in an interesting way, this had the potential to discuss some deeper topics.

It’s odd then that the setup doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s no sense of grief within the family, there’s little real discussion on the ills, perceived or otherwise, of Horror movies on impressionable people – which is especially strange because the entire plot hinges on that exact device – and it means that I was left a little disappointed by the final product. Had a more generic setup been in place I would have taken this as a simple fun slasher, but as it suggests its going to have more depth – when it doesn’t deliver on that promise I ask what the point of it all was.

We should bear in mind though that the movie is a comedy – it’s a comedy set in the world of Horror and Horror fandom, with plenty of nods and in jokes both broad enough for casual fans to get, and more specific such as a moment recalling The Exorcist 3’s famous jump scare. There’s quite a lot of gore – of the over the top, spurting Asian variety – but there isn’t an ounce of tension or true horror here. It’s 100% in the Comedy genre, like a poor man’s Shaun Of The Dead. The teenager hero and his two friends are planning to attend Blood Fest – a celebration of all things Horror, with rides, celeb meet and greets, booze, music, and everything else you would expect from an overblown Con. The twist is that once the guests arrive, all doors are locked, all gates are electrified, and all bets are off as the Con’s host – an overly camp Owen Edgerton – wants to film the greatest Horror movie of all time by killing all of the guests throughout the different areas of the park. The park is split into different areas matching a particular Horror theme or trope – zombies, vampires, killer clowns – and each area is filled with maniacal killers or monsters. Again, there’s a cool idea in here – a Horror based Battle Royale – but we focus on our small group of survivors, and the park’s areas are only given cursory glances. I’d have enjoyed more of a thorough Running Man style chase through these areas with a sense of progress and threat and a chance to feel the different atmosphere of each. A larger group of survivors, seeing them get whittled down as they make their way towards the Exit or the centre, would have been cool.

Our heroes are not the most exciting bunch – lead horror geek, his feisty love interest, his geeky friend, the hot blonde, and ostensibly the hot blonde’s jerk boyfriend and a cowardly horror actor. They never feel like they are in any real danger, and even when they begin to get picked off we’re not given any reason to care – and the survivors don’t react much. A sharper script would have improved matters, but there’s a much better film in here as I’ve alluded to; that idea of survival in a Horror version of Disneyland, complete with cameos from famous faces from within the genre, and by all means spice it up with social commentary or meta influence. As it stands, Blood Fest is a let down on most fronts – the laughs are flat, the commentary may as well not be there, the gore is silly, the plot is uninteresting, and the location is underused and not fleshed out. Still, it’s a brief enough watch and if you’re into films set in the same sort of universe and location as this, you’ll likely get some basic enjoyment out of it.

Let us know what you thought of Blood Fest in the comments!

#Alive

Korean Thriller '#Alive' Coming To Netflix On September 8

It’s true that there is a fatigue for zombie movies at the moment. In truth, that fatigue set in over a decade ago, but that hasn’t stopped movie-makers still attempting to find a new spin on the formula or drop their own mangey undead copycat. #Alive lies somewhere in the No Man’s Land between these two camps, bringing in drones and vlogging and a different type of location, yet not really doing anything radically different from a narrative or character perspective. It’s essentially the same survivalist shtick of Night Of The Living Dead, set in a South Korean apartment block with a (mostly) single protagonist whose incompetence is his most notable trait. Luckily, the film is not overlong and is told with a certain amount of energy which compliments the youthful nature of its hero.

#Alive doesn’t take long to get to the point. A typical twenty something social media gamer type is just setting up for another day of streaming videogames with his friends and subscribers when one of his gang notices something strange on the news. As they question the validity of what they’re seeing, our protagonist hears the sudden sounds of carnage coming from outside; screams, car crashes, stampeding crowds. He looks out of his balcony to see people running and attacking each other from a few storeys below, and similar sounds are coming from right outside his door. It’s zombies, of the 28 Days Later variety. So begins the usual barricading of doors and windows, setting out food and water, and preparing weapons for an eventual attack and inevitable step outside. All the while he keeps checking his mobile, hoping for a signal, hoping for news from his family who had already left for the day when the attack began.

The Night Eats The World follows a very similar premise to this, but the two films are very different in tone and approach. #Alive is more action heavy and only half-heartedly deals with the psychological aspects of being trapped, terrified, and alone – not knowing if you’re the only person left alive in your city. The Night Eats The World is much more successful in this regard, and feels like the fresher movie even if it is the slower, more drama focused. Yoo Ah-in is perfectly serviceable as our lone survivor, suitably clumsy and naïve, yet capable of bravery when desperation calls for it. The story doesn’t truly explore his character beyond the fleeting looks at family photos or checking for texts, and I feel like the better film would have been him keeping in contact with each of the streamer friends from the start of the movie, follows their daily updates from his perspective until the power eventually goes out. The apartment location isn’t used to its full potential, at least not until the second half of the movie, and when certain reveals are made, you expect them and any twists which come along. It’s not a game-changer, but in terms of a Netflix Korean zombie movie in a contemporary setting, it manages to remain watchable without ever being scary or gruesome or particularly thought-provoking. It’s a one-off popcorn movie for people not familiar with the genre or who have a particular affinity of South Korean actors.

Let us know in the comments what you though of #Alive!

 

Excision

Image result for excision movie

Controversy is a funny thing. Subjects deemed controversial hundreds of years, or even mere decades ago, are now spoken of fondly in polite conversation while the number of taboo topics grows ever smaller. When you through artistic license into the mix, the boundaries become further blurred. While these shifts in opinion are largely governed by the wider shifts of the religious, political, moral, and cultural landscapes, film, music, and art have each made a significant impact. In this enlightened (or corrupt, depending on which side of the argument you may be on) 21st Century, everything is fair game in Cinema as long as you’re not breaking any laws. And as long as the censors are cool with it. It’s unusual then that a film such as Excision garnered so much controversy upon release given that it was, for my money, a fairly tame and humourous trip down a filthy suburban lane.

Excision is as camp as a Drama teacher named Joan. You could be mistaken for thinking it was a lost John Waters movie from the 90s, such is the comedic and dramatic tone. Indeed, Waters himself appears as a bewildered church minister trying to lead one of his flock back to the path of righteousness. That particular lost lamb is an outcast teenager, a rebellious young woman by the name of Pauline who has nightly sexual fantasies about mutilation and medical operations. These scenes attempt to show the degree of her disturbed mind, but for the majority of the film I found her to be a relatively normal teen archetype. Plagued by cold sores for most of her life after her similarly afflicted father saved her from drowning as a child, she is depicted as a moderately gruesome physical presence – at least when viewed alongside her innocent young sister, the cool kids in school, and the pretty jump-roping neighbour across the street. Given that Pauline is played by professional model AnnaLynne McCord, it’s an effective make-up job. McCord gives a snarling and emotive performance as the troubled teen whose only goal in life is to become a doctor (primarily so that she can cut shit up) and to protect her sister, whose cystic fibrosis could snatch her life at any moment. Surrounding McCord we have a range of familiar faces – Traci Lords is well suited as the middle class soccer mom trying to live the American Dream and constantly sniping at her bored and whipped husband (a slumped Roger Bart). Elsewhere, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, and Marlee Matlin pop up.

The funny thing about the controversy, mainly in the form of reviews, is that a lot of these came from seasoned horror fans and websites claiming the film is both unforgettable and difficult to stomach. In truth, the scattered scenes of gore are shot beautifully – as the dream sequences that they are – and everything is most definitely played for tongue in cheek shocks, such as Pauline choosing to lose her virginity to a local jock and asking him to go down on her knowing she is having her period. The only real shock, which felt inevitable throughout the entire film, is the ending. Indeed it’s an ending I wasn’t offended by in a graphical sense – there’s nothing even a generic horror fan hasn’t seen before – but more because of the tragedy of it, although I don’t believe there was a confirmation that one of the characters involved is actually dead even if it is implied.

My main issue with the film came from my uncertainty over how I was meant to feel in certain moments – was I meant to side with Pauline and feel her pain, or see her as a mentally disturbed figure? Beyond the ending, I didn’t feel any true insanity within her. Was I supposed to be shock by the gore and the actions of certain characters, when the tone is so blatantly humorous? Director/writer Richard Bates Jr manages to pull together a stellar indie cast who all revel in the script, and it is clear he has a fondness for the seedier underbelly of suburbia and the modern world – especially when we are aware of his more recent works. Anyone who may have been put off by some of the negative or more finger-wagging reviews should consider those as somewhat over the top – if you’re a John Waters or a Horror fan then you’ll probably get a kick out of Excision, but it’s difficult to see an audience beyond those hallowed, unfazed groups.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Excision!

V/H/S 2

The most bonkers, jaw-dropping and memorable horror in recent years is on TV soon | JOE is the voice of Irish people at home and abroad

It feels like I’ve been away. I have been. I’ve neglected my usual monthly blog posts and I haven’t even been arsed posting any of the hundreds of already written posts which have been sitting in my drafts for months. I need to go through those and set the scheduling or something. It has been a busy few weeks, with real life stuff taking up most of my free time. On top of that, all of this Marillion stuff is taking up time too, listening to their albums multiple times, taking notes, and then forming those notes into monumentally huge posts. And of course, listening to the related Podcast. It’s fun, but time consuming. That’s not to say I haven’t been watching a lot of movies – I have – but usually in the depths of night by myself, with my wide awake hours spent on TV shows with my wife.

What has any of this got to do with V/H/S 2? Absolutely nothing – I just didn’t want to write a separate post explaining my mysterious absence. Regular Glancers to my stinking hovel of the internet should know by now that I enjoy a good Anthology. The format made a bit of a comeback in the Noughties thanks to an onslaught of new Horror voices, and the relative ease and budgetary freedom of making a smaller film. I enjoyed the first V/H/S for what it was – a mixture of cool ideas and missed opportunities, and it wasn’t long before I hunted down the sequel. Unusually for an Anthology – this is a sequel, albeit with a mostly new set of directors and writers and actors joining Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. It seems the wraparound featured in V/H/S was only part of a larger story – the discovery of another horde of mysterious videotapes and way too many screens for any sane person – hinting that there is an expanded universe at play.

I say expanded universe, but we’re hardly dealing with MCU or Dark Tower levels of content here. It’s just a framing excuse to allow the narrative to flow between shorts and to loosely connect the two films together (along with the final third movie). Our protagonists in the wraparound are a boyfriend/girlfriend team of PIs/amateur money-grabbers dealing with the more seedy of cases – we are introduced to them in the midst of blackmailing some poor bloke who only wanted a taste of gratuitous titty grabbing on the side. As the couple threaten the man to pay up or pay a visit to his wife, they head towards their central case – a young man’s disappearance. Breaking in to his last known residence, they stumble upon a room in disarray – blankets on the ground in front of stacks of screens and scattered VHS tapes. Just like the first movie, one of team decides to pass the time by watching the tapes, while the other searches the house, and just like the first movie they may not be alone.

The first segment is the not to distant future story of a man who has a camera placed in his eye socket after a car accident. It’s an experimental trial, and the doctors will see and experience everything he does. He heads home to his mansion and quickly experiences some unusual behaviour – things moving from where they were left, the shape of a person lying in his bed. Things escalate. With a premise like this, you’re probably already guessing much of what transpires – nifty use of first person, plenty of jump scares, glitch marks, and the inevitable attempt to remove camera from eye. It’s a fun intro with a few effective moments, but you’re probably not going to remember it in the grand scheme of anthology segments.

The second segment is another idea which has probably been rattling around filmmakers heads for some time, and I’m fairly certain parts of this have been done before. A guy is riding his bike in a forest and finds himself in the middle of a sudden bloodthirsty zombie outbreak – he rides with a couple of cameras (one of which is clearly there only to set up a single gag). It’s another fun segment, a little lighter than the first but ramps up the gore factor. I enjoyed how the buck is passed here with each zombie attack, following a different character every few minutes, and I like how we get straight into things with little set up. Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale of The Blair Witch Project direct this one.

The third segment is the most notorious, and the one I was most keen on seeing when I heard reviews of the film. Directed by The Raid’s Gareth Evans and The Night Comes For Us (one of the most brutal films you haven’t seen) Timo Tjahjanto, Safe Haven follows a documentary crew as they infiltrate a cult under the guise of shining a positive light on its charismatic leader – a man who has been accused various crimes, not least certain activities with children. The four people have their own shit to deal with – the woman of the group (Lena) is in a relationship with Malik (the interviewer) but has got it on with one of the other guys in secret. The cult leader allows the group access to his Jonestown-esque centre of operations, and it becomes clear immediately that nothing about him or his followers is right. Cut to demented scenes of carnage, full frontal facial shotgun blasts, suicide, demons, and assorted chaos. It’s great. It ramps up quickly with little thought given to meaning or explanation, but like the output from both directors it is riveting and dark and bloody and brimming with invention and energy.

Slumber Party Alien Abduction is probably the most forgettable of the bunch – it’s not bad, and I think the idea has a lot of potential, but it’s quite messy in its execution and it suffers from the most shaky cam pitfalls of found footage. It does exactly what it says on the tin – a bunch of insufferable millennials are having a slumber party and are interrupted by aliens. It would have been more interesting if the characters weren’t a bunch of entitled dicks – or maybe we were supposed to enjoy what happens to them precisely because they are dicks. In any event, it’s fine. I like those segments or movies where normal every day shit is interrupted without warning or explanation by the supernatural. Unfortunately the director relies far too heavily on tape scratching effects – once or twice is fine, but every few seconds is ridiculous. There’s a bunch of characters who show up and either disappear before the abduction or are dispatched with basically off camera, which defeats the purpose – not that we cared in the slightest about them. Somewhere in here is a decent thirty minute episode – hell, someone with the skills of John Carpenter could stretch this into a solid supernatural siege movie.

VHS 2 doesn’t differ too much from its predecessor. What little wraparound connecting plot there is serves to adequately set up this film, for those who care, and two link back to the first film, for those who care. The segments vary in quality but each is perfectly watchable and each has a fun idea at its core. It’s a chance for younger directors to show off and have fun, and that’s the overriding feeling I get from this series – they’re fun, sometimes gory, and they act as a little shot of adrenaline and a warning to other filmmakers that these young upstarts mind have something bigger and better up their sleeves. Safe Haven is the highlight, but the whole package is well worth a watch.

Let us know in the comments what you think of VHS 2!

Megan Is Missing

Megan Is Missing's Viral TikTok Challenge & Controversy Explained

Every so often a film comes around, dragging such a weight of hype behind it that it begins to resemble a cannibalistic graverobber hauling a couple of corpses through a dank and hilly moor. Then there are those films which fly under the radar, only picking up a few glowing reviews sporadically and becoming something of an urban myth. Megan Is Missing falls into the second category – a film heard of, in whispers, but rarely seen. It has been years since Megan Is Missing was released, but every few years the film seems to strike a connection with the latest viral trend, and pops up again in social media feeds from concerned parents, duped tweens, and disgruntled critics. In recent weeks, the film has once again resurfaced thanks to kids on Tik Tok (whatever that is) watching it, being shocked by it, sharing it, and watching each other be shocked by it. But what does a seasoned horror fan make of it all? Spoiler Alert: it’s not very good.

Megan Is Missing is less of a movie and more of a masterclass in exploiting viral media and its audience. I was very impressed by director Michael Goi’s Twitter comments, advising viewers to switch off the film if they see the number ‘1’ appear on screen at any point, as they would have a few seconds to shut it off before being scarred for life – especially if what they had seen up to that point had disturbed them. Having already seen the movie and being aware of what he was talking about, this was actually quite a shrewd and amusing tactic to get more kids to watch it. Disingenuous or not, that seems to be the goal of the film – to get as many kids as possible to see it, and their parents, to warn them over the dangers of blind online interaction. 

The film follows a couple of girls as they meet a man online who claims to be the same age as they are and strikes up a friendship. If someone says their webcam is broken or doesn’t want to share their cam even as you share yours…. it’s probably not a good idea to continue communicating with them. Megan is popular with peers, but has a hidden history of abuse and clearly enjoys attention. Her best friend Amy doesn’t necessarily approve of Megan’s sudden change in behaviour and the online relationship she is beginning, but she is shown to be somewhat naive and jealous. Before long, Megan disappears and Amy takes it upon herself to launch an online and offline search for her friend, believing the guy Megan was talking to is responsible for her disappearance.

The film is made up of mobile phone footage, laptop cams, news reports and vlogs. Normally this would be a jarring experience – and here it is – but at least the simple narrative is kept coherent. The quality of acting is a low point throughout, though I didn’t have as much of an issue with this as most reviewers (although the guy playing Josh off screen is notably cringeworthy and a creep from first breath making me question the intelligence of anyone sucked in my his shite), and I was more accepting of the obvious low budget and attempts at authenticity. Certainly many of the recent batch of viewers have inexplicably been convinced of the film being a true story, or even going as far as somehow believing the final 15 minutes or so to be genuine crime footage retrieved by the FBI. Sometimes I despair at the youth of today, dagnamit.

The film doesn’t try to make us feel any sympathy for Megan – some for Amy – and maybe it’s the generational gap, but their behaviour, their dialogue, it’s all grating and off-putting, and the same is true for the surrounding cast. More than that, it seems to revel with salacious glee of it’s detailed descriptions (and thankfully less detailed depictions) of pre-teen sex. It’s a catalogue of annoyances before we get to any real pay-off for the horror fan – the infamous final scenes.

Those scenes have of course been hyped far beyond what they are deserving of, and have spun off already into a multitude of memes. I can only hope that those genuinely shocked by, or claiming to have been traumatised by these images subsequently move on to some good horror movies. What is there that is so shocking? We get a couple of photos of torture, which I can only assume are shocking due to the suddenness of their appearance, and there is a muffled yet exploitative rape scene towards the end which reviewers have highlighted as offering zero merit – admittedly it’s tough to portray such things with any true merit or purpose. We get the final split second reveal of what happened to Megan, followed by an excessively drawn out scene which was done with far greater potency decades earlier in The Vanishing. It’s far too little, and far too late, and having to sit through a lot of padding and a lot of inane conversations with general unlikeable people to get to this point, I’d have at least wanted a stampede of zombie dinosaur sharks to liven the thing up. 

Is it worth the hype? Of course not. Is it worth watching? Not really. There are better examples of similar plots and the technical ability on show is extremely limited. The filmmakers will defend this by pointing to the low budget and the fact that it is supposed to be a compilation of unprofessional bits – that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t make the end product any more worthy or worthwhile. Honestly, there are a tonne of more potent, more powerful, more emotionally devastating documentaries out there made with genuine craft and artistry which make this look like the half-assed mess that it is. Did I enjoy it? Unusually, I didn’t hate it. I have a low bar of expectation for this sort of thing anyway and it’s clearly not good, but if I’m honest it did set me loose on the internet for a few weeks binge on real life cases of abduction and missing persons. I’m not convinced that the reasoning behind the film was to highlight to impressionable kids the dangers of online interaction, if it smacks of ‘old man is scared of new technology/young people’, or if it was a cheap and cynical cash-in on real life tragedy at the boom of the found footage phenomenon. If there’s any positive from it all, it’s that you can easily watch it for free online – seriously, if you have to see it, don’t pay for it. 

To sum it all up – if you’re curious about the hype, by all means watch it. If you’re a seasoned horror fan you will absolutely be disappointed and confused by such hype. There are better things to do with your time, and better movies to watch. Let us know in the comments what you thought of Megan Is Missing!

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project' Premiered at Sundance 20 Years Ago

*Originally written in 2003

The wild hysteria surrounding this movie proves that the majority of the cinema going audience can still be fooled into believing anything they see or hear, or think they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an extremely convincing and effective horror flick. A certain number of people on these boards (written originally on IMDb so refers to IMDb message boards), and who have reviewed Blair Witch Project HATE the film for varying, understandable reasons. When I first watched this, I watched intently, knowing exactly what the directors were playing at, and I found great enjoyment in watching the reactions of those who thought it was real. Did it unsettle me? No. Did it make me jump like the horror movies that rely on loud noises to scare (the recent Ring remake) – no. But it was the first horror movie in a very long time to put a smile on my face, and make me shiver. If you can remember back to when you played hide and seek as a kid – the feeling you had when the person looking for you was 10 feet away and coming closer – that is what this film gives, in a much greater quantity.

It is slow moving, and if you do not enjoy the pace, then you may not enjoy the film, but it compensates this by being short and concise, juxtaposed against how the 3 campers must have felt as the hours dragged by – the point I take from this is that in life we only remember a series of memories, images pasted together to make little sense, and life seems much shorter than it actually was.

The camera use and grainy feel again may be fuel for hatred or love, but it works perfectly – they don’t know what is going on, and neither do we, but that doesn’t matter because in an uncertain and threatening situation, the natural human reaction is to run or fight. Drained, exhausted, paranoid, they run. Ever had a nightmare about running away from something, but not knowing exactly what it was, or why you are running?

The best part of the movie (apart from the hilarious ‘I kicked the map into the river’ scene) is the last few minutes when Michael and Heather enter the house following Josh’s screams. This is perfectly spine tingling, and the ending is excellent as our feelings and fear somehow build and climax  in perfect harmony with what is happening on screen. The actors are clearly convincing, again look at the audience hysteria for proof, and although they are not called upon to do much, they do it well. Few great horror films come along these days, this is one- embrace it, let yourself be sucked in to feel the full effect, don’t be critical, and realize how good it is.

Let us know what you think of The Blair Witch Project in the comments!