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!

 

TTT – Top Ten George A Romero Movies

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s been an age since I’ve done one of these, so I decided to fall back on what I know best – horror movies. You can’t talk about the history of Horror movies without talking about George A Romero. Few film-makers can truly be said to have changed the game, especially within the horror genre, but Romero was one of those few. Taking the zombie sub-genre out of its voodoo/mind control past and turning it into something completely different, making the living dead mindless pastiches of whatever was going on in society at the time and making their main desire to chomp upon living flesh. Romero created the modern zombie and almost all of its rules and tropes, and his original trilogy is still the high-bar against which everything else is measured.

Romero wasn’t just a zombie guy but his films were always about something once you smeared away the surface. He retained an indie ethos from day one until the end and embodies the true spirit of story-telling and film-making – to pick up a camera and tell a story while ignoring the pressures of money making and business. Typically always based in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Romero’s films didn’t shy away from showing the lives and struggles of real people – the blue-collar types he knew so well, nor was he afraid of revealing their dark side. He wasn’t one for sugar-coating or creating an ensemble of working class heroes – he was clued in enough to know that, given the right or wrong situation, the young, old, rich, poor, were equally capable of making heroic or monstrous decisions.

Watching any interview with Romero or with those who worked with him, it’s clear the guy had a love for stories, for life, and for making people squirm in the face of gore or uncomfortable truths. His passing marked the end of a generation and we may never see his like again.

10. Bruiser

A movie I came to quite late because most of Romero’s non-Dead movies can be a pain to find. This is a lot of fun, and a different type of movie you might expect – the humour more overt and darker than a gallon of gore. A sort-of attack on Corporations and the empty, faceless lives of the executive class, it’s the tale of a man reduced to a blank slate allowing him to live out his murderous fantasies.

9. Knightriders

There aren’t enough movies about jousting, especially ones which replaces the horses with motorcycles. That’s…. that’s pretty much all the recommendation you should need. It reunites some of the guys from Dawn Of The Dead, stars Ed Harris, and features a little seen Stephen King cameo.

8. Monkey Shines

This is another one of those movies which was/is quite difficult to get your hands on, at least over here. Twenty years into his career, this was Romero’s first major Studio film and if anything he can be guilty of over-reaching and trying to pack in as much ‘stuff’ as possible. While the rest of the horror world in the late 80s were ironically pulling Romero-esque gore fests and comedies, Romero instead opted for a thriller with a bizarre premise – that of a wheelchair bound former athlete who gets a helper monkey (pray…for… Mojo) which in turn becomes psychotically attached to the man. They don’t make them like that anymore. For such a silly idea, there are creepy moments and Jason Beghe heads up the little known cast with a convincing performance. Stanley Tucci appears in a minor role – you wonder if Romero had got some bigger names (though I can’t see many A-Listers jumping on board with a screenplay such as this) maybe the film would have been more successful and opened a few more doors.

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7. The Dark Half

Romero and King always seemed like two peas in a pod – socially and politically conscious blood and guts shovellers with a keen sense of dark and often zany humour. It makes sense then that they would conspire to work together, on multiple occasions. This time, Romero helms a straight adaptation of one of King’s more outlandish novels – the tale of a writer (of course) whose pen-name alter-ego seemingly comes to life with murderous intent, not happy being retired as the writer pursues a more literary career. It’s a great premise and King pulls it off in the novel while Romero gives it a decent stab for the big screen. He is ably helped by several against type performances – Timothy Hutton as both Thad Beaumont and George Stark and Michael Rooker as the heroic Alan Pangborn. Veterans such as Royal Dano and Julie Harris also show up. It’s a pleasingly dark and grimy film, though it rarely racks up any real scares or tension even as it produces some effective gore. My King mega friend from school and I used to pass this around in VHS form to each other and frequently scrawl ‘the sparrows are flying again’ on the classroom walls.

6. Land Of The Dead

In 2005 the impossible happened – Romero returned with another entry in the Dead series. Enough time had passed that the people who grew up with his movies now had a more influential voice – a voice loud enough to rightfully proclaim Romero as the legend he was. I remember the hype surrounding this when it approached release – heightened by a couple of factors; first, that zombies were suddenly cool again thanks to 28 Days Later and the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and secondly that Romero was actually making another movie. It had been five years since Bruiser – which no-one really saw, and that had come seven years after The Dark Half. He had only made two movies in fourteen years and now he was back to show the youngsters how the zombie genre should be done, this time with a big budget to play with. With all of that hype, Land Of The Dead was maybe a disappointment to some when it dropped – I saw it at release and loved it, though I admittedly knew it wasn’t as strong as the first three. Still, it was a lot of fun and had some great performances and cameos – Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and the opportunity to see Romero’s work getting the love on the big screen was enough for me. There’s enough juicy satire to gnaw on – issues of class, wealth, and power are all touched upon, and of course there is a tonne of gore and action to enjoy.

5. Martin

I’d loved Romero films (namely those below) for a while before I really understood what a director was and how to find their body of work. Once I did, Martin was one of the first movies I tracked down thinking ‘first he did zombies, I wonder what he can do with vampires’. I was a little bewildered by Martin at first, though savvy enough to still enjoy it. Martin is a strange, powerful, and thought-provoking low budget film about a young man who believes he is the reincarnated spirit of a vampire. Or maybe not even reincarnated, that he has been a vampire for many many years, beyond what his body would lead you to believe. The film opens with a bleak and downbeat scene as Martin stalks and kills a woman on a train – he has no fangs and no apparent supernatural abilities and so resorts to drugging his victims and cutting them with a razor blade. At first it looks like he is a deluded psychopath, until we meet his grand-uncle whose fears seem to give validity to the claims. The old man is forced to look after Martin after Martin’s parents die, yet he clearly believes Martin to be a vampire as he hangs garlic and crucifixes around the house – to no avail.

There’s enough there to make for an interesting, grimy horror flick in itself but Romero adds further layers – Martin is obviously sexually frustrated and lonely, finding solace through calls to a local DJ, and Martin becomes a cult favourite to the audience of this radio show. We get to see romanticized flashbacks or dreams of Martin’s past exploits as a vampire, and it is never clear what the truth is. All we know is that he is clearly dangerous, and probably deranged. The longer cut of the movie gives even more detail about Martin and his relationships. It’s a shame the film is so low-budget – John Amplas is about as recognisable a name as you’ll get here, though he’s only recognisable from his small role in Day Of The Dead. It’s a film which is now heralded as one of the most unique vampire movies and is one which deserves a wider audience.

4. Creepshow

There’s something comforting about Creepshow for horror fans. It could be that you grew up with the movie and it has a certain nostalgia, or it could be that you grew up with the EC Comics and the film is a love-letter to those. It could simply be that the film is a lot of fun and was made by two of the greatest contributors, fans, and masters of the genre that there has ever been and that their adoration for horror shines through. King and Romero teamed up to craft an anthology – maybe the strongest anthology there is – inspired by the creepy and gruesome comics and stories they grew up with. They tell the stories through the eyes of a child, fascinated with the macabre and gory, and shunned by those who don’t understand. It’s probably a position all horror fans have been in at some point – being shamed for loving what we love, being kept away from it against our will, and being punished for being different. It’s a clever ploy which helps to make Creepshow an ideal gateway movie for kids just getting into the genre.

None of that would matter if the stories themselves weren’t great. None of the stories are weak – some are clearly better than others, some are more reliant on laughs (although all have some element of humour, dark as it may be), but all have something memorable. It gets off to a strong start with a story written by King specifically for the film – Father’s Day – in which the zombie of a miserly old man comes back to take bloody revenge on the daughter who killed him and the various descendants who want his money. It features a terrific zombie crawling out of the grave scene and some nifty effects and make-up courtesy of Tom Savini (who else?). It’s the same sort of revenge story who tend to see a lot in horror anthologies, but it’s a lot of fun.

The next segment is my least favourite, as King himself stars as a backwater hick who slowly becomes infected by some alien plant organism. King’s antics are both funny and cringe-worthy and the story is an amusing filler, even if it does feature a shotgun-based suicide. Something To Tide You Over is my second favourite and maybe the one which stood out most to me when I first saw it as a kid, thanks to the twist and cynical tone. I couldn’t remember the name of the movie, but I always remembered this and the next story. It’s about a man, played by Leslie Nielsen of all people, who subjects his wife and her lover to a terrifying demise; after finding out about their infidelity, he buries them up to their necks on the beach outside his home, then watches and gloats as the tide gets every closer. This being Creepshow, the dead soon return with their own plan for revenge. Ted Danson and Dawn Of The Dead’s Gaylen Ross star as the couple – great stuff from Savini again.

The Crate is the best segment here, genuinely creepy and – again – a lot of fun. It’s about a professor who finds a long-lost crate from an Arctic expedition. Naturally, the crate houses some sort of creature which begins killing and eating anyone who comes near. Another professor sees this as the ideal solution to the problem of his drunk, abusive wife – the great Adrienne Barbeau. Finally, They’re Creeping Up On You isn’t the best story but it has a strange atmosphere and something sickly which has always freaked me out a little. I don’t care about bugs or cleanliness or any of the other paranoia which goes on in the story, but still there’s something about the story which gets to me. E.G Marshall hams it up as businessman who lives in a hermetically sealed apartment – he only contact with the outside world to shout orders to his staff and receive calls from disgruntled people saying how much he is hated. Then the cockroaches come. It’s the atmosphere – maybe it’s the fact that we don’t really know if the time is future, present, past – it could be some apocalyptic time and place, or it could be modern day. Mad Max is the only film to play a similar trick on me.

3. Day Of The Dead

For a long time this was seen as the black sheep of Romero’s Dead trilogy. In truth, it isn’t as culturally important or revolutionary as the first two, but show me a trilogy where each individual film changes the game. I’d say the original trilogy comes closest. While Day Of The Dead may not be as important, it’s still better than almost any other zombie movie and it ranks as having some of the best gore effects you’ll ever see. There’s no excuse for this to have not won an Oscar. Moreover, the claustrophobic setting and cast of characters are just as interesting as the previous two movies and if anything both are taken to extremes. As it’s Romero, there are themes upon themes, the most front and centre being the the war between military and science, war and understanding, thought and action, science and superstition. Taking that to its extreme, it’s a film about the dangers of two opposing sides unwilling to consider the position of the other, the fallout, and those caught in the middle. There just happens to be millions of zombies lurking around to pile on the pressure. Two underground factions struggling for control while the mindless masses just want the whole thing to end? No, that’s not politically or culturally relevant at all.

The sad thing is, the end product, which everyone involved in should be immensely proud of, was not Romero’s original vision. His original was meant to be an epic – the zombie film to end them all. Various earlier scripts tell a vastly different story and his original script has yet to be found. What we do have is perhaps cluttered by too many characters, but the surviving ambition and various themes and elements of the original idea are present – the Zombies potentially learning, remembering, or getting smarter, and the idea of a police/military State. Lori Cardille is great as the lead, the intro is incredibly unnerving, and Joseph Pilato is fantastic as Capt. Rhodes. As much as the story and the warring factions are interesting, it’s the setting and the effects which are the star here – sloppy innards dropping off tables, legs being choked on, and my personal favourite – the quickfire dispatch of Rickles and Torrez – screaming, laughing faces being ripped apart and heads removed. I don’t think The Walking Dead has topped that one yet.

2. Night Of The Living Dead

It’s generally agreed that modern horror cinema started with 1960’s Psycho. Night Of The Living Dead took it to the next level, returning horror to it’s fantastical roots but blending it with the realism and suburban fears which Hitchcock’s masterpiece first portrayed. No longer could was it safe to trust the person next door, your friends, or even your family – and the less said about strangers, the government, and the military the better. Taking the traditionally mystical lore of zombies out of the textbooks and into the US heartland, these creatures were no longer slaves to some ritualistic high priest – instead they were mindless feeding machines, bent on a single course; to kill and eat the living. Our indecision, our inability to focus as a whole, or to follow a leader would be our downfall. Romero instills the blackest, and bleakest of humour in reminding us, or forewarning us, that this story absolutely will not have a happy ending – this is not a story where the hero wins.

If you haven’t seen the movie, then I’m not sure how you have stumbled upon this post. In any event, the film opens with a dreary, ominous uphill drive towards a ceremony as a modern-may-as-well-be-you brother and sister bicker and pay their respects. Within moments we have ‘they’re coming to get you, Barbara’, and the sudden ghoulish attack by a well dressed man. Barbara flees to an empty house, pursued by her attacker, where she meets Ben. Ben tells us that he too was attacked and we soon learn, thanks to docu-style news footage that the dead have come back to life and appear to be attacking the living. In other words – we’re fucked.

With an all amateur cast and crew, Romero deftly crafts one of the most claustrophobic and clever horror movies of all time, allowing the cast of recognizable characters and archetypes to show us their flaws in all their tragic glory, and in doing so single-handedly creates a sub-genre which still rules world-wide media today.

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  1. Dawn Of The Dead

After Night comes Dawn. The success of Night allowed George to go make a variety of other movies in different genres and styles, but none had the same critical or commercial joy. Dawn was always supposed to be bigger – showing the wider devastation of the dead coming back. Romero wisely begins the movie by showing just how far the country has fallen since the events of Night. Even though we don’t know exactly how much time has passed, we get the impression that it isn’t very long – I think a few weeks is mentioned. Politicians, scientists, talking heads, ordinary people, the military, journalists – everyone has been focused on this one issue but still an agreed consensus cannot be reached. Mirroring the frustration and ineptitude at that global level is the unrest at a civil level. We meet a SWAT team tasked with investigating a social housing building where residents have refused to give up their dead. Of course, chaos and insanity is the order of the day, with gung-ho types, zombies, those who cannot deal with the fact that their loved ones are now monsters, and others who simply cannot deal with this new world. It’s claustrophobic, heated, exhausting, confusing, and brilliant. Two such soldiers team up – Roger and Peter and decide that it would be best to get out of the city while they still can. Luckily, Roger knows Stephen, a journalist and pilot who plans to steal a helicopter and get out with his girlfriend Francine. The four flee together.

The bulk of the movie takes place in a shopping mall, where the four survivors clear the place of the dead and enjoy the fruits of their labour – safety, food, and more shops and stuff than you could ever want. The satire on consumerism is well-documented, but the weird thing is that it still kind of makes you want to hide out in a mall if the world does go to shit. At least you’d be safe and entertained and fed for a while.The increased budget allows for a more talented cast and crew, more ideas, bigger scope – it’s an epic in every sense. Beyond the terrific, now dated, gore and make-up effects, the film still packs a punch with its scares – up front and subtle. It’s almost perfect in every way and even at well over 2 hours long it’s a film which I never want to end. I enjoy every second with these characters, I want to spend as long as possible with them, and it’s always depressing when the end comes. Romero doesn’t give us the all out bleak ending he originally devised, at least allowing for a chance that our survivors may live to fight another day. It’s one of the most influential and powerful horror movies ever made, it’s the best zombie movie of all time, and it’s one of a small number of films which has truly had a profound and lasting impact on me.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite George A Romero movies are!

Scream

*Originally written in 2004

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Wes Craven proves he’s a master of horror and innovation with Scream, over 10 years since his last smash which pulled a similar trick – A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven had been a legend for 3 decades, but with this he made possibly his best known film, reinventing a dead genre for better and worse, making horror films profitable again. More importantly it gave horror fans something to cheer about – a smart, funny, sexy, but above all scary film.

Scream’s intro has already gone down in movie history as the benchmark of a shocking and effective way to start a film. Take an established actress, and eventually butcher her to set the tone. The phone, the knife, shocks, inevitability of death, blood, helplessness, and a love of scary movies. Craven turns what we expect on its head, and we know we are in for something special.

We are introduced to Sydney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered a year ago, trying to get on with her life – coping with school, a boyfriend, the court case involving the man (Cotton) who has been charged with her mother’s murder, and intrusion from journalists. She has become strong through this ordeal, but is still vulnerable. Her boyfriend Billy wants sex, but isn’t pushy. The news of a new murder comes as a shock to the whole town though because of the town’s recent history, journalists flock in including Gail Weathers, who had previously accused Sydney of lies. In school the news spreads, and the cops question the students. Sydney’s tight group of friends try to work out who the killer was, believing everyone’s a suspect. Her friends are Tatum, feisty, strong whose boyfriend is similar yet comically manic, and Randy – movie nerd who secretly loves Sydney. When Sydney is attacked, it seems the killer is not done and may have a larger plan. The teens of the town gather together for a curfew-baiting house party all the while debating who the killer is, and who could be the next on their hit-list.

This is clearly one of the best horror movies of the decade, not just an excuse for gore, but clever on many levels, and self-referential. It is more than that, being one of the best looks at teenage life in the last few years. The characters are extremely well drawn, taking stereotypes, but changing them against our expectations, enhanced by some brilliant performances. Every cast member performs well, with special mention to Kennedy, Arquette, and Lillard for bringing the laughs. Cox is good, but Campbell is excellent, going through a myriad of emotions and proving that her character does not have to be stupid like most final girls are typically shown to be.

Craven is in control, feeding us clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensuring that by the end we are surprised. Gore is used effectively, the scares and jokes come thick and fast, but it is the story of Sydney which makes it a classic. She is strong willed, smart, and we go through every emotion with her, aided by Neve’s performance. We feel for her, and are frustrated we cannot help. The film is shot beautifully, with Woodsboro shown as an idyllic place to live, but with dark secrets. I love near-Leone style facial close-ups, and the care given to each character so that we are hurt when one is killed, but suspicious of each. The script is sharp, with many references to horror movies which fan will try to recognise.

Thematically we return to Elm Street territory; We must fight for ourselves in the world, and while our friends are the most important people in our lives, they may not be around forever and we must be able to cope with their loss. Parents are either not around, don’t care, don’t understand, or are to blame. Sydney’s mum seems to be the catalyst for the deaths, the only authority figure to gain respect is Dewey, who isn’t much older than the teens. The opening scene as Casey crawls towards her nearby parents, with the killer behind her highlights this, that the older generation will not always be able to keep us safe. The Headmaster, played by Henry Winkler hates kids, but he cannot organise or gain respect from them either.We are never certain of Gail’s intentions, another point to do with the media’s involvement in society today. Death has become trivialised, the victims just a ploy for ratings or power for those who tell the stories. Our thoughts on violence, on violent movies are challenged – Craven a veteran of criticism over use of violence. In the end it’s up to us as individuals. The film shows that places we believed to be safe -our homes, our schools, have become dangerous places today too, that we are not safe anywhere. In a group, or by yourself, we are still vulnerable. The scene in the school toilets emphasizes this point, and is another beautiful scene. However, the film teaches us that rather than being overcome by fear, by the fact that we are not always safe, we should fight.

I wanted to mention a few of my favourite scenes – Sydney on her porch, staring over the hills; Sydney and Billy in her bedroom while Gus’s cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper plays in the background. It gives a perfect glimpse of what it is like to be in love at that age, and together with Campbell’s beauty makes an odd atmosphere, especially when viewed again, having watched the other 2 films. We become intimate with Sydney, wishing we could save her from her pain.

With the combination of genres subverted, a brilliant script and score, some excellent acting, good scares and jokes, Scream paved the way for a new breed of horror films, none of which, like Halloween and Elm Street, have matched it. We should be thankful for Craven, as he has provided the world with another film which should be watched and talked about as much as those felt to be the best movies of all time. This is certainly one of the best of our time.

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

Frenzy (2018)

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Another day, another low budget shark movie. Hey, at least this one tries to be serious, at least this one doesn’t simply slap two scary or amusing things together and get the local drunk to write the script. “Hey Bruce, I have a pitch for ya – ‘SpiderShark’ – has anyone made that yet? Or wait, ‘WereShark – it only comes out when the full moon is high’ – we could probably put together a script for those in a weekend, with names like those they write themselves!” These are precisely the sorts of conversations which go on in Production meetings – I should know, I’m an idiot.

So yes, Frenzy tries to be serious, but in doing so it makes many, many of the things which happen seem all the more ridiculous. Why do the plane’s wing spontaneously drop off? Why doesn’t the dude just gently land the plane when he was gliding about 50 foot above the very calm water? Why do the sharks travel in a pack of three? Why do they attack like that? Why do they look like that? Why can’t the shark rip the dinghy to shreds in two seconds but yet easily knocks two idiots out of a large boat? Why do the two idiots suddenly abort their rescue attempt to attack the sharks? Why did the sister jump in the water when the other sister was probably safe? How the hell did the sister do that counting backwards stunt when the shark was heading straight for her and how did the shark not simply adjust itself and get her anyway? How the hell did that boulder trick work? Why didn’t the shark simply swim further under water away from the fire? Why didn’t they cut the rope from the wooden raft and paddle over to the boat? Why can’t they use a radio? Why don’t they try to climb onto the mushroom shaped island? Why didn’t they throw the ‘distraction rocks’ further than three foot from the raft? Why am I watching this?

To summarize as briefly as possible, a group of friends travel the world making vlogs about the exotic places they visit, and they’re exactly the sort of people you wouldn’t want as friends – always smiley, happy, and gawping about how amazing their lives are. But look – is there… is there something going on between the sister’s boyfriend and the other sister? Ooh, intriguing. No wait, that’s not what I meant – I meant oooh, we haven’t seen that device before, and oooh it’s completely irrelevant anyway and goes absolute nowhere. They are travelling to an off the beaten track excuse for an island – more like a tumor slumped in the middle of the ocean. You can guess what happens next.

The main character is played by Aubrey Reynolds, who looks like someone I can’t quite place. It’s annoying. She does as well as she possibly can. Her, and everyone else in the cast I don’t recognise from anything else and based on the performances here I don’t think that will change in the future. In fairness, they aren’t given a lot to work with. It’s weird how so many films get the ‘I’m trapped in water and surrounded by sharks’ idea so wrong. I can’t be that hard to do it, right? Still, it’s a movie to half-watch with friends, only paying attention when something stupid happens or when the sharks arrive. In the pantheon of shark movies, it’s not the worst but it languishes with all the hundreds of others in the murky depths of mediocrity.

Let me know what you think of Frenzy in the comments!

Bait

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

Bait has the following synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack Of The Adult Babies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cam

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

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

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

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

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

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