Resident Evil

*Originally written in 2004

What had the potential to be one of the greatest zombie movies ever is let down by poor studio choices – mainly distancing itself as far from the games as possible. However, it remains a solid action movie if not the terrifying, emotional, complex horror it could have been. Admittedly, truly bringing the game to life for a two hour movie would be an extremely difficult process, and those making it could easily have made a mess, mangling the characters and story. It has always been my opinion that the games should be made into feature length TV movies or a high budget series. This way everything would fit in, and the budget would not need to be great. Of course this is just a pipe dream, and what we have is not as bad as some make out, with many good points.

The film starts with an outbreak at the Umbrella facility. Chaos ensues, and everyone appears to die. We then meet Alice, a woman inside an eerily empty mansion at night. She does not know who she is, and only has flashbacks of her life. Soon a group of marines enter, assuming she is a civilian, and along with the other survivors they try to work out what happened to the facility. They quickly find out that everyone has been turned into zombies by an evil computer program and worry about how to escape. Alice is not what she first appears to be, and neither are some other survivors.

The main problem with the film is that there is little fear created, and it is insanely watered down, with little gore. Fans of the series are used to high tension, jumps, threat and bloodshed, but this is simply not present here. Most of the marines are wiped out in a room which shoots high powered, cutting lasers, while only one is killed by a zombie. The Licker effects are okay, but there are no Hunters, Spiders or Tyrants. As well as this, most of the marines get small roles, look similar, and we fail to feel anything for them. Now the good points; Jovovich is very good in the role and there are a few decent twists, like the game. The way her mysterious past is revealed is clever and well-balanced alongside the escape plot. The star though is Michelle Rodriguez, giving an excellent, physical performance akin to Vasquez in Aliens. The action scenes are dealt with well, especially those involving the dogs, sets and lighting feel authentic for the series and the direction is solid. The film makes a good attempt at creating an original story, and it is left open for a sequel. Of course, us fans would have loved to see Wesker’s antics and our favourite STARS members being picked off. Maybe one day the games will make truly great movies, but why complain when we still have the games. Obviously a let down for fans, but still a pretty good action film.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Resident Evil!

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The Visit

Okay, okay, Mr. Shyamalan – I enjoyed The Visit. Even the corny humour and the pre-requisite twist worked for me and while there is absolutely nothing ground-breaking or new here, it’s a perfectly entertaining horror movie that I still struggle to find a target audience for – is it form regular horror fans? Is it for kids? Does it matter? I have no idea.

Shyamalan jumps on the found footage band-wagon with The Visit – the conceit being that our two lead characters want to document meeting their grandparents for the first time. This is the 21st Century, and our two leads are tweens, so this is perfectly believable. Less believable is the fact that they are sent off on their own, across country, to meet their grandparents without having the faintest idea what they look like or without their mum dropping them off. The film wouldn’t work if those things happened of course, but it’s a silly setup nevertheless. The grandparents seem lovely, even if the generational gap means things are awkward, but they all seem to get on. There are house rules, such as going to bed early and not leaving your room after 9.30, and not going in the basement, but we accept those because old people are weird. Time passes, things get weirder, and twisty twist time comes.

The twist becomes more apparent as the movie progresses – it’s Shyamalan so you know shenanigans are afoot. Mercifully, the twist isn’t left to the final moments but revealed fairly early, setting up an interesting finale. There are some inspired moments which allow the faintest dread to creep in – playing under the house is jumpscare bait, but fun, and the cleaning the over sequences recall our childhood Hansel and Gretal fears. I won’t go so far as saying there’s supposed to be any deeper level of generational paranoia going on here – the fear of aging, of the mentally ill, or of dying for example – the set up seems too silly to allow such thoughts. You will be left with questions – spoiler alert – why is this couple living at the house after all this time and why do they consent to the kids coming? You can’t throw around ‘they’re crazy’ as an answer for everything.

The film works because the four leads are all believable and watchable. Even the son (Ed Oxenbould), with his annoying raps somehow comes off as funny to me when there’s no good reason he should. Olivia DeJonge gives a nice twist on the final girl trope, while both Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are effective pre and post twist. How the kids aren’t destroyed mentally after this is a wonder – maybe they’ll crop up again as Shyamalan experiments with his own Extended Universe. So yes, I enjoyed it in spite of myself – it’s silly but feels like a good popcorn flick – light scares, some laughs, and a twist which most likely won’t catch anyone off guard, and a return to commercial success for someone once hailed as the next big thing.

Train To Busan

By now if you haven’t seen Train To Busan you’ve probably at least heard of it – breaking box office records and hearts at a furious pace. If indeed you haven’t seen it, you need to set aside a couple of hours, right now, and watch it – Train To Busan is the horror movie of the year and shows that there is still plenty of life left in the shambling undead genre providing you have the right people behind and in front of the camera.

Train To Busan gets right what many horror films get wrong – character. Too often character is sacrificed for plot, or worse, for kills. I love a good beheading or stabbing as much as the next horror fan, but sometimes we want more – more substance, more feeling and care. Cannon Fodder is all well and good, but the impact when someone we actually like, or actively dislike bites the dust is more powerful and the memory of their death and the associated emotional weight stays with us longer. There’s an old belief/saying/remark that I generally accept as containing a lot of truth – that the best horror films are often made by people who don’t make horror movies. While that’s not true across the board, it does sometimes take a person outside of the genre to bring something truly unique or horrifying to the butcher’s table. While Yeon Sang Ho was no stranger to dark material, it would be difficult to classify his previous work as strictly horror – his debut animated feature The King Of Pigs an unsettling look at violence, class, bullying, masculinity, and the follow up The Fake is an equally divisive, unflinching depiction of religion and abuse of power. Train To Busan was the director’s first Live Action movie, and although he filmed it alongside the animated prequel Seoul Station, it depicts a level of character building and command of genre usually reserved for the greatest directors.

At just under 2 hours, Train To Busan covers a lot of ground and gets off the ground within moments – we meet the ‘bit of a dick’ protagonist – a divorcee who apparently cares more for his job than his young daughter. As her Birthday present, she wants to visit her mother in Busan and her dad reluctantly agrees to take her. As they get on the train we pass by several other characters – a working class tough guy with his pregnant wife, a superior wealthy business men, estranged elderly sisters, and a school baseball team with their own interconnected dramas. Just as the train is setting off, a young, sick, injured woman collapses into one of the carriages and the fun begins as she decides to take a chomp out of one of the train workers. The way the ‘virus’ spreads here is more akin to 28 Days Later where a serious bite will result in death and ‘turning’ in a matter of seconds. Within minutes the train is in chaos, with factions being formed, people being slaughtered, some hiding, some fighting, some locking others away to their doom, all while the train scurries along to its final destination.

The pace with which the virus spreads is matched by the plot pacing and direction. There is rarely a moment to breath or relax without some new twist or threat emerging. The characters from different backgrounds all react to the carnage differently, yet all want to survive. The arguments here are of course reminiscent of NOTLD and Day Of The Dead with each voice and ego demanding to be heard and refusing to accept any other opinion as valid. There are a number of terrific set pieces, from scrolling beat-em up fight scenes through zombie filled carriages, to white knuckle tension filled moments as one group tries to lock out another, to the seeming safety of arriving at another station only to find it completely overrun too. Indeed, most of the excitement and scares of the film come from the pacing and the character driven plot, rather than jump-scares or gore.

While the film has its bloody moments, it isn’t overly gory or off-putting for newcomers. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the action and invention, while new fans will likely be sucked in by the story which is frequently heartbreaking. The performances from top to bottom are great, something vital when you are relying so heavily on character, and most of the writing is on point too. You’ll have fun guessing who, if anyone, will make it to Busan, and the energetic nature of the film will have you thirsting for a rewatch. This is a highly entertaining, game-changing zombie film which reinvigorates a genre bloated by the procession of Walking Dead episodes and clones and frequently equals the heights that the best of the genre has to offer while encouraging those unfamiliar with these types of movies to get on board.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Train To Busan!

Don’t Blink

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There is a lot of (valid) huffing and puffing in the horror community bemoaning the lack of originality in the genre. Mainstream horror, and mainstream movies in general simply don’t take the risks of old ending up in a greatly reduced gene pool and endless remakes and clones. On the flip side, indie film-makers and lower budget movies tend to feature more creativity, more refreshing ideas, while sacrificing box-office stars and eye-watering effects. Somewhere in the middle there is a line, where a middling budget and recognizable faces collide with ideas which intrigue and where writers and directors want to tell an interesting story without pressure to top the charts. Don’t Blink falls within this category and centres on an idea which had me hooked the moment I heard about it.

Remember that Halloween episode of The Simpsons where all the advertisements come to life and rampage through Springfield until the gang comes up with an ironic jingle called ‘Just Don’t Look’ to dispel the troublesome giants? It’s something I’ve always used in arguments against celeb culture, reality TV and beyond – if you don’t want something to exist, simply don’t pay attention to it and it will go away if enough other people do the same. It’s naïve, but it does work. What has this to do with Don’t Blink? The film’s premise is simple – a group of friends head out to a cabin hotel in the woods countryside only to find the place empty. There are no signs of any struggle but plenty of hints that something has gone badly wrong. Without warning they begin to disappear too. It shouldn’t be a spoiler to say this, but essentially what is happening is that if nobody is looking at you, you vanish. You cease to exist. Poof! Gone in an instant. The moment I read about this – the fact that there’s a movie about people basically dying if they are not seen – and my imagination went into overdrive, thinking up a hundred cool scenarios.

While the movie plays loosely with slasher tropes, it follows more in the footsteps of Final Destination, though without the gore or kills . What it does have is intrigue, suspense, and uncertainty. There are a few known names in the cast – Mena Suvari, Brian Austin Green, Zack Ward, but it was Joanne Kelly I was most excited to see after being sold on the idea, having been a fan of her from Warehouse 13. The rest of the cast are an assortment of interesting characters and performers and the film does spend time allowing us to learn about the various inter-relationships and insecurities of the individuals. As the film progresses and the numbers dwindle, these fears are heightened and you’ll be second guessing motives and survivors. Paranoia births slowly, comments and side-remarks are traded, sides are formed and arguments become violent. If you enjoy movies which make you question how you would act, then you’ll have a ball with this.

‘Hitchcockian’ has become an over-used term, but the film definitely plays out like an old school mystery and thriller with the viewer struggling for sense and reason alongside the characters. The director toys with us, dropping several red herrings. The camera tantalizes at several moments, spinning slowly around the characters and begging us to watch carefully to see if someone has disappeared or merely stepped out of shot for a moment. As much fun as the cast and director are clearly having, some viewers may be frustrated at how open-ended the film is. As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, this isn’t something I generally have an issue with – I’m happy to form my own opinions and conclusions based on what we are shown – but fair warning to viewers who like a tidy ending with all questions answered. It’s a film which reveals more with re-watching and it has quickly become a personal favourite. Horror fans striving for originality should open their eyes to this little gem.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Don’t Blink!

The Devil’s Rain

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In the 1970s, there was a cultural rekindling of interest in Satanism, and in devil worship. Thanks to hits such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, along with the rise in popularity of Anton LeVey, many musicians, storytellers, and filmmakers began to capitalize or express enthusiasm for the topic. The Devil’s Rain feels like an attempt to cash in on all of this and to generate an American version of a Hammer style horror film, without the regal quality.

We are thrown into the middle of things with little clue of what the hell is going on. This is less In Media Res, more In Media Mess. There is an alarming amount of exposition in the opening exchanges, yet it’s useless as none of it makes sense and the people don’t talk like any actual person would, with plenty of ‘in the name of Satan’ and ‘old mine shaft’ talk. The creepy intro sets a suitable tone though, with ‘evil’ music and droning voices being quite effective. On the plus side, the opening scene does feature some guy’s face being melted away, but rather than focus on this we also get a voodoo doll, a mysterious book, some prophetic rambling about ‘this is how it always starts’, and a magic protective amulet. The movie sets these things up as if they are and will be significant – they’re not… much.

The film features Ernest Borgnine, the least likely evil doer in history, as some sort of immortal satanic warlock priest. For generations he has been trying to acquire a mystical book which will give him… even greater powers? A local family apparently keeps this book, all until William Shatner decides to foolishly challenge Borgnine and is promptly defeated and converted. Enter Tom Skerritt, an outsider of the family, appears out of nowhere and attempts to save the day. It’s all very weird, the editing is jarring, little makes sense, the atmosphere and tone shifts wildly and dubiously – we get a hilarious scene featuring Shatner running away from hooded goons one moment, Tom Skerrit teaching a dull science class the next, but it’s not without some scares and tension which may affect a younger or more susceptible viewer. Naturally, there’s a twist ending too.

For such an old film, it’s interesting that so many well known faces turn up – Ida Lupino, Eddie Albert, and even Anton LeVey himself turn up and some point. John Travolta makes a cameo, but you probably won’t notice him as he isn’t dancing – if he was it wouldn’t be any less bizarre than what does transpire. The performances aren’t bad… they’re just there – Borgnine actually is a charming, eye-sparkling villain, Skerritt is stoic, Shatner isn’t full Shatner yet. With all this criticism you’d be asking yourself why to watch – it’s a cult film, and it’s a little camp, and it’s interesting that it even exists. If you’re a fan of cult movies, of the curio, of horror in general, it’s worth seeing once to say you’ve seen it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Devil’s Rain and if you feel it’s more enjoyable than what I have said!

Suicide Club

After I first got into J-Horror, and Asian Cinema in general, I began to compile lists of all the must see movies. Buying those lovely Tartan Asia Extreme DVDs by the basket load helped, as each came with a bunch of trailers for related films or ‘titles coming soon’. Suicide Club grabbed my eye fairly early on – how could it not, what with its amusingly macabre premise, trailer and synopsis? Who wouldn’t want to watch a film which opens with a bunch of school-girls throwing themselves under the wheels of a train? Idiots, that’s who!

The film uses shock value to get punters into seats and to appease the sort of weirdos like me who would choose to watch something like this, but shock value is not at the centre of the story. There’s a lot more to Suicide Club, but it struggles to fit in any niche. While the film does begin with some out of place music playing over the scenes of the train approaching, the girls holding hands, and the girls jumping, the hilarious blood effects are over the top enough to make you assume it’s some ridiculous comedy. Then it becomes a detective mystery. Then it becomes a horror. Then it becomes a satire before finally going completely off the rails (pardon the pun). It’s a film which I can only imagine doesn’t know what it wants to be, and none of the things it tries to be are pulled off very well. There is little weight put onto the subject of suicide, the satire directed at the subject of cults isn’t particularly pointed, and the mystery is so convoluted as to never be adequately understood. If anything it’s the early moments which work best – before you really know anything and your imagination is left to fill in the blanks. These take place in some sort of hospital where the tension is racked admirably high thanks to an open window, a couple of nurses, and a night watchman. It was in these moments that the slow pace and bizarre twists conspired to make me believe that a long-haired ghost was going to pop out.

Unfortunately these scenes soon give way as we meet the cops tasked with working out what the hell is going on and why all these people are killing themselves. What’s tying the victims together? Are they even victims in the first place? Who’s the creepy kid who keeps phoning the cops and offering philosophical vagueries? What’s with the sports bag left at the scenes of death? Is the pop group significant? Who is going to be next? You’ll be asking yourself these questions as much as the characters are – Sion Sono seems to finding his feet as a director as much as anything – playing with expectation but in the end abandoning a coherent story with involving characters for a spattering of themes and violence which only loosely ties together. The film will certainly stay with you, and may be more rewarding with a second viewing, but the director has since gone on to make vastly more essential films.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Suicide Club!

Night Of The Living Dead

*Originally written in 2004

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The beginning of the modern horror film, and along with Psycho, the most influential horror movie ever. Drawing on many of the early monster movies of the 1930s, with a seemingly unstoppable beast tracking down prey, it enhanced the atmosphere of those films for the new wave audience. Aside from that, NNOTLD is a breed apart from anything else released at the time. Tonnes of gore, shocks the cinema goer had never experienced, unexpected twists and turns, downbeat, scary, with unusual protagonists and new ways of story telling, the world didn’t know what had hit it.

It was the late sixties. The Vietnam War was proving that North America was not all-powerful, and asking questions about who were the good guys, about motivation, about the human race as a whole. Anti-war protesters were being beaten and gassed for what they believed, while America was attempting to destroy another place…for what they believed. Hippies were spreading a message of love, new ideas were flourishing in all areas, from making peace to making war, and technology was becoming more important and influential. The result was that the good guys were often over-looked, good deeds were mostly forgotten, and many lives were thrown away aimlessly and without purpose. Those who survived wondered why, and had no clue why they were still here. It seemed like outside, bigger forces were at play, and that unseen beings were controlling the public. NOTLD was released.

A brother and sister are travelling to their parents’ graves in the countryside, a trip that has become an annoyance rather than a mark of respect. Johnny taunts his sister Barbara like he used to as a kid, scaring her, saying the infamous line ‘they’re coming to get you, Barbara’. A man walks towards them and attacks without warning. Johnny is killed and Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse,entering a near comatose state. Another man arrives, Ben, and begins to board up the doors and windows, telling Barbara that he too was attacked by a number of people, and witnessed a town coming under siege. The attackers seem to have no regard for their own safety, and feel no pain. Soon people who had been hiding in the basement appear, and together the group try to figure out what to do. The TV says the attackers can be killed by a heavy blow to the head, and seem to be scared of fire. It seems that, inexplicably, the dead are coming back to life and eating the flesh of the living, who in turn become zombies. The group argue over the best solution, tensions arise, and all the while, the number of zombies outside grows, waiting.

The film has great depth and terrific acting from amateurs. No-one is safe from harm here, and it seems that the group’s downfall is because they are human and cannot work as a group – personal interest and opinion always interferes. The zombies do not argue, they will happily wait for their chance and strike with stunning force, as a unit. If you take down one, there are 10 more closing in. The group could have escaped earlier, by running past the few zombies, but it seems the house will become their coffin. If they had not fought among themselves they may have had a chance but even then, where would they have gone?

Ben as the main character is seen as revolutionary because he was an African American, but this was not in the script -he just happened to be best for the part. Romero has since become a champion of the disenfranchised – women, children, other races. Duane Jones’s performance is strong. Judith o’ Dea as Barbara does not have much to do, but is good, and the other stand out is Karl Hardman as Cooper. Cooper has a wife and injured daughter and feels Ben is endangering them with his schemes. Tom and Judy are a local farm couple, innocents who try to think clearly and are punished for it. Indeed it seems that when a good plan comes around, it is stopped in its tracks with devastating results. Though human error is the major mistake in a darkly ironic twist.

Although it was filmed in BW, the gore is there. People are eaten and burned, flesh is chewed on the full screen, bullets are driven through chests. The shocks are genuinely shocking, and the film’s atmosphere is claustrophobic and we sense the dwindling of hope. The overall tone of the film is stark, and it seems the future only holds violence – the news reel footage echoing what American housewives and kids were starting to be exposed to on the news. The film struggled to find distributors, and was shown in matinées to unsuspecting youngsters – we can only imagine their reactions. Truly a horror classic, and one of the most nightmarish films ever made, with a view of the world as a terrible place filled with pain and stupidity. We cannot overcome creatures which cannot think. Death is shown as a creeping inevitability, and the good guys almost always lose.

Hmm, for one of my old half-assed reviews, that was actually pretty good, and reminds me again how prescient the film is in today’s world. Almost fifty years since its release and we still haven’t learned. Let us know in the comments what you think of Night Of The Living Dead!