11/22/63

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There was a period in the 80s and 90s when it seemed like everything Stephen King had ever written was being adapted for the big or small screen. Then we had a lull for around a decade or so as both his written and adapted material slowed a little. In recent years we have seen a resurgence – a thirst for more King material to watch, leading to remakes and new adaptations to the extent that it seems like rarely a month passes without a new release or announcement. 11/22/63 the novel is one of King’s most heralded recent works, a highly personal, highly relevant tale given the current political climate in the USA. It has all those good old King staples – a writer with romantic tendencies, childhood or nostalgia for the past, and just a hint of the supernatural. It’s a long and engaging read, detailing a few years in the life of a man who discovers a portal which can transport him back to the late 1950s. No matter how much time he spends there, only two minutes pass in the present. If he does something in the past it can change the future, but if he subsequently returns to the past all his changes get wiped – any time he goes through the portal, he always returns to the same point and place in time. With some narrative and character changes, the TV mini-series adaptation takes the same central idea and runs with it, creating an interesting, authentic, tense and sometimes tragic tale of one man’s decision to change the course of history.

James Franco stars as Jake Epping (a role he plays relatively straight), a teacher and writer who is recently divorced and drifting through life. When he visits his friend Al, he is shocked to see that Al suddenly looks incredibly sick. Al tells him that he has cancer and will be dead soon and tells Jake about the time-travelling portal in his cafe. This first episode is largely spent explaining how the portal works and in convincing Jake to travel back with a single goal – to prevent JFK from being assassinated – the belief being that the world would be a better place today had he survived. Al has failed in his attempts due to the onset of his cancer and his doubts over who killed JFK – Oswald, the FBI etc etc. On top of that, the past doesn’t want to be changed leading to certain supernatural or deadly events as time seeks to correct itself. By the time the second episode rolls around, Jake has taken on the mission in full spirit, though he has five years to kill before the day of the assassination comes around. During this time Jake must fit in – get a job, research everything he can about the people surrounding the assassination, and work out how to stop it.

There’s a definite nostalgic feeling in these episodes set in the past. I wasn’t around in the 50s or 60s, and I’m not American, and yet the wistful, seemingly carefree nature of those times shines though, albeit with a dark underbelly. The pacing, for such a sprawling tale, is just right and the changes made to the plot are fine (one of the biggest changes being the introduction of Bill Turncotte) – I certainly had no issues with them. If you haven’t read the book and have no interest in doing so, this won’t impact you although I would encourage everyone to read it as it is one of King’s best in recent years. Oswald is shown in a, I don’t want to say sympathetic light, but in a human light at least – a flawed man driven to make his own bad decisions – his wife Marina caught in the middle. The romantic side-plot of Jake and Sadie is rather sweet, but then I’ve always enjoyed these sort of relationships – as seen in other efforts like Back To The Future, Goodnight Sweetheart and a myriad of others. The cast are all in top form, credit going to Franco, George Mackay, Sarah Gadon, and Lucy Fry, and the various directors and writers all craft a relatable tale which begs that always prodding question – what would you do? With a running time over 6 hours it takes a certain commitment to watch, but if you like the premise or indeed the history or the surrounding conspiracies, then this will likely pull you in during the first episode and keep you locked in the past until the credits roll.

Let us know what you think of 11/22/63 in the comments!

The Divide

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Michael Biehn is a national treasure. Scratch that; he’s whatever the planetary equivalent is. Universal Treasure? Milky Way Treasure? Whether it be his most well known hits such as The Terminator or Aliens to cult movies like Cherry Falls, or even his own directorial work in The Victim he’s always a fully committed bad-ass. In short, I’ll watch anything he’s attached to, even something which was as critically slaughtered as this. Normally I would go in cautious, but a brief look at the rest of the cast – Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B Vance raises hopes. The fact that it was directed by Xavier Gens, whose Frontiers is one of the best horror movies since 2000 cements it for me. The cherry on top is the premise – a group of New Yorkers are trapped in a basement after a catastrophic event. That sort of fixed location story is always intriguing to me, and a good director and writer can wring gut-loads of tension from a small budget. Is it as bad as everyone has claimed?

The film gets straight to the point – there is no build up or warning and within the opening seconds some sort of explosion rocks an apartment building in New York – as people run for cover, a small group decides to escape to the basement. The building superintendent Micky (Biehn) lives there and isn’t pleased that others have crashed his survivalist dream. We meet a girl called Eva and her boyfriend Sam, brothers Josh and Adrian and their friend Bobby, a young girl and her mother Marilyn, and another dude. Micky tries to enforce his will on the group and the various parties butt heads and discuss what happened. Just as it looked like this would be the continuing sequence for the rest of the movie, a group of dudes in Hazmat suits burst in with guns and kidnap the little girl before running out, but not before the group fights back and takes out a few of the intruders. Understanding that the air outside is infected they formulate a plan to get the girl back.

At this point in the movie I hoped the narrative would continue in this twisting manner but we quickly revert back to the group’s infighting and attempts to survive. It doesn’t take long for secrets to be uncovered, sides to form, and minds to slip towards insanity, all while the lethal air outside threatens to seep in. Rather than the descent into violence and madness feeling natural, it comes across as both abrupt and hardly surprising because several of the characters are dicks to begin with. The performances are fine across the board and quite a few of the cast go above and beyond, fully committing to the growing madness. The story and the colour palette grow continually grim and there is sporadic physical and sexual violence, though few surprises. Throughout, it seems unlikely that there is going to be a happy ending.

Horror fans looking for thrills and shocks won’t find what they’re looking for here, but they will find a fairly dark vision of people in an impossible position. Biehn, and most of the cast play generally unlikable people who progressively get worse, but their performances are strong enough to cover the issues which are inherent in watching characters we don’t like. Gens wallows in the filth and misery and doesn’t explore some of the film’s early surprises or obvious questions. Due to all of this, it’s likely that the film will only find fans if they enjoy the premise or the stars, but it’s worth a watch for those of us interested in humanity’s collapse.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Divide!

It Comes At Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTT – Top Ten Stephen King Movies

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

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

Apt Pupil

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

Creepshow

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

It

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

Misery

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

Pet Sematary

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

Stand By Me

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

The Mist

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

The Running Man

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

The Shawshank Redemption

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

The Shining

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

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

 

Creepshow 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trilogy Of Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zombie Creeping Flesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Quiet Place

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

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

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

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

TTT – Top Ten Walter Hill Movies!


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Walter Hill of ‘(Re)Assignment’ poses for a portrait at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival Getty Images Portrait Studio at the Intercontinental Hotel on September 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.

Greetings, Glancers! This one was suggested a long time ago by fellow movie blogger and connoisseur John over at Cinematic Coffee. Check out his site for detailed reviews, discussions, and myriad director lists. John is a Walter Hill fan, as we all should be given his output and influence, and he wanted to hear my favourite Hill films.

Starting out as a writer, Hill’s early directorial voice is clear from the films he scripted or helped on – gritty, masculine, hard-hitting, and one of the fore-running of the buddy-cop/mismatched partnership/clashing of backgrounds which would come to define his best work. The Getaway, The Drowning Pool and others would set him on the path to becoming a director, though he would consistently remain a creative writing and producing force through his career. In 1975, he opened his Director’s Chair account and since then he has directed twenty six movies and TV Shows.

For me, Hill’s best work was from the tail end of the 1970s to the late 80s, a period when he enjoyed commercial and critical success. Since then, both have largely avoided him but his impact on both action and thriller genres should not be underestimated and his films are always challenging on multiples levels and a great tool for upcoming creators to learn from.

10. Trespass

It was either going to be this or Streets Of Fire. While I like Streets Of Fire for its ambition, it doesn’t always work and to me comes off as just another curio of 80s macho action. Curio is a good word to describe much of Hill’s work – he never exactly goes against the grain but takes what is popular at the time and adds a unique, left wing twist on things. Trespass is a post Reservoir Dogs, pre Pulp Fiction crime movie with a script from over a decade earlier but which feels like it was released two years too early. Bill Paxton and William Sadler play firemen who meet an unusual old man moments before he dies who leads them on a quest for stolen riches. They end up becoming embroiled in a gang war involving Ice Cube AND Ice T and a fight over the gold. It’s basically a Pirate movie set in modern day Illinois. It’s a film of its time but one which deserves to find an audience now – it was released around the time of the LA riots and due to some of the subject matter the studios didn’t give it the attention it warranted

9. The Long Riders

A Western which meets the curio quota – first, not many Westerns were being made in the 80s, and second it makes great use of Hollywood’s history of nepotism by casting some of the most famous Hollywood families as its stars. We have three Carradines, two Keaches, two Quaids, and two Guests – it’s a cool idea and not one many directors have tried over the years. The film takes its inspiration from the antics of Jessie James and the groups he ran with and against, and the men tasked with bringing them down. It’s more violent than many of the Westerns which came in the middle of the 70s and doesn’t paint the favourite American heroes in a heroic light. Like Hill’s best work though, it shows ‘hard times’ with a deft hand and engaging photography.

8. Extreme Prejudice

After some interludes into musicals and comedies, Hill returned to what he did best – tough guys dealing with no-win situations. The great cast includes Hill favourites Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe, along with Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, and Maria Conchita Alonso. Nolte is a stoic border town Sheriff going up against his ex best friend Boothe who turned to the dark side and became a drug runner. There’s this personal war between two old pals who took opposing paths despite coming from the same place, and there’s the B plot which eventually merges with the main story about a covert group of soldiers – cold and ruthless killers who are sent in to do the dirty jobs no-one else is capable of. With a story from John Milius you can expect more violence, great one-liners, and as the title suggests, politics and viewpoints and resolutions from the more extreme right of centre.

7. Southern Comfort

Scaling down some of the larger ideas and set pieces of his previous work, Southern Comfort is nevertheless an ambitious and deep project. Again dealing with opposing forces of men, opposing individuals, and people from different backgrounds forced into working together to defeat a common foe, it draws inevitable comparisons with Deliverance thanks to its setting and survivalist tone. It follows a group of Natural Guard guys out on some routine training in Louisiana. The group is a mixture of yahoos, yokels, and incompetent wannabee soldiers. Powers Boothe stars as the newbie to the group, transferred in from Texas and pissed off by how uncivilized and unskilled the group is. Carradine is the easy-going Private who tries to defend his group as men just having a good time. Inevitably getting lost, they encounter a group of Cajun locals deep in the bayou and one of the group stupidly begins firing at them with his blank rounds. Naturally the locals fight back – except they are trained and skilled hunters and fighters with deep knowledge of the terrain. It’s like Rambo in reverse. It’s a film I loved more in my youth because I remembered it having more action than it actually has. Now seen through older eyes, it feels more like a film about a bunch of idiots encroaching on territory which doens’t belong to them, and having to face the consequences. It’s well acted by the main players but not enough of the surrounding cast have long enough to have their characters fleshed out – a smaller group with more time dedicated to their flaws would have resulted in a more devastating film, but it’s still one which grips and entertains.

6. Geronimo

Like any number of Walter Hill movies, Geronimo never received the audience or credit it deserves. Hill gets to make the full blown Western he always wanted to and with a superb lead performance from Wes Studi it’s another Hill film which should be revisited. American audiences aren’t known for watching films where the lead is not a white guy they can relate to, yet the story of Geronimo is both fascinating and prescient. It follows the real life story of the Apache Indian forced to live on a US Reservation and deal with the associated humiliation. Refusing to cope with his forefather’s land being stolen and living according to the whim of the white man, Geronimo leads a splinter group who start to cause trouble for the Government and the military. Enter Jason Patrick who is tasked with capturing Geronimo and bringing his revolt to an end. Over the course of the film the two men are shown to be fighting for their beliefs and coming to respect each other. Still, as it’s Hill there’s a fair amount of action and violence in there. Aside from the main two performers, Gene Hackman, Matt Damon, and Robert Duvall all show up. It’s a film which always seemed to be on during my Summer Holidays at the Caravan/Camping park we went to every year, meaning that the next day me and my mates would be charging about the beaches and forests pretending to scalp people. PRETENDING.

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5. Another 48 Hours

An unfortunate side effect of always making whatever you want to or hitting those curios or niche markets is that you rarely have a hit. A sequel to one of his biggest hits seemed like a sure-fire win for Hill, and bringing together Nolte and Murphy once more basically guaranteed the film would print money. The buddy formula was reaching its end but the chemistry between the two leads and Hill’s comfort dealing with the action and humour meant that the film is more of the same – it’s not as good as the first one but it will still make you laugh and it has plenty of bullet holes as Reggie and Jack reluctantly team up once again.

4. Brewster’s Millions

The story had already been filmed numerous times before Hill decided to do his version, and what better backdrop to make the film than in the bloodthirsty, Republican led, every man for himself era of 1980s New York? I don’t know what it is about Richard Pryor’s 80s movies, but to me they’re all hilarious – just watered down enough to be palatable to families, but just madcap enough that we got to see what a true talent he was. If you’re not familiar with the story, it concerns an everyday Joe being informed that an old relative has died leaving him $300 million, as long as he can complete several tasks. First, he must decide to either walk away with $3 million – no questions asked, or if he can spend $30 million in 30 days he will get the full $300 million. Of course he goes for the second option, and of course there are caveats which the comedy spins off from – he can’t simply give it all to charity, he cannot tell anyone what he’s doing etc. Pryor is the ideal person to play Brewster – those expressive eyes conveying desperation, exasperation, and hilarity better than anyone. Add in John Candy as his best mate and a bunch of hangers on, money man, and legal types, and we have a fast moving, family comedy the likes of which you rarely see anymore. It’s a very unusual film for Hill to helm, but he handles it perfectly.

3. The Warriors

My top three picks are mostly interchangeable. The Warriors is one of those movies that everybody seems to love, but nobody seems to talk about outside of cult movie circles. I don’t think I’ve ever shown it to anyone who didn’t love it. I love the premise of trying to get across a city while besieged by all sides, and I love that it uses gang warfare rather than say zombies or some other supernatural event. A student of Ancient Greek and Roman literature and mythology, I also love that it’s loosely based around Anabasis – which tells of an army’s voyage home through enemy territory. At a push, it goes back to The Odyssey as a voyage home, my favourite of any sub-sub-genre. The film follows the titular Warriors – one of nine gangs in NYC who have come together to agree upon a truce which would allow the gangs to essentially rule the city. The dude with the plan is murdered, the blame is placed upon The Warriors, and a hit is put on their heads meaning every gang in the city is after them.

It’s a simple idea but Hill is in total command of the material – stylish, violent, and with a potent and convincing cast it paints NYC as a cold and unforgiving arena where territorial skirmishes are an hourly occurrence and you’re not safe unless you’re with your own kind on your own turf. Beck, Remar, and Kelly are each great and it’s maybe Hill’s most visually impressive film.

2. 48 Hours.

If there’s one thing these top three/four films have in common for me it’s that they are so rewatchable. They’re junk with substance – delicious yet rewarding. 48 Hours is probably the most universally rewatchable thanks to the smart and funny script led by Eddie Murphy at his best and Nick Nolte as the robust, perpetually pissed off foil. Barely a minute passes without something funny being said or seen, and if all else fails there’s plenty of violent 80s action to fall back on. For my money it’s the best buddy cop movie ever made, and it rarely puts a foot wrong.

  1. The Driver.

For the longest time I would rave to anyone and everyone about how good The Driver was. Then that movie with Ryan Gosling came about, and then Baby Driver, and a few more people suddenly claimed they loved this one too. The Driver contains some of the best car chases you’ll ever see and a bare bones hard boiled plot which exists just to remind us how cool Ryan O’Neal could be and how Bruce Dern could go full Nicholson before Nicholson ever did. The film was ripped to shreds upon release, but I loved it the first time I saw it. The main characters are unnamed, a deliberate choice and throwback to noir ideals, and the story is lean, leaving only sporadic dialogue, threats, and chases. For any fans of Drive and Baby Driver, or car-centric action movies in general, go back to the source – this is the source.

Let us know in the comments what you think of my picks and share your favourite Walter Hill Movies!

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!