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Another low budget and unique slice of genius from the new Master of Horror, 27 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's a little known fact that Dustin Mills, the director of The Hornet's Sting, doesn't sleep. In fact, I'm guessing he doesn't eat or have comfort breaks, either. In the space of less than a year, Mills has released four low budget genre movies. I've yet to see the third movie, Snuffet, but this latest offering is another incredibly accomplished piece of guerrilla filmmaking.

Actually, the term "guerrilla filmmaking" is a disservice to Mr. Mills. Time and time again, he somehow, almost impossibly, rises above the expectations the viewer has for a zero budget film and delivers a powerhouse of a chiller that blows away 95% or more of fare from his peers.

Mills has an eye for talent, his ever moving camera capturing great performances from the small cast. There's no doubt that Mills creates fantastic roles for the female actor. Like in the earlier horror tale, Her Name Was Torment, the main protagonist is a woman. Here, Minnie Grey (who played a nun in Easter Casket) delivers an unnerving performance as the psychopathic photographer, Rose. Horror regular Joni Durian plays Rose's latest victim, Freya.

I've seen so many blink-and-it's-over productions that when the titles for The Hornet's Sting appeared on the screen, I actually thought (for a moment) that the film had ended. I'd gone into this film completely cold and didn't know if it was an experimental short or a full movie. The pre-title sequence is incredibly professional, managing to evoke a jump from me by its use of sound alone.

There are a few similarities with Her Name Was Torment but The Hornet's Sting is a very different movie. This is largely devoid of Mills' trademark puppetry although he does manage to squeeze in a very effective animated sequence around half way through the proceedings.

With a soundtrack that juxtaposes happy, clappy songs with the most atrocious on-screen violence, this is not for the squeamish. The movie's wall-of-sound music is hallucinatory at times, placing the viewer in the centre of the action and creating a sense of discord.

There's nudity aplenty in Hornet but this isn't cheap titillation. Rather than being an erotic or sleazy experience, this is genuine horror. About thirty minutes into the movie, I realised I'd not been this excited about a young filmmaker since the original releases of Jörg Buttgereit. What's more, Mills is the more accomplished director, and the more prolific. He's like a Cronenberg for the next generation.

9 out of 10.

Maniac (2012)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly effective remake, 30 July 2014

I've always had a soft spot for the original Maniac, directed by Bill Lustig in 1980 and starring the legendary Joe Spinell as Frank. It's probably due to my appreciation of the original genre movie that I delayed watching Franck Khalfoun's remake for nearly two years. Maniac seemed like an unnecessary film to remake. The original is the stuff of horror history and infamous for its bloody special effects, courtesy of Tom Savini and an uncredited Rob Bottin.

From the opening moment, it was clear to me that Maniac (2012) was faithful to its predecessor in terms of style and mood. Like Lustig's movie, this remake is dark, grim and seedy. Unlike Lustig's film, however, the new Maniac uses the killer's POV for the majority of the running time. The effect of this is disturbing. You are seeing through Frank's (played by Elijah Wood) eyes and the sights are unpleasant and uncompromising.

An electronic score by Robin Coudert is reminiscent of the '80s music and suits the film perfectly.

Wood is excellent as Frank. He plays psychopaths well (Sin City first demonstrated this when he appeared as Kevin). It's a brave choice for this young actor but it pays off. He's convincing and appears appropriately disturbed throughout the grisly goings-on.

Not a feel-good film, Maniac (2012) is a movie that's difficult to love as it's a cold ride. The film doesn't take any prisoners. It's brutal and vile, gritty and nasty but, at the same time, it's beautifully shot and edited.

There are many nods to the original and the horror genre in general. Frank's mother is played appropriately by Neighbor's America Olivo. When Frank has a date, the girl says she imagined him as fat and spotty, perhaps a wink at the original killer played by Spinell.

8 out of 10. This movie is faithful to the original in its intentions. Not one that many will love but decent nonetheless.

V/H/S (2012)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Solid anthology that shows the found footage movie is alive and kicking, 28 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

V/H/S is an entertaining and genuinely eerie anthology movie. Whilst the film has a long fuse and the viewer isn't treated to shocks and surprises early on, V/H/S rewards patience.

Like any anthology, some tales stand out more than others but there's an overall sense of unity in the production. The cast is cute, the dialogue is fun and natural, and the pace is just about right. The wrapping tale is creepy and sets the mood beautifully.

For me, though, Hannah Fierman's intense, wide-eyed character in Amateur Night is the real treat. Whilst she's largely quiet for much of her performance, I think most viewers will remember her most of all. Lily is a treat for horror fans and Fierman's physical performance is top notch.

There's a smörgåsbord of attractive young actors in this production. The great thing is, the acting is excellent and I couldn't fault any of the performances. In the short time that the actors appear on screen, they engage the viewer and you genuinely care for them.

It's rare for a film to put me on edge like this one did. V/H/S really does refresh the found footage medium, plunging the viewer into one nightmare after another. Some stories are satisfyingly complete whilst others left me wanting just a little more closure.

8 out of 10. V/H/S isn't a perfect genre film but it's great entertainment. Perhaps a little trimming wouldn't have harmed the movie but I enjoyed the ride, long as it may be. It's stylish, scary, funny and bloody.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A modern classic and a true gem of a film, 20 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As Under the Skin began, I felt a rare tingle of excitement. Watching this film took me back to viewing the likes of Nicolas Roeg's movies as a youngling. However, Under the Skin is more than just today's equivalent of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Like one of the characters in the movie, I felt I had to pinch myself during the proceedings. The fact that Under the Skin exists is quite surprising in itself. We have Film4 to thank for backing this production, this is so far removed from Hollywood as the main protagonist is from her home.

And yet...we have the mind boggling sight of Scarlett Johansson's character touring around Scotland in a white transit van, propositioning real people as well as actors. When I read a brief summary of what this film was about, I imagined something low-res and cheap on the screen, all grain and poor hidden camera footage. The film delivers instead a remarkably visual extravaganza of sight and sound whilst contrasting scenes of the incredible with those of the everyday reality. I never, in a million years, thought I see Scarlett Johansson wandering around a shopping centre, passing the likes of Claire's and Boots on her quest for her next victim.

The film could have been a disaster, a caffeine fuelled idea that failed dismally when the concept was transferred to the screen. Instead, it's a stroke of genius and a genuinely unnerving experience. There is one moment in particular that had my skin crawling, a horrific and yet surreal death that made me jump and shudder.

Beautiful, moving, gritty, surprising and totally hypnotic, Jonathan Glazer's movie is unmissable. It's not your average horror movie and some genre fans will hate it but, for me, this is an instant classic and one that will be well regarded in years to come.

Uncompromising and unflinching horror from the Crumpleshack Films, 5 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Her Name Was Torment is the latest release from Dustin Mills, one of the most talented and hardworking horror directors. Having started with the ambitious and entertaining The Puppet Monster Massacre, Mills has built his reputation around his unique style. There's been a gradual shift to darker material in his movies, with less puppets and more psychological (and physical) pain on display. With Kill That Bitch, Mills entered a whole new territory but the setting up of his sister studio, Crumpleshack Films, is a bold flag in the sand. Crumpleshack is Mills' label for tough, unflinching offerings. There's little, if any, elements of his traditional "comfortable" horror films contained here.

Her Name, then, is the first of the Crumpleshack Films and it's strong stuff. Mills had warned fans that this production may not be to everybody's taste. It's not cute or amusing; there's no relief from the madness that swiftly descends.

Mills' regular, Brandon Salkil, delivers a tremendous performance as Torment's latest victim. He's a very physical performer and is perfectly cast here. The viewer is an unwilling spectator as Salkil is tortured slowly and methodically by the masked female psycho. You know in your heart from the start that this isn't going to end happily ever after.

Allison Fitzgerald is another Mills regular. Here, she plays her most memorable role to date as Torment. Despite the fact that we never see her face, Fitzgerald delivers an absolutely terrifying performance in her bizarre mask. She's a brave lady - this film required an actor that wasn't afraid of nudity and sexual situations and it's quite obvious that she threw herself into the movie; mind, body and soul.

The Doctor, whose chilling commentary is genuinely riveting, is played by none other than Mills himself. His questioning of Torment is the stuff of nightmares.

In a lesser director's hands, this could have been just "torture porn". There are many scenes of physical abuse that will make many viewers look away from the screen but Mills' direction steers away from cheap hardcore insert shots or scenes of castration, instead concentrating on other forms of unpleasantness. The special effects will not disappoint gorehounds but this is only one layer of the proceedings.

For me, the actual graphic horror was not what seated this film at the table of horror greats. Having viewed thousands of horror movies, graphic violence is now no longer of interest (although it can be conspicuous by its absence and there's a difficult balance to maintain) but Her Name is more than an exhibition of physical insults delivered to a bound young man. What the film delivers is an audio and visual assault on the senses. You may note I mention the audio side of things before the visual and there's a reason for this. The film hits you with a wall of inventive sound from the very beginning and manages to do something I've never experienced before outside demonstrations of spacial sound effects. The movie delivers what can only be described as an audio hallucination.

The film's soundtrack is in good old fashioned stereo and, as a purist, I viewed Her Name in its intended state, without applying any additional sound processing bells and whistles. There's one scene, I won't give it away, where the sound field generated became genuinely three dimensional and I felt I was sat in the centre of a pulsating hailstorm of electronic noise. It was nightmarish stuff but exhilarating at the same time, the cacophony of auditory madness matched by the bizarre inkblot-like image on the screen.

The inventive use of colour in Her Name Was Torment is another layer of bloody icing on this perverse cake. Like Spielberg in Schindler's List, colour is used sparingly and jolts the viewer's attention to the many ghastly spectacles unveiled by a gleeful Mills (who's clearly had the time of his life making this indie gem). It's clever stuff, very effective and the style ensures the viewer is kept on edge for the duration of the film's 50 minute running time. It could be argued that the film is an extended short but this doesn't matter. Quality is always more welcome than quantity and anything longer than this would have been exhausting.

I have only a minor criticism of the film and I may need to revisit it as the viewing experience is still sinking in. The mysterious Overlord (arguably the only element of "old" Mills) feels slightly out of kilter with the rest of the production and I struggled to hear his dialogue. However, I think I would miss this character if his presence was not seen and I may well feel differently on a second viewing. In no way does this deter me from giving this movie 10 out of 10. Jackie McKown's Angel is one of the scariest creations I've ever witnessed and the film's vibe occasionally feels like The Bunny Game meets Boy Meets Girl crossed with Hellraiser, with a mild sprinkling of A Field in England and Paranormal Activity. Oh, and there's a head shaking scene that makes Jacob's Ladder look positively tame by comparison. My gods, that's a fine cocktail of horror and Her Name is a sharp kick in the balls for those who are expecting something safe from this unpredictable director.

KTB remains my favourite Mills movie, However, Her Name is hot on its paws with its blend of the strange, the surreal and the downright petrifying. I have fingers and toes firmly crossed that we see Her Name Was Agony in the not too distant future. This film has threads that are begging to be unwound and exploited. It would be a shame to provide any real, substantial answers to some of the film's mysteries but there's a mine of terror just waiting to be explored.

A low budget masterpiece to dissect, disassemble, in a bucket or bin...

A serial killer, a survivor and a popular beverage, 1 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tonight, We Stay Indoors is Joseph Larsen's latest film and his most accomplished. Like his previous project, When the Sidewalk Ends, this film is shot from a fixed camera viewpoint, reflecting a disciplined approach and following the low (or no) budget Kino style of experimental storytelling.

The film is narrated brilliantly by Larsen himself. His narration is slow, dry and captivating, covering the minutiae of everyday life in conjunction with the main storyline, the fictional serial killing spree and eventual death of Donovan Doring, aka The Umbrella Killer. More importantly, this documentary focuses on the sole survivor of Doring's murderous rampage, a girl who also ended up killing him in self defence and thus becoming an overnight local hero.

This is a fantastic twist on the traditional serial killer film. In a way, the film is working in reverse to what we expect from the horror genre. We begin with a blank screen and music, eventually focussing in on the main character, the survivor, Davi (played by Natalie Sosnay). Sosnay's role is purely visual. For the entirety of the film's 55 minutes, we do not hear her speak. We know that she's survived, and we can relax with this knowledge, but the full details of that fateful night when events came to a head take a while to be explained.

With the exception of the narrator's voice-over, dialogue is scarce; only a few lines spoken by Davi's friend, Jack (David Saladin). Jack regrets missing the live coverage of 9/11. He seems more concerned with this than what has happened in his community. He's a strange character, a part of the background rather than being emotional support for Davi.

Davi is naturally traumatised by the encounter with Doring and she becomes reclusive, having to shop 190 miles away at America's second largest mall. Here, she has anonymity and can, for the most part, relax. At night, she stays indoors. Similarly, when it rains, she seeks privacy inside her apartment. The sight of brollies chills her to the bone, an unwelcome reminder of The Umbrella Killer.

What I love about this film is the narrator's dry wit. He's more than a little obsessed with Pepsi Cola and provides the viewer with all kinds of trivia about this beverage.

Overall, this is a stunning film and one that I was sad to see finish. Experimental and unique, I've never seen anything quite like Tonight, We Stay Indoors.

9 out of 10.

The apocalypse is quite fun, after all!, 1 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Following an unnamed apocalyptic event, a lone girl travels the country in search of food, shelter and entertainment. On her travels she sees death but experiences hope for a better tomorrow.

Joseph Larsen's film is slow moving and almost hypnotic. Unlike his later film, When the Sidewalk Ends, this is shot on the move, although there are some locked off shots. Again, it is shot on Mini-DV and looks fantastic. There's a grey hue to the proceedings that feels oppressive and cold.

Unlike other movies of this nature, the girl (played by Jennifer Bahe from When the Sidewalk..) makes the most of her time alone. She's a risk taker, not letting any chance to climb go unchallenged; adventurous and kind-natured. It would appear that a virus has eliminated most of the human population as the buildings and wildlife remain, seemingly unaffected by whatever has wiped out mankind. This allows the survivor a chance to play amongst the animals and buildings and explore the empty and deserted landscape around her.

This young survivor has learnt to deal with her isolation and solitude. Despite her predicament, she fills in her time in many ways, not giving up hope or showing signs of depression. She takes joy in the simplest of pleasures.

It's a quiet movie, without dialogue, and I found it a very relaxing viewing experience. Jennifer Bahe carries the film with her understated performance; she is especially impressive in this movie where, for the most part, she has the stage all to herself.


An atmospheric and brooding drama, 31 May 2014

When the Sidewalk Ends is a deliberately slow paced but, nevertheless, engaging drama. Thick with atmosphere and with little dialogue, this movie is almost a study of stillness and meditation whilst also being, fundamentally, a revenge flick.

After watching a whole wave of indie productions involving ingenious camera-work, thanks to the ever diminishing size of digital cameras (and I've even seen mobile phones being used to shoot shorts to surprisingly powerful effect), I would have sworn this film had been shot on good-old- fashioned celluloid. The director, Joseph Larsen, uses a fixed, tripod-mounted camera to take each shot. There's one significant use of zoom but, apart from that, we view events through a still lens. However, Larsen had shot this film on Mini-DV. It's a real accomplishment, the visuals are powerful, the imagery cold but beautiful.

The film is open to interpretation but, just before the end credits rolled, I think the penny dropped for me. It's a slow burn but the journey is never a chore for the viewer.

With a great soundtrack, solid acting and, of course, very competent direction, this is an excellent example of neo-noir. There are a few nods to the past; the use of silhouettes in one particular scene is classic noir, as is the wardrobe of the lead, Tony Wagener. There's even the ambiguous prostitute character (played by Jennifer Bahe) who may, or may not, be a spy for whoever Wagener is pursuing.

8 out of 10.

M.R.F.D (2013)
Oh, dear!, 31 May 2014

I love independent cinema and I've always been a staunch supporter of home-grown talent.

Unfortunately, my first viewing from Dead Good Films Like Productions did not fill me with confidence for this studio's product. Perhaps indie cinema is best left to the US where the likes of Dustin Mills, Fred Vogel, Adam Ahlbrandt and many other talented individuals deliver something new and exciting to the genre.

Mr. Rape's First Date is embarrassingly bad. Amateurish in the extreme, without any redeeming features and clearly filmed around Blackpool (which doesn't resemble an apocalyptic wasteland), this is one that's best left alone. It's trying desperately to be arty in black and white but just looks cheap and nasty (and bad "nasty" at that).

I made the school boy error of investing in the limited edition blu-ray. Rubbish just looks twice as bad in high-definition. In future, I'll be less adventurous and listen to the warnings and fellow genre fans before pulling the trigger.

3 out of 10, simply because I'm feeling generous.

Art-house meets the nasty - a fine blending of styles, 30 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Having been aware of Ronny Carlsson's work since the release of Récompence back in 2010, I've always wondered how he would react to being called a horror filmmaker. There's certainly an undercurrent of horror throughout his productions but it's only with the release of Creature 2013 that he truly seizes the genre with both hands.

As soon as Creature 2013 begins, the viewer is assaulted with a surprisingly low-fi experience. Being familiar with the perfection of previous Ronny Carlsson visuals (despite being shot on a mobile, even Goodbye, Little Betty is stunning to look at), the visual noise, static and general VHS-like appearance of the opening scene is clearly deliberate. This style remains for the duration of the movie and you feel like you're perhaps watching a previously undiscovered Swedish "video nasty" from the '80s. Like some of the original nasties, this production is thought provoking and not all about flying entrails (though these may make an appearance during the proceedings). It's worth noting that as the end credits roll, thanks go to the ever creative Michael Todd "Maggot" Schneider for the digital downgrading. Having seen a number of Schneider's movies, his trademark "used video" appearance is as successful as always.

Carlsson is reunited with actress Daniela Melin for this short movie. I really like this young actress, she is absolutely stunning and moves with an unconscious grace. All credit goes to the director, who rarely dwells on Melin's physical beauty, concentrating instead on the surroundings and the chain of events that unravels on the screen. This results in every glimpse of this actress' face being pure gold. As with Goodbye, you have the feeling that both Melin and Carlsson suffer for their art. When they're not working in freezing conditions, they are shooting from a frightening height whilst being assaulted by the elements. I was left with the impression that there's no such thing as an easy shooting day on a Ronny Carlsson film.

There are familiar Carlsson motifs in this film; an incident in the past impacts on what you're seeing now; characters are obsessed / are involved with a ritual or rituals; there's at least one scene involving a mask; the great outdoors and forestry play a large part in the look of the production, and so on. Carlsson utilises all his strengths on this production, the sound in this short is amazing and the visuals are unique.

Creature 2013 is a challenging film in that it's the most enigmatic of the director's movies to- date (although, I confess, I've yet to see Dust Box). Just as you think you've worked out where this tale is taking you, it catches the viewer off-guard and proceeds in a totally different direction.

This is the most graphic of Carlsson's movies and there are some scenes of real unpleasantness ("Maggot" also assisted with the grisly stuff by supplying a bloody skeletal arm prop).

This short is experimental as always but it works beautifully. A second viewing will be required to pick up more of its nuances. This grey haired Brit would love to sit down and share a few bottles of Starköl whilst discussing the finer points of Creature 2013 with the director. He shows genuine imagination and a drive to deliver an uncompromised vision.


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