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It Follows is, quite simply, a great achievement. David Robert Mitchell
has created a film that's unsettling on many levels. From the moment
the Carpenter-esque electronic score kicks in and the chilling, bizarre
opening scenes play out, the viewer knows that this is not going to be
a conventional ride.
Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, I love the mythology of this film. Its premise is quite simple but it's something I've not seen before, especially in Western cinema. The closest comparison that immediately springs to mind is 1998's Ring and this may be partly to the cinematography. It Follows looks beautiful and there are a lot of things going on at an almost subliminal level that knock the viewer out of their comfort zone. Pay attention to the changing seasons, the sense of timelessness that cloaks It Follows, the general other- worldliness that exists. Like The Shining, it's a smörgåsbord of tiny details that all stack up to create an unnerving and thoroughly uncomfortable experience.
This is a clever, thinking person's horror tale. The shocks and chills are smart and constant and there's very little time for the viewer to relax. There's a genuine sense that something bad is just out of the camera's sight and that an unspeakable, mysterious evil is stalking characters who we care about.
9 out of 10. Thoroughly recommended.
Viewing Beasts some thirty nine years after it first terrified me, this
six part drama series from ATV, written by British legend Nigel Kneale,
still manages to give me goosebumps.
Having honed his writing skills on the classic live '50s Quatermass series for the BBC, Kneale delivered this solid anthology over six consecutive weeks on dark Saturday evenings. Each episode of Beasts was a self-contained horror tale set in normal surroundings and featured a range of interesting characters who, in various different ways. experienced an unnerving encounter with the animal world (or, at least, a supernatural spin on it).
The stories are, essentially, television plays. There are only a handful of main players in each episode and the action is limited to a few locations, thus giving the show a claustrophobic and sinister atmosphere. What makes Beasts so special is the sheer talent in front of the camera (the series has performances from such familiar faces as Patrick Magee, Michael Kitchen, Simon MacCorkindale, Martin Shaw and Pauline Quirke) and the top drawer quality of Nigel Kneale's scripts. For 1970's television, this is brave stuff; there are taboo subjects covered and adult themes run throughout each tale.
Beasts is thought provoking and unsettling. It's sophisticated horror that lingers in the viewer's mind many hours after viewing. They don't make shows like this any more.
Recommended for lovers of classic British horror. 9 out of 10.
Whilst "Season 9" has been inconsistent in terms of quality, the one
constant has been Peter Capaldi.
Capaldi's Doctor is a wonderful cocktail of Pertwee and Baker (Tom, not Colin), with just a few drops of Hartnell and Troughton added to make the concoction even more special. In "Heaven Sent", we're given a full episode to enjoy the complexities of the twelfth Doctor and, of course, the opportunity to savour Capaldi's depths as an actor.
This penultimate episode of the season is special. It's dark, brave and, at times, frightening. There were moments when I wondered how an eight year old version of me would react to some of the more sinister content. It's "The Deadly Assassin" for a new generation. Actually, "Heaven Sent" manages to trump this classic episode in terms of just how much suffering The Doctor faces. The fourth Doctor's rather grim experience in the Matrix look like a walk in the park to the journey Twelve has to take here.
Rachel Talalay brought darkness to Doctor Who in last year's double bill and she doesn't pull any punches here. I'm on tenterhooks as to how this tale will end next week. If "Death in Heaven" proved a heart thumping and emotional finale for the eight season, the little glimpse of next week's episode gives me the impression that things are moving into even more adult territory and that we haven't seen anything yet.
Incredibly satisfying, I'd give this a 9 out of 10. Almost perfect.
If Spectre does prove to be Daniel Craig's final outing as 007, it's a
fitting conclusion to his tenure.
The opener is probably the most audacious we've seen in years, harking back to Brosnan's more seat-of-the-pants set pieces. This is solid Bond, well paced and requiring just a little suspension of disbelief.
Even the opening title sequence was a breath of fresh air, with visuals the strongest since GoldenEye. Shame about the opening track, though. Sam Smith wins the award for most inappropriate Bond song since Rita Coolidge's All Time High ("all time worst" would be more accurate).
Spectre has familiar ingredients but it's delivered in a modern (and, at times, surprisingly brutal) manner. Enthusiasts will recognise many tips of the hat to Bonds of old but Sam Mendes has, perhaps, managed to top Skyfall. This is not the best 007 movie, not by a long shot, but it's a great yarn and has moments of true gold sprinkled throughout its epic running time.
If I had reservations, I think Christoph Waltz was underused but his early scenes are ripe with atmosphere and menace. Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx is the most physical baddie since Jaws and is guaranteed to give children around the world bad dreams.
8 out of 10. Worthy of a cinema outing.
Proving that his productions are unpredictable and wildly different
from one another, Dustin Mills' latest low budget shocker is a totally
different kettle of fish to his previous movies.
Shot in beautiful monochrome, Applecart is Mills' homage to the silent movie. Think The Artist, but with gratuitous nudity, violence and a prosthetic penis that is startlingly realistic (thanks to Marcus Koch's outrageous talent). Divided into a quartet of short fables / modern morality tales, the film is experimental, daring and, at times, uncomfortable viewing. Not since Douglas Buck's A Trilogy of America have I felt so exposed to the dark underbelly of modern suburbia.
Whilst I prefer the more conventional storytelling contained within Mills' earlier offerings, Applecart is a solid film. It managed to make me flinch, jump and wince, not an easy feat.
Hats off to the team for their bravery. It's a reflection on Mills as a director that he manages time and time again to bring out outstanding and memorable performances from his cast. They trust him and the results are sheer brilliance. I'm gobsmacked at the candid nature of the Crumpleshack productions. Yet, despite the nudity and adult themes, Mills' always manages to retain a sense of morality. There's no glorification of violence (unless it's killer rabbits running amok) and sensitive topics are handled with the appropriate care.
8 out of 10. Not my favourite offering from Dustin Mills but the bar's set so high, my favourites will take some beating. If you're new to this director, I'd recommend Her Name Was Torment, Kill That Bitch, Easter Casket or Skinless to begin with. This is more of a palette cleaner between his more traditional genre movies and more art house than independent horror.
Headless is Found's perfect sister film, a much anticipated tie-in that
has so much to live up to. Scott Schirmer's Found (2012) took the
horror world by storm, sweeping up dozens of awards at film festivals
and gaining an instant cult following. Headless is Found's "film within
a film", a no- holds barred, '80s nasty that pushes the envelope of
good taste and has a lasting impression on at least one of its viewers.
To produce a stand-alone, full-length movie of Headless is no easy feat. Headless needed to shock on a visceral level whilst maintaining the original film's dark psychological edge and taboo themes. With expectations high, the potential for failure and disappointment was very real. The good news is that Headless delivers the goods. Scott Schirmer passes the directorial reins this time around to Found's special effects director, Arthur Cullipher, whilst maintaining co- producing responsibilities with Kara Erdel. The Found army can breath a collective sigh of a relief. The combination of talent here is a winning formula.
Headless is fast-moving, bloody beyond belief, boundary-pushing (there's one particular act of carnage that I've never on screen in such candid and unflinching detail before), psychological, hallucinatory, surreal and unpredictable. It manages to honour the themes of its predecessor whilst adding something new to boot.
The entire cast is excellent but special mention must go to young Kaden Miller for his chilling performance as the Skull Boy. The character's physical presence takes the movie to another level. It's a jaw-dropping pièce de résistance. With the presence of this character, we witness the killer's (played by a truly believable Shane Beasley) ride into a hellish insanity.
As an aside, I hadn't expected to see this movie so soon. At around 1.00am on a cold February morning, I realised I'd received an invitation to catch a preview screener of the film. Sleep was put on hold until the film had been devoured. In a way, this is how Headless should be viewed. It is a midnight movie, through and through. Perfect entertainment for a gathering of gore- hounds or the genre enthusiast who needs something new to rekindle his love of the modern horror movie.
Whilst being released in 2015, the '70's (and early '80's) atmosphere is soaked into every frame. With faux print damage, big hair, cheesy dialogue and zero political correctness, this is like uncovering a hidden gem in a filmmaker's cupboard. If The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left married and had a child, its name would be Headless.
9.5 out of 10. Close to indie perfection, this is unmissable. From the moment the credits start, your senses are reeling from the physical insults delivered to the characters from the original Headless footage. Nasty but nice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I confess, I felt a little worried, a few minutes into this indie movie
from Dustin Mills Productions. The film had sat unwatched for months on
my shelf, something of a treat for when I needed a new fix of Mills'
trademark celluloid insanity. However, as time ticked away, I had a
moment of trepidation. Had the infant terrible misjudged the content,
the pace or the mood? The fixed camera and long monologue seemed flat
in comparison with the start of his previous productions.
Such doubts were soon forgotten, brushed aside as the script, direction and performances clicked safely into second gear. The opening scenes of Snuffet are a precursor to the cloth bound carnage that follows. They act merely as an introduction, to position the viewer in a world where puppets are walking, talking, living beings. It's a slow burn, a contrast to the kaleidoscope of cruelty which will soon be unveiled.
From being relaxed and blasé about the content, I was soon perched on the edge of my seat, finger poised above the "stop" button of the remote. Yes, this is one of those films where you don't want to be surprised by somebody walking in on you. You know exactly what I mean. "You're seeing this out of context," is not going to wash when your wife / partner / mother-in- law walks in and sees the stark naked Giggles Mouthworthy (Allison Egan) copulating enthusiastically with a well endowed puppet, accompanied by the king of all sleazy adult soundtracks. My gods, this puppet guy has rhythm in his hips and lust blazing in his ickle button eyes. He could teach a human being a thing or two.
Ahem, back to the review. Mills directs the movie with a straight poker face and the actors clearly trust his judgement. In lesser hands, this could be a mess of ideas and genre. However, Snuffet is the noughties version of Man Bites Dog. There are uncomfortable scenes of protracted puppet abuse, violation and, ultimately, death. Perhaps the most disturbing scenes are those of infanticide and home invasion. Whilst the victims may resemble Bert and Ernie, their pleas for mercy are all too human.
The ending is sublime, a minor stroke of genius, and I genuinely hope there's a volume two somewhere in the pipeline. Mills always saves something up his sleeve for the final act and this is no exception.
8 out of 10. While it doesn't hit the heights of Her Name Was Torment or Kill That Bitch, Snuffet is a brave and unique addition to what is already an amazing, colourful and kinky library of bizarre delights from this outrageously talented filmmaker. Easter Casket's lovely Janet Jay makes a welcome return to this studio, delivering a memorable performance as the "mad as a box of frogs", Melissa Schweine. Fittingly, Schweine wears a purple pig mask that compliments her wardrobe and her name. Allison Egan and Brandon Salkil are as reliable as always. Whilst they're familiar faces (probably not the right expression as they're masked in some productions), they always hone their performances for each tale. A Dustin Mills film is a little like a Carry On production, you know who you're likely to see on screen but the subject matter is going to be different each time. Snuffet is, then, Carry On Aftermath or Carry On Killing.
This is really very, very good. Unexpected, unpredictable and bloody good fun. Miss it at your peril. If you don't like this movie, you've less heart than a butchered puppet. I dearly have my fingers crossed for a Part 2 (Silence of the Hands?) but Mills is the master of surprises and has little need to repeat himself.
*** 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.
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.
*** 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.
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