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Satanic (2006)
Forgettable straight-to-DVD horror nonsense., 17 October 2016

Amnesiac car crash survivor Michelle (Annie Sorell) undergoes reconstructive surgery on her face (as performed by 79 year old Angus Scrimm of Phantasm fame), after which she is sent to a halfway house for troubled teens (despite appearing to be at least in her late twenties); there she attempts to piece together her past with the help of her journal. What Michelle discovers in the pages of her notebook is a disturbing fascination with the Satanic arts, and when those around her begin to turn up dead, she looks to be the prime suspect. Jeffrey Combs plays the police detective who investigates.

Top billed horror legends Angus Scrimm and Jeffrey Combs (Reanimator) are completely wasted in this film, their roles amounting to nothing more than cameos, neither adding much to the plot. With pedestrian direction, cheap cinematography, crappy editing, unexceptional performances from the less seasoned members of the cast, zero scares, lacklustre gore, and a really dumb twist, about all there is to hold the viewer's interest is some brief gratuitous female nudity: Eliza Swenson as bad girl Dalia gets topless, a nameless blonde also flashes her thrupennies, while Sorell goes the whole hog for the film's obligatory shower scene, where the actress gets to show the viewer both sides of her character: front and back.

Seriously silly sci-fi schlock., 15 October 2016

A pastiche of '50s paranoia sci-fi, black and white short Atomic Spitballs, directed by Brett Anstey (Damned by Dawn), sees little bug-eyed aliens coming to Earth to steal human sideburns for their leader, who believes that facial hair will help him score with the ladies.

Anstey achieves a convincing '50s atmosphere, but the seriously silly nature of his script and the broad performances of the cast serve to make proceedings rather irritating. Matters are made just about bearable by some decent special effects (impressive considering the low-budget nature of the film), including the nifty little extraterrestrials, cool retro flying saucers, and a disembodied brain creature.

Confusing low-budget Aussie horror inspired by The Evil Dead., 15 October 2016

Claire (Renee Willner) travels with boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) to meet her family—father Bill (Peter Stratford), sister Jen (Taryn Eva) and nana (Dawn Klingberg), who is knocking at death's door—at their remote country farmhouse. While there, a banshee appears, screams a lot (it's what they do) and brings the dead back to life. Why? I can't really say: very little about this film makes sense to me.

Directed by Brett Anstey, Damned by Dawn has clearly been inspired by The Evil Dead, with many elements that will be familiar to fans of Sam Raimi's cult classic: there's a similar foggy woodland setting, reanimated corpses that talk (one of which even has the audacity to say 'join us'), and roaming POV shots. Even some of the music sounds like it has been lifted from The Evil Dead's soundtrack.

Unfortunately, this Aussie horror is nowhere near as effective as Raimi's film, suffering from a confusing plot that delivers very few genuine scares, and really bad CGI in the form of post-production fog and cruddy skeletal wraiths that sweep through the air after their victims. A smattering of gore adds a bit of fun to proceedings, but on the whole this is a disappointing effort.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Another mind-bending Phantasm movie., 13 October 2016

I'm happy to admit that I find the story lines to the Phantasm films a bit of a challenge to follow, their freewheeling, anything goes, dream-logic approach not being the easiest thing to grasp. But then that's all part of the series' charm, creator Don Coscarelli having forged an intriguing franchise that writes (and rewrites) its own rules and which constantly surprises.

Ravager, the first Phantasm film not to be directed by Coscarelli (David Hartman takes the reins), fits the mould perfectly with a bizarre narrative that sees its unlikely hero Reggie (Reggie Bannister) flip-flopping between several distinctly different realities, the film never letting on which of these, if any, is his genuine existence. In one reality, Reggie is wandering the desert searching for long lost friend Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) when he encounters a woman called Dawn (Dawn Cody); in another, he is in hospital suffering from early onset dementia, suggesting that the Tall Man and his minions are a figment of his deteriorating mental state; Reggie also finds himself in a version of Earth where the Tall Man and his spheres are in control and where Mike is leading a desperate band of freedom fighters.

Not a lot of this makes much sense, and little is really resolved by the end of the movie, but the fun is in seeing much-loved characters returning for one last adventure, in watching the silver spheres causing more bloody mayhem (in this chapter, a horse gets drilled, and an exploding spiky sphere blows someone's head apart!), and in seeing just how bonkers it all gets. Ravager has a gun-toting dwarf, sees Reggie out-driving some spheres while blasting at them with a hand cannon, and features spheres the height of skyscrapers, but it could have done with a bit more gore in the second half for my liking. Still, it's not a bad way to spend some time and should keep most avid Phans reasonably happy for the duration.

Kelly Preston is bewitching., 9 October 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Yuppie L.A. lawyer Jeff Mills (Timothy Daly) and his colleagues rescue a beautiful woman, Miranda Reed (Kelly Preston), from her abusive boyfriend: with nowhere to go, the sexy damsel in distress accepts Jeff's invitation to stay at his place and before long, the pair start a relationship. But Jeff's newfound happiness doesn't last long: it transpires that Miranda is a witch, and the other members of her coven want her back—at any cost.

Supernatural thriller Spellbinder will hold no surprises at all for anyone familiar with The Wicker Man, for its build-up and eventual twist are all very derivative of Robin Hardy's critically acclaimed (oc)cult classic. That said, the film is still a reasonably enjoyable time-waster, with decent turns from all involved, some atmospheric chills, and the lovely Kelly Preston pleasing admirers with a steamy sex scene.

6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.

Redhead vs deadheads., 8 October 2016

After a drunken one night stand with pretty boy Ryan (Michael Cassidy), zany redhead (ie., effin' irritating ginger) Deb Clarington (Maria Thayer) discovers that the town of Portland, Maine, is in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

Although clearly modelled after Shaun Of The Dead, Night of the Living Deb doesn't come anywhere near to matching the charm, wit or originality of Edgar Wright's classic zombie comedy, the film offering up tepid humour and lacklustre living dead action, with Thayer putting in a performance that can best be described as thoroughly annoying—five minutes in her company and I would seriously be considering throwing myself to the flesh-eaters.

Ray Wise and Chris Marquette are the most recognisable actors in this mess (Shawn C. Phillips doesn't count), but I bet they wish that they weren't.

Stalled (2013/I)
High concept, low quality., 8 October 2016

In British comedy/horror Stalled, a janitor (Dan Palmer) finds himself trapped in a ladies toilet cubicle during a zombie outbreak; unfortunately, this fairly neat concept is flushed away by a lousy script that fails to deliver either the laughs or scares, while wooden performances push any potential even further round the U-bend.

The film takes place on Christmas Eve as W.C.—as the janitor is appropriately named—prepares to leave his job for good, having helped himself to the charity money raised by office employees during their seasonal work do. However, before W.C. can abscond with the cash, the living dead block his way, forcing him to reconsider his plans.

After a while, W.C. becomes aware of another survivor, a woman, also trapped in one of the cubicles; what follows is lots of desperately unfunny dialogue between the two, the nadir of which is a 'charming' tale of incest, interspersed with uninspired zombie action (which at least provides some cheapo splat-stick gore, I suppose).

Ghoulies (1984)
An abysmal Charles Band production inspired by Gremlins., 8 October 2016

No doubt Ghoulies was rushed into production in order to cash in on the success of Joe Dante's Gremlins, but there is a yawning chasm in quality between the two films: Gremlins is ingenious, anarchic, demented, loaded with terrific black humour, features excellent creature effects and stars the yummy Phoebe Cates; Ghoulies is moronic trash with dumb characters and bargain basement monsters.

The film's uninspired plot sees a young couple, Jonathan and Rebecca (Peter Liapis, who is way too old for the part, and Lisa Pelikan), move into a creaky old mansion where they discover a collection of books on black magic. After reading one particular book, Jonathan becomes obsessed with conducting Satanic rituals, unaware that he is being controlled by the spirit of his dead father, who seeks to return from the grave.

The 'ghoulies' of the title are diminutive demons that appear to kill the couple's friends (most of whom are so obnoxious that their deaths are more than welcome). Shonky rubber hand puppets created by John Carl Buechler, these critters have none of the mischievous charm of a gremlin (or even a Critter, for that matter) and are neither funny or scary—just embarrassingly bad. Also serving to irritate: two devilish dwarfs, Grizzell and Greedigut (Peter Risch and Tamara De Treaux), and a silly happy ending that sees all of the dead characters miraculously return to life unscathed.

A trio of Teutonic terror tales., 7 October 2016

A horror anthology from three of Germany's most shocking film-makers, German Angst opens with Final Girl, a unusually weak effort from Nekromantik/Schramm director Jörg Buttgereit, in which a young woman vents her anger on her abusive father by castrating him and cutting off his head, all the while waxing lyrical about her pet guinea pig Mucki. Heavy on the artsy-fartsy pretentiousness, but surprisingly light on the gore (the castration occurs off-screen, although Buttgereit doesn't spare us the sight of the victim's junk), this first story is the most disappointing of the three.

The second segment, Michal Kosakowski's Make A Wish, is far more satisfying. Annika Strauss and Matthan Harris play a deaf and dumb couple of Polish descent who are humiliated and tortured by a group of racist thugs, but who manage to turn the tables on the gang's leader through the use of a magical amulet that allows the transference of souls. A nasty wartime flashback to the massacre of some Polish villagers by SS soldiers kicks off the strong stuff, and when poor innocent Strauss gets a bunch of fives in the face, its abundantly clear that this one isn't going to pull any punches.

The third story, Alraune, from Tears of Kali director Andreas Marschall, is a lot of fun if only for its sheer weirdness. Milton Welsh plays fashion photographer Eden, who recounts to his girlfriend Maya (Désirée Giorgetti) how he has been lured into joining a bizarre cult where unimaginable pleasures can be experienced, just so long as one doesn't break the rules. Of course, he does just that, and what follows is seriously bizarre, kinda like Cronenberg meets Lovecraft, with some messy mutilation involving broken glass and a toothy tentacular sex-monster.

7/10—after a frustratingly poor start, German Angst proves to be a rather entertaining anthology.

A moderately entertaining Tarantino wannabe., 7 October 2016

The success of Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction spawned a whole wave of gritty copycat thrillers that revolved around unsavoury characters doing bad things to each other. The Way of The Gun is one such film, featuring two reprehensible criminal drifters— Mr. Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Mr. Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro)—who kidnap and hold to ransom Robin (Juliette Lewis), the heavily pregnant surrogate mother of a Mafia money launderer, who shows his displeasure by sending out his toughest men to bring her back.

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the over-rated The Usual Suspects, the film struggles to match the hip sense of style or sharpness of dialogue of either of Tarantino's aforementioned films, despite the best efforts of a cool cast that includes Taye Diggs, James Caan, and Juliette's old man, Geoffrey Lewis. McQuarrie does at least manage to end his film with a suitably ballistic scene that lives up to the title: a well executed and very bloody Peckinpah style gun battle that leaves a pile of corpses in its wake.

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