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100 reviews in total 
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A hidden gem, 22 July 2015

In the wake of the astronomical financial success of John Carpenter's 'Halloween' and Sean Cunningham's 'Friday the 13th', slasher films were all the rage. Cheap to produce, formulaic to write, and guaranteed to turn a profit. Inevitably this became very tiresome very fast as audiences became aware that once you've seen a couple of slasher films…there's basically no surprises in any other which you care to watch. And yet, 'Sleepaway Camp' bucks this trend in a big way and offers a decent watch for the most part but a horrific climax which you just won't see coming.

The plot follows a shy and possibly mute young girl, Angela, whose strange behaviour is the result of being the sole survivor of a tragic boating accident that took the lives of her father and brother several years previously. Since the accident she has lived with her freakish and obsessive aunt and, as the title suggests, is sent to a summer camp along with her protective and loyal cousin, Ricky. Inevitably, the girl's reluctance to speak or take part in the camp activities arouses the ire of the camp bullies who, as the plot progresses, start being killed one by one by an unknown attacker until the final, shocking reveal unmasks a dark and twisted undertow.

In its summer camp setting the film was clearly attempting to rip off 'Friday the 13th' and yet (much like 'The Burning' (1981)) is actually a far better film than the original. Whereas I have always found 'Friday the 13th' to simply be one-dimensional fun kills, 'Sleepaway Camp' has well-drawn characters that the audience really cares about. It is easy to identify with the various youthful insecurities portrayed on screen which makes the film much more engaging than it's more famous predecessor. Even the drawing of the bullies themselves offers insights into their vulnerabilities which adds depth to their deaths. But let's not think this is some intense introspective teen drama: it's a Slasher, and the kills are as imaginative as you would expect from a film in a genre defined by gore and grisly murders.

…and then there's the ending. Apparently, the movie is famous for its final reveal. However, I approached the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it and wasn't even expecting a shock ending or, if anything, I expected a Jason-emerging-from-the-lake shock ending as a nod to 'Friday the 13th'. So for me the ending was genuinely surprising and shocking. Obviously, if you haven't already seen the movie and are reading this review then you know now that there is a twist ending…but still, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, in a similar way to the aforementioned 'The Burning' the film suffers from its surface similarity to the far more famous 'Friday the 13th'. As a result I can imagine a potential viewer being turned off by imagining something derivative in an already derivative genre. However, if this is you, I entreat you to give 'Sleepaway Camp' a watch, it is far greater than many "classic" slashers and deserves much, much more recognition.

Watchable sequel which is preferable to the original, 19 July 2015

I wasn't a fan of the first 'Insidious'. In fact, I laughed at some of it and facepalmed through the rest. So, I was understandably reluctant to put myself through another 90 minutes derivative of better horror movies I have already seen ('Amityville', 'Poltergeist' – the originals, of course), and yet, I have to say that I found 'Insidious: Chapter 2' a far superior film. Far from a classic, just short of being good…but certainly watchable, and even creepy in a couple of places.

The plot follows on from the events of the first 'Insidious' (as indeed the end of the first movie sets up) and has the Lambert family once again troubled by malevolent entities. However, thankfully, this time the comical demon from the first film is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the plot revolves around the father's possession by one of the entities from the "further" (the netherworld realm where he astral-travelled in 'Insidious' to save his son) and the team of psychic investigators who, along with his wife and child, set out to save him.

Now, many chastise the movie for being confusing, and sure…the flashbacks and references to the first movie along with the shifts from this world to the "further" require a bit of effort to piece together. However, this is no bad thing and I found it a refreshing change from the one-dimensional story of the original. In addition, while the painfully predictable jump-scares annoyed the hell out of me, and some of the ghosts just weren't scary…there were a few moments in the movie which gave off a bit of a chill. Maybe this chill-factor won't stand up to a second viewing, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find some of them quite effective first time around.

A lot of people credit James Wan with re-inventing the horror genre. I have always found this annoyingly over-stated as his movies are largely style over substance and rip-off virtually every other horror you can think of. Horror auteur he certainly is not, but in attempting something a little more ambitious with 'Insidious: Chapter 2' he has made a decent movie and left me curious about the upcoming third instalment.

It Follows (2014)
113 out of 202 people found the following review useful:
Innovative horror that gets deep under the skin, 13 July 2015

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a young, attractive girl coming-of-age who lives in the suburbs and, like pretty much every other young person, is finding out who she is through trial, through error, and with her friends for company. She is seeing a guy, Hugh, who acts a little odd sometimes but otherwise seems nice and trustworthy so one night she consents to his advances and they share an awkward but intimate moment in the back of his car. However, her post-coital bliss is cut short when Hugh inexplicably chloroforms her. She wakes up tied to a wheelchair in a derelict building where Hugh is rambling an apology about how he is doing this to her to show her that it's real, that it sometimes takes the form of someone you love to mess with you, and that she has to sleep with someone to pass on the curse. She is convinced he is mad…until she sees "it".

The rest of the film sees "it" stalking Jay. Fortunately, she is able to demonstrate the reality of "it" to her friends who band together around her, without the help from any adult authority, as they try to understand the nature of this thing and how they can help her friend given her reluctance to merely pass it along by sleeping with another poor unsuspecting horny teen.

Honestly, the culmination of the first act of the film, in the derelict building, came as a complete surprise: the scene showed me a fresh vision of horror which was genuinely scary and discomforting despite my jaded tastes. The slowness of the preceding scenes matured into a crushing, intense uncertainty when I realised that it wasn't what I expected from a horror and felt, for the first time in a long while, a sense of not knowing what I was watching.

The rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to this chilling reveal. To be frank, I can't think of how it could. Rather, the themes and references that led to the reveal are unpacked to flesh out the film's universe. We see multiple scenes of urban decay and adult authority figures are conspicuous by their absence. In addition, the refreshingly natural colour palette (not that grungy green which seems to characterise most horror movies these days) and a creepy score create a palpable sense of alienation and loneliness which mirrors the characters' confusion as they attempt to battle this malevolent force in the middle of the standard sexual and identity confusions of youth.

What's more, as the film progresses we realise that despite being set in the present the cars, TVs, and clothes seem to be imported in from the 80s. At first incongruous, as the film progresses I saw that these choices could be seen as an homage to the slasher movies of the late 70s/early 80s, especially John Carpenter's 'Halloween', with their subtexts of the dangers of unsupervised teenagers having sex which is clearly much of what 'It Follows' is concerned with. The result is a film which appears bold and fresh, but under closer examination reveals a fertile heritage of horror which it gains much from drawing upon and referring to throughout the runtime. However, all this is so artfully executed and to such a great effect that a familiarity with this lineage is not required and, moreover, the film still has much to offer those that are.

As it seems to be the case these days, horror movies without the tiresome jump-scares or which don't regurgitate haunted houses, creepy kids, or possessed girls get a lot of abuse from certain sections of the horror audience. If you like those tropes, avoid 'It Follows'. If you like fresh, daring, and thoughtful horror which lingers long after the film ends, watch it. Now!

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Law of rapidly diminishing returns, 21 June 2015

At an archaeological dig in Egypt, a small team of American archaeologists, along with two media people recording the dig for posterity (whose footage is incorporated into the narrative in semi-found-footage fashion), discover a pyramid with an unusual three-sided design buried under the desert sands. However, after the initial thrill of discovery the team are told that they have to leave the site in two days due to the increasingly volatile political climate of the country. Hands tied, and despite not having all of the relevant information they were attempting to accumulate through technological equipment, the team decide to enter the pyramid themselves and promptly get lost in the pyramids labyrinthine chambers only to find that they are far from alone.

The set-up of the movie is fine. Ancient Egypt has always held a perennial fascination with its complicated myth structure and odd-looking gods, and the claustrophobia of the pyramid's interior (like 'As Above, So Below' (2014) and 'The Descent' (2005) before it) offers an immediate chill-factor. However, while the first third of the movie sets things up quite nicely, the second third is considerably worse. Films with this theme usually gain a lot from observing the change in personality in members of the group as each of them attempts to make sense of their plight and decide on the means of their salvation. And yet, when the same trope occurs here it feels flat and lifeless and the sense of foreboding from being unable to exit the way they entered is also weak. And then the final third of the movie is even worse than the second; when the monster is revealed it is, well…frankly, laughable and when the unfortunate members of the team die I didn't really care.

All in all, it feels like the team behind the movie thought the Egypt story, Descent-style conceit, and found footage camera (which they seem to just forget about whenever it is inconvenient for the narrative) would carry it. As a result, the movie coasts along on autopilot and consistently offers the minimum so that by the end it just came off as a silly waste of time and I felt cheated as a horror fan. If you like Egypt movies, there are much better Egypt movies. If you like claustrophobia movies, there are much better claustrophobia movies. And of you like found-footage movies, there are much better found-footage movies. Watch 'The Pyramid' when you have exhausted all of them.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A found-footage Indiana Jones which is possibly punching above its weight in the ideas department, 11 June 2015

"Found-footage? Pfft" you may say. And yes, it's fashionable to dismiss found-footage films as passe and beneath us…we all do it. However, upon consideration this criticism doesn't really hold much water when scrutinised. Sure, the majority of found-footage movies are bad, but then this may have something to do with the terrible plots, poor scripting, and weak acting these movies exhibit…aspects which arguably wouldn't have been redeemed by a more conventional cinematic approach. Conversely, movies which have a solid idea, are carefully scripted, and well-acted lose little from being done as found-footage and, in some instances, are better for it. Right, that prejudice dealt with, I have to say that 'As Above, So Below' isn't a fantastic movie. In fact, it's barely a scary movie…however, it gives it everything it has and even where it doesn't quite cut it I found that I respected the movie for trying.

The protagonist is a young archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) who is continuing her father's work searching for the fabled Philosopher's Stone – a mythical item believed to possess the ability to transform lead into gold as well as confer immortality. Her quest takes her to Paris where she intends to descend into the infamous real-life Catacombs and to do so she and her colleague seek the help of a small troupe of aloof French types who know the labyrinthine tunnels well. They enter the catacombs and it doesn't take long before members of the group experience paranormal events like seeing long-dead friends or family and the events which killed them. Soon, they pass the point of no return and, in a desperate attempt to escape, descend deeper and deeper into darkness.

The setting of the movie is genuinely macabre, and like 'The Descent' the simple fact of being in a series of underground tunnels immediately creates a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere which pushes the story along at a nice pace. However, while 'The Descent' is half group psychology story and half monster-living-underground story, 'As Above, So Below' is more consistent in that it soon becomes clear that what the group are experiencing are their own repressed fears and guilt which, in order to survive, they must confront…and being a horror movie, many don't. However, while the movie sets up the suspense well and executes some nice chills when they enter the Catacombs, the chills soon settle into temperate mildness and never really threatens to scare. In addition, the movie adds a mythological dimension to the plot in constantly referencing Dante's 'Inferno' which describes the various levels of Hell…something which we are led to believe the group are inching ever closer to as they continue deeper; however, whether this is a literal Hell, a psycho-spiritual Hell, or both is left deliberately ambiguous at the ending.

Horror movies are often treated as dumb. Something which I have always considered a criminal mis-representation as the best horror movies touch something deep within our psyches. In trying to inject some intelligence into the genre, I applaud the movie. However, crucially, while playing with some meaty ideas as the film plays itself out I began to feel that the emphasis on these mythological underpinnings detracted from the impact of the movie…and what's more the lack of any substantial engagement with the themes meant that, by the end, the movie felt like a faux-intellectual exercise rather than a whistle-stop tour of the guilt-ridden reaches of our characters' souls.

Still, 'As Above, So Below' is a decent watch due to some good acting, decent direction, and a great location which, like I say, even though the movie fails to achieve what it set out to do nonetheless deserves applause for attempting to be original.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
High-end horror, 25 May 2015

Classic horror movies have always gained their power from externalising on screen those deep, dark fears we'd rather forget. Whether it be the 1930s Universal Movie Monsters which were updates of long-told folk tales or the Slasher boom of the 1970s and 1980s with their commentary on the fallibility of our own parents, a good horror movie has always been one which knows how to push our buttons and is not afraid to, well, scare us. Unfortunately, many horror movies over the last couple of decades have taken the superficial route of quiet-loud dynamics and/or excessive gore to get by…and oh how boring it is. However, Writer/Director Jennifer Kent has delivered something which, although not a "classic", nevertheless takes the horror back to the disturbing territory where it thrives.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to cope. She is still finding it difficult to deal with the violent death of her husband several years before and her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is terrified by a monster which he believes is haunting him. At first Amelia dismisses his claims as a particularly disruptive form of childish imagination but when a creepy book is delivered which tells the story of Mr. Babadook, she begins to suspect that a sinister presence is indeed nearby.

The film then shows Amelia as she slowly unravels and succumbs to the monsters malevolence, in the process becoming a threat to both herself and Samuel. Upto this point the movie has crafted a bleak and empty atmosphere illustrative of the emotional landscape of a woman at the end of her tether. However, from this point on the movie shifts into brutal and horrifying territory. Now, don't get me wrong…even at its most terrifying moments, the film never once resorts to the cheap scare-tactics so overemployed by contemporary horrors. Instead, the scares build on the actions of the characters which have been meticulously built on the carefully constructed atmosphere.

By the end I felt exhausted from the ordeal of watching someone purge (literally) the corrosive effects of grief to rediscover the fundamental values of their existence. Heavy stuff, and certainly an emotional weight not something usually ascribed to the horror genre. Which is the real tragedy…as this kind of emotional raw-nerve is precisely the ground horror was built to explore.

In some ways it reminded me of Andrzej Zulawski's 'Possession' (1981) in that, while still a horror, it is more art-house than grind-house. For this reason the film may confuse or alienate some. However, if you have a real regard for the potential of the genre then it is well worth a watch.

Ouija (2014/II)
2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A real stinker!, 25 May 2015

A young girl dies mysteriously after playing with a Oujia board. Her friends try to contact her through said medium and make contact with malevolent spirits who, it is revealed, were responsible for their friend's death and seeks to take their lives too.

Plot-wise, I guess it's pretty standard. Has potential…even, as after all Ouija boards still have the power to creep many out. However, the movie is woefully below par. The first half moves slowly (not in a good way) and in the second half, when the contact with the malevolent spirit is made and people get offed, it just fails to scare in any way. By the one hour point, I was willing the painfully boring ordeal to end.

Why is it so ineffective? Well, the story is badly plotted, the characters are one-dimensional, the script is deplorably written, and the acting is weak. Plus, it took me a good long while to figure out that the lead characters are supposed to be high-school age as they are clearly all well into their twenties.

Movies like this give the horror genre (which I love) a cheap name. Avoid it.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Some nice creepy moments in an otherwise all-too familiar territory, 24 May 2015

Love it or (more often) hate it, there's no disputing the fact that (along with the 'Saw' franchise, which is arguably more slasher/torture-porn), and despite the fact that it owes an awful lot to 'The Blair Witch Project' (1999) in its found-footage conceit, the 'Paranormal Activity' horror franchise has defined horror since the first one back in 2007. Since the major success of the first movie each subsequent sequel up to 'Paranormal Activity 4' has enlarged its internal universe with story lines following on from the events of the first movie as well as, more impressively, story lines which both flesh out a surprisingly cohesive and eerie back-story.

'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' breaks a little with this tradition. Instead, describing itself as a "cousin" to the first four movies, this film takes a sideways step from the events surrounding the family of Katie and Kristi and chooses to change its setting to a socially deprived Hispanic community. The found-footage conceit is still in place but the change of setting is refreshing and yet loses nothing of the chill factor as we watch three friends become embroiled in these dark machinations: one of whom, Jessie, is a "marked one" and whose personal transformation we follow.

So…is it scary? Umm, well, in bits. The main hallmark of the franchise is the quiet-quiet-quiet-LOUD jump-scare. Something which infuriates many in its predictability but which nonetheless remains effective…something like the Big Mac of horror movie scare-tactics. And for better or for worse, these remain in place. However, I found the overall atmosphere of the first thirty or forty minutes actually quite creepy. However, this tension dropped off considerably after this point so that by the time the climax at the creepy house from 'Paranormal Activity 3' (my favourite of the franchise) there was little left.

Still, this is not to say that I was bored. I just wasn't scared.

Overall, I think it is an interesting installment of the continued 'Paranormal Activity' experiment, one which goes a long way to unlocking the events that preceded it and also one which lays groundwork which continued installments can build upon. However, herein lies the failing: I think the movie would offer very little to a viewer not familiar with the previous films…while for those who have seen the previous films, things just seem very, very familiar.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Passable, if a little underwhelming, Hammer fare, 5 April 2015

Set during the 1970s, charismatic Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) enlists a couple of his students and a cameraman (Sam Claflin) in an experiment to prove his pet theory that supernatural powers exist but are a manifestation of psychological trauma. In order to do this they study a young woman by the name of Jane Harper who displays telekinetic abilities but attributes it to an evil entity called Evey. The group hole up in an abandoned house-cum-makeshift research lab and Professor Coupland's theory is put to the test as all manner of creepy incidents take place and relations between the group become strained.

The problem with the movie is…it just isn't that scary. The reason? Well, to me it felt like in both its content and its execution it was trying to be too many things at once. In terms of content it felt like the movie was part possession movie/part haunted house/part occult thriller. In addition, the religious doubt subplot of the cameraman introduced at the beginning doesn't seem to go anywhere and I have no idea why it was set in the 1970s. In terms of style, this confusion comes out in the feeling that it was trying to straddle both traditional narrative conventions and found-footage. Additionally, the movie seems to be going down an English understated scare approach for most of the movie until we see a conspicuous special effect which, in context, just looks cheap. I get the feeling that, given Hammer's heritage (and the success of 'The Woman in Black' from 2012) the movie was written as a slow and subdued Gothic atmosphere soaked piece but execs worried it wouldn't cut it and decided to ramp it up in a few places.

I don't mean to sound so damning, as I found it quite easy to watch and not unenjoyable. However, I constantly found my attention drawn to other things (characters' wardrobes, editing etc.) when the movie was trying to build suspense which is always a sign that something is fundamentally missing. Still, the movie does carry with it a certain base-line creepy atmosphere from the locations and the performances are solid. But I just can't help feeling that it was imagined as being something slightly different and which would have been much better.

Bloody awful. I've had scarier kebabs., 4 January 2015

Arguably since 'Black Christmas' (1974), and certainly since 'Halloween' (1978), films in the slasher genre have been distinguished by a strict set of tropes. Namely: a horrific event kept secret by the guardians of a community; the anniversary of said event sometime later; a deranged killer that typically uses a sharp object as a weapon; a group of good-looking teens who fail to heed the warnings from the guardians and are thus killed in gloriously grotesque ways; the "final girl" – the surviving member of the group, usually female. Most slashers largely follow this template and the joy of a good slasher is not to see how they avoid these genre conventions…but rather seeing how they embrace them and embellish them. However, 'My Bloody Valentine' is bitterly disappointing in that, despite its high regard among many slasher fans, it simply trots out the format related above in the blandest and most uninspiring of ways.

The film begins with the community preparing for its first Valentine's Ball in 20 years; however, the mayor is keen to play down this fact as, through a weak exposition scene, we're told that a mining accident 20 years before was caused by supervising workers neglecting their duty and going to the Ball. During the accident lots of men died and one man, Harry Warden, survived through recourse to cannibalism and, the following year, took his revenge on the two supervisors by cutting out their hearts and warning the town not to have a dance ever again. At the same time the town is preparing for its revived Valentine's Ball, a young man called TJ has just returned from a failed trip out west to find that his girlfriend Sarah has taken up with his friend, Axel, in his absence. Relations are strained but everybody is looking forward to the party which is unfortunately cancelled when people start dying again and their hearts are sent to the mayor and police chief in heart-shaped boxes. Undeterred, the youngsters decide to stage their own party (at the mine, obviously) which is when the real massacre begins.

The set up sounds absolutely fine, intriguing even, but in EVERY regard the movie fails in the execution. It is paced very slowly as it takes a long time for the killings to really kick in but in the meantime the limp script fails to engage us in the characters or flesh out the back-story. In fact, half-way through I began to wonder if the woeful acting is suffocating a standard script, or if half-way decent actors are doing their best with a limp script (the screenwriter John Beaird also did 'Happy Birthday to Me' the same year which also suffers from the should've been much, much better charge). Although the answer is probably both. Either way, I couldn't have cared less as the kids are offed (apart from the older guy, Hollis, for some reason) and the reveal of the killer was rendered a dud as it was basically broadcast since the middle of the film. Inextricably entwined in this web of blandness is the total lack of atmosphere, even during the climax down the mine.

The sad thing about it is that the movie very easily could've been an utter classic. The mining town setting, for example, is an outstanding idea criminally left to rot; I can imagine a Dario Argento or Wes Craven utilising the mine as a complex metaphor for the labyrinthine passageways of the subconscious mind filled with all our personal and collective dark, repressed desires. Instead, the mine is utilised as…a mine. That's just weak. Even the "final girl" trope: down the mine it looks like Sarah is doing the "facing upto extreme situations" bit and then it just falls flat and she ends up watching the two guys duke it out.

Like many movies in the genre, 'My Bloody Valentine' has maintained a certain notoriety in being cut extensively in regard to the graphic kills. However, even in this regard, while the kills demonstrate some modicum of cool make-up effects, they lack the all-out Tom Savini style gore that enabled 'Friday the 13th' to rise above its limitations which, combined with the utter absence of suspense, renders the kills pedestrian in my opinion.

From the notoriety and good-standing the film has with slasher fans, and the setting with the mine, I really expected to like this movie but it lacks everything a good slasher should have. Watch it if, like me, you like going through the back catalogue of Golden Age slashers, but otherwise I wouldn't lose sleep over not watching it.

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