Ginger Nuts of Horror
by Matthew Price
Apocalypse Road starts in the post-post apocalypse, with an old woman recounting the fall of civilization. Then we flash back to two sisters (played by Katie Kohler and Ashlyn McEvers) on the titular road. Much of the suspense derives from guessing which one survives to become the old woman and who doesn't make it.
The sisterly bond between Kohler and McEvers is realistic and at time touching, so it's disappointed when they get separated at the end of the first act. The film delivers their stories in parallel, with one becoming enmeshed in a conspiracy of unclear motivations, while the other follows the more standard man-is-the-real-monster plot we've come to expect from this genre.
As with most independent films, the quality of the acting is very uneven (outside of the lead roles). Lance De Los Santos is a powerful presence in a nearly silent role, while Tiffany Heath chews the scenery like she's been starving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and Todd Jenkins is a poor man's Mark Boone, Jr. Luckily, this is a road movie, and none of the supporting cast stick around for long (except for De Los Santos, thankfully). The main draw here is the journey.
At times, that journey can be visually stunning. Director Brett Bentman and cinematographer/editor Michael Ray Lewis favor the long-take style that seems to be in vogue these days, utilizing it to great effect for both slow, contemplative scenes, and thrilling chases.
But the low budget shows its seams, as well. The extended takes are often used in talky exposition scenes as a way to shoot faster without coverage. It's not the worst sin an indie film can commit, but the technique stands out even more when juxtaposed against other, better scenes.
I was also not shocked to find no production designer, or even set decorator, among the film's credits. The costume design, by Tiffany McEvers (mother of star Ashlyn), is on point, illuminating character and fitting well with the world, but the sets are almost entirely uninspired. They mostly look like locations that would be abandoned now, in the present. It looks less like the apocalypse and more like a tour of America's neglected industrial complex.
As the movie progresses, the visuals become more hallucinatory and abstract. They're used to great effect, making it difficult to determine what's real and what isn't. At a certain point, I wondered if we were heading towards a bullshit she-was-dead-the-entire-time ending but thankfully (spoiler alert) that didn't happen.
The actual ending is moving and bittersweet in an inevitable way. (Again, it's pretty obvious someone isn't going to make it.) The emotions feel earned, even if there are bumps along the road to get there.
Ultimately, the filmmakers' reach exceeds their grasp with Apocalypse Road. I'd love to see them tackle a movie whose ambitions are more in line with their production budget. As for this film, if you're willing to look past some less-than-stellar production values and the occasional hammy performance, I recommend giving it a shot.
WARNING: NO BULLSHIT BEYOND THIS POINT.
Well actually that’s what it says on a sign on the wall in the Police Station, but it’s indicative of the film’s content as it’s very funny and 99% bullshit.
Live Evil gets off to a very different start with Officer Hancock (Charlene Amoia) out on Halloween having to deal with an injured stag in the road after which she gets a call to a mansion where something seriously evil has gone down. Lots of partygoers are dead and there’s a demon in one of the bedrooms, Hancock arrests her/it and takes her/it to the small town lock-up where Sheriff Pete (Vladimir Kulich) is having a bad night as Halloween is always a pain in the arse. So far I’m 15 minutes in and this film is really something different, it’s mostly in such subdued colour that it’s almost black and white with some classy link segments in rich colour which are all very glossy. Aesthetically the film works beautifully but it’s not all looks and no substance.
30 minutes in and the film is pretty damned cool, billed as a cross between Ghostbusters, Dawn of the Dead and the Twilight Zone I’m finding it hard to agree. To me it’s more like Assault on Precinct 13 meets Ash Vs Evil Dead with some very hard to kill Demons calling the shots. There’s a small assortment of criminals in the cells, the town drunkard, Rosie an unruly teenage girl (Raven Whisnant) and a pair of highly intelligent ‘F.B.I. Most Wanted’ mercenaries Mr. Eleven (Ed Ricker) and Mr. Twelve (Carter) who are cooling their heels when the demon joins them. Incidentally, everyone who sees the Demon sees someone different and all are affected in murderous ways.
The casting is spot-on, the acting just fine and almost an hour in the film is all very straightforward in as much as you’re never quite sure what’s coming next but neither should you care as It’s all good fun. The dead don’t stay that way, whether they are the recently deceased or somewhat older they tend to come back to cause more problems for the hapless constabulary, several of whom now sport a fantastic line of glow in the dark eyeballs. The acting is fine, nothing wrong with the filming or sound and although it’s really obvious that the demons are just people wearing masks it’s actually part of what makes this film a wholly enjoyable cheesefest.
Tony Todd is cast against his usual bad-ass type as he puts in an appearance as a disgruntled Pastor having to deal with his long-dead predecessors who enlist him to perform an exorcism. It’s not a major role, and I wouldn’t even call it particularly pivotal, but hey, it’s Tony Todd so it’s all ok.
Live Evil is a crazy film but an overall enjoyable one.
Available now on VOD.
ANTIHUMAN = ANTICLIMAX
This is an odd one and not a good one.
It is promoted as having similarities to Orphan Black and Resident Evil. All I can think of is that whoever works in the publicity department and came up with that either has never seen either Orphan Black or Resident Evil, as Antihuman has about as much in common with either of those as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has with The Sound of Music.
First of all a major gripe (for me at least)
There are certain things I’m not a fan of in movies and tv series, one of the biggies is a score which tramples all over the dialogue, and Antihuman regularly has that. It’s damned annoying and doesn’t add anything to the ‘action’, not as if there’s a lot of action in this film as it’s one of those long-winded ‘films with a message’ which is slower than molasses running down a glacier. One thing there’s a lot of is dialogue, and that comes across as somewhat stilted especially when two people regularly refer to one another by name when they are the only ones talking with the sort of delivery expected of amateur theatre. It’s all rather ‘arty’ and much of what is being said is either self-indulgent pointless bollocks or very simple facts being delivered as if they are somehow answering the mysteries of the universe.
I think there’s an attempt to be ‘unique’ and to instil a meaningful depth in this film which is marginalised by the basic content.
The main character is Maggie, who returns to a now abandoned psychological research facility her deceased mother worked at and died in. The first 25 minutes or so are spent skirting the issue that Maggie is dying and that there’s more to it than meets the eye, but it’s all a bit tedious, especially given that every time there’s a ‘serious moment’ there’s the awfully intrusive music.
One of her friends, Peggy, has for some reason swapped names with Maggie as they apparently have the same name. That could be considered bizarre except that for some reason people christened ‘Margaret’ (Maggie) are often known as ‘Peggy’, I only know this because I had an ‘Aunt Peggy’, so yes, there’s some sort of logic there but why they bother with that is beyond me as it would be lost on most people.
After a lot of ‘talky bits’ we’re treated to some nice visuals of the Earth/stars and a dream sequence involving a sunset , a supposedly scary guy, a sky full of birds and radio static/warning sirens before things go apocalyptic.
It’s promoted as being in the same mould as Orphan Black and Resident Evil, but I’d be very concerned about violations of the trades descriptions act as to me it just comes across as a very beautifully filmed load of bollocks.
There’s a lot of camping in the woods going on, and as someone who has spent a lot of time in tents it was lovely to have that actual atmosphere with the sound recordist capturing the reminiscence of early morning nature waking up in the background even though that’s overdone and excessively loud. At the 40 minutes stage we’re still not at the psychological research facility, so no closer to the actual truth of the story. Five minutes on from that, after a soul-searching bi-lingual (Russian parts with English subtitles) conversation with the remains of a dead bird, we finally arrive at the research facility which is a sprawling red brick affair with scarcely any of the decay we usually see in horror films. So far I’m finding this to be slow going and although there appears to be a serious attempt at creating something special it’s coming across as more specious. Half way through the film and the worst thing that’s happened so far is that the main character Maggie had a nosebleed; it wasn’t even a gusher, just a drip. The bone dry dialogue is getting to me now; I’m somehow missing the point of this film, if indeed it actually has one. The supporting cast members do little of any value, and it’s all rather tedious. The dream sequence was pointless, even if visually arresting, and it was about as frightening as leftover porridge.
After a few minutes of more random conversation Maggie buggers off into the woods where she meets a guy who used to work in the building. There’s a totally pointless exchange between them which to me is just more piling on of the film’s sense of self-importance. There’s nothing of Orphan Black or Resident Evil in this, and to claim a comparison for promotional purpose I would call misleading to say the least. Maybe other people can see it, but I can’t.
There’s around half an hour left of this and my mind is sorting through loads of scenarios of outcomes which could vastly improve the story but the fear here is that it’s going to be as vapid throughout as it has been so far. As the main character Maggie is dying I suspect that there’ll be a ‘Sixth Sense’ attempt at a revelation in which all of them are just facets of a dying woman’s character, which would be piss-poor but I’m half expecting that. I would say that even ‘The Butler Did It’ would be a great revelation at the moment, but as so far there has been nothing happening that could be blamed on a Butler even that’s a stretch.
It has a lot of the elegance of an Aronofsky picture but none of the grit and at the moment the pointless back and forth of stating the obvious in monotone is getting beyond tolerance, especially as the score isn’t necessary here adding nothing to proceedings.
It’s trying to be something special and failing. The sound mixing is OTT for most of the film, the dialogue is largely what I would expect from arty drama students and the lame attempt to have some sort of breath-taking message about humanity is laughable. Whatever notions of some sort of fitting ending I had in mind were thwarted by yet another arty tendency of not actually providing anything satisfactory to the point where we have no idea what happens to anyone except for a hinted-at apocalypse. It’s quite easily one of the most boring films I’ve seen in recent years but I dare say that strokey-beard poseurs and philosophy students will love it.
Anya Korzun, Danielle Arden, Andrew Jardine, Katie Keight, and Kathryn Goldsmith star in a film by Luke Gietzen and Mark Robins which I am struggling to say anything really positive about, which is why I haven’t except that it’s visually pretty.
Antihuman is now available on VOD from Wild Eye Releasing.
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I saw five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the month of September. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
I tried. I really did. I wanted to write an appraisal of this movie that took it on it’s own terms, without reference to the book. I wanted, as far as I could, to assess this as a piece of storytelling in it’s own right, and see what I had to say about the movie, rather than dissect the adaptation angle.
But let’s face it, that was never going to happen.
There is simply zero chance I can get through an article about IT the movie without referencing IT the book. It’s simply unpossible. IT is a seminal, foundational text, for me - one I have reread many, many times (in point of fact, one I am in the processing of re-reading right now), and that is branded across my soul. There’s simply no way to avoid that doubling effect, seeing a version of the story I love so much on the big screen.
So I took along my stepson, as at least some kind of bulwark/control group against that effect, to see what we would see.
And I liked it just fine.
The opening was especially powerful (and yeah, okay, faithful to the book). The moment when little Georgie got his arm bitten off, before being dragged down the storm drain… yeah, man, that set out the stall. I think it’s easy to forget, as someone from whom the novel IT is now such a comfy pair of slippers, what a truly transgressive move brutally murdering a child in the opening is, and seeing it happen on screen, in a room full of strangers, brought the shock of that moment home to me in a fresh way.
So that was good. And 80’s Derry was beautifully realised, building off the iconography of Stranger Things the audience will have been primed by - the New Kids on the Block gag was especially deftly handled in that regard. It’s also undeniably disconcerting to realise that the 80’s is as far from us now as the 50’s was from the 80’s the novel was written and published in. One of the huge attractions of the book for me was and is the evocation of 50’s childhood, the birth of rock and roll, Coke in green bottles, all of that. To realise that, for my stepson, the 80’s childhood is as exotic, and old fashioned, as semi-fictional and mythologised as the 50’s is to me… there’s a lot to unpack there, emotionally, and far from all of it’s bad, but it is kind of painful. Bloody hell, life is short.
I’m sorry, where were we? Ah, yes, the kids. Any version of IT lives or dies with the kids, for me. Especially given the probably correct decision to tell the movie in a linear fashion, with a now-guaranteed Chapter 2 taking in the adults. And I think they nailed it, in terms of the casting. None of them looked the way I pictured them, exactly, but they all looked right - and, for the most part, behaved right. Richie was the highlight for me - because, I realise on this latest re-read, Richie is the kid I most strongly identify with. For my money, Finn Wolfhard got it completely. He had that insufferable, unstoppable quality - irritating, but with juuuuust enough infectious charm to make you smile, even as you (sometimes) groaned. But I felt the kids were all good to great, in terms of their performances.
I did have some issues with some of the writing though. Mike, in particular, just didn’t have enough to do, and I wasn’t wild about the aspects of his character that got handed over to Ben (I’ll come back to this). As for Bill… the kid was fine, but each time I go through this story, I’m less convinced by Bill as a character, and the movie didn’t seem to find a way to fix this. As my stepson put it (totally unprompted by me, I hasten to add) ‘He’s just a bit.. Nothing, isn’t he, in terms of the story? I mean, apart from his brother being killed, what’s he for?’
In fact, let’s do this now: My other main issue with the film is simply that it leans too much on some very creaky horror movie tropes. Jump scares, for example. I’m not one of those purists that insist that a jump scare is automatically cheap or bad - I think a genuinely well-executed jump scare is art, albeit probably not high art - but boy, there are a lot of them here, and I felt like they showed a lack of confidence in the subject matter, to be honest. IT contains what is, IMO, one of the scariest core concepts of any horror story I’ve ever read - a whole town that is haunted, by a shapeshifting creature the feeds on the meat of terrified children, and can resemble your worst nightmares. You should not need a parade of jump scares to make that shit scary - that shit is scary, inherently.
Again, some of them are very well executed - Georgie’s murder is beautifully done (and totally justified), and the slide projector coming to life sequence (a genuinely smart and savvy updating of Georgie’s picture book, I felt) was another example of a well-earned popcorn spiller, but elsewhere, it felt like too much of a crutch - or maybe just too much of an expected convention to avoid.
That said, many of the sequences where IT/Pennywise stalked the kids were superbly executed. Whilst I wasn’t wild about Ben’s library encounter - it felt both perfunctory and overplayed, somehow - Eddie’s lepper was brilliantly realised, and the moment when Beverly’s sink belched blood was another good example of a well-earned jump scare - as well as a rare example of where I felt the on-screen horror actually eclipsed that of the book, in terms of imagination and impact.
Similarly, I was mostly fine with the changes made at the end, in terms of the final confrontation, and the notion of the kids being preserved (presumably as snacks for ITs long hibernation). Having the gang come together to physically confront and fight IT felt truer to the spirit of the novel than the TV movie’s god-awful giant spider and actors just starting as a glowing light. I bloody love the whole concept of the deadlights, but it’s a very good example of the kind of concept that a novel can do brilliantly and a movie will always struggle with. This way is probably better all round.
That said, there were two big changes that actively annoyed me. The first was, as I mentioned above, the gutting of Mike as a character - firstly by giving the librarian role of the group over to Ben, who as the pointy end of the love triangle had quite enough going on, and more importantly by changing the nature of his relationship with his father - again such a pivotal part of the novel - into something perfunctory and, well, honestly a little mean, which I felt did a disservice to the storytelling. I appreciate the struggle to truncate such a sprawling novel (or even half of it) into a palatable movie length chunk, but for me, all the kids are important, and taking an axe to the bio of the only black kid in the story… yeah, I’m not wild about that.
Similarly, I was borderline infuriated by the fridging of Bev in the final act. Again, throughout the movie, Bev is a brilliant, well realised character. To casually turn her into a quest object for the final act - to make her capture the motivator to put the band back together and get down the sewer for the big final bust up - really, Hollywood? This is the best you can do? I’m not even angry, really - just disappointed. I’m not sure what it says about us that a film made in 2017 is actually worse on gender and race representation than the 80’s horror novel it was based on, but it strikes me as a pretty epic failure of imagination.
Like I say, disappointing.
All that said, it didn’t ruin the movie for me, or anything. I enjoyed it - at moments even loved it. Richie really was my Richie, from writing to look to performance, and Pennywise was also superbly creepy - especially in moments where he emerged from small spaces, or opened his jaws way beyond human capacity - or, perhaps best of all, as a giant version of him reached out from the projected image on the wall, grabbing at our gang. The bullies were also well played (if for my taste just a little underexplored - it’s never really clear, for example, why Henry is taking a knife to Ben’s stomach, even though it’s kind of a big deal). The effects work was brilliant, for the most part, with a commendable amount of physical work that I especially appreciated.
And most of all, it was Derry, and it was the kids. They got both of those pretty well dead on, quibbles aside, and if you get them right, you’ll always have yourself a show.
I’ll be very interested to see how Chapter 2 plays out, and I wonder if, some time down the line, there’ll be a dvd/blu ray supercut that edits the two movies together, to try and recreate that duel timeline narrative that’s so integral to the storytelling of the novel.
But for now, I got to go and see IT at the cinema with my stepson in 2017, and not only did it not suck, it was an entertaining, and occasionally even brilliant moviegoing experience.
And I’ve got to confess, as the lights came up, and I saw the mostly full theatre of mostly teenage viewers pick up their coats, smiling, laughing, chatting about favourite moments, I felt an entirely unearned surge of pride.
Pride that a story I love so much still has the power to reach out and scare people.
By Joe X Young
A year on from the death of her husband Neil, Joan (Jessica Graham) and her best friend Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) are marking the anniversary by inviting old friends around for a bite to eat, a chat and a little revenge for their mistreatment of Neil. Assorted characters are introduced and dispatched in a variety of ways. Upon introduction there’s a board showing a menu of what that person will be eating which ties into their personality and the whole thing begins as something initially dry with the first character before becoming flippant with the second, alternating the mood throughout. The dialogue is sharp and witty and I found myself laughing out loud at the antics of the second guest, only 20 minutes into the film and it was already highly enjoyable even though really removed from the norm.
One of the more unusual aspects is that the guests are not all sitting together at a table in an Agatha Christie ’10 Little Indians’ style or indeed a ‘The Last Supper’ weekly dispatching, but are all turning up one at a time on the same night with scarcely a beat between when one person is killed and another one rings the doorbell.
Obviously things don’t actually stay according to plan and there are moments when the dinner-table turns and some housekeeping needs to be done, which I found to be not only highly realistic but massively amusing.
The trailer for this film does what the majority of trailers do in as much as it cherry-picks what is considered to be some of the better parts of the action but in this case the trailer doesn’t do the film justice. It’s a tough call because much of what makes this film so entertaining is character dynamics and not the murders, but the dynamics wouldn’t be quite so enticing than the more gruesome aspects.
Of particular note here are, well, basically the whole cast, as they are all superb so it’s hard to single them out. This really is Jessica Graham’s film though as she’s the most involved character and perfect in all aspects.
There’s a little something extra to this film and I won’t dare to tell you what it is but it has to be one of the most well thought out endings I’ve ever seen.
It’s a short review, but to say more about it would require going into more detail, which could spoil it for you, suffice to say that there’s enough of interest going on and the film goes by at such a pace that it never drags and is quite brilliant, highly recommended.
by Joe X Young
Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, a film can grab my attention right from the get-go. The Gatehouse is one such film. The reason for the attention grabbing is that it’s actually off to a quite endearing start with a father and daughter who, armed with a small spade, are going treasure hunting in the woods for a gift he planted there.
Now I have to be absolutely honest about this, I like this film BUT it’s probably not going to appeal to those wanting or expecting something along the lines of ‘Mama’ or ‘The Babadook’ as The Gatehouse has only one real flaw but it’s something of a biggie: It has a severe identity crisis.
Here’s the deal, it has a basic spook story setup with the father, Jack Winter (Simeon Willis), being a writer who is not doing so well with having both financial troubles through lack of work and the recent loss of his wife in a boating accident. The father is a somewhat likeable yet troubled soul as he keeps imagining the less than healthy looking ghost of his dead wife everywhere. He is played with such depth as to be thoroughly credible even when he’s losing his temper with his daughter out of the sheer frustration of life.
The daughter, 10 year old Eternity (Scarlett Rayner), appears at first to be a charmer; she’s hopeful of at some point finding buried treasure in the woods so she can help her dad financially. Sweet kid, yes? Well she would be if she wasn’t prone to being mouthy, pissing off eligible babysitters and buggering things up through clumsiness, some of which is slightly comic. The relationship between father and daughter here is superb, they come across as not just father and daughter but as the best of friends but not in an artificial and sickly way as Eternity is somewhat unruly and needs to be brought under control occasionally. Scarlett Rayner who plays Eternity has only two film credits to her name, The Gatehouse being the first and obviously major role which is very well deserved, brilliantly acted and I dare say she could make it big in the film industry. I know that’s a reaching statement for someone just starting out in acting but she really is that good.
She does contribute one of the elements of the identity crisis to this film as there are moments which are comical yet her delivery is deadpan. Is it a horror film or is it a comedy? It was presented to me as horror, but having seen it I’m not so sure if it’s a horror, a comedy horror, a dark fantasy or something defying a label as it seems to be slipping in and out of expectation at random. It also slips out of POV as suddenly Jack starts narrating the story for a few minutes. It’s all a bit messy, and normally I’d be trashing it like the hard to please sonofabitch I am, but this film seems so casual that it gets away with it all.
Aside from the bad dreams the father is having, in some of which he sees his drowned wife in various situations and others in which he’s harming his daughter in very grisly ways there’s also an ancient curse, a tree god in the woods and a sinister landowner called Algernon Sykes played by Linal Haft who helps the creepy tone of the film along nicely. So far there’s a whole formulaic backing but it’s not actually playing out that way as there are plenty of somewhat subdued ‘jump scares’ which I believe are actually downplayed deliberately with no hyperactive foley.
As mentioned there are parts of this film which seem to be played for low-key laughs which although incongruous actually work in what is an absorbing film with fantastical elements.
It takes quite a while, roughly 50 minutes until something genuinely horrific happens, but when it does it’s certainly unexpected and quite bizarre for a film allegedly based on true events. I’m usually pissed off by films which take too damned long to get some meat on the bones but this film is different. I was, as usual, hoping for a horror film which even if it didn’t scare the living shit out of me would at least deliver a chill or two and this one doesn’t really scare but it’s still pretty good.
There are lovely performances throughout, with nobody coming across as amateur and the youngest member of the cast is every bit as competent as more senior actors such as Linal Haft and Paul Freeman (Probably best remembered for his persistent attempts to steal the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones).
It’s got undertones of The Goonies about it with none of that film’s action but a lot more darkness preventing it actually being a tale for children. It’s one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a good long time, but one that I actually enjoyed throughout even though it has a severe identity crisis.
Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft, Paul Freeman, Hannah Waddingham, Alix Wilton Regan, and Melissa Knatchbull star in a Martin Gooch film.
Available 12/5 on Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I’ve seen five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the last month. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
We’re off to the BFI in London for this one, as part of the Screen King season in September, celebrating Stephen King’s 70th birthday with a month of screenings of some of the most iconic movies based on his work (and also Maximum Overdrive, which tragically I couldn’t justify financially, no matter how loudly my soul called out).
I hadn’t originally planned to do this double bill. Carrie, I fancied - I’d seen it a few times in my late teens, but rarely if ever since, and getting to see it on the big screen appealed. The Shining, on the other hand, I really felt I’d seen - a lot. But then good friend and podcast buddy Daniel Harper told me that if I hadn’t seen The Shining in the cinema, I really hadn’t seen it at all, and I figured if I was going to make the trip, I might as well go for the double bill (and, spoilers; Daniel was right).
And when we say the big screen, to be clear, we’re talking about the BFI London IMAX - in other words, the biggest screen in London. Just looking at the damn thing as I walked into the theatre gave me vertigo.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I took the afternoon off work and traveled down with my Dad, who’d not seen Carrie at all, and not seen The Shining since it’s original theatrical run. We hung out in London, did some tourist stuff, and went for a meal before the 6pm Carrie showing. There was also a memorabilia auction connected to a charity, and the exhibits were all in the IMAX foyer, so we had some fun nosing about at Christian Bale's Batman suit, the Lament configuration box from Hellraiser, and (personal highlight) the hat Sylvester McCoy wore as the 7th Doctor in Remembrance of the Daleks. Also some weird flying bike prop they claimed was from RoboCop 3 - as if!!! Still, there was also a close to lifesize RoboCop model. I may have gotten some photos before heading into the theatre.
Carrie was a really interesting experience. There are ways in which the IMAX did the film no favours - the flaws in the source material film stock were painfully apparent, especially in some of the daylight exterior shots, where an effect that was probably intended as a soft haze gave almost the impression of fog. Similarly, some of the night footage, especially during the driving sequence with Travolta and Allen, had a slightly grainy quality - which I actually enjoyed, but again felt to be more visible than had originally been intended.
That said, there were also aspects of the movie that were served well by the bigger screen treatment; the climactic sequence, as you might expect, was appropriately overwhelming, but there were also some quieter moments that I also felt stood out especially well. The sequence where the girls are being given extended PT as punishment benefited a lot, the size of the screen emphasising the long panning shots over the increasingly exhausted classmates, and the long spinning shot of Bobby Ross and Carrie White dancing at the prom as the film builds to it’s climax was, literally, dizzying.
And, you know, it’s fucking Carrie. It’s a hell of a story, in the classic mold of especially early King stories - it’s a view of humanity that is unflinching, unflattering, but manages to stop just short of cruel, just barely shy of utter cynicism - which, of course, makes the inevitable ending of the tale all the more shattering. There aren’t actually that many irredeemably awful people in the world, this story seems to say - but there’s often just enough, and enough others with lazy good intentions but insufficient understanding and an all-too-powerful herd instinct venality, to create tragedy.
And De Palma is pretty much the perfect director for this subject matter. The opening shower scenes, for all the beauty of many of the slow motion shot compositions, also owe a clear debt to exploitation cinema, and that eye is present throughout (especially in the aforementioned PT punishment scene, and in the depiction of the deliciously dysfunctional Chris and Billy relationship). Similarly, the way he allows the prom scene to pay out, especially the seemingly endless march of Carrie and Tommy to the stage, as the bucket hangs poised, and Sue realises, just too late, that something awful is about to happen, is frankly cruel: he allows us to absorb every ounce of Carrie’s doomed joy at her moment of acceptance, knowing that it’s all about to come crashing down around her. In that way, De Palma both makes us complicit in the awful voyeurism, and also victimises us, by forcing us into the role of impotent witnesses, lambs to Carrie’s slaughter.
It’s still one of the great moments in all of horror cinema, for me. No subtlety to it, and no mystery, either - the horror and awful tension come not from any sense that we are unsure how this moment is going to play out, but entirely from the sickening inevitability of what is occurring, second by painful second. It’s unforgivably long in the playing out, and the decision to stick with the slow mo beyond the initial downpour of blood is similarly brilliantly sadistic, really twisting the knife. It’s so brutal that once the lighting goes crazy and the mayhem and murder kicks off, it’s almost - almost - a relief.
And bloody hell, Sissy Spacek. What an incredible performance. Every single ounce of vulnerability, every moment of naivete, her tragic, doomed defiance of her mother… Spacek sells every single moment of it with an authenticity so powerful it’s painful. Every scene she is in, she owns - no mean feat, considering how little dialogue she has in most of them - and a huge part of what makes the film such a creeping, crawling horror to watch is bound up in how much Spacek’s portrayal of Carrie White both captures and breaks your heart.
The years really haven’t dulled it, for me. Dated it, sure, but not dulled it. Carrie remains an intense, unsettling, upsetting movie-going experience that both bludgeons and cuts with cruelty and skill.
There was a fifteen minute window between Carrie and The Shining. I frankly could have done with longer. A shot of bourbon took the edge off a little, but it was still an experience that I suspect will live long in the memory.
The core concept revolves around a bunch of friends getting a ramshackle hotel to convert into a horror themed attraction with horrific consequences on the opening night. Straight off I am going to confess that I don’t have much love for ‘Mocumentaries’ and ‘found footage’ films, so it really has to offer something different for me to be interested. Hell House LLC brings it.
During the course of the documentary style footage we are given a very thin idea of what has gone on in the aftermath of the opening-night events; however one person comes forward with tapes made by the organisers who documented all the stages of creating the attraction. So now we have a documenting inside of the documentary which is where the main action happens. Pace varies, switching as it does between interviews, news footage and the organisers footage with all aspects blended ideally so it doesn’t descend into a constant stream of bland chatting or jump scares, the latter of which are in fact few and far between as this film is more reliant on the personal interaction of the main characters as they are largely blaming each other for things such as prop dummies moving mysteriously et cetera.
There is a somewhat obvious back story of a suicide at the hotel which is of little consequence but some nice little touches associated with this, none of which detract from the story proper and the whole thing comes across as an authentic documentary.
The acting, to me at least, is a triumph. In the organiser footage the actors all come across as real people whose only awareness of being filmed is seemingly from their friend filming them with a camcorder. The dialogue is entirely natural, no forced scenes, no nudity and everything just has a perfectly natural feeling as if we are witnessing genuine events.
One of the things I really liked about this film is that a lot of what is in it as far as the special effects are concerned is very straightforward. With it being a themed attraction they litter it with horror paraphernalia, plastic severed limbs, big rubber spiders, scary clown mannequins and so forth. That was one of the more interesting aspects as one could never be sure whether what you were looking at was something they had rigged up or not, and even the things they had rigged often had the tendency to not remain where they had put them. Another thing I liked was that wasn’t the typical gorefest, with tension being heightened by panic as opposed to the usual blood and guts.
It’s all in all a beautifully simple film which delivers the goods effortlessly.
DVD Special Features
Director’s commentary track
Feature film extended cut (97 minutes)
Feature film includes recovered basement footage.
Over 30 minutes of bonus material.
Behind the scenes video
Cast auditions video
Unreleased movie trailer
DVD Release Date: October 1, 2017 – DVD only. Purchase at http://hellhousellc.com
UK RESIDENTS BEWARE: It does state on the site that it is a region 1 DVD and that shipping is for USA and Canada only.
Out now on all major VOD is The Forlorned, taken from the book by Angela J Townsend who also co-wrote the screenplay and served as executive producer
Spooky films are commonplace, low-budget ones even more so, but what is rare is a low-budget spooky film with genuine atmosphere and good acting. The Forlorned has a simple enough haunted house premise with just enough about it to make it more interesting than the average. Perhaps the greatest aspect of this being the film’s tighter focus on a central character whose experiences we follow rather than the shifting perspectives of having half a dozen model types scene stealing whilst running and screaming all over the place. The Forlorned benefits from a slow pace and solid performances without feeling the need for any flashiness.
Tom Doherty needs work and so he applies for a job doing maintenance and restoration work on an island lighthouse and properties in Nova Scotia, Canada. Little does he know that the island is so haunted that none of the locals wanted the job. It’s a reasonable set up, with the opening scenes stating what actually happened in 1812, which to my way of thinking might have been better if it had been expanded upon as the relevant segments are somewhat short. That is not to say that the film suffers for this, just that it may have made an already good film a lot better, however there’s always the possibility that what follows through the bulk of the film may have appeared too sedate in comparison.
Colton Christensen excels in the role of Tom Doherty, I watch one hell of a lot of low-budget horror films, a vast amount of which have lead characters who couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag and are mostly hired for glamour rather than talent. Colton Christensen is a refreshing change in that he looks as if he could genuinely be the kind of person he is portraying, moreover he actually acts as if he is just a handyman in a haunted house. It’s a performance worthy of a main character in a Stephen King film, which this isn’t, but having said that it did remind me of one of my favourite spooky films, Stephen King’s 1408, which the build-up in The Forlorned for the most part manages to emulate without being derivative as it utilises familiar tropes but gives them enough tweaks to separate them from the mainstream. 1408 is superior but so was the budget, yet The Forlorned delivers the goods with as much style.
The supporting cast for the most part have an air of awkwardness about them consistent with their roles, suitably restrained, with no outstanding performances or characters overshadowing Tom Doherty so we keep all eyes on him as we are supposed to. It’s a very clever balance. Elizabeth Mouton as Amy is introduced somewhat late in the proceedings, giving careful exposition at the same time as setting up the denouement.
The production team have all done a fine job, the muted colour schemes lend a beautiful atmosphere and the special effects are excellent. All in all with a plethora of ghosts, Demonic hogs, deranged violence and a thoroughly believable descent into madness The Forlorned is good enough to stand a second viewing.
By Stewart Horn
An abortion clinic is attacked by Christian extremists; doctors are murdered and, impossibly, an aborted fetus is rescued.
Twenty years later a family gather for a traditional Christmas, but there are divisions and tensions within the family - some of them obviously don't want to be there and it's uncomfortable even before it all goes crazy.
The matriarch wants a happy final Christmas together before she sells the family home and sets off for a jolly round the world, but her kids think she's abandoning them and spending their inheritance. The eldest sister is very prim and married to a clergyman, who seems the equally uptight but spies on another couple having sex then retires to a wardrobe for ahem... privacy. The other sister is heavily pregnant but still drinks, smokes pot and manages a lively sexual encounter with her partner. The youngest son seems the most normal despite having downs syndrome, and the elderly grandfather self-medicates with marijuana.
A stranger (whom we have already seen kill a neighbour) knocks on the door and the family invite him in, but when he starts spouting extreme religious views they throw him out again. The family settle down to dinner but the old resentments still seethe. It's almost a relief when the hooded stranger starts killing them.
As an exploration of family dynamics, this is cleverly observed, unflinching and cruel. The family continue to bicker even as their numbers dwindle, and nobody is portrayed as wholly sympathetic. The little mind games they play with each other are horrible. There is an odd contrast between the well crafted subtlety of these moments and the violence, which is grand guignol played for laughs. The scene with the kitchen blender could have been lifted from an early Peter Jackson film.
We've all had family occasions like this, when we offer a silent prayer that an axe-wielding madman will come in and kill us all so we don't have to suffer our terrible families for another moment. I can't think of a film that has captured that feeling better than this one. Excellent festive fayre.