Ginger Nuts of Horror
There's a surfeit of horror and bags of laughs to be had during what is probably one of the most brutal gorefests on TV
For me it's 'The Chin for the Win' as 'Ash vs Evil Dead': Season 2 arrives on Blu-ray™ and DVD 23 October 2017.
Unless you've been living in a vacuum for the past thirty years you can't help but have encountered Bruce Campbell in 'The Evil Dead' films as they are somewhat legendary and quite probably the best horror/comedy franchise ever devised. Back in late 2015 the movie fans such as myself eagerly anticipated the release of the announced TV version, our hopes were that it would contain similar irreverent comedy and gore as the original films, even if it needed to be somewhat watered down for modern TV sensibilities, however that wasn't to be. It was better. We were treated to ten glorious episodes of horror action, vile special effects and one liners worthy of, or indeed better than, the original outings, with the main man 'Ash Williams' (The chin himself, Bruce Campbell) once more dishing out a much needed dose of justice to those pesky little 'Deadites'.
If you haven't seen the first series I will bring you up to speed in a basic, non-threatening and major spoiler-free way.
Roughly 30 years have passed since Ash took on the Deadites in the 1300s, and he's back in the present day and working as a stock-boy in a supermarket. All very low key, but he seems content to go through the motions until once again he encounters the Deadites. As he is well aware of what they are and what to do about them he's duty bound to kick some Deadite butt, ably assisted by two of his co-workers 'Pablo' (Ray Santiago), and 'Kelly' (Dana DeLorenzo). There's more to this than just defeating Deadites, as Ash also has to battle against the mysterious and formidable 'Ruby' (Lucy Lawless) and her nightmarish 'children'. There's a surfeit of horror and bags of laughs to be had during what is probably one of the most brutal gorefests on TV and each episode left me wishing it was an hour longer as I believe it's even better than the original three movies.
Okay? Still with me? Here we go for season two:
Season two brings even more to the table with a piling on of the action, more blood and guts, the inevitable laughs and the introduction of Lee Majors (TV’s “The Six Million Dollar Man”) as Ash’s father. When Ash returns to his home town of Elk Grove things are about to take a turn for the nasty as he has to deal with Ruby and encounters a whole new set of problems involving the demon Baal, the Necronomicon and as if things couldn't get any worse, a bunch of joyriders who steal Ash's beloved Delta, yes folks, that heap of junk is still running!
I was happy to see Ash Vs Evil Dead mainly because there's so little like it out there in the horror world, so to have it return as a TV series of such high quality was simply inspired, and I'm glad to say that it works perfectly. All of the cast are superb, with credible personalities and even in a horror series played for laughs there are moments which really grab a hold as these are people you can't help but care about because the character development is exceptional, taking what could be just basic sidekicks and villains and giving them real depth. I dare you not to fall at least a little in love with the hilariously potty-mouthed 'Ashy Slashy', you'll see what I mean when you watch it. Chief (or indeed 'Jefe') among the cast is of course Bruce Campbell who does a sterling job of continuing the role he made famous thirty years ago as if he'd never been anyone else other than our favourite chainsaw/gauntlet armed, boomstick wielding hero.
If you're a fan of the original films then you really need to see the series, and if you're a fan of season one then you'll find season two to be even better. I know I did.
'Ash vs Evil Dead': Season 2 arrives on Blu-ray™ and DVD 23 October 2017 so it's out NOW and contains plenty of extras.
There are certain things I am wary of when reviewing films, one of which is the independent multitasker, that very common animal who writes, directs, produces and even composes the score for the film as well as giving himself the starring role. These films are usually to be avoided like the plague. J Van Auken was obviously a very busy man as he wore all of those various hats. Revelator is one of those rare exceptions in which he didn’t stretch his talents too thinly as this film is totally engrossing and J Van Auken as the principal character is flawless in the portrayal.
The basics are that there’s this guy John who can see ghosts, not everyone believes him, yet with sufficient interest from certain people he gets a degree of credibility he’d rather not have as he is much sought after but not always in a good way. Valerie (Mindy Rae), a journalist of the ‘top 10 lists’ variety sets her sights on finding out the truth about John’s abilities and either exposing him or promoting him, as in her world Internet clicks equal cash in pocket.
The last heir to the Bellvue fortune has died, and there are questions regarding legitimacy of the cause, so John is called upon for answers even though the family believe him to be a fraud. Valerie invites herself along and generally interferes in spite of John’s reluctance to get involved.
The film is shot in very muted colours with an overall feeling of drudgery, this works beautifully as it lends a more sombre tone to complement John’s personality. On that note, J Van Auken who plays John, doesn’t appear to be acting at all, his movements, speech patterns and general demeanour are exactly as one would expect of a person in his predicament. There is good if not limited support from other cast members but chiefly it’s the MC’s film and one which is all the better for it.
So far this may not sound enticing, especially if you’re a fan of non-stop gore and jump scares, though don’t write it off as although there is a small amount of gore this film is not about that, it’s about John, and the character portrayal there is complex and perfectly performed. There’s a lot to be said for films such as ‘Paranormal Jump-Scares Part 27’ or whatever other cash cow the movie industry churns out for $$$$$$, and I don’t mind admitting that although I find a lot of them boring, some of them can be fun, yet I would gladly trade a dozen such films for one such as Revelator. It’s a class act and if there’s ever a follow-up I’d be happy to see it.
Typically when it takes two years for a film to get a DVD release, the alarm bells have been ringing loud for some time. Originally produced in 2015, but only now getting a UK DVD release The Unraveling is a film that wouldn't usually have got a second glance had this been known at the time.
Thankfully, the fact that it took two years for it to get a DVD release wasn't known when the review request came in, as this is a little gem of a film.
Michael has been trying to shake his heroin addiction. He has promised his pregnant girlfriend to whom he is about to marry, that he is clean, but that is not quite the truth. His friends stage a fake kidnapping as a prank for his bachelor party, and Michael is hooded up and hauled off into the woods. But without his fix, Michaels withdrawals start to kick in. After one of his friends is found dead the rest of the group begin to feel increasingly scared and tormented and are thrown into a desperate game of survival as the mysterious killer rages on.
Now while this all seems rather familiar, prank going wrong, something nasty lurking in the backwoods, friendships put to the test, campers being picked off one by one The Unraveling is not only more than it seems, but it is more than its constituent parts.
Key to the success of the film is in the use of a well realised and well-written use of the unreliable narrator. While the film is seen from the points of view of everyone, we the viewer experience the film from Michael's perspective, where his going cold turkey allows for a disorientating and confusing unraveling of the narrative.
For the most part, the film plays out like a thousand other films that have gone before it, but this done on purpose, as it lures the viewer into a false sense of security, where they believe they know exactly what is going on. But thanks to some clever touches and flourishes The Unraveling keeps the viewer on foot for the duration of the film.
Strong performances from the cast in general and a reliable and assured direction from Thomas Jakobsen ensure that this film remains taut and claustrophobic throughout its entire length. Aided by some beautiful cinematography and some confident editing The Unraveling's cinematic canvas is just as entrancing to watch as the action on screen.
The Unraveling is one of that rare breed of films that manages to break away from confines of its genre trappings to deliver a film that far outweighs any preconceived expectations the viewer may have going in. In the words of a certain song "If you go down in the woods today, You're sure of a big surprise."
I really wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see ‘The Ritual’, the 2017 big screen adaptation of Adam Nevill’s novel. I’ll admit to not having read the book, a fact I do now intend to rectify, but nor had I seen more than a short trailer for it. A trailer which, I feel I should mention, was great. It gave nothing away, except the basic premise. I’d actually use this trailer as an example for how to set out your stall as a filmmaker. Lure the audience in, give them the basic idea the story is about, but don’t do what most Hollywood studios seem to do these days, which is to give the whole thing away in trailer. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several films in the past year where the entire plot, including twists and turns that ought to be a surprise, could be seen in the trailer. The Ritual avoided this deftly. So we were off to a good start.
Unusual (and often difficult) a concept as it may be in the era of trailers acting as mini-movies, I quite like going into a film blind. I have one of those cards that lets me see an unlimited number of films every month, so that often means I see things I might not otherwise bother with if I had to pay each time. This in turn helps with the feeling of going in not quite sure what you were going to see. Now, I’d have paid to see the Ritual, of course, as it’s based on the work of a writer whose books I enjoy, and also the fact that it’s a horror film would probably be enough to get me in there. But even though it was a film already on my radar, the marketing had been clever enough that I knew little about the plot. And so into the cinematic woods I went.
I feel it’s necessary to put “Spoiler Alert” here, as I will be discussing points of the film in a manner that can’t really be done without them. Unless you want to read an article full of “that bit was good where a thing happened I can’t mention”, then I’m afraid spoilers are a necessity.
The film opened with a crucial scene introducing the characters, and the event that would bring them to their hiking holiday in Sweden. The five men who are to be the main characters of the film are on a night out discussing ideas for holidays, when two of them wander into a late night supermarket for a bottle of Vodka. Then things go south fast when the shop is subject to a brutal robbery which takes the life of one of the men. It was both a strong and unusual opener for a horror film, as it could have been placed in any number of genres. There was nothing particularly ‘horror film’ about that opening, and therein lied its strength. You could have been about to watch a ‘coming to terms’ drama, a buddy film about friends regaining their love for another, or even a revenge film or crime drama. So real, so honest was that opening scene, that you felt like you were in the real world. That, for me, was a rarity in the world of modern horror films. I recently saw the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and whilst I loved the film, five minutes in and I’m watching a clown with monster teeth eating a child in a storm drain. This didn’t take place anywhere near the real world, and so there was inevitably an immediate disconnect that reduced how impactful the scares might be. You could in no way say this about the opening scene of the Ritual, however.
We see the four men, Luke, Hutch Sam and Phil, as they go about their hiking holiday, some more willingly than others. One of the key plot points is the mixed feelings about Luke’s inaction when their friend Robert was killed in the opening robbery scene. None of them say it out loud (at least not yet), but the event has clearly scarred the friendship of the group. And that’s a tangible feeling as you watch them interact. The banter and camaraderie never seems far from awkwardness and tension. All of this added to the feeling that I was watching something real, set right here in the same world that I occupy.
It doesn’t take long for the holiday to take a turn for the negative, either, and then all those emotions start to pour out. It’s a wonderful observation of Britishness, particularly amongst men, that we don’t just talk shit out. We smile and have a pint and wait for the whole thing to blow over. Except it doesn’t, of course. Some things need to be talked about, however difficult, and the mounting tension of the holiday’s mishaps forces a verbal confrontation that damages the friendships within the group further. I thought this was particularly realistic, once again. Anyone who’s ever been on a hiking holiday, or exerting daytrip or anything of the sort, knows how quickly it can all turn sour. All it takes is one person wearing the wrong shoes and complaining about their feet two hours into it, or having forgotten to bring enough water, and the friendly banter becomes vicious sniping, all egged on by tiredness and cold. The guys in The Ritual portray this fact perfectly. Frankly the trip starts to seem like a bit of a nightmare before the scary stuff even happens.
When it does make itself known, the ‘horror’ element of the film keeps itself as close to being realistic as it can for a good long while. I can imagine finding a creepy cabin in the woods, completely with a bizarre effigy of an unknown creature, and yet still opting to spend the night there rather than out in the storm. This is the real world, after all; monsters don’t exist. Despite jokes to the contrary, none of the characters (at this stage) actually think there’s anything in those woods beyond a bear or hunters or inbred hicks. Certainly nothing supernatural. Because why would you think that?
The slow, deliberately subtle and ‘held off’ appearance of the monster thrilled me. When you actually see the design, which I won’t describe, it’s beautiful. It looks like nothing I’ve ever seen in a horror film before, which I was ecstatic about. Usually they just look like a “Beautiful People” era Marilyn Manson these days, so a refreshing change was welcome. The explanation of its origins was also suitably vague. I like vagueness in my horror. The convenient discovery of a book or computer file or other maguffin that explains everything always takes the magic out of it. In The Ritual we get enough to steer us in the direction intended, and account for some of the supernatural abilities the creature seems to exhibit (it’s not just a mindless beast like a Bigfoot or something), but without going into a full backstory for it. That would have ruined it, so I found this to be a wise decision.
I was expecting to be annoyed by the presence of the ‘backwoods crazies’, even if they weren’t American hicks in this instance. I find them to be an annoying trope, whether they’re in adventure films or horror. They’re often just something for the characters to shoot at or hit when the CGI budget is being saved for a few scenes of not having the monster in. Like a videogame where the big boss backs away and you’re forced to endure minions for a few minutes until he pops back down into the arena. That wasn’t the case here, though. The story of these people wasn’t exactly explored in depth, but nor did it need to be. As with the monster itself, we got given enough to steer us where we needed to be. The revelation that these people didn’t actually ‘worship’ the thing in the modern loving sense of the word, but rather did so out of pure fear like the Old Testament meaning of the word was a nice surprise. Once again it made everything so much more realistic. A bunch of people in the woods worshipping a monster instead of going out into the world and resuming their nice normal lives makes a lot more sense when you realise it’s not done entirely through their own free will and adoration of the beast.
I won’t go into the ending because I don’t want to give that away, but I found it very satisfying. I really did not know where it was going to end up. This didn’t feel like the sort of film where the ‘hero’ would suddenly arm himself to the teeth and fight back against the previously-invincible monster (it’s not an American film) but nor would I have liked if the characters had all just died horribly and we’d ended on a dropped camera or something as with so many other horror films set in the woods. This film needed a better ending than that. Something a little stronger, but also not completely unlikely given what we’d seen so far. And I liked what we got. I wasn’t sure that I did, at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I was happy with that round off. I would actually quite like to watch the film again now, knowing where it goes, as I suspect there are signs pointing to this before it gets there and I’d like to spot them.
So in closing, go and see this film. I’ve been recommending it to people all week since watching it, both as a good film in general but also as a good example of horror done well. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s not overly complicated and there’s no pretention to it, it just tells an engaging story very well.
by Stewart Horn
Jon Randall's life sucks. He's a middle-aged divorcee who can't seem to find a job or a girlfriend. He doesn't get on with his teenage daughters or his successful brother, and he has to look after his elderly father, in a house that seems to be haunted. It's almost as if he's cursed.
It transpires that, centuries ago when his ancestors arrived in America, the family made a deal with The Devil, who now lives in their barn, and they have to keep the deal going by sacrificing family members.
On this flimsy frame hangs an almost plotless muddle of scenes that really don't cohere well enough to move the narrative along. There are some good moments, like some of the family scenes and Jon's comically catastrophic dates, but it's all a bit leaden and lacks structure and drive.
A lot of what's wrong with it is down to budget. Anything potentially expensive, or that required the hiring of somebody who would want paid, happens off screen. So the girls do a lot of screaming and the men make shocked faces, but I get the feeling they don't know what they're supposed to be looking at. And neither does the writer.
It was never clear what the devil in the barn wanted, what the deal was, or why anybody did anything. And that uncertainty came across in the performances, whereby actors are delivering lines or running off somewhere just because that what the script says, with no reference to what the character wanted or what the consequences might be.
I notice in the credits that the film is "written, directed, shot and cut by F. C. Rabbath". That's probably why it doesn't quite work: a director can spot holes in a script and tighten things up, and an editor can take flabby scenes and make them lean and dramatic. One person doing everything has no critical input from anyone else.
However, the photography is nice. The shots are well set up on obviously decent cameras, and there is some nice slow motion drone footage in the establishing shots. The sound is well recorded and clear so we can hear every irrelevant and confusing word, and I liked the music.
So, really not recommended, but some bits worth looking at. Perhaps F. C. Rabbath will go on to collaborate with professionals on something better.
A man and a woman kidnap her rapist in order to extract a confession, but how far are they willing to go for justice?
Good question with a very good answer.
Whenever I see films which don’t have a regular title but have a kind of brand name such as “Rob Zombie’s this”, or “Quentin Tarantino presents that”, I’m always a little wary because it seems to me that the person is trading on a reputation more than on the actual substance of the film. Lou Simon’s 3 is one film I shouldn’t have been concerned about as it is very different from the standard torture porn doing the rounds these days.
As you can gather from the first line the premise is somewhat simple, and it is indeed straightforward in that the victim of a rape involving mutilation is assisted in bringing the rapist to a secluded property so that he can be forced to confess on camera to the crime he committed. All is not what it seems, as the guy helping the woman has certain methods in mind of extracting the information which the woman is worried about because the guy has serious anger issues and without his medication all bets are off.
There’s a further complication in that the woman has a form of PTSD following the rape, and recollections are somewhat fuzzy to say the least, more so as Rohypnol was involved. This leads her assistant to wonder whether or not he is actually making a mistake and torturing a confession out of an innocent man.
With the excellent cast for the most part limited to 3 people and a single location it’s quite difficult to tightly maintain an entire movie, however 3 managed to hold my attention throughout. The plot is constructed in such a way that it’s never entirely obvious which way things are going to go, and there are several revelations which pile on the uneasy sense that the kidnapped man didn’t rape her after all.
Brutally sadistic in places yet not gratuitous Lou Simon’s 3 is a refreshing take on the revenge tale and I hope to get the opportunity to see more of Lou Simon’s work in the future.
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.
I think it’s fair to say this was the one I was most nervous about, going in. I like the two lead actors a great deal - especially Idris Elba, who has the kind of screen presence that makes almost anything he’s in some kind of watchable - but reviews, both on my Facebook wall and in the wider media had been… well, charitably, let’s call them ‘mixed’, shall we? A couple of the King Facebook fan groups I am a member of had some especially vitriolic responses.
Also, I basically love the Dark Tower books. From what I’d seen of the pre-publicity, I suspected the movie might work as well as a sequel to that series as an adaptation - and so it proved to be, I think - but I had to admit to being perplexed by the 90 minute running time.
I also wondered, given the ‘book sequel’ angle, if the movie would work on any level at all for a non-fan, so I took along my missus as a control sample - a woman who also likes the two leads, but hasn’t read a word of the books. I’ll get to her verdict later.
And basically, I was charmed. I didn’t love it, it didn’t set me on fire, but I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. I thought the film did a good job of weaving itself into the narrative that had come before, and in the process served as a worthy coda to that sprawling epic. There were a ton of fannish nods, from the setting of The Dixie Pig to a gorgeous mural of the rose (an aspect of the original narrative otherwise entirely absent), and my personal favorite, the Horn of Eld on Roland’s back, as he and Jake stepped through the gate and into Mid World in the final shot of the film.
Mcconaughey worked pretty well for me also, as The Walkin’ Dude. Age, and that weight loss thing he does so well, gave him a lean, sinuous, hungry look, and I felt he did an admirable job of avoiding the obvious scenery chewing, instead letting his dark charisma do most of the talking. In particular, the sequence where he met Jake’s mum was superbly played by both actors, and for me evoked a very King-like sense of awful inevitability and dread - a staple effect of many of his books, but one surprisingly absent from a lot of his cinema adaptations.
Tom Taylor as Jake was impressive too, for me, avoiding the seemingly endless pitfalls of being a child actor in this kind of movie. He sold both the sense of terror at the impossible things that were happening to him and also a child’s ability to adapt to the unlikely - the suppleness of their imaginations and the sense that basically everything is new allowing them to accept events and circumstances that would make most adults catatonic, and yes, I did start re-reading IT recently, well spotted, but also it’s still true.
And there are some just beautiful moments - quite a few of them, actually. The living house guardian that attempts to stop Jake from making it to Mid World was brilliantly realised, and a fair example of just what talented CGI artists can achieve in 2017. Similarly, the desert was gorgeous (though our time spent in it was, for me, too brief, and crucially lacking the honkey-tonk piano performance of Hey, Jude - still one of my all-time favourite moments in any King book). As for the trailer moment, when an injured Roland, in the middle of a massive raider attack, takes slow breaths, tunes into Jake and the raider carrying him, and then points and shoots blind - I mean, what the fuck in cinema even for, if not moments like that? Similarly, I know some people didn’t like Roland’s mid air reload technique, but come on, people - Roland was absolutely a superhero, whose superpower was shooting. In that context, again, it’s just cinema doing what it can do better than a book.
All that said and meant, as Dark Tower fan, it was a fucking weird viewing experience - like a whistlestop tour of a place you’d spent month living in - or, maybe better, like a greatest hits of one of your favourite bands, on shuffle - all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.
Well, some of the right notes. No Suzanna, in this turn of the wheel, and sadly no Oy either, though there was a very funny gag/reference when Roland caught a TV advert with a talking animal on it (and the joke made my missus chuckle, too, so clearly it stood on it’s own terms, and not merely as an in-joke). And, I mean I wasn’t kidding about spoilers, and we need to talk about this - but killing off Flagg at the end was a pretty bold move, given all the talk of a possible follow-up TV show. I can't argue it wasn’t dramatically satisfying in the context of the story the movie told (and the actual method of his dispatch I found pleasing, and at least movie-clever), but at the same time, this is a fictional character with arguably the longest and darkest shadow of any in the King mythology. Ninety minutes and out felt a tad perfunctory, however well done the final putdown was.
The ending in general intrigued me, actually. As I said up top, as a coda to the novels, I found it satisfying, if a little odd and rushed. As the launch pad for a franchise of TV shows and further movies… I dunno, man. Flagg’s dead, the tower is safe, and Jake and Roland are off to Mid-World. Not that I don’t love that setting, but unless they’re going to abandon the mythology of the books almost entirely and go do their own thing, I don’t immediately see where the propulsion for the narrative comes from, going forward.
Still, I’m not sure how fair it is to judge a movie based on what it isn’t. And on it’s own terms, while a long way from having the earth shattering impact of the books, I thought the film was a fun enough whistlestop tour through the mythos of Mid-World and The Dark Tower.
My missus dug it, too. ‘It was good. Not brilliant, but good. But it can’t have been anything like the books, can it? It wasn’t long enough...’
Which will teach me to use a thousand words where four sentences would do :/
By Tony Jones
“How much of the Adam Nevil novel made it into the film version?
Adam Nevill's The Ritual hit the UK cinema on Friday the Thirteenth, this hugely anticipated movie has been met with with a fantastic critical response, and Ginger Nuts of Horror's Tony Jones brings us or first of many reviews of this film. However rather than just going for the obvious plain review of the film, Tony has reviewed the film as a comparison to the novel itself.
Be warned there are spoilers ahead!
“The Ritual” finally hit over 300 cinemas last Friday to an enthusiastic response from critics and horror fans. At the time of writing the film has a very respectable 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a relatively high score for a horror film and one which it deserves. Rather than add yet another review to the internet pile Ginger Nuts of Horror examines the film in relation to the 2011 Adam Nevill novel. Like many in the UK horror community, Ginger Nuts is delighted to finally see one of this fantastic writer’s creations arrive on the big screen. The film should breathe new life into the book which is now in its fourth reprint and currently on promotion in the UK superstore ASDA.
Having been a fan of Nevill for many years and have reviewed his work widely, I still recall excitedly buying “The Ritual” for double the UK price while holidaying in Ireland after finding it lurking in a Cork airport bookshop long before the UK release. I’m sure Adam Nevill is pleased with this strong version of his novel which in many ways stays pretty faithful to his text, albeit with a couple of major alterations. It is not perfect, but well worth watching whether you have read the book or not. One thing is for sure when Adam Nevil first put pen to paper about a disastrous trip with university friends to North Wales in 1993; he would never have imagined what he originally called “The Blasted Heath” would hit the cinema so many years later.
I will try not to give too many obvious spoilers, but a few are inevitable… The central background plot which leads to the group of four old friends trekking in north Sweden is significantly different providing a recurring guilt theme which is absent from the book. The latter features four old university friends who meet up to relive the glory years of their youth; the problem is Luke has been much less fortunate in life than the other three which causes recurring friction and ill feeling. In contrast, the opening sequence the film brutally kills off a fifth friend (Bob) who interrupts a shop robbery whilst accompanying Luke who has dragged him into the shop for a carryout.
Luke hides and does nothing to help his friend, ducking behind shelving before he is spotted by the robbers. Although nobody says anything, Luke is secretly blamed for not helping and suffers from what looks like posttraumatic shock which recurs in a few dream sequences with Bob's death scene replaying powerfully throughout the film. This is a smart variation from the novel, as it almost certainly gives the backstory more bite than the original idea of Luke feeling less than just because he has a crap job in a shop. Instead, these tensions have considerable intensity, the elephant in the room, a feeling that is present but not spoken about until tensions finally bubble over and Luke punches Dom, as he does in the book. As a film is a much more immediate experience that a book nobody can argue with this clever alteration.
The book has a terrific atmosphere which the film tries hard to recreate, succeeding to some extent, but the true horror which lurks in the woods is way more terrifying in the novel than in the film. Recreating Nevill’s vision of a dark, foreboding forest is near impossible, especially when the sounds and the full descriptions are added into the mix. These descriptions are so real the forest can almost be touched and smelt after the first dead animal is found and the ancient pagan runes start appearing. Instead, you have four guys wandering around in “The Blair Witch Project” territory, which is nothing new, but very well done with a solid pace to proceedings. The film uses a very effective soundtrack of cracks, grunts and echoes with no real music to authentically recreate the book’s dark atmosphere and makes a decent fist of a near impossible job.
Once the four friends take the shortcut to hell, the film follows the same pattern of the book for some distance. Dom hurts his knee and starts to whine, and there are some pretty intense sequences very similar to the book, particularly when the group discovers the cabin and what awaits upstairs with the dream sequences which follow.
Of course, many horror fans who have not read the book will most likely think of “The Evil Dead” as soon as the cabin is discovered. Like most horror films you can tell who is going to live and die from pretty early in the film, and faithful to the book the killings are in the same sequence which was a nice touch. Only the third kill deviates majorly in style.
The novel obviously has more time to develop the characters and their backstories. In the book, for instance, Dom is way more unlikeable than he is in the film and it has the added dynamics of the fear of them quickly running out of food and water. Neither has the film time to hark back to the supposed wealth of the other three and the wives and kids they have left behind. The film adds in the discovery of an old tent equipment and wallet which ups the ante in the realisation of the deep level of crap the friends have found themselves in.
Another noticeable similarity was the fact that in the book the first three characters are killed off-screen, and this is almost the same in the film, with the death of Dom the major difference. After the death of Hutch and Phil, the film and book begin to differ leading to a final third which is majorly different from the book, called “South of Heaven” and a probable nod to thrash metal band Slayer. As the film moves further away from the book, I wonder whether Adam Nevill was disappointed to see “Blood Frenzy” chopped completely from the film version? Personally, I was not surprised to see the filmmakers replace the two Black Metal fans Loki and Fernis with a mini-community of old god/demon worshippers.
As I work in a library, I regularly recommend this author and chat to readers afterwards. The shorter second part of the novel “South of Heaven” concerns these two heavy metal fans who dream of playing a gig at the Camden Underworld one day, but meantime are preparing a fresh sacrifice to the ancient demon god with the help of an old woman with hooves for feet. More than a few readers found these two guys irritating and felt they killed some of the atmosphere in the final sequences of the novel. However, these two dudes are necessary to invoke “The Ritual” of the title, but something about them just did not quite gel and so perhaps the cult-like village of weirdos which capture Dom and Luke was a solid replacement? Of course, you are welcome to disagree.
In Nevill’s free collection of writings “Cries from the Crypt” he says somewhere that he once wrote to the Scotsman newspaper and the journalist who reviewed “The Ritual” and mixed up the different sub-genres of heavy metal music, something which was essential to get right in the novel. So there was no mention of Black Metal or Satanic Metal anywhere, but hey, you cannot have everything, I am sure Adam has softened over the years as the status of the novel has grown, but it is obviously an interest of his and notes his sources in the notes which precede the novel.
It is also worth noting that Nevill’s 2016 short story collection “Some Will Not Sleep” includes a story called “The Original Occupant” which is set in a remote Swedish forest and most definitely has a waft of an idea which germinated into “The Ritual”.
The film wisely keeps the creature hidden for the majority of the film, and it is only revealed fully towards the final ten minutes. Ultimately it was a disappointment, sure it may scare kids who watch “Shaun the Sheep”, but I really don’t think my twelve year old would bat an eyelid at it. Portrayed as a giant grotesque variation of a giant moose which can mutate to stand on two legs, this ancient god did not impress me too much. Did it need a big ‘reveal’ at all? Probably, most viewers would have felt short-changed otherwise. The novel cleverly reveals the beast exquisitely slowly, and nobody creates horrific creatures supernatural better than this author, so my imagination invoked something much nastier than this CGI monstrosity. However, then again, I do not like CGI too much and am probably being too picky for a relatively low budget film.
The film pulled in at a tight 94 minutes and did not overstay its welcome at all. Ultimately it is a solid genre horror film which does little we have not seen before, but it is very well acted, beautifully shot and heavy on atmosphere. I doubt I would enjoy it as much if I had not been such a fan of the author and was looking for his influences on the screen version. Watching a film is easy, that is why I often shake my head at the many horror fans who watch films but don’t read the books. Sure films have their place, but the descriptions of getting lost in this dismal remote Swedish forest in the novel can never be replicated in any film, no matter how good, scary or atmospheric. Reading the book is signing a pact to go on a journey with the author, and although the book tops the film, it is still a journey well worth taking and is pretty authentic version with the exception of the back-stories and the disappearance of Blood Frenzy, which were both clever alterations.
It’s also worth noting that my wife of many years is Swedish and I have walked in numerous Swedish forests and whenever I do I always think of that bloody book and its menacing descriptions. So after being optioned three times and after five years in development we finally have a film of an Adam Nevill novel. Go see it!
Stay Tuined for more reviews of this film form the Ginger Nuts family
By George Daniel Lea
The assumption of absolute familiarity with a piece of work is all too often a stumbling block to genuine assessment of its qualities:
The status has a tendency to blind us not only to potential faults (assuming that we proclaim some love for the work in question) but also to qualities that we haven't yet allowed ourselves to perceive; we fall back on the resonances and reinforcements that originally kindled our interest or aroused emotion, to the ignorance of what might elicit new resonances.
In that manner, work that might have once been deviant and transgressive becomes somewhat banal and familiar (at least in memory).
Whilst I'd never accuse it of banality, Clive Barker's 1980s work of transgressive, metaphysical horror Hellraiser certainly occupies a status not a million miles away from that in my own mind: a film and franchise that I cannot recall not existing; beloved and distressed by since childhood; as with so many of my generation, a gateway into realms of horror I'd never walked, and an inspiration for appetites that sustain to this day (albeit in much evolved and elaborated form).
Having the chance to assess a reprint of the film is therefore both wonderful and somewhat intimidating: what is there left to say about a work that has been commented upon so much, that has been flayed and dissected and autopsied a million times over, whose imagery is now so powerfully lodged in public consciousness, it's possible to find examples of it on everything from T-shirts to bobblehead dolls?
As is always the case when I commit to my (habitually annual) viewing of Hellraiser, the first thing that struck me is how powerful the film still is, not only in terms of its graphic imagery (which is what most seem to recall with sincere degrees of vividness) but in what that imagery suggests and symbolises:
The film is not the out and out gorefest that people seem to recall and enshrine it as: whilst it certainly contains numerous examples of explicit mutilation, pain and the shedding of blood, each and every instance has wider and deeper resonance than what might be found in, say, the likes of Eli Roth's Hostel or the Saw franchise.
Here, pain and bodily mutilation go beyond mere examples of suffering and grotesquery; there is an artistry and even allure to what the Cenobites (the film's monsters de jeur) promise; they come with words of seduction, with a priestly and noble bearing that is more...philosophical than anything that even their closest contemporaries boast: whereas the likes of Child's Play's Chucky, A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Kreuger and Halloween's Michael Meyers conduct variously inventive means of execution, the Cenobites enact something far more theatrical, elaborate and potent: when Pinhead utters the iconic line: “...we'll tear your soul apart,” he isn't merely engaging in poetic threat: that is precisely what the Cenobites promise: a state of metaphysics beyond the fleshly, mortal and ultimately animal concerns that most horror films of the era present.
The instant the amazing soundtrack by Christopher Figg begins to play, it's clear that we're dealing with a work of another order, here; this isn't the “three fingers on a synthesizer,” orchestra-sting laden shock-fest that saturated 1980s horror cinema: there are elements at play that make its popularity and cultural enshrinment almost baffling: a work that might have been more at home in the more obscure annals of arthouse cinema, were it not for the fact that the public took its deviance to their collective breast and wallowed in its surreal sadism.
As someone who presumes to know the film inside out, who has watched it countless times since childhood, it's a truly wonderful experience to be surprised all over again; to find little details and factors that I'd not noticed before, to be mesmerised by the composition and framing of certain scenes...to discern entirely new resonances that chimed with fresh contexts and experiences.
Beyond that: to be genuinely moved and unsettled by the work again, to feel those swells of emotion as it played out: the breathless moments of tension as characters manipulate the frames and faces of the “Lament Configuration” (the iconic puzzle box that “...opens doorways to Heaven or Hell,”) as the Cenobites announce themselves through luridly surreal theatrics (light streaming through cracks between tiles and wooden beams, the chiming of a great bell, scented smoke issuing from rents in walls, to name but a few), as a barely formed, skinless, seeping Frank emerges from the shadows to feed on his and Julia's latest victim...
The film still exercises a giddy degree of disturbia; images that are explicitly designed to unsettle the audience rather than to make them nauseous or simply repulse:
Take, for example, arguably the most iconic scene in the entire film, in which Frank Cotton -who is graphically torn apart and taken by the Cenobites in the opening sequence- is resurrected by the spillage of his brother's blood on the floorboards where he died:
An extravaganza of the most grotesque practical effects, the scene is (quite literally) the beating heart and soul of the film; the presentation of something grotesque, wounded and ineffably distressing as celebratory and beautiful: it is the moment when events turn, when characters come to realise themselves and the superfice of familial stability fractures irrevocably. It also provides some subtle commentary on the truly horrendous metaphysics of the film: a form of immortality is possible, here: Frank has endured for time beyond time, from his own perspectives, in the Hell that the Cenobites preside over; a state of constant, unendurable extremity, his condition excoriated and flayed and eviscerated, reconstituted and remade, to the point that he himself is no longer human, but a creature of that state, to whom pain and extremity are merely facts of existence.
His emergence into the midst of what is essentially a domestic drama that wouldn't be out of place in certain higher works of BBC domesticity serves to peel back the skin of proscribed hypocrisy; the family structure that clearly doesn't serve any one of its members, though some of them clearly ache for it to (whether they be the quietly desperate, inevitable victim, Larry, trapped and yearning Julia or walking Elektra complex Kirsty).
The domestic elements are far more densely entangled and complex than I previously realised, and far more engaging: very little is stated outright; exposition is trimmed and pared away or carefully concealed so as to feel like natural exchanges between the characters. Much of the unrest and disquiet derives from looks and peculiar interactions, most notably between Julia and the other two, the “wicked step wife” here inverted, played with a fittingly fairy-tale degree of coldness and malevolence, but also surprising sympathy:
Julia is presented at least as much as a protagonist to the piece as the comparatively virginal, “Snow White” Kirsty, arguably occupying far more screen time and commanding more in the way of the audience's engagement than her step daughter, who often comes across as distant and dispassionate by comparison.
The fact that Julia is trapped by circumstance and haunted by ghosts of old and dead passions makes her the fulcrum of the tale, the peculiar family dynamic that she, Larry and Kirsty occupy at least as significant as any of the extremity and metaphysics presented by the resurrected Frank or the Cenobites that come to reclaim him.
There are moments within the film that play like domestic drama or French farce, but which are leant degrees of wit and poetry that they would otherwise lack owing to the surrealism and strangeness that the audience know is playing out behind the scenes:
From the first instance, it is made clear that this is a family on the edge, fraying apart from the inside, with myriad tensions and issues, many of which remain unspoken (for example, Kirsty's “Elektra complex” relationship with her Father is never made overt or referenced specifically, rather symbolically through her resurrected and skinless Uncle's incestuous advances (“Come to Daddy”) and later, when Frank adopts the skin and form of her Father, in which condition he engages in a “cat and mouse” deception; a bleakly amusing parody of the family situation that Julia has always loathed, that Larry and Kirsty always blithely assumed.
Beyond the obvious appeal of the Cenobites and the horrific imagery that accompanies them, the central domestic plot, the complexities and tensions between the familial characters, is what drives the story.
As in most of my returns to the film, I was struck by how distant the Cenobites actually are; they rarely appear in the course of the film's run, their scenes restricted to certain key moments in which the domestic drama boils over and intermingles with the metaphysics that simmers beneath it: an opening scene designed to place the audience in a state of shock and disturbance through its strangeness and extremity, a half-way marker in which Kirsty inadvertantly summons them and learns -along with the audience- the true nature of the film's tensions, and in the climax, where they come to claim not only Frank, but also all who have been tainted by association with him and with themselves. For the most part, they are passive observers; they wait beyond the veil, watching and assessing with arachnid patience, for the moment when they have license to make themselves known.
Rarities amongst horror movie antagonists of the era, they do not appear as overtly malevolent; rarely with threats, rather with words of poetry and promise, the lead “Pinhead” Cenobite's overtures resembling the long and florid dialogues of Frankenstein's monster, of the entities within Dante's Hell, as opposed to the almost mute monsters or wise-cracking killers that predominated horror films of era.
Highly unusual in its sheer earnestness, Hellraiser doesn't seek to soften the blow or dull the pain by making the audience laugh with shock or fright; it has every intention of unsettling on a more fundamental level, which it succeeds in beautifully, even after all of these years and after so much sustained exposure.
A perfect work?; Far, far from it. This new print, whilst enhancing certain factors (colours seem somewhat more vivid, scenes more crisp and well rendered. Also, whilst this may be simply a factor of different edits of the film being used for different editions, some of the transitional scenes seem to have been prolongued, allowing for more in the way of establishing shots and emphasis of mood), still leaves most of the original's faults intact, many of them the result of some truly baffling studio interference:
A key problem -that dilutes the film's legitimacy to certain degrees- is the condescending decision of the film's original studio to dub most of the British actors -primarily the supporting players- with American accents. This not only makes little sense -the film is clearly set in Barker's hometown of Liverpool; there are shots alongside the Mersey, for Leviathan's sake-, it actively dilutes certain scenes to the point of them becoming nonsense:
A particular exchange between the American Kirsty and her purportedly British boyfriend Steve refers to his clipped and slightly aloof accent, but makes no sense, given that he is overdubbed with a clearly American actor.
A few hours editing would be more than enough to fix this rather egregious fault; the re-dubbing of certain characters and supporting cast with appropriately Scouse accents would help to enhance the film's sense of place and remedy a factor that has the effect of jolting the audience out of the fantasy; of reminding us that we are experiencing a work of fiction.
Beyond that, certain effects have not aged well; some of the latex skin tears and stretches in slightly odd ways, some of the graphic effects scrawled on top of the film cells (some of them purportedly by Barker himself, during the closing days of the film's production when they were running out of both time and money) are extremely crude, and certain scenes and characters could perhaps be trimmed to enhance the focus of the film (the aforementioned Steve is almost entirely redundant, and serves to distract from the Elektra complex dynamic occurring between Larry and Kirsty).
Even so, I cannot deny being swept up into this beautifully macabre, graphic and transgressive fairy tale once more; enchanted all over again by its gruesome wiles.
Hellraiser is as much part of my childhood; the self-authored myth of my own history, as any of its ostensibly more appropriate ephemera and influences (such as The Transformers, Visionaries, Knightmare etc). As such, I can't claim any great degree of critical distance from it -and certainly not objectivity, which is a beloved myth in itself-; all I can do is exclaim in various ways how I continue to adore it, and that I hope others will find their own pleasures in it, as years and generations sift by.
A couple, Larry and Julia, move into an old house belonging to Larry’s family, to make a fresh start. Exploring the dilapidated house, Julia discover a hideous creature - Larry's half-brother Frank, who is also Julia's former lover - hiding in the attic. Having lost his earthly body to other-worldly demons called the Cenobites after a ceremony with a strange golden puzzle box, he is brought back into existence by a drop of blood on the floor. Frank soon forces his former mistress to bring him human sacrifices to complete his body in a bid to escape the clutches of the Cenobites… but the Cenobites have other plans for him.
We like it because:
Clive Barker’s debut film, a nightmarish vision of flesh ripping demons wreaking havoc on a suburban household, was unleashed on cinema audiences in 1987, and became a box office sensation, spawning numerous sequels, a legion of devoted fans and turning Pinhead and his Cenobites (“sado-masochists from beyond the grave” as Barker describes them) into horror icons alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.
Thirty years later and the film is as terrifying, nightmarish and gruesomely effective as ever - featuring wonderful central performances from Andrew Robinson (made famous as the Gemini killer in Dirty Harry) and Clare Higgins as the couple, whose life is torn apart when brother Frank appears in the attic and starts demanding flesh; Ashley Laurence makes a terrific horror heroine, attempting to send the Cenobites back to hell.
Barker’s taut, twisted script, adapted from his story The Hellbound Heart, coupled with his remarkably assured direction (belying the fact this was his debut) ensures a film dripping with dread, and bursting with inventive set pieces and bloody imagery - including the appearance of the gruesome Cenobites, summoned by the infamous gold puzzle box, and their metal hooked torture devices.
The 30th Anniversary re-release - appropriately on Friday 13th of October - gives audiences a chance to see it once more in all its gory big screen glory - and for the uninitiated to have their souls torn apart for the first time!
released by arrow films on 30 oct 2017 and available to purchase here
Definitely NOT a ‘fluffy bunny’ movie
The distributor blurb is as follows:
“Gremlins meets Hot Fuzz in Cute Little Buggers, premiering on VOD Nov 7.
Tony Jopia’s highly anticipated comedy-horror hybrid sees locals of a peaceful English village, enjoying their annual summer festival, when they are suddenly attacked by mutated killer rabbits!
Somewhere in the depths of space, aliens are watching the earth and planning their attack. Unaware of the impending danger, the locals of a sleepy English village are preparing for their summer festival. The aliens launch their offensive by mutating the local rabbit population, and when the furry demons are released, the body count starts to pile up as blood, guts, and fur flies in all directions as the humans fight off the alien threat.
Featuring genre icon Caroline Munro (Maniac, The Spy Who Loved Me) and from Tony Jopia, director of Crying Wolf , comes the wildest film of the fall, Cute Little Buggers – crashlanding Nov 7 from Uncork’d Entertainment.”
It’s a mood thing, and if you’re in the mood for a silly sci-fi horror sex comedy in a 1980s style then cute little buggers might be just what you’re looking for.
When I was in my late teens/20s I had already lived through the far from PC era of the ‘Carry-On’ movies and Benny Hill and was experiencing the likes of Critters, Gremlins, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and many others of varying quality. The 80s and early 90s in particular appeared to spawn a great many ‘straight to VHS’ copycats, the emphasis placed more on copious quantities of blood and guts/tits and arse and of course humour. Recently films and TV are harking back to the good-old-bad-old-days with productions such as Stranger Things, the remake of Stephen King’s IT, and one of my personal favourites of recent years Turbo Kid, the latter of which captures a similar vibe to Cute Little Buggers in that the 80s influence is clear, and all of which are the higher quality end of the spectrum. Cute Little Buggers is one of those films which is more difficult to accurately define, as much of what I would normally consider to be piss-poor is seemingly quite deliberate. The special effects are a good example of this as although better than average for low-budget offerings they still have that bargain basement quality with the mutants looking like they would be more at home in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is somewhat appropriate.
The basics: aliens seek to impregnate Earth women. Those given the task attempt to select the species most likely to be successful at procreation and mutate them to do their bidding, so choosing rabbits seemed like the best bet. Cue a lot of lame jokes, topless babes (Not Caroline Munro as she has a tiny cameo role) and an absolute mass of gore as the local villagers take on the alien hybrid bunnies.
Is it actually any good though? Well, as I said at the beginning, it’s a mood thing. When I first started watching it I thought “what is this shit”, turned it off soon after and left it a few days. Today I had a bit of time to kill and felt guilty for not giving it a fair crack of the whip, so watched the whole thing and have to admit that I found it fun in places. I couldn’t help but think that if this film had been released in 1985 the 20-year-old me would have enjoyed it more and perhaps it would have become a cult classic, but nowadays it’s more destined to be a somewhat cheesy nostalgic throwback. If you’re the kind of person who likes no-brainer entertainment then this is for you.
Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.