140 words: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

OldmanDrac

Abraham Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, has been adapted for screen more times than I can count while at work. A story of blood-sucking Transylvanians and naive Victorian Londoners, the book packs a subtext of repressed sexuality, yet delivers that with mindless parasitic violence and uncanny death. Coppola’s Dracula, while being a movie that is steeped in atmosphere and Gothic imagery, is far too self-aware; each scene dripping with filmic techniques (frames within frames; film layered dissolves) to take seriously as a Dracula film. Gary Oldman as the titular character hams his way through each scene, and for some reason, rather than being a blood-lusting, mindless monster, is a little bit too concerned with his broken heart. Hopkins and Ryder were just passable, however Keanu Reeves’ English accent was piss-poor. It has to be said….Universal did this story better in 1931.

 

Advertisements

The Sacrament

aj

When a Vice documentary crew discover that one of their own’s sister has fled the US, they embark on a journey to a remote jungle in an undisclosed location to find her. Once they are on the ground in “Eden Parish”, their initial warm reception soon fades away, revealing something entirely more sinister.

In the past I have not hidden my love of Ti West’s style and directorial ability. The way he manipulates his audience with camerawork and sound is second to none in the horror genre, and I would definitely class him in the school of “soon to be auteurs”. That is why, when I discovered he was directing a found footage movie, I was slightly shocked.

The Sacrament, on paper, is certainly West’s most conventional movie. There is no vintage 80s aesthetic (The House of the Devil); there aren’t any ghosts (The Innkeepers) and we actually get to see some plot, unlike his short in The ABCs of Death. Instead of the lingering self-awareness he has shown in the past, we are treated to the traditional structure and pacing one would expect of a found footage movie. Maybe in the hands of another director that description could be used to show the film in a negative light, however West’s direction brings to The Sacrament a touch of class rarely shown in found footage movies. Not only are the performances of A.J. Bowen and Gene Jones absolutely stellar, but the story is entirely believable. Other commentators have pointed out the undeniable similarities between the infamous Jonestown Massacre and The Sacrament, which, upon researching, seem to be more than poignant, however these parallels should take nothing away from how this movie is constructed.

From the outset you can feel a creeping dread hanging over the film, even when things appear to be going well for our protagonists. The silence seems deafening at points, especially as the film beginnings to ramp up towards the final act. The way West marries his use of silence with his camera, to dictate pacing in scenes, is extremely compelling; we are treated to static mid shots cut with frantic steadicam chase scenes that all feel very organic. One particular scene in the final act is framed beautifully despite its shocking content. We also get treated to “film school shots” but they never feel pretentious within the context of the film; instead it just appears that West knows exactly how to create mood with form.

Another aspect of the movie that is very politically relevant at the time that this review has been written, particularly in Britain, is the topic of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Both of these terms denote acts of brainwashing the vulnerable, which is a theme that runs thick in this film; long, compelling speeches from the mouth of “the Father” seem to have everyone hanging on his every word, which, in the climactic scenes, proves horrifying and chilling (I really cannot do justice to how brutal, yet real, the end of The Sacrament is).

Beyond what has been discussed, I think the similarities The Sacrament has to Jonestown will either put people off or drive them to learn more. I knew of the event by name but had no idea the history of Jim Jones, and I do feel West has made a film that will prove a gateway into further reading for a lot of people. As for West, I am in no doubt that this director will go on to make a serious name for himself, not only in the horror genre, but in film as a whole.

 

The Frighteners, Pet Sematary, Scream 3 (Ernie’s Horror Compendium #1)

Compendium1

The Frighteners

frighteners

…is the film that put Peter Jackson on the map, but not my favourite Peter Jackson horror (stand up and be counted, Brain Dead). Before Parkinson’s Disease really fucked over MJFox, he starred as Frank Bannister, a psychic con artist that finds himself in the centre of a serial killer’s posthumous killing spree. It’s rare for a horror comedy to be both horrific and comedic, and while some of the humour comes from mild stereotyping, the mid-nineties CGI had my nostalgia boner popping, and watching this was a fantastic way to spend an hour and a half. Great stuff!

Pet Sematary

Despite having one of the best New York-based punk rock theme tunes, Pet Sematary also possesses an uncanny narrative and one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of loss in horror history. There are numerous scenes in this adapted Stephen King novel that are very creepy, and while I wouldn’t call it ‘scary’, it goes beyond your average treatment of horror movie families; I would hate to be the dad in this, put it that way. Some of the practical effects hold up to this day, and Pet Sematary is definitely one to add to your list if you are a fan of classic horror.

Scream 3

Sidney

What’s your favourite scary movie? Because I would say Scream is up there in at least my top 10. Unfortunately, Scream 3 doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the original. That’s not a detraction from the film, as it is still a lot of fun, but there comes a point when your self-referentiality has gone full circle at least twice and it gets very contrived. I felt this was a lot more action-based, and the kills were somewhat half-arsed, especially compared to the first in the franchise, but I still enjoyed the 3rd installment as a genre movie. I will get to Scream 4 sometime in the near future!

Resolution

RES

When Michael (Peter Cilella) decides to intervene to save his friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), from the throes of methamphetamine addiction, he chains him to a pipe in a cabin to induce withdrawal. However, as the days pass, the pair begin to question their collective sanity after some uncanny events.

Resolution might be the most thought-provoking horror movie I have seen in a very long time. Many commenters point towards films such as The Shining or OldBoy when discussing ‘thinkies’, but I feel that Resolution more than deserves its place among these classics. Nevertheless, my eulogising of this independent horror film should come with a warning; Resolution is not for everyone. In fact, I’d argue the paths which the film take might put this in a micro-category of its own.

Artfully shot, fantastically acted, and completely void of music, this creepy meta-tale of friendship, loyalty and absolution will be hard to digest for some. Unconventional is a word I will use to describe the final act of the movie, and when the credits appeared, my initial thoughts were ‘is that it?’. However, I have been thinking about this movie since Wednesday, and I would group this with Primer, insofar as I am still trying to piece together the mystery and story.

Throughout the movie there is a thick, heavy sense of dread, which intensifies as we hit the third act, yet the ‘monster’ is not ever truly established or revealed. Glitches on screen are used to alienate the audience, which is postmodern in style; the director has knowingly employed clichéd genre tropes to a stunningly original effect.

[Spoilers paragraph]

Over the course of the movie, the pair begin to see into the future via a series of video clips and audio recordings, at each time managing to avoid their impending murder. Throughout this story, Chris is adamant he will not go into rehab when they get out of the situation; the character arc is satisfyingly rich and brilliantly acted by Curran.  When the final conflict occurs, he decides that he needs to turn his life around and check into rehab. As this happens, the glitches we have been seeing over the whole movie flash and a shadow appears over the characters. They look directly into the camera and state something along the lines of ‘…have we done it wrong? Should we do it differently?’. I believe that this line turns the audience into the monster, and that the director is making a statement about horror movies and our relationship with the archetypal characters with whom we are all so familiar. At each step, Chris and Michael make decisions based on logic, while at the same time learning about themselves and each other. It’s possible to forget you are watching a ‘horror’ movie at points, yet the feeling of dread undercuts moments of humour and drama, which keeps reminding us of the horror genre and it plays on our expectations; by addressing us directly I believe it’s an admission that we were expecting them to die due to the nature of the genre. It’s a play on the ‘give the audience what they want’ type of thinking in movies.

[Spoilers over]

Resolution was a difficult beast to dissect and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this postmodern, meta-horror. It was funny, tense, wonderfully shot and excellently scripted (despite an overkill amount of the work ‘fucking’). I don’t want to come across as a hipster for liking this movie, because it honestly is not for everyone, but if you watch it, you’ll definitely have something to think about for a long while.

Devil’s Pass [The Dyatlov Pass Incident]

face

When a group of documentary filmmakers set off to the Ural Mountains in Russia to investigate a 50 year-old mystery, surviving in the freezing landscape becomes less and less likely, as they discover something sinister lurking beneath the snow.

Renny Harlin, director of Die Hard 2, returns with Devil’s Pass, a found footage horror that feels slightly out of place, and late to the party, among recent releases; The Tunnel and Lake Mungo spring to mindBoth of these horror films were different, exciting and contained great elements of horror, resulting in a rewarding cinematic experience. Right from the outset of the film you can see what Devil’s Pass was going for in its tone. Unfortunately, this promise falls apart quite quickly.

Harlin has constructed a visually compelling piece, capturing the beautiful snowy vistas as well as tying in some good post-production effects, however it was confused storytelling that caused this movie to fall flat. There are a number of changes in tone, at the beginning of each act, which are quite jarring. The beginning of the movie was presented in a similar way to the aforementioned The Tunnel, which was a clever hook. Nevertheless, this ended, and the found footage in the second act came across as too polished and glossy, unlike the news reports prior. We also visit some themes in the third act that question the very use of found footage as a storytelling device, and made me wonder why this wasn’t a conventional fiction film, rather than ‘found footage non-fiction’.

The acting is decent, and there are some tense moments of natural peril, but again, once the third act hits and the antagonists are revealed, I couldn’t help but laugh at its impotence as a horror. And then there is the final, almost confusing aspect of the movie: it has almost nothing to do with the Dyatlov Pass incident upon which the film is ‘based’. The beginning of the movie has the standard ‘based on a true story’ spiel, and then throughout we are drip-fed information about the real story, but the Wikipedia page is actually more interesting than anything seen in Devil’s Pass; the final mystery twist feels about as tepid as monsoon rainwater and it’s all just very silly, for want of a better word.

Unfortunately, while being competently made, Devil’s Pass has too many huge storytelling flaws that result in the movie being only slightly better than your average 5/10 found footage horror.

You’re Next

Yourenext

When a family reunite for their parent’s 35th wedding anniversary, they find themselves at the end of a, seemingly random, murderous rampage. As things progress they realise that the perpetrators are willing to stop at nothing.

Bloody glorious. There’s my hand.

Right from the outset of You’re Next, we are treated to an orgy of dark humour, intelligent camerawork, gore (and shit loads of it), a score that goes from bouncy Americana to Lynchian industrial drones, and characters that do smart and dumb things, the latter enough for you to get behind their…demise.

Director, Adam Wingard, has constructed a movie that feels “refreshing”; in an age where a creative team can lose their project to the economics of moviemaking, You’re Next doesn’t bear the hallmarks of something into which a studio has sunk their agenda. This is a movie made by a director that reveres the horror genre and hasn’t had to temper his reverence for anyone.

Wingard and his cinematographer, Andrew Droz, use lenses exquisitely throughout this film. The dynamics between the siblings are developed with a shallow depth of field, and we always seems to be very tight into the frame, with not a lot of breathing room for our eyes. This enhances pace, especially with the handheld camera, which creates a rolling stone of high tension. When the movie slows down and we are treated to the occasional jump scare, they never feel cheap, and are usually prologued or epilogued by a moment of dark humour; it’s a horror movie at heart, but there are some truly hilarious lines of dialogue and darkly comic kills towards the end. This seems to be Wingard’s specialty.

The kills in this movie are some of the most inventive in recent memory. I cannot go into specifics but there is one that will literally blow your mind it is that good. Much like this review, plot becomes secondary towards the end, and when incentives are revealed I didn’t care anymore. I was just grinning from ear to ear!

Before the proverbial hits the fan, there is a cameo from another ‘It Director’ from the horror genre, which, in my screening of horror nerds, went down extremely well, and we all loved his demise. ‘Strangers in the cinema’ barriers were broken at that very moment, and we all got behind the movie together, which hardly ever happens in a multiplex theatre.

You’re Next is not without its cliches, although I do think Wingard uses them knowingly to create moments of humour and to be ‘that meta guy’, but I have to say it’s the most fun I have had watching a new horror movie in a very, very long time. If someone asked me to watch it again at the weekend, I’d happily say ‘you pick the seats and I’ll book the tickets’.

I wonder if/when Wingard is going to try his hand at a straight up comedy?

140 words: Dead Silence

DSilence

Jamie’s life is suddenly destroyed when a mysterious ventriloquist doll arrives on his doorstep. As he unravels the mystery he finds himself unravelling the horror that haunts an old American town.

This movie completed the James Wan set for me. Dead Silence, regardless of the annoying characters and paint-by-numbers horror tropes peppering the narrative, I really enjoyed this film. There is something about the way Wan uses the camera which I feel is adventurous, original and believe could class him as an auteur. And it’s pretty damn creepy!

The final scene does go some way to plug a few of the gaping plot holes, yet it still goes in tandem with one’s expectations for a generic horror movie. Overall, you can tell it’s a Wan movie, it’s exciting, but you may find yourself shouting at the screen during Dead Silence!

140 words: A Field in England

a-field-in-england

A group of deserters fleeing the English civil war embark on a mission that leads them into the darkest corners of their own paranoia.

As a Wheatley fan, I was really looking forward to him returning to serious horror, and equally excited about the prospect of a black and white mushroom-induced, psychosis-fest. Unfortunately, as beautiful as this movie was (and we are talking stunning, visually), the story verges on unnavigable, which I found a stumbling block to my own enjoyment.

The characters rarely offer anything by way of motive, which I can see has been done on purpose. Much like Berbarian Sound Studio, this is a director making art rather than a conventional movie. I’d only recommend A Field in England to photographers/cinematography buffs and avant garde fans, because this is niche cinema at its most bizarre.

The Innkeepers

INNKEEPERS

Ti West, aside from his absolutely terrible segment in ABCs of Death, has cemented himself as the horror fan’s director. The House of the Devil showed how adept West is at building suspense while tipping his nostalgia hat to bygone days of horror. The Innkeepers grabs the same baton of slow-burn suspense and carries it into new spooky territories.

Set in the real life Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is supposedly one of New England’s “most haunted buildings”, the last remaining employees try and prove that there are more than just empty rooms in the hotel before it is shut down to the public. As Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two amateur ghost hunters, enter into the final days at the inn, a number of odd guests check in, and the pair’s desire to uncover spooky happenings causes a turn for the worse.

While I cannot recommend The Innkeepers to everyone, I feel compelled to express how much I enjoyed every moment in this movie. The pacing reminded me of old episodes of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, which I know are science fiction, or even the R.L Stine Goosebumps books that I used to read. At the beginning of The Innkeepers we are drip fed the suspense, and more often than not West is playing with the audience. He uses the camera, lighting and sound to subjectify certain rooms or pieces of furniture, and these shots and sounds chisel away at your guard throughout the first two acts. Looming darkness becomes a character, and slow zooms enhance the mystery and suspense while complimenting the pace.

Paxton is great in the lead role as Claire, bringing a charm and a sense of humour to the movie, almost embodying the winking West behind the camera. Her relationship with Healy’s Luke is the most normal part of the film, acting as a shining light bursting through the gloomy, mysterious darkness of this ghostly tale. There are only a handful of other characters in this movie; a man checks in to the inn to pay his respects to his dead wife, and a psychic becomes the catalyst for Claire’s desire to understand what resides in the basement. The final act crescendos and we are treated to a resolution that goes against everything you would expect from a tale of ghosts and spectres;  layman film fans may feel it’s an anti-climax, but in an age when horror moviegoers are calling out for realistic characters, the final lines of dialogue answer this call.

The Innkeepers is the perfect antidote for anyone suffering the sickness of gore and torture porn. It’s clever, tense and doesn’t treat its audience with disrespect. As I mentioned, it’s not for everyone, most likely due to the very slow pacing, but I for one was definitely taken inn.

140 words: The Pact

PACT

140 word reviews are normally saved for impromptu flicks that we like or films that we feel fall short of the mark. The Pact unfortunately falls into the latter category.

Beautifully shot, the movie looks absolutely stunning. However, that’s not enough to carry the mediocre acting, pretentious tone, and final act that could have been half an hour shorter had the lead character been written as a person with more than 4 cells in her brain. Slow movies are sometimes the most satisfying, especially if there is a good climax. The Pact almost grinds to a halt in the middle and offers little resolution to the story.

Plodding, boring, contrived and just immensely frustrating, the ambition and technical talent is clearly there but unfortunately it fails somewhat. If you want smart horror, avoid The Pact and watch Lake Mungo or Martyrs.

140 words: Stake Land

STAKE1

Zombieland meets 10 years of class A drug abuse and depression in Stake Land.

Excellently shot and competently directed, this post-apocalyptic vampire horror presents complex characters, soul-destroying narrative twists and turns, and a team of anti-heroes in a world of lost souls.

The slow pace of this low budget fare delivers tension that eats away at you as you watch on. It’s very violent and gory, and I was absolutely gripped within the first 7 minutes. This movie isn’t for the faint of heart and mind though; it is so unbelievably depressing, it becomes quite difficult to watch, as all hope seems to dwindle for our characters.

Stake Land is troubling, and think I would watch it again, but not for a long time and only if I was in an extremely happy place.

The ABCs of Death

ABS1

So, The ABCs of Death, what an ambitious project this proved to be. It wasn’t an out-and-out success per sé, however there were some segments in this 26 short film anthology that showed there are some exciting directors out there in the horror genre; talents that include Adam Wingard, Ben Wheatley and the director of A Serbian Film. I won’t go into specifics or spoilers for each segment, but what I will do is give you a few short words that will highlight how I felt about the individual shorts.

A – Smart, excellent payoff.

B – ‘Nightmare’. Bait and switch.

C – Unoriginal. Student film.

D – Stunning. The best-looking segment by far.

E – Lame CGI and decades old story.

F – Fuck you, director, you hack.

G – God-awful.

H – Doesn’t fit in this anthology.

I – Statement about something.

J – Better than the other Japanese ones. That’s not hard though.

K – Killer shit. Just, no…

L – Sick, sick bastards.

M – Not applicable. There is literally nothing to see here. FAIL.

N – Funny bird.

O – Avant garde, Giallo-inspired. Breasts.

P – Pussy. Welp.

Q – Self aware.

R – WTF in a really gory, good way.

S – Robert Rodriguez? Twist.

T – Brilliant claymation.

U – Gritted teeth.

V – Balls-out insanity. And dollars, dollars everywhere.

W – Acid trip.

X – This is what I came to see (through my fingers).

Y – Even Rocky had a montage.

Z – Enough with the dicks and boobs for Christ sake.

There is no narrative that links these movies together so you may get to the end and feel really unsatisfied, especially as the last segment is absolutely fucking terrible. However, A, D, L, maybe N, Q, R, S, T, U, V, X and, to an extent, Y are good enough to hold this movie together. The ABCs of Death was adventurous enough to warrant a (better, please) sequel, just don’t give any of the budget to F, G, M or Z.

TOILET

The Collection

the-collection-9

The Collector, a Saw-inspired, ‘torture porn’ outing set in a booby-trapped house, was a movie so ghastly it teetered very near to tasteless, but was strangely satisfying and achieved its ultimate goal of being repulsive yet watchable. We saw a masked killer that has no motive to his actions; gore; traps; and plenty of that radioactive green lighting that made everything look like an outtake from fetish porn.

The Collection, the sequel to The Collector, cost more than twice the original, looked twice as good production value-wise, had twice as much gore, but was twice as boring and was a complete waste of time. It didn’t even annoy me that I watched the movie, I just felt really indifferent when the credits rolled.

Right from the beginning of the movie it was obvious The Collection was going to be an unsatisfying cinematic experience. The lighting setups were obnoxious, the dialogue was clunky, replete with cliches and the acting was weak, and some of the character development was linear to the point of non-existent/pointless. The first gory set piece is so unbelievable and stupid it will make even the weakest of stomach laugh with insincerity, which means the scene does not work. Also, it was never scary and even the jump scares were half-arsed and obvious.

In many ways, the tone of this sequel is like the follow up to AlienAliens. Everything is louder and more crass. We have a team of wise-cracking knuckle-heads with semi-automatic rifles galavanting around an abandoned hotel looking for a kidknapped girl. Their guide is the one guy that survived the horror of the original film, and they all have to avoid the immensely contrived traps that pepper the hotel. There are no laughs, no scares, a few cool set pieces and editing choices, yet some questionable character choices (read: why does no one fight back in these movies?).

The Collection just exists; it’s not bad enough to get angry about, but it’s not good enough to recommend. You’ve seen it all before and done better. All this film does is make me wonder: how does someone have the budget and manpower to build such elaborate contraptions without raising suspicion?

Evil Dead

evil-dead-2013-review-top-10-horror-2

It happened. We finally saw the long-awaited new vision of Evil Dead. Whether it was due to the marketing of the movie – putting pretty much all of the key plot points in the trailer, or just a desire to be scared shitless, we were [I was] just begging for this movie to hold the self-proclaimed title of ‘the most terrifying movie you will ever experience’.

Post-cinema tweets had me thinking that I was indifferent to the movie, but after a night of sleep and a regrouping of my thoughts, here is my take on Evil Dead.

Without a doubt there are positives about this movie and they outweigh the negatives. I absolutely love the fact they used minimal CGI and didn’t make the film 3D. It’s a true horror movie made by a team that loves the genre. Everything looks and feels real, and it great they have manage to create a scenario which holds a semblance of believability despite it being about demons; there is nothing more alienating than seeing CGI blood or gore elements (just look at the World War Z zombies). Some of the gore is insane, and despite the awkward beginning and pretty monotonous acting from the side characters, it ramps up to Mach 100 and is a rollercoaster ride until the very end. The decision on which they base the groups’ trip to the demonic cabin (five friends visit a remote cabin to help one fight heroin cold turkey) is a great way to differentiate this movie from the original, yet there are enough nods to the first movie to keep a true Evil Dead fan entertained. The way the cinematographer and the director handled the setting was brilliant; the woods develop a character of themselves, and it does borrow from the original in terms of camerawork, which is not necessarily a negative thing. Alvarez clearly has a fantastic eye for detail, and I hope he works on an original movie next to see what he can deliver without the shackles of fanboy expectation.

Despite all of theses aspect though, there were a few narrative decisions on part of the filmmakers that left us both eye-rolling. We’ve already written a better way of the characters finding the Necrocomicon and how they release the demons in the woods; it’s simply unbelievable that a person would read from a book that was found in the way it was found, regardless of the fact it’s covered in barbed wire and black bags; stick in the lake or bury the damn thing, make it more intriguing for the characters to read. Also, unlike the first movie where you are willing Ash (Bruce Campbell) to survive, there was no part in this movie where we wanted to root for any of the characters. I couldn’t have cared what happened to whom, and the only time I was engaged in their story was when blood was flying near the end. The one thing I didn’t want the movie to do was resort to torture porn techniques – Hostel, Saw, etc, – but it did on a few occasions, which I felt cheapened the film. And enough with the foreshadowing, please!

While Evil Dead is just another horror movie, it is a solid 18 certificate horror movie that has a LOT of gore and balls-out action elements. I am really glad I saw it at the cinema; it has to be seen loud and large. I do think the wider issue with the Evil Dead and with other movies in general is that marketers are completely ruining films by putting a lot of the best set pieces in the trailer. We want to be teased, not have nothing left to watch.