15 November 2012

Ally's Cinema Review: Stake Land

I was really looking forward to seeing Stake Land. Fin is notorious for hearing about upcoming films and building expectations to unreachable heights. I usually try to steer clear of his hyping-up habits, because I can be guilty of doing the same thing. So I tried to avoid finding out too much about Stake Land to avoid the inevitable let down. Still, from what little I had heard I couldn’t help anticipating good things.

As always, I like to start with the positives... The film is absolutely gorgeous. The vast landscapes of a deserted America are as haunting as they are spectacular. As the group travel north the landscapes change with them, as do the seasons, and it works very well with the unfolding events. The music is very important to the overall mood of the film, due to the sparse use of dialogue, and it combines very well with the cinematography to give the movie a really beautiful feel.

What struck me most about the film was how (incredibly) similar it is to The Road (only with the addition of vampires). It’s the first thing Clarky said as we left the cinema, and he was bang on. I wasn’t much of a fan of the Road, but this film is much better (an excellent book that should never have been adapted... just my two cents). Perhaps you could argue that it borrowed a little too much from it (and many zombie apocalypse movies). I have to say that it doesn’t feel like a hugely original film, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The characters are very interesting. Mister has jumped right into the mixer as my favourite vampire killer. He’s absolutely tremendous to watch. Blade would still have him in a fight, but he’s one tough son of a gun. He’s actually kind of like Whistler – only younger and without the gammy leg. The main character, the narrator, is well portrayed – the film is really about him becoming a man and I think this is well handled. We see him toughen up over time, but he retains part of his innocence and optimism. It is a very realistic character development, and credit must be given to the fine performance of the central actor. The relationship between the two main characters is understated, but very compelling too. Lots of little things are hinted at in the film, without them being rammed down your throat, and I appreciated the subtlety used by the director.

I was expecting big things from this film, and while there was much to admire I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Perhaps I can blame Fin for building up this film? Even though I tried to ignore the hype, I definitely went in to this one expecting great things. For that reason I feel more critical of it than other (poorer) films. There is no doubt that it is a good, maybe even very good, film. But can it be considered a great film? I think it falls short of this mark. As I said previously, it lacks a little bit of originality that I think a great film needs, although that isn’t my main criticism…

The film has very little dialogue (most of the story is told through narration) and it doesn’t quite work for me. When the dialogue does come it is a little bit clunky and wooden: full of slightly well-used clich├ęs. It’s a shame because the narration is actually very good in its own right, and the film is well acted. You don’t feel you are missing anything when the actors aren’t speaking – it’s just that when they do something about it feels a little out of sorts.

Aside from the two leads, the other characters come and go without really allowing the audience to build a relationship with them. For that reason, when events do unfold, I felt strangely unmoved by some of the goings-on. Perhaps it was due to the sparse dialogue/interaction on display. For me, this chosen style helped to create an atmospheric and beautiful movie, but the side effect was that I felt a little removed from the emotional side of the film. The glimpses at the characters are just too fleeting to really engage with them. In a film that seems to want to pitch itself as character-driven, this seems like a fundamental flaw.

I also think that the film could have been a lot scarier, quite a few opportunities for jumps are missed, which was a shame. The vampires are pretty scary – although apart from the fangs, and aversion to sunlight, they seem more like zombies (the running ones from 28 days later, not George Romero’s slow movers).

Don’t get me wrong though, this film is certainly worth seeing – it’s entertaining, well acted and beautiful to look at. It’s just not quite up there with the gold standard of horror. Still, it’s certainly one of the better horror movies of 2011.

Clarky's Cinema Review: Stake Land

This is a film that, as Ally noted, Fin has had on the HC radar for quite some time now. As such it was always going to struggle to live up to the hype that Fin had steeped upon it (if Fin hadn't been on holiday then he would have joined Ally in his podcast debut this week).

Having said that I did really enjoy this film. As has been noted by a number of other reviewers this film has a lot in common with The Road. In fact it has been compared to The Road with vampires or Zombieland without the comedy. And whilst part of me feels that this are lazy comparisons, they are incredibly apt.

However, I found this a far more enjoyable film The Road, partly due to the action scenes, but also due to the legend that is "Mister". He is the stand out character and is played to perfection by Nick Damici, who also co wrote the film.

I did have a few problems with this film however. Whilst it is very tense, incredibly so at times, during numerous scenes there are only a couple of genuine scares which make you jump out your seat. Whilst this is more than most other films, there are numerous wasted opportunities for other jumps throughout the film.

I also felt that the final "showdown" was firstly not really required, and secondly given that they did go down this route it was a bit of a damp squib. I really liked the variations between the different vampires, with the older ones having a harder breastplate and with the later ones starting to evolve.

There was no need for the bad guy to return at the end of the film, and it seemed to go against the earlier messages in the film, and was out of step with the episodic nature of the rest of the film. However, given that they did go with this I thought that they should have then gone for a balls out fight scene. The end result is a bit of a let down in my opinion.

There is also an incredible scene set in one of the lock down villages where vampires are dropped in fro above by the religious nuts. This should have led to a massive set piece where Mister got to show the vampires who was boss. Instead they hide upstairs and the scene is over as soon as it began. This was a great idea for a scene and really dark and interesting, but they could have made so much more for it.

The acting is uniformally good in my opinion. I loved Mister and Martin, a nod to the George A Romero vampire film, really does make a physical transformation as he moves from boy to man. Kelly McGillis also makes a welcome return to our screens. Maybe it was the make up artist depicting how hard the post apocalyptic world is, but she has had a hard paper route!

Finally, the vampires themselves are incredible. They look horrendous. Just compare them to the CGI monstrosities of I am Legend and the benefit of a good make up and special effect artist has never been more apparent.

In summary, there is a lot to enjoy here and the film pulls no punches. I was surprised with regards to some of the events, who survives and how dark it is, but there are light moments here as well and it looks gorgeous. But for every two good things there is a missed opportunity. A good film that could have been great.

Clarky's Cinema Review: Mother's Day

I saw this without my usual cohorts (Ally and Fin) this week for my Those Movie Guys podcast, and wasn't going to post a review until I heard that this film was being marketed as as a horror film and, incredibly, was also getting some good reviews. With this in mind I felt duty bound to warn any horror fans to avoid this film at all costs.

This is one of the worst films that I have ever seen. It is so bad it is incredible. Within 5 minutes the warning signs were clear yet I struggled on and watched all 110 arduous minutes. Unfortunately, this film was not a difficult watch for the same reasons as films such as House of the Devil or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. No this was a difficult watch in the same way that Catwoman was a tough watch. Watching a piece of excrement smeared across the screen dry would have been more enjoyable.

This film features some of the worst dialogue, acting, twists and plot development of any film I have ever seen. Actually, that's unfair because there is no plot development as such characters just act in whichever way is required in order that the plot can go where it needs. Never mind if this is against everything that the character believed in 10 minutes ago, no matter how contradictory, no matter how nonsensical, these characters do what it takes to ensure that this plot trundles along for an excruciating slow 110 minutes.

I won't bother going into the ins and outs of the "plot" save to say it involves a group of brothers who are robbers, and their mother, taking a group of friends hostage.

At one point one of the Beth's (who I think is meant to be the main character) husband is accused of having an affair with one of the other characters. A character whom I didn't even realise was in the house as she had spent so little time on screen and hadn't actually uttered a single word.

Incredibly, every single actor turns in a career worst performance. The direction is lacklustre and any possible tension is vanishes as quickly as it appears due to the ineptitude of the cast and director. Added to the fact that the main characters are so unlikeable and it is hard to root for them to escape. Eventually I just wanted the "bad guys' to hurry up and kill everyone just so the film would end.

I say bad guys. We have one brother who is doing an over the top Tim Roth impression of Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs, except without any of the charm or skill or likeability. We have the "crazy" brother who has more tics than a mingy dog and we have another brother who has no real character other than when asked how badly his brother is hurt he replies with the following zinger -

"He's hurt so bad that the only time it stops hurting is when you don't wake up".

And that's not the worst line in the film.

This band of renegades are led by a 51 year old woman who wears a cardigan and has no weapons - scary!

With all this in mind please also note:

- This is not a horror movie. I think it was meant to be a thriller but certainly did not succeed.

- There is not one ounce of tension in any scene. At one point at the "climax" of the film the entire audience at the screening I was at were laughing!

- At no point was there a threat level within this film. They are being bossed about by a 51 year old woman who doesn't have a weapon and her children are such terrible actors that any possible threat is wiped out instantly.

- There are so many ridiculous twists and turns it is beyond funny. But even then the whole script is so lifeless and flat that by this point I no longer cared and just wanted it to end.

- Every "character" (and that is a stretch) is a 2D imitation of people that apparently have no thought process and don't show an ounce of development over the flabby 110 minute running time.

- In an attempt to create tension or horror or something there are many acts of graphic violence. At one point a character gets boiling water poured over his ears. At this point in the film I would have happily taken that to avoid hearing any more of the clunky dialogue. If they would also have washed my eyes out with bleach then maybe I could remove some of the stains on my mind that this movie subjected me to.

- In the middle of a suburban neighbourhood you can apparently shoot a 12 gauge shotgun without anyone noticing!

- In another cringeworthy scene the mother attempts to make her dying son's wish come true by forcing one of the woman to sleep with him, even though he can barely open his eyes due to the blood loss and has already had CPR! In what should be a creepy scene all possible tension is lost when the mother attempts to help the women to arouse her son (with the use of the rudder technique).

- Even more incredible the son survives to come back for a terrible twist at the end (even though we are informed on numerous occassions by the resident doctor that there is no way his character could survive!).

- However, these scenes are still better than the scene where the mother interrogates the main character (Beth I think, but I no longer cared by that point) whilst she is on the toilet. Pausing in the middle of one of her points to tell Beth to "wipe". Wow.

A truly awful film that I would implore everyone to avoid like the plague.

14 November 2012

Clarky's Film Review: The Vault of Horror

I stumbled across this film at 1 in the morning on Saturday night. The opening credits looked so bad that I decided that I had to watch at least some of this film. An hour and a half later and I was still there!

This is not a great film, nor is it scary, but there was something incredibly enjoyable about it. Maybe it was the sheer "Britishness" of the proceedings, but I couldn't get enough of it, no matter how bad things got.

The story of 5 men who get stuck in a lift and for no particular reason decide to tell each other their nightmares. Each of which ends with them being killed in one way or another and them uttering the phrase "..but it felt so real. Almost as if it had happened." The "shock" twist at the end being that the gentlemen are in hell / purgatory forced to relive their deaths every night.

In each vignette the man telling the story carried out a wrong against someone before they died. Whilst at times the moral message may be a bit thick, the acting shocking and the special effects even worse, this film is just about worth a watch. If only to see Marcus Brody from Indiana Jones in an earlier screen appearance and one from Tom Baker (indeed his story is the most interesting).

Midnight Mess involves a character in a vampire occupied town, and has a nice touch with the Vampire restaurant and the unmasking of the vampires, but also has some of the worst fake fangs I have ever seen in a film.

Based on Tales from the Crypt the segments were as follows:

The Neat Job has a character driving his new wife to murder as he is so anal about keeping his flat tidy!

This Trick'll Kill You has a magician travelling around India (?) tries to steal a street magicians trick to take back to America.

Bargain in Death where the main character tries to claim life insurance by faking his death and being buried alive. Only to be killed by some grave robbers who want his remains for their medical studies.

Drawn and Quartered is by far the pick of the bunch, and stars Tom Baker as an artist who gains voodoo powers over his paintings. Some ridiculous set pieces see the grisly end to a number of characters, but there is some interesting concepts here and some genuinely dark stuff.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who directed HC favourite Quatermass and the Pit, this is a fun little film that is worth checking out if you like old school movies and don't take it too seriously.

Clarky's Review: Stormhouse

I ended up seeing this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival last weekend, and to be honest I went in knowing nothing about it. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised.

Set in an underground military base in 2002, before the Iraq war, the film focuses on "ghost whisperer" Hayley Sands and her contact with a supernatural entity that the army have captured.

The setting for the film is incredibly eerie, and the lighting and cinematography is fantastic for a low budget British film (just check out the Fast Romance trailer for how bad a low budget British film can look). The main room where the entity is housed is hideous and every time the characters moved into the room my entire body tensed up, and I would breathe a sigh of release when they came out.

At times the tension is unbearable and the sound design has a lot to do with this, and also provides numerous scares at times. In fact I probably haven't jumped so often at a film for a long time. Sure seeing the film at the cinema probably enhanced a number of the jumps, but it was still very effective. The pacing for the first half is also brilliant, with the action moving out of the "room" for just enough to give you a breather before the tension is ratcheted up again. Setting the entire film in the "room" would haven't have worked as the tension would be lost eventually and the film would have become stale.

Unfortunately the film loses its way in the last half hour when it turns out that entity has escaped. The film kicks it up a notch, unfortunately not in a good way. It becomes a lot more action based and a lot of the tension is lost as it is often obvious where the entity is. There are still some good scares, with the stand out scene being the scene in the medical room.

This scene also provides some of the best acting, and one of the best transformations. Unfortunately, not all of the acting is this good. There are some dodgy accents and when the man from Whitehall comes to visit I thought they would need to get a chainsaw for his death scene given how wooden he was. He was incredible, I can't remember seeing acting this bad for a while (even worse than some of the acting in Mothers Day - although this is a far superior film and genuinely terrifying at times).

The basketball scene is also so ridiculous that the film almost collapses under it, thankfully this is offset with a genuinely creepy notion, that I won't spoil. What I will say is that I felt that the film should have ended here, unfortunately another scene is tacked onto the end and it just didn't work for me, providing more questions than answers (and not in a good way).

A character shows up at the end, that in the muddled last half hour I thought had died (and who almost certainly should have), to provide one last scare. Unfortunately I just didn't feel this added anything to the film, and made me wonder why the entity had decided to torture the people who didn't know what had happened in the army base.

Although I have mentioned a lot of negatives above, I would recommend this film. When its good, it is very, very good and it builds up enough goodwill to survive the ridiculous climax. Definitely worth a watch in my opinion and I hope it gets a wider cinema release later this year.

18 October 2012

Ally's Cinema Review: Don't be Afraid of the Dark

We all went to the cinema last week to watch this because myself and Fin were invited to be guest reviewers on the wonderful Those Movie Guys weekly podcast. When I was told this was going to be the film we reviewed I was pretty disappointed, and after watching the trailer my expectations were incredibly low. Other than Kate Winslet, Katie Holmes might be my least favourite actress, so the chances of this movie being any good seemed slim to none. Yet the one silver lining was the involvement of Guillermo del Toro, who has of course produced some of the finest horror/fantasy movies this side of 2000.

My original scepticism turned out to be well founded. There was a consensus between myself, Clarky, Fin and Ryan that this was a poor movie, with each one of us scoring the film around 4/5 out of 10. Yet I was actually surprised to find some elements to this film that I enjoyed, and plenty of potential for a better film to exist. The barebones of the story is actually quite interesting, and well told, even if it feels a little too familiar. I liked the idea of little mythological creatures being released in a renovated mansion, hellbent on collecting children's teeth. It's a creepy premise. The creep factor is upped during the opening scene of the movie which shows a pretty horrific flashback.

Unfortunately, the film is just poorly made after this promising beginning. The acting is truly substandard. Katie Holmes is Katie Holmes, so I don't need to say much more than that. But Guy Pearce absolutely phones this one in, as he has done way too often since the glory days of Memento and L.A Confidential. The main protagonist is a little girl played by Bailee Madison. Although her acting is probably the best on display, she is a largely unsympathetic character, devoid of any real warmth or charisma. This is a major issue with the film on the whole, as it lacks any humour or heart. The other flaws of the film (chief among them, the formulaic narrative, and the poor use of the creatures) could probably be overcome if the film had a bit more warmth to it, but it feels as cold as the renovated house.

The creatures themselves are not used to maximum effect. We see them too much, and they soon lose their ability to scare or shock the viewer at all. Fin made a good point during the podcast; this film would have been far better if they had aimed it at a younger audience. With more humour, warmer characters and a bit less violence, it would have made for a great children's scary fairytale film. Instead, it feels like it isn't really for anyone. The script, acting and effects are too sloppy to engage with this film as an adult cinemagoer, much less a fan of horror.

It's not the least entertaining movie I've ever seen, but I couldn't recommend it to anyone.

17 October 2012

Horror Club: Top 5 Creepiest Characters

Ally's Top 5

5) Grandfather in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (John Dugan)

We don't see Grandfather for very long but he's hard to forget. In the most disturbing family dinner in any film, the audience is left absolutely disgusted and puzzled by the old man. What is he? How is he alive? What's his backstory? The word creepy doesn't cover it.

4) Mrs Blaylock in The Omen (Billy Whitelaw)

Sent to look after Damien following the untimely death of his previous nanny (in the most shocking scene of the entire movie), Mrs Blaylock is absolutely terrifying. Her eyes in particular give you chills, and when she attacks? Buurrghh!! She easily makes the list.

3) Raymond Lemorne in The Vanishing (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu)

His character is so strange that it can't help but be creepy. A family man, who is also incredibly polite even to those who know his deviant secret, something in his head is just not quite right. His methodical and deliberate approach, coupled with an astonishing lack of empathy, is truly shocking. This paradox makes him one of the most unsettling characters we've encountered at Horror Club.

2) Regan/Pazuzu in the Exorcist (Linda Blair)

One of the icons of cinema and still hugely unsettling even to this day, the demon possessing Regan is truly one of the creepiest characters ever on screen. The voices, the laughing, the power… yeah, it's not something you can watch too many times.

1) "Mother" in The House of the Devil (Danielle Noe)

If I never see a picture of this 'woman' again it will be too soon. For the entire film we are waiting in suspense for the ghastly secrets of the house and when we find out what's in store for the protagonist it is truly horrifying. The sort of character that threatens to give you bad dreams after a viewing. Unbelievably creepy.

Honourable Mentions: Toshio in The Grudge (Yuya Ozeki), Margaret White in Carrie (Piper Laurie) and Chris Cleek in The Woman (Sean Bridgers), The Cenobites in Hellraiser, Paul in Funny Games (Arno Frisch)

Fin's Top 5

5) Chris Cleek in The Woman (Sean Bridgers)

A more contemporary character for my number 5 but equally creepy. Chris Cleek is the all American family man and small town lawyer who also happens to be seriously twisted. Chris Cleek's insanity knows no bounds weather he is emotionally abusing his terrified family or 'civilising' a feral women. If you doubt his place on the list check out his unique form of dog ownership.

4) Margaret White in Carrie (Piper Laurie)

Abusive, mentally ill and a fanatic, nobody's ideal mother. When Margaret punishes her daughter for starting her period you know that she is bad shit crazy. However this is only the tip of the iceberg and as we see more glimpses into her twisted mind her true horror become clearer and increasingly frightening.

3) Rev. Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (Robert Mitchum)

The two characters at number 1 and 2 in this list are terrifying partly due to their appearance. Harry Powell creates terror not from outward appearances but because of the twisted and ugly evil which lies inside is charming and handsome exterior.

2) Grandpa Sawyer in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (John Dugan)

Grandpa Sawyer is the patriarch of the most frightening and disgusting screen family of all time. If your son turns out like Leatherface you must be one twisted dad. It is the mystery that surrounds Grandpa that makes him so scary he is an enigma who oozes a sinister presence. He is barely human and seems barely alive Grandpa is without doubt one of the scariest and vile screen characters ever.

1) Regan/ Pazuzu in The Exorcist (Linda Blair)

What more can you say about this character. One of the most instantly recognisable icons of not just horror cinema but all film. Pazuzu is the embodiment of evil, Pazuzu terrified me on first viewing and remains incredibly unsettling.

Honorable Mentions: Raymond Lemorne in The Vanishing, Dr Carl Hill in Re-animator, The Cenobites in Hellraiser, Michael Myers in Halloween, Roman Castavet/ Mini Castavet in Rosemary's Baby, Mother in House of The Devil

Clarky's List

5) Le tueur in Switchblade Romance (Phillippe Nahon)

Whilst this film will go down in HC folklore as a film that completely loses the plot, literally, in the last 10 minutes, up until then le tueur is a horrible character. His shabby exterior, the dirt under the fingernails and his unrelentlessness (if that is a word) disgusted me to my very core whilst watching this film. If it weren't for the fact that he is a figment of Marie's imagination then he would be higher up the list.

4) Eun-joo (Stepmother) in A Tale of Two Sisters (Jung-ah Yum)

A Tale of Two Sisters is a film that we watched a while ago, and I almost forgot how creepy a character the step mother was until I started making this list. She is an oppressive figure throughout the film and incredibly unsympathetic to the clearly troubled daughters.

3) Roman and Minnie Castevet in Rosemary's Baby (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon)

The elderly neighbours from Rosemary's Baby have to make my list. Whilst they seem "off" from the start, you don't know what their ulterior motives are. They are conniving and deceitful, and incredibly creepy.

2) "Peter" and "Paul" in Funny Games (Frank Giering and Arno Frisch)

Peter and Paul (if that is their real names) from Funny Games nearly make it to the top of my list. This film was like a punch to the gut and that is in no small part due to the the faultless performances from these two antagonists. Their lack of emotion and sheer coldbloodedness stay with you for days, if not weeks, after viewing. Sure it is a bit of a cheat having two characters in my list, but they are a double act and have to be included as such.

1) Grandfather in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (John Dugan)

There can only be one winner here and it has to be the grandfather from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The scene dressing is incredible and is incredibly unsettling, just when you think Tobe Hooper can't push you any further we are introduced to the greatest butcher there ever was. The look of him is enough to turn even the strongest stomach. He is barely alive and doesn't utter a single word of dialogue, and even though he makes the briefest appearance he sticks with you longer than any of the characters, even Leatherface. Even know, thinking back to when I first saw this over 10 years ago, he is still the first thing that pops into my head when I think of this film. Surely, testament enough that he is the creepiest character going.

Honorable Mentions: How can I possibly reduce 2 and a half years worth of horror, and creepiness, into 5 characters! With so much scope I've decided to provide a slightly different list from that of my cohorts. That's not to say that their characters aren't creepy, it's just that I feel I need to bring something different to the table, to provide as diverse a list as possible. Having said that, there is some crossover with my number 1 as he is simply the creepiest character out there!

Firstly I have to give honourable mentions to Raymond Lemorne from The Vanishing as noted by Ally. The landlord from To Let, has to be mentioned as well. Whilst not the greatest film, she is genuinely creepy and unsettling right from the off.

Martin, from Martin, is creepy, but not nearly unsettling enough to make my top 5. Whilst Damien, another titular character, from the second Omen film is an incredibly unsettling character, as he is throughout the series, however, the underrated second film encapsulates everything that is wrong with Damien and shows him becoming a willing accomplice in the the dark lords plans.

Finally, Chris Cleek is another almost ran. He is undeniably creepy, but as he is on Fin's list already I thought I would add something different to the mix.