Friday, 22 September 2017

The Houses October Built

"The Houses October Built" (2014, Bobby Roe, Room 101, Foreboding Films, Image Entertainment, RLJ Entertainment) is a found footage horror set at Halloween.

The film opens at the end. I imagine to whet your appetite and rev you up for the movie, but for me it just robbed a bit of the mystery out of the experience.

Flash forward to introduce us to a group of pals from Ohio setting out on their road trip around the American South's scariest and most extreme Haunted House attractions. They plan to film their experience as a documentary and uncover the darker side of the 'harmless' fun of thrill-seeking.

They start out with the more mainstream Haunts, introducing us to the characters and letting us see some of the attractions. But their ultimate goal is to find a legendary and exclusive extreme haunt called "Blue Skeleton", which is said to utilise actual torture techniques for a more realistic experience.

Throughout their journey they encounter natural resistance from Haunt staff to divulge their trade secrets or oust their employers' more sinister tricks. They're chased, threatened and thrown out a fair few times. Additionally, they get to hear some more disturbing tales from less coy staff.

Finally, they catch wind of the elusive Blue Skeleton and, with some difficulty, are able to gain entry to the Haunt. However, once inside, will they live to tell the tale?

A directional debut from Roe who also plays one of the main characters, he has brought together a cast which interacts fairly well on screen. However, the film suffers from a bit of a lack of strong pacing and a few conflicts of style. The characters start out making a documentary, but this theme doesn't seem to continue much throughout the film and it winds up just a stream of clips. I get it, they haven't edited it yet (and maybe won't ever get around to it) but you'd think they would have filmed a few more documentary-style scenes and interviews than are shown.

The film premise is pretty good with plenty of footage of the haunts themselves, but there's very little action throughout most of the movie and then, when stuff does start to pick up, it's over really quickly without any explanation and not enough mystique to make it a satisfying mystery. The movie ends with the only explanation being "*shrug* just 'cause".

I'm not a huge found footage fan, and when I do find a FF film that I like, it invariably has some wraparound or a few scenes of traditional filming to bolster out the shaky cam (see my thoughts on 2016's "Hell House LLC"). One of my main issues with "The Houses October Built" was that its reliance solely on 'unedited' found footage reels, made it noisy and disjointed to watch. And it's never really explained how we're watching it. Have the Blue Skeleton staff sold the videos on? Are we watching it over their shoulder/through their eyes? Was this even the Blue Skeleton?

Although, for a debut it's a fairly solid Found Footage entry and, if you like haunted houses, there's a few good scenes.

[Image: Foreboding Films, et al]

Monday, 11 September 2017

IT (2017)

"IT" aka "IT: Chapter One" (2017, Andy Muschietti, New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, KatzSmith Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures) is based on Stephen King's amazing novel of the same name.

On a stormy day, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gives his little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), a sailboat made of paper to play with outside. But, when innocent little Georgie's sailboat floats down a storm drain, he makes the acquaintance of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and meets a gruesome end. For Bill and his band of misfit friends, however, it is just the beginning as he tries to find out what happened to his baby brother, and they are all taunted by IT...

What a thrilling experience it was to see a horror film in a cinema and actually get a few scares! I had been apprehensive as Tim Curry's rendition of Pennywise is so iconic that I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role, but Skarsgård has really made this version of the clown creature his own. Not only is he bitter-sweet, off-balanced and straight up freaky, but he's also so well designed. The clown is just different enough to mark this character as a whole new imagining.

The film stays pretty close to King's masterpiece, and although obviously not every plot point could be squeezed into the run time, I didn't feel that it was rushed or lost any of the pacing. Of course, we still have the next part of the book to cover, and, having now seen the first instalment, I have high hopes for the second battle.

The 80s vibe and styling is excellently achieved. From the clothing to the background advertising, it feels very authentic. I'm really enjoying the 80s love at the moment.

The Losers Club are perfect. All the actors give such a great, realistic performance and bring the roles to life. I can only hope their adult counterparts in the next movie can continue with such style. The characters in this story have such horrid background stories and face some traumatic situations and the movie does well to lighten the tone with some humour now and again. This also just makes the darker scenes all the more cutting.

Aside from leading man, Bill, who gives a fantastic performance and holds the club together, we are joined by Bev (Sophia Lillis); lone girl of the group who, as well as being bullied relentlessly at school also has a traumatic and horrifying home life. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor); love sick, overweight romantic who is also the new kid at school. Richie (Finn Wolfhard); a motormouth who masks his own personal demons with humour and crassness. He's also a face you'll recognise from "Stranger Things" (and he really proves his mettle with a quite radically different and equally iconic character). Stan (Wyatt Olef); a quiet, smart Jewish kid who manages to get a good few quips in when Richie takes a breath. His father is the local Rabbi and he feels under pressure to make him proud. Mike (Chosen Jacobs); a home-schooled kid raised by his grandfather after his parents met a grissly end. He doesn't want to be an outsider, but equally he isn't sure if he wants to join the others when he knows what he's let himself in for. And, Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer); a hypochondriac fuelled by his mother's blatant Munchhausen's by-proxy.

Keeping the Losers Club terrified even before Pennywise awakens, we have the local gang of bullies, led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), son of a local cop who constantly belittles him, Henry feels like he has to terrorise others to make himself feel more like a man.

While Skarsgård's Pennywise does a fair bit more chatting that Tim Curry's did, the film benefits from taking more from the book and enjoys some truly disturbing images. The scares are frequent, quick paced and effective and the plot moves along smoothly.

All in all, it was my most satisfying cinema trip in some time!

[Image: Warner Bros. Pictures, et al]

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Death Note

"Death Note" (2017, Adam Wingard, LP Entertainment, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Netflix) is an American horror film based on the Japanese Manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a high school student. He's not popular, he's not athletic and he makes cash on the side through doing others' homework. When Light comes across a mysterious notebook and meets the sinister Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), a demonic death god, his life begins to change. Quickly unlocking the secrets of the notebook's power: to kill any individual properly targeted using the book, Light finds a kindred spirit in his crush, Mia (Margaret Qualley), and also attracts the unwanted attention of L (Lakeith Stanfield) , an FBI agent seeking to halt their murderous spree.

Although Light's original intentions may have been good, things become complicated and messy as time progresses and he becomes suspicious that Ryuk may not be on his side after all. The overall taking from this film is the old adage: 'power corrupts'.

The film offers some good qualities: Dafoe's performance as the creepy and charming Ryuk is very effective, and the aesthetics of the film are nicely put together. However, the film attempts to pack so much in to the run time that it feels slightly unfinished and focuses perhaps too much attention on the puppy-love aspect of the sub-plot as opposed to mysteries of the notebook or of Ryuk. The ending is also convoluted and felt unhinged from the rest of the film.

I've learned that as well as removing the story from Japan to suit a more Western audience, the film has made other changes to the plot and characters as to make this version very different from the base material. I am not much of a Manga reader, but I feel intrigued now to search "Death Note" out and give it a whirl, if anything to understand the base material more and perhaps seek a better appreciation for this interesting story.

[Image: Netflix]

Monday, 14 August 2017

Death Spa

"Death Spa" aka "Witch Bitch"  (1989, Michael Fischa) is a campy 80s film about a haunted gym.

It's the late 80s and everyone is into lycra and leg warmers. We open onto the parking lot of the Starbody Health Spa. It's a stormy night, and the neon sign suddenly falters, losing the letters s,t,a,r,b,o,y,h and l. Cunningly leaving our movie title lit up in the rain. And that, my friends, is where all the cunning behind this picture ends.

"Death Spa" is a ridiculous romp through a haunted health club, chalk full of sweaty beautiful people in colourful workout outfits, gratuitous nude scenes, extremely 80s dance workouts and terrible dialogue. Oh, and it's set at Halloween. It's great and also a bit crap at the same time!

Michael Evans (William Bumiller) owns and operates the Starbody Health Spa. A recent widower after his wife committed suicide, Michael is back on the dating game. When some of his clients, including his new squeeze, are suddenly (and often fatally) attacked by his gym equipment, Michael begins to suspect that his late wife is haunting his gym!

Although slow in places and suffering from serious pacing issues, the film benefits from some fun, low budget effects and hilarious gore. It really is a great candidate for a so-bad-so-good cheesy movie night and definitely one for the low budget horror aficionados out there looking for something a little different to your usual haunted house flick! Just don't go in with any high expectations.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Knock Knock

"Knock Knock" (2015, Eli Roth, Camp Grey, Dragonfly Entertainment, Sobras International Pictures) is a home invasion thriller.

Evan (Keanu Reeves) and Karen (Ignacia Allamand) are happily married with kids, a dog and an idyllic home. When Karen and the kids go away for the weekend, Evan stays at home to work but his night is interrupted when two young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) come to the door in the pouring rain looking for a house party. Evan tries to call them a taxi but the girls proceed to make themselves comfortable before the cab gets there... and what started as him helping them out becomes a potentially life ruining game of seduction and violence...

An interesting premise that became a little repetitive as the film went on. It is essentially one big cautionary tale: On one hand, that women can be predatory too and that it's pretty easy to ruin your life in one easy step.

The characters aren't developed in Roth's usual style, although the film differs vastly in style and genre from Roth's previous films so much that it's not really worth comparing. Reeve's misguided and somewhat naive character is set up from the start with a few scenes portraying his loving family man side and his sexually frustrated side. It's disappointing, but not surprising when he gives in to the two promiscuous ladies cavorting around his home. The devious vixens themselves are not as well rounded as characters and go from victims to cackling, comic villains pretty quickly with not as much build up as I anticipated.

There are one or two fun scenes, but the more torture-orientated scenes seemed satirical and the film in general would have benefited greatly from either delving more deeply into the implications brought up or by maintaining the satiric humour throughout.

A lot of people have expressed disappointment in the end of this film, but I thought this was probably the scariest part of the movie. All in all, the film had some weak points, but overall it was an interesting 99 minutes.

[Image: Camp Grey, et al]

Monday, 7 August 2017

Wish Upon

"Wish Upon" (2017, John R. Leonetti, Busted Shark Productions) is about the danger of getting what you wish for.

Clare (Joey King) was scarred as a child, finding her mother's body shortly after her suicide. As a teen she has become an outcast, with only a few close friends. When her father (Ryan Phillippe) presents her with a Chinese music box, which he found whilst dumpster diving, Clare is able to recognise one part of the inscription on the side which states "Seven Wishes". As a joke, she wishes for something awful to happen to her school bully and when the event transpires Clare begins to run with it, wishing willy nilly for everything she desires. If only she could work out the rest of the enscription, she might not be so keen...

An overdone premise that could have been a lot of fun, but failed to be either scary nor campy enough to salvage the film. From the trailers I had went in open minded, and hoping for some "Scream"-style teen horror fun mixed with "Wishmaster" and "Bad Girls from Valley High". But unfortunately the delivered material was pretty tame and not too clever. Most of the supporting characters were underutilised and, although King gives a good performance, her protagonist doesn't garner much viewer sympathy because of her actions.

All in all, it is an adequate starter movie for budding young horror fans to cut their teeth on, but it's certainly not the best example of a teen horror out there.

[Image: Busted Shark Productions]

Sunday, 16 July 2017


"Heidi" (2014, Daniel Ray, Neon Mirage, Wild Eye Releasing) is a found footage film about a haunted doll.

Two teenage YouTube pranksters find a doll in an old lady's attic and are then plagued by creepy happenings.

A found footage film which draws upon some elements of Chucky and other killer doll horrors. The idea is pretty good but the execution is mixed. But it's a low budget film, so I am inclined to be more forgiving. The build up, for instance, is pretty long winded and some of the supporting characters are not as well rounded as others, however, the main characters are pretty relatable and some of the scenes with the doll moving are pretty fun. The dolls scenes are made more effective by what they don't show. The film overall benefits from doing more with less.

At only 90 minutes the film isn't overly long, however there are scenes which felt a little drawn out. The main character also doesn't seem to get really freaked out until quite late on in the film resulting in a lot of late gore scenes. The film also goes over the same ground a few times with the doll coming back after being destroyed or disposed of over and over again. This did eventually become a little tedious.

"Heidi" has some good points, but overall loses its way and becomes a little unfocused towards the end.

[Image: Neon Mirage, et al]