Monday, 26 September 2016

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

"Dawn of the Dead" (2004, Zack Snyder, Strike Entertainment, New Amsterdam Entertainment, Metropolitan Filmexport) is the remake of the 1978 Romero film.

Ana (Sarah Polley) is a nurse who comes home from a long shift to have her quiet night in ruined by the sudden zombie virus outbreak. Terrified, she leaves her home and comes across another small group of survivors. Together they take up refuge in the local shopping mall along with a group of inhospitable security guards. Quickly, however the mall is surrounded by the undead, attracted by the living treats within and the group have to decide what to do.

An uncommonly good modern remake with a good balance of gore, action and plot to keep the viewer entertained. The film also enjoys a good score and soundtrack. Despite a relatively large group of characters, there is enough familiarity built up to make some of their deaths feel like a loss and for the viewer to root for the demise of a select few.

Although the film does not convey the same deeper message of the original, it does create a good ride and allows enough adrenaline pumping scenes to make it a genre favourite.

[Image: Strike Entertainment, et al]


Friday, 23 September 2016


"31" (2016, Rob Zombie, Bow + Arrow Entertainment, PalmStar Media, Protagonist Pictures, Spectacle Entertainment Group, Windy Hill Pictures, Saban Films) is the latest Rob Zombie horror picture.

A group of carnival workers are travelling in their van on Halloween morning 1976 when they are captured by a group of mysterious people and are then forced to play a "Running Man"-esque survival game called "31" (after the date). The aim of the game is to survive for 12 hours while battling murderous, torture-obsessed maniacs with clown paint on, wielding weapons. The game appears to be for the amusement (and gambling interests) of a group of madcap aristocrats lead by Malcolm McDowell.

The film has the same chaotic feeling that most of Rob Zombie's film enjoy with sudden scenes of violence split by scenes of random banter between the characters. However, the overall effect is less easy to follow than his previous films with a major flaw for me being there were so many characters to begin with, especially since it became apparent that a lot of these characters weren't required and are quickly lost in the confusing capture scene. There wasn't enough personality built up around these surplus characters to make them an emotional loss either, so I didn't feel their demise to be of any significance.

The settings are familiar: dusty back roads of America, big empty warehouse... The jump from one to the other is jarring and seems almost like 2 separate films. Zombie has also paid homage to Rocky Horror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other genre favourites, but some scenes seem more like replication than actual homage.

The action and kill scenes are good viewing, but our protagonists leap a little too easily into the roles of survival killing machines against supposed professional maniacs. The villains are colourful but would have benefited from some more screen time.

I did really enjoy main villain, Doom Head (Richard Brake), who, although very chatty, had a really effective menace to his character on top of being very violent and giving a good monologue.

As did Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects", "31" features a good group of familiar and established cult and genre faces including Meg Foster (she of the mesmerising eyes in "They Live" and more recently, "Pretty Little Liars") amongst a cast of many others. The acting is good, but the style of scripting sometimes makes the aforementioned banter seem less comfortable between characters.

All in all, it will certainly not be overtaking "House of 1000 Corpses" as my favourite Rob Zombie film and suffers from a few pitfalls, but it had the gore and action to bring it back.

[Image: Bow + Arrow Entertainment, et al]


Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Invitation

"The Invitation" (2015, Karyn Kusama, Gamechanger Films, Lege Artis, XYZ Films, Drafthouse Films).

Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi), are on their way to Will's ex-wife, Eden (Tammy Blanchard)'s house for a dinner party with some old friends and Eden's new husband, David (Michiel Huisman). On the way there they accidentally run over a coyote and Will is forced to put the creature out of its misery.

Will and Eden split up after their son tragically died and Eden met David through her grief support group. Amongst other strange things at this dinner party, the old gang are joined by some of Eden and David's friends and David shows everyone a video from their grief support group where a young woman dies on screen....

Throughout the night Will begins to fear that there is something more sinister going on than just a strange dinner party, but is this fear founded in reality, or is he just feeling emotional seeing friends and Eden again and entering his old home since the death of his son...?

A slow, slow, slow burner that seems to relish in showing very little up until the end. I've seen a lot of positive things said about this film, but I don't fully share the enthusiasm. While others have remarked at an excellent build of tension, I found the plot slow and meandering. The acting is really good and the setting in the Hollywood hills is nice, too, but the film just felt too slow for me. Will's nagging feeling that something is wrong is plausible and real doubt in his instinct is well crafted by flashbacks and nice camera angles. The film is also very well shot. I just didn't feel that the quick, brutal payoff really made up for the pace of the build up.

I do appreciate the lack of usual horror tropes used in the film, however, which was a breath of freshness over some other recent horror efforts which have resulted in a lot of same-old, same-old.

[Image: Gamechanger films, et al]


Saturday, 10 September 2016


"Ghoulies" (1984, Luca Bercovici, Empire Pictures, Ghoulies Productions).

Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) moves into his family's mansion with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan). Jonathan finds his father, Malcolm (Michael Des Barres)'s dark magic equipment in the house and decides to play with the paraphernalia during one of his parties as a joke, but unwittingly raises some demonic creatures known as 'ghoulies'. The power then begins to go to his head and he begins to follow the path of his black-magically-charged father...

I love a good B-movie, but this one is not one of the so-bad-it's-good gems of the era. And yet, it's not quite bad enough for me to hate it.

The demon puppets are fun, but cheap. And the film is neither scary nor funny and a little too long winded. While the film's not quite the calibre of other B-movies of the period, it went on to have some good sequels which made more use of the ghoulie monsters and focused less on demon-raising, cloak wearing party animals.

One of the odder things about this film was that the characters constantly put on sunglasses inside and at night. Confused, I did some trivia searching to discover that the film was meant to go into 3D when the characters put on their sunglasses, but that the difficulty of doing this was too much and so the creators decided not to bother. Alas, the scenes had already been filmed so we're left with this oddness.

All in all, I've sat through worse and don't get all the hate online about this film, but even I can see it's genuinely not that great.

[Image: Empire Pictures, et al]

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sicilian Vampire

"Sicilian Vampire" (2015, Frank D'Angelo, In Your Ear Productions) is a mobster vampire film.

Santino Trafficante (Frank D'Angelo) is a mobster who is bitten by a bat whilst at a weekend trip with his associates. He soon begins to notice that he is changing into a vampire, and puts his new found talents to use against his enemies whilst also trying to ensure the safety of his wife, Carmelina (Daryl Hannah), and daughter. He also seeks the help of mysterious doctor, Professor Bernard Isaacs (James Caan).

While the idea isn't bad and the cast includes some known mobster genre names, as well as Daryl Hannah rocking jet black, straight hair, the film feels too much like a vehicle for the director to play out his dreams of being a mobster family man with Rat Pack-esque charisma. And winds up feeling a little flat and stilted.

The horror is minimal and low budget. Although, as you know, I never deduct points for low budget horror. I just feel it could have done with some more gore to make the kill scenes more fun. Most of the kills happen together in tandem, which I liked as it broke up the slow pacing of the rest of the film and rounded off the loose ends.

A mouse farting joke and the actual bat biting scene were fun additions. But the musical number and the dream sequence could have done with some cutting down.

All in all as a film it just doesn't stand out particularly.

[Image: In Your Ear Productions, et al]

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Lights Out

"Lights Out" (2016, David F. Sandberg, New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster, Grey Matter Productions, RatPac Entertainment, Warner Bros.) is the feature length adaptation of the fabulously jumpy 2013 horror short of the same name also by Sandberg.

Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) becomes concerned when her mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), begins to suffer from depression again and starts talking to an 'imaginary friend'. She is also worried for her little brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), who is beginning to suffer from insomnia and behaving strangely. She soon learns why this is happening, however, when she sees for herself the creepy apparition which moves in the dark around them...

The short had a great premise and truly gave me the wiggins. The creature is only able to be seen in the dark and by flicking on and off the light, you can see it slowly (and yet somehow also quickly) approach you. It's menacing and effective.

As a feature length film, however, this effect loses some of its impact and the film began to feel somewhat gimmicky. However, as a whole the film is quite enjoyable in a simple, jump-scare-by-numbers-horror way. The characters are good, but they're not given enough time to develop effectively and there's perhaps too much going on in the back story to be cohesive.

The thing that worked so well for the short was its simplicity and this felt a little lost in the feature length film. In an attempt to create a personal origin story for the shadowy creature, the story lost some of its simple, effective mystery around the creature. I feel that sometimes horror monsters don't need to have their motives explained; they just need to be scary. A sympathetic backstory can be effective, but this explanation in "Lights Out" felt forced into the story.

My advice is by all means see this film, then go re-watch the short to remind yourself how good the premise really was.

[Image: New Line Cinema, et al]