Sunday, 30 April 2017

Get Out

"Get Out" (2017, Jordan Peele, Blumhouse Productions, QC Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Universal Pictures) is a horror that explores themes of racism through the context of an interracial couple hitting the 'meet the parents' milestone of their relationship.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) head out to Rose's family home to introduce Chris to her parents. Chris is apprehensive about meeting Rose's parents because she has told him he is her first African-American boyfriend and he's not sure how her Caucasian family will react to him. Rose assures him that her folks are not racist and that they'll just be glad to meet him.

Upon arriving this does seem to be the case, although as the day goes on her parents make some awkward 'well intended' remarks that begin to make Chris uncomfortable. However, it is the black people he encounters that strike him as 'wrong' somehow, but he can't quite place why. As the visit becomes overlong, the couple are dragged into an odd family gathering and Rose's mother also offers to cure Chris' smoking addiction with hypnosis...

Things become slowly more and more unsettling and Chris becomes aware that this friendly, suburban setting may not be as safe as it first appeared...

A fantastically paced film that balances its social statement with good scripting, humour and character development. The acting is spot on with a strong lead from Kauuya who's both confused, but strong and an excellent antagonist in Rose's father (Bradley Whitford). The unsettling build up really makes the twists and turns effective and keep them from being hokey or too obvious. The film isn't just about blatant racism; it explores that smiling-cat, quasi-jealous, self-congratulatory kind of racism that is prevalent all over.

A really striking film that's definitely worth a try. The horror elements are more tailored to a chilling thriller than a straight up fright fest, but the true horror is in the message being portrayed.

[Image: Universal Pictures, et al]


Friday, 21 April 2017

The Institute

"The Institute" (2017, James Franco, Pamela Romanowsky, Jeff Rice Films, Redwire Pictures, Campbell Grobman Films, Dark Rabbit Productions) is a period horror set in The Rosewood Institute; a real life place in Baltimore which was closed in the 90s.

A grief stricken well-to-do girl called Isobel (Allie Galerani) checks herself into the institute in order to get over her parents' death. She is subjected to torturous "treatments" at the hands of Dr. Cairn (James Franco) and his staff.

A dull and arduous movie that takes a long time to get going and then doesn't deliver anything worthwhile. The acting is tedious and the plot is over-trodden tropes that have been done better elsewhere. The story waivers between wanting to be psychological and wanting to be supernatural and the draw for our leading lady to wish to stay at the institute is very weak.The horror elements fall straight into the sexploitation category and don't manage to make much more of it than re-tread ground already done rather effectively in the 60s and 70s.

All in all the only thing I enjoyed about this film was the slide at the end of the credits where I learned that Rosewood was a real place and that led me down a short rabbit hole about the place's history. And guess what, it was nowhere near as interesting as the film hinted at.

[Image: Dark Rabbit Productions, et al]


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Bye Bye Man

"The Bye Bye Man" (2017, Stacy Title, Huayi Brothers Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Log Angeles Media Fund, STX Entertainment) is a supernatural horror set in a house rented by some American college students.

The film enjoys an exciting and brutal opening where a man toting a shotgun goes around slaughtering his neighbours whilst repeating "Don't think it. Don't say it" and demanding to know if his victims have said "his name". We then shift to present day where three students, Elliot (Douglas Smith), John (Lucien Laviscount) and Sasha (Cressida Bonas), are moving into the house where most of the murders took place 40-odd years ago. The group find all the furniture in the basement (this scene felt like it was going to take a "Cabin in the Woods" turn) including a bedside table with writing scratched into it saying "Bye Bye Man". The table also keeps producing weird old coins.

The group have a party which results in a seance where they basically blurt out the boogeyman's name, releasing him upon themselves. We then spend the rest of the movie watching the group try not to murder each other, while being pursued by the dark, mysterious figure.

There's a whole lot of hate in internet-land for this movie, and I don't feel it deserves it completely. The acting is fine, the characters are developed enough and the setting is spot on.

There's a somewhat weak cop plot line involving Carrie-Anne Moss which could have been more effective, but all in all the movie is just your average, unimaginative teen horror fodder. And that's OK! Movies age, and as an ex-teen horror fiend myself, having more up to date teen horror movies helped introduce me to the genre and then the classics (where I learned that there is much more to horror than a Scream mask). The genre needs these light, silly horrors as much as it needs challenging, mind bending ground-breakers. And, in comparison to some other horrors I've sat through recently, "The Bye Bye Man" is far from the worst. There are a few effective scenes with tiny doors, shadows and dressing gowns (although that last one gets seriously overused). I'd say the effects are familiar and tropey, but have a kind of safe, fun jump-scare charm. Like a horror film with training wheels.

Now, that's not to say it's not got some glaringly obvious flaws. The first, of course, is the title. It's awful. I'm sure they were going for "nursery rhyme horror chic", but what we ended up with is just a crap title for a bad guy. Which leads me on to the Bye Bye Man himself; this character is portrayed by the great Doug Jones. Jones is someone you'll recognise from Hellboy, Buffy, Pan's Labyrinth, Hocus Pocus (to name but a few) and he's a talented, respected character and creature actor. The real tragedy is that he was not utilised nearly enough in "The Bye Bye Man". The character design is dull and tropey and we barely get to see Jones actually do anything in this film. So many missed opportunities!

All in all, this movie does not deserve the ribbing it's getting. It's a bit of a cheesy, throwaway modern horror film that will end up in the 'sleepover horror' box, but it's certainly not the worst attempt I've seen even this year.

[Image: Intrepid Pictures, et al]

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Eyes of my Mother

"The Eyes of my Mother" (2016, Nicolas Pesce, Borderline Presents, Tandem Pictures, Magnet Releasing) is a black and white horror drama about trauma.

Francisca's mother (Diana Agostini), an ex-surgeon from Portugal, teaches the young girl (Olivia Bond) about anatomy. One day, a creepy stranger (Will Brill) asks to use the family's bathroom. Against her instincts, Francisca's mother lets the man into the house, where he brutally murders her. Francisca's father (Paul Nazak) comes home and beats the murderer bloody before dumping him in the barn - An event that the murderous intruder will live to deeply regret. Francisca (Kika Magalhães) grows into a disturbed young woman, with an unusual fascination with death...

A slow burning film punctuated with disturbing scenes of suggested  mutilation and gruesome ideas. Francisca is a lonely girl, who's young experiences with horror have left her broken and unfeeling. There's a lot of unsettling content in this film.

Despite this and despite Magalhães' engaging performance as the main role, the film does suffer from being so slow and quiet, however, its bat-shit, mental content makes up for this in abundance. A truly awful vision.

[Image: Magnet Releasing, et al}

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Void (2016)

"The Void" (2016, Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie, Cave Painting Pictures, Astron-6) is a Canadian monster movie set in a small town's hospital at night.

We open to an exciting and horrific scene where a man called James (Evan Stern) flees a house while two other men, Vincent (Daniel Fathers) and Simon (Mik Byskov), kill a screaming woman. James is later found by local Deputy, Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole), who takes him to the nearby hospital.

James turns hysterical upon entering the hospital and is sedated by Dr. Powell (Kenneth Welsh). Soon Vincent and Simon appear hunting James. They are closely followed by a Marshall (Art Hindle) and a group of strangely garbed cultists brandishing knives. Aside from being surrounded by creepy, hooded figures, the group are terrified to find that some of them are becoming less than human...

I really wanted to like this movie. The marketing had made it look like an updated answer to Carpenter's "The Thing", but unfortunately, the reality was nowhere near as comprehensive.

The initial build up is excellent: dark, atmospheric and brutal. There's enough going on to get you involved as a viewer, and the characters have just enough screen time to establish their personalities before the real horror begins. The effects are really fun and the action moves... Until it doesn't.

Around the third-way mark we move away from Carpenter and into Clive Barker terrirtory where the plot takes a sudden "Hellraiser"-esque turn and things become bogged down in trying to be artistic and weird instead of scary and weird. Although there is an enveloping theme established, it felt like there had been two concepts and the directors decided to try merging both with disjointed results.

While I commend the technical aspects of the film and the creatures, the story-telling really let it down and we ended up with a muddy, bloody mess that isn't sure if it wants to be a Lovecraftian epic or a gritty, 80s gorefest. With a bit more of a decisive direction, however, the Astron-6 guys will undoubtedly bring us some really great stuff.

[Image: Cave Painting Pictures]

Sunday, 9 April 2017

House IV

"House IV" (1992, Lewis Abernathy, New Line Cinema) is the third sequel to 1986's "House"... Kind of. Although it sees the return of lead character, Roger Cobb (William Katt), to the houseit has very little to do with any of the original films, not even the humorously irreverent "House 2". And I know, I know, "House III" is not really a true sequel à la "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch".

Roger Cobb has a new family now. He, his wife, Kelly (Terri Treas), and their daughter, Laurel (Melissa Clayton), have moved into the Cobb house. You know, the house that attacked Roger in the first film?! Genius move, Roger.

Roger's half brother, Burke (Scott Burkholder), is keen to take the house off of Roger's hands in order to sell it to some gangsters for storing toxic waste, but Roger won't sell. It seems that things will change when Roger and his family suffer a horrific car accident. But Burke will have Kelly to deal with, not to mention the spooky inhabitants of the house itself who are unlikely to like Burke's plan.

A straight-to-VHS film that really feels it. Hokey, silly, and chalk-full of tropes (*cough* bathrooms!). The film is neither funny like the second entry, or scary like the first and the plot just keeps hammering the same things (lone mother being haunted/hounded by evil brother-in-law) over and over again until we reach the finale.

Really a bit of a disappointing end to the series.

[Image: New Line Cinema]
Kelly did not order anchovies on her pizza!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A Cure for Wellness

"A Cure for Wellness" (2016, Gore Verbinski, Regency Enterprises, Blind Wink Productions, New Regency Productions, 20th Century Fox) is a psychological horror set in a luxury spa in the Swiss Alps.

An NYC financial firm sends a keen, young executive called Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) to a secluded spa to retrieve the firm's CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), in order to coordinate a merger. They also have some dodgy dealings to pin on someone, and if Pembroke won't be the man to go down, Lockhart will do.

Lockhart arrives at the spa to find that the staff will not let him see Pembroke. During his return to the village to decide what to do, his taxi has a horrific accident and he awakes to find that he has broken his leg and is 'recovering' at the spa himself. As he familiarises himself with his surroundings he becomes suspicious that there is something much more sinister going on than just outlandish treatments. He also meets a young girl called Hannah (Mia Goth), who has lived at the spa all of her life. Lockhart decides to dig deeper, but how long can he resist before he becomes just another of the sinister Dr. Volmer's (Jason Isaacs) patients?

A creepy, slow moving film with some action and a lot of unsettling scenes involving slimy eels. It's a sly plot with some plot-holes which dislodge the viewer slightly, but on the whole an intriguing and gruesomely distasteful concept.

The setting and styling have a familiar, old-fashioned vibe; "The Phantom of the Opera" meets "Dracula" but with a few elements of "Saw" chucked in there. The film is beautifully shot and the more disturbing scenes are truly imaginative and uncomfortable. However, the film felt overall too long, and the dreamlike quality of the storytelling made it feel longer still. There was certainly an element of style over substance, and the ending didn't fit with the rest of the build up and felt hokey and out of place.

Despite its shortcomings, the film is successfully interesting.

[Image: 20th Century Fox, et al]

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Masque of the Red Death

"Masque of the Red Death" (1964, Roger Corman, Alta Vista Productions) is the film version of Edgar Allan Poe's story of the same name.

Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) terrorises a plague-ridden, medieval Italian village whilst holding lavish parties in his castle home with the local, desperate but disillusioned gentry and a young, red-headed village maiden named Francesca (Jane Asher) whom he is holding captive.

The film boasts a macabre, spiteful and gleefully malicious prince in the form of Vincent Price, but we are also treated to a devious, dwarf court entertainer named Hop-Toad (Skip Martin) who likes his revenge served searing hot, a surprisingly strong female lead and two heroes, Francesca's lover, Gino (David Weston), and her father, Ludovico (Nigel Green). Ever present also, is The Red Death (John Westbrook), for you see death comes in all colours!

The Masque was to be one of Corman's most faithful Poe adaptations, and gladly so as the story is so outlandish and fun that there was little need to change it. The sets, costumes and colours are fabulous and lavish; well suited to the tale.

The gothic surroundings, debauched party atmosphere and the final lesson: that death does not discriminate, come together as a fun and characteristically cheesy horror tale.

[Image: Alta Vista Productions]

Daughter of Dr Jekyll

"Daughter of Dr Jekyll" (1957, Edgar G. Ulmer, Film Venturers, Allied Artists) is a low-budget, black and white horror.

Janet (Gloria Talbott) returns to her childhood home with her fiancé, George Hastings (John Agar), to celebrate her 21st birthday and to inform her friend and father figure, Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields), of she and George's engagement. Upon returning, Janet learns that she is actually the daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll and she becomes concerned that she may also suffer from her father's monstrous affliction. However, all may not be as it seems!

A slow moving film which takes it's time to get to the point, but once there is quite entertaining. The setting is a big mansion in the woods surrounded by a small town of superstitious people who are quick to start an angry mob; it feels like most other horror films from the era. And although the scripting is a little clunky in places and the fight and transformation scenes do not compare to other, larger budget films of the era, I did enjoy the overall plot-line.

A film about a young girl's struggle for identity, masquerading as a cheesy monster movie. It's the kind of late night cheese-fest that hits the spot on a dark and stormy night.

[Image: Allied Artists]