Movie Reviews

Outpost II: Black Sun

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Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Outpost II: Black Sun

Reviewed by Andy

 

aka The One Where Jeff-from-Coupling Meets Undead Nazis. Yep, it’s the second film in as three days featuring everyone’s favourite Welshman-from-Coupling (in fact from Sheffield) Richard Coyle, and this time he’s trying on an American accent for size. Unfortunately it’s less successful than his Irish accent in Grabbers, but it doesn’t detract too much from the film.

After the events of Outpost, several parties have gotten very interested in the technology hidden in the Nazi bunker and its ramifications. Add into the mix a woman (Catherine Steadman) gunning for the scientist behind the project as revenge for his war crimes against her family, and you’ve got an increasingly disparate group heading into dangerous territory. The angle of the technology used was an intriguing aspect of the first film, and it’s taken further here as well with more detail on both the project and modern technological attempts to take out the Nazi ghouls in order to get to the machine at its core.

There are some good battle scenes too, with heightened sound used to add extra impact, but like the first film the limited colour scope leans towards the drab and washed out. There are some nice twists through the film – though I’m still not sure about the Emperor-Palpatine ability that crops up – but as with its predecessor it’s decent but not brilliant. Ultimately pretty forgettable, but a fair enough diversion while it lasts. ***

Stitches

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Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Stitches

Reviewed by Andy

 

Tommy Knight has faced creepy clowns before, in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Day of the Clown, but with no K9 or entrepid Miss Smith to help and an undead Ross Noble on his tail, it’s a different kettle of fish being juggled! On the other hand though, Stitches is not a family film, so he can just tell his pursuer to f*** right off…

When his 6th birthday party has a tragic end following a fatal mix of not very good clown Stitches (Ross Noble) and kids who are less mischievious than little gits, Luk- er, I mean Tom (Tommy Knight) grows up scarred and socially awkward – it’s almost like he’s from another planet or genetically engineered or something! Convinced to hold a birthday party while his mother is away, he doesn’t realise he’s in for an extra visitor as the Clown Code says that a party always has to be finished…

Full of fun, gore and great dialogue, Stitches is a real hoot and Ross Noble fits in the oversized shoes of the resurrected and eponymous clown (known previously as Richard Grindle) naturally. There are a couple of jokes that are groaners or overly obvious – a social networking site dubbed MyFace is some of the most blatent joke foreshadowing I’ve seen – but there’s a great comic energy to the film that pulls you along with a whopping great grin on your face. Sure, there’s a lot of typecasting in the characters and I can’t see teenagers in 2012 really singing along to Chris Isaak unless the only game they have between them is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but it’s made up for with nicely inventive kills and the best chase scene since, ooh, Cockneys vs Zombies (what can I say, it was a good Frightfest!)

In honour of part of the fantastic intro given by Ross Noble – more fun than a Fruit Corner! ****

Stitches hits UK cinemas on 26th October. Seen it? Tell us what you think in the forums!

[.REC]3

Seen at

Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

[.REC]3: Genesis

Reviewed by Andy

Paco Plaza takes the reins solo from the previous partnership with Jaume Balagueró in second-sequel-that’s-also-a-prequel [.REC]3. With the first two films in the zombie saga enjoying great success without the backlash that usually follows in the found-footage genre (Troll Hunter which showed at Frightfest 2011 was another rare exception), expectations were high for the third installment which was to set up as well as add to the mythology of the first two films.

It starts usually enough with handheld cameras recording a wedding but there are two major changes – the handheld footage is eschewed in favour of “regular” style of filming after the first act, and there is the introduction of quite a lot of comedy into the mix. Both work pretty well – the action is clearer and there’s no annoying shakycam to deal with for the majority of the film, and there are lots of genuine laughs from good writing and amusing characters (credit especially there to John Sponge!). The romantic thread from the newlyweds who seek each other having been separated in the chaos manages to be strong without getting too cheesy, and the additions to the background about the nature of the zombies are intriguing too.

But the problem is that the tone and feel has changed – if this is your first entry to the franchise it’s not too much of a problem, but having the number 3 on it makes it unlikely and so it doesn’t sit right in its place as is. As a standalone RomZomCom it’s great, or even as a [.REC] spinoff it would be absolutely fine, but that it isn’t will annoy alot of series fans, which is a shame. Good entertainment value, but a bit mismarketed! ***

V/H/S

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Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

V/H/S

Reviewed by Andy

 

Anthology films are pretty rare these days – the last that springs to mind being Trick R Treat – but on the other hand found footage films are three a penny. So what happens when you put the two together? In the case of V/H/S, it seems you put your weaker foot forward first, as the opening of the film seems to focus on the most criticised elements of found footage in unlikeable characters and lots of shaky cameras.

Ostensibly the wrapper is that a group of young robbers are being paid to break into a house in search of a VHS tape, but they don’t know the contents other than they must be blackmailable. This is roughly where the format links end, as the rest of the stories are set in times past the usage of VHS in camera formats, mainly focussing on digital technologies. But of course anything can be recorded onto VHS tape… while the digital formats are played with effectively in several of the segments, there’s a bit of a missed opportunity in the “quirks” of VHS not being used at all – 90 minutes of movie and not one skipping pause or need to adjust tracking!

However, if you can get past the first 20 minutes or so, things start picking up towards the end of the first segment when events take what was developing into a rather uncomfortable date rape tale into something really unexpected! Though there’s some variation in the other segments, there are some really strong stories that raise the film as a whole – particular favourites being a slasher-esque tale set in some woods with some clever work done involving the killer, the Skype tale and the final story. By the time the credits roll its been a mixed bag, but the balance has tipped well into the watchable. Given how many focus on their ending, maybe there’s some value in trimming found footage films to the length to fit anthologies – watch this space for V/H/S 2? Or maybe that should be called D/V/D? ***

Hidden In The Woods

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Hidden In The Woods

Reviewed by Andy

 

There are a few things that are stereotypically found in woods – odd (and usually single) wellington boots, rotting remains of ripped tents, and particularly in the pre-internet days, occasional stacks of second-hand porn, Unfortunately, its the latter that seems to have most connection to Hidden In The Woods, a grotty grindhouse tale centering on sisters Ana and Annie (or Anny, depending on what the subtitles decide) and Ana’s inbred mutant son Manny. Cue rapes, prostitution, random resurrection from the dead and occasional cannibalism while the subtitles gradually get worse and worse to the point where you can’t tell which character was meant to say the word that resembles nothing in english.

It’s pretty well stylised in a grindhouse/exploitation sense but is really not the kind of subgenre I like to watch or have ever gotten in to, so not for me at all. If you are, you may appreciate the look and feel, and may find intentional humour as well – other than the subtitles of course! **

Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut

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Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Nightbreed – The Cabal Cut

Reviewed by Andy

 

Nightbreed is a film with a chequered history – based on the visionary novella Cabal by Clive Barker, the original theatrical release was marketed as slanted towards the slasher genre despite and despite a wonderfully creepy turn by David Cronenberg in a rare acting role, felt disjointed and reassembled yet with occasional glimpses into the epic that many suspected had originally been filmed. Over the years since its original 1990 cinema release, there had been much work done trying to find some of the reported major amounts of footage edited out, and finally while spring cleaning Clive Barker’s office a VHS tape marked “Nightbreed” (who’d have thunk it!) turned out to be the start of a holy grail… what was shown at Frightfest was still a work in progress to an extent (v5 so far!) – the festival showings which include footage cut together from multiple sources including the original print and VHS tapes is heading towards a full restoration which will have reportedly also have some of the VHS footage replaced with film from Fox so will look more consistent.

For those unfamiliar with the previous release, the film follows Boone (Craig Sheffer, here providing the template for the look of Angel in Buffy that would eventually come full circle in Hellraiser: Inferno), who has been trying to bring himself back to normality following recurring dreams of a town of monsters called Midian. Accused of serial murders by his psychiatrist Dr Decker, Boone has to go on the run – but what of his love Lori (Anne Bobby) and could all of his dreams have been real?

Unsurprisingly considering its subtitle, this version is much closer to the original novella, and feels much more complete for it. While there is still some footage missing – some of the creatures in the promo materials are still absent for example – this is much more of an epic, and a much more coherent story too. Lori’s role is fleshed out, as is Rachel’s, and the climactic siege is much more fully realised. The quality of some of the footage makes occasional elements difficult to follow, yet it’s still easier than the theatrical cut which speaks volumes. The design is still brilliant and really hasn’t aged; a testament to practical effects and Clive Barker’s vision. It’s only really things like hairstyles that have dated at all as the film’s focus on the monsters’ story has always felt ahead of its time. A brilliant event and something well worth following, as the DVD/Blu-Ray release promises to be something very special indeed. ****

Grabbers

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Grabbers

Reviewed by Andy

 

If In Bruges was Father Ted with hitmen, then Grabbers is Father Ted with alien sea monsters. There we go, review done, off to the pub! That choice, as it turns out, may not be coincidental… After a fairly standard monster-movie intro, we go into full-on rom-com mode as new Garda Lisa (Ruth Bradley, soon to be heard as Molly in Big Finish’s Dark Eyes) arrives as holiday cover to back up perpetual drunk (Richard Coyle) just as a storm is due to head for their island – not the best time for the arrival of a monster that drinks human blood and can travel anywhere wet, so has picked Ireland as the perfect holiday destination!

* A quick interjection for anyone who has a similar experience to me, to save the self-annoyance I had – Richard Coyle played Jeff in Steven Moffat comedy Coupling, where he had a welsh accent. In fact, if he had played Jeff in this it would probably have made it the perfect film, as Jeff in a proper rom-com and Jeff in a monster movie would both be brilliant! *

There’s a lot of emphasis on the Irish as heavy drinkers, but director assures that it’s fine as it isn’t so much a stereotype as an archetype! Good job though, as our alien monsters are allergic to alcohol – so be sure to drink while watching!

What may seem an odd pairing of rom-com and monster movie does end up working well together, and the monster effects and design are excellent. The story itself may be a little on the disposable side, particularly with the blatent sequel setup, but it’s fantastic fun even without a drink. Watch out for Russell Tovey being exceedingly english and with a neat nod to Being Human, but don’t be tempted to try a drinking game such as having a swig every time one of the cast members do or you may end up in hospital! ***1/2

Cockneys vs Zombies

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Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

Cockneys vs Zombies

Reviewed by Andy

 

Ronseal really should start sponsoring movies, with films like Snakes On A Plane, Man On A Ledge, My Dinner With Andre and now Cockneys vs Zombies there’s an increasing number of titles that really do exactly what they say on the tin. (Product placement cheque is in the post, right?) The zombie apocalypse has arrived courtesy of some greedy workmen looking to loot a crypt marked as sealed by royal decree in 1666 – and so with the evidence of Terileptils and 5’s sonic screwdriver in there too, obviously – and it’s all kicked off in East London. Bad news for the zombies…

The story follows two brothers (Andy and Terry, played by Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardicker) who decide that the only way they can raise the money to save their grandad’s care home is to rob a bank. So they enlist the help of their cousin (Michelle Ryan), well-intentioned but rarely-successful Davey (Jack Doolan) and Mental Mickey (Ashley Bashy Thomas) for whom the nickname is something of an understatement. Perfect time for zombies to get involved then… they may be slow, but old people can be slower!

This idea along with the cockney acceptance of the whatever comes their way underpins the movie, and while the younger generation are the ones we follow for the “rescue”, the real stars are those in the home. Joining ubercockney Alan Ford are such TV and movie royalty as Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore herself!), Georgina Hale (Daisy K in The Happiness Patrol), Tony Selby (Glitz), Richard Briers (Paradise Towers) and Dudley Sutton, and they show age really is just a number when it comes to zombie-bashing. The film is gleefully un-PC and with a good sense of its own silliness, which are tied by James Moran’s brilliantly funny script into set-pieces, one liners and visual gags that will satisfy both zombie and comedy fans alike. Plus we get to see the answer to questions like “do zombies still support football teams?”, “how would you really deal with a zombie baby?” and “what would you call a zombie in rhyming slang?”

Excellent music choices and neat directing and editing (all about the Star Wars-style wipe cuts!) add up to a film that can proudly stand as a great British zombie film and a cracking comedy to boot. And keep an ear out during the closing credits for a proper zombie-themed knees up by Chas and Dave! ****

Cockneys vs Zombies shuffles onto DVD and Blu-Ray on October 22, including just over 20 minutes of Behind the Scenes featurettes (watchable individually or all together), a four minute Zombie School shown to the extras before filming, and the trailer. The first run also has a neat lenticular slipcase.

Seen it? Tell us what you thought in the forum!

The Seasoning House

Seen at
Frightfest 2012 - aka Frightfest the 13th

The Seasoning House

Reviewed by Andy

 

The Seasoning House would be a chirpy title for a cannibal knees-up, but there’s nothing so cheerful in Paul Hyett’s vicious tale of the young girls dishomed by war and exploited by ruthless soldiers. We follow Angel, a deaf and mute girl who has been chosen to help the soldiers by keeping the girls made up and drugged up for the paying visitors, and cleaning up the blood and mess afterwards. Compliance is set early on in a way that rams home the casual disregard for life by the men involved, but after being entrusted with a key apparently opening the main door, and striking a friendship with a girl who can communicate via sign language, will Angel take her opportunity – or is it a test?

Set in the Balkans, the story elements may be ficticious but the basis is predominantly in fact, which makes the film all the more disquieting. I really wasn’t proud of being male by the end of the film!

Blistering performances by Kevin Howarth, Sean Pertwee and especially Rosie Day as Angel add effectiveness to the sparse use of dialogue, and tension levels are kept high by the direction and soundscape. It’s a film you won’t say you “enjoy” per se, but it’s an disturbing and well-made movie that has a real point to impart and does so effectively. ***1/2

The Skaro Review – Film 4 Frightfest 2010 – Day 5

Film 4 Frightfest - 26-30 August 2010

Day 5 – Monday 30th August

by AndyJWS

Time really does fly when you’re having fun, and it was sad to realise that it was already the last day. How did that happen – it felt like 4 hours not 4 days!

The final day of this year’s fest kicked off with documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape. Directed by Jake West and produced by Marc Morris, it’s an excellent and even-handed account of how the term began, how the panic and vilification of horror progressed with the Video Recordings Act and how it still has repercussions for the future. With a plethora of interviews including MP Graham Bright, Martin Barker and those who grew up during the Nasties era like Neil Marshall (The Descent) and Christopher Smith (Triangle), as well as archive footage featuring infamous BBFC director James Ferman and Who-archenemy Mary Whitehouse, it’s a gripping and fascinating piece of work. The archive footage is probably scarier than many of the films discussed, with the pro-censorship brigade intent to shout down anyone pointing out contrary facts to their assumptions and using much of the same kinds of inciteful language as religious fundamentalists. And wait till you hear a claim about the impact of the films not being limited to children… 😉 A great strength of the documentary is that it easily prompts further discussion on multiple aspects – one covered outside afterwards was the Nasties panic as the start of the handing off of parental responsibility. A must for anyone who is interested in film or British cultural history, an extended version will be released in October as part of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide.

A panel discussion followed, featuring Jake West, Marc Morris, Martin Barker, Allan Bryce (known for Dark Side magazine) a slightly bemused Tobe Hooper, and Dave Hyman of the BBFC. Martin Barker came out best, with an impressive sense of passion yet still always calm and sensible, though credit to Dave for facing some hard questions and describing how classification works now – and how to help get involved. The secret is to stay aware, and stay reasonable – the internet is an extremely powerful tool, but just ranting won’t put across a positive argument!

Next up was zombie film The Dead, directed by Brit brothers Jon and Howard J Ford. Rob Freeman stars as Lt Brian Murphy, stranded after a plane crash and fighting to get back to the apparent safety of America and his family. But there’s alot of Africa to cross, and even more zombies in the way… Set and shot in Burkino Faso, there’s something of a Resident Evil 5 look about the style and editing, but with proper slow zombies 😉 The pacing is something more like a road movie than the traditional zombie movie, being set in the wilds, and the environment is more than a pretty background in that its effects are evident and important. Burkino Faso is a pretty country and while there are some nice shots in there, with a fair amount set in close scale the opportunity is missed for more panoramic beauty. That’s a reasonable payoff though, as the focus is intentionally on Murphy and his journey, and despite the odd misstep (a technical scene seemed to be waiting for accompanying A-Team music) it’s an impressive film, above the zombie norm and a good calling card for the Ford Brothers.

Continuing the zombie theme, Andrew Lincoln (who I remember from Teachers) took to the stage to introduce a roughly 10 minute preview of upcoming TV series The Walking Dead. Based on a graphic novel, it looks like few punches have been pulled in bringing the story to the small screen – it will be showing on FX in the US, not sure if there is a UK deal as yet.
The scene included in the preview had a slightly 28 Days Later feel insofar as it centred around Lincoln’s character waking up in a deserted hospital, and was an excellent teaser for what looks like it’ll be a lot of fun. If not on TV, may be one for a DVD/Blu-Ray buy!

A complete change of pace came with Bedevilled, a Korean film that opens with Seoul banker Hae-won (Ji Sung-won) being annoyingly passive to the detriment of others. Being forced onto vacation, she decides to go back to the island of Moodo for the first time in many years, although her friend Bok-Nam (Seo Young-hee) has been begging for her to go and rescue her across many letters without response. Arriving at the island she sees the unpleasant treatment of Bok-Nam by her husband, his brothers and even aunts, but her indifferent attitude lets things continue, and following a tragic turn of events things escalate to a terrifying head…
It’s a testament to the filmmakers that a film that for the majority of its running time is ponderously paced and with almost exclusively unlikeable characters (even Bok-Nam isn’t perfect, taking out her frustration on her daughter) still holds the attention, and when the story takes its inevitable turn into violence there is a sense of just desserts about proceedings. Knowing this, the thread of black comedy that has been running through turns into a broad streak at this point and although it ends up as a sad film, it’s one with some surprisingly entertaining parts along the way. Well-made and decent overall, but would have preferred Hae-won to be a bit more likeable!

Before the next film was the final installment of this year’s Road to Frightfest shorts by Adam Green and Joe Lynch. The pair have become a brilliant double act since meeting at Frightfest and for the past 3 festivals have made a collection of shorts – one per day – from their own pockets and completely by themselves as “The Douche Brothers”. They’re hugely appreciated and selfishly it’s a bit sad that as they become busier with bigger film projects the scheduling is probably going to make them impossible – but we all hugely appreciate those that they’ve made and the huge amount of time effort (and a fair amount of money!) that the pair spend making them – thank you guys! This year’s theme was The Blair Witch Project and was as funny and gross as ever, whilst chock full of nods to events, films and people from Frightfests past and present. Ending on a touching tribute to Kevin (the Frightfester who passed earlier this year) they’re also a testament to the filmmaking of Green and Lynch that they can carry emotion through the laughter. All of the episodes from the three years of The Road to Frightfest can be seen over at the Ariescope website – just click on Shorts then Television and More. Though there are many Frightfest in-jokes they’re still pretty accessible – and while there also check out Adam Green’s other shorts!

The penultimate film (awww!) was Red, White & Blue. Coming from writer/director Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead) and set in Texas, it initially centres around apathetic Erica (Amanda Fuller), who spends her evenings in bars and clubs around Austin and nights with whoever she picks up. Her first line is her mantra – “Look, I don’t stay the night, I don’t fall in love, and I don’t fuck the same guy twice”. It seems to serve her well, till she meets in Nate (Noah Taylor) someone who isn’t interested in her just to get her into bed, but is hardly normal – he describes how he used to torture animals out of interest! As the two gradually build a friendship though, her past is catching up with her, and this isn’t heading for a fairytale ending… Simon Rumley’s greatest talent is in his creation of character, and the primary players are all three-dimensional flawed people. No-one is truly evil, but evil things get done from circumstance and a loss of control; the film is all the more affecting as everything that unfolds is entirely character-consistent. Brutal and upsetting yet also gripping, it’s a journey through an emotional wringer that leaves the viewer feeling exhausted and dirtied. An example of just how powerful cinema can be.

So, 24 films, 14 shorts, 5 Roads to Frightfest and a whole lot more had been and gone, and Frightfest was almost done for another year. Just one film remained – The Last Exorcism. Patrick Fabian stars as Cotton Marcus, a preacher and exorcist preparing to hang up his Bible after realising his faith isn’t what it was. Disturbed by a tale in which an autistic child accidentally died during an exorcism, he decides to expose the fakery and showmanship he used by filming one last performance. Except as always happens in this kind of situation, this time round the possession might actually be real… You’ll notice I said “might”, and that leads into the most important thing to take into this film – forget the trailers! Or avoid them if you can – this is a case where knowing little going in is a distinct advantage. It’s also one of those rare movies where you can take very different impressions away on different watchings, something aided by superb performances by Patrick Fabian and especially Ashley Bell who is outstanding as Nell. The semi-documentary style coupled with Cotton’s intentions give a feel of honesty, so when the creepiness kicks in it works very well. Ultimately, it will be a divisive film – the marketing may leave some feeling cheated that the film even questions the possibility of possession (as well as featuring things that were never shot so not in the movie) and the ending is likely to be controversial too. But I loved it, and will be definitely revisiting on Blu-Ray when it gets released!

After a last Q&A including Eli Roth, Daniel Stamm, Ashley Bell and Patrick Fabian which ended in one of the best last questions ever (I’ll just say that there’s something wonderfully surreal about several hundred horror fans properly getting into a “HALLELUJAH!” 😉 ) It was time to head to the Phoenix for the customary festival-finishing drinks. Huge thanks to Ian, Paul, Alan and Greg for organising another fantastic festival, the friendly Frightfest crew, Adam, Joe and all the guests who came along, the brilliant Empire staff (not least those who came down from Glasgow to work the fest!), Maurice and the Phoenix staff, and most importantly all the other Frightfesters who again made this festival such a brilliant place to be for five days!

Bring on 2011!

Film of the dayThe Last Exorcism

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