Reviewed by Andy
With the recent trend for negativity in reviewing, especially on the internet, it must be tempting for those being slated to use the defence that those criticising haven’t done any better themselves. So Sinister, from the keyboard of C Robert Cargill (known as Massawyrm on Ain’t It Cool News) is immediately up against a higher benchmark than most.
True crime writer Ellison Oswald (an interesting combination of names, though I suppose no more unusual than, say, Harlan Oswin ) is hoping to recapture the popularity of his breakthrough book, Kentucky Blood. He takes his family to a new house in order to research what could be a breakthrough for him – a case where as well as the murder of the family, a child was taken, and could potentially still be alive…
Ethan Hawke has always done well in making flawed characters watchable and plausible, and puts in a brilliant performance here – Ellison puts his chance of fame ahead of his family whilst believing he is doing it for them is believeable and the way he convinces himself of rational explanations when things start to go pear shaped is completely consistent. Even when arguing with his wife (Juliet Rylance) they both have logical points which follow from their characters – it feels more natural than in most films and with the child actors holding up the quality too brings to mind the kind of sense of real family that helped make Poltergeist such a classic. Add to this some clever (and again character-based) chuckles that don’t take away from the building tension, impressive directing by Scott Derricksen (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and currently lined up for the remake of Poltergeist itself) and a brilliant soundtrack by Christopher Young (Hellraiser) that plays with ambience and sounds to add to the atmosphere and dread.
Managing to make a screen full of 1500 Frighfesters jump is no mean feat, but Sinister does it with apparent ease – the components come together brilliantly to create one of the most genuinely scary films in recent years. This is what Hollywood horror should, and can be – more like this please! *****
Sinister is released across the UK on October 5.
Seen it? Tell us what you thought in the forum!
Berberian Sound Studio
Reviewed by Andy
Sometimes it’s possible to have an experience so surreal and lacking in sense that you have to be awake, as even the most fervid of dreams couldn’t quite match up. Berberian Sound Studio is one of those experiences, and after mulling on it considerably I still don’t have the faintest of clues what was really actually going on!
It is somehow fitting, then, that the cast is led by Dream Lord himself Toby Jones as sound engineer Gilderoy, who heads to Italy to work on movie The Equestrian Vortex for auteur director Santini (Antonio Mancini). Initially, the film seems like a fairly traditional “Englishman abroad” tale, with Gilderoy challenged by language, new colleages, getting back flight expenses and the gradual realisation that The Equestrian Vortex is even further from the nature documentaries he is used to working on…
It’s part of the film’s setup to focus on sound – from the direct effects work that Gilderoy does like “stabbing” watermelons, to the way that other than a funky credits sequence we only hear any elements of The Equestrian Vortex – and the audio is fantastically layered and immersive. It looks stunning too, from the use of colour to the focus on Toby Jones whose always-interesting and expressive features draw the eye even when the shot is just of him sitting still.
As the movie continues, so the surrealism starts to set in – subtly as first, but increasingly so as it reflects the deterioration of Gilderoy’s state of mind. There are times when it feels like minor changes could help greatly though; for example, in the really useful Q&A that followed, director Peter Strickland described some inspiration as the way films in the 70s could get reels from different sources spliced together so everything from quality to even language of soundtrack and presence/language of subtitles could change from reel to reel. So including a “cigarette burn” to indicate that there would be a reel change as you would have had in those films would give a handy visual note to the viewer on rewatching.
While I can’t honestly say I completely understand the entire of Berberian Sound Studio, it’s definitely a unique audio-visual experience that while suffering from overhype is still worth watching for Toby Jones and the view into how many sound effects are made. Hopefully there will be a Grindhouse/Machete effect following as from the snippets involved, The Equestrian Vortex could be an excellent retro horror! ***
Reviewed by Andy
He may have handed the reins on [.REC]3 over to Paco Plaza after co-writing and directing the first two films in the series (and is returning for the fourth), but Jaume Balagueró hasn’t been taking a break and this year helms Sleep Tight, described as in the style of Hitchcock and Polanski. It’s almost an unfair comparison as rather than sitting in the shadows of giants, this superbly tense film is good enough to stand alongside even the greats of suspense.
The story follows César (Luis Tosar) who spends his days as concierge of a block of flats but at night waits under the bed of tenant Clara (Marta Etura) until she falls asleep, then drugs her and his time begins…
Luis Tosar is brilliant as César, managing to make a man who cannot feel happiness so endeavours to bring everyone else down around him both engaging and watchable, and the supporting cast are all strong from Marta Etura to Petra Martínez’ Senora Verónica and iris Almeida as the precocious Ursula.
The script by Alberto Marini has plenty of punchy twists, and Balagueró’s assured direction adds to the tension without compromising the wonderful visuals on offer.
Considering how nasty César’s acts are, it’s testament to the film’s quality that it’s still so captivating. That extra something elevates it even further over the norm, and to bring the comparison full circle does so like Hitchcock’s or Polanski’s best, making it just as unmissable. One piece of advice though (for the second time this Frightfest) – buy a divan
The Horror Channel Presents
The Frightfest International Short Film Showcase
Reviewed by Andy
The Halloween Kid – cute fairytale story about growing up narrated by Derek Jacobi and featuring everyone’s favourite Jagaroth Julian Glover as a teacher. Lovely detail and the story has a heart that makes it almost family-friendly! ****
Alexis – neat take on both the found footage and creepy kids subgenres, though in isolation feels a little like the story isn’t complete ***
Gargols! (Snails!) – stylised and fun mini-B movie about an invasion of giant snails with some good effects and great sense of humour ***1/2
My Brother’s Keeper (Or How Not to Survive the Apocalypse) – the title is almost longer than the film! Dialogue is great and I like the feel, but nothing much actually happens ***
Lot 254 – simple, creepy and effective tale of a mysterious auction purchase ***1/2
Metal Creepers – reminiscent in a way of Alex de la Iglesia, turns out glam metal really is the Devil’s music! ****
Tokophobia – a woman takes extreme measures in her fear of pregnancy. Intriguing in intention, but not to my taste – was over this approach after The Isle personally **
The Captured Bird – the influence of executive producer Guillermo del Toro is evident in this dark fantasy of a little girl investigating a weird black fluid into a strange house. A wonderful brief fable, with a payoff that leaves you wanting to see what happens next ****
Un Jour Sang – a different angle on a familiar story is cleverly told and brutal despite showing very little directly ***
Reviewed by Andy
Going to have to disappoint some readers early – this film has nothing to do with the synthpop Twins of the 80s! It is, however, a sequel to 2006’s The Hamiltons (no relation to *that* husband-wife pairing) and while The Thompsons stands alone pretty well it can’t be discussed without revealing a critical element of The Hamiltons so if you haven’t seen the preceding film, you may want to check that out before continuing here.
With that said, onto the sequel, and it’s ironic that the opening gets a little staggered here too, with an opening Tarantineo-esque non-linear structure that possibly has one level too many. Picking up soon after the events of The Hamiltons, the renamed family get caught up in a sequence of events that leave them on the run, separated and with youngest child Lenny (Ryan Hartwig) seriously injured. Francis (Cory Knauf) is left in England on a vague trail of someone who may be able to help. But then, nothing’s ever quite so simple for a vampire…
The Thompsons builds on the first film, with some nicely original elements being added to its mythology that continue to set it apart from other vampire films. In fact, without the setup needed to build to the blood-drinking revelation, the sequel has a faster pace and more bountiful bloodletting. Like the precedecessor it does have flaws – some of the dialogue especially for the English characters is clunky, and one individual’s affiliations and motives seem more driven by plot than character at times. Acting is solid for the Thompson family though more mixed for the English cast – there’s a bit of a “this is how the English are to Americans” element like with Spike in Buffy or Daphne in Frasier.
Overall though, The Thompsons is an enagaging and entertaining film. There’s room left for a potential sequel too – and with the style of the bookending voiceover, maybe it’ll see a bigscreen return for Fred Savage! ***
Reviewed by Andy
My strongest memory of Joe Spinelli’s 1980 opus is a scene involving Tom Savini, a windshield and a shotgun – whilst impactful and with great effects, it was always a little out of place in the tale of a disturbed individual stalking women and attaching their scalps to the mannequins while having one-sided conversations with his dead abusive mother.
Let’s kick off with a sort of reverse spoiler – that scene is not present in this remake, which comes from the team behind P2 and takes the bold move of presenting itself as the point of view of maniac Frank. If not used well it could come across as a gimmick, but Frank Khalfoun uses it to brilliant advantage, and Elijah Wood puts in an excellent performance despite only being seen in reflections, photographs and occasional hallucinations. Nora Arnezeder, seen most recently in Safe House, is credible and strong as artist Anna (played in the original by Caroline Munro) and the supporting cast help keep the film feeling grounded and real.
The experience of writers Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur on previous films like Haute Tension is evident, and the result is a film that is taut and gripping throughout. It doesn’t hold back either (there were walkouts at Cannes) but doesn’t sensationalise its violence – Frank is doing it as a means to an end, not for the act in itself. That only draws the viewer further in, and when the credits roll it’s almost a relief to be released from the hold the film skillfully exerts.
Brilliantly disturbing, Maniac is not just better than the original but one of the films of the year. Steel yourself for a journey into the real dark side of human psychology, and you’ll be rewarded with a unique and engrossing experience that you won’t forget anytime soon *****
Reviewed by Andy
Federico Zampaglione’s return to Frightfest after 2009’s Shadow, Tulpa is a love letter to giallo in its truest sense, though its celebration of the genre’s flaws as well as its strengths run the risk of being levelled against the film. The story follows Lisa (Claudia Gerini), who relaxes from her high-pressure job in the mysterious Club Tulpa and the arms of a string of anonymous lovers there. But when they start getting murdered in increasingly nasty ways and with Lisa as the primary connection, she’s caught between fear for her life and the professional scandal that would ensue if she sought police help.
The Tibetan concept of Tulpa is an intriguing one – roughly, it is a physical being created from the imagination and the term originated from a claim by a Belgian-French explorer of Tibet that they had created such a being (in the form of a Friar-Tuck-a-like monk) that had to be destroyed after developing a life of its own. This gives a good hook for the mystery aspect of the giallo, and the striking figure of Nuot Arquint (Mortis in Shadow) is nicely effective as the club owner. Mind you, his dialogue delivery is more reminiscent of a different mystery man – that of the Half Life game series – and it’s here that the less positive aspects of the genre start to become evident. Many gialli at their peak were post-dubbed or badly subtitled and that feel is present here, along with the poor dialogue that was associated; even Argento and Bava’s finest thrillers weren’t known for strength of dialogue and acting. While you can never be quite sure if this was intentional, that the writing appears much stronger in the film’s first half does start to indicate it could have been. The worst offender by far is Lisa’s friend Joanna who appears like she hadn’t seen the script before reading it phonetically with it being in a language she had never spoken before, but that does give comedy gold at points.
Traditional gialli have been known for their style too, and the visuals and sound are fantastic here. The deaths are suitably elaborate and visceral, and all of the twists tie up nicely consistently.
It’s to Zampaglione’s credit that he has embraced all aspects of giallo, but ultimately Tulpa will be divisive as a result. One thing that is likely to be less factious is that it’s a striking experience, irrelevant of whether the entertainment comes intentionally. ***
Under The Bed
Reviewed by Andy
There are two ways that a tale of a teenage boy still scared of what may lie under the bed could be taken; one is to take a psychologically-focussed thriller approach examining the teen’s mindset and guilt that could be creating his experiences, and the other is to go for full-on supernatural horror with gore, monsters and alternate worlds.
Slightly confusingly, writer Eric Stoltze and director Steven C Miller chose both, and while both make independently have lots of positives, the combined result is to the detriment of both and makes little sense. It’s a bit like Mirrors that started as a serious and creepy horror before going Jack-Bauer-meets-the-supernatural, except the flip here is over an hour in so feels a bit more cheating to the viewer.
The bulk of the film features a nicely-written relationship between troubled teen Neal (Jonny Weston) and his younger brother Paulie (Gattlin Griffith) as he moves back home two years after their mother’s death. There is some good interplay between the two, and some good tension whilst keeping enough sleep deprivation and childhood thinking to maintain mystery in what is going on. Then the final third has a much faster pace, nicely designed creatures and a stylish under-bed realm that looks great. Unfortunately there’s no natural flow between one “subfilm” and the other, with dialogue suddenly seeming out of character and a loss of sense of consequence.
Had either portion been expanded it would have been better, but as is the result is confusing and a little frustrating – though the unintentional laughs that result from the switch still allow entertainment! Does make a good argument for buying a divan bed though… Just don’t think too much about what the creature must have been created from though with its look taken into account *shudder* **1/2
Reviewed by Andy
Paura literally translates as “Fear”, so it’s a bit surprising that the film is a fairly straightforward thriller that doesn’t aim to capitalise on the marquee title. Apparently it was originally called Shadow of the Boogeyman, and despite the supernatural overtone of that title I feel it’s more appropriate to the story of a (wannabe) band who take advantage of one member’s job in a garage to hijack a rich customer’s apparently empty villa for a weekend of partying. But of course, things are never that simple…
This year’s only 3D film at the festival, Paura is a mixed bag – in many places it feels like a post-conversion but it was conceived and filmed fully in 3D. There are occasional neat uses, but though it’s quite pretty the first time you see an outside shot with branches or leaves used in the foreground to add depth it gets pretty repetitive and there are in my opinion some missed opportunities for more impressive use within the house.
Special mention should go to the stylish opening credits and excellent soundtrack, but there’s nothing really new or memorable – unless you count the unnecessary use of gratuitous nudity, particularly in one uncomfortable close up scene involving shaving that doesn’t involve a moustache, if you get my drift. It should have been a hint to directors the Manetti brothers that they had to bring in a porn actress for the scene despite the actress used for all other scenes being totally naked for most of the rest of the time she is onscreen – and even then if doing a scene like that in high definition 3D, it makes sense to have visual similarity surely? Never mix cheesing off both prudes and pedants, it’ll never end well
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. ***