Category Archives: horror

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS – HALLOWEEN 2021 SPECIAL!

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS

Halloween is slowly creeping out of the fog and shadows. It’s a time of the year where horror films come to the fore. Personally, I watch horror all the year round, but it’s always fun when the genre pulls focus on the cultural calendar.

Rather than concentrate on current horror film releases, I thought it would be interesting to seek out chillers that are a tad less known. So, I had a scan through Amazon and Shudder screening platforms and unearthed several cult horror gems worth catching.

Some of these films come from the 1980’s period which encompassed the “video-nasty” era in the United Kingdom. With the advent of home video technology, the government suddenly got frightened about bloody and exploitational films and desired control. Censoring seventy-two titles and banning a flurry of films actually made people want to watch them more. This caused the government’s policy to backfire as people clamoured to watch “pirate” video versions of such films. In fact, it was in the living room watching forbidden films and the old Universal black-and-white classics where my true love of horror cinema began.

The following films may not have been banned at the time, but I was intrigued by how many of the titles I missed seeing on first release. Aside from Ben (1972), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and Phantasm (1979), I hadn’t seen the other titles. Therefore, if you’re looking for obscure horror films to watch then delve deep into the Amazon library. They have a fine feast of 1970’s and 1980’s fear inducing fare, many of them which were on the infamous “video-nasty” list. Dare you watch them!?



THE CAT OF NINE TAILS (1971)

An early Dario Argento giallo finds a blind puzzle-maker (Karl Malden) and dogged reporter (James Franciscus) investigating murders at a genetics lab. Aside from a couple of scary set-pieces, notably in a graveyard, it neither works as a detective nor horror story. It is however beautifully filmed with a vibrant restoration. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CHUD (1984)

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission track down missing toxic waste the New York homeless population are becoming victims to something monstrous in the sewers. An energetic sci-fi-horror hybrid combining a schlocky plot with socio-environmental themes. It’s not bad and actually quite funny, with early roles for John Heard and Daniel Stern whose acting raises the overall quality. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CLASS OF 1984 (1982)

I remember school kids raving about this film when I was twelve. I really wanted to see it, but could never find it in the video shop or from the “pirate” video guy. The plot merges The Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Death Wish (1974), as Perry King’s music teacher attempts to soothe the savage beast of a gang of nasty punk students. He fails and the final act revenge-driven rampage is fantastically inventive and gory. Latterly famous director, a young Tim Van Patten, portrays the psychotic, Peter Stegman, with vicious zeal. A true exploitational classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11).

HELL NIGHT (1981)

This is one of those films I had never even heard of. With a sizeable budget of $1.4 million dollars for a slasher film, it concerns four college students, including a grown-up Linda Blair, spending the night in a creepy house as part of an initiation ritual. Unfortunately, there’s a psychotic killer about hellbent on hunting them down. We’ve seen it all before, but it was nicely filmed and had decent humour. Overlong but way better than I thought it would be. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PHANTASM II (1988)

I reviewed the remastered version of Don Coscarelli’s low-budget masterpiece here, but only just got round to watching the sequel. Phantasm II (1988) had a bigger budget and suffers from some stodgy plotting. The re-casting of Mike with James Le Gros in the role throws you. Yet, once Mike and Reggie fight with the Tall Man (inimitable Angus Scrimm), the razor-sharp spheres and the hooded monsters, the film finds real pace. Coscarelli blows-up a lot of stuff and ramps up the weaponry, but the sequel lacks the twisted magic of the original must-watch horror fantasy, Phantasm (1979). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)



TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Another unknown mini-gem I found on Amazon. This Canadian slasher film is, you guessed it, set on a train and finds, yes you guessed it again, college students getting picked off one-by-one by a vengeful psycho. Notable for a really good plot which gives the killer empathy and understandable motivation, it also stars everyone’s favourite final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis. With disguise and magic prevalent in the themes, David Copperfield also appears in a neat role. Highly entertaining with a killer twist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)

Inspired by a famous urban legend, Fred Walton’s chilling suspense thriller has one of the most nail-biting opening twenty minutes in horror cinema. Carol Kane is the babysitter terrorized by a series of tense phone calls from a mystery ringer. From that terrifying start the story falters slightly as it focusses on Charles Durning’s obsessive search for the unhinged man. Only when Kane rejoins the film some years later does the horror rise up again in a truly frightening denouement. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WILLARD (1971) / BEN (1972)

This was an odd one because I knew and seen the sequel Ben (1972) when I was a younger. Little did I realise the original Willard (1971) had been released the year before and became a sleeper box-office hit. Bruce Davison is excellent as the introvert, Willard, who is bullied at work by his aggressive boss, Ernest Borgnine. Only when, and take a deep breath here, Willard trains an army of rats does he gain confidence to take on the world. It’s a weird film that actually works because of Willard’s fascinating character arc and Davison’s nuanced performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

The follow-up Ben (1972) focusses on Willard’s alpha rat, Ben, and his friendship with lonely kid, Danny. The sequel really raises the rat count and there appears to be thousands of them in their dirty lair. Danny is a likeable kid who suffers from a serious illness that prevents him from going out. Why he would make friends with a killer rat though is still frankly nuts! A lack of thrills and goofy premise make it difficult to recommend, and is more famous for the classic Michael Jackson hit called, surprisingly enough, Ben. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


CULT FILM REVIEW: DEATHLINE (1972)

DEATHLINE (1972)

Directed (and story by) by: Gary Sherman

Screenplay by: Ceri Jones

Produced by: Paul Maslansky

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Norman Rossington, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney, Hugh Armstrong, Christopher Lee etc.

Cinematography: Alex Thomson

***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***



In my last review I wrote with nostalgia about trips to the video shop. Yes, an actual shop where you could hire films existed! Imagine that. Now, I further lament the splintered streaming marketplace where you have to pay a subscription to watch a film when I used to be able to see it on telly for free. Plus, there are TOO MANY platforms. Those £5.99 and £4.99 and £7.99 per month fees soon stack up. I used to love turning on Channel Four or BBC2 or latterly Film Four and there would be a cult horror film, classic film noir, World cinema, art film or early directorial release from a now famous director on there late at night – FOR FREE! Thankfully, aside from all the streaming stems I have to manage, a channel on digital TV called Talking Pictures does show some genuinely great movies that time and humanity may have forgotten. One such is Deathline (1972).

Deathline (1972) – (AKA Raw Meat in the U.S.) is a genuine cult classic horror film which is gruesome, darkly witty and incredibly moving in equal measures. In this era of constant remakes I am surprised no filmmaker has decided to transfer this grimy and quintessentially British movie into the modern day. In many ways I am glad they haven’t as it, despite some glaring flaws in characterisation of two main protagonists, borders on being a bona fide under-rated classic. The premise involves a series of missing persons who are disappearing around the area of Russell Square underground station. The sarcastic Inspector Calhoun (inimitable Donald Pleasence) is tasked with cracking the case. He does so with gallows humour and gallons of cups of tea.



Pleasence is not the only person who gives a memorable acting performance in Deathline (1972). Because the screenplay and direction spends a lot of the grisly running time creating a thematic and visual mythology around the antagonist. Indeed, while the killer, described in the credits as the ‘Man’ (Hugh Armstrong), commits several brutal slayings and abductions, the ghastly backstory given and Armstrong’s emotionally charged portrayal really make you empathise with his situation. The combination of pustular make-up effects, the rat-infested underground lair he inhabits, plus the tragic circumstances surrounding the ‘Man’s’ plight ensure he one of cinema’s most empathetic monsters since Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).

It’s a shame therefore that more wasn’t done to develop the leading couple in the film, students Alex Campbell (David Ladd) and Patricia Wilson (Sharon Gurney). While she is at least sympathetic, he is completely unlikeable and mostly unheroic. So much so I was rooting more for the plague-pocked ‘Man’ at the end rather than him. But hey I’m watching this for the gore and deaths aren’t I? Well, there’s plenty of that in between Inspector Calhoun’s chirpy working-class snipes and demands for cups of tea. Plus, director Gary Sherman gives us a tremendous, long take which establishes the cavernous setting for the murder and horror, utilising the dank London underground tunnel system to maximum impact. While Christopher Lee is given poster billing, he’s only in one scene as a privileged MI5 agent. Finally, did you know Marlon Brando was originally cast as the ‘Man’. Well, I’m kind of glad that was an offer he did refuse. Because Armstrong’s tragic human monster lives on long in the mind, even after the film’s haunting final echoes have faded.


BBC TV REVIEW: INSIDE NO. 9 – SERIES 6: CONSISTENTLY DENYING ARTISTIC EXHAUSTION BY DELIVERING FURTHER TELEVISUAL GENIUS!

BBC TV REVIEW: INSIDE NO. 9 (2021) – SERIES 6

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season 6): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer)

No. of Episodes: 6



I have written exhaustively about how brilliant this television programme is, so much so I don’t think I can add any further other than I believe it deserves regaling as TV national treasure. Just when you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton could be running out of creative steam they prove you wrong with another superb series of Inside No. 9. If you are interested, here are prior articles I have written about it.

1) NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER! | The Cinema Fix presents:

2) BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith! | The Cinema Fix presents:

However, to recap, if you have never seen Inside No. 9 I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six stand-alone episodes per series. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and amazing actors each time led by the multi-talented Pemberton and Shearsmith. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely unforgettable. It again privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moreover, the events usually unfold in one location with rarely more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate. In series 6, there is even more growth within the anthology genre and much risk-taking where style and form are concerned.

So, here are my mini-reviews of each episode from Season 6 with marks out of nine (obviously).

*** BEWARE: POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***



EPISODE 1: WUTHERING HEIST

Main cast: Paterson Joseph, Gemma Whelan, Kevin Bishop, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Rosa Robson, Dino Kelly etc.

Not only are Pemberton and Shearsmith accomplished actors, writers and directors, they are also acutely aware how fans revel in their incredible work, devilishly mocking their own mythology and playing with audience expectations. They do this to dizzying impact in the puntastic opening episode, Wuthering Heist. Marrying elements from farce, crime, Commedia dell’arte and the plot of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the players wear masks, prat about and bleed over each other while attempting to pull off a diamond heist. Set in one location, a disused warehouse, Gemma Whelan is superb as the fourth-wall breaking narrator attempting to hold all the story innards together. Pretty soon though one realises that the flurry of puns, sight gags, plot contrivances and comical misunderstandings are intended as wondrous and silly fun. The lack of emotional depth is the joke here and the writers know this. Because Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script has a gag every four seconds, be it a sight jape or involve some sparky verbal dexterity. Lastly, not only do they know they are jumping the shark, but they revel in doing so during this hilarious meta-work.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2: SIMON SAYS

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Lindsay Duncan, Nick Mohammed

Among many of the recurring pleasures of watching Inside No. 9 is wondering what the number nine will refer to. It’s been a myriad of things including: a karaoke booth, a hotel room, a train sleeper car, a dressing room, a referee’s changing room, and even a shoe. In Simon Says it’s the name of a television epic called The Ninth Circle. This show is very similar to Game of Thrones in genre and scale, and likewise has a battalion of fans across the country who feel the final series undid the majesty of the prior seasons. The episode opens with immediate mystery as Steve Pemberton’s writer, Spencer, enters his flat with blood staining his clothes and conscience. Suddenly, Simon (Reece Shearsmith), is at the door saying he has evidence Spencer has committed a serious crime. Simon, a Ninth Circle uber-fan then blackmails Spencer into, among others things, rewriting the whole of the last season of The Ninth Circle into something more fan-friendly. Managing to be both funny and suspenseful in equal measures, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters play cat-and-mouse expertly, throwing in several big plot twists at the end of this compelling tale.

Mark: 8 out of 9


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EPISODE 3: LIP SERVICE

Cast: Sian Clifford, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

I watch some television series and films and am often struck at how much time is wasted in setting up the protagonists and story. Similarly, in unnecessarily long TV series you get either eight or ten episodes full of padding in the middle which destabilizes the momentum of the story. Nothing of the sort occurs in Inside No. 9. Stories are set-up with stylish economy and the situations immediately grab you by the throat and rarely let go. In Lip Service, Steve Pemberton’s downtrodden Felix is holed up in a hotel room waiting to liaise with a woman. But it’s not what you think. Sian Clifford’s Iris arrives and it turns out she is there to offer her services as a lip-reader. Felix suspects the woman he loves is having an affair and he requires Iris to read her and a possible lover’s lips at an adjacent hotel suite. I’ve now seen this episode three times and it truly is breathtaking. There’s empathy for Felix’s lost soul, some fine linguistic comedy, a potential romance, Clifford’s performance knocking it out of the park, Reece Shearsmith having great fun as an officious German hotel manager and THAT ending. The denouement, while totally believable, comes out of nowhere and leaves you genuinely speechless.

Mark: 8.5 out 9



EPISODE 4: HURRY UP AND WAIT

Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Donna Preston, Bhavna Limbachia, and Pauline McGlynn

Quite possibly my favourite episode of the series, Hurry Up and Wait manages to achieve that difficult juxtaposition of being meta-textual and containing some real emotional power. Because it is one thing to be self-referential and satirise the creative process, in this case the making of a television police drama starring famous actor Adrian Dunbar, but it’s quite another to build in a murder mystery and empathetic characters who you root for. While Reece Shearsmith is always excellent playing angry characters, here he portrays James, a mild-mannered actor, who has got a break playing a scene with the precious talent, Dunbar. The TV drama they are in concerns a missing child and the “green room” happens to be a static caravan owned by a working-class family who may have important information about said grisly crime. Steve Pemberton and Pauline McGlynn play the parents of immature, Beverley – the brilliant Donna Preston – adding much comic relief, but all possibly hiding a dark secret. As James learns his lines he also plays detective seemingly discovering the truth until the truly chilling ending is revealed.

Mark: 9 out of 9


EPISODE 5: HOW DO YOU PLEAD?

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Derek Jacobi

Arguably the darkest tale, both in terms of the noir lighting and foreboding themes, it is difficult to discuss this tale of soul-searching guilt and justice without giving away too much of the story. Thus, I’ll talk about the actors and characters more. Derek Jacobi gives a deeply moving performance of a dying barrister who prides himself of, after an upturn in his early legal career, never losing a case in court until retirement. As he lies dying in bed, lungs heavy around his heart, he feels guilt about one case where he defended the indefensible. As he confesses his regret to Shearsmith’s cheery carer, it is soon revealed both men have sins they buried in the past which will soon come back to bite them. Watching these two fine actors spark off one another is as compelling as television drama can get, but there’s also comedy there too as Shearsmith delivers some spirited one-liners in between Jacobi’s grand screen gravitas. But where’s Pemberton I hear you ask? He’s sitting there waiting patiently in the shadows of this evocatively lit and thrilling tale.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6: LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS!

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Glover, Debra Gillett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Sarah Parish etc.

Are you aware of the work of Dennis Potter? He was one of the finest writers in British television from the 1960’s way into the early 1990’s. His scripts were always highly erotic, political and incredibly controversial. They skewered very British and human themes and burnt great sacred cows of the church, government, family, sex and marriage on the TV barbecue, leaving charcoal remains in their stead. Potter was a genius and with Last Night of the Proms, Pemberton and Shearsmith match him for bravado in deconstructing human nature and what it means to be British. Set in a well-to-do, middle-class household, a family of three generations sit down to watch the Last of the Proms on the BBC. It’s a big traditional classical music event and cultural celebration of what it means to be British. It makes me sick! Britain isn’t great. The British are racist, imperialistic and hardy murderers, who have a history and present (fucking Brexit!) they should be ashamed of. The thought-provoking screenplay here is heavy on compelling themes, memorable imagery and striking symbolism. This is a jarring and messy episode and what it lacks in precise plotting it more than makes up for in juxtaposing horror, satire, drama, surrealism, Jesus, social commentary and comedy to rather mesmerising effect. Potter’s ghost would have watched with glee and disgust and hate and love and pity and sadness; which is much how I felt witnessing Last Night of the Proms.

Mark: 9 out of 9


THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”-Oscar Wilde


We’ve all wanted to exist outside our own skin. Or perhaps inhabit someone else’s? Or, maybe even change our own identity, both literally and psychologically. Or is that just me? At the least we have all thought about it. Even losing weight and going down the gym or giving up alcohol or changing our hairstyle is a means of basic transformation. We may make a more defiant change and leave that job we hate or break out from a negative relationship. Arguably though, personality, attitude and mental changes in one’s life are the most difficult. After all, it is incredibly difficult to change the very fabric of one’s personality or character.

We can find an alternative source of transformation in a vicarious sense through storytelling mediums such as literature, television and cinema. The horror genre especially is replete with monstrous visions of identity switches, psychotic breakdowns and physical transmogrification. I personally take great pleasure in seeing altered identities occur on the screen and am especially drawn to characters who experience mental and corporeal metamorphosis. That simply isn’t because I cannot change who I am or what I do on a daily basis, but it’s quite scary to attempt to reshape one’s existence and identity. It’s bloody hard work without much guarantee of success. Horror films, while also frightening when done well, are far more satisfying and give a more immediate hit than the grind of reality.

Two films I have seen recently both relate to mid-life crises and exhibit themes that illustrate two characters changing their appearance to bring about a shift in identity, behaviour and personality. They also show characters spiralling out of control in incredibly violent, bizarre and entertaining ways. Those films are Deerskin (2019) and Possessor (2020) and here are my reviews.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



DEERSKIN (2019)

Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux

Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel

Have you ever seen the film Rubber (2010)? It is a gonzo horror-comedy about a murderous-tyre called Robert killing birds and people with telekinetic powers. Beneath the insanity of the pitch there is in fact a subtextual satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think! It came from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, so I was intrigued that he had nabbed for a subsequent production the grand talents of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel for the obsidian killer comedy, Deerskin (2019).

Dujardin is Georges, a middle-aged loner, recently dumped by his wife whose only aim now it appears is to purchase a deerskin jacket. Buoyed by the confidence the jacket has given him, and armed with a video camera thrown in with the deal, George plots up at a rural hotel and befriends Adele Haenel’s bar server and enthusiastic film editor. Their budding friendship threatens to turn this into a relatively conventional love story, however, a series of twisted turns tip the story into a hilarious series of murderous set-pieces, with Georges determined to get money to make a movie, but most importantly buy deerskin trousers, hat and gloves.

The story of a middle-aged man altering his outer look in order to transform his life and fortune is a staple of Hollywood comedies and romance films. Deerskin (2019) is that kind of film on the surface. Yet when filtered through Dupieux’s iconoclastic imagination the premise is an altogether different kind of demented animal. Ultimately, it is a low-budget gem of a black comedy with some fantastic ideas and fascinating character study of a man attempting to shift skin, but falling deeper and deeper into psychopathy. It’s a wacky journey with committed performances, yet, it felt like the ending was just too sudden, as if the filmmaker either ran our of money or just wanted to screw with audience expectations right up until the final sudden frame.

MARK: 7.5 out of 11


POSSESSOR (2020)

Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg

Main Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton etc.

Whereas Deerskin (2019) finds a literal and figurative metamorphosis when a character buys a jacket, Brandon Cronenberg’s vicious horror film, Possessor (2020), is an altogether more cerebral, violent and psychologically stunning journey. Andrea Riseborough is as intense as ever portraying an assassin named, Tasya Vox, who through some incredible technology is able to inhabit the mind and body of another individual and use them as a human puppet to commit murder. It’s a perfect set-up for the assassination agency led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s handler, Girder. Yet such murder by scientific proxy comes at a cost to Vox’s family life and mental stability.

After a glorious opening scene featuring an astoundingly brutal stabbing, Vox attempts to reconnect with her partner and son, but finds herself becoming ever more disconnected. The pressure of taking over another individual’s identity is causing Vox to discombobulate as her mind begins to fracture. Despite this she takes the next job, a contract to kill John Parse (Sean Bean), using Christopher Abbott’s Colin Tate as a conduit. As Vox struggles with her splitting psyche, Tate himself is having personal issues also and this leads to some mind-bending and psychedelic montage scenes as the two battle within Tate’s brain. If this all sounds a bit weird, it is and it isn’t because the filmmaking is of such a high quality one believes the process. Further, the director never loses his grip on the narrative and Cronenberg gets a compelling performance from Abbott as his character confronts the invasion into his soul.

Overall, Possessor (2020) has a stunning concept at its heart but I just kept wondering how a genre filmmaker like Leigh Whannell may have handled the idea. He certainly would have made the characters more empathetic because it is so tough to warm to either Vox or Tate. Indeed, Tate’s character should have been developed more at the beginning in my view as he would have made an ideal “innocent/wrong man” type character so often used by Hitchcock. Nonetheless, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted one of the most visually impressive and shocking psychological horror films I have seen in a long time. Like Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), it contains some memorable gore and violence. It is also very intelligent as the fantastic ideas explore what it means to not only inhabit another person’s skin, but rip through their very soul.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CULT FILM REVIEW: HOUSE/ハウス – (1977)

CULT FILM REVIEW: HOUSE (1977)

Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi

Produced by: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Yorihiko Yamada

Screenplay by: Chiho Katsura

Story by: Chigumi Obayashi

Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida

Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



This Japanese film from the late 1970s is absolutely nuts, but a riotous genre mash-up of rites-of-passage, horror, musical, martial arts, romance, fantasy, comedy and anti-war genre movie styles. If you are a fan of the work of Takashi Miike’s both energetic and often insane genre films, you can definitely see how, House (1977), may have had a major influence on his and many other Asian filmmaker’s cinematic works.

Initially receiving negative reviews, but big box office in Japan on release, House (1977), opens by introducing a set of seven teenage girls called, Gorgeous, King Fu, Prof, Melody, Fantasy, Mac and Sweet. The names give them their major characteristics too. Kung Fu for example loves martial arts, Fantasy is a daydreamer and Melody loves music etc. You get the idea. As each character is introduced in a basic fashion, the energetic performances of the actors and the quirky screenplay develops their characters beyond the initial stereotypes. Gorgeous is especially well developed as she is suffering the loss of her mother and has rejected her father’s choice of stepmother. Eschewing her kindly father’s protestations, she decides to visit her aged Aunt in the countryside.



When Gorgeous’ friend’s school trip is cancelled due to several bizarre plot turns, and a couple of crazy musical numbers later, the girls join her on the visit to the creepy house. When they finally arrive Gorgeous’ aunt behaves extremely oddly. She rarely gets visitors and only has a white cat for company. When the girls begin to disappear one-by-one and Fantasy’s daydreams begin to turn to nightmares, the true horror of the situation takes shape. The house itself is a malevolent force and has trapped the girls. What appeared to be a lovely summer vacation is now the total opposite.

Now, what I have described actually seems quite normal in terms of the narrative content. It’s a standard horror plot of characters imprisoned by supernatural forces and trying desperately to stay alive. However, director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, who devised the story with his daughter, presents a series of images and sounds David Lynch would have been proud to have devised. These include: a mirror attacking the viewer, a watermelon being pulled out of a well appearing like a human head, a pile of futons falling on and attacking a character, a carnivorous piano with biting keys and all manner of surreal fights and deaths. Allied to this the eccentric and jolly music works against the horror and suspense, so one is both laughing and disturbed simultaneously.

Ultimately, House (1977) is one wacky viewing experience, but it also taps into themes of friendship, romance, grief, as well as drawing on the horror of destruction Japan suffered when the atomic bombs hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is fast paced with an abundance of imaginative ideas, film styles and practical effects throughout. Thus, if you love the work of aforementioned Miike, Lynch and Sam Raimi, you are bound to want to stay in House (1977) for the rapid eighty-eight minutes duration.


CULT FILM REVIEW: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) – (*DON’T GOOGLE THIS FILM*)

CULT FILM REVIEW: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Directed by: Robert Hiltzik

Produced by: Jerry Silva, Michele Tatosian

Written by: Robert Hiltzik

Cast: Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin, Karen Fields, Desiree Gould, etc.

Music by: Edward Bilous

Cinematography: Benjamin Davis, David M. Walsh

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Whatever you do please do not read anything about this cult classic horror film from 1983. It has one of the most shocking twists at the end and even on second watch my jaw dropped when I witnessed the final scene. You’ll be tempted to find out but just watch the whole film. It is on YouTube here!

So, if you’re NOT a fan of B-movies horror exploitation films then Sleepaway Camp (1983) will not be for you! A lot of the acting is by first-timers and the director, Robert Hiltzik, is also making his debut here. In fact, he didn’t make another film after this until many years later because he became a lawyer. But the film gained a cult following among horror fans and certainly deserves cult status. It may be badly acted in many scenes and verging on the hysterical, yet it is well filmed and edited on a meagre budget of $300,000. There’s also some fantastically imaginative murder set-pieces, with excellent make-up and prosthetics work employed.



The story centres on the vulnerable teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose), who, having lost her father in an accident when younger, now lives with her Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Her Aunt sends Angela and Ricky to Camp Arawak for the summer and due to her quiet demeanour she soon becomes a target for bullies. Ricky attempts to protect her, however, other than a budding romance with another teenager, Paul, Angela finds it very difficult to fit in. When dead bodies begin to turn up due to a number of grisly “accidents”, the kids and counsellors soon find themselves all in danger.

Amidst all the over-the-top acting, Felissa Rose gives a brilliant wide-eyed and subtle performance as Angela. For a film that could be classed as a Friday the 13th (1980) rip-off, her character arc throughout is both fascinating and quite unsettling. Indeed the film veers between being a strange hybrid of summer camp slice-of-life, rites-of-passage and slasher genre films. Yet despite all the uneven tone there is a decent story here with much emotional impact. Amidst all the death the film finds time to address bullying, sexual abuse and adult neglect to minors. Ultimately though, Sleepaway Camp (1983), has some fantastic gore and THAT quite astounding ending!



ARROW VIDEO – GOOD , BAD AND WEIRD FILM REVIEWS!

ARROW VIDEO FILM REVIEWS!

In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.

If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.

Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.


THE BEYOND (1981)

Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11


THE BLACK CAT (1981)

A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11


THE BURNING (1981)

Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


CONTAMINATION (1980)

Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


The Beyond (1981)

DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)

An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11


HELLRAISER (1987)

Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11


HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)

A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


Hellraiser (1987)

MANIAC COP (1988)

I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11


THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)

While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11


RAWHEAD REX (1986)

A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11


RED EYE (2005)

A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11


Rawhead Rex (1986)

TENEBRAE (1982)

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11


THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)

Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11


ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)

This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11


ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)

The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11



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SHUDDER TV HORROR REVIEW: CREEPSHOW (2019)

SHUDDER TV HORROR REVIEW: CREEPSHOW (2019)

Directors (various): Rob Schrab, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, Roxanne Benjamin, John Harrison, David Bruckner, etc.

Writers (various): Stephen King, Rob Schrab, Joe Hill,  Paul Dini, Stephen Langford, David J. Schow, John Skipp, Dori Miller, John Esposito, Bruce Jones, Christopher Buehlman, Matt Venne, etc.

Cast (various): Adrienne Barbeau, Jesse C. Boyd, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Nathan, Tobin Bell, Cailie Fleming, Rachel Hendrix, David Shea, Guy Messenger, Diane D. Carter, David A. MacDonald, Jeffrey Combs, Nelson Bonilla, Callan Wilson, Kid Cudi, DJ Qualls, Antwan Mills, Jake Garber, Gino Crognale, David Arquette, Karen Strassman, Tommy Kane, Kermit Rolison, Bruce Davison, Hannah Barefoot, Tricia Helfer, Dylan Smitty, Afemo Omilami, Logan Allan, Addison Hershey, Will Kidrachuck, Big Boi, Nasim Bowlus, Carey Jones, Madison Bailey, Ian Gregg, Ravi Naidu, Connor Christie, Madison Thompson, Jason Jabbar Wardlaw Jr., Andrew Eakle, Julia Denton, Scott Johnson, Tom Olson, Erica Frene, Danielle Lyn, Michael Scialabba, Jordan Patrick, Dennis Bouldin, David Wise, etc.         

Streaming platform: Shudder / Amazon Prime

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



The anthology or portmanteau film has thrown up some fine cinematic entertainment over the years. Generally, an anthology film can be described as a collection of works with a linked theme, genre, style and author etc. The horror genre is an ideal subject matter for anthology and the feature film, Creepshow (1982), found two giants of horror — Stephen King and George A. Romero — marrying their mischievous minds to monstrous impact.

Creepshow (1982) consisted of five short stories. Two of these stories were adapted from King’s literary narratives, while the rest were from originals he wrote for the film. The film is bookended by prologue and epilogue scenes involving a young boy who is scolded for reading horror comics. Conversely, Creepshow is a homage to the EC horror comics of the 1950s, such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Romero even hired long-time effects specialist Tom Savini to replicate comic-like effects during the film. The movie was a minor hit and a sequel would follow. As would an actual comic book series based on the film.



Unsurprisingly, in this era of endless remakes and reboots and universes, Creepshow has received the TV adaptation treatment. Released as Shudder original production, the series consisted of six episodes and twelve terrifying tales. Experienced horror writers and directors were employed and there are also some very familiar faces in the cast too. Was it any good? Well, as someone who watches a lot of short horror films on YouTube, I have to say that there’s always hits and misses in the genre. However, the production values of Shudder’s Creepshow are of an excellent quality. Moreover, the stories keep to the traditions of the original films, which usually involved some kind of morality tale, revenger’s story or character-driven plot. They aren’t simply just exercises in style or terror over substance.

My favourites of the twelve were The House of the Head and Night of the Paw. In the former, a young girl discovers a terrifying toy head in her newly acquired dollhouse. This creepy concept really made me jump throughout and was devilishly clever too. In the Night of the Paw, we got another telling of the classic Monkey’s Paw story. Here a local mortician possesses a monkey’s paw that grants wishes which backfire horrifically. Of the other stories that I liked, Gray Matter was an atmospheric and nasty monster short. While Bad Wolf Down taps into the well-worn military versus werewolves’ theme, with stylish and bloody results.

Children and horror obviously feature a lot in Stephen King’s work. This is echoed in the stories called All Hallows Eve and The Companion. Both stories focussed on bullying and retribution in an imaginative fashion. Of the other stories, The Finger benefited from an unhinged performance by DJ Qualls. His character finds a finger which turns into something unspeakably evil. Meanwhile, Skincrawlers trod another often-used horror theme; that of the dangers of plastic surgery and (un)natural body enhancement. The remaining stories were also decent, although having said that the zombie tale, Times is Tough in Musky Holler, was arguably the weakest of the lot. Ultimately, Shudder’s Creepshow reboot was an entertaining horror anthology show, well written, directed and acted. My only reservation was it was all a bit slick and glossy. In fact, it could have done with a lower budget and the grittier touch of George Romero at times.

Mark: 8 out of 11


SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

For my final slew of Shudder horror film reviews (with one television series write-up to come), I have combined a series of films which contain murder and killers central to the plot. I mean, most horror films feature these types of terrible situations, but the following movies are grounded very much in reality. Ghosts and ghouls and zombies and monsters are to the fore of the horror genre, however, for me, the shocking violence of human beings can often be far more scary on screen. Thus, these films feature assassins, revengers and serial killers which reflect the blackest part of the human soul. Marks out of eleven, with best rated first. You know the drill.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



KILLER JOE (2011) – DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FREIDKIN

Tracy Letts’ incendiary, critically acclaimed dark comedy play was adapted by himself and directed brilliantly by genre auteur, William Friedkin. Matthew McConaughey arguably relaunched his serious acting career as the eponymous and corrupt lawman, Joe Cooper, who takes a fancy to Juno Temple’s southern Lolita-type. Killer Joe (2011) is full of bleakly biting noir dialogue and some amazing performances, especially from McConaughey and Temple. Playing out like the Coen Brothers doing a horror film, the memorably disturbing ending almost put me off chicken for life. This is a true cult classic from a director, screenwriter and cast, all at the top of their game.

Mark: 9 out of 11


A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009) – DIRECTED BY: DAVID TWOHY

Kind of like Agatha Christie meets holiday show Wish You Were Here, I had a lot of fun with David Twohy’s clever-clever-meta-thriller. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are the honeymooners in Hawaii who find death in paradise, as a pair of serial killers are murdering holidaymakers. Having helped Vin Diesel to stardom in Pitch Black (2000), Twohy tries again with the laconic and likeable Timothy Olyphant as Macgyver-type island tourist. I’m a big Olyphant fan and he steals the show here in this nifty, twisting cat-and-mouse plot, however, the actor who would go onto massive things in the film world in none other than Chris Hemsworth. Thor pops up here portraying a tattooed-beefcake-with-an-attitude. Anyway, loads of actions, twists, pace and lovely locations make this film worth a visit.

Mark: 8 out of 11



WILDERNESS (2006) – DIRECTED BY: M.J. BASSETT

An efficient low-budget British thriller with a youngish cast led by charismatic actor, Toby Kebbell. Here, Sean Pertwee, takes his gang of youth offenders into the woods for a team-building exercise, only to find the team being destroyed by an unknown assailant. There are some decent thrills and kills throughout, but Christopher Smith’s film Severance (2006) did this idea much better. Still, it rattles along at a fine pace and Kebbell again demonstrates why Hollywood came knocking for his acting talent.

Mark: 7 out of 11


SMALLTOWN KILLERS (2017) – DIRECTED BY OLE BORNEDAL

Two Danish builders are having marital difficulties and one night when drunk, accidentally hire a Russian hitman on the ‘Dark Web’ to kill their wives. Mildly amusing, this comedic thriller is predictable with some haphazard plotting. Lastly, while the warring couples are pretty unlikeable characters, Marcin Dorocinski and Gwen Taylor, as the two hired assassins, provide some belly laughs with their hilarious performances.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) – DIRECTED BY DONALD CAMMELL

David Keith and Cathy Moriarty star in this serial-killer tale adapted from Margaret Tracy’s novel, Mrs White. Their relationship is put to the test when he becomes prime suspect in a series of murders. Cammell gets compelling performances from the leads but mishandles the plotting as the sudden twist near the end felt mildly ridiculous and contrived.

Mark: 6 out of 11


SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

Directed by: Peter Medak

Produced by: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky

Screenplay by: William Gray, Diana Maddox

Story by: Russell Hunter

Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood,

Cinematography: John Coquillon

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



If, teenagers being stalked and slashed by a crazed non-speaking maniac are your preference, then you probably would not enjoy the classic ghost story, The Changeling (1980). However, if you are rivetted and chilled by expertly crafted cinematic horror, built on a compelling screenplay, excellent performances and fine cinematography, then this is a film for you.

Not to be confused with the kidnapping thriller, Changeling (2008). The Changeling (1980) feels like one of those older films which created the mould for many other contemporary ghost narratives. A few examples include: The Woman in Black (2012), Candyman (1992), the Ring series and more recently, Hereditary (2018). Such films often feature genre tropes like:

  1. Grieving or vulnerable lead protagonist(s).
  2. A vengeful ghost or spirits who were murdered or done wrong when alive.
  3. A creepy house or location which holds a dark secret and becomes a character in it’s own right.
  4. A detective plot structure which finds said protagonist attempting to solve the mystery of the ghost’s past.
  5. Lots of creepy supernatural comings and goings that ultimately lead to the ghost’s redemption or a successfully chilling retribution.

Of course, the model for such conventions lay in the pages of classic literary ghost stories, however, having not seen The Changeling (1980) for over thirty-years, I felt like I was watching a masterpiece of the supernatural film genre. It doesn’t hurt having Oscar winning actor, George C. Scott, subtly playing the lead as grieving John Russell, a musical professor trying to come to terms with the death of his wife and child. Moreover, the mature approach to pacing and direction by Peter Medak slowly builds the terror to a real crescendo. The horror within the plot, involving a murdered child, is ably imbued by the compelling score, elegant editing and John Coquillon’s exquisite camera movement and lighting composition. Ultimately, I enjoy a good slasher film, but give me a classy supernatural tale such as The Changeling (1980) any night of the week.

Mark: 9 out of 11