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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)


CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Story by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming

Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnusson, Ana De Armas etc.

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Elliot Graham, Tom Cross,

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon Productions

*** NO MAJOR SPOILERS ***



As a Bond swansong, No Time To Die (2021) gives Daniel Craig’s earthy and human characterisation of the famous spy a tremendous finale. Indeed, it was a powerfully entertaining work of cinema, but was it a great Bond film? Not for me. Don’t get me wrong, all the creatives here from the director, art department, cinematographer, location scouts, costume design, scintillating cast, stunt team, production crew, the army of screenwriters and so on, have all worked prodigiously to create a wonderful example of blockbuster genre cinema. But it has many story and legacy issues that stop it from being a memorably pure Bond film in my opinion. However, I am not going to be critical in this review, but rather celebrate what is great about No Time To Die (2021). Thus, it’s time to revel in the fact Fleming’s fictional formula continues providing sensational diversion from everyday existence.

The choice to make No Time To Die (2021) a direct sequel to Spectre (2015), would not have been my preferred route for this narrative. Spectre (2015) is entertaining. It was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Not particularly.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically, it was strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing depth and subtext. Skyfall (2012) was also lusciously shot by Roger Deakins with fantastic direction from Sam Mendes. But neither Spectre (2015) or Skyfall (2012) are great Bond espionage adventures like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987), or a devastatingly plotted, romantic action adventure like Casino Royale (2006). Skyfall (2012) was an Oedipal soap opera with bells on, as ghosts of the past avenge the present. Spectre (2015) and No Time To Die (2021) continue the theme of vengeful and dysfunctional family ties bringing strife to Bond. But, nowhere near as successfully as Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale (2006). That remains one of the best Bond films ever.

Like Quantum of Solace (2008), No Time To Die (2021) is, as aforementioned a sequel, but the main difference is No Time To Die (2021) is way longer than Quantum of Solace (2008). The pace rarely dips in No Time To Die (2021), but it could certainly have been trimmed in places because at times I felt the screen was stuffed with too many characters and subplots. I must point out I’m aware that Quantum of Solace (2008) is not rated highly in the Bond canon, but I like it. I feel there are some incredibly filmed sequences in it. Notably, the opening car and foot chase, the opera shootout, a spectacular air conflict and the fiery desert lair denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace (2008) succeeded for me as a fast-paced and exquisite, if choppy, spectacle that tied up the loose ends from the far superior, Casino Royale (2006). Quantum of Solace (2008) infamously had no writers re-working it due to the ongoing strike, No Time To Die (2021), arguably has too many cooks and ingredients occurring simultaneously. Having said that Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a confident energy to the film throughout, connecting the emotions of the script and explosive box of tricks together in a neatly packaged presentation.


Daniel Craig is phenomenal in No Time To Die (2021). While he is always a strong actor, he has also grown into a bona fide movie star too. Even when going through the motions in Spectre (2015) he was good, but in No Time To Die (2021), he blows the doors off. While he does look too old for the role now, from getting blown up in Italy, to almost drowning in Cuba and facing off against Rami Malek’s malevolent poisoner on an island near Russia, nobody does almost-dying better than Craig. Moreover, as well as the constant threats on his life, crazy new technology that delivers instant death, and a litany of evil henchmen trying to take him down, Bond must contend retirement and having his place usurped at MI6 by the confident Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Having been set-up as a major story player, Nomi and this spy-versus-spy story pivot ultimately peters out for more melodramatic plotlines which I will not divulge. In fact, Nomi’s thunder is ultimately stolen by the CIA agent, Paloma, with Ana De Armas absolute dynamite in the smashing Cuban section of the film.

As with Spectre (2015), where there wasn’t nearly enough of Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek’s villain Safin is not utilised enough. Malek gives a haunting performance in a few creepy scenes, yet I felt cheated. I would have loved more exchanges between him and David Dencik’s eccentrically dangerous scientist. More scenes in the imaginatively designed island lair where all manner of deadly poisons were being concocted would have been brilliant, and further developed Safin’s intriguing backstory and fiendish plotting.

No Time To Die (2021) belongs to Bond and Daniel Craig of course, and they get into some barnstorming scrapes. The opening action involving motorcycle stunts and the iconic Aston Martin blasting the Spectre goons is an early highlight. The Cuban nightclub murders and subsequent gunplay really raises the pulse too. After the explosive boat sequence where Bond has a moving parting of the ways from an old friend, the action arguably becomes more generic and not as memorable. That is, THAT IS, until the unforgettable end set-piece where Craig’s 007 faces an insurmountable set of physical and emotional challenges. Lastly, some might say Daniel Craig goes out of an all time high, and no doubt No Time To Die (2021) is destined to knock the living daylights out of all prior Bond box office records.

Mark: 009 out of 11


SKY CINEMA REVIEW: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

SKY CINEMA REVIEW: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

Directed by: Emerald Fennell

Produced by: Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell, etc.

Written by: Emerald Fennell

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, etc.

Music by: Anthony Willis

Cinematography: Benjamin Kračun

*** CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS ***



As the recent awards garnered upon Emerald Fennell’s brilliant screenplay for Promising Young Woman (2020) testify, Fennell is a major talent. She has acted in TV shows such as Call the Midwife and The Crown, as well as writing and producing the second series of Killing Eve. Not only is she an excellent actress, writer, director and producer, but she is also now an Oscar and BAFTA winner at the age of thirty-five. I am Jack’s raging envy!

But, is Promising Young Woman (2020) any good, and does it deserve these awards for best original screenplay? Well, for starters the film is not particularly original in terms of genre. It is what I would class as a B-movie revenge thriller at heart with A-list credentials. Like cinema classics such as Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Seven (1995), plus Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) films and the recent arthouse assassin thriller, You Were Never Really Here (2018), Promising Young Woman (2020) takes a well-worn subject matter within the crime genre and intelligently delivers a narrative experience which transcends such familiarity. Indeed, in the era of #MeToo, Fennell’s directorial debut updates and surpasses both intellectually and emotionally, similar themed films such as Death Wish (1974) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978).



Promising Young Woman (2020) starts with one of the best opening scenes you’re likely to see in a long time. Here we meet Cassie Thomas, drunk and unable to stand, in a nightclub. Thankfully, there are “kind” gentlemen waiting to assist her, one of them being Adam Brody’s, Jerry. But instead of taking her home he takes her to his place and tries to take advantage of her inebriated state. I won’t spoil what happens next but safe to say that Cassie has other plans for Jerry. As the expertly plotted film progresses the story reveals Cassie has a long standing desire to wreak revenge on those individuals who brought tragedy to the life of her former medical school classmate and friend, Nina. A college dropout and working in a coffee shop, Cassie finds her life at a pitstop as she cannot move past what occurred to her friend. A budding romance with Bo Burnham’s charming Doctor threatens to pacify Cassie, but Fennell’s twisting plot soon puts Cassie on a deadly path right to the door of those who ruined her and, most significantly, Nina’s life.

The first three-quarters of Promising Young Woman (2020) are a witty, frightening and absolutely spellbinding exploration of negative masculine behaviour, gender politics and institutional corruption when it comes to cases of gang rape. No one is safe from Emerald Fennell’s sharpened pen and Cassie’s clever plan. As Cassie, Carey Mulligan gives a wonderfully subtle performance of a deeply pained and grieving individual. One thinks that Margot Robbie, who co-produced the film, would have made Cassie more zinging and wise-cracking. Mulligan gets it just right in terms of magnetic allure, strong personality and hidden vulnerability. It’s a shame that Fennell kind of throws Cassie under the narrative bus at the end. Don’t get me wrong the denouement ties all the previous scenes together, but I don’t think Cassie deserved such a messy fate. Unlike Fennell herself though. She deserves all the current success and that which is coming to her in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


“CINEMA” REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE (2019)

“CINEMA” REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE (2019)

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent, Bruna Papandrea

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, etc.

Music by: Jed Kurzel

Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE NIGHTINGALE (2019) is a brutal film about rape and murder. It’s about the rape of an individual. The rape of a nation. The murders of youth, race, nature, humanity and life itself. It is an extremely powerful and impactful viewing experience, but not for those of a faint heart or sensitive disposition. When released it caused much controversy with some audience members walking out during festival screenings. This is no doubt due to several scenes displaying sickening moments of violence against men, women and children. However, the director Jennifer Kent, has not written and helmed a mere exploitation revenge film here. Instead, she has fashioned a beautiful and ugly tragedy, which prevails damning indictment against masculine savagery, colonialism and British rule.

Set in 1825 in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (presently Tasmania), THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), follows a young female convict seeking revenge for an unspeakable act of violence committed against her family. Clare Carroll, nicknamed “Nightingale” due to her lovely singing voice, is a young mother and wife looking to be given her freedom. It is held by Sam Claflin’s abusive British officer, Hawkins. Rather than free her he decides to thrust himself upon her sexually. Yet, when she rebuffs his drunken and lurid behaviour, he goes mob-handed to take her. Then when her husband intervenes, Hawkins and his soldiers act without honour or courage, leaving a family wrecked in their wake.



Hawkins and his men venture through the bush to Launceston the next day, to gain a promotion from the top brass he believes he deserves. Claire rallies and pursues them with bloody revenge in mind. She is assisted in her search by Aboriginal guide, “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr). Billy is initially reluctant to chase British soldiers. Not surprising as the British have ravaged his people, land and culture, leaving the indigenous people outcasts in their own country. While Claire and Billy initially conflict they soon realise they have a common foe. Thus, while revenge supplies the bones for the narrative, the screenplay fleshes out their chase with intriguing cultural clashes and reconciliation. Indeed, the unlikely pair will eventually come to respect each other’s differences and find common ground over the course of the story.

Having received much critical acclaim with the low-budget horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), Jennifer Kent has moved from inner demonic possession to a more epic and external approach to horror. Because amidst the bucolic wonder of the Australian wilderness, the British brought death and chaos to the area. While one understands the need to have a place to house its prisoners (the barbarous treatment of the working classes is a whole different story), the rapacious desolation of the indigenous culture is a vital message within the film. Claire Carroll and Billy Mangana are symbols of a lost and damaged generation. They are emblems of people who deserve justice and reparation. Moreover, the message remains valid today, especially with the rise of the alternative-right and the continued sexual abuse faced by women everyday. Lastly, with a moving and tough leading portrayal by Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr providing a spiritual heart, and Sam Claflin giving a fearlessly repugnant representation of British aggression, THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), tells a horrific, disturbing, but righteously relevant tale.

Mark: 9 out of 11


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 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


SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – EXTREME!

SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – EXTREME!

I’m continuing the Shudder film review residency here on my site with this post. However, as I watched so many horror films on the channel recently, I have decided to break them down into categories. This one is called Extreme!

Essentially the films reviewed here are — because of their content, style or both — prime examples of nasty, violent, sickening and in some cases extremely depraved horror movies. So, be warned do not watch these films, unless you have a strong emotional constitution and actually enjoy witnessing graphic scenes of gore, sex and bloody mayhem.

For your information, the films are reviewed in order of my rating, which as usual is out of eleven.



REVENGE (2017) – DIRECTED BY CORALIE FARGEAT

Featuring a B-movie rape and revenge plot, this exploitation story is raised way above its subject matter due to ultra-stylish direction, gorgeous cinematography and a compelling lead performance by Matilda Lutz. She portrays Jen, an aspiring actress, who is on a weekend getaway with handsome boyfriend (cheating husband), Richard (Kevin Janssens). He seems very well off as their break takes place at a stunning isolated villa location. However, things go awry when two of his hunting buddies turn up, and one, Stan (Vincent Colombe) attacks Jen while Richard is out. From then on events twist from incredibly bad to worse for Jen, and she finds herself being hunted down in the blazing heat of the desert. The film looks absolutely incredible with amazing photography and colour design. Overall, what it lacks in story and characterisation though, it more than makes up for in stunning action, searing violence and a powerful critique of toxic masculinity.

Mark: 8 out of 11


TERRIFIER (2016) – DIRECTED BY DAMIEN LEONE

I saw this horror film appear in a post on the YouTube channel What Culture Horror. So, the story of a demented clown who never speaks and slashes people to death on Halloween definitely piqued my interest. It’s both extremely violent and low-budget, having been made for around $100,000. However, it is in fact impressively shot and edited for such a small amount of money. The gory effects are amazingly effective too, summoning up memories of 1980’s prosthetic film effects. There is no real subtext or thematic strength, but I was pretty tense and sickened throughout. Moreover, the clown called Art is a memorably monstrous creation. He kills without reason and purely for his own entertainment. Nihilistic in tone, the director sure knows his horror and delights in presenting many sick ways of murdering his characters. Thus, if you like disembowelling, strangulation, burning, beheading and other gruesome movie deaths then, Terrifier (2016), is worth watching from behind the safety of the sofa.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) / THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) – DIRECTED BY LUCIO FULCI

Filmmaker, Lucio Fulci, is often found lurking in the shadow of Italian horror filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, however, he truly knows how to frighten and sicken the life out of an audience. So much so he has been given the nickname, ‘Godfather of Gore’. As well as directing many films, notably, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The New York Ripper (1982), he is infamous for his “Gates of Hell” trilogy which included: City of the Living Dead (1980), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The Beyond (1981). I re-watched the first two recently and while not as terrifying as when I saw them in the past, they still have the power to shock. While lacking coherent plots, containing pretty bad acting and some chronically dreadful dubbing in places, paradoxically Fulci’s films can arguably be considered surreal horror classics. They may not make any narrative sense, but his ability to create stunningly violent set-pieces is legendary. Memorable scenes include: the spewing of intestines, crawling maggots, hanging priests, drilled brains, chopped heads and monsters rising from basements and graves. Such imagery and dreaded moments — all set to a creepy synth soundtrack — make Fulci’s movies unsettling viewing experiences.

Mark: 7 out of 11


ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) – DIRECTED BY NICO MASTORAKIS

Not only is this one of the sickest films I have seen, it is also one of the most appalling I have sat through. Having said that, that is in fact what Greek director Mastorakis, based on what I’ve read, set out to do. The story, if you can call it that, focusses on a couple called Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) who go on a sex-driven-kill-crazy-honeymoon-rampage on the Greek island of Mykonos. If you can get past the couple having sex in a phone booth while telephoning his mother, and stomach Christopher raping a goat before killing it, then do watch the rest of this conveyor belt of pornographic sex and violence. By the end, I was stunned to silence at how sick the film was.

Mark: 1 out of 11


TETSUO – THE IRON MAN (1989) – DIRECTED BY SHINYA TSUKAMOTO

Lauded as a low-budget Japanese extreme body horror cult classic, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), is either the work of a genius or a complete madman. Filmmaker, Shinya Tsukamoto, deserves so much praise for literally making most of the film in his own house and paying for it out of his own pocket. Yet, the thumping industrial soundtrack, jump-cutting-stop-motion style and story of metal invading the body, soul and mind of various characters was too f*cked-up, even for me. I know it gets mentioned as a work of genius, but it was frankly unwatchable. Thankfully, it’s only sixty-seven minutes of hell to get through.

Unmarked!

HBO TV REVIEW: WATCHMEN (2019) – META-GONZO TV OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!

HBO TV REVIEW: WATCHMEN (2019)

Adapted by: Damon Lindelhof

Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Writers: Damon Lindelhof, Nick Cuse, Lila Byock, Christal Henry, Carly Wray, Cord Jefferson, Stacy Kuffour-Osei, Claire Kiechel, Jeff Jensen

Directors: Nicole Kassell, Stephen Williams, Andrij Parekh, Steph Green, David Semel, Frederick E. O. Toye

Cast: Regina King, Jeremy Irons, Don Johnson, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hong Chau, Andrew Howard, Tom Mison, Frances Fisher, Jacob Ming-Trent, Sara Vickers, Dylan Schombing, and James Wolk.

**SPOILER FREE**



Maybe I am imagining it, but I think we are now entering a different kind of TV narrative storytelling. Perhaps it has always been there? However, I am sure I can now see through the ‘Matrix’ of the internet’s all-powerful influence. My point is that we are moving away from traditional television storytelling which is solely interested in telling an emotionally whole and linear narrative. Is television that has a predictable soul and a beginning, middle and end — in THAT order — disappearing? Or am I just choosing to ignore the saturation of standard dramas involving cops, criminals and medics to watch more complex TV stuff?

Recent television shows such as Legion (2017), Westworld (2016), Dark (2017) and now Watchmen (2019) take stylish, cinematic and transgressive structural and thematic approaches to narrative. One could accuse them of being postmodern fakery or postmodern genius; or both. There does appear to be a movement toward over-complicated-clickbait-viral-trailer-led-ADHD-TV which fragments and shatters its’ story lines. The creators want us to experience their productions not in the traditional beginning, middle and end standard, but rather through shifting timelines, unreliable narrators and a blurred sense of what is right and wrong.


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Damon Lindelhof, who is a brilliant writer and very experienced TV creative, does tend toward the pretentious and over-complex in his work. Having said that his recent production The Leftovers (2014 – 2017) contained some absolutely sensational thematic explorations of the apocalypse, damaged humanity and religious fervour. For his latest project HBO has given him a truckload of money to emulate and remix Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s seminal 1980’s comic book Watchmen. The original itself was a subversive tome of genius which subverted the mythology of comic book and superhero storytelling.

The main action is set in 2019 Tulsa, but also spans decades of alternative U.S. history and locations on Earth and not on Earth. If you don’t know the original source material or have not seen Zach Snyder’s valiant adaptation Watchmen (2009), you will be very confused initially and throughout. Because Lindelhof’s approach to this alt-world version of masked cops, criminals and vigilantes is via a chopping meta-storytelling structure. The various plots events and character histories are delivered via flashbacks, flash-forwards, narcotic visions, hallucinogenic dreams, splintered timelines and even a TV show within this television show. It’s a very stylish smorgasbord, splashed with crazy characters, witty hard-boiled dialogue, wild science fiction twists, lashings of violence, pockets of substance, cinematic visuals, high class production values and a cast to die for.

Yes, but Paul, what’s it actually about? How about love, hate, racism, superheroes, corruption, giant squids, cloning, rogue scientists, good versus evil, vigilantism, revenge, megalomania, transcendent beings, war, violence, rogue politicians, superheroes, masked identities, nuclear threat; and that the United States continues to be sown with the seeds of intolerance, blood and death. Watch the Watchmen (2019), take your time and piece the crazy jigsaw together for yourself. If not, and you prefer to play it safe, there’s always Law and Order for those who want something less mind-blowing.

Mark: 9 out of 11


JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by Mirrah Foulkes

Produced by: Michele Bennett, nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Gillian Jones, Virginia Gay etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



If you’re not aware of the good, old-fashioned Punch and Judy puppet show, then it was basically a seaside attraction that has its origins in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Over the decades it thrived and would move from marionette stylings to a mobile glove puppet show. Punch would batter various characters including his wife, Judy, a crocodile, a police officer, a dog, a blind man and the Devil. He would be a very bad parent; often drunk and violent in charge of his own baby. Incredibly, this rather unsavoury character would become very popular with children, appearing at carnivals, fairs and coastal shows.

With Disney cornering the market adapting myths, fairy tales and Theme Park rides over the years, I’m surprised they did not have a go at Punch and Judy. How they would reconcile this brightly coloured, but despicable character would have been fascinating. Yet, it is Australian filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes, who has written and directed this arthouse drama starring Mia Wasikowska as the harassed Judy, and Damon Herriman as the drunken puppeteer. Set during the Dark Ages in the town of Seaside, the plot follows the traditional narrative of the original puppet show. Except, this time Judy is very pissed off and about to go medieval on Punch’s arse!



Part revenge thriller, part-black comedy and part mythical origins drama, Judy and Punch (2019) is full of fantastic and gritty detail. The reconstruction of the theatrical puppet shows are brilliant, and evocation of the era is very realistic. The film performs well as a savage denouncement of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. But, despite the excellent performances from Wasikowska and Herriman, the characters were a bit too one-dimensional to really grip me. Yet, Wasikowska is especially memorable as Judy, eliciting an inner strength to overcome the cruelty of her husband and the town she lives in.

Lastly, the story also felt a little flat and lacked surprise in places, but that may be because the trailer gave a lot of the narrative away. It’s also because I am very familiar with the original Punch and Judy show, as I watched loads of them as a kid. Having said that, Mirrah Foulkes has delivered a stylish film curiosity which is destined for cult status. Moreover, she deserves much praise for attempting to give a children’s puppet show story depth. The visual iconography is powerful, as is the exploration of themes relating to domestic violence, child neglect, witch hunts; and the exclusion of the outsider or other by petty townsfolk mentality.

Mark: 8 out of 11



SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

SIX OF THE BEST #18 – FILM ANTHOLOGIES

While we all love a good proper feature film containing one continuous narrative, 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.

Thus, in my occasional Six of the Best series I have decided to pick some favourite ones. To make it more interesting I have chosen them from different genres. Otherwise, I would have just chosen all horror films. So, here are six of the film anthology films worth watching.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) – WESTERN

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mischievous alchemy of stories. Here, the Coen Brothers reach into their cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of characters, songs, bloody death, jokes, pathos, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and action. Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth and this is no different. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring in many of these fine stories.

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DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) – HORROR

It seems sacrilege not to include the likes of George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) or one of Amicus’ unhinged collections such as Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965). But, having watched this classic recently I can certainly say it has some brilliant and scary stories which stand the test of time. Full to the brim with the cream of British acting, writing and directing talent, the standout tale is Michael Redgrave’s troubled ventriloquist, although the whole film is a nightmarish treat for horror fans.

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FANTASIA (1940) – ANIMATION

With the current trend for Disney to remake their back catalogue as “live” action films in mind, I very much doubt they will doing this with Fantasia. Conceived as a short to re-invigorate the slowing career of Mickey Mouse, the film is unlike any other Disney have made. It consists of experimental, non-narrative and hallucinogenic vignettes mainly set to wondrous classical music. A masterpiece of hand-drawn animation, style, colour and design, it’s certainly not just for kids. I recall many images giving me nightmares when saw it as a child and it remains a powerful cinematic work to this day.

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NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) – COMEDY

I was going to choose Woody Allen’s erotic sketch film, Everything You Wanted to Ask About Sex but were Afraid to Ask (1972), for the comedy section. However, I decided to select a more deadpan and character oriented film. What better then, than a Jim Jarmusch curiosity. I love the concept of the film as Jarmusch sets several themes and parameters in place. There are five slice-of-life vignettes set on the same night in the cities of Helsinki, New York, Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, all starring some of Jarmusch’s favourite actors. Relationships and quirky interactions between cab driver and passenger are explored in the filmmakers’ inimitable style.


PULP FICTION (1994) – CRIME

Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film remains a fresh masterpiece of colliding gangsters, uber-cool hitmen, fixers, boxers, sexual deviants, femme fatales, drug addicts and general criminal types. With an over-lapping timeline that kind of does a figure of eight, we get stories ranging from a couple robbing a diner; a boxer double-crossing a crime boss; and an employee almost killing his boss’s wife. Tarantino breathes life into the crime genre and the stock pulp characters with one of the greatest screenplays ever written; full of incredible dialogue, startling twists and a brilliant ensemble cast.


WILD TALES (2014) – DRAMA

Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories mostly based around the themes of obsession and revenge.  It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding.  Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.