Category Archives: Films

Film Review – The Darkness (2016)

Last summer, I attended what was billed as the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance.’ What happened? Nothing much. It was hosted by ‘celebrity medium’ Mistica Maria Louisa and Britt Griffith, the volatile gun nut who once got himself fired from the cast of Ghost Hunters. Britt invited virtual participants to ask questions, which Madam Mistica would then attempt to answer. I ask who killed JFK. Disappointingly, my question was ignored. Other, equally valid questions from curious observers included, ‘Is Hillary Clinton the antichrist?’ ‘Where are my keys?’ ‘Can ghosts use Facebook?’ ‘Am I going to get laid tonight?’ ‘ ‘Should I wear my black shoes or the brown ones?’ and, hilariously, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Another participant doesn’t ask anything, instead typing I WANT BLOOD into the comment box repeatedly, which was a bit worrying.

One of the few questions Madam Mistica did choose to answer read, “My mother just died from lung cancer. Is she doing good?”

Personally, I don’t think a medium is needed to answer that particular question. And on it went. The point of the exercise? It was a publicity stunt for this movie.

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As a marketing ploy, the ‘World’s First Live Facebook Séance’ seemed to work. For a while, at least. It generated a lot of online discussion, even if most of it was tongue-in-cheek, and I wrote about it for Fortean Times. But the fact that the broadcast lost almost 50% of it’s viewers before it ended, and the organizers didn’t seem to know what a séance actually entailed, meant that ultimately the event had to go down in the ‘epic failure’ column. I couldn’t wait to see if the movie itself would join it.

The short answer is no. It’s not the best film ever made, as we all know, that title will forever belong to Lost Boys, but the Darkness isn’t as bad as feared, or as some critics would have you believe. Starring Kevin Bacon as the patriarch of a family who inadvertently take something else home with them after picking up a rock as a souvenir from the Grand Canyon, it’s a bit like a mash-up of Poltergeist and Stir of Echoes. On their return to the family home, mysterious events start to occur. Taps turn on by themselves, there are disembodied shadows all over the place, hand prints keep appearing everywhere, their slightly-weird son Mikey has conversations with ‘Sky People’ and most bizarrely of all, what appears to be a portal to another dimension opens up in the middle of Weird Mikey’s bedroom.

Finally accepting that something might be amiss, the family discover that the Anasazi Indians believed demons could be bound to rocks hidden in underground caves. Rocks just like the one they’ve brought into their house. Director Greg McLean claims the story is a true account relayed to him by members of the family in question, but we only have his word for that. The Anasazi certainly existed, they are the ancestors of several Native American tribes and are most famous for living in fortified cliff dwellings and suddenly fleeing their homeland sometime around the year 1200 for reasons unknown. Few events have provoked as much discussion and controversy amongst scholars of American history. Traditionally, it’s also not uncommon for visitors to want to return objects taken as souvenirs from supposedly cursed places because they feel some negative force has invaded their lives as a result. So, silly portal aside, this film is slightly more believable than a lot of other supposedly true stories given the Hollywood treatment.

The original version of this review appears in the Morpheus Tales supplement. Available free HERE.


The Forsaken (2016) – film review

K, lets get one thing straight right off the bat. This isn’t the 2015 western starring Kiefer Sutherland and Demi Moore. Neither is it the 2001 Australian vampire movie starring, well, nobody you will have heard of. It is, in fact, a brand-spanking new release from Justin Price, best known for last year’s Dark Moon Rising. You might say it’s a new film with an old title, but let’s try not to get judgemental. Not yet, anyway. They had to call it something. On review sites and message boards it has been drawing comments like ‘Completely unwatchable,’ and ‘Worst movie ever!’ which kinda piqued my interest a little. Surely it can’t be that bad? Folk on the internet can be really mean sometimes. I thought at the very least, it might fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category.

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As a rule I’m not a big fan of possession films. Boring. Every single one of them follows the Exorcist blueprint – Person gets possessed, someone calls a priest, priest unpossesses person. They usually have a touch of difficulty along the way, just to fill the paper-thin plot out a little. There is invariably some swearing, vomiting, flying Bibles, and more often that not, some walking backwards up walls and shit. But in the end, good triumphs over evil, you breathe a sigh of relief, and move on with your life.

This latest Forsaken stars David E Cazares as a priest with jowls and sad puppy-dog eyes, a rebellious daughter, and a gravely ill wife who may or may not be possessed. I know, just what you need, right? I mean, the guy comes home one day and finds his missus cooking pieces of her arms in a frying pan for dinner. Obviously, something has to be done. But this is where the priest gets it completely wrong and starts looking for help in some of the sketchiest places imaginable. There are a few jumpy moments, and for a low-budget flick the make-up and effects are pretty impressive. However, even for one so simple, the plot is a bit muddled. All the flashbacks and dream sequences are distracting and worst of all, sad, puppy-dog eyed priest insists on fumbling around in the dark, whispering all his dialogue and crying all the time. Come on, dude! Put the damn light on, have a shit, shower and a shave, sort yourself out and man the fuck up. In days of old this would be a straight-to-video release. Now it’s probably going straight to your nearest streaming device, where it will no doubt stay, neglected and Forsaken.

This review originally appeared in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement


Spring – Film Review

How on earth have I not seen this movie before? The Internet says it’s been around since debuting at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014. It did have a very limited theatrical release, then went direct to streaming, though, which is where a lot of things tend to get lost. More’s the pity, because it’s an exceptional piece of work. Part of the attraction is that it’s so many things, and yet at the same time none of them. At it’s core it’s a love story, but it’s also a sci-fi flick, a monster movie, a mystery, a comedy, and one of those meaningful coming-of-age dramas like The Beach. It’s a huge risk trying to do so much within the confines of a single movie. So much can go wrong. But the directing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson (who also wrote it) have done a magnificent job of crossing boundaries and meshing those genres together into something that is captivating, original and truly unique.

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A directionless young American, Evan Russell (Lou Taylor Pucci, who starred in the recent Evil Dead remake) loses his mother and his job within days of each other. He also gets in a spot of bother with da police and some local hoodlums, so decides to skip town and use his inheritance to fund a voyage of discovery to Italy. Once there, he meets two hilarious Englishmen in a hostel, and hooks up with a local hottie called Louise (Nadia Hilker). And that’s where the fun begins. Louise slowly reveals herself to be a 2000-year old murderous genetic freak, who gets herself pregnant every twenty years so her body can ingest the cells in her embryo and keep her young. Yup. She regales Evan with tales of 17th Century witch trials, erupting volcanoes, and surviving the Great Plague that swept Europe, all of which Evan takes remarkably well (“At least you have the same back-story as Harry Potter. That’s pretty cool”). Such is the power of love, I guess. Louise then reveals that she can only return to anything resembling a normal state if she falls in love. But does she really want to and risk giving up the life to which she has become accustomed?

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the plot compelling, and the Italian setting stunning. Spring is much more than a mere comedic sci-fi flick. The subtext throws up some interesting existential questions and addresses some pretty fundamental moral dilemmas. Overall, this is a supremely creative, entertaining and imaginative movie. Go watch it right now.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement. Available FREE.


The Forest – Film Review

At the foot of mount Fiji in Japan lies the deeply mysterious Aokigahara forest, widely known as a popular suicide destination. In 2010 alone, there were 54 confirmed cases. Nobody is quite sure what draws people from all over the country, and even further afield, there to end their days, but it has a long association with the Yurei of Japanese mythology, similar entities to what we would call ghosts. Yerei pray on the sad, lonely and vulnerable, using their own negative emotions against them. Sounds more like the script of a horror movie, right? Well, now it is, thanks to producer David S Goyer (the Blade franchise, Da Vinci’s Demons, and cult noughties TV show FreakyLinks) reading about the forest on wikipedia.

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Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer plays an American woman who recieves a phonecall from the Japanese authorities saying that her identical twin sister has ventured into the Aokigahara forest and has not been seen since. Obviously, she gets on the next plane to the land of the rising Sun and rocks up to the very same hotel her sister was staying where she meets a western journalist who seems just a little too eager to help. Together with a guide, they head into the forest in search of the missing sister. All in all, it’s a good premise for a film. It’s atmospheric, well-produced, and for the most part well executed. It’s a pity the film lets itself down in other areas. The plot kinda drifts off and cannibalizes itself toward the end, and there are some mildly annoying oversights. For example, when Dormer’s character first meets the journalist (Taylor Kinney, aka Mason Lockwood of Vampire Diaries fame) she tells him how the sisters lost both their parents in a car accident caused by a drunk driver who was never caught. But… if the driver was never caught, how did anyone know they were drunk? They could just be a really shit driver. You would think with all the untold millions lavished on film production these days, somebody somewhere along the line would notice such a gaping plot hole. Evidently not. Sigh.

As you would expect, the film is laced with the kind of creepy, unsettling horror you would expect from something so Japan-centric, though it has minimal input from anyone actually Japanese apart from a few actors, which you would think was the minimum requirement. For the most part, it wasn’t even filmed in Japan. The Japanese government don’t allow filming in Aokigahara forest so apart from a few scenes shot in Tokyo, the bulk of the movie was filmed in a warehouse Serbia. I shit you not. The forest is suitably creepy, though, and there are some sleek touches.

On its release, The Forest was met with an avalanche of criticism and almost universal bad reviews. It has an overall rating of 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and let’s face it, it doesn’t get much more rotten than that. Even the regrettable Rocky V managed 28%. Does that mean the film most Rocky fans refuse to acknowledge is three times better than The Forest? Not at all. It could be better but plot holes aside, for the most part I actually enjoyed it. It’s a crazy world.

The original version of this review appears in the latest Morpheus Tales supplement, available FREE


Film Review – The Atticus institute (2015)

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From the producers of the Conjuring and Annabelle, comes a new addition to the recent fad of possession movies. Scientists involved in a 1970’s research project looking into ESP and related phenomena stumble across Judith (played by Rya Kihlstedt, of Deep Impact fame) whose abilities far transcend anything they have encountered before. They gleefully set about testing her and documenting the results, but it doesn’t take long for them to realise that rather than someone displaying impressive feats of telekinesis, what they are really dealing with is a severe case of demonic possession. The entity makes its presence known in a variety of subtle and non-subtle ways and soon, the military come knocking in an attempt to harness and eventually weaponise the demon’s power. Predictably, that’s when things get really out of hand. Sometimes, guns and bullets just aren’t enough.

Written and directed by Chris Sparling, writer of the 2010 underground (sorry, couldn’t resist) smash hit Buried, the Atticus Institute unfolds through a series of interviews-to-camera interspersed with segments of laboratory footage, giving it a gritty and decidedly intense feel. The result is terrifyingly realistic, and Sparling works the tension impeccably as it builds to an horrific climax. Poor Judith spends the vast majority of the film strapped in a chair squirming around and speaking in tongues, whilst being shouted at and receiving electric shock therapy. By the end you actually end up feeling a bit sorry for her/it and begin questioning who the victim really is in all this. As any news report will tell you, this is kind of unrestrained overkill is typically what happens when western governments come up against an enemy they don’t fully understand.

Though this is one of the few possession movies that doesn’t claim to be based on a actual events, I have a sneaking suspicion the genesis of the story is based on the US government’s Stargate Project and it’s derivatives, operations set up in the 1970’s to investigate psychic phenomena in response to muted Soviet projects of a similar ilk. One of the main focuses of the Stargate Project was remote viewing, something of obvious military significance, which is alluded to several times in the Atticus Institute. Though the Stargate Project was (allegedly) closed down in 1995 amid claims that it wasn’t effective enough to make it viable, the bulk of the data that was collected has never been made available to the public, so who knows what evidence might be gathering dust in a vault somewhere?

The original version of this review is featured in the Morpheus Tales supplement, available HERE:


2016 – The year of the Reboot

It makes me a little sad that the big Hollywood studios are so reluctant to at least try to break any new ground, and would much rather spend their resources tapping into a pre-existing market. That said, I’m pretty excited about some of the movies being served up this year. Here’s my top five. Just don’t judge me on the last one.

Cabin Fever

Who could be so bold as to remake Eli Roth’s 2002 classic? Eli Roth, obviously. For the reboot he’s using the same script, with different characters and presumably a bigger budget. The first one cost just $1.5 million, and went on to gross over twenty times that amount. It also made Roth a star. This time he’s moving upstairs to executive producer while Travis Zariwny takes over directing duties. Nope, I don’t know who he is, either. You have to wonder why it’s being made with the same script, when this could be the perfect opportunity to expand on certain elements a little. But this is Eli Roth, and I’m sure as fuck not going to argue with him.

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Ghostbusters

This is one film that isn’t staying true to the original. In fact, it seems to be doing everything it can to distance itself from the original by employing an all-female (including Melissa McCarthy) cast in place of Bill Murray and company, who are all too old to get in those jump suits anyway. He and Dan Ackroyd do get cameo’s, though. It’s being marketed as a reboot of the franchise, rather than the film, which either means there’s going to be a slew of sequels or we aren’t going to see a giant marshmallow man this time around. It’d be a shame if that’s the case.

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Point Break 3D

How can you make a remake sound new and exciting? Stick ‘3D’ in the title, that’s how. But this is Point Break, ya’ll! The original was one of the defining films of the 90’s and made Patrick Swayze’s career what it was. Well, that and Roadhouse. We don’t talk about Dirty Dancing. The 2016 version stars Edgar Ramirez and Ray Winstone, and will probably be one for adrenaline junkies everywhere. Being a joint American and Chinese production, expect more than a passing nod to our friends in the far East.

The Magnificient Seven

As far as ‘man’ films go, the original 1960 shoot-em-up starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and just about everybody else who could point a gun, is right up there with Rambo and Jaws. Well, the truth is, it wasn’t original even then, but a remake of the legendary Japanese flick Seven Samurai. Still, of all the reboots and remakes planned for 2016, this is the one I’m most wary of, even if the Daily Mirror reports are right and it does have Vinnie Jones in it (doubtful).

Dad’s Army

I warned you about the last entry on this list. Yes, if you’re British Dad’s Army is something you probably remember from your childhood, or those endless Sunday afternoon repeats, but 2016 sees the wartime comedy about a group of disparate individuals given a momentous overhaul, and it’s set to be one of the biggest Bricoms of the year. Let’s face it, how can anything with Catherine Zeta Jones in possibly not be worth a watch? She’s magnificent.

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Film Review – Darkest Day (2015)

“British zombie horror at it’s best!” screams the blurb on the poster, which is a bit of a leap. Whoever said that has obviously never seen Danny Dyer’s Doghouse. Anyway, it is customary when writing a film review to summarize the plot, to help the potential viewer decide whether it’s worth their time, effort and money or not. With that in mind, here goes…

Dan (Rickard, also the writer and director) wakes up with amnesia on a beach in Brighton, that weird yet strangely hip little outpost on the south coast of England made famous in Quadrophenia. He wouldn’t be the first young man to do that, but Dan manages to do it in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. So now he isn’t being threatened by the assorted shenanigans of lively groups of mods and rockers, but rather hordes of crazed, blood-soaked zombies, who run around flapping their arms and screaming a lot. To make matters worse, it appears there’s a bunch of soldiers on his tail, too.

DVD Cover

DVD Cover

Luckily for Dan, he soon runs into a small group of survivors, who are shacked up in a student house drinking Stella, as you probably would be when Armageddon comes. There’s even a stereotypically brash American, which is one of the more outlandish parts of the entire film, never mind the zombies. Apart from the awful accent, even in this brave, new globalized world of ours, Americans still don’t go to Brighton. Why would they? If she wasn’t trying to be American, I apologise, but that’s what it sounded like, and it sucked.

When the group of student survivors run out of booze and fags, they are forced to tool up with a selection swords and bludgeoning tools and leave the sanctuary of their squat. You can probably guess the rest.

Bearing in mind there’s only so much you can do within the confines of a zombie film, Darkest Day does at least make an effort to break the mould. It took seven years to produce on a non-existent budget, and the majority of the dialogue is unscripted, a very brave (or very stupid, depending on your point of view) decision when working with a cast of unknowns. Truth be told, this doesn’t lead to much more than a few extra swear words but it’s a big ask to keep the thing going, especially as the lack of budget means the whole thing has to primarily be character-driven. There isn’t much in the way of a plot and it probably won’t win any awards, but to give credit where it’s due, Dan Rickard and his mates achieved a lot with very little. There are fires and zombies and explosions and guns. Even a couple of helicopters. What else do you need? The special effects and CGI are pretty impressive. At times, you are left wondering just how they managed it all if the budget really was as minuscule as we are led to believe. An impressive underground effort well worth 90 minutes of your time.


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