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Film Review – The Evil in Us

A police unit is called to a house party to find a bunch of dumb horny teenagers have literally torn each other to pieces. When the lone survivor is giving a police statement from her hospital bed, she pukes up someone’s finger. So far so good, right?

The police eventually work out that the party-goers had ingested some very, very sketchy coke, and through the magic of police work manage to trace the supplier who happens to be a very nasty individual indeed. What’s more, they find out he’s heading off to a secluded cabin by a lake with a pocketful of said sketchy coke and another group of dumb horny teenagers in tow. Just what would horror movies do if it wasn’t for dumb horny teenagers? Anyway, as you can probably imagine, things degenerate pretty quickly. As the genius dual-meaning tagline says: Worst. Trip. Ever.

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This film reminded me a lot of Eli Roth’s classic Cabin Fever. It has the same claustrophobic feel, and is shot-through with the same kind of smutty humour and devil-may-care attitude. It’s actually three story arcs in one: the police investigation, the bunch of dumb, horny teenagers at the cabin, and the obligatory origin thread about where this batch of coke came from. It gets pretty gruesome in places and if you can overlook some cringey dialogue and general predictability, there are certainly some shocks on offer. Considering what we essentially have here is a first-time director working with an unknown cast on a limited budget, the results are extremely impressive and could herald the start of at least one very promising career. Remember, don’t take drugs, kids.

Get the original version of this review, as well as many others, in the FREE Morpheus Tales supplement.


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


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


King For a Year – Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Earlier this year I got involved in a project curated by Mark West, with the aim of discussing the works of Stephen King. Every week for 52 weeks, a different writer chose a different book. I chose Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and got a bit carried away. This is my unedited contribution.

Since 1980 or so, some critics have been saying I could publish my laundry list and sell a million copies or so, but these are for the most part critics who think that’s what I’ve been doing all along. The people who read my work for pleasure obviously feel differently, and I have made this book with those readers, not the critics, in the forefront of my mind.”

Among the highlights of any SK collection is the introduction, which often contains semi-hidden pearls of wisdom and unrestrained glimpses into the mind of one of the greatest writers of his generation. The above short passage is at once insightful, humble, witty, and scathing toward his perceived detractors. Elsewhere in the often brutally honest forward, he claims to have read (probably in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!) that people completely renew themselves every seven years, every muscle and organ replaced by new cells. He makes the point that it had been seven years since his last short story collection, Skeleton Crew (actually, it was eight, Skeleton Crew was issued in 1985, but who am I to argue with the Master?) and the first, Night Shift, was released seven years before that. Strange, then, that the first line of the first story (Dolan’s Cadillac) should be…

I waited and watched for seven years.

Or maybe it was deliberate. Who knows?

It goes without saying that I’ve always been a huge King fan. I am the Constant Reader who he addresses directly so often. I guess you are too, or you wouldn’t be reading this. And there was me thinking I was the only one. Still, at least we have some common ground to build on. One of the truly great things about literature is that it unites people of all ages and creeds and from all walks of life. King’s work has certainly done that. From the long-haired pulp paperback-buying hordes of the seventies, right up to the mobile phone waving, Dome-loving Gen Y, King speaks to us all. I plucked my first SK book from my older sister’s collection of scary paperbacks soon after I was mature enough to decide what I wanted to read. It was the seminal ‘Salem’s Lot. And since then I’ve been hooked. I’ve read the vast majority of his books at least once, and there are some I’ve read several times. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, originally published in 1993, isn’t one of them. It’s been at least 20 years since I last opened it, which is one reason I thought it might be cool to revisit for this project.

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The first thing I noticed is how different everything is. Obviously, the book hasn’t changed. The book will never change. I have. And I always will. When I first read this book I was in my early twenties, and still living with my parents in the Welsh valleys. I had a car, a girlfriend and a crappy job putting things in boxes. That was half a lifetime ago, and a lot has changed since then. I’ve lived in different places, changed jobs, relationships have come and gone, and I sold my Hyundai Sports Coupé years ago. SK has probably been the only constant. Him and punk rock. Time changes everything, not least your perspective on life.

I smoked a lot of weed in my twenties, which may account for the fact that I have no recollection of reading several of these stories whatsoever. I sort of remembered Dolan’s Cadillac, but it would be a huge understatement to say that I didn’t fully understand the complexities of it all back then. On the surface, not much happens, and it would be easy to dismiss it as a bloated, overlong diatribe about a man with a chip on his shoulder digging a big hole. But like so many other King stories, its more about the telling. The journey is more than half the fun. Other early highlights include The End of the Whole Mess, which is about two brothers, one of whom is so ridiculously intelligent that he winds up using that intelligence to do something really stupid. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, King claimed his own brother, Dave, was the inspiration behind it. We can only hope the real Dave King isn’t as batshit crazy as his fictitious incarnation. Suffer the Little Children, a little shocker about a teacher who may or may not seen going ever-so-slightly mad, is flat-out one of the most disturbing things in King’s locker. Originally published in a copy of Cavalier in 1972, it’s also one of the oldest here. One of the most interesting and noteworthy stories is Dedication, a tale of witchcraft and woe which is by turns heart-wrenching and horrifying, with an almost palpable undercurrent of edgy tenderness.

Some of these tales struck a chord and lodged firmly in my memory, for whatever reason. And reading them again gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like having a chat with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Rainy Season, a creepy little yarn about a couple facing a sudden rash of murderous toads, and Night Flier, the story of a jaded newspaper hack on the trail of a serial killer, fall into this category. Both are so typically King that you would know who penned it just from reading the first few paragraphs. It’s quite weird (and often hilarious) as a British guy to read Americans writing about Britain. But the truth is, the odd cringe-worthy cliché (“Got a spare fag, mate?”) aside, King just about pulls it off in Crouch End, which was originally written for an anthology with the title New Tales of the Cthulu Mythos. That pretty much tells you all you really need to know. Thank God the real Crouch End isn’t quite as weird as the one described in the story.

A story I didn’t fully appreciate first time around is Home delivery. As it unfolds, it changes from a Delores Clairborne-style yarn about a young mother preparing to give birth on a secluded island, into a fully-fledged zombie story. The tale is expertly crafted, the textures and tones of the words King uses throughout adding to a hollow sense of isolation. Another tale that hits you harder after you have some years under your belt is My Pretty Pony. It’s probably the farthest thing from ‘horror’ in this entire collection, poignant in the extreme, it is a study on the nature of time and how it seems to move faster as you approach the end of your run. The story behind this story is just as interesting as the story itself. As everyone probably knows, King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman also had a pseudonym. Enter one George Stark.

In the early 1980s King was simultaneously working on a Bachman book called Machine’s Way, and a book (which began life as a lengthy flashback incorporated into Machine’s Way) by Stark called My Pretty Pony. The projects disintegrated, but Machine’s Way later morphed into The Dark Half while My Pretty Pony was buried in a file until 1989 when it resurfaced as one of those posh limited edition coffee table books none of us can afford.

Nightmares & Dreamscapes is a pretty weighty tome containing 24 stories and its pages numbering a grand total of 816. Included are five previously unpublished stories, the pick of which being the Ten O’ Clock People, a close relative of Quitters, Inc from Night Shift, which is set for an imminent theatrical release having been the latest of SK’s works to be given the Hollywood treatment. It has to be said, this isn’t his best book. It isn’t even his best collection. There’s a bit too much imitation and what can only be described as low-brow fan fiction for my liking. Derivative in the extreme, Crouch End is a homage to Lovecraft, The Doctors Case to Conan Doyle and Umney’s Last Case to Raymond Chandler. It’s all weirdly reminiscent of your favourite artist doing a covers album. It’s entertaining enough, but you can’t help but feel it’s lacking something, making this less of a Greatest Hits and more of an unessential B-sides collection. I can’t imagine even hardcore baseball fans being overly enamoured with long and tedious non-fiction piece Head Down. If you don’t know much about baseball, like most people outside the US and Japan, then you’d have no chance. Still, there’s enough decent material here to make the whole exercise worthwhile and as we all know, King at his worst still shits all over 99% of other writers at their best.

The King for a Year Project can be viewed in it’s entirety HERE:


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.


Film Review – It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Running Time: 100 mins

Certificate: 15

Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

It’s always good to see a low-budget film make it big. You could say it’s a strike for the little guy against the monopoly of the major studios. There’s been a buzz building around It Follows ever since it became the ‘breakout’ film of last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Since then it has been generating some overwhelmingly positive reviews, somewhat unusually for a film of this genre. In fact it’s the only film I can remember to have garnered a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Telegraph newspaper called it the most exciting film of the festival, going on to say, “With its marvelously suggestive title and thought-provoking exploration of sex, this indie chiller is a contemporary horror fan’s dream come true.”

High praise, indeed. So what’s it all about?

Well, it starts as a simple boy meets girl story. Or girl meets boy. 19-year old Jay (played by Maika Monroe) is an ordinary lass who likes swimming, hanging out and watching TV. Everything seems to be going reasonably well in her slightly awkward budding relationship, except the boy is a bit weird and often claims to see people that aren’t there. Anyway, Jay overlooks this fact and Boy and Girl do it in a car. More-or-less normal teen behaviour, you might think. But then things get really weird, as the boy drugs Jay and holds her captive. I can’t divulge why, or that would give away a crucial part of the plot. Better to see for yourself. Afterwards, Jay finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. She too starts seeing people that nobody else can. Faced with being drawn into a waking nightmare, Jay and her friends must find a way to escape the horror that seem to be only a few steps behind. It quickly becomes apparent that in order for her life to return to normality, she has to address the curse, if that’s what it is, and ‘pass it on,’ a realization which throws up some interesting moral dilemmas.  

It Follows carries on the recent trend of foregoing blood and splatter in favour of good old-fashioned chills, often calling to mind the classic, atmospheric ghost stories of old (MR James, anyone?). There are also elements which echo Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and low-budget hits like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. The film is especially effective in its early stages, the formulaic jumps and frights getting a little predictable towards the end. But the really interesting thing is the subtext, which goes far beyond the traditional SEX = BAD epithet. This is hinted at in the press release, which says, ‘It Follows is a contemporary horror exploring teen sex, suburbia and the stuff of nightmares – a cult classic in the making.’

Who knows? They might be right.

UK Release: 27th February 2015

 


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