Tag Archives: review

The J-Horror Movie Marathon

I have a thing for Japanese horror. It’s pretty unique, partly because ghost stories have permeated Japanese culture for millennia and been granted more respect and freedom to evolve than in most other societies. Other than that, Japan is one fucked up place. Have you ever seen Japanese porn? There’s more incest, rape, and sex with crustaceans than you can shake a stick at.

Because they so often work within limited budgets, Japanese film-makers are forced to rely on plot, atmospherics and pure acting ability to make their work shine. Things that are sadly often neglected in Hollywood these days. One recent Saturday night, with a pathetically empty social calendar and a storm raging outside, I decided a J-Horror marathon (with English subs, obvs) was in order.

 

5:55 pm

Title: One Missed Call

Year: 2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Running time: 112 mins

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On the back of successful fore-runners like Koji Suzuki’s classic Ringu (The Ring), Pulse, and Dark Water, in 2008 One Missed Call became the latest Japanese horror movie to be remade by an American studio for an international audience. I’d watched the remake for comparison a couple of days earlier, and though the basic storyline pretty much stays true to the original, it’s more of a sugary teen flick lacking any real resonance and emotional impact. In short, the movie stinks.

The original is something else entirely.

On the surface the premise is pretty standard fare; a young student receives a voicemail on her mobile on which she can hear herself screaming. Putting two and two together, she decides the message must be from her future self warning of her imminent demise. When the message proves prophetic, it soon transpires that it’s just the latest in a long line of similar events and the girl’s friend Yumi takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. The result is a pretty intense, suspenseful, psychological experience, rather than the kind of uninspired gore fest we are so often subjected to. Typically of J-horror, there is a curse involved, some rogue technology, and hot girls in danger. We’re off to a decent start.

7:48 pm

Title: Uzumaki (Spiral)

Year: 2000

Director: Higuchinsky

Running time: 90 mins

uzumaki-film-poster2

 

No rest for the wicked, it’s straight into movie number two, which proves to be one of the weirdest, creepiest, most fucked up films I have ever seen. It was adapted from a Junji Oto manga series, so I should have expected as much. His other notable works include Tomie, about an immortal girl who is so beautiful she drives people insane, and Gyu, about killer fish with metal legs. Yep, that’s the kind of guy we are dealing with.

Uzumaki is about a town obsessed with spirals. To be ‘at one’ with uzumaki, one character commits suicide by crawling inside a washing machine. The result is not pleasant. His wife then becomes so anti-spiral that she chops off all her fingertips so as not to have anything resembling a spiral on her body. That plan falls apart when she learns that there is a spiral-esque vortex buried in the deepest part of the human ear. I won’t say anymore so as not to spoil it, but you can probably guess it doesn’t end well for her. Oh, and then all the students at the local school start turning into giant snails. What the absolute fuck? I’m glad I watched this early on in the marathon. It’s the kind of thing that can make a grown man go scurrying off crying for his mother.

9:20 pm

Title: Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman

Year: 2007

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 90 mins

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After a quick pit-stop to make coffee and grab some Dorito’s, it’s straight back on it. The subtitles were out of synch on this one. I didn’t know what people were saying until about three minutes after they’d said it, which made the whole experience even more surreal. Someone would do something, then you’d find out why they were doing it later. The name alone is enough to give you shivers. The Kuchisake-Onna (slit-mouthed woman) is a bi-product of a real playground legend. Those Japanese kids, huh? A tall, skinny woman wearing a long trench coat, pointy shoes and a surgical mask covering her horribly disfigured face is said to appear and ask ‘Am I pretty?’ before carting off unruly school kids and doing unspeakable things to them with a massive pair of scissors. So far, so creepy. But things take a nasty turn when the urban legend turns out to be real, and one-by-one kids start disappearing. A pair of intrepid young teachers then set out to uncover the truth, and reveal one shocking secret after another. Harrowing and atmospheric, The Slit-Mouthed Woman (aka Carved) contains most of the elements audiences have come to expect from J-Horror. Curses, vengeful spirits, abused children, disused buildings, a haunting musical score and cold, brutal violence. It’s all here. If one film sums up post-Ringu J-Horror, it’s this. The last scene will chill you to the bone.

Am I pretty?

10:50 pm

Title: Ju-on: The Final Curse

Year: 2015

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Running time: 90 mins

Juon4-Poster-27x39-copy2

More coffee and more Doritos.

You might not know this, but whereas the turgid American incarnation of the Grudge franchise was wisely curtailed after three instalments, the Japanese juggernaut just kept on rolling. And rolling. If you include that trio of western Grudges, this is the eleventh Ju-On (Grudge/Curse) film in the series originally created by Takashi Shimizu, and a continuation of last year’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, itself a reboot of the earlier films.

Phew. Now that’s all cleared up, on with the show. This latest (and allegedly last) instalment is a Paramount Pictures production, meaning it’s much more polished than you would normally expect. No shaky camera work or sub-par special effects here. Without getting too much into it, the plot evolves around Mai, who goes in search of her missing younger sister, the elementary school teacher from the last film (which is helpfully re-capped at the beginning). Let’s just say she gets more than she bargained for when Toshio, the terrifying little kid who makes those annoying cat noises, puts in an extended appearance. The plot is a bit stretched, as it would be after ten previous outings, but overall this film is pretty slick.

12:20 am

Title: Grotesque

Year: 2009

Director: Koji Shiraishi

Running time: 73 mins

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It’s that man again. Our friend Koji of the Slit-Mouthed Woman fame. To be honest, I don’t know what he was thinking with this. This film is banned in the UK, which is usually a good sign. I’m a horror fan, and I’ve seen some pretty far out shit. I’ve developed a reasonably strong stomach, or so I thought. Not this time. This is way out of my league. It’s downright fucking nasty, and I was soon sorry I munched all those Doritos.

I’m no prude, I believe violence has it’s place. In literature, art, films and even in real life. But there has to be a reason for it. This is exploitive torture porn, plain and simple, and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Two young lovers are walking down the street, minding their own business, when they are kidnapped by a mad doctor who then proceeds to do the most awful, sadistic, depraved things to them. That’s the whole storyline right there, and it’s not fun to watch. In fact, it’s extremely fucking hard to watch. Which I guess is the point. If so, mission accomplished, Shi Shiraishi. You twisted fuck. This is the only film I’ve ever not been able to finish. I don’t know if that’s a criticism or an accolade.

This article first appeared on the Deviant Dolls website.

 


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.


No Man’s Land Review

Mallory Heart kindly reviewed my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches in The Haunted Reading Room.

Review copied below.

No Man's Land
Review: NO MAN’S LAND: HORROR IN THE TRENCHES by C. M. Saunders

Told as a series of continuing vignettes, NO MAN’S LAND relates the experience of Harry Doyle, a young Welsh soldier in the First World War. As terrifying as are the usual horrors of any war, Harry and his cohorts face additional horrors of an implacable nature. Harry is a wonderful protagonist, because he’s not a one-dimensional fearless hero, but rather he is a true human, fearing, loyal, emotional, introspective. NO MAN’S LAND is a literate and vivid narrative of an ugly war, a war which for Harry Doyle and his fellow soldiers extends beyond the boundaries of consensus reality.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


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.

Forsaken-2016-movie-Justin-Price-6-355x500

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


Sker House and the Angry Reader

So I managed to upset a couple of people last month when I ran a free promo on my novel Sker House. How can giving something away piss people off? Because in the run-up to the free promo, Sker House experienced some weird inexplicable sales spike. It happens. Not nearly often as I would like, but it happens. And the book sold a few copies at full price, $4.99/£3.99.

Then, the free promo kicked in.

Quite rightly, a few people (okay, one person) contacted me through Facebook and voiced their displeasure because they’d paid for something that was then made free days later. It’s probably fair to assume that if this one person felt cheated, others probably did too. I would. So maybe I should explain a couple of things.

Why do writers run free promos? Why do we work tirelessly for six months or more, then pay for artists to design our covers and editors to make us sound good, only to give the result away for free?

Because we are dumb, that’s why.

Not really. The simple truth is, we do it for exposure. Amazon uses magic algorithms to determine your book’s ranking. The higher your ranking, the more love  Amazon will give your book, in the form of recommending it to potential readers and what-not. Of course, writers also want to attract new readers, in the hope that they’ll like our work and perhaps buy another of our books at some point. We hope this works by the same principal as a drug dealer giving away the first hit for free. It doesn’t work like that at all, but that’s what we hope.

And then there are the reviews. Indie writers like me can never get enough reviews. The good, the bad, and the indifferent. We love them all. Reviews sell books. Most of us would beg, steal, kill or maim for an honest review.

The Sker House free promo was probably the most successful promotion I’ve ever done. In four days it was downloaded a total of 1,012 times. It peaked at #14 in Amazon’s Top 100 free horror books, and #3 in it’s sub-category (occult). Judging by the habits certain other indie writers display, I’m pretty sure that practically qualifies it as an ‘Amazon bestseller.’ So in that respect, even though I gave away about four grand’s worth of free books, the promo was a resounding success. Yeah, I know the majority of people won’t read it. It’ll sit on their Kindle, phone, or computer unopened for all eternity with all the other free books they’ve collected. But if only 1% of the people who downloaded Sker House read it then left a review on Amazon, the exercise would be more than worth it.

Be special. Be the 1%!

Weirdly, immediately after the promotion ended, Sker House enjoyed another unprecedented spike and sold more copies in three days than it had at any time since it’s release. This is another benefit of running free promos. Your book stays ‘visible’ for a while before sinking without trace again. We’re not talking thousands of sales here, or even hundreds. The harsh truth is that for most indie writers, to sell double figures of one title in one day is considered an achievement. To do it two or three days running represents the height of success.

Anyway, back to Angry Reader, I explained the situation to her and I think I made amends. Now I feel bad for everyone else who might think I pulled a fast one on them and I want to make it right. So if you also bought Sker House at full price between August 1st and August 25th 2016, send me proof of purchase, and I’ll let you choose any of my other indie titles for free. How’s that? Are we good?

Good.


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.


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