Annihilation (USA 2018) Dir: Alex Garland
Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac

Fresh from his success with previous sci go flick Ex Machina, novelist turned screenwriter and director Alex Garland serves us up another welcome slice of conceptual science fiction with this handsome looking, if loose adaptation of the eponymous  Jeff Vandermeer novel.

A meteor crashes to earth in the vicinity of a lighthouse in the opening sequence. Three years later, and ex soldier turned cellular biologist Lena (Portman) is still grieving the loss of her special forces soldier husband Kane (Isaac), missing believed killed whilst on a top secret mission.

When Kane suddenly reappears at the marital home, and shortly after begins to suffer some form of haemorrhage, the ambulance is waylaid by a military team and Kane along with Lena suddenly find themselves housed in a top secret military complex.

The mysterious Dr Ventress (Leigh) informs Lena that Kane disappeared while on a mission inside ‘the Shimmer’ a quarantined zone surrounded by an electromagnetic field resulting from the meteor crash, and which appears to be slowly expanding inland. Several teams have been sent inside the zone, but none have ever returned, save for Kane.

Ventress announces that she is to head the latest expedition into the Shimmer to trace its source and investigate the nature of the phenomenon. She offers Lena the chance to join the all female  team which along with Lena’s scientific field and the Psychologist Ventress also comprises an anthropologist, physicist and paramedic.

And it’s when the team venture inside the Shimmer that the story really kicks into gear…

It would be remiss if me to give away any spoilers, save to say that Annihilation is not the creature feature that the trailer suggests, but rather an intelligent piece of science fiction/horror of a type that I’d feared had gone out of fashion amidst the seemingly relentless tide of brawling superhero yawn festivals that have taken over cinemas recently.

Garland definitely has a touch for this sort of thing, and his hinterland as a novelist ensures the concepts explored by the story don’t drown out the characters, and his assured script ensures the film stays on just the right side of narrative ambiguity,when at times it feels as if it might stray off into pretentious twaddle. Portman as ever, gives it her all, her commitment to the work shining through here, and she is ably supported by her fellow actresses, with each given just enough background and personal arc  to make us care when things inevitably head south. With Annihilation being the first in the planned Southern Reach trilogy  by Vandermeer, and the ambiguous climax of the film adaptation, the door is wide open for a sequel, dependent on the film’s success of course.

The tone of the film brought to mind the science fiction novels of John Wyndham (which he himself referred to as ‘logical fantasies’) , the most famous of which is of course The Day of the Triffids, but his oeuvre extends well beyond his most well known work, and fans of Annihilation (the film and/or the novel) could do worse than to check out such titles as The Kraken Wakes and Trouble with Lichen.

In conclusion, Annihilation is a film sure to please fans of cerebral science fiction or for those discerning film fans who wish to cleanse their palettes of glossy but hollow studio blockbuster fayre.

Annihilation is available to stream on Netflix now.

Chopping Mall (USA 1986) Dir: Jim Wynorski

Kelli Maroney, Barbara Cranston, John Terlesky

Straight out of the Roger Corman film factory, this strange hybrid of the slasher horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres has a great idea at the centre of it, that of security robots running amok after hours in a giant shopping mall. Unfortunately the leaden script fails to capitalise on this great exploitation set up, instead presenting the audience with a deeply average, by the numbers horror devoid of any trace of wit or imagination to lift it above its many peers. Even b-movie stalwarts Barbara Crampton, Dick Miller and Paul Bartel can’t breathe life into what soon turns into an extended corridor chase with the identikit teens menaced by the one of the least terrifying protagonists in horror film history. The trailer however does have its charms (see below).

A remake of Chopping Mall has been slated, although no release date has been announced. Interestingly (or bizarrely depending on your point of view), the remake will not feature the killer robot element, instead going for a supernatural twist. Writer director Robert Hall explains:

“My version of CHOPPING MALL that I wrote is totally supernatural…It’s more The Fog set in an abandoned mall than it is robots. Instead of killer robots, they are these mannequins that are possessed by the souls of dead slaves that worked at the plantation that the mall was built over.”

The word around the campfire is that Corman himself has given his seal of approval to proceedings. Whatever the result, The Stricken Land will be sure to give you the lowdown. Watch this space.

Interesting facts:

  • The film was shot in the Sherman Oaks mall in California, the same mall used as a location in the Schwarznegger camp action classic Commando (1985).
  • Dick Miller was a regular in Roger Corman b-movies from the 1950’s onwards. He also starred as the gun shop owner killed by the eponymous killer cyborg in The Terminator (1984).
  • Director Wynorski and star John Terlesky teamed up again to make the far superior Deathstalker II (1987).

Good morning film fiends!
I have a quadruple whammy of glorious upcoming movie goodness this week –

First up is 4/20 Massacre from director Dylan Reynolds. Billed as the first ‘stoner slasher movie’ Here’s the official press release to tell us more –

‘420’ has become synonymous with marijuana culture, with April 20th now dedicated as ‘The Official Holiday’ for weed enthusiasts. And now, this new holiday gets its very first themed slasher, with the gore filled 4/20 MASSACRE.  Over 4/20 weekend, five young women decide to celebrate their friend’s birthday by taking a camping trip to a secluded part of a nearby national park. However, their fun is quickly snubbed out when they stumble upon an illegal marijuana grow operation hidden in the greenery and protected by a bloodthirsty maniac. Will they survive or will they perish in search of the ultimate high?

Starring Jamie Bernadette (I Spit On Your Grave), Stacey Danger (Neon Demon), Justine Wachsberger (Divergent) and Jim Storm (Trilogy of Terror, Dark Shadows), 4/20 MASSACRE is a high octane comedy thriller which mixes gore, suspense, and humor, and is the perfect film to accompany your next joint…or maybe you’ll want to think twice before lighting up.

Sounds good to me. Yours truly has previewed the movie and will be providing a full spoiler free review just ahead of the film’s release date (DVD and VoD) of 3rd April 2018

Next up is the incredibly fun looking Bus Party to Hell –  

A party bus en route to Burning Man breaks down in the middle of the desert among a satanic cult. A massacre leaves survivors trapped on the bus, fighting for their lives and panicked that someone is not what he seems.

I mean who doesn’t enjoy watching comely American teens being hunted down by desert dwelling satanists?  I don’t know about you peeps, but that poster alone is selling it to me. I have no idea if it’s intentional but the design looks alot like a homage to the poster art for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). The movie’s publicists have kindly sent me a screener, so expect a review soon!

Thirdly we have the supernatural action flick Killing Joan

Joan Butler is an implacable spirit out to bring down the mobsters that left her for dead in writer/director Todd Bartoo’s highly-anticipated and unique unification of The Crow and Death Wish, Killing Joan – released this April from Uncork’d Entertainment.

Joan (Jamie Bernadette, All Girl’s Weekend, I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu) is an enforcer known for her ruthless tactics and wild abandon. After she is double crossed by her boss and left for dead, she becomes a vengeful spirit and is doomed to wander the Earth until she is able to take down the men that attacked her.

With eye-popping visual effects by Paul Lada (Prometheus, Harry Potter, Pacific Rim 2: Uprising) and a superlative support cast including Teo Celigo, Erik Aude, David Carey Foster, Katarina Leigh Waters, Erin O’Brien and Daniel Gardner,Killing Joan is available on VoD 3rd April 2018 and on DVD 10th July 2018.

I must say this looks like great fun. Keep your eyes peeled for my review!

Last but not least we have sci fi thriller Forbidden Power from director Paul Kyriazi. Here’s the buzz from the press release I received last week –
Films such as Lucy, Limitless, and The Wolfman have featured story lines where the heroes have received transmitted powers via drugs or animal bites, but now comes a fresh take on that idea … sexually transmitted power in the soon-to-be-released science fiction action thriller Forbidden Power

Young businessman George (Lincoln Bevers) has a one-night affair with a mysterious Native American woman (played by Nasanin Nuri). When he wakes up the next morning, she’s vanished, but leaves him empowered with abilities that far exceed his own, and with a cryptic message. George embarks on a dangerous quest to find her and the meaning of her message and the extraordinary superhuman gift developing within him.

Forbidden Power, the 7th feature film from director Paul Kyriazi (cult classics Death Machines and Ninja Busters), will be released on Amazon On Demand. Kyriazi is a graduate of San Francisco State University’s film department and spent four years in the movie department of the US Air Force.

Forbidden Power is coming soon to Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service.

Coffin Hill
This week I’d like to give a shout out to Coffin Hill, a YouTube channel dedicated, in their own words, ‘to offering weekly original scary stories submitted by our viewers.’ They got in touch via Instagram, and seen as I’m a sucker for scary stories I’ve subscribed to get a weekly dose of chills. Check them out here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCq69GDYpQ5aECLbBSSt0C-w

And finally –  to any aspiring independent filmmakers, podcasters or film related writers out there out there reading this, let me know if you’d like me to publicize and/or review your projects, The Stricken Land is always happy to promote new talent and ideas! And as ever, please feel free to share this post and any others on here that you like, far and wide.

Watch the Skies,
Ian

Dead & Buried (1981) USA Dir: Gary Sherman
James Farentino, Jack Albertson, Melody Anderson

In the coastal town of Potter’s Bluff, tourists are being murdered in various gruesome ways, only to seemingly return from the dead without a scratch, only days later. Sheriff Dan Gillis (Farentino) investigates, aided by the local mortician Dobbs, (Albertson, in his final theatrical release). As the murder count escalates, Gillis begins to suspect the elderly Dobbs may have a connection to the horror engulfing the town…

Gaining some notoriety after initially being swept up in the ‘video nasties’ scare in the early ‘80’s, this is a solid homage to the 50’s EC horror comics that provoked a similar bout of pearl clutching in the US. An unusual take on the now ubiquitous zombie sub genre, Dead & Buried is held up by decent performances and some splendid practical gore effects by the late, great Stan Winston.

Interesting facts:

  • Jack Albertson, whose previous credits included playing ‘Grandad’ in the Gene Wilder version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was terminally ill with cancer during the shoot and sadly died soon after the film was released.
  • This was only the second film of director Gary Sherman after a nine year hiatus between this and Death Line (1972). He went on to make Poltergeist III (1988). Everyone has bills to pay I guess.

Good morning film fiends!

Word has reached the Stricken Land that Fox are threatening to remake one of my most beloved films, Escape from New York (1981). Luther scribe Neil Cross has reportedly finished the script which has met with John Carpenter’s approval. Mexican action wunderkind Robert Rodriguez is set to direct what Fox reportedly hopes will spawn another franchise. This one has some impressive talent on board already and it could work, but I’m inclined to think the original is very much a movie of its time. We shall see.

A new flick that caught my attention is Eat Me (2018), which I discovered via a tweet by the film’s writer and star Jacqueline Wright. Set over the course of one night, it’s the story of a suicidal woman whose life is saved by a home invader and the subsequent mayhem that ensues. No idea if this has a UK release date set, but judging by the trailer, it’s one to watch out for.

Rapid Fire Reviews
I watch a lot of films, far more than I’ve ever got time to write full reviews on. So I’ve decided to put a new section on the site called Rapid Fire Reviews which will aim to give more succinct appraisals of the many celluloid glories out there. Look for out for the first posts in the coming weeks.

Rounding off, here’s a couple of horror shorts I found on YouTube in the last week; The Long Walk and Larry. Enjoy!

 

And finally –  to any aspiring independent filmmakers, podcasters or film related writers out there out there reading this, let me know if you’d like me to publicize and/or review your projects, The Stricken Land is always happy to promote new talent and ideas! And as ever, please feel free to share this post and any others on here that you like, far and wide.

Watch the Skies,
Ian

He Never Died (2015) Dir: Jason Krawczyk
Henry Rollins, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey

…Then you’d probably have ended up with this quirky oddball of a film starring bull necked ex Black Flag frontman and wordsmith Henry Rollins as Jack, a mysterious antisocial loner who just happens to be immortal, cursed with an unfortunate addiction to blood and human flesh.

Jack lives alone in a grubby apartment, only interacting with the outside world by playing bingo, purchasing blood from hospital intern Jeremy (Booboo Stewart), and making trips to the local diner where waitress Cara (Greenhouse) has developed a crush on him.

Two events conspire to interrupt Jack’s strict, but quiet routine. First;  Andrea, a daughter from a long ago relationship rocks up on his doorstep, then Jeremy is kidnapped by two hoods who he is deep in debt to. When these two factors collide, Jack is forced into action.

This is an excellent film. If you have Netflix go and watch it now. Rarely has there been a horror flick with such pathos, superb acting and writing. He Never Died stands out even more considering it was made for the VoD market, which is notoriously awash with derivative jump horror dross. Great performances across the board, especially from Rollins (Henry, if you ever read this, we love you!) and Kate Greenhouse, who works wonders given that her character is required to spend most of the running time wondering wtf is going on.

Director Krawczyk also wrote the screenplay which cleverly keeps Jack’s nature and origins deliberately ambiguous (is he a vampire? A fallen angel?), with some great naturalistic, funny dialogue and subte visual clues (just what are those scars on Jack’s shoulder blades glimpsed in the opening scenes?). Jordan Todosay as Andrea more than holds her own as a foil to Rollins, and their scenes together gain an emotional resonance as the film goes on.

Strange as it seems, the film this most reminds me of is Clint Eastwood’s dark western classic Unforgiven (1992). The tale of a seemingly unlikable protagonist with a very dark past seeking redemption is at the core of both films, and Krawczyk handles the material his material at least as well as far more experienced filmmakers like Eastwood. It just goes to show that talent, and a good story well told and acted doesn’t need a Michael Bay level budget and attendant egos to come up with the goods.

Happily it seems that a sequel is on the cards (not to give anything away, but the film ends with several strands left open for a continuation). According to The Hollywood Reporter, both Krawczyk and Rollins are on board and filming is due to start in May. Watch this space.