I watch a lot of films. Far too many in fact, to devote a full length review. This section then, is dedicated to short (i.e two paragraph) reviews of all those flicks that I think deserve a mention, but alas, didn’t make the feature length cut.
Underwater (USA 2019) Dir: William Eubank Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Mamadou Athie
In the near future, an ethically dodgy mining corporation has constructed a huge drilling rig seven miles below the ocean surface at the bottom of the Mariana trench.
Opening with a monologue by Hollywood pixie Kristen Stewart consisting of some cod-philosophical word salad, director Eubank’s second effort soon gets down to business when a huge underwater earthquake rips through the rig killing most of its crew.
Realising they are fubared with a capital F, the survivors led by Nora (Stewart) and Captain Lucien (a suitably grizzled Cassel), must attempt a hazardous underwater trek along the seabed in order to reach another station that houses functioning escape pods that will take them to the surface. However, the drilling operation and subsequent earthquake has awakened a previously unknown hostile species…
UNDERWATER looks great, the cast is good and the film succeeds mightily in generating its claustrophobic hostile environment and the tense race against time pace that is central to its premise. The problem the film has is that it doesn’t really add anything new to the ‘creatures beneath the sea’ sci-fi/horror sub genre. Consequently it comes off as a rather expensive but po-faced update of 80’s straight to video faves like DEEPSTAR SIX and LEVIATHAN, and certainly doesn’t have the conceptual chops of it’s big budget genre stablemates like THE ABYSS. A well made genre entry with some inventive deaths and lovely production design, alas let down by its formulaic story and an over-reliance on see-it-all-before CGI in the third act.
Lifeforce (1985) Dir: Tobe Hooper Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay
Loosely based on Colin Wilson’s novel ‘The Space Vampires’, The Golan-Globus Cannon empire was at the height of its powers when they released this insanely entertaining slab of sci fi horror.An Anglo US space mission encounters a mysterious alien spaceship riding the tail of Haley’s Comet. Of the crew only Steve Railsback makes it back to Blighty with one of the aliens (euro strumpet Mathilda May) in tow. The naked-for-the-entire-film May then proceeds to break out of the secure facility she’s in and reveals herself to be a gribbly space vampire in disguise and proceeds to turn most of London into slavering zombies. SAS man Cain (Peter Firth) is on the trail replete in roll neck sweater mowing down hordes of undead in his Ford Cortina estate right up to the final showdown on the steps of St Paul’s. With earnest support from Patrick Stewart and a scenery chewing Frank Finlay, this features a great score, brilliantly imaginative production design and a bonkers exploitation plot that the whole cast do a great job of taking seriously. I waited weeks for this to come off loan in the video shop back in the day, and I still hold affection for it now. Simply incredible.
Don’t Breathe (2016) US Dir: Fede Alverez Stephen Lang, Jane Levy
One of a crop of home invasion horrors that inverts its premise by having the occupants of said home far more terrifying than the intruders, DON’T BREATHE is a fairly efficient crime horror that mixes in themes of grief, loss and PTSD to come up with a ninety minute knuckle whitener that has enough points of interest to make it stand alongside peers like THE STRANGERS and INTRUDERS. As usual with the home invasion trope, the plot is basic; girl from the wrong side of the tracks Rocky (Levy), and her two partners Alex and Money make their living turning over well to do properties courtesy of Alex being the son of the man whose company installs their home security systems. Rocky’s long term game plan is to get enough money from selling the stolen goods to move to California with her younger sister and start afresh, escaping their alcoholic white trash mother and her lowlife boyfriend. When Money receives a tip that a blind special forces veteran (Lang) living in a deserted neighbourhood has $30,000 stashed in his house from compensation received over his daughter’s death in a road accident, the trio hatch what seems to be the perfect break and enter in order to steal the cash. Things go awry almost immediately of course with the blind man (Lang) not nearly as helpless as the house breakers imagined. He also harbours a dark secret in the basement…
From here on in, Alvarez’s film follows a cat and mouse narrative before taking a sharp turn with a genuinely surprising curveball which ups the stakes even further for Rocky. If you can get past the film’s blatant emotional manipulation of its audience, DON’T BREATHE is a deft and well acted thriller, with enough dark turns to earn its spurs as a horror. Levy plays Rocky as the bad girl with her heart in the right place trope. She is the only one of the gang whose home life we get a glimpse of, and Alvarez telegraphs the audience that her criminality has been ‘forced’ upon her by circumstance, (and it’s for a good cause, even if it means robbing a blind war veteran.) Needless to say her male accomplices are entirely expendable. Their portrayal means that we have little sympathy for them anyway, and given the aforementioned plot revelation, the viewer quickly transfers their initial sympathy for the bereaved war vet over to the imperilled Rocky in good time ready for the climactic confrontation. If you can get past the film’s questionable morality, then there is an enjoyable ninety minutes to be had here, especially whenever the superb Lang is on screen, exuding a grizzled physical presence and utterly dominating proceedings. A solid entry in the home invasion horror sub genre.
The Hatred (2017) US Dir: John Law Zelda Adams, John Law, Lulu Adams
In civil war era Blackfoot territory, a band of confederate soldiers massacre the family of a young girl (Zelda Adams) and lynch one of their own number (Law) to conserve their meagre supply of food. Swearing vengeance, the girl conjures the dead soldier back to life and begins to exact a grisly revenge against his former comrades.
Told mainly in flashbacks, this uncompromisingly bleak gothic revenge western is a micro budget indie that looks like a big studio picture. Filmed using only natural light in the snowbound Catskill mountains of New York State, writer director and star John Law conjures a strange dream like atmosphere for his movie, and has delivered a bloody and brutal work of art. Utilising the simple well worn revenge plot of countless westerns the efficient deftly written screenplay lays bare the fallen nature of the human condition, and how easy it is for men to revert to savagery when freed of the constraints of civilised society.
Fans of Corbucci’s similarly snowbound masterpiece THE GREAT SILENCE will find much to enjoy here as will fans of revenge horror and the gothic western sub genre. And it has one of the most superbly terrifying climaxes I’ve seen in any recent fun. Highly recommended.
THE HATRED is currently available to buy and stream from Amazon Prime.
Demon Protocol (USA 2018) Dir: Kelly Parkes Gary Graham, Bethany Regan, Caroline Amiguet
If TheExorcist and The Thing got together and had a love child, the result would be Demon Protocol. Somewhere in suburban America, a team of exorcists from s secretive religious order attempt to banish a demonic presence from the home of a young couple. When the exorcism goes awry and a team member is killed, the entity possesses one of the individuals now trapped in the house. The team led by grizzled priest Prester J Bedford (Graham) must discover who among them is harbouring the demonic entity before all their lives are forfeit…
Demon Protocol is a nicely executed zero budget little horror flick centring around its supernatural twist on the paranoid ‘the enemy is among is’ plot that was done so well in films The Thing and Reservoir Dogs. Bookended by a superbly effective opening scene and a nasty little twist at the climax, writer and director Kelly Parkes works in some subtle world building into the proceedings, and it would be great to see these elements expanded upon in one of more sequels. This little gem of a late night horror flick certainly lays the groundwork for more demon hunting mayhem. Give this a look on Amazon Prime, every hit makes a sequel more likely!
The Ferryman (2018) UK Dir: Elliott Maguire Nicola Holt, Garth Maunders, Philip Scott-Shurety
Following a failed suicide attempt, a young woman named Mara awakes in hospital and is greeted by her estranged father Roland, who she initially rejects. Confused, angry and resentful she agrees to live with Roland while she recovers and attends a therapy group. Very soon, anyone who gets too close to Mara inexplicably takes their own life, and she finds herself stalked by a mysterious spectral figure…
Filmed in the city of Manchester using iPhone 7’s, THE FERRYMANis the debut feature of writer/director Elliott Maguire, and an assured piece of work it is. Deftly constructing a cold atmosphere with a restrained use of light and building a mounting sense of dread, the lean script is abetted by a bravura emotive performance by Nicola Holt as the disoriented Mara, with Garth Maunders in support as the increasingly confused Roland. This little homegrown indie gem reminded me the 70’s BBC MR James adaptations and the short lived Hammer Horror anthology tv series, with its very British restraint in instilling in the viewer an increasing sense of unease as the story unfolds.
Give this one a go and support indie filmmakers.Horror fans in particular will find much to admire here. I’m already looking forwards to what Mr Maguire does next. THE FERRYMAN goes on release to Vimeo on 13th April, and you can pre-order it here to rent for a bargain 99p. Get those pizzas in.
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.
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 TheTerminator (1984).
Director Wynorski and star John Terlesky teamed up again to make the far superior Deathstalker II (1987).
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.
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.
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