Sunday, 28 June 2015



Yawn. We didn't really need any further evidence that the found footage bag of tricks was thoroughly emptied about two hundred desperately lame pretend documentaries ago. The formula was exhausted decades ago but it still keeps stumbling into life like a particularly idiotic zombie, and if there's anything worse than yet another found footage movie on the shelves it's the constant refusal of all the hacks who keep churning these damnable things out to man up and accept they're just wasting everybody's time. Stop it. If it looks like it filmed by me (and I've seen the VHS family Christmas tapes I shot sometime in the 1990s so I know whereof I speak) then it's simply not good enough to put out in the public arena, and I've been bored senseless enough times by your camcorder arsing about already.

Actually there is something worse still: a film apparently made by people who don't actually understand how found footage works. The Pyramid is partly found footage and partly a regular film, but the mixture doesn't work because there's no reason why the diegetic and non-diegetic cameras should co-exist. (There's also no reason why all the cameras are filming in 2.35 widescreen, but they probably figure it's probably only the most anal of aspect ratio nerds who fuss over things like that.) It's a pity, because this could have been a decently enjoyable if very silly Halloween horror movie: dim archaeologists (father and daughter) unearth a previously unknown pyramid in the Egyptian deserts that could theoretically rewrite the history books. When the NASA probe they send down into the entrance tunnel is attacked by a barely glimpsed creature, the two dim experts and a couple of equally dim documentary film-makers venture down into the labyrinth to find out what happened....

Cue sand-traps, little gribbley monsters, a chamber of spikes, mysterious infections, a lot of imbecilic bickering and slabs of exposition before a gloriously silly final reel that brings on a big-ass gribbley monster and one sudden jump moment that I'll admit caught me by surprise. It's a dumb horror film, but it would have been an enjoyably dumb one if they'd ditched the faux-reality routine entirely. Once they start putting in shots that aren't coming from any of the visible cameras, once they start cutting and editing between all the various cameras, and once they've slapped a music score (albeit a droney ambient noise one) on top of everything, you start wonder why they bothered with the camcorder approach in the first place.

Personally I think it was a lack of confidence in the basic material, a sense that audiences wouldn't enjoy it unless they were constantly reminded that it was all supposed to be real. But the constant switching just had me shouting "Hang on, who's filming that?" several times at the DVD player: the film ends up as neither one thing nor the other, but the wrong bits of both. Mostly it doesn't work, and the few bits that do aren't enough to drag it up any higher than "just about watchable". Shame, as I'd probably have enjoyed it as a proper film.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015



I have a rather nice Yamaha keyboard, and every so often I like to mess about on it. Adapting the preset rhythms and sounds, pairing unlikely instruments, putting in peculiar key changes and deliberately wrong notes: I can quite happily spend an hour or more making all kinds of cheerfully horrible noises. One of my favourite bits is a tune for detuned accordion (with distorted violins providing harmony) set against a techno accompaniment that's been slowed down to about 40 bpm with all the voices changed to saxophone and honky-tonk piano. Yet I wouldn't actually describe myself as a Musician or a Composer even though, on a technical level, that's what I am, any more than I'd call myself a proper Film Critic for doing this blog. I do these things for fun because I enjoy them, and if (IF) other people like my efforts then that's great. If they don't....well, it's not like I'm charging for my services.

If there's more to being a Musician than just noodling around on a keyboard for fun, then surely there's more to being a Film Director than the mere act of directing a film. Boring, I know, but to my old-fashioned mind there has to be a basic level of professional competence before "it's what I do" transmutes to "it's who I am" and you can put it on your business cards and start asking for money. Technically John R Walker is a film director, technically his cast are actors and technically his script has been written by a writer, but only on the same level that I'm a keyboards player and a movie critic: I'm not. I'm no Keith Emerson or Mark Kermode, and John R Walker is no Steven Spielberg. Hell, he's no Al Adamson.

Amityville Playhouse has nothing to do with any of the other entries in the official Amityville franchise (eight at last count, plus a remake of the first film), but is instead a standalone offering with the word Amityville slapped on it in a shameless and shameful attempt to dupe uninformed punters in Sainsburys' budget DVD aisle. A teenage girl inherits a rundown theatre and decides to take a look around it, taking her homophobic dolt of a boyfriend, his brother and a couple of other hangers-on. But they get trapped inside by mysterious forces, they start seeing things: maybe it has something to do with the homeless runaway they've found camping out in the foyer? Meanwhile her geography teacher (played by Walker) is looking into Amityville's history and discovers the terrible demonic secret the locals have kept for decades....

It doesn't help that individually the six teens are all monumental bellowing cretins, and when brought together their combined idiocy is concentrated enough to generate its own gravitational black hole of stupidity powerful enough to pull the planet out of orbit. (Case in point: having been creeped out by wandering around the dark and empty theatre, they suddenly decide to play with a ouija board that one of them just happened to bring with him.) It doesn't help that they're all incredibly poorly acted - even given the illiterate swill they're called upon to utter, which the likes of McKellen and Dench couldn't bring to life, either they're incapable of even giving it a stab or their director couldn't drag it out of them. And it doesn't help that the film abruptly leaps to Walker's meaningless flashbacks to his days in the pub in Wednesbury, Staffordshire, when he discussed science and religion with a vicar, a paleontologist and a barmaid.

To describe Amityville Playhouse as amateur is to physically insult the last few hundred village hall productions of The Mikado and South Pacific: it's just not in that league. The potential of a haunted theatre setting is completely thrown away, with nondescript video photography and music (both by the same guy, who's also one of the producers), terrible pacing (nothing of the faintest interest happens to these disposable halfwits and bellends for 78 minutes of a 98 minute film) and that sense of "it'll do" - it's not that they've failed, it's that they haven't even bothered to try. The end result is a hopelessly inadequate and unprofessional bore that couldn't be more of an insult if it just upped and called you a worthless tosser. Call yourself an actual film director? Call yourselves actual filmmakers? How dare you?


Monday, 22 June 2015



Many years ago, Paul Darrow described in an interview how he'd received a Blake's Seven script from a young fan: it consisted on Blake and Avon teleporting down to an alien planet whereupon Blake looked around and said "I don't like the look of this place" and Avon replied "Neither do I; let's go back." The End. I mention this because Charlie's Farm, a gleefully nasty Australian slasher movie, is a prime example of a film in which people will insist on venturing into horrible and clearly dangerous places for absolutely no reason at all, in the manner of all those travellers who ignore the innkeeper's warnings not to go up Castle Dracula at this time of night, or the young dunderheads who laugh at Crazy Ralph's prophecies of doom in Friday The 13th. No-one ever, ever decides that maybe these guys know what they're talking about and decide to go somewhere else instead.

The foursome at the heart of Charlie's Farm have every opportunity to reconsider their irrational urge to visit one of Australia's most notorious murder sites where a couple of homicidal cannibal farmers were eventually killed back in the 1980s - but of course they don't. They know the urban/rural legend that the malformed son was never found and is said to still roam the area thirty years later, picking off backpackers and ghouls for whom the derelict farm has become a place of pilgrimage... To be honest, the two male leads in particular (Sam Coward, Dean Kirkright) would hardly be more sympathetic characters if they just stayed home drinking beer and talking trash the whole time; it's much easier to feel for their unfeasibly glamorous partners (Tara Reid, Allira Jaques) duped into their badly conceived road trip.

So the main trouble with Chris Sun's film is that it's hard to rack up much support for its array of victims, who boneheadedly ignore all the sane and rational advice to stay away from the spooky old house of death and then act surprised when they get bloodily murdered by a hulking maniac (Nathan Jones). However, the film's real strength is the cheerfully graphic kill scenes which have a nice old fashioned feel to them: the feel of prosthetics and latex rather than the cold digital sheen of CGI. In addition, it nods to slashers of decades past by casting Kane Hodder (from four Friday The 13th films and all three Hatchets, amongst numerous other credits) and Bill Moseley (from two Texas Chainsaw movies and, again, a ton of other genre cinema).

If, in the end, Charlie's Farm is not much more than a simple low-budget B-movie in which absolute idiots get violently offed (I don't doubt that the film would easily make the video nasties list, if such a thing still existed, given the uncomfortable sexual element to the mayhem in one sequence), it is still good, well enough mounted fun that delivers the goods and more than entertains as a cheerfully bloody Friday night rental. Sure, it doesn't have much in the way of depth or subtext, but it doesn't want to and it doesn't need to. I rather enjoyed it.


Friday, 19 June 2015



Another horror comedy that's aiming for sweet and likeable with the -zom- bit of "romzomcom" reducing the horror angle to a minor detail, Burying The Ex (a literally accurate though not terribly inspiring title) is the latest from Joe Dante, who frankly doesn't make anywhere near enough films but it has to be said that this isn't one of his best. It's nice, it's funny, I certainly enjoyed it, but the small scale of the film - only four significant speaking roles and a handful of cameos - doesn't allow Dante to let rip in the way that films like Gremlins or The Howling did.

Essentially this is a likeable and enjoyable breaking-up romantic comedy that goes beyond the death of one of the participants. Overbearing environmental activist Evelyn (Ashley Greene) is totally in love with diffident horror memorabilia shop manager Max (Anton Yelchin) and blind to the idea that the relationship is anything but mutually blissful. Her delusions of eternal love are dashed when she's killed in a traffic accident - but thanks to a Satan genie toy in Max's shop, she claws her way out of the grave as a zombie, fully prepared to do whatever is necessary to continue their doomed relationship despite the presence of Max's new girlfriend, ice-cream seller Olivia (Alexandra Daddario)....

Maybe it's just a shame that we've already had a girlfriend-comes-back-from-the-dead movie in the last nine months with Life After Beth, which was also sweet and charming and played down the ghoulishness in favour of warm-hearted (if no longer beating) relationship comedy. What Burying The Ex does have in its favour is Joe Dante, which means plenty of movie references, clips from Night Of The Living Dead, The Gore Gore Girls and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (unforgivably spelled Rights in the end credits) and posters for Antonio Margheriti's Italian SF movies. And it also means a cameo from the great Dick Miller, at which point I silently cheered (he's even playing a character named Paisley!).

Burying The Ex is nothing remarkable, a pretty thin little indie comedy, but it's nice and amusing and likeable enough. It is striking that its two female characters are such polar opposites: Olivia is funny, laid back, sweet and sexy and knows all the obscure pop culture references of Max's world, while Evelyn is strident, humourless, and irrationally and pathologically jealous to the extent of not even accepting her own death as reason enough for her former boyfriend to see someone else. Really it's hard to see how Max ended up with a girl like Evelyn in the first place. Lowbrow grossout comedy is provided by Max's slobbish and sex-mad brother Travis (Oliver Cooper), but neither he nor the rest of the film are anywhere near revolting enough to warrant more than a 15 certificate (it hasn't actually been to the BBFC yet). There's a post-credits sting, but it's just a brief bit of behind-the-scenes footage.


Sunday, 14 June 2015



Maybe it's just me getting old and decrepit, but are movies getting louder these days? Monsters: Dark Continent had me putting my fingers in my ears because the action sequences are too damned noisy, but there are at least great chunks of that film which aren't cranking the volume up so high that steelworks in the next county are writing to the council complaining about the noise from Milton Keynes Cineworld. This one is even worse because it doesn't have anywhere near as much respite from the maniac pushing the volume levels as far as they'll go. I came out of the cinema thinking I probably need a couple of Nurofen and a lie down.

San Andreas is partly a throwback to old-fashioned disaster spectacles like Earthquake (except they've taken the Sensurround and pumped it through the speakers) and partly a continuation of the more recent trend for mega-annihilation in everything from superhero knockabouts to imbecilic alien robot smackdowns via Roland Emmerich's insane brand of destructo porn. Now it can all be done in eye-ripping 3D with ultra-HD pixel-sharp computer effects, rather than murky opticals and cardboard model shots, popcorn blockbusters have to outdo one another in the catastrophe stakes with more things exploding, more skyscrapers toppling and more innocent civilians getting slaughtered.

San Andreas is partly that, but it's also a staggering piece of hero worship in which Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is fantastically great and wonderful at absolutely everything. He's a search and rescue helicopter pilot who starts off by flying a helicopter sideways down a crevasse to save a girl trapped in her car, When Mother Earth decides she's had enough being solid and stable and starts shaking California like a snowglobe, Dwayne Johnson sets off to rescue his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter (Alexandra Daddario) - no-one else, not any of the thousands of wounded, lost, homeless and desperate that it's actually his job description to help, just his immediate family. Along the way he'll come to terms with the traumatic accident that killed their younger daughter, but more importantly he'll fly (and crash) helicopters, he'll pilot and parachute from small aircraft, he'll drive a speedboat over a tsunami, he'll swim underwater for longer than anyone since The Man From Atlantis.

Meanwhile his daughter gets trapped in a limo (abandoned by her cowardly billionaire stepfather-to-be) in a collapsing underground car park, saved by a hilariously posh young Brit and his kid brother, while Gugino runs about on the roof of a toppling skyscraper after a surreally brief chat with Kylie Minogue (it's already been pointed out that, after Holy Motors, this is the second film in which Kylie turns up for one scene then falls off a tall building), with Johnson whirling about in his chopper above. Elsewhere, CalTech seismology professor Paul Giamatti gets the expository job of explaining exactly what's going to happen based on flashing computer screens, in between hiding under a wooden desk.

In other and fewer words, this is the biggest pile of utter nonsense we've had in quite a while, but in this instance that's actually not a bad thing. San Andreas ends up as rather good fun, if you like The Rock being magnificent in the face of tidal waves, and if you enjoy the sight of whole cities getting arbitrarily flattened, It's laugh-out-(very)-loud stupid and has no depth or substance beyond the gosh-wow spectacle, and heaven alone knows what's it's like in 3D wobblychair IMAX. Seen flat and in a chair firmly nailed to the floor, I think I quite enjoyed it.




I don't demand a huge amount from a movie. In fact I only ask three things: firstly, just tell me a story. Secondly, make it a good one. And finally, tell it well. I don't even mind too much if it's not that great a story if the telling is interesting. Hell, if it's a terrible story abysmally told I might still get enough fun out of it. But a dull story, flatly presented (or in the case of poncy arthouse fare, no story at all) is where I start yelling at the screen.

The Evil Below is a miserable little film without charm, style or humour in which a C-minus cast plod through a quagmire of implausibility, cliche and tedium. June Chadwick is an English art teacher who has quit her job and cashed in her life savings to look for a mythical 17th century galleon that supposedly disappeared in the Caribbean, oblivious to the notions that [1] no-one's located this thing in over three hundred years and [2] it's MYTHICAL. She hooks up with allegedly hunky boat owner Wayne Crawford to go and look for this thing, he's got no choice because he's broke and can't pay his dock fees and they're about to repossess his boat (yada yada) but there are sharks in the area, crooks and gangsters are on the trail of the El Diablo as well, a priest is murdered, there's a 300-year old man keeping watch over the cursed treasure....

I did a lot of yelling at the screen, most of it rude. It's a staggeringly boring film, uninteresting to look at, and Wayne Crawford isn't leading man material. When I think of all the things I could have been doing with the evening - watching Blade Runner, doing the washing up, developing a crystal meth habit - I'm almost as annoyed with myself for sticking with this turd than I am with the makers for dropping it in the first place. Worthless on pretty much every level there is.




Creepshow may well be the best anthology ever made. More grisly (obviously) than Dead Of Night, and more stylised than the famous Amicus portmanteau films, it has a gloriously bad taste glee to it, while never slipping over into offensiveness (as in the middle section of Little Deaths, or about three quarters of The ABCs Of Death).  Furthermore, it has a consistent tone throughout (unlike, say, The Theatre Bizarre) since it's all the work of the same two legends: director George A Romero and writer Stephen King. Add in Tom Savini on effects duty and you're obviously in safe hands as far as the horror is concerned.

It's a loving throwback to the days of the EC Comics (not DC Comics, as Amazon claim!), and as much of a moral and parental panic as video nasties would be decades later: five gleefully cruel tales of sadistic horror and "euuurgh!" comedy linked with comic-style animation. "Father's Day" has a vicious patriarch coming back for the grave for revenge on his horrible family (and to finally claim the Father's Day cake he was awaiting when he was murdered); while in "Something To Tide You Over" cuckolded Leslie Nielsen buries his wife (a barely glimpsed Gaylen Ross from Dawn Of The Dead) and her boyfriend (Ted Danson!) on the beach as the ocean comes in - but there's a sting in the tale....

Probably the weakest of the five stories is "The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrell", in which a gurning farmer (Stephen King himself) is infected with some alien gloop from a crashed meteor, because there isn't very much of a twist. The best two stories are the ones that conclude proceedings: "The Crate", with meek professor Hal Holbrook finally feeding his horrible wife Adrienne Barbeau to a monster, and the wonderfully creepy "They're Creeping Up On You", featuring horrible tycoon EG Marshall plagued by millions of cockroaches in his pristine white penthouse.

With its wonderful use of heightened colours to mimic the primary colour scheme of comics, Creepshow is as visually dazzling as Suspiria, and thanks to the terrific makeup, monster and prosthetic effects of Tom Savini - no ugly CGI work here - and a starry cast that also includes Ed Harris, Fritz Weaver and Tom Atkins, it's enormous fun, one of those rare films that get the ghoulish comedy/horror blend absolutely right, and it's impossible to take the kind of offence the old EC comics inspired. Certainly it's leagues beyond the 1987 followup Creepshow 2, which had only three much weaker stories, and the entirely unrelated Creepshow III from 2006, which was no better but did interweave its segments together more in the vein of Trick 'R' Treat. If Creepshow isn't George Romero's best film - I think Monkey Shines is tighter and more thrilling, and Dawn Of The Dead is my favourite film of all time - it's very, very close and well worth the rewatch. Recommended, whether you've seen it before or not.




Having co-written the last four episodes of the Saw series, the three Feast movies and the awful Piranha 3DD, Marcus Dunstan knows a thing about onscreen carnage. His 2009 film The Collector was a spectacularly nasty horror movie full of blood and screaming, in which a maniac in a gimp suit tortured and murdered a house full of people for absolutely no reason at all. Severed fingers, disembowellings and getting nailgunned to the wall were the least of the mayhem in a film in which a cat was cut in half and a dog was shot in the face. It was absolutely horrible, made no sense at all, and I'll confess I rather enjoyed it.

Obviously this sequel has to up the ante, so whereas the first film had a mere half a dozen victims, The Collection piles on the corpses by the hundred, although most of those take place in an early scene where The Collector massacres a nightclub full of dancing youngsters with gigantic combine harvester blades descending from the ceiling - again, for no logical reason. Arkin (Josh Stewart), The Collector's trophy from the first film, manages to get free inside the nightclub, but is pressured into helping rescue Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), one of the survivors, now imprisoned in The Collector's hideout at the derelict Argento Hotel (yes, really)....

From then on it's exactly like those scenes in the Saw films where the clueless cops break into the building but are then picked off by tripwires and booby traps while prowling the moodily lit corridors; meanwhile the maniac is torturing merrily away in his makeshift laboratory full of spiders (arachnophobes beware!) and weird medical specimens in preserving jars. There is a certain pleasure to all this relentless horribleness - this is a post-Saw horror film, after all - as the characters continually trigger knife traps and iron maidens, while giant head-chopping machines and hydraulic rods drop out of the ceiling without warning. None of it makes any sense - why has this madman installed all these devices unless he's expecting company? - and we are never given a glimpse into his character. He's just a bloke who kills people.

But unlike the famously unfathomable nightmare monsters of, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who are weakened by explanation, you really feel there should be some kind of an answer for The Collector, some kind of motivation. Even Jigsaw from the Saw series had his reasons. And in the absence of any "he does it because...." there's little to do but to marvel at the ingenuity of the Heath Robinson death traps and the evident pride the makers have taken in sloshing viscera across the screen and finding new and interesting ways of ripping the human body to pieces. On that level - a straight-up splatterama - The Collection is great gloopy fun, but as any kind of human drama it's utter twaddle.

There's a final scene tacked on where it looks as though Arkin might have tracked down the maniac in his normal life, and in taking his revenge might eventually become the knife-happy monster himself in any third film (The Collected? The Collectable? The Collect Call?), though according to the IMDb there isn't one underway as yet. Given that The Collection bears a copyright date of 2011, if there was going to be a continuation we'd probably know about it by now. Maybe two trips to the morgue is enough for this franchise anyway. Grisly entertainment, but enough now.




There are no rocket propelled grenades in RPG, which is frankly a pity as it would have livened up this unwatchable but sadly unremarkable Portuguese action thriller with very occasional hints of science fiction. Nor, more seriously, is there much in the way of Rutger Hauer: despite clearly being the star of the film as far as the DVD artwork is concerned, he's only in it for about 10 minutes at the start and very briefly at the end.

The RPG of the title actually refers to a Real (not Role) Playing Game in which aging multi-millionaires pay obscene amounts of money to take part in a virtual reality Battle Royale to win eternal youth through soul transference. Their old selves are dropped into shiny new bodies in the glamorous combat environment of an abandoned Lisbon slum, where they have to pick one another off, last man standing style. But there's a twist: they have to know precisely which octogenarian is inside the buff young avatar they've just murdered, and if they get it wrong they die as well...

Much of the film is therefore taken up with the hunks and hotties working through their strategies, suspicions and shifting alliances in order to survive to the end while trying to work out who everyone else might really be. Which is entertaining enough, though like pretty much any film Rutger Hauer ever made (with the honourable exception of the mighty Blade Runner, of course) it could do with more Rutger. It's a shame that the science fiction elements are minimal: the virtual reality environment has nothing in the way of the shiny neon arenas of Tron, for example.

It's also a frankly baffling idea at the heart of the film: how could, say, a long-established industrialist suddenly turn up at the apparent age of 25 with no questions asked? Or a famous actress who has grown old in the public eye mysteriously being 20 again? On the other hand, if it's all a massive con (as hinted at in the final shots), then it's a deception that surely cannot be sustained for very long. Nor do the rules of the game seem particularly fair to the early victims who've paid a massive amount to be there and are killed off pretty much before they get the chance to do anything in their new bodies.

The violence on display would generally only rate a 15 (which it would get for swearing alone) except for a few graphic and sadistic scenes, which have bumped it up to a restrictive and mostly unwarranted 18. Rutger completists will need to see it, obviously, but despite being perfectly proficiently made there's just not much in it for everyone else. It's not terrible, but it's not essential.




Director John Stockwell clearly likes the water. Blue Crush is a surfing movie, Into The Blue is a scuba diving movie, Paradise Lost (Turistas) has the Brazilian beaches and bikinis, and even his TV work is all shot in Hawaii. And now he's made Dark Tide, which takes place almost entirely on and under the waters around Cape Town, South Africa. It's a slightly odd film in that it's come along in the bubbling wake of so many other shark movies: from formulaic monster epics like the Shark Attack series and the numerous DTV fish-based offerings such as Shark In Venice, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and Dinoshark through to slightly more serious and less exploitative films like The Reef and Open Water where the sharks are more of an actual threat and less of a CGI creation pasted into the image. Obviously nothing's going to come within harpooning distance of Jaws, and indeed this doesn't, but it's a definite step up from the usual sharky twaddle.

Kate (Halle Berry) is one of the few people to master the skill of swimming with sharks, but after a dive goes wrong and a man is killed she gives it up to run safe, though not profitable, marine tours. But just as the bank is about to shut her down, her frankly charmless ex Jeff (Olivier Martinez) throws her a lifeline: ignorant and obnoxious British businessman Brady (Ralph Brown) is willing to pay her to take him and his photographer son free diving with Great Whites. She's not interested, but she needs the money, even though it's the sharks' mating season and thus the most dangerous time of the year....

Dark Tide is actually pretty good, not least because the shark footage is fantastic, and that's because they're actually in the water with real Great White sharks. This makes the numerous extensive underwater sequences much more exciting than they usually are, and it's a pity the DVD has no featurettes or commentary detailing the filming of these scenes. Sadly, it's all less exciting above sea level, with Brown and Martinez' characters so fundamentally dislikeable that you end up wanting to see them get eaten as slowly and graphically as the 15 certificate will allow. In addition, "shark whisperer" Kate shows atrocious decision-making skills, suddenly electing to sail everyone straight into a storm so idiot Brady can finally swim with his precious sharks - a decision that can't end well for anyone.

Technically it's not bad, though it could have used a better music score to "big up" the menace of the sharks (although really the villains of the film aren't the sharks themselves, but human greed and stupidity), and at 109 minutes it could do with a trim. But generally it's fine and it's certainly better than you'd expect from yet another shark movie.


Monday, 8 June 2015



More zombies! And it is starting to reach the point now where there are just too many of them and it would be nice if the horror industry looked a little further than yet another undead apocalypse. Even speaking as a longstanding fan of zombie cinema, I'm starting to think "oh no, not again" every time another .... Of The Dead drops through the letterbox. We've come a long way since the glory days of Romero and Fulci and, like vampires and werewolves, they're starting to lose their bite. Against that, of course, they're generally cheap and there does always seem to be a permanent audience for them. Even if they're not being made as full-on feature films, there's a huge number of zombie shorts being produced more for enthusiasm than profit.

Zombieworld isn't, strictly speaking, a new film: it's a collection of zombie-themed short films strung together with new linking material in which news anchor Marvin Gloatt (Bill Oberst Jr in a terrible wig) introduces "reports" from around the world while slowly succumbing to a zombie bite himself. Some of these segments are several years old now and at least one of them has played at FrightFest (Brutal Relax, from Spain, which brought the house down at the Empire in 2011). As is inevitable with a collection of disparate short films, the tone varies wildly from scene to scene: there are a couple of fake Public Information Films about How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse, I Am Lonely is a simple little British comedy (shot in a flat in Archway) with a hint of Red Dwarf about it; Home from Australia is moodier and darker; a couple of segments are first-person viewpoints which look like found-footage, and a short about zombie video games co-written by Alex Chandom. The film is topped and tailed with Fist Of Jesus (Lazarus' resurrection starts "the first zombie outbreak") and Brutal Relax, both by Adrian Cardona and David Munoz: absurd ultragore comedies full of excessive blood and splatter which are certainly fun but can get wearing after a while. The only odd note is the inclusion of something called Certified which isn't a zombie film at all.

The linking material with Marvin Gloatt, steadily less alive every time we cut back to him, is amusing enough though it's a pity that the ticker-tape rolling along the bottom of the screen just kept repeating the same three headlines and one joke about the Kardashians: surely they could have thought of some more gags? But overall it's too much of a mixed bag to really work. Like other recent anthologies such as The ABCs of Death, where the individual segments are made by different people, Zombieworld is less of a film than a YouTube playlist, though this certainly has a far higher hit rate than The ABCs Of Death. Still fun, especially for its head-ripping gore, and I love the bright yellow artwork on the DVD.


Friday, 5 June 2015



Of all the horror movies franchises out there in the last few years, this is the one I've been most interested in, since the first Insidious was one of the few films to completely freak me out, to make me leave some lights on in the flat all night so I wouldn't be sleeping in the dark. On the surface it was just another machine for shouting Boo! at you, and I enjoyed it enormously in the cinema, jumping and yelling in all the right places, and brilliantly capturing the delicious dilemma between "can't look" and "must look". But it wormed its way into the back of my mind and stayed with me for several days in the way almost no other horror movie has ever managed. Insidious: Chapter 2 was also pretty effective but less powerful and the lights in my flat stayed off that night.

There wasn't really any room to go any further with the Lamberts' story, so Insidious: Chapter 3 is a prequel set a few years earlier and detailing a completely different haunting. Quinn (Stefanie Scott) misses her mother who died of cancer recently. But when you call out to the dead, all the dead can hear you and a malignant spirit called The Man Who Can't Breathe has attached itself to her, seeking insidiously to draw her into the bleak realm known as The Further. If the two bumbling spookhunters (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell) from the Spectral Sightings website can't help, Quinn's only hope lies with retired medium Elise (Lin Shaye)....

Since we already know those three characters are the ghostbusting team at the heart of the first two Insidious films, we know that nothing is ultimately going to happen to them so there is a slight loss of suspense there. And like the first two films, it loses its power whenever it goes into The Further, as it's much creepier when the demons are poking their way into our world than when we're venturing into theirs, simply because we'd expect to see ghosts and spirits there rather than here. But when it's in the real world, it's as downright frightening as any movie I can think of, both in terms of simple boo-jump moments and the wonderful atmosphere of utter dread throughout. It also benefits enormously from regular composer Joseph Bishara's atonal score of scraping violins and clanging percussion.

I really don't get why these movies, and others from the same stable like Annabelle and The Conjuring, or even Dead Silence, have been dismissed as not scary: I can only assume a sense of horror is like a sense of humour and some people simply don't get the chills in the way others don't think Monty Python or the Marx Brothers are funny. All I can really say is that they work for me. The numerous jumps are timed with the precision of a master comedian with a Swiss watch, but they never feel false or cheap. As a straight haunted house movie, Insidious: Chapter 3 is more effective and less comfortable than last week's Poltergeist remake, and a worthy continuation of (conclusion to?) the series.