Thursday, 27 September 2018



Yet more gore. Cheap, rough and grimy and absolutely devoid of subtlety, style or sense, Sweatshop (a curious title given that not a single frame of it takes place in a sweatshop) has very little to offer besides tatty sex and extreme gore shots: indeed, it has nothing whatsoever to offer besides tatty sex and extreme gore shots. It has too many potential victims, all of them boring and most of them stupid, but if nothing else it at least doesn't shortchange in the splatter department. Coming straight after the grindingly dull and mean-spirited Truth Or Dare it was a breath of slightly less horrible air and, though I'd be the last person in the world to suggest it's any good at all, I have to be honest and confess that I didn't absolutely hate and detest it. It's grubby and murky and no-one's got two brain cells to rub together, but as a nasty, splattery slasher it's far from the worst offenders.

A group of punks (literal, with the spiky hair and attitude and everything) arrange a rave in an abandoned warehouse. Curiously, despite the place being an absolute mess and only having a few hours to get everything set up, they all seem more interested in drinking, getting laid, wandering off into the darkness and not doing their jobs. Not that it matters: the warehouse is home to a brood of homicidal maniacs led by The Beast, whose signature move is smashing your head in with a massive foundry hammer...

It's tacky, lowest-common-denominator trash (the opening sequence has a naked woman being chased around the darkness in the worst and sleaziest slasher tradition) and as usual it's impossible to care even slightly who lives or dies because they're all dumb as a soup spoon anyway. And much of it is fairly rotten, with ill-advised dancing interspersed with enthusiastic (and, to my eye at least, non-CGI) overkill sequences. There's also no hint of a who or why to the wordless, faceless killers: presumably they were trying for the Texas Chain Saw Massacre vein of unexplained, unfathomable maniacs who had no backstory or motivations, they were just there, but Sweatshop simply isn't in the Texas league. That it's very slightly less abominable than some is really no recommendation: being mostly terrible rather than completely terrible isn't enough for a second star.


Saturday, 22 September 2018



The main surprise being that a film involving Russian Roulette, incest, castration, abortion, blinding, endless shrieking, gunshots to the head and YouTube can be not just so endlessly dull, but actively offensive. It's not a question of prudery (a quick look through this blog should indicate that I'm fine with all manner of degenerate sleaze and severed body parts on screen); rather the idea that there should be something more going on than just a checklist of atrocities and "shocking" money shots. A sense of humour and characters you're inclined to give half a hoot about wouldn't go amiss either. Sadly, this one bottles out very quickly and just settles for constantly raising the yuk factor, sometimes against targets who don't deserve it, and without any sense of plausibility or believability. And what's worse is that is doesn't even do that particularly well.

Truth Or Dare (nothing to do with this year's nonsensical teen horror) concerns six idiots with a YouTube channel of supposedly extreme videos, only one of which we ever see: a Russian Roulette stunt that "goes wrong". It's all a self-publicising, harmless lark... except they've attracted the attentions of the worst kind of fan, who takes them all hostage in their isolated house/studio and forces them to play Truth Or Dare according to his own wildly varying rules, where the Truths are the most personal (sexual) secrets and the Dares are bloody and sadistic. Some of them are fatal and the most repulsive footage is immediately uploaded to the internet...

Mutilation, self-mutilation, excessive bloodshed and increasing levels of physical violence and sexual horror (in which one of the participants being dead doesn't mean she can't still be involved) might sound like an entertaining mix for a Friday night in but Truth Or Dare is actually boring. Not just in its inability to spark up any interest in the proceedings or any sympathy for its tiresome victims, but in its inability to be anything other than just an atrocity parade. The maniac is little more than a shrieking lunatic (looking not unlike a younger Charles Manson, probably deliberately), pitched from the start at such a level of hysterical insanity that he has nowhere to go, and neither does the film.

It's cheap and tawdry and, like a lot of these Extreme films, doesn't have anything other than the shocking and splatter material going for it. Like A Serbian Film (which I normally wouldn't bring up except that its director Srdjan Spasojevic is listed in the closing acknowledgements), the more shocking and confrontational they think they're being, the more boring and tiresome the film actually is and Truth Or Dare doesn't even have the defence of being even halfway decently made. Rather, it's almost insulting that they think this is good enough. There isn't anything else on show beyond seven uninteresting people shouting, swearing and screaming at each other and mutilating, abusing or generally hurting each other and themselves; any idea of depth or character is not just unnecessary but actively gets in the way. I found it quite wearing, hard to like, harder to enjoy, impossible to commend.


Saturday, 8 September 2018



Creepy nuns, old convents lit only by candles, figures lurking in the darkness, graveyards, demons, darkness, faces looming out of the darkness, catacombs, mildly blasphemous imagery, dry ice, nods to bonkers Italian gore classics, nods to vintage British gothic, creepy demonic nuns hovering in the darkness in old convent corridors: in horror movies, these are a few of my favourite things. Happily the latest entry in the Conjuring/Annabelle franchise (the one that isn't Insidious) boasts all of these things and much more besides; but it's a shame that the end result isn't much more than just another perfectly enjoyable but functional shocker that lays its atmosphere on very thick, both visually and musically.

The Nun might refer to the young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), assigned to accompany the Church's in-house Mulder, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the suicide of a nun at an unfeasibly remote convent in the Romanian hills in 1952. Or it might refer to the spectral, unnamed nun possessed by a particularly nasty demon named Valak after wartime bombing runs cracked the Satanic portal which bound it; Valak has supposedly been kept in check by the nun's perpetual prayer ever since. But right from their arrival Irene and Burke, along with their French-Canadian guide, are confronted with spooky visions, scary dreams, creepy voices, weird nuns and full-on screaming horror...

Sure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Taissa Farmiga's sibling resemblance to Vera Farmiga seems to suggest Sister Irene eventually grows up to become Lorraine Warren from the Conjuring films, especially as The Nun opens with a clip from The Conjuring 2, but this doesn't appear to be expanded upon, and there's a rare instance of the handy-plot-point-via-crossword-clue device. But the mood and atmosphere is agreeably Hammerish, with its creaky old castle and graveyard full of wafts of dry ice: with a slight rewrite you could easily imagine Peter Cushing in the Demian Bichir role, and the film even features a local tavern that's straight out of the old Dracula pictures and is only lacking Michael Ripper. Strange then that the premature burial sequence is less out of the old Corman/Poe cycle and more from Lucio Fulci's thoroughly bonkers City Of The Living Dead.

The Boo! moments obviously work because they're the easiest and simplest ways of making you jump, and some of the creepy atmosphere is helped by Abel Korzeniowski's offputting score of dissonant orchestra and low, growling throaty vocals, as dark as the unnecessarily murky setting (seriously, a bit more light here and there would not have gone amiss). But most importantly the horror doesn't stay with you: it's not nearly as scary as it should be and just a few days later it's already fading. The film is fun enough while it's running, but it doesn't linger much in the mind the way Insidious did, and for all the horrible demon faces the nun herself isn't as persuasively unsettling as the Annabelle doll. I enjoyed it to a degree but it's overall a disappointing and disposable addition to the series. Interesting to note that it doesn't end with a post-credits teaser for the next episode.


Friday, 7 September 2018



Poking its head into UK cinemas very briefly, before the abyss of DVD and a pretty thoroughly deserved obscurity, comes this mildly contentious and entirely unremarkable teen horror that does absolutely nothing interesting with its supernatural bogeyman figure or its central quartet of young, pretty idiots. A few impressive shots and effects don't distinguish it from the pack, leaving it lagging behind such fare as the Ouija films, Truth Or Dare, Wish Upon, The Drownsman, Friend Request and scores more. Some of those movies were decent enough but Slender Man gets just about everything wrong and the end result is a mess.

The titular Slender Man is a demonic figure of folklore summoned by a group of halfwits by watching a spooky online video. One of the group disappears into this air on a school field trip, another is rendered catatonic after a disastrous attempt at a ritual to get her back; while her friends manage to make contact with a chatroom character who proves to be of no real help. Is there any way to defeat the Slender Man and restore their comrades?

It might have helped if we were actually getting the complete film: at least two death scenes have been dropped completely, possibly because of legal cases surrounding a genuine attempted killing supposedly linked to the Slender Man (even though it's known that the character is an openly Photoshopped fiction invented on an online forum and has no basis in the real world). As it is, the ending if the final release version feels rushed, tacking on a sudden voiceover that suggests it's covering up a lot of footage that got scrapped. What's left is a bland, nonsensical and murkily shot horror movie with gaping holes in it, in which everyone wanders stupidly around in the dark without turning the lights on for no reason beyond the belief that it's scarier, and which has to resort to sudden Boo! moments because there's nothing else it can do.

Despite having another of Javier Botet's weird (and by now over-familiar) monster performances on display, the character doesn't work because his rules of engagement seem vague and variable and it's not clear what he wants or what he can and cannot do to achieve it. Sure, the Boo! jump scares work, but it's a lazy, uninteresting technique: former Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer could elicit precisely the same response if he leapt out of your wardrobe in front of you without any warning. Nonsense, and not even trashily entertaining nonsense either.




Assuming we're all still here: what's going to happen in thirty years' time? Specifically (I'm not thinking about flying cars or moonbases or brain transplants) what will horror cinema look like given that there's a huge thread of nostalgia for the eighties right now? We've had Netflix's Stranger Things (which I haven't watched) and last year's It, and this year's FrightFest was so 80s-heavy the opening night even had a dress-up theme (in which I obviously did not indulge). In film-making terms it's great, if only because the movies can avoid plot problems created by GoogleMaps and cellphones by simply backdating them. But what are the nostalgic film producers of 2045 going to do? Loving homages to the Wan/Whannell school? Reboots of Saw? Will found footage make a triumphant comeback?

Summer Of 84 (also listed in the credits as Summer Of '84) is probably the best of the current run of throwbacks, with more likeable characters than The Ranger and lighter and funnier than It. Over the summer holidays, a quartet of suburban kids investigate whether the guy next door is actually the serial killer who's been abducting and killing off teenage boys in the area. Where does he go every night? Why the large purchases of soil and gardening tools? What does he keep in his garage across town? Or is there a perfectly harmless if unlikely explanation? The problem is that the suspicious-acting neighbour is actually a cop....

Mostly it's a lot of fun: an appropriate synth score, lovingly detailed period recreation of that idyllic summer with no schoolwork (or neighbourhood bullies) to get in the way, effective suspense sequences. The teen cast, as much the gang from The Goonies or the amateur film-making team from (the criminally undervalued) Super 8 as the Losers' Club from either version of It, or indeed junior versions of the cast of The 'Burbs, are agreeable heroes, and the film flips efficiently between whether the man is guilty or not. But eventually it has to pick a side and the ending involves a too-sudden change in tone, as if an album by The Carpenters unaccountably concluded with a Sex Pistols track or a chunk of Mahler. Some people went with the sudden gear switch but for me it was too much of a jolt.

It also means that with its sudden lurch towards the bleak and graphic the film suddenly becomes unsuitable for the young teen audience who up to that point would probably have appreciated it more. But if you're in the older age group, if you can remember the eighties first hand, it's like a nice warm bath in childhood memory juice. Very enjoyable.


Sunday, 2 September 2018



For some unknown reason, this year's FrightFest opener didn't seem to go down to well. Maybe it was because as generic 80s throwback slashers go it simply didn't have any of the charm of the genuine originals. Maybe it was down to a thoroughly unlikeable bunch of potential victims that you were hard pressed to rustle up any sympathy for them once the mad killer belatedly set about his business. Maybe it was due to said mad killer not being terribly interesting as either remotely plausible human being or a horror bogeyman character except for his near-comedic obsession with reciting the National Park rulebook.

Whatever, the response was sadly lukewarm for a film that for all those faults was, at the very least, not terrible (and let's not forget that the cheesy outdoors slashers like The Final Terror and Just Before Dawn were hardly any better than "not terrible" at their very best). A group of loathsome punks on the run after a drugs raid hide out in a mountain cabin belonging to the late uncle of one of the girls, but the behaviour and antics of her friends (loud music, spraying paint on the trees) soon attract the homicidal ire of The Ranger, who knows our heroine of old (cue backstory flashbacks)....

It looks nice: only in the night scenes does it look like cheap digital rather than a decent stab at recapturing the look and feel of film, and it doesn't settle for endless boring scenes of bickering halfwits wandering around in the woods. It's also reasonably bloody when it needs to be. But the hooligans themselves are hateful and they don't die nearly quickly enough, even in a film that's only 77 minutes long including credits. As a disposable teenkill quickie it works efficiently enough while it's on, and it's always fun to see horrible teen idiots being messily killed, but it's not particularly memorable and probably won't lead to a Ranger franchise.