Saturday, 22 February 2020



Again, again, again. And not just because it's a sequel - we were all saying "again, again, again" to the first one because even then the most diehard admirers of the form were getting fed up with the overfamiliar tropes of the found footage style being dragged out again, again, again and The Gallows added nothing to the menu fifteen years after the first wave of sub-Blair Witch cheapies. A further four years on and the format finally seems to be on the wane (at least to judge from the Sainsbury's racks which at one time were heaving with the damnable things): this ditches the dullards-filming-themselves idea after the opening sequence and opts for "normal" filmmaking.

But the reason we're still saying "again, again, again" in spite of the abandonment of first-person camcorder wobblivision, is that The Gallows: Act II falls squarely in that modern school of fairly light horror, ticking off a whole different set of boxes on a no-longer new and exciting checklist. Much of it has the feel of Happy Death Day, Truth Or Dare, Countdown or Friend Request, though the film it feels most similar to is actually the not-any-good Slender Man: youngsters summon up a ghost after finding stuff online and bad stuff happens. In this instance the ghostly hangman is summoned by reading from a play which was cursed following the accidental death of an actor on the titular gallows (and which was being unwisely restaged in the first film)...

So this one doesn't do anything new or startling, but it does go through the paces pretty competently and far better than the previous one. There are several extended scenes of can't-look-must-look creepiness in which something might be lurking in the darkness, under those sheets, in that closet... which are well staged with the jolts nicely timed in the relative quiet and darkness (though it does prompt the usual question about why people don't turn the lights on in their own homes). And it does at least try and expand its mythology rather than simply repeat the existing plot with new victims, including one returning character from before. Neither terrible nor great, it does its familiar thing decently enough on the multiplex popcorn-jumper level (and works acceptably well on home viewing in a darkened room) and is far from the worst thing you'll ever see.


Saturday, 15 February 2020



Yes, they made a sixth one. If it generally seems to be unavailable or unreleased, that's because it was withdrawn after a court case over the unaccountable use of an onscreen photograph of a genuine missing person from County Wexford (sadly, she was subsequently found dead), and presumably 20th Century Fox just decided to let the movie, and the series, quietly disappear rather than re-edit and reissue (the UK DVD I saw does include the offending photograph). Wrong Turn was never in the front rank of horror franchises anyway and they probably guessed that it had run its course and no-one would really care that much if Wrong Turn 7 and 8 never showed up. In fact the series had oscillated wildly in quality: the original was a grimly nasty Texas Chain Saw Massacre cousin mainly notably for Eliza Dushku's tight vest; Joe Lynch's sequel was equally nasty but funny as well, and Declan O'Brien's followup was actually a bit rubbish and I don't understand why I gave it three stars at the time. O'Brien then returned for Part 4, a surprisingly decent prequel, and stayed on for the cheap and dull Part 5 (with Doug Bradley) which really should have wound the thing up.

In the event Wrong Turn VI: Last Resort is a perfectly decent if mean-spirited and occasionally very nasty slasher with a high body count and a lot of sleazy depravity, as pretty much every female character except the old biddy near the start gets naked. Failed Wall Street investor Danny thinks his luck has changed when he inherits a massive spa hotel deep in the West Virginia woodlands: his girlfriend Katie and their assorted friends (whose money Danny lost in his brief banking career) seem right behind him. But One Eye, Saw Tooth and Three Finger are out there in the woods as well, merrily killing stray bikers and sheriffs...

Incest, cannibalism, dismemberment and decapitation ensue, with the dubious kill highlight probably being the classic firehose-up-the-rectum routine. It's glum and not much fun outside of the gore scenes; some plot strands are left hanging (such as the pervy webcam left in the bedroom in the hope of recording some hot porn action), and Danny has no real reason not to just sell the place and pay off his debts rather than trying to run it himself - the alleged connections to the family he never knew never feels like enough justification. Still, you get a healthy string of vicious death scenes and some horrendous bad taste; certainly not enough to make it a lost classic but there are sufficient grossouts and bad taste laughs for a Friday night; I enjoyed it more than I expected.


Wednesday, 12 February 2020



Following the lead of the 2018 Halloween, which positioned itself as a Forty Years Later sequel to the original Carpenter film and pretended all those sequels with Danielle Harris and Busta Rhymes never happened, this latest instalment of the not-even-a-good-idea-at-the-time horror comedy franchise is actually Leprechaun 2, rewriting genre history to get rid of Leprechaun In The Hood and Leprechaun In Vegas and Leprechaun Goes To Sainsburys. For whatever reason, they couldn't get Jennifer Aniston back, so the film reduces her character to a post-mortem voiceover by somebody else and focusses instead on her daughter going back to the same old house Twenty Five Years Later for very flimsy reasons.

Except it's not the same old house: it's now being put together as a green, carbon-neutral eco-project by local students, with solar panels, a well, goats and specially designed gardens. Unfortunately, said students are the usual teen horror mixture of hateful halfwitted hotties and despicable sex-and-beer fratboy morons, leaving you on the side of the newly resurrected Leprechaun (now played by Linden Porco instead of Warwick Davis who has apparently backed away from horror films now) as he hacks his way through them, nowhere near swiftly enough, looking for his gold...

But despite all the welcome lashings of gore and gloop, and effects work that looks more physical that digital, Leprechaun Returns really isn't very good. The Oirish rhyming couplets gimmick only goes so far, all the characters are either tiresome or actively unpleasant, and the film seems to fall into that horror comedy chasm between graphically horrible and verbally stupid: there seems to be very little cleverness or wit involved. I gave up on the original series ten minutes into the first Hood, and while 2014's Leprechaun: Origins is a substantial step up from Leprechaun 4: In Space, this is several steps further down and absolutely not worth watching. Shot in South Africa.


Sunday, 9 February 2020



Glug, glug, glug... These things always go in cycles so it's hardly surprising that sooner or later someone would resurrect the marine base horror movie: just like Alien except on the sea bed instead of outer space. They could just as easily have been set in moonbases or space cargo freighters: bickering crews, lots of corridors and airlocks, clunky protective suits and flashing warning signs. But the fact is if you're old enough to remember James Cameron's The Abyss, you can probably remember the knockoffs floating in its wake, the most notable being Leviathan and Deep Star Six and thirty years later we really haven't moved on very much.

Underwater is pure monster hokum: seven miles down at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, following some violent unspecified quake, the hull integrity drops to a worrying 70% on a massive gas drilling rig, and a handful of survivors have to make their way across the sea bed, in near-total darkness and with limited oxygen, to another station hopefully equipped with escape pods. But they are not alone down there, and that wasn't a natural earthquake...

Kristen Stewart has close-cropped hair and wears glasses because she's an engineer, but she also gets to wander round in her pants because it's essentially the Ripley role from Alien and we all remember Sigourney Weaver's last-reel strip to her frankly ridiculously tiny skimpies. (Hilariously, the given reason for everyone going down to their undies is that their legs won't fit in the massive pressure suits.) Sadly Underwater doesn't have the depth (sorry) or the complexity of Alien: it's a simple A-to-B trek while avoiding the numerous gribbley monsters and the one absolutely massive gribbley monster, which is allegedly something out of HP Lovecraft.

It looks nice (Bojan Bazelli's photography is terrific), except for the overly if justifiably murky exteriors, but what's really surprising is that there's nothing very surprising about it. It plays pretty much as you'd expect as you're watching it and it doesn't do anything out of its very limited comfort zone. It's also a little difficult to accept the seriousness of the blueprints flashing on screen under the opening credits when they don't even spell "buoyancy" correctly. Still, I have a soft spot for SF base movies, whether Martian or marine, and even when they're not doing anything that startling I'm happy enough when the familiar paces are walked through with reasonable efficiency. But sadly Underwater doesn't have very much more to offer than efficiency.


Thursday, 6 February 2020



Again. Never has the line "this is never going to end" been more pointed. This is now the fourth Grudge film in English, never mind the Japanese Ju-On originals (and the Ring/Grudge crossover Sadako Vs Kayako), and there seems less chance of stopping filmmakers returning to the totally scorched earth of Grudge movies than stopping the unstoppable hauntings themselves.

Actually, this latest stab isn't too bad, and gains some points for ambition even if it doesn't entirely succeed. For a start, it's better than the first two English-language films (which original director Takaski Shimizu helmed, under the production hand of Sam Raimi) and certainly better than the dull third one which went straight to video anyway. It looks great, with a solid cast of grownups playing grownups and no teenage halfwits with their shirts off, and the timeline flits back-and-forth between three separate hauntings in the same Pennsylvania house - a house so notoriously evil that the lead investigator (Demian Bichir) won't even set foot inside it when a horribly mangled body is found in a car wreck... Is 44 Reyburn Drive actually possessed by the now overly familiar Ju-On ghosts from the Tokyo-set prologue?

Much of The Grudge 2020 takes place in the dark, with several people wandering round the house in the middle of the night and mysteriously not switching the lights on. Lin Shaye turns up, which is always good news: post-Insidious she's as much a talisman of the B-horror as Robert Englund or Lance Henriksen (and when is someone going to put all three of them in the same film?). Maybe it's because I saw it at about eleven o'clock at night in my local Vue (and then had to walk home to my dark and empty flat) that I found myself looking away from the screen several times so I didn't see the scary faces that lurched, almost randomly, out of the background behind single mother and rookie cop Andrea Riseborough.

It's not great: after all, it is a Grudge movie and the franchise has already established that the ghosts cannot be stopped, so it is just another series of agreeably messy deaths from a permanent and undefeatable menace, peppered with the expected occasional Boo! popcorn jolts. It's clearly trying to be something a little bit better than that, and trying to do something interesting with a frankly knackered horror idea, with its non-chronological structure and attempts at an atmosphere of morbid dread. It's perfectly decent on its reboot-of-a-remake level of unoriginality, and I quite enjoyed it enough even through the mist of seen-this-all-before.