Friday, 31 July 2020



One of the great things about horror films is their international scope. There's a mainstream audience for horror from Spain, Mexico, Brazil or South Korea when other genres (political drama, romantic comedy, social commentary) from the same countries are pigeonholed as World Cinema or Arthouse. Horror audiences seem to be more adventurous in that regard and will happily watch something from Indonesia or Turkey, when fans of romantic comedies will usually (not always, but more often) stick to English language and, very occasionally, French.

As a genre fan, I'm always happy to tick another country off the list - I'm still hoping that one day we'll get a werewolf movie or something from Malawi - and this time around it's Egypt. (Frank Agrama's unremarkable Dawn Of The Mummy was an American film.) 122 isn't an outright horror film, but it's a damn good B-thriller that fits into the genre as much as something like Wes Craven's Red Eye does. Nasr, shoe shop assistant and general loser, agrees to one last job as courier for a drug deal so he can afford to marry his (hearing-impaired) girlfriend. But there's a car smash and both of them end up in a strangely underpopulated hospital full of unhelpful nurses and sinister doctors...

For a while 122 (the Egyptian equivalent of 999 in the UK or 911 in the States) looks to be one of those "they're actually dead and don't realise it yet" movies, but it soon becomes clear that they're actually running a criminal scheme in the basement. If you can accept that [1] an allegedly recently built hospital doesn't have a proper mortuary and [2] Nasr can lie on an autopsy table for four hours without any of the doctors noticing that he's not dead, then it's actually quite fun in a runaround kind of way, with a smattering of Die Hard-ish clambering about in lift shafts and treading barefoot on sharp objects. It's not a great movie, but it's a fun and enjoyable one. A recent addition to Netflix.


Thursday, 30 July 2020



The worst response you can have to a film isn't loving or hating it, it's "meh". It's the absence of a response, the mixing of two chemicals that simply don't react with each other; the only thing you're responding to is simply that it exists. This is an indifferent shrug, it's the melody line to Chopsticks, tepid tap water. Beige on film with a 12A certificate, a confirmation email typed in plain Arial. The only response to it is "meh".

Mary: Loss Of Soul is listed on Prime as The Haunting Of Mary, which was already a bit of a generic title but at least it had a suggestion of horror about it. In reality it's a very slightly supernatural drama about a happy teen who experienced something in the woods one night that was so terrifying she lost not only her memory of the event but chunks of her soul, turning her into a sulky, miserable moper with no enthusiasm or joy. What could it have been? Fortunately there's a friendly Irish Wiccan type on hand...

Bland and unremarkable to the extent it could probably play on Channel 5 on a Sunday afternoon (its natural home, given its style-free TV look), there's literally nothing of interest about this film. It's not offensive, it's not terrible, it's not badly made, it's just... it's just there. It's just a whole load of meh. Meh.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020



Yes, that is the correct spelling: it's a pun based on the fact that the serial killer in this utterly joyless, borderline amateur brain-damaged (and brain-damaging) apology for a film wears a panda mask when out slashing. It's pretty much the cleverest joke in the whole enterprise: a slasher comedy that's supposedly aimed at adults (strippers, drugs, swearing, murders) but saddled with a level of wit that's either grotesquely sexist sex references or puns that late period Carry On films and Lidl Christmas crackers would be ashamed to utter.

Pandamonium is allegedly set in a law firm where some of the finest legal minds in the business are competing for a promotion, though it's actually a cross between an unmanned kindergarten and a coke-fuelled chimps' tea party. The guys are a bunch of drooling sex-obsessed Cro-Magnon misogynists who've clearly never actually touched a woman before, and react to what the script laughably describe as "the best strippers that money can buy" (and by "money" they clearly mean "fifteen quid and a bus fare home afterwards") in a manner that makes Danny Dyer look like Gandhi; even more remarkable given that the strippers don't even take their dresses off. And there's the mad killer in the panda mask, bumping everyone off in uninteresting and unimaginative ways except the cute new office junior...

It's stupid, it's boring, it's barely professional, it's atrociously written, it's abominably acted, and everyone, absolutely everyone involved needs to take a long hard look deep into their souls and accept responsibility for what they've done. I don't care if you only made the sandwiches or supplied a few props: you did this. You did this and you should be bloody well ashamed of yourselves. This isn't a film, it's a war crime. Terrifyingly, it concludes with a suggestion of a sequel called Slasher House, which is exactly the kind of thing that happens if you don't clamp down on these things right at the start.


Sunday, 26 July 2020



A double-bill of third-grade grot from the early years of cinematic British smut, this DVD captures for posterity not one but two opportunities to be bludgeoned into a stupefied submission, not just by the thundering uneroticism but a level of technical shoddiness you'd baulk at in someone's home movies. Whatever historical significance they might have had in the battle between the dirty raincoat brigade and the legions of decency, is outweighed very quickly by the suffocating boredom.

There's little doubt that Secrets Of A Windmill Girl is the better of the two: it has some vague semblance of narrative, it has a handful of recognisable faces (Pauline Collins, Martin Jarvis, Howard Marion Crawford), and it has a few bits of background footage of sixties Soho and Berwick Street. Beginning with a fatal car smash, it tells of the dead girl's life as a Windmill Girl, taking part in elaborately choreographed but sexually tame revues, until the theatre closes against competition from crass, soulless strip clubs offering full nudity. Much of this is padded out to feature length with full dance numbers from the Windmill stage (none of which feature the two female stars - Collins and April Wilding run up and down the backstage stairs in the skimpy costumes a lot, but are never seen on the stage), a magic act, and an endless comedy song of the sort Benny Hill used to churn out by the dozen but nowhere near as good: Hill, Jake Thackray, Mitch Benn and Richard Stilgoe can rest very easy.

It's also no fun: more a depressing rags-to-the-gutter saga of the seedy, sordid side of Soho behind the glitz and glamour than an actual entertainment, and the needle barely flickers on the titillation meter (it has a 15 certificate, downgraded from the 1966 cinema X). Were those audiences that starved of phwooar that this dross sufficed and satisfied? Were they that desperate to see a brief glimpse of buttocks or a subliminal flash of nipple that sitting through an hour of miserable stodge was accepted as a price worth paying?

The tit to tat ratio is noticeably higher in Naked - As Nature Intended, made five years earlier yet, despite having much more nudity in it, was only given an A certificate. That was because it's a serious documentary about naturism and nudist camps and in no way is it salacious or pornographic, honest, officer. It barely scrapes in as a feature film at fifty nine and a half minutes, about two thirds of which is nothing but home movie footage from day trips to Stonehenge and Tintagel and the whole thing slathered with British Light Classical from the stock music libraries. Confronted by this deathly combo of tedium and travelogue, few people would surely have felt compelled to strip off and play table tennis, but even fewer would, even more surely, have felt compelled to trek down for the weekend to what's left of King Arthur's alleged castle.

Granted, forty minutes in and you do get some boobs and bums (anything else is covered up by a towel or a carrier bag or the edge of the frame) and that was the abject object of the exercise: so you could look at naked women without being labelled a pervert. Nowadays this is more of a quaint nostalgia item, from the days when this was as racy as filth ever got. Its entertainment quota is absolute nil, its occasional stabs at silent slapstick comedy are merely baffling, and only as a mild curiosity and a brief footnote in film censorship history does it have the slightest scrap of significance.


Sunday, 12 July 2020


The end is in sight, the finish line is in sight. Just five more films to go... Can there be some brilliance today please?

Z (Shudder) ***

A pretty good horror about children's imaginary friends (which in this case aren't imaginary, and they're far more malevolent entities than Drop Dead Fred), this is genuinely creepy and unsettling in places and has a fabulously grim ending. And it's always nice to see Stephen McHattie turn up in a cameo. Not a classic but well worth seeing.

Here Alone (Netflix) ***

Minimal, miserable zombie pandemic drama centred on one woman permanently camped in the drabbest of woodlands, sleeping in her car but never driving away; instead scavenging for berries, trapping animals, and occasionally breaking into houses in the area for their remaining tinned food supply. Then two other survivors show up... More of a character drama than a horror film, building up to the reveal of her Big Secret that's psychologically trapped her in the woods all this time; it's actually quite well done and well played but there's no levity or lightness to it.

When Angels Sleep (Netflix) ***

Dark Spanish thriller starting from a very simple idea: a man needs to get home to his daughter's birthday party but things increasingly get in the way. He thinks he's run a woman down, there's a witness he needs to deal with, and the police are on his trail because they'd already pulled him over that evening for erratic driving. It gets a little sour towards the end, but for much of the time it's involving and entertaining.

Trick (Netflix) ****

Probably my favourite of the weekend, this is an exceptionally bloody and violent slasher with a high body count and some fun set-piece kills. Every Halloween a small town is plagued with a vicious murder spree, apparently by the same masked killer (whose body was never found after being shot repeatedly by the police and falling from a high hospital window). This year they think they've got "Trick" pinned down at the scene of his first spree, but no-one is taking the threat seriously, and everyone is masked (some in homage to Trick himself) so the killer could be absolutely anybody in the scary maze or the late night horror movie screenings... Some nice twists, a decent cast (Tom Atkins, Omar Epps) and an ending hinting at a sequel which in this case wouldn't be unwelcome, this is nasty but highly enjoyable. Recommended.

Fractured (Netflix) ***

A thriller with an either-or plot that eventually has to decide between two fairly obvious alternatives, though it does keep you guessing for a while. After his daughter has a fall on a building site, Ray (Sam Worthington) takes her to a hospital only to find that the hospital suddenly has no trace of her and no evidence that she was even admitted. Are they running an illegal organ-harvesting scheme in the basement, or is his family a figment of his deranged imagination and they were never there? To be honest, either option would have been a damp squib, but while it's playing both of them it's solid enough.

So... overall a very mixed bag. Two pretty good hits (Trick and Tau), two comprehensive duds (Black Mountain and They Look Like People), a smattering of just about okay and perfectly alright. Will be doing another one in a couple of weeks...

Saturday, 11 July 2020


This is usually the point at which I hit The Wall - like a marathon runner (presumably; obviously I wouldn't know from direct experience) when it suddenly catches up with you and you think you can't go on any more. Happens every year at FrightFest even though I know there are only ten films left, we're past the halfway point and freewheeling downhill from here. Even so, as I plug in the firestick again I'm starting to have to make the effort...

Prey (Prime) **

Matinee fun as a bunch of halfwits journed out into the jungles of Panama to visit a waterfall and end up being eaten by a chupacabra beast of local legend. Hard to sympathise with any of them: not only were they told there was a monster out there but they'd accessed found-footage clips on YouTube of the previous bunch of imbeciles who ignored all the warnings. The guys are an especially hateful selection of hard-drinking yahoos hanging around with their shirts off and being dicks to their girlfriends. Still, you do get the satisfaction of seeing them get killed, and the monster's effective enough when it's (mostly) barely glimpsed.

Revenge Of The Pontianak (Netflix) **

Visually lush but ho-hum horror from Singapore/Malaysia: if a pregnanat woman is buried without the full funeral rites, she will come back as the titular pontianak, a kind of vengeful demon. In this instance she's a spurned fiancee deemed an unsuitable match, and the errant son is forced to dispose of her when she's about to give birth... Colourful and watchable, and certainly well done, but it never really clicked with me.

The Inhabitants (Prime) *

Yet another low-rent ho-hum seen-this-all-before horror cheapie in which a couple move into an old B+B, not knowing that it's haunted. Very flat, very unremarkable, occasionally silly, only mildly creepy, barely worth the effort.

They Look Like People (Prime) *

Given that it was a FrightFest title, this was the big disappointment of the weekend: a mostly three-hander between people I couldn't possibly be less interested in. Is there a shapeshifter alien invasion imminent? Is our hero's firlfriend one of them? Can his best friend save him, even if it means duct-taping him to a chair in the basement? Do I give a damn? Honestly, I felt like walking out. I didn't believe in any of them, didn't believe anything that happens, couldn't wait for it to be over. More seriously, and personally more worryingly, I honestly cant even bothered to work out why.

Danur (Netflix) **

Aka Danur: I Can See Ghosts, this is yet another Indonesian ghost story, no better or worse than any of the others and not doing anything particularly radical. This one has a flavour of Insidious about it, with a young child lured into a netherworld by demonic entities. It's perfectly watchable, perhaps less stylish than others of a similar ilk, and a whole bunch of absolutely nothing special.

Ryde (Prime) **

A psycho takes the identity of a Ryde driver (which is absolutely not Uber) and kills a bunch of horrible people in a cheap homicidal maniac thriller. Viciously violent in places, enough to get an 18 if anyone bothered to officially submit it; tackily and sleazily entertaining enough as late-night slasher trash. In the event, it pretty much ended as the best film of the day and it really shouldn't.

A poor day all round, then - just one day left...

Monday, 6 July 2020


Six films today...

Malevolence 3: Killer (Prime) ***

If at all possible, start the day with a nasty low-budget slasher movie. This is (obviously) the third in the grimy, unglossy Malevolence series, in which hulking killer Martin Bristol (apparently wearing one of Michael Myers' old boiler suits) wordlessly offs a series of teens while an FBI agent follows the trail of corpses. Steven Mena, creator of the trilogy, wrote, directed, produced, scored, edited and photographed; Adrienne Barbeau shows up as the killer's grandmother. It's fairly relentless, enjoyably bloody, and a step up from the second one (Bereavement); it's no unheralded classic that needs championing, but I had enough fun with it.

The Nightshifter (Shudder) ***

Agreeable Brazilian horror with a few traces of morbid comedy, in which a meek morgue attendant uses his gift of speaking with the dead bodies that arrive on his slab, to engineer the gangland execution of a local baker who's been schtupping his wife. But his wife gets killed as well and she's not happy about it... Pretty good stuff, with a nicely horrible exhumation scene and a severed (talking) head in a glass jar. Enjoyed it.

Before I Wake (Netflix) ***

Mike Flanagan has built up a solid and stylish back catalogue, from Hush and Oculus to Doctor Sleep and Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Nestling in the middle of those is Before I Wake, in which Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane adopt an orphaned boy (Jacob Tremblay), only to discover that his dreams come to life. To begin with they're benign and sweet - he has a thing about butterflies - but then he dreams about the couple's deceased son, and suffers from night terrors featuring the demonic Canker Man. Well worth catching, with some welcome creepy imagery.

Await Further Instructions (Netflix) **

The first major disappointment of the weekend. Starting with the awkwardness of an extended family Christmas (already soured by tiresome and uncomfortable comedy racism that didn't need to be there), it switches gears when they discover the house is sealed and increasingly sinister instructions are flashed onto the TV screen. Torture, violence and a twisted of the already twisted family dynamics ensue, before a genuinely mind-boggling and spectacular apocalypse finale. But by that point I'd lost interest: I struggled to get (and stay) involved, with some of the characters' behaviour feeling completely implausible as it went on.

The 9th Precinct (Netflix) ***

Far Eastern horror comedy has come a long way since the nonsensical knockabout likes of the Mr Vampire films and Witch From Nepal. This is more of a riff on Men In Black and R.I.P.D., in which a detective with the ability to see ghosts ends up in a special police precinct tasked with helping ghosts leave the living world peacefully, but coming up against a rich businesswoman planning an occult ritual... It's silly and harmless and it's not really very scary, but it's fun in a dumb Saturday night way and I enjoyed it enough.

Dead Rising: Endgame (Prime) **

Fairly colourless but bloody zombie shenanigans based on a video game. The first one (Dead Rising: Watchtower) was fun enough but this is no more than more of the same old schlock, indifferently done but with enough blood and undeath to get by; Billy Zane is a mad scientist, Dennis Haysbert is an evil general. I didn't fall asleep.

Day Four beckons....

Thursday, 2 July 2020


An interesting mix today...

Bedeviled (Netflix) **

Harmless teenkill nonsense in a similar vein to last year's Countdown (though this one was made back in 2016): in the wake of one of their friend's suicide, an agreeably diverse group of teenagers download a mysterious AI app that's actually some kind of netherworld demon which promptly syncs up with all their social media and confronts them with their worst fears until they kill themselves. Some of their fears are unusual: a battered childhood teddy, a creepy old woman from an old photograph; though one is lumbered with clowns (which are creepy, sure, but we've seen creepy clowns before and the nod to It is hammered home with a red balloon). It's disposable, unremarkable, not terrible but nowhere near essential viewing.

The Doll 2 (Netflix) ***

Rocky Soraya has six Indonesian horror films on Netflix and three of them are the Doll franchise: the most unfriendly-looking dolls imaginable possessed by the restless spirits of the dead children who once owned them. Though this begins by tying up the last loose ends from the first film, it then cuts to a completely different possessed doll terrorising a new family after the young daughter died in a car smash. It's a bit long (nearly two hours) but generally pretty entertaining and has a couple of nice twists to it. And I'll probably include the third one in a future binge.

Freaks (Netflix) ***

This played at both the London and Glasgow FrightFests last year but I didn't get to see it; a shame, especially considering what I ended up seeing against it. A young girl is kept locked in her home by her overprotective father (Emile Hirsch), supposedly to protect her from the bad people who would do her harm but there's much more to it than that, with echoes of (of all things) some of the X-Men movies. Bruce Dern is a possibly creepy ice-cream seller always just outside the front door. Well worth a look, as it veers off into surprising and unexpected directions.

The Mermaid: Lake Of The Dead (Prime) ***

Agreeable Russian fantasy horror in which a young man meets a mermaid - not the cute and romantic Daryl Hannah type, but a figure of demonic folklore that, having seduced its (her?) prey, then torments him when he rejects it (her) in favour of his human girlfriend. As usual in these things, they have to find out who she is and how to defeat her. It's generally pretty decent, unusual enough to stand out a little and enjoyable enough.

Tau (Netflix) ****

Petty thief Maika Monroe is abducted one night and wakes up in a basement with an implant surgically inserted into her neck; she's resourceful enough to escape but then finds herself in the fortress home of a bastard tech zillionaire (Ed Skrein), tasked with improving the thinking process of his revolutionary AI system named Tau (voiced by Gary Oldman), which would actually make it more human than he is. Essentially a three-hander that mostly takes place in one of those gloriously ridiculous superhouses for the absurdly wealthy; it's involving, exciting in its final reel and looks great. A more than decent conclusion to Day Two and the best film of the weekend so far.

Next up - Day Three...

Wednesday, 1 July 2020


Back in May I decided to do a FrightFest at home. Obviously it's nothing like a real FrightFest: no guests, no giveaways, no goodie bags. Instead it was a five-day horror movie binge from whatever Netflix had to offer, timed and scheduled with suitable meal breaks and sensible finish times, a balance of (as far as I could tell from quickly scanning the trailers) decent quality genre movies, a scattering of international titles and nothing too scary last thing at night. Everything went off with only minor glitches - one film dropped because it turned out to be found footage, one dropped because I'd already seen it - and even though some of the films were a bit rubbish I decided that overall it was enough of a success to warrant doing it again a few weeks later.

So I plunged into the murky backwaters of Netflix, Free Prime and Shudder and sadly it was nowhere near as good. The mistakes were obvious - principally there were too many films that I panicked into shoving into the lineup because they were about to drop off the services (at least one of them has now been added again) when I should have just let them go.

Nevertheless, I persisted. And this time it was...well, not great, but certainly better, with enough films that were scarcely classics but perfectly alright, and a couple of rather good ones to offset the inevitable stinkers. Not that Day One got off to the best of starts....

Black Mountain (Prime) *

Dear God! No really, it's a film in which a bunch of bearded guys at a snowbound archaeology dig are menaced by a deer deity when they uncover an ancient structure. Boring to look at, the guys mostly look the same (several times I wondered, "isn't he dead already?"), it's impossible to care very much, and the film can't survive the inevitable comparisons with The Thing. Aka Black Mountain Side, aka Get This Tripe Off My Screen.

The Warning (Netflix) ***

Mysterious, apparently random shootings at a gas station and 24-hour convenience store take place on the same date, in assorted years through the last century, when there are only five people there of specific ages; a man whose best friend was just shot at in that same store discovers a pattern in the numbers, and works out when the next killing will take place - but can he warn the next victim? Enjoyable and engrossing Spanish thriller, if a touch implausible, with a few nice twists.

Widow's Walk (Prime) ***

Low-key and pleasantly understated British ghost story telling of a war widow and her young son spending time at a small cottage on the cold and windblown Suffolk coast where a tragedy occurred during the Second World War. Thankfully resisting the temptation to accompany every ghostly appearance with a crashing dischord, it's a welcome change from the usual loud noises and Boo! jump scares. With Virginia McKenna as the elderly neighbour. Well worth a look.

Bulbbul (Netflix) ***

A brand new addition to the streaming services, this is an Indian folklore fantasy mixed with a (not very difficult) whodunnit and shot in ravishingly exaggerated colours. Late 19th Century Bengal: who or what is the mysterious demon witch creature (with its feet turned backwards) committing bloody murders in the forest? It's gorgeous to look at, occasionally quite grisly and pretty enjoyable.

Hellmington (Prime) **

I like to end these days with something undemanding, something light to go to bed on, and this certainly isn't heavy or confrontational. Actually it's a fairly average and unremarkable investigative thriller, in which a city cop returns to her home town for her father's funeral and gets involved in the cold case disappearance of her high school friend. Has it anything to do with a religious sect that seems to worship the number 9? It's mostly pretty bog-standard fare, but the presence of the great Michael Ironside does lift things a little.

Mostly more or less okay so far. But Day Two looms...