Friday, 28 August 2020



Another of those instances where two films with the exact same title but absolutely nothing in common show up on the same streaming services. The earlier Haunt is listed on Amazon Prime as a 2015 film but is actually from 2013 (according to the IMDb and the copyright notice at the end of the credits) and is probably the better of the two: a straightforward haunted house movie that does little we haven't seen a hundred times since The Amityville Horror at least, but does it likeably and effectively enough that it gets by.

A family move into a creepy old house, not knowing about the deaths of the three children that occurred there years before, but are soon visited by the expected weird and inexplicable occurrences. (The family makeup of parents, one teenage son and two younger daughters mirrors the previous family.) In one of the bedrooms the son finds an old radio machine for contacting the dead, picking up occasional but clear words through the wall of static... This Haunt is haunted house Boo! horror by numbers, it's never actually chilling and it's not going to scare you very much unless you've never seen a horror movie before. But it's solid enough with a few familiar names in it (Jacki Weaver, Ione Skye) it's decently put together and never boring.

More than can be said for the later Haunt from 2019: there's nothing supernatural about this one. It's set in one of those extreme Halloween funhouse attractions so bizarrely popular in America, in-your-face updates of fairground ghost trains, except that this one's got real blood, real homicidal maniacs and the visitors have to go through much nastier horrors to get out. It's from the original writers of A Quiet Place, but it plays more like Rob Zombie's rubbish 31, with zero motivation for its nameless group of masked psycho killers and a love of the grotesque carnival world that's nowhere near as vivid as Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse.

This Haunt is nastier, more vicious and bloody but not very likeable or entertaining. It does make one of its characters a victim of domestic violence, which might have been more interesting if they hadn't then set up her abusive scumbag boyfriend as a potential hero to redeem him somehow, although it (wisely, and happily) doesn't follow through on this. Maybe if these Halloween haunts were more popular on this side of the Atlantic, I'd have responded a little more to it. But they're not, and I didn't.




Too long even at an hour and forty, indifferently performed, increasingly silly, full of unbelievable characters and a plot that makes no sense. Water is a thunderously terrible vengeful ghost yarn with nothing to commend it but the fantastic architecture of the House Where Something Unspeakable Happened. Once more, the location is doing a lot of the heavy lifting and this one weighs an absolute ton.

Some time after the original owner (top-billed Lorenzo Lamas) had run off with the insurance money after killing his wife, the apparently unsellable house is bought by a B-movie scriptwriter (why isn't he living in Los Angeles?) and his wife, even after the initial Stay Away omen of their toddler daughter falling in the swimming pool within minutes of arriving. Realising immediately that something is wrong, they seek to have the house blessed, but the multi-faith (and multi-tattooed) minister disappears. The daughter, who's apparently aged about seven years in just a few weeks, has a "friend" who lives in the swimming pool... Maybe the ginormous handyman, forever tending to the plants and talking to himself, knows more than he's saying?

No-one seems to have the internet in 2018, but they do have a fax machine; auteur Phillip Penza decorates the hero's office with posters of his own works, Tales From The Crypt: Bordello Of Blood gets namechecked for no good reason, the handyman drops in a couple of random celebrity impressions, the film stops rather than ends, and the hero's London accent is left unexplained. Throw in some frankly unappetising nudity (not wishing to be ungallant, but please put them back on) and a genuinely gratuitous knob shot and the result is the least rewarding Saturday morning I've spent in quite a while.




Another entry in the subgenre of Stupid People Doing Stupid Things For Stupid Reasons, this is a surprisingly unsatisfying monster horror comedy musical, in which you're pretty much on Team Ant from very early on thanks to some profoundly unsympathetic, not to say punchable, leading characters. Throw in the fact that most of them are high on peyote most of the time and unable to go for twelve seconds without shouting and shrieking, and it's honestly tough to rustle up any empathy for them, even if you have a nostalgic love for 90s power ballad bands and/or hard rock ensembles (which I confess I don't).

A failing heavy rock band, unable to decide whether to develop a new style or go back to their musical roots, whose only hit was a cheesy soft rock number twenty years ago and who are now only able to get into small desert festivals, stop off en route to sample the local psychedelic hallucinogens in the hope of musical inspiration. Warned not to harm the smallest living creatures while on the reservation, they nevertheless take out an ant, with the inevitable retribution of larger and larger ants striking back...

Much bellowing and hollering ensue, along with some terrible music (including the end credits song Sideboob inspired by a willowy young hanger-on forever in a bikini and not much else), Asylum-level CGI monster effects, Tom Arnold, Sean Astin and Jake Busey, a (presumably) comedy dwarf, some appalling trousers, a silly ending reminiscent of Mars Attacks! and not enough of the band getting ripped apart by giant ants. Giant Killer Ants (aka Dead Ant) is annoying and grating more than anything else: it's not much fun and I ended up just wishing I was watching either This Is Spinal Tap or It Came From The Desert.




It's a common and familiar response to a rotten movie, to mutter the words "well, there's eighty-odd minutes of my life I'll never get back." This is certainly true, in the sense that the time spent was a poor trade for the artistry or entertainment received. How can one quantify an acceptable reward per hour or per minute, and how can one factor in the thrill of a potential discovery against the disappointment of an actual stinker? It's like the excitement of the lottery results against the wrong balls coming up yet again.

No-one's balls come up with Observance, an entirely unsatisfying zero of a film in which eighty-odd minutes aren't wasted, they're squandered and trashed in the least productive, rewarding or interesting manner, to the extent that sitting through it may well count as an act of self-harm. Shot on the extremely cheap in Sydney, possibly pretending to be somewhere in the USA but clearly not (and to me it looked like it was made in the UK, if only because one of the characters makes herself a mug of Yorkshire Tea), it nominally tells of a hard-up private detective hired to watch a woman in the flat across the road, take pictures and monitor her phone calls. Just keep watching, that's all he has to do for a ridiculously huge payoff. But is there something else going on? Is there someone else in his apartment? Is that a jar of blood on his bedroom shelf? What happened at the beach that he keeps having flashbacks to?

It's got a certain visual style to it, nicely capturing the dank aura of grimness of his flat (set against the clean, warm and comfortable home of his subject) but as any kind of a story or narrative worth following it's got absolutely nothing, with conventional thriller ideas (such as hints of a wider conspiracy with her employers) toyed with and abandoned. Some of it might be in his imagination, memory or nightmares, none of it's interesting beyond atmosphere. If I'd paid a rental fee for it I'd be emailing Amazon Prime furiously demanding my £3.99 back; as it is I want my eighty-six minutes and fourteen seconds back. John Jarratt out of Wolf Creek has a bit part.




A very, very minor horror using a set of very familiar tropes: someone finds an object which turns out to be cursed and starts killing people off; no-one believes them and they then have to run around trying to prove their innocence and defeat the curse, by tracking down the object's previous owner and/or a demonology expert. They then have to race against time to confront the evil and destroy it before it kills a loved one but something goes wrong and it's not really defeated because, hey, franchise potential.

The Jack In The Box is pretty much straight down this line and offers very few surprises, the main one being that the lead character is male when more often than not it's the girl. The other is that it's all shot in Northamptonshire (though the hero is American). Most of it takes place in the underattended museum where the box, which looks not unlike a large Lament Configuration, has suddenly turned up after a house clearance (a minor plot point that actually doesn't make any sense). Our hero, who has a guilty backstory that's giving him insomnia and therefore might be messing with his sense of reality, merrily opens it and releases the evil entity trapped within, a grotesque clown figure seeking to kill six people....

It's spectacularly ordinary: it's not the absolute worst but it's not any good at all, it's just about borderline okay at very, very best. There's a bit of blood and gore here and there, but nothing to trouble the 15 certificate; there are a couple of effective jump scares, and the monster makeup is nicely realised, but it all feels flat and half-hearted and you're left wondering what the point of all that was. There's supposedly a sequel on the way.




The whole point about slasher movies is that there really isn't any depth to them. Homicidal maniac kills a bunch of people, someone fights back, homicidal maniac gets killed, Oh No He Doesn't, roll credits, same time next year. There's really not a huge amount of depth in even the most famous or most successful of them: Halloween and Friday The 13th, Rosemary's Killer and Happy Birthday To Me. (Even the Saw movies' occasional stabs at real Issues, such as heartless health insurance companies, are only there to provide unsympathetic mutilation fodder.) They're very simple variations on very simple tunes that don't require complex and dissonant orchestration.

L.A. Slasher thinks it has a Significant Social Message to which we should pay attention, but it's actually a very simple one: reality show stars are a blight upon society, right?  We wouldn't care - indeed, we'd be delighted - if a serial killer took out the likes of the Kardashians and Paris Hiltons, the vapid and vacuous nothings who permeate so much of modern life. Our masked, white-suited cultural vigilante duly picks off an assortment of heiresses, reality stars, sleazy Hollywood pervs, useless politicians and airhead bimboes, streaming their deaths online backed by a wave of public support from people who regard the victims as easy hate figures and are glad to see the back of them.

There's some blood, but nowhere near enough, Eric Roberts is prominently billed but isn't in it very much (you know something's gone wrong when "not enough Eric Roberts" is a valid complaint), the police are barely visible, the characters are never named and are only referred to by their occupations (which are flashed up in huge neon letters in the way they think Tarantino might), and the only real traces of fun come from the drug dealer double-act of Danny Trejo and Dave Bautista. Weirdly, but appropriately, the ranting maniac himself is never identified; like the semi-finalist of some talent show series three years ago, we neither know nor care who it is and it doesn't matter anyway. Similar to the value-free nonentities at its centre, it's a film that's not despicable enough to get angry about but barely interesting enough to sit and watch as it goes through its uninteresting paces, and in the end is probably best ignored.


Friday, 21 August 2020



A minimal cast, one main location, and a fantastically simple opening set-up that manages to wring a hell of a lot of suspense and escalating tension out of almost nothing, this lean Thai thriller is absolutely worth seeing. Following the wrap of a film shoot in a private swimming pool, one of the art department guys (who also provided the dog) stays behind and lounges in the water, not realising until it's too late that the pool is being drained and, like Adrift (aka Open Water 2), there's no ladder for him to get out. Then his girlfriend dives in but cracks her head on the diving board. And he's left his phone, and his next insulin shot, on the poolside table.

And then the crocodile shows up. The Pool brilliantly cranks up the terror of the situation with a steady stream of "what else can possibly go wrong?", with only two people trapped for several days with a sofa, a roll of duct tape and a CGI croc, and no-one else they can call for help. Granted that the grip slackens a little with a couple of flashbacks to more romantic moments, and the CG monster is a little dodgy sometimes (though obviously wildly superior to the rubbish creatures from the Crocoshark Meets Piranhagator kind of dribbling nonsense), but it's tightened again fairly quickly.

Possibly the most contentious moment of the film isn't to do with the croc at all: there's a third act plot moment involving the dog that is either unforgiveably sickening or appallingly hilarious, and I'm not too ashamed to say that I gasped in disbelief and then laughed like the drain at the bottom of the pool itself. Others may find that moment a bad taste step too far. That aside, along with the climactic drowning sequence which milks the CPR/kiss of life routine to excess, enjoy.




An RV full of bickering halfwitted teens gets stuck in the desert when the van's battery runs flat: after a painful opening few reels of arguing and booze-fuelled humping they discover that they're not alone out there: there's some kind of nocturnal monster roaming the scrubland and bloodily ripping apart everyone it meets. Fortunately they've picked up a couple of hitch-hikers who happen to be seasoned travellers and one is an expert on wildlife...

Dead Stop is not terribly exciting to start with: no-one cares about the teenies' romantic entanglements and sexual infidelities, and much of the film is shot in big close-up and in the dark, which can get a little annoying after a while. Fortunately when the monster thing turns up, mostly unseen apart from glimpses (we get more red-tinted POV creature vision than we do clear sight of it), it livens up with a bit more blood sploshed around than usual, and it's not afraid to kill off the ones you thought would make it.

Not a must-see by any stretch, and you won't give a hoot about why she slept with this guy when she loves that guy, or why that other woman came on to one of them (while he was urinating), but it has its occasional nasty moments and a baffling ending. It carries a copyright date of 2016, but there's been a clip on YouTube from late 2011 when it was playing a few American festivals.


Wednesday, 19 August 2020



A cheerfully trashy low-budgeter with a surprisingly generous dollop of sex and blood, this almost feels like the cheapo ripoff response to the more high profile (if strangely underdistributed) Velvet Buzzsaw: the sort of thing Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski would come up with three days after watching it. Strip out the satire on art pretensions, fill it with people you've never heard of and a couple of minor name guest stars (Tara Reid, Richard Grieco), and ramp up the sleaze, gore and nudity. The result is hardly a classic, but it's good nasty fun with an almost howlingly silly last act to commend it.

Art Of The Dead (was someone hoping casual shoppers might confuse it with Art Of The Deal?) centres around a set of seven animal paintings dating from the 1890s and illustrating each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Mystery surrounds the original artist Dorian Wilde (a clunking choice of name, though not as clunking as his occasional appearances as a pantomime Englishman), and everyone who has ever owned them ended up dead....

It's rubbish, obviously, but the graphic bloodshed and the pile-up of idiocies in the final reels make it much more enjoyable and entertaining as a Friday night schlocker than it should, or could, have been. And the paintings themselves are pretty impressive as well.


Saturday, 8 August 2020



The zombie movie has long since passed. Unless you're George Romero (and, let's be honest, you're not), there's now very little use for the ambulant undead outside of harmless knockabout (Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, Dance Of The Dead), small-scale serious dramas (Maggie, The Cured), the rom-zom-com (Warm Bodies, Life After Beth) and the odd videogame gorefest (Dead Rising, Resident Evil). Running or shuffling, they're not scary any more, but that's not to say they can't still be the source of grossout fun in a silly, gory way as this Balkan-set Belgian comedy shows.

Detailing the allegedly hilarious antics of the sleazy staff and bemused patients at an Eastern European plastic surgery clinic when the first zombie is inadvertently let loose, Yummy is amusing enough but, in the absence of anything else to do, sometimes stumbles over the bad taste line. Centering around a massively-breasted young woman who wants to be reduced from a G-cup to a mere B (she can't run and it gives her backache) and her hapless boyfriend who's immediately suspicious of the dubious medical practices, it swiftly sets off its flesh-eating ghoul contagion to bring us some grisly set-pieces (including a scene of escalating penis violence which is probably the most memorable sequence in the film), the now-mandatory downbeat ending and not much else.

The film, much like its zombie hordes, isn't scary or creepy and doesn't even make you jump. It's more interested in the blood and grue, which it delivers efficiently enough. But I do miss the idea of taking the zombs seriously, either as a metaphor for some social observation or as a simple scary monster, and even by the standards of the Resident Evil series, the reasons for the living dead's existence are pretty silly. There's still some grisly fun to be had with Yummy, but there's not much that's new or different. A recent addition to Shudder.