Friday, 27 November 2020



What could be better for a horror movie fan than a horror movie that's set in a haunted cinema? And the answer is: pretty much anything if this gorefree borefest is the best that's on offer. For all the ideas of ghosts and restless spirits bent on revenge it's a dull, uneventful and frankly uninteresting affair that has a jaw-dropping twist at the end that renders the whole movie a cheat, and which makes no sense anyway.

Nominally it's a horror film in which a movie director fears she may be haunted by the ghost of an actress who died on her set and now haunts the cinema in which the scene was shot, tying in to her childhood nightmares of being trapped in a haunted cinema. At a private memorial screening of the late star's blooper reel (yes, really), the producers, actors and boyfriends wander off and are trapped in lifts, locked in the rest room or simply sit around in other auditoria, leaving the director alone... Is the cinema really haunted? Or has everything been staged? Is it something to do with an imminent inheritance? Or is it all down to two of the actresses vying for the lead role in her next film?

Skip this paragraph if you really don't want to know - it's none of the above! It's not a haunted cinema at all, there is no ghost, and it's all a scam to exorcise her guilt over the actress' death. In a startling reversal, the heroine is being gaslit from start to finish as part of an elaborate scheme to drive her to sanity. Why then do the conspirators continue to act their roles in the charade when she's not around? Why indeed would someone with a longstanding dread of scary cinemas shoot a horror film in one and then sit there alone watching footage of the actress whose death she blames herself for and who she believes is out to get her from beyond the grave?

Mercifully, The Haunted Cinema has received no UK distribution, and watching it online dubbed into Russian (apparently by only two voiceover artists, male and female) with the original Chinese audio underneath is far from ideal. But it's the only way you can watch it if you want English subtitles - and they're not even very good subtitles, badly translated or transliterated and frequently whizzing by too fast to decipher. Even the "horror" sequences are barely adequate and the rest of it is just dull. To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with it if it hadn't been for the legitimate UK availability of The Haunted Cinema 2 (it doesn't look to be in any way connected, but it does appear to be a proper horror film) and rather wish I hadn't wasted the evening on it. Made in 2014.


Sunday, 15 November 2020



Anthony Waller is a name that's rather dropped off the radar after his first film, the underseen thriller Mute Witness, and the not-the-worst-thing-you've-ever-seen An American Werewolf In Paris, a sequel no-one ever really asked for to a film that wasn't as good as The Howling anyway. And this 2009 horror movie is his most recent feature film (according to the IMDb): he's not exactly prolific.

A frustrating and in the end unsuccessful film, this has some nice ideas and visual touches and a terrific central location, but sadly it does very little with them. After the entire crew of a drilling installation in the Sahara disappear, security officer Jackman (Adrian Paul, from the Highlander TV series) drives out there to find it (sorry) deserted except for scientist JC (Kate Nauta, probably best known for her outrageous sexy dental nurse/murderous henchwoman turn in The Transporter 2). What happened to everyone else? Why isn't JC on the personnel lists? What did the drilling crew find Nine Miles Down? Did they actually break through the roof of Hell itself and record the screams of the eternally damned - and is JC actually Lucifer? Or is it all a hallucination, and is Jackman trapped in his own psychological Hell after the deaths of his wife and children?

The idea of genuinely finding Hell is a great one but unexplored beyond listening to an admittedly creepy audio file (though any visual depiction of Hell would inevitably disappoint). Most of the drama itself is a two-hander centred around Jackman's guilt traumas, which isn't that interesting and ends up with him believing his late wife is somehow there with him at a Saharan drill site. And JC is annoying: alternating between hard-nosed we've-got-to-get-out-of-here survivalism, casual indifference to the loss of all her colleagues, and minxing sex-tease. (Why on Earth she brought a backless cocktail dress to the middle of the desert isn't explained, unless she's also part of his fevered imagination.)

The bottom line is that Nine Miles Down isn't very good, despite a couple of nice moments (the cesspit is probably the highlight, and how many films can you say that about?); it has a terrific location but no real atmosphere about it, and it never gets to cut loose with actual horror like, say, Carpenter's The Thing, instead focussing on the psychological. It's not awful, but it's ultimately not much more than a Friday night time-passer. A multi-national co-production between the UK, the USA, Australia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Hungary, and currently available on Amazon Prime.




Even as a Doctor Who fan old enough to remember seeing a lot of Classic Who (Tom Baker's second year onwards) on its original, and in many cases only, transmission, I have to acknowledge that there came a point when the show came badly off the rails, severely enough for me to stop watching it. Long after they ditched the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme music in favour of some Bontempi atrocity at the start of Tom's last run, and the unspeakable horrors of the Adric Era, I simply wandered off and thus have only the vaguest of memories of the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy seasons. Nonetheless, I have some weird affection for those latter years, and I even remember tuning into an episode of The Bill at some point simply because McCoy was in it (though even he couldn't enthuse me for the Hobbit films). In fact McCoy has been the main reason I ended up slogging through a couple of Richard Driscoll abominations - Conjuring: The Book Of The Dead (a film so slapdash they pronounce Necronomicon as Necromonicon not once but twice!) and the all-star-3D-comedy-western-musical-horror-spoof Eldorado (even if most of his appearance as a comedy neo-Nazi never made it to the final version).

Happily, if unsurprisingly, The Owners is leagues better: a tense if nasty 90s-set thriller that starts as a home invasion movie and ends with a genuinely unexpected but satisfying twist. Three hopeless idiots, along with the girlfriend of one of them (and the creepy crush object of another), break into local elderly doctor McCoy's house to crack the safe. But they can only trash the house before the owners return, and even under threat of extreme violence McCoy and Rita Tushingham (!) repeatedly refuse to give them the combination... Surely it can't just be a huge pile of cash they're protecting?

It's hard to feel any empathy when the bungling burglars' masterplan starts falling apart and the oldies get the upper hand over them, as they're led by an instantly despicable wannabe gangster and sociopath with a tedious fondness for the C-word, while the other two, despite their varying affections for Maisie Williams, are too weak and cowardly to stand up to him. Once two of the idiots are disposed of and the other two, less hateful, are trapped in the house, gassed and drugged, it teeters on the edge of being a bit silly, but the final moments are cruel yet satisfyingly horrible.

It's not a bad film by any means, though it's very hard to like in its early stretches, with sweary Gary being particularly tiresome and frankly I was glad when he got killed. Fortunately it does get better as it goes on, though the sudden change in aspect ratio in the third act is distracting (to the extent that I wondered whether it was deliberate and scrolled through all the ratio options on my TV). Watchable enough, if nasty in places, while it's on, but I've no desire to ever watch it again.