Tuesday, 20 November 2018
Low is a short horror film that clocks in at just under 6 minutes. This features no dialogue, and just the one strangely likeable character but it tells a concise little story well. It was the first film that was directed and written by Jon Salmon who is best known for his cinematography work.
An electrician (Russ Kingston - He's a Bleeder) is down in the basement of a library fixing a fuse box, glancing at his work diary he is dismayed to realise that except for a day off for his birthday he is working all the way up to and including Christmas. Hearing a strange noise he goes off to investigate...
For the first four minutes this steadily increased in tension with things feeling more and more suspenseful as the electrician investigates the odd sound. I was expecting a jump scare like zinger but instead it takes a more positive bend. I really liked how this started and ended, showing the electrician in a lift descending and ascending but tiny with most the screen being black. Effects are kept to a minimum with sound used to indicate what is going on.
I thought Kingston was great here for a role that required no dialogue, I think maybe I identified with him being overworked so was on his side. The real moral here is that perhaps there is more to life than work with the horror aspect maybe being an analogy for living life to work rather than living life to live. I enjoyed the pacing of this with my only complaint being a moment of protracted darkness that lingered a little too long. Low is free to view online so I will include it below.
Sunday, 18 November 2018
Luciferina is an Argentinian horror film that deals with demonic possession. This sub genre is one of my favourites and so I was pleased when this started and it looked to be a movie that had a lot of care and attention, as well as quality put into it. The question is, could this sustain the atmosphere it created throughout the entire 111 minute run time?
Natalia (Sofia Del Tuffo) is a 19 year old novice nun who one day receives the news that her mother has died, and that her father is seriously ill. Reluctantly she returns to her troubled childhood home where she learns her mother attacked her father before killing herself. She also discovers her sister Angela (Malena Sanchez) is not in a good place, bitter at Natalia for leaving her alone, and with an abusive boyfriend she is convinced that their home has an evil force in it that has cursed their family. She tells her sister that herself and some friends from college are planning a trip to a remote jungle island where they are going to take ayahuasca (a sacred psychoactive plant) in order to be able to cleanse and identify this evil. Worried about Angela's safety Natalia decides to go along as well, but on the island things take a change for the nightmarish when a demon is revealed...
This was so well made and so effective that I felt for sure this was going to be a horror I loved, and for the first three quarters I really did think this was brilliant. There is a Jacob's Ladder style feeling of a waking nightmare about this that builds up a lot of atmosphere. From the moment Natalia returns home things seem off kilter. She has dreams of a twisted woman in white, she has the bizarre incident with her parents to cope with, and the hate from her sister. The trip to the island I knew would lead to bad things happening, showing their boat ride there builds up the isolation of the place. It is then given interesting backstory right away that goes in tandem with the beautiful and creepy ruins of churches and statues that litter the tree filled lonely place. The whole lead up to the ayahuasca trip was so well done. The characters while Spanish in their language really seemed intense and believable, the bad vibes are very evident and really not the best mindset to be taking drugs with. There was just a feeling of menace and danger.
Thursday, 15 November 2018
Axemas is a short 25 minute slasher that takes place entirely in a storage facility, it is actually the second horror I have seen set in such a place, Storage 24 being the other one. With a reduced run time to a feature length slasher this cuts down to the chase and is all the better for it. While I had a couple of issues with aspects of this it was fun with some nice kills and a decent enough plot.
David (Dillon Weishuhn) works at a storage facility and in the run up to Christmas has decided to hold an illicit party with his girlfriend Sarah (Ashley Campbell) and their friends at the place. The entry shutter automatically closes from 11pm till morning so they have the whole night to do what they want there. Unfortunately for them they are not alone, an axe wielding maniac wearing a Santa costume is also locked in with them, and he has violence on his mind...
This was quite fun with the trimmed down time really helping this get to the action. The characters are all forgettable with none of them really getting any screen time to show what sort of characters they have. Despite that there are twists along the way, and the emergence of the traditional 'final girl'. The killer himself (John E Seymore) goes down the well trodden route of being a wise cracking killer and I think his jokes may even make Freddy Krueger wince! I'm a fan of bad puns but the ones here are almost too much, though they still got a chuckle along with eye rolling. I can't really give many away as it is a bit of a spoiler but as an example "Welcome to the North Pole!" he says at one point after spearing a character with a metal pole. The jokes are terrible but kinda fun. The actors are all fine but occasionally their lines came out a bit wooden, or without much confidence to them. Campbell was the best here but in terms of her character it was all over the place, one moment traumatised and screaming, the next back to empowerment and coldness.
The location is a series of steel lined corridors so was hard to give much identity to, but this allowed some nice chase scenes, and one part involving a staircase had a cool split screen, showing the killer on one side heading towards a victim, and the other side showing the victim with the killer in the distance. This was a really nice effect and I wish more of this style of filmmaking had been done. The special effects work in that trashy cheap slasher way, plenty of blood and some fun moments. I will say that the effect of a bone sticking out of someones leg looked great!
With a nice synth soundtrack, some fun and inventive kills and those terrible puns Axemas was a short that may have been a bit rough around the edges but was a treat to watch. Crazily enough there is actually a sequel that came out this year: Axemas 2: Blood Slay that features the same storage facility, and the same final girl but set one year later. Axemas can be purchased here (USA), here (UK) or here for the rest of the world.
Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Kill Switch is the third book in a row I have read from author Sean E. Britten, the others being zombie stories Wave of Mutilation and Screamers. This time around it is a slight stretch to call it horror in the traditional sense but it falls neatly into the Battle Royale genre of people being forced to kill other people against their will, usually in some form of game show. Battle Royale is one of my favourite films of all time and the genre itself probably got most exposure in films thanks to The Hunger Games series. Both of those themselves were based on books and so it isn't new ground Britten has gone into. However nowadays this topic is more popular than ever, in large part thanks to the addictive Fortnite video game, as well as others like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and the Blackout mode in the latest Call of Duty game. This is all a roundabout way of saying I love the idea and so even wearing its inspirations on its sleeves Kill Switch sang loudly to me.
Taking place in the near future, James: a disgraced ex-detective serving time in prison finds himself signed up to a popular game show called Slayerz in which dangerous criminals are teamed up in pairs and forced to fight each other to the death over a large playing area. To make things more interesting all contestants are fitted with a special bracelet, should one of the pair in a team die than a kill switch will engage that kills the surviving member, but not before flooding them with drugs that gives them a last lease of life. Paired with sick serial killer Dali, James has no option but to work with him to take out the other contestants and hopefully win his freedom.
Like with Wave of Mutilation the inspirations seemed obvious here, even the ones that may have been coincidental leapt out at me which at times almost but not quite pulled me out the story. I would say The Running Man film is one of the biggest inspirations, both in the larger than life villains taking part in Slayerz as well as James's cop background, this is all very similar. There is even a shout out to the plot of that film when James states he was in prison for real crimes and not because he was framed for refusing to fire on rioters which is of course what happened to Arnie in that film. While that seemed the largest influence it also seemed influenced by Battle Royale, specifically the second film that had a similar concept of people being paired up with both getting killed if just one of the people in the pair died.
Now it may be coincidental but I just so happened to be reading the Transmetropolitan series of graphic novels at the same time as this and the comedic fake adverts that start each chapter here really reminded me of the dark humour of that series. Both of these envision a near future where life has become really cheap and meaningless, where the creation of more and more technology to extend life and make it easier has also led to a decrease in empathy for people. While Kill Switch could have worked as a serious novel this humour makes this all the more trashy and entertaining.
The characters of Kill Switch are all complete caricatures and have no real defining features to them other than the different criminal types they portray. Each contestant has their own unique thing going on, included amongst them are such types as Latino gang members, punks, serial killers, cannibals, white supremacists and more. This just makes the battling between them all the more fun, and there is a lot of action. There were some standout characters such as an old Nazi who scuttles around om mechanical spider like legs. The Slayerz contest starts nearly right away in the book leading to a good 98% being set during the game. Each contestant is gifted their own weapon (just like in Battle Royale), while supply drops are dropped, and traps litter the arena (just like in The Hunger Games). Most of the fighting is brutal close combat shooting and physical brawling, all described in vivid violent detail. By the end there are many novel ways of people being killed, whether by explosion, grappling hooks shot through them, limbs destroyed, heads severed...basically the violence is endless and all so exciting to read. Sometimes you can get drawn into a book so deeply that you feel like you are watching events unfold on a screen, Kill Switch is one such book, the details are so on point that I felt like I was watching the best lost eighties action flick than reading text on a page.
It was great timing that this book came to my attention as the idea it presents is one of my favourite things to follow currently in the world of entertainment media. Sure the ideas here may be derivative, it may have been done before, and it may not have too many ideas of its own but I absolutely loved Kill Switch and shall dive straight into the sequel Kill Switch: Serial Escalation that came out a few months back.
Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Back when I reviewed Andrew J.D Robinson's two minute film Trick r' Treat little did I know that it was made up of footage taken from a much longer short film he had been working on. We Know You Are Home is that film and being around seventeen minutes long as opposed to two it of course builds on the foundation of what came before.
Years in the past three children out trick or treating on Halloween went missing, they were never found. Due to this tragic event Halloween has been effectively cancelled with a strict 7pm curfew in effect. It is on this day that a woman (Julie Landriault) lands a job as a house sitter but she soon finds herself caught up in events much larger than she expected.
The first five or so minutes of this is pretty much an extended version of Trick r' Treat, there is more backstory given to the three missing children, while there are extended scenes of the woman arriving at the house. This seemed inspired by Halloween before in how it had samples from Night of the Living Dead but here, like Halloween this time around we actually get footage proper on a few occasions. This footage features scenes that nicely tie in with this short in that the shown dialogue from Night resonates with what is going on with the visitors that come knocking for the woman.
This came across as a supernatural home invasion horror in its first half and there were some nice moments of build up, the favourite for me being the sound of something rubbing on the back window behind a blind. At some point We Know You Are Home changes tracks slightly with the feeling of peril being reduced to change this into something still horror focussed but the suspense mostly gone, more a story of making amends from the past. This worked well for the short though I admit I had been hoping for something to make my skin crawl. At times aspects of this felt a little too bit clean and tidy, such as a neatly written message, and the sparse bland look of the house the woman is looking after (though there is explanation for that).
While I may have expected something different than what We Know You Are Home changed into it was well made with some good moments, I liked a flashback sequence that took place from a different characters perspective for example. I also liked that Robinson has been able to make two different films from the same footage and make both of them work. After the initial build up of supernatural terror this settles down into something that has a solid central idea and also something that becomes almost sweet.
Sunday, 11 November 2018
While I did not know anything at all about Witching Hour I will say that I expected it to be low budget rubbish when I turned it on. That was until I realised it was a horror anthology, and that is a particular sweet spot for me as I love the variation this style of film making brings. Sure enough there were some shorts here which were pretty terrible, yet there were also a couple that actually were pretty decent even with the limitations of this low budget indie.
Two housemates: Logan (Emily Johnson-Erday) and Dee (Reanna Roane) are out shopping in an antiques store when one of them is drawn to an old mantlepiece clock that she feels she just has to buy. Talking to the store owner (Patrick Ferrara who also appears in the sequel to this Witching Hour II) he warns her that the clock contains within it an ancient powerful artefact that had been hidden away to stop the Nazi's getting their hands on it during World War II. The warning is ignored and the clock purchased, but it turns out there really is some power within the device, an evil power that is able to influence people's minds for bad.
The wrap around story is literally titled Framing Story and sees one of the housemates desperately try and find a way to destroy the clock which she realises has brainwashed her friend. Rather than just an excuse as a method to neatly fit in the shorts this actually has additional scenes that give it enough meat to stand out as a proper short in itself. It was interesting that one of the housemates was deaf, both in that it leads to prolonged scenes of sign language, but also that it seems that maybe that's why that housemate couldn't be influenced like the one able to hear.
Saturday, 10 November 2018
Semester's End is a low budget indie horror that uses the classic idea of a slasher operating on a college campus. I wouldn't say this is a good film, the identity of the killer is painfully obvious from the start, no one seems to act that naturally and all the kills either take place either off camera, or in between scenes. However at 70 minutes this doesn't outstay its welcome at all and was not actually something that was a hard watch, it was entertaining regardless of the overall quality.
Allison Bloch stars as Rachel: a teaching assistant at a college, a college which is being plagued by a serial killer. No one, police included have any idea who is doing this foul murders, but in the world this movie takes place in no one is really that bothered either. As the body count rises Allison and her new lover Mike (Sam Masotto) find themselves caught up in it all, but just who could this deranged slasher be?
I genuinely did not mind this film at all, it had a lot of issues but regardless I was not the slightest bit bored, in fact the opposite, in a trashy kind of way this was great. The main issue was just how all the characters act in Semester's End, no one seems that worried that students are being picked off by an unknown assailant. The police presence seems to consist of one clueless gruff detective, so incompetent are they that their prime suspect: the lecturer that Rachel assisted went on the run from the law...but never actually left the campus. Rachel the perpetually horny tutor is a weird protagonist, having just came off an affair with a married man her next lover is a student from her class and sees nothing at all wrong with this. The student Mike looks older than she is and again seems nonplussed about all the murders. Both of them are happy to cover up crimes of their own without a care in the world, maybe it was a secret aspect of the film that the campus was a special place for sociopaths to study?
Friday, 9 November 2018
I really don't use my PSVR device as much as I should, it is always the case that I forget just how amazing it can be until I actually put it on. Also it is sad to admit but I hate being removed from my phone, in VR I don't hear any texts or calls and so I get a pathetic sense of anxiety! I played the Transference demo last week for Halloween and found it be darn scary, luckily for me a couple of days later the game proper went on sale and so I quickly snapped it up. While Transference isn't as scary as the demo was it was still an enjoyable couple of hours.
The story is a bit abstract with it spread out in snippets throughout the game, I will sum it up but this is just my interpretation. Raymond: a brilliant scientist has created a 'transference' device which is able to transfer the memories and souls of people into a digital recreation to act as a sort of eternal heaven for them. You play as an unknown person who has found his device and travelled into it where you find out that Raymond, his young son Ben, his wife Kathryn, as well as the family dog Laika are all now residing. However far from be a heaven this unnatural reality has turned into living hell for each of them, each of the family members trapped in their own perpetual nightmare. It is up to you to find each of the crystals housing their essence and reunite them to fix the corrupted device.
I'm first going to mention the demo as rather than be a slice taken from the game itself it was a stand alone experience. Transference: The Walter Test Case was a fantastic fifteen minutes of tight creeping terror. In the demo you are exploring the mind of a PTSD suffering soldier and his abused son. There were jump scares, but more importantly there was a pervasive sense of dread with the sound in particular being a real highlight. I didn't review it at the time but it would have gotten a 9/10 due to not only being free, but also in how effective it was due to a combination of amazing 3D sound design and how well the story is told. It was also brilliant in how it skipped between two different time frames: that of the son as a loving child, and him as a bitter teenager.
Thursday, 8 November 2018
The award winning High Tea is a short Canadian horror film that was directed, written, and produced by Luke Meneok. It is very indie with a budget of around £155 (when converted into pounds) according to the IMDB page. This single room horror uses a traditional idea of a masked madman setting a task for his victim but this time around it is slightly different.
Tina (Courtney Make) wakes up to find herself tied up in a shed with no memory of how she got there. It isn't long before a masked man (David Kolenski - Blackbags, The Ojibway Switchback) enters, he tells the girl that if she is able to roll the perfect joint she will be free to leave, she has three attempts, but should she fail...
The very fact that to survive the victim has to roll a joint means this is very much a dark comedy horror. They could have even made that serious but there isn't really a sense of peril in the sinister sense, the masked man ('The Meathead' according to IMDB) has anger problems but appears quite impotent when it comes to threatening behaviour, banging his fists on the table in a way that even the victim doesn't find that intimidating. On the subject of Tina; while she is tied up my an unknown madman she never really seems that much scared at all, apart from when Meathead first appears, I guess this was purposeful but did take away from the horror a bit, after all if she isn't scared then why should the viewer be scared for her?
The meat(head) of the short is her trying to roll a joint, of course to be suspenseful she doesn't do it on the first attempt. This whole sequence was a lot of fun, I especially liked the visual effect that compliments one action. I also liked the editing here, there are lots of splintered almost jump cuts, and it was great how the camera would shake in time with Meathead's anger, and also how the music would change to reflect this anger. He was a fun character and this is actually the third appearance for him, appearing in the other two films I mentioned for Kolenski earlier in this review. He has a dorky look to him which is helped by his distorted voice that reminded me of a villian from Saturday morning cartoons.
High Tea was a fun little short that gets around the small budget by utilising what it does have. Even with the twist of rolling a joint there wasn't much surprise in how this played out but I did really enjoy 'The Meathead', he was an entertaining antagonist, and I did like the unique editing and camera work, so not bad at all.
Wednesday, 7 November 2018
When I first saw Julius Avery's Overlord advertised at the cinema it was a nice surprise yet I can't say I was too excited about it. This was weird as zombies and World War II are two of my favourite topics and so a blend that brought them together like a live action Call of Duty: WWII: Nazi Zombies game should have had me shouting with joy from the rooftops. Despite my lack of abject enthusiasm I decided to check it out, and really, it wasn't that bad.
It is 1944 and a squadron of American soldiers are being flown into France. D-Day is due to take place the following day, but for that to be successful a key radio tower needs to be destroyed so that air support can be given. Under heavy fire many of the planes are shot down, it ends up being just five soldiers who survive the ordeal, these include rookie with a conscience Boyce (Jovan Adepo - Mother!) and his group's commanding officer, a seasoned soldier named Ford (Wyatt Russell - Black Mirror 'Playtest'). Meeting up with local girl Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) the survivors make it to the village nearby the radio tower that is situated at the top of a large church, however their plans to destroy it are hampered by the fact that unspeakable experiments are being conducted in the church's basement, experiments that can bring the dead back to life...
I didn't expect to get what I wanted but I would have liked hordes and hordes of undead to be featured in Overlord, instead there are about five to ten in total. I can't say I was disappointed as the trailer didn't make this seem like it would be full of undead. The whole zombie aspect is a key plot line here yet despite that this is about 75% war movie and 25% horror. This is more war from a Quentin Tarantino Inglorious Basterds exaggerated perspective with a few over the top characters, and heroes who are strangely competent for relative newcomers to fighting. The key antagonist here is Nazi commander Wafner (Pilou Asbaek - Ghost in the Shell, Game of Thrones) who is imposing enough before he is turned into more of a two dimensional being. The Nazis in general lack much character to them, aside from Wafner there isn't anyone else of note, just faceless soldiers and scientists.
Tuesday, 6 November 2018
Zombified was directed and written by Todd Jason Cook who also co-stars in this. While the story felt kind of like it was a sequel to something I assumed this was all just in world. Turns out doing a tiny bit of research that there was actually a previous film in the series, way back in 1995 with Death Metal Zombies. This features a couple of the same characters, and the same killer, but thanks to flashbacks, accounts and historical documents it isn't essential to have seen that one I feel.
A serial killer wearing a Richard Nixon mask (Tayvis Dunnahoe) enters a club and mixes in a special cassette tape labelled 'Zombified' to the music that a rock band is performing. The frequency on this cassette transforms everyone there into flesh hungry crazies who soon pour out onto the streets. A few survivors that include among them Alana (Rebecca Torrellas), Tony (Cook) as well as Angel (Kathryn Rene' Ginzel) and Tommy (Mike Gebbie - Death Metal Zombies) band together to stop the madness. Thankfully due to Angel and Tommy having encountered this situation before they know exactly how to deal with the flesh eaters part, it is just the psychotically strong and deranged serial killer that is the real problem.
This was quite a low budget film that featured acting that while never terrible wasn't stunning either. It was quite a dark film with a bit of a blurry look to the footage quality and one that featured a heck of a lot of generic rock music, especially during the many action scenes. However I found the mix of slasher film and zombie film to be an interesting one, it certainly had some highlights when the two combined. This felt a bit like the low budget, indie horrors from early this century, though with an added bit of quality that mostly stopped it being dull. It did fall into the trap of being slightly over long, at an hour forty five minutes it did start to get a bit dull towards the end with a few too many scenes that while action packed did feel like they didn't add anything to the movie. One that comes to mind is when one of the protagonists heads outside his house to have a drink and immediately gets attacked by the zombies. With it known that the ghouls are roaming around outside this felt like a ridiculous decision created only for some more fighting.
Monday, 5 November 2018
Baghead is an award winning short fifteen minute horror that was directed by Alberto Corredor in his directorial debut and written by Lorcan Reilly. Initially starting off as pure horror this soon changes into something a little bit different, and something which has a vein of black humour running throughout.
A grieving man named Kevin (Oliver Walker) arrives at a grimy pub run by a gruff barkeeper (Julian Seager) one dark night. With the correct queries and the appropriate items he is led down into the dank cellar for a meeting with the person known only as 'baghead'.
It really has been a good year for short horror films as Baghead is yet another great little gem. There were two main parts to this, the initial section was creepy and I was anticipating to be scared. This was helped by great atmosphere, and the great dilapidated look of the pub and the cellar. It then changes into something that was more fantastical using an idea I hadn't seen since back in the video game Monkey Island II: Le Chuck's Revenge. I don't really want to ruin it but I will say there was a good twisting of characters intentions, while the concept of only having 'two minutes' added a lot of speed to this. Seager was fantastic and by far the best thing about this, I loved his off camera comments as dialogue between two people on camera went on, he was funny without being a distraction.
The plot was interesting as was the way it was framed, the prologue for instance had a man strapped to a chair begging and apologising to a partially seen man. When in the story itself we see this same chair it led to all sorts of questions. In a wrap around way this then gets addressed at the end, and I felt it was neat to have the story continue into the credits with extra dialogue playing out over them. I guess if there was any complaints it would be that it wasn't what it initially seemed to be, but that is also a plus as well as it defies expectations with a nice little perfectly paced story about coping with loss. Once Baghead finishes its festival run it will be available online.
Sunday, 4 November 2018
Hell House LLC was a pretty great indie found footage that never really left my mind and so when I heard there was a sequel coming out (a Shudder exclusive) I was excited to see where things would go next. Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel isn't as good a film sadly, it left me feeling a little bit cold.
After receiving an anonymous tip investigative journalist Jessica Fox (Jillian Geurts) comes to believe that hidden in the basement of the notorious Abaddon Hotel (where eight years previously the opening night of a Hell House attraction led to the unexplained deaths of fifteen people) is evidence that the hotel's original owner was part of a devil worshipping cult. She assembles a small team to head into the place, retrieve this evidence, and get out. They include among them cameraman David (Dustin Austen), Molly (Joy Shatz), spirit medium/TV personality Brock Davies (Kyle Ingleman) and his cameraman, and most importantly Mitchell (Vasile Flutur) who worked on the documentary that the original film was styled as.
So while the first film was set out as a documentary this time around we get some initial text saying that the footage shown has been edited together by an unseen character. This time around it isn't a documentary but more a traditional found footage even if it has other elements sewn in, the biggest one being a talk show that Brock, Mitchell, and an Abaddon town councilman appeared on discussing the hotels dark past. The problem with this Frankenstein's monster of editing means that at times it can feel very disjointed, especially early on where rather than any sort of plot it is just different video footage of random people over the years entering the hotel and then getting Blair Witched (the camera suddenly falling to the ground I mean). These segments didn't really add much at all other than to suggest it is a death sentence to go there, something which is obvious anyway. I couldn't really tell if these were all here to pad out the run time. Then the talk show sections are so brightly lit that they feel jarring whenever they show up and drag you out of the horror.