Friday, 23 March 2018

Tomb Raider (2018) - Adventure Film Review

Originally I had no intention of reviewing Tomb Raider on my blog, after all it appeared to have next to nothing to do with horror. However once I started watching it I realised the plot is heavily based on the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider; a game that is damn near perfection, and also happens to be very much a horror game. While the movie strips away nearly all elements of horror and the supernatural I felt it was worthy of a review if only as a contrast to the vibe of the video game.

Seven years after her father went missing Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina) discovers clues as to just where he may have went. She teams up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu - Warcraft: The Beginning) and together they sail a boat to the mysterious island of Yamatai, which is said to be the resting place of the mythical Queen Himiko who legend says had the power over life and death. This also happened to be the place Lara's dad had been heading when he went missing. They arrive, though lose their ship in the process, and to make matters worse immediately get kidnapped by a shady group calling themselves Trinity. The leader of the group; Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins - Predators) reveals he was responsible for murdering Lara's father seven years previously after he refused to help Trinity locate the tomb of Himiko, her dad feared they would use the power it contains for evil. While she doesn't believe the legends that say the Queen holds supernatural powers she is still determined to ensure that whatever is found doesn't fall into Trinity's hands...

So in the video game the island was home to armies of mad men, and Mathias was their leader. Here he is changed to be a member of Trinity which were the antagonists in the 2015 sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider. Immediately that survival horror aspect is lost. In the game it turns out the legends of the Queen were actually pretty accurate, while here this is far more of an adventure with the supernatural element corroded to the point of being feasible in the real world. Loving the game so much I couldn't help but compare this to that and this is in no way anywhere near as good. I did enjoy the elements that were taken from the game. Firstly it was a great idea to base the film on what I believe is the very best Tomb Raider game out there. Secondly it was great to see the screen version of Lara to be the younger, more realistic looking rebooted version, rather than the ridiculous sexed up version of the 90's. Much like in the game she got battle damaged as the film progressed, she is young and inexperienced and so makes plenty of mistakes. There are a few iconic moments that were transported over from the game, and weapons as well, such as the bow and arrow, climbing axe, and duel pistols.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Within the Darkness (2016) - Horror Film Review

The set-up for Jonathan Zuck directed Within the Darkness is nothing new, and I have been guilty recently of moaning about films that follow a tried and tested formula to a generic dead end (Before I Wake). However I really enjoyed my time with this one, the icing on the cake being how it all winds up in the finale, it was something unexpected, and despite some flaws this film was successful as a horror.

Austin (Dave Coyne - V/H/S/2) is a wannabe star who has decided to create a ghost hunting show that he is to be the host of. Along with his girlfriend Lucy (Erin Cline), cousin Bruce (John C. Bailey), best friend Jesse (Tonya Kay), and spirit medium Megan (Shanna Forrestall - The Last Exorcism) he heads to a property that has stood empty since a family were found dead there in mysterious circumstances many decades previously. Austin intends to fake the whole ghost hunting experience in order to make his show seem exciting, he has no belief in ghosts, however it soon turns out that the property is in fact very haunted, and that the group may be in well over their heads...

So the format is similar to many others films but I found this to be a pretty good film. The actors were a lot better than I expected them to be which was a treat I didn't expect for what is an indie film. I also liked in terms of characterisation how situations between the cast were inferred but never explicitly stated. There is a lot of sexual tension between Austin and Jesse for instance that hints at them possibly having an affair, yet nothing happens at all to explicitly suggest they are anything but good friends. Austin is a bit of a creep who only really cares about himself, yet this restraint in the way this subplot is handled felt pretty mature. The complete flip side of this though is the really quite unnecessary female nudity on show here. Both Lucy and Jesse have scenes where they are naked and almost everything is shown, yet neither scene felt at all necessary and added nothing to the plot. There is an early sex scene between Austin and Lucy for instance that felt slotted in for no good reason other to show how self centered Austin is as a person.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Dead Shack (2017) - Horror Film Review

Dead Shack is a Shudder exclusive horror film that just so happens to be excellent, hands down the best horror I have had the pleasure of seeing so far this year. Think of a mash-up between Stranger Things, Don't Breathe, and The People Under the Stairs with a little bit of The Evil Dead thrown in, and add in fantastic acting and a hilarious script and that is roughly what this great comedy horror feels like.

14 year old Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) has gone away on holiday to a remote woodland cabin with his best friend; foul mouthed Colin (Gabriel LaBelle - iZombie) and his family that includes older sister Summer (Lizzie Boys - also iZombie), easy going dad Roger (Donavon Stinson - Dead Rising: Endgame) and Roger's girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian - Jennifer's Body). While the kids are out exploring they come across the property of the next door neighbour (Lauren Holly) and accidentally witness her drugging some men, who are promptly eaten alive by some zombies she keeps chained up in her house. Discovering she had been watched, the neighbour tools up, and heads out to kill the witnesses.

From the very beginning I got a really good feeling about this horror, it all starts off with great music, something which throughout Dead Shack remains very strong, a kind of 80's synth that reminded me of Stranger Things. The camera work is amazing, the cinematography in the prologue alone was enough for me to straight up love this, the framing of that first sequence was a work of art. Everything looks so crisp here, so considered and particular, I can't think of a single bad looking part here. Next up is the script from which the majority of the humour stems from. The family here are very dysfunctional, the dad in particular is really quite irresponsible in how laid back he is. So much of what characters say is laugh out loud funny, and usually quite inappropriate for the situation they find themselves in. Robert and Colin having an earnest heart to heart moment while off camera Jason and Summer are engaged in heavy combat with zombies, the occasional blood spurt flying into shot for instance.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Garden Party Massacre (2018) - Comedy Horror Film Review

The award winning Garden Party Massacre is a comedy horror film that was written and directed by Gregory Blair (Deadly Revisions) who also plays one of the main characters here. While personally the humour often wasn't always to my tastes this film was inoffensively fun, and I did smile on a couple of occasions.

Caleb (Andy Gates - The Blessed Ones) and Addison (Nichole Bagby) are a couple who have decided to have a garden party for a small group of friends. These friends include among them Wesley (David Leeper), Lincoln (Blair), Reena (Lise Hart - Deadly Revisions), and Melanie (Dawna Lee Heising - Revenge of the Samurai Cop). It isn't too long into the party however when one of the group is found murdered at the hands of a pick-axe wielding madman (Matt Weinglass - Bright). Without access to a phone, and trapped in the house the group must work together to find a way to either contact the police, or get past the madman to freedom.

If I had to describe Garden Party Massacre in one word it would be 'wacky'. This is very much a comedy world the characters inhabit which is reflected in the over the top acting and facial expressions of the small cast. Being a comedy it explains away a lot of the issues you would normally have watching a horror in relation to how characters act, but also goes to great lengths to explain plot conveniences such as why no one has a phone on them, or why the internet doesn't work on Caleb's computer. After a great intro credit sequence I was all set for the titular massacre to begin, and it does eventually start but a lot later into the film than I expected. This is no bad thing really, at 70 minutes long this never drags, and there is a third act plot twist that I definitely did not see coming, which leads up to a really fun ending.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Apocalypsis (2018) - Horror Film Review

I realised with a mild kind of horror while watching indie thriller Apocalypsis that over half an hour had passed and I was none the wiser to what the hell was actually going on. Sometimes I watch films that pass over my head somewhat and this was one of them. Still with plenty of arthouse style editing, interesting main leads, a decent soundtrack, and a sustainable feeling of paranoia I may have left confused but I also left with nary a sign of boredom upon my person. This is actually the third film in a trilogy, Imagination (2018) and Glitch in the Grid (2012) preceding this, though I assume each one may be stand alone in nature.

My confusion started with the synopsis I was sent along with the screener that seemed to be from a different film entirely, so much so that I had to pause the movie to double check I was actually watching the right thing! From what I could make out Apocalypsis takes place in a parallel world to our own that wouldn't feel out of place if it appeared in an episode of Black Mirror. In this world the American government is known as the NWO (New World Order) and they are in the process of getting every citizen fitted with a microchip so that they can be monitored wherever they go. People without these chips are seen as malcontents, and the film follows two of these people. Albino Evelyn (Maria Bruun) has recently converted to the Eastern Orthodox Christian religion and while studying the book of Revelations in the bible has started to get visions of the end of the world. Meanwhile hyperactive hacktivist Michael (Chris O'Leary) has gotten terrified at the increasingly dystopian state of America, with his friends he has decided to try and do something about it. Unknown to both, their actions are being monitored by a shady group who are waiting for the right time to pounce...

This is very much an arthouse film with many, many montages that uses a variety of techniques to create unique views of what is going on. By far my favourite of these are the visions that Evelyn has of angels, as these consist of a lot of creepy looking stop motion animation of religious beings and imagery. These stop motion figures all look rough around the edges and basic, but this just adds to the other worldly charm of them. Angels spinning in circles, God looking down from the heavens, all combined with the effective soundtrack create a feeling of mystical confusion. More than anything these brought to mind the videotape segments from The Ring series. Director and writer Eric Leiser created the stop motion himself which was interesting to find out. These parts are also the most horror based parts of Apocalypsis. Aside from these bits there are also a lot of moments when footage gets over saturated, or the colours get inverted. The reason I mentioned in my synopsis that Evelyn is an albino is down to the fact that Leiser makes uses of this unique condition for his filmwork. There are scenes where everything is so lightly saturated that all you can see on screen is her eyes, nostrils and mouth, everything else as white as her skin. Then there are moments where she is surrounded by leaves of what appeared to be a cherry blossom tree, again blending so well with her light skin and creating novel scenes.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Game Night (2018) - Comedy Crime Film Review

I don't know exactly why but I had in my mind ever since I first saw the trailer for Game Night that it was a horror. Of course it isn't, instead it is a darkly comic crime thriller, but I had been planning to write a review of it and I have no time to do another blog post today and so a review I shall do. Jason Bateman (The Gift) stars in this and I have never liked him in anything outside of Arrested Development, yet here I found his presence not to be that bad.

Game obsessed couple Max (Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams - Red Eye) host weekly game nights that their best friends always come to. One day Max's successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler - Super 8) turns up in town, he invites the group to his rented house so that he can host his own game night. He tells them that he has arranged a murder mystery type game; one of the group are going to be kidnapped and the rest must follow clues to find out where the person is being held. Not long after telling this two men break into the house, beat-up Brooks and kidnap him, the rest all thinking it is part of his game don't take it seriously. Splitting into pairs the friends all try their own ways to find and rescue Max's brother, not realising that he was actually kidnapped for real by some legitimate criminals...

Game Night was a funny film, though I saw this on my own in a moderately busy cinema I still laughed out loud on at least a handful of occasions. When it wants to be this film can be hilarious, but with so many jokes there were a fair few that fell flat for me, such as topical ones about Donald Trump, or references to current Marvel movies. The comedy comes both from the dialogue and physical gags, out of the six friends each of them had their moment to shine, but it was Billy Magnussen (Black Mirror) as the dumb Ryan who gave me the most laughs due to how over the top thick he was, a scene when he is trying to bribe a woman with a pitiful amount of money was perfect due to how slowly he was giving her the cash (funnier than it sounds). Another great character was played by Jesse Plemons (also Black Mirror). His character was a very creepy next door neighbour cop who was perfect with his really awkward scenes and his complete lack of emotion in his delivery of his lines, coupled with complete lack of facial expressions.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Cry Your Way Home (2018) by Damien Angelica Walters - Horror eBook Review

It is always such a good feeling to finishing reading one of the many books I have been given for review purposes. Cry Your Way Home is an anthology of short horror stories written by Damien Angelica Walters. The 17 stories here have a definite feminine angle to them with many revolving around relationships between mother and child, or featuring female protagonists, this is no bad thing at all.

This reminded me quite a bit of Mercedes M. Yardley's anthology Beautiful Sorrows in that a fair few of these stories are both abstract in nature as well as coming across as a kind of fairytale. This is best shown with opener Tooth, Tongue, and Claw, and A Lie You Give and Thus I Take which is a mash-up of several different well known fairytale situations, and which I couldn't really tell what was going on. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant's Tale was another really quite weird one, somehow coming across like a mix between Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted and a Nick Cave song, with a grimy circus and an elephant main character leading to some quite surreal passages.

Many of the stories here deal with a parents loss of their child, this concept is explored several times, often with the child having committed suicide, or at least suspected to have. On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes is realistic horror in the way it switches between the perspective of the unsuspecting mother and her distraught daughter. Falling Under, Through the Dark has a grieving mother trying to reconnect with the moment her son drowned. Umbilicus has a child again feared drowned, and another mothers attempts to discover exactly what happened no matter the cost to the world. Then there is Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice which again brings up suicide but with a bizarre almost Robert Rankin style short about a Frankenstein child.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Sengoku (1991) - Horror Video Game Review (Nintendo Switch)

Back in the 90's my favourite type of video game was the scrolling beat-em up, and it was a golden age for those. Having recently purchased a Nintendo Switch I wanted to test the waters of the online store, and so seeing Sengoku there for a cheap price I decided to pick it up. Now the benefits of this port is that you can set how many lives you want to have. I decided right away I would bump up my lives to the maximum of 99, and with infinite continues it came down to not how hard an experience this would be, but more just how much fun is the game? As an aside; apologies for the wonky pictures used, I couldn't find any decent images online of the game so had to resort to taking my own!

A portal to an ancient Japanese version of Hell opens above an unnamed American city, and hordes of demons invade. It turns out that 400 years previously an evil Japanese warlord had been defeated by two warriors and that he had vowed to some day return. It turns out that the descendants of the warriors both live in the city and so they set out to defeat the warlord and close the portal to Hell...

Upon loading this up you are given two options; play the Japanese version of the game, or play the North American version. I played through the game on both these options and as far as I can tell aside from the subtitles changing language I found the North American version to be slightly easier. I guessed the story the first playthrough and was mostly correct in my assumptions. It was sad to see that the English translations are at one both terrible and lazy, so much so that I enjoyed the Japanese version just for the fact I couldn't tell what was being said in cutscenes.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Rotting Zombie's Round-up of Horror News for March 2018

Another month and another news round-up of everything I have been sent in the last month. First up there is going to be a DVD release of obscure horror film The Soultangler which is the first release from the partnership of the AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) and Bleeding Skull! The press release says of the film 'if Re-animator was shot on Long Island for the price of a used car, The Soultangler would be the result'. A mad doctor develops a drug that allows users to inhabit corpses and transform into maniacs; sounds pretty cool to me. Previously only ever released on VHS the DVD release is going to include a director's cut, commentary track by director Pat Bishow, behind the scenes footage and more, it can be pre-ordered here.

Agramon's Gate is a new demonic horror film that is due to star Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop 1 and 2) and Yan Birch (The People Under the Stairs, Death House) and is going to be written, directed and produced by filmmaker and actor Harley Wallen. In this film a young man with a dark past holds a seance during a housewarming party, but things go wrong and something evil is unleashed in the home.

Mr. Cleaver is now on Prime and Vimeo On Demand. This a slasher that is 'a sex, drugs, and gore throwback to the straight-to-video slasher movies of the early 90's'. The synopsis is that a group of lowlifes break into a seemingly abandoned warehouse where they become hunted by the murderous owner. From the trailer this low budget horror looks like it has been designed to appeal to those who like their terror trashy and over the top, so could be fun.

Artsploitation Films have acquired two foreign horror films for distribution in 2018. Chilean Trauma (a man and his son go after a group of women out in the countryside), and Argentinean Luciferina (a woman discovers Satanic horror out in the jungle). These are going to be shown at select film festivals, followed by Blu-Ray and VOD. Artsploitation also have the U.S and Canadian rights to EuroObscura's A Taste of Phobia which is an anthology created by 14 international directors, the central concept being that each short is to focus on a different phobia. These include mazeophobia (fear of being lost), astrophobia (fear of celestial objects), and caetophobia (fear of hairs) and so sounds like it is going to be quite random. The trailer makes this seem like it could be quite bloody and entertaining, there's few things as good as a decent anthology.

Game news now and I have been meaning to say for ages, but around Christmas time there was a free new map for Killing Floor 2 called Krampus Lair. This re-skinned the monsters to have a festive theme to them, and features a boss fight against Krampus itself. Variety with bosses is one thing this game really lacks so having a new boss can only be a good thing. Not sure if I mentioned this one, but there was also a free map released before then titled Nightmares. In this one each round takes place in a different horror filled location. Levels include one where you are tiny, a World War I based map, a cavern full of cobwebs, and a twisted fairground.

Zombie VR game Throw Anything came out on HTC Vive/Steam VR on February 28th. In this one you have to throw anything you can get your hands on at the undead that are attempting to scale the high-rise building you find yourself on. The most exciting thing for me about this is that later in the year it shall be coming to PSVR (and Oculus Rift). Check out the trailer.


Saturday, 10 March 2018

Love Eternal: The Silent Film Cut (2018) - Short Horror Film Review

Love Eternal: The Silent Film Cut is the latest short horror film from Forte Films Entertainment that is again directed and co-written by Matthew Forte (Anna, The Babyface Killer), with Arriana Vasquez as assistant director and co-writer. This is probably my favourite short film I have seen of theirs, this is down to the neat style gone for, one that plays to the strengths of the filmmaking.

This near 8 minute short is based on Bram Stoker's classic Dracula story but plays around a bit with the ending. Here we find Dracula many years after the end of the novel's story with Mina by his side as his vampiric bride. A prologue reveals that the vampires powers are fading and so he finds himself in a life or death struggle with an old adversary...

This has been made to mirror the style of silent horrors of the early 20th century, as such there is no spoken dialogue, or even sound effects, instead what you get is music constantly playing, while dialogue appears on screen as intertitles. To compliment this the footage has a grainy overlay on it creating an effective homage to how these old horrors look today. In particular I was taken with the mournful piano based soundtrack that suggested just by its sound that an end was coming. The small cast of four (Dracula played by Alfonso Marquez, Mina played by Felicia Garcia) don't have to worry about spoken dialogue and so tell their story by actions. The performances are less exaggerated than actors in these original type of films gave but it was still clear what was going on. If I had any complaints about the way the dialogue is shown is that there is quite a lot, especially to begin with, I wondered if it could have been streamlined a bit.

The meat of Love Eternal is a fight between Dracula, Mina and an old foe. This was fun to watch and had some great iconic Dracula moments, my favourite when the Count grins at his opponent mid fight. This whole sequence had some nice editing to it, I liked how shots would get out of focus. I also liked the Mina is shown to be a capable fighter herself, a nice modern touch for this homage to have.

The tale of Dracula is one that pretty much everyone knows, and most will be familiar with the style that Love Eternal has gone for. For me it was the soundtrack, the tragic vibe, and the retro visuals that worked well the most. Love Eternal: The Silent Film Cut is free to watch on YouTube, it's worth a watch if you like your vampires the old fashioned way.


Friday, 9 March 2018

Before I Wake (2016) - Horror Film Review

I've been avoiding watching Before I Wake for quite a long while, that is for the reason that it didn't look like the sort of horror I would enjoy, namely that it is one of those creepy little kid films that often leave me so cold. Still this was directed and co-written by Mike Flanagan who also directed the great Hush, and the enjoyable Gerald's Game so I was slightly open minded on this one.

Jessie (Kate Bosworth - Straw Dogs) and Mark (Thomas Jane - 1922) are still in grieving for their young son who died in an accident, yet they decide to adopt a new child hoping he will help them heal their pain. They choose young Cody (Jacob Tremblay) whose had a rough time with several past foster parents turning out allegedly to be bad people. They soon discover that when Cody sleeps his dreams become real, and Jessie abuses this power to have images of her dead son come to life when the boy sleeps. However with the good comes the bad and so it turns out that when Cody has nightmares they also become real, and these nightmares have the power to kill...

I didn't like Before I Wake, mainly with how lazy it feels. I have seen no end of similar movies to this one and so every twist and turn left me cold despite a few good ideas. The first 50 minutes of this are pretty dull and focus on the discovery of Cody's dreams and how his power to bring their dead son briefly back in a dream form widens a divide between the already struggling couple. Jessie just becomes an abuser as far as I could see, while Mark actually treats the child as if he is his son. The second half shifts gears and introduces horror, but it is so by the number that I never found any of it particularly interesting. While the acting of the main couple is fine enough (well Thomas Jane is as great as he always is nowadays; he has really grown as an actor, much like Ethan Hawke has) I just plain did not like the character of Jessie. When a plot twist occurs two thirds in and she becomes the primary main character I wasn't impressed, and in fact became to suspect she might have some sociopathic tendencies with the lack of emotion she displays towards certain events.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Wastelander (2018) - Post Apocalyptic Film Review

Wastelander is the second post apocalyptic film I have seen this year, Blue World Order being the other one. This is influenced far more by the Mad Max series and shares a similar group of characters, though to me it shared also a lot with the Fallout series of video games, both in the costumes characters wear, and also where the plot itself goes to.

Tom Hanks look alike Brendan Guy Murphy stars as Rhyous; a wandering wastelander on a post apocalyptic Earth who is on a quest to discover Eden. Eden is said to be one of the last surviving pre-apocalypse places left intact on the planet. In Rhyous's way though are an army of barbarians known as The Scourge, these rule the wastes through violence and fear and think the past should be left behind, and that anyone seeking the mythical Eden should die...

Wastelander has many problems, but it also does a lot that delights. There is always something new going on here with very little downtime in between shootouts, gladiatorial type fights, car chases, and close quarters combat. It is all done with an obviously low budget yet plenty of shaky camera work, CGI, and green screens do their best to keep this world feeling as realistic as possible. The best thing about this film is the wonderful costumes that all the characters wear. Most of the enemies Rhyous faces, as well as him and his comrades all wear outlandish Mad Max style armour and masks. I could never work out why so many people wore cool looking masks when there didn't seem a need to, but it seemed to be the fashion as no one bats an eyelid with people walking around looking like futuristic soldiers as a fashion choice. This did get confusing at times as one of the main antagonists looks nearly identical to Rhyous.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

An Idle Mind is the Devil's Playground (2016) - Horror Film Review

An Idle Mind is the Devil's Playground is an obvious homage to the style of The Twilight Zone, in fact it even has the endorsement of Spats White who was a friend and collaborator of Rod Serling who created that show. What works best for this film is that despite being made in 2016 it looks to all intents and purposes like a lost TV episode from the 1960's.

Reclusive Sid Kottler (Ben Lokey - Michael Jackson's Thriller) is a long term shut-in who has a severe case of anthrophobia (a fear of people or human contact). One day he awakens from a dream and is shocked to discover a man he had just dreamt about sitting in his bedroom. Thinking he is still dreaming he goes back to sleep, however he soon finds out that each time he awakens the person he was dreaming about has manifested in his house, and soon Sid finds himself in his own personal hell with a house full of strangers...

The pacing and style of acting in Devil's Playground is very reminiscent of the time period it is aping, it really did feel like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone which is no bad thing as I love that show. I couldn't get over how authentic this felt, even after watching the end credits I felt that this couldn't have been created in modern day, aside from the smooth directing! Everything from the costumes to set dressing and even the style of film work just felt like something out of time, all wonderful stuff, and of course this was shot in black and white to complete that feel.