Saturday, 19 January 2019

Curse of the Scarecrow (2018) - Horror Film Review

With a title like Curse of the Scarecrow I wasn't expecting a horror film that would have a bit of a brain about it, indeed I expected some low budget generic horror. This met my expectations in that regard, it was almost so bad it was good, almost but not quite though.

This British horror sees June (Kate Lister - Mandy the Doll) who on the advice of her psychiatrist Karen (Cassandra French - also Mandy the Doll) has decided to go back to her childhood home with her best friend Nancy (Louisa Warren who also directs this) to confront her fears. This is because twenty years previous she witnessed her parents being killed by what she believed to be a scarecrow at the place, it is hoped by travelling back she will realise just how wrong that assumption was. However it turns out the area is cursed, every twenty years the soul of a man strung up on a scarecrow pole to die hundreds of years ago comes back for two days of butchery, and her return coincides with the scarecrows return also...

This is a low budget indie film, I have no problem with that at all. However that doesn't really excuse the lack of imagination that has gone into many areas of this. There are so many horror film tropes here that I couldn't help roll my eyes on occasion. Characters splitting up for no reason happens multiple times and it rarely makes sense. The worst example is someone who wants to go and drive to the nearest town to get help for the other two characters who will be left behind at the farm house. That would be fine if the car was a distance away, yet it is literally ten paces from the front door, I have no idea why all three couldn't have just gone to the damn car, especially when not long previous to that scene they were already in the car and already aware of the danger they were in! It just felt like bad writing. Of course adding in another trope the car wont start, was all so predictable in a frustrating way.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Close Calls (2017) - Horror Film Review

It is very early into 2019 so I know this won't sound like much, but Richard Stringham's debut feature film Close Calls is the best film I have seen all year. Sometimes watching a movie you can tell right off the bat it is going to be one that just sings to your particular sensibilities, and that was what I was faced with here. Apparently chunks of the story were conjured up while Stringham was on hallucinogens, if that is the case it is quite believable as Close Calls is just plain crazy in the best possible way.

Morgan (Jordan Phipps) has been grounded by her father David (Kristof Waltermire), and so finds herself home alone one dark night while he is out on a date with his snobby girlfriend Brynn (Carmen Patterson). Home alone that is except for her insane grandma (Janis Duley) who is kept locked up in an old wing of the house. The night gets off to a good start with Morgan taking a whole cocktail of drugs, but soon she finds herself being harassed by a deranged caller, and events eventually take a even more sinister turn where she finds her life at risk...

I knew while watching this it would be a tough film to review and it is, this is due to the structure of the piece. When I first started watching this and saw it was over two hours long I admit my heart sank a little bit, I felt that I may be in for a really boring time, yet the dreamlike nature of the entire work was so consistently fantastic that I was just hooked. This is a horror film, but it is one that takes its time to ramp up. For the first hour and a quarter there is a sustained feeling of mild horror yet nothing much really happens. Rather than be frustrating though this added to the dreamlike feel. You know those dreams where you really need to get somewhere but no matter what you do it seems to take eternity? That's the feeling I got here. It is hard to explain but this stretching out of relative nothingness was just enthralling, I loved just getting a glimpse into the messed up world of Close Calls.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Black Mirror: Series 3 (2016) - Horror TV Show Review

For those who don't know Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror is like a modern day version of The Twilight Zone, but one that primarily uses technology as the instrument of terror. Each episode is standalone with a different cast and storyline going on, one of the few things they share is that they take place in a near future where a specific type of technology has become prevalent.

Season 3 is the first to have six episodes instead of three that Black Mirror and Black Mirror: Series 2 featured. This extended season means that a mix of different styles can be shown. There are both ultra personal stories that focus on a single character, to ones that affect thousands. This is also the first season to feature at least one episode that actually ends happily! For those who know the show you can realise just how much of an oddity that is.

The season kicks off with Nosedive which takes place in a world where every citizen has a social media ranking which affects their social status and what they are able to do. It centres on Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard - Jurassic World, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) whose desperate desire to be popular causes her downfall. This is a good example of near future technology as it is something that looks spookily similar to the social ranking system that is currently being trailed in China. This is a great episode but one that becomes more cringy as it goes on, eschewing the typical soul destroying abject terror the series is known for.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Call of Duty: Black Ops IV - Thoughts on the Zombies Mode

Call of Duty: Black Ops IV has been out for a few months now but due to not finishing talking about Call of Duty: WWII's final Zombies map I had been unable to move onto talking about this one. This time around the game is split into three sections: Multiplayer, Blackout, and Zombies.

Blackout is Call of Duty's version of Battle Royale. Up to 100 people are dropped onto an island with the goal to be the last one standing. Classic Black Ops locations are used as locations on this map, including one such location called Asylum which happens to contain within it the Zombies map Verruckt! So depending on where you go in Blackout it is possible to encounter zombies which certainly spices things up a bit. For the Christmas period the zombies were wearing Santa hats which was pretty funny.

Zombies itself then, this launched with four maps. A few weeks back a fifth map was released out of nowhere so I will talk about that too. The launch maps were made up of Voyage of Despair, IXBlood of the Dead and Classified. Voyage of Despair takes place aboard the Titanic just after it has been hit by an iceberg. You play as one of four characters: Scarlett, Diego, Bruno or Stanton who had been on the ship to carry out a heist. During this attempt though an ancient relic got activated which turned most the passengers into brain dead ghouls. The map is long and large with there being multiple floors. As well as the deck there are flooded engine rooms, living quarters, dining areas and various other places. It is wave based as per the norm and being made by Treyarch it is well designed and fun to play.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

What Was Lost (2014) - Short Horror Film Review

What Was Lost is a 24 minute short film that is horror's version of the classic gangster film The Long Good Friday. Not so much with what happens remotely, more that over the course of one day a man's life is ripped down and shattered. While this movie is a few years old now it has recently been released on Amazon Prime, last December in fact. This was directed by Don Swanson who also directed A Wish for Giants.

Joel (John-Patrick Driscol who wrote the dialogue here) has the perfect life. He is married to a beautiful woman, has a well paid prestigious job, and is on the verge of finding a valuable manuscript thought lost to time. Over the course of one day his world is destroyed irreversibly...

Well, isn't this bleak! Starting out I wasn't entirely sure what sort of movie this would be, I always try and keep anything I watch fresh by not reading anything about it beforehand. I figured this may be supernatural due to the search for the manuscript. Instead this is more a thriller that deals with the very human side of existence. The cast is mostly focused on three main characters. First there is Joel, a protagonist who we only see the bad side of, his breakdowns, his misery and his suffering. Yet by his wrongs he is someone you can root for. The other characters include Elsa Carette as Brandi who plays a woman obviously unhappy with her situation in life but who comes across as a bit one dimensional. Anderson (Dustin Kyle) is the third main one who plays a pivotal role in the proceedings and brings a bit of dark humour.

I was interested where the story was going to go, yet I can't say I felt satisfied with where it ended up. This is due to the short taking a slightly more realistic approach with this not being some grand revenge thriller, instead this is quite a morose piece that ends on a real downer, but one which is executed well. To be fair the final shot was something special, especially with the voice over. There were some elements I really liked, a dream sequence fading back to reality was one such part I thought worked well. The score is also great throughout, piano led, it combines to give some decent atmosphere.

What Was Lost was a good enough drama piece, it had a nice central performance, a good soundtrack and some nice ideas, but it isn't something I think I would ever feel the need to go back to now that I have seen it.


Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Gaze (2018) - Short Horror Film Review

The Gaze comes from Ida Joglar who is a filmmaker, editor and video installation artist based in New York. It feels very current in that it fits in perfectly with the #MeToo movement despite being written and shot before that even started, and was based on the directors personal experiences.

Mayra (Siri Miller) is a lab assistant who finds herself sexually harassed by her boss one night while working late. The stress of the event awakens a latent psychic power within her that she puts to good use the next time it happens.

This short horror is obviously making a point. By showing two differing encounters with men in different situations it deals with things that could be seen as nothing, but also could be something. Mayra's best friend plays Devil's advocate throwing out possibilities, but these are used for the protagonist to refute. The culmination of this horror is the literal neutralising of male superiority with the empowerment going to the victim.

This was very well made and with a great performance by Miller. Environments look natural and sterile that puts focus onto the characters themselves. The special effects are effective with the limited times they are used. The plot itself is simple by design but it works as a way to show one such view of what it can be like to be a female in the modern world. I will say that I'm not quite sure of the physics of the ending, I guess you could put it down to the powers of psychic abilities. Regardless it led to a memorable end. The Gaze came out exclusively on ALTER on 13th December last year.


Friday, 11 January 2019

The Nursery (2018) - Horror Film Review

I will be the first to admit that when I started watching The Nursery my hopes were pretty low. This is an indie horror with a typical story, and by around the halfway mark I was plain frustrated with how this was going. So it was a shock some forty five minutes later and the end credits were rolling when I realised this had managed to achieve a complete 180 on my opinion of it.

Maddi Conway stars as Ranae - a cash strapped college student who has decided to take up babysitting as a means to earn money. All she has to do is look after a baby while the parents of the child go on a date, promising to be back around midnight. It isn't long until weird things start occurring and after confessing this to her friends they decide to join her for company. All four soon begin to realise that for whatever reason a vengeful ghost is haunting the property and that it means them harm...

Right from the start I thought the song choices here were really good and well chosen. This is one element that sticks as a constant throughout The Nursery. The hipster style songs that Ranae listens to work as a counterpoint to the unfolding terror, there is a great part early on when the music playing becomes quite distorted for instance. This type of music coming back for the fantastic end credits (black and white clips for each character are played with the image then pausing to bring up their name) was also a delight. It is also the score itself that adds so much. It might be typical horror fare but the music fits the atmosphere like a glove, they blend together very well.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Thing on the Shelf (2018) - Short Horror Film Review

It's been an odd week for my blog in that I have had all the time in the world to be doing blog posts, yet for whatever reason I never got around to doing them. Not really good seeing as how I still have a Christmas backlog to clear. My last review was of Mikal's No Lives Matter, and now it is the turn of another short of his - The Thing on the Shelf which he also wrote and directed.

It is close to Christmas and a mum (Jill Kathryn Lemond) has given her daughter (Aila June Lemond) an elf doll to sit on a shelf in order to make sure she doesn't misbehave. In the middle of the night the girl wakes up to a sudden noise...

I don't really understand the whole elf on the shelf thing that seems to be popular nowadays but regardless of that bit of new child Christmas lore I found this short to be effective. This is just over a minute long but managed to be creepy. I have an unexplainable mild phobia of puppets and so I could feel my skin crawl towards the end of this. As such in my eyes it is a success! The child actor gives an understated performance, while the short length means the zinger is just enough to make you create the rest in your mind. Also I liked that the music goes off key once the horror starts to happen.

In terms of originality this wouldn't win any awards. However The Thing on the Shelf was well put together and was effective as a tiny Christmas horror. With such a short length it is worth a watch.


Saturday, 5 January 2019

No Lives Matter (2018) - Short Horror Film Review

I have a couple of short horror films brought to my attention by Darkly Films, as they are both only a minute long each I bumped them up to the top of my list. No Lives Matter is a short zombie tale that was entered into the Filmstro & Film Riot One Minute Short Film Competition. Director/writer Mikal is no stranger to having to make use of limited time as in the past he has put entries into the even more constrained 15 Second Horror Film Challenge.

Undead apocalypse has swept the city and a band of survivors are fleeing the rotting dead. They end up seemingly trapped in an alleyway and with the ghouls approaching it looks like the end may be near...

I had to watch this short quite a few times to cotton onto just what is happening here, but finally I understand and as a result has made this better, The title is a play on the 'black lives matter' slogan which feeds into this to give better context. This is a comedy horror which only become apparent once I had deciphered this message shown.

The visuals are all really blurry, intentionally so as the camera is focussed on a particular part of the screen meaning all around is fuzzy. This coupled with the great eighties sounding synth soundtrack and editing that cuts moments out leads to something that felt well put together. If I had one complaint it would be that the make-up for the zombies is not consistent, and one of the much younger undead does look quite happy rather than menacing in a lot of the shots she appears in. Still, all in all not bad at all.  Check it out for yourself below.


Thursday, 3 January 2019

Curse of the Witch's Doll (2018) - Horror Film Review

Curse of the Witch's Doll is a low budget horror that at first I was ready to pass off as not really worth a view at all. However the more I watched the more I found myself not minding what I was seeing. The plot goes to some unexpected places, while among the small cast there were a few actors who I really enjoyed watching.

It is 1942 and Adeline (Helen Crevel - KillerSaurus) and her daughter Chloe (Layla Watts) have gone to live in the countryside after their house in Kent was destroyed by a bomb, a place to live which has been arranged by the mild mannered Arthur (Philip Ridout - Dogged). Soon after moving in strange occurrences start happening, doors shut on their own, and Chloe befriends a sinister looking doll she finds. Then one day while out in the woods Chloe vanishes into thin air, Adeline starts to believe that she has been taken away by the spirit of a witch that she believes resides within the creepy doll found in the house...

This covers a lot of ground throughout its 95 minute run time even if a lot of that ground isn't that original at times, or that well linked together. This seemed like it was going to be a haunted doll film to begin with. Kudos to the team for coming up with a creepy thing that actually looks creepy, even if it has a slight look of a Garbage Pail Kid to it. Unlike the dullard that is Annabelle this one actually moves at times too. It is a shame then that this creation isn't actually put to much use and the whole idea felt clumsily handled.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993) - Horror Video Game Review (PS4)

The Castlevania series of video games are one of my all time favourites, nearly each and everyone I have played I have really enjoyed, especially the Metroidvania styled ones. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood originally released on the PC Engine CD exclusively in Japan, it found a Western release on the PSP in 2008 as a re-make. I own that version but I stopped playing about halfway through for whatever reason. Then in 2018 it got another re-release, this time on the PS4. Being a lifelong fan with unlikely hopes of a new Castlevania game getting made I again brought this, but this time I actually played it through to completion.

Rondo of Blood takes place in 1792 where vampire hunter Richter Belmont's love Annette has been kidnapped by the dark priest Shaft who has taken her to Castlevania: the home of legendary immortal vampire Dracula, who he and his followers have recently resurrected.

As always the story is quite brief and small, but that is what I love about these games. Having an immortal vampire as the antagonist is of course a lot of fun, but I also love how the lore affects your view of the game world. Castlevania itself is the physical manifestation of chaos which neatly explains away why it looks different each game. Rather than the latter games Metroidvania style (essentially one gigantic level) this features nine stages that are set in and around the titular castle. Starting off with an exciting cart ride into a nearby village your journey takes you through graveyards, chapels, even a ghostly ship makes an appearance. Each level is divided into various stages that are entered and exited by doors or stairwells.