Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Vindicator (1986) / The Stepfather (1987) - Horror Film Review


This review is something a little different as rather than write about an individual film I am instead reviewing a DVD double feature that contains eighties classics The Vindicator and The Stepfather. I have often mentioned Frolic Pictures latest releases and I have liked the idea behind them. They aim to replicate the experience of going to a drive-in of old by having two classics on the one disc. Rather than that be it though the features are bookended by trailers, notifications, and even the odd cartoon to really amp up the old school experience. So, after a short Superman cartoon, and a couple of trailers it is into the first feature; Jean-Claude Lord's The Vindicator.

David McIlwraith (Vampire High TV series) stars as Carl, a scientist working for a research and development company's special weapon project. After a disagreement on how the funds are being used he is killed on the orders of his boss Alex Whyte (Richard Cox). To add insult to injury Alex decides Carl's body will be used as a test subject for a new type of super soldier. The experiment is kind of a success, Carl awakens to find his brain implanted in a robot. However, before the scientists are able to attach the device that would allow them to control him, he breaks out of confinement and flees the lab. Knowing he was murdered by Whyte, and unable to be near anyone due to his suit's automatic response that makes him kill anyone who touches him, the reborn man sets out on a path of ...vindication.


I had never heard of The Vindicator before watching it for review, but found it to be a great eighties action film. It is full of cheesy moments, and some classic tropes of the action genre, such as a vehicle immediately exploding in a ball of flame after it crashes off a cliff. This came out a year before Robocop did, yet this follows a similar style story. The biggest difference being that Carl is designed to be a tool for evil, rather than as a cop. There are plenty of great moments here, such as a sewer stealth scene, moments where Carl converses with his pregnant wife via a synthesiser, and a great showdown when Carl finally returns to the lab he was born in. Sometimes I struggled to make out what the robotic voice of the protagonist was saying, but mostly the story doesn't really matter. Some great death scenes here, including a biker getting his helmet crushed into his head, and one awesome bit where Carl crushes a man into the car he was trying to mow Carl down with! With wild eyes and a weird black suit this isn't really a character you can identify with, but has lots of stupid, yet fun moments. This made for a fun first half to the DVD double feature.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Cardio (2019) - Short Horror Film Review


Cardio is a short three minute Czech horror that comes from director Petr Cerny. Over the course of its short run it takes in a few different styles, including animation. There was a lot stuffed into this one.

A man is working alone at a warehouse on his birthday, and has arranged to meet his friend after work. After finishing the call he notices there is a figure dressed all in black. Each time before he can properly see who the intruder is the lights all go out. he discovers there are two masked figures who keep moving around him each time the lights go out. Despite being quite unfit the man decides to try and run away from the two.

The first forty seconds of this are the strangest, with a phone conversation that plays out over a yellow smiley face. It was a strange start but sets up the fact the protagonist gets irritated by people who fall for fake news. What follows is slightly more traditional section where the man is toyed with by the intruders which begins his flight from them. The best part is the end, I really enjoyed how the last third plays out, and how it ends on a beat that merges the real into the cartoonish with the animated end credits. This was edited really well, both with how the music feeds into the editing, and the fast paced stitching together of disparate shots and inserts.

While I did feel the middle part of Cardio bit uneventful it all makes sense by the end, once everything is explained I felt the need to re-watch this several times. That ending is something I kept going back to, really was some neat stylistic choices there.

SCORE:



 

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Underwater (2020) - Horror Film Review


I wasn't even sure going in to watch Underwater if it was a horror or a disaster movie, it was hard to tell from the trailer. I was expecting something along the lines of Deep Blue Sea thinking maybe the threat here would be some type of animal, instead this falls firmly into the genre of horror. Some people say it is lazy to draw comparisons, but I feel if you have the knowledge of horror media why not put it to good use by sending out things that have similar styles and influences. So, for Underwater it shares elements with Gravity and, Aliens, video games Soma and Dead Space, as well as the works of a certain H.P Lovecraft.

Norah (Kristen Stewart - The Twilight Saga) is an engineer on a deep sea mining facility nearly seven miles under water. Some type of earthquake occurs which inflicts devastating damage. With the structural integrity at around 30% and all the escape pods destroyed or gone, her and a handful of other survivors, that include among them Paul (T.J Miller - Deadpool, Cloverfield), Emily (Jessica Henwick - Game of Thrones, Iron Fist), Smith (John Gallagher Jr. - 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush), Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and the Captain (Vincent Cassel - Westworld Season 3, Black Swan) must don deep sea suits and walk across the seabed to the next nearest facility, in the hopes of finding working escape pods. But, as the group soon learn, they may have far more to fear than just the impending destruction of the mining facility...


This really doesn't take any time at all to get going, within literal minutes of the film starting the base has started to fall apart. From the trailer I had imagined this would be along the lines of a disaster film, with the majority taking place inside, instead, after around ten to fifteen minutes the group have vacated the premises to begin their nightmarish (and very dark) adventure. I was actually impressed events started happening right away, I felt it was a bit of a brave move to give no time at all for character development, instead you kind of pick up the types of characters each one is as the movie progresses. I liked the actors here, and it was nice how many of them I recognised. I even didn't mind the token comedy character that Miller plays, putting aside the real life controversies he has been associated with in recent years I found his character to be inoffensive rather than annoying. It makes a change when the comedy character is actually a useful member of the team! There wasn't a character here that I didn't like, which made a change, usually you would have some sort of tension within the group. Here though I guess characters don't really have time for that, they have an objective and set out to do it working together.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Ballet of Blood (2015) - Horror Film Review


Ballet of Blood is an exploitation horror throwback film from director Jared Masters (Amethyst, Slink). The budget is low, the special effects minor and the plot mostly barebones but then that does appear to be the intention. It helps create a modern day movie that displays the film making sensibilities of decades past.

This takes place mostly in and around a ballet school and follows a group of ballerinas after an attack by an uzi toting ex-pupil; Nisa (Sydney Ray - Lake Fear 2: The Swamp). These students include among them bookish Maren (Marla Martinez) who decides to write a novel based on the incident. Wanting to keep the attack hidden away from the media, the school's owner gets the girl who is suspected of supplying the gun to Nisa; Ria (Jesse Aaron) put in a psychiatric hospital. Eventually Ria teams up with Nisa in order to get revenge on those they see as wronging them...


This movie isn't going to be for everyone, and so going in to this expecting a traditional way of filmmaking and storytelling you may come away disappointed. I had a good idea of what this would be like and it actually wasn't as wild as I figured it would be. That isn't to say it failed to live up to my expectations, there is plenty of murder, and lots of blood. Roughly two thirds of this 98 minute film follows the various girls as they go about their daily lives at the ballet school. As vapid as some of these characters appear to be they all have hopes and aspirations even if they are mostly self obsessed and judgemental people. Maren is the innocent face in all this and so became the most identifiable character here. There was some nice moments with her story with the lines becoming blurred over if what is happening is reality, or if it is all part of the novel she is writing. This becomes more overt towards the end where she and other characters talk about the actions they should take based on what Maren has previously written.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Feedback (2019) - Horror Film Review


I am having a frankly terrible evening, I won't bore with the details, but it ended with me returning home to find my review of Feedback I had spent forty five minutes writing earlier in the day had straight up vanished, apparently it hadn't saved when I had clicked on the 'save' button. So this review is a re-write from memory. Luckily though I feel this review is a better written one than my first.
I liked the idea behind Pedro C. Alonso's Feedback, it sounded to me quite similar to Truth or Dare with the way a captured person was forced to reveal their darkest secrets at pain of torture (it reminds me far more of a film that was set on a small plane I reviewed many years back, can't for the life of me remember what that was called). I was also quite happy to see a few actors among the cast who never fail to make any film they are in immediately at least a bit better.

Jarvis (Eddie Marsan - The World's End) is a famous London based radio presenter who against his boss's wishes (Norman, played by Anthony Head - Repo! The Genetic Opera, Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series) is going to do an expose on outside interference into the Brexit referendum. He goes on air, but just as he is planning to do this things start to go wrong. Initially Jarvis suspects Norman is interfering but he soon finds out that the studio has been invaded by two masked men (one of which is played by Richard Brake - 31, 3 From Hell). The duo want Jarvis to carry on his radio show as normal, but to speak about exactly what they tell him to, with their aim seeming to be to get him to talk about an incident he was part of that took place some ten years previously...


While the story was enjoyable enough an idea on its own it really became a lot better due to the quality of the actors here. To be honest I don't think it is possible for Brake to put in a bad performance and here I really liked his acting. While one of the masked villains was all rage and aggression, Brake's character was far more measured, and even kind of reasonable. I enjoyed this shifting of expectations, and he gets some good moments. It was also nice to see Marsan in a leading role, having previously only seen him in The World's End. His character on the surface is a mild mannered, yet opinionated cockney but beneath the surface lies an aggressive and self centered streak that Marsan is great at showing. I did think this character wasn't treated the best in terms of the plot, there were some bits that felt a bit off towards the end. The film only has the seven characters, but thankfully nearly all of them were enjoyable, just one character who to me felt a bit cliché and unbelievable.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

A Plague Tale: Innocence (2019) - Horror Video Game Review (X-Box One)


I have recently signed up to X-Box Game Pass and so far it has been very worth while. I had heard great things about the action-adventure horror stealth game A Plague Tale: Innocence, yet I had no intention to buy it, so seeing it newly arrived on Game Pass I decided to check it out, and I am sure glad I did.

This takes place in 1348 and mostly has you playing as Amicia de Rune, a daughter of a French nobleman. Her five year old brother Hugo has been sick since birth, and so he has been kept locked away in the house along with her alchemist mother Beatrice, who is working on a cure for him. One day the Inquisition turn up at the estate and start slaughtering everyone who lives there. Beatrice convinces Amicia to flee with her brother who it turns out is the objective of the Inquisition, she tells them to seek out Hugo's doctor, Laurentius. This begins the siblings journey into a France that is in the midst of being ravaged by a plague of almost supernatural killer rats.


The Last of Us is said to be one of the influences on this game and it is quite apparent. Outside of the beautiful graphics the stealth action mechanics feel very familiar. You craft weapons and items on the fly, and the general flow of the game feels quite similar with you battling plenty of human adversaries, as well as more puzzle like sections where you have to infiltrate past the thousands of rats. This is split into seventeen chapters and clocks in at around ten hours (at a rough estimate). Each of the levels are vastly different from each other both in terms of locations as well as what you end up doing in them. A few of the early levels for instance include a plague infected town, a battlefield littered with hundreds of corpses and a monastery. All these locations look stunning which becomes more apparent when the use of light comes into play. The horror aspect comes both from the grisly sights you see play out in front of you, and by the thousands of swarming rats (getting killed by these makes for one of the more memorable horrific video game deaths I have seen in recent memory). Of course, there is also the odd nightmare sequence or two where the horror really can come to the front more.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Teacher Shortage (2020) - Horror Film Review


Before I start this review of Teacher Shortage I have to state something for the sake of transparency. I contributed to the Kickstarter that was raising funds for the creation of this, I even appear in the credits here under the 'Special Thanks' due to my contribution to the campaign. Another aspect is that while I don't know the director/writer Troy Escamilla (Party Night, Mrs. Claus) I am part of the Fright Meter Awards committee that he is in charge of. I decided this time around that unlike the other two films of Troy's I have reviewed I would actually give a score at the end of this one. I intend to be completely truthful in my assessment of Teacher Shortage, so as part of that truth felt I should lay those details out first.

The English Department of Prescott High School have arranged to meet at the house of one of the teachers in order to carry out an annual 'professional development session' which in actuality is more of an excuse to get together and drink. However the day they have decided to do this is also the day that a masked killer has appeared, and who seems to have quite the grudge against the teachers of Prescott High. Could this possibly be linked to the suicide of a bullied girl at the High School some years back?


I stated in my review of Mrs. Claus that it felt like Escamilla was developing as a director, but this latest effort blows both his previous films out of the water. I was surprised by just how darn enjoyable this slasher was. There are still moments that show the indie roots, but on the whole I was impressed with Teacher Shortage. In terms of the plot I did feel that the prologue of this was extremely similar to the prologue of Mrs. Claus, both featuring a bullied girl killing herself. But past that point, outside of the obvious similarities of these both being slashers these films went down different paths. Both the previous films featured young adults in the starring roles, here the age range has increased so that you get a bunch of older adults who on the whole I found to be enjoyable characters. It was nice to see Brinke Stevens (Slumber Party Massacre), Kaylee Williams, and Mel Heflin coming back from Mrs. Claus, carrying on the tradition of Escamilla using actors he has worked with before, while the new cast members were also mostly enjoyable. Highlights being Roger Conners (Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride) as the school principal, and the womaniser character that Michael Tula expertly plays.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Blair Witch (2019) - Horror Video Game Review (X-Box One)


Blair Witch is a first person survival horror game that takes place in the iconic Black Hills forest from the films. Back when The Blair Witch Project first came out there were a series of apparently terrible video games released, what I recall of them they had you fighting monsters made out of sticks. I wondered then how this latest game would fare any better, after all the frightening aspect of the films comes from not knowing what the threat actually is, so in a game setting that would also need to happen, but it wouldn't make for much of a captivating game. I had high hopes for Blair Witch having liked the trailer for it, but could it manage to create a layer of fear?

This takes place in 1996, two years after the events of the original film. You play as a former police officer and veteran called Ellis Lynch. Along with your dog Bullet you travel to the Black Hills forest to help with the search for a missing nine year old, Peter Shannon, who went missing in the area. The main search party have already headed in, so you decide to try and find them, but along the way Bullet picks up clues that the main search party missed, and so you head off alone to follow up on these clues. This begins a nightmare in which Ellis is forced to confront the demons from his past, as it seems some nefarious force is determined to stop you from finding the boy.


At times this felt more like a walking simulator than survival horror. A lot of the game has you, along with your dog walking around the forest, solving gentle puzzles as you go. This game takes a lot of its inspiration from the latest Blair Witch film. While that movie wasn't great it did have some decent ideas revolving around how the forest messes with your perception of time and space. Going with this a lot of the progress between 'scenes' involves time shifting around. You can, say look at an item on the ground in daylight, then look up to find it is now night time. The night time sections feature a lot more horror and danger as you would expect. This use of time also applies to objects you see within the game. For example stumbling across the rusted remains of a old truck you later return to see the truck now looking relatively new and in full working condition (this idea in the film series is first shown in the wonderful Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) . Another example was one part of the game when you are in the same location as another character you are talking over the radio to, but seemingly at a different time, like what they did in the Silent Hill films.

Friday, 31 January 2020

The Rotting Zombie's Round-up of Horror News for January - First News Post of 2020


























It's a new year and I currently find myself having a renewed love for watching horror. So far it has been enjoyable doing my blog in 2020, trying to keep sticking to the one new blog post every other day. Before I get onto the chunk of news I have for January a note to say the latest reimagining of The Grudge is currently at the cinema. Apparently it isn't very good, as I write this I haven't seen it, but by the time this post goes up I will have, so should have my review of it.

On the videogame front I am currently working my way through the DLC for Resident Evil 7: Biohazard which will take the form of several mini-reviews, and is also being live-streamed on my YouTube channel. I have also returned to the horror homage to Castlevania that is Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the review for that will be fuzzy as I got right to the end of it last year and then just stopped playing.
Another horror game I am currently working through is the original 1992 version of Alone in the Dark that I reviewed over ten years ago, but will be adding to that review.
Finally, on X-Box One I am part way through the survival horror game Blair Witch. It isn't blowing me away but I am having fun with it. A review of that will also follow.

There is a new poster for Michael S. Rodriquez's (Last American Horror Show Part 1) new film: Lake of Shadows: The Legend of Avocado Lake. Based on an actual lake that has had many deaths associated with it, the film is about three wannabe journalists who set out to discover just why so many have died there, but soon learn the truth is more horrific than they imagined.
A new poster has also been released for Harley Wallen's Ash and Bone. This stars Jamie Bernadette (I Spit on Your Grave) and Mel Novak (Bruce Lee's Game of Death) and is about a rebellious teen who crosses paths with a notorious family after leaving the city for the countryside.


Now here is some Arrow Video (US) latest release news. On January 28th José Ramón Larraz's Edge of the Axe gets a Blu-ray release. This Spanish-American slasher is about a masked killer armed with an axe picking off innocents in a small Californian village. This 2K restoration includes Spanish and English versions of the film as well as two new audio commentaries and more.
MVD have acquired additional titles from the Bob Yari catalog for their Rewind and Marquee collections. Mind Games is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 11th February and is described as a 'taut psychological thriller about a family's battle for survival against a cruel, scheming stranger'. First Snow is due to be released on 14th April. In this one a slick salesman's life begins to unravel after he learns from a psychic that his life will end when the first snow of the season hits. Finally, returning to Blu-ray and DVD is the chiller Possession. This stars Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show) and is about a car accident her, her husband, and brother-in-law get into. This one comes out on 14th April too.

Emerald Wolf Studios has released the first trailer and art for Death Trap. This is Deandra Spinner's directorial debut and is about six friends on Halloween 1999 who get caught up with Baptist zealots after crashing their car in the Florida Everglades.



Best Dude Films has released the first trailer and stills for director/writer Stacy Brown Jr's The Pit. This features survivalist Les Stroud alongside Brown as two friends who become trapped after falling into a pit while hiking in an isolated forest, and must resort to their animal instincts in order to survive their ordeal.



A teaser trailer for Roberto D'Antona's Caleb is now online. This Italian horror is by L/D Production Company and is about a woman who heads to a remote town looking for her sister who went missing in the area. There she discovers the towns folk don't dare to leave their homes after sundown, it seems it may well involve vampires.



Australian horror Turbines is now out to watch on a number of online platforms that include among them Vimeo, Amazon, Filmocracy and Xumo. The press release states 'Turbines is entertaining to watch and takes you on a journey with a lonely couple in a foreign country. But it is the unexpected series of events that will keep you on the edge of your seat'.

Slasher is currently requesting 'Red Band' trailers for its app. The app aims to bring everyone involved in the horror industry together in one place and call themselves a 'true alternative media solution for horror filmmakers'. Sadly this app isn't available in the UK but in the US can be found on the Apple and Google stores. If you are interested in submitting a 'Red Band' trailer then email pr@slasher.tv.

The online streaming channel American Horrors has announced its choice for the 'Female Visual Artist of 2019'. The winner was Snovonne from Modena, Italy, she 'is the living embodiment of a world class art vigilante smashing her way through modern art house conventions, using her talents in music, video, photography, editing and live performances to create a unique nightmare realm'. The 'Male Visual Artist of 2019' pick was Chris J. Miller. The American Horrors channel is available on Roku and for free online at the American Horror's website and at Strictly Streaming.

Adrian Tofei (creator and star of the stellar found footage Be My Cat: A Film for Anne) has announced the name of his next feature film. Dr. Frankenstein will be a contemporary adaptation of the classic story and will somehow include both the Be My Cat and We Put the World to Sleep (an apocalyptic film currently in post-production) universes. Sleep is due to be at festivals 2020-2021, while Dr. Frankenstein will be 2021-2022. Be My Cat is planned to come to DVD and Blu-ray in the first quarter of this year.

Horror director Jared Masters (Slink, After School Massacre, 8 Reels of Sewage) has released an autobiography titled Thoughts Are All You Have. His 5th book 'explores his roots, passions, love affairs, secret knowledge, sordid stories and more. It's wildly entertaining and hilarious as well as heart warming. It's a quick read you need.' The book is available to buy from Amazon.


Onto music now and electro-industrial artists SpankTheNun have announced their first full-length release: Initial Decay Control, which includes the single Glitch. This twelve track album is already available on Bandcamp and was released on CD on 28th January also.



New Zealand four piece Devilskin have released the official music video for Corrode which is the latest single of theirs. It has been taken from their upcoming album titled Red, that releases on 3rd April. Corrode is about 'being completely overwhelmed and submerged in grime and stress. Fighting your way through it all and rising to ask for help'.



While that is it for news this month that isn't exactly true. I wrote this post last Sunday, but in the week that has passed since I have received loads of newsworthy emails. I could have spent some time adding those onto this post, but it is after the end of a ten hour shift at my day job and so I'm not going to do that. Instead the late news I received shall of course go onto February's undoubtedly exciting news post.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Grudge (2020) - Horror Film Review


I was so off the loop on this latest version of The Grudge (directed by Nicolas Pesce - The Eyes of My Mother) that I only knew of its existence due to a colleague at my day job asking me about it. Before watching this at the cinema I had not even seen the trailer for the film. All I did know was that it was not meant to be very good. Back in 2002 when Ju-On: The Grudge came out in Japan I wasn't able to see it as anything more than a poor man's Ring. As such I have never rated either the Japanese or American series of films in the saga. Despite the name suggesting this is a reimagining this actually fits in neatly to the original American timeline of films, with this one taking place between (rather confusingly) 2004's The Grudge and 2006's The Grudge 2.

In 2004, Fiona Landers (Tara Westwood) returns home to her young daughter Melinda (Zoe Fish) and husband, Sam (David Lawrence Brown) in the US after working as a house clearance specialist at a certain spooky home in Japan. Not long after, a married estate agent duo head on over to the Landers house to get some papers signed.
In 2005 an elderly couple move into the Landers property, the husband has called on the services of a woman who can help with assisted suicide, due to his wife, Faith (Lin Shaye - Insidious) having got dementia.
Then in 2006, Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough - Mandy, Black Mirror episode 'Crocodile') who is newly arrived to the area ends up going to the Landers property while working on a case involving a badly decomposed corpse found in a crashed car.


The plot is slightly hard to sum up due to there being three different stories going on over three different years. These plots all overlap with each other and aside from the first time each new story appears there isn't anything to let you know the focus has shifted to a different one. This was actually something I felt worked really well for The Grudge, I found it interesting how clues from the other stories would be shown to impact on whichever one happened to be playing. This also creates a slight anthology feel, and I do love me some horror anthology. All the way from the beginning to the end this mostly plays out shifting between the three. Other than the prologue, the actual Landers family don't show up as anything but ghosts. This isn't really a twist as it becomes apparent right away the family are all dead outside of that short beginning.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Lore (2017) - Horror Film Review


Lore is a horror film that the press release says has been heavily influenced by myths told by the Native American Lakota Tribe. It was co-directed and written by Christian Larsen and Brock Manwill in their first feature film, and was filmed on location in the mountains of Idaho. This means at the very least visually it is very pretty. While there is not too much action going on it wouldn't be entirely correct to call this a slow burn, and despite the somewhat mellow tone I found myself quite involved.

Ann (Lyndsey Lantz) and her separated husband, Rich (Max Lesser) are distraught when their teenage son Eric goes missing while out hiking on his own in the Idaho mountains. The search for the boy is called off by the authorities after they fail to discover any evidence he was even there, yet Ann keeps having recurring dreams that he is indeed still up there. She is put in contact with a Native American, John (Sean Wei Mah - Frontier TV series) who is familiar with the area, and together him, Ann and Rich go for one last search. However it soon starts to seem like the Native American myths surrounding the area Eric went missing in might actually have some truth to them.


The prologue for this film works by having an alternating split that has Eric talking to his mum about the trip, and then showing the boy frightened, running through the forest from someone or something. This cleared up some questions before they even arose. Firstly, why the boy was off hiking on his own, and also that something bad did indeed happen to him. It then skips forward in time to the present where the main story really begins. There were still plenty of questions throughout Lore and not all of them are ever explained. This was done in a way where it wasn't frustrating, some stuff is left to your own interpretation, but if you pay attention to what is going on many of the questions can be found. This works as a metaphor for Ann dealing with the loss of her son. She repeatedly claims she would rather be dead if it turns out her son really is dead, her journey to find him is also her journey to move on with her life. As the film progresses she has to begin to rely on herself, and much like she has to accept there may actually be a supernatural force out in the forest she has to accept the possibility that Eric is gone.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Extracurricular (2018) - Horror Film Review


Ray Xue's Extracurricular takes the concept of home invasion horror films and does something a little bit different with it. Rather than following the victims this movie instead follows the intruders themselves. If you stop and really think about what is going on then your suspension of disbelief may fade away, getting immersed in the story however and this becomes quite a thrill ride.

Four high school friends; brothers Derek (Keenan Tracey - Bates Motel TV series) and Ian (Spencer Macpherson - American Gothic TV series), as well as Miriam (Brittany Raymond) and Jenny (Brittany Teo) have a dark secret they hold together. In their spare time they plan and carry out home invasions, picking their victims at random so as to avoid detection. Ian likes to meticulously plan these, while other members of the group prefer far more spontaneous actions, but despite these differences of opinion they work well together, until one fateful night when everything starts to unravel...

Home invasion films are ten a penny, everything from The Strangers, to Them and You're Next but changing the perspective makes this one seem fresh. The problem with having the aggressors as the primary characters is that it doesn't make for ones that the audience will want to root for. Of the four characters here there are not really any that I found as anything other than moody teens, though it was interesting the varying levels of sociopathy each inhabit. Miriam was by far the most interesting, having a perfect family, and getting into a new relationship with a girl from her school. The contrast between this and her murderous side was an interesting dichotomy that never got explored too well. Then Derek comes across like a Scream killer, all anger and flippancy, while his brother Ian takes on a more emo style of thinking. With Ian though there was some nice work done to show that maybe to him his heart isn't really into it as much as his outward attitude might imply. By the time Extracurricular begins the group have already racked up a few kills so there isn't much insight into how they came to decide to do this. Other than an early part set during a lesson in which their teacher, Mr. Vollman (Joshua Joel Bailey) discusses the philosophy of righteous killings as part of a history lesson. I never really came to understand how some of that group could do what they did so utterly guiltless, and so I was hoping they would be caught.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Kill Switch: Final Season (2019) by Sean E. Britten - Horror Book Review


Out of the books I have read of author Sean E. Britten it is the Kill Switch series that I have enjoyed the most. Taking place in a Transmetropolitan style of corrupt future where advances in technology has led to a cheapening of life, the Kill Switch books occur within a deadly game show called 'Slayerz' in which criminals are fitted with the titular kill switches and forced to team up with a partner in order to survive a Battle Royale style deathmatch. I really enjoyed the previous books; Kill Switch and Kill Switch: Serial Escalation and so had no doubt in my mind I would also love Kill Switch: Final Season.

Following the format of the previous books it is once again a new year and a new season of Slayerz in which we follow two more mismatched contestants as they try and survive against their rivals. After being banned from taking place on American soil after the release of abominations last season Slayerz has relocated to the land of the often mentioned 'bio-wars'; Africa. This season the theme is bio-wars and so many of the contestants are made up of people who had something to do with those, as well as genetically modified mutants that were created to fight in them. Former soldier, turned mercenary Digger Dundee has been partnered up with a young boy given the name of Homo Superior Number Eleven, nicknamed Homer by Digger. Things start off business as usual, but along the way something happens that swiftly changes the course of this years game.

Final Season manages to be the most action packed and chaotic entry in the series yet, and also seemed to be longer than previous books. This felt like a rehash of past novels, but in a good way, I am always up for the 'battle royale' style of action these books contain. I was slightly worried then when around halfway through things change enough that I wouldn't get my traditional Slayerz action I like so much (again I fear if this was a real show I would be addicted to it!). However I soon came on board for this change in direction, helped in no part by the insanity of what is thrown against Digger and other characters. With killer sex-bots, mechs, mini nukes, psychics, scorpion shaped tanks, lethal gas and super fans there was no end in the variety of ways that murder and mayhem unfolded on paper. Britten's inspirations are many, everything from Stranger Things to Crocodile Dundee and the Fallout series of video games get nods, and the sheer amount of variety is what makes this book so joyously fun to read.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Rise of the Zombie (2013) - Horror Film Review


I gave myself a week off from reviewing things sent my way to instead choose films myself to watch. Getting back to basics I figured I should watch a zombie film, so chose Indian horror Rise of the Zombie. It looked like it wasn't going to be much good, and boy was my instinct right!

Neil Parker (Luke Kenny, who co-directed this with writer Devaki Singh) is a wildlife photographer in India whose passion for his job often causes problems with his friends and family. He has a habit of disappearing on assignments for days at a time without letting anyone know where he is going, and after returning from one such trip his exasperated girlfriend Vinny (Kirti Kulhari) finally dumps him. Neil responds by doing what he does best, heading off to the forest to take photos. While there however he is bitten by a strange insect, the bite gets infected and Neil starts to find himself slowly transforming...


Rise of the Zombie is a horror that really doesn't know how to set its priorities. It is frustrating in this respect as it isn't a terrible film, there are at least a few good things going for it. Despite being just under an hour and a half this was very dull with not much at all going on. The horror doesn't really even begin until just under halfway through and due to the weird style of directing and editing the horror is often unsatisfactory. There is a bizarre amount of filler here, one very obvious example is an extended dance montage in a club that focuses on a girl dressed as a 'sexy' nurse. Not only did this scene have nothing to do with anything but Neil himself barely even features in it. This whole sequence features no dialogue and just felt like it was there for the sake of being there. There is so much senseless filler here that there isn't really a story until there is only about fifteen minutes left. I was concerned that this wasn't enough time and it turns out I was right. As the minutes counted down time was really running out, which had the weird outcome that the story literally doesn't end. It fades to credits as various plot threads are still occurring, meaning there is zero resolution for both the plight of Neil, and his girlfriends journey to discover where he has gone to! With so much not happening for most the run time to then try and stuff an entire films worth of story into the finale is plain weird.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Marshes (2018) - Horror Film Review


For once I am virtually caught up on the horrors I have for review, so instead this weekend I decided I would watch films of my choosing. Australian horror The Marshes has recently been added to Shudder, the service said it was released in 2020 and so I decided to check it out. In actuality though it first came out back in 2018, but only in Australia.

Three young biologists; Pria (Dafna Kronental), Will (Sam Delich), and grad student Ben (Mathew Cooper) head out to remote marshland on a field trip in order to take some samples. After encountering some poachers the three are wary, but decide to finish up their work before heading back, due to the nearest settlement being a three hour drive away. Pria begins to experience unsettling nightmares, and gets the feeling the trio are being watch, so urges a swift exit. However before they are able to leave they get plunged into terror as someone or something begins to hunt them down...


The Marshes struggles to maintain a course for how it wants its horror to play out. Initially, after encounters with disgruntled locals it seems this would have a Wolf Creek type of vibe to it. Later on this feels much more In the Tall Grass with the location of the marshes itself seeming to be the real enemy. With a murderous swagman (Eddie Baroo - Wolf Creek TV series) who may or may not be real thrown into the mix events become confusing to say the least. It felt like it didn't know what it wanted to be, almost like there were two vying interpretations going on with director/writer Roger Scott constantly going back and forth. This worked in keeping the story ambiguous. For example there is plenty here to point to everything going on to be one long dream sequence, from events that we are shown to actually be nightmares Pria is having, to the coincidence of the primary antagonist just happening to be the same as the figure from a ghost story about the origins of the Waltzing Matilda song Will tells earlier on in the movie. There is just as much evidence that everything occurring is real, with a hazy supernatural explanation for why things are so strange. This non-committal makes the film seem a bit unsure of itself rather than have it feel satisfyingly obtuse. This even stretches to the films ending that is actually two different endings playing one after the other. Both would have been great endings on their own, but together they cancel each other out.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Good Works (2019) - Short Horror Film Review


The award winning Good Works is a fourteen minute long horror film from director D.J Remark (who also played the part of Styxman in The Curse of Lilith Ratchet), and which was written by Jason Orr. It takes the familiar style of a lone woman home alone experiencing spooky goings on, but changes up expectations by having the woman relatively unfazed.

Sam (Stella Ryan-Lozon) starts to see eyeless and heartless walking corpses wherever she goes. While she appears a bit frightened of this it doesn't stop her carrying on her daily routine as normal. This leads up to a conversation in which all is explained.


This began quite surreal with corpses appearing around Sam, but her not really noticing them. The reveal was something that wasn't expected, but leads back mainly to a conversation she has with a religious woman who knocks at her door (Leigh A. Peterson). Mainly Sam just carries out normal things, she has a cup of tea, eats some lunch, and gives her mum a phone call. This satisfies not in being scary, but by explaining the biggest mystery it creates. I liked the way Ryan-Lozon acted, was a nice down to earth type of style. The make-up effects for the corpses were not bad, they all looked suitably freaky, and it was all filmed in a satisfying way.

Good Works takes a very familiar style of story telling but turns it on its head a little bit, making for a film that was more interesting than scary, but which changes what you think you know about everything going on.

SCORE:


Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Silhouette (2019) - Horror Film Review


Silhouette is a dark drama written and directed by Mitch McLeod (Birthday Girl) that covers some uncomfortable topics. With a relatively small cast and a budget of $25,000 this succeeds due to the casting choices for the main leads, and the laser focus storyline of the disintegrating relationship of these two characters.

After the death of their young daughter who was suffering a terminal illness, couple, Jack (Tom Zembrod - Knucklebones, From the Dark) and Amanda (April Hartman - Howlers) move into a new property. Jack hopes the change will let them not only rebuild their lives, but also their failing, loveless marriage, but Amanda, still in deep depression from that past trauma is not at a stage where she can move on. Both are haunted by the demons from their past, Jack due to past mistakes he has made impacting the present, and for Amanda she is literally seeing demons in the form of the ghostly figure of her daughter.


Silhouette is not a film designed to set out and scare people, instead the horror comes from realistic trappings of a couple trapped in a doomed marriage. Both characters are flawed, even if Jack comes across as the more normal of the two. Amanda is mentally ill, on antipsychotics and living in a nightmare fantasy world in which existence is barely manageable. The traditional horror elements appear primarily around her, from the demonic ghost of her daughter, to the brutal dreams in which she stabs herself repeatedly in the stomach. I liked the blurring effects used whenever the ghost appears, and Hartman does a sterling job of being terrified of all the unexplainable things going on around her. Initially it seemed she would be the protagonist, but the film is split more evenly, especially in the second half where the camera follows Jack around, leaving Amanda in her miserable solitude.

Monday, 13 January 2020

The Mannequin (2020) - Short Horror Film Review


Short horror film The Mannequin is special in that it is the first film I have seen that was released in 2020. It was directed by Kévin Mendiboure (The Follower) and stars Alexia Zahedi. This follows a format that is extremely familiar to anyone who has seen more than a couple of short horror films, but does it still manage to be scary?

Alexia (Zahedi) is home alone waiting for her partner to return when suddenly all the lights go out. Random unexpected noises occur and she starts to fear someone is in the house with her, but as far as she is aware she is alone, alone that is except for the creepy mannequin she keeps in her downstairs hallway...

The Mannequin is just about four minutes long and it does achieve quite a bit in that time, with two locations in the house having spooky moments happen in. Mannequins are always a creepy object, for me they bring back memories of playing the fantastic Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in VR which actually featured a scene similar to this one involving those life size figures. The basic plot here was very predictable, I guessed right away how this would end and I was mostly spot on. The first half and the second half are mostly the same idea played out twice, and the jump scare had a great idea behind it.

The overall story here didn't stand apart from countless others, but one area The Mannequin really excels is the great sound design, the music on the one hand is suitably horror based, designed to ramp up the tension and suspense, but the sound effects were what really worked here. The highlight being the high pitched whine and distorted sound when Alexia first really panics. Talking of her, while she doesn't speak here, her panicked breathing and gasps sounded good. I also liked the end credits that have the sound of an object repeatedly rattling, calling back to an earlier point in the film.

This may follow a traditional path, but rewatching it I was impressed with how many short horror film tropes were fitted into such a short film. The Mannequin is one I far more appreciated for how it was created, as well as the types of ways it tried to create fear, than for the actual story it was telling.

SCORE:



Saturday, 11 January 2020

The Kingdom of Var (2019) - Horror Film Review


The Kingdom of Var is a low budget indie horror that marks director/writer Nicholas Kleban's feature length directorial debut. Apparently the film was initially planned as a short in a two part anthology, but the second part was combined with the idea in the first to make a longer horror. The whole movie was shot in just thirteen days, with post production taking a year and a half.

Weirdo college student Sonja (Vida Zukauskas - Frankenpimp) discovers a strange video tape in her basement one day titled 1594, which shows a man performing some sort of ritual. Becoming obsessed with the tape she does some research online and discovers that it is allegedly a film from the year 1594 which had been created by a time travelling sorcerer; Var (Shawn Van Every). Her research also indicates that by watching the tape the viewer would summon the spirit of Var who would then relentlessly attack his victim. Sonja dismisses all of this as fantastical, yet as more and more nightmarish things begin to occur around her she starts to think there may be some truth in what she has read...


The low budget here means that there isn't much to be scared of. The effects are minimal, the props unrealistic, and the acting ranges from middling to bad. However, rather than try and make a serious horror it seems this low budget look was leant into with moments that are purposely bad and make for some comedic parts, such as when Sonja is being chased and she opens a fridge door which her pursuer runs into and then falls over. This leads to a strange divide between moments that seem like they are trying to be more horrific and moments of absurdist humour, overall despite the bleak direction the story points to this is more of a comedy, albeit quite a dark one.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

The Appearance (2018) - Horror Film Review


The Appearance is a supernatural horror film that is set during medieval times, it is quite fitting then that this was written and directed by the aptly named Kurt Knight (We All Fall Down). I wasn't expecting too much from this, but actually it wasn't bad at all. It may be a gloomy and miserable affair but it has atmosphere in spades.

Mateho the Inquisitor (Jake Stormoen - the Mythica series of films) and his bodyguard and friend Johnny (Kristian Nairn - Game of Thrones)  have been summoned to a monastery by monk Felix (Adam Johnson - also Mythica) after the unexplainable death of a fellow monk there. There he finds a teenage girl; Isabel (Baylee Self - The Outpost TV series) chained up in the dungeon, with the abbot of the monastery (Michael Flynn - Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) having accused her of witchcraft that led to the death of the monk. Mateho is determined to prove that the girl is innocent, but as more and more inexplicable events happen he begins to question everything he thought he knew.


The Appearance is a joyless affair that brought to mind the bleak tone of The VVitch: A New-England Folktale, but as it went on I was more comparing it to the excellent Let Us Prey and even as strange as it sounds Alien. The majority of the movie takes place within the dank corridors of the monastery with some outdoor scenes in the muddy village adding some rustic flavour. The dark atmosphere was very effective, with torch flame being the main illumination, with the occasional sunlight shining through the crucifix shaped windows. The costumes used were all as you would expect, as was the set dressing of straw strewn rooms and religious imagery. This was worth noting as it added to the mood and story of a bunch of miserable monks getting picked off one by one by a demonic force, as did the gloomy music that also fitted the tone well.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

The Things With The Glowing Green Eyes (2019) - Short Horror Film Review


First there was The Childish Thing, then there was The Thing About Beecher's Gate, and now comes the third entry in Jeremy Herbert's Thing trilogy of short horrors with The Things With The Glowing Green Eyes. The previous films had both been of high quality and so after hearing about this one I was excited to see it. Herbert has stated about the film: "Every filmmaker gets a movie that won't die once in a while. This was mine. Lost locations. Missing Footage. Scheduling conflicts so ironclad we had to scrap a movie and reuse pieces of it in this one. It's somehow appropriate the depths to which this one dragged me personally and professionally given its subject matter."

During a weekly town meeting one of the few regulars; Bernie (Morgan McLeod - The Childish Thing, The Thing About Beecher's Gate) nonchalantly asks if anything is going to be done about the things with the glowing green eyes. This then leads to a series of short stories in which each of the other attendants admits to having also seen them, and then recounts their own personal underwhelming experiences with these strange visitors.


There has always been an element of humour to Herbert's shorts but this one was by far the most funny, so much so that on two occasions during the twenty minute run time I did laugh out loud. The dialogue here is just great for each of the characters, with each of the actors performances being spot on. From Daniel Allen as the calm and cool sheriff, to Daniel Alan Kiely as the timid mayor, they all delivered their lines with perfect comic timing. The fact that nothing happens in each of the four recollections was what helped to make this quite amusing. It was also nice to see Jenson Strock playing a part here, I last saw her in The Childish Thing.

While this is funny it still manages to come across as creepy. The titular things don't do anything except stand dead still, most the time you can't even really see them, their out of focus glowing eyes being the only visible sign of them. The situations characters find themselves would be scary in a normal setting, such as the sheriff out in the woods surrounded by the creatures, or Gail (Catherine Csyani) having one standing at the foot of her bed, but the fact these stories all end abruptly gives them a comedic feel. Ghost Stories used a similar idea a few years back of sudden endings, but that failed as it was trying to be legitimately scary and so the endings just created frustration. The music as always was fantastic, the soundtrack sounded alien really adding a layer of atmosphere to these unsettling goings on.

Based on the previous films I had a fair expectation that The Things With Glowing Green Eyes would be a solid piece of entertainment, and it is that. I saw the twisting of expectations that was achieved to be a fun idea, and with solid acting among the cast this was something wonderful. The fact that this had such a troubled production yet still morphed into an entertaining short is testament to Herbert.

SCORE:



Sunday, 5 January 2020

Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition (2017) - Post Apocalyptic Video Game Review (Playstation 4)


Here at The Rotting Zombie HQ horror is the order of the day. However, I do have a soft spot for anything post apocalyptic and so that is why this prehistoric-techno 3rd person open world adventure game is gracing these pages. Originally released at the start of 2017 Horizon Zero Dawn then got a huge chunk of extra content in the form of The Frozen Wilds expansion released at the end of that same year. I played through the 'Complete Edition' which perhaps unsurprisingly includes both the core game, and that expansion, and this review will reflect that additional content.

Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in a post apocalyptic world in which animal like robots exist in far greater numbers than humans. By that alone you can probably guess what caused the apocalypse, even if it isn't as simple a line as it initially appears to be. In this new world mankind have regressed back to living in tribes, each holding various spiritual beliefs, and many worshipping or fearing ancient surviving technology. You play as Aloy (voiced by Ashly Burch - Borderlands 2, Attack on Titan English dub) who since birth has been mysteriously exiled from her tribe; the Nora, along with her carer Rost (voiced by JB Blanc - Breaking Bad). As a child she discovered a 'Focus' which is an augmented reality device that allows her to interface with past technology. As an adult the once passive machines have become increasingly hostile to human life, and murderous corrupted machines have also started to appear in larger numbers. Because of her special abilities Aloy is sent out into the greater world in order to find out what is causing the machines to become corrupted, along the way discovering just what happened to cause the ancient world to collapse.


Including the expansion this took me around 65 hours to get through, in this day and age I actually see that as a smaller game than many. It is hard to go into too much detail as so much changes from the start that it would be spoiler upon spoiler. This post apocalyptic landscape is much less Mad Max, and far more Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The world has returned to nature with most signs of the old world lost to time. Instead you get lots and lots of beautiful nature to explore, and this takes place over a variety of biomes, from the snowy Nora lands that the game starts in, to canyons, forests, and deserts, all the way to the huge mountains of the expansion. Sure it might not initially make sense how these locations are so close to each other, but they make for a game that can often be stunningly pretty. The game world is pretty huge, existing as one large world, rather than a series of smaller open world locations such as with The Witcher 3. There is a ridiculous abundance of fast travel points (campfires here), with many of them even being within eyesight of another one, no complaints here as once you have opened them all up it makes going from mission to mission a great streamlined experience.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Making Faces (2019) - Short Horror Film Review


Making Faces is the latest short horror film from Andrew J.D Robinson (The Becky Carmichael Fan Club, Candle Cove). This takes a look at the falseness of the online persona people portray and explores that in a horror setting. I admit to not quite understanding this one, yet even despite not getting it I found this to have, like so many of Robinson's recent shorts a sustained sense of unease that stayed with me long after I had finished watching.

This starts effectively with a young woman: Cassie (Willow McGregor) posing for happy selfies of herself, but struggling to hold back the tears. This set the tone for the whole short with the duality of actual and projected emotions. The main part of the short is a phone conversation Cassie is having with a photographer about a photo she had brought, which had turned up blank. As the woman tells her about the circumstances that led to the unique range of photographs she is selling Cassie comes to learn the horrific truth for herself.

After repeated viewings of Making Faces there is no sense of inexplicable dread lost. It helps that the main character is on her own in an isolated setting, it also helps with the sudden loud sounds that break up the relative silence, from a doorbell ringing (that despite sounding nothing like my own I thought it was from my door!), to the abrasive ringtone on Cassie's phone the sound is designed to put you on edge. McGregor is a relatable protagonist and I like how you get a sense of the inner turmoil she was facing. It was also a nice touch that there is perhaps a guest cameo of the character Becky (voiced by Gabrielle Banville) from another of Robinson's shorts. A lot of the horror comes from the nightmarish images caught on camera, the faces trapped in anguish and terror are quite creepy.

Making Faces was a well made nine minute short. The trip-hop style music is forever associated by me to the Silent Hill horror video games and so its use here effortlessly combines with the story to give a feeling of creeping dread. Watching this was a good way to start off the new year.

SCORE:



Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Red Ice (2019) - Comedy Horror Podcast Review


I had intended my December news post to be the very last thing I wrote on my blog in 2019. After shutting down my PC and closing my office up for the year I happened to be listening to part 2 of the horror comedy Red Ice from Next Day Theater's Parabasis podcast anthology series. I don't know why but I had assumed it was a three parter, and with only two episodes on iTunes I figured there wasn't any reason to review it until the final part was out. So egg on my face when episode 2 ends, and with it brings an end to the story. Red Ice is set out like a found footage, a device that works as well as audio as it does using film.

This takes place in 2020 and a radio documentary team have been invited to interview a crew surveying for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that is using cutting edge technology designed to be much more protective of the environment. It soon becomes clear that maybe everything is not as well meaning and innocent as it at first seems. Even this pales in comparison to the events that follow, events that result in this recorded audio being the only surviving testament to the horror witnessed at that remote base...

Red Ice is a two parter, with each episode being roughly twenty five minutes long in length. Rather than go the route of having purely audio there is a lot of background noise and effects used to really make it seem like the cast are actually out in the Arctic. These effects are what really make this so successful, it adds a lot of atmosphere. Despite being a comedy the horror part isn't shirked on, and the humour isn't overwhelming. Instead it is more subtle in that it shows itself mainly through the dialogue characters have. I can't go too much into the story without spoilers, but this involves a fun twist midway through episode 1 that includes both racism, rampant drug abuse, and a complete disregard for environmental protection. Occasionally due to being audio only it was slightly confusing I found.

There is a large cast here compared to audio books I have listened to in the past, including among them Julian Kingston as Kevin, Jennifer Yadav as Amara, and Becca Barrett as Michelle. Having the format of an audio based play was something I have strangely not personally come across before and it was quite enjoyable. It also feels very much of the time, dealing as it does with topical issues such as climate change. There is a sense of justice to what happens here, the horror helped along by some great sounding roars during the more dramatic moments (such as the majority of part 2).

Red Ice was an enjoyable story that was told in a fun fashion. I liked it enough that I subscribed to the Parabis podcast for whatever they put out in future. A nice blend of dry humour and horror that gets more dramatic as it goes on makes for a fun hour. Head to the Next Day Theater website for info on how to listen to this yourself.

SCORE: