Valentine 2001

Okay I get why you would want to release your horror movie set on St Valentine’s day and called Valentine actually on St Valentine’s day. It makes total sense: cash in on that holiday. But surely, unless your horror movie is actually about love (maybe twisted forbidden love like The Shape of Water or doomed genetically messed up love like The Fly or hell even kinky grim love between a woman and her corpse in Necromantik) then you do not understand the nature of the holiday you are latching on to.

This is the case with Valentine, a quite unremarkable post slasher made in the wake of Scream‘s success. It’s set at a Valentine’s day dance (is that even a thing?) and a couple of people claim to be in love with other people, but really this is just the same old killer in a mask murdering pretty youths routine. The mask is a cherib mask so I guess there’s that. It’s not enough though…

You know I think that all those slashers that came after Scream just didn’t get what made Scream so special in the first place. It was a commentary and homage to the slashers of the eighties. It mocked them whilst at the same time was also a great version of them too. All these following films were just more of the same: they were slashers but with no wit or insight into their own genre. Worse was that to appeal to the youth market they often aimed for a PG-13 rating and skimped on the gore. Again this is not like Scream which was actually pretty bloody. So what we have left is a boring and gore free slog. I Know What You Did Last Summer and Prom Night suffered from this. They seemed to think that if you cast some pretty, relatively well known young faces and slapped them on the poster that the crowds would be there on opening day. The studios also threw alot of money at these projects with the high/low point being the $30 million they lobbed at the Prom Night remake that absolutely does not make it up onto the big screen.

Valentine isn’t quite as expensive. It’s hard to imagine any studio spending today even the $10 million spent here on such a vapid and forgettably generic stalk and slash. Back in the early naughties though there was decent box office to be made from such crap. And make no mistake Valentine is crap.

It has several good things going for it.

1) it looks good. You’d hope so with ten million dollars in 2001 but it is a well shot movie. There’s a distinct lack of directoral florishes and so looks a bit like a modern TV programme but considering how awful a lot of knock off slashers lookedl baba in the day you’ve got to take a win where you can.

2) Denise Richards,  who’s character is the classic pretty loose girl,  is surprisingly decent. Not only is her acting better than it was in say, well, everything she’s ever done but her character fights against the cliché she’s supposedly is. Men try to chat her up and she can see straight threw them. One guy gets her up to a bedroom and she burns his bollocks with some hot wax, and not in a sexy way. In fact I thought she was going to be the final girl for a brief moment before she was locked in a hot tub, stabbed and electricuted.

3) it at least tries to recreate the beginning of Scream with a  more famous actor than the rest of the cast being murdered before the opening credits. Weirdly that victim was Katherine Heigel who at the time was a total unknown so for audiences in 2001 it would have meant nothing. Also there are no thrills or twists or anything of interest unlike the opening of Scream which was a better five minutes of movie making than all of the subsequent rip offs put together.

4) Okay that’s it. Not several things at all, just three.

I would love to tell you Valentine was like the saint’s day and had a lot to love. Sadly it doesn’t. If you must watch a horror film about love on St Valentine’s day then put on The Fly remake instead. Or Necromatik if you’re more into necrophilia than the love you get from a living human being. Hey, don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it.

Advertisements

Fright Night Part 2 1988

The sequel to Fright Night, a bona fide eighties horror classic, is one of those films that has sadly disappeared into the mists of cinematic time. This is mostly due to being caught up in various rights issues but also, bizarrely, being involved in the Jose Menendez murder. It has long been hoped that something other than a fuzzy old VHS of the film would be available but no such luck. Then, just the other day, it popped up in HD on Amazon Prime. I haven’t seen Fright Night Part 2 since it came out in the cinema, so being ill and having pumped myself up on painkillers how could I resist.

You don’t need painkillers for this movie though. Fright Night Part 2 is a pleasure. If it’s enforced obscurity gives you overly romanticised memories of its quality then I’m sad to say it is nowhere near as good as the first film. But all its ludicrous eightiesness and terrific effects work help to make it some fine entertainment for a chilly winter´s night. It does, after all, have a roller skating vampire and whilst it could never be a classic with that dumb idea, it could also never be that terrible either.

Despite having three whole years since the first film to think of something, Part 2 feels like a sequel struggling for a reason to exist. As most things were nicely wrapped up by the finale in the previous movie I don´t think anyone thought about making another story with the same characters. In the end it basically settles for the same idea as the first, a vampire moves in next door. This time however, shock, horror, the vampire is a woman! Young, innocent and wearer of beige suit jackets Charlie Brewster has spent three years in therapy being taught that the vampire Jerry was in fact just a good old fashioned serial killer. Meanwhile Peter Cushing-a-like Peter Vincent has new found success on TV as a genuine monster killer. It is next door to him that the vampires move in this time. So the situation is basically reversed in every way from the first film. Its still the same old story though, even down to one character not believing the other for far too long.

Thank god the new vampire, Regine, and her mostly crew of weirdos are such a fun bunch. Chief amongst these is the roller skater, Belle (the surprisingly normal named Russell Clark). He doesn’t say a word, wears a sparkly electric blue jump suit and postures around like the biggest queen at the roller disco  but somehow, probably because this was the eighties, he works well as a character. As vampires go Belle is not frightening. Even when he’s hunched over and rolling at you in slow motion he’s not scary, actually especially not then. But there is something so Eurotrashy about him that you have to love his undead campness Plus the effects for his death are fantastic.

Next up there is Brian Thompson as Bozworth, a replacement for the henchman from the first film. Thompson will forever be unfortunate for being a body builder who looks like a squashy Arnold Schwarzenegger at a time when there was only room in the cinema for one Arnold Schwarzenegger. Look at him:

Put it away lad. He never got to fight Arnie but Stallone murdered him in the stupid Cobra so that´s something. Plus the guy hasn´t stopped working throughout his career (anyone with over a hundred credits on IMDB is laughing as far as I am concerned) so I´m sure he´s not complaining. Here he gets to eat lots of insects and call out their Latin names before doing so and looks like he´s having a blast. Don´t feel sorry for him.

The final guy in Regina’s gang is Louie (Jon Gries) a werewolf /vampire hybrid who gets all the comedy lines which aren’t very funny. Gries does a good job with what he’s given, but he ain’t no Evil Ed. And that’s the big problem with Fright Night Part 2. It has a great big Evil Ed hole in it.

Looking back at the first film, Ed isn’t even in it that much but he left such a indelible mark with his deranged laugh and wicked humour that the franchise just doesn’t have the same feel without him. Stephen Geoffreys, who was so wonderful as Ed, apparently didn’t think much of the script to the sequel so passed on it for, understandably,  the lead in 976-Evil (now THAT is a film I’ve not seen in a long time).  The role was rewritten for Gries, which is quite clear when once you know that, but Louie the character just doesn’t have the sheer enjoyment of being a vampire in the way Evil Ed did.

Don’t worry though because Roddy McDowall is still a delight as Peter Vincent. He doesn’t have the character arc of the first film. Actually he doesn’t have an arc at all: he believes in vampires, there are vampires, he kills vampires. But McDowall was such a sincere and kind performer that he adds genuine heart to a film about a college kid trying to get laid with the undead constantly getting in the way.

The first film was indeed about Charlie failing to have sex with his girl because Chris Sarandon’s Jerry was more  mature and exotic to her. This time around it, again, flips things on its head. Charlie is still trying to have sex with his (new) girlfriend but now Regine wants to have him first. Julie Carmen as Regine is all erotic dancing and boob flashes which apparently is the way to a young man’s heart/pants. Technically all this is a little embarrassing, well the dancing anyway, but you know what? Director Tommy Lee Wallace just goes for it anyway with lots of coloured lights, smoke machines and slow motion so at times this is more like a Shakatak video than a horror movie.

Don’t worry though because this IS a horror movie. Wallace handles the set pieces well and the special make up effects continue on from the original by being first class. It always saddens me that within a decade from films like this movie makers were moving away from these practical effects to shoddy computer generated shit like the werewolves in An American Werewolf in Paris and thinking it was acceptable. We still see practical monsters here and there (with stuff like the new Star Wars movies pushing them hard) but imagine what all the monster movies would look like now if they had continued developing the effects on from stuff like the Fright Night movies. Ah well…

At least we have this back to watch once more. I know I might have been a little tough on Fright Night Part 2 for not being as funny, original or sharp as the first film but it is still a supremely fun bit of horror hokum. It slips down easily like strawberry jam and custard, reminding you of a more innocent time. Then you realise that that jam wasn’t jam at all but blood. And then you smile.

 

 

 

The Suckling AKA Sewage Baby 1990

Amazon Prime’s horror section is a weird mix of the obvious (Jaws! The Shining! er… Van Helsing?)and the so obscure that it is clearly there just to bulk up the library. However if you keep on digging (and digging and digging) beyond all the unheard of nonsense there are some real gems. The Suckling is not one of them.

What The Suckling IS though is proof that, back before the age of any old fool being able to make a movie, if you wanted to get a job done then you had to make a real effort. No matter what your budget using and developing film stock did not come cheap. If you were going to make a movie, any movie, then you had to have a real passion and a real desire to tell a story that needed to be told. This was one such tale…

We begin with an opening crawl about how, in 1973, a Brooklyn building was found full of dead hookers and their johns, save one young woman who told a tale so outlandish that there was no way it could be possibly be true. Or could it? No. No it couldn’t.

A young couple go to a big old (whore)house on the wrong side of town. She is pregnant and wants to keep the baby, however her delightful boyfriend thinks that’s a terrible idea so is dragging her along to have an abortion. Big Mama, who deals out the back street abortions, also runs her gaff as a brothel, which is some quality and convenient multi tasking. Once inside the young girl, whose character’s name isn’t in the credits but the actress (if you can call her that) is called Lisa Petruno so let us call her Lisa, decides she wants to keep the baby. However I couldn’t work out if Big Mama had some kind of no refund policy or just enjoyed her job so much but wasn’t having any of it so knocks Lisa out and performs the abortion anyway.

These back street abortionists do not seem to have a particularly good health and safety policy as not only to they use the coat hangers for more than one job (they also use them to hang coats on) but their method of disposing of the result of their operation is to get an underling to flush it down the toilet.

This sloppy disposal backfires spectacularly when the poor foetus ends up being contaminated by toxic waste and rapidly grows into the Sewage Baby or Suckling of the title and attempts to kill everyone in the brothel. Toxic waste was a big part of cinema culture back in the eighties and early nineties. There was The Toxic Avenger, Street Trash, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons and that chap who got covered in the stuff and splattered all over a car wind shield in Robocop. Anyone would think that toxic waste was just lying around at the corner of every street in America. Well in The Suckling that is exactly what it is doing, waiting for some unsuspecting infant in a sewer to get his own b-movie.

Or rather z-movie as the case may be.

There was clearly not a lot of money left after paying for the film stock. What little was left was spent on the sewer baby itself which looks like a cross between Mac from the McDonald’s sponsored ET rip off Mac and Me and a really crap H R Giger Alien. Weirdly enough the upshot of this is that it looks remarkably like the terrible “Newborn” from the end of Alien Resurrection but much more effective.

So old Sewage Baby takes out, one by one, the occupants of this lovely establishment. First to go is the minion who flushed him down the toilet in the first place. He comes back up the loo and tugs her head off in a shower of gore. Cheap, fake looking gore. One of the prostitutes who specialises in inserting dildos up client’s rears is lucky enough to survive because her grandmother picks her up early (?) but the rest of them are soon dispatched either by the creature or Big Mama’s thuggish son Axel. Multiple times do they have a chance to escape only for Axel to either get annoyed and shoot someone or for him to come up with some hair brained plan which involves using someone as bait so he can shoot the beast. The fact that the monster seems to be bullet proof doesn’t stop Axel from still trying to shoot him, seemingly with a gun that never runs out of cartridges. Eventually Axel gets his head blown up.

It has to be said that despite the fun sounding premise the middle act of the film, which mostly deals with Axel taking charge (ie going on about how great he is whilst getting everyone killed) is a bit of a drag to the point that I am not a hundred percent sure I was fully awake for a lot of his rantings. As you well know I am all in favour of making a film set all in one location but when the acting is non existent, the script diabolical and nothing is really happening (Sewage Baby stays mostly in the walls or toilet for a lot of this section) it is very difficult to keep focused on the film. Or not sleeping.

Fortunately things pick up in the final act, sort of. Well the baby chops up most of the rest of the cast until only Lisa is left alive. Look I am going to spoil this for you now because The Suckling is an hour and half long and I really don’t think you need to sit through it all. Seeing as Lisa is essentially Sewage Baby’s mum, instead of killing her he shrinks down and runs back up her fanny. So everyone thinks Lisa’s story is than of a deranged maniac and lock her up. But this is to Sewage Baby’s advantage because, as everyone who’s seen Kill Bill knows, the staff at mental asylums like nothing more than a bit of sexual abuse of the inmates. This is a perfect moment for Sewage Baby to come back out of its warm hiding place and kill another victim.

Its never explained why Sewage Baby wants to kill everyone it meets. Maybe its annoyed about being aborted. In that case that would explain why the film makers felt this story had to be told: The Suckling is a pro-life movie. And, judging by all the murder, a pro-death one at that. Certainly I died a little watching it.

 

Death Spa 1989

I understand that there is a never ending desire for a good idea in Hollywood. And that that good idea will hopefully sell tickets by the bucketful. This is why an article in the New Yorker can become a A-List feature or a dance trend can become the next Step Up or Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Even a silly face on a phone text can be turned into The Emoji Movie. This must have been going through some deranged producer’s mind when they figured that the keep-fit trend of the early eighties needed some kind of filmic representation. They came up with Perfect. It was not perfect. John Travolta starred as a Rolling Stone journalist investigating Jamie Lee Curtis’ perfect gym addicted body. The film producers whispered in their stars’ ears the word ¨Oscar¨ but the only awards they went on to get that year were a bunch of Raspberries. Travolta didn’t act for another four years.

So after that folly it really is flummoxing as to why, oh indeed why, someone thought that what people really wanted to see,  after not giving a monkey’s about a big budget health freak studio movie, was a horror movie set in a gym where the building itself was the killer. This wasn´t even still at a time when keep-fit was particularly popular. Even 1985‘s Perfect was considered jumping on a bandwagon that had long since left (Jane Fonda’s incredibly successful workout tapes came out in 1981).

I don’t know why this is even bothering me. The film is called Death Spa. It is already doomed to an eternity of ridiculousness.

The film (for it is indeed a film, with a beginning, middle and end) begins with a crane shot of the gym in question. As the camera tilts down on the gaudy neon sign that reads Perfect Body Health Spa a number of the letters explode making it now read “d    eath Spa”. Amazing. A couple of things immediately spring to mind. Firstly, if we’re talking exploding neon signs and cameras on cranes then the film obviously had more money to spend than it undoubtedly deserved. And secondly, this gag is as clever as the film is ever going to get.

In fact Death Spa is quite well shot. Okay that´s not true. It’s been photographed with some thought. Unfortunately all those thoughts are terrible ones. The eighties did like its bright and garish colours and this movie embraces the yellows, pinks and royal blues with aplomb, especially with the excessive use of colour gels to light every scene in the most eye-gouging way possible. When computer rooms aren´t being lit like Margaret Thatcher’s knickers we are subjected to extensive dance scenes. Men in leg warmers and tiny tight shorts prance and leap about like they are auditioning for The Kids of Fame. Everyone gurns at the camera as if they are in a pop promo for Duran Duran rather than a horror movie. The opening, er, I’m going to call it a set piece but that´s being generous,  has the bouffant haired Laura dancing around the gym. She kicks and spins seemingly for the camera crew (she’s looking directly at the camera throughout) although she’s meant to be alone there. Once this musical number reaches its climax Laura jumps into the steam room, which is an odd thing to do after a sweaty work out,  and is promptly burnt to near death by chlorine sprayed out of the ceiling.

You better get used to this because their is a lot of death by spray in Death Spa. Whether its the sauna, showers or just a rouge hot water pipe people will die horribly and repetitively from this deadly health club. Mostly women, usually naked.

After Laura’s near fatal assault, two cops show up to investigate what the hell is going on. A woman was nearly killed from the burns she received and the best these police can come up with is this:

Sargent Stone: Does this suggest anything to you, Lieutenant?
Lieutenant Fletcher: Yes. I’ll have to ask my wife to start smoking in bed.

Tumble-weeds from hell can’t even be bothered to blow past.

These police are particularly incompetent. When they first arrive the manager, understandably suspicious as neither of them dress like cops, asks to see their badges. The male cop tries to pull out hisbadge but it gets caught in his long detective style rain coat, that’s fine says the manager without it even seeing it, the other cop doesn’t even try to show hers.

Anyway the main problem is that these sleuths are the moat tragically inept police LA can offer. The case is thus: the health spa is fully automated and run by one of those fancy lights and bleeping computers that only existed in movies back in the eighties.  But then various staff and members are being mutilated and murdered by faults in the machine. But no, says David, the architect and wizz behind this mechanised body trainer, there is no way in hell the machine could ever make a mistake. It would have to be reprogrammed to do that and the only person who has the access and knowledge to do such a thing is David himself.  Ergo it must be David who is doing it. He’s basically admitted it in his opening scene. However the cops don’t buy it. He’s suspicious yes, and he is the brother of Michael the manager’s dead wife and blames him for her death and wants him to fail because of it. So he’s got motivation. Still not enough for the force, its too obvious.

But it IS him! He barely even tries to hide it. He even pops round to see the now blind Laura to torment her whilst Michael is out. Okay yes, he is possessed by his dead sister Catherine (who is also his twin, natch*) who is probably more into the killing than he is, but there’s no red herring here. David is the murderer.

Talking of blind Laura there is an amazing sex scene involving her and Michael. And when I say amazing I mean awful. Michael has just brought her back to his gaff after the hospital and her eyes are bandaged with the hugest pads you can imagine and she is clearly in some pain. So to cheer her up Michael decides to cook her some asparagus and slowly dangle it into her mouth in the same way Mickey Rourke got Kim Basinger all hot and bothered with those jalapeños and honey in 9 1/2 Weeks. Its even lit all sexy like. But LAURA IS BLIND. She’s almost certainly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and even if she isn’t,  she has dirty great big bandages covering her eyes. No Asparagus,  no matter how well cooked it is,  can be a turn on when youve just been blinded with chlorine by an insane killer steam room.

Add to that as she can’t see her other senses have probably been heightened so her urine is going to smell even more disgusting than normal after eating asparagus. Also Michael makes multiple comments about how good she looks and nice it is to see her. Rub it in that she´s blind why don´t you,  you mullet-headed monster.

Anyway, more gym related death ensues. One woman who walks around the place in her bra and knickers (I belong to the Easy Gym on Oxford Street and it may be called easy but I have never seen a woman walking around in her underwear there) finds her self in a dark corner of the spa and is garrotted by a pipe of some nature. A chap is split in two by a computerised chest expander and I´m not even sure what you need the computer for in that scenario. Then a member looks in a mirror and the mirror cracks then explodes blowing her up in the process. None of these deaths makes any sense but its all topped by what happens to Lieutenant Fletcher with the police badge problem.

Towards the end of the film the weird shit really hits the fan. After multiple deaths, instead of closing the gym down to find out what is going on or just close it down for good for health and safety reasons, Michael decides instead to hold a great big party. Obviously the doors lock themselves Carrie-style and the whole place goes up in flames taking as many people as it can with it. Meanwhile David and/or Catherine is wandering around like a ghost or a Psycho wannabe (its never made clear which) dealing out dumb death left, right and centre. Poor old Fletcher gets it the worse. The walk in freezer behind the bar bursts open and icy air sucks the unsuspecting copper in. You´d think this would be a good thing as everyone else is burning to death in the inferno outside. However no. Fletcher is attacked by frozen kippers which leap at him and tear his throat out.

I know the old saying goes that no one sets out to make a bad movie but really? At what point do you not realise that killing one of your main characters with a frozen fish is a terrible idea?

Fortunately, the cast are well up to this nonsense. The actor playing Michael it seems was cast because he used to actually BE a manager of a health spa, rather than, say, an actor. There´s a dreadful English man who brings shame to our entire nation with his performance, and evil Catherine was so bad that they had to redub her with someone else´s voice. Obviously the dubbing is shockingly out of sync.

The most famous cast member at the time was Merritt Butrick who played Captain Kirk´s son in Star Trek´s 2 and 3. When that´s the biggest star you can muster you can tell that you´re script sucks even without having to read the title. Even Butrick is pretty lousy in it but then he was close to death when the film was being made (the poor guy died of AIDS in March of 1989) so maybe he had his mind on things other than whether he was possessed by his evil dead twin sister or not.

The script doesn´t help anyone at all with some risible dialogue like:

¨I´ve known some real pricks but you´re the king. Take it as a compliment.¨ I´m not sure Daniel Day-Lewis could make that line work.

Or when Catherine floats into the computer room the staff member guarding it is turned on when she takes off her dressing gown to reveal a very unrevealing nightie. ¨Mmm…¨ he says. ¨Nice arms¨.

Catherine is not impressed by this compliment and sucks his face off.

Don´t be fooled into thinking this is some wild gorefest though, a lot of the killings are difficult to see and poorly executed anyway, often hidden by bad wigs. The final shot is of a bloody and mangled dime-store wigged Catherine lying on the floor of the gym swearing revenge before her one remaining eyeball,  that is clearly a ping pong ball, explodes all over the lino.

Look, to be honest apart from all the endlessly stupid deaths, fire and David/Catherine´s nice arms this actually looked like it was quite a good party. There was an endless supply of booze, lots of people, all in leotards and if you liked terrible bass-slapping eighties music then you were laughing. More importantly Dawn of the Dead´s Ken Foree was there and I bet he could tell a story or two.

That party looked ace. And I bet it was more fun to film than it was to watch Death Spa. Despite what fun it sounds like above, it took me five goes to get through it all. I suffered through Death Spa so you don’t have to. And I don’t feel any healthier for it.

*I’m always seeing this “natch” word and had no idea what it meant. I looked it up, natch is short for naturally. I will never use it again.

Orphan 2009

Somehow I had managed to not only miss Orphan upon its release (and the years since)  but also know nothing about it other than the twist at the end that some bastard told me at the time. For some reason killer children movies never get me banging at the door of the local multiplex on opening night. The idea just doesn´t excite me. But I really should change my prejudice against them because from The Exorcist to The Omen to Children of the Corn to Who Would Kill A Child? they are almost always a laugh-riot in a malicious and wicked kind of way. Orphan is no exception.

The main thing I failed to realise about this film is that it has one hell of a quality cast. The adopting father and mother are played by Peter Sarsgaard and Vera Farmiga both of whom are top quality thespians. Farmiga especially is an acting tour-de-force who probably gives awards worthy performances whilst she’s brushing her teeth in the morning. In 2009 when Orphan came out Farmiga was Oscar nominated for her stand out role in Up In The Air and rightly so. This does beg the question though: what the hell is she doing in this trash?

And trash Orphan is. But don’t let that put you off because its entertaining from start to finish trash. Well maybe not the start. Its a little slow to begin with and its like the film makers knew it. It is almost twenty minutes in before Farmiga and Sarsgaard reach the orphanage. Before that there is a lot of back story which, whilst helpful for developing the characters and exposing their weaknesses to be exploited later on, rob the story of its energy. As if to compensate for this there are  jump scares which don’t fit in at all with the narrative: for example Farmiga is looking in the mirror and then Sarsgaard appears behind her, there is a loud orchestral burst of shock music… Why? No one is being stalked, haunted or threatened yet?

Not to worry, the moment Isabelle Fuhrman appears as creepy old-fashioned (literally, she wears fashion from the 19th century) child Esther the story picks up and gets on with itself. Esther may charm her dumb adoptive parents initially but she doesn’t waste much time before breaking a potential bully´s leg, beating someone to death with the sharp end of a hammer and threatening to cut her new brother´s bollocks off. In fact Farmiga and Sarsgaard’s natural children take about five minutes to work out that something is awry with Evil Esther. Farmiga gets suspicious not long after later but poor old sap Sarsgaard never works it out until about a second before it´s too late.

Peter Sarsgaard’s character is surely one of the stupidest in cinematic history. For the first hour his entire character is thus: I’m super, super horny, why don’t we have sex? There is nothing else to him at all. Farmiga is upset about a nightmare she had about her still born child. Her husband’s answer? Why don’t we hump? He’s talking to one of the local soccer mums who needs “a hand with a heavy chair” – sexy times! Farmiga thinks that Esther might be disturbed – let’s have sex in the kitchen where our new adopted child, who is fucked up anyway, can walk in on us doing it doggy style against the centre island. “Come on Vera, it will be exciting. For fuck´s sake Peter, stop thinking with your pecker. After all this it’s a blessed relief when he rejects Esther’s incredibly uncomfortable moves on him.

(in the above picture Vera Farmiga is clearly upset whilst Peter Sarsgaard is using her vulnerability to try to take her roughly from behind. You will be pleased to hear he fails)

When Sarsgaard does finally do something other than try to get laid it’s all the wrong thing. Farmiga starts expressing first some doubts and then outright hatred of Esther, so her husband, without question, takes the weird kid he’s known for three weeks side EVERY SINGLE TIME. Never mind the fact that a nun from the orphanage is murdered at the end of their road, thirty seconds after expressing grave concerns about Esther’s history and sanity. And never mind that his children are clearly in abject fear of their new sister. Dad’s on Team Esther all the way. Obviously Esther is manipulating him, but even then you think he would at least try to entertain the notion that his wife might be correct. Instead he makes Farmiga see to her shrink, threatens to leave her and take the kids, and finally gets her sedated and locked up in a hospital.

Everything Sarsgaard’s character does is wrong and foolish, and only makes matters ten times worse for himself and his family. If there is a moral to this story (other than don’t adopt weird kids from Russia who dress like a Victorian´s nightmare) then it is thus: husbands, listen to your wives, they are always right.

Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther defies her young age by clearly having a whale of a time being revolting, and maybe that is they key as to why all of the cast signed up to this barmy film in the first place. There is never any doubt, for the audience at least, that Esther is a bad, bad kid and director Jaume Collet-Serra gets huge mileage out of her villainy. Of course a small, murderous child is, in theory, no real threat to a grown adult. But the dedication of Farmiga, Sarsgaard, the marvellous C.C.H. Pounder (as the nun) and the child actors that makes Orphan a lot more entertaining than it really ought to be. Maybe that´s why Farmiga and Sarsgaard worked on this after all, the fun factor was just too hard to resist.

You´ll have fun watching it too. Just don´t let anyone tell you the end. Bastard…

How did the Upcoming Horror of 2017 turn out?

As I´ve already pointed out horror went down a storm in 2017 but back in January I wrote a preview of some of those films and more. So how did they turn out? Were our hopes and dreams realised, or just dashed across the tarmac with lower intestines dripping down the storm drain?

The Autopsy of Jane Doe – Soon!

a_jane

I SAID: As has been the case for the last few years one of the first films out of the block is one that has been getting a lot of buzz from the festival circuits. Following The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook before them, can The Autopsy of Jane Doe survive the over-hype to be a genuine horror classic? Certainly it has a good pedigree with Andre Ovredal of Trollhunter fame, and stars Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox bringing some class to the tale of a strangely perfect female corpse being brought into the father-and-son morticians, with one night to discover who she is and how she died. I can tell you now (as I’ve already seen it) it lives up to the hype… which might be me over-hyping it again, so now you will think its over rated… damn it!

AND? Yes it was truly great. What happened to it though is another matter. It never got much of a release and here in the UK finally ended up on Netflix where, hopefully, at least a lot of people can now watch it. Just do it late at night with the lights off okay?

Split – 20th January

b_splitposter

I SAID: M. Night Shyamalan has realised that instead of messing around with different genres he should just stick to what he is amazing at. So we get, hot on the heels of The Visit, another potential classic, this time involving split personalities, kidnapping and James McAvoy acting his socks off as 24 characters (in the same body obviously).

AND? It another winner, great for Shyamalan, Blum House Productions and us at large. Also if you liked Unbreakable then this will please you hugely too. When a film is mostly set in one small cellar and can still be epic in scope and scale then clearly the director knows what he is doing. Welcome back M. Night.

 

Don’t Knock Twice – 3rd February

c_dont-knock-twice-movie-poster

I SAID: There’s not lot of British horror this year (hello Hammer? Where are you when we need you?) but Don’t Knock Twice has some very strong imagery in the trailer and witches are all the rage at the moment, so let’s hope it can hold our flag up proudly this year and be less of an embarrassment than the people who voted for Brexit.

AND? Well its a solid, well made and fairly spooky little tale that deserves to be seen.. shame no one did. I know that unless you´re coming from Blum House you won´t get much of a release these days but surely there must be a way to let people know a decent scare-fest is coming out. This just limped onto Amazon for rental with little to no flurry at all which is a real pity. There´s not even Fangoria Magazine around any more to draw in the hardcore fans. Sad, as the horror in the Whitehouse would say.

A Cure For Wellness – 24th February

d_cure-for-wellness-poster

I SAID: Director Gore Verbinski may have tested his audience’s patience to the limit with the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and the bizarrely dull The Lone Ranger, but whatever you think of him you have to agree that he is a visual master of mainstream cinema. The trailers for A Cure for Wellness certainly backs this up and with Jason Isaacs and Dane DeHaan in the cast what could possibly go wrong? Okay IMDB says the running time is 146 minutes which seems to suggest Verbinski is still making over long, flabby stories and I’m not sure the tale of a mysterious spa can sustain such length. But hey! What do I know, this is just a preview list, let’s judge it when it comes out yeah?

AND? Well I have yet to see it, mostly because of that running time but word has it that its just what I feared: looks great, is too long and doesn´t have enough story to sustain that run time. Maybe I will try to watch it in three chunks and pretend its a mini series.

Kong: Skull Island – 10th March

e_kong-skull-island-poster-2

I SAID: King Kong is back and is ALWAYS welcome in my books even if he is clearly played by a man in a monkey suit. Sadly, those days have long since gone but this new version is setting up not only a new franchise but also will serve as a prequel to a grudge match between our giant furry friend and Godzilla. When did the studio system embrace B-movie silliness so fully? Next they’ll be making a big budget remake of… actually you know what? I was trying to think of a ludicrous cheap movie for a studio to remake but I think they’ve done them all now. Hey, I ain’t complaining!

AND? It delivers all the wild monster action you could be hope for. Samuel L. Jackson makes for a great villain and its nice to see Kong be a bit less soppy this time round and more into just beating eighteen types of shit out of various types of weird creatures. The film is maybe a bit too frantic in its pacing and is a bit more preoccupied with big action and big visual effects than anything else but then this is King Kong we´re talking about here. If we got to know all about the different characters before the mighty monkey pulled all their limbs off we´d end up with the snorefest that was Peter Jackson´s effort.

Get Out – 17th March

getout

I SAID: Directorial debut from comedian Jordan Peele, Get Out stars the very likeable Daniel Kaluuya travelling to his white girlfriend’s parent’s house only to discover some nasty goings on. At a time when race relations are at a very low point in America, this horror version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? couldn’t come at a better time.

AND? Well it wasn´t quite what anyone expected at all (unless you´ve seen The Skeleton Key) and was all the better for it. One of the most tense, funny and thought provoking films this year, the world is now Jordan Peele´s oyster. What will he give us next?

The Belko Experiment – 17th March

g_belko

I SAID: The poster says this is a cross between The Office and Battle Royale so that is the plot basically. I can’t say I’m that excited about such a premise but then it is written by James Gunn and is getting lots of whispers of greatness so we’ll find out soon enough whether its worth getting all worked up about or not.

AND? It was EXACLTY a cross between The Office and Battle Royale and whilst it was well made and relativity entertaining too watch it was maybe a bit too grim and downbeat for most people to embrace. Clearly that reflected in the box office takings as it was a rare financial misstep for the seemingly unstoppable Blumhouse. It had some great character actors being really horrible in it though, if that´s your kind of thing.

Raw – March

h_raw

I SAID: This French horror movie has a young vegetarian forced to eat meet during a hazing ritual, after which her taste for flesh gets somewhat out of control. Every few years a horror movie comes out which claims that people passed out during a screening or had to be carried out on a stretcher or even died. Raw is the latest in this fine tradition so I’m hoping to see it at an OAP or mother-and-baby screening to see what happens.

AND? Well I missed THAT screening so had to watch it by myself at home (well, with my dog sitting next to me, worryingly licking his lips). I guess its pretty grim here and there. I suppose for a non horror audience it must be pretty shocking but for us hardened gorehounds it barely touched the sides. Outside of the gore it is an EXCEPTIONALLY well made movie with the images of freshers being splattered with blood and paint bringing  these university days vividly to life. It is hard to fathom that director Julia Ducournau has never made a film before, so assured is she with scenes involving nightmares under the sheets and dark, chaotic parties in the faculty basement. The acting is also uniformly great and interesting especially Garance Marillier as the lead. However I found all of the characters completely obnoxious and repellent (and not just when they were eating each other) so whilst I appreciated how well Raw was made, I can´t say that I liked it in any way. Still, I´m in the minority here.

Alien: Covenant – 19th May

i_alien-covenant-poster-1

I SAID: Being one of maybe two people who had no problem with Prometheus I can’t wait for Alien: Covenant. Obviously 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott are making sure people know this is an Alien prequel rather than a Prometheus sequel and if they haven’t had a panic-stricken rewrite of the script a month before shooting then this shouldn’t have the problems that had so many folks up in arms last time round. Really people: characters doing stupid things in terrible situations is the bread-and-butter of horror movies, get over it. Also, judging by the poster and trailer this Alien movie is really getting back to it’s horror roots. I LOVE the Alien franchise when its at its best, let’s hope Scott, in his twilight years, can pull another classic out of the bag.

AND? Talking of being in the minority… I loved the new film, but it is certainly not the full-on Alien film people were hoping for. It is by all accounts Prometheus 2 right down to the continuing decent into monomaniacal madness of android David and the humans being incredibly stupid. But, despite moments of extreme stupidity, it is a film of great ambitions. Ridley Scott, hopefully nowhere near the end of his life despite being 80, is clearly contemplating the big questions of what is life and what is our role in the universe. The answer to that one, so far, seems to be to be fodder for greater intelligences to experiment on, so Scott is clearly off his rocker – in the best way imaginable.

The Mummy – 9th June

j_the-mummy-poster

I SAID: Although yet another big budget Mummy movie in theory isn’t that exciting, especially after the Brendan Fraser/sand particle years, Universal is trying to kick start a movie monsters shared universe franchise with this new version. What self respecting horror fan isn’t interested in that? Plus Tom Cruise rarely does bad films so there’s real hope here. There still seemed to be a lot of sand particles in the trailer though so I’m not getting my hopes up too much.

AND? Sadly this was a big budget disaster. It killed the monster universe stone cold dead so we will now (probably) never see Bill Condon´s labour of love version of The Bride of Frankenstein with Angelina Jolie as the Bride. It may be easy to say this now with the benefit of hindsight but clearly Universal misread what people wanted from a monster movie by a country mile. We basically got a darker, modern version of those Brendan Fraser movies but with Tom Cruise instead – all action set pieces, big visual effects and big stars when what people actually would prefer would be, well, you know, a monster movie.

The Dark Tower – 28th July

k_dark

I SAID: The King revival starts here… this time with a massive budget, a franchise stretching over cinema and television, and some of the best Hollywood stars acting today. I’ve not read any of the horror fantasy western epics this is based on but I have only ever heard amazing things about them. Lots of fingers crossed here.

AND? Another total catastrophe from a studio spending a lot of money. Clearly things were awry when up until two months before the film came out there was STILL no trailer. When the trailer finally did arrive it was blah at best. Then news came that the film was only an hour and a half. Usually I´m all for less bloat but considering the size of the source material this was obviously a case of a lack of confidence and the studio hacking it to death trying to get it to work. The film itself shows this with too many flashbacks and exposition but in fact the bare bones of something half decent is there. Having never read any of the books I wasn´t invested in the fanboy anger and its not actually that bad considering. It does just about make sense, its just that it is a very slight horror western adventure.

 

Annabelle 2 – 11th August

l_annabelle-2-poster

I SAID: Another sequel to a film no one but me liked but you know… suck it. This time the director is David F. Sandberg who did a very solid job with Lights Out so things are looking up. Plus the setting is an orphanage and orphanages are ALWAYS creepy places. At least it isn’t a family being harassed by a demon which I have had enough of, and if it has one scene that is half as good as the basement sequence from the first movie then I’ll be happy.

AND? It had loads of scenes that were almost as good as the basement scene in the first movie. In fact this was a much better film than Annabelle 1 all round. The two main orphan sisters are terrific in it and indeed the orphanage setting is a total freak out. Plus for those that didn´t like the first film this one actually make that one much better by the end in a oddly clever way. Plus now the Conjuring universe is in full swing with The Nun (who cameos here) coming out next summer. We´re in horror heaven folks.

It – 8th September

n_it

I SAID: The novel It is probably Stephen King’s best work and turning it into a film has been a long and painful process. Folks have fond memories of the TV miniseries from 1990 but really, apart from an amazing turn from Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, it has not aged well. Things were looking very much up when True Detective‘s Cary Joji Fukunaga was attached to direct but a lot of hopes were dashed when he was replaced with Mama‘s Andres Muschetti. This seems a little unfair as Mama was very good entry in the haunted kid sub genre, and as long as the studio hasn’t interfered too much, this It could still turn out rather good. The story, characters and the town of Derry are so strong and well defined in King’s novel that it would take a real load of numpties to bugger this one up. Please let this be good.

AND? It wasn´t just good, it was great! It will probably go down in the annuls of cinema as a horror classic. Plus it made bundles of cash for the studio which is great for Warner Brothers and great news for horror in general as all the other studios will jump on the band wagon and try and make their own spooky successes.  Bill Skarsgard, whilst not wiping the memory of Tim Curry (nor should he), gives great Pennywise and the child cast is simply amazing. It makes my heart swell when I think how well Muschetti has done bringing the Loser Club to life. Roll on Part 2.

Friday The 13th – 13th October

n_friday13

I SAID: After a weird and unnecessary EIGHT year wait we are finally getting a new outing for Jason Voorhees. Little is known about the plot but hopefully they haven’t spent all this time over-thinking things: just give us Jason, some hot teenagers, some outrageous kills and a bit of a twist and we’ll be quite happy. If it turns out to be an origin story then that WILL be depressing (it didn’t work for Michael Myers, Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader so why would it work for Jason?) On the positive side it is directed by Breck Eisner who has done solid work in the past so lets see how this latest entry turns out. I mean there have been so many of these films now, and so many terrible ones, that it can’t really be that bad, can it?

AND? In fact it was nothing at all… after the Rings reboot and some others flopped horribly at the box office, it was decided that horror revivals were clearly not wanted at the moment so it was cancelled, or delayed or who knows what. Come on guys, you can make these films for next to nothing. Even the name alone should at least be enough to break even. Sort your shit out. I guess when the Halloween sequel is a hit this October it will be green lit again. And the cycle will continue…

Before I Wake – One Day!

q_before

I SAID: Mike Flanagan’s career is going great and it has been since Oculus hit the screens. Immediately after that modest hit he set to work on the follow up, shooting Before I Wake at the end of 2013… and here it is four years later after various production and distribution companies have gone bust whilst handling it. Will the story of a boy who’s dreams and nightmares manifest themselves in real life be worth the wait? Well it has Kate Bosworth in it so… um… let’s see huh?

AND? Actually Kate Bosworth is great in this, as is everyone else. The film, finally arriving onto Netflix, is a solid little chiller. No great shakes in Flanagan´s library but a worthwhile watch all the same.

Gerald’s Game – When Netflix feel like it

p_geraldsgame

I SAID: Mike Flanagan is back, again, working with Netflix to make one of Stephen King’s least filmable novels. The plot centres on a woman tied to a bed after her husband drops dead in the middle of some rumpy pumpy. You couldn’t get much less cinematic than that. But then last year’s Hush was clearly a dry run for Flanagan’s attempt at horror experimentation. Plus with Netflix willing to take a few risks let’s hope this turns out to be the next Misery, rather than, say, the next Dreamcatcher.

AND? Who´d of thought it, you wait for ages for a decent Stephen King adaptation and then two come along at once. Along with It this is an out and out classic.

Sadako Vs Kayako (AKA Ring Vs Grudge) – Soon!

r_sadako-vs-kayako

I SAID: Okay, there is an American sequel to the remakes coming out at some point this year but who cares about that when you have a verses movie! Here you have the black haired ghost of the Ring movies having a fight with the black haired ghost of the Grudge movies. This is what trashy horror flicks are all about, and this as silly as you can get… in a good way.

AND? Its surprising how many of the films on this list actually delivered on their promise. And here is yet another one. Yes it is silly but its also a great bit of fun just like I hoped. Hurrah!

Suspiria – This Year

suspiria-poster

I SAID: Last year the remake no one wanted was Martyrs, and so it proved. Not only did no one watch it but no one even notice it quietly slop onto VOD like a dying fish. This year we have Suspiria. The original is one of Dario Argento’s finest and remaking it seems quite, quite pointless: the plot barely made a scrap of sense and the film’s main selling point was Argento’s magical set pieces and visuals. No one wants a new version of the story of a girl sent to a ballet school which turns out to be run by a coven of witches. Sure witches are in, and sure ballet was in the other year when Black Swan came out but… really? Okay so its got a good director in Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love) and a solid cast… and lets face it we were all wrong about the Evil Dead remake so I’ll still probably see it, and maybe, with a bit of luck, even love it.

AND? Well still no sign but you know what? Fuck it. I´m super excited about this remake now. Guadagnino is super hot right now; his last two films have been terrific. So when it eventually does come out I will be first in line on opening day. Possibly wearing a tutu.

Happy Death Day 2017

The eighties brought about the high concept movie with such nonsense as Schwarzenegger and Delete Vito as Twins or Eddie Murphy saving the world and The Golden Child or Tom Cruise making a Cocktail* ( obviously the stakes varied wildly from concept to concept). A lot of these films don’t stand up to much critical evaluation nowadays because as the idea was so strong, the film makers didn’t feel that you needed a proper script to back up their amazing selling point. The best example of this is probably Look Who’s Talking. It’s high concept was a baby can talk and sounds like an old man, well, Bruce Willis which is the same thing. Oh, how we laughed when washed up has-been John Travolta (but soon to return to mega stardom before becoming a washed up old has-been again) shared a joke about a woman’s breasts with said baby – “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” “Mmm…” replied Baby Willis, “lunch”. This was before we realised that this was the only joke in the entire movie.

The ultimate high concept movie surely had to be Groundhog Day: Bill Murray is destined to repeat the same day over and over again until he learns some life lessons. The difference between this high concept movie and the rest of them was that the script bothered to not only fully exploit it’s terrific idea to the full, but also add enough heart and soul to the proceedings that it became an instant classic. It’s no wonder it never got ripped off or repeated much. It was so perfect the first time round there was no point in trying to better it.

Jump forward twenty odd years later where nothing is sacred any more and there have now been three additional versions of Groundhog Day: a sci-fi blockbuster (Edge of Tomorrow) a Netflix comedy with a man always waking up naked (Naked, shite) and a slasher movie from Blumhouse… which is surprisingly not shite. In fact its really rather good…

Things, seemingly, do not start well. You know one of the classic tropes of the slasher is the cheerleader archetypal bitch character whom all the girls hate and all the guys want to hate but also fancy? Yeah well she is the lead character, bizarrely names Tree and played with gumption by Jessica Rothe. No one wants to watch a movie where that kind of character is the one you’re meant to support. Tree, waking up in bed with a hangover and a sweet lad called Carter that she treats like a piece of dirt on someone else’s shoe, is not some one you will like.

Fortunately, just like all of these mean girls in horror movies it isn’t long before she is dispatched by a masked killer. Phew. But then she wakes up again with the hangover and and again with sweet Carter. The day plays out much the same and,  whilst avoiding the previous grisly fate, it ain´t long before she buys the big one again. Hey, we’ve all seen Groundhog Day, you know the drill.

What makes Happy Death Day work so well is threefold – well apart from being excellently shot, directed and edited, which almost goes without saying with a Blumhouse production – they really know how to stretch a meagre budget. Anyway…

1) The who done it? mystery is surprisingly compelling. So even if you were to think that there were one too many “days” (and you’d be mad to as each death is often a surprise and certainly a joy… if you can call death joyful) then the question as to who the hell is murdering Tree over and over is a good one. Unusually I managed to guess who it was and I’m usually as thick as a pig about such things. May (who is far smarter than me) on the other hand didn’t see it coming at all so I was just lucky I guess.

2) It’s a funny, and fun film. Let’s face it, the idea of waking up on the same day again and again is prime comedy material and Happy Death Day knows this (unlike Naked sadly). So there are a lot of moments for Tree can exploit her knowledge for comedy effect. Also Tree may be a nasty piece of work but by heck she’s a funny nasty piece of work.

3) The characters, whilst often being clichés (the sweet dude, the gay jock and of course our bitchy heroine) are really well defined and performed.  Carter, played by Israel Boussard, really is a sweet, charming guy who Tree is lucky to have met. And Tree herself is just the best. Sure we hate her nasty persona in a Barbie body at the beginning of the film, but she grows as a human being as her repeated days progress, to the point where by the end she’s become the final girl you want to win, to beat the baby-masked psycho.

I think it was director George Roy Hill (who made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid amongst others) who said that ¨if you have a good script and a good cast then the film virtually makes itself.¨** Now that is in no way to diminish director Christopher Landon or any of the rest of the crew but the three points above do fall directly under Hill’s quote. Sure Happy Death Day has taken the Groundhog Day template, but it has run with it using slasher tropes to create a fun and thrilling  horror screenplay with a cast and characters you can support and get behind, even if you do find yourself rooting for someone called Tree…

* Cocktail was, weirdly, was one of my later mother’s two favourite films. The other was Pretty In Pink because she had a rather big crush on Andrew McCarthy. I never found out if she also fancied Tom Cruise. Or maybe I did and blocked it out.

** I can´t find that quote anywhere so I might have made it up.

HORRIBLE STUFF FOR LOVELY PEOPLE