Category Archives: Maybe Miss
From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment
‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November
Odd Thomas (2013) | The late Anton Yelchin stars in a frenetic adaptation of Dean Koontz’s supernatural thriller
‘I SEE DEAD PEOPLE. BUT THEN, BY GOD, I DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT’
In the Californian desert town of Pico Mundo, 20-year-old clairvoyant Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) becomes convinced a mysterious man is connected to some terrible catastrophe that is about to occur. With the help of a kindly police chief (Willem Dafoe) and girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin), Odd then sets out to unravel the mystery…
IN THIS ODD WE DON’T TRUST
Did you know that this life is just a boot camp for the next? Well, that’s the kind of platitudes that pour out of this glossy adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 2003 novel from Stephen Sommers, the man behind those cartoon-like Mummy films with Brendan Fraser. But if he’s hoping for another money-spinning franchise with Koontz’s novel, which has spawned a host of sequels and graphic novels, then he’s missed the mark on this one.
The late Anton Yelchin’s portrayal of Koontz’ dorky clairvoyant ghost buster is just plain annoying. Odd might be a nerd, but he’s also a wisecracking smart-arse whose ‘psychic magnetism’ makes him attractive to every girl he meets. He’s so full of himself, given to cloying statements like ‘Evil is coming and it’s up to me to find out whose holding the gun’, that the film quickly becomes irksome. And this isn’t helped by butt-clenching dialogue like: ‘I’m a woman. We all have issues. It’s what keeps us interesting and you men interested’.
It’s a shame really because the film has a kooky kinetic energy and features some genuinely frightening CGI monsters, the bodach: wraith-like spirits that can literally smell death. But Sommers’ sledgehammer approach makes it hard for the viewer to feel for Odd, especially in the film’s closing moments when our All American hero saves the day but endures a terrible personal loss.
Odd Thomas gets its Film4 premiere screening today at 9pm; and is available on DVD in the UK from Metrodome Distrbution, and can also be rented for £3.45 from Metrodome VOD.
When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE
The Blood Harvest (2016) | Plot-holes and poverty row production values plague this low-budget serial killer slasher
Do not judge them for what they reap…
Belfast detective Jack Chaplin (Robert Render) is fired over his crazy theories that supernatural forces (namely vampires) are behind a string of horrific murders which left victims with one eye scooped out and their Achilles tendons sliced. Hooking up with his former partner, Detective Hatcher (Jean-Paul Van de Velde), Jack then sets out to uncover the truth and halt rising body count…
The Harvest Is Coming…
In fusing horror with procedural crime, you’d expect this to be a Northern Irish take on the giallo in the tradition of Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento. Well, the attacks (spoiler alert: by two psychos in a banged-up old 1950s car sporting welders masks) are certainly on par with those shock merchants, but the violence is particularly nasty, lacking visual style and finesse, and there’s a lot of talky bits in dimly lit rooms. But it’s the big final reveal that will have you pressing rewind on the DVD to make sure you’re not imagining things. It’s really out of this world – literally!
Plot-holes and poverty row production values aside, fans of extended scenes of senseless violence will get a thrill out of this bloody harvest, which does offer up some effective SFX (which scored a gong at the Freak Show Horror Festival in Florida last year). But aside from some atmospheric location set-ups, the pacing, direction and acting reminded me of the kind of homemade movies that I used to make with my university mates.
This is George Clarke’s sixth feature under his Yellow Fever Productions banner and I’d like to shake his hand for keeping the indie film spirit alive. As he says on his website, ‘It isn’t a crime to follow your dreams’. And it certainly isn’t. But if he’s hoping to become Northern Ireland’s answer to Roger Corman, Jim Wynorski or David DeCoteau, then he might think about upping his game next time round.
BTW: Britain’s Got Talent fans might recognise one of the victims as Matt McCreary, who pranked Simon Cowell in 2015 with a free-running routine.
The Blood Harvest is out on DVD in the UK from Left Films, which includes a making of featurette, bloopers and trailers.
Check out the official website: here
Darkest Day (2014) | Now it’s Brighton’s turn for a zombie apocalypse – but it’s the seagulls you really got to worry about!
Fear What You Will Become
Brooding hero-type Dan (Dan Rickard) wakes up on Brighton beach – amid the incessant squawking of the seaside town’s ubiquitous seagulls – to find the streets deserted and littered with rubbish. Suddenly, an angry drooling mob start chasing him and everything goes all blurry and out of focus. No, he’s not coming down from a bad trip after a night out with the lads, Dan’s just found himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse…
So begins this ultra low-budget British indie that could have done with a better story and better actors. It also looks nothing like the cool poster. After hooking up with some shouty slacker types, including angsty Sam (Chris Wandell) – who has a really annoying voice – and a nice girl called Kate (Samantha Bolter), Dan discovers the army is tracking him down (he’s got some connection to the virus), so he somehow persuades the group to flee the city. Cue: a bunch of fit blokes in black vests and army gear running away from fast-moving zombies (who look like rabid meth-heads desperate for their next fix?).
The hand-held camera work, fast cut edits and blurred shots attempt to give the film a gritty edge – but it only gave me a headache. The films ends as it began, with Dan on the beach and those bloody seagulls still squawking overhead. If there was story in there, I missed it.
Darkest Day is out on DVD in the UK from Left Films, and includes two trailers, and a Making-Of featurette as extras.
The pimps and the prostitutes and the body-snatchers. The brothels and dens of iniquity!
In 19th-century Edinburgh, Irish immigrants William Burke (Derren Nesbitt) and William Hare (Glynn Edwards), discover there’s money to be made supplying fresh corpses to noted College of Surgeons anatomist Dr Robert Knox (Harry Andrews). But when demand starts outstripping supply, the greedy resurrection men turn to preying on drunken prostitutes and vagabonds. However, the death of a club-footed simpleton and a young woman’s disappearance proves to be their undoing…
Gallows humour and saucy British sitcom-styled shenanigans make strange bedfellows in this 1972 British period horror yarn. In retelling the story of the infamous Burke and Hare murders that took place in Edinburgh in 1828, director Vernon Sewell, who had just made two horrors back-to-back (The Blood Beast Terror and Curse of the Crimson Altar), chose, unwisely – as it turns out – to take the sexploitation route for his final fright flick. Littered with penis jokes and gratuitous nipple flashing (even in the morgue – how disrepectful), it should have been called Confessions of a Body Snatcher.
Although Harry Andrews gives a terrifically hammy performance as medical pioneer Knox, playing him as a bullish obsessive gleefully carving up the dodgy cadavers while turning a blind eye to their provenance, Burke and Hare are played strictly for laughs. Thick in mentality and in their ‘Oirish’ accents, they eminded me of Stan and Jack from On The Buses. But instead of pulling birds, they are the henpecked husbands of the film’s real villains – their shrewish wives, played by Dee Shenderey and Yootha Joyce (who was married to Edwards until their divorce in 1968), who think nothing of killing old ladies for ‘a wee dram’.
The comedy thriller’s side-story, involving three medical students and a local brothel, is also an awkward mix of Benny Hill slapstick and whodunit, especially when Alan Tucker’s young doctor in the love goes in search of Françoise Pascal’s missing Marie. Yutte Stensgaard (who once guested in On The Buses) also mysteriously disappears – but it’s not clear if she ended up as another victim or just got left on the cutting room floor. One minute she’s there, the next she’s gone.
The theme tune is by the legendary Liverpudlian band, The Scaffold – who are best known for Lily the Pink. But their bawdy title song, which features the slightly unsavory lyrics ‘Beware they’re out to rape you and drape you in white’ sits uncomfortably alongside the rest of the film’s music score – which sounds like something out of an old silent movie during the brothel burning scene.
Burke & Hare is a misfire whose only merit is in seeing some fine character actors having a lark in period garb on some unconvincing Twickenham Studio sets.
THE UK RELEASE
Burke & Hare gets a UK release on Blu-ray and DVD from Odeon Entertainment as part of their OEG Classic Movies collection from 4 May 2015, featuring the film in its original 1:66.1 aspect ratio and with Dolby Digital mono sound (note: the opening title theme is rather scratchy, but the rest of the audio track is perfectly fine).
AND ANOTHER THING…
When it comes to screen adaptations of the Burke and Hare story, few stand out – except maybe John Gilling’s The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), with George Rose and Donald Pleasance playing the body snatchers and Peter Cushing in Knox role; while Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher (1945), the last film to feature Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together, drew heavily on the West Port murder case, but was actually based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story. Back in 2010, meanwhile, John Landis took a comic stab at the material with Brit favourites Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis playing the rogues. But has anyone actually seen it? For information on the real Burke and Hare, check this out: http://burkeandhare.com/
‘When the devil breeds… a new evil is born’
After finding a little girl called Lucy (Harley Graham) stranded outside a closed cafe, care home assistant Emily (Elizabeth Di Prinzio) and her four friends (who bound for South by Southwest) play Samaritan and take her back home to her concerned parents Val (Virginia Williams) and Wayne (Johnathon Schaech). When a sudden mishap causes Lucy’s parents to head to hospital, Emily and her friends decide to remain behind at the remote farmhouse to look after the girl. But when things start to go bump in the night and Lucy runs off into the woods to play with her ‘imaginary’ friends, the gang discover there’s something evil lurking in the darkness…
This supernatural hodgepodge certainly starts off promising with shots of broken creepy-looking dolls, children chanting ritualistic-sounding nursery rhymes and something growling in a closet, but while writer/director Rustam Branaman sets out to create an element of creeping suspense, he ends up just trying our patience.
Nothing happens for a long time, while the mishmash of horror elements, including a black smoke spirit jumping from host to host, a demon in the barn (that you only ever see fleetingly) and an army of ghost children (actually five or six kids starring out of an upstairs window) just don’t add up. You also have to wait almost 80-minutes before finding out what’s really going on – but even then, it’s not made clear. So when Val and Wayne arrive back in the midst of the mayhem (their absence being an awkward device to get the kids on their own) and Val turns to hubby and says: ‘Most people never figure out what’s going on’, I thought: ‘No shit Sherlock!’ as I was having terrible trouble making sense of it myself.
Apart from caring heroine Emily, the characters are also deeply unlikeable: pill-popping Amanda’s just out of rehab, Sean’s a stoner, Hank’s an unfunny practical joker, and her beau Tyler has a tendency to shout all the time. So when the culling starts, you end up cheering on their demise – which, as it happens, is often the result of their own stupidity rather than anything supernatural. The final shot suggests a sequel – please no!
The Culling is out on DVD and screens on Sky Box Office from 23 March 2015
Throwback (2013) | I’m a Yowie, Get Me Out of Here! – This shaggy tale from Down Under is a yawn-er!
Two mates, Jack (Shawn Brack) and Kent (Anthony Ring), take a canoe trip deep into the rainforests of far north Queensland to search for the lost gold of an infamous 1800s bushranger. The pair find their bounty but when the greedy Kent turns on Jack, they loose the bag. Suspecting Jack has hidden the stash, Kent takes him and a park ranger (Melanie Serafin) hostage in an attempt to force Jack in turning over the treasure. However, lurking in the dense undergrowth, is a ferocious ape-like creature called a Yowie, Australia’s answer to Bigfoot…
Filmed in Yowiescope (ie: digital video), this bargain bin Aussie horror is a real yawner. Especially when you compare it with the polished Norwegian adventure Ragnarok: A Viking Apocalypse (check it out here), which has the exact same story, but with a giant CGI snake instead of Humphrey B Bear with roid rage.
To its credit, Throwback (which is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen) has a nifty title sequence that evokes 70s eco-horrors and some clever in-jokes (fancy a glass of Boggy Creek Rosé?), the landscape is a knockout (of course), and the Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired score is by the legendary Richard Band. On the downside, however, it’s very talky, littered with weakly-delivered clichés; there’s lots of running around, but little action – despite the cast getting shot at, drowned and stabbed; all the grisly bits happen off-screen; the sound editing is poor; and the Yowie (played by six ‘actors’) isn’t remotely scary (you don’t even see its face).
And to top it all, veteran Aussie actor Vernon Wells (of Mad Max 2 fame) gets little more than a cameo as a suspended detective hunting a suspected serial killer, who is bizarrely dressed like a nutty survivalist (it’s never explained why). This one joins 2014’s Hunting the Legend as one of the lamest Bigfoot-themed creature features ever.
THE UK DVD RELEASE
The Monster Pictures UK DVD release includes a host of extras (should you want to bother), including alternative ending, behind the scenes stuff, deleted scenes, trailers, Q&A, video blogs, radio interviews, shorts by director Travis Bain, and Vernon Wells reading an excerpt from Henry Lawson’s The Hairy Man.
DID YOU KNOW?
Yowies have a genetic fear of crocodiles and can throw their growls.