Category Archives: Maybe-Miss

Don’t Knock Twice (2016) | It’s Hansel and Gretel meets The Ring’s Sadako… in Wales

Don't Knock Twice?

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…

Don't Knock Twice

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

 

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Essex Spacebin (2016) | Is this British indie sci-fi inspired lunacy or what?

 

essex_spacebin_poster

Honestly, I really cannot begin the describe how ‘bad’ Essex Spacebin is – and I use those commas because I think that’s the point – or so it seems.

Essex Spacebin

Meet Lorraine Willy (Lorraine Malby), a middle-aged woman with mental health issues who believes she and some intergalactic Rasta dude called Hogan have a psychic link with beings from another dimension. Armed with a PDF of Amen-Ra’s specs for an Essex-built pyramid, Lorraine sets out to locate a star key, which will gain her access to the parallel world…

Essex Spacebin

Written and directed by David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson (who don’t appear to have done anything else according to the IMDB), Essex Spacebin is a low-rent sci-fi take on the Wizard of Oz with production values akin to the VHS shorts that I used to make on a lark with my university friends back in the 1980s. But it’s shot in glimmering 35mm film stock, which leads me to suspect that the whole thing is a joke on us viewers, and that its ‘badness’ is intentional.

Essex Spacebin

So, are the film-makers hoping to pay homage to the likes of John Waters (Multiple Maniacs is back in UK cinemas in a restored version – yeah!!!) and the warped comedy of Troma’s 1980s output (in London, it was paired with Tromeo & Juliet, alongside a personal appearance of Lloyd Kaufman), and that their intentionally ‘bad’ film will take its place in the Midnight Movie pantheon alongside Rocky Horror, Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, or is it really just a waste of everyone’s time and effort? I’ve sat through it twice now and I really can’t make up my mind. So, if you have seen it, please do leave a comment below, and let me know if I have missed something?

Kudos, however, do go to crazy collection of characters that populate this mad, bad, non-star trek, and to the evocative techno soundtrack (from Ceephax Acid Crew aka Andy Jenkinson).

Essex Spacebin is available on Amazon Prime Video.

The Wailing (2016) | This South Korean occult thriller is a ponderous and confusing challenge

The Wailing (2016)

‘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.


The Wailing (2016)

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.

The Wailing (2016)

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

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Odd Thomas (2013) | The late Anton Yelchin stars in a frenetic adaptation of Dean Koontz’s supernatural thriller

Odd Thomas

‘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…

Odd Thomas

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.

Doomwatch (1972) | When Tigon did a Quatermass with the TV sci-fi classic

Doomwatch (1972)

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.


Doomwatch (1972)

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.

Doomwatch (1972)

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.

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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

The Blood HarvestDo 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!

Blood Harvest

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

 

Lake Placid vs Anaconda (2015) | It’s a clash of the titans as the creature feature franchises go jaw-to-jaw

Lake Placid v Anaconda

Killer crocodiles and giant anacondas clash in the SyFy monster mash-up starring Robert Englund and Yancy Butler (last seen in Lake Placid: The Final Chapter), and Stargate SG-1’s Corin Nemec.

The fifth instalment of the Lake Placid and Anaconda franchises is supposed to be about corporate greed and science gone wrong, but it’s actually just another excuse to have a bunch of scantily-clad soriorty with big guns girls being chased, squished and eaten by some questionable CGI. One to add to my list of Killer Croc Movies.

Out now on Digital HD and released on DVD 7 September from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Follow Lake Placid vs Anaconda on Facebook: https://facebook.com/anacondamovies

The Deadly Mantis (1957) | We’re gonna need more bug spray!

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Out of a million years ago … a thousand tons of horror!
This 1957 creature feature was one of a slew of giant bug movies that followed in the wake of Them!. The premise has a giant praying mantis released from its slumber in the frozen Arctic following a volcanic eruption, then making its way to Washington DC where it smashes into a jet and gets gased in an underground tunnel.

It’s all deadly dull with lots of stock footage (including Eskimos escaping in caneos in fast-motion) and talky scenes (mainly military types trying to woo the film’s solitary female, played by Alix Talton). But the mantis effects are effective and fun. It’s just a shame the creature is as wooden as the acting by the human cast.

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Director Nathan Juran won an Oscar in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley, then helmed such genre classics like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. But I will always associate him with Irwin Allen’s sci-fi TV shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. Actor William Hopper, who plays a palaeontologist, was the real-life son of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (wonder what she felt of her nephew’s wooden performance).

The Deadly Mantis is out on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films

 

Invaders from Mars (1986) | Tobe Hooper’s 1950s sci-fi homage misfire lands on Blu-ray in the UK

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Glancing at the retro credits of the Final Cut Entertainment Blu-ray UK release of this 1986 sci-fi, director Tobe Hooper’s homage to the 1950s classic, Invaders from Mars, about a small-town boy who is convinced aliens are taking over the minds of his parents and townsfolk, should have been as inventive and rewarding as John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

It had Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead) and Dan Jakoby (Arachnophobia) on script duty, the legendary Stan Winston conceiving some great creature effects, John Dkystra doing the impressive visuals, and Christopher Young supplying a suitably cosmic score. The cast, meanwhile, was a who’s-who of favourites, including Louise Fletcher, Karen Black, Timothy Bottoms and Bud Cort.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

But, and it’s a big but, Invaders from Mars was made by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ Cannon Films, and they were notorious for creating some of the VHS-era’s worst films (just check out the Electric Boogaloo documentary). Not only that, it was the second of Hooper’s three-picture deal with the misguided Israeli cousins to misfire – spectacularly. His first was the hugely expensive sci-fi flop Lifeforce (you can read all about that here).

Invaders from Mars (1986)

The problem with Hooper’s Invaders is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious sci-fi, a spoof, or a kiddie-friendly adventure. There’s also no action or suspense, and Hunter Carson, who plays David, is plain awful (he probably only got the job because he was Karen Black’s son). The original David, Jimmy Hunt, puts in a cameo as the Police Chief which made me smile, as did the in-joke of setting the film in the same town as another sci-fi classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Now, there’s a reimagining that’s just as good as the original.

But if you are a Tobe Hooper fan and don’t have a multi-region player (to view the Scream Factory Blu-ray release, which boasts a commentary from Hooper), then this Final Cut Entertainment Blu-ray UK release comes in at second best, and includes the following extras:
• A career in Cannon/Tobe Hooper in the 1980s with film historian David Del Valle
Mission to Mars: The Special Effects of Tobe’s Invaders by Alec Gillis (art department co-ordinator and creature effects crew)
Red Planet Recollection: Remembering Invaders from Mars by Leslie Dilley (production designer)
Creative Concepts: An interview with William Stout (concept artist)
Invaders from Mars concept art presented by William Stout

 

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Shark Killer (2015) | It’s a bargain bin Romancing the Stone with fins

Shark Killer (2015)

Shark Killer opens with a cool graphic novel animated opening credit sequence and a comical Jaws II meets Piranha scene in which a bunch of American teens become shark food, before our square-jawed hero Chase Walker (Derek Theler) saves – then shags – the girl (think Bond as a muscled jock).

Shark Killer (2015)

It certainly sets the scene for a tongue-in-cheek adventure in which Chase jets off to Cape Town in South Africa where he’s coerced by his obnoxious adopted (and therefore less attractive) brother Jake (Paul du Toit) into retrieving a priceless diamond swallowed by a Great White. And helping Chase in his quest is local beauty Jasmine (A Town Called Eureka‘s Erica Cerra), who looks like a cross between Jessica Alba and Courtney Cox, but sounds like she’s swallowed a frog.

Shark Killer (2015)

Next stop, a bargain bin Romancing the Stone meets buddy comedy where gags like ‘This isn’t flipper we’re talking about’ fall flat at every turn, there’s little in the way of action (apart from a couple of well-choreographed fight scenes that show off Theler action man skills) and practically nil shark carnage (which is what we came for).

Shark Killer (2015)

Instead we have just three CGI shark attacks (one on a fluffy white terrier) amid lots of flirty talk between Theler and Cerra. Now, they’re certainly a fit-looking couple, but they’re no Michael Douglas or Kathleen Turner – and du Toit is no Danny De Vito either.

Shark Killer (2015)

Doing his best Bond-style villain, Arnold Vosloo is pretty cool, especially when his drug-dealing diamond collector takes his final revenge after being almost been burned to a crisp in an explosion. But, ultimately, even he can’t save this sinker.

Shark Killer dives onto DVD in the UK on 20 July from Image Entertainment

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