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

Odd Thomas

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

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.

V/H/S Viral (2014) | The US horror anthology trilogy goes out not with a bang but a whimper

VHS VIRALEver had one of those drunken nights out where you can’t quite remember what happened but you know that some batshit things happened because you keep on having some memory flashes that cause you to wince? Well that’s how I felt after watching the third and final entry in the V/H/S franchise, Viral.

Now its cleverly edited, using CCTV, helmet cams and smart phones to weave three increasingly disturbing tales involving a man-eating magician’s cloak, sex monsters from another dimension, and stoner skateboarders battling satanic skeletons around a high-speed chase story involving a fame-obsessed guy trying to capture the footage on his phone.

But the whole thing left me cold, mainly because there’s not one sympathetic character to root for. It also goes at such breakneck speed that all I can recall is the gruesome sight of some dude’s naked feet getting ripped apart while being dragged by an ice-cream truck, a monsterous alien cock that looks like a glove puppet, and some Blind Dead cloaked cultists getting dispatched in what looks like a live-action video game. There’s also some random shots of people with black ooze dripping from their nose to suggest some malady is occurring to anyone watching these viral videos, but it’s not made clear why or how; which makes the final scene total nonsense…

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V/H/S Viral is released on DVD in the UK on 19 October from Koch Media

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

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Dead Shadows (2012) | It’s Night of the Comet with a Gallic twist

Dead Shadows (2012)

The final scene of this 2012 French indie sci-fi is awesome. If only the same could be said of what comes before…

After a comet passes over Paris, twenty-something Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) discovers his friends and neighbours are undergoing some kind of monstrous transformation that is mutating them into something out of this world. With the help of the gun-toting John (John Fallon), Chris attempts to escape the mayhem, but soon finds the entire city is falling victim to the comet’s malevolent powers…

Dead Shadows (2012)

Dead Shadows is certainly heavy on shadow-lit atmosphere and boasts some excellent creatures and sound design (from Escape from New York’s Alan Howarth), but the narrative is non-existent, the action scenes poorly constructed, and the English dubbing abysmal (I recommend viewing it in the original French with subtitles).

Dead Shadows (2012)

Heavily influenced by David Cronenberg’s early body horrors, George Romero’s original Living Dead cycle and John Carpenter’s The Thing, with just a hint of Brian Yuzna’s Society thrown in, debut director David Cholewa sets out to bring his own dark imaginings to the screen.

If only he’d worked harder on giving us more meat to chew on before the special effects take over – or at least give his monsters more screen time and a sense of purpose (a la Nightbreed). Instead, we have endless shots of our good-looking lead running in and out of his flat after yet another brief encounter in the dark and we have no idea what the alien invasion is about.

Dead Shadows (2012)

Cholewa is currently looking for funding his next sci-fi project The Dark Zone through his production company Cryofilms with editor César Ducasse (Dark Souls).

Dead Shadows is released in the UK on DVD (in French with subtitles and Dubbed English track) annd VOD from 27 July 2015 from Bulldog

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

Darkest Day (2014) | Now it’s Brighton’s turn for a zombie apocalypse – but it’s the seagulls you really got to worry about!

Darkest Day (2014)

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…

Darkest Day (2014)

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?).

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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.


Burke & Hare (1972) | A Hammer-esque sexploitation curio

Burke & Hare (1972)

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…

Burke & Hare (1972)

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.

Burke & Hare (1972)

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’.

Burke & Hare (1972)

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.

Burke & Hare (1972)

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).


The_Flesh_and_the_FiendsAND 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:

Percy’s Progress (1974) | The British sex comedy rises again – on Blu-ray

Percy's_Progress_Blu-ray_1With a bounty of Bollinger 1969 stored onboard his yacht, Percy Edward Anthony (Leigh Lawson) takes to the high seas to escape his notoriety as the well-endowed recipient of the world’s first penis transplant.

But when the entire male population becomes impotent after the US-made PX-123 drug accidentally gets into the water supply, Percy becomes the British Government’s secret weapon in reversing the world’s falling birth rate.

After ‘servicing’ the representatives of several countries in the Miss Conception International contest, Percy decides he’s done his patriotic duty and goes back into hiding – which doesn’t go down well with his advisors or the bevy of beautiful birds who only want a favour most men would be happy to oblige…

Percy's Progress Quad Poster

This 1974 British sex comedy was director Ralph Thomas and producer Betty E Box’s sequel to their box-office hit Percy, based on Raymond Hitchcock’s 1969 debut novel, with Leigh Lawson packing into Hywel Bennett’s briefs as the sexed-up anti-hero with the enviable manhood.

Drawing on themes originally exploited in the 1933 sci-fi musical comedy, It’s Great to Be Alive (a remake of the 1924 silent, The Last Man on Earth), and in the 1946 Pat Frank novel, Mr Adam, Percy’s Progress comes off like a poor-man’s Carry On. It should have been a saucy seaside postcard delight, but it’s not. Director Thomas, who was responsible for the ar superior Doctor series of comedy films, and Up Pompeii! writer Sid Colin have merely served up a series of flaccid, vulgar jokes about impotence.

Percy's Progress (1974)

Getting into bed with Lawson (who famously wedded both Hayley Mills and model Twiggy), are some well-known Hammer glamour stars, including Jenny Hanley, Madeline Smith, Julie Edge and Judy Matheson. But it’s the roll call of other famous names that’s the real reason to check this oddity out. Among the embarrassed faces on display in the messy farce are Elke Sommer, Milo O’Shea, Denholm Elliott, Bernard Lee, Anthony Andrews, Ronald Fraser, Alan Lake and Anthony Sharp.

stavosAs the Aristotle Onassis-styled tycoon Stavos Mammonian, Vincent Price is confined to a wheelchair (the last time he did that was in 1953’s House of Wax); while Harry H Corbett (who wrote some of the dialogue, along with comedy legend Ian La Frenais) gets in an hilarious Harold Wilson impersonation (albeit with a Yorkshire accent) as the British PM.

Barry Humphries and Judy Geeson in Percy's ProgressFollowing his multiple roles in the crude but entertaining Barry McKenzie movies, Barry Humphries takes on the dual role of scientist Dr Anderson (sporting a great whistling speech pediment) and an ‘Australian TV lady’ who bears an uncanny resemblance to his Moonee Ponds housewife, Edna Everage. Judy Geeson, meanwhile, gets a very odd role as Dr Anderson’s overly cheery assistant who become instrumental in reversing the drug’s sterility factor.

It's Not The Size That CountsInterestingly, author Raymond Hitchcock ended up publishing a novel based on Sid Colin’s screenplay, while the film’s theme tune ‘God Knows I Miss You’ was co-written by The Seekers’ Keith Potger and Tony Macaulay, who had a string of hits for the likes of Long John Baldry and The Hollies.

EMI Films originally released the film in the UK in August 1974, but it took another two years before a US distribution was announced. Retitled, It’s Not the Size That Counts, trimmed by 90-minutes, and with additional scenes of a penis transplant and a dwarf (played by one-time Ewok, Luis De Jesus) tacked on, the film was eventually released Stateside in November 1978. You can watch a US TV trailer below.

Percy's Progress (1974)

Released as part of Network’s British Film collection, Percy’s Progress gets a brand-new high definition transfer from the original film elements, in its original aspect ratio, and in both Blu-ray and DVD formats. The special features include original theatrical trailers, image gallery and promotional material (pdf).



The Culling (2015) | This indie horror hodgepodge tries your patience

The Culling (2015)

‘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…

The Culling (2015)

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.

The Culling (2015)

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.

The Culling (2015)

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!

Throwback (2013)

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…

Throwback (2013)

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.

Throwback (2013)

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.

Throwback (2013)

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.

Yowies have a genetic fear of crocodiles and can throw their growls.

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