Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Final Recall (2017)

Final Recall (or just Recall in the USA) is a new film, and I managed to get to see a review screener of it ...  On the surface it looks like something that is exactly my cup of tea, blending horror with science fiction ...

The idea is that a bunch of alien spacecraft appear all over the world and start kidnapping people, for why we don't know ... And there's a bunch of teenagers, three guys (R J Mitte, Jedidiah Goodacre, Niko Pepaj) and two girls (Laura Bilgeri, Hannah Rose May), who are heading off for a weekend in a secluded cabin in the woods ... and at the gas station on the way. they meet a stranger (Wesley Snipes) who seems to have antipathy towards them.  So much, so Cabin in the Woods and Tucker & Dale Vs Evil (not to mention Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and every other film which has a bunch of kids visiting a cabin in the woods).

Things ramp up when the aliens arrive and send in jellyfish-like drones to scout the place out ... we're now in Independence Day or War of the Worlds territory. Snipes' hunter turns out to be someone that the aliens previously captured and who has been 'returned' with strange psychokinetic powers, and some alien decal-like tattoos.

So the kids end up being captured and taken on board the spacecraft, which has a very alien-esque decor, straight out of the Alien franchise, and after some wandering about, one of the kids finds his friends lounging in vats of goo which seem to be either dissolving their lower parts, or turning them into something else ...  This reminded me of elements of The Matrix films with the cybernetic attachments and goo (when Neo wakes in one of the battery-pods).

Then, everyone is returned to earth by the aliens and they head off, only to be stopped by the army and shot!  Except that two of them use their new superpowers to destroy the army, and to heal themselves as well - seems they are immortal!  As are many others who have now been returned to Earth ...

As a film, it's not at all bad. and despite all the derivative elements I mentioned above, is very watchable and exciting.  It's pretty obvious that Snipes would turn out to be a - sort of - good guy, and the kids are likable enough.

The effects are excellent, and you get a sense of the alienness of the creatures and whatever their plan is, specifically because it's not spelled out for you. At the end, you still have no idea why this has happened - it's all part of some alien masterplan in progress.

The aliens are nicely realised too - probably because you don't see much of them. It's a case of less is more!  Though what we do see reminded me strongly of the alien hunter in Without Warning way back in the 80s.

I don't know about 'Cabin Fever meets Skyline' though.  The former is about a virus infection which wipes out a group of kids in a cabin ... the only connection I can see here is that there is a cabin!  And Skyline was about alien abductions ... so I suppose there's a connection there.

If you're into this sort of film: mixing and matching things from all over the place to create an enjoyable alien/horror romp through the genres, then this might be right up your street!

Directed by Mauro Borrelli
Writing Credits: Reggie Keyohara III, Mauro Borrelli, Teddy Wynne, Sam Acton King


Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: The Slayer (1982)

Arrow have a knack for seeking out all the most obscure little films from the eighties which flourished in the horror boom at that time. The Slayer is one of them.

Unfortunately time has not been kind to the film, and it plays today as being somewhat forgettable. A slasher movie in which there doesn't seem to be a killer, which is full of bland characters, and which, when you reach the end, you realise was all a dream anyway. Probably the worst plot 'twist' you could give to a horror film.

The plot is simple: two couples visit an isolated island for a holiday, and get killed off by an unseen killer. The main protagonist is Kay (Sarah Kendall), who has been suffering bad dreams all her life. So she and her husband David (Alan McRae), Kay's brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) head away for a break. There's also a pilot, Marsh (Michael Holmes), who tries to warn them not to stay as there's a hurricane approaching ... Kay finds a deserted theatre at one point, and the deaths are gruesome and redolent with eighties gore.

It's surprising, none the less, that the film was classified in the eighties as a 'Video Nasty' and banned! It all seems way too tame for that ... But this alone probably elevates the film to something of a curio, and so fans of slasher horror should find something to appreciate here. I was interested to see in the extras, the makers explaining how it was the first horror film that any of them had made ... and on that basis it's not bad at all.

The transfer is good, and it's a fairly enjoyable watch and addition to anyone's growing library of horrors.

 DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
•        Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative
•        High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
•        Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
•        Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
•        Audio Commentary with writer/director J.S. Cardone, actress Carol Kottenbrook and executive in charge of production Eric Weston, moderated by Ewan Cant
•        Audio Commentary with 'The Hysteria Continues'
•        Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Robert Folk
•        'Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer' – documentary featuring interviews with J.S. Cardone, Carol Kottenbrook, Eric Weston, producer William Ewing, director of photography Karen Grossman, camera operator/2nd Unit DOP/still photographer Arledge Armenaki, special creature and make-up effects ceator Robert Short and 'Slayer' performer Carl Kraines
•        'Return to Tybee: The Locations of The Slayer' – featurette revisiting the shooting locations on Tybee Island, Georgia
•        'The Tybee Post Theater Experience' – join the audience of the Tybee Post Theater (one of the film’s key locations) for this very special home-town screening of The Slayer! Includes event introduction, feature-length audience reaction track and post screening Q&A with Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant
•        Still Gallery
•        Original Theatrical Trailer

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Lee Gambin




Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

Oh dear. As life-long fans of the original Resident Evil films, this is one franchise which seems to have gotten worse and worse as the films progressed ... To be fair, it's often the way this sort of thing goes, and the number of film series where the second film tops the first can probably be counted on one hand ...

Resident Evil started life as a computer game in the era when graphics and sound started to hold sway, and the computer could present a realistic mileau for the player to kill as many zombies as they could while creeping through a deserted house ... it was an early success for the genre, and of course spawned a film starring Milla Jovovich as the heroine, Alice, joining forces with a bunch of soldier to descend into The Hive, a secret underground base beneath Racoon City, which has experienced the release of the T-Virus, which in turn has turned everyone down there into bloodthirsty zombies - including the dogs!  It's a simple premise, and one which has spun off through several films, making variations on the T-Virus infected humans, creating clones of Alice, bigger and more violent enemies, and ultimately brought the world to its knees in a zombie-infested, flying-monster-inhabited America ...

And now there's apparently the final entry in the series ... and it's awful.  For a start the film is so dark that it makes Batman look like it was shot on a sunny day ... we had to adjust the settings on the television to even begin to hope to make out what was happening. And then there's the editing. I'm actually surprised at director Paul WS Anderson (who also happens to be Jovovich's husband) as he has a good pedigree and has made some great films that we love (Event Horizon, AVP, the original Resident Evil). Here, however, in the action sequences there seems to be a cut every quarter of a second or so.  Sure it's fast and furious, but as a viewer you have no idea at all what is going on, who is where, where anyone or anything is in relation to each other ... it's just a seemingly random succession of fast moving CGI images which leave you feeling sick with motion sickness rather than caught up in the action. Really poorly done. There's also the return of Ali Larter's character, Claire Redfield, who still can't close her mouth ... and a host of bloodthirsty monsters ...
When you see this poster, you start to realise what
they are selling this film on ... and it's not the plot!

There's a good film waiting to be made here - Alice's return to the Hive to try and destroy the monsters once and for all, with a final stand-off with the computer, the Red Queen and all that she represents, but this isn't it.

The film even relies on the best and most imaginative sequence from the first film, the corridor of lasers, for part of the climactic battle ... there is a paucity of ideas here which makes this feel like a sort of 'best of' the rest of the films, but done so badly, that you really just want to go and watch the original films again ...

I feel that even if you are a fan of the games, then this might just leave you cold.




Review: Pulse (2001)

I first saw Pulse, or to give it it's Japanese name, Kairo, some years back and quite enjoyed it ... and with a new Blu-Ray release from Arrow now available, it's time to revisit it.

The idea is typical of the other Japanese horrors that I have seen, and that you are probably familiar with too. Films like Ringu (The RingJu-On: The Grudge (The Grudge) and Dark Water all present variations on hauntings which impact on the lives and sanity of those who, sometimes completely inadvertently, get in the way. In Pulse, it's to do with ghosts invading the human realm, causing those who see them to become distant and eventually to kill themselves, or to bleed into the walls, leaving black stains behind. I'm not quite sure what the title has to do with any of this as there is no 'pulse' of any kind referenced in the film.

There are two stories running in parallel. One follows Michi (Kumiko Asô), Junko (Kurume Arisaka), Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) and Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi) who work at a flower shop in the city ... first Taguchi, then Yabe vanish, leaving Junko and Michi to try to figure out what is going on, with rooms sealed with red tape, horrific deaths and ultimately Junko herself being caught and killed by the phenomenon.

The other story follows Ryosuke (Haruhiko Katô), an internet geek, who seeks help from Harue (Koyuki), an IT teacher, to try and understand a strange website which his computer keeps showing him. Eventually Harue commits suicide, and Ryosuke joins up with Michi to get away from the city with a small number of survivors of whatever this plague/disaster really is.

As films go, it's quite hard to follow and understand. If you had difficulty with Ju-On: The Grudge, then this is even more obtuse, but the visuals and unfolding sense of dread make it all worthwhile. There's an underlying idea that 'death was eternal loneliness', and that those people who encounter the ghosts cut themselves off and eventually become just an unwanted stain on the wall ... It's a cruel film in that regard, and the bleakness works very well indeed.

Well worth a watch if you like intelligent Japanese horror, and you're up for not having everything handed to you on a plate ...

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original 2.0 audio
  • New optional English subtitle translation
  • Broken Circuits: a new video interview with writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
  • Creepy Images: a new video interview with cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi
  • The Horror of Isolation: a new video appreciation featuring Adam Wingard & Simon Barrett (Blair Witch, You’re Next)
  • Original ‘Making of’ documentary, plus four archive behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Premiere footage from the Cannes Film Festival
  • Cast and crew introductions from opening day screenings in Tokyo
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket
 

FIRST PRESSING ONLY:Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Chuck Stephens

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Review: The Circle (2017)

The Circle is a film for our time. Very like the incredible Black Mirror series in it's treatment of modern technologies taken to their logical conclusions, it plays out a scenario where a Facebook-like internet site has taken everyone by storm ... but the people behind it aren't perhaps as squeaky clean as they might like to be seen as.

The site is 'The Circle' and you have friends on there and communicate and engage with them. Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is recruited to work at The Circle's HQ by her pal Annie (Karen Gillan) and quickly finds that just working a 9 to 5 isn;t enough. She is also expected to participate in Circle evening and weekend activities - all voluntary of course - and to post everything to the Social Media ... Eventually she starts to become more popular than Annie and is invited into the 'inner circle' where CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) rules the roost.

Mae comes up with more ideas for them, and eventually decides to 'go transparant' in that every aspect of her life is transmitted live to everyone around the world: that's everything including her bank accounts, private emails, letters ... everything.  She is soon the internet golden girl and a sensation ... But there's something lurking in the underbelly of the company ... and perhaps Mae is the one to uncover it ...

Overall this is a very enjoyable film, which draws you in.  The familiarity of the whole Facebook/Circle set up is part of it, as we can see exactly what the film depicts happening today, and can postulate, along with Mae, where this might lead.  There's also the idea of hidden corruption at the top here, again something which the people of Earth are becoming increasingly aware of: actions taken for the good of the few, not the many.

The acting is excellent, though Emma Watson's Mae seems at time a little too trained and self confident with it all. Hanks is also tremendous as the CEO, and Gillan seems to just play the same character as she did on Doctor Who ... perhaps this was a 'no acting required' role for her though.

Well worth a watch on Netflix as it's a very thought provoking scenario which really stays with you.

Review: The Visit (2015)

The Visit is an interesting little film which I suppose falls in the 'found footage' subgenre. A couple of kids are making a documentary film and so record everything ... In order to facilitate their mother getting back with their father, they go to stay with their grandparents, who they have never met ...

On arrival though, the grandparents seem somewhat ... unstable ... Pop Pop seems to go loopy during rhe day, soiling nappies and keeping them in a shed, while grandmother goes insane at night, stalking about in the nude and scratching at the walls ...

The kids try to make sense of it all, but as this is a M Night Shyamalan film, it's in the last act that we find out what's really going on - and if you've been paying close attention, it's not too hard to figure out - and the film ends with the mother racing to rescue them ...

Overall it's actually pretty good. The performances of all the leads are excellent, and the young kid's rapping aside, it's an enjoyable watch. Strangely for a director of Shyamalan's cachet it feels like a mega-low budget affair, with limited locations, a small cast, and not even much in the way of effects.

It has a very slow start and build up, but this sort of pays off towards the end ... even if you have guessed what's going on ...

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Review: Titan's DOCTOR WHO Comics ranges - June/July 2017

Titan Comics have been going great guns with their Doctor Who comics lines, with new stories, series, Doctors and specials arriving, it seems, every other week!  I have been sent a selection of the comics, and so here goes with a 'point in time' review of each of the ranges ...

The Twelfth Doctor - Ghost Stories - Part 3


Written by George Mann, art by Dannis Calero.  The cover also credits Dijjo Lima but there's nothing in the comic to explain what he/she did! (Previous issues credit them as colourist)

Ghost Stories is a four part special which follows on from the 2016 Christmas Special episode of Doctor Who, 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio'.  The Doctor in his Capaldi guise has teamed up with Grant (the superhero) and Lucy (the human) to find three more of the strange crystals which gave Grant his power ...

Now Grant has lost his powers, and he and the Doctor have been captured but the third missing crystal has been suppressing Grant's powers and subjugating the populace leaving some robotic brains in charge - all a little like an episode of 'The Keys of Marinus' to be honest - then, escaping from there, the Doctor runs into some Sycorax. Grant challenges them ... and while he fights, Lucy and her daughter Jennifer go to try and find the final stone ...

The art is nice and the story flows and there's a dual narrative: Lucy is telling us the story in small caption boxes while the action and dialogue takes place simultaneously. Oh, and the Sycorax remember the Doctor from his encounter with them in 'The Christmas Invasion' - maybe they weren't all blown to pieces after all.

Looking back at the first two issues, the art in #1 (by Ivan Rodriguez) is spectacular and this style continues in issue 2 (by Pasquale Qualano) but just before the end of issue 2, the art suffers a massive backwards step and becomes blocky and simplified, and this simplified style continues through issue 3. I much prefer the more complex visuals.


The Twelfth Doctor - Year Three - Issue 3.3, 3.4, 3.5


Written by George Mann, art by Mariano Laclaustra, colourists are Carlos Cabrera and Hernan Cabrera.

We're again in the middle of an adventure ... something to do with seaweed husks attacking the Doctor and companion Hattie.  The husks look more like green yeti than anything else ... and they attack a house and then capture and take the Doctor away under the water ...

This is a pretty exciting tale with lots of action, and the companion, Hattie, is a bald-headed, biker-jacket-wearing badass who is prone to psychic assault!  Interesting!

The final part of the story comes in issue 3.4: the green yeti were being sent by a trapped spacecraft under the sea which the Doctor and Hattie free with the power of punk music! I know ... very comic-land :)  But the underwater imagery and panel development are spectacular here. Really great artwork and storytelling without words.

Issue 3.5 starts a new story by Richard Dinnick, with art by Brian Williamson and colours by Hi-Fi. We're back in TV land as the twelfth Doctor is travelling with Bill Potts. A band of Vikings capture the Doctor and Bill. The Doctor realises that the Vikings saw a spacecraft land and so joins them to investigate ... and it's the Ice Warriors!!  And while it's not totally clear from this opening episode, it looks like it might be the Flood from Mars ('Waters of Mars') come to Earth too ...  Exciting stuff.

The art is great, and the Warriors are very nicely rendered, as are all the incidentals. A very nicely told opener.


The Eleventh Doctor - Year Three - Issue 3.5

Written by James Peaty, art by I N J Culbard, colours by Triona Farrell.

I think we're part way through a story here, though this issue appears to be a self contained adventure, and travelling with the eleventh Doctor is a girl called Alice, and a creature called the Sapling (a crystalline tree person), who seems to have been evil in earlier instalments, but who has now turned good.

The Doctor and Alice investigate something called The Devil's Eye, and encounter rampaging Ood ... it's a spaceship on the edge of a black hole (all seems very familiar). The reason is that a chap from Friends of the Ood has tried to free the creatures, but in doing so has driven them insane ... It's down to the Doctor to solve the problem with some gadgetry, and return all the Ood to the Oodsphere so they can sing their song.

The art is fairly simplistic and the page design somewhat standard ... I think I prefer the more imaginative page and panel designs, and certainly the more complex art.


The Tenth Doctor - Year Three - Issues 3.5, 3.6

Issue 3.5 contains an 'interlude' written by James Peaty, art by Warren Pleece, and colours by Hi-Fi.

Here, the tenth Doctor is travelling with Gabby and her best friend Cindy ... The story involves the Doctor arriving on Earth and finding a transdimensional octopus thing there ... he and Gabby go to the help of someone in trouble and find themselves involved with The Reach, aliens trying to get home ... and to do so they need the Doctor's heart. so they take Gabby from him, take him to a room where Martha is dying, to Donna's house, and to the Powell Estate (where Rose lived), all to get the Doctor to despair - the emotion being what the Reach needs.But of course there's more to it than that!

The art is nice, busy without being too complex, and the aliens are nicely considered too.

Issue 3.6 starts a new story by Nick Abadzis, art by Giorgia Sposito and colours by Arianna Florean.

The story picks up, I assume, at the end of the issue before last, with Cindy dead but leaving loads of clones of her behind. Sutekh (or an Osiran anyway) seems to be inexplicably there as well ... It's a puzzling tale ... with excepts from Gabby's diary interspersed, and the Doctor heads for some alien planet where he meets up with his 12th incarnation who warns him obliquely about events to come. Meanwhile back on Earth, something happens to Gabby ...

Not sure about this one to be honest. Perhaps it's just the setting up of the story, but nothing actually seems to happen.  Sorry. It has potential though!


Ninth Doctor - Ongoing Adventures - Issue 13

Written by Cavan Scott, art by Cris Bolson, colours by Marco Lesko

The Doctor is with Rose Tyler and a UNIT nurse named Tara. Captain Jack also appears in the mix and this story is all about him!

We follow Jack's past as a Time Agent, killing people, stealing ... the Terileptils are referenced, and there's an image of the Moxx of Balhoon. He kills a chap called Zloy Volk who would have invented free time travel for everyone and realises he's been set up ... there's a panel with John Hart.  And then he's adventuring with the Doctor and Rose ... and sees Volk alive on a different plant and follows him ... only to meet himself about to assassinate Volk ... The episode ends with Jack shooting Jack!

It's an exciting story, nicely put together and intriguing. The art has a lot of detail in it which makes it good for just admiring the panels.  I'm not quite sure why Cover A has the Empty Child and a Slitheen on it though - in fact, generally, the covers of all the Titan comics don't seem to bear any relationship to the stories being told inside.


Overall this is a nice batch of alternative Doctor Who stories. The acid test is whether they feel like adventures for these Doctors, and for the most part I'd say yes they do.  The one which doesn't so much is the eleventh Doctor one, but then he's a tricky character to capture.

The art is pretty good overall, and the covers are all imaginative and eye-catching.

But there are so many of them!  At $3.99 an issue, and with each issue having 3 or 4 variant covers available, collecting these is a hobby which would get very expensive very quickly! Also, they're only technically available in the USA, and so in the UK you have to reply on specialist stores to get them - and the UK prices in Forbidden Planet are around £2.65 each which is actually cheaper than the USA price at the current currency conversion rate. If you're patient however, there are collected editions being issued by Titan in paperback and hardback.







Saturday, July 01, 2017

Review: The Void (2017)

The Void is one of a great tradition of horror films which manage to excite and thrill as well as to present spectacle in their effects. That it is a low budget creation of two people is largely unnoticeable as it rattles along at a nice pace, and even manages to make some sort of sense at the end!

It’s got a Lovecraftian vibe running through it as tentacle monsters burst from the bodies of the dead and terrorise a small group of survivors who are trapped in a hospital by a large group human (at least we assume they are humans) worshippers of these creatures from the Void, all dressed in white robes and with a black triangle on their faces.

The effects are amazing. According to the extras, they wanted practical effects for the most part, and these lend the film a very real edge as everything is actually there. There’s also a feeling of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Silent Hill in the designs and concepts on show, and the whole thing is just drenched in blood and ichor as well.

For the plot, it’s really humans vs tentacles as the creatures emerge from the dead and cause havoc. There’s also a couple of humans with dubious backgrounds, arguments, cops, and even a crispy charred high priest character who reminded me of Nix from Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions.  It’s a riot of chases and blood and imagination which leaves you breathless. It’s such fun!

Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: House: The Complete Collection

House is an interesting little set of horror films, all produced by Sean S Cunningham who found fame with his Friday The Thirteenth franchise. They’re the sort of low budget, often gonzo style of filmmaking which sadly would not happen today (unless a producer had a vast budget and wasn’t afraid to spend it).

The series starts well with House, in which a writer, Roger Cobb (William Katt), separated from his wife as their son had gone missing while at the house, decides to live in the house owned by his recently deceased aunt. Strange events start to happen, culminating in Cobb being pulled through a bathroom cabinet mirror into a strange hinterland wherein his son is trapped ... he rescues him and escapes as the house burns to the ground.

The film is fun and irreverent in many ways, with some good ideas and effects to keep the shocks coming ... you can see, as with nearly every film which goes to spawn sequels, why it did so.

House II however is a mess. It seems to have nothing to do with the first film, being far more of a comedy into which a zombie old timer is thrust, as well as a search for a crystal skull, and John Ratzenberger as a ‘part time adventurer’ who heads off through a time portal ...

This installment fell flat for me. Trying to straddle comedy and horror is a fine art, and this film failed.

House III however is much better, even if it has even less to do with any sort of series continuity. It’s actually very similar to another film called Shocker (released the same year). Lance Henrickson plays a cop who put bad guy Max (Brion James) into custody, but as the killer faces the electric chair, he seems to survive it, transported into the electric grid and inhabiting Henrickson’s family’s house – eventually intending to kill them all!

For this one, I’d say forget the House tagline (which doesn’t appear on the uncut USA print on the disk – it’s just called The Horror Show) and enjoy the film!  There’s some great effects courtesy of Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero, a great performance from Henrickson, and James plays bad guy Max to perfection. Very enjoyable.

And finally there’s House IV, another film which seems to have become confused as to why it’s part of this series ... It stars William Katt (from the first film) but as a man who gets killed in a car accident which also cripples his daughter. His wife decides to stay in his old house, which is haunted by ghosts. An old Native American spiritual guide  says that there’s a ‘seal’ in the basement which is keeping the spirits trapped ... At about the half way point, the film tips on its axis and becomes a comedy where Burke, Katt’s brother, wants to sell the house to diminutive gangster ... There’s random effects like a shower of blood and a talking pizza, but ultimately the film falls flat as it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. The ending where Katt’s ‘spirit’ heads off into the sky to become a star is just awful.

If you’re a fan of these films then you’ll snap up this set. As always Arrow have added a host of extras, including audio commentaries, documentaries, stills and other items of interest.

Directed: Steve Miner (House, 1986); Ethan Wiley (House II, 1987); James Isaac (House III, 1989); Lewis Abernathy (House IV, 1992)

Created: Sean S Cunningham; Screenplay: Ethan Wiley (House, House II); Allyn Warner (as Alan Smithee) & Leslie Bohem (House III); Geoff Miller & Deirdre Higgins (House IV)

Arrow DVD (Released 27 March 2017)