Spoilers follow ...

7. Oct, 2016

La Entidad/The Entity (2015)

In this Peruvian horror, a group of students (don’t fret – they are quite a likeable bunch) decide to film ‘reaction videos’ as they watch a legendary old film located in the archive room of an old cemetery. Emerging as a kind of cross between ‘The Ring’ and The Blair Witch series, their viewing releases a curse that causes all kinds of carnage.

This would have been so much more effective if the makers had resisted the temptation to abandon subtlety in their otherwise interesting scares. The shrieks and wails are turned up high, the scars are deep and the blood runs plentifully, and sadly, when possessed characters rise up and float around, the result is an unsteady mix of the ‘exorcist-style’ and the blatantly absurd.

The performances are never less than very good, with Mario Gaviria’s mischievous Benjamin emerging as possibly the most memorable (certainly the most playful), although Daniella Mendoza certainly makes the most of Carla, who as a character, is someone to keep a careful eye on.

The familiar shaky cam is used to good effect here, and the locations are dark and sombre, with only occasional moments (like the CGI moving statues) lapsing into cartoon incredulity (again, more subtle techniques may well have been less intrusive). A very interesting, if flawed addition to the found footage genre.

2. Oct, 2016

The Dark Eyes of London/The Human Monster (1939)

Based on the Edgar Wallace book, ‘Dark Eyes of London’ features the mighty Bela Lugosi, incongruously surrounded by very British docklands, slums, murky water, and a vast home for the blind.

Horror is subjective: what frightens one person may bore another. For some reason, this film fills me with dread. The style of acting, the grainy images and muffled sound only add to this. The atmosphere is one of cruelty, brutality and the most vulnerable in society are subject to these atrocities. The seediness of their surroundings, the extravagance of Bela’s performance – every murky thing about this picture gets to me in a way far more polished efforts somehow do not. And it’s not even a pure horror – more a thriller caper, with grotesque elements.

Anyway, Bela plays a dual role – one, bewigged, wearing black glasses and softly (and very convincingly) dubbed by another (English) actor as blind Dearborn, head of a converted warehouse that is now a home for the blind. He also plays Dr. Orloff, who commits a series of murders for insurance purposes. Surrounded by more mannered, less memorable performers, Bela ‘does his thing’: some would call it ham, others might enjoy his theatrical playing. I’m definitely in the latter camp – once again, his heightened acting compared to the genteel under-playing of his co-stars is very effective. His portrayal of blind Dearborn is brilliant, his whole deportment is changed, his movements slow and uncertain. This become instantly obvious when Dearborn reveals his true identity, the contrast in his performance is effortless and impressive.

The blind are portrayed as tragic, shunned, kindly characters. None more so than monstrous Jake, who is also given the full horror make-up. Played by Wilfred Walter, he shares with Bela an exaggerated menace. The services held in Dearborn Home are eerie sights, with the residents sitting in cheerless silence as a kindly, aged voice escapes Bela – which in itself is a creepy oddity.

The character of resident Dumb Lou (Arthur E. Owen) suffers the brunt of Orloff’s cruelty. Lou is blind and unable to speak. When he discovers too much about Dearborn’s duplicity, Orloff robs him of his hearing too. Using (now) archaic Frankenstein-esque electronic equipment, the helpless little man is strapped down, taunted by Orloff, and has his hearing burnt out, the only reaction being the agitated twitching of his hands. The act is largely unseen, but we hear a distant scream. When we return to the scene, Lou’s hands have stopped twitching. It is a horrible moment, as is Orloff’s later gleeful drowning of the poor wretch.

A smoky morgue, a tearful heroine, mouldy walls, Lugosi’s stare, drownings … Director Walter Summers ensures every setting is as downbeat as possible, adding layer upon layer of leaden atmosphere upon an already sombre palette. And I think that’s what grabs me about this – the sparingly used horrific incidents are merely icing on this absorbingly bleak cake. An absorbingly bleak cake? I told you this film had an effect on me (the light comic ending almost seems to have been spliced in from another picture).

Considering it was the British ban on horror films that helped put the kibosh on many such films stateside a few years before, this is an audaciously (hypocritically?) gruesome thing. The briefly glimpsed images of corpses pulled out of the Thames are surprisingly graphic. Orloff’s fate, at the hands of a furious, betrayed Jake is disappointingly brief, and features Bela up to his neck in gulping muddy sludge, and brings to an end an exceptional film. I almost wish the sound and image quality could be cleaned up like the Universal pictures, but such an operation would somehow rob ‘Dark Eyes of London’ of much of its rich, shadowy ambience.

1. Oct, 2016

Darkest Day (2015)

Borrowing themes from other sources has never been a problem for me; ‘Darkest Day’ is clearly influenced by British 2002 zombie classic ’28 Days Later’.

The first thing that struck me about this, after its fast-paced, gruesome opening, is the very flat acting on display from most of the cast. Although one gets used to the stilted delivery, it is still a stumbling block – and sadly, two of the main players Dan (Dan Rickard) and Sam (Chris Wandell) are the worst offenders. Most of the other characters are reduced to merely a few words here and there, which may or may not be a good thing. The exception is Samantha Bolter’s Kate, who is excellent, believable and far more ‘there’ than her somewhat two-dimensional colleagues.

When researching this film online, however, many of the cast are also active behind the scenes. Richard Wilkinson (James) also composed the music, Simon Drake (Will) is a second unit director and camera operator. Most prolific is Dan Rickard, who co-wrote and directed, provided digital effects and editing (as well as providing some special effects for ‘The Dead (2010)’ and ‘The Dead 2: India (2013)’).

The story features Dan, who wakes up on Brighton beach, with no memory how he got there. He soon realises the world is awash with ‘the infected’ (the word ‘zombie’ is only used in the credits at the end), and becomes reluctantly taken in by a group of young people lead by physically intimidating Sam (nick-named ‘Arnie’ at one point). These people spend their days getting endlessly drunk, going on occasional shopping sprees, and only leaving their seaside-town home once the military discover their whereabouts and take more than a passing interest. A bond almost forms between rivals Sam and Dan as the latter, who realises the military are specifically looking for him (he was infected, but appears to have been cured), volunteers to lead the soldiers away from the group, resulting in a low-key but very effective ending.

Occasionally the violently shaking camera becomes a little heady, but visually, the film looks terrifically bleak, making great use of the seafront location and economically relaying how run-down the world has become, with sparing use of overturned cars, smashed windows and forlorn streets. The Infected, although little more than bloodied performers, are persuasive in their intent; shrieking and moving at speed (and there are LOADS of them) and create the most tense scenes.

Rumoured to be budgeted at £1,000, my initial misgivings about ‘Darkest Day’ soon became overcome with admiration that the project is as good as it is.

30. Sep, 2016

Dark Signal (2016)

At the heart of this cleverly written story is a resentful social under-achiever who becomes a masked killer. And yet the way the story is delivered, with so many intricate embellishments, makes it far more than that.

Polish Joanna Ignaczewska is terrific as Kate Komisarczyk, mother of a disabled son, who reluctantly agrees to accompany possible boyfriend Nick (Duncan Pow) to a remote house in order rob allegedly wealthy Alan Keller (the monumental James Cosmo) who it seems might just be the notorious figure nick-named ‘the wedlock killer’, who has killed and then removed the victim’s wedding ring finger.

Elsewhere, local radio station JAB Radio is about to record its last ever show featuring Laurie Wolf (Siwan Morris). To ensure the show reaches a memorable conclusion, a Medium is brought in. Carla Zaza (Cinzia Monreale) manages to arouse the spirit of Keller’s dead daughter, and through her, the radio station somehow picks up snippets of Kate’s plight.

These two strands are seemingly unconnected but for Kate’s internet friendship with JAB technician Ben (Gareth David-Lloyd). As the story continues, a series of carefully placed revelations are unleashed that bring the two plots together in a very satisfying manner.

When the killer’s identity is revealed, his motives are sketchy – other than he seems unable to win the affections of women, and that he removes, and makes trophies of, various fingers, tongues etc. On the internet, he believes, he can be anything, and this is how he lures his victims.

The heroine’s actions are occasionally questionable, as if often the case with horror films. Hearing Nick has been attacked in Keller’s house, she then makes her way to that very location, armed with glow-sticks to advertise her presence. Other than that, she shows admirable courage and resolve.

‘Dark Signal’ seems to have received some negative reviews online and I am at a loss to work out why. Featuring Polish, Italian, Scottish, Welsh and English actors in one production seems to have rankled a few, but why? The UK is a multi-cultural society. Although I usually steer clear of commenting on other reviews, I should also mention that some have lambasted a lack of originality, and that ‘Dark Signal’ can’t decide whether to be a slasher film or a ghost story. To me, surely the melding of the two approaches – something very rarely attempted – demonstrates exactly a very original approach. Director and Writer Edward Evers-Swindell has created an intricately plotted film that is very enjoyable, exciting and pretty frightening in places. The plot also makes perfect sense, which is rare, but you have to pay attention.

29. Sep, 2016

Haunting in Hollow Creek (2016)

Married writer Blake Blackman (Steve Daron) and his difficult-to-impress partner, illustrator Angelica Santoro (Guisela Moro), who are having an affair, retreat to a remote cabin in the Appalachian Mountains in order for Blake to commence work on his latest book. The location is beautifully photographed and so stunning, their dog Brandy decides to spend more and more time away from the couple, exploring.

Nights spent in the remote log cabin, with the fireside blazing and lashing of the rain outside – it all sounds idyllic. Only the occasional glimpses of ragged, ghost-like children and Blake’s looming deadline threaten to ruin things. Angelica disappears after discovering she is pregnant, kidnapped and held hostage (alongside two ‘missing’ children) by a hillbilly couple residing in the nearby run-down town. The police suspect Blackman of killing her, despite the real kidnappers being such stereotypical inbreeds. The lawmen are stubbornly lackadaisical, even when Burt Reynolds turns up as Seagrass Lambert, whose grandson has disappeared.

Despite the disappearance of a number of children, it is only after Blake harangues the inactive police force that they make any investigations at the home of the two outcasts. By this time, the imprisoned Angie is heavily pregnant and there’s a growing uncertainty regarding her safety. This tenseness comes very late on in the film. Everything takes so long – Blake’s investigations, the delayed action of the police, the lack of horrific incident all conspire to make this a pretty drawn-out experience: at almost two hours, ‘The Haunting’ long outstays its welcome. A shame, because things could have been tense if 30-45 minutes was shorn from the running time. The idea of spirits of children helping Angie is a nice one, as is the race for time toward the end – but we spend so long getting there, and indeed the finale stretches so long, that any real tension is frittered away.

28. Sep, 2016

Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961)

Initially, I was surprised this was made as early as 1961. Its graphic content, misty Cornish locations, promotional features picturing a lurching zombie, and lurid title seemed more like a production from in early 1970’s (Sergeant Cook is played by Kenneth J. Warren, known for 70’s horror flicks ‘I, Monster’ and ‘The Creeping Flesh’). As such, I’m surprised it made such little impact.

Also surprising is the fact that the lead character is actually called Doctor Blood (Peter Blood, played by Kieron Moore). Horror veterans Hazel Court stars as Nurse Helen and Paul Hardtmuth is briefly seen as Prof. Luckman, both actors previously having starred in Hammer’s ground-breaking ‘Curse o0f Frankenstein (1957).’ One of the cameramen is no less than Nicholas Roeg, who went on to direct horror classic ‘Don’t Look Now (1971)’ amongst other things.

Dashing Irish actor Kieron Moore plays Blood, a character tailor-made to be the hero of the piece, but turning out to be the crazed villain. He’s very good, especially considering he is playing against type. Also, the contrast between sunny, beautiful Cornwall and Blood’s unwholesome experiments is effectively realised.

More reminiscent of films of this period (especially the more mannered Hammer entries), however, are that the shocks are reserved strictly for the final act, where the magnitude of Blood’s delusion is given free reign. Up until then, we have an engaging enough drama, with Court in particular keeping the interest alive – sadly free of scares until the finale, which is great, but too brief.

24. Sep, 2016

Don't Breathe (2016)

Bad’uns, living in a run-down part of Michegan, dreaming of surfing in California – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and loud-mouth Money (Daniel Zovatto) make a living from committing small time robberies. Smoking pot, using expletives and sex jokes in front of minors, including Rocky’s little sister Diddy, the three ruffians decide to improve their shambling lives by robbing a house owned by blind war veteran Norman Nordstrom (Steven Lang) with $300,000 and a big, slobbering dog.

The money is compensation he received following the death of his daughter, who was run down by wealthy Cindy Roberts (Franciska Törőcsik). Nordstrom is devastated and bitter that she should be let off her crimes so lightly.

I love films that present a ‘world within a world’ - that is, an isolated utopia hidden in plain sight: Norman’s home, which he rarely leaves (as established early on), is a dark sprawling private hell personalised to his needs and advantage. Outside, the sun shines and life continues. Inside, anything can happen, and no-one may ever know. When the three would-be robbers enter this world, it isn’t long before one of them (Money, I’m glad to say) is despatched. For Rocky and Alex, trouble is only just beginning …

Scenes often begin with blurred shots or extreme close-ups that obfuscate the new perils the characters find themselves in, revealing every desperate detail with an agonising (and deliberate) slowness. Writer/Producer/Director Fede Alvarez is clearly a name to look out for. ‘Evil Dead (2013)’ composer Roque Baños’s wonderful music score is exceptional also, a collection of moody, occasionally screeching instrumentation that really sells the growing unease. The discovery of Cindy Roberts, bound, gagged and pregnant, is shocking. She took away Norman’s child, so he thinks it is only right she provides him with a new one. Except her death whilst trying to escape with Rocky, puts that idea to rest.

‘There is nothing man cannot do once he accepts the fact there is no God,’ says heavily armed Norman shortly before attempting to artificially inseminate Rocky using a turkey baster in a bid to replace once again, he hopes, his murdered child.

His plans foiled by Alex, and disorientated by the alarms, Norman fires randomly all around him, blowing a hole poignantly in a photograph of his daughter’s smiling face.

I generally prefer independent horror films, often preferring them to bigger budgeted, more diluted mainstream offerings. This is hugely enjoyable, and very tense. There are no heroes, no-one without flaws, just wronged people. Someone online described ‘Don’t Breathe’ as a heavily expanded variant of the Buffalo Bill segment of ‘Silence of the Lambs (1991)’, which is a pretty good synopsis. It is good to see this doing well in the commercial arena; I wish more managed to gain such attention.

24. Sep, 2016

Apparition/The Nesting (2015)

Doug (Jody Quigley) and his beautiful fiancée (Katrina Law) have their blissful engagement party interrupted by a former boyfriend, which despite Lori’s tearful apologies, incites Doug to drive really fast and accidently kill her. It’s hard to sympathise much with such petulance, despite the audience being treated to many subsequent images of Doug struggling to continue life alone … whilst apparently being haunted. Wrong of me, isn’t it, to mention Doug is far from heart-throb material, and how lucky he is to be with Lori and that perhaps should have exercised a little more humility?

Crusty old Woody (Thomas Roy) in the hardware store warns of vengeful spirits residing where Doug is living. Certainly Doug’s dreams are persuasively creepy. And yet his waking hours are cheered slightly by the affectionate neighbour Jamie (Lili Bordán), herself suffering the repercussions of a troubled past – and inevitably, sex is had, with Lori barely cold in her grave.

The spirit, which appears to be Lori and screeching newborn daughter, is not happy about Jamie. The familiar conflict between what is real and what is being imagine ensues – but to the film’s great credit, it is never specifically indicated that the hauntings and violence are entirely in Doug’s mind. Although there is a great temptation to think of the film as too restrained in its horrors, it is a persuasive examination of grief and mourning. Only when (SPOILER) Doug - who has mentally tortured himself that he killed Lori - also kills Jamie, do things become intriguing on a different level. The final scene with Doug enjoying family time with the three dead people in his life, redeems some of the film’s earlier uneventfulness.

22. Sep, 2016

Blair Witch (2016)

Back in 1999 we were all a lot younger. Then, the found-footage genre was virtually unknown, and ‘The Blair Witch Project’ all but introduced it to us. Meeting with critical acclaim and box office success upon its release (albeit helped by a carefully orchestrated internet build-up), it was a phenomena that spawned countless other found-footage productions of variable merit. Now 17 years later, does this second sequel emerge as Daddy to the genre, or is it just another shaky webcam outing? The answer is pretty much both – it would be grossly unfair to expect it to provide the same level of hype or impact as the original, and indeed it does not. But it is very enjoyable.

James (James Allen McCune) leads an expedition into the legendry woods to locate Heather, his sister, who went missing in the original. Of the group, poor Ashley (Corbin Reid), more than most, has reason to regret her decision to partake in this venture. Her spreading foot wound provides the goriest moments this film has to offer, and yet ultimately, nothing really comes of this, other than to make us wince.

Why does James wait 16 years before trying to find his sister, and what reason would he have to think that she is still alive and in the woodlands after all this time? He was 4 when she disappeared, so perhaps his parents insisted he waited until maturity hits him before he embarked on the mission, but a word explaining this would have been appreciated.

The group are a fairly agreeable bunch – certainly they are fairly attractive, which is a concession for mainstream films now, but they are not the catwalk fodder we have been ‘treated to’ in other productions. And yet, where we got to know only three of them in the original, and they were all fairly strong characters, here there are more of them and naturally they have to share the screen time which means we care less about them as individuals. Perhaps Peter (Brandon Scott) stands out the most: initially heavily sceptical of the mission (and understandably, because local boy Lane’s (Wes Robinson) sincerity is sometimes a little intense – although Peter is equally flawed in being so blatantly scorning of him) he nevertheless succumbs to growing fear.

Of the original, the most effective element was knowing that each subsequent night the lost teens spent in the forest would provide terrors ever worse than before. Here, that is not an issue, because frighteningly, the night never ends, throwing the characters into disorientation. Something achieved very effectively here is their hopeless situation – for all they try and do to escape events, we know they may as well just lay down and die. The poor sods.

Towards the end, once they find the abandoned building (that according to investigations, does not actually exist), everything is thrown at the production: the haunted house, disembodied screams, a thunderstorm and manic confusion.

The subtlety that made the original so terrifying is sadly not in evidence here. Instead of the distant rustling in the trees and the possibility of human cries, everything is turned up to eleven – the creepy effects and the hysteria are all loud and all-surrounding. By the end, we are treated to some almost organic sounds suggesting the Blair Witch is all-encompassing, the house’s corridors comprised of ‘her’ innards. This and the endless night scenario expands on the hallucinogenic supernatural events prevalent in the unfairly lamented ‘Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (2000’). Here, the climactic maelstrom is chaotic yet nicely frightening and leaves the story over for now but not disallowing the idea of a sequel. I hope we see one. This may be flawed, but it could have been one heck of a lot worse.

22. Sep, 2016

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

‘The Mummy’s Tomb’ has been described as a mean-spirited venture taking, as it does, the appealing main characters from the previous film (Dick Foran’s Steve Banning and Wallace Ford’s Babe from ‘The Mummy’ Hand,’ 1940) and reintroducing them as old men who are slaughtered by Kharis. More reliant than any other Mummy production on re-running footage from previous instalments – including Tom Tyler as the reincarnated prince – this highlights the massive difference between Tyler and the stockier, less animated Lon Chaney Jr, whose bulky frame is far from the cadaverous image typical of the living dead.

Also included in the stock footage is the shooting of George Zucco’s Andoheb character, in all its glory. Riddled with four bullets fired into him at close range, he reappears here suffering merely from a ‘shattered arm’.

So long are these flashbacks that we feel we have already seen an entire story when ‘The Mummy’s Tomb’ actually begins telling its tale. Andoheb’s right hand man is Mehement Bey, played by the wonderful Turhan Bey, who was something of a sex symbol in his day. Slick and elegant, Bey is restrained here, resisting the temptation to overplay his familiar lines, and his character emerges as the most interesting in the film. As is the way of things, he falls for hero John’s (John Hubbard) girlfriend Isobel Evans (Elyse Knox), which spells the beginning of his undoing.

What remains of the running time is fairly routine. Chaney despised the role of Kharis, and this is understandable. The charred, limping gait is cosily chilling, but it is a thankless role for an actor. Having said that, there is a familiarity with this series that is never less than endearing. And although the aged Steve Banning and his friend Babe (whose surname changes from Jenson in the previous instalment to Hansen in this) are too likable to be killed so perfunctorily (the remaining good guys are a comparatively faceless lot), this remains a formulaic but enjoyable production. The fiery finale is well-staged, but no-one truly believes it is the end of Kharis, not even in 1942.

22. Sep, 2016

Blood Harvest (2016)

This micro-budget independent film opens with the grisly murder of a young lady, involving the removal of one of her eyes, sewing up of the mouth and the slashing of the tendons. The miscreant is one of two brothers who spend much of the running time committing similar atrocities, while wearing a variety of masks – a skull-fashioned motorcycle helmet and an elaborate welding/gas mask.

Jack Chaplin (Robert Render) continues to investigate the case despite being officially sacked from the force, aided by the sometimes incomprehensible Detective Hatcher (Dutch actor Jean-Paul Van Der Velde). The macho, New York style of tough-talking dialogue would be difficult for anyone to perform, and often sounds very unconvincing from this cast.

The masks are removed earlier than is the norm for such reveals, and the acting from the two mentally deficient young miscreants is the best seen throughout the run (the two feral brothers eventually fall out over a pretty blond. This leads to one killing the other), although they appear too well groomed to be the outcasts they are supposed to be - in fact, the police are more dishevelled. The end reveal may or may not have an explanation for that …

The reason for the killings is finally explained in a heavy stream of dialogue that reveals a twist so utterly bizarre, it is likely that no-one will expect it. Many will be unable to take it seriously, but it might explain some of the stilted line delivery of Hatcher. These scenes are classic examples of the villains taking time to explain the plot to the hero moments before the game is up. In-keeping with the difficult-to-stomach style of the film, and the mind-blowing revelation about Hatcher (which I won’t reveal), his being carted off to face justice is … going to be difficult to carry out.

‘The Blood Harvest’ is a strange mix of styles, a far from obvious way of telling a slasher story. Director, producer and writer George Clarke makes incredibly good use of the £10, 000 budget, his mix of close-ups and shaking camera movements creating a sense of pace, even when the plot simply lines up one victim after another. This is a refreshing way of presenting horror and that alone makes up for the film’s short-comings.

18. Sep, 2016

Tower of Evil/Horror on Snape Island/Beyond the Fog (1972)

As evil towers go, the one featured in this film certainly earns its stripes in the opening scene. Stabbings, spiders, dismemberment, naked corpses and lots of blood ensure our attention is immediately grabbed.

So too are the familiar faces for the time – Anthony Valentine, William Lucas, Derek Fowlds and Dennis Price head a superficially impressive cast. Superficial, because the younger characters, the ‘kids’ are neither so well-known nor as compelling. Wrestling with dialogue that makes the excesses of ‘Dracula AD 1972’ positively conservative, these kids are a dull, casually randy bunch (the cod American accents don’t help). The females are especially tiresome – as part of a group sent to investigate grisly murders on Snape Island, they are only ever concerned with the sexual failure of their partners and the affairs they plan to have. Who thought Free Love could be so spite-fuelled?

One reason why the opening sequence is effective is because the island, and the waters surrounding it, are swathed in foggy darkness. Exposed to ‘daylight’, the cheapness of the sets and back-projection becomes hugely apparent. A cut-price film is no bad thing, but when the characterisations and plot is equally threadbare, attention falls away pretty quickly, despite the cackling killer-on-the-loose.

The frank attitude to sex is surprising for a British 1972 film. The feeling I get is that Director Jim O’Connolly over-spiced the dialogue with references to sex and drugs in a bid to compensate for the lacklustre budget and plot. Despite an effectively fiery ending and the reveal of a secondary killer, the 90 minutes running time seems a lot longer.

17. Sep, 2016

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

Produced and directed by Hammer executive Michael Carreras, this film opens up in classic low-budget style: footage of camels tearing across a real desert fade into close-ups of blacked-up actors in a studio set, where the elderly father of drippy, fickle-hearted heroine Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) is killed and has his hand removed by ruffians. Carreras also wrote this under the pseudonym Henry Younger.

‘The Curse…’ has not found a huge amount of favour from fans over the years, but I really like it. Apart from the opening sequence, it looks to be an expensive production, features a first rate cast, features some gruesome moments – and features Michael Ripper as a wonderful (if unlikely) wide-eyed Arab called Achmed.

George Pastell makes an appearance, the second cast member from Hammer’s original Mummy film to appear here. Fred Clarke, renowned American comic actor, plays the larger than life Alexander King (who, it seems, invented the term Turkish Delight in this film) arrogantly determined to milk as much money from the Mummy as possible, but lives (or dies) to regret it. Jack Gwillim is very good as pickled, deflated Sir Giles Dalrymple (whose demise is the film’s highpoint in my view), whilst underrated actor Terence Morgan excels as villainous and debonair Adam Beauchamp, who is more interesting than stuffy square jawed hero John Bray (Ronald Howard).

The Mummy (Dickie Owen) is a curio. He seems slight compared with the usual culprits, and has a clay-like face, giving him a Golem-like aspect. But he is directed very well, and his kills are often accompanied by nothing but the sound of his deep, rhythmical breathing, which makes up for his less than intimidating bearing.

It is true to say that the story takes a while to get going, but is a solid telling of typical Mummy revenge, and certainly livens up once the resurrected Ra-Antef begins his killing spree, and remains compelling until the exciting sewer-based finale, in which Beauchamp is also relieved of his hand.

17. Sep, 2016

The Dead 2: India (2013)

This wonderfully directed zombie film is the sequel to 2010’s ‘The Dead’ which featured an army of the living dead making their deadly way across Africa. Here, as you might imagine, a similar cataclysm has infected India.

What I really enjoy about this is Directors Howard and Jonathan Ford’s worthy use of the incredible landscapes, and the clever way in which such sun-drenched open spaces can either be breathtakingly beautiful or deadly and remote.

The casting is very good, with Joseph Millson as the only Westerner Nicholas Burton – a refreshingly likeable, ego-free central character – and Ishani Sharma (Meenu Mishra), his pregnant girlfriend. Unsurprisingly, her condition does not please her father (Sandip Datta Gupta), who is otherwise concerned with his own infected wife (Poonam Mathur).

Where this stumbles a little is in the actual storyline, which is basically Burton and the appealing orphaned boy Javed (Anand Goyal) with whom he meets, continually attempting to escape the attentions of unthreatening, lurching zombies. Instead of a progressing narrative, certain set-pieces stand out – Ishani’s questioning of Hinduism and its teachings of reincarnation which is in direct contrast to the walking cadavers causing carnage around them, for one. Another involves a mother and daughter trapped in a car with the corpse of the husband and father, with the living dead trudging ever forward. Telling them to cover their ears whilst he shoots away the lock to the seat that traps them, Burton then shoots them both dead instead. And, although the zombies are not always the most frightening or energetic, scenes of them standing, swaying, waiting, scattered across the unforgiving landscape while Burton attempts to escape them are very effective.

15. Sep, 2016

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

Following George A. Romero’s ground-breaking ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968)’, a whole new style of horror films arrived. This Italian/Spanish project, in which the title alone gives away its inspiration, is one of the best zombie follow-ups, notorious not least because of its array of titles (including ‘Don’t Open the Window’ and ‘Let Sleeping Corpses Lie’).

The main hero, the fairly objectionable George (Ray Lovelock) seems self-dubbed, and sounding like he is doing a Michael Caine impression. Edna (Christine Galbo) accidently backs her car into George’s motorbike and he has to wait a few days while it is repaired. This means she is then lumbered with his company as she visits her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre), a struggling drug addict and husband Martin (José Lifante), who becomes the first victim of an apparently reanimated corpse.

Galbo is excellent as Edna, who stoically puts up with George’s over-bearing chauvinism (SPOILER – her final scene, in which she is newly ‘turned’ and left to burn, dead-eyed and uncomprehending, her hand held out despairingly to George, is tremendous). Yet George, for all his flaws, makes a captivating and solid lead, especially when pitted against the prejudiced police sergeant (an excellent Arthur Kennedy) – who might seem to spend his time telling everyone his force ‘aren’t as stupid as you seem to think’, but with every utterance, appears to prove that, if anything, the claims are over generous.

There are several nicely gruesome, gory moments and a genuine atmosphere of ghoulish jeopardy here, and the pace really builds towards a series of climactic highpoints. Having carefully built-up the growing conflagration involving deadly pesticides, an idiotic police force and a rapidly growing zombie community, the pay-off is splendidly grim. The first zombie is a dead ringer for actor Harry Dean Stanton, but he is soon joined by several others. Their number might be axed or burnt by the resolute heroes, but there are always more to take their place.

Jorge Grau directs wonderfully. Filmed in Rome and Madrid, with extensive footage shot in Manchester (including a young lady streaking through the traffic in front of Manchester Cathedral, where no-one takes any notice), many scenes create a terrific snapshot of Britain in the early 1970s, whilst creating a world of living dead, squalid police stations and grainy hospitals. The musical score by Giuliano Sorgini is nicely minimalist and subtly sinister. Apart from the wonderful title, ‘The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue’ is a masterclass of growing horror and comes strongly recommended.

14. Sep, 2016

Indestructible Man (1956)

Stepping out of his father's shadow, Lon Chaney Jr. found initial fame and acclaim in 1940's films, 'Of Mice and Men' and 'One Million Years BC'. As a result, he was swiftly catapulted into Universal's top drawer, playing most of their classic monsters of the time. As the poor, tortured Larry Talbot (aka The Wolf Man) did Chaney find lasting success as an ongoing horror character, and in the mid-forties, his time as top-billed status was over and his contract with Universal was not renewed. Whilst work did not dry up as much as he feared, there were plenty of films like this low budget horror/caper offering. In the thankless and mostly mute part of 'The Butcher', Chaney is brought back from the dead with 'terrifying' power. He then kills those responsible for his demise. And that's the plot.

Of course, he is destroyed at the end, after being horribly scarred by an attack by a flame-thrower. But the film is stagey, with no real commitment. The supporting players don't really seem to have their hearts in it, and matters aren't helped by the 'Dragnet'-style narration that explain several less-than-vital-scenes. For Chaney, there was worse to come, but even this film is for completists only.

14. Sep, 2016

The Gorgon (1964)

From the opening credits, this could only ever be a Hammer film. James Bernard’s trademark scores, a matte paining of a castle in the distance (which makes a very effective screensaver), a young girl in distress and Peter Cushing tinkering in an ornate laboratory: formulaic such an intro may be, but it produces an instant warm glow in retrospect – which is probably the polar opposite of the effect hoped for back in 1964.

Wheeling in a fresh corpse, Nurse Hoffman (Barbara Shelley) is somewhat alarmed when the hand that falls from the stretcher breaks in half, as if it is made of stone. Pretty soon, the dead girl’s bohemian fiancé has hung himself, revealed in close-up. The warm glow becomes distinctly frosty.

So too, are the characters we meet in this production. On seeing the Medusa, or more specifically her glare, characters become aged. That is, they appear to be sprinkled with talcum powder in a cheap looking effect that is never convincing. Christopher Lee’s Professor Karl Meister comes already doused in talc, to lend maturity to such a man of learning, pompous and aloof. Even the avuncular Cushing is starchy in this. Only Richard Pasco succeeds in injecting some naturalism into his role, the almost-hero Paul Heitz. We cry out for a Michael Ripper or a Miles Malleson cameo to lighten up the mood.

Whilst professional and polished, the production is somewhat perfunctory, and there is a damning coolness to the sporadic ‘scares’ – whereas in reality, only the finale, with Barbara Shelley’s transformation into the deadly Megaera, succeeds in providing any shivers, and the less than stellar realisation of the creature – complete with adorable plastic snakes - ensures that even the climactic scares are pretty bloodless (which, considering Hammer caused a sensation in the late 1950s with its blood red horror that in turn both repulsed and fascinated audiences, is disappointing). Like ‘Curse of the Werewolf (1960)’, the thrills are strictly confined to the last ten minutes, which is asking too much of this particular audience member.

10. Sep, 2016

The Lake on Clinton Road/Lake House (2015)

The term exploitation has been used to lump together softcore horror films, mainly from Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, although Hammer also became bitten by the bug in its latter years. Now, we feel we have progressed so smoothly that the term isn’t used any more. And that’s because such a titillating way of teasing the audience with choreographed sexuality has become the norm. Here, we have the dreaded ‘group of friends’, one celebrating a birthday, who go looking for a beach house and instead discover The Lake House. As one character, superficially hard-to-please Stacey (India Autry) says, “A beach house needs to have a beach.” The reply, “Yeah, I got that memo.”

The friends here are the usual stylised, buff bodied, greased back, laconic, horny collection torpidly passed off as ‘normal’. Teens of indiscriminate age whose idea of a really good put-down is to say accusingly “You let me work out on my own today.” To break the perfect collective, there is a moderately over-weight guy who ‘gets by’ by constantly making apologetic weight jokes to justify his inclusion.

The story: years ago, a young boy was drowned in the lake on Clinton Road and may be haunting the Lake House. As nothing in particular happens, these forever wholesomely tattooed 24-hour party people fill the running time by having cosmetic arguments, only to later reward each other with themselves. When one of their number – Jillian (Leah Jones) - threatens to tarnish the perfect party bubble by not feeling well, a lethargy sweeps across the ensemble. After a while, they no longer even have the energy to twerk (dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance).

Away from the sporty birthday revellers, the location is, as is often the case, a blessed relief. Scenic, expansive and remote-looking enough to convince of sinister goings-on far away enough from society to be, in theory, moderately effective. You’d hope. Still, the mood slithers from high-spirited party action to posture and ponder-ment now things aren’t quite excellent anymore. When one sleek bodied seductress disappears – you know, the one who wasn’t feeling well – the reaction from the others is minimal. A manly hand-slap and they continue as before. Camaraderie for those left behind, whilst the birthday boy laments his suddenly imperfect celebrations.

“I ain’t scared of s**t. That’s white people’s s**t. Coloured people don’t do ghosts.” Pure poetry.

Without listing further non-eventful contrivances, ‘Lake House’ proves to be an excruciating and anaemic haunting effort with a little scary music interrupting the rap beats and lead-ups to sex scenes that don’t happen. A little high-speed body-distortion (owing a lot to various exorcism films) and that’s your lot as far as ‘scares’ are concerned. Suddenly, the inclusion of some uplifting music alerts us to the fact the film is ending. But wait! A post-credits sequence features desperately overlong web-cam footage of another car full (of what appear to be four twelve-year olds driving to Clinton Road, mocking the existence of any haunting. This scene seems to go on forever. For a lead-up to any threatened sequel, it spends its entire duration overstaying its welcome). It’s difficult to know how an audience is supposed to react to this film, if at all, but who cares? Horrifying, bro, for all the wrong reasons.

8. Sep, 2016

Vampyres (2015)

Cult classic ‘Vampyres (1974)’ is reimagined here by Spanish writer and Director Víctor Matellano. Depending on which reviews you may read, the original was either a very good or a very bad exploitation film – certainly, it acted as a series of set-pieces fusing gory horror with erotica. As such, this is a pretty faithful remake. There is no hugely involving story here, and the plot-line is spread very thinly.

Whereas the original really created a mood, with filming taking place in autumnal England, here, such skeletal trees and crisp cold colours is swapped for sun-drenched Spain and as such, the doom-laden sense of cold isolation is somewhat muted. The sprawling forests and Lakeland is beautifully captured, however – the home owned by the bi-sexual vampire girls is stunning, but contains enough shadowy crypts and huge rooms to convince as a prison. It is here that they bring their unfortunate victims.

Caroline Munro (about whom the DVD extras talk of as some kind of connection with the original film due to her work with Hammer – even though the original was not a Hammer film) is mysterious as a doom-mongering hotel owner. Her part is so sketchy however, that I didn’t realise she was a hotel owner until the credits rolled. A red herring in fact, it is nevertheless nice to see her.

The two vampire girls are every bit as stunning and sensual as the originals. Donning black capes in the daytime, they flit across barren roads and woodlands. Almudena León is despatched before the end (or so it seems), leaving her partner, the captivating Marta Flich to carry on the carnal activities alone – until the ending, anyway. Vlich in particular is hugely memorable and seems ideally suited to such roles. Indeed, her striking features adorn much of the merchandising. And with good reason; she emerges as pretty much the star of the show.

This is a worthwhile remake, if you consider remakes worthwhile. Matellano has updated the erotic scenes with style, and provided some nice gory moments. If it introduces the film to an audience who would otherwise not be familiar with ‘Vampyres’, then its existence, as an entertaining modern Euro-horror is more than justified.

8. Sep, 2016

Grace: the Possession (2014)

Alexia Fast plays Grace, a virginal, sweet, repressed girl who may or may not be in the possession of a demon. At first, her induction into college is trouble free, but what with hallucinations of death, feinting spells, nightmares and an inability to truly ‘fit in’ (despite her best efforts), she is soon taken back to her home, and her puritanical, purse-lipped grandmother who has long since been her Guardian. Poor Grace is barked at, shouted at, talked down to, bullied and ordered around against her will, before the inner evil she carries is let out in a climactic finale which exposes the reasons for the demon’s mission of retribution.

What sets this apart from virtually every other horror film I’ve seen is that everything is seen from Grace’s point-of-view: we are her eyes, we see first-hand how she is treated, we feel her pain. At first, this threatens to be a clumsy way of story-telling (the only times we actually see Grace is in her reflection in mirrors, the rest of Fast’s performance – apart from vocal – is the nervous ringing of her hands and fiddling with her dress to demonstrate unease), but very soon, we have become used to this painstakingly achieved way of telling a solid possession story.

The cast are great. Apart from the excellent Fast, there is Lin Shaye as the shrew of a Grandmother (herself an outcast from her fellow church-goers) and Alan Dale as Father John, the man ultimately responsible for all that is happening. His drowning in holy water is too mild a punishment for him.

The exorcism at the end, where effects come to the fore, still being shown from Grace’s POV, nearly lapsea into cartoon CGI, but manages to avoid that before an ‘Exorcist (1973)’-style denouement.

3. Sep, 2016

The Ring (2002)

This American remake of the Japanese original exceeds expectations. A ‘troubled kid’ always sends alarm bells ringing – often they are written and portrayed in such a precocious way that invites deep irritation rather than sympathy. Despite plenty of opportunities to exhibit such behaviour, young David Dorfman as Aiden mainly manages to avoid this. His mother Rachel (Naomi Watts) is actually less sympathetic than he is. She is an abrasive character who is very difficult to warm to.

Luckily, ‘The Ring’ also resists being a ‘teen’ movie, despite opening with two adolescent girls talking about ‘this videotape … that kills people’. Before long, as coincidence would have it, one of the girls has succumbed to that very curse.

Overall, this is a good, spooky remake of the 1998 film. It cultivates its own unique brand of horror. Often shot in cold colours, much use is made of creeping water, blurred photographs and the everyday city portrayed as an oppressive, menacing environment. While the idea of videotapes is suddenly archaic, it actually gives the oncoming horror a nostalgic, creepy feeling that, for example, a Blu-Ray just wouldn’t provide. The ‘subliminal’ imagery on the tape is also a very sinister, abstract series of events. You don’t know what it all means, but it certainly doesn’t look cheerful.

Gore Verbinski’s direction is very effective, building up a level of tension from less than obvious means. Views of tower-blocks, rain-swept streets and boxed-in people leading desolate lives help create an isolated world. Hans Zimmer’s wonderful musical score also promotes the notion of seclusion, with echoing piano minimalism, notes like raindrops. The central idea of Rachael hearing about a videotape that kills people, and then watching the tape and inviting Aiden’s father Noah (Martin Henderson) to watch it too, takes a lot of justification in logical terms and questions her intelligence. I’m not happy with the lack of explanation of this. Does she do this deliberately? In horror, stupid people do stupid things.

The impenetrable images on the tape are shadowed throughout the film, providing a certain, slowly unravelling degree of clarity. And yet it isn’t until the troubled Samara (Daveigh Chase) is mentioned, an adopted girl with deadly psychic abilities, who seems in spirit, to be responsible for the doings of the curse, do Aiden’s ‘troubles’ become clearer - he has a kind of kinship with her.

The standout scene, the moment the whole film has been leading up to, is a true classic horror moment. It’s more spectacular than the scene in the original, but more or less retains the intimacy of Samara’s singular mission: she’s coming for you. First out of image of the well, then – blurred and the image fracturing – towards the television screen; then, impossibly through the screen and into reality. It’s a blisteringly good moment of pure horror.