Spoilers follow ...

28. Oct, 2017

The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

A beautifully photographed Venice provides a stunning and misty backdrop for this solid giallo. By 1978, I would have thought this particular strand of cinema would have vanished – but it is good to see the appetite for Italian horror/thrillers remains, even if it isn’t as prolific as it was in the early 1970s.

It is interesting to note that by this time, the male hero (Stefano, played by Lino Capolicchio) is not as meticulously coiffured as earlier in the decade, an is also a good deal more gallant and less blatantly chauvinistic towards the still glamorous heroine (Sandra, played by Stefania Casini).

Other than that, things have changed very little – it would hardly be a giallo if they had. We are still quickly headed knee-deep into a fairly convoluted storyline involving intrigue, graphic murder (the opening scene involves an unfortunate female throwing her mane of hair about as she is throttled in slo-mo) and a chorus line of suspects.

One for fans of giallo rather than for someone dipping their toe into the genre for the first time: this 119 minute runaround is rather too long for my tastes.

27. Oct, 2017

Awaiting (2015)

Whilst not the most cheerful of films, this is a really solid production that carefully ramps up the thrills and the gore right up until its blood-splattered finale.

Tony Curran is excellent as Morris, reclusive land-owner who lives, it seems, in isolation with his beautiful daughter Lauren (Diana Vickers). When dashing young businessman Jake (Rupert Hill) stumbles into their lives, but accident or design, things get progressively nasty. At first this nastiness relies on the performances and then desperation and an awful lot of blood take over.

At first, the acting from the younger cast may seem underwhelming – good looking familiar faces from soap-operas may rankle the snobbish sensibilities of reviewers who don’t believe actors from popular dramas can cut the mustard in powerful horror pieces like this. As the characters’ situations become ever bleaker, and the audience becomes less sure of their motivation, you become as fully immersed in their situation as it is possible to be. At times I, a foul old horror viewer of many years, had to turn away as a mixture of effects and performance made every indignity and moment of suffering seem acutely real. Not bad for soap actors!

For lovers of twist endings, there are more than one. Each satisfies. You may not be surprised by one, but bowled over by another. Or not. All I can say is I enjoyed this a great deal, more than I thought I would. Highly recommended.

26. Oct, 2017

Blood Dynasty (2017)

Irina (Shauna Henry) is back. Fresh – or perhaps, not so fresh – from her earlier excursions ‘Blood for Irina (2012)’ and ‘Queen of Blood (2014)’ – here, she shares the centre stage with Cheryl Singleton. Typically oblique, Cheryl’s character is labelled simply as ‘the girl.’
There are only two words of dialogue in this 70 minute experimental production, the first being ‘Irina’, and the last being … well, that may or may not give away potential spoilers, so it’ll stay a secret.

It might be true to say that this doesn’t quite match up to the dreamlike mix of seduction and revulsion of previous entries to the series, or perhaps a certain familiarity with the material is creeping in. Scenes here are repeated, returned to, and progression of narrative is a blur. Earlier on, ‘the girl’ is dressed so similarly to Irina in ‘Blood for…’ that I wondered which character it actually was we were watching, especially as she makes several slow strolls into streets very similar to those in the debut film. Except here, everything takes place in blustery sunlight. And in the distance, the reassuring bustle of the modern world, the ‘real’ world – always just too far away.

The two main characters are fascinating as always, and Henry’s performance particularly takes on new dimensions here. The weird, graceful, flowing movements of her hands as she ensnares/seduces seemingly willing victims have a Lugosi-ness to them. She remains an enigma. Irina seems happier here than ever, and yet she appears ultimately determined to end it all – or at least end this chapter of her tranquillity.

Why she has this self-destructive streak, how ‘the girl’ ever knew about Irina’s existence, remains an enigma, as does the young boy (played by Director Chris Alexander’s own son) and his involvement in the scheme of things.

Carlos Henrique’s gore effects deserve a cast credit all of their own, and yet the excursions into blood-sucking are presented with a visceral beauty about them. ‘Blood Dynasty’ continues what I hope is an ongoing series featuring this fascinating concept/character. Fans of Jean Rollin and/or Jesus Franco will doubtless find a lot to love here.

A selection of the exemplary soundtrack suites (by Alexander and Delphine) are on the recently released ‘Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll’ album, also highly recommended.

25. Oct, 2017

Die Präsenz/The Presence (2014)

It would be lazy and disrespectful of me to describe ‘The Presence’ as a German version of The Blair Witch Project set in a castle. Yet that would give you a fair idea what to expect.

Three genuinely likeable, naturalistic friends (Markus and his girlfriend Rebecca and pal Lukas, played by Matthias Dietrich, Liv Lisa Fries and Henning Nöhren respectively) plan to spend some time as Hohnau Castle, an impressively isolated and abandoned mass of peeling corridors, vast rooms and of course, a dungeon. Their collective lack of phone reception is inevitable and given cursory mention, and time can then be spent on the two boys scaring Rebecca with various gruesome stories of the castle’s history. We have plenty of grainy webcam shots of rooms that linger just long enough for the audience to start scanning for any untoward movement or shadows.

It is a found footage film that presses all the right buttons and takes us into the slowly disintegrating world of the three studious youngsters – no posturing or arrogance here, and so we really care about them when noises of a crying child are vaguely heard and their food supplies prematurely decay. And yet this actually creates a problem – why do three intelligent people insist on staying when unpleasant things start happening? Rebecca’s protests are largely unheard, which renders the other two rather heartless at best and suicidal at worst! They should have listened to her …

The setting is incredible. Not only is Hohnau Castle beautifully austere, but the surrounding woodlands, frequently dotted with frozen snow, are classically foreboding and haunted-looking, with the winter draining most of the colour away.

Whilst the atmosphere is terrific, the overall effect is creepy rather than terrifying, despite the best efforts of the trio. ‘The Presence’ doesn’t try anything radical, rather it has fun with the genre and results in an engagingly sinister 83 minutes.

24. Oct, 2017

The Invisible Man (1933)

I had not noticed before how reminiscent the opening music to ‘The Invisible Man’ is to the repeatedly used scores from the 1940’s Universal monster films.

The tavern into which the heavily dressed be-hatted figure of Griffin enters, ushering with him billows of snow, could be tailor-made for the cliché legend ‘We don’t like strangers about these parts.’ Indeed, there are few stranger than Griffin: monosyllabic, wrapped in overcoat, bandages, gloves and hat. And yet the sinewy collection of cadaverous locals huddled up for warmth in ‘The Lion’s Head’ seem more eccentric yet. Una O'Connor, who would tone down her performance not one iota for Minnie in 1935’s ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ plays landlady Jenny Hall as a shrieking willowy old cockney. When EE Clive is introduced as the village ‘bobby’, with a ‘here, wot’s all this?’ the conglomerate of grotesques is complete – suddenly, Griffin seems almost straight-laced by comparison.

Onto this tapestry, the mysterious newcomer reveals the secret of the mystery that appears to surround him. “You’re crazy to know who I am, aren’t you?” he growls as, with a merciless onslaught of John P Fulton’s magnificent special effects, his secret is revealed. “He’s invisible, that’s what’s the matter with ‘im,” concludes Constable Jaffers.

After this truly peerless first act, the rest of the film doesn’t quite match up. How could it? It is, nevertheless, hugely entertaining throughout as second-billed Gloria Stuart is introduced as fiancée Flora Cranleigh and William Harrigan as the unfortunate Kemp.

And yet it is Claude Rains, mostly unseen, who retains the acting honours as a character who traverses suspicion, hilarity, madness and ultimately tragedy in the title role. From his first appearance trudging through show that clings like porridge (perhaps that is what it was – whatever, the snowbound scenes are incredibly convincing) to his maudlin final act, he deserves every word of the praise heaped upon him. As does Director James Whale and effects man Fulton (and his team), both very much at the top of their game.

There would be recasts for subsequent sequels featuring invisible relatives, but as with every other Universal horror franchise (excluding possibly ‘Frankenstein’, which to my mind was trumped by its first sequel) this remains a classic unsurpassed.

21. Oct, 2017

It Follows (2014)

We begin this with the sight of a pretty teenage girl in her shorts and underwear and high-heels, running away from something only she can see. Instant alarm bells ring with the probability that this will be just another glitzy, ditzy, horror-lite involving vacuous catwalk lovelies being stalked by a nasty man in a mask.

There are a lot more teens-in-shorts before it becomes apparent this isn’t quite the shallow candy-floss I was dreading. This comes about with the courtship of blond Jay Height (Maika Monroe) and Hugh (Jake Weary), admirably waiting until their second date before having sex, during which Hugh passes on his ‘affliction’. A similar passing on of the curse occurs with Greg (Daniel Zovatto), the next in line to have sex with Jay.

This seems to be a movie for teens by teens, where mundane anarchy runs moderate in a world where parents probably exist but are never there. Reminiscing about where they had their first kiss/beer in tiny, scratchy lost little voices alternating with scenes where they fall into lightweight sex seems like juvenile sensationalism to me. When the apparitions appear, there are moments of tension accompanied by an enigmatic ‘retro’ musical score by a collective called Disasterpiece. The finale has echoes of the Japanese ‘Ringu 2 (1999)’ in its setting.

Finally Jay gets to have sex with Paul (Keir Gilchrist), which may or may not pass on the curse. The very concept of a vague threat passed on by half-dressed young people coupling has a crassness that stops this film breaking out of its self-imposed ‘teen fodder’ stable of titillation, despite the interesting and well executed sense of occasional threat.

20. Oct, 2017

Un posto ideale per uccidere/An Ideal Place to Kill (1971)

Young people are often portrayed so gleefully negatively in horror films, it is always a relief to find appealing ‘teen leads’. As unlikely as it sounds, the two exploitative hippies featured here, Ingrid and Dick (Ornella Muti and Ray Lovelock) are a truly cute couple. Selling softcore pictures of Ingrid, the two gad about Italy spending their money on brief periods of excessive living before they are eventually asked to move on by the law.

They become even more endearing when, now on the run, they accept an offer from the mysterious Barbara Slesar (Irene Papas) to stay the night at her opulent home – naively unsuspicious that anything could be amiss. It soon becomes apparent that the nervous, vulnerable Mrs Slesar could teach the young tearaways a thing or two about subterfuge.

This is a giallo that stretches the rules. There’s no black-clad killer, no huge revelation or great unmasking at the end, but it works very well and the finale packs a punch even though it isn’t entirely unexpected. It seems things could either have gone one way or the other. They go the other!

Ornella Muti is new to me, but has had (and continues to have) a prolific career. Precocious and wilful, it is Ingrid’s credulousness (entirely in keeping with her free-living, unconstrained character) that lands herself and Dick in the climactic situation they find themselves in, but because she is so child-like and appealing, she never loses our goodwill.

Variations of the very catchy theme music ‘How Can You Live Your Life’, sung by Lovelock, are threaded throughout - it should have been released commercially.

‘An Ideal Place to Kill’ is also sometimes known as ‘Oasis of Fear’, ‘Dirty Pictures’ and ‘Deadly Trap’.

19. Oct, 2017

Vampir Cuadecuc (1970)

So, what exactly is ‘Vampir Cuadecuc?’ Documentary director Pere Portabella filmed many silent scenes from Jess Franco’s 1970 production ‘El Conde Dracula’, featuring Soledad Miranda, Herbert Lom, Christopher Lee and Franco himself, in stark, heavily grained black and white. There are moments when the characters’ lips move, but there is no dialogue forthcoming. We get a distorted soundtrack of eerie noises, rather than music overlaid throughout, and the result is extremely strange and sinister. Studio lights and sunlight are allowed to distort the imagery and flood moments with light. Interestingly, the story – which loosely follows Franco’s adaption, is punctuated with behind the scenes footage of the cast joking around, or false webbing being applied, the rubber bat in motion at the end of a fishing line and at one point, a speeding modern day train. One scene not featured from ‘El Conde’ is the often-discussed sequence featuring an array of stuffed animals coming to life.

The only dialogue is at the end of the film, with Christopher Lee reading very respectfully Dracula’s death scene from the original novel.

What we have with ‘Vampir Cuadecuc’ is a curiously powerful, abstract experiment, some of which looks very impressive in a noir-ish kind of way, and some of it simply showing actors rehearsing and effects being applied. It reminds me of 1932’s ‘Vampyr’ in that the imagery is stark and sombre and disconnected, but ultimately very moody and atmospheric.

18. Oct, 2017

The Ritual (2017)

Based on the excellent book by Adam Nevill and adapted by Joe Barton (and co-produced by Andy Serkis), this story focuses on four associates who go on a hiking expedition in Sweden. Apart from anything else, they come to honour the memory of deceased pal Robert (Paul Reid). Luke (Rafe Spall) holds himself responsible for his friend’s death (there’s a constant melancholy behind his eyes) and there is an underlying animosity from the others because of the incident.

This fuels some friction between the group, who otherwise swap some genuinely funny banter and are a believably close-knit gang of long-term friends. We have sensible Hutch (Robert James Collier), whinging Dom (Sam Troughton) and pessimist Phil (Arsher Ali) – finely drawn out characters played to perfection.

The first two thirds of the film concentrate on a slow-burning realisation that they are far from alone in this vast, oppressive, beautiful wilderness. They suffer, do these lads, with some pretty gruesome and hallucinogenic set-pieces. This is Blair Witch ‘turned up to 11’ in many ways, and is genuinely creepy.

The final third concentrates on Luke and the weird community of locals he meets. This is a comparatively rushed second act – we never really know the locals (only Sara, played by Maria Erwolter, has any decipherable lines). The creature responsible for the varied graphic happenings isn’t revealed until late on, but is highly impressive.

I think that apart from the location, the sound design is the star here. There are some truly gut-wrenching noises and jump scares that don’t rely on the over-used screeching violin/Psycho-scare noises that soundtracks often saturate scary moments with. The whole production sounds incredible. And it looks overwhelming too - David Bruckner directs beautifully throughout.

For anyone who has read the book, there may be disappointment at the moments that have been excised. I won’t expand on that – both book and film are more than worth your time, with neither simply a re-tread of the other – but it is interesting to compare and contrast.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed this. The build-up, in both character and horror, is exceptional. Only the film’s ending comes as a let-down, and by that time, it is far too late to turn back.

14. Oct, 2017

Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection (2012)

This doom-laden cheap and nasty production comes from Andrew Jones, who produced and co-wrote it. Jones is a prolific film-maker who has made a name for himself producing micro-budget horrors through North Bank Entertainment; his most successful projects involve demonic doll ‘Robert’, who has starred in three films so far, with more to come. His productions polarise opinions – on the whole, I’ve enjoyed them, with only ‘Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming’ and ‘The Amityville Asylum’ (both 2013) disappointing. ‘Resurrection’ is one of his first productions, and as such, has mixed results – and it IS nasty.

In common with low-budget projects, the sound levels are erratic. Loud moments are followed with very softly spoken dialogue that is occasionally incoherent. Lee Bane, who stars in many Jones productions, is sadly guiltier of this than anyone, although his indecipherable ruminations are hardly the fault of the actor. He plays Kevin, a member of a fairly dysfunctional family, even without the influence of the current apocalypse.

He’s married to pregnant Jenny (Rose Granger), but seemingly having an affair with her young sister. There’s Mum and Dad too, and a teenage son. The influx of living dead only add to the complications.

One thing that annoyed me about this is that the characters seemingly know that once you are bitten, you become a zombie. This ruling is either forgotten or disregarded adding to the jeopardy, but making the characters inconsistent and seemingly stupid.

Interestingly, however, the ‘normals’ outside pose an even bigger threat. Dad Terry travels alone at night to get help (always inadvisable) and meets a group of these thugs, who have taken the law into their own hands. Rather than run them down, he stops, something that doesn’t him any favours.

This is a mixed bag, really. There are scenes of gore that turn the stomach, and Director James Plumb makes the most of his lack of budget to produce a raw, grainy, unglamorous horror show.

In a a vague homage to the Romero original, the character of Ben (Sule Rimi) seems destined to be the hero of the piece with a knowledge and resolve that would appear to earmark him as a main player. Like the Ben featured in ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968)’, played by Duane Jones, he is also unexpectedly shot and killed when the others mistake him for a zombie.

13. Oct, 2017

The Doll Master (2017)

What begins as a potentially interesting micro-budget project soon becomes something of a slog, with a collection of some extremely monotonous-sounding characters. Norman (Tony Fadil) is a mentally disturbed ‘shut-in’ who lives with his solitary friend Hugo. Hugo, of course, is a doll which may or may not be alive. Norman talks to Hugo, makes him tea and toast, and the initially imaginative direction suggests other dolls and mannequins dotted around the rooms may also have corporeal existences.

Hugo is stolen and Norman is lured into a television ghost-hunting reality show recording, lead by Sarah Sarah Rose Dentonand peppered with some rather dull characters. “Well, we, er, yes, so we’ve had incidents. I know that you’ve, um, come to do this doll mystery thing, so …” says the man who has allowed this team into the ‘creepy’ vaults. Johnny Rorie Stocktonstrikes up a friendship with Norman, which is bizarre given the way Johnny was the man who tricked Norman into coming here: the man responsible for the cruelty inflicted on this unstable character.

“I mean, well, what you’ve got to remember, you know, er, stuff like that, so …”

Quickly, things dissolve into a kind of found-footage tangle where everyone talks at the same time. The only entertaining character is the amusingly detestable Malik (Jon-Paul Gates), who usually ends most sentences with ‘d’you know what I mean?’

These, and most other scenes, are wearisome to watch, punctuated with shots of Hugo’s face, ‘watching’. The acting really isn’t that bad, but what doesn’t help any performance is that there’s no depth, no character and nothing to persuade us to invest in them, just a series of tantrums and confrontations. It’s all sadly rather gloomy and flat.

Written, directed and co-produced by Steven M Smith, with very effective music by Felipe Téllez, this successfully avoids greatness on a number of levels, but has a few redeeming moments. The mix of real mannequins and actors creates a sinister world of the dolls, although their backstory is pretty impenetrable.

12. Oct, 2017

She-Creature (2001)

Otherwise known as ‘The Mermaid Chronicles 1: She Creature’, this enjoyable TV movie has credited, as executive producer, the mighty Samuel Z. Arkoff, who has enjoyed a smiliar role on a huge volume of films with sci-fi/horror connotations. Sadly, he was to die shortly after completion of this.

The rich, plummy voiced Aubrey Morris, whose career is made with playing eccentrics, played Mr. Woolrich who has imprisoned in his dark and gloomy castle, a mermaid (Rya Kihlstedt) in a water-tight cage. Showman Angus (Rufus Sewell) sees the business opportunities available in owning such a creature himself and shortly, she is part of his exhibition. Angus’s partner who gtes closer to the She-Creature than she might like, Lily is played by Carla Gugino. All four are excellen in their respective roles, and are aided by a terrific supporting cast.

SPOILER – the fuily manifested creature is pleasingly CGI-free and only occasionally betrays the project’s modest budget. There are some well-conveyed gory moments too, but this is in the main a psychological horror which, although talky in parts, is highly enjoyable. The ending may not be totally surprising, but it is pretty satisfying.

11. Oct, 2017

The Ghoul (2016)

It’s strange: I can go through a phase of watching horror films that actually debilitate because of their lack of originality. They tell the same variations of stories, featuring a gang of deeply unpleasant people being stalked by something horrible, or a house giving up its dark secrets to the latest happily married non-entities to have moved in. It sometimes makes me wonder why I love horror so much, when the limitations film-makers impose upon themselves result in such mediocrity.

And then, I can watch a run of utter gems. Often low budget, these are films with something original to say, or at least an original way of presenting an established idea. ‘The Ghoul’ is one such refreshing example – at times I fought to follow the narrative because I didn’t want to lose the thread of interest being weaved around events.

“Fancy a cuppa? Normal or some sort of gay tea? We’ve got the lot.” Says Doctor Morland (Geoffrey McGivern) cheerily, welcoming depressive Chris (Tom Meeten, who has a look of Neil Gaiman about him) into his home, the unorthodox place where Chris’s demons are to be confronted. Meeten plays Chris brilliantly, and through the writing/directing, Gareth Tunley really conveys to us the unending depths of despair he suffers as everybody around him leaves or betrays him. Meeten is immediately engaging and has our sympathies with each new heartbreak – the most callous of all is in the casual abuse dished out by Kathleen (Alice Lowe). All the cast (including Naimh Cusack and Paul Kaye) are excellent, in fact.

There are lots of shaky panoramic views of a twilight metropolis: a travelogue of a silhouette city. It’s interesting that among the credits, the excellent Ben Wheatley (Director of ‘High Rise’, ‘A Field in England’ as well as a couple of Doctor Who stories from 2014) features as executive producer. The sprinkling of such city-scape imagery contrasts with Chris’s isolated torment as the demons continue to grow.

It would be too easy to dismiss this as another ‘were the demons real, or all in his head’ essay. ‘The Ghoul’ has so much more going for it than that. A labyrinthine modern day Lovecraft parable that only disappoints at the end - *because* it ends. The journey is more powerful than the destination, perhaps? Either way, I’ll be watching this again more than once, but not so much so that I know each line before it’s spoken; I don’t want to lose the disturbing, frightening atmosphere. A brilliant film - highly recommended.

10. Oct, 2017

The Cottage (2008)

Reviewing a comedy is difficult. If you examine the jokes too much, they fall apart. If you quote various lines out of context, they lose their impact. ‘The Cottage’ is very much of the type that deserves to be watched, enjoyed and left at that.

To skirt over the story, David (Andy Serkis) and Peter (Reece Shearsmith) have kidnapped Tracey (Jennifer Ellison) but the situation becomes more complicated than any of them could imagine. Then, those complications become complicated … and so on. Even in the very last scene, the situation that has taken on such satisfyingly ridiculous proportions becomes … even more complicated.

My one real problem with this are the excessive profanities. At the risk of sounding like everyone’s elderly parents, I found such expletives are shockingly funny to begin with, but become wearisome once they are established as the normal way of speaking. Other than that, this is a fine slice of black comedy. Politically incorrect in places, but mainly the laughs come from the extravagant blood and gore on display.

Tracey’s large breasts only feature once as the focal point of the comedy, serving only as a distraction allowing her to get the better of Peter. The males are the subject of the humour here, their ineptitude and consistent failures causing the mayhem that propels the story. It’s good to see Hellraiser’s Doug Bradley in this, but a shame his appearance is limited to a ‘villager with dog’ credit.

All performances are enjoyable, with the excellent Shearsmith getting the brunt of the gory punishment. With Serkis, it is easy to note his performances as a number of CGI creations in other films, but this is a reminder what a good ‘physical’ actor he is too.

8. Oct, 2017

Vampire Killer Barbys (1996)

Changed from ‘Barbies’ to ‘Barbys’ to avoid confusion with a certain well known blond toy, this Jess Franco film is typically as crass and weird as you may expect. By this time in his career, Franco was about to start working with One Shot Productions, a strictly no-budget company sympathetic to his style, as he was of theirs. So it’s interesting to see that ‘Killer Barbys’ is a comparatively slick affair. For a start, it isn’t shot on video. Secondly, it boasts some fairly impressive production values and set-pieces.

The Barbys are a suggestive punk rock outfit touring in a Scooby-Doo-type van that breaks down, leaving them at the mercy of the sinister Arkan (Aldo Sambrell) and the huge and gothic castle he frequents. There are two distinct styles here, and Franco makes little attempt to marry them together – incessant punky-music-scored wise-cracking and softcore scenes featuring the band, and some nicely lit sinister scenes involving Arkan and the castle’s Countess, punctuated with the antics of skivvy Baltasar (Santiago Segura) and his two dwarf ‘children.’ Interestingly perhaps, band-member Rafa is played by Carlos Subterfuge, who would go on to play a dreadlocked Frankenstein’s Ghost in Franco’s 1998’s ‘Lust for Frankenstein’.

I don’t know what on Earth to make of this, but that is hardly surprising. Clearly a vehicle for The Killer Barbys, much as ‘Spice World’, for example, was a vehicle for The Spice Girls, this venture is a much more lurid and less comprehensible affair. But in Franco’s hands, would you expect anything else? Also, it is enjoyable in its way. There are eerie sex scenes, full nakedness and an expectedly thin storyline. There are also a number of nice gore scenes, perhaps befitting a band with such a ‘raunchy’ image. Main singer Sylvia Superstar as Flavia gets the most to do here, which isn’t a huge amount.

The dubbing in this is some of the worst I have seen, with little or no attempt to marry the lines with the actors. The dialogue is pretty ropey too (“You are the most beautiful bitch I have ever seen in my life,” Rafa informs the Countess by way of a compliment).

7. Oct, 2017

Let Us Prey (2014)

This British/Irish film doesn’t present a particularly reassuring image of the police force, at least not in the remote Scottish village in which the story is set. They are either using their patrol duty for sex opportunities or taking steps to make life as uncomplicated as possible for themselves. This is the environment new recruit PC Rachel Heggie (Polyanna McKintosh so good in 2011’a ‘The Woman’, 2014’s ‘White Settlers’ and the ‘Walking the Dead’ television series) walks into.

A mysterious man, known as Six (the always excellent and intense Liam Cunningham) arrives without explanation at the police station and is placed amongst the other prisoners held there – wife-beater Ralph (Jonathan Watson) and a small time crook Caeser (Brian Vernel). The colour-grading is hugely drab: all dawn raw blue and urine yellow. It induces a slightly sickly atmosphere.

This is superbly directed by Brian O’Malley who manages to create some gory death moments virtually guaranteed to lift you from your seat. The ending, and the true identity of Six, remains enigmatic to the end. And yet there is a sense of closure on this particular night’s events that satisfies whilst appearing to be end only of the first chapter of a continuing narrative.

‘Let us Prey’ is a tremendous production that never slackens its pace and doesn’t put a foot wrong. Love it.

6. Oct, 2017

Howl (2015)

This is a terrific production. Constantly under-valued Joe is given guard duties on a train. Despite being told he gets on well with passengers, when he checks the tickets, he is met by the kind of casual ignorance and rudeness you would expect from the complaining, self-obsessed, terminally dissatisfied general public. The train driver is played by Sean Pertwee in little more than a cameo, and he is the first victim of the howling horrors ‘out there’ in the night that seemingly cause the train to halt in the middle of nowhere. That the miscreants appear to be werewolves is bad news for Pertwee, who has previous form with lycanthropes (1994’s ‘Dog Soldiers’).

Ed Speleers is excellent as Joe, whose wearisome tolerance of his increasingly dire situation is written in the wrinkles on his forehead. He clearly wants to be somewhere – anywhere – else, from the get-go, and our sympathies are with him. This is particularly apparent in his relationship with tea-trolley girl Ellen (Holly Weston), who – alongside the rest of the passengers – is constantly being charmed by the authoritative clever-clogs Adrian (Elliot Cowan), who always seems to do and say the right thing. For a while at least.

Other passengers include a teen girl who uses accusations of sexual impropriety to get her own way, Duncan Preston as the elderly Ged whose patience is constantly wearing thing and an overweight man who is never quite aware of what is happening around him. These characters are believable and very well played. And they all have no truck with poor Joe. The courteous and polite Matthew is the exception, and Amit Shah’s playing of him losing his composure and killing the first of the creatures we see is very powerful. Jenny, Ged’s wife, is also very well played by Ania Marson.

Visually, the were-beasts are sometimes very impressive and sometimes not so much. However, they thoroughly convince as virtually unstoppable, rampaging killers. In the darkness of the wilderness surrounding the stranded train, they are exceptional with glowing eyes and shaggy manes.

As a whole, I had a great time watching this. It is a good, solidly made traditional werewolf/horror picture, beautifully directed by Paul Hyett. Some people may be irked that more wasn’t revealed about why and how the pack exist undetected in the English countryside, but the lack of explanation doesn’t bother me at all, especially when the results are this good.

5. Oct, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2016)

Can you have too much atmosphere? I ask this because I love films that transport the viewer to the fictional world of the production, incite you to shudder at each shadow, marvel at each misty dawn, gasp at the scale of the architecture and actually encourage you to feel you are part of the experience. The very stylish and sublime Swiss rehabilitation centre featured here is extremely scenic and beautiful but at 2 hrs 26 minutes long, your fascination with the mysterious healing base is stretched out too thinly.

Dane DeHaan stars as Lockhart, a character who is, at least initially, difficult to like. Strictly a businessman, an ambitious go-getter, someone whose personality is comprised of spreadsheets and business projections, and who is never out of his shirt and tie, he represents the cogs of industry and is surrounded by, manipulated by and obeys the rules of others just like him. Their mission is purely to ‘get ahead’, to make money, and when he is sent to the mysterious centre of wellness to locate and bring back the man he replaced - Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) - he considers it a waste of his talents. To balance things, the money he earns helps keep his aged mother in the best care home he can afford. DeHaan plays the role exceptionally well, his ambition slowly being eroded, displaying a semblance of humanity beneath - a nice balance to the apparently benevolent Doctor Volmer (Jason Isaacs), whose ‘journey’ heads in the opposite direction.

For such a driven character, it is ironic that when he is *being* driven to the centre, a mishap with a deer causes a crash that sends him there as a patient. Once there, he experiences the unorthodox, somewhat HP Lovecraft-ian techniques of healing the patients of their alleged maladies. That Lockhart is so arrogant in the face of the peacefulness of the doctors and inmates ensures the audience is far from on his side. Also, the reason The Company need Pembroke back is so they can pin various illegal business activities on him.

The finale is a terrific spectacle of Grand Guignol, with the reason finally revealed for all the atrocities committed. The closing scenes are lovingly crafted by Director and Producer Gore Verbinski. It is just possible Verbinski is too in love with the project, for there is no reason it should last 146 minutes. Possibly this is a major factor why the film failed at the box office. The fact that audience attention is allowed to wander on occasion is a huge shame, as intricate and meticulous scenes will be passed over.

The ending (SPOILER) is satisfying, with Lockhart rejecting both the wellness ‘clinic’ and his former life as a business drone.

4. Oct, 2017

The Escape Room (2017)

Watching a couple of what I can only call Designer Nerds and their girlfriends flirting and arguing in a room can be a less than fascinating experience. The actors are all competent and veer from amusing to irritating alternately, and ultimately into a panicking menagerie when things go wrong. To explain:

Skeet Ulrich plays Brice, who hosts an ‘escape room’ event. Agitated that his project is no longer the popular resort it once was, he buys a ‘skull box’ (a device we are introduced to the film’s prologue, which is almost a movie in itself) thinking that its legendry curse will drum up interest in his business. To this end, Jess, Jeff, Ben and Angie agree to be locked in the room filled with potential clues as to their escape. If they don’t escape, they ‘lose’. However when a masked figure appears, to all intents and purposes a prop, Angie feels – in the film’s lowest point – that it is ‘looking at her boobs’. It isn’t a prop however, it is a killer, and every few minutes, the chain keeping it close to the wall loosens, allowing it to come into closer contact with them in the confines of the room.

A nice touch is when the killer gives a round of applause once the allotted time to escape the ‘escape room’ has come to an end but despite the best efforts of the cast, this exercise is pretty average at best.

2. Oct, 2017

The Limehouse Golem (2017)

This is a sumptuous, beautifully produced period horror drama. It reminds me of the kind of carefully crafted historical chillers the BBC sometimes produces for the autumn audience, the like of which receives acceptable ratings against the talent show dross elsewhere on mainstream television, and receives complaints from the cavilling general public for being ‘too dark’.

I love it: the smoky charnel houses, the rain and waste-strewn cobbles, the dim light, class divides, penny dreadfuls, pox-ridden low-lives, music hall drabs, salty gags, cockney peelers, pea-soupers and the streets of London ‘running red with blood.’

Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), a kind of Victorian Russell Brand, takes an avuncular interest in young Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), who is under suspicion for murdering her husband. Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy in a role originally taken by the late Alan Rickman) has evidence that her husband may be the legendry murderer ‘the Limehouse Golem’, and is determined to save Elizabeth from a date with the gallows.

There are those who say Bill Nighy only ever plays himself. I think there is truth to this, but when you have cornered the market so brilliantly, why step outside of it? Here, he is exceptional as always as the Inspector, with much support from the excellent Daniel Mays as Constable George Flood. In a small role Damien Thomas (Count Karnstein in Hammer’s 1971 ‘Twins of Evil’) plays heavily bearded Soloman Veil. Maria Valverde is wonderful as the arch Aveline Ortega.

A terrific twisted, twisty tale admirably directed by Juan Carlos Medina. Well worth your time.

1. Oct, 2017

L'ultima preda del vampiro/The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960)

A bus carrying a menagerie of chorus girls and their manager Lucas (Alfredo Rizo) is stopped in its tracks by a storm and the crew rather insistently beg Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi) to stay the night at his splendidly gothic castle. Would you expect his strict instructions not to leave their rooms until dawn to be adhered? Of course you wouldn’t, and you’d be right. Before long, one of their number, Katia (Maria Giovannini) has gone missing after investigating the building’s crypt.

The bleakness of the location, highlighted by Aldo Greci’s crisp black and white cinematography, successfully obfuscates the entirely traditional premise of the story-telling.

Events conspire to ensure the guests have to remain at the castle for an extended period and it isn’t long before their fallen comrade has been forgotten and the manager is encouraging the troupe to practise their skimpy routines in the main hall, much to the chagrin of the chaste housekeeper.

Delightful Vera (Lyla Rocco) begins to feel a connection with Gabor, and it turns out she is a dead ringer for his deceased wife. And so the clichés continue, with Piero Regnoli’s nice gothic directional touches (and Aldo Pigar’s bombastic musical stings) keeping things fairly interesting. Every vampire film ‘box’ is ticked, but ‘The Playgirls and the Vampire’ is an entertaining chiller played with a certain wide-eyed vigour, Rocco especially, who has a look in long shot very similar to that of Edith Scob in ‘Eyes Without a Face’ from the same year.

30. Sep, 2017

Dark Places (2005)

Nessa Hawkins plays Keri Walker, a crack addled prostitute who vaguely remembers killing her latest pick-up as he attempts to rape her. Sounds grim? It gets grimmer. For some reason we don’t ever really find out, Walker is despised by all, even those who supply her drugs. So she enters into a sleazy ‘safe house’ where she is subjected to further horror and all kinds of degradation.

This is a micro-budget production, but every kind of distortion, jump cut and hallucinogenic imagery is used to take your mind off that. For example, the dialogue seems clumsily inserted at times, with a background static hiss, all of which cuts out when the line is spoken. Typical limitations of a low-budget film, or deliberate policy to further play with our senses? You decide! As a short film, it would work as a truly trippy, dark nightmare, but, even though the running time is only 1 hour and 17 minutes, the barrage of shouting and distortion eventually becomes confusing and the shocks lose their value.

Hawkins is excellent as the unfortunate, addicted Walker, her central performance giving us a welcome constant throughout the madness. The storyline, such as it is, exists at the beginning and isn’t further explored until the end, where events aren’t quite as she remembers. My theory, and this is a sizeable SPOILER, is that the ‘safe house’ is a doorway to hell, or death. As Walker finally fights back and rejects it, she regains and retains her life.

I want to like ‘Dark Places’ more than I do, because it uses its lack of budget to great effect and produces a cocktail of powerful twisted imagery. But there’s too much style over substance. David C Hayes, who stars as Luther, an excessive owner of the ‘safe house’ and one of the more extreme characters we meet here, also co-writes. Interesting.

30. Sep, 2017

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

65 years ago, a masked man attacked residents of small town Texarkana. Now it appears the miscreant is back. Speaking with a modulated voice in slow deliberate tones, the ‘moonlight murderer’ begins his killing spree all over again.

The production values are decent, the acting is convincing. So why do I find this tortuously dull? How can something with a fair amount of screaming teens and restrainedly gruesome killings not arrest my attention?

Could it be that Jami (Addison Timlin) speaks in a monotone and insipid manner no matter what the emotion? To be fair to her, her contempories are often much the same. Far from the strutting posturers that frequent such films usually (which is a mercy), they are on the other end of the spectrum. Humbly mumbling their lines to one another, it is difficult to work out one character from another. Inoffensive –sweet even - to the point of inertia, these characters are barely even cyphers for the marauding killer, who is also without much in the way of presence.

It may be that I am simply not in the mood for this, but there seems to be no life in any facet of the proceedings. Even the occasional sex scene fails to break free of this miasma. Why is the murderer doing these things? Just *because*, really. I feel bad about my nonchalance – after all, a great deal of work has presumably gone into creating this: the bleakness of the locale is nicely conveyed by Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, and Ludwig Goransson’s musical score is nicely haunting; there’s a good set piece where a couple wake up to find their scarecrow perched on the wooden stand has been replaced by the bloody corpse of a young girl … and then within moments the lacklustre performance of those trying to solve the mystery drags things back down again. Sadly unengaging throughout.