Shock (1977)

schock

Shock was initially released as Schock and later as Beyond the Door II and was director Mario Bava (A Bay of Blood)’s last film. The film follows Dora, played by Daria Nicolodi (Deep Red, Opera), who has just moved back into her old house following a mental breakdown and the mysterious death of her first husband. Together with Dora are her new husband Bruno (John Steiner, Tenebre), who is away a lot due to his job, and young son Marco (David Colin, Jr., Beyond the Door).

Upon moving in strange things start to happen to both Dora and Marco as they are visited by the ghost of Carlo (a.k.a. the dead husband/father). It is quite early on in the film that Marco becomes possessed by Carlo and starts to terrorise his mother in very adult ways. Along with Marco’s strange behaviour Dora starts to hallucinate and regain some memories about Carlo and the night he died and her part in it. Before being too harsh on Dora, it must be pointed out that Carlo was far from the model husband, rather he was an abusive drug addict.

The soundtrack to Schock is impressive and utilises several different techniques to build suspense including the ubiquitous violins but also syncopated off-kilter drumbeats. Although the plot of Schock is pretty simple it is extremely well done. There is an attempt at the old ‘is she going insane or is it supernatural’ troupe however I think it is clear from the scenes with Marco that it is of the supernatural persuasion.  It is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between Schock and The Exorcist – both being films made in the 1970s about child possession, however they are very different. What sets Schock apart from a lot of possession films is that it is a ‘human’ (albeit dead) that is possessing rather than an all-powerful demon or the devil.

Although Bava is well known for his Giallo genre films (hence the tag), I don’t know if I would consider Schock to be an example of that genre, if nothing else the title and plot are not convoluted enough to be classic Giallo. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it, particularly if you don’t have much brain power to spend!

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: The alternative title of Beyond the Door II was chosen to link to a previous film by Ovidio G. Assonitis with the spurious link that David Colin Jr. plays a possessed child in both films.

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Dark Shadows (2012)

dark shadows

I’ve accidently done two Johnny Depp films nearly in a row and looking at my DVD collection there are several more Depp horror films I have yet to do…

There is no mistaking Dark Shadows as anything but a Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride) film both visually and with the dark humour tinged with sadness, not to mention two of Burton’s go-to actors, Johnny Depp (From Hell, Sleepy Hollow) in the lead role as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century nobleman turned into a vampire and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice In Wonderland, The King’s Speech) as an orange haired Dr Hoffman.

Dark Shadows is set in 1972 in Collinsport, a small fishing town in Maine that was built by the Collins family two centuries earlier. Since building the town however, the Collins family has fallen on very hard times, primarily left with a crumbling mansion. It is to this sorry state that Barnabas Collins re-emerges after having been trapped buried in a coffin for two hundred years. Barnabas’s tale is rather a clichéd one; he falls in love with a woman, Josette Du Pres (Bella Heathcote, In Time) spurning his previous lover, Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green, Casino Royale). Unfortunately for Barnabas, Brouchard is a witch and curses the whole of the Collins family as punishment, killing both Du Pres and Barnabas’ parents and turning Banabas into a vampire.

The (alive) members of the Collins family are a strange bunch, reminding me slightly of The Munsters. There is the reclusive matriarch played convincingly by Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface, What Lies Beneath), the rebellious teenager, the selfish womaniser, the strange boy who talks to his deceased mother’s ghost and a handful of odd staff including newcomer Victoria Winters who happens to be the splitting image of Du Pres.

The vampire aesthetic is clearly influenced by Nosferatu with the long spindly fingers, slightly pointed larger ears and above all the white makeup with very dark rings around the eyes. All of which makes it harder to question how people don’t figure out something is different with their long lost relative.  There is a lot of the usual vampire mythos featured in the film, however it is a bit inconsistent, one minute Barnabas burns when he goes in the sun, the next sunglasses and an umbrella are enough to shield him, then the next he catches fire in the sun but doesn’t realise it. As with all Burton’s films it is very clean with nothing out of place which lends Dark Shadows a storybook air which whilst visually appealing is hard to relate to. One of my favourite features of Dark Shadows is Barnabas’ reaction to life in the seventies with puzzlement rather than fear. I don’t know how I would react if I awoke in 2200!

I am not a huge fan of Tim Burton, I think he relies too much on style over substance and unfortunately Dark Shadows falls into that category. The storyline is pretty simple, however the dramatic finale throws in some curveballs that I feel complicate the plot rather than adding to it. I think the best way to describe Dark Shadows is as a solid film – I don’t think it is Depp’s best acting but neither is it his worst and it was not an unpleasant way to fill a few hours. One to watch if it is on TV or rent but not to buy unless you are a huge Tim Burton fan.

Rating: 3/5

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Fun Fact: Dark Shadows is loosely based on a 1970s soap opera of the same name (I’m assuming that is why it is set in the seventies) and all the original cast have cameos in the film.

The Thing (1982)

the thing

The Thing opens with (well after the obligatory spaceship to Earth scene so the audience know this film is definitely going to be about aliens) a chase scene in which a Norwegian helicopter is trying to kill a husky. I don’t know if the gunman is just a bad shot or unlucky but the amount of shots he takes and misses is impressive. He also manages to miss blowing up the dog with a grenade, instead managing to blow up his helicopter and shoot a person in the leg – not very good. In contrast to the Norwegian’s terrible aim, he gets brought down by a bullet to the eye in a very tricky shot by the American scientific camp leader where the chase ends. The aforementioned American scientific camp is home to a twelve man team, most of whom are entirely forgettable.

Puzzled by the Norwegians bizarre actions, the helicopter pilot MacReady, played by Kurt Russell (Stargate, Grindhouse) leads an expedition to the Scandinavian base camp where they come across a gruesome scene – everyone is dead and there is a strange half-burnt corpse which they take back to the American base, which struck me as a very bad idea. When they arrive at base camp things go rapidly downhill when the stray dog devours the rest of their pack animals and it becomes clear that is isn’t a dog at all, rather some form of extra-terrestrial that subsumes and copies living creatures – including people. It is too late by now to know who is or isn’t human, anyone is a suspect. All they know is that they can’t let the alien escape from the frozen wasteland to civilisation or it will be the end of the world.

The Thing delivers the predictable to an incredibly high standard, which is only to be expected from horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, Ghosts of Mars). Indeed, the only thing missing is sex and nudity, there are zero female characters, which I guess wouldn’t fit well in a 1980’s expedition to Antarctica so I am willing to overlook it, equally it is set in the South Pole so it doesn’t leave much chance for bare skin. The Thing does however feature a screeching violin soundtrack, “found footage” and makes great use of the desolate location.

The paranoia of the team, who can they trust isn’t the alien apart from themselves and how they handle the pressure is well written and acted. The number of people on the base means that there are plenty of spare bodies for horrific death scenes whilst leaving enough survivors to drive the drama on. However, what The Thing does best in my opinion is the gore (I know it is good when my wife refuses to sit and watch it!). From the first alien-dog eating the rest of the dogs with its face peeling back like a deranged bloody flower through to the masses to tentacles fighting MacReady at the end via the head-spider combination it is amazing to think that it is all done without the help of computers and it came from someone’s brain. The Thing walks the line between sickening and comedic, staying just to the side of realism (as realistic as this implausible scenario is).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Thing to both horror fans and sci-fi fans.

Rating: 5/5

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From Hell (2001)

from hell

From Hell is a film adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell of the same name focussing on the real-life Jack the Ripper murders that occurred in London in the 1880s. The Ripper murders have always captured the general public’s imagination, particularly with the fact Jack was never caught and brought to justice. The film follows Inspector Frederick Abberline played by Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, Pirates of the Caribbean) as he attempts to solve the rash of horrendous murders occurring in the Whitechapel district. Abberline uses unorthodox methods to tackle his cases relying on visions he has when ‘chasing the dragon’ to augment more usual methods.

In From Hell Jack the Ripper’s crimes focus on a group of prostitutes, namely Mary Kelly played by Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), and her friends. The group of unfortunate women are being terrorised for “protection money” and think their lives can’t get any worse but when one of their old friends who has found herself a rich man is kidnapped. The worst aspect of From Hell is the terrible accents. I don’t know whose is worse, Depp’s over the top attempt at cockney or Graham’s wooden Irish accent. For a film about gruesome murders, a surprisingly small amount gore is actually shown, however there is a lot of blood thrown around and people reacting to the mutilations. My favourite reaction is that of the medical examiner, who has a very weak stomach for someone in his profession.

At the very basic level, From Hell is a conspiracy film which features the classic cast of characters: the aristocracy, a secret all-powerful society (the Freemasons )as well as the maverick detective who is the only one who has the courage and ability to go against the establishment. In a lot of ways it is very similar to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code set around a series of real historical events.

The film’s origin from the graphic novel is clear in the film and it is easy to imagine stills as frames in a graphic novel. The directors, the Hughes brothers (The Book of Eli) employ the use of scrapbook-esque montages to set the scene which is both an effective means to set the scene and again links to the graphic novel style. The colour palate of the film is very dark with a strong use of red and a sickly, luminous green which adds to the ominous and claustrophobic feeling of the film. Despite this the actual film is far cleaner than realistic for 19th century London.

From Hell does not remain very true to the actual historical events but rather a dark, dramatic romp through Victorian London and a classic whodunit. If you are looking for historical accuracy I wouldn’t recommend this film, however if you are a fan of murder mysteries I think you’ll enjoy this film.

Rating: 4/5

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Fun Fact: Alan Moore, one of the authors of the graphic novel the film is based on did not enjoy this film adaptation of his work as Abberline has been changed significantly. I haven’t read the novel but wonder if any of you have and how does it compare to the film?

Audition (1999)

No film poster today as my laptop is playing up 😦

Audition opens with the death of Shigeharu Aoyama’s wife leaving him to care for their only son, Shigehiko. Seven years later and Shigehiko is your typical teenager who suggests (or rather bluntly tells his father) that he should find a new wife. His son’s suggestion gets into Shigeharu’s head and with the help of his friend, Yasuhisa he sets out on the hunt for a new wife. Yasuhisa is a film producer and helps shy Shigeharu put on a series of auditions for a fake film in order to meet women. Out of all the women that apply Shigeharu is drawn to Asami Yamazaki, played by Eihi Shiina (Helldriver).

Things seem to be going well for the pair but Yasuhisa becomes suspicious when he cannot get in contact with any of the referees on Asami’s resume. He confides his feelings to Shigeharu but with no hard evidence they fall on deaf ears with the blossoming romance proceeding at an ever increasing speed.

Audition has a very clear beginning, middle and end structure. It spends a lot of time setting the scene and letting the audience get to know Shigeharu. Ryo Ishibashi (Suicide Club, The Grudge) does a great job portraying the lonely widower Shigeharu and his search for companionship. The first half of the film feels more like a romantic drama than a horror film complete with floating musical score. It is only after they spend a night together and Asami disappears that things get steadily darker.

I have watched Audition a couple of times and I still have to look away at the end. Director Takashi Miike (Ichi The Killer) is unrelentless in the graphic realistic nature of what Asami inflicts on Shigeharu. Although brutal, the violence fits completely in with the plot of the film and doesn’t feel gratuitous. It is a very compelling watch that I would recommend to anyone who can stomach it.

Rating: 5/5

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The Last Exorcism (2010) and The Last Exorcism Part II (2013)

the last exorcism

I thought I hadn’t done a double review for a while so here we go.

The Last Exorcism follows Reverend Cotton Marcus played by Patrick Fabian (Bad Ass),a Southern pastor who has become disillusioned with the exorcisms he has made his living performing. With the help of a film crew he does one last case (the exorcism of the title) to reveal the tricks of the trade that he and other exorcists employ. The last case is that of Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell, The Day), a quiet, highly religious 14 year old who lives out in the countryside with her father and brother. Her father has kept her isolated at home since the death of his wife. Marcus bamboozles the family with hidden speakers and sleight of hand into thinking Nell is possessed by the demon Abalam who he then succeeds in exorcising from Nell. It would be a very short film if the revelation went as planned but unfortunately for all concerned that is not the case with things going from bad to worse with Nell turning up unexpectedly at the motel room.

I enjoyed The Last Exorcism up until the final twenty minutes or so where it quite frankly gets ridiculous. The idea of an exorcist not believing in demons is unusual, normally they are the ones trying to convince people that demons exist. It is also good that for most of the film it is unclear as to whether Nell is possessed or there is some more earthly reason for her actions. The Last Exorcism is filmed on hand cameras which leads to several shakey and blurry scenes which generally don’t add much to the film, however I can see how this technique fits in with the documentary storyline. There is a subtle use of soundtrack throughout which adds to the tension throughout. Even though I had seen the film before, I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of it (until the ridiculous end that is) which is a good sign.

The Last Exorcism Part II catches up with Nell Sweetzer. The film opens with her being found in the kitchen of a random couple looking possessed. Unfortunately for the film this opening scene is the scariest of the whole film. Fast forwards several months and Nell is released from hospital into a midway house and starts to get her life on track, finding a job and experiencing her tentative first love. Soon however, signs begin to appear that Abalam has returned for Nell. This time there is no hint of the subtlety that was in the first film with demonic cults, voodoo priests and the apocalypse thrown seemingly at random into the confused plot of the film. One plus point in favour of the second film is that they managed to get the same actress to play Nell, something which doesn’t always happen with sequels (Cruel Intentions springs to mind).

Part II is a completely different ball game to the original film in both feel, execution and calibre. At least it doesn’t fall into the same trap of retelling the same story as the original in the same way (unlike Paranormal Activity series) and it is still connected to the original (unlike The Haunting In Connecticut). In these two respects I would consider Part II to be a successful sequel. It is just a shame that the plot is so weak.

I would recommend people to watch The Last Exorcism but not to bother with the second one.

Part I: 4/5

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Part II: 2/5

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Nine Dead (2010)

nine-dead

Nine Dead has a fairly simple premise; nine strangers are put in a room and one is killed at random every ten minutes until they figure out how they are connected. The strangers are from all walks of life, from a catholic priest to a strip club owning loan shark via a Chinese shop owner who doesn’t speak English and a slimey paedophile. It also includes a feisty district attorney played by Melissa Joan Hart aka Sabrina the teenage witch and her ex, a cop played by William Lee Scott (The Butterfly Effect). For strangers who have been kidnapped over the course of several days they are remarkably clean and well looked after and not particularly panicked about being held hostage. The main issue I have with the film however is the reaction of the hostages. Instead of trying to find out the connection, most of them spend the time complaining and moaning about each other.

Nine Dead is Chris Shadley’s first feature film as director and I think it shows, there was much more that could be developed in the film, particularly the back stories of the patients. There is some uses of flashbacks to explain the connection, but they could have been utilised more thoroughly in fleshing out the characters and building up tension. However, the plot and particularly the connection between the hostages was very good, I didn’t work it out until right at the end.

As with all similar films there is a twist at the end, however in this film I really didn’t like it; the twist didn’t fit with the rest of the story and whilst it was “explained” I feel it was only included because the writer felt that a twist was required. I think it would have been a much better film if the twist-time was spent bulking out the back stories and improving the tension in the room.

Nine Dead is an average watch that is neither particularly gory or frightening but does entertain for the duration of the film. I would recommend it to fans of the Saw films who have run out of similar films to watch.

This is quite a short review as there isn’t really much to say about it – it is neither good nor bad and generally quite forgettable.

Rating: 3/5

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