2010s

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.

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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)

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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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Priest (2011)

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Whilst this is my second vampire film in a row it is as different from Queen of the Damned as Stilton and Feta cheese (I’m not quite sure which is which in this analogy). Priest is loosely based on a Korean comic, Manhwa (Korean for Priest) by Hyung Min-woo, it is set in a dystopic future where humans have finally defeated vampires, a war that has been going on for centuries. Following the victory over vampires, human civilisation is ruled by The Church a twisted take on today’s Catholic church complete with confession booths, which were very reminiscent of the dodgy portaloos you find at music festivals. The film follows Priest, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind), one of the warrior priests that were instrumental in defeating the vampires. However, Priest along with the rest of his warrior companions was cast aside after the war back into the general population.

The plot is a simple one, Priest’s brother and his family are violently attacked by a group of vampires who kidnap his niece, Lucy played by Lily Colins (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and coincidently Phil Colin’s daughter). On hearing this news, Priest seeks permission from The Church to go and hunt for Lucy but is refused. Priest sets out anyway and in doing so becomes a fugitive who is pursued by fellow warrior priests. Upon arriving at his brother’s home, Priest is joined by the local law enforcer (and Lucy’s paramour), Hicks, played by Cam Gigandet (Pandorum), complete with “witty” one-liners.

I would be hesitant to call the vampires in Priest vampires, they are not like your “usual” vampire (e.g Interview with the Vampire, Vampyr and Captain Kronos) rather they are more akin to Alien, lacking all facial features except a very large mouth. These vampires are a completely separate race (as opposed to humans turned into vampires) and whilst humanoid lack all human characteristics making it very hard to relate to them. Indeed their very society is more similar to that of ants than humans, living in a hive each with its own queen.

More alien than vampire?

More alien than vampire?

In director Scott Stewart’s (Sin City, Dark Skies) vision is clear to see the inspiration from a graphic novel, indeed the opening of the film is an animated history of the vampire war. There was the sense of some greater depth to the film bubbling under the surface which was unfortunately left untapped and I was left feeling the plot was very light and an excuse for some set action pieces. Perhaps if I was more familiar with the original manga I would have been aware of some more subtly but to me Priest felt very one dimensional.

I would recommend Priest only if you are a fan of action films and don’t want to think too much about a plot.

Rating: 2/5

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Has anyone read the manga? Does it give more insight into the film or are they completely different?

The Babadook (2014)

The first guest post of 2015! Written by the wonderful Jenny Mugridge, go check out the rest of her work over at www.jennymugridge.com. Terror Tuesday’s New Year’s resolutions are to get more guest posts so if you are interested get in touch at charlie.wand “at”gmail.com!

the babadook

One of the best indicators of a horror film, in my humble opinion, is that people who don’t like horror films think it’s awful.

All too frequently, the films which appear at the cinema under the “horror” category are cheap versions of the genre, relying on easy jumps and sickening gore rather than substances. The Babadook does none of these things and is instead a true horror story, built for horror fans.The monster, the Babadook itself, is scary in all the best ways. Its horrible onomatopoeic croak, its bogeyman cloak, hat and claws and its relentless pursuance of its victims – forcing them to do most of the damage to themselves – are all elements of a truly scary villain, the kind which stays with you long after you leave the cinema.

For me, however, the real horror story was Amelia’s life. Amelia is a single mother after having lost her husband on the way to the delivery of their son. It’s an unimaginable tragedy that she should be left to raise her son under the scrutiny of teachers, relatives and strangers – especially when that son is understandably quite odd. One of the saddest things is that he’s an intelligent, passionate, loving and brave young boy, but the more out of control he gets, the more alone Amelia feels. This is entirely exacerbated by her selfish sister, with her horrid daughter and vapid, condescending friends. The constant pressure put upon Amelia to altruistically care for others (if not with her son then her elderly neighbour, or the Alzheimer’s patients she cares for) is crushing even to watch, especially when she’s unable to even masturbate without a child appearing in her room.

It’s a film that really pummels you in the emotions. It’s difficult not to feel horrible about Amelia’s predicament, especially when she suffers so badly for the small and utterly human mistakes that she makes. But I felt so much for Sam as well; this kooky little genius who isn’t old enough to understand why everyone but him has a living father and why that makes other people uncomfortable. There are also so many of those small brutalities that children inflict on each other, from making others feel excluded to saying unspeakably cruel things, and in a way it feels as raw as if you can remember these things happening to yourself.

The relationship between Amelia and Sam is hard to watch, but real. Director Jennifer Kent was keen on portraying the pressure put upon mothers to be deities of pure love and understanding – she has said that “it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.” In this respect it feels somewhat like We Need To Talk About Kevin, as it inspires the same gut reaction to place blame when really there is none.

And we’re not even onto the genuine horror yet! One fateful evening, young Sam finds a mysterious red picture book on his shelf and asks his mother to read it to him. At first it seems like a normal fairy story but as it becomes more and more dark it feeds Sam’s anxiety about monsters hiding under the bed and in the closet, and he becomes uncontrollably distraught.

The Babadook, as a monster, is terrifying in its inevitability. The problem is this; once you are aware of its existence, it’s too late. Kind of like The Game (www.losethegame.com) in that respect. I appreciated that it appeared infrequently and without much detail, giving it more of an impression than anything specifically horrible looking which could be easily dissected, criticised and mocked. Most of the time it’s hard to tell whether the Babadook is there or Sam is just acting up. For a long time he is insistent that the creature is there and reacts to the denial of others as you would if someone insisted that you didn’t exist – to the point of anger. Physical symptoms begin to emerge from his over-excitement and he becomes steadily more dangerous.

Amelia rips the book up and throws it away but no monster would give up so easily, and after invading her dreams the book eventually appears back up on the doorstep one day. Not only has it been repaired but it now has additional pages which depict her killing the dog and then her son, and threatens that the more she tries to deny its existence the stronger it becomes.The real life pressures of Amelia’s life begin to combine with the supernatural stresses that the Babadook brings and she becomes increasingly unravelled. Like any good psychological horror, the fear sets in that she may go mad as even the best people are wont to do when deprived of sleep and under huge amounts of pressure.

It’s obvious that a lot of classic horror films influenced The Babadook. The monster itself is reminiscent of those in Vampyr and Nosferatu while The Fall of the House of Usher lends a stylistic element and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if writer and director Jennifer Kent was a fan of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell. The fairytale aspect also reminded me of some Guillermo Del Toro movies, which is no bad thing at all.

So, in summation: if you enjoy such horror movies as The Thing, Nosferatu, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, or any of the other films I’ve mentioned, you’ll probably agree that it’s a fine example of a classically scary horror film. But if you need your films to be explicit and wrap up neatly at the end, it may not be to your tastes.

Rating: 5/5

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Grave Encounters 2 (2012)

GraveEncounters2

I have been meaning to watch Grave Encounters 2 for a while after enjoying the first film. The second film leads on directly from the first, so in order to understand it you really need to have watched the first film. Grave Encounters (2011) follows a film crew for a TV programme headed by Lance Preston who lock themselves inside a haunted asylum. Things go from bad to worse and the whole crew disappear.

Grave Encounters 2 follows Alex, played by Richard Harmon (Continuum) one of the 20million fans who have viewed the first film on YouTube and a film student. After starting a project based on Grave Encounters, queue lots of poor “student” acting, Alex becomes obsessed with proving that the first film is true. The first part of the film is setting the scene and I feel goes on too long with several unnecessary scenes including Alex meeting Lance’s mother which adds nothing to the story.

Finally the film crew get to the asylum after a tip-off from the anonymous blogger DeathAwaits666 who agrees to meet them there and prove that Grave Encounters is true. Upon breaking into the asylum, Alex and his friends are stood up by the blogger but decide to try to contact the spirits using a handy Ouija board (why would anyone ever thing this would be a good idea?) and surprise, surprise,  DeathAwaits666 is actually a demonic entity in the asylum. Now things start to heat up and all hell breaks loose with several evil spirits including a creepy little girl and a long limbed humanoid figure. The actual asylum is up to its old business in the first film with moving walls separating and trapping the group.

Unexpectedly the group run into Lance Preston (Sean Rogerson) who has been trapped in the asylum for nine years which has understandably sent him insane. This is where the film gets weird and becomes a film in its own right rather than an imitation of the first film. In his incarceration Lance has discovered a giant red free-standing door, not the most subtle of things which he believes to be the only way out. To get around the fact that we are running out of characters to hold the camera, the asylum now takes it on itself with floating camcorders.

Whilst it is nice to see some progression from the first film, The Vicious Brothers, aka Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz, I think it goes off the wall a bit and definitely primes the way for another sequel which is one of my least favourite trends in modern horror films. Grave Encounters 2 is an average film and better than many sequels but isn’t as good as the original.

Rating: 4/5

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Patrick: Evil Awakens (2013)

patrick

Patrick: Evil Awakens is a remake of a 1978 film about a comatose patient who develops telekinetic powers and an obsession with his nurse, Kathy played by Sharni Vinson (Bait, You’re Next). The film takes place in an old convent, now a private hospital for patients in a vegetative state. The hospital is run by the acerbic Doctor Roget, played by the inimitable Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Gosford Park) and his daughter Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths, Blow).

The film starts with the death of Kathy’s predecessor, who unlike Nurse Williams (Peta Sergeant, Iron Sky) an air headed nurse with zero curiosity and seemingly a lack of morals, got suspicious of the lengths Doctor Roget and Matron Cassidy were going through to ‘cure’ the patients. On Kathy’s arrival we are treated to a display of Roget’s treatment including electroshock therapy and large injections of luminous coloured fluids. After witnessing some of these traumatic displays Kathy begins to think that Patrick is not as comatose as he seems.

From his comatose state Patrick uses his telekinetic and mind control powers (mind control on the basis that all human brain activity depends on the firing of electrical impulses, a fact rammed down the viewer’s from the start) to contact and protect Kathy. Unfortunately for her and her two suitors, a local radio psychiatrist and her ex-husband who she took the job to move away from (who look very similar), Patrick’s version of protection is very dangerous for their health.

There are a lot of issues with this film, for example, why is the private hospital so dirty? Surely even privately run hospitals have to have a level of cleanliness. Also why are patients kept only in one room (apart from Patrick) in only boxers over the covers? The film is hampered by unnecessary and poorly executed CGI as well as a confused storyline. It is hinted at that Patrick’s powers are linked to electricity, if that is that case how can he control objects such as seat belts, surely they are not electrical?

There is very little to recommend this film to anyone, the only redeeming feature is the dry wit of Doctor Roget.

 

Rating: 1/5

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