Movie review: Fantasy Island

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“Ze plane, boss, ze plane”

Whilst we’re a far cry from the original tv series inspiration that spawned this horror-themed adaptation, it is hard to shake off the image of Hervé Villechaize’s infamous cry at the beginning of most episodes to announce the arrival of the next unwitting visitors to Fantasy Island. The film does have its own nods with an entirely different character, Julie (loosely based on Mr. Roarke’s God-daughter from the series in name mainly) declaring the arrival of our main characters Melanie (Lucy Hale), Gwen (Maggie Q), Patrick (Austin Stowell), Brax (Jimmy O. Yang), and JD (Ryan Hansen).

Each of these characters come with their own baggage that slowly unravels as they try to live out their fantasy with inevitable consequences. 

Michael Pena does his best to wrangle out the magnanimous and mysterious Mr Roarke, so closely identified with Ricardo Montalbán’s tv portrayal, who in my pre-adolescent mind has strangely warped with Christopher Lee’s Saramanga from The Man With The Golden Gun, partly due to Villechaize starring in both projects. The problem is that Pena is left with little to do other than to play out the characters fantasies. Despite harbouring a secret of his own, this is underplayed to serve out the interactions of the island itself. 

This may have been a wise choice if these fantasies had any firm grounding, but instead seem a bit wishy-washy. Melanie is out for revenge from being bullied at school and admittedly the initial encounter is fun and intriguing as she unwittingly dishes out her anger through what she believes is a hologram of her tormentor, but once that has played its part the rest of her journey is left wanting. 

Likewise Patrick’s army pursuit to live out his father’s life only to encounter his real father, and brothers Patrick and Brax living up a bachelor style freedom and entertainment lacks any personality or appeal.

The only hook for me was Maggie Q’s performance of Gwen that remains believable, who at first believes her fantasy is to change her history by saying yes to a man’s proposal whom she loved and to have a daughter, however she never really believes she deserves this version of her life as like the others, she has a darker history lurking beneath and it is this reproduction that she realises needs to play out. 

Oh and a great cameo from Kim Coates who simply hams up his role gloriously. More of him was desperately needed.

The prognosis:

As the audience is left weaving their way through a convoluted storyline and the various morals and dilemmas that each of the characters faces, we’re left unable to truly connect to any of them as there simply isn’t enough substance. 

When the big reveal finally happens, it feels tacked on and peels slowly away with an incredibly unsatisfying conclusion. 

It’s poorly managed and no matter how much Michael Rooker tries to inject some much needed gravitas into the fold as the strange guy who knows the secret of the island, he simply can’t lift it out of the quagmire of murkiness. The problem appears to be that the film doesn’t know how to present itself; horror, comedy, thriller.

Blumhouse who have made a name for attracting audiences to their take on teen horror, may have fallen into tired territory now with the relatively week turnouts in  Ma, and Black Christmas last year. Has the fizz run out from this production company?

It would have been interesting to see it played out by masters of the fantastical in either Del Toro or Bayona and really blend those eerie mystical moments with horror elements. 

Maybe it just isn’t our fantasy that’s being played out after all and perhaps i should just go back to my morphed take of Montalbán and Lee to deliver my ideal of Mr. Roarke and a dark world that lay beneath Fantasy Island. A missed opportunity.

  • Saul Muerte 

Movie review: The Lighthouse

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Director Robert Eggers seems destined to divide audiences between digging his jam or struggling to connect with the style and pace that he subjects to his stories.
Thankfully, I fall into the former and simply adored his directorial debut, The VVitch starring Anya Taylor Joy which was an incredibly slow burn but was rich in storytelling and strongly supported by some fantastic acting, grounding the fantastical in reality. Combined with his brother and fellow scribe Max, The Eggers offer a fresh approach to the genre and for that I was eager to see what and how he would follow it up.

This love song to Greek mythology pits two strangers on an isolated location, in this case a two-manned lighthouse on a remote and savage island. During its 1hr 49 minute running time, audiences are subjected to a battle of egos, a battle of wills and a fight for power and sanity. Through the fantastical delusions on show, The Lighthouse relies heavily on its two central performers; Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), contracted to serve 4 weeks at the lighthouse and continually forced to endure gruelling physical tasks by Thomas Wake (Willem Defoe), a miserable irate drunk who appears to get his kicks from punishing Winslow and basking naked in the glow of the light in the tower. Propitiously, both actors more than bring the goods as the bitterness between their characters escalates to an inevitable climax that forces an eruption of testosterone-fueled energy to overflow.

The Prognosis:

Shot entirely in black and white, Robert Eggers proves once again to be a master in storytelling and exerts a narrative that twists and turns, providing a remarkable modern spin merging together two age old tales.
Will it suit everyone’s tastes? No

Can it be classed as horror? Not really.

But it’s harrowing and beautifully crafted from one of this generation’s most imaginative directors. 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Grudge (2020)

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Since the release of Ju On: The Grudge, Kayako has been scaring audiences with her twisted movements and haunting death rattle croak elevating her alongside her fellow japanese vengeful spirit, Sadako within the Horror community. Her image transcended across both Japan and America culture, spawning numerous movies with deep resonation along the way, including several filmmakers. Among them and heralding the reboot / reimagining is prolific director Nicolas Pesce, who sent ripples in the film world with his debut The Eyes of My Mother and his sophomore feature Piercing. I was eager to see what Pesce would bring to the celluloid space for his third outing, and was further intrigued by his choice to step into the Ju-On universe promising something more darker, grittier, and more realistic. Whilst I can acknowledge that the film has a realistic quality, unfortunately I struggle to connect with the other two components alleged to be Pesce’s approach.

I tried to scrutinise where he could have misfired and for me it came down to a couple of components; Firstly, the fractured storyline, ordinarily a device that doesn’t grate on me and I often welcome the fragmented reconstruction of narratives, but unfortunately the dots that are used to connect or reframe the films’ structure are weak and lack intelligence. With a lot more focus and planning, this technique could have paid off. Secondly, the dialogue needed to be tighter, at times feeling rushed or obvious, leaving the talented cast trying to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to reach the visualists’ aim for dark and gritty. Lastly, I had read that Pesce wanted to incorporate a conglomerate of visuals that typified the film series and inject with his own musings, but in doing so, the film loses its identity and becomes too convoluted in the process. 

The Prognosis:

For a director on the rise, Pesce clearly wanted to reach out and attempt to infuse his vision into a much-loved franchise in need of a reawakening. On paper, he had the right ingredients, a flair for the scare, a twisted outlook, actors with plenty of chop, and an already established franchise. He even projected the repetition of the number 4 into the fold to highlight the tetraphobia so closely associated with the film series, proving that Pesce knows his subject well.
The end result though fell flat, with too many ideas and not enough weight to ground Pesce’s creativity to produce a film to scare and delight the horror masses. Instead we are left floating around aimlessly, wondering if Kayako is turning in her grave at her latest on-screen treatment and if she has croaked her last croak.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Underwater

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Underwater sci-fi action horror films. How many can you name? There’s Leviathan 1989, Deep Blue Sea 1999, and Pandorum 2009.
Basically the 9th year of every decade Hollywood has to release an epic underwater sci fi horror adventure. It’s law.
And in 2019 we have Underwater.
Except Underwater was actually completed in 2017. And it was released at the beginning of 2020 (thank you Disney for your ongoing mission to buy up the world. If you don’t know what that means, just look it up).
Also Pandorum was more of a space epic (even though – spoiler alert – the ship was at the bottom of an ocean all along!) And before you say The Abyss was released in 1989 – that was epic in sci-finess, not so much horror.

Anyway, that’s enough connecting imaginary dots. Let’s talk about a film that has a lot of hardware, a whole lot of sea, and a lot of (another spoiler alert) sea monsters.

Underwater is a curious film in that its premise leaps right off the page as a textbook B-Grade Hollywood pitch. Ie: A group of deep-sea miners mine in the deep sea, and they mine too far and awake (dramatic pause) something… (hint, it’s sea monsters).
And that’s pretty much it. Sea monsters are pissed at a bunch of oxygen breathing aliens jack hammering the crap out of their neighbourhood, so they do something about it. And they are faster than the humans, stronger than the humans, and they like to eat the humans (because let’s face it, if they were weaker, slower and just wanted to lick us… that would make for a pretty awesome film actually).

Anyway, you just know that the humans – at severe disadvantage strength wise, oxygen wise, atmospheric pressure wise (the list goes on) are gonna go through an Alien-esque series of eliminations (ie: one-by-one) before we reach the end of the film.

Now it’s always been our stance at Surgeons of Horror that just because something has a B-Grade set up, doesn’t mean it has to be a B-grade movie experience.
There are more than a handful of films that fit this definition – Tremors, The Loved Ones, Alien Raiders (this is a list that goes on too) and there is no greater delight than watching a flick you think is going to be a switch-off event, but you come out of it thinking “holy crap that was surprisingly good”!

Misdirect – Underwater ISN’T that kind of film. BUT what it does have going for it is its budget – rumoured to be between $50 – $80 mill (probably closer to the higher end) and when you have an epic underwater disaster movie (as in disaster befalls the occupants IN the movie) the bigger and more visceral you can make it, the better.
And it is here where Underwater excels. Now I am a huge fan of what I call “hardware” movies, and from corridors that buckle and tear apart, to awesome mechanical wet suits that look like they’re straight out of Mecha; to the fact that the cast spend a lot of time walking underwater when in ACTUAL FACT they’re in a dry studio surrounded by convincing CG water – you can safely say every cent makes it on screen.
And Underwater is a BIG screen experience, as you want to literally feel the pressure of tons of sea water that can crush you in a second. It’s the rollercoaster/popcorn sensation you pay for when seeing this sort of movie.
Especially when you get to the end “reveal”. Because depending on the day, you’re either gonna say “oh that’s cool” or “that’s so stupid” because, as previously established, it’s has a B-grade movie premise.
So pro-tip, if you wanna enjoy it, go in with a “take me on an adventure” frame of mind.

The direction is solid (especially considering the director William Eubank is only 37) and Kirsten Stewart is half believable as a young mechanical engineer living and working on an underwater oil rig situated at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The other half of the time she plays stony and
stoic (compared to her other default acting style, which is stoic and stony) but on the other-other hand it sort of works; as most engineers, when faced with a crisis, tend to work the problem rather than squander energy by emoting too much.

T.J. Miller pretty much also plays T.J. Miller – a slob who wears hair clips firing off the best one-liners etc. Although they do give his character a security blanket in the form of a stuffed bunny. So that’s a little different I suppose.

Anyway, all up – from go-to-whoa – Underwater propels you along a wet ‘n’ wild marine ride that doesn’t let up. Also, there are no goofy credits, so feel free to get up and leave when they start to roll.

Prognosis:

You won’t be damp by the end of it, but you just might feel refreshed!
– Antony Yee

I thought it was a bit crap actually.
– Sara Yee

20 Horror films set to go under the knife in 2020

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100 years ago the Roaring Twenties came into effect with a social and economic boom that pushed the boundaries of experimentation and exploration dubbing it the crazy years. 

Cinema has evolved greatly during this time and spawned Robert Miene’s silent horror in German Expressionism, which is still considered a classic among some critics. 

While the tides have shifted and the boundaries of what is classified as horror has twisted through the years, moving numerous debates and discussions along the way, we come to a time when originality can be hard to come by, or perhaps the audience has become too critical and our perceptions have changed. 

Can the films of today cause a deeper development in the genre that we’ve come to love and like the films that were born a century ago stir the insanity again and break new ground in the process?

Let’s look at what 2020 has in store and see if indeed it will deliver.

Jan 23 – Underwater

This film has led some early reports to compare it to Alien but in the ocean deep instead of the far reaches of space. It does boast Kristen Stewart in the cast who may divide audiences and has been a bit hit and miss of late in her film choices but she is supported in this instance by Vincent Cassel, who is known for choosing experimental films. Does this then mean that this team of underwater researchers will uncover not only a few beasties but also break new ground in the process?

Prediction: Neither sink or swim. A drifter that will entertain some but not cast anything new into the cinematic landscape.

Jan 24 – The Turning

Based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw and produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Finn “Can my hair grow any longer?” Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and bears close scrutiny as director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is set to release an interpretation of the novel in Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, his follow up to the successful The Haunting of Hill House.

Prediction: Director Floria Sigismondi will no doubt bring some artistic visual flair that is evidence from her music videos, but could possibly fall foul of “popcorn syndrome” – Light, fluffy with a bit of crunch and serves the masses, but ultimately has no substance.

Jan 30 – The Grudge

Initially I was really excited about this release, being a fan of the Ju On franchise, plus Nicolas Pesce’s work with The Eyes of My Mother, and Piercing. Both movies have pushed the boundaries of comfort and shot in stylistic fashion that I was keen to see where Pesce would take The Grudge. Early reports haven’t been favourable however, so it could be another disappointment in the first month of the new decade.

Prediction: Could be another franchise instalment too many. The name alone will pull in the numbers, yet may not hit the mark on the scare front.

Jan 31 – Gretel and Hansel

It’s been over 200 years since The Brothers Grimm fashioned the fairy tale about a cannibalistic witch that kidnaps two children roaming in the woods. The fact that it is still resonates today is a testament to the strength of the storytelling and it will be interesting to see the story told from the perspective of Gretel played by Sophia Lillis (IT) who has already proved compelling as the young Beverly Marsh.

Prediction: Better than your average fair without necessarily offering anything new or compelling with the horror genre.

Feb 6 – The Lighthouse

Some may argue its place in this list, but it is billed as a psychological horror and director Robert Eggers has already made a name for himself in the artistic expressionism world within the genre with his debut feature, The VVitch, a film that also divided audiences. American audiences have already seen the movie too as it was released there last year, but as yet Australian audiences are still to see Eggers’ sophomore outing which pits Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson against one another in a battle of wills and sanity in a remote and confined island.

Prediction: Will wow audiences looking for the alternative and alienate those more into the mainstream. Either way, both audiences will applaud the performances and Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will paint a stunningly beautiful canvas.

Feb 13 – Fantasy Island

Blumhouse Productions are about to shake things up again by breathing new life into a cult 70s tv series. With a star-studded cast – Michael Pena (Crash), Maggie Q (Nikita), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer).
On an island where your fantasies come true, only to turn into nightmares and the guests must figure out its mystery in order to survive.

Prediction: Another success for Jason Blum and the team which will connect with the cinema-going public. If it’s played right, it could offer a fresh take using a blend of fantasy and horror that could also spark a franchise 

Feb 21 – Brahms: The Boy ll

This one is a bit of an oddity. Whilst its predecessor was a middle of the road affair and proved to be better than expected. It did feel like a one-off movie that didn’t necessarily warrant any further journey into the world of Brahms. A sequel is here though and will pick up with the doll being discovered by another family.

Prediction: A flop that will fall by the wayside and may not even make a blip on the radar.

Feb 27 – The Invisible Man

Another Blumhouse movie, this time in collaboration with Universal to resurrect their monsters franchise after the abysmal Tom Cruise vehicle from a few years ago. In what is potentially a ripe and current topic being explored in domestic violence as its central theme The Invisible Man boasts a cracking cast with Elisabeth Moss taking lead duties. It’s also in great hands with director Leigh Whannel steering the ship following his successful movie Upgrade from last year, plus Whannel is a storyteller, so expect a decent script to boot.

Prediction: The first big success of the year bringing the Universal monsters franchise back on track and paving the way for future projects with The Bride, Renfeld, The Invisible Woman, and Frankenstein.

Mar 20 – A Quiet Place Part 2

The question is whether director John Krasiniski can repeat the winning formula from the first movie. This War of the Worlds style feature with an audio twist is more sci-fi than horror, but with the family in plight scenario held a strong connection with the audience. How will this translate now that there is an absent father?

Prediction: Cillian Murphy will provide some much needed gravitas to the narrative which will be strong enough to lift the audience through with some decent ups and downs to wrench up the tension. 

Apr 3 – The New Mutants

Since Disney took over Marvel operations, The New Mutants has been stuck in production, deemed a little dark for the House of Mouse questioning how to distribute it. The feature comes across as The Dream Warriors crossed with the X-Men and centres on 5 young mutants held in a secret facility against their will. It also boasts a cracking cast with Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).

Prediction: Despite several delays I feel that this film is gonna connect in a big way and pull in a lot of people. It just depends on how dark Disney are willing to go with it.

Apr 17 – Antlers

Little is known about this movie other than it is based on a short story by Nick Antosca the creative mind behind the Channel Zero anthology series. The screenplay must have some potential to have caught the eye of Guillermo Del Toro and put his name down as producer.

Prediction: With Keri Russell in the cast to provide the fantasy elements in reality, this could well be the surprise hit of the year.

May 15 – Saw reboot

Currently titled The Organ Donor starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella this reboot of the Saw franchise will see the return of the Jigsaw Killer, but without Tobin Bell… I think? With director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm once more following his turn overseeing parts 2-4, he is no stranger to the world.

Prediction: Will put bums on seats for the shock gore factor alone, but will the buddy cop drama approach pay off? Time will tell.

Jun 11 – Candyman

This is gonna be a tough one to watch for me as I am such a huge fan of the original movie and like Freddy, Candyman would haunt my dreams for a long time after viewing. A lot of that has to do with the strength of Clive Barker’s short story coupled with Tony Todd’s personification of the titular character.
Part of me is willing for this to be a success though as I can see room for the movie to be delivered to a modern audience using folklore and mythology at its core, and the storyline itself can transcend easily through the ages. It will be interesting to see a female perspective in director Nia DaCosta to follow Helen’s journalistic investigations.

Prediction: Jordan Peele has attached his name to this project and is clearly passionate about the story, but one can’t help but feel this is one step too far in rekindling the old flame that resides within the Candyman story.

Jul 2 – Ghostbuster: Afterlife

I know it’s technically not a horror film, but I’m including this in the mix for its nostalgic value in me the original movie paved the love of horror that I have and opened the door to many more glorious visions in the genre ever since. The original team will return in some shape or form, but primarily the film centres around a mother and her two children who set up on a farm only to discover something paranormal lurking in the town.

Prediction: Another film that will be resting on the merits of the first film, and while it’s great to see Jason Reitman take on the franchise following in his father’s footsteps, one can only hope that there will be enough comedy, horror and sci-fi to capture that old magic, but I think it will just be a glimmer rather than that sparkle.

Jul 10 – The Purge 5

Supposedly returning for the final instalment the 12 hour no holds-barred, crimefest ignited something in the movie-going audience. It has seen five feature length instalments and 2 seasons.

Prediction: More of the same, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. I for one think the films are fun and enjoyable and it will be interesting to see how James DiMonaco will conclude things.

Jul 30 – Morbius

Sony has promised to take the Marvel universe into dark territory before with Venom and here they intend to do so again with Morbius, the Living Vampire. Jared Leto will no doubt bring the goods for the titular role and is in good company with Matt Smith, Jared Leto, and Tyrese Gibson.

Prediction: Director Daniel Espinosa provides great entertaining and solid movies, such as Safe House and Life, and I see no change here to his formula, but still question if they can go dark enough to make it compelling for horror fans.

Sep 11 – The Conjuring 3 aka The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring universe has progressed in leaps and bounds since its initial release in 2013. There has been the odd blips, but essentially the films continue to entertain and scare audiences. This latest film will once again see the Warrens at the centre of proceedings, this time with one of their most publicised cases that bore witness to Arne Cheyenne Johnson claiming that he was possessed when he murdered.

Prediction: Solid acting, tight storyline, but may fall down with its delivery and exposition. Unfortunately Director Michael Chaves didn’t deliver with The Curse of La Llorona, so I fear that this may end up in a similar way, but am still willing to give it a chance.

Sep 17 – Last Night In Soho

Not much known about this one, but Edgar Wright has a knack for tapping the pulse of classic films and adapting their essence for a modern audience. This time around the psychological horror is inspired by Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion both high in my all-time favourite lists

Prediction: A killer cast in Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp, this could be the ‘big hit’ of the year.

Oct 15 – Halloween Kills

In 2018, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum attempted the impossible, the resurrection of Michael Myers that would connect both fans of the original and connect with a new audience. By delving into the subject of trauma and the impact that this has on its victims, Myers became both topical and harrowing. His sheer brutality and the force in which he attacks his victims made his carnage all the more disturbing.

Prediction: The name and sheer presence of Myers will bring the audience to the screens, but can they still make him relevant? They can’t rest on the nostalgic nods this time around. It’s a fine line to walk on, for if they get it wrong, they could find their final instalment, Halloween Ends a tricky sell.

TBC – Army of the Dead

For sheer shits and giggles, and action-pumped mayhem from visual storyteller Zack Snyder, about a group of mercenaries who decide to rob a casino during a zombie outbreak, this film concludes our list.

Prediction: Starring Dave Bautista, Army of the Dead will be entertaining if nothing else. A perfect answer for those just wanting to get their kicks and not have to think too deeply.

  • Saul Muerte

The best bloody dozen Aussie horror films of the decade (2010 – 2019)

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As we encroach the end of another decade I felt that it was best to review the best Australian horror films from the past ten years. Australia continues to make a significant impact on the genre with its unique antipodean perspective on the world and the darker side of humanity, which I’m hoping the following list lays testament to.

The Loved Ones (2010)

Directed by: Sean Byrne

Byrne may have only directed two feature films thus far including The Devil’s Candy which is equally brilliant and keeps this resident surgeon awaiting what he will serve up next. For the list though, I have chosen his debut feature, purely for the way it perfectly encapsulates the insane drive of love, revenge, and proms. The cast (Robin McLeavy and Xavier Samuel in particular) are amazing and deliver on point performances that rip the heart of romance apart.

The Tunnel (2011)

Directed by: Carlo Ledesma 

Notable for its distribution method, through BitTorrent’s free internet downloading platform which provided the film to a much wider audience. The Tunnel is a compelling found footage film that is clearly produced by a highly-skilled and knowledgeable team who manage to wrangle out every ounce of tension and animosity through this low-budget feature that follows a camera crew investigating the disappearance of homeless people in the hidden tunnels beneath Sydney.

The Babadook (2013)

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Despite dividing the horror-loving audience, this film took out our own poll for Best Horror film 2013 and for good reason as it tackles a sometimes taboo subject in society: depression, grief, and children with learning difficulties. The beautiful blend of stop-animation and stark reality ignites the emotions on screen and ably played by Essie Davies and Noah Wiseman.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)

Directed by: Kiah Roache-Turner

Take two brothers invested in a balls-to-the wall, action-packed zombie flick with pure bloody Aussie adrenaline pumping through its veins and you get this awesome fun ride in Wyrmwood. Such was its success on home soil and overseas that it’s little wonder that there has been talks of a sequel and/or tv series. If it does pick up, I’m sure it will be a glorious bloodbath of euphoria.

Hounds of Love (2017)

Directed by: Ben Young

Some may argue that this is more of a crime thriller, but the sheer terror that Ashleigh Cummings portrays as kidnapped victim Vicki, who is tormented by a disturbing Stephen Curry as John White. His wife and lover (Emma Booth) hangs in the balance of right and wrong, as she longs to please her husband, but struggles to adhere to his desires. The trio of performers are equally astounding, propelling the drama forward to a climactic conclusion that is both deeply satisfying and harrowing.

Killing Ground (2017)

Directed by: Damien Power

Damien Power’s direction shines the dark light on outback Australia that is gut-wrenchingly painful to endure. As we witness the destruction of the family unit at the hands of two deranged individuals in German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane) the audience is left pondering what is left to fight for when faced with a battle for survival.

The Marshes (2017)

Directed by: Roger Scott

In another tale of survival, The Marshes casts three biologists in the remote marshlands of Australia in what can be described as an environmental horror. Roger Scott tackles a topical subject and projects it into an untapped landscape that deserves to be displayed in celluloid form. It’s a powerful way to promote the true horrors of the world through the eyes of fantastical horror blended with folklore and mythology, and I can only hope that this film gets a decent release on demand and in front of a wider audience to spread this message further.

Cargo (2018)

Directed by: Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke

The strength of Australian storytelling is clearly evident in this post-apocalyptic tale that began as a short film in Tropfest before being crafted into a feature length story. Its genius casting in Martin Freeman as the lead helps elevate the film for a wider audience, and is further enriched by the Australian landscape, a beautiful performance from Simone Landers, and a refreshing take on a tired genre that pulls at the heartstrings. 

Rabbit (2018)

Directed by: Luke Shanahan

I’m a sucker for psychological horror and this narrative delightfully casts you down the rabbit hole as Maude (Adelaide Clemens) goes in search of her missing sister using that quirky psychic connection that often occurs in twins. This slow burn may not suit everyone’s tastes but I enjoyed the journey all the same, and believe Shanahan has a gift in accessing the recesses of a disconcerted mind. 

Tarnation (2018)

Directed by: Daniel Armstrong

What can be described as an Australian love song to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, Armstrong taps into a wild, strange, and deranged underworld. The off-beat, quirky humour is a perfect vessel to showcase Australia’s knack for macabre and fantastical stories and propels the audience through a delightful visual feast.

The Furies (2019)

Directed by: Tony D’Aquino

The deadliest game pitting women in a barren world to outwit, outlast each other using brutal methods throughout their ordeal. D’Aquino is not shy in delivering a bloody battle royale to cast his perception of the devastation that women are subjected to using the male gaze that society had come accustomed to. It’s a savage portrayal with plenty of punch to keep viewers squirming at the edge of their seat.

Little Monsters (2019)

Directed by: Abe Forsythe

Rounding out our bloody dozen is this delightful tale of down and out loser, musician Dave who learns that he must grow up fast when he attends his nephews school excursion to a farm during a zombie outbreak. Forsythe handles kids, animals, and zombies with enough care and dedication that proves his a natural in his game which belies his sophomore attempt in the director’s chair. Filled with pain and laughter this is a cracker of a movie that is amplified by Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as kick-ass teacher, Miss Caroline. 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Critters Attack!

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Back in 1986 Critters was released on the general public and most people assumed they were a cash in from the success of Gremlins a couple of years earlier.
I too assumed this was the case but director Stephen Herek refuted this connection.
Unlike those little green men, Critters has ventured further and developed four sequels, so for good or ill we’ve witnessed the Krites rampaging and chomping their way across the globe.

This time around, there’s no crackpot Charlie McFadden hurling molotov cocktails in order to save the human race, so instead the Warner Bros team enticed scream horror icon Dee Wallace back to resurrect her bounty hunter character under a different alias, Aunty Dee to keep the franchise “in canon”.

The movie projects our heroine, Drea (Tashia Washington) who offers to take up babysitting duties in order to win brownie points and win her way into the University of her choice, only to be subjected to the balls of ferocious furry carnivores intent on devouring humans and reproduction.

In what is presented as some kind of crazed traditional Hallmark movie infused with horror elements, it ordinarily could be dismissed based on the acting talents on show (Wallace excepted) and the fairly sublime narrative. Thankfully the film’s namesake creatures are appetite enough to subject the average horror fan to some much-needed kills and is injected with some decent humour along the way. This emphasises just how tongue-in-cheek the creators are willing to take the franchise and quite frankly, the audience really shouldn’t take it too seriously at all.

Prognosis:

This maybe their fifth outing, but the Critters prove to be just as insatiable for human consumption and terrorizing their victims with deliciously fun low-budget humour.

The Krites more than make up for their made for tv format as long as you don’t expect anything too demanding or high-brow.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Bliss

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Straight from the grill, Bliss is a film that is served under-cooked, raw and in desperate need of some substance, rather than the vacuous material that director Joe Begos tries to experiment with. 

Unfortunately, part of his downfall is presenting a narrative with some really unlikeable characters including the lead protagonist Dezzy (Dora Madison), a struggling artist who strives through a creative block, fuelled with any hallucinogenic substances that she can consume. Dezzy is such a difficult character to connect with as she is so self-consumed and saps the energy of those around her.
As a viewer this only alienates us and there is no reprieve or any offer of redemption. Instead she just aimlessly drives around in her own (or our) confusion in search of another hit to drive her out of her boredom (and ours again) to fill her life.

One night, amongst the haze and frantic lights within a club, Dezzy teams up with Courtney and her bloke, when the night takes a dark and twisted turn that leaves Dezzy questioning her visions and battling with the memories from the night to decipher illusions from reality. 

Slowly, and we mean really slowly, Dezzy comes to realise that the pains and blood thirst have a stronger meaning than a crappy come down and needs to satiate her need. As the movie descends into hell, things start to get really interesting and the more crazed and frenetic Dezzy becomes. It’s just a shame that it’s left until the final act for there to be enough fire under the belly of the beast to drive plot to its inevitable conclusion. 

A worthy mention should go out to Jeremy Gardner (Fingers) who continues to impress despite being handed little screen time, and manages to carve out an engrossing character in jilted boyfriend Clive, marking another worthy screen entry and a name that people should keep an eye on.

Prognosis:

A modern vampire tale that falls short of any worthiness and drifts along aimlessly without any real bite for its audience to sink into.
Despite this, there are some cool moments from Director Joe Begos, that may just tip him onto the Surgeons radar, and provide enough for some viewers to appreciate his talent.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Wrinkles the Clown

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We’ve all heard of the boogeyman or the urban legend behind Bloody Mary, and since the introduction of the internet, mythical figures such as the Slender Man has spread across social platforms like wildfire. With the ever-changing beast that online mediums can deliver, it seemed inevitable that one such phantom or creature would kick up a hornet’s nest causing a controversial scene that would set tongues wagging and activate a series of debates about the rights and wrongs of social interaction and mischief.

Enter Wrinkles the Clown when a video was uploaded on YouTube back in 2015 that depicted a clown hidden beneath the bed of a young girl, and emerges to turn off the camera.

The video soon went viral and a further succession of videos that showed Wrinkles scaring more kids, by entering their homes which in turn spurred a series of Wrinkles sightings across America. The man beneath the clown mask would pursue his project further by himself as a scary clown for hire, sparking an interest from parents willing to subject their own children to the threat of Wrinkles visiting them should they misbehave. Such a controversial action at its heart and by promoting negative reinforcement in parenting styles, the subject would warrant further scrutiny from the public and dividing many. 

Whether you believe in his methods or not, the man behind the mask, projected as a 65 year old retired man has seen his business propel beyond his expectations, and receives numerous phone calls on a daily basis, either from the afore-mentioned parents, or from bewildered or adventurous young kids pushing their own boundaries to seek out Wrinkles and find out if he truly exists.

One thing is certain that part of the hyperbole is fueled by the known condition of coulrophobia, otherwise known as a fear of clowns, and one that I can identify with thanks partly to Tin Curry’s adaptation of Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s It and a certain visit to Circus World in Florida when I was seven years old, but that’s another story.
The point is that, this fear is more than apparent for some and is the stuff of nightmares. It can take one small thing to ignite this fear and before you know it, there’s a pandemic on our hands.
Although, we’re not that extreme with this case, the man behind the clown mask is no fool and is able to tap into this agitation and subject these horrors for the sake of art. Without giving the game away, there is a further reveal towards the movies final act that subjects the audience to further marvel and questioning how deep the mythology behind Wrinkles the Clown will go.

Prognosis:

Wrinkles the Clown offers up a brilliant insight into art and society and subjects one of our fears, questioning whether parents should project those trepidations on their children in order for them to conform.
Director Michael Beach Nichols handles the subject matter on a tightrope of interest and horror, where the viewer is both observer and participant, making this a must watch documentary.

Movie review: Black Christmas (2019)

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“Tis the season to get rebooted, fa la-la la la la la la, No!”

This year, in our stocking, we got a modern day retelling of the 1974 horror/thriller Black Christmas, a classic of horror suspense about a hostile murderer hiding somewhere within the dorm of a university terrorising the group of young women living there.

Check out The Surgeons podcast on the original film here

Where as the 1974 original had an eerie feel with its point of view shots from the killers perspective, creepy phone calls from inside the house and a genuine sense of fear, this years remake/reboot/whatever plays out more like a student film with a bigger budget.
Everything that made the original appealing and unique is stripped away and replaced with obvious setups (from the opening shots) and even more blatant star characters who you just know will be the antagonist.
It’s set up to be a story about toxic masculinity and institutional indoctrination of their traditions, something succinctly put by Rick and Morty “Scientifically; traditions are a stupid thing.”


SPOILERS!!!

The film sets up a hidden society of male elitist pricks who are using black eye gunk magic to possess new recruits to their cult, of elitist pricks, most of these men being athletically inclined and spout the word “bitch” comically often.
My main gripe, among so many others, was the final confrontation; The protagonist is about to die at the hands of said pricks when suddenly a group of her female friends burst through the door armed with bow and arrow and other useless shit and commence a big ol arse whoopin…
I remind you that said pricks are jocks and possessed by black eye gunk magic.
Putting the main characters in such an implausible position infuriated me as you only insult the position you are trying to emulate if there is no justification for their capability.
In the original we didn’t know who the murder was, in this version we see Cary Elwes and know he’s gonna be the bad guy. 

The modern telling of Black Christmas focuses on ‘toxic masculinity’ within colleges and educational institutions but also with black magic. The story of a female student who had been sexually assaulted by a male student and not taken seriously is told sympathetically and drives the story quite well. Finding her confidence to continue living her life among the constant slander from other students was the route that worked in this film. There was no need to include black eye gunk magic and a brawl of men vs women in the climax of the film.

Prognosis:

If I had a choice twixt the two I would be watching the original over the new version which could have a better if you cut out the last 20 minutes.  

A shame too as it had some really good messages that could have been more profound without the supernatural elements or the obvious disdain for men.

  • Richard Lovegrove