Movie review: Prey (2022)

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For the fifth instalment of the Predator franchise, Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and co writer Patrick Aison (Wayward Pines) have decided to reach into the folklore set by the Raphael Adolini 1715 flintlock pistol that was gifted to Lieutenant Mike Harrigan at the end of Predator 2.

This moment always stirred by interest about how a conflict between humanity and a Yautja would come about, and the notion of primitive representations of both these species coming head to head in the 18th century.

Trachtenberg and Aison present this tale through the eyes of a Comanche tribe, in particular that of Naru (Amber Midthunder – Legion) in her pursuit of becoming a great hunter, but is constantly in the shadow of her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers).

Among the sibling rivalry and respect storyline that pays dividends to the weight of the performance on screen, there is also a nicely handled touch on gender diversity with Naru trying to break the mould of traditions past. Women are deemed the weaker sex, when this assumption is exactly what leads to their strength when coming up against any foe.

On the hunt for a mountain lion, Naru notices that there are some strange things afoot, such as skinned snakes, and unusual bear-like prints in the mud. She suspects there is something larger and a bigger threat in the wilderness, but her tribe neglects her warnings.

The threat of course is our central predator figure (Dane DiLiegro), a much more leaner, and sleek design from the Yautja that we have come to know and love from previous movies, but this version needs to present in a different fashion as it would be another 200 plus years before they would come to Earth again, and advancements in evolution would naturally occur. Initially, I didn’t respond to this look but I soon warmed to it by the film’s end.

The confrontations and slow build up between the predator and Naru are well handled, showing insight into the predator’s curiosity over finding the top of the food chain and crowning itself the apex. It moves from snake to wolf, to bear, before discovering humans’ position in the chain.
Naru’s journey also goes from one of becoming the best hunter to prove herself to the tribe, to one of using all her guile to survive the game. 

The Prognosis:

It’s a deliberately slow and insightful build, which allows the predator to become the prey and vice versa here. The performance from Amber Midthunder is to be commended as she shows her versatility in Naru’s character to become our protagonist and champion for the human race.
The predator is a slick, killing creature, so fans won’t be disappointed in the manner that he eviscerates all that he encounters. There are also great nods to previous ventures throughout this feature, which was a nice touch.

The decision to place the arena in the heart of the Comanche tribe’s own will to survive in the face of white settlement is also to be commended and is handled with respect and dignity, fulfilling Trachtenberg’s intent to do things with the franchise that hasn’t been done before. Depending on the film’s success, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see further instalments come out of the jungle. Especially as it is left unclear as to how that flintlock pistol gets back into the Yautja hands again.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: What Josiah Saw (2022)

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At first glance, there’s enough interest gathered from the cast of What Josiah Saw alone, with two of the top-billed actors Robert Patrick and Nick Stahl, and even Jake Weber in a supporting role. Each of them do a fair amount of  heavy lifting on screen, pulling out all the stops to generate interest out of their characters and not isolate them to two-dimensional representations. The premise is also one that further builds intrigue, placing a family reuniting at their farmhouse, after a lucrative offer is placed on it, but why have they become so estranged from one another? And what secrets do they hope to remain buried?

Each member of the family is awarded their own chapter of the storyline before the afore-mentione coming together at the farmhouse. It starts with the father, Josiah (Patrick) and his son Thomas (Scott Haze), the latter appears to be trying to look after the upkeep of the abode, but there is something aloof about the way the two engage with one another that doesn’t quite fit, which becomes all too apparent by the films’ conclusion.

The middle chapter and possibly the most intriguing has another son, Eli (Stahl) who is caught up with questionable characters and is charged with two other guys to visit some gypsy folk; a moment that comes to a whole heap of trouble for Eli.

Lastly, we’re introduced to the daughter, Mary (Kelli Garner) and her partner, Ross (Tony Hale), who have been struggling to have children of their own and are in the throes of finalising an adoption process.

As each chapter unfolds, serving as a means to build up and embellish each character, but these windows into their lives so far trudge along at a snail’s pace without any clear direction or purpose. Other than to allow the final moment to unfold. For what it’s worth this final moment when it arrives is well placed and with a powerful punchline, but it’s a damn painful ride to get there. For some, they would have tuned out long before this takes place. 

The Prognosis:

There is plenty of promise set up in What Josiah Saw, with a solid cast and a definitive approach to the storytelling.

The problem arises through its slow interplay as it tries to develop the characters, ordinarily a good thing, but this is painfully slow and interest wanes quite quickly.

A shame, as the last scene is a decent and dramatic conclusion.

  • Saul Muerte

What Josiah Saw is streaming on Shudder ANZ from Thu Aug 4th.

Retrospective: Tarantula! (1955)

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Universal Pictures would follow up their 1955 science fiction feature This Island Earth, with another larger than life science horror tale.

This time the focus would be a monster creature feature and developing one of humanity’s greatest fears, the spider, more specifically the tarantula. It would take on one of the popular themes of the time, by increasing the size of creatures (or in some cases, shrinking the humans)  to maximise the threat factor on screen. 

Set in the fictional town of Desert Rock, Arizona, Tarantula! Is essentially your science gone wrong, film, and picks up with a deformed man emerging out from the vast landscape before dying. The man in question was biological research scientist Eric Jacobs, and we later find out that it was his research that was his own undoing. 

Our lead protagonist and local town doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar) is intrigued by Jacobs’ strange deformity and is compelled to find out the truth. His investigations naturally lead him into danger when he finds out just how life threatening Jacobs’ research has gone. The research laboratory is in the back of beyond, where Jacob’s colleague Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll – Strangers on A Train, North By Northwest) resides and appears to be continuing with the experiments. It also turns out that part of the formula that is being tested on the animals in the lab, speeds up the growth rate, including the titular Tarantula who escapes following the initial fire outbreak and is now growing at an alarming rate and consuming all the local cattle… before taking a fancy to human flesh!

It’s all b-movie material with close ups of the victims as the tarantula descends upon them and they meet their end.

Of course it wouldn’t be a 50s sci fi horror without a love interest thrown into the mix, which is where lab assistant and student, Stephanie Clayton (Mara Corday) enters the scene and into the spider’s lair, so to speak, to become the damsel in distress but with smarts.

By the film’s conclusion, humanity has to resort to some heavy duty firepower to rid the world of this menacing creature, and it comes from the Air Force, carrying napalm and piloted by a certain cameo by Clint Eastwood.

  • Saul Muerte

Tarantula is currently available at Umbrella Entertainment as part of a double bill blu-ray with The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Retrospective: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

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In the same year that Universal release This Island Earth, Hammer Films were about to enter a brave new world of their own, and it would all begin with their release of The Quatermass Xperiment. Spearheaded by James Carreras knack for networking and the ability for Hammer to produce the familiar in the eyes of the backers but with their own spin. In this instance, the appeal would come from an adaptation of BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment

The tale takes place when a three-manned rocket ship owned by Professor Bernard Quatermass (Brian Donlevy) loses radio contact and crash lands with two of its occupants vanished without a trace. Its sole survivor, Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth) has been clearly affected by a parasitic alien organism that slowly engulfs his body and is also transfused with a cactus plant that he came into contact with. 

Part of the attraction to TQX is that Quatermass himself leads questionable character choices. From the get-go, we learn that the rocket ship in question was launched without being sanctioned to do so. This recklessness is still evident too by the films’ end when he is still insistent in going ahead with his scientific plans despite the flaws and drawbacks that were brought about due to his decisions. Was there no lesson learned for him at all? Or is it purely that he is driven to succeed in his experimentations? At what point is it too far to cross? Or does the line simply not exist for the likes of Quatermass?

Richard Wordsworth’s performance is equally compelling, providing heart to the troubled Carroon. His deterioration both physically and mentally on screen keeps the audience gripped and able to connect with his plight.

It should also be noted how integral Director Val Guest’s vision had on defining the style of Hammer’s more sci-fi horror leaning productions, (the more recogniseable Gothic features would very much fall to Terence Fisher) and would have him return for Quatermass 2. There would also be the notable push for adult classification in Hammer’s production releases hence the deliberate X placement in the title to define their approach and the audience they wanted for their movies.

The success of TQX for Britain and across the seas in the States would project them further towards success and unite them in a deal with Columbia Pictures. Hammer Films were a heartbeat away from The Curse of Frankenstein, the movie that would cement their footing in the horror scene, but TQX would provide them with the first footsteps to celluloid history. It’s incredibly riveting and watchable still and highly recommended. 

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: This Island Earth (1955)

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My Universal horror retrospective chronicling the transition away from the genre that made the production company famous throughout the 30s and 40s and into the sci-fi realm continues with This Island Earth. 

At the time of its release the movie was noted for its state-of-the-art effects and use of Technicolor but it would later be famously ridiculed in Mystery Science Theater 3000, showing just how far the film had fallen in the public’s eye.

For me, it will always conjure up the image of the Metaluna Mutant, once a rejected choice for It Came From Outer Space (1953) It’s an iconic character that probably deserves a little more screen time than it actually receives than the short scare towards the film’s climax.

Upon closer scrutiny, TIE does suffer with minimal plot narrative to bind it together; a case of more style than substance. So you can understand the mockery that it fell subject to in more recent years,

The story essentially follows Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) who is mysteriously rescued when his jet almost crashlands with the aid of a strange green glow. He is then gifted a set of instructions to build a complex machine; a test to see if he has the smarts to be selected for a special research project run by the equally mystifying Exeter (Jeff Morrow).

Before long Cal is recruited by Exeter and meets up with old flame Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) and a few other hand-picked scientists. The film quickly develops from a proposed science espionage flick into an intergalactic war when Cal and Ruth are whisked away to the planet Metulana, a planet under attack from the unseen Zagons.   

There are great leaps in the imagination here from a screenplay based on the novel by Raymond F. Jones, and one needs to give in to the mindless direction it takes you in and not pay to close mind to the obvious flaws within.

It remains a film with some great images for its time, despite this, and is indicative of the b-movie sci-fi flicks that would swiftly follow suit and one that would capture the imagination of cinema-goers in the mid 50s. 

On the other side of the pond however, Britain’s Hammer Films were offering up an alternative spin on the science fiction scene with… The Quatermass Xperiment.

  • Saul Muerte

Pennywise: The Story of IT Documentary review

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For some, the year 1990 would prove to be just your average year. Some were still spinning out from the decade before with its acid wash jeans, video rentals, and big hair.
Some though, like me, were having their minds filled with the wild imaginations of Stephen King and this year would prove to be the year that Pennywise entered our homes.

Such was the wildfire of nightmares born out of the miniseries written by Lawrence D. Cohen and Tommy Lee Wallace (the latter also taking on directorial duties), that it spread a combination of love and fear into the school playgrounds, and fuelled the flames deep in the heart of this reviewer.

It’s little wonder that a worthy documentary would surface at some point to please the minds of those that were so shaped by this two-part serial. The bewilderment may be more from the fact that it took so long for someone to actually get it greenlit. Thankfully an Indiegogo project was set up which would see director Chris Griffiths team up with producers John Campopiano and Gary Smart to bring the project to fruition. 

Pennywise: The Story of It is exactly what you would hope from a 2 hour documentary dedicated to the making of the mini-series, with Wallace and Cohen cast their thoughts and views, looking back at the time and the impact that it had on popular culture. He’s not alone to appear of course, as we have the great Tim Curry (Pennywise), along with other cast members Richard Thomas (Bill), Seth Green (Richie), Dennis Christopher (Eddie), Adam Fairazi (young Eddie), Tim Reid (Mike), Brandon Crane (young Ben), and Emily Perkins (Beverly), to nam but a few. Plus special effects makeup artist Bart Mixon among others that were behind the scenes.
There were some notable absences from the Losers club, but none more heartfelt at their loss than Jonathan Brandis (young Bill) and John Ritter (Ben) who both respectfully are acknowledged for their input into the movie from both cast and crew.

The passion is clearly shared by those involved in the making of the miniseries, in the way that they are so animated about it in their interviews. It was incredibly warming to see such dedication to the miniseries being laid out and reviewed retrospectively from a team that were united with the same passion that I share for the miniseries, even to this day. 

  • Saul Muerte

Pennywise: The Story of IT  is currently screening with a 30-day free trial of Screambox, available on iOS, Android, Prime Video, YouTube TV, Comcast, and Screambox.com.

For more thoughts on the original miniseries, you can also listen to the SOH team’s alternate commentary below:

IT Mini Series – Part 1 (Surgeons commentary)

IT Mini Series – Part 2 (Surgeons Commentary)

Movie review: The Reef: Stalked

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Australian Director Andrew Traucki certainly has a taste for aquaphobia with his breakout feature hits Black Water, and The Reef. Back in 2020, he decided to revisit his croc shock feature with the sequel, Black Water: Abyss. Now is the turn of the shark, with a delve back into the reef with a twist in the tale for The Reef: Stalked.

His hook is in telling the story of Nic (Teressa Liane), who is still in the breaches of surviving the trauma of her sister’s murder. Nic tries to reconnect with the world by submerging herself into an old pastime on a kayaking adventure with her younger sister, Annie (Saskia Archer), and her two friends, Jodie (Ann Truong) and Lisa (Kate Lister). Before long the predator of the ocean makes its presence known and begins to hunt them down without backing down once it latches onto their scent.

The topic of trauma is a gripping one and presents and interesting premise for Traucki to grapple with and I applaud him in dabbling in this terrain to weave together an incredible story about survival against the odds and placing it in a shark horror feature.

The premise, and the topic may have been a stretch too far to blend them together with a sense of ease, as too often the focus shifts on the unrest between the two siblings rather than the fear itself. It’s a tough balancing act, because you want to establish a connection with your audience by building on the characters’ exchange with one another. Unfortunately I felt that the dialogue and performances were waning; a crying shame as Traucki has proven up to the task before, especially in his feature debut, Black Water, thrusting his female protagonists played by Diana Glenn and Maeve Dermody through the ringer, with grit and determination. 

The lack of grit is all too evident here, and the leads spar off each other from one scenario to the next without too much substance to wade through.

So what of the shark? 

When it appears there are flashes of images to spark fear in the audience but it never comes across as sinister enough and murky as a result. The one moment where your heart spins for a moment, is when some children are caught in the mix with their life in the hands of fate. In this instance, you are willing for them to survive and here Traucki shows his hand at playing with the audience’s heartstrings. A sign that he still knows how to play that card and its not completely lost at sea.

The Prognosis:

Shark movies are always a tough gig to sell, and Andrew Traucki does his best to repeat his formula from his 2010 feature, The Reef with a notable and worthy attempt at looking at the impact of trauma.

I really wanted to like this film and champion homegrown Australian cinema but despite some notable moments, the result is a stretch too far with performances and dialogue not weighing up to the potential that a strong subject like trauma deserves. 

  • Saul Muerte

The Reef: Stalked is released in Australian cinemas from Thursday 28th July.

R.I.P. David Warner

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It’s been a while since I’ve been compelled to comment on the passing of cinemas’ greats, but upon learning of David Warner’s departure from this world, I was moved to write a few words about this great icon of the celluloid screen.

For me, my first encounter with the actor would be on the small screen, possibly on a copied VHS, for the film TRON in his triple credited performance as Ed Dillinger / Sark/ Master Control Programmer. The latter’s monotonous and sinister tones still resonate today such was the impact of Warner’s vocal performance.

Of course, as my movie experience enveloped, and with it my fascination with the horror genre, I grew to learn of his more infamous roles that took place beforehand. This is not to forget his involvement in the controversial Sam Peckinpah flick Straw Dogs which saw him take on the role of ‘a mentally deficient man’, Henry Niles and the shaky-yet-morally integral platform that Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner chooses to stand upon to defend his cause.

With a couple of years away from the role that would cement his place in horror history though came a notable turn for Amicus Productions’ anthology film, From Beyond The Grave in the segment called The Gatecrasher. Here, Warner plays Edward Charlton, a man who buys an antique mirror, holds a seance, and then goes on a killing frenzy… as you do, before succumbing to the true horror.

It is of course in 1976 when Warner made his mark as the doomed photographer, Jennings in The Omen. His captured images foretelling the deaths of characters including his own now iconic one, The death scene may be the most memorable part to his character, but the role of Jennings was a grounded and necessary part of the revelations in juxtaposition to Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn. It is Warner’s ability to instill a sense of integrity that makes the shock of his demise all the more harrowing.

There would be some notable non-horror roles in the mix, but once again he would show another side to his on-screen presence as Dr. Alfred Necessiter in The Man With Two Brains to show his knack for maniacal comedy.

Warner would even don one of horror’s most iconic characters in the Creature from a tv adaptation of Frankenstein, before appearing as the father character in Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves. By the late 80s’ he would appear alongside Zach Galligan (who was hot following Gremlins) in Waxwork.

Such was Warner’s presence on screen that it wouldn’t take to long for him to be called upon in successful franchises such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze, Tales From The Crypt, Star Trek: Next Generation, and Twin Peaks

It would be in the mid 90s when he would work for the first time with John Carpenter in Body Bags that would lead on to his cameo as Dr. Wrenn in In the Mouth of Madness, one of Carpenter’s lesser known masterpieces. He would also cameo for Craven as drama teacher Gus Gold in Scream 2; the same year he would play villainous character, Spicer Lovejoy for a certain James Cameron movie about a doomed cruise ship. You may have heard of it.

There would be further notable twists and turns through his career, and I’m a doing a disservice to his talents here to skip through them with ease, but will address that his turn as Professor Abraham Van Helsing in Penny Dreadful and Professor Cavanaugh were worthy additions to the genre.

It is without doubt that David Warner had an immense impact on film and tv across all mediums. For this writer, he will be always remembered. A true performer in every sense of the word who brought all his characters to life with great rectitude and credibility.

R.I.P. David Warner

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Moloch (2022)

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Having established a cornerstone of horror through what is commonly termed as nordic noir, it’s about time that another European country should stake a claim with that dark, folk storytelling. So, the Dutch step forward with something lurking in the peat bogs in the north of the Netherlands.

The entity in question seems to be honing in on Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) and her family, or those that she comes in contact with, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye to this mysterious presence that up til now has lain dormant. The last time it arose was when Betriek was a little girl as presented in our prologue sequence when something is heard above the room that she is playing in, only to then see blood seeping through the cracks aloft.
It also seems that an archaeological dig has unearthed the being known as the titular Moloch, and now anyone that stands in her path will succumb to torment.

Admittedly this film is a bit of a slow burner, but director Nico van den Brink (Sweet Tooth) is able to craft enough intrigue and mystery to the tale, fuelled with some great performances, well structured characters that you actually care for, and the added mark of something that feels like an age-old story.
The narrative ducks and weaves like a crime thriller, with our lead protagonist denying yet puled into this mystery that plagues her family. Just how far she is willing to dig, will determine their fate.

The Prognosis:

Too often, when European folk horror is presented with a slow burn, the content dries up and becomes pale. Moloch though is a cleverly crafted tale with strong characters and enough twists to keep you on tenterhooks. A surprising and comforting darkly Gothic story presented from a welcome new source.

  • Saul Muerte

Moloch will be streaming on Shudder ANZ from Jul 21st.

Movie review: Men (2022)

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“I wouldn’t recommend that film to my worst enemy”

What a tantilising phrase to hear someone say coming out of a movie. An older woman also in earshot took the bait and asked the couple, “I’m sorry, but what film is that?”.

Men”.

Alex Garland, famed novelist of The Beach and writer of many Danny Boyle films of the 00’s has become one of the most interesting writer directors working in genre Film & TV.
As a creator he takes wide swings and Men may be his widest swing yet.

After the death of her husband a woman (Jessie Buckley) retreats to the countryside to process and heal this unimaginable tragedy but as she settles in her airb&b she is confronted by the deepening details of the death as well as the ratcheting pressure, looks and unsolicited opinions of the local men of this quaint little English town.

All of the men, bar the deceased husband, are played by Rory Kinnear. I had expected for a slew of different characters, a real scenery chewing showcase a la James McAvoy in Split, and there is a little of that. Kinnear has plenty of fun in parts but the film’s scale actually feels very small and focused. We never really get a good sense of the community which is often one of the key points of any folk horror story. The grandest display of the community as a whole would be one scene in the local pub. An almost uncanny valley sense of dread follows us when there’s more than one Rory Kinnear in a scene.

Jessie Buckley plays our protagonist, and we are so deeply with her throughout the entire film, watching her and her grief unfold. Buckley has been riding a wave of interesting and deeply introspective roles in the last few years (The Lost Daughter & I’m Thinking of Ending Things). She carries the film because she is our only consistency.

The film is gorgeously shot by Rob Hardy, Garland’s previous collaborator on Annihilation and Ex Machina, images of ponds and fields remind you of a Monte. We begin with an apple being plucked from a tree, and landlord of the rented house joking about forbidden fruit. The symbology plays centre stage in Men. The red walled interiors of the home, the apple tree out front, the abyssally long decommissioned train tunnel in the woods and the bald naked man running out of said tunnel. Daffodils in particular are a strong motif which starts, mids and ends the film, these weeds with the potential for explosive spreading, a true meme, self replicating toxicity.

Men is in fact so drenched in symbology that I honestly missed most of it in the moment, lost in the surreal dream of the tone and pacing of the film. It feels like a half-formed thing, filled with intent but without the hallmarks of classic storytelling that can make something like this more digestible. There is no mistaking that Garland had no intent on being easily digestible with Men. The closest experience I can liken this to is Aranoski’s Mother. Garland seems to be more and more interested in this kind of territory, with the last 15 minutes of Annihilation and most of Devs springing to mind.

The ending of the film is becoming something of a filmic legend already which is always impressive and I won’t spoil it here but its pretty horrific and truly one of the most bizarre sequences in a “mainstream” feature film that I’ve seen in a very long time.

The Prognosis:

This sadly ranks at the bottom of my Alex Garland list but I’m happy to have a filmmaker like him making interesting, weird and original works that I can watch in a dark movie theatre with a bunch of strangers losing their minds. 3/5

  • Oscar Jack