Movie review: The Power (2021)

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What starts off as a promising horror film with an eerie setting, The Power soon gets lost in its own labyrinth of darkness and dissolution.

Let’s face it. There’s something that is imminently scary about hospitals and the thought of death hanging over you and by choosing to set the film in a dilapidated one during the early 70s when the decor is sparse, drawing forth the feeling of isolation amongst the empty corridors heightens this sensation further.

It doesn’t help that the hospital is at the hands of a current mining strike and has the electrical power being shut down at the dead of night, thrusting the audience into constant panic and despair.

Guiding us through the darkness is a young nurse, Val (Rose Williams), new to the hospital and on a temporary probation. She stumbles her way through the rigorous and meticulously structured system within the varying wards. We’re instantly drawn to Val’s empathetic nature, but we soon learn that there’s a reason for her good-hearted nature having been a victim of abuse in her childhood at the Catholic orphanage.

It is her eagerness to please and help others though that finds her on the wrong side of the hierarchy and forced to work the night shift. When darkness will descend on all.

There is something sinister lurking in the darkness that has an instant connection with Val and opens up old wounds among the staff.

Is this presence a dark one though or is there something more to the gloomy outlook?

The Prognosis:

The initial premise is a strong one and the balance of power between light and darkness, male and female, and social status is constantly shifting and fluctuating through a nicely woven script.

Corrina Faith develops a strongly directed narrative and combined with Laura Bellingham’s (Amulet) visual flair, projecting an atmosphere that chills.

It’s main flaw is that once it builds up the tension, it quickly transcends into predictability and the usual horror tropes that we’ve come accustomed to.

Despite this, the script, performances and direction is tight, making The Power an enjoyable watch regardless.

  • Saul Muerte 

Retrospective: The Mephisto Waltz

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This may be down to pure ignorance as this film was released before I had been born but The Mephisto Waltz is one of those movies that I feel deserves more recognition than it currently receives, forgotten a little by the ebbing of time.

Some critics ridiculed the movie at the time because of its loose handling of the magick involved and the occult’s fairly basic premise, that of soul transference, but this is exactly why I believe it works. The cavalier approach that the people have wields these dark arts have allowed it to consume them and are now governed by these external forces. 

The film draws its name from the musical compositions of Franz Liszt, in which one of the four waltzes involved the intoxicating lure of Faust by Mephistopheles.

This sexual lust and frenzy that is on display is deliberately heightened and reduces all the people involved to base animalistic behaviour.

Initially the temptation falls on Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda) a music journalist who still pines for his lost ambition to become a pianist. When Myles interviews a virtuoso on the piano, Duncan Ely (Curd Jurgens), a fascinating link is drawn between the two figures, one from admiration, the other, a curious magnetism arises when Duncan notices Myles’ hands are perfect for playing the piano.

From this moment on Duncan and his grown daughter, Roxanne (Barbara Parkins) inject themselves into the lives of Myles and his wife, Paula (Jacqueline Bisset). Paula is instantly suspicious of the attraction, but Myles is enraptured by it all and sees Duncan as a fatherly figure. This is particularly strengthened when Myles learns that Duncan is dying from leukemia.

Myles and Paula begin to drift apart as cracks begin to appear in their relationship, bearing in mind that this was the era of free love, but there is an amount of control that is needed on behalf of both parties. This is when Duncan and Roxanne strike, and begin the transfer of Duncan’s soul into Myles body.

At first Paula is unaware of the changes but this is where the film becomes to turn into something of a mystery. Paula delves into the strange behaviours of her husband Myles and the history behind Roxanne to uncover a satanic plot. Will she be able to turn things around and win Myles back or will the occultists turn her instead?

While the plot tackles leaps of fantasy, Jacqueline Bisset is magnificent as the troubled wife and distraught woman, struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband and the threat of losing her own identity in the turmoil of satanic rituals.

If you can forgive the ridiculous nature in the plot, you can be treated to a fun and enjoyable thriller, where the end is far from predictable.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Run (2021)

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You can pretty much guarantee that when Sarah Paulson is cast in a role then that movie is gonna come packed with substance and that she will bring a certain amount of gravitas and realism to her role.
Run is no exception where Paulson plays Diana, a mother to Chloe (Kiera Allen), a homeschooled teenager cursed with serious ailments including arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma, diabetes, and paralysis.
Such is her condition that Chloe is completely reliant on Diana.

Our first impressions are that Diana is a dutiful and an understandably highly protective mother, a constant aide for the constant support that Chloe needs. Even moreso when we witness the premature birth of her daughter and the fear and anxiety etched on her face not knowing if her infant will survive.

It’s also apparent that Chloe is incredibly bright kid, always eager to adhere to her schooling needs and compelled to learn more from the world about her. It’s her intuition however that leads her into a discovery that all is not as it seems. Especially with Diana.

The Prognosis:

There’s some excellent performances on display here from the two leads, Paulson and Allen, who have to do the heavy work taking up the majority of the scenes throughout.

Director Aneesh Chaganty also does a superb job to craft as much tension as he can with a fairly basic narrative.
When these moments occur in the film, they are suitablly taut but it’s the moments in-between where the film struggles to lift a little but having said that, the choice to ground the film in reality and not stretch the boundaries that is a bold one that both strengthens and supports it.

Run ends up coasting at a steady pace but fails to show any flair or inability, and seems content to ride along as an average film resting on the actors performances to entertain.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Hunter Hunter (2021)

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Set among the remote wilderness of Canada and on the brink of civilization, Joseph Mersault (Devon Sawa), his wife Anne (Camille Sullivan) and daughter Renee (Summer H. Howell) have chosen to take up residence as fur trappers, living off the land with scant food supplies.
I say chosen, but it’s fairly obvious early on that Joseph is the one overseeing that decision, and Anne appears somewhat reluctant and grows tired of the struggles of living in such a remote place.
There are hints that Joseph is not happy among people, but it’s never fully explored why this is. Needless to say, he is content to immerse himself in the rugged terrain and has taken to teaching or rigorously training his daughter Renee how to survive in primitive ways and learning the animal traits that will ensure their survival.

Fairly early on, the family fear that a wild wolf has returned and threatens their safety, so Joseph swears to protect them and go on a hunt for the beast. As he stalks his prey however, he stumbles across a more sinister scene as a ritualistic circle of half naked female corpses lay. 

Now any sane man would take the information to the police but Joseph is a lone wolf himself and as hinted at earlier communication and social interactions are a distant cry from the characters involved. Instead, Joseph sees it upon himself to venture out and find the killer.

Meanwhile, Anne and Renee are left to fend for themselves and have a fearful encounter with the wolf, but with Joseph’s absence drifting into days, Anne goes to the police to inform them of the vicious brute, only to be dismissed.

With no choice but to embrace their situation, Anne and Renee set out to protect their home, when a wounded man (Nick Stahl) appears one night. Anne has no choice but to aid this stranger, but is there more to him than meets the eye?

The Prognosis:

Hunter Hunter walks a fine line in its exposure of mankind at its most vulnerable and yet most violently animalistic and vicious. Throughout the films admittedly slow pace, we are left pondering the direction that Shawn Linden is taking us on. Is it a survival horror film? Is this a case of beast vs man? Or does it suggest that there is more to the wild than the beast that lies in its natural habitat?

It is held together by some fine performances, most notably with Sawa and Sullivan.

The slow shambling tension that lurks in its depths brutally awakens with a savage conclusion, drawing out the most feral of humanity when pushed to the brink.

Some may find the closing scenes too gruesome to bear, but the final moments are one that haunts.

  • Saul Muerte 

Movie Review: Violation (2021)

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My gut reaction following watching this movie was to declare it the best film of the year so far, and while the dust has settled now and along with it the stirred up emotions that Violation incurred on this writer’s soul, there is still some resonance of the raw energy that is prevalent throughout the film’s narrative.

It is this intensity drawn out by the writing, directing partnership of Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli produced with a simmering and festering boiling pot of turmoil that pulls you in and intoxicates the mind.

Maybe it’s that Sims-Fewer had an amount of creative control and with this a freedom of expression to tap into the complexities that her character Miriam holds, but her performance is beyond exemplary as a result and is captivating to watch. 

What we witness is Miriam, a woman who has become labelled for her feisty and headstrong personna that has often landed her in difficult circumstances, but beneath the surface is an incredibly fragile figure, who is starting to unravel. Among her troubles is a pending divorce from her husband Caleb (Obi Abili) and when they decide to spend time with Miriam’s younger sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and brother-in-law, Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe), she yearns for the safety of people that she can feel comfortable with and expose her vulnerability to.
Families are often a complex thing though, and Miriam’s past behaviour clouds what could be a straightforward and reliable road with Greta, who has constantly had to endure living in the shadows of her larger-than-life sister.
There is also a past that Miriam shares with Dylan, and at time when she really needs someone to lean on, he betrays her in the most violating way, hence the title, and with this traumatic experience, Miriam is left reeling and with her own base responses to rely upon.
But first she must exact vengeance and clear the way forward for her to heal. No matter what it costs.

The Prognosis:

Best movie of the year?
Possibly.

Best performance of the year?
With Madeleine Sims-Fewer’s portrayal of the central character Miriam and the violation that occurs combined with the trauma that this leaves on her… Definitely 

Violation is a slow burn, but a perfect exercise in raw performance with a tightly knit script to explore a wrenching-yet-topical subject.

It awakens the senses and projects every ounce of emotion onto the screen. I always fall deep for movies that elicit such a response, and for that, I can’t rate it highly enough.

  • Saul Muerte 

Movie Review: Koko-di Koko-da

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Despite being released in the festival circuits back in 2019, Koko-di Koko-da deserves a bigger audience, and thanks to Shudder’s Exclusive and Original distributions, Swedish director Johannes Nyholm gets to see his sophomore feature receive greater access.

There are some that may instantly be turned away from the subtitles, but if you’re not averse to this, then you’re in for a disturbingly surreal tale about grief.

The film begins with a couple, Tobias and Elin take their daughter, Maja on holiday to the coastal town of Skagen for a holiday. What should be an idyllic occasion soon turns sour though when Maja is struck ill from an allergic reaction to eating seafood. This swiftly becomes fatal and Tobias and Elin are left rocking from this tragedy.

The real holiday begins though three years later when the now estranged couple try to rekindle their relationship, having felt the strain that the loss of their daughter has had on them both. Embittered and self-destructive, the couple have reached their limits, but somehow they find it in themselves to find a way to reunite in one of the most dire things that a couple can do… go camping!

It seems an odd choice considering their torment, as anyone who can attest to that may have gone camping, it’s not the most relaxing of things to do, and can generate ill-feeling when things go awry. 

Driven by the desire to see the trip through, Tobias strays off the road and decides to camp in a remote woodland location. Never a good idea, but they never thought that they would encounter a strange a sideshow troupe made up of an elderly man in a white suit who serves as a sort of emcee to the macabre and twisted events that he forces the couple through; a large muscle man character, and a thin gothic looking woman. 

The nightmare becomes stranger still when it becomes evident that the couple have fallen into some kind of time warp and no matter how hard they try to change the course of events are forced to endure. They must work together and find a path that unites them both and not born out of a selfish need to survive, if they are to make any way out of their suffering.

The Prognosis:

This is definitely one for fans of surreal horror infused with dark comedy. It is stitched together with short shadow play depictions of the grief that lay at the centre of their ordeal, which also slips Koko-di Koko-da into artsy terrain and may turn people away. 

However, I enjoyed the reality that Nyholm plays with the subject of grief and the depth that this can take on the central characters.

It’s an emotion that can send you transcending downward in a spiral of destruction, often willing to subject oneself to the agony and guilt of it all. 

For this, Koko-di Koko-da is a tough but fascinating watch.

  • Saul Muerte 

Movie Review: Slaxx

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Slaxx is one of those movies that on paper smacks of the ridiculous and even though its moralistic message is on overkill, the film itself actually surprises.

The movie narrative follows a young sales clerk Libby (Romane Denis) starting her first day for a corporate clothing store that prides itself on producing high quality clothing using naturally organic fibres.
It doesn’t take long for Libby and the audience to realise that the company is with wankdom and its employees are equally vacuous and insipid.
Thankfully for us, that means there is plenty of unlikeable victims to meet a grisly encounter.

The mode of slasher/stalker isn’t exactly what you’d naturally expect and where the farcicial component comes into effect, as a pair of killer jeans.

Part of Slaxx’s appeal comes with the comical tone that Director Elza Kephart plays throughout the movie, whilst also delivering some satisfyingly gnarly deaths.
A fine line to balance on without falling into lame or over the top ridiculousness, which Kephart delivers with ease.
Hats off to the Bollywood dance number, which could easily have tipped things off kilter but manages to hang on by it’s sheer audacity and having placed the attitude tongue firmly in it’s cheek from the get-go.
And with pretty much everyone up for grabs having all bowed at some point to consumerism and being guilty for succumbing to hedonism at some point, the kill count is gonna be gloriously high.

The Prognosis:

There’s a lot of fun to be had in this over-the-top, hilarious, and bloody tale of killer jeans on the rampage.
Yes the morals smack of overkill but can be forgiven for its humour and is for proudly  wearing its identity on its britches.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

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It seems crazy to me that as a Brit and lover of Horror, that I am only now writing my first article on an Amicus Productions, a company that became notorious over their 15 year span between the early 60s and late 70s, and much like their counterpart Hammer Horror, boasted Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as their key stars.

The House That Dripped Blood which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, was released at the height of their success not only lays claim to these fine British actors but also stars fellow actors Denholm Elliott, Ingrit Pitt, and Jon Pertwee.
To top it off, the four stories that make up the anthology in this film were originally penned by Robert Bloch (Psycho). 

Each of the tales are strung together by Inspector Holloway from Scotland Yard who is investigating the disappearance of film star Paul Henderson (Pertwee) from the titular house, which harbours some strange events over the years.

The first tale, Method For Murder sees Denholm Elliot as a horror writer, Charles who moves into the country abode with his wife Alice.  Whilst there, Charles throws himself into his work where he comes up with a menacing psychopath Dominic. When he starts to see visions of the murderous strangler, Charles begins to question his sanity. Is Dominic really a figment of his imagination or part of Charles’ split personality manifested to enact his inner and darkest thoughts.

The second tale, Waxworks stars Cushing as a recently retired stockbroker, Philip who stumbles upon a wax museum in his local town that contains a mannequin that strikes an uncanny resemblance to a woman that he once loved.
Philip automatically senses that there is something evil about the museum and swears never to return, but when his friend Neville (Joss Ackland when he had hair) arrives, both find themselves drawn once again into the spiritual domain and its maniacal owner, Grayson (Wolfe Morris).

By the third tale, Sweets to the Sweet featuring Christopher Lee as a widower, John, comes around, it is obvious that there is something untoward about the house and the power it has over its occupants. John is typically reserved and apparently over protective of his daughter, Jane. When a former teacher Ann moves in to be the young girl’s Governess, she at first suspects John of cruel and malicious treatment, but it soon becomes clear that there is more to Jane than meets the eye.

The last tale, The Cloak comes full circle and picks up with Paul Henderson (Pertwee) a brash and unlikable actor, who believes that he is above all those around him. Unhappy with the set design and costume department of his low budget feature, Paul takes it upon himself to get his own costume, namely a vampire cloak. The cloak though contains a dark energy though that slowly turns its wearer into a creature of the night. 

At first I was a little unsure of the anthological approach to the movie but each of the stories involved are solid and compact, held together by fantastical elements and strengthened by a bloody good cast. They may stretch into the melodramatic, but I for one enjoyed every minute of it, especially its conclusion and the breaking down of the fourth wall.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Stay Out of the Attic (2020)

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My immediate reaction to the opening 20 minutes of this movie was admittedly a struggle as the performances were grinding and felt forced, painfully trying to shift out of first gear. In many ways it smacked of low-budget b grade execution and I had a moment of wondering if I were going to be able to endure the 80 minute running time. 

The premise of Stay Out of the Attic follows two convicts Imani and Carlos, who are promised a second chance in life outside of prison walls when they work for fellow ex-con Alber Schillinger’s removal company. Each of them have their own demons to exorcise and on their first job get more than they bargained for and are forced to confront their past haunts and misconceptions, which is also incredibly two-dimensional in its delivery.

Filled with hopes over turning a new leaf, the intrepid trio venture into the house where they are greeted by Vern Mueller, an elderly man with a sickening past. Basically he’s a psychologically deranged Nazi medical practioner carrying out fucked up experiments. We later learn that he is practicing the works of Josef Mengele and has been torturing people in both the attic and basement of his house in a crazed search for a rejuvenation serum. 

Mueller manages to trap the trio in his mansion where he then inflicts pain, torture and carnage in order to act out his malicious will. Admittedly this is where Director Jerren Lauder manages to step away from the realm of predictability and serves some delightfully macabre moments. By the time he plays this hand though, the film has already slipped into mediocrity.

The Prognosis:

Stay Out of the Attic is both painful to watch in its failure to deliver anything masterful and gut-wrenching in the manner that it inflicts salacious ways for the main characters to endure. 

Most of the time, it’s incredibly slow and meticulous but there are some glimmers of inspiration that stop this film from being a disaster and hangs on the right side of watchability.

  • Saul Muerte 

Retrospective: House of Horrors (1946)

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This is the movie where Rondo Hatton’s (The Spider Woman Strikes Back) shambling frame comes to the fore and I personally think that it works in this instance. There are some critics that felt at the time and retrospectively feel otherwise, and that the giant killer concept is awkward and laughable.

For me, there is a similarity to Of Mice And Men with the Lenny and and George characters, two misfits in society, outcasts if you will. The Lenny character in this case aligned with Hatton’s character, The Creeper,  instead of a good heart, misguided by those around him, he’s a malicious cold blooded killer seeking to please he’s supposed friend, Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck – The Mummy’s Curse, The Frozen Ghost). 

Marcel is an art sculptor and the subject of ridicule among his community. Tired of being savaged by critics, he seeks his vengeance and  just when all seems lost he has a chance encounter and saves The Creeper from drowning.

Now Marcel has a human killing machine at his beckoning call, to carry out his demands on those who’ve wronged him.

The only person who could potentially stand in his way is a female reporter, Joan (Virginia Grey) who Marcel is also infatuated with.

But will love or vengeance lead to ruin for the scared artist?

Once again, Universal were trying to champion a new horror series in The Creeper, but after receiving fairly low reviews, unlike it’s antagonist failed to unleash the horror into the world and the third strike out would leave them stumbling towards the end of the decade.

  • Saul Muerte