Movie review: Deadstream (2022)

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Deadstream is more than your average found footage horror film, as it is packed to the punch with so much energy, zest and macabre humour that it’s no wonder that it has been likened to something from The Evil Dead franchise.

It also tackles and in my humble opinion succeeds in making its unlikeable lead protagonist likeable.

The guy in question is Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), a disgraced internet personality from his online prank show, Wrath of Shawn. Shawn tries to reanimate his audience and draw them back into his life by challenging himself to spend the night in a haunted house and livestream the whole event. Unfortunately he ends up royally pissing off a vengeful spirit and must do all he can to escape and survive the night.

The low budget aesthetics is part of the features appeal, utilising real effects to capitalise on the gritty realism of the supernatural and paranormal events that unfold. Keeping the location to a minimum, primarily at said haunted house, essentially a dilapidated building is also a smart move, allowing the creativity to run loose without being tied down to constantly having to relocate. It also allows time for the ambience to build and have fun when unleashing their vision.

The Prognosis:

The writing is witty and clever in that it plays it straight, so when the macabre mayhem unfolds, it is pure joy to watch.

Winter also writes and directs alongside his partner Vanessa, which indicates not only do they have a firm grasp of the material, so when delivered feels flawless, but this is clearly a labour of love for them and this oozes through every scene.

  • Saul Muerte

Deadstream is currently streaming on Shudder ANZ.

Movie review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism

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Grady Hendrix has made a name for himself in the teen horror novel genre and added his penmanship to recent features for Mohawk and Satanic Panic. His popular novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism has received a feature treatment and is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Marked, rightfully as The Exorcist meets Heathers, MBFE utilises the nostalgic feels of the 80s through music, American high school issues, and the verbal language and cusses that wouldn’t see the light of day if set in current times. It’s excellently handled by director Damon Thomas, combined with the cinematography by Rob Givens who offer a film that looks retro whilst still resonating with a modern audience.

Part of its appeal comes from the friendship between Abby (Elsie Fisher – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)) and Gretchen (Amiah Miller – Lights Out), a tighter than tight unity where they laugh at each others jokes, the love for Boy George, The Thorn Birds and ET, cookies and cream frozen yoghurt and all the small things that bind them are put to the test. 

Once the scene is set, addressing Abby’s awkwardness against Gretchen’s confidence in an angsty environment, where outsiders are treated with contempt; our lead protagonists venture into an abandoned summer house under the influence of LSD, get separated when Gretchen gets violated and consumed by a demonic presence. 

Now Abby must find her own confidence in the face of adversity and tackle the turmoil of high school trauma and address conflicts both inward and outward and rescue her best friend along the way. This all comes with a test on her own presence, where both friends must exorcise different kinds of demons to reach a well fought out conclusion.

The Prognosis:

The 80s nostalgic vibe with nods to the horror elements of the time deserve high praise and hook you into the narrative with relative ease. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but the fun elements outweigh any concerns here, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is an enjoyable teen horror that will appeal to a wide audience.

  • Saul Muerte

My Best Friend’s Exorcism is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Movie review: Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022)

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Halina Reijns’ follow up feature to her confrontational drama Instinct taps into the darker comedic vein and delivers a modern equivalent to the vacuous nature of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero mixed with some serious slasher vibes. Like the 1980s novel, the screenplay to Bodies, Bodies, Bodies by Sarah DeLappe  flirts with the hollow void of the youth, searching for something to fill their lives through sex and drugs, but finding the emptiness still resides. Here the narrative sets the group of misguided adolescents buker down together in a mansion during a hurricane (itself a metaphor for the turmoil that surrounds them the outside world forcing them to look inside themselves) and play a murder game similar to wink murder, but with drastic consequences.

At first it all feels typical of a party where rules are inconsequential; the liquor flows and the lines of illicit consumption begins, plus the dalliance of emotions ripple beneath the surface as old friends play out familiar roles to settle in for the night. 

New to the group is Bee (Maria Bakalova), introduced by her girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and at first struggles to find the comfort spot amongst an already tight batch. What may seem a united camaraderie soon comes unstuck however when the secrets or quashed emotions rise to the surface and the true feelings bubble over amounting to a sea of carnage and mistrust. 

The shift in tone amounts when David (Peter Davidson), who lives in the mansion and is a childhood friend to Sophie is found dead with a slash to his throat caused by a kukri, All eyes turn on each other, starting with Greg (Lee Pace) the boyfriend to Alice (Rachel Sennott) and like Bee an outsider to the collective. Suspicions soo escalate further among them as old wounds are addressed and the body count rises. 

The Prognosis:

Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is another strong delivery from A24 Films, which delicately plays with a murder mystery in an incestuous minefield of youthful emotions. Rejin constantly questions the role that the Gen Z have in finding their place in the world. Where do loyalties lie? And what happens when trust is no longer apparent?

It’s a fun and enjoyable ride, which may not necessarily tread new territory in the realms of horror but don’t let that deter you.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Land Unknown (1957)

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As Hammer Films were reinventing Gothic horror with The Curse of Frankenstein and awakening old myths with The Abominable Snowman, Universal Pictures were still venturing into humanity striving against gigantic creatures in the sci-fi adventure films. This time around, the exploration would take them into the heart of Antarctica to unleash the fears upon our central characters. 

The Land Unknown, directed by Virgil W. Vogel from a screenplay by László Görög would suffer immensely from its low budget, putting men in  dinosaur suits or shots of monitor lizards to subject our audience with fear. The result would have a poor effect and the film struggles to lift out of the realms of quality, shifting our ability to connect with it. Even retrospectively speaking, there is little substance here of worth.

In essence we join an expedition crew consisting of Commander Harold Roberts (Jock Mahoney), helicopter pilot Lt. Jack Carmen (William Reynolds), machinist Steve Miller (Phil Harvey) and reporter Maggie (Shirley Patterson). Maggie is the token female in the movie and is symbolic of the times playing the reporter, as it gave women a hard-boiled, intelligent edge whilst still needing to be sexually alluring, something that doesn’t go amiss among the male members of the crew, particularly the Commander. Often, there are comments in the script about the differences in the gender of each species they encounter, where each plays a significant role in the survival of their terrain. When the helicopter is forced to make an emergency landing this is put to the test when they find themselves in mysterious volcanic land beneath the icy surface and one that is rich in jungle life, including the aforementioned jungle.

Not only do they have to manage this unknown topography, but they soon discover another living soul who has adapted to life there since they crashed there. Dr. Carl Hunter was the sole survivor and has been used to life on his own, making him a gruff and unapproachable man, His intimidating demeanour softening only towards Maggie.

The rest of the film centres more on these conflicts, along with the volatile land and its inhabitants to play through to the conclusion. One that is a neatly tied bow and as such fails to flicker with the audience. Looking through the retrospective lens, this is definitely one of the lesser films that Universal produced at the time and much like the land in which it is set, has been forgotten over time.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Abominable Snowman (1957)

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Hammer Films trio of features to be released in 1957 would be complete with The Abominable Snowman. The heightened success of The Curse of Frankenstein and Quatermass 2 had made people sit up and take notice of this British film production company. TAS would see Director Val Guest team up again with one of his lead stars Peter Cushing, a formula that would be successful for this fictionalised expedition in search of the snow dwelling yeti. 

Nigel Kneale would once again take on writing duties that would pen Cushing as botanist John Rollason who agrees to join the party led by Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker), only to discover that the true intentions behind the enterprise is to capture the ape-like creature for commercial gain. 

The group are attacked by a yeti one night but one of the trappers is able to kill it, and in turn they try to use the creature to lure others of its kind to them. All of this goes against Rollasons’ moral integrity and he soon comes to believe that the yeti may indeed be of vastly greater intelligence to humankind. It is possible that they are hibernating in the mountains, waiting for humanity to reach its natural decline, before taking over as our planet’s chief primate.
The narrative will now see a turn of the tables, and the expedition must try to survive their ordeal before the terrain or the yeti’s bring about their ruin.

For a feature set in the vast open spaces through sets created by Bernard Robinson based on existing photos of shots taken in the French Pyrenees and built in the now famous Pinewood Studios, there is enough eeriness conveyed. This despite the lack of fear from the little seen yetis. It’s a strong movie with a decent plot that deserves more attention and a chance to rise out of the shadows left by The Curse of Frankenstein. The next horror feature to be released would forever cement Hammer Films’ place in the genre movie scene…

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Quatermass 2 (1957)

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Hammer Films swift follow up feature to The Curse of Frankenstein released in the same month of 1957 would be a sequel to the previously successful The Quatermass Xperiment. Continuing with the exploits and investigations of Professor Bernard Quatermass, this time around would see the brash scientist look into the strange goings on at Winnerden Flats following a high amount of meteorite falls. What he uncovers though is a lethal toxin being experimented on and an alien infiltration that could lead to disastrous consequences for the human race.

Based on the BBC production, this time around screenwriter Nigel Kneale would oversee writing duties for the feature but much to his chagrin would see American actor Brian Donlevy take on the lead role for the second time. Kneale was much aggrieved that Quatermass was portrayed by an American, a man very much considered to be British, but also by a man that he would describe as…

a bully whose emotional range ran from annoyance to fury

Marcus Hearn & Alan Barnes – The Hammer Story: The Authorised  of Hammer Films.

It doesn’t help that Donlevy was allegedly on the sauce throughout filming and apparently read off what is commonly known as idiot boards to recite his lines.

The film itself feels remarkably different from its predecessor, tapping into a more action, thriller style of exposition and one that in my opinion, goes against the grain of my high-held expectations. In this instance, I identify with Kneale’s plight about the casting of Quatermass, and find little to connect to, but admittedly I may be being biassed, as I much prefer Andrew Keir’s take in follow up Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit.

Val Guest however does cut a fine take as director to the government, alien conspiracy flick, tying into the paranoia surrounding a post-war paranoia. It’s the beating heart of the feature and one that led some to believe that it was ahead of its time.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Raven’s Hollow (2022)

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For the first 20 minutes Raven’s Hollow falls dangerously into made for tv territory, but not in a high standard way. Then it shifts into something that is something of note. Yes, the standard isn’t high and the CGI suffers a little, but beneath the surface is an interesting concept with solid performances to support this idea.

The fictionalised account of writer, poet Edgar Allan Poe’s military career as he leads a quartet of cadets through upstate New York when they encounter an isolated  community harbouring a  paganistic secret. These visions and events will eventually inspire his writing profession down the track. 

Poe (William Moseley – The Chronicles of Narnia) and the cadets are drawn to the strange titular town when they find a man that appears to have been sacrificed by some occult. Cue lots of witchery, cult-like behaviour, combined with a raven-like creature that appears to have a strong hold over the settlement.

Poe soon takes on an investigative role to uncover the truth about the mysterious happenings of Raven’s Hollow and in doing so, ignites the narrative a little, drawing the audience in. 

The array of townsfolk on display from the talents of Melanie Zanetti, David Hayman, and Kate Dickie add strength to the mix and along with it, an air of mystery that surrounds them. 

As the bodies start to pile up, so does the pressure to solve the case and end the curse.

The Prognosis:

The premise is enough of a hook for a movie which admittedly suffers under a shaky execution. This is more down to budget restraints though than poor production. The story holds true with enough twists and turns, supported by an able cast that bring about intrigue and supernatural elements to tie you to the story’s end.

  • Saul Muerte

Raven’s Hollow is currently streaming on Shudder.  

Movie review: Shapeless (2022)

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Shapeless is a movie that strides to tackle an important and quintessential topic in society and tell that tale through a horror narrative. The subject is eating disorders and the physical and psychological impact it has on a person.

Our focus is through protagonist Ivy (Kelly Murtagh – Bingo Hell), a singer in the underground New Orleans scene. The pressures of keeping on track with her day job and juggling this with her passion starts to take its toll and Ivy starts to turn inward, focusing on her image and emotional attachment to achieving the ‘perfect’ lifestyle.

It’s clear that the topic is something that Director Samantha Aldana feels close to and pays due time and attention that it deserves. This tied in with Murtagh’s writing attributes equal ties in with the dedication that she has to showing her take on the theme.

The visuals provided by cinematographer Natalie Kingston (The Wolf of Snow Hollow) are also stunning and effective to project the ambience and tone throughout the film.
The issue is that there is a lot of marinating going on with little effect or substance to keep the audience hooked, and as a result, we’re left wilting as a result.

The Prognosis:

While this isn’t an out and out horror, the real life issue that plays centre stage is given due attention. Eating disorders are often left out of the popular conversation and thought of as taboo, so it is a testament to both Aldana and Murtagh to produce a film that takes this on and brings to the fore. What it lacks though is enough validity for it to have a grounding impact. Some more time and attention on this would have made a solid movie, instead it stills a little in mediocre-ville.

  • Saul Muerte

Shapeless is currently available on VOD (Google TV, Apple TV and Microsoft Store).

Retrospective: The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

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For me, The Curse of Frankenstein would mark the official change of the guard in horror films from Universal to Hammer. Not only did it revamp the now stagnant monster franchise, but propelled a new identity in the Gothic scene thanks to the vision of its director Terence Fisher; its two leads Peter Cushing in stoic form as the titular Baron Frankenstein and the heavily made up Sir Christopher Lee as the creature; but also the X factor charged with and championed by the films’ producers, setting a tone that would be replicated for another couple of decades to come. It also would have in its company writer Jimmy Sangster and composer James Bernard, who would both be part of Hammer’s signature. Above all else though, it would be Hammer’s first colour creature feature; one that would highlight all the blood, gore, and extravagant costumes with a vibrancy not seen on the big screen before.

Cushing and Lee would also prove to be a formidable duo before the camera for Hammer, for another 7 times with varying degrees of success. Lee would have to endure two to three hours in the makeup chair as Phil Leakey crafted the final, repulsive look from mortician’s wax, cotton wool, and rubber. The look deliberately steered away from Universal’ previous incarnation due to legal rights, allowing Hammer to present a unique spin on Mary Shelley’s classic tale. 

The narrative is told in flashbacks as Baron Frankenstein awaits a trip to the gallows,  but never wavers from his pursuit of achieving and creating life beyond the grave. What is starkly different from its predecessor is the cold and meticulous manner that Frankenstein’s actions are driven to in order to attain his goal. It is this characterisation and Cushing’s portrayal that offers a darkly disturbing version and one that is explored further throughout the various instalments that follow, most notably Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed which Cushing and fellow star Veronica Carlson believed crossed the boundaries of good taste.

The British press would initially turn up their noses to Hammer’s adaptation, with a general feel that it was purely for sadists. Both the British and American public would lap it up, which may or may not say something about our society. Regardless, it was enough of a reaction that was considered huge for its time that it would cement the foundations for Hammer Films and pave the way for their success to follow. It would also spawn a cult following and be an inspiration for many filmmakers to come. 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Goodnight Mommy (2022)

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Horror cinephiles would be deeply aware of the Austrian psychological trauma film released back in 2014 that made a significant impact on the genre. For those not in the know on why such a ripple was made, it’s hard to discuss without talking about the specific shift in narrative, that puts a completely different spin on our initial perception. It is this combined with the unsettling tension imbued throughout that resonates after viewing and lifts it out of the quagmire of predictability.

So in the throes of continuing remakes of European films that have struck a chord in the outer ridges of the popular mainstream, Goodnight Mommy gets its own turn in the limelight. 

Charged with carrying out this vision is Director Matt Sobel who also has the luxury of Naomi Watts as his lead. Apparently this is her 9th film which is a remake. I’ll have to cross check that one though as I can only think of The Ring off the tip of my head.

What I can say about Goodnight Mommy though is that the film centres on two twins, Elias and Lucas (Cameron and Nicholas Crovettii) who return back to their mothers care. At this stage it is not known why they have been absent but there’s enough uncertainty there to instil a sense of doubt about their mother and one the audience harbours along with them. It doesn’t help that their mother is predominantly masked due to recovering from surgery. A haunting image that evokes fear, tantalising playing with our emotional responses to the situation as it unfolds.  The mystery and mounting tension escalates to the point of desperation to seek the truth about what happened but Elias and Lucas’ pursuit will come at a price. 

The Prognosis:

It treads a similar line to the original but utilises all of its strengths to provide a decent psychological flick. Naomi Watts is particularly solid, playing a convoluted mother with juxtaposing positions, swinging between neglectful and cold, with loving and protective.

The dalliance of drifting towards the unknown and being fearful of the truth is pitched well from beginning to end, delivering a well paced story, playing with perspectives from all sides.

  • Saul Muerte

Goodnight Mommy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.