Retrospective: Jungle Captive (1945)

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The third and final outing for Paula Dupree aka The Ape Woman for Universal would revert back to the mad doctor scenario.

This time the twirling moustache award goes to Mr. Stendahl (Otto Kruger) who successfully pulls a rabbit out of the afterlife, resurrected its once lifeless form.
Riding on the euphoria of his achievements, Stendhal then trudges off to be the next Dr. Frankenstein to reanimate the corpse of Paula Dupree.

To do his dirty work however, Stendahl calls upon his lumbering assistant Moloch (Rondo Hatton) to snatch the body from the city morgue, but in his efforts kills the attendant on duty.

Now, not only has a murder occurred, and a body stolen, but Inspector Harrigan (Jerome Cowan) suspects another doctor, Don Young when he discovers a medical smock belonging to the young practitioner at the morgue.

All does not bode well for Don when it is discovered that his fiance, Ann (Amelita Ward) has provided a false alibi.

When Ann suddenly disappears, Don must now prove his innocence, find his gal, and the true murderer.

It is little wonder that this film would inevitably fall flat on its face and kill off any hopes for any further misdeeds from the Ape Woman.

Whilst Kruger puts forward a strong performance as the dastardly doctor, Universal produced another misfire, which never manages to muster up any hopes of creating a monster to be feared from the Ape Woman.
There are too many leaps in the script to ignite any identity of its own, and too often tries to ride on the shoulders of previous incarnations in Frankenstein’s Monster or The Wolf Man.
This is even more stifled in the third outing by not only losing its initial lead in Acquanetta, and even losing its first choice replacement in Betty Bryant, who was dropped two days into the shoot, but mainly due to subjecting the creature into the background, thrusting the maniacal doctor front and centre and in doing so, casts the Ape Woman into the shadows.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Sator (2019)

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It’s clear to say that Sator was a labour of love for director Jordan Graham who would take six years to complete.
Apparently, this was due to budgetary limitations, and when you are the writer, director, and producer of your sophomore outing in the field, this is completely understanding. Being a lover of the craft, especially one where the vision is clear and the passion evident, I can only applaud Graham’s efforts.

The slow-paced, stylized depiction of Graham’s vision however will not suit everyone’s tastes, and perhaps consider it too “artsy”, especially for mainstream horror lovers.

Shot entirely in black and white, Sator emphasises both fields of being a low-budget film, but looking smart because of the association to ‘highbrow’ entertainment.

Essentially this film is a supernatural occult horror that uses the subject of a broken family as its heart, slowly being ripped apart by Sator, an entity that eats away at each of their souls before it can claim them.

With any known demonic force, it will find the weakest chain and begin to wear it down until it breaks loose and exposes the frailty of us all.

It may be laboriously slow in the manner of its delivery, but Graham’s depiction is masterful in places and the essence of it is incredibly strong and harrowing.

The choice of setting also cements this further as the family are based in a desolate forest, isolated from the real world with only each other to depend upon, but combined with this separated from reality.
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The Prognosis:

It’s said that isolation can lead to depression and dissolution will set in with doubts and self-loathing, all fodder for demonism to take hold and seep its way into the humanity mainstream, fracturing any hope of surviving.

Here Jordan Graham crafts a deeply dark and disturbing tale, which will resonate for some, or find the stylisations too much to bear and ultimately turn them off.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Awoken (2020)

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I gotta say that I was pleasantly surprised by Awoken. I had prejudiced this Horror, Mystery, Thriller on face value because of its quiet film release here in Australia where it premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival and has been subjected to the Straight to Home Entertainment release.

This is an unfair judgement on my behalf though, as Awoken is one of those admittedly middle-of-the-road movies, but it does just enough to keep you hooked and entertained to its conclusion, which is a testament to Director Daniel J. Phillips and his writing partner Alan Grace.

Phillips chooses to keep his setting simple, predominately in one location and in doing so, can heighten the tension surrounding his key players, whilst keeping the budget low.

HIs storytelling is also strong, flicking from past and present with the use of old medical tapes that the research team slowly trickle through to gain an understanding of what they are up against.

And the choice of subject matter in Fatal Familial Insomnia is also one that sparks the imagination of terror in us all as this disorder affects the thalamus, part of the brain structure that controls our emotional expression and can lead to lack of sleep and dementia. 

With a select group of subjects, a small medical team, led by leading doctor, Robert (Erik Thomsen), go all flatliners and try to do some underground research in literally an underground laboratory in the hopes of finding a cure or a breakthrough to help those suffering from this condition. Robert has had previous experience in conducting similar experiments and serves as  the chief advisor and patriarchal figure of the group.

Our lead protagonist, Karla (Sara West – Ash Vs Evil Dead) is one of these medical students, who’s brother Blake (Benson Jack Anthony – Cleverman) suffers from the genetic insomnia condition and is subjected to this observation trial. The clue here is in the genetics component as it its revealed that their mother also had the same condition and was subjected to similar medical trials.

It is through their studies though that things begin to escalate. Cut off from the world above and incredibly sleep deprived, both patients and medics alike begin to hallucinate.

Is this the instabilities of the mind though? Or is there demonic possession at play?

The Prognosis:

Awoken doesn’t break new ground in the realms of science vs religion and suspected demonic possession, but what it does do well is construct a tight knit, well crafted storyline that drip feeds the tension whilst building up the paranoia and uncertainty of reality.

Some of the effects are a bit tried and tested, falling into the fairly predictable terrain, but Director Daniel J. Phillips has carefully positioned the audience into a false sense of security and then dialling up the entertainment level, whilst spinning a strong thriller that poses all the right questions towards a highly amped ending.

Surprisingly good and well worth checking out.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Mary Reilly (1996)

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25 years ago, Mary Reilly was released, a film based on the novel by Valerie Martin – an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Unfortunately however, it would receive a scathing response from both critics alike, despite its star pulling power from its leads Julia Roberts and John Malkovich. It would also see the reteaming of Malkovich with Glenn Close and director Stephen Frears, who worked together on the highly successful Dangerous Liasons.
Many critics claim that they were struck down with boredom and there were rumours abound that both Roberts and Malkovich were estranged on set.

What may have not helped matters was that only a few years earlier Francis Ford Coppola directed his take on another Gothic classic, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Kenneth Brannagh also directed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, both semi faithful to their respective texts, so some audiences may have expected some of the same, despite Mary Reilly being a very different kind of story.

So, did these initial thoughts hold merit or were the audience at the time misguided by their misguided expectations?

On face value, the pace is indeed slow and meandering, which instinctively would turn people astray, especially if they were hoping for some high tempo, doom and gloom affair that would represent the Gothic era.

This is a tale with a different bent though, where the subject matter is told by an observer (the titular Mary Reilly) as opposed to the first person narrative that is usually associated with the story as told by Dr. Jekyll.

There were slings and arrows cast at the questionable choice of Julia Roberts in the lead role, playing Mary. an Irish lass, who has only known humanities suffering in life, brought up impoverished and neglected, forced to earn a living as a maid-in-waiting. Her mental scars make her the perfect subject for Dr. Jekyll’s own fascination into the dark psyche of the mind.

In some ways I can understand the ferocity of the audience’s convictions, when surely someone who could pull off a decent accent and a more believable reflection of someone who was brought up from poor stock. Roberts never quite conveys this to the audience, but to be nominated for the Razzie Awards for Worst Actress seems a bit harsh as there are some genuine moments that you can feel the pain etched on her face.

Malkovich seems content to play what some feel is a monotonous performance, but personally I like his subtle changes and inflections in his delivery and none-more-so than when he brings the ghastly Mr Hyde to the fore. Along with it the darkest side of humanity into a world that would be shocked by his demeanour.

Glenn Close’s role too as the Mrs Farraday, a madam of notorious whorehouse, who also harbours the secret comings and goings of Mr. Hyde’s curious pleasures are simply wonderful, proving that she always adds strength and worth to her performances. It’s a shame then, that she is underused in this instance as it would have been fascinating to see her bring that weight into the fold more often.

Lastly, comes the hand and vision of Director Stephen Frears, who also found himself at the mercy of a Razzy Award nomination. Again, I argue if this is merited. Perhaps I should confess here how much I really adore Frears early works, My Beautiful Launderette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liasons, and The Grifters. And when you cast your eye against some of his latter work, admittedly Mary Reilly pales in comparison, but deep in its heart is a film that deserves second viewing.
If you can subject yourself to the laborious way the tale is told and sure, that dodgy accent, there is a beating and pained heart, driving the core theme of horror, which at first turns you away, but slowly the lure of the human behind the beast shines through. One that those who have damaged or been damaged can truly understand. These kindred people, united with a common trauma provide a fascinating subject. Frears may fall short on occasion with his delivery, but the journey still intrigues.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Boss Level (2021)

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Director Joe Carnahan has already shown us the lengths that humankind will go to in order to survive an horrific ordeal in The Grey and Smokin’ Aces.

In his latest offering Carnahan brings a movie that does exactly what it says on the tin: An action-packed, time-loop thrill ride that is filled with humour and plenty of heart.

Carnahan provides his spin on Groundhog Day for the action genre.

The premise is a simple one, but told in a unique twisting delivery of the story that pulsates as it captivates.

Frank Grillo (The Purge franchise) stars as Roy Pulver, a washed up, drinking and desperate man, who despite his cavalier ways, still yearns for the love of his life, Jemma (Naomi Watts).
Pulver is so broken that in his mind, his life is beyond fixing, but that all changes when he starts to relive the same day, which just so happens to be the day he died. And no matter how much he weaves and turns, his fate always remains the same. It doesn’t help that his death appears to be at the hands of trained assassins, so he must learn to outwit, outsmart, and outpunch them all to find out who is behind this tirade of carnage and reach that ultimate ‘boss level’ and maybe, just maybe win back the heart of Jemma.

The script is sharp and funny, whilst providing some fun and bloody ways for Pulver to die each day, but much like similar gaming platforms, it appears that he has an infinite amount of lives,  and with every life lost, his strength and wisdom to the laws of the land grow.

But is time inevitably running out for Pulver?

“TIME WAITS FOR NO MAN. BUT WAIT TILL TIME MEETS FRANK GRILLO”

Providing the powerful impact that Boss Level has on the audience is a cracking cast supporting both Grillo and Watts.

Mel Gibson quips his way through the movie as the delectably evil boss, intent on pushing his staff to the limits, bending all the rules in order to get what he wants.

Annabelle Wallis (Peaky Blinders) as the femme fatale, harbouring a secret, Ken Jeong as the comic relief with Chef Jake, and Michelle Yeoh as… you guessed it, a martial arts expert Dai Feng, who will provide the necessary skills to complete his quest.

The Prognosis:

Boss Level doesn’t shy away from its core.

Taking ownership of the fun-thrilled, action thriller with a Groundhog Day gamification structure.

Joe Carnahan takes delight in turning Frank Grillo’s Roy Pulver into a punchbag of entertainment, pulling out all the stops to twist the genre on its head and inside out in the name of a gut-wrenching, hell-bent and humorous ride through time, and humanity.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this much pleasure in watching a movie. 

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Jungle Woman (1944)

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Following on from the relative hit of Captive Wild Woman the year before, Universal felt strongly that they had a potential hit series on their hands, especially with “exotic beauty” Acquanetta in their stable to recreate her character of Paula Dupree aka The Ape Woman. 

Universal later revealed that Jungle Woman was an ashamed attempt to rewrite Cat People with a woman transforming into an ape instead of a leopard.
Naturally this would be difficult to translate as the sexual feline factor is lost and as such, rewrites were put in place to make the transition psychological instead.

J. Carrol Naish plays a more than accomplished role as Dr. Carl Fletcher, whose character is in stark contrast to John Carradine’s warped and twisted Dr. Sigmund Walters from the previous film.
This is a deliberate ploy on the part of the screenwriters, Bernard L. Schubert, Henry Sucher and Edward Dein as they present Dr Fletcher on trial for the murder of Paula Dupree at the start of the film, leaving the audience to question how genuine his plee of innocence claims to be. This is weighted even more so when he professes his guilt until he is then forced to tell the true story through a feature length flashback.

The trouble is that the plot is essentially an incredibly weak one and doesn’t offer a lot in expanding the universe or subjecting any real terror on the audience.

The film finds Paula Dupree in an insane asylum having been taken under Dr. Fletcher’s wing after he witnesses the climax of the last film.
Dr. Fletcher is fascinated by this animal magnetism that Paula presents, but fails to realise the true threat that she possesses, especially as her jealousy is fuelled once more when she falls for Bob (Douglass Dumbrille). 

Unfortunately, Bob only has eyes for Joan (Lois Collier), Dr Fletcher’s daughter and with it our love triangle is formed.

The beats are all too familiar and the film shuffles along without any real purpose or direction, so when the inevitable conclusion does arise, we’re left a little bereft of satisfaction.

Jungle Woman does benefit from some early cameos though from Evelyn Ankers (who continues to impress on my journey through the Universal vault) and Milburn Stone who both return to reprise their roles and present the case for Dr. Fletcher’s defence.

The film would ultimately be the last for Acquanetta and Universal as the model felt that she was being used and thus refused to renew her contract, despite the production company having bold plans for her to return again.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Shook (2021)

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Shook, the latest Original offering from Shudder attempts to examine the vacuous nature that Social Media harbours from reality.

Unlike previous films that have tackled a similar subject in Spree or Cam, this home invasion prank gone wrong, misses the mark by a country mile.

Writer, director Jennifer Harrington has a difficult task to pull her audience in by projecting her lead character Mia (Daisye Tutor) as a social media star, who has turned her back on her ailing mother in pursuit of recognition and fame.

The cost of which would come back to haunt her.

By painting Mia in such a dark light from the get go however, the audience struggle to connect with her and feel for her plight. In many ways, this same mould is what turned me off another social media horror film, Unfriended, where all of these characters were instantly likeable.

So as much as Harrington puts Mia through the wringer, we’re always going to struggle with caring for her.

The majority of the film centres around Mia’s family home, where she has come to look after her sister’s dog. Her sister, Nicole (Emily Goss) has flown to San Francisco for medical tests, for a crippling disease that her mother died from. At first the audience are completely unaware of the prank as Mia hooks into her various social platforms, ironically feeling isolated from the world despite being connected in the cyberworld.

To use yet another couple of films as referential points, there are elements of Scream and When A Stranger Calls when Mia receives a telephone call from the mysterious Kellan across the road and with it, our primary suspect looms large.

Slowly it is revealed that the sinister phone calls and threats to the dog and her “social” friends was just a prank, which is where we the audience are then meant to feel sorry for Mia, subjected to bullying tactics for the sake of money and online recognition. The twist then hits when someone has turned the prank on them all and begins to subject Mia to a torturous game of choice. 

Here, Harrington really labours the point further about how neglectful Mia was towards her mother during her time of need, marking this as a personal vendetta and once again subjects our protagonist onto the pile of the damned. 

And when our reveal occurs, Shook falls so swiftly and easily into predictable territory that we’re beyond caring about the outcome.

The Prognosis:

It feels like a slow start for horror streaming platform Shudder, with the painfully slow A Nightmare Wakes and now the lack of originality in Shook, this year doesn’t seem to have been able to shift out of second gear.

Shook is a middle of the road fair which fails to ignite anything beyond the flatline of a thriller, straining to find a resemblance of a pulse.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: The Dustwalker (2020)

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Having lived on this Great Southern Land for the past 16 years now, a land that I love to call home, I feel an enormous sense of pride when this country produces some of the stellar horror films that Australians can lay claim to. From The Babadook, The Loved Ones, Razorback, Killing Ground, Lake Mungo, Relic, Cargo, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Wolf Creek, and Patrick to highlight just some of the great films produced in the genre over the years.

So when I hear of a new Aussie horror film in the works, I sense that tingling of excitement that brims to the surface and the majority of the time, that feeling is met with satisfaction. More recently The Furies was a gloriously produced hell fire film and proved to have that wicked sense of humour that Australians relish and inject into their films to give them some sense of character.

I say all this to give you, the reader, a sense of my mindset when I approach these films.

So when I heard about The Dustwalker, set in a small isolated town in Australia. Nice.

Infected by an insidious bug. Double nice.

That turns the local residents into killing machines. And there’s the trifecta.

I was triply keen to see how this film would pay out.

Now the cast are no strangers to quality drama. Jolene Anderson (Harrow) plays the town sheriff, Richard Davies (Offspring) plays her deputy, and Cassandra Magrath (Wolf Creek).

So it’s not necessarily the players that are at fault here.

The director, Sandra Sciberras is also into her fourth feature behind the camera and armed with a bucket load of producer credits to her name is no stranger to the industry.

The film never really manages to lift itself off the ground though.

It had plenty of promise as a meteor crash lands and we get our first victim, who comes across the object and is immediately infected. 

As the locals slowly become infected, our leads try to figure out what is going on, but the issue arises in the weakness of the writing.

The script offers nothing for the actors to work with, reduced to simple dialogue and when charged with an action sequence, only have it fizzle out into nothing.

I really wish the film was packed with vigour to keep the pace high and the entertainment levels projected up alongside what we are so used to with the calibre of talent that Australians have on show, but the ending says it all as we’re left scratching our head and wondering what it was all in aid of.

It’s hard to tell if Scribberas was trying to pay homage to sci-fi thrillers of yester-year, such as The Body Snatchers, or Tremors to a degree, but she unfortunately misses the mark on so many counts and the audience is left stranded with little or no connection to the movie.

The Prognosis:

It’s a bitter pill to swallow this one.

Lots of promise, but ultimately there’s no sizzle or bite for any appeal to originate from.

A bland story that could have been so much more.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Little Things (2021)

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On paper, The Little Things boasts some pretty big elements.

First up the cast.

Denzel Washington, who always brings an essence of suave and cool to his roles without showing any effort at all. Here is provided the perfect canvas to etch out his craft playing deputy sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon lured back into the sin city of Los Angeles with a potential serial killer on the loose that could potentially spark the same kind of fear that was drawn by The Night Stalker.

Accompanying him is hot shot detective Jimmy Baxter (equally hotter than hot right now, Rami Malek) who strives to put an end to the suffering inflicted by this seditious killer at all costs. 

And Jared Leto as the chief suspect in the two detectives investigations, Albert Sparma, an eccentric recluse, who is just a little too out of sync with the world that he instantly draws your attention. Leto’s performance is once again a stand out, proving that he can easily shift into the quirky state of mind and pull you in. So much so that he rightfully earned his Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Supporting Actor.

Secondly, The style and setting.

LA will always project a certain amount of style onto the screen, with its vast spreading landscape and the golden charade promised at the lands west, but is and always will be shrouded by its corruptibility and dark past.
The city and its landscape slips easily into the neo-noir crime world painted by director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Highwaymen). In many ways it is the perfect place to mould the dark etchings of life and shed light on the most darkened souls.

In doing so, Hancock is constantly posing the question of what drives a person to reach their end? Are we all blinded by our own pursuits to reach our goal that we fail to see the bigger picture? And even when we believe that we have attained our needs and salvated our lust for success and exposed our inner hedonistic tendencies and the narcissist that we believe lies dormant at our core, we simply get blinded once more. The circle continues as we spiral into the murky terrain.

All of these elements are to be applauded including some stunning shots by cinematographer John Schwartzman, but there’s something that doesn’t quite sit right that lurks beneath the surface of this incredibly lush and stylised story.

The Prognosis:

Yes we are lured in by the intelligence of Washington’s inquisitive mind combined with the fiery, passionate temperament of Malik, but ultimately the dots don’t join together and the plot doesn’t hold enough substance to grip you into its fold.
Instead we’re cast around carelessly from one lead to another and expected to forgive these missteps towards an admittedly bold and decisive ending. But by the time we’re presented with that compelling turn off the narrative highway, we’re too lost in the searing heat of confusion, trying to make sense of it all.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Breach (2020)

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Towards the end of 2020 a low-budget sci-fi, horror flick was released in selected theatres and across VOD and digital platforms with little or nor fanfare.

Perhaps this isn’t really a surprise as we currently go through the COVID age.

Yet it does star big action hitters in Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane, so what gives? Is Breach a dud or a hidden gem, list in the midst of a torrid climate?

For starters, the premise doesn’t offer anything new.
Earth is facing extinction, so a spaceship called The Ark is about to be launched with 300, 000 survivors bound for a quest to start a new colony on a livable planet called New Earth.

To prepare for the long journey the survivors must go into stasis and among them is a pregnant young girl, Hayley (Kassandra Climenti. The father of her child, Noah (Is that really the name choice they went for?? Talk about obvious!!!) is not one of the selected so chooses to stowaway in order to stay with his family.

Whilst on board, Noah takes on the role of a junior janitor as part of the maintenance crew that are charged with keeping the ship on course while the passengers are in safety. Part of this crew is Willis as a mechanic called Clay. He reluctantly takes Noah under his wing just as all hell goes loose when two of the crew become infected with a parasite.

Once the parasite takes hold of its host, the infected soon become walking zombies, shuffling around (or in some cases leaping) as they begin to wipe out the crew one by one.

The Prognosis:

The effects are cheap and in some cases are passable, but the final creature when revealed is so shonky and unnaturalistic that it really takes you out of the picture but that might be being too harsh on a film that doesn’t exactly shy away from its obvious faults. The film isn’t about the special effects, which is a little odd considering that its a sci-fi picture and these days that element is highly relied upon.

Instead, it relies on the camaraderie of its on screen talent to try and win you over.

In that sense, Willis does his usual gung-ho attitude and chews up the scenery whenever possible, chucking out quips that are obviously lifted from greater films of the genre, but nonetheless come across as humorous in this case.

And when Willis isn’t on scene, you can rely on Thomas Jane to chew up the scenery more as the hard-headed Admiral. A man who lives and breathes the Army and just so happens to be the father of the afore-mentioned Hayley.

If your in the mindset for a sci-fi action film that may not exactly set the world alight but is entertaining regardless, then this will provide enjoyable viewing.

If it’s full to the tilt, action-packed, high quality that you’re after however… you’ll be left disappointed.

  • Saul Muerte