Movie review: Annihilation


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Annihilation is an all female-led science fiction film about guilt, biology, and the human tendency for self-destruction. So I guess its no wonder Paramount dumped it on Netflix after loosing sleep over its box-office appeal.

It copped some controversy after being caught up in a battle between the studio and director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) for being “too intellectual.” While financially the studio’s fears were confirmed, visually its damn lucky they didn’t water it down. This is a film with a cool plot and some downright lush visuals.

Natalie Portman is Lena, a cellular biology professor who is recruited along with four others to study a quarantine zone in a swampy corner of America called The Shimmer. Lena’s reasons for accepting the mission are more personal than scientific: her military husband is the only person to enter The Shimmer and come out alive. You just know this is going to be a twofold journey: a trek through an alien landscape, and the dark emotional landscape of the protagonist.

The first scene we’re given after entering The Shimmer is the inside of a tent which feels like an odd and underwhelming decision by the director. But when Lena emerges from the tent and announces she remembers nothing since passing through the shimmery wall, it feels like the perfect way to introduce this strange new world.

Without giving too much away, something is seriously not right within The Shimmer. As the scientists begin to join the dots, the film shifts gears into “thriller” mode. But don’t get too excited; while there are some excellent tension-filled scenes – one in particular involving a bear-creature that echoes screams of agony from its latest victim – Annihilation never crosses fully into the horror genre. It’s an enjoyable ride, but nothing to write home about.

It’s the ending that’s the kicker. Garland tackles some complex conceptual territory (at least for this High School Science flunker) that will probably require a debrief with a mate, or at the very least a quick Google. Up until this point Annihilation was lingering dangerously close to being mediocre, but the last few scenes cement it as a Sci-Fi classic.

The Diagnosis:
So is it as amazing as you’ve heard? Probably not. Should you see it? Absolutely.

– Ellin Williams

Movie review: Veronica


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Veronica. Went into this film after reading articles about people who couldn’t sit through the whole thing.
Too scary. Too terrifying. Based on a true story. Too real. Mummy hold my hand… that kind of thing.

So, maybe I’m the exception. Maybe I watch too many horror films and I’ve become immune to the horrors of a Ouija bored (slightly concerning).
However, I was no where near having to switch it off. Far from it. Veronica had me glued to the screen from start to finish. It’s what horror film dreams are made of.
I’d run off into the sunset with this film if I could. Finally, a horror to arrest the recent run of iffy films on Netflix. Your horror film prayers have been answered.

The Spanish horror directed by Paco Plaza ([rec])is set in 1991 Madrid. Sandra Escacena gives an eerily intense performance as Veronica, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who cares for her siblings while her mother works round the clock at a local café.
Veronica rounds up a few pals for a Ouja board sesh during a solar eclipse in hope of contacting her late father. Then, things go haywire. DUN DUN DUNN.

It’s not an original story. It’s conjuring-ish, exorcism-esque you get the idea.
However, Veronica is a thematic patchwork. An exploration of the inner landscape of a teenager who has lost her father and has had to grow up all too quickly.
She is pulled and pushed by different forces throughout the film, not only by the spirit haunting her but also the fatigue and parental solitude forced upon her by her mother.
The demon acts as a specter for unwanted maturity. Her innocence and stunted growth are highlighted when we discover that Veronica is yet to have her first period. This symbolism is carried throughout in various scare-rific ways.

In one of the most chilling scenes in the film, Veronica imagines herself being eaten alive by her brothers and sisters.
A terrifying metaphor for how working class families had to disassemble in order to function.
Good luck getting that creepy image out your head for the next three days. Opt for vegetarian snacks.

The cinematography in Veronica is beautiful. Plaza and his team stay away from the stark, realist lighting of most modern horror films.
The lighting gives us a phantasmal mix of the surreal and reality. I find films are more chilling when they feel real. Veronica feels real.
Its in Spanish too, how real can you get? Plaza has hit the nail on the head with highlighting that Veronica is a true story.

The Diagnosis:
See? Horror films aren’t always small budgets and cheap scares. Veronica is certainly not profound or ground breaking but its nice to know that some good old fashioned metaphors lurk beneath. Veronica has meat on its bones.

– Breana Garratt

Movie review: The Strangers 2: Prey at Night


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It seems like there’s never a perfect recipe for a decent sequel, but ask The Surgeons team and we can tell you that an essential ingredient is that it needs to create the look and feel of the original whilst expanding on the universe with enough of something new that doesn’t take too drastically away from its predecessor.

The Strangers entered the horror genre to mixed reactions. Some either loved it or were unmoved.
I for one fell into the former character and loved the protagonists played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as less than idealised version of a ‘perfect’ couple.
The isolation and intimacy helped add to the angst that these characters were faced with when 3 masked figures broke creating an anarchy through a ‘house invasion’ style horror simply because “You were home”.

10 years later, Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) would bring back Doll Face, Pin Up Girl, and the Man in the Mask to a whole new audience and hoping to find that magic recipe for this feature to stand head and shoulders alongside the first film.

Does he succeed?
Well let’s look at the offering.
The family unit has expanded from broken couple to broken family of 2.4 children. Christina Hendricks notably pulls off a fine performance as the matriarch with little effort needed on her part, such is the strength of her acting.
It is the kids though that blossom in this movie as they are forced to use their own wits and methods of survival in order to overcome the ordeal.

Exchange the isolated house setting from the first film with near-abandoned trailer park for the second, which allows our protagonists various methods of ‘safe haven’ only to produce more invasions from our antagonists to wreak havoc upon, including a car invasion at one stage.

Roberts certainly knows his stuff when it comes to horror with knowing nods to the slasher genre embedded throughout this film, most notably Halloween and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
And there are elements one of his early films, F is also on display here too.
So you’d think that this would be a walk in the park for Roberts to rekindle the mayhem of The Strangers, but too often he falls foul of typical horror tropes and repeats said formula throughout the movie.

Pop music from the 80s is used to heighten the sense of nostalgia whilst juxtaposing the sweet, candy style rhythms against the harsh horrors on the screen, which is either hit (Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart during a swimming pool scene, which also hangs on the screen for a measure amount of time while one of the characters’ life also hangs in the balance)or miss (Kim Wilde’s Kids In America).

In addition, there are moments where he stretches the realms of believability a bit too far that it breaks the moment and thrusts you out of the picture.
And in doing so renders the antagonists as less of a threat, which is a shame.

The Diagnosis:
It’s cheese on toast, with the the tones of the original dialled up.
Some might like the palate that is served up, happy to languish in a paint by numbers horror.
Others may grimace at how formulaic it becomes as you are forced through the ‘twee zone’ until the films conclusion.
It’s enjoyable enough, with strong performances from its cast but the impact is not as effective as its predecessor.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Tarnation


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Before I even start to discuss the movie, I have to commend Australian director, Daniel Armstrong for bringing the word, Tarnation back into the vocabulary, even if it is just for the title of his latest feature.

Armstrong has been making a strong name for himself in the low budget, ‘B-Movie’ scene, and each film released reflects how much he has developed his craft.

Tarnation presents itself as Australia’s bastardised distant cousin to The Evil Dead injecting a similar tone and humour that pits Oscar (Daisy Masterman) against a demonic force in a remote cabin retreat.

There are so many beautifully disturbing moments within this movie ranging from penis bugs to demonic unicorns, that every scene becomes a delight to behold.

By far the best moment for me is when Oscar comes face-to-face with a zombie kangaroo that she has to physically outbox to survive. You can’t get more absurd and Australian than that.

Masterman (a regular collaborator with Armstrong having appeared in MurderDrome and Sheborg Massacre) offers a standout performance as Oscar, offering both vulnerability and strength with relative ease and believability. She also has a deft touch of comedy in her bones that make her character incredibly likeable to boot.

In fact the humour on display is definitely one of Tarnation’s selling points as it ploughts along with a decent balance of comedy and the macabre.

Speaking of…

The effects and gore on display are suitably gruesome and gnarly and Armstrong manages to up the ante with every crazed situation that our heroine faces. You can see that there is a lot of love and dedication placed in ‘old school’ effects that is arguably lacking in modern filmmaking.

The Diagnosis:
Armstrong manages to inject a sublime blend of crazed anarchy, bloody mayhem, with a dash of tongue-in-cheek comedy, proving that he is a master of his craft.

There’s potential for more in this universe too, and I for one would love to see Oscar take on the demons once again.
Tarnation is a glorious roller-coaster ride of a movie that is fun-filled to the core.

– Saul Muerte

Catch the screening of Tarnation at the MonsterFest Travelling Sideshow in Sydney on SUNDAY MARCH 11TH  2:15PM.

Daniel Armstrong interview

Tarnation director Daniel Armstrong caught up with the Surgeons of Horror team to discuss his career, including his upcoming crowdfunding feature, Nova Star.
Check out the podcast here:

Movie review: The Moosehead Over The Mantel



On paper The Moosehead Over The Mantel is another horror anthology movie, but there’s more than meets the Elks eye on this occasion.

According to the producers, the film is loosely inspired by notorious figures such as; ‘ H.H. Holmes, The Bender Family, Lizzie Borden, Carl Panzram and The Fox Sisters, as well as the Spiritualism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the rise of psychiatric pharmacology in the 1970s and ‘80s.’

These insights are plain to see as we are taken on a journey through various time periods, ranging from the 1880’s to the 1980’s with differing tales of morbidity, murder, and depravity.

The first thing that strikes you though is the unique choice of camera angles to tell these stories, using various taxidermy animals on the walls (including the titular Moosehead) and the occasional character POV’s of the victims.

The second thing that hits you is that all of the different stories take place in the same room over the different time periods and you can’t help but marvel at the set design that allows you to feel transported through the years in the same location.

The last thing that makes this movie stronger is its theatrical nature of the acting style on screen, and it comes as no surprise upon further research that the most of the six directors have a background in producing and performing live theatre.

Chief among the performances is Jessi Gotta’s, who set up the production company Inappropriate Films, and not only is the writer, producer, and director of the 1945 segment, but is also the lead actress in the 1980’s segment.
In both her roles, she produces a natural performance and down-to-earth, realistic performances in those she directs that make her a name duly worth noting for the future.
That’s not to deter from the other moments in the film, which each deal with macabre scenes that hint at incest, lust, and brutal savagery.


The Diagnosis:
It’s worthy film that enables to weave in six different tales prove disturbing and compelling.
The strong theatrical direction helps cement the reality of the horror on display whilst using distinctive cinematography to lift this movie above the standard genre anthologies.

– Saul Muerte


Catch the screening of The Moosehead Over The Mantel at the MidWest WierdFest.

You can already purchase discounted day or full festival passes to the 2018 festival here, through the festival’s ticketing partner site FilmFreeway.  (Tickets to individual films will be available closer to the festival, directly via the website of the Micon Budget Downtown Cinema). Go on. Get weird!

Movie review: Mom and Dad


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Most parents will identify with the struggles that they encounter when raising children, and that strange balance of absolute despair and unwavering love that they have for their own kids.

It’s this balance that writer, director, Brian Taylor scrutinizes and tinkers with, asking the question, what happens when that need to protect and care for your offspring has a switch that is flipped and the desire to kill takes over.

It’s a controversial topic that Taylor lifts the lid upon and not only singles out one family, but makes this a global issue. It’s one that needs to be addressed with no real answer offered up by the director, which is interesting position that he chooses to go with.

Whilst choosing to tell the tale as a global epidemic with parents heading out to murder their children, we’re hit with troubling images head-on when a mother deliberately abandons her child in a car upon the railway tracks, as a speeding train plows into it.
A shocking image that as a parent myself, I found deeply uncomfortable to view, and sets the tone throughout the film, and pushes me to areas that I found hard to take as a result. For that end the movie certainly does its job in presenting some horrific scenes, notably when one mother attempts to kill her newborn in a birthing suite.

The global epidemic plays out like something from Dawn of the Dead, with news bulletins, chat shows, and reports playing out on screens in stages as the story unfolds.
One particularly glorious scene involves a ‘zombie-like’ rampage as hordes of parents scale the school gates and chase their own throughout the grounds, with some disturbing scenes unfolding before you.

Part of this film’s appeal comes with the killer casting of the storylines Mom and Dad, with Nicolas Cage suitably restrained and playing to his age, whilst still giving his ‘ham and cheese’ moment which had become his schtick over the years.

It’s the refreshing presence of Selma Blair though that steals a lot of the scenes, showcasing her delicate, caring mother, to a murderous, gleeful, maniacal figure, who is hell-bent on destroying her kin. Blair’s delivery is wonderfully subtle and as a viewer she plays with your desire for her to show that loving spirit her character displayed in the earlier scenes, and cruelly pulls away from that every time. It leaves you wanting to see more of her on screen again.

It’s worth noting that the children, Zackary Arthur and Anne Winters pull off some strong performances that keep you rooting for them to survive their ordeal, but the final scenes are almost completely stolen away by a Lance Henriksen’s cameo.


The Diagnosis:

Some of the director’s style allows the movie to come across as quite sparse in places, but Taylor clearly has a knack for allowing the actor’s room to breathe on screen, whilst delivering a hefty punch.

The subject matter can make you feel uncomfortable in places, but this only makes the movie all the more stronger as a result.
Potentially this film may fall under the radar, which would be a shame as it’s a decent entry into the genre.


– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Future


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Ever felt like your life was fading into oblivion without a single blip on the radar screen?

What if, one night some one broke into your house and kidnaped you, only to tell you that they are from the future and you only have 4 days left to live?

What’s more, they could offer you the chance of an alternate; one of happiness, on one condition…
By the end of the 4 days you must kill someone.

What would you do?
How would you cope?
How would you spent the last few days of your life?
And when it comes to the crunch, would you be able to take someone’s life?

This is the dilemma that Doug Erickson, Tea Barista faces as he oscillates between ending it all or continuing on the strange journey that now lies before him.

Guiding him along the way is the shambles wreck of a time traveller played by (Phreddy Wischusen) who comes across as a warped version of Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life, accompanied some mysterious henchmen in white masks.

It was refreshing to see Conor Sweeney (The Editor) on the screen again as Kyle, the local drug dealer, and the presence he brings as a guy who actually cares about Doug and tries to lure him back into the real world.

The Diagnosis:

Whilst the acting can be a bit hit and miss, It’s a tough topic that directors Rob Cousineau, and Chris Rosie present the audience with and they should be commended for approaching it in a bold, new way.
Fans of Indie cinema may be pleasantly surprised with the final result and the journey that Doug undertakes to come to his ultimate decision.

  • Amber Gooerty

Catch the screening of Future at the MidWest WierdFest.

You can already purchase discounted day or full festival passes to the 2018 festival here, through the festival’s ticketing partner site FilmFreeway.  (Tickets to individual films will be available closer to the festival, directly via the website of the Micon Budget Downtown Cinema). Go on. Get weird!

Movie review: The Ritual


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A thick Swedish forest looms ahead; dark and foreboding. Four hikers on a boy’s trip decide to cut through it, veering off the path, to get help for their injured mate. Spoiler: this turns out to be a very bad idea. Like the promotional tagline warned; they should have gone to Vegas.

The Ritual is based on the novel by Adam Nevill. It’s the sort of book that plants deep roots into your head that won’t let go. The sort of book that makes you think; “someone should really make this into a film.”

And someone did.

Director David Bruckner (V/H/S) does a killer job creating a genre film of the ancient-Nordic-folk-horror variety. He excels at creating glimpses of things that may or may not be there, unseen things darting between the branches. You’ll find yourself nervously squinting at a wall of trees along with the protagonist.

At first, the bad omens occur in the form of a gutted deer dangling from a tree, then come creepy carvings and a Wicker-Man style twig effigy. But these are nothing compared to the true evil lurking deeper into the shadows.

As the intensity of their situation increases, the already rocky relationship between the men becomes more and more strained. They panic and lose their grip on reality, while we the audience clap our hands in glee from the sheer horror of it all.

You almost don’t want to know what’s stalking them; there’s a wonderful sense of building dread that gets somewhat tarnished when the cause of their distress is finally revealed. This is where the film loses its footing, and the conclusion won’t knock your socks off either.

The Diagnosis:

Not every genre film has to be ‘clever.’ The Ritual proves that when done well, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned, straight-up scary story.


  • Ellin Williams

Movie review: Hellraiser: Judgement


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Before we even begin to dissect the latest outing from the Hellraiser franchise, we must first look to its writer and director, Gary J Tunnicliffe.
If ever there was a guy completely immersed in the world of Pinhead and his fellow cenobites it’s Tunnicliffe.
Having provided the make up effects for all the Hellraiser films since Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Tunnicliffe has also written the previous instalment, written and directed the surprisingly decent short, No More Souls: One Last Slice of Sensation. Hell, he’s even played a cenobite in one of the movies.
Now he turns his attention to the director’s chair, which may have horror enthusiasts a little concerned due to the fact that he’s only really dealt with kid friendly films outside of Hellraiser.
But the very fact that he has been so integral to the look and feel of this world, would lead you to believe that he could very well be the man for the job…

However, as much as Judgement is his movie and the look and feel of it is actually quite beautiful and gloriously bloody in places, it never manages to lift itself from the straight-to-video Budget that we find ourselves.

Ignoring, (if at all possible) that Doug Bradley once again has been left in the darkest recesses of the Leviathan’s domain, never to be Pinhead again.
Instead, we’re left with Paul T. Taylor to take on the notorious role, and although he does an ample enough job, it just never feels right, and you’re left hungry for more as a result.

We are treated to a mere 15 seconds or so of Heather Langenkamp playing the landlady of one of the victims, but her presence is soon forgotten as we forced back into the somewhat rickety plot line.

Speaking of which, here is my main grief about this picture.
We’re treated to a fairly decent beginning, introduced to a character called The Auditor, (played by Tunnicliffe) as he goes around reaping the world of demented souls through a fairly grotesque and torturous process, much to the delight of fans no doubt.
The Auditor soon becomes secondary as we follow two brother detectives and a third female detective as they try and uncover who this serial killer is.
The more we deviate away from the sexual, violent, and depraved world of The Auditor, the cheaper and less authentic the film becomes.

Ever since we were introduced to Craig Sheffer’s Detective Joseph Thorne in Hellraiser: Inferno, it feels like filmmakers are compelled to include some downtrodden and beaten detective into the fold, as they try to uncover clues into the hidden world.
This feels to me like it’s completely missing the point of Clive Barker’s original creation.
Detailing people’s obsession with searching for the ultimate in satisfaction and pleasure; pushing themselves beyond the state of ecstasy into a world of no return.
It is this compulsive, addictive personality that is sadly lacking in these later films, and because of this, Pinhead feels more like a voyeur in his own land, and unable to enact the sheer desolation that sent chills to the bone from the original movie.

The Diagnosis:

It’s a brave attempt to lure people back into the world we came to love, but Tunnicliffe’s vision starts with a good pulse, but whimpers out and dies as he drowns in the history of previous outings.
As a result, we’re forever shackled to the walls without ever feeling like we’ve had our souls torn apart.
Instead, like Pinhead throughout this movie, we’re left wallowing and yearning for the days of yore.


Saul Muerte

Movie review: Day of the Dead: Bloodline


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I’m not sure what it is about the Day of the Dead storyline that jars so much.

On paper, it boasts an interesting premise of science vs state. Always at conflict in the real world and makes sense that they would come under close scrutiny when faced with a post apocalyptic world full of zombies.

Arguably though, it is the weakest movie from George A Romero’s original trilogy, and yet, it has now mastered two remakes, one released back in 2008 and one Day of the Dead: Bloodline tries to make its own mark on the subject, leaving many to ask, ‘what’s the point?’

The bones of the original film are still present, with an underground bunker containing some civilians reside under the rule of military personnel.

The changes are significant though. The first is a strangely confusing beginning marking the initial outbreak in a typical American street before taking us to a scientific laboratory to essentially show us the outbreak again, but from the viewpoint of lead character Zoe Parker (Sophie Skelton) a medical student who witnesses her friends and peers all wiped out as carnage ensues within the facility.

Before all this occurs though we are introduced to Max (Johnathon Schaech, a creepy patient who has a serious crush on Zoe, and in case you missed the heavy hint, also happens to have a mysterious blood type. Like that’s not gonna come back later.
Just as Max forces him myself in Zoe, the living dead make their entrance, forcing Zoe to go from one ordeal to another.

Both of her worlds will collide again though, as we pick up our story again as we time jump to a few years down the track, where Zoe lives in the afore-mentioned bunker, and formed a relationship with Baca, the younger brother to the Lieutenant running the military outfit, Miguel.
Cue conflict both internally and externally.

It is on a medicinal run back to the laboratory when their troubles really begin as Max who has somehow partially survived, becoming both walking zombie and human, (essentially this version’s Bub) and perhaps the answer to their salvation.

Of course it won’t go swimmingly for the survivors, but by this point everything feels so bland and blah, blah, blah, that we have gone beyond the point of caring.

Schaech gives a decent performance as the ‘villain’ of the piece, but the one small thread that we can hang onto is that Skelton actually gives a solid performance as Zoe, and this keeps you intrigued enough to push you towards the films conclusion, but just barely.

The Diagnosis:
It’s a fairly stable effort, but neither diminishes or improves upon the original film. Characters are two-dimensional and the plot line is weak, leaving you ultimately back to your original thought… what’s the point.


  • Saul Muerte