As we fast approach the last month of 2019, I realise that there’s a fair few movies that I need to watch in order to satiate my thirst for horror. Among these was the Netflix feature Eli, starring Kelly Reilly, Lili Taylor, and Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink.
Directed by Ciaran Foy (Citadel, Sinister 2) struggles to make a deep impact despite the strong performances from the cast, and I can’t help but feel that this is a combination of Foy’s inability to shift away out of the generic, failing to provide something memorable, and a predictable storyline that is almost too afraid to deliver anything new to the audience, more than comfortable to sit in the middle of the road.
The premise begins with the titular character played by Charlie Shotwell, as a bubble boy, cocooned from the world due to a rare disease that causes a severe reaction if he is exposed to the outside world. When provided with the opportunity to cure him of his affliction, Eli’s parents (Reilly and Max Martini) head to a specialised clinic run by Dr Isabella Horn (Taylor). When things appear to be too good to be true, it’s often the case, and there’s something dark and sinister behind the great doctor and her practice.
As Eli starts to uncover the mystery, he unearths a secret that once exposed will change everything forever. Dare he open Pandora’s Box and who exactly is the mysterious Hayley from next door?
Medical facilities, skin diseases and dark secrets that fuel this horror feature, should be the stuff of every genre fans dreams, but instead of offering up scares Eli remains trapped in formulaic territory and seems comfortable to sit in safe territory.
As such, it’s a mediocre affair – watchable but never truly wets the appetite of any hardened horror enthusiast.
This week’s feature highlight for Trash Night Tuesday on Tubi came as a pleasant surprise to me as not only did it serve as a b-grade sci-fi movie from the 70s but beneath the blatant sexual glorification of women could easily serve today as a mantle for the heavy skewed male gaze at its forefront. With a bit of tweaking, I could see this in a modern setting shining light on the dominant man’s self-righteous and self-interested approach to sex, and their entitlement to women. This would all come crashing down helmed by a female scientist who discovers a way to cross human DNA with bee DNA where the feminine species kills their male counterpart after reaching sexual gratification. This is exactly how I viewed it and as such found myself championing the female cause and Dr Harris (Anitra Ford).
In truth, it heralds itself as a pure titillation flick that subjects women and their form for the satisfaction of the male viewers that it hoped would swarm to the movies to watch the film, and with its cast, including the lead heroine lead librarian, Julie (playmate Victoria Vetri – Rosemary’s Baby).
The premise of the story is a simple one and would serve as a great companion piece to George A Romero’s The Crazies. Set in small town America, the population finds itself in an epidemic when men appear to be dropping dead in the act of love-making. Yes, you heard me right. So the government send in Special Agent Neil Agar (William Smith – Conan The Barbarian) to investigate and kick ass while he’s there.
Agar teams up with Julie to uncover the source of these killings where they undercover Dr.Harris’ laboratory and try to save the local human population.
This is the stuff that only the 70s could dream up. If you’re a fan of b-grade science fiction that is actually a little better than you would expect, then Invasion of the Bee Girls could be just your thing. Plus it boasts screenwriter Nicholas Meyer in his first feature film credit. He would go on to change the face of Star Trek with rewriting and directing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and continue to be an active part in the universe with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and an episode from tv series, Star Trek: Discovery.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since Doctor Sleep hit cinemas and as the steam dissipates I’m left in a bit of a quandary. There seems to be some mixed reviews out there and some pushing into the negative which quite frankly stumped me as I thought it was a well composed and structured movie with plenty of heart and some strong characters for the audience to engage with. So why the backlash?
The answer to this is simple and it’s to do with that giant sized elephant in the room, which is called Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Without doubt this film was a masterpiece and helmed by one of the greatest directors ever. His vision was unique and his interpretation of Stephen King’s novel while not appreciated by the originator has been widely received by the horror community. Those who have read King’s novel though will know that it is vastly different from what was initially conceived and plays more like a man with a severe case of cabin fever and the supernatural elements are considerably downplayed. From my perspective I always loved both versions and viewed them as part of a parallel universe, where Kubrick splintered away from the source material and created a movie that looked at the kernel horror that humanity can display.
So when it was announced that Mike Flanagan was to direct a sequel to The Shining, he faced a conundrum. How would he place the film considering that there are two versions to draw inspiration from. It was a tough task, but he decided to amalgamate the two infused with a vision of his own. This was both masterful and his undoing for it would inevitably divide his audience from those devoted to Kubrick’s world and those eager to see new life in the much older Danny Torrance.
It feels to me that audiences have been clouded (by no fault of their own) by Kubrick’s vision and have neglected the source material in King’s novel, Doctor Sleep; a story that embodies the supernatural and belongs more in the sci-fi fantasy world than that of horror. As such, hardcore horror fans will be left wanting, but I believe Flanagan has been incredibly faithful to King’s tale and added a little Kubrick kink to harness these two worlds and the end result is highly engaging and captivating, proving that he is possibly the best craftsmen working in the industry today. Much like King, Flanagan knows how to spin a tale and in doing, allows the characters to really shine in the movie.
If there was one part that jarred with me, it was in the opening few scenes that painted a younger Danny with his mother (Not Shelley Duvall) in order to lay the foundations of how he suppressed his shining and keeps the ‘entities’ of the Overlook Hotel from feeding from his energy by containing them in boxes within his mind. The minor quibble is in that it is clearly different from the actors we connected with the story from Kubrick’s The Shining, but there is no real way around this without CGI technology to capture the original actors in the younger form. As I stated it’s a minor criticism, and its also necessary to set the scene. Once we move away from this we’re introduced to the characters proper – the older, washed out Danny (Ewan McGregor) who try as he might is destined to walk in his fathers’ footsteps and has succumbed to alcoholism. He eventually arrives at a small town in New Hampshire and settles down thanks to a new friend, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who also becomes his AA sponsor and helps him on his new path of sobriety, but in doing so, his shining becomes stronger.
We’re also introduced to some amazing characters in the True Knot (who deserve a spin off series in their own right) a collection of people who feed off the steam (energy) of those who shine. Possibly the most harrowing component from a viewers perspective is that they tend to hone in on children as their shine is stronger. The scene where they lure Bradley, (a kid who is travelling home from his baseball game) to his demise is particularly striking. Led by Rose The Hat (Rebbeca Ferguson), who is the strongest of the group and the lead antagonist in Danny’s epic and climactic confrontation. Other standouts from the group are Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), who serves as the lead predator and a wise figure in the group, the elder Grandpa Flick (Carel Struycken), and their newest addition Snakebite Annie (Emily Alyn Lind) who has the ability to use hypnosis to lure her victims and deserved much longer screen time.
And finally there’s Abra (Kyleigh Curren), a girl with an incredibly strong shining and when her presence becomes known to the True Knot, she must seek help from Danny, whilst channeling her own powers.
The fact that both King and in return Flanagan pay so much time and dedication in building the background to these characters serves as Doctor Sleep’s masterstroke. We’re allowed to care for all of the characters and in doing so, fall deeper into the narrative and are driven to follow them on their journey to their conclusion.
Flanagan is faced with a difficult task in infusing both King and Kubrick’s Shining worlds to create a highly-entertaining sequel. It is filled with the supernatural and characters that shine beyond the screen, whilst providing an engaging narrative with a more than satisfying conclusion.
There will be the doubters, but for this reviewer, Flanagan has created another little gem that proves that he is a masterful storyteller and possibly the best of our generation. I can’t wait to see which story he generates next as I will definitely be at the front of the queue.
Check out our podcast and further thoughts on Doctor Sleephere:
Ten years ago Blumhouse Productions took centre stage on the horror scene when they released what would become a cult classic, Paranormal Activity. Since then, they have become masters of their craft, tapping into the teenage pulses with the Insidious franchise, Sinister, the Purgefranchise, Happy Death Day, Upgrade, and the latest Halloween movie to name just a few of their hits.
With every win though, there have also been some failures. Personally, Unfriended, The Gallows, and The Darkness are all questionable, but some could argue that in order to stay relevant then Blumhouse can’t always have a 100% success rate. There have to be a few trips along the way as they continue to learn and create new ways to fright and delight.
So where does that leave MA? Released in the States back in May, and with a fairly average Box Office return, the rest of the world would have to wait for the On Demand release which wouldn’t come about until September this year. All this doesn’t bode well and deserves closer scrutiny as to why MA failed to resonate with its audience.
Firstly, let’s look at its strengths, or in this case its one redeeming feature: Octavia Spencer. There’s good reason that she has had three Academy Award nominations and one win to her name and thanks to her talents, the audience is able to stick with this film longer than its weak plot line deserves.
Octavia plays Sue Ann, a local vet who is extends a hand to a group of teenagers looking to buy some booze. “When Sue Ann obliges, the group are beside themselves by there’s more to the pleasant exterior, and Sue Ann slowly reveals her true methods in quite possibly the longest revenge act in history. Hell she waited a whole generation. It’s a shame as with a bit more effort and attention to detail with some depth of character, we may have ended up with a fairly decent thriller. It doesn’t matter how deep Octavia channels her inner psycho, there’s only so much acting chops to dish out before the audience realises that she’s hauling around a cadaver of a script.
The teenagers themselves are incredibly week and two dimensional, with Maggie – new girl to the neighbourhood and our lead protagonist seemingly the only one to see through Sue Ann’s facade. By which time, we couldn’t really care less and when the film tries to let everything off at the hinges, most audience members would have already bolted out of the door or stopped streaming by this point. The actions are tiresome and in some places laughable that we really don’t give a damn what happens anymore.
It does boast a couple of decent supporting roles in brooding Luke Ford as one of the kids fathers, Alison Janney as a grumpy boss, and Juliette Lewis as Maggie’s mother and potentially the second decent thing about this movie. You feel for her plight as a single mother trying to make ends meet and resorting to coming back to her home town despite trying to break free from her old shackles. And hey, it’s Juliette Lewis God Damn It! This lady is always a pleasure to watch.
Octavia Spencer steals the show as the unhinged Ma, but all that’s left behind is dead weight and a poor plot line. This has to go down as a misfire from the Blumhouse canon of work.
Eternal Code is one of those movies in which every scene you ask yourself, “Hey I know that guy/girl. Where have I seen them before?”
For me the biggest moment of “Oh hell yeah, that’s right!!” came from realising that the lead villain in the piece, rich tycoon Oliver is played by Richard Tyson – the guy who played the villain in Kindergarten Cop. “Here he deserves top billing, as every scene he’s in he chews it up and completely owns his character and overshadows those around him.
The premise of the movie (similarly to our latest podcast feature on Wes Craven’s Chiller, with cryogenics and immortality at the centrefold. Oliver is pitted against Bridget (Erika Hoveland – Before I Wake) whose company has discovered the elixir of life, a powerful gift in the wrong hands. When Bridget refuses to bow to Oliver’s demands, he takes the law into his own hands and kidnaps her in the hope that he can get the board to approve of his venture.
All would go according to plan, but Oliver didn’t count on down and out, ex-military dude, Corey (Damien Chinappi), who when we first meet him is at the end of his rope following a relationship breakdown, but is swiftly broken from his darkness when he rescues hooker Stephanie from a brutal attack. We see plenty of his action chops coming into play hinting at more to come down the track. Between kicking ass and saving helpless victims, Corey spends the time living on the streets and helping the homeless and others in need. A bit like The Littlest Hobo, only human.
He eventually teams up with Bridget’s daughter Miranda and Stephanie to try and outwit the hoodlums and rescue Bridget.
As mentioned before there are plenty of cameos along the way including Billy Wirth (The Lost Boys) as Bridget’s husband, Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies) also kicking some serious ass I might add, and Mel Novak (Tales of Frankenstein, Game of Death) as one of the company executives.
It’s a low budget thriller that hits a few of its marks, making it an enjoyable watch, albeit a struggle in places. Part of the fun is in the dialogue, particularly in the banter between Corey and one of the hitmen, Sam, who just so happens to be played by the writer and director, Harley Wallen. Well played Harley, well played. And the afore-mentioned Richard Tyson, who looked like he was enjoying every damn minute.
He brings such gravitas to every role he portrays and with it a mantle of work to be proud of. So regardless of the storyline or plot and how thin it maybe, Henriksen will at least ground his role as deep as possible and make it believable.
In this instance, he plays chief medic, Dr. Alexander Crick who exhumes a God-like personality as he approaches his work.
Needlestick may as well play out as a modern take on the Frankenstein tale, with Dr. Crick a carbon copy of the infamous doctor, hellbent on immortality through raising the dead and with a whole hospital as his playing field.
His Igor, a suave and magnanimous assistant, Boris (Jack Noseworthy, who will always be Justin from Event Horizon in this writers’ mind) ably assists Crick in their crazed pursuit of scientific glory.
Standing in their way, is bumbling resident Everett, (Michael Traynor – The Walking Dead, Nicholas), Nurse Marie (Kate Savoy), and patient with a death wish Sarah (Jordan Trovillion).
Throw in Frankenstein’s monster – a disfigured patient under Crick’s control as an overbearing Golem walking the hospital corridors and dispatching numerous characters with infected needles and we have the terror element to the movie.
Its 3.5 rating on IMDB may be a little harsh. Needlestick is a fairly simple premise which offers little to stimulate or promote horror or thrills, so admittedly it fails in this account, but the characters aren’t too formulaic with both Henriksen and Traynor chomping the scenery with much delight.
Worth a watch but may not necessarily get the pulse racing.
It’s been over 20 years since Canadian director, Vicenzo Natali left a highly impressionable mark with his directorial debut, Cube. It’s fair to say, that since then he has never quite had the same response from his movies, but always has a visual style that he draws upon to create his vision.
With In The Tall Grass, Natali’s sixth feature length feature (excluding the cancelled Tremors TV movie last year) it may have proven to be a step too far in translating a novella by Stephen King and Joe Hill into a 1 hour 40 min running time, as he stretches his vision across a broad canvas and in doing so, loses its appeal.
The premise is a simple one. A heavily pregnant Becky and her brother Cal are travelling to San Diego to give up her baby for adoption, when they pull up alongside a field of tall grass. It is here that the siblings hear the voice of a young boy calling for help. As soon as they enter the mysterious void, they fall into a labyrinth of despair that calls upon their wits to fight their way out.
Laboured with strong theology throughout, Becky and Cal must weave their way through the strange and everlasting land, but are constantly confronted by their own inner inhibitions. Doomed to repeat their actions with slight changes, the audience is treated to an insight into how often they try alternate methods, only to be lead back to the centre of the field and a mysterious rock that feeds on energy and life.
Accompanying them in the field is another family (a father, mother, and their son, Tobin), equally lost in their myriad of emotions and history. They are lead by an evangelical father figure, played by the magnificent Patrick Wilson, and his hammed up rampage is a much needed pulse to project the narrative forward.
Also introduced into the fold is Travis (Australian Harrison Gilbertson) Becky’s ex and father of the unborn child to provide some depth and dynamic interaction, as their fervour reaches fever pitch and leads the audience on a twisted, convoluted journey of redemption.
Natali seems to love project his protagonists into a tangled web of fear and resolution that shows the kernel of humanity at its core. In The Tall Grass propels this theme further, but is constantly bogged down in a merky plot that draws on and feels repetitive and predictable as it draws to its conclusion.
Back in 2010, Director, writer, producer, and actor, Andrew Bowser attempted to take on all these roles in a self-funded, low-budget movie that serves as a massive homage to The Blair Witch Project.
In this instance, Bowser takes on the titular role of Jimmy Tupper, a drop-beat down and out loser, who is viewed by his friends as a waste of space stoner.
So on one night, boozed up and blacked out, his so-called friends decide to abandon him in the woods as a prank. The next day though, Tupper fails to turn up for work. The friends go back to the woods to find a crazed and shambled Jimmy proclaiming that he had come face to face with a strange goatman. Naturally the friends dismiss this outrageous tale, so Jimmy sets out to prove them wrong by going back into the woods to get his proof.
Shot all with a handheld cam, JTvTGoB tries to capture the same style of cinematography often associated with found footage horror, and at the start of the film becomes really unsettling and disorientating, which could turn viewers off. By the time the film reaches its climax, and sat through Jimmy’s drunken rants and raves in the darkness, we hope that some form of satisfied ending would materialise but unfortanately this is not the case.
JTvTGoB has a great premise, but not enough plot or budget to pull it off successfully. There are hints that it could have been so much more, with some practical effects, and an ending that intrigues and wills the viewer for further tales with Tupper and the Goatmen.
An intriguing attempt at creating a dark mythology set in the woods of Bowie, that plays on the idea of a town loser who tells a wild tale, only for it to bear truth. It may have its heart in the right place, but falls short of what it plans to deliver.
It’s hard to believe that director Abe Forsythe has been dabbling in the movie scene since he won the Tropicana award for his short feature, Guided by the Light of the Lord back in 1998 at the tender age of 16. Since then, he has carved a career that has seen him mature and expand upon his skills to develop a knack for the unrestful, and unhinged psyche of the human mind, shedding the facade that we project onto others and baring the darker souls that reside beneath. None more so than the 2016 black comedy feature Down Under, which was set in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots.
His latest venture proves that Forsythe is not only a director to take note of, but with Little Monsters is only just starting to hit his stride. By shifting away from crime drama, Forsythe now tackles the horror genre and displays enough confidence to poke fun at the little things such as slow and fast zombies. In this instance, it’s the slow kind ala Dawn of the Dead, but instead of a mall, the shuffling corpses home in on a farm-based attraction.
Little Monsters much like its zombies take a little time to get going, as we centre on drop out, Dave (Alexander England) and his break up from his long-time girlfriend. The montage at the beginning of the film is actually kinda fun and projects Dave in a less-than appealing light, constantly arguing with his partner in highly social situations, and even when he bunks down on the couch of his older sisters place, has evidently still got a lot of growing up to do. Who is the real little monster at play?
Dave quickly rebounds though and thus starts his infatuation with his nephew, Felix’s (Diesel La Torraca) kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline played by Academy Award Winner, Lupita Nyong’o.
Nyong’o is simply marvelous here as the kind-hearted, bold, and humble kindergarten teacher, who just so happens to be an excellent kick-ass zombie killer. That’s fortunate.
It’s only when Nyong’o enters the scene that the movie really picks up, which is a testament to her acting prowess and charisma on screen as she provides the beating heart in an otherwise undead genre.
When Dave accompanies the Kindergarten class in pursuit of his newfound infatuation, he doesn’t anticipate that they are about to encounter the ambling creepers, and team up with Miss Caroline and kids entertainer, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) in a fight for survival and to protect the kids from the real-life danger and dread that lurks all around them.
This may not hit the mark compared to most zombie flicks with a slow-shuffled start, but Forsythe provides a fun ride with plenty of heart, thanks mainly to the performance of Lupita Nyong’o.
Today we learnt of an exciting new project that is shooting in Northern NSW, Australia which could herald another strong story that exposes the dark underbelly of our Great Southern Land. Australia has been slowly carving out some disturbing tales of late such as the fantastic Hounds of Love,Killing Ground, Rabbit, and Lost Gully Road, all released within the last couple of years and well worth your time.
Described as a psychological thriller, Sweet River is set in between Byron Bay and Tweed Heads, a land filled with sugar cane farms, that can grow up to 16 metres in height and potentially ripe enough to harbour secrets within. It’s a beautiful part of the world, so expect some stunning shots from Justin McMillan (Storm Surfers 3D), who also co-owns a drone company.
The story unfolds with Hanna Montague (Lisa Kay – Indian Summers) who is on a quest for closure following the death of her son, and moves to a small cottage, but is confronted by a town hell-bent on hiding its secrets. She is united in her grief with her neighbour (Genevieve Lemon) who has also lost a child in tragic circumstances, but how far into their sorrow are they willing to go in order to uncover the truth?
Also starring Martin Sacks (Wentworth, A Place To Call Home), Sweet River promises to set the mystery that lurks beyond the shadows ablaze, and deliver a tale that could have devastating consequences.
It is expected to be released in 2020 through Film Ink Presents.