Since its US release back in June, there has been a fair bit of buzz around Werewolves Within, enough at least to put it on the Surgeons of Horror radar and wait patiently for the release here in Australia.
Josh Ruben, who directed the admittedly underwhelming Scare Me (at least from a horror perspective) gets to tap into his stronger, comedic roots here and use this genre to amplify the horror elements when they arise.
Helping to craft his vision is a number of comedic performers in Sam Richardson (Veep, Promising Young Woman), Milana Vayntrub, and Catherine Curtin (Orange Is The New Black, Stranger Things)
Based on the multiplayer VR game of the same name which casts players in a medieval town with the aim of figuring out which one of them is the werewolf, Werewolves Within shifts focus in Beaverfield, a remote American town.
When forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Richardson) is assigned to Beaverfield following a reprimand, he soon finds something lurking in the woods when a local dog is killed, forcing the locals into a panic and holing up at the local inn. Wheeler must try and unite an already divided town against a common enemy if they are to survive the night.
It’s understandable why Werewolves Within resonates so well with its audience.
The film is deliciously coated in a comedic resonance thanks in part to Mishna Wolff’s screenplay and the talent who lift the words off the page and give it life on screen.
Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub have great chemistry together and feed off each other’s energy, much to the delight of the audience.
While the horror elements are few and far between, leaving most of the angst between the human counterparts as they fend for their own sense of wellbeing, Josh Ruben knows enough about timing to draw you in, tantalise your senses, and gift you with an enjoyable film.
Affiliated more for his penmanship among the mumblegore movement, especially alongside Director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, Simon Barrett has been slowly etching his way to his own turn behind the camera calling the shots.
His opportunity arises in Shudder’s latest Exclusive and Original feature Seance.
Barrett’s name alone gets me excited to see what he would produce when in charge of the lens and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
There are familiar elements at play here, with the kick-ass action sequences that come from the unexpected, plus the spiritual component that was drawn in Temple.
That isn’t to say that Seance doesn’t carve its own narrative for the audience to be lured by.
The tale that is woven centers on a Girls Boarding school, Edevine Academy for Girls, following the mysterious death of one of the school girls when a prank goes wrong. But is there more to play beneath the disciplined exterior of the prestigious learning facility?
Newcomer Camille Meadows certainly suspects that this could be the case when confronted by a not-so warm welcome from some of the other girls and an even frostier reception from something or someone that haunts her room each night.
Have the girls stirred something from beyond when they practice a seance to get in touch with the girl who died? Is there something more untoward? Camille must navigate her new terrain and take on the role of sleuth, to uncover the truth and potentially face a haunting prospect that pushes her to the brink of the living world.
Barrett generates a familiar plot but manages to weave it with a level of cool and panache that marks Seance with its own identity.
It helps that the actors on show are engaging and provide a little more than the two-dimensional tropes that we often expect on screen. Notably Suki Waterhouse’s (Assassination Nation) whose Camille shows levels of vulnerability and hardship throughout the film, coupled with the notion that nothing and no one are who or what they seem to be. Plus Tobias Vethake’s score is truly captivating, ensnaring you into the celluloid world with ease, adding to the depth of the film.
Roll on Barrett’s next feature, a stepping stone into expanding the VHS franchise with V/H/S 94.
Seance is currently streaming onShudder from Thursday, September 30th.
There’s something delightful about watching the camp and extreme elements and personalities on display and with Death Drop Gorgeous the ugly side of the beauty is brought to the fore and is quite rightly been described as an ode to the works of John Waters.
It’s not surprising that it became a festival favourite during its run, as despite its low budget hurdles and all that comes with that, DDG celebrates the dark and drips with bitchiness throughout.
Written, Directed, and Starring Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras, who manage to work together and produce an insipid view of the drag queen world despite the obvious flaws on show.
There is a mysterious, masked serial killer on the loose, who appears to be targeting young gay men and draining them of blood. A frustrated bartender, Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves) and an aged drag queen are left to fight for survival in a corrupt world and try to find out who is threatening to bring their world to an end.
Death Drop Gorgeous is a wickedly, savage slasher flick with some half-decent kills.
It’s an enjoyable run despite its budget restrictions and it’s a helluva lot of fun all the same.
Martyrs Lane is a slow painful pull into a deep and psychological dive into grief, blame, and self-destruction immersed inside an insular family dynamic.
We witness this story from the perspective of 10 year old girl, Leah (Kiera Thompson) at the family home, an old vicarage, who begins to unearth hidden secrets that her family members have tried to bury.
Slowly, Leah is provided with clues to point her (or lure her) in the direction of truth, but who is behind the mystery and what is the price of uncovering past haunts?
The pacing of this movie is deliberately drawn out to build up the tension of the tale which is to be commended, especially as the actors of the piece beautifully tap into the darkness. It does however serve as a detriment to our engagement, often suffering under the weight of its own caliginosity. There are listless moments throughout the film as we’re often left to languidly drift through the storyline unable to connect.
Ruth Platt’s third outing in the director’s chair proves that she’s no stranger to the craft and manages to steer her actors through a pot-boiler that wrangles every ounce of drama out of them. The children in particular deserve high praise, with some naturalistic performances that grind the drama into a sense of realism.
A hard film to engage with and fall into some of the admittedly beautiful shots on display,
The performances are great and if you bide your time and indulge in the slow pacing, you will be rewarded with a fantastic tale.
On its initial release when Ozploitation was at its peak, Turkey Shoot was not received favourably especially from its homegrown audience in Australia. And yet it garnered a deeper appreciation under the title Blood Camp Thatcher, the name carrying a double edged meaning for its tyrannical camp commander, Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig), but probably more so for his namesake and a certain political leader in the UK who was not looked on in a kind light.
Since then, the film has picked up a cult following which in part is due to Quentin Tarantino who cited it as an influential movie. Personally I think that Turkey Shoot has a lot of charm, infusing a dystopian, totalitarian world with The Dangerous Game. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith also has a knack for producing stellar action flicks with a strong, entertaining beat.
Trapped in a controlled Government with supreme views, those who oppose this ruling are gathered up and shepherded to a concentration camp to either be conformed to society or be subjected to Thatcher’s will. In some cases this involves the turkey shoot, a hunt set by Thatcher and his associates, including a horse-riding, crossbow wielding socialite, Jennifer (Carmen Duncan); Secretary Mallory (Noel Ferrier); Tito, a violent sadist and his beast-like man; and Roger Ward as the camp guard, who between pick out degenerates from the camp to offer a false illusion of freedom while they track them down and kill.
Our team of misfits contain Paul Anders (Steve Railsbeck) as the Steve McQueen-esque Cooler King who has escaped from numerous camps; Rita Daniels (Lynda Stoner) an accused prostitute; Griffin (Bill Young) another escapee of numerous camps; Dodge (John Ley) a bumbling, yet loyal prisoner; and Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), a shopkeeper falsely accused of aiding a rebel.
It’s a simple enough story but with its outlandish methods of being tracked by their pursuers, the film carries a certain energy that keeps you gripped and entertained.
For those unfamiliar with the Ozplotiation scene, Turkey Shoot is a great entry into the genre.
It carries some great set pieces that are of the extreme and tick the boxes of satisfaction when they come about.
The cast deserve recognition too, but this is Trenchard-Smith’s movie and its his vision that is on show and peppers the film with such vigour and the character of the film shines throughout as a result.
On face value Superhost begins by focusing on insipidly vacuous couple Claire (Sara Canning – The Vampire Diaries) and Teddy (Osric Chau – Supernatural) are unbearably false and vain, which is the point right? But as the story unfolds there are glimpses of their former selves, prior to the burning desire to boost their social ratings.
Claire’s and Teddy are a duo travel vloggers who spend their time residing in airbnb’s and promoting their thoughts of the locations and more importantly their hosts online.
Worried that their numbers and fanbase appear to be dwindling they start to up the ante in how to turn around their bad fortune.
So at their next location, when things appear to be hitting a dull point, they encounter more than they bargain for, but is it from the psychotic former host, Vera (Barbara Crampton – Re-Animator) from a previous location that they stayed at leaving unfavourable reviews? Or will it be the slightly off-kilter host Rebecca (Gracie Gillam – Fright Night) from their current place of stay?
Director Brandon Christensen (Still/Born; Z) much like his previous films manages to generate some genuinely cool moments. Here it is notably enhanced by the performances from Crampton and Gillam, but the end result is a mediocre affair and doesn’t generate much of a flicker outside of originality.
There’s enough here to entertain but not necessarily to stimulate.
I really wanted to champion this movie. After all, not only is it a homegrown movie and for this Surgeons of Horror love to support where we can; and it also boasts Cassandra Magrath (Wolf Creek) as its lead protagonist.
Unfortunately the story falls short of expectations, lost in the murkiness of the folklore that it was trying to create and one can’t help but feel that it is the writing that is lacking in depth or clarity.
It’s not like Australia is incapable of producing witchery or the dark arts with investigation and mystery. One need only look at the fantastic series The Gloaming written by Vicky Madden to see what it takes to do this with a contemporary feel and to do it well. Sure, this was worked into a series with ample time to allow the characters to acquire the depth needed to dive into the enigma, but that feels like an easy out as what transpires out of The Witches of Blackwood lacks anything solid for the audience to grab onto and as such, we lose interest quite swiftly.
Haunted by an incident while on duty as a police officer, Claire (Magrath) returns to her old stomping ground to heal old wounds and new ones following the wake of her mother’s death. When she arrives in Blackwood however, she is met with ill-feeling and strange encounters from the locals. This leads her to find her inner sleuth once more, to uncover what people are hiding and revelations that will test her will.
I thought that Magrath was compelling in this and given the chance to show off her acting abilities that have have been left to the wind in other recent movies. Director Kate Whitbread carves out some beautiful moments to highlight the harsh yet beautiful landscape that Australia has to offer, but without any real substance, the film simply can’t lift itself out of the quagmire, sinking into a shallow plot.
Rasmus Merivoo’s latest feature Kratt which is currently screening as part of the 2021 Sydney Underground Film Festival taps into a warped fantastical world, resurrecting the magic of fairy tales in the vein of The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Here the director propels the stories through a modern lens, with the impact of the internet and social media.
Part of its charm is that the story is told through the eyes of a couple of teens Mia (Nora Merivoo) and Kevin (Harri Merivoo) who are forced to stay with their Grandmother (Mari Lill) while their parents go on a spiritual retreat. Just when they think that their world is heading straight for a world of boredom, and seemingly the only people in town without wifi connection, Mia and Kevin stumble across the instructions to build their own kratt – a mythical creature formed from hay and household materials (think something similar to the golem). The promise that the kratt could bring them wealth and fortune is an opportunity that they are not willing to miss and bring some much needed life into their dull lives.
All does not go according to plan however as the kratt enters into the body of their grandmother and the kids are compelled to find work for her for fear that the entity may turn on them at any given moment.
There are moments where Merivoo blends the quirkiness of eccentric locals from business guru to an occult-like group dedicated to facebook, and wielding torches at the first sign of trouble, and mop-headed priest, who believes he may be of service to
The kids through the power of God.
Merivoo taps into the old-Estonian folklore and places it firmly in a modern-day setting, but keeps the quirks embedded into the tale to bring a little edge to the scene. There is subtle humour on display here too with performances played with tongues firmly in cheek adding a little flavour to the narrative along the way.
Since Donald Sutherland pointed his finger and wailed in the closing credits of 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers I’ve loved the whole alien assimilation scene. Currently screening as part of the 2021 Sydney Underground Film Festival comes an Australian voice to the subgenre in An Ideal Host.Channeling that voice is Robert Woods in his directorial feature debut, who fires off on all cylinders with that unique Australian humour, pulling in the words from screenwriter Tyler Jacob Jones and bringing them to life.
Leading what appears to be an idyllic life, Liz (Nadia Collins) and Jackson (Evan Williams)as they set themselves up in a country town with their sweeping views of a serene yet rugged landscape (and cows). There’s a little more going on beneath the surface as Liz seeks to have everything perfect and in place ahead of a dinner party for the close friends, They’ve even rehearsed a wedding proposal to be performed before their guests during the course of the evening. And yet, you constantly question Jackson’s true motives.
All of which comes secondary when an old friend, Daisy (Naomi Brockwell) invites herself along to the occasion with the threat of destroying the tranquility with her wild and unpredictable ways. Daisy would prove to be the last of Liz’s problems however, when further unexpected visitors make their presence known and start to take control of the human bodies and a plan to take over the town and beyond.
What strikes you about this film though besides the comedy beats is the special effects on show, a testament to Woods vision, when the tentacled creatures make their presence felt. The beauty on display though is the way that Woods slowly dials this up through to a carnage-filled conclusion, leaving you grimacing with glee. You can tell that he has honed his craft with an energy that entertains and delights the audience.
Director Robert Woods proves again that Australia has a distinctive voice when it comes to horror. His blend of humour, effects and narrative shine through to the fore. The beats when hit are strong and effective which is orchestrated with precision.
An Ideal Host surprises through the shifts and tones which also proves that Woods can draw you into the narrative before unleashing a gritty, and savagely satisfying end.
Neill Blomkamp is renowned for pushing the boundaries of blending science fiction with modern day storytelling through the lens of cutting edge technology. Having directed some cracking films with District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, Blomkamp’s latest feature, Demonic turns to volumetric capture to tell the narrative is an example of the creative license that he is willing to experiment with.
Our resident Surgeon, Saul Muerte was fortunate enough to catch up with the visionary director to discuss his latest film and how technology has played an important part in molding his storytelling technique for film.
Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us for Surgeons of Horror. I really, really enjoyed the movie and the creative approach that you’ve taken with this one. I just wanted to ask you, um, I mean, I’ve been following your film career for a little while and I’ve noticed that there is this kind of feeling that runs through your movies that’s almost like this infused psychosis, whether it’s alien or humanitarian or mechanoid. And in this case, it’s obviously coming through demonic possession. What is it in your mind that fascinates you about this kind of external manipulation of the human mind in your films?
One of the things that is becoming more interesting to me is the idea that there’s like a lying on a psychiatrist’s couch element to directing. I think that these themes, and these ideas become evident to you as the filmmaker over time. So I’m kind of equally curious to try to figure out what that is about. I don’t actually think that I have a conscious onset. I think there’s a bunch of subconscious stuff, maybe. Demonic feels very different to the first two films of mine, and to a lesser degree different to Chappie. It was meant to be something that was much more intimate and smaller scale and kind of living in very close proximity to Carly’s character. And then just going through the process with her. So I think maybe the common theme is some kind of level of redemption, or a sort of cleansing of the soul towards the end of the third act. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what the similarities are.
I do want to touch on the technology aspect that you use with Demonic, because it’s quite a fundamental component. And you’ve been incredibly experimental with your approach to technology over the years. So when you worked with the volumetric capture system in order to realise your vision, what was the greatest challenge that you found using this technology? And what was your biggest learning coming out of it?
Well, I mean, this movie is very, very unusual to the way that films are normally made in the sense that there was this gap in time. And there was this thing that I wanted to do, like Paranormal Activity, which was a kind of small self created horror film. And so when you talk about normal films, and the use of technology, it’s usually a case of what would we now use in order to solve this problem? And then you kind of look at it, whatever your options are. This was a case of, I wanted to build something around the idea of using volumetric capture. So the idea of using volumetric capture came before the movie, I also want to do something with these weird Vatican guides that buy up tech companies. So is there a story that can be conjured up so that we can shoot something during the pandemic. I think that if it was a higher budget film, it would have been more difficult to use something as experimental as volumetric capture, because it still looks so glitchy. But if you go forward five years, or definitely 10 years, when that resolution increases to the point that you’re rivalling, you know, traditional film cameras, digital phone cameras, it’ll be omnipresent. There’ll be just every single person who will be using it. It was initially financed by us, I can just do whatever I want and instead of doing another YouTube video, it was like let’s make a longer format piece. And let’s use some of this weird technology and just see how it looks. So I knew pretty much exactly what it would look like because of the resolution constraints which actually came in a bit lower simply because in order to get the resolution higher there would have to be so many cameras close to the action, that it would basically be impossible to really move in any convincing way. So the resolution dies off in a squared fashion exponentially when you move them away, we got the ability to move around and it still has this awesome kind of video game quality to it but resolution dies off is quite quick. So it’s a weird answer, but it’s like the film exists because I felt like using volumetric capture.
I think in a way it adds to the character of the piece, so I know you were talking about that kind of glitchy kind of element, but I feel like this adds to the surreal nature that the character of Carly goes through when she’s experiencing that kind of other world factor. Everything kind of ties in really nicely.
I just want to also just go back to District 9 if I may, which was your first feature production. Based on the experience that you’ve picked up over the years, is there anything that you would change with that film? Like, we’re talking about advancements in technology in particular, and stuff that you’ve done along the way. Would you revisit the special effects or the story component and which one of those two weighs heavy in your mind as a creative? What do you think takes precedence? Technology or storytelling?
I mean, if you’re doing a high budget film, yeah, well, I mean, pretty much any film it really really should be story first, but it’s kind of like a Venn diagram, it’s like, you’d have to have you have to have a story. And then you also because it’s a visual medium, you also have to have some kind of interesting visual components to it.. And when you overlap, good story with good visuals, you get this kind of matrix sweet spot. Yeah. So that’s kind of how I think of it. But I definitely wouldn’t have arrived at this film, if I was at a higher standard budget level, because it’s just such a different, almost incomparable thing. But I think your question in terms of District 9 is pretty interesting, because I don’t actually think I would change anything. And the other thing that’s interesting is, if I were to shoot another District 9 today, there isn’t any other technological way of doing things that would be radically different, which is super fascinating. So when we shot it, there was this debate where the first way that we were thinking of shooting it was a lot more like how Planet of the Apes did this. And it was kind of revolutionary, where they put motion capture cameras outside of the studio, and they put them in the wild, I think it was actually also in British Columbia. They put them in trees and stuff in the wild, and then they motion captured whoever was playing the apes, and then you know, add the VFX later. So with District 9, we couldn’t afford that approach. And so we ended up doing something that I actually prefer infinitely more, which is a process of growth automation, where you just film your actor, there’s no motion capture dots. There’s like there’s no motion capture cameras, because we couldn’t really afford them. But you just film your actor in a grey lycra outfit. And the benefit is that you get to knock things over in real life and interact with stuff. And then hand animation is done. Almost like classical rotoscope animation, except with a three dimensional rig on top of your character, your human character, your human performer. And then once that skeleton is animated, you put your digital alien on top, and then you have to actually go through this other process which is a cost addition, which is background restoration. So you have to paint out your grey suit guy who’s lying under the alien that now has his, you know, rota mated information embedded within it.
Yes, fascinating. I absolutely loved that film. I’ve been kind of following your career since District 9, because I feel like you have this way of cutting through the storyline with this creative, technological aspect that you bring to your films.
If we can come back to Demonic, one thing that I found was that the story seems to centre around this idea of trust, and our preconceived ideas of people due to our own kind of misgivings. Is there a message here about going into or letting go of control in order to find ourselves?
Yeah, I think one of the concepts that I was interested in was the idea of, like, objective truth. And people coming at topics from different points of view that can sort of be almost equally truthful, depending on the point of view. But there is only one form of truth ultimately. And so I think there’s a sort of subconscious element maybe of those themes kind of bubbling to the surface in the sense that Carla’s sort of overcoming something. I wanted her to be triumphant in a way that she’d overcome the paradigm that was put in place for her, I definitely have some issues with objective truths.,
Yeah, that’s kind of my take on it as well. And that’s what I really liked about her journey. And the way there’s obviously this investigative nature, as she’s trying to uncover the truth behind what lay in the past, particularly with her mother. I found it really quite fascinating about Demonic when you come into it, knowing the components that build the film, it kind of makes it a really fascinating journey to watch and see that kind of those elements come into play. And I’m really excited about it. I’m really hoping that it does well for you, Neil. So thank you so much for your time. and talking with us at Surgeons of Horror.
Demonic will be available to stream across all key digital channels from September 15 and on DVD/Blu-ray from 22 September.