It may fall short in the screenplay department but unfortunately can’t rest on the laurels of acting prowess of it’s cast. The film feels like a dodgy soft porn film in places, especially with the soft focus presentation in the copy I watched it on.
There are moments of discomfort on display in the representation of women through the male gaze, and rapey content. With smarter writing the filmmakers could have leveraged this perspective using what is essentially a cool premised despite being dubbed as ‘silly’ by some critics.
Through mythology, snakes have often been viewed as mystical and deadly creatures that tie in with transformation, healing and immortality. This combined with the sexual ties to both birth and fertility.
Marlene Clark is simply devine as the troubled Lena, a woman who is bitten by a cobra in the Philippines and is given the unique ability of defying age and the ability to transform into a snake in order to take down young men. Clark would go on to define herself in black horror film history the following year in the magnifient Ganja and Hess.
Here though, her presence isn’t enough to lift the weak, predictable script. The subjectification of her character is handled poorly throughout and is unfortunately indicative of the time the film was made.
It’s a shame as the premise was a great one and Hammer productions film The Reptile starring Jacqueline Pearce springs to mind in handling the story element in a far more effective fashion and was released 6 years prior to NotCW. I would love to see this re-envisioned in a modern setting and placing more power in the hands of the snake priestess Lena.
The Brute Man would mark Rondo Hatton’s final film credit having tragically passed away due to heart problems. Cast in a number of films due to his physical presence which would make him an ideal on screen villain, which started out as supporting roles for a few crime, mob-related features. By the 1940s, Hatton would see his star elevated to leading roles for movies such as The Pillow of Death and House of Horrors, the latter of which alongside this movie would see him as the iconic Creeper character. This character would be so embedded in Universal’s golden era that it would be homaged in the 1980s feature film, The Rocketeer played by Tiny Ron.
Here, Hatton’s Creeper is out for revenge for those he believes disfigured him, starting with Professor Cushman (John Hamilton). Among those whom he pursues is a couple, Clifford (Tom Neal) and Virginia (Jan Wiley), who form part of a love/hate quadrangle with the Creeper who shows a heart of gold when trying to help Helen (Jane Adams), a blind pianist. This last part of the shaped motif is a little nod to Frankenstein’s monster who also befriends the blind flutist in James Whale’s 1931 version.
Despite these attempts to pay homage to the past and create terror in the cinema again, writer George Bricker (a gun for hire to create Production companies, B-features) would struggle to strike fear in the hearts of the audience. Likewise, director Jean Yarbrough would find it hard to break the mold of the low budget horror features that he had been accustomed to. So paltry was the final product that audiences responded negatively to it, and the film is now more closely associated with being the target for grilling in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
It would be a significant turning point for Universal, who were starting to see the effects of their golden years ebbing away and losing the magic touch it once laid claim to in the field of horror. Throughout the 50s their journey would take them in a completely different direction, but that will be for another series of articles.
Billed as a horror whodunnit, The Cat Creeps was released at a time when the magic from classic genre themed movies that Universal built its name upon was beginning to wear off. Not to be confused with the 1930s feature bearing the same name, the feature would also struggle without any of the big name stars such as Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff to carry the horror torch into another generation of scares. Forming part of a double feature alongside She-Wolf of London, The Cat Creeps would also herald the last of the horror features for the film production giant for the 1940s.
Retrospectively watching the movie today, you can sense the lack of sparkle in the films narrative, centred around a black cat that is suspected of being possessed by an elderly lady who was murdered possibly for inheritance.
Character actor, Noah Beery Jr., does his best to fill the screen with presence and humour; an early indicator that serves the same comical tone that Abbott and Costello would bring to their movies through the late 40s and early 50s for Universal. The issue here though is that Beery Jr grates more than pleases in his role of Pidge “Flash” Laurie, forcing a disconnect from a modern audience. The film canters along with this black humour pace without much care to the end of the film slowly bumping off the usual suspects along the way until the real villain of the piece is revealed.
If you like a half-decent murder mystery, there’s plenty on show, but the predictability is too great with an old formula being utilised to capitalise on former success. Unfortunately, there it lacks in appeal with nothing new to show, emphasising the stale end that the decade would bring for the company.
One of the most refreshing and rewarding movies to have been released this year has come from streaming platform Netflix; a British/German, vampire, action, horror movie from director Peter Thorwarth. It comes across like a Passenger 57 style movie, but instead of a kick ass retired secret service agent taking down terrorists aboard a plane, we’ve got a vampire in the mix. Thorwarth and his co-writer, Stefan Holtz do incredibly well to pack in the folklore and depth in character background into the screenplay. The writing duo aren’t too shy to steer away from flashbacks to ground the story further into the mythology that they are creating, particularly when it comes to their lead protagonist. This care to detail provides strength to their cause with significant payoff by the film’s conclusion.
To add to the drama we’re presented with a mother, Nadja (Peri Baumeister), who appears to be suffering from leukaemia; a naturally anxious person fuelled even more so by the need to care for and look after her son, Elias (Carl Anton Koch). The reason for their travel plans is so that Nadja can visit a specialised doctor to help her with her ailment. There are a few elements at play here too which elevates the story above the usual action flick, with a look against stereotypes, especially when it comes to Farid (Kais Setti), a physicist who befriends Elias, and Middle Eastern appearance plays with our misguided expectations of him being a possible terrorist when the plane gets hijacked. Among the hijackers and leading the group is Berg played with the usual brutish klout by Dominic Purcell. His orchestrated team and all their best laid plans soon fall out, when they encounter the parasite on board. The moment this is unleashed, the turbulence soon picks up fast.
Blood Red Sky relies heavily on its high energy, adrenaline-fuelled sequences, but thankfully it has plenty of bite too with well-rounded characters with heart, coupled with downbeats that have meaning.
It pulsates with purpose and for that, makes you care about the outcome of the lead characters.
It’s been a far cry since Edgar Wright launched his zombie comedy flick, Shaun of the Dead onto the big screen, and showered his audience with his fast-paced satirical style peppered with popular music.
In his latest outing, Last Night in Soho showcases his usual flamboyant style through his shooting on Steadicam and editing technique. This time around he has a mixture of modern day and 1960s London as his playground with the twist of murder mystery told across time transportation
Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) has dreams to become a successful fashion designer, so uproots from her quaint Cornish town to the big city and takes up studies at the London College of Fashion.
Her ambitions soon feel quashed however as she struggles to fit in with the in-crowd, and despite showing promise, loses faith and moves off campus to find herself. In doing so, she takes up residence at a small flat which holds a mysterious past and somehow opens up a portal into the past through her dreams. It is here she sees through the eyes of a confident blonde woman, Sandie (Anya TaylorJoy) who is the polar opposite to Ellie and an instant inspiration for her. It doesn’t take long for the swinging sixties lifestyle to consume Ellie, but beneath the surface something sinister is at play and uncovers a dark past that may well threaten her life.
You can pretty much guarantee with an Edgar Wright flick that it will ooze style, and here it doesn’t fail. We have the catchy pop sizzlers along with the flamboyant, shoot from the hip cinematography to pull you into the story, which is ably supported by a strong cast that also includes Matt Smith, Dame Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp among its fold.
Where Last Night in Soho falls short is through the narrative itself which despite the drama on show fails to grip and is a little weak and predictable. A shame as it struggles to hit the standard of Wright’s previous movies.
Since Julia Ducournau’s debut feature Raw was released back in 2016 and marked my favourite movie of the year, I’ve been keen to see what she would produce next. Titane has been critically lauded and Ducournau has picked up the Palme d’Or for her thought provoking and confrontational body horror film.
So while this has resonated with a certain audience tailored to a more highbrow concept, how does this relate to the general public?
It’s a film that buries itself deeply into the trauma of its narrative. From this the true horror of human conditioning is on screen and Ducournau never shies away from the impact that this has on not just the central character but also for those that associate with her.
Our lead protagonist Alexia, (played by Agathe Rousselle) has survived a horrific car accident as a child and was fitted with a titanium plate as part of her recovery. The physical surgery scar is often on display as a constant reminder of the burden that this episode has had on Alexia. The result of which leads her on an internal struggle that leads her towards a level of hypersexuality that often eventuate in violent ends. Agatha’s sexual awakening is one born out of depression, anxiety, and oppression that is heavily drawn through a feeling of shame about her own identity and the feelings that she is experiencing that cannot be contained. Instead these emotions spill outward and are often enacted on those she is having a sexual experience with.
After essentially going on a killing spree to mask this oversensualised feelings, she finds salvage in her own automobile, to come full circle with the instrument of her torment and is encapsulated through gratification. This however has its own ramifications as Alexia fall pregnant and appears to be secrete motor oil from her vagina and her bodily transformations suggests that she has fallen pregnant as a result of her automobile encounter. This forces Alexia to go into hiding by masking her own feminity.
The masculisation of her character is an act out of desperation. With no connection to society, Alexia becomes a lonely island who seeks refuge in the only place that will accept her new form, as Adrien, a boy who disappeared 10 years ago. Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon) a man healing from his own trauma from losing his son, is only too willing to accept the mirage that has entered back into his fold, and a male dominated world of firefighting. As is often the way it is the broken who can heal one another. Trauma, however can never be masked and no matter how hard you try to mask it, if left untreated the effects will find a way of coming to the surface.
Director Julia Ducournau has gone on record stating that this film is not a horror movie. And while this may be true in terms of what we consider the horror genre to contain, Titane carries some horrific elements of brandishing the scars that trauma can have.
The journey that Alexia takes is a brutal one that not only sheds light on what trauma can do to a person, but more importantly the extremes that a woman must endure in order to be accepted, in this case to the detriment of her own femininity. A theme that Julia Ducournau explores well and places Titane as one of my contenders for film of the year.
Straight off the bat, when I heard about this new series that was launching on AMC+, I was pulled in by its premise, such is the hook dangled before me.
Warwick Thornton, who has done some amazing work on feature films such as Samson and Delilah, and Sweet Country providing one of the most prominent and prestigious writer / director to amplify an Indigenous voice with great effect. In his latest screen outing, Thornton ventures into a short series centred on a more horror element to his material to direct an anti-invasion message through vampire fantasy infused with a twist on Aborignal folklore.
Not only is this a fresh take on the tried and tested formula of those creatures of the night, but one that is heralded in strength through its Indigenous perspectives.
Purely judging by the first episode alone (Pest Control), there’s a lot of ground to cover in order to present the audience with the legend or backstory, plus introduce us to the key players that will form the narrative. There is time and dedication thrown into these key areas too, proving that Thronton not only knows his craft, has a passionate voice, but also will allow time to deepen the characters and add weight to their integrity.
Our central figures so far look to two Indigenous hunters through a father and daughter team charged with protecting the local community from a colony of vampires in the heart of the South Australian desert. It is when an Aborginal man is kidnapped by suspected vampires that the team are forced into action. The father, Tyson (Rob Collins – Cleverman, Extraction) comes in with a carefree approach to life, set in fulfilling his duty, potentially at the cost of his family. Whereas the daughter, Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) is a hard-working, focused teenager, who just wants to focus on her studies and not be dragged into her fathers crazed schemes. The relationship between these two is integral to our interest as a viewer, and I’m glad to say that it pays off as they slightly off balanced connection, in which they are continuously torn apart and pulled back again to one another through loyalty and their own beliefs and passions highlights the generational divide between them and the need to keep up with the traditions as laid down before them, whist also been constantly pulled through Australia’s dark past to deal with the pain and hurt that has been set in its place.
Whilst this could easily be a dark and foreboding tale, Thornton along with his writing partner, Brendan Fletcher are able to sizzle the dialogue with a nice blend of humour and drama. An idea that plays well with the family dynamic on screen.
Whilst it has a slow burn start, there is enough to Firebite’s first episode to draw you in and want to know where it may take you next.
Before the Spierig Brothers would take on what would be their second feature film as their writer, director, producer team with Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke, and possibly their best movie to date.
Before they would even attempt to expand the Saw franchise with Jigsaw and then to breathe further life into the Hammer Films productions with Winchester, they would craft their first feature, Undead; a schlocky, low budget, zombie / alien invasion feast set in remote Australia. The movie has just been released by Umbrella Entertainment as a Blu-ray/Dvd edition for their Beyond Genres collection. Check out the extras at the foot of this article.
The movie itself is not exactly brain fodder, but I remember from its initial release back in 2003 that it was a lot of fun to watch and packed with that unusual blend of Aussie humour that always seems to lift the storyline. There are some iconic moments too, namely from Mungo Mckay’s character Marion, a doomsday prepper who has encountered a paranormal encounter before and has been subjected to being an outcast ever since. His performance channels somewhere between Ash Campbell for sheer resilience and his namesake, James Wayne, with a cowboy like approach to survival and armed with a triple shotgun among his many resources.
Interestingly though, Marion isn’t the hero of the movie, as our lead protagonist falls to meek Rene (Felicity Mason) who has been a downtrodden character most of her life and just wants to get the hell out of Kansas. When push comes to shove though, she soon shows her metal and comes out fighting.
To look at this movie and scorn the performances though which I have seen some people comment on is to miss the style that The Spierig Brothers were going for. Clearly, they wanted to experiment with some visual effects, something that the extras in this release shines a light on. Undead would be their showpiece and a playing field for them to experiment with what they could do through a feature narrative. The problem as always is budget, which there wasn’t a lot of. So knowing this, the filmmakers went with a ramped up melodramatic, pulp style 50’s invasion feel. One that, knowing this beforehand, takes the pressure of applying a highbrow response to and simply letting it flow and enjoying the ride.
The film is packed with a lot of set play, from zombies attacking, survival instincts, seedy characters, bullheaded police officers, aliens, infection and nods to the era that formed the base of these kind of movies, one that comes to mind are some of the earlier scenes in Village of the Damned. There are also elements of Night of the Living Dead at play here, all of which goes to show that The Spierig Brothers are lovers of their craft and with Undead shows a great introduction to the celluloid mainstream with a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. So while it may not be original or groundbreaking, Undead still offers enough to entertain and essential viewing for film lovers who are interested in following the journey of a couple of creatives in the rise.
When two mercenaries head out for one last gig with the promise that it will set them up for life, they soon find out that it may cost them their lives
Death Valley is about as formulaic a movie as they come but it is slightly elevated due to the time and dedication to its lead characters, in spite of how two dimensional that come across, they’re still entertaining with their odd couple buddy routine
There’s Mr. Serious, play things by the book and the soldier who comes up with the plans, James Beckett (Jeremy Nibaber), plus he’s a family man
And there’s the joker, cowboy who is struggling to reach maturity and always resorts to wise cracks, Marshall (Ethan Mitchell). Thankfully he’s a crack shot sniper who delivers when things come to the crunch.
Their latest mission sees the duo answering the call from a female scientist who holds secret information which if it falls into the wrong hands will spell certain doom for mankind.
Naturally when they reach the remote laboratory bunker, they discover that all is not what it seems and several things are stalking them in the underground warren.
The creatures hold a pretty cool design and provide enough fear to instill a sense of dread and the desire to complete their mission and find freedom. This is amped even moreso wit the threat of a militia who will stop at nothing to bring the science experiments to an end.
Death Valley may be prone to predictability and could easily fall foul as a result, but what is presented is mildly entertaining and ticks along at a descent pace.
Just don’t be surprised by the cheap choice ending and the dialogue which can be ropey at times.
Death Valley is currently streaming on ShudderANZ.
And there’s plenty to like about this French horror thriller from director Patrick Ridremont.
Eugenie Derouand stars as Eva, a paraplegic who receives a mysterious box in the guise of the titular advent calendar from her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier). As expected with ominous gifts with offers of treats that stretch from confectionary to real life rewards, there will be repercussions. The question though is whether the benefits outweigh these hindrances? How much is one willing to salvage for a better chance at life? For Eva, this temptation proves too great, but how far is she willing to go?
There are three rules to follow.
Eat all the chocolate… Or die.
Do every task given… Or die.
And don’t dump the advent calendar… Or…you guessed it. You die.
The premise is pretty straight up and the performances are solid across the board, allowing the viewer to step into the narrative easily. We’re even presented with a nicely stylised creature who lurks from within the box and comes out when rules are broken or when sacrifices need to be made. This helps ramp up the tension suitably, hooking you further into the drama. And sure enough when things go sour, it does so that stays firmly in believability. A tough thing to do when you’re playing in the realms of fantasy.
A solid feature with some nice moments that entertains despite some predictable moments.
It helps that the performances from the leads are strong to fuel the the loss of control as the drama unfolds.
The Advent Calendar is currently streaming on ShudderANZ