There have been a number of re-imaginings or reboots of significant horror films of late. Be it Scream (2022),Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), or Goodnight Mommy (2022). Now comes the turn of Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s vision of a realm that delicately balances the line of pleasure and pain from the novella, The Hellbound Heart. Initially brought to the screen by Barker himself back in 1987, the franchise has seen eleven instalments including this latest venture.
Charged with bringing this to light is Director David Bruckner, who has already proved his worth with solid features, The Ritualand The Night House. The focus in steering this before a new generation horror aficionados is the lament configuration, a puzzle box that opens the portal into another realm where extra dimensional beings known as cenobites lurk in the hopes of luring souls into exploring the outer reaches of sensualness through pain, suffering and satisfaction.
The Cenobites are led by The Hell Priest known as Pinhead, most notably portrayed by Doug Bradley in the past, but has seen Stephen Smith Collins and Paul T. Taylor also takes on the role which now falls into the hands of Jamie Clayton to add a more gender fluid adaptation. This allows Pinhead to weave a more sexual and sinister enticement into the realm beyond and one that Clayton captures successfully.
Hellraiser(2022) needs to find its modern voice too and does so by centring on a sibling relationship, bound by blood but torn apart by one’s vices. Riley (Odessa A’zion) is a recovering drug addict who is constantly being bailed out of dire situations by her brother Matt (Brandon Flynn). This relationship however is strained one last time when Riley is lured in by her boyfriend Trevor (Drew Starkey), to break into an abandoned warehouse to steal some goods, only to encounter the lament configuration. This discovery leads them down a path of no return, where those they are closest to will be drawn down with them.
Will Riley claw her way to survival or find a way to bargain with ‘The Surgeons’ and the Leviathan; the king of hell?
All the while another piece of the puzzle is at play with a hedonistic millionaire, Roland Voight (Goran Višnjić) who is trying to equally pull the strings of those who encounter the lament configuration in an effort to fulfil his own twisted desires. Whoever will find the right combination and reap their rewards will be pushed to the final scenes, but the cost of the victor may or may not be as expected.
I have always respected the art and vision of Clive Barker, and while it’s hard to top the original vision (One that Barker helmed himself), it’s great to see the world of cenobites, Pinhead and The Hellbound Heart brought before a modern audience.
Director Bruckner once again proves he can adapt mythology and mystery with a troubled heart and its centre through a well-constructed narrative.
My one criticism is how polished it feels at times which takes away from the dark and twisted viscera that runs through Barker’s world.
Sequels. They were the lament of the 80’s. Well – they were endemic enough that it became trendy to complain that they “were never as good as the original”. Which was, and still is (more or less) accurate. But not completely. And the phenomena has morphed these days into Franchise-ism, which is more World Building than straight up sequel-ing. (A loop-hole of lawyer-like proportions that any former president would die for right now).
But another side trend seems to be prequel-ing! From Game of Thrones, to Lord of The Rings to Star Wars, for some reason content creators seem to think we want to know what happened before “once upon a time” rather than after “happily ever after” when it comes to The Next Instalment. So with that in mind, we turn to Esther – or more specifically it’s re-worked title of Orphan: First Kill. A prequel to the 2009 movie, Orphan. And with it comes a highlighted picadillo all prequels face. The age-old problem of aging. (Double edged in a film that is about a fully grown woman, pretending to be 10, in a prequel made MANY YEARS AFTER its sequel).
Before we get into the mechanics of the review itself, it must be said this film seemed to fly under the radar of this reviewer and a lot of the Surgeon’s team of a similar age bracket. Before being told about this movie, I would have said I was vaguely aware of a young girl in pigtails on the poster and that’s about it. She was probably evil and does evil things to her adoptive family ‘cause you know… she’s an (evil) orphan… Probably Satan infused in flavour (judging by the artwork etc). That’s because a story about a pale skinned girl with dark hair appearing at the end of a decade that had already produced The Ring, The Grudge and Silent Hill meant that there was probably a fair amount of “evil kid” action going on in this movie, and fatigue (for me at least) had well and truly set in. (Although in defence of Orphan, it did make a strong enough profit ratio – roughly 1 to 4 in fact – to justify some sort of new chapter).
Anyway. Orphan: First Kill explores the story that saw how Esther transitioned from Estonia to America – a plot hole from the first film that bugged a few people. Apparently. The solution the film makers came up with was inspired – in part – but the real-life adoption case of Natalia Grace, herself a 22-year-old posing as a 9-year-old in a caper that was inspired, in part, by the original Orphan film! (Google it – what an Ouroboros world we live in).
So straight off the bat young (sic) Esther tries to inject herself into the lives of a wealthy American family (the matriarch of which is played by Julia Styles. Good to see her back on the silver screen after getting killed In The Bourne Forgettable in a scene that we THINK was supposed to have some sort of emotional resonance…?) And Esther does so by claiming to be this family’s long lost 10-year-old daughter (the real one having gone missing 4 years before) and thus ensues the usual shenanigans of her pretending to be something she isn’t. How? You may ask (if you don’t know…) Esther suffers from a genetic condition that roughly translates to “proportional dwarfism” meaning she can effectively play someone much younger than she actually is. Added to that, she has a healthy dose of psychopathy so killing in her own best interest/preservation is not a problem for her.
But here’s the thing. And indeed the problem with this type of film. This twist is not (or is no longer) a twist, because we, the audience, already know it. It’s what we here at Surgeons call The Zombie Paradox. For any storyteller trying to make a zombie TV show/movie, they have to contend with viewers who know what a zombie is, and the various associated rules in dealing with them. Which means straight off the bat the story is playing catch up with the watcher and not (as you would want) the other way round. But in the case of Orphan – the ENTIRE film hung off Esther’s strange, dangerous and Omen like behaviour. Is she the child of Satan? NO – she is really 33! Dun Dun Daaaah!
But if that wad is already shot, how do you go about making a prequel?
The only recourse the film-makers basically have is to make Esther the protagonist and not antagonist (d’uh as the working title of the film is “Esther”) but digging deeper into what that means; a balancing act is required. If hers is to be the journey we are on, we need to fear for her when she is threatened and break for her when she is hurt. But she is an unhinged murderer. Not even an anti-hero (like say Dexter is) as she doesn’t kill evil. She kills threats, innocent or otherwise. An exciting writing challenge. If you get it right. But even if you do, IS that keeping in the spirit of the first movie? (See Surgeons of Horror, OUR TOP TIPS ON WHAT MAKES A GOOD SEQUEL).
An additional problem – as was brought up at the beginning of this review when we were all so much younger – is how do we convincingly address the aging elephant in the room? Esther – as a character to be cast – can only really be played by an older woman who physically looks 10, but what are the chances of someone like that who exists, has the right look, and can also act? So you go the other way, and choose someone young who can act old. And since cinema is littered with precociously talented child actors since day dot, the route this film chose back in 2009 was sort of a no-brainer. Especially since the actor in question was the then 12-year-old and fiercely powerful Isabelle Fuhrman. But now we are in (not) the next decade, but the decade after that, and Fuhrman is 25 (just a few years off Esther’s real age) and while she herself still has a youthful exuberance about her (helped no doubt by the fact she is 5’3”…it’s so much harder to play young if you’re 6’2”) ONE look at her in close up it is clear she is no longer a child. So faced with this dilemma what do the film makers do? Why go all Hobbit style and shoot force perspective, CGI and use stand ins. And whilst this worked well for LOTR, that film was 20 + years ago. Our eye had yet to be trained to be CGI cynical like it is now, and force-perspective and other old skool filming tricks were so out of fashion, they were LIKE new! But now we are well aware of such deceits and quite frankly, they really show up. (A bit like when you watch Die Hard now and it is VERY noticeable that’s not Bruce Willis getting thrown through windows or being blown up by flaming helicopters, but his stunt double. We forgave SO MUCH pre-CGI…)
But in terms of Orphan First Kill, the most obvious moments are when we track behind Fuhrman’s body double in WS, and then we cut to her face as we track backwards in Tight MS. A 10-year-old comports themselves differently to an adult. Bones and limbs are in different proportions. Neck and shoulders…it’s all different. A child waddles, an adult walks. And Fuhrman’s face – no matter how many downward angles you employ, or indeed, apple boxes you put under the actors around her – is clearly not a child. And especially when you consider the first movie – where 12-year-old Fuhrman is unmistakably Esther from all angles and frame sizes – it is very conspicuous that the coverage and overall shooting style of First Kill is starkly different. And straight away that means the feel of this film is different.
But is it any good?
Well it must be said – there is a twist at about the halfway mark that isn’t the same kind of reveal that’s in the first movie, BUT it is good enough to make you go “nice one” and sit up for the rest of the film. BUT it also negates certain character behaviours and motivations in the first half, so it also comes across as a twist that is very forced. It also – as a standalone story – really lacks the emotional compression of the first movie. The acts and story beats of the first film does an excellent job of putting Vera Farmiga’s character (who’s journey we are on for that instalment) through the wringer. Helped – as mentioned – by the fact that we the audience just don’t know Esther’s full deal till the end of the story.
So First Kill definitely lacks such layers, and with the aforementioned difference in coverage, it doesn’t feel like it’s a close relation to the other film. Although by no means awful, it’s not really worthy of its 2009 predecessor (post-ecessor?) because there is another 3rd difference that the film-makers seemly lost track of during the whole – how-do-we-make-this-story-&-Esther’s-look-work? – hullabaloo, and that is… it’s also not scary.
Once again I find myself struggling to connect with the latest Exclusive and Original offerings from horror streaming platform, Shudder. Last year I saw high calibre movies, Violation, The Dark and the Wicked, Skull, and The Boy Behind The Door really resonated with me and featured in my Top 13 Horror movies of 2021. All of which marks a difficult run of events for Shudder this year to continue to raise the bar. Not that it has been without moments of quality thanks to the cracking home invasion movie, For the Sake of Vicious. I highly recommend this if you haven’t yet caught Reese Eveneshen and Gabriel Carrer’s movie.
March has proven a different obstacle though I’m afraid to say as Night’s End is hampered by its own ambitions through a low-budget, tightly constrained story, made through COVID times. I feel like I could be over-critical due to my expectations, as I equally want to applaud the efforts from director Jennifer Reeder who helmed the V/H/S ‘94 segment Holy Hell. The problem is that through capturing the isolation, loneliness and desperation that the protagonist Ken Barber (Geno Walker) endures at a time that he is at his lowest ebb, losing his job, and his family, it also highlights the areas that fall south in various departments, namely the evidently weak plotline and the cheap visual effects.
It’s a shame as there is a subject here that is ripe to explore in depth. Ken’s issue as a father who is on the brink of despair, at his lowest, to shed light on a social dilemma where depression and alcoholism can lead the most decent person to ruin. For it is clear that Ken has a good heart, and for whatever reason has folded under the pressures that life can take. This stigma that he now has to bear also leads those closest to him to question his sanity when certain paranormal events unfold.
It takes a wicked turn into unbelievability though when Ken starts to get online recognition through social media following and in particular an online paranormal debunker Dark Corners (Daniel Kyri). The hammy performance from spiritual medium Colin Albertson (Lawrence Grimm) also shifts the audience out of the realm of credibility. In addition, the presentation of communication by each of the characters through Ken’s computer (cyberspace) makes the world disjointed.
What Night’s End does boast however is a great performance (as always) from Michael Shannon as Ken’s ex-wife’s partner. A key supporter of Ken’s paranormal investigations and constantly delivering a high level of engagement on screen.
A bold and promising premise to be explored in a confined environment and deliver a tough subject is ultimately let down by the lack of cohesion and budget constraints to pull off the vision.
At the time of writing The Conjuring Universe has firmly established itself in the horror genre scene and James Wan et al have created a world of scares and delights across eight feature films. Arguably one of those features, The Curse of La Llorana has been demoted from the universe by its director Michael Chaves. I feel like I’d like to argue this point as it clearly is connected with Annabelle, mainly due to the presence of Father Perez, but if we are to take this as gospel, then we can put it to one side for the purpose of this article which is to look at trilogies when adopting the Surgeons theory of what makes a good sequel as outlined by Antony Yee in his article, Movie review: A Quiet Place Part II.
To recap, here is the criteria that we believe marks a decent sequel:
Identify the ideas, themes & executional elements that make the first film great. Or at least good. Or at least worthy of being sequelised.
Pay homage and do not violate/ignore said ideas and themes and elements.
Introduce new/expanded themes, ideas and elements that will NATURALLY ALIGN to your first ideas, themes & elements. (Ie: Don’t use your second movie to discredit & contradict your first).
To underline point 3 – DO NOT rehash the first film and just give people “more of the same”.
DO NOT-NOT rehash the first film by giving more of the same…. BUT “BIGGER”.
Be a good enough stand-alone film by itself.
The reason I am drawn to this in the realms of The Conjuring Universe, there is in effect two sets of trilogies at play, if we were to also put The Nun to one side.It’s yet to be seen if The Nun will establish a trilogy in its own right. There’s the Ed and Lorraine Warren Conjuring trilogy and the Annabelle trilogy, which is slightly more complex to scrutinise as it contains a prequel in the mix.
So let’s start by looking at the initial Conjuring trilogy which focuses on the paranormal investigations of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) starting with…
The Conjuring 2
Does it identify the ideas, themes and executional elements from The Conjuring? Here it definitely does, Not only it incorporates the central characters Ed and Warren but similarly places them in another paranormal investigation centred on a family under duress from a spiritual entity that threatens them physically and mentally.
Does it pay homage to the original in the process? Once again, yes, and centralises on the core elements that were set up in the first feature, establishing the key themes and ideas, and not demolishing them in any way. This is in large part due to James Wan taking the helm as director and in doing so, firmly establishes the look and feel of the movies through clever trickery of shadows and light to build up the tension.
Introducing new ideas. The biggest component that comes into this movie is the expansion of the spiritual encounters with not just one paranormal entity but three. It’s main antagonist appears to be Bill Wilkins, but is also supported by The Crooked Man, and most notably Valak. A fearful entity that was so striking that launched a spin-off film of its own. In addition, Ed and Lorraine’s roles are provided some more depth and centres on their relationship to one another which I felt was a nice touch and gave both Farmiga and Wilson more to play with respectively.
Is it a re-hash? This is a tricky one because in many ways it is a bit same-same. Same investigators, Similar poverty stricken family under distress. The shift in location to the UK does disguise this element and because of the question around the genuine haunts that were aimed at the Enfield Haunting, it adds an extra component, but effectively, it doesn’t stray too much from the original notes.
More of the same but bigger? Which is why unfortunately it falls short and three spirits instead of one element makes it exactly that. A bigger premise from the first.
Does it stand alone as a film? 100% yes. You don’t need to have watched the first film and the elements that are played with are strong enough to establish its own identity. For this, it is a worthy follow up and rightfully exists within the universe.
SCORE: 4/6 It’s a decent effort and a strong film but without the added depth to the Warrens and the introduction of Valak, the film treads a very similar path to its predecessor.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Does it identify the ideas, themes and executional elements from The Conjuring? This film starts to feel like a different beast, which makes sense when the change of director comes into effect with Michael Chaves taking the helm. While the core ideas and elements are in place especially with the exorcism introduction, its style and execution is different.
Does it pay homage to the original in the process? These ideas are not ignored but play a more secondary role due to the change in approach to the storytelling.
Introducing new ideas. The expansion of the story comes through the further development of the Warren’s relationship, but central to this is Lorraine’s gift of sight into the other world and her connection with another gifted person. The main change centres more as an investigation on said exorcism and how powers outside of the mainframe such as the judicial period weighs in on and impacts the perspective of the universe.
Is it a re-hash? Definitely not. If anything, I applaud the approach of trying something different with the story direction, even if it does miss a few beats away from the original look and feel in doing so.
More of the same but bigger? Conjuring 3 feels bold in taking the franchise in a different direction as it steps away from the formula that was set up by the first two movies. It’s both its benefit and detriment.
Does it stand alone as a film? It does stand alone to a degree. Especially as the story holds up through style and substance. What it does well is use the investigation and turns in on itself, questioning the paranormal inquiry process, which feels refreshing and plays with the black and white, the yin and yang of paranormal experiences.
SCORE: 4/6 This instalment does well to make an identity of its own and for trying something different but in the process takes a lot away from what drew us to the original and what made that movie so good to begin with. With the introduction of Annabelle as a spin-off franchise, it generated enough success at the box office for the producers to look at its own trilogy of movies, despite it not being anywhere near as good as The Conjuring. So how does the Annabelle trilogy square up under scrutiny.
Does it identify the ideas, themes and executional elements from Annabelle? This is more of a strange one as Annabelle: Creation did one of two things. Firstly, it chose to go to the genesis of Annabelle’s fruition allowing a way to create rules of its own and improve upon the original film. Secondly, It focused on the core elements of what makes a possessed doll so scary, and reinvents the concept.
Does it pay homage to the original in the process? If anything, this film pays homage to the initial component that Annabelle was introduced from TheConjuring film. This feels more in keeping with the Conjuring universe than its predecessor.
Introducing new ideas. The new ideas are discussed above in point 1, and expands on the possession route. It also strands our would-be victims in the middle of nowhere rather than a suburban environment like in the original. This helps to amplify the feeling of helplessness. Much like The Conjuring 2, it also adds a few other elements in the mix; a scarecrow, and parents hellbent on doing anything to bring their daughter back to them.
Is it a re-hash? No. It feels more like a reinvention and more of a revamp than a rehash.
More of the same but bigger? This is a very different movie and is all the more better for it. David Sandberg does a great job of breathing new life into this franchise, and what’s more does the impossible by making a movie that is better than its predecessor.
Does it stand alone as a film? 100%. This film adds some great moments that help it stand alone as a movie, injected with humour and new ways to scare the audience.
SCORE: 4/6 Annabelle: Creation marks a bold entry into the universe and reinvents the Annabelle franchise. It was a bold approach but executed really well to become a better movie as a result. Off the top of my head, only Ouija: Origin of Evil has been able to do something similar.
Annabelle Comes Home
Does it identify the ideas, themes and executional elements from Annabelle? Another interesting element comes into play here as this movie also tries for a different approach, making it about the haunted house / possession mixed with a teen horror component rather than the more adult based horror. It also uses both Annabelle and The Conjuring elements together and for that feels like the most balanced movie in the universe.
Does it pay homage to the original in the process? Taking the notion that Annabelle: Creation is the main rule setter when it comes to Annabelle, this film definitely does pay homage to that film rather than the original film. But like I have stated. This film blends nicely into the Conjuring universe so pulls a lot from all the movies that have taken place before it.
Introducing new ideas. The teen horror element marks this as a very different film in tone, whilst still in keeping with the Conjuring universe. It nicely plays with the idea of how Annabelle can harbour her power and force this onto weak or vulnerable people. It’s a simple premise but effective in this case.
Is it a re-hash? Yes. But like Creation actually works to its advantage and provides the notion of each film having its own style and identity.
More of the same but bigger? With the change in direction and style comes a film that is part of the universe but provides some of its own rules along the way.
Does it stand alone as a film? This film does stand alone, but also relies on flashbacks of the first film to cement it in the universe. This does prevent it from standing on its own entirely but the vision and narrative is strong enough to allow the film to have an identity of its own.
SCORE: 3/6 Seems a little unfair to mark it down but if we’re playing by the rules of how it relates to the original Annabelle film then it suffers. It is a far superior film from the first film though and as part of the Conjuring universe more than holds its own.
Slaxx is one of those movies that on paper smacks of the ridiculous and even though its moralistic message is on overkill, the film itself actually surprises.
The movie narrative follows a young sales clerk Libby (Romane Denis) starting her first day for a corporate clothing store that prides itself on producing high quality clothing using naturally organic fibres. It doesn’t take long for Libby and the audience to realise that the company is with wankdom and its employees are equally vacuous and insipid. Thankfully for us, that means there is plenty of unlikeable victims to meet a grisly encounter.
The mode of slasher/stalker isn’t exactly what you’d naturally expect and where the farcicial component comes into effect, as a pair of killer jeans.
Part of Slaxx’s appeal comes with the comical tone that Director Elza Kephart plays throughout the movie, whilst also delivering some satisfyingly gnarly deaths. A fine line to balance on without falling into lame or over the top ridiculousness, which Kephart delivers with ease. Hats off to the Bollywood dance number, which could easily have tipped things off kilter but manages to hang on by it’s sheer audacity and having placed the attitude tongue firmly in it’s cheek from the get-go. And with pretty much everyone up for grabs having all bowed at some point to consumerism and being guilty for succumbing to hedonism at some point, the kill count is gonna be gloriously high.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in this over-the-top, hilarious, and bloody tale of killer jeans on the rampage. Yes the morals smack of overkill but can be forgiven for its humour and is for proudly wearing its identity on its britches.
The Strange Case of Doctor Rx is a curious oddity indeed as Universal once again struggles to fire a hit outside of the ‘classic’ monster films that they had become synonymous with. Described as a B Movie murder mystery horror, this film crunches and clunks its way through numerous genre changes in gear that it never really hits its stride. Some elements lay sway to the screwball comedies of the era, but freezes more than sizzles with its dialogue.
With Patric Knowles handed a top billing role (following his support performance in The Wolf Man) as Private Investigator Jerry Church, hired to investigate a series of murders by someone who labels himself as Rx. What is bizarre about the narrative is that it picks up after five murders have already occured which feels like a missed opportunity to build up the suspense.
Church is indeed a hot shot investigator who is at odds with his desire to do what he does best and settle down with his new wife Kit (one of the original scream queens Anne Gwynne). He is ultimately drawn into the mystery however as we too are struggling to comprehend what is actually going on.
The comedy moments aren’t enough either to lift the audience out of the confusion and fall flat, coming across as befuddling rather than bemusing.
By the film’s conclusion the script somehow manages to side step a suitable conclusion with Church placed in a dire situation without showing how he is able to escape his plight. It then wrangles a conclusion that is just as perplexing as its premise, leaving me to wonder what I had just watched.
It’s one silver screen lining is the red herring element with the great Lionel Atwill lurking mysteriously in the shadows (Man-Made Monster, The Mad Doctor of Market Street). If only his presence was felt more strongly throughout the movie. It’s absence of mystery is heavily felt and with more work on the screenplay, Universal could have had a very different film on the hands. Missed opportunity.
100 years ago the Roaring Twenties came into effect with a social and economic boom that pushed the boundaries of experimentation and exploration dubbing it the crazy years.
Cinema has evolved greatly during this time and spawned Robert Miene’s silent horror in German Expressionism, which is still considered a classic among some critics.
While the tides have shifted and the boundaries of what is classified as horror has twisted through the years, moving numerous debates and discussions along the way, we come to a time when originality can be hard to come by, or perhaps the audience has become too critical and our perceptions have changed.
Can the films of today cause a deeper development in the genre that we’ve come to love and like the films that were born a century ago stir the insanity again and break new ground in the process?
Let’s look at what 2020 has in store and see if indeed it will deliver.
This film has led some early reports to compare it to Alien but in the ocean deep instead of the far reaches of space. It does boast Kristen Stewart in the cast who may divide audiences and has been a bit hit and miss of late in her film choices but she is supported in this instance by Vincent Cassel, who is known for choosing experimental films. Does this then mean that this team of underwater researchers will uncover not only a few beasties but also break new ground in the process?
Prediction: Neither sink or swim. A drifter that will entertain some but not cast anything new into the cinematic landscape.
Jan 24 – The Turning
Based on Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw and produced by Steven Spielberg, it stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Finn “Can my hair grow any longer?” Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and bears close scrutiny as director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) is set to release an interpretation of the novel in Netflix series, The Haunting of Bly Manor, his follow up to the successful The Haunting of Hill House.
Prediction: Director Floria Sigismondi will no doubt bring some artistic visual flair that is evidence from her music videos, but could possibly fall foul of “popcorn syndrome” – Light, fluffy with a bit of crunch and serves the masses, but ultimately has no substance.
Initially I was really excited about this release, being a fan of the Ju On franchise, plus Nicolas Pesce’s work with The Eyes of My Mother, and Piercing. Both movies have pushed the boundaries of comfort and shot in stylistic fashion that I was keen to see where Pesce would take The Grudge. Early reports haven’t been favourable however, so it could be another disappointment in the first month of the new decade.
Prediction: Could be another franchise instalment too many. The name alone will pull in the numbers, yet may not hit the mark on the scare front.
Jan 31 – Gretel and Hansel
It’s been over 200 years since The Brothers Grimm fashioned the fairy tale about a cannibalistic witch that kidnaps two children roaming in the woods. The fact that it is still resonates today is a testament to the strength of the storytelling and it will be interesting to see the story told from the perspective of Gretel played by Sophia Lillis (IT) who has already proved compelling as the young Beverly Marsh.
Prediction: Better than your average fair without necessarily offering anything new or compelling with the horror genre.
Some may argue its place in this list, but it is billed as a psychological horror and director Robert Eggers has already made a name for himself in the artistic expressionism world within the genre with his debut feature, The VVitch, a film that also divided audiences. American audiences have already seen the movie too as it was released there last year, but as yet Australian audiences are still to see Eggers’ sophomore outing which pits Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson against one another in a battle of wills and sanity in a remote and confined island.
Prediction: Will wow audiences looking for the alternative and alienate those more into the mainstream. Either way, both audiences will applaud the performances and Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke will paint a stunningly beautiful canvas.
Feb 13 – Fantasy Island
Blumhouse Productions are about to shake things up again by breathing new life into a cult 70s tv series. With a star-studded cast – Michael Pena (Crash), Maggie Q (Nikita), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). On an island where your fantasies come true, only to turn into nightmares and the guests must figure out its mystery in order to survive.
Prediction: Another success for Jason Blum and the team which will connect with the cinema-going public. If it’s played right, it could offer a fresh take using a blend of fantasy and horror that could also spark a franchise
Feb 21 – Brahms: The Boy ll
This one is a bit of an oddity. Whilst its predecessor was a middle of the road affair and proved to be better than expected. It did feel like a one-off movie that didn’t necessarily warrant any further journey into the world of Brahms. A sequel is here though and will pick up with the doll being discovered by another family.
Prediction: A flop that will fall by the wayside and may not even make a blip on the radar.
Feb 27 – The Invisible Man
Another Blumhouse movie, this time in collaboration with Universal to resurrect their monsters franchise after the abysmal Tom Cruise vehicle from a few years ago. In what is potentially a ripe and current topic being explored in domestic violence as its central theme The Invisible Man boasts a cracking cast with Elisabeth Moss taking lead duties. It’s also in great hands with director Leigh Whannel steering the ship following his successful movie Upgrade from last year, plus Whannel is a storyteller, so expect a decent script to boot.
Prediction: The first big success of the year bringing the Universal monsters franchise back on track and paving the way for future projects with The Bride, Renfeld, The Invisible Woman, and Frankenstein.
Mar 20 – A Quiet Place Part 2
The question is whether director John Krasiniski can repeat the winning formula from the first movie. This War of the Worlds style feature with an audio twist is more sci-fi than horror, but with the family in plight scenario held a strong connection with the audience. How will this translate now that there is an absent father?
Prediction: Cillian Murphy will provide some much needed gravitas to the narrative which will be strong enough to lift the audience through with some decent ups and downs to wrench up the tension.
Apr 3 – The New Mutants
Since Disney took over Marvel operations, The New Mutants has been stuck in production, deemed a little dark for the House of Mouse questioning how to distribute it. The feature comes across as The Dream Warriors crossed with the X-Men and centres on 5 young mutants held in a secret facility against their will. It also boasts a cracking cast with Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Anya Taylor-Joy (The VVitch, Split), and Charlie Heaton (Stranger Things).
Prediction: Despite several delays I feel that this film is gonna connect in a big way and pull in a lot of people. It just depends on how dark Disney are willing to go with it.
Apr 17 – Antlers
Little is known about this movie other than it is based on a short story by Nick Antosca the creative mind behind the Channel Zero anthology series. The screenplay must have some potential to have caught the eye of Guillermo Del Toro and put his name down as producer.
Prediction: With Keri Russell in the cast to provide the fantasy elements in reality, this could well be the surprise hit of the year.
May 15 – Saw reboot
Currently titled The Organ Donor starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Max Minghella this reboot of the Saw franchise will see the return of the Jigsaw Killer, but without Tobin Bell… I think? With director Darren Lynn Bousman at the helm once more following his turn overseeing parts 2-4, he is no stranger to the world.
Prediction: Will put bums on seats for the shock gore factor alone, but will the buddy cop drama approach pay off? Time will tell.
Jun 11 – Candyman
This is gonna be a tough one to watch for me as I am such a huge fan of the original movie and like Freddy, Candyman would haunt my dreams for a long time after viewing. A lot of that has to do with the strength of Clive Barker’s short story coupled with Tony Todd’s personification of the titular character. Part of me is willing for this to be a success though as I can see room for the movie to be delivered to a modern audience using folklore and mythology at its core, and the storyline itself can transcend easily through the ages. It will be interesting to see a female perspective in director Nia DaCosta to follow Helen’s journalistic investigations.
Prediction: Jordan Peele has attached his name to this project and is clearly passionate about the story, but one can’t help but feel this is one step too far in rekindling the old flame that resides within the Candyman story.
Jul 2 – Ghostbuster: Afterlife
I know it’s technically not a horror film, but I’m including this in the mix for its nostalgic value in me the original movie paved the love of horror that I have and opened the door to many more glorious visions in the genre ever since. The original team will return in some shape or form, but primarily the film centres around a mother and her two children who set up on a farm only to discover something paranormal lurking in the town.
Prediction: Another film that will be resting on the merits of the first film, and while it’s great to see Jason Reitman take on the franchise following in his father’s footsteps, one can only hope that there will be enough comedy, horror and sci-fi to capture that old magic, but I think it will just be a glimmer rather than that sparkle.
Jul 10 – The Purge 5
Supposedly returning for the final instalment the 12 hour no holds-barred, crimefest ignited something in the movie-going audience. It has seen five feature length instalments and 2 seasons.
Prediction: More of the same, so if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love it. I for one think the films are fun and enjoyable and it will be interesting to see how James DiMonaco will conclude things.
Jul 30 – Morbius
Sony has promised to take the Marvel universe into dark territory before with Venom and here they intend to do so again with Morbius, the Living Vampire. Jared Leto will no doubt bring the goods for the titular role and is in good company with Matt Smith, Jared Leto, and Tyrese Gibson.
Prediction: Director Daniel Espinosa provides great entertaining and solid movies, such as Safe House and Life, and I see no change here to his formula, but still question if they can go dark enough to make it compelling for horror fans.
Sep 11 – The Conjuring 3 aka The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Conjuring universe has progressed in leaps and bounds since its initial release in 2013. There has been the odd blips, but essentially the films continue to entertain and scare audiences. This latest film will once again see the Warrens at the centre of proceedings, this time with one of their most publicised cases that bore witness to Arne Cheyenne Johnson claiming that he was possessed when he murdered.
Prediction: Solid acting, tight storyline, but may fall down with its delivery and exposition. Unfortunately Director Michael Chaves didn’t deliver with The Curse of La Llorona, so I fear that this may end up in a similar way, but am still willing to give it a chance.
Sep 17 – Last Night In Soho
Not much known about this one, but Edgar Wright has a knack for tapping the pulse of classic films and adapting their essence for a modern audience. This time around the psychological horror is inspired by Don’t Look Now and Polanski’s Repulsion both high in my all-time favourite lists
Prediction: A killer cast in Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp, this could be the ‘big hit’ of the year.
Oct 15 – Halloween Kills
In 2018, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jason Blum attempted the impossible, the resurrection of Michael Myers that would connect both fans of the original and connect with a new audience. By delving into the subject of trauma and the impact that this has on its victims, Myers became both topical and harrowing. His sheer brutality and the force in which he attacks his victims made his carnage all the more disturbing.
Prediction: The name and sheer presence of Myers will bring the audience to the screens, but can they still make him relevant? They can’t rest on the nostalgic nods this time around. It’s a fine line to walk on, for if they get it wrong, they could find their final instalment, Halloween Ends a tricky sell.
TBC – Army of the Dead
For sheer shits and giggles, and action-pumped mayhem from visual storyteller Zack Snyder, about a group of mercenaries who decide to rob a casino during a zombie outbreak, this film concludes our list.
Prediction: Starring Dave Bautista, Army of the Dead will be entertaining if nothing else. A perfect answer for those just wanting to get their kicks and not have to think too deeply.
This quote that is taken from Dante’s Inferno, a clear inspiration for Lars Von Trier’s latest movie could equally be a word of warning to those cinema-goers that struggle to relate to the filmmakers vision. With supposedly over 100 walkouts at Sundance and cries of disgust from some critics, some could be deceived into believing that this is once again another artsy film as a means to provoke this kind of reaction from the audience.
As the film unfolded, I found Jack’s journey an interesting one as the further he gave into his compulsions and acts of murderous intrigue, the deeper and more fascinating his character became. Matt Dillon’s poise as the titular character hinges on devoid emotion as Jack is hardwired into the mechanisation’s of the human body. He has no connection to these victims that he picks at random and purely sees them as part of his science experiment. Actually, Jack describes himself as an architect, or a creator, but as the viewer we can identify that he is in fact a lost soul, struggling to find his place in the world. His journey sees him adrift and constantly changing his direction and his ‘vocation’ as a result. Even his spiritual guide into his descent into hell, Verge (ably played by the late, great Bruno Ganz) contradicts Jack’s every move and hypothesis for the things he does.
At one stage he strives to connect with one of his victims, Simple (Riley Keough) but he frustrates at her lack of intelligence, at least to reach his level of so-called intellect, which leads him to not only degrade her mentally, but he then plays the ultimate sexual and physical degradation by removing her breasts with a knife. This could actually be the point where some of the 100 cinema-goers walked out of the screening, because despite not actually seeing the act, the performance is so believably harrowing (a testament to both parties) that it is understandable that this could have been too much for some, if not most. And that’s if they managed to stick around for the disturbing scene that depicted Jack shooting down a couple of children with a hunting rifle.
If I’m honest, the running time of 2 and a half hours had me balking a bit at the prospect of sitting through society and politics meshed in a tangled perspective from a serial killer, but ultimately the experience was a stark and realistic examination of just how fucked up everything is. If humanity continues on this trajectory, we are in for a deeply unnerving and insane world that will is fast pulling us into the recesses of hell.
Von Trier will always be a tough sell, but this macabre overview of the dark soul of humanity as it plunges into its darkest hour, is an honest and gut-wrenching portrayal that harbours some powerful performances from all the cast. At times The House That Jack Built even leans into some humorous aspects of the mayhem, not often seen in Von Trier’s work, which was a surprise to see. Maybe he’s softening in his old age… but then again, maybe not.
It’s subject matter will not be for all and will pull away from the realism on-screen, but by now most people will be familiar with Von Trier’s 30 years of work behind the camera.
You’ll either be completely transfixed, disgusted, or bored by this latest offering, depending on your stance of the afore-mentioned director’s style.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, January 16, 2019 – MidWest WeirdFest announces its first programming wave for 2019 today. The third annual festival – a cinematic celebration of all things fantastic, frightening, offbeat, and just plain weird – takes place March 8-10, 2019 at the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
“This year’s fest line-up is set to delight fans of cutting edge horror, sci-fi, underground, and documentary cinema”, says festival founder and programming director Dean Bertram. “We’ve put together a heady and eclectic mix of speculative genre offerings, underground strangeness, and paranormal revelations: From a psychedelic Manson Family reimagining and a post-apocalyptic dance-off epic, through tales about a reanimated electrokinetic teenager, haunted stoners, and inept buddy superheroes, to a bonkers lake monster adventure and the most in-depth Bigfoot documentary ever produced. And that’s just from MidWest WeirdFest’s first programming wave of 2019!”
Discounted festival passes are now on sale at: www.midwestweirdfest.com. Individual tickets to each film will go on sale closer to the festival; both on the fest’s website, and directly from the Micon Downtown Cinema in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Full program details and filmmaker guests will be revealed in February.
The first seven feature films announced follow:
FP 2: BEATS OF RAGE (director: Jason Trost)
Despite hanging up his boots following the events of the cult classic “THE FP”, JTRO must return to the blood sport of Beat-Beat Revelation one last time. JTRO and KCDC – his mystical hype man – will quest deep into The Wastes, a land decimated by the Beat Wars, to compete in the ancient Beat-Beat tournament, called “Beats of Rage”, face AK-47, and, hopefully, save the world. Imagine a MAD MAX style future, where battles to the death are fought via the video game Dance Dance Revolution, and you might have an inkling of the crazy and hilarious post-apocalyptic world of THE FP.
THE INVISIBLE MOTHER (directors: Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman)
When lesbian stoner Marcy returns to her grandparents’ home to help care for her mentally declining grandmother, she discovers they are being terrorized by a malevolent force from a Victorian post-mortem photograph. THE INVISBLE MOTHER is a giallo-styled, terrifying descent into supernatural terror.
LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER (director: Ryland Tews)
The eccentric Captain Seafield hires a crew of specialists to help him plot revenge against the creature that killed his father. After several failed attempts, Seafield is forced to take matters into his own drunken hands. What began as a simple case of man verses beast, soon turns into a rabbit hole of mysterious unknowns and Lovecraftian hijinks. LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER — banned in four lakes!
THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS (director: Lonnie Martin)
Convinced there’s more to the Manson murders than meets the public eye, counterculture journalist Paul Krassner embarks on an LSD tinged investigation of the last of Manson’s disciples: Brenda McCann, Sandra Good, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. What he finds could change how the world sees the 60s… if he lives long enough to tell the story. A riveting, speculative, and psychedelic journey into one of the darkest byways of 1960s Americana.
ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT (director: Seth Breedlove)
From Small Town Monsters, and MidWest WeirdFest alumni filmmaker Seth Breedlove (THE MOTHAN OF POINT PLEASANT, THE BRAY ROAD BEAST), comes this enthralling documentary examining the history of the Bigfoot phenomenon. ON THE TRAIL OF BIGFOOT was filmed coast to coast during 2018 and features witnesses and investigators of the elusive creature. Prepare to go deeper into the Bigfoot subject than you’ve ever gone before.
REBORN (director: Julian Richards)
A stillborn baby girl is brought back to life by a morgue attendant using electrokinetic power. On her sixteenth birthday she escapes her captor and sets out to find her birth mother leaving a trail of destruction behind her. Don’t miss this stunning modern twist on 70s and 80s horror classics like CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, and THE FURY. Stars genre legends Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR, BEYOND THE GATES) and Michael Parle (STREETS OF FIRE, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT).
ZEROES (director: Charles Smith)
After leaving a Halloween party dressed as ninjas, Kenneth and Ray – two drunken roommates – thwart a robbery and their heroics go viral. No litterer or public urinator is safe until an actual serial killer begins to ravage the city. Our inept crime-fighting duo, with the help of the enigmatic and insanely wealthy Gary, must catch the killer before Kenneth’s crush Kate becomes the next target. Hilarity abounds in this superhero spoof.
There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.
As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.
The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.
Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…
Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)
Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)
Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…
The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.
Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!
Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.
The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!