There is an inherent fear that we hold deeply of our fellow ‘man’ and the extremes of depravity that we go to away from the confines of urban security. It seems that the further or deeper we go into the backwoods or remote locations, the greater our fear becomes. At the turn of the seventies, now prominent film director Steven Spielberg exposed those fears in the open road, hauling ass from an unknown truck driver across the vast landscape of the US for Duel; John Boorman took the love of adventure and male bonding across the riverways into more dark terrain in Deliverance; and Terence Malik offered up a slice of teenage runaways on a killing spree in South Dakota in Badlands, but it didn’t stop on US soil. In Britain they amped up the fear of folk stories by subjecting its audience to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle in The Wicker Man; and in Australia Peter Weir was serving up some outback disturbance as political commentary for The Cars That Ate Paris. It was a growing trend that was steadily getting darker.
Arguably it was in 1974 that close scrutiny was cast on the unknown and sheltered parts of the country, and a family feasting on travellers to fuel their appetite in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that would throw turmoil into the mix and slowly craft out the slasher sub-genre. A master of horror, Wes Craven would pick up that agitation baton and run with it for The Hills Have Eyes, casting everyday white American family against a mutant inbred family set in the heart of the Californian desert to really shake us to the core. From here on in, the audience had hillbilly horror to contend with as a new playing field for the genre.
As we etch our way into the late seventies and early 80s, the raw appeal was on show to explore through I Spit On Your Grave; Tourist Trap; and the birth of slasher itself in Friday the 13th. The eighties would then play around with this concept with similar fodder in The Burning; Don’t Go In The Woods; and Just Before Dawn. It wouldn’t be long before the subject would be made lightly and Troma Entertainment didn’t disappoint with the horror comedy, Redneck Zombies to combine this trepidation and mix it with the undead.
The nineties would prove a lonely trail until we would be taken off the road and onto an unbeaten track in 2003’s Wrong Turn, a film that has somehow spawned six follow up features. Now, this may be a contentious point but it still stands strong twenty years on to me for nostalgic purposes and no amount of tree-leaping naysayers can sway me from this opinion. And while part of my reasoning may swiftly be driven by the casting of Eliza Dushka its heroine (still a Faith fan and not in the Buffy camp), but also with a pre-Dexter Desmond Harrington and a post Clueless Jeremy Sisto in its fold. And that’s not to mention a Queens of the Stone Age track in the soundtrack to complete the auditory reckoning, and some of the team from Stan Winston studios to add the gloss and gore. Sure it’s twee horror, but it continued this trend of hillbilly horror, satiating those needs and passing on the baton again for more comedy visions in Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and full out gross horror in the remake of The Hills Have Eyes by Alexandre Aja, bringing us full circle again.
The subject is here to stay as long as our fear remains, and in a post COVID world combined with our isolated lives, surviving or not through cyber connections, surely that fear will only grow stronger and thrust us into a whole new realm of revulsion. Hopefully this will pave way for more creativity to force us on the path of destruction and desolation.
Actor Duane Jones deserves an accolade for his work on screen, having made his mark in zombie folklore as Ben for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead,he would once again appear in another significant feature five years later. Ganja and Hess would be a vital and symbolic feature in American-African culture had initially been greenlit by producers Quentin Kelly and Jack Jordan as a response to replicate the formula generated by Blaxploitation feature Blacula. Thankfully the director charged with creating Ganja and Hess had a more sophisticated tale in mind, and one that would mark an integral voice for African-Americans in the celluloid world. Bill Gunn was most noted as a playwright, novelist and actor, would produce a feature that examined the impact of Christianity on African culture in a modern setting, infusing gothic elements as its guise.
This vampire tale would centre on Dr. Hess Green (Jones), a black anthropologist, with money to guide his research into an ancient African nation of blood drinkers. Hess’ path takes a dark turn however when he attempts to save the life of George Meda (played by Gunn) who flips proceedings by stabbing Hess with a ceremonial dagger and commits suicide. Hess survives the ordeal but takes up the practice of his studies, drinking the blood of Meda, transforming him into a vampire.
Ganja and Hess is also a character piece that is told with no clear drive from its protagonists, not necessarily guided by love or power, but by their ancestral history, tying them to their roots, shackled by their past, yet striving to break free. This is perfectly captured by the closing scene on the film when a young man is revived in his new frame and leaps gallantly in his birth suit (a symbol of rebirth) towards the camera.
The journey on the way to the climax fluctuates through the actions of Hess, and poignantly the arrival of Ganga (Marlene Clark – (Night of the Cobra Woman), Meda’s estranged wife who becomes entangled in Hess’ affairs, succumbing to vampiric charms, the two then entice others into their spiritual wake.
These activities are formed in juxtaposition to the Christian perspective, led by the films’ narrator and head of the Christian church Rev. Luther Williams (Sam Waymon), a man who strives to lure Hess towards his values. With Ganja carrying this heavy burden following Hess’ demise, this balance of perspectives is delicately poised and Gunn leads the audience to surmise their own thoughts on which way, (if any) that the pendulum should swing.
A few months ago there was a rumbling on the internet, a whisper of something coming, a promise of a film whose title was the only selling point you needed: Cocaine Bear. A modern day animal exploitation movie the likes of which we haven’t seen since Snakes on a Plane, a meme of a movie that asks the question what if a bear did cocaine? And now it’s finally here, does it live up to the name?
When a drug smuggler dumps his shipment into a national park, a host of locals and out-of-towner’s struggle to survive the brown bear that has discovered the drugs and formed a dangerous habit. The four main story threads consist of off-duty nurse, Sari (Keri Russell), searching for her young daughter; Eddie and Daveed (Alden Ehrenreich & O’Shae Jackson Jr) two criminals sent to retrieve the missing drugs by their boss Syd (Ray Liotta); police detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) following after the criminals; and park ranger Liz (Margo Martindale) who is just trying to survive.
The movie is also set in the 80’s giving us a few anti-drug commercials of the time and some real life footage of the actual news reporting around the event at the top of the film. That’s right as the poster, trailer and movie will insist this is based on a true story, when drug smugglers dumped a cocaine shipment in the middle of the woods and indeed a bear did find it and did indeed consume cocaine but in real life the bear died whereas the film dramatises what if cocaine had the same effect on bears as spinach has to Popeye.
From the plot summary above you might guess my first issue with this film: the script. This movie runs at 95 minutes but it is overstuffed with characters. I didn’t even mention the surviving hippy running around from the opening, the three low-ambition local thugs, the two ambulance drivers (in one of the best sequences of the film), the visiting forest fire specialist, our stranger things dose of two children amongst it all and the secondary cop character who pops back up towards the end for no real impact.
Now there are some fun performances here particularly one of the young kids, Henry (Christain Convery) who gives a lot of best lines, and one of the local thugs, Kid (Aaron Holliday) who is the largest source of character comedy in the film, and Keri Russell, in her pink jumpsuit, deserves so much more love and time but with so many people running all around we just don’t have the time to properly invest and develop themes, story or plot.
Now most people will give it the Sharknado defense, “You want plot? You want a story? Who needs themes when you’ve got the cocaine bear?” but the film aspires to be more, it’s not relying on cliches to the extent that it probably should. So what we’re left is a massive cast of characters but no time to properly explore the stories that they so desperately want to tell here.
Elizabeth Banks helms the film as director, her last film being the (somewhat unfairly) maligned Charlie’s Angels reboot/sequel. It’s a shame because I’ve loved Banks as an actor for years, and I’ve been rooting for her as a director just to watch her films generally miss the mark ever so slightly and that continues to be the case here. The tone here is kind of head scratching because it’s not funny, the attempts at comedy are far and few between, I had maybe two laughs in the entire time. The aforementioned ambulance scene has a glimmer leaning more into horror but then we drop that as well. It’s just a bit of a wet mess. There’s certainly some enjoyment to be had here, there are some really fun sequences, the soundtrack bolstering the whole affair and the action is handled particularly well, hitting all the schlocky notes that the movie should have more of, but the comedy of the film mostly doesn’t hit the mark, a few too many performances just seem to be sleepwalking through the runtime and could probably use a hit of some kind of stimulant.
The titular bear though is a joy, the special effects render it impressively for the modest budget and it is stylised and cartoony just enough that it never feels terribly odd. Honestly the bear is so fun, whenever it’s on screen I want a prequel, a sequel, a whole Fast and Furious length series, son of Cocaine Bear, Abbott and Costello meet Cocaine Bear, Cocaine Bear Goes to Camp/College/Space. It’s where the rest of the cast comes in that drags the movie down.
The performances and the writing work in tandem to just sink the film below what is fun and enjoyable and turns the film into an overly ambitious 95 minute feature in need of a punch up.
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.