Movie review: Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021)

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The My Super Psycho Sweet 16 TV movie trilogy aside, Director Jacob Gentry has been slowly carving out credible genre movies that have been entertaining the On Demand platform audiences. His latest outing, Broadcast Signal Intrusion has tapped into the mainstream with its eerie psychological elements that has been likened to the works of Cronenberg the elder, notably Videodrome as both movies deal with underground conspiracies and the infiltration of what is now an aged medium, the video tape. The similarities end there however, as all due respect to Gentry, he ain’t Cronenberg and lacks the in-depth intelligence that the directing auteur brings to his work and the study of the human mind and the physical degradation/rehabilitation of our species with that of another entity.

Gentry is able to play a little on the psyche though, with this slow burner investigation into these mysterious and sinister pirate broadcasts that have infiltrated transmission stations. The trouble I found though is that the eerie and strange was set far better in Channel Zero’s Candle Cove. The masked presence in the videos does shock but fails to go deeper with the scares and flatlines with every other appearance. The 90s setting also helps to set the mood and provide an ample backdrop to the narrative, which sees video archivist James (Harry Shum Jr. – Crazy Rich Asians) driven by obsession to unearth the mystery behind these dissemations. 

James himself, plagued by his past, seems set on this Sisyphus-like pursuit and is damned by the consequences. He is heeded numerous times by those he encounters along the way but is hellbent in ploughing ahead regardless.

There are some choice decisions that James makes along the way that does make the audience question why he is so insistent in finding the truth and some of the reason behind this is provided to a degree but like the plot, it’s thinly veiled and lacks substance. This is in essence, the movie’s achilles heel; not enough smoke to hide the plots and twists of intrigue. And thus it falls short and struggles to keep our attention.

The Prognosis:

There is promise here from Director Jacob Gentry, but the psychological horror is left wanting, content to skim across the surface without delving to the darkest depths.
There is enough to play with the senses only to be let down by a fairly straight forward conclusion followed by an odd twist component.

  • Saul Muerte

Broadcast Signal Intrusion is available to own or rent from AppleTV, Microsoft Store and Google Play in Australia & NZ from March 30.

Retrospective: The Black Castle (1952)

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In the following year to Universal’s The Strange Door, the production house would release the last real gothic horror story in their canon, The Black Castle. It would pull out all the stops in another melodramatic tale, harbouring the talents of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr to steer the film both from a financial and credibility perspective.

The movie didn’t come without its problems however with original director Joseph Pevney stepping aside due his lack of faith in the script to make way for art director Nathan Juran to take the helm for what would be his first time in the director’s chair. Juran would go on to direct The Deadly Mantis; Attack of the 50ft Woman; and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad among his credits. For his initial feature though, he would openly admit that he was guided by the on screen talent to provide their valuable knowledge in the films making.

The plot for The Black Castle is admittedly minimalistic and in that sense, one can understand Pevney’s reservations. It also has similar themes to The Strange Door around imprisonment and escape from an evil antagonist, this time in the guise of Count Von Bruno (Stephen McNally).

The movie has been treated kindly by notable reviewers retrospectively, most notably because of its high quality in most of the production elements, and the cast are strong enough to ground the film. For me, the film doesn’t hold enough appeal to make it an iconic one.
Cinephiles will appreciate it for its cinematic value at the decline of Universal horror which is warranted, but others may struggle to connect to the films narrative.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Strange Door (1951)

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As Universal creaked into the early 50s, they were taking giant strides towards a new sub-genre sparked by the space race that was capturing the Nation’s zeitgeist. The creatures that the production house had built its name upon had now shifted into more comedic terrain with Abbott and Costello. There was still some room for gothic horror though and The Strange Door based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel, The Sire de Maletroit’s Door would pit veterans Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff alongside one another in a last ditch effort to draw the crowds.

The premise is a slight tale about revenge, mischaracterisation and ultimately love in the face of adversity and is presented more as a melodrama than horror. Laughton also does his best to chew up the scenery and lapping up every moment as Alain de Maletroit, s msn consumed by grief and jealousy over the death of his brother Edmund’s wife. Alain imprisons Edmund (Paul Cavanagh) and raises his niece, Bianche (Sally Forrest) as though she were his child. This is through some warped connection to his sister-in -law that he longs to hold onto.

Everything is a whim or a game for Alain though, spoilt by his riches and living the life of a megalomaniac, content in ruining the lives of others to please his cruel desires.

Part of his trickery involves ensnaring a wayward thief, Denis (Richard Stapley) and convince him to marry Bianche, and then arrange for him to be murdered on the eve of their wdding night. True to the machiavellian style that the film is modelled on however, Alain doesn’t account for Denis and Bianche to actually fall in love. Nor does he foresee that his longtime dogsbody Voltan (Karloff) would have a change of heart and join focus with the lovebound duo in freeing the imprisoned Edmond and foil Alain’s plans.

While The Strange Door was well received at the time, upon recent viewing, you can’t help but notice that it is missing that special je ne sais quoi that was reminiscent in their earlier movies despite having stellar performers in Laughton and Karloff in the cast. 

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Bunker Game (2022)

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Some games are not for everyone.

While I may not have been the most athletic kid growing up, I did enjoy taking part in games. Be it in physical sports or the tabletop board games.

For their latest Exclusive and Original features, Shudder have launched Italian director Roberto Zazzara’s film The Bunker Game onto their platform.

The premise is that a Live Action Role Playing Game set around the rise of the Third Reich buried underground and living the life of the Nazi’s regime. When the games’ creator disappears, the line between game and reality blends and the players are forced into a battle for survival.

The idea of a live action role-playing game seems ripe for a bloody scene. By playing with the idea of realism the game and the horror element is heightened but the problem comes from no clear understanding of what the rules of this game may be. Is it set in the now, or a warped future where the Reich have sneaked underground with the means of a new uprising? Or is this world merely the stuff of some rich man’s playground?
By throwing into the mix, a paranormal element that could be behind everything, then we start to get into really murky and convoluted territory.

This isn’t the only real issue however, as both characters and the performances therein are borderline dry. There’s two-dimensions and then there’s flatline. The writers couldn’t do much more in order to shirk their audience away from the content. The narrative is like wading through treacle, but unfortunately nothing sticks so that by the films conclusion we’re beyond caring about whatever they may have concocted to draw the movie to a close.

The Prognosis:

Unfortunately, March hasn’t been too kind for horror streaming platform Shudder. So far the exclusive and original content has been underwhelming.
In the case of The Bunker Game, it simply struggles to hold your interest and falls on so many crucial elements along the way.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: X (2022)

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Last week I joined up with fellow Surgeon Myles Davies to watch Ti West’s latest turn behind the camera with his seventies inspired horror slasher flick, X.

A couple of days later, my colleague fired up the following tweet to cast his judgement before the world.

But what prompted this response from our slasher surgeon guru?

What compelled him to go Cujo frothing crazy?

Was he merely spouting foreign tongue, possessed by Satan’s work?

Or was there a method to the madness and perhaps people should sit up and take note of his prophecy?

Well, let’s throw the beast onto the mortician’s slab and dissect the film to get to the heart of it.

It’s been about six years since West sat in the directors chair for a feature length movie, and his subject of choice is a love song to the late sixties and early seventies with the infusion of sex and slasher horror.

There are obvious nods to the porno scene that had infiltrated the movie Plex with films such as Debbie Does Dallas, opening to dorr for adventurous and risky filmmakers to make their mark with cheap, low budget, guerrilla style approach to the medium.

Similarly the slasher scene was starting to raise its head, notably through The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper and from which West draws the bulk of his inspiration from.

West is clearly a man who knows his field though with suitable nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho, Kubrick’s The Shining, and even early 80s horror flick Alligator

X follows a group of young filmmakers intent on making an adult movie that could launch them to stardom; whether it was through escapism, to be famous, or for the money. Leading the stakes with that certain X factor is Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), a stripper and pornographic film actress. Joining her on their filming expedition is her boyfriend and producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), fellow actors Bobby Lynne (Brittany Snow), and Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi), Director RJ (Owen Capbell), and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenny Ortega). 

Their choice of location happens to be a farmhouse in Texas (of course) and much like its inspiration, there’s more than meets the eye from its occupants, but not necessarily how you would expect… an elderly couple. Pearl (also Goth) is unwilling to let go of her sexuality just because of her age; and Howard (Stephen Ure) who will stop at nothing to satisfy her needs, but time may not be on his side. 

There is a fine line between pleasure and pain, and all it takes is one simple flip to turn our intrepid pioneers in filmmaking to be pushed into a world where they may not return from. Once the characters and setting take hold, West then lets loose with a slasher frenzy of delight, painting his celluloid brush with the artistic style and grace that the genre lends its name from, dabbing from a palette of iconic horror visuals to stimulate the audience with.

X is more than a homage to films of yester-year though as West immediately lures us in with the style from the era, both visually and auditorily, scintillating the senses. As he subjects us to the charm of the movie, West then pulls us in further with rich characterisation, who on face value appear to be stereotypes of the decade, but beneath the surface are more than their appearance depicts.
In fact, West’s masterstroke is in forcing the viewer to look beneath the surface of these characters, delving deep into their personalities and forcing their true selves to the fore.
The biggest component that Wast dapples with is the social stigma that age has on society, and how sex can diminish when time plays its part on us all. Does age damage the psyche? When we are left with our souls, and our body begins to fail us, what makes us worthy then when we aren’t able to let go of our sensuality?

The Prognosis:

So what is the conclusion?
Is this as Myles states, a potential contender for horror film of the year?

Ti West serves up a beautifully shot movie that sparks nostalgia and awakening to the slasher genre. The performances, especially from Mia Goth in her dual role are an absolute delight.
And the slow burn tension that flicks with humour and horror is perfectly balanced throughout the film. Plus the use of age and fear of ageism in the wake of losing one’s sexuality as the central theme is a bold but rewarding one.

West has always proved to be a quiet achiever from the mumblegore movement, but deserves more praise for his efforts.

X has just elevated his profile further and with the promise of turning the movie into a trilogy and a prequel called Pearl due later in the year, West could very well have made the best horror film of the year. Stay tuned 2022.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: The Seed (2021)

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A few weeks ago the horror streaming platform Shudder released The Seed as part of their Exclusive and Original content.

The film sees Sam Walker in the director’s chair for the first time overseeing a feature length movie, and is centred in the Mojave desert where 3 girls are settling in for a weekend retreat. Their plans however, would  be disrupted due to a bizarre alien invasion.

The choice of location may seem a strange choice but is packed with promise for it’s remoteness and ripe with tapping into dealing with a crisis when isolated from society.

What surprised me though is that The Seed gets swamped in vacuousness, both in narrative and character depth. There is simply nothing here for the audience to grab hold of.

The girls in question are some of the most frustrating characters I’ve seen on screen in some time with no redeeming features whatsoever, particularly from Deidrie (Lucy Martin) and Heather (Sophie Vavaseur).

These so called friends are so self-consumed (which I get is the point) that any grace we would have for their predicament dies along with their performances. Any vein attempt to dilute their negative energy with our lead protagonist Charlotte (Chelsea Edge) who at least has some sense and is in touch with reality, is lost in the mirth of pained scripting choices.

What is does boast is some creditability in the effects department, creating some suitably gross visual creature effects in the alien life forms design. If this is anything to go by there is still potential from Sam Walker to produce something worthy, but we’re too bogged down by it’s obvious weaknesses for this area alone to warrant any high praise.

The Prognosis:

Quite simply, this movie is dull and lifeless

The characters propel you from the narrative and there is little care to hold your attention beyond some fairly decent visuals.

Movie review: Fresh (2022)

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When looking ahead at the horror movies set to be released throughout 2022, I didn’t predict that a film released through Hulu would set the benchmark in a cannibalistic, black comedy sub-genre with its Disney umbrella hat on.

Adam McKay, known for his time as head writer for Saturday NIght Live produced this film for Mimi Cave’s directorial debut. With Lauryn Kahn on screenwriting duties, we’re provided with a creative team that are able to tap into a vibrant, and at times brutally shocking script.

As the movie begins, we follow Noa (Daisy Edgar Jones) as she struggles to meet the right guy though online dating sites. When Noa has a chance encounter at a grocery store with Steve (Sebastian Stan), and a little flirting, there is the illusion that she has found Mr. Right after all. 

It takes the first half an hour of playing in a rom-com domain before Cave takes a drastic turn in proceedings when Steve suggests a trip away with just the two of them.
What could easily slip into the usual kidnapping, hostage scenario with a leaning into Stockholm syndrome is delivered on a much harder palette to swallow when it is revealed that Steve has a penchant for human flesh.
This rather sadistic twist proves to be a strong benefit to the film’s narrative, forcing the viewer to grimace at the premise with morbid fascination and the lengths that Noa must endure to win her potential freedom. Despite her ordeal, Kahn slices up some delightful passages of dark humour that are handled and performed with delicacy, and at times during surprisingly warm scenes that conflict with the drama of the moment.

There is hope and despair, implemented with a friend everyone wishes they had looking out for them in Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs), who also discovers that Steve harbours another life with his wife, Ann (Charlotte Le Bon), but how much does his wife really know? And what dangers lie beyond if Mollie dares to proceed with her pursuit in finding Noa?

The Prognosis:

Fresh is so much more than your average psychological, survival thriller. It is delivered with heart, soul, and a dash of dark humour that pushes the notion of survival to the extreme.
It leaves you questioning just how much you would go to in order to outwit your assailant when your ass is literally on the line and on the dinner table.

Highly impressive outing from Mimi Cave who proves that she can offer a film that has edge, thrills and lighted-hearted moments in the darkest of scenarios.

  • Saul Muerte 

Fresh is currently streaming on Disney Plus.

Retrospective: Scream 4 (2010)

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Wes Craven: The Scream Years Part 8 – Scream (2010)

As I rounded out the final retrospective, looking back on Wes Craven’s latter movies, which I have dubbed ‘The Scream Years’, I had a moment where I thought that I had criminally missed out on watching what was then the last instalment of the Scream franchise, Scream 4.

I admitted as much to a friend online, as the film unfolded, only to realise that I had seen it, and my recollection came flooding back.
So why this absence of memory, regarding the movie?

Was it so bad that I had blocked it from my mind?

Or had the franchise run the gauntlet and exhausted any further possibilities to keep Ghostface and his multiple personalities to haunt Sidney Prescott and those who survived the original Woodsboro Murders?

The recent outing Scream (2022) would suggest otherwise.

For Scream 4, Craven would once again reunite with writer Kevin Williamson, suggesting that the old formula was still ripe for the making. Set fifteen years after the initial murders, the premise was to look at the impact that this had on the wider circle of friends and family, including Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts). When a double murder occurs once more involving high school students in Woodsboro, Sidney becomes prime suspect (laughably) as a way to promote her new book. She is forced to stay until the murders are solved, but when Jill gets a threatening phone call from Ol’ Ghostface himself, things start to heat up again and the body count starts to pile up.

Meanwhile, Dewey (David Arquette), who is now the town sheriff tries to restore order, but struggles to contain his wife Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) from doing her usual undercover sleuthing. 

There are the typical traits that we had now become accustomed to from the franchise with film geeks, Charlie (Rory Culkin) and Robbie (Erik Knudsen) who annually throw the Stabathon festival in Woodsboro; the ex-boyfriend of Jill, Trevor (Nico Tortorella); the snooty, highly opinionated character, Rebecca (Alison Brie) as Sidney’s publicist; and the best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere); and that’s not to mention some of the early cameos from the Stab movie series snippets including Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell among them.

As the sands sift through Sidney’s serial turmoil, and the audience weaves their way between numerous whodunnit style investigations, we’re left with a film that boasts some sharp dialogue and humour to match, plus some pretty decent kills that are delivered by the hands of a highly experienced craftsman in Craven. What it lacks though is any satisfactory scares as we’re swallowed up by some typical horror tropes; a surprise considering Craven had once re-invented the genre with the original movie. The final reveal also feels tired and weak considering the twists and turns we take to get there. Having said that, there are some elements that the impact of social media can have on people, which shows just how cutting edge and forward thinking Craven could be in his film-making; a testament to how fundamental and important he was for the horror genre.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Scream (2022)

10 Scream inspired movies

Retrospective: Vampire in Brooklyn

Retrospective: Scream (1996)

Retrospective: Scream 2 (1997)

Retrospective: Scream 3 (2000)

Retrospective: Cursed (2005)

Retrospective: Red Eye (2005)

Retrospective: My Soul To Take (2010)

Retrospective: Tales From The Crypt (1972)

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During the early 50s, EC Comics ran a successful horror series known as Tales From the Crypt of which 27 issues were produced on a bi-monthly basis. When co-founder of Amicus Productions, Milton Subotsky came into the position of securing the rights to produce a movie-length feature based on the comics he loved as a kid, he didn’t hesitate.

For me, criminally, I would blur the lines of recollection between this and Creepshow, both franchises having a crypt keeper / the creep taking on hosting or segway duties. It’s iconic status however was not lost on me and for those who have followed my writings or musings through the Surgeons of Horror podcast may know, I’m a huge fan of Peter Cushing’s work, especially with the Hammer Horror scene. Here he teams up with director Freddie Francis, who has been attached to films by both Hammer and Amicus in their history, and another creative with whom I admire. Francis does incredibly well with the 5 segmented stories, all drawn from the TFTC archives. And Cushing actually turned down the initial role offered to him from the script, which was part of The Monkey’s Paw inspired tale, “Wish You Were Here”, instead taking on the role of Grimsdyke in “Poetic Justice”.

The segments are weaved together with 5 souls trapped in a state of purgatory to face up to their evil deeds, by The Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson). One by one we witness these individuals recount their tales which lead to their death, from Joan Collins as Joanne Clayton in “…And All Through The House” in a Christmas inspired murder of a woman killing her husband and trying to hide the evidence form her daughter only to be sprung from a psychotic killer on the loose dressed as Santa.

Then there’s “Reflection of Death” where Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) tries to run away from his family life with his lover, Susan (Angela Blake) only to crash in his car and be taken on a living nightmare where he believes he survived, only to find out that this is far from the truth. This is followed by the aforementioned segment with Cushing, where he plays the loveable, elderly figure Grimsdyke, who is the subject of jealousy by his neighbour James (Robin Phillips) believing him to be a waste of space, and bringing down the neighbourhood. When he takes action to strip down Grimsdyke’s life to bare minimum, he doesn’t expect the repercussions that occur beyond the grave.

The fourth segment, “Wish You Were Here” as stated before is heavily inspired by The Monkey’s Paw and the ramifications when you are not careful or specific about what you wish for when presented with three wishes. The last segment, “Blind Alleys” has Nigel Patrick as a self-entitled Major who gets his razor sharp comeuppance in a dog-eat-dog world where he attempts to rule the roost over the occupants in a home for the blind. The residents also include Patrick Magee hamming it up as always.

There’s a certain appeal to this anthology movie that lures you into each tale. Yes there are some obvious flaws but these can be forgiven for the atmosphere created by the creative team and the actors that give substance to the tales from the crypt.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: No Exit (2022)

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As the first quarter of an hour rolls by in Damien Power’s sophomore outing in the director’s chair, I was immediately lulled into a false sense of security and my expectations of what lay in store was grossly misunderstood on my part.
I should have known better, as Power has more than proved himself in the dark thriller terrain with his debut feature Killing Ground; a must watch if you haven’t caught it yet.

Part of my initial interpretation of the early moments in the film fell to my preconception that I had the movie pegged, or should I say the character Darby Thorne (Havana Rose Liu) sussed as the down and out recovering addict, stuck in rehab without much care for the world around her. So far, so two dimensional.

The trick that Power pulls off here is that nothing is what it appears to be, and no one should be judged on face value.

When Darby hears that her mother has been taken to hospital, she breaks out of rehab, steals a car and hightails her way to try and be by her side, but as the film’s title suggests, to escape is easier said than done. And our demons will always be with us unless we face up to them. Sometimes that takes a crisis to occur in order to shift the balance towards resolution, for good or ill.

The barrier in this instance to Darby’s goal comes with a heavy snowfall and she is encouraged by Corporal Ron Hill to take refuge at the local visitor’s centre until the weather blows over. Begrudgingly she does so and encounters four other refugees seeking shelter; married couple Ed (Dennis Haysbert) and Shandi (Dale Dickey), Ash (Danny Ramirez), and Lars (David Rhysdal). Naturally, when strangers meet there is the awkwardness thrust upon them as they are forced to share the space together. The icebreaker comes in the form of a came of ‘bullshit’; and with it the symbolism inherent throughout where they must try and work out who is telling the truth and who is harbouring a dark secret.

Darby then uncovers one of these secrets when she unwittingly finds a girl tied and bound in the back of one of the vans outside. Now she must work out who is behind this kidnapping and find a way out of this snowbound nightmare.

The Prognosis:

Once again Damien Power proves masterful when it comes to directing a thriller that pulsates along with gripping unease. The balance of power shifts and undulates throughout the film leaving the viewer pondering if there will be any rest for our protagonist. If Darby is to have any hope of doing so, she must battle tooth and nail to do so.  

While it falls short in some places, No Exit offers enough ebbs and flows to keep you entertained to its conclusion. 

  • Saul Muerte

No Exit is currently streaming on Disney Plus in Australia