Every so often a film will come along that can be truly classified as unique and Bruce McDonald’s (Pontypool) latest feature can proudly sit in this category. Like a glass of smooth whiskey, Dreamland scintillates the senses and warms the cockles as it seeps into the bloodstream. As expected from its name, McDonald provides a narrative that draws you in deep and hypnotises you into a state of transcendence.
At its heart, Dreamland is a hitman with a heart movie, but what makes it stand apart is how the storyline transfuses Eastern European mythology with a Far-East culture and spiritualism. This injected with a cool jazz music that would make Martin Scorsese swoon, we are carried through a journey where the audience can drift along with relative ease knowing that we are in the safe hands of a more than accomplished director.
It’s not just about style though, as the substance is grounded by some heavy-hitting performances from Henry Rollins, Juliette Lewis, and Stephen McHattie in his dual role of the afore-mentioned hitman, Johnny and jazz trumpeter The Maestro. McHattie is magnificent in his portrayal of both parts and adds weight to McDonald’s composition.
When hitman Johnny learns of children being smuggled and sold off to a collective group, he endeavours to free them of their torment and quit the business ahead of high-profile wedding. There is trouble ahead, but more than Johnny possibly bargained for as the wedding guests are from a vampiric bloodline, with the groom resembling Count Orlok, who has a blackened heart set on making one of the kidnapped young girls his blushing bride.
Dreamland is a simply glorious film that entices you into a beautiful world with a rich soul. It is a mystical journey that sends the audience beyond the physical realm and transports you through a dark and disturbing land whilst surrounding you with an invisible ray of light to shepherd you to a sublime conclusion.
One of the reasons I love the Sydney Underground Film Festival so much, is that each year you can guarantee to view some of the most off-centre films from the industry. No matter how hard you try they refuse to ‘fit-in’ to the mainstream, perfectly content to live among the strange, surreal, or bizarre. This year, Fingers can proudly sit among this prestigious group of outcasts, described by SUFF as a ‘quirky and off-the-wall jam’.
We all have our phobias, and for Amanda, it’s fingers. So when she is confronted by a fellow worker who is missing one of his digits, she freaks out and spirals into a world that she is forced to endure and overcome her demons.
Fingers soon blurs the boundaries as we are presented with Dr. Scotty, a self-help psychologist, who aims to guide Amanda on her journey; Two masked hit-men; and a curious old dude played by Michael St. Michaels who some viewers may recognise from The Greasy Strangler. Each of these characters come with their own curiosities that slowly seep to the surface and sheds light on all our of our oddities that we try to keep buried beneath the surface. In doing so, the characters must own up to their “weaknesses’ and embrace them. For without them, humanity will never grow and become trapped in their own personal hell.
Whilst Fingers may not suit everyone’s tastes, those that relish the strange and quirky souls of human life, will find great satisfaction from this little gem. If you can push beyond the first 20mins, you will find yourself absorbed into the narrative and willing to plunge into the dark and twisted mind of director, Juan Ortiz (Jennifer Help Us). Particularly striking was Jeremy Gardner as the unhinged hit-man, Talky, who tord the fine-line of madness, mayhem, and vulnerability with effortless ease.
It’s been 5 years since director Richard Bates Jr released Suburban Gothic, and his latest feature, Tone-Deafharnesses a similar blend of wit and horror from its lead actors that has become closely associated with this auteur. Those that enjoyed Bates Jr’s approach to the celluloid form will appreciate the inclusion of this movie in this years’ Sydney Underground Film Festival.
Tone-Deaf offers a topical insight into the gulf that divides the Baby Boomer generation and the Millennials. Robert Patrick is magnificent as disgruntled home-owner, Harvey with an axe to grind with the current generations’ attitude or neglect towards all that his generation has built or established.
On the other side of the divide is Olive, who is going through her own crisis after losing her job and splitting from her dead-beat boyfriend. At first Amanda Crew’s portrayal of the struggling Millennial comes across as sipid, and I found it hard to engage with her, but once she holes up at Harvey’s Airbnb, she soon starts to shed some of her harsh exterior and we soon warm to her. Which is a good thing too, because once Harvey goes nuts, we need to champion for someone in the narrative.
Speaking of Harvey, when we’re first introduced to him, I found it a little jarring too as we’re greeted to the first of many soliloquies as he addresses the audience, but at least it doesn’t go to Clint Eastwood Gran Turino grumbles. In fact, Patrick’s performance is more on the lighter-side of darkness as he delves into the melancholy, which allows us to warm to Harvey despite his obvious affliction.
As the movie plays out, we’re treated to a see-saw of oppositions that continually ebbs and flows without the slightest hint about who will come out on top. The humour peppers along and provides reprieve from what could be construed as a bleak outlook but Bates Jr clearly has fun ridiculing the obvious disconnect between the generation gap. Whilst the horror is slight, this home invasion thriller manages to entertain and delight through the ensuing conflict.
Set among the forest of buildings that is New York, director Larry Fessenden retells one of horrors best written tales ever written by not only shifting the setting and the time period but the focus of the subject. One is reminded of the quote “An intelligent man knows Frankenstein wasn’t the monster. A wise man knows that Frankenstein was the monster?”.
Amidst a dusty warehouse apartment with a shonky makeshift lab we find Alex is struggling to bring his creation to life together with his partner, Polidori, (famous for writing “The Vampyr” in 1816 as part of a contest including Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley).
The strong motif of PTSD plays throughout the film complimented by the cinematic angles and camera movements, as much of the film is achieved using POV shots, which made a far more honest portrayal of the beast, the monster … Adam. Though this film was shot on a budget, this is not at all apparent besides some tight shots during a roof top fight scene but it does not detract from this brilliantly eerie film.
Donald F. Glut takes on both writing and directing duties to oversee an adaptation of his collection of short stories, which serves as a ‘love song’ to Mary Shelley’s creation. It’s hard to believe that Shelley’s novel celebrated its bicentenary last year, and Glut certainly knows his subject, pouring into every crevice of his source material to pay homage to and draw out four stories.
Our first story, “My Creation, My Beloved” set in Bavaria, 1887, is probably the most faithful with a Frankenstein descendant, who is a cross between the scientist and deformed assistant, Igor, continues in his ancestors obsession for resurrection and beauty, only to be thwarted in his own lustful pursuit. Excellent performance here from Buddy Daniels Freedman as Dr Gregore Frankenstein.
The second tale, “Crawler from the Grave” feels like the most fun, and finds ourselves in Switzerland, 1910 and sees John Blyth Barrymore (Full Moon High) as Vincent, another Frankenstein descendant who is hunted down by a disembodied hand from the grave.
Our third story, “Madhouse of Death” felt the weakest of the quartet of tales in my humble opinion, but this could very well be down to taste. Set in Los Angeles, 1948, the story also serves as a salute to the golden era of Hollywood and the film noir detective films with Sam Malone et al, and for that I commend its approach. Essentially we see a detective take on more than he gambled when he uncovers an old house full of crazies and home to a gorilla.
The last tale ends strongly, and in many ways one after my own heart, as those who know me can attest, as it is the most closely associated with the Hammer Horror films that I grew up with as a kid. With “Dr. Karnstein’s Creation” set in Transylvania, 1957, we’re presented with a clever fusion between Frankenstein and the most infamous creature of the night, Dracula complete with torch wielding locals hellbent on turning the tables on the mad doctor who resides in the castle. Another fine performances in this section, notably from Jim Tavaré.
You can tell that the creators are a lover of their subject and embellish Mary Shelley’s story for a modern generation whilst still staying faithful to its origins. Director/writer Glut carves up four fantastic stories that reawaken the macabre moments that made Frankenstein a household name in horror and celebrates 200 years, highlighting the reasons why this ageless tale will never die.
I have to say that I honestly don’t think I’ve had this much fun watching a movie at the cinemas for quite some time. Sure, this little movie does a lot to stretch the realms of believability, especially bearing in mind that there is supposed to be a category 5 hurricane bearing down on our father-daughter duo battling for survival, and some of the actions of the killer crocs also fall into question, but by the time this all unfolds I’m willing to forgo these discrepancies and this has a lot to do with the time and care taken into building character and history, so that your focus is on backing them against the odds.
The strength of the actors portraying the afore-mentioned father (Barry Pepper) and daughter (Kaya Scodelario) should also be acknowledged as they share the brunt of the on-screen time to portray the broken family dynamic that has formed between the two of them. Once inseparable as Hayley has been pursuing a swimming career, backed by her one-time coach, and father, Dave. Time and circumstances have allowed them to drift apart, but when crisis hits (in the form of that hurricane) Hayley ventures to find her father, who is failing to answer his phone. She soon discovers that he has had some kind of accident in the crawl space of the old family home, but that is the least of her worries, as Dave isn’t the only occupant lying under the house. Cue, giant croc.
The screenplay allows the usual pitfalls and obstacles that stand in their way to fight for survival to appear believable, and the bond between the two leads strengthens as they literally find themselves in the foundations of their relationship, to not only find common ground, but also build/fight their way out to the top come hell or highwater.
Hats off too to Alexandre Aja, who back in 2003 entered the horror genre with his hands firmly on the jugular with High Tension and then backed it up with the insane and gloriously over the top The Hills Have Eyes remake, before falling on the wayside with his outings since. Whether, it was working alongside Sam Raimi’s production team, Aja hits his stride once again in Crawl and positions himself as a director who can inject so much pain and torture in his characters that it’s a wonder that anyone can survive such an ordeal. The tension at times is intense and Aja, does enough to crank it to the max when it’s called for and dial it back to allow the characters and his audience to breathe.
For its short running time of just under the 90 minute mark, Aja packs in enough grit, and determination, in this intense, blood-riddled battle for survival, that we can only enjoy the ride.
There’s a lot to be said about the stellar work produced by director Steve Miner, having rubbed shoulders with the likes of Wes Craven and Sean Cunningham (on set of their respective experimental directorial debut features, Last House On The Left, and Friday the 13th) before giving charge to oversee the birth of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2. Despite its gimmicks, Miner’s sophomore feature would project Jason out of the screen in all its 3D glory, but more importantly witness the now infamous hockey mask for the first time. By the time he rolled out his third feature, House, Miner appeared to have hit his stride with an off-beat blend of comedy and horror. That is until the diabolically awful Soul Man was released and then Miner went through the wringer serving up mediocre comedy drama movies that seemed to leave him trailing in the dust of his glory years in the directors chair. Fast track to 1998, and Miner finds himself thrust in the limelight once again and in charge of resurrecting another slasher villain Michael Myers in Halloween: H20. It looked like Miner had found his niche once more and showed that he was more than able to slide into the slasher world with relative ease.
The following year, Miner would step into fairly new territory, the creature feature and look to subject horror onto the screen in the form of a 30-foot-long man-eating saltwater crocodile. It’s been 20 years since Lake Placid graced the celluloid art and my only memories of the film was of Bridget Fonda (who had already captured this young man’s heart in 1993’s The Assassin), Oliver Platt (who at the time was only known to me as the guy with the camera in Flatliners, and playing Porthos alongside Kiefer Sutherland in The Three Musketeers. So, does this film still stand the test of time today? I went into my most recent viewing with pretty low expectations, but I was surprised to find out that it’s not too shabby.
Before, you raise your quizzical eyebrows at me, let me present a few interesting points about the movie that lift it out of the quagmire of cheesy dialogue and one-note characters.
Firstly, the cast are strong enough to mould some shape into their characters, starting with the afore-mentioned Fonda as a paleontologist called in to investigate the owner of a prehistoric tooth found embedded in a victim of an underwater attack. To begin with her frosty, cool demeanour is a little off-putting admittedly, but by the time she warms up, so does our reception of her, which helps with her flirtatious relationship with the charming Bill Pullman (playing the local Fish and Game officer). To round out our quartet of intrepid explorers, there’s Platt as mythology expert Hector (a sure thing to become croc fodder, but somehow survives the odds) and his own heated relationship with the often underrated Brendan Gleeson as the Local Sheriff. And let’s not forget Betty White as the batty old lady who’s been hand-rearing reptiles from a lakeside abode.
The effects are actually pretty gnarly too with a man ripped in two, and a nasty decapitation scene, there’s enough to whet the appetite of your average movie-watcher, but the real hero is in the croc, which could so easily fall prey of poor results, but thankfully this beast still looks remarkable solid, and that has a lot to do with the late, great Stan Winston who oversaw the creature effects. Even the climax of the movie, despite its faults does enough to step up and deliver.
Sure, Lake Placid plays it fairly safe, but it wins you over with charm and a bit of grit, a hallmark of Miner at his best. There have been other croc movies since that arguably have pushed the boat out and delivered a stronger film, but if you wanna just kick back, take it easy, and still be entertained, this croc movie more than holds itself above water.
As for Miner, he drifted away from the feature scene after this following a forgotten western starring James Van Der Beek (Texas Rangers) and a Day of the Dead remake, and has since been cruising the odd tv show instead. Who knows, he may well wash ashore again to resurrect a whole new franchise. Until then, we’re left with a few classics to measure him by.
Like a cabin in the woods filled with a basement of evil paranormal beasties, this latest edition to The Conjuring universe features good ol’ 70s style babysitter shenanigans along with fresh new souls to welcome the return as, Annabelle Comes Home.
First time director, Gary Dauberman, is no stranger to the franchise having been screenwritter for Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and The Nun (2018) as well as the co-writer for the remake of Stephen King’s It (2017) and its upcoming sequel It Chapter Two (2019).
Annabelle Comes Home keeps audiences on the edge of their seats with an awesome sound design, some nice fake outs, creepy reveals, great gimmicks – providing you can look past a continuity error when one of the game pieces suddenly changes colour from red to green.
The dust may have settled since the Child’s Play remake was released but the elephant is still clearly standing in the room. This is definitely not a Child’s Play movie.
The vague premise is still there, but there’s no Damballa VooDoo chant, and no rebirth of notorious serial killer, Charles Lee Ray hell bent on stealing a child’s soul and be reborn again.
What’s more, there’s no Brad Dourif providing his nuanced vocal contributions that have become so synonymous with the Chucky character since he was first introduced to movie going audiences back in 1988.
As a horror fan who lived and breathed the golden slasher era of the 80s, it admittedly was hard to come into this modern interpretation without applying my own prejudices and even with the inclusion of the new hope, Mark Hamill to provide the voice, it somehow didn’t feel right to me and whilst I’m fairly open to creating new avenues in a well-established franchise, I struggled to connect with the producers and director’s interpretation this time around. It was as if the personality had been completely stripped out of it and ironically enough the soul of the movie was no longer present. The Damballa failed to inject a new Chucky into the horror mainstream.
With that aside, what are we actually left with? A bitter employee who deliberately sabotages a Chucky doll, in order to bring down the toy company who treated him so poorly, and does so by disabling the Asimov Law that robots can not harm humans. Cue anarchy and bloody mayhem as our new Chucky learns how to be human, including its darkest traits. With no filter, Chucky goes on a rampage in order to be Andy’s best friend.
Speaking of Andy, actor Gabriel Bateman (Annabelle, Lights Out) more than holds his own as the lead protagonist and we do emote with his plight. It’s just a shame that tonally the movie doesn’t go dark enough for us to feel that he is ever in immediate danger. Nor does it inject any decent humour as the franchise has become known for despite the odd moments from Chucky and Detective Mike on occasion. I also would have loved for the creatives to allow Aubrey Plaza who plays Andy’s mum to instal her usual dry, deadpan wit into the proceedings to spice things up a bit.
The death scenes themselves were a little subpar too, whilst Shane’s skinned face moment was kinda cool, you can’t go past this glorious lawn mower death scene in the horror genre in my opinion.
And the whole Mike’s mum trapped in the car thing was just dumb.
By the time all this unfolds we get the climax at the shopping mall, when the Chucky dolls come out in a frenzy (and the bear dolls were kinda fun, but ultimately lacklustre), to orchestrate a face/off (No pun intended, sorry Shane) between Chucky and Andy in order to save his Mum… blah blah blah.
No creator Don Mancini and it shows.
No Brad Dourif and it shows.
No dark and twisted humour to keep the horror fans satiated.
Just a soulless attempt bring the franchise to a modern audience with a vague attempt at commenting on the social media / connected world that we currently reside in and the dangers that lurk within.
My first entry into the world of Abel Ferrara came in the early 90s with his two features dedicated to the criminal underworld of his hometown; King of New York, and Bad Lieutenant. The latter resonated strongly long in my mind with Harvey Keitel’s powerful performance as a drug-addicted, corrupt police officer intent on changing his ways. Ferrara is clearly inspired by the unhinged minds of mankind and this subject is often the driving force of the lead protagonists in his movies, as we watch them spiral deeper into insanity and out of control.
The Driller Killer, (Ferrara’s debut feature in the director’s chair), is no exception, and follows struggling painter, Reno Miller (played by Ferrara), living in New York, as he slowly descends into madness and despair. His crazed mind, unable to contend with the reality of his dire situation, resorts to taking his frustrations and anger out on the streets and onto the homeless and impoverished, wielding his weapon of choice; a power drill.
Growing up in the UK, The Driller Killer had been thrown into the video nasties heap and wouldn’t see the light of day through legal means until 1999, when a cutdown version would make its way into the video rental market. It was shortly after this that I would finally get to watch the movie, which by now was so heightened in my mind as a dark and distressing feature, that I went in, fully wanting to be shook to the core and have my mind inflicted with some gross-out gore to the extreme.
So I huddled up in my horror haven at the time, a labyrinth of blood curdling wonder that hosted the classics and the downright disturbing delights, and let The Driller Killer wash over me. I have to admit my initial reaction was underwhelming, as I was confronted with a mish mash of a storyline, jumbled up with sparse and confusing dialogue, combined with really long jam sessions from the band living in the neighbouring apartment. True, when Reno lost control, it was suitably unhinged and the SFX were effective enough with its crimson palette oozing from his victims. The trouble was, I found the fractured nature of the narrative too jarring and the abrupt conclusion a little too complex. And yet somehow, something hung in my mind and stuck there to this day.
So, with its 40th Anniversary upon us, I thought that now would be a good time to dust down the dvd that was immersed in my horror film collection and take a look at The Driller Killer once again.
True, the same old flaws are apparent, but rather than seem like blemishes within the celluloid frame, they become moments of wonder, as we journey with Reno into his state of madness and social decay. I’d like to think that my older, wiser mind appreciates the disconnected and fractured storyline as a symbol of the human psyche, but it may also be that I too have cracked in the realms of reality and find that I am able to connect with the artists plight a little more, (although thankfully I haven’t picked up the nearest power tool to reek my vengenace on the world…yet).
The moments of rage are deliberately awkward and messy, which adds to the raw energy that Ferrara brings to his work, and by the time we reach the climax, the audience is suddenly snapped out of the macabre fantasy. This is something of an unpopular choice these days, as often audiences like to have their narrative sewn up and explained, but I prefer the ambiguity of the films’ closure, leaving us to wallow in the wake of Reno’s rampage. This feeling of desolation that hangs in the air is a stark reminder, that society may have come a long way, but we still have no direct answer to aid anyone with mental deficiencies. We’re quite content to let their actions go by and merely act as spectators, as long as it affects the impoverished members of society, but the moment it has an impact on someone deemed of class, then we feel appalled and react, which is why it seems fitting that Ferrara denies the audience the chance to witness Carol’s outcome. It’s for this reason that I feel The Driller Killer still resonates today and is a must-watch on any fan of the horror genre. It maybe a little rough and raw compared with some of the polished movies of today, but this only makes the impact of the film a much greater one.