Movie Review: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

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The Warrens are back to conjure up the third instalment to the haunting tales based on the books written by Ed & Lorraine Warren, self professed demonologist and psychic (respectively), and the real life events of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who in 1981 stabbed his land lord to death and they had a claim of demon possession in an attempt to get him off.

Putting the real life events to the side, the film was beautifully shot and constructed with a kind of precise planning that gives the viewer the confidence to see a kid contorting its possessed ickle body to cracking sounds and not instantly think the filmmakers had resorted to child abuse, but rather consider the plethora of crazy safety protocols that must go into filming such a scene.
[sigh]
Gone are the carefree, guerrilla days of The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

Ed and Lorraine are portrayed once again by the talented Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga continuing to keep the heart of these films lodged comfortably in your throat.
James Wan hands the reigns to Michael Chaves who brings the addition of many little homages from popular horror film culture such as The Exorcist and Re-animator while slotting in to the rhythm that keeps these movies franchising so well.

The Diagnosis:

Chaves demonstrated his understanding of the conjuring universe when he directed The Curse of La Llorona (or the Curse of the Weeping Woman) in 2019 and it seems clear that his vision for this universe aligns perfectly and will to continue tighten its hold over our fascination.

  • Richard Lovegrove

Movie review: Army of the Dead

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By now Zack Snyder’s Netflix feature starring Dave Bautista is a massive streaming success which indicates that it was firmly on the pulse of the average punters celluloid palette.

You can see why as the trailer promises a jam-packed action feast billed as a cross between a comrade bank heist flick with elements of Oceans 11 (The Vegas element has a lot to do with this), with a post apocalyptic zombie infested world.
The films detailed prologue entails a zombie outbreak in the greed, glitz and glam of Las Vegas which is contained by huge storage containers that form a wall around the city.

Then we’re presented with the premise.
There’s money ripe for the picking in the vaults of the casinos and Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) employs Scott (Bautista) to form a crack guerilla team to infiltrate the quarantined city and retrieve the bounty. It’s a mad proposition but one Scott is willing to take up for a chance to rebuild his life and possibly reconnect with his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), who he has become estranged with since the zombie outbreak occured.

Once the carrot has been dangled, the audience then sit back and eagerly wait for the carnage to begin. But first we must endure the Mission Impossible style formation of the team and our introduction to them and possible zombie fodder.
There’s two of Scott’s former associates, Maria Cruz (Ana de le Ruguera) and Vanderhoe (Omari Hardwick) the spiritual member of the group, helicopter pilot Marianne (Tig Notaro, who stepped into replace Chris D’Elia through CGI and green screens costing Snyder a fair packet of the production costs), German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer), and Chicano sharpshooter Guzman (Raúl Castillo) to name but a few.

Once the set up is established Scott’s daughter Kate, Tanaka’s associate Martin, and with the help of Lily aka The Coyote, the team sneak into the quarantined walls to carry out their mission. The catch, The Government are planning on nuking the whole city in a couple of days, so there’s no time for messing around. Plus, you know, it amplifies the tension… And of course you know that that timeline is going to shorten once said Government decide to move the nuke strike up, meaning the team have even less time to complete their task.

Here’s the thing that gets my goat though.
With such a cool premise, there’s not much substance for the audience to chew on.
Some may counter that with me, stating that it does exactly what it says on the tin. But I like my movies served a little cooked, not raw.

There is some humour on display and some strangled attempts at deep and meaningful chats along the way, but it’s missing some zing to tantalise us with.

Since watching the film there’s been some online discussions about Scott’s team stuck in a time loop purgatory, and this idea I can get behind and if there is truth to this theory, all of a sudden this film gets elevated a little in my reception of it. With rumours of a follow up film on the horizon and with Netflix’s success story to couple it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t fleshed out in some way.
I just hope that they can work on the story a little more and give the characters more to work with now that they’ve been established and give the audience a more hefty and enjoyable experience.

The Diagnosis:

Snyder provides us with another gloriously shot,  stellar CGI, packed with some cracking action.
But it is a little half baked and rests on a small thread of an idea. Yes that’s a cool thread, but needs more time and energy spent on building up the storyline and characters to allow them to stand out more.
But I guess time is the real player here. And time will tell if this story will continue and we get more from Snyder’s world or not.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Resurrected

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It feels like the more immersed I fall into another world created by Dan O’Bannon, the more I am enamoured by what he produces. By this stage, he would have already penned Dark Star, Alien, Dead and Buried, Blue Thunder, Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars, Total Recall and directed the sublime Return of the Living Dead.
The Resurrected would also be the second and last time that O’Bannon would sit in the director’s chair. It is based on a HP Lovecraft short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which reminds me that I should follow up with fellow Surgeon and self-confessed Lovecraft fan, Oscar Jack to see if he’s caught this film or not. The O’Bannon/Lovecraft combination comes across as a match made in heaven.

While it doesn’t quite match up to O’Bannon’s debut ROTLD, The Resurrected is still jam-packed with plenty of humour and energy that fizzles along with an amount of insane energy that perfectly encapsulates the feel of his previous feature.

The fact that it also boasts the magnificent Chris Sarandon as the afore-mentioned Charles Dexter Ward in its cast, only lifts this film to greater heights.

Played as a hard-boiled detective story, where the investigation leads John March (John Terry) on a path to the undead and an ancestral history of resurrection.
Hired by Dexter’s wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) to find out what her husband is up to in his remote cabin, March finds there’s more than just the typical secrets held by husbands up to know good in the night and it’s not long before he realises that he may have got more than he bargained for.

I gotta say that I really dug the performances and it puzzles me that it didn’t get a greater theatrical release. Some may struggle with the ‘Sam Spade detective style investigation, and at times, The Resurrected comes across like a TV movie in its look and feel, but there’s a lot to keep your interest contained.
Now celebrating 30 years since its release, it deserves a reawakening and some further love and not be shelved in the remnants of the celluloid catacombs.
So, if you haven’t had the time to watch this yet or it simply passed you by, I highly recommend it.
I’m looking at you Oscar.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Dead and Buried (1981)

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1981 is strongly starting to feel like an incredibly poignant year in horror and strangely another classic cult feature had slipped me by.

I intend to right this wrong this year and finally took the time to sit down and watch Dead and Buried, and straight off the bat, I can see why it is revered so highly.

Right from the get-go, the opening scene pulls you in as we follow an amateaur photographer visiting the small town of Potter’s Bluff. He quickly becomes enamoured by a beautiful woman along with an invitation to copulate.

The photographer becomes ensnared and what starts out as a moment of sexual intrigue swiftly leads to his ruin when he is ambushed by some of the townsfolk, who beat him and set him on fire. As if that ordeal was torture enough, the photographer somehow survives, only to be finally put to rest by the temptress who visits him in the hospital dusguised as a nurse.

It’s a gripping and horrifying sequence that hangs heavy on the mind and wrongfully shafted the feature into the video nasty category.

It’s the raw approach to these harrowing scenes that force the viewer into the dark world lurking in the shadows of a remote American town.

This isn’t even the masterstroke of the film however, as director Gary Sherman (Death Line, Poltergeist III) guides us through Dan O’ Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s screenplay via Sheriff Dan Gillis’ (James Farentino). Gillis is drawn to the increase in murders that are sprouting up in town and enlists the support of eccentric mortician, Dobbs (Jack Albertson) to unearth those responsible. In doing so though, Gillis finds himself falling down a rabbit warren of death and despair, and curiously (although perhaps not surprisingly considering O’Bannon’s involvement) the discovery of reanimated corpses. 

As Gillis descends further into his investigation, the behaviour of his wife Janet (Melody Anderson, who will always be remembered fondly as Dale Arden in 1980s Flash Gordon), adding to the bizarre things that continue to occur.

The final blow when it happens is a killer moment and one that leaves the rug firmly pulled beneath Gillis’ feet and us the audience along with him.

If you’ve not seen this movie before, I highly recommend it and it firmly confirms to me the genius mind of O’Bannon, who keeps on impressing with his writings of the Undead.
Oh and it boasts an early performance from a certain Robert Englund in the mix too.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Svengali (1931)

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This 90 year old film starring John Barrymore in the titular role was based on the novel Trilby by George du Maurier. It essentially is a tale of a swindler character who lures women to him through the use of hypnosis and profit from their fortune. The term ‘svengali’ actually means someone who can control or mesmerise someone for sinister means.This has left some debate around the categorising of Svengali as a horror film, which admittedly has a thinly veiled occult theme due to Svengali’s abilities, 

We learn that Svengali’s motives are nefarious early on the piece when he cruelly snubs Honori, a young lady that has left her husband to be with him, but with no money or talent for Svengali to sponge off, he influences her into running off and allegedly take her own life.

Barrymore relishes in this cavalier attitude that he carries around with him and brings a larger than life demeanor to his performance that is engaging to watch. This infectious nature is apparent when engaging with the other characters around him, who either shrink away for fear of being controlled or are instantly drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

So when Svengali falls for the young Trilby (Marian Marsh) he decides to manipulate her to his will. Especially when she doesn’t return his love, as she has eyes for another, Billee (Bramwell Fletcher).Once ensnared, Svengali then persuades Trilby to fake her own suicide and reun away with him to Paris.
In Paris they set up a new life and Trilby becomes a successful singer and they both live off the fruits of her success.

Billee meanwhile refuses to give up and continues to pursue them in the hopes that he can win her heart back.

Svengali follows a fairly simple plotline but did win critical approval when it was released, which included an Academy Award nomination for the cinematography and set design. It didn’t, however, resonate with the audience at the time and failed to draw people into the cinemas.
Svengali was also surprisingly dark for its time as there is no happy ending to the film. Instead the movie encircles its leads towards a bleak conclusion. This in part was in kee[ping with the movies of the time, labeled Pre-Code, before there was an official approval process. This allowed some filmmakers to produce some questionably deep subjects for the era, especially moving into crime stories such as Public Enemy. For this, Svengali does stand out along with Barrymore’s performance.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Omen IV: The Awakening

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Whilst I can applaud the attempt to take this well trodden franchise into a relatively bold new direction, this French-Canadian made for tv horror, can’t remove the shackles that Damien Thorn had on The Omen. The problem arises in how this franchise can exist without the antichrist himself being integral to the uprise of evil. The fact of the matter is that it can’t. No matter how you try to dress it up, any manifestation of darkness will be secondary in comparison.

In what would be the last instalment, chronologically speaking before the 2006 remake, Omen IV: The Awakening tries to inject the fear again by introducing Delia to the fold. Delia, like Damian before her, was an orphan with an ominous background and brought into the world in a nun-owned orphanage. 

There are a lot of similarities to the original 1976 feature, with a powerhouse couple (in this instance, two attorneys) Gene (Michael Woods) and Karen (Faye Grant) who raise Delia, only to discover something more sinister at play. Also the protective nanny, overseeing that no harm should befall the anointed one. Omen IV appears to follow a more female gaze with Karen’s journey as the central theme in juxtaposition to Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn. It’s a missed opportunity however as if this wasn’t tied down to 90s tv budget territory, there could have been a more poignant message to explore here. 

There are some other nice elements, such as the army of New Age spiritualists who deem themselves strong enough to rise up against the forces of evil, but prove to be too weak. I also like the cojines twins macguffin that held the idea of the antichrist reborn. It’s a loose thread but one that I could attach myself too. No pun intended.

Despite these elements, Omen IV was always punching above its weight and restricted to the platform of choice in order to carry out the story. It suffers from poor acting as well, so it was never going to amount to much trying to deliver a paper-thin version of what the original movie was able to achieve.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

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By the early 1970’s at the time of The Abominable Dr. Phibes ‘ release, its star Vincent Price had already established himself as the larger than life charismatic characters that he presented in the horror genre. 

In many ways this film and his portrayal of the titular Dr. Phibes is a tongue in cheek profile of his on-screen caricature and he relishes in the camp, Phantom-esque presence from the moment he rises from the depths playing an organ with relish, accompanied by the animatronic band, Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards. 

It’s this exuberance and the dark humour, accompanied by a strong cast that all play it straight, elevating the dark comedy to the fore and establishing the film as a cult in its own right.

The central theme is a simple one about revenge on behalf of Phibes who feels that the surgical team that were operating on his wife, Victoria (Caroline Munro) were responsible for malpractice.
Presumed dead from a fiery car accident, Phibes returns to carry out his dastardly plot using extreme measures that call upon the ten plagues of Egypt in order to satiate his vengeance.

These outlandish murders soon raise the interests of Scotland Yard headed by a typical bumbling Brit detective, Inspector Harry Trout (Peter Jeffrey) to track down the culprit.
His investigations lead him to deduce that a connection surrounds the medical staff who worked with Dr. Vesalius (Joseph Cotten) and that there is inevitably someone out to kill him and his colleagues. The only trouble is that the prime suspect, Phibes, is supposedly dead.

All the performances are solid and on point, notably Terry Thomas as Dr. Longstreet and Aubrey Woods as the Goldsmith, who each hit their comedic notes perfectly.

The glory belongs to Price however, and part of the appeal to his character of Phibes is not only his deadly pursuit but also that he is no longer able to speak bar through his use of acoustic that allow his presence to be deliberately off-kilter, but you can also tell that he his having a lot of fun in his role.

There is a cracking ending too that plays to the hand of a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, once again directed by Robert Fuest (And Soon The Darkness), possibly a pre-ordained plan on part of the producers, especially knowing that further scripts were bandied around called Phibes Resurrectus, The Bride of Dr. Phibes, and The Seven Fates of Dr. Phibes, but unfortunately would not see fruition.
A shame as I would loved to have seen Price and Dr. Phibes enact more gloriously over-the-top grisly murders along the way.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: La Noche de Walpurgis (1971)

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I’m only just learning now that La Noche de Walpurgis, which celebrates 50 years since its release this year, is actually the fifth instalment of a 12-part series called The Hombre Lobo series about a werewolf called Waldemar Daninsky.

Supposedly, these movies have little to connect one another apart from the afore-mentioned lycanthrope and its star, Paul Naschy. So it’s probably a goog thing that I was unaware of this when I sat down to watch this instalment.

Naschy coincidentally picked up something of a cult following due to his numerous portrayals of classic horror movie characters, which earned him the title, The Spanish Lon Chaney.

Here though, Naschy sticks to the debonair Daninsky, a charismatic gent by day, hairy wolf by night.

Made for the paltry sum of $120,000 and it shows, especially the first scene which is incredibly camp and should not be judged for the tone of the rest of the film… kind of.

We witness two doctors examining Daninsky’s corpse and mockingly jest that the removal of the silver bullets that killed him would resurrect him once more. When this actually does happen, said doctors are shocked at the figure transforming before them, before being mauled to death.

This made sense now knowing that it followed on from the previous film in the series, The Fury of the Wolf Man.

Director León Klimovsky does his best to hide the obvious blemishes through stylised shots and creating an eerie atmosphere, which is typically European and predominantly shot in slow motion, which sort of works in places.

The crux of the film itself follows two students, Elvira and Genevieve who go in search of a tomb belonging to a medieval murderess, who happens to be a vampiress called Wandessa (Patty Shepard). Inadvertently Elvira resurrects Wandessa by bleeding onto the corpse. Wandessa then goes on a killing rampage in her wake to build her disciples of creatures of the night. The only thing that can stop them is the noble-hearted lycanthrope, Daninsky. But at what cost?

La Noche de Walpurgis is exactly what you expect from a low-budget European 70s film, but it was a hauntingly visual treat that actually boasted some decent effects considering.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: She Wolf of London (1946)

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Less She-Wolf of London and more She-Wolf in Sheep’s clothing as this 1946 feature from Universal Pictures attempts to pull the wool over their audience’s eyes.

The ruse is well implanted in the psyche by the antagonist, leading our heroine and us down a mythological lie born out of the fear and paranoia that the Allenby family has werewolf blood in its veins.

It may have served better to have called the film, The Curse of the Allenbys, (which is actually the title given to the feature for its UK release), but then this would not have put as many bums on seats and capitalised on the Universal backlot of Werewolf movies that starred Lon Chaney.
It would also have been cool to have used the same plot but leveraged from the 1936 vehicle starring Henry Hull as Dr. Wilfred Glendon. Instead of using the Allenby family name, if they had used their bluff around Dr. Glendon, then there would have been more merit to the gaslighting component.

All this may sound a little harsh, because in truth, the film is incredibly strong in its delivery and using greed and power as its core theme for the subterfuge. Our lead character, Phyllis (June Lockhart) stands to come into the Allenby fortune, but standing in her way is either her Aunt Martha (Sara Haden) or her cousin Carol (Jan Wiley) who have lived in the mansion all their lives and could lose it all.

The fact that there has also been a series of murders near the estate and reported sightings of a she-wolf only adds fuel to Phyliss’ fears, forced to her bed and away from society in case she is the one responsible.

She-Wolf of London struggles to find an identity of its own as it attempts to prize itself free from the coat-tails of yester-year movies produced by Universal, but inevitably the film is slow and cumbersome with barely a ripple of fear to be seen.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Spiral: From the Book of Saw

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Spiral: From the book of Saw is the latest addition to the plethora of gore trials by Twisted Pictures and this one does not disappoint.
Starring Chris Rock and Samual MF Jackson, this Tarantinoesque romp through the macabre joins us years after the events of the previous Saw films and brings a great new energy to the franchise in Chris Rock’s performance.

Right off the bat the dialogue feels playful and realistic that mixes in perfectly to the environment the film sets itself in. Moving at times more like a buddy cop flick, Spiral holds its own by not feeling as cliché as some of its previous films at times calling such things out.

The one thing that these films stray away from is any sense of realism when it comes to the traps, which is a strategy that allows these films to continue to entertain audiences, where the gore is used merely as a magician would a gimmick; to heighten the story.
By making the traps more torture device than actual trial of moral values it checks all the boxes by making us wince when its just right and not any longer.

Samuel MF Jackson plays what feels more a cameo than lead role but his charisma slots him in well to this role, constantly making us second guess what we previously thought mere seconds before.

The Prognosis:

The traps may be full of blood and gore, just like the films before, but underneath that tortured skin, lies a story within… not an amazing one, you’ll probably pick up who the “butler” is pretty quick… something you can see coming yet I do not think that is the element to focus on here.
This may reinvigorate these films to now include more heavy hitting names and change the emphasis to be more character driven than ever before.
Looking forward to see what gory things they come up with next time!

  • Richard Lovegrove