Movie review: Sissy (2022)

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The writing and directing partnership of Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes prove that they are a force to sit up and pay attention to in their sophomore feature Sissy. On face value this film could appear as a typical trip down a dark past where old haunts rise to the surface but there’s something deeper at play here that spells out a disturbing and topical story. Psychological trauma can fester when not dealt with or addressed in a way that can help heal those involved. Without it, carnage can ensue, which is exactly what happens here.

Sissy (Aisha Dee) is a social influencer, projecting a world of calm and serenity out into the social cyber world. A life appears to be bliss but it soon becomes evident that she has a temporary band aid over her to propel any fears or anxieties that she has and it’s about to get wrenched off when she bumps into her former school BFF, Emma (played by Barlow). We soon learn that Emma is about to get married and old feelings are explored once more when Sissy is asked to join her for a night out, swiftly followed by a weekend away with friends to celebrate Emma’s upcoming nuptials. Sissy is all too eager to please, hoping that she can rekindle their friendship and the connection they once had. That is until Alex (Emily De Margheriti) enters the scene once again. The girl who took away that friendship and sparked an inner rage in Sissy with drastic consequences. Can Sissy contain these feelings or will it all bubble over and the fury take control.

The Prognosis

Essentially what Barlow and Senes have tapped into here is the psychological upheaval that is brought about through social trauma. This tale has humour and heartache abound as we watch the slow disintegration of strength and positivity as it crumbles in the wake of old scars. We can never really bury our emotions, good or ill without some kind of ramification. Sissy is the extreme example of what can occur when we don’t pay attention to the negative aspects of our life and face up to them. With solid performances and believable characters stretched to their most extreme personifications, there’s delight to be found amongst the carnage and mayhem.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Mandrake (2022)

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The mandrake; a plant that contains hallucinogenic properties that have stemmed many a recipe for paganistic medicines and rituals. Its roots take on humanistic features and legend has it that when you dig up its roots, you can hear it scream. The person who removes it from its soil would face instant death. In some cases, when taken internally the effect could treat melancholy and mania. All of which provide inspiration for the latest movie to hit Shudder’s Exclusive and Original platform. 

Buried deep in Lynne Davison’s directorial feature debut is a tale about broken relationships, mistrust and isolation.

When probation officer, Cathy Madden (Deidrie Mullins – The Frankenstein Chronicles) is charged with rehabilitating a notorious killer ‘Bloody Mary’ back into society, she faces a community unwilling to accept. This includes Cathy’s ex and police officer Jason Reid (Paul Kennedy – House of the Dragon) who may harbour his own reasons for wariness. When two children disappear from a neighbouring farm, fears rise along with Cathy’s own suspicions. These inklings lead her down a dangerous path that may either kill her or cure her own desolation.

The prognosis:

Mandrake is folktale embedded in the heart of a modern setting, but leans heavily into its origins. The setting of Northern Ireland helps to cement this fantastical component and drive through with a realistic drama as its narrative. 

The performances lend weight to this too and the characters are solid and compelling enough to have a dynamic composure to them, swaying your own personal alignment to them. This is a testament to writer Matt Harvey’s approach to the subject.

The pace of the film does drag in places, but the payoff is a strong one that has plenty to say on the subject of emotional turmoil and whether we can really heal from the trauma that we all carry around with us.

– Saul Muerte

Mandrake will be streaming on Shudder ANZ from Thursday Nov 10th.

Retrospective: Dracula (1958)

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It’s 1958 and Hammer Films has slowly been making its mark on the horror celluloid scene, but they are about to cement their place forever with their iconic take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula as part of a deal between Seven Arts and Universal International. Iconic in that they would produce one of the most infamous images of the titular character thanks to the commanding presence of Christopher Lee. It would also see Lee don the fangs a total of seven times for Hammer, the last being The Satanic Rites of Dracula in 1973. His blood red eyes and performance as a sexual predator would set the image of modern Dracula up for life, but it would also be one that would irk Lee over time, becoming tiresome of the watered down versions he would ultimately play.

To add weight to the original feature (entitled The Horror of Dracula in the US as Universal wanted to distinguish the British version from their own 1931 feature starring Bela Lugosi), Hammer would cast Peter Cushing to play Dracula’s foe Van Helsing. A worthy and notable performance once again which would see Cushing insisting on performing his own stunts throughout.

It would once again herald Jimmy Sangster on writing duties, and the ever-dependable Terence Fisher in the directors chair following his success with The Curse of Frankenstein.

Upon review, the film still holds up well with solid performances throughout and the sexual undertone lays heavy with palettes of red, producing some well-handled effects. It’s also of note, the omission of key character Renfield from the novel, and the amalgamation of Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) and Arthur Holmwood’s (Michael Gough) role in the storyline too.  

Upon release, the film did well despite heavy criticism from certain avenues of the media, dubbing the X certificate a pale option and cries for a new classification to be ordered. Either way it didn’t stop the punters from going to see it, and paved the bloody path for Hammer to walk along for another two decades.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion

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In 2017 Director Joko Anwar broke Indonesian box office record with his supernatural horror film Satan’s Slaves; a re-telling of the 1980 feature of the same name, a tale of a poor family family  haunted by the death of her mother with devilish consequences.

Since then Anwar has made a name for himself in the genre scene with features such as Impetigore and wrote the screenplay for The Queen of Black Magic marking him as one of the most influential Indonesian filmmakers of all time. It was perhaps then inevitable that he would return once more to the Suwono family and their further unwitting ventures with the occult. 

In Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion we pick up the narrative four years down the track with the family now living in an apartment flat as their father (Bront Palare) feels this would be a safer option being closer to civilisation than a remote house. What unfolds however is more dark and sinister than they could imagine, and the walls of security steadily become unstable.

The prognosis:

It’s clear that Anwar knows his art, crafting a film with the similar beats of its predecessor. That’s not to say that this is detrimental to the film as he harnesses an eerie and unsettling scenario that matches the universe that he initially created. The ambience is slowly built up with a growing tension that pushes you to the edge of your seat and throws in a number of jump scares along the way.

The performances are solid too with Tara Basro, Endy Arfian, and Nasar Anuz all returning as the siblings in peril. 

As solid as the craftwork is behind the film, there are obvious flaws through its predictable pattern in places. Regardless of this, SS2:C is enjoyable to watch and there is enough dedication to plot and character development for the audience to care about the outcome. Something tells me, there’s more to come from the Anwar’s world.

– Saul Muerte

Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion is currently streaming on Shudder ANZ.

Movie review: Hellraiser (2022)

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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 Ritual and 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.

The prognosis:

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. 

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: House of Darkness (2022)

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It’s been well over a decade since Neil LaBute plagued audiences with his remake of The Wicker Man. Not that I’m biased, mind.

His latest endeavour, House of Darkness boasts two strong leads in Kate Bosworth and Justin Long in what could be described as incredibly long foreplay but the question is who is playing who?

There is more than sexual interplay going on here though as something dark is lurking beneath the surface tipping the balance of power.

Hap (Long) believes that he has scored big time when escorting the beautiful-yet-mysterious Mina (Bosworth) home after hooking up with her at a local bar. After fumbling with the kind of uncomfortable dialogue that comes with trying to impress and not offend in order to make some kind of headway, they head back to Mina’s place which just so happens to be a glorious mansion.

This gives Hap some bragging rights to his mate over the phone during one of the moments of lull between him and Mina. This point in time signifies a window into Hap’s character, not so clean cut and innocent as he portrays to be. What draws you into House of Darkness is the clever use of seductive interaction with two characters willing to walk the line of flirtation but harbouring secrets that may or may not arise. These characters are embellished by the knife’s edge of pleasure and pain, and as an audience not knowing which way we are being lead nor how the night will end.

The prognosis:

There’s fun being directed here with the awkwardness that comes with dating or hooking up with someone. It’s always a dalliance of desire but where LaBute leads the seductive dance is through a sinister playground where manipulation is always afoot. The power dynamic between Long and Bosworth is mesmerising, luring the audience in with every beat of dialogue.

If you have the patience, let it run its course, because the climax to House of Darkness has a  beautiful send off to a well crafted script.

– Saul Muerte

House of Darkness is currently available via Defiant Screen Entertainment across home entertainment outlets* listed below:

DIGITAL PLATFORMS – Apple TV App, Foxtel Store, Fetch,
Google TV, Prime Video, Telstra TV Box Office, YouTube Movies
DISC RETAILERS – JB Hi-Fi, Sanity, Big W, Amazon.com.au

*Title availability may vary.

Movie review: American Carnage (2022)

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During President Donald Trump’s inaugural address he made a speech pledging an end to what he termed as American Carnage; a reference to guiding the United States out of a crumbling society, ravaged by crime and a broken economic system. This is directly referenced in the opening credits of the film and the impetus to draw the narrative from.

In this dystopian world Director Diego Hallivis and his writing partner Julio Hallivis, craft a tale where an American Governor leverages this viewpoint to issue an executive order to arrest the children of undocumented immigrants. The plan is about serving the wider American public and have these youths sent to provide care to the elderly, but unbeknownst to them, there is a darker plot at play that involves an ageing process, and cannibalism. 

There are a number of clicks that the youths go through before the really unsettling stuff starts to happen, essentially a lot of exposition to go from deeper levels of disturbing and vile human behaviour. 

The central plotline is told from the perspective of JP (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), a wise-cracking teen who is happy to drift through life with a care-free attitude. That is until his sister announced that she has been accepted into a University far from home town. Now, he can no longer rely upon her to help him out of scrapes. He must step up and prove his worth, menial stuff that gets real when the Government busts down their house during a house raid and deports them to the detention centre. 

It is here that he is then escorted with other “immigrants” including Big Mac (Allen Maldonado) and Camilla (Jenny Ortega in what would be another horror feature for her following Scream (2022), X, Studio 666, and The Babysitter: Killer Queen, surely marking her as this generations scream queen). Whilst at the elderly facility, they soon learn the true intent of the horrors that await them.

The Prognosis:

There is plenty of promise behind American Carnage to draw from some real life horrors. The issues arise from its delivery with a lot of weight behind a worthy subject. With such a convoluted storyline, it takes an age to get to the true horror as it unfolds. Ironic considering the outcome of our protagonists, by which time we’ve lost connection with the storyline and the care factor

  • Saul Muerte

American Carnage is currently available via Defiant Screen Entertainment across home entertainment outlets* listed below:

DIGITAL PLATFORMS – Apple TV App, Foxtel Store, Fetch,
Google TV, Prime Video, Telstra TV Box Office, YouTube Movies
DISC RETAILERS – JB Hi-Fi, Sanity, Big W, Amazon.com.au

*Title availability may vary.

Movie review: Matriarch (2022)

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Firstly Jemima Rooper deserves more recognition for her on screen performances and hopefully her upcoming role as Olivia Winfiled Foxworth in the series Flowers In The Attic: The Origin will lift her to loftier heights. Here she is ably supported by Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones, Raven’s Hollow) in a mother/daughter relationship that has turned sour across time. When these two actors combine, there is potential for strong calibre in the characters they portray.

It’s clear that Laura (Rooper) has unravelled beyond any hope of piecing things back together. Surviving on self-medication, be it alcohol or cocaine she tries to conceal the trauma band aid beneath her business-like veneer. Laura tries to connect with the outside world through a feeble attempt at a relationship but her advances are rejected as the mask slips away, revealing a darkness below. As she spirals out, Laura has an overdose but a mysterious black goo brings her back to life but for what purpose?

When she comes too, Laura believes gets a call from her estranged mother Celia (Dickie) and is compelled to return home. What she finds upon her return is something deeply entrenched in her small childhood town that oozes from British folklore and sinister occult practices.

The Prognosis:

Ben Steiner (director) tackles a paganistic tale about childhood trauma through an occult lens. 

There is plenty in the mix here from a vindictive, overbearing and narcissistic mother; an old flame; and the struggles of religion against pagan beliefs to tempt or sway the soul.

Whilst the story itself doesn’t offer anything new, both Rooper and Dickie bring weight to their roles, grounding the small town folk phenomena.

It is through their characters that the audience is pulled into the quagmire of tragic upheaval, where the mental scars run deeper than humankind can contain.

  • Saul Muerte

Matriarch is currently streaming on Disney Plus.

Movie review: Your Love is Mine (2022)

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Some people are born into this world and they don’t fit.

Your Love is Mine is a delightfully macabre and haunting tale of loss, abandonment, and mental health. Society will constantly enforce positivity into the world and forsake the importance that the negative emotions have in order to find equilibrium. If we continue to bury these darker emotions and impel them, we essentially provide no outlet, suppressing it to the point that something or someone will crack.

The idea that love can be possessive and that one can claim ownership or believe that to be in love will answer or solve or life’s problems is challenged here. This is highlighted further when Sam (Lester Ellis) declares his love to Violet (Senie Priti), he struggles to specify what it is he loves about her when questioned beyond exterior qualities.

The story opens with Sam and Violet in this happy place in their relationship; a place of comfort between them but as the narrative unfolds so does the exposure around Violet’s wellbeing; and perhaps is looking for a way out of the dead end town to break the psychological cycle, but will that be enough. The trappings of their environment is a reflection of Violet’s state of mind. One that despite Sam’s efforts, he will not be able to rectify. So when tragedy strikes, the essence of love is pushed to the test. Will it prevail above all? Or is there a line that can never be crossed?

The Prognosis:

The writing/directing partnership of Luke J.S. and Luke Wijayasinha-Gray have crafted an eerie portrayal of instability of the human mind. When confined to the trappings of a dead-end town, how can fragility be set free?

A complex subject is given the means to be explored through beautiful cinematography and solid performances.

The hauntingly emotional journey of the leads are supported by these visuals and is viscerally captured through a soundtrack provided by Keepondancins.

All of the elements elevate these two creatives as names to watch out for.

  • Saul Muerte

Your Love is Mine will be screening at A Night of Horror Film Festival on Sunday Oct 23 at 5pm including a Q&A with writer/directors Luke Wijayasinha-Gray & Luke J.S.

Movie review: Grimcutty (2022)

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As mentioned in my article on Werewolf By Night, Disney Plus’ horror content is beginning to be stretched across the bases of sub-genres to draw a broader audience into its terrain. Where Werewolf By Night tapped into the buddy banter and humorous dialogue that we’ve come to know and love from the Marvel universe, and Hulu’s Prey ventured into new terrain for our favourite mandible-featured Predator to wreak havoc upon; Grimcutty attempts to delve into the teen-horror scene through the lens of internet memes that stir the human psyche into panic and fear.

Grimcutty sets the scene from the perspective of the Chaudhry family. When daughter Asha (Sara Wolfkind) starts to show signs of self-harm, her parents Leah (Shannon Sossamon – Sinister 2) and Amir (Usman Ally) instantly begin to believe that she has fallen victim to the latest internet meme challenge that leads to people cutting themselves. Fuelling this is a figure called Grimcutty, a fable created but brought to life by the parents’ fears of the unknown.

The answer, they feel, is to deprive the kids of any form of technology. Naturally, this leads to revolution from the younger generation, angered by their parents’ misunderstanding. Until we come full circle once more with the older generation angered by their daughters’ betrayal. With each step further pushing them apart, the more dangerous Grimcutty becomes.

The Prognosis:

Grimcutty feels like it’s come too late in the game to instil any sense of fear. The notion of something lurking in the cyber sphere to sap the life of the unexpected youth is a tired and stale notion. The manner in which the parents try to place restrictions on their children feels forced in order to tie in with this loose thread of an idea. We’re never really faced with a threat but run through the motions in order to get to the conclusion. A conclusion that is just as predictable as the scenes that precede it. 

  • Saul Muerte

Grimcutty is currently screening on Disney Plus.