Movie review: Amityville: The Awakening

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From all accounts the feedback that I had received about this movie weren’t exactly glowing, so I went into watching this with low expectations. It can’t be that bad, surely?

The Amityville franchise is the curse that keeps on giving. Now with 18 movies in based on the Amityville hauntings and another movie with an imminent release, it now boasts the most movies of a horror movie franchise, so it’s little wonder that the response is lacking as the filmmakers search the bottom of the barrel only to find grease and grim with little hope of any originality or substance.

Starring Bella Thorne as Belle who unwittingly moves into the infamous Amityville house with her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), her younger sister, and her twin brother who is brain-dead and on a life support. There are the usual trappings of inner turmoil amongst the family members that has caused a rift and pushed Belle to explore her gothic leanings. Of course once in the cursed abode, strange happenings occur namely around the twin brother James as he is deemed to be a weak vessel for the entity to exhume.

As with these kind of movies, there is a tendency to stick to the usual tropes to scare and delight but director Franck Khalfoun offers nothing new to the fold. The script does try to go “meta” with deliberate acknowledgment to the original movie and the others that have been inspired to go to the Amityville source, this attempt just falls flat on its face. As for the scares, they fail to materalise and as such we are left wallowing with the characters, hoping for something, anything to happen to make the 87 minute running time worth it.

The diagnosis:

This movie was D.O.A. Whilst it tries to resuscitate the Amityville name for a new generation, the offer is weak and boring to watch. At least Jason Leigh’s ring in performance keeps you hanging in there… but even that is a struggle.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Camp Death 3 in 2D

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Matt Frame is a director after our own heart.

Not only does he wear the Friday the 13th franchise on his sleeve, but in Camp Death 3 in 2d, he slices and dices our beloved Jason movies, spilling its entire guts on the campfire and rebuilds as a glorious homage with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

This movie is jam-packed full of overly eccentric characters where the actors are permanently delivering their performances to the max. To some viewers they may find this too grating, but for those that can bear the pace, and don’t mind the wackiness of the shots will no doubt enjoy the ride.

There are plenty of in jokes and nods to both the horror and sci-fi genre especially in the Star Wars realm. In one case, we see the “Jason” character (who in this instance is called Johann Van Damme) in a 74-Z speeder bike chase through wooded terrain with hilarious consequences.

The concept behind Camp Death 3 in 3d is a simple one. Camp counselor Todd Boogjumper intends to reopen Camp Death along with potential love interest Rachel (who harbours a dark past), and his crazed uncle Mel. Lo and behold, Johann Can Damme turns up and joyfully dispatches our campers, who just so happen to be a little unhinged themselves. There’s even a “Crazy Ralph” character in the midst too, which was pretty cool to see.

The highlight though has to be some of the upbeat musical numbers that pop up on occasion in the movie, which adds to the whole surreal style that Frame had intended throughout the film. Chief among them were from Jesus Hernandez Jr. attempting to show a softer side to his tough exterior.

The Diagnosis:

It’s college humour at it highest and most ridiculous. Think Police Academy on crack.

– Saul Muerte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has The Predator become the second best film of the franchise?

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Let’s face it, the original will always be a tough task to match with it’s testosterone fuelled, action-packed 80s masterpiece that triggers the nostalgic ammunition of our hearts.

Since then, we’ve had Danny Glover’s “Too old for this shit” Dirty Harry impersonator tackle the Predator in the suburban jungle and Adrien Brody play an unusual take of your typical hero on an alien planet pitted with other elite warriors in order to survive, and the least said about the Alien/Predator crossover, the better.

Check out our podcast on the afore-mentioned movies in our Predator franchise podcast discussions.

All of this leads to the current instalment, which after a couple of trailers left this writer a little puzzled about the direction it was taking.

Whilst the end result was far from perfect, it did offer some interesting moments that elevated the feature to a higher standing in my mind.

Once again, the lead hero, Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) was a little questionable at first as he grimaced, guffawed and packed plenty of punch in his first alien encounter but by the films conclusion, he manages to hold his own impressively.

McKenna is thrust into a world of warring predators, one of them appears to be our usual antagonist, but the other is a taller, bigger, leaner beast.
It seems like Hollywood always needs to go bigger when it comes to continuing a franchise and in this case director Shane Black (who also starred in the original film) decides to go with this and in places it feels like overkill with his choices along with the amped up special effects.

The glue that keeps this together though comes in the ensemble cast, who all complement each other and some time is taken for us to actually care about them all by the time the final encounter takes place.

The comedy balanced nicely among the action sequences and this is thanks to Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Key, Augustin Aguilera. Chief among them and surprisingly so, is Thomas Jane who proves he’s not just a one-tone actor with his comedic timing getting his fair share of laughs too.

Hats off to Black and writing partner Fred Dekker, for the engaging screenplay.

The Diagnosis:

There are times that the amount on display attacks the senses, but Shane Black provides an engaging fun ride, with great character development. This ultimately lifts the film and makes you care about the outcome.

It won’t set the world alight but the journey is worth it.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Puppet Master – The Littlest Reich

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There are some films where the director and writer make choices that make you go: “These guys are invested. They are deliberate. They are proper film-makers, and they know what they’re doing”.
And then sometimes you realise “nope – it really was an elephant with a paint brush all along”.
And that was exactly what went through my mind when I watched Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. Or Puppet Master 23 (or whatever number the franchise is up to now).
Although it IS easy to mock such a long-lived series, it does play on a sort of primeval fear of being sliced by a small sharp blade moving very quickly (and in this case – where the “monster” stands at a foot tall, it has to do a LOT of fast slicing). But that’s pretty much it for the scares.

As a horror fest it very much falls into the gore category – and not a lot of it clever. In fact, some of it is pretty tasteless in a “I bet you believed this was hardcore when you thought of it, but it’s really pretty effing stupid. And your execution is even worse” kind of way.

The movie does start off with an earnest attempt at dialogue between characters where the acting is decent and the direction very considered – everyone gets their own clean shot all the way through, no dirty frames or unnecessary camera movement.
But then you realise they are not being minimalist, they’re just being frickin’ basic.

Starring Thomas Lennon (a perennial “oh THAT guy” actor if there ever was one) as Edgar – a recently divorced lead character who decides to sell a creepy doll he finds in his recently deceased brother’s bedroom. You assume the brother was killed in the previous film, but it’s hard to tell as the order in which the films have been released don’t go in a linear in-film timeline. Plus, some of the sequels are considered “non-canon” and others re-boots…

Anyway – Edgar – a 45-year-old comic book artist is soon pursued by incredibly hot twenty something girl-next-door archetype Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), because if these films can’t be the deluded projections of middle-aged straight men, why make them? (We also get to see her breasts in a make out scene later, so in case you had any doubts…)

Together Edgar, Ashley and the best friend character – played by Nelson Franklin – go to a puppet convention to try and sell their doll at a hotel that was the site of a notorious Nazi murderer getting shot by police for reasons I can’t really remember (because – upon rewind – it wasn’t explained…)

Anyway, from there all the puppets come to life and blah blah blah, you can guess the rest. At one point one of the characters suggests to all the surviving hotel patrons (after the initial puppet attack) that they split up and lock themselves in their various hotel rooms until the authorities arrive. Not only did the writer write that, he also had every character think it was a good idea…

The movie also has great slabs of missing moments that forces you to fill in the blanks, NOT in a cool “we’re challenging the audience to be engaged” sort of way, but because the film-makers have no idea how to make a movie. Or they ran out of money. Or both.

Speaking of “oh that guy” moments – it also stars Michael Pare as a detective. For any child who grew up watching American film & TV in the 70’s, he is Eddie from Eddie and the Cruisers and the John Travolta wannabe from The Greatest American Hero. Yes, that’s how old he is. He was trying to be a knock-off of Saturday Night Fever John Travolta, not Pulp Fiction John Travolta. Truth be told it was his voice that gave him away. Although his face has had some pretty good work, considering he’s older than Tom Cruise!

Speaking of which Barbara Crampton is also in the film, who is no stranger to 80’s B-grade horror flicks, and appears to be making something of a comeback of late with this movie, Replace, and Beyond the Gates.

The Diagnosis:

The Littlest Reich is a 90 minute stretch you won’t get back, unless you’re into gore for gore’s sake, or teenagers wanting to have a sleepover/video night.
Apart from that – if you’re a fan of dolls in horror – be sure to check out the excellent podcast on the subject which can be found here!

– Antony Yee

Movie review: The Nun

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As I write this review The Nun has just broken records bpushing The Conjuring franchise into the no.1 spot for horror movies.
James Wan’s original vision continues to develop and grow beyond its initial premise to scare and delight the masses.
Some clever marketing was behind The Nun’s box office appeal, enticing audiences with the promise to scare and chill to the bone came from its trailer, (essentially one big jump scare) but when you lift back the veil and look beyond the smoke and mirrors, does the film really deserve the hype that it generated?

To Wan’s credit his style has been present throughout all the movies and the production company have often given up and coming or promising directors to weave their magic for a wider audience.
This is why I was quietly interested in seeing how The Nun would fair as director Corin Hardy had been passed the torch to continue flaming the fires of horror.
His debut feature The Hallow, which didn’t exactly ignite the cinematic world, did show promise in a world saturated through pain and sorrow infused with folk mythology. With those ingredients, The Nun looked like it was in capable hands.

Instead we were provided with a series of jump scares knitted together with an incredibly loose plot. Sure, there was plenty of backstory to Valak the Nun, and how that entity was inflicted onto the world, but beyond that it was like watching blood dry on the walls. Moments of congealing perhaps, but still just the same blood and the same wall. At least with Annabelle: Creation (another origin story from the same universe) there were some clever uses of cinematography and effects that tricked the eye and allowed to entertain as a result. The Nun offered nothing and was a huge let down as a result.

If it did have a redeeming feature, it was that the three leads, Taissa Farmiga, Demián Bichir, and Jonas Bloquet were actually pretty decent in their respective roles despite having little to play with. Having said that, it was a little confusing to see Taissa Farmiga, sister to Vera who plays Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring movies, as quite naturally they share similar features and it left you wondering the inherent purpose behind that choice. For me it was distracting but more from the ending of the movie than the main bulk of the film.

The Diagnosis:

A paint-by-numbers horror movie that relied on jump scares and lack of inventiveness. Too often the direction relied on obvious tricks of the trade whilst it tried to weave in a decent backstory to Valak, who was far from sinister or scary compared to her introduction in The Conjuring 2. The success of this movie will mean that a sequel will be in the works, let’s just hope they allow the demonic nun the chance to really let loose.
– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Luz

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Luz is a film that is ultimately about demonic possession, but it certainly isn’t your typical window into the occult.
It is not some simple, paired down student project shot on a low budget, instead director Tilman Singer offers a minimalistic style reminiscent of playwright Bertolt Brecht and is set in a handful of isolated interior locations.
This adds to the harrowing and strange feeling that is carried throughout the film, all the more haunting for the powerful performances on display. Nora’s odd twitchy movements and the intensity of police psychiatrist Dr Rossini simply add more fuel to the stifled ambience.
Everything is incredibly stylised and each movement no matter how small is charged with emotion or reason. If anything, the minimalism forces the actors to bare their souls on screen that is ironic as the story centres around a demon, hell-bent on taking the soul of our lead, Luz.

The starkness of the décor coming straight out of the heart of the 70s adds to this sense of isolation and bewilderment. This coupled with the awesome retro soundtrack by Simon Waskow thrusts the viewer into a world far removed from their own and into a world of despair.

As the demonic presence homes in on its prey, the more potent the drama becomes and the free fall into madness becomes ever more present.

The short running time of 70 mins only compliments the movie more, keeping the story in a tight and succinct timeframe packing enough depth to the plot line whilst keeping the audience gripped.


The Diagnosis:

Singer manages to balance the highs and lows in a harmony of beautifully constructed cinematography and movement.
The performances are strong across the board and all the components tie together in an interesting and unique approach to demonic possession.

– Saul Muerte

Catch the screening of Luz at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

SATURDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER – 12PM NOON
SATURDAY TICKET

Movie review: Trauma

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Who do they call upon when other ‘Surgeons’ fear to tread? but yours truly, “Howling Mad Moon” Maguire. The assignment presented to me has been described as “the most shocking, brutal and extreme horror film in recent times”, and with a title like Trauma you can only expect some kind of residual scarring after witnessing the events that unfold through its narrative.

This film sure ain’t for the faint-hearted and sets the tone straight away by ramming it straight down your throat in such a confronting way that its not surprising that it has been likened to A Serbian Film in its nature and depiction of humanity at its worst. There’s rape, torture, and incest all within the first scene that leaves you feeling sick to the stomach and grimacing at the prospect of where Chilean director Lucio A Rojas will take his audience next.

Where he does take you almost teases the audience into a false-sense of security to juxtapose the intro, as we see an incredibly intimate scene between two women, breaking the cardinal rule of any horror film, so our hopes of their survival are in doubt, if Rojas were to play by those rules.

But what is survival? It’s as if the meaning of that word is irrelevant in this world in upheaval through the turmoil of General Pinochet’s rule in Chile.
The question should be more about ‘What does it takes to exist?’ as Rojas shines a spotlight on the plight of the country of his birth at a time when the world just turned its head. (This echoed by one of the police officials in the storyline) Rojas does everything he can to deny you this right, by forcing you to watch.
The pain is highlighted further as we journey alongside four female characters in search of a weekend getaway and slowly getting to know each of them through some wonderful character development, only to be crushed by the realisation that their world is about to clash with the dark and twisted underbelly that resides in their haven.

The Diagnosis:

You have to have a strong stomach for this one and the opening scene may turn viewers away. That’s not to mention the harrowing ordeal that takes place throughout the films narrative. If you can brace yourself, prepare to be educated in a time that the world wanted to ignore and forget by a director who has a firm grasp on what that reality means to him and those of his country.

The most shocking thing is that this is just a whisper of time that we bear witness to. There are other stories are left untold are the ones that leave you haunted and scarred by the unknown. Trauma lives up to its name and then some.

‘Howling Mad Moon’ Maguire

Catch the screening of Trauma at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

FRIDAY 14TH SEPTEMBER – 10.30PM
FRIDAY TICKET

Movie review: Christmas Blood

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Personally I find the Norwegian title (Yuleblod) creates more of an impact than its English transcription, but everything else about this film translates superbly for the wider audience, and is a great addition to the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Director Reinert Kiil (great name for a horror director by the way) is no stranger to the genre, cutting his art with a distinctive Nordic vibe throughout his credits thus far.
The premise of this movie has a killer Santa on the loose, murdering his victims with his trusty pickaxe during the festive season every year. For those who might be turned off by this premise, or are still recovering from the scars that Silent Night, Deadly Night produced in the 80’s, fear not. Kiil delivers a fun, psychological, slasher movie that doesn’t shy away from its nostalgic roots whilst still delivering the sucker punch that fans of the subgenre will love.

Part of Christmas Blood’s lure is in the way it plays its straight and by setting the scene in his childhood town of NordKapp, Kiil is able to draw on what he knows for the setting of Santa’s most recent rampage.

All the hallmarks are there, Killer soundtrack with metal riffs and the psychotic Santa even has his own theme for when he bears down on his next victim, which Kiil does through the use of POV to both direct and on occasion misdirect the audience.

There’s also the stranded females in an isolated location, waiting to be picked off one by one, and Kiil does a great job in making us questions who if anyone will survive. And let’s not forget the hard-boiled alcoholic detective who has been through this before and is destined to try and bring down Santa once and for all, accompanied by the brash, new upstart detective who is hoping to leave his mark in hunting down the notorious serial killer.
And there are plenty of gruesome kills to satiate fans of the slasher genre.

The diagnosis:

Kiil takes the viewer where others have dared to tread but rarely succeeded and offers a decent stab at the slasher horror genre with some yuletide flavour. Expect a fun-ride, great kills, and a Santa who is completely off his sleigh.

  • Saul Muerte

Catch the screening of Christmas Blood at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

SATURDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER – 11PM
SATURDAY TICKET

Movie review: Tokyo Vampire Hotel

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Now in its sixth year the Sydney Underground Film Festival has firmly laid claim to the weird and wonderful world of movies on the festival circuit. In doing so it has provided Australian audiences with access to a unique, colourful and bizarre celluloid landscape that wouldn’t ordinarily see the light of day.

Thank God they do, because films like Tokyo Vampire Hotel fits the criteria perfectly, offering a diverse and delightful skew on the tried genre of vampirism, which is so refreshing to see.

Japanese director Sion Sono provides a theatrical cut to his 9 part miniseries for the festival, with a rich and striking pallet that sometimes feels like it is dripping off the screen.

The characters are instantly iconic and ooze charisma, from the magnanimous Yamada to the sword-wielding K, the latter cutting a familiar figure in Japanese folk mythology and on occasion triggers images of Lady Snowblood to the mind’s eye.

K’s character complements the old and new world of vampire legend, hailing from the Dracula dynasty and charged with locating and protecting soon-to-be 22 year old Manami from rival vampire clan, the Corvins.
Manami becomes the core focus for the warring families as they vie for her pure blood and become victors once and for all.

It’s obvious that this film originated in broken down segments with the pace and energy peppering the narrative at a cracking pace, and constantly pushing the viewer onto the next scenario. The soundtrack also helps to fire the action along thanks to math-rock act Tricot’s catchy upbeat anthems. To Sono’s credit he does this seamlessly and with each instance he up’s the ante and trebles the crazy much to the delight of this reviewer.

The result has us see some beautiful images and strange scenarios from total annihilation by a sugary sweet assassin, armed with crazy dialogue and an endless supply of ammo and arsenal to take out an entire café; to massive gunfights and explosions on the streets of Tokyo; and full-on gore, mayhem, and bloody carnage, as vampires and mortals rip each other to shreds.
It’s a glorious sight to behold and leaves you wanting more from the world that Sono has created on-screen.

The Diagnosis:
Tokyo Vampire Hotel has cult viewing written all over it and deserves a global audience. Go see the theatrical cut while you can.

– Saul Muerte

Catch the screening of Tokyo Vampire Hotel at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

FRIDAY 14TH SEPTEMBER – 10.30PM
FRIDAY TICKET

Movie review: Mandy

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Okay. There are some people who will watch this movie and instinctively think that it’s a pile of artistic wank within the first few minutes, but for those who stick it out through the admittedly slow pace will find themselves lured into a fantastical journey, that leaves you entranced by the sheer bloody beauty that is depicted on screen.

Italian director Panos Cosmatos’ sophomore outing is an attack on the senses that is delivered in a trance-like state, enamoring you by its beauty of rich colours and kaleidoscopic fluidity. This false-sense of sedateness is doubled further with the deep dialogue between kindred couple Red Miller (Nic Cage) and Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) which lends itself to the hippy-life that they lead in the remote northern wilderness.

Enter cult leader Jeremiah Sand awesomely portrayed by Linus Roache, oscillating between delusional insanity and vulnerability sublimely. From a chance encounter with Mandy, Jeremiah like the audience is intoxicated and feels compelled to delve further into her mystery, so he brings his entourage of devotees and sadistic fucks to rip apart this idyllic sanctuary and claim Mandy for his own. The problem is that perfection doesn’t exist and when Mandy doesn’t meet his expectations, Jeremiah wants to tear it up and destroy everything. By severing open the guts of peace and bliss, Jeremiah unwittingly sours the land of milk and honey and from that moment on, the turmoil and angst that has been contained, pours forth in a devastating form that has no means of slowing down until the balance is restored once more.

The depredation is the trigger for Red to resort to his base instincts and exact pure bloody hell and revenge on Mandy’s tormentors. This dark and twisted journey that Red undertakes is filled with pure anarchy and hatred that it feels only an actor like Cage can portray. The beauty of his performance though isn’t from his stereotypical over-the-top exuberance but in the stifled and restrained approach that he plays his role, which is a testament to both Cage’s acting prowess and Cosmatos’ direction. By ever so slowly dialing up the heat, Red reaches the pique of frenzy at the right moment in the film to make it both believable and a delight to see.

The diagnosis:
Beware of your strive for beauty and perfection. Slice it open and you get a reign of anarchy and destruction.
Cage taps into the life of a man who has his whole world savagely ripped wide open and ventures out on a path for vengeance and fury, delivering one of his finest performances to date.
It’s a visually stunning movie with an amazing cast including a welcome cameo from Bill Duke in the midst of the mind-fuckery that goes on.
Whilst it’s not for everyone, this movie will delight many in its unique style and approach to the celluloid form.

The Big Boss on crack!!

– Saul Muerte
Catch the screening of Mandy at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.

Screening times and tickets available below:

SUNDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER – 7PM
SUNDAY TICKET

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