Category Archives: Film

From Nothing Comes A King

On Saturday evening I sat down with my better half and son number three to watch the most recent offering from director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch”, “Sherlock Holmes”), “King Arthur : Legend Of The Sword”.

Rob Knighton

Now I must admit that I wasn’t too sure what to expect, as the movie didn’t fare terribly well at the box office and reviews weren’t great either – particularly for football celebrity David Beckham’s brief cameo appearance, but we’ll get to that in time…

Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana

The film opens with the legendary Camelot under attack from a warlock, Mordred (Rob Knighton – “Anti-Social”, “Riot On Redchurch Street”), who aims to ensure that the mages dominate mankind. He comes up against the King of the Britons, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana – “Munich”, “Deliver Us From Evil”) who defeats the warlock and his forces.

Jude Law

Unbeknownst to Uther, his brother Vortigern (Jude Law – “Dom Hemingway”, “Sleuth”) wants the throne for himself and has made a pact in which he will sacrifice his wife Elsa (Katie McGrath – “Jurassic World”, “Merlin”) in order to get Uther and his wife Igraine (Poppy Delevingne – “The Boat That Rocked”, “Absolutely Fabulous : The Movie”) out of the way.

Katie McGrath

The sole survivor of Uther’s family is his infant son who is put onto a small boat and drifts off, finally arriving in Londinium (that’s London in today’s lingo) where he is picked up and cared for by a group of prostitutes. Not sure where that would put Camelot, but a fair number of theories over the years have suggested Wales as a location, from where I don’t see a small boat drifting to London somehow…

Charlie Hunnam

We then fast forward through the boy’s childhood as he grows up and learns the way of the streets as well as gaining skills from training with an oriental fighter named George (Tom Wu – “Kick-Ass 2”, “Skyfall”). By adulthood Arthur (Charlie Hunnam – “Sons Of Anarchy”, “Deadfall”) is running a crew of his own.

Jude Law

Meanwhile the waters around now-King Vortigern’s castle have lowered, revealing a sword stuck fast in a stone. The King is forcing all men of around Arthur’s age to attempt to pull the sword from said stone.

Charlie Hunnam, David Beckham & Guy Ritchie

It is when Arthur himself has his turn to try to remove the sword that the aforementioned Beckham has his cameo. Beckham had a smaller cameo in Ritchie’s previous movie “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” which was fine and was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing. This time around Beckham plays Trigger, a Blackleg commander, and has some lines to deliver. Even now, some days later, I can’t decide if the problem – because there is one – is in Beckham’s delivery (he doesn’t have the most commanding voice for the role in question) or is simply, as my wife said, the fact that you’re thinking “oh, there’s David Beckham” and the scene would be fine with a “proper” actor rather than a celebrity?

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Djimon Hounsou, Poppy Delevingne & Annabelle Wallis

Regardless, it is at this point that Arthur becomes aware of his true origins and the destiny which awaits him. It is, however, a destiny which he is stubbornly determined to resist despite everyone around him – his old crew, including Tristan AKA Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir – “Trespass Against Us”, “Vera”) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell – “Dog House”, “Kill List”) – doing their level best to get him to do so.

Astrid Bergès-Frisbey & Charlie Hunnam

Also involved in this are Uther’s former knight Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou – “Fast & Furious 7”, “The Legend Of Tarzan”), Sir William AKA Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen – “Wake Wood”, “The Lovers”), Vortigern’s maid Maggie (Annabelle Wallis – “Come And Find Me”, “Mine”) and a mysterious unnamed mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey – “Pirates Of The Caribbean : On Stranger Tides”, “I Origins”).

Camelot Under Siege From Giant Elephants

Apart from the unsuccessful cameo from Beckham, my only real gripe was that a few of the action / fight scenes, particularly towards the end of the film, looked too much like they’d been taken from a video game, such was the level of slow-mo and CGI on display. Oh, and the giant elephants are the beginning?!. That said, the scenes with huge crowds etc. are really well done.

Jude Law, Guy Ritchie & Charlie Hunnam

All that aside we found the movie to be enormously entertaining. Sure it may not be historically accurate – but then how can one be with so many different stories and theories surrounding Arthurian legend – and one might argue that some of Ritchie’s usual approaches (such as the story within a story where as Arthur relays what he predicts is going to happen we see other characters doing exactly that etc.) and the modern language and haircuts don’t fit with the time period in question. However, taken for what it is – a fun and visually impressive retelling of the King Arthur story for today’s audiences (or maybe for those of us who still enjoy revisiting “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” nearly twenty years down the line?) – it’s pretty damn good. Where this all leaves the remaining five films of the originally planned six part series is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, however, this is a well-recommended two hours of cinematic entertainment…

Evil Takes Many Forms

A few nights ago I finally got around the watching a movie that’s been on my to-watch list for a while, the 2016 feature-length debut from writer / director Robert Eggers, “The Witch”.

Ralph Ineson

Subtitled as a “New-England Folktale”, the film begins in 1630 with a scene in which William (Ralph Ineson – “Case Sensitive”, “The Office”) is appearing before the elders of the Puritan plantation on which he and his family live, as he has a fundamental difference of opinion over interpretation of the biblical text by which they live their lives.

Kate Dickie

William, his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie – “Midwinter Of The Spirit”, “Prometheus”) and their four children are banished from the plantation and set off to make their lives on a farm near the edge of a large forest some distance from the plantation.

Anya Taylor-Joy

Eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy – “Split”, Morgan”) is struggling with the demands of the family’s faith but determined to do the right thing. One day she is playing peek-a-boo outside with Katherine’s new baby Samuel when he suddenly disappears. We, the viewer, then see the baby’s body being used by a witch to make a flying ointment. Katherine is devastated and clearly feels that Thomasin is at least partly to blame for Samuel’s disappearance.

Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson With Black Phillip

The young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger – “The Village”) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) claim that the family’s goat, Black Phillip, speaks to them and they take next to no notice of instructions given by their elder sister, increasing her inner torment.

Harvey Scrimshaw

The parents discuss sending Thomasin away to work for another family as she approaches woman-hood and the farm’s crops fail once again, a conversation overhead by their daughter and her younger brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw – “Oranges And Sunshine”). This leads Caleb to set off in the early hours into the forest in an attempt to hunt for food so that Thomasin won’t have to leave. She goes with him but falls from the horse when Caleb rushes off after a hare and is knocked out.

Sarah Stephens

Deep in the forest Caleb spots a small hut and when he approaches is met by an attractive young woman (model Sarah Stephens) who proves to be a witch, and maybe not as attractive as she first seems. When Thomasin reawakens she manages to find her father but, though they search, there is no sign of Caleb.

Black Phillip

Katherine takes this as further proof that Thomasin is evil, and when Caleb returns, naked and barely conscious, her impression is further strengthened when the young twins, Mercy and Jonas, tell their mother than Thomasin had claimed to be a witch. Thomasin counter-claims that the twins speak with Black Phillip. William responds by locking the three children, along with the goat, in the stable for the night, intending that the family should return to the plantation the next day. However, with all kinds of weird and violent events unfolding thereafter what will become of the family?…

The Witch

I’ve probably said too much already, but I really can’t go too much further into the story without definitely giving too much away. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty decent film. The cinematography gives the whole thing a suitably bleak feel, given the hard times that William’s family are enduring, and it all feels nicely atmospheric too.

Anya Taylor-Joy

The ending of the movie felt a little strange at the time of viewing, but a subsequent read of this article helped to make more sense of things – though it’s best read after viewing the movie! Taylor-Joy and Ineson, in particular, were excellent in their roles but all of the small cast are very good.

The Witch

The dialogue and religious aspect of the film felt realistic for the period of history in which it is set, when witch trials and executions were happening in New England and indeed the end titles claim that much of the dialogue is based upon real diaries and court transcripts etc. from that time, throwing light on the effects of a strict religious lifestyle mixed with the superstition of the age.

Overall, I thought “The Witch” was an intense, gripping, spooky and indeed thought-provoking way to spend an hour and a half – a well recommended movie to lovers of folk horror…

What Could Go Wrong?

I was going to write about a new album release today, but then my wife and I watched the 2015 comedy adventure film from writer / directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (both “Horrible Bosses”, “Game Night”) titled “Vacation”. We both enjoyed it so much I felt it deserved a few words…

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

The movie is the fifth in a series that started back in 1983 with the release of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” which told the story of the Griswold family taking a road trip cross-country to the Californian theme park Walley World and all the misadventures that befell them en route. This was followed by “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” (1985), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) and “Vegas Vacation” (1997).

Ed Helms

“Vacation” is a kind of sequel / reboot of the first film, with the son of the original Griswold family, Rusty (Ed Helms – “Stretch”, “We’re The Millers”), now grown up, decides to take his wife and two children on a trip to try to recreate his childhood trip to Walley World.

Ed Helms, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins & Christina Applegate

Rusty’s wife Debbie (Christina Applegate – “Married With Children”, “Bad Moms”) was hoping for a trip to Paris but she and the couple’s two sons – 14-year-old James (Skyler Gisondo – “Hard Sell”, “Night At The Museum 2”) and 12-year-old Kevin (Steele Stebbins – “A Haunted House 2”, “Within”) agreed to the trip to avoid the usual annual trip to a cabin in Cheboygan that they secretly hate.

Christina Applegate, Steele Stebbins, Skyler Gisondo & Ed Helms

The tag line for the film is “what could go wrong” and it’s giving nothing away to anyone even vaguely familiar with earlier entries in the series to say that an awful lot is likely to go wrong!

Chris Hemsworth & Leslie Mann

Among the more hilarious moments on the family’s journey is their visit to Debbie’s old college where she decides to show the current Tri Pi sorority sisters how things are done, and their stay-over with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Leslie Mann – “The Comedian”, “The Other Woman”) and her husband Stone (Chris Hemsworth – “A Perfect Getaway”, “Thor”) on their cattle ranch.

Hannah Davis

There’s also a very funny scene featuring model Hannah Davis which references one in the original that saw fellow model Christie Brinkley driving a red Ferrari. To keep some authenticity in terms of continuity, I’m guessing, Rusty’s parents Clark and Ellen are reprised by original stars Chevy Chase (“Fletch”, “Caddyshack”) and Beverly D’Angelo (“High Spirits”, “American History X”).

Chevy Chase & Beverly D’Angelo

Some of the content means that this is most definitely not a film that you could watch with younger children. Many reviewers have talked of the film being too much of a retread of the first movie but lacking in spirit and wit. We thought that potty-mouthed Kevin is a great character and I thought Applegate was brilliant as Debbie and Helms did a great job with his role too. Overall whilst it may not be the most original film in the world – which is surely a nigh-on impossible task these days anyway? – we both found it to be really funny and would thoroughly recommend it…

A Journey Paved In Blood

So the second movie mentioned at the start of my last rambling post about the Fifties film “Untamed Youth” was a new release. Directed by Brendan Muldowney (“Love Eternal”, “Savage”), “Pilgrimage” is a medieval period action thriller.

Tom Holland

As the film opens we are witness to a bound man being dragged by a group of men onto a beach in Colchis mid-first century AD and, having had a wooden crucifix torn from around his neck, being stoned to death. The time then switches to the time of the Crusades in the early 13th century and the location to the far West of Ireland where a small band of monks reside, including a novice monk named Brother Diarmuid (Tom Holland – “The Lost City Of Z”, “Edge Of Winter”).

Tom Holland & Stanley Weber

A white-robed Cistercian monk, Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber – “Sword Of Vengeance”, “Not Another Happy Ending”), arrives with a message from the Pope that a religious relic held by the monks should be taken immediately to Rome as the belief is that it’s power will help the church in the crusades. The relic, it transpires, is a rock that was used in the aforementioned stoning of – we now learn – St. Matthias that God used to kill all those responsible.

John Lynch

Geraldus sets off with Diarmuid and a few other monks including Brothers Ciaran (John Lynch – “Alleycats”, “Detour”) and Cathal (Hugh O’Conor – “The Stag”, “Summer Of The Flying Saucer”) as well as an enigmatic mute (Jon Berthnal – “Sicario”, “The Ghost”) and soon meets up with a group of French soldiers led by Baron de Merville (Eric Godon – “In Bruges”, “Nothing Sacred”).

Hugh O’Conor, Stanley Weber, John Berthnal & Tom Holland

The Baron’s son Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage – “Robin Hood”, “The Hobbit Trilogy”) and his men are to lead the monks to Waterford. On the way, however, a skirmish with native forces results in the monks being temporarily left to fend for themselves. Is everything and everyone what they seem and will the holy men manage to complete their pilgrimage with the relic intact?…

Eric Godon

This was a decent enough action flick. The fight scenes were often rather gruesome but I would imagine fairly authentic for the period and the setting certainly felt convincing enough. I think this was aided by the use of various languages throughout – specific to the background of the particular characters and enhanced by some very atmospheric music and cinematography.

Richard Armitage

I suspect that the historical aspects used are probably a combination of inspirations from actual history and a lot of imagined scenarios and this works really well. Armitage said in an interview that he hopes those watching the film “…are transported into a world and a time that feels very very alien to how we live now, but at the same time they can relate to the passions of these people centuries before, who are ultimately the same as we are now – full of ambition and full of rage and full of devout belief.” Well, for me there are most definitely echoes from this period of Christian history that reverberate all too strongly with current world events with people being tortured and killed for being the wrong religion or resisting that which is being forced upon them.

The Monks On Their Pilgrimage

Leaving such heavy thoughts aside and just looking at the movie as a piece of entertainment it’s generally very good. However, come the conclusion I did feel slightly cheated by the fact that we don’t get to really find out about the mute, we don’t know what happens next and Brother Diarmuid’s final action gives rise to the question “was it all worth it?”. Good question. I think so, but could understand if some viewers felt the opposite to be true…

Kids Turned Rock ‘N’ Roll Wild & The Correction Farm That Makes ‘Em Wilder!

Rubbish weather yesterday so watched a couple of movies – one new and one old. The old one was a drama from way back in 1957, directed by Howard W. Koch (“Bop Girl Goes Calypso”, “The Girl In Black Stockings”), and was titled “Untamed Youth”.

Robert Foulk, Mamie Van Doren & Lori Nelson

The film opens with a young man being chased across fields by police cars before being taken into custody. Presumably one of the untamed youths of the title. Then we meet sisters Penny and Jane Lowe (Mamie Van Doren – “Girls Town”, “Guns, Girls & Gangsters” and Lori Nelson – “Pardners”, “Revenge Of The Creature”) who are en-route to appear in a show as they are both entertainers. Unfortunately for them, the girls are promptly arrested for skinny dipping and hitchhiking by a leering police Sheriff Mitch Bowers (Robert Foulk – “The Love Bug”, “Hell On Wheels”).

Lurene Tuttle

Appearing in court before the small town’s female Judge (Lurene Tuttle – “Psycho”, “Niagara”) the pair are quickly sentenced to 30 days and get to choose to spend the time either in prison or doing some healthy, paid work picking cotton. Unsurprisingly they choose the latter, seemingly easier, option.

Lurene Tuttle & John Russell

When they arrive, along with a number of other convicts, at the cotton farm they discover that their wages will mostly be taken to pay for their board and food, leaving them with just a few cents each day. The owner of the farm is Russ Tropp (John Russell – “Rio Bravo”, “Pale Rider” – a man at ease with mistreating and sacking his workers for the slightest misdemeanor. He is also, secretly, married to the somewhat older Judge, who clearly adores him though we can see that it is purely business for the ambitious farmer.

Mamie Van Doren & Lori Nelson

Penny and Jane are put to work cotton picking, but not before they have entertained their fellow convicts / workers by belting out a tune – Jane sitting on a bunk and unconvincingly strumming at a guitar whilst her partly dressed and very voluptuous sister sings and dances.

Eddie Cochran

Among the other young people being forced to work on Tropp’s farm are young blonde girl Baby (Yvonne Lime – “I Was A Teenage Werewolf”, “Speed Crazy”) and the oddly named Bong (Eddie Cochran – “The Girl Can’t Help It”, “Fury Unleashed”) – the latter of whom also gets to sing a number, “Cotton Picker”, which doesn’t give any clue as to just what a rock ‘n’ roll legend he would become.

Don Burnett

Before long the Judge’s son Bob Steele (Don Burnett – “The Triumph Of Robin Hood”, “Tea And Sympathy”), returning from serving in the armed forces, goes to work for Tropp driving a combine harvester and finds himself becoming attracted to Jane.

John Russell & Mamie Van Doren

Despite the long hours picking cotton those working on the farm don’t seem to suffer from too much fatigue as they spend their evenings singing and dancing with great enthusiasm and energy. This is presumably just a release from the hellish conditions under which they survive, as not only does Penny have to contend with the unwanted attentions of Tropp but also Baby collapses after working too long in the sun. Bob rushes her to a hospital but she dies and it’s revealed that she was several months pregnant. The injustice of it all becomes too much for Bob to bear and he goes off to tell all to his mother, but will she be able to see past her adoration of Tropp to believe what she hears?…

John Russell

This is a strange movie to be honest. It’s kind of like musical-cum-social-drama wherein someone decided to string a bunch of inoffensive rock ‘n’ roll-lite singing and dancing numbers together with a plot involving a despicable man taking advantage of all-and-sundry in order to make his fortune?!

Cotton Pickers In Alabama c. 1970

There is undoubtedly some cultural appropriation going on. I don’t know much about the history of cotton picking in the USA but most of what I’ve been able to find online suggests that the vast majority, if not all, of those doing the picking were African-Americans, whereas all of those in the film are White. Perhaps unsurprising given that there were still major racial divisions in American at the time. Adding to this, the closing musical number is a calypso – sung again by Van Doren’s character, supported by an entirely white group of men, all adopting some kind of Caribbean accent.

Mamie Van Doren Sings “Go Go Calypso”

Incidentally, I gather that when rock ‘n’ roll started to take off the established record companies etc., whose business model saw them producing morally clean music for white audiences, tried to kill it off and one of the ways that they attempted this was by using calypso music (whilst replacing any social comment or sexuality in the lyrics with generalities about the Caribbean islands!)

Serbian Blues Artist Ana Popović – Cultural Appropriation Or Misappropriation?

Personally I find the current hysteria in certain quarters over cultural appropriation / misappropriation rather daft and overly politically correct to be honest. I have no doubt that there are cases where there can be genuine hurt caused but to say that one can’t take something from another’s culture would mean no white person could ever play jazz or the blues, for example, as the genres originated within African-American communities (just like the aforementioned calypso). Just my opinion, of course. Anyway, I digress…

Mamie Van Doren

At just 80 minutes this film entertains without outstaying its welcome, despite the feeling of being rather thrown together! Being a man of a certain vintage I’d have to confess that the talents of the (then) 26-year-old Van Doren – which may or may not include her singing(!) – certainly helped pass the time. Worth a look as a curio from another time…

Nothing, But Nothing, Is Left To The Imagination…

The latest old movie that I’ve come across here in the shadows is one with a bit of a chequered history. “Exposé” – also known as “House On Straw Hill” as well as “Trauma” – is a 1976 British horror thriller written and directed by James Kenelm Clarke (“Hardcore”, “Let’s Get Laid”) that was originally released in a heavily edited version before making it onto the list of banned “video nasties” in the early 80s.

Udo Kier

A writer, Paul Martin (Udo Kier – “Suspiria”, “My Own Private Idaho”), rents a cottage in the countryside in order to concentrate on finishing penning “Straw Summer” the follow-up to his successful debut novel.

Fiona Richmond

At the beginning of the film we see Paul and his girlfriend Suzanne (Fiona Richmond – “Not Tonight, Darling”, “Hardcore”) watching one of his own appearances on TV before heading off to the bedroom for a bit of one-on-one time. Things take an early turn for the decidedly weird here as Paul puts latex groves on while Suzanne slips out of her dress and keeps them on for their entire encounter – which is interrupted somewhat by Paul having visions and seemingly getting fixated by the windows!

Udo Kier & Linda Hayden

The following day Suzanne departs and Paul heads to the local railway station to meet a secretary, Linda Hindstatt (Linda Hayden – “The Blood On Satan’s Claw”, “Baby Love”), that he has hired to type up his manuscript as he dictates.

Vic Armstrong

Linda gets some hassle from a couple of local lads (Vic Armstrong (“Black Beauty”, “The Copter Kids” and Karl Howman “Brush Strokes, “The Long Good Friday”) outside the station, prompting Paul to give them a swift beating.

Karl Howman

Unbeknownst to Paul, and to the viewer, Linda has an ulterior motive for wanting to be there. Before that is revealed, however, we get to see her enjoying several sessions of self-love, managing to get rid of the housekeeper and getting raped at gunpoint by the aforementioned local youths in a field behind Paul’s house before taking bloody revenge on the pair.

LInda Hayden & Fiona Richmond

As if that wasn’t enough Linda also manages to have a tryst with the returning Suzanne and cause Paul to end up driving a car into a stream! Throughout the film Paul keeps having strange and unexplained visions, and spends a fair amount of time staring into space…

Udo Kier & Fiona Richmond

I wouldn’t say that this is a bad film exactly as it does have its moments. I can see why the censor had issues with the film when it was first released, with a large helping of sex and violence contained within (though this seems rather tame by today’s standards) but it struck me that if anything it should have been banned for some of the thespian qualities.

Elizabeth Berkley & Kyle MacLachlan In Showgirls

I gather that Richmond was something of a sex symbol in the 70s, appearing in a few X rated movies at the time, so it’s difficult to understand quite how the orange-hued lady gives such an over the top and almost hysterical performance, which is surely one of the least convincing portrayals of sexual coupling this side of Elizabeth Berkley’s infamous swimming pool turn with Kyle MacLachlan in “Showgirls”!

Linda Hayden

Hayden, meanwhile, turns in a decent enough performance as the mysterious Linda. It’s interesting that she has reportedly since said that she regrets making this film, especially as she later went on to take the role of the housekeeper in a 2010 remake of the film, re-titled “Stalker”, by Spandau Ballet man Martin Kemp.

Perhaps there are echoes of the 1971 movie “Straw Dogs”, but that is a far superior film in my view. Still, watching this one was certainly an experience!…

Just Because You’re Invited, Doesn’t Mean You’re Welcome

The other night my better half and I watched “Get Out”, a horror / thriller movie from writer / director Jordan Peele in his directorial debut.

Daniel Kaluuya & Allison Williams

The film opens with a young black man walking down the street in the suburbs late one night, clearly slightly lost, and we see him get abducted by someone. The significance of this becomes apparent later in the movie. Next we meet black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya – “Sicario”, “Johnny English Reborn”) and his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams – “Girls”, “College Musical”) as they discuss their imminent trip to spend the weekend at Rose’s parents house in the country.

Bradley Whitford & Catherine Keener

Chris has not yet met her parents but Rose assures him that even though they don’t know that he is black they are not racist and it will be a problem-free experience. Arriving at the house Chris is reassured to find that he is made to feel welcome my Rose’s parents – neurosurgeon Dean (Bradley Whitford – “Saving Mr. Banks”, “The Cabin In The Woods”) and hypnotherapist Missy (Catherine Keener – “The Interpreter”, “Into The Wild”) – though Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones – “Contraband”, “Antiviral”) seems a little intense.

Caleb Landry Jones

However it’s when Chris meets the Armitage’s black servants Walter (Marcus Henderson – “Whiplash”, “Halfway”) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel – “The Purge – Election Year”, “Experimenter”) that he begins to notice that things don’t seem quite right as their demeanour is decidedly odd.

Betty Gabriel & Marcus Henderson

An annual get together at the Armitage house is taking place that weekend too, and when the guests turn up Chris meets Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield – “Straight Outta Compton”, “Snowden”), another black man who behaves rather unusually.

Lakeith Stanfield

To say more about the plot would be something of a spoiler, so I’ll avoid doing so. What I will say, though, is that I thought that this was a really well handled movie that explored racism from ordinary middle-class white folk and from police officers (extremely topical, particularly, stateside of late) and manages to turn many typical horror movie conventions upside down whilst still remaining gripping and entertaining. Performance-wise, all the leads do a good job but Kaluuya is particularly effective and impressive in his role as Chris.

Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams & Jordan Peele

My wife did her regular media-stacking trick of reading up online about the film even as we watched it, so was able to tell me as the final credits rolled that the original ending was less upbeat than the final version, and although the planned version would have arguably have been more realistic and in keeping with the rest of the film I can understand the reasons for Peele making the change and think it means that the conclusion is an easier watch. Either way, however, this is a very good film that makes an uncomfortable subject matter accessible and gives the viewer plenty to think and talk about. Recommended viewing…

Not Everything Can Be Forgiven

Recently my wife and I watched the feature-length debut film from writer / director Liam Gavin – the horror / drama movie “A Dark Song”.

Catherine Walker

Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker – “Patrick’s Day”, “Dark Touch”) arranges to rent a large isolated house in North Wales for twelve months. She then heads off to meet a man at a railway station.

That man,  Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram – “The Canal”, “Sightseers”), is being hired by Sophia – at great expense – to perform a ritual for her. Initially he declines clearly troubled Sophia’s offer until she admits the reason she gave for wanting to undergo the ritual wasn’t true and tells him something that attracts his attention.

Steve Oram

Stocking up on supplies for the months ahead, as they will be unable to leave the house once the process has begun, the pair head to the house where Joseph makes preparations and gives Sophia instructions about what his demands on her will be.

While Sophia has suffered a great loss, and is still very obviously suffering because of it, Joseph comes across as a rather unpleasant and, at times, abusive individual whose motivations are unclear aside from the large fee that he is promised and his own reward from the ritual…

Hammer Horror’s The Devil Rides Out (1968)

This is a very different take on the whole occult ritual type of movie. About as far away from the classic way Hammer Horror films would glamourise something like a black mass with the stereotypical candles, pentagrams and heaving cleavages as you can get. The ritual involved here seems to be the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – a several-months-long affair that is attributed to Abraham of Worms (1360-1460) from Germany that seeks to contact one’s Holy Guardian Angel.

The Bookf Of The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage

This text was apparently of great interest to both Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and seems to involve lots of cleansing, fasting, and the use of numerous candles and symbols.

Shot in Ireland in less than three weeks, I believe, this is a rather intense film that I guess would fall into the folk horror category. Although there are a few other actors that appear on-screen briefly this is for the vast majority of the 100 minute duration an in-depth look at what happens when the two leads are holed up in the house for months on end.

Steve Oram & Catherine Walker

Whether Joseph is a genuine occult expert – albeit a particularly rude and decidedly weird one – or just a charlatan is really left to the viewer to decide as the film could be interpreted in either way, even when we get to the climax of the film which could as easily be in Sophia’s mind as actually taking place.

In truth it is the final section of the movie that lets it down a little. Neither my wife or I were completely sold on the ending and the small budget shows most tellingly at this point too. That said, it does not detract from all that’s gone before that seems to be a far more grounded depiction of the work and personal sacrifice that goes into the kind of ritual being used. Not an easy watch, by any means, but with two excellent performances from Oram and Walker the film is riveting and compelling nonetheless and will likely stick in the memory for some time to come…

Are His Powers More Than Magic?

I watched a rather odd movie the other night. It was an Australian production from 1980, directed by Simon Wincer (“D.A.R.Y.L.”, “Free Willy”), titled “Harlequin”.

Mark Spain & Robert Powell

The film opens with a politician disappearing under the surface whilst swimming in the sea. The action switches to a child’s birthday party where we find the leukaemia suffering birthday boy, Alex Rast (Mark Spain – “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, “The Schlocky Horror Picture Show”). Alex is clearly not having any fun at all, until a clown gives him some one on one attention and manages to make a breakthrough.

David Hemmings

With the viewer having been introduced to Alex’s parents, senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings – “Blow-Up”, “Eye Of The Devil”) and his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan – “Turkey Shoot”, “Now And Forever”), we see the now-unmasked clown, Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell – “The Thirty-Nine Steps”, “Tommy”) turn up in their home again and declare that he has cured Alex of his illness.

Carmen Duncan

Nick is very sceptical over Gregory’s claims but Sandra very quickly comes under his spell and before you know it the pair have become very close indeed.

What follows is a strange mix of political thriller, drama and fantasy film as Gregory’s influence and magical powers are demonstrated (or is it just an elaborate con?) whilst Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford – “A Little Romance”, “Born Yesterday”) leads a shadowy group intending to manouvere Nick’s political career to their own ends.

Robert Powell

Having done a little reading since watching the film it seems that the story is loosely based on that of the famous Russian mystic monk Grigori Rasputin and his involvement with Tsar Nicholas II. Certainly the parallels are there, and in retrospect there is a clue in the main characters names  – Gregory (Grigori), Nick (Nicholas), Sandra (Alexandra) and Alex (Alexei) and even the family’s surname Rast being Tsar reversed.

Broderick Crawford & Robert Powell

I’m not sure if that helps make any more sense of a film that seems to be a bit confused about what it wants to be or not, to be honest. An odd cinematic offering to be sure, and not hugely well-known even under the alternate title of “Dark Forces”, but Robert Powell’s performance is very good and overall I’d say the movie is definitely worth seeking out and viewing…

The Most Terrifying Exorcism In British History

I watched “When The Lights Went Out” the other night. Written and directed by Pat Holden (“Awaydays”, “The Long Weekend”) this is a paranormal horror film that was released back in 2012 but somehow slipped under my radar until recently.

Kate Ashfield & Steven Waddington

Set in 1974, and following an eerie opening involving footsteps and a swinging light fighting, the film sees married couple Len (Steven Waddington – “Bridgend”, “The Imitation Game”) and Jenny (Kate Ashfield – “Shaun Of The Dead”, “7 Lives”) moving to a new council house in Yorkshire, together with their reluctant thirteen year old daughter Sally (Tasha Connor – “The Incident”, “X+Y”).

Tasha Connor

The family settle in to their new home, with help from their friends Brian (Craig Parkinson – “Control”, “Four Lions”) and Rita (Andrea Lowe – “Route Irish”, “DCI Banks”) and Sally soon makes friends with schoolmate Lucy (Hannah Clifford).

Craig Parkinson & Steven Waddington

 

When they discover that Sally has started taking to what they assume to be an imaginary friend, Len and Jenny aren’t too concerned. However, this soon progresses into something far more scary when they and their friends begin to witness things that happen and move without any explanation and the couple realise that their dream home is, in fact, haunted by a ghost that seems to have made Sally its prime target…

Andrea Lowe

The film is loosely based on the story of “The Black Monk Of Pontefract”, believed to be a 16th century monk who was hung for the rape and murder of a girl during the reign of Henry VIII. Holden’s mother Rene was apparently a bit of a psychic who became interested in the Pontefract house during the writer / director’s childhood.

Hannah Clifford

Even without the “based on a true story” aspect of this film I would have to say that it’s a very well done piece of scariness. There’s nothing too explicit in terms of visible horror but the underlying tension is palpable.

Martin Compston

Note should also be made of the set design and costumes that vividly evoke the early 1970s era perfectly. That, together with strong performances from the main cast, which includes Martin Compston (“Filth”, “The Dissapearnce Of Alice Creed”) as Sally’s school teacher Mr. Price, and a great story make for a really good film that’s well worth a viewing…