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.
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”).
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).
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…
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.
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.
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…
Released in the UK around a year ago, “She Who Must Burn” is a drama horror film from director Larry Kent (“The Hamster Cage”, “The Slavers”). Kent also co-wrote the movie with one of its lead actors Shane Twerdun.
The film opens with a scene where a doctor is shot dead in his practice by an anti-abortion protester Abraham Baarker (James Wilson – “Sweet Amerika”, “Waydowntown”) who promptly falls to his knees and begins to sing “Amazing Grace”.
We then get to gradually meet the main characters for the rest of the film. Central to events is Angela (Sarah Smyth – “White Raven”, “50/50”). Angela works as a counsellor who has just discovered that the state funding to her workplace has been cut off. Together with her husband, policeman Mac (Andrew Moxham – “Black Mountainside”, “Assault On Wall Street”), Angela decides against leaving their small rural town, believing that there are people in the town that still need her help, and sets up a clinic in their home.
Abraham’s son, local preacher Jeremiah Baarker (Shane Twerdun – “White Raven”, “Black Mountainside”), takes a very old-fashioned view to the place of his wife Margaret (Jewel Staite – “The Killing”, “Stargate : Atlantis”) in the home, imposing his will on her with ruthlessness.
When Margaret turns to Angela for help, and Angela arranges for her to flee from her abusive husband it’s not long before Jeremiah comes calling at the clinic, along with a number of other anti-abortion protesters including his sister Rebecca (Missy Cross – “Exley”, “White Raven” and her downtrodden husband Caleb (Andrew Dunbar – “Bad City”, “Leprechaun : Origins”).
Mac’s boss, the town Sheriff (Jim Francis – “We Don’t Live Here Anymore”, “Exley”), meanwhile, is clearly reluctant to go up against the religious fundamentalists, even when they go beyond the law.
Events take a turn for the worse when the Baarkers misunderstand – deliberately or otherwise – the reason for a town resident crossing state lines with her teenage daughter and take matters into their own hands. Very soon Angela finds herself very much the subject of their attentions…
There is also a sub-plot about infant mortality as a result of the water supply being contaminated by the town mining business, and this is interpreted as divine judgement by the Baarker clan and followers.
At heart, though, this is a simple enough and rather effective tale – sometimes brutally so – about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Granted some of the characters are somewhat stereotypical but they are no less effective for that, particularly those portrayed by Cross and Twerdun.
The final act is perhaps a bit of a let down and at odds with the realism on display for the rest of the film, but does show an element of poetic justice perhaps?
Terrible deeds being done in the name of religion isn’t exactly new, in fact I’d say it’s as old as religion itself, but with the troubles in the Middle East and the rise of the right around the globe the themes here are as relevant – and horrifically real – as ever. A well acted and shot low-budget film that’s definitely disturbing but also well worth a viewing…
I watched an interesting movie the other evening with my wife. “The Devil’s Candy” is the new film from writer / director Sean Byrne (“The Loved Ones”).
The film opens in the dark of night where Ray Smilie (Pruitt Vince Taylor – “Homefront”, “Identity”) resorts to blasting out loud heavy guitar riffs in the family home in order to keep from hearing sinister-sounding voices.
Next we’re introduced to the Hellman family – that’s mum Astrid (Shiri Appleby – “Swimfan”, “UnReal”), dad Jesse (Ethan Embry – “Cheap Thrills”, “Eagle Eye”) and teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco – “Maps To The Stars”, “Copper”) – the latter two clearly being definite heavy metal fans. In fact the whole film is soundtracked by various metal artists, including Metallica, Slayer, Cavalera Conspiracy and Sunn O))).
The trio move into a new house, which they are able to afford due to its knock-down price, and which just happens to be the former Smilie family home. At this point my wife was convinced that she knew exactly how events would play out.
Before you know it artist Jesse, settled into his new home studio, finds his piece on butterflies – a commission from a bank taken on reluctantly in order to help pay the bills – suddenly and inexplicably takes on a much darker tone, seemingly without his conscious involvement, as he begins to hear whispered voices and see terrible visions. Meanwhile serial killer Ray – still hearing voices of his own – starts to hang around the house and stalk Zooey…
When we got to the end of the movie my wife commented that things had developed much more subtly and in different ways than she’d expected. There were some excellent performances, particularly from Embry, and some inspired visuals – the juxtaposition between Jesse painting and Ray killing was very effective, for example – which combined to make a very impressive film. The solid soundtrack certainly added to the overall result too.
Perhaps a little short at less than an hour and a half, and perhaps Jesse’s interactions with the art dealer and his somewhat demonic-looking assistant could have been expanded on a bit? Nonetheless Byrne’s script and the actors’ performances mean that the characters come across as more rounded than is often the case, again strengthening the final product. I do like a good horror movie, occult themes and heavy metal and “The Devil’s Candy” contains all three. Recommended viewing!…
Today I watched a movie described as a horror drama film. Written and directed by Phillip Escott and Craig Newman “Cruel Summer” is their feature-length debut.From the opening frames you know that things aren’t going to end well as a bloodied young man runs through the woods. Having a good idea that events are going to get bloody doesn’t however detract from the bulk of the remaining film will lead to that point.
We meet Danny (Richard Pawulski – “All In The Valley”), a young man suffering with autism who is preparing to head off to a local lake for a night camping solo for his Duke of Edinburgh Award.
The scene then switches to an exterior shot of a typical house from which we can hear a muffled but clearly angry argument taking place, resulting in Nicholas (Danny Miller – “Scott & Bailey”, “Emmerdale”) being thrown out.
Nicholas, who appears to be a very angry young man, then shows up in the home of his female friend Julia (Natalie Martins – “Kill Or Be Killed”, “The Better Man”), where we discover that he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. Julia wastes no time in sticking the knife in regarding Nicholas’s now-ex. She obviously has designs on Nicholas though he appears oblivious to the fact, and so she claims that his ex had slept with others before him, unconvincingly naming Danny as one.
Knowing of Danny’s affliction, Nicholas is outraged to think of his ex sleeping with him and vows to make him pay. Dragging a reluctant but submissive Julia along with him, the pair head for Danny’s house – picking up new boy Calvin (Reece Douglas – “The Knife That Killed Me”, “Waterloo Road”) en route. By now the lie has become embellished and Nicholas insists that Danny is a paedophile who needs sorting out before he attacks more young girls.
Calvin isn’t keen on the idea but as he has a younger sister he succumbs to pressure from his peers to join them on their quest.
Initially the day consists of arcade games, smoking weed and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, but eventually and inevitably the trio find their quarry and the peer pressure exercised by Nicholas becomes ever greater. What follows is horrific in its utter believability. Without resorting to too much graphic violence or gore the filmmakers succeed in making the viewer feel very unsettled and disturbed.
I felt that this was made even more uncomfortable by the way that the three treat Danny and his autism, which is echoed with other minor characters’ dealings with him too. Because he has a disability Danny appears to be regarded as unfavourably in comparison to “normal” people. Living with people who have disabilities I know very well that it’s all to easy for people to either “not see” the disability or to treat the disabled person as somehow weird, and so the way that characters interact with Danny rings very true indeed.
The film is said to be based on true events, although no specific story is mentioned that I can find reference too. That said, all too often we hear stories of seemingly motiveless attacks, people being attacked as a result of mistaken identity or misinformation, so I imagine that a number of such stories planted the seed for “Cruel Summer”.
This is not your standard horror film with some almost superhuman baddie that never dies etc. This is very real horror showing that the real evil in our world lives in the other folk living around us. The darkness that can be found in the most unassuming and “normal” people is a truly scary thing.
Filmed in South Wales the cinematography is great and the acting from the four main characters is really top-notch. I would hope that few will be able to watch such a film without feeling emotionally affected by it, so strong is the tale. Disturbing and very thought-provoking stuff…
Last night my wife and I watched the movie “Pet”, a psychological horror thriller from Spanish director Carles Torrens (“Apartment 143”) and writer Jeremy Slater (“The Lazarus Effect”), which turned out to be far more fun than I’d anticipated.
Seth (Dominic Monaghan – “Lost”, “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy) is a seemingly quiet and introvert guy who has a job working at an animal shelter in Los Angeles. One day on his daily bus ride he spots a girl that he had a crush on back in high school and moves over the speak to her.
The girl, waitress Holly (Ksenia Solo – “Black Swan”, “The Factory”), talks politely with Seth but clearly doesn’t remember him from their school days. Seth is obviously very keen on Holly and tries a variety of rather inept / slightly creepy / stalkerish ways to win her over – but all to no avail.
Not easily rebuffed, Seth decides to drug Holly and lock her in a cage down in the basement of the animal shelter, naturally enough!, trying to keep his secret from being discovered by the security guard, Nate (Da’Vone McDonald – “Walk Of Shame”, “The Gambler”).
Things look more than a little bit bleak for Holly, but then appearances can be very deceptive – and perhaps Holly and her supportive flatmate Claire (Jennette McCurdy – “iCarly”, “Sam & Cat”) will fall into this category too…?
It’s safe to say that some of the twists and turns in this movie are easy enough to see coming, others less so, but that doesn’t detract from a thoroughly entertaining 95 minutes in the slightest.
Monaghan portrays Seth very well with a great mix of loneliness, infatuation and simple weirdness and Solo (who reminded me at times of a young Lysette Anthony – it’s the eyes!) is fantastic in her role. A complex and complicated pair living out a very twisted love story that really isn’t what you might be expecting. This one’s well worth a watch…
Horrible weather out today, feeling rather under the weather myself, so time for a nice horror film this morning… from Dutch writer / director Nick Jongerius (“Spangas”, “The RedRoom”) comes this year’s “The Windmill”.
Originally titled “The Windmill Massacre”, the film opens with flashbacks to a burning static caravan before we switch to Amsterdam where we are introduced to Australian nanny Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont – “Broadchurch”, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”) who scarpers when the father of the family she works for challenges her over her identity.
A number of other characters are gradually brought into play through introductory scenes, including distracted businessman Douglas (Patrick Baladi – “The Office”, “Stella”) and his young son Curt (Adam Thomas Wright – “The Awakening”, “Altar”).
Others are photographer Ruby (Fiona Hampton – “Kingsman – The Secret Service”, “Legacy”), surgeon Nicholas (Noah Taylor – “Vanilla Sky”, “Submarine”), soldier Jackson (Ben Batt – “The Village”, “Scott & Bailey”) and Takashi (Tanroh Ishida – “The Railway Man”, “47 Ronin”) who is in Holland to scatter his grandmother’s ashes.
These disparate personalities come together when they all board a sightseeing coach trip to view some of Holland’s sights and landmarks. Whilst driving down a rural track Jennifer thinks she sees something that causes her to get the driver Abe (Bart Klever – “Clean Hands”, “The Pool”) to stop the coach. When he is unable to restart the engine the motley bunch seek refuge in a wooden shack in the shadow of an old windmill.
Whilst there they learn the legend of a miller supposedly burnt to death inside his windmill when local villagers discovered that the Devil-worshipping miller had been killing and grinding the bones of his victims in the mill. Then people start to disappear and it becomes clear that they all seem to fall within the category of person-with-dark–guilty-secret. Is this a coincidence or has something drawn these folk together?…
A fairly straight-forward horror / slasher film with a supernatural element, I thought that despite the fact that you know pretty early on what is going on the makers still managed to create a movie that sustains the tension throughout. Decent acting, with Beaumont and Wright carrying a good deal of the tale, a fair amount of gore and a credible plot – certainly worth 85 minutes of your time…
Going back to my teens I’ve kind of associated Friday nights with horror movies. I seem to remember that they were often shown then, back in the days of just a handful of TV channels. Thus I often feel like watching a film that is at least loosely termed “horror” on Friday nights and this past one was no exception. So it was that I (and my wife who unusually stayed awake throughout) watched this year’s offering from director Fede Alvarez (2013 remake of “Evil Dead”) entitled “Don’t Breathe”.
Three friends are seen breaking into an expensive-looking home and stealing things and generally causing havoc. They are ringleader Money (Daniel Zovatto – “Beneath”, “It Follows”), Rocky (Jane Levy – “Suburgatory”, “Evil Dead”) and Alex (Dylan Minnette – “Prisoners”, “Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”). Alex uses keys from his father’s security business for them to target and access homes without tripping alarms etc.
Frustrated with the meagre returns that the trio are getting when selling the stolen goods, Money hears of a house in a run-down and largely abandoned part of Detroit where a disabled Army veteran lives (Stephen Lang – “Avatar”, “Gridlocked”). He was reported to have received a six-figure settlement when his daughter was killed in a car accident and Money believes that there is US$300,000 in cash in the house.
When they take a look at the house the three discover that the man is blind, and so decide to break into his house that night. What they don’t realise is that the blind man has more than money hidden away in his house and that once they’re in they will find it much harder to get back out. You just know things aren’t going to end well!…
Levy, Minnette and Lang carry the bulk of the movie between them, and do a good job with their respective roles. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic, so when events take a turn for the worse you just go along for the ride without being too concerned about the fate of any of them really!
We thought that there were a few plot holes and inconsistencies at play here, but overall we found this to be an entertaining and suitably dark movie with plenty of dramatic and claustrophobic moments to keep the tension up. Well worth viewing…
A couple of months ago I watched a film that used the world of courier cycling as a setting, called “Alleycats” that I quite enjoyed. Using a similar idea, I guess, is the latest movie from Chilean writer / director Patricio Valladares that I watched the other night. Categorised as action / horror / sport – something you don’t see often – the film was released at the end of August this year and is titled “Downhill”.
At the start of the film, following a scene where a young woman seems to be the victim of some kind of occult-like ritual, we are introduced to mountain bike enthusiast Joe (Bryce Draper – “Muck”, “Bound”) who is preparing to take part in a downhill race with his best friend. The race ends in tragedy when Joe’s friend falls and is killed.
Some time later, having given up the sport, Joe is tempted out of retirement to take part in an exhibition race in the mountains of Chile. He travels there with his girlfriend Stephanie (Natalie Burn – “Nymph”, “Awaken”) and meets up with his old friends Pablo (Ariel Levy – “Aftershock”, “The Green Inferno”) and Magdalena (Ignacia Allamand – “Knock, Knock”, “The Green Inferno”) for a night of drinking and partying before the race.
The following morning Joe and Stephanie head out for a practice ride on the course, during which they stumble across a pickup truck with a badly injured man inside. They call for help but before they know what’s happening they find themselves being chased through the terrain by an armed gang led by an Alpha Hunter (Luke Massy – “Hidden In The Woods”, “Knife To A Gunfight”) and things go rapidly downhill (see what I did there?!)
Now, when I reviewed the aforementioned “Alleycats” I made mention that I felt that there was too much emphasis on the cycle riding early on in the film. Well, in this case I’d have to say, especially given that the film’s title implies a strong biking link, that there wasn’t enough downhill mountain biking in the film. There is the initial scene where Joe’s friend dies and a bit when he and Stephanie go for their practice ride in Chile but from that point on (less than half way through the movie) the biking theme goes right out of the window.
What we are then left with is a jumbled plot involving a ruthless gang of locals, plastic bags full of some gory looking contents hanging from trees throughout the forest, a strange unidentified virus, and the odd ritualistic elements, a scene that appears to involve some kind of zombie-like orgy – plus plenty of lingering shots of Burn early on..
Quite what it all adds up to I’m not entirely sure. On one level you could argue that the viewer sees things as central characters Joe and Stephanie do – odd events occurring without explanation that they just have to react to – but equally you could argue that there are a bunch of ideas thrown together that don’t quite fit together and are never fully realised or explained.
Both leads do a decent enough job with the material but it’s not enough to make the whole thing work convincingly to be honest. Not a highly recommended film, then, especially if you’re looking forward to the sport element of the film being more apparent, but with a duration of just 82 minutes there are certainly less entertaining ways of spending your time…
“Inside The Wicker Man is a treat for all cinemagoers, exhaustively researched and achieving a near-perfect balance between history, trivia and serious analysis. Allan Brown describes the filming and distribution of the cult masterpiece as a ‘textbook example of ‘How Things Should Never Be Done’. The omens were bad from the start, and proceeded to get much, much worse, with fake blossom on trees to simulate spring, actors chomping on ice-cubes to prevent their breath showing on film, and verbal and physical confrontations involving both cast and crew. The studio hated it and hardly bothered to distribute it, but today it finds favour with critics and fans alike, as a serious – if flawed – piece of cinema.
Brown expertly guides readers through the film’s convoluted history, attempting along the way to explain its enduring fascination, and providing interviews with the key figures – many of whom still have an axe to grind, and some of whom still harbour plans for a sequel…”
I’ve written previously about the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” which without doubt belongs in my top five films of all time. Well, I have just finished reading “Inside The Wicker Man – How Not To Make A Cult Classic” – a book all about the problematic making of the movie, written by Scottish journalist Allan Brown.
Originally published in 2000, I read the revised 2010 edition. Since publication of this edition Sir Christopher Lee passed away last year and a sort-of “sequel” mentioned in the blurb above has appeared with the release of Robin Hardy’s 2011 film “The Wicker Tree”. Hardy himself died earlier this year.
I haven’t previously read a book like this one. That is to say a book about the making of a specific film. I’ve read plenty of biographies that cover a multitude of projects but not one concentrated solely on one. As a result I can’t really compare the book to any similar works, so any observations are purely reactions to having read this one.
The first thing that struck me were the somewhat daft chapter descriptions, for example “Chapter 9 – Burrowhead : In which a goat urinates on Edward Woodward, and Anthony Shaffer threatens to burn some pandas”! I guess this is a reflection of the author’s sense of humour but, as I say, seemed a bit daft to me.
There’s a fair bit of detail relayed in the course of the book and it soon becomes clear that practically everyone involved – Shaffer, Hardy, Lee, Woodward, Britt Ekland, etc. etc. – have vastly differing views and memories of the whole experience. The most pronounced differences occur between the deceased pair of Shaffer and Hardy – former business partners who became rather adversarial subsequent to the making of the film – who seem unable to agree on anything and intent on taking the majority of the credit for themselves.
On balance, despite the feeling that the author has an agenda and is most definitely in the Shaffer camp, I’d have to say that given other testimony contained it seems probable that Hardy’s claims are the less likely. That would certainly go some way to explaining how someone who claimed to be largely responsible for “The Wicker Man” could go on the produce the rather poor “The Wicker Tree”.
The story of the genesis and making of the film, editing, marketing and distribution issues and problems that took place between 1972 and 2010 (plus a chapter on the near-comedy that is Nicolas Cage’s 2006 remake) takes up the first two-thirds of the book.
Following that are a number of appendices, of varying interest to this reader. The technical information on filming locations, scene by scene, and full cast and crew lists, for example, are all well and good but only really for reference purposes. An extract from Lee’s autobiography concerning the film is more interesting, but for me the most interesting appendix was the screenplay for Shaffer’s proposed sequel “The Wicker Man II”.
The premise is certainly interesting, and in its favour you’d have to say at least it’s not a simple retread like the aforementioned “The Wicker Tree”. There is an attempt to follow on the story from where the original film ended but I, and I suspect many fans of that film, find the addition of overtly supernatural elements and various folklore details from a variety of cultures alter the balance of the proposed sequel too much.
There is a tendency to repeat events and quotes – perhaps a result of the update? – and the timeline flits back and forwards rather confusingly sometimes, particularly with the very convoluted events once the film had actually been made. The author attempts to portray the film as something of a glimpse into the (in 1973) future, which I feel is far more coincidental than Brown seems to, but overall a decent read on an interesting subject matter…
Last night my wife and I watched an old horror / thriller movie from director William Castle (“13 Ghosts”, “House On Haunted Hill”). Released in 1961 the film is called “Homicidal”.
A young blonde woman (Joan Marshall – “Shampoo”, “Bold Venture”, appearing under the name Jean Arless) checks into a Ventura, CA hotel and, calling herself Miriam Webster, offers the bellboy $1,000 to accompany her to the local justice of the peace that night and get married to her. Although somewhat mystified the bellboy agrees and goes along with her plan. When they arrive for the ceremony she inexplicably stabs the justice of the peace to death and flees.
She returns home where we discover that she is a nurse to an elderly mute woman, Helga Swenson (Eugenie Leontovich – “The Rains Of Ranchipur”, “The World In His Arms”).
As the film progresses we are introduced to the real Miriam Webster (Patricia Breslin – “Peyton Place”, “The People’s Choice”), a florist, and her half-brother Warren who has recently returned from a spell living in Denmark. Their father has recently died, leaving a substantial fortune to Warren. The partly paralysed Helga was Miriam and Warren’s childhood Nanny.
It soon becomes clear that Helga’s nurse, whose name is actually Emily, is not content with murdering the justice of the peace but wants to make Miriam’s life hell too, for unspecified reasons. Luckily Miriam has a solid alibi for the night of the killing but, concerned by Emily’s hostility, she and her drugstore owner fiance Karl Anderson (Glenn Corbett – “Chisum”, “The Road West”) begin to investigate…
When the film was shown in cinemas there was a 45 second “fright break” pause in the film – which survives in the version we saw – that allowed anyone too scared to witness the climax to leave the cinema at that point. I wouldn’t say that the movie is that scary but is certainly has something.
As we were watching I felt that some of the acting, particularly from the character of Warren, seemed strangely stilted and wooden but despite this the film was oddly compelling viewing. My wife decided to look the film up on the internet as we were watching, so was aware of the twists to come, but I didn’t make the connection in my head until the aforementioned 45 second pause when something suddenly dawned on me that made sense of proceedings up until that point.
Although there are certainly parallels with Hitchcock’s “Psycho” – which saw the light of day a year before “Homicidal” – this is a little-known movie that I feel is well worth seeing…