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The Depress-A-Thon: Deliver Us From Evil by Jamie

The sad fact is that lately I have just been too damn happy. Things have been going relatively well and life is generally quite good. This, of course, cannot stand. I need to create some kind of balance and so to that end I have decided to embark on a special project, The Depress-A-Thon. I will watch some of the most depressing films that I know about, review them here and see just how watching as many as I can affects me. It’s kind of a science experiment if science experiments were conducted in hugely unscientific ways.

Now there is a small problem in that some of the films that will be included in The Depress-A-Thon have already been reviewed on this site. I’m not sure yet whether I will re-review them in the context of the marathon or simply post up the old reviews. I guess it’ll all depend on how I feel.

So let’s start with a little film called ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, a documentary from 2006 directed by Amy J. Berg. It mainly revolves around Oliver O’Grady, a grandfatherly old Irish man with a twinkle in his eye. He also happens to be a despicable monster. No, that’s not right. I generally dislike it when people call others who commit horrendous acts monsters. I feel it’s a bit of a cop-out, as if their trying to remove their actions from within the parameters of humanity. So no, O’Grady is not a despicable monster, he’s a despicable human being.

You see, it turns out that O’Grady was a catholic priest who, from the period of the late 70s to the early 90s, abused, molested and raped at least twenty-five children, the youngest being only nine months old. The first half or so of the film mainly deals with O’Grady and how he was moved from parish to parish as his crimes were revealed until he was finally arrested and convicted of his crimes. The second half of the film deals with the larger issue of child abuse within the Catholic Church and the Church’s attempt to keep it covered up.

The film features various interviews with the families involved in the sexual abuse, lawyers, law enforcement and O’Grady himself. The interviews with the victims are, for obvious reasons, the most moving, in particular those involving the Jyono family who are the main family portrayed throughout the family. Bob Jyono in particular becomes very emotional when talking about O’Grady and it’s easy to understand why. He trusted this man so much that he used to let him stay at his house to get away from the stress of the church. Little did he know at the time that whilst the priest was staying there he was raping his five year old daughter, Ann.

The most interesting interviews, however, are those with O’Grady himself. It’s incredible to watch because the man seemingly has no concept of just how reprehensible the things he has done are. He talks about raping children almost as if it he’d committed a minor transgression against these families, perhaps something akin to accidentally over feeding a pet goldfish or something. It’s a bizarre thing to see. The man has clearly managed to disassociate himself completely from the severity of his crimes. There’s a moment where he is writing letters to his victims, sitting in his Irish home after being deported from America and living on an annuity from the church, who he honestly thinks might want to see him again, discuss the events and hopefully shake his hand. The most remorse you hear from him are the words “It should not have happened,” but even this statement lacks any kind of sincerity.

As stated before the second half of the film deals more with the problem of abuse of children by priests within the Catholic Church as a whole and presents an organisation which is very much about saving face and money. It is shown that they actively move shamed priests from one parish to another without informing the local community or local law enforcement of their pasts. They also ignore the cries of the victims themselves for as long as they can before moving the priest, lying to them and telling them that they won’t be allowed access to children ever again.

There is discussion about reasons that child abuse seems to be such a problem within the Church. One suggested reason is that it’s because Catholic priests are forced to remain celibate. Combined with the fact that many of them begin training for the priest hood right around the time they enter puberty means that they never get to mature psychosexually in the way that a normal person would. Obviously this doesn’t cause all priests to become paedophiles but it could explain why there seem to be such a higher number of cases within the Catholic Church compared with the population at large. It is also suggested that it is this stunting of their sexual growth that causes them to be attracted to children, people who they perceive as mental equals when it comes to matters of a sexual nature. It’s an interesting theory and one that I can see making sense although I’m just as inclined to believe that they abuse children simply because they are the most vulnerable members of their flock.

The film is a stark, shocking look at the problem of child abuse within the Catholic Church today and the Church’s response to it. It certainly feels a bit one sided but then again it would be very difficult for it to be any other way especially considering the Catholic Church refused to be interviewed for the documentary as well as refusing to speak to some of O’Grady’s victims after they had flown to the Vatican hoping for some kind of closure. It’s a film that is actually more likely to make you angry then depressed, though it certainly isn’t very uplifting.

Overall I give this film five pints out of five and I highly recommend it, if you can stomach the subject matter. Tomorrow The Depress-A-Thon continues with ToddSolondz’s ‘Happiness’

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Review: Antichrist by Jamie

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

Hmm, how do I start this review? Well, Antichrist is the 2009 horror film directed by Lars Von Trier. It stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The majority of it takes place in the woods. Some of it is shot in black and white and some of it is shot in colour. Well, hope you enjoyed the review. Laterz.

No, I suppose I can think of a few more things to say. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Antichrist. It’s the controversial film that shocked audiences and reviewers alike, apparently. One reviewer was so shocked that he reviewed the film without even seeing the film! It’s true! An actual film ‘critic’ was actually paid by a ‘newspaper’ in the UK to review a film he hadn’t seen! You can read the pricks ‘incredibly valid opinion’ here. My god, what a cunt.

So I suppose we should address all this right up front. Does Antichrist deserve the controversy surrounding it? Well, yes and no. I say this because different people find different things controversial. I find neither graphic sex nor graphic violence to be that offensive because, at the end of the day, it’s just a goddamn film and I can separate reality from fiction because I’m a rational human being. That being said, there were two scenes in particular which I did find a little difficult to watch. One involves violence against the male sexual organ and the other involves self-inflicted violence against a certain part of female genitalia. Yeah, nice.

However, there are some people who do find depictions of graphic sex and violence to be offensive, so to those people I would say that yes, the film probably does deserve the controversy that you yourselves have likely generated for it. I suppose I can see the point of some of your concerns. Is it necessary to depict such things in films? Well, sometimes I would say that yes, yes it is. Sex and violence are intrinsic parts of the human experience, probably two of the biggest components of the human psyche. When we sink to our most base and instinctual level, when we loose track of rational thought entirely, it is generally because of these two extremes of our basic nature. Some films exist to be reflections of human nature and therefore it would be necessary to include these two elements. I think that makes sense. It seems to when I read it back but that could have been because I wrote it so I understand what I mean anyway.

I suppose there has also been some criticism that the film is misogynistic. I can kind of see where that criticism comes from and this film but really it just mirrors age old themes that have been part of human storytelling for thousands of years. I’m not saying it’s right but if every time a film that has something controversial to say is instantly branded as evil then we might as well stick to making shitty ‘The Land Before Time’ sequels. Besides, I feel that the misogynistic component of the film can largely be explained through the mutual insanity of the couple. I don’t think it’s inherent to either character.

Antichrist is very much a film about human nature. Specifically it’s about death, the reaction to it, sex, violence and insanity. It begins with a couple, Dafoe and Gainsbourg, fucking in slow motion while their child wanders from its room and out of an open window to it’s death. This child’s death is the catalyst for the events which follow. At the funeral Gainsborough collapses and is taken to hospital. She spends the next month slipping in and out of a coma-like state and loses perception of time. Her therapist husband, Dafoe, decides to take her home and get her off of her medication, forcing her to confront the mourning process whilst also enabling him to take her on as a kind of patient. It seems, at first, as though this is to help her but you also get the impression that he enjoys treating his wife in this way.

Gainsbourg reveals that the thing she fears the most is Eden, a wooded area where she had spent some time with her child the summer previously whilst she was writing her thesis in Gynocide, a word that I can’t help but find hilarious because I’m currently reading Lloyd Kaufman’s book ‘Direct Your Own Damn Movie’ throughout which he refers to ladies of the female persuasion as gynos. Dafoe decides that it would be best for her if she were to go to Eden and confront her fear. Straight away it seems as though the woods are trying to fuck with the couple. First of all Dafoe sees a deer with a dead baby deer… Wait a minute, what the fuck is a baby deer called? Shit, I can’t remember… I’ll just call it a deerling… So yeah, Dafoe sees a deer with a dead deerling hanging from it’s deergina. Later on the couple see a little birdling fall from a tree. This is serves, of course, to remind the couple of their own dead humanling and to further provoke their respective insanity. Dafoe also sees a fox that is eating itself which turns to him and screeches ‘Chaos Reigns!’ It is awesome.

You see, whilst Gainsbourg was in Eden before, her studies of Gynocide and specifically the witch trials of the past, had lead her to believe that there was some kind of inherent evil within women. As her psychosis and guilt over the death of her child builds within her, she begins to believe that she can perform some of the practices that the witches of old used to carry out. This leads her to the aforementioned acts of genitalia centric violence as well as bolting a grind-stone through his leg. Events continue to build, with wilder and wilder hallucinations on both their parts until the film reaches it’s conclusion. I’m gonna leave the plot synopsis there because I don’t want to give too much away as I’d like to leave people enough mystery so that they’d still want to see the film.

Of course, during that synopsis I mentioned that the events are caused by the couples growing insanity and that’s certainly one way to look at it. There is of course the alternative option which is to accept that all the things that they think they are seeing and all the powers Gainsborough believes she has are actually real. Which do I subscribe to? Well, despite my synopsis taking a definite point of view, I myself am not really sure. I think there are good cases to made for both and I haven’t really made up my mind yet. I suggest you watch it for yourself and make up your own mind.

So, how do I rate Antichrist as a film? Well, I’m certainly glad I watched it, if glad is the correct word to use in this situation. I don’t think it’s as dramatically shocking or offensive as people have made it out to be and it’s certainly shot and acted incredibly well. In fact one of the most disturbing things about the film is the number of close-ups you get of Willem Dafoe’s face. He is one creepy bastard and I think he can see my soul through the screen. There is one major problem that I had with the film though. It’s kind of slow. It takes some time to actually get to Eden and, whilst the earlier scenes serve to give some background to the plot, you can’t help but wonder if maybe they couldn’t have gotten to the cabin some time sooner. Overall, I give Antichrist 3 pints out of 5. Laterz.



Review: Pontypool by Jamie

Well, today is February 15th which means that, according to wikipedia, it is National Flag of Canada day which marks the day that the Canadians took down their old banner which featured the mighty Union Jack, symbol of the Great British Empire of old and chose a flag with a maple leaf on it instead. Seems like a bit of a step backwards but, you know, whatever.

Of course I kid Canada. ‘Tis a lovely flag and a lovely nation that just so happens to be home to my favourite film podcast, Film Junk. So it’s only right that we honour this day of proud heritage for the Canadian people by looking at one of the best damn Canadian films I have ever seen, the 2009 horror film, Pontypool.

Now, I don’t want to spoil this film but there are certain aspects that I simply can’t review without revealing a few little things that might be considered as spoilers so if you desperately want to see this film and haven’t gotten around to it yet then I would recommend you watch it before reading this review. Like I say, I’ll be trying to reveal as little as possible but I won’t be able to really write a review without revealing the cause of the events within the film. It’s up to you now if you read on. You have the power.

So Pontypool is named after the small town in Canada where it takes place. Perhaps the greatest thing about this film is that it takes place almost entirely in one location, a radio station where our main character, Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), works as on-air talent. With him is his producer, Sydney Briar and her assistant Laurel Ann. Mazzy is a pretty fun character, a apparent former radio star who was known for having controversial opinions on things such as law enforcement who now finds himself in a small town, tin-pot radio station, constantly being told to try and reign his personality in a little.

The shit begins to hit the fan when the radio station receives a report from Ken Loney, a traffic reporter who travels the air in his Sunshine Chopper, of some extremely violent riots occurring outside the offices of Dr. Mendez. These riots soon spread throughout the town and it seems as though the rioters are somewhat dazed and confused, constantly repeating certain phrases over and over again. They also extremely violent, attacking people and apparently eating them as well.

Mazzy continues to broadcast, hoping to keep the people of Pontypool informed about the terrible events going on within the town but it soon becomes clear that the people within the radio station are quite possibly the only ones left unaffected by the strange things occurring outside. Or perhaps not. Laurel Ann suddenly seems to be incredibly confused, unable to string an entire sentence together and finally just repeating one word over and over again. Whilst this is going on, Dr. Mendez manages to find his way to the radio station and make his way inside. Upon seeing Laurel Ann he informs Grant and Sydney that it might be a good idea for them to get into the sound-proof booth and lock themselves inside away from the confused looking girl. He explains that she has been infected with a mysterious virus that is spreading around town which will cause her to hunt them and that their speech will attract her, hence locking themselves in the sound-proof booth.

That’s pretty much all the writing about the plot that I’ll do as things really start to take a turn for the worse from there. Instead I want to talk about the method by which the virus spreads itself. It is revealed throughout the course of the film that the virus is beginning to spread itself via speech, specifically the English language. There are certain words which are infected and the key is that understanding. Upon hearing an infected word and understanding it, the person becomes infected themselves. This causes them to repeat the infected word, apparently as some form of the body trying to fight the virus before finally succumbing to it and becoming aggressive whilst also trying to spread the infection.

It’s certainly a different way of trying to tackle a zombie-esque outbreak and one that’s incredibly effective. How do you fight an infection that can’t be stopped by things such as vaccines? Something that’s spread by such an intrinsic part of everyday human life as speech? I know I’d be screwed especially if the virus spread itself solely through the English language. I only know a spattering of unhelpful phrases in French and German and how to ask for a beer in Japanese. Yep, I’d either be fucked or incredibly drunk in a Japanese bar. I really hope for the later.

Perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this film are the comedic elements that are layered throughout it. There’s the revelation that Ken isn’t actually in a helicopter at all. The Sunshine Chopper is actually his Dodge Dart which he parks on top of a hill in order to give him an aerial view of the traffic situation below. There’s also an hilarious scene with the cast of a local theatre troupe who are putting on a musical version of Lawrence of Arabia. And I can’t talk about the humour of the film without mentioning the character of Grant Mazzy himself. The man’s brilliant and McHattie does an excellent job of portraying a man who clearly dislikes the idea of restraining himself on air.

Despite all this comedy, Pontypool remains a genuinely creepy movie. There’s an undercurrent of unease running through it, particularly early on in the film when it isn’t really clear exactly what’s going on, especially with Ken’s recurring reports on what’s going on outside. It’s a classic example of not revealing too much too soon and it’s masterfully done here. When the infection does reach the station, the film doesn’t shy away from the odd bit of gore and violence either, literally spraying the sound proof booth with blood at one point.

Unless you hadn’t guessed by now, I highly recommend Pontypool. It manages to achieve something that horror films rarely do these days, make me feel genuinely tense and that’s a very good thing indeed. Five pints out of five.



Review: Valentine by Jamie

A Special Valentine’s Day Review of the 2001 film, Valentine

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Review: Dawn Of The Dead – The Remake by Jamie

In 1968 a 28 year old filmmaker named George A. Romero made a film that would spawn not only a new genre but an entire pop culture phenomenon. That film was ‘The Night Of The Living Dead’ and it was the birth of zombies as we know them today. It was the first time that zombies were apocalyptic in nature, a world-wide event that meant the possible end of mankind.

Romero followed this up a decade later with a film which many consider to be the greatest zombie movie of all time ‘Dawn Of The Dead’. The film told the story of a group of survivors who barricade themselves inside a mall in an effort to escape the shambling hordes of zombies who have gathered outside. It was a simple story but for some reason its commentary on consumerism and its balls out gory violence struck a chord. It was destined to go down in history as a horror classic.

In 2004 the decision was made that Dawn was to be remade, directed by Zack Snyder who’d go on to direct ‘300’ and ‘Watchmen’. The basic plot, as it turned out, would essentially be the same: A group of survivors would hold up inside a mall and try to continue surviving but this time it would be all flashy and grand because it was the 21st century and ‘28 Days Later’ had been released just two years earlier. It’s what modern audiences would be expecting.

Yes, gone were the slow, shambling zombies that many of us had come to know and love. They were replaced by a new breed, a fast, screeching zombie. The runners who would bolt towards someone at the first sign of human activity. Now, as I said yesterday, I have come to appreciate the runners as long as they are used effectively or for good reason such as in ‘Zombieland’ or ‘Dead Set’. So does the Dawn remake really gain anything from using the runners instead of the shamblers?

Well, no. Not really. The problem is that for most of the film, the survivors are inside the mall and when they do head outside the zombies have gathered into a massive horde, so large in fact that it they don’t have enough room to run. Sure, there are scenes in a sewer and an underground car park which are probably better for having had the runners but what’s the point of having of giving them this super speed if they’d be just effective, more efective in fact, throughout most of the film if they were just the normal shamblers?

Perhaps I should clarify something before going on. I didn’t hate this film. It’s definitely entertaining. The first twenty minutes or so is simply a superb example of film-making and the later scenes between the group in the mall and Andy, another survivor on another rooftop, is a cool idea. Hell, the montage of the people going about their daily business inside the mall accompanied by Richard Cheese’s version of ‘Down With The Sickness’ will probably go down as one of my favourite montages for the choice of music alone. I also really enjoyed the cameos from the cast members of the original, particularly Ken Foree who got to repeat his line “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.”

No, the problems with the film are derived from two simple things, the running zombies and the character development. The original film focused on a small group of survivors, allowing their characters to develop and allowing you to care about what happens to them. In the remake the group is simply too large. I found I couldn’t really give a fuck whether they died or not. Actually, the only character I really gave two shits about was Andy and you don’t even see him close up until after he’s joined the legions of the undead.

Now to finish this by just rounding out my views on the running zombies in this film. When it comes down to it, they just aren’t scary. They’re no way near as threatening as the slowly advancing hordes. Maybe it’s because you pretty much always hear their bestial screeching long before you see them. There’s nothing that scary about something which has basically just screeched the zombie equivalent of “I’ll be with you in a second if you wouldn’t mind waiting, thank you very much.” You’d think that an individual runner would present more of a threat than a shambler but I’ve seen a number of shamblers lurch suddenly round a corner to catch someone of guard. The reason being, of course, because they didn’t announce their presence.

This lack of fear doesn’t seem to stretch to all runners though. For some reason the runners in Dead Set did seem genuinely threatening and at times I did find myself a little scared by them even though they made similar noises to the ones in this film. Maybe it‘s down to the way it‘s shot. You barely ever see the zombies up close in this film which just sucks. The kills aren‘t really worth talking about either.

So yeah, even though I had some problems with it, it’s still an undeniably entertaining film, probably more so if you don’t think as deeply about zombies as I apparently do. It’s perfect if you just wanna watch something without really having to engage your brain too much. Three pints out of five.



Review: Dead Set by Jamie

I don’t know if I’ve made this clear in the past but I’m quite the fan of Zombie films. I’m not sure why. There’s just something mildly appealing about being one of the few last members of a doomed species surrounded by the undead who want nothing more than to consume your flesh. That may seem odd but who wouldn’t want to be one of those survivors, no more of the drudgery of everyday life, going to work and earning a wage but fighting back the shambling hordes just so you could say you survived. Yeah, for me the Zombie Apocalypse is escapism.

There’s also a fantastic sense of hopelessness in zombie films. In the best ones it seems as though once the infection has begun to spread then the fight is already over. The zombies have already won simply through sheer numbers. The infection often seems to be global and it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before the remaining survivors succumb to either a natural or unnatural end. This is why my favourite zombie films are the original Day and Dawn of the Dead. It’s made very clear in those films that the undead dominance is practically total. The same is also true of the absolutely fantastic piece of Zombie-related televisual entertainment I’ll be looking at today, Dead Set.

Now, let’s get one thing out of the way right at the outset. Dead Set’s zombies are the runners that are becoming more and more prominent throughout zombie fiction. Whilst still being a zombie purist and preferring the shambling, rotting kind who are no real threat on their own but amass in huge numbers causing survivors to become trapped and ideally turn on each other, I will admit that, when used correctly, the runners can be effective. This was perhaps best demonstrated recently in ‘Zombieland’. Running zombies were perfect for that film because the survivors didn’t spend most of their time trapped in one location. It was essentially a road movie and in that kind of film I can see why the runners would be more effective than the traditional Romero variety.

In Dead Set, the running zombies are effective but for different reasons that Charlie Brooker, the writer of this and all-around genius, has stated himself in response to friendly criticism he received from Simon Pegg, well known slow zombie advocate. Basically the runners are used due to budgetary constraints restricting the number of crowd shots, the need to differentiate itself from Pegg’s own ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and the fact that infection needed to spread quick enough to stop an evacuation of the studio being possible. That last one will make more sense once I get into the actual review which I seem to be having some difficulty in doing. Anyway, to sum up these are all fair enough reasons.

Right, to the synopsis then. ‘Dead Set’ starts off during an eviction night for the reality series Big Brother. Throughout the day there have been reports of massive riots or some such thing occurring throughout Britain but despite the possible ramifications of this, the producer decides to take Big Brother to air as normal. During the eviction, however, something horrific happens and before long the only people left alive are those inside the Big Brother house, unaware of what’s happening outside, a show runner, the producer and the evicted contestant. There are a couple of other survivors but the main focus is really on these and, later on, the show runners boyfriend who is trying to make his way to the Big Brother house.

The show runner, Kelly, soon finds out that the outside world is pretty much devoid of life and decides to make her way into the Big Brother house, what with it being possibly the safest place in the world right now. When she makes it inside the house mates think that she’s a new contestant, albeit a fairly crazy one. When a zombie manages to get in and bites one of them, however, they soon realise the situation they are in.

And that’s pretty much where I’m going to leave the synopsis. I’ll say right now that this really is a must watch. It’s available in all of it’s fantastic five part glory through Channel 4’s YouTube page here. My apologies to people outside the UK. I know how these things often work so I wouldn’t be surprised if you find some kind of content restriction message. You can always buy the region 2 DVD, which I would recommend for anyone if I’m honest. It’s always nicer to have a physical copy of something. There are of course other methods you could employ which I will no way endorse here.

So what makes Dead Set so pants-wettingly brilliant? Well, everything really. The very idea of taking Big Brother and putting a zombie apocalypse around it, is in itself a wonderfully simple idea and allows for all the satire and commentary that the best zombie films are known for. In this case it’s reality TV that’s on the chopping block, obviously, and the culture that surrounds it. All of the contestants are the kinds of twattish stereotypes that Big Brother and it’s generally twattish audience thrive on. From blonde bimbo to flamboyantly gay transvestite, all the archetypes are covered. There’s even that one who’s a little bit stupid but likeable enough that he’d probably never actually win. From what I’ve seen of Big Brother those are generally regarded as background characters who never get much screen time because they aren’t as twattish as their housemates. I need to stop using the word twattish.

What’s interesting is that most of the characters, whilst still retaining may of their stereotypical charactersitics, manage to undergo major developments. For example Veronica, the blonde bimbo character, upon finding out about the zombie apocalypse enquires “Does this mean we’re not on the telly anymore?” but by the end she’s able to come up with a plan in order to take down a zombie lose in the garden. It manages to take what should be a relatively unlikeable cast of people and make you care about them and what happens to them in a way that I imagine Big Brother itself would have trouble doing in two months of programming.

It’s also quite clear that a large portion of the zombies are drawn to the Big Brother house, something which makes sense because most of the people there probably where fans of the show who were turned on the night of the eviction and one of the contestants even muses that they the house was almost like a temple to them in life. This echoes Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ where it is theorised that the zombies come to the mall due to some fading half-memory of their former life in which they considered it to be an important place for them. In this case the people used to come here to feed on the micro-fame of the people inside the house and now they’re back to feed on them once more, only this time in a much more literal sense.

Of course, you could talk about the satire and social commentary in zombie films until the cows come home and I’m sure people will continue to do so until the inevitable real life Zombie Apocalypse. The most important thing is how is this invasion of the undead portrayed on screen and all I’ll say is that Dead Set does not disappoint. It is exquisitely gory, revelling in the dismemberment of people by the ravenous monsters. Seriously, for a TV mini-series it seems as though absolutely no punches were pulled. You get to see a zombie get it’s head smashed in with a fire extinguisher, a zombie being carved up for bait and British television ‘favourite’ Davina McCall getting her throat bitten out. The whole thing is enhanced by the fucking fantastic sound effects, each squelch and stab being presented in sickeningly, crisp detail. Awesome. Speaking of sounds, I should also say that setting the initial zombie outbreak to Mika’s ‘Grace Kelly’ was an ingenious idea.

Right, I think I’ve spoken enough about this now. If you haven’t watched it yet, find a way to do so and do it now! Five pints out of five. I‘ll be back tomorrow with either a new list, a review of ‘Antichrist’ or the remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ which I‘ve decided to rewatch after my softening on the whole running zombie thing. Laterz.




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