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31 Days of Horror 17: Snowtown (2011) by Jamie

Unless movies have lied to me, Australia is a terrifying hellscape filled with murderers, Lord Humungus and uncanny knife discernment. This of course goes without mentioning all the terrifying poisonous animals, Steve Irwin-killing stingrays and koala bears. As a younger man I wondered why we Brits sent our criminals away from the dreary weather to what seemed like a tropical paradise. Now I realise the true horror that is Australia.

And so I return to this continent forsaken by every God of mankind’s many myths for true life horror story of Snowtown. The movie is based on the Snowtown Murders of the 1990s and it’s kinda one of the oddest films based on a true story I’ve ever seen. It follows the story of 16 year old James “Jamie” Vlassakis and how he comes to be drawn into the murderous rampage of John Bunting and his band of thugs. The reason that this is an odd film is that the murders kind of take a back seat to the other events taking place around them. You still get to see a few scenes of murder and torture but this isn’t so much a film about the murders or even the psychology of the killer, as these true life serial killer films so often are. Rather it is, as I said, about how someone can find this self in this situation and eventually come to be a complicit, even willing partner in these acts.

And the movie achieves this in a brilliant way. The way it’s shot, the way music is used, it all makes the story play out like some kind of a dream with Jamie, and by extension the viewer, drifting along with the story almost as though he is helpless to fight back against the current that is dragging him a long this dark path. And by dream I mean nightmare. This is a dark, chillingly atmospheric film that could be used to teach people about how effective music, and even the sudden absence of music, in particular can be in conveying tension in even the most seemingly pedestrian scenes, scenes that you feel should give you a break from the way things a spiralling out of control but they don’t.

So yes, this is a breathtakingly beautiful expression of absolute terror and the way the human mind can be coerced into going along with that terror be it out of fear or misplaced friendship or, most likely, a mixture of both. Five pints out of five.

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31 Days Of Horror 16: Frankenweenie by Jamie

So I figured I might as well male this animated diversion a trilogy since I was reminded that Frankenweenie existed at some point and out of the three, it could be said that this film has the largest horror pedigree because it is obvious that Tim Burton loves classic horror films, 1931’s Frankenstein in particular.

The story concerns Victor Frankenstein… wait a minute, Victor Frankenstein? Huh, fine. So yes, Victor Frankenstein loves his dog Sparky. Unfortunately Sparky is hit by a car and killed. Inspired by an experiment in his science class, Victor decides to try and reanimate his beloved pet and, living up to his namesake, he is successful. His classmates learn of this and, worried that Victor will show them up at the science fair, they decide to try and get the secret of animal resurrection for themselves.

So like I said, for the most part this is a pretty straightforward take on Frankenstein (the movie more so than the book). It follows it pretty much directly with a few diversions here or there to reference a number of other horror films (from Godzilla to Gremlins). There are differences of course. Re-animated Sparky retains his former personality rather than becoming a lumbering, misunderstood beast-dog, though he still does wind up being misunderstood of course.

Now I don’t have a problem with Frankenweenie basically being Frankenstein with a dog, in fact it’s really rather enjoyable because I love 1931’s Frankenstein too. It even manages to put a more modern spin on the story. The message of Frankenweenie isn’t “Science has dared to spit in the eye of God!” Rather the message is science is awesome and it is neither good nor bad but it can be used both ways. The middle of the movie even contains a great scene that is essentially science vs ignorance with one character complaining about how Pluto isn’t even a planet any more thanks to science. It’s great.

he movie does have another message however, one about loss and letting go, a message that seemed to have sunk in by the end of the movie in rather a nice, heartfelt way until it is completely negated by the film’s ending which is a shame. If Burton had had the guts to stick to where the movie looked like where it was heading, it would have been a vastly superior film.

Still this is probably Burton’s best film in years, reminiscent of his earlier stuff like Edward Scissorhands and, by virtue of it being stop animated and being filled with horror references, A Nightmare Before Christmas. This makes sense since it’s based on a short film of his from 1984 and it was nice to see him returning to an original idea of his rather than taking an existing property and ‘Burtonizing’ it. Hopefully, he’ll stay on this path for a bit longer. Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

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31 Days Of Horror 15: ParaNorman (2012) by Jamie

So it seems as though I’m still on my nice little animated break from the blood, guts and gore of your more traditional horror fare but this one at least has something more Halloweeny about it than Monsters University what with it’s Zombies and ghosts and witches and such.

ParaNorman is the tale of a young boy named Norman who is obsessed with zombie movie and, it just so happens, can see and speak to the spirits of the dead. He lives in a town that’s only claim to fame is a witch trial some three hundred years prior. The witch it seems placed a curse on those who tried her that would mean that they would rise from their graves, doomed to have their souls trapped in undead bodies for all eternity. Norman comes to learn that this legend actually has a basis in fact and, due to his special ability, it will soon be his responsibility to see that the curse goes unfulfilled for another year. Will he succeed or will the accursed undead rise from their rest?

Well, I should think the answer to that is pretty obvious or else there wouldn’t be a movie. and a movie there is. A rather enjoyable movie as it turns out and one that I’m happy to see doesn’t feel the need to talk down to kids. It’s a movie that realises that you don’t have to talk down to kids. You can make jokes about sex and violence because kids are already making the same jokes on the playground. One character whilst getting Norman to keep a promise by asking him to swear to which Norman responds “You mean like the F word?” These are the kinds of jokes that I can appreciate. Jokes that remind me of my childhood when I heard kids say shit in The Goonies or Elliot call his brother penis-breath in E.T. It’s stuff kids don’t need to be sheltered from because they already know it. It’s honest.

There’s also a pretty good message at the heart of this film, the message of acceptance. Yes, that you should always be accepting of others no matter your own prejudices or fears but also acceptance of the fact that some people just won’t like you, they’ll be dicks to you but that doesn’t give you an excuse to be a dick back.

All in all this was a pretty funny and thoroughly enjoyable film. If I have a complaint it’s that it kinda lags a touch in the middle where the talking to ghosts conceit seems to be all but abandoned for a while but it makes up for it with a pretty strong beginning and ending, some nice horror references to things like Halloween and Friday the 13th and by being one of the best looking stop-motion films I’ve ever seen. Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

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31 Days of Horror 13: Stoker (2013) by Jamie

It can be debated about whether or not Stoker counts as a true horror. It could be said that it is really more of a thriller but I find that the borders between the two genres are often blurred somewhat and so I feel good with my choice of including it here. I’ve even heard some critics describe it as a horror so that helps aid my decision to include it plus it’s heavily influenced by that ol’ master of horror himself, Alfred Hitchcock. What this all boils down to is screw it, I watched Stoker and now I’m reviewing it. Deal with it.

The first thing I should point out is that this is not a vampire movie. There seems to have been confusion when this film came out, I guess owing mostly to the name Stoker. The film does draw some inspiration from Stoker’s novel Dracula but nope, this is not a vampire film. This is a movie more in the mold of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, a film which I’ll say right now that you haven’t seen, you should. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Stoker is about a young girl called India and how her life gets twist-turned upside down when her father is killed in a car accident on her birthday and her Uncle Charlie comes to stay with her and her emotionally fragile mother. Uncle Charlie seems like a very nice guy but is there something sinister lying behind his polite nature and his good looks like some kind of handsome shark?

That’s where I’ll stick to on synopsis because this film has a number of twists and turns whilst still managing to keep a slow, steady pace. That’s not a criticism. This is a Park Chan-wook film and from this and Oldboy (the only films I’ve seen of his, a tragedy I seek to correct as soon as possible) I can say that he is a master of deliberate story-telling, choosing not to reveal anything until he is ready to but managing to keep you drawn in with his beautiful visual style and steady pacing.

Thankfully, this movie isn’t just well paced and well shot, it’s also terrifically acted. I can’t think of a bad performance in the whole thing… Well, maybe some of the bully characters who are kind of broadly drawn arsehole stereotypes but they’re a pretty minor part of the whole piece so I’ll let them slide. Oh and the way music is used is just another reminder that Chan-wook is a master of his craft.

Overall this is a pretty terrific film. Rent it, buy it, do whatever you have to do but see it. Can’t think of a bad thing to say about it really, or, sadly, too much good because to go into too great detail would inevitably reveal something about the plot. So yeah five pints out of five. Laterz.



31 Days of Horror 12: Apollo 18 (2011) by Jamie

This review contains minor spoilers for Apollo 18 but honestly, were you ever going to watch Apollo 18?

During this quest to watch horror films that I haven’t seen before it’s an inevitability that, because of the nature of horror films today, I’m going to see my fair share of found footage films. It’s just the way of the world these days. Still, I’ve tried to find films that do something original with the idea and I was somewhat pleasantly surprised with both V/H/S and The Bay so it seemed as though there was some hope that it could be a filming method that could still throw up the odd gem. In this search for originality, I remembered a film which I’d heard of but not seen, one which held some promise for the originality I’d hoped for. That film was 2011’s Apollo 18. Yes, a found footage movie set on the moon. That could be cool, right?

The basic premise is that the Apollo missions officially ended after Apollo 17 but in actuality there was a secret mission, Apollo 18 that was hushed up and never known about… Until now. And boy is it crap. When I said I’d heard about this movie, I’ll admit that what I meant was I’d heard people talk about how bad it was but I’m not one just to take that  and judge it without seeing it myself. However, this is one of those instances where I kind of wish I had. There is such a great opportunity for someone to do a genuinely creepy found footage movie about the moon and these guys squandered it for cheap jump scares and a pretty uninspired “monster”. It looks like a cross between a rock and the head-crab from Half-Life.

And that’s the core problem with this movie. Wasted potential. The moon lends istelf to creepiness. It’s a giant, dark desert were the only sound you can hear is another person talking through a shoddy speaker inside your astronaut helmet and the sound of your own breath. Even movement on the moon is rendered slightly creepy because the low gravity makes it look as though everyone is bouncing in slow motion. Terrifying slow motion. What we get here instead is a bog-standard, dull found footage movie that just happens to be set on the moon. And that’s just sad for everybody.

One pint out of five because it does have a few moments that are kind of creepy, like when an astronaut goes into a crater and the only light he gets are from the occasional flash of his camera. That was kind of creative. But otherwise avoid this one because in space no one can hear your sighs of boredom. Laterz.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it's so very, very dull.

The reason we never went back to the Moon, it turns out, is because it’s so very, very dull.



31 Days of Horror 11: Dark Skies (2013) by Jamie

Haunted house movies! They’re a Halloween staple what with their ghostly object stacking, ghostly images appearing on CCTV footage and ghostly alien abductions. Yeah, you read that right. Alien abductions. Dark Skies is a haunted house movie where the force behind everything going on are aliens rather than ghosts. The main problem being that the aliens in this film do much the same bullshit that ghosts do in these movies.

In your average haunting movie you can explain away a ghost opening a fridge and throwing all the food on the floor or taking all the canned goods and stacking them as the typical actions of a mischievous spirit. It’s just a poltergeist fucking with people because that’s what poltergeists do. These silly pranks stretch credibility, however, when we are asked to believe that they are the work of beings who have travelled millions of light-years. Are they a race of highly advanced high-school pranksters? What’s going to happen next? Are they going to beam a bag of burning dog shit onto my front porch and ring the doorbell before flying away at the speed of light? Am I going to wake up with several hours of missing time and a wedgie?

And then, after doing these little pranks, the aliens begin to get nasty for no reason other than we’re later told by an expert that this is just how this shit always goes down. Yes, this movie has an expert. In normal haunted house movies it’s a priest, a demonologist or a paranormal investigator. In this movie, it’s another abductee in the form of J K Simmons and he’s here to do what every expert in these movies does. Show up near the end to explain what the force wants, what you might to to avoid your fate and just how small of a chance you have of avoiding it.

In all honesty, I know I’m making it seem as though I hated this movie but I didn’t really. It’s enjoyable enough, it’s just that I resent the film makers trying to make me think this isn’t just another stupid haunted house movie because aliens. It is. It follows the exact same structure as these movies do except where you’d normally have someone say poltergeist or demon, they say Grey. Still, the acting is a notch above your average haunted house movie and I have something of a soft spot for the Greys due to my years of watching the X-Files as a kid. It’s biggest problem is that it does seem to drag in places but if it happened to be on I’d say give it a watch or you could watch the superior ‘Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County‘ but then I’d recommend that above many things. God I love that movie. Anyway, three pints out of five. Laterz.

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31 Days of Horror 10: Stripperland (2011) by Jamie

Find and replace. It can be a pretty handy tool. Say you realize you’ve been spelling something wrong all the way through what ever your writing and for some reason your spellcheck hasn’t picked it up. A quick find and replace and bam! That little misspelling is banished to the digital afterlife, to be laughed at forever by it’s correctly spelled friends… Man, I need to stop anthropomorphising everything. Anyway, my point is that it can be a tool for good or it can result in some real shit like say if someone got there hands on the script for Zombieland and used find and replace to replace every use of the word ‘Zombie’ in that script with the word ‘Stripper’. Yes, that’d be pretty awful.

And yet someone did that, as near as I can tell. Someone took the script of Zombieland and said “You know what this movie needs? Strippers!” Except that they are really still just Zombies. Zombies dressed as strippers. So in essence this is Zombieland with a bunch of girls in another terrible “Sexy” Halloween costume. They even reference Zombieland as “That movie where they call each other by where they come from”. It’s pretty terrible.

Ok, so maybe I’m being a little unfair. It does deviate from the plot of Zombieland somewhat which is a shame because these deviations mean that this film clocks in it at just under one hour and 45 minutes, lumbering from unfunny set piece to unfunny set piece.

I just don’t understand the idea behind making a parody of a comedy, especially when the original is so much funnier than your piss-poor piss-take. Then there’s the whole idea of sexualising zombies which I’ve dealt with before a number of times.

So yeah, this film is just kinda shitty. Not even a cameo from Lloyd Kaufman, father of Troma (the only studio that can seem to get these kinds of intentionally bad films right) isn’t enough to save it. Seriously, if you want to watch a Zombie comedy there are better films out there, if you want to see scantily clad women there are better films out there as well as actual human women and the internet. If you want to see scantily clad zombies, get the fuck outta my house. Half a pint out of five since there were a couple of moments that made me chuckle slightly. Laterz.

Oh, and Daniel Baldwin is a rapper. Fuck this movie.

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31 Days of Horror 9: Curse of Chucky by Jamie

Ah, Chucky. He never quite achieved the heights of the slasher gods such as Michael, Freddy or Jason but he carved (hehehe. Get it? Because knives!) out his own little niche and has quite the cult following. And rightfully so. The Child’s Play films are just a fun series based on a very simple concept. Dolls are creepy so what if one was inhabited by the soul of a serial killer. It would be able to kill indiscriminately and get away with it because if domeone tells you that a doll is killing people, are you going to believe them? No of course your not. You’d have to be crazy to even suggest such a thing.

Anyway, since this is a brand new film I’ve decided not to go into the plot that much since there are a few things that could be considered spoilers. I mean, not much, It’s a goddamn Chucky film. Doll kills people. But there are a few little twists and a few things that tie in to the earlier films which cement this as a sequel rather than the reboot I had been told it was. And it really does feel like a reboot at times.

This is mainly due to the fact that there is a lot of build up in this thing. You go a good forty five minutes before you even hear Brad Douriff’s awesome voice. Still, all of this build up is kinda pointless because you see Chucky moving. You seem him setting things up so it’s not like they’re trying to build up any kind of mystery as to whether or not it is actually Chucky doing evil things. He clearly is alive and doing shit. And why would they try and build up any kind of intrigue. I highly doubt that this straight to DVD film is going to be anyone’s introduction to the series and even if this is the first Chucky film you watch, I’m sure you have heard about Chucky before and know what you’re in for.

So the early part of this film is a little slow going but once Chucky is in full Chucky mode, things definitely pick up and it’s nice to see that, for the most part, the effects are mostly animatronics. There is one truly shoddy CGI effect of the doll walking down some stairs but thankfully that seems to be it. So yeah, this film would definitely rate around a three out of five for a slow build, some excellent stuff near the end and some things that tie this to the first film in particular that I could take or leave. But, much like even the worst Nightmare on Elm Street films are saved by Robert Englund, this film is brought up a notch by Brad Douriff’s portrayal of Chucky (though there are some flashbacks with Douriff looking disturbingly like Tommy Wiseau). The man truly seems to enjoy playing the part and his enjoyment is truly what makes the Child’s Play series such a fun watch and this one is no exception once he’s finally set free to do what he does best. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

 



31 Days of Horror 8: V/H/S 2 (2013) by Jamie

Yesterday I poked a little fun at the format known as VHS, in particular it’s tendency to have a serious decline in quality with repeated viewings. Having watched today’s movie, however, I wish to take that criticism back. I was wrong and I can admit that. Ok, I wasn’t wrong. This was indeed a genuine problem that VHS suffered from but in the movie ‘V/H/S’, these artefacts that resulted from multiple viewings managed to add to the film’s charms somewhat, though I’ll admit that at times they did seem a little like the lens flare in Abrams ‘Star Trek’ films being perhaps a little overdone. Still, they leant something of an air of authenticity, grittiness and even nostalgia on my part. Sadly, those artefacts are all but gone in the sequel ‘V/H/S 2’ and that’s one of my problems with the film.

This sequel just feels polished compared to the original, every things seems neater, tighter and cleaner and strangely enough that can be a bad thing, especially for a horror film. It’s no coincidence that one of the best segments in this film is ‘Safe Haven’ about an Indonesian cult which seems to capture some of he grunginess of the first film.

This film also managed to capture my attention at lot less than it’s predecessor. I know I complained about V/H/S’s length a little yesterday and this film was about half an hour shorter. On reflection, perhaps that extra time was necessary for building the tension and general creepy feeling that managed to keep me so interested in the first film. Let’s just say I knew that this one was gonna be less interesting when Zombies showed up. Yes, I love Zombies but the first V/H/S seemed to have some pretty interesting and original ideas. Throwing Zombies in just seemed, well, a little too simple to be honest.

Still, it’s not a terrible film and there were moments that felt like watching the first one just not as many. Overall I’d say watch the first one and if you find yourself wanting more of the same kinda stuff then you could probably get something out of the sequel. 2.5 pints out of 5.



31 Days of Horror 7: V/H/S (2012) by Jamie

Ah, the horror anthology. It’s a tradition that dates back to a time immemorial when cavemen would sit around campfires telling tales of Neanderthal ghosts, trying to scare each other before all piling into their foot-powered cars and heading to the local fast-food eatery for some giant ribs I assume. That proud tradition returns once again with ‘V/H/S’.

Ok, first I feel as though a quick history lesson is in order. VHS cassettes were large, rectangular blocks of plastic filled with tape that allowed you to view your favourite films in ever decreasing quality. They had no way to skip between chapters meaning, if you were so inclined, you’d have to fast-forward to your favourite scene which essentially involved still having to watch everything that came before it but at a slightly higher speed. Oh, and you had to rewind it all the way to the beginning once you were done. Rental shops in particular got very angry if you didn’t… Ok, rental shops were basically Netflix but you had to go outside to get the movies on the ever-decreasing quality plastic blocks and then return them, rewound of course, after a set period of time. It was a dark and barbaric time.

The premise then of V/H/S is that some twenty-something ne’er-do-wells discover a cache of old VHS tapes and discover that each one contains an horrific story filled with terror! So yes, this is another found footage movie much like yesterday’s entry The Bay. Unlike The Bay, however, V/H/S is nowhere near as well shot. In fact it has some of the shakiest shaky-cam I have ever had the misfortune to see. Seriously, I contemplated turning it off during the first segment because it was borderline unwatchable. Still, I figured that then I’d have to figure out what movie to watch instead and changing my mind after coming to a decision is difficult because I find myself paralysed by near-infinite choice, so I decided to stick with it. And I am actually kind of glad I did.

V/H/S is by no means as satisfying a film as The Bay, not by a long shot but It certainly has moments of genuine creepiness that compelled me to keep watching. One of the problem with the film is that some of these segments, whilst building quite a decent amount of tension, end rather disappointingly. On the other hand some of them work too well, leaving you feeling as though they actually might work better as a stand alone feature, given a little time for the story to breath a little better. Still “a mixed bag” is often the best way to describe any horror anthology movie and so it I with V/H/S

Over all, I would definitely say this is worth a watch. The good segments are genuinely good and the even the mediocre ones have something to keep you hooked for a while. Perhaps it’s biggest fault is it’s running time. A movie like this didn’t really need to be nearly two hours long and I can think of at least one segment that the loss of which might have improved it slightly. Still, other than that a generally enjoyable experience. Three pints out of five. Laterz.




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