Thursday, 11 December 2014

Short Film Review: TERRY AND BRENDA (2014) Directed by Jamie Hooper

Not all short films have to have a shock value, some can make their point quite subtly. Jamie Hooper's latest, Terry and Brenda has a little of both. 
The titular couple (Tim Blackwell and Debra Baker) are a typical slobby northern pair. They sit feeding their faces in their gaudily decorated living room, watching TV, discussing their friend's party and making lewd comments to each other. "I'll make fish fingers"; "I'll give you fish fingers later" However, you can tell there's something sinister underneath the banality. Well, it wouldn't be much of a horror short if there wasn't would it?

Without wanting to reveal too much of the film's secrets (it's only 15minutes long, and, as ever, the joy is in discovering for one's self), the film reveals the couple's strange peccadilloes (hinted at in the film poster) but also manages to completely subvert expectations a number of times.

Hooper has utilised a very simple setup - think The Royle Family - to create an atmosphere of disquiet. Following the otherwise mundane conversation (particularly hinted at in the film's tagline) leads the viewer to come to the natural conclusion of their intentions and sinister hobby. When the reality behind the couple's relationship is shown it's both a joy and a shock - but it's not over then. Further revelations make it even more fun and macabre. The performances are the right side of caricature, and while they could be in danger of going OTT, they manage to remain fun and alarmingly believable. 

I'm not sure if it was intentional or not - and having seen photos of the actor 'looking normal' I can only assume it was - but Debra Baker's Brenda is a dead ringer for a young Queenie Watts, a regular feature in '60s and '70s British comedies. Without being overly showy, Hooper has made a fun short which will no doubt be a crowd pleaser at upcoming festivals. Make sure you see it should you get a chance - it might even inspire you to re-watch Robocop.

8 out of 10
Terry and Brenda - Teaser Trailer from Jamie Hooper on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Haynes UFO Investigations Manual by Nigel Watson (book)

Unlike the other ‘novelty’ manuals which the esteemed publishers Haynes produce alongside their car maintenance ones, this UFO tome is actually of interest and manages to hold the attention longer than some.
What we have is actually an informative and engrossing look at the UFO phenomena in all its forms, and from a very serious and rather believable standing. From case files to hoaxes and all points in between the author makes what could have been a throwaway lighthearted read into something which makes one think.
Naturally, if you’re picking the book up, the chances are you would have more than a passing interest in the notion – or indeed a little glimmer of hope - that there’s life elsewhere. Over the course of 160-odd pages, there’s plenty of food for thought, which might not convert the skeptics but is certainly entertaining and informative enough to keep one turning the pages.
Among the great chapters there’s some fantastic photographs, and, as mentioned, the subject of hoaxes and fakes is covered with the same seriousness and explains in detail how many of the images and videos have been debunked – naturally one of the main parts of any UFO investigators’ jobs.
Mystical places are touched upon in one chapter, with the stones at Stonehenge and Avebury as well as Glastonbury Tor being singled out. The photos used to illustrate the informative text are as enthralling as they should be. Regardless of one’s viewpoint, it’s certainly a page turner.
It’s a handsome book, which will no doubt keep you returning to flick through and enjoy time and again. You never know, you may well pick up some UFO spotting tips with the information given on how to actually go about being a UFO investigator. Results are not guaranteed, but at least you’ll get out in the open air.
It sure beats having a dog-eared, grease-stained copy of the Haynes ’91 Fiesta Manual lying about.
8 out of 10

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Short Film Review: EL GIGANTE (2014) Directed by Gigi Saul Guerreo and Luke Bramley

With a set-up which could very well come from a hard-hitting, serious drama, the short film El Gigante attacks the senses from the get-go.
A young Mexican uses the last of his money to pay a smuggler to get his wife and kids into America, leaving him to find his own way in. Which he just about manages; through a fence and into the vast desert expanse of the Southern States. A man he thinks will be his saviour will in fact plunge him deep into a terrifying and painful ordeal.
He awakes in a filthy wrestling ring; a sackcloth mask stitched onto his head, in front of him the thing of nightmares. A behemoth named El Gigante.
Co-directed by Gigi Saul Guerreo and cinematographer Luke Bramley, and based on the first chapter of a book by Shane McKenzie, the short is an outlandish and haunting trip into the sick and depraved underbelly of civilisation. The characters who populate the bizarre and disturbing world the poor immigrant finds himself are the type who would keep David Lynch up at night.
Shot with an eye for the grotesque, and a sound design just as distressing as the visuals, El Gigante provides an intriguing entre to the world McKenzie has created in his acclaimed book Muerte Con Carne, and that might well be the only downside to the short. It leaves you wanting more. Sure, the scenes that play over the end credits are a satisfying coda, but this is merely the first chapter of the book, and one can only hope Luchagore Productions manage to raise the finances to expand El Gigante to feature length. The original Kickstarter pitch promised that this would be opening scene of the full movie, and what an opener! 
Within the short 14 minutes, the film pummels the senses with a visceral attack as ferocious as the assault delivered by the wrestling titan depicted. Not only with the actual ‘wrestling’ – which leaves the viewer feeling as though they’ve been sucker-punched themselves – but in the things that go on surrounding the ring. A ‘dog’ character – presumably a captive stitched into a dog costume – is terrifying, running around and getting in the face of the poor unfortunate immigrant and generally being scary. There’s also a grubby, cackling family sat around watching the action, eagerly awaiting the result.
For a short with such a low budget, everything screams class. The set design is as outlandishly disturbing as it comes, one can almost smell it. The practical make-up effects are not overdone, giving them an even more real feel, and that sound! Watching the film on a PC screener with headphones was a gut-wrenching experience, I can only imagine how much more powerful it would be on a proper cinema system. The film is currently doing the festival circuit, and hopefully everyone will get the chance to see it, and the right people put their hands in their pockets to make the feature-length version a reality. It needs to happen!
Check out the trailer below: 
9 out of 10

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Following the Wicca Man is Premiered - DVD out soon!

It’s always a pleasure to see low-budget indie films getting the attention they deserve, and one such film that I’ve been championing for a while received a special premiere screening this week in the town where it was filmed, Crosby, Merseyside.
Teaser trailer:

With Following the Wicca Man, auteur in the making Jacqueline Kirkham (I’m not kidding – she wrote, financed, produced, directed and acted in the film) has created an intriguing horror film which draws its influence from real-life witchcraft and history. Jackie herself dabbles in the art, as well as being a full-time photographer. 
I reviewed the film for STARBURST MAGAZINE a while ago, and the DVD will be available to buy on Amazon soon, having successfully raised the money needed to put the film through the BBFC to get an official certificate. It ended up being rated 15 (for strong sex…) although there’s nothing really too extreme on screen. 
The film went down really well with the Crosby audience, who packed into the lovely art deco community cinema The Plaza. A couple of the actors were in attendance, including some from the ‘risqué’ coven scene (including Claire Kanika Murphy who was brave enough to do the nudity, and Kelly Traynor, who told me in the pub get-together afterwards that she was pregnant and showing when they filmed the scene, so had to keep her robes on and only be filmed from chest height!)
It was a fabulous night which gained extensive publicity for the film in the local Merseyside press, which will hopefully be replicated when the film is finally released.  When it is, do buy it and support indie artists. 
Full trailer:

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Short Film Review: FOUND (2014) Directed by Rebekah McKendry

The latest short from Rebekah McKendry,  the Fangoria writer and former correspondent for the web series Inside Horror, is a smart comedy which takes a swipe at that scourge of modern low-budget filmmaking - 'found footage'. Now, there have been some decent examples of the subgenre, but by and large, it's a cheap copout for narrative and directorial skills. McKendry's film (written by her husband, David Ian) is a smart and welcome reprise to the onslaught of gore and shocks normally doled out in shorts in an attempt to be seen.

What we have is just under five minutes of an advertisement for the Found Footage Institute, a place of learning for those who wish to head out on expeditions with their cameras. As well as educating, the FFI recovers the footage left behind when filmmakers go invariably go missing; the institute also develops cameras that are easy to detect (a particularly funny moment!) and that capture more of the horrors going on around the filmmakers.

Not only is it fun to catch the sly references, the cast is chock full of genre favourites. Keep an eye open for AJ Bowen (A Horrible Way to Die), Darren Lynn Bousman (director of The Devil's Carnival), Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider director) among others.
There's no horror on show, but that doesn't matter as we all know the tropes being lampooned and having the bubble pricked is certainly welcome. I'm just surprised it's not played more festivals (it had a UK premiere at London's FrightFest in August) before being made available online. Not that I'm complaining. I for one am certainly looking forward to the next one!

Rebekah and David Ian's earlier shorts are just as much fun. Particularly, the (very) short and sweet Witches Brew (2013), in which Scream Queen Jessica Cameron (Truth or Dare) plays a Mom hosting a Halloween party for the local kids, with the standard game in which the children feel various different things pertaining to a the witches' hair, eyes, that sort of thing... Only naturally, there's a sweet little twist which we don't have to wait too long for. Their first short, The Dump (2012) is a wry meeting of two serial killers at a remote national park where they both plan to dispose of their respective prey.
You can watch Found, Witches Brew, and The Dump on YouTube.
8 out of 10

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

The first big budget (sort of) remake of the HG Wells classic arrived in cinemas in the late '70s with a massive fanfare (I remember the TV ads well) but then seemed to disappear from trace. Even the much-maligned 1996 version didn't resurrect interest in this rather impressive and luscious-looking retelling. 

Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is shipwrecked onto a desert island, and is taken in by Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster) and his assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Enamoured by the beautiful Maria (Barbara Carrera) and intrigued by the strange-looking inhabitants he comes across when he's exploring the island, Braddock discovers the Doc is conducting some terrible research which involves turning animals into humans.
The original story, and indeed this version, raises all kinds of ethical dilemmas that we take as no-brainers now (of course, we shouldn't experiment on animals, genetic mutation is wrong, etc.) but when the book, and even this version of the film, came out it was still a widespread occurrence.  As remakes go, this is quite impressive, even if it does have a 'TV movie' quality to it - which is actually not a criticism, but probably down to the transfer of the film to HD for the Blu-ray release. The colour is vivid, lush, and absolutely beautiful. This naturally will show up the imperfections in the make-up on the manimals. These are brilliant, very much in the style of Planet of the Apes (indeed, director Don Taylor made Escape) but may well be a little too fake for today's audiences. There's nothing wrong with them, though and they are quietly effective and very creepy. Richard Basehart (the captain from the classic TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) takes the Bela Lugosi role of the Sayer of the Law, and is brilliantly unrecognisable.
Lancaster's Moreau has a more genial streak than the famous version Charles Laughton portrayed, but is still mad as box of frogs. It's actually surprising that we actually don't see much of what goes on in the House of Pain, but the constant screams and howls which permeate the forest are enough to sicken any right-thinking person.
More of an action-adventure than horror (it's initial release was cut and rated "A" in the UK), it's an entertaining, diverting romp, and even the normally wooden York manages to pull together an engaging part. Add in the impressive man v. beast fight scenes (which don't resort to the actor throwing around a stuffed toy in a pretend fight) and it's worth a look.
101 Films have released the film on Blu-ray in the UK, and although it's a bare bones release, it's a worthwhile purchase to either discover or rediscover a piece of classic '70s cinema. Who doesn't love that poster?
note: screengrabs are taken from an earlier DVD release, not the Blu-ray.
8 out of 10

Friday, 3 October 2014

Short Film Review: THE HERD (2014) Directed by Melanie Light - Starring Pollyanna McIntosh

When the idea for The Herd was pitched on Kickstarter, I was very intrigued, and donated to the project. Now, several months down the line, the film has had its world premiere at Manchester's Grimmfest.

The simple, yet terrifying, premise here is a farm run by a group of sadistic captors, headed by the versatile and always brilliant Pollyanna McIntosh (Him Indoors, The Woman), who - rather than the usual cows - have a very sinister livestock - women. They are kept in cages in appalling conditions, raped and forced to have children, while the 'company' extract their milk.  But to what end?
Directed by Melanie Light (who also worked behind the scenes on Him Indoors), this short - pitched and billed as a 'vegan feminist horror' hits home like a punch in the gut. It's difficult to go into too much detail, as it would take away a lot from the viewing, but rest assured, it's a film that if not changing opinion or dietary choices, will certainly open some eyes and minds.
Writer Ed Pope has given us a powerful story which has been delivered by a team who literally have given their all. The whole cast are superb - Jon Campling and Dylan Barnes are suitably nasty cohorts of Pollyanna's head captor, and all the caged women - Charlotte Hunter and Victoria Bloom particularly - deserve a hell of a lot of credit. There's even an appearance from the lovely Sarah Jane Honeywell (The Eschatrilogy), who manages to keep her face clean, unlike the other actors.
As said, it's a very thought provoking and disturbing film, and certainly not one to 'enjoy', but I figure that wasn't the intention. It's a remarkable film, which manages to blend horror with a genuine ethical message. It will make you think.
Animal lovers should be warned the end credits play out inter-cut with scenes of actual bovine cruelty, so they may want to avert their eyes at that point.

9 out of 10

Thursday, 2 October 2014

TRUTH OR DARE (2013) Directed, Written by & Starring Jessica Cameron

The emergence of the culture in which anyone can gain celebrity by doing stupid things on YouTube is a primary influence on the story Scream Queen Jessica Cameron and co-writer Jonathan Scott Higgins have concocted for Cameron's directorial debut.

The Truth or Daredevils are six youngsters, led by Cameron's Jennifer, who have become an internet sensation by filming their variation of the drunken college game, only with a bizarre, violent twist. When their biggest fan Derik (Kiser) finds out they had faked their latest and most audacious video - the killing of hapless stooge Tony (Brandon Van Vliet) in a reverse Russian roulette routine - he decides to forcibly join the group and make the videos much more real. Gate crashing their next meeting, he makes them all reveal their hidden truths while making their fake dares genuinely deadly. They are made to perform extremely graphic and appalling stunts on each other, each more twisted than the last, while all the time Derik has an eye on the video hits.

Truth or Dare is an incredibly shocking film, for several reasons. There is an abundance of torture carried out toward the group by the crazed fan Derik, to the point in which the old expression 'the lucky ones died first' is actually correct. This in itself is neither surprising nor unexpected, but the level of abuse and humiliation levelled at the women was quite uncomfortable. It's even more shocking when you remember the lovely Ms Cameron co-wrote and directed the film herself. Without wanting to give spoilers, there are some moments that one would not expect a female filmmaker to want to put her fellow gender through. However, by making the viewer experience this discomfort proves what a powerhouse director Cameron has the potential to be. It goes beyond mere exploitation - frankly, had a male director put some of the atrocities seen here on the screen they would be accused of being misogynistic. 
The back stories of the crew that are revealed during the 'truth' part of the game are as shocking and disturbing as the tortuous 'dares'; which is not to say they are unbelievable, but it does highlight the point that we can never really be sure how well we know our friends. It's a credit to the entire cast that these revelations don't come across as hackneyed, and actually make us begin to care for a group who essentially are unlikable college reprobates.
By tackling the growing phenomena of those so desperate for fame on the internet and reality TV programmes that they will literally draw blood and mutilate, the film looks at how we perceive our online personas, and how easy it could be for our own skeletons to be dragged from the closet. Are we really only defined by our hit counts? 

Truth or Dare is a visceral, uncompromising and often gut-wrenching ride which may struggle to sit well with a mainstream audience, but horror fans - gorehounds particularly - should relish it, even if they may come away feeling more than a little disturbed. The claustrophobic central location - while obviously being an economical filming decision - gives a hopeless feeling of confinement. Herself a shameless self-promoter, Jessica Cameron has certainly made a strong and powerful mark for her directing debut. It will be interesting to see how she will top this in the future. 

7 out of 10

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Short Film Review: SHE (2014) Directed by Chelsey Burden & Mark Vessey.


Another short film funded through Kickstarter, and once again, another example of young talent knocking it out of the park.
She has a simple set-up. We have a couple, He (Phillip James) and She (Fiona Dourif), clearly going through 'that' stretch of the relationship in which everything is a chore; every action from either party is an irritation. But there's more at play here. There's clearly something wrong which goes deeper than merely getting complacent with each other. That's something we can all relate to, but the way He behaves is clearly not in on par with most of us (I hope!) The unforgivable, horrendous, abuse leads to the film's inevitable, disturbing, and sickening conclusion.
Written and directed by Chelsey Burden and Mark Vessey, She is a difficult film to discuss without major spoilers, but it's safe to say by the time the climax arrives, those who have not been physically sick will be wincing, if not mentally scarred for life.
It has to be said, Fiona Dourif is fantastic as She, provoking sympathy and compassion from the audience without uttering a word; it's all in the facial expression - particularly the eyes. Phillip James, is similarly is outstanding as He - at first possibly a victim of a trapped relationship, but then subtly (and then forcefully) revealed to be a suburban monster; the type of man who gives every man a bad name. His glances evoke emotional responses from the viewer, only this time fear and revulsion. This isn't apparent straight away, but in the moments it takes to commit a terrible, heinous act we are told more about him than a full hour of exposition. The silence is as powerful as any dramatic score could be, and is perfectly suited to the silent suffering that goes on in these situations.
It's an incredible testament to the first-time directors that they manage to pull off such a feat. It's even more applaudable that the denouement they have come up with, while being an extreme horror staple, is genuinely shocking, repulsive and stomach-churning yet impeccably realised; the special effect work - all prosthetic - no half-arsed CGI here - by Paul While is exemplary, almost too real!
As a film debut, She is a remarkable work. A wonderfully nuanced piece which works even without the graphic finale, but as it is, it's a conclusion which is untouchable, albeit perhaps a little too much for some tastes. One can only wonder what Burden and Vessey have in store for us next, either as a team or collectively, because on this showing they make a perfect pairing.
If you get a chance to see it on the festival circuit, do so. It's already gone down a storm at FrightFest in London, and will be at Grimmfest in Manchester this coming October (2014) 

9 out of 10 

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Short Film Revew: INK (2014) Directed by Andy Stewart

A few months back, I reviewed Split - a short film by Andy Stewart, and was incredibly impressed. Now, he has completed his planned trilogy of body-horror, The Reflections Trilogy, with Ink
In Ink, we meet The Man (Sam Hayman), an oddball loner with a tattoo obsession. There's nothing particularly strange about that in this day and age. However, he is also clearly disturbed. He satisfies his compulsion by removing body art from other people's bodies; crudely stitching the pieces into his own derma. Naturally, like any addiction, it's hard to stop...
Like Stewart's earlier shorts, Dysmorphia (2012) and Split (2014), Ink deals with an individual suffering from an extreme form of mental illness. The characters are not monsters; but they do monstrous things. Ink is the first in which this manifests in harming others, however. Nevertheless, like those earlier films, the feelings, emotions, and struggles are all very relatable. Naturally, not to the extremes of the characters in the films, but there's certainly an element of coveting that may be familiar to some. 
Hayman is simply stunning as 'The Man'; creepy, disturbed looking (think Jame Gumb crossed with Jason Mewes), and particularly when in physical pain, very believable. There's very little dialogue, but you are drawn into this man's world easily, and the use of a very unconventional sound design is intentionally disorientating and even confusing at first, but becomes fully immersive, and often nearly as disturbing as the visuals. 
Once again, we're faced with some graphic body horror. It's an immense compliment to Stewart and his effects team, Grant Mason, Deirdre Flanigan and Lizz Wayt, that I will admit to squirming at least once (and maybe even twice) during the course of the twenty-minute film. The work that they did on such a small budget is amazing, and is certainly painful to watch! Naturally, it would be wrong for me to reveal too much about it, it certainly benefits from being seen cold, but it's a stunning, if disturbing, piece of art.
There's a large portion of the film based in The Man's flat, lit only by the beams of sunlight streaming through the ragged curtains, and as such is rather dark in places. It's a testament to the cinematographer, Alan McLaughlin, that it looks as good as it does with such a difficult shooting situation; the natural light is used brilliantly. I imagine it would certainly look even better seeing this on the big screen. Which hopefully, you'll get a chance to do come the next round of film festivals. If it's playing somewhere you are at, do not hesitate to check it out. 

9 out of 10