The Keepers

The Keepers is a Netflix documentary series that was first released in 2017 but has been kept under the radar, I think in part thanks to the hugely successful Making A Murderer series. This is a shame as it’s a truly compelling documentary that is certainly worth looking at – especially if you liked Making A Murderer.

The 7 part series follows two former school friends, Gemma and Abbie as they look into the unsolved murder of one of their teachers, Cathy Cesnik. The problem is that this murder happened 40 years ago and Cesnik was a Catholic Nun so cue a lot of brick walls, conspiracy and legal blockage obviously.

Gemma and Abbie are two really sweet older ladies that are doing their best Miss Marple impressions: Abbie is the queen of research (although she seems to think every computer has a touch screen bless her) and Gemma (who may not be so computer literate but my goodness she’s a people person!) who were both students at the Seaton Keough High School at the time of Sister Cathy’s murder. As the documentary joins them they have already done quite a bit of leg work in looking up Cathy’s work files, police files and such but are hitting a brick wall when it comes to reaching out to other people – I suspect this is in part due to the fact that they’re just two women rather than a swanky production crew which I think is why TV was involved.

Sister Cathy went missing one evening after going out shopping for an engagement present for her sister, her car was mysteriously abandoned by her apartment building and her body wasn’t found until almost two months later, left in some woods near a garbage dump.

No one was ever found guilty or even involved with the murder and it still hangs over Baltimore to this day.

Gemma and Abbie have built up a wonderful online community of people that not only celebrates the life of Sister Cathy Cesnik but also puts the system of Catholic schooling under the spotlight that it readily deserves. It was this spotlight that shone a light on the abuse and horrors that went on at their school, showed how the local Catholic dioceses covered the crimes of abuse up and may, still to this day, be covering for their own.

Slowly people started coming forward with tales of what was going on at the school (and at others) – and what Sister Cathy may have tried to confront.

There are some truly harrowing tales in this documentary, particularly when some of the brave abuse victims come forward with their horrendous tales; When you hear of the opportunities that the Catholic Church had to stop the abuse that was going on and instead moved the predator on to a new feeding ground, it had me in literal tears of horror and disbelief.

This is a well thought out documentary – it has to be or the Catholic Church would be shutting it all down as soon as it was put up online and I think their lack of proper response to any of the producers questions is telling. I’m not saying that no response indicates guilt but it certainly doesn’t help prove innocence.

The story does jump about a bit and introduces some “suspects” that I feel don’t really have anything to do with the tale directly but I guess you have to be seen to be covering all bases in order to show that it’s an impartial investigation. There’s also some anecdotal evidence that’s relayed by the production team to the Police Cold Case investigator (he’s only been there two weeks – convenient?) – some so important as to worry him enough to go white on camera and leave to “make a few phone calls”.

I do hope that, even though this was shot a year ago, this documentary was enough to perhaps rattle a few cages, get Police to look properly at the physical and DNA evidence they have (if it’s not been lost) and release anything else that’s being looked for to the family under a freedom of information request.

I’d really recommend this if you’re looking for something different to watch – be warned though: it’s not easy viewing and contains descriptions of sexual assault and abuse. One thing it does show though is that no matter what,  if two school friends can find out this much information before stuff was digitised imagine what we could find out now!

Watch this if you have a large box of chocolates, a wadge of tissues handy and are feeling like you need to shout about how unfair the “world” and the “system” is.

 

Assassination Nation

Assassination Nation is one of those films that probably won’t do a massive amount of business at the box office but will slowly become a cult classic like the films that have inspired it. I was lucky enough to see a preview screening so here’s what I think of the film.

This film is a weird mash of Meal Girls meets Heathers meets The Purge with a bit of I Spit On Your Grave thrown in for good measure.

Set in the town of Salem (irony? I think not) the story follows 4 high-school friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) who are living the carefree existence that Teenagers on their way to college enjoy, concerned with only the best Instagram filter or how many Tumblr followers they have. That all changes though and their dark secrets begin to haunt them.

At the start of the film there’s a list of trigger warnings including violence, rape (attempted), blood (sooo much blood), homophobia… I won’t go into them all but needless to say the list is fairly comprehensive and while the triggers listed at the start of the film do appear, it seems they’re acknowledged more as to satirise the way everyone prefaces every Tumblr post with “Trigger Warning” more than to indicate their real threat – after all, would you be watching this film if you were worried about the trigger list? I don’t think so.

Anyway, on to the plot.

Within the first 15 minutes, the tranquil life of Salem is turned upside down when it turns out that the Mayor (who ran on a family values ticket) is a cross-dressing sex pot who likes to photograph himself in ladies panties with his willy out. How do we know this? Someone hacked into his phone account and posted all of his saucy snaps online which are then quickly shared across the town thanks to the power of social media. The Mayor then decides that, instead of resigning like a normal person, he’ll blow his head off in front of a town meeting and from that point on all hell breaks loose.

During the next 45 minutes or so there’s lots of Sexting (sexy Whatsapping? SWapping? Maybe not) between Lily and someone in her contact list only known as “Daddy”, Bex is sexting someone on the football team and Sarah meets up with random blokes and takes photos – in fact the only normal person is Em (although her mother is not normal). There are also parties where kids get off their faces on drink and drugs  and share it all to their Instas and Snapchats – so far, so youth of today.

Except the images between Lily and Daddy are leaked and after the death of the Mayor the town can’t deal with this. A literal witch hunt starts, mob mentality rules and the whole town decides to implode.

I can’t really say too much about the storyline as I’ll end up giving things away which I think you need to discover for yourself – the audience learns certain things as the sexts and images are released and it’s a nice twist that you don’t already have the inside scoop from the sleep-over-pillow-talk of the main characters that usually happens in a film like this.

What I will say though is that the last 45 minutes of this film is truly fucked up – I mean, you think you’ve seen a teen revenge film (à la Heathers)? You ain’t see nothing! That being said, it’s not as gory as the trailer would lead you to believe but that’s probably a good thing as this could have been a truly horrific film.

It certainly shines a light on the perils of putting too much information out there – and the fact that just because you’ve sent a saucy selfie to one person doesn’t mean that other people won’t have access to it in the future (think Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photo hack). With this film being an 18 though it’s missing the audience it should be aiming at – 15 year olds and under, but then the film wouldn’t have such and impact if it were watered down to suit this audience bracket.

This film definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s very dark and there’s little humour to be found – Mean Girls was essentially a satirical comedy and Heathers had a dark undercurrent of satirical humour. Assassination Nation is more of a “Hold a warped mirror up to society” kind of film and while it may seem unbelievable, considering some of the rallies that we’ve seen in the States recently, I personally don’t think it’s too far of a stretch for something like this to happen.

The film is well made, there’s a couple of nice directorial “gimmicks” that make you feel uncomfortable and yet draw you in and the editing is well paced, the soundtrack also matched well with the tone of the film but could have heightened the drama a little more. Overall it’s well put together considering its limited budget and while the box office is bound to be low given the controversial subject it’s going to be a sure fire classic on streaming services.

Watch this film if you’re looking for an alternative dystopian future that’s closer to home than you might think – just leave your phone alone so you don’t send incriminating tweets while watching it!

The Fog (1980)

I’m a big fan of John Carpenter’s films – there’s just something about the way that he presents the characters, sets the scenes and provides the music that just draws you in and makes you really invested in what’s happening on the screen.

With Halloween happening just a week ago there’s been a fair few horror films on the television and when I saw that they were showing the 1980 version of The Fog I immediately set the recorder! For those of you who haven’t seen the film here’s a brief synopsis and my review.

The story centres around Antonio Bay, a small seaside town that’s reliant on fishing for its main income. The film opens with a rather drunk sounding sailor recounting the story of the crew of The Elizabeth Dane, a ship that ran aground 100 years previously thanks to a bank of fog and a misplaced camp fire. How this guy is allowed to be in charge of a bunch of kids sitting on a beach at midnight I don’t know but anyway I’m looking at it with post Jimmy Savile lenses and not every weird looking old man hanging around kids is a pervert I guess. Anyway, as his story draws to a close he reveals that the events of the story took place on (duh, duh duuuuuuuh) that very day just as the church clock strikes midnight – what a coincidence!

Side Note: why do events have to happen on an even number of years after like 100? If I were going to come back and haunt a town I’d do it like 37 years later just to confuse the hell out of everyone.

As the title credits roll we’re introduced to the local radio station which only ever seems to play some weird jazz style music. I can understand that Carpenter wouldn’t have wanted to date the movie by the music used in the radio broadcasts (and they used jazz as it was cheaper than rock apparently) but seriously? If my local radio station played that crap I’d either set fire to it or move out of town. Anyway, we then cut to the local church were the town priest is busy getting drunk (I think I see a pattern forming here) when a bit of the wall falls off exposing a hidden journal. We then cut to various locations around the town where weird things start to happen: phones ring, lights turn themselves on, cars start to honk and furniture starts to move around. No one seems to be too bothered by these strange goings on – I guess because they’re all obviously off their face on booze and it’s a normal occurrence for them.

We then cut to Elizabeth (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) who’s hitchhiking and gets picked up by Nick (Tom Atkins) – and guess what? He’s drinking a can of beer! Does this town not have any drinking water? As they’re driving towards town the windows of the truck blow out and yet again they don’t seem to be fussed too much by it. Must be thanks to the Budweiser!

The radio host (still playing weird jazz) Stevie (Adrienne Barbeau) is informed by the local weather service that a fog bank is rolling in so she breaks into her broadcast to notify the Sea Grass, a ship that’s out to sea and full of (you guessed it) drunk sailors.

This part of the film is filmed really well: the fog rolls in and surrounds the sailors and you really feel as though you’re there with them – you can only see what they’re seeing and that’s very limited. The crew of the Sea Grass see a ship and then there are a few shadowy figures but you can’t really make much out which adds to the atmosphere and while this is a horror film I do like the fact that there’s not a huge amount of gore – a lot is left to your own imagination which I find worse than seeing it on screen.

The Fog slowly rolls into town bringing the shadowy figures with it and they end up at Nick’s house – who happens to have taken Elizabeth home with him – banging on the door but just as he’s about to open it he’s distracted by a clock breaking at 1am and the figures and fog disappear.

That’s not the end of it though, as the shadowy figure soon return wanting vengeance. I’m not going to tell you why but it’s not your usual “evil ghost” motivation at work that’s for sure!

The film is cleverly shot and there is quite a lot of suspense thanks to Carpenter’s chilling soundtrack and the fact that the ghosts are shrouded by the fog so the majority of the scary stuff is actually coming from your own imagination.

Apparently several scene were added after test screenings decided that the film wasn’t scary enough. Apparently originally Carpenter was looking for a PG rating but I’m not sure how that would work for a horror film. This film also brought Jamie Lee Curtis and screen legend mother Janet Leigh together for their first acting job together (the only other was Halloween H20 18 years later).

If you’re into gore and obvious horror (as in the Saw movies) then you’ll probably find this rather mundane but if you’re more into psychological horror or a looking for a gentle way to get into horror films then this film is perfect for you. I’d also recommend you watch this version first before watching the 2005 remake which, while it’s good, does twist the original story a bit.

Watch this film if you’re looking for something to view at the witching hour but don’t want to wet your pants.

Avengers 4 (Title TBC)

WARNING: Some spoilers below – make sure you’ve watched Infinity War before reading!


I’m really looking forward to seeing how Iron Man and the rest of the survivors get out of their predicament considering they’re stuck on an alien world with no space ship or communications – and they don’t even know who else has survived Thanos’ galactic finger click.

News is slowly seeping out (which isn’t surprising as there isn’t a new Marvel film out until March when Captain Marvel is released and they need to keep us interested) and the latest is that the film is going through editing and is currently sitting at the 3 hour mark.

Now, I’m all for telling a good story and not missing anything important out, however I think 3 hours is a bit too much – even in the most comfortable of cinema seats you’ll be struggling (or dozing off thanks to the air con not working which always seem to happen).

When the films first came out they hovered around the 2 hour mark which to me was a perfect amount of time – just right for eating a regular bag of popcorn! Civil war weighed in at 2 hours 27 minutes but they did have a lot of characters to cover so I guess we can forgive that, and Infinity War was 2 hours and 29 minutes which is verging on me having to buy a large popcorn which I’m not too happy about!

Could I sit through a 3 hour movie without thinking about a toilet break, how my back is hurting and the fact I have pins and needles? I don’t think so and Marvel need to realise a lot of people will probably feel the same. No matter how good the film is, how enticing the storyline, the minute your audience start to feel real physical discomfort they’re out of your story and back in an uncomfortable seat in a too-warm cinema.

Ice Cream Lady

Image From A Cultural History Of The Cinema Usherette

What’s the solution? Bring back the good old fashioned intermission and the Ice Cream Usherette! Of course, you don’t need a break in order to change the film reels over any more (Oh, those were the days!) but cinemas are always looking for ways to increase profits so give us an opportunity to nip to the loo and buy another bag of popcorn that way we’re comfortable, the films can be longer and the cinema makes more money – everyone’s a winner!

Avengers 4 (No subtitle yet) is due to be release around the 3rd of May 2019 – can’t wait!

Bohemian Rhapsody

I like Queen. I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan but when my parents bought me my first CD player back in around 1992 the first CD album I bought was Queen’s Greatest Hits Vol 2. I also wouldn’t say that I’m really familiar with the Queen backstory but I have seen a few documentaries on Freddie Mercury and Live Aid so I was interested to see what the film’s take on it was and I have to say I was quite disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek is very good as Freddie Mercury and the supporting cast are also good (side note: did anyone else think that Joseph Mazzello who plays John Deacon looks a bit like a young Lee Mack? No? Just me then) but there’s no real substance to the film and it really feels like a two hour advert for Queen’s music and, by extension, the We Will Rock You musical.

The story starts with Freddie Mercury meeting up with Roger Taylor and Brian May literally seconds after their lead singer left which didn’t happen (read May’s account of how they met here) and from this point on the story lurches from liberty to liberty mashing together events that could never had co-existed at the same time for the sake of artistic licence.

Parts of the story that would have been truly interesting such as Mercury’s descent into his drug-fulled hedonistic lifestyle, the real relationship between “super-villain” Paul Prenter and Mercury (the film really twists the timeline about with this aspect of the story) and the real relationship between Mercury and the put-upon Mary Austin (it took him 5 months to ask her out, not a few days) are glossed over or are so far removed from truth that you wonder why they are included at all.

I know that films have to cram in a lot in a limited time frame but given that they used 20 minutes of the film for the Live Aid recreation I think this could have been cut down to allow for more story and place things in the proper order that they actually happened – I mean that’s not too much to ask is it? Surely a film that’s about real people and real events should be told in a relatively truthful manner or have a whacking great big disclaimer at the start. For example, the band didn’t break up in 1983 when Freddie signed the solo deal – in fact they released an album in 1984, Freddie didn’t find out he was HIV positive until well after Live Aid took place (some put it at least 2 years after) and boyfriend Jim was a hairdresser not a waiter – and these are just some minor discrepancies that I’ve highlighted.

While the Live Aid portion of the show is great, unless you have seen the original version (which I am assuming most people under 40 won’t have) then it won’t really mean anything to you. Afterwards I thought given how accurate the recreation was it would have been nice to cut between the real and recreated version to show Mercury’s personality and the accuracy of Malek’s performance.

Speaking of Malek’s performance, I found it rather flat. While not a hugely expressive character when off stage, Mercury did show emotion in his voice (see the interview below) but Malek shows very little inflection and it’s all quite on one level – almost emotionless really which I don’t think does Mercury justice.

Additionally, in the credits all songs are listed as being performed by Queen so I basically spent 2 hours of my life watching Lip Sync Battle. In fact I might as well have watched Paul Rudd AKA Ant-Man do a Freddie Mercury impression… oh, hang on… by the power of the internet I bring you Paul Rudd singing Queen in a Lip Sync Battle!

When you consider that Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspon  recreated all of Johnny Cash’s and June Carter’s songs for Walk The Line that’s what you call a proper biopic and sort of what I was expecting – after all so much was made of choosing Remi Malek after Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out/was dropped that I guess I expected a “full Mercury” performance.

Considering that the film took almost 10 years to make I’m surprised that it turned out the way it did – of course Brian May and Roger Taylor came out looking good (they were executive producers after all) and John Deacon gets some credit for the creative input he had into Queen’s hits I think it does Freddie a bit of a disservice. While a “warts and all” film may not be to everyones taste whitewashing over the majority of his behaviour doesn’t really tell us the man he was, only the view that others want to present.

Overall, I think the film was a huge missed opportunity that didn’t really take itself seriously I mean, Mike Myers’ Ray Foster (another character that didn’t exist) saying that Bohemian Rhapsody wasn’t any good? You’re seriously going to go there?

The directing was lazy and by-the-book but I guess that’s bound to happen when the director (Bryan Singer) goes AWOL and gets fired half-way through filming (Dexter Fletcher of “Press Gang” fame had to finish the film but doesn’t seem to get any credit anywhere)

The best scene in the film was a recreation of an actual piece of film so didn’t really need any direction and the “clever’ zoom under the piano and through Freddie’s legs to focus on May’s guitar solo was super-contrived (Was this Singer or Fletcher? We’ll have to wait for the Blu-Ray extras folks!) but about the only original aspect of the piece. The one shining light were the production values, they really captured the tone of the time from the costumes and hair to the kitsch gaudiness of Mercury’s home and that was the one aspect of the film I did admire.

Oh, and one final gripe (among the many I haven’t even covered): are you seriously trying to tell me that no one called in to pledge any money until Queen went on the stage as the film hints at? There were 15 acts before Queen took to the stage including Dire Straits, Sade and Sting And Phil Collins and not one of those could raise one red cent? (Insert massive raspberry noise here).

So, my final verdict: Lazy, Lying and Listless – it’s more like one of those cheap movies they put out on the Hallmark Channel or True Movies rather than a “Hollywood Blockbuster”.

Should you watch this film? If it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and you have a basket of ironing to do it will provide an adequate backdrop but I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch it – especially if you’re a Queen fan as I think you’ll get quite annoyed with the way the story’s laid out.

My only hope is that the upcoming Elton John biopic “Rocketman” doesn’t fall foul of the same lack of integrity – but who knows as it’s directed by none other than a certain Dexter Fletcher (small world, eh?) however there’s one main difference in that the star – Taron Egerton – actually sings all of the musical numbers in the film himself.

Now, that’s a proper musical biopic I want to see.

Added bonus: There’s a running joke through Bohemian Rhapsody about Roger Taylor’s song “I’m in love with my car” I have to say it’s truly awful and no wonder they take the piss out of it

Do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments what you thought of the film.

Overlord (2018)

I went to a preview screening of “Overlord” last night. If you’ve been to the cinema recently they’ve been advertising it heavily in the “Upcoming Features” promo and this always concerns me – if you have to push a film that hard it’s normally not that good so does my theory hold true for Overlord? Yes and no!

Overlord is set the day before D-Day and we start with a group of paratroopers flying to France to take out a radio jamming tower. There’s the usual banter between the soldiers which serves to introduce the characters which is where one problem in the film lies. The American army had an official policy of segregation until 1948 so it’s unlikely that a black solider would be serving with a white unit, and even unlikelier that the commanding sergeant would be an African-American as well.

There are a few other liberties taken with the D-Day timeline – I don’t think the paratroopers would have seen the full D-Day invasion force at the time they were flying (around midnight) – sure it would have started to pull together but they wouldn’t leave the whole fleet to hang around for 6 hours – plus the fleet is seen when the sun is setting indicating it’s sitting there at least 10 hours before the invasion!). Also, for a mission like this they probably would have been sent down in gliders rather than parachuting but that would ruin the start if the film and we need to remember this is a film  after all and not a historically accurate documentary!

The opening 10 minutes of the are great – this isn’t a spoiler by the way as you can see this in the trailer – we follow Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) as he is pushed out of his disintegrating plane, flailing around trying to open his parachute. It’s really well shot and you feel like you’re with the poor guy hurtling down to earth amongst flak and debris.

After this, for the first 35 minutes or so you’re in what appears to be a typical war film, the Americans are trying to regroup to get to their target and the Germans are out in the woods trying to hunt them down. The remainder of the unit – Corporal Ford and Privates Boyce, wise-guy Tibbet and photographer Chase – come across Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a French woman who’s not in the resistance but hates the Germans so is happy to help keep the Americans safe.

Boyce is sent out to search for any remaining stragglers and ends up in a German truck full of dead bodies heading towards a bunker under the radio tower they need to bring down. Boyce manages to escape detection which might seem a bit unlikely but I’ve played Call Of Duty: World War II so I know that German guards can’t hear or see anything. As Boyce is trying to find a way out he comes across some grizzly sights such as a disembodied head that’s still able to speak and some weird looking amniotic sacks and then finds fellow US soldier Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) and together they escape the facility.

The second half of the film moves away from your being all Call Of Duty and moves in to Call Of Duty: Nazi Zombies territory. This is where my other issues with the film lie: the action is fast paced enough as you’re kept entertained (I didn’t look at my watch until just before the end of the film which is always a good sign that I’m enjoying myself) but it’s so dark you miss a lot of the action – okay, I know it’s set in an underground bunker/crypt thing but I’m pretty sure they would have had a generator for some lights – even the French village has a couple of outside lights on for goodness sake!

The special effects are decent enough but nothing special, and nothing we haven’t seen somewhere else and, to be honest, it’s not that scary. I’m not sure why it’s been released as an 18 given the content – I’ve seen gorier and scarier 15s. The characters are also very stereotypical of this type of film – commander that goes out of control, evil Gestapo officer (played perfectly by Pilou Asbæk who almost has sleaze oozing out of every pore), the put-upon reluctant hero in Boyce and motormouth Tibbet. If there was a checklist of what to include in a War film, this movie has checked every box and as a result the characters are one-dimensional and even though the script tries to add depth with backstories this is rather forced.

The last action scene of the film though is epic – I’m not going to spoil it for you but it looks as though it’s all been shot in one take (seems to be all the rage these days) but I can’t see how they would accomplish this as the scale of the stage required would have been huge. It’s probably worth seeing the film just to check out the opening parachute scene and final action sequence.

Overall the film was good, not great but good. If you’re looking for something that is a bit different from the Superhero and musical stuff that’s been everywhere for so long then I’d recommend checking this out and while it’s not a true “make you jump” horror there is some gore so it may not be suitable for all audiences.

And, as special bonus for you if you like the idea of Nazi Zombies then check out Outpost This was released 10 years before Overlord which owes a heck of a lot to its predecessor.

There’s also a sequel Outpost: Black Sun (2012)

Oh, and Outpost: Rise of the Spetsnaz (2013)

And if you like a bit of comedy with your horror (and don’t mind reading subtitles or understand Norwegian) then I can highly recommend Dead Snow

What’s your favourite zombie film? Let me know in the comments!

Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels

It took me a while to get into Penny Dreadful when it first aired in the UK. What I thought was going to be a slow and plodding historical horror took a few unexpected twists and turns and after a couple of episodes had me hooked. My one main complaint of the series was that it seemed to end too soon, a couple more episodes would have tied it all up quite nicely whereas I felt a sense of unfinished business the way they left it.

Anyway, my gripes aside it looks like they are making a sequel and this will move from late Victorian London to 1930’s cosmopolitan Los Angeles.

I’m looking forward to it but I can’t help thinking the producers have missed a trick and that setting the series in Chicago at the World Fair in the 1890’s would have been the way to go. It would have allowed crossover from characters we already know and we could have checked out H.H Holmes and his Murder Castle!

More info on DenOfGeek

Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina

If you want to be reminded of getting home from school, plonking yourself in front of the T.V and laughing along to Sabrina The Teenage Witch’s zany adventures then this is most definitely NOT the show for you.

This show is dark, seriously dark – and I mean that literally and figuratively.

The show is set in the town of Greendale where it “always feels like it’s Halloween” (presumably because it’s so gloomy and they don’t light any scenes properly) and follows Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) as she approaches her 16th birthday where she must attend a “dark baptism” and give herself over to The Dark Lord.

There’s one tiny problem: Sabrina is half-witch, half-mortal and as the date of the ceremony approaches she begins to question where her loyalties lie.

This is so far removed from the Melissa Joan Hart TV Show that I’m not sure why they chose this title unless it’s merely for the shock value – and even the Archie Comics on which both versions are based describes Sabrina as “spunky, flirtatious and sometimes scatterbrained” – and while she’s certainly spunky (well more like an authority-deifying know-it-all) she’s certainly not flirtatious thanks to long-term boyfriend Harvey and she definitely isn’t scatterbrained.

So we have Harvey, Aunts Hilda and Zelda and Salem (but don’t expect a sassy sarcastic cat, he meows and that’s about it which is a shame because a couple of pithy comments here and there would have helped lighten the mood a bit). Sabrina’s friends are Roz who’s some kind of annoying self-righteous millennial (“How DARE the establishment not allow me to read this book even though it’s not on the syllabus and is banned…”) and Suzie who’s non-binary which is fine except they seem quite pleased when they’re called “Son” so that’s not really non-binary is it? There’s also cousin Ambrose who’s described as “pansexual” so that’s pretty much every right-on box ticked.

Sabrina’s trying to figure out how she can balance these two opposing worlds and the more that she looks into her witch heritage, the more she begins to question it – and it’s not surprising really as this isn’t your “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”, “Charmed” or even “Dark Willow from Buffy The Vampire Slayer” type of witchcraft. No, this is some serious shit that involves cannibalism and apparently having to get undressed quite a bit.

And speaking of getting undressed, that leads me to one of my major issues with “Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina”: These kids are supposed to be 15, just turning 16, and we have Sabrina naked in one scene with evident side-boob (the actress is 19 so I guess that makes it okay does it?) and wearing a negligee in several other scenes which I found rather unnecessary and uncomfortable. After all of the impetus of the #MeToo campaign they’re sexualising a teenage girl – and I don’t care if it’s because witches are hedonistic and live for pleasure it’s just plain wrong and did nothing to serve the scenes. These could have been shot in a different way without the need for giving old men something to jerk off to.

Anyway that rant’s over. Let me get onto the other problems I have.

The story line is relentlessly dark, even the most horrible horror films have some slight comedic relief but there isn’t any here – or if there was I missed it completely. Aunt Hilda (played by Lucy Davis) tries to add a bit of humour but it falls flat thanks to the overall tone of the script and as a result you’re pounded with this depressing story that doesn’t let up. I’m not asking for much, Hilda could have made a few light-hearted comments – I think that’s her purpose but it’s not used. The only thing that made me chuckle slightly across the 10 episodes was when Zelda got annoyed at Hilda and killed by bashing her head in (watch and you’ll see why it was amusing – I’m not a sicko, honest!).

I’d also love to know what the directors and cinematographers were thinking with this weird-arse fish-eye bokeh lens thing they have going on. I initially though they were using it to denote that some crazy magical crap was going down but no, it seems to be some odd stylistic choice that blurs the background characters when in fact seeing their reactions would actually be cool and useful.

Plot wise it holds it own, each episode starts exactly where the previous one left off which is why I think Netflix was the best vehicle for this show: if it was shown weekly on The CW as initially planned they wouldn’t have been able to produce the episodes this way. This continuity really helps with the flow of the story and allows you to be pulled along with it although I did have to back-track to a previous episode a couple of times as I’d missed something that turned out to be important.

There’s some interesting threads that weave their way through the 10 episodes with the main one being what’s behind school teacher Mary Wardwell’s (played by the marvelous Michelle Gomez) fondness for Sabrina which is finally revealed at the end of episode 10, and it’s worth watching the series just for this.

Before you start watching Chilling Adventure of Sabrina make sure you have some friends, a bottle of booze and shot glasses handy as I reckon this series will make an excellent drinking game – drink every time they say “The Dark Lord” and you’ll be paralytic half-way through episode one!

I hadn’t read any reviews of the show so had no preconceptions going in to it and I’m not saying it’s terrible because it’s not. I think the problem stems from the fact that the show centres around a 16 year old and wants to be dark and edgy but can’t be because Sabrina’s so young. The show’s rated 15 so, unlike Sabrina The Teenage Witch, it’s not targeted at a young audience. If they’d have put Sabrina in her 20’s – maybe approaching her 21st birthday instead of her 16th then they could have gone a lot further and darker with it and it’s a shame as it seems like a huge missed opportunity when you compare it to something like The Haunting Of Hill House which used children in a really clever way

Would I recommend it?  Mmmm. The title’s rather misleading for starters – it’s neither chilling and nor are there many adventures really. I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch it but if you’re stuck for something to view the it’s worth a look – just don’t expect any laughs or a talking cat!

Halloween (2018)

If you’ve seen Halloween II, Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later and Halloween Resurrection then….. you have completely wasted your time. According to Halloween (2018) none of the events in these films happened and any reveals in the films have been retconned. Heck, the opening title sequence is a pumpkin rotting backwards which pretty much shouts “We’re turning back the clock folks!”

So, with that in mind Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978), Michael Myers is no longer Laurie Strode’s brother (dealt with quite eloquently by Laurie’s Granddaughter who brushes the suggestion off as an invention that helps sell a story) and Michael has spent the last 40 years in prison after being caught at the end of the first film.

The story starts with some internet journalists visiting Myers in his mental institution to get material for a podcast they are putting together. One of the bright sparks has the idea to wave Michael’s mask at him in order to illicit a response and is most upset when he doesn’t get one – well, the guy hasn’t spoken a word for 40 years, I don’t think waving a William Shatner mask at him will make much difference.

Now, it wouldn’t be a horror film without a few coincidences would it? It just so happens that Myer’s psychiatrist studied under Dr Loomis (he even sounds a bit like him which is a nice, if slightly freaky homage), the podcasters visit the day before Halloween (I know, right?!) and Myers is due to be moved to a more secure facility that very night (wow!). Of course, the prison transfer doesn’t go to plan (do they ever?) and Myers is able to escape to wreak slasher terror yet again on the town of Haddenfield.

So, where does Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) fit in to all this now the brother/sister connection has been removed? She’s been spending the past 40 years preparing to get her own back on Michael – to the extent that she trained her 8-year-old daughter to shoot (but this is set in America so that might be normal, I don’t know) and caused the kid a fair amount of psychological harm which resulted in her being taken into care at the age of 12.

Laurie lives on a compound just outside Haddenfield and seems to have removed herself from life – although she begrudgingly talks to the podcasters after they offer to pay her $3000. She has a fractured relationship with her  adult daughter (played by Judy Greer) and her dick of a husband (those two really don’t go together at all – sack the casting director!) but seems to have a reasonable relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Laurie gets wind of Michael’s escape she goes to look for her family to keep them from Michael’s clutches.

Why is Michael fixated on Laurie? It’s sort of explored in the film – I always thought it was some form of twisted admiration as she was the only one that really fought back but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

There’s Michael’s usual slasher routine – make sure you keep an eye on the background at all times just in case you miss him – it’s almost like he has a little checklist he needs to follow: Blue overalls? Check! Freaky mask? Check! Big ass knife? Check! Still, it’s a Halloween film so what are you expecting?

There are some nice references to the original film – some scenes are almost near-perfect recreations of those from 1978, there’s also an interesting interaction (in more ways that one) between Dr. Sartain and Officer Hawkins. It’s also great that they didn’t mess with the music – the original theme was a freaky as hell and it would have been terrible if they had tried to modernise it but thankfully John Carpenter’s piercing piano is still there.

I’m not going to going in to any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the scares for you, but it certainly follows the horror movie rules. One character to watch out for though is Julian (played by newcomer Jibrail Nantambu) who will move on to great things I’m sure.

Is the film better for being a direct sequel to Halloween (1978)? Not really as it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference but it does allow them to fix the messes that were Halloween H20 and Resurrection.

While you don’t have to have seen Halloween (1978) before seeing Halloween (2018) I would recommend it so that you can understand some of the insider references and nods to the prequel. Overall it’s a good film and perfect for viewing at this time of year – just don’t get a hot drink in case you jump and spill it in your lap!

If you’ve haven’t seen the first film the following Screen Junkies “Honest Trailer” will explain all (spoilers, obvs)

Making A Murderer – Season 2

So, I just binge-watched all 10 episodes of “Making A Murderer” Season Two so you can figure out if you want to watch it or not.

If you haven’t heard of the Netflix documentary “Making A Murderer” or Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey then I assume that you have had no internet connection since 2015.

Seriously. The details of this case have been all over social and mainstream media since Laura Riccardi and Moira Demos brought it to public attention 3 years ago. So, just in case you have been living under an internet rock, here’s the basic premise:

In 1985 23 year old Steven Avery was convicted of a brutal sexual assault and attempted murder. Avery claimed he didn’t do it but was convicted anyway despite there being no physical evidence to tie him to the crime. After serving 18 years of a 32 year sentence Avery was acquitted after DNA evidence proved that he didn’t do it.

So far so normal, right? Well, things start to go a bit wrong for Avery when he decides to sue the police department and local county for wrongful arrest and imprisonment to the tune of $36 million dollars. Yup, you read that right, $36 Million.

Two years after Avery’s release (in 2007), the police are at his door yet again, this time arresting him for the murder of local photographer Teresa Halbach. During his incarceration Avery is forced to settle his $36 million lawsuit for just $400,000 so he could afford to appoint a legal team to defend him against the murder charge – what an amazing coincidence! A lawsuit that would pretty much bankrupt the county has magically gone away!

There’s no real evidence against Avery until Halbach’s car is miraculously found abandoned in Avery’s Junk Car lot, Halbach’s car key turns up in Avery’s bedroom and human bones are found in a fire pit outside his house.

What seals Avery’s fate is the confession of his 16 year old nephew that describes the murder and what the pair did to the unfortunate Halbach

The original “Making A Murderer” Trailer is below:

So, you might think that this is all well and good but there are a few problems:

  • Police searched Avery’s house several times and only found the car key after two weeks and the key was found by the local police department who were told to stay away from the case because of Avery’s lawsuit
  • There’s no other evidence that Halbach was in Avery’s house
  • The fire pit isn’t thought to be the murder site but when checking out the garage where the murder allegedly took place there’s no true DNA evidence
  • Blood evidence on Halbach’s car makes no sense
  • And – probably most importantly – Dassey’s “confession” was made on his own with no appropriate adult present and this is a kid with an IQ of under 100 and a diagnosed learning difficulty.

Still, this circumstantial evidence is enough for a jury and Dassey was jailed for life with the possibility of parole in 2048, and Avery was sentenced to life without parole.

The first series of Making A Murderer documents the trial, the problems in the prosecution case and the issues that the defence case has getting evidence and witnesses heard. I have to admit the first series isn’t balanced, it leans very heavily in Avery and Dassey’s favour but after you’ve watched the entire series you can’t help feeling that they were both stitched up to stop the lawsuit and conveniently solve a murder.

Now that you’re all caught up, here’s my take on series 2 which was made available on Netflix on the 16th of October – and yes, I did binge-watch all 10 episodes.

Season 2

This second series is still one sided as it just covers Avery and Dassey’s defence teams and their efforts to get their clients freed however unlike the first series is comes across and more balanced in the way that the evidence is being presented.

This is largely down to Dassey’s lawyer Laura Nirider and Avery’s Lawyer Kathleen Zellner who are very passionate about the case but also extremely good in explaining the ins and outs of a complicated legal system to the layperson.

In Dassey’s case, the series revolves around the fact that his confession was coerced and as a vulnerable young person wasn’t handled correctly. We follow his multiple appeal process in what – to me – seems ridiculous in that he wins at least 3 times and has his conviction overturned and yet still won’t be released by his State.

Avery’s case is more complex and more interesting: Zellner finds that there were a lot of flaws in the original defence case which could lead to a re-trial. She tests all of the evidence that the police have found (including chucking a dummy in the back of a car, flinging blood around, stealing a sink and shooting at shit) to attempt to replicate what they police say happened and even subjected Avery to a brain scan lie detector – in fact one of the first things she says to him is that he’d better be not guilty because if she takes his case she’ll prove what really happened, even if it does show he did it.

The series is quite heavy going in times, there’s a lot of explanation of American law and precedents but this is outweighed by seeing how the defence go about putting their case together – what they look for and what they need to prove and disprove.

One shining light in the program are Steven’s parents, Allan and Delores, who are in their late seventies/early eighties and are clearly devoted to each other even if neither can hear a word the other is saying. Their main concern is that they won’t be around when their son and great-nephew are finally released and no amount of money would ever be able to replace the time they have lost with their son. You really do feel for them and the terrible situation they are being put through, they just want their son back and I do hope this can happen soon for them.

In the first part, Avery is engaged to Sandy after she started writing to him in prison. 10 years later poor Sandy has had enough and calls the engagement off citing “religious differences”. She’s still very good friends with him and is instrumental in getting Kathleen Zellner to take his case.

Anyway, on to the spoiler!

Spoiler

Through writing to Avery Lynn Hartman comes into the picture and the pair are soon engaged via letter before they have even met. Colour me cynical but what would  quite a  pretty blonde woman want with a convicted murderer? I mean a convicted murderer with a massive online following and award winning Netflix show about him? Oh, going on Dr Phil and a $5000 appearance fee? You don’t say! So she broke it off with him (by letter obviously) and is still getting TV spots, and presumably getting paid for them too

The minute she appeared on camera I thought she was a wrong ‘un – let me know what you thought of her in the comments or via the WKRN Facebook Page

After the first series of “Making A Murderer” I felt pretty sure that Avery was innocent and 100% sure that Dassey was coerced into making an unfair and false confession.

After watching this series?

JUST FREE BRENDAN NOW DAMN IT! How many appeals do you have to win to get freed from jail in America?

As for Avery?

All the evidence is circumstantial, there are so many new avenues to look at that the prosecution or defence never covered at the very least he deserves a retrial.

The only shame is that former  prosecutor Ken Krantz won’t be brought down a peg or two – I mean, Krantz has apparently been successfully treated for Narcissistic personality disorder and then decides to hold a press conference during one of Dassey’s appeals – this is in Chicago. At the courthouse where the appeal is being held. A 3 hour drive away from Mantiowoc so it’s not like “Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood”. Oh and he handily happen to have a book coming out at the time.

Would I recommend this series? 100% yes if you have seen the first series. If you haven’t then watch series 1 first – you need to in order to get all of the background then watch the second straight away.

I would have rated this 10 out of 10 but I knocked one point off as it’s a bit heavy going in places and they don’t make a mockery of Ken Krantz.

What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and go watch it!

The Haunting Of Hill House

So , it would seem that the Internet has gone bat-shit crazy for Netflix new series “The Haunting Of Hill House” so I thought I’d better see what all the fuss is about.

Apparently this show will cause you to vomit and pass out – the last time I heard that a film or show was doing that to people was “The Exorcist” – but that’s way back before we had gross-out blockbusters like Saw.

Tweets About The Haunting Of Hill House

Although if the master of horror Stephen King likes it, it must be worth checking out!

Stephen King Hill House Tweet

The Haunting (1963) is one of the first ever horror films I can recall watching, it’s super-atmospheric and really well shot, the 1999 version of The Haunting staring Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta Jones is more style over substance but a decent remake – both take a few liberties with the original book but are reasonably close.

So, that brings us to the 2018 version which isn’t a remake and more of one of the modern “re-imaginings” that are so common at the moment. The story follows the Crain family: Parents Olivia and Hugh, and children Steven, Shirley, Theo, and twins Luke and Nell as they move into Hill House in order to do it up and flip it so they can put the money towards their “forever house”.

From the moment they move in, the family experiences odd occurrences but are re-assured by the housekeepers – The Dudleys – that nothing untoward is going on but on the first night Nell is certain that a mysterious woman she calls “The Bent Neck Lady” (who looks like the girl in the well from The Ring) is standing at the bottom of her bed.

Warning: Spoiler Alert Below (click to reveal)

Spoiler
Pay special attention to when The Bent-Neck Lady appears – you’ll thank me for it later and have a massive series of “Oh, Shit!” moments

I’m not going to go into too many details on what the family sees in the house as I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say that it didn’t make me hide behind the sofa, vomit or faint – in fact I only jumped once out of 10 episodes, but to get me to jump at all is pretty good going for a film or show!

This is one of those programs that definitely requires watching 2 or 3 times in order to get all of the little details you may have missed the first time around. The story jumps from past to near-present to “yesterday” in no real order and with the near-present and yesterday time periods it can be a little confusing as to where you are in the timeline. I like the way that they edit between the time periods, having a character picking up an apple in “Yesterday” and eating it in “The Past” or opening a door in “The Past” and closing one in “Yesterday” for example. There’s also something happening in the back of quite a few shots and the main action tends to draw you away from these little clues and scares that definitely deserve a re-watch.

As well as the clever editing, there are some fantastically well filmed shots – I’m not sure if they were done in one shot-and-take as they appear or are cleverly put together. For example, the night of the storm (in the episode “Two Storms”) has all of the family in the main entrance hall in the house and this is filmed in a wonderful sweeping shot that revolves around the set and the characters, dipping in and out among them so that you feel as though you’re part of the action.

The acting is superb but the stand-out performances for me were Henry Thomas as the Past Hugh Crain (yes, Elliot from E.T is all grown up now!) and Timothy Hutton as the “Yesterday” Hugh Crain. I don’t know whether Thomas imitated Hutton or they both worked on their character together but the voice and mannerisms are spot on and you can really believe these are two versions of the same person.

The child actors are great considering the scary shit they have to deal with – my one concern is that I can’t see “Past” Luke turning into “Yesterday” Luke – I know plenty of people have Neville Longbottomed in the past but unless he’s had major lasik surgery it’s just not a good fit (although I can see why they chose Julian Hillard as Past Luke as he’s super-cute).

Hill House - Young And Old Luke

The Yesterday adult characters are well done – although I did get a bit confused to begin with as to who was who as they all apparently use the same hairdresser – there’s only one blonde woman in the show and everyone has quite similar hairstyles (I guess soft waves are in this year) but once you see them a couple of times it makes sense!

Haunting Of Hill House - Crain Sisters

See, same hair! Well, okay not exactly the same but you’d think one of them would have like a shorter cut or straight hair!

So, is this show worth watching – it’s a resounding YES from me, the one thing that lets it down a bit is the last episode – I would have rated the series 9 out of 10 if it hadn’t been for the cop-out ending. Maybe I didn’t “get it”, but it just didn’t quite seem to sit with the tone of the rest of the show so I had to knock a point off – yup, a full point deducted just for one episode but as it’s the finale I don’t think that’s harsh.

Warning: Spoiler Alert Below (click to reveal)

Spoiler
The show borrows a lot from “The Amityville Horror”. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but the room upstairs is called “The Red Room” which is the same name as the hidden room the Lutz’s found in Amityville, this room is also similar to “The Room Of Requirements” in Harry Potter!

I don’t think you’ll faint or vomit but I do think you’ll have a scare or two and will also have a great time watching it – make sure you watch in the the dark with the lights off!

Pet Sematary

Trailer

Warning – Spoiler Alert Ahead!

So I don’t know about you but when I read pet sematary I almost wet my pants. The idea of pets – and then other things coming back to life in such a gruesome way disturbs me somewhat.

That being said, I love the original Pet cemetary film – there was such angst, terror fear and revulsion all wrapped up in a film that deserved to do a lot better – but it suffered the curse of most Stephen King films of the time and got buried.

One gripe though… Sematary? I guess they’re using the kiddy spelling in the title but it does annoy me though as it’s CEMETERY – I hope this isn’t yet another excuse for the Millennial generation to spell stuff incorrectly.

I can’t wait to see it – I only hope they’re not going to hype it up too much over the next 12 months and given the film seems complete I can only conclude they’re not releasing it as a Halloween 2018 film as they’re concerned the impact Halloween will have on their box office (and quite rightly so).

If you can’t wait then watch the original on Amazon Prime staring Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby (yes, Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation!) Interestingly this version was directed by Mary Lambert and it was very unusual for women to be allowed – Yes, I will use the word allowed – to direct horrors so it’s worth a look just for as she handles the story with the respect it deserves as well as showing the horror at the outcome.