Pet Sematary (2019)

I don’t know what it is about Stephen King’s books that seems to make them so difficult to translate to the big screen – the recent success of IT aside (which I thought was a really poor film in comparison to the T.V Mini-series), there hasn’t been a truly successful Stephen King adaptation and unfortunately the 2019 version of Pet Sematary continues that tradition.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, and the Pet Sematary novel is a masterpiece of suspenseful and terrifying writing and the 1989 film version does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of King’s novel – the sight of a creepy Gage wielding a scalpel is rather scary.

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989)

Gage in Pet Sematary (1989) (source)

So, how does the 2019 version hold up?

Not very well I’m afraid.

The film starts off trying to be a bit clever by alluding to the horrors that await (a poor script and bad editing being two of them) as we come across an idyllic looking house only to see a bloody hand print on a car window, a smear of blood on the porch and some footprints leading into the house, there’s then a clumsy cut to a car full of a cute all-American family traveling to a new life in the town of Ludlow, Maine.

The film massively failed my watch test – I checked it 32 minutes in to the film which is a really, really bad sign that I am not interested at all. The plot is slow to develop, the scares a non-existent (save a few loud truck noises that I think have been included just to make sure you are awake) and the acting is pretty poor – so much so that I really couldn’t get invested in any of the characters except the cat – and if you can get acted off the screen by an animal then you really do have a problem.

Father of the family, Louis Creed, is a Doctor who is tired of working a graveyard shift in a city E.R room so has uprooted his family to a sleepy town. As a city E.R doctor I would imagine that Louis has seen his fair share of horrific trauma and death which is why him being so distraught over the death of a teenager named Victor Pascow seems to be very out of character – does he behave that way over every patient he loses? If so I don’t know how he manages to retain his sanity. Later in the film, Rachel needs to be aware of the kid’s name so the writer’s shoehorn a scene in to explain how she knows it in such a clumsy way it makes no sense for Louis’ character.

Mother of the family, Rachel, is a barely functioning basket case who is haunted by the death of her sister. How do we know this? She explains it to us in a conversation she has with her husband. Now, bear in mind these two are married and have a child aged 9 (and a toddler as well) so wouldn’t you have thought they’d have discussed this at some point before this? Well, not according to the writers! Yes, it’s important to know Rachael’s backstory but to have her talk about how her sister died to her husband of at least 9 years is so very, very lazy.

I was hoping that the film would be rescued by the appearance of John Lithgow’s character of “Jud” but even he couldn’t pull this film out of the grave it had dug itself and was really just phoning his performance in, there was no depth to it at all even when he had some emotional points to talk about. I don’t think that’s Lithgow’s fault at all, he’s an excellent actor, I just don’t think the directors knew what they were doing half the time.

The storyline revolves around the titular “Pet Sematary” which is on the family property and the creepy Indian Burial ground beyond (and we all know that they’re a great place to hang out, don’t we). When the family cat is hit by a car, it’s buried in the Indian burial ground and comes back – but it’s not quite the same lovable cat that the family knows. Then, when a further tragedy strikes and one of the children die, Louis is drawn back to the burial ground even though he knows the consequences and nothing good can come of his actions.

I think the directors, set designer and lighting guy must have sat down and read “Filmmaking for Dummies” (yes, that is a real book) because if you want a horror cliche – you’ve got it! Fog in a forest? Check! Lightning and thunder? Check! Weird animal noises? Check! Random noises in the attic? Check! Doors opening and closing when you’re the only one in the house? Check! I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.

The first hour and a bit is a pretty pedestrian affair: the directors and editor missed lots of opportunities to add in extra scares and jumps which would have livened things up considerably but if you can get through that then the final 30 minutes turns into quite a passable film.

I had avoided details of a plot change as I didn’t want it to ruin my enjoyment of the film (as limited as that turned out to be) and I won’t write about it here as I do think it takes something away from what is probably the best scene in the film if you know about it, but what I will say is that it allows for an interesting twist that I didn’t see coming and made for an intriguing end to the film.

Click the following section to read my thoughts on the changes – spoiler alert obviously!

Spoiler
So in the book and the 1989 film, Gage (who’s around 3/4 years old) dies and is brought back by the sematary. This was always a bit problematic for me as unless he totally sneaks up on you and hits you with a surprise attack or you’re asleep surely fighting off a toddler would be pretty easy – especially for a grown man.

This version changes the dead child from Gage to Ellie who, at 9 years old (and possessed by the power of the woods), is a bit more of a formidable foe and the fight between her and her father in the “Sematary” is brutal and quite difficult to watch but it’s far more believable to be afraid of a 9 year-old than a toddler. Also, as I wasn’t aware of the change (I’d kept away from the trailer and all reviews) it made the scene when Gage runs out into the road more impactful as I wasn’t expecting Ellie to be the one to get hit.

This switch was a welcome change and one that makes sense and partially rescued what was shaping up to be a completely dire film.

Watch this film if you haven’t seen the original (or you’ll probably be disappointed) or if you’re in the mood for a movie starring a sassy cat.

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.

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)

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.

 

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth – Dr Who

The Woman Who Fell To Earth is the first episode of the 11th series (well, 37th if you want to be pedantic) of Dr Who.

It’s notable for a couple of reasons: The Doctor is now a woman (gasp!) and most of the original production cast have left and the the show is now being produced by Chris Chibnall who cut his Dr Who universe teeth on the excellent Torchwood.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

The story opens on an idyllic scene in the Peak District with Ryan trying to learn to ride a bike. So far so ordinary except Ryan is pretty much a grown man in serious need of training wheels thanks to his poor hand-eye co-ordination due to dyspraxia. In frustration Ryan launches the bike off the side of a hill and on going to find it comes across some strange glowing lights. Ryan of course touches the lights and causes what could only be described as an enormous papier mache gourd to appear. Ryan calls the police and a former schoolmate Yas arrives who thinks that Ryan is pulling her leg in an elaborate hoax.

Meanwhile Ryan’s Nan, Grace, and (not) Grandad, Graham, are heading home on a train when it suddenly comes to a halt. The power goes out and a strange tentacled creature starts moving along the train towards the helpless passengers. Unable to get off the train Grace is able to call Ryan before getting cut off and just as the tentacled beast is about to strike it’s disturbed by a body falling through the roof of the train carriage. Apparently unharmed from the fall The Doctor pops up and is able to ward off the creature and then admonish a recently arrived Ryan and Yas for not being much help.

Side note: If Ryan’s Nan has you doing the “Where have I seen her before?” dance then she was in over 100 episodes of Holby City!

This kicks off a meeting of (presumably) the new companions and The Doctor (who can’t remember she is called The Doctor at this stage) and what is surprising is how much the companions have to do in this episode. Usually The Doctor keeps the companions in the dark, revealing only what is necessary but this Doctor has them involved in every aspect of her plan – apart from the building of her new sonic screwdriver.

And before I go on, can we just discuss the new screwdriver please? Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit phallic looking?

Dr Who Sonic Screwdriver

Photo Credit

Maybe I’m just looking at it differently because The Doctor is a woman, but when you consider the way that previous Doctor’s tools looked, they weren’t so… veiny and bulbous, they were more efficient and tool like!

Anyway, I digress!

I won’t go into the whole plot here as I don’t want to ruin it for you – you need to view it with an open mind but I will highlight a couple of points.

The way that the first episode is shot is very filmic and almost epic looking in a way – the first 5 minutes in the Peak District was almost like an advert for the National Park. There’s also more light – even in the darker scenes. I’m not sure if this a bit of clever mise-en-scène to highlight The Doctor’s lighter attitude when compared to Capaldi’s Doctor or if it’s just a stylistic choice by the director, we’ll have to see more episodes to see if it’s a theme.

The creature effects were also suitably sinister. Tim Shaw’s  (not really his name but that’s what The Doctor called him – I thought he said Dim Sum!) facial makeup would be the stuff of nightmares for a smaller child – easily reminiscent of the scares from the Cybermen and Daleks that had me hiding behind the sofa almost 40 years ago.

One of the big complaints from previous series was that the continuing story lines made it difficult to keep up if you missed an episode and also took away from some of the essence of the old Doctor Who. In this series we’ve been promised less serialisation and no recurring Aliens so it will be interesting to see what they come up with each week.

There was a lot of moaning online that they had made The Doctor a woman and this first episode went a long way to put people’s fears to rest. The first couple of episodes after a regeneration are always a bit hit-and-miss as The Doctor is still finding his (or her) feet and so you can’t get a true sense of what an actor is going to bring to the role. Whittaker has a sparkle in her eye and a sense of the incredulity and absurdity of it all that is quite refreshing and I hope it doesn’t diminish once The Doctor’s personality asserts itself.

The other main difference is that this is one of the first episodes of Doctor Who set outside of London. Most previous companions have come from our Nation’s capital so it’s a nice change to see another area of the country represented (Sheffield) and the addition of an Asian companion (and a female one with authority at that) in Yas’ character is great and I look forward to see what they do with her – and I do hope she’s not there to serve the screaming helpless female trope.

An interesting addition to the cast is Bradley Walsh. I’ve stayed away from all the previews and cast news so I could go into this new series fresh and without prejudice. A lot of people will think of Walsh as the irreverent compare of The Chase but he’s much more than a game show host having starred in Coronation Street and Law And Order: UK –  alongside former companion Freema Agyeman so I’m sure he was able to get loads of tips and inside knowledge!

Overall, the show is pretty slick but the introduction of the characters does feel a little rushed – we usually only have to deal with the Doctor and a single companion and here we have four (ish). The story is a pretty solid Doctor Who episode that ticks all of the boxes and bodes well for forthcoming episodes.

Need reminding of how we got our first female Doctor and how the T.A.R.D.I.S was lost?

 

And get your own (non-phallic) sonic screwdriver from Amazon or The Doctor Who Site!

The Predator (2018)

If you’re looking for the suspense of the first Predator film, or the goriness of the second film then you’ll probably be a bit disappointed in this new take on the franchise in Shane Black’s directorial debut.

Don’t get me wrong, the film doesn’t deviate from the Predator story that we all know and love: Predator arrives and a bunch of people die horrible deaths but it does seem to suffer from not knowing where it wants to be – comedy horror or sci-fi horror.

With the introduction of a 12 year old boy as one of the main characters, I was wondering whether the studio was aiming for the youth market however with the level of gore in some scenes (decapitation by wire anyone?)  and the bad language from tourette’s suffering Baxley (played by Thomas Jane doing an exceptional job) it was never going to get a 12A certificate – in fact I’m surprised it’s only rated a 15, 10 years ago it would have been an 18 for sure.

The story centres around Quinn Mckenna, a sniper embedded in an unnamed South American country who witnesses a Predator crash land and take out his team. Mckenna realises no one will believe what he saw so he steals some of the Predator’s tech and – somehow avoiding all US customs inspections – mails it back to a P.O box in his hometown for “safe keeping”. Co-incidentally he’s not paid for his P.O box for a while so the Post Office dumps the package at his home for his 12 year old son to open.

Rory Mckenna – played by a fantastic Jacob Tremblay – has Aspergers (or Ass Burgers as his bullies call it) and because of his unique view of the world he’s able to operate and understand the Predator’s equipment which leads, obviously, to a collision course with the Predator.

All in all the film is reasonable – as long as you don’t go into it with your expectations set too high – and it seems to be geared towards introducing a new audience to the Predator in order to set up a sequel.

My main gripe? The Predator in this film wasn’t as cunning as we’ve seen them to be in past films, it was more of a “Hulk Smash” creature rather than something you could see as being a stealthy hunter. The introduction of a Predator “dog” and it’s fondness for fetch was a nice touch, as was a more comedic tone which added to the movie rather than detracted from it.

Overall, an enjoyable hour and 40-odd minutes but if you’re a die-hard “Get to the chopper!” fan then you may want to wait for the DVD or streaming release.

 

The Meg

Before I start this review I have to hold my hand up and say I love movies like this – in fact, the cheesier the better!

The Meg is based on the book of the same name by Steve Altern but the film’s storyline differs greatly from the book (I do recommend the book, it’s a quick and easy read – perfect for the beach!).

The basic plot line is that a research submarine enters a “hidden” section of the Marianas Trench, it has an accident which leads Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to head up a rescue mission. When they’re returning to the surface they unwittingly allow a Megalodon (think Jaws on steroids) to escape and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting local population.

If you’re expecting slow tension building with jump-inducing scares as you’d find in Jaws then you’ll be disappointed. The Meg is a fast-paced action movie which, surprisingly, spends welcome time on character development but doesn’t have the leg-floating shocks of Jaws.

It’s a decent film with an interesting twist half-way through and I’m glad I saw in on the big screen so I could get the full scale of the Megalodons size, however for a shark film you don’t see as much of the creature as I would have liked.

It’s definitely worth a watch – and try to see it on a big screen if you can.