Point of Death Review

Point of Death (also known as In Extremis through imdb.com) is a 2017 film which is now receiving a release on UK digital download. I had rather high hopes after discovering that it was directed by Steve Stone, whose earlier film The Entity I’d reviewed some time ago (link) and was not left disappointed.

Synopsis: Alex is a man with everything – the well-paid executive job, the impressive house in the country and the beautiful wife and child. When he inexplicably decides to leave work early one Friday nothing will ever be the same again. Within hours of his return a cataclysmic storm threatens to destroy everything around them. Isolated without power or phones this loving family descends into a nightmare of terror, violence and visions that threaten their very existence. In the confusion of past and present, Alex and his family have to face the real nature of the events – are they real or imagined? What if every parent’s nightmare is happening to them?

Steve Stone’s direction is confident and despite a somewhat shaky start the tension and intrigue find a way through. Point of Death is a film which is very comfortable in building a sense of dread, added to with some really impressive sound and production design. The storm itself looks a little unconvincing, but the surrounding material is interesting enough that any misgivings are soon forgotten.

The film belongs to David O’Hara as Alex, a patriarchal figure who moves from cold indifference to a familial warmth with ease. He is required to do the bulk of the film’s emotional heavy-lifting and handles it well. Isabelle Allen, although young, complements his performance ably. Some early dialogue-heavy scenes feel somewhat stilted, although this gives way to the building dread and becomes far more convincing.

Some viewers will guess where the film is heading before it actually reaches that point, and the film is certainly content to keep its secrets through the majority of the screen time without providing too many hints. A great deal of time and care is taken in deliberately wrong-footing the viewer in interesting ways including some genuinely impressive and creepy set pieces.

Overall, Point of Death is a well-crafted, creepy piece with a fair amount of emotional weight which is well worth your time and attention.

Point of Death is out on digital download on February 11th.

Flowers (2015) Review

Even though Flowers is a 2015 film, my exposure to it comes in an interesting week, where Danielle Dash tweeted her tiredness at seeing dead women and girls as the basis for so many television shows. The link to that tweet is here. While I wouldn’t go as far as Jameela Jamil’s response that it could give ‘sick bastards ideas’, images of mutilated women do permeate popular culture in a way that can feel troubling, especially when there are so many real female victims of violence in the world. This isn’t to say that there aren’t male victims of violence, but that more of a spectacle is made of damaged female bodies in fiction.

Obviously, this being a horror blog I’m not exactly going to be clutching pearls about depictions of violence and am a fan of some films where rather extreme punishments are enacted against women. This, in addition to an interest in true crime documentaries where women are frequently the victims means my relationship with the consumption of violence against women is not so straightforward. However, for me, there is a difference between something which features violence with a compelling story and characters wrapped around it, versus watching a show-reel of special effects and inventive punishments without the connection.

This leads me to the review of Phil Stevens’ 2015 horror Flowers. I’ll start by saying that the design on this film, for what I expect is a very low budget is exceptional. The settings have a deeply unpleasant texture and it is clear that a huge amount of effort has been made in creating such squalid surroundings. Similarly, there’s an attempt to convey some big ideas, but these ideas are unfortunately let down by extended sequences which allow the viewer’s attention to wander.

Synopsis: An abstract, surreal horror film centering around six dead women waking up in the crawl space below their killer’s house.

It feels like the Flowers of the title could be a nod to Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood, given the fact that this film appears to want to emulate that type of minimal story, maximum special effects and nasty ideas section of the horror genre. This makes the film feel like an endless parade of mutilated, silent women. True, there are no spoken parts in the film, either male or female, but all the victims being silent women has unfortunate implications (more than sinister intentions) which is why this review was preceded by some discussion of women as a spectacle when victimised. The sequences of the six women are disjointed, only coming together towards the end of the run time, but the elongated and often repetitive nature of the torture sequences had my mind wandering too often to come back and piece it all together adequately. This is not, I’m keen to point out a result of finding it too disgusting, but rather a feeling that once you’ve seen an effect once, it rather loses its bite upon being repeated.

The effects are impressive but there is really only so much attention you can give when any story appears to stop for them. The fact that we are not given any understanding of characters beforehand (and any reveals are a bit too broad and vague) makes it incredibly difficult to invest and engage. The opening of a woman waking up in a crawlspace, surrounded by previous victims is effective and so as she begins a Shawshank Redemption style escape there is some tension and a sense of threat. This tension is lost though as we abandon her trials for the second victim rather abruptly, meaning that our endurance for having invested in her through her gruesome trip is not rewarded. Instead, it plays as someone trying to throw shocking ideas at the screen without there being all-important context and investment.

Flowers seems to want to be a surreal, even somewhat ethereal ordeal film, but the pacing of the scenes and lack of coherent pulling of threads, for me, meant that there was no ordeal to be endured. It feels like it would work better as a much shorter film with some sequences clipped and the overall story tightened. For me, Flowers failed to find its roots.

Dark Mirages (2018) Book Review

Dark Mirages is a collection of scripts and treatments for a number of potential horror film or television pieces, offering an insight into the language of scripts and how format changes require a different way of thinking.

SYNOPSIS
The Cenobites from Hellraiser return to their spiritual home of London for a showdown to end them all, and the legend of the world’s most famous vampire
Dracula gets a fresh spin. The ghost of an elderly lady’s past returns, while a mysterious old-fashioned TV is rented out. And as a race against time begins, a deadly game of chance takes place…
Dark Mirages is your chance to read unmade or rare TV/film treatments and scripts from talented writers such as Stephen Jones & Michael Marshall Smith, Stephen Gallagher, Axelle Carolyn, Peter Crowther, Muriel Gray and Stephen Laws. Compiled and edited by Paul Kane (Hellbound Hearts, Beyond Rue Morgue, A Carnivàle of Horror) this is a unique book no genre fan should be without!
Fans of the Hellraiser series will be well-represented at the outset of the book in which Michael Marshell Smith and Stephen Jones present a potential script for a sequel to Hellraiser.  The script, written in 2007, sought to honour Barker’s original vision and largely disregard a number of dissatisfying sequels (as is in fashion recently) and shows a great deal of appreciation of the original film and surrounding universe.
Stephen Gallagher’s Dracula script is also of interest, particularly since the BBC have now given the go-ahead to the vision of Mark Gatiss and Steven Mofatt’s Count.
My favourite part of the book is The Last Post, first represented as Axelle Carolyn’s short story and then the script adaptation.  I have seen the short film so this was a good demonstration of how an idea evolves and changes through formats without losing any of its emotional weight.
The book also features a Peter Crowther script which would have become an episode of the Chiller television series, which is a great example of how the anthology format prompts stories which need to present fully-formed characters and effectively scary plotlines within a short amount of time.
Muriel Gray’s treatment for The Seven is short, but intriguing, although with such a limited representation it is difficult to see whether it is intended as a film, or episodic television series.
Lastly, Stephen Laws’ Dead Man’s Hand offers a script which I could easily envisage as an ITV 3-part series, offering an escalation of tension within a ‘classic ghost story’ format.
The book is a must for people who are interested in horror screenwriting, featuring moments where the writers reveal why they have made certain choices and clarify their intentions. This, alongside the engaging stories within the scripts make it an excellent choice for horror fans who want new visions of existing characters, or one-off stories within the genre.
Dark Mirages is available to order here from PS Publishing.

Bad Samaritan Review (2018)

Bad Samaritan is a pacy thriller, elevated by the interplay between leads Robert Sheehan and David Tennant. The DVD is released on October 8th.

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Struggling photographer Sean Falco (Sheehan), who funds his lifestyle with a sideline in burglary, thinks he has hit the jackpot when he breaks into the luxurious house of the wealthy Cale Erendreich (Tennant).  Things go wrong when Sean discovers a woman chained up in the house. Unable to free her before Cale returns, Sean reluctantly goes to the police to explain what he’s seen. By the time they investigate, Cale has covered his tracks, and the police tell Sean to stop harassing him. Sean soon realises Cale will stop at nothing to shut him up – permanently.

Tennant’s Cale Erendreich is undoubtedly the highlight of the film, with his performance evolving from a straight-faced, emotionless man to something far more unhinged by the climax. Robert Sheehan provides a solid and likeable performance, despite playing a flawed protagonist. His involved and sympathetic performance is in perfect contrast to Tennant’s coldness and works well to establish both characters. The supporting cast round out the film, without a weak link. Carlito Olivero lends heart to Sean’s partner-in-crime Derek. Again, when the heroes have such flaws, this is not always easy and so should be commended. Some mention must be made of Kerry Condon, who handles a role that could easily be one-dimensional with considerable spark.

The film spends a large amount of time keeping the two main characters apart, interacting mainly through telephones. It is an indicator of the talent of both actors that they are able to sustain this interplay and maintain the build to their confrontation. The violence is surprisingly brutal when it appears and the suggestions of violence are also considerably unpleasant. An early reveal is genuinely shocking and excellently constructed. Throughout, the twists and turns, primarily revolving around technology feel fresh and innovative.

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Cale’s ability to disrupt Sean’s life in every conceivable way requires a serious amount of suspension of disbelief, but the increasing levels of spectacle make the film engaging and enjoyable enough to surrender to. As a result, there’s a level of fun to be had in guessing what will happen next, but you still care enough about Sean to root for him against the odds. There are some small elements of humour and although in sometimes unexpected places and often against the wider tone of the film, they work.

The DVD contains an English Hard of Hearing subtitle track and also boasts some deleted scenes and a very short Behind The Scenes clip. The deleted scenes are enjoyable, mostly involving further elements of Cale’s sabotaging of Sean’s life, but also some particularly touching moments that would have been nice to see in the final film.

In sum, if you are looking for a fast-moving thriller anchored by interesting performances, you won’t be disappointed with Bad Samaritan.

The Dark Review (2018)

The Dark is an incredibly affecting film about the long-lasting trauma of abuse and its young main cast members deserve high praise for taking on such brave roles in such an impressive way.

Mina is a young girl who rises from the grave after her untimely death. She roams the forest to feed her blood lust but when she finds Alex, a young boy who is suffering just as badly as her, things begin to change.

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I cannot give Nadia Alexander high enough praise for her work within the film. Mina is a taxing role in both physical and emotional terms, but Alexander plays it note-perfect. As we spend the majority of the screen time with her, this is so important, as is her chemistry with Toby Nichols as Alex. Nichols is particularly impressive, given that the damage to his eyes means that he cannot use them, yet still manages to pull off a suitably subtle performance. Some would use the lack of eyes to emote to turn up the volume on the rest of the performance and it shows a real confidence to not do that.

Alexander manages to use a carefully controlled energy, as Mina is prone to rushes of energy, combined with long moments of contemplation. She is also able to match the brutality with a softness, showing real range and giving the film real emotional weight. I look forward to seeing far more of her work.

Director/writer Justin P Lange (and his co-director Klemens Hufnagel) are in no rush with The Dark and the whole thing is built on mood. Despite the shocking subject matter, it is handled with care and given the appropriate time to let the horror of the situation sink in. In more clumsy hands, it could be exploitative, but the line is clearly drawn and the more unpleasant elements are restrained. One scene will shock, but the groundwork for what happens has already been laid earlier in the film without being overt.

The makeup and design of Mina is excellent and make the moments in flashback where we see her as a normal girl all the more upsetting. Similarly, times within the film when we receive flashes of what Mina could be are impactful. The contrast between Mina, who has no one looking for her, coupled with Alex’s desperate mother’s pleas for him to be brought back further the duo’s grim situation. However, there is a care to not dwell on horrific details, handing over instead to the rather more uplifting chance for them to bond.

The overall sound of the film deserves praise too, with a perfectly haunting song chosen to reflect Mina’s troubles. The way in which Mina uses sound to protect herself and Alex is also well constructed.  Similarly, the early moments in which Mina is presented as a monster utilises sound and more traditional ways of representing monsters.

I would hugely recommend that people who enjoy films with a slower pace and focus more on the interplay between the two hugely talented leads check out this film. The Dark is a film which deserves to find its way into a number of yearly top 10 lists and shows just how capable the horror genre is of turning out thoughtful, considered films which deal with taboo subjects in ultimately cathartic ways.

The Dark plays at Frightfest 2018 on August 27th and will receive a home-entertainment release in October 2018 courtesy of Frightfest Presents.

Secret Santa Review (2018)

Secret Santa is an audacious piece which juggles bad taste and a rising body count after a Christmas family retreat goes very wrong.

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April Pope (A Leslie Kies) wants to get her family together for Christmas to try and heal some rifts. However, old rivalries and problems soon rise to the surface, resulting in an outpouring of physical violence and some vicious home truths.

Director Adam Marcus is perhaps best known for his directorial debut Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, a film I have to admit to not seeing. However, Secret Santa feels very much like a throwback to that early 1990s kind of horror in terms of its presentation and I feel that fans of late 80s and 90s gore will have considerable fun with this.

The snappy and often close to the bone dialogue allows us to settle in for Christmas with an incredibly dysfunctional family for quite some time before the action fully kicks off. Given that the later violence is quite excessive this shows a level of restraint, which contributes to the early feeling of unease in how the night will play out. Thanks to the dialogue this time feels well-spent and the pace does not suffer for it.

Each character is close to (if not entirely) some kind of bawdy stereotype and the acid-tongued comments are very broad. The escalation in their strange behaviour comes some way into the film, which shows a remarkable level of restraint. Still, it is effective as even though most (if not all) the characters are inherently unlikeable, we know them well enough as the threat levels rise to have some understanding of how they’ll respond and everyone does appear to be giving the material their all. Drew Lynch as younger brother Kyle puts in a great performance as one of few characters who are remotely sympathetic, along with Michelle Renee Allaire as Jacqueline. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had with Debra Sullivan’s ultra-bitchy matriarch Shari and hyper-sexed, hammed up Jackson (Nathan Hedrick).

Decent gore effects make the action fairly enjoyable and fights are well choreographed. Still, there is not enough polish to spoil the more grimy, exploitative presentation which adds to the overall feel of the film. It also is not afraid to go full-on with the violence, in ways that frequently slip into overkill, but it suits the tone.

I can imagine that this would play better to a late night festival crowd, rather than a screen at home. Certainly there is room for the broad comedy to travel better within that environment and the level of violence works well in a ‘midnight movie’ capacity. I can’t say that it has made me a fan, but it will certainly find an appreciative audience.

Secret Santa plays at Frightfest 2018 on August 27th and will receive a home-entertainment release in November 2018 courtesy of Frightfest Presents.

Fright Fest Review (2018)

Fright Fest (or American Fright Fest from the screener title) is a relatively fun, if not groundbreaking entry into the slasher genre.

Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh) is a struggling horror director, so when an opportunity to direct a live-action horror experience is handed to him in an attempt to draw visitors to Sommerton, he sees it as an option to regain his long-lost fame.

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The concept of a live horror experience becoming a real threat is a well-worn one within slashers. For example, 2018 will see the release of Hell Fest – a film in which a horror-centric theme park allows a killer into its walls showing that the format still has life. The theme of teenagers looking for scares and getting far more than they bargain for is again, typical within the genre. In slightly different terms, Fright Fest places more of a focus on the scare actors being the victims, rather than the visitors.

It must be said that the film is elevated considerably by Dylan Walsh as the sleazy, drug-addled Spencer Crowe. Walsh is clearly having a great deal of fun in his portrayal and it is hard to not enjoy that. His interactions with long-suffering producer Finkle (Pancho Moler) also add an enjoyable element as Moler handles the material with an appropriate level of deadpanning.

Despite following the usual track of these kinds of films, it does introduce an extra element in the form of the killer being followed into the house by a fellow prisoner who seeks to protect the others from him. This allows for extra tension between Mason (Luke Baines) and the cast of scare actors as the evening descends into further chaos. Unfortunately, because of the size of the cast and the fact that some slip too far into well-worn tropes, it is difficult to single out any of the main scare actor cast, but all are very capable.

The film is a little tonally unbalanced, with the earlier parts feeling like a knowing nod to the usual tropes before descending into a pretty by-the-numbers affair. A number of signs declaring Sommerton to be safe and the overall wholesome image around it raise a laugh and set the scene for a film that knows what it is and is proud of it. However, the later tone is a little more cruel, yet the characters are still so identical to others in similar films that it is difficult to get on board or feel any real sympathy or jeopardy. If the film retained more of the knowing comedy throughout its runtime, or maintained a feeling of menace throughout, it might fit better.

This being a slasher, there must be some attention paid to the kills, which are delivered in pretty high numbers. In fact, there are a few scenes in which the body count is added to considerably in quite surprising ways. There are also plenty of shoutouts (both audibly and visually) to other horror films and directors. An early kill echoes the one-take from the start of Halloween and Crowe references a number of horror directors in his desperation to be relevant again.

Fans of early 2000s slashers will likely find Fright Fest to be agreeable. It certainly has a little of the self-referential tone of that era, even if it isn’t sure how to carry that throughout the runtime, as already referred to. Still, a solid cast with one or two highlightable performances and a relatively high body count will please those who are not looking for anything particularly unique.

Fright Fest plays at Frightfest 2018 on August 25th and will receive a home-entertainment release in early 2019 courtesy of Frightfest Presents.

Lifechanger Review (2018)

Lifechanger is an excellent exploration of an often-underexplored part of horror mythology – that of the shapeshifter. While it does not boast a high budget, it’s comfort in the concept allows it to work disadvantages into thematic strengths.

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Synopsis: A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves.

The film works incredibly well, despite the regular changes in actors that the affliction of shapeshifting demands. This is largely due to a well-placed narration (by Bill Oberst Jr.) which keeps us anchored to the central entity of Drew, even as outside presentations and behaviours change. Lora Burke as Julia deserves high praise as she too, forms a likeable anchor for the rest of the film to revolve around and demonstrates great chemistry with several actors within limited screen time.

The other members of the cast too deserve praise as they each only have a short amount of time to make an impression and do so rather well which shows the confidence of the writing in presenting them as fully formed people in their own right, rather than skins which immediately reflect Drew. The fact that Drew is able to retain some element of their own personalities and routine allows them to feel different, keeping a reasonable pace which would possibly be lost if everyone of them behaved in the same way. Again, the narration allows for playing with their roles while retaining the fact that this is really centred on one person.

Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that the film contains some elements of body horror, but these are largely restrained, only giving way to larger set pieces where there is further reason for it.   The husks that the shapeshifting process leaves are well-designed and disturbing to look at. Later extended body horror pieces put me in mind of Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon in terms of their shape, movement and references to rebirth. The effects look to be mostly practical, which is even more impressive, especially as there doesn’t seem to be an especially high budget.

Lifechanger is a film which earns all of it’s moments and at heart, is clearly a romance, based on guilt and the need to repair past mistakes. The way it earns these moments is by sustaining a narrative in which we only stay with characters for as long as necessary. At the outset of the film I was slightly concerned by the speed at which a few shifts occur, but this largely appears to be a device to get the idea over quickly and soon settles into providing more important interactions.

Moments of wry humour sit comfortably within the film, even though it certainly isn’t a comedy. Those moments of levity, even those in the form of a sarcastic comment keep the pacing steady – without them it could easily feel too serious and increase a need to push the pace. Lifechanger is an earnest film which is comfortable with it’s sentimentality and it’s placement within a mythology. There are no great attempts made to explain what exactly Drew is and the film is all the stronger for it. Rather than focusing on what Drew is, how to cure it or what causes it, the film finds a stronghold in how personal it is to the central character to right a wrong from one life.

What the film does very well is keep the story personal – a story regarding the missing people that Drew has co-opted is shown on the news and is quickly switched off before a far more personal confrontation. This again allows us an insight into the isolation and loneliness that Drew feels so keenly. It also means that the film does not really need to concern itself with the chase or investigative elements that others might fall into. Like everything else in Drew’s life, any investigation or major happening is secondary to his need to reconnect with Julia.

Patterns kept by people out of a need for comfort is a major theme throughout and this is achieved well through the repetition of settings. Drew is able to find Julia easily because she is always at the same bar and even Drew with all his options for stepping into other people’s lives and routines often takes his new bodies back to the same motel, showing that he finds comfort in his own routines, despite his age and experiences which would suggest that there are infinite options.

Lifechanger is an accomplished and ambitious piece of work which takes its time to unfold. It is quite rare in its willingness to be unashamedly sentimental and even romantic, even though more subversive takes may be more popular. The writing is confident and the performances assured, which all adds up to a very engaging way of telling a story about a relatively underused concept within horror.

Lifechanger played at Frightfest on August 24th and is out on Digital HD on 11th March through Frightfest Presents and Signature Entertainment

Pimped Review (2018)

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Pimped is a slickly produced work which hinges on the chemistry of its two leads, but unfortunately lacks enough forward momentum to really elevate it beyond the level of a decent thriller.

When Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch) and Lewis (Benedict Samuel) meet in a bar, Lewis and his roommate Kenneth have sinister intentions. However, they are unaware that Sarah could be far more dangerous than they could ever imagine.

It is difficult to discuss too much about the plot without offering some pretty substantial spoilers, so I will avoid that too much within this review so as not to impact the full effect for new viewers.

Despite the runtime zipping along, the film is surprisingly low on actual content, yet the atmosphere and the aforementioned chemistry sustains it well enough. Ella Scott Lynch and Benedict Samuel play off each other very well.  Scott Lynch pulls double duty in her portrayal of Sarah and Rachael. Even though the characters appear relatively different, their actual traits are quite similar, meaning that it isn’t the kind of performance where she’s playing wildly different people and to be honest, it is all the better and more nuanced for it. Samuel, for me, has similarities (both visual and performance-wise) to Skeet Ulrich’s Scream performance as Billy in his delivery of a carefully controlled performance. The device of Rachael is never quite fleshed out and her presence does little to drive anything forward.

The tension is at a high point in the earlier stages of the film, which is quite unusual and it seems to settle into a comfortable groove perhaps a little too soon. Despite this, the overall quality of production means that it is engaging enough. There is a moment early on which is both excellently crafted and profoundly disturbing, so it is something of a shame to see that obvious ability not permeate the rest of the film.

The music is a strong point, with party and moody bar scenes punctuated with good soundtrack choices. In the same terms, silence is well-used – allowing the moments of violence to be fairly graphic while also maintaining a level of detachment.  The glossy production values add to the feeling of detachment, whether in scenes of intimacy or violence, making both seem a bit too clean and perfect, which works very well within the context of the film.

Thin on action, but high on mood, Pimped offers an excellent portrayal of an uneasy alliance which is ably handled by the main performers. The pacing is well-defined but it ultimately feels like a film which never quite reaches its top gears and by the end I was still waiting for a further escalation. Nevertheless, the film’s tightly-wound mood and lack of any wasted motion in performance and construction suggests that David Barker is a director in full control with a great deal of artistic potential and I look forward to further work from him.

Pimped will play at Frightfest on August 24th and will receive a home-entertainment release through Frightfest Presents in early 2019.