We’ve rolling out a slightly belated review of “Halloween” (2018) as my fellow Ginger Nutter Chad Clark is also reviewing John Passarella’s “Halloween: The Official Movie Novelization”. Chad is a terrifically observant reviewer who always looks for the positive in everything so hopefully he enjoyed the book more than I did the film. Novelizations of films are often based on earlier versions of the scripts, so there is no guarantee they are exactly the same. When it comes to celluloid I’m a very jaded horror fan, who is also very hard to please, neither am I a fan of never-ending endless sequels. Why did I bother you might ask? It’s always nice to see a horror film on the big screen and you never know… Even if it’s a seemingly never-ending franchise.
Ultimately “Halloween” really was a film of two halves and depending on what you’re after may well dictate which one of these parts you prefer. The first is quite slow, but never boring, sets the scene and really holds the attention. The second part is totally predictable, Michael Myers escapes (not exactly a spoiler) and returns to his old town, going on an all too familiar rampage. This sequence was very dull and lacked any particularly inventive or graphic kill scenes and as usual the police were worse than useless. I would struggle to even call this a proper slasher film, and I suppose the film was also attempting to rise above genre stereotypes to a wide audience. Actually, I was surprised it was an ‘18’ certificate in the UK, it played like a ‘15’ and was rather tame on the gore front. Few of the victims put up much of a fight and it’s only when Michael goes one on one with Laurie Stobie (Jamie Lee Curtis) do things pick up. Laurie really goes through the gears near the end of the film which had slightly more spark.
It’s already been well covered in the media that this film is a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” and us, the gullible movie going public, have to discount the multiple sequels that have appeared down the years. So, this film is set exactly forty years after Laurie Strode survived an encounter with Michael Myers, the masked figure who killed her friends and terrorized the town of Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night. Myers was later gunned down, apprehended and committed to Smith's Grove State Hospital. When the film opens there is still considerable interest in the Myers criminal case, as the serial killer has not spoken a word in all those years in prison. Early in the film we find out that Myers is going to be transferred to another secured unit and, of course, he escapes. He also does.
For forty years, memories of that nightmarish ordeal have haunted Laurie and this has destroyed her relationship with her family. She lives in a fortified house, surrounded by guns, and has a fractured relationship with her daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson. I enjoyed this family aspect of the film and if handled well this could be a strong feature of the accompanying book Chad Clark is reviewing. It genuinely added new stuff to the familiar story.
As you would expect, the film provides no fresh insight, Myers does not speak, we do not see his face and ultimately we learn nothing new. Were we expecting something different? Probably not. Is this enough material to pan out into a full novel? Somehow I doubt it, and the complete lack of answers and closure might be acceptable in a film, but not necessarily a book where the reader has a deeper and more meaningful connection which is deserving of answers.
The Stobie family were all believable characters, as usual Jamie Lee Curtis was terrific and she was well matched by her sparky granddaughter played by Andi Matichak. However, many of the other characters did not have enough screen-time before being dispatched by Myers, including a couple of the teen friends of Allyson who are out partying when Myers is on the prowl. The granddaughter provides the opportunity to add a spicy teen party, however, there was way more sex in the original film than this which was rather prudish compared to many slasher contemporaries.
After Myers arrives in town the film tries and fails to capture the atmosphere of the John Carpenter classic, using the long lens distance tracking shots and with Myers lurking in the background. The problem is this is so old hat now, and cloned so many times, it lacked scares and atmosphere. The music was similar to the original, but the legendary score is so distinctive anything similar just sounds like a diluted copy. There were numerous nods to the original, we visit the grave of Michael’s murdered sister and Donald Pleasance (Dr Loomis) can be heard on audio. I’m not sure whether these were necessarily and the film seemed to teeter rather close to fan fiction or some kind of tribute.
A couple of the strongest scenes take place before Myers returns to Haddonfield, the first is when his wrecked bus is discovered and the second is when he finds his iconic mask and kills two true crime podcasting in a truck-stop restroom. That was a pretty convincing scene and the woman put up a fight before her death. These were potentially interesting characters which more could have been made of and were killed off too soon.
I have seen so many films just like this I could not get excited about it and ultimately it was exactly what I expected. I only have myself to blame as nobody forced me into the cinema. The character development of the Stobie family was new and did take the story forward, the rest was exactly the same as usual. Dull, pedestrian, unimaginative and another reminder why I rarely bother watching new horror films any more unless they come recommended from those whose opinions I trust and I’m not talking about Rotten Tomatoes. However, once is turns up on streaming services, if you’re expectations are not too high, it passes a couple of hours easily enough.
This is another one of those ‘Marmite’ films which it appears people either love or they hate, and one which I hadn’t seen since it was first released at the cinema in 1997 so I didn’t remember a whole lot about it except that for some reason I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Having recently bought a DVD and Blu-ray collection, it contained the DVD Steelbook version of Event Horizon so I was good to go for a second viewing. I’ve been hearing and reading so many people discussing the brilliance of this film I think it was about time I check it out, so with much anticipation I popped the Blu-ray into the machine and sat back waiting to be impressed. Going to say straight start that I was not really impressed with it, there’s a lot going for it but just as much going against it as it hasn’t aged well. What was, back then, probably state-of-the-art special effects look very poor on Blu-ray conversion, so poor at the start of the film that it looked more like I was watching a 3D movie without glasses. One has to expect a degree of degradation and for things to not be quite so crisp as they were not created for this technology. Looking beyond that issue to the film itself it is undoubtedly well acted, and so it should be as it has some of the best in the business propping it up the likes of Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburn are always good value Mr Neill in particular. The general idea of this film lies in a ‘space rescue mission’ of a ship which vanished during deep space exploration. Truth of the matter is that the spaceship in question the ‘Event Horizon’, has gone beyond all know reaches, into the depths of Hell. Returning as one can only expect, with something less than pleasant on-board, but this isn’t in the form of gestating aliens or marauding monsters, going instead for something alluding to Hell itself.
The director’s intent was probably excellent on paper, the stereotypical bunch of world-weary space travellers teaming up with a rogue scientist and waiting for things to go pear-shaped generally works well, with the team appearing to get on with each other to a greater degree. First indication that things are decidedly dodgy: that of Sam Neill’s character being unknown to the rest of the group. This I always find hard to believe, as I would assume a basic requirement for any team on any mission is that they passed a shed load of tests, several of which would involve personality and mental assessments, physical assessments et cetera as well as some form of compatibility test to ensure that all personnel would at least stand the chance of getting on well, thereby limiting possible conflict. It’s not happening, as some deals scientist informs everyone that the mission they believed they were wrong. Alex as you may gather as many similarly unpopular so with that major plot point exposing into basically pastored it hardly surprising that the token tough guy which in this case is Sean Pertwee once his head on a spike won’t delve too deeply into Wells goes on with plot suffice to say that this is a mixed bag, intentional which is to build an atmosphere as potentially terrifying as Alien was a few years earlier. Unfortunately, although it does generates summer clear it seems to lack the originality of Alien as it really follows a similar pattern hot on the heels of what was a much better film.
Event horizon has all the appearance of the film which is trying far too hard to do what Alien did effortlessly. Obviously, with hell being the actual destination event horizon had visited, as a religious element to the film which should in principle centre around whatever entity returned with the ship, yet there is so much more involvement here as the ship itself is basically a flying crucifix, with much of the design mimicking elements found in cathedrals. At this point I will confess that I am not a religious man, so the whole God things leaves me cold, which is why I find this to be a totally unnecessary aspect of the film. Now I get that the ship has returned from hell, so the logic is that if hell exists so does heaven, so the must be a god et cetera, I have no problem with that. Same with the exorcist, the church fighting demonic possession is a staple of horror films, so I put religion to one side and just go along with the ride, but only when the religious elements makes sense within the world of the plot. To me a crucifix shaped interstellar exploration vessel is every bit as silly as St Exmin’s big busted warship in Battle beyond the stars, or Captain Kremmen’s flying cassette recorder. It’s just a dumb idea and the iconography is way too heavy-handed.
The cast is excellent with one of those rare occurrences of having no bum notes in the orchestra, each person playing to their strengths admirably. Having said that, this is definitely Sam Neill show, as the generally genial gentleman plays a complete shit who become something far worse. It’s all rather mad, with understated performance giving gravity to his menace.
Let's put the breaks on for just one moment and take a short break from Thirteen for Halloween to take a peek at what's happening on Netflix right now:
Quite frankly, for fans of horror, it has been the most sumptuous and over-indulgent Halloween season imaginable, with Netflix in particular providing a spectrum of gruesome treats, from the occult-comic of its Sabrina The Teenage Witch adaptation to the frankly astonishing Haunting of Hill House (both of which will be receiving reviews shortly).
In between both of those sits Castlevania season 2, an extremely odd and off the wall experiment whose first season, you might recall, I enjoyed immensely, being one of the very, very few adaptations of a popular video game franchise to not only do the original material justice but that also manages to become its own entity.
The show began peculiarly from the outset, opting to adapt not one of the more recent, narratively coherent titles in the series but one of the old NES classics in the form of Castlevania 3. What made the original series so successful was its balance between the video game elements that fans would immediately recognise (from the style and structure of the eponymous castle to certain abilities demonstrated by protagonists Simon Belmont and Dracula) with a distinct, coherent and sincere narrative, a back mythology that made its Dracula one of the most sympathetic and nuanced in any adaptation (ironic, given its 8-bit video game inspiration), enough callbacks to 1980s action and horror anime to layer in more nostalgia and a sense of humour that provides a fitting contrast to its violence, gore and horror.
The second season, which is arguably the first complete season, given that the original is more of an introduction to set the scene, therefore had a fair bit to live up to.
Before we even begin to discuss its relative merits (or lack thereof), let me start with two words:
Bloody Tears, an iconic soundtrack from the original game which many have come to positively identify with the Castlevania franchise and which has been reprised and remixed in most entries since.
There's a moment in the second season in which a remix of the track begins to play, accompanying the first moment in which our protagonists genuinely take to the field against Dracula's hordes of the night, and it's glorious. I defy anyone who has some association with this franchise not to experience at least a small, adolescent squee of delight as the action kicks off, beautifully animated and choreographed so as to synchronise with the track itself, the sequence going for the gusto with overly-elaborate, unlikely anime acrobatics and OTT violence, vampires dying left and right to impalement, magical shards and sheets of ice, the combustible touch of Trevor Belmont's morning star...it's a glorious homage to similar sequences in the likes of Vampire Hunter D or Wicked City, with the protagonists abandoning any restraint, any weaknesses they might have exhibited heretofore and simply kicking arse in the most entertaining, ridiculously elaborate manner possible. That the sequence contains numerous references and homages to the video games makes it all the more joyous, from Alucard's wolf form and the way his blade operates like the sword familiar from Symphony of the Night to the manner in which the vampires combust like enemies from the original games whenever Belmont's morning star touches them.
If nothing else, that sequence would have sold me. It's therefore something of a bonus that the rest of the show is far from half hearted or under-baked, as is always the danger with this kind of material:
Just as we left them at he conclusion of the original series, our protagonists Trevor Belmont and Sypha Belnades find themselves accompanied by the newly awaked Alucard, half-human son of Vlad and Lisa Tepes, the child of Dracula himself.
It would have been extremely easy to make the relationship between Trevor and Alucard far too antagonistic, to have them bait and bite and undermine one another until things erupted into the inevitable action sequence. Fortunately, the show side-steps that quite beautifully, the pair definitely antagonistic towards one another, but in an extremely jocular and affectionate manner, to the point that they come across as squabbling children that are nevertheless somewhat fond of one another, which places Sypha into the role of disapproving elder sister or matriarch. The well-played and fairly naturalistic comedy of this dynamic is a pleasant counter-balance to the graphic violence, horror and despair that pervades the rest of the series, not to mention a thematic contrast to Dracula himself.
Ah, Dracula! Vlad Dracul Tepes, who has been rendered and re-imagined perhaps any more than any living human and fictional character in history. It's a hard sell for this guy in any medium or format, as everyone and their dog knows more about him than they do their own Mothers. Even people who have never seen any of the films, read the books, comics, short stories, played the video games or otherwise engaged with the character know a great deal about him and his ever-accruing mythology simply by virtue of how embedded he is in popular culture and collective consciousness.
It was part of the original series strength that it didn't particular attempt to ape any previous incarnation, nor did it stick entirely with the video-game mega-monster who is the principle antagonist of the franchise.
Rather, this version of Dracula is a fairly distant and archetypal incarnation, not a “Lord of Darkness,” world-conquering, genocidal tyrant (at least, not entirely so), but a weary and sorrowing immortal who has had enough of existence, who has seen too much suffering, who has simply given up on all existence and now seeks to purge the world of humanity, whose cruelties he has seen recur time and time again, whose pettiness, monstrosity and delusion is far more horrific and monstrous than any demon or monster that exists in his service.
In the original series, he was painted in a manner not a million miles away from certain renderings of Magneto from the X-Men comic book, cartoon and movie franchise: as a jaded and disappointed idealist, who has tried to see the best in humanity, who has given the species every chance to show him its better face, but has been perpetually disappointed in that, such that now, his human wife has been taken from him in the most obscene and cruel manner, leaving him no choice but to play the part of the Devil (or avenging angel, as he certainly sees it).
Here, at the outset of the second season, Dracula's genocidal campaign is well underway, with the titular castle magically transporting itself across the countryside, spilling its hordes of vampires and mythological beasts and undead constructs to wipe out humanity down to the last babe, to leave nothing but smouldering ruin and gnawed clean bones in their wake.
Dracula takes no active part in these charnel houses, but remains housed within the castle, not even coordinating affairs, but leaving that in the hands of a rag-tag bunch of human and vampire generals, all of whom are highly characterised, have their own voices, backgrounds and agendas in serving the dark lord. Much is made of the politics between them, particularly the human and vampire generals, the in-fighting, bickering and power-plays, which Dracula himself has no time or patience for, but also the distaste that even some of the vampires have for Dracula's state of mind and ultimate intentions. As the man himself reveals at one point, he has every intention of the vampires dying, too: starving to death, if needs be. All he wants is an end; an extinction without parameter, and the silence that will follow.
All of this not only lends the series a degree of intrigue it might otherwise lack, but also degrees of irony, given that Dracula's closest confidantes are two human generals, both of whom have densely layered backgrounds of abuse and affliction at the hands of humanity, and so who serve him far more loyally than their vampire counterparts, all of whom have their own designs and agendas.
One of the consistent complaints regarding the original series was that, whilst it struck the right tone and included a great deal of brilliant imagery, there weren't enough of the monsters or creatures from the video games. Dracula's castle in that medium is less a piece of architecture and more a dimensional anomaly, a contradictory and shifting realm unto itself, saturated with elemental evil, that has been made into a kind of menagerie for all forms of mythological monstrosity. Thus, the castle in the video games contains everything from zombies and werewolves to demons and old gods, mythological titans such as Scylla and Medusa, the biblical Legion and Beelzebub, even Cthulhu and Dagon, in certain incarnations. The cartoon series takes a more streamlined approach, most of the creatures that operate under Dracula's rule taking the forms of undead constructs, generic demons and humanoid vampires of various stripe.
However, this second season does throw in some pleasing Easter-eggs and homages for fans of the game series, most notably in the forms of demons Slogra and Gaibon, both of whom have become iconic for their reappearances in the video games since Super Castlevania 4. To the show's credit, it doesn't become too mawkish by making a muchness of their inclusion: they are simply monsters that occur in a particular action set piece, but are sure to draw a smile from fans of the series.
Tonally, the show is fairly light-hearted, even in its most dour and gruesome moments, the violence and atrocity it contains perfect for Halloween viewing, in that it is often so over the top as to be comedic. The series doesn't pretend to be doing or saying anything profound or even particularly new, but is simply a giant, sentimental love letter to the video games and fans of not only them but also 1980s action anime, which it apes in so many ways.
For my money, the show provides a perfect mid-way point between The Chilling Tales of Sabrina and The Haunting of Hill House, both of which featured alongside it on Netflix this Halloween season, providing a spectrum of horror indulgence for any taste or palate.
Complaints? It would have been pleasant for the show to perhaps throw in some of the “final form” shenanigans that the video games are infamous for (Dracula almost always has multiple, escalatingly monstrous forms at the conclusion of each instalment) and, perhaps, to see more of the iconic creatures from the castle itself. Perhaps later series will introduce these elements as the world has a chance to swell and elaborate. Also, thematically, the comparatively quieter resolution between Dracula and Alucard fits the tone and story the show is trying to tell up to this point, so perhaps later series will introduce the notion of Dracula not just being a vampire, but an iconic lord of darkness and chaos who is infested with demonic power and influence.
It's difficult to complain about a show that is this effortlessly charming, that doesn't pretend to be particularly ground-breaking, clever or revolutionary but just has a desire to indulge and entertain its audience.
On that level, it succeeds fantastically, though, like all adaptations of popular franchises, it does lose a little for viewers who aren't already familiar with its source material.
A somewhat unexpected and pleasant Halloween treat from Netflix, and one that I certainly hope to see repeated when next the season rolls around.
Honestly, I don't have half the time to get to the cinema to see films that I would like. Movie after movie seems to pass my by in the absolute blur of everyday life. Sure, I watch plenty of horror movies sat at home – especially with a view to the weekly reviews for Film Gutter – but to head out and see something brand new is something of a rarity. But when I first heard that Matthew Holness – the genius behind the comedy masterpiece that was Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, as well as many other very good projects – was delivering a straight-up horror film in the shape of Possum, I made a point of clearing the diary and getting myself along for a watch. Practically all I knew ahead of time is that it was based on Holness' own short story, and again having read a handful of his tales this added to my excitement.
Possum itself is a grim, dark and fascinating slice of quiet horror that has been playing on my mind for days since watching it. The story follow Philip, a puppeteer returning to his grim Northern hometown after an unspecified scandal of some variety. The puppet that made him his name is Possum, a strange spider-like creature with a pallid human face that he carries around in a bag an awful lot of the time and that haunts his dreams and nightmares. Whoever decided to give him a children's TV series with this monstrosity I don't know, but that's a fact I was happy enough to suspend my disbelief and accept within the story. It doesn't help Philip's already dark mood that he shares the house with Maurice, his stepfather, and there is a distinctly strained and uneasy relationship between them. There's also a room at the front of the house that appears to be distinctly off-limits, and that's almost typical of how much goes unspoken in Possum.
It's hard to say a whole lot more, partly because it might give some elements away, but also because Possum is a very slight film – at least in the plot sense. However the film is absolutely thick with the unspoken and the unsaid, with implications and mysteries, some of which do become clear and others which simply remain unanswered. In many regards, that's the strength of the movie – it has such a light touch throughout that is in its own way absolutely riveting. When you look back, it feels as though it gets that balance dead on, answering just enough and also leaving the right things hanging. I felt genuinely unsettled and shaken after watching it, without fully understanding everything – not an easy trick to pull off at all.
I'm writing this review about five days after watching it, and it feels as though it has somehow grown in stature over that time. The more I consider it and delve into the nuances, the better a movie it looks. In fact I can't wait for a DVD release now because then I get to watch it again and have another go at pulling it apart. Holness has put together a very clever script, ably performed by a very limited number of actors – in fact given Holness's theatrical background you could almost present it as a play and it would still work just fine.
For those of you who like your movies neat and tidy and all wrapped up at the end, I don't think that Possum is for you at all. It has a limited number of what you would call real scares, leaning much more on mood and atmosphere to create something significantly more unnerving. If you enjoy hints and implications and suggestions, and a much quieter breed of horror, then Possum could well be for you. If you have a chance to get to the cinema to see it, it's well worth the trip too – the unique visuals are very effective on the big screen, although no doubt it'd hold up just fine on a TV screen too. This one is well worthy of a 9/10 and rates as one of the best horror films I've seen in 2018.
It would seem that the runaway success of Halloween has made slasher flicks en vogue once more - and one of the very first to take advantage of that resurgence is Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest - even if it is hitting our screens at least two weeks too late.
It’s a simple tale of a brutal psychopath who offs teens at a travelling Halloween attraction, using the ghoulish decor and screams of fright to hide his own monstrous acts. It’s a nice premise and one rife with potential and interesting possibilities. Sadly Hell Fest ignores all of those and sticks resolutely to the least inspired path. It gets from A to B (albeit with some nice visuals along the way) then gets out of there.
That’s not to say Hell Fest is a bad movie - it really isn’t. There is plenty of fun to be had here.
The cast is great - especially our lead trio of ladies: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, and Bex-Taylor Klaus, while stuntman Stephen Conroy brings an imposing physicality to his silent role as the very intimidating villain, The Other.
The sets and design are all very interesting to the eye, using the Haunt attraction location for a couple of very good set pieces. The Other’s mask is also pretty unnerving, resembling a badly burned version of Rob Zombie’s dirty roughed-up Michael Myers mask.
Another strength for a lot of horror fans will be the surprising level of brutality and gore - we get some very messy kill scenes along the way, all of which are achieved with good old fashioned practical effects.
Of course, anybody familiar with fright attractions will pick holes in some quite glaring inaccuracies in the way the mazes are depicted here, but overall the feel of these sorts of events is well represented on screen.
As I said, Hell Fest is not a bad film - there’s just nothing here to distinguish it from the scores of other slasher films dumped direct to DVD every other week. Annoyingly, the potential was there for the film to stand out, especially in a few scenes that, with a little more craft, could have been nail-bitingly suspenseful and genuinely frightening. Sadly, that same workmanlike approach to storytelling slips in here too. It's just another case of the wasted potential in Hell Fest.
Hopefully, this shift to bringing crowd-pleasing horror back to wider release will lead to the discovery of the next big horror smash - alas, I don’t think the very slick, fun, but ultimately unfulfilling Hell Fest is that film.
Hell Fest is in cinemas from 16th November by Vertigo Releasing.
If you were to look up the word ‘Bleak’ in an encyclopaedia it should reference ‘The Forest of The Lost Souls’. This is dark stuff, suitably filmed in black-and-white with the general story being that of Carolina (Daniela Love) a young woman and Ricardo (Jorge Mota) a middle-aged man who accidentally meet up in Portugal’s suicide hotspot the titular Forest of the Lost Souls. Both are apparently there to commit suicide but through their discussion those intentions become flexible, mainly because one of them is being dishonest about their presence in the forest.
Unfortunately the film is structured in such a way that anything I say about it could be a potential spoiler, and so this is going to be a very short review. What I will say is that it has a cinematic quality to it, the plot makes sense and the acting is impeccable. It could be described as ‘art-house’ and that would most certainly apply, yet make no mistake that this is a brutal film with a shocking simplicity which in many ways is far scarier than the average horror movie.
It achieves what most films these days can’t seem to pull off, which is a real sense of threat without the use of jump scares, giving a matter-of-fact view of the murders reminiscent of ‘American Psycho’ in simplicity.
When Ricardo and Carolina first meet in the forest they take a casual stroll, finding random corpses, which to me was something incredibly sad as these people all have unspoken back stories which are not represented here, and all of them found reason to end their lives in desolate isolation. I think if anything in spite of the violent and nasty nature of this the bleak quality of this film is actually life-affirming.
I both can and do recommend this film, which is something of a rarity for me. It is already widely available, so if you like dark and moody films this should be the one for you.