Spiral (2021)

Spiral (2021)

The cover of the Australian Bluray release of Spiral

Film: As far as I am concerned, 2004 was an amazing turning point for horror.

I still remember being put flat on my butt by a little film by a couple of guys who used to be on some music/ youth program on ABC, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, and a little low-budget blockbuster they made called Saw.

What was quickly called ‘torture porn’ was something high on my radar and whenever Rue Morgue or any other mag suggested a film might be in this sub-category I searched it out. I was also pretty stoked to find sequel after sequel too.

In 2017, an attempt was made to relaunch the franchise, and it was more of the same and it was fine. It, as I said in my review for that film, was a series of gore ‘money-shots’ which is what the series did become, and you endured a sometime ludicrous whodunnit in between.

Did this film try and do something different? Well no, but instead it changes the idea of an acolyte of Jigsaw, so someone impersonating his methods to a similar end.

Max Mingella and Chris Rock

Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock) is not a well-liked police officer. A few years ago he ratted out a fellow police officer and no one has trusted him since, so he’s worked fairly solo, sometimes not quite toeing the line of the law to solve investigations.

As these stories work out, he’s not played the game for the last time and his boss, Captain Angie Garza (Marisol Nichols) has decided he needs,to have a partner to ‘tame’ him, and so he is lumped with young and green Detective William Schenk (Max Mingella).

There first investigation together is what looks to be the death of a hobo in a subway, (a death that we, the viewers, know to have been a quite torturous murder) but very soon, Zeke receives a parcel that contains his tongue and a police badge, and we learn that this body is actually that of Zeke’s only friend in the force, Boz (Dan Petronijevic).

Of course, all the police want to be involved in the investigation of a cop murder, but soon, other cops start disappearing, each of them tortured in some horrible way before they died, and the tortures representing some way in which they were corrupt… but who is committing the murders, and will Zeke be able to save his father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), the chief of police, who has also been taken…

Boz discovers the absolute worst way to catch a train… from the front!

I like the idea if the Spiral killer taking Jigsaw’s methodology of being a vigilante of justice and applying that the the police force, and the writers seemed to have hit the current feelings in America with that as an idea as well. Perhaps in a BLM world, Rock’s employment as the male lead echoes that thought too.

Whilst on the subject, I like Chris Rock, and I’ve liked his performances in most roles he’s been in, but let’s face it, his range isn’t great. Rock is GREAT at playing Rock! His performance here is surprising, I admit, but occasionally, just occasionally, it doesn’t ring true, which is a shame as he is such an atypical hero for this type of film. Not just being an African-American in a horror movie lead, but also that he’s wiry, and his character is abrasive and almost unlikable at times.

The rest of the cast were fine. Max Mingella wasn’t really given much to do at first and unfortunately his flaccid performance didn’t really pick up. Jackson played Jackson as he always does and no one plays it better. The standouts were all the cops, each one playing their role like a hard done by SVU character, who’s performances never seemed over the top due to Chris Rock screaming ‘MOTHERFUCKER’ at the top of his voice every other minute.

One other problem with this film is just that it’s like every other Saw film. A new name and a fresh coat of paint, and a younger villain don’t really make the film stand out too much, which is a shame because I was looking forward to more of the same, but something different.

The film is ok, but it doesn’t really stand out because of these reasons. I do hope this becomes a new series because I’d like to see some growth of our new hero and villain combo, but I’m not sure that will happen.

Score: **1/2

The menu screen of the Australian Bluray release of Spiral

Extras:

The Consequence of your Actions: Creating Spiral is a documentary for some reason divided into stupid single chapter instead of just cutting it together as a single ‘making of’. These chapters are called A New Chapter in an Old Book, New Blood, A Steady Hand, Setting the Traps and Hacking Away. As a making of, it’ s fine.

Drawing inspiration: Illustrated Trap Breakdowns sees Bousman look at two of the trap effects and how they were conceived and what the MPAA wanted removed!

Decoding the Marketing Spiral looks at the consistent marketing of all the Saw films. It’s a brief but interesting look at how movie marketing works. I’d like a whole documentary about this please!

Score: ***

WISIA: Just like Jigsaw, it’ll get trundled out whenever I go on a Saw/ torture porn binge, but it will not finish with a happy ending.

This review was done with the Australian release Bluray

Electrocuted and de-fingered.

Freaky (2020)

Freaky (2020)

The cover to the Australian release of Freaky

Film: So what are the three 80s movie tropes that get rehashed across genres? Surely it would be the ‘repeat the same day over and over’ (like Groundhog Day, Big, Happy Death Day), the ‘kid-gang achieving something incredible’ (like Goonies, Monster Squad, Stranger Things) and finally, the body-swap/ age-up trope (like Freaky Friday, Big, and this film, Freaky).

Our film starts in the town of Blissfield, on Wednesday the 11th… think about it, you’ll get it… and we find 4 cookie-cutter teens partying at one of their houses, talking about a local legend of a serial killer know as The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). The parents of the kid who own the house are collectors of historical antiquities, and they are impressed by a ceremonial dagger that they recently acquired.

The freaky mask of the Blissfield Butcher!

Of course, as you would expect, ‘partying = death’ and the Blissfield Butcher appears, dispatching them all, and making off with the knife.

Next we meet local school student, Millie (Kathryn Newton) who is a bit of a dweeb, and unfortunately finds herself stuck alone at night outside the school football field after the latest game of sportsball. Guess who turns up, not to pick her up, but instead to take her down? That’s right, it’s the Butcher (I’m dumping the Blissfield bit from now on as I assume you’ll know who I’m talking about!)

He pursues her, finally catching her and stabbing her… but something strange happens: they swap bodies, so now we have the scary concept of a psychopathic killer trapped in a teenage girl’s body, and a teenage girl trapped in that of a killer’s!

This leads to Millie (now played by Vaughn) having to try and find out what happened to her, and how to get her body back but not before convincing her friends that she’s not the Butcher… hell, that she’s not a 50 year old man.

Meanwhile, the Butcher (now played by Newton) has the perfect disguise to slip into school-age culture and continue his… her?… their carnage hidden amongst the teens.

The Blissfield Butcher in Millie’s body!

Obviously, Millie wants her body back, but how will her and her friends do it?

Like all of these sort of films, the comedy comes from the actor’s ability to impersonate each other, but neither do it very well. Newton goes from being bubbly and cute to deadening her eyes to the point that even though she is a good foot shorter than Vaughn, she possible even scarier. Vaughn, on the other hand, gets to display his comedy-skills in his performance as a teenaged girl, though I think perhaps his impression of Newton is far more a parody of the teenage girl trope rather than an accurate portrayal of her.

The story, written by Michael Kennedy and director Christopher Landon, though derivative of all of these types of stories, is still fun, and it’s not the first time Landon has plumbed a comedy trope for a film, as he mined Groundhog Day for Happy Death Day and Happy Death 2U. Landon also responsible for A Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, which I like a lot. He’s a director who is happy to combine a bit of a laff with a good dose of violence and gore.

He’s also responsible for 4 of the Paranormal Activity sequels, but let’s NOT talk about those…

Speaking of gore and violence, let it be known that even though this is modern horror, it doesn’t skimp on either, to the point I was actually surprised by just HOW violent it gets, and most of it is onscreen and in your face!

Typically, as you would expect in a slasher film, there are some moments of frustration due to the characters movements, but let’s face it, to criticise character stupidity is to criticise the genre as a whole. Another criticism is the Hollywood trope of the dweeby girl, who is played by an attractive actress and it not quite ringing true. It IS a Hollywood trope however and hard to criticise because again, it would be criticising an entire genre.

All-in-all, I was really entertained by this film by its bloody horror, entertaining story and charming cast.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release of Freaky

Extras: There’s a decent bunch of extras on this Australian Blu-ray Disc. Unfortunately the features are quite short but they have a few snippets of interesting info throughout them.

Deleted Scenes are, as one can occasionally appreciate, definitely unnecessary.

Split Personalities: Millie vs The Butcher discusses the way the two lead actors swapped personalities for the film.

Crafting the Kills is great for fans of the special effects stuff.

Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror is a little dumb. It’s a fluff piece celebrating the directors choices but it doesn’t really look at his ‘brand’, so much.

Final Girl Reframed looks at how the idea of the ‘final girl’ in horror movies is turned on its head for this film.

There is also a Feature Commentary with Christopher Landon, which is full of not just interesting anecdotes about the making of the film, but some funny Easter eggs and the occasionally filmmaking tip.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: Like the aforementioned Happy Death Day and A Scout’s Guide to the Apocalypse, I find this movie charming and light enough, even through the gore, to be a fun film just to watch whenever, so yeah, it’ll get watched again!

A pile of deceased jocks.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

The cover of the Australian Steelbook edition

Film: I have to say, the idea of a series of Star Wars movies that take place outside of the regular ‘Skywalker’ saga.. you know, Anakin, Luke and Ben (Solo) excited me to no end.

As a young Star Wars fan, two of my favourite Stars Wars novels were Han Solo at Star’s End and Han Solo’s Revenge (I never managed to get my hands on Han Solo and the Lost Legacy) and even though I was 100% Team Luke, the suave cool that characters like James Bond had, and that Han Solo liberally borrowed, made me occasionally lean into his lane. The idea that Solo had a life outside of the Skywalker saga thrilled me to know end!

Flash forward almost 40 years later, and the new owners of Star Wars offer me a delicious treat in the form of an actual solo Solo movie!

I was as happy as a gundark in poodoo.

Not only was it a Solo movie, but it co-starred a whole bunch of my favourite actors: Woody Harrelson from White Men Can’t Jump, Thandie Newton from Rock n Rolla, Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, Paul Bettany from The DaVinci Code – seriously I was in hog heaven, so much so I was willing to give Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover and Joonas Suotamo a go as, respectively, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca.

Solo: A Star Wars Story tells basically a combination of Oliver Twist mixed with a 70s heist movie, and starts with a young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) working for the Fagan-like Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt), all the while scheming and dreaming about getting off-planet to the stars.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra

They make a good attempt until they are separated, and Han ends up joining the Imperial Navy as a foot soldier, where he and his new pal Chewbacca (Joonas Suatamo) meets professional thief Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew, and convince them to take them away, and so they join the crew on a train heist stealing a particular unstable gas for a man named Dryden Voss (Paul Bethany).

The heist falls apart and the gas is stolen by Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) and her gang, and so the survivors, who are basically just Han, Chewie and Beckett, have to strike a new deal with Voss, also finding out that co-incidentally, his main squeeze is Qi’ra… what a coincidence…

She accompany them on a quest that takes them across the universe, as they meet characters like Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

Joonas Suatamo as Chewbacca

To start of, the cast do NOT disappoint. Ehrenreich doesn’t nail a Harrison Ford impression, which is great. It’s played with a few of Ford’s quirks, but it’s not a looky-likey situation. I liked to think of it as a James Bond situation: the other actors have never played the role the same. Sure it might be said that Ford is ubiquitously Han Solo, but people still say that ‘Connery will always be their James Bond’, and realistically, everyone is replaceable.

Glover does a great job as Lando too. Billy Dee Williams was as cool as they come, and Glover certainly brings that to his version of the character. I think that Calrissian is certainly one of the more ‘intergalactic’ characters as he certainly appears to have no problem with race, species or model number. The combination of Glover and Ehrenreich is great too, with Calrissian being not just a contemporary, but even also an influencer of Solo’s. Actually between him and Harrelson’s Beckett, I very much get a young Indiana Jones vibe from the whole movie, similar to that of the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…

…which brings me to the main problem I have with the film.

They try to push all of Solo’s history into a few hours: pilots for the Empire, check. Saves Chewbacca, check. Meets Lando Calrissian, check. Wins the Millennium Falcon, check. Kessel Run, check. The Kasdan’s basically empty the cup of Solo’s tales from Star Wars and leave us to new memories that we aren’t going to get, like what eventually happens to him a Qi’ra, and does Lady Proxima eventually catch up with him? Clearly, this was supposed to be the first in a series of Solo films as his whole mini-universe-within-a-universe has layers, and depth, and unresolved issues that possibly would have received some payoff in the sequels. So sad, I would have loved the joke of ‘Solo: Duo’.

I can kind of overlook those issues when I’m watching it though, buddy as the film just barrels you from action scene to action scene, and you are barely given time to think. Howard’s direction of the Kasdan’s’ script is fun and thrilling, and obviously he still hasn’t gotten over his boyhood love of car chases!

One other thing I didn’t like was the way at the 11th hour, it hamfistedly jams Solo’s story into the Skywalker saga with an unnecessary motivation of Enfys Nest, and an appearance of a character that darkens Qi’ra’s. The last few minutes are almost awkward, like an American Idol audition, but worse because you perhaps expect it to be better than that.

I guess though, Star Wars fans occasionally expect clunkiness, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised by it.

Unfortunately, clunky doesn’t just describe L3’s body. Easily one of the most off-putting and awful characters in Star Wars history. I’d rather watch a second Star Wars Christmas special starring only Jar Jar Binks.

There is some fun stuff similar to what was seen in the Mandalorian series in here too. A nod to the the old Star Wars fighting game Masters of Teras-Kasi was a fun and deep cut for the fans.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is like battery operated salt and pepper shakers. Fun, but do you REALLY need them?

Score: ***

The Australian Bluray menu screen

Extras: A whole disc dedicated to extras HAS to be a good thing, right?

Solo: The Director and Cast Roundtable sees the entire lead cast of the film answering question posed by The director of the film, Ron Howard. It’s a fun look at the real people playing these roles and how excited they all were to be a part of the Star Wars universe. I can go in without noting how much I love seeing Emilia Clarke laugh: every single part of her face laughs – it’s magnificent!

Kasdan on Kasdan has a look at Lawrence Kasdan’s experience with the Star Wars film series, and includes his co-writer/ son Jonathon;s experiences too.

Remaking the Millennium Falcon looks at the construction of the Millennium Falcon set, and it’s redesign as a ‘newer’ older model.

Escape from Corellia looks predominantly at the ‘car chase’ scene of Han and Qi’ra escaping the planet Corellia, but discusses the vehicle and city design of the scene also.

The Train Heist gave the Kasdan’s an opportunity to actually see Han do an actual crime, and this featurette explores that.

Team Chewie looks at Joonas Suotamo’s performance as the world’s favourite Wookiee.

Becoming a Droid: L3-37 investigates the creation of Lando’s droid, and features comments from the performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Scoundrels, Droids, Creatures and Cards: Welcome to Fort Ypso takes us through the entire set and design of the creatures for Lando’s lair.n

Into the Maelstrom: The Kessel Run takes a look at how the Kessel Run sequence was filmed.

Deleted Scenes of which there are 8. The spfx in these are unfinished, and there are a couple of cute moments, but for pacing;s sake the film is better off without them.

Score: *****

WISIA: I’d possible watch this again, but with other, better Star Wars films, why would I bother?

This review was done with the Australian Ultra HD/ 2 Disc Bluray steelbook edition

Paul Bettany as Dryden Voss

Nightmares (1980)

Umbrella’s release of Nightmares

Film: When I was a teen in the 80s, I worked in a video store, and for a movie fan, it was a dream come true. I spent 5 or 6 hours by myself every Sunday afternoon, and because it was still a little bit of the Wild West as far as films were concerned, I could watch what I liked in the shop, and could usually get three movies in on one shift.

I predominantly watched horror, sci-fi and action, and didn’t realise it but became a fan of what I discovered (because of Mark Hartley’s 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood), a thing called Ozploitation! Mad Max, Mad Max 2, Turkey Shoot, Thirst; I loved these films because they looked like low-budget Hollywood films, but were full of Australians, and that made me think that maybe I mould be in a movie, or write a movie, or direct a movie.

Tragically, my talents don’t lie in those areas and instead I have spend 20 odd years writing about movies, and occasionally I’ve been lucky enough to review one of those Ozploitation films, and here we are today, with John D. Lamond’s Nightmares, aka Stage Fright ready to review for your pleasure.

Jenny Neumann as Helen Selleck

Nightmares tells of Cathy (Jennie Lamond) accidentally causes a car accidentally that kills her mother, which it combination with the suggestion of abuse, turns her into a psychotic fruitcake of the highest order!

Years later she has changed her name to Helen (now played by Jenny Neumann), and has become an actress, because, you know, the best thing psychologically a psychopath can do is further their issues by getting a job where they lie for a living by pretending to be other people.

She lands a part in a play produced by George D’alberg (Max Phipps), co-starring Terry Besanko (Gary Sweet) who promptly becomes besotted with her. Unfortunately for them all, there is a murderer loose in the theatre, but who will be the next victim, and what do the murders have to do with the psychotic flashbacks Helen/ Cathy has been having?

This isn’t going to end well…

Some might call this B Grade trash, but it’s A grade trash, and that A for stands for Australia, and it stands proud, with a kookaburra shitting on its shoulder as it slips in kangaroo shit because it was too busy looking a bikini-clad tits on Bondi beach.

As expected for a film by John Lamond, it’s as sleazy as an unwashed buttplug abandoned on a train. The idea was devised by Lamond with John-Michael Howson (who also plays camp critic Bennett Collingwood) and the screenplay was written by Colin Eggleston, who wrote scripts for Cop Shop, The Sullivans and Division 4, and was the director of Briony Behet film (who is ALSO in this) Long Weekend.

I’m not sure quite what the script was attempting to do, but surely George Lucas must have used this for the template of ‘the worst hidden bad guy/ whodunnit’ in a film when writing the Star Wars prequels.

Those who prefer to avoid films featuring ‘cultural cringe’ might prefer to avoid this film, but loving Ozploitation like I do, I revel in it. It’s definitely not for the easily offended, or for PC crusaders, but I have to admit to giggling and chuckling at the strine, the ockerisms and enjoying the appearances of many actors of this period in Australian cinema and television.

The nudity isn’t bad either.

Clearly the idea behind the film was to emulate things like Halloween, Friday the 13th and maybe even a few early giallos and honestly I can’t figure out if the addition of the Australian-ness to it makes it or breaks it. The whole film is overacted and paced oddly but I can’t help but enjoying every second of it.

As a side note, I have to give this film credit for possible the finest lines of Max Phipps’ career; ’You are not an actress, but instead are an actress’s big brown freckle!’ With every ‘r’ rolled off the tongue with spite. Hilarious.

Score: ***1/2

Umbrella’s Nightmares menu screen

Extras: This disc has a great set… of extras!

First we have an audio commentary by Lamond, along with Not Quite Hollywood director, Mark Hartley which also leads into extended interviews from the documentary with Lamond, actress Nina Hartley and cinematographer Gary Wapshott. There’s some real interesting insights into the Australian film industry of the time, and some great anecdotes, and can I say how much I love actors who say ‘I wouldn’t see a film like this’ but they don’t mind acting in them.

There’s a bunch of deleted scenes which, as usual, the film doesn’t miss. They are in pretty poor quality but that’s to be expected as they are sourced from a VHS in Lamond’s archives.

Confessions of an R-rated Film Director is a short with an extended interview with Lamond.

There’s a Lamond trailer reel featuring Australia After Dark, The ABCs of Love and Sex Australia Style, Felicity, Nightmares, Pacific Banana, Breakfast in Paris and Sky Pirates.

There is also trailers, a TV spot and promotional stuff for Nightmares.

Score: *****

WISIA: How could I NOT watch it again?!?

Max Phipps as George

This review was done using the Australian Umbrella Bluray release.

This review copy was supplied by Umbrella Entertainment.

Blood Diner (1987)

Blood Diner (1987)

The cover to the UK release of Blood Diner

Film: One name that every horror fan should know is that of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Advertising legend and head honcho at advertising company Communicorp, as well as the writer of many articles and having a regular column in the magazine ‘Direct Marketing’, and over 20 books about marketing and promotion.

Oh, and during the 60s, he made the first splatter film, called Blood Feast.

He had made a few nudie-cuties before this, but Blood Feast created a whole new sub-genre of horror, and even though it might look hokey today, it was both groundbreaking and breaktaking.

Lewis influenced many filmmakers over the years, and Blood Feast, with its tale of Fuad Ramses, an Egyptian caterer who is also a serial killer, murdering young women so he can build a body for the Egyptian goddess, was his first example of it. He became synonymous with splatter films, eventually gaining the moniker ‘The Godfather of Gore’.

In the 80s, with the advent of home video, a lot of these films were being rediscovered, and thankfully, this film, serving as both a sequel AND a remake to the original, came to being, directed by Jackie Kong (The Being and Night Patrol) and written by Michael Sonye (Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama and Prison Ship).

The friendly brothers.

The films tells of brothers, Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew respectively), vegetarian restaurant owners who have made a promise to their uncle, Anwar (Drew Godderis) that they will bring back the ancient Egyptian goddess Sheetar by performing a series of bizarre and deadly rituals, involving killing many young women to build her a perfect body.

How would these young men get rid of the corpses and parts they don’t use? By hiding them in their vegetarian food and feeding it to their customers of course! As you would expect, the police are alerted by the missing women, and bumbling detective Mark Shepard (Roger Dauer) and his hard-nosed partner Sheba Jackson (LaNette La France) are put on the case, but they aren’t the only ones investigating the boys, as a rival diner, owned by Stan (Bob Loya) wants to find out their secret ingredients.

These STILL aren’t the only problems the boys face as they need to set up the ritual with many participants, and convince pure-hearted Connie (Lisa Elaina) to come along as well, as she is to be the ultimate sacrifice to the newly reborn Sheetar!

Crikey, where does one start with this film. It sits somewhere between homage and parody of the source material, which I’m not too sure Lewis was taking seriously in the first place. Kong’s talent in getting weird performances out of odd characters makes for a B-movie feast that, whilst isn’t of any sort of high-grade cinema, somehow is engaging throughout. Just when you think that a character’s bizarre behaviour with a ventriloquist dummy is the weirdest thing you’ll see, you are next presented with a wrestler named ‘Jimmy Hitler’ or you see a woman with a deep fried head get decapitated with a broom.

Not sure exactly what to say here…

This movie is a Troma movie without the name ‘Troma’ attached to it. Every effect is done at the lowest possible dollar for the most ridiculous effect, and yet you’ll be mesmerised by it.

Score: ***1/2

The Blood Diner menu screen from the UK Bluray release

Extras: There’s an absolute crackerjack box of extras, including:

Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner is a great and complete look at the entire making of the film, featuring interviews with director Jackie Kong, writer Michael Sonye, composer Don Preston and many others. Lots of amazing insights into the making of low-budget films can be found in this!

Archival Interview with Project Consultant Eric Caidin is an interview from the early 2000s discussing the his involvement in the origins of the film.

Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots and Radio Spots are exactly what they sound like! Seriously, the trailers are possibly my favourites as they a hosted by ‘Phil A. Mignon’, a ‘gore-met’ who talks about the film.

Still Gallery. Yuk. Still Galleries and still galleries, and have no place on a DVD or Bluray: put ‘em in a book where they belong.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s quaint enough, and there’s enough 80s-ness to it for me to watch it again, but it probably won’t be too high on the rewatch pile.

This film was reviewed on a UK Bluray release from Vestron Video

Sheeeeeeeeetarrrrrrrr!

The Craft Legacy (2020)

The Craft Legacy (2020)

The cover of the Australian release of The Craft Legacy

Film: I was a big fan of the original film The Craft. Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney and Rachel True were most certainly the ‘it’ girls of the mid-90s buuuuuuuut I was in my 20s then, so maybe it spoke to me, and it felt kind of relevant, even though perhaps it wasn’t really.

Empire Records was the same, and even in 1999 when High Fidelity came out, it ESPECIALLY felt relevant as I went from a directionless manboy in his 20s to a rudderless manboy in his 30s.

So here we are, 25 years later and a sequel has been made and I’m conflicted: I’m keen to see a sequel to this film, but after watching it I felt totally disconnected to it. I thought maybe it was me, that I was out of touch with the so-called ‘woke’ movement or that maybe I don’t think that horror movies are the place to deliver messages like that.

…but horror movies have almost always had messages, haven’t they? I don’t think the problem with this film is the messages of equality, or the other issues it covers, but maybe that it tries to be the defender of everything at once, and that the story occasionally feels more like an after school special.

Our annoying protagonists

The Craft Legacy tells of Lily (Cailee Spaeney) who has just moved to a new town with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan) so she can be with her new beau, Adam (David Duchovney), a self-help guru specialising in helping men find their strength, and his three sons.

Lily, of course, being the new kid, has no friends, and her having an unfortunately heavy period on her first day leads to an embarrassment that would wilt any normal kid, but Lily makes three new friends in the form of Tabby (Logie Simone), Lourdes (Zoey Luna) and Frankie (Gideon Adlon), three close friends who have been trying to find a fourth to join their coven because… you guessed it, they be WITCHES!!

The four quickly realise that Lily (short for Lilith, you know, alternatively known as the biblical Adam’s first wife from the Book of Isaiah, or a demon) is the person that they were looking for and their power grows exponentially, and being teenage girls, it’s used on silly stuff at first as they experiment, but then more insidious things, for example, their changing the personality of the school douche-bag, Timmy (Nicolas Galitzine) into becoming a super-sensitive, totally woke soul.

Yikes! David Duchovney as Adam

As usual, power corrupts and one of them makes a selfish spell that starts to unravel the friendship, and we discover more about Lily’s past and why she has her powers, and maybe that Adam is much more than he seems…

This film was not made for me. It wasn’t made for a 50-something manboy who still likes a lots of 80s styled boobs ‘n’ blood in his horror films. I have to give it credit though. It does attempt to cover a whole pile of stuff that plays on young people’s minds today, like homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, school bullying and others, and does it so casually that its the way we should all probably act around people who live differently to ourselves. The problem is though it does so many of these things that I imagine it would alienate a less open minded person, and maybe some of the messages get lost amongst each other.

The film is beautifully shot but I do have two major issues with it. The first is that it’s not really a new story. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens showed us that a remake can be incorporated into a large storyline and not act completely like it’s a remake, but this just hits the same beats over and over and until it makes a weird left turn for the sole purpose of adding a new badguy, who is telegraphed early but when it eventuates, it’s just a bit dumb.

The other is the performances of the four leads. Now I can’t figure out if the teens are overacting and it’s disguised as being obnoxious, or visa versa. Honestly, I work in retail and they act like the people who distract the workers in a shop while another friend shoplifts. They are annoying and over-the-top and seem less like how teens actually act and more like how someone who is out of touch with teens would make them act. It reminds me of Stan Lee writing teens in the 60s, and them all having dialogue like teens in the early 50s, daddy-o. The rest of the cast seem far more grounded and real.

If I’m to be really finicky, the 11th hour connection to the first film is hamfisted and was like a studio addition that was just dumb.

All in all I’m trying to be nice to this film out of respect for the original, but it’s just dumb, annoying and boring.

Score: *

The menu screen for the Australian Bluray release of The Craft Legacy

Extras: There is a couple of extras but they are so brief they barely worth mentioning.

Franchise Legacy is a barely two and a half minute piece that references the original movie and it’s importance to this film’s legacy. I’ve had sneezes that were longer and more informative.

Powerful Story, Magical Director looks at writer/ director Zoe Lister-Jones and her approach to making the film, but I’m not sure barely 3 and a half minutes really is much of a tribute to a director’s skill set. Shame.

Deleted scenes, as usual, are better off not in the film. Lister-Jones does at least get to introduce them, and justify their removal, even though her reasoning doesn’t get fleshed out.

Score: *

WISIA: I probably won’t, unless they do a sequel, which is really obviously what they’d like to do, judging by the massive open ending they offered.

This review was done with the Australian Bluray release

Fairuza Balk is BACK… for about 3 seconds…

Cell (2016)

Cell (2016)

The cover of the Australian Bluray release of Cell

Film: I have read several articles about quantitive pedants claiming to cringe when they hear athletes claim that they ‘went out there and gave 110%’. I’ve actually read so many articles about it that I even stole the phrase ‘quantitive pedants’ from one of them, but I have to say, that as a percentage, I am 1,000,000% a zombie movie fan.

Let me tell you too, I don’t care what kind of zombies they are either! Fast, slow, virusy, no-more-room-in-hellish, metaphysical, green, grey, intelligent, stupid, whatever; I’ll take ‘em!

Another thing I love is Steven King movies! Not his books, mind, but his movies. I’m a huge fan of King’s ideas, but not his writing, which is something if you are a regular reader of this my reviews, will ready know as it is no secret.

Taking this into account, imagine my excitement when I discovered there was a zombie film based on a Stephen King novel! The only other zombie story I know of that King wrote was one published in the John Skipp and Craig Spektor edited anthology book The Book of the Dead which I liked so I had to give this one a go!

NB. There’s probably others but not being a reader of King’s work, I’m unaware of them.

John Cusack as Clay Riddell

Anyway, Cell starts with us being introduced to artist Clay Riddell (John Cusack), in an airport on the phone to his estranged wife, Sharon (Clark Sarullo) and son, Johnny (Ethan Andrew Casto) when the phone begins to drop out. Unfortunately for Clay, everyone in the airport is having trouble with their phones in the form of a signal which cause madness and sees them attacking each other without any regard for their own well-being.

Clay manages to escape the airport via the train station beneath, where he meets train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson) and the pair retreat to Clay’s apartment to decide on what their next move should be. They meet with another lost person there in the form of Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman) and the three decide to travel together to help Clay find Sharon and Johnny, along the way meeting many others in a similar people in a similar situation.

There is a another mystery though, in the form of an entity in a red hoodie who visits everyone in their dreams, but bizarrely has been visiting Clay for a while, and manifested in the form of a character he created… but what is it’s connection to the mobile phone call that causes people to turn into violent zombies?

The apparition in the red hood!

There’s a lot of problems with this film. A lot. The first is its boring. There are a few moments of action in the form of the zombie attacks, but in between those scenes are just banal.

The next problem is with the creation of the characters. Cusack and Jackson play the exact same characters in every other film they’ve done since 1999 (I’m sure Cusack even has the same costume on that he’s worn for the past 20 years!). All the other characters come and go so quick you just don’t care about them, even to the point when one of them has a drawn out dying sequence you just want it over with quickly, and it’s a shame because there is such an interesting mix of cast members in it… even Stacy Keach! I did like Lloyd Kaufman’s special appearance though.

Thirdly are some of the special effects are just terrible. The make-up effects are fine, if not generic, but there are several CGI fire effects that look like they came from an episode of Home and Away.

To summarise, boring, wasted actors and crappy effects make for a big waste of my time. Avoid.

Score: *

The menu screen from the Australian Bluray release.

Extras: No extras for YOU!

Score: 0

WISIA: Nope.

This review was done with the Australian Bluray release.

Zombies! Well, living people under the thrall of a weird phone call.

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Creepshow 2 (1987)

The Arrow Video cover to Creepshow 2

Film: I was born in the late 60s, which of course means two things: I’m very very old and I was an impressionable teen during the 80s, which means, I am of the boobs ‘n’ blood generation! A time where ‘banned in Queensland’ was a badge of honour!

This film, Creepshow 2, came from that era and has a special place in my heart as it was one of the first VHS films I actually owned! I honestly cannot remember if it was a sell through video I got from Kmart of somewhere like that, or if it were an ex-rental that a video shop gave me (I worked in one and they gave me tapes now and again) but it got watched over and over again.

Creepshow 1 and 2 were both written by Steven King and directed by George Romero and have their foundations in the joy the two found in reading EC Comics as kids. The short version of that company’s story is that EC Comics made pretty violent comics and caused the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which featured on the covers of many comics for years, and also resulted in Mad becoming a ‘magazine’ rather than a comic (in format) because magazines weren’t subject to it and it’s restrictions.

Basically, Google ‘Frederick Wertham’ or ‘William Gaines’ for the full story.

Tom Savini as The Creep

Anyways, Creepshow 2 is an anthology film, and the three stories contained within are bookended by the tale of a young man waiting for something he ordered from the advertisements within the pages of his favourite comic, Creepshow, and as an issue of the comic flicks through the pages it reveals our tales. This section is mainly animated, but has a pretty awesome love action piece at first and the delivery man who delivers the comics is actually a fantastic mask, worn by horror make-up legend Tom Savini!

The first tale is titled ‘Old Chief Woodenhead’ and tells of a kindly old couple, the Spruces played by George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour, who have a general store in a town which is on its last legs. There are heavy supporters of the local indigenous community, and are entrusted by their leader Ben Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo) to take care of their tribes greatest treasures, but unfortunately, the ne’er-do-well of the tribe, Sam (Holt McCallany) knows the Spruces have these treasures and has decided that perhaps he’d like them for himself…

The second story, The Raft, sees four friends (played by Paul Satterfield, Jeremy Green, Daniel Beer and Page Hannah) go to a secluded lake, late in autumn, to go swimming as the raft is still there until winter. What they don’t realise though is that there is something in the water… something hungry…

The Raft

The final story, The Hitchhiker, tells of Annie Lansing (Lois Chiles) who has been cheating on her husband, but tonight has lost track of time and needs to race to get home from her lover’s place before her husband gets home. Unfortunately, she hits a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) on the way home, and leaves him by the side of the road, but his spirit pursues her with the sole purpose to punish her…

As is typical of these Tales of the Crypt/ Twilight Zone styled stories, the objective is to show a supernatural punishment of some sort paid out to those who have transgressed some kind of moral code… and it still works!! Of the three, I think I like The Raft the best as it is nice and concise

I do have to admit that a lot of my love of this is purely nostalgic, and realistically the first film is certainly the better film, but I still enjoy every watch of it. The stories are in no way as impactful as the first film, but it is still lots of fun, and well made in every way.

Score: ****

The menu screen for the Arrow Bluray release

Extras: Crikey, does this little disc from Arrow Video have some extras on it:

Screenplay for a Sequel is an interview with Romero, where he talks about his love of comics, and how they influenced his career.

Tales from the Creep is an interview with make-up legend and actor Tom Savini about his work in the Creepshow films.

Poncho’s Last Ride is an interview with Daniel Beer, who played Randy in the episode ‘The Raft’, as he tells his anecdotes on his casting and the filming.

The Road to Dover talks to Tom Wright about his experiences as the ill-fated hitchhiker in the episode of the same name.

Nightmares in Foam Ruber (sic) sees us sitting down with Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, the special effects team, and have them discuss their experiences of the production of the film.

My Friend Rick continues with Berger discussing his fandom of special effects legend Rick Baker, and with an accompanying personal anecdote.

Behind the Scenes is just some footage of the actual filming of the production with some nice behind the scenes bits.

Trailers and Tv Spots is the two theatrical trailers and one TV spot.

There is also an Audio Commentary with director Michael Gornick, which has some interesting information about the film within it.

Score: *****

WISIA: Creepshow 2 is a horror classic and I’ve already watched it hundreds of times!

Old Chief Woodenhead

Boss Level (2021)

Boss Level (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: The whole ‘a day gets repeated over and over again’ is a trope that horror, sci-fi and comedy love. Personally, I think it’s for the opportunity of cheap laughs, showing the protagonist get injured/ die/ kill people over and over again without repercussions. Thankfully it would seem that most filmmakers KNOW it’s a trope that is quite derivative, and that gives them an opportunity to mix up the story a little, like with slasher film Happy Death Day and it’s sequel.

Boss Level is a surprising beast. Directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Eddie and Chris Borey, Boss Level should be a low budget piece of trash that pushes a ‘new’ action movie stars with a bunch of nobodies… but this stars Frank Grillo from the Marvel movies, and includes Mel Gibson, Maggie Q and Naomi Watts, and is as entertaining as dumb violent action gets.

Grillo and Watts

Boss Level tells of ex-special forces muscle-bound himbo Roy Pulver (Grillo) who wakes up every single day to find a bunch of assassins trying to kill him. Pam (Meadow Williams) tries to shoot him, the German Twins (Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson) try to blow him up, Kaboom (Aaron Beelner ) also tries to blow him up (but with explosives, whereas the German Twins use bazookas), Smiley (Michael Tourek) tries to spear him, Guan Yin (Selina Lo) tries to cut him up… you get the idea: there’s a lot of people out to get him!

‘I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this!‘

Roy’s problem is, every single one of them have succeeded in killing him, but the second he dies, he wakes up back at the beginning of the day, with all the knowledge that he had been killed over and over again, and no matter how many times he tries to survive.

He does continue to try though (but only after a few depression episodes where he just allows himself to be murdered), and eventually starts to work out that he is very deliberately stuck in this time loop, but what does it have to do with his ex-wife Jemma (Watts) and her boss, Colonel Clive Ventor (Gibson)…

This film, like all these types of films, as I stated earlier, exist to show the funny side to how ridiculous the concept is, and the torture of the lead character is completely for our own amusement, especially when you think he’s achieved something that gets him away from one baddie, only to fall to some other fatal mishap. Let me tell you as well, these are some bloody and violent mishaps too! Roy even talks in a voiceover about how he’d prefer to be shot rather than stabbed because stabbing hurts more!

The mix of actors in this film is great too. Grillo’ s performance is hilarious, action-packed and even tender at times. Watts (who I have a crush on for years) is still a solid support and Gibson’s magical villain is spectacular. The wonderful array of assassins is fun and funny, and they even cop some of the deaths just as bad as Grillo does. Selina Lo’s Guan Yin is a particular highlight and her beauty combined with violent swordsmanship is a grand juxtaposition, and her exclamation whenever she kills is fantastic too.

Honestly there’s not much to NOT like about this film, but it’s essentially like a Fast and the Furious film: you see it for the spectacle rather than an intelligent story. I will say though that it’s sudden sci-fi U-turn is both expected and surprising.

Score: ***

The menu from the Australian Bluray

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was dumb fun, so it’s definitely getting watched again!

This review was done with the Australian 2021 Bluray release.

Guns, guns, guns.

The Unholy (2021)

The Unholy (2021)

The cover to the Australian bluray

Film: I picked up the new Blumhouse film, The Unholy, on a whim. I had wandered into my local movie retailer to pick up a couple of different films, and in a classic case of ‘while you’re down there’, I grabbed this as well.

One thing I didn’t realise until the end of the film is that this film is based on a book, The Shrine, by one of my favourite horror authors, James Herbert, who also wrote The Rats trilogy, and Sepulchre.

This film version of that book, was written and directed by Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote the live action version of Beauty and the Beast from Disney.

The film starts on February 31st, 1845 – we, the viewer, get to witness the burning of a witch from the POV of the victim, as her soul or spirit (or whatever) is cast into the body of a doll.

… and yes, that date is correct…

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Fenn

Flash forward to now, or yesterday, or tomorrow, and we meet scumbag washed-up alcoholic photographer Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who now works for a National Enquirer, Alien Elvis Stole My Sister- styled website who has been sent to the small town of Banfield to photograph a mutilated cow, only to find the ‘mutilation’ was actually a graffitied Metallica ‘M’ on the cow’s hindquarters.

Whilst with the farmer, Fenn notices an object shining under a dead tree and after a bit of digging, finds a small doll, which the farmer suggested may have been a ‘Kern Baby’, a doll that farmers used to bury in their fields to get good crops. Fenn smashes the idol and takes a few photos to try to salvage his journey to the small town and prepares to leave.

On the trip out he crashes his car after swerving to miss a girl standing in the middle of the road. He climbs out of the vehicle and follows her, only to find her return to the dead tree he was at earlier.

Cricket Brown as Alice

We quickly learn her name is Alice (Cricket Brown) and that she is the deaf-mute niece of the local priest, Father Hagen (William Sadler), but the very next day, both her hearing and voice return to her, and she claims to have been visited by the Holy Mother, Mary.

In addition, she discovers she is also able to heal the sick, bringing a paraplegic boy to his feet, and healing her uncle’s lung cancer… but Fenn is getting his OWN visions, and think perhaps that something more unholy might be behind the healings…

Herbert’s book was an absolute corker that took me about a day to read, which, if I’m honest, is how I find all his books. This film is disappointing in comparison. Of course, the idea is interesting, but Spiliotopoulos’ modernisation and translation of it has several tropes that are overused in this religious type of film. It’s not all bad though.

Even though Morgan feels like he’s sleepwalking at times, and Cary Else’s’ performance is occasionally ostentatious and William Sadler is… well, William Sadler, the winner of the acting department was Cricket Brown, who plays both the victim and the bold promoter of our evil, is consistently on-point. She plays every scene with the confidence the role required. I’ll point out that even though what I said of the actors sounds like an insult to each of them, it actually somehow meshed really well.

Some of the special effects were a little off, especially the fire effects, but the make up of the actual baddie was absolutely terrifying, and a credit to the make up department. It was actually difficult to look at and surprising when it’s finally exposed.

Unfortunately this film was one that was hit by Covid-19 during its filming, and one of the stipulations made when they returned to filming was that the cast had to be reduced to 10 only on set. This was something I did actually notice, particularly with a red headed cast member who stood out, so when they were reused, it was a little obvious. I wrote it off as being the same character just in a different part of town.

I wanted to like this, and I think if I really dig deep within me, maybe I do a little, but it was just to generic, and a little boring, for it to be really successful as a good film.

Score: **

The Australian Bluray menu screen

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: There is actually something about this film that would tempt me to watch it again, even if I can’t put my finger on it.

This review was done using the Australian 2020 Bluray release.

The Kern Baby