Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: Marvel comics of the 70s were some of the best comics ever made, and I really dig everything they did at that time. Actually, Marvel were heavily influenced by cinema at this time as they had their horror characters, their blaxploitation characters (like Power Man and Black Goliath), chop socky guys (like Shang Chi and Iron Fist) and their supernatural line, which included Satana, Man Thing and this guy, Ghost Rider.

OK, so I am the guy who liked the first Ghost Rider film: I need to point that out straight away. I am aware that that may have some of you not read my reviews at all anymore, but for any of its faults: it had the fucking GHOST RIDER in it… oh, and Eva Mendes in some outfits that were so tight you can almost count the hairs on her… well, they were pretty tight.

This new production, under the Marvel Knights line (a lower budget, more violent, less mainstream part of Marvel films) was directed by the team of Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, who brought us the Crank films and Gamer and written by Scott M. Gimple (episodes of The Walking Dead), Seth Hoffman (episodes of House and Prison Break) and David S. Goyer (Dark City and the Blade films… amongst others).

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze

This reboot of the Ghost Rider tale sees Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), the alter ego of the demon motorcyclist Ghost Rider approached by Moreau (Idris Elba), who is working for a religious order to stop the devil in his human guise Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) from kidnapping a boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan) from his mother Nadya (Violante Placido) for his own hidden reasons. Of course, Roarke has a mercenary working for him named Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth) whose efforts to get the boy are assisted by a gift, a dark, evil gift…

… and then throw in Highlander Christopher Lambert as a tattooed religious fanatic and you have an absolute blast!!!

This film had a lot lower budget than the previous outing, but it is such a different film, with such a different vibe that a larger budget possibly would have been detrimental to the dirty look it achieved. The look of the main character, Ghost Rider, and his motorcycle, are so much fierier than in the first film. The skull is charred and the fire belches a thick polluting smoke that is echoed in the emissions from the motorcycle as well. His leathers aren’t smooth like in the first film, they bubble and pop, giving the fire real weight and you can almost feel the heat from it.

The Ghost Rider on his flaming hellcycle!

Most of the performances in the film are good, except, I hate to say it, for Cage’s. He is supposed to be a man haunted by a demon within, but sometimes it leans into vaudevillian which doesn’t really suit parts of the film.

The story is a little generic, and plot points will jump out at seasoned film goers well before they happen. That is not to say there aren’t some interesting moments (keep your eye out for a tribute to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, a joke about Twinkies’ use by dates and the Ghost Rider ‘hellifying’ a gigantic piece of digging equipment) but the direction is the hero here. Taylor and Neveldine deliver their hectic style seen in the Crank films, which suits the character perfectly and is a blast to watch.

Missed opportunity for comic geekdom department: there is a son of Satan in this and they didn’t call him Damien Hellstrom? Marvel fans will know what I mean!!

A pretty good film that is slightly better than the first film due to the manic direction and maniac performances. It knows its limitations, attempts to exceed them and does so well. Comic fans should dig it.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen of the Australian Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Bluray

Extras: Straight up I want to say one thing that pissed me off about this release. Columbia, in their wisdom, has decided to release two different Bluray releases of this film: one has the 3D and 2D versions on two discs, and the other version has the 2D version, a DVD and a digital copy… so why not a combo of all?!? I like my digital copies of films, and whilst I don’t have a 3D TV, I like to get the 3D versions in case I get one in the future, so what do I buy here? What will end up happening are probably both, or I’ll download a digital copy from iTunes. Either way: Columbia are bastards.

Due to this, I was unable to watch the Riding Into Another Dimension 3D Featurette as it was on the 3D disc and unwatchable on my equipment… sorry!

The Path to Vengeance is a great 6 part documentary looking at the trials that Neveldine and Taylor and their cast and crew had to getting this made. It’s an interesting look at filmmaking in Eastern Europe and the director’s take the whole thing with a great sense of humour.

The Deleted Scenes are cool: essentially unnecessary but interesting if only for the semi-finished CGI featured in them.

Director’s Expanded Video Commentary is the best director’s commentary ever. It features Taylor and Neveldine standing in front of the film and commenting, stopping the film for ‘making of footage’ and picture in picture stuff with alternate shots and making of bits. It’s a really interesting and innovative commentary that has a wry sense of humour as well. It does; however, double up on some of the info given in the The Path to Vengeance doco.

Score: ****

WISIA: Probably just after watching the first one, so yeah, I’d watch it again.

Johnny Whitworth as Blackout

This review was done with the initial Australian Bluray release

Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider (2007)

The cover to the Australian release of Ghost Rider

Film: I am a massive fan of the ‘comic-movie’. Having read comics for over the past 40 odd years, I’m interested in any comic to film adaptation, be it a lowbrow comedy like High School Confidential, or a super budgeted blockbuster-y extravaganza like the Juggernauts that are the Marvel and DC products that we see today. I am always interested to see filmmakers takes on characters from my favourite literary art-form. Sometimes they can be super-duper adaptations, like Sin City, or Captain America Winter Soldier…and sometimes they can be Judge Dredd (the Stallone one, not the Urban one): either way, I am always keen to see where the producer’s will take a popular (or in some cases unpopular) license.

One thing I never understand though is unnecessary changes. Do some of these filmmakers feel a need to personalise a character for the sake of the audience, or is it for more egotistical reasons that makes them want to feel the character is their own? Ghost Rider is another example of unnecessary changes, but lucky for me most of it worked.

Ghost Rider tells the tale of Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) who, as a youngster, sold his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) in exchange for the life his father, a cycle stunt rider who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and is dying. The Devil, of course, cures him, but allows him to die in a motorcycle accident, which causes Johnny to become hellbent on self destruction, including throwing away a relationship with the lovely Roxy (Raquel Alessi).

Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze

Flash forward to now, and Johnny (now played by Nicolas Cage) is still trying to destroy himself, until he meets up with Roxy (now played by Eva Mendes) again. He tries to re-ignite their love, but is unaware that the Devil’s son Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is challenging his father’s rule, and that the Devil will soon call upon Johnny to fulfill his contract with him, by becoming his demonic hitman on Earth, which will no doubt play havoc with any potential of a personal life. After a chance meeting with the Caretaker (Sam Elliott), who seems to know more about his curse than he is letting on, Johnny learns how to use the powers of… THE GHOST RIDER!!

My biggest problem with this film was some of the characterizations. Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze was great… never before have I seen an actor play a two dimensional character so well, and his emotions swung from moody to brooding to angst-ridden with ease. Eva Mendes was wonderful as a cleavage that could speak. Seriously, I don’t think I heard a single world that came out of her mouth, as her role is a purely visual one!! Wes Bentley as Blackheart… well let’s just say that one of comic artist John Romita Jr’s most wonderful visual images was adapted into a skinny emo boy, and didn’t necessarily feel as oppressive and evil as he was in the comics.

Eva Mendez as Roxanne

Now though, we get to the performance cream, Peter Fonda as the Devil was inspired, and his longing looks at the motorbike were a grand harking back to his Easy Rider days. I suspect though, that his portrayal of Satan may be quite easy for him, and I suspect he may have been playing himself, as is Sam Elliott’s take on the gravelly, tobacco-chewin’ Caretaker.

As far as the film itself is concerned, it is a great time, if you don’t take it too seriously. Many movies rely on more than the stars abilities and this is one of them. The special effects are nothing short of brilliant! Anyone who goes to a film that features a burning demon riding a hog, who fights with a semi-sentient chain and doesn’t have a good time…well, perhaps you should be reading the reviews at Disney’s website. This review, as the title says, is for the extended version of the film, and to be quite honest, I couldn’t tell what scenes were extra ones! I saw this film at the cinemas, and the extras scenes don’t change the film, like say the extended cut of the Daredevil film, but just add to the scenes already there, like the extended cut of the Fantastic Four film.

There’s probably only one real unforgivable sin committed by this film, and that is that it’s Rebel Wilson’s first appearance in a movie. Truly scary.

While the performances may have been lacking somewhat, every time that flaming skeleton riding a Harley with burning tires comes onto the screen, you tend to forgive and forget.

Score: ***

The menu screen to Ghost Rider

Extras: After the fantastic extras on the DVD 2-disc set, these are somewhat disappointing.

There are 2 commentaries, both of which are interesting looks at the making of and ideas behind this film. The first is performed by director Mark Steven Johnson, and visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack, and the second is by producer Gary Foster. Also on this first disc are trailers for Spider-Man 3 and Stomp the Yard.

The next features on the disc are a series of Makings of. The first is titled Spirit of Vengeance, which deals with mainly the nuts and bolts of the making of this film, and showcases some of the locations in Melbourne Victoria, where the majority of this film was made. The second is titled Spirit of Adventure, which showcases the stunts of the film, and the last is titled Spirit of Execution, which is all about the post production of the film. All in all these come together to make a complete making of production, and feature interviews with Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Sam Elliot, and many more, and are a complete look at the stuff needed to make a movie.

There’s also trailers for Spiderman 3 and Surf’s Up…. Yeah, this Bluray is THAT old!

Tragically, on the Bluray they have dumped the amazing 4 part doco about the comic book version of the character. A bad choice, in my opinion, as it was a thorough look at the character. Actually, these comic to movie docos seem to now be frequently absent from Bluray releases which is a damned shame.

Score: ***

WISIA: It has this weird irresistible charm that doesn’t require the knowledge of 30 different Marvel films to follow what’s going on. I’ll watch it again when I wanna watch Marvel but without the weight.

A victim of Wes Bentley’s Blackheart

Kill Chain (2019)

Kill Chain (2019)

The cover to the Australian release of Kill Chain on Bluray

Film: There is a quite hilarious website called phrasegenerator.com, and I just love it. Basically, it randomly generates various things like political rhetoric (it generated: I want an America where greedy doctors and filthy hobos can’t sabotage our iPhone apps.), sports quotes (Talk about Ronovich – all speed no agility and 5 foot 6 – he’s gotta fork to the quarterback sneak and work the rushing opportunity.), academic quotes (The hypocrisy of codependency is really quite dogmatic in its agnosticism) and my favourite, action movie titles (here’s a few: Soldier of Trouble, Extreme Extremism, Instant Punishment).

Why point out this website? Well it seems to me that modern direct-to-video (DVD, Bluray, whatever) simply MUST use this website to come up with titles for their new releases. It’s close to the end of 2021, and Bruce Willis’ latest release is called ‘Out of Death’, Karen Gillian’s (from Doctor Who and the Marvel movies) in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ and speak-of-the-devil Nicolas Cage newbie is titled ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’. Surely… SURELY, these titles weren’t to be taken seriously. The only title of anything I remember being as silly is the zombie-hating cheerleader video game Lollypop Chainsaw, and that being a title from Super and Slither’s James Gunn, you just know it must be very tongue in cheek.

Arâna (Nicolas Cage) welcomes some uninvited guests to his hotel

Why does this preamble exist? That would be because I have just gotten my hands on the film ‘Kill Chain’, a film that essentially takes its title from a military manoeuvre, but is probably BETTER known as the video game trope of getting bonuses for kill bad guys without getting killed.

Still, though, it sounds like a randomly generated title.

Above that, It does have a some pedigree. It’s written as directed by Ken Sanzel, who has written or directed or produced lots of action movies and TV including episodes of Numb3rs, and 1998’s The Replacement Killers. Is it a fine pedigree? Let’s find out!

Kill Chain tells of Arãna (Cage), an ex-hitman/ mercenary who has been ‘left’ a hotel called Hotel Del Franco in Colombia by someone who he refers to as ‘his only friend’. One night, he is visited by a pair of mercenaries who are there to ‘finalise his account’, but they don’t realise what they have walked into is a black hole of violence and surprises, and a night that has been a long one for Arâna, and his patience has worn very thin.

Renata (Annabelle Acosta) gets a little bloody

This is a bizarre thing, this film. It’s slow and deliberate, with smacks of violence that pop up here and there that in a post-John Wick world are possibly a little cumbersome and not choreographed as one would like but occasionally are quietly brutal. The tension does build nicely at times but doesn’t always pay off.

The bizarre thing is… I like it. The odd walk around to get to the point, the fact that most of the characters have no names, the origami-styled folding story… it’s all somehow good. It has an extremely small cast, and has such a small amount of locations, it could have been a stage play!

I have to say how much I liked the soundtrack, composed by Mario Grigorov. Sometimes it’s a pumping modern-day interpretation of a John Carpenter synthwave soundtrack, and at others, a flowing end-credits giallo track from the 70s. I loved every second of it.

Score: ***1/2

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release of Kill Chain

Extras: Sorry, but it looks like even the extras have been executed!

Score: 0

WISIA: I’ll definitely watch it again as it has a weird DTV, low-budget appeal to it. It’s cumbersome, but strangely engaging.

Enrico Colantoni has regrets about being a hit man.

Color Out of Space (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Color Out of Space, from Umbrella Entertainment

Film: Here’s a bit of personal horror history, and something I have mentioned in previous, and no doubt will mention in future reviews: I am typing this review because of H. P. Lovecraft. I was a monster movie fan, and a fan of ‘old’ (called ‘classic’ these days) films when I was a teen, and then I watched Stuart Gordon’s screen adaptation of Re-animator, and my need for horror was transformed into what could only be described as ‘an unhealthy obsession’.

Since then I have consumed SO much Lovecraftian horror in book form, video games, spoken word records, comics, toys… hell, even board games which is a more recent obsession (currently sitting on about 15 board and card games based in the Cthulhu world) and I just can’t get enough!

So I’m guessing you can imagine my excitement when I heard that ex-actor, now meme legend Nic Cage was starring in a film based on Color Out Of Space, and then my rising excitement when the trailer was released and we saw that it borrowed the colour palette from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond (another Lovecraft story). Throwing in the rebirth of Hardware director Richard Stanley certainly piqued my interest as well, even though I wasn’t an obsessive fan of his work.

I was very excited indeed which meant that my expectations were now really really high! Can the film live up to these expectations? Surely it could not!

Nicolas Cage as Nathan

Lavinia Gardner (Madeline Arthur) is a teen Wiccan who had been forced into a treechange by her father, Nathan (Nicolas Cage)and mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), along with her two brothers, Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). It a seemingly lovely quiet life, farming their alpacas until a meteorite, emitting an indescribable colour, lands on their property.

As you would expect, weird stuff starts happening: time starts fluctuating, odd pink flowers and insects start appearing all over the property, and things start changing, including Nathan, and when a hydrologist, Ward (Elliot Knight) investigating the local water finds ‘something’ in it, things really start to accelerate and the family unit starts to fall apart… but is this the start of a greater, perhaps apocalyptic event?

The meteorite/ alien thing/ weird weirdness

Stanley has created something pretty special here. Lovecraft had isolation as a theme in many of his stories, and to start with a family isolated from society when something strange happens, whose events then cause them to be isolated from each other really nails that down. The layering of being isolated even amongst a group of people seems really relevant in 2021 too. That anxiety of not knowing what is happening and not being able to find support in others because they don’t know what is happening either is almost frightfully prophetic.

There’s no doubt that Stanley has a magnificent cinematic eye, and his cinematographer (one of the great unsung heroes of cinema) Steve Annis translates it perfectly. The scenes of the forest are lush and feel like they are full of magic, and the scenes where we witness the actual ‘color’ are intrusive on the eye, and transform the natural beauty into a synthwave nightmare, that honestly, I really love… most of my automatic lighting in my house is set up in this colour scheme!

The effects in this movie are as horrible as they are beautiful. As I said in my opening preamble, the colour palette is borrowed heavily from Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond, but their is also a liberal dose of John Carpenter’s The Thing in the practical effects, and some CGI that is, if you’ll excuse the pun, out of this world.

In general, the cast are great, except maybe for Richardson who doesn’t seem to have much to do and is almost more a piece of scenery. Arthur is an absolute revelation and I’ll be looking into her other films for sure, and Cage doesn’t chew the scenery, he CONSUMES IT, like a bulldog eating a bowl of porridge.

There was a lot of fun stuff relating to Stanley as well. After watching the Lost Souls doco, I realised that several of the characters emulate/ display elements of his personality and life style (from what I could ascertain). There’s a cheeky bit of footage of Brando from One Eyed Jacks too… so I guess Stanley finally got to work with him?

This is a great return for Stanley, and I really hope he gets an opportunity to do more Lovecraft stuff but please not a sequel: this finishes nicely. Apparently this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy but due to some personal stuff which I’m not going to go into here, it’s been cancelled. If Stanley WOULD entertain the idea of a sequel, another Re-animator perhaps? Either way, this film was great and I look forward to more product.

Score: ****1/2

The menu to the Australian release of Color Out of Space

Extras:

Hot Pink Horror: The Making of The Color Out of Space obviously looks at the making of the film, and the chance the producers had taken on getting Richard Stanley, who hadn’t directed a film for 20 years, to direct this movie. It also explores the employment of the other cast and other aspects of the production. It’s an interesting take on why people are employed in films.

There is also 8 deleted scenes and a trailer.

Finally, the full length documentary ‘Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau’ which looks at his career and the collapse of his career whilst making his version of Island of Dr. Moreau in the 90s. It’s an interesting documentary in so much that Stanley seems to be under the impression that both the opportunity came, and disappeared due to his visiting a mystic who cast a spell to assist in the production. It’s not just about Stanley’s vision, it’s also about the egos that also all seemed to be trying to disable the production after his departure. This was previously released separately, and would probably be a better extra on a release of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’ll take it.

Score: *****

WISIA: It was a great watch so I look forward to seeing it again!

The colour does strange things to poor Theresa (Joely Richardson)

NIC-TOBERFEST 2021

Charge your steins with your favourite ale, lager or stout and grab your tightest lederhosen because it’s time for NIC-TOBERFEST 2021!

Nic-Toberfest is the To Watch Pile’s celebration of everything Nicolas Cage, the hero’s hero! This month you won’t get your usual Wednesday reviews, you’ll also get a couple of extras too… that’s SIX… SIX reviews of Cage films, in which each one sees him in a nuttier role than the previous, and that’s not to mention a double feature (not Cage films unfortunately)for Halloween, one on Halloween and one on All Saint’s Day.

I hope you find it as exciting to read as I did to write!

Turkey Shoot (1982)

The slipcase version of the Australian release from Umbrella Entertainment.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Film: I didn’t know I was a fan of what I discovered was called ‘Ozploitation’ movies until the Mark Hartley documentary Not Quite Hollywood, told me I was. I had been a fan of Mad Max, Alvin Purple, Thirst, and so many others of the films made during this period, including this film, director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot.

(Just as a side note, a family friend actually invited Australian actor Roger Ward to a party I threw when I was in my 20s and I swear, having Fluffy from Mad Max/ Ritter from Turkey Shoot at my house was just an absolute thrill)

Michael Craig as Thatcher

Anyway, Turkey Shoot was probably the first time I had seen a film about humans hunting humans and I thought it was both a thrilling and horrifying concept, and one that I have since enjoyed in films like Battle Royale, The Condemned, Countess Perverse and even the Hunger Games films.

This film is set in a dystopian future where dissidents are sent to re-education centres, and one such revolutionary is Paul Anders (Steve Railsback) who for crimes against the state is sent to one such centre run by the notorious Charles Thatcher (Michael Craig).

Thatcher, and his cohort Ritter (Roger Ward) have something different in the way they run their re-education camp though. For a small fee, they allow the rich to hunt selected difficult prisoners in a ‘turkey shoot’, but with Anders, and a girl he has taken under his wing, Chris Walters (Olivia Hussey), Thatcher may have bitten off more than he can chew…

This film is less a who’s who of Australian actors, and more a who’s who of celebrity contestants on Graham Kennedy’s Blankety Blanks or Cop Shop… maybe with a touch of a Country Practice (?), with names like Noel Ferrier, Carmen Duncan, Lynda Stoner and Gus Mercurio added to the mix.

Roger Ward and Noel Ferrier

I honestly can’t help but love this film, and have over the years repeatedly hailed it as being fun… but it’s like a silly violent pantomime rather than a gruesome look into a frightful future.

Score: ****

The Umbrella Entertainment release of the film’s menu screen

Extras: Woooosh! Soooooo many extras on this disc, some of them taken from the old DVD release, but still, it’s a lot!

There is 2 quite interesting commentaries, one with Mark Hartley and Producer Antony I. Ginnane, and a 2003 commentary with Trenchard-Smith in which both talk about the troubles of making the film, the loss of finance money and the cast issues. Unfortunately these issues are discussed ad Infiniti’s over the course of every extra, so by the time you’ve finished you won’t know who is to blame for any of the films shortcomings.

Blood and Thunder Memories is a tragic/ humorous look at just how bad a production of a film can fall apart. Interviews with the main cast reveal different opinions of what was going on, but it would seem that the film went from political/ social commentary to schlock of the highest order.

Not Quite Hollywood extended interviews has some of the interviews from 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood doco by Mark Hartley in their entirety… or at the very least, a longer version.

The Ozploitation Renaissance Featurette is MOrE recollections of the film, and a peek into the careers of Ginnane, Trenchard-Smith and cinematographer Vincent Monton.

A Good Soldier – an interview with Brian Trenchard-Smith is an interview with the director from 2002. Unfortunately by this point in the extras you’ve heard every story and every anecdote so this feature is somewhat superfluous.

Escape 2000 – the 80 minute version of the film from a VHS source… it’s a tough watch though due to the quality… is it worthwhile being on this disc? I’m not so sure…

Then there is a bunch of trailers, including an Antony I. Ginnane sizzle reel, a Trailers from Hell trailer (with Trenchard-Smith commentary), the original trailer, TV promos and stills and poster gallery.

Weirdly, this release comes with a CD copy of Australian composer Brian May’s soundtrack (no, not THAT Brian May, the Australian composer)… on CD… maybe you can put it on your miniDisc, or upload it to Napster or something…

Score: ****

WISIA: I think Turkey Shoot is a hilarious example of Ozploitation, and it’s overcooked performances and over the top violence mean it’s a regular watch for me.

This review was performed on the Australian Bluray release, supplied by Umbrella Entertainment.

Warning: may contain traces of boobs, bums, balls and b-dussy.

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.