Life (2017) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Life (2017)

Australian Bluray cover

Film: Have you ever seen a trailer for a film and had it cause a horrible disorder called UERS also known as Unstoppable Eye Roll Disorder? For me, when I first saw the trailer for Life I thought, ‘wow, they have remade but not name-checked Alien’, which seemed to me to be a pretty brave thing to do, after all, Alien is a scifi/ horror film that is still relevant, and still resonates almost 40 years later!

Upon watching the film, however, I realised that yes, it is similar to Alien in two ways: one, that it takes place in space, and two, that an alien life form is at fault, but essentially this is another version of the Agatha Christie/ Ten Little Indians film (with people being picked off one by one) that has been done hundreds of times in the horror genre, and you can namecheck many giallo and slashers that use them. 

The difference with this was that this film adds in the threat of being in space, such as the film Gravity did. Sure, Alien had that same threat, but rarely were you reminded that the whole thing took place in space. It was about the isolation but that isolation could have been anywhere, and until the end and Ripley gets to the escape pod, you aren’t really reminded regularly about this taking place in space. Life constantly reminds you of its external environment, with large windows showing the external views of the space station in which the film takes place, and that exterior is both a threat and a weapon.

Anyway, what is the film about?

Well, a very exciting experiment is coming to an end on the International Space Station (ISS): a probe that has visited Mars has returned with a sample from the surface, and that sample contains the first evidence ever of life from another planet. 

Ryan Reynolds loses this Deadpool.

This single cell organism, nicknamed ‘Calvin’, evolves and grows at a typically science fiction rate, and when it is probed by Derry (Ariyon Bakare) it freaks out and attacks him, and sure enough starts its way through the rest of the crew (played by Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya), Hiroyuki Sanada, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal).

It’s aggressiveness, both in evolution and attitude, would suggest that it should be kept of the earth, but how can the crew survive both the creature, and the oppressive nature of space…

The first thing I have to point out this film space-based environment is utterly convincing. This is not just due to the special effects and the practical effects, but also due to the cast’s performance. The constant motion they go through, even when ‘sitting’ together at a table is a clever acting mechanic to make sure we are aware that this all takes place on a space station. Honestly, it’s quite possibly the first film I’ve seen where no main character talks a single step, which makes for another great point insomuch as one of the characters is a paraplegic, but in space, it doesn’t matter as legs aren’t required to me mobile.

Jake Gyllenhaal abandoned is human suit for a space suit.

The tragedy of the film is Calvin isn’t realised as well. Sure it is difficult to do these kind of constantly evolving creature, but occasionally it looks flat: that doesn’t take you completely out of the film, and doesn’t effect the ultimately devastating ending, but my right eye would occasionally close in disappointment.

Another thing with Calvin is that he seems to work out things very quickly: whilst I appreciate the story needs to travel along at a clip, occasionally I did think that ‘instinct’ was replaced with ‘convenient, highly intelligent thought’ and this is my only real criticism of the film.

One thing I really did like though was a really spectacular directorial sleight-of-hand which did actually fool me, and generally I’m pretty savvy!

Life is a well executed film that echoes what has come before it without completely copying it, and has some great acting and cool effects.

Score: ***1/2

Life Australian Bluray menu screen

Format: This review was performed on the multi-region Australian release bluray of the film. It runs for approximately 104 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 image with an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: A bunch of extras appear on this disc:

Deleted scenes sees 6 deleted scenes that really weren’t necessary to the flow of the film and aren’t missed, though the ‘Tang’ scene shows the crew’s disappointment as to not being able to go home after the discover of the lifeform could have still slipped in.

Life: In Zero G shows how the effect of the cast being in ‘zero gravity’ for the film and how the casts acting skills, the stunt team and special effects crew achieved it.

Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin looks at the research that had gone into creating Calvin as a scientifically convincing creature, and the special effects execution of that.

Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space looks at the director’s objective on making a science fiction film that feels like it could be real.

Astronaut Diaries is a series of interstitials of the cast in character talking directly to the camera.  

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a good movie with some great performances, but I can’t see myself revisiting it frequently, if at all.

Baby Calvin: he ain’t no Baby Groot!

Before I Wake (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Before I Wake (2016)

Before I Wake Australian Bluray cover

Film: It must be horrible to make something that no one seemingly gives a damn about. I know that one of my biggest fears about this very site is that I’ll go a week with absolutely no hits, and that what I am doing is just shouting into the wind. That’s possibly quite egotistical but I guess we all want to make a mark in some way and my wanting to make that mark is why I continue to do what I do… that and warning you, dear reader, against some of the scourges of cinema.

What must be really horrible is to be a part of a collaborative project like a film that just gets dumped and almost feels like it’s sole purpose for existence is to disappear and be forgotten. I get angry when I see films that just slip into release with not even a by-your-leave.

This film seemed to be one of these ones that slipped by without anyone noticing and I was surprised as it has a decent cast (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane and Annabeth Gish) and a decent director writer in Mike Flanagan (Oculus and the excellent Hush). 

Jesse (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) are a couple in crisis: an indeterminate time ago their son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero) died when he drowned in his bath. Jesse and Mark are making an attempt to recover from their horrible misfortune by taking on a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), a 7 year old who has been subjected to some mistreatment himself, such as abandonment, and an attempted murder.

Thomas Jane as Mark and Kate Bosworth as Jesse

When Cody joins the family, unusual things start to happen. Whenever Cody sleeps, they are visited by butterflies that disappear into mist once he wakes up. The longer he is exposed to the family though, the ghostly butterflies turn into a ghostly form of Sean, and Jesse becomes obsessed with telling and showing Cody more and more about Sean, as the more he knows, the more defined the ‘ghost’ of Sean becomes.

There’s more to Cody’s dreams though, as the manifestation has a dark side too as a horrible thing, the Canker Man (Topher Bousquet), also comes to visit…. And sometimes he takes things away with him…

Jacob Tremblay as Cody

So as you can see by that synopsis, it has all the foundations for a good, modern Nightmare on Elm Street type thing, with dreams becoming reality, but Flanagan has been so meticulously careful with the subject matter of a child whose passed that the supernatural elements of the story suffers for it. 

Maybe it’s just the horror of losing a child is far greater than any supernatural claptrap.

Bosworth, Jane and Gish are amazing in the film. Bosworth plays the emotionally delicate mother to a T, and Jane as the ‘trying to be tough through it all’ average joe (with a terrible Nickelback styled haircut) plays opposite her beautifully. Special marks have to go to the wonderful performance by newcomer Tremblay, who plays the tortured child with emotion greater than his years, and quite understated.

The direction of the movie is wonderful, and the effects… and the subtlety of the effects… are fantastic (if you watch this film, watch the antennae of the butterflies to see what I mean), but this film suffers for its subject matter.

Sometimes films do get dumped and as sad as that is, sometimes it’s because they are misguided in where the horror lies. This is melodrama dressed as horror, and if I were reviewing the performance for a dramatic film about the loss of a child, it would score quite high, but if this is a horror film, well, not so much. 

Score: **

The Australian Bluray menu screen

Format: The reviewed copy of this film was the Australian Bluray release, which runs for approximately 97 minutes and is presented in an immaculate 2.40:1 image and a matching Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Score: *****

Extras: You didn’t want extras, did you? Well tough: there is none.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s not my thing, so no.

Topher Bousquet as The Canker Man

R.I.P. George A. Romero

In extraordinarily sad news, the TWP is sad to report the death of a man who made his career with the dead, George A. Romero.

Romero basically created the ‘living dead’ genre with his spectacular film, Night of the Living Dead, in 1968, and gave as several sequels, and probably the greatest zombie film ever, Dawn of the Dead.

He passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer, aged 77.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Romero, and thank you SO very much for your contributions to horror movies.

Torture Garden (1967) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Torture Garden (1967)

Australian Bluray cover to Torture Garden

Film: I’ve always loved anthology films. I probably started with ones in the eighties, like Creepshow, Twilight Zone, Tales of the Darkside and Cat’s Eye, but have since gone back and explored older ones too, like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and other films of its generation and style. These all seemingly have their origins in EC’s horror comics, and most of the wear their influences well no truly on their sleeves… hell, some are even BASED on those very same comics, like 72’s Tales from the Crypt, and the TV show of the same name.

It’s amazing how most anthologies are horror movies too, as realistically, good horror is like a good joke: everything works to a payoff that’s over the top or unexpected. Horror films are more a long, well articulated anecdote, whereas a good horror anthology is a bunch of riddles, usually, but not always, strung together by a host of some sort, who acts as a kind of comedian sharing his laughs.

This film, Amicus’s Torture Garden fits cleanly into that category. It’s got some great pedigree too: directed by Freddie Francis, who previously directed the aforementioned Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and Tales from the Crypt, not to mention The Deadly Bees and The Skull! Just to round off that level of pedigree is that it was written by Robert Bloch, writer of The Skull, The House that Dripped Blood, no most importantly, Psycho!

Welcome to the Torture Garden, the most horrible house of horrors at the circus, where Dr. Diabolo (Burgess Meredith) will show you the horrors that mankind has subjected itself to with his display of various torture devices… but for an extra five pound, he’ll show you something even more special.

Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo

In his back room, he has a fortune-telling dummy, Atropos, which has the appearance of a gypsy woman (Clytie Jessop) holding shears, and when you look into your reflection in the shears, your future will be told… your terrible, horrifying future.

Watch the futures of a murderous man, Colin (Michael Bryant) possessed by a cat to commit evil; an aspiring actress, Carla (Beverly Adams) who’ll do ANYTHING to become successful at her craft; pianist Leo (John Standing) who’s relationship with a young lady is threatened by jealousy from an unusual source and finally, Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance), and Edgar Allen Poe collector desperate to see the secrets of a competitor, Lancelot Canning’s (Peter Cushing), collection.

Living doll Beverly Adams!

It’s a fun collection of tales, as mention above, written in that very deliberate style of the EC comics and their ilk. It’s a slow set up to each tale, with a satisfying, though not always surprising ending… you know those times you know the answer to a joke but you go along with it anyway, well this is like that.

It features a solid cast though, with some enjoyable performances and seeing greats like Meredith, Cushing and Palance together is a great treat, but in a world where things like Creepshow and Tales of the Darkside exist, it’s not one of the great anthologies, and this may have something to do with the pacing as the stories are all actually quite interesting.

Score: ***1/2

Torture Garden Bluray menu screen

Format: This Australian region B bluray runs for approximately 96 minutes and it’s presented is a clear, but not fantastic, 16:9 image with an excellent Dolby 5.1 audio track. There is a very occasional artefact, but they are rare.

Score: ****

Extras: No extra for you!

Score: 0

WISIA: If I feel like watching an anthology horror film I’ll probably watch something else before this, but I may watch it again.

Jack Palance and Peter Cushing… acting pedigree!

ELVIRA stars in Call of Booby… I Mean DUTY!!

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Zombies Update

Elvira: more animated than normal!

I am an unabashed Call of Duty fan. I find myself losing hours and hours in it. Am I very good? Well I used to belong to a clan (Oz Rebel Misfits represent) and we did pretty good but on our team I was never an MVP. I just enjoy playing, though I rarely do the campaign and never do Zombies… but this year something different has happened.

They’re Coming for You, Barbara!

I don’t actually like the current CoD. I am sick of the scifi environment and am not a fan of the jumpsuits/ wallrunning no all that stuff as I think it takes away from the core of the game. When I heard that this year the new CoD was going to be WW2 I was absolutely stoked.

Dead End Drive In

So this year, more accurately, in the last month, I have taken to playing the Zombies section of the game. Now I imagine it must seem weird that a horror fan like myself would avoid this part of the game but I prefer the team no team stuff rather than this 4 against the zombies cooperative stuff, but this current zombies has a firm basis in genre film and I’m loving it.


This year has four intrepid heroes trapped in various film environments fighting zombies and other creatures (like Bigfoot) with a bit of help from various celebrities. The first episode, Zombies in Spaceland, is set in a theme park in the eighties with a guest appearance by David Hasselhoff, the second is Rave in the Redwoods featuring Kevin Smith and the other was a 70s themed one starring Pam Grier. Each episode is introduced with a cool little, old school styled animated recapping the last episode, and introducing the next!

you need big balls to invade the earth!

Yesterday a new update happened of PS4 and we have been treated to the 50s styled Attack of the Radioactive Thing, hosted by the one and only Elvira, Mistress of the Dark! It starts in black and white and slowly evolves into a washed out, b-movie styled colour and you spend your time opening areas, shooting zombies and aliens before meeting a gigantic thing that’s attacking a ship in the harbour.

That’s a big radioactive thing!

I haven’t finished the level, but it’s more fun that a barrel of undead monkeys: check it out!

R.I.P. Joan Lee

The To Watch Pile would like to pass on our condolences to Stan Lee for the passing of his beloved wife Joanie. 
Not many people know that she was part of the inspiration to create the Fantastic Four and Spiderman as Stan was considering not doing it, but she suggested that he wants to quit comics anyway, so he may as well do what he likes, and damn the consequences. As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. Stan has told this tale many times, and I myself am one of those types who owes his successes to his wife.

He, along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, birthed the Marvel universe around her trust in Stan’s ideas.

I may criticise Lee on my Facebook page, but it is partially tongue in cheek, and I do believe that he and his gang, along with Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino over at DC, rebuilt the superhero comic into what it is today. 

Joan, a former British hat model, apparently suffered with a stroke earlier this week. She is survived by Stan and their daughter, J.C.

Ghoulies (1984)

One from the re watch pile…
Ghoulies (1984)

The bluray cover to Glass Doll Films release of Ghoulies

Film: If you’ve read other reviews I’ve written on this site, you may have come to the conclusion that my favourite horror movies come from the 80s, and that conclusion is correct. All the films I truly love are circa 1979 to 1986, and Ghoulies is one which whilst I am not a huge fan of, I do think is a fun film to watch.

Little monster movies were a cool fad of my beloved horror period, and this film was one amongst those, along with Gremlins and Troll. Ghoulies was written and directed by Luca Bercovici, who is possibly better known as an actor, judging by his actor credits.

Our story starts with baby Jonathon (played as an adult by Peter Liapis), being spirited away from his cult leader father, Michael Graves (Michael Des Barres) by cult member Wolfgang (Jack Nance) after a his sacrifice is unsuccessful.

25 years later, Jonathon returns to the house, with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) after his father’s death and decides to quit university to restore the old place. In his cleaning of the house though, he discovers an old book which he is drawn to and he seemingly knows how to cast the spells written within instinctively.

Lisa Pelikan and Peter Liapis as the young lovers.

Quickly, he calls up a bunch of ‘ghoulies’, two of which, Grizzel (Peter Riche) and Greedigut (Tamara De Treaux) who inform him that if he want that which he craves, enlightenment and power, he needs to complete a ritual which will require the assistance of 7 of his friends, but will all of them survive the night?

This is 80s cheesy filming at its very cheesiest. All the staples of horror and ‘horror comedies’ of the time are present: the stoners, the awkward guy, the guy who thinks he’s cool but isn’t and a bunch of canon fodder disguised as flirty girls, including an early appearance of SVU’s Mariska Hargitay.

The misstep this film makes is the appearance of the Ghoulies and of Grizzel and Greedigut. This story is actually a pretty cool supernatural tale, but the addition of special effects artist John Carl Buechler’s pretty poorly designed puppets and the little people actors who look more like they should be in Willow than here detract from what could be an amazing movie. I also must say for the period, the lack of nudity is unusual for a film of this low caliber.

They are my only complaints though. The movie is quite short so at no time are you bored, and it is quite imaginatively filmed, so except for those dodgy effects, it does entertain.

Score: ***1/2

Ghoulies Australian Bluray menu screen

Format: This review was performed with the Australian Glass Doll Films region B Bluray release which runs for approximately 81 minutes, and is presented in a clear, though occasionally artefact-y image 1.85:1 with a crisp Dolby DTS-HD audio track.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s a bunch of cool extras on this disc:

First there is a great commentary featuring Luca Bercovici, hosted by film historian Jason Andreasson which really tells some great behind the scenes stories.

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste – an Interview with Scott Thomson sees Thomson, who played Mike, recall anecdotes and musings on the making of the film.

“Just ‘Cos of the Chick, Man” – with Luca Bercovici sees Bercovici, the writer/ director of Ghoulies, discuss his career in multiple roles in cinema, from dialogue coach to actor to writer.

Editing an Empire – An Interview With Ted Nicolau sees editor of Ghoulies Nicolau reflect on his career.

It’s an interesting collection of interviews which when all watching one after the other, don’t paint the prettiest picture of Charles Band.

There is also in informative booklet about the film by Dave Jay, and the cover is reversible, with the orphan poster on one side, and some cool fresh art on the other.

Score: ****

WISIA: 80s monster movies? Yeah, I’m watching them again!

A Ghoulie.