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.