Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 (2021)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of Batman: the Long Halloween Part 1

Film: Sometimes the best Batman stories are the ones that have a limited lifespan. Year one, The Dark Knight Returns and their ilk all stand up and really put Batman on the map, both as a flawed hero and an obsessed human being who’s obsession makes him more a bad guy than a good guy.

Myself and a few friends used to host a podcast called the Nerds of Oz where we predominantly talked about comic movies, but also other nerdy stuff, and one of the members of the podcast crew, Shane, says that this graphic novel/ limited comic series was one that made him really sit up and pay attention to just what Batman can be, and it turned him into an obsessive collector who just two days prior to me watching this Bluray, bought every single Batman ‘66 action figure, vehicle and play set from McFarlane toys.

Batman was a serious part of my upbringing as well. I still have memories, and photos, of me going to school EVERY DAY when I was in kindergarten, dressed in a Batman Halloween costume, and could only be addressed as ‘Batman’ whilst wearing it. When you consider that my stori in relation to Shane’s is 40 years prior, you can tell that Batman consistently been THE superhero that fans want to see on screen, whether it be due to the very fact he is someone who just stood up and said ‘Enough’ in regards to injustice, or whether you’re a furrie who likes to hang out in black leather on rooftops, getting your kicks from beating people up.

The Bat-man himself!

Anyway, this film, Batman: The Long Halloween Part One, is a part of the amazing DC animated features that have been coming out for well over ten years, and personally I think in most occasions have been more entertaining than the Marvel or DC live action movies because they lean much more heavily into the ‘real’ world of the comics, rather than thirty Hollywood writers adapting stories to what they feel the ‘general’ public could digest easily… you know, with that typical lack of respect some production companies have for the cinema going audience.

Dumb it down to make it more palatable to the masses… I’m looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok.

Ok, so I’ll tuck my soapbox aside and look at this film.

Halloween night in Gotham City always brings out the crazies… actually, every night in Gotham brings out the crazies, but Halloween seems to see the population rise.

Batman (Jensen Ackles), Captain Jim Gordon (Billy Burke) and DA Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) have come together to investigate the murder of the nephew of gangster Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone (Titus Welliver), who was about to roll over on the crime family in court.

Problem is though, it’s just the beginning of a series of murders that take place on holidays, and after being hospitalised by the Falcone gang, it might appear that Dent himself is the prime suspect and may be leading a double life… and if you know who Dent becomes, double is exactly the name of his kind of trouble.

Gordon and Batman go to the Calendar Man (David Dastmalchian) in Arkham Asylum, who offers them some cryptic information, but quickly they discover the Joker (Troy Baker) has escaped, and the last thing this investigation needs is a wild card in the deck…

Calendar Man explains the situation.

The first thing I’ll have to say that I really liked about this feature was the new take on the animation style. I got a real ‘Archer’ feel from it, with nice hard black outlines that don’t deter from the realism that it’s going for. There’s a real smoothness to the animation too that makes it almost feel more like live-action, which really gave the story a lot of gravity.

The design of the whole production is really amazing, borrowing styles from Batman the Animated Series, Anton Furst’ s designs from Tim Burton’s Batman and David Mazzucchelli’s art from Batman Year One. It’s weird that they decided to ignore Tim Sale’s style from the comics, but at least that gets seen in the opening credits.

The story is fantastic (so far); it’s a classic gangster/ crime drama, but with Batman villains thrown in for good measure, just to remind you that it takes place in the DC universe. The inclusion of a a-grade villain like Calendar Man is simply exquisite, especially to transform him into an almost Hannibal Lector advisor in the crimes.

I can’t comment on whether or not there was much difference between this and the source material, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the story… let’s hope Part 2 doesn’t screw it up.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release

Extras:

DC Showcase: The Losers is one of the short animated features that they slip on as extras onto these discs, and I love them because, as the title suggests, they ‘showcase’ characters who may not be popular enough to get a full feature. This is not the Losers seen in the 2010 movie of the same name (starring Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Idris Elba) but instead based on the original comics created by Robert Kanigher, which told of Navajo pilot Johnny Cloud and his platoon and their adventures in World War 2. This tale sees them trapped on an island with dinosaurs and a traitor… a lot of fun, and some nice visual tributes to Jack Kirby’s artwork here and there.

A Sneak Peak at the Next DC Animated Movie, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 looks at the second part of the story, available on a future release.

There is also previews of other Animated films, such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Also from the DC Vault, we have two episodes of Batman the Animated Series; ‘Christmas with the Joker’ and ‘It’s Never Too Late’. I find these extras occasionally irrelevant as most people collecting these discs would be collecting all of DC’s animated product, so ‘previewing; something that came out three years ago seems superfluous, and most of us would already have the episodes on season collections of the series’s. I do appreciate that they try to make the episodes relevant to the story, and I do find myself revisiting them, so I shouldn’t be too harsh.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I’ll have to watch it again when I watch part 2! Seriously thoigh, it’s a good, engaging mystery where Batman is actually being a detective instead of most modern-day iterations where he’s just a thug-like vigilante. I look forward to watching it again!

The whole thing starts with a murder…

This review was done with the Australian Bluray release of the film.

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

The cover to the Australian release Bluray of Willy’s Wonderland

Film: Nicolas Cage has had an interesting career… highs like Con Air and Face/Off, and lows like the Wicker Man remake, and then there is the absolute batcrap crazy stuff that he has been putting his name to since about 2018. It seems that the man has become the meme, and do I have a problem with that?

HELL no! If there is one thing that upgraded-hair Nic Cage can do, and do like NO ONE else can, it’s batcrap crazy, and in a fantastic move, filmmakers have decided that employing Cage the Meme is a far better idea, and the films being released with him in it have just been nothing short of odder than the loose sock box and a thrift store.

Willy and the Janitor face off… pun intended.

Willy’s Wonderland is the product of the mind of screenplay writer G. O. Parsons and director Kevin Lewis and boy-oh-boy, if all you want in 90 minutes of Cage not speaking and beating 5 different colours of oil out of some Five Nights at Freddy’s styled robots, you’re in for a treat.

If you are looking for a sensible and intelligent script with the absolute pinnacle of acting and special effects so real you can’t tell them apart from reality, you may not enjoy this… actually, why are you reading this at all?!?

Nic Cage played a character only known as ‘The Janitor’, a silent loner with an addiction to soft drinks, who’s pretty damned cool car is crippled when he comes across some police road spikes. The local mechanic/ tow truck driver, Jed (Chris Warner) only takes cash and his in-house ATM is down, so what will our hero do?

Luckily for him, owner of local burger joint Willy’s Wonderland, Tex Macadoo (Ric Reitz), has a proposition: clean up the restaurant overnight, and he’ll cover the costs of the repairs of his vehicle.

Our hero reluctantly agrees, and discovers two things about the restaurant. The first is that it’s condition is best described as ‘absolutely disgusting) and second, IT’S FILLED WITH ANIMATRONIC ROBOTS MADE FOR CHILDREN’S PARTIES BUT NOW JUST PROGRAMMED TO KILL, KILL, KILL!!!

The Janitor’s night of cleaning quickly becomes a night of violent survival, and the potential for carnage escalates when you include a bunch of local kids, headed up by Liv (Emily Tosta), who are trying to burn the place down, and the local constabulary, Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant), who seems to have secrets and motivations, involving a cult of serial killers, that are revealed as our story unfolds…

My first thoughts on this film was ‘oh crikey, what a rip off’ when you consider it’s similarity to Scott Cawthorn’s 2014 video game Five Night at Freddy’s, which tells a less violent version of the same story, and even 2019’s The Banana Splits movie, which tells a comparable tale, but with a much-loved kids TV show at its core. Realistically, it could have also been described as a homage to John Swartzwelder’s 1994 episode of The Simpsons, in which the robot entertainment of Itchy and Scratchyland goes haywire and start attacking the staff and visitors to the park, which in itself was a homage to many sources, including Jurassic Park and The Terminator. What we can definitely say though is all of these things owe their existence to Westworld.

That thought, long though it may seem, stopped pretty quickly once this film REALLY kicked off. We’ve ALL seen performances by Nic Cage where we have thought ‘now that’s something unusual’ but this performance hit the highest mark on the Owen Wilson WOW-ometer. His character has some form of mental diversity which keeps him relatively silent, set to a timer and probably more mechanical than the robots from the restaurant, which is possibly the point.

Weirdly, the accompanying cast are great support to our silent, but violent hero. Beth Grant, a character actor of the highest order whose IMDb reads like a list of every TV series of the past 20 years, but is probably best known as the dreadful Kitty Farmer from Donnie Darko gets a much deserved lead in this movie. Emily Tosta as Liv is probably a standout as well, as she shows probably far more intensity than the film deserves, and is easily the least caricature-like, unlike her friend group who just tick off the generic horror film checklist. I must admit to liking the character played by Caylee Cowan, truly a traditional horror bimbo of the highest order but I’ve followed the actor on Instagram for a while so it was nice to finally see her in a role, a small as it was.

Caylee Cowan goes full-horror bimbo in this flick.

Speaking of generic, it may have been on purpose and a parody of a lot of the Chuck-E-Cheese wannabe places in the US, but whilst the characters stood out from each other, but didn’t really have any sort of their own definition, and so were a little forgettable. I can honestly only name three of them right now after finishing the movie just a few hours ago.

Weirdly, this silent hero vs robot cartoon characters actually works. I can honestly say that when the movie finished, I immediately wanted to see what The Janitor’s next adventure would be, and I’m totally on board for a sequel.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian Bluray release

Extras: Only trailers for Willy’s Wonderland, Bill and Ted Face the Music, Parasite, Guns Akimbo, and Upgrade.

Score: *

WISIA: I think it might wear thin quite quickly, but right now I want to watch it again.

This film was reviewed using the Australian release Bluray.

The weird Tinkerbell-styled character

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.