Black Phone (2021)

Black Phone (2021)

The Australian Bluray release of The Black Phone

A few years ago, the film Sinister absolutely put me on my butt. It had been such a long time since I’d seen a horror film that actually felt like a horror story, and not just gore for gores sake, or that post-millennial ghost story trope that teens and regular cinema goers gravitate towards like The Conjuring or Insidious: you know, that easy, non-threatening ghostly rubbish made for mass market that is not much different from a movie from the Marvel or Star Wars universe.

That film came out in 2012 and there was a massively disappointing sequel released a few years later but to me with that first film, writer/ director Scott Derrickson parked his creative car firmly into the parking station of my brain. I admit I was excited at his employment as the director of the 2016 Doctor Strange film, being a fan of the character, and whilst I liked the film, I was disappointed by the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead, not because I don’t like him as an actor, but instead due to his horrible American accent.

The idea of Derrickson making a film based on a short story of Joe Hill’s, from his 20th Century Ghost compilation (also republished/ repackaged as The Black Phone And Other Stories to cash in on the film’s release) is a great one, and the expansion of that prose with the incorporation of his own upbringing in a violent neighbourhood in the 70s really rounds the tale off perfectly, with the juxtaposition of the violence of familial assault, bullying and a serial child murderer being so in line that I’m still not sure after several viewings, which was the worse situation.

Ethan Hawkes portrayal of The Grabber is quite disturbing

The Black Phone tells of a small town in Denver, Colorado that has become the hunting grounds of a serial child killer called ‘The Grabber’ (Ethan Hawke) by the local papers.

Several boys who go to the same school as Finney (Mason Thames) have already been taken, by the Grabber, including a tough kid who defended Him against the school bullies, and parents are on edge.

Mason Thames as Finney

Finney’s sister, Gwen (Madeline McGraw) has inherited her mother’s second sight, and much to her father’s (Jeremy Davies) dismay, has been talking to the police regarding one of the missing boys, and she continues to use it after Finney is inevitably taken.

Madeline McGraw as Gwen

After being attacked when stopping to help a children’s magician, Finney finds himself trapped in the basement owned by the magician, aka The Grabber. The basement is soundproofed, with just a single window, a bare bed, and strangely, a black phone hanging on the wall.

The black phone, of course, no longer works, but for some reason, Finney hears it ring, and when answered, he is visited by the voices of The Grabber’s previous victims, all of whom have advice on how to survive The Grabber’s advances… but will Finney be able to escape?

Derrickson has taken a very short story by Joe Hill and has expanded upon it using elements of his own childhood, growing up in Denver, Colorado. He mentions in the commentary that some parts of the script writing process felt like therapy. The incredible thing about the story is the upbringing is so violent, the bullying so intense and the parental beatings so brutal that when Finney gets taken by The Grabber, it feels like a release, and that before he was taken that the other kids have a subtle, nuanced jealousy of those no longer subject to the abuse.

This is a difficult thing to convey and not an idea you’d expect in a horror movies as it sounds more like a family drama film. The key to having this idea work was to have a cast capable of doing it, and even though Derrickson had many young actors in their roles, they were able to do so perfectly. Derrickson proves himself to very much be an actor’s director with how delicate those performances are.

The whole atmosphere is created with Derrickson’s choices in the presentation of the film. The soundtrack is provided by Mark Korven of The VVitch and The Lighthouse and when you consider Derrickson claims the pitch to him was ‘childhood trauma’, he absolutely hammered it home. These sounds in co-operation with the visuals which appear VHS-like at times, and in psychic visions have the grain of a Super 8, make for a film that has a Texas Chain Saw Massacre styled documentary or old news footage feel, which makes it all so much more effective.

The film was a wonderful example of modern horror filmmaking, and especially one done without a generic, so-called ‘true’ ghost story attached to it. I honestly can’t recommend seeing this film enough; it truly is a modern classic of horror movie storytelling. Do me one favourite please, Hollywood: you’ve made a wonderful, original film, please don’t consider remaking or sequelising this film.

Disc: This film was reviewed using the Australian Bluray release, which contains the following extras.

There are 2 deleted scenes which as usual, the film doesn’t suffer for them being absent.

There is a bunch of shorts that make up the next 4 extras that honestly, I suspect would have been far more interesting as a 40 minute ‘making of’ instead of a selection of shorts.

Ethan Hawke’s Evil Turn sees Hawke discuss what it takes to create an ‘evil’ character for a film, and then there is the usual ‘he’s so scary’ accompanying stuff. Hawke’s commentary about playing The Grabber is certainly interesting.

Beautifully shot and atmospheric, Derrickson’s film is a treat

Answering the Call: Behind the scenes of The Black Phone is a usual BTS styled thing, and it only goes for ten minutes, but still some of the sound bytes are interesting. There is a bit of circle-jerk offing as you would expect, but it still offers some insights to the making of the film.

Devil in the Design looks not just at the style of the Grabber and his basement cell, but also making it look like the 70s, and how it felt like it was real, and properly lived in.

Super 8 Set briefly discusses the use of Super 8 film to signify the dreams from the film, and how it’s appearance gives an unsettling feeling.

Shadowprowler – a Short Film by Scott Derrickson was filmed during lock down and stars, and is based upon an idea by his son Dashiell, with the music provided by his other son, Atticus, who also plays in the film. It’s a quirky little home-made horror film about home invasion made by a family who was bored whilst living in Kevin Sorbo’s house.

There is an amazing director’s commentary with Scott Derrickson which acts as both a discussion on the creation of his own film, and his own upbringing. Occasionally it almost seems like Derrickson is exorcising some ghosts from his own past, maybe he was, but the entire commentary is a must listen.

The Invitation (2022)

The Australian Bluray release of The Invitation

The Invitation (2022)

If the popularity of Jackass and Fail Army can tell us one thing, it’s that humans like to see someone fail terribly at something that could have been an achievement of mammoth proportions. The thing is, though, is that you only have to burn several seconds of your precious life with the set-up and pay-off of these skits, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve wasted time until you’ve slid down a YouTube hole into a void that started at 7pm but finished 30 minutes before you are supposed to get out of bed for work.

The problem with a film that does the same thing is that the promising set-up isn’t seen to fail until 90 minutes to 2 hours later, and that bit of time thievery can occasionally be unforgivable. At the risk of burying the lead, this film suffers from this very thing.

Our protagonist, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel)

The Invitation is a 2022 film, directed by Australian director Jessica M. Thompson who received critical acclaim for her 2017 film The Light of the Moon, and was written by Blair Butler, who genre fans will know as the screenplay writer for the 2018 slasher-in-an-amusement-park film Hell Fest.

The Invitation tells of struggling artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is given a ‘Find Yourself’ DNA kit after working as a caterer at one of their events. She resists the idea at first but eventually gives it a go as she feels disconnected from past relatives. Very soon she discovers a long-lost cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), a quite overbearing member of English aristocracy to reveals to her that she is the part of a family-wide scandal as her great-grandmother had an affair with one of the footmen (a BLACK footman! )at her estate, and had a child who was kept hidden.

Oliver invites her to come to a wedding at New Carfax Abbey in England, offering an all-expenses paid trip to meet other members of the family. Upon arrival, she awkwardly meets Mr Fields (Sean Pertwee) who assumes, due to her skin colour, that she is one of the hired help for the wedding, a mistake soon rectified by the arrival of the charming and handsome Walter DeVille (Thomas Doherty), the Lord of the Manor, who appears to be quite taken with Evie.

Quickly, though, we, the viewers, find weird goings on at the manor: maids start disappearing and Evie feels strange presences in her room, and her feelings of alienation increase as she meets more and more of the wedding guests, all of whom are white, and some of whom seem to be deliberately making her stay even more uncomfortable.

As our story unfolds, we discover a terrible secret within the house that may effect the future of Evie and her entire family!

The mysterious Walt DeVille (Thomas Doherty)

This film starts with a bang, and because I knew nothing about it before watching it, I found myself thinking we were entering a film similar to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which alters slightly as you begin to realise that the problem within the family is not a medical one, but instead is more of a supernatural one.

Thompson’s direction is wonderful, and reminds me a little of the first Twilight film with its lush, moist exteriors and darkened and claustrophobic interiors. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the cast as well, with Emmanuel’s American character feeling SO out of place amongst the posh accents of the privileged aristocracy, which adds to the stranger-in-a-strange-land feel to the film.

The images and darkened tone of the film are brilliantly underlined by a spectacularly haunting score by Dara Taylor, whose work can be heard in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and various pieces amongst The Boys series. The claustrophobic interiors are certainly made more cramped by the atmosphere it creates.

Evie’s cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner)

The dialogue of the script is wonderful too, and the performers are convincing in their roles, but that’s not to say the actual STORY is consistently good, and as I mentioned early, descends into somewhat of a car wreck.

When one considers modern horror through the eyes of Peele and his contemporaries, and the tales they tell, this feels more like something akin to Wes Craven’s much-maligned werewolf movie Cursed (one I actually enjoy). I expected to be wowed in a fashion like the afore-mentioned Get Out, or to be shocked like I was with the Wicker Man-esque Midsommar from writer director Ari Astor, but instead, this amazing set-up crashes horribly into an almost teen friendly result of a series of films that would be ripping off things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, or worse, Wesley Snipes’ Blade films. The car crash at the end of the film is the hamfisted shift in gear from psychological thriller, to supernatural terror, to wannabe monster-hunting franchise.

Another criticism of the script is the dreadful bait-and-switch performed within its story. Some creatures of the night have set rules throughout literature and cinema, and when a story chooses to ignore those boundaries for the sake of hiding the identity of a well known trope, it’s deceitful and not very good writing. Again, this reveal is towards the end of the film when it loses the traction it got at the beginning so it is not unsurprising.

My comparison to a Fail Army video is not so much that I wanted enjoyment from seeing someone fail, but instead, from watching someone achieving a magnificent feat: it’s a shame it instead descends into silliness.

I do look forward to more films by the director as I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals, and the quality of the cast, but were tragically let down by a story made more disappointing by an incredibly promising start. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t see myself rewatching it, and I don’t think it’s worth wasting your time on due to those disappointing story points. If delicious cinematography is your thing though, give it a look with the sound turned down.

Disc: This film was reviewing using the Australian Bluray release, which contains the following extras.

First, there are two versions of the film available to watch. The first is the theatrical version, whilst the second is the extended cut. General rule of thumb is to always watch the longer version as in general, the first things to be cut for timing, or ratings, is violence and nudity, which is definitely the case here, even though both are still on the lighter end of both elements.

There are some outtakes and bloopers which are not particularly funny or clever, but the cast seem to enjoy themselves through them so bravo to them.

There are two deleted scenes and an alternate ending. As one would expect, the film does better without the extended scenes, and it CERTAINLY is better into it the awful Goosebumps-styled ending presented here. Interesting to see the film actually could have ended even worse than what it did.

It’s amusing that all of these extras have wedding related names which are relevant considering the story, but not as obvious now the films name was changed from the more blatant ‘The Bride’

The Wedding Party – Meet the Cast is a brief introduction to the cast and the director, and their perceptions of the characters in the film.

The stunning statue from the foyer of the manor

Til Death Do Us Part – production and Design looks at how the filmmakers made the decisions of how the film should look, and the dichotomy of the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ of British aristocracy, or at least how it’s perceived in cinematic language. It is a beautiful film with some lovely design choices to lean into the bad stuff involved with the family, including a wonderful statue depicting something like the St George vanquishing the dragon artworks of Brent Notke or Adrian Jones, but the dragon clearly having the upper hand.

Lifting the Veil – Designing the Story investigates the idea of a more feminist view of a horror story and specifically the direct influences of a source novel I don’t wish to share as it is a spoiler, on this film. Some of the tributes are quite subtle whereas others are somewhat clumsy, and don’t work anywhere near as well, and announce where the story is going early, though you may, like me, hope it’s not going in that way.

The spa is one of the delightful features of the manor.

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

The cover to the Australian BD release of the film.

Film: I am a reviewer who cannot criticise sequels too harshly as I was brought up on them, from the original Star Wars saga to the various Friday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets I have always liked seeing further adventures of my favourite characters… which probably comes from being a fan of comics as well.

Of course in any series of films, one stands out as being the sloppy stuff that a dog pushes from its back passage… ladies and gentlemen, I give you A Good Day To Die Hard or as I will forever refer to it as A Good Day to Suck Hard.

This film was written by Skip Woods (more on him and his miserable script later) and directed by John Moore, who definitely knows how to put together an action sequence but can’t seem to get good acting out of his actors. It should also be pointed out he was responsible for the dire Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen remakes so be warned!!

A Good Day to Die Hard starts like a Bond film, with mucho shenanigans in Russia involving a political prisoner Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has hidden evidence against politician Chargarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), which culminates in an assassination performed in a nightclub by someone who we quickly find out is Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), son of John McClane (Bruce Willis), who is immediately apprehended. John McClane, back in NYC, hears of this and makes his way to Russia to support his son at a trial where he is to give evidence against Chagarin, claiming it was him who ordered the hit, which puts him in the courthouse with Komarov.

Three men, wondering why they agree to do this film.

What we don’t know though is that Jack is actually a CIA agent in the midst of a three year operation to get Komarov to an escape point so they can get him out of Russia and to use the hidden evidence to bring Chargarin to pay for crimes he committed in the past… as expected, John gets dragged into it and we are then subjected to double-crosses, gunfire, helicopter and car destruction porn (you’ll see the Mercedes Benz emblem more in the first 30 minutes than you have ever seen in your entire life) and a father and son relationship once strained, now repaired.

I’ll start with the only positive for this film: the action sequences. These were filmed with a Hell of a lot of skill and were as thrilling as all get out and on occasion have points of shocking sudden violence that come completely unexpected. There is nothing really original here though, and in actual fact the first car chase scene in Moscow felt like an 80s styled pop music megamix of the tank scene in Russia from Goldeneye and the car chases from Die Hards 3 and 4.

Moore also used the George Lucas school of filmmaking idea insomuch that every scene in a sequel should be like a scene from a previous film, whether that be for familiarity or a lack of ideas I am not so sure, but it annoys me to no end. This film had so many homages to other Die Hard films that I felt like it was a tribute band version of a Die Hard film: all the hits and none of the misses. It replicated the ‘falling’ scene (from the first one), big explosion scene (from the third one) and many others… honestly, they could have taken scenes from previous films and clipped them together and made this film as it really was just a bunch of big scenes linked together by a loose script that stole from both Die Hard With A Vengeance, XXX and several Bond films.

Gunship porn at its finest!

The script is where the film actually falls apart. Skip Woods, who for me was a winner with Hitman and Swordfish, but taught us what ‘SUCK’ looks like with X-Men Origins: Wolverine repeats his Wolverine experience with barely even one-dimensional characters, luke-warm stereotypes and plot twists that were so obvious that Bruce Willis may as well have been holding a sign that said ‘PLOT TWIST’. What also was a problem for me was that after all the double crossing and triple crossing, the motivation for the main bad guy seemed hugely watered down, and his entire plan relied on SO much convenience that he could have opened a 7/11 store.

The other real problem for me was the character of John McClane. Bruce Willis’s iconic character was SOOOOOOOO out of his depth in this spy film that at time he seemed like nothing more than an amusing sidekick to Jack McClane’s heroics. At times John would shine though with his NYC cop instincts, but ultimately, he was just there to fire guns and wisecrack

After such a good run, and as far as I am concerned, a great modern day reboot in Die Hard 4.0, this is a miserable waste of time that exists solely to hand over the reins to a new ‘John McClane’. Imagine the ‘handover’ scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull if it went for 98 minutes. Yeah: it’s THAT bad.

Score: *1/2

Easily the worst image of a menu screen I’ve ever taken!

Extras: As usual, a lot of this stuff could have been joined together to make one decent sized making of instead of a bunch of shorts.

Deleted Scenes as usual, glad to see the back of them because it would have made this film Die Longer.

Making It Hard to Die looks at the entire making of the film, from locations to venue the armoury the director wanted. Far too short as a making-of, but looks at a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think about in filmmaking.

Anatomy of a Car Chase directs the big car chase and looks at all the elements of it.

Two of a Kind investigates the similarities and the chemistry there had to be between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney’s characters.

Back in Action looks at the character of John McClane.

The New Face of Evil takes a look at the baddies of the film.

Pre-vis shows the action sequences in their raw, early CGI form. They look like early Call I’d Duty or Battlefield cut scenes, but they do show how bog action sequences are blocked out and they they decide on the best shot.

VFX Sequences dies at all the visual effects plates used for various effects sequences.

Storyboards and Concept Art Gallery look at the pre-visualisation of the film.

There are two Theatrical Trailers and a commentary with Director John Moore and First Assistant Director Mark Cotone

Maximum McClane is a mega mix of McClane’s Die Hard experiences.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s easily the least of the DH films so no, I won’t be watching it again.

The bad guys arrive!

This film was reviewed with the Australian Bluray release

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: There is no doubt that Lisbeth Salander is a character who sits in my top 5 favourite female characters of all time (for transparencies sake, the others are Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video games, Iden Versio from the Star Wars based video game Battlefront 2, Black Canary from DC Comics and She-Hulk from Marvel comics… Jean Grey from the X-men and Power Girl from DC comics follow close behind), and I have thoroughly enjoyed her character in pretty much well every incarnation I have seen of her, from comics to film to TV… but even though I like this film, I’m not quite sure that Claire Foy, a wonderful actor, was perfect for this role.

After seeing Roony Mara and Naomi Rapace in this role, I found Foy, who is wonderful in The Crown TV series as Queen Elizabeth II, to not be a physical match for the other actors, and I found her to be slightly unbelievable in the role. Another case of this from a film a few years earlier was Terminator Genesys, where Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones was thrown in as the ‘new’ Sarah Conner, but again couldn’t match her physicality.

Before anyone calls me out of this as being sexist I would like to point out it has nothing to do with sex. Sometimes a role requires a particular physical attribute to perform a role. Even though I like Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher films, I am not quite sure that he accurately portrays the character as defined by the book. I also wouldn’t like to see characters like Conan or John Rambo played by Tom Hanks at any time in his career.

Sometimes a look defines a character, and film being a visual art form, that requires a degree of accurate portrayal. Foy’ s physicality is perfect in the Crown, but for the role of Lisbeth Salander, I’m not so sure. That’s not to say she didn’t play the part well because she did, but I had trouble visually believing her.

Anyway, this film, the second in the English versions of the Millennium tales, is based on the novel by David Lagercrantz, who wrote this book after the character’s creator, Stieg Larsson passed away, and the script is by Jay Basu, who also wrote the Monsters sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent. The film was directed by Fede Alvarez, who previously gave us the Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe, two films for which I have a great respect.

Our story tells the continuing adventures of hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), who this time has been employed by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve a program he created called Firefall, which is able to activate the world’s nuclear weapons, believing is too dangerous to be ‘owned’ by the NSA.

Lisbeth (Clare Foy) in vengeance mode

Whilst making the attempt, Salander gets the attention of NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stansfield), which become her first problem. Her next one is the mercy who try to get the program from her, which makes her miss her meeting with Balder, causing him to think she is keeping it for herself. He contacts Crane (Synnøve Macody Lund) who puts him and his son August (Christopher Convery).

Very quickly, in twist after twist, the programme is being transferred from one set of hands to another, Salander finds there is a mastermind pulling the strings, her very own sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who has a very personal agenda against Salander.

For the most part I like this film. The story is engaging and it’s full of Bond-like action and twists and turns in the tale, but unfortunately, Foy, a wonderful actor, is disastrously miscast. Both Rooney Mara and Naomi Rapace looked like hardasses who had seen, and experienced, far more than their years would suggest, but Foy looks more like a cosplayer doing a cutesy version of the same character for Dragon Tattoo-con. It’s such a shame that the focus of the entire story, and this is more a story about Salander than about something she’s involved in as an interloper, has an actor who’s not quite right in the lead role.

Balder (Stephen Merchant) cops one in the eye

In Foy’s defence though, the choice of Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist is just as flaccid, so they make a great pair. I am comparing him to Daniel Craig’s performance in the American-made Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so maybe that’s not fair.

This even reflects in the design of the film. The characters all have some amazing outfits, especially the red suits that Hoeks gets to wear, but Foy’s outfits just look off the rack, instead of the almost gothic battle outfits the previous actors wore. The rest of the film design is wonderful as well. Alvarez has managed to make a film that’s so cold and wet looking you’ll need a blanket and a towel to watch it.

Speaking of Hoeks, her portray of Camilla Salander is as villainous as they come, and she feels more in control and a better all-round villain that every one of Daniel Craig’s Bind villains except for Mads Mikkelson’s La Chiffre. Whilst on cast, I was surprised to see Stephen Merchant in a serious role, something I’m not sure I’d seen him in before.

A few years ago, I was on a podcast where myself and the others there discussed our favourite characters of all time, be it comic, movie, book or whatever, and Lisbeth Salander was my number one as I have a real love of the character. This film is a good one, with one key piece of miscasting that causes it to fail somewhat.

A missed opportunity is the worst kind of fail.

Score: **1/2

Australian Bluray menu

Extras: Disc opens with trailers for Searching…, Venom and weirdly, the special features of the disc itself… ok, then…

Commentary with Director Fede Alvarez and Screenwriter Jay Basu which is a fascinating look at the story origins and what they took from David Lagercrantz’s novel.

Deleted Scenes, as I always say: the film was better off without them.

Claire Foy: Becoming Lisbeth is a discussion about Claire Foy’s portrayal of the character, and how it contrasts with her portrayal of the ‘other’ Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II in the TV series ‘The Crown’.

All About the Stunts talks about the stunts, focusing the the big car crash, the motorbike on the ice scene and a car chase. Each section seemed to focus more on the effects used so I’m not sure what this extra was about at all.

Creating the World: The Making-Of talks about how the decision to break out of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and into the new stories felt like a better idea than to remake the Swedish films that were already very popular.

Secrets of the Salander Sisters looks at the characters and portrayals of Lisbeth and Camilla and the difference between our antagonist and

Previews, which takes you back to the previews at the beginning of the disc.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: I will because it is a part of the Lisbeth Salander stories, but under protest!

Salander escapes across a frozen lake on her motorcycle

This film was reviewed with the Australian Bluray release.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The Australian release on Bluray of Paranormal Activity

Film: Oh boy, do I hate found footage films.

To me, they are the reality TV of cinema. Lazy, cheap and boring filmmaking that require ridiculous reasons for there to either someone with a camera or a camera remotely set up; this became most evident as this particular series of films rolled on.

The Blair Witch Project is a fairly shoddily-made, uninteresting film that created a hubbub around its release by duping people into thinking it was real. In terms of it being a piece of marketing brilliance, I can’t deny that, but once the magician’s trick, ie that it wasn’t real, was revealed it immediately lost all of its power. I find it interesting that movies are allowed to get away with this so-called marketing. They basically told us it was a documentary and it wasn’t; usually if a company made false adverting claims like that it would be the end of their career.

Micah (Micah Stoat) got a new video camera

This film was written and directed by Oren Peli, who also directed 2015’s Area 15, and has acted as producer on all the Paranormal Activity sequels (of which there are several).

Paranormal Activity starts with a thank you to the families of the main characters Katie (Katie Featherstone) and Micah (Micah Stoat) and the police department for supplying them with the video tapes of the mysterious case surrounding the events of the film.

The film starts with day trader Micah and his brand new video camera as he decides to fill his days with filming his and Katie’s lives together, but something as awry. As the filming continues, Katie and Micah discover through looking back over recordings made of themselves asleep, that there might be something in the house with them… something malevolent… something that doesn’t appreciate a psychic investigator, or Micah’s amateur attempts with a Ouija board.

Quickly things escalate and we discover that maybe whatever it is may have a secret locked in Katie’s past..

Katie (Katie Featherstone) is really impressed with Micah’s new camera

Ok, so I have displayed my opinion of these films in my introduction, but this film has a couple of things going for it. One is the cast. Katie and Micah make for a realistic couple which is what really sells the ‘found footage’ style of the film. The other is the way their characters are written, and the way their relationship starts to dissolve as the events of the haunting become more intense.

The problem I have with this film is that it is a party trick. The entire film has no soundtrack, unless you count the occasional guitar plucking that Micah does, but what it does do is plays a very low hum anytime something ‘scary’ is about to happen, and it’s very low, so you don’t just hear it, you kind of feel it too. Most films do something similar, but they also have a score as well. This has silence, and then the creeping ‘ommmmmmmmmmm’ whenever its going for scares.

Scorsese claimed that Marvel made theme park rides rather than ‘proper’ cinema, and if that’s true, ‘found footage’ films are bad VR experiences like the ones you would have played in a Shopping Centre at $10 for 5 minutes.

To its credit, this disc does have two versions of the film on it, the theatrical version and an ‘alternate’ version, which is the same film, but with the last minute being different… the problem being that different ending can also be seen in the extra titled ‘alternate ending’ so why have them both here. Weird choice.

You may ask why I own this disc then, if I hate it so much, but that’s has a very simple answer: my wife digs these films and she’s not a fan of horror, so if the opportunity comes to watch a horror film with her, I’ll take it, even if it’s one I don’t like.

Score: *1/2

The Australian menu screen

Extras: There’s only two extras on this disc. The disc also starts with a trailer for Nowhere Boy, before hitting the menu.

Alternate Ending is pretty dumb and I’m sure the filmmakers are glad they didn’t go with it, otherwise Katie wouldn’t have been able to show up in sequels.

Paranormal Activity fans is one of the dumbest extras I’ve ever seen. It’s one of my most hated things, a stills gallery, but of people who must have submitted photos of themselves to appear on the home release? I feel like I’m owed 6 minutes of time for wasting it watching crap like this for a review.

I would have given the extras at least one star for the alternate ending, but the ‘Fans’ extra is an absolute insult unless you are one of the ‘lucky’ people who are on it.

Score: 0

WISIA: Straight back to the bottom of the rewatch pile it goes, and stays.

The psychic

High Rise (2015)

High Rise (2015)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of High Rise

Film: I used to read a real lot, but just because time sometimes gets away from you, I don’t read anywhere near as much now. I used to read a big variety of stuff, from classics to modern horror, but somehow, the works of J. G. Ballard somehow missed my grasp.

After watching this film I have decided that that is something I need to rectify!

Ballard wrote challenging and disturbing work apparently, dealing with psychology, mankind’s relationship with technology, the media and sex… it’s always about sex! This film, High Rise, was based on his 1975 novel based of the same name.

Tom Hiddleston up to mischief in High Rise

This film was directed by A Field In England’s Ben Wheatley who just brings the most stunning eye to the story, making it a film that seems to be about the future, but setting it in what looks to be 1975, when you consider the fashion, the liberal smoking practices and the fact that SOS by Abba is referenced twice through the film. The adaption of the story was done by regular Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump, who also worked on A Field in England, and Kill List.

High Rise tells of Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a teacher of physiology who has moved into the 25th floor of a 40 story high rise after the death of his sister. He quickly befriends Charlotte (Sienna Miller) who lives on the floor above and Wilder (Luke Evans) who lives on one of the lower levels with his wife, Helen (Elizabeth Moss) and their children.

The building, situated on the outskirts of London, is one of five building which have a massive car park separating them. The architect of the project, Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives on the top floor of Laing’s building in a lavish apartment with an almost countryside-looking terrace, with his spoiled wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). Royal’s building has all the amenities a building would need to be self contained: a school, sports facilities, a shopping centre but with everything within reach, why would one after bother to leave?

Sienna Miller as Charlotte, who is NOT enjoying Wilder’s affections

After accidentally causing a tenant to commit suicide, by pretending a brain scan came back with cancer, Laing starts to believe that Royal has paid off the police so they won’t investigate goings on in the building, and as a cycle of power outages, garbage piling up and food becoming difficult to source, the people of the lower levels start rising up against those of the upper levels, and violence, rape, assault become the norm.

Very soon, a full scale class war begins, but who will survive…

I bought this film several years ago and it has sat unwatched in my, you guessed it, To Watch Pile and I’m sad I didn’t get to it sooner. Wheatley’s direction is dreamy and intense at the same time, Jump’s script is solid and profound and the performances are just fantastic. I would almost go so far as to say it’s one of the best cast films I’ve seen in a long time. If you like the ideas proposed in the movie/ TV series Snowpiercer, or even Doctor Who’s Paradise Gardens, you should enjoy this.

Super solid film that’s made me excited about watching it again, and even has opened me up to a new author to obsess over: what else would one want?

Score: ****1/2

The menu screen for the Bluray release of High Rise

Extras: There is only one extra but it is a fantastic little 15 minute look at the making of the film. It left me wanting much more.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh yes, there will be more views!

Yikes! One can almost see Hiddle’s Diddle!

Undead (2003)

Undead (2003)

The cover to Umbrella’s Beyond Genres release of Undead

Film: As far as horror is concerned, the early 2000s can be defined in two sub-genres: j-horror and zombie movies.

It was truly like someone had turned on the tap for wet-looking Japanese ghosts, blue filters and the undead… or in this case Undead.

The Americans and the English were all over the zombie sub-genre, and we got lots of stuff like Zach Snyder’s remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s second, less-successful zombie trilogy of Land, Diary and Survival, Paul W. S. Anderson’s movie version of the video game Resident Evil (and it’s sequels), Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool. Zombies became so popular that they were everywhere and in everything!

Our heroine, René (Felicity Mason)

The Australian writer/ director team, The Spierig Brothers (Peter and Michael) came together to make a film based on their home movie trilogy Attack of the Undead, and what they gave us was quite revolutionary.

Undead tells the story of a small town in Australia that has meteors hit, and cause an outbreak of zombies in the town! A small group of people, including the local gun shop owner Marion (Mungo McKay), a former beauty queen, René (Felicity Mason), local cops Harrison (Dirk Hunter) and Molly (Emma Randall), current (and pregnant local beauty queen Sallyanne (Lisa Cunningham) and her boyfriend Wayne (Rob Jenkins), do their best to survive the night, but zombies don’t seem to be their only problem.

A giant steel wall has encased the town, rendering it inescapable, and a weird rain that causes them to smoke also starts descending… and what are those strange lights seemingly abducting people in the sky…

A little girl zombie well before The Walking Dead did it

Undead starts as a fairly familiar zombie story, but we are well and truly shown why the dead are returning to life. To top that off, is we are also presented with a solution that at first appears to not be that at all. It’s very clever and a nice complete story that doesn’t end with a continuing threat of an apocalyptic future, or the lead players all just getting killed by circumstances.

The story has a lot of fun and comedic elements and easily one of my favourite lines from a movie comes from this film, spoken by Dirk Hunter in a scene where the survivors are defending Marion’s house from the undead… you’ll know it when you hear it… and situationally, some of the comedy is pretty funny too.

This is a part of Umbrella Entertainment’s Beyond Genres collection and has another amazing cover by Australian artist Simon Sherry.

I loved this film when it first came out, but unfortunately, it just hasn’t held up. It’s very Australian so the power of cultural cringe is high, but that honestly is part of the comedy of it, so it’s not why my opinion has changed. I think it may be because when I saw this film I had aspirations of making movies myself, and I was more impressed with their tenacity to get this film made. Now that I don’t have those aspirations I’m not as interested. It’s still a tribute to the brothers’ inventiveness, but I’m more interested in the actual story than the story behind it.

I do admit the triple barrelled shotgun is still really cool.

Score: **

The menu screen to the Bluray release of Unded

Extras: A great collection of extras that were previously available on the DVD release of several years ago, which include:

Audio commentary by directors Peter and Michael Spierig with cinematographer Andy Strahorn and it’s a good commentary for young independent filmmakers to watch to get the idea of how hard making films can be. A very interesting commentary indeed!

On the Set of Undead is literally just that; some behind the scenes footage of how the film was made, with an occasional bit of introduction by some of the cast and crew.

Attack of the Undead – a Short Film is the first from there indie trilogy which includes Attack, Rampage and Massacre of the Undead. It’s silly and dumb and exactly what you’d expect from young filmmakers.

The Making of Undead looks at the making of the film and where the Spierig’s inspiration came from, which as you expect, was from $1 horror hires from the local video shop.

Home Made Dolly Video is what independent filmmaking is all about. Ingenuity and desperation and making the most of your skill set for the result you desire. They show the design and process of how they built a dolly crane, and in a way that can only be described as ‘dinky-di’, how they welding it with no shirts on. Tough buggers.

Undead Camera and Make Up Tests looks at how the zombie make up and how it would look under various light sources and types.

Stills Gallery is photos… like in a book. Go buy a book instead of wasting your time watching this. Slideshows are boring: didn’t your grandparents holidays teach you anything?

Theatrical Trailer is exactly what it says on the box.

The Umbrella Beyond Genres release also comes with a copy of the soundtrack on CD and I love me a soundtrack!

Score: ****

WISIA: When this first came out it was a definite rewatcher for me, but it’s hasn’t aged well, so not anymore. This will probably be my last watch.

More dead people

This movie was provided by Umbrella Entertainment for review

The Sniper (1952)

The Sniper (1952)

The cover to The Sniper Bluray from Umbrella Entertainment

Film: I really love crime stories. As a kid, in between horror and sci-fi novels, I’d occasionally find an old crime novel and get stuck into that as well. I still like to read those sorts of novels and thankfully, the people at the Hard Case Crime book company issue some great stories both from classic authors like Ray Chandler, from better known authors like Steven King, and by other authors with… well, different backgrounds like Christa Faust.

I get my in-screen thills mainly from TV shows like CSI, NCIS, and Criminal Minds (a show watched so often at my house that the title score has both lyrics and a dance written and performed by my daughter and I) but I still don’t mind getting my movie crime drama on by watching an occasional noir flick, and thankfully, Umbrella Entertainment have this one available to buy now.

Eddie (Arthur Franz) lines up for a shot

The Sniper was written by Harry Brown, the screenplay writer of the original Oceans’ 11 from a story by Edna Anhalt, and directed by Edward Dmytryk, who gave us other noir films like Crossfire, Obsession and Cornered.

The Sniper tells of Edward Miller (Arthur Franz), an ex-convict who is having trouble adapting to life on the outside, and whose resentment towards happy couples, has escalated into full blown hatred of women, and his need to execute them with hid rifle.

When he kills musician Jean Darr (Marie Windsor), it starts a city wide investigation, spearheaded by Lt. Frank Kafka (Adolphe Menjou), and as the bodies of brunettes starts to pile up, the police work on a psychological profile of the killer, and start to close in.

Eddie in hot pursuit of singer Jean (Marie Windsor)

I really love this sort of movie, and several months ago I reviewed the Sharpshooter Trilogy from Something Weird Video, and after seeing this for the first time, I’ve come to realise that maybe those films were desperately trying to emulate this one, with less success.

The film is very progressive for its time, sure there are some unfortunate references to American indigenous people and a few sexist terms, but the discussions with what should be done with people suffering from violent psychological problems is so advanced.

There is solid acting throughout the piece, and truly the direction is above what you would be used to in this world of blockbusters, Marvels and Star Warses. There are two scenes in particular that stick out, such as the baseball scene, the ‘hand burn’ scene and the actually final moments.

Fantastically, the film has pre-credit title cards that have mentions of the lack of laws for those with psychological issues, so it does feel like it’s somewhat of a message movie, and I guess it is.

This is not a high powered full of gunfire and death, but it is a well crafted piece of cinema that will sit with you for a bit. Anyone who has seen Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver or Todd Phillips’ Joker will probably enjoy this need though it is not related to a comic character, so don’t make that mistake. This really is a very early example of what some may describe today as an ‘incel’ film

Highly recommended.

Score: ****1/2

The menu to the Bluray release

Extras: Only a small amount of extras but some good ones though.

Introduction by Martin Scorsese sees Mr. Scorsese talk about noir movies and their influences on modern cinema. Really, who else is there to talk about this type of film.

There’s a commentary on the film by author Eddie Muller is fascinating and well worth the listen too. Muller is the president of the Film Noir Foundation, which is all about restoring some of the amazing noir films of the 40s and 50s, and his expertise is a joy to listen to.

Noir trailers, including this film, Crossfire, The Big Sleep, Lady in the Lake, The Brasher Doubloon, The Maltese Falcon, and many more, literally over a 100 minutes of noir trailers. The quality is various but it’s a fascinating watch.

Score: ****

WISIA: Yes. 100%.

A young man accused of being the killer reveals there’s many young men like the killer

This Bluray was supplied by Umbrella Entertainment for review

The Suicide Squad (2021)

The Suicide Squad 4K Steelbook

Film: Suicide Squad (2016) was said to be the movie we deserved as movie-goers, and I totally agree with it. As action movies get dumber and dumber, and superhero movies attempt, over the ridiculous premise that superheroes are real, to legitimise their stories, society has fallen into their trap, seeing the flick, buying the merch and wearing the t-shirt.

(I’ll point out here that I am a big comic book fan, and have such a large collection I’ve been interviewed both by an Australian Newspaper, and more recently, appeared on a podcast about collecting.)

The pure hatred against Suicide Squad surprised me, to the point that I was shocked to hear a sequel was being proposed, especially after the Justice League fiasco, which I won’t go into here. I think the decision to acquire James Gunn as director and writer may have been VERY deliberate. It seemed to be a slap in Disney’s face for their firing of Guardians of the Galaxy director over a comment made on Twitter years earlier, which from a social media marketing point-of-view, made sense. Taking an ex-Troma director and putting him on Batman or Superman would be a waste, but a wacky premise like Suicide Squad fits into his range perfectly.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn

The premise of both the comic and the movies is fantastic. All the bad guys from the DC comics universe who have been captured and imprisoned have an opportunity to reduce their sentences by going on undercover missions for the U.S. government. This group, called Task Force X are basically put in unwinnable situations, that usually result in their demise, hence the nickname ‘Suicide Squad’. What makes these missions even more risky is that each villain has a bomb planted in their necks, so if they waver from the mission… KABOOM!

In this film, The Suicide Squad (note the ‘The’, that’s the difference) we see Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) organise a crack team, consisting of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Weasel (Sean Gunn), Savant (Michael Rooker), Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), Blackguard (Pete Davidson) and T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion) to infiltrate the small nation of Corto Maltese, with the intention of destroying Jötunheim, an impressive building that contains something called ‘Project Starfish’.

What this team don’t realise is that they are the B team, and the actual team consisting of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), The Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (a digital character voiced by Sylvester Stallone) are on another part of the island, ready to actually perform the mission.

Peter Capaldi as the Thinker

It’s quickly revealed that Blackguard is a traitor and when the B team is all but decimated due to his duplicitous behaviour, the other team have their mission revised to find Flagg and save Quinn, before gaining entry to Jötunheim, via the Project’s manager, Thinker (Peter Capaldi).

Once they gain entry to the facility, they find that Project Starfish is much bigger, and preposterous, than they ever could have imagined…

What a wonderful thing this film is: to give the director of things like Super and Slither an opportunity to take a ridiculous concept like Suicide Squad, and then to not sanitise his work like we saw in his output of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, is brilliant. This film doesn’t just adapt the comics, it turns them into a 70s styled, gory, sexy and raucous beast that has something to watch all the time. The choice of character that he’s been allowed to use really gives fans of DC comics a lot of Easter eggs to look for, and the story is told in the wonderfully staggered, time-hoping manner which makes the unfolding story a thrill to watch as well.

The casting is pure brilliance as well. Gunn does tend to have a gang that return, like Fillion and his brother Sean, but building on the cast of the original was obviously a great deal of fun. The best thing about a film like this it works best if the cast DON’T have any real synergy, and it really makes it a fun watch, like someone else’s unpleasant family Christmas Dinner. The performance add to this as well. Elba and Cena have one of the most wonderfully antagonistic relationships I’ve ever seen, and Melchior and Stallone’s starts off bad, but develops fantastically.

As usual, Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals almost every scene she’s in, and even though a large subplot and several of the big gun battle scenes star her, she still somehow feels a little underused.

The story is totally comic booky, and it proves that Gunn, who also wrote the film, knows his stuff and appreciates both how silly some of the power sets of comic super characters are, and how that can be capitalised on for a film. He, of course, did this previously with the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy by making a walking tree a deadly weapon of both violence and marketing, and a raccoon wonderful comic relief, but here? Well, a polka-dot suited man becomes a flesh-melting powerhouse, and a shark with legs and a child-like mentality becomes a gory source of amusement.

Gunn obviously had a lot of fun with the scene changes too, there’s truly some magnificent design choices using text hidden in plain site telling when the time stamp of the scene is. Sure it’s been done before in films, but Gunn’s creativity really shows off with some of the choices.

I do have to give a special shout out to a particular scene of medical atrocities that reminded me so much of those performed in Dawn of the Dead by Doctor Logan that it doubled down my enjoyment of the gore of it.

So, as someone who champions the much-maligned Suicide Squad film, how do I feel about this? I think it is a suitable follow up that exceeds the original, mainly due to its construction, effects and it feels more complete.

Score: ****

The menu screen for the Australian release

Extras: No extras on the 4K disc, but the accompanying Bluray has MUCHO extras.

Deleted and Extended Scenes are, as usual, superfluous and the film is better off without them… that’s not to say there isn’t some fun gore in them though… and a scene that shows the wackiness of Harley which I possibly would have left in.

Unlike the more recent Marvel movies, here is a gag reel that’s actually occasionally funny, especially showing off the comedy stylings of Pete Davidson, John Cena and Flula Borg, and perhaps acts as a warning that props don’t always do what they are supposed to do.

Bringing King Shark to Life looks at the physical and vocal acting that make this character, and the CGI the completes the whole thing.

Gotta Love the Squad looks at the comic on which the movie is based, the characters and the actors who play them… also in and around that, the costume designer and Gunn himself talk about the character design.

The Way of the Gunn is an old school ego-stroke, but if I consider that I like every movie he had made except one (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is such a load of crap… even worse is the first is BRILLIANT so it hurts even more) I’d probably agree that the stroking is warranted.

Scene Breakdowns looks at the design of 4 scenes, from the set design to the stunts, and is exceptionally fascinating!

Starro: It’s a Freakin’ Kaiju! talks about the brilliant decision to make the big bad thing a giant starfish that is traditionally a Justice League villain. The decision to not ‘adapt’ it but to instead make it just as dumb as comics are was a brilliant one and is discussed here.

Retro Trailers: War, Horror and Buddy-Cop are just amazing! These are trailers for the film but making them look like a 70s war film, an 80s horror and a late 80s cop film: these sit right in Gunn’s love of cinema and his sense of humour! It’s also nice that they highlight different characters too: the horror film highlights Ratcatcher 2 more than anyone else, and the buddy-cop trailer is all about Cena and Elba.

Commentary with Director/ Writer James Gunn is a lesson in filmmaking and a fascinating look at his creative process.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s very funny and very gory and occasionally sexy… ticks the ‘watch again’ boxes!

The artist formally known as Blackguard (Pete Davidson)

Night Killer (1990)

Night Killer (1990)

The cover to Severin;s release of Night Killer

Film: By the time the 80s had ended, there was a big problem with horror movies. Very few big movies were made as that one shot scare film because studios wanted not quality cinema, but that dreaded word that is banded around in this world of Marvels and Star Warses: ‘the franchise’.

It was our fault! We fell so in love with the big characters of the time: Freddy, Michael, Jason, Norman, Leatherface and others that the problem was one WE created, and as expected, every studio, instead of trying to be trailblazers, decided to take the weaker path of least resistance and they all just tried to come up with another franchise character.

The want of a franchise wasn’t just an American thing either, it existed in some countries, like Italy, where they would occasionally just bash a film together, and then whack a sequel used title on it to market it as one of those franchises, and why not? If we, the movie watchers were silly enough to spend our hard-earned on it, why not live the motto ‘a fool and his money are easily parted’.

That manipulation of moviegoers has been going on for years, and the retitling of films to expand its release opportunities was rife all over, and for much longer than in the 80s, and this film, Night Killer, also known as Non Aprite Quella Porta 3, which means Don’t Open the Door 3, shows that even entering the 90s, it was still happening, especially considering that name suggested it was a part of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, called ’Don’t Open the Door’ there.

The plot clearly has nothing to do with the TCM series, as it’s tells of a masked killer (described erroneously in various online media as ‘a Freddy Krueger’ mask – it’s definitely not) who is killing women in the city, but one, Melanie (Tara Buckman) has survived and may be the secret to solving the case.

After the attack, of which she has no memory, she becomes self-destructive and wishes to commit suicide, but a total bullying douchebag of a man who tried to pick her up, Axel (Peter Hooten), witnesses her attempt and saves her, only to keep her imprisoned in his house himself.

Described everywhere as ‘ a Freddy mask’… have they SEEN Nightmare on Elm Street?

Meanwhile, the killer , full of bravado, continues his killing spree,but will Melanie’s memories come back and help with the investigation, and what is Axel’s secret… is he really what he appears to be?

The director, Claudio Fragrasso wanted to make a film that mixed the slasher and giallo sub genres of horror together but wanted it to be less a girl film and more a thriller. This, as is the old story, was not what the producers wanted so they hired Bruno Mattai to drop in some gore inserts and then instead of using Fragrasso title of Night Killer, they attempted to incorporate it into the TCM series, as I stated earlier.

The cops shakedown a scumbag motel owner

I don’t think the gore scene are out of sorts within the film though, what is a problem is the absolutely shocking performances by the leads. There is only seven cast listed and I imagine it might be because the rest were embarrassed to allow their name to be attached to it.

The plot is mostly nonsense, and I’m not saying that I necessarily thought that a slasher from the 90s was going to be a plot driven masterpiece, but this is a mess that feels like the writer wanted to do a film version of Steven King’s Misery/ Gerald’s Game in a fairly sub-standard giallo-esque film, all the while attempting some kind of psychological hoo-ha about guilt, suicide, amnesia and maybe even Stockholm Syndrome.

I mean, I’m no psychologist myself, but it all appears to be surface level, unresearched bollocks.

Amongst of all that it wasn’t such a bad watch. It probably says more about me than I want it to, but amongst the gore and the misogyny and even the bad acting and stupid mask, I can honestly see this becoming a part of my regular rotation, even though it does have an even dumber, Brian DePalma Carrie ending that should have been cast into the ‘ideas that are stupid’ bin.

Score: **1/2

The menu screen to the Severin Bluray release

Extras: Only three extras on this Severin release, and the titles of them all tell exactly what the contents of the extra are. The first two extras, The Virginia Claw Massacre – Interview with Director Claudio Fragrasso and Mindfuck – Interview with Screenwriter Rossella Drudi each discuss the various production and behind the scenes tales of the film.

There is also the trailer for the film.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: It’s just weirdly bizarre enough for me to watch it again. Yeah, it will get rewatched.

A little something for the beefcake fandom