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.

After.Life (2009)

After.Life (2009)

The cover to the Australian DVD release

Film: You just have to love it when a first time director knows how to use a hammer, and hits every nail right on its head, and here, with After.Life,  Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does just that. The director is also the co-writer along with Paul Vosloo and Jakun Korolczuk and the three of them have crafted an amazing story with some spectacular set pieces and excellent performances from the cast: not bad for the first swing at the ball.

After.Life tells the tale of uptight school teacher Anne (Christina Ricci), who is in a relationship with lawyer Paul (Justin Long) that has its problems, that is, constant fighting, and in general she just seems completely disinterested. After an argument that starts as a misunderstanding, Anne jumps in her car and has a horrific car accident, where she is pronounced dead at the scene… until she wakes up on the slab at a mortuary.

Christina Ricci as Anne

Funeral Director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) is attending to her body and explains to her that he has the ability to talk to the dead, in which he feels he helps the souls of the deceased transition from their living state to one otherwise. He explains to Anne that not everyone has the same ease in their transition, and he feels that she might be one who finds it complicated.

Anne is not thoroughly convinced, and feels as though she is still alive so it takes all Deacon’s patience to help her, and being her burial is a few days later, he is under a time constraint but Anne’s concerns that she is not actually dead, and instead a prisoner keep resurfacing, and after a time, may be not so unfounded…

Liam Neeson as Deacon

Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s directorial skills lie in two main areas: cast performance and scene setting. Every scene was lit and set like a painting and put together with the kind of meticulousness that would make Dario Argento sweat, and the cast all really were able to show their stuff. Ricci’s character’s fractured personality mixed with confusion made her initially unlikable but eventually you felt badly for her plight… I should probably point out for the pervy Ricci fans that there is a little bit of nudity in this film of her as well!!! Liam Neeson played his role like a less vaudevillian Vincent Price, and Justin Long actually acted for the first time in his life, and didn’t just seem like the Mac/ PC guy.

All in all, After.Life is a delicate film with some great performances and drips with a creepiness that could only be compared to an old guy in a raincoat on a schoolbus. I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it the first time I watched it, had forgotten all about it and have to admit to being totally impressed by it. The performances of all in this film were superb and the film will keep you guessing right to the end.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian DVD

Extras: The disc opens with a few trailers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Crazies (remake) and The Collector and the only other extra is a trailer for After.Life itself.

Score: *

WISIA: This is a forgotten film that I only just remembered even existing and now I think it will enter my regular rewatch rotation.

Ricci ponders the difference between life and death

Sexcula

Sexcula

Film: It’s a wonderful thing for film fans when a lost film is rediscovered, no matter how obscure. Sexcula is probably the only known attempt at Canadian porn in the 70s, and honestly, that’s for the best.

A young girl inherits her grandfather’s house after he dies, and so she and her beau travel to see the property. The house is a renovator’s nightmare, but she reveals to her partner that somewhere within the house is her grandfather’s diary, which tells of some fascinating events involving the lovely Dr Fallatingstein (Jamie Orlando), her creation Frank (John Alexander), her sidekick Orgie( Tim Lowery) and sex therapist Countess Sexcula (Debbie Collins)…

…oh, and an oversexed gorilla (Bud Coal).

The story tells of how Fallatingstein’s creation, Frank, is fully operational, but for some reason cannot perform any sexual act as he is unable to get an erection… this is pre-Viagra… even using a resorting to using a sex robot that Orgie is constantly trying to have a go at. Fallatingstein contacts the one person that should solve Frank’s problem, the sexy Countess Sexcula.

Sexcula tries varies situations to arouse Frank, but he seems easily distracted or just not interested. Can Sexcula get Frank to… um… rise to the occasion? You’d better watch Sexcula and find out!!

So obviously, a lost legendary porno film is never going to live up to its hype, but that’s not to say that the usual trapping of 70s porn aren’t here: terrible acting, dreadful sets, horrendous acting and, well let’s just say, ordinary people rooting. Don’t expect the finely waxed landing strips of your partner either: the people in this film have more bush than a national park!

The acting is of a desperately low quality as well. I admit I am not expecting Oscar winning performance in a film like this, but an ability to deliver a line without sounding like you were reading the script off idiot cards might make the low and hairy/ scarey quality of the porn slightly more bearable.

Unfortunately, the acting and sex aren’t the only things problematic with this film. To be fair this is a ‘lost’ film, and one can’t always expect pristine hi-def quality from the providence that something like this comes from, and I don’t wish my criticism to sound like it is aimed at those who released this film. Clean up on a project such as this is definitely not going to be of a priority like, say, the James Bond collection.

There are two definite image problems here though, and they unquestionably stem from the direction. The camerawork was occasionally sloppier than the fellatio, and whilst I don’t expect the expertise of Dean Semler in a 1970s Canadian porno film, something that wasn’t occasionally like an even more amateur version of The Blair Witch Project would certainly have been appreciated. What is amazing though is that this camera issue isn’t always immediately apparent as the lighting of the sets are so murky (I imagine the idea was to make it look ‘spooky’) that you can’t quite be sure of everything the camera is doing: at one point I even though my TV had somehow turned itself off!!

Hilariously, occasionally olde school spotlights are used for dramatic effect, and fail tremendously.

It’s not all bad, though. The music soundtrack is a particular highlight, being a hilarious combination of Brady Bunch music, elevator muzak and Russ Meyer burlesque, and let me tell you, two of those don’t sit well with hardcore sex!!

Unsurprisingly, the image from this lost film is pretty poor, but that is not due to Impulse Pictures’ transfer. The film itself looks like it was mostly filmed in a basement with only Dolphin torches for illumination. The transfer is pretty good, with the film having only occasional artefact damage. The sound is presented in mono 2.0, and again, the original sound is the issue, not the transfer… it’s been a while since I heard the ‘clicketing’ of film running through a camera on a disc. Having said all that though, the presentation does add to that grindhouse feel that we all love so much.

Tragically, that is all I can say is good about the film. If it was supposed to be a tribute to Universal Horror, with its obvious winks to Dracula and Frankenstein, it failed miserably, and if the horror aspect was just supposed to be dressing for my arousal, well we had another fail. I’m a guy and I am supposed to be easily turned on, but unfortunately this received another ‘F’. Honestly, watching a documentary about a sewer treatment plant would spark movement in the underpant area quicker that this piece of tripe.

Bad acting, hairy arses, crappy wigs and substandard camerawork: yes, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 70s porn. The film itself is somewhat of a chore to get through, especially with the dialogue being so dire (but occasionally funny) and the sex not being very sexy, but for a collectors of porn/ sexploitation history; it’s probably a must have, but certainly a once only watch. The ending also, is something that has to be seen to be believed… but not in a good way!

Score: *1/2

Extras: As far as extras on the disc go, I am afraid there is only a trailer, but there is also an essay by ‘porn archaeologist’ Dimitrios Otis and comic by Rick Tremble giving some additional insights about the film.

Score: *

WISIA: Definitely not.

My Dear Killer aka Mio Caro Assassino (1972)

My Dear Killer aka Mio Caro Assassino (1972)

The cover to Shameless’ release of My Dear Killer

Film: This film opens with the greatest murder EVER put to celluloid. I kid you not: it has to be the MOST original murder weapon any killer has EVER used in a film, and I will have no argument.

The weapon of choice?

It takes a particular skill set to murder in this fashion

A bucket digger mounted on an earthmover (they call it a dredger in the film, but that is wrong) picks up a guy by his head and squeezes until it pops quicker than a zit in a teens bathroom. My reasoning for claiming its ‘best’ status is twofold: one, the inventiveness of the killer to think ‘Mmmm, opportunity is knocking, why not answer?’ when suddenly deciding to grab the victims head, and his/ her sheer chutzpah to actually use it… I mean, it is hardly stealth, kill-in-an-alley kind of a weapon!! Color me admirable!!

This film was directed by western/ Trinity Brothers director Tonino Valerii from a script by Roberto Leoni (Santa Sangre) and Franco Bucceri (Gli Esecutori), based on a story by them, along with Velerii himself and Django co-writer José Gutiérrez Maesso (which is nodded to in a scene where Django is played on a TV).

My Dear Killer tells of police investigator Luca Peretti (giallo regular George Hilton) who is assigned to a murder case when an insurance investigator has had his head removed in the aforementioned murder. As the layers of the murder unfold though, he finds himself caught up in an older investigation which involved the kidnap and death of a young girl. Of course as the investigation gets deeper, the bodies start piling up, but can Peretti figure out who the killer is with the unusual clues he has?

Giallo killers are always perverts too

As a fan of giallos I looked forward to seeing this, especially as its male lead was in other giallos such as The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All The Colors of the Dark, and was much more than pleasantly surprised. Even though the story is quite detailed, it never becomes a victim of its own cleverness, nor does it becomes convoluted as some giallos do. The investigation goes from a to b without any longshot hunches that these films can sometimes contain.

There is some well played violence in the film as well, though somewhat silly at times (the killer sits and chats with one victim before searching her house, whilst she quizzically watches, for something to kill her with, and finds a circular saw!! This guy is clearly a disorganised serial killer to not have a weapon handy) and being an Italian film of its era, some stunningly gorgeous cast members.

I should also point out that this Shameless release is the first time it has been released uncut, which should add to the joy to those who like the bloodier side of things.

I think this film is a great giallo, and it is truly a shame that Valerii never made another as its direction is really solid. Also, it being a part of the Shameless collection, number 11 in fact,  gives it some collector swagger as well, with the spine of the amray making up the word ‘Shameless’.

Score: ****

The DVD menu screen

Extras: Not the greatest ever extras from Shameless on this disc. We have the trailer for the film, and a bunch of trailers of other Shameless releases, including What Have They Done To Your Daughters?, Night Train Murders, Torso (Carnal Violence), Baba Yaga: The Devil Witch, Ratman and The Black Cat.

Score: **

WISIA: Yes.

Strangled by the prices at the post office. Nothing’s changed.

This film was reviewed with the UK Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD 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

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

Kraken Attack

Kraken Attack

Kraken Attack from Loki!

One of the great thing about having children is that you can mold them into being little versions of yourself. Being a horror fan is a difficult thing though, because you don’t want to say to your six year old ‘ok, sit down. It’s time you watched Human Centipede.’ The best way to develop your child into a monster kid is through stuff like Scooby Doo, and getting them to play games that have monster themes, like this one, Kraken Attack.

Kraken Attack is a co-operative game, which means the players work with each other against the game, and everyone plays a different pirate on a pirate ship getting attacked by a kraken. The pirates win if they injure the kraken three times, and the players are beaten if the kraken hits the ship four times.

The Kraken and it’s tentacles

The set up for the game is fairly simple. Each player (from one to four) picks a pirate and takes their accompanying deck of cards. The board is then set up with eight ship pieces put on the ‘ship’ part of the board, eight tentacle pieces put on eight side of the board in their starting rows, labeled with canons, guns or cutlasses and the kraken itself put into the it’s own board, separate to the main board, with some extra dice that will eventually pop up as the kraken wanders down the track that’s printed there…

… but more on that later.

Each player starts each turn with two cards from their deck face up in front of them. They roll the dice, one red and one blue, which have images of various sea creatures that represent rows that the Kraken’s tentacles are on, and move the respective tentacle along the row closer to the ship.

The cards!

Each column that the tentacles movie along are labelled with a canon, a gun and a sword, which are the weapons required to send it back to the beginning of the row. On each turn they can play the actions on their card which can be a combination of:

Hammer – repair the ship (after a tentacle attacks)

Boot – move in the deck

A cutlass, gun or canon – stop the tentacle on that row

The player can choose to do any or all of these actions, and depending on their character, can sometimes perform one of the actions more than once. If they are able to hit a tentacle on the row they are on, the tentacle goes back to the beginning of the row, ready to strike again at any chance.

The dice!

Also on each card is a porthole, and if that porthole has a funny face in it, the kraken gets angry, it moves along its personal board. Every time it hits a space with an extra dice in it, that dice is added to the dice pool so on every turn, more dice are rolled, activating more tentacles and making keeping the ship afloat more difficult.

This continues with each player taking their turns and trying to keep the tentacles away because if the ship gets hit four times and it isn’t repaired, the ship sinks and the kraken wins! Once the kraken gets to the end of its board it replaces one of the tentacles and starts attacking the ship personally, but if you wound it three times, the players win!

You may have noticed that I said the game plays from a minimum of one, which means it has a solo mode! You want your kid off the TV/ computer/ iPad but don’t have time to play a game with them yourself? Well this game has a solo mode that makes for a fun distraction for one bored child!

A 2 player game set-up and ready to play!

We love co-operative games in my house. I think it’s because we are all pretty good team players and are willing to take advice from others before playing our turn. This can occasionally cause something called ‘quarterbacking’, where one player tries to control the other’s actions, and because children are adorable little egotists, an older player might need to make an dictatorship game more of a democracy by making sure all the players get a chance to speak.

It’s great to play with children because it’s an all-win or all-lose situation, so none of them will feel singled out. The pieces are all wonderful looking toys that are inviting to play with. It’s simple to learn and really fun to play.

I honestly can’t talk this game up enough. I think Loki really outdid themselves with both the game and the components. It is a kids game, but my gaming group have found it’s just as good a game for adults who would like to play something co-operative, but don’t have the time for a game of something like Pandemic.

Score: ****

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

Stupid Deaths: The Frightfully Funny Game

Stupid Deaths: The Frightfully Funny Game

Stupid Deaths from University Games

Once, there was a movie starring future all-round-adorable-guy Keanu Reeves, and in that film was a character called Socrates, who once said:’ Death may be the greatest of all human blessings”.

He was possibly right, and I suppose we’ll all find out eventually, except for those who end up suffering Stupid Deaths, who may find out sooner than they would like… and for our amusement.

Stupid Deaths is a 2 to 6 player game that FEELS like a trivia game, but isn’t.

In Stupid Deaths, the board has 24 spaces set in a circle, and at one end of the board is a green space, where you, the player, will lay your coloured token, and opposite is a red space, where Death awaits, hungry for your life.

In addition to your player piece, you are also offered an extra life token, and two coffin shaped cards, one with ‘TRUE’ written on it, and the other with ‘FALSE’.

The VERY thematic true/ false cards

The gameplay is really simple! On each turn, one player draws one of the three hundred cards, and reads the horribly stupid death that some poor soul has endured. The other players decide, using their true/ false cards, where their belief of the text lies. If they are correct, they get to move one space, if they are incorrect, Death moves one space towards them. If every player chooses incorrectly, the person asking the question gets to move two spaces. Play continues with the card reader going around the table so each player gets to do it.

An example of the stories on the cards

If the Death token reaches or passes a player, that player has been ‘touched by Death’ and is out of the game UNLESS they have an extra life token… remember, the one you got at the beginning of the game… in which case, that player get to go one space in front of death, given an opportunity to stay in the game.

The winner of the game is either the first to reach the red space, or is the last one standing after everyone else has had Death surpass them.

I always have an issue with games that are not on-point with their theme, and I have to say that this game looks does match its theme. It has a stark aesthetic that works perfectly, with skulls and coffins all over the place, and a predominantly black board, and a pretty cute little Death standee. All of this is packaged in a pretty cool gravestone shaped box.

A game ready to be played

NB: there is a cheaper version of the game with the same name that comes in a coffin shaped tin, but it has no board or pieces and only 90 cards. It can be played by itself, or the cards can be added to this version for more deaths to choose from.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s not. To its credit, Stupid Deaths does know it has a limited lifespan, as regular gamers will start to remember the cards and that reduces the competitiveness of the game, but it’s not very expensive, so if you aren’t too worried about world wide resources, I guess it’s ok value? Seriously though, you might get 8 games out of it before it starts to get a little samey.

The other thing is the mechanic of player elimination. Once a player has had both their lives lost, they don’t get to play the game anymore. I understand that the game shouldn’t run much longer than 20 or 30 minutes, but who wants to sit on their hands during a board game night. Player elimination is the opposite of fun.

Also, the box suggests 2 to 6 players: at 2 players this game is absolutely terrible; you would honestly be better watching 30 minutes of Fail Army on Youtube, which would garner the same ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as the stories on these cards will.

Whilst the cards a funny and the black humour is suitably dark, it’s not much of a game. It feels like someone watched a Darwin Awards video and went ‘ I could make a game of that.’

Score: *

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

The cover to the Australian Blu-ray release of Jennifer’s Body

In the town of Devil’s Kettle live a couple of girls who have been friends their whole lives: superhot Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and bookish Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). Needy has always been the foil of Jennifer’s whims, and more or less does everything she wants her to. Our story sees the two girls, under Jennifer’s instruction going to a local dive bar to see a band from the city, Low Shoulder, led by the quirky Nikolai (Adam Brody). After a fire burns the bar to the ground, a slightly in shock Jennifer takes up Nikolai’s offer of a ride in his band’s van. Needy does NOT take him up on the offer.

Jennifer (Megan Fox).

Later that night, Needy is at home when Jennifer turns up, covered in blood, and clearly in a worse state of shock that she was after the fire. Of course Needy immediately thinks that something horrible has happened to her, but what HAS happened is a lot worse than anything Needy could have imagined.

Jennifer is no longer the same girl as what she used to be: no, Jennifer is now a succubus, needing the flesh of men to sustain her beauty, and when she doesn’t consume, she starts to, well, go off. Unfortunately for Needy, their lifelong friendship has given them somewhat of a connection, and the burden of Jennifer’s secret plays on Needy’s conscience… especially when Jennifer’s deadly affections turn to Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).

What will she do? How did Jennifer get like this? Can any of them be saved?

A stressed looking Needy (Amanda Seyfried)

Diablo Cody, writer of indie smash hit film Juno, is responsible for the script for this film (and has a cameo as a bartender) and whilst her story and dialogue in that film was a pleasure, this feels a little forced, whether that is the fault of the performances or the script I am not sure, but it really feels like the script is deliberately trying to ‘speak’ to the youth of the time. I found that the script for Jennifer’s Body affected me the same way that Kevin Smith’s and Joss Whedon’s body of work did: at first I found them to be a breath of fresh air, but eventually found that someone had dropped an egg fart in my breathing space.

The director, Karyn Kusama, who previously directed Aeon Flux and Girlfight, has a wonderful eye. Visually this film is of a high standard:  the images of the waterfall, called Devil’s Kettle Falls, of which the town gets its name, which empties into in a glacial pothole in Judge C. R. Magney State Park in Minnesota, USA are as off-putting as they are amazing.  The whole film is a pleasure to look at, and not just because of Fox and Seyfried. Kusama has set some scenes whose colors should never work together, and yet somehow do.

 Every shot of the cast is amazing as well. Kusama has created this lush portraiture style that really shots the cast off well, and when you consider that cinema can potentially have a person’s face on a screen roughly 30 foot buy 70 foot, that’s brave because there is no hiding any imperfections one might have, and when you consider that for most actors their face is their fortune… wow!

The director has left some fun and occasionally clever visual cues here and there as well, such as a character playing a pinball machine called ‘Fire’ just before a fire breaks out, and the fact that the school is performing ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’, another tale of sisterly murder and betrayal. There are others, but I’ll let you find them.

Megan Fox deserves a lot of credit for the efforts she went to in this performance. She lost weight for the role, so when the succubus needs to look hungry, the make up applied makes Fox looks really sick and emaciated. It is a brave decision for a then young actress to allow herself to look repulsive when you consider that her acting ability may NOT be the reason for her popularity.

Also keep your eyes open for some interesting cameos, including everyone’s favorite artificial human Lance Henrickson, and J. K. Simmons sporting the ultimate hair-don’t!

I did enjoy this film, but essentially it was nothing more than a distraction with an OK story helped by Seyfried and Fox’s characters unusual connection. It seems to be a metaphor for when one grows out of their friends, and sometimes we do. Diablo Cody’s writing showed some real promise with Juno but feels a bit lackluster here: the direction and cinematography is a highpoint.

Score: **1/2

The menu to Jennifer’s Body

Extras:

There is a series of deleted scenes, titled Dead Boys, Jennifer Check is Gross, Needy Confronts Jennifer, Who’s Cindy Crawford, Needy Faces the Band and Ass, Gas or Grass. As expected, these scenes are superfluous and the film is better off without them.

We also have quite possibly one of the worst gag reels ever. Normally I get a bit of a laugh from these things, but nothing at all with these ones.

Score: **

WISIA: I think Fox and Seyfried are charming enough to make this a re-watcher, but not a regular one… honestly, this is probably the first time I’ve watched it in ten years.

Jennifer loves a yummy boy!

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