The Exorcist Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The exorcism of Casey Rance has finally arrived and all those involved must make a choice that will change their future forever.

Chapter Five retains the series gritty dark feel and The Exorcist continues to exceed expectations in ‘Through My Most Grievous Fault’. It’s partly a mile stone turning point for the characters, Alfonso Herrera’s Father Tomas Ortega is tricked and later finally gives into temptation. With dramatic range the excellent Ben Daniels as Marcus Keane tackles the demon and his own inner demons head on. As an outsider looking in and believing it is a medical issue not a possession, underrated Brianne Howey as Katherine Rance former ballet dancer logically calls the police and has Marcus arrested.

Director Jason Ensler balances the real and supernatural world elements with finesse. Hannah Kasulka’s Casey Rance (in almost a duel role is on form) the surreal inner demon fight with Robert Emmet Lunney’s evil Salesman is developed further with creep execution. While the practical effects and makeup are welcomed debatably other effects are unnecessary, The Exorcist seems to work best when its focused on the characters and subtler moments rather than spectacle.

Writer David Grimm delivers a note worthy twist which connects it to the novel and subsequently the film. Alan Ruck’s Henry Rance get more too do here and is key in revealing Geena Davis’ Angela to be Regan MacNeil, also Sharon Gless appears briefly as Chris MacNeil. Its a chilling and dramatically weighty episode, there’s nothing worse than gnarly demon feet on your chest, recommend.

*** This review contains spoilers ***

Rick must make a choice that will decide the groups fate.

Gone are the days of Miami Vice killings and Dallas like twists. This is brutal unrelenting with a revelation of not just killing one, but two main characters. Where’s as the penultimate episode of seasons 2 Fear the Walking Dead raised the bar in graphic violence, The Walking Dead’s season 7 opening episode knocks it out of the park.

“The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” contains excellent makeup special effects and pure tension and exists mainly to show who died and where Rick now fits in the world of the dead. TV doesn’t come much more  dangerous or horrifically sadistic as this. Director Greg Nicotero’s atmosphere is thick with blood and mist. From zombie killings to head bashing and eye popping action it’s genuinely gut turning relentless from beginning to end with Rick having to make a series of decisions to save his son and friends. Both Jeffery Dean Morgan as Negan and Andrew Lincoln as Rick are outstanding here. Morgan offers some much needed viewer nervous levity, notably the vampire line about his baseball bat named Lucille, while Lincoln is fittingly shell-shocked throughout echoing the viewers disturbed surprise.

With some solid direction, writing from Scott M. Gimple and a fitting score it raises the bar in terms of harrowing nauseatingly TV violence and it emotionally surpasses expectations. Recommend piece of zombie entertainment.

In a Valley of Violence Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A drifter is left for dead and returns to the town that wronged him and his dog.

After a spate of disappointing low budget westerns including two featuring Scott Eastwood, In the Valley Violence is entertaining crafted with care. While it’s no Hateful 8, Unforgiven or Tombstone to name a few, known for his atmospheric horrors director Ti West offers a solid off beat modest Western.

With opening credits that are reminiscent of Sergio Leone’ Dollars trilogy and story beats which echo, John Wick and Rambo, West offers a Western in the vain of High Plains Drifter. It’s a dusty grim dead silver mining town, there’s no hustle and bustle. It’s a low key affair with a small cast including John Travolta as a tough mediating marshal who steals the show. Burn Gorman is notable as an intoxicated Priest. Ethan Hawke’s Paul is quite fleshed out, wanting to forget his past and get to Mexico. His dialogue with Taissa Farmiga’s Mary-Anne rings true. It’s really a James Ransone’s Deputy Gilly Martin versus Hawke’s Paul rather than Travolta versus Paul yarn. Abbie (Jumpy) the dog deserves a mention. Karen Gillan is worthy of note along with Eric Robbins’ cinematography who masterfully frames the makeshift town.

Although past West collaborator Jeff Grace’s score can be intrusive it oddly works better when it’s not channelling Ennio Morricone. Bloody and violent in places with a few shoot outs, a hanging and slit throat, Grace along with West build some effective tense moments and to Ti’s credit he also offers some humour that gives In a Valley of Violence a refreshing push.

It’s a pity that West’s marked as an army deserter Paul, didn’t emulate the Man With No Name rather than try hard to avoid clichés as the homage in context of the tale may have elevated the story more and satisfy fans looking for a resurgence of the Eastwood style.

While it’s paint by numbers stuff and won’t shake the genre, it utilises the emptiness in contrast to the big budget Westerns and wisely makes the small cast ensemble and empty town part of the story. Recommend.

Ash vs Evil Dead Movie PosterAfter picking up a woman at a bar and banging her from behind Ash gets a warning reminding him of an evil he encountered 30 years ago. With the book of dead in his possession he realises he may have to face up to a little mistake and save his town.

In terms of cult horror nostalgia Ash versus the Evil Dead captures the tone of the films perfectly thanks to Sam Raimi’s foundation setting direction of the debut episode El Jefe.

Raimi offers floating P.O.V forest shots, blood, gore, twisted heads and demonic voices within the first 12 minutes. Later there’s Vaule Stop stockroom action with a maniac toy doll and flashback exposition using the first two films. Raimi throws in more floating P.O.V shots this time in a car park, there’s creepy demon faces in a diner, a Lucio Fulci eye tribute and Lucy Lawless for good measure. To top the episode off a cop investigates the odd occurrences and Ash teams up with two co- workers to take on a demon in an action packed caravan showdown.

Bruce Campbell is outstanding and intriguingly expands the character of aged Ash Williams. Written by Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy the first episode’s production values are high, many of the effects are first rate, the horror delivers scares and the comedy is on sleazy point.

As one of newest batch of film properties becoming TV shows this encapsulates the essence of the Evil Dead, basically it’s a chainsaw-handed, reluctant demon hunter fan’s dream.

In the first episode of the second season Ash returns to his home town Elk Grove to stop the Necronomicon getting into the hands of a demigod’s children.

The season two’s Home picks up shortly after where season one ended. Our trio’s superficial dream life (for Ash that is) in Jacksonville is cut short when demons turn up at a spring break party. Ash, Kelly and Pablo make their way to a crematorium in Ash’s creepy town to help Ruby out, but not before Ash runs into some old school ‘friends’.

Director Rick Jacobson with writer Craig DiGregorio offers more blood, shotgun, chainsaw action and more great gags along with one liners. Lee Majors shows up as Ash’s estranged father which expands Bruce Campbell’s Ash back story. The effects are great, the monsters (Lucy Lawless’s Ruby’s demon kids) are scary. Armed with the Kandarian dagger there’s a great action scene where Ash reluctantly helps Ruby and we welcome Kelly doubles played excellent by Dana DeLorenzo and Ash gets more hero worshipping from Ray Santiago’s delirious amusing Pablo.

Jacobson delivers on the scares and the comedy is on groovey sleazy point.

*** The Last Call contains spoilers ***

Ash holds a party to draw in the car-jackers and get his Necronomicon book back.

Where as another horror themed TV show based on a film, has lost is wind (and Titty Twisting production values), Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert’s Ash Verses Evil Dead goes from strength to strength with the ‘Last Call’ episode being no exception.

Ash’s ‘Ashy Slasher’ reputation from the murderous events from The Evil Dead film is explored further. Actor Bruce Campbell’s Ash’s father son relationship is tested with a bucking-bronco ride and is humorously left semi-resolved when Brock Williams, wonderfully played by Lee Majors bites the dust. Ted Raimi cameos along with the excellent regular cast. Lucy Lawless’ demon Ruby, Ray Santiago’s Pablo and the lovely anti-Hollywood cast Dana DeLorenzo’s Kelly get some quieter moments. What director Tony Tilse does with some great writing from Noelle Valdivia is mix the action, comedy and horror perfectly.

Ash’s infamous 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 car goes on a Stephen King Christine-like rampage with some wincing bloody tyre action. There’s some great lines and Deadite bathroom fight action with heads getting lobbed off and penis’ and Ketamine laced drinks getting consumed. What more could you want? Great horror fun, highly recommended.

Eyes Wide Shut Movie Poster*** This review contains spoilers ***

A man is drawn into an underground sexual group which puts his family in danger.

Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) as a mystery thriller Stanley Kubrick’s Eye Wide Shut at first glance doesn’t deliver, with only a few taught scenes littered throughout as an elite secret society is discovered by the film’s main doctor character played by Tom Cruise. However, as a visual and atmospheric piece of cinema it excels.

Interestingly, it’s not the famous masonic segment or Bill (Cruise) and Alison (Nicole Kidman) relationship woes nor the basic thriller premise that ignite interest it’s the plot’s undercurrent, what is not said but implied and insinuated through looks, background items and actions that makes Eye Wide Shut so interesting. It can been seen to have many layers and can be inter-played and interpreted in different ways similar to, but more subtle than the likes of Revolver (2005) or Mulholland Drive. Just touching the surface, did Bill and Alison handover their daughter to the secret society at the end? Was Alison already a member? Was Bill’s friend killed? Are the characters all lying to Bill? Kubrick presents endless questions, which answers only throws out more questions.

The camera work, lighting, sets, music and costumes are great. Supporting actors Sydney Pollack, Vinessa Shaw, Leelee Sobieski and Rade Serbedzija really shine. Oddly Kidman feels subdued throughout and Cruise (possibly cast too young) while reaching some emotional heights never seems moved by the bizarre nightmare he finds himself in, again this could be interpreted in different ways depending on your thoughts if you believe that there is more going on beneath the exposition or if it’s taken at face value. Eyes Wide Shut arguably only really works if you deem more is going on than there actually is.

Overall, excellent atmosphere with a story that allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. If you expect a conventional thriller you may be left disappointed but if you enjoy daydreams about chance and missed opportunities this may float your boat.

Body Snatchers Movie PosterOn an army base in Alabama aliens being a plan to replace the human race and a family is subjected to the horror of the takeover.

Loosely inspired by Jack Finney’s novel Abel Ferrara’s version creates a maternal nervousness mostly from overlooked child actor Reilly Murphy who plays Gabrielle Anwar’s Marti Malone half brother Andy. What Andy sees and goes though is quite horrific, conditioned at preschool, chased by soldiers and loved ones, seeing dead bodies fade to dust. Things children shouldn’t see or be subjected too. This Ferrara’s strongest aspect along with some, interesting bloody effects with the pod’s creeping tentacles snaking up into noses, ears and open mouths.

Ferrara’s 1993 version of Body Snatchers never quiet reaches the paranoia of 1956 version or character development of the ’78 remake but it has a good stab at it. Ferrara is limited in terms of creating atmosphere due to the confined setting of a military base but makes the most of shadowy hangers, warehouses and swamp which grows the effective looking pods. Due to the South set base he’s unable to muster Philip Kaufman’s grittiness or raw emotion of his own King of New York (1990) or Bad Lieutenant (1992).

The cast are notably Tilly offers a great looming performance and gets the best lines, memorably – “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere… ’cause there’s no one like you left.”. Anwar (23 at the time debatably by default) delivers a fitting subdued, introverted teen. Notable is underrated Christine Elise as Billy Idol-like wild child Jenn Platt and Lost Boy’s Billy Wirth as Anwar’s love interest pilot Tim Young. In addition, there’s R. Lee Ermey and Forest Whitaker in military roles both of which, like the rest of the cast, are sorely underused.

Anwar awkwardly bookends with some dated voice-over narration which adds to the unevenness of Body Snatchers, aside from Tilly, the characters are sketchy and underdeveloped. Some effort is made to give Wirth’s Young a troubled history but its a single throwaway line. Only Miami Vice’s Terry Kinney as Steve Malone gets some meaningful dialogue.

Like Kaufman’s predecessor it features some shrewdly fit in nudity and comes courteous of Meg Tilly and Gabrielle Anwar. But the final act feels rushed and hastily edited with an array of explosions and Ferrara’s 90’s vision feels incomplete.

Overall, choppy studio production issues aside, its an interesting underrated physiological horror.

img_2248*** This review may contain Zombie spoilers ***

Five carnival workers are kidnapped and held hostage in a large compound and are forced to play a twisted game of life or death called 31.

Director Rob Zombie offers a 70’s style horror which harks back to the gritty Last House on the Left days of brutal film and channels video nastiest, beards and flares. 31 is bloody, graphic and offensive with vibes of Hostel, Texas Chiansaw, The Running Man and Battle Royal to name a few.

While it may not be Zombie’s most original film this 1970s set dark, violent, murder play is not for the faint hearted. Any who likes Zombie’s work will know what to expect tonally and will enjoy this nightmarish addition, however, 31 has debatably the most straightforward narrative of his work to date.

The addition of the theatrical, renaissance game leaders who run and bet on the games from the safety of a theatre adds some visual flare. As the ‘contestant’ fight for survival in a warehouse factory like setting for 12 hours Sheri Moon Zombie’s Charly character gets the most development. Notable are veteran Meg Foster, excellent Jeff Daniel Phillips and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. Malcom Macdowell is perfectly cast as as Father Napoleon- Horatio-Silas Murder an eccentric aristocrat. Richard Brake as cigar smoking, switchblade, greatest of hunter killers Doom-Head is memorable.

There’s wince inducing horrid murder setups, killer chainsaw clowns, Nazi midgets, a giant man and his sidekick psycho girlfriend. The period soundtrack and John 5 Carpenter-like score accompanying the on screen shenanigans is perfect.

Zombie’s flare with freeze frames, swipes, 8mm footage and a horror carnival atmosphere from David Daniel’s cinematography is commendable. Halloween 1 & 2 aside even with its graphic offensive nature it feels like Zombie’s most warped, yet, mainstream film.

With its ending setting itself up for a sequel it’s recommend for those who enjoy the horror torture sub genre.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter Movie Poster

*** This review contains spoilers ***

Jason Voorhees continues his killing spree on a family and a group of neighbouring teenagers near Crystal Lake.

Picking up just where part three left off, with a story from Bruce Hidemi Sakow, as a fourth part in the series The Final Chapter holds up well, director Joseph Zito and writer Barney Cohen offer in retrospect all the expected Crystal Lake horror tropes, teenage sex, skinny dipping, boobs and blood that are synonymous with the series. Thanks to some good acting from Kimberly Beck and a young Corey Feldman, as special effects fan Tommy, it stands out as one of the more gory, rounded and entertaining instalments. (The 2009 remake of the original borrows many elements from this 1984 outing)

The cast are pretty good, Lawrence Monoson plays pot smoking one- track mind Ted and Crispin Glover is geeky virginal Jimmy who both ham it up providing some humour. Glover’s wacky dancing will be forever etched in your mind, together with a corkscrew through his hand his and meat cleaver in his face. There’s also catalogue model looking Peter Barton, who is solid enough and meets a skull crushing grizzly demise. Erich Anderson is camper Rob Dier, brother of Friday the 13th Part 2’s victim Sandra and is purely functional.

Notable are Joan Freeman as divorced mother Mrs. Jarvis and convincing Barbara Howard as towel clad straight laced Sarah. Twins Camilla More as Tina and Carey More as Terri are effective and along with well cast Judie Aronson’s Samantha who provide the (debatably dated) obligatory T & A, offer some good characterisation amongst Zito’s sleaze.

Post Gremlins and pre Stand by Me Feldman’s horror-obsessed Tommy is uncomfortably surrounded by horny teenagers throughout. While a good addition, the pre-teen actor in the mist of all this on screen murder and flocks is actually quite disturbing in itself.

The Final Chapter with credit attempts to refine the first three but in true slasher tradition many of the character motivations are thin. In addition, it does have some hooky moments, the ending with a skullcap Feldman imitating a child Jason is outlandish and the freeze frame ending echoes 70s horror or a Columbo episode, but these are easily offset by make-up artist Tom Savini’s great practical effects and weapon orientated bloody kills using a harpoon, scalpel, meat cleaver, kitchen knife and double-bit axe to name a few. Ted White’s Jason Voorhees is impressive and we get to see the slaying menace unmasked and meet a shocking blade slicing end courtesy of Savini.

Hockey masked White and Zito cook up enough action set ups and jump scares to keep things interesting as the teenagers are picked off one by one. The on location rural lake and forest backdrop along with Harry Manfredini’s Ki ki ki… Ma ma ma music queues and João Fernandes’ cinematography conjuring up atmosphere.

Overall, outrageous shaven head moments aside, it entertains with plenty of kills which fall surprisingly into a satisfying logical order. Recommend late night fun.

Suicide Squad Movie Poster*** This review may contain DC spoilers ***

U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated super villains who are held to ransom for a top-secret mission.

David Ayer’s dark comic book film Suicide Squad offers plenty of solid acting, but the film feel like a series of abridged clips in a paper thin story, which is a shame given Will Smith’s fine performance as Dead Shot and Joel Kinnaman’s first-rate Rick Flag. Actually the cast save this suicide run including the likes of Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez who has an horrific back story as Diablo and gets a memorable show down with an Incubus. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is notable with plenty of presence as Killer Croc. Ben Affleck’s Batman’s cameo and The Jokers failed attempts to reunite with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is at times more interesting than David Ayer’s popcorn servicing plot.

Ayer’s bid to frame all the squad Magnificent Seven/Reservoir Dogs style arguably feels staged and overtly over done. Steven Price’s music helps the action and poses with some techno Rambo-like motifs. The all-villain fighting team spend too much time fighting faceless hordes of monster entities. That’s not to say that Ayer doesn’t deliver of the directing duties or aesthetics, the look of Suicide Squad oozes an edgy ominous atmosphere and a quantity of dialogue and cutting humour hit the mark. Its just all undermined by paint by numbers plotting and a collection of convenient coincidences as team log heads with intelligence operative Amanda Waller and/or is attacked by the Enchantress, her brother and their minions.

With the team forced to carry out the governments wishes or have their heads blown off to Ayer credit there’s poignant moments with a sense of camaraderie and heart much of which come from Smith, Kinnaman and Robbie. Jai Courtney redeems himself as Boomerang after his stint as Kyle Reese. Sadly, at times confined to flashbacks Jared Leto’s admirable maniacal uncomfortable take on The Joker is left to just pop up now and again like a whirlwind Silver tooth evil Cesar Romero. Robbie’s Quinn and Leto’s Joker tortured Stockholm syndrome-like relationship is scarily realised. Their switch-blade romance reminiscent of Natural Born Killers and the like would have made an interesting dark original film in its own right.

Nigglingly Ayer on occasion debatably reduces Robbie to eye candy (by default) and Harley could have been played by anyone with the equal amount of nihilistic sassiness which under serves both the character and the actor, thankfully the flashbacks flesh her out but Robbie is spread quip thin in the main story. The editing and pacing doesn’t seem to help things either, Suicide Squad possibly could have benefited with the back-stories being extended and playing out chronologically, even over two films – as it rushes to get to a place and that somewhere never quite pays off which is a crying shame giving the effort put in. Cara Delevingne puts in a good dual role innings as June Moone/Enchantress but the otherworldly unstoppable CGI villain while well realised feels out of place, the CGI versus the gritty underdogs doesn’t seem to hold up in the closing. There’s also a tagged on ending with an unnecessary (Marvel style) scene that sets up the Justice League movie instead of a Suicide Squad sequel, which leaves the Squad characters hanging.

Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad is entertaining but frustrating, it’s worth watching for the actor’s efforts if you can over look its short comings. Will Smith and company require another fairer crack of the whip.

***This review contains spoliers***

Suffering from amnesia, confused and alone Melissa slowly discovers that the world isn’t what it supposed to be.

Award winning short film Mörkret Faller A.K.A Darkness Falls, not to be confused with Darkness Falls (2003) comes from Swedish director/writer Jarno Lee Vinsencius. I was lucky enough to view a screener of this well crafted little gem, Vinsencius offers a tight sci-fi thriller short with a filmactic feel.

Opening with an aerial shot in a chilly winter setting, we are introduced to an injured girl who awakes in dusted snow white forest. Hearing noises she fleas into the night to a café with no memory of who she is. Vinsencius’ offers a moody atmospheric piece which echoes the likes of Memento, Insomnia and the best of X-files, running just under a perfectly paced 15 minutes the dialogue driven Darkness Falls packs plenty in, mysterious letters and meetings, as Melissa tries to unravel who she is. The acting is first rate, the small cast have a respectable weighty presence, striking Joanna Häggblom is impeccable as Melissa and notable is Niclas Fransson as Felix.

Darkness Falls hots up when Melissa meets a man David (played by the talented actor Demis Tzivis) who knows what she is going through and they are chased by shady female agents. Vinsencius injects some interplanetary hi-jinks and effects used at just at the right moments. In addition, he throws in a twist loop ending with some impressive alien creature design from Ellinor Rosander and a sound scheme by Michael Tiedtke. With reminiscent Philip K. Dick story vibes and some DNA of my own novel The Final Version there’s paranoia mysterious leaders and tracking transmitter chips. Its dark, high concept stuff, with clones and duplicate planets but Jarno Lee Vinsencius reins it successfully on a personal level.

Intriguing, well scripted, grounded short – highly recommended.