Saturday, 3 August 2013

REVIEW - The Conjuring ★ ★ ★ ★

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson & Lili Taylor
Written by Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Certification UK 15
Runtime 112 minutes
Directed by James Wan
Based on the accounts of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two of the foremost paranormal investigators of our time, comes the new film from James Wan (Saw, Death Sentence, Insidious).  This is not the first of the Warren's tales to have been made into a feature film with The Amityville Horror being the other well known haunting based on their accounts.  People have doubted both that and this, the case of the Perron's (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston star as Carolyn and Roger Perron) have any truth to them. My thoughts on this are if the film is good does it matter?  Most films are based on works of fiction so why should the debate of this being true or not have any impact on the quality of the film?

The story starts with the Perron's moving into their new home, a farmhouse in Rhode Island set in a beautifully idyllic location, unaware of the history contained with the walls of the house.  From there it doesn't take long for things to start going bump in the night.  It starts off small, as most haunting films do, and gradually ups the anti with the Perron children seemingly being targeted most. 

With the hauntings becoming more frequent and more physical, Carolyn contacts the Warren's to help free them from whatever is terroising them.  But following an exorcism that went awry, Ed Warren is reluctant to take the case on, especially as it was his wife that suffered and, wanting to protect her from more serious consequences he turns it down.However, the Warren's finally succomb to the needs of this family and, whilst expecting something mischievous, were not prepared for the scale of the maleavolence that was residing inside the Perron's property.

James Wan has given us a story that doesn't shy from the fact it isn't original and, indeed, has been done many times before.  The difference here is how well he has delivered it.  Unlike films such as The Haunting in Connecticut, The Possession and The Pact, in fact the list could go on, The Conjuring delivers on intensity and on the scares front.  The others are full of cliched set pieces made by people who don't understand the genre and what actually makes a film scary. Whereas James Wan has been cutting his teeth on films that, whilst good, weren't quite there and you can sense he has learnt what didn't work and put these learnings into practice with, by far, his best film to date.

I'm a big fan of ghost stories but too often they are underwhelming.  So what is that The Conjuring does that others havent?  Well for starters it got the very basics right with likeable characters which gives you someone to care about in terms of their outcome.  Even the peripheral characters are decent.  The screenplay fleshes them out, gives them individual personalities and backgrounds.  The importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. Next they created a sense of dread and once they got you hooked they didn't let you go.  If you want an audience to be scared then give them something to be scared about.  Just slowly opening doors and pulling back shower curtains doesn't cut it if you don't think anything is going to happen to the protagonists (a massive failure of The Haunting in Connecticut where it was just lots and lots of false scares to the point they became boring).  Wan creates an increased sense of the evil in the house by upping the anti as the story progresses.  A pull of a leg here, a shadowy figure there, slowly getting more and more intense and viloent. Oh and a creepy as fuck doll!!

The film is also beautifully photographed with exquisit lighting and the camera only letting you see what you need to and when you need to see it.  The almost haunting style of camerwork also gives the house itself a personality, not quite as striking as something along the lines of the Psycho house but none-the-less adding to the feel of the film.   The dialogue is rich and playful at times, knowing when to introduce a light touch and when not to so as to avoid a poorly placed "joke" ruining a cleverly devised piece of tension.  All credit to Wan and Chad and Carey Hayes for bringing all these elements together and ensuring they didn't fall into the obvious traps in the name of commercial film making and still delivering a film that will prove to be popular commercially. 

Not everyone is going to love this film, that never happens with anything, but it will please more than it disappoints.  And if you are easily scared by horror films then approach this with caution.  It's not often a horror film grips me to the point of feeling "scared" but The Conjuring did manage it and for that I say thank you. It is a feeling I don't really get watching films since I was a child and one that I miss so I am appreciative when that childhood horror film experience is brought back into my life. 

When I was seven a particular film gave me nightmares for some time.  This is a film those nightmares are made of.  Enjoy.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

REVIEW - Evil Dead ★ ★ ★

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
Written by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues
Certification UK 18
Opens April 18th 2013 (UK)
Runtime 91 minutes
Directed by Fede Alvarez

Please note: This trailer contains scenes that may be distressing to some

32 years after Sam Raimi brought us the classic The Evil Dead, the newest entrant from the conveyor belt of remakes hits our screens.  Online comments such as "Oh God, please don't let them fuck this up for me" started popping up as trailers got released.  Fans of the original remember vividly the first time they saw it and for that reason it became quite a personal film for them.  The people brave enough to attempt "not fucking this up" had themselves quite a challenge from the off.  Not least the fact that remakes amongst the horror community don't exactly have the best reputation these days.

So who were these brave (foolish?) souls that believed they could re-imagine such a well loved film.  Well the director, producer and star of the original of course.  Upon the knowledge of this, a collective sigh of release was felt the world of horror over.  However this was just as producers.  They needed some poor sucker they could place the blame on if it all fell apart.  So they brought in director Fede Alvarez for his debut feature to help recreate their visionary original for the modern audience.  He came to their attention after seeing his short film Panic Attack (Ataque de Panico) came on YouTube (if you want to watch it, here is the link

As far as remakes go they've been smart in a variety of areas.  They've gone for, essentially, an unknown cast, they've come up with a different approach for keeping them in the cabin, said no to CGI, jettisoned the comedy of ED2 and Army of Darkness and haven't tried to get someone to recreate Ash (as director Alvarez put it "how can you recreate God").  So what is the set up if they have changed it from the original?

Mia (Jane Levy) is there to try and kick her drug habit and what better way to do that than in a remote cabin, watched over by her closest friends and estranged brother.  The catalyst for this arranged intervention seems to be the death of Mia's mother who suffered from a debilitating mental illness.  Whilst getting the cabin back into a livable condition, they come across in the basement what they believe to have been, the practice of some form of black magic.  Dead animals, stabbing implements and a strange package tied up with wire adorn far reaches of the underneath of the cabin which explained the deathly stench that drove them down there in the first place.  They bring up some of the artifacts and when one of the group takes a particular interest in the package, upon opening it they find the Book of the Dead and begin to read the passages that no-one should not read.  Naturally this releases the demon is and Mia is the first to become possessed.

The potential for mental illness to be hereditary and the fact Mia is going cold turkey are able to explain away her early unusual actions following her possession in order to believably keep the group in the cabin.  What ensues is of utmost importance to the strength of the film.  With many a horror, you can forgo any inadequacies in the build up so long as the pay off is suitability good, however even if the build up is perfectly adequate (which this was) you still need the pay off.   Early on I did have reservations as, whilst competently made as it is, it felt very much like any number of modern day horrors.  From the lighting, the framing, the acting, all the way through to the wardrobe it all felt far too familiar.  But what Alvarez did very well with this film was defy your expectations of what was to come.

The style began to shift as things became more and more desperate in the cabin, the gore ramped up and the story went out the window.  Once things really took hold it was just one big ending as the story was only strong enough to go so far.  There were some clever plays on the first two Evil Dead films (such as the hand from ED2 - you think it's going to go one way but Alvarez plays on your expectations) which allowed those in the know a wry smile to themselves, knowing they'd be able to be smug about it afterwards (yes I am one of those).

What ultimately stands out with this film and is both good and bad, is the gore.  There are some fantastic moments (a syringe needle, a nail gun and a straight razor being just a few) that will keep most gore-hounds happy (this one included) but it delivers this in place of any scares.  The overriding experience of this film is that it is a fun, blood drenched ride but void of any real fear.  The supporting characters are also very hollow, with little to no background and are simply there to provide a suitable body count.  But as things progress you don't really care too much about that.

This film could very easily have stood as a sort of sequel rather than remake as it is different enough from the original to be seen alongside the others as just another adventure for the book.  Will it be remembered a classic? No.  Will be vilified for defecating over the good name of The Evil Dead? No.  This is a solid horror film which goes for gore over scares and is really just good fun.  You'd be able to pick at it all over the place if you really wanted to but I found myself enjoying it and not feeling the need to pick and I probably had a better cinematic experience for that.  

So in summary, don't expect anything outstanding as you'll be disappointed but go along for the ride and you should find enough here to make this a decent watch and to forget it's supposed to be a remake.

As a final note, if I was to sit and compare it to the original then it falls down.  It lacks the atmosphere of the first Evil Dead and fails to bring anything really new or inventive to the party.  So as a direct comparison then I might have given it 2 out of 5 but I am judging it on its own merits and I can happily say I enjoyed it.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

REVIEW - American Mary ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Katharine Isabelle, Antonio Cupo & Tristan Risk
Written by Sylvia Soska & Jen Soska
Certification UK 18
Opens January 11th 2012 (UK)
Runtime 103 minutes
Directed by Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska

From the creators of Dead Hooker In A Trunk, the Soska twins have brought us American Mary, their tale of desire, beauty and death all wrapped in a twisted American Dream parcel.  The movie follows the titular Mary Mason (Ginger Snap's Katharine Isabelle) on her journey to becoming a surgeon and the limits people will go to in order to fulfill their dreams and desires.

Mary is a brilliant surgical student, struggling to pay her rent, phone and any other bill that cruelly comes her way.  In order to overcome her increasingly broke situation and complete her education, she seeks out quick money solutions which leads her into an world of underground surgeries that will leave as many scars on Mary as it does on her patients. 

There is far more to this film than a simple horror film. It looks at acceptance, the world's definition of beauty and the struggle people can have to be who they want to be within a society that continually fails to allow them into its cold heart.  With an in depth look at body modification and how people wish to change themselves on the outside to fit how they feel on the inside, the Soska twins have elegantly fitted a meaningful subtext into the confines of a horror film.  A neat trick in this day and age when modern audiences can often simply clamour for as much blood and guts as they can lay their hands on.  Which in certain circumstances works (Hostel, directed by Soksa fan Eli Roth for one) but in the case of AM it could have been a distraction to the story as much as it could have been an easy way to make the often wonderful cheap thrills. 

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty in here to delight horror fans and the 18 certificate is well deserved but here it serves the plot of the film rather than just being gore for gore's sake.  With an immense central performance from Isabelle she has you unable to take your eyes off the screen.  It's just such a shame that her performance will fail to get the recognition it deserves from the commercial side of the industry, simply due to the genre it falls in.  Rarely does a horror performance get noticed as a skilled piece of acting (Anthony Hopkins being a rare exception). 

As Mary, Isabelle holds the film with her restrained delivery (it is credit to her and the Soska twins as they could have made it a much showier and more generic role) and she is as beautiful as she is brilliant. Without both of these you may not have been able to fully buy into her journey. There is also the added factor that she could easily have come off as selfish and unlikeable (it would have been an easy misstep in the characterisation and have her come off as just about the money), meaning you wouldn't have rooted for her in the same way.  But with her intense likeability and the deft touch of the writing and direction from the Soska's, Mary comes off as entirely sympathetic. 

We move with Mary as she slowly moves from a complete outsider to a champion of the real outsiders, overcoming her prejudices and own moral compass to understand that people are free to make their own choices to be what they want to be. She can help them achieve this where previously they have been failed by less open people. 

There is so much more than meets the eye with AM.  We are shown the difficulty that lies in some people in building trust and the fragility of it meaning it can be broken in a second with a single action and how much damage this can do to a person.  It also looks at misguided idolisation in that is it all about looks and charm or is it about what the person stands for?  How easily we are swayed by outward beauty but continually miss what is inside and that sometimes within the most stunning exterior lies an ugly darkness. 

However, ultimately we have a depiction of a modern American Dream.  The whole concept of the dream came about from the land grabs, the panning for gold, oil discoveries and the ability to go from nothing to having everything.  But this was all material.  Is the modern version to be able to have everything that your heart desires and that money can buy or is it to be able to be free to be who you want to be?  There are no answers given here, this is not a spoon feeding exercise and the film is all the better for it.

This is a dark, sumptuous and clever movie that delivers in many ways.  It's sexy, dirty, bloody and above all, it's fun.  Does it have flaws?  Yes - find me a movie that doesn't have a single one - but do they matter? No.  You can overlook any small misgivings as the overall package provides you with something that will stay with you after the credits have rolled and it's not often films manage to do that these days and we should celebrate those that do.

There's also the added bonus that its directors are freakin hot too!!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Horror Remake Debate

I remember watching my first horror film.  A newly purchased Betamax video player, my brother, my dad, myself and Creepshow.  It terrified me.  My second horror film followed soon after.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It terrified me.  I think I should add that I was 7 years old.

In all it was a bit too much for me and I didn't see another horror until I was the ripe old age of 10.  My brother convinced me to watch The Thing and to say I loved it would be a huge understatement to the raw, chilling excitement I got from it.  There began my true love for horror.  However there is now another connection between these three films, one which saddens me and makes a real statement about the current position of horror today within the Hollywood movie machine.

I am talking about the modern penchant for remaking horror films. 

While Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing have already had suitably poor remakes, Creepshow's remake is currently in development.  I'm not holding my breath for anything that will deliver the same sense of fun and fear that the original did.  So why is it happening?  Is it a new phenomenon?  And the big question; should we be saying no to remakes?

Lets start at the top.  Why is it currently happening? 

Well during the 2000's we saw a rise in the volume of remakes being released with perhaps the largest volume in 2008.  But in 2009 the big horror remake releases made over $370 million for the studios with the likes of Friday 13th, Sorority Row and Last House on the Left. Putting this alongside their notoriously lower than average budgets it kinda became a no brainer.  But with two years of concurrent high volume and high performance would the bubble break?

Lets look at 2010 and did it follow the trend or were the audiences already saturated with remakes and therefore protesting about their slew of releases by staying away from the cinemas?

Simply, yes it did follow the trend with over £450 million being taken through the likes of Piranha 3D and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  However 2011 saw the slow down in both releases and box office success with $100 million from Fright Night, Silent House, The Thing and Straw Dogs.  There was a continuing decline this year with only the one notable remake getting a release which was The Woman In Black (the original was in 1989) taking $128 (Maniac is still yet to see a general release - however it's actually really quite good). 

Yet this doesn't seem to have stopped the studios giving the greenlight to continue this way of making a quick buck.  I guess they've looked at the 2000's overall and seen the likes of The Omen, The Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes, Black Christmas, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Fog, Halloween, Prom Night and When A Stranger Calls having performed well.  This is by no means an exhaustive list as the last 10 years has seen such a variety of remakes it's a wonder to think anything original is being done (especially when you add in sequels!!).  The studios can find a cheap director wanting their big break with almost a guaranteed hit.

So we've looked at why.  Now lets look at whether is this something particular to our generation of movie goers. 

It certainly isn't a new thing to remake films but the way in which they are remade and the choices of films to remake is certainly something unique to modern movie making.  Previously directors would take films they loved or saw potential in but perhaps were long forgotten or never particularly performed well.  They wanted to get these films to a wider audience with their own stamp on them.  John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly, Paul Schrader's Cat People, Chuck Russell's The Blob and Philip Kaufman's Invasion of The Body Snatchers are some examples.  These in their own right have become well loved films.  The horror fans were not particularly happy about Carpenter's remake getting a remake (well technically speaking the 1982 version of The Thing is a sequel to the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and the 2011 is the remake of the '51 version).  Would anyone touch Cronenberg's The Fly without getting lynched?  So these outcomes suggest remakes aren't always hated and it obviously isn't new.

What is a new phenomenon, however, is taking well loved, successful films and needlessly remaking them.  When did The Fog or The Omen become so bad to watch or forgotten that we needed a newer version of it?  The result of this need to spin remakes out is that we get gun for hire directors making films that Hollywood have asked for simply as they see them as a cash cow.  And in turn that makes for rushed, uncared for films which generally and simply put, suck.  In fairness this isn't the case with all of them as some are actually better than the originals such as The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left (sorry Wes, I know they're both your originals).  But these two almost fit the mould of how remakes used to be done. And some are okay films like Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies and The Amityville Horror.  However did these need to be made?

But it's when films like the aforementioned The Omen and The Fog as well as Day of the Dead, Friday 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street which are just truly awful that you fear for the memories of the originals when there will be those people that only ever know these versions. 

I can't imagine the current crop of remakes giving kids the same amazing memories that I had from my early days of watching horror films.  So many are so average and who remembers an average film.

So this brings us onto my last question. Should we be saying no to remakes?

When you look at the list of upcoming and rumoured remakes; Carrie, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead, Susperia (even Argento doesn't understand why this is being remade), Hellraiser, Near Dark, Return of the Living Dead, Childs Play, Creepshow and all the others, you would have to say we absolutely should be saying no to remakes and the way to do this is with our wallets.  Stop going to see them, stop handing over your cash to watch an inferior version of a film you love.  If you have kids that you think are old enough to go see it, show them the original.  Let them love the films you loved.

However when you think of the films that could be remade such as Evilspeak, The Black Cat, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, The Burning, The Prowler, Slumber Party Massacre, Rawhead Rex, Pin, 976-Evil, Deadly Friend (sorry again Wes) there is an argument that the remake remains relevant.  I am hoping that your reactions to my suggestions were either "oh yeah" or "hmm not heard of that".  That should be the litmus test to if a horror film should get a new treatment.  Bring back something that was inventive or cool or great but budget prevented it from going anywhere.  There are some which had brilliant ideas but lacked the execution.  Or it has been so long people have forgotten they ever existed.  The Black Cat was one of Universal's most successful films the year it was released.  But it's themes (which would sit very nicely in today's horror environment) were a bit too much for it to be given the positive notoriety it deserved at the time.

Remakes (even the bad ones) also serve their purpose in us seeing those brilliant new and cool low budget horrors (which no doubt will be remade themselves in 20 years) due to the profits they bring in.  These will be redistributed by the studios, funding some of these smaller films that no-one ever knows have studio involvement.  For anyone that has been lucky enough to see American Mary, it could well be the case brought in from The Wolfman that enabled it to be made.  

Personally I think there is room in the world for a remake.  Sometimes it is a necessary evil.  That said I do think we need to protest with our feet and stop them taking every great horror film and turning it into something grossly inferior.  If audiences get too fed up of this then it could be detrimental to the horror scene as a whole (sequel after sequel, remake after remake) with people simply not wanting to bother with it at all. 

What I'd hate is in 20 years to hear people saying "oh do you remember The Fog?", "yeah, God that was a rubbish film".  Replace The Fog with any other poor remake and you get the picture.  The films we loved and watch over and over will be replaced in the memory of the next generation with their poor copies, lost to time and perhaps never heard from again.  In the words of the current Hate Piracy advert; Just Imagine.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

My Movie Talk On Sunday Questions

I will be hosting the Movie Talk On Sunday this week (30th September).  It starts at 8pm (UK time) and I will post up one question/discussion point every ten minutes.

For those of you that want to know more about MTOS then head to

My chosen subject is going to be Genre Directors.  It's not just surrounding directors that are known for staying within genre film making but also around those that may have dabbled in it from time to time or even as a one off experience.

Anyway so that you can have a think on what you want to say on the night here are the 10 questions I will be putting on Twitter (you will need to follow me - @The_Modal_Node - to see them).

So join in, use #MTOS with what you say and follow the conversation.  If you like to talk about films then this is for you.

Who is your favourite genre director and which is their best film?

Have any genre directors successfully moved into more general mainstream fare?

Over the years which directors do you feel have redefined or refreshed a genre?

Can you remain a genre director whilst making commercial films?

Have any general directors moved into the genre game further down their career with any success?

What do you believe determines a director to be classed as a "genre director"?

Are genre films directors always better than their generalist cousins?

Are there any genres that have been created in recent times that shouldn't exist?

Can directors cross overs genres in single films or does crossing between, technically, deny them a genre titling?

Is Quentin Tarantino a genre director?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Fright Fest In Pictures

Obviously I could describe to you all of the guests, the films, the people at Fright Fest until I'm blue in the face but it's hard to know what it's really like without being there.  Well here are a few pictures to help you.

The anticipation begins....




Me with the director of The Seasoning House, Paul Hyett and it's beautiful and talented star Rosie Day....


The hugely influential Dario Argento being interviewed as the Total Film Icon....





The blogging begins....


We even get cowboys!!


Glen McQuaid talks to us about the brilliant V/H/S....



Director and start of Rec 3 (Paco Plaza and Leticia Dolera) do a Q&A for the film....




I meet the hilarious Ross Noble!!


Ross talks about his new film, Stitches (well when he's not running off on tangents he does!)




The directors of the brilliant Deadheads return to the fest with their new short Smush! A Deadheads Short (and they've brought their dad, Bart)...



The Outpost 2 zombies descend and we get a Q&A for the film




Freddy, Pinhead, Michael Myers and um some biker scouts from Star Wars turn up....



And Michael then attacks my other half!!!


Horror make up effects hero Greg Nicotero talks about his experiences and gets presented a lifetime achievement award by Simon Pegg....




The cast and crew of Tulpa introduce their film...



Next up is the cast and crew of entertaining vampire flick The Thompsons and then me with them.....




Axelle Carolyn talks about her short film The Halloween Kid which I put in a small contribution to....


My name up on the Fright Fest big screen!!


The rest of the makers of the short films in the showcase...


Cast and crew of the Lynchian Berbarian Sound Studio...


Writer of my film of the fest, Sinister gives us a Q&A


The belles of the ball, The Twisted Twins (aka Jen and Sylvia Soska) talk about their brilliant new film American Mary along with star Katherine Isabelle




Me with a few people....

Jennifer Chambers Lynch


Andy Nyman


Axelle Carolyn


And the Twisted Twins and Katherine Isabelle



And here's a few more from the weekend...










If you want to see all the photos I've stuck up on Flickr for Fright Fest then here is the link...