Monday, 31 May 2021

The Rotting Zombie's Round-up of Horror News for May 2021

You may have noticed my blog steadily getting clogged full of video game reviews lately. This isn't some new direction I am heading in, more that I've organised my games I'm currently playing a bit better which means a load of games I was near to finishing I have now finished. Aside from the Gears of War series things will soon get back to film-centric normalness! My news inbox now sits at 157 emails. I've said previously that I need to do more than one news post a month but it looks like I might actually have some time to get that done in the coming weeks. This news post shall be written over the course of one day, so time will literally tell how much I get through here.

WidowMaker Films have partnered with the UK based VIPCO (a film production and distribution company focussed on releasing horror) to provide VOD content in the US and worldwide. Films will include Zombie Lover (Jason Impey), Slutty the ClownJezebel (Joe Cash), and Cannibal Hookers (Donald Farmer). These will be distributed by Bayview Entertainment.

The Severin Films May line-up is as follows, all of these were released on both Blu-ray and DVD. On 27th April Deep Blood came out, this is an Italian sharksploitation that has been described as the 'Z movie version of Jaws'. Santa Sangre, Day of the Animals and Grizzly all arrived on 18th May. I own Santa Sangre on VHS and remember it as being a very weird film, it is described in the press release as an 'avant-garde classic' which may explain its weirdness. The other two both come from director William Girdler. Grizzly sounds like it's basically Jaws but set in a forest with a giant bear. Day of the Animals takes place in a world where animals have become very aggressive towards humans. Both of these star Christopher George, with Leslie Nielsen appearing in the later.

Some notable Arrow Video Blu-ray releases for May include A Ghost Waits, 12 Monkeys and Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection. A Ghost Waits is an endearing indie about a handyman who forms a relationship with a ghost in the house he is preparing for new owners, this released on 5th May. 12 Monkeys came from Terry Gilliam, it's a sci-fi time travel thriller that stars Bruce Willis as a convict sent back in time to try and find the cause of a virus which in the future has ravaged the world. This got a steelbook release on 25th May. Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection brings together six films from the low budget horror director. These include Monster A-Go-Go, Invasion from Inner Earth, The Alpha Incident, The Demons of Ludlow, The Game, and Twister's Revenge. The collection also released on 25th May.
The May lineup for the subscription-based ARROW platform included the fantastic Threshold, which I gave a 9/10. It is about a brother and sister who go on a road trip in order to fix an apparent curse the sister is convinced she has. Also on the platform now is the seasonal arrival of Ghouls & Gangsters, films here include Versus, Zombie for Sale, Wolf Guy and more. Unclean Spirits includes Demons, Demons 2, Mirror/Mirror, Dream Demon and Scared Stiff. Blood Lust includes The Reflecting Skin, The Sheltering Sky, the Bloodthirsty trilogy, The Addiction, Vampyres and Tenderness of the Wolves.

I've mentioned it previously and while not horror it does sound pretty out there. Starfunk and the Astral Pioneers is a space fantasy film that 'deals with the mythological tale of Funk Music Power. The story happens in a galaxy far from earth with characters who are masters of the power of funk'. This was created by Glenn Towery who currently has a Kickstarter running in order to secure the funds needed to bring his dream to life. For more details check out the Kickstarter page.

A short sneak peak at upcoming found footage horror The Alien Report (described as 'this generations The Blair Witch') has gone up on the Earths Dreamland website. This was the winner of the Mad Monster Film Festival and is about an 18 year old boy who has worked out how to secretly record his own alien encounters via a micro camera hidden in his hearing aid.

Scream Bloody Murder is to be the first feature film from director Shaw C. Phillips and is to star Scout Taylor-Compton, Robert Lasardo, James Duval, Vernon Wells, Kelly Reiter and Lauren Francesca. Phillips says of this "Its going to be a love letter to 90s slasher films in the style of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The movie will also have elements of films like Mean Girls as well as Revenge of the Nerds. So it will have some humour mixed in as well to the film". This was due to start filming in May.

Stealing Chaplin is a dark comedy that came to TVOD/Digital platforms and DVD in North America. This comes from British director Paul Tanter (The Nights Before Christmas). This is about a true story of two brothers who dig up and steal the corpse of Charlie Chaplin. The film stars Simon Phillips (Age of the Living Dead), Doug Phillips (Butchers), Al Sapienza (House of Cards), Peter Woodward (The Patriot), Ken Bressers, Anne-Carolyn Binette, Liliana Vargas, Bianca Katz and Wayne Newton.

Denver based, Dark Rock artist Sharone has released the fourth and final official music video, Diamond from her latest LP, Morbid Illusion that released on 28th May via Devil Inside Records. She says of the song "I was trying to remain hopeful in a hopeless situation. I learned that the effort you put forth in those types of instances can cause serious damage to your soul and your mind. Sometimes when we feel lost we try to convince ourselves that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. 'Diamond' is about realising that light doesn't exist".

Swiss metal band Chaoseum have released a new music video for their track Smile Again, taken from their new album Second Life. The band are due to be back on a European tour in October, along with Fleshgod Apocalypse and Ex Deo.

Dark ambient act Long The Night have released a new full-length album titled Illusion. Long the Night is a side project of Derrick Stembridge best known for his Drifting in Silence work. Illusion is 'a sonic journey capturing the deep melancholy sound of things that are likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses'. 

Unknowndivide's new album is Existence, which is their second release. This combines elements of ambient, IDM, and techno with compelling rhythms and organic voicings. This is also a side project of Derrick Stembridge.

Finally, dark ambient act In The Absence of Words have announced the release of compilation album A Collection I. This brings together six long-form works that have been chosen to complement each other. The tracks were originally released between 2017 and 2019 on Bandcamp. A Collection II is due out towards the end of the year and will be made up of more melodic, song-orientated works from their catalogue.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Resurrection Corporation (2021) - Animated Comedy Horror Film Review

Resurrection Corporation
is an Italian animated comedy horror film that was directed by Alberto Genovese (Sick Sock Monsters from Outer Space), with the story and screenplay written by Mattia De Pascali (Beyond the Omega). From the stark black and white nihilistic world the inspirations behind this are not too hard to figure out. The story does have some nice ideas behind it but there were certain aspects that didn't really sit right with me. The version of the film I watched had an English dub so I can't comment on the performances of the original voice actors.

Dottor Caligari has a problem and that is that he is a coffin maker in a town where no one ever dies. This is thanks to the Resurrection Corporation, ran by Potriantow, his company using secret means is able to bring back to life anyone in the town who dies. After his attempts to compete with him fail, Caligari and his assistant Bruta (a woman it is insinuated the Dottor created himself) head away to a remote castle where Potriantow's mentor is said to live. It is there they hope to learn the methods by which Potriantow is able to perform his trade.

The first noticeable thing about this film is its basic animation. In a post South Park world this isn't an issue and was one area that I think this really got right, there is some interesting directing meaning that everything isn't always shown from side on, but includes things coming into the screen as well . With some of the more disgusting parts (such as a room full of skinned corpses) this reminded me a bit of the style of David Firth. Keeping with that vibe this isn't a children's movie, there is some extreme (animated) violence with characters murdered and beaten including at least a couple of decapitations. I was totally fine with that, what didn't sit so well was the sexual abuse, mainly of Bruta. There was one uncomfortable scene where she is being molested, another bizarrely played for laughs where someone is trying to rape her. I didn't really get this character, she was treated as if she wasn't a real person, and she never reacts in a realistic way to her bad treatment.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Documenting the Witch Path (2017) - Horror Documentary Review

I first heard of the horror documentary Documenting the Witch Path back in 2019 and thought it sounded pretty cool. Originally I planned to watch this for review towards the end of last year, but with the pandemic nothing is certain and so it was a couple of months back that the director, Carl Sundström contacted me to let me know the entire documentary was now out to watch on YouTube for free. I have read complaints about how low on thrills this film is, but this is down to the apparent realism. This is a found footage combined with a real documentary apparent and so there are no conveniently placed sights or sounds caught on camera.

Carl Sundström and his two friends, Robin Franzén and Nathaniel P. Erlandsson are indie filmmakers from Sweden. Their latest project is to see them head to a lake in the county of Vasternorrland known locally as 'Witch Lake'. The legend goes that in the 17th Century over 300 women were executed in Sweden, accused of being witches. As well as being burnt alive many of these victims were also had to endure a 'Witch Trial' which involved their limbs being bound and then being thrown in a lake to drown. It isn't long into the friends research that they learn the lake they had planned to travel to wasn't in fact the real Witch Lake. A representative of the nearby town states the real lake had been sealed off from the public but refuses to state the reasons why. An internet search confirms these details, and it's made all the more mysterious by the fact that a lot of money was invested in making the place into a tourist attraction until it was suddenly all closed down. Intrigued by all this and thinking there could be a story in it Sundström decides to find this hidden lake and document his findings.

I spent a good deal of this wondering if any of what was happening really was real or not. Finally I began to think there was a  half truth to what was going on. The lack of anything really happening here led me to suspect this was at least partly real. Moments such as 'Blair Witch' style carefully placed stones and totems felt like something right out of a found footage movie, but that is almost as far as the horror extends to. Without going into any kind of spoilers there are elements of this that really are real, though the true aim of the documentary is far different to what it appears on the surface. Another element of realism is the frequent interviews with the cast after the fact, there is no effort to pretend that they didn't survive, instead this part creates expectation of something actually occurring on the creepy banks of Witch Lake.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

A Quiet Place Part II (2020) - Horror Film Review

It isn't often I leave the comfort zone of my hometown and head further afield, but upon getting the opportunity to see an early screening of A Quiet Place Part II I headed out to Leicester Square in London. From what I recall this movie was originally due out a week or so before all cinemas closed in the UK last year. It is fitting then that it is the first film I have gotten to see in a cinema since before the pandemic began here. I liked A Quiet Place, I liked the idea behind it and so I was sure a sequel would be hard to mess up. While this doesn't deviate much from the formula of the first film it does build on the foundations, uses the same returning actors and again makes much use of the idea of sound as the catalyst for horrors to come. There will be unavoidable spoilers for the first film here.

The prologue takes place on the day the monstrous aliens arrive from space. It turns expectations on its head by having a very noisy first ten minutes, the complete opposite of the first films near silent opener. A family day at little league baseball turns into a nightmare for the Abbott family. Made up of Lee (John Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their children that includes among them Marcus (Noah Jupe) and deaf Regan (Millicent Simmonds). Also caught up in the craziness of this initial attack is Emmett (Cillian Murphy - Batman Begins, 28 Days Later), a friend of the family whose introduction in this flashback sets him up for a larger role later in the film.
The rest picks up immediately after the end of A Quiet Place. The surviving Abbotts - Evelyn, Marcus, Regan may have finally discovered a way to kill the invading monsters but their farmstead lay in ruins and they are forced to leave, especially as Evelyn has a new-born baby to protect. They head up into the hills where Lee had identified other survivors may have been hiding. Here they encounter a despondent and potentially dangerous Emmett who has lost all hope in the world due to the death of his family. Evelyn is just looking for a place to hide but Regan is determined to share their discovery of the monsters weakness with the world, and upon finding a way to do this she secretly heads out on her own.

A Quiet Place Part II builds on what has come before but doesn't do much to significantly expand on the overall story. It felt similar to John Wick: Chapter 3 in that by the time the end credits role characters are essentially in the same position they were the previous time. A lot of what happens throughout the story is down to characters making bad decisions, and this can often be down to reasons that feel more believable than bad writing, especially when it comes to the young teens. A lot of the peril that happens here could have been avoided if not for the supreme danger the world is now in. One accidental knock of an object, one unavoidable outburst of sound brings the monsters running. A theme this time around seems to be about hope, how having it can imbue you with meaning and give you life. The people shown to be lacking it are sometimes just as bad as the monsters.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition (2015) - Sci-fi Video Game Review (XBox One)

I've recently started playing through all of the Gears of War games and with the very first one in the series I decided to play the newer remastered version that came out in 2015 on the XBox One, rather than the original 2006 XBox 360 version of the game. After the boredom of Gears of War: Judgement I was hoping this would put me back on track and thankfully it did, remaining as fun and exciting as the game I remembered in my mind.

Gears of War takes place 14 years after 'Emergence Day'; the day in which a vast army of monsters poured forth from within the ground of the planet Sera. The battle between these monsters (known as The Locust) and the humans has continued ever since. The game begins with Marcus Fenix (voiced by John DiMaggio), a former COG soldier being freed from prison by his old war buddy Dom (Carlos Ferro). He is reinstated and put in charge of Delta Squad that eventually is comprised of him, Dom, cocky engineer Baird (Fred Tatasciore), and former Thrashball star Cole (Lester Speight). They are tasked with obtaining a resonator. This device is meant to be able to map the Locust's underground tunnel network, it is hoped that by doing this a lightmass bomb can be detonated to destroy their main stronghold.

This game is still so much fun to play. The cover based combat never grew tired, I loved the various times you would roadie run from cover to cover, slowly pushing forward, and occasionally getting the opportunity to flank enemies. The game is full of set pieces and a lot more variation than I remembered. There is a driving level, levels set at night in which you have to stay in light to avoid getting killed by monstrous birds, boss fights against huge monsters, there's even a level set on a moving train. This variation keeps the game feeling fresh from start to end, even if the end features a very frustrating final boss. There are a bunch of weapons used throughout the six or so hour campaign but the only one really worth using was the Lancer, this being is an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached to it, and the other worthwhile weapon named 'Hammer of Dawn' which is essentially a satellite targeting system. 

Monday, 24 May 2021

Autumn: Dawn (2021) by David Moody - Zombie Horror Book Review

It all started in 2001 with the release of Autumn, a zombie book with a difference by horror author David Moody. Things seemed wrapped up in 2013 with the release of an updated version of his anthology book Autumn: The Human Condition that seemed to be a final farewell to the wonderful series. The Autumn books are not only my favourite zombie books ever written but also my favourite horror books. I have liked Moody's other works, such as the Hater series, yet they never resonated with me as much as these ones did. it helps that one of my fears is large crowds, something that the undead of these stories epitomise. In fact Moody is the only author whose work has ever been able to give me nightmares (one that took place in and around the bunker from his short story Duck and Cover). I was beyond overjoyed to learn there was to be a new trilogy set in the Autumn universe, I did not expect it at all. I admit I was also kind of nervous. Having this new book set earlier on in the apocalypse made sense, but I couldn't quite see how the setting of London would feel much different to the setting of Autumn: The City. Thankfully I turned out to be very wrong.

The premise for Autumn is that a deadly virus one day unexpectedly sweeps itself around the globe, once it is finished over 99% of the world's population lay dead, leaving behind a stunned and traumatised minority of survivors. To make things even worse the dead don't stay dead, they rise up as zombies, not the typical flesh hungry ghouls you would expect, but ones who have an intense attraction to any kind of movement or sound. Autumn: Dawn takes place around 40 days after this rapid infection occurred and takes place in London. Due to the large population there are more survivors, but that also means there are far more undead whose numbers essentially trap the living within the city.

I'm not going to lie, the first chapter of this new book I was a bit unsure with. It is written from a first person perspective which led me to worry the whole book would be written this way. I came to appreciate it more after the chapter ended and the book settled into a more traditional writing style. This first chapter felt like it would have been right at home in Autumn: The Human Condition, it was pretty much a self contained short story that worked at swiftly bringing the reader up to speed, as well as being able to zoom past the initial rising of the dead. Having the main story take place 40 days in was a good point to set it, this was when the zombies started to become more hostile to the living and there is a gradual increase in this hostility over the course of the novel.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Gears of War: Judgement (2013) - Sci-fi Video Game Review (XBox 360)

At some point last year I decided I was going to play through all the military sci-fi action game Gears of War. I believe there are five mainline games as well as spin-off Gears of War: Judgement which serves as a prequel, taking place before the rest of the games (some strategy games to but I have no interest in those). Due to that I started with Judgement and was disappointed to see this really did feel like a spin-off. The story is very low stakes even if I did like the way it was told. The game takes a far more arcade like approach to its gameplay leading to an often bland experience that favours enemy encounters over any kind of variation.

Gears of War takes place on a planet that is in the middle of an apocalyptic war. During an event known as Emergence Day an army of monsters named The Locust unexpectedly poured forth from within the planet. The first Gears of War game took place 14 years after this event but Judgement occurs must sooner to that. You play as the four members of Kilo squad with each chapter having you playing as different member. Kilo squad is made up of the wise cracking engineer Baird, former Thrashball player Cole, the gruff former UIR soldier Paduk, and fresh cadet, Sofia. In the present the group are on trial due to the unauthorised use of a rare lightmass missile. The game's six chapters then take place as flashbacks, with each squad member in turn recounting how they came to disobey orders and fire the missile.

I hate the way this game was designed, it was by far the most off putting aspect of Judgement. Where before you would have large levels that featured a lot of set pieces and variation here instead you get short snappy missions that range from around five to ten minutes in length. This makes the game feel like the sort of one you would get on a handheld console, one designed for brief spurts of play. I hated the flow of the game constantly getting interrupted with the score screen, and I hated the option to have additional challenges. At the start of each mission you get the option to change some of the mechanics, it is dressed up in game as the character you are currently controlling disputing the official testimony during their court case. I found more often than not it just made things more frustrating, while adding little to nothing to the dull story. It doesn't help that the locations you travel to are bland and lifeless. During the course of the game you go to a military academy, a scientist's mansion, an old town, a naval base and various other places. For the console the game is running on these all look nice enough but they follow a very similar pattern in how they play out with minimal effort to make them stand out much from each other, aside from one that had you wearing a small mech suit.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Hades (2018-20) - Horror Video Game Review

I'm lately making a concerted effort to get through the backlog of games I currently have on the go. One such game was the Greek myths inspired Hades, a roguelike created by the superb Supergiant Games (Pyre, Transistor, Bastion). With massive replayability and an engaging amount of dialogue with the many characters you encounter along the way this four level dungeon crawler succeeds in being a video game that is just plain fun to play.

You play as Zagreus, the teenage son of Hades, lord of the Underworld. He is on a determined quest to escape the realm of the dead and search for his mother up on the surface. Hades has other plans however and sets the many denzions of the below under his control against his son. Zagreus has allies in the form of the Gods of Olympus who bestow upon him their many boons that can make both him and his weapons stronger.

So Hades is a roguelike. For those unfamiliar this equates in this particular instance of each floor of the dungeon being made up of a series of random chambers, each chamber has its own random reward, whether that be boons from the Gods, health and weapon power ups, or even gold and gems. Upon death you respawn back at the starting area with all your progress reset, that is except for the gems and soul gems you have collected along the way. Gems can be used to make improvements to your home, and exchanged for various useful items. The soul gems are used to upgrade the abilities for Zagreus, making him more strong.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Carrion (2020) - Horror Video Game Review (Nintendo Switch)

was a game that sounded so awesome on paper that the moment it was released I snatched it right up. This is a pixel art style Metroidvania (one huge level with upgrades that allow you access to more and more of it) but there is a huge difference to many games of this type.It has been described as a 'reverse-horror game' and by that it means you play as a monster, while humans are fodder for you to kill and consume.

Carrion takes place within a research facility and the game begins with you escaping your containment unit. As to how you got there, that is revealed by a series of flashbacks as you progress through the four to five hour game. The monster you control is a red, amorphous tentacled monster that oozes and rolls around the environment. The many tentacles means you can climb around all the walls and ceilings of the many places you go to. You are able to ooze through vents, smash down doors and break windows in your bid to escape the facility. You start the game quite small and weak, however nearly all the humans you come across are defenceless and can easily be consumed by manipulating a tentacle to bring them to your gaping maw and eat them for health. Upgrades received by collecting your captured genetic code grants you all kinds of cool new abilities as well as massively increases your size. These abilities range from less exciting ones such as the ability to smash vents, to being able to turn into a mass of worms in order to swim through water, turn invisible and even getting the ability to possess humans in order to get them to flip switches and take each other out.

When everything is going smooth this is pure joy to play. The feeling of empowerment as you smash and crush your way through room after room as the humans scream before you is fantastic and is where Carrion is at its best. To put in challenge however you come across automated defences, as well as soldiers who are able to deflect your attacks with large shields. It can be frustrating to be on a (literal) roll and then briskly be annihilated. I understand this was to stop the game being a cake walk but I can't help feeling the game would have been more fun without these sections of tough combat. For all the power you have to wreak havoc you are also somewhat of a glass cannon, able to be annihilated within seconds. The game is a Metroidvania in its design but each section of the facility is still within its self contained area. Each area usually has one new upgrade to discover, and there is very little need for backtracking. The game is designed well enough that you are forever moving forward. This is a relief as the samey looking levels and the lack of a map would have made backtracking very confusing. Often your goal is to destroy a set number of locks in order to open up a new area. As you play through the game these locks become more and more, with simple puzzles required to access the locks. This includes flipping switches, playing with the power grid, and finding your way past sealed corridors.  

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Journey (2021) - Horror Documentary Review

I have seen a few of Seth Breedlove's horror documentaries now (Momo: The Missouri Monster, Terror in the Skies) and know that the format and style they go for makes for an interesting time. His latest one, On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Journey is a follow up to his miniseries On the Trail of Bigfoot and felt different to what a normal doc would be like. The 95 minute piece is made up of two distinct parts, the first is obviously the search for Bigfoot, but a portion of this is also dedicated to what it is like to create a documentary while in the middle of the global pandemic.

As the title suggests, this time around Breedlove and his crew have gone on a field trip. They have headed to Upstate New York in order to explore the vast mountainous and forest regions of the Adirondacks. Over six days they plan to search different areas, speak to locals who have sighted the elusive creatures and in all honesty, just get away from civilisation and get back to nature. They talk of how now more than ever the wilds is essential to be able to forget about all the trouble and strife, the worries of the pandemic. So do they actually get to see the creature? The answer will likely be obvious but I won't spoil it here either way.

Their search takes them to several locations which include Whitehall and the small town of Kinderhook. The actual parts where the crew head out into the forests are the most uneventful. These sections kind of blurred into one. The scenery looks stunning, but the actual investigation is mainly comprised of men all stood around with night vision on, looking at maps and talking amongst themselves. Far more interesting where the interviews with witnesses and the recreations. With so many different people all describing a similar creature you have to wonder if these things actually do exist or not. While I think it's unlikely it was still really interesting hearing about all this.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Ripper Untold (2021) - Horror Film Review

The title for the Jack the Ripper horror film Ripper Untold is apt for it certainly does tell a side to the infamous crime case that has previously been untold, albeit a fictional story that is content to tell its own version of events using parts of the reality as a springboard. There is no problem with it doing things this way and it was still fun to see an overlap between fact and fiction. This was both written and directed by Steve Lawson (Bram Stoker's Van Helsing, The Exorcism of Karen Walker) and tells a competent tale despite using a minimalistic cast. 

It is 1888 and the body of a prostitute has been found viciously murdered. On the case is Inspector Rees (Phil Molloy - Dysnomia) who is assisted by the troubled physician Thomas Locque (Jonathan Hansler - Evil's Evil Cousin, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). As the body count rises, Rees comes under increasing pressure to find the killer, while Thomas becomes more and more concerned with the missing gaps in his memory.

The small cast is very noticeable but it is good filmmaking that this never really eats into the flow of the story. The Police station for instance seems to consist of just two people, Rees, and his ever present Constable (Marcus Langford -  Toxic Apocalypse). These make up part of the very small cast with a total of less than ten. Notable side characters include the tabloid reporter, Stubb (Chris Bell - Haunted 3: Spirits, Haunted 4: Demons, Haunted 5: Phantoms) and the corrupt assistant to Thomas, Dodd (Jacob Anderton - 13 Graves). The acting was mostly decent enough, there were at least one or two who felt less effective, though perhaps more due to their low impact roles that didn't have them do much more than stand still and talk.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Winifred Meeks (2021) - Horror Film Review

Winifred Meeks
is a supernatural horror set in and around an old farmhouse in England. It was written and directed by Jason Figgis (Children of a Darker Dawn, The Ecstasy of Isabel Mann) and would be a perfect introduction for people who don't like horror films, as the horror here is very slight. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your mood, but at the very least this was a very well shot film with some great cinematography.

Anna James (Lara Belmont - Long Time Dead) is an author who has rented an old farmhouse close to the sea in order to begin work on her latest novel. With relationship troubles and a looming deadline she figures the time away on her own will allow her to really get into her work. After experiencing unexplainable events, mainly in the form of an often glimpsed woman, Anna begins to suspect the house she is in may be haunted.

You have to give credit to Winifred Meeks for its stubborn refusal to really go anywhere with the story. It isn't long into the movie that we get our first glimpse of the titular ghost. Normally you would expect a gradual ramping up of the ghostly goings on over the course of the film, here though things never really escalate past the occasional sighting of the figure, and hearing her speaking. This gave the film a bit of a static feel, whether you are ten minutes or an hour into the film not much has actually happened. That also includes the plot, Anna spends nearly the entire film completely alone and not really doing much other than her usual silent routine. With fifteen minutes left to go something eventually occurs, but to be truthful not anything much more exciting than the power going out. I think your enjoyment of this would depend on your mindset going in. For me, I watched this as soon as I woke up today from the comfort of my own bed. I used to have a girlfriend who would insist on falling asleep with a film playing, I myself cannot sleep if there is any sort of noise and so there was a vague compromise in that I would choose a film I knew would be quiet. If I had still been with her nowadays I would have probably included this in rotation as aside from one or maybe two screams (one of which was from a film playing on TV) this is a mellow and low threat type of film.

Friday, 14 May 2021

The Twilight Zone: Season 1 (1959) - Horror TV Show Review

The Twilight Zone
is a show that almost everyone has heard of, and for good reason, it remains a stone cold classic and one that still holds up today despite first airing over sixty years ago. A year or so back I picked up the complete collection on Blu-ray and after getting my dad the complete box set on DVD for Christmas I have entered into some sort of race with him. This show really is the Black Mirror of its time, while it could be accused of being quantity over quality, the good to great episodes, at least in season 1 far outweigh the bad ones (of which there are a fair few).

Season 1 is made up of a beefy 36 episodes, each one features an intro and an outro voiced by series creator Rod Serling, who also wrote a bunch of the episodes. The show is in an anthology format, each episode self contained featuring unique characters and settings. The thread holding them all together is that the protagonist of each episode has unknowingly strayed into the 'twilight zone', a place where the normal rules of the world no longer apply. Usually this is used to nightmarish effect but not always. There are a bunch of episodes that are sweet and feel good, and a less successful bunch of episodes that are played for comedic effect. The settings vary and are not always restricted to the (at the time) modern day of the 1950's, quite a few are sci-fi in nature, some are Westerns (Mr. Denton on Doomsday and Execution) while others take place during wartime (Judgement Night, The Last Flight and The Purple Testament). Nearly all of the episodes have some type of morality tale they are imparting, and most end with a usually cruel final twist that often manages to elicit a chill.

Similar to Black Mirror fears of the time are used in some of the stories, most notably fear of atomic war which pops up in a bunch of the episodes, such as Time Enough at Last (a man finds he has all the time in the world to do his favourite pastime of reading when he becomes the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust) and Third from the Sun (a group of people plan to pilot a spaceship off their planet due to an impending nuclear war).
There are also the more common worries that people exhibit that resonate today, such as people who yearn for the simpler times of the past (The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine, Walking Distance, A Stop at Willoughby).

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Cursed Diary of a Brooklyn Dog Walker (2020) by Michael Reyes - Horror Book Review

It was pure coincidence that when I was offered Michael Reyes The Cursed Diary of a Brooklyn Dog Walker to read for review I happened to be reading another book from that author, The Black Veldt. To begin with I attempted to read both together, that really wasn't making much sense and so after finishing the novella I began reading this one in earnest. There are similar themes and ideas here, mainly that this features a New York setting that includes elements of the mythos that H.P Lovecraft created.

Jesse is a dog walker in Brooklyn, with a variety of rich clients. One day while out walking the dogs of his favourite client, Claudia, he discovers a strange diary that seems to emanate a power from within it. He feels a strange pull from the book and feels compelled to take it. It isn't too long later that he is given an odd assignment from one of his richest clients, the somewhat perverted Mr. Smith. Little did Jesse realise that this would take him on a Hellish path in which a snake worshipping cult seek to end all life on Earth, and that it seems he may be the only person capable of thwarting their plans.

Much like The Black Veldt, The Cursed Diary has a dreamlike feel to it, especially after the first act. Unlike that one however this felt more traditionally set out. Underneath all the craziness of the world there is a more familiar three act structure. This actually made it a lot more enjoyable to read, once again helped by Reyes' writing style. He seems to excel with flawed protagonists who exist more towards the bottom rungs of society, Jesse is a more likeable lead, especially due to his love of dogs and his inherent ability to get them to do what he wants. Potential love interest Claudia felt a little like a walking plot device at times, often used as a motivator for Jesse to move forward, but she is just one in a cast of interesting characters, such as his Dungeons & Dragons obsessed drug dealing flatmate. The most memorable character being the grotesque and terrifying Trevor John who had a very memorable introduction with his emergence from a port-a-loo, and the many descriptions and uses of his beloved 'ankle spanker'.

The story here is high stakes and yet there is an element of comedy to things, dark humour is the order of the day, such as the farcical bickerings of the cult members and their sometimes petty motivations, as well as the incidental details such as a fantastic chapter taking place during a wild night at a bar. H.P Lovecraft inspirations seem mainly to be the star the snake cult, Algol Egregor worship, the idea behind this malevolent star reminded me of Lovecraft's short story Beyond the Wall of Sleep. This cosmic horror is something that always interests me and here it's combining with the mundane makes for a novel mix. I loved details such as the importance of Jesse's missing mentor, and the bizarre dog walking culture that Jesse inhabits. I also liked the descriptions of the powers he unlocks, comparing the feel to being on drugs helped shape Jesse's character.

The Cursed Diary of a Brooklyn Dog Walker was a book I knew was going to be well written and so I wasn't disappointed. The slight comedic elements reduce the horror, but with a more likeable protagonist and an easier to understand structure I enjoyed this. At times things are a little predictable but that doesn't change the inventive ideas used throughout. The book is out now via Nightmare Press.


Wednesday, 12 May 2021

A Quiet Place: Part II (2020) - Horror Film News and Trailer

Originally due for release in the first half of last year A Quiet Place: Part II, the sequel to the 2018 horror about a world in which silence is the key to survival is now geared up for a release in June. Me and my best friend enjoyed that first movie, so we definitely want to check out the sequel, for me I will forever associate this with the scary days of the first national lockdown in England. Adding to the unexpected apocalyptic vibe of that time were the advertisements on the sides of buses for this film, that stayed up many months after it (in a normally functioning world) would have came to cinemas and the advertisements replaced. Anyway, the film is due to come to cinemas, Dolby cinema, and IMAX on 3rd June thanks to Paramount Pictures.

Following on from the events of the first movie, the Abbott family (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe reprising their roles) have been forced to leave their remote farmhouse. It is here that they discover the nightmarish creatures that hunt by sound are not the only thing they have to fear in this dark new world. This is again directed by John Krasinki, and it is cool to notice that Cillian Murphy (Inception, 28 Days Later) plays a character here. I don't think I have ever seen a movie that he is not great in.
Check out the final international trailer below, as well as a behind the scenes featurette titled The Wait is Over.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Sound of Violence (2021) - Horror Film Review

Back in 2018 I had the pleasure to watch Alex Noyer's short horror film Conductor, that I gave a 9/10. The six minute run time included some ultra violence that was not expected at all, and had a unique idea to it that was just so bizarre. I had heard rumblings at the time that Noyer was going to adapt this concept into a feature film, and now that has arrived in the form of Sound of Violence. Often when short films are extended into feature length ones they include the original short somewhere within. Here though there are elements of that short that are threaded into this one. Conductor featured a side character named Alexis who was a sound technician, she seemed to play only a minor role in that one, but it can't be coincidence that the twisted protagonist here is also called Alexis and bears a passing resemblance to her counterpart.

After an accident as a child Alexis lost her hearing. One day she feels a commotion coming from downstairs and is shocked to see her PTSD afflicted father beating her mother to death, resulting in her being forced to kill him. However this traumatic event also brought on the onset of synesthesia that miraculously repaired the damaged pathways in her head and gave her back her hearing. Now grown up and Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) discovers her hearing is starting to fail once again, taking a lesson from the past she decides to resort to very drastic measures in order to again initiate this strange synthesia in order to remain able to hear the music she so desperately loves. 

Sound of Violence could often be quite hard to watch, and that was not all down to the actual violence. Alexis is a quiet almost sociopathic loner whose only real friend is her flatmate, Marie (Lili Simmons - Bone Tomahawk) who she has hidden feelings for. Her interactions with characters at times become so uncomfortable to watch due to how much they made me cringe. There are at least three toe curling scenes in the film that made me feel so awkward that I had to pause the movie and do something else for a little bit. Then there are the scenes of violence that are very effective, and hard to watch due to how nasty they were (that isn't a criticism by the way). The iconic music box from Conductor makes a reappearance in one of the films best scenes, can't really say much more for fear of spoilers. The hardest to watch scene featured a drugged harpist who was slicing her fingers up as she played an adapted harp. The blood always looked good on screen. These scenes all had great special effects that really sold the visuals.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - Dystopian Thriller Film Review

While this blog is very focussed on horror I have always allowed post-apocalyptic films into the mix as they work as horror of a different kind. Lately I have began to also feel that dystopian films are welcome as well. Dystopias are kind of corporate sponsored slow burning apocalypses after all. For whatever reason I had never heard of the 1995 sci-fi thriller Johnny Mnemonic, and after watching it now I am ashamed of that fact. The story and the world in the movie share a lot of similarities with the video game Cyberpunk 2077, that itself was based on a board game (I believe) but was also obviously inspired by elements of this film.

In January, in the far flung dystopian future of 2021(!), corporations rule the world. Keanu Reeves (John Wick, The Matrix) is Johnny, a data courier, someone who has an implant in their brain that lets them store data there. He is convinced by his handler, Ralfi (Udo Kier - Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, Blade) to do one last job. Two defectors from the all powerful Pharma-Kom corporation want him to transport a whopping 320GB of stolen data. Desperate to earn enough money to restore the memories taken away from him in order to be able to store data in his brain Johnny agrees, despite the size being far more than he is able to safely handle. Things don't go according to plan, the corporations leader, Takahashi (Takeshi Kitano - Battle Royale) orders his private army, the Yakuza to hunt down Johnny, to make matters worse, the data courier is in a race against time to download the stolen data, as the sheer size of it will be enough to kill him within a matter of days...

It is hard to say what I would of thought of this at the time, but as I used to be into the action genre much more than horror I think my teenage self would have loved it. Watching it now, especially in the year the film was meant to take place it felt much more entertaining. Ideas of where the internet would end up heading, and how technology would increasingly pervade society were really interesting to see. With regards to the internet, here it is compartmentalised, but it also exists as a 3D Lawnmower Man style world that is interacted with via VR headsets. The internet is represented with some basic graphics, it works due to the scarcity of its use, but one of the final battles of the film includes a prolonged sequence of a Johnny avatar battling a virus protection system, entertaining, but unfair to criticise based on the time this originally released.
With some foresight there is also some humour to be found with what wasn't guessed right, mini discs being used to hold data, and 320GB being considered an insane amount of data amused. Other things felt more relevant, especially when it comes to video calls and technology replacing traditional forms of identification. A fun scene where Johnny uses a chunky cartridge in place of a passport. Currently I'm playing the video game Cyberpunk 2077 you can see the inspirations. In that game Keanu Reeves voices the character Johnny Silverhand, the main plot features a character with a stolen implant in their brain that is slowly killing them, and a Japanese owned corporation is out to stop them. Also the games 'cyber psychosis' felt similar to a technology created sickness in the film.

Friday, 7 May 2021

The Mill (2008) - Horror Film Review

The Mill
is a really weird slasher film that was directed by actor Grainger Hines in his only directorial role, and written by Harry L. Welch Jr. The weirdness whether on purpose or not is what at the very least makes this indie horror memorable. It takes a heck of a long time to get going but there were a few standout actors mixed in with all the non adventure.

Six friends, Shawn, Amber, Whitney, Jesse, Madison and Kyle have organised a private party at an abandoned mill. They plan to have plenty of sex and alcohol while there. As part of their plan they have befriended weird rich kid Nick (Robert Rainbolt) who can get keys to the mill as his father owns it, they also invite the geeky Cari along so that there isn't an odd number of boys and girls. As the party progresses the eight all separate into couples and head off to various parts of the mill, and it is here that each pair begins to run into trouble due to the animal infested building. Unknown to them all there is a hidden killer, someone who may well have a hand in the misery each of them are discovering.

The prologue takes place in the present with police and ambulance crews all over the mill, as a reporter explains that bodies of various high schoolers have been found after a massacre. The rest of the movie then skips back to the previous day to show how the friends all ended up dead. I do like that way of telling a story as it cements the fact that bad stuff is going to occur. My issue was how darn long it takes for anything to happen, I was clock watching and it was pretty much exactly halfway into the film that the first moment of horror occurs, that's 45 minutes into a 90 minute film. I guess it is good The Mill wasn't boring up to that point, but it sure didn't really do much to explain why the set-up took so long. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Meatball Machine (2005) - Horror Film Review

Wow, I can't say I had ever heard of the Yudai Yamaguchi (Abductee) and Jun'ichi Yamamoto (JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood) directed Meatball Machine before I got sent a screener of it for review. This 2005 feature length was based on the 1999 short film of the same name. The story may be basic but this bloody and violent biomechanical body horror nightmare won me over with its great special effects.

Yoji (Issey Takahashi - Kill Bill: Vol.1) is a lonely young man who spends his time fantasizing about a woman, Sachiko (Aoba Kawai) who works in the building next to his. One day he finally gets a chance to meet her, and discovers she also has an attraction for him. Before things can progress however a strange metal object Yoji found at the dump activates, it attacks the woman before melding with her. He is rescued and the monster escapes. He learns that parasitic biomechanical creatures are secretly taking over people in the city, piloting them as machines and battling each other to the death. Determined to try and save Sachiko, Yoji sets out to find a way to defeat the creature that has taken over her.

The main draw of Meatball Machine is the biomechanical monstrosities that the possessed humans became, thankfully the special effects and make-up design are fantastic. From the very start this is ultra violent, within a couple of minutes of starting we have seen a man get his head sawn in half vertically, and not long after that a possessed child is in pieces after being hit by a car. People taken over by the creatures have all sorts of painful looking alterations to their bodies, most notably the huge screws that drill down into the victims eyeballs in up close detail! These organic/mechanical creations reminded me of Cronenberg, but dialed up to 11. Much of the film is battles between these creatures, they use sawblades, flamethrowers, bone firing guns and more with which to battle, all looks very cool and disgusting in equal measures. My favourite effect of the film had a humanoid creature bursting out the chest of a character during a nightmare sequence, looked so freaky!

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (2019-20) - Sci-fi Video Game Review (Playstation 4)

I had heard a lot about the Japanese adventure game 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, enough that despite not being the sort of genre I would usually play I knew I just had to see what the fuss was all about. Initially released in Japan in 2019 before finding a worldwide release last year, this combination of visual novel and turn based strategy was a surprisingly winning mash up. I will keep things vague in relation to the fantastic story as the less you know the better it is.

The game is split up into three areas, Remembrance, Destruction and Analysis. Destruction takes place in the present, thirteen teenagers piloting giant mech suits (called Sentinels) desperately attempt to defend a Japanese city against hordes of invading kaiju, thought to be alien invaders from space. Each of the 30 or so missions take place in a different area of the city with up to six characters able to be chosen for each mission.
The look is kind of basic, a zoomed out view of the city space with both mechs and invaders represented as quite simple looking video game style icons. The 13 Sentinels are split into four different categories, there are three melee based ones, their attacks favouring close combat, and able to fire flares to disrupt missiles and air borne kaiju. Long range Sentinels rely on long range attacks surprisingly, such as missile storms, and the ever useful railgun. Flying Sentinels are weaker but have great maneuverability around the map, while the final class is an all rounder who have access to parts of the other three classes abilities. Using attacks drains the EP metre, once that is depleted you have to defend to recharge some of those points. If you take too much damage you can exit your Sentinel which then recharges back to full health over a turn, you are very vulnerable to enemy attack while out of your mech. A cool mechanic is that being in a mech drains you, so you are not able to constantly use the same character over and over again each battle, instead you have to constantly change around the line-up to give out of battle characters a chance to regain their energy.
The enemies are far more quantity over quality, many of the lesser ones can be killed in a single hit. You get much larger boss style enemies, and as the game progresses tougher enemies in the form of kaiju Sentinels show up. Killing these grants you XP which can be used in between fights to buy new weapon attacks, increase your base stats, and make your attacks more powerful. Destruction can be played a mission at a time or you can keep on going, it is up to you how you mix and match this and Remembrance.  Keep in mind there are far more story missions than battle missions, weirdly you get access to 10 extra battle missions after the game is over, with the imbalance it would have been nice to have these before the games end to make things feel more even. 

Remembrance is where you will be spending the most of your time over the 45 hour playthrough and is beautiful in its art design. There are eventually 13 characters stories to play through, each of which has roughly five different chapters, these take roughly 20 minutes per chapter to complete. The stories all take place prior to the events of Destruction and show how each of the pilots came to join the final battle. The story is crazy, I've never seen so many twists and turns in a video game before, there is twist after twist after twist from start to finish. The stories all overlap with each other, but they tell self contained stories. To show some of the variation, one character is stuck in a time loop, each chapter has them trying new things to try and escape the time loop. Another has you tasked by a talking cat (potentially the devil) to shoot fellow students with a 'magic' gun, this one was quite dark. Other examples include a story that has you as a rich kid who discovers one day that a popular idol is able to communicate directly to him through his TV, and one about a guy with a gun who wakes up next to a corpse with no memory of how he got there. 
These stories are visual novels, I expected then that this would be static screens of text. Instead you control a 2D character on screen, exploring locations (mainly a school). It isn't much of a spoiler to say time travel is involved, most the game takes place in 1985 but you also spend portions in 1945, 2025 and 2065. A lot of the time these stories are fun to play, with a few exceptions. Ryoko Shinomone has to frequently take pills to stay lucid, this became a tiresome game mechanic. Takatoshi Hijiyama meanwhile spends most of his story looking for a guy at the school over and over again, this was very boring and annoying.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Threshold (2020) - Horror Film Review

I saw the charming Ape Canyon the other day and remarked how much I enjoy road trip movies. Well it turns out the Gods must have heard me as Threshold is another road trip movie, this one shares many similarities with that other, but this one is much more a horror, and it also is very very good. This was co-directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young (B*stard) and like that other (excellent) horror the story here was too written by Young. You wouldn't know it to see this but the entire film was shot using two iPhones, there were only three crew members, and much of the dialogue was improvised by the two main actors.

Leo (Joey Millin) at the request of his mother has gone to check up on his sister, Virginia (Madison West - B*stard). She has had drug problems in the past and so he is worried she has relapsed. Leo finds her having some sort of fit and he is convinced she is on drugs despite her protestations. She tells him a strange story, she had became clean some eight months earlier due to the help of a cult she joined. The problems began when she tried to leave the cult, she says they performed some sort of ritual on her that bound her soul to that of another person. She says that whatever one of them feels the other feels it also. Virginia is able to give some coordinates that she tells her brother is where this mystery man can be located. Wanting to escape some personal problems he agrees to go on a road trip with her, to drive her across America to where she is certain this man can be found. While not believing Virginia he can see she is in a bad place and so thinks spending the time on the road with her will help her to deal with whatever mental health issue she seems to be facing.

Threshold is definitely a horror but that only makes up a sliver of the eighty minute run time. At an estimation I would say a good 90% of this is roadtrip drama, leaving just 10% for the horror part. That may lead to some people feeling short changed, but for me these brief moments of horror were so effective exactly due to their scarcity. Rather than  be dumped all at the end these are inserted within, every now and again there will be a couple of minutes where it suddenly feels that it is possible that Virginia may actually be telling the truth. These moments include tiny scenes that possibly allude to the fact the pair are being followed by persons unknown on their trip, and a standout performance by John Terrell as Jed in the middle of the movie. I loved that these parts are chilling, yet not enough ever really happens to cement what the truth actually is. Despite a somewhat abrupt ending this tale gets neatly tied up with a cool and unexpected twist.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019) - Horror Video Game Review (Playstation 4)

When I heard that former Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi was making a spiritual successor to the series I was overjoyed. Castlevania, specifically the 'Metroidvania' genre of one huge open (usually 2D) level is something that I love so much. When Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night finally came out back in 2019 I snapped it up right away. I put fifteen hours into it and got right to the end of the game...then abandoned it. The other day I loaded it back up and spent a final confusing hour completing it.

The game is set in 18th century England during the industrial revolution. The backstory is that the Alchemy Guild fearing their influence was being lost to the emergence of modern technology decided to purposely release demons into the world. To do this they would bind demonically charged crystals to people who they would then sacrifice to Hell. Their ill thought out plan was that they would then be able to come to the rescue, banish the demons and once again be well respected. Things didn't go as hoped for though, in the ensuring chaos the guild itself was destroyed, along with much of England, and it was the Church who were the ones finally able to restore order.
Ten years later and Gebel, who managed to survive attempted sacrifice by the guild has summoned the legions of Hell. He commands them from a gigantic castle, the Hellhold. His motivation is that of revenge, he wants the demonic hordes to find and wipe out the surviving members of the Alchemy Guild. Out to stop him is Miriam, she too is similarly demonically infused but avoided the sacrifice in the past by being in a magically induced sleep.

Going back into the game after a two year gap I had no memory of what had been going on. I think at the time the story wasn't that gripping and from reading back up on the events of the game I think that holds true. This was one of many elements that left me cold. What I loved about Castlevania was its basis on horror monsters, fighting zombies and skeletons and ghosts was cool, as was having Dracula as the antagonist. I get that they had to make this game feel different, and on paper having the enemies be demons sounded cool. There was just something lacking about all this though. I found all the characters to be bland and forgettable, even apparent main bad guy Gebel is as generic as they come. The final boss of the game was really cool though, a fun fight.