Friday, 21 February 2014

PARANORMAL XPERIENCE 3D - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Sergi Vizcaino, Starring: Amaia Salamanca, Maxi Iglesias, Luis Fernandez, Horror, Spain, 2011, 87mins, cert 18.

Released on DVD / 3D Blu-ray on the 24th February 2014 by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.

With the vague promise that their grades would be looked at again, five underachieving psychology students are persuaded by their professor to undertake a paranormal investigation in an old abandoned mining town. Needing suitable transport, Angela (Amaica Salamanca) invites her younger (van owning) bartending sister Diana along with the enticement: “Those things always interested you...”
The sister’s relationship seems strained, perhaps in some way related to a memory of their deceased father, but Diana (Alba Ribas) comes through with the van and off they all pop on their merry haunt.   


According to their somewhat unorthodox professor, the town of Susurro was once prey to an evil doctor (Dr. Matarga) who tortured and killed over 20 of the townsfolk after the war. When the mines were re-opened in 1963, workers reported feeling a presence before the gruesome discovery of the bodies of 5 dead miners. Is the paranormal presence of Dr. Matarga merely a collective figment of the imagination or is there something more tangible visceral and deadly lurking in the dusty abandoned town of Susurro?

Made back in 2011, this Spanish stereoscopic splatter flick is perhaps most notable for featuring a plethora of jawdroppingly unsubtle SONY product placements. In fact a more appropriate title would’ve been: ‘Product placement Experia’ after the smart phone so prominently featured in the first third of the film (and yet curiously completely forgotten about when help is required later on down at the old spooky mining town) Then there’s the SONY laptop which is carefully carried throughout to show us the logo at every opportune moment, and would you believe it, there’s also a video camera (guess what make?). At least the found-footage aspect is limited to a few short sequences (and to be fair one of these is key to the plot).
The attractive nubile young cast look like they’ve all just come straight from a telenovela (glamorous Spanish soap-opera), but the script doesn’t require them to stretch their thespian abilities beyond looking fit and trading uninspiring insults with each other. And when they’re not auditioning for Calvin Klein underwear commercials they’re being dispatched in (mostly) decently executed practical gore set-pieces. I say mostly, for there is one CGI effect which is so spectacularly shoddy it almost single-handedly undoes all the good make-up work that has gone before it.

The design of the not-so-good doctor is nicely executed, a sort of cross between the mask from THE HILLS RUN RED, with ‘Tony’ from TOTAL RECALL (1990). There’s an impressive piece of handiwork performed with a meat hook (which would surely impress even ‘Candyman’ himself), and pithy one-liners sound so much better in Spanish, e.g. “Bonito culo!” (nice ass).

Surprisingly, the majority of the film takes place during the bright sunny Spanish daylight, which somewhat dilutes the atmosphere. (Perhaps it was feared all those SONY labels wouldn’t be discernible in the gloom?). This is a shame as both the salt mines and the grimly decorated doctor’s house could have offered much more. Then again, perhaps the fact that it was actually filmed in 3D - rather than merely being a post-conversion - played a hand in this decision. Speaking of the 3D, it’s apparent, (even from watching the ‘flat’ 2D preview DVD) that there are sequences clearly designed to provide that ‘in your face’ effect. I’m a sucker for this type of gimmicky 3D (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 being my absolute favourite example) and it would’ve been fun to see how effective those moments proved to be. I must also note that the preview disc I viewed had the words: “Property of Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment” permanently burned across the upper middle of the screen, which, when combined with the subtitles occupying the lower half, proved to be somewhat distracting at times.

But even taking all this into account, I still found PARANORMAL XPERIENCE (2D) to be a reasonably entertaining commercial Catalonian creep fest. (Had I been able to view it in 3D I might even have added an extra star to my rating).

P.S. there’s a brief additional scene post end-credits – for completists – (like me).

No extras.

 

** (out of 5*)

This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Monday, 17 February 2014

NOTHING LEFT TO FEAR - A review by Paul Worts

Directed by Anthony Leonardi III, Starring: Clancy Brown, Anne Heche, James Tupper Jennifer Stone, Ethan Peck, Rebekah Brandes. Horror, USA, 2013, 96mins, cert 15.


Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray, Download and On-Demand by Anchor Bay on 17th February 2014.
Pastor Bramford (James Tupper) and his family move out of the city to the deceptively peaceful town of Stull. Taking over from the retiring Pastor Kingsman (Clancy Brown), the townsfolk welcome the newcomers with open arms (even taking over from the removal team to help furnish the Bramford’s new home). Why even kindly old Mrs Gordon (whose almost 95 you know) has made the family one of her famous cakes – so good in fact that they “melt your tongue right off” pronounces Pastor Kingsman. (Not quite...)
This is the first offering from Slasher Film productions (co-owned by none other than Slash of Guns N’ Roses), and it also marks the feature-film debut of former storyboard artist Anthony Leonardi III. Despite their best intentions however, I have to report that after viewing this debut, neither came claim to come out of it smelling of roses (sorry).

Quite why Tupper’s Pastor Bramford didn’t do his homework on the town of Stull before accepting the position is at best questionable. Surely a quick search on Google would have revealed all is not quite so rosy in this quiet little god-fearing community? And any congregation led by Clancy (‘Brother Justin’ in HBO’s CARNIVALE) Brown must have a dark secret at its heart. Clancy is (as is sadly so often the case) underused in the role of Pastor Kingsman, but then again so is Anne Heche as the wife of the good Pastor Bramford (real-life couple Heche and Tupper). For a film that clearly intends to be character driven, we’re not really given that much to work with for any of the characters. Older daughter Rebecca (Rebekah Brandes) is given several longueur scenes gazing longingly into the eyes of hunky farm-hand Noah (Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory), who rather worryingly appears a dab hand at slitting the throats of sheep.
Speaking of which, this film is not recommended for sufferers of ovinaphobia (fear of sheep) as Rebecca experiences a rather unpleasant nightmare of the woolly variety. Meanwhile, younger teen sister Mary (Jennifer Stone) initially has a run in with a rat (an encounter which the rodent will come to regret later on), and gets disproportionately punished for grabbing the first slice of Mrs Gordon’s cake.

The cake in question is just one example of numerous plot holes and unexplained threads which are liberally sprinkled throughout the half-baked storyline. Having been told not to touch the cake till the family are gathered for their evening meal (because mum makes such a big thing of such things), nothing is then said later despite the fact the cake has been chucked into the garbage bin by sheep-slitter Noah.

Once the town’s dark, black tendril secret is eventually revealed (in largely uninspiring CGI form) all character credibility is sunk beneath the black ooze. A prime example being a scene where big-sis Rebecca and Noah are driving hell-for-leather away from a pursuer only for Rebecca to insist Noah stops the car in order to get out and debate the ethics of running away - in the middle of the street- thereby allowing the threat to gradually catch up with them.

I must admit I did chuckle at the casual callousness of how big-sis leaves her young brother behind not once but twice in the path of deadly peril – clearly a case for welfare services methinks.
The dénouement is somewhat rushed and under explained, and the conclusion suggesting a cyclical pattern to the aforementioned events raises more questions than answers. There’s nothing wrong with a film which takes it time to build atmosphere and character before unleashing its bag of bad things, but a film that takes so long to deliver underdeveloped characters, story, and largely uninventive effects leaves the audience with nothing left to fear.


No extras

** (OUT OF 5*)

This review was first published on FRIGHTFEST website.