Friday, 22 December 2017

VIKING SIEGE (2017)


Directed by Jack Burton, Starring: Michelle McTernan, Sarah Driver, Rosanna Hoult, Samantha Schnitzler, James Groom. Horror. UK, 2017, 95mins, Cert 18.
Released in the UK on DVD on 26th December 2017 by Altitude Film Distribution.

Drunken monks vs. killer tree trunks
“I’d rather have a rusty sword shoved up my arse!”
The year is, err... (unspecified), in a place called, err... (unspecified). A brethren of drunken debauched monks are about to be slaughtered at the hands of the serving wenches they are lecherously pawing at. Unbeknown to the more pissed than pious brothers; their servants are actually a band of female warriors out for revenge against the monks who have sold their loved ones as slaves. Unbeknown to everyone however, they are about to be joined at the monastery by a handful of bedraggled gate crashing Vikings fleeing from an army of mutated tree-like demons (listed as ‘tree bastards’ in the end credits, but also colourfully described at one point as ‘splinter dicks’). 


The publicity blurb references a disparate range of film and TV comparisons, from EVIL DEAD, RED SONJA and ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13, to ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Vikings’ – none of which are remotely justified. If they’d listed CREEPSHOW on the other hand...The film opens with a falling meteor sequence lifted straight out of the ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ segment which provides the origins of the tree mutation ‘delivered from the skies’ and bestowed upon the cursed men. Unfortunately, you then have to wait 45 minutes before these ‘tree bastards’ finally show up - which is fatal as the build up really doesn’t justify the disappointingly desiccated sub SWAMP THING like creature designs (mostly covered by robes).


Up until that point, we are treated to a barrage of luridly unsubtle ribaldry, washed down with decidedly historically unauthentic (and foul) dialogue, a decent throat slashing or two, some vicious stabby stabby dispatching, and scarred warrior leader Atheled (Michelle McTearnan) and her mini crossbow with its seemingly magically unending supply of arrows.


None of the characters are afforded anything other than rudimentary character traits, and the often misjudged attempts at humour (yes I’m including you ‘lute player’ in this observation) are largely cringe inducing. 


Yet despite the film’s numerous faults, it’s still watchable in a guilty pleasurable kind of way, never dull despite its 90+ minutes running time, and occasionally hints at what could have been given a better script and a bigger budget to properly deliver on the undeniably promising premise. Given the scope afforded to Peter Jackson to realise the ‘Ents’ in the LORD OF THE RINGS films, you can’t fault the filmmakers ambitions, but inevitably, viewer goodwill can only stretch so far before it snaps (like a twig) at these ‘tree bastards’. And you can only sell a gory death by having an actor spew up gobbets of stage blood as a substitute for an actual make-up set-piece or half-decent CGI rendition so many times before you begin to realise that the requisite gory punch line isn’t coming.


But for a first-time feature, director Jack Burton’s Viking wooded demon mash-up isn’t completely barking up the wrong tree. 


Extras: trailer.


**(out of 5*)


Paul Worts

This review was originally published by FRIGHTFEST 

Monday, 27 November 2017

FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972)

Directed by: Jimmy Sangster, Starring: Judy Geeson, Ralph Bates, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing. Horror, UK 1972, Cert 12.

Released on Doubleplay DVD/Blu-ray in the UK by Studiocanal on 30th October 2017.  

"I'm going to find something that will mark her a little, and hurt her a lot."

Originally enlisted as the supporting half of a 1972 Hammer double-bill alongside STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (accompanied by the lurid poster tagline: ‘Women in terror!’), Jimmy Sangster’s moderately effective little thriller has now been treated to a HD restoration.

The script, known under various guises, was originally conceived by Sangster back in 1963 before it finally saw the light of day (and fear in the night – ha!) with some alterations and a bit of spit and polish by co-writer Michael Syson. Recently married 22 year old Peggy (Judy Geeson) is still recovering from a nervous breakdown when she comes to live with her ‘schoolteacher’ husband Robert (Ralph Bates) in a cottage on the grounds of a remote boy’s school. Having already survived an attempted strangulation in her former bedsit at the (gloved) hands of an unseen assailant with a prosthetic arm, things don’t bode well for Peggy’s psychological recovery when the headmaster at the school, Michael Carmichael (Peter Cushing) just so happens to also have a prosthetic arm...

A relatively by the numbers rift on LES DIABOLIQUES (1955), director Sangster compensates for the minimalist script by wringing every last possible drop of atmosphere out of prowling through the deserted classrooms, dormitories and across the windswept school grounds after woman-in-terror Peggy.  

Peter Cushing only appears in a couple of scenes, but he lends his customary consummate excellence in conveying the nuanced character of Carmichael, and his presence permeates throughout the film.

Ralph Bates struggles to convince in a role that requires a lot in order to sell the plot twists, but Joan Collins’ unblinking dispatch by rifle of a rabbit unsubtly sketches in her cold calculation as the wife of the headmaster.

There’s a strikingly effective use of school sound recordings which play at the flick of a switch and which rise to a shrieking cacophony during the film’s finale – mirroring the spiralling madness infecting the proceedings. The opening credit sequence cyclically foreshadows events to come, as does a scene in the gymnasium with a display of rope knots carefully framed behind headmaster Carmichael, and an unexpectedly open-ended conclusion helps negate the somewhat implausible and mechanical plotting preceding it, delivering if not quite fear in the night then certainly a shiver in the morning.          

Extras: New 16min documentary and trailer

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts



This review was originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.

Friday, 10 November 2017

FRIDAY THE 13TH VS. HALLOWEEN VS. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: A TRIPLE FRANCHISE COMPARISION (CONCLUSION)

So, after 10 rounds, and with only the 2009 Friday the 13th reboot left unscored - and unscored it shall remain as I have never been so disappointed by a film as I was by this travesty* - the results were surprisingly close. 

Closer than I expected if I'm honest (and I can be, sometimes - honestly). Full disclosure: of the 3 franchises I compared; I would have to say the Friday the 13th franchise is my overall favourite, with Elm Street 2nd. 

(Sorry Michael, but after that stupendous first half of the night you came home, you really lost your way, so much so in fact that I prefer Halloween III: Season of the Witch to all of the sequels with you in them that came post Conal Cochran. Or to put it another way, in the very words of Myer's creator, John Carpenter from 2014: 

"I didn’t think there was any more story, and I didn’t want to do it again. All of my ideas were for the first Halloween – there shouldn’t have been any more! I’m flattered by the fact that people want to remake them, but they remake everything these days, so it doesn’t make me that special. But Michael Myers was an absence of character. And yet all the sequels are trying to explain that. That’s silliness – it just misses the whole point of the first movie, to me. He’s part person, part supernatural force. The sequels rooted around in motivation. I thought that was a mistake. However, I couldn’t stop them from making sequels. So my agents said, ‘Why don’t you become an executive producer and you can share the revenue?’ But I had to write the second movie, and every night I sat there and wrote with a six pack of beer trying to get through this thing. And I didn’t do a very good job, but that was it. I couldn’t do any more. "

(Read the full interview HERE.)

 Roll on Halloween 2018, hey John?
  
Final score after 10 rounds (and excluding Friday the 13th 2009 completely - which would have won it for the F13 franchise otherwise): 
Nightmare on Elm Street 20
Friday the 13th 20
Halloween 19


(*No reflection on Derek Mears' portrayal as Jason - which was excellent in itself)







Wednesday, 1 November 2017

FRIDAY THE 13TH VS. HALLOWEEN VS. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: A TRIPLE (NOW DOUBLE) FRANCHISE COMPARISION (ROUND 10)

3 points

2 points

























For 'Round 10', Freddy is unfortunately out of the running as the 2010 reboot represents (currently) the last screen outing for the bladed-gloved dream fiend...

So should I end the comparisons there? Hell no, fortune favours the brave, so...

I award 3 points UNRESERVEDLY to one of my absolute favourite instalments (outside the original quad). Todd Farmer's audacious script placed Jason in space, and Jason (Jim) Isaacs, who sadly passed away on May 6th, 2012, directed the hell out of it. Bold, audacious, visually impressive, with a cameo from David Cronenberg, the awesome 'Uber Jason', one of the franchise's very best kills (death by liquid nitrogen) and a holographic Camp Crystal Lake!  

And 2 points to the equally much maligned Halloween II from Rob Zombie. Sorry (not sorry), but I really took to this ultra-violent retelling, and crushing the original sequel's entire premise into an opening nightmare? Bravo! 



Running scores after 10 rounds:  
Nightmare on Elm Street 20
Friday the 13th20
Halloween 19

Monday, 30 October 2017

FRIDAY THE 13TH VS. HALLOWEEN VS. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: A TRIPLE FRANCHISE COMPARISION (ROUND 9)

3 points
2 points
1 point


In direct comparison, Jason Goes to Hell finds itself up against two reboots in round 9. Adam Marcus' spin on The Hidden body-swapping idea cut down on Jason's actual on screen time, upped the gore quota (in the unrated version) and ended with Freddy's glove making a (premature) appearance.

Rob Zombie divided Halloween fans with his unique take demystifying the Shape's origins before briskly and violently re-staging most of the original. I can see why some hated it, but personally I thought it was a genuinely personal and fascinating vision and it gets the 3 points from me (controversial I know!).

Speaking of controversial, I am actually the only person in the Western Hemisphere who didn't hate the Elm Street remake either (*ducks and runs for cover*). Of course Jackie Earle Haley had an impossible task in trying to fill Robert Englund's shoes/hat/glove/sweater etc, but give the guy some slack people! I thought his portrayal was dark and mean - something that Englund's Freddy was too, once upon a time...
 
Running scores after 9 rounds:  
Nightmare on Elm Street 20
Friday the 13th 17
Halloween 17

Sunday, 29 October 2017

FRIDAY THE 13TH VS. HALLOWEEN VS. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: A TRIPLE FRANCHISE COMPARISION (ROUND 8)

3 points
2 points
1 point

I'm heading into seriously choppy waters with this round (and I'm not just talking about the questionable geography which allows Jason to sail directly from Crystal Lake to Manhattan by boat). Technically, Freddy's next cinematic outing occurs in Freddy vs. Jason, so whilst it's not exclusively an Elm Street entry, Freddy is partially riding on Jason's coattails (and collecting the 3 points this round) with the flawed but very entertaining battle of the horror icons. 

Raw deal for Kane Hodder, overlooked to play Jason for FvJ after slumming it in arguably 3 of the weakest F13 entries, of which, Jason Takes Manhattan ( but mostly Vancouver) is frankly lucky to even get 1 point.

Halloween: Resurrection isn't regarded highly amongst the fans of Mr. Myers, but I actually think the set-up kinda works, like a filmic version of a haunted walk-through. (I will concede that the death of Curtis' Laurie Strode is infuriatingly weak and unworthy of her character) - but Jason Takes Manhattan really is that shit.

Running scores after 8 rounds:  
Friday the 13th 16
Nightmare on Elm Street 18
Halloween 14

Saturday, 28 October 2017

FRIDAY THE 13TH VS. HALLOWEEN VS. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: A TRIPLE FRANCHISE COMPARISION (ROUND 7)

 
Wes Craven delivered a new meta-nightmare with Heather Leathankamp, Robert Englund, JohnSaxton and Bob Shaye playing themselves (at least to begin with) whilst a real demon tries on the glove for size. 

Jamie Lee Curtis is finally tempted back to play Laurie 20 years after the events of Halloween II, (and wisely ignoring parts 4,5 and 6). 

Whilst Kane Hodder makes his debut as Jason Voorhees (with a spectacular look - arguably the best design of the entire series). Unfortunately his showdown with 'Carrie'  isn't enough to paper over the heavily butchered kills and the film really suffers as a result. 

Running scores after 7 rounds:  
Friday the 13th 15
Nightmare on Elm Street 15
Halloween 12