Wednesday 10 April 2024


From a wimple to a scream.

(Nun)necessary retconned prequel that is a reasonably well-crafted film in its own right, just not a particularly effective or suspenseful horror film.

The Omen sequels became increasingly precursors to the Final Destination franchise with their host of supernaturally determined and often spectacularly staged death scenes. In first-time helmer Arkasha Stevenson’s prequel, the handful of reworked set-pieces, clearly intended as homages to the Richard Donner 1976 original, land more with a whimper (or should that be a wimple) than a bang. The exception being the “It’s all for you” hanging - now upgraded to include self-immolation. It does however feel as if Stevenson is either mildly ashamed or reluctant to include them at all but must fulfil certain tick boxes along the way. There is however some surprisingly upfront body horror in the shape of a couple of squirm inducing birthing scenes (including one brief – albeit MPAA compromised - memorably devilish gynaecological image).

The extended runtime allows scope to develop the relationship between Nell Tiger Free’s novice nun ‘Margaret’ and troubled teen ‘Carlita’ (Nicole Sorace) amongst the corridors of the orphanage in Rome, together with the cigarette smoking trampolining sisters reminiscing about good-looking milkmen! Screenwriters Tim Smith, Keith Thomas and Stevenson try to work a ‘twist’ as to who Damien’s mummy is really going to be – but as a mystery it’s a bit of a non-starter. The script does however serve up a tasty morsel by suggesting the Catholic church themselves engineered the birth of the antichrist to boost congregation numbers!   

But eventually the narrative must be nudged towards (ret)connecting to the original’s plot by way of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.  But belatedly cueing up Jerry Goldsmith’s masterful (Oscar winning) composition Ave Satani only serves as a reminder of the more proficient 1976 shocker. The narrative join-up is clunky and not only fails to connect all the dots, (particularly the original identity of Damien’s birth mother) but also throws in added unnecessary elements – presumably to add some more meat to The Second Omen – if there is one? 

To be completely fair, the 120-minute runtime doesn’t actually feel like 2 hours, and the build-up to the climatic final third is reasonably absorbing. Nell Tiger Free carries the film with a committed performance - even at one point channelling Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981) - whilst the supporting cast, including Bill Nighy’s creepy cardinal and Ralph Ineson (essaying Patrick Troughton’s ‘Father Brennan’) provide solid dependable support. And any film covering this kind of pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo subject matter that manages to avoid giving a multiplex crowd cause for unintended sniggers or titters for 2 hours is an achievement in itself (albeit in a mid-afternoon audience of approx. a dozen patrons at my screening).   

The main issue is the contractual obligation to tie things up - and as we already know the outcome - it’s somewhat of an anti-(Christ)climax.

Still, there are sufficient good omens in the crafting of this prequel to suggest Stevenson is a director to watch once she gets to shape a work not so chained by pre-existing material.

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts 

Wednesday 3 April 2024


“Just try not to swallow your tongue” ‘Trapper’ (Dan Stevens) advises podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) as they start the psychedelic descent into the Hollow Earth in Adam Wingardium Leviosa’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Clearly Wingard’s tongue is firmly in cheek in this unabashedly goofy sprawling follow up to his neon-drenched 2021 helmed Godzilla vs. Kong.


The ’vs.’ in 2021’s title may now have been replaced with ‘x’ to signify a truce between the two titular titans, but it’s a fragile pact at best, briefly crumbling in a rumble in Egypt (due to Godzilla misinterpreting Kong’s request for assistance) which reduces the pyramids of Giza to rubble. Thankfully, our favourite giant lizard is brought to his senses by Mothra, swooping in like an ethereal WWE referee and re-focusing our heroic monster on the prime objective.


Even more Kong-centric than 2021’s ‘vs.’– albeit largely explained by the fact the majority of the action this time around is centred in (and below) the Hollow Earth - Godzilla is at times regulated to quick ‘travelogue’ updates. One minute he is seen stomping up the Tiber in Rome, the next he’s topping up his atomic radiation in the Arctic. Meanwhile, back in the Hollow Earth, Kong is being led into a monster fish-infested lake by deceptively cute wide-eyed mini-Kong Suko in true Smeagol / Gollum style before encountering the evil Skar King and his ancient ice-powered titan Shimo. Being so expressive and a gentle giant (at times), there’s always fun to be had with Kong, none more so than when he's suffering from toothache, resulting in kaiju veterinarian ‘Trapper’ (Dan Stevens – a barmy but welcome addition to the cast) abseiling into his jaw to perform dental surgery, or upgrading a frost-bitten arm with a power-glove.


The eventual titan showdown is truly spectacular, offering up the gloriously gonzo sight of Godzilla et al spiralling through an anti-gravity vortex in the Hollow Earth before surfacing on a beach in Rio de Janeiro which is frankly worth the price of IMAX admission alone.


Back in 2021, thanks to a certain global pandemic, UK kaiju aficionados were deprived of a cinematic release of the previous heavyweight titan set-to. Thankfully Wingard’s second outing playing in the kaiju sandpit is available in full expanded IMAX glory (and even post-converted 3D if you really want it). Sure, it is wildly uneven, skittering all over the place (and the world), but it still delivers terrific giant monster mayhem and fun. No, it is not Godzilla Minus One (a superb achievement in it’s own right and a deserved Oscar winner to boot), but then it is not remotely trying to be that film either. There is however plenty of room in the kaiju cinematic universe for both types of interpretations, and judging by the box office figures coming in, audiences across the globe are more than happy to find more room for Godzilla and Kong to grace IMAX screens once again. 

(Polite request: please can we have a more Godzilla-focused outing next time Adam?).   

**** (OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts

Thursday 3 August 2023

An interview with Kirsten Baker (Terry from Friday the 13th Part 2)

Former actress and model, Kirsten Baker's place in the Friday the 13th franchise hall of fame is safely assured thanks to her iconic portrayal of the ultimate nubile teen counsellor 'Terry' in Friday the 13th Part 2'.  

Born in Norway, Kirsten Baker came to the US when she was just 6 weeks old having been adopted by US foster parents.

I caught up with Kirsten recently in London where she was a first-time guest appearing at London Film & Comic Con. Kirsten admitted to me that she was still adjusting to transatlantic jet lag so sightseeing wasn't a major priority so much as her hotel bed! She did however graciously grant me a quick interview in between signing autographs for her many fans so I started by asking about Norway and given how young she was when she relocated to the US, whether she'd been back since?     

“I’ve been back as a foreign exchange student (a long time ago), like 1976. And I went when I was 16 and explored the native country that I came from and boy it was amazing! So different from the United States and the UK even. I actually speak a little bit of Norwegian:  "Hvordan går det med deg?” (Translation: “How’s it going with you?”).

Very well indeed thank you Kirsten! Now I understand that the makers of Friday the 13th Part 2 had pre-selected you in advance and so you didn’t have to audition for the role of ‘Terry’?

“No, that’s correct, they offered it to me.”

And you hadn’t seen the original film before accepting the role had you...?


Am I right in saying you are not a big fan of horror films per se?

“Right, I’m not too big of a fan”. 

But you can make an acception and watch Friday the 13th Part 2?

“Oh yeah, it’s fun. I think it’s a good movie. I like the ensemble cast that we had”.

I was going to say there’s a discernible good vibe amongst the cast in that instalment. How did you get on with Russell Todd (who played your over-eager pursuer/stalker ‘Scott’)?

Scott was always chasing me…”

What for real, as well as on camera?

“Ha! No, just on camera – we were friends”.

(Well that's a relief). And I have to ask about your character Terry's very cute pet Shih Tzu, ‘Muffin’…?

“Ok, Muffin actually didn’t die”.

[You heard it hear first folks! That’s nice to hear, however implausible given the onscreen evidence to the contrary]. Anyway, Kristen did get to bond with the impeccably groomed canine offscreen: “Muffin liked me, and I liked Muffin.”

Obviously, you didn’t have an onscreen death [Kirsten's character Terry discovers Todd hanging suspended upside down with his throat slit, turns and screams directly into the Steadicam] but did you have an actual death detailed in the script?

“No, it was an oversight in the script.”

That’s ridiculous!

“Isn’t it? Something that important.”

But then we see you (or at least your lifeless corpse) lying by Jason's shrine to his mum Mrs Voorhees in his shack towards the film's finale, and there’s some discernible makeup on your face but that’s the only hint we have of your demise…

“That’s right, so I can come back!”

Exactly! And all these years later, why do you think it is that Friday the 13th Part 2 has to this day not only maintained - but if anything increased -in affection and appreciation amongst the fans of the franchise and beyond?

“I think it was the ensemble cast."

For me personally, I think it’s the scariest film in the entire series. Every case member is absolutely fabulous, (Jason is at his scariest in his burlap sack) and you of course were absolutely fabulous in it as well. So thank you for being in my favourite franchise of all time! 

“Thank you very much, you’re welcome!”   

Interview by Paul Worts conducted on 7th July 2023.


Sunday 30 July 2023


Directed by: Aaron Truss. Starring Diane Franklin, Graham Cole, Carolyn Pickles, Joe Acres. Short. Horror, UK 2023, 13.5mins.

A Q Cumber Films & Misty Moon production. Festival screenings ahead of official cast & crew premiere on 16th October 2023. 

Pareidolia: a situation in which someone sees a pattern or image of something that does not exist, for example a face in a cloud.

The literary ghost stories of M.R. James are littered with academic scholars foolishly poking around in matters they shouldn’t and often unleashing supernatural entities upon themselves. In PAREIDOLIA (how undeniably cool is that title by the way?) university lecturer Sinead Chambers, (Diane Franklin, Amityville II: The Possession), sets her students an assignment to go out and photograph examples of pareidolia. Unfortunately for Sinead, her own curiosity attracts a very real entity which appears intent on unleashing its own lesson – in fear and mortal dread – upon her.

There is a ton of material both included and implied in the modest runtime of this crisply paced, tightly edited, and strikingly lensed short sharp spooky shock fest. Director Aaron Truss delivers a punchy tale, scribed by Aaron's dad Aiden, and it’s obviously a labour of love to the horror genre. A frankly astonishing cast is assembled for a modest crowdfunded project headed up by 80’s icon Diane Franklin, who pulls out all the stops as her terrified lecturer plays hide and seek in the on-off dark with a flashlight in standout sequences reminiscent of The Conjuring and Lights Out. Ably supported by British TV stalwarts Graham Cole and Carolyn Pickles who bring assured quality to the tale, and a nice turn from Joe Acres as the archetypal wisecracking mortuary attendant, the technical acumen behind the lens is proficiently complimented by the onscreen talent.

Lovely nods to the classic franchises come courtesy of the radio announcer ‘DJ Micki Myers’ voiced by Sandy (“Michael’s around someplace…”) Johnson - Michael Myers’ sister and first victim in Carpenter’s seminal original Halloween - here referencing another Carpenter film, The Fog with her ‘Stevie Wayne’ like weather warning. And Friday the 13th also gets a sly cameo courtesy of a carefully framed bottle of Adrienne King’s ‘Crystal Lake Wine’!

It's an ambitious short, (when was the last time French sociologist Jean Baudrillard was referenced on screen?), with a number of potential threads that could easily dovetail off into a full-length feature, or even dare I say it, a franchise. For example, there’s a potential prequel exploring Father Cavanagh’s past and previous run-ins with the entity. But for now, unlike the dictionary definition of the film’s subject matter, there’s more than plenty to see in plain sight in PAREIDOLIA, a scary warning to the curious, and the lurking dread in its dark corners will likely cause you to keep your lights permanently on at night…        


Paul Worts

Saturday 3 September 2022

CULT OF VHS (2022)

Directed by: Rob Preciado. With: Graham Humphreys, David
Gregory, Michael Keene, Kevin Martin. Feature-length documentary. 89mins. Strangelove & Q Cumber Films & Studio POW.

World premiere screening at Arrow FrightFest on 28th August 2022.

“VHS you know, it’s like vinyl, if vinyl kinda sucked.” (Michael Keene (‘The Head’, ‘Fatal Future’).

Despite the above opening quote, Rob Preciado’s documentary about the VHS video format is a kind rewind back to the origins of the home video revolution. It’s a fascinating celebration of the experiences of the renters, the mom-and-pop (US) and corner shop (UK) independent video stores, the current-day collectors and curators of the treasured tapes bound in amaray boxes, and a speculative fast-forward to the future: will VHS enjoy a vinyl-like renaissance?

It revels in the tactile (sometimes forbidden) pleasures of under-age viewing of age-inappropriate horror films. It highlights the luscious and at times lurid cover art which lured us into renting those often obscure and dodgy titles, whilst celebrating arguably the finest exponent of the art, the UK’s very own Graham Humphreys.

Naturally, no discussion of VHS can take place without considering the ‘video nasty’ saga – something which us UK horror fans of a certain age still have nightmares (in our damaged brains) over the vilification and moral panic which saw some of our beloved gore fests being withdrawn, or cut to ribbons, robbing us of most of the best bits.

CULT OF VHS draws in the (often moving) global experiences from a multitude of fans and collectors both young and mature. From Mexico to Holland, from Australia to Spain as well as here in dear old Blighty. Conceived during lockdown, it’s poignant that so many of the interviewees highlight the advantage of being able to watch a physical copy of a film as opposed to having to rely on your broadband speed to stream a selective algorithm-curated range of largely mainstream fare. Whilst the world was stuck at home who had the last laugh when internet providers couldn’t cope with demand...?

Accompanied by a suitably rocking retro synthwave soundtrack, a bounty of old VHS adverts and juicy trailer snippets – and a fabulous opening credits sequence homaging John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’, CULT OF VHS is a love letter to VHS for both seasoned home video romantics, and a timely reminder to current and future generations of the advantages and unadulterated pleasure of owning physical media – whether that be in ultra-HD, or pan-and-scan snowy tracking 4:3 VHS.

“VHS is a cult, but it’s not the creepy kill yourself cult, it’s the let’s kick ass and let’s be good to each other kind of cult because movies fucking rule, and in a time like this, escapism is the best and their ain’t no better escapism than trying to go back to the 80’s and 90’s when life just seemed simpler”. (Kevin Martin, Owner of the Lobby Videostore).


Paul Worts

Saturday 21 May 2022

COLD MOON (2016)

Directed by: Griff Furst, Starring: Josh Stewart, Frank Whaley,
Chester Rushing, Candy Clark. Horror, US 2016, 83mins, Cert 15.

Approximately 55 minutes into this adaptation of Michael McDowell’s 1980 novel ‘Cold Moon Over Babylon’, a coffin levitates out of its freshly dug grave, explodes, and deposits a snake-like creature bearing a remarkable resemblance to Michael Keaton’s ‘Betelgeuse’. Given author McDowell co-wrote Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE, this is either a belated tribute to the late writer (who died in 1999), a cynical attempt to miss-sell this Southern gothic tale of supernatural revenge, or a complete coincidence (admittedly, Candy Clark’s Grandma Larkin is a dead ringer for the “...ghost with the most...”).

It’s 1989. Down at the Larkin Blueberry Farm in Babylon, Florida, Jerry Larkin (Chester Rushing from MY FATHER DIES, STRANGER THINGS), is worried the blueberry yield is getting lower every year, and those red repayment reminders building up in the kitchen drawer look increasingly likely to spell foreclosure in the not too distant future. But Jerry and his grandmother Evelyn (the venerable genre Candy Clark, hugely over-emoting here) have a more immediate concern: why hasn’t Jerry’s 16 year old sister Margaret not returned home from cycling into town to help her teacher Mr Perry...?

There’s a lot of plot strands all desperately straining for screen time in this unnecessarily overcomplicated ghost story. Like the muddied waters of the river which Margaret Larkin’s strangled corpse is fished out of, the narrative focus constantly seems to be shifting, which, whilst never dull, makes for an uneven, muddled experience. There’s a murder mystery for starters (who strangled Margaret?) which is then abandoned at the start of the second act when, in a double-whammy that the film never really recovers from, not only is the killer revealed, but they also brutally dispatch two of the main characters by unflinchingly beheading one before swiftly running a sword through the other! As I said, dull it certainly ain’t! Then, whilst the sheriff (Frank Whaley) does his best to complicate matters further by arresting an innocent man on the basis of a clue stitch-up even the writers of Scooby-Doo would baulk at, the unsympathetic bank manager who’s been itching to grab the deeds to the Larkin Farm, Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), is consuming increasingly vast quantities of hard liquor and drowning his liver whilst seemingly transforming into Sean Penn with every swig. Meanwhile, his wheelchair bound dad James, (Christopher Lloyd, wasted – in the role I mean, not literally like his on screen son Nathan) spends most of his limited screen time nonsensically ranting whilst leering at his nubile cheerleading babe carer, who’s favourite past-time is trying on new bikinis – when she’s not sleeping with his alcoholic son that is – and who also just happens to be the sheriff’s daughter to boot.

There’s the obligatory scene of characters watching NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) on TV for those who wish to play genre cliché bingo. The Tommy Wiseau cameo is of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety (who thought that would ever be a selling point anyway?),

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, there’s also the ghost of strangled Margaret Larkin, floating around town suspended in mid-air peddling her invisible bicycle and generally harassing her killer at inopportune moments. These yield some visually striking flourishes, but even she too flounders (along with her fellow haunters) in the near hysteria of a film which is trying to cram too much of a novel into its relatively modest running time. Ultimately, COLD MOON eclipses itself.    

 ** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.

Tuesday 12 April 2022


Directed by David Blue Garcia. Starring Sarah Yarkin, Elsie
Fisher, Mark Burnham. Horror, 2022, 81 mins, Cert 18.

Available to stream on Netflix from 18th February 2022.

"The only way to deal with an invasive species is to eradicate them." [with a chainsaw] 

Leatherface gets a retcon facelift in this direct sequel to Tobe Hooper's seminal 1974 classic. Taking its lead from the rebooted Halloween franchise, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2022) eschews all the previous TCM prequels, sequels and reboots whilst employing artistic amnesia by erasing the entire Sawyer family; thereby granting our chainsaw monster the status of orphan for nearly 50 years.    

Helmed by David Blue Garcia (no, me neitherfrom a story by the Evil Dead (2013) / Don't Breath tag-team of Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, this latest entry in the face peeling franchise sees a disappointingly brief return for original final girl 'Sally Hardesty' to face-off (so to speak) against her one-time nemesis. Sadly Marilyn Burns passed away in 2014 so the original's 'final girl', now a Texas Ranger (albeit a not very good one) is portrayed by Olwen Fouéré in a frankly underwhelming few minutes of screen time.

The aforementioned invasive species of the film are a bunch of young millennial "Gentri-fuckers" led by Melody (Sarah Yarkin, a spitting image of 80's Diane Franklin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore). Somewhat implausibly, these two restaurateurs and social media influencers have assisted a bank in buying up an abandoned Texan town and are coaching in a busload of potential young hipster investors to auction off the old dilapidated properties to transform the town into a trendy 'village' of restaurants and art galleries. (In reality, their sole raison d'être is to augment the film's body count as human cattle for literal slaughter). There's just one problem with this regeneration project - the sick and elderly remaining tenant running the local orphanage claims she still retains her property deeds - and the last remaining 'orphan' upstairs has been with her ever since 1973 when he was taken in as a troubled teen "...that needed me to show 'em mercy for their ways."            

Reports of a troubled production, (original directors being fired after underwhelming dallies and allegedly disastrous test screenings) combined with the decision to drop a theatrical release and dump it straight onto Netflix meant expectations were lower than usual for a TCM entry (if that is actually possible at this point in time). 

Credit where it's due however, this is the first installment to actually deliver an on-screen chainsaw massacre. There's certainly no scrimping on the (largely practical) gore, despite the film's ruthlessly pared-down running time, with the coach/bus (UK/US translation) scene a truly Bacchanalian bloodbath. 

The abandoned town setting gives off House of Wax (2005) vibes, and visually feels more like a Western (despite bizarrely being filmed in Bulgaria) albeit with kitchen rather than saloon doors swinging open to reveal a gruesome tableaux. Plotwise, Leatherface (Mark Burnham) is essentially Jason Voorhees this time around. The death of his mother-figure, Mrs MC (Alice Krige), who knowingly harboured a mass-murdering butcher all these years, here sparks his murderous instincts back to life, and persuades him to crank up the old 'saw once more. Of course Jason didn't honour Mrs Voorhees by skinning mummy's face and using it as a mask, but both are adept at constructing rudimentarily gruesome altars of sorts to their respective deceased matriarchal guardians.

The truncated brevity of the film's running time results in the ruthless slaughtering of the majority of characters without giving us any realt time to get to know them (although perhaps here this isn't always such a bad thing). The relationship between Sarah Yarkin's 'Melody' and her younger sibling 'Lila' (Elsie Fisher), a lone survivor from a High School shooting, is still reasonably affecting however. The sisters form an interesting tag-team when they are forced to pair up against old, near-geriatric, but still surprisingly nimble Leatherface. Moe Dunford also brings an ounce or two (no more mind) of nuance to the role of local gun-toting rootin'-tootin'  petrol polluting mechanic 'Richter' who bonds with Lila over a rifle and some clunkingly obvious foreshadowing. 

Visually, the film offers some striking sequences, such as the chainsaw blade slicing through floorboards like a deadly metallic shark fin, and the finale staged in an abandoned flooded moviehouse which allows Leatherface a watery jumpscare as he launches out of a submerged rain filled basement (instead of a lake onto a canoe, surely I don't need to spell out this visual nod?). The photography is pleasingly free from shaky-cam, which allows the often richly detailed production designs space (if not time) to be appreciated, and the set-pieces are nicely choreographed to generate at least a modicum of tension. 

Sure there's some gaping, chasm-wide plot holes: was Leatherface really so hard to find that he remained undetected for so long purely because he'd worn a mask? Had he been working out in an unseen home-gym in the orphanage throughout all those intervening years to make him so spritely (and seemingly impervious to bullets)? 

But brushing obvious faults aside, this is still a slick, sick thrill-ride with just enough meat on the bone in terms of script to hook one's attention for 81 mean-spirited, nihilistically splattery minutes deep in the heart of Texas (or Bulgaria).

****(out of 5*)      

Paul Worts