Sunday 20 November 2016

NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (2016)

Directed by John M. Chu, Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Lizy Caplan, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman. Action, Adventure, Comedy, 2016, 123mins, Cert 12.

A year after winning worldwide acclaim and admiration for pulling off a spectacular populist heist, the four illusionists known as The Four Horseman are tempted back out into the limelight to expose a dodgy tech magnate. Having the tables turned upon themselves in the process, they find themselves blackmailed into performing an abracadabra snatch and grab of a highly prized microchip with the FBI in hot pursuit.

I hadn’t seen the original NOW YOU SEE ME – but it doesn’t take long to get up to speed thanks to some nippy exposition (and a quick supplementary peek at IMDb.) Feisty brash Lizzy Caplan (Lula) has replaced Isla Fisher (Henley) as the female ‘Horseman’, whilst hypnotist Woody Harreslon (doubling this time as his goofy brother), card-shuffler Dave Franco and rain-controlling (not really, it’s just an illusion) Jesse Eisenberg continue to work what magic they can pull out of the hat with surprisingly unlikeable and paper-thin characters. The joker in the pack this time is manic Daniel Radcliffe, more annoying than Jesse Eisenberg (now that’s some trick to pull off), as Michael Caine’s villainous ‘mini-me’-like son. The script does allow Radcliffe a couple of self-referential Harry Potter digs about how he once dabbled in magic at school (snigger snigger) – presumably the raison d'être for his involvement. Caine looks bleary-eyed and unengaged as the billionaire who previously had his fortune nicked by The Four Horseman, whilst Morgan Freeman seems to breeze through a largely nonsensical character arc with a (no doubt) large pay check induced grin. Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent by day (leader of The Four Horseman by night), gets sealed in a replica safe his escapologist father supposedly failed to break out of underwater in an opening flashback. (If I were a betting man I’d wager dad will turn out to be very much alive in part 3).

Director Chu directs this giddily ridiculous OCEAN’S ELEVEN (with magicians) heist sequel with an assured visual aplomb. Logic is tossed to the wind like a playing card, and the actual ‘illusions’ are obviously reliant on the sleight-of-hand of CGI artists rather than any genuine illusionist skill. The London-based New Year’s Eve finale proves to be an especially unconvincing overblown set-piece, hampered further by the fact the scriptwriters seem to think the whole world runs on Greenwich Mean Time!

But it’s a breathless, slick and glossy piece of multiplex fodder, and director Chu is wise enough to not give the audience any real down-time to figure out the audacity of the cheap tricks and logic cheats constantly being pulled on them. Will I watch the seemingly inevitable NOW YOU SEE ME 3 - well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But to be fair - and to paraphrase that venerable stage magician Paul Daniels: I liked NOW YOU SEE ME 2, not a lot, but I liked it.

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Tuesday 15 November 2016

VIRAL (2016)

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, Starring: Sofia Black D’Elia, Analeigh Tipton, Michael Kelly, Travis Tope, Machine Gun Kelly. Horror. US, 2016, 82mins, Cert 15.

A global parasitic virus is turning victims into blind blood spewing zombie hosts for squiggly worms. Cut off from their parents, teen sisters Emma and Stacey’s relationship is tested to breaking point when the ‘Worm Flu’ inevitably begins to take a stranglehold on their isolated desert community.

Under the auspices  of the seemingly unstoppable Blumhouse Productions juggernaut, directors Joost and Schulman (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 & 4) deliver a well-worn (or ‘worm’) premise which, whilst adding nothing new to the global infection plague scenario, at least provides some half-likeable teen characters for once. The end result is that even when the sisters make the inevitably irrational kind of decisions that horror so often relies on (e.g. attending a house party despite a military enforced home curfew) you still half-care about whether the Worm Flu will eventually be spat all over them.

Younger Emma (Sofia Black D’Elia) is sympathetic as the more bookish slightly reserved sister to Analeigh Tipton’s older, snarkier Stacey. Nice guy next door Evan (Travis Tope) is well, nice, as Emma’s secret crush until big sis gives loves young dream a less-than subtle nudge to start the ball rolling.
There’s not a lot of actual zombie mayhem on display here as the story is largely (and wisely) confined to the immediate neighbourhood and the intimacy of the sister’s plight. The worm effects are modest, nothing we haven’t seen before, but nicely handled and there’s a pleasingly icky sequence involving an improvised amateur worm removal from a bulbous neck wound.

VIRAL is hardly a game-changer in the zombie-virus-pandemic field, but its redeemably likeable teen characters for once don’t get too under your skin (unlike those Worm Flu worms that is). 

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Originally published on the FrightFest website.

Saturday 15 October 2016


Directed by Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmeyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Ellen Reid, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith, Scott Stewart, Adam Egypt Mortimer  Starring: Seth Green, Ruth Bradley, Madeleine Coghlan. Horror. US, 2015, 100mins. Cert 18

“Holidays are hell”.

A slickly produced portmanteau of eight short tales each set on or around a holiday or significant calendar date.

The anthology film has seen a revival in recent years with the likes of TALES OF HALLOWEEN, SOUTHBOUND and the V/H/S series picking up the baton from Michael Dougherty’s superb TRICK R TREAT (2007) - which in turn took up the tradition from CREEPSHOW. Tracing back further still, we had the Amicus delights of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) and DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) for example, and stretching right back: Ealing Studios classic DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).

HOLIDAYS isn’t in the same league as most of the above, for one it lacks any sort of wraparound like Mervyn John’s delightfully dreadful recurring nightmare nor can it boast an iconic host like Peter Cushing’s tarot reading  ‘Doctor Schreck’, or antiques dealer “Naughty, shouldn’t of done that”. But with eight tales crammed into its modest 93min pre-credits running time, if the current story doesn’t grab you take you can take comfort in the fact only have to wait around 11mins for the next one to unfurl. Having said that there are some treats as well as soft-centred mediocre misses in this Pick n’ Mix collection.

The opening tale set around Valentine’s Day is a fairly pedestrian CARRIE referencing take on high school bullying where put upon Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) ‘maxi-pad’ is literally pushed too far and her crush on the swimming coach has heart-felt but fatal repercussions.

Director Gary Shore (DRACULA UNTOLD – but we won’t hold that against him) delivers a tongue in cheek Ken Russell LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM-like segment for St. Patrick’s Day. Shore gets great visual mileage out of taking the allegory of Patrick driving ‘snakes’ out of Ireland literally. Ruth Bradley (GRABBERS) is a primary school teacher desperate to have a child. When her ‘deepest wish’ seems to have comes true, her initial joy is somewhat tempered by her gynaecologist delivering the news by asking: “Have you ever seen the Hollywood movie ‘Rosemary’s Baby”? “If you replace ‘Baby’ with reptile...that’s what you have”.
If you’ve ever wondered what you’d get if you fused the image of the Easter Bunny with that of the post-crucifixion Christ, look no further than Nicholas (THE PACT) McCarthy’s disturbingly memorable mash-up.  

Mother’s Day is served somewhat unsatisfactorily by an underwhelming story of a young woman who constantly finds herself pregnant, despite her insistence that her boyfriend wears 2, sometimes 3 condoms! Prescribing an unorthodox approach, her doctor suggests a desert commune of earth mothers.

Next up is a memorably flawed segment for Father’s Day, involving an ominous planetary alignment, and a perplexed daughter receiving a tape recording from her long-thought dead father. Unfortunately, despite daddy’s message promising: “this will all make sense at the end”, it doesn’t.

Kevin Smith gets what you’d consider the plum gig with Halloween, but instead directs a lazy uninspired revenge tale of 3 web-cam girls who turn the tables on their nasty pimp employer in graphic fashion.

Seth Green stars in the Christmas tale which seems set to riff on JINGLE ALL THE WAY but rapildy steers off into darker waters when a dad seemingly misses out on acquiring the must-have Xmas toy for his son (a VR headset names UVU, which ominously promises to ‘shows you YOU’) Loved the sign inside the closed toy-shop’s door: ‘Children left unattended will be sold to the circus’.

The final calendar date sees in the New Year with a bloodbath when an online dating search leads to a serial killer biting off more than they can chew as Auld Lang Syne rings out from Times Square on the TV.

HOLIDAYS is a reasonably diverting assemblance of folklore riffs and twisted seasonal clichés, but I’d stop short of saying it’s truly worth decking the halls with boughs of holly for. 

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Originally published on the FrighFest website.

Thursday 13 October 2016


Directed by Gilles Penso / Alexandre Poncet, Starring: Steve Johnson, Rick Baker, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, John Landis, Phil Tippett. Documentary 2016, 102mins, Cert 12.

"It's kind of godlike to create something that never existed before." (Steve Johnson).

"The happiest I can be is when the monster walks into a set and I feel for a moment my life is complete." (Guillermo Del Toro).

About an hour into this interview-heavy documentary chronicling the evolution of creature effects designers throughout motion picture history, the celebratory mood darkens and becomes a more sombre reflective memoriam tinged with bitter sadness.

Up to this point a joyously spinning carousel of practical creature designers and film-makers line-up to expound on the joy and unmistakable pride (deservedly so) they have for their work bringing monsters to life with their bare hands (often aided by tons of latex and wires).
The practical pioneers are all name-checked with suitable reverence, from Lon Chaney Snr’s ability to transform and contort his face into such memorable roles as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) to Jack Pierce’s iconic Universal creations turning Boris Karloff into FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and Lon Chaney’s son into the hair-raising WOLFMAN (1941). From facial make-up to stop motion animation originator Willis O’Brien (KING KONG, 1933) to his onetime apprentice the legendary Ray Harryhausen; about whom Guillermo Del Toro pays the ultimate compliment by declaring: “he created actors not monsters”. 

Alec Gillis describes Dick Smith as "The grandfather of the modern era of make-up effects” most notably for his groundbreaking work on THE EXORCIST (1973). Dick Smith in turn inspired a generation of artists, the Fangoria pin-ups or ‘rock stars’ of 80’s special make-up effects such as Rick Baker (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), Chris Walas (GREMLINS, THE FLY) - both interviewed here - and Rob Bottin (THE HOWLING, THE THING) who sadly appears to have retreated into solitude since his unsurpassable work on films such as John Carpenter’s classic creature-feature. 

Why? Well, it all seems to be traceable back to James Cameron’s deep sea alien encounter THE ABYSS. A single CGI effect within the film had such an impact on audiences and commentators alike that Steve Johnson’s substantial bioluminescent underwater creature effects were completely overlooked: “Everybody in the special effects team got an Oscar except for me because of that goddamn water tentacle!” 

Then Cameron followed this up with TERMINATOR 2 which was, according to Stan Winston’s son Matt, “the seminal film that launched CGI”, despite the fact that “the majority of the shots in that film were handled with practical effects”. And so here’s where the documentary begins to shift in tone. Although the film doesn’t set out to portray CGI as the bad-guy per se, it’s nigh on impossible for someone like me who grew up in the golden era of practical effects not to feel an overwhelming sense of loss. And this is borne out by the way the digital age affected artists such as stop-motion designer Phil Tippett: “my whole world just kind of disappeared" when computers were allowed to largely stomp all over his work on JURASSIC PARK, an experience which left him both physically and "emotionally devastated." (Thankfully Phil rallied and his animation skills adapted to the new technology). Then there was Rick Baker’s creature work on MEN IN BLACK being unceremoniously rejected in favour of pixels, and a general loss of respect seemed to seep into the film-making business for these practical pioneers of their craft.

Then we come onto the CGI saturated present day where, as Del Toro comments: “if everything's possible, nothing's impressive: and we're there right now". Joe Dante quotes Rick Baker who, whilst viewing an UNDERWORLD sequel whispered: “just because you can have 100 werewolves running across the ceiling doesn't mean you should”. In defence of CGI, director John Landis counters this by suggesting that those who say “old-school make-up is better: Bullshit. What I do see is an over reliance on post."

If, like me, you prefer the rubber shark in JAWS and the hand-puppet of ‘Yoda’ then you’ll find yourself wistfully saddened by the way the film industry so rapidly and ruthlessly turned away from those truly hands-on artists whose craftsmanship and creativity gave life to so many beautifully creatures for our pleasure and terror. But at least there’s documentaries like CREATURE DESIGNERS to chronicle their unforgettable achievements upon which our beloved genre is grounded.

****(out of 5*) 
Paul Worts

This review is dedicated to the memory of John Vulich.

This review was originally published on the FrightFest website.

Saturday 8 October 2016


Directed by Niles Gaup, Starring: Kristofer Hivju, Jakob Oftebro. Action, Historical Drama. Norway, 2016, 96mins, Cert 15.
“An innocent boy today, our mightiest foe tomorrow”.

Norway: 1204. The throne is held by the Birkebeinerne king. However all is not well in the kingdom, and the rival Baglers, with the support of Denmark, are launching an attack upon the Birkebeinernes and hatching a plot to kill the king. Therefore, the king’s rightful heir - a baby born in secrecy out of wedlock - must be protected at all costs otherwise the royal bloodline will be severed and the Baglers will take the throne. 

Norwegian director Nile Gaup’s returns to the realm of historical drama he first mined to great acclaim with PATHFINDER (1987) (a film set around the year 1000AD). This time around he’s fast-forwarded 200 years to deliver a rollicking GAME OF THRONES like tale (minus the dragons) in which winter isn’t just coming, it’s already here. 

Against a sweeping widescreen snow covered landscape, the machinations of Norwegian civil war play out with neither women nor children safe from the marauding Baglers as they ruthlessly hunt down the king’s illegitimate son. Fleeing on skis, warrior Torstein (Kristofer Hivju (GAME OF THRONES, THE THING 2011) and his magnificent ginger beard, together with family man Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro) and his perfectly respectable but more modest beard, are forced to protect the infant across treacherous icy terrain.
The narrative toboggans along at a cracking pace, with the constant pursuit of the Baglers never more than an arrow or a bludgeoning axe away. 

Both Hivju and Oftebro are excellent in their respective roles, and you find yourself genuinely rooting for the two frosty musketeers and their little innocent infant upon whom the future of Norway relies. You’ve gotta love Hivju’s hard-as-nails-heart-of-gold Torstein, lying on a bed of straw waiting to have his chest cut open to remove an embedded arrow head, growls at his impromptu farmer surgeon: “If I die...I’m going to kill you”.

Battle are swift, brutal, occasionally bloody, and efficiently staged using a modest numbers of stuntmen and extras as (presumably) the budget allowed rather than Hollywood level legions of CGI regiments which wouldn’t deliver the gritty bone-crunching intimacy conveyed here. 

There’s a quote during the film’s end credits from an Icelandic writer named Halldor Laxness which reads: “The difference between a novelist and a historian is this: the former tells lies deliberately and for the fun of it; the historian tells lies and imagines he is telling the truth”. I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of THE LAST KING, but I can however testify to its engaging thrusting Nordic storytelling. And any film where a man appears to be playing music by plucking his beard like a hirsute harp and a princess is played by an actress named Thea Sofie Loch Næss gets two thumbs-up from me.

****(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Wednesday 14 September 2016


Director: Ben Parker. Cast: Charlotte Salt, Johannes Kuhnke, Christian Hillborg, Elliot Levey, James McArdle. UK 2016. 88 mins.

A special ops unit commandeer a research vessel and an aging (two-man) submersible craft, The Aurora. The three-person unit, led by ‘Red’ (a very impressive Charlotte Salt),   instruct the Aurora’s reluctant pilot Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) to take them down to the bottom of the Yellow Sea off the shores of the Korean Peninsula to locate a top secret item. The already cramped conditions and tense atmosphere within The Aurora are about to turn  deadly when the impact of an underwater explosion causes the sub to overturn, trapping the four occupants in a potential death chamber as water begins to breach the craft and the emergency power begins to drain...

Director Ben Parker’s debut feature is a ruthless effective exercise in underwater claustrophobia. A lean pared down script efficiently dispatches the three US military personnel (all played by Brits) and the grumpily distrustful salty Swedish sea-dog Mats down into the watery depths in their rusting spam-tin with minimal set-up. Terse exchanges simmer away until their real mission objective is revealed, and a fatal decision is taken by ‘Red’ which unleashes a knife-edge of raw survival instincts and brutal self-preservation.

I admit this was not a film I was expecting too much from. On paper the synopsis sounded somewhat well-worn and predictable. However I was pleasantly surprised to find this deep sea pressure cooker tense and engrossing and director Parker’s tight grip hooked me in right from the start. The limited confines of the submersible are superbly conveyed through Benjamin Pritchard’s crisply enclosed cinematography and James (Manic Street Preachers) Dean Bradfield’s score heightens the edgy brooding undercurrents.  Johannes Kuhnke convinces as the protective seasoned pilot of the previously decommissioned Norwegian Navy submersible, and Charlotte Salt (delivering an unwaveringly good American accent) essays a refreshingly steely resolve as tough decisions have to be taken. As this pair are literally thrown together when conditions become critical down on the seabed, there’s a thaw in their previously frosty relationship which is well-handled by both players and makes for a coldly moving final act.

With a potentially clunky old premise, this could have sunk without a trace under its familiar cargo of clichés, but instead it delivered an ice-cold gripping underwater nightmare. 

****(out of 5*)        
Paul Worts

Tuesday 13 September 2016


Directed by Anthony White, Starring: Stephen Cromwell, Danielle Keaney, Daniel Mahony, Caoimhe Cassidy. Horror, Ireland, 2015, 70mins, Cert 15.

A group of friends set off from Dublin on a road trip to a festival in the countryside. On route they stop off in the woods near a small town and set up camp for the first night. According to the news bulletin on the radio, there’s a serial killer on the loose, but by the end of the night that will be the least of their worries in these particular woods...

Clearly any horror film which opens quoting from the poetry of Emily Dickinson (“Witchcraft has not a pedigree...”) is not one short of ambition. Director Anthony White’s first feature is obviously a labour of love driven by the desire to encapsulate and emulate as many of his genre influences as his micro-budget will allow. A noble cause for sure, but one which seems to have taken precedent over storytelling basics, resulting in a magpie’s nest of borrowed references loosely bound by an unoriginal thread.

After a strong opening sequence involving that aforementioned serial killer (who has an extraordinarily bulbous thumb), director White cuts to a nodding bobble-head of Sid Haig’s ‘Captain Spaulding’ with a PULP FICTION poster in the background and a Leatherface figurine on the shelf signalling to the viewer we’re deep into fan-boy territory. It’s jarring yet fun as we get to meet the first of the friends, Keith (Stephen Cromwell) snorting coke. Then we’re introduced to Katie (Caoimhe Cassidy) via a black and white dream sequence which segues into red as blood trickles down her cut wrists. (A nod to William Castle’s striking blood red bath scene from THE TINGLER?) It’s an effective moment, which seems to be setting up a later character reveal that is never explored again in the film, and consequently feels like an empty jolting gimmick. Her boyfriend Jay (Daniel Mahony) doesn’t notice the guilty glance she gives her mobile phone though when she wakes (that however will come into play later). The fourth member of the group is Keith’s girlfriend Jennifer (Danielle Keaney) whose bottom seems to dominate the film frame more often than to be just mere coincidence.

Driving past a dead fox by the roadside (armadillos not being native to Ireland) they make for a pit stop at ‘The Hatchet’ pub (surprisingly not a reference to Adam Green’s swamp slasher but its actual real-life name). Unsurprisingly, this results in the kind of reception which awaited those two American tourists in ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’ (‘The Hatchet’ doesn’t serve food either by the way).

Some indiscriminate bloodied object later hits the windscreen whilst they’re driving along a remote country. Twitchy Katie asks if someone threw it at the car, to which Keith rather tellingly replies: “...No, You’ve seen too many horror films”. Yes, unfortunately we all have Keith, and so therefore this account of the tragedy which befell a group of (four) youths is far too predictable and lacking in any real suspense. The seemingly obligatory cheap jump scares fail to land any telling blows either. Considering its short running time of 70 minutes, it wastes almost 45 of them before anything sinister occurs. The characters and their partially improvised dialogue aren’t nearly that illuminating or likeable enough to devote so much time to, particularly at the expense of any genuine exposition regarding the nature of what they encounter in the woods. There’s a brief mumbled mention of the 18th century British nobleman society known as ‘The Hellfire Club’ by Keith over the camp fire but it’s a throwaway reference and never elaborated upon.

The brief snatches of gore are grittily effective (the local butchers shop seemingly the main supplier) but the methods of sacrifice appear random rather than ritualistic in nature.
On the plus side, at least director White didn’t go down the wobble-cam found footage country path, and as a result there are some nicely composed atmospheric wide shots of the County Meath woods and surroundings. Paul Scott’s score is evocative and there’s some very unsettling noises emanating from the nearby cattle that sound more like squealing pigs – are the cows fans of DELIVERANCE too? 

“Jesus, I’ve seen this film before” mutters Jay at ‘The Hatchet’ petrol station. Clearly so has director Anthony White. The challenge next for him is to encompass his influences and homage’s into material sufficiently original enough to divert our attention away from those same original classics he obviously knows and loves so well.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Wednesday 7 September 2016

LET HER OUT (2016)

Director: Cody Calahan. Cast: Alanna LeVierge, Nina Kiri, Adam Christie, Kate Fenton, Michael Lipka. Canada  2016. 89 mins.

Bike courier Helen is repeatedly drawn back to the motel where her hooker mother tried to kill her in the womb (with a pair of scissors) twenty-three years ago. Following a serious accident Helen suffers a traumatic head injury and is diagnosed as having ‘vanishing twin syndrome’ It turns out that her mother was carrying twins at the time but as a result of her self-inflicted trauma, the twin died in the uterus and was reabsorbed back into Helen. Unfortunately for Helen, and her friends, the twin is taking over Helen’s psyche – and eventually will want out...  

Following on from his two ANTISOCIAL films, director Cody Calahan serves up a female Jekyll and Hyde wrapped in THE NEON DEMON visual aesthetic of Nicolas Winding Refn, and finishes it off with a garnish of flesh tearing body-horror.  

It was an odd choice for the FrightFest Thursday night late slot which has in recent years tended to feature relatively undemanding crowd-pleasing creature features such as killer wasps in STUNG in 2015 and killer beavers in ZOMBEAVERS the year before. Perhaps as a result I may have (partially at least) approached it in the wrong frame of mind, but I just couldn’t seem to engage with the overly ponderous, over baked nature of the film at all.

That’s not to take anything away from Alanna LeVierge’s central performance as Helen, who, in her feature debut, delivers both an emotional and physical powerhouse portrayal of the tortured courier with the worrying blackouts. 

I guess I was waiting for the twist, which never came. The story plays out exactly as I’d imagine it would – and I didn’t need the not-so-subtle over-egged attempts at symbolism such as naming the hotel Helen is drawn to ‘The Gemini’ (sigh). At one point I began speculating as to whether the shadowed figure who calmly enters her mother’s motel room and rapes her might have been of supernatural origin? There then seemed to be a hint that her mother’s ghost was still haunting the motel as implied by the quickly glimpsed silhouette at the motel  – but alas neither of these potentially diverting ideas materialised.

Still, kudos to a film that tries to stage a dramatic dash across neon soaked urban Canadian streets on a bicycle.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Friday 2 September 2016

CELL (2016)

Director: Tod Williams. Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stacy Keach, Joshua Mikel. USA 2016. 98 mins.

Co-adapted from his own 2006 novel, author Stephen King’s apocalyptic techno nightmare finally lands in cinema screens after cresting some rough production seas. Graphic artist Clay Riddell (John Cusack) is on his mobile phone to his estranged family at the airport when (luckily for him) his battery dies. Switching to a payphone (remember them?) he is suddenly caught in the middle of a zombie-like massacre as a signal, The Pulse, is transmitted through the cellular network instantly transforming all users across the globe into savage drone-like killers (‘Phoners’). Escaping from the terminal onto a subway train (narrowly avoiding a poorly CG rendered crashing plane fuselage in the process), he eventually hooks up with train driver Tom McCourt (Samuel L. Jackson), and the Goth girl neighbour Alice (Isabelle  Fuhrman) who’s just had to dispatch her ‘Phoner’ mum. Together they embark on a perilous road trip to try and reach a safe haven where The Pulse signal hasn’t yet penetrated and for Clay to try and reconnect with his wife and son.

As with so many of Stephen King’s works (both on and off screen), what starts out as an interesting idea (you can almost picture King’s smirk when the notion hits him) is then squandered on an unsatisfactory resolution. That’s not to say it isn’t a reasonably entertaining popcorn ride in the process, but all that instant sugar rush doesn’t sustain and when you’ve scooped out the last kernel in the bucket, you’re still left with a hungry gap.

The opening airport massacre is surprisingly brutal and attention grabbing set-piece (a splendid cameo from Troma maestro Lloyd Kaufman does however momentarily dispel the dramatic impetus). In amongst the carnage is a blink and you’ll miss it axe assault that echoes Scatman Crothers shock demise in Kubrick’s THE SHINING (not that King would intentionally reference that adaptation in any shape or form).

The road trip that then ensues however meanders disappointingly and whilst there are momentary flashes of inspired carnage along the way such as the torching of a field of private schoolboys - instigated by the school’s headmaster (an underused Stacy Keach), the film never recovers its dramatic drive. And even in this scene, the ropey sub-Syfy Channel CGI undermines its potential impact, but a bonus point surely for the bizarre use of the “Trololo song”! 

I liked the way the zombie hoards seemed to move in coordinated flock-like migratory waves, and the death rattle-like sounds they transmitted through gaping INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS maws. However the film ultimately falls on its sword in the muddled finale. The source of the signal is never explained, there is a suggestion swirling in the air that graphic artist Clay drew the instigator into existence – but this isn’t resolved either way. I haven’t read the source novel but I’m reliably informed the screen ending is bleaker than the book’s. I actually liked this downbeat ending, as laughable as its depiction and lead up looks.

CELL is an entertaining but uneven flick which takes a concept that whilst fresh in 2006 seems outdated to us now (perhaps King could pen a sequel based on the Pokémon Go app?). Cusack and Jackson try their damndest to keep straight faces throughout but you’ll need to meet them more than half-way in order for them to succeed in selling you CELL.

***(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Thursday 1 September 2016


Director: Sean Brosnan. Cast: Joe Anderson, John Schneider, Kevin Gage, Candace Smith, Gary Stretch. USA 2016. 102 mins.

Inspired by J.M. Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, Sean (son of Pierce) Brosnan’s directorial debut shifts the play’s setting from Ireland to the Mississippi for this Southern Gothic gory tale of revenge. 

In a monochrome flashback we are shown a father, Ivan (Gary Stretch) pummelling to death one of his sons whilst the other, 12 year old Asher (Joe Anderson) loses both his speech and hearing during the attack. Ivan is jailed for this monstrous assault, but when he is released two decades later Asher sets out to avenge his brother’s death and to kill the man who maimed him both physically and mentally.

A gripping, often brutal study in dysfunctional family dynamics, tattooed monster Ivan stomps across the swamp landscapes like an indestructible Terminator whilst his adrenaline fuelled son Asher alternates between pre-emptive strikes against his old papa and seat-of-the-pants retreats. An already heady bayou gumbo is further seasoned with flavoursome support characters such as a dodgy preacher and Nana (Candice Smith), her dead brother’s girlfriend (and object of Ivan’s lust), who Asher unwillingly ends up dragging back in to the fatal cat and mouse game he is playing with his (seemingly) unstoppable father from hell.

Whilst there are momentary lapses of reason, (one particular moment had me almost shout at the screen in pure frustration – I won’t elaborate further for spoiler reasons), this remains a powerful, haunting and visually ambitious first feature from Mr Brosnan. I just hope given both the title and subject matter, that it isn’t in the least autobiographical! 

****(out of 5*) 

Paul Worts 

Tuesday 16 August 2016


Directed by Dan Walton and Dan Zachary, Starring: Darren Matheson, Lynn Csontos, Eliza Faria. Horror, Canada, 2015, 81mins, Cert 18.

A family move into an abandoned orphanage. (That’s all you really need to know isn’t it?). Especially when the youngest daughter looks up at the window and immediately asks: “Who was the lady that was upstairs?” Or that other tell-tale ( tail) sign when the family’s lovable fluffy sheep dog starts barking for No.Apparent.Reason, and the pooch's eyes are positively bulging with fear. Surely a cursory glance on the internet would have provided some clues as to why this abandoned orphanage isn’t so much a ‘doer-upper’ but more of a ‘doer-you-in’. (Maybe the 2004 children’s birthday party atrocity at the Carrington Orphanage might have raised some doubts?)

But where would we be without creative ignorance? So the family move in to the house that: “looks like where vampires live” according to little Alyssa (Eliza Faria – think Danielle Harris in HALLOWEEN 4). Originally titled AMERICAN CONJURING, (presumably James Wan wasn’t too thrilled by that), what we get served up are generous dollops of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, seasoned with a smidgeon of torture porn and accompanied by a risible ghostly apparition that’s a cross between ‘Meg Muckelbones’ from LEGEND and ‘Zelda’ from Gerry Anderson’s ’TERRAHAWKS’. The two directing Dan’s (Walton and Zachary) really should have kept the ghost of Hesta Corbett in the shadows (or preferably locked away in a cupboard). Less would, in this case, have been considerably more.

The opening haunting shenanigans zip along at a fair pace; yes they’re for the most part groan-inducingly clichéd: but the Double D’s are nothing if not business like in moving on to the next well-used trope. (Viewing tip: prepare a checklist in advance so you can tick each cliché off when they appear on screen). Rocking chair rocking on its own (tick), child’s creepy laughter and a sudden bouncing ball (tick), a self-moving pram (tick), youngest child suddenly drawing horrific pictures (tick) etc, etc. Oh, and dad’s all of a sudden vigorously chopping wood in the backyard with a shiny axe...

Taking the opposite approach to the James Wan School of typically well-crafted jump-scare, BIND then resorts to upping the on screen gore. The film features several scenes of child violence which certainly took me by surprise, and whilst it’s obvious the dog stood about as much chance of surviving as a nubile counsellor at Camp Crystal Lake, I was still somewhat taken aback by the sheer brutality meted out to the poor mutt. (In comparison, Muffin got off lightly in FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2). Mind you, most of the supporting grown-up’s end up being dispatched in equally brutal fashion – and one torturous scene involving the multiple threats of a blowtorch, a mallet and a drill should act as a cautionary warning to any unscrupulous estate agents!

And then, at around the 75 minute mark, the rug is well and truly pulled from under the viewer’s feet and we’re presented with a WTF moment. (At first I thought the screener had jumped back to an earlier chapter by mistake). But no, it’s intentional on the part of the filmmakers who just couldn’t resist conjuring (pun intended) up one final whopping cliché before delivering a head-scratching denouement which left me cold (with incredulity, not fear).
**(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

Thursday 28 July 2016


Directed by Luis Carvalho, Starring: Brinke Stevens, Jocelyn Padilla, Ryan Boudreau. Horror, US, 2012, 91mins, Cert 18.

“Maybe, just maybe, we can raise one dead man from his grave”.

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY meets OUIJA in this low-budget tale from the crypt by first-time writer/director/editor Luis Carvalho. A group of bored teens holed up in a basement dabble with a Ouija board and accidentally summon up the 69 year-old corpse of Jonah Matthias from his grave. Poisoned by his wife, who just happens to be partying with a group of middle-aged swingers in the upstairs house, Jonah is out for revenge...

Poor inconsistent writing and leaden direction hinders this film from ever rising above its meagre offerings. It’s hard to get a handle on such waveringly written characters. Morally superior and holier-than-thou Tony for example doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex and refuses to partake in the devils work of the Ouija high-jinks – yet it is later suggested he’s overindulged in drugs. Francis advises his little sister that the Bible is the only book she’ll ever need – yet it’s his suggestion to dabble in the occultist Ouija in the first place (and far from practicing abstinence himself, he’s about to become a father). Unlike the boozy old-timers upstairs who appear to be having a whale of a time – the teens below deck appear a joyless bunch without a hint of chemistry between them.

Once Jonah has staggered out of his grave and found his way to the basement, (seemingly ignoring his murderous wife upstairs) the teens seem remarkably reluctant to actually attempt to escape from the unconvincing clutches of the Dr. Freudstein-like zombie Jonah. And it’s here among the flimsy cardboard walls and implausibly large cellar spaces that director Carvalho overstretches the ‘idiot plot’ to such an extent it renders the narrative logic positively threadbare.

80’s scream queen Brinke Stevens makes a couple of brief appearances as Jonah’s widow, partying it up with the swingers and toasting to the fortune her (supposedly) dead husband posthumously bestowed upon her. Needless to say she steals the film even in those fleeting few moments.

Eventually the shambling Jonah (who resembles ‘Tiny’ from HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES)  indulges in some sub-par Fulci-lite gory antics such as chewing on a chunk of neck from a (seemingly) compliant victim before chopping off another’s arm, but by then it’s really too late to raise the interest level above resigned apathy, for JONAH LIVES has unfortunately long since died.

**(out of 5*)
Paul Worts

This review was first published on the FrightFest website.

Friday 8 July 2016

i-LIVED (2015)

Directed by Franck Khalfoun, Starring: Jeremiah Watkins. Horror, US, 2015, 92mins, Cert 15.

In 2012, director Franck Khalfoun turned Frodo Baggins into a MANIAC. Three years on he now turns a fictional phone app into a Faustian pact-maker for an unwitting online reviewer too witless to read the small print - and too clueless to have ever watched DRACULA A.D. 1972. 
Meet YouTube vlogger Josh: behind with the rent, recently dumped by (cheating) ex-girlfriend and a squanderer of his true potential (whatever that might be) according to his father. It’s a cut-throat online world and the lucrative hits are increasingly harder to come by. Then Josh comes across a life-changing app which claims to help the downloader achieve whatever life goals they might have. All you have to do is follow the apps’ instructions. What could possibly go wrong...?

Josh’s downwardly spiralling experiences with the app reflect my feelings about the film itself. At first the light-hearted instructions to perform for example random acts of kindness seem fun and I was engaging with the hokey premise. I thought Josh (Jeremiah Watkins) came across as an annoying younger composite of Owen Wilson and Tom Green and his moronic YouTube reviews instantly grated (sorry Josh, but I could totally see why your girlfriend dumped you dude). But I was willing to overlook this obvious flaw, hell, I even suspended disbelief as Josh naively tried to fulfil an instruction by offering sweets to random children in a playground.

But then director Khalfoun attempts to shift the tone into darker material, and I rapidly wished for an uninstall option on the film. Perhaps Netflix could ditch the later (unconvincing) nastiness and rework it into a vehicle for Adam Sandler to lend his non-existent charisma to? 
The revelatory moment where Josh finally works out the identity of his mysterious benefactor who has been granting his wishes of online success, sexual gratification and the seemingly miraculous recovery of terminally-ill mum is so laughably naff even M. Night Shyamalan would feel ashamed to use it.

Apparently there was an actual app available to download which supposedly enhanced the viewing experience of watching i-Lived. Well, unless it completely re-wrote the second half of the film and recast the lead, i-Doubt it.

**(out of 5*)

Paul Worts