Monday 24 September 2018


Directed by: Shane Black, Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Keegan-Michael Kay. Sci-Fi/Horror. US 2018, 107mins, Cert 15.

“Get to the choppers!” 

Perhaps too much was expected from Messrs Black and Dekker. THE PREDATOR, I’m sad to report, is a mess, a tonally-careening, all over the place mess. From toe-curlingly misjudged attempts at humour which crash and burn, to momentum zapping scenes of empty filler which add nothing, and on to randomly dispersed set-pieces of gory mayhem which prove mildly entertaining but are never allowed to build up any head of steam. Expectations were low going in to the 3D screening at the BFI IMAX, but it’s nothing short of criminal that significant portions of a Predator film are just plain boring.

Proceedings start promisingly enough with a swift opening sequence involving a dog-fight in outer space resulting in a Predator ship opening a wormhole to escape pursuit from a larger craft. Gate crashing a hostage rescue in a forest in Mexico, the Predator immediately engages with a covert ops team led by sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook – bland but serviceable). Blood is spilt and a skinned soldier hangs skinned from a tree whilst his blood drips down onto the cloaked Predator making him visible. Quinn purloins his mask and gauntlet as a government team arrive to take the Predator to a science lab. Quinn then posts the Predator kit to his son and ex-wife’s home (don’t ask), before being taken in for psych evaluation.

Quinn’s autistic son Rory opens the package just in time to go trick or treating on Halloween with the Predator’s mask on – complete with fully operational laser canon! Nope, even a scene where the neighbourhood bullies witness Rory blowing up a house with his costume fails to register more than a tokenistic titter. Was this really written by the director and co-writers of THE MONSTER SQUAD?

Meanwhile the Predator is “heavily” sedated and strapped down with conspicuously flimsy restraints in the laboratory waiting for biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn – excellent) to get up close and purr with pleasure: “You are one beautiful motherfucker” (groan) and to question in a half-decent repeating gag why it’s called a predator. Does the Predator wake up and break free? Check. Killing most of the white coats in the process? Check.That beautiful motherfucker bursts out of his restraints and immediately embarks on mass slaughter in full-on Jason Voorhees mode. 

Unfortunately, the activation of the Predator mask alerts the bigger more-upgraded pursuer, (shimmering in sub-grade CG ‘enhancement’) to the location of its prey and it comes a calling with (wait for it) Predator dogs in tow! Why then isn’t this a 5-star film? Well, mostly because it’s all assembled so clumsily. Disparate scenes barely hang together by a gossamer thread and the characterisation of Quinn’s ragtag band of fellow military psych evals plumbs the depths of desperation - tourettes as a gag generator and ‘your mom’ type of jokes: How do you circumcise a homeless man? Kick your mom on the chin” 'The hunt has evolved’ promises the poster tagline, well the humour sure hasn’t.

There is one genuinely funny sequence when Olivia Munn regains consciousness after accidentally shooting herself in the foot with a tranquiliser dart (how’s that for an unintentional metaphor for this film?). Upon waking she’s greeted by the sight of the entire psych eval band staring back at her sheepishly like the seven dwarfs. A tantalisingly brief glimpse of what these writers can produce. Perhaps the carte blanche gifted to Black and Dekker in terms of being allowed to shoot for an ‘R’ rating resulted in them feeling obligated to upping the gore and crude dialogue? If so, then unfortunately this proves to be to the detriment and expense of any real heart in the material.

The final insult however is the ends reveal of the secret weapon that the Predator has bestowed on humanity to fight back against the other bigger badder Predators. The way it’s built up you inevitably think...well, let’s just say it isn’t what you think and as a result the film ends with a deflated shrug.

Re-shoots and a cut scene which featured a convicted sex-offender. End result? Well, it’s better than ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM by virtue of the fact you can actually make out what is going on most of the time. But considering the talent involved, and how low the bar was previously set with AVPR:R, that hardly represents any kind of achievement.    
*** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Sunday 16 September 2018

THE NUN (2018)

Directed by: Corin Hardy, Starring: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons. Horror. US 2018, 96mins, Cert 15.

Director Corin Hardy (THE HALLOW) is given the keys to the supernatural sandbox that is THE CONJURING universe, and delivers an unapologetic gothic hammy Hammer inspired spin-off. Having made such an impression with her brief appearance charging at Vera Farmiga’s character from a painting in THE CONJURING 2, the demonic entity known as ‘Valak’, who inherits the form of a nun (Bonnie Aarons), is gifted an origin story all her own.

It’s 1952. Following the suicide of a nun at a remote monastery in Romania, the Vatican dispatch a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir),and a young nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) in her novitiate to investigate the death and to establish whether the abbey can still be considered as holy ground. (Minor spoiler alert: no).

A fog enshrouded graveyard where the headstones are adorned with bells for buried plague-victims to ring in case of premature burial, a labyrinthine maze of foreboding corridors, and a backdrop of spooked horses and villages too scared (and too sensible) to visit the ecclesiastical hell house in the mountains. All that’s missing is a James Bernard score and rubber bats dangling on strings. 

It’s a brave move to set the entire fifth instalment of James Wan’s supernatural franchise in this period setting (which flash-backs further still into the abbey’s dark past). It’s certainly one that requires an adjustment of sensibilities that some multiplex patrons (and even some mainstream critics) might struggle with. 

Full disclosure. I watched THE NUN on the biggest screen in the UK at the BFI IMAX on the Southbank. The combined sound and visual presentation on the huge immersive screen certainly heightened the experience – but at its heart the film is essentially a 90+ minute ghost train ride, or a haunted walk-through attraction where something (or someone) jumps out at you every few minutes – boo! And it’s great fun.

Taissa Farmiga as young Sister Irene takes the acting plaudits and proves to be just as adept as her older sister Vera in conveying the wide-eye terror required to sell the spooky shenanigans and keep the audience invested in her character’s fate. Demián Bichir’s investigative priest and failed former exorcist throws himself headfirst into his role (and quite literally into a freshly dug open grave at one point). But a plot contrivance largely keeps him at arms bay whilst Sister Irene is left to explore the cavernous monastery with a flickering candle inadequately illuminating the veils of the remaining sisters praying continuously in a valiant but futile attempt to ward off the evil Valak. And as for Jonas Bloquet’s ‘Frenchie', the supposed comic-relief – well let’s just draw a veil over this misstep shall we?

So it’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC with Taissa Farmiga as a non-singing Maria, enduring a host of her least favourite things wrapped up in packages of sting and occasionally spine shudderingly effective jump scares which enlist both the inhabitant nuns as well as THE nun (who is judiciously wheeled out only sparingly from the shadows). Director Hardy continues to seemingly stage homages to Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci with CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD’s premature burial sequence following on from THE HALLOW’s eyeball trauma from ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. The bookending sequences from the respective CONJURING films seem superfluous calling cards (and the retconning of the ending from the first CONJURING is a naughty cheat).

But THE NUN is lavishly mounted, gloriously overblown, with sumptuous gothic production design and a plethora of visual tricks to prod you in the dark with. Definitely worth the price of a ticket to ride this ghost train. 
**** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Wednesday 12 September 2018

ASSAULT (1971)

Directed by: Sidney Hayers, Starring: Susy Kendall, Frank Finlay, Freddy Jones, Tony Beckley. Crime thriller. UK 1971, 94mins, Cert 15.
Journeyman director Sidney Haynes’ extraordinarily far-fetched filmography stretches from British horror flicks such as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962), to episodes of ‘The Avengers’ (both the old and ‘New’), and a slew of 80’s US TV shows including - but by no means limited to: ‘Magnum, P.I.’, ‘Manimal’, ‘T.J. Hooker’, ‘Airwolf’, ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘The A-Team’! Before this 80’s stint in the US, Haynes directed a quasi (and slightly queasy) British giallo (of sorts). Also known in the US as THE DEVIL’S GARDEN, ‘TOWER OF TERROR’ and numerous other international variations, ASSAULT (1971), as we called it here, was based on a novel entitled ‘The Ravine’ and was executively produced by Peter (CARRY ON) Rogers.

A lurid opening sees nubile schoolgirl Tessa (Lesley-Anne Down) taking a shortcut home through the woods surrounding the edges of Heatherden Hall and being relentlessly pursued by POV camera before being raped by an unseen assailant in the shadow of a towering electricity pylon. Following her ordeal, Tessa descends into a catatonic state and is taken into the care of Dr. Lomax (James Laurenson – the whistling ‘Shadmock’ in THE MONSTER CLUB 1981). Meanwhile, despite explicit warnings, another schoolgirl takes herself off down through the exact same wooded path only this time the perpetrator murders their victim after raping her. Art teacher Miss West “Wash your brushes!” (giallo veteran Suzy Kendall) briefly glimpses the murderer in the red taillights of her car as she’s trying to reverse it out of the muddied ravine close to the murder scene, but is laughed at by the police investigators headed up by Frank Finlay’s Det. Chief Supt. Velyan when she describes the suspect as looking like the devil. 

There’s a positive shoal of red herrings served up by director Hayers and writer John Kruse, as the remainder of the film settles down into a very 70’s whodunit with an unhealthy dose of voyeuristic leering of teenage school girls thrown in for good measure. Most of the onscreen leering is conducted unrestrainedly by the husband of the school’s headmistress. Played by Tony (“Have you checked the children?” WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) Beckley, he’s soon offered up as a prime suspect with his stash of pornography in his toolbox (a metaphor?) and his inappropriate ‘assistance’ to the female student shelving books in the library – a scene made particularly uncomfortable by the suggested acquiescence of the student.

Freddie Jones plays a relentlessly over-the-top reporter pursuing Suzy Kendall’s school teacher/witness mercilessly. How far would he go for that exclusive...? And that Dr. Lomax seems to have taken quite a shine to her too, slipping her sedatives and sleeping pills like smarties...If you’re in anyway familiar with the conventions of the giallo, you should be able to spot the killer fairly quickly, but there’s still a few entertaining diversions and unlikely plot developments before the shocking climatic showdown back in the woods.

Whilst the HD transfer on the disc is absolutely pin-sharp and pristine, the dialogue seems a tad muted. Be warned therefore when compensating by increasing the volume (particularly in the first third of the film) as you yourself will be assaulted by the ear-splittingly awful soundtrack by Eric Rodgers, whose totally (and tonally) inappropriate bombastic accompaniment drowns out any possibility of sustained suspense from the stalking scenes.

An odd little thriller this one, dodgy 70’s male chauvinism, schoolgirl voyeurism, a couple of ‘15’ rated assaults (originally garnered with an ‘X’ certificate) and an explosive set-piece in a chemists (spot the random David Essex cameo) which feels like a visual cuckoo in the nest of this otherwise pleasingly unpleasant slice of tentative Brit-giallo. 
*** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.