Saturday 30 March 2019

NEXT OF KIN (1982)

Directed by: Tony Williams, Starring: Jackie Kerin, John

Jarratt, Alex Scott. Horror, Australia 1982, 89mins, Cert 15.

Championed out of obscurity by Quentin Tarantino, Kiwi director Tony Williams’ only foray into the horror genre is a little gem of Ozploitation. Whilst citing Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS and 1900 as being among his visual influences, Williams’ nifty slow burner also displays (perhaps unwittingly) many cues from another Italian source of cinematic tradition, namely the giallo.

Despite winning the best director award at the Stiges Film Festival in 1982, the film unjustly slipped below the radar for various reasons including being a victim of the tax incentive scheme it was borne out of. I would also suggest it’s not an easily marketable product, as evidenced by the films’ slightly misleading contradicting artwork (e.g. a little girl standing rigid with a red ball by her side) and the tagline: “There is something evil in this house.” 

Granted there are gothic elements enlisted here. Firstly, there’s a spooky old mansion - a retirement home named Montclare - inherited by Linda (Jackie Kerin) from her late mother. There’s tree-felling flashes of lightning which help illuminate a spiral staircase leading to a dust laden attic with a leaky window and a child’s red ball. Taps are mysteriously left on in bathrooms and candles are lit by unseen hands. However, there is a lot more happening at Montclare beyond the supernatural trappings.

A childhood trauma, buried in Linda’s subconscious is about to resurface as Montclare’s residents appear to be rather alarmingly prone to drowning in the bath tub and Linda becomes convinced there’s someone or something else stalking the corridors of the retirement home.

Utilising gliding steadicam (for the first time in an Australian production) together with innovative crane and ambitious camera setups, the visual palette achieved is at times akin to a fever dream. This ethereal quality is further enhanced by the evocative electronic music of synth maestro and early Tangerine Dream member Klaus Schulze (the producer originally approached Vangelis: unavailable). Striking set pieces and memorable images abound, a fountain’s water turns to blood, there’s a painting which signifies a key character trait, sparkling crystals lit by lightning, misdirection glimpsed through a window pane, raindrops rhythmically cascading down a windscreen – and even a giallo-like silhouetted figure in raincoat and hat briefly glimpsed from afar in the stormy night. Then there’s the good old well-worn feline jump-scare, a hideously creepy child’s doll tumbling out of a stowed away box and a red-coated figure which may or may not be a red-herring. 

And as well as the numerous giallo references, there’s also a horribly effective slow-motion visual nod to the classic French thriller LES DIABOLIQUES.

The cast provide solid support as they pirouette around the gliding camerawork. John (WOLF CREEK) Jaratt essays local hunk and Linda’s former sweetheart Barney with a disarming level of open-shirted charm whilst trying in vain to allay Linda’s suspicions as they crank through the gears right up to full-blown hysteria.

There’s even a steadicam shot following the aforementioned moggy down a corridor which reminded me of the husky tracking sequence in Carpenter’s THE THING (1982)!

After a measured hour of build up, director Williams lets rip and the powder kegs which have been kept in reserve are lit in a bloody and literally explosive final third which also boasts a modest but admirable body count in a dénouement which is suitably barmy, implausible and yet strangely satisfying all at once. In many ways this perfectly summarises my thoughts on the film itself. A real treat.

(Tip: try to avoid watching any of the trailers prior to first viewing – they really give far too much away).    
**** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

 This review was originally published by FrightFest.

Saturday 16 March 2019


Directed by: Jason Read, Starring: Lynn Lowry, Charlotte Mounter, George Sweeney, Dawn Perllman, Gary Shail. Comedy horror, UK 2019, 30mins.

A Robo Films & Misty Moon Production. US premiere at Wastelands Cinema in April 2019.

Low-budget auteur Jason Read follows up his 2018 short RIPPER TOUR with a biting satirical portrayal of the devastating psychological effects of Care in the Community. No, not really – it’s actually a South London SUNSET BOULEVARD with cult genre legend Lynn Lowry playing a fading psychopathic ‘B’ movie version of Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond.

Penned by Michael Haberfelner from Lynn Lowry’s concept, it’s a tongue in cheek love letter to the magic of the ‘B’ movies, and a vehicle for Lowry to bring to life various fictitious movie roles once played by her character ’Megs Topplethwaite’.

Relying on home care nurses, Megs has a penchant for takeaway food, and a rather deadly taste in home delivery men. There’s more than just skeletons in her closet, as Charlotte Mounter’s fake nurse and memorabilia thief ‘Becca’ is about to find out...

Lynn Lowry is wonderfully effervescent as she effortlessly weaves between pathos and camp, breaking the fourth wall with her addresses straight to camera and meta in-jokes about using digital instead of celluloid.  Lowry’s clearly having a ball as the gloved strangler from ‘Gloves of the Strangler’, and the other colourful incarnations she inhabits with such delicious aplomb. Director Read even throws in some gleefully pastiche ‘clips’ from her supposed ‘B’ movies for added flavour. The served up smorgasbord of delivery men include writer Haberfelner himself (afforded a nasty throat attack from Ninja assassin ‘Crystal’). Then there’s a visit from George (‘The Sweeney’) Sweeney, and a pizza delivered by QUADROPHENIA’S ‘Spider’, Gary Shail.

Considering the ludicrously ambitious 2-day shooting schedule, not to mention (but I will anyway) the incredibly modest crowd funded budget (£4k), director Jason Read, producer Stuart Morris, and the entire cast and crew somehow manage to deliver up a tastily ripe, ribald treat with their affectionate tale of mid-terrace terror.       

Paul Worts

Monday 4 March 2019

POSSUM (2018)

Directed by: Matthew Holness, Starring: Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong. Psychological horror, UK 2018, 82mins, Cert 15.

Matthew Holness’ first feature is based on his short story originally written for an anthology themed around Freud’s essay ‘Das Unheimliche’ (trans.‘The Uncanny’). It’s therefore a far cry from Holness’s British horror parody television series ‘Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place’.

Receiving its English premiere at FrightFest 2018, it’s a stark, bleak, nightmarish portrayal of a man haunted by past traumas, and his despairing attempts to unburden himself of his emotional baggage. Returning to his grim, semi-condemned Norfolk childhood home, disgraced former children’s puppeteer Philip (Sean Harris) clutches a brown holdall which contains ‘Possum’, a hideous marionette with tendril spider legs and a ghostly doll’s head, borne from a nursery rhymed creation drawn by Philip. Plagued by nightmares where an animated ‘Possum’ crawls towards him, Philip makes several attempts to discard the puppet, without success. He also has his creepy dishevelled stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong) alternating between offering him sweets and rollups and taunting him about the disappearance of a 14-year old schoolboy. There’s also a room in the old house Philip seems more than a little reluctant to enter...

An expressionistic suburban nightmare, dripping in a haunting 70’s atmosphere of dread, with jolting moments of disturbing imagery. It’s narrative-lite, with Pinter-like minimalist dialogue, but The Radiophonic Workshop’s evocative soundtrack permeates every frame saturating the film with a melancholic menace that beautifully conveys the somnambulist nature of Phillips waking nightmares.

The Norfolk locations are brilliantly bleak and haunting. The open marshlands conveying the spirit of M.R. James as Phillip runs through muddied landscapes pursued by the invisible ghosts of his haunted past.

Sean Harris is superb as the broken damaged ex-puppeteer, and Alun Armstrong is grotesquely effective as the stepfather from hell. 

Filmed on Kodak 35mm, the blackened grimy gloom of the burnt childhood home seemingly drips with inherent sadness and past terror, and the stark loneliness of the open landscapes offers bleak comfort as images of black balloons float in the sky.

The abrupt and literal denouement jolts the viewer out of the seductive fever dream state and feels out of step with the meticulous Danse Macabre so carefully orchestrated to this point. But, equally, they’d surely be groans of complaint were proceedings left unresolved.

Early David Lynch, Jan Å vankmajer and even Pete Walker could be considered as influences in this disturbingly assured first feature. It will be interesting to see just what Holness pulls out of the bag next. 

****(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.