Review: Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy

Hellboy, a demon who fights for humans, begins to question his place in the battle between good and evil, while evil forces are attempting to resurrect an ancient sorceress…

After two good Hellboy films, starring Ron Perlman in the role and directed by Guillermo del Toro, there was talk for a good while about there being a third film to complete a trilogy. However, for whatever reason, the producers decided rather than make that third film, instead they would reboot the series. Naturally, the decision surprised and disappointed many.

Things then went from disappointing to a public relations disaster when it was announced that the Japanese-American character, Major Ben Daimio was to be played by Ed Skerin, a white actor. After uproar, a week later, Skerin pulled out of the role, which was recast with actor Daniel Dae Kim.

Things didn’t seem to go well still as, when the the film was due to the release, there seemed to be a lack of publicity for the film. Aside from the trailers there was little else to push the film. Stories began to emerge of clashes during the production between the director, the producers (who had final cut on the film apparently) and with the cast too. How much truth or rumour is involved, really only those involved would know the answer to that.

But with all this alleged behind the scenes rowing, what of the film itself? Sometimes a film can somehow come out of turmoil, but in most cases, the resulting film can be a mess.

And the new Hellboy definitely falls into the second category. It’s a mess of a film. The question to be asked next though, is it an entertaining one?

Neil Marshall directs the new film and he is one of my favourite directors. With Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion, as well as some outstanding TV work on the likes of Game Of Thrones. I’m not sure how anyone else felt, but I thought he was a good choice. But after seeing the film, while I don’t doubt Marshall’s ability as a director, this film is by far his weakest film yet. Because of stories of behind the scenes issues, how much of the mess the film turned out can be attributed to him, but he is capable of much better than this.

The script is credited to Andrew Cosby. Again, because of stories of behind the scenes issues, how much of the finished script is his may be open to question, but wither it is all down to him, or to others, the story has major issues. The plot takes turns that are puzzling, an encounter with Baba Yaga, one of the better sequences in the film, doesn’t add a thing to the story, a character we see near the beginning turns up later for a brief moment, a character suddenly seems to develop an ability that, it appears, she never knew she had up until then.

The film has a feel of one where the crew never really finished the film and then others stepped in to put a finished version together. The CGI, especially in the final act, was pretty disappointing I felt. The film does try and be a more bloody violent film, but again there is too much CGI used for the effect.

What the film does get right is David Harbour (of Stranger Things) as Hellboy. Ron Perlman was superb casting in the del Toro films and Harbour, in this version, is very good indeed. The rest of the cast are less successful. Milla Jovovich plays the sorceress, Nimue, The Blood Queen and is wasted in the role. Sasha Lane plays Alice a young girl who helps Hellboy, but it’s a weak performance. Daniel Dae Kim Daimio isn’t much better sadly, while Ian McShane seems on autopilot as Professor Broom. Sophie Okonedo and Thomas Haden Church have little more than cameo roles and do what they can.

The score for the film by Benjamin Wallfisch is okay, though the film does use a lot of 80’s rock music which I did like. The film is well shot and designed too.

As I said, there is a lot wrong with the film. And yet…

For all the issues I had with it and perhaps because of the stories of behind the scenes issues, I actually enjoyed it. It’s never a dull film certainly, though I think that’s because the makers are worried if the audience used their brains it would make no sense. It could be that the talk of behind the scenes meant I went in with low expectations and the film simply exceeded them. But either way, I did enjoy it.

In many ways, it reminded me of the reaction to the Tom Cruise starring version of The Mummy, that was to kick-start the so-called ‘Dark Universe’ (only to promptly halt it!) or the film version of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both of those films had issues, (League behind the scenes especially) and while I wasn’t a fan of The Mummy, I did enjoy the League film. For me, Hellboy is certainly closer to the latter of these films. It’s far from the best comic-book based film, but certainly not the worst.

It may be a mess. It may be nonsense. But I can’t deny, I found it an entertaining mess.

Rating: *** out of 5

 

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Horrorcist Preview: Drowning Echo (2019)

Drowning

When Sara goes to visit friends in a complex, she nearly drowns and begins to suspect there may be something in the complex pool…

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first. The poster above was released by the film company for Drowning Echo, also known as Nereus. However, forget that image on the poster. If that’s the kind of monster film you expect here, forget it.

That one would have been better.

In truth it’s hard to know where to start with this film. The story, written by director Georges Padey and star Itziar Martinez, is ridiculously convoluted. It’s something in the pool? How hard is that. Instead we get a scene involving a character that looks like it was lifted from a found footage film, though to be fair, it’s probably the best moment in the film. The rest of the story had the potential to be something interesting, but it needed to be told a different way. As it is, people have been vanishing and no-one seems overly concerned and by the end, the audience won’t either.

The characters are so poorly written, you just don’t care for any of them. Sara, has the hint of a mystery around her, which when it is finally revealed makes no real sense to me. The others are a bunch of walking cliches. It has to be said the cast, headed by the co-writer Martinez are not great, which certainly doesn’t help.

Director Padey, the found footage inspired sequence aside doesn’t direct the film well. There’s no tension or surprises, certainly no jump moments. But it doesn’t help when the film seems to make no sense, both in terms of the story and character actions, so much so that even an experienced director would have struggled with this film.

It’s a film that is way too long. You could easily cut maybe 20 minutes from its 107 minutes of run time. I’m not saying it could have saved the film, but it certainly would have made it more bearable to watch.

To be charitable to Georges Padey & Itziar Martinez, it’s a labour of love for them. Between them, the co-wrote, direct, star, produce or executive produce, do the cinematography, the music and other jobs on the film too. It’s clear this was a film they wanted to make. I do respect that.

However, next time, they should get more people involved. Perhaps doing so much spread them too thing and also made them far too close to their own material. Some experienced help may have helped here.

But sadly, because they tried to do it all, they end up (pardon the pun) drowning.

Dull and, worst of all boring, Drowning Echo is not a good film at all.

Rating: * out of 5 

 

DVD Review: The Devil’s Doorway (2018)

Doorway2

Set in Ireland in the 1960’s two Priests are sent to investigate an apparent miracle in a house for ‘fallen women’ and uncover something truly horrific…

I enjoy the found footage sub-genre of horror. Done well, you get a film as terrifying as [REC], or The Blair Witch Project. Done badly however, you end up with a film like The Devil Inside, which was terrible.

The Devil’s Doorway has several things going for it right from the off. It’s set in the 1960’s the first found footage film I recall set there. It’s shot on film, which of course makes sense given the setting. And in part it shines a light on something that perhaps not many would know about, mainly about the treatment of women, especially unmarried pregnant women, or those with mental health problems and such that was dealt out in houses run by the church. It was a practice that continued up until the 1990’s and it is something that continues, rightly, to be a stain on the catholic church in Ireland.

But back to the movie. The two Priests, Father Thomas and Father John are completely different. Thomas has years of experience, John does not. It is John who is filming everything. Thomas has experience of investigating miracles. John does not.

As with all found footage films, The Devil’s Doorway takes its time, introducing the characters, using the camera to give the audience a general feel for the location.

And then it drops the horror and scares the hell out of you.

With a lot of found footage films, even those I enjoy you can often seen where the scare or jump is going to come from. This film does have some of that going on, but then, with superb use of sound and voices, puts you on edge for a scare you just don’t see coming. And while you are recovering from that, it casually tosses an unsettling moment after too.

The story which starts out as one thing, then thanks to a well written script, turns into something else, is very good indeed. The writers, Martin Brennan, Aislinn Clarke and Michael B Jackson have worked the story out very well indeed.

Aislinn Clarke, also directs the film. It is her debut film and she along with Ryan Kernaghan shoot the film superbly and then with her editor Brian Phillip Davis puts it together superbly. For a debut it is something terrific.

The scares are effective, building to a superbly tense and horrifying ending. One that while it does have slight similarities with another found footage film (and a rather good one) called Borderlands, works superbly.

The performances from the cast are great. Lalor Roddy plays Father Thomas, Ciaran Flynn plays Father John and both are good, but it’s Helena Breen as the Mother Superior. She is utterly terrifying, even before the horror begins!

With terrific music, superb performances, a good script, fantastic direction, The Devil’s Doorway is a brilliant horror. I first saw this at FrightFest London 2018 and thought then it was the scariest found footage film I’d seen since [REC]. I also thought it the scariest film I saw in 2018. Seeing it again on DVD just reinforces this.

I love this film and can’t recommend it enough. If you like found footage horror, horror in general, The Devil’s Doorway is one you want to step through.

Rating: ***** out of 5

PS: One criticism I do have is that DVD cover. I think it’s too generic and dull if I’m honest. Personally, I wish they’d used either of the below instead.

Doorway3

Doorway1

Preview: Pet Sematary (2019)

Sematary

A Doctor and his family move out into the country, to begin a new life. In the woods behind their house, the daughter, Ellie, discovers a pet graveyard. But further in the woods, there is something darker, that can bring the dead pets to life…

This new film is the second film version of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The first version was made in 1989. I can’t recall seeing it at the time. I definitely saw it a couple of years ago, during a short Stephen King film retrospective at a local film festival. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a fan of it. This film also had a sequel, which I certainly haven’t seen. A good thing by all accounts.

Now, nearly 30 years later (no, really!), we have another adaptation of the novel. This version is written by Jeff Buhler (who wrote the recent and disappointing film, The Prodigy) and directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (who made the generally well received Starry Eyes). However, perhaps the most interesting credit is the one for ‘screen story’ for Matt Greenberg. I say this as, by all accounts, there have been changes made to the story from the novel (which I haven’t read) and I’m not sure who it was that decided on those changes.

However, while I can’t judge it as a good or bad adaptation of the Stephen King novel, what I can say is that as a horror film it’s a mixed bag. The directors do create a creepy atmosphere at times. There are also a couple of effective ‘jump’ moments, with the use of the cat, Church, at times truly unsettling. The co-directors have done a good job with the material.

However, for me, I don’t think the story holds up well. I mentioned not having read the novel, but it could be something in the novel itself, but the story felt slight in places. It also uses flashbacks as the mother Rachel recalls the death of her sister when younger, but they just seem to be there to pad the story I felt. There’s also a ghost of a patient, the Doctor, Louis, loses on the table. You feel it will have an important part to play in the overall story, but in truth it doesn’t.

However, those criticisms aside, it’s not a dull film, thanks in part to several good performances and one great one.

Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz play the parents, Louis and Rachel and both are pretty good. The great John Lithgow plays a neighbour Jud, who knows about the cemetery (the Sematary of the title is how children spell the word) and reveals its secrets to Louis. He too is good.

*NOTE: The following does mention potential spoilers, but they are revealed in the film trailer*

But the standout out performance is from Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie. One of the changes made in the film is that it is the older child who dies and returns, In the earlier film and book is was the younger one. She is terrific both as an inquisitive young girl and becomes truly creepy once she returns from the grave.

The violence in the film is suitably brutal and bloody, leading to a rather good ending to the film, which I think works very well indeed. The film is well shot and the music pretty good too.

But for all the things about the film I did like, the story issue for me lets it down. As I said, this is the second film adaptation of this novel I have seen and in both cases I feel something is missing. It could come from the novel, that the issue is there, but as I haven’t read that I can’t judge it on that level.

There has been a resurgence in Stephen King adaptations in the past couple of years. While this film isn’t as good as the recent IT film, it’s nowhere near as disappointing as The Dark Tower.

Not a bad film then, but sadly, no better than okay, which is a shame as I wanted to like it more.

Rating: *** out of 5

Short Film: House Call

HouseCall

Normally I would put a short not here, to say loosely what the film is about. But with short films, that can be tricky. To say too much could give far too much of the plot away.

Thankfully the poster above is all you need to know.

It’s written by Joseph Sorrentino Jr and directed by Daniel Brown. It’s a well made little short, one that edges into so-called ‘torture porn’ territory but never fully goes there. Instead it uses some little moments of humour to lighten its tone that work well.

It stars Barry Tangert and Kerwin Gonzalez and both aren’t bad. The effects are well done and the ending I thought rather clever in its own twisted way.

House Call is doing the rounds at some film festivals. If you get the chance, check it out.

Review: Whirlpool (1970)

whirlpool_larraz

A woman brings a young model to her remote home, where she and her photographer nephew, where they plan to seduce her into their world…

Whirlpool is one of three films being released by Arrow Films directed by Jose Larraz, in a new boxed set on Blu-Ray. The other two are The Coming Of Sin and Vampyres (the latter I did see many years ago).

I know little about Larraz, aside from watching Vampyres and Whirlpool, but based on those two films, I would say as a filmmaker, he seemed to enjoy sex and violence in his films.

Whirlpool, probably best described as an erotic thriller,  was made in 1970 and was his debut film. He’s credited as J.R. Larrath on the film. It’s a film he also wrote, based on an idea from Sam Lomberg. As a basic idea, it’s not too bad. But only as an idea. As written however, it is a disaster.

From the moment the model, Tulia (played by Vivian Neves) is brought to the house, the problems for the film begin. In the opening scenes, Theo, the nephew (played by Karl Lanchbury) finds a woman’s boot on a riverbank, we can guess what has happened to its wearer. Sara, the aunt (played by Pia Andersson), has missed another model, Rhonda who left suddenly some time before and regularly brings models back to have weekends or periods of sex with them, either including Theo or just the women.

In the background, a businessman, after a visit from the police, enquiring about a missing model, Rhonda, begins to look into it.

I think you can see where this is going.

As a director, Jose Ramon Larraz isn’t that bad. The sex scenes are well shot and he tells the story well. It’s a shame the story is so bad.

At one point, Tulia, is sexually assaulted by a friend of Theo’s, who takes photographs. Instead of rushing away as soon as possible, she stays at the house. It’s a decision, that completely took me out of the film, to such an extent, the film never brought me back. The final act, as all the secrets come out and the violence and sexual violence continue the film becomes annoying. The ending, doesn’t feel at all like one, rather the film just stopped.

Which is frustrating, as if the last act had happened, say around 30 minutes into the film, the film could have been a Psycho or City Of The Dead type of film, where the shock could have lead to a more interesting story.

Instead what you get, is a film well shot by Julio Perez de Rozas (Ch. Childs on the credits), with a good soundtrack from Stelvio Cipriani and as said well directed by Jose Ramon Larraz.

It’s just a shame the story is so badly handled.

Rating: * out of 5

Review: The Prodigy (2019)

Prodigy

A mother tries to find out the truth about her son Miles strange and violent behaviour…only to be horrified when she discovers the truth…

When you are setting your film to be a mystery, you can approach it from two angles, I believe. The first, is that the audience and the characters onscreen find out the same information story-wise at the same time, or the second, where the audience knows more than the characters and you watch them essentially play catch-up.

The Prodigy, written by Jeff Buhler, takes the later approach and I felt the wrong one.

Almost from the beginning we, the audience, know what has happened, we know where the story is going to go and, if we are being truthful can see the end sort of coming before it gets there.

If the film film had kept information from the audience, only letting us know when the characters onscreen find our, the film would have probably worked better. But because the audience knows pretty much from the beginning what is going on, it can take you out the film. As a result, when the film should be unsettling and creepy, you find yourself ticking off which films this film borrows ideas from. I’ll mention one film only, the others I’ll let you discover for yourself, but The Omen was an obvious influence.

Now, a film being derivative doesn’t always mean it can’t work. It may not be original, but it can still be entertaining. But sadly The Prodigy disappoints here too due to some frankly bizarre behaviour from Sarah, the mother. When someone mentions possible abuse, she basically turns on her husband. And her decisions in the final act really defy belief.

But even with story decisions, it’s not a complete disaster. Director Nicholas McCarthy does manage to create a couple of good jump scenes which work well, though perhaps the one which would have worked best, one which owes at least a nod to the Mario Bava film Shock (this isn’t a spoiler as it was in one of the trailers too!).

The cast are okay. Jackson Robert Scott plays Miles and is really good in the role, both playing the sinister side and the more child-like. Taylor Schilling plays Sarah and is okay, as is Peter Mooney as her husband John. Colm Feore plays an expert who tries to help, leading to one of the most twisted scenes in the film, which was very well done. There’s a small role too for Brittany Allen as well.

The score from Joesph Bishara is quite effective, the film is well shot and is never dull, but just predictable.

I went in to see The Prodigy knowing very little about it, aside from seeing a trailer. But if you know the horror genre you will work it out fairly quickly. If you don’t then you may get more enjoyment out of it.

Rating: ** out of 5