Preview: Doom Room (2019)

doomroom

This peview was done for the site, The Horrorcist, which you can find at TheHorrorcist.com click here

A young woman wakes up in a mysterious room with no recollection how she got there…or what her name is…

Often, when a film strives to be a mystery, the question to be asked is how strong is the story. Will it carry itself through the film or run out of steam before the end and resort to last minute twists and surprises to keep the film going.

Doom Room thankfully is the former. A woman, knowing in the credits as Jane Doe, is assailed by mysterious figures as she tries to work out why she is trapped into the room. The opening credits suggest she was taken by a couple, but is there more to it than meets they eye?

Characters appear and disappearing in the room, a girl with no eyes, an apparent innocent girl, a couple, a man who can’t talk, a period dressed character who taunts her constantly about sex and so on.

The writers, Carl Krishner and Jon Keeyes at first keep the audience on edge, as the scenes seem very disjointed, but without giving anything away, as the film progresses, it does all make sense, right down to an ending that not only works, but is quietly devastating.

Jon Keeyes also directs the film and does get good performances from his small cast. Johanna Stanton plays the main character, ‘Jane’, and is very good in the role, as she struggles to put everything together. The supporting cast, including Nicholas Ball as a figure who appears to be wanting to help her, Hayden Tweedie who plays a young girl and Matthew Tompkins and horror scream queen Debbie Rochon play a mysterious couple, all are very good too.

Where I think the film goes wrong slightly is that doesn’t, I feel, know where it belongs. We get some S&M moments, which make you think the film may be heading into ‘Fifty Shades’ territory. Also, while there are some tense moments, if it were to be considered a horror film, it’s certainly never scary sadly. If I had to file it somewhere, I’d probably say a mystery drama.

But while as a horror it didn’t work for me, on the mystery aspect it did. When the final reveals begin, they actually work well into the story, you never feel cheated. And the ending, which works well I think, isn’t a last minute shock, but again one developed out of the story.

Aside from some shots we see near the beginning and repeated later, the whole film is set in the one room, which does make me think the story could actually work well as a stage production. I have to say though I wasn’t a fan of the music, which I did think annoying at times.

Doom Room may have the opening and hallmarks of a so-called ‘torture porn’ type of film and it may put some of you off. But stay with it and I think you will find yourself drawn into a compelling little film.

I know I was.

Rating: *** out of 5

 

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Book Review: Blood Cruise

blood-cruise

On an overnight ferry between Sweden and Finland, what should have been a routine cruise becomes a night of terror as the passengers and crew find themselves under attack by people, who have become vampires….

Mats Strandberg, the author of Blood Cruise, first came to my attention when, along with Sara B Elfgren, they co-authored The Engelsfors Trilogy, a series about a group of teenage girls who discover they are witches. It’s a damn good trilogy, well worth checking out.

Blood Cruise, is more of an outright horror than the Engelsfors trilogy was. The basic set-up, we have seen before if I’m honest, in that Strandberg introduces his characters, with each chapter told from the point of view of one of them, with occasional chapters giving a more overview of events at key moments. And it has the assorted characters you would expect. There is Marianne, a retired woman who makes a last minute decision to join the cruise; Albin, a boy who’s adopted parents have their own issues, who wants to see his cousin Lo, only to discover she has changed; Dan a washed-up minor singing star reduced to running the Karaoke on the ship; Madde a woman who wants to have fun, hopefully with Dan; Calle who has returned to the ship with his boyfriend with the intent on proposing. There are other assorted characters that Strandberg introduces as well and he does with great skill. When the chaos begins on board and the characters strive to survive, he makes you care for them as you wonder who will live and die as the story progresses.

Strandberg also takes his time developing the panic and terror. It would have been easy to begin the horror much earlier than Blood Cruise does, but he lets it start small, with a mysterious boy and the woman he is with, then builds it in a controlled manner.

Until all hell breaks loose on board. But even then Strandberg keeps focused on his characters. He also, as good authors do, inserts little moments early in the book, that are resolved later on. I love details like that.

The book builds to a terrific climax on the boat one that does surprise in some ways. It also leaves little details that could, perhaps, be setting up a follow-up novel, should Strandberg wishes to continue the story.

I really liked this book. It’s very well written, it grips and you tear through it once you get into it. The basic story itself may not be truly original, people on a journey get caught up in horrible events, something done in various genres over the years. But it’s how you tell a story that’s important and Mats Strandberg writes it very well.

Blood Cruise is a tremendous novel and horror fans or fans of films such as Train To Busan would I think really enjoy it.

I know I did.

Rating: **** out of 5

The Scariest Horror Films Of The Year

2018 has been, for me anyway, an interesting year in horror. I attended my first full FrightFest in London as well as the Glasgow event. I also went to my local horror festival, known as Dundead, held at the Dundee Contemporary Arts. As well as the horrors unleashed there, there has been a number of horrors let loose at the cinemas too. Some have scared the hell out of audiences, some have made them laugh…and not always intentionally!

Personally, I think it has been a good year for horror. There have been some truly outstanding films.

With that in mind below are, for me, the five best horror films I’ve seen at the cinema. Each of the films below, are films that scared me. As a result, you won’t see on this list Tigers Are Not Afraid, Errementari: The Blacksmith And The Devil and Anna And The Apocalypse. As good as they are, they didn’t scare me.

But the ones below certainly did.

SUMMER OF 84

Summer84

Summer of 84 is, like it’s title suggests, a throwback to the 1980’s and on the surface, this film about a group of teens who begin to suspect their neighbour may be a serial killer, perhaps owes a debt to films like The ‘Burbs, The Monster Squad and The Goonies. However, what this film has, is something those films, while fun, don’t,is an ending floors you. Most films of this kind have the kids overcome whatever is in their way and emerge victorious. Not here. Here, the film never forgets these are kids and as a result the ending, one that will shock and haunt you, has a hell of an impact.

Brilliantly written, directed and acted, Summer of 84 is a superb film.

Hereditary

Hereditary

The feature debut of Ari Aster arrived with some critics making comparisons to The Exorcist. Those were unfair. But there is no question, Hereditary is an unsettling film in its own right. It helped that the trailers for the film set it up to be one thing and then, of course, it turned out to be something else entirely. I’ve complained about trailers perhaps making you think a film is something it’s not, but here it made sense; where this film ends up is certainly not where you thought it would.

It’s a film the slowly chills and creeps you out, leading up to an ending that is unsettling. The cast are first rate, with Toni Collette giving an superb performance as the Mother. It’s not a film that works for everyone. Certainly at the screening I was at, there was some laughter during the last act.

But not from me. Hereditary gripped and chilled me from the beginning right up to its ending, and even lingered after.

A Quiet Place

QuietPlace

If there is something to be said about modern cinema audiences, it’s that they can often be loud and distracting. Snacks, whispering to each other and worst of all on their phones. It is rare these days for a film to come along to grip an audience from the beginning so tightly that the actually resort to total silence.

Perhaps then it’s not a surprise that a film that managed that is A Quiet Place. From it’s opening moments, up to the end it’s a film that grips and doesn’t let go. But as well as the tension and scares, it’s also an emotionally powerful film too. The story of a family trying to survive in a world where the slightest noise could get you killed, it’s almost a silent film, but thanks to terrific direction from John Krasinski and good performances from Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, you don’t need a lot of dialogue to convey the family dynamic and the bonds between them.

It’s a brilliant film, fill of tension (a scene with Blunt being stalked by a creature will keep you on edge) and some good scares.

Pyewacket

Pyewacket

One of the things about film festivals is that you often get the chance to see films on a cinema screen that you may not see there otherwise. One of the other things, is that you may see films that may pass you by.

Pyewacket is such a film. It went straight to DVD in the UK when eventually released here, but I had the fortune to see it at the FrightFest Glasgow event.

The story of a teenage girl who, in a fit of anger directed at her mother casts a spell to evoke a spirit to kill her mother, the film written and directed by Adam MacDonald makes a brave decision, in never showing what was evoked. That means MacDonald has to build the tension, and unnerve the audience, without resorting to cheap shocks. It’s something a lot of horror films can’t pull off, but MacDonald does it superbly and along with two superb performances from Nicole Munoz and Laurie Holden, Pyewacket keeps the audience on edge right up to the very end.

It’s a chilling film, one that if you haven’t seen or are unsure of, you should take the chance. It is worth it.

The Devil’s Doorway

Devil's Doorway

I’ve said before I do enjoy the found footage genre. When done well, they can really get you on edge. All it takes is a little movement, a noise and your nerves are shredded. You can of course, point to the major issue with found footage films, in that at some point, any sane person would throw the camera away and run like hell, but logic aside, they make for great films.

But The Devil’s Doorway is something special. The story of two Priests sent to investigate an apparent miracle at a home for so-called ‘falling women’ takes a horrific turn in it’s second half, leading to a truly frightening finale. But even before it gets there it has you on edge as glimpses of something or sounds build the tension.

With superb performances from the cast, The Devil’s Doorway, the debut film from Aislinn Clarke is a truly frightening film. I saw it at FrightFest London and thought it the scariest film of the festival. I also said at the time, I thought it the scariest found footage film I’d seen since [REC].

I stand by those statements. If you can, see it as soon as possible.

I said at the beginning that it has been a good year for horror. With the box office success of films like The Nun, Halloween, A Quiet Place and others, horror is in great shape heading into 2019.

And certainly, from the films listed above, still delivering the scares too.

Review: Hell Fest (2018)

HellFest

A group of friends go to Hell Fest, a horror amusement park, but find themselves stalked by a masked serial killer…

Hell Fest is the third film I’ve seen this year, that has the same basic idea as another two, Blood Fest and (American) Fright Fest, of an people getting caught up in real horror during a horror event of sorts.

But the approach of each has been different. Blood Fest managed to infuse some humour to the story that mostly worked. Fright Fest, I was disappointed with, felt it wasted the potential of the story.

Hell Fest is a definite throwback to the slasher genre. It also, to a degree owes a debt to Tobe Hooper’s film The Funhouse (to be fair the other two probably do as well). It has the mix of character’s you expect in a slasher film, it has the masked killer and has some okay death scenes.

But and it is a big one, the story is one that is so damned annoying!  The killer is never identified, which I have no problem with, a mysterious killer can give a film an edge. his motivation seems to be that he targets those who attend these types of events and don’t find them scary. I say seem to be, as it isn’t fully made clear. The very end too is an issue, as the film has no real resolution, in that while the story for these characters appears to be over, the story itself is left unresolved. It could be there are plans to continue this in a second film, but the ending leaves unanswered questions, that spoil your enjoyment. There’s also the inconsistent nature of the killer himself. We are led to believe he is a serial killer, but as I said he behaves more like a slasher type of killer, picking of the group one by one.

Then there is the group themselves. The film has a number of writers involved, with a story by Chris Sey and William Penick and a script written by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler and Akela Cooper. But despite so many being involved, the characters are very cliched indeed. They are ones we’ve seen seen in umpteen horror films over the years. You know who the heroine will be, as soon as she turns up on screen and we can guess who will be the ones to die.

And yet, despite the cliches on display, the film does actually manage to pull off a couple of surprises, including the death of a character, which while you know is coming happens earlier than you perhaps expected.

Far more perplexing though is a moment early on. The main character, Natalie, observes a terrified girl trying to hide from a masked killer. Somehow, despite the clear terror she sees in the girl, she stands and watches as the killer stabs her. She puts it down to an actress working at Hell Fest being convincing and dismisses it, which in turn makes her the target of the killer, but you have to think she would see the genuine fear on the girls face and try and help, instead she does nothing. It’s a moment in the film that in a way takes some of your sympathy for Natalie as the killing of her friends begin later.

The director of Hell Fest, Gregory Plotkin, directed the final Paranormal Activity film and has worked as an editor on films such as Happy Death Day and Get Out as well as a number of Paranormal Activity sequels. As a result, he knows how to edit to generate some good scare moments, or some good jump moments. While Hell Fest doesn’t scare as much as you want it too, he does manage to create a bit of tension at times and the death scenes are done pretty well.

The cast aren’t bad. Amy Forsyth plays Natalie and is pretty good in the role. Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James, Roby Attal and Matt Mercurio as her friends aren’t bad, even if the characters are stereotypes. There’s a cameo from Tony Todd, who is also the voice of the amusement park.

Hell Fest isn’t a bad film. It never outstays it’s welcome, there are some good moments in the film and the deaths are well done. But the annoying writing leaves the film feeling unresolved. Which is a shame.

It’s not as fun as Blood Fest was, but it is far better than (American) Fright Fest. Hell Fest may have a lot of cliches, but if you can get past them, then you may enjoy the park.

Rating: **1/2 out of 5

 

Review: Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)

Rulez

At a posh boarding school, new boy Don finds himself in a battle for survival when a nearby Fracking operation opens a fissure, that unleashes deadly monsters….

Horror comedies are tricky things to get right. For every Shaun Of The Dead, or Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, you get a film like Lesbian Vampire Killers. Balancing the comedy and horror aspects isn’t easy. Sadly, Slaughterhouse Rulez is an example of this.

The film is written by Crispian Mills (who also directs) and Henry Fitzherbert, from a story by Mills, Fitzherbert and Luke Passmore. However, it’s the story and script that are the film’s main weakness.

In a very early scene, the character of Willoughby fires an air rifle pellet into a picture of Malcolm McDowell that looks like it was taking from the film If… You can see that film part of the inspiration for Slaughterhouse Rulez, with the setting, the idea of them having their own military cadets and the bullying of younger or newer students by those with power. But that’s where any similarities end. Because as well as that aspect of the story, we have the monster story, new boy Don falling for Clemsie on of the female seniors. Add into the mix too a subplot about one of the teachers, Meredith trying to contact his ex-girlfriend (a very surprising cameo!) who has gone to work overseas. The film has a lot of details to juggle and it doesn’t do them all justice. I think had it focused its story more, the film would work better.

But the film’s worst problem is the humour. A lot of it doesn’t work. Considering the actors in the film, Michael Sheen, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, you expect good, funny performances. Sadly however, all three are rather poor, which was a surprise and most of that is down to their roles not being well enough written and certainly not funny enough. All three are much better than this usually.

The teen actors fare better, but again the roles are underwritten. Asa Butterfield as Willoughby, Finn Cole as Don and Hermione Corfield as Clemsie aren’t bad as are the other young cast members.

However, while this film may fail with the comedy side of the writing, it fares a bit better when the monsters turn up. Crispian Mills handles that side of the story very well indeed. The monster’s look good onscreen, there is a good amount of blood and gore and the film does build up….to, well sadly the ending is not as tense as you want it to be. Also, while the film does manage a couple of good jump moments, it’s never as scary as you want either.

The production design and effects are well done, the music okay, and the film never outstays its welcome. Slaughterhouse Rulez is the first film from Stolen Picture, a production company owned by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. As their debut release it has flaws, but there is promise there.

Not a terrible film by any means, but I was expecting something more.

Rating: **1/2 out of 5

 

 

Review: Halloween (2018)

Halloween18

After being locked away for forty years, Michael Myers is being transferred to a new hospital. But when the bus crashes, he escapes and begins another Halloween night of horror….however Laurie Strode, who survived an encounter with Michael forty years earlier has been preparing for this night….

Since John Carpenter’s Halloween came out in 1978, it has become a classic of the horror genre and rightly so. It’s a stripped down, lean horror thriller that is scary and ratchets up the tension to a thrilling ending. It’s a film that also launched a series of films that took the same premise (a date on the calendar) and then slaughtered a group of teens on that day. Friday The 13th being the most famous perhaps. What those films, the so-called slasher films perhaps misunderstood about Halloween’s success is that you need good characters for the audience to root for. A number of films that followed in Halloween’s wake were more interested in the killings and the admittedly often gory effects used, rather than interesting characters. It’s why audiences began rooting for the killer. Why root for the characters to survive, when you simply don’t care what happens to them. Carpenter’s Halloween always sides with Laurie and the others, with Michael considered a relentless, unstoppable evil killer.

But what also came in Halloween’s wake were a number of sequels to it. The first did involve Carpenter, but he didn’t direct it. It continued the story, but added the wrinkle that Laurie and Micheal were sister and brother. It was an unnecessary addition. At the end of that film, it appeared Michael was dead.

Of course, when part 4 came around, not for nothing was it called, The Return Of Michael Myers. Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, a great film itself, disappointed many by not bringing Myers back. Carpenter had planned on making each Halloween film about something different, not connected to the previous one. The box office disappointment of Season Of The Witch meant that when a fourth film was made, Myers would be back.

However, while Myers was back, Laurie wasn’t. what we got instead were in Parts 4 and 5, was a story based around Jamie, Laurie’s daughter being targeted by Michael. I wasn’t a fan of 4, or 5 and the less said about The Curse Of Michael Myers the better, although in a bizarre way, I did think there was a tenuous link to Season Of The Witch in there.

Something had to give and a fresh approach was needed. For the 20th anniversary, we got the terrific Halloween H20: 20 Years Later brought Laurie back. It had nods to the trauma she suffered years before and made Michael scary once more. But the follow-up film, Resurrection was awful, killing Laurie at the beginning then just descending into nonsense after that.

After Rob Zombie remade the original then gave us a god-awful Part II, a film I hate so much it would be in my list of the worst films I’ve ever seen at the cinema, it went quiet for awhile.

But now, in 2018, with the perhaps surprising creative team of Danny McBride and David Gordon Green driving it, we get another film called Halloween, but this is billed as a direct sequel to the original film, ignoring all the sequels in between. In some ways, this is a risk, as it has been so long since the original, can you make a film that follows the original and in some ways undoes a lot of the damage some of the sequels have caused, in part to Michael himself.

In the original film, Myers as a force of nature, part supernatural to a degree, an evil killer who enjoyed scaring his victims as killing them. Take the death of Annie. While Michael has opportunities to kill her before he does, when he does strike it is an effective scare moment.

However, in the sequels Michael becomes more like Jason from the Friday The 13th films, both in how he kills (assorted weapons) but also being a more cliched killer to a degree. He’d lost his scare factor.

Here though, the scare factor is back in a big way. The relentless force of nature is back with a bloody vengeance. There’s a terrific one-take shot following Micheal going from one kill to another that shows that relentlessness. The kills are bloody and vicious, but never gratuitous and over relying on gore. The Shape is truly back to his best.

But so is Laurie and she is ready for him. Still haunted and traumatised by the events in 1978, she has been preparing for Micheal to escape in all that time, becoming a reclusive survivalist. The trauma ruined her personal life, wrecking her relationship with her daughter, Karen. Karen, in turn, tries to protect her own daughter, Allyson from Laurie. She recalls her childhood, of learning to shoot and build traps in case Michael were to come back and tries to shield Allyson from that. Allyson, in turn, has her own relationship with Laurie. The three women presented her have a great, if difficult relationship in the film, one that is very well developed throughout, leading to them all having to confront Michael in the last act.

Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie and she is tremendous in the film. This is no longer Laurie the lucky survivor, but woman ready to fight and kill her demon if/when it ever comes for her. But her trauma is always there in the background and Curtis does a tremendous job of bringing that out at moments. But as we see in the last act, she’s not afraid to take Michael on, in a brutal, bloody encounter.

Andi Matichak plays Allyson and her character too isn’t as cliched as you may expect. She stands up to her jerk of a boyfriend, and at the end, like the other Strode women, when it comes to confronting Michael, isn’t scared to get into the fight.

But for me, it’s Judy Greer as Karen who nearly steals the film. Karen wants a normal life for her family and wants, in part to forget her own childhood. As a result, while she loves her mother, she doesn’t Laurie to do to Allyson what she went through. But in the last act as she has to return to her childhood home, while she is reluctant, she knows she will have to confront the evil that shaped her relationship with her mother. She also gets my favourite moment in the film. Never has the word, ‘gotcha’ made me want to punch the air more!

Nick Castle returns to play Michael/The Shape in a small number of scenes, sharing the role with James Jude Courtney. Between them, as said, they have made Michael scary and intimidating again.

The supporting cast are good too, with Will Patton playing a Officer Hawkins, who was there in 1978 when Myers caught. Rhian Rees and Jefferson play podcast journalists looking into the events of 1978. There’s also a new Doctor in the mix, Dr. Sartain played by Haluk Bilginer.

The film well directed by David Gordon Green, taking his time to set the story up before unleashing the carnage and horror. He also creates some good scary moments, and the film has a tremendous climax as Laurie confronts Michael. He also includes knowing call backs to the original film, which are a nice touch.

The film has three credited screenwriters, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. And for the most part, it’s a well written film, but there are a couple of missteps here. The subplot involving Dr. Sartain didn’t work for me. Also, the podcasters, I felt were only there to bring the audience up to speed with events of the past 40 years and, as the trailer shows, you felt they were only there to add to the body count.

But these are minor issues. The film looks great, thanks to cinematographer Michael Simmonds. The score is by John Carpenter, along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel A, Davies and is a good one indeed, the iconic theme still impressive in this updated version. John Carpenter serves as an executive producer to the film too, and while I’m not sure how much influence he had over the finished film, but even without his name on the film, I do think this film captures the spirit of the original very well indeed, certainly more than any of the sequels have (although I still think Halloween H20 is close).

This film was made by the company Blumhouse, who have made a number of strong number of horror films over the years, but this is one of their finest efforts.

Carpenter says that he thinks this will be the final Halloween film. If that is the case, then the series ends on a tremendous high. It’s tense, scary, relentless and bloody good.

But something tells me, we haven’t seen the last of The Bogeyman yet, and based on this film, I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Highly recommended.

Rating: ****

Review: Errementari: The Blacksmith And The Devil (2017)

Errementari

Based on a fable, a Blacksmith with a secret stays to himself. But when a little girl enters his world, along with an official looking for gold, sets in motion events that leads to the gates of hell…

Words are often important in context. At the beginning of Errementari, we get a narration about a man so evil even the Devil was afraid of him. These words are repeated at the end, but this time have a different meaning. But when repeated at the end of this wonderful film, they really hit home the power in the film.

Most fantasy films these days are based on novels, often over rely on CGI and focus on teens. Here, while there may be CGI involved during the final act, a visually stunning sequence at the gates of Hell, but for the most part focuses on character, some surprising twists and turns and a story that is powerful and full of emotion.

Oh and on the whole focuses more on adults rather than teens.

But at its heart is a stunning performance from Uma Bracaglia as Usue, a little girl who inadvertently sets in motion the events in the film. Orphaned at a young age, she’s raised harshly by the local priest, and bullied by other children, even though she does often give as good as she gets. Usue is the heart of this film, events in the film to a degree revolve around her and Bracaglia’s performance is wonderful.

She’s matched by Kandido Uranga who plays the Blacksmith. While a man of few words, behind is threatening demeanour is a man haunted by his own past and a deal he made, one he tries to avoid, in part by trapping a demon. The Blacksmith, Patxi, appears an intimidating figure, but there is much more to him and as he bonds with Usue we see a slightly softer side to him.

The rest of the cast are first rate too. Special mention to Eneko Sagardoy who plays Sartael a demon, one who despite a fearsome look, is actually much less intimidating as the story progresses.

The film looks stunning, thanks to great work from director of photography Gorka Gomez Andreu. The scenes at the gates to Hell are spectacular. The design of the film is terrific, the music from Pascal Gaigne is great.

Paul Urkijo Alijo directs the film very well. He also co-wrote the film with Asier Guerricaechevarria, the script adding touches of humour into the story, such as the idea of chickpeas being something you can use against the devil! But the story has a lot of heart too and Alijo brings that out very well indeed. As the story heads to its climax, as it takes surprising turns, it would have been easy for the film to get overblown, but it doesn’t thanks to it’s director’s ability, leading to a fantastic final moment, one, as I said, that reuses the words at the beginning to a different effect.

I saw this film at the FrightFest Glasgow event earlier this year and loved it. I’d been hoping for it to receive a UK cinema release since, but instead it has gone to Netflix. But no matter how you get the chance to see it, I highly recommend this film as it is one of the best fantasy films I’ve seen in years.

Rating: *****