Saturday, April 13, 2019

Review: Scared Stiff (1987)

It must be tricky trying to name an eighties horror film ... so many of them just try too hard and for every cult classic there's a host of wannabes waiting in the wings ... Scared Stiff is an interesting one. For one thing the title seems a complete misnomer until the very end. A better title might be Bored Rigid, but that might be doing this film a disservice as it does have some elements to commend it.

The basic plot is simple: A couple move into a house which was once where an evil Plantation owner lived with his slaves, his wife and child. The slaves revolted and summoned a demon which possessed the Plantation owner causing him to lock his wife and child in a casket in the attic.

Flash forward to present day, and our eighties couple: David Young (Andrew Stevens), apparently a psychiatric doctor, and his girlfriend Kate (Mary Page Keller), a singer who is making a pop video, and who happened to be David's patient up to a year ago, move into the house with her son Jason (Joshua Segal). Cue all manner of nasty happenings as the ghosts from the past are coming to get them ...

They find a boarded up staircase to the attic in the kid's room, wherein is the casket. Jason finds the key while playing and the bodies are discovered. And also a handiman hangs himself from a rope by the house, not to be discovered for days. Did noone wonder where he was or even look at the outside of the house? He eventually crashes through a window as David goes full on possession and Kate and Jason find themselves in an otherworldly realm of moving pianos and smoke and doors as David/the Demon tries to kill them until Jason joins two halves of a totem together and banishes him ...

It's all a bit confused at the end as before the demon is destroyed he seems to give birth to another demon from within him ... then there's eighties early CGI light effects and Kate is left a catatonic wreck, being visited by Jason. I guess she was scared stiff ...

Overall the film plays well, the soundtrack is passable, but it's slow ... so slow ... lots of talking and normal everyday stuff before the possession shenanigans kick in. The cinematography is good though, and the film looks great in this new transfer.

Interesting that the original script was written by Mark Frost, slightly before his Twin Peaks fame, but coming after The Six Million Dollar Man, Hill Street Blues and The Equaliser ... However in the Making-Of documentary, they explain that Frost's original screenplay was changed around a lot before it became the final film ... and one wonders if the original might have been so much better than the something of a pot pourri of ideas that got to the screen.

Again, kudos to Arrow for digging up another eighties horror that I'd never heard of let alone seen ...

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
• Original uncompressed Stereo audio
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Brand new audio commentary with director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner and film historian Robert Ehlinger
• Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Richard Friedman, Dan Bacaner, Robert Ehlinger, actors Andrew Stevens and Joshua Segal, special effects supervisor Tyler Smith and special effects assistants Jerry Macaluso and Barry Anderson
• Brand new interview with composer Billy Barber
• Image Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Limited edition slipcase featuring original Graham Humphreys artwork
• Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by James Oliver

Director: Richard Friedman
Cast: Andrew Stevens, Mary Page Keller, Joshua Segal

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Review: Terraformars (2016)

What to make of this new science fiction film from Takashi Miike ... First of all, it's based on a Manga series of the same name, and I think this shows in the structure of the piece. Although there is a loose plot, it's pretty simple, which means that the film should stand and fall on its characters, however they are many, and hard to get attached to.

If one took a film similar in idea: Alien, then you hopefully see what I mean about the characters needing to be three dimensional. In Alien, a group of humans arrive on a planet only to find that it is home to a life form which wants to wipe them out. Moreover, one of their number is actually planning to bring said life form back to Earth ... and as such Terra Formars plays out in similar fashion, but without the three dimensional characters or the cool monster at its heart.

What I can see in Terra Formars are echoes of a great many films/TV, all of which did this sort of thing much better. There's Alien as mentioned, but also Blade Runner (the opening could almost be from that film), Starship Troopers with the idea of humans trying to wipe bugs from the face of a planet, there's Transformers and Power Rangers in the strange idea that in order for the humans here to succeed, they must be able to change themselves via injections of some mystery DNA potion into hybrid bugs themselves ... thus we have a chap who can blow flames from his mouth, a girl who can extrude silk, another girl who can implant 'herself' into the brains of others to control them, and a chap with giant hornet stings on his hands ... plus many others.

The idea is that Mars was pre-populated with lichen and with cockroaches, and over years the roaches have developed intelligence and to walk on two legs, and to be seven or eight feet tall!  Thus a group of hand picked humans (criminals mostly it seems) are sent to clear them out.

There's a fair bit of misogyny in the film as most of the female characters are summarily beheaded by the roaches without a thought, while the male characters battle on. There's no mourning, just moving on with the action, and while some of the male characters are killed, it all seems a soulless process. All driven by some fashionista back on Earth who has an ulterior motive which, again, I can't recall what it was ...

There's also a peculiarity that often the film looks and feels like it's an animation (an Anime of the Manga) and I think this is as a result of the extensive CGI which is used. Everything from backgrounds to spaceships to the roaches, to the transformation of the humans ... nothing seems actually 'real' here. It looks as though the human cast have also been airbrushed and treated to make them seem more 'animated'.

This is not a great film, and it suffers from a degree of slowness in the earlier stages, and then repetition in the later acts. The characters are instantly generic and forgettable (I didn't come away with the name of a single one of them), and, just as with Power Rangers/Transformers once you have seen the transformation into a hybrid the first time, it starts to drag with each successive time: a collage of the real insect and information about its particular 'powers' against CGI of the film character growing antennae or mantis-arms or whatever.

Ultimately, I came away wondering what I had just watched, and I'm unfortunately unlikely to want to revisit it.

2/5

Distributor: Arrow Video
Release date: 1st April, 2019                                


SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
• Newly-translated English subtitles
• The Making of Terra Formars - feature-length documentary on the film’s production featuring a host of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Outtakes
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Tom Mes

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Review: Lifechanger (2018)

Lifechanger is an interesting film. While it basically follows the same character, this character is a shapeshifter and can take on the form of other people. But in order to do so, it needs to kill the person it is replicating, leaving them a sort of mummified husk.

It's a simple idea, and yet I don't think I've seen it done in film before. Years ago, Stephen Gallagher wrote a novel about a shapeshifting killer called Valley of Lights, but that's about it!

Written and directed by Justin McConnell, it follows the character of 'Drew' who narrates the film, and follows the shapeshifter through a variety of personas. What I really liked here was that it's a film with several 'lead' characters in that their appearance (and sex) changes as the film progresses. There's a real sense of loss too as each character dies to allow 'Drew' to continue living, and as each body he takes starts to decay and fall apart after a short time, there's a lot of body-hopping to be done.

There's also a romance element in that 'Drew' loves a girl called Julia, and his body hopping eventually leads him to a temporary happiness with her ... but there's a twist and ultimately he cannot take her body when his own starts to decay, and so he decides to die this time - allowing his body to crumble away. But instead of this happening it becomes a sort of cocoon, and out of this comes an old man. Now whether this is meant to be Drew as he really is, or a different variation on the shapeshifter is unknown, and the film ends on a slightly unsatisfactory note as a result. A little more explanation in the final scenes would have been appreciated.

Overall though it's a good and solid film, with a lot of good ideas and some great practical effects too. Well worth a look.

4/5

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: Hell Fest (2018)

There's always something rather satisfying in sitting back and enjoying one of those eighties slasher movies. You know, the ones where a group of kids go off to camp, or to a mall, or to babysit, or to a deserted cabin in the woods ... only to find death waiting for them in the form of a deranged schoolfriend, the janitor, someone who died there years ago, or an escaped psycho from the local hospital.  What makes the films good is the tension, imaginative deaths, and a good dose of eye candy for both male and female viewers.

There's a formula for these things, and if you follow the formula, you generally get an entertaining film. Note I don't say a good film as some of these offerings are sorely lacking in acting ability, camerawork, effects or pretty much everything. But they're still entertaining.

We have seen some pastiches on the form in recent years. I'm thinking of course of Cabin in the Woods, the marvellous trope subverting film from Wes Craven, but also Todd Strauss-Schulson's 2015 film The Final Girls which brilliantly plays with the idea of film within film and the concept of the 'Final Girl' ie the one left standing at the end to defeat/unmask the killer.

This brings me to 2018's Hell Fest. Directed by Gregory Plotkin, it seems to be trying to present a take on the genre, but what it doesn't do is present anything new. In fact, the whole film is overall quite disappointing as you're expecting something original, but in fact there is nothing. And worse still, it doesn't follow the 'rules'.

The basic idea is that a group of teens (Amy Forsyth as Natalie, Reign Edwards as Brooke, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Taylor, Christian James as Quinn, Matt Mercurio as Asher and Roby Attal as Gavin)  head off to Hell Fest, a local horror carnival, which features a variety of the sort of thing which happens every Halloween in America, and indeed which features at the various Universal theme parks around the country too. There are 'haunted houses', 'Ghost Train' rides, actors in costume trying to scare people, horror themed food and drink and carnival side shows ... anything and everything horror.

Into this scenario comes a nameless killer, who stalked the grounds of Hell Fest before, killing girls, and now is back to do the same.

So the film follows our six teens as they explore the park, go through the various rides, and get stalked by the killer, who bumps them off one by one. Apart from the production design (by It Follows' Michael Perry) which is superb - some of these Hell Fest attractions are by far the scariest and most imaginative that I have ever seen - the script is lazy. The kids are killed off one by one: one random girl is seen being stabbed with a knife; one of our heroes - the immensely likable Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who seems to be channelling Warehouse 13's Alison Scagliotti) is stabbed with a knife and one of the guys, Gavin, gets his head smashed in with a mallet. It's all gory fun ... but as the film progresses, there seems little point to the proceedings, and a disinterest sets in.

The killer is just 'the Other' (Stephen Conroy) and as he wears a mask throughout and we never see his face, is nameless and just a killing machine. Whereas 'the Shape' in Halloween and 'Jason' in the Friday the Thirteenth films are masked killers too, these have more personality and some sort of modus operandi. Here the killer just kills and we never know why.

He also does not receive any come-uppance, walking away at the end, despite being stabbed by one of the girls. It's the killings too which have no imagination or cleverness behind them ... just knife stabbings on the whole.  There was the scope to really up the ante here and to present something clever, but this never happens.

So as a film, it's well shot, well acted, and the location and production design is superb. It's unfortunately the script which lets it down. Disappointing.

Released On Digital HD 8th March and DVD 1st April 2019

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Overlord

Completely at the other end of spectrum to Redcon-1 comes another War-based zombie fun fest, Overlord. However here, the plot makes sense, the characters are good, and the whole thing is a tremendous film!

Produced by J J Abrams, he of Star Trek, Alias and Lost fame, Overlord opens looking like a fairly standard war film. A crack group of soldiers are paracuted into German territory during WW2 to investigate a German bunker/outpost. The effects here are mindblowing as the poor group of soldiers are under attack even before they leave their airplane: with bullets hitting them, explosions all around, other planes flying with them before exploding, barrage balloons, and all the other paraphernalia of war.

Most of them make it down, some are captured and executed by German troops, but a small number make it to a French village where they befriend one of the locals, a woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) living with her young son (Gianny Taufer) and mother in a house. Something is wrong with 'mother' though - she seems to be turning into a monster!

One of the group, a black soldier called Boyce (Jovan Adepo), manages to infiltrate the German bunker and discovers that a Nazi doctor has been performing horrific experiments on humans, all to try and create a serum which will revive the dead as Nazi super soldier zombies.

Boyce steals some of the serum, and it ends up being used on one of his own party... they decide that they have to destroy the laboratory, and so return to plant explosives. Of course there is a standoff with the German commander who has injected himself with the serum.

The film has some great moments, and the make-ups and effects are superb. Watch out for a pleading woman's head separated from her body but still on a spinal column! There are elements here of various previous Living Dead films, as well as, I felt, John Carpenter's seminal The Thing, especially in the music which by accident or design seems to emulate Ennio Morricone's score, but also in the decision to blow the whole place up at the end.

I found the film hugely enjoyable, though it does take a long time to morph from what seems to be a standard war film, into a zombie horror film. Oh, and I have no idea at all why it's called Overlord.

4 out of 5!


Thursday, March 07, 2019

Review: Redcon-1

Redcon-1 is a new film directed by Chee Keong Cheung and is another entry in the Zombie Apocalypse genre. It's perhaps unfortunate that I have seen quite a few Zombie films in my time, and so I can see that this one is nothing new. It resembles at various points other films which have handled the material far more elegantly.

One of the biggest issues I had was the narrative - it doesn't seem to have one! The idea they are playing with is that the government, or some agency thereof, has developed a virus which will create unstoppable zombie soldiers - creatures that cannot be killed, which are zombies, but which retain the knowledge of who they were and how to function ...

We follow a team of nameless human soldiers who are battling these creatures to try and rescue the scientist who created the virus ... there's a little girl who seems immune, and they try and get her to safety ... along the way, the lead character - whose name I cannot remember ... in fact I can't recall the names of anyone in the film - becomes a zombie but they manage to deliver the girl, the scientist is killed, and that's the end.

The plot is so vague, and the film is totally filled with fast moving action fight sequences, that there's no room for much dialogue or explanation ... it just rumbles onto the next battle, and the next ...

If you like action, violence, blood and gore, and zombie hoards, then this film may tick all the boxes for you. Personally I found it derivative and disappointing. Films like Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and even Escape from New York have handled similar material and themes much better.

One final note, the film I was sent to review had a PREVIEW COPY DO NOT PIRATE message over the top third of the screen the whole time which was both annoying and very distracting ... hard to watch something when you keep being thrown out of it by the lettering. This may have been part of the reason for my disappointment with the film - it really didn't hold my attention. Why not put the message up every 30 mins or so for a minute? Or flag it on the corner of the screen ... It's a little like being asked to review a stage play where they keep the curtain half way down all the time.

Just 2 out of 5 for this one.



RELEASE INFORMATION
Distributor: Intense Distribution & 101 Films
Certificate: 18
Release date: 25th February, 2019
Digital release: 25th February, 2019
Running time: 118 mins

KEY TALENT INFORMATION
Director: Chee Keong Cheung

Stars:
Oris Erhuero
Carlos Gallardo
Mark Strange
Joshua Dickinson
Akira Koieyama
Katarina Waters
Martyn Ford

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Review: That'll Be The Day Stage Show

It's not often that we go to the theatre, but when we do, it's usually a treat!

And when a surprise invitation came through to see THAT'LL BE THE DAY at the Lincoln Theatre Royal last night, it was hopefully going to be something special.  And that is something of an understatement.

It was amazing. No, better than that, it was a rollicking, superb, entertaining, mad dash through pop music history, with the most brilliant team of musicians and comedians as your guides.

If you get a chance to go see the show,  then do yourself a favour and go see it. It's the most uplifting and fun evening of music and comedy that you're likely to experience.

It's not based on the Buddy Holly song 'That'll be the Day', although the song does feature. This is not a staged biopic like JERSEY BOYS or WE WILL ROCK YOU ... In fact the title refers to the group of people who put this all together ...

The first half presents music from the Sixties, with perfect recreations of music from Sandy Nelson in a jaw dropping live performance of 'Bring on the Drums', Lulu, the Beatles, Cilla Black, Elvis, The Hollies, Gene Pitney ... they just keep on coming. Interspersed with comedy skits we get Doddy make an appearance, as well as a brief Eric Morcambe, plus Roy Orbison ... they just keep on coming!  We end the first half with the 'Summer of Love' and music from The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension (Aquarius) and more!

The second half is even more incredible, with acts like Mick Jagger, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Dire Straits, Abba, Whitney Houston, Cliff Richard, Ah-Ha, Wings, ELO, Billy Joel ... all vying for position as the group lets the music come thick and fast. It's like going to see all the groups live in one evening!  The impressions are superb and the comedy both fresh and occasionally groan-inducing.

If audience reaction is anything to go by, the show is an absolute hit from start to end, with the audience singing along, and, at the end, actually getting to their feet to clap and cheer and dance in the aisles ... and considering that our audience was predominantly over sixty years old, that's no mean feat!

As I said at the start ... if you get a chance to go see them, then please do. If you like music, and enjoy pop from the fifties right through to songs from the MTV era of the eighties, then you will love it! The musicianship is second to none, the singing is amazing and the costume changes perfect.

It's a superbly entertaining night out, and suitable for anyone! (Though some of the comedy is somewhat risque, so perhaps not for the under eighteens ...)

Their website can be found here: https://www.thatllbetheday.com/