Sunday, April 21, 2019

Review: Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

It's a little difficult to know what to make of Anna and the Apocalypse. It's a zombie film ... but it's also a musical! And for me the two elements just don't mesh together.

Anna is at university/college with her friends when the zombie apocalypse hits. She manages to survive it by breaking into song every five minutes or so and staging impromptu dance numbers and songs with everyone else on screen. It's a little like High School Musical with zombies, or episodes of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but with a lot more musical numbers.

The zombie plot and action is actually ok with some nice effects and decent scares, but the musical element intrudes to the extent that you just want them to get on with it! Oh, and it's also set at Christmas ... so it's a Christmas Zombie Apocalypse Musical ...

It's got an excellent cast with Ella Hunt as Anna taking the centre stage and knocking it out the park with her singing, acting and dancing. There's also Paul Kaye as the creepy University Head Mr Savage, and Mark Benton as Anna's dad, Tony.

There's a nicely staged Jocks vs Zombies fight scene, lots of chases, and lots of singing and dancing.

I suppose it depends what you like!  If you are a fan of High School Musical and Zombie mayhem then this will be right up your street. If, like me, you find the singing and dancing a little tedious, then perhaps not.

3/5 on this one!

Ella Hunt as Anna Shepherd
Malcolm Cumming as John, Anna's best friend
Sarah Swire as Steph
Christopher Leveaux as Chris
Ben Wiggins as Nick
Marli Siu as Lisa
Mark Benton as Tony Shepherd
Paul Kaye as Arthur Savage
Calum Cormack as Santa Claus
Euan Bennet as Jake
Sean Connor as Graham
Janet Lawson as Mrs. Hinzmann
Kirsty Strain as Ms. Wright
Ella Jarvis as Katie
David Friel as Paramedic

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 ...

• 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.


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

• 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