Saturday, 10 April 2021

Willy's Wonderland (2021)


So Much Fun

In which Nicolas Cage has to fight giant puppet animals.

A must see.


It's surprising how many entries there have been in the 'Horror Amusement Park' subgenre in the past few years. These have ranged from 2018's BLOOD FEST (quite entertaining) to 2019's THE BANANA SPLITS MOVIE (could have been better) to 2018's FRIGHT FEST (terrible). 

However, it could be hypothesised that if enough people make enough movies with the central theme of a kids' entertainment attraction gone horribly wrong then at some point someone should get it right.

WILLY'S WONDERLAND is the one that gets it right.

This is due partly, and in no uncertain terms, to the presence of Nicolas Cage, who plays a man tricked into spending the night cleaning the amusement park of the title but actually intended as a sacrifice to the spirits inhabiting the giant animatronic animals that dwell within. Cage's character is a man who can down six cans of fizzy pop and never burp once, even when he's playing pinball and dancing, so we know he's not to be messed with, not even by nightmarish creations ten feet high that want to pull his head off.

That's almost it for the plot, which is exactly the right thing for this sort of film to do. Who wants lots of backstory and character development when instead you can see Mr Cage beating to death some kind of weird giant alligator wearing a beret? Or Tito the Turtle, a giant turtle that only speaks Spanish and is therefore subtitled? ("Oh my balls!")

There's a subplot about teenagers breaking in so they can get done in by the puppets but again the film treats their characters and what happens to them in just the right way for this kind of film so that they're never too annoying. WILLY'S WONDERLAND skilfully balances horror with humour, never outstays its welcome and is so much fun it's almost over before you realise. 

        Extras on Signature's Blu-ray include a seven minute behind the scenes featurette (including Cage interview), two minutes on the animatronics and another couple of minutes of a set tour.

Director Kevin Lewis has made movies in other genres but he might just have found his niche with horror comedy and I hope he gets to make another one. And the soundtrack (by 'Emoi') also deserves a shout out for combining a decent rock / synthesiser score with some great songs. A soundtrack album would be welcome.

WILLY'S WONDERLAND is out from Signature Entertainment on digital on Monday 12th April 2021 and DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 19th April 2021. Here's the trailer:

Friday, 9 April 2021

Final Days (2021)

Aidan (Tyler Posey) wakes one morning to find the world in the grip of a zombie apocalypse. Trapped in his flat he eventually befriends Eva (Summer Spiro) who lives in the building opposite. They communicate by handwritten signs because the zombies respond to sound, and because Eva lives on a lower floor Aidan can send over bottles of water via a rope system. He also searches other apartments for food and one day meets an old man (Donald Sutherland) who harbours a deadly secret.

And that secret is easily guessable if you've seen the South Korean movie #ALIVE (2020) because FINAL DAYS is essentially a carbon copy of that film, with one of #ALIVE's co-writers (Matt Naylor) taking sole screenplay credit for this one. No mention of #ALIVE is made anywhere on the credits so one assumes he managed to sell the same idea twice, possibly after having been influenced by the 2018 French film THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD which also shares the same basic scenario.

So if you've seen its Korean and French counterparts you can probably give FINAL DAYS a miss. However, if you haven't, or you're one of those people with an aversion to subtitles, it's actually not that bad, with reasonable performances and a brisk enough pace. 

Originally filmed as ALONE one presumes the title change was to avoid it being confused with quite a few other films that have used title in the last couple of years, although those responsible may be unaware that there are several FINAL DAYS movies out there as well. If you want to watch this you want the one directed by former stuntman Johnny Martin.

FINAL DAYS is out on DVD & Digital Platforms from Signature Entertainment on Monday 12th April 2021

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Clapboard Jungle (2020)


Following its UK premiere at Frightfest last year (and a recent screening at Grimmfest's Easter festival), Justin McConnell's documentary about his efforts to get his independent film projects off the ground gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

McConnell made LIFECHANGER, which I called a 'strange, original and thoughtful drama' when I reviewed it on here back in 2018. It's certainly worth a watch and here we get the story of the years in McConnell's career leading up to its writing, financing and shooting.

We learn about his decision early in life to want to be a film-maker, his move into short films and then trying to get features made. It's a brutally honest depiction of an individual with a bunch of great ideas (and completed screenplays) under his arm trying and almost always failing to secure any finance for his projects as he travels to Cannes and Berlin and film festivals elsewhere trying to make deals.

This difficulty in getting projects off the ground is echoed by the interviews he conducts with numerous film-makers who have been through the same thing, including Larry Fessenden, Jenn Wexler, Lloyd Kaufman, George Romero and Guillermo del Toro. LIFECHANGER's success provides the documentary with a happy ending but it's still a sobering watch and recommended viewing for anyone who is thinking of a career in the industry.

Arrow's Blu-ray is absolutely packed with extras. All the short films McConnell talks about in the feature are on here (thirteen in total) with commentaries and director introduction. The main feature has two commentary tracks to itself, one with just the director and another with additional crew members.

There's also a whopping five hours of extra interview material with, amongst many others, a hugely impressive list of Barbara Crampton, Charles Band, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Brian Yuzna, Dean Cundey, Dick Miller, Don Mancini, Frank Henenlotter, Gary Sherman, George Mihalka, John McNaughton, Larry Cohen, Paul Schrader, Richard Stanley, Tom Holland, Tom Savini, Sam Firstenberg and Michael Biehn.

You also get McConnell's two documentaries that he talks about, WORKING CLASS ROCK STAR (2008) and SKULL WORLD (2013) both with commentaries, deleted scenes, trailers, stills, easter eggs and a reversible sleeve.

Justin McConnell's CLAPBOARD JUNGLE is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 12th April 2021

Monday, 5 April 2021

Silent Action (1975) aka La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide


"A Cracking Example of Mid-1970s EuroCrime Cinema"

One of the 'have a go at anything' heroes of Italian exploitation cinema, Sergio Martino is best known to cult film fans these days for his giallos, the most famous of which is probably 1973's TORSO. But he also worked in many other popular genres including poliziotteschis (or Italian crime thriller). SILENT ACTION, one of the best of Martino's poliziotteschis, is about to get a Blu-ray release from Fractured Visions.

Luc Merenda is Giorgio Solmi, a police inspector called in to investigate the brutal clubbing to death of an electrical engineer and part-time blackmailer. His investigations lead him discover a link with the several faked 'suicides' that we've seen open the film and a plot to bring down the government.

SILENT ACTION is a brisk, well-paced, highly entertaining thriller that boasts several highlights, including a splendidly edited and choreographed car chase in the middle of the film and an explosion and gun-battle-filled climax that looks like it cost a lot more than it likely did. Being a mid-1970s film there's a heavy dose of cyncism, plenty of double-crossing, and you're never quite sure who's on whose side right up until the final frame. That Italian title translates as THE POLICE ACCUSE: THE SECRET SERVICE KILL, by the way. 

Fractured Visions' transfer of SILENT ACTION looks excellent with a 2K restoration of nice clean print that includes both Italian and English dialogue tracks. as well as a commentary track by Mike Malloy on the fandom surrounding EuroCrime cinema that's original, enlightening, and well worth a listen. Extras include a brief Martino interview as well as interviews with star Merenda and composer Luciano Michelini. There's also an archival featurette about co-star Tomas Milian ported over from a NoShame DVD and another archival interview with Luc Merenda.

The package also comes with a CD of Luciano Michelini's very pleasing mid 1970s lounge-style score over 25 tracks lasting a total of 58 minutes. For the soundtrack obsessives out there it's the same as last year's Digit movies release and if you don't have it this is an excellent bonus. I'll admit I'm not familiar with the composer's work but this is excellent and in places reminiscent of George Martin's style of scoring for the 1973 James Bond film LIVE & LET DIE. If you're in any doubt get someone to play you track 10 (which accompanies the car chase sequence) and then say you don't need this in your soundtrack library. It's altogether an excellent package from Fractured Visions and I hope we get to see more of this sort of thing from them. 

Sergio Martino's SILENT ACTION is out on Blu-ray in a Limited Edition (of 3000) two disc package on Monday 12th April 2021. Here's the trailer:

If you're planning on buying the disc then I'd recommend supporting Fractured Visions by ordering it direct from their site at the link below:

Order SILENT ACTION from Fracture Visions

Friday, 2 April 2021

Synchronic (2020)

"Moorhead and Benson's Best Yet"

The team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who both direct from scripts by Benson with Moorhead acting as cinematographer, has been responsible for a string of low budget creative genre pieces including the fascinating warped space and time epics RESOLUTION (2012) and its direct sequel (kind of) THE ENDLESS (2017) and affecting EuroHorror-style tribute SPRING (2014).

SYNCHRONIC sees Benson and Moorhead getting their biggest budget to date, with star talents to match, all contributing towards the best and most successful exploration of their fascination of the nature of time yet. If you were fascinated by THE ENDLESS but didn't quite get it, or wondered what exactly what was going on in RESOLUTION, SYNCHRONIC is the film to watch, one which both consolidates their oeuvre so far and suggests they may intend to explore more complex extrapolations of these ideas in future movies.

Steve (Anthony Mackie, best known as Falcon from the Marvel films) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan who like his 50 SHADES OF GREY co-star Dakota Johnson is finding redemption through genre movies) are New Orleans paramedics who find themselves called to cases of drug overdoses associated with inexplicable events. One has been bitten by a venomous snake whose presence should be an impossibility, another has been stabbed in the chest by a cutlass hundreds of years old.

All the cases are linked by a drug called Synchronic which, it turns out, can cause time travel. When Dennis' daughter disappears it's up to Steve to experiment with the last remaining doses of Synchronic to try to find her.

The science is a little bit complex but it's well explained, the performances are excellent (especially Mackie who exhibits real star quality in this) and it's obvious that Benson and Moorhead have improved considerably as storytellers since RESOLUTION. SYNCHRONIC deserved a wide cinematic release as their entry into the big time but unfortunately COVID put paid to that. 

Signature Entertainment's Blu-ray release contains a directors' commentary, a spoof alternate ending (which should raise a smile) plus 15 minutes of behind the scenes and a fascinating 8 minutes of 'previsualisation' which shows how they work out what they want to do by creating a 'practice run through' on a mobile phone. There's also a one minute deleted scene and some trailers. The extra content is also on the iTunes download but not the DVD or other digital platforms.

Moorhead & Benson's SYNCHRONIC is out from Signature Entertainment on Digital Platforms now and on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 5th April 2021

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Rose: A Love Story (2020)


"Intriguing, Moving, Slow Burn Welsh-Shot Horror"

Director Jennifer Sheridan's feature debut, which premiered at last year's BFI London Film Festival, gets a digital release courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

Sam (Matt Stokoe, who also wrote the screenplay) lives with his wife Rose (Sophie Rundle) in an isolated cottage in the middle of a forest. Every morning Sam collects the rabbits that have been caught in the traps he has set overnight. Rose never ventures outside. Before cooking his meal which he supplements with vegetables from their garden he spends a short while in a room lit with ultra-violet light while leeches suck the blood from his legs. The fattened, ground up leeches are what Rose eats.

Sam has set up a system to have supplies brought from the local village but the latest delivery goes wrong. Then Amber (Olive Gray) wanders into one of his traps while on the run and has to be taken back to the cottage, where Rose befriends her. And little by little the tiny world Rose & Sam have come to inhabit begins to fall apart.

Fans of classic EuroHorrors will find themselves reminded of Jean Rollin's 1982 LA MORTE VIVANTE (relationship with a girl who lives on blood) and even dear old Norman J Warren's 1977 PREY (a long slow buildup involving only a few characters culminating in a shattering finale). Jennifer Sheridan's film dispenses with any exploitation trappings and concentrates on the relationship between the two lead characters. It's never explicitly stated what's wrong with Rose and personally I like the idea that Sam was once a top scientist who experimented on his wife and it went horribly wrong, but there are plenty of other explanations to ponder.

Shot in Powys, which has always done a fine job of representing the middle of nowhere, ROSE: A LOVE STORY is an example of the quiet horror that British cinema (and in the 1970s British television especially) does so well. It's carefully paced, gentle and tender in its approach to its subject matter and the result is a moving, thoughtful piece that's highly recommended.

Jennifer Sheridan's ROSE: A LOVE STORY is out on digital from Signature Entertainment on Monday 5th April 2021

Here's the trailer:

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Honeydew (2020)


"Deliciously Eccentric, Marvellously Messed Up Stuff"

After premiering at last year's Frightfest, where it was quite justifiably some people's film of the festival, writer and director (and editor) Devereux Milburn's debut feature is getting a UK digital release from Signature Films.

Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) and partner Rylie (Malin Barr) are on a research trip out in the middle of nowhere for Rylie's planned doctorate in botany. The subject of the research is a fungus called Sordico that behaves in much the same way ergot does, namely causing peripheral gangrene and insanity, but with a host of other gruesome mutative effects as well.

They camp without permission and are thrown off the land. But then their car won't start so they beg for shelter at the house of Karen (Barbara Kingsley) and her obese, slow-moving face-bandaged 'son' Gunni (Jamie Bradley) who spends most of his time staring at old Popeye cartoons on a black and white TV while sucking lemons dipped in salt.

To the surprise of no-one but our leads, there's something very strange and very unpleasant going on at Karen's house and soon Sam and Rylie are part of the grim insanity, but exactly what that is I'll leave you to find out.

Stylishly directed and walking a fine line between comedy and really nasty horror in a way the League of Gentlemen did so effortlessly, HONEYDEW also boasts a strong David Lynch vibe in its lead mad old lady, its awkward dinner table scenes and a very odd dream sequence. Add in a quite terrific soundtrack that sounds like Spike Milligan trying to score THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS using only his own body as all the instruments and you have a film where you never quite know if what you're seeing is intended to make you laugh or recoil in horror. Fans of literary horror of a certain age may be delighted to learn that as HONEYDEW's horror escalates it becomes reminiscent of the best / worst moments of the Pan Book of Horror Stories. 

HONEYDEW is quite splendid - the performances, direction and music are all spot on and for a first effort it's quite something. One hopes Devereux Milburn's body of work continues to develop along such witty, horrific and occasionally frankly disgusting lines. An early entry for my Top 10 of 2021.

Devereux Milburn's HONEYDEW is out on digital platforms from Signature Entertainment on Monday 29th March 2021