Thursday 31 August 2017

The Ghoul (2017)

“Weird, Intriguing and Really Rather Good Low Budget BritHorror”

Writer-director Gareth Tunley’s low budget mind bending (or even looping - see below) horror gets a UK DVD & Blu-ray release from Arrow.

Homicide detective Chris (Tom Meeten) has just arrived in London from the North. He’s called in to investigate a strange double murder in a suburban home, one where despite being shot several times, it seems as if the victims kept walking towards their attacker before they finally succumbed. 

Suspicion falls on Michael Coulson (Rufus Jones from HUNDERBY) who is seeing a psychotherapist called Fisher (Niamh Cusack). Chris goes undercover as a patient with depression to get a look at Fisher’s files on Coulson.
Or is that really what is going on?

Is Chris actually a patient weaving an elaborate fantasy about being a police detective? Is Kathleen (Alice Lowe) actually a psychological profiler or a teacher at a local primary school? Is Jim (Dan Renton Skinner) his colleague or Kathleen’s husband? And most important of all (and this is where it gets really interesting) is Alexander Morland (good old Geoffrey McGivern), who Chris gets referred to for further therapy, possibly a black magician who needs to trap Chris in a time loop to ensure Morland’s own immortality?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that there are no easy answers, but there are plenty of options for you to chew over after the film has finished. Even minor dialogue exchanges (“You should have stayed in the North” says Kathleen early on) take on greater importance. In fact the biggest surprise here is how very good THE GHOUL is on only the slimmest of budgets. 

Arrow’s disc comes with a commentary track by Tunley, star Meeten and producer Jack Healy Guttmann, as well as a making of with plenty of interviews, as well as Tunley’s short film THE BARON (2013) and a trailer.
         The press release compares THE GHOUL to Roeg and Cammell’s PERFORMANCE & Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY and while those comparisons are valid, Gareth Tunley’s film really is its own, special, weird thing and as such is definitely worth checking out. 

Gareth Tunley's THE GHOUL is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 4th September 2017

Wednesday 30 August 2017

Voice From the Stone (2017)

“Reminiscent of CRIMSON PEAK”

Regular readers will be well aware of what I thought of CRIMSON PEAK, and here’s another ‘gothic mystery’ that looks lovely. VOICE FROM THE STONE is getting a DVD VOD & EST release from Precision Pictures just after its UK premiere at this year’s London Frightfest.

Tuscany 1950. Verena (Emilia Clarke) is a young (but very experienced according to the dialogue) governess whose latest post is to look after Jakob, a young boy who has not spoken since his mother died in the opening scene. 

Jakob has a habit of crouching next to a wall (made of stone) where Verena believes he can hear his mother talking. He also likes swimming in the local (stone) quarry and his 1950s-style uncommunicative father Klaus (Marton Csokas) who wants to get Verena into bed just happens to be a sculptor (in stone, and eventually of nude Emilia Clarke as it so happens, just in case anyone reading this was wondering).

So anyone watching VOICE OF THE STONE hoping for lots of references to stone will not be disappointed. Anyone expecting a ghost story akin to Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS or Alejandro Amenabar’s THE OTHERS will be, however, as the film offers us plenty of lovely atmospheric visuals but precious little in the way of anything else. Which is why I’ve suggested fans of CRIMSON PEAK might like it. 

The finale suggests that something supernatural has occurred, but to be honest it’s a good finale in desperate need of a good film directed by someone with the competence, integrity and confidence to carry it through. Sadly VOICE FROM THE STONE is not that film. 

Clarke, well known for her standout role as Daenerys in GAME OF THRONES lacks the maternal eroticism (and authoritativeness) of a Deborah Kerr or the nervy sexuality of Nicole Kidman, with the result that one finds oneself constantly questioning whether she is actually up to looking after children in scary gothic Tuscan mansions at all. Marton Csokas gives us a perfectly serviceable troubled widower and father of troubled son, but the most interesting casting here for films fans will be Lisa Gastoni (Antonio Margheriti’s 1966 WAR OF THE PLANETS  and BLUE MURDER AT ST TRINIANS) in a twist so throwaway it’s almost an insult.

Precision’s DVD comes with cast interviews. Amy Lee (yes that Amy Lee of regularly changing line-up band Evanescence due to allegedly being ‘a bit difficult to work with’) sings the theme tune, and you get a five minute video of her performing it that is actually a far more satisfying experience than the film itself. 

Looking lovely, but with ultimately little of substance, VOICE FROM THE STONE is the kind of film you can safely recommend to elderly relatives who enjoy non-threatening gothic dramas where you don’t have to be awake throughout the entire thing to understand it. 

VOICE FROM THE STONE has its UK premiere at London Frightfest on the Splice Media Discovery Screen One on Friday morning, 25th August. It's out on DVD, VOD and EST from Precision on Monday 28th August 2017

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Frightfest 2017 Day Five

Better Watch Out

It's Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12 year old Luke (Levi Miller) in the care of 17 year old babysitter Ashley (Olivia deJonge). And that's all you need to know because anything else will spoil this, and that would be a shame because it's absolutely cracking. Another Best of Frightfest candidate.

The Terror of All Hallows Eve

Set in 1981 and feeling as if it was actually made back then (bar some dialogue slip ups), this one had its heart in the right place (teenager gets revenge on bullies, a new movie monster played by Doug Jones) but brought nothing new to the table. OK if you remember the era and fancy something very retro.

Tragedy Girls

If you loved the TV show SCREAM QUEENS or stuff like THE FINAL GIRLS you will wet yourself with glee over this one - a non-stop barrage of camp, bitchy dialogue, graphic murders, 1980s horror movie references and the best Dario Argento joke I have ever heard (in fact possibly the only one). Not a bad film to finish the festival with and it went down very well with the audience. Hopefully that's enough to help you decide if you want to watch this one. 

And that's it for another year! Let's have some lists:

The Top 5

THE BAR (probably my outright favourite of the festival)
DEATH NOTE (dir: Adam Wingard. I know! ADAM WINGARD!)
(and CANARIES, because it was great)

Floundering on the Bottom

EAT LOCALS - Not funny, not helped by incredibly annoying cast /crew members laughing at nothing and shouting in-jokes at the screen. A real case for not letting people in to their own awful film.

MAYHEM - One of my film reviewer colleagues put it better than I can "Like a 13 year old's idea of what adults actually do". Possibly the most immature, inordinately simplistic approach to any subject I have seen in some time. The only film at the festival to get me annoyed.

WHERE THE SKIN LIES - aka Where the Film Needs a Reshoot. 

           The festival was back at the Empire in Leicester Square - not one of my favourite cinemas, not least because it lacks the meeting areas that allow you to chat to others. Allocated seating in the Discovery Screens meant you couldn't bump into old friends and chat there either while waiting for the film to start. The Imax screen was massive to the point of almost being too big. Needless to say, normal service on the normal HMC home cinema system will be resumed - probably later on today. My neck and back will no doubt be giving creaks of thanks.

           ...and that's enough of the negativity. It was wonderful to meet up with old friends, make some new ones, dress up in (even more outlandish than usual) outfits and generally have a great time watching new movies. My thanks to all involved.

Monday 28 August 2017

Frightfest 2017 Day Four

Bad Match

          In which a guy's life of casual internet dating starts to go horribly wrong when he hooks up with a girl who won't be brushed off so easily. A fine start to Day Four from writer-director David Chirchirillo (CHEAP THRILLS) this has a plot that twists and turns and he demonstrates a fine sleight of hand in keeping you guessing as to what might actually be happening. Recommended.

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb

          Studio Canal have newly restored a number of classic Hammer Horrors and this was one. I love this film & have already written extensively about it here, so instead I'll just leave you with one of the many pictures taken outside the cinema of myself (as Aubrey Morris), our friends Chris (Corbeck) and Dave (some terrific set dressing there, Dave) and last but definitely not least, Mrs Probert as Margaret / Tera:

Thanks to Maura McHugh for this pic!


          Joe Lynch's mad office movie uses a short-lived virus as its reason to allow havoc to ensue at a corporate law specialists. Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) gets sacked just as the virus infects the skyscraper where he works and so he decides to find out if he can get to the top (both literally and figuratively) by means of good old-fashioned violence.

Sunday 27 August 2017

Frightfest 2017 Day Three

The Bar

          A group of people trapped in a bar in Madrid as an unseen sniper picks off anyone who dares venture out is the starting point for Alex de la Iglesia's latest. And is really is just the starting point. With a great plot, excellent character interaction, some fine writing and a decent dose of satire, this one's a candidate for best film of the entire festival.


           Director Kevin Greutert (SAW VI & JESSABELLE, both of which are very much worth seeing) ticks the torture porn, home invasion and based on true events boxes with this one. Sadly, JACKALS does absolutely nothing new or different with the concept. The family who 'rescue' their son from a cult with the intention of having him de-brainwashed are so boring and normal you assume the film is going to side with the cool costumed and masked cult members, but no, it's just another one of those films where the 'heroes' do sillier and sillier things and the 'villains' remain a faceless opposition. Eminently missable.

Where the Skin Lies

          Oh dear oh dear. The central premise of this one is daft but intriguing - six survivors of a hostage situation decide to have a reunion (what?) and to commemorate the occasion they all independently get tattoos with the number 6. They spend the weekend at a house in the country that has horrible curtains and soon they find they can't leave without the tattoos counting down to zero, which equals death. Very much more a rough draft than an actual film, I hope what we saw was a rough cut because this needs a hell of a lot of work to get it into shape - crucial shots are missing and the dialogue needs some serious work. The only way to really salvage the daft non-existent script (at least I hope the dialogue was improvised) would be to have gone full 1980s Italian with flamboyant characterisation, over the top gory deaths and lashings of style so that nobody would care if it didn't make sense. Any independent distributor back in the day would have puffed on their cigar and said "Guys, this needs a hell of a lot of work."

Eat Locals

          British 'horror comedy' that was neither funny nor scary, although the invited cast and crew members sitting at the back of the cinema seemed to find it hilarious. I'm glad someone did. In terms of the subgenre, this one offered fewer laughs than LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS but didn't quite reach the depths of appallingly unfunny stuff like STRIPPERS VS WEREWOLVES. Jason Flemyng is a very competent director and if this had been a straight film it may well have worked much better. As it is, the only thing EAT LOCALS made me fear for was my sense of humour. Sorry.


          Just as I was beginning to worry I was indeed becoming humourless along came this to save the day. Time travelling aliens fight drunken Welshmen on New Year's Eve in a movie that's reminiscent of Peter Jackson's early pictures. Very low budget, and the monsters are essentially blokes in yellow macs with long fingernails, but this had heart and soul and I'll definitely be catching up with Peter Stray's next project. Thanks for letting me finish the day on a positive note, Peter.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Frightfest 2017 Day Two


          April (Amanda Fuller) discovers her husband Eric (Ethan Embry) is having an affair. She takes solace in clothes and fashion, allows herself to be led into an unsavoury relationship with Randall (Eric Balfour), and generally ends up in quite a dark place. FASHIONISTA feels like a short film that's been teased out to feature length but there are certainly some good performances, grim 'n' grainy photography and some decent messing with your mind stuff in here.

          A man wakes up besides his overturned truck to find that everyone he comes within 50 feet of dies. Yes there is a science-fiction explanation. No that isn't even half of what this film is about but it was all I knew going in and it is all you need to know too. RADIUS is excellent, with a plot that twists and turns but never gets in the way of the interplay between the lead characters. A Frightfest highlight and likely to be one of the best of the festival.

King Cohen

          A fine tribute to a unique talent, KING COHEN is an excellent 110 minute appreciation of the man who gave us THE INVADERS, IT'S ALIVE, PHONE BOOTH and hundreds of other top quality exploitation television and film projects. An utter delight, featuring plenty of interviews with people who had worked with him (Yaphet Kotto, Eric Roberts), appreciative colleagues (Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis) and of course, plenty of talk from the man himself. A great documentary.


          Here's yet another one from the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE prequel / sequel / remake /reboot stable, a movie franchise that has proved far more annoyingly persistent than the subject of the movies himself. Everyone knows that the best way to defuse the mystique and scariness of a movie monster is to tell the audience everything about him - everyone but film-makers, it seems. Luckily we do have LIVIDE and L'INTERIEUR directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo to give us an entertaining spin on old Leatherface's cannibal-hillbilly-by-way-of-the-lunatic-asylum origins. And if you're still not happy with this, just be thankful Rob Zombie didn't get to direct it.

Dead Shack

          We're at the end of the first full day of Frightfest and surprisingly there's still no sign of a zombie comedy. Oh hang on, what's this - a Canadian knockabout romp in the woods where a holiday goes horribly wrong when our teenaged heroes discover something very strange going on in a nearby house. DEAD SHACK starts off funny but becomes progressively less so, and in a crowded subgenre that somehow still seems to be on the increase, this one's really for completists only.