Saturday 31 July 2021

The Unholy (2021)

"Almost Good"

If you were a horror fan back in the 1980s chances are you had a few James Herbert paperbacks on your shelf. It's also quite likely one of those was the paperbacks of Shrine, which came out in 1983 and was seen by many as a progression from The Rats and The Fog - overtly gory shockers that made Herbert's name in the 1970s. In an interview shortly after Shrine's publication Herbert stated Shrine was the book he'd most like to see filmed and even went so far as to suggest Richard Dreyfuss in the lead role of Gerry Fenn, the reporter who stumbles onto something odd going on in an English village which could be a religious miracle.

Nearly 40 years and a lot of development hell later and finally a movie version of Shrine comes to our screens. It's been given one of those generic retitlings that's already been used at least once for a religious-themed horror picture (the 1988 Ben Cross starrer directed by Camilo Vila & reviewed here) and the action has been relocated to the US.

Neither of those are the problem with THE UNHOLY, which in some ways is almost a good film, most of that due to Herbert's source novel. Director, writer and co-producer Evan Spiliotopoulos manages some nice creepy set ups and handles the climax well from the action point of view. If only he had applied the same attention to the performances, which are all horribly one-note and do nothing to imbue the revelations contained within Herbert's original storyline with any tension or drama.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is Gerry, the disgraced reporter, who happens across the story of a mute girl who can now speak and believe she is having visions of the virgin Mary. There's healing of the sick and a subsequent media circus and input from the Catholic church, with its main representative played by Cary Elwes trying hard to do an accent but little else.

There's an opening sequence that renders any question of whether or not the happenings might in fact be Christian miracles immediately redundant and instead wants to be this films version of the opening of Mario Bava's 1960 BLACK SUNDAY and that doesn't help either. THE UNHOLY is not a terrible film (Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert also get credits as producers and the film has the slick look and feel of all their modern movies) but is one of those frustrating projects that in the right hands could have been a minor classic instead of the rather fumbled offering we end up with here.

THE UNHOLY is getting a digital, Blu-ray and DVD release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on Monday 2nd August 2021

Thursday 29 July 2021

Antebellum (2021)

"A Difficult Film to Review"

After considerable delays due to lockdown (like so many movies), Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz's ANTEBELLUM finally comes to Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Lionsgate UK.

And yes, it *is* a difficult film to review because you can't say much about it without giving away far too much of the plot. I think it's safe to say that the film opens with a lengthy and beautifully filmed tracking shot that sets the scene in a cotton plantation in America's Deep South during the civil war. Slaves work in the fields and confederate soldiers are on hand to keep everything in order and pursue and capture any who try to escape, for whom a terrible punishment awaits. 

It's also fair to say that about forty minutes in the film switches gears abruptly, but as to what exactly is going on and why is all best discovered for yourself. Bear in mind that the film does suffer from an overlong and meandering middle act that makes you wonder what the film is actually supposed to be about, if indeed it's going to be about anything. The film pulls it all back together for the finale where everything is explained, everything fits, but where everything, to be perfectly honest, turns out to be all a bit daft.

And that's the main problem with ANTEBELLUM, which can't quite strike a balance between being a film about serious issues but also wanting to be a bit of Friday night at the movies popcorn-style fun with chases and villainy. The serious issues side is delivered with all the subtlety of repetitive sledgehammer blows (some would say it still needs to be and I'm not necessarily going to argue) while the 'SF anthology TV episode' side isn't handled anywhere near cleverly enough for all of this to work as well as the makers obviously so desperately want it to, leaving ANTEBELLUM as a film you really want to like but ultimately end up being rather frustrated with.

Lionsgate UK's Blu-ray comes with a number of extras. The History in Front of Us is an excellent 67 minute making of with cast and crew interviews (including the two writer-directors); A Hint of Horror: The Clues of Antebellum takes you through various visual signifiers in the film if you didn't spot them; Opening Antebellum is a piece on the filming of the long opening tracking shot; and finally you get eight minutes of deleted scenes. 

Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz's ANTEBELLUM is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Lionsgate UK on Monday 2nd August 2021

Friday 9 July 2021

Werewolves Within (2021)


The flavour of Ryan Johnson's superior whodunit is combined with the 'who is the werewolf' gimmick of Paul Annett's 1974 Amicus movie for Josh Ruben's WEREWOLVES WITHIN, an endearing and utterly enjoyable comedy horror picture that's getting a digital and DVD release from Signature.

Fin (Sam Richardson) arrives in the remote town of Beaverfield to take up his new post as forest ranger. Almost as soon as he arrives someone cuts the power and the town's tiny number of inhabitants end up having to stay at the local hotel. Unfortunately whoever plunged the snowbound town into darkness also left deep claw marks all over the generators, and as the hotel's residents start to get attacked it becomes clear that someone amongst their number might actually be a shapeshifting monster intent on eating the lot of them.

Josh Ruben's first feature, which he wrote, directed and co-starred in, was 2020's SCARE ME, a virtual two-hander in which two people played by Ruben and Aya Cash told each other scary stories in an isolated cabin. It's not at all bad and it's still playing on Shudder should you wish to check it out. WEREWOLVES WITHIN feels very much like the next natural step for Ruben as a director, employing the same basic situation but this time having a whole cast of eccentric and colourful characters.

The film is tightly and wittily scripted by Mishna Wolff (and apparently it's based on a video game) but it's Ruben's direction with its deft handling of the screenplay's many characters for maximum comic effect that really makes this one shine. As such I cannot recommend this one highly enough - WEREWOLVES WITHIN is one of the must-see films of 2021.

Josh Ruben's WEREWOLVES WITHIN is out on digital and DVD from Signature on Monday 19th July 2021

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Two From Signature (2021)

Two new DVD release from Signature Entertainment have dropped through the HMC letterbox this week so here are a few words about both:

Witch Hunt (2021)

In the present day United States in a parallel universe amendments to the constitution have meant that witchcraft remains a punishable offence. The ability to cast spells seems to be only something women can do and so it's teenaged girls who are subjected to prick testing and ducking in their school swimming pool in between lessons. Convicted witches are burned at the stake. But there's an underground that exists to get those with magical abilities smuggled across the border to Mexico. Martha (Elizabeth Mitchell from THE PURGE 3) runs a safe house for accused witches but the authorities are on to her, the situation made all the worse because her daughter Claire (Gideon Adlon) might be exhibiting magical abilities herself.

Very much in the style of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, Elle Callahan's film delivers it's anti-persecution message with broad strokes in a film where any and every white man is a villain. It's well made with nice characterisations even if it is all a bit heavy handed, and if nothing else it's yielded some amusing imdb "reviews" from the very people designed to be rubbed up the wrong away by this sort of thing. Anyway, here's the trailer:

Unearth (2020)

Ecohorror meets body horror in UNEARTH, which got its UK premiere at last year's Grimmfest. A fracking company comes to a small American town and should spell the answer for two feuding farm families who have hit hard times. Unfortunately the drilling releases something nasty that's been lying dormant in caves deep underground.

UNEARTH is rather slow-paced but that, plus a cast that features some familiar faces including BUFFY's Marc Blucas and toplining Adrienne Barbeau in the kind of role she's probably been waiting for her entire career, gives what is basically a human interest story time and space to develop. Don't go in expecting something action-packed and what you'll find is a decent little ecological horror picture that went down well at Grimmfest and is now getting a deserved DVD release. Here's the trailer for it:

Both WITCH HUNT and UNEARTH are now out on DVD and Digital platforms from Signature Entertainment.