Tuesday 29 August 2023

Frightfest 2023 Day Five - Monday

 My Mother's Eyes

Combining mad science, maternal guilt and cellos, the latest film from the director of WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS feels like the next natural step in what is promising to become a fascinating oeuvre. A woman suffering from retinitis pigmentosa is going slowly blind. During an episode of blindness she crashes her car and renders her young daughter paralysed from the neck down. A revolutionary new contact lens allows her to see again, and linking it to a VR headset allows her daughter to live through her eyes. But the scientist has his own reasons for having created the device. Perhaps needless to say, none of this ends well, Stylish, moving and (eventually) blood drenched, this is one that's going to reward repeat viewings.

Good Boy

The old-fashioned tale of girl meets boy, girl discovers boy is millionaire, girl goes out with millionaire is given a gleefully perverse spin in GOOD BOY, another (along with THE KNOCKING) of this year's Frightfest offerings from Finland. Sigrid believes she's met the perfect man in rich, handsome young Christian, except for one thing: his dog Frank, or rather the fact that Frank is actually a man in a dog costume who, according to Christian, wants to be treated as a dog at all times. There's more going on, of course, but it's unlikely you'll guess exactly where this one is going by the decidedly kinky and over the top climax. A bit like a lengthy and especially odd episode of Inside No.9, (they could have called it Furry Shades of Grey - thanks Mrs Probert!) GOOD BOY is the kind of off-kilter, disturbing, well-made low budget horror fare that Frightfest was designed to showcase. After the end credits have rolled you'll still be wondering about the horrible possible reasons for the final shot.

GOOD BOY will be getting a release from Blue Finch films on Monday 11th September 2023


Somewhere on the coast of Greece, a small community is beset by monsters paving the way for 'The Great Devourer' after a mysterious island rises from the sea. Soon it's down to a group of disparate individuals to fight for the future of the earth with bouzouki music, but will they be able to get the amplifiers to work in time?

MINORE suffers from serious pacing problems, taking ages to get going and with a climax that's somewhat lacking in the sense of urgency that all the best giant monster movies have. That said, the effects are good, the characters are endearing, and overall the film is an enthusiastic attempt to do a Greek version of movies like TREMORS by way of Peter Jackson's early gore comedies. It doesn't really work but certainly marks director Konstantinos Koutsoliotas as a talent to watch. 

Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives

An unwieldy title (presumably to help distinguish it from the plethora of other HOME SWEET HOME movies out there) for a film that turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the festival. Shot in one take, that was actually something of an unnecessary gimmick in the telling of a supremely creepy ghost story. As the sun sets a pregnant woman arrives at the remote country house of her husband's family. It's deserted and as she starts to wander round she discovers a secret room filled with African artefacts and a diary that describes a terrible event in the past. Some great scary moments as well as a gradually building atmosphere of dread and inevitability leading to a final shot that's just right all made this one a winner.

The Exorcist

A 50th anniversary screening of this on the IMAX screen, meaning we got some nice freebies and an introduction and post-film Q&A from Mark Kermode. For someone who is not THE EXORCIST's biggest fan (I personally find THE OMEN far scarier) this looked fantastic on the big screen and perhaps the greatest revelation this time around was the sound mix, a combination of supremely unnerving noises and music that added greatly to the overall effect. Oh to have been able to watch this in 1974 (when it came out in the UK) and experience all those marvellous effects when they were fresh. Mind you, they still hold up extremely well, even on a screen 60 feet high.

Monday 28 August 2023

Frightfest 2023 Day Four - Sunday

The Piper

MUTE WITNESS director Anthony Waller (who also gave us AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS) delivers up a prime slice of modern EuroTrash with this highly entertaining take on the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. After Something Bad Happens That Will Be Revealed Later, English-accented Elizabeth Hurley has to relocate to the German town of Hamelin (aha!) with her American-accented daughter only to be plagued with visions of rats while her daughter is bitten by imaginary insects and falls in love with a Scottish-accented Romanian gypsy who May Not Be All He Seems. 

Like many of the EuroHorrors of old the acting in THE PIPER is variable (although Tara Fitzgerald does a fantastic Maria Ouspenskaya - you keep expecting her to bang on about werewolves and have a son named Bela) and the dubbing is dodgy, but the locations are fantastic, as is the architecture, and every now and then Waller offers us some nuggets of visual compositions that will be all EuroHorror fiends will need to keep them going until the end of this one. Jess Franco could have done some bits better but the mere fact a modern horror film had me thinking of him gives this one points. 

THE PIPER is out on digital from 101 Films on Monday 16th October 2023

Rec: Terror Sin Pausa

An excellent documentary on a 21st century classic of the genre, here we get a series of excellent interviews detailing the conception, execution and reception of the film [REC]. Directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza are filmed in conversation with each other about the movie, while we also get interviews with producer Julio Fernandez and cast and crew. 15 years after it was made it's clear everyone involved had a wonderful time making it and still harbour very fond memories. Highlights for this reviewer included all the things Balaguero and Plaza made up in interviews when they got bored, the original review in Variety that trashed it, and, over the end credits, the videotape record of Paco Plaza pitching the plot of REC: GENESIS to Fernandez while Balaguero chips in with some scenes that didn't make it into the film but would have been fantastic if they could have managed them.

Cold Meat

If you're a serial killer with your latest potential victim trussed up in your boot you probably don't think things could get any worse than your car getting stuck in a snowstorm. But what if there's some kind of creature stalking outside? And what if your victim manages to get out of the trunk and into the car? COLD MEAT stretches its premise of 'two people trapped in a car in the freezing cold' such that it feels the story would have been better suited to a short subject, but the acting is fine and the only real disappointment is how little the promised 'creature' features in the actual story. 

COLD MEAT will be released by Signature Entertainment on Digital platforms in 2024

Enter The Clones of Bruce

This excellent documentary from Severin Films kicks off with behind the scenes footage from Hammer's LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (not that it's identified as such but fans will spot it straight away), before giving us a pre-credits potted history of the short life and career of Bruce Lee before his untimely death. "The world markets wanted more Bruce Lee films," says one film-maker. "We told them he was dead and they said they didn't care, they wanted more Bruce Lee films." And so the 'clones' of Bruce were born, or rather discovered at Hong Kong martial arts schools, Korea, and anywhere else someone who could impersonate the king of Kung Fu could be found. A good set of interviews with some of the surviving directors and actors who worked at Golden Harvest (including "Bruce Li" and "Dragon Lee") means this is the usual excellent work from Severin on a topic that you're unlikely to know that much about unless you're a martial arts obsessive. And I never realised Bruce Lee himself was the one who set the trend of making 'Kung Fu noises' when he was about to fight.

The Blue Rose

A bold and bravura first feature effort from its 18 year old writer, director, co-composer and star? Or a load of pretentious old twaddle that disappears up its own nether regions about halfway through, never to return? I have to confess I find myself veering towards the latter opinion with THE BLUE ROSE, a film that very much feels like someone who has seen THE LOVE WITCH and a lot of David Lynch and wanted to make something similarly stylish and impenetrable but fascinating. Well they managed the impenetrable part. In a DayGlo-noir version of Hollywood a murder is committed and this film's version of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence are despatched to investigate. After that I honestly had no idea what was happening and more importantly I found I could not summon the energy to care very much. There's a style and vigour to the proceedings that suggests George Baron, the young auteur behind this, may well make a great film one day, but he's not quite there yet.

Mancunian Man

The latest documentary from Jake West and Severin Films is all about Cliff Twemlow, a name few will be familiar with and the work he produced perhaps even less so, because Mr Twemlow, along with being a body builder, nightclub bouncer, author and composer was a low budget movie maker. The problem is that he was based in Manchester in the 1980s and (from what one takes away from this two hour plus film of him and his life) most of the films he made were either never released or received limited distribution.

There's a resurgence of interest in fearless independent British movie mavericks at the moment, though, with Indicator's massive boxset of the movies of Michael J Murphy leading the way, such that one wonders if Severin is preparing a similar package of Twemlow movies (perhaps with a couple of CDs of the DeWolfe library music he composed by humming tunes into a tape recorder and getting other people to arrange them). Maybe such unsung shot on video 'classics' such as GBH (1983), TARGET EVE ISLAND (1983), IBIZA CONNECTION (1984) and PREDATOR: THE QUIETUS (1988) will finally get to be seen by a wider audience. If not then there's still this very comprehensive documentary that, like so many of its type, details the ups and downs and frequently ramshackle and chaotic approach to independent moviemaking. It's very well put together, and filled with interviews and clips from the films themselves, which will give you a good idea of if you'd like to seek them out or steer well clear.

Sympathy for the Devil

Expectant father Joel Kinnaman is on the way to the hospital where his wife has gone into labour when, out of the shadows of the hospital car park appears Nicolas Cage, wielding a gun and resplendent in red jacket and hair. Cage orders Kinnaman to drive. How far and whether or not they get to the intended destination is just a small part of this tense, well shot, well acted piece of neon noir. It's pretty much a two hander between the leads but the movie wisely opens up the scenario so it's not just two men shouting at each other in a car. Kinnaman is nicely restrained and provides an excellent counterpart to his co-star who goes Full Cage in this one. Don't let that put you off, though. SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL is a taut, suspenseful, decent little thriller and definitely a Frightfest highlight. 

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL will be released on Digital platforms by Signature Entertainment on Monday 8th September 2023

Sunday 27 August 2023

Frightfest 2023 Day Three - Saturday


A fine science fiction piece from Australia, set in a single location and with only a single actress (Lily Sullivan from EVIL DEAD RISE) onscreen. A disgraced reporter chances across a story regarding something people can only describe as a black brick. A few telephone calls and interviews later and it sounds as if various people across the world have received mysterious black bricks that have changed their lives. Then it's revealed that internal scans of the bricks' structures have revealed mysterious symbols folded in on themselves, each different for every brick / person. Combining a strong allegory for how we deal with guilt with a mounting sense of dread, cosmic horror & possible alien invasion, MONOLITH is a riveting and fascinating watch.


Two parts BBC Children's teatime serial and one part BEAST IN THE CELLAR (I'm not giving anything away that the poster up there isn't) COBWEB is really very good until it suddenly isn't. A little bullied boy lives with his mad parents (good performances from Antony Starr and especially Lizzy Caplan) in a creepy old house. One night he hears knocking behind a wall, followed by whispering. After a good atmospheric buildup, if you want to get the best effect out of this one leave / switch it off once the boy unlocks the tiny door and you get the first, subtle, terrifying glimpse of what's behind it. Then leave, because then it all goes a bit disappointingly generic US mainstream horror. 

To Fire You Come At Last

There aren't enough Sean Hogan films in the world and even if TO FIRE YOU COME AT LAST is only 43 minutes long it's still better than us having nothing from him at all. There's a strong sense of both the BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas and other fine TV adaptations to this story of four men carrying the coffin of the local Squire's son to his final resting place. Shot in black in white, this one starts off with brooding shots of the landscape before funnelling down into increasingly claustrophobic terror. The monochrome photography also contributes immensely to a standout performance from James Swanton whose face would have perfectly suited the kind of 1940s Monogram Gothic the actor John Carradine was such a highlight of.


Couple-in-relationship-trouble Jamie and Alex go on a canoeing holiday to hopefully sort out their problems. While there Alex sustains an injury so minor that when she's revealed to have sustained a compound fracture of the tibia the main thing anyone should be wondering is if she has brittle bone disease. She also exhibits remarkable levels of pain tolerance and is able to hobble around on a completely fractured lower limb and engage in serious deep meaningful discussions with her partner as if all she has suffered is a small gnat bite. Meanwhile there's a zombie plague going on. HERD is a sloppy, awkward mixture of shouty relationship drama and low-budget zombie flick that obviously has aspirations to be thought of as more than 'just another zombie film'. Unfortunately there's just not the skill here to make any of this work, coupled with a lack of attention to detail that is initially distracting but swiftly becomes irritating. 

HERD will be released on Digital by High Fliers on Monday 23rd October 2023


From Mike Hurst, the man who gave the world MANSQUITO and a host of other movies nobody owned up to having seen at this screening. "If you've been watching TV at 2am you've probably seen my work, for about fifteen minutes" said the cheerfully self-detracting director. His latest, and self-funded, effort is considerably more interesting and original than his usual sequel and direct to SyFy fodder. Taking the form of channel surfing late at night where all the different channels visit eventually form a single cohesive story, TRANSMISSION tells its tale well, especially considering the ambitious concept. What happened to occult-obsessed movie director Franklin T Roth (Vernon Wells)? And why has his final film never been seen? Why are there frequent news reports of suicides and a mysterious symbol drawn everywhere in Santa Mira? It all gets explained and it's all rather fun into the bargain.

Saturday 26 August 2023

Frightfest 2023 Day Two - Friday

The J-Horror Virus

Sarah Appleton and Jasper Sharp's excellent documentary charts the rise and cultural significance of the phenomenon now known as J-Horror, the term used to describe the sub-genre that includes movies such as the RINGU and JU-ON series of films. Starting off with Japanese literary antecedents that feature elements prominent in these films (vengeful women, long black hair) and detailing the films that led up to Hideo Nakata's RINGU becoming a worldwide phenomenon, THE J-HORROR VIRUS is a thorough academic study filled with clips of the relevant films and packed with as many interviews as the directors could manage. And classic British fantasy author Arthur Machen got a namecheck in the Q&A and I didn't have to do it (it was Jasper Sharp, although I did ask the question that produced it). Excellent stuff.

The Knocking

Here's a decent folk horror piece from Finland, with some seriously creepy sequences that make up for a plot that leaves some head-scratching loose ends if you think about them too much. 

Three siblings whose father died many years ago and whose mother disappeared and has finally been declared dead meet up to sell the creepy old house in the forest where they grew up. We already know from an opening sequence that all was not well during their childhood, which seems to have included a cage the youngest of them was found in by police after the father's death. The plan is to not just sell the house but the surrounding forest as well, but as night falls it looks as if something in the woods is determined to stop them from doing that.

THE KNOCKING isn't bad at all, professionally made and acted and, as noted above, with a genuine sense of creepiness and unease, especially as the film nears its climax. Certain key elements of the plot remain curiously unresolved but even so this is an impressive piece of low budget horror cinema from co-directors Max Seeck and Joonas Pajunen. Let's hope we see more from them. 

THE KNOCKING will be released on digital platforms by Blue Finch Releasing on Monday 4th September 2023

Dr Jekyll

Eddie Izzard is Nina Jekyll, except when they're Rachel Hyde. Not that you'll be able to tell who is who and when as Izzard doesn't really possess the acting skills to play one role never mind the two required here. It did, however, make me appreciate all the more Heather Graham's performance of body-swapping antics in SUITABLE FLESG. Add in a script in which little happens for most of the running time and then spends the last ten minutes chucking a plethora of daftness at the audience in the hope that some of it will stick and what little has gone before will suddenly take on new relevance and DOCTOR JEKYLL, for all its gothic trappings and absurdly overblown score, is a dull waste of time. A candidate for worst of the festival so far.

That's A Wrap

Oh but here's the latest film from the director of BLIND. In all fairness Marcel Walz is improving as a film-maker. He's still not terribly good, but the opening of this is pretty decently executed, as is the actress who suffers at the hands of the masked lunatic who sets about a cast of pretty young things at a wrap party. Some of the murders show an energy and glee that holds the attention but dialogue and acting are still pretty basic. This is a bit like if Herschell Gordon Lewis had directed CRYSTAL EYES or the kind of movie Dario Argento might have made in the 1970s if he had no artistic flair whatsoever, which makes it all the more surprising that for all its faults IT'S A WRAP is actually exceedingly entertaining. DOCTOR JEKYLL, you're still in the number one slot for worst film at the moment.

Friday 25 August 2023

Frightfest 2023 Day One - Thursday


It's Frightfest time again! And this time around, for one festival only (probably), this one's extra special for me as it sees the launch of my latest film book, pictured above. If you're coming to Frightfest and fancy picking up a copy I'll be doing official signings on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th August 5.15 to 6.15pm on both days, but I'll also be around for the whole festival so do please come and say hello! Because of that HMC's coverage of the festival programme may not be as thorough as in previous years but, in traditional Frightfest fashion, I still intend to exhaust myself watching as many films as possible, so let's get started:

Suitable Flesh

An excellent and charismatic cast, including Heather Graham, Bruce Davison and Barbara Crampton is wasted in this bland adaptation of H P Lovecraft's The Thing on the Doorstep. Despite a screenplay from frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli that adds dollops of sex to the mix, the garish lighting and workmanlike approach to much of the material makes SUITABLE FLESH feels a lot more like a sub-par episode of 1990s TV shows like Red Shoe Diaries or Alain Siritzky's The Sex Files than anything worthy of many of the talents involved. The usual reliable Steve Moore provides a score so horribly derivative that soundtrack enthusiasts may derive a modicum of pleasure from guessing which different composer is being ripped off with each scene change but that's about it. A disappointingly poor and frequently rather silly effort.

Joe Lynch's SUITABLE FLESH has been picked up by Vertigo Releasing and is due out in cinemas in October

The Dive

Twenty minutes into THE DIVE I realised I had seen it all before, inasmuch as this turns out to be an English language remake of the 2020 Scandinavian picture BREAKING SURFACE. Two girls go diving and one gets trapped by falling rocks, leaving the other to alternate between trying to get help and trying to lever the rocks free. Picked for Frightfest because 'the underwater scenes would look good on the IMAX screen'. They certainly did, and even if you're familiar with the original this is a tense, well-made thriller that's on general release from tomorrow.

THE DIVE is out in cinemas from Vertigo Releasing on Friday 25th August 2023


A gloomy small Pennsylvania town is the setting for this surprisingly decent genre effort that boasts atmospheric photography, a deliciously scary and effective music score, and some visuals that are absolutely spot on. A folk horror myth about a vengeful ghost who murders cheating partners turns out to be true in a film that's equal parts IT FOLLOWS and LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH in its unrelenting spectral killer that threatens the lives of some likeable and well-drawn characters. CHEAT is low budget and a bit rough around the edges but nevertheless it's a real surprise and the highlight of Thursday night's films. 

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Once Upon A Time in Uganda (2023)

"Utterly Charming and Loads of Fun"

Did you know there was a Ugandan exploitation film industry? Well, perhaps industry is overstating it seeing as the films that have been made so far are the work of one man - writer / director Isaac Nabwana. Now his career so far has been documented in this extremely entertaining and heartwarming documentary which is getting a release in Odeon Cinemas in September from Blue Finch.

Nabwana grew up with a love of Chuck Norris and Rambo-style action movies and refused to let the fact that he had no money or resources stop him from putting together movies like WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? THE UGANDAN EXPENDABLES, and EATEN ALIVE IN UGANDA. In his 'studio' pretty much the only thing not homemade is the camera he films with. The rest, including lighting rigs, gantries and any and all props and special effects are homemade, with the acting 'talent' being unpaid enthusiasts.

With few of his target audience owning DVD players and no chance of cinema distribution, many of Nabwana's films have gone straight to YouTube (where you can still find them). The film takes as its starting point the story of how a man from New York saw one of the trailers and was so taken by it that he sold everything to come to Uganda and help Nabwana (he ended up as his publicist and as an actor) make movies, culminating in Nabwana being a guest at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

        It's one of those 'man with no money fighting against the odds to realise his dream' stories and the ghetto in which he has created his life's work provides a harsh, but understated, backdrop to what is very much a heartwarming story that's a joy to watch from start to finish. Well worth watching and if you feel you have the stamina you can check out Isaac's films on YouTube afterwards. Here's the fantastically exuberant trailer:

ONCE UPON A TIME IN UGANDA is getting a cinema release through the Odeon circuit from Blue Finch on Tuesday 5th September 2023 which will also include a recorded Q&A with Isaac Nabwana

Sunday 20 August 2023

Insidious: The Red Door (2023)

"The Fifth One"

It's still in cinemas and is about to come out on Digital from Sony, but before we get stuck into the latest (and apparently final) entry in the INSIDIOUS saga, let's just quickly check on the timeline of the movies in the franchise so far, just so everything's clear. If you want to watch them in chronological order they go:

INSIDIOUS 3 (2015)



INSIDIOUS 2 (2013)


So with this one we're back with Patrick Wilson and his family in a movie that follows on from 2013's INSIDIOUS 2. Josh Lambert (Wilson) and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, also from the previous films) have had the memories of their adventures in the supernatural realm 'The Further' wiped from their minds by an amazing piece of hypnosis / screenwriting. That hasn't helped the family much, though, and Josh is now divorced with the kids living with wife Renai (Rose Byrne, back again for a bit). 

When moody goth Dalton goes to college to study art, his professor (Hiam Abbass) encourages him to look deep within himself for inspiration which leads to the unlocking of all sorts of supernatural horrors.


Because that's the main problem with INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR. It takes an absolute age to build up any head of steam and by the time it does the scares are few and the film is over. Patrick Wilson is in the director's chair as well this time and seems to have been much more interested in scenes of family drama (ie people shouting at each other) than in crafting scares. As a result this is a rather more disappointing entry than Adam Robitel's previous INSIDIOUS 4: THE LAST KEY.

That said, INSIDIOUS THE RED DOOR has made a huge amount of money ($185 million off a $16 million budget) so it may be just the kind of thing audiences want right now. Plus, as always, that figure is highly suggestive this might not be the final film in the franchise after all.

INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR is out in cinemas now and on Digital from Sony on Monday 21st August.