Friday 29 December 2023

Thanksgiving (2023)

"Perfectly Adequate Slasher"

Following on from its recent UK cinema release, Eli Roth's latest directorial effort gets its UK Digital premiere from Sony.

A terrible riot on Black Friday at the RightMart superstore in Plymouth, Massachusetts result in numerous injured and several deaths. One year later, those whom someone deems instrumental in the disaster are being bumped off in ways that are all linked to the theme of the American festival of Thanksgiving. Dressed in a pilgrim's outfit and wearing the mask of Mayflower passenger and New World colonist John Carver, the killer regularly posts pictures on the internet of an increasingly well-populated dinner table with reservations being filled by his victims. And so the hunt is on by both the law and a group of teenaged friends to stop the killer before he gets them all with his great big axe. Or basting kit.

THANKSGIVING starts off rather brilliantly, with the Black Friday stampede superbly built up to and choreographed, resulting in an unnerving opening sequence. Unfortunately it all goes down hill after that, deteriorating into an overlong, generic slasher which starts to feel all a bit silly as we head towards the (rather fumbled) climax. The killer's explanation for the selection of his particular victims at times feels misjudged and rather unfair (although one presumes the killer is mad after all) and the John Carver mask does at times make it look as if the killer is instead William Shakespeare in a funny hat. Of course US viewers might well see it differently.

The gore effects are good and well executed, the young leads are perfecting likeable, and the cold, damp Plymouth location is nicely reminiscent of classic slashers like MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Even so, THANKSGIVING is highly unlikely to win the slasher subgenre any new converts but if you're already a fan you'll want to check this one out, too. Here's the trailer:

Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING is available on Digital from Sony to rent or buy from Monday 1st January 2024 

Saturday 23 December 2023

The Top Ten Films of 2023

It's time for HMC's traditional 'Best of Year' list (now in its twelfth year!). As usual the rules are that the film has to have had a release in 2023 for the first time - either at the cinema, at a festival, or on Blu-ray. Big budget widely-released studio successes (like BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER, two films that made the biggest splashes of the year) don't get a look in because you already know about them. Instead what I'm presenting here is a list of films that are all highly worthy of attention but which even seasoned film fans may have either missed or don't even know exist. It should also be pointed out that despite my best efforts, the arrival of Magnus the Utterly Splendid Brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier at HMC has meant I haven't been able to catch all the new releases or all the festival films, so if your favourite of the year isn't on here it may well be because I haven't seen it yet. Ready? Ok here we go!

10 My Mother's Eyes

The new film from WOMAN OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS writer-director Takeshi Kushida, which received its UK premiere at this year's Frightfest. Combining mad science, maternal guilt and cellos, the latest film from Kushida 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.

9 Another Day to Live Through

Satu (Lene Kqiku), a young woman hiking through forestland, meets the much older Lauri (Timo Torikka) who directs her to the cabin she is seeking. The next thing she knows she is waking up in bed with Lauri attending her, with no memory of how she got there. The longer she stays in the cabin the more time seems to be distorting and folding in on itself. Sidney Salkow's 1964 THE LAST MAN ON EARTH plays constantly on the television in the lounge, and eventually Satu ends up parroting dialogue from it. Lauri seems to drift in and out of her reality as the days blur one into another. She sometimes eats breakfast on the cabin's veranda while the dead body of someone lies just beyond the cabin's steps. Eventually all the pieces fall into place. Or do they? That in essence is the appeal (and likely also the turn off for some) of writer-director Peter Simmons' film, because by the end you'll be asking all sorts of questions, ruminating on all sorts of possibilities and, if you've been in what can best be described as a 'Jess Franco state of mind' you'll be wanting to watch it again. Finland is having a great year in horror and this is another unexpected surprise, and a must-see if you love weird art-house fractured narrative 1970s-style EuroHorror. Released on digital in the UK from Reel 2 Reel Films.

8 Home Sweet Home: Where Evil Lives

Another UK Frightfest premiere, and a somewhat unwieldy title (presumably to help distinguish it from the plethora of other HOME SWEET HOME movies out there) for this German production 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.

7 Good Boy

The old-fashioned tale of girl meets boy, girl discovers boy is millionaire and girl goes out with millionaire, is given a gleefully perverse spin in GOOD BOY, which was 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. 

6 Mother May I?

Released by Vertigo on Digital in the UK, MOTHER MAY I is the story of Emmett (Kyle Gallner) who inherits his mother's remote house in rural Connecticut. Once he arrives there with his fiancĂ© it transpires that Emmett is harbouring deep resentment towards his deceased mother because of, it seems, abandonment issues. Anya fancies herself as an amateur psychoanalyst (we learn her mother is a real one) and tries to get Emmett to open up about his feelings. However, everything gets complicated when one morning Emmett wakes up to find Anya has taken on the persona of his mother. Is she embarking on a potentially dangerous attempt at psychotherapy? Or has Emmett's mother actually taken possession of her? As well as a carefully thought out script that's acted well, the film benefits immensely from some stunning visual compositions, making the most of the lush countryside that surrounds the house and inserting blurred, ghostly, Jamesian images into it for maximum effect. One overhead shot of a boat on a lake looks like a white eye staring out of a sea of darkness so if you want it there are cosmic horror allusions, too. 

5 Monolith

Deservedly playing a number of UK festivals this year including Frightfest and Abertoir, MONOLITH is 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.

4 Sick of Myself

Writer-Director Kristoffer Borgli was in UK cinemas recently with the Nicolas Cage-starring DREAM SCENARIO. Released on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome earlier in the year was this, his previous effort and one well worth seeking out. SICK OF MYSELF is a razor sharp satire on the nature of modern narcissism starring Kristine Kujath Thorp as Signe, a young woman so self-obsessed that she goes to increasingly horrific lengths to get the attention she craves, from trying to get dogs to bite her, to ingesting large quantities of pills known to have severely disfiguring side effects. Her artist boyfriend is almost as bad, and her sexual fantasies are fuelled by who she imagines might come to her funeral (and who would be refused entry). As her condition worsens and she becomes both the subject of front page newspaper articles and the poster girl for a fashion house  one wonders where it will all end. By turns horrific and hilarious, and often both at the same time. DREAM SCENARIO is good but SICK OF MYSELF is great. 

3 Red Rooms

Pascal Plante's RED ROOMS uses the courtroom drama to provide a searing commentary on true crime obsession while also being a tense and grim thriller in its own right. Fashion model Kelly-Anne is obsessed with the trial of alleged serial killer Ludovic Chevalier, accused of chopping up three teenagers and filming their deaths as a live broadcast to a 'Red Room' on the dark web. But the video of the final murder, the one that might either clear or condemn Chevalier, is yet to be found. Should she go looking for it? Or just carry on spending her nights sleeping outside the courtroom to make sure she gets a good seat at the trial every morning? RED ROOMS is a real surprise - well directed, cleverly written and sensitively performed. You never see a drop of blood but this might just be the most horrifying film of the year.

2 The Moor

25 years after a series of child abductions in a small Yorkshire village one father is still determined to locate the body of his missing son, and he's prepared to go to supernatural lengths to do so if necessary. Needless to say it all goes horribly wrong. There's much of Machen (stone circles, petroglyphs, something possibly lurking beneath the land) in Chris Cronin's excellent THE MOOR, a film that drops you into the location of the title (in the case the Yorkshire moors) and proceeds to scare you silly. Cronin really knows how to make an already pretty forbidding landscape seem all the more brooding, and despite all that wide open space this is splendidly claustrophobic when it needs to be. One of the best of the year and deserving of a cinema release to experience all that panoramic grimness on the big screen. We'll see if gets one in 2024

1 Godzilla Minus One

At a recent ComicCon writer-director Takashi Yamazaki was challenged about the alleged $15 million budget of GODZILLA MINUS ONE, only to reply that he wished they had actually had that much money to spend. Which just makes its success all the sweeter and all the more impressive. GODZILLA MINUS ONE is jaw-droppingly marvellous, blew me away, and was the best time I've had at the cinema since LAST NIGHT IN SOHO almost exactly two years ago. After several of years of trying hard to like major Hollywood studio fantasy movies I had almost forgotten what it was like to watch something as good as this. Quite possibly a candidate for best Godzilla film ever, and one that's worth watching on a great big screen with an excellent sound system and a full audience. The pin-drop silence during the (fantastic) climax may well end up as one of my favourite cinema-going moments of all time. As I write this the film is still on general release in over 400 screens in the UK and is No.2 at the box office. Well done to everyone concerned.

OK! Somehow I manage to keep putting together this list, even though with the event of Magnus I didn't expect to see enough great films to warrant a top ten this year. In the end I didn't even have space to include PEARL (Ti West's best film by far in a somewhat chequered career) or WHEN EVIL LURKS (from the talented Argentinian team who made the equally recommended TERRIFIED,  but both of those are very much worth watching, as is EVIL DEAD RISE, the surprisingly successful (and far superior) follow up to 2013's EVIL DEAD reboot. Normally this is where I sign off for the year but Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING is getting a UK digital release on New Year's Day so this year it will be Eli who will be getting the final post. However I will take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has read and enjoyed the reviews this year. I never expected the site to last this long & I already have five films waiting to be written about here on my desk for 2024. So until the next time be nice to each other & I'll see you all again soon. 

Friday 8 December 2023

The Chucky Collection (1988 - 2022)


Arrow Films are releasing the entire cinematic saga of Chucky as played by Brad Dourif. That's by way of a qualifier, because you won't find Lars Klevberg's 2019 remake in here, nor will you find the TV series that kicked off in 2021 and so far has run to three seasons. But apart from those, it's all here. 

Before we dig in, a word about rights issues. The rights to Tom Holland's original CHILD'S PLAY has a different owner to the next six films in the series. This is also the case with the documentary LIVING WITH CHUCKY which takes up the eighth disc in this eight disc set. Both of those films have only been made available to Arrow on Blu-ray. Consequently, while Arrow have gone the extra mile to give us top notch UHD transfers of the films that they could, this collection is being released in two different versions - one is all Blu-ray, the other with CHILD'S PLAY 2,3 BRIDE OF CHUCKY, SEED OF CHUCKY, CURSE OF CHUCKY all in UHD but with the other two films included on Blu-ray.

Right, that's the boring (but worth spelling out bit) sorted. Let's take a look at the films!

Disc One: Child's Play

        Not provided for review, and only available on Blu-ray in both sets. Even though it was a film that helped rock the world of the average 1980s horror fan it was impossible to think at the time that the character of Chucky would become so enduring. Now, in retrospect, perhaps it's not so difficult. A combination of Don Mancini's script, Tom Holland's direction and perhaps above all the design of the Chucky doll (for which producer David Kirschner takes prominent credit in a number of these films but special effects wizard Kevin Yagher must take some of the credit, along with Mancini) combined with Brad Dourif's performance led to the creation of a horror icon. 

        The secret is that when Chucky isn't stabbing, crushing or pushing people out of windows, he looks like an actual child's toy. Contrast that with more recent doll movie characters like ANNABELLE, M3GAN, or even the Chucky of the remake, which are dolls no sane child (or adult) would want in their homes. There's a quote about the greatest feat the devil managed was to get people not to believe in him. CHILD'S PLAY, and it's sequels, works because Chucky is an entirely believable toy. Who's possessed by the soul of a serial killer who swears and kills people and wants to possess the body of a little boy.

Extras are (presumably) archival, with a commentary track from stars Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent, as well as Kevin Yagher, another from Kirschner & Mancini, four featurettes and an image gallery.

Disc Two: Child's Play 2 (1990)

After being burned to a crisp (almost) in the previous movie Chucky's back in a film that's a slight step down from the first. However, there are three very good reasons to watch Arrow's disc:

1 The UHD transfer is absolutely sparkling and very impressive indeed for a 1990s film.

2 The climax in the toy factory is still cracking. Chucky's 'resurrection' at the same factory at the beginning isn't bad, either.

3 Jenny Agutter. Although admittedly she's rather wasted in this and really should have been the one to accompany Andy to the toy factory at the end. But it's still Jenny Agutter, even if they get her to wear some dreadful sleeping attire.

Extras include an archival commentary from director John Lafia, plus a whole collection of stuff ported over from the 2022 Scream Factory Region A release. These include interviews with screenwriter Don Mancini (13 minutes), stars Alex Vincent (8 minutes), Beth Grant (5 minutes) and Christine Elise (10 minutes), producer David Kirschner (8 minutes) and Robert Latham Brown (4 minutes). There are also 11 minutes of extra scenes taken from an off-air recording from the Sci Fi channel (surely the vault elements for these would be available, but then again perhaps not), 9 minutes of original promotional featurettes, trailers and an image gallery. 

Disc Three: Child's Play 3 (1991)

Eight years after the events of the previous film, Chucky is improbably resurrected (would fans have it any other way?) and sets off in search of Andy Barclay (now played by Justin Whalen) who is now at one of those uniquely American educational establishments known as Military Academies. 

This one's a definite low point of the series, with a script that feels as if it was thrown together grudgingly over a weekend. The result is a film that stumbles along, never builds up a head of steam, and has a fairground climax that comes out of left field. Surprisingly, things would get substantially better as the series went on.

Extras on Arrow's disk include two commentary tracks, one from TV movie veteran director Jack Bender, the other from producer Robert Latham Brown. Most of the other extras have been ported over from the Scream Factory Region A release including brief interviews with Brown (4 minutes), Mancini (13 minutes, who agrees this is probably the worst Chucky film), Kirschner (7 minutes), actors Perrey Reeves (6 minutes) and Michael Chieffo (4 minutes), production designer Richard Sawyer (& minutes) and makeup artist Craig Reardon (8 minutes). There are also five minutes of extra scenes from the TV version, a trailer and an image gallery. 

Disc Four: Bride of Chucky (1998)

Things become far more entertaining with the fourth entry in the series, in which Chucky gets rescued from a crime evidence locker and stitched back together by Charles Lee Ray's girlfriend Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly). However, Chucky and Tiffany end up having an argument, the result of which is Tiffany being electrocuted in the bath. But a little bit of voodoo later and BRIDE OF CHUCKY is born.

There's a definite move towards the comedic with this one, and judging from the previous film it wasn't a moment too soon. There are plenty of sight gags related to popular horror films of the time (you might want to freeze frame on the police evidence room at the start) and the leads are definitely in on the joke.

Extras include a suitably over the top archival introduction from Tilly, and there are two commentary tracks, one from director Ronny Yu and the other, which is one of the must-listen of the set if you've not already heard it (it's archival) is with Tilly, Dourif and Don Mancini. There's also a piece on the locations, a making of, trailer, and scenes from the TV version.

Disc Five: Seed of Chucky (2004)

The comedy and crudeness is upped for the fifth entry in the series, which some believe is the worst but I agree with writer-director Don Mancini (from his extra on CHILD'S PLAY 3) that they're all wrong. SEED OF CHUCKY is the unsung classic of the series, a film that channels John Waters, William Castle, is way ahead of its time about gender identity issues and has a fearless and utterly winning performance from Jennifer Tilly, who gets to play both 'herself' and Tiffany.

And as well as her, is this the most bizarre cast for a horror sequel? Pope of Trash himself John Waters, S Club 7's Hannah Spearrit, Jason (son of Gordon DALEKS INVASION EARTH 2150AD) Flemyng, Billy Boyd as well as, of course Brad Dourif. It's set in Glastobury and Los Angeles but was actually filmed in Romania and yes, if you like John Waters-style humour (Tilly's role could almost have been written for Divine) you'll have a blast with this.

Extras include two commentary tracks, one with Mancini and Tilly,  the other with Mancini and FX wiz Tony Gardner. There are also interviews with Gardner (19 minutes), John Waters (6 minutes), and Chucky himself (2 minutes) as well as a 'Family Slide Show' (3 minutes), storyboard to film sequences (14 minutes) and an archival making of (19 minutes). If you don't watch anything else Jennifer Tilly In Romania is a two minute must-see that cements her reputation as someone with a great sense of humour. There are also trailers, an image gallery, and a deleted scene with commentary. 

Disc Six: Curse of Chucky (2013)

The longest period between Chucky films also resulted in one of the best. In fact one could go so far as to say CURSE OF CHUCKY is the best in the franchise since the first film. 

In a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere lives wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad) with her mother. A large box mysteriously arrives in the mail and, to no-one’s surprise except those on the screen, is revealed to contain Chucky (voiced once again by Brad Dourif). Chucky kills mum, who is found dead from a presumed self-inflicted stab wound. In the wake of her mother’s death, Nica’s sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) arrives with her husband, daughter, live-in nanny and a priest, all of whom are going to come in handy to up the ensuing body count. 

It’s obvious writer-director Don Mancini still loves his creation, and this love comes through with this thoroughly enjoyable old school horror romp. Brad Dourif is excellent as always and the real revelation here is his daughter Fiona who does an excellent job of making Nica a three-dimensional character that you’ll be rooting for by the end.

Extras include a commentary track with Mancini, Fiona Dourif and Tony Gardner, interviews with Alex Vincent and Danielle Bisutti, three making of featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons and a brief gag reel.

Disc Seven: Cult of Chucky (2017)

The final Mancini feature before he and his creation moved to television. This time Chucky's in an asylum, where he has followed Mica (Fiona Dourif) who is now incarcerated having been found guilty of the murders in 2013's CURSE OF CHUCKY. But is it really him? Because surely that's the remnant of his talking head that Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) has in a safe? Who is delivering all the other Good Guy dolls to the asylum? And more importantly, who is responsible for the spate of new murders? Don Mancini's latest Chucky sequel isn't perfect, and it isn't as riotously entertaining as CURSE, but there's some good stuff in here, and a climax that's absolutely worth waiting for as everything goes quite nuts. Not at all bad for what is essentially CHILD'S PLAY VII, especially as they've had the sense to let Jennifer Tilly out of her box again. 

Don Mancini & Tony Gardner provide the commentary this time, with Gardner also profiled in a featurette, and his daughter Kyra provides another in which she talks about working with her father. There's an interview with Alex Vincent (and a piece on his recording studio), two short making of featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, and an image gallery.

Disc Eight: Living With Chucky (2022)

Not provided for review, and not in UHD in either set, this is Kyra Gardner's documentary on the CHILD'S PLAY franchise, very much concentrating (unsurprisingly) on the work contributed by her father Tony, but there are also interviews with other cast and crew, including Brad and Fiona Dourif. Extras include a commentary track from Kyra Gardner, plus three featurettes - candid conversations, favourite death scenes and strange families.

The Chucky Collection is out in an eight disc Blu-ray or six disc UHD and two disc Blu-ray set on Monday 18th December 2023