Category Archives: Reviews

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Director: Stephen Chiodo

Starring: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Nelson, John Vernon

“Killer clowns? From outer space? Holy shit.” (Mooney, Killer Klowns From Outer Space)

Sometimes a film is so clearly ridiculous it doesn’t pretend otherwise and instead proclaims through its title: “if you buy this film, you’re in for some weird shit”. As you can no doubt imagine, Killer Klowns From Outer Space falls directly into this category.

It was created by the Chido brothers, a trio of siblings with a love for the weird and wonderful and an admirable passion for film-making, in particular puppetry and special effects.

In fact, there’s a good chance you’ve seen their work before, because in recent times the Chiodos have made occasional contributions to The Simpsons (like the Gravey & Jobriath cartoon), and more notably created all the puppets in Team America. It’s fairly clear, then, what sort of sense of humour they have.

Yes, because that clown definitely looks 100% trustworthy

Killer Klowns From Outer Space, however, was the only time the Chiodos worked together to create the story, do the special effects and direct a whole movie, and while many these days regard it as a “good bad” movie among the ranks of Troll 2 and Howard The Duck in reality it’s actually pretty well made for its budget, hammy acting and ridiculous plot aside.

It’s set in a small country town, where one night a couple on a date see a flaming meteorite enter the atmosphere in the distance and land with a crash. When they go to investigate they find a circus big top in its place. They enter the big top and discover that it’s actually an alien spaceship, where aliens who look like clowns are abducting the townsfolk, placing them in big cotton candy cocoons and draining their blood to drink it.

This year's X Factor auditions were without a doubt the worst yet

While the acting is by-and-large horrible throughout the film (with the exception of Dirty Harry and Animal House star John Vernon as the police chief), there’s no denying that Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a labour of love, not just by the Chiodos but by the entire cast as well. They may not be great actors but by God you can tell they’re giving it their all.

Somewhat more impressive is the excellent clown costumes. While it would have been perfectly acceptable to just say “well, they’re from space, so let’s just say all the clowns look the same”, the Chiodos made all sorts of weird and wonderful clowns so that each looks completely unique. It’s a pleasant attention to detail that really gives the film a sense of character.

You’ll see a lot of things in Killer Klowns that you’ve never seen in any other film. Popcorn that comes to life and eats people, for example. Or custard pies that actually contain acid. And, of course, the classic scene where a group of people are eaten alive by a shadow puppet.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is silly fun, and fantastic proof that a low budget doesn’t necessarily mean a film should be lacking in originality and great ideas. Get some mates around, get some (non-killer) popcorn and enjoy some proper low-budget ’80s comedy cheese. Oh, and the music is awesome too, as you can see by the trailer below.

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Scream 4 (2011)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Neve Campbell, Emma Roberts, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin

“All there are now are remakes. It’s the only horror studios green-light. I mean, there are still rules, but the rules have changed. The unexpected is the new cliche.” (Charlie, Scream 4)

A lot has changed in horror cinema since the release of Scream 3 back in 2000. Remakes and ‘torture porn’ fims like Saw and Hostel are now the big box-office hits, and new film monsters like Jigsaw and Samara from The Ring are the ones that get today’s teens pulling their covers over their eyes in fear at night.

What’s more, the clever post-modern ideas made popular by Scream – that the characters in the movie reference the rules and situations in other horror movies – are now freely imitated in many of today’s films, with almost every slasher these days containing one wisecracker going on about how you’re never supposed to say “I’ll be right back”, how the black guy always dies first and so on and so forth.

Sidney's fear of steaks made preparing dinner a daily challenge

Scream 4, then, had an uphill battle to be relevant in this new all-knowing, self-referential, nudge-nudge-wink-wink horror landscape, one the Scream series itself essentially created in the first place. It’s impressive, then, that writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven have taken these decade-old characters and ideas and brought them into the 2010s so convincingly, giving them more modern sensibilities but still keeping the elements of what made the original trilogy so popular in the first place.

And so the usual “what’s your favourite scary movie” spiel continues, with newer films added to the killer’s trivia repertoire and more graphic threats made over the phone. The killer is made harder to identify now because it’s revealed early on (when someone calls their friend to trick them) that there’s a voice-changing phone app, one that potentially anybody could be using. The film geeks this time are a couple of horror nerds who screen annual movie marathons of the eight Stab films.

The worst forensics squad ever fail to notice the dead body in the room

And yes, those classic ‘rules’ once again return, but this time updated for this new generation with new rules about remakes, which Scream 4 seems to focus most of its criticism on – I wonder if the remake of Craven’s A Nighhtmare On Elm Street had something to do with it. Indeed, the whole third act of the movie, without giving too much away, is very much influenced by the deluge of horror films we’ve seen recently, with one humorous moment in particular seeing a distressed Hayden Panetierre answer one of the killer’s phone questions by screaming out a seemingly endless stream of films that have been remade in the past decade, drawing stark attention to the sheer number of them.

A livid Hayden smells blood as she spots the person who did her hair

While three cast members from the original trilogy – Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox – all return for Scream 4, it’s perhaps unsurprisingly Cox who steals the show. Campbell is her usual drab, miserably-voiced self, while Arquette’s character seems to have shaken off his permanent limp from the previous film and is now the sheriff, essentially making him a bit of a dick. Cox, however, is hilarious as Gale Weathers, suffering writer’s block as she tries to get back in the spotlight while jealously watching on a Sidney (Campbell) has success with a book of her own and her husband Dewey (Arquette) flirts with his new female deputy. Almost all of the best lines belong to Gale, to the extent that it’s almost exciting to see her turn up in another scene because you know something else is coming. I never thought I’d be praising Courteney Cox as the star in a school play, let alone a film, but fair play to her.

When Bob saw his date waiting for him, he suddenly realised she was joking when she said the party was fancy dress

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Scream film without a whodunit plot, and while the red herrings are perhaps a bit too obvious and clearly overacting to make you think it’s them, the real killer’s identity is a nice twist that actually makes sense and results in a great performance from the cast member in question.

It’s worth pointing out that the final act of Scream 4 does assume some prior knowledge of at least the first film in the series at times, so while it’s not essential I’d recommend you at least go into this one having seen at least the original film (if not necessarily all three) because you’ll get more out of Scream 4’s references, particularly those near the end of the film.

While Scream 4 could never be the revelation and genre-changer the original film was, it still does a great job updating the series to address the changes in horror cinema since the trilogy ended. It’s probably the best of the sequels, and well worth a watch if you enjoyed the first Scream.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011)

Director: Bill Condon

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

“No measure of time with you will be long enough. But we’ll start with forever.” (Edward, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1)

There’s a scene in Breaking Dawn where Jacob, the miserable hormonal werewolf, tells Edward, the miserable hormonal vampire: “I know how this ends, and I’m not stickin’ around to watch”. I wish I had that luxury.

You see, I love my girlfriend, and part of what makes our relationship so strong is our ability to compromise. She puts up with it as I make her watch a slew of shite horror films and I put up with her love of Sailor Moon, SpongeBob Squarepants, The X Factor and Twilight (don’t worry, she likes other stuff too, fortunately). The latter thankfully doesn’t affect me too much – the only time I have to put up with it is when the latest Twilight film hits the cinema. It’s for this reason I was made to watch Breaking Dawn.

"There's nothing like a good game of chess, that's what I always say"

Much like Jacob, then, I too know how this is going to end – I’ve already had the plot of the book explained to me in unnecessary detail and already I know how Part 2 goes – but unlike Jacob, my relationship means I won’t be able to avoid it. And if it’s going to be anything like Part 1, I’d better bring the sleeping pills.

Before I continue, a disclaimer: I am in no way a Twilight fan. I never saw the first film, then met my girlfriend and was subsequently dragged to (and struggled through) the last two. I have no doubt fans of the series will adore this film and weep openly throughout, after which they’ll run home and weep hysterically a little more as they cut their hair off and stick it on their homemade Jacob and Edward voodoo dolls. But I’m trying to judge it on its own merits.

"I've got to stop them playing chess. Hopefully this poster saying CHESS IS SHIT will do the trick"

While it would have been perfectly possible to fit Breaking Dawn into one film, it seems the studio behind it wanted to do a Harry Potter and spilt the film into two for the simple reason it’ll make them double the money. What we have, then, is the first two acts of the story stretched over an excruciating two hours, with more padding than that in the bras of its target audience.

Yawn! As a wedding scene lasts half an hour, complete with the longest “you may kiss the bride” moment in cinematic history. Struggle! As you endure a needlessly lengthy honeymoon scene complete with a white-hot montage featuring at least three scenes where Bella and Edward play chess for a bit. Sigh! As Bella gurns, looks gormless and bites her lip so often you wonder if she isn’t already practising to be a vampire.

"Don't worry, I don't believe what they're saying about chess either"

Incidentally, speaking of Bella and Edward, it’s understandable that Twilight is aimed at a teenage audience, because watching the on-screen relationship between actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson reminds me a lot of my own teenage school days – it’s awkward, it’s painful and (because of the subjects I chose) there’s no chemistry.

Anyway, after what has to be a whole fucking hour of wedding and honeymoon nothingness, the story finally progresses when Bella finds herself up the duff with some sort of mutant baby. Cue another 40 minutes of her looking deathly ill while the vampires look at her, then look at each other, then look back at her again, interspersed with bits where moany Jacob grudgingly chats with moany Edward then argues with the other werewolves who keep threatening to fuck up the vampires but take ages to actually go through with it.

I could go on and on, but I’m actually getting angry as I type this, and I just keep remembering ridiculous things. The scene where the werewolves all meet on a beachfront and argue with each other, in shoddy CGI werewolf form, without even opening their mouths. The numerous scenes where Edward zips around really quickly – while swimming, while walking through the woods, while packing his fucking suitcase – just to remind the audience he’s a vampire because otherwise he gets to do the best part of fuck all vampire-related.

"I fucking love chess, me"

The “fight” between the vampires and the werewolves, which takes place in the dark, lasts about two minutes and is so filled with jump cuts it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. Or the fact that the film is literally fifteen seconds old before Jacob once again peels his shirt off to appease the swooning teen audience.

The film’s one saving grace is the final scene, which admittedly is excellent and a fantastic way to end the film, and the story as a whole in fact. I’d much rather a line was drawn under it at this point, but of course we still have to deal with another whole film showing Bella coming to terms with her new situation, no doubt moping about for another two hours doing very little.

Breaking Dawn Part 1 is 110 minutes of piffle followed by 10 minutes of relatively interesting goings-on. Perhaps the best compliment I could give it is that it helped me understand how it must feel to be a vampire, because as I watched this mindless, over-long drivel I too felt dead inside.

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Swamp Shark (2011)

Director: Griff Furst

Starring: Kristy Swanson, DB Sweeney, Jeff Chase, Jason Rogel, Sophie Sinise

“This isn’t a normal shark. It swims, it kills, and it’s out there.” (Tommy, Swamp Shark)

Swamp Shark is actually one of the better SyFy-produced movies out there, but that’s like saying an elbow is one of the least painful ways to receive a blow to the testicles.

As you’d expect from the title, it’s about a shark. In a swamp. The weekend before the annual Gator Fest at the Atchafalaya Basin (a shindig that, judging by the Gator Fest scenes in the film, attracts around seven people), a dodgy animal smuggling deal goes wrong and a giant shark ends up in the swamp.

"I'll kill it. I used to be Buffy, you know." "So you keep telling us. We don't care"

A local drunk falls into the water and is eaten alive by the shark but the police blame the McDaniels family, who run their own restaurant complete with a pack of alligators that sit outside. According to the police, one of their gators must have done it, but head of the family Rachel (Kristy “Buffy” Swanson) sees a shark outside and decides to head off to find it to prove that was the real culprit.

As it was a made-for-TV movie, Swamp Shark is very tame for a shark film. There’s one graphic scene in which the shark leaps out of the air and bites a man’s head clean off, but other than that most of the deaths involve the old classic trick of someone being pulled underwater and the water turning red.

Bob happily thought to himself: "You know, I think my headache's gone"

Meanwhile, the sex scenes are so desperate not to show any nudity that it actually gets silly – at one point one chap takes a topless photo of his girlfriend but when he then looks at the photo and sees a shark in the background, you can see that he somehow only managed to get a headshot of her, despite her, you know, being topless.

The shark effects themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. The first half of the film wisely goes down the Jaws route by barely showing the thing and only giving little glimpses here and there. It’s only when it starts appearing more often and decides to start leaping out of the water – as is the law with any killer animal in a SyFy movie – that the old dodgy CGI kicks in again.

Swamp Shark is harmless and it isn’t terrible. All the actors seem to be having fun, none of them put in a truly terrible performance, the characters you want to die end up dying, and the ending is silly, over-the-top fun. It’s no Jaws by any stretch of the imagination but if it’s on the telly and there’s nothing else to watch it’ll pass the time.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
If you want Swamp Shark on DVD you can get it from Amazon if you click here. If you’re more of a Blu-Ray person then get yourself down to Tesco because, oddly, it’s a Tesco exclusive and it’ll only set you back £3 (or £3.90 from the Tesco website). And it’s worth a go at that price.

Lockjaw (2008)

Director: Amir Valinia

Starring: DMX, Wes Brown, Louis Herthum, Lauren Fain

“Don’t forget, at the end of the day it’s just a snake. A really messed up snake.” (Nick, Lockjaw)

I’ve seen some bad films in my time – as you’ll know if you’ve taken more than a brief glance at some of the other reviews on this site – but Lockjaw is by far one of the worst movies I’ve seen in the past couple of years. It’s not the CGI effects or the hopeless music, those I can deal with. It’s the plot, the script and the acting that make this one such a stinker.

The film starts with a flashback in which a young lad called Alan and his friend Becky break into a voodoo-loving man’s house and steal a dangerous voodoo pen from him before he and his son (more about him later) find out.

So how do you defeat a mystical snake summoned by voodoo? With a voodoo bazooka, of course. Seriously.

Alan, disturbed by his dad’s abusive behaviour towards his mother, decides for no apparent reason to draw a picture – using the voodoo pen – of a big monster eating his dad. Sure enough, after his drunken father leaves the house, he’s gobbled up by the beast and never seen again.

Fast forward to the present day and Alan and Becky are now married. While they do gardening at their home Becky digs up the pen, but before she gets to ask Alan about it she’s run over by a van containing a group of teens who happen to be the biggest bunch of absolute cocks you’ve ever seen in any film to date. Alan uses the pen to draw the monster again, this time attacking the van, and so one by one the teens start getting picked off by the beast. A guy summoning a monster to get revenge on people killing someone close to him? Ah, so it’s basically Pumpkinhead then.

In one of the more impressive effects scenes, the filmmakers make this moron look capable of feeding himself

It’s hard to properly describe just how painful Lockjaw is to watch. Almost every member of the main cast has at least one infuriating quality – there’s the quirky guy who talks really loudly because he’s desperate to steal every scene, then there’s the slutty one who was clearly hired for the inevitable nudity alone but then doesn’t even get naked (resulting in an awkward sex scene in which she groans away as if she’s getting some then quickly jumps out of bed when she hears a noise, revealing that she’s clothed). Even rap legend DMX, who only appears in a couple of scenes, puts in a half-hearted performance at best because it’s clear that deep down he knows this is no 8 Mile.

The plot’s got more holes than an orgy – how did young Alan know to draw a picture with the magic stick in the first place? How could Alan get a good look at everyone in the van as it sped past after hitting his wife, to the point that he could draw good renditions of all five of them? And who was the joker who told the people in this film “you know, I reckon acting’s the job for you”?

Here's Lockjaw - a snake with a crocodile head. Great idea wasted on a shite film

The only thing Lockjaw has going for it is that the stupid CGI monster thing looks slightly more convincing than the stupid CGI monster things in SyFy-funded films like Dinoshark and Mega Python Vs Gatoroid. That’s literally it though – everything else is just cringeworthy. Every single scene is an exercise in amazement as you realise the director actually must have said to his actors “that’s fine, let’s move on” time and time again instead of “can you do that again, only not shit this time”. Don’t be swayed by the potential comedy value of DMX being in it either – he barely features and he’s as wooden as a bookshelf when he does.

When a film is so half-arsed that it doesn’t even bother to provide enough music to cover the whole of the credits (the music simply stops halfway through leaving the rest of them scrolling upwards in silence) then it’s clear that there wasn’t a lot of effort put into this one. Stay well away.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
You’re really a glutton for punishment, aren’t you? Lockjaw is available at the time of writing for £6.49 on DVD, but if you check Amazon’s New/Used you can find some people selling it for the princely sum of £0.01 plus shipping. If you reckon you can stretch to that then click here to go shit-shopping.

The Exterminator (1980)

Director: James Glickenhaus

Starring: Robert Ginty, Christopher George, Samantha Eggar

CIA AGENT – “This Exterminator is the most dangerous serial killer in the United States and he’s in New York City! What do you think about all this?”

DALTON – “I think you need to take a shit. It’s coming out of your mouth instead of your asshole.”

One of the more popular vigilante films to hit during the grindhouse era, The Exterminator tells the story of a man out to clean up the city’s crime by dishing out some pain of his own.

John’s best friend Michael saves his life while they’re both fighting in Vietnam. After completing their service they return to New York to try to return to some sort of normality, but shortly afterwards Michael is mugged by a gang and left paralysed from the neck down. John vows to repay his friend by hunting down the gang and making them pay for their crime.

He doesn't look like your typical action hero but he means business

This should be a fairly straightforward movie, but after John deals with the gang he decides not to stop there. Instead, he decides to take on all crime and clean up New York by dishing out punishment to every sleazeball around. The media start calling him The Exterminator, the police want to catch him and the CIA start hunting him down because they think he’s working for a rival party to expose the government’s inability to deal with crime. Can John stay on the run from those who want to stop him?

The Exterminator gained a cult following in the grindhouse cinemas of the ’70s and early ’80s, and was also one of the more notorious films released on VHS in the early video boom. It’s unsurprising then that The Exterminator‘s most memorable moments are the more violent scenes, which are mostly executed (no pun intended) with style.

The Vietnam scene is effective stuff

By far the most notable example of this is the Vietnam prologue where special effects guru Stan Winston (The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Alien, Predator) was drafted in to help create a chillingly realistic decapitation scene. It’s a truly shocking moment and one that no doubt contributed a great deal to the film’s cult success.

While the rest of the film never quite manages to match this prologue in terms of shock factor, it comes close at times. A scene involving a giant meat grinder doesn’t look very convincing but is made so by the screams emitted by the victim, whereas a moment involving a prostitute and a soldering iron is still wince-inducing even though it mercifully takes place off-camera.

Robert Ginty is decent as the titular Exterminator. He plays the role completely straight, without any over-the-top rants or ridiculous ‘action movie’ facial expressions. He’s got one or two cheesy lines (“if you’re lying, I’ll be back”) but for the most part he’s a good lead.

The Exterminator is grindhouse cheese but it’s entertaining grindhouse cheese. The set-pieces are effective, the acting is understated but spot-on and the whole film’s got an unashamed seediness and grit to it. The final scene ruins what could have been a powerful ending, but that aside it’s one of the better-made films of its era.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
The Exterminator has just been released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video. It comes with a commentary and a couple of documentaries, and you can get it by clicking here. It’s currently out of print on DVD but you can find it used in a two-pack with the similarly awesome Maniac Cop by clicking here.
The US has its own special edition Blu-ray/DVD combo, so if you’re on that side of the Atlantic you can click here to get it.

Piranha (2010)

Director: Alexandre Aja

Starring: Steven McQueen, Elisabeth Shue, Kelly Brook, Jessica Szohr, Jerry O’Connell

“Get the fuck out of the water!” (Julie, Piranha)

Nudity and gore are the key components of many horror films aimed primarily at a teenage audience, but in my eyes the latter always has to be the more prevalent. It seems that Alexandre Aja, the director of the excellent Switchblade Romance and the not-so-good Hills Have Eyes remake, forgets this during the first half of Piranha and instead thinks he’s shooting a porno.

Even the plot sounds like top-shelf titillation. After befriending and falling for English model Danni (Brook), Jake (Steven McQueen, grandson of Steve) dodges his babysitting duties to go with her on a boat, where she’s part of a ‘Wild Wild Girls’ filmshoot. His young, attractive friend Kelly (Szohr) gets caught up in the invite, so Jake has to juggle enjoying the rampant nudity going on around him with assuring Kelly he’s not interested in all this hooey.

Kelly Brook here, breaking horror's classic "don't look down" rule

This plot basically gives Piranha a good half-hour to cram in as much nudity as possible. A lengthy Spring Break scene shows lots of girls flashing their tits for no reason, there’s a wet t-shirt competition with loads of mammary close-ups and the ‘Wild Wild Girls’ shoot culminates in what feels like a solid five-minutes of Kelly Brook and a genuine porn star swimming underwater fanny-naked and lezzing around while classical music plays. Now, I’m all for a bit of bappage but Piranha took it so far that I found myself in the unlikely situation of thinking “okay, put them away now love, I paid to see killer fish, not smell it”.

"My God, what is it?" "It's the fucking Catalina wine mixer"

Eventually Aja comes to his senses, remembers he’s making a horror film and unleashes introduces the titular piranha fish. This is when Piranha gets properly impressive, especially when the killer fish reach the aforementioned Spring Break scene and carnage unfolds. Piranha has easily some of the most superb (and disturbing) gore effects I’ve seen in a long time, with leg stumps dragging on floors, heads getting squashed by motorboats, faces being ripped off and other such delights. It soon becomes clear that this is a movie obsessed with excess – after satisfying its teenage audience (and boring its older one) with ridiculous levels of nudity, it then goes on to present similarly ridiculous levels of bloodshed.

During this ridiculousness there are a few funny cameos dotted around. Richard Dreyfuss appears in the first scene of the film, reprising his role from Jaws, while Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth also make fleeting appearances. Don’t let the movie’s advertising – which proudly proclaims that it ‘stars’ both Dreyfuss and Lloyd – fool you however, as combined both actors probably contribute to a total of about three minutes’ screen time.

Imagine Saving Private Ryan with teens and fish instead of soldiers and you've got the epic Spring Break scene

Originally shot on 3D (this review was based on the Blu-ray’s 2D version), watching Piranha in 2D can be an off-putting experience because of the countless times things are flung right into the screen, no doubt in an attempt to startle 3D viewers. Milkshake cups, piranha fish, breasts and even a severed penis all threaten to knock your popcorn off your lap, and while this would have no doubt looked impressive in 3D as it was intended, in 2D the effect is hokey, ineffective and simply has you saying “ah, that was supposed to be a 3D bit”.

If you’re male and plan on watching Piranha with someone of the fairer sex, be sure they’re not the type to judge your character on the movies you watch because the first 30 minutes will have them convinced you’re a pervert who’s talked them into watching a porno instead. Once it loses its half-hour teenage erection and gets the obsession with boobs and beavers out of its system however, the other 50 minutes provide a fantastic creature feature with loads of gore, heaps of laughs and a fun conclusion.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Piranha is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. The DVD comes with both the 2D and 3D versions and comes with two pairs of 3D glasses. At the time of writing it costs around £6 from Amazon, where you can find it by clicking here. The Blu-ray also features both the 2D and 3D versions (in both the cardboard glasses and fancy 3D TV versions), and it’s also £6 right here.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Director: Jalmari Helander

Starring: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen

“The real Santa was totally different. The Coca-Cola Santa was just a hoax.” (Pietari, Rare Exports)

In some Scandinavian cultures, Santa Claus wasn’t always the cheery chappy he’s known as these days. Back in the bad old days, he was known as Joulupukki (the Yule Goat) andaccording to some versions of the legend he would torture and kill any little children who were naughty. Why give you this rather grim history lesson? Because this evil Scandinavian Santa is the subject of Rare Exports, a Finnish horror film with a dark sense of humour.

He sees you when you're sleeping, he... actually, that's a bit creepy

The film starts a month before Christmas, with a group of excavators about to create a huge hole in a Finnish mountain in order to find some top-secret cargo frozen in its depths. Unbeknown to the excavators, young Pietari and his friend are spying on them to see what’s going on. Realising the workers are about to use dynamite, Pietari and chum leg it and return home, escaping through the hole they cut in the fence to reach the off-limits excavation site.

It was the biggest fox they had ever seen on any hunting trip

Fast-forward to the day before Christmas and Pietari’s dad discovers that all their reindeer have been slaughtered, losing them thousands of pounds. Noticing the hole in the fence, Pietari’s dad thinks the excavators have done it so he goes to the dig site to confront them but instead finds an old man frozen. After Pietari’s dad takes him back to his workshop the old man comes back to life and starts going mad, attacking everyone. Could this be the evil Santa, back to life and ready to kill any bad children he finds? Pietari certainly thinks so, but all is not as it seems…

Rare Exports is a very pretty film. The scenery is impressive, and the scenes in which snow is constantly falling snow are hypnotic at times. This is one well-shot film. It gets even better during the final half-hour, where the true Santa is revealed and the surprisingly decent CGI kicks in.

"You've got to get me out of here. I wrote that naughty list for innocent reasons"

The main letdown in the film is the finale. After building up to a potential encounter with a huge, dormant beast, the way in which it’s dealt with is too convenient and seems like it was done that way to avoid more difficult CGI work. As a result the big moment the whole film seems like it’s building up to never really happens. Add to that a silly final scene and you’ve got a generally disappointing conclusion.

That aside, Rare Exports is a great little film. While it never really gets as tense or scary as it threatens to, it still tells a fun and slightly silly story that makes it worth a watch over the festive period.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Rare Exports is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on 7 November so you can pre-order the DVD for £9.99 by clicking here or pre-order the Blu-ray for… um, £9.99 for some reason, by clicking here.

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Maren Jensen, Sharon Stone, Ernest Borgnine, Michael Berryman

“If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. If thine own hand offends thee… then in God’s name, cut it off.” (Isaiah, Deadly Blessing)

There’s an interesting story told by screenwriter Glenn Benest in Arrow Video’s upcoming DVD release of Deadly Blessing (this review is based on a review copy of said DVD). The story goes that a young Sharon Stone, in her first big role, had just come from a modelling career and had no idea how to act or what to do.

Like a deer in headlights, Stone kept asking director Wes Craven for guidance and help her with her acting. The cast and crewmembers looked at each other and Craven explained that he didn’t do that sort of thing, he was more about setting up shots and the like. “GOD DAMN IT,” Stone then screamed at the top of her voice, “WOULD YOU DIRECT ME?”

Sharon Stone demanded this spider have its teeth removed before agreeing to do the scene. Seriously

In a way it’s a shame that Craven politely declined and had a quiet word with Stone rather than giving her the advice she seeked, because she’s clearly the weakest performer by far in what is an otherwise effective little film.

Deadly Blessing focuses on Martha Schmidt (Battlestar Galactica‘s Maren Jensen), a headstrong city girl married to Jim, a country boy who used to be a member of the Hittites. The Hittites are a strict religious community (much like the Amish) who feel technology is the work of the devil and constantly warn of the coming of the demonic Incubus. Jim had married Martha to get away from his cultish peers, and they’re not happy with him.

Ernest Borgnine is excellent as the head of the Hittite community

After a mysterious accident kills Jim, Martha tries to get to the bottom of things with the help of her city friends Lana (Stone) and Vicky, who come to stay with her as she mourns. As more people die and Martha and her friends are continually harassed it becomes clear that there may be a killer in the midst of the Hittites.

Many of the key scenes in Deadly Blessing feel like rough drafts of similar scenes in Craven’s later film A Nightmare On Elm Street. Sharon Stone’s character, for example, has a recurring dream about a menacing figure and the scene in which she tells her friends about it is very similar to that in A Nightmare On Elm Street where Nancy and Tina discuss their dreams about Freddy.

Check out the review of A Nightmare On Elm Street on this site to see how Craven re-used this shot

Perhaps the most obvious similarity however is the scene in which Martha takes a bath and is attacked by a snake, who comes out of the water between her legs in a shot that is replicated almost identically using Freddy’s glove in A Nightmare On Elm Street.

The film is a little slow-paced and while there are a few memorable moments (like the aforementioned snake in the bath and a scene involving a spider and an open mouth) there’s a whole lot of nothing going on for large parts of the movie. Despite this, it never really feels boring because these moments are timed to appear just as interest begins to lag.

Michael Berryman was also in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes

All seems fine with Deadly Blessing and it seems fairly straightforward until the film’s last three minutes. First of all the story is resolved in a bizarre manner that fans of Sleepaway Camp will find familiar, and then there’s a ridiculous shock ending that was actually removed from the film when it was first released in the UK because the studio was concerned it’d confuse viewers.

Not only is this mental ending reinstated for the upcoming DVD, it’s also addressed in the aforementioned interview with the screenwriter in which he confesses he didn’t write that scene and was shocked when he saw it in the cinema, noting that it was clearly added to give the film a ‘Carrie‘ ending to end it on a final scare.

Deadly Blessing has separated critics but I enjoyed it. It’s not action-packed by any means but it’s an interesting film that ends with a clever little twist followed by a fucking ridiculous second one.

WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
Arrow Video is releasing Deadly Blessing on DVD in the UK on 14 November. It’s got an interesting 15-minute chat with the screenwriter and a half-hour interview with actor Michael Berryman who discusses the Wes Craven films he’s starred in and then goes on to completely slate the Hills Have Eyes remakes. And, of course, the film itself now has that bizarre twist ending reinstated. You can pre-order it from Amazon for £8.99 by clicking here.

Dead Silence (2007)

Director: James Wan

Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg, Michael Fairman

“Can you help me with a missing persons case? I’m looking for a male. About this tall. Sometimes seen with a hand up his ass.” (Detective Lipton, Dead Silence)

Dolls are creepy, that’s one thing many of us can agree on. Some of them look like they can come alive when you’re not watching. Ventriloquist dummies – those built for the sole purpose of being made to look alive by their owner – are particularly eerie in this respect. I’m certain that’s more or less the sole concept behind Dead Silence, a concept its creators were happy to run with until they realised they actually needed to build a film around it.

"Call me David Cameron again and I'll rip your bastard lungs out"

Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa are very much in love. As Jamie’s heading off to work he notices that someone has left a mysterious package outside their front door. He opens it to find a ventriloquist’s dummy, with no note explaining who sent it or why it’s been sent to them. Jamie decides he’ll figure it out later and leaves the doll at home with Lisa. When he returns he finds his wife lying dead in bed with her tongue ripped out. Bloody FedEx eh?

It soon emerges that the doll once belonged to Mary Shaw, a famous ventriloquist who was mocked one day in front of a huge audience by a young boy. Shaw kidnapped the boy and he was never seen again, and after realising she’d done it the townsfolk tracked her down and attacked her, ripping her tongue out.

Captain Cheery's Kid-Friendly Circus demonstrated breathtakingly poor costume choices

Yes, not content with borrowing from Child’s Play, Dolls and any other killer doll film ever made, Dead Silence also owes a suspiciously large chunk of its plot to A Nightmare On Elm Street with its whole “vigilante parents kill evil child catcher who continues to haunt their children from beyond the grave” plot. Not to mention it even has its own children’s rhyme, though “beware the stare of Mary Shaw” isn’t quite as catchy as “one, two, Freddy’s coming for you”.

Dead Silence is very much style over substance. There is a steady stream of wanky pseudo-arty shots throughout, where maps become wide shots of the road and eyes are zoomed in to reveal an image of the next scene. And no matter how many times they do it (which is a lot), they just can’t seem to make a shot of a doll slowly moving its eyes feel that creepy.

The graffiti on the roof of the London-to-Glasgow sleeper train was too obscene for some passengers

The film has two saving graces. The first is Donnie Wahlberg, who plays the cop following Jamie as he investigates his wife’s murder. Wahlberg’s character is naturally suspicious of Jamie’s claims that the doll killed his wife, and he consistently gets the best lines in the film as he aims snarky and sarcastic comments Jamie’s way as he tries to find evidence that will pin the crime on him.

The other decent aspect is the twist ending, which makes sense and is cleverly handled. You’re likely to have suspicions about the characters in question before the ending is revealed, but it’s unlikely you’d guess exactly what’s been going on. It’s a nice little twist and one that brings a satisfying end to what’s essentially a fairly forgettable film.