Heretic (2012) review

Heretic posterDirector: Peter Handford

Starring: Andrew Squires, Michael J Tait, Jen Nelson, James Zakeri

TOM – “You need to go now, Father. You need to walk away.”

JAMES  – “I can’t do that, Tom.”

TOM – “Yes you can. You did when we asked for your help. I came to you, I confessed to you. And so did she. And what did you do? Three Hail Marys and a Go Fuck Yourself.”

I don’t think I could be a priest. One of the reasons for this is I haven’t been to a chapel in years (I’m fairly sure one of the requirements is you have to do that every now and then), but another is that I couldn’t be trusted to keep my parishioners’ confessions a secret.

“What’s that? You’ve been fiddlng the dog? Um, say a Hail Mary and… um, hang on… what? No, I’m just texting… someone. It’s unrelated, I promise.” Continue reading “Heretic (2012) review”

Spirit Trap (2005) review

Spirit Trap posterDirector: David Smith

Starring: Billie Piper, Luke Mably, Sam Troughton, Emma Catherwood, Alsou

JENNY – “It’s a spirit clock. My mum had one.”

ADELE – “So what does it do? Horoscopes or something?”

JENNY – “It’s supposed to be a bridge between our world and the next. It’s a load of crap, really.”

True story: as Billie Piper was flying to Romania to film Spirit Trap, she received a call from her agent telling her she’d just landed the part of Rose Tyler, the assistant in BBC’s reboot of Doctor Who.

Excited, Billie turned to her Spirit Trap co-star Sam Troughton to share her good news. “That’s a coincidence,” Sam replied. “Back in the ’60s, my grandfather, Patrick Troughton, played the second Doctor.”

Interesting stuff eh? Shame they didn’t make a film out of that story instead, because Spirit Trap is a bucket of gash. Continue reading “Spirit Trap (2005) review”

The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan (2012) review

Director: Paul Tanter

Starring: Nick Nevern, Simon Phillips, Rita Ramnani

“Being a hooligan isn’t a matter of life or death, it’s much more complicated than that.” (Mike, The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan)

Don’t be fooled by the title of this one, because The Rise And Fall Of A White-Collar Hooligan is as much about the ins and outs of football hooliganism as The Simpsons is about the inner workings of a nuclear power plant. Yes, you do see the odd spot of layabout soccer yobbery but in total it takes up around 45 seconds of screen time. In reality, it’s actually a film about a large-scale credit card scam, though obviously that idea isn’t as immediately appealing as football hooliganism so that’s why it isn’t called The Rise And Fall Of A Cash Machine Scammer.

Guy Ritchie’s remake of Harry Potter was certainly a change of tone

The film tells the story of Mike, a football thug who’s down on his luck and doesn’t have much money. His far-too-understanding girlfriend is trying her best to keep his spirits up but he realises it’s only a matter of time before she gives up on him. Things look up when Mike meets Eddie, an old mate of his, during one of his hooligan outings. Eddie tells him about a possible dodgy deal that he’s involved in, one that could make Mike rich if he fancies a piece of the action too. Continue reading “The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan (2012) review”

The Company Of Wolves (1984)

Director: Neil Jordan

Starring: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Micha Bergese, David Warner

“Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.” (Granny, The Company Of Wolves)

Director Neil Jordan is perhaps best known for his contributions to the vampire genre (Interview With The Vampire) and the “chicks with dicks” genre (The Crying Game) but in the ‘80s he also lent his directorial skills to a nifty little werewolf film called The Company Of Wolves, a film so rich in imagery and metaphor that its ideas and themes are still heavily discussed more than 25 years after it was originally released.

"Sorry, I'm currently feeling a bit ruff"

While the prologue is set in the present day, the vast majority of The Company Of Wolves takes place in the fairytale setting of a girl’s dream. In it, a small village lives in fear of the wolves that roam the woods nearby. Rosaleen, a twelve-year-old girl, is caught up in this hysteria when her older sister is killed by the wolves and she’s sent to stay with her granny for a while.

There her granny tells her a bunch of stories, which play out one by one over the course of the film – some told by granny, others recounted by Rosaleen to her mum later on. Eventually, Rosaleen herself becomes the subject of one of the tales – a werewolf version of Little Red Riding Hood – and is confronted with one of the beasts in her granny’s house.  Continue reading “The Company Of Wolves (1984)”

Demons Never Die (2011)

Director: Arjun Rose

Starring: Robert Sheehan, Jennie Jacques, Jason Maza, Ashley Walters, Reggie Yates, Tulisa Contostavlos

“The truth is we’ve all thought about it at some point – death that is. Life can be painful, we’d like to know that we can end it all if we had to. The warning signs are there if you look hard enough. Those pretty girls who seem to have everything – smiles on the outside, but inside they’re broken.” (Bates, Demons Never Die)

Slasher films have been ten-a-penny since the early ’80s but Demons Never Die is to be commended for trying something different – it’s a slasher film where the victims actually want to die.

Set in London, Demons Never Die tells the story of a group of college students, depressed for various reasons, who have all agreed to carry out a suicide pact. They decide that they’ll all meet up somewhere in the near future and overdose on pills together. While they’re in the process of arguing the whens, wheres and hows of this grim little arrangement however, someone in a mask is offing them one-by-one anyway, annoying the other members of the group who think their chums are killing themselves on their own instead of sticking to the pact.

Here's the lovely Tulisa, double-checking the script to see if she's really only in the first two minutes of the film

It’s an interesting idea (at least initially), but one that throws up its own problems. Many slashers suffer in their inability to make the audience feel empathy for its characters – in between all the killings and screaming it’s often hard to develop a character enough that the person watching grows to like them and doesn’t want them to die. Since the characters here all start off wanting to die anyway, it’s very hard to build up some sort of sympathy for them and think “oh, I hope they don’t get killed”, since you know they’re going to run off and have a hundred Nurofen later anyway.  Continue reading “Demons Never Die (2011)”

Slaughter High (1986)

Directors: George Dugdale, Mark Ezra

Starring: Caroline Munro, Simon Scuddamore

“They say he still roams the nuthouse, ever hopeful of a chance to escape, so he can take his evil revenge out on us all.”  (Skip, Slaughter High)

After Friday The 13th made the cheap slasher movie popular, a slew of imitators were quickly churned out over the following years. One notable example was Slaughter High, which was originally called April Fool’s Day but had a quick last-minute title change after it was noticed that Paramount had its own film called April Fool’s Day set for release that year. The moniker modification came so late, in fact, that the film’s title card still says “April Fool’s Day” with a hastily added “AKA Slaughter High” superimposed on the bottom! Turns out Slaughter High was a much better title anyway, because not only is it actually set in an abandoned high school, you can also do some tinkering with your video box and change the title to the far more appropriate Laughter High fairly easily.

Jamie Oliver's cookery class for forgetful people didn't go too smoothly

Slaughter High begins with a flashback in which the implausibly nerdy Marty (Simon Scuddamore) is coaxed into the girls’ locker room by the school hottie, Carol (Caroline Munro), for some apparent sexy times. What he doesn’t realise is that it’s April Fool’s Day and Carol and her friends are actually playing an elaborate practical joke on him. After an extremely embarrassing incident involving a surprising degree of male nudity and inappropriate touching, Marty flees to the emotional security of his beloved chemistry lab to continue his school project. Unfortunately, there he becomes the victim of another, harsher practical joke, one which sets the lab on fire and leaves Marty hideously scarred for life.  Continue reading “Slaughter High (1986)”

Resurrecting The Street Walker (2009)

Director: Ozgur Uyanik

Starring: James Powell, Tom Shaw, Lorna Beckett

“I’m trying to make myself indispensable.” (James, Resurrecting The Street Walker)

The mockumentary has been done so many times now that it would take something pretty special to grab people’s attention these days (case in point, Troll Hunter). Resurrecting The Street Walker manages this on an incredibly low budget and left me very impressed with the results, despite it ultimately not being the zombie prostitute film I thought the title was promising.

James is a budding filmmaker who’s desperate to get into the industry. He becomes a runner at a small production company in London in the hope that his hard work will eventually get him noticed and eventually move him up the filmmaking ladder.

James demonstrates the best way to defend against a confrontational lamp

While sorting out the company’s archives one day, James comes across some reels of The Street Walker, a (fake) 1980s video nasty that was ultimately never finished when the cast and crew went AWOL. Sensing an opportunity to make a name for himself, James convinces his boss to let him film the remaining scenes of The Street Walker and release it as “the film that was never released”. Meanwhile, James’s mate Marcus, himself a filmmaker, starts a documentary following James as he starts work on his project.  Continue reading “Resurrecting The Street Walker (2009)”

Exorcismus (2010)

Director: Manuel Carballo

Starring: Sophie Vavasseur, Stephen Billington, Richard Felix, Jo-Anne Stockham

“Don’t worry, God never abandons anything to evil.” (Chris, Exorcismus)

Typical bloody teenagers, eh? They mess around with their pals, they take drugs, they get possessed by the devil and try to kill their family members, they go to nightclubs… wait, hang on a tick. That doesn’t seem right.

Well, it’s certainly the case at least for 15-year-old Emma (the believable Sophie Vavasseur), who has started slipping into odd little episodes where she starts acting like a proper fanny then waking up and wondering what’s happened. Her parents take her to a psychiatrist but, suspiciously, he has a heart attack while having a session with her. Later she tries to kill her brother before snapping out of it and coming to her senses.

You might remember Sophie Vavasseur as the girl from Evelyn, starring Pierce Brosnan. Then again, you might not

Eventually, Emma starts to believe she may be possessed by the devil, so she finds her uncle – a priest who is conveniently known for having performed an exorcism previously – and tries to convince him to perform an exorcism on her. But is Emma really possessed by the devil, or is it all in her silly little teenage head?

Well, she is possessed. Sorry if that seems like I’m spoiling things, but the film doesn’t really keep you in suspense for too long either. In fact, it’s only about half an hour in when she starts levitating in front of her family, leaving the audience in no doubt that these aren’t just teenage mood swings she’s having.  Continue reading “Exorcismus (2010)”

The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner

Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Stephens, Billie Whitelaw

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666” (Revelations 13:18)

After the phenomenal success of The Exorcist it was inevitable that some imitators would appear to try and cash in on all the “yay God, boo the devil” sentiment among moviegoers. While a number of low-budget attempts failed miserably it would be The Omen, released three years after The Exorcist, that would successfully manage to effectively compete for the coveted crown of Best Horror Film About A Little Child With Links To Satan But It’s Not A Horror Film Honest Mate It’s A Faith-Based Thriller. And that’s a highly competitive sub-genre.

Mrs Thorn felt uneasy as she saw Michael Barrymore arriving for the party

The Omen follows Robert Thorn (Peck), an American Ambassador and potential future President of the United States. His wife unfortunately has a stillborn child at the start of the film but she remains unconscious for a while after the delivery and so isn’t immediately aware of this. A priest offers Robert a solution – a healthy orphan newborn whose mother has died in childbirth and has no immediate family. Thorn takes the baby and tells his none-the-wiser wife it belongs to them.

"What? Oh we were just digging up this grave to give the skeleton some air. We definitely weren't going to have sex with it"

Fast-forward five years and weird things start happening. At their son Damien’s fifth birthday party their nanny hangs herself in front of all the guests, declaring to Damien that it’s “all for you”. A replacement nanny turns up out of the blue and, along with her rottweiler dog, show an unhealthy interest in taking care of Damien.

Things start going tits-up when Thorn is approached by a priest, who claims he was there when Thorn’s adopted son was born. He tells him Damien is actually the Antichrist, the Devil’s son, and that Thorn has to start accepting Christ if he wants to survive. Thorn isn’t having any of it, and shortly afterwards the priest dies in a freak accident where he’s impaled with a spear-like church spire.

"That's odd, I'm sure my black telephone is always sitting right here"

A journalist called Jennings (Warner) shows Thorn photos he took of the nanny and priest before they died. Both have dark marks over them in the shape of a noose and a spear respectively. What’s more, Jennings had taken a photo of himself and in it there’s a dark line across his neck. DUN DUN DUNNNNN.

Despite the whole spooky child premise and the Satanic element The Omen doesn’t really have much in common with The Exorcist. Damien doesn’t ever really do anything in the way Reagan does, it merely seems to be the case that odd things happen around him. Instead the film feels more like a predecessor to more modern movies like Final Destination and The Ring in that it revolves around premonitions of deaths about to occur (or omens, if you will).

Well hello there, little chap! Aren't you a cute little OH JESUS CHRIST MY EYES ARE ON FIRE

As a result of this, despite any suspicions you may have The Omen actually isn’t that scary at all. The fear comes in the concern that Damien is about to suddenly snap, expose himself as the devil’s son and do something evil, a concern that ultimately leads to nothing. Its few deaths, while effectively directed, are still handled in a way that they’re not too shocking with the possible exception of the film’s most famous scene, involving a stray pane of glass. Instead it’s more of a paranormal thriller, a race against time to figure out why these deaths are happening and how to put an end to them before any more occur.

Perhaps the most effective thing about the film however is the music. Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic Latin chanting and dramatic orchestral score is so effective and adds so much to the action it won him his only Oscar, impressive considering his life’s work included scores for the likes of Poltergeist,  LA Confidential, Chinatown, Gremlins, First Blood, Alien, Mulan and Planet Of The Apes.

If you’re expecting spinning heads and an evil kid going on a rampage, that’s not what The Omen is all about. If you’re looking for a creepy movie with an underlying sense of unease however, rather than a balls-to-the-wall demonfest, then The Omen is a mini masterpiece.

The Vault Of Horror (1973)

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Daniel Massey, Terry-Thomas, Curd Jurgens, Michael Craig, Tom Baker

“That’s how it is, and how it always will be. Night after night we have to retell the evil things we did when we were alive. Night after night, for all eternity.” (Sebastian, The Vault Of Horror)

For those unfamiliar with Amicus Productions, it was a British film production company based at Shepperton Studios in Surrey where it was active during the ’60s and ’70s. Amicus specialised in horror films, in particular anthology ones that offered a handful of 20-minute stories instead of one long 90-minute one. The Vault Of Horror is one such anthology, featuring five tales based on stories from the popular EC Comics horror series of the ’40s and ’50s (which included such comics as Tales From The Crypt, Vault Of Horror and Shock SuspenStories). And it’s brilliant.

"I don't know why you're upset dear, I told you I was going out to get hammered tonight"

The film opens with five businessmen going into an elevator which takes them down to a room none of them pressed for. When they enter the room, which looks like a gentlemen’s club, the lift closes behind them, at which point they realise there are no buttons to open it again. They decide to sit at the table in the room and have a chat while they wait for the lift doors to open again.

The men start to share the dreams they’ve been having recently. Coincidentally, each dream tells a story in which each man does something immoral then dies as a result of their actions.

"It wasn't me mate, it was the painting. Listen, I was Doctor Who once, don't mess with me"

Tale one involves a chap called Harold (Massey), who plans on confronting his sister about their father’s inheritance. He takes things a little too far but gets his come-uppance when he heads to a nearby restaurant after his altercation.

Then there’s the story of Gritchit (Terry-Thomas). He’s recently been married to a lovely young lady but he constantly badmouths her for putting his things in the wrong place. We’re talking proper neat freak stuff here, with individual types of screw going in different labelled containers (not counting the ones loose in his head). Eventually wifey is driven to the edge and decides to give Gritchit a taste of his own medicine.

Add your own "farting in a lift" joke here

Next up is Sebastian (Jurgens), a magician travelling the world with his wife in search of the next big trick to confound people with back home. Leaving his wife at a hotel, Sebastian wanders the streets of Egypt where he finds a women in an alleyway. As she plays her flute a long rope raises out of a vase. She then grabs the rigid rope and climbs up it, right to the top. A stunned Sebastian offers to pay her a fortune for the secret but she refuses, so he makes a plan to take it from her in a less than sociable manner. There’s more to the trick than Sebastian realises though, as his wife eventually finds out.

The fourth tale is the weak link in the anthology, with some hokey bullshit about a man (Craig) faking his death to gain insurance money and things not going quite as planned, but thankfully the final tale rounds things off nicely with the clever story of an artist (Baker) who visits a voodoo priest to get revenge on three men who wronged him. After receiving a blessing from the priest the artist realises that everything he paints happens in real life, so he sets about painting portraits of his three enemies then messing them up to kill them. Foolishly though, he fails to properly protect his own self-portrait…

"I really think it's time you cut your ponytail, Margaret"

Of the five tales (none of which, incidentally, are actually from the Vault Of Horror comic series – four are from Tales From The Crypt and the other is from Shock SuspenStories), the first and fifth are the most entertaining. The ending – explaining where the five men actually are – can be spotted a mile off, but the main story was always just a basic shell to contain the five shorter stories, which are clearly where the real entertainment value lasts.

If you can find it, it’s worth getting hold of the full uncut version of The Vault Of Horror. The American DVD releases of the film cut the endings of the first two stories, which is a shame because the final shot in the first story in particular is an incredibly effective, chilling moment and probably the best shot in the whole film. UK channel Film4 often shows a restored version of the film – this is the full uncut version and the one I recommend checking out.

The Vault Of Horror is a hidden gem, a great little British horror anthology where the five stories (while varied in quality) are all entertaining enough. Although the uncut version is really the best way to watch it you should still really see it in any form you can.

WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
You can get the uncut UK version here from Amazon.co.uk though the quality’s not the best.
If you live in the US you can either import the UK version if you can play Region 2 DVDs, or alternatively buy the cut version here in a double-bill with Tales From The Crypt.