Creepshow (1982) Reviewed

Thirty years after it’s original release, George Romero‘s ‘Creepshow‘ is still a deliciously dark anthology full of macabre tales and comic dark humour. With a new Blu-Ray release thanks to Second Sight, the feature is as bright and bold as ever, with its comic book style aesthetics perfectly captured on screen.

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Written by Stephen King and starring a whole host of familiar names and faces from across cinema and genre film, ‘Creepshow‘ is one of those special films that transcends all ages. Whilst there are some rather dark moments, the film is essentially for both kids and adults, with the slapstick comedy and childlike escaping-reality-for-fantasy comic stories coming to like being the appeal for youngsters. Adults will no doubt like the, sometimes, very comedic touches that come out of the darkest parts of the stories. Revenge, monsters, murder, bad dancing (yes Ed Harris, you are most definitely guilty of this), it’s all there, with literally something for everyone in the form of fears, terror, phobias and characters like the excessive drunk, manipulative colleague, jilted lover and oppressive family members.

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If you’ve never seen the feature, or want to upgrade your DVD to high definition format, now is the time. The transfer looks positively stunning. Not only is the picture quality terrific but it enhances the entire experience. The colours of the comic style that the films homages are once again bright and sickly with Tom Savini‘s special effects looking devilishly beautiful. Whether it be your first time or a revisit, alone or with company, ‘Creepshow‘ is the way to go. They just don’t make anthology films like it anymore.

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Creepshow is out from Second Sight on 28th October, just in time for Hallowe’en, pre-order it here

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Sharknado – The Spinning Terror

Brendan tried to avoid the treacherous waters, but no luck, they came to land to find him.  

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Jaws is correctly revered as a classic of the disaster/horror movie genre and rightly credited as the first high concept blockbuster movie. Jaws’ singular premise – a giant monster shark – that neatly translated into one single marketing image, and transformed the way in which films were made and sold in Hollywood to this day.

No one who was certifiably sane would say that Sharknado is destined to have the same homunculus impact on the world of modern filmmaking. However, it is undoubtedly a high concept project (sharks meet tornadoes), it is undoubtedly a disaster film and it has undoubtedly achieved a new and very modern type of success with contemporary audiences.

After amassing several million views on YouTube for it’s trailer, Sharknado’s premier on the Syfy channel accomplished something unprecedented for a made for TV movie by becoming a trending topic on Twitter. Websites and blogs have since collated the best and most amusing of Sharknado’s tweets, while the wave of social media interest in the film secured a limited US theatrical run, again another first for a “Syfy original film”.

Sharknado is a slick example of how low budget filmmaking can leverage social media platforms to generate positive word of mouth and reach new, incremental audiences. The problem for some critics with Sharknado, however, is the nature of the film itself.

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The premise of Sharknado doesn’t require much in the way of thought or explanation. A waterspout brings all manner of man eating sharks in-land to downtown LA, where they wreak all kind of havoc on an assorted cast of b-movie actors. Interestingly this ensemble includes the semi-credible presence of John Heard, he of The Sopranos (Ed: or for our purposes – Cutter’s Way, CHUD and Cat People etc)  and other far more legitimate screen roles. One can only assume John badly needs a paycheck right now.

It is willfully silly, escapist nonsense that pays homage to a host of cheesy pop culture references. The issue and where Sharknado proves to be so divisive, is that it is a project that is designed to be mocked. Unlike say the efforts of Ed Wood or Tommy Wiseau or even some of the movies distributed by Lloyd Kaufman, the makers of Sharknado certainly have no artistic hubris about the highfalutin merit of their work.

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That’s not to say Sharknado is a bad film as such. For my sins I actually enjoyed it. Honest. Production values are better than expected, pacing and narrative move quickly enough and among its truly memorable sequences is the sight of Ian Ziering first being swallowed whole by a badly rendered, flying CGI shark only to then see him cut himself out with a chainsaw and simultaneously rescue his love interest (Cassie Scerbo) from inside the same creature! Wow. Intense.

Sharknado is terrible, self consciously cheesy, deliberately camp fun brought to life purely for the commercial gain of the backers and producers at the Syfi channel. It’s safe to say that with Sharknado, the sharks of this film are not just limited to those in front of the camera lens.

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Sharknado is out on 7th October

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Are we there yet…? The Last Exorcism: Part II

The ever daring Brendan Patterson, once again dives into the unknown, braving the twisted demons of The Last Exorcism: Part II.  

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I’ve not seen the original Last Exorcism but in the research that I conducted before settling down to watch its absurdly entitled sequel, I learned that it took a “new” spin on the now hackneyed exorcism sub-genre by using the now hackneyed “found footage” approach to filmmaking.

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Audiences expecting the same for Part 2 are going to be disappointed. The sequel abandons any such similar aesthetic traits, opting for a far more conventional, classic narrative setting and structure. Opening credits notwithstanding, which are melange of home movies, news reports and other gumpf which allude to the first entry in this ongoing movie franchise.

It’s not just the same stylistic composition that the Last Exorcism Part II ejects, however, as for the next 90 minutes any sense of continuity from the original film are gone too. Instead we pick up with sole survivor Nell (Ashley Bell) trying to remember just what in the name of Lord Satan happened in the first film while putting her life back together in some hick town in the US.

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The really bad news for Nell is that Beelzebub (aka Abalam) is back and has all manner of horrid back bending, spine cracking contortionism and general evil soul-sucking possession in mind for her all over again. Plus a few new tricks up his old demonic sleeve.

The interminably dull build up to the satanic denouement of the Last Exorcism Part II includes some especially below par PG13 related scares, even in what is billed as its “uncut extended edition” on home dvd and bluray.

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Obviously I’m taking these out of context but they include: the terror of a talking vacuum cleaner, the sight of Nell being harassed by a living statue performer during a costume ball (yikes!), a trip to the zoo where an irate gorilla flings a tyre in her general direction and a nuisance dog that woofs loudly on her way to work as a chambermaid. Yes things really get that “scaremongus”.

Overall, LEP2 feels distinctly less like The Exorcist or any of the slew of imitators and is more reminiscent of Carnival of Souls where poor, doomed Candace Hilligoss wanders seemingly out of step with the world around her while menaced by sinister dark forces. But whereas Herk Harvey’s 1962 masterpiece had atmosphere in abundance, Last Exorcism Part II feels bland, contrived and ultimately does little to create any emotional empathy for its tortured female protagonist.

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The two things I dislike most about this movie are:

1) It might actually play quite well to some God fearing Americans, somewhere in the Bible Belt who may or may not believe in the efficacy of exorcisms and their own ability and need to perform one on a family member, friend or pet animal

2) The anti-climactic finale where Nell is transmogrified into a possessed Carrie clone while simultaneously paving the way presumably for The Last Exorcism Part 3. Yet another sequel in this franchise? Now that is a truly ridiculous and actually quite frightening proposition.

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Last Exorcism: Part II is out on Monday, 30th September

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Gregg Araki’s ‘Nowhere’ (1997)

The third in director Gregg Araki’s ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy’, 1997 release Nowhere makes its way to DVD thanks to Second Sight. Self-described by Araki as ‘an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 on acid’, Nowhere won’t be to everyone’s taste but it a great watch none the less. WIth its lack of straight narrative, Araki explores a day in the lives of a bunch of teenagers; sexually promiscuous, lingo-savvy, drug taking school skippers who seem to know a lot about alienation and the dread of impending adulthood.

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At times, it’s a lot to take in, especially the cast with its principal players (James Duval, Rachel True and Nathan Bexton amongst a heap of others) and some great cameos (Shannen Doherty, Traci Lords, John Ritter, Beverly D’Angelo to name a few). That said, it all works well, and you get a real feel for who are friends and the nature in which you only know some people by who they’re sleeping with or the name of your mutual drug dealer (or maybe it just reminds me too much of experiences in my own bitchy all-girl high school…).

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Ultimately, it feels more about the teen angst struggle of how life isn’t fair, whether that’s being sold cut drugs, being seriously assaulted or having to share your bisexual girlfriend with someone else even though you have bisexual urges too. Nihilistic, fast-moving, lonely and, at times, embarrassingly funny, Nowhere is an enjoyable ride and a reminder of how special your teenage years can really be. There’s something in there for most people, even the alien subplot which surprisingly feels totally not out-of-place. Oh, and there’s the kick ass soundtrack. A solid four out of five.

Larry Stewart’s ‘The Initiation’ (1984)

If you love 80s slasher films, the chances are you’ll love Larry Stewart’s 1984 release The Initiation, the latest release on the Arrowdrome imprint of cult label Arrow. At times great, and sadly at others slightly underwhelming, The Initiation is full of all the hallmarks you’d expect from a mid 80s slasher and a film with a low-budget. Interested? Of course you are…

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Like all good slashers, The Initiation has a great, unidentified (until the final moments of course!) killer with a terrific phallic weapon – in this instance the garden fork (not quite standard phallic symbols but if you’ve got three, email me…) – who has recently escaped from the local sanitorium. The target? A group of sorority girls. actually to be more precise, one preppy sorority girl by the name of Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga). Apprehensive about her sorority initiation, Kelly also has to deal with this horrible nightmare that’s plagued her since she was a child – one that combines walking in on her parents having sex and a man getting set on fire. Majoring in psychology, Kelly decides to share her nightmare with her professor (a rather yummy James Read) who finds it so interesting that he wants tp study it and help her decode its meaning. Only, on the night of her initiation, both the worlds of her sorority and her nightmare will collide, with devastating results!

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Lets be honest, am I bigging this film up slightly? I guess so. It’s not that the film isn’t good, but at times it isn’t brilliant. Whilst there are some fun bits, the are a few moments that drag a little and stop it from becoming the über cult classic that it could be. That said, Daphne Zuniga is great as the lead girl, playing a likeable character that finds a happy medium between ignorant victim and college bitch. When the shit really hits the fan, she puts in a great turn and you can tell she relishes it. The rest of the cast come off quite favourably, with Read standing out, as well as Vera Miles and Clu Gulager playing Kelly’s parents. The feature has its fair share of clichés but when the ending comes around, it should catch you a little off guard (I genuinely didn’t see it coming and only came up with a half right prediction). It’s just a shame that when it comes to gearing up for the big finale with kills galore, the kills in question are a little boring. Everyone knows a good slasher needs some kind of increase in tension and some inventive kills, and sadly The Initiation has neither of these when it needs them the most. However, it does have the most impressive penis costume I’ve seen which warrants viewing. A three out of five, The Initiation isn’t a well-known slasher, but is as good as other sleeper hits like Student Bodies. Worth picking up and watching, but maybe one that won’t get as many repeat viewings as your standard classics.

Robin Campilo’s ‘The Returned’ (2004)

Today see’s the release of Robin Campilo’s The Returned, the original French film that inspired the hit series that is currently airing on Channel 4 in this country. Thanks to Arrow, the feature is getting a re-release and a new title (bye bye They Came Back, hello new title to cash in on the series’ popularity) and is an absolute must-see of a film.

The premise to The Returned is quite simple. It offers an intersting, if not entirely believable (or is it..?) geo-political question; what if the dead really did come back to life? Instead of focusing on the political side of this dilemma, or creating a mass action film in which countries struggle with containing thousands of ‘extra’ people, or creating a horror built on blood and guts, co-writers Campilo and Brigitte Tijou explore the emotional side to the question. The result is a slow-burning but well paced exploration of the different ways in which one might react when presented with the return of a dead loved one.

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Opening in an unknown town in France, the audience are told that the dead are returning. Seventy million worldwide, thirteen thousand currently in France. There’s no pattern to the activity, but they’re back, and people have different opinions towards it. All they seem to want to do is get back on with their lives, but when your child has been dead for four years or you’ve been widowed for a while, its difficult to suddenly adjust to such a major change. Again. And whilst you think it might be easy to slip back into old routines, the reality is that sometimes it isn’t (and you don’t need the dead to come back to life to tell you that!). Isham and Veronique are, at first, generally happy to see their young son return, except that over time Veronique begins to notice behavioral patterns and cottons on that something isn’t quite right with him. Isham on the other hand takes to fatherhood again as if things had never changed, growing to slowly resent his wife’s coldness. The towns old Mayor doesn’t initially take to his wife’s return, then changing to welcoming and accepting her and then beginning to get frustrated and confused about her existence. Rachel on the other hand can’t bring herself to visit her returned husband, however once they finally meet she welcomes him home with open arms. But is he the same person he was before?

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You see, the dead suffer with a form of aphasia, meaning they cannot create any new memories, whilst some struggle to remember their past. Society has deemed them untrustworthy and so when they present with remembering their old working lives and start going back to work, they can only perform the most menial of tasks at the request of officials. They don’t appear to be of any major threat, but their expressionless faces, blank eyes, moments of blacking out and endless walking marathons make them a ticking time bomb. Over time do they realise their state of living? It would appear so, and yet society isn’t so sure, for the reality is that studies on this scale would take years. The returned have a natural restlessness, made all the more eerie by their inability to sleep or eat much, and appear to gather at night in droves. Some are occasionally controlled by a drug that makes them collapse in a state of sleep, but does the drug have side effects? What are they doing, and should we be worried?

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The Returned really is one of the best zombie films I have ever seen. I’ve only watched two episodes of the show, and anyone dubious of watching the original source need not be. The tone is exactly the same, the feature shot beautifully (with some simple yet stunningly composed shots) and the entire films production  and sound design simply effective, complementing the premise perfectly. The returned are presented both as people to feel sympathetic for and almost plague like, appearing in one scene as coming out of hiding in a woods by a main road like locusts, invisible behind trees and then suddenly everywhere in the space of a second. Can these people ever be phased back into society? It seems that no matter how much you do for them, the answer is a resounding no. It’s also very well acted, the ensemble of all the leads being very impressive, in particular Geraldine Pailhas as Rachel, Jonathan Zacci as Mathieu, Marie Matheron as Veronique and Frederic Pierrot as Health Worker Gardet (who also appears in the television series playing Jerome).

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The aspect I loved most about the picture is the fact that it made you think. Focusing on character emotion and providing a plot point that would naturally arouse different emotional feeling really makes you consider how you would cope if faced with the films premise. Some of you might think you’d be fine, cool and well composed, but would you?  What if your favourite relative, the love of your life, your best friend or your child reappeared (made painfully poignant in a scene where a couple walk past tents of people meeting a returned one when a Nurse walks past cradling a child that could be a maximum of a year old, the contrast of which against a large number of old people seems all the more sad) after years of not being there. Joy, confusion, unease, happiness, worry, its a, personally, complex issue and one that I find completely incomprehensible. And that’s why the film works so well; it presents the idea, but doesn’t dictate its outcome in a way that feels like its being thrown down your throat. You feel for the characters and their various predicaments. You feel human, for the film is essentially about humanity; what it consists of and how far it stretches.

When it comes to the final act, you really are gripped to find out how it all reaches the pinnacle, the ending both angering you and making you feel as sad as some of its leads. If you want a zombie film that isn’t of the usual ilk, buy this. And if you’ve had friends raving about how good the television series is, seek this out to watch first. A well crafted masterpiece, The Returned is a sure future classic, its just a shame its taken the tv series to bring it out of its shadow.