Ashtray Dirt the 13th

Afraid of the Dark, a new stage show, will play at the Charing Cross Theatre from 2nd September until the 26th October. Starring Charlie Anson, Rebecca Blackstone and Julian Forsyth, the play is described as ‘a new brand of theatrical terror that paralyzes the audience with fear. Everyone is afraid of something. What scares you when the lights go out? 50’s Hollywood, A failing B-movie producer and his team struggle to find the next terrifying blockbuster. A mysterious stranger appears – blurring the line between nightmare and reality while worming his way into their minds, exploiting their very worst fears’…

FrightFest will show footage from the in-production documentary Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD before the screening of Odd Thomas on August 26th…

First images for Ti West’s The Sacrament have dropped. A rural utopian nightmare anyone…

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The first wave of programming for Fantastic Fest has been announced, including Keanu Reeve’s Man of Tai Chi, Katrin Gebbe’s Nothing Bad Can Happen and Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut…

Rumours are bounding around as to where the sequel to James Wan’s The Conjuring will go. Whilst there are ‘many’ options, the favourite at the moment will see the Warren’s travel to Enfield, England to deal with two possessed sisters…

Actress Karen Black has passed away following a battle with cancer. Black was notable for her roles in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces and Nashville amongst others. She was 74…

Horror presenter and actress Emily Booth is producing and starring in her first short film Selkie, which has a kickstarter campaign to help raise budget funds. Inspired by a Celtic myth, the films promises to be an adult fairy tale…

James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ (2013) review

Think of recent supernatural films and chances are that you’ll initially picture the latest entry in the Paranormal Activity  series, or one of its many rip offs, or one of the many recent horror films that have tried to be scary and really, well, haven’t been. Mention Amityville and the likelihood is that you’ll think of the infamous real-life haunting (or was it real…?) and the many films that have rolled off the back of the famous account (including that terrible 2005 remake). For some people, James Wan’s latest feature The Conjuring might sound like another Amityville inspired waste of ninety minutes, but in reality Wan manages to craft a pretty decent modern haunted house story that puts many recent efforts to shame.

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The ‘based on a true story’ moniker doesn’t always work for some films, but for The Conjuring this is actually a reality. The film is based on one of the cases that real-life paranormal investigators and demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren dealt with. More famously known for being some of the first investigators to look into the Amityville Haunting, Ed and Lorraine have investigated over 10,000 hauntings in their career, one of which involved the Perron family…

Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move their family, including their five daughters, into a run-down house in Harrisville, Rhode Island.  The illusion of the perfect new spacious family home is shattered when strange things start happening and the young girls start seeing and interacting with spirits. As the incidents escalate, Carolyn seeks out Ed and Lorraine, well seasoned investigators and demonologists (and gifted clairvoyent in the case of Lorraine), in the hope that they can provide some answers. Once the Warren’s start scratching at the surface of everything, they soon uncover that they are in for more than they bargained for…

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First off, reactions to The Conjuring have been a little mixed. Whilst its done well with critics and is taking the US box office by storm, I have read comments from viewers who, having seen it, weren’t massive fans and it’s easy to understand why. When it comes to action, the film is a bit of a slow burner, and when the action does eventually start to kick in, it does feel a little familiar. Despite the 1970s setting (which is perfectly captured and maintained through some great costume work, ace hairstyles and a few knowing lines in the script), a few of the bedroom scenes feel a bit Paranormal Activity, the location and family sometimes feel a little Amityville Horror and no matter how hard it tries to steer clear of it, there’s no denying that the exorcism scene feels very reminiscent of none other than The Exorcist (whilst not as extreme, its easy to see the influence of the film on the make up). Hell, even the house feels a little Elm Street with its green, white and red colour scheme. Admittedly, some of the scares are predictable in their timing meaning they lose a little of their scare factor, and when it finally comes down to the link between the Perron’s and the Warren’s, you can’t help but feel like the emotional cliché dial has been cranked up to eleven.

That aside, Wan has managed to create a tight little haunted house story for the modern audience, that rightfully shows film makers how its done. Focusing more on character, Wan doesn’t need to rely so much on outrageous set pieces, gore and overuse of special effects (although the hair pulling scene is the perfect case for The Conjuring over doing it) making the picture feel more balanced. The atmosphere is eerie, the scares are jumpworthy (even if ever so slightly too reliant on sound) and when its time to get creepy, it gets creepy quickly and uncomfortably (the film has without a doubt one of the creepiest dolls I’ve ever seen in a film). The film also has some great steady-cam shots, making the audience very familiar with the house itself, giving it its own identity and making it as much a player as the human cast.

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The main thing that makes the film work so well though are the cast. With a few supporting characters aside, the film really does just focus on the Perron family and the Warren’s, siding you with both the fear of Carolyn and her girls and the initial scepticism-come-solve-it attitude of Ed and Lorraine. Patrick Wilson (who has another outing with Wan scheduled for this year, Insidious: Chapter 2) and Vera Farmiga are both terrific, playing off an apparent chemistry with absolute ease and really making their versions of the Warren’s human. Nothing feels clichéd or overly dramatic about their performance which, in the realm of supernatural films and some of the portrayals of psychics and mediums I’ve seen, feels really fresh and enjoyable to watch. Lili Taylor also comes off well, finally doing the haunted house movie she deserves to do after being in the awful mess that wasThe Haunting remake. Concerned, confused, possessed, terrified, loving, she does it all and it’s all underplayed to precision. As for Ron Livingston and his on-screen daughters, they all play scared very well, but ultimately the film belongs to Taylor, Wilson and Farmiga’s perfectly crafted sympathetic portrayals.

For a film which started developement nearly twenty years ago, it seems that the wait was worth it, just in finding the right crew and cast alone. When it gets to the very end and the inevitable but very subtlety well done Amityville reference has passed, you can instantly see why New Line are keen to get a sequel going. When it comes to Amityville, so much is often heard about the house, the Lutz’s and the DeFeo’s that it’s really nice to have a film that actually shows Ed and Lorraine themselves for once (Lorraine even has a cameo). Whilst Amityville has been done numerous times, and The Haunting In Connecticut been and gone (based on another case of the Warren’s), here’s hoping that another one of the many thousands of cases they investigated that isn’t well-known makes it to the screen also.

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It’s not the greatest film ever made, but it certainly doesn’t hide what it is. Wan proved he could do haunted and possessed with Insidious and this just cements his talents as a filmmaker. For a studio release, The Conjuring is an original horror that entertains, even if it leaves you feeling more interested in the Warren’s themselves than being scared.

The Devils Hour – ‘The 3.07AM Project’

To celebrate the US release of James Wan’s The Conjuring, VICE magazine teamed up with the film to commission four shorts by four horror directors inspired by the time 3.07AM. The results are interesting and can be watched below. The best of the bunch are This One For The Lady by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, ABC’s Of Death segment A is for Apocalypse), an eerie teeth related horror that makes your molars ache, and One Last Dive by Jason Eisener (Treevenge, Hobo With A Shotgun), a claustrophobic thirty second clip that visualises my dislike of diving quite eloquently. Max Landis’ segment is one of the weaker of the last two, an interesting idea that needs more than thirty seconds to unravel itself, whilst Ti West’s short proves he hasn’t quite caught the hang of making shorts that are as effective as his features (cough M is for Miscarriage cough…). Either way its a good four minutes or so that certainly gets you hungry to see The Conjuring which opens here on August 2nd…

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Another week, another festival. This time it’s Fantastic Fest and the announcement that this years opening film will be Robert Rodriguez’ Machete Kills.

Leigh Whannell’s new horror effort Cooties is gaining a cast quick and fast. Co-written by and starring Whanell (Saw, Insidious), names attached to the project this week include Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim VS The World, Milk), Rainn Wilson (The Office, Super), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) and Elijah Wood who is also serving as producer. “The film begins when a mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the pre-adolescent children into a feral swarm of mindless savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives against the monstrous pupils.Cooties is currently scheduled for an October 2014 release…

A small piece of concept art for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake has dropped this week. Edwards has hinted that a big announcement will be happening at this week’s San Diego Comic Con, where a part-ride-part-museum tribute to Godzilla called Godzilla Encounter is being held…

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It’s yet to be released in the UK, but rumours are that New Line have initiated a sequel to The Conjuring

Another Day Of The Dead reboot is in the works, with Lati Grobman and Christa Campbell, two of the producers behind the recent Texas Chainsaw 3D, securing the rights…

Universal‘s Halloween Horror Nights have announced the 2013 remake of Evil Dead as the headling maze for this years event at both the LA and Orlando theme parks…

Ashtray Dirt the 7th

First up, today see’s the release of Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England. Available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and in cinemas, the film will also play tonight on Film4 at 10.45pm…

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Arrow have announced their latest Blu-ray releases for this month, The Car and Runaway Train…

The line up for this years Film4 FrightFest has been announced. Films playing include You’re Next, Curse of Chucky, V/H/S/2, Rewind This!, The Borderlands and We Are What We Are. The full line up and links to buy tickets can be found over at the official website

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You’re Next writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have announced they are prepping their next project, The GuestDowntown Abbey star Dan Stevens has reportedly been cast in the lead role. The Guest follows an ex-marine who is taken in by another fallen comrade’s family until he becomes unwelcome in the new home. Shooting begins this summer…

For anyone concerned that Gareth Edwards would follow Roland Emmerich’s suit and not have his Godzilla breathe fire, these latest on-set pictures would hint otherwise…

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Universal Halloween Horror Nights have announced their first scare house for this year’s Orlando events – Cabin In The Woods…

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Enter The Dragon star Jim Kelly has sadly passed away after battling cancer. A skilled martial artist, Kelly went on to star in Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way and Black Samurai, but is best known for playing ‘Williams’ opposite Bruce Lee. Kelly was 67…

The latest trailer for James Wan’s The Conjuring has been released and features the real-life Perron family whose experiences inspired the film. Effectively creepy, it’s certainly a new way to market films ‘based on a true story’. The Conjuring is released August 2nd…

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Up first is the new trailer for Israeli release Big Bad Wolves, which was announced last week as the closing film for this years Film4 Frightfest festival. Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papusahdo, the revenge-thriller looks intriguing, brutal and brilliantly shot and will no doubt be a hit at the festival in August…

Arrow have announced their latest limited edition steelbook release, Lucio Fulci’s classic The Beyond, which is exclusive to Zavvi and available to pre-oder now…

Another psychedelic trailer has dropped for Ben Wheatley’s new picture A Field In England. The film is released across all platforms next Friday, July 5th…

Director David Lynch is reportedly collaborating with Trent Reznor on the next Nine Inch Nails release, Come Back Haunted. Lynch will apparently direct the music video for the new single, the first time the pair have worked together since the soundtrack to Lost Highway

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Actor James Gandolfini sadly passed away this week from a suspected heart attack. The star who was most notable for his lead role in television series The Sopranos, also played a string of supporting characters in films as diverse as True Romance, Zero Dark Thirty, Where The Wild Things Are and The Man Who Wasn’t There…

Birmingham’s Shock and Gore festival have announced their line up for this summers series of events. Running from the 19th to the 15th July, events include screenings of films both new and old from an Evil Dead double bill to recent offering John Dies At The End. The full lineup can be found on the website

More new pictures are emerging from the set of the new Godzilla remake. An underground bunker and a giant crater tease the presence of the titular creature in Gareth Edwards feature slated for release next year…

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Second Sight have revealed the sleeve artwork for their next Blu-ray release, Possession, which is released on July 29th…

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MGM have released an official press release this week confirming many of the rumours surrounding the new Poltergeist remake. The film will be directed by Gil Kenan (Monster House), produced by Sam Raimi and Bob Tapert and will be adapted from a screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz: The Great and Powerful). According to the press release, the plot will revolve around ‘a family struggling to make ends meet relocates to an outdated suburban home and is confronted by an angry spirit who kidnaps their youngest daughter and challenges them to band together to rescue her from the clutches of evil’

A set of new images have been released for the next James Wan feature The Conjuring, a creepy tale of paranormal investigators helping out a family living in a haunted house…

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Lastly, author and screenwriter Richard Matheson passed away this week aged 87. Prolific in the horror and science-fiction genres, Matheson wrote the novels I Am Legend, A Stir of Echoes and Hell House, the screenplays for The Devil Rides Out, The Legend of Hell House and The Incredible Shrinking Man and numerous teleplays…