Sunday, 15 July 2018

It Lives


d./w./p. Richard Mundy; cast: Andrew Kinsler, Peter McCrohon

This terrific psychological horror/sci-fi feature about an isolated man interacting with a creepy AI brings to mind the more unsettling parts of 2001. In 2024, Roy is a lone technician managing a nuclear bunker in readiness for the arrival of selected individuals when needed. His only companion is Arthur, a computer that passes the Turing Test in its text screen conversations (avoiding a cheesy voice was an excellent decision). When the balloon goes up and no-one arrives before the doors lock, Roy finds himself trapped with an apparently sentient Arthur and some unexplained events. Paranoia understandably sets in: is he losing his mind, or not alone, or being manipulated by an electronic monster? Perhaps the whole ‘bunker’ scenario is fake and he’s just some psychological lab rat. Kinsler delivers a blistering, award-worthy solo performance, accentuated by great sets/locations (I recognised the Gosport Submarine Museum!) and Nick Barker’s cracking photography. Shot over three and a half years, this premiered at the BIFF in May 2016 under its original title Twenty Twenty-Four. The new title has major relevance and anyway, there are already two British horror films called The Bunker…

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Football horror 2: Sphere of Fear

d./w./p. John Mitchell; cast: Chris Ball Hero, Ann Maddern, Ben Carroll, Kung Fu Tony, Hugh Pincott, Spooky Lee Norton, Jonathan Lea, Warren Baker, Chris Woodward, Louis Thomsen

There’s a real Attack of the Killer Tomatoes vibe to the straight-faced silliness of this amateur comedy about a demonic football… which sadly squanders whatever na├»ve charm it can muster by running a soul-sapping 135 minutes. Some Satanists curse a football which keeps landing in their garden and it then goes on a killing spree. Loser Dylan sets out to destroy the ball after being visited by the ghost of his brother, one of the first victims. He is helped by a goth chick (the only decent actor) and hindered by a camo-clad hunter (two planks of wood). Day/night continuity is just something that happens to other films apparently, but the ball’s animation – throwing/rolling it from offscreen plus judicious editing – works surprisingly well, and a few moments are genuinely funny (“Now stop wanking and avenge my death.”). Shot around Plymouth over six years for £300, this screened at a festival in New York in June 2014.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Football Horror 1: Kick

d./w. Marcus Warren; p. Nick Hocart; cast: Daniel Bayle, Rik Young, Richard Strange, Pete Lee Wilson, Kellie Shirley, Steve Lorrigan

Two friends find themselves locked in a building overnight with a deadly killer. This film’s unique take on that well-worn premise is that the building is a Premier League football stadium, where Dan and Steve took part in an unauthorised fan match orchestrated by a corrupt security guard. When they’re not out by ten, they find doors locked, corridors unlit and a couple of dead bodies that leave them in no doubt they’re in danger. Remarkably, this accurate take on the British passion for soccer was written and directed by an American. Young is particularly good as Dan, a dirty player on the pitch who can’t be relied on off it. Commendably taut at just 76 minutes, this doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it feel the need to explain everything. Filmed in 2012 at the homes of Doncaster and Leyton Orient, with some exteriors at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Kick premiered at a film festival in Florida one week before its German release. It remains inexplicably unavailable in the UK.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Demonic Tapes 2: The Doll


d./w. Richard Mansfield; p. Richard Mansfield, Daniel Mansfield; cast: Jennie Fox, Darren Munn, Daniel Mansfield

Mansfield Dark rides the current ‘creepy doll’ wave with this unnerving James-ian ghost story which, if anything, suffers slightly from under-using its off-the-shelf creepy doll. Single mum Rose, enjoying a week of solitude while the kids are with their dad, discovers a Walkman and some cassettes in her cellar which prove to be recordings of a psychologist interviewing a possessed child. There are two spirits at work, ‘Socks’ and ‘Mr Sheets’, although the story is unclear about their relationship. Fox is terrific in the lead role, her long hair and wide eyes evoking memories of 1970s horror victims, not least Shelley Duval in The Shining. Mansfield Dark regular Munn is the handsome young vicar who helps her; we’re left to wonder whether the sexual tension between the two has contributed to the supernatural situation. As usual, Richard Mansfield wrings fear from simple effects: a door opening, a duvet lifting, an indistinct figure in a white sheet. Originally released in February 2018 as The Demonic Doll, this shares a basic premise and location with Mansfield Dark's most successful movie so was retitled as an ersatz sequel in June.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Mrs Wiltshire


d./w. Neil Morris, Gary Smart; p. Neil Morris, Gary Smart, Christopher Griffiths, Stuart Conran; cast: Doris MF Bohnam, Bruce Jones, Stanley Rawlings, Simon Bamford, Ray Skeemer

In 2017 Gary Smart, creator of books and documentaries on various 1980s horror classics, began making narrative films under the banner ‘Dark Ditties’. The Offer, a 48-minute sub-feature reuniting several Hellraiser cast including Bamford and Jones, was followed by this extraordinarily powerful social/supernatural horror. It’s essentially an extended monologue by an old lady, clearly suffering from dementia so that we’re never certain how much of what she experiences is real. Over the course of 65 expertly-judged minutes, we learn about her husband and what he did to her, and to their two children. Her son pleads with her to leave the house full of bad memories while her husband’s angry ghost bullies her into staying. Northern lower middle class pride melds with twisted supernatural fear in a superb production that feels like John Carpenter directing an Alan Bennett script. Terrific prosthetics by make-up legend Conran are the finishing touch on what is actually an important film about domestic abuse. Sit through the credits for a surprise. Finders Keepers will be next.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

The Howling


d./w. Steven M Smith; p. Steven M Smith, Paul G Andrews; cast: Maria Austin, Jon-Paul Gates, Tiffany-Ellen Robinson, Hans Hernke, Tony Fadil, Eirik Knutsvik, Elizabeth Saint, Jeremy Hill

Though it still has faults (not least the ridiculous, distributor-mandated title), this Universal homage is easily Smith’s best feature to date with moments that are genuinely impressive. Three friends searching for legendary mad scientist Rathbone and his rumoured coterie of monsters find what they’re looking for and soon regret it. Though promoted as a Frankenstein/werewolf mash-up this owes more to Dr Moreau. Its biggest strength is Alex Harrison’s corking monochrome photography (with occasional well-judged colour moments), evoking the post-Universal, pre-Hammer Euro-style of Freda or Franju. A superb sequence of Rathbone re-animating his disfigured wife then dancing with an idealised fantasy version of her leads into a brief but beautiful Bava-esque nightmare as an accidental witness (Robinson, who is just fantastic) runs past caged experiments. On the downside, the script is full of narrative gaps and unexplained motivations, and Gates’ accent provokes unintended giggles, wobbling between Bela Lugosi and Colonel Klink. End theme by Dr and the Medics, with a cameo by lead singer Clive Jackson.


Friday, 25 May 2018

Home Videos


d./w./p. various; cast: Jason Impey, Jessica Hunt, Martynna Madej, Martin W Payne, Donna Hamblin, Luc Bernier, Kieran Johnston, Daiane Azura, Dean Allem, Clare Crumpton, Simon London, Suzy Weatherall, Adam Jones

This found footage flatpack anthology from Trash Arts is distinguished by Jason Impey’s contribution ‘Case 019684’ which takes up most of the first half-hour. Stock footage of Impey as his ‘Jack Hess’ snuff film-maker character is combined with clips from his parents’ home movies, documenting Jason/Jack’s life from baby to boy to accomplished and busy indie horror film-maker/psychopath. The result is an extraordinary quasi-auto-biopic, structurally somewhere between Boyhood and The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, which deserves to be extended to feature length. The remaining 60 minutes is the usual mishmash, the highlights being Sam Mason Bell’s ‘Scratchy Eyes’ (which uniquely manages to misspell its own title!), an effective silent, fake super-8 film of an 8th birthday with a creepy supernatural clown lurking at the back of shot; Stephen Longhurst’s ‘The Watcher’, a short, rural take on The Last Horror Movie; and Adam Jones’ vampire sketch ’The Interview’. Other contributions either drag on far too long or are barely there at all.