Thursday, 30 July 2020

Beware the Eye of Amun-Ra

d./p. Chris Starmer; w. Simon Hopkins, Chris Starmer; cast: Simon Hopkins, Neil Brooke, Joanne Archer, Angus Brooks, Chris Chaplin, David Chappell, Natalie Chisholm, Rich Llewellyn, David Mander, Derek McQuiston, Roger Simons, Chris Starmer

British animated features are scarce, British mummy films even rarer, so props are due to this unique action-horror-comedy about two MI6 agents and a nightclub singer who face a reanimated Pharaoh while searching Cairo for a stolen diamond. Starting life as a 1988 audio drama entitled The Curse of Seven Swedish Maids, this took seven years to produce using gaming software called Muvizu. Almost-one-man-band Starmer had some stop-motion experience but was a CG novice so this is a tremendously impressive piece of work. In all honesty, no-one is going to confuse it with Pixar: characters are stiff, polygonal and inexpressive, although the backgrounds are beautifully rich and detailed. A cast of local amdram players do a good job and there are some nice gags in dialogue and on screen. With some surprisingly gory deaths and some random vampires near the end! There was a single local screening in Northampton and an October 2018 VOD release but otherwise this has gone largely unnoticed.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Concrete Castles

d. Benedict Bevan, Alex Boundy, Peter Fellows, Kate Moreton; w. Peter Fellows; p. Alex Boundy, Peter Fellows, Kate Moreton; cast: Cati Vacher, Peter Fellows, Benjamin Christmas, Katherine Loudoun, Emma Knowles, Rachel Wiltshire, Joe Cole, Liberty Buckland, Alan Long, Lynn Binks, Adam Hicks, Jake Holdsworth

Inventive and original, clever and confident, this amateur zombie feature shot by teenagers for £80 deserved a much better fate than a momentary online release. The prologue and three acts follow the simultaneous stories of four characters who interact, with some scenes repeated from different points of view. The main narrative is in black and white but most of the film is lengthy colour flashbacks. Weighty themes – drugs, prostitution, rape, miscarriage and an inappropriate teacher-pupil relationship – are mixed with lighter elements, including scenes told through comic-book panels and a brief West Side Story pastiche. Despite this, and the variable acting, and the 128-minute run-time (six of them credits), this works – and works brilliantly. Filmed in August/September 2010 in Bracknell, Berkshire (an unprepossessing new town of square subways and rectangular shopping centres) it had a local screening in April 2011. Fellows later referenced this in scripts he wrote for Veep!

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Zombie Genocide

d. Andrew Harrison, Darryl Sloan, Kris Carville; w. Darryl Sloan; p. Andrew Harrison; cast: Andrew Harrison, Darryl Sloan, Jason Morrison, Paul Barton

An incredibly early zombie feature (65 minutes) from Midnight Pictures, the Northern Irish duo who later gave us vampire action picture Dark Light. Four lads return from a week’s camping to find their town deserted. Gradually they realise that the few people they see stumbling around are dangerously aggressive. This is played completely straight (apart from one lovely gag referencing a Day of the Dead poster) and is very much in a Romero vein. Emphasis is on conflict and co-operation between the quartet, and effects, while bloody, are not over-the-top. Much of the film takes place in one suburban house and the later scenes make excellent use of an empty college campus. Bleak and pessimistic, right up to its blackly ironic ending, this is a solid watch. Far too many modern zombie flicks can’t reach this level of artistic and technical competence. Shot on VHS in Portadown between 1991 and 1993, at a time when carrying a replica gun around Northern Ireland could get you killed! Originally self-distributed on VHS, this was released via BitTorrent in 2006 and finally posted onto YouTube on Halloween 2019.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Zombie Toxin

d. Tom J Moose; w./p. Robert Taylor, Adrian Ottiwell, Tom J Moose; cast: Robert Taylor, Adrian Ottiwell, Tom J Moose, Lee Simpson, Nestus Forsythe, Russell Ottiwell

This Troma-influenced, shot-on-VHS epic has a strong claim as one of the first ever British zombie features. When a farmer drinks from a stream polluted by a dead horse he becomes a diarrhoea zombie (lots of gross-ups of a prosthetic bumhole!). The Satanist mad scientist who chopped up the horse is also now a zombie; in a unique scene they take turns biting bits off each other. The main plot has two Hitler-moustached Nazis plot to destroy humanity by selling bottles of wine brewed using yeast fertilised by zombie shit (the film-makers apparently thought yeast was a crop...). The wine bottles become sentient and fly through the air attacking people. Highlights include a version of Sinatra classic 'New York, New York' rewritten as 'Oop North, Oop North', the mad scientist’s assistant using a passing train to remove an arm (the wrong one), and one Nazi blowing the other up with a bazooka. Extraordinarily ambitious for the era, this is packed with blood, vomit, dismemberment and bad wigs, with three actors playing almost everyone on screen. Music by Aura director Steve Lawson. Made in 1992, this was released on VHS in the States by EI Independent Cinema in 1998 and also saw UK release (as Homebrew) through the legendary Screen Edge label. It bypassed DVD entirely to eventually surface on YouTube in 2019.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Dead Again

d./w. Steven M Smith; p. Steven M Smith, Tal Edgar; cast: Tony Fadil, Elliot Cable, Mark Wingett, Sonera Angel, Kit Pascoe, Chris Monk, Anastasia Cane, Will Pryor

Steven M Smith’s take on the zomcom subgenre is not entirely successful but is at least watchable, largely due to a likeable cast. Given how desperately awful so many low-budget horror comedies are, this can be considered a qualified success. Two rural coppers – one out of condition, experienced and cynical; one young, enthusiastic and na├»ve – face a zombie apocalypse in their tiny village. They hole up in a derelict manor house (the same location as Smith’s Scare Attraction) with a grizzled gamekeeper and three other random people whose characters aren’t explained. There’s no real plot here: of 75 minutes, four are titles/prologue, eight are credits and twelve are basically just the cops shooting zombies. Some giant alien spaceships are thrown in for no obvious reason and there is cheeky footage of Trump and Boris discussing COVID-19 as if it’s a zombie plague, Although the film is noticeably light on actual gags (the funniest moment is a fart), Smith gets the comic tone spot-on, with eccentric characters playing it straight in extraordinary circumstances, and good chemistry between the leads.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Edge of Extinction

d./w. Andrew Gilbert; p. Andrew Gilbert, Julian Hundy; cast: Luke Hobson, Georgie Smibert, Chris Kaye, Bryn Hodgen, Nicholas Chambers, Susan Lee Burton, Neil Summerville

Nasty, brutish and, well, 141 minutes long, this impressive second feature from the team behind The Dead Inside is a bleakly nihilist, bloodily violent post-apocalyptic tale where no character has any real moral integrity. Two men with no reason to trust each other rescue a female mutual comrade from an organised gang of cannibal psycho rapists, then face down their enemy with the help of a couple living in an isolated eco-home. There are many more layers of betrayal and brutality than that precis implies. It all happens a few years after a global war reduced society to individuals and groups eking out a desperate existence, making this a sort of miserabilist British Mad Max. Childhood flashbacks give us some clues, though it’s never explained why no-one has a gun (which would have changed the plot significantly!). Shot (as The Brink) weekends in 2017/18 in Beds and Bucks, with terrific use of derelict locations. Mycho’s Anna and MJ Dixon were associate producers (and are among the extras), repaying Hundy and Gilbert’s contribution as co-producers on Mask of Thorn. Brit horror regular Rudy Barrow has a small role but doesn’t last long.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

It Never Sleeps

d. Matt Mitchell; w. Matt Mitchell, Taliesyn Mitchell; p. Clare Pearce; cast: Laura Swift, Fabrizio Santino, Cassandra Orhan, Pixie Le Knot, Charlie Rawes, Simon Mathews, Richard Foster-King, Kevin Golding

Unseen outside South Africa due to sales agent problems, this is a slick, enjoyable and original spooker from the director of Gangsters,Guns and Zombies. Ex-squaddie Joan, now working as a bouncer, sees a therapist to help overcome her PTSD. But there’s more to her problems than flashbacks to Afghanistan. She’s being haunted by a young woman – and something even less corporeal. A man who she literally met once, randomly, for a few seconds is having similar visions and together they try to solve the mystery. It Never Sleeps take a sharp left turn about 20 minutes from the end which will initially leave you confused and annoyed – but stay the course because things will make sense before the credits roll. Swift (principally a stunt performer) is great in the lead with terrific support from Orhan as her gobby best friend and Rawes as her partner on the nightclub doors. Shot in 2014, this will definitely get a proper release at some point.