Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Headshots


d. Chris O’Neill; w./p. Rochelle Carino, Chris O’Neill; cast: Nika Khitrova. Olivia Castanho, Chris O’Neill, Dani Savka, Christina De La Ossa, Thomas Ohrstrom

Passable LA-set, UK-produced horror thriller that successfully pulls off an impressively complex structure and an end-of-act-one narrative switcheroo. British actress Jaime moves to Hollywood, hoping for a break, where she finds that all the women are desperate wannabe film stars and all the men are creepy professional photographers. When Jaime stops calling home, her brother and sister lock up their tea shop and jet across the Atlantic to search for her. Some creepy exual fetishism leading to savagely calm stabbings and face peelings provides the horror and raises the question: how do you get blood out of velvet? London-raised Russian-Lithuanian Khitrova was in Enchantress before she moved to the States. Ex-pat Yorkshireman O’Neill’s first feature was crime romp Absolute Debauchery. This premiered in December 2018 at the Culver City Film Festival. An opening caption reckons 42,000 people go missing in LA every year and “none are ever found” – rather damning of the LAPD! A VOD release is planned for late 2019.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Trash Arts Killers Vol.2


d./w. various; p. Sam Mason Bell; cast: Martyna Madej, Jackson Batchelor, Tritia Devisha, David Black, Simon Berry, Alice Mulholland, Natalie Bailey, Tyne Stewart, Mark Margason

Nine shorts make up this 63-minute flatpack anthology, once again exploring the more experimental end of the scene, manifest in a tendency for minimal dialogue and copious monochrome. There are some interesting ideas on show but they’re frustratingly under-explored, especially Martin W Payne’s gory game of strip-chess Mate. Stretched to ten minutes this could have been agonisingly tense, but here it’s over before it’s begun: a great idea, well executed, going nowhere. Robbie Hampstead’s Final Demand is also a one-gag horror comedy, but it’s a funny one. Thomas J Davenport’s Sad Dad shows promise in its story of a father feeding his zombie son but it just stops with no real pay-off. Probably the most successful clip is kinky scifi comedy Sex Robot from token Aussie David Black. Other film-makers present are Emma Jane Lloyd, Jessica Hunt, Gant Murphy, Britmic and the ubiquitous Bell. There are proper credits for all films at the end.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Follow the Crows


d. Alex Secker; w./p. Alex Secker, Marcus Starr; cast: Max Curtis, Daniella Faircloth, Marcus Starr, Craig Fox, Matthew Mordak, Tony Manders, Stu Jackson, Ashly Robinson, Alex Pitcher

Bleak, grim and satisfyingly depressing, Secker’s debut feature is a study of Hobbes-ian lives in a post-apocalyptic world, the nature of which is never specified (because it’s not needed). A young man, travelling alone, takes as a companion a young woman, initially with the aim of simply teaching her basic survival skills. They meet other survivors, and so does an older man, making his own way across the landscape. Most encounters end with at least one person dead. Despite its languorous pace and 94-minute running time, this doesn’t feel over-long or drawn out. The unnamed characters are all credible and real (apart from one who, fortunately, doesn’t last long). Darren Potter’s cinematography drains the Wiltshire countryside of colour, but gradually restores it in the final act as hope surfaces. Terrific lead performances and a fine score add to the quality. There was a screening in Swindon in February 2018. Spare cast/crew DVDs were sold online. Not to be confused with Molly Crows, or indeed, Crow.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Curse of the Witch’s Doll

d./w. Lawrence Fowler; p. Lawrence Fowler, Geoff Fowler; cast: Helen Crevel, Philip Ridout, Layla Watts, Neil Hobbs, Claire Carreno, Michelle Archer, William Frazer, Laura Janes, Ethan Taylor

Fowler’s surprisingly impressive debut feature starts off unpromisingly with a nonsensical scenario but a mid-point twist explains and excuses the curious tale of a mother and daughter in 1942 who leave Kent for a massive, empty manor further north. The cast is solid: Crevell (Survival Instinct) does a good job carrying the first half; Ridout (Dogged) – who looks like an older Martin Freeman – owns part two as a creepy doctor; Archer (Unhinged) has a terrific extended cameo as a mental patient. Sadly the script falls down, with no real clue to the nature of either the witch or her doll (a radio controlled prop). There’s a brief 17th century prologue and an unnecessary present-day epilogue which would have worked better as a stand-alone spin-off short film in the DVD extras. Shot in Northamptonshire in 2017 as Conjuring the Witch’s Doll. The sleeve shows a completely different doll.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Blood Junkies


d./w. Bruce Naughton; p. Keith Bradley; cast: Sean Hay, Mary Goonan, Gordon Slater

Shot in 1993, the absolute doldrums of British horror cinema, this hour-long 16mm vampire picture is set in a bygone world of AIDS, pagers and smoking in pubs. Predating both the social realism horror of I, Zombie etc and the junkie-porn vogue sparked by Trainspotting, it has an ancient vampire preying on heroin addicts in Edinburgh tower blocks. The bloodsucker (a powerfully disconcerting performance from Hay) comes into conflict with both a senior copper leading an anti-junkie vigilante gang and a council medical officer who falls under his powerful spell. Hugely impressive for the time, it features plenty of blood and gore courtesy of Scott Orr (Zombie Diaries etc) and no fewer than three historical prologues, one featuring a small child who must be about 30 by now! Distribution rights were bought by a US ‘label’ which turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian organisation trying to prevent horror films from being released. After a single Edinburgh screening in 2001 the film vanished but in 2019 an old Betacam copy surfaced and Night Kaleidoscope helmer Grant McPhee arranged a Glasgow screening with forthcoming VOD/DVD release.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Far from the Apple Tree


d. Grant McPhee; w. Ben Soper; p. Grant McPhee, Olivia Gifford, Steven Moore; cast: Sorcha Groundsell, Victoria Liddelle, Lynsey-Anne Moffat, Adrienne-Marie Zitt, Margaret Fraser

McPhee’s third trippy feature confirms him as one of the most interesting film-makers in Britain today. It feels more accessible than Sarah’s Room or Night Kaleidoscope, which may be the director maturing and/or new scripter Soper. When art student Judith is taken on as protégé/archivist by successful artist Roberta, she finds images of Roberta’s daughter Maddie among the photos, videos and film. Roberta seems to be moulding Judith into her daughter’s image; as her resistance breaks down so does her identity. A film about art, artifice and artificiality, Far from the Apple Tree has a briefly overt but deliberately unexplored subtext of witchcraft and occult conspiracy. McPhee and DP Simon Vickery crafted the film from a wide range of film and video formats which reinforce the disoriented viewer’s empathy with Judith/Maddie while constantly reminding us (not least through constantly shifting aspect ratios!) that what we are watching is also both artificial and art. Shot in March 2017, it premiered in Manchester two years later. Score by Rose McDowall from Strawberry Switchblade!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Frankenstein’s Creature

d. Sam Ashurst; w. James Swanton; p. Craig Hinde; cast: James Swanton

The first British Frankenstein film for 45 years (TV movies and US co-productions notwithstanding) is an extraordinary avant-garde piece of filmed theatre. Swanton (Double Date) debuted his one-man adaptation of Shelley’s novel in 2015, telling the well-worn tale entirely from the Creature’s viewpoint. Film journo Ashurst shot this in 2018 as a single take – static, wide shot, monochrome – yet this is much more than just a camera pointed at an actor. Swanton performs his 90-minute monologue in an alcove of an old church, his only props some clothes and a wooden chest, his face pancaked like Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, his theatricality and voice just this side of Donald Wolfit. Sometimes he approaches the camera and addresses us directly, sometimes he is still for over a minute, sometimes Ashurst overlays images of Icelandic wilderness or close-ups of Swanton. Mesmerising and utterly brilliant, this premiered at the 2018 Frightfest. Lawrie Brewster released a limited run of 200 DVDs. You do need to be reasonably familiar with the novel and not (like the bozo who reviewed this for Variety) just have seen a couple of Frankenstein films.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Richard Driscoll news: Conjuring: Book of the Dead

I know you love to keep up to date with Richard Driscoll news, so here’s the latest.

For some time now Driscoll has been talking of making an MR James adaptation, a remake of Night/Curse of the Demon. It looks like he might finally manage that as he has teamed up with a New York company called Monarch Films for his next movie, Conjuring: (The) Book of the Dead.

I say “next” but obviously this is mostly footage that was shot years ago for the putative sequel(s) to Evil Calls. All the usual suspects are present in the cast list: Craine, Madsen, Ling, McCoy, Anthony, Sizemore, Tobias, Sutton, Anderson, Donovan, Daly and The Ask. However Driscoll has also shot some new footage, down in Cornwall, featuring an actor named Laura Frances-Martin.

The film is “based on M R James novel Casting The Runes” although of course 'Casting the Runes' is actually a short story. Not that it matters because, since this is mostly existing footage, it probably has minimal connection with MR James. In fact, Conjuring: (The) Book of the Dead features the Necronomicon, which would seem to make it the first ever MR James adaptation based on the work of HP Lovecraft.


Synopsis: “A vivid horror epic about a writer of graphic novels who is given the task of writing a biography on the foremost occultist Aleister Crowley. Things start to go wrong when he discovers a rune inserted in Crowley’s diary.”

Having abandoned his less-than-successful crowdfunding attempts, Driscoll has secured some investors to finance post-production, a couple of folks named Maria Norman and Galen Walker who have had their small fingers in some deep pies over the years. This lets Driscoll proudly boast that his new film is “from the executive producers of Se7en, Highlander, The Fugitive, Public Enemies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

Monarch Films are a distributor who mostly schlep low-level B-movies and, oddly, space exploration documentaries (always cheap to make as all NASA footage is automatically public domain). In October, they uploaded a trailer to Vimeo, ready to flog this at the AFM.




And then last month Driscoll uploaded a different trailer (shorter, some different clips, clearer dialogue and without all the nudity) to his own Vimeo channel. I can't embed this (because of the Vimeo settings) but I can link to it...



What I particularly love about this second trailer is dear old Dudley Sutton mispronouncing ‘Necronomicon’. No reflection on Sutton (a fine actor, sadly missed) but it says something that Richard Driscoll not only used that take, he has actually put it in his trailer.

The only other video on Driscoll’s Vimeo channel, incidentally, is an animated explanation of a way of (legally) claiming back tax on investments in small companies, which someone made in 2013 and which has now been topped and tailed with the logo of his company DRagon Films. So it’s not just a film about tax avoidance, it’s somebody else’s film about tax avoidance which Driscoll is passing off as his own!

Monarch’s catalogue of available films also includes The Legend of Harrow Woods, Kannibal (as Headhunter 3D), Grindhouse Nightmares (under its original title of Grindhouse 2wo), Assassin’s Revenge (as The Assassinator) and Eldorado, in its 90-minute cut, as A Bad Day in Death Valley.

Speaking of which, that film is now available on Amazon Prime and other platforms as Hangover in Death Valley, credited to Driscoll's occasional directorial pseudonym 'Gideon Quin'. Blimey, it’s got more titles than a Jess Franco feature.

I will keep my eye out and let you all know if/when Conjuring: (The) Book of the Dead (or any other new Driscoll product) appears.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Burning Men


d. Jeremy Wooding; w. Jeremy Wooding, Neil Spencer; p. Fiona Graham, Jeremy Wooding, Michael Vine; cast: Edward Hayter, Aki Omoshaybi, Elinor Crawley, Katie Collins, Christopher Fulford, Joseph Milson, Sarah-Jane Potts

Although sold on its unusual changeable-POV style (developed by Blood Moon helmer Wooding on the sitcom Peep Show), Burning Men’s real distinctiveness comes from successfully melding the road movie and folk horror genres. Aspiring musicians Ray and Don try to raise enough money to fly to Memphis by selling off their vinyl collection. They steal a mega-rare black metal record and travel up the eastern side of England, pursued by angry Scandinavian bikers, towards a dealer who is prepared to pay top dollar, but may be a Nazi. Ray sees demonic visions which might be caused by the record, or could be drug-induced. Despite the POV gimmick, DP Jono Smith captures expansive views of the English landscape, including the Angel of the North, complementing the poetic script and rounded characters. With UK18 director Tiernan as a record dealer and Corrie’s Denise Welch as Ray’s mum. Co-scripter Spencer was editor of the NME. Shot in February/March 2017 in London, Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Gateshead, culminating on Lindisfarne.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

The Casebook of Eddie Brewer


d./w./p. Andrew Spencer; cast: Ian Brooker, Peter Wight, Louise Paris, Bella Hamblin, Erin Connolly, Natalie Wilson, Rob Stanley, Alison Belbin, Sean Connolly, Tom Roberts, Glen Hill, Sarah Horner

Comparable to Ghostwatch in both theme and quality, Spencer’s second feature is one of the great British screen hauntings, anchored on a superlative performance by Brooker. Eddie Brewer is an old-school paranormal researcher, keen to find evidence but careful and cynical. A TV documentary crew follow him but this isn’t found footage, simply incorporating some TV footage into the main narrative. He’s investigating a little girl with an invisible friend and spooky activities in an old Council-owned building: two cases which eventually overlap. Eddie’s antagonistic relationships with the film crew, a sceptical academic and other ghost-hunters meld perfectly with the growing supernatural ambience which builds to a genuinely frightening conclusion. Starting life as a ten-minute short in 2001, Casebook was conceived as TV series than became a feature, eventually re-envisioned for TV in 2019. Filmed in Birmingham from November 2010 to January 2011, it premiered at a local festival in March 2012. Essential viewing.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Elevator to Insanity


d./w. Nik Box; p. Nik Box, Ameng Zang; cast: Gus Capucci, Bryony, Kurt Dirt, Rob, Yuqi Zhang

Utterly extraordinary avant garde feature from Dead Good Films Like. It’s black and white, it has no (English) dialogue and most of its 70-minute running time is a young man standing patiently in an ever-rising lift. If you’re looking for a narrative feature, you’ll loathe this. But if you appreciate the weird and experimental, you might strangely enjoy it. After about five minutes of nothing happening, a young woman gets in and travels one floor. About five minutes later, she does so again. The third time she gets in, the man tries talking to her in Greek, to no effect. Later, other things happen, including repeated brief views of a woman dancing in a corridor and a third woman who gets in the lift and lets out a single continuous scream for three minutes. Box moves his camera around enough to keep our attention, and Capucci does a sterling job as the mysterious central character. Towards the end he does arrive somewhere, trust me. Shot at the University of Central Lancashire in 2015.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Point of Death


d./w. Steve Stone; p. Lionel Hicks, Alan Latham; cast: David O’Hara, Isabelle Allen, Lisa Gormley, Toyah Willcox, Neil Pearson, Bill Fellows

Stone follows the impressive but generic Entity and (frustratingly unreleased) psycho-thriller Schism with this relentlessly creepy nightmare. O’Hara is superb as Alex, a busy businessman who comes home to his wife and 12-year-old daughter in a state of high tension. A weird-looking storm is rolling in across the countryside, a rowan tree in the garden has died, and Alex is hearing his family say inexplicable things that they haven’t said. It’s fairly clear early on that nothing is real and the resolution was obvious and expected even before the original title, In Extremis, was changed to this clangingly unsubtle new one. Nevertheless a brilliant lead performance, Stone’s unerring direction and some great visual effects make for a thoroughly satisfying movie. Name-value actors Willcox and Pearson cameo as a patient and a doctor in the third act; Toyah also sings over the credits. Fellows is a homeless man near the start. Shot in 2015, this premiered (under its shooting title) at the East End Film Festival in June 2016.
  • Released on VOD platforms on 11th February.


Monday, 21 January 2019

Crucible of the Vampire


d. Iain Ross-McNamee; w. Iain Ross-McNamee, Darren Lake, John Wolskel; p. Amanda Murray; cast: Katie Goldfinch, Neil Morrissey, Brian Croucher, Larry Rew, Babette Barat, Angela Carter, Lisa Martin, Phil Hemming, John Stirling

Enjoyable gothic potboiler of the sort they don’t make anymore, from the director and producer of The Singing Bird Will Come. Assistant curator Isabelle (Goldfinch, who is startlingly good) is despatched to a country house where building work has uncovered half a cauldron, apparently the missing 50% of one held in her university’s collection. In a monochrome 17th century prologue we saw this cleaved in two by witchfinder John Sterne. The resident family – dad, mum and adult daughter who couldn’t more obviously be a lesbian vampire if her name was an anagram of Carmilla – are all creepy, gradually transforming from eccentric into dangerous. With Morrissey as the expository gardener, 29 years after he bought a vampire motorcycle (also written by Wolskel!) and Croucher in the prologue as the cauldron’s original owner. Filmed in Shropshire in September 2016, this had a single screening in January 2017. In May 2018 Ross-McNamee edited frame-grabs into a photonovel.

Crucible of the Vampire hits cinemas on 1 February, and arrives on Dual Edition (Blu-ray & DVD) and Digital on 4 February.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Haunting of Borley Rectory


d. Steven M Smith; w. Steven M Smith, Christopher Jolley; p. Steven M Smith, Jon-Paul Gates; cast: Zach Clifford, Rad Brown, Sonera Angel, Garry Roost, Kit Pascoe, Jon-Paul Gates, Matthew Fitzthomas Rogers, Georgi Taylor Wills, Anastasia Cane

The late 2010s has brought us micro-genres dedicated to the ‘most haunted house in England’ and supernatural nuns. This latest title from Smith ticks both boxes and underlines his own steady improvement. Where The Howling had some fine moments, this genuinely spooky ghost tale is his first consistently good feature, easily eclipsing both North Bank Entertainment’s A Haunting at the Rectory and Proportion Productions’ The Bad Nun. Clifford (an Aussie) is excellent as an injured GI in 1944, assigned to monitor radio traffic from a country cottage. He has disturbing dreams and visions which he believes are connected with a nearby derelict rectory so calls in Borley expert Harry Price (Brown, director of unreleased 2016 horror feature Last Weekend). Excellent period detail – including some corking 1940s hairstyles – is enhanced by Peter Panoa’s terrific photography (but briefly let down by an anachronistically unshaven British officer). Shot in Devon and Essex in 2018.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Finders Keepers


d. Adam Evans; w. Neil Morris, Gary Smart; p. Neil Morris, Gary Smart, Christopher Griffiths, Adam Evans, Stuart Conran; cast: Mark Wingett, Stanley Rawlings, Bruce Jones, Oliver Smith, Kenneth Cranham, Simon Bamford, Neil Cole, Corin Silva, Ethan McKinley

The third entry in the Dark Ditties series is the blackest of black comedies, a 45-minute gory crime thriller which feels like someone cast the Chuckle Brothers in a remake of The Long Good Friday. Two gangsters are searching for a minor accomplice who jumped out of a car with a valuable briefcase chained to his wrist. Two bickering brothers doing a spot of poaching find the briefcase and body and set about seeing what they’ve got… This is a cracking film for sure, but what makes this series so successful? It’s partly the beautifully crafted scripts and adroit direction which introduce us to fascinating, distinctive characters and their thoroughly believable relationships. It’s partly the care that is taken over all the technical aspects: the photography, sound, editing as well as production design, costumes, make-up and of course the prosthetic effects. But mostly it’s the use of solid, professional, experienced casts who imbue these characters with life. On Amazon Prime later this month, DD3: Finders Keepers is unreservedly recommended. DD4: The Witching House is on the way.