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.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Haunting of Margam Castle

d./w. Andrew Jones; p. Rebecca Graham, Robert Graham, Andrew Jones, Sharron Jones, Harry Willis, Jonathan Willis, Tom Willis; cast: Jane Merrow, Derren Nesbitt, Vernon Dobtcheff, Simon Bamford, Garrick Hagon, Caroline Munro, Judy Matheson, Amy Quick, Lance C Fuller, Mads Koudal

A solid B-movie spook-show with a nostalgic cluster of British horror veterans, Andrew Jones’ latest is a treat for fans that effectively combines classic and contemporary horror. Nesbitt and Merrow are a local history expert and a medium assisting a visiting gaggle of American para-psychologists in a Welsh castle, where things get spooky in act 2 and deadly in act 3. Dobtcheff is the creepy caretaker, Munro and Matheson are warning voices in the local pub, and Biggs Darklighter is the Dean who sends them across the Pond to boost his university’s reputation. Add in Hellraiser’s Bamford as Matthew Hopkins in a hallucinatory sequence and indie legend Koudal as a ghostly axe murderer and there’s not a lot of space left for the actual plot, to be honest. Jones’ regular DP Jonathan McLaughlin ably photographs the actual Margam Castle, an early Victorian monstrosity built for William Fox Talbot’s family. If it looks familiar, you might have seen it in Up All Night or any of several ghost-hunting TV series.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Day of the Stranger

d./w./p. Thomas Lee Rutter; cast: Dale Sheppard, Gary Baxter, Gary Shail, Richard Rowbotham, James Taylor, Bazz Hancher, Jim Heal, Maryan Forouhandeh

The list of British westerns is fairly short and frankly a bit odd. Which is also a perfect description of Thomas Lee Rutter’s latest feature. Rutter is the West Midlands auteur who gave me a couple of early credits in his slasher Mr Blades and his werewolf romp Full Moon Massacre. Now he’s working with real actors like Gary Shail from Metal Mickey and Richard Rowbotham from The Grimleys – on a trippy microbudget horse opera. Ostensibly based on a Mark Twain short story, there’s not a great deal of story here. But westerns are not about narrative, they’re about a feeling, an essence: individuals rattling around in a space so large it shouldn’t exist, occasionally interacting in surprising, often violent, ways. Tom has caught the spirit of the western genre (or at least, its more existential side) brilliantly. Parts are talkie, the desert is a Welsh beach, accents are … variable … and the only horses are stock footage. But Day of the Stranger feels right. Like Sergio Corbucci took a day trip to Rhyl. It shouldn't work... but it does.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

The Haunting of Alcatraz

d./w./p. Steve Lawson; cast: Tom Hendryk, Helen Crevel, Chris Lines, Jonathan Hansler, Mark Topping, Beau Fowler, Marcus Langford

The latest feature from Lawson (Hellriser, Aura, Pentagram) is a spooky historical set in the eponymous prison in 1942. College boy Charlie lands a job as a clerk on the notorious block D where Cell 13 is used to make difficult prisoners disappear, a process invariably recorded as ‘suicide’. He befriends a nurse, clashes with the Warden and discovers that Cell 13 was, five years earlier the scene of a particularly nasty actual suicide by a prisoner whose ghost still lurks therein. Shot in Gloucester Prison, this overcomes much of its low-budget nature but can’t avoid depicting Alcatraz as an institution with five staff and even fewer prisoners. A fine cast and solid script make up for this, along with the director’s typically adroit camera-work. At 90 minutes it’s a tad long, especially given its languorous pace – don’t expect intense action scenes or jump-scares. Nevertheless The Haunting of Alcatraz is a slow-build ghost tale that draws you in and keeps you gripped. Produced for, and soon to be released by, High Fliers.