bowmanblue

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Reviews

Dance of the Dead
(2008)

Watchable enough fluff
Sometimes your appreciation of a film will change over time and you don't even know it. I enjoyed 'Dance of the Dead' enough the first time round to buy a copy. I knew it was no classic horror, or even anything particularly original, but it was entertaining enough to keep me amused for an hour and a half. It's been a few years since I watched it and on my second viewing, although it's still okay-ish, I didn't really enjoy it quite as much.

I guess the film-makers know they're not exactly making the next 'Citizen Kane' when their whole premise is to make a pun on a far superior zombie movie, i.e. George A Romero's 'Night/Dawn/Day/Land of the Dead' series. It's about a bunch of teens who get caught up in a zombie uprising on the night of their big high school prom. That's about it.

At least they didn't go for outright horror. There's no way this film would have even nearly worked if it tried to be serious. Therefore, it wisely goes for the route of horror/comedy. The teens are all your pretty standard bunch of stereotypes - you have the geek, the cheerleader, the bully and so on.

The trouble is these days is that zombie movies are no longer a novelty. If you like dark and horrific zombie films then there are plenty of good ones out there you've already seen. If you like funny ones there's better out there than this. 'Dance of the Dead' is okay if you're in the mood for something light and can't be bothered to watch 'Shaun of the Dead' again. It has some nice gore and a couple of the plot points actually surprised me with the route they go (with certain characters).

It's not bad, but it's not that memorable. That's probably the reason I forgot about it over the years I hadn't watched it. I don't know whether the film-makers were banking on a sequel, but it does seem to end in the middle of a scene, leaving me to wonder whether they actually just ran out of money and sort of thought they'd make it look like they're ending on a cliff-hanger.

Cyborg Cop
(1993)

So dreadful it's actually entertaining
The score I'm giving this film shouldn't really be taken as a comparison to - what most people would call - 'good movies.' If you go by my rating alone then it looks like I'm saying that 'Cyborg Cop' is up there with the best of them. And it isn't. It's NOT a good movie. It's terrible. However, sometimes a film is so bad it sort of goes all the way round the houses and backs into the 'good' category. Actually, I'll call this film 'entertaining' rather than 'good.'

I suppose it's a 'B-movie,' but it's probably more a 'C' or 'D' movie. It doesn't have any actors you'll recognise (unless you know what the dwarf, Gimli, from 'Lord of the Rings' looks like without make-up). The script is awful. The special effects look like the runner-up of your local Halloween fancy dress parade and the story doesn't really hold up under scrutiny. Yet, I can't help but enjoy every daft minute of it.

Two cops quit the force because, er, reasons that don't really make that much sense and are not that important in relation to the rest of the story. One brother then decides to adopt a child and then go on some sort of assassination mission in a random South American island (or something - again, realism has already been thrown out the window). Unfortunately, he gets more than he bargained for after a 'faux Predator-style' action scene against an army of useless henchmen, when he's captured by the villain, played by John Rhys Davis (alternating between his natural Welsh accent and a Yorkshire on, I think) and turned into a cyborg soldier (not 'cop' interestingly enough). Now it's up to his other brother to save him.

I know 'Cyborg Cop' was made in the nineties, but somehow it feels like it belongs in the eighties. It's a total mess and, if you're not looking for a sci-fi/action movie that's in any way serious/believable then you should find this very entertaining. It's definitely up there with the 'best' 'so-bad-they're-good' types of films. I just hope the (numerous!) sequels live up to just how (awfully!) good this one is.

Wag the Dog
(1997)

Did they know more than they let on?
There are times when art is an imitation of life and then there's 'Wag the Dog,' i.e. the opposite. Back in 1997, it was 'fiction' when this film portrayed the American President as a bit of a naughty boy when he gets caught with a younger woman in a compromising position in the Oval office. Therefore, with only eleven days before re-election, he's forced to take the heat off him by any means possible. In this case, hiring 'fixer' Robert DeNiro and Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman to stage a fake 'war' in order to divert attention. Little did the film-makers know (or did they?) how only a little while later (then) President Clinton would find himself in a similar (compromising!) position.

At the time of its release it was looked at as a clever satire of how Governments use the media for modern day propaganda. Soon after the Clinton scandal, it's now almost become a 'historical document' (or at least reenactment). If you're a fan of political satire then you have to watch this. It's up there with 'Yes, Prime Minister, The Thick of It, The West Wing' and 'Veep.'

Now, if the casting of DeNiro (at his best!) and Hoffman doesn't sell this movie to you, then nothing will. But, if you want more, you also have excellent performances from Anne Heche, Woody Harlelson and William H Macy. Of course all of those play second fiddle to the film's two 'heavy hitters' who seem to enjoy sparring for the bulk of the screen presence.

'Wag the Dog' isn't a long film and flies by. Yes, there are a couple of points that might not have turned out to be true (to our knowledge!), but there's a lot there that will make you think, so if you're looking for a movie that does more than just entertain and show hordes of aliens trashing New York then you should definitely check this one out. It's brilliantly acted, very clever and truly timeless.

The Dead Next Door
(1989)

It's bad (but I liked it!)
There are many great zombie movies around these days. 'The Dead Next Door' will never be one of them. And that's a shame, because if films were rated on the effort and love put into them, I think this one would get a 10/10.

The dead have risen. Society has fallen. Now a few humans... Yeah, you've heard it all before. Why should you bother with this one? Well, you probably shouldn't. Zombie movies were done better before (the George A Romero trilogy prior to this one's release in 1989) and after it with more recent films like '28 Days Later' and TV shows such as the early seasons of 'The Walking Dead.'

'The Dead Next Door' is extremely cheap. And I don't just mean the special effects look like what you'd probably see on a made-for-TV B-movie. This movie has all the hallmarks of a student's final film studies production. The film stock used seems to be grainy, the actors are about as good as the local janitor, the characters are so dumb they make your average blonde bimbo in a slasher film look intelligent and the dialogue appears to have been dubbed on in post production. So why do I own a copy of this carcrash?

Maybe because it's just so bad it's good? Not just that. The was a distinct 'drought' of zombie films after 'Day of the Dead' (1986) and 'The Dead Next Door' kind of filled that void in the early nineties until 'Resident Evil' kind of single-handedly reignited the genre. Plus the idea behind 'The Dead Next Door' is pretty reasonable. It deals with people's reaction to losing their loved ones and, although it does borrow a few of the more minor themes from greater zombie films, it does its best to expand on them and try something different.

So, I enjoyed it and watch it from time to time. However, it's definitely an 'acquired taste.' I wouldn't really recommend it to everyone, unless you're incredibly forgiving when it comes to your films and don't mind the cheapness and bad acting contained here. Although, to be fair, the gore is pretty good and the zombie make-up is as good as any in a Romero movie!

The Video Dead
(1987)

Actually better than I remember
Believe it or not, back in the late eighties, there was actually a lack of zombie movies (let alone good ones!). I so enjoyed George A Romero's 'Day of the Dead' that I would then watch pretty much everything with a rotting corpse trying to eat people's brains. Therefore, I found myself watching 'The Video Dead' way more than it probably deserved back then. I happened to come across it over thirty years later and remembered that even when I watched it back then, deep down, I knew it wasn't very good. Perhaps it was because I was in such a 'forgiving' mood that I found I actually enjoyed it more now than I think I did back then!

Apparently, according to what I read online, the film took about a year to make because it could only be shot at the weekends, due to the 'actors' having day-jobs and only being available then. That should tell you that what you're going to get isn't of a high caliber, so - be warned!

You've probably seen zombies rise due to voodoo, enraged monkeys and toxic waste. Here, they simply pop out of a cursed TV whenever they fancy a bite of human flesh. In fact, the film should probably have been called 'The TV Dead,' as there isn't a VCR or cassette tape in sight!

So, a small gaggle of ghouls stalks and kills a street of people (none of which are really that well-trained in the ways of acting!), but who cares. This is a cheap, straight to video (nasty) which definitely comes under the term 'so-bad-it's-good.' It will never be up to the likes of Romero's output and doesn't have the budget to come close to the 'Resident Evil' franchise. But, what it does have is a slight sense of knowing its limits and doing its best to never try and be anything it isn't.

I know you've probably seen every type of zombie movie by now, so there's not an awful lot here that's particularly original, but it's nice to see the sort of gore that can be achieved on a real shoestring budget. It's daft and cheesy and doesn't really take itself too seriously, so if you're in the mood for some real eighties horror-cheese, then definitely give this one a go. I also read online about the proposed idea for a sequel - sounded pretty good - shame it never got made!

Dark Water
(2005)

Creepy and atmospheric
The Hollywood version of 'Dark Water' is based on a Japanese horror film, which I haven't seem, so I can't really compare the two. However, whether on not it surpasses its source material, I have to say it's a pretty creepy little number.

A woman (Jennifer Connelly) is going through a divorce and custody battle for her daughter (Ariel Gade) and moves to a run-down apartment in New York until the proceedings are over. It's hardly five-star housing and there are water leaks everywhere. And, if that wasn't bad enough to bring up a child, the family is haunted by the presence of another young girl.

Since the success of the English version of 'The Ring' the 2000s saw quite a few horror films where a woman slowly uncovers something supernatural until she has to confront it head on in the final act. 'Dark Water' certainly fits into that genre, but it's definitely a cut above the rest. For a start it has a stellar cast. I've already mentioned Connolly, but there are also excellent performances from Tim Roth as a supportive (but flawed!) lawyer, Pete Postlethwaite as a useless building supervisor and John C Reilly as the superbly-slimy estate agent. Dougray Scott is also good, but doesn't have quite as much to work with as the others and Ariel Gade is very good as the young girl, never really coming across as annoying as so many child actors in similar roles.

Another thing that works for the film is the atmosphere. You really get the sense of a dark, depressing world that's ripe for haunting by unrested spirits. It could be described as a bit of a 'slow burner' as the real 'meat' of the story doesn't really get going until the final act. Prior to that is mainly character building and setting up the horror that's finally waiting for our protagonists.

I won't say too much about the story, as you only really get one chance to watch it and not know where it's going. A couple of the plot points surprised me, so I won't spoil anything. It may not be a blood-bath and it's probably got a few too many 'jump scares' for some people's liking in the opening two acts, but, overall, it's a very atmospheric, creepy little number that horror fans who like a slow build of terror should enjoy.

Alienator
(1990)

So bad it's... almost okay
Believe it or not, 'Alienator' was released in the same year as 'Total Recall' and only one year prior to 'Terminator 2.' I mention this only because 'Alienator' is a complete rip-off of the first 'Terminator' film (in case you hadn't kind of guessed from the title - although also seems to borrow the plot from one of the 'Critters' sequels, but that's another story). I guess when they say that 'budget doesn't make a film' they weren't really comparing any of Arnie's output of the era to this pile of...

Now, I know 'Alienator' is hardly meant to be Shakespeare and there's always a market for 'so-bad-they're-good' films (me, for example - I always describe my DVD collection as 'entertaining' rather than 'good'), but this is a hard watch.

An intergalactic criminal escapes from a penal colony to Earth and a bounty hunter is sent to apprehend him (or disintegrate - whichever comes first!). Now, you probably aren't expecting much from a film with such a deliberately cheesy title as 'Alienator,' but my advice is, if you're hoping to get anything out of this at all, is to set your sights real low.

There are a bunch of people on Earth who get stalked by the alien bounty hunter - they can't act. There is an old soldier who comes into the film about half way through who is about the only character who you'll actually care about, maybe because he's a cut above the rest in terms of acting ability, or just because he's given about two lines of back story.

The costumes look like something out of a seventies glam rock pop video. The bounty hunter herself looks like a cross between - again - a glam rock star and someone who's bumped into a load of scrap metal that was left over from a seventies 'Dr Who' set. She's not scary. She's not sexy. She's just laughable.

There's a - semi - sub-plot set back on the penal colony in space. It's pretty forgettable and if you took it out you wouldn't lose any of the story. There's little in the way of action and the special effects are anything but special.

Now, I wouldn't mind all these negative points. As I said, I like a lot of 'so-bad-they're-good' films. However, the main problem I had with this film was that everyone plays it straight. There's never a sense of the film-makers knowing they're making something terrible and actually owning it. It comes across as if they're trying to make something genuinely scary, or action-packed.

It is bad. I did stick with it just to see how bad it got. There are cheesy B-movie films that are like this which I can watch again and again. This one I think I'll leave it there.

Dr. Who and the Daleks
(1965)

A blast from the past
I grew up with 'Dr. Who' in the late seventies to early nineties, therefore I never quite 'got' how this film fitted in with the timeline. I'm guessing the short answer is: it doesn't. It's sort of a Hollywood-friendly interpretation of the overall 'Dr. Who mythos' which tells a science fiction story without the need to have watched any of the TV show. And, for what it is, it's actually pretty good.

Of course it's even less like the 'Dr. Who' show of 2020 than it is of the 'Who' I remember from my childhood. If seeing women in short skirts offends you then you may want to write this one off as a 'dinosaur' and stick with Jodie Whittikar's portrayal of the titular character. It's also a kind of remake of one of the T.V. shows where the Doctor lands on the planet of the Daleks and has to help out the locals with their fight against those dastardly oversize pepperpots on wheels.

Instead of sticking to the 'current' actor who portrayed the Doctor (William Hartnell, I believe), the main star has been replaced by someone the producers clearly thought would help self the film overseas, i.e. Peter Cushine - an actor mainly known for his numerous dabblings in the 'horror' genre. Luckily, he's able to muster the required 'quirkiness' required for the role, without ever being annoying. He's helped along the way by his 'companions.' And, when I say 'helped,' I basically mean they get captured the moment they set foot outside the T.A.R.D.I.S. Another change from the TV series is that the Doctor now has a family he takes with him on his adventures, i.e. an adult and a child granddaughter. And, if you're British you may know Roy Castle as the boyfriend of Dr. Who's elder granddaughter.

So, there may not be much that's revolutionary in terms of the plot, but this film is definitely worth a watch. For a start, the producers succeed in making this story accessible for anyone and it's something all the family can watch as there's little in the way of real violence and definitely no bad language. Plus it's such a delight on the eyes - literally. It's filled with sixties camp, glam colours and it really is a rainbow-feast on the eyes.

I never quite got why some people (back in the day!) were so afraid of the Daleks themselves. I never found them that threatening then and I doubt today's children will either. However, they're such competently-bad baddies that they work perfectly in terms of sheer villainous intentions and you'll find yourself rooting the the good guys here with no problem.

You don't have to be a die-hard 'Dr. Who' fan to appreciate this, just sit back an enjoy a colourful, campy science-fiction film from yesteryear.

h

Nowhere to Run
(1993)

Such an awful-good film
Do you like cheesy, bad, action movies from the eighties? If the answer is 'Yes' then you should find entertainment from 'Nowhere to Run' (even if it was made in 1993!). Jean Claude Van Damme has made some great films. And some equally bad ones. 'Nowhere to Run' lies so far in the 'bad' category that it transcends its terrible make-up and pushes through the negative to force its way back into the good category.

This time round Van Damme plays - yet another - slight variation of every other character he's ever played when he takes on the form of an escaped criminal who winds up helping a widow and her family protect their land against a bunch of cliched villains, lead by an 'uber cliched' British mastermind.

If you like action, then you won't find much of it here. Yes, there are the obligatory punch-ups and car chases, but they're not filmed particularly well and therefore you'll be shaking your head at how someone actually thought they would satisfy adrenaline junkies.

If you had some sort of 'action movie bingo' card, I reckon you could tick off pretty much every trope associated with the genre. And that's even before you mentioned the script. It's awful. In fact, there are some moments in the dialogue which just come so out-of-the-blue that you'll find yourself laughing at the sheer ludicrous randomness of the inclusion of such lines.

And yet for all its - many - faults, I found myself taking enormous entertainment from 'Nowhere to Run.' In some places I found myself laughing harder than many comedy films. It's not a film you should take seriously. If you stopped to over-analyse the plot for even a fraction of a second you'd find yourself trying to make sense of something that just isn't meant to be logical. If ever a film required you to put your brain 'on hold' then it was this one. Sheer popcorn fodder.

Death Wish II
(1982)

A more 'commercial' sequel
The original 'Death Wish' film kind of set the bar when it came for 'revenge' movies of the era. Ever since then the concept of someone being severely wronged and therefore taking the law into their own hands to even the score has sort of been done to death by now. Some people say that 'lightning never strikes twice,' however, in the case of Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) he's not so lucky. In the first film his wife was murdered by a street gang. This time round it's his daughter and housekeeper (and I won't go into detail regarding the various other people in his life who meet a grisly end - it's safe to say that you really shouldn't hang out with Mr Kersey if you value your life!). So, Bronson picks up his old ways and goes out for vengeance, only this time in Los Angeles, rather than New York.

Even being the first sequel to the original, you could argue that this film brings little in terms of originality to the overall genre. However, for some reason, this one seems a bit more 'well put together' than the first, or possibly more 'well-paced.'

Despite its lack of originality, I can't help but see it as an overall better film than its predecessor. The initial outing was rough and ready whereas this one is overall more polished. It's hard not to root for Kersey as he (lethally!) cleans up the streets of L.A. Then again, the bad-guys are just that - bad. In fact, they're almost so bad they become caricatures of what cinema antagonists normally are. They have nothing in the way of virtuous traits and are simply the personification of evil - so much so that they're almost cartoon-like in the dastardly ways they act.

Bronson's real-life wife Jill Ireland plays his love interest and she's only really there to offer a moral counter argument to Kersey's actions. If there's a secondary character that's worth mentioning then it's the New York police officer who follows his suspect across the country in order to bring him to justice. This is a nice touch for fans of the first film and it helps to create a sense that the sequel is definitely set in the same timeline.

Of course it wouldn't be a 'Death Wish' film without a fair bit of extreme violence. Michael Winner returns to direct this entry and he - again - doesn't hold back when it comes to seeing the worst things humans can do to each other. You'll need a strong stomach in places, but if you can get over that then you'll enjoy watching Kersey 'taking out the trash' so to speak.

Adventures in Babysitting
(1987)

Classic timeless eighties comedy
I know it's a cliche to say 'They don't make 'em like they used to,' but, in the case of 'Adventures in Babysitting,' I think it's pretty true. It's one of those eighties film that seemed to get everything so right that the story didn't need to spend half of the film on 'back story' or giving the characters loads of screentime in order for us to get to know them. Instead, it kicks off within the first ten minutes.

A seventeen-year-old girl, Chris Parker (a rather young Elizabeth Shue), gets her plans with her boyfriend cancelled and is forced to babysit a local girl, Sara (and her fifteen-year-old brother, Brad, who has a major crush on Chris). However, if that wasn't bad enough, Chris' best friend, Brenda, gets stranded in the big city and Chris has to take the kids (and Brad's best friend, Daryl, who both figuratively and literally has a big mouth!).

Within the opening fifteen minutes all the major characters have been introduced. We - the audience - will have sympathy for Chris and (hopefully!) won't find the kids annoying in any way, as they're all presented very well. Naturally, Chris' 'rescue of Brenda doesn't go according to plan and they all get stranded on the freeway. Between there and the end of the film they get into gang fights, car crime, hook-handed mechanics and hanging off skyscrapers.

There may be nothing too new about the story, but it's simply so much fun I think most people should be able to overlook any minor cliche and suspend their disbelief simply to get a decent amount of entertainment out of it. All the performances are great and the main four characters play off each other so well that you can't help but remember them.

It's hard to put 'Adventures in Babysitting' into a genre. It has elements of thriller, comedy, crime, romance, but is generally one of those eighties films which is so timeless that it can probably appeal to all the family. Yes, there are a couple of 'f-bombs' thrown in there during one segment, but, apart from that, I reckon most people should be able to sit down and enjoy everything this has to offer. It's not an overly-long film and no part feels drawn out or a waste of time. I hope this film never gets a remake, but if it does - it has to at least have a cameo from Chris Hemsworth - if you've watched the film you'll know what I mean!

Ready or Not
(2019)

So much fun
Sometimes a film is generally known as one thing, but - in reality - is totally something else. It would be easy to lump 'Ready or Not' in the 'horror' category and, yes, it does have numerous elements associated with the genre. However, it's so much more. And, by 'more' I mean better... and funny (in the darkest possible way!).

I remember thinking that a lot of the best films (horror or otherwise) that seemed to be made in the eighties got going very early. They didn't waste any time with redundant plot details and allowed the audience to grow with the story and characters. 'Ready or Not' does this by kicking off with everything you need to know in the first ten minutes or so. A young woman has returned to her husband-to-be's luxurious family home in order to marry him in front of his - slightly aloof - family.

All goes well until after the ceremony where he informs her that it's tradition that any newcomers to the bloodline must play 'a game.' She picks out the age old classic 'Hide and Seek.' A chance choice she soon learns to regret, as this involves the family hunting her down throughout the mansion with an assortment of weapons in order to slay her.

'Ready or Not' could just have been some random horror-hunt film, but the main reason to watch isn't anything to do with viewing a film that will scare you, but simply to entertain. And it does this using 'black comedy' at every turn. Yes, the family are evil murderers, but they're just so damn funny that you can't help but enjoy their performance. Plus Samara Weaving is excellent as the main character, proving that strong female leads can still exist without turning them into some sort of 'Mary Sue' trope.

It's not that long in length and the runtime flies by with a mix of gore (also played for laughs in many cases!) and an awesome script which is simply there to entertain the audience. If you like your gore mixed with very dark humour you really do have to watch this one. It's a modern classic and I hope they don't make a franchise out of this because it's perfect the way it is.

C.H.U.D.
(1984)

More than just a 'monster movie'
If you look at the crop of 'video nasties' and general 'monster movies' that came out in the eighties then it's pretty easy to lump 'C.H.U.D.' in with those. Most promotional material shows the ugly old monster with its glowing eyes and you'll probably think it's just another man in a rubber suit chomping his way through some semi-clad teens. But you might be wrong.

'C.H.U.D.' is an example of making the most of what you have. Monster effects clearly don't come cheap (even in the eighties!), so what you get is quite sparse when it comes to 'creature effects.' However, not only does this build up the tension quite nicely when you only really see parts of the monster (think the way 'Alien' did it), but it also gives plenty of time to the human characters - who are definitely NOT semi-clad blonde teens!

I felt the story had shades of 'Jaws,' i.e. someone with knowledge of what's really happening, trying to get a public area closed, but only to face opposition from the powers in charge who feel that any form of closure would hurt businesses/the economy. What follows is a mix of characters trying to get parts of New York closed because there are some pretty nasties creatures living in the sewers who have suddenly developed quite a liking for human flesh.

The cast, mainly led by John Heard, are all adults and all get their fair share of screen time. Plus those you may think may end up getting eaten/captured actually do their bit in terms of 'character development' and also break a few horror movie cliches here and there.

When you do finally see the monsters in their 'full glory' - yes, they look about as convincing as most creatures of the era, but if you can forgive that, you can also 'enjoy' the amount of realistic gore that's been included in terms of dead, mutilated bodies strewn around New York.

If you're a fan of 'monster-munching' movies, or like your old cheesy eighties horror flicks, this one definitely deserves a watch as there are plenty of gory and gruesome moments and even a few plot points you may not see coming.

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
(2019)

One for the fans
I'm a big fan of Kevin Smith's films and, in particular, his 'Viewaskewniverse,' which was basically his very own comedy 'shared universe' long before Marvel adopted the business model for their superhero films. Therefore, 'Jay and Silent Bob Reboot' is the latest in a long line of movies which have the same characters in it which started all the way back in the mid nineties. So, as a 'die-hard' fan, I enjoyed it. Just.

The film follows the titular pair of dozy stoners who find out that - yet another - film is being made about their exploits and they must race across American from New Jersey to Hollywood in order to stop it getting made. Now, if you know the plot of 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back' then you'll realise the plot is identical. This is deliberate. For the film pokes fun at Hollywood's current obsession with sequels, remakes and reboots.

Along the way, Jay and Silent Bob meet up with various characters from all the previous movies, not to mention making jokes directly related to their former exploits. I got every one of them, but it's worth noting that the person I watched this with was only a 'fairweather' Kevin Smith fan and she didn't get half of what was referenced. I guess this leads me to conclude that 'Jay and Silent Bob Reboot' is mainly aimed at the existing fans of the franchise and only those with extensive knowledge will get the most out of it.

I also read online by a 'professional' film reviewer that one reason it almost didn't work out this time was because the film's 'core audience' (namely me!) was once well into the 'stoner humour' which Smith bases his work on. Now we've grown up, so has our sense of humour and we don't always laugh at what we did once.

I enjoyed the film, but I'm guessing that if you don't know anything about the previous work of Kevin Smith, not to mention enough about general pop culture and movies, then you're not going to get much out of this film. Definitely worth a watch if you're into the franchise, but a confusing viewing experience if you're not.

Castle Freak
(1995)

An eighties horror movie in the nineties
I'm sure if I didn't know that 'Castle Freak' was made in 1995 I'd swear it was made in the early eighties among the crop of other similar 'video nasties.' For some reason it just looks and feels like it belongs among them. It has a family who 'win' (yes, seriously - even they acknowledge that they thought it sounded like a hoax!) a castle in Italy. Therefore, they naturally move in and ask no further questions. Guess what... they're not alone in there.

There's a lot in 'Castle Freak' that's done right and a lot that's been done before. There's only three family members, so not that many to be stalked and killed by whatever is lurking in the darkness. Therefore, a few secondary characters need to be introduced in order to up the bodycount. Jeffry Combs is the father of the family and does his best with the script and the 'backstory' his character has been given. I know he's a bit of a 'B-list legend' when it comes to acting in horror films, but - personally - I've never really gone for his acting methods. Yes, I love some of the other eighties cult classics he's starred in, but my criticism still applies when it comes to how he carries his characters.

'Castle Freak' is effectively a 'monster movie' with a creature picking off the cast one by one. Nothing too original and, as I say, you've probably seen it all before. What possibly makes this one worth a watch (and possibly deserving of its 'cult status?') is the excessive - and particularly grisly - levels of gore. The make-up is very well done when it comes to the 'creature effects,' even with the limited budget. However, you will need a bit of a strong stomach when it comes to some of the violence and there are a few scenes that will probably make you wince.

Overall, there's nothing amazing here, but if you're a fan of low budget eighties horror films (even 'eighties' ones that came out in the nineties!) with good effects and gore (and you have a strong stomach!) then you'll probably enjoy this one. It's a bit cheesy here and there, but if you're a fan of the genre, you're probably okay with that and can forgive its various short-comings.

Raising Arizona
(1987)

Cage does comedy
When you think about it... it's strange that Nicolas Cage hasn't really done more comedy in his career. His manic, over-acting style certainly lends itself to some humorous outlandish performances that are so extreme that you can only laugh at them. Here, in an early Coen brothers film, Cage plays 'Hi' - a petty small town criminal who tries to change his ways when he marries a local police woman 'Ed' (Holly Hunter). Don't think too closely about how an officer of the law could be so easily attracted to such a loser and just get to the part where they find they can't have children. Therefore, they decide to kidnap one of five babies a local wealthy businessman has recently fathered.

Yeah, it's all not quite as 'believable' as some of the Coen brothers' later films, but, if you just allow yourself to go with it, you'll certainly have some fun. Of course Cage overacts, but then so do many other characters in the film, all of which mainly relying on behaving like one stereotype or another. John Goodman in on the cast list, but possibly comes across as a little underused when considering what else he could have brought to the script.

Besides the cast and the completely ludicrous plot, I think 'Raising Arizona's' main selling point is its weirdness. It's certainly not a 'conventional' film and you really will wonder where it's going at times. The crazy direction mixed with the sheer randomness of the screenplay really does make it compulsive viewing and you'll soon find yourself being able to forgive the bits in the story that are slightly less believable than the rest (mainly certain 'character motivation choices' here and there).

There are moments that will definitely make you laugh out loud and if you're looking for a film that feels like a B-movie with an A-list cast, or just a fan of the Coen brothers and what to see where they've 'evolved' from, then definitely give this one a go. It's certainly held up over time and is worth a watch every now and again.

Ma
(2019)

'Misery' with cellphones
Sometimes the most simple of films are actually the best ones. Here, if you ignore there is a little similarity or two to the classic Stephen King adaptation of 'Misery,' you have a bunch of teens who befriend an older lady when she agrees to buy them alcohol. However, they end up getting more than just a few bottles of underage grog for their troubles.

There may be nothing new with the way this film is put together, somehow everything just works. For a start, the script is great. The sort of tale where a girl moves to a new town could be riddles with all sorts of filmic cliches, yet this one doesn't go that way. There's no love triange, no bitchy cool girl or meat-headed 'jock.' What you get is a group of friends who talks to each other as if they really were friends, therefore automatically letting us - the audience - root and relate with them.

Of course, I'm totally underplaying the excellent performance of Octavia Spencer as the titular 'Ma,' who offers to help these teens party with the purchase of alcohol. She steals every scene, but, despite being the 'villain' of the film, her ability to make us understand where she's coming from and how she became the way she is just makes her character more than some sort of one-dimensional masked slasher we get in so many other horror films.

Despite the story not really going in too many novel directions, I'll keep the plot vague in case you don't guess where some of it is going. However, if you want a 'horror' film that's probably more of a thriller than an outright blood-bath (although there are more than a few really grim moments that will make most men wince!) then definitely give it a go. It's got excellent performances all round, some nice tweaks that you may not see coming, quite a few digs at the drawbacks of popular culture (mainly allowing so much of your own information to be viewed online by anyone) and just the one blatant nod to 'Misery' in the form of an ornamental cat.

Contagion
(2011)

Life imitates art (nine years later)
A virus that starts off with bats in China, quickly spreads across the world causing mass death and destruction, not to mention 'social distancing.' No, that's not a brief history of 2020, but the plot of the film 'Contagion' made some nine years earlier. Despite life imitating art quite scarily, luckily 2020 didn't have as many deaths as we can see on screen here - I guess we'll have to forgive Hollywood for upping the stakes a bit.

'Contagion' is quite a good little film, or at least it was at the time. Now, it almost seems a little outdated as it shows us what COULD happen during a global pandemic, whereas today, we only really need to look out the window to see what the effects really are. I guess it's main use now is to compare how the 'fictional' take on such a situation can be held up against real life.

On the plus side, it certainly has an A-list cast. Ignore any promotional marketing regarding Gwyneth Paltrow - I don't really feel like it's a 'spoiler' to say that she's barely in it. The main stars are Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and some actress I'd never seen before! Anyway, it's a decent cast, but because the story skips from place to place across the planet, most of these cast are only given a certain amount of screen time for us to get to know them. Some of their plights are more interesting than others, so you sort of may find you want to skip some of their tales in favour of getting to the better ones.

However, due to such an excellent cast, you can't really fault anyone's performance, but if a film is going to tackle a story of such grand scale, I couldn't help but think 'Contagion' would work more if it was a ten-part TV series instead, as it suffers from being a bit of a 'whistle-stop' tale of what would happen in these trying times.

It's not a bad film. It's was definitely entertaining for its time and, in some ways, it's turned from being a simple and entertaining 'what if?' scenario to a scary prediction of things to come where we - with the benefit of hindsight - can see what the script-writers got right and what they got wrong.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death
(1994)

Kersey jumps the shark
I didn't even know 'Part 5' of the franchise existed until recently. 'Death Wish' 1 and 2 were regarded as the best of the series, but, seeing as I was a young (ish) boy at the time when I first discovered the saga, I always preferred 'Part III' in all its over-the-top glory. Then the fourth installment came along and that was entertaining. Yes, you had to suspend your disbelief to get into the mindset that - yet another - of one man's relatives has been violently murdered by the underworld, leading to him springing into equally-violent retribution (not to mention the fact that Charles Bronson's leading ladies seem to be getting successfully younger from film to film!). Anyway, 'Part 4' was silly, entertaining fun that is definitely worth a watch. My only hope for the final entry was to be more of the same. It wasn't.

As much as I love (and take enjoyment) in all of its predecessors, I just couldn't really get into this one. Whereas all the others seemed to at least try and 'one up' the previous entry, this one was just totally underwhelming. If you thought Roger Moore was too old in those last few of his Bond films, Charles Bronson just looks laughable as the 'fearsome' vigilante, Paul Kersey. If he wasn't quite so overweight it would be a start. There's a random scene in the middle of the film where he has to run through a woods. I say 'run,' but it's more like a 'breathless jog.' To make matters worse, one criminal even remarks (regarding Kersey) 'Damn, he's fast.' He really isn't.

Of course it wouldn't be a 'Death Wish' film without Kersey losing yet another person he holds dear. You really wouldn't want to get into a relationship with him, as his latest lady-friend finds out. Soon, she's dead (and that's hardly a spoiler when it comes to 'Death Wish' films!) and he has to take revenge on the organised mob.

Nothing too wrong with that premise (if a little unoriginal!), but, whereas he was out there blasting criminals from almost the off, here it takes him nearly half the movie to make his first kill. And, for someone most famous for using guns, now he - mainly - uses elaborate traps and surprises to dispatch the guilty parties.

I wish I wasn't being so hard on these films. I loved the first two. The second two were great, mindless fun action films, but this one just shouldn't have been made. It's a sad say when the remake starring Bruce Willis is actually a damn sight better than an entry in the original franchise.

Sleepaway Camp
(1983)

So bad it's weirdly good
Ever since the 'Friday 13th' movies kind of set the benchmark for what a 'horror/slasher' movie should be back in the 1980s, even to today they haven't changed that much. In 1983 'Sleepaway Camp' decided to capitalise on the genre by having a bunch of teens go to a summer camp (only not 'Crystal Camp' this time!) during school holidays and get picked off one by one.

So, it's you usual 'who-dun-it' where there are all manor of weird and bizarre characters - many of which with various anti-social personality disorders - who could have snapped and decided to hack up the rest of the cast.

Now, besides the fairly bog standard plot summary, I'm being rather vague about the film's story. That's because at least one of its main selling points is the overall 'twist' (if you can call it that), or rather motivation/reveal of the killer. You'll only get the one chance to watch this film without knowing anything other than it's a 'slasher' film and I recommend you don't read up on too many spoilers. Personally, I managed to guess what was going on about three quarters of the way through, but the person I watched it with was suitably shocked by the outcome.

Anyway, for us seasoned horror fans, we normally want one thing from our 'Friday 13th' rip-offs - the gore. And, for a low budget film, the kills are actually pretty gruesome. That's one of the major plus points. I guess however, what they spent on make-up they saved on acting talent. I couldn't quite work out whether the actors were told to 'ham it up' in order to almost make this some sort of early 'parody' of the genre. Either way, it really gives it a laughably-funny kind of overall feel, perforated with the gruesome murders.

There's not an awful lot you haven't seen here before (with the possibly exception of the final scene!) in a 'slasher' film, but, if you're into your old horror films, this one is definitely entertaining - you'll notice I use the word 'entertaining' rather than 'good.' If it is 'good' then it's definitely 'so-bad-it's-good.'

Flesh+Blood
(1985)

Carcrash in the Middle Ages
There's something weird about 1985's 'Flesh and Blood.' I watched it because I'm a causal fan of its director Paul ('Robocop/Total Recall/Starship Troopers') Verhoven and wondered what his earlier stuff was like. And - apparently - it's like this... pretty hard to describe.

If you're into your 'film theory' you'll know about 'classic Hollywood narratives' in relation to how a film should be structured. I swear this film doesn't conform to that theory. It's about a band of mercenaries who are doublecrossed by a king and set out for revenge by, not only going on a rampage, but also kidnapping the prince's bride-to-be. Now, that brief plot synopsis may make you think the mercenaries are the 'heroes' (or 'anti-heroes' to be precise). However, it's hard to see them as particularly heroic due to their (and I use this term politely!) 'deeds' being particularly unsanitary.

Okay, so if they're not the heroes, maybe it's the king's forces who have vowed to hunt them down? No, not really. They're not much better. But wait! The mercenaries kidnapped the poor bride-to-be - surely she's a 'sympathetic character?' Nah, not particularly. She kind of goes along with the mercenaries and even struggles to work out who she is actually in love with.

Therefore, what you're left with is a long, violent film with very few characters to root for which bounces back and forth between the two sides, simply taking us bemused viewers along for the ride. Did I like it? Not that much, but that doesn't mean I didn't find it worth a watch. It's like a carcrash where you just can't seem to look away. It goes in so many random directions that I stuck with it simply because I didn't have a clue how it was going to end or where it was going.

I'm not sure who this is meant for. I read online that the director said that he was going for more of a 'realistic' take on what the Middle Ages were like, rather than its 'romanticised' portray that other films sometimes use. Yes, it's pretty 'full-on' when it comes to showing us all the horrors we're long since left behind. It's not a film that I'd watch often, but in a few years I'd probably give it another go because I've forgotten enough of it to be hooked by its weirdness again.

Hollow Man
(2000)

A great little B-movie pretending to be A-list
Yes, 'Hollow Man' is basically a retelling of the classic old story 'The Invisible Man,' only for the 2000s. It's been made many times before and since and, although this version only really offers some pretty good special effects (for the time), it's still a lot of fun in a 'B-movie' kind of way.

Here we have a kind of 'Flatliners-esque' tale of a bunch of Government-sponsored scientists working on ways to turn living creatures invisible for the military in Washington. Kevin Bacon is the lead scientist and, in true Jeff Goldblum from 'The Fly' style, he decides the best way to test the process would be for him to volunteer.

Naturally, things don't go to plan and who could have foreseen that being completely invisible for long periods of time could lead to mental instability (although Kevin Bacon's character was a bit bonkers to begin with!). Therefore, soon the other scientists (mainly Elizabeth Shue and Thanos, aka Josh Brolin) have more to worry about than just figuring out a way to make gorillas visible again.

Yes, the special effects have aged, but only slightly. They're still pretty impressive and still hold up in the whole 'B-movie-fun' environment. Paul Verhoven ('Robocop, Total Recall' and 'Starship Troopers' - among others) is the director. And, although I couldn't fault any of the direction on display here, it's not really THAT Paul Verhoven. Besides the nudity (which he seems to feel the need to include in pretty much everything he does) there are no satirical cutaway adverts or anything that makes you think you're watching something done by the same creative man behind 'Robocop' and 'Starship Troopers.'

There are good films, bad films and generally just fun films. This is totally the latter. It doesn't really do anything different and there's nothing you probably haven't seen before, but that doesn't make it bad. It's a simple 'popcorn' film that you can just sit back and enjoy. I found it a good watch back in the cinema and twenty years later it's still a lot of fun (even if some of the plot holes are a little more apparent the more you think about them - which is even more reason not to bother looking too deeply into it).

Dragonslayer
(1981)

Needs a bit of an edit
I do like a good eighties 'sword and sorcery' kind of movie. I don't really care how 'cheesy' it is and films like 'Krull, Hawk the Slayer' and the 'Conan' movies all get watched regularly in my household. For some reason 'Dragonslayer' slipped by me back in the day and I've only just got round to watching it. I was pleased with the majority of the reviews saying how good it was, so I thought I was in for a real treat.

Unfortunately - and maybe this was due to me setting my expectations too high - I felt like it was quite a let-down. It's about a sorcerer who is charged with the task of slaying a dragon. Sadly, he barely even gets out of his front garden before he gets stabbed and murdered. Therefore, it's up to his young apprentice to carry out the task.

First of all, the good. It's very well shot. The filming locations in Scotland and Wales are perfectly used to create a 'Lord of the Rings' style environment and it's quite believable as a setting for magic and dragons. However, the characters just aren't that interesting. The leading man (and his amazing perm!) just isn't charismatic at all and his 'love interest' doesn't really have much chemistry with him.

Plus it's very long. Actually, it's not THAT long, but it felt it. You could definitely trim a few scenes down and keeping its overall run-time below ninety minutes would probably make it feel less of a chore. It all plays out like the writers had read 'Lord of the Rings' and figured that such a story would never make its way to the big screen, so they could get away with ripping off a lot of it without anyone noticing or caring. In other words... it comes across like a cheap 'Rings' rip-off.

I know I'm being a bit negative about it, but, in some ways, I was glad I watched it. And that was because of the dragon itself. It was some of the most amazing special effects (especially for the time it was made) I've ever seen. The dragon is quite under-used for the most part, but in the final act it really comes into its own - and it was definitely worth the wait. In fact, it was so much the star of the show that I found myself rooting for it (even if it did have a nasty habit of roasting young maidens!).

Maybe it was one of those films that I'd like more if I'd watched it when I was a child and now saw it through more nostalgic eyes. I'm glad I saw it because of the special effects, but probably won't see it again. Shame the dragon never went on to do more films. Guess he must have roasted his agent and lost out on the part of 'Smaug' from 'The Hobbit' to Benedict Cumberbatch!

Cypher
(2002)

Didn't 'South Park' do this?
'Cypher' was released in 2002. I can't remember whether that was before or after 'South Park' did an episode where a shady organisation kidnapped the boys' games console. Naturally, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman set out to get it back, only to find they were being deceived all along and were really working for the people who took their GamesCube. Believe it or not, that's basically the premise of 'Cypher.' I don't know which came first, but I couldn't watch 'Cypher' without thinking of 'South Park.'

In 'Cypher,' a man (Jeremy Northam) has to retrieve a secret disk from a shadowy organisation, or is it really that covert? Is it really HIS organisation who are the bad guys? Along the way he's helped (or is it really 'hindered?') by a sultry secret agent played by Lucy Liu. She doesn't have an awful lot to do in the film other than look good and play the part of someone who may or may not be an antagonist.

This is probably one film where you actually have to watch it all the way through and suppress your desire to check your smart phone every few minutes. If you skip a scene you'll probably wonder why the people you thought were the good guys are now trying to kill our hero, or someone you thought was one person actually turns out to be another.

It's one of those films where, if you can suspend your disbelief long enough, you'll probably have a good time. There are some nicely creepy scenes in here and, although the whole thing isn't really anything new, it's atmospheric enough to be worth a watch - especially if you can find it on a streaming service.

Child's Play
(2019)

A reboot done right
Has Hollywood completely run out of ideas? The correct answer is 'Yes.' Reboots, remakes and reimaginings are all the rage right now - and none more so prominent than in the horror genre. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the nineteen eighties classic 'Child's Play' was given the same lazy treatment. I didn't bother watching it in the cinema as I was all set to sneer at it as merely a shameless cash grab and a cheap, knock-off of the original. How wrong I was.

Okay, so it is probably a bit of a 'cash grab,' but in the depressing history of horror remakes, this is actually a pretty good one. For a start, they take the initial idea, i.e. child's toy doll that comes to life and starts killing people and change enough to make it recognisable as 'Child's Play,' while at the same time changing enough (mainly bringing it screaming into the modern era with our society's obsession with 'smart homes/devices') to make it different to the original.

If you're worried that the child actors will spoil the film (as they often do - and not just in horror films) then don't worry. They're actually quite good and believable in their roles. Obviously, the 'real' star of the film is the doll himself, or, in this case we have Mark Hamill stepping in for the original's Brad Dourif. And, besides being known best for Luke Skywalker, he's actually really good at doing creepy voice work (as anyone who's seen his cartoon portrayal as 'the Joker' in the animated 'Batman' series can vouch for.

I'd probably say the original 'Child's Play' film was an outright horror (whereas its sequels fell into more a 'horror/comedy' feel) whereas this remake has definitely more than a few moments of black humour thrown in there, so prepare to have at least a little chuckle here and there. Especially as the film's real high-point is actually its script. All the way through it felt fresh and fun (in a dark and murderous kind of way, obviously!) and the characters interacted with each other in a way that felt natural.

Okay, so it may never have the originality of the original - by the very nature that it's a remake, but don't just dismiss it because it's a copy. It may not be part of the existing 'Child's Play' 'lore,' but it's a smart and funny horror film that definitely deserves a watch (and I think Mark Hamill really sounded like he was enjoying himself singing the 'Buddi song').

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