The Soul: Taiwanese SF/Horror Thriller which is also a murder mystery and several love stories, set in 2031. The Billionaire owner of a BioTech company is murdered, apparently by his own son. But it's no ordinary murder, Occult Sigils were painted on walls and the killer acted out a ritual as he carried out the deed. The boy's mother had committed suicide 2 years before whist also carrying out a ritual, believing she would return to curse her husband. The dead BioTech mogul's new wife is acting strangely as if possessed, saying she sees the dead woman's (angry) ghost. A family all unhappy in their own ways. The investigating magistrate leading the search for the guilty party has terminal cancer (this is crucial to the unfolding of the narrative). But it's not all Occult and murder, radical RNA transfer techniques are also mixed up in this SF Neo-Noir conundrum. Flashbacks are crucial to understanding what really occurred and with changing identities you will have pay close attention to the story. More than one viewing may be necessary to appreciate the fine details of the plot. There are also several twists and reveals as the intrigue develops. An intricate but engaging film. Written & Directed by Cheng Wei-Hao. On Netflix. 8/10.
Anti-Life (aka Breach): Not as bad as some say but still a bit of a mess. Bruce Willis is getting as bad as Nick Cage in accepting every role he's offered and here he plays a grizzled old veteran Space Navy Captain busted to the ranks for disobeying orders. He's on a Space Ark (doing menial work), fleeing earth as the environment finally collapses. 300,000 colonists (most in cryogenic sleep) are onboard, voyaging to New Earth which circles a distant star. But there's an alien parasite aboard! It kills crew members and then reanimates their bodies. They act and look like fast moving zombies so this is basically a zombies in space movie. The plot is a bit confused with a few hole and non-sequiturs. The acting and set design won't win any award either but it has a certain charm which kept me engaged, maybe it was the zombie element. Or the homages to Aliens, The Thing and other SF/Horror films. It had the ingredients to be a much better film but is just about watchable on a rainy evening. Directed by John Suits from a screenplay by Edward Drake and Corey Large. On Netflix. 5/10.
Love and Monsters: A comedy but also a pastiche of the Post-Apocalypse movie genre. Killer asteroid, broken into bits by missiles but chemicals from missiles come back into atmosphere. Insects and cold-blood animals mutate into monsters. People get literally eaten alive by a swarm of termites. Anyway 95% of the human population is killed off. Joel was 17 on Doomsday and was separated from his girlfriend Aimee, 7 years later he's in a bunker the only single among couples but he has contacted Aimee over a radio. A giant ant attacks the bunker and though only one occupant is devoured Joel heads off overland to find his girlfriend. He really isn't survivor material but meets up with a friendly dog who saves him from a Toad Monster. Later he teams up with Clyde, a survivalist and a young girl, Minnow, an ace shot with a crossbow. A quest film with flashbacks to how the Apocalypse unfolded. Some great monsters, the toad, a boulder snail, a giant crab among others. Homage is paid to film and TV portrays of such creatures, in particular a scene of fighting the crab reminds me of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1959). An enjoyable romp. Directed by Michael Matthews from a screenplay by Brian Duffield ans Matthew Robinson. On Netflix. 8/10.
Outcast: Nicholas Cage chews up the scenery; first as a Crusader in the Middle East later as a bandit leader casting a jaundiced eye at all who annoy him in China. Hayden Christensen is his former protege, they fall out after the sacking of an Arab town over the slaughter which Cage has tired of. Years later a dissolute Christensen is in China when he becomes entangled with a princess (Liu Yifei) and prince (Bill Su Jiahang) fleeing from their murderous elder brother (Andy On) in a succession feud. Lots of derring do, betrayals sword fights and even an unarmed Kung Fu Monk taking on numerous armed warriors. This happens a lot in the film though it's mostly lone swordsmen against platoons of guards. Some savage and disturbing scenes of violence and killings both in the Near and Far East. Still, it's an enjoyable romp. Directed by Nick Powell and written by James Dormer. On Netflix. 6/10.
The Final Girls: Very much satire and a deconstruction of the teen slasher film tropes. Nevertheless the violence and horror is very real even when leavened with dark humour. Max is a teen girl whose late mother Amanda was a Scream Queen in the 1986 slasher film Camp Bloodbath. Amanda was only remembered for that role finding it difficult to get serious work. Max is persuaded to attend a special screening of Camp Bloodbath and through a set o bizarre circumstances is catapulted into the movie along with her friends. They have to battle not just the crazed killer, Billy, but also the caricature characters of the others who inhabit the film world. Dumb sexist males as well as airhead blondes. The power of The Final Girl who can slay the Slasher is explored. This Archetype is more powerful the chaotic slayer. An entertaining film with plenty of laughs but sometimes the laugh will die in your throat as heads are chopped off. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson from a screenplay by M. A. Forlin and Joshua John Miller. On Netflix. 8/10.
The Feed: The Feed is a form of Social Media accessed through a brain implant. But it's much more than SM, it's use to control Transport Energy, Communications. Things start going wrong, people go crazy and attack others, take on new personas. The Feed is too big to just shut down, you'll shut down Industrial Society. An SF Thriller with elements of horror especially in gruesome attacks/murders carried out by the possessed and mass killings later in the series. A sort of Soap (again) is intertwined with the narrative, a Soap about the family who created and "control" The Feed, dark secrets are revealed as the series progresses and it doesn't overstay it's welcome at ten episodes. Elements of Dystopia are also present with The Feed making the State omniscient, naturally there is a resistance. Some good plot twists. Developed by Channing Powell. On Prime, I saw it on Virgin Media Ireland Boxsets. 8/10.
Life: In Space no one can hear you throw up blood. Well they can actually and see the red globules float away. Set on the ISS, a probe from Mars returns with soli samples. Life is discovered, single cells which reanimate, they then coalesce and though still tiny attack a crew member and break out. Soon the creature grows from starfish size and shape to an ever bigger tentacled monster.
Tension is maintained throughout the film as the crew attempt to isolate and kill the creature. Echos of Alien as the astronauts are pursued through the satellite modules. Good Horror/SF which holds out the possibility of a sequel. 8/10.
The One: All it takes is one quick DNA test to match you with your perfect partner. But all is not well at the company behind this test. Infighting between the creators of the process, falling out with the moneyman behind it all. Flashbacks to how the test was developed, some dodgy dealings, also maybe a murder. The persona; lives of the protagonist are pure soap, Eastenders on speed. But all of this gels into an engaging SF Thriller series which maintains the tension throughout. The idea has been used before, even on Netflix but this time Showrunner Howard Overman puts an original twist on the narrative. On Netflix, 8 episodes. 8/10.
Beneath (2013): Teens and a lake, we've been here before, this film even has the stock character: jock, geek, blonde who wants to be an actress. But they don't face a slasher, shark or crocodile. No! Their nemesis is a Giant Catfish! They even have an old man warning them not to cross the lake by boat. Some good scenes of the catfish attacking the boat, biting off limbs, eating people alive. Sometimes the model fish looks real, sometimes it's risible. The film takes a darker turn as the teens fall out and there are a couple of plot twists. Directed by Larry Fessenden. On Netflix. 6/10.
Wrong Turn (2021): Always listen to the guesthouse owner when she warns you about the forest, don't unnecessarily rile up the hillbillies in the bar who in their own crude way mean well. Of course the six New Jersey students on arrival in a small rural town in Virginia ignore all advice. They head off on the Appalachian Trail, drifting off the beaten path. They soon have a deadly encounter with a tree trunk rolling downhill, crushing one of them to death. The realisation that this mightn't have been an accident dawns on them when they encounter traps. Soon they are clashing with strange figures dressed in leaves, skins, antlers and animal skulls. This reboot shifts the dynamic of the previous franchise straight into Folk Horror rather than Killer Hillbilly territory. Literally a lost society, the Foundation, which controls a mountain territory, living primitively but occasionally going to town to sell craft goods. A violent film but not all of the violence is on the part of the Foundation. Heads are bashed literally to a pulp, stabbings, shot with arrows and guns, impaled on spikes in a pit, blinded. Not a film for the squeamish. But there's also psychological horror at work here as the mountain folk emerge literally from nowhere in their camouflage and the tension of the chase rises and falls. An interesting addition to the American Folk Horror Canon. Directed by Mike P. Nelson from a screenplay by Alan B. McElroy. Pay to view on YouTube. 8/10.
The Irregulars: A revisionist retelling of the Holmes and Watson tales. Watson hires the teen Irregulars to solve cases for him and Holmes. This is an alternate London, there is no racism, there are black members of the aristocracy, Watson is black. The miseries of Victorian Britain remain, workhouses, poverty. Two episodes in and we have seen dark magic at work, powers gained through using Ouija Boards, control of corvids, a "Tooth Fairy" who rips teeth from peoples mouths, "pod people". One of the Irregulars is a psychic who can enter peoples minds. This really moves into horror territory and is very much an adult series. Created by Tom Bidwell. Eight episodes, on Netflix. 8/10.
Bitter Daisies: A Civil Guard detective, Rosa (Maria Mera) arrives in a small town in Galicia to investigate the disappearance of teen girl. It's one of those towns where everyone has a secret but underneath all of this far darker secrets are kept hidden. Even Rosa has her own secrets. Gradually the detective discovers links between the missing girl and possible murders. The girl had been blackmailing local men and she might have picked on the wrong person to cross. There is a Satanic Worship subplot and the series grows darker as the narrative unfolds. Some violent scenes but the real horror here is psychological as the nature of the secrets is revealed. Showrunner is Miguel Conde. On Netflix, six episodes of approximately 70 minutes each. Second season coning in April 2021. 8/10.
Season 2 is even darker, more violent and disturbing, portrayals of underage prostitution. Maria goes undercover to try and solve the mystery which continues from Season 1. 8/10.
The Vast Of Night (2019): Low budget SF set in 1950s New Mexico which works. A young Radio Station DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and a Switchboard Operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) meet up at the start of a high school basketball game and then head off to their workplaces. Both are disturbed by mysterious sounds interrupting the radio broadcast and telephone calls. People hear noises an see things in the skies, listeners call in to Everett, relating their tales of past encounters with Aliens and UFOs. The two teens go chasing around town, to talk to people and find things. Very much a dialogue driven film but what dialogue! It's a slow burner with teens doing teen things but this leaves yiu even less prepared when things get odd. It's very much of it's time period, Everett tells a black ex-soldier that he's the first black to call into his show. lack and Hispanic solders had been used to observe Alien ships and technology because they were less likely to be believed. Even more interesting is the old woman who relates a heart-breaking tale of her own encounters with UFOs. The detail and richness of the dialogue more than makes up for the lack of special effects. This film will have me musing over it's meaning for a while. Great performances by McCormick and Horowitz. Directed by Andrew Patterson from a screenplay by James Montague and Craig Sanger. On Amazon Prime. 8/10.
Here Comes Hell: Horror Comedy, a pastiche of 1930s films. People assemble for a a dinner party in a semi-derelict stately pile recently purchased by a gormless chap who has inherited his father's loot. An American oil heir travelling by train to the meet up is warned by a fellow passenger about a previous occupant of the house, an Occultist who scared the local villagers. The dinner party host has the spiffing idea of hiring a Medium who will lead a Seance to contact the Occultist. Things go wrong and Demons are set loose. Great scenes of possession, fingers bitten off, heads half destroyed with bullets but the possessed keep coming. Every cliche in the book is milked for laugh. An entertaining romp. Written & Directed by Jack McHenry. Streaming free at: On All4. 6/10.
Coven of Evil: Low budget English horror film, mostly filmed o the Yorkshire Moors. Opens in 1798 with a Occult sacrifice during a total eclipse of the Sun, a Gateway is opened. Flash forward to the present day and a young journalist who has written an article about a local (supposedly) Wiccan Coven is mocked by their High Priestess but is invited to observe an actual ritual. His journey to their house is itself a bit of a ritual as he has to seek directions from a Benny (Crossroads) type character. Things get complicated when he reaches the Coven's farmhouse as ends up participating in the Ritual and gets involved with Priestess's sister. An interesting story but the pace is a bit uneven and not all of the acting is great. The horror is there though with sacrifices, throats cut, cannibalism and the bleakness of the Moors. Especially the sacrifice site, a natural outcrop but it resembles Standing Stones. It could easily have lost 10 minutes from it's 100 minute running time. Written & Directed by Matthew Lawrence. On YouTube pay to view. 6/10.
Skylines: Not as good as the other two. The hybrid baby has grown up and she can interface with Alien Technology, helps to defeat a new invasion. The friendly aliens develop a strange illness making them violent so a voyage to their home planet is necessary. More battles. Backstabbing, too much scheming going on. James Cosmo is good as a grizzled old veteran. Some good hand to hand fighting and space battles but the villains are cardboard cut outs. Directed by Liam O'Donnell. On Netflix 5.5/10.
Coven Of Sisters: Set in the Basque country in 1609, very much in the mould of Witchfinder General but far darker. A Witchfinder along with his scribe, interrogator (torturer) and platoon of soldiers is progressing along the coast, seeking out Witches and Heretics. So far they have burned seventy seven women at the stake along with three Parish Priests who were found wanting. The Witchfinder Rostegul (Alex Brendermuhl) wants to observe an actual black Sabbath, in the next village six teenage girls are arrested, having been denounced as Witches, he wants to force them to reveal their Demonic secrets. but of course they have none. The brightest among them, Ana (Amala Aberasturi) tries to trick the Inquisitor, pretending to chant the Black Mass when is she in fact singing Basque folk songs, the other girls join in. Their intent is to delay their executions until the men of the village return from sea who will then fight off the Witchfinder's men. There are disturbing scenes of torture but more is implied than actually shown. The real horror is psychological as the girls as the girls are thrown into a dark cell, not knowing what they are accused of. Rostegul twists their words to imply guilt, even what they haven't said is used to incriminate them. But Anna along with some older women use the Inquisitor's fanaticism against him, keeping his interest and postponing her fate as Scheherazade did. A savage film which you'll remember and mull over longer after the end credits have rolled. Directed by Pablo Aguero, Screenplay by Pablo Aguero and Katell Guillou. On Netflix. 8/10.
Feedback: Mundane rather than Mondo horror but very violent. A crusading talk show host (Eddie Marsden) has been physically attacked and other station employees threatened over his investigations. His boss wants him to tone things down and persuades him to let his ex Ex co-host shockjock (Paul Anderson) appear on the show. Things start to go wrong pretty quickly as the station is taken over by two masked men who want Marsden to ask Anderson pointed questions online. Savagery ensues, the least of which is an attempt to cut off one of Marsden's fingers. Though the gory horror is extreme - battered to death with a sledge hammer, burned alive; the psychological horror also comes to the fore. The tension rises and characters become more psychotic as more secrets are revealed from an incident which occurred years before. Not a film you'll forget in a hurry and it'll keep yu wondering about hat really happened all of those years ago. Great performances from Marsden, Anderson and Ivana Baquero as a production assistant. Written & Directed by Pedro C. Alonso. On All4. 8/10.
Possessor: ScFi but ventures very much into Horror territory. An assassin can take control of other peoples bodies through implants in the unwilling hosts brains. This film is spectacularly violent from the beginning as we see the assassin (Andrea Riseborough) in action, the victim is slashed to death but the killer hesitates about committing suicide and dies in a shootout with police. In fact the assassin has suffered identity problems lately. We see her practicing the host's accent and mannerisms before she takes control but once she is back in her own body after the mission she has to do exercises to get her own voice and identity in place before meeting her family. Unwisely she agrees to another mission too soon. Her target is a billionaire, using his daughter's boyfriend as a mule. Things do not run smoothly. Possessor explores the dangers of two personalities in the same body, what happens when the original fights back. The loss of control of identity may also be inflicted on he Possessor. A thriller with many twists and savage deaths and assaults inflicted with guns, knives and cleavers. The blood runs freely unlike the streams of consciousness which get blocked. Impressive scenes of how the brain visualises the rebuilding of identities through facial reconstruction and the donning of masks. Like the selfhoods Possessor operates on several levels (it's even set in an alternative 2008) but it's a fine SF/Horror Thriller. Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Available pay to watch on Youtube. 8/10.
The Block Island Sound: A horror film which largely depends on a foreboding atmosphere and a sense of psychological threat rather than too much gore. There are scenes where the dead seem to have risen but these may be hallucinations or apparitions only visible to one observer. Nevertheless information is imparted by them and commands delivered. Set on an off-coast Island, large scale fish kills bring a marine biologist back to the home she has been avoiding. There is family drama/conflict involved but it mostly rises above the soap level. You also get evidence of parasites controlling humans and animals. The presence of a conspiracy theorist on the island and his influence on one of the main protagonists drives the film's narrative. Written, Directed and Produced by Kevin McManus and Matthew McManus. On Netflix. 7/10.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil: A South Korean thriller based on a true story. We've had tales of cops linking up with crooks before to pursue a joint interest, but this is a far darker tale where the quarry is a serial killer. He has tried to kill a gang boss, leaving him seriously injured, now the mobster joins up with his old cop enemy to catch the killer. They both know that they will try and cheat the other in the final toss of the dice, the detective want's the murderer brought to justice, the crook wants to kill him. Quite violent, not just the savage crimes committed by the "Devil" but also fights between rival gangsters. There is something eerily dark about watching the killer on the prowl, seeking out his victims, his mthod if stopping them, how he strikes. Maintains the tension throughout, a worthy addition to the South Korean Serial Killer Canon. Written and Directed by Lee Won-tae. On BBC4. 8/10.
Maniac (2012): A truly savage and disturbing horror film. Frank (Elijah Wood) is a serial killer who collects scalps to put on the antique mannequins he restores. His nefarious activities are interrupted by a photographer Anna (Nora Amezeder) who wants to use his dummies in an exhibition. Frank falls for her but things get complicated. Really graphic scenes of Frank staling, murdering and scalping his victims abound, He also suffers from hallucinations, talks to himself and his dead mother as well as to the mannequins. His actions are also driven by flashbacks to his past which he relives in real time. Some of the tropes aren't exactly used in an original way but the tension is maintained throughout Maniac with great performances from Wood and Amezeder. Directed by Frank Khalfoun from a screenplay by Alexandra Aja and Gregory Levasseur. On the Horror Channel. 7/10.
Nico,1988: Biopic about Nico's final years, She didn't like being reminded of The Velvet Underground, preferred to play her own music. Some sad scenes, bad gigs in third rate venues, fifth rate accommodation but also upbeat, especially a concert in Prague in 1986. She also tried to reconnect with her son, then in his mid-20s. Nico doesn't endear herself to Mancunians when she says that Manchester reminds her of Berlin after the war. Some short flashbacks inform the narrative, her son Ari as a child, herself as a young girl watching Berlin burn. Trine Dyrholm movingly portrays Nico, warts and all, especially her struggles with addiction. Written and Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli. 8/10.
The House Next Door: A Possessed as distinct from a Haunted House. A new house is built in an exclusive area, a lovely young couple own it, a nice young architect designed it. But the architect is troubled, this was his first independent commission, now he seems to have lost his inspiration. Trouble soon befalls the new couple and other residents who follow them in occupying the house. Mostly psychological horror, people seem pushed to do things they normally wouldn't but also scenes of genuine horror. A TV set taken over to show films of past deaths, ghostly apparitions; gruesome suicides and murders occur. Directed by Jeff Woolhaugh. On SyFy Channel. 6/10.
Damien (2016): TV series on Fox, a direct sequel to The Omen film. Damien is now 30 and works as a war photographer. Things start to go strange, people die around him, friends, enemies, those who know about his past. The Devil Dogs are pretty busy but other deaths result from being dragged into an escalator by a tie (terrible way to lose face) or being crushed by a taxicab. There are competing cultists who want to protect Damien and also those who wish to kill him. Quite dark and violent even though Damien is an engaging character who is a reluctant Antichrist. There was only one season of ten episodes and I'm halfway through it. I suspect I'll be left wanting more. 8/10.