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Jurassic Predator (2018)

Enjoyable low budget monster fun. Incredibly prolific director Andrew Jones adds his own spin on the wealth of 'parody' films that have been popular over the past few years. Sometimes known as 'mockbusters', these are low-budget projects with titles mimicking those of high profile productions, often at around the same time as their release, in the cheeky hope of catching some of that bigger movie's notoriety. Examples are 'Transmorphers (2007) and 'Paranormal Entity (2009)'.

Lee Bane, who co-produces and co-directs, and without whom few Jones films would be complete, once more plays a hard man, Hawkins, a dangerous ex-soldier sent on a mission to locate a wayward escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex in and around the woodlands of Devil's Creek. He hand-picks a group of men to aid him, including musician/nutcase Rankin, played by another Andrew Jones (semi) regular Lee Mark Jones. Rankin is a musician, as is Lee Mark Jones, and his band 'The Mescalito Vampires' provide much of the excellent music here.

This is great fun, one of the most enjoyable of Andrew Jones' vast catalogue. It makes something of a virtue of it's low-budget trappings - indeed, a bunch of cash-strapped film-makers are amongst the creature's victims - and I must admit, I was intrigued to see how something as ambitious as a 'fully grown' dinosaur would be visualised here. The creature actually looks pretty decent. No hint of CGI of course, the T-Rex is filmed from below and features only fleetingly.

The acting is also pretty good throughout, although in a handful of key-scenes, the dialogue is drowned out by the music, which lets things down a bit. There are some genuinely funny moments, but one of the most poignant scenes is played dead straight. Reminiscing about a fallen colleague, Bane gives, I think, the best performance of his career so far.

According to IMDB, The film became the top selling Direct-to-Video title in the national UK DVD chart on its first week of release, opening at #22. Andrew Jones' star continues to rise, and I am very pleased about that.

Pyewacket (2017)

Enjoyable slow burner ... Yes, this is a teen angst story. Yes, the teens are of the troubled Goth variety so unappealingly stereotyped in so many films. But don't despair! Director and writer Adam MacDonald portrays them in a very sympathetic manner (the obligatory expletives are a little forced, however) and they emerge not only as strong characters, but their group is a vital one considering the inconsistency that exists at home.

Leah (Nicole Muñoz) is missing her dead father, and her mother's up-and-down alcohol-induced mood-swings are making her unhappy. A keen reader of occult books, she rashly performs a Black Magic ritual to be rid of her mother - and then regrets it. By then, of course, it's too late.

This is a pleasingly altered take on the familiar 'summoning a demon' story, and the modest budget is used to good effect, with bumps and jolting camera angles providing more naturalistic chills than CGI (which is used, but very sparingly) or wildly choreographed jump-scares. The new house Leah and her mother (Laurie Holden) move into is tailor-made for a haunting and is surrounded by acres of terrific Blair Witchy woodland. The acting is very good from all concerned, especially the two major females, and it becomes a blur as to just who is possessed and who is the victim.

It's a low-key slow-burner with a familiar narrative, but with enough enjoyable details to satisfy.

Baskin (2015)

Hellishly good ... A group of loud customers are telling lewd tales and bullying staff at a café. It turns out these raucous individuals are local policemen. One feels ill and stumbles into the rest room, where he sees a frog in the soap dish. For a second, he loses his mind. When their revelry is interrupted by a call-out, the sick man continues to hallucinate, and the others become affected also.

This extraordinary Turkish horror film expertly lets us get to know the officers through their bragging, joking and eventual heart-felt reminiscences, and it is excellent. Interesting too, that each recollection reflects the sins for which the cops are later (very graphically) punished. Flawed but very real, they are also pretty funny in a brutal kind of way. So we may not be entirely on their side when horrific things begin to happen to them, but we care, almost despite ourselves.

'Baskin' is easy to enjoy, not only because of what it is - but also what it is not. It is not the usual possession or demonic story, with jump scares and screeching violin stings. It is a more immersive horror, dipping toes into a consistently persuasive world of events and characters 'not being right'. The horror does not let up, but progresses all the time. That the main players are hard-bitten bullies and not shrieking young pretties, gives things an extra edge.

This is the first full-length film by Director Can Evrenol. Apparently the production team did not have permission to film in all the excellent locations, which added pressure to the 28 day/night shoot. Evrenol drenches his macabre scenes with darkness and suggestion, in a way that you are not quite sure what you have seen, but you have witnessed enough to be disturbed by it. Cinematography and Ulas Pakkan's score (available to buy) - especially towards the end, with slow deliberation and torture at the hands of 'Father' (Mehmet Cerrahoglu) - is as hellishly convincing as anything I've seen. And what a twist ending!

Strongly recommended.

"Open your mind."

Unhallowed Ground (2015)

Not essential, not bad. A British teen horror then. Instead of posturing braggarts and plenty of arrogance, we have coy-eyed girls and clean, well-spoken boys. And a bit of arrogance. The wistful adolescent gossip concerning broken relationships and broken hearts that fuels any shallow character development hardly endears the young characters - although the cast do what they can. It actually took me a couple of attempts to get past establishing scenes rammed with 'as if' and 'whatever'.

Six cadets - three girls, tree boys and not a blemish between them - take part in a night-time training exercise on the same evening two hapless burglars decide to rob the archives. The school they are patrolling seems to have had a gruesome history and so it is no real surprise (to the audience at least) when modest but effecftive horrific occurrences occasionally crop up.

Of the burglars, Jazz is the downtrodden incompetent, with actor Ameet Chana injecting the same level of appealing ham-fisted qualities he did in his short-lived run in UK soap EastEnders. Will Thorpe is very good as his bad-boy co-conspirator Shane, and Rachel Petladwala makes a good impression as Meena Shah. In fact, the cast as a whole give good performances when their dialogue doesn't revolve around teen-speak clichés.

As things go on, the pace improves but there is a distinct lack of tension and scares. Technically very competent but hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff, until the end, that is, when a few decent twists present themselves and the finale is nicely fitting thanks to unexpected parties. Not essential, but worth 93 minutes of your time.

La Vénus à la fourrure (2013)

Immersive. This is an immersive exercise in minimalism. There are only two actors throughout, and the only location is an abandoned theatre. The building is battered by an ongoing storm outside, which adds a layer of safe seclusion from the interference from the outside world.

Many interesting themes are present - perceptions, a man's view of a what a woman is (and vice versa); the current fixation with trivialising everything and reducing it to a handful of 'current' reasons/demands to take offence, erotic manipulation and empowerment, and latterly, obsession ...

Emmanuelle Seigner plays Vanda Jourdain, and Mathieu Amalric plays Thomas Novacheck. He is the director/adaptor of a play, and she is the 'stupid c***' who needs a job and persuades him she would be perfect for the lead role. At first, he understandably thinks she is a lunatic - eccentric certainly, confident but very scatty. And yet she insists he hear her read for the role. Instantly, her performance and personality win through and she becomes the dominant character. As she excels, Thomas diminishes. Even Roman Polanski's direction visually elevates Vanda to tower over the director (Seigner is Polanski's wife).

The only interruption into this burgeoning relationship is from the unseen Marie-Cecile, Thomas's fiancée, who phones him asking when he will be coming home. This pin-prick in an otherwise weirdly evocative world-building seems to prevent, or at least delay, the main pair's total immersion in each other. As to who Vanda actually is - well, she seems to be a lot more than just a struggling actress, but her true nature remains oblique.

The movie is based on the play "Venus in Fur" by David Ives, and moves the location from New York to Paris. The themes of domination are taken to frightening and, it seems, unresolved extremes. Whilst difficult to pinpoint the ultimate intent, 'Venus in Fur' is fascinating, the immersive nature of its narrative transcending the subtitles from its French origins.

Vargtimmen (1968)

Good, but not Bergman's best ... Director Ingmar Bergman's familiarly bleak and windswept isolated island (Baltrum) is the retreat of artist Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) who is recovering from an unspecified illness. His pregnant wife Alma (Liv Ullman) loyally and sensibly looks after him and oversees such necessities as finance and food, whilst Borg lapses into a dream-world where he sees 'demons' - strange people who resemble people he has known. Before long, Alma too sees someone, an old lady, who may or may not be real, who advises her to read Johan's diary, which reveals one of his 'demons' is former lover, Veronica (Ingrid Thulin).

I found 'Hour of the Wolf' a little ponderous. Bergman's films are often exercises in introspection, but this is too uneventful: we know Johan is facing some sort of breakdown, and yet events are merely there to prove it to us again and again. Only an incident at a party - seemingly attended by 'demons' - stands out amongst the surreal mirages painted on Bergman's typically desolate canvas. The acting is never less than intense, with Von Sydow in particular tuning into the director's wavelength. Ullman, too, is sympathetic as loving protector Alma, who has some dialogue midway about wanting to be with her husband for such a long time that she begins to think like him. In the final coda, she ponders that if she was *less* like him, perhaps she could have protected him better.

I wouldn't say 'Hour of the Wolf' is less interesting than it thinks it is, rather that the situation and characters don't have quite the resonance with me that those in some of Bergman's other projects have.

Scarecrow (2013)

Not for me ... A group of students on a detention 'break': all twenty-somethings, suitably attractive and perfectly manicured. A nice-guy teacher, probably late-twenty-something, casually perfect. They're travelling to a remote field, allegedly haunted, to dismantle the great scarecrow there and have it returned to the local town in time for a festival. Kristen (Lacey Chabert), whose parents own the land, turns up - stunning and immaculate also, her job is to fish uncertainly for compliments beneath dough-eyes, from teacher Aaron (Robert Dunne) who, it turns out, is her ex. Her current boyfriend also turns up. Guess what? He's a lovely looking lad as well. All characters are equipped with the usual put-downs and quick prom-wit and, as written and played, are as blandly perfect, or as perfectly bland, as can be. All set? Alright then, let the loud noises and 'weird happenings' instantly reduce them into shrieking quiverers.

From this point, all previous patchy personalities, such as they are, are done away with and the group become as one: victims waiting to happen. Only ginger outcast Cal (Iain Belcher) retains his given nervous personality, which gets him a girl, if only for a short time. There are moments in between the crashes and panicking where some of the (alleged) teens get close to 'making out' with each other, but good grief - between the horror non-events and the scriptwriters' take on 'burgeoning relationships' and scratchy voiced profundity, this is a film that refuses to affect me in any way whatsoever.

I shouldn't perhaps be so grumpy: this is not for me, but it does seem to be a genre. 'Teen-slasher' will rarely go out of fashion, because it has rarely been in fashion. It has long since existed though, on the peripheries, secondary to its memorable Freddies and Jasons, feeding the spaces and silences on a first date, and not meant to be concentrated upon too much. Some listings mistakenly have 'Scarecrow's running time at 197 minutes, which would be truly terrifying. At its true length of 87 minutes, it provides nothing much, doesn't really offend, and contains a fairly reasonable CGI scarecrow but not a lot in terms of actual shivers. The main man Aaron presents limited displays of shock and resourcefulness, making sure the pearly whites are on display.

Darkroom (2013)

Good but not great ... Michelle (Kaylee DeFer) is a somewhat petulant, tortured soul. She is pretty blonde, and in possession of a throaty, scratchy voice guaranteed to dissipate into an airy rasp should she be moved to scream in horror - and she has plenty of reason to here.

Told in sometimes confusing flashbacks, Michelle has been institutionalised because she caused an accident which killed three of her friends whilst under the influence of alcohol. She's not particularly remorseful, showing scant regard for any rules or regulations at the rehab facility. Daniel (Tobias Segal), who seems well-meaning, and Rachel (Elisabeth Rohm), who is in authority, are revealed as having their own dark secrets, a revelation that attempts to vindicate Michelle's earlier lack of respect for them - even though she cannot possibly have known of their out-of-hours activities.

They are religious extremists, steering their faith towards 'purging' inmates of their sins by torturing them at a secret location. And there you have the plot. We spend the rest of the time watching Michelle try to escape their clutches.

The low budget on display works in the film's favour, with non-slick locations revelling in their enclosed dinginess and grainy imagery. We are expected to side with Michelle but given scant reason to, other than the fact that the other characters are more misguided than she is. It is unspectacular but solid, with good performances and a good atmosphere of hopelessness. It isn't quite 'torture porn', but there are some nasty inferences all explained by a familiar perversion and the easy target of religious abuse. There are some nice moments of melancholy - flashbacks of innocent children playing contrasting well with the sporadic bouts of violence - but where 'Darkroom' falls down is that it isn't terribly involving due to the unsympathetic, sketchy characters.

The Boy (2016)

Recommended. 'The Boy' suffers from 'how American writers think English people speak', I'll get that out of the way first. For example, the grocery boy Malcolm (Rupert Evans) says things like "I'm considered quite charming in this country." Evans is encouraged to use a well-spoken but entirely region-free accent throughout. It's not a huge issue, and UK films are not always accurate in their representation of US characters either. If you can get past that - and there are far worse examples out there - then there is much to enjoy with this.

Miss Greta Evans (Lauren Cohan), an American Nanny, travels to a gothic mansion to tend to the needs of an elderly couple's young son Brahms. It is difficult to escape the central storyline in the publicity - the fact that Brahms is a doll initially filled me with reservations. Could such a realisation be taken seriously? Andrew Jones' series of low-budget projects involving Robert the Doll is good, for example, but suffers a little when the prop figure is required to move.

There was little need to worry: this is a cracker: restrainedly directed by William Brent Bell at least initially, and written in the same way. Greta is just as incredulous as to the notion of a living doll as the most cynical audience member, and yet when she has reason to be convinced if the reality of its existence, we are too. Brahms is a ghostly looking, handsome doll, sometimes very life-like and often lifeless, as necessary.

Greta's willingness to care for Brahms is reasoned by a miscarriage she suffered at the hands of an abusive relationship with a character called Cole (Ben Robson). Cole suddenly turns up at the house demanding Greta returns home with him. He is, of course, exactly the kind of overbearing bully we want him to be - and then we can begin the business of desperately wanting some punishment for him. This is when the pace moves from slow-burning build-up to pure horror. When the resultant manifestation of Brahms reveals itself, the fragile build-up takes a step back in favour of Jason/Michael Myers territory; whilst this doesn't carry the same kind of emotional weight we've enjoyed so far, it is still effective. The finale explains things away and makes sense of it all, but there is a slight disappointment that the spell has been punctured with reality. As a whole, though 'The Boy' works beautifully, far better than I expected it to.

Tender Flesh (1997)

The best of Franco's One Shot Productions ... Amber Newman plays Paula. "I'm a total exhibitionist," she proclaims.

She certainly is a spirited young woman. After a series of striptease acts and sexual adventures, she is violently abused - not entirely unwillingly - and yet seems amused to then become the star of a bizarre hunt across the remote island where she is staying. She is bundled up in plastic whilst the camera stops to linger on the wildlife - and the hunt begins. Heading the ensemble is Lina Romay's variously coloured suedehead Mrs. Radeck. There's Aldo Sambrell's fey Kallmen, Monique Parent's Countess Irina, Alain Petit's Paul Radet and duplicitous Furia (Analia Ivars).

This is the first and, I think, the best of Jess Franco's collaborations with One Shot Productions. There are moments when the dialogue is incomprehensible, and the sound quality sometimes suffers. However, there is a good cast here, a fine central performance from Newman in the first of her three roles for Franco. And the story is very tight, lingering sexual scenes notwithstanding.

Amidst the titillation and violence, there is even space for some effective moments of humour, chiefly the scene involving characters indulging in a little wine tasting. What the wine actually consists of is not for me to say. And the incidental score - available to buy as 'Exoteric Tender Flesh (Boccato Di Cardinale)' - has rightly been highly praised. An REM-style set (to my ears at least), credited to Franco, Daniel White and Sexy Sadie, this all-prevalent soundtrack is so effective, the production would have a completely different feel without it. There is a dreamy piece of music featuring a female vocal (presumably Sadie) that is reminiscent of the haunting score from 'Virgin Among the Living Dead (1971)', which is sadly not available on the album.

Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975)

Partially successful ... This Italian giallo film contains a tremendous musical score: that is the first thing I noticed. Luciano Michelini's funky, jaunty soundtrack permeates throughout, bringing to life scenes of police procedure and making the action sequences even better. There are even moments of comedy in here. Are they successful? Not in the slightest, in my view, although other opinions are equally justified. To me they undermine the atmosphere without adding anything extra that is successful.

Where Sergio Martino's direction really shines, however, is in the chase and shooting set-pieces, the best being a tremendous shoot-out on a roller-coaster ride. The fusion of calamity and the rattling soundtrack guarantees enjoyment. A shame that such urgency isn't injected into more of the 100 minutes, or that some pruning couldn't have been done. For however energetic certain moments are, the film is a little too long and could have done with perhaps losing 15 minutes.

Is Martino's mixture of styles a success? Partially, I'd say. But ultimately, I prefer my giallo more consistently dark and without the flights of comedy. It is good, but not great. Whilst it is pleasing to see the director experiment with an established style, his crowning achievement remains 1971's untouchable 'Strange Case of Mrs Wardh.'

Tall Men (2016)

Recommended. Director and writer Jonathan Holbrook's very slow, colour-drained, experiment in minimalism is probably an acquired taste. I really like it. At 2hrs and 13 minutes, chances are it goes on too long, but I don't find that a huge problem. It isn't an ordinary story and it doesn't feature ordinary people. Sometimes the relentless turnaround of eccentric characters gets a little much, but this approach eases us into a world seen through the eyes of main character, paranoid schizophrenic Terrence Mackleby (Dan Crisafulli).

The style is unmistakably 1950s in flavour and throughout the moments not graced by the soundtrack, there is a feint hollow sound, like a breeze or an echo, barely perceptible, but enough to add to the mysterious David Lynch-type atmosphere.

Other sound effects are used very effectively also. Floorboard creaks, footsteps are matched with very occasional images of the Tall Men of the title - blurred, reflected, half seen behind doors. There is a genuinely unnerving style of story-telling here. And things get progressively nasty and perverse - this, on top an already skewed canvas, becomes enthralling.

Terrance is difficult to get close to as a character. That's nothing to do with Crisafulli's acting, which is excellent. His condition causes him to get into monetary difficulties again and again. The latest credit card company seems to offer him a way out from his troubles but the price to pay for non-repayment is nightmarish, and naturally he soon finds himself in a deadly situation. Odd, slow-burning and very powerful, 233 minutes nevertheless goes by surprisingly quickly. Recommended.

Le journal intime d'une nymphomane (1973)

Melancholy. Let's not mess about: a Jess Franco film concerning the titular 'Diary of a Nymphomaniac' is surely, purely an exercise in sleaze/eurotika/sexploitation cinema (take your pick). An excuse to show scenes of a young attractive woman (Linda, played by stunning Montserrat Prouse) trying to satiate her infinite appetite for sex.

Well, of course it is. But that's only part of the story. Filmed just after the death of Franco's muse Soledad Miranda (for whom the character Countess Anna de Monterey might have been written - here, the wonderful Anne Libert, an underrated Franco veteran, is given the role), there's a true air of melancholy about this. Subject to a series of sexual advances after running away from home (from another undisclosed trauma), she is far from the sexually confident, free spirited heroine we often meet in Franco's films. Her innocence is communicated to us in a heavy-handed, unsubtle way, but it convinces us enough to firmly find ourselves on her side. Meeting with the far more worldly-wise Anna, Linda slowly 'blossomed into a beautiful and sensuous young woman.' In other words, a bi-sexual nymphomaniac.

But her condition isn't used greatly as an excuse for gratuity. In fact, by Franco's standards, 'Sinner' is even somewhat restrained. Linda is a forlorn, moody figure, drug-addled and friendless. A victim of circumstances. I won't pretend this is a sensitive exploration into the psyche of an abuse victim, but it is nevertheless an interesting, seedy tale told with compassion.

Alongside Libert and Prouse, is Jacqueline Laurent who also features as an unappreciated wife in Franco's 'Lorna, The Exorcist' from the same year. Franco himself appears in a cameo as an uncredited Inspector Hernandez.

It is always good to see regular Howard Vernon. He isn't perhaps ideal to play a character sympathetic to Linda's plight, but here he plays an unnamed Doctor who vows to help the girl. Virtuously, he resists her natural advances and allows her to spend time at his hospital retreat. One night, he sees her liaison with a group of men and sees her as he feels she really is - a prostitute. As such, his bills are paid in kind and he rapes her. Linda's disconnection with the sex act is a mechanical acceptance. Interesting, just as his faith in her is broken, so she dismisses him as being 'just like the rest.'

Another essential character is provided by the music, here provided by Vladimir Cosma and Jean-Bernard Raiteux , which is excellent throughout. Tropical, haunting, heart-breaking and wistful, I wish it was a more widely available commercial release, not limited to an extra disc on the blu-ray.

Downtown - Die nackten Puppen der Unterwelt (1975)

Lots of Lina but not a lot else ... I'd suggest this is for Jess Franco completists only. Or perhaps I am simply not a fan of his 'comedy' films. This is a romp, really, a good excuse to show off Lina Romay in a state of undress with some wildly intimate, almost gynaecological shots that are in no way erotic, just invasive.

Director Jess Franco also stars in Al Pereira, a down-on-his-luck detective. He plays this rare starring role well; the character is often inebriated, and he certainly looks that way. He also indulges in some of the many sex romps that occur, often with real-life partner Romay, playing Cynthia, and also with Lola (Martine Stedil). These women are strippers and con artists, and their slender story is told us in rapid-fire fashion thanks to Christine Lembach's chatty script.

On the subject of Romay and Stedil: should I justify the fact that, despite the unflattering directorial obsessions with their genitalia, I think they look stunning throughout? This is one of the most exploitative of exploitation Franco I have seen, and as such, it is impossible not to comment on the players. Of other regulars, it is good to see Monica Swinn and Paul Muller albeit in subsidiary roles.

The relentless musical jazzy dirge accompanies most scenes. Like in most films from this director, it seems wholly inappropriate for the 'action', but unusually, Walter Baumgartner's contribution is entirely unmemorable. Sadly, this is the weakest of all Franco/Erwin C. Dietrich's collaborations. Al Pireira would return to Jess's stable at the very end of his career (and life), played by long term collaborator Antonio Mayans.

American Conjuring (2016)

Enjoyable horror. It might be considered a little unfair to rely on a group of juvenile girls to carry the establishing scenes of this low-budget chiller. Whilst the set-up is sound, there's no denying that the acting lets things down somewhat.

Having said that, the acting isn't the strongest element throughout 'Bind's' 86 minutes. The American family that we next meet, moving into their new home, have weak moments too. Conversational exchanges between them are fine, but when anger or hysteria consumes them - especially the adults - limitations are surpassed. Mum, her second husband, little daughter and the dreaded depiction of the 'goth teen', foul-mouthed Zoe (Mackenzie Mowat) have bought a dilapidated orphanage at a reduced rate and no-one can really blame the girls for not being enthused about living there. The building is huge and crumbling and exists next to a noisy train line.

Things start to happen. Ghostly faces at the window, shadows, and unexplained events - all achieved with a nice, creepy directorial touch from Dan Walton and Dan Zachary. There are moments of gore which look pretty good too. The location filming appears to have taken place during late summer, early Autumn, which always produces some nice long shadows and crisp, leafy mornings.

Elements of 'The Shining' and the 'Amytville' series join in the familiar ways 'Bind' tries to scare us and it is partially successful despite the shortcomings. There's a good character twist towards the end that makes sense, but only if you caught the awkward glance between daddy Ben (Darren Matheson) and Joan (Morgan Pasiuk). 'Bind' won't change the world, and it doesn't set out to redefine horror, but I enjoyed the gloomy atmospherics and occasional shock moments.

The Harvest (2013)

Engrossing ... This is the story of Andy (Charlie Tahan), a young man confined to a wheelchair and apparently getting weaker. It is also the story of his weak-willed father Richard (Michael Shannon), and Maryann (Natasha Calis), the new neighbour about Andy's age. Reeling from the loss of her parents (she lives with her grandparents), she makes a friend in Andy. This is also the story of Andy's horrendous mother Katherine (Samantha Morton), ostensibly over-protective of her dying son but far, far more than that.

Maryann is unresponsive and ungrateful to her grandparents (Leslie Lyles and Peter Fonda), so it is easy for them to believe it when Katherine suggests, with a smile, the girl may have behavioural problems. Her friendship with the lad is a heartfelt one, marred only by the mischief all children are guilty of. Certainly it is undeserving of Katherine's wrath. It's during such a mishap that Maryann, hiding in the basement, discovers a dark secret.

This increasingly disturbing story is expertly directed by John McNaughton, who handles the onslaught of revelations and horror in spellbinding fashion. Initial cruelty is revealed to mask a far more sombre situation. Not entirely unlike Kathy Bates from 'Misery (1990)', Morton gives Katherine a measured stillness, a dangerous sense of calm (often with her trademark tiny smile), so that when her anger does erupt, it is extraordinary. This is an engrossing, quite disturbing production, with terrific acting, especially from the juveniles.

Scream at the Devil (2015)

Disjointed. This is a strangely disjointed film directed, written and co-produced by Joseph P. Stachura. Shari Shattuck stars as Mirium, and Eric Etebari as Gabriel, who reunite after Mirium takes a break in Venice (where the film opens) after suffering a miscarriage. After praying for another baby, Mirium, who is not taking her medication for schizophrenia, suffers a series of strange hallucinations and scary moments. During one such episode, Gabriel, who likes a drink, disappears.

This appears to be a kind of variation of 'Rosemary's Baby (1967)', but quite oddly paced. The initially amusing Camio, Lilli and Amy (Jennifer Lyons, Amy Argyle and Corina Boettger), together with elderly Bella (Teddy Vincent) and Raven (Jane Park Smith) from 'nearby' appear to form some sort of unspecific - possibly vampiric - coven that knows more about Mirium than anyone. After the strong opening scenes in beautiful Venice, things settle, if that is the right word, into a series of scenarios that could be real/could be fantasy. After a while, it is difficult to care. Shattuck attacks her role with gusto, sometimes over-reacting to various occurrences. As if to heighten that, some of the directorial touches are sometimes heavy-handed. After a while, you get that sinking feeling that what you are watching is sadly flawed.

The two cops we meet late in the film might well be my favourite characters. Played by Candyman Tony Todd and Kiko Ellsworth, they have great chemistry and humour.

Events lead up to - although they don't, really, they just 'happen' - the set-up for a sequel. A quick look at IMDB reveals 'Scream at the Devil' to be Joseph P. Stachura's most recent filmic project, so such a concept is possible.

Winchester (2018)

Nothing special. I am a very big fan of low budget horror films. The limitations foisted on a tiny budgeted project often give it an intimacy and requirement to focus on characters vastly outweighs any constraints caused by lack of spectacle. And yet it is undeniably pleasurable once in a while to enter into a full-blown, richly visual, production that few million quid can bring, as opposed to a few thousand.

Jason Clarke as Dr Henry Price, Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester, Sarah Snook (who was so good as the title character in 2014's 'Jessabelle') as Marion Marriot and Finn Scicluna-O'Prey as Henry Marriot. Terrific performances from the these main players, and Henry is a very convincing 'possessed child', even though we don't get to know the character beforehand and therefore cannot truly embrace the transition.

Against that, we get standard scowling zombie-types, disappointing CGI cartoons and an early over-reliance on jump/shock moments in place of the atmospheric horror 'Winchester' seemed to promise. Equally, the dénouement is lacklustre. A kind of horror story standardised by a Disney-filter. The casting is, I think, what saves this - and there are some nice, sweeping directorial touches from The Spierig Brothers that time, money and a measure of innovation can bring.

I'm not using this review as an excuse to extoll the virtues of low-budget cinema. I enter into these horror films with an open mind and a real willingness to enjoy them. And while this is good, it is far from great. It smacks of 'chills for the masses', with no real urge to repulse, shock or unduly frighten the widest possible demographic.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Sun scorched and occasionally funny, occasionally brutal. Directed with leisurely assurance by S. Craig Zahler (who is also the writer), this very witty, slow-burning western/horror hybrid is compelling viewing, even when very little appears to be happening. The long, talky scenes in the first half of the film work well because the dialogue is very natural and often genuinely amusing, all played by an excellent cast. When anything horrific or brutal occurs, it does so very quickly with barely any lead-up. Blink and you'll miss it. However, as the 132 minute story rolls on, these occurrences move increasingly centre-stage. Getting to that point can arduous at times, however, and things drag from time to time.

The locations, stunningly filmed, perfect that balance between beautiful and unforgiving terrain. It is this environment that plays host to some stomach-churning scenes, filmed completely without spectacle, and often without the comfort of incidental music.

Can this be compared to 'From Dusk till Dawn (1996)?' In that 'Bone Tomahawk' begins as one kind of film and ends up quite another, yes it can. But in other ways, not so much. Where there was an addictive sensationalist lightness to even the more gruesome moments in Tarantino's film, here all the frivolity is saved for the earlier, character-establishing scenes. There's no joking when the raiders show up. Although you have to wait rather too long to see them, it is worth it.

I'm not going to name specific members of the cast because everyone is excellent, and even more than that, there are no stereotypes. Far from it. Here, personality and likability wins out over young, pretty and arrogant. If you do not have believable characters, it is that much harder to get the audience to follow them, much less invest in them. This film may well have benefited from a bit of pruning, but it is nevertheless an immersive experience, which also does something different in its approach to horror.

I tre volti della paura (1963)

Highly recommended. This is an anthology film directed by Mario Bava, and contains three stories framed by direct-to-camera pronouncements from Boris Karloff.

The first segment, 'The Telephone' is a very entertaining, if rather contrived, giallo-styled thriller featuring Rosy (Michèle Mercier), a French prostitute, her friend Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) and pimp Frank (Milo Quesada). An excellent mish-mash of broken friendships healed, relentless abusive phone calls and murder. In number two, 'The Wurdalak', a family is plagued by a curse that appears to have afflicted the father Russian nobleman Gorca (Boris Karloff), which he brings home with him. Finally, 'The Drop of Water', set in 1910, features Nurse Helen Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) who pays the price for stealing a ring from the finger of a corpse in her care.

I am not a huge fan of the colourful, darkly gaudy cinematography championed either by Bava, or later Dario Argento for projects like 'Suspiria (1977)'. Such an approach reduces the reality of the horror, which itself is difficult enough to convey with any measure of authenticity anyway. You are never allowed to forget you are watching a professional production, with actors rather than people, so heightened is the ultimate effect. This is just my opinion of course, and who cares about that?

Having said that though, I thoroughly enjoyed 'Black Sabbath' a lot more than I expected to. Possibly Bava's approach works for me here so well because the stories, by their nature, are concise and bite-sized: each story is being relayed as opposed to being 'real'. And the wonderful use of primal colours here gives each tale a ghostly fairy-tale look which is very evocative.

Much tinkering with the format befell this production for various around-the-world sales. The American version, for example, changes the order of the stories and removes all mention of prostitution from 'The Telephone' (Frank is merely a ghost rather than a pimp). Bava wanted the final scene to have been Nurse Chester's corpse, but this was also changed before production wrapped. So an utterly ingenious idea was had to feature Karloff signing off (just as he had opened the film), but in character as Gorca, before the camera pans away to reveal the horse he is riding to be nothing more than a prop, and the production crew running round waving branches to simulate the animal's motion. Such a jarring 'to camera' reveal has spoiled many horrors in the past (Bela Lugosi's 'Mark of the Vampire' and 'Return of the Vampire', for example), but works really well here because it merely accelerates the heightened reality rather than pull it out of thin air. An excellent, highly recommended anthology.

Sinfonía erótica (1980)

A genuine trip! This is a film by Jess Franco, notorious/prolific/dangerous director who made in excess of 200 films between 1962 and 2013 (even he lost count). Being a fan of his work is an endlessly rewarding experience. Just when you think you are beginning to get a handle on his styles and proclivities, he will reset the default switch.

Such is the case with 'Sinfonia Erotica'. Beginning with the music - many good things have been said about his incidental musical scores, often the finely crafted work of Daniel White, Bruno Nicolai or Franco himself. Here, Franco is credited alongside Franz Liszt, and it is fair to say this film contains a fusion of wistful electronica and Liszt's background classical sweeps. Whereas music in Franco films is often gloriously inappropriate, here, the score is simply *not quite fitting* for the scenes. This gives the action a fractured, drifting quality, an elegance complimented by Franco's idiosyncratic directorial flourishes.

Lina Romay, who I have always thought of as an excellent, enthusiastic actress, gives possibly her most persuasive performance here. As Martine de Bressac, she is a fragile, damaged figure a million miles away from her ferociously exotic turns in various other roles for her partner/director. She is billed as Candice Coster, and as is often the way, wears a variety of blond wigs pertinent to that stage name. She is abused and humiliated here by her aristocratic family, and laughed at by rescued house-guest Nun Norma, played by Susan Hemingway. There is also a flamboyant gay couple, which I mention because they and their occasional sex scenes are such a rarity for Franco - I think in his fifty years of films, this is the only male homosexual relationship I can think of.

For all this, it is Franco's directorship that is the main feature here. The locations, which are stunning and propel the visuals far ahead of 'Sinfonia Erotica's' typically low budget, are featured to their fullest by the meandering cinematography, obsession with the views outside the window, drifting in and out of focus (no frantic zooms to speak of though) and sparkling use of lighting; the sound design is often given to echo effects and disorientating distortion, all of which makes this a truly (and terrifically) dreamy trip of a film.

Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me (1971)

Claustrophobic horror ... Otherwise known as 'Noroi no yakata-Chi o su me', this was the second in a vampire trilogy released by Toho, who were by this time coming to the end of the first wave of their Godzilla film series. It is a perhaps surprisingly effective chiller starring Shin Kishida as a gaunt, golden eyed vampire. His scenes are given great menace and shot in effective cold colours. His is a very alien, feral vampire and very eerie because of this, as are his doll-like brides. Tadao Futami should also receive special mention as a very quirky, unnerving 'truck driver.'

Director Michio Yamamoto infuses the picture with the classic ingredients of traditional horror - fine use of shadows, storms, rain lashing against skeleton trees and a deathly white pallor for the undead - and gives the limited locations a claustrophobic air.

Good guys Akiko (Midori Fujita) and Dr. Takashi Saeki (Chôei Takahashi) are full of resolve but never quite as interesting - their personalities are strictly confined to solving the various problems at hand leaving no room for characterisation.

That is my only real issue with this though. Everything works in a surprisingly restrained, sinister way, except the vampire's eventual demise, which is terrifying. It certainly won't change your world, but it is significantly more than the bygone horror curio I thought it was going to be.

Dark Town (2004)

Dysfunctional vampires ... A family in fear of the man of the house, gangsters, lesbian sex, a pregnant girl and pretty soon, vampires - are all presented to the viewer in quick succession, interrupted by occasional fast-track shots of nudity, blood and gore. The acting is varied, the characters are thinly sketched - we realise the dysfunctional family have a vampire at their head - but there are so many people vying for attention, we're not sure who is who. Are we? Not to worry, however: I don't think clarity is the intention here.

This seems to be deliberately made to fit the so-bad-it's-good mould. Clearly, the budget is clearly very low. Director Desi Scarpone keeps things moving quickly, and there are moments of tension. And if you can see through the cheapness of it all, there is occasional gory enjoyment to be had once the vampires are unleashed. But it isn't really well made enough to be the joyous blood spattered free-for-all it would like to be.

The Hexecutioners (2015)

Stylish ... Malison McCourt is a hypersensitive young woman who, it is fair to say, has a lot on her plate. Living alone in a run-down apartment with her cat, the job she needs involves working for a euthanasia company. Her deeply superstitious landlord disapproves of this and makes her homeless. For all the unpleasant things that happen in this film, I don't mind admitting the moment I 'teared up' is when she abandoned her cat in the wilderness.

Malison is teamed up with Olivia Bletcha: sexy, confident and every bit as lonely as Malison. Together they travel to a remote castle for the latest 'closure' (the company word for euthanasia). This interesting premise is diluted by the arrival of Edgar (Tim Burd) who is the heavily clichéd creepy host, complete with emaciated gait and growling whisper. Naturally, there is a somewhat eccentric ritual to accompany this latest passing.

Sadly, moments of interest become more and more isolated as the ominous ruminations of a typical haunted house are further rolled out, including sinister whisperings from a 'ghostly' little girl which are delivered with all the disinterest you would expect from a bored 8 year old drama student. Malison becomes possessed by the evil - we know this because she suddenly starts using profanities. The demonic host looks not unlike a white-haired Kiwi Kingston from 1962's 'Evil of Frankenstein'. Events continue to spiral, becoming very visually impressive, but sadly the drama becomes increasingly disjointed and less and less easy to relate to. It is a shame things become so patchy because so much is well done here - rich direction from Jesse Thomas Cook, excellent locations, good production values and mostly very competent performances.

Slumber (2017)

Disturbing ... This is an interesting chiller about people doing horrible things when they are asleep, or think they are. It does contain a fair few children, however. I mention this because children in horror films tend to fall into two categories: genuinely frightening (The Exorcist, The Ring etc) ... or brattish. 'Slumber' manages to straddle both possibilities, which is something of a first. Stumbling, screaming kids and ghost-like images are fairly well conveyed, never truly annoying and occasionally producing something genuinely sinister.

The soundtrack, a dark ambience by Ulas Pakkan must take a lot of credit for the omnipresent atmosphere of not-quite-reality-or-is-it, and the cast are uniformly very good, even when - in the case of Maggie Q as Alice Arnolds and Will Kemp as husband Tom - the characters are not overtly dynamic.

It can be, I'm sorry to say, a little dull, very talky. But there are plenty of moments that deliver the goods. The idea of demon feeding off nightmares is a good one, and it plays on a fear of going to sleep, the debilitating misery of resisting slumber and that hollow pang it can cause.

Events are enlivened by the appearance of former Doctor Who and Radagast, Sylvester McCoy, who hams up delightfully the typically eccentric Armado. We only catch a glimpse of the lengths Armado has gone to to resist falling asleep, and it is disturbing.