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Top 10 Science-Fiction Horror Movies November 5, 2009

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror , add a comment

Science-fiction and horror seem to go hand in hand. Sci-fi usually involves futuristic foreboding or fear of the unknown, and this works well with the frightening realisation of the darkest depths of the human mind that define the horror genre. Science-fiction horror is also notable for producing some of the best examples of science-fiction regardless of sub-context, as well as some of the worst. And yet, when films such as Norman J. Warren’s awful “Inseminoid”, or the Alien/Aliens clones “Split Second” and “The Dark Side Of The Moon” hit our television screens during late-night repeats, we’re still sucked in to these strange but wonderful fantasies no matter how poor the execution. Indeed, while I can’t claim “Inseminoid” has any redeeming features, Tony Maylam and Ian Sharp’s violent, post-apocalyptic murder-mystery that sees a chiselled Rutger Hauer tracking… [MORE]

Click here for the Top 10 Sci-fi Horror Movies

Just in time for Halloween: Scariest Movie Scenes October 30, 2009

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Uncategorized, Horror, Artfully Deranged, Genre , add a comment

The horror genre produces some of the most iconic movies to grace cinema as well as some of the most derided. It might have been dismissed as low-grade entertainment, satisfying the darkest fetishes of society’s social outcasts and degrading our youth, but horror gives audiences the sort of frenzied adrenaline rush other forms of cinema cannot achieve. In effect, fictional entertainment should take you out of yourself and into the satisfying and gratifying world of the make-believe. Horror achieves this like no other genre because it breaks down those inherent defence mechanisms by focusing on our primal instincts. Read on here.

Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, USA, 2008) March 6, 2009

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, 2000s, Film reviews, Action/Adventure, Sci-fi/Fantasy , add a comment

Dir. Matt Reeves; starring Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel

I was like many intrigued by Cloverfield’s marketing campaign: the unnamed movie with a poster that depicted a decapitated Statue of Liberty. The trailer, which first appeared alongside the release of Transformers during the summer of 2007, showed the home video footage of a seemingly serene New York city party being interrupted by first the indication of an earthquake, then an explosion in a nearby building. Producer J.J. Abrams, who gave the world the television series Lost amongst many other production and writing credits, provided the mere hint of disaster with Cloverfield’s initial promotion. But the adventure story masked within wasn’t given traditional genre convention, there was no clarity to the good or evil, it was simply that old curse of the video tape: just as we are about to get to the best bit the machine chews the cassette.

Unfortunately, Abrams ability to market the movie and create media hype is a genius that ends there. As I suspected, Cloverfield is the accumulation of several other better films, and the lack of footage in the trailer not only hides the true nature of the story but also poor plotting, bad acting, and a complete lack of originality. The film is clearly the big-budget regurgitation of the YouTube online video revolution where shaky cameras have become a part of our media diet. In that same instance, Cloverfield plays into reality television’s penchant for actuality, while playing off what made The Blair Witch Project so successful. But it ends up feeling like the b-roll footage from 1998’s Godzilla. As if we’re shown these catastrophic events - not in brilliant 35mm widescreen with grandiose helicopter shots and dazzling special-effects - but by Joe Street, running terrified around New York city with his hi-def video camera.

But that’s the point isn’t it. Take an everyman and his expensive Christmas gift, and follow his plight as he tries to escape a city under siege. Yet while Cloverfield might seem like a unique piece of entertainment it’s rather insulting. After all, the events depicted in the movie are nothing more than a fantastical retelling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. Isn’t it rather insensitive that, ultimately, the film is nothing more than a perfectly executed exercise in commercial productivity?

It is difficult not to compare Cloverfield with The Blair Witch… [MORE]

Full review featured on Helium - Click HERE 

Halloween (Rob Zombie, USA, 2007) February 28, 2009

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, 2000s, Film reviews , 3 comments

Dir. Rob Zombie; starring Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, Danny Trejo, Brad Dourif

If there’s one thing you learn from watching Rob Zombie movies apart from what your insides look like, it’s: don’t watch Rob Zombie movies. Zombie is the picture postcard of MTV-generation trash that has spilled into the cinematic mainstream. His films are eye-candy to the uninitiated (or should that be uneducated), appealing largely, and unfortunately, to the mass teen market bred on quick-fixes, episodic action-orientated TV shows, and, seemingly, naked girls.

It’s a shame Zombie should turn his creative-eye to the Halloween franchise. It would appear that, even though the series hardly requires any more instalments, Hollywood (more precisely, the Weinsteins) is happy to tread well-worn ground in the hope of appealing to a ready-made audience. The series as a whole had already lost much of the shine made by John Carpenter. His Halloween film from 1978 was not only one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but a defining moment in horror movie lore. Some of the sequels were also entertaining in their own right, especially Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to scream-queen action in Halloween H20, but as more and more movies came out, Michael Myers became just another hokey anti-hero in the mould of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.

Why make another is a question for the marketers. Since there seemed little more to add to the continuing story, somewhere along the line Zombie must have had the thought: remake the classic original. What he didn’t take into consideration was: remaking a film known and loved by so many is almost… [READ MORE]

Comparing John Carpenter’s original Halloween with Rob Zombie’s remake

Aside from the great gulf in quality between John Carpenter’s classic 1978 slasher and Rob Zombie’s post-Scream back story-cum-remake, the new film couldn’t be more different from the original.

The original Halloween was a benchmark in horror. It set new standards that would become convention in movies that followed like Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street. Heavily influenced by Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, Halloween became the trend-setter of slasher movie lore. Essentially, to remake Halloween – a classic film loved by so many – was an impossible task. It’s like trying to remake Citizen Kane or The Godfather: you’d be fighting a losing battle.

Halloween circa 2007 is more a quick-fix marketing ploy, intended to hit a ready-made audience than an artistic cinematic endeavour. Employing the limited talents of Rob Zombie – the pin-up of MTV generation trash – to not only write but direct the new film, indicated the studio (read: the Weinsteins) weren’t interested in remaking quality just inventing box office profit.

I suppose you can give the movie’s producers credit for providing viewers with something new. Every remake, after all, has to add something to up the ante (that’s why I’ve always ignored Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). Halloween 07 adds back story to Michael Myers. Unfortunately… [READ MORE]

Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Spain, 2006) February 16, 2009

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, 2000s, Drama, Film reviews, Sci-fi/Fantasy, War, Foreign Language , add a comment

There’s a simple, innocent beauty amidst Guillermo Del Toro’s harrowing tale of one girl’s desperation to escape during the bloody Spanish Civil War. Set just after the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944, Pan’s Labyrinth sees a pregnant mother and daughter travelling to see the unborn child’s father - a Captain in the oppressive Spanish army - who is based at an outpost to stop advancing revolutionaries. The daughter - Ofelia (Ivana Baguero) - knows that the man who has fathered her half-brother is not interested in either her or her mother. She feels at once betrayed by her mother for bringing her to this awful place and yet their love is unbreakable, and at the same time fearful and untrusting of Captain Vidal. She is given the chance to escape this terrible world when visited by a Faun who tells her she is a Princess from another world. She can return to her kingdom if she completes three magical tasks. [Click HERE for FULL REVIEW]

Castle Keep’s Ghosts - short documentary June 7, 2008

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, Artfully Deranged, Short Film , add a comment

I’ve been locked in the editing room with some raw footage of a paranormal investigation at Castle Keep in Newcastle, making a Most Haunted-style film about possible ghostly activities. I watched The Exorcist to get in me in the right frame of mind which, essentially, made me me simply terrified and constantly looking over my shoulder.

Anyway, my first cut is complete and ready to view HERE.

Poltergeist III (Gary Sherman, 1988, USA) February 19, 2008

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, 1980s, Film reviews, Sci-fi/Fantasy , 3 comments

Directed by Gary Sherman; written by Brian Sherman, Brian Taggert; starring Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Tom Skerritt

Talk about smoke and mirrors. Director Gary Sherman, he of Dead and Buried fame (or perhaps shame, depending on who you are speaking to), utilises this old magicians trick to, at least at first, great effect. Indeed, Poltergeist III begins with far too much going for it. Here is a film that is following in the footsteps of a poor sequel to a great horror movie. The original leading star names (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) have decided against reprising their roles, and it’s fighting a battle with all the other high profile horror sequels appearing in 1988 (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood). Yet, surprisingly, Sherman manages to create an opening that is both intriguing and genuinely unsettling through, almost primarily, the use of mirrors, reflection, and depth of field photography. It’s a shame then, that around the halfway mark, what originality there was is thrown from the sixtieth floor window of the film’s main high-rise location, and Poltergeist III quickly, and I guess inevitably, becomes just another throwaway franchise filler.

The film follows on from Poltergeist II as Carol-Anne (Heather O’Rourke) is sent to her Auntie’s in a bid to put the events of her recent past behind her. Almost immediately, she begins to have visions of Reverend Henry Kane, a dead priest whose grave was desecrated when Carol-Anne’s father began a housing project over it. At the special school Carol-Anne attends, her psychiatrist doesn’t believe her stories of evil supernatural beings, deciding that she has a gift for hypnotic suggestion. When one of his experiments goes wrong and he sees what Carol-Anne can see, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein, the caring medium from the first two films) is alerted telepathically that the dead have once again awoken, and that they want Carol-Anne to lead them into the light.

Poltergeist III was a product of the horror franchise culture that plagued the genre throughout the late 1980s - lazy producers who wanted to make a quick buck through audience recognition of memorable characters, plot lines, and high-concept ideas. It is a shame because there’s a good film in here somewhere – there’s flashes of skill and craftsmanship, certainly in the first half hour – but it’s lost in poor scripting and a waste of acting talent.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Who directed the original Poltergeist? Read my article…

Disturbia (D.J. Caruso, 2007, USA) September 26, 2007

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Horror, 2000s, Film reviews, Thriller/Suspense, Romance , add a comment

Dir. D.J. Caruso; screenplay by Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth; starring Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse

If the best thing about Disturbia is how it updates the age-old story of the mysterious next-door neighbour for a 21st century audience groomed on mobile phones, Ipods, and online gaming, we’re clutching at straws. I’m talking about the sort of straws Tom Hanks couldn’t get his hands on in The ‘Burbs (there was no following people around taking pictures on phones, or getting mini-DV footage of the culprit doing nasty deeds). Yet he, and the film, was better for it. Indeed, dress-up any bad movie in all the bells and whistles you can find from jump cuts to scantily-clad young actresses to pop culture references and you’re still left with a bad, uninspired cinematic experience.

Director D. J. Caruso has potted around the film industry as a producer and second unit director on many throwaway Hollywood movies of the past few years. His notable work on the poor sequel to Stakeout and the mildly entertaining Drop Zone provide clues of his inspiration when at the helm, but it’s his own films that give a clear indication why Disturbia is just another notch on his C.V. that fails to succeed. One of the major problems I had with the movie was how it appeared to be two different films pieced together at around the forty minute mark. You can stick half an apple and half an orange together and call it original but what you really have is a rather odd looking fruit salad. When he makes it work in his 2002 thriller The Salton Sea it’s intriguing and entertaining, but when it doesn’t (Taking Lives didn’t know whether it was Seven or a feature episode of The X Files, and likewise Two For The Money tried to be too many things and was let down by a poor third act) it’s an unfortunate but glaring example of a director trying to be better than he is. [Read the full review HERE]
Rating: 1 out of 5

Jason X (James Isaac, 2001, USA) May 20, 2007

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Uncategorized, Horror, 2000s, Film reviews, Sci-fi/Fantasy , 1 comment so far

Dir. James Isaac; screenplay by Todd Farmer; starring Kane Hodder, Lexa Doig, Chuck Campbell

The beauty to watching a film you have zero expectations of is that when it delivers, in the smallest, almost insignificant way, it can be a thrilling event. Jason X might be yet another addition in the Friday The 13th franchise but its way better than some of the awful later sequels. You can tell it’s post-Scream with its self-reflexive attitudes but unlike many of the slasher films that appeared after 1997, director Isaac puts most of his effort into playful use of the character and to not taking itself too seriously. The film is silly and at times quite funny, but it doesn’t insult its audience by trying to be something that it’s not. Isaac knows his limitations and runs with what he’s got. It makes for a frequently enjoyable entry in the series. [Read Full Review - Here]

Read my Top 10 Friday The 13th movies here
Rating: 2 our of 5

The Friday the 13th Series so far:

Friday The 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980, USA) - The raw and bloody original was a lot less influential than people think. It was massively inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and not nearly as good. Rating: 3 out of 5

Friday The 13th - Part II (Steve Miner, 1981, USA) - The second film is the first where Jason actually is the killer. It’s more enjoyable than the original film but far too similar. Rating: 2 out of 5

Friday The 13th - Part III (Steve Miner, 1982, USA) - It’s exactly the same film as the previous two, with the unfortunate bonus of 3-D. Rating: 2 out of 5

Friday The 13th - The Final Chapter (Part IV) (Joseph Zito, 1984, USA) - The film stars a young Corey Feldman who has to come to his older sister’s aid when Jason takes a fancy to her. This is silly fun and follows a very similar path to the films that proceeded it. However, it’s a better film than Part III and the most enjoyable of the sequels. Rating: 3 out of 5

Friday The 13th - A New Beginning (Part V) (Danny Steinmann, 1985, USA) - The best sequel is followed by the worst. A plotless mess and the worst Jason Voorhees film in the franchise. The fifth film tries to reignite the series after Jason is seemingly killed for good, but it fails to do a good job, simply stringing together bloody deaths for the sake of showing off the latest prosthetic and make-up effects. Waste of time. Rating: 1 out of 5

Jason Lives: Friday The 13th Part IV (Tom McLoughlin, 1986, USA) - A coherent plot helps Part IV be one of the better sequels. Rating: 3 out of 5

Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (John Buechler, 1988, USA) - A nice premise that sees a sort of Carrie V Jason battle is sadly under-developed. However, it makes for some fun sequences and a little inventiveness to what had, by this time, become a rather dull retread of the same plot line. Rating: 2 out of 5

Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Rob Heddon, 1989, USA) - A terrible mess that lacks any sort of plot. There’s some nice special-effects towards the end but you’d have fallen asleep by the time you get to them. Rating: 1 out of 5

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (Adam Marcus, 1993, USA) - Jason gets killed at the beginning which is about the only decent bit of the movie. Rating: 1 out of 5

Freddy Versus Jason (Ronny Yu, 2003, USA) - A gimmicky piece of rubbish seeing Freddy Krueger battling Jason Voorhees. On paper it seems like a crowd-pleaser but it’s bad filmmaking 101, and isn’t as fun as Jason X. Rating: 1 out of 5

Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005, USA) May 18, 2007

Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Uncategorized, Horror, 2000s, Film reviews, Action/Adventure, Sci-fi/Fantasy , 6 comments

Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak; screenplay by Dave Callahan & Wesley Strick; starring The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Ben Daniels

In one of the great self-reflexive moments that Kevin Smith does so well, Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, ‘you gotta do a safe picture, then you can do an art picture. But then sometimes you gotta do the paycheck picture because your friend says you owe him.’ It’s a great little moment in a great little movie, and fittingly, describes the sentiments of Rosamund Pike who turns up in Doom surely because she either has bills to pay or she owes a friend. The Libertine, Pride And Prejudice, and the Devil You Know actress surely knew what a mess she was getting herself into when she read Callahan and Strick’s script. I’ll just backtrack for a second – did I just say it took two people to write this awful film – I think I did.

Essentially, Doom is like a high-budget TV movie with nothing resembling conflict, characterisation, or originality. Any videogame conversion to the big-screen can be forgiven for a lack of original material but the film struggles to find any conflict within its rocket-scientist mumbo-jumbo and over-complicated plotting. For a film that concerns a group of combat marines going into battle (after a distant planet issues a distress call), you’d expect a certain amount of tension, but director Bartkowiak seems either unable or unwilling. There’s a silly moment when The Rock tells his marines it’s ‘game time’ as they exit a helicopter to go into a building. The marines check the area for danger as an elevator opens with the audience half expecting something nasty to appear. Alas, it doesn’t and the men enter the elevator. Danger must surely be close? Not exactly, as the marines find their floor, we learn they’ve entered a building that acts, much like an airport, and transports them to the planet that needs their assistance. Essentially, they’re at a futuristic airport. So, we wonder, why all the gun-ready, macho-posturing as they first got into the elevator, because there was no danger whatsoever. Retrospectively, it’s laughable, as you could see the Wayans brothers or the Zucker’s using such a gag as parody, not serious, supposedly tension-building drama. In fact, I countered at least three false starts for The Rock and his gang of idiots before they face any real danger. By then, I’d switched off and started self-palm reading, something that was difficult because it was far too dark to do it properly, and secondly, I have absolutely no idea how to palm read.

Fundamentally, Doom is a complete failure because it doesn’t do the one thing it should. That is, to offer exciting and dramatic action, underscored by a relevant and overpowering threat. You think about the films it wants to be - Aliens and Predator - and they both had what was required in abundance. In Aliens, even before the marines face any direct threat, tension is created because they go to a planet they and the audience know could be populated by evil, unstoppable monsters. The fact that when they initially get there, everyone on the planet has disappeared, heightens this level of suspense (what happened? Why? Where are all the people?). The soldiers are faced with desolate corridors, artificial lighting beginning to fade, and the obvious signs of struggle, a last stand. Likewise, in Predator, when the soldiers find another slain group of marines, they begin to question what exactly they are up against. Can they defeat it, where another group of soldiers failed? Both these scenes appear well before any proper combat and yet the audience is left excited in anticipation. Doom is far too confused in its build-up, pedestrian-paced, and makes the cardinal sin of paying homage to films far better than itself.

Perhaps, the film’s main problem is Bartkowiak, a cinematographer-turned-director, whose credits at the helm include Romeo Must Die and the Steven Seagal film Exit Wounds. He paints Doom in stylish blacks and greys, with futuristic colour flourishes, and doesn’t allow himself to show too much of the excellent production design, wisely keeping it in shadow. Yet, his control of off-screen space is less refined. He struggles to focus our attention as the messy plot that features caricature, paper-thin characters has them scattering all over the place. Bartkowiak doesn’t know whether to stick or twist, and we’re left with a languid pace that meanders on a very confused course. He draws too much on what other filmmakers have done before, and can’t overcome the clichéd script with its uninventive plot and awful dialogue. The film is also devoid of humour, something that has certainly helped other videogame and especially comic book adaptations.

Maybe I went into the film with higher expectations than I should have had. I didn’t expect an especially great action film, but I did expect a sense of adventure. When Bartkowiak goes to Doom-vision (filming the shot in much the same way as the game is played in first person perspective) I felt it was inspired. At the very least it celebrated the film’s roots, and gave the videogame fans something intrinsic to enjoy. It was also a very good piece of filmmaking (but arrives far too late in the movie), probably attributed to Bartkowiak’s cinematographic background, as he uses fast-paced edits and a claustrophobic mise-en-scene to place the audience directly into the action with danger all around. Yet, unfortunately, it’s one bright spot in a great expanse of humourless, tensionless black. Doom is uninspired, big-budget Hollywood. Where have we heard that before?

Rating: 1 out of 5

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