Book review: Straight to You (David Moody)

The sun appears to be dying, and with it the planet, but for Steven Johnston this is only a secondary concern. When tragedy strikes Steven and his wife Sam he begins to withdraw from the woman he loves, pushing her away until she eventually leaves him. But as the mercury begins to rise and society descends into panic and chaos Steve realizes that he may only have hours left to see her for one final time, and so begins a dangerous cross country race against the clock where every second counts and tomorrow will be too late.20709190

Having made his name with such great post apocalyptic stories as Trust and the Autumn series, David Moody has gone full circle with his latest book; originally published in 1996, Straight to You has been rewritten by Moody to bring it up to the standard of his other works. And while certain elements may have been changed, Moody’s trademark brutality and bleak realism are present and correct; beginning with an event guaranteed to pull at the heartstrings, STY is a love story with a black and burnt heart that cleverly combines a frighteningly realistic and believable end of days with a simple tale of love and hope. Although a simple and regrettably brief book, the pace and nature of the story will keep you turning the pages with regularity.

Oddly enough for a post apocalyptic horror, the characters of STY are all fully formed and believable, and even the minor characters come across as well rounded human beings. Stephen and Sam’s relationship, and its subsequent disintegration, feels natural, and every action and reaction matches what the majority of us would do in a similar situation. While the fact that the approaching apocalypse is basically background noise for the first two thirds of the book may not be to everyone’s taste this plotting decision works in the book’s favour, as by the time the true horror kicks in you are already invested in Steve and the other characters. Every moment of peril is magnified, every tiny achievement feels that much more satisfying; you aren’t just dealing with 2D stereotypes, these are real people and, in many ways, mirrors of ourselves.

Perhaps the thing that STY does best is present a true picture of a post apocalypse. Hollywood has filled us with ideas of happy endings and last minute solutions, but Moody strips away all the pretense and bullshit to give you the harsh reality of things. In this world, there are no chiselled heroes or genius scientists coming in to save the day; when it happens, the world will be filled with people just like you. Scared, alone and clueless, the problems they had before the sun fell out of the sky still as omnipresent and consuming as before, and it’s only when the end is very nigh that they let go of the petty issues that we allow to dominate our everyday lives. As things get worse, Steven sheds more and more of the items that he once considered important when he set out. His laptop, his car and his personal documents are all discarded as he realizes that the most important thing, the only thing, he needs in his life is Sam. These little moments of characterization add a searing level of familiarity to the whole story, and by the time you’ve turned the final page you won’t be planning your escape route from zombies or preparing an escape rucksack. You’ll simply be reaching out for your loved ones and holding them as tightly as you can.

Straight to You is, to paraphrase a cliché, a book of two halves. On the one hand it’s a tale of two people trying to find one another, proof that your world doesn’t stop turning just because it is ending. But on the other hand, you come away with the uncomfortable feeling that, when the end comes, there will be no last minute reprieve. Throwing these elements together, Moody has created a classic.

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Blu Ray review: Basket Case trilogy

Considered by many as one of the finest splatterpunk horrors of the 80s, the original Basket Case is a bizarrely grotesque tale of revenge played out against the backdrop of the seedy underbelly of New York City. The debut feature from the twisted mind of director Frank Henenlotter, Basket Case tells the tale of Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), a young man who, along with his hideously deformed Siamese twin Belial, seeks revenge on the doctors who separated them when they were just children. Veering between comedy, gore and gross out horror, Basket Case is the sort of low budget cult classic that horror afflianados discuss in the same hushed tones as Reanimator and Evil Dead. The two sequels, which see Duane and Belial teaming up with other freaks to take out meddling journalists and sadistic cops, were less well known, but follow the same bloody blueprint that won the original so many fans. Now Second Sight are happy to announce the release of a Blu Ray collection of this renowned trilogy, featuring the first appearance of Basket Case 2 and 3 on this format as well as an all new documentary detailing the making of the three films.

Reviewing the Blu ray transfer of a film such as the first Basket Case almost seems redundant; the C movie aesthetic and harshly lit, grainy footage is considered by fans as much a part of the film’s charm as the over the top gore, stonky FX and terrible acting. Although the exterior shots still look pretty grim the interiors are a lot cleaner than previous versions of the film, and overall the picture is much clearer than in the previous iterations of the film. Audio is similarly hit and miss, which again this is less to do with the conversion and more the quality of the original stock, but overall this is the best Henelotter’s most famous work has ever looked and sounded. The second and third films fare a bit better given their bigger budget productions, and both are solid transfers.

Wbasketcasesbith regards to extras, the two big draws are the documentary ‘What’s In The Basket?’, a making of which covers all three films, and an interview with Graham Humphreys, the legendary film poster artist whose previous works include the UK posters for Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and, of course, Basket Case. The making of weighs in at an hour and twenty minutes and is a must see for any fan of the films, chocked full of information with Henelotter in particular enthusing on the process for all three pictures. The Humphreys interview focuses more on his career as a whole, but is still very interesting and well worth a watch. The remaining features are all lifted from the 2011 Blu ray release of Basket Case, and include a commentary for the first film with Henenlotter, Beverly Bonner (prostitute Casey) and producer Edgar Ievins and various out-takes and stills. While the first disc is packed with extras the other two films feel a little undressed in comparison, and it would have been nice to see the devotion of the fans, many of whom will likely end up owning both this collection and the 2011 Blu Ray, provided with a little more reward.

For those who already own the Basket Case stand alone Blu-Ray, it may be difficult to convince them to part with an additional £25 for two transfers and a pair of documentaries, but for fans who are yet to upgrade to this format, or horror junkie searching for a new title to add to the collection, the Basket Case trilogy is well worth picking up.

Vienna Waits For You (Short Film Showcase)

 

Next up in our Short Film Showcase series is Vienna Waits For You, a gentle yet deeply unsettling body shock horror that warns that everything, no matter how much of a bargain it may seem, has a price.

Directed by Dominik Hartl, Vienna Waits For You tells the story of Anna, a young woman who is seeking an apartment in Austria’s capital city. So when she comes across a spacious, if slightly dated, pad at a bargain price she is delighted, but she soon learns that she is paying a greater cost than mere money. Hiding underneath the doilies and fading wallpaper there lurks a living presence that is determined to feed off of Anna’s vitality, decaying her body as she grows weaker.

Straddling the line between body shock horror and unsettling suspense flick, Vienna Waits For You is a great example of making a viewer feel uncomfortable without resorting to shock tactics and jump scares. The effects make up is superb, and lead Petra Staduan does a great job of conveying both Anna’s failing physical vitality and descent from rage into muted acceptance. The film is beautifully put together, and the final, lingering shot will stay in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Hammer Films announces comic series

With their cinematic rebirth now well under way Hammer Films has set its sights on conquering a new medium with the announcement of their team up with Titan Comics. As confirmed at yesterday’s comic retailers conference ComicsPro, the legendary British studio will allow Titan access to their back catalogue to create a new line of comics based on such famous properties as Horror of Dracula, Quartermass & the Pit and Curse of the Werewolf.

Hammer-Films-LogoThe history of Hammer Films is as storied as some of their legendary franchises. After becoming the byword for horror in the fifties and sixties the company suffered a spectacular fall from grace in the nineties before eventually becoming bankrupt. But after they were purchased by a Dutch consortium in 2007 the studio has risen from the ashes, and their recent output includes the adaptation of the classic Woman in Black and the Jared Harris-led ghost story The Quiet Ones.

Titan editor David Leach stated that, “Hammer is the home of some of the most groundbreaking horror and genre films in motion picture history. Together, we’re going to make some terrifyingly good comics.” Titan have previous form in adapting on screen properties for the comic book market, having been responsible for series based on the likes of Doctor Who and Assassin’s Creed.

The announcement stated that the series would be coming later this year. Coming hot on the heels of the announcements around the proposed Universal Monster cinematic universe it seems that fans of classic horror have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

(Original story from THR)

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013)

Combining elements of Most Haunted, Blair Witch Project and The Wicker Man in a documentary melting pot may not sound like the most entertaining concept for a horror film, but then Clophill is not your average horror film. This feature from Off World Films and Bleeding Edge Films is a refreshingly understated and enjoyable take on a sub genre that has been recently defined by decidedly third rate fare.

Set in the actual village of Clophill in the UK, a place that has an actual history of haunting and occult activity, and shot in a documentary style the film follows a group of film makers that has set out to investigate the ruin of St Mary’s Church. The now derelict building was once the site of satanic rituals and animal sacrifices, and a history of strange sightings and other paranormal activity has persisted to this day. Surrounded by a frightened and superstitious local population the team sets up for a three day investigation, unaware of what lurks at the old graveyard or what danger they may be in.

p10274185_d_v7_aaWhile undoubtedly marketed as another found footage affair, PD:C is very much a mockumentary; the first third of the film is made up almost entirely of interviews and voice over work. This adds credibility while allowing the filmmakers to let the situation dictate their exposition, without the over reliance on otherwise banal dialogue. This approach also allow the viewers to build a rapport with the characters and the situation, which helps to buy into the more traditional found footage horror elements of the film’s final act. It’s also worth nothing that the crew have confirmed that around 90% of the on screen action was based on actual experiences of the team while filming.

For people expecting a traditional, jumpy horror they are likely to be disappointed; PD:C is much more interested in building tension and atmosphere than throwing out cheap scares for ninety minutes. The film has more in common with the BBC’s paranormal special Ghostwatch than Paranormal Activity, as the on screen action is presented in such a way as to be completely genuine. The scary moments, when they do come, are subtle and designed to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck rather than force your bum from your chair. And while the inclusion of the post investigation interviews does add an element of predictability to proceedings it never affects the tension.

The performances of the cast are perfect across the board, and it never feels like watching anything but a sincere documentary film unfolding. The editing and setting are both spot on, and the camera work is admirably steady and a world away from the usual motion sickness inducing pap we have grown used to. There is also a very British, stiff upper lip feel to the film that will certainly appeal to UK and European audiences, with characters showing a healthy dose of cynicism in the face of the unfolding horror. The story is very well written and executed, although if one were to pick a fault it was that the ritual element of the films last third could have been left on the cutting room floor with no detriment to the overall experience.

While PD:C may alienate a portion of the modern horror audience that has grown used to jump scares and gore the more discerning fan is likely to appreciate its attempts to do something different, shunning the predictability that this sort of film usually emits in great, stinking waves. One of the freshest and most enjoyable entries into the found footage genre we have seen in years, and one of the best horror films to come out of Britain in many years.

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How will the Universal Monster cinematic universe work?

Following on from the announcement of Tom Cruise’s involvement with the upcoming The Mummy film, Universal Studios this week further strengthened the box office draw of their attempts at creating a multi movie cinematic universe by casting Johnny Depp as the lead in the as yet undated The Invisible Man. Adding this to the longstanding rumours that Angelina Jolie has been courted for the role of the Bride of Frankenstein it is clear that the studio is swinging for the fences with their casting. Cruise may not feature in the big mash up but he, Depp and, if cast, Jolie are the sort of box office draws that will pull in the more casual film goer. However for all the big name casting announcements, we are no closer to discerning how these classic monster will co-exist with one another on the big screen.

Ever since Marvel started us down the path of multi-instalment cinema universes, the connecting film franchise has become the holy grail for studio executives; DC has been so keen to grab some of those Marvel billions for themselves that they have foregone any attempt at a slow build by jamming every DC hero except Booster Gold into the upcoming Batman V Superman, while it was only the catastrophically bad performance of this summer’s Fantastic Four that seems to have deterred Fox’s plans to create their own mini Marvel universe. Even Hasbro and Paramount wants in on the act, with plans afoot for multi film franchises for Transformers and GI Joe. But ignoring the blatant cash grab, it almost makes sense for these properties to inhabit the same world (yes, even the Hasbro characters). These franchises are all built around heroes and crime fighters, the sort of people used to banding together to overcome a seemingly impossible foe. It is harder to imagine building a whole world around an assortment of demons, monsters and scientific creations gone horribly wrong.

Alex Kurtzman, who along with Chris Morgan has been charged by Universal with building this universe, was recently questioned about the current state of pre-production for the franchise, and stated that ‘the monster universe is coming together very, very quickly, we’re very excited. There will be announcements soon. We have actually started doing a lot of design work, we’re getting scripts in, everything is feeling really, really good, so I don’t want to curse it by saying too much to you, but it’s going well‘. So far so positive, but details about the films are still frustratingly elusive. It’s true that a number of the Universal monsters are often portrayed as misunderstood or sympathetic characters but there’s no getting around the fact that the majority of their collective cinematic adventures have seen them cast as the antagonists. As such it’s tough to imagine how a film featuring all of them will work. Will they come together as a group of heroes to fight a bigger, badder antagonist or will they team up as villains, ala Monster Squad, with someone like Cruise leading a human resistance effort?

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Unfortunately we’re not even blessed with a great deal of previous stories from which to draw inspiration, especially when looking exclusively at the Universal version of these monsters. With the exception of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the only real ‘cross over’ featuring these characters has been with comedic duo Abbott and Costello, and it seems the modern reboot is unlikely any inspiration will be taken from this film. Some details as to the direction the films may take, however, could be inferred from the current slate of films currently listed on the Universal monsters cinematic universe Wikipedia page. In addition to The Mummy (currently scheduled for June 2017), The Wolfman (March 2018) and The Invisible Man, there are also listings for Bride of Frankenstein, Van Helsing and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Meanwhile, conspicuous by their absence, are the two biggest hitters in the Universal arsenal; the recent Luke Evans led origin story Dracula Untold has been rumoured as part of the continuity but the current slate of films does not include another solo outing for the vampire, and there is no mention at all of Frankenstein’s monster.

Could this mean that the antagonist for the eventual team up is the Count himself? After all, he has traditionally been portrayed as the most powerful of these monsters, and his lack of main film means Kurtzman and Morgan could be holding him in reserve, intending using him as a tool to connect the other films. Another option could be that Dracula will be the central villain for the Van Helsing film, with his next appearance coming later down the line in the same way that Marvel used Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in Thor and The Avengers. A similar path could also be in store for Frankenstein’s monster, although it seems more likely that his first appearance would be in the Bride of Frankenstein reboot. It’s also possible that he will be held back until the team up, possibly used as a unwilling pawn by Dracula or as a peripheral character sitting on the fence between the good and bad.

Despite the question marks around this series of films, however, they remain a genuinely exciting proposition. The Universal interpretations of these characters are arguably the most iconic in cinema history. The chance to see them back on the big screen, and especially interacting together, is one that any horror fan should want to see. Fingers crossed that the story is strong enough to do these monsters justice.

The Sleepover (Short Film Spotlight)

 

Woodsboro. Haddonfield. Crystal Lake. Fictional locations that have all shared the same, shameful burden; the serial killer. Luckily for us our own visitations to these cursed spots are limited to just a couple of hours; imagine having to grow up in a town with its very own knife wielding psychopath.

So goes the premise for The Sleepover, the first film in the (hopefully) regular new Final Guy feature ‘Short Film Spotlight’. Coming from writer/director team Jennifer Raite and Chris Cullari, the flick shows a typical night in a town where the local serial killer is considered less an unstoppable force of nature and more like a minor irritant, albeit one that carries a machete. Cars have bumper stickers supporting Moms Against Serial Killers (MASK), sleepovers have a check list of rules to follow and babysitters are specialists in armed and unarmed combat.

Although not the scariest, The Sleepover is both smart and hilarious, effortlessly twisting the deeply ingrained tropes of the slasher movie genre. The film was made as a proof of concept, and won official selection at a host of festivals, including Fantastic Fest, Shriekfest, Seattle International Film Festival, Florida Film Festival, Vassar FilmFest and the Knoxville Horror Fest. Fingers crossed it eventually makes it to feature.

 

 

Maggie (2015)

In the midst of a deadly plague that is reanimating the deceased, Wade Vogel (Arnold MV5BMTkyNzk0MTU2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDExNzMyNTE@._V1__SX1473_SY656_Schwarzenegger) brings his infected daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) back to the family farm to spend her final days before she must be quarantined. Both struggle to come to terms with Maggie’s condition as they resist outside pressures and internal conflict, all the while anxiously waiting for the more murderous symptoms of the illness to take hold.

The first feature from director Henry Hobson, Maggie is a slow burning look at terminal illness, and the different ways people deal with such a painful and inevitable situation, wrapped up in a zombie film. Unlike the majority of zombie films, which usually focus on a group of survivors living in a post apocalyptic landscape, Hobson attempts to increase the emotional impact by keeping a sense of normality to the world and zeroing in on the plight of one particular family. Anyone expecting a typical horror film is likely to be disappointed, as there are very little scares to be had, but it is refreshing to see a director willing to take a different approach to this genre.

Unfortunately, while there are moments of real depth and feeling, there are also too many times when the pacing is almost glacial, grinding the narrative to a halt. Dialogue is sparse, and although this absence does support the gravity of the situation that’s unfolding on screen a few more verbal exchanges would have developed our bond for the characters and their plight. In several important moments it almost feels as if Hobson trusts his leads a little too much, choosing to rely on facial expressions and brooding silence to move the story along. This is particularly true an issue for Schwarzenegger, branching out into arguably the first ever role where he’s expected to act as opposed to just fill a flak jacket and look mean. There are a few moments where he manages to convey the weight of the situation on Wade’s shoulders but this is soon removed whenever he is called upon to deliver dialogue, and the majority of the acting appears to be being performed by his beard and the lines around his eyes. An accomplished actor could have made more of this role, and it ultimately seems a waste that Schwarzenegger was cast, even if kudos are due for stepping out of his action centric comfort zone.

On the other end of the spectrum Breslin is superb, and carries the film as the titular character. She delivers a nuanced performance as a young woman facing both her own mortality and the knowledge of what she will eventually become, and it’s a real shame that Hobson didn’t give her more screen time. Of the supporting characters only Joely Richardson is given much to do as Maggie’s god fearing stepmother, and again it would have been interesting to see more focus given to her reactions to Maggie’s illness.

The film is shot beautifully, with plenty of wide shots conveying the isolation and emptiness of the world surrounding the Vogel farmstead. The colour palette is suitably washed out and bleak, although there are moments when the image is almost too dark. However there are moments when it feels as if a particularly visually arresting scene could have been cut in order to move the story along.

Overall, this feels like a nearly but not quite, and you can’t help but wonder at the missed opportunities. Although I would still recommend this film a wonderful performance from Breslin isn’t enough to save the film from some serious pacing issues and Schwarzenegger’s uneven work.

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