Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Horror Show [EVENT]

The Horror Show launches genre’s only VOD Service
Hours before the official launch of The Horror Show, horror’s only VOD service, horror expert, journalist and founder David Hughes visited the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square last Thursday to introduce his exclusive new product ‘by horror fans, for horror fans’.

“We want to be the only place horror fans go to watch horror films,” said Hughes. It’s undoubtedly music to the ears of those genre fans that have unsuccessfully trawled through web pages of online VOD listings, dreaming of a ‘horror only’ version. It’s a nice idea, and one many are rooting for. But some have called it a pretty ambitious goal for this project, and criticisms waver about its success against Netflix and iTunes that already offer horror pics at discounted membership and subscription prices. But Hughes was adamant that there needed to be an alternative hub to Netflix, and expressed his confidence in The Horror Show being able to serve genre fans with something not currently on offer; “Netflix do a deal with Miramax to get genre films, but they are not in love with them… We wanted to create something a bit more curated, less random and an environment where people speak the same language and which has room for genre specific films.” 

Though mainstream horrors are likely to creep in, Hughes stated that the service’s primary purpose was to provide a legal platform for those to watch alternative “more interesting” films that are harder to find. “So many films are lost in distribution,” explained Hughes “and alternative films are dropping through the cracks.”  

Currently, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Pontypool, Midnight Son, Who can Kill A Child, and Excision are among the 30 cherry picked feature films that the transactional, non-subscription platform offers for £1.99 - £3.49 each. These films prove that both the best of modern, indie and classic horrors are being incorporated, but most are, however, already released on DVD and readily accessible in the UK, and fans can only hope that the gradually increasing VOD library is able to gain more exclusive collections. It already has a couple of UK exclusives in its compilation, and it’s likely that this is where the service will flourish. But an interesting addition, which will surely draw customers instantly to the show, is the unique ‘Short Stack’ category, where customers can buy a selection of ten shorts for only 99p - a bloody good deal if the quality shorts continue to be swept up.

Speaking of which…

 Paul Davis’ Him Indoors, which premiered during last year’s Frightfest, is one of the new service’s Short Stack gems and purposely featured in the night’s line-up to represent the platform’s eagerness to showcase a bourgeoning talent of emerging filmmakers who can only, realistically, produce shorts on tight budgets. Just one of the few short films that the service had initially ‘mopped up’, this black comedy short, starring Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentleman) and Pollyana MacIntosh (The Woman), was entirely crowd funded. “We basically just bombarded everyone on social media everyday,” said Davis, who managed to raise £1000 over their £5000 budget from over hundred backers in less than a month. After directing the neatly recollective and deeply insightful Beware the Moon: Remembering 'An American Werewolf in London' (2009) nearly five years ago, he admits that making a short was his foreseeable gateway into making the feature film he’d longed to do: “I always wanted to make the leap from documentary to feature film… and I needed to make something smaller first because I needed money for a feature film.

“I had the idea [of someone hating the outdoors] when I was younger. And of all the guys who wouldn’t want to leave the house, I thought of a serial killer,” says Davis. In the short, Shearsmith plays mumsy killer Gregory who snatches anyone that comes to his door and casually, but brutally, murders them with kitchen utensils before wiping his brow and straightening his tie with a satisfyingly calm composition. “He’s sort of based on [Dennis] Nilson with the looks of Christie... he’s our make man,” explains Shearsmith and Davis as they both sat casually on stage, the former looking a lot less menacing in his casual cap and green jacket. Him Indoors is a complete knockout that playfully embodies the classic stereotypical sociopath who has no consequences, and thrives on amusingly sinister scenes with several laugh-out-loud moments. Having gained criticism for not being gory enough, Davis explains that he wanted it to be more about what you don’t see – “It’s my sort of love letter to De Palma.”

Hughes has rightfully considered Him Indoors “a win” for the VOD, and hopes that, due to the filmmaker receiving revenue on the sales from the service, it will encourage and cater for more young talent. Him Indoors is certain to gain more cult status and tag more followers now that it’s available to watch. It is being released on DVD next month or, as Shearsmith said, almost as if on cue, “you can see it on The Horror Show!”

It’s still very early days for The Horror Show, which is still in its first week of activity, and as more deals with distributors are processed, only time will tell whether its rental shop prices will welcome enough fans into their very own community VOD environment.

(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Friday, 14 June 2013

Grindhouse 8: Mandroids


Newborn UKstudios 88 Films selects Ersgard's 1993 acclaimed debut feature Mandroid as its eigth 80’s horror cult-classic revival for its (now) eight-strong Grindhouse Collection.

An early 1990’s scifi horror set in Eastern Europe sees Russian scientist Dr Karl Zimmer (Robert Symonds) invent a humanoid capable of mass destruction which is controlled by the physical motions of the suited and booted being connected to it. But when Zimmer decides to sell his innovative ‘Mandroid’ program to the CIA for the greater good, his creative partner Drago (Curt Lowens) hatches a plan to steal the robot and sell it to the army to cement his future career in science. Caught red handed, Drago makes a break for it but is near-fatally scarred by his own acidic formula. After a dodgy DIY surgical face configuration, revenge is rife and the battle between man, monster and machine commences.

Writers and long-time Full Moon collaborators Earls Kenton and Jackson Barr have predominantly paved their career with a pastiche of sexy adventure thrillers and erotic thrillers. But lying between Barr’s Subspecies (1991) and Kenton’s Shandra: The Jungle Girl (1999) is the duo’s first collaborative effort, scifi action thriller Mandroid. In fact, its cross-generic concoction could well hit more genres than it misses; what sets itself up as a mad scientist thriller soon enters a fast-paced action territory before dipping its toes into a war zone, a satisfying a potent classic revenge plot, and, at a push, the horror genre. Think of it as a pre-emptive 90s Outpost: Black Sun (2012) which has been teased with Transformers and Robocop conventions. With a script where the phrase “Mr Ameican Scientist. End of the road!” bats no eyelids, it is a full throttle effort to amusing charm and entertaining gimmicks. Pulling its wires in every direction, its premise is understandably a bit messy. It incorporates everything you’d expect from a film veering in so many directions, though its manic prevalence succeeds to avoid a fated convolution, ensuring it never embarks on a dense moment.

For blood thirsty fans it could be a little disappointing, relying mostly on crossfire from outbursts of rifle rampages. It may not commit to the gore, but it satisfyingly festers on badly synthetic wounds and impalements, and invites a few winces during the burning rubber of Drago’s melting face. Its sequel, Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1993), also directed by Ersgard, appears to pick up the misfortune of Benjamin’s unexplainable invisibility in Mandroid. After this enjoyable experience, Invisible flies right to the top of my ‘to see’ list.

Both the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio picture and sound are crisp, but the zappy laboratory, crunching metal and the squeaky clanky robot which resembles an R2D2 that needs oiling can be ear-splitting. If you pay any consideration to your neighbours at all, you will constantly have the remote in your hands to turn down the volume for the robot action and up again for the dialogue. Something that perhaps could be overcome with subtitles – if only it had the option of them.
VERDICT: It’s an outright Full Moon mould with low production values, trashy dialogue, nerdy contraptions and a monstrous villain, which, combined, override any narrative imperfections and predictabilities.

(Visit www.horrortalk.com for more of my published work, and for horror news, reviews, comment, reports & competitions)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013



Who’s the black sheep in your family?

Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett reunite to put on a twist on the home invasion subgenre in this The Strangers (2010) meets Funny Games (1997) unrelenting revenge flick. It’s been three years since we’ve seen a feature length film from these two, the duo clearly having too much fun dabbling with shorts and segments for horror anthologies V/H/S (2012), ABCs of Death (2012) and V/H/S2 (2013). A Horrible Way To Die (2010) marked the duo’s firm stamp on the genre, and it seems that they could be returning to their roots with a, largely, reappearing cast. But tragedy takes a different, more one dimensional turn this time. 

College teacher Crispian (AJ Bowen) takes his new girlfriend, and former student, Erin (Shami Vinson) to a family reunion to celebrate his parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. But what is supposed to be a monumental occasion for the Davisons and a chance for his distant, aloof siblings to reunite is brutally interrupted when a gang of unknown intruders raid their house… right in the middle of dinner. 

You don’t need to look much further past the generic pre-credit sequence and splatter-screen title to see that Wingard is walking back down the path of his classic 80’s slasher roots. His earlier work Home Sick (2007) saw a sadistic killer perform well orchestrated slaughters with his suitcase of razorblades, and there’s no doubt the beloved subgenre’s conventions also provide the basis for much of his influence in this throwback. Much like the primary slashers and old school TV murder mysteries, You’re Next sets out to shy away from the bloody effects of the fatal impact, but saviours the aftermath in savagely displayed dead bodies and lingering camera frames. The killings are crisp, loud and raucous, and the Carpenter-influenced racing synth score is instantly stimulating.  

Wingard and Barrett have become quite the comedic impressionists in the genre, most recently with their amusing ABCs of Death ‘Q is for Quack’ short, and this trait has a bold presence here. The dialogue is tongue in cheek, and the ‘Adams family’ affair is a perfect setting to create a house of bantering, bickering misfits. There’s some nice laugh-out-loud moments and an amusing referential ‘in-joke’ during a conversation on the filmmaking industry over dinner with House Of The Devil (2006) director Ti West, who plays one of the sister’s boyfriends and mutters just a few indistinguishable words before suffering a fatal arrow in the eye. The petty sibling competitiveness across the table bodes for much of the droll humour, but borders fatuous when disaster strikes and it inappropriately continues to weave between moments of shock and tragedy in distracting commentary. It dismally downplays the horror and you start to question how much of the creative partners’ more recent comedic works has crept into their seemingly reformed style.

Who got the fastest lap time at school umpteen years ago? Because if its you and you brag about it, you’re the one running out of the door to find help, despite the proven capability from the lurking cross-bower’s bang-on-target aim. But a booby-trapped premises, which should cause a destabilising trepidation amongst the victims, doesn’t prevent them running out of doors and pressing their noses against windows. Reality is ludicrously distorted through the trappings of clich├ęs, and the over emphasis on the team of professional hitmen versus a female teen’s survival education. It slants towards drab Hollywood hype with trashy one liners. Clearly we weren’t the only ones who didn’t get enough bite out of Bait 3D (2012). After her fishy horror debut, Vinson seems keen to make her stake as the new horror heroine, but her character here is no more credible. Though we are rooting for the invaders to meet their comeuppance, and cheer when it comes, her exaggerated image of the intrepid badass is simply a crowd-pleaser for the fighting female front and a vehicle for senseless violence.  

But what fundamentally disappoints is its failure to surpass much more than what is executed in the primary fifteen minutes. The build up is short-lived and thereafter it falls flat, the slow-burn completely smoking out somewhere in the middle and only being relit during the final frames. The character development is haphazard and measly across the board and the motives of the unconvincing perpetrator are lazy and mindless. A grand mansion sets this apart from the usual country cottage scene, but the inherent eeriness, which should have invited a vengeance with atmosphere and playfulness, is instead, deplorably, not taken advantage of.

Nevertheless, as the plot falls dowdy, it is saved by accelerating brutality and more adventurous effects, locking us into a gore overdrive for the remainder. The pre-credit sequence may, on reflection, seem absurdly random to the plot, but it establishes a distinctive pulsating music score that becomes an effective reference to mark the killers’ activity throughout. Though, again, another seemingly random facet, The Fortress (1985)-like animal masks not only proved an effective marketing technique, but granted a mysterious personality and an enigmatic silence to the otherwise ‘normal’ murderers.
VERDICT: You’re Next may not have reinvented the home invasion subgenre, but the endurance of its powerful execution and the occasional mix up of ‘arty’ motion effects amongst the frenzied mayhem reminds us why these two are top of the game.