“When I Was A Kid, There Was A Place, A Dark Place. They Closed It Down, And Let It Rot. But The Things That Live There, They Come Back…”
With Hollywood at a particular period in cinematic history where every single word written by the steady hand of Stephen King is set for some form of live action adaptation, with the release of Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two alone this year resulting in very successful box office returns, the release of Doctor Sleep this week reminds that the best King adaptation in the form of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining, has yet to be truly tested even after nearly forty years. With King’s original novel undoubtedly one of his most iconic and well regarded by literary readers, the fear of any sequel to the tale of the Torrance’s and the Overlook Hotel were first raised when Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, and whilst King’s novel passed the time nicely during my university years with some interesting ideas and charming call backs to its’ predecessor, the narrative never held the same sense of supernatural wonder that the 1977 original novel had in spades. Cue the big screen adaptation therefore, one directed by the overly impressive skills of horror aficionado, Mike Flanagan, the mind behind both Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series and of course, Stephen King’s own, Gerald’s Game, and what we have is a movie which succeeds in paying both homage to Kubrick’s classic horror and staying as faithful to the novel of Doctor Sleep as humanly practicable, a decision which ultimately simultaneously both hinders and supports Flanagan’s latest big screen project.
With Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining only carrying a slight sense of faithfulness to the source material in the first place, Flanagan’s movie directly follows events which take place in the 1980 horror classic after a decision was made that most people heading into Doctor Sleep would have probably seen Kubrick’s portrayal of events rather than read the original text, and with a central narrative which follows a now alcoholic and middle-aged Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his discovery of both others who “shine” and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Fallout) band of vampire-esque killers who feed off the “steam” of those inflicted with the power of the shining, Flanagan’s movie for those who would not have read the novel is a substantial diversion from the confines of the Overlook Hotel. Blending mystery, scenes of downright horrific violence and a really beautiful genre aesthetic, Doctor Sleep does have elements of real intrigue, even for someone who has read the source material, but at a staggering two and a half hours, the movie doesn’t half drag at times, particularly when we are exposed to utterly blasphemic reconstructions of scenes from Kubrick’s original movie and a tendency to focus on particular characters who suffer from a unhealthy balance of being both uninteresting and underwritten. The Shining it is not, but as a direct adaptation of a middling King novel, Flanagan’s movie is good enough but fails to ignite the sense of haunting wonder its’ predecessor continues to evoke even after nearly forty years.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Our Initiate Then Has The Privilege Of Drawing The Card, And Mr. Le Bail Will Tell Us Which Game To Play…”
Directed by the filmmaking duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, horror aficionado’s responsible so far for part of the rather underrated, V/H/S, and the critically massacred, Devil’s Due, Ready or Not is the second big-screen end-of-year horror after It: Chapter Two designed to pull audiences out of the rain and into the confines of a nicely heated cinema screen with the promise of B-movie horror tropes and bucket loads of exploitation violence. Brought to the big screen by Walt Disney of all studios, Ready or Not is most definitely not a film for the kids, an ultra-violent, overly knowing black comedy which conforms to the well worn tropes of exploitation B-movies as it follows a simple yet entertaining central idea to satisfy both genre fans and the lay cinema audience who pay good money to see cheap, blood ridden nonsense, and whilst the final project may not be anything particularly original or memorable, Ready or Not is a more than functional, thoroughly enjoyable big budget splatter horror with a great central performance from the film’s leading lady.
Whilst the movie’s supporting trailer pretty much gives away a huge majority of the central plot, Ready or Not follows Samara Weaving (Three Billboards), niece of Hugo Weaving of The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix fame, as Grace, whose marriage to Mark O’Brien’s (Bad Times at the El Royale) Alex Le Domas brings her closer to the ridiculously wealthy Le Domas empire, whose generations-long tradition of the new family member being forced to play a particular game at midnight leads her to engage in a fight for survival within the confines of their stately home. Cue stupendously silly levels of overripe violence and more forced comedic punch lines than you would might expect, Ready or Not is a strange blend of Escape Room, The Cabin in the Woods and Adam Wingard’s criminally underrated, You’re Next, and whilst sometimes the comedic elements do indeed topple the slasher inflicted side of the piece, Weaving’s dedicated performance as a newly crowned scream queen allows you to enjoy the crazy path her character walks, even if it is incredibly cliched and wholly unsurprising. For a thoroughly entertaining Friday night slice of horror nonsense, Ready or Not goes down nicely with a pizza and a pint but is undoubtedly quickly forgettable and not interesting enough to be placed in the same category as the sort of films it clearly evokes.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Something Happens When You Leave This Town. The Farther Away, The Hazier It All Gets. But Me, I Never Left. I Remember All Of It…”
With It surprising both critics and audiences alike back in 2017 as it proudly declared itself as not just one of the best films of the year but undoubtedly one of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations of all time, this week finally brings with it the release of Chapter Two, the hotly anticipated concluding tale of the battle between Pennywise the Dancing Clown and The Losers’ Club, one set twenty seven years after the events of the previous film as we see our returning heroes return to the town of Derry in order to face the fearful figure which has haunted them throughout their individual lives. Directed by the returning Andy Muschietti, Chapter Two continues the Argentine’s dedicated affection for the original King novel as he brings to the big screen a three hour long, horror adventure epic which, in a similar fashion to the original source material, is thrilling, well orchestrated and thunderously entertaining, but a film which also annoyingly suffers drastically from an overlong and poorly managed runtime, bloated pacing issues and an over reliance on very repetitive set pieces, factors of which at times puts shivers down your spine in completely the wrong way as you cry out for a cold-hearted editor to cut away the deadwood in order to create a film which would have proudly stood head to head with the 2017 original but instead, is clearly the inferior chapter of the two.
With Chapter Two of course set twenty seven years after the events of the first film, the opening movement of the movie takes time to re-introduce the adult form of our beloved Losers, most of whom have managed to move away from the confines of Derry and into successful lives elsewhere until they are quickly brought back to their homeland by Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike Hanlon, the only remaining member of the pack still residing in Derry, who quickly realises that the threat of Bill Skarsgård’s ominous Pennywise has once again returned. With the reunion party out of the way and memories of their childhood slowly rising back to the surface, the narrative then sees each of the Losers each attempt to fully remember the reason for their return, a clever plot device which allows the story to weave in and out of time shifts as we dive deeper into the lives of the Losers younger selves and further chance encounters with our beloved baby-headed primary antagonist, a strangely similar device to that seen within Avengers: Endgame whereby time travel was utilised in order for individual characters to revisit iconic sequences in an almost victory-lap appraisal of the events which have come before it. Whilst this most definitely worked within Endgame thanks to a buildup of characterisation over twenty films, the same cannot be said for Chapter Two, as the individual set pieces soon become incredibly repetitive, resulting in a sense of unease not caused by horror but by a willingness for the narrative to actually get on with it, particularly when most of the scenes do seem direct re-treads of those seen within the first film, but even with that in mind, certain set pieces do evoke a chilling sense of knowingly ridiculous, overblown horror, particularly one scene lifted straight from the novel in which Jessica Chastain’s (Zero Dark Thirty) Beverly Marsh takes a haunting trip back to her childhood home address.
With the original King novel itself suffering from a sense that certain aspects within the story go so out there in terms of the sublime ridiculousness that to transfer them onto the big screen would be nigh-on impossible, the first part of Muschietti’s vision did well to bend particular set pieces in order to cater to a more mainstream audience with alarming success, and as Chapter Two finally arrives at its’ final act, all memories of the cringey, low budget depiction of Pennywise’s true form from the 1990 television miniseries are completely expelled thanks to a final confrontation which is probably the best big screen depiction of the source material as you possibly could get. As per the overall sensibility of the film, the final act manages to blend supernatural horror elements with laugh out loud moments of comedy, where although not every pun manages to quite stick the landing, carries on the coming-of-age feel which the first chapter clearly evoked so well, as we see the Losers continue the charming character conversations and witty banter shared all the way through the first film and now almost effortlessly once again as they reunite as adults. With Chastain, James McAvoy (Dark Phoenix) and Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) the clear standout performers, with Chastain particularly being well and truly put through the wringer thanks to THAT bathroom scene alone which evoked the look of Shauna Macdonald in The Descent, and a sheer fondness for the central characters, Chapter Two works excellently as a two hour horror adventure, but thanks to an unholy decision to add on an extra hour just for the memories, Muschietti’s approach to King’s novel is undoubtedly the best adaptation fans could have hoped for thanks to characters and a Pennywise for the ages, but as a standalone picture by itself, Chapter Two is baggy, but is still very, very good.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Some People Believe If We Repeat Stories Often Enough They Become Real. They Make Us Who We Are. That Can Be Scary…”
Based upon the collection of short stories of the same name first published in 1981 and abstracted from the mind of American author, Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the long-awaited big screen adaptation of Schwartz’s tales after first being picked up for production by CBS Films in 2013. Produced by horror and fantasy aficionado, Guillermo Del Toro, a filmmaker fresh after his Academy Award win for the strange if impressive, The Shape of Water, and the man first tipped to direct, the mantle instead falls to Norwegian filmmaker, Andre Øvredal, whose previous work on the likes of Trollhunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe results in a slight step-up into the cinematic big time with an extensive wide release. Part Goosebumps inspired mystery, part portmanteau in the ilk of recent excellent examples such as V/H/S and its’ impressive sequel, Scary Stories is a very familiar and well-worn ghost train of a ride, a well designed genre flick which takes very interesting ideas and creature concepts and produces them in a strangely lifeless fashion, a particularly irritating outcome considering both the talent and the gothic sensibility which for a horror fan such as myself, is always great fun to see on the big screen.
With recent years seeing the “revival” of coming-of-age genre fiction being embraced by people across the globe, whether it be on television thanks to the success of Stranger Things or on the big screen with the likes of It and its’ upcoming sequel, it’s fair to say that Scary Stories works around an incredibly recognisable narrative structure, one which sees our central teen heroes, led by the rather impressive Zoe Colletti, attempt to tackle the forces of darkness after venturing into a particularly creepy household and stumbling across a mysterious book which continues to write stories by itself, tales of which soon spring to life and place the younglings at the clutches of a murderous spectre hell bent on revenge. With the movie then churning out set piece after set piece as it revels in the sight of throwing monster after monster at the audience in a similar fashion to Cabin in the Woods, it is clearly the individual acts which make the film rather entertaining, with fundamentally nightmarish ghouls designed within an inch of their life to scare the absolute pants off you the best aspect of the drama. Where the movie ultimately falls down is the rather dire central mystery itself and a sense that for a fifteen rated movie, it really isn’t that overly threatening or scary, resulting in a picture that is too young for adults and too adult for the young and with such a crushing conflict at the heart of it, Scary Stories is neither a great movie or a guaranteed box office smash, two factors which means it will come and go like the snarly creeps at the heart of its’ tale.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Grab Your Families, Your Loved Ones, And Get Out. We Won’t Be Able To Come For You…”
With a related trailer which highlights Sam Raimi as a “producer” on Evil Dead and Alexandre Aja as “director” of The Hills Have Eyes, it’s fair to say that whilst such claims from the spin merchants of Crawl are indeed factually accurate, it also reinstates how fundamentally messed up the genre of horror has become thanks to the way in which every classic horror movie has been chopped up and churned out thanks to the wonderful notion of remakes and spin-offs in recent years. With Raimi of course being the mastermind and director of the original, and better, The Evil Dead in 1981, and producer on the 2013 Fede Álvarez directed remake, a film of which I can admit to actually enjoying, to say that Aja is best known for his work on the rehash of The Hills Have Eyes in 2006 is generally rather aggravating, when the mighty Wes Craven, director of the 1977 grindhouse original classic, seems to be the subject of a Stalinesque mind-wipe towards younger audiences who may not even be aware of Craven or his impact on the genre of horror. Moan aside, Aja and Raimi this week team up for a rather familiar B-movie creature-feature in the form of Crawl, an overly generic work of nonsense which in some ways is quite enjoyable due to the sheer fact that it’s the type of movie which seems to be released at least thirty years too late.
With a very basic, genre-literate set-up, Crawl sees Kaya Scodelario (Extremely Wicked…) as Haley, a swimming obsessed student athlete who stupidly returns to her hometown in the heart of Florida in order to check on the welfare of her father after a Category five hurricane begins to make its’ way towards the mainland. Upon arriving at her deserted childhood home, Haley finds father Dave, as played by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan), unconscious within the crawl space of their home for no immediate apparent reason until soon discovering the amidst decaying childhood homes, a ridiculously overblown natural threat and unnecessary daddy issues, ravenous alligators have decided to take over the house and are happy to eat anything that gets in their way. With Aja beginning his career with the enjoyably nonsensical, Switchblade Romance, and making his way into Hollywood with unnecessary remakes, Crawl does seem like an attempt to appease as mass an audience as possible, and whilst the exploitation violence within the movie is highly enjoyable in places, the screenplay isn’t exactly one to be desired as it attempts to blend into the carnage meaningless narrative tangents such as reserved family issues without any real point to it whatsoever. When it comes to a film such as Crawl, the violence and the silliness should always be the primary focus and be capped off within a harmless eighty minutes, but with Aja’s latest so predictable and lifeless, the lack of threat and lack of bite, pun intended, means Crawl is a glorified bargain bucket B-movie which just happens to be allowed on the big screen for no real apparent reason whatsoever.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Everything You See In Here Is Either Haunted, Cursed, Or Has Been Used In Some Kind Of Ritualistic Practice. Nothing’s A Toy…”
Following on from the most anti-horror horror movie of the year so far in the form of the excellent and magnificently barmy, Midsommar, your local cinema screen this week is once again reunited with the more mainstream, financially friendly sight of the Conjuring universe, with everyone’s favourite and overtly nightmarishly designed porcelain doll gracing the big screen once again just in time for the summer holidays. With the tangential Annabelle series beginning particularly sloppy and then improving rather nicely for 2017’s nicely worked, Annabelle: Creation, the financial success of both ultimately results in yet another very familiar threequel in the form of Annabelle Comes Home, the seventh installment in Warner Bros’ horror series banker which sees returning screenwriter, Gary Dauberman, bumped up to directorial duties in his big screen debut for a movie which is the definition of a very safe pair of cow-poking and slightly creepy, fog covered hands.
Whilst the leading antagonistic figure of “Annabelle” itself is fundamentally creepy on first glance, conveying to the rules of horror by inverting objects which are meant to bring joy and happiness, the sheer amazement that only one, rather unkempt doll has successfully landed a trilogy of spin-off movies is rather impressive in its’ own right, and whilst Creation was the first movie aside from the central Conjuring pictures to really have its’ own voice, Dauberman’s movie does annoyingly take a slight step back, offering less of an enjoyable cliche and more of a semi-talented, copy and pasted template with only minor delights. Of the more positive elements, the cinematography and set design is actually pretty darn neat, with nice inventive set pieces, including one referenced in the movie’s trailer involving a multi-colour night light, offering a certain level of creepiness, something of which can be somewhat lacking from the weakest of the series’ offerings such as The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, and with yet another standout performance from Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya) in the film’s leading role, Annabelle Comes Home is not exactly the worst horror genre film, it just happens to be one which screams “PLAY IT SAFE.”
Overall Score: 5/10
“It’s Sort Of A Crazy Festival. It Only Happens Every Ninety Years. Special Ceremonies And Drinking And Dressing Up…”
After a variety of thought provoking and acclaimed independent short films, director Ari Aster burst into the spotlight for audiences and critics alike last year thanks to the release of Hereditary, the spine-tingling work of desolate dread which will forever remain as one of the most terrifying experiences I have had to endure within the confines of the cinema during my life so far. As per the remit of any good filmmaker, Aster’s decision to not milk the praised poured upon him for too long results in his swift return in the form of Midsommar, a film of which Aster himself proclaims as his first “true” horror movie after declaring Hereditary nothing more than a “family drama”, albeit the most unhinged and depressing cinematic depiction of such to ever have graced this good earth, and whilst Aster’s latest does indeed obey many of the rules laid down within the confines of such a genre, Midsommar is not your average, or even mainstream, horror flick, a disturbing, surrealist and surprisingly darkly comic folk drama which continues the many thematic qualities used in Aster’s works as it brings to light notions of grief, isolation and of course, ideology and religion, for a two and a half hour marathon of madness which successfully rubber stamps Aster as one of the most masterful and original horror filmmakers working in cinema today.
Firstly, if you head into Midsommar believing that what you are going to get is simply Hereditary volume two, you will undoubtedly walk away highly disappointed, and whilst Aster’s movie begins in familiar fashion as we are introduced to Florence Pugh’s (Fighting With My Family) grieving and emotionally unstable Dani, the opening, dread-filled act is the only slice of downright terror the movie feels obligated to offer. If Hereditary could fall into the category of domesticated drama then Midsommar is essentially a two hour plus break-up movie, one which allows the audience to follow Dani, her absent boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor – Free Fire) and Will Poulter’s Mark to the very sunny, Northern area of Hårga, Sweden in order to take part in area’s midsommar celebrations as requested by Vilhelm Blomgren’s Pelle, who returns to his isolated homeland. Whilst genre fans nowadays are well versed in the way of how films with this kind of set-up ultimately pan out, the familiarities with the likes of Robin Hardy’s 1973 horror classic, The Wicker Man, and to an extent, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, are easy enough to see, but with an extended runtime and a overarching sense of head tilting madness all the way through, Aster’s latest actually bears more of a raging similarity to Luca Guadagnino’s outstanding remake of Suspiria, particularly in terms of style and pacing, but with Aster also adding a surprising touch of black comedy throughout, Midsommar is a more impressive beast the longer you think about it. Whilst not as damn right horrifying as Hereditary, Aster’s second big screen feature is an impressively un-mainstream genre delight, a superbly written, expertly acted, cult flick with jaw-dropping exploitation violence which leaves you both startled and grinning as you attempt to make sense of how exactly Midsommar should make you feel.
Overall Score: 8/10
“At Kaslan We Believe That Happiness Is About More Than Entertainment. It’s About Being Known, Understood, Loved…”
Whilst sniffy critics in the past have balked at the idea of “classic” horror movies being brought back to the big screen in either a spin-off or complete remake capacity, with the most pointless and offensively bad cases come the turn of the century undoubtedly being the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s fair to say that 1988’s Child’s Play is a movie which isn’t exactly held in the same esteem as classic works from the likes of Wes Craven or Tobe Hooper, hence an almost absence of complaint following this week’s release of the similar titled remake/reboot. Directed by Norwegian director, Lars Klevberg, in his big screen directorial debut, Child’s Play couldn’t come at a more ironic time, arriving side-by-side with Disney’s Toy Story 4, yet obviously not the type of film to take your small children, and with a particularly impressive cast including Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid Goes West, Legion) and Tyree Henry (Widows), the latest reincarnation of the kill-crazy toy is actually a rather highly enjoyable, dare I say it, guilty pleasure.
With central idea of Child’s Play essentially being a Goosebumps style, late-night nightmare with R-rated violence, the many sequels which followed the 1988 original didn’t exactly manage to set the world on fire, with the series sort of matching the Puppet Master franchise for baffling levels of endurance, but with a improved financial backing and the likes of Plaza, Henry and of course Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as the voice of Chucky himself added into proceedings, there is no doubting the ambition of the movie to try and break into the mainstream sector once again after falling by the wayside and on straight-to-video. With juicy moments of exploitation violence, a justifiably naff script and enough tonal irregularities to make your head pop, Klevberg’s movie follows on from the likes of Brightburn only recently by being a movie which knows both its’ limitations and weaknesses and plays heavily to both, resulting in having just enough quality to appease hardcore horror fans and lay audience members alike, particularly thanks to the new design of Chucky which manages to tap into contemporary concerns about the growing rate of technology. Hereditary it most definitely is not, but if you’re after cheap, Friday night horror violence, then Child’s Play circa 2019 is indeed the movie for you.
Overall Score: 6/10
“What You Did To Me, It Never Goes Away…”
With Blumhouse Productions essentially proclaiming themselves as the second reincarnation of Hammer Horror Studios, the likes of the excellent, Get Out, and the financially successful, Happy Death Day, have allowed the company to pretty much make anything they want with a guaranteed box office reward. Enter Ma, a completely barmy, over-the-top stalker horror which takes hints from pretty much every single B-movie ever, one which sees Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water, Instant Family) as the titular mother figure, Sue Ann, a lonely veterinary technician who soon begins a middling friendship with town newcomer, Maggie Thompson, as played by rising star, Diane Silvers,(Booksmart) and her own freshly found group of friends who quickly become attracted to Sue Ann’s willingness to both provide an abundance of alcohol and a safe place to party. Directed by the steady hand of Tate Taylor, a filmmaker who reunites with Spencer after their work together on the Academy Award winning, The Help, Ma is a solid and well made addition into the Blumhouse repertoire which just happens to have a particularly talented actress in the lead role of a genuinely unnerving and creepy genuine psychopath.
Bearing a very similar narrative to that of Greta earlier this year, a stalker movie which too featured a prominent and well regarded actor/actress in the lead role of a movie which was undoubtedly too schlocky and mad for mainstream audiences, Ma basically swaps Isabelle Huppert for Spencer and Chloe Grace Moretz for Silvers whilst adding a slightly more audience-friendly filmic texture. Whilst the movie never really evokes any sense of longing dread or threat to our laddish, alcohol and sex obsessed leading group of rebellious teenages, Ma instead balances nicely the absurdity of its’ narrative with a hefty streak of black comedy as you giggle your way through a ninety minute picture which allows Spencer to not only chew the scenery, but devour it. With the most menacing on-screen haircut since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and a personality which mixes Annie Wilkes from Misery with Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Spencer is undoubtedly the star turn within the movie, and with a couple of truly nasty, sadistic and memorable set pieces, Ma is not exactly groundbreaking, but with enough positive elements to make genre fans happy, the latest Blumhouse chapter is cheap, giggle-inducing fun.