Friday, August 31, 2012

We've Moved!

Because of how busy we both are, and how much we enjoy the visuals in horror films we've decided to make the move to Tumblr. Over there we'll be posting a movie/book/game/TV show review every Friday and the rest of the week we'll be posting gifs, trailers, book excerpts, photo sets and other horror related posts for everyone's enjoyment! 

When we have a bit more time we'll customise the html a little more and set up a comments function, but for now if you want to discuss any of our reviews (which will be a mix of reviews from here and brand spankin' new ones) you can comment, question, disagree with us in our "ask box". 

So hopefully you'll follow us over to our new home - it'll be a much bigger, better and more exciting blog which is a bit more suited to our eclectic personalities! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Review: Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible by C.G. Bauer

Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible
Written by C.G Bauer

Published: 2008

Synopsis: Hex signs protect every barn and outbuilding. Babies disappear at birth. When a brick wall unearthed at the site of a new restaurant collapses, and raw sewage carries hundreds of baby bones into the pit left behind, it looks like the devil's made Three Bridges his playground.


"Wump", in case you didn't know, is the noise a crowbar makes when it hits a man's head. It's also the nickname of the protagonist in C.G Bauer's fantastic novel Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible for that exact reason. Wump (or Mr Holzer if you'd prefer) had a troubled childhood which lead to a violent adulthood, ultimately landing him in jail. That's his past, and it haunts him, just as the true meaning of his nickname constantly follows him where ever he turns.

Wump isn't the only person in the town of Three Bridges (previously known as Schuetten) with a tortured or hidden past. From early in the prologue chapter, it's clear that Schuetten/Three Bridges isn't the kind of town the Brady bunch would settle in. Originally settled by fervent German Catholics, Schuetten in the early 1900s was plagued by poverty, hunger, dangerous work for minimal pay, child abuse, superstition and the death of countless infants - typically disposed of in the large river running through town. Now, (in the 1960s) development has occurred and the town generally seems to be in better spirits, even if a large portion of children are born handicapped and townspeople are dying of leukaemia left, right and centre. However, after a wall collapses and reopens a sewer that had been barricaded for nearly 50 years, a flood of baby bones sheds a bright light on Schuetten's dark past.

As Wump, motivated by a childhood encounter with one of the abandoned babies, investigates where these babies came from and why they were abandoned he is joined by the new priest and former baseball player, Father Duncan, on a secret mission of his own, and two wonderful little orphans Leo and Raymond who are more than meets the eye. While the investigation of the baby bones form the backbone (sorry, sorry!) of the narrative, there are dozens of other intricate little storylines threaded into it. Stories to do with Wump's wife and recently deceased son, stories about the Schuetten's orphanage back when he was a child there, stories about the wealthy Volkheimer family and the mysterious disappearance/death of the (only) kindly Volkheimer male, stories about the church in Schuetten and the priests who have been employed there, and stories about an intelligent but dark 14 year old named Adam. All of these stories are tied, one way or another, to Wump and they all interact with one another to not only paint a vibrant and complex picture of the town and its inhabitants, but to build the mystery of the abandoned babies and introduce countless red herrings which kept me wondering "what if" the whole way through.

The inclusion of these red herrings were fantastic. With each new chapter another possibility or perspective was added, and any preconceived ideas you may have had needed to be reworked or completely thrown out the window. Even though some of my theories were what actually eventuated, I was kept guessing to the very end, and this quest for answers kept me motivated and desiring to keep on reading long after I should really have gone back to work or off to sleep! Importantly, nothing was added to just throw the reader off. Some of the red herrings were to do with the smaller mysteries that were operating in tandem to the main story, but even these smaller threads were tied up neatly at the end and their connection to the main story made clear. Don't take this to mean that the story is merely some kind of mystery/crime novel, it's not. It's this wonderful blend of horror, fantasy, mystery and thriller. Each element adding something special to the mix, and has made it near impossible to define its genre. So let's just shelve it as reality-bending, wonderfully interesting mind candy, OK?

The final thing I want to discuss, is the role of religion in this book. Since two of the main settings in the book is the town church and church run orphanage and one of the primary characters is a priest, clearly religion is going to have a role. However, it's more than simply a setting and background for a character. Religion was central to the formation of Schuetten and a key motivator to much of the town during their days during the 1900s. It's also integral to the character of Wump. Though he was raised Catholic, the death of his son the year before shook his faith to the very core and is constantly raised as a source of frustration, anger and confusion as he progresses through the narrative. Further still, religion plays a vital role in the mystery with the babies and the finale of the book, I'll say no more because I don't want to spoil it for you, but C.G Bauer beautifully weaves some very complex religious concepts through the story, without taking focus away from the real story - the struggle of Wump, a struggle that he's been fighting ever since he was a young boy in the Schuetten orphanage.

I found Scars on the Face of God: The Devil's Bible to be an intelligent, thoughtful and insightful story. The writing alternated between beautifully descriptive and informative yet sparse prose depending on what the narrative required, and the characters were dynamic, spirited and wonderfully constructed. I found the story an absolute pleasure to read, and C.G Bauer has definitely earned a fan in me.

My Rating: 4/5

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Written by Stephen King

Published: 1974

Synopsis: The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time.


What the hell do you write about the horror book that's probably been the centre of more reviews and discussions that any other horror book on the planet?

I'm a little late to the game, and I'm actually a little embarrassed that it took me 10 years of reading Stephen King to finally read his first published novel. I don't really know why it took me so long to pick up Carrie, I actually saw the film version as a 12 or 13 year old along with The Shining at a sleepover. I loved the movie, I mean seriously, Sissy Spacek is awesome sauce, but I kept reading different King books and forgetting about poor little Carrie. I finally bought a copy last year at Book Fest, and it took me another complete year to decide to finally read it! But man, I'm glad I finally did. This book is so good, and so different to the movie (yet also kinda the same...I'll get into that soon) and I can completely understand why it launched Stephen King's career.

So if you haven't heard the plot for Carrie before (ummmm, has anyone not?) here it is. Carrie White is controlled by her uber-religious mother (who makes every religion nut you've ever heard about sound sane), who dictates every facet of Carrie's existence. Understandably, this makes Carrie stand out from the other kids at school, and we all know how kids are when they come across someone different... The opening scene (which is also the opening scene in the movie) has the girls (led by the nastiest girl of the lot, Chris) surrounding Carrie and pelting her with tampons when she gets her first period in the shower and chanting nasty things at her. This event is the catalyst for pretty much everything in the book, from all-around nice girl Sue's decision to arrange for her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom to assuage her feelings of guilt for being involved, to inciting Chris's rage when she's punished (unjustly in her eyes) for tampon-gate, causing a chain reaction of events that hurtles the entire town towards destruction.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the telekinesis? Much like the wizards in the Harry Potter world (was anyone expecting a HP reference in a King review?!), Carrie inadvertently caused light bulbs to blow, or things to fall off desks when she feels a spike in emotion, but as she begins to hone this skill, she remembers/realises that it's actually something she's been able to do all her life. The telekinesis provides Carrie with a sense of control over her life that was missing before, but this sort of power in the hands of a tormented teenager is never going to end somewhere good, which is definitely true of Carrie.

There is no denying that Carrie is a sympathetic figure, as her confidence grows as she arrives at the prom (thanks to her date and her new-found control over her telekinesis) you realise that in a different world she might have been one of the "cool" or "popular" girls. She's still a little awkward and reserved, but far from being the plain and weird girl that she's originally painted as, she's funny (a real wicked sense of humour actually), beautiful, and seems to hold people's attention and affection well. But because she grew up with her mother's weird mandates shadowing her she never had a chance to make friends. They all wrote her off the second she said something strange because that's what they all expected of the girl with the religious freak for a mum. The small pockets of happiness that occur make the whole thing all the more sad, because it just seems so ridiculous that this poor girl felt so trapped and tormented for so long just because of a few labels plastered on her at such an early age. In this sense it actually acts as quite a powerful anti-bullying message - I imagine less kids would be inclined to pick on the strange girl in class if they thought she'd be able to slice them in two with a table!

What I found amazing about the book (other than the engrossing story), is how distinct and intact Stephen King's voice is in it. I had expected the book to be quite different in style and tone from his more recent books, and while there has been definite growth and skill in King's writing over the million decades he's been writing, there are traits that exist in Carrie which are signature stylistic devices he still uses today. It blows me away that he had his voice so figured out at such an early stage, I think most writers would be pretty damn envious of this! I also really liked the format which this book was written in. It mostly followed Carrie (with a few looks into Sue, Chris and other characters) but interspersed were excerpts from books and articles that were written after the Carrie White Event and the investigation which was launched after it. Some of these excerpts were used to describe how other kids or people in town saw Carrie and to deliver the facts, while others focused on Carrie's telekinesis and the "science" behind it. I can imagine that some people wouldn't like these aspects of the story telling, but I really liked them. It removed the mystery and climax to an extent (it matter-of-factly referred to the final event very early on) but because I'd seen the film I knew what was coming anyway. If you went into this book expecting a standard horror story that builds and builds and builds until it finally explodes, then these intrusions would probably annoy the hell out of you. But I think they worked because this book isn't really about that build of horror for horror's sake. It's a book about a girl pushed to the edge, who finally can't take it anymore and loses control. Yes there are supernatural elements with the telekinesis, and it definitely fits within the horror genre, but the focus of the story is Carrie, and these little excerpts help keep the attention squarely on her. You may think differently (which is totally OK) but that's how I felt about them.

So yes, Carrie was amazing and I really loved reading it and I'm still kicking myself for taking so long to read it! If this book is sitting on your bookcase or TBR list (like it was for me) get it down and get stuck into it! It's amazing and a damn short read, so you have no excuse to leave it for later! I loved the movie, Brian De Palma is a fantastic filmmaker, but the movie is a much more contained version of the book. It focuses more of the mother/daughter relationship and lacks the full extent of the torment that Carrie encounters and then dishes out after the horrors at the prom. But anyway, watch the film, read the book, then watch the film and read the book again because they're awesome and Stephen King is awesome.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another year, another shark movie. I'm finding myself a little tired of these very aware B-grade shark/water films, and the inclusion of Jersey Shore (even if just in name, and not the actual "stars") and a washed-up N'Sync-er makes me groan...but there is a chance that this could rise to the ridiculous and awesome heights of Raging Sharks (SCIENCE!). And let's be honest, thanks to Jaws there will never be another awesome and terrifying shark movie so we may as well revel in the so-bad-it's-good scraps that come out right?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road
Written by Cormac McCarthy

Published in: 2006

Synopsis: A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food--and each other.

(Jesus, how fantastic are these typography covers he has? I know you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I'd like to marry this cover and make beautiful typographic babies with it.)

This isn't a traditional horror novel, but because of the themes, narrative and god damn bleakness I'm including it here. I mean, this isn't a cheery book. If you're even slightly bummed it will make you 1000 times worse, guaranteed. Yet it's an incredible and captivating book. I actually am finding it hard to describe what it is I loved about this book, and why I consider it a success. For all intents and purposes this kind of Capital L writing is not my thing. Usually I find it a little wanky and pretentious, and I find it pretty lazy since they usually spend more time trying to craft the "perfect" sentence rather than develop a decent story or character. Certainly The Road is full of Capital L writing, some of which made me giggle it was so over the top, but mostly it just felt right. Same with the characters. They're nameless and are only referred to as The Man and The Boy (or something similar), and there is little in the way of a past developed for them. Similarly, considering the entire story takes place as they walk along a road in a dystopian America with very little happening, there are few instances where you get a really clear idea of their personalities, motivations or idiosyncrasies. However this doesn't bother me, because in the context of this story all you need to know is that they're continuing on. They keep moving and moving because they don't know what else to do, and The Man, perhaps selfishly, keeps his young son alive and starving in this poisonous world because he loves him too much to think of a world without him.

I guess it's the simplicity of this concept at the heart of this novel that I loved. It was a father's unconditional, earth-moving love of his son (who he refers to as a god several times) that motivates every event and non-event that forms this book, and that's kinda beautiful. Or maybe their defined idea of right and wrong, even in the face of complete destruction and catastrophe, speaks to the romantic in me. They're the good guys, the ones who carry the fire, who would rather stave than kill another human for food. Perhaps in reality we'd all turn to cannibalism, but I'd like to think that's a line I'd never cross, at least if it meant killing a person (especially a child or baby). In fact, I think that pretty much sums up the two primary points why I loved this book, and why, amidst the Capital L writing, lack of punctuation and sparse, sometimes ridiculous dialogue (the conversation between The Man and an Old Man On The Road was the only thing I actively disliked in the whole book) I still love this book more than many others I've read this year. Or maybe it's something else, maybe I should stop searching for the reason and just accept that this novel effected me in a completely visceral level, and no amount of discussion will uncover any real answers.

Also, one thing before I end this terrible review. How in the hell did they get the green light to adapt this book to film?! I mean that in the best possible way. Normally a book will be twisted and abused until it better represents the ideal Hollywood blockbuster (case in point: I Am Legend )but not this one. The film is just as quiet and bleak and full of nothingness (and yet everythingness) as the book and I'm astounded that no one tried to add at least one huge action sequence or flashback to the end of the world. Regardless of if you like the book or not, all of you bibliophiles must surely recognise the amazability of this! (yes I'm full of fake, made up words in this review!)

The Road is a minimalist novel filled with bleaker than bleak imagery and events and it won't be for everyone, and I imagine you probably have to be in a rather exact mind-frame to be able to accept it, but perhaps you will find yourself loving the book as much as I do. I don't know if I'll ever re-read this one, I don't imagine it'll ever become one of my "read once a year" books, but I really, really, really loved this book. It's just...unexplainable.

4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book review: Gerald's Game by Stephen King

Gerald's Game
Written by Stephen King

Published in: 1992

Synopsis: A game of seduction between a husband and wife goes horribly awry when the husband dies. But the nightmare has just begun...

My Thoughts: Oh Gerald's Game, I do love you so.Why? Well first, it was terrifying! It's Stephen King's special brand of grounded-in-reality-this-could-is-will-be-you horror. Nearing her 40th birthday, Jessie Burlingame (wife of Gerald, subject of his game) is apathetic, disinterested and removed from everything in her life. As the book opens, Jessie is having her wrists snapped into handcuffs by her paunchy, boring lawyer husband Gerald and is finally realising how little she likes the man she's shared a life with for nearly two decades. Unfortunately, realising this when your hands are held tight by police-grade handcuffs invariably leads down a dangerous path. As she realises how little she likes him, she realises he's only interested in dominating her, and reducing her to, in essence, a sex toy. Trapped, Jessie lashes out when her husband refuses to listen to her pleas to be released and she believes he intends to take advantage of her vulnerable position.Unfortunately, what was meant to be about a wake-up call to snap Gerald back to reality, is the catalyst to the heart attack that has been looming over her over-worked, over-stressed, overweight husband. Dead on the other side of the bedroom, Jessie is trapped with her arms over her head, unable to move in any substantial way. Oh, and did I mention they were up at their lake house in the middle of nowhere? So Jessie is trapped, almost naked, in the middle of no where in Autumn. This aspect of the novel had real ties to Misery (another favourite King novel of mine) and really affected me. This is such a simple situation that could happen to ANYONE. Unlike Misery where you really need a nutso fan to come across your prone broken body for the events to unfold, it isn't unheard of for a husband and wife to embark on some kinky sex games, and there are hundreds (if not thousands) of reported cases of a sexual partner dying mid-coitus. Fortunately, most people aren't chained to a bed far away from civilisation.

Alongside the pain and terror that accompanies being trapped in a bed with your husband lying dead nearby, Jessie is forced to remember another terrifying moment from her past. Forced, I hear you ask? As the book begins, we realise that Jessie internal voices. Not in the sense that she's possessed, but in the sense that a lot of people have voices. There are two main voices, at least too begin with, and a series of "UFO" voices that come and go. There's Goody Burlingame, who basically denies that anything bad is happening and is happy to heap blame on Jessie. The second is new to Jessie and sounds an awful lot like her old college roommate, Ruth, and refuses to ignore the shit that's going on. She forces Jessie to accept the reality of the situations, and it's this voice that refuses to let Jessie ignore the event that occurred years earlier when Jessie was only 10 years old. And seriously, when you're stuck to a bed and are looking at dying, shouldn't you perhaps try and face the evil in your past which has stained your entire adult life? I should note, that it's this look back which ties in with the book Dolores Claiborne, as there is a brief cross over in each book which occurs as terrifying events happen to the two females during an eclipse.

As if being trapped and forced to recollect past horrors as you wait to die isn't horrifying enough, Jessie wakes up one night to find a shadowy man-creature in the corner of her room.So now she's tied to the bed and unable to escape, reliving an upsetting moment of her childhood, and is being confronted by what appears to be death, itself. THIS TERRIFIED ME! I could not handle it, I had to actually put the book down one night and watch an episode of Mythbusters to free my imagination from the depths of the book. Because of Jessie's inability to escape, the reader can't escape either. Stephen King drills the three-fold horror of the situation into you by describing the minutia of the story, little things like being desperately thirsty, needing to pee, or seeing shapes and shadows outside of the window are thrown into sharp relief when you read them knowing the hell Jessie is feeling. This book is one of those brilliant Stephen King novels which is grounded in real horror, and anything supernatural is thrown in to accentuate the reality of the horror. Does that make sense?

The other thing I loved about this book is the character of Jessie and King's handling of her situations. One criticism I've had for King in the past is that I never find his female characters particularly interesting or well-developed. This is mostly because they're secondary characters to the male protagonist, but I've always felt like it is his biggest weakness. Now bear with me because this might get confusing and messy and make no sense. Jessie herself isn't a particularly fleshed out character. She's a woman in a bed, and all we get for much of the story is her internal monologue during her 20+ hour incarceration. However, she is one of the best female characters I've ever read written by King because he totally gets it. Jessie has been prayed on since she was 10 years old. She's been abused and taken advantage of in one way or another for nearly 30 years. As she lies chained to the bed, and she realises her husband is going to ignore her pleas for release and force himself on her regardless, she realises how the entire aftermath with play out. He'll get his rocks off, she'll file for divorce and accuse him of rape/assault, he'll say he thought she was just "in character," it'll be her word against his (a successful lawyer), and she'll have to live with that weighing her down forever more while he moves past it. Dude, STEPHEN KING GETS IT. That's all I could think as I read through this scene and the ones like it, King gets how fucked up society can be to women and the bullshit that forces women to keep quiet when they're the victim. Jessie isn't really a single female character, she's women, fullstop. She's every woman who has kept quiet because she doesn't want to get her father/brother/uncle in trouble, or because she thinks she'll be blamed, or because she knows no one will believe her over the man. She's the woman who has given up believing she really deserves anything because of the cloud hanging over her, that she had promised never to tell anyone about. Perhaps not everyone woman finds herself chained to a bed, stalked by a mysterious shadow demon/space cowboy, but the real horror of this story is a horror that many woman have experienced or empathised with.

So yes, I really liked this book. It was scary and twisted up my stomach and came very close to giving me nightmares. But it was also a completely different book than I'm used to reading from King. The discussion of rape and assault and that never-ending horror that causes women (and of course, men too) that features so heavily in this story was incredibly well written and handled with the care, intelligence and empathy it requires. The only downside, to me, was the ending. I won't discuss it because it is a major spoiler, but it really removed me from the urgency and claustrophobic fear that predominated the first three quarters of the story, and that's a real shame. Nonetheless, I think you should go and read this. The sooner, the better.

4.5 out of 5 space cowboys.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Film Review: Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon
Jessica Chastain
Shae Whigham

Synopsis: Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

OK so it isn't really a horror film, and in that regard has no real reason to be on this blog. BUT! But, this blog isn't the boss of me and I really freaking loved this movie so screw it, I'm going to wax lyrical about Michael Shannon and his apocalyptic visions because I'm a grown-up and I do what I want!

I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about it except that Curtis (Michael Shannon) was seeing visions of a huge, world-ending storm. There were a few things in this film that I just did not see coming, and I credit that with having absolutely no idea what genre this film was supposed to be, and no pre-made assumptions about the direction the film would take. So with that in mind, I'm probably going to spoil any chance of you experiencing the same thing by writing a review about be warned!

Curtis is a small town husband and father who works on a drilling crew by day, and spends time at home with his wife, Samantha, (Chastain) and daughter, Hannah, at night. When Curtis begins to suffer from frequent dreams and hallucinations of a humongous storm with apocalyptic after-effects, their simple life is rocked to its foundations. Fearing mental illness Curtis secretly visits a counsellor and seeks medication, but as the dreams worsen and he develops an obsession with renovating their storm shelter, his family and friends begin to fear (for) him. What follows is a slow descent into madness, paranoia, obsession and fear as Curtis' visions become more frequent, while the question "what if..." is always present, lingering just off to the side, partly out of view.

Is he crazy? Are his visions real? Is he going to snap and murder everyone in their town? Until the end credits roll you will never be 100% sure which way this film is going to go. While it is primarily a family drama about a husband who is suffering from these visions, it never lets go of the possibility for a supernatural inclusion, or for a dark devastating turn that'll mess up your sleep for a week. This fervent questioning plays an important role when you consider how slow the film moves. The film revels in forcing you to just sit and watch as this family is pulled apart by mental illness. There are minimal edits and instead you watch an entire conversation, in all its awkwardness or sadness or distress. The characters progress through the entire gamut of emotion that would occur in a normal fight or moment, there are no easy resolutions, no simple answers. And while this results in a slower pacing that I typically enjoy, I respect the hell out of it.

Going hand in hand with the pacing is the visuals in this film. It's hard to find a film these days that isn't visually beautiful (especially films of the indie persuasion) but the beauty of this films wideshot small town aesthetics is emphasised because it is juxtaposed against the claustrophobic storm shelter and Curtis's dark descent into madness and swirling storm clouds. The effect this produces is astounding and one of the biggest draws in this film. My favourite is most definitely the shots with the birds swirling around the sky in apocalyptic formation (see promo image above), especially towards the closing of the film. It's just so, so good!

And the acting, man oh man! Michael Shannon is a phenomenal and completely under-rated actor who is superb in this role. Known best for his roles in Boardwalk Empire and Revolutionary Road, Michael Shannon really embraced the character's quiet and unassuming nature and it is both terrifying and heart-breaking to watch him circle the drain and give in to his paranoia and fear. Jessica Chastain gives a beautifully nuanced performance as his worried wife, Samantha. By the way, where did Jessica Chastain come from?! She has delivered some of the best performances in the best films of 2011, and I had never heard of her before! Hopefully she keeps it up because she won my heart in this role. She's fragile, yet so strong. She's taken on the task of learning sign language so she can communicate with her deaf daughter, and she sells handicrafts on the weekend so that the family can spend one week a year at the beach. She's the glue that holds the family together, but as Curtis falls apart and recedes further into himself, she doesn't have enough fingers to plug all the holes that are threatening to burst.

So all in all a most amazing film! It manages to balance between a couple of genres yet never lose sight of the characters and their own problems, rather than focussing purely on these apocalyptic visions Curtis sees. I do have to warn you all how slow the pacing is, but if you can handle it then definitely find a copy of this film to watch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Graphic novel mini-reviews

Crossed (Volume #1)
By Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows

Published: 2006

My Thoughts: Remember how I reviewed a few single issues of Crossed a few weeks back? Well I finally got my hands on Volume 1 and 2 of the primary story. Volume 1 was fantastic!! Infusing elements of the zombie genre (these aren't zombies though), with global fears of contagion, primal aggression and the end of the world, this book is dark and nihilistic yet incredibly compelling. I found it so easy to slip into the mind frame of the primary characters, which only made it more clear how ill-equipped I would be for anything like it! This isn't for the faint hearted...if you find it hard to read violence, viewing it in graphic novel form is not going to make it any better. However it isn't mindless violence, the social commentary runs thick through it and it never feels like it's just for shock and awe sake. A really great read, I highly recommend it.

Crossed: Family Values (Volume 2)
by David Lapham and Javier Barreno

Published: 2011

My Thoughts: Remember a few lines back when I said the violence wasn't gratuitous...wasn't simply for shock and awe? Well one volume later, that's all that I could take from this story. A new writing and art team tackle a new story with all new characters in this volume. The only similarity is  that the world is still over-run with the "Crossed". Where the first volume showed restraint, reality and was full of commentary on the state of our current society, this volume  just took it too far, horrendously far, and lacked the substance to back it up. It wasn't terrible, there was a few really decent story threads and the basic premise was very promising. I just wish it hadn't felt like a snuff film. Only read this is you're a completest.

Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom (Volume 4)
By Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Published: 2011

My Thoughts: I seriously cannot say enough good things about this series. The writing is fantastic, the story is amazing and every time I think the artwork has hit a new high Rodriguez goes and blows himself out of the water! This book continues to advance the story of the Locke family as they discover even more mysterious keys and slowly seem to be piecing together the larger mystery. Dodge is batshit crazy as ever, and the sneakiest motherf*cker of all time....but man oh man do I love him! This is such a rich series, even if you don't normally read graphic novels you simply have to start reading this one. It will blow your mind and convert you to a comic lover for life!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Shelter by James Everington

The Shelter
Written by James Everington

Published: 2011

Synopsis: It’s a long, drowsy summer at the end of the 1980s, and Alan Dean and three of his friends cross the fields behind their village to look for a rumoured WW2 air raid shelter. Only half believing that it even exists beyond schoolboy gossip, the four boys nevertheless feel an odd tension and unease. And when they do find the shelter, and go down inside it, the strange and horrifying events that follow will test their adolescent friendships to breaking point, and affect the rest of their lives...

My Thoughts: After submitting a draft to my supervisor I decided to celebrate by finally picking up something that wasn't a graphic novel or text book! A couple of months back James Everington approached me about reading his new novella, The Shelter, and now seemed the perfect time to dive into his claustrophobic and moody horror. I really need to congratulate myself for making this choice, because not only did I love the book, but I am now incredibly eager to really kick start my reading...even if it means reducing my sleep to 2 hours a day!

The Shelter is quite a small book (hence referring to it as a novella previously), which works incredibly in its favour. This is a very immersive book, and I think it will resonate to readers much more distinctly if they read it from cover to cover in one go. Which is where the length comes in as a real benefit, obviously. I found myself stuck right in amongst the claustrophobic fear that builds and builds to oppressive heights as we follow Alan Dean's story, and I honestly think if I had tuned out and come back to it the next day it might not have impacted me quite as heavily. That isn't to say it relies on this, and I'm sure there are people out there who have read it in shorter bursts and still enjoy it. But if I can offer one piece of advice, it'd be find a comfortable spot, dig yourself in and read, read, read until The Shelter is complete. You can thank me later.

The Shelter is reminiscent of a Stephen King short story. In fact, James Everington mentions in his Author's Note that he was heavily influenced by the work of King at the time. It shows. Like King, Everington has a fantastic ability for painting the characters for you in great detail that captivates every sense. I could smell the sweat steaming off Tom's body, I could see the glint of Mark's earring under his long hair, and I could hear the ever present "thud-thud" of Alan's heart as he grew closer to the ominous shelter. Also like King, the book manages to balance that precarious line between real and supernatural horror. The story is, for the most part, grounded in the real, but there is that ever present "what if"  that you simply can't ignore. The real focus of the story are these four boys, Alan in particular, and this one day in their life, a hot summer day where everything changed. What happened doesn't really matter, what matters is the interactions and the reactions of these boys and the oppressive tension that builds because of it. Like Stephen King, James Everington manages to hit all these highs and produce a dark and moody horror that stays with you because of the possibility of its reality.

The Shelter is a great book that manages to wind itself tight around you until you find yourself struggling to catch you breath. This is definitely a "stayer" and I imagine parts of the book will continue to haunt me for weeks to come. So for any fans of Stephen King, atmospheric horror or short, unique reads then consider reading The Shelter, I think it'll be right up your alley!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Film Review: Sauna (2008)

Directed by:Antti-Jussi Annila

Starring: Ville Virtanen
Tommi Eronen

Synopsis:As a 25-year war between Russia and Sweden concludes, two brothers who are part of an effort to outline new border accords become undone by their actions, and their mistreatment of a young woman during their journey.

My thoughts: Sauna was a real treat. The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) here in Brisbane was running a program of Scandinavian cinema a few months ago, with a regular weekly horror film as a feature. Most of the movies in the program we had already heard of and many we had already seen (TrollHunter, Anti-Christ, Let the Right One In), but Sauna was something which had slipped complete under our radar. Sometimes God just throws you one...

The story follows two brothers in 1595 tasked with the job of marking the official borders between Sweden and Russia after a 25-year long war. The youngest brother Knut is an academic who has been sheltered from the worst of the war, while his near-sighted brother Eerik has been dehumanised as a result of a lifetime as a soldier. When they and their Russian counterparts discover a village on the border that shouldn't be there, the sins of the past catch up to haunt them. The sauna in Sauna is a creepy looking concrete shed in a swamp outside the mysterious village where it is said that you can wash your soul clean.

Much like the other films in the GoMA program, Sauna is a horror film with an arthouse slant. And if you've read many of the other reviews Kayleigh and I have written, you'll know that these are generally the stories which get us excited. It's a slow-burn movie which isn't to everyone's tastes. Reading some of the IMDB reviews and comments (I know, I know... I was asking for trouble), the most frequent criticism is that it wasn't scary enough. While being 'scary' is a fine pursuit for a supernatural horror story, it's not the genre's most interesting convention. Supernatural horror at its best explores the darkest element of human nature without being constrained by reality. It manifests the dark and unnatural itches that lie in our collective unconsciousness, brings them to the surface and gives them a face. And Sauna did this about as well as any film I've seen in recent memory.

Sauna had some great imagery. The juxtaposition of the rigid, rectangular sauna sitting in the stagnant water of the swamp makes a powerful symbol. The weeping apparition that stalks Knut across the landscape is terrifying in broad daylight, and looks as if it has been influenced by style of ghost in J-Horror cinema. Just as the ghost cannot look at Knut (it keeps its face buried in its hands), Knut cannot face his own sins.

But in the end, it is the relationship between the brothers which makes the film interesting and beautifully tragic. Eerik, a man who keeps his sins numbered and has long since abandoned any hope of personal redemption tries to rescue his brother from the destruction his soul has suffered. Knut, who is naive to the horrors of war and is riddled with guilt over an incident involving a young woman in the brothers' travels, learns a valuable lesson about wiping clean sin.

I'm guessing that there is a lot of Finnish mythology which I'm not familiar with, so I there may be a lot I've missed as well. But overall I found Sauna to be beautiful film (in a Goya-esque kind of way) and recommend that if you can find it, you should see it.

4.5 out of 5

Friday, May 4, 2012

Graphic novels mini reviews

Crossed: Badlands (issues 1-4)
Written by: Garth Ennis and Jamie Delano,
Illustrated by: Jacen Burrows

My Thoughts: This is actually a spin-off from a larger graphic novel series, but I'm not really sure how much or how little relates between them. In Crossed: Badlands a small troop of survivors are trying to make their way through the Scottish back country without encountering the "crossed". The crossed are people who have been struck by a mystery illness which creates a rage-y/zombie like response in them. I really liked this one, the pacing was perfect, the characters were interesting and multi-sided (a certain red-headed royal plays a role!) and the situations they found themselves in were grim, tough and decidedly real. The artwork beautifully accompanied the writing and the story, and the crossed appearance of the infected people is chilling. I'm looking forward to reading the primary story!

Written by: John Smith,
Illustrations by: Edmund Bagwell

My Thoughts: Shane is out of juvenile detention and is trying to keep out of trouble, but there's trouble all around his neighbourhood and it's not going to be easy to keep out of... I really enjoyed Cradlegrave (except perhaps the ending) but man, is it gross! I won't say anything to give the story away, but this is one of those stories that will make you feel queasy as you read it, and probably for a little while afterwards as well. The story is well written and, ending aside, it held my attention throughout the whole thing. The characters all look a little too similar, so it gets a little hard to tell them apart now and again, but if you like a twisted district/home horror to make you feel uneasy, then this one is for you.

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child (Issues #1 and 2)
Written by: Delwyn Seyfu Hinds, Denys Cowan and John Floyd

My Thoughts: I've only just begun this new series, but so far, so good. Set in the New Orleans, there's an interesting mix of voodoo, magic, shadow worlds, action and mystery. The story bounced around quite a bit during these two issues, but I'm hoping it'll smooth down as the story progresses.  It's a little early to say for sure, I'm loving the female leads and focus and I think there's real potential for this to grow into a great series. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes out and see where the writers take this one.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Watch this not that (or that)

This weekend Tom and I went down to the Gold Coast to see The Woman in black, Iron Sky and Cabin in the Woods play at their film festival. It was a pretty poor weekend (lots of rain and study time spent in a strange library) but all three films were sensational and deserve a viewing.

So to honour our movie filled weekend I'm going to do a three-way Watch This, Not That.

Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film that works best if you know NOTHING about it. Apparently this film is getting a seriously limited release, we may have seen one of Australia's only showings.

Iron Sky is a hilarious romp about Space Nazis. Add a Sarah Palin-esque president, the "albinisation" of a black model/astronaut ("Black to the moon? Yes we can!"), an Albert Einstein look-a-like and some Nazi jokes  and how can it possibly fail?

The Woman in Black has to convince audiences that Harry Potter is now old enough to be a widow with a four year old son. Despite this challenge, it manages to deliver a creepy atmospheric movie that manages to meld the iconic Hammer style of horror cinema with the visual spectacle of J-Horror.

All three deserve a watch, but given the limited chance everyone has to see Cabin in the Woods on the big screen (so worth it guys!) I'm going to have to say WATCH Joss Whedon's movie about [BLANK], NOT Old-timey Harry Potter or Nazis on the moon!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mini Graphic Novel Reviews

 American Vampire (Volume 1)
By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King

Synopsis: This volume follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King. Snyder's story is set in 1920's LA, we follow Pearl, a young woman who is turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European Vampires who tortured and abused her. This story is paired with King's story, a western about Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire-- a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before with rattlesnake fangs and powered by the sun.

My Thoughts: Twists to vampire lore can be done, as this graphic novel demonstrates over and over again. Screw diamond skin and vegetarianism, this graphic novel pits the traditional Euro vamps against the new, brash and a little trashy American breed. They can walk in sunlight, contact crucifixes and are drained of power by no-moon nights. There's raunch, revenge, power struggles and a sweet little writer who struggles to keep up. Plus, you know...Stephen King.

Black Gas
Written by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Max Fiumara and Ryan Waterhouse

Synopsis: A tiny little island off the east coast of America sit on a fault in the underlying tectonic plate. On a night beset by a fierce storm and an earthquake simultaneously, the fault line cracks, releasing something foul from the Earth's guts, blown across the little coastal town of Smoky Island. The only two people on the island who were outside the reach of the black gas are now trapped on a spit of rock with a population that aren't what we'd call "people" anymore. After all, they started eating each other an hour ago... and it's about to get worse.

My Thoughts: Meh. I usually adore Warren Ellis and hold him up as a personal god, but this was completely lacking his sparkling dry and twisted humour. The concept was solid, but the characters were infuriating (especially the girlfriend, oh how I hated her!) and the dialogue completely lack lustre. I really don't know what was going on in this one, but it's low on my list of recommends.

Adapted from a Stephen King short story by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev.

Synopsis: There is something unearthly and mysterious deep in Acherman's Field in rural Maine. There is a Stonehenge-like arrangement of seven stones with a horrifying EYE in the center. And whatever dwells there in that strange, windswept setting may have brought about the suicide of one man...and harbor death for the OCD afflicted "N.," whose visits to the field have passed beyond compulsion into the realm of obsession.

My Thoughts: Now this is more like it! Stephen King's short story tackling compulsion and monsters and a stone henge like formation comes to terrifying life in this graphic novel. The illustrations were a bit of a let down at times, but for the most time they did what they were supposed to...emphasise the crap out of the horror story Stephen King spun and make me terrified to turn off my light! A definite must read if you like King, supernatural tales and graphic novels.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Film review: Slither (2006)

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Nathan Fillion
Elizabeth Banks
Michael Rooker
Tania Saulnier

Synopsis:A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.

My thoughts: I saw this film when it first came out in 2006, but it failed to make much of an impact on me at the time. In the last year or so, however, I've heard it mentioned over and over by people who typically share very similar movie tastes to me. So thinking that perhaps I was in a bad mood, or maybe simply too young, I decided to give it a second shot. Thank god I did!

Slither is one of the best throwback/parody horror films I've seen in years! The film mixes aliens, mutated monsters and zombies into the one film, and manages to perfect the balance between gross-out, humour and horror, all while delivering a cast of characters that are fleshed-out and hilarious in their own special way.

After a rough interaction with galactic space goo while trying to get his groove on, Grant Grant (Rooker) returns home with an alien burrowed in his brain and a desperate desire for meat. Unbeknownst to his sweet, but kind of dippy wife Starla (Banks), Grant is slowly transforming into a persistently hungry alien-monster, hunting down the neighbourhood's pets and farm animals for food, before turning to a larger and more desirable meal, people. Armed with the face of a 15 year old Pizza Hut worker, and two tentacle/scorpion tails projecting from his chest, Grant begins to terrorise the town, feasting and turning the locals into zombie-like worker bees with a gazillion slimy worms helping him succeed. Faced with the fact that her beloved (though hardly perfect) husband is now some kind of alien, Starla teams up with Bill Pardy (Fillion) and Kylie (Saulnier) to try and save themselves and the town.

The whole cast are incredibly likeable and have great chemistry together. Fillion, as usual, is the loveable rogue, though he's a little more inept in this than he is in his more famed role in Firefly. His adoration for Starla is barely concealed, and becomes noticeably more awkward the less human (looking) Starla's husband becomes. While Starla and Bill are inarguably the stars of the film, Bill's quips and scenes with Kylie, your typical teenage girl, are some of my favourites. Hands down though, the best performance in the film is tied between Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry, who plays the town mayor. Henry is an absolute riot, but Rooker manages to display both humour and geniune empathy with his transforming character. His love for his wife is obvious, even if he's perhaps the worst person to ever try and display it. I've always enjoyed Rooker as an actor, but this film has completely sold me on him.

Writer/director James Gunn (writer of 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake) cut his teeth working for Troma, and there is a distinct Troma feel throughout this film, as well as a couple of discreet little plugs for them dotted here and there (keep an eye on the TV screen at Grant's lady's house). The special effects are primarily physical, but extravagantly so. There is no subtlety to these effects, everything is big and slimy and insane, but the quality is high and almost Conenberg-like at times...if you dialled Cronenberg up to 10,000! In fact, there is no subtly whatsoever in this film, and if it wasn't aiming to be shlocky it'd be bordering on terrible. From the effects, to the southern accents, to the town hunting party, to the longing looks that Bill shoots at's all larger and more bizarre than life could ever hope to be. The film never takes itself seriously, and all the bad reviews I've seen for this one seem to be from people who fail to recognise this.

You'll find yourself laughing far more than you'll find yourself hiding behind your eyes in this one, but it makes a decent horror film nonetheless. It's a throwback film, but amidst the extreme behaviour and stunts is a troop of quality actors doing a fantastic job, so if you're looking to be entertained, or if you enjoy your horror with a large helping of hilarious, then I think this is the film for you. Keep an eye out for the scene in the barn, it's...well, let's just say it needs to be watched!

4 out of 5 zombie deer stomps in the face.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekend Feature: Watch This, Not That.

Since it's Friday the 13th and the law states that you HAVE to watch a horror film tonight, I thought I'd use this opportunity to introduce a new little feature we're going to have here at Hail Horrors, Hail.


In case the name isn't explanatory enough, let me lay out the basic idea. I'll pick two films I've seen recently and in a sentence or two advise you which of the films should rocket up your must watch list. To start this new feature off, here are two Friday the 13th appropriate films for your weekend viewing...

Oldboy isn't technically horror, but it's one of the most fucked up revenge stories you'll ever see. The fight scenes are balls to the wall awesome and Oh Dai-Su (played to perfection by Min-Sik Choi) eats a live octopus (see picture)...that actually happened!

Then there's Rosemary's Baby, as classic a horror film as there ever was. If the graphic decline of Mia Farrow isn't terrifying enough, there's the whole demon baby/bunch of cultists thing to help push it over the edge!

But there can only be one winner in Watch This...Not That, and this week you should...

Watch Oldboy. Not Rosemary's Baby!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Film review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Directed by: Troy Nixey

Starring: Katie Holmes
Guy Pearce
Bailee Madison

Synopsis:A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.

My thoughts: Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 tele-movie by the same name. A childhood favourite of writer Guillermo del Toro (he sat out directing this one), this film is a horror-by-numbers. It isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great, and delivers nothing new.

When Sally (Madison) reluctantly moves to live with her dad (Pearce) and his girlfriend, Kim, (Holmes) while they restore an old home, she comes face to face with small, spindly fingered fairies. At first she thinks they want to be friends, but their hostility soon grows and she begins to fear for her life. Her attempts to tell her dad are stonewalled, and instead of shipping her back to her mum, a psychologist is brought to speak with her and she's medicated. As her dad grows more distant as he immerses himself in the house, Kim begins to think there may be some truth to Sally's fears and searches for proof.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it suffers from a lack of ambition. Rather than invest in a complicated and dark horror story, it settles for simple scares and fills in the gaps with expositionary scenes that, in all honesty, are some of the worst I've come across in a big budget film like this. Part of the problem seems to be that Del Toro concentrates on the fairy/monsters far too much. Similar to Pan's Labyrinth, this film has an abundance of scenes which show these incredibly detailed and creepy looking creatures. Unlike Pan's Labyrinth, however, these creatures aren't enough to ride the entire film on. It's also a little strange to see such a scare-heavy film actually show you the creatures from very near the start of the film, usually they try and build up the suspense and let you make them creepier in your own mind first.

There are attempts made to add a story in amongst the creepy fairy scenes, but they aren't particularly strong and few of them seem to go anywhere. There's the psychology side which could have built the film up into quite an interesting psychological horror film if they'd hidden the creatures for a little longer, or the upset little girl who hates her stepmum-to-be and blames "fairies" for the destruction of Kim's property, or even the historic tooth fairy thread introduced at about the three quarter mark, but none of these threads ever seem to really go anywhere. Instead they're all tangled up into this mess of a story, which is a real shame because there is enough decent dialogue and action sequences to see that there was a pretty good film buried in there.

My other issue was with the casting. Bailee Madison was incredible as Sally. She cycled through an entire library of emotions depending on the scene and was very convincing. For some strange reason they picked Katie Holmes to be her father's girlfriend, even though the two females look uncannily alike. When I saw the ads for this film last year I had assumed Sally was Kim's daughter, but apparently not. I also have a complete aversion to Katie Holmes, so I can't be sure whether my dislike of her in this film was due to that, or actually due to miscasting. Guy Pearce, however, is an actor I rarely dislike in a film, but I just felt like he wasn't utilised to his full potential in this film. His character swings around, from hard-ass dad, to loving dad, to distant dad, to overbearing boyfriend...because he isn't as central as Kim or Sally, I think they just decided not to develop him as thoroughly as they should have.

Perhaps they were struggling with the constraints of the original film and grappling with how much they could change and how much should stay the same, or perhaps they just completely misread what this film needed to be. Either way, it's a passable film, but easily forgettable. The creatures themselves are a work of wonder, not quite as amazing as those who appear in Pan's Labyrinth but there has obviously been a great deal of love and attention given to their creation and animation. Like I said, this isn't a bad film, there were some genuinely interesting and scary scenes, and the overall quality of the cinematography etc was of a high caliber, they just missed the mark. A shame really.

3 out of 5 carousel night lights. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cinema Obscura

On Friday night Tom and I made our way through the Brisbane city streets looking for a marking on a wall and a difficult to locate property number.

Hidden down a narrow pathway that ran beside and then below the Tribal Theatre was our boon, the location for Brisbane's new secret society, Cinema Obscura.

Ok, so secret society may not be quite accurate, but Cinema Obscura is definitely a secret cinema experience. Open to a maximum of 50 guests, each month a cult/classic/much loved film will be shown in a new and unique Brisbane location.

For the opening night we were treated to Rosemary's Baby projected onto a makeshift screen in the old orchestra pit that has a history of murder, violence and ghosts. Surrounded by like-minded film lovers, this was the perfect cinema experience. The make-shift seats may have been a little painful by the end of the film, but the open (ish) air location with it's theatrical and historic significance, classic horror film (one of my favourites!) and respectful audience (no mobile phone bullshit with this group) were perfect.

I can't wait for late April when the next Cinema Obscura showing will be...who knows where?! All I can say for certain is that the location will have some sort of relevance with the film and Brisbane history, and the film will rock my socks off. Here's hoping for two horror films in a row!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Film Review: The Devil Inside (2012)

Directed by: William Brent Bell

Starring: Fernanda Andrada
Simon Quarterman
Suzan Crowley
Ionut Grama
Evan Helmuth

Synopsis: In Italy, a woman becomes involved in a series of unauthorized exorcisms during her mission to discover what happened to her mother, who allegedly murdered three people during her own exorcism.

My Thoughts: There were some real reservations going into this film, all 5 of us had heard less than favourable things about the film, but seeing as nothing else was out we decided to brave it for ourselves. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from the found footage approach which resulted in some weird focusing and shots of feet or the sky (seriously, if you want to be a documentary film-maker you'd better get a little better at carrying a camera steady!) the film had a decent pace, decent special effects and a high level of acting proficency from all the cast.

Isabella has travelled to Italy with her cameraman friend (we missed the first 5 minutes so I'm not entirely sure on their previous relationship) to create a documentary about the prevalence of exorcisms today and to try and discover the truth about her mother, a woman who has been locked in an Italian mental institute after killing three people during her own supposed exorcism. As well as visiting her mother for the first time in 20 years, Isabella attends classes at "exorcism school" and meets two young priests who have something of an unhealthy interest in the subject. Asserting that she'll learn more in 5 minutes at an exorcism than she would in months of classes at the religious institute, Isabella follows these two priests (Father Ben and Father David) to the illegal exorcism of a young woman the church denied.

Much like every exorcism film since The Exorcist, this film plays with the finnicky balance between religion and science. Can they exist beside one another? Can we ever be sure the answer is one or the other? Where do we draw the line? Because of the prevalence of this dichotomy, Father David ended up one of the most interesting characters, because as a medical doctor and a priest, he embodies both sides of this divide. There were a few neat little throwbacks to The Exorcist and other films on this subject, but I was actually surprised at home this film really managed to separate itself from what has come before. It's not the first sceptics view into an exorcism, nor is the the first documentary-style film about exorcism, however I never felt like I was watching the same old crap.

The pacing really began to ramp up about 20-25 minutes before it concluded, and though heavily signposted, it was still thrilling and exciting and gross. However then came the final 2 minutes of the film. Just as it was reaching it's crescendo it ended. Just like that it was over. The theatre went from joyful squeals of horror to outrage in less than a second. I do understand what they were trying to do with the ending they chose, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel cheated. Is it bad enough of an ending to have me recommend avoiding the film? Not quite, the baptism scene alone is worth a watch, however I would suggest waiting till it comes out on video. It's so infuriating that if you're spending $20 on your movie ticket you may just lose your mind.

So overall a decent and thrilling exorcism film, one of the best of the last few years, that was spoiled by the film-makers either A/ trying to be clever, B/running out of money, C/ running out of ideas in how to conclude it or D/being assholes. You've been warned.

3 tortured mothers locked in asylums for the film

-100 for that damn piece-of-shit asshole of an ending.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Film review: Skew (2011)

Directed by: Sevé Schelenz

Starring: Rob Scattergood
Amber Lewis
Richard Olak

 Synopsis: When Simon, Rich, and Eva head out on an eagerly anticipated road trip, they bring along a video camera to record their journey. What starts out as a carefree adventure slowly becomes a descent into the ominous as unexplained events threaten to disrupt the balance between the three close friends. Each one of them must struggle with personal demons and paranoia as friendships are tested and gruesome realities are revealed...and recorded

Attention Australian readers!! Skew will be playing at the Fantastic Planet Film Festival on Saturday the 31st of March, with a Q&A afterwards. For more info about the showing or the festival itself, follow this link!

My thoughts: Skew is a found footage road trip movie that is clearly a labour of love. Written by Sevé Schelenz back in 2004 and then produced in 2005 for a measly $25,000, the film shines with the dedication of the production team and the trio of actors who carry the story.

Three college friends, Rich (Olak), Eva (Lewis) and Simon (Scattergood) bundle into their car to head across country to a friend's wedding, and, it seems to me, to take some well-needed time out from their regular lives. The trip begins well, with the three of them laughing and mucking around while Simon films them all on the camera he bought for the trip. The trip takes a turn for the worse when Simon starts to notice strange blurs on people's faces when he films them through his camera, and starts to notice that the blurred strangers are dying soon after being filmed. As the film progresses so does the paranoia, tension and barely contained chaos.

The pacing in Skew gradually ramps up, but there is a sense of unease and anticipation from the earliest scenes. Though this is definitely a horror film with supernatural elements, there is also a great deal of story devoted to the personal trials and horrors of each of the three characters. They're all troubled by something, and these issues cause friction that is only amplified by the visions Simon is seeing through his camera lens. Had the cast not been as strong as it is, these personal threads would have been lost amongst the A story, but instead they tangle and build and add an element to the film that is crucial to its overall success and cohesiveness.

I'm generally not an advocate for found footage/POV films; however I really try to judge each one on their own merits. Some films just make me feel nauseated with the shakiness of the footage, while others make some of the most tenuous links as to why there needs to be the found footage element to it. Happily though, I can say that the found footage/POV style worked well for this particular film, perhaps owing to the fact that it isn't found footage in the Blair Witch Project sense of the term, instead it is simply using that personal viewpoint as a way of telling the story. I have to attribute this success to three points. First, although the actor Rob Scattergood (Simon) is not a cameraman, the shots were level, smooth and balanced. That in itself is enough reason for me to give a found footage film the thumbs up. After the vomit-inducing, headache-building camera work in The Devil Inside the other week, I can't even tell you how much I appreciate a watchable, yet still realistic, personally shot film. Second, the camera is a crucial part in the story. It is tightly connected to the story progression, to the development of Simon's character, and is the key instigator in the tension that builds between the three friends. Finally, along with the camera and POV shots being crucial to the story, it was used creatively in the film. One of the things I loved in this film was the use of rewind to add to the paranoia and tension and to finish the film. At points I wondered whether the POV shots could have been combined with traditional camera work to eliminate the scenes where you see little except a blurred friend across the room, or stare at the floor after the camera was knocked over in fear, however because of the relevancy of the camera to the story, I found it didn't bug me as much as it might have in another movie.

The ending may require a couple of watches, and judging by the myriad of reviews and blog posts available online, the ambiguity has lead to several very different interpretations. I really enjoyed the way the film concluded, but if you don't like ambiguous endings you may find it a little confronting. Personally, I had absolutely no idea what to think when it finished, and even now I'm not sure that my personal interpretation even comes close to lining up how Sevé Schelenz intended it to be read. That being said though, your interpretation very much will influence how you look back on the events of the film, and it's been really interesting to see how people have interacted with the story on their blogs and in reviews, and joined some dots I never would have thought to connect. It's almost like a conspiracy theory, and all of this eagerness to discuss the minute details of the film speaks volume on how the general public has received it.

Skew is a little bit of things you've seen before. There's a little of The Ring, The Blair Witch Project and even some Goosebumps mixed in there, however it is definitely it's own film. It takes the elements that made those films interesting and twists them to create a film that is fun, tense, creepy and nothing like what I expected. Enjoy!

3.5 out of 5 dirt smudged cameras. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Songs in the Key of Murder - Album review

We here at Hail Horrors have recently decided to broaden our horizons by reviewing horror-themed music in addition to film and literature. The first such album to horrify our aural senses is Songs in the Key of Murder by rappers MC Randumb and Jewish Dave.

I had some trouble working out which angle to approach this review from as I have never really listened to hardcore rap before and have no real experience with audio production. So basically, I have absolutely no authority to have an opinion of this album (not like that ever stopped Leonard Maltin). However, what I do have is a knack for summarising narrative structure. So, without further ado, I give you:

Hail Horrors, Hail's synopsis of Songs in the Key of Murder

1. Intro

Our protagonist Jewish Dave, frustrated by creative ennui, expresses his desire to "do something else" and asks his collaborator MC Randumb if he has any suggestions. MC Randumb proposes they "murder" establishing himself as a disaffected character, reminiscent of Meursault in Albert Camus' novel The Stranger. Jewish Dave readily agrees, leading the listener to believe that he is as deranged as his accomplice.

2. Murder 4 Fun

In this song, MC Randumb and Jewish Dave explain their motives for the massacre they are about to commit. According to the lyrics they are going to "murder 4[sic] fun", probably to alleviate the vexation they suffered in the introductory track. Their plans are either grandiose or with hyperbole, as they explicitly state they intend murder "everyone in the whole fucking world." They then go on to debate how same-sex necrophilia might define their sexuality, the legitimacy of Christ's crucifixion and art-house film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by director Michel Gondry.

3. Musta Been Murda

In the song Musta[sic] Been Murda[sic], MC Randumb and Jewish Dave personalise large-scale murder from the previous song, listing the family members and close-relations belonging to the listener that they have recently killed. It is a comprehensive list that extends as far as pets and acquaintances. The pair reveal they have no remorse for the killings they have perpetrated. The listener also becomes aware that their weapon of choice is a glock pistol, making their earlier statement about killing "everyone in the whole fucking world" even more ambitious, despite the authorities' inability to stop them so far. They also kill some hippies, which unless the listener has ties to the environmentalist community, probably will not upset you as much as the deaths of some of their other victims.

4. Murder On My Mind

The prologue to the song explains that MC Randumb and Jewish Dave are perusing a scientific solution to achieve their goal of killing "everyone in the whole fucking world," utilising the misunderstood field of hypnotism. As the song suggests that MC Randumb might be under the effects of mind control after he attacks a doctor's surgery after complaining of illness. He meets Jewish Dave and they continue on their killing spree, experimenting with rape, necrophilia and cannibalism.

5. Shut Your Mouth (Or Your Going to Get Murdered)

MC Randumb and Jewish Dave find themselves in a hostage situation that goes south after a bystander refuses to shut their mouth (and gets murdered).

6. Murder is Reality

MC Randumb and Jewish Dave discuss the nature of reality, perhaps reflecting on their own distorted version of subjective idealism. They reminisce on their career and the success they've had as both murderers and musicians. The artists also rebuke the idea that the listener could possibly murder them.

7. It's Murda

In the song It's Murda [sic], MC Randumb and Jewish Dave seem to have exchanged their glocks for knives, professing the excitement aroused by killing someone with a bladed weapon at night. They give detailed instructions as to the process they are using (They "like to start from the head and work their way down to their privates") and highly recommend that the listeners try it for themselves.

8. We'll Murda Ya!

The eighth track on the album, We'll Murda Ya[sic], lists many of the places that the listener might visit that warrants their murder. MC Randumb and Jewish Dave also murder some people and make some Playstation references.

>9. Murder Motel

MC Randumb and Jewish Dave's latest business venture is a successful five-star motel that they are using as a front for their favourite hobby: murder. This song seems to imply that the musicians are now dabbling with supernatural powers. The chorus claims that any visitor will wake up in hell, so visitors to the Murder Motel should note that they have a very strict check-out time.

10. Bloody Murder

The pair of protagonists begin this track by describing the mess created by murdering (but fail to provide any tips on stain removal). The song takes a turn in the second half, as the MC Randumb and Jewish Dave turn on each other thanks to an argument over who can murder the most people.

11. Murder On The Menu

MC Randumb and Jewish Dave expand their business portfolio by opening a restaurant that specialises in cannibalism. They exhibit a high amount of professionalism, not allowing the argument from the previous song get in the way of delivering quality service.

12. I'll Murder You 2

MC Randumb and Jewish Dave assures everyone listening that they aren't going to excluded anyone listener ("I'll murder you too")

13. Murder Me

I have to take issue with the title of this track. A much more appropriate title would be 'Murder Me?' as the lyrics suggest that the rappers are taken aback by the implication that anyone could possibly murder them. They reply indignantly by insisting "I'mma murder you."

14. The Murder Bros.

In the heart-warming climax of the album, MC Randumb and Jewish Dave patch up their turbulent relationship, reaffirming their "brotherhood". They return to their original mission of murdering everyone else, promising to murder each other only when there is no one left

15. Outro

In the dénouement, the possibility of a sequel is left open, but does not bring the current narrative to a cathartic conclusion.

In conclusion, the narrative arc of Songs in the Key of Murder is problematic and fragmented. There is little continuity between songs, leaving the audience to draw their own interpretations. What the album does have is some great homages to retro horror films, pop culture references and a very twisted sense of humour. I enjoyed listening to it, and suggest you check it out yourselves.

There is also a companion Flash game at Kongrgate

Film review: Creak (2012)

I think anyone can relate to that fear that chills your blood when you hear a noise in the middle of the night that you can’t explain. Writer and director Luther Bhogal-Jones explores this very fear in his new horror short, Creak.

Heather is awoken at 4am by a creaking noise that permeates the air around her. Unable to let it go, she convinces her partner, Ellen, to explore the house and be sure that no one is trying to break into their home. Unbeknownst to the terrified Heather and the exhausted Ellen, the creator of the creak is closer than they think.

Creak is a film that manages to brilliantly package together a well-paced and nerve-wracking tale. I especially loved the framing of the shots and the all-consuming darkness that we all fear once in a while in our own homes. I look forward to the upcoming projects from Sincerely, Psychopath/Faster Productions! 

The film is availble to watch for free on Vimeo, so if you have 5 minutes you want to dedicate to some viewing goodness head over there to take a look. Be sure to also take a squiz at Sincerely, Psychopath's facebook page as well and share the love.

4 out of 5 creaking floorboards

Friday, March 16, 2012

Film Review: Helldriver

Directed by: Yoshihiro Nishimura

Starring: Yumiko Hara
Eihi Shiina
Kazuki Namioka

Synopsis: A meteorite crashes into Japan releasing a toxic ash that turns the inhabitants of the Northern half of the country into bloodthirsty zombies. Some time later with the North now walled off from the rest of Japan a young woman is charged with leading a group of ragtag soldiers into the infected region to kill the 'zombie queen,' who happens to be her homicidal mother.

My Thoughts: If you have not yet been lucky enough to watch a Yoshihiro Nishimura film then I truly feel sorry for you. Seriously. Unless you've seen Helldriver, Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl or any of the other batshit crazy films he's been involved in, then you've never truly experienced just how dedicated the Japanese are to created the most bizarre and wonderfully insane films out there.

Nishimura is actually more often employed in the special effects department, and the chances are if you've seen a Japanese film where someone loses an eye, an arm, the top of their head, or grow a mutant pair of gator-jaw legs then you've seen his work. He's incredibly dedicated to his craft, and potentially has one of the most wonderfully creative minds in the business. Each of his films employs various film techniques (i.e. Claymation, CGI etc) and blend a variety of genres to create a film completely unlike anything else ever to be made. At BIFF last year Nishimura attended the screening of this film and answered all of our questions...while wearing his sumo wrestler mawashi and balancing a zombie fetus prop on his head. In cast that doesn't give you an idea of how magically insane and wonderful this film is, here's the trailer...

Like Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver is a very humourous and campy take on horror. It definitely falls into the splatstick subgenre of horror. If you think of the bikie/cream pie fight in the original Dawn of the Dead and dial it up in intensity and campiness by about 50 you'll be coming close to what this film delivers. However, as hilarious as this film is (I'm pretty sure I grew bodybuilder abs by the end of my first viewing of this!) it also has an interesting story behind all the flashiness. After a devastating ash cloud turns the Northern inhabitants of Japan into zombie-like mutants with weird Y-shaped horns, the country is divided into two with a large, guarded wall separating the zombies from the uneffected Japanese citizens. Kika is our protagonist and after a devastating and extremely brutal attack by her mother and uncle, she is reconstructed by the government to deal with the zombie citizens and eliminate the zombie queen. The rest of the film weaves government conspiracy and corruption, with drug addiction (the horns fetch a high price on the black market for their hallucinogenic effects), family drama and trauma, love, poverty, war and authoritarian issues.

One of the real draws of this film is the creative use of zombie enemies for Kika to come up against. While the hordes may be uniform in appearance, the individual zombies that Kika battles are each unique in their construction and fighting technique. One builds a zombie car to chase her on, one uses it's zombie fetus (umbilical cord still connected) as a projectile, one is made up almost entirely by legs and wields heavy machine guns...and so on, getting bigger and better and battier. There is a videogame-esque format as Kika battles through a certain area and then versus a "boss" before moving on to the more difficult level and boss, eventuating in the climactic fight that blows all the earlier fights right out of the water. The closest Western counterpart I can think of would be Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. They both borrow aspects from video games, pop culture and push the boundaries from what people traditionally expect in a film, however Helldriver is definitely more for horror enthusiasts considering the amount of blood, gore and destruction that goes on.

This film may not be for everyone, but if you like you the creative craziness of Japanese B-grade horror complete with gore, claymation, cameos, pop-culture references and awesome chainsaw-swords then this is definitely the film for you.

4.5 out of 5 acordian playing zombies.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Discussion: The differences between Asian and Western horror, or, why Asian horror rocks.

I don't think I've met many horror fans who haven't fallen under the spell of Asian horror. Perhaps they came to it after the rush of Western remakes, the 2002 remake of The Ring in particular, but almost everyone I know has a deep appreciation for the unique cinematic techniques and tropes utilised in Asian horror. Thanks to the films that have been coming out of Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand over the past three decades or so, audiences are able to succumb to the dark and disjointed cinematic representation of our greatest fears, often through the utilisation of the creepiest ghosts and child spirits to ever grace the silver screen.

This isn't to say that Western horror is in anyway lacking, or of a lesser quality, however in Western horror it typically seems to be the smaller budget or independent films that achieve the same great heights as Asian horror cinema, while the mainstream industry is intent to repackage Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Saw in a dozen different guises for audiences every year. Unlike these bigger budgeted films, Asian horror seems to align itself more closely to the horror films of the 1970s and 1980s. Although Asian horror films are often the ones which have me jump the most, they're also about much more than simply making audiences shriek or clutch their hands over their eyes. The special effects are typically comprised of physical special effects (masks, prosthetics and mechanised monsters) and film techniques created in the filming or editing processes (jump cuts etc), and the films themselves often have personal or social themes wound neatly up into the supernatural or horror story. When I watch an Asian horror film which falls within these parameters (and not all of them do) I'm reminded of films like The Fly, The Thing and Dawn of the Dead, films which had horrors that were tangible and gritty and pervasive, yet also had social commentary that struck the audience member as hard as the effects did.

There is a lot of ambiguity in Asian horror, and I find that the film tends to head in one of two directions. The first is that it appears, like Ring or The Grudge, to be a fairly typical ghost/monster horror story, yet there is a level of symbolism or discourse that simmers just below the surface, identifiable by a more observant audience member, but not necessary for an enjoyable experience. Or the film will be disjointed, non-linear and blatantly ambiguous, such as MPD-Psycho (a TV series) or Pulse. These films place the emphasis on the thematic concerns of the films, and rarely follow your traditional Western film structures.Both of these two styles employ supernatural or superhuman forces to externalise the internal fears of the characters. I've found that it is rarely a case in Asian horror that the ghost or monster is simply there to terrorise characters, there is always a deeper reason for its arrival, for its tenacity and for its endurance.

Regardless of which two categories a film fits into (and some don't fit into either) Asian horror appears to be more comfortable with letting the audience leap to their own conclusions, to make connections that may or may not have been the film-makers intention, and to take away a more personal reaction to the film. Western films seem much more intent on explaining the continuity of the film, of why everything is happening the way it is, and why that particular character is being punished. Some Asian horror made more recently seems to have fallen victim to this approach, such as the film Dark Water (2002) which had 15 minutes tacked onto the end which was completely unnecessary and simply explained what the film had already perfectly construed through the ghostly water-abounded tale of divorce, loneliness and single parenthood. This is probably the perfect moment to share a quote from horror researcher and author Andy Richards from his book Asian Horror;
 Generally, the slow-burn pacing of the Asian originals is sharply ramped up, combined with an increase in the number of scare-jolts administered to the audience, while the low-fi special effects of the originals are usually  replaced with CGI-enhanced spookery. But more significantly, while Asian horror films are content to leave certain mysteries unexplained, or for the narratives and character motivations to retain a core of ambiguity, the remakes tend to add layers of exposition hat attempt to rationalise - and thereby contain - their supernatural stories.
I have chosen to steer away from discussing Western remakes of Asian horror films, though a post on that topic may soon pop up, but much of what I've said applies to that issue as well. Asian horror may not always be at the same level of technical achievement as a Western horror, and the story and acting may also suffer compared to some of the Western horror films out there, but that never seems to matter. Even amidst the 5-10 minutes worth of dodgy CGI that Pulse employed, the complexity and weight of the film was heads and shoulders above the dozen other horror films I've seen so far this year.

There is a desperate eagerness to tell a story or to represent a current social concern in Asian horror that Western horror simply lacks, and this drive is far more important in creating an impacting and lasting horror film than million dollar special effects or the latest A grade celebrity to feel the need to add some variety to their audition reel. Simply put, Asian horror still believes horror is an important cinematic tool, much like the Western film-makers from the 1970s-80s did, and some indie horror creators still do today. They understand the genre and they continue to experiment and try unbelievable and sometimes crazy things, all to benefit the message they're trying to convey or the story they wish to tell. That's why Asian horror rocks, and that's why every Western production company is falling over themselves to recreate these films, the sad part is that they don't realise how much they're still missing.

Of course, this is all personal observation and opinion, and some of you may feel the complete reverse. Is Asian horror something you seek out to watch, or a style of horror that you just can't enjoy in the slightest?