<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FILM REVIEWS]]>Mon, 22 May 2017 09:52:28 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER]]>Sun, 21 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/whos-watching-oliverReview by Joe X Young 
Picture
Who’s Watching Oliver has done rather well for itself on the festival circuit, gathering numerous awards with five for Best Picture, two for Best Actor (Russell Geoffrey Banks) and one each Best Supporting Actress (Sara Malakul Lane and Margaret Roche respectively), and it’s easy to tell why when you see it. Oliver has an undisclosed mental illness, but given the nature of his actions during his ‘normal’ but very OCD daily routine it’s possibly an Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which in no way validates the more abnormal parts of his day. He’s quite the visually awkward specimen, tall and slim with a look initially reminiscent of a young Elvis, in this case though it’s Costello with his lean pallid face, NHS glasses and old fashioned dress sense. Already someone who may stand out in a crowd, but Oliver stands out even more when considering that he is living in an area of Thailand where there aren’t that many English people around, which makes it somewhat implausible that he could be a successful serial killer as his description would be simple to give. ‘Last seen with tall, skinny, nerdy four-eyed white guy’ would certainly narrow things down.
I’m not entirely certain why the film is set in Thailand, as it’s never actually made clear what Oliver does for a living if anything, or how he came to be there. He carries an old camera a lot, so maybe he’s a professional photographer or perhaps just a happy amateur, does that matter though? Not really, but maybe some explanation would have been better than none. There is a big bonus to Oliver being in Thailand though, and that’s the sex trade. Whilst it’s true that prostitutes are universally available there are those who may not want to go off with someone like Oliver, but Thai women have a reputation of being less picky, so it makes sense that he would find no shortage of victims.

Another thing noticeably missing from this film is any sense of Police involvement. Women are vanishing on a regular basis, yet there’re no news reports or apparent investigations. One can conclude that perhaps they go missing with such frequency that it’s considered normal and not worth the paperwork. Suffice to say that Oliver is at liberty to routinely abduct and murder at random without any come-uppance or fear of capture.

Awards aside, all of this so far appears as if I am criticising a bad film, however that’s not the case. Some films have their moments, but not this one; it’s a constant stream of absorbing content even when nothing gruesome is happening, which is all down to the central character of Oliver. In American Psycho we have Patrick Bateman directly involving us with his narrative, and here one is similarly involved but rather than breaching the fourth wall we are a fly on it, watching Oliver as he talks to himself, constantly rehearsing what he is going to say to people, especially to his mother. (More on her later.) These moments are carefully played out, with some light scenes bordering on the romantic when Oliver meets the enchanting Sophie at an amusement park and they get on well enough that he doesn’t want to take her home and cut her up. The big deal here is that Oliver is actually a nice guy; he doesn’t want to kill anyone but is bullied into it, which in a lot of other films doesn’t quite work, but in this case it’s perfect, largely as there’s a sense that we’re not watching Russell Geoffrey Banks playing a serial killer called Oliver, but are actually watching a real person called Oliver, the acting is THAT good. We’re treated to all of the subtleties of his personality, what he is like as a disabled person when on or off his meds, and what he thinks of other people and his situation, and Banks nails it as if he is it.

Now on to Sophie. Ah, dear lovely Sophie. She’s a bit of a babe, and at first I’m thinking ‘WTF!’ why would a girl like that approach him? But then I got it. This is where personal experience comes in. A few decades ago I was sitting in a huge but empty waiting room; we’re talking ballroom size here, with chairs around the walls. I’m alone. In walks this young woman, tall, lean and easy on the eye…

She sits right next to me, not even a chair away. There were dozens of empty chairs to choose from. I’m no oil painting and have the awkwardness which comes as a package deal with Autism, so what gives? We became friends, and one day I asked her why she sat next to me that day. She replied that she would never normally do anything like that, but there was just something… With that she shook her head and trailed off. I think it’s the same way with Sophie and Oliver; he was sitting alone and she succumbed to his gravitational pull. As with Oliver, Sophie is a real person, she has an essence of compatibility and ease of personality which Oliver finds strange yet hard to resist. They are drawn to one-another and this makes everything else which goes on all the stronger in its incongruity.

The third wheel here is ‘Mama’ (Margaret Roche). There’s a back-story in which we discover that something really bad happened to Oliver when he was a kid and his Mama saved him. She’s held it over him ever since and bullies him into pleasing her by raping and killing women while she watches him over a webcam. She is however the one fly in this film’s ointment as to me she is one-dimensional and almost comically sadistic. I found Margaret Roche’s portrayal to be the least convincing of all, but given that the other characters all came across as real people that’s hardly surprising.

There’s a support cast of Oliver’s victims, all of whom were appropriately and realistically freaked out by their predicaments. As mentioned there are rape scenes, which in a lot of films don’t have a true place in the plot. I think there’s a fine line where the actions are an indication of an overall state of mind. Could Oliver just murder the women? Of course he could, but he’s not in charge so he has to do as he’s told, which compounds the violence of the assault. Fortunately the rape scenes are few, enough so we know it goes on and why, but we’re not shown it with each victim. Similarly with the murders, they are not gratuitous yet we do get the full impact of Oliver’s brutality.

Production values were all high; the sound excellent and set design for his home was suitably basic with an overall lack of glamour making everything just that little bit more ordinary.

Who’s Watching Oliver deserves a place on any horror fan’s shelf, sandwiched in between American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I hope it gets widespread distribution so you can all be watching Oliver too.
]]>
<![CDATA[TV REVIEW: AMERICAN GODS SEASON ONE EPISODE 3]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/tv-review-american-gods-season-one-episode-3Review by George Daniel Lea 

Well, if nothing else; if the rest of the series crashes and burns or descends into mediocrity (a la The Walking Dead),  American Gods will have sealed its place in televisual history with this episode alone.
 
First of all, let's address the obvious: there is a scene in this episode that EVERYONE is talking about, and with good reason: a scene that I never believed would survive translation from the book, certainly not intact, but which has, and then some:
A bit of nothing, in many respects; one of the many incidental scenes in which Gaiman is attempting to demonstrate how lush the USA is with the mythological flotsam of the peoples that constitute it, almost redundant to the wider story; more like a short story in and of itself: fluff and flavour, but presented with such power, such passion, as to eclipse almost everything else in the episode:
 
Cutting away from the main narrative, focus shifts to a young, Iranian man, well dressed, but clearly desperate, making his way to some form of professional interview. There, he waits and waits and waits, as the hours shear away, as his appointment dissolves, as the receptionist presents roadblock after roadblock, never once losing his temper, never once expressing the frustration he clearly feels. Very little said, once again, framing, music and direction suggesting theme and situation: the man a fish out of water, cast adrift and alone, desperately trying to find some anchor, away from the land of his birth, in a city that is cruel and uncaring to its own, let alone those it considers to be of other tribes.
 
After several hours of patience, he is informed that the man he has come to see has gone home, and will not be back today.
 
He leaves with a sad smile, a sweet but defeated creature.
 
Outside, he attempts to hail a cab, most of which stream on by through the rain, many soaking him through with gutter run off, until one finally stops.
 
The driver, a heavy-set, bearded man, similarly Arabic, curses ripely at other drivers in his Mother tongue, to which his passenger replies, asking him how long he has been in New York, how long he has been driving the cab.
 
This is where things start to get Gaiman-esque:
 
The man starts to talk about an ancient city, recently unearthed in the Middle East by archaeologists, talking about it as though he knows it intimately, as though he has walked there. His passenger takes this with good grace, though is clearly puzzled by the eccentricity of it.
 
Stuck in a traffic jam, the driver falls asleep, prompting his passenger to reach through the partition window and tap him awake. The man jolts, his sun-glasses -an odd affectation, given that it's clearly night and pouring with rain-, slip, revealing eyes that burn with inner fires. 
​Far from recoiling or reacting with fear, the passenger proclaims how his Mother used to tell him stories of the Ifrit; the desert-dwelling fire-people of his homeland, who sometimes take human lovers, sire hybrids with human men and women.
 
The scene is beautifully strange, not only due to the Ifrit itself (the incongruity of it driving a cab to make ends meet absolutely wonderful), but the man's reaction to it: he is not afraid, not even incredulous; he accepts it as naturally as he might exchanges about the weather. It is part of not only Gaiman's writing but the deviance that the series establishes and thrives on; characters do not react as we might expect them to; they accept what we find impossible, say what we find improbable, do what might otherwise be absurd and it works.
 
There is a sweetness to the exchanges, an intimacy that itself is fairly transgressive for a TV show of its ilk, given that they occur between two men, and two men of an ethnic and cultural origin in which such phenomena are generally frowned upon: the scene does not intend to mindlessly offend or disrupt, but presents these deviations in a manner that will create frisson and discomfort in the viewer, making them wonder how much stranger and more intimate the moment can become.
 
At the passenger's hotel, he pauses outside the cab, inviting the Ifrit to his room.
 
This is the moment that has caused a sensation amongst audiences and critical circles alike:
 
The man and Ifrit make love, in a scene that is powerfully explicit, breaking many enshrined televisual taboos concerning not only male anatomy, but the presentation of same sex romance and/or sex scenes in general: the scene is unconcerned about its presentation of the male form, framing it in such a manner that it is conveyed as beautiful, but also does not conform to proscribed standards in this regard: there is a tendency in popular media for such scenes to consist of air-brushed, plastic-fantastic pretty-boys; templates of beauty as proscribed by magazine covers, cat walks and pornography. 
​That is not the case, here; neither character is classically “beautiful;” they are men, the nameless passenger scrawny and uncertain, the Ifrit bulky and hirsute. Rather than actors chosen for their marketable prettiness, they are powerfully “normal” in terms of their looks, their bodies, their frames, which lends the scene a sense of verisimilitude it might have otherwise lacked: both actors look like they've been chosen for their roles by actual gay men, rather than by those who feel it their right or business to proscibe what gay men should find aesthetically pleasing. 
 
It is a stunningly powerful, beautiful and erotic moment; explicit without being pornographic, the sense of communion and passion enhanced by the fact that one of the participants is inhuman, the Ifrit's eyes flaring throughout, until a point of climax in which the scene shifts to the deserts of its birth, where it is revealed as the creature it is, its essence pouring into its lover in the form of liquid fire, which seems to fill and transform him.
 
Awakening some hours later, the nameless man finds his Ifrit lover gone, the hotel room empty, save for the Ifrit's clothes and effects; a gift to his lover, a wish granted; a new life here, amongst the deserts of glass and concrete.
 
The scene is notable not only because of its deviance and its explicit imagery, but because it presents such things in the manner of poetry or painting; as something beautiful and profound as well as titillating: it is a moment of breathless and stunning significance, despite being incidental to the wider plot.
 
Despite the episode as a whole being far from incidental or insignificant, the Ifrit scene is so powerful, so affecting for the viewer, it does have the quality of making everything else seem distant and unimportant, which is a great shame, as it's here that the show clearly starts to find its feet and the narrative starts to pick up pace:
 
Switching back to the exploits of Shadow and Mr. Wednesday, the former finds himself increasingly drawn into the world of monsters, myths and magic from which the latter derives: in a bizarre and beautiful dream sequence following his encounter with the delightfully murderous Czernobog, Shadow meets the third sister of the household in which he is a reluctant guest: Zorya Polunochnaya , her guise far younger than that of her decrepit siblings, as she gazes up at the stars from the roof of their apartment block, telling Shadow a story of the mythical beast they keep watch over, sealed away amongst particular constellations, and whose freedom will mean the end of all things. 
​Inspired by this encounter, Shadow challenges Czernobog once again (having lost their previous chess match and forfeiting his life to Czernobog's hammer come the morning).
 
In typically folk-loric fashion, he wins the second game, convincing the fugitive god to join Wednesday's currently oblique crusade (unless you've read the book, it will be all but impossible to discern precisely what Wednesday is up to, and what his obsession with Shadow is about).
 
Shadow acts largely as the audience's eyes and ears in this episode as the more absurd and fantastical elements escalate: not only does Wednesday convince him to partake in a fairly large scale and gratuitous con, he also urges Shadow to perform a minor miracle of his own (apparently making it snow by will and imagination alone).
 
As in previous episodes, the more mythological elements are drip-fed into a stark and unwelcoming reality, a contrast that might prove the show's undoing were they hurled together without proper framing and preparation. 
​As such, Shadow's baffelement at his apparent capacity to influence the weather (coincidence? One of Wednesday's more overt magical tricks? A lie, a manipulation?) is shared by the audience, who begin to question Shadow's nature and his part in things to come.
 
A crystallising episode; one that will undoubtedly determine whether people continue watching or if the subject matter it provides is simply too strange and deviant for them to handle.
 
But also one that justifies the show's existence no matter how it transpires from here on out; that demonstrates how profoundly the medium is evolving in certain areas, and how proscribed parameters in media and wider culture are dissolving as people slowly begin to realise how arbitrary and impositional they are.
 
We can only pray to whatever powers we hold faith in that the show continues to to deliver in its sublime deviance. 
]]>
<![CDATA[DEVIL TOWN]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/devil-townREVIEW BY JOE X YOUNG 
 
Devil Town from Corporeal Films is a short film at just under 17 minutes, yet 17 minutes is all that it needs to very effectively tell the tale of Patrick Creedle (Matthew Hebden), an estate agent with an attitude problem and of a ‘down-and-out’ called Driscoll (Johnny Vivash) who accosts him in the street and follows him to a coffee shop. With a tight focus on the two lead characters what could have been a dull interchange is instead a charged argument with excellent, and more importantly, believable dialogue in a script which perhaps could have been a little stronger but for an Indie film is pretty darned good. The acting is natural; we take the fly-on-the-wall seat whilst Driscoll attempts to convince Creedle that all is not as it seems in the streets of London. Both leads are flawless. There are other actors in the film, but their task is to remain unconsidered until required, and none of them in any way distract or detract from the tale as it unfolds.

Kudos to Nick Barrett for writing and directing a story which although giving more than a nod in the direction of John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ still manages to capture the paranoia of that classic without directly aping it. The film takes place in West Hampstead, but largely in the La Brocca café/bar, a very normal location for such an abnormal story. The quality of the filming is as professional as it gets, with everything just right.

Like I said earlier, it’s just under 17 minutes long, it’s already started gathering pace on the festival circuit and will be part of a supernatural compilation due out later this year. If you don’t have 17 minutes spare to watch this you are missing out, so be sure to keep an eye out for Devil Town.

Devil Town is playing a great screening and music night in London on the 24th Picturehouses - Film information for RAW - REALITY AS WRITTEN at Hackney Picturehouse

]]>
<![CDATA[TV REVIEW: AMERICAN GODS SEASON ONE EPISODE 2]]>Wed, 17 May 2017 15:16:41 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/tv-review-american-gods-season-one-episode-2Review by George Daniel Lea
Despite my unambiguous (and abiding) praise for the pilot episode of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I will admit to going into episode 2 with a little trepidation:
 
More than one series of promise has failed at this point, allowing the energy and dynamism of its first instalment to falter, losing focus or coherence, spiralling out into self-indulgence and absurdity. This and the following episodes are where the series will prove itself; where viewers hooked by the pilot will decide to either continue watching or find themselves alienated.
 
It's therefore a tremendous personal joy to report that the second episode is at least as fascinaingly strange, as gorgeously deviant, as respectful of its viewers as the first.
As in the original novel, much of what the story consist of is left to implication and symbolism; very little is overtly explained. As such, the viewer is obliged to engage with the material rather than allowing it to simply wash over them; in order to fully appreciate the layers and levels of storytelling, it is necessary to have some knowledge of various mythologies (a fact that the show makes no bones about; some of its visual and symbolic references are downright esoteric, if you don't know what it's referencing). This may serve to alienate those who want their TV more easily digestible; who wish to be patted on the head and consoled by their viewing material, but...for those of us that ache for something challenging, poetic and stimulating...American Gods is increasingly where it's at.
 
The episode opens, just like the first, on a scene that is simultaneously incongruous and somehow absolutely pertinent to the story: a slave galley, a man in chains calling out to Anansi, the Spider-God whose stories and trickery are well known throughout various African cultures. Nothing is explained, no context is provided; the audience is left to interpret what this might mean in the wider context of the show for themselves.
 
It's something of a surprise to both man and audience when Anansi actually shows up, in an anachronistic guise and speaking in the manner of a (post) modern man, his clothes, his motions, his posture, suggesting the creature beneath, the brightly coloured jumping spider that is his animal aspect and the symbol of his faith. 
​Delivering a blistering speech on the future of the black man throughout US history, he explains without ornament and without cowardice what their lot will be; the lots of their children and children's children in generations to come. He stirs their passions, ignites their faith, and drives them to an act of self-sacrifice that echoes those we have already witnessed (demonstrations of faith in their darkest and most passionate seeming to be a consistent characteristic of humanity's relationship with the deities it has shaped and spawned; one that is cruel, parasitic and presented here without any compunction whatsoever: faith demands blood, in one form or another, and Gods demand faith. Therefore, the demonstration of faith and the spilling of blood are inextricable).
 
The scene acts like a small story in and of itself, echoing that of the ancient Nords landing on the shores of the Americas in the previous episode.
 
Shifting from that opening scene back to protagonist Shadow Moon, we find him surprisingly alive, following what he endured in the closing scenes of the last episode; the beating and lynching he suffered at the hands of “The Technical Kid's” thugs having proved little more than an inconvenience.
 
In any other show, this kind of absurd recovery might be taken as narrative convenience. Here, however, it has a far more sinister and profound implication, as we who have read the book already know.
 
The transition from moments of high drama and mythological absurdity to these relatively still, domestic scenes is part of the show's genius; owing to its design and framing, it makes the most banal settings look like surrealist paintings; everything has colour and vibrancy and dynamism, whilst still retaining a degree of dirt and grit. The show isn't exactly a comfortable watch: it is, after all, a meditation on the nature of human migration; on how cultures swell and assimillate those they encompass or cannibalise, on a mythological level as much as any other.
 
It's here that we encounter Ian McShane's superbly portrayed Mr. Wednesday once more, a man whose scurrilous charm is superceded only by his mystery. Again, he engages with every word and gesture, obscenity spilling from his mouth with the music of poetry, banality with the profundity of prayer. A quietly blistering performance, and one I imagine is going to be etched into cultural consciousness for a long time to come. Again, all is implication and innuendo; clearly, the world Shadow has found himself drawn into is a far cry from the faintly sleazy, criminal enterprise he expected (though there are elements of that, too). Wednesday knows him better than he knows himself; consoles and cavorts and manipulates with every word. That he needs Shadow is clear, though as to why...
​From the heightened, the emotionally fraught, the mythological to the domestic, the dramatic, the scene shifts once again, as does the tone of the episode, transporting us to Shadow's previous home, that he once shared with his wife, whom he discovered in the last episode is not only dead thanks to a car crash, but was also engaged in a torid affair with his best friend.
 
These moments of slowness, as Shadow moves wordlessly through the house, finding spectres of unwelcome memory in every room, help to cleanse the palate; slowing the pace a little, lending another layer of significance to events, but also building the character through whose eyes the audience observes this strange and yet familiar world.
 
Shadow has a chance to genuinely flex his muscles in this episode, now that the thorny business of establishment is out of the way: we see more of just how broken he is, how he genuinely doesn't care what happens from this moment on, and is only along with Wednesday because he has nowhere else to be and nothing else to live for. The scene at his former home serves to a draw a line under everything he assumed about himself and his former life, as everything is packed and shipped away, the house left empty, Shadow himself likewise.
 
Again, the landscapes and geography of the USA have as much a part to play as the nation's history, as does the accrued mythology and poetry of that nation: Shadow and Mr. Wednesday engage in the classic road-voyage across states and through their myriad landscapes, the camera lingering on them in the manner of a road movie, whilst other, older and newer forces seethe all around.
 
In a sequence of surrealism that borders on the art house, we return to Bilquis, as she sustains herself on a variety of lovers and adorers, repeating the fairly horrific scenes in which she was introduced, her hunger clearly growing as the show progresses. At the moment, these scenes are diversions from the main narrative, but in the most fascinating and brilliant of ways: they do not distract or diminish, but add fresh layers to an already towering confection; elements of surreal, almost Cronenbergian horror, along with subtle suggestions of the story arcs to come. At present, Bilquis's part in the narrative (unless, of course, you happen to have read the novel) is enigmatic; she is clearly one of the old gods, alongside Wednesday and numerous other characters, but her place is unfixed; building towards a potential confrontation in which her significance will be determined. As it stands, it's a joyous diversion to engage with her scenes, which are lit and framed in a different manner from the rest of the show; shades of deep, deep red and purple providing a dense and potent atmosphere, much of her time on screen without dialogue or explanation, everything suggested through framing and bizarre visuals. What we are left with in this episode is a suggestion that she is hungry for old states of power and glory, that she chafes at being reduced to her current condition. She is a creature of exquisite threat and potency, one that stands in stark contrast to the likes of “The Technical Kid,” who is a scrawny, whining, pathetic creature, rendered threatening only by the influence he exercises. 
Another element of the show -that is not exclusive to Bilquis, but that she emphasises- is that it isn't afraid of the human form, either male or female: it has no compunctions about portraying any of its characters in various states of undress, often contrasted against the strangeness or violence that it exhibits with equally graphic enthusiasm: Bilquis in particular is a living icon; an animated idol whose anatomy is not merely female, but the very epitome of all that is female: as much metaphor as it is flesh, and is framed as such: even though the raw sexuality of her being is portrayed graphically, it is not in any way titillating or pornographic; rather, it is rendered as a moment of profundity and horror; the means by which she subdues and seduces her worshipers, who surrender everything to her, including their bodies, in the act of coupling. She is framed in such a manner that the actress's body becomes like a painting or statue; a thing of worship as opposed to an object of ownership.
 
Similarly, Shadow's body is lingered over in earlier scenes following his assault at the end of the last episode; as beautiful, as sculpted and iconic, in its own way, as Bilquis's; the male equivalent to her aggressive female aspects. Interestingly, whereas Bilquis is portrayed as a thing of unambiguous power; a creature of absolute control and predation, Shadow is rendered vulnerable, the traditional dynamic of male/female presentations inverted; Shadow is bleeding, scarred, stitched together, every motion seeming to cause him pain, despite his rippling musculature: a creature that doesn't know its own capacities, hurtled into this world confused and powerless, not even realising what he represents. That inversion is one of the many ways in which the show demonstrates the transgression that beats at its heart, that informs its soul: this is in no way consoling television or comforting media; there is not even a suggestion of happy endings here, for anyone.
 
New additions to the cast come in the forms of Czernobog, a rendition of a Slavic god of bad luck and ill omen, here rendered in typically ironic fashion as a self-loathing but poetically minded brute who makes art out of violence, who regards killing as a form of craft that has been stolen away from him by the mechanisation of slaughterhouses. Again, little is made of this outside of the name and some vague allusions to his past; the character could easily be just an immigrant out of love with the dream he was promised; the living nightmare that America has become. It is only with wider knowledge of the mythologies that the show references that so much of his character becomes profound; every word, aspect and action metaphorical, refering to the stories and symbolism he once inhabited. Immense, wild, threatening and defeated, Czernobog is presented as ambiguously as the rest of the cast; no more a “villain” than Wednesday or Shadow himself; a lost and despairing creature, reduced from mythological glory to something desolate and decrepit. Czernobog, alongside his compatriots, the triune Slavic goddesses Zorya Verchernyaya, Zorya Utrennyaya and Zorya Polunochnaya (Morning, Evening and Midnight stars, respectively), encapsulates a core theme of the source material: that of old ways, old stories, carried like disease from their places of origin to new lands, abandoned and half forgotten: divinities reduced to decrepitude, in a manner not unlike the least fortunate of their once-believers: they are as much immigrants here as those that sustain them, and are fighting for place and purpose and identity in exactly the same way. 
​ has a wonderful effect of diminishing divinities; lending them a certain humanity where they might otherwise be ineffable and unknowable.
 
Despite being fairly hostile and threatening throughout, Czernobog is also garrulous, courteous and hospitable; a character it is impossible not to like, even when he descends into depths of crudity and discourtesy or displays outright violence.
 
The sheer strangeness and mystery of the scenes in which he occurs lends them depth and atmosphere; a sense of pervasive threat that recalls other commentaries on the state of US culture, such as Cormack McCarthy's No Country for Old Men or even Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club: here we have the fairy tale of “The American Dream;” the cultural myths on which the US sustains itself, hideously and unflatteringly exposed, but also a far broader examination of the phenomena of human migration: these gods are encapsulations and expressions of humanity, as much as humanity is an expression of them; they are ways and beliefs and stories and cultures that are slowly, slowly starving to death for want of retelling and remembrance, giving way to an entirely new and anodyne  breed; a status in which stories are dead, left in the dust in favour of deities of plastic, consumerism and politics.
 
Speaking of which, in one of the episode's stand out scenes, we meet another of the Technical Kid's breed in a moment that is as humorous as it is distressing: whilst Shadow performs a mundane task of goods shopping for Mr. Wednesday, an array of widescreen TVs flare into life, a rendition of I Love Lucy's eponymous housewife speaking to him directly, promising him pleasures and contentment beyond his dreams, if he'll only submit to work for her. This is the goddess of TV, one of the older and more powerful of the new breed, and one whose machinations I imagine we haven't even begun to explore, yet.
 
A sigh of relief, an exultant hymn: American Gods, a potential contender to be the Twin Peakes of the era. 

Picture

]]>
<![CDATA[ALIEN COVENANT]]>Mon, 15 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/alien-covenantReview by ​George Ilett Anderson
Spoiler Alert: Look away now if you don’t want to have the…ahem, “plot” ruined for you. Alternatively, I’d heartily recommend seeing two films called “Alien” and “Aliens” instead as they have more bite and substance than this sorry assed excuse of a film. This could get messy…..
 
 
The Origin of the Faeces
 
Alien Covenant is a stupefying excursion into been there, done that land and a perfect example of the saying “once bitten, twice shy.”  I can’t think of a film in recent memory that has left me feeling quite so disappointed and under whelmed as this cinematic turkey. Oh, hang on a minute I can, it’s called “Prometheus.” This, the prequel’s sequel, is a formulaic and derivative experience that fuses the pretentious twaddle of its predecessor with the DNA of various Alien film incarnations to produce a shambling monstrosity of a film that should have been culled at birth. In other words, it’s a fucking travesty of a film.

 
I’m conspicuously aware that Prometheus is a divisive film that has as many proponents as it has detractors and Alien Covenant is no different. I’m sure there will be people who think it is a return to form for the series but as you can probably guess I’m definitely not in that camp. This feels very much like Ridley Scott attempting to reply to the negative response that Prometheus provoked by creating something more familiar and palatable to the franchise’s fans. Unfortunately for those of you who were expecting an exciting, tense and scary film experience what you are served can best be described as a dog’s dinner of a film. Alien Covenant is a confused mash of recognizable elements and sumptuous visuals offset by poor scripting, idiotic characters and a complete lack of anything resembling fear. It seems that you really cannot polish a turd.
 
I don’t know quite how to describe what a mess this film is. Much like the creatures that appear throughout the film, Alien Covenant feels like the bastard offspring of the Prometheus and Alien universes. Alas, its inability to decide whether it is a sequel to the former or a prequel to the latter gives the film a very uneven tone with pacing all over the shop. It’s a feeling that you have almost from the offset with a prologue sequence that appears to have been grafted from when this film was a direct sequel to Prometheus. We are re-introduced to Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) discussing art, philosophy and existence with his newly created “son”, David (Michael Fassbender) and the initial impression is that this is a film that has learned nothing from the flaws of its predecessor with an over reliance on vaguely conceived ideas and heavy handed dialogue.
 
We then jump forward ten years and join the colonial transport Covenant on its mission to populate the distant planet of Origae-6 with its cargo of 2000 colonists and embryos in cold storage. We have a brief introduction to Walter, a more subservient version of the David model of synthetic, before the ship is hit by a neutrino shockwave that critically damages the ship and throws the rest of the crew out of sleep. Featuring a blink and you’ll miss it cameo of James Franco doing an excellent impression of a human torch, we are quickly introduced to the members of the crew, the majority of who are easily discernible cannon fodder due to their lack of presence or characterisation. The exceptions are Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Tennessee (Danny McBride) and newly promoted Captain Oram (Bill Crudup). The scenes aboard the Covenant are visually striking but they can’t gloss over the fact that this is a ship that seems to be staffed by people who need to perpetually explain the plot. I don’t know about you but I think I’m more than capable of interpreting what is happening on the screen without a cinematic commentary track. It’s a key feature of Alien Covenant and one that gets on your nerves very quickly. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a subtle or nuanced film and that desire to explain everything that you see get very tired very quickly.
 
Anyways, back to the “plot.” So, whilst repairing the ship a garbled transmission is intercepted that sets in motion the achingly rusty plot gears defined by gravity defying leaps of logic. Establishing that the signal’s point of origin as a habitable planet that no-one appears to have noticed before, Oram decides to abandon the original mission and divert the Covenant to investigate the source of the transmission. It is but one of the many “eh?” type moments that reinforces how slapdash and contrived the film’s script is. All the breathtaking imagery and design can’t disguise that this is a movie that lacks any real substance and is heavily reliant on the familiar. From that description of events you’d think that sounds suspiciously like the opening to “Alien” and you’d be absolutely right in that assumption.
 
That appropriation of familiar elements is not restricted to just one instance and as a result Alien Covenant looks and feels like a greatest hits package. From the planetary descent (Aliens), to the Neomorphs (Alien 3 Bambi Burster) to portentous and pretentious themes of creation (Prometheus) or the finale (Alien, except with trucks!), this feels like a hodgepodge of borrowed ideas and concepts with little originality or freshness. This over familiarity isn’t helped when you have characters that are so badly written you begin to wonder whether the Covenant crew trained at the Prometheus Academy of numpty space exploration. So, deciding not to survey the planet from the safety of their sophisticated ship, most of the crew descend to the surface dressed like it’s a hike in the park and decide that safety in numbers is irrelevant to the situation and split up. Walking around the curiously lifeless planet, we are treated to excellent examples of numpty behaviour as one character prods some weird looking pods and another decides that being a spatially aware soldier is highly overrated. So, before you can say “Prometheus!” these two get infected and give birth to aliens that proceed to slaughter a large portion of the red shirts and manage to destroy their escape route as an added bonus.
 
Stranded and facing attacks by the rapidly growing Neomorphs, the surviving crew are saved by the intervention of a mysterious hooded figure. Employing their sound understanding of the Prometheus reflex methodology (panic and run), they follow their saviour to a city piled high with Engineer corpses and the comparative safety of a big temple with lots of dark corridors. If my description sounds flippant and stupid that’s because Alien Covenant is exactly that but don’t worry, things get even better once the survivors actually begin to take stock of their situation. It turns out that their saviour is none other than David from Prometheus who has been holed up alone in the Engineer city for the past decade and writing the Weyland guide to Sinister Robotics. I’m pretty sure that by this point in the proceedings I was thinking about whether the film was going to improve at all. Alas, Alien Covenant devolves further from this point onwards.
 
Alien Covenant’s inability to decide what kind of film it wants to be is demonstrated once the action moves to the dead Engineer city. Whereas the first half strongly echoes the Alien films, the second half moves in and out of Prometheus territory and attempts to find connective tissue between them. Unfortunately what you get is exposition heavy and pretentious allusions to the nature of creativity interspersed with a wholesale destruction of the mythic nature of the Alien. This section of the film continues the themes and concepts presented in Prometheus that made it such a divisive Marmite film. I’ve always been of the persuasion that Alien was effective as a film because it portrayed the universe as a cold, uncaring place where things exist that cannot be explained or understood. A key element of that is the nightmarish unknown of the derelict, the Space Jockey and the Alien and the dark, primordial fears they conjure up.
 
By comparison, Alien Covenant seeks to continue the work set down by its predecessor by explaining everything Alien in the context of some ill conceived grand mythology. Just as Prometheus demystified the Space Jockey, so Alien Covenant completely negates the terrifying nature of the Alien. This is a film where the Xenomorph is reduced to a representation of Scott’s vaguely religious ideas and concepts about the creation and perfection of life. Only here, the divine hands guiding life aren’t those of the God like Engineers but the artificial ones of a synthetic person suffering delusions of grandeur. I’m sure there’s much more that can be construed from the revelatory reveal that David is the creator of the Xenomorphs but by this point I was so numbed from how badly the film hangs together I just wanted it to end. I don’t really know what kind of quality control Twentieth Century Fox employed on this movie but the obvious answer is “not much.” Alien Covenant lurches from set piece to set piece like one of David’s failed laboratory experiments, relying on incoherent ideas and terminally stupid characters to propel the plot forward. It’s a situation perhaps best summed up by Billy Crudup’s character Oram who, upon witnessing David cooing to an adult Neomorph that has just slaughtered one of his crewmates, utters the immortal words, “None of this makes any sense.” 
 
A point reinforced by the next sequence of events that had me putting my popcorn down in disgust and eying the exit. David offers to “explain everything” and conducts a tour of his quarters that show the fruits of his labour before leading Oram into a chamber of very familiar eggs. Yet again demonstrating that he is a fully paid up member of the idiots club, he doesn’t instinctively use his large gun nor does he leg it out the chamber. No, instead he decides to peer into the top of an open egg sac with predictable results. It ably demonstrates that this is a film devoid of common sense but jam packed with face palm type writing. You have to wonder who the fuck thought that this script was ready for shooting and then you realise the blame must squarely placed at Ridley Scott’s feet. I appreciate that he can be a great filmmaker and is more than capable of producing epic visuals but as demonstrated by Alien Covenant it may be time for him to step away from anything Alien related.
 
There’s one scene in particular that really exemplifies how far the fruit has fallen from the tree where David hovers over his latest victim like an expectant father only to demonstrate his paternal instincts in a come to daddy or Christ like pose depending on your interpretation. It reminds me somewhat of that scene at the end of Star Wars Episode 3 where we see Darth Vader in all his glory only for him to scream “NOOOOO!!!!” in his James Earl Jones voice. A seriously ham fisted attempt at drama that induces more groans than gasps; it’s just bloody awful and makes you wonder whether anyone was on set going “are you sure this is a good idea, Ridley?”
 
Apart from the pretentious overtones, inept dialogue and etch a sketch characters you’d think that the saving grace would be the scary and tense atmosphere but even that has been ditched. Alien Covenant is a movie so completely devoid of anything remotely resembling “frightening” that what you are left with is copious amounts of blood and at times, badly rendered CGI monsters running amok. It’s the kind of film that is crying out for the perverse and disturbing influence of H.R. Giger to add fresh nightmare like imagery and play around with our subconscious fears or another director to add a different perspective.
 
For all its breathtaking and exquisitely composed shots and aspirations to be greater than the sum of its parts, Alien Covenant is a film that feels like it was dead on arrival. It just doesn’t appear to know what kind of beast it wants to be and as a result is a turgid and bloated mess of epic proportions best avoided.
]]>
<![CDATA[PITCHFORK]]>Sun, 14 May 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/pitchforkREVIEW BY JOE X YOUNG 
Picture
This is a mixed review; stick with it as in spite of what I start off saying, this is actually a good film. I am not sure if it is just me, but I am increasingly aware that the majority of horror films which I have seen lately are unable to deliver the full package expected. There’s quite a bit about pitchfork which doesn’t sit well, the plot is the basic bunch of young people escaping the maniac, and for the most part even that is decidedly poor. The acting is of varying quality, as is dialogue in most cases. The technical aspects of the film are spot on, with opening landscape shots being beautifully lit panoramas David Lean would have been proud of, indeed the entire production is fantastic, with a great score, perfect sound editing and much better than average special effects.
The initial setup is a throwaway plot device with a country boy who moved to New York heading back to the country with several friends in tow, part of the reason being that he has just come out of the closet and need some emotional backup as his dad disapproves of his son’s preferences. The other part of the reason appears to be that the country boy promised his New Yorker friends a barn dance, which turns into more of a disco. This all came across as a bit silly, totally unnecessary as well as unrealistic. I was almost tempted to turn it off but as I’m committed to watching everything to the bitter end, I stuck with it and was glad I did.

It’s not often that a new ‘slasher’ comes along who is actually bringing something interesting to the genre, so when the eponymous monster makes his appearance it’s actually highly welcome and refreshing.

Pitchfork is a lean mean slashing machine, very animalistic, and yes in true slasher tradition he wears a mask, which to me looks is if he skinned a dog to wear part of its muzzle. His weapon of choice is, yes you guessed it, a pitchfork, but in this instance it is just the tine end which is secured with barbed wire to the stump where his left hand should be. He is fast, brutal and highly efficient, which unfortunately means he is somewhat wasted in a plot which is a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

The usual terrors are there, the capturing and torturing of the teens, plenty of nastiness and gore. There’s a backstory to how ‘Pitchfork’ turned out the way he did, which is acceptable if nothing special. The one thing it does which doesn’t happen much in this sort of film is that there’s a younger character in danger, country boy’s little sister in this instance, and Pitchfork takes her prisoner and keeps her in a makeshift cage so her fate can be decided upon later. I won’t spoil things by telling you what happens with the little girl, as it is a great twist, one which my inner voice was cheering over.

The look of the film is great, the acting and script not so much for the majority, but Pitchfork himself and the little girl make this film stand out. I think it has the potential to introduce at least one new cult character to the horror pantheon, and it would be a shame if that didn’t happen.

]]>
<![CDATA[10 DAYS IN AN ASYLUM]]>Wed, 10 May 2017 11:36:39 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/10-days-in-an-asylumReview by Joe X. Young 
Picture
​I approached this film with curiosity, why was what appeared to be a 'made for tv biopic' making its way across the tables of GNOH when we do Horror reviews? Well, there are many types of horror, and this film deals with one of the worst aspects of man's inhumanity towards it's fellow man, or in this case women, thousands of them.
 
Fortunately we live in a more enlightened age, still not truly egalitarian, but certainly taking steps in the right direction even though taking a hell of a long time to get there. This film is set in America in the late 1800s, a dangerous time to be female as women had no rights and could be put into an asylum for no better reason than disagreeing with a man. It was such a common practice that very few people took much notice of it going on. The potential to be incarcerated for the flimsiest of reasons was the tip of the iceberg as once within the institutions women were routinely drugged, starved and forced to endure physical and mental abuse from those meant to be caring for them.
Familiar tale so far, one that many of us will have had some distant memory that these things used to happen and an awareness that in some parts of the world similar things still do. It's an all too real  horror. So, we're not talking a slasher pic, no demons et cetera, but instead a highly engrossing true story of a 23 year old female reporter Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, known by her pen-name as Nellie Bly whose assignment from Joseph Pulitzer was to go undercover for a week at the notorious Blackwell's Island insane asylum to expose the evils of the institutions. As you may gather by the title Nellie was actually there longer, which again was part of the problem with these institutions as once you were in there it was generally the case that one would die there.
 
The film itself appears to have fallen through the cracks, it's rather odd from various angles as there was obviously a serious attempt at authenticity. The outdoor street scenes look to be stock footage which are of a much better quality than the majority of scenes. There are some blatant CGI moments, but the majority of sets are tight, grotty and wholly believable. It still comes across as a 'made for tv' style, which is disheartening. This film, this subject and in particular the real-life character of Nellie Bly are deserving of a much 'bigger' film, one which should have a global cinema release as, to me at least, it's far too important a story for a 'straight to video' type of film. The budget, an apparently paltry by general standards $12M, seems to have been left in the bank to accrue interest as there's little evidence of money being spent on sound design, editing, lighting or indeed known actors, with the exceptions of Christopher Lambert and Kelly Le Brock.
 
There are, as one can imagine, several characters in the film, but only really two of any note, those being Nellie, and Dr Dent. Nellie Bly carries the weight of the movie on her shoulders, ably so. At first I was thinking that perhaps the actress in the role, Caroline Barry, was the wrong choice, she came across as a little too 'Jazz Hands', modern, all teeth and smiles, a stage-school darling if ever there was one. But then she started to make a lot of sense being that way. It takes a larger than life personality to accomplish what Miss Bly did, and although a little weak in places I believe Caroline Barry has proven herself in this film and could go on to land much more heavyweight role opportunities off the back of this.
 
Kelly Le Brock turns up for all of a couple of minutes in what is a tragic waste of time, she's on screen just long enough to be nasty to Nellie once, and then she's gone again. It is so sad to have seen someone once so enthralling become a bizarre cameo role, especially as Le Brock has the appearance of someone with one too many nips and tucks, which sticks out like a clown mask in a film in which most of the females wear no makeup.
 
Christopher Lambert. THE Christopher Lambert. The Highlander himself. As Dr Dent, the man in charge of the asylum, he is an oddity. The general feeling is that Dr Dent had a genuine interest in finding cures for his patients and advancing medical science, but did so with no regard for the subjects in his care, treating them as little more than inconvenient lab rats. Lambert could have phoned his performance in. This could have become a career-reviving vehicle, but with the low budget, poor production and limited distribution it kind of kills the chances, which is a shame as the character here is interesting enough to have done a lot more with and Lambert is sufficiently able to take it where it needed to go.
 
The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast, many of whom come across as more parodies than people with enough wooden performances to build a shed. The acting is quite often reminiscent of 1970s exploitation movies it's just that bad.
 
Okay, so it sounds dreadful on most fronts, so is it worth bothering with? Yes.
 
Nellie Bly was a true pioneer, a most remarkable woman, and her continued real-life exploits would make for a thrilling TV series at the very least. She is historically important and wholly inspirational, and whilst this film may be a bit of a dud, it's still better to have seen it and got some sense of the woman than to know nothing about her. In all honesty though I think the majority of people would be much better served byreading the book instead.



]]>
<![CDATA[TV REVIEW AMERICAN GODS, EPISODE ONE]]>Wed, 03 May 2017 04:54:04 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/tv-review-american-gods-episode-oneBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
​From its earliest mid-production shots and promotional material, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods has kindled more than a few embers of faith.
 
I keenly recall discovering the original novel for the first time, back during my earliest years of university, when I at long last had a -very little- sum of expendable cash floating about my person; enough to feed my consistent obsession for the absurd and fantastical that has consumed me for as long as I've had a mind to dream with...
 
American Gods came hot on the heels of Neverwhere for me; a very different beast not only from that most Kafka-esque of gems, but all of Gaiman's work: darker, grittier, bloodier; more grounded in traditions of horror than arguably anything else he'd ever written (barring, perhaps, a handful of short stories, one or two comics). A tale of violence and need and sacrifice; of blood and death and mourning, the tone and structure of the tale reminded more than a little of the many, many Clive Barker books that were my bibles of the era (and, in certain instances, remain so), the story nevertheless also maintained a certain abstruse whimsy; a sense of the mythological and folkloric that is very, very difficult to pin down and define, much less capture in another medium.
 
The kind of work that was almost pre-destined to snare my attention; to reach its parasitic tendrils into my mind and find itself willing anchor.
 
Like most of Gaiman's works, its specifics are hard to express without descending into what sounds like a lunatic's wall-scratched poetry: 
​Released from jail early to attend to his late wife's funeral, the unfeasibly named Shadow Moon encounters the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday (guess who?); a grifter, a liar, a cheat, a scoundrel...a man who seems to be able to make miracles and keep company with entities beyond easy imagining. Drawn into a game of predatory, parasitic metaphysics, in which old gods war with the new for the collective soul of humanity, Shadow finds himself learning far, far more about the world and his species than he ever wished, and more about himself than he can ever forget.
 
Given that the promotional and pre-release material for the TV show was so good (that most miraculous of phenomena; a screen adaptation of a beloved book in which EVERY element feels ineffably right; every set, every shot, every member of the cast...looking as though the creators bored open my skull and lowered the cameras in to film the projections on its interior) it was with more than a little trepidation that I sat down to watch the first episode.
 
Tone. Tone was always going to be the fulcrum; the deciding factor. The book is...bizarre, even by Gaiman's standards; at once so grim and grimey you can taste the blood and dust in your mouth, yet so mythic and ascended you could easily start painting or singing your own miracles from nothing at all, it's a difficult and chimerical beasty to pin down. The show could have so easily failed by favouring one element over the other, or not marrying them fluidly enough, resulting in something Frankensteinian, schizophrenic.
 
The result is a genuine labour of love; one that embraces the ostensibly incongruous elements of the book (the first episode alone features scenes of ancient Nords engaging in ritual sacrifice to summon their patron, scenes of prison-yard politics, a man in mourning for his lost wife and the life he dreamed, bar brawls, vistas of US landscape that seem more unlikely and miraculous than the magic on display, cons and tricks and traps, a bellicose leprechaun, shamanistic visions, scenes of death and resurrection, beatings, maulings; a goddess that vignally devours her devotees...) and marries them to a tone of simultaneous weight and irreverence; there is humour here, amidst the blood and the misery, the despair and breaking bones, but humour that exists as an undercurrent, of a similar kind that is found in the likes of Fight Club or Robocop; not overt, not sign-posted by idiot musical cues or characters more or less winking at the camera; this is gallows humour of the most bone-yard species, the kind of yucks that Christ might have had upon the cross, contemplating the absurdity of his situation (or the Devil might have had at his expense). 
​The filming and construction of the episode nears David Lynch levels of artistry. Every scene, every moment, is framed with a painter's eye, even the violence, gore and grotesquery (which is obscenely and delightfully plentiful) rendered with precision and deliberation, every spray and splatter intended to create particular compositions on the screen (a notable moment of carnage sees some arcs and jets of claret trespassing into the blackness bounding the screen).
 
Even so, this is brutality; the episode makes no bones about its violence, not diluting or diminishing it in the manner of a standard fantasy; here, wounds weep and leave scars, bones splinter and leave sceptic shards in the surrounding meat. The notion of blood sacrifice as the ultimate pleasure of ancient deities is consistent throughout, pain and death the sweetmeats of expression and faith on which they feed. And humanity, being dutifully lamb-like, is more than happy to butcher itself for them.
 
Notable moments include the gratuitous carnage of the aforementioned Nords, who, having found themselves stranded on some anonymous and wretched beach of the “new world” that will eventually become the USA, turn on themselves and one another in grizzly rituals of mutilation and combat in order to draw the singular eye of their patron and summon the winds that will bear them back home, an incident towards the end of the episode in which Shadow encounters one of the new “gods” fast  attaining dominance in humanity's collective imagination and is beaten almost to death by its faceless vassals (vassals which are themselves graphically torn to shreds by forces unknown) and arguably the most distressing scene in the entire show, which involves the seduction of a lonely and horny old man, the woman he regards as the very embodiment of fortune and beauty demanding to be worshiped as they couple, names and words of reverence falling from his lips that he can't possible know as she swells to consume his body, drawing him deeper and deeper into her as a snake devours its victims, her supplicant giving himself willingly, ecstatically, to this communion, though it is clearly agonising.
 
In an era of high deviance and invention when it comes to US network TV, American Gods has already distinguished itself as a beast apart; it is very, very difficult indeed to compare or contrast it to anything...it sits within no particular genre, will appeal to no particular audience, but exercises so many layers and depths and elements, suspending them with the grace of a master plate-spinner, it is certain to entrance as many as it will repel. 
​Absurd, deviant, transgressive and mesmerisingly beautiful, this is everything I ask for and demand from media: to not patronise or condescend, but to unsettle and disturb; to arouse and move and inspire.
 
My only prayer now is that the rest of the series collects on this most divine promise. 
]]>
<![CDATA[HORROR FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: DEAD BY DAWN 2017]]>Fri, 28 Apr 2017 09:23:05 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-festival-review-dead-by-dawn-2017BY STEWART HORN 
It's that time again. The UK's longest running horror film festival returns too the Edinburgh Filmhouse as it has done every April for twenty-four years. I've gone to the last four or five and it has become my favourite festival . This year I took my partner Robert, who had no interest in horror until he met me, but I persuaded him that Dead by Dawn is known as much for the beauty of the films as for the gore. Any insights here that seem intelligent are probably his.
 
Alongside the new films there are classics, which I won’t review. They’re generally on either at the beginning of the day or after midnight. This year we had:
 
PHENOMENA
THE DEAD ZONE
SCANNERS
MADHOUSE
HOUSE
THE MONSTER SQUAD
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN
 
Thursday night began with THE EVIL WITHIN, a project begun fifteen years ago by Andrew Getty, the oil heir, but completed after his death by long time collaborator Michael Luceri.
 
Dennis has learning difficulties, but with the support of loving and diligent older brother John he has grown into a contented young man. He keeps his hamsters, eats pizza and flirts with the waitress in the ice cream parlour.
 
When John buys him an antique mirror for his bedroom Dennis's reflection takes on a life of its own, goading Dennis to increasingly depraved acts of violence. Along the way it picks at a few issues about why it's acceptable to kill and eat some animals like cows and chickens, but not hamsters, cats, or children. The reflection's erm... reflection on this creates a context in which the violence makes sense.
 
The movie is flawed in many ways: the tone and pacing are uneven and there are major gaps in the logic, but I enjoyed it a lot.  The visuals are striking, mixing dream imagery with real life until we're not sure what's happening. Fred Koehler's performance as Dennis is outstanding, reminiscent of Charles Laughton's Quasimodo, and his reflection is sometimes Michael Berryman. The final scene, while neither believable or in keeping with the rest of the film, is a Grand Guignol visual feast. Four stars.

 
The short films are grouped into hour-long sets, each with a rough theme. The first set was called LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER.
 
PLEASE LOVE ME FOREVER is a sweet little fairy tale in which teenage Lili is fixated on her handsome neighbour Lyesse. But Lili lives a sheltered and solitary life with her beauty-obsessed mother, who calls herself a surgeon and grows herself new body parts in the greenhouse. When Lili decides that Lyesse's heart is too cold she takes matters into her own scalpel wielding hands. A very beautiful film about beauty and our obsession with it.
 
SET YOURSELF FREE: An Australian public information film about the dangers of skipping school. A two minute joke with a bloody good punchline.
 
MISTER POPULAR. A lonely schoolboy is jealous of the most popular boy in the school and hatches a plan to take his place. His method is direct. A short comic piece with a satirical punch about the shallowness of teenage society.
 
THE SUB. A rather silly take on high school horror, like Stepford Wives meets The Faculty. It's well executed and the two central characters are engaging but it has nothing new to say.
 
Friday began with another set of shorts called WHAT YOU MAKE IT. This is a set that don't fit the standard definition of what horror is, but warrant inclusion for one reason or another.
 
In UPSIDE DOWN FEELING a young Australian boy develops an obsession with death and an imaginary friend helps him through it. This is sweet and uplifting and very enjoyable.
 
BIRD. A young boy left to amuse himself in a grand house plays first with a frog, then with a caged bird, which he accidentally kills. What follows is surreal, sexy, spectacular, grotesque and beautiful, and features a truly amazing dancer. A must see. Wow.
 
BASURA. Two suspicious looking men pay an early morning visit to the recycling centre to dispose of some organic waste. It becomes farcical and hilarious.
 
WHAT HAPPENED TO HER is a documentary about actresses who play corpses in films and tv shows, their experiences and audience and industry expectations. It's surprisingly uncomfortable to watch and made me feel complicit in some misogynistic crime. Very interesting and thought-provoking.
 
GREENER GRASS is a highly stylised and surreal satire on the transience of human interaction when all we want to do is impress others. If you have nothing worth showing off on social media is your life worth anything? Camp and colourful and funny.
 
In DER SIMULANT an actor specialises in playing corpses and takes his job very seriously. Brief and entertaining.
 
FOXES/ WITHOUT NAME. A double bill of thematically related films from the same Irish director, and a festival highlight for me. In the short FOXES, an abandoned housing estate is being gradually reclaimed by nature, while the couple who are its sole inhabitants struggle to keep their lives together. Then it gets crazy and brilliant.
 
WITHOUT NAME is an absolutely gorgeous film about a surveyor sent to measure some woodland in rural Ireland for potential development, but the beauty and atmosphere of the place possess him. Everything about this film is wonderful, but it's worth watching just for the lingering shots of natural light on water, or woodland, or lichen. The director and the DP have a photographer's eye for beauty in the natural world. It's a stunning antidote to the action packed drivel we are fed at the multiplexes. I want to see this again.
 
HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE. Another short film programme.
 
SPOOKED. A rather silly take inversion on horror tropes, played entirely for laughs, including a demonic chase sequence in the style of Benny Hill. It's not really my kind of thing but it got laughs from the audience and it managed to mock both the USA and France. Kudos for spotting national stereotypes and exploiting them for comic value.
 
THE CALL OF CHARLIE. A Lovecraftian elder god comes to a dinner party, and his pal from work has set him up with a date. It goes where you expect but it's funny and I'm a sucker for a good tentacle.
 
FUCING BUNNIES is a comic, sex-filled romp about heavy metal, Satan worship, sex cults, carrot flavoured protein shakes and squash. It's also an exploration of liberal values and the potential we all have for prejudice. It deals with serious issues with a few laughs. Great stuff.
 
CHILDER. A single mother cleans obsessively, difficult when there's a small boy in the house, and made more difficult by the feral children in the woods. It had some nice ideas and a good central character but seemed kind of pointless. Or maybe I just didn't get it.
 
My Friday night finished with THE NIGHT WATCHMEN. An evil clown is back from the dead and spreading vampirism through Baltimore, and all that stands in his way is a rather motley band of security guards from a newspaper office. This is just the kind of film I don't like - an homage to older exploitation movies complete with lashings of gore and gratuitous bare tits, but it's well meaning and funny enough to get away with being this trashy. Silly, undemanding and very enjoyable.
 
Saturday began with another short programme: THE END IS NIGH.
 
 
In LAST CALL LENNY, an entrepreneur runs two businesses, a suicide consultancy and a second hand furniture business, which feed into each other. It’s a light-hearted and ultimately optimistic fable.
 
In AUGUST HEAT, it’s so hot that James is hardly aware of what he’s drawing, so he goes out for a walk and finds someone else working in the heat and it seems that fate has brought them together. Nice and creepy.
 
CRESWICK is about an aging furniture maker whose designs go awry as he faces his own mortality. Stylish if a little depressing.
 
In TOO DARK a girl is running is screaming and running through the woods, pursued by a hooded figure with a butchers’ knife, but it’s not what it seems. Very funny.
 
TUOLLA PUOLEN is a sweet fantasy about empathy and forgiveness. A young girl helps people in their darkest hour and one day she has to help her brother.
 
ALWAYS SHINE. Two actresses are best friends but also rivals: Beth is in demand but perhaps only because she is willing to go nude in low budget horror movies: Anna is outspoken and difficult and struggles to find work. Beth is jealous of Anna’s talent and Anna resents Beth’s success but they go for a weekend in the country together to rekindle the friendship. What follows is a complex and layered study of relationships and femininity, with the implication that when a woman becomes dangerously crazy it’s because of male expectations. This is a clever film that many men might find uncomfortable to watch, which of course makes it worth watching.
 

The next set of shorts was called NOW WASH YOUR HANDS, and features all the yuckiest bits.
 
LA VOCE is a strange, surreal and gruesome tale about an abattoir worker who gets through the horror of each day through a love of opera and his stripper girlfriend. When his love life collapses something odd happens to his voice and it becomes wonderful and quite uplifting. Lovely.
 
I WANT YOU INSIDE ME. Early sexual encounters can be intimidating and scary, but not as scary as this. A girl loses her virginity and the boy is never seen again. So she tries another boy…
 
WHEN SUSSURUS STIRS is one of the most revolting things I’ve ever seen on a movie screen, but is also quite charming and humorous. A man has a symbiotic relationship with an unusual parasite. Not for the squeamish.
 
THE RIVER. A silly song about a normal physiological function is turned into a funny and mildly icky video. It made the audience laugh and I’m still singing it now.
 
My Saturday ended with ACCIDENTAL EXORCIST. It was getting late by now, and I’d been drinking beer most of the day, so if I struggled to stay awake during this it might not be the film’s fault. Richard is a professional exorcist, but the exorcism industry exploits its workers just like any other. Richard only ever speaks to his bosses on a strange phone, which may be a hotline to God or to another faceless bureaucrat. And his own alcoholism is the demon he cannot vanquish. Some of the images were interesting and it seemed interesting but if there were more layers of subtext I missed them.
 
It’s Sunday now, and we’re all tired and hungover, so let’s watch some cartoons. 2D AND DERANGED is a group of animated shorts, a festival staple.
 

MOTHER shows us a sinister conversation between a young man and his mother, somewhat in the Psycho mould. Not much actual animation, just lighting and framing a still scene, but a creepy little piece.
 
DOWN TO THE WIRE is a 3D animation of metallic stick figures, so the story is told without facial expressions or dialogue. Inventive and well executed, it manages to tell a noir-ish tale of murder and revenge.
 
MAD GOD I AND II is a lost project from the late Phil Tippet, and some of his surviving team are now completing the animation with his miniatures and storyboards. It’s so detailed that the twenty-seven minutes we see here is six years work. Parts III and IV are still in production. There are some amazing images and it’s a reminder of what old fashioned model making and stop motion can do, but there isn’t much story. Definitely worth a watch.
 
RESISTANCE. Every restaurant in the world has to work constantly to keep cockroaches and other pests out, but what must it seem like from the insects’ point of view? The filmmakers take this idea and make it bigger in every way. Excellent animation and good characters, no matter how many legs they have.
 
In GARDEN PARTY, which won the best animation award, a deserted mansion is explored by assorted frogs and toads, and it gradually becomes clear that there has been a terrible act of violence. Seen through the amphibians’ eyes though, all of man’s petty squabbles are insignificant: bullet holes are doorways into a food-filled house, and a floating corpse is just another thing to jump on and rest in the sun. Very entertaining and with a subtle message oddly similar to Without Name.
 
DIG TWO GRAVES won the best feature award, and was probably my second favourite of the festival. After a tragic death, the dead boy’s sister Jake is offered the chance to bring him back, if she’s willing to do something terrible. Meanwhile her grandfather has secrets in his past related to Jake’s predicament, and they’re coming back to get him.
 

This is a great film, beautifully designed and filmed, well-acted and expertly paced. It barely fits the horror genre but that’s not a bad thing – we’re a broad church.
 
The last of seven short film programmes was IT’S OVER, ROVER, and as you might surmise features unfortunate animals.
 
A kindly old couple recount tales of the wild assortment of animals they’ve kept over the years in PICKLE. They concentrate mainly on the deaths and somehow make this film uproariously funny.
 
MADAM BLACK, which won the best short award, somehow makes an uplifting comedy from a lonely man, a sad little girl and a dead cat. Very funny.
 
In THE DOG, a little girl witnesses the death of a dog and goes to tell the neighbour, initiating an increasingly violent and comic sequence of events. Funny and I award it extra marks for the stunning Norwegian backdrop.
 
THE MAN WHO CAUGHT A MERMAID features an eccentric old man who dreams of catching a mermaid and finally does. It all goes swimmingly until his wife finds out. Excellent make up and effects and a dark little story.
 
It’s getting late now on the last day and the audience is ready for some uber violence, so DRY BLOOD. An unreliable narrator is always a good basis for a horror movie, so when Brian decides to go clean at last and the hallucinations kick in, he can no longer tell what’s real, and neither can we. It builds from creepy goings on to mayhem and carnage in the final reel. Perhaps not a great film but a good horror movie, if that makes sense.
 
Finally, midnight on the last night, we are offered THE VOID. The local hospital has had a fire so only a skeleton staff remains when the sheriff brings in an injured drunk. But a sect has been up to mischief opening a portal to another dimension or something. Cue blood and tentacles. Silly but fun and occasionally scary.
 
SUMMARY.
 
I have relatively little experience of horror festivals, but Dead by Dawn has become my favourite. In fact I didn’t bother going to Frightfest this year. The quality and diversity of the programming is outstanding and, while not every film can be to everyone’s taste, I never feel I have sat through dross as I have elsewhere.
 
The content is lovingly curated and structured so that it never feels repetitive or predictable, even in the themed short programmes.
 
The audience includes a lot of people who’ve come alone, including some women, because it’s a very safe environment and horror fans are the loveliest and least threatening people you can imagine. Some people chat to each other or to DBD or Filmhouse staff but many of us keep to ourselves and are not pestered at all.
 
The café/bar is great and DBD ticket holders get a discount.
 
This is a festival that deserved to be bigger. I will continue to support it by buying my ticket and writing these reviews, and next year I’ll try to persuade more people to come along.
 
You should try it.

BY STEWART HORN 

]]>
<![CDATA[FILM REVIEW: CHICAGO ROT]]>Tue, 18 Apr 2017 04:45:21 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/film-review-chicago-rotBy Joe X Young 

Chicago Rot.
A modern film with an old soul.


A few minutes into the opening sequence on this one and the brutality is exceptional. Les the Ghoul (Brant McCrea) is an alleged cannibalistic psychopathic serial killer who escapes being executed during a Prison transfer and goes on the run. The opening titles are interesting, with a girl singing and playing the piano on the back of a pickup truck. Unusual, which I think is setting the tone nicely for a film in which the ordinary definitely does not apply.

The Ghoul is seemingly indestructible; he’s on a mission to get his soul back. It’s a very quirky film, one which has a lot of lingering shots, surreal sequences and a bit of a ‘Sucker Punch’ vibe to it in the imaginative style but lacking the overall gloss of that particular film it descends into something more akin to Accion Mutante in that there’s little cohesion in the chaos.

I found the music during parts of the film such as the barbarian segment to be far too loud and thrashing, we’re talking headache-inducing here. I’ll forgive it that as some people like that; I’m just not one of them.

If your taste is in the more extreme horror then this could very well be worth your while, the gore is stylish and plentiful as well as imaginative. The scene with the black dildo in particular is something I hadn’t seen done before. There are so many bizarre elements to this film that it’s not exactly easy viewing and to be fair I think it’s a victim of its own style as it appears to be trying too hard to be remarkable.

Did I enjoy it? Not really no. I can see the merit of it, appreciate that it was reaching out with a different concept, and who knows, it may become a cult classic. There’s a 1984 film called ‘Ragewar’ aka ‘The Dungeonmaster’ which this reminds me of heavily. I loved Ragewar back in the day, but Chicago Rot isn’t Ragewar.
]]>