<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FILM REVIEWS]]>Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:12:49 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[HORROR FILM REVIEW: ​CIRCUS KANE]]>Thu, 21 Sep 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-review-circus-kaneBY JOE X YOUNG

Oooh Bloody Hell!

circus kane horror film review uk website uk review blog ginger nuts


 
From Uncork'd Entertainment and DeInstitutionalized comes Circus Kane. Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray directs a James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward script, based on a story by Sean Sellars. Gerald Webb, Christopher Ray and James Cullen Bressack produce. Here’s the official blurb:

“The notorious and disgraced circus master, Balthazar Kane, invites an unsuspecting group of social media stars to the revival of his CIRCUS KANE by promising $250,000 to any of them who can make it through the night. Kane’s true plan quickly proves to be far more sinister as the contestants realize more than money is on the line. The group must fight for their lives to escape Kane’s demented house of horrors.”

Well, with that team behind it and that basic premise it looks promising.

It would appear that in these modern times one could not chuck a dart without hitting a killer clown movie, and for the most part they are total dross. Circus Kane has killer clowns, albeit mercifully used sparingly and to great effect.  There’s also the fiendish, top-hatted ringmaster required by every circus who is a joy to watch, and it has bucketloads of gore, a mansion full of booby-trapped rooms and diverse victims chosen to survive for a cash sum. This is where we could easily start yawning as we have seen all of these components in loads of other movies; however circus Kane is one of those rare instances where all of the run-of-the-mill clichés come together and actually work out pretty well.

One of the biggest problems in horror movies of this ilk is flat characterisation, it’s not enough to just have a bunch of victims, you really need to give a shit what happens to them and as such they need to be at the very least interesting enough via personality or looks. Most films coast on eye-candy, of which, depending on your preferences, there’s enough to satisfy with former ‘Miss Poland USA’ winner Victoria Konefal proving she’s not just a very pretty face. For the ladies there’s Jonathan Lipnicki (the little speccy blonde kid from Jerry Maguire) who has grown up all clean-cut handsome and buff. Circus Kane doesn’t rely on good looking actors though, choosing instead to have solid performances from believable even if not likeable characters. I say ‘if not likeable’ because one or two are somewhat self-serving whilst another, ‘Big Ed’ played by the hilarious Ted Monte, is a complete and utter arsehole, which is great as he is so generally obnoxious and funny that I was rooting for him to survive.

The eight ‘contestants’ (for want of a better word) are all chosen because of their links to the horror community, A Scream Queen, a memorabilia trader, a reviewer, a blogger, a collector et cetera, all with some way of promoting Circus Kane far and wide as the scariest experience ever.

Now this may seem a little far-fetched, the booby-trapped mansion idea and so on, yet at the time of writing this there are several such places in America offering what can best be described as a fully immersive torture porn experience requiring a full physical and mental medical and the signing of a waiver with an ‘anything goes’ policy. That really only makes the basis of Circus Kane even more plausible, otherwise the premise might have been off-putting as it would be unlikely that anyone would sign up for that no matter how much money was involved. Having real-life counterparts proves the lengths that some people go to even if only for the kudos of lasting longer than anyone else in degrading and dangerous scenarios. Circus Kane doesn’t go for dangerous it goes for deadly with the unlucky contestants searching for clues and performing tasks which lead to elimination in a variety of very nasty ways.

There are so many similar films out there, but this one manages to effortlessly float above them as the cast are excellent, production values are spot-on and it never gets tiresome.

It’s currently available as a VOD and maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but I loved it and it will definitely stand up to another viewing.

Follow the trailer below to see a little of the gory delights in store.
[object Object]
Picture
]]>
<![CDATA[HORROR FILM REVIEW: CLOWNTERGEIST]]>Wed, 20 Sep 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-reviewclowntergeistBY JOE X YOUNG 
Picture
 In an attempt to broaden my horizons I thought I would give Clowntergeist a view, obviously there’s a spate of movies with names such as Sharknado, Zombeavers and Piranhaconda  which the titles alone would suggest were created with the tongue wedged firmly in the cheek, so I made the incorrect assumption that perhaps this was a comedy horror. Clowntergeist was not best choice for my horizon broadening as it soon became apparent that this was neither a comedy or indeed a horror and was barely scraping by as a thriller.

The psychopathic clown had all of the presence of a limp dick at a porn shoot, and yes, I know, we’re kinda sorta basking in the glow of Pennywise who obviously sets a high bar, but ‘Ribcage’ (Eric Corbin) doesn’t even compare favourably with any of the few dozen killer clowns I’ve seen so far.  The only thing he brings to the table is a huge Turkey.

The dialogue is dreadful as in this example:
Woman: “What’s the curfew for?”
Jonah: “A manhunt”
One of the other customers then says to his companion “What’s a manhunt?”
Really? I know society seems to have dumbed down a lot lately, but when a guy who appears to be in his mid-20s has to ask what a manhunt is I think we are in serious trouble. That scenario came about after a Police Officer entered a soda shop and asked the temporary manager Jonah (Sean Patrick Murray) to close as soon as possible and inform everyone there is an 11 o’clock curfew. I’m questioning the logic on this, as surely it would be better for the Police Officer to have announced the curfew himself, what with him being your general-purpose authority figure and all that, but hey, the stupidity doesn’t end there. Remember what I just wrote about the store having to close? Couple of minutes after telling the customers they are closing in 10 minutes the same guy when asked by a staff member if they will remain closed the next day replies, and I quote…
“Not when I’m in charge… WE don’t close for the Apocalypse”.
Erm, okay, but didn’t he just say they were… CLOSING?!
He then gives the same staff member a set of keys and instructs her to close up the shop. Maybe I am too strict over this sort of thing but in my world that just doesn’t compute, which unfortunately is the case with most of what happens in this complete dog’s breakfast of a film. The only good thing in Clowntergeist is what comes across as a genuine rapport between the two female leads, Emma (Brittany Belland) and Heather (Monica Baker) who deserve a much better script in a much better film than this one.

The plot is a by the numbers thing relying mainly on jump scares delivered for the most part by a piss-poor supernatural clown, who walks like an ape with severe constipation carrying an imaginary roll of carpet under one arm as he thuds about in the shadows. The lighting, colour and music are good though as they do give a decent atmosphere, but not enough to elevate this film beyond the mundane.

Of course this is just my opinion, so feel free to watch it if you absolutely must, but with the several dozen other clown-based horror films available to choose from I’d watch all of those first.

Picture
]]>
<![CDATA[HORROR FILM REVIEW: COLD MOON (2017)]]>Sun, 10 Sep 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-review-cold-moon-2017BY WILLIAM TEA 
HORROR FILM REVIEWS: COLD MOON (2017)
​Michael McDowell remains something of a cult figure today, despite authoring some of the best novels to come out of the 1980s horror paperback boom and having a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter (his filmography boasts such credits as Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas in addition to many episodes of anthology T.V. shows like Amazing Stories, Monsters, and Tales From The Darkside).

No less an authority than Stephen King described McDowell as one the finest writers to ever work in the genre, yet the man’s name has never attracted the same kind of attention or appreciation King’s has. It’s not a name your non-horror-reading friends are likely to recognize. McDowell is not a cottage industry. People don’t dress up as his characters for Halloween. Movies have not been made from his books.

At least, until now.

Shortening the title of one of McDowell’s best novels, Cold Moon Over Babylon, Cold Moon (which hits DVD and VOD this October) takes place in a quiet town along the Florida panhandle, a close-knit community teetering on the raggedy edge of the poverty line. When doe-eyed teenager Margaret Larkin washes up on the snake-infested banks of the river Styx, lashed to her bicycle and drowned in a shocking act of seemingly senseless murder, said community is shattered and, from beneath its broken shards, its most prominent residents’ darkest secrets come slithering out.

Something else comes slithering, too. Something pale-faced and drenched in sludge, seeking vengeance for the crimes perpetrated on the unquiet dead.

Full of chilling nightmare imagery, McDowell’s supernatural Southern Gothic is practically tailor-made for cinema. Though dominated by long stretches of suggestive terror and psychological dissolution, it knows when to pop the cork on all the tension it’s bottled up, bursting with garish, macabre gouts of all-out horror. Equally grimy and grim, McDowell’s black-haired, waterlogged ghosts would fit right in on the set of a J-horror spookshow. In theory, Cold Moon is a home run.

But what about in execution?

Director Griff Furst is probably the last person you’d expect to tackle this particular source material. His previous credits include such SyFy Channel-style CGI monster-mashes as Ghost Shark, Arachnoquake, and Alligator Alley (AKA Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators). On top of that, the cast list for Cold Moon includes that infamously ignominious ignoramus known as Tommy Wisseau. Y’know, the laughingstock “auteur” responsible for The Room? Yeah, that one. Upon hearing that alone, longtime McDowell readers would certainly be forgiven for letting their excitement over Cold Moon turn into trepidation.

Happily, there’s no need to fear. Not only has Furst delivered far and away his best directorial effort to date, but Wisseau’s presence is limited to a brief, wordless cameo. Hallelujah!

Sure, Cold Moon gets off to a rocky start. McDowell’s book is unusual in that it has little interest in maintaining the mystery of who its killer is, unmasking the culprit rather quickly so as to focus instead on the murderer’s piecemeal mental unraveling under the assault of angry spirits. As a result, the movie’s first act stumbles in its efforts to simultaneously appease audience expectations while also setting them up for imminent subversion. Once over that hump, though, Cold Moon zips along with nary a hitch. The first act may be a little shaky, but the second and third stand pretty damn solid, successfully keeping your eyes glued to the screen right up until the final credits roll.

A huge portion of that second and third-act magnetism comes thanks to actor Josh Stewart (best known to horror film fanatics as Arkin, the protagonist of those underrated Collector movies) who plays Nathan Redfield, a disturbed banker with a weakness for booze and jailbait. Even more than the ghosts who lurk in Babylon’s shadows, the look on Stewart’s face and the murky depths behind his eyes prove genuinely haunting.

Similarly worthy of praise are Frank Whaley (most famous as that burger-scarfin’ bullet-sponge Brett in Pulp Fiction), playing the out-of-his-depth sheriff Ted Hale, and Christopher Lloyd (don’t act like you don’t know who he is!), playing Nathan’s lecherous invalid father James. Much of the supporting cast is serviceable but forgettable, though that’s to be expected for a modestly budgeted production such as this.

Indeed, evidence of Cold Moon’s meager origins is readily apparent throughout. That doesn’t stop Furst from crafting an admirably effective atmosphere of melancholy dread, though. McDowell’s story and characters do a lot of the heavy lifting, but Furst himself deserves credit for realizing McDowell’s ominous and even grotesque apparitions so well, while also orchestrating plenty of spine-tingling scares of his own. Rounding out the package is an original score by the director’s brother, composer Nathan Furst, which imbues the proceedings with oodles of potent drama and emotion.

All in all, Cold Moon isn’t quite the home run it could have been, but it is a damn good horror movie nonetheless. Dark, creepy, and ultimately tragic, it’s an adaptation that does its source material justice. Here’s hoping more Michael McDowell adaptations follow.

THE Film receives a 10-market theatrical release along with digital on 10/6 through Uncork’d Entertainment. produced by Furst’s Curmudgeon Films.
 
Cold Moon is in theaters and VOD October 6.

Picture
]]>
<![CDATA[HORROR FILM REVIEW: STEPHEN KING'S IT (2017)]]>Sat, 09 Sep 2017 16:18:49 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-review-stephen-kings-it-2017BY JONATHAN BUTCHER 
"felt almost like a parody of a jump-scare, where a monster would dive onto the screen only to waggle its tongue and spout something unintelligible, like a kid leaping out of a closet making a silly face and shrieking."

Director: Andy Muschietti

IT, the original TV mini-series, was my introduction to genuine horror. Up until that moment, I’m not even sure if I’d read any RL Stine, and because from my earliest infant memories I had always loved creepy and forbidden concepts, my excitement at finally seeing an adult horror film was hard to contain.

Being younger than 10, I wasn’t quite mature enough or equipped with a long enough attention span to enjoy the book, but some years later I read Stephen King’s almost endless novel, and loved it. Now, at 34, I’m currently revisiting the work, and it is even better than I remember it.

Re-reading the book makes IT (2017) a tough one to review, because the book is, quite simply, astounding. The characters have some of the best-drawn and most memorable personalities I’ve ever read. The atmosphere is awash with dread, and King’s (thankfully fictional) town of Derry feels haunted from the very start, as if something malign lurks beneath every innocent encounter, every landmark, and the most innocuous of events. Themes run through the tale like broken blood vessels: innocence being cut short, memories acting like hauntings, the disturbing transition from childhood into adulthood. The tightrope of overcoming or succumbing to that which frightens us most, and whether we allow our fears to shape our adult selves.

A film maker could hardly ask for stronger source material – or a more intimidating tale to translate into 4 hours of screen time.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, IT is about a town haunted by a malevolent, shape-changing presence which feasts on the fears and the flesh of those who believe in it – usually the local children. When this entity, which primarily takes the form of a clown, targets 7 close friends, they decide to fight back, and are forced to return to their home town 27 years later to finish the battle they started.

IT (2017) unravels the intertwined chronology of the novel and tells the children’s tale first, altering the time setting to the 80s rather than the 50s. For the most part, it works.

Let’s start with the good stuff: Pennywise was, for me, pretty goddamn great. Ignoring the wonderful ham of Tim Curry’s unforgettable performance in the flawed but fantastic 90s mini-series, Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a seriously unsettling interpretation of Derry’s eater of worlds, and of children. Skarsgard appears constantly on the brink of frenzy, delivering each line with hyper-intensity. Modern-day effects and budget are at their absolute best here, contorting the clown into a horrific array of different forms that are complemented by Skarsgard’s manic performance.

And the monsters.

Oh, the monsters!

Eddie’s leper, minus the unpleasant and thematically relevant proposition of oral sex featured in the book, is hideous.

Stan’s painting-lady apparition is truly distressing.

Beverly’s sink experience has an added element that works immensely well.

In fact, almost every ghoul and ghost ticked the right boxes for me.

However…

While I’ve read that a lot of people had no problem with the jump-scares, there were moments when they took me out of the film. Not to press the point too much, but some felt almost like a parody of a jump-scare, where a monster would dive onto the screen only to waggle its tongue and spout something unintelligible, like a kid leaping out of a closet making a silly face and shrieking. I may be a jaded horror movie viewer, but these often made me giggle during moments when I felt that the director wanted me to paint my pants brown, instead.

The cast is great, and as many have already observed Sophia Lillis is perfect as Beverly and likely to be heading for a glittering acting career. The direction is good, the cinematography great, and the sound, lighting and overall atmosphere top-drawer.

Okay. That’s the good stuff. Now let’s change gear.

I found the characters, themes and lore to be painfully trite and 2-dimensional.

We know nothing of Ben’s home life. Stan’s family background is boiled down to his Jewishness. Bill is just a stutterer and not a storyteller. Richie has become a dick-joke-machine. Eddie’s mum has become malevolent rather than simply pathetic. Only Beverly’s character comes close to achieving nuance, as she puts on a brave public face in response to the school’s cruel rumours and her fearful relationship with her revolting, abusive father.

While it’s easy to argue that it would be near-impossible for a film maker to offer even a glimmer of the depth found in the novel, I believe that the characters and the loving friendships they share was drawn better in the 90s mini-series, which dedicated even less time to the children’s story. The problem is that we never see the children hanging out or having fun – they are just caricatured bullied kids who spend their time either getting beaten up or fighting a supernatural entity.

One aspect of the thematic shallowness can partially be blamed on the film’s A-to-B chronology. The book and the 90s miniseries focus heavily on nostalgia and uneasy memories, as the horrors of one summer the characters spent 27 years ago are revealed through a tangled network of flashbacks and recounted recollections. This, for obvious reasons, would have been impossible to portray in IT (2017).

As for the demons status as a world-devouring, fear-swallowing, almost God-like entity, in IT (2017) he’s very much an earthbound clown-monster. While there is a hint to them, there are no deadlights. Easter eggs aside, there is no turtle. Gone is the existential terror of something unfathomable, something that creeps through and haunts every element of a town and possibly beyond. As jarring as Pennywise is, in IT (2017), he is essentially a child-killer who says “Boo” a lot. I even wonder if most of today’s audience would have picked up on the idea that Pennywise uses the children’s deepest fears against them, in order to feast on their terror, such is the amount of time spent discussing the subject.

I had issues with the film’s climax, but these veer too close to spoilers. I’ll simply mention three parts near the climax that had me raising my eyebrows, but this is only for those who have already seen it:
The dance was hilarious.
The kiss felt thematically irrelevant.

And the line “…FEAR…” was, um. Actually, what the clown-fucking fuck was that about?

Anyway, despite my gripes, I enjoyed IT (2017) a great deal. My peeves were almost inevitable, because I’m a fanboy, and I would have preferred to have been given a 10-part TV series rather than two movies.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not 100% excited for the next instalment.
 

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FILM, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT IN THE SECTION BELOW 

RELATED POSTS 

THE BOOK THAT MADE ME : MARK WEST ON STEPHEN KING'S DANCE MACABRE

THE BOOK THAT MADE ME : FLORENCE ANN MARLOWE ON KING'S NIGHTSHIFT

THE BOOK THAT MADE ME : MICHAEL BRAY ON KINGS SKELETON CREW

THE BOOK THAT MADE ME  : ALLEN R. BRADY ON SALEMS LOT

]]>
<![CDATA[HORROR FILM REVIEW: ​THE VAULT.]]>Thu, 07 Sep 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/horror-film-review-the-vaultBY JOE X YOUNG

Heist meets Geist


 
I love a good ‘heist’ movie almost as much as I love a good horror, so when the opportunity to watch a combination of both arrived I thought it would be worth my time. Okay, I’m not going to say I was wrong about that, as it was a good enough film to keep my interest overall, but as absolute honesty is my bag I have to tell you that although I enjoyed it overall, it’s a flawed film in a number of ways.
First of all is something which really is just a personal gripe, it’s got a lot to do with James Franco, or to be much more accurate, James Franco’s moustache, it’s well on the way to being a ‘70s porn-stache and deserves a film of its own, but in this one it just looks a bit moth-eaten and obvious.

Moving on from the moustache to the film proper, it’s a great idea, five people stage a robbery which goes pear-shaped almost as soon as they are in the bank, which isn’t the best start, but hey-ho there you go. There’s a dose of mayhem outside as a fire is raging in a warehouse, the fire set by the bank robbers to keep the emergency services busy. Part of me is going ‘nah’ as it’s a bit dumb to bring that kind of heat (pardon the pun) around when trying to rob a bank, but another part of me is thinking that at least they have some sort of cover for the old ‘in-out no messing about’ robbery. There’s a brace of females involved in the blag, one is Leah, a woman attending a job interview, and the other is Vee, an awkward customer, both of whom are just awaiting the arrival of three robbers dressed as firefighters before they drop the acting and get on with the robbing. Unfortunately it’s absolutely clear that it is acting, which is made all the less credible by Francesca Eastwood’s blonde wig, which even on a good day would look like a trainee Drag Queen’s first effort. Is that important? I think so, because if I were interviewing someone for a job in a bank, where trust would be a vital asset, I’d be a little concerned if Clint’s daughter turned up looking like ‘Bad Disguise Barbie’.

The robbery itself doesn’t take much, the usual stuff, hostages bound, their heads hooded in cash-bags, the safe opened after a lot of fumbling and so on, but the yield is poor, so much so that there’s arguing over who stays to look for more or who escapes with the meagre pickings, it’s all a bit pointless as it’s revealed that three of the robbers are family, the brother, Michael, got into a bit of trouble and needs cash to get square, and the women are his sisters who are helping him. Their relation to the two others isn’t really stated, but doesn’t need to be either, as one is a safe-cracker and the other is the muscle. I’m not sure if the brother’s predicament is supposed to elicit sympathy for the robbers, but it doesn’t help, even when Michael remains adamant that they have one rule ‘nobody gets hurt’. Aww, the big bad bank robber has a heart, but the point here is that we’re watching villains performing a heist, and as such they are the bad guys, so it’s not as if we’re going to be rooting for them when they meet their respective fates. Our sympathies should rightly be with the hostages, talking of which:

From underneath a cash bag the hole under James Franco’s moustache offers help. They remove the bag and he tells them that he’s the assistant manager and he can help them get away as well as get six million dollars secreted in a second vault. Obviously this seems the right way to go, and our robbers decide they’ll crack the vault and get rich before going home for beer and pizza. There’s just one snag, which is actually totally spelled out for us in the opening credits as well as talked about in the preamble before the robbery, in 1982 the bank was the scene of a major crime, big nasty robbery gone South resulting in a high body count and things which go bump in the night ever since.
NOBODY goes down there. NOBODY. Muhahahahaaaaa……
Well, that doesn’t deter the robbers, one of whom grabs his trusty sack of safe-breaking tools and heads for the vault. He does in fact get it open, but that’s not all he gets as some nasties hiding in the dark step out and snag him, forcing him to go all Abel Ferrara with his cracksman’s drill.

I won’t dwell on the gore, there’s not much of it, which is for the better in this instance, same as the ‘jump scares’ being kept to a minimum, so it’s more about the atmosphere and the supposition of something more sinister at work. It’s actually a schizophrenic offering, the heist part being subdued to the overall detriment of the film, especially as it involves a Police Detective, played by Clifton Collins Jr, who is seriously underused throughout. I’ve never seen a bad performance from Mr Jr and always considered him to be one of the finest character actors out there, so to see him in what is basically a throwaway role is a sad waste of a talent. I’m also left wondering what James Franco was doing in this as he is playing a small part in a film in which the comparative unknowns get the major screen time. Maybe he had a slow weekend and the phone rang, who knows, I just think he’s wasted in this.

What happens below stairs is creepy and malevolent; we’re treated to a few scenes of well-handled horror but to my way of thinking it was all a bit disjointed. The ending is an attempt at a ‘Sixth Sense’ finish but doesn’t come close. Would I recommend it? I think I’d probably say that it’s worth a V.O.D. but I wouldn’t get my umbrella out on a rainy day to go see it at a cinema.

If we had a GingerNutOmeter this would score around two-thirds of a packet.
]]>
<![CDATA[TV REVIEW: ​BLOOD DRIVE (SEASON 1, EPISODE 1)]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/tv-review-blood-drive-season-1-episode-1By Joe Young.  
Carnivorous cars, carnal knowledge and total carnage.
Picture
The SyFy Channel’s latest offering of a break from the norm is the wittily titled ‘Blood Drive’, the plot of which is fairly straightforward in that it’s a car race set in a version of 1999 which we all know didn’t happen here. In this version of reality the United States has been split apart by a natural disaster and an evil corporation has exploited this to gain the type of power we’ve seen before in films such as Robocop (Think ‘Omnicorp’ and you’re not far off the mark). In fact, if we’re talking films here, which I am, then ‘Blood Drive’ is better explained because it has somewhat derivative content, especially if you are old enough to have seen ‘The Gumball Rally’, ‘The Cannonball Run’, ‘Mad Max’ and especially Paul Bartel’s cult classic ‘Death Race 2000’ from 1975. It takes all of the best aspects of those films and blends them into a (ahem) ‘high-octane’, high speed, high action bloodbath. Death Race 2000 was a brutal no-holds-barred extravaganza with a high body count, giving participants bonus points for eliminating not just other contenders but also random members of the public unlucky enough to get in the way of the drivers. ‘Blood Drive’ has a similar thing going for it, but with the more unusual twist that the cars have living engines fuelled by the blood of their victims, and make no mistake; there IS blood, bucketloads of it. This is gruesome fare, but not to the point where it’s all about the gore, there’s so much more to it than that.

Arthur Bailey is a good cop, as such his character is somewhat dare I say deliberately bland as he seems determined to stick to the law no matter what. This all goes awry when he discovers the ‘Blood Drive’ and whilst spying on it gets captured and injected with an explosive device which will blow his head off if he does anything that the organizer of the race deems against the rules. Arthur, having no choice but to take part in the Blood Drive is partnered with Grace D’Argento who is as Fatale as a Femme can get and totally determined to win the race at any cost, especially as, with a nod to ‘The Hunger Games’ the winners are the only survivors. Each heat in this race is an elimination stage, quite literally, as coming in last thins out the herd in spectacularly nasty fashion. Not for the squeamish.

Is it all just violence? Actually no, there’s sex too, but it’s a necessary plot device in a similar fashion to Jason Statham’s ‘Crank’, which is delivered with equal humour. This is where what could be just a standard gorefest becomes something above average as it is, to my mind anyway, somewhat reminiscent of the kids show ‘Wacky Races’ but with no ‘Peter Perfect’ or ‘Penelope Pitstop’ but absolutely having a ‘Dick Dastardly’ character in the shape of Julian Slink, the Master of Ceremonies for the race, who is almost cartoonish in appearance and demeanour as well as being laugh-out-loud funny even when performing acts of exceptional brutality. The humour of Slink and general light approach throughout only serves to highlight the bloodthirsty nature of the show in general and prevents it from being just another exploitative show.
Back in the day ‘Grindhouse’ denoted films which were generally considered low budget, low talent and brain fodder for morons, but in recent years ‘Grindhouse’ is gaining a favourable reputation amongst lovers of anything-goes horror who find the mainstream too boring. The budgets are better, the production values are better (but still deliberately managing to make things look amateurish and sleazy in a 1970s style), and the acting is better, which is all for the betterment of ‘Grindhouse’ as it rises in popularity. I didn’t think I would live long enough to see ‘Grindhouse’  TV Shows, but here we are in the much more enlightened, discerning and demanding 21st Century with The SyFy Channel broadcasting ‘Blood Drive’ which I can only hope is the first of many such offerings. So go ahead, grab some popcorn, a drink of your favourite poison, and make a routine of watching ‘Blood Drive’, you won’t be disappointed.

DEBUTS ON THE SYFY CHANNEL 10TH AUGUST AT 10PM 

]]>
<![CDATA[AMERICAN GODS:   EPISODE 5]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 06:23:23 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/american-gods-episode-5By George Daniel Lea 

Even amongst the endlessly inventive and abstruse material that American Gods provides, this episode is an oddity. 

The show seems to be intent on never being predictable; on constantly re-defining its audience's parameters and expectations in the manner of a David Lynch work. Not only does it do so in terms of story and subject, but even in the styles and mediums it presents them. 

So, the episode opens with a familiar scene; where the last two culminated, in Shadow's reunion with now-undead wife, Laura, but then quickly shifts to one of the “Coming to America” sequences which is, ironically not a “Coming to America” sequence at all, but an “Established in America” sequence, involving tribespeople from the last ice age, hunting down mammoths, making clothes from their hides, eating their meat, rendering icons in their bones and skulls. 

What makes this sequence bizarrely (but effectively) incongruous is the nature of its recording: whereas all previous such sequences have been live action, this one is rendered in CG animation, lending it a quality that is removed from waking reality, almost fairy tale or dream like in its ethos. 

The story of the tribe itself is all but wordless, exploring their hardships, their efforts to eke out a living from increasingly hostile and bitter land, turning to the divinity they have made, the god they have brought into being, to help them, who does so (purportedly) via visions visited upon the tribe's shaman, who leads them in a voyage across the hostile wilderness in search of a promised land, many suffering and dying along the way. 

It's an oddly melancholy sequence, designed to demonstrate how the divinities that pervade the show's mythology come into being, what strengthens and transforms them; how they are tied symbiotically to their worshipers, often treating them with neglect or contempt as a means of subtly facilitating expressions of faith through sheer desperation. 
​ 
It is also a potted fable of how gods can die.
 
Abandoned, forgotten, as the generations pass, the god they worshipped becomes little more than a story, then a memory, then less than that, returning to the state of potential from which it arose.
 
It's an important but subtly conveyed moment in the show's back mythology, as it lays out -largely in visual terms- what the various players are fighting over:
 
Belief; a place in humanity's imagination, where they can be revered, where they can be prayed to, where they can be feared and loved, and thus sustain themselves.
 
It also sets out the dynamic between the old gods and the new; the nature of the war they have engaged in, though as to what part charaters such as Shadow and Laura play, we have yet to see.
 
Back with Shadow and Laura, these moments of high mythology find a much-needed contrast in some extremely real, ambiguous and intense human drama, in which husband and wife have their first face to face conversation since the latter died.
 
These moments are absolutely necessary to prevent the show from flying off into mythological absurdity and abstraction; to provide some tonal variety, palate cleansing and to introduce human factors into what otherwise could be alienating:
 
Shadow and Laura are (ironically, given the latter's status) the beating heart of the show; their relationship -bizarre, perverse, borderline abusive as it can be- drives the narrative forward and provides some much needed diversion from the mystery and absurdity that comprises much of the rest.
 
This particular enocunter is intriguingly fraught, the usual tensions of a husband and wife discussing infidelity compounded to the power of N by the fact that Laura is deceased; that Shadow attended her funeral and saw her put into the ground.
 
The character's reactions are some of the most subtly engaging moments in the show thus far; Shadow attempting -with some admirable patience- to maintain a hold not only on his temper, but on sanity, half believing that he's dreaming, that he's slipped into some delirium from which he might never wake.
 
Meanwhile, Laura attempts to explain herself on all fronts, dealing with Shadow in a sardonically pragmatic manner, that is at once touching and amusing in its earnestness. She does not attempt to justify herself, does not weedle or cajole or attempt to varnish what she has done, but simply explains to him what happened and why, to which Shadow responds with restraint that is breath-stealing in the effort it clearly requires. Laura's death and the discovery of her betrayal is the cypher that drove him into Wednesday's service, into the arena of gods and monsters in which he now finds himself. 
​In a moment that might be the beginning of reconciliation, the start of healing between them, Laura feels her dead heart beat, just once, Shadow the reason why she refused her own death, why she has come back, now the purpose of her existence and the only means of her healing.
 
Leaving him momentarily, to consider, to digest the situation, she slips into the bath tub, revealing her own scarred and autopsied condition, waiting for him, wondering what will happen now.
 
Of course, it's at this point that Wednesday comes calling, Shadow attempting in vain to dissuade him, the man seemingly intent on disruption.
 
This is a consistent part Wednesday and the world he represents will play in Shadow's life in coming chapters, especially if the show stays true to the book: Shadow finding himself torn between two worlds: that of memory, which seems intent on betraying itself as a delusion, and that of the waking now, which is so bizarre and absurd as to threaten his sanity.
 
However, before they can begin to discuss the situation, they find themselves arrested, following the scam that he and Wednesday ran in the first episode; ripping off an extremely large bank and thereby garnering enough money to fund their road trip across the USA (though to what end, Shadow is still frustratedly ignorant).
 
As all factions and players have had their part in this episode, it seems a matter of balance that the new gods should also enjoy some exposure:
 
In a highly stylised sequence, the previously encountered “Technical Kid,” who seems to be the manifestation of technological modernity; the internet, memes, plastic and virtual lifestyles etc, finds himself at the pleasure of Gillian Anderson's FANTASTIC Media, goddess of TV, pop music, celebrity culture et al, masquerading as none other than David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, which Anderson clearly revels in. 
​ 
The encounter between them is deliberately oblique, suggesting certain tensions between the new gods and the old, very little laid out plainly for the audience, leaving the communication feeling bizarrely realistic and natural, despite its absurd framing.
 
Again, as seems to be the nature of any sequence involving the new gods, the show takes pains to frame them in highly stylised and artistic ways, the sequence and its scenes having the composed quality of a series of paintings, the ethos and dynamism of a 3D art installation; tonally and stylistically at odds with any sequence involving their “old” counterparts, which tend to be far more traditional.
 
Meanwhile, in one of my favourite sequences in the entire show thus far, Mad Sweeney manages to track down Laura, the Leprechaun's lucky coin burning in her breast; the mcguffin keeping her alive, the interaction that follows simultaneously threatening and hilarious, Sweeney attempting to physically intimidate Laura into giving him his coin back (since he can't take it, thanks to some unspoken law), to which she responds by beating the shit out of him.
 
Sweeney summarily arrested (“Yer an asshole, dead wife!”), Laura mistaken (sort of) for a corpse and summarily bagged and tagged, focus shifts back to the police station, where we have at last our first direct confrontation between the old gods and the new, Media (this time in the form of Marilyn Monroe) floating into Shadow and Wednesday's prison cell, accompanied by “The Technical Kid,” and finally, a figure who has been referenced but never actually seen before, and of whom the other new gods seem to be in states of perpetual intimidation: Mr. World.
 
The confrontation sets out the dynamics of the coming “war” that Wednesday is attempting to initiate; that the conflict for space within the dream-lives of humanity is not entirely about territory or resource, as Mr. World offers Wednesday all he could ever want; a place amongst the new pantheons, albeit in a new condition; one more suited to the streamlined, synthetic, commercial natures of the new gods. 
​This is what Wednesday and his ilk reject; the true basis for the war they are fomenting: not necessarily a survivalist struggle for belief (as it is revealed throughout the series that many of them are doing fairly well in this regard); rather to restore a particular dynamic between gods and their believers; one more traditionally mythological, in which stories become the stuff and basis for meaning, rather than humans being manipulated and directed like cattle through automated slaughter houses.
 
The show is cleverly ambiguous in this regard; it presents neither Wednesday nor his counterpart, Mr. World, as absolutely right or wrong; as good or evil. Both have angles; both have investments, their own agendas to fulfil.
 
As for Shadow, he finds himself slipping further and deeper into a state of incredulity as the absurdity escalates, increasingly doubting his own state of mind, not to mention what part he'll play in coming days, as do we all. 
]]>
<![CDATA[AMERICAN GODS:  SERIES 1 EPISODE 4 REVIEW]]>Mon, 12 Jun 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/american-gods-series-1-episode-4-reviewReview by George Daniel Lea 
​ 
Following the deviant extravaganza that was the last instalment of American Gods (Arabic immigrants engaged in graphic homosexual intercourse, one of whom turns out to be an Ifriti fire demon of Middle Eastern myth), this was always going to be a problematic episode.
 
That is not to say there's anything in particular wrong with it, only that it may suffer in the eyes of some by contrast alone.
 
Tonally and in terms of rhythm, the episode removes itself from any prior from the get go, focus shifting away from Shadow Moon (at least, in his present incarnation) to erstwhile wife, Laura, who vacilates back and forth between past and present, the episode exploring how she and Shadow first met, the truly bizarre relationship they enjoyed even before the latter got himself mixed up in a mysterious game of gods and demons and mythological monsters.
 
Whilst some have criticised the episode for stretching out a back story that could have, conceivably, been told in a ten minute flash back, I find it a useful tonal palate cleanser and calming period following the intensity and emotion of the previous episode, before things start to kick into high gear once more.
 
One of the more fascinating elements of the episode is how it frames Laura, whom Shadow clearly idolises in a manner that is distorting, almost religious in its delusion. When they first meet, she is a lost and despairing individual, out of love with the world, sustaining from day to day in a job she loathes, working at a casino into which Shadow drops as a naïve and not entirely successful con-man. Having attempted to play his hand at her table and been spotted, instead of finding himself reported and detained by casino security, he is instead informed by Laura of the situation, who urges him to leave without any further ado.
 
Waiting for her outside, he seduces her -and vice versa- without pre-amble, the two finding something in one another that they assume they need, though what she takes from Shadow is far more ambiguous and less profound than what he takes from her: to her, he is a distraction, almost a hobby, rather than something in which she finds meaning. 
Everything in this small back story is framed from Laura's perspective; a sincere effort to make her more than simply an element of the protagonist's back story (as so many female characters still are, even in present day TV series), she is a complex and emotive agent, with her own ambiguities and agendas, many of which contrast or even contradict the narrative or mythology that Shadow invests their relationship with. Whilst she clearly finds some release and pleasure in him, he is simply not enough to entirely forestall the despair and darkness in her soul: she remains detached, nihilistic, quietly unsatisfied, though she can't articulate to herself why.
 
Meanwhile, in the present, where her life has unambiguously ended, she finds herself at the behest of a familiar character: her disembodied soul lost in the metaphysical desert where Anubis presides; a state where she, once again, exercises her agency, refusing the mythological rite in which her heart must be weighed against a feather, tipping the scales of her own volition, taking control of her own guilt.
 
Whilst Anubis insists that she believed in nothing and therefore will go to nothing, she refuses that proscribed fate, hurtling back to where her body lies, finding herself waking to it, though its heart has long stopped beating, its blood long stopped pumping, in a state of not only distress, but also new and uncertain processes: no longer requiring breath, her heart and entrails still, her body rejecting the formaldehyde and various chemicals swilling about it in a graphically gross and hilarious manner...
 
There's more than a hint of gallows humour about these scenes, in which the show seems intent on portraying Laura at her most disgracefully human, despite her undead condition; that her state hasn't become entirely better or worse simply because she happens to be no longer burdened by life. This in itself is a rarity for female characters, certainly romantic leads, that have a tendency to be idealised to ludicrous and dehumanising degrees by popular TV: this episode portrays Laura both in living and undead states as something entirely other; just another lost and frightened and beaten down woman, trying to make something of her existence, not known how, making mistakes and slip ups along the way, but ultimately just trying to be. 
This has the effect of making her incredibly endearing and identifiable; not some pedestal-mounted, unobtainable icon (though this is, ironically the way in which Shadow regards her), but as a human being. Whilst it's very easy to condemn her for the infidelities she commits whilst Shadow is in prison, the manner in which the show frames them makes the act more one of desperation than of conscious cruelty or selfishness; before her death, she is on the very edge of terminal despair, of abandoning life altogether, which she likely would have, were it not for Shadow, her relationship with whom she cannot fathom or define, knowing only that it endures and endures in a way that nothing else in her life ever has.
 
Her reunion with former best friend Audrey (with whose husband she continued an on-going affair whilst Shadow was in jail) is one of the stand out moments in the entire episode; funny, fraught and dramatic, Audrey herself, whilst ostensibly a supporting character, complex and engaging in her motivations, in the manner she relates and responds to Laura: whilst initially horrified that her former best friend is somehow out of her grave and walking around, her terror -hilariously played- is soon supplanted by angry and bitter bitchery, that is brilliantly portrayed; not exploding in histrionics or displays of violent contempt, but hissing and seething in exchanges that are all the more fraught for taking place in a bathroom where Laura expels the formaldehyde from her system in none too dignified a manner.
 
These exchanges are some of the most beautiful in the episode, not to mention the series thus far; the emotional spectrum of their relationship cycled through and blossoming into something new and ambiguous in the space of a few moments. Whilst far from friends, Laura does not lie to Audrey; she answers her questions honestly and without ornament, to which the woman responds with more than necessary grace, even helping Laura to sew on her arm, which became detached earlier in the episode in an encounter with the Technical Kid's digital minions.
 
It's also during these exchanges that Laura articulates both to Audrey and herself how her relationship to Shadow has changed during death: whilst she could not say she unambiguously loved him in life, she most certainly does now in death, Shadow's presence seething before her eyes like a miniature sun fallen to Earth, allowing her to follow him wherever he goes. 
​A reunion with Anubis and his cohort, Mr. Ibis, leads to a strange and ambiguous relationship, in which the erstwhile Egyptian Gods of the dead help her to repair and maintain her mouldering body, until such point as they are no longer able, when her business in the world of the living is concluded. As to what role they will later play in her strange thread of the American Gods mythology, it is left deliberately ambiguous, even for those who have read the book, as Laura's back story has been elaborated and expanded upon by significant degrees.
 
The episode ends in the same place as the last, though from a significantly removed perspective; on her reunion with Shadow, allowing the audience to regard the exchanges to follow from a position of information rather than bias: whilst, in the last episode, it would have been very easy to condemn Laura, following events in this episode, such becomes profoundly more problematic: this is not a simple case of “good guy vs. bad guy,” in which one participant is unambiguously correct and the other wrong: their reunion is a ragged, uncertain, fraught and powerful event, all the moreso, given the revelations that both have experienced, suggesting intense and potentially cataclysmic exchanges in the episodes to come.
 
It is easy to regard this episode as simple filler, given that it goes through a great deal of material simply to end up at the same place where the last one ended, but that would be to ignore the manner in which it shakes up and even inverts the audience's perceptions and position, not to mention the fantastic things it does with Laura as a female lead (and a conscious parody of female leads).
 
The show seems intent on providing all of its characters, from the most prominent to the most incidental, a degree of genuine weight and back story; motivations that make them more than mere protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains: no one and nothing here is so clean cut: despite the existence of extreme and aspect-defined entities such as gods, demons and monsters, everything, everything, everything boasts a freight of ambiguity and uncertainty that is pleasingly human, but also serves to upset or invert the narrative roles they would traditionally occupy.
 
Far quieter than the previous, far less breath-stealing in its deviance, but still significant degrees beyond much of what popular television presently offers. 
]]>
<![CDATA[​In Defense of Alien: Covenant]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 08:17:25 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/film-reviews/in-defense-of-alien-covenantBy Vincenzo Bilof

(WARNING: MANY, MANY SPOILERS)

In 1979, Director Ridley Scott established an entire mythos with his horror-science fiction film Alien. I am not entirely confident Scott envisioned that his film would spawn a sequel that is completely derivative of his vision; or an entire line of comic books that would include epic battles against Batman and Superman. Given an opportunity to return to the universe he created with the visually pleasing, head-scratching “prequel” film Prometheus, Scott’s latest entry into the story—Alien: Covenant–is proving to be just as divisive among audiences, if we consider the reviews so far.


Full disclosure: I loved the film, and I loved Prometheus. I am glad a lot of people don’t like either film, simply because I don’t think these movies should be enjoyed by everyone. I was inspired to write this by the review I read for Covenant on Ginger Nuts of Horror. I like “negative” reviews that provide intelligent commentary, even if I don’t agree. 
I might be over-analyzing why I enjoy these films, but I like to think we can talk about movies—or any art—and disagree over a pint at the local pub. I am going to address a variety of criticisms, but I do not believe that I am absolutely correct, and believe me: I am not going to convince you that you are “wrong”. That’s just silly, folks. 


We Are Wrapped Up in the Mystique of a Film We Watched When We Were Younger


Alien is widely considered a classic. Does the movie hold up? I would say that it does, but not very well. We have to get over the fact that movies and art have changed. As we get older, the things that we love may not be loved by others. We often think “those kids don’t get it”, but I would argue that WE don’t get it. 


I think Alien is now a ponderously slow film that revels in itself a bit too much. It is no less pretentious than Blade Runner or Scott’s latest entries into the Alien franchise. I am going to make references to the first film several times, because I believe we are too enamored with the original. Keep in mind, I am including myself in the “we” category.  


Covenant Doesn’t Answer Every Question


Do we seriously need every question answered? Maybe some people just want to know everything, which is impossible, anyway. 


For me, part of the mystique behind the first film was the mystery. Who was the “space jockey” found in the pilot’s chair? (the engineer). Why were those eggs on that ship in the first place? Did these questions keep the movie from becoming a cult classic? Audiences accepted a synthetic humanoid with a neat British accent, a monster bursting out of someone’s chest, and the fact that the only means of self-defense these fine folks had were flamethrowers (which begs the question: how come Scott’s Covenant squad get machine guns?). Somehow, audiences suspended their sense of reality for a science fiction film, and here we are. 


This was a huge problem with Prometheus, too. I am going to suggest it is not a problem at all. 


“How does the movie lead up to Alien?” seems to be the prevailing question. Here is where we will all disagree: I don’t care if these films explain ANYTHING for Alien. In fact, I am confident that for Ridley Scott, the first Alien film is a complete story and the sequels don’t exist. After all, he did not create the alien queen, and he never named the planet visited by the Nostromo. For all intents and purposes, the first film could have almost no connection to the rest of Scott’s story. 


Consider the possibilities: we’re already wondering about the murals in Prometheus and the fact that David seems to be the “engineer” of the xenomorph in Covenant (which I will refute, later). Our engineers could be all over the galaxy, all of them with different intentions. Do we need to know their intentions? Is it important to the story? Maybe in Prometheus. Was the Nostromo even supposed to receive the distress signal? 


I am going to go out on a limb and throw a few theories around. 


The first Alien had strong religious overtones, particularly in the visual presentation (just watch some of the documentaries associated with the film). In Prometheus, we are treated to murals in the engineer’s ship that seemingly depict our favorite monsters. In Covenant, we are led to believe that David created these creatures. It was his idea.


Nope. 


In fact, David indicates that his wish to “create”, has been prevented by his programing. He has this conversation with Walter, his more “advanced” counterpart (and what the hell was Walter doing with those embryo-cell-festus-things… hmmm…). However, David CAN create… or can he? Is the song played on the flute replication, or something original? Theory: David has uncovered a formula for the xenomorph; the engineers may have created the monsters in the past, and David is attempting to recreate their design. Which could also explain why the xenomorph born from the human host in Covenant is different than the chestburster from the original film. 


The religious significance: it’s all over the place in Prometheus, and it nearly seems like Scott has almost completely ditched the philosophy in Covenant. But I am not convinced that is true. In Prometheus, those murals inside the engineer’s base (and let’s not forget that those same engineers were destroyed by something), in addition to the fact that the city on the engineer homeworld looks more like a temple than it does a sprawling metropolis, points to Scott’s vision of an “enlightened” culture that has learned to not play God. Or maybe it hasn’t learned at all. 


I am convinced the engineers would want to destroy the human race only to prevent the human race from “creating” more monsters, like the xenomorphs or David. I am also convinced the engineers are also looking for their own maker—Elizabeth Shaw’s big question from Prometheus—by playing the role of God. Did we really want Scott to TELL us whether or not God exists? 


I know that Scott is going to go with the fan-service route and connect his new trilogy to Alien, but he does not have to. There is no need. We have a collision of religion and science in his films, and I love it. 




Every Character Seems Like a Complete Idiot


I’m not going to make excuses for the characters. A lot of folks who hated Prometheus cited the idiocy of the scientific “experts”. Can we go back in time and take a look at the crew of the Nostromo? Before you say, “but they were just manual labor-types”, I want you to think about the kind of training and skill that might be required of any person who is going to work on a spaceship while it’s in outer space. I’m assuming a lot, here, and I’m stretching it. But let’s assume that Ridley Scott envisioned that his characters in the first Alien film could just as easily work on the exterior of the ship as well as they could the interior. 


In Alien, a strange alien lifeform is roaming around the ship. Yet, we have a character who decides to go looking for a cat… by himself. And then we have brave Captain Dallas, who decides he’s tough enough to go into the air shafts by himself against a creature he has zero experience with. I’ve already alluded to Kane’s attempt to venture into the dark basement of a haunted house all by himself, only to try to peek at something squirming around in an egg that opens right in front of him (Kane, did you notice that none of the other eggs were open?). Alien is nearly sacrosanct as far as film masterpieces are concerned; I merely contend that the tragedy of really really really dumb decisions is prevalent in all three of Scott’s Alien movies. 


Let’s take one more step back and think about these films from the perspective of a horror film. There is certainly a “slasher” element to Scott’s Alien movies. Isolating characters only to kill them a moment later is a common thread in both slasher films and Scott’s series. Hence the idiocy, which we somehow excuse when we watch horror films. 


“Let me go and get cleaned up”. Famous last words. Dumb decision? You’re on an alien planet in an unfamiliar structure, and you know there are hostiles roaming around. Members of your team have already been violently killed. Good decision? Probably not. Does this moment mean the entirety of Covenant is “dumb” and we should “check our brains at the door” when we watch it? I would say no. 


Like a lot of folks in the audience, one thought popped into my head when a sick man was being rushed into a spaceship: QUARANTINE. I think this is a nod to the first Alien (which taught us this valuable lesson regarding quarantine—Don’t let an alien into your ship ye damn fool), when Ripley refused to let her own crewmates back into the ship because she wanted to follow quarantine procedure. In Covenant, the character Tennessee mumbles something about quarantine as the sick/injured character is rushed to the sick bay. We also have the frantic ship pilot, Faris, who helps get the characters into the sick bay and then shuts the door on them. This seems a nasty act, but a moment ago, we were muttering “quarantine” and “don’t let them into the ship”. 


While Covenant seems to provide an entire crew’s worth of cannon fodder for aliens, I believe Scott intended for us to believe that the crew was very close, and they were emotionally connected. A funeral celebration on the ship for Daniels’ dead husband after he is jettisoned into space was supposed to establish that the characters already have a bond and are quite familiar with each other, which seems to be the very opposite of the crews that Scott gave us in both Alien and Prometheus. When people you know are violently killed, there’s a good chance that rational thought makes an exit, especially if you’re stranded on a strange planet. I have convinced myself that Daniels and company believed David was going to protect them; they trusted David because they didn’t have a choice. They assumed David’s sanctuary was safe. And they did some dumb shit.


A lot of fanboys like myself have checked out the two preview videos for Covenant; first video shows us the ship’s crew enjoying a final meal before going into hypersleep, and we are treated to a James Franco appearance. The second video explains how Shaw repaired David. I don’t think these scenes needed to be slipped into the film; as I watched Covenant, I couldn’t think of a place where either scene would work. If you didn’t see those two pieces, you may have missed out; I’m not sure what difference it would have made. Scott did something similar with Prometheus by giving Guy Pearce some screen time with a TED Talks segment for Weyland Corp. The Shaw-David scene did set me up for a lot of second-guessing when David explained Shaw’s fate, though I was already convinced that David had destroyed the engineers, and this knowledge worked to my advantage because I already knew Daniels and crew were walking right into David’s bullshit. 


Take a step back. I didn’t say you were wrong. The characters truly do some dumb shit. But I’m going to argue that it’s no less dumb than a dude peering into what sure looks to be an egg… in a spaceship that has crash-landed with a dead pilot...


“Fascinating” indeed. 




Alien Rules Are Broken


I really don’t understand this one. We all seem to know exactly how long the gestation period is in a human host, which is amazing, considering we understand the biology that Scott has conceived for his story. Reminder: Scott didn’t make Aliens, didn’t make Alien 3 or Resurrection, and didn’t write the comic books. For Scott, he is under ZERO obligation to abide by any “rules” for these aliens, unless 20th Century Fox asks him for more fan-service. 


Let’s go out on a limb and suggest that the gestation period might be different depending on a number of factors that we can just arbitrarily make up in our heads. Does that work? We’ve already suspended our belief when we enter the theater: we are, after all, watching people travel through space while encountering aliens. If we’re going to banter about how “realistic” specific components about these films are, we should get Stephen Hawking on the phone. 


Why does the first Alien seem to be fully-grown when David witnesses its birth? Again: who cares? Why does this matter? Since this is the first xenomoprh created by David, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the first monster is going to be different than any others after it? Here I am throwing biology around… 


I am probably an idiot, though. Considering that these films are science fiction—and I am not a scientist—I am good at making things up so they fit into my own understanding of the film. As a writer, I like it when the audience interprets something completely different than my intention. Do we have to be right about everything? I don’t know. I guess I am suggesting that Scott’s films are “art”, and for that, I am going to have eggs thrown at me. 




Fassbender Was a Bit Over-the-Top, and Scott’s Literary/Art References Are Insulting




A reviewer for Covenant over at The Ginger Nuts of Horror suggested that Scott gave  David a bit too much of the Roy Baty character from Blade Runner. I have to ask: why is this a bad thing? Consider the following: Scott has been messing with androids for a little while now, and there’s a Blade Runner sequel in our future. Baty is an iconic villain in genre films, much like Ricardo Montalban’s depiction of Khan from Star Trek II. I make the comparison to Khan because we have the poet-warrior archetype, and it’s a favorite of mine. More Roy Baty? Not a bad thing.


The implications of an android that has seemingly become insane or corrupted leaves a lot to think about. I don’t want Scott to answer all of the questions for me, because I love the concept, especially since Scott’s depiction of an artificial person includes the caveat that they are supposed to be superior than their human counterparts in several ways, with a few shortcomings for the sake of balance. I am going on one of my stretches here; consider Harlan Ellison’s iconic short story, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (a favorite of mine). And yes indeedy, my final connection is going to bring us to Skynet from the Terminator franchise. The superior intellect (see what I did there?) has decided that the human race is better off in absentia—erased. I think it would be too easy to write extensively about David/Skynet/Ellison, but we can leave that for a much longer piece. In short, I love the David character. Shame on me. And let’s not forget Ash from the first Alien. 


If we can forgive the literati villains from Wrath of Khan and Blade Runner, why can’t David get a free pass? Because it’s been done before? Did we say the same thing when Wrath of Khan and Blade Runner came out? They weren’t the first brooding, sexy-poet villains. 


In the Alien films, the man behind the curtain has always been “the company”: Weyland Corp. Scott finally gave us a villain with a face, and I think David’s development is complex and wonderful. I am glad that we can attach a face to evil. 


So what about that flute scene? I can’t defend the flute scene, but I will make an attempt to understand it. The theme of the discussion between Walter and David seemed to revolve around creation, and David made it clear that they are unable to create life because they are both androids. The erotic moment may underscore the sexual impotency that both androids suffer, as David points out to Walter that his counterpart has affection for Daniels, an affection that Walter refers to as “duty”. Could this have been pulled off differently? Certainly. Is the theme itself important? I think so. It seems to clarify David’s motives. I = wonder if David recreated the music for Walter to play on the flute, or if it is truly an original “creation” of David’s. This scene seemed to annoy a lot of viewers, and I think it might fit awkwardly into the overall aesthetic of the film. I think Scott intended something with music in general, especially with the John Denver song thrown in, so the literary symbolism is certainly heavy-handed. 


Scott has also chosen to remain faithful to the H.R. Giger’s aesthetic, fusing biology and technology with sexuality. Several of Giger’s illustrations make their way into both Prometheus and Covenant, which helps keep the tone consistent between all three of Scott’s films. Art itself is a prominent driving force behind the entire mythos; is it okay to feature some obvious Giger nods in Covenant and Prometheus? I feel that if we consider the inclusion of Giger’s work to be fan service or an attempt to seem overly intelligent, then we are being unfair in our assessment of the new films as they compare to the first, whereas Scott is being faithful to the original vision.  


If we can’t accept that Scott is going to give us a dose of heavy-handedness, then we probably hated Blade Runner, too. In fact, if you hate the new Alien movies, I am going to guess that the new Blade Runner is going to be massively disappointing. I could be wrong. I hope I am. I hope everyone loves it and accepts it as the greatest science fiction film ever made.  


What Happened to the Engineers? 


I was never under the assumption that David believed he killed all the engineers. I am, however, under the assumption that not ALL of the engineers wanted to wipe out Earth. 


In Prometheus, it is clear that the engineers have been travelling all over the cosmos for a very, very long time. Before the dawn of man! The fateful crew of the Prometheus lands on a planet that shows us several “military installations” all in a neat row… bases that look very much like the xenomorph eggs (faithful to Giger’s art). Our crew infiltrates ONE base, gets inside of ONE ship, and they awaken ONE engineer. What about the other ships? The other engineers? What can we assume? If all it takes is one ship to deliver a lethal payload to an entire civilization, then is it possible that the other ships were headed for other worlds?


I would argue that we have to check our expectations of what an “advanced” civilization should look like. Scott is giving us an interpretation, and we are witnessing his vision. The scene in Covenant that shows David swinging his arms while he annihilates these engineers shows us a civilization that is pseudo-primitive; where is all the cool tech? Why does their city seem like a temple? Is there only one such city on the planet? 


David explains that he has destroyed life on the engineers’ homeworld. Does the homeworld need to have flying cars or huge cities? Nah. Has their civilization “regressed” in some way? Does it matter? It’s Scott’s fantasy, and we’re experiencing it. 




But James Franco’s Character…


Died. 


The Ending Was Predictable


First, we approach this movie with a huge advantage over the characters: we know what the aliens can do. They don’t surprise us. How do you make the idea fresh / original? We’re all experts, so we can save that question for another day. Knowing what the aliens can do to our characters is part of the horror: just as we know that Jason / Freddy / Michael Myers is hiding around the corner, our awareness of the threat to the characters is used to increase tension for the audience. How does this apply to the ending? 


Tried and true storytelling method: the audience knows what is going to happen, but the characters do not. Frank Herbert's Dune is my favorite example of this: the author told us from the very start who the traitor was. Emotion is generated through your investment in the characters. We see their doom, and how it happens. The characters have a chance to avoid this doom, which is where the audience comes into play.


In Covenant, Ridley Scott showed us early on that Walter can repair his flesh. The only reason why this moment is crucial to the story is because Daniels had an opportunity to realize that Walter was an imposter on the ship. David is stapling his flesh together, and Daniels helps. This is significant. We want Daniels to realize that it is not Walter, but David. The audience holds out desperate hope that we are wrong, because we like Walter.


David gives us the sly smile when he is on the bridge; we know then, in our hearts, that it is not Walter. Even though he helps Tennessee and Daniels, we know the android is David. 


And then when David ushers them into hypersleep, we are still hopeful. We are supposed to be invested in Daniels, and we want her to lash out and kick David’s ass. Daniels is supposed to be safe, but she is not, and when the horror fills her eyes, we aren’t supposed to be surprised, because our emotions are supposed to be more deeply invested in Daniels so that we hope, until the final moment, that we were wrong about David.


I love this method of storytelling. I am one of those people who knew (SPOILER FOR A STAR WARS MOVIE WATCH OUT) that Han Solo was going to die in The Force Awakens, and knowing heightened the suspense for me. As a longtime reader of the Song of Ice and Fire series, I am still emotionally invested when I know a character is about to die in the HBO version, A Game of Thrones. This doesn’t work for a lot of people, and I realize that. I’m that teacher with copies of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men with “GEORGE KILLS LENNIE” written by other students on the inside of the covers, and when I explain to my students that the ending is meaningless without context, they trust me, and they follow me down that road. 




Conclusion/Reminder


I have zero credibility, besides the fact that I am a fanboy. Alien was the movie my parents used to pacify me while I was a young lad, though it always seems fresh and wonderful no matter how many times I watch it. Will I like every Alien film just because? Nope. I thought Resurrection was almost a fun movie, though its tone is jarringly different than the other three; and the AVP films can be enjoyed, though I am not in love with them. I have not convinced you to change your mind about Covenant, and that’s okay. After reading several negative perceptions of the film, I wanted to add to the dialogue. I might seem to be sort of a Scott apologist, but trust me when I say the third film in this new trilogy could ruin the entire thing for me, and for those moviegoers who are losing faith, it’s going to certainly take a hyperdrive leap of faith to make you believe in the director’s vision, and I can’t fault you for that. 


I think the films are frustrating in the sense that fans want answers to specific questions, and I can only guess that Scott’s goal doesn’t necessarily include providing concrete answers. “Intelligent” films often come across as pretentious or downright insulting; people who claim they “get it” also seem to be assholes. Let me be clear: I have no idea what Scott is trying to do. If I had to give this movie a rating out of five stars, I would give it 3.5, which seems to be the going rate from a lot of viewers.  Enjoyable, but not profound. It doesn’t have to be profound, though. We’ve already seen Alien, and it’s one of the greatest films ever made… 


]]>
<![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.
]]>