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  • Film (Re)View – The Strangers, Prey at Night

    This sequel has been a long time coming and I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed. Rather than being a typical slasher flick – all horror and no terror – the filmmakers really thought about what they were doing with this.

    The movie follows a family who go to stay at a relative’s holiday trailer park, en route to taking their rebellious daughter to boarding school. A note left in the reception, written in a childish hand with a smiley face at the bottom, is a massive clue as to something being amiss, yet it is missed by Cindy, the mother.

    Family time goes south and Kinsey, the daughter, stomps out, with her brother Luke sent to ‘talk’ to her. It doesn’t take the siblings long to find out why their aunt and uncle weren’t there to welcome them.

    With the kids gone, mum and dad think they might get some alone time, when there is a knock at the door. This is the second time that evening AND it is the same girl asking for the same person. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose soon after.

    Remember how I said this isn’t a typical slasher movie? The reason for this is that the filmmakers have taken time to weave the web of fear into the cast and audience alike. The members of the family are stalked and terrorised by the three masked assailants, and are are picked off one by one.

    All good horror movies need the right mix of terror and horror for them to be successful. Terror is the emotional build up – the racing heart, clammy skin, shallow breathing etc – and the horror is the release – the scream, the running away, the fighting back. You can’t have one without the other if you want a horror film to be successful.

    Many slasher films don’t spend much time on the build up of terror, it is all about the body count and the blood spillage. This movie changed that, by having a small cast terrorised by The Strangers. Well done filmmakers!

    It isn’t based on a true story, despite its claim, but there are elements that may be familiar to crime buffs. The methods employed by The Strangers are said to resemble those used by the followers of Charles Manson, and the lines:

    ‘Why are you doing this (to us)?’

    ‘Why not?’

    May have that same familiar ring to them.

    The lines above also raise a talking point. Many people argue that all killers have a reason for doing what they do, but this isn’t necessarily true. Some do it just because they can……….

  • Film (Re)View – A Quiet Place

    Unfortunately, because of this, as soon as I saw it, it turned me cold, as I am not a fan of science fiction.

    However, whilst the whole alien thing may have done nothing for me, the rest of the movie was absolutely stunning.

    The performance of the actors, especially the children, in a movie where there is very little dialogue, was outstanding and so I applaud Krasinski for this.

    As with many disaster movies of this type, we are presented with a fait accompli, and left to piece together what has happened – alien invasion, in case you haven’t caught on – from the clues we see in the backdrop. The movie focuses on one family, trying to survive in a world where the slightest noise could spell the end of their existence, as the aliens in question hunt by sound. If the sound you are making is drowned out by a louder sound (screaming under the waterfall scene) then you are safe……….

    Now, let me think about this……..I don’t think this is strictly true. It is, if we are talking about a natural sound i.e. a waterfall or a rive,r or a sound made to distract the aliens away from something else i.e. the fireworks, but what if both sounds emanated from the same place…..? I’ll leave you with that thought.

    Anyway, there are the scenes to highlight the point about being quiet and to show just how brutal these aliens are, but they are nothing compared to the climax of the film, when Blunt’s character goes into labour and the safe life of this family is basically over.

    They do find the aliens’ weakness, but I won’t spoil it for you ?

    I did have a few issues with this film.

    One was about the sound that the birds made. Yes, they are in the sky and the aliens can’t reach them, BUT the aliens would still be drawn to their raucous sound, but they weren’t. Yet, a racoon bumbling along making funny squeaking noises met a rather nasty end, very quickly.

    Secondly, the scene in the flooded basement. After us knowing that this area is clear of aliens and there is only one way in – through the hole in the floor, covered by a mattress (soundproofing) – how the hell did one of them get down there? This is a huge editing faux pas on the part of the film-makers.

    My main bug-bare with this movie, you won’t be surprised to know, is with the alien itself. It’s not the fact that it’s an alien, per se, but that they showed it to you in glorious technicolour. This should not happen. I bang on about this a lot, but when you are creating a monster/alien that you have completely made up, it is not going to be what the audience create in their minds. It is best to hint at what it is – a claw, an eye, a foot etc and leave it to our imagination to conjure it in full. Don’t break the moment of the movie, by going “ta-da”, as it ruins the movie experience.

    Despite my criticisms, this is an excellent film, from the point of view of creating tension and suspense, and I would highly recommend it to everyone.

    Just don’t go in expecting a horror film because it ain’t one!

  • Film (Re)View – Ghosts Stories

    This was another Scream Unseen outing and a movie I was very much looking forward to, as the trailers implied it would be awesome and scary………er, no!

    Don’t get me wrong, this movie started out really well. It follows Dr Goodman (Andy Nyman), a jewish man raised in a very overpowering and religious household. Maybe this was why he ended up as a skeptic, debunking psychics and other such matters which purport to suggest that ghosts are real. Goodman is tasked with investigating three unsolved cases of hauntings, all in an effort to convince him that there is more to this world than meets the eye.

    The first of these is Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse). Matthews was a nightwatchman in an abandoned lunatic asylum, when he experienced lights being unplugged and other strange goings on, culminating in him coming face to face (literally) with the ghost of a little girl in a bright yellow dress. Said ghost enveloped him in a hug and her long bony fingers, tipped with nails a child her age wouldn’t have, reached up to his face and put a finger in his mouth.

    For anyone who has ever been on a paranormal night, especially to an asylum, this story proved spot on and sent a few shivers up the old spine.

    The second case is Simon Rifkind (Alex Lawther) who seemed to have completely flipped out due to an experience when his car broke down in the woods. A creature of some description, which could speak, climbed into his car. Rifkind escaped and ran into the woods, only to be subdued by some sort of tree monster.

    This story leaned more towards the fantastical than the paranormal and didn’t do anything for me.

    The third story is Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman) whose wife had been taken into hospital, heavily pregnant and in distress. When he returned home, he experienced noises and weird goings on in the child’s nursery, culminating in seeing a child swathed in a blanket, playing in the crib, and a macabre ghost of his wife. The phone then rang and you can guess the rest.

    Again, this was a very realistic ghost story and something any true believer will be familiar with.

    Clues can be seen throughout the second and third stories, to try and lead you towards a conclusion.

    After Priddle blew his own head off in front of Goodman, the movie crosses into the ridiculous and rapidly goes downhill, in my opinion.

    The premise of the film seems to be based around Goodman being plagued by guilt over (and the spirit of) Kojak – a boy he went to school with. Both Goodman and Kojak were the victims of two school bullies who, this particular day, coaxed Kojak to go into a disused tunnel and read the numbers chalked periodically on the walls. Once he’d read out the tenth number, the bullies said he could join their gang. There was no tenth number and the tunnel got smaller and smaller, to the point where Kojak collapsed and had a fit. The bullies ran off and Goodman stood there for a while, listening to Kojak’s distress, before also running off. Kojak died.

    This backstory is actually perfect for a story about ghosts, but the filmmakers just didn’t use it in the right way. A tortured soul hell bent on proving that none of the phenomena he is experiencing is true is a solid idea. They just turned the film into sheer stupidity, but this isn’t the worst part…….

    The worst part is the end…the committing of a cardinal sin when it comes to storytelling – it was all a dream, or in his case a coma dream. You CANNOT do this. It is CHEATING. Enough said.

  • Film (Re)View – Den of Thieves

    Anyway, back to the movie.

    It is very “Heat”esque in its storyline and who is trying to undermine and outsmart whom was done extremely well. It starts with the baddies (Schreiber’s crew) doing what seems like a pointless heist of an armoured vehicle, as there is no money in it, and it leaves the Major Crimes unit (Butler’s Crew) a tad baffled as to why. Their aim then is to find someone who they can manipulate to find out what Merrimen (Schreiber) is up to. This is in the form of Donnie (O’Shea Jackson), the seemingly innocuous driver.

    Donnie certainly plays the part of the innocent in the team very well and Big Nick (Butler) falls for it. Even Merrimen believes Donnie when he tells him he ‘didn’t tell the cops anything’. Merrimen then decides to set the cops up.

    What happens is that both Merrimen and Butler get double crossed.

    It is a very violent movie, with more than its fair share of fatalities, but, to be honest, I wouldn’t expect anything less from this sort of movie.

    The only bad points for me were the shooting range scene where, apparently, Big Nick was trying to out psyche Merrimen. To me it was just a willy waving scene, which would have been far quicker. The other was when they were stuck in traffic and there was a huge shoot-out between the crews. Given the accuracy of fire at the shooting range, the level of inaccuracy in the shoot-out, made my mind boggle. It was bullets for bullets sake. But that’s a female take on the two scenes, as my male friends thought they were both awesome….enough said.

    My only question, in the day and age we now live in, is whether Major Crimes would get away with the level of brutality they inflicted. Given how the do gooders have ruined the world, I highly doubt it. This would be my only question over believability.

    It was, all in all, an excellent action movie, catering to both sexes on different levels. Well worth a perve…I mean a watch ?

  • Film (Re)View – Winchester

    The Winchester House is in San Jose, California and is, arguably, the most haunted house in the USA. Following the death of her husband and infant daughter, Sarah Winchester visited a medium, who told her she needed to move far away and build a house big enough to occupy the souls of those killed by the Winchester rifle.

    The house was said to be under constant 24 hour construction during the 38 years that Sarah Winchester lived there, although this has been disputed by her biographer. True or not, the higgledy piggledy nature of the house – with doors with no rooms, stairs that lead nowhere and corridors that make your head spin – make it a feat of construction and a place that the faint hearted would not want to be lost in after dark.

    Sarah became obsessed with the belief that the souls of all those killed by a Winchester rifle were out to destroy her family; her husband and daughter being the first victims, although her husband died of TB. To appease these spirits, she was advised to build a room in her house to enable the spirit to enter this world. Once she’d done this, she sealed the room with a wooden brace and 13 nails, thus sealing the spirit inside and out of harm’s way.

    The film is based around Dr Eric Price, a man whose wife committed suicide using a Winchester and who shot him in the process. He “died” for 3 minutes and was revived. He kept the bullet and restored it lest he ever forget. He has been recruited by the Winchester Repeating Rifle Co to assess the mental state of Sarah Winchester and to determine whether she is fit to stand as the figurehead of the company.

    Price goes to stay in the mansion and is soon plagued by the spirits that roam there. He dismisses what he sees as hallucinations, due to his abuse of Laudanum, until he is led around the mansion to the sealed up gun room by a butler, whom Price believes to be on staff. It is only when this butler turns all monster on him that he realises there may very well be something in Sarah Winchester’s story.

    The fake butler is soon revealed to be Corporal Benjamin Block, a soldier in the Confederate army who lost his two brothers to the Winchester rifle. He storms the headquarters and kills 15 members of staff before barricading himself in the gun room and waiting for the police, armed with Winchesters, to come and get him and get him they did.

    The spirits have spoken to Sarah and demanded the gun room be rebuilt so that Block can cross over and seek his revenge.

    It is then down to Price to help Sarah defeat this ghost and his two brothers, who are closing in on Sarah’s niece and her little boy.

    The film-makers have succeeded in creating a spine chilling movie based around this true story. The ghosts are corporeal and disturbing and the frights are certainly not for the faint hearted. Whilst it didn’t scare me, there were many in the audience hiding behind their coats, which I found charming.

    This was an extremely well put together ghost story, with fantastic special effects and stellar acting from Mirren and Clarke.

    A definite must see. Now, where’s my Winchester…..;-)

  • Film (Re)View – Insidious: The Last Key

    As Annabelle Creation is to The Conjuring franchise, so too is The Last Key to the Insidious franchise – a prequel. I love a prequel, or a prologue as I prefer to call them, as everyone who reads my books will attest. Prologues set the scene and hint at the horrors to come.

    The prologue did not disappoint. Learning Elise’s history at the hands of a father who feared her because she was different, did not come as a surprise. Human nature dictates that if something or someone is different, then it must be destroyed. Throughout time mankind has annihilated anything that it cannot figure out (why do you think there are so many wars!).

    Josh Stewart, better known to me as JJ’s husband in Criminal Minds, carried off the role of the intimidating and fearful father perfectly; a father who, at the end of the film, in ghost form, tries to save Elise and thus redeem himself.

    Elise has always been able to see the other side, a gift that her mother made her promise never to give up, despite her father’s attitude. She knows the house she is living in is home to many malevolent spirits, due to it being next to a state penitentiary, where many criminals have been sent to the electric chair. One such spirit resides in her bedroom and it draws her down to the cellar where a red door exists. Behind the door echoes the voice of a child, begging her to find the key and open the door and free them all. Elise opens the door and through it comes a monster with the power to silence a person with a key inserted into their throat. The monster takes the life of Elise’s mother, leaving her at the hands of a father who doesn’t understand her.

    As a teenager she finally stands up to her father, when she admits to him that she has seen a badly beaten woman in the laundry room; a woman who actually proved to be real. Under threat of yet another beating she leaves, leaving her younger brother behind, and never goes back. She knows there is something the house is trying to tell her, but she can’t take the abuse anymore.

    Years later, when she is in the latter years of her life, she receives a call from the present owner of the house, asking for her help, as he believes the house is haunted.

    Elise goes back to help him and, in doing so, finally unearths the dark secrets the house holds, and the impact it has had on the male occupants over the years. With the help of her newly discovered nieces, Elise fights to finally defeat the monster that she believes she is responsible for bringing into the world.

    The end of the film perfectly dovetails into the first Insidious movie.

    The story isn’t necessarily a new one, but the filmmakers have succeeded in suspending my disbelief by creating a believable scenario in the eyes of a woman who has never let her sixth sense be beaten out of her.

    Full marks for this movie. It even made me jump, but only once ?

    Funnily enough, I saw a younger Lin Shaye only a week ago when I went to The Plaza in Stockport for Grimmfest’s showing of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I’d forgotten she was in it ?

  • Film (Re)View – Hostiles

    Harrowing is probably a mild way of describing this movie, but add to that the words beautiful and heartbreaking and you will get a feel for the type of movie it is.

    The opening scene is enough to test the hardest of hearts when Rosalie’s (Pike) entire family are slain by Comanche Indians. She escapes, not realising that the baby in her arms is dead. To say she is broken is an understatement, but as the film progresses she shows a strength of character and an unbiased nature that we should all strive for.

    The second story thread is with Sgt Joe Blocker (Bale), a decorated soldier who is about to retire, but is given one last assignment – to take a Cheyenne Indian Chief, who is dying from “the” cancer, and his family home. Chief Yellow Hawk and Blocker have crossed swords on many occasions and each has as dark and despicable a past as the other. Blocker despises the Chief and all his “kind” stand for and refuses outright to do it, until he is threatened with the loss of his pension.

    The two stories collide when Blocker and his party come across Rosalie’s burnt out house and find her inside with her dead children.

    What follows is a raw look at how bigotry, racism, hatred and fear can be overcome in the face of adversity, how people can learn to live alongside one another and work together towards a common goal and how hatred and can turn into friendship and respect.

    For me, this is a movie that everyone should go and watch, given the intolerant and hate filled world we are living in. There are lessons to be learned.

  • Film (Re)View – The Greatest Showman

    True to the real story? Well, I’m not so sure of that, but would it be quite as wonderful if it were too close? I’ll let you decide.

    From what I know of Phineas Taylor Barnum, he wasn’t as beautiful as Mr Jackman and his life wasn’t quite as neatly packaged as the movie makes out, but then again, stories don’t translate directly to screen – not in a good way, anyway.

    The movie did encapsulate the better known events of his life – his rise from poverty to wealth, his marriage to Charity and birth of two children (rather than four), the success of his ‘freaks’ to bring his museum to life, his meeting with Jenny Lind and the tour that saw him shunning the people who made him, an abbreviated version of his partnership with Philip Carlysle, the fire that destroyed his museum and the circus tent that rose from the ashes. As to how accurate and linked these events really were is up for debate.

    Barnum certainly had more than just Carlysle as a business partner. He also had a very successful museum before he added the ‘freaks’, though the movie says otherwise, plus his museum suffered two large fires, not one.

    Despite this, the movie does depict very well the determination of one man to make his dreams come true and the heady heights and rock bottom lows that he suffered. Despite bankruptcy, ruin and everything else life threw at him, he always rose again. To me, this is true proof of a successful man.

    The sadness comes in his ‘freak’ show. Was it exploitation, was it giving these misfits in society a place where they could stand tall and shine, or was it a bit of both? I feel it was the latter, because he certainly didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart, yet he did give these people, who were shunned and ostracised by society, a sense of belonging and a family. Rightly or wrongly, he gave them a wealth and fame they would never have found without him.

    It saddened me because it highlights very clearly the lack of tolerance human beings have for those who are different. It still goes on today, albeit to a lesser extent, and I feel this is only because many of the ‘freaks’ in Barnum’s show had genetic, hormonal or medical conditions that are known, understood and managed today, but they weren’t back then.

    As many of you know, my debut children’s novel, The Misfits, deals with children who are different and don’t fit in to what is deemed the ‘norm’. My message is to embrace your uniqueness and let it shine, for it is the people who are different and unique who have innovated and changed our lives. It’s about time Joe Public remembered this and thought twice before shunning someone a little different from themself…..

  • Film (Re)View – Wonder

    Jacob Tremblay did an amazing job of playing Auggie, a 10 year old boy born with a facial deformity which has set him aside from other kids and prompted him to be home schooled by his mum. On the advent of him moving to middle school, his parents made the decision that he needed to go to a mainstream school and start to interact with kids his own age.

    Now, we all know kids can be brutal at the best of times, and this was no exception. It was heartbreaking to watch the way he was teased and ostracised by most and pitied by others. As hard as it was for him, though, he stood tall and continued to go to school, continued to brave the insults and the staring, until eventually the kids saw past the wrapping and saw who Auggie really was.

    It is a movie that will tear at your heartstrings as you see, not only the impact of this situation on Auggie himself, but also on his family and friends. It is a great insight into the reality of being different from other people and to the bullying that ensues and it should act as a lesson to us all in how we should treat other people.

    Being different, being unique, not following the crowd are all perfectly acceptable and to be applauded. Everyone is perfect, just the way they are and no one should ever be made to feel that they’re not.

  • Film (Re)View – Murder on the Orient Express

    As I have never seen the original or read the book, I went on this journey with an open mind. I had heard the comments about Branagh vs Suchet and ‘that moustache’, but I didn’t let any of it sway me as I sat down for my first trip on the Orient Express.

    First off, and I feel I should get this out of the way, I like his moustache – very touchable and, apparently, it is closer to the book version(?). I did have a chuckle at the device he wears at night to keep it in place too!

    This is a very charming film, from the point of view of the settings, the direction and the sweeping and artistic cinematography. You can’t help but be swept up and come to the conclusion that no expense was spared in making this movie – just in case you haven’t guessed that from the cast list.

    Each actor plays his/her role to perfection. You have to remember the time that this story was written as well as when it was set, yet, despite this, I didn’t wince or feel any of them were hamming it up. I did feel the make up artists were a tad heavy handed with the old foundation though……trowelling it on springs to mind!

    This is a typical Christie whodunit, with red herrings, twists and turns and a detective who is so brilliant, he is able to solve the crime without that much investigation, because of his natural ability to read people.

    Is Poirot a believable character? Probably not, because no matter how brilliant a mind, there is a limit to what it can solve on its own. However, he doesn’t stand alone. Believable or not, Poirot is a thoroughly charming, engaging and witty character and, from this point of view, you are willing to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the show.

    I always saw Agatha Christie’s stories as complex with regards to the weaving of the clues, but this story seemed more straight-forward and the perp more apparent. Maybe it’s that I’ve watched/read enough murders now to know what I’m looking for, or maybe it’s just that seeing the wounds on the body tends to point you towards certain conclusions.


    I do need to get something off my chest thought about this film so I am issuing a huge SPOILER ALERT now so, if you don’t know the story, stop reading for the rest of this paragraph. What spoilt this movie for me, was the scene where the murderer is revealed. There is no way you can fit 10+ people in one of those compartments, especially 10+ people who are ‘frantically moving about’, shall we say. Also, there is no way Porot would not have heard them. On exit they all banged the door, amongst other noises. Poirot, as is demonstrated in the film, is an extremely light sleeper. Yes, he does hear some noise from Ratchett’s compartment, but he would have heard more and would not have taken the response of ‘Rien’ (nothing) so easily, especially as Ratchett doesn’t speak French.


    All this being said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie and I am looking forward to the next instalment – Murder on the Nile.