Assimilate (2019)

Film: I loves me a good body snatcher film. Seriously, from The Thing and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (and their remakes) to Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, I’ve always loved a weird alien-replacement conspiracy story. Thankfully, Hollywood does too, so you’ll get a new one once a decade or so… even if in several of those occasions they have been remakes, yes, a weird alternate simplicity of an original!

Wow, I’ve only just realised that a remake is the pod person version of an original film.

Anyway, this decade’s version is this film Assimilate, written, directed and produced (and starring) John Murlowski, who previously directed Amityville: A New Generation and Contagion… no, not that one, the other one from about ten years prior.

Assimilate tell of two friends, Zach (Joel Courtney from Super 8) and Randy (Callum Worthy from American Vandal), who have decided to start a YouTube Web channel all about how boring their small American town is. During the course of the filming we meet various family members and odd locals (no weirder than normal oddness, that is) and of course, Zach’s high school crush, Kayla (Andi Matichak from 2018’s Halloween).

Also, they film a few pieces of weirdness, including a woman who is bitten by ‘something’. They chase the ‘thing’, only to see it picked up by the creepy local priest. They return to see her the following day but when they return to see if she is ok, she is, and with no evidence of ever being bitten, but there seems to be something off about her.

Quickly, the three realise that the townsfolk are being replaced by something, but will they be able to escape the town without being replaced themselves? Will the succumb to the aliens horrible scheme for world domination?

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I liked this film. At first I thought it was going to be derivative of the earlier mentioned films, but it was surprisingly entertaining with a decent amount of jump scares and actual thrills. I was also concerned it was going to be a Blair Witch/ Paranormal Activity found footage thing too, and even though it dips it’s toe in that pool, it doesn’t go full tilt into it, and the idea of the uploads has a payoff that is worthwhile.

The cast are great. Again, I thought the two male leads were going to be chuckleheads but they developed differently to what I first thought they would, and Andi Matichak, who appears to be the token final girl role at first, develops completely in a different direction. As a side note it was also nice to see Cam Gigandet again, I really liked him in Never Back Down (even though his character was a right knob) and The Unborn, so his appearance as the disbelieving Deputy in this was great.

The fault with this film is the special effects, which simply put, are terrible. I’ve seen a lot of cruddy effects in my time though, and even some of my favourite films suffer this fate, so it would be unfair to simple this film out on that notion.

Seriously though, they are well crappy.

All in all, this is a cracking film which entertained and surprised from start to finish… especially the finish.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region 4 DVD, which is presented in a thoroughly decent 1.85:1 image with a matching Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The problem with the image being so clear is that it does reveal the effects to be a little bit… well, crappy. The image also varies somewhat due to the fact the mains characters are using their own webcams occasionally.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was pretty good, but the surprise has gone so it won’t be as eye-opening.

The New Mutants (2020)

The New Mutants (2020)

Film: A strange thing happened to the 13 year old me in 1983… no, not pubic hair and the realisation that boobs are amazing… no, I became a ‘proper’ comic collector. I had been collecting comics for almost a decade at this point, but comics were something I rolled up and shoved in my pocket, and carried around in cardboard boxes with little regard for comic company, numbering or continuing stories.

I just liked the pictures with the words.

In 1983, though, I picked up something special whilst at the local news agency with my mum, who was doing her lotto: the first issue of a comic which would change my life, The New Mutants.

The New Mutants told of teens, some the same age as me, who upon hitting puberty, discovered that hidden in their DNA was a horrible secret/ curse of special abilities that if untethered, could accidentally kill others. Thankfully, they were taken on by the kindly teacher Professor Charles Xavier, who at his private school would just teach them and protect them, would also train them to use their powers, but unlike his other team, the missing (at the time) X-men, he wouldn’t allow them to become ‘super heroes’… but they are strong-willed teens, so obviously THAT wasn’t going to happen!

Imagine my excitement, then, when it was announced that 20th Century Fox was going to make a HORROR film based on my favourite comic of all time! Imagine my disappointment at the constant delays, some COVID-related, and some due to the Disney buy-out of Fox, and other because it was getting some bad press, even though no one had actually seen it.

The New Mutants FINALLY got a release in late 2020, where it was unceremoniously dumped… even though it was part of the successful but floundering (well, except for Deadpool and the magnificent Logan) X-men series… to DVD and Bluray (in the companies defence, it was right during COVID lockdowns and few, if any, cinemas were actually open). Tragically you can tell it was dumped by the fact that bother the symbols for Marvel, and it’s parent company Disney, and not mentioned on the front of the packaging, and are a tiny part of the back cover, which is a resounding ‘we are embarrassed by this movie’.

At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, they are wrong.

This film was directed by Josh Boone, the director of teen drama The Fault in our Stars, who had envisioned it to be the first in a trilogy, which is now obviously abandoned, and was based on a script by him and Bad Grandpa’s Knate Lee… please don’t let those credentials scare you off… and is based loosely on the comics Demon Bear Saga, written by Chris Claremont, with art from Bob McLeod and Bill Sienkiewicz.

The New Mutants tells of Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), a teenage girl who has been admitted to a hospital after a tornado destroys her community, and her father is killed by… something…

At this institute, she discovers that the doctor in charge, Dr. Celia Reyes (Alice Braga) intends on keeping her there until she understands and can learn to control her mutant powers of being able to make people’s worst nightmares come to life.

Maisie Williams and Blu Hunt

Dr. Reyes already has a group of kids at the institute though: the quiet, but lycanthropic Rahne (Maisie Williams), the Brazilian hothead, Roberto (Henry Zaga), southern boy Sam (Charlie Heaton) and Uber-bitch, is-she-actually-a-demon Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy), and quickly, Dani discovers that she is being held with these others, in a cage if sorts.

The problem with cages, though, is sometimes they keep what’s outside, outside, but they also trap everything inside, perhaps even whatever it was that killed Dani’s rather… and with 5 super powered and erratic teens, that could be a dangerous mix!

Roberto’s girlfriend is a hottie!

Now this film isn’t your traditional ‘Bang! Pow!’ Superhero movie, oh no. This takes all that bluster and works it down to something that you saw in some of the X-men films, especially with the horrors of Rogue’s (Anna Paquin) powers which caused he to be unable to touch the skin of another human being: getting your powers for the first time would be horrible. Mix with that the difficulties of puberty and a bit of sexual chemistry and you have an absolute cracker of a movie.

It reads very much like a super powered, horror version of The Breakfast Club, and honestly this probably does tap into my love of that John Hughes film, with maybe a little of A Nightmare on Elm St 3: The Dream Warriors thrown in for good measure.

The cast, for me, are an absolute dream. Maisie Williams, hot off her time as Anya in Game of Thrones, Charlie Heaton, the creepy hot guy from Stranger Things and Anya Taylor-Joy, my current obsession, and star of The VVitch and hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. In a weird piece of chance, and I guess it’s what a good casting person does, the cast somehow both fit, and don’t.

The story is a great introduction to these characters, and choosing to make this film with horror and teen elements is just as clever as making Deadpool a full-tilt comedy. It was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy and it’s a shame we’ll miss out on that as this film quite heavily leans into a future appearances of X-men baddie, Mr. Sinister.

Just because this film was dumped by Disney, please don’t assume it’s anything bad. It’s great!

Score: ****

Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian release, region B Bluray copy of the film. The 1.85:1 image and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track are fabulous.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a bunch of extras on this Bluray:

There are 7 deleted scenes which the movie really doesn’t miss at all.

Origins and Influences sees Boone, Lee and Sienkiewicz talk about the New Mutants comic. For me this is an unusual featurettes as Boone and Lee talk about how much they loved the New Mutants comic but it started off as a usual superhero comic, which for me, it definitely did not. Towards the end, it became boring and generic, but at first it was a proper school for people learning to control their abilities. I do appreciate it did become something unique when Sienkiewicz could really unleash his art style into it.

Meet the New Mutants introduces us to the cast and the characters they play.

Audio commentary with Boone and Sienkiewicz is really fascinating. To hear two storytellers from different areas of creative storytelling coming together and discussing a project they both worked on in different media. It’s so refreshing to see a comic creative get such a voice in a commentary. Normally in most superhero movies, a tiny bit of lip service is paid to the source material, or poor Stan Lee was forced to tell one of his oft-told tales again, but this really feels like a tribute to the comic. Fantastic.

There’s also the teaser and theatrical trailer.

Score: ****

WISIA: Oh boy, it’s so good it’ll get regularly rewatched!

Anya Taylor-Jot is Magikal

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2010)

Film: There is only one difference between a so-called ‘A’ movie and a B movie: The Budget.

Budget can make a story that is cheap, tawdry or nasty something that people take notice of because budget pays for bigger stars, better effects or a more ‘international story. There was an amusing meme that went around when 50 Shades of Grey was released that if Mr Grey was poor and lived in a trailer park, it would be an episode of CSI.

So too, this film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the first book of the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, could have been a sleazy little film that slipped by and only had a fan base of those who liked the books, but instead, it attracted names like director David Fischer, screenwriter Steven Zaillian, actors Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgård and Christopher Plummer, and a score by Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor.

Interestingly, this is an English remake of the film which was originally made in Sweden two years earlier with Naomi Rapace (also from Alien prequel Prometheus), along with two sequels made immediately based on the other two books of Larsson’s trio. I say ’remake’ but that is unfair; it is another movie version of the book. Unfortunately o date they haven’t made the other two books, and judging by the next Lisbeth Salander film made, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, they won’t be made anytime soon, nor with the same cast.

This film tells of shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who takes on an assignment searching for a missing member of Henrik Vanger’s (Christopher Plummer) family, who went missing forty years ago.

Vanger’s family, one of great wealth, has been at war within its ranks for years, which hinders Blomkvist’s investigation. Most of the family members are compliant as his research is under the guise of a biography, but still he finds insults and resistance.

Soon, he gets help from Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a sociopathic hacker with a fast motorcycle and a vicious sense of vengeance and the two of them discover a horrible secret the family has kept hidden for years…

I’m going to gush a little here as I absolutely love this film. I think it’s directed brilliantly, the ‘administration’ and research the characters do is fascinating and the cinematography is exquisite. Of course the ‘hacking’ is almost of a science fiction level and one has to assume it’s not like that at all, but who wants to watch three days of coding instead of something a little more video game-ish.

In a podcast I am the host of (not the To Watch Pile one, another one called The Nerds of Oz) in an episode where me and my co-hosts talked about our favourite characters of all time, I actually named a Lisbeth Salander as mine. Of all the actresses to have played her, including Clare Foy in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Mara is certainly the most convincing, and terrifying!

The ultimate results of the story vary from the book, but in this case I am ok with that as it did make the ending surprising, which was nice.

If I am to criticise this film, and it really hurts me to say this as he is my favourite Bond, is Daniel’s Craig’s performance. It is a performances of subtleties and the character probably requires that, but occasionally I find him a little wooden.

That said, this is easily one of my favourite films, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Score: *****

Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian multiregion Bluray and is presented in an absolutely pristine 2.40:1 image with a flawless Dolby Digital DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.

Score: *****

Extras: This film comes with two discs. The first disc features the film (of course) and a commentary by David Fincher. Like most of his commentaries, it’s fairly complete and he clearly enjoys the act of filmmaking. There is also a whole second disc worth of extras on this one:

Men Who Hate Women sees the director, screenwriter and stars of the film discuss the popularity of the Millennium Trilogy books.

The Character and location tabs open a separate, quite inventive yet very Fincher series of menus (that’s evocative of a research part of the film) that feature the entire making of the film, from casting to location b-roll and the visual effects design of the very James Bond-like opening sequence. Fascinating yet exhaustive stuff. There is also a fairly complete look at the promotion stuff for the film as well.

Score: *****

WISIA: Love this film, love the characters, love the story, love rewatching it.

A Bay of Blood (1971)

A Bay of Blood (1971)

Film: Truly, in English speaking countries and outside of the fans of horror or cult cinema, the name of director Mario Bava, unjustly seems to be ignored.

Bava was the son of a filmmaker and started as a cinematographer, and was also adept at screenwriting and special effects, but really, as a director is where his talent lies. In his career he directed over almost 40, with genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and comedy… even a movie based on a comics character (yes, Marvel didn’t do that first OR best), and many directors including Dario Argento, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Joe Dante, Lucia Fulci and others claim to have been influenced by his work.

This film, A Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Ecologia Del Delitto (and many others) tells the tale of a series of murders that take place by the titular Bay.

The worst haircut ever gets it’s due punishment

First, the disabled owner of the bay is found hanging in her house in what was a murder made to look like suicide, but almost immediately, her murderer is also dispatched by a mysterious assailant. These events lead to a series of murders that all appear to be a cover-up for a real estate scam and an inheritance issue that just seem to escalate.

This film is clearly one of the templates for the slasher movies that came ten years later in the eighties: really just a series of gory murders, intercut with some images of boobs/ butts and a barely incoherent story to link it all together.

Not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t really have a problem with that!

Clearly, Sean Cunningham was inspired by this scene

Honestly, the story is REALLY stupid and doesn’t feel at all like any attempt has been made for any type of legitimacy for the story, and it assumes the viewer has NO understanding of how police investigations go. One could never remake this film now as the perpetrators of the film left fingerprints everywhere and even a rock with a slight understanding of forensics would have the ‘mystery’ solved within minutes. Also, so many unnecessary scenes drag on for far too long, and characters whose back stories we really don’t need to know are over-explained to the point of slowing down the story.

I say all that but it the end it is still charming, and the scenes of violence, considering this came out in 1971, are quite shocking and occasionally sophisticated in their execution. Sometimes the victim’s death scenes are just dumb though… for example, Brunhilda is clearly still breathing after her demise… for them not to ring too true, but they are excusable as not much of it feels realistic at all.

Island of Death director Nick Mastorakis said (and I paraphrase) that in making his film that he asked members of his team to come up with a bunch of horrible ways to die, and a bunch of perversions and he wrote a script around those parameters: this feels like it was made similarly.

This film also boasts the worst haircut ever seen in the history of cinema. It’s a pseudo-Afro-mullet that looks like a fake artist tried to flock a motorcycle helmet. It’s both the most horrifying and funniest thing in this film.

Having said all that, this film has a weird endearing honesty about it that makes it a joy to watch, even if the final scene is one of the most ridiculous things you’ll ever see.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Arrow films multiregion Bluray release from 2010. It is presented in a clear, but artefact-filled 1.85:1 image with a fairly decent mono audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: Oh boy, it’s a smorgasbord of extras on this disc… are smorgasbords Italian? Do I mean tapas? No that’s Spanish… Buffet? Whatever: the point is there’s heaps of extras!

The Italian Version of the Film, with or without subtitles is included in the extras.n

The Giallo Gems of Dardano Sacchetti is an interview with the story writer of A Bay of Blood, Sacchetti, and his experiences in the Italian/ giallo film scene, including working with a Bava on this film.

Joe Dante Remembers Twitch of the Death Nerve sees director/ film enthusiast Joe Dante talk about Bava and his reception in America.

Shooting a Spaghetti Classic looks at how A Bay of Blood was shot through the eyes of assistant cameraman Gianlorenzo Battaglia.

There are also two Trailers from Hell narrated by Shaun of the Dead director, Edgar Wright, which are both for A Bay of Blood, but under two of its other names, Carnage and Twitch of the Death Nerve.

Finally there are two radio spots for the film.

Also, the review edition is the Arrow Films release from about 2010 and it has a choice of 4 different covers, a poster and a booklet about the film by Jay Slater.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s kitschy and cute, and gory as hell! It’ll get watched again, for sure!