Necessary Evil: Super-villains of DC Comics (2013)

One from the re watch pile…
Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013)

The cover of the US DVD


Film: I’ve been collecting comics for well over 40 years, and I still love them to death. I do admit that I did have a period in the 90s where I did not buy any, but that was due to Image comics; not the comics or artists themselves as what they did for artists and writers in the industry was long overdue, but the style of their art.

I’m an old school, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corbin, Robert Crumb guy, so these new flashy artists had no interest to me, and when Marvel and DC started emulating their style, I was out!

Thankfully this didn’t last too long and soon I was back in the fold, enjoying the adventures of masked heroes fighting the good fight against evil, and being a bi-fan: that is, I buy both Marvel and DC comics… but why both? Why in a world where most people buy one or the other, would I get comics from both universes?

The answer is this: I love the realism of most of Marvel’s heroes having a basis in science rather than magic, and without a doubt, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four is still the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, even though as of the date of this review it hasn’t been published for several years. 

On the flip side of that, I think that DC’s bad guys are greater than Marvel’s. Lex Luther is a great example: in Marvel comics, his equivalent is a good guy, Tony Stark, a weapons manufacturer who became Iron Man. In reality, those sorts of people are seen by the general public as villains, like Luthor. Luther doesn’t hate mankind or want world destruction, he’s xenophobic against Superman.

The man responsible for some of the greatest Batman comics ever written, Scott Snyder


In reality, what would mankind do if an alien came to earth? Luthor’s actions are probably more accurate. Acceptable? No, but when are mankind’s actions acceptable?

Another DC villain that I think is possibly the greatest villain of all time is Jack Kirby’s Darkseid. Darkseid is the dictator of a world called Apokalips, and is at odds with the ENTIRE DC universe. You Marvel fans think Thanos is something to be concerned about? Darkseid would eat Thanos for breakfast!

Anyway, this documentary, Necessary Evil, sits as a great companion piece to the previous documentary Secret Origins: The History of DC Comics, which was released three years earlier. Necessary Evil is hosted by Christopher Lee (the ultimate super villain?) and has interviews with creative types from all walks of life. From psychologists to actors, including but not limited to director Zach Snyder, screenplay writer Geoff Boucher, co-creator of Harley Quinn Paul Dini, DC editor Bobbie Chase, DC editor in chief Bob Harras and many many more.

Producer and author of The Boy Who Loved Batman, Michael Uslan


The film features clips from comics, cartoons, video games, animated films and major motion pictures, and displays many incarnations of the various villains, and is not just a great history of the villains of the DC universe, but is also an interesting psychological look at why we love heroes, but love villains even more.

Recommended, but it’s really only for the most devout of DC comics fans.

Score: *****

The US DVD menu screen


Format: Necessary Evil was reviewed on a region 1 DVD which runs for 99 minutes. The image is presented in a 1.78:1 image and a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, both of which are pretty good.

Score: ****

Extras: The disc starts with a trailer for DC’s We Can Be Heroes incentive (which is a pretty cool cause http://www.wecambeheroes.org), Man of Steel, the video game Batman: Arkham Origins, the DC animated feature Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and the DC animated TV series, Green Lantern, Young Justice and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and that’s the entirety of the extras.

Score: **

WISIA: Being a comic nut, I have to admit to watching this many many times.

An animated Green Lantern villain: Star Sapphire

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Review

One from the re watch pile for Jack Kirby month…
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: Captain America has always been ‘my’ superhero. When I was a early teen, which is when I really started to collect comics properly (before that I just bought them at random, rather than collect a series consistently), and that first series that I couldn’t do without was Cap’s. I remember clearly that it was issue 262, drawn my Mike Zeck and it had Cap being held aloft by a giant version of himself known as ‘The Ameridroid’. I had a great friend in high school and the two of us were ‘the comic nerds’ though he was an Iron Man guy, whilst I was all about Cap.

He was my friend regardless of his bad taste in heroes.

My father one day took me to Comic Kingdom in Sydney, and bought for me a full second run of Jack Kirby’s Captain America from the 70s (and a full run of Jack Kirby’s The Demon from DC) and I was totally enamoured by how awesome Kirby’s art was and became a lifelong fan. I did have other Kirby comics in my collection, I quickly discovered, and they became the jewels in my comic crown.

So fast forward to about 30 years later, and I hear that a ‘proper’ Captain America film was being made that would be part of a greater collective of a Cinema version of the Marvel Universe, and am stoked that the guy who was cast as Johnny Storm in a substandard Fantastic Four movie previously.

More importantly, I heard it was going to be pretty true to the comic, and the lack of an Italian Red Skull made my heart flutter.

… and boy, was I not disappointed!

The Captain (Chris Evans) is somewhat disappointed in his way effort as an entertainer.


Captain America: The First Avenger tells of a young man Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) during the Second World War who, due to a lack of physical prowess, was rejected to join the army, though he is eventually accepted to join a test program to create the perfect ‘super soldier’. 

When he proves himself not in strength or skill, but in mind and heart, he is accepted into the experimental program, overseen by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He finds that he is not the first to undergo such a procedure, and that a German soldie, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, who I still think would be an amazing Joker in a Batman film), went through an imperfect version of the process which caused him to become deformed with a red, skull-like visage.

Unfortunately, Dr. Erskine is killed by a German spy during the procedure and when Steve emerges as a muscular heroic figure and pursues him, he kills himself with a cyanide pill. With Erskine dead, Rogers is not used as a soldier, but instead a promoter of war bonds and a part of the war effort entertainment troupe, until he is caught up in a rescue mission which not only reunites him with his childhood friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) but puts him at odds with Schmidt, and his collaborator, Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).

Will Captain America survive his first mission, or will he end up in a plane crash and be frozen for 50 years…?

Achtung, Baby! It’s the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).


They nailed the entire creation of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s character in this film. The beauty of do a film set in the past is you don’t have to ‘update’ it like they did with Iron Man, who got his chest injuries differently in the comics (well, basically the same, but in a different war) so there is no part really where the comic fan might get a cringe… like the Joker killing Batman’s parents in Tim Burton’s Batman…

Sigh.

They do modernise Bucky though, as the concept of a young boy being sent to war to fight alongside men would have child endangerment groups livid, and let’s face it, the kid sidekick is a terrible idea (sorry Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Aqualad, etc). Any ‘hero’ who puts kids in danger is no hero at all!

The amazing thing is that this film never really falls into the trappings of what could make it a bad movie. Captain America is seen as an icon of good, rather than a pro-America cheerleader, and that is something that could have very easily been mistakenly done. This is due to the excellent writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, which never talks down, nor does it feel comic-y: it’s a war movie with a superhero in it! The only time it goes into melodramatic areas is with the Red Skull, which it has to as he is an over-the-top supervillain!

The direction is really good too. Joe Johnson didn’t just set this film in the 40s, sometimes it even is filmed like a movie of that era, and I got bits and pieces of things like Raoul Walsh’s White Heat out of the occasional visual. He didn’t copy scenes, but there is an occasional stylistic emulation, which never becomes parody which is a nice touch.

Anyway, this is a great superhero movie and a pretty good war movie too, and throw in a brief cameo of Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman just to make the nerd in me jump up and take notice!

Score: ****

The Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This Australian bluray copy of the film runs for approximately 124 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.35: 1 image with an astonishing Dolby DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Heaps of cool extras on this disc!

Commentary by Director Joe Johnson, Director Of Photography Shelley Johnson and Editor Jeffrey Ford which is a good one, insomuch as it’s informative and conversational.

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer is, upon reflection, a tool to prepare us for Coulson’s character becoming a bigger part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an entertaining short, in the vein of ‘bully gets his just deserts’ styled YouTube videos.

Next there is a bunch of really interesting featurettes:

Outfitting Cap looks at the entire design process and styling of Cap’s outfit and his shield.

Howling Commandos looks at the actors who played Cap’s platoon, the Howling Commandos, firmly placed in comic lore, though Nick Fury is absent (he was their sergeant in the comics).

Heightened Technology looks at the tech used in the film, which needed to look like ACTUAL WWII technology, but still have a scifi element to it.

The Transformation tells of the special effects needed to make ‘skinny Steve’, the pre-super soldiered Steve Rogers, on Chris Evans’ muscular body/

Behind the Skull explores the performance by Hugo Weaving and special effects of the Red Skull, Cap’s arch enemy.

Captain America’s Origin is a discussion with Captain America co-creator Joe Simon about his and Jack Kirby’s creation.

The Assembly Begins is, of course, a first look at what would become The Avengers.

Deleted Scenes has 4 deleted scenes which can be watched with a commentary by the previously mention members of the film commentary team (for some reason one doesn’t have the commentary, but you’ll have to deal with it).

There are four trailers: two for the film, one for the video game and one for the Avengers cartoon.

This version of the film also came with the film on DVD and a downloadable digital copy as well.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s Captain America; you bet I’ll watch it again… and again…. and again….

Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes aim…

Marvel Masterwork: The Fantastic Four Volume 1

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUME 1

Ask any comics fan what is the most important ‘modern’ comic, and most will say Fantastic Four issue 1. It’s the comic that put Marvel on the map and for years was known as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ and for years, it was!

The creation of the Fantastic Four was instigated by publisher Martin Goodman, when he heard that DC’s Justice League of America was doing well, so he asked one of his writers, Stan Lee, to create something similar. Lee’s concept was to instead of making the members ‘super-friends’, he would instead create a super-family so the connection between the members was more permanent. The one member who wasn’t ‘family’ was made to think of his powers as a disability, and stayed with the team to get a ‘cure’. Lee created this by using older characters mixed with new ideas, and comic legend Jack Kirby was called in to co-create not just the team, but what would become the Marvel Universe.

The Fantastic Four is a super hero/ adventuring group consisting of four people with extraordinary powers bestowed on them by cosmic rays that washed over them: super intelligent Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic, who has a stretchy, malleable body, the powerful Sue Richards, aka The Invisible Woman (though in this particular collection is Invisible Girl) who can turn invisible and create invisible constructs, pilot Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, a man with a literal rocky exterior and young hothead, John Storm, the Human Torch, who can burst into flames and fly.

These four are essentially explorers (like DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, a comic Kirby worked on) but end up in situations where they have to use their powers to perform acts of heroism.

Unfortunately for Lee and Kirby’s greatest creation, the FF has been cinematically mistreated over the last few years with three films that contained some gross miscasting, bad storytelling and even just daft realisations of classic comic imagery. Actually, Galactus from Rise of the Silver Surfer is probably one of the top three badly realised comic to movie bad guys ever (he’s like a giant cosmic fart), the other’s being Green Lantern’s undulating vomitus, baby faced Parallax and Doctor Strange’s pan-dimensional burp version of Dormammu… seriously, three of comicdom’s greatest villains reduced to various excretions.

These have of course, caused Marvel to stop production of the comic after several awesome relaunches by major writing and artistic talents! For me, the Marvel universe is a lesser place without Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, and even though Johnny is now a member of the Inhumans and the Thing has been a Guardian of the Galaxy and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (well, kind of), it’s not enough. 

I impatiently await their return…

Story: Stan Lee’s writing of this period may seem hokey now, but it was revolutionary at the time. His depiction of a family in crisis as they become more than adventurers, and their subsequent battles as they get used to acting as a fighting team and become accustomed to their powers is wonderful, and the jargon is a fun read too. This collection sees the FF get their powers, and then come up against the threats of the Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Doctor Doom, the Sub-Mariner, Kurrgo…. and many more! It’s a roller coaster of fun which has time travel and adventure of all types. The best thing about this collection is that it kept some of the little mistakes made when these comics were first published, like when the first time Sue, the Invisible Girl, becomes ‘invinsible’…

Score: ****

Art: Jack Kirby is my favourite comic artist of all time, but I prefer his work from the 70s to his sixties work. That’s not to say this isn’t amazingly detailed art, it’s just not as much for me as what he was doing in OMAC, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Demon, which was blockier, but for me more dynamic.

Score: ****1/2

WIRIA: It where the comics we read today come from, so how could I not revisit it regularly. Revolutionary.

Fantastic 4 (2015) Review

If he had still been alive, comics legend and creative genius Jack Kirby would have been 100 this month, so to celebrate a centenary of ‘The King’, the To Watch Pile is going to commemorate his creative output with a selection of reviews of Kirby’s creations that have made it to screen.
Thank you, Jack Kirby, for the amazing characters you created or co-created: Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Etrigan the Demon, Darkseid, Groot, Kamandi, OMAC, etc etc.

The comics community became a lesser place with your passing, and we owe you everything.

One from the re watch pile…

Fantastic 4 (2015)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: You think it wouldn’t be hard, and yet for some reason, production companies seem to find it difficult to do 100% of the time. I don’t get how writers or directors of films based on comics (or books for that matter) can have a problem making a good superhero movie, and I especially don’t understand how someone can take an established franchise like the Fantastic Four, the cornerstone of the entire Marvel Universe, part of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s literary and artistic legacy, and screw it up.

… and it’s been done by more than one creative team too. I can only imagine this means there is far too much ego involved, as what Stan and Jack created all those years ago was perfect. Sure our knowledge about science has extended so we know that travelling through ‘cosmic rays’ (do those things even exist) won’t change us into mutated heroes with the powers to stretch, turn invisible, burst into flames or become a massive stony thing, but surely with solid foundations, something strong can be built

Do I really need to go to far into the origins of the comic? Maybe a brief word: the original FF comic told of a scientist, Reed Richards, his pilot friend Ben Grimm, his girlfriend Sue Storm and her brother Johnny who steal a rocket to go into space but the experiment backfired, and the four of them end up with superpowers which they use to further their experiments, explore alternate universes and of course, fight against villains who may step in front of them, like Mole Man, Namor and Doctor Doom.

This film takes the core elements and both updates it socially and scientifically which is a great idea. In this film, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has discovered, as a teenager, a way to send things to an alternate dimension. He and his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter the device in the school science fair where they are visited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) who take Reed as a student at his school/ think tank as he has solved a problem they had with creating a dimensional gate.

They are almost completely finished the gate, with the help of Storm’s natural son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and ne’er do well Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) when the group funding the project decide to hand it over to NASA before they can send a human occupant. Johnny, Victor, Reed, who insists on bringing Ben, get drunk one night and decide to use the device first, but it has desperately horrible results.

Kate Mara as Sue Storm


First the planet in the other dimension starts to fall apart, and Doom is lost, and upon the return home, the rest of them, including Sue who is still on earth, are irradiated by the alternate dimensions energy, and they end up with powers: Sue can become invisible, Reed can stretch to impossible lengths, Johnny can set himself on fire (and is resistant to it) and Ben has become a horrible stone creature.

The government starts experiments on them and using them for secret missions, but not before Reed escapes, trying to find a cure for their ‘diseases’.

He is recaptured and they return to the other dimension where they find that Doom is now in complete control, and wants to destroy Earth…. It will the FF over come Doom’s evil scheme?

Probably.

I’d like to compliment this film on a couple of things. The production design is fantastic. The whole film looks ‘realistic’ and even the alternate dimension looks like something real, and not an over coloured, over saturated CGI experiment gone crazy, like in Doctor Strange for example.

Another thing I liked about this film was it treated a Fantastic Four story as a story about science and exploration, and not about superheroes. If the FF never had gained superpowers, they still would have been scientists and explorers, and that is the core of the group.

I liked the fact that even though this is a Marvel comics film, it’s not a Marvel Cinematic Universe film (it’s not produced by Disney, is why) which means that it doesn’t have the weight that all Marvel films have now. You miss one Marvel film and half the time you won’t know what’s going on or who some of the characters are in the next one, which is a clever way to make sure consumers inhale all your products. This you can sit down and watch and walk away from… and you probably will.

Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm


The last thing I like about it was the modernising of the family dynamics, in having Sue being a Caucasian adopted into an African American family is barely even dealt with, and that was cool. I have no real problem with characters having their ‘race’ changed if there is a story device to it, and not just for social constructs and approval. In actual fact, I don’t care about a person’s race in playing a character as long as they play it well. Did this part of the story need to be updated for today? Probably not, but it works.

A little bit of updating is fine, but another issue I have with some comic movies is the need to adapt the villain into the heroes origin. I didn’t like it in Tim Burton’s Batman, and I don’t like it here where Doctor Doom was merged into the FF’s origin, much like they felt the need to do in the previous incarnation of the characters. What is really frustrating is that with the change here with pan-dimensional travel, the door was open to use a completely different villain from the FF’s history, Annihilus, instead of retreading Doom’s ground.

The problem with this film though is the pacing. The build up should be slow and deliberate, which for either a first film in a franchise or a science fiction film is ok as the ‘physics’ of the universe in which the main characters exist needs to be established, but this build up needs to have a powerhouse payoff… unfortunately FF doesn’t only have weird pacing throughout the film, with a lot of false starts, it also just… stops. The big battle against the antagonist just finishes with no real payoff: it feels like they ran out of money or something and just said’ yeah, that’ll do, pack it up’, which is sad because there is SO much potential.

I feel this film commits the worst crime a film can commit: it’s a missed opportunity.

Score: **1/2

Fantastic 4 Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region B Bluray, which runs for approximately 100 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 video with a matching DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack.

Score: *****

Extras: A few extras on this disc.

The disc opens with an auto play of a trailer of Maze Runner: The Scotch Trials, before going to the main menu.

The main extras include:

Powering Up: Superpowers of the Fantastic Four shows the effects of the powers of all the FF, and how the accident caused all their powers to manifest differently. Basically it explains outside the confines of the film why they all got different powers.

The Quantum Gates looks at the special effects development of the portal to the other dimension.

Planet Zero sees how the cats and effects people made a convincing alternate dimensional world.

The Score interviews director Josh Trank and composer Marco Beltrami about the soundtrack for the film.

There is also concept art for Planet Zero and the Quantum Gates but if I want to look at still pictures, I’ll buy a book. No sale.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I like the look of this film, but the pacing is all over the place and it just doesn’t sit well. If I watch it again it will be just for the production design and Kate Mara.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards

Life (2017) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Life (2017)

Australian Bluray cover


Film: Have you ever seen a trailer for a film and had it cause a horrible disorder called UERS also known as Unstoppable Eye Roll Disorder? For me, when I first saw the trailer for Life I thought, ‘wow, they have remade but not name-checked Alien’, which seemed to me to be a pretty brave thing to do, after all, Alien is a scifi/ horror film that is still relevant, and still resonates almost 40 years later!

Upon watching the film, however, I realised that yes, it is similar to Alien in two ways: one, that it takes place in space, and two, that an alien life form is at fault, but essentially this is another version of the Agatha Christie/ Ten Little Indians film (with people being picked off one by one) that has been done hundreds of times in the horror genre, and you can namecheck many giallo and slashers that use them. 

The difference with this was that this film adds in the threat of being in space, such as the film Gravity did. Sure, Alien had that same threat, but rarely were you reminded that the whole thing took place in space. It was about the isolation but that isolation could have been anywhere, and until the end and Ripley gets to the escape pod, you aren’t really reminded regularly about this taking place in space. Life constantly reminds you of its external environment, with large windows showing the external views of the space station in which the film takes place, and that exterior is both a threat and a weapon.

Anyway, what is the film about?

Well, a very exciting experiment is coming to an end on the International Space Station (ISS): a probe that has visited Mars has returned with a sample from the surface, and that sample contains the first evidence ever of life from another planet. 

Ryan Reynolds loses this Deadpool.


This single cell organism, nicknamed ‘Calvin’, evolves and grows at a typically science fiction rate, and when it is probed by Derry (Ariyon Bakare) it freaks out and attacks him, and sure enough starts its way through the rest of the crew (played by Ryan Reynolds, Olga Dihovichnaya), Hiroyuki Sanada, Rebecca Ferguson and Jake Gyllenhaal).

It’s aggressiveness, both in evolution and attitude, would suggest that it should be kept of the earth, but how can the crew survive both the creature, and the oppressive nature of space…

The first thing I have to point out this film space-based environment is utterly convincing. This is not just due to the special effects and the practical effects, but also due to the cast’s performance. The constant motion they go through, even when ‘sitting’ together at a table is a clever acting mechanic to make sure we are aware that this all takes place on a space station. Honestly, it’s quite possibly the first film I’ve seen where no main character talks a single step, which makes for another great point insomuch as one of the characters is a paraplegic, but in space, it doesn’t matter as legs aren’t required to me mobile.

Jake Gyllenhaal abandoned is human suit for a space suit.


The tragedy of the film is Calvin isn’t realised as well. Sure it is difficult to do these kind of constantly evolving creature, but occasionally it looks flat: that doesn’t take you completely out of the film, and doesn’t effect the ultimately devastating ending, but my right eye would occasionally close in disappointment.

Another thing with Calvin is that he seems to work out things very quickly: whilst I appreciate the story needs to travel along at a clip, occasionally I did think that ‘instinct’ was replaced with ‘convenient, highly intelligent thought’ and this is my only real criticism of the film.

One thing I really did like though was a really spectacular directorial sleight-of-hand which did actually fool me, and generally I’m pretty savvy!

Life is a well executed film that echoes what has come before it without completely copying it, and has some great acting and cool effects.

Score: ***1/2

Life Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This review was performed on the multi-region Australian release bluray of the film. It runs for approximately 104 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 image with an amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: A bunch of extras appear on this disc:

Deleted scenes sees 6 deleted scenes that really weren’t necessary to the flow of the film and aren’t missed, though the ‘Tang’ scene shows the crew’s disappointment as to not being able to go home after the discover of the lifeform could have still slipped in.

Life: In Zero G shows how the effect of the cast being in ‘zero gravity’ for the film and how the casts acting skills, the stunt team and special effects crew achieved it.

Creating Life: The Art and Reality of Calvin looks at the research that had gone into creating Calvin as a scientifically convincing creature, and the special effects execution of that.

Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space looks at the director’s objective on making a science fiction film that feels like it could be real.

Astronaut Diaries is a series of interstitials of the cast in character talking directly to the camera.  

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s a good movie with some great performances, but I can’t see myself revisiting it frequently, if at all.

Baby Calvin: he ain’t no Baby Groot!

Before I Wake (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Before I Wake (2016)

Before I Wake Australian Bluray cover


Film: It must be horrible to make something that no one seemingly gives a damn about. I know that one of my biggest fears about this very site is that I’ll go a week with absolutely no hits, and that what I am doing is just shouting into the wind. That’s possibly quite egotistical but I guess we all want to make a mark in some way and my wanting to make that mark is why I continue to do what I do… that and warning you, dear reader, against some of the scourges of cinema.

What must be really horrible is to be a part of a collaborative project like a film that just gets dumped and almost feels like it’s sole purpose for existence is to disappear and be forgotten. I get angry when I see films that just slip into release with not even a by-your-leave.

This film seemed to be one of these ones that slipped by without anyone noticing and I was surprised as it has a decent cast (Kate Bosworth, Thomas Jane and Annabeth Gish) and a decent director writer in Mike Flanagan (Oculus and the excellent Hush). 

Jesse (Kate Bosworth) and Mark (Thomas Jane) are a couple in crisis: an indeterminate time ago their son, Sean (Antonio Evan Romero) died when he drowned in his bath. Jesse and Mark are making an attempt to recover from their horrible misfortune by taking on a foster child, Cody (Jacob Tremblay), a 7 year old who has been subjected to some mistreatment himself, such as abandonment, and an attempted murder.

Thomas Jane as Mark and Kate Bosworth as Jesse


When Cody joins the family, unusual things start to happen. Whenever Cody sleeps, they are visited by butterflies that disappear into mist once he wakes up. The longer he is exposed to the family though, the ghostly butterflies turn into a ghostly form of Sean, and Jesse becomes obsessed with telling and showing Cody more and more about Sean, as the more he knows, the more defined the ‘ghost’ of Sean becomes.

There’s more to Cody’s dreams though, as the manifestation has a dark side too as a horrible thing, the Canker Man (Topher Bousquet), also comes to visit…. And sometimes he takes things away with him…

Jacob Tremblay as Cody


So as you can see by that synopsis, it has all the foundations for a good, modern Nightmare on Elm Street type thing, with dreams becoming reality, but Flanagan has been so meticulously careful with the subject matter of a child whose passed that the supernatural elements of the story suffers for it. 

Maybe it’s just the horror of losing a child is far greater than any supernatural claptrap.

Bosworth, Jane and Gish are amazing in the film. Bosworth plays the emotionally delicate mother to a T, and Jane as the ‘trying to be tough through it all’ average joe (with a terrible Nickelback styled haircut) plays opposite her beautifully. Special marks have to go to the wonderful performance by newcomer Tremblay, who plays the tortured child with emotion greater than his years, and quite understated.

The direction of the movie is wonderful, and the effects… and the subtlety of the effects… are fantastic (if you watch this film, watch the antennae of the butterflies to see what I mean), but this film suffers for its subject matter.

Sometimes films do get dumped and as sad as that is, sometimes it’s because they are misguided in where the horror lies. This is melodrama dressed as horror, and if I were reviewing the performance for a dramatic film about the loss of a child, it would score quite high, but if this is a horror film, well, not so much. 

Score: **

The Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: The reviewed copy of this film was the Australian Bluray release, which runs for approximately 97 minutes and is presented in an immaculate 2.40:1 image and a matching Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.

Score: *****

Extras: You didn’t want extras, did you? Well tough: there is none.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s not my thing, so no.

Topher Bousquet as The Canker Man

R.I.P. George A. Romero

In extraordinarily sad news, the TWP is sad to report the death of a man who made his career with the dead, George A. Romero.


Romero basically created the ‘living dead’ genre with his spectacular film, Night of the Living Dead, in 1968, and gave as several sequels, and probably the greatest zombie film ever, Dawn of the Dead.

He passed away after a brief battle with lung cancer, aged 77.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Romero, and thank you SO very much for your contributions to horror movies.

Torture Garden (1967) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Torture Garden (1967)

Australian Bluray cover to Torture Garden


Film: I’ve always loved anthology films. I probably started with ones in the eighties, like Creepshow, Twilight Zone, Tales of the Darkside and Cat’s Eye, but have since gone back and explored older ones too, like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and other films of its generation and style. These all seemingly have their origins in EC’s horror comics, and most of the wear their influences well no truly on their sleeves… hell, some are even BASED on those very same comics, like 72’s Tales from the Crypt, and the TV show of the same name.

It’s amazing how most anthologies are horror movies too, as realistically, good horror is like a good joke: everything works to a payoff that’s over the top or unexpected. Horror films are more a long, well articulated anecdote, whereas a good horror anthology is a bunch of riddles, usually, but not always, strung together by a host of some sort, who acts as a kind of comedian sharing his laughs.

This film, Amicus’s Torture Garden fits cleanly into that category. It’s got some great pedigree too: directed by Freddie Francis, who previously directed the aforementioned Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and Tales from the Crypt, not to mention The Deadly Bees and The Skull! Just to round off that level of pedigree is that it was written by Robert Bloch, writer of The Skull, The House that Dripped Blood, no most importantly, Psycho!

Welcome to the Torture Garden, the most horrible house of horrors at the circus, where Dr. Diabolo (Burgess Meredith) will show you the horrors that mankind has subjected itself to with his display of various torture devices… but for an extra five pound, he’ll show you something even more special.

Burgess Meredith as Dr. Diabolo


In his back room, he has a fortune-telling dummy, Atropos, which has the appearance of a gypsy woman (Clytie Jessop) holding shears, and when you look into your reflection in the shears, your future will be told… your terrible, horrifying future.

Watch the futures of a murderous man, Colin (Michael Bryant) possessed by a cat to commit evil; an aspiring actress, Carla (Beverly Adams) who’ll do ANYTHING to become successful at her craft; pianist Leo (John Standing) who’s relationship with a young lady is threatened by jealousy from an unusual source and finally, Ronald Wyatt (Jack Palance), and Edgar Allen Poe collector desperate to see the secrets of a competitor, Lancelot Canning’s (Peter Cushing), collection.

Living doll Beverly Adams!


It’s a fun collection of tales, as mention above, written in that very deliberate style of the EC comics and their ilk. It’s a slow set up to each tale, with a satisfying, though not always surprising ending… you know those times you know the answer to a joke but you go along with it anyway, well this is like that.

It features a solid cast though, with some enjoyable performances and seeing greats like Meredith, Cushing and Palance together is a great treat, but in a world where things like Creepshow and Tales of the Darkside exist, it’s not one of the great anthologies, and this may have something to do with the pacing as the stories are all actually quite interesting.

Score: ***1/2

Torture Garden Bluray menu screen


Format: This Australian region B bluray runs for approximately 96 minutes and it’s presented is a clear, but not fantastic, 16:9 image with an excellent Dolby 5.1 audio track. There is a very occasional artefact, but they are rare.

Score: ****

Extras: No extra for you!

Score: 0

WISIA: If I feel like watching an anthology horror film I’ll probably watch something else before this, but I may watch it again.

Jack Palance and Peter Cushing… acting pedigree!