Crawl (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Crawl (2019)

Film: Ever since my parents took me too see Jaws in the 1970s, I can’t say that I’ve been afraid of the water, but I’ve certainly had an affinity for it, and an admiration for it considering it is the ultimate place to have a horror story. Why? Well for many reasons: it’s an environment that man can’t survive in with out a breathing apparatus, it’s an environment that man can’t always control his movements in properly, and one never quite knows exactly what is underneath you, and there are SO many things that can kill you, either by accident or design.

Let’s just say that Jaws was the reason, asa kid, I stopped having baths and started having showers!

Due to this, I’ve always been drawn to movies that have aquatic threats, and this film, Crawl, is no exception.

The other reason I was interested in this film is it’s director, Alexandre Aja. I’ve enjoyed Aja’s work ever since I first saw High Tension, aka Haute Tension, on DVD and I have followed his English speaking career through the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors and Piranha 3D (another sub-aquatic threat film), and Horns and have always been thrilled by the way he tells a story, and this story, written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, is a not only a good one, is also one that in a post- Hurricane Katrina world, feels very real.

Crawl tells of college level swimmer, Hayley (Kaya Scodelario) who upon hearing of a category 5 hurricane coming her way, looks for her father, Dave (Barry Pepper) so they can get out of town together.

Unfortunately, Hayley finds her father in the basement of a building he is working on with a broken leg, and when she goes to call for help, is interrupted by the threat of not one, but two alligators in the basement with them, blocking their escape.

They try to find different ways to escape, but they have to think not just of the threat of the gators, but also of the flooding basement where the water is slowly but surely rising…

The story of this film was great, and felt very real. The two main cast played their parts brilliantly. I can’t say I recall seeing Scodelario before but Barry Pepper was cast brilliantly as the father and I think I’d like to see more roles like this for him. I don’t mean to discount Scodelario in saying that either because she was fantastic: very real and very honest in a scenario that is not just real, but also very likely. Hers and Pepper’s performances as father and daughter felt very sincere.

Unfortunately the majority of the rest of the cast aren’t really there as anything other than story setting, or as gator food, but good horror movies need fodder for the machine, right?

The setting was wonderful as well, and I must say I was even more impressed when I discovered a lot of it was a sound stage, though occasionally some of the effects don’t look entirely right. Occasionally some of the CGI just didn’t ring true, and that was a shame. For the most part, the gators were well realised, but again just occasionally they would just not look or move quite right.

All in all this was a great story about a relationship between a father and daughter that’s under pressure being put even further under pressure by a situation not of their invention. Definitely worth watching.

Score: ***1/2

Format: Crawl is presented in an excellent 2.39:1 image with a matching Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio. This is what you would expect from a modern film presented in a modern format.

Score: *****

Extras:

Intro to Alternate Opening and Alternate Opening sees Aja introduce an alternate, scarier opening sequence which wasn’t filmed but instead is being shared in an animated graphic novel style, which is a pretty good idea… and it’s nice a scary, with bonus points for the Wilhelm Scream.

There are three deleted/ extended scenes which, as usual, the film doesn’t suffer without.

Beneath Crawl is a look at the creation of the film, from plot to story ideas and how expensive a film set drenched in water can be. There’s interviews with a bunch of the cast and crew and it’s quite interesting,

Category 5 Gators: The VFX of Crawl… well, the title gives away what the extra is about. VFX fans will enjoy as it’s not just about the gators, it’s also some amazing atmospheric stuff too.

Alligator Attacks are exactly that: a mega mix of all the gator attacks from the film.

Score: ****

WISIA: Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this film I honestly don’t think I could see myself watching it again.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

One from the rewatch pile…

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Film: The history of cinema has had a rocky road with remakes, generally fans of an original story will immediately talk against their ‘holy grail’ being polluted by a modern team’s tinkering, but sometimes it works. Most horror or science fiction fans will name John Carpenter’s The Thing as an important movie within both genres and Carpenter was successful as he didn’t just remake it, he ‘re-imagined’ it. He took it’s basic premise, but told a different story. It worked with 1988’s The Blob, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and here with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. The usual ‘It shouldn’t be done!’ rubbish surrounded it when it was first announced, but scriptwriter Scott Kosar (The Machinist) and director Marcus Nispel’s (music video director for Faith No More and Cher, amongst others) proved that you can take an idea, in this case Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s, and tell a vastly different story with similar elements. This film won many awards upon its release (BMI Film Music Award – Steve Jablonsky, Catalonian International Film Festival Best Art Direction – Scott Gallagher, Teen Choice Award – Choice Movie Thriller) and was nominated many times as well at many respected film festivals.

The premise may sound familiar, but this story is much different to the original 1973 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is August 18th, 1973, and five youngsters (Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Jonathon Tucker, Erica Leerhsen), are traveling from Mexico through Texas to see Lynard Skynard, when they decide to stop and pick up a hitchhiker. Meeting this hitchhiker causes a chain of events that will have them meet the Hewitt family of Travis County, and their lives will never be the same again.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, like Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, is loosely based on the serial killer Ed Gein, who kept the tanned hides of women around his house, and occasionally dressed in them. What helped to give this remake some credibility was the involvement of original Texas Chainsaw Massacre cinematographer Daniel C. Pearl and the fact that original screenwriter’s Henkel and Hooper acted as co-producers. Unlike the original, cannibalism is only suggested in this redux, but the cruelty of the family seems much more extreme. A special mention goes to R. Lee Ermey’s portrayal of the Travis County Police’s Sheriff Hoyt. Redneck through and though, this is a great example of both inspired casting and brilliant acting.

Marcus Nispel and Daniel Pearl also deserve much respect for creating a very claustrophobic sensation, even in the scenes that take place in wide open fields, there is a sullen feeling of oppression that cannot be shaken.

As far as a bluray package is concerned, this Texas Chainsaw Massacre release is amazing!! A combination of a good movie, with great commentaries and relevant extras that don’t appear to be sales propaganda, that sets a standard for others to aspire to.

Score: *****

Format: The transfer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre is crisp and clear and sensational and is presented in a 2.35:1 image which is a real delight to behold. A choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1, and the subtleties of both are breath-taking. Every drop of water heard in the background feels like it is running down your back.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s an absolute cornucopia of extras on this disc:

Photo Gallery and Art Gallery have pre-production drawings of both Leatherface and the set design.

The Alternate Beginning and Ending have footage that was originally to book end the feature, with an interesting look into the future of one of the main characters.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Redux documentary is a 1 hour 17 minute look at every aspect of the remaking process. Interviewing Nispel, Bay and others associated cast and crew, not to mention fan favorite and favorite fan Joe Bob Briggs, also looks at the origins of the original and the crowd reactions both before and after the first screening.

Ed Gein: The Ghoul of Plainfield is an informative, if not incomplete (they completely overlook the death of Ed’s brother in a forest fire and his grave digger assistant) 24 minute documentary about the ‘real Leatherface’ Ed Gein. Interviews with various historians and psychologists, this is not only an interesting look into the origins of Leatherface (and Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill), it is also a fascinating insight into the mind of serial killers.

Deleted Scenes are the usual gambit of alternate takes and additional scenes. I must say though, the alternate Morgan Death scene is very visceral.

Severed Parts has us take a deeper look at the deleted scenes and bookends and why they were deleted and trimmed for various reasons.

The Cast Screen Tests are the screen tests for Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour and Erica Leerhsen.

Art Gallery looks at some of the preproduction sketches for the film.

The theatrical Trailer is one of the best cut trailers I have ever seen, with Leatherface not seen until the very end and there is also a selection of TV spots.

The Music Video is a track by Motograter called Suffocate.

Finally, there are three of quite possibly the best and well organized commentaries I have ever heard. Every speaker states his or name before they speak, therefore removing and misunderstanding with regards to who is making what comment, although Marcus Nispel’s German accent makes it quite obvious when he speaks, and no-one talks over each other or interrupts each other. All are given a fair go with comments appropriate to the scene. Nispel has a voice on all three commentaries so occasionally he repeats himself, but from different points of view. There is a Production commentary where Nispel is accompanied by Producer Michael Bay and Executive Producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form to discuss the foundation elements of the film: the casting, the locations and the general ideas behind the look and tone of the film. Nispel is joined on the Tech commentary by Daniel Pearl, Greg Blair, Scott Gallagher, Trevor Jolley and Steve Jablonsky to discuss everything from the score to the cinematic elements of the film. Finally, the Story commentary has Nispel along with Bay, Fuller and Form, scripter Scott Kosar and also cast members Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Jonathon Tucker, Erica Leerhsen and old Leatherface himself, Andrew Bryniarski, discussing character motivations and backgrounds.

Score: *****

WISIA: As you might be able to tell, I love this movie so it sure does get a re-spin quite regularly here at the To Watch Pile Mansion.

Drive Angry (2011)

One from the re watch pile…

Drive Angry (2011)

Film: Straight off the bat I need to say one thing: I do not like the 3D gimmick in films. I do not see 3D films at the cinemas, and have no desire to watch it at home. Sure I wouldn’t have minded seeing this in 3D to be able to review its 3D aspect, but whilst my TV and BD equipment is pretty damned good, I am not 3D capable. Quite simply, if I wanted to see something in 3D, I’d go outside instead of sitting in my lounge room eating popcorn and drinking Coke.

Drive Angry is directed/co-written by Patrick Lussier and written by Todd Farmer, who, between them are have a fairly prolific horror breeding having worked either together or apart on My Bloody Valentine 3D, Prophecy 3, Jason X, Dracula 2000 and a whole lot more. I will however point out that ‘prolific’ doesn’t always equal ‘quality’. This time though, with Drive Angry 3D, they are on a winner.

This film tells the tale of John Milton (Nicolas Cage) who has escaped Hell… yes, Hell… with the sole purpose of saving his grandchild from evil cult leader, Jonah King (Billy Burke), whose symbol seems to be a cross between a traditional pentagram, with the crown from the New York Kings gang mounted on top of it. Along the way, Milton meets Piper (Amber Heard), an ass-kicking truck stop waitress with a heart of gold and an absolute rip-snorter of a car who joins him, somewhat involuntarily.

Whilst they are in hot pursuit of the cult though, they have their own pursuers. First there is a charmer known as The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of him downstairs who is seeking to reclaim Milton, and Cap (genre stalwart Tom Atkins), a very angry cop who wants to see Milton and Piper dead, at any cost.

Of course, all their paths inevitably collide at a crossroad of sex, violence and automotive fun.

The character of John Milton (get it?) bares more than a little resemblance to the comic character Blaze, who along with Ghost Rider, in the early Nineties was the star of the Marvel comic Spirits of Vengeance, and I can’t help but wonder if Nicolas Cage didn’t notice it too when taking this role, being the huge comic fan he is. Funny thing is, a few years later Marvel re-invented Ghost Rider to drive a super hot car… I wonder if they put these two together?

While on Cage, this role was simply made for him, and I couldn’t imagine another person on the planet that could have played it. Somewhere along the line he plays it as a mix of (again) Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider and Memphis from Gone in Sixty Seconds, which I guess means he is yet again playing an aspect of himself.

Special mentions need to go out to Billy Burke, Amber Heard and William Fichtner. Billy Burke, who I only had ever seen in the Twilight films, proves himself to be much more than the flaccid wet blanket he plays in that series and seems to relish the role of Jonah King. Amber Heard is at her most beautiful, but is also firmly in ass-kicking potty-mouth mode and even I admit that I was shocked by the capacity this lovely young lass has for foul mouthedness. The winner of the entire cast, though was William Fichtner: his role as the Accountant was played so damned cool that he has set a new benchmark that the Fonz could never even aspire.

I have to also say something about the music soundtrack of this film as well: it is an amusing and eclectic bunch of songs that fit perfectly. No doubt you will chuckle along to all the music cues, from Fuck the Pain Away by Peaches to That’s the Way (I Like It) by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Actually, the only thing about watching this film that annoyed me was the lame 3D stuff that was thrown at the screen: not all of it was fake or invasive, but just enough of it was slightly annoying. The rest of the film was a brainless blast!

This film is a bloody and sexy example of supernatural car porn that kicked my arse all over my lounge room. A ton of dumb fun.

Score: ****

Format: Spectacular picture, as you would expect from a new film on Bluray, presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Sexy as Hell soundtrack presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Between shotguns firing and engines rumbling, your neighbours are going to think you’re a having a Texan brouhaha in your living room.

Score: *****

Extras: Drive Angry: Cast and Crew Insight is like a half a commentary, with just pop up screens featuring cast and crew discussing various aspects of the film. Personally I think I would have liked a full commentary instead of this seemingly half-assed effort. Some of the comments were occasionally interesting though.

How to Drive Angry is a traditional making of, but disappointingly featured a lot of the stuff that was used in the Cast and Crew insight pop up video stuff. Still it is a better way to see this stuff as it felt much more complete.

There are a couple of deleted scenes that aren’t missed from the film, and wouldn’t have added anything really anyway.

Score: ***

WISIA: Probably not. It’s a fun watch with some funny stuff but I could think of better things to watch again than this.

Monster Party (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

Monster Party (2018)

Film: Occasionally I’ll peruse my local entertainment retailer just to see if anything jumps out at me, be it a lurid cover or a ridiculous title or a ‘produced by’ credit (you know, because the sign of a quality film is if someone PRODUCED a previous hit) or a couple of names of actors whom I like.

Today was a lucky day, as I secured a film that ticks all those boxes: the cover to this film (as you can see) has the back of a couple covered in blood facing some people who look well-to-do, the name ‘Monster Party’ is immediately evocative of something awful, it’s ‘produced’ by ‘The Producer of SINISTER’ (golly, it MUST be good… actually, I did like Sinister, so I’ll cut it some slack) and finally, it stars Robin Tunney (from The Craft and End of Days) and our very own Julian McMahon (Fantastic Four and Bait): this all sounds like a winner to me!

I’ll of this was also helped by Australia’s awful classification badge, which screamed at me ‘R18+ Restricted: High Impact Bloody Violence.

I’m in.

Monster Party tells of three burglars, Iris (Virginia Gardner), Dodge (Brandon Michael Hall) and Casper (Sam Strike) who are on the hunt for a big haul, as Casper’s father, a gambling addict, has been grabbed by a local gangster and is being tortured to pay off his gambling debts.

Luckily, Iris manages to secure the boys some work waiting on guests at a private party in a mansion, which they decide will be the object of their thievery, and the hosts, Patrick (McMahon) his wife Roxanne (Tunney) and their kids, Eliot (Kian Lawley) and Alexis (Erin Moriaty) seems nice, if not a little… well, strange.

As the guests arrive, an even stranger bunch of characters, our thieves become even more unsettled, until one of them is murdered by one of the guests, and the remaining two discover that the entire party is a ‘Murderers Anonymous’ meeting, as killers attempting to shake their addicting to killing.

With a little blood spilt though, the addiction kicks off, and our remaining heroes must do whatever it takes to survive… even become killers themselves!

As you may be able to tell from that synopsis, this film finds its influences from things like Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and more recently, Fede Alvarez’s excellent Don’t Breathe. What the film does is take that and mix in a little Tarantino-styled revenge, some kooky plot devices that go nowhere and an occasional bizarre choice of lighting schemes straight out of Bava or Argento films.

There is a few other strange choices as well. The casting is straight out of American soap opera so there’s this air of falsity to the whole film, which makes it feel somewhat insincere. One thing I did really like was establishing that the private party was VERY private so the mobile phones of the main characters were confiscated for privacy reasons. They could have very easily used that common nowadays trope of setting the film in the 80s (which I reckon is a cop out, but also better than a character tapping their phone and saying ‘mmmm, no reception’) but to actually have them hand over their phones was refreshing.

This film, though, is actually highly entertaining despite those couple of gripes. I don’t believe the ‘R rating’ is needed as even though there are some pretty violent acts, they take place just out of camera with just the results seen, and those effect that are clearly visualised are either really fake or very quick, the film does however take lots of twists and turns that all in all make for an entertaining jaunt amongst serial killers.

Score: ***1/2

Format: This movie was reviewed with the region 4 Australian DVD which runs for approximately 85 minutes and is presented in a mostly clean 2.40:1 image with a matching 5.1 audio. I say mostly as occasionally the colour seems washed out but that may have been a deliberate choice.

Score: ****

Extras: Empty plates all round, here.

Score: 0

WISIA: It was just entertaining enough for it to warrant repeat viewings.

The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

One from the to watch pile…

The Field Guide to Evil (2018)

Film: The best thing about anthology films is there is almost something that will appeal to a viewer. It’s almost a cheat to have a mixture of stories with multiple appeals, but I’m down for it: every time. I think my first exposure to an kind of horror anthology was at school, with a book I picked up from the Scholastic book called Twisters which had a bunch of short stories that were just slightly horror for a younger reader.

This film, ‘The Field Guide to Evil’, contains 8 tales brought to us by various directors, several of whom made films which interested me greatly: Can Evrenol (Baskin), Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio),Calvin Reeder (V/H/S) and Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (Goodnight Mommy). The cover also said that this was brought to us by the creators of The ABCs of Death, another anthology film which I liked.

The theme of this film is fascinating: it takes horrifying folk tales from around the world and gives them life.

The Sinful Woman of Höllfal is directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz and shows us what happens in Austrian legend when young women fall prone to the sins of homosexuality and masturbation…

Haunted by Al Karisi: The Childbirth Djinn directed by Can Evrenol tells of a hound new mother who is taking care of both her disabled mother and newborn child, but something is trying to get her child from her…

The Kindler and the Virgin is directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska recounts the legend of a man convinced by a demon that if he consumes the hearts of the recently deceased, he be opened to all of man’s knowledge…

Beware the Melonheads, directed by Calvin Lee Reeder, tells of the myth of some children who live in the wild in the US who have large heads and feast on human flesh…

Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan?, directed by Yannis Veslemes tells of the legend if Goblins in Greece who like to hide amongst drunken men for fun, but in 1984, some men discover the goblin in their midsts, and decide to have some ‘fun’ with it…

The Palace of Horrors, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, is based on a Bengali folk legend of a castle built by an insane king, with a secret hidden in its depths…

A Nocturnal Death, directed by Katrin Gebbe tells of a young man in Bavaria in the late 1700s who discovers his sister is housing a demon called a ‘drude’ which when it leaves its host, leave it for dead whilst it spreads disease…

Cobbler’s Lot directed by Peter Strickland is a tale based on The Princess’ Curse, in which two brother vie for the attention of Princess Boglárka and of course, jealousy prevails…

What I found the most fascinating about this film, over and above the myths and legends that is, is how glaringly different the approach is by international filmmakers to their craft. As a document about how different styles of cinema look side by side, it is a total victory. The directors all chose such different ways of telling their tales too. Strickland’s story lies somewhere between silent movie and ballet performance, whereas Ahluwalia is filmed in black and white and almost has a documentary feel to it. It’s truly amazing to see all the artists approach the same artwork from such different avenues.

The legends from the four corners of the earth prove that no matter the culture, horror was a way of warning people against evils that may befall them or others. At first, you might consider them to be obtuse and bizarre, but when you consider the rituals and myths that accompany English/ western beliefs… we are all probably as strange as each other, and mankind is merely a hopeless child hiding in the dark either afraid of monsters, or telling others to be wary of them.

This being made by so many filmmakers and from so many sources, one can’t help but see that the entire film is quite unbalanced in tone, but the episodes are so clearly defined that that doesn’t matter, and each story is enjoyable from its own perspective.

Score: ****

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment region 4 DVD which runs for approximately 118 minutes. It is presented in a 1.85:1 image with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track, both of which are fine. The images in each of the stories vary though due to the inconsistent production by each filmmaking team.

Score: ****

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: I certainly think there is enough going on in this anthology to watch it again, especially if one is either interested in international film or if you are a student of film.

Us (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Us (2019)

Film: Looking back it was obvious that Jordan Peele, during his days as part of the comedy team Key And Peele, had a sense of humour that learnt more towards the horrible. A lot of the humour that he and Keegan-Michael Key did together had horror themes, from Racist Zombies to parodies of Saw, but even in their more straightforward comedy there were darker elements (they did one who two friends were moving house and one introduced the other to dub-step, with bloody results)… seriously, if you haven’t watched Key And Peele, you need to change that immediately.

This film is Peele’s second horror movie effort, the first being the well-received and successful Get Out, which he both wrote and directed, and just like Get Out, Peele has filled the film with a bunch of subtle, and not-so-subtle, nods to horror that he loves, like CHUD, Friday the 13th, The Lost Boys, Hitchcock’s films (whose style he occasionally emulates to great effect) and many others.

Us starts with a family outing in the 80s which sees the young Adelaide (Madison Curry) go missing from her parents for about 15 minutes whilst visiting the Santa Cruz fun pier… but what happens whilst she went missing remains a mystery as she refuses to talk about it.

We flash forward to now and are re-introduced to Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), who is happily married to Gabe (Winston Duke) and have two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) and about to enjoy a beachside holiday not far away from where she was abducted all those years ago.

The family visit the beach so they can catch up with their friends, the Tylers; Josh (Tim Heidecker), his wife Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and their children, Becca and Lindsey (Cali and Noelle Sheldon), but Adelaide being at the place where she went missing as a child, she is on edge the whole time.

Much later into the night, back at home, they find a family standing in their driveway just looking at the house. When Gabe challenges them, they attack the house, and our family discovers that these intruders are doppelgängers, or shadows, of them.

These doppelgängers are part of a much greater conspiracy though, and the truth, once unleashed, is scarier than what this small family unit is encountering…

Peele has created a fascinating story that can only exist within the confines of its universe as to question its logic perhaps makes it fall apart. To approach this film as just a ‘home invasion’ story is a mistake as there is so much more and the conspiracy elements of the tale are far more interesting in their mystery.

The performances that Peele gets from his cast are nothing short of spectacular. All the actors’ character and appearance are SO different between the two roles that it’s as if different actors are playing them. I’ve watched a lot of films that have doppelgängers as a theme, from The Sixth Day to Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a personality shift from the original to the copy. Nyong’o is especially fearful from one character to the other. Especially seeing as how her double is like some kind of insane messiah with a speech pattern straight out of a nightmare.

Peele has namechecked Hitchcock as an influence and it’s quite clear by both the way he sets a scene, and with some of the violence being just out of eyeshot, so no dwelling on blood or gore here. That’s not to say the film isn’t violent though, it is! Not just physical but also from a psychological point of view as well.

I am sure that Us is full of hundreds of allegories that an uneducated dunce like me doesn’t pick up upon, and maybe there is some political agenda disguised in its frames, but don’t care about that. What I came here to do was enjoy horror movies and with this film, mission accomplished.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian multi-region Bluray which is presented in a perfect 2.39:1 image with a matching Dolby Atmos 7.1 audio.

Score: *****

Extras: A really nice bunch on this disc:

The Monsters Within Us is a look at the performances of the actors in both roles they play, and the variation on the same character that they brought to it.

Tethered Together: Making Us Twice looks at the filming of the same scene twice with the originals and the doubles, and the visual effects used to stitch them together.

Redefining a Genre: Jordan Peelers Brand of Horror looks at what Jordan Peele brings to genre films, and his approach to making these films.

The Duality of Us sees Peele discuss some of the symbols used within the film to tell the story.

Becoming Red is a little bit of ‘between take’ footage on Nyong’o who maintained her doppelgänger persona on set during the filming of all these scenes, even when question the director about things happening within the scene. Honestly, this extra was almost as scary as the film: as beautiful as I find Nyong’o, if I’m ever confronted by her doing this schtick, I’ll run in the other direction at full speed.

Scene Explorations breaks down three scenes into their bare bones and dissects their messages.

Deleted Scenes and for me it’s the usual story: there’s a reason why some scenes are excused from a film and it’s usually for the better.

We’re All Dying is kinda-sorta a gag real but it’s a freestyle conversation between Duke and Heidecker that’s occasionally funny.

As Above, So Below: Grand Pas De Deux shows the full performance of the ballet by both versions of young Adelaide, cleverly a dance made for two that the character chooses to dance by herself whilst her tethered version does it somewhere else. Another example of Peele’s symbolism.

Score: *****

WISIA: There is so much more to this film that I’m sure I need to watch it again.

Punisher War Zone (2008)

One from the re- watch pile…

Punisher War Zone (2008)

Film: I love films based on comics. No matter how bad they are, I love to watch them. I see them as an opportunity for a different creative team to take characters from a medium I love and adapting them to a format that is NOT a continuing story, but instead a one off look at the character. This of course can be difficult, and judging by the amount of bad comic based films, the results can be disastrous: Judge Dredd, Thor: Ragnarok and Tank Girl come to mind. The reason for this is simple: comics are mainly character based and not story based. The comics usually have an infinite life span, so even though a storyline may finish, the character continues on and on and on….sometimes too long.

This of course is not always true: V for Vendetta and Watchmen being two good examples of story rather than character based comics, and both were executed well, but a character based story can sometimes be filled with too much, especially a first film of a character, as you have to have not just the characters origin, but also an engaging storyline to boot, a villain to vanquish and a damsel in distress to rescue. This is why the second film based on a character can occasionally flow better. Sure, the origin may to be refreshed, but in general, the antagonist can get about his work pretty quickly.

So here we are with the second Punisher movie, and I call it the second as I choose to ignore the Dolph Lundgren effort, for no reason other than the time between it, of the Thomas Jane one of 2004. Besides, the Dolph Lundgren Punisher was really just an action film that had elements of the comic Punisher in it, whereas the more recent effort directly had elements in common with the comic version, and at least attempted to be a Punisher movie.

I will say though, thankfully all versions have chosen to ignore the comic-based Punisher’s original choice of shoe, which was a Nancy Sinatra, These-Boots-Were-Made-For-Walkin’, don’t wear after Labour Day, lily-white pair of boots.

The Punisher: War Zone, based on the comic of the same name, does not have Thomas Jane playing the title character, but instead has replaced him with the, in my humble opinion, far more appropriate Ray Stevenson , who also has played Volstaggin the Marvel Studios films, whose presence during this movie screams The Punisher. Taking place about 5 years after his alter ego Frank Castle’s genesis as the Punisher, this movie sees him initially up against a fairly generic mafia, whom he absolutely annihilates in a bloody orgy of violence, except for Billy Russoti (Dominic West) and his immediate henchmen, one of whom is undercover FBI. Keen to finish the job on the whole family, the Punisher follows the gang to a glass recycling plant, where after a gunfight, he accidentally kills the FBI agent, and not so accidentally throws Billy into the glass crushing machine.

Billy, of course, survives, but with a severe facial deformation, and a new name to reflect his Frankenstein-ian looks: Jigsaw! The first act Jigsaw does is get his mental case brother, Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison… you should remember him, he played ‘Tooms’ in The X-Files) out of the mental facility in which he is being held, and then: vengeance. As far as Jigsaw is concerned, The Punisher needs to be taken out of the picture, and also, on a personal note, the wife, Angela (Julie Benz) and daughter Grace (Stephanie Janusauskas) of the FBI agent need to go the same way.

Frank’s guilt in killing the FBI agent causes him to want to quit ‘the business’ but when his weapons and technology supplier Micro (Wayne Knight) and Angela and Grace are kidnapped, under the noses of FBI agent Paul Budiansky (Resident Evil’s Colin Salmon) and police officer Martin Soap (Dash Mihok), The Punisher goes absolutely ballistic…. Literally! Jigsaw, of course, gathers the might of as many gangs from across the city as he can, and the only way to describe what is about to happen is to use a quote from another Lionsgate film, which also contains a character named ‘Jigsaw’…

‘Oh yes, there will be blood’.

This film is directed by German karate champion Lexi Alexander, but don’t let her being a female director trick you into thinking that this film has its feminine side in place: this film is an arse kicking, head popping, guns blazing punch in the guts all the way. It is perfectly cast, and special mentions have to go to Stevenson’s totally dry and humorless portrayal of Frank Castle, Doug Hutchison’s totally bonkers Loony Bin Jim and Julie Benz as a brunette….wow!!

The direction of this film deserves a special mention as well: the total aesthetic of the comic has been captured perfectly, it is framed and colored like a comic is, so much so I almost expected there to be an ‘inker’ credit in the films titles. This film was also filled with little touches for the comic fans, like the Bradstreet Hotel named after Timothy Bradstreet (Punisher cover artist extraordinaire), and secondary characters such as Maginty and Pittsey that have featured in the comics, albeit maybe after a small cinematic facelift.

This truly is an excellent rendition of The Punisher. It is certainly the first time it has been done right (except for the dulling down of the Punisher’s chest logo), and Ray Stevenson is the absolute perfect man for the role. John Bernthal in the Netflix Tv series came close, but Ray’s 100% my guy for the role.

Even those who have no familiarity with the comic, or the character, should have no problem catching up, and should enjoy the film for the bloody action experience that it is.

This is the Punisher film fans of the comic character have been waiting for. Vicious retaliation mixed with senseless bloodshed is like a dream come true for fans of this character.

Score: *****

Format: Supersexy transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1, with a crystal image that shows off Lexi Alexander and cinematographer Steve Gainer’s efforts perfectly. A fabulous Dolby Digital 5.1 that used the subwoofer so often I thought I may have to get it replaced. Explosions, gunfire, furious retribution….yeah!

Score: *****

Extras: A pretty cool set of extras on this disc, though no ‘Comic to Film’ one tragically, which are the ones I really love! This Punisher release could really do with a thorough ‘Comic character’ documentary like the ones seen on the releases of Ghost Rider and Iron Man, but they seem to have gone by the wayside now that things like the MCU have completely different identities from the comics.

The audio commentary with Director Lexi Alexander and Cinematographer Steve Gainer is a thorough one, with both of them commenting on many aspects of the film, from casting to design to special effects. There both seem to love their craft and the commentary only rarely, if at all, dips into mutual masturbation.

The Making of The Punisher Featurette is a traditional kind of feature, with a lot of the focus being on the casting, and voice bits from most of the major cast.

Training for the Punisher shows Ray Stephenson going through his paces with the marines, learning the ropes for both weapons training and hand to hand combat. Stephenson is an impressive model as an action hero, and the marines he is training with seem to appreciate his presence as well. There is also a small discussion with action sequence supervisor Pat Johnson, who talks about how important physical fitness is for an action hero, and we get to see footage of Ray Stevenson beating up on him… which when you see how short Johnson is, almost seems unfair (though I am sure that Johnson can handle himself quite well!!).

Weapons of the Punisher is a great featurette for fans of ordinance!! The weapons master of the film Paul Barrette discusses how the guns are applied to character archetypes to complete the look of a gang…. Something one may not generally take into account. John Barton, the military supervisor also speaks about the use of weapons in the film.

Meet Jigsaw introduces us to Dominic West, and he discusses the role, and the make-up application that go along with it. Most surprising in this featurette was the fact that West is actually English, as I was completely convinced by his over-da-top New York accent (which may be insulting to our American friends, so my apologies: my only exposure to this type of accent has been via gangster films).

Creating the Look of the Punisher is a fascinating look at the mise en scene of the film, and how efforts were made for a particular look, which included the use of only three colors in each scene. Alexander even talks about how she would freak out if one of the non-shot colors was present on the set.

We also get trailers for Right At Your Door, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Vinyan, Lakeview Terrace, and The Burrowers.

Score: ****

WISIA: This comic movie is easily one of my favourites and gets a regular look.

Art of the Dead (2019)

One from the to watch pile…

Art of the Dead (2019)

Film: The most exciting thing about having a website like the To Watch Pile is the opportunity to see films previously unseen, and an opportunity for new fandom to grow. Getting to see debut efforts by young filmmakers or missing films from favourite directors is always a treat and a pleasure.

Well, not always…

Today I was ‘lucky’ enough to watch a film called Art of the Dead, and by ‘lucky’ I mean ‘unfortunate’ as it was quite terrible. Actually that’s unfair, the story was full of fairly obvious tropes. It could have been entertaining if it had better actors, or maybe a more competent director who could have gotten better performances from the cast. I don’t blame him though, I blame myself. Basically, when I saw the two lead performers in this film were Richard Grieco and Tara Reid, I should have known what was coming.

Art of the Dead was written and directed by Rolfe Kanesky, who was responsible for The Black Room and The Hazing, as well as many other films that have become labelled ‘cult films’. Honestly, and I mean no disrespect, but I hadn’t heard of him before but after looking at his impressively long filmography I realised I had seen and enjoyed some of his previous offerings.

This was not one of them.

Art of the Dead tells of a series of seven paintings that, through their depictions of various animals, represent the 7 deadly sins, the problem with them though is that they are cursed and the observers can become possessed by the sin it depicts.

The paintings had been separated for a long time until art collector Douglas Winter (Grieco) managed to gather them together… and promptly kill his entire family in various horrible ways before killing himself.

As his estate is sold off, the paintings are sold through an art house run by Tess Barryman (Tara Reid) who sells them as a collection only to businessman Dylan Wilson (Lukas Hassel) who distributes them throughout his home, with each painting affecting the members differently.

The frog painting in his office makes him overcome with greed, whilst the other paintings cause his wife, Gina (Jessica Morris) to be driven mad with lust (and get laid by a goat) and his kids, Donna (Cynthia Aileen Strahan) to succumb to her painting of a snake, representing insane jealousy, and Louis (Zachary Chyz) who Lion painting makes him feel all the feelings of Wrath, much to the horror of his girlfriend, Kim (Alex Reinhart).

There is two other kids who get turned into snails. Also, the artist who died years, Dorian Wilde (Danny Tesla) also seems to be floating around influencing stuff as well. It’s complicated.

Luckily for the family, though, there is a champion who is trying to destroy the paintings, Father Gregory (Robert Donovan), but will he be in time to save Kim and her boyfriends descent into madness?

As I have already said, somewhere amongst the horrible acting and Bold and the Beautiful styled casting (seriously, the BEST looking street hookers you will EVER see are in this film) there is probably an ok film, but the performances of some of the acting are sub-par by any standard… even that of sub-par.

Score: *

Format: This film was reviewed with the Umbrella Entertainment release DVD which runs for approximately 97 minutes and is presented in a great 2.35:1 image with a matching 5.1 audio.

Score: ****

Extras: None.

Score: 0

WISIA: Hell, no.

The Woman in Black (2012)

One from the rewatch pile…

The Woman in Black (2012)

Film: Any horror fan worth his mettle knows of the famed English studio Hammer films. Over many years Hammer entertained the world with Gothic tales of terror and fright, and gave us brilliant performances from the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. They also introduced the world to many a blushing busty English rose. Great things don’t last forever though, and as a new generation of horror came to light in the 70s and 80s, Hammer disappeared. But not forever.

Recently, Hammer have re-emerged with a few new films: the English language remake of Let the Right One In called Let Me In and this, a retooling of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black, filmed once before in 1989. This version has been adapted by Jane Goldman, who scripted Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and is directed by James Watkins, who previously helmed Eden Lake.

A young lawyer, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is on his last legs at his job. It has been several years since his young wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) died during childbirth and he has never gotten over it, bringing up their son Joseph (Misha Handley) with only the assistance of a nanny (Jessica Raine).

As the final chance to save his job, Kipps’ boss has given him the challenge of travelling to the town of Cryphin Gifford to make sure that the final will and testament of the recently deceased owner of the secluded property Eel Marsh, Mrs Drablow (Alisa Khazanova) is correct, by checking through any and all documents at her estate. What Kipps finds there though is a hate filled spirit of a woman in black, but why is she so filled with loathing, and can Kipps do anything to appease her torment of the town and it’s children?

The Woman in Black looks quite beautiful, and has a mood that perfectly matches that of the main character. The township of Cryphin Gifford is so dank that one feels the cold, wet and clamminess as if it is present in the room in which you are watching the film.

The performances are all solid. Still quite young, Daniel Radcliffe plays his Peter Cushing styled character with the intensity of a man well beyond his years, or an emo on depressants. The addition of the wonderful Ciarin Hinds as his ally within the town is excellent, and Hinds has a weight and subtlety in his performance as a man haunted by the death of a young son, and whose wife has never recovered from it.

The script also tells a grand ghost story, but here lies its biggest problem. Ghost stories in cinema have a language of their own and they can fall into a trap. That trap is they either do something out of the norm and have audiences not ‘get’ it, or they stick to the generic ghost story devices such as a creaky house and creepy toys et cetera, and even though they are speaking a cinematic language that your average cinema goer will comprehend, the story just doesn’t stand out.

Unfortunately, The Woman in Black is guilty of the latter. Even though there was some impressive imagery (Eel Marsh itself is simply amazing) the story just feels as though it is telling a tale we’ve all heard many times over. It seems to me that the makers of The Woman in Black tried to ignore the fact that the tastes of horror fans have moved on, and that perhaps this type of film isn’t relevant any more. I know whilst I was watching it I didn’t feel like I was watching a classic horror film, but someone who was trying to emulate one.

So Hammer are back, baby! The pure gothic tales of fright they have given us have returned with them, but, I’m afraid their time may have passed. The acting is generally of a high standard and the movie boasts some amazing gothic horror visuals, but it seems to miss that ‘classic’ horror mood. Perhaps this is due to the main elements of that “classic horror mood” being Cushing and Lee, who would have kicked arse as Kipps and Daily respectively, but without them, this whole event just feels a little ordinary.

Spooky toys, a creaky house, ghostly children, mysterious rocking chairs, generic, generic generic. The Woman in Black is a great looking film that ticks all the ‘spooky’ boxes and has some fine performances, but it fails to deliver any real scares and never tries to rise above the regular ‘ghost story’ trappings.

Score: **

Format: This film is presented in a pristine 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which I have to say, due to the colour palette of the film, works much better is pitch darkness, If your lounge room has even the slightest bit of light in it, you won’t get the full benefit of deep blacks and immaculate shadow detail The soundscape matches the visuals in excellence, and like it, works best in the dark, and is presented in DTS-HD 5.1.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Lockout, Magic Mike and Killer Joe before taking us to the menu.

There are only two, quite short, extras on this disc:

No Fear: Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps is a brief exploration of Radcliffe’s performance as Kipps, with comments from other cast and crew as to why he was good for the role.

Inside the Perfect Thriller: The Making of The Woman in Black, obviously, looks at the making of the film featuring interviews with cast and crew.

Score: 2

WISIA: It’s highly unlikely that I’d ever waste anymore of my precious time on this film.

Mystics in Bali (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Film: When it comes to cinema, gems are hard to find, but now and again you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a film thinking to yourself ” why the Hell have I never seen this?”

Honestly, I had never even heard of this film, but one of the many movie magazines I buy did a blurb on it a few years ago, and I thought I should hunt it out, but other, seemingly more important releases always overshadowed it. This was a mistake, as I can’t even remember what some of those other films may have been. I should have immediately grabbed Mystics in Bali the very second I heard of it!

Mystics in Bali tells of curious tourist Cathy Kean (played by German tourist Ilona Agathe Bastian, who had no acting experience but did the film so she could stay in Bali longer) who wishes to learn the magical ways of the Leyak, an Indonesian black art. Her friend, and potential lover Mahendra (Yos Santo) takes her deep into the jungle to meet a cackling old Leyak witch (Sophia WD) who takes Cathy under her wing as an apprentice. She starts by learning a few spells but soon discovers that once you are under the thrall of a Leyak, it is difficult to get out. Maybe even impossible, even with the assistance of local shamen and mystics!

Mystics in Bali is one of those ‘kitchen sink’ films: you know, as in it has everything but! Witches (well, Leyaks), metamorphosis, floppy titted pig women, ancient mystical masters, flying vampire heads, people vomiting live mice, awkward romance and most incredulous of them all, a baby eaten right out of a pregnant woman’s… um… punani.

Now don’t tell me you didn’t want all that in one film.

The film does suffer from some poor dubbing, but considering the female lead was a German tourist and the rest of the cast are Indonesian, I guess one can overlook that.

The special effects aren’t so special, but are a treat to watch as there are some spectacularly bad animation effects, lightning from fingers and such, that look like hand drawn animation on the original film cels. The metamorphosis scenes do their very best to be American Werewolf in London, and fail, but are actually still quite off putting.

It is without a doubt one of the nuttiest and most entertaining films I have ever seen! If I am to recall how I felt after watching this, I would compare it to how I felt after watching Evil Dead for the first time, though this isn’t at all scary like Evil Dead was the first time I watched it. Although, I was about 13 then, so give me a break.

If you don’t have Mystics in Bali in your collection, it is an error you must immediately fix.

Score: ****1/2

Format: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Mystics in Bali has a clarity that is surprising for a film of this age and region. There are occasional film artefacts, and admittedly at some of the more ‘special’ effects heavy sequences it does go slightly foggy, but I don’t think that is a problem with the transfer, but instead the original source. Presented in stereo only, but it is crisp and clear, considering it is an English overdub recorded in a studio somewhere.

Score: ***

Extras: We start with a fairly poor quality trailer and then get some extras that would have been great… if they weren’t text and had instead been actual documentaries. They are Mystics in Bali and the Indonesian Exploitation Movie, which talks about Indonesian cinema, H. Tjut Djalil – Director Filmography, which is just that and How to Become a Leak (sic) which I am sure should have been spelt ‘Leyak’, which contains the rites to becoming a Leyak. Don’t try this at home.

Finally we have a trailer park for Mondo Macabro, which features Snake Sisters, The Blood Rose, The Bollywood Horror Collection, Snake Dancer, The Devil’s Sword, Lifespan, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, Satan’s Blood, Virgins From Hell, For Your Height Only, French Sex Murders, The Deathless Devil, Living Doll, Satanico Pandemonim, Panic Beats, Clonus, The Killer Must Kill Again, The Mansion of Madness, Alucarda, The Diabolical Dr. Z, Aswang, The Living Corpse, Blood of the Virgins, Seven Women for Satan, Lady Terminator, Crazy Love, Mill of the Stone Women, Dangerous Seductress and Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay. Honestly the disappointing text extras are saved by these awesome trailers!

Score: ***

WISIA: Hell yeah! This film is a hoot and a holler!