Dead Awake (2016)

One from the to watch pile…

Dead Awake (2016)

Film: This film shouted out at me from the shelves of my local store for one reason: how absolutely stupid the title is. I get that throwing the word ‘Dead’ into a title will make most younger (and this older) horror fan stop and check something out, and if it were a term that was actually used in the English language, you know, like Dead End, Dead Stop, Dead Tired, I’d be impressed, but Dead Awake was such a stupid combination I had to check it out.

Then I read the back of the Bluray slick and I find that it’s about sleep paralysis, which is something I find both horrible to think of, and an interesting idea for a horror film, especially when it’s mixed with a little American-styled post-millennial ghost story like Grudge/ Ring/ Darkness Falls/ Boogeyman films that haunted the cinemas in the early 2000s. I’m not really a fan of many films of this period, but for some reason I find I revisit these films occasionally.

This film was written by Jeffrey Reddick, the guy who came up with the concept of the Final Destination movies so it has some positive providence , and directed by Phillip Guzman, who directed A Kiss and a Promise.

When Kate Bowman’s (Jocelyn Donahue) recovering drug-addict sister Beth dies during a sleep paralysis episode, she discovers that perhaps her sister was being haunted by a creature who kills people in their sleep during these episodes.

She meets Beth’s doctor, Dr Davies (Jesse Borego) and at first isn’t convinced of this weird malevolent being bent on killing that he tries to tell her about, until she starts having episodes herself, as does her sister’s boyfriend, Evan (Jesse Bradford… remember Cliff Pantone from Bring It On? THAT guy!).

So Kate and Evan start a trail that starts at a sleep hospital run by Dr. Sykes (Lori Petty) to try and defeat whatever it is that haunts them, but how many people will die along the way, and can this creature, that appears to have existed for centuries, even be destroyed at all?

I really wanted to like this film. The cast are all really well picked, it’s filmed beautifully, the script is ok, but the premise is just so generic.

Dead Awake is a bizarre 80s-nightclub styled megamix of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Grudge and Ring, that is, the male and female lead of Ring versus a dream monster, who moves like the ghost from The Grudge. It’s not that this is a bad film, it’s just been done before by other films that did it far better. Emulating something is fine, but doing so with no point of originality is detrimental to your product.

To provide a metaphor, this film is the nerd who desperately wants to be a cool kid, but ends up being the kid from the Pretty Fly for a White Guy film clip.

Score: **

Format: Dead Awake was reviewed with the Australian region B Bluray which runs for 99 minutes and is presented in a 2.0:1 image and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Audio, both of which are immaculate.

Score: *****

Extras: The disc opens with trailers for Revolt, Faults, Eat Local and 13 Sins.unfortunately, that is it for the extras, but those last three films I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for… Revolt, not so much.

Score: *

WISIA: Probably not.

Don’t Knock Twice (2016)

One from the to watch pile…
Don’t Knock Twice (2016)


Film: After I watched this, but before I started the review I mentioned to a friend it was like all post-millennial ghost stories and wasn’t much chop, to which he pointed out two films, Sinister and We Are Still Here. I had to agree there have been exceptions, but in general, a good proportion of ghost stories at the cinema at the moment either riff in what we one called j-horror or borrow liberally, ie steal massively, from films like Insidious or The Conjuring… two series’ of films I have very little time for.

The best thing I can say about them is at least they aren’t Paranormal Activity films.

So why don’t I like these types of films? It’s quite simple: I don’t believe in ghosts, therefore the films hold no aspect of fear for me. Sure, there are scares I might flinch at, or at my wife’s scream when I watch them with her (which is why I see so many of them: she loves them), but outside of cinematic trickery, I just don’t find them scary!

This film also borrows a bit from the mythos of Freddy Krueger, with the concept of being taken to another reality where evil awaits. In this though the ‘other realm’ is on the other side of a door that has been ‘knocked twice’ upon, instead of Freddy’s distorted dream dimension, though both seem to be able to be manipulated by the ghost/ witch/ demon/ supernatural thingy.

I do have to give this film, Don’t Knock Twice, a little bit of credit in this department. At least director Caradog James has attempted something different with the script provided by Howl’s Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby. It really does attempt for a different spin on the post-millennial ghost story, but unfortunately the trappings and tropes of those tales are so ingrained, and there is such apparent necessary visual and audio language now that it’s hard to avoid and still make the punter get what he’s seeing.

You know, because us fans of cinema are dumdums.

It also borrows quite heavily from the ideas behind Candyman and Urban Legend 3, you know, the ‘Beetlejuice’ effect: you do something a particular amount of times and it will bring about a haunting from a person, so whatever you do don’t say ‘whatever’ three times, or in this case, whatever you do… Don’t Knock Twice…


Recovering addict and scultptor Jess (Kate Sackhoff) is attempting to get her life and family back on track, which includes being reunited with her estranged daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton) after she was put in foster care several years ago, but the reunion comes at a cost.

You see, Chloe and her boyfriend pissed off the spirit of a woman who was accused of being a child murderer by the local children, but did she do it, and how can our heroines undo the curse that has been done?


There is some elements of the ‘family drama’ aspect of this, and Sackhoff and Boynton are really good in their roles. In actual fact, Sackhoff proves herself to be somewhat of an amazing actress in this role of dubious mother figure, and her and teenage daughter Boynton’s relationship rings as true. Actually if this had have been a family drama about a mother/ daughter relationship and NOT a horror film it would have been cast perfectly, but it is a horror film, and the generic ghost aspects and tropes of the post-millennial ghost story are so apparent you could play bingo with it.

Urban myth: tick. J-horror look to the ‘ghost’: tick. Mysterious face at the window: tick.

BINGO!

To it’s credit the script does make attempts to twist the tale a couple of times, but the payoff of each twist doesn’t really work, and is telegraphed far too early and then fizzle out.

It’s well directed too and this is where the problem lies in reviewing such a film: well directed, well acted, but generic. I have to applaud the filmmaking and the performances but if what they are conveying as a story is very good, well why bother?

That, unfortunately, is where it stands: don’t bother.

Score: **


Format: This movie was reviewed on the Australian region B release BD, which runs for approximately 93 minutes. It being a modern film in a modern format, as one would expect, both the 2.40:1 image and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track are fantastic. The blue tone given to much of the film almost makes it cold to watch. 

Score: *****

Extras: No extras for YOU!

Score: 0

WISIA: I can honestly say I will never watch this film again.

Countdown to Halloween Review #5: Hocus Pocus (1993)

One from the re watch pile…
Hocus Pocus (1993)


Film: As much as us horror fans keep Halloween as ‘our’ holiday, we do have another group that we have to share it with… kids!!

My daughter, now an adult, was brought up on horror films. Now I don’t mean I started her on Last House on the Left: no, we started with things like Casper, Addams Family, The Witches, various Scooby Doo movies, and this film, Hocus Pocus, before moving into not-quite age appropriate things like Dawn of the Dead at age ten.

Hocus Pocus tells the tale of three witches from Salem, the Sanderson Sisters: Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) who way back when used to draw the life-force out of kids to restore their youth. Of course they are caught and executed, but not before casting a spell…

Hocus Pocus: the Sanderson Sisters, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker


Several centuries later, Max (Omri Katz), his little sister, Dani (Thora Birch) and their parents move to Salem from California to find the town, at Halloween, have reduced the story of the Sanderson Sisters to little more than a myth. On Halloween night, Max manages to convince local hottie Alison (Vinessa Shaw) to take him and his sister up to the abandoned Sanderson museum, but he accidentally brings the sisters back to life by casting their long dormant spell.

As one would expect from a Disney film, the rest is spent in an attempt to defeat the witches, and many shenanigans take place, and maybe a song as well…

… and that song is to be expected. This film is directed by Kenny Ortega, who is probably best known for the Grease remake series of High School Musical films, and it’s a beautiful and fun set of visuals with some great performances, especially from Midler, Najimy and Parker (as a side note, Parker never looked better than in this film!)

Hocus Pocus: Omri Katz and Thora Birch


The screenplay is also brilliant. Written by long-time Stephen King collaborator Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, who wrote Return of the Swamp Thing, from a story by Garris and David Kirschner, who created the American Tale series of animated films. Like any good PG film, it has heaps of funny stuff for the kids, but there is a lot of sly innuendos aimed directly in the laps of the adults as well.

If I have to fault this film at all, it is in the casting of the school bullies, Ice (Larry Bagby) and Jay (Tobias Jelinek). Yes, I appreciate that this is a Disney film, but these two overact to the point of distraction. They are more cartoon characters than anything else, and their performances stand out as a low point of the film.

Hocus Pocus: Vinessa Shaw as Allison


Is it possible I have affection for this film from the aforementioned daddy/ daughter days? Possibly, but the film is still fun and funny and a better example of Disney’s live-action stuff. It also has a great deal of fun with horror tropes like zombies and witches without actually poking fun AT them. Of course it does end up getting a little schmaltzy at the end, but that’s what The House of the Mouse wants, isn’t it?

Score: ****

Hocus Pocus DVD Menu Screen


Format: The reviewed copy of this film was the Disney DVD release from several years ago. The feature runs for approximately 92 minutes and is presented in a slightly grainy and artefact-y 16:9 video with a 2.0 audio.

Score: ***

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s a fun and easy to watch family film that my adult daughter and I STILL like to watch together, even though we both possibly should have grown out of it.

Hocus Pocus: Doug Jones as Billy

Burn Witch Burn (1962) Review

One from the re watch pile..
Burn Witch Burn aka Night of the Eagle (1962)

Film: Sometimes I love the slow burn horror tales, the ones about atmosphere, acting, style: films like The Wicker Man, The Nanny, The VVitch. Ones that tell a story about fear and mistrust: sometimes I feel like watching those films instead of the blood soaked, titty jiggling, heavy metal soundtracked gorefests.

That’s not to say I don’t love soaking blood and jiggling titties, but I do also like to sit down and watch a solid film that tells a great story.

Burn Witch Burn is one of those films that has a solid story and acting, and for its time (the early sixties) is quite revolutionary in its treatment of the supernatural and it’s implication of rape.


When cynical college professor, Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) discovers his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been practising witchcraft as she feared for his safety when they first moved to their new town, he demands she destroy all of her talismans and phylactery

After all the objects are destroyed, Taylor’s life takes a turn for the worse: he’s almost hit by a car, accused of the rape of a student and other mishaps, but can a man as sceptical as Taylor believe that such superstitions be true or is it all coincidence and his wife is simply, mad?

You’d better grab the film and find out!

This film was directed by Sidney Hayers, from a script by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, based on the novel ‘Conjure Wife’ by Fritz Leiber and is a well acted and entertaining movie both about the practice of black magic and the scepticism of it.

This film looks great and is an interesting alternate look at ‘modern’ day Black Magic. It has some great of-it’s-day acting (by today’s standards it may be seen as occasionally stage-you or overwrought) and the special effects are what you would expect from an AIP film of this period, though it doesn’t rely on them to transmit its tale.

Is it as good as other films of its ilk like The Wicker Man or Blood on Satan’s Claw? No, but it is as entertaining as one of its contemporaries from a few years earlier, Night of the Demon.


Score: ***

Format: The review copy is the Australian Cinema Cult release on a region 4, NTSC disc. This approximately 90 minute film is presented in a satisfactory 1.85:1 widescreen with a stereo audio track. There is a very occasional pixelation of the image, but it is very rare.

The beginning of the film warns that it was completed from various sources and that the quality may be uneven, but I didn’t really find that too much. 

Score: ***


Extras: Only a trailer…  Not even scene selections!!

Score: **


WISIA: I have seen this film several times, and it will probably be on a high rewatch rotation as it’s easy to watch. I usually seem to throw it on when I don’t know what else to watch.

The VVitch (2015) Review

One from the to watch pile…
The Witch (2015)


Film: My journey to see this film is an unusual one. I heard a single track of Mark Korvan’s amazing score, I can’t remember where (it was possibly on the soundtrack-centric, and well worth listening to podcast The Damn Fine Cast) and had to grab the entire soundtrack, on vinyl of course!

Korvan uses a bizarre mix of instruments, including the waterphone and the hurdy-gurdy, to create this soundscape that is bizarre and horrifying, but more importantly, intriguing. As soon as this was released on bluray, I was at my local retailer, eftPOS card at the ready!

Was I disappointed? Not at all!


Set in the early 1600s in New England, The Witch tells of a family who are kicked out of a walled town due to their religious practices differing from the rest of the town. They travel a day by horse and cart away from the town and set up a small farm just outside a large ominous forest.

The eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is playing with the youngest child, a baby when it is snatched by something from right under her nose… literally. Her father, William (Ralph Ineson) and mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie) tell her and the other children, Caleb (Harvey Grimshaw) and twins Mercy (Ellie Granger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) to stay away from the forest.

The isolation and the pain of the missing child start to form cracks in the family’s relationships, and when Caleb disappears, accusation of witch-hood start flying, but is the threat from within the family, or if there really something evil in the woods?


Immediately I have to compliment this film on its visuals. It feels ‘wet’ to watch, and there is this amazing, cloying, claustrophobic feeling throughout the whole film, and that’s an emotional claustrophobia as well!

The acting is all top shelf, which is a great feat considering almost half the cast are young children (I don’t count the baby as one of them, I mean, the actor just played a baby… I hope they don’t get typecast!) and they had to contend with goats, which aren’t the most compliant of animals to have in a film. Also the whole film is performed in Ye Olde English, which takes a few minutes to acclimatise to, but once you get it, you completely understand.

Writer/director Robert Eggars has created a complex film with a very deliberate pacing that is visually beautiful, audibly disturbing (with the aforementioned Korvan’s score) and leaves the viewer relieved with its freeing resolve after spending 90 minutes with a family whose religion and lifestyle is so oppressive.

Score: ***1/2

Format: The review copy was an Australian, region B bluray which also comes with an Ultraviolet copy. The film is presented in a quite beautiful 1.66:1 widescreen with an amazing DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.


Score: *****

Extras: Unfortunately, none.

Score: 0


WISIA: This is a visually beautiful, complex, repeat watcher if there ever was one.