The Cellar

It’s creepy kids in a haunted house season, and our latest installment is The Cellar. Family moves to this big spooky gothic manor house with weird symbols all over it, and don’t think ‘let’s fucking leave immediately’.

The daughter is the only one with sense, so she has to missing pretty quick. This leaves the daft mum to put together the pieces of the house’s weirdness painstakingly slowly. See if you moved to a new neighbourhood, and you’re wean went missing on the first night, wouldn’t you just not move in? Like, even with no supernatural element, wouldn’t that be enough to call a halt to the move, send your son to stay at grandma’s?

Anyway, Mum decides to stay and solve the puzzle, hence the film. I thought the daughter, played by Abby Fitz gave the best performance. It’s watchable enough.

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Freaks Out

I think this movie won Frightfest.

In an Italy of 1943, a travelling circus delights people with its wonder and mystery. A magician, a dog-faced man, an electric girl and a man who commands the insects and wee beasties display their talents to a mesmerised crowd. Theirs is an age of innocence and wonder. And it is coming to an end.

The Nazis occupy Italy, and everyone different is being rounded up and shipped off to the death camps. While trying to help his family of performers escape, the magician, Israel, is caught and put with other Jews on a transport. Mathilde sets out to rescue him, with more than a little help on the way.

You know what I loved most about this film? It was a world. Most films, even fantasy films, are made around their main character, and the world they inhabit only serves their story. But Freaks Out builds a world where I feel like you could literally follow any side character’s story and still have a movie. And it’s unusual to be able to convey that sense in something that’s not a TV show or a multi-film franchise.

The villain of the piece is Franz, the ringmaster of the Nazi circus in Berlin, who is a six-fingered pianist, clairvoyant, ether addict, and psychopath. There they showcase the best in Aryan entertainment, and any difference is made to serve the ends of the Nazi ideology. Those whose difference doesn’t, are disposed of.

And when I say Franz is clairvoyant, I don’t mean, “You will soon be taking a trip” clairvoyant. I mean he sees our future exactly, and tries to interpret its meaning through a 1940s perspective. He keeps sketching these strange light-up musical rectangles with a partially eaten apple on the back. Did I mention the film’s hilarious? There’s so much to talk about in this film, I’m only now getting round to telling you it’s hilarious. Franz is known for his huge repertoire of new songs, a seemingly prolific songwriter. The first time you see him at the piano, he sits down and plays Creep by Radiohead.

Franz is superbly played by Franz Rogowski, from Great Freedom. He is just amazing. What a talent. I need to see more of his films. In Freaks Out, he plays a genuinely horrible person, a Nazi, a gleeful murderer, a total fanatic, and yet, Rogowski makes you feel genuinely sorry for him at times. You actually sympathise with this guy who’s been driven half-mad by his visions, who’s doomed to be, in his own words, “the Cassandra of the Third Reich”. He’s evil, and he’s using his visions to try to avert the defeat of the Nazis, there couldn’t be anything more heinous. Yet you feel for him when he is dismissed and humiliated, when he struggles to get his brother’s respect, and he craves the love of his girlfriend. To the end, he mixes cruelty, comedy and tragedy.

Anyway, he is searching for four freaks, whose silhouettes he has seen in visions, and who he is convinced have the ability to prevent the demise of the Third Reich. Unfortunately it seems to be a prophecy of Mathilde and her crew.

While Mathilde sets off to rescue Israel, the others, left destitute by the bombing of their tent, go to try-outs for the Nazi circus. They’ve heard great things of Franz’s talent, and are unaware he’s a maniac. This is a hilarious scene with bug boy Cencio making beetles form a swastika on the floor.

Mathilde briefly teams up with a group of anti-fascist freedom fighters made from the ranks of injured soldiers. They are all amputees, in one form or another, lead by a cantankerous but good man with a hunchback. They have a camp in the woods where they sculpt their own prostheses and make their own weapons, like the leader’s machinegun-crutch. Like Mathilde’s band, they too are a family. You see them having a kick-about, hitting the ball with their hands, head or crutches, whatever they have. It reminded me of Dix’s painting The Skat Players, and made me wonder if it was a direct reference.

Anyway, they are able to help Mathilde briefly speak to Israel on his transport, where he warns her to save the others from Franz and let her know where his transport will be going, before the Nazis whisk him away. So Mathilde must save her friends, face off against Franz, and rescue Israel.

Whoof! I know that sounds like a lot but this film is packed. When I saw it was 2 and a half hours, I was a little worried, as I like my films closer to 90 minutes, and feel too often these days films try to reach the Marvel-set 3 hour mark for no other reason than prestige. I worried Freaks Out would feel like a good hour could be cut from its runtime. But it flies in! You’ll not even notice the time, much less be bored.

And yet it manages not to overload you, it is dense, but with a clear plot. Rescue friends is its central direction, and it follows it throughout. So well told, it is a feast.

It’s got its own style as well, reminding me a little of Hellboy, but also Stardust (the novel, not the film, which didn’t work as well). There’s a particular aesthetic and an amazing attention to detail. Like the confetti in the Nazi circus all being little swastikas. And Franz’s study being full of anachronisms, like his Kappa tracksuit with gold Nazi insignia.

I cannot recommend this film enough. It’s about the forces of difference against the forces of conformity. It’s action packed, hilarious, romantic, tragic, and hopeful. It made the whole room at Frightfest cheer. It’s just the best. Go see.

Monstrous

Monstrous is about a woman who left her abusive husband and is hiding out in a new town with her young son. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, her efforts are undermined when they begin to get visitations from a figure from the lake.

This is kinda standard creepy kid in a haunted house. There’s a twist that’s hinted at pretty heavily. Christina Ricci plays the mum, with her weird eyebrow terror look.

It’s fine.

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Some Like It Rare

Fucking hilarious!

Went to see this with my diehard vegan sister and we both laughed all the way through. It’s about a couple who run a butcher shop, who take to killing and selling the flesh of vegans.

I think what made this work so well was the core characters and their relationship. The plot has obvious comedy value, but it wouldn’t stretch over a movie’s run time if it weren’t for the sparky central couple.

Vincent had a real passion for his work as a butcher, and took real pride in it. As the movement towards a plant-based diet has caused sales to drop, he has become despondent, lacklustre and impotent. The business is failing and his marriage is failing.

Sophie is sick of being sex-starved and broke. She splits her time between envying her god-awful friends, and sitting up at night, binging serial killer documentaries. I massively identified with the way she can bring up any killer’s name and stats in any random conversation. I do this constantly, as do many of my podcast-addicted female friends.

One day, into their stagnation, comes an attack on the shop by vegan activists. Vincent pursues them and fights one in the street. It’s the first rush of fire in him in a long time, and Sophie is eager to encourage it, despite its violent expression. A chance encounter means Vincent spots the activist on his bike while he and Sophie are driving, and on impulse he hits the guy. When Sophie find out he is dead, she’s almost pleased to finally be able to put all her true crime knowledge to good use. Soon they have the body dismembered, and the meat is being sold off slice by slice.

As daft as this sounds, cannibal serial killers selling human meat out a butchers is a thing. What Vincent and Sophie don’t expect is for it to be so delicious. Soon the whole town is at their door, paying hand over first for the new flavour “pork”. A few more days like that and the butcher’s shop will be out the red. Plus, with the killing and cannibalisation, Vincent seems to be getting back his joie de vivre.

Can you save a business and a marriage by killing your enemies? Apparently so.

I was a bit worried before I saw this, that it might just be the same one joke that’s told about vegans over and over, which is, “Christ, they’re annoying”. But this is a comedy horror splatstick first and foremost, with a bickering problem couple at its heart, and playing off the vegan stereotype in such a over-the-top and ludicrous way that it just gets funnier and more preposterous.

Thoroughly enjoyed. Carnist comedy at its finest.

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The Ledge

Speaking of cartoon villains.

Four escapees from an 80s frat movie are going mountain climbing when they run into two lassies. The lassies have heavy Women Laughing With Salad energy, and after a fireside swapping of homophobic jokes, the lead frat boy tries to rape one of the lassies. When he fails, he punches her off a rock ledge, seriously injuring her. He then gets his mates to help kill her and chuck her off the mountain. Alas for them, the other lassie sees them and films it. Because if you are going mountaineering, you obviously take a hand-held camera for that free time your hands’ll be empty.

This film is unintentionally hilarious. The main lassie is like a Xanax commercial, doing a sad face, then remembering her dead fiance, and doing a resolved looking-towards-the-future face. The flashbacks to the dead husband are so funny. He looks like a model, staring into the camera and saying shit like, “You got this”. He has this Italian, but also kinda English sounding accent, he has that muddled sound that whats-his-chops has in Black Swan. Anyway, he’s constantly purring encouragements in reverb over the wind, which is a total rofl.

The whole movie is cheesy af. This is just some of the daftest dialogue. My favourite line was, “How do you think Jessica got so good at blowjobs?” The chest thumping machismo is laughable and so lame.

The whole tension of setting the action on a mountainside is lost, coz you never feel like you’re on a mountain. Because they are clearly on a set with the rocks from Star Trek, they can’t do any wide shots. So you never get a sense of where they are on the mountain, where she is in relation to the top or bottom, or how far off the ground they are. I mean, they do sometimes look down, but it’s at a green screen, so it looks flat and has no depth. There are a couple of shots of a real mountainside, but not many.

It’s not quite in the category of so bad it’s good, but it’s certainly past the point of being bad and swinging back towards being entertaining.

Mandrake

That was bloody great!

Witch tale from Ireland. Mary Laidlaw, known as Bloody Mary, is released on parole from her sentence for killing her husband. Her parole officer, Cathy, doesn’t want the media hype about her devil worship and human sacrifice to colour her view of her new charge. But Mary is super fucking creepy.

I really liked Mary, played beautifully by Derbhle Crotty, because she’s more like the witches that you grew up with on your street. You know how there’s always a witch on every street? And you run past their house when you’re a kid. Then you grow up, and feel a bit guilty, coz you were just running past an old woman, or a woman with a skelly eye, or arthritis in her hands. She was actually just a poor soul, and you were actually a wee dick.

Mary in the film, her abusive husband beat the shit out of her, set her on fire and left her for dead in the forest. But she didn’t die, and when she came home, she chopped him up with an axe. For this she was sentenced to 30 years in prison. So, before you meet her, you kinda think she’s a bit of a soul.

Then you meet her, and you’re like, “Oh! You’re totally a witch”. And maybe her husband burned her because she was a witch. Or maybe she became a witch because he was so violent. It’s all very open to possibilities.

Certainly now, she’s a bampot. But again, not just for the sake of being the villain. She wants what Cathy wants. She’s just, you know, willing to be a total bastard to get it.

Mary is like Cathy’s shadow. Cathy’s husband left her for another woman, and now she’s pregnant, and they’re a happy little family, and Cathy’s son even calls this new woman Mum. Cathy had terrible post-partum depression after what was a difficult birth that left her unable to have any more children. So she feels totally alone, like her entire family, the only one she’ll ever have, has been taken from her. Cathy is impotent in the face of this onslaught, she’s meant to just suck it up.

Mary wouldn’t suck it up. Mary would know what to do to take what was hers.

I really liked this film. It’s a clear villain, without needing to make her a cartoon, and a hero, who is really trying to pull away from her own darkness. Good film.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse

Tales from the world of Wyrmwood. Wyrmwood: Apocalypse is a sequel to the 2014 Aussie zombie action thriller Wyrmwood. We are back with our fuel-burping undead and the homemade armoured vehicles. Wyrmwood is basically like Mad Max with zombies.

Reunite with Barry and Brooke, with Luke McKenzie returning as the baddie Captain’s twin brother, set on getting revenge for his brother’s death. Maxi and Grace join us as two survivors who are travelling with our heroes, but have grown wary of Brooke’s increasingly out of control zombie berserker rages. They decide to split and go their own way.

This is a mistake. They run afoul of Rhys, the aforementioned twin of the last film’s baddie, and entanglement with the deranged soldier/scientist combo returns as the main peril.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse delivers on exactly what it sets out to do. Pounding action, exploding heads, disembowelment and fights to the death. Let the mayhem commence!

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You Are Not My Mother

You Are Not My Mother is an Irish folk horror, in the same vein of mental illness or supernatural happening. Char’s mum is manic depressive and she goes missing at the start of the film. And when she comes back, she’s… different.

Really good, well acted film. The main character Char is really well performed by Hazel Doupe, who has to straddle a creepy horror and a serious family drama and be 100% convincing the whole time. Carolyn Bracken is also amazing as the malevolent mother, her movement style is really unsettling. The makeup for the scares is excellent, really nails it.

One day we’ll get a movie where a manic depressive is a good parent, fingers crossed. But until then revel in the spooks of You Are Not My Mother!

Homebound

A new bride is taken to meet her husband’s kids in his large country house, in a story that reeks of Bluebeard’s Castle from the outset.

All the weans are creepy and she’s just constantly going, “Eh, something’s off”, and having her man gaslight her. He starts off as the good-time da, laughing and playing, but very soon he’s drinking constantly and going Jack Torrance.

Nice set and scenery, good lighting, liked the colour palate, visually good. Because it’s a BBC horror film, it’s pure PG-13, but still a good watch.

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