Sunday, 31 January 2016

the borderlands

the borderlands (a.k.a final prayer) is a british found footage movie about three men working for the vatican who are tasked with verifying a supposed miracle that occured in a small village church in england. the team includes two priests, mark (aidan mcardle) and deacon (gordon kennedy), and a technician, grey (robin hill), who is responsible for ensuring that everything is recorded. however, not long after the team arrive they being to realise that they may be more to the alleged miracle than first reported.

the first thing that struck me about the borderlands was the familiarity of the setting. i've been to countless small villages like the one in this film, in fact it's not dissimilar to the village in devon where my dad lives. i've always been fascinated with small village churches too, and there is something about quiet, old buildings that's kind of creepy. this film plays on that creepiness perfectly.

the set-up is really interesting and works well for the story. the characters are well-written and acted too, particularly grey and deacon. despite their unusual profession, both characters come across like real people just trying to get a job done. robin hill is particularly great as grey and really puts across a sense of a being your average techie thrown into a very unusual situation. grey's atheism is also an interesting character point, which leads to some interesting debates that are played out in the film.

the horror or supernatural element is really held back in this film, very much to its credit. there are some nice, almost hidden suggestions of spooky goings-on that are really there for the audience to see and not the characters. when things do kick off it's quite unsettling but all of this is really building up to one of the greatest and most terrifying horror endings i've seen in a while. the last five minutes of this film are truly disturbing and it's worth a watch just to experience that moment.

i really enjoyed this one and would definitely recommend you check it out. plus, it's nice to have a british film on the list as there don't seem to be too many found footage films being made over here right now.

the found footage blogathon will run from throughout february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

the taking

also known as the taking of deborah logan, this film takes the form of a phd student's project on alzheimer's disease. mia (michelle ang) takes a small film crew to the house of deborah logan (jill larson) where she is greeted by deborah's carer, her daughter, sarah (anne ramsay). the crew install cameras all over the house and they begin to film deborah's struggle with the disease, although it soon becomes apparent that it's not just alzheimer's taking deborah's mind but something else entirely.

this is another film that's hard to describe without ruining the plot, but there are definitely some surprises here. to be honest, alzheimer's is a terrifying enough concept on its own and the film does a great job portraying that, but once you add supernatural forces to the problem things quickly become so much worse. there are some truly creepy moments in this film and whenever deborah wanders off on her own at night there's some tension in anticipating what she'll be doing when they find her. sometimes she's out in the garden digging holes in the ground, sometimes she's staring out of windows at invisible strangers, and then sometimes there are snakes, lots of snakes.

like most really good horror films the thing that really makes the taking work is the development of the characters. while the film crew are key, the most important character in the film is sarah, deborah's daughter. it's through sarah that we see what having a parent who's suffering can do to a person, and the lengths they will go to in order to save her. while jill larson should be praised for her incredibly brave performance as deborah, anne ramsay's take on sarah is the most genuine element of the film and really holds everything together.

as a general note, one aspect of this film that i really appreciated is that it's a film about women doing stuff. not only do we have mia, sarah and deborah but deborah's doctor and the town sheriff are women too. i wonder if that ties into the story somehow, because ultimately this is a film about mothers and daughters. deborah mentions on a couple of occasions that she's disappointed with how sarah grew up, and while most of that stems from sarah's homosexuality (how refreshing to have a middle-aged lesbian as the lead character in a film) i wondered if the three other women - the phd student, the doctor, the sheriff - represented other roles sarah could have chosen in life. it doesn't really matter, because the important thing to note is that when everything kicks off the four people trying to sort it out are all women and that's something you never see in movies.

i thought the taking had everything you need from a found footage film - it was creepy, it had a good set-up and there were a few surprises, plus some amazing effects work towards the end. the fact that it's film in which women get to do all the stuff is an added bonus.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

the houses of halloween

the houses of halloween follows a group of five friends on a road trip who intend to visit as many horror haunts as possible in the run up to halloween. as halloween creeps closer the friends discover that the most extreme haunt of all may be coming to them.

i've only been to a couple of of halloween haunts, the short-lived 'fear' in brighton and death trap in london. i think they're great, they're like real-life horror films, i'd love to go to more. i'm also kind of obsessed with mckamey manor and yes, i have asked to be added to the waiting list although i have no idea how i'd actually get there right now. i keep hoping someone will open something similar in the uk. anyway, my point is, i love the idea of halloween haunts so a movie about people looking for the most extreme haunt ever was very appealing to me.

the first hour of the film almost plays like a documentary, with the cast visiting what are presumably real haunts intercut with interviews with participants and the people who run the attractions. as the group move from haunt to haunt they hear about a legendary attraction called the blue skeleton, said to be the most extreme haunt ever. before long they are following a trail of clues and soon find themselves face-to-face with a group of terrifying individuals who may or may not be actors.

aside from the haunts and the found footage format, this film really reminded me of the texas chainsaw massacre. there's a sense of moving into uncharted territory as they travel deeper into the less populated regions of america, and a creeping dread that anything can happen out there. this idea of moving closer to something truly terrifying is what drives the film forward and is handled quite effectively, particularly when the same haunt actors seem to appear at different locations. there's one especially terrifying creature, a doll-like girl with a porcelain face, who provides some of the scariest moments in the film.

that said, when they eventually find the blue skeleton i found it a little anti-climactic. maybe it's because i've seen so much more extreme stuff happening in the mckamey manor videos or maybe it's because so much of the final sequence is shot in almost pitch black darkness, but it didn't seem as scary as some of the real haunts they'd seen on the road. i think the real problem here is that the houses of halloween doesn't quite know what it is. the documentary-like portions of the film lack structure and sometimes feel more like an afterthought than part of the film. in some ways i would have preferred it if the five friends had been an actual documentary crew with the aim of investigating these places rather than some buddies looking for extreme scares. at the same time, the narrative doesn't feel fully committed either, partly because none of the characters really have any development or arc. as a result it often feels like we're just waiting for something to happen to them and i'll be honest, i didn't care about them all that much when they were supposedly in real danger.

while the end result isn't perfect, i did really enjoy watching this film and i thought the cast and crew did a great job at making it feel authentic. it certainly made me want to do what they did - a halloween haunt road trip sounds like the perfect holiday to me.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.


similar to open windows, unfriended is a story that unfolds entirely on a computer screen, mostly through a video chat between five friends. the film opens with the suicide of a teenage girl and the revelation that the suicide was the result of online bullying by her peers. over the course of a single night five friends are seemingly contacted by the dead girl and she wants to play a game with them.

it was interesting watching this film immediately after seeing open windows, because in many ways they're quite similar. the difference is that unfriended gets a couple of things right that open windows got wrong. first of all, the camera is fixed and while our focus is somewhat directed by the character manipulating the windows on the screen, we do choose what to look at to an extent. however, the main thing that makes unfriended work is that the characters are well-written and there is an emotional intensity to the performances that really makes them feel real.

if you strip away the format, unfriended is nothing more than a straightforward slasher film. cyberbullying has been covered by slasher films before, in the movie smiley face and probably others. the key to a good slasher films isn't great kills or an interesting new monster, it's good characters. if we care about the characters we care about what happens to them and we don't want them to die. so many slasher films get this wrong, presenting us with a host of obnoxious teens in the misguided belief that the audience takes some pleasure in watching these kids being killed in the most gruesome way possible. it doesn't matter how good the kills are, we need to care about the person being threatened with death. this is why unfriended works.

the relationship between the characters and the way they talk to each other feels real, and this is enhanced by the format. essentially this is one long conversation and could almost be done as a stageplay. making 90 minutes of straight dialogue work and seem real in a horror film is not easy to do, but the acting, direction and script are strong enough here to pull it off. this means there's an emotional intensity to the scenes that adds more tension than the impending carnage.

at its heart this is a film about teenage friendship and what happens when that friendship is tested. it's a character piece, and to be honest would have worked even without the slasher element. i thought it was a really accomplished, innovative and well performed piece of drama and for that reason it's worth checking out.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Friday, 29 January 2016

open windows

open windows is kind of like an ultra-modern take on rear window that somehow comes off as more old fashioned. i'll explain.

the film follows fanboy nick chambers (elijah wood) who has won a contest to meet his idol, superstar actress jill goddard (sasha grey). nick soon realises he's been set up by a malevolent hacker who is using nick's obsession to make him a scapegoat in a kidnapping plot. nick must figure out a way to save jill without alerting the hacker who is watching their every move.

the thing that makes open windows different is that the whole film is told via a computer screen, with the camera zooming in and out of the various windows open on nick's desktop. while this at first seems incredibly limiting, director nacho vigalondo (who directed my favourite part of v/h/s viral as well as the excellent time crimes) manages to take us almost anywhere via the desktop without ever stretching our suspension of disbelief too far. it is at times an incredibly exhilarating new way to tell a story and further proof that vigalondo is a true innovator.

the story itself works for the most part and there are some great moments of tension, particular when nick is trying to evade the police whilst talking to about three different people via his laptop. there are probably one or two twists too many, but where it fell down for me was with the characters. it's partly because the story is so fast-paced but it feels like we never really get to know anyone before we're thrown into the action with them. as a result some of the decisions made by the characters and some of their emotional changes seem to come from nowhere. even the hacker, played brilliantly by neil maskell, makes some pretty random choices towards the end and becomes a caricature of a movie villain as a result.

i did wonder if some of this was deliberate. the film opens with a clip from jill goddard's latest movie, which plays like a parody of a big summer blockbuster. one of the theme's of the film is about how we perceive stars and jill's overall story arc is one of escape, not just from her kidnapper but from the hollywood prison that stops her living her life the way she wants to. this is an interesting idea and one worthy of examination, except the theme, like jill herself, is ultimately a side-plot. there's a moment that perhaps sums up why this didn't work for me.

so towards the end of the first act, jill is forced to strip on camera. through nick's eyes this is supposed to be an incredibly uncomfortable, awkward scene and it could so easily have been played this way if we as an audience had any choice in the matter. instead, the 'camera' zooms in on jill's window so we see the whole thing. it is an awkward and uncomfortable moment as intended, but it's awkward because the director is making us watch it in close-up. found footage movies give filmmakers an opportunity to present a reality and give the viewer the choice of what they focus on in that reality. the really great found footage movies, films like lake mungo and even the first paranormal activity, really make the most of that so that the viewer becomes involved in the story. here, that choice is taken away because we are forced to look at what the director wants us to look at, and what he wants us to look at is a woman taking her clothes off.

i can't help feeling that open windows could have told almost exactly the same story with the same beats in a much more effective way by putting the focus on jill rather than nick. jill has the more compelling story anyway, and placed in her shoes the themes around how we view and what we expect of women in films could really have been explored. but this isn't a film about that. ultimately, this is a film about control and about how men are pulling the strings. it's hard to really explain that without spoiling the ending, but that is what it's about. that brings me back to my opening sentence, because the end result is a film that is so backward in its representation of gender roles that it makes rear window look positively transgressive. to put it simply, rear window is a film in which the traditional male hero is emasculated and has to give up control to his female partner. open windows is a film in which a modern male hero, a computer geek, has all the power and the female character is relegated to being tied up, beaten and abused via a variety of p.o.v. shots.

i'm not saying you shouldn't watch this film and i still think vigalondo is a genius, i just think there are some serious problems with the narrative and open windows feels like a wasted opportunity as a result. which is a shame because i badly wanted to like this film.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

v/h/s viral

i'll be honest, i wasn't hugely impressed with the first two v/h/s movies. i reviewed the first one here and i intended to review the sequel, but i liked it even less than the first and decided not to bother. i think it's partly that an anthology found footage movie is such a great idea and the talent involved is so promising that they should be better films than they are. i hadn't heard great things about the third film in the series to begin with, so i had some reservations going in.

like the previous films there's a framing story (vicious circles directed by marcel sarmiento), this time about a guy in pursuit of an ice cream van after it seemingly kidnaps his girlfriend, although here the framing story doesn't really tie in to the other episodes. the other stories concern a stage magician who can perform real magic (dante the great by gregg bishop), a scientist who opens a doorway to another dimension (parallel monsters by nacho vigalondo), and a group of skater kids who travel to mexico to film a video and get into a fight with some local zombies (bonestorm by justin benson and aaron scott moorhead).

the first thing to note about v/h/s viral is that it makes a very half-hearted attempt to conform to the constraints of the medium. most of the time it's barely a found footage film at all. in vicious circles and particularly dante the great there are often moments where it's impossible to work out who's filming the action and why there's even a camera there. parallel monsters is shot pretty much on two cameras and remains consistent, but to be honest the fact that it's shot like that isn't integral to the telling of the story at all. the only one that really makes use of the medium is bonestorm because it uses the fact that skateboarders making a video will obviously film absolutely everything, and their zombie battle is edited in the same kinetic style as their skate videos. if the lack of adherence to the 'rules' of found footage cinema bothers you, it's a tough thing to get past. if you don't care about that then there is actually some really great stuff here.

dante the great, the story of a magician who finds a magic cloak that allows him to do real magic (with some conditions), is actually a pretty cool story. it feels like a classic twilight zone episode and features some really impressive effects. at the end there's even a kind of magic duel that reminded me of the ending of that roger corman movie, the raven, where karloff and vincent price are firing spells at each other.

but the real highlight for me was the nacho vigalondo story, parallel monsters. back when i first started this blog i reviewed vigalondo's film time crimes, and i was impressed with the inventiveness and originality vigalondo displayed in that movie. here, he's on top form again. parallel monsters is kind of like an episode of that tv series from the 90s, sliders, where the characters would explore a different parallel dimension each week. part of the fun with that show was trying to work out what particular quirk made each new dimension different and it's the same here, except the quirk in parallel monsters is completely insane in the best possible way. i don't want to spoil it, but there are creature effects and it is very, very strange.

like most portmanteau movies, v/h/s viral is a bit of a mixed bag but while the framing story lets it down the most the three individual stories are actually pretty innovative and entertaining, even if the found footage angle isn't used to its full potential. for that reason i think it's actually the strongest of the v/h/s trilogy and quite an entertaining watch.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.


creep is most definitely a found footage horror film and yet it's completely different to anything i've seen to date and i'm guessing to everything else on my list. it's about this guy, josef (marc duplass), and because of a brain tumor he only has three months to live so he hires another guy, aaron (patick brice), to film him for a day so he has some footage to pass on to his unborn child. as the day progresses and josef begins to exhibit strange behaviour, aarons starts to suspect that perhaps there is more going on here than josef initially explained.

for something so simple, i mean it's just the two guys for 80 minutes, this film is incredibly ambitious and complex. it's often funny and yet can move from comedy to horror in an instant without sacrificing its tone. the story is full of twists and turns and you never quite know what to expect because it's so unlike anything else. it even threw me enough to suspect that perhaps aaron knew more than he was letting on, which isn't the case but the film is unexpected enough to make you question everything that's happening.

the two actors, duplass and brice (who also directed the film) do an amazing job, particularly duplass who manages to always remain believable despite the things he's saying and doing. there's something familiar about his portrayal of josef; i've definitely known people like him in real life. sometimes people seem too eager to please and too desperate to be your friend and usually you do find out that they're compensating for something, only here it's taken to extremes.

this is a film that relies solely on the performances and the script. despite the found footage format, there are no gimmicks here, it's two men in a situation and we're with them as it unfolds. in a way it reminded me of the first 'saw' movie, not in terms of the content but because it's two men trapped in a scenario and we're trapped with them. it's more compelling and more disturbing than anything i've seen in a while, and it's so ridiculously small-scale.

honestly, i can't recommend this film enough. i think it's a work of genius, i think whether you care about found footage horror films or not you should watch it and i'm really glad i saw it. it's also worth noting that it wasn't on my original list, so thanks very much to everyone who recommended it to me. if you're not sure where to find it i rented it from youtube but i'm sure it's available on other v.o.d. platforms.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

the gallows

the gallows opens with vhs footage of an accident that occurred during a high school play in which a boy was killed in what was supposed to be a fake hanging. ten years later the school has decided to revive the play but a couple of the cast members and their friends find that someone or something does not want them to do it.

after we are introduced to the main players, including the obligatory character who insists on filming everything, the film takes us into the school theatre at night by way of a rather contrived plot point. once the kids are in there they soon discover that they have been trapped inside and that there may be something in there with them. what follows is a frantic cacophony of screeching teens, jump scares and cameras pointing at the floor while the aforementioned teens run aimlessly around the school. it's nothing we haven't seen before, and at times it feels like it would have worked better as an episode in an anthology film because there isn't quite enough plot for an eighty minute feature, and yet in the end it kind of works.

one of the most important factors of found footage films is the location, and sometimes filmmakers become too caught up in that. the gallows veers dangerously close to this sometimes with endless shots of the empty theatre and dark hallways, but the fact is that the empty theatre is a great location. the filmmakers set up the geography of the place really effectively, and they manage to make the school feel labyrinthine and claustrophobic at the same time. there's also a real sense of the energy of a theatre - the fact that it's a space where tragedies have been played out over and over again.  ultimately that's exactly what the film is about - the inescapable repetition of tragedy in art. in a way it makes perfect sense that this feels like a film we've seen before, because that's kind of the point and there's something about the inevitability of it all that really feeds into the story.

however, what really made the gallows work for me is that the jump scares are done really well. there are two ways to scare an audience - with suspense or with shock. the best horror films, of course, use both, but here the filmmakers focus purely on the latter. while i'm more a fan of fear through suspense and atmosphere, i do appreciate a really well-constructed jump scare and this film has more than a few of them. that's hard to pull off, especially in a found footage film when you're trying not to make the scenes seem too constructed.

i know this is a film that has had mixed reviews, and i can kind of see why. there are moments that exist only to drive the plot forward including some ridiculous decisions on the part of the characters that i can see could be distracting for the more cynical viewer. but if you ignore that and just go along with it, you'll be in for quite a ride.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


skinwalkers, also called skinwalker ranch, is a found footage film about a team of paranormal investigators who come to the aid of a farmer after his son goes missing. from the video footage shot at the time of the incident, it looks like the son may have been abducted by aliens.

the team set up multiple cameras around the farm and also have a cameraman tracking their every move. things escalate very quickly and they soon record footage of strange lights, visions of the missing boy, and a mysterious dog-like creature outside the house. the more they witness, the more the inexperienced team lose confidence and much of the drama of the film comes from them turning on each other. there’s an interesting question around their motives – are they there to help the farmer find his son or simply to film some aliens and find fame as a result? the question becomes academic when events escalate to the point that the team begin to fear for their safety.

what i liked about this film was that it included some really bizarre and unexpected elements. i was expecting footage of lights in the sky and maybe a few aliens, but the team also encounter ghosts, fight off a monster and explore hidden caves under the farm. it reminded me a little of quatermass and the pit, in that while the primary antagonist comes from outerspace it’s revealed through a series of creepy, more traditional horror archetypes. the dog-monster is particularly surprising and is handled so well it could almost be its own film. the cast do a nice job too, particularly jon gries as the grieving farmer.

where the film falls down is that it’s far too short, with a sixty-minute running time bolstered with ten minutes of end credits. it feels like things kick off before we really know what it is they’re trying to do, and the intensity and speed at which events escalate doesn’t give us time to really process what’s happening. in  addition, while the actors are fine there isn’t much to distinguish the characters from each other with two of them being almost identical. and yes, i would’ve liked another woman in the cast as the one they have feels a bit like a token gesture. the real issue though is that the character of the cameraman doesn’t come through at all, to the point where it barely qualifies as found footage at all sometimes. unlike traditional films, found footage movies want us to be aware of the camera; they want to draw attention to the fact that we're watching a film, because the camera should be as much of a character as the people being filmed. there’s a great sequence in noroi – the curse that shows this working, where the cameraman is left alone with one of the characters in a car and there’s an intimacy and vulnerability to it because it suddenly feels like we the audience are alone with them as well. there’s none of that in skinwalkers because most of the time it’s shot like a traditional film that just happens to be using single takes. to get found footage right, there has to be a kind of intentional messiness to the filming and that’s hard to pull off - too much and it’s annoying, but not enough and it makes you question the format.

overall, i’d still recommend this film. there’s enough going on here to make it stand out and the quatermass element does keep it compelling despite it’s failure to engage in other areas.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

noroi - the curse

noroi – the curse is a japanese found footage horror film directed by koji shiraishi and released in 2001, when j-horror was taking over the world. except for some reason it didn’t sit alongside the giants of japanese horror cinema of that time – audition, ju-on, ringu – and only achieved cult status later, possibly due to the renewed popularity of found footage films in the wake of paranormal activity. none of this matters, the only thing you really need to know is that it’s a complex, fascinating piece of work and it’s fucking terrifying.

the film takes the form of a documentary about a documentary. essentially, there’s this paranormal investigator, masafumi kobayashi, and he films all his investigations and releases them on video. the documentary is about his unreleased final investigation. it starts as a series of seemingly unrelated incidents – he talks to a woman who reports hearing strange noises from her neighbours house, then he talks to an actress who collapsed while filming a celebrity ghost hunt, and so on. gradually, over the course of the two hour film, a pattern begins to emerge and kobayashi starts to unravel a mystery with a horrifying secret at its heart.

this is easily one of the best found footage films i’ve seen and fully deserves its cult status. the format works perfectly with tv show clips and news items adding a sense of reality to the world. jin  muraki is great as kobayashi, coming across more serious journalist than crazy paranormal conspiracy theorist, and we need that to invest in what's happening. what really makes it work is the story itself. i don’t want to go into the specifics here, it’s better if you discover it for yourself, but noroi – the curse contains one of the most creepy and disturbing horror stories i’ve seen in a film and certainly ends with the most fucked-up revelation in cinema history. there’s an organic development to the horror in this film; it grows over time as the seemingly disparate incidents begin to merge and a terrifying truth is revealed.

noroi – the curse is everything that makes found footage movies great, using the medium to it's full capacity and telling a super-creepy story at the same time. for the first film in my found footage blogathon i couldn’t have made a better choice.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

a touch of zen

a touch of zen is quite possible one of the greatest, most ambitious and most thought-provoking films ever made, and more people should be saying that. this is a film that seems like it could easily hold the answers to all humanity's questions somewhere in its 180-minute running time. and it has cool fights.

the film follows ku chen chai (chun shih), a mild-mannered, unambitious artist who lives with his mother in a derelict building next to the ruins of a fortress. when ku discovers a young woman, yang hui-ching (feng hsu), living in the ruins of the fortress he soon finds himself embroiled in a political conspiracy and decides to help her escape the corrupt government officials who want her killed.

i feel like i should rewatch a touch of zen at least ten times before i can properly talk about it, but i'll try my best. first of all, i have to talk about yang. yang is the best female character in any film ever. everyone is talking about how cool rey is in star wars and how great it is to have a female lead who does all the stuff and that's all good and true, but yang is rey multiplied by a million. she's awesome at fighting but she's also definitely a woman, by which i mean the filmmakers didn't just switch the gender of a part written for a man like they usually do. mostly i just loved that she's supercool and not phased by anything, even when there's an army coming after her. she's the kind of female lead cinema needs, and clearly once had.

ku is also an interesting character. he starts off as this bumbling, incompetent scholar, but through yang he gains confidence and becomes her greatest ally. what's great about ku is that he's so thoroughly human and therefore flawed. this is really a film about transcendence, and yang's path to become something else; something wiser and more powerful than she was before. most films would take the bumbling hero and set him on the same path - star wars, for example, or the matrix. here, ku is never truly allowed access to yang's world, and that makes him all the more relatable and her all the more like a superhero. it's like we're being told the story of superman from the perspective of jimmy olsen (which i'm sure happed in the comics at some point). the best example of this is in the aftermath of a huge battle scene. faced with an army, ku has the idea that yang and her companions could rig the supposedly haunted fortress with traps and props to scare and disorientate the invading forces. it works, and with ku's help yang is able to take down an army. the following morning, ku wanders the battlefield, laughing with glee at the fact his crazy idea worked. but as he passes more and more dead bodies the horror and reality of what he has done dawn on him. in a moment that should be triumphant, that feeling of great victory in the face of impossible odds is snatched away from us as it is from ku. this is why this film is so good, because nothing here is black and white.

i should point out that the fight scenes themselves are incredible, particularly the scene in the bamboo forest. while there are incredible feats of gravity-defying combat on display, the film never loses focus on the narrative and it's always clear who is who and what they're fighting for. the film is said to have influenced films like crouching tiger, hidden dragon and the house of flying daggers, but to me those films didn't draw me into their world as effectively as this one does. there's just something authentic and real about it, despite the insanity of some of the bigger set-pieces. maybe it's the fact that the story starts so small before it expands, but it feels much more grounded than most martial arts epics i've seen.

a touch of zen is a film that feels like it contains layer upon layer of information and one that definitely stands up to repeat viewings. the narrative has a mythic quality to it in that everything that happens, even the smallest moment, feels like it has huge importance. i really loved this film, i think it's a true classic and if you haven't seen it you should definitely seek out this release.

a touch of zen will be released by eureka entertainment on blu-ray & dvd in a limited edition three-disc set as part of the masters of cinema series for the first time in the uk on 25 january 2016.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

the house on pine street

the house on pine street follows a young married couple, pregnant jennifer (emily goss) and out-of-work luke (taylor bottles), who move to a new house in a quiet neighbourhood to prepare for the arrival of their first child. except the house doesn’t want them there.

it’s tough to watch any horror film in which the main character is pregnant without thinking of rosemary’s baby, and the house on pine street feels more and more like that film as it progresses. while there is a seemingly malevolent presence in the house, the ghost never appears half as nefarious as jennifer’s mother who is intent on controlling her daughter’s life. similar to rosemary's baby, that’s essentially what this film is about – control, who wants it, who has it, and how we lose it. cathy barnett does a great job as overbearing mother meredith who seems to want to control every aspect of her daughter’s life, from where she lives to her husband’s career choices.

much of the film is concerned with the way jennifer is tormented by the spirit. it starts small, shadows on walls, handprints in the dust in the basement, but gradually escalates to objects being thrown and eventually people. jennifer’s investigations into the spirit don’t reveal much, and that really helps create an atmosphere. while there is a medium character who comes in to help out, there is no real solution to the mystery here, the ghost is just something that’s happening that jennifer has to deal with on top of everything else. then there’s always the possibility that she’s losing her mind and the filmmakers do great job of keeping this open.

towards the end of the film jennifer is so affected by the haunting that she’s effectively reduced to a childlike state and this is exactly what her mother wanted. ultimately it’s not the ghost that’s scary, it’s the loss of identity, personality and control. in that sense it’s really a film about the psychological dangers of having a child. jennifer’s mother and her husband take over every aspect of her life because to them it’s not just about jennifer and what she wants anymore, it’s about the baby. jennifer is reduced to being a vessel for the baby, and the horror of the haunting and the sense that she is losing her mind serve as fantastic methods of portraying her struggle with her new role in life. rather than a new beginning, the baby seems to represent the end of jennifer’s old life and the end of who she is. this film, maybe even more than rosemary’s baby, made me never want to have kids.

while this is for the most part a slow-paced horror film with most of the focus put on building and maintaining an atmosphere, there are some effective scares. once things do kick off there are some pretty impressive effects too and there’s a jolting gear shift from subtle shadows to full-on furniture tossing that’s actually kind of thrilling. emily goss is really impressive in the lead, particularly considering she has to completely carry the film and is in every scene. she manages to maintain our sympathy whilst also making us question her reliability as storyteller towards the end. i also really liked jim korinke who played walter, the amateur medium she turns to for help. there was something very real about his portrayal of a man who thinks he has a sixth sense but at the same time isn’t sure he believes in ghosts.

there is little in the house in pine street that you won’t have seen before but as a straightforward, effective supernatural horror film it does what it sets out to do very well. it’s a little on the long side and for all my love of slow-paced horror i would’ve liked it to have picked up the pace a little sooner, but these are minor quibbles really. overall this is really promising work and i look forward to seeing what directors aaron and austin keeling do next.

the house on pine street will be released by second sight on download-to-own on 25 january 2016 and vod & dvd on 1 february 2016

Friday, 22 January 2016

the friends of eddie coyle

the friends of eddie coyle is an ensemble crime drama about a small criminal network and the series of events leading up to their downfall. the film primarily focuses on eddie coyle (robert mitchum) who is supplying guns for his bank robber friends whilst also feeding information to the police in the hope of turning over an upcoming prison sentence so he can spend time with his kids. it’s clear from the opening minutes that things aren’t going to work out too well for anyone in this story.

the first thing that struck me about the friends of eddie coyle is that it kind of feels like a tarantino film before there was such a thing. by that i mean that the film is mostly made up of lengthy dialogue scenes in which character is revealed through stories and monologues. there’s a kind of authenticity to the lives and activities of these criminals that comes through the dialogue and the performances. and there’s the swearing, which seems so unexpected in a film from 1973 that every ‘fuck’ shocks like a gunshot.

it’s a tough watch at times because it’s hard to know who to sympathise with. eddie comes across as a sympathetic character in that we see his family and his actions to avoid jail are driven by them, but as every character he talks to points out he committed a crime and should’ve thought about the consequences before he did it. the bank robbers spend much of the film wearing rather creepy masks and comes across as pretty terrifying individuals overall. the police detective working with the criminals doesn’t really have many endearing qualities either and at times comes across as playing a much more sinister game than the criminals he’s trying to catch. then there’s a young gun supplier and peter boyle as a well-connected bartender, but neither of them come off particularly well. and somehow, in this film where we don’t care about anyone, director peter yates makes us care about what happens.

yates is a really interesting filmmaker, as demonstrated by a fascinating archive interview on the blu-ray. while my favourite of his films is the fantasy movie krull, he’s most famous for directing the steve mcqueen cop film bullitt, which makes for an interesting comparison to this film. bullitt is a film of long silences, punctuated by moments of intense action. the friends of eddie coyle reverses that, because while there are brief moments of silent tension the film is much more concerned with the dialogue in between. there’s a moment where one of the characters is about to be arrested in a car park and decides to make a break for it, and when the sound of the engines kicked in i thought we were going to be treated to a bullitt style chase. instead, he’s caught before he leaves. this isn't a film that glamorises the lives of criminals or the men trying to catch them, it simply shows us the cold, hard reality.

the performances in this film are excellent all round. mitchum is obviously brilliant as a washed-up smalltime hoodlum who just wants out of the business. peter boyle is also great as the guy connecting all the characters, but the real standout performance for me was richard jordan as the police detective playing all the characters off against each other. he plays the character with the confidence of a man who knows exactly what he’s doing and has worked out all the consequences for everyone involved in his head to the point that nothing phases him. but then there’s a moment when he’s taking down the gun supplier where all the confidence suddenly just drops away. it’s not in the dialogue, just in his face, but it lets the audience know that what he’s doing is incredibly dangerous and he knows it is.

the friends of eddie coyle is a really interesting film and feels refreshingly different to most entries in the crime genre even by today’s standards. there’s an authenticity and tension in this film that you just don’t see in most crime films, and while that makes it a cold, tough watch at times the end result is equally fascinating and sobering. the film certainly still holds up and aside from the typical seventies soundtrack it hasn’t really dated at all. definitely one to check out.

the friends of eddie coyle will be released in dual format (blu-ray and dvd) by eureka entertainment on 25 january 2016

Thursday, 21 January 2016

found footage horror blogathon...

i love found footage horror movies. i know there are too many of them and the majority of them aren't great, but that's true of all horror films. and like all horror films, the good found footage films are truly amazing. lake mungo, for example, is possibly the scariest film i've seen in recent years and the one i most often recommend to people. i love the classics too; i think blair witch project and paranormal activity are really impressive pieces of work. what makes the good ones standout is that the filmmakers actually work really hard to make it look like they didn't work really hard. i mean there was clearly a lot of time and effort put into the execution and the performances in those films, and in many ways i think they're possibly harder to produce than their big budget counterparts.

anyway, the point of all this is that i have amassed a small collection of found footage horror movies that i haven't had time to watch yet -

there are even more that have been released on v.o.d. recently that i'd really like to see. so i thought rather than locking myself away for a week while i watch endless hours of shaky cameras and characters asking each other 'why are you still filming this?' i would share the experience. i'm going to list the films i'm planning on watching below. my aim is to get through these before the end of february. i'll post a mini review of each film and you can follow me on twitter for my live thoughts (@pazvsstuff).

in addition, if you have a blog or a youtube channel or any other internet thing that you use to share your views on stuff, you too can post your thoughts on found footage horror movies. you could review one of the films listed below, or talk about your thoughts on the genre in general or even just talk about how much i'm wasting my time for attempting something like this. send me the links to anything you post and i'll share them at the time and list them all here once it's over. or tweet me with the tag #foundfootageblogathon

who's with me?



Sunday, 17 January 2016

the ninja trilogy: ninja iii - the domination

ninja 3 - the domination follows telephone engineer/aerobics instructor christie who finds a dying ninja and is possessed by the evil spirit living in his sword. christie then becomes a ninja herself and decides to take revenge on the policemen who were responsible for her predecessor's death. when she's not possessed by an evil ninja, christie and her cop boyfriend attempt to figure out what's happened to her and how to stop it.

this film is insane, and by far the best entry in the ninja trilogy. for a start, christie (lucinda dickey) is an awesome protagonist. not only does she have a blue collar job which you very rarely see in genre cinema, she's also shown to be able to take care of herself even without being possessed by an evil ninja. there's also an actual sex scene early on, which christie instigates, ruining my theory that all ninja films are really about sex. that said, i did wonder if there was a transgender message in this one. the floating possessed sword asserting its will over christie is so obviously phallic that it doesn't seem like such a huge leap to conclude that this is a story of a woman learning to come to terms with the fact that she identifies as a man. then again, it also feels like there's a theme of christie resisting the 'dominance' of men so it's possibly less about her transitioning and more about her fighting to stay female in a world in which masculinity is the dominant force. i don't know, but there are definitely some interesting ideas under the surface of this film, intentional or not. there are also two moments where ninjas crush balls in their hands - first a golf ball then later christie crushes a pool ball - but i'm not sure i want to explore that particular visual metaphor in this review.

the tone of this film should really be an issue because our protagonist is massacring innocent cops. the cops are never shown doing anything bad, and when they kill the first ninja it's only after he himself has murdered about twenty of them so it feels justified. nevertheless, whenever christie encounters one of her future victims she flashes back to a slow motion image of the cop in question firing bullet after bullet into the helpless ninja in a way that clearly portrays the cops as being crazy. it's kind of interesting, because by simply using imagery and editing we are allowed into christie's evil-ninja-possessed head. the real hero of the film is sho kosugi's character, yamada, who wears what looks like a cd for an eyepatch and tracks christie down so he can help her out, and yet he only has about ten minutes of screentime overall. despite all this, there is enough of a mystery in the story to keep us invested in christie, even when she's murdering innocent cops.

there is also a fantasy element in this film, and maybe it was just because james hong appears at one point but i couldn't help being reminded of big trouble in little china. there is an exorcism scene that plays like something from a horror movie and the final sequence has magic and an undead ninja and all kinds of things you don't expect from an eighties action movie.

i thoroughly enjoyed this film and would go so far as to say that it's worth investing in the whole ninja trilogy just to see ninja 3 - the domination. it's also the one that looks the best on blu-ray as it's the most colourful and is mostly set during the day. this is certainly the most interesting film in the series and the most bizarre, but mostly it's just a lot of fun.

ninja iii - the domination will be released by eureka entertainment as part of a 5-disc dual format (blu-ray & dvd) edition on 18th january 2016

the ninja trilogy: revenge of the ninja

like its predecessor revenge of the ninja opens with a ninja massacre, only this time it's the ninjas doing the massacring. cho osaki (sho kosugi) returns home to find his family slaughtered and his estate in ruins. after dispatching the remaining attackers, he takes his mother and infant son to the states where he swears off being a ninja in favour of running a gallery instead. however, it's not long before cho is drawn back into a life of combat when he once again becomes the target of a powerful and malevolent ninja.

kosugi, who played the evil black ninja in the first film, ostensibly takes the lead in this film, except he doesn't really. much of the action is concerned with his american business partner, braden (arthur roberts), who is revealed to be a ninja himself. braden is using cho's gallery as a front for a heroin smuggling operation, but when the local mafia boss screws him over he wages a one-man war against the mob. braden isn't a hero, him being a heroin dealer and everything, but revenge of the ninja seems to be much more focused on braden's revenge against the mob than cho's revenge against the ninjas who killed his family. that's partly because as a character cho spends most of the film not wanting to get involved, even when he is beaten and nearly killed by mob henchmen.

where enter the ninja was a film about impotence and masculinity, revenge of the ninja is very much a film about abstinence. i try not to equate every film i watch to sex, but here it's kind of hard not to. in the second scene of the film we see braden's assistant, kathy (ashley ferrare) coming on to cho. what begins as a seduction soon turns into a fight as the two spar, ending with cho on top of his opponent. despite the sexually charged exchange, cho refuses kathy's advances and in the following scene we find out why - he has sealed his ninja sword and vowed never to unsheath it again. the rest of the film mostly consists of braden killing mobsters and the police asking cho for help, i.e. to unsheathe his sword, which he consistently refuses to do. until the final act at which point cho is left with no choice and has to face braden one-on-one. it turns out he was just saving himself for the right person, and he says as much in the film - 'only a ninja can defeat a ninja'.

sexual analogies aside, the focus on braden rather than cho does make the film a slow watch at times but there are some fantastic set pieces along the way. there is one really long fight scene in which cho is forced to defend himself against a group of mobsters after they attack his gallery, and it's actually a pretty intense scene with some impressive stunts. the final rooftop battle between cho and braden is an exciting finale and does make the somewhat bumpy road you have to take to get there worthwhile. also there are some truly bizarre moments, like when braden distracts cho with a lifesize fibreglass replica of himself during the fight, as if he just had one in his pocket or something. and then there are these guys -

in a lot of ways this is a more entertaining film than it's predecessor, but it also has very little going on in terms of the plot. it does have some great ninja action though, so it's worth checking out for that.

revenge of the ninja will be released by eureka entertainment as part of a 5-disc dual format (blu-ray & dvd) edition on 18th january 2016

the ninja trilogy: enter the ninja

enter the ninja follows cole (franco nero), an american army veteran who has spent years training to be a ninja in japan. on graduating ninja school he decides to visit his friend frank who owns a farm in the phillipines. there he finds that frank and his wife are being harassed by a local organisation intent on taking all the oil-rich land in the area for themselves, and this gives cole the perfect opportunity to put his ninja skills to good use.

the opening of this film is a ten-minute sequence in which cole, a ninja in a white outfit, takes on a bunch of red ninjas and one ninja in a black outfit (sho kosugi) who seems to be some kind of super-ninja. cole beats them all and beheads his master, at which point it is revealed that it was all part of his training, even down to the fake beheading.

i came away from this sequence with a bunch of questions. what do the different colour outfits mean? is franco nero allowed to be a ninja? there are so many ninjas in this sequence, is this film set in ninjaland? why is his moustache so huge? are ninjas allowed moustaches? you can see it through his mask! how and why do you fake a beheading? do ninjas really need a ninja licence? what are ninjas anyway?

so i asked a couple of these questions on twitter (thanks to everyone who responded!) and apparently ninjas were a real thing, not just something invented by movies. in real life, however, they dressed like civilians to blend in, which makes much more sense. ninjas were mercenaries, hired for covert work like espionage and assassination and there's evidence of this in the film when the bad guys hire the black ninja to take on cole. i wassurprised the head of the ninja school wasn’t more concerned with who he was hiring out his ninjas too, but i suppose if you're a mercenary it doesn't really matter.

in between ninja battles, the film actually has quite a sombre tone with occasional moments of ridiculousness. there is one interesting juxtapositon in the film where frank recruiting farmers for his land is contrasted with the bad guy recruiting his thugs, and that part actually works quite well, but otherwise the underlying themes of the film are mostly to do with masculinity. there’s a subplot about frank’s impotence and failed masculinity in comparison with cole’s uber-alpha male that seems directly related to killing and the ability to kill. frank was in the army with cole and even saved his life, but whereas cole trained himself to become a super-assassin, frank has seemingly lost the will to fight and the film makes a clear connection between this and his inability to perform in the bedroom.

it almost seems like the power of the ninja is somehow connected to masculinity, with the black ninja being masculinity gone too far; with great manliness comes great responsibility. worryingly, both ninjas have a similar reaction when the first encounter frank's wife, the only woman in the film. when cole first meets her he wrestles a gun from her hands in a moment that’s one grope away from a sexual assault, and then when the black ninja first encounters her he cackles like a crazy person and takes great pleasure in manhandling her. this presents a troubling theme of women as playthings for men in stupid costumes; something that continues to happen in superhero movies today.

all you really need to know about this film is that the ninja stuff, which probably makes up about thirty minutes of its running time, is all pretty cool. i mean it’s insane and ninjas certainly use some bizarre tactics to get the job done, but because of that it all feels a bit different and interesting. the fight scenes are actually pretty good in places and there’s a satisfying amount of bloodshed, particularly in the final assault. it’s worth seeing for that, but be prepared for some dubious gender politics and dull plotlines along the way.

enter the ninja will be released by eureka entertainment as part of a 5-disc dual format (blu-ray & dvd) edition on 18th january 2016

Friday, 15 January 2016


superbob is a comedy about a british superhero and his efforts to find love on his day off. on one hand it’s a film about what would really happen if there was a superhero in the real world and all the inevitable bureaucracy and politics that this would necessitate. at the same time it’s also a film about how even the most incredible people are like everyone else when they’re off work.

brett goldstein does a fantastic job in the lead, making bob feel very much like an overworked civil servant but also giving him enough humanity and humour for us to care. natalia tena is also really good as his columbian cleaner, doris, the only person not impressed by bob’s superpowers. while the romance plot that drives the film is a little predictable at times, the actors really make it work and it feels genuine and real, which is impressive in a comedy about a superhero. speaking of the tone, there is actually one really dark moment in the film where superbob confronts genuine tragedy and it shouldn't work, but somehow they pull it off. it’s incredibly brave to risk the tone of your whole piece on a moment like that but again, because the acting and jon drever’s direction are so strong it really just adds to what makes this film so much more than a throwaway comedy.

at risk of making this too personal, the underlying theme of the film really resonated with me, as i’m sure it will with most people. this is ultimately a story about a guy with an incredibly demanding job that is killing his private life. bob is someone who understands why his job is important and enjoys aspects of it, but he fell into it; it wasn’t the thing he always wanted to do. so when he’s on his day off and his employers expect him to drop everything to resolve an international incident, that’s not so different to having to cancel your holiday because there’s suddenly something so fucking important at work that you have to come in, even though someone else could easily cover for you (not that i’m speaking from experience or anything). there’s a moment that really sums this up, where doris says to him ‘what did they do before they had you?'.

this is what i thought really made superbob work; this juxtaposition between the small, real life problem and the big, overblown work problem. in the end, sorting out his gas bill is as important to the character and the story as shaking hands with the u.s. president, and for the first time in a lifetime of reading comics and watching comicbook movies i found myself being able to truly relate to a superhero.

also there's totally a reference to house of leaves in this film. house of leaves is one of the most amazing books ever written. i'll make a video about it one day, but any film that references house of leaves is pretty cool as far as i'm concerned. so yeah, superbob is really good, it’s available on dvd and on a bunch of vod platforms, you should definitely check it out.

Monday, 11 January 2016

everything right with the dark knight rises...

i love all the nolan batman movies, particularly the last one. i think the dark knight rises is one of the most interesting and exciting films ever made. i know not everyone agrees, so i made this video to explain why i'm right and everyone else is wrong.

i had help from these wonderful individuals. please subscribe to their youtube channels and follow them on twitter and stuff -

bruce wayne - george reece


the joker - ed stockham


bane - scott tumilty


music by daniel dolby


if you'd like to follow me on twitter i'm @pazvsstuff

also i have a blog where i review stuff -

intro music by camellia -

used with permission