Blood Machines (2019) review

Blood Machines is billed as ‘A Shudder Series’ which I guess it is, but that is a series of 3 episodes, with a total runtime of around 50 minutes. Whilst it is visually and stylistically arresting with an interesting central idea, the script and dialogue fail to match up to the high standard of the on-screen imagery and ultimately this proves tedious, even with the restricted 50 minute runtime.

About that runtime – for some reason the three acts in this ‘story’ are presented in 3 different films, each with their own credit sequences at the beginning an end. I’m not sure why this was as it seemed to me an exercise in self-importance and indulgence. Although, given some of the imagery used in this film that shouldn’t really be a surprise.

Let’s talk about the good stuff first – the visual style of this experience has been designed to within an inch of its life, from the font and film-stock scratches used in the opening credits to the externally shape-shifting spaceships and the shiny AI robots inside them. The soundtrack and music editing is also fantastic, but this should come as no surprise as this project has grown out of the music video shot for Carpenter Brut by the filmmaker, Seth Ickerman. Throughout there are uses of camera angles and visual effects that are a treat for the eyes, although saying that there is one thing that jars – more on that in a bit.

If Blood Machines was a 10 or 15 minute music video and not a feature presentation then all of the above ‘good stuff’ would be enough to make this a great piece of filmmaking, but at 50 minutes, you need something more to keep you satisfied and this is where I felt that this experience was lacking. As far as the story goes, it’s not a bad concept for a shorter film – there’s some stuff about AI and scavenging and mystical tribes that worship AI. I won’t say much more about this, as with this short a runtime you could give everything away in a sentence, however what I will say is that all I could think during the ‘chase’ section of this movie was that they seemed to be desperately hunting for a well-written script, but never found it. Add to this an unlikeable (deliberately) and badly realised (not-so deliberately) central male character, and you stop seeing the visuals or hearing the music and lose any sense of immersion that you may have had.

Oh yeah, and that thing that jarred – at the core of this movie are shiny naked women with, for no apparent reason, highly luminous upside-down crosses on their torsos. By the final scenes of the film I really felt like I was watching the masturbatory fantasies of a 14 year old boy with a madonna-whore complex and a large collection of android porn. Whilst this might appeal to some (teenage boys probably) this just felt a bit sad to me, and left me feeling cold and a little bit annoyed. I’m going to rate this as a 4 on the Skelpometer full in the knowledge that a lot of people are going to love this, but it’s just not for me.

Blood Machines is streaming on Shudder now

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Demons (1986) – mini-review

Superior grade mid-80s gonzo/schlock italo horror. Not for the uninitiated! Makes very little sense but there is a ‘horror movies don’t make people horrific’ subtext. Perhaps.

8 S-points.

Available on Shudder

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Pieces (1982) – mini-review

The cover of this tells you almost everything you need to know about this movie. Infamous in horror circles, this is a badly made movie that has some really gruesome and effective gore. It’s difficult to rate, as objectively it’s terrible but if you enjoy bad horrors then it’s a brilliant watch!

I’m going to give it a 6 on the Skelpometer as I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again, but I’ll certainly never forget it.

Pieces is available on Amazon Prime Video, although it is presented in the wrong aspect ratio so you may need to fiddle with your TV settings – I found that setting to 4:3 worked best – I lost a little at the sides but people looked the right shape!

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TerrorVision (1986) review

I found this movie thanks to a great list on Reddit provided by u/TomberryServo entitled ‘Trashy, sleazy, gory and void of any artistic merit.’ I couldn’t ignore that now, could I?

TerrorVision lays all its cards on the table right from the off – it’s loud, brash, cheesy and OTT. The lighting, sets and costumes scream EIGHTIES – in the second scene we meet the Puttermans, the family at the centre of this crazy ride:

The Mom, Raquel, played by Mary Woronov, channeling Jane Fonda

The Daughter, Suzy (Diane Franklin) – being more Cyndi Lauper than Cyndi herself

Then we have The Dad, Stan (Gerrit Graham). Check out that shirt / cravat combo!

We are also introduced to The Son, Sherman (Chad Allen) and the survivalist Grampa (Bert Remsen)

By the time we meet our ‘heroic’ family we have already had a hilarious setup, involving the cheapest possible model representation of another planet and some nonsense about disposing of a mutant. This was the first point where I laughed out loud, and it wasn’t the last. This is a movie that knows itself though – there’s no pretence here at being anything worthy – it’s trash, and it owns it. Gloriously!

The story revolves around the mutant from the initial setup somehow making its way across the galaxy and arriving at the Putterman’s brand new satellite TV dish. This mutant is able to materialise from any TV connected to this dish, and as the family have one in every room in their magnificently sleazy house, this causes some ‘issues’! These issues are rendered in full icky-sticky-gooey fashion, with obvious relish from the crew.

There are a couple of other trashy elements to this movie including a hilarious ‘new swingers’ scene that is played to perfection by all involved. Oh, and a camp, kitsch Elvira rip-off that helps things along.

I loved every stupid, neon, sleazy minute of this movie. Everybody involved plays their part perfectly with just the right amount of hammy-ness that this type of nonsense deserves. This is right up there with the best of the worst, so gets a 9 on the Skelpometer.

Terrorvision is available in full on Youtube – give it a whirl, I think you’ll like it!

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Bacurau (2019) – review

This beguiling, baffling, brilliant film is set in the very near future in the town of the title, which we learn is in southern Brazil. 

The first scene involves one of the main characters Teresa (Bárbara Colen) travelling as a passenger in a water truck through the dusty countryside. As they pass by the site of a recent accident which involved a motorcycle and a lorry carrying coffins, we see the corpse of the biker and the contents of the lorry being looted by the locals. To me this is a signpost and foreshadow of where this movie is headed, especially in the second half. When the truck arrives in Bacurau, the town is in mourning for one of their matriarchs, and we are quickly immersed in a community under siege from multiple enemies, including those who have a constitutional duty of care. They are forgotten people in, quite literally, a forgotten town.

How this community deals with these threats, and how they are cranked up to 11 on the bonkers scale is explored over 130 minutes. This never feels like a drag as the intrigue and the characterisations keep you engaged and keep you guessing. There are great performances by many of the actors, not least by Sônia Braga as Domingas, the town doctor and by Thardelly Lima as the slimy, corrupt mayor Tony Jnr. Udo Kier is also in the movie, and if you know genre films then you know what to expect if he’s in the cast!

Like many great movies, the less you know about the actual story then the more you will get out of your first watch so I am being deliberately vague – what I will say is that nearly every scene is drenched in symbolism and overall the story has an allegory that is urgent and angry, with good reason. This is a movie that takes a day or so to percolate and I believe it will also reward multiple viewings – I’m sure I have missed a lot the first time around.

I am going to put this at a 9 on the Skelpometer for now – if it does reward a further viewing then it may get uprated…

Bacurau is available to rent on Prime Video

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The Wretched (2019) – mini-review

Chuck a bit of Jaws, a handful of Rear Window, a pinch of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. a little bit of <your favourite teen slasher> into a movie blender, mix together in a well-established way and you get The Wretched. There’s nothing new, but this ‘teen tries to tell everyone THERE”S SOMETHING WRONG’ movie is put together well and delivers all the right things at the right time, which is sometimes all you need. A 7 on the Skelpometer.

The Wretched is currently available to rent on Amazon prime

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FrightFest Glasgow 2020 – part 1

Glasgow FrightFest 2020 ran over 2 and a bit days from Thursday 5th March until Saturday 7th March at the wonderful Glasgow Film Theatre. This was only my second time (of many I hope!)  attending the festival, and this year I went all in and bought not only a weekend ticket for the main program on Friday and Saturday, but also for the ‘amuse bouche’ of 2 films on the Thursday night. I also went to see the UK premiere of the B&W version of Parasite, which was shown immediately prior on Thursday afternoon. With these, that meant I watched 14 films starting at 1730 on Thursday and finishing at 0030 on the Sunday morning! 

Movies covered in Part 1

Part 2 (coming soon)

  • A Night of Horror – Nightmare Radio
  • Zombie For Sale
  • Saint Maud
  • Butt Boy
  • VFW
  • Anderson Falls

I gave instant reviews / reactions to each of these on my private Facebook, but I thought that I would give a shot at writing a longform blog about the whole experience as well as diving a little bit deeper into some of the films themselves, and perhaps trying to identify some common themes that appeared throughout. Not sure who this is aimed at, probably just myself, but if you’re still reading at this point then maybe it’s aimed at you too 🙂

I will try my hardest to not give away any spoilers, but sometimes I may allude to scenes or actions that are later on in the movies, so if you are the kind of person who really doesn’t want to know too much before watching a movie or that can deduce plot twists from obtuse references AND you think you’ll want to see any of the films in the above list then maybe stop now and return once you have seen it/them. I won’t mind – I am one of those people – in fact, I didn’t read anything about any of the movies on at FF20 before seeing them, so each was a complete surprise to me. And this meant I got a couple of REAL surprises!

So where to start – maybe an overview of what FrightFest is, and what to expect there? It’s a curated programme of new, unreleased horror and horror-adjacent movies from around the world. These are selected by the Frightfest team, who run annual events in both London and Glasgow. The crucial difference between them is that Glasgow is a single screen event, whereas London is multi-screen. I think I like the idea of the single-screen concept best, as then there’s no clashes and no choices to be made – you’re locked in for everything. As I mentioned above, this also means I don’t need to read up on the films first in order to decide what to watch. I will make the trip for the London one in the next couple of years though, as I do want to experience the scale of it.

Let’s skip over Parasite here as it wasn’t part of FrightFest, suffice to say I think it’s a masterpiece.

Synchronic

Arriving for the first movie, Synchronic, which stars Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie (who is apparently pretty famous for playing Falcon in the Marvel movies, but as I haven’t seen many of them, I didn’t realise this!) the sold-out cinema is treated to an introduction from the directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead. It is immediately obvious that this movie is a big deal for them – it’s not their first film but it is their first with such big stars. Once it gets going you realise quite quickly that you are in safe hands – the characterisations and the emotional heft that are present allow the high-concept nonsense of a designer drug that is causing teenagers to disappear without a trace to feel almost believable. The movie has a slow pace compared to most in the same sort of subgenre, and this allows the themes of family, friendship, love and sacrifice to breathe. There’s a few laughs and a couple of WTF moments, and for the most part I enjoyed both the story and the company of the main characters. In the post-show interview, the directors discussed how this was the second edit of the movie, and that the backers had allowed them to fully re-cut it, and that this resulted in the slower pace, which for me worked – I can’t imagine this movie without the scenes that allowed the emotional heart to be shown – it would probably just be far too much of ‘the nonsense’!

Synchronic scores a solid 7 on the Skelpometer.

Death of a Vlogger

After a short break, enough time to grab something to eat and get a drink from the on-site bar then we move on to the first late-night film of the festival, and this one is a home-grown mockumentary, made in Maryhill, Glasgow. Death of a Vlogger tells the story of Graham, a successful Vlogger (played by writer and director Graham Hughes) whose live haunting video goes viral, prompting a large-scale following, then a backlash, then a backlash against the backlash. It explores the concept of fakery and authenticity whilst also providing a fair few scares. I really enjoyed the way in which this was constructed and it really did make me think about the way in which social media can both build up and destroy a person. I particularly loved the character of Steve, the aggressive online ghost hunter, played with glee by Paddy Kondracki whose motives and methods are constantly in question. I initially gave Death of a Vlogger 7 points, but on reflection I think that was too low, so have reassessed it to a well deserved 8.

Just as I was writing this review, it was announced that Death of a Vlogger will be getting a full VOD release on 6th July 2020 – once it is available I will add a link to it here. I’m sure you can find it by yourself too, but it’s nice to be nice!

The Cleansing Hour

We move on to Saturday now, kicking off with The Cleansing Hour – this was a fairly run of the mill, entertaining and well put together ‘possession in the digital age’ flick. Not sure there’s much more to it than what you see on the surface, but that’s sometimes no bad thing. A few laughs, a couple of twists – you get the drift. Worth watching if it’s on, but not really one to search out. 6 on the Skelpometer.

Prior to The Cleansing Hour a couple of very good short films were shown – Cubicle directed by Chloe Wicks and Live Forever directed by  Gustav Egerstedt – I liked them both, but Live Forever was a particular treat, and it can be viewed below (it has been labelled here as an advert for a Swedish festival, but it’s the same video) – well worth 3 minutes of your day!

The Musical Massacre 2 – Elmsta 3000 Horror Fest from Gustav Egerstedt on Vimeo.

In The Quarry

There’s time between the films to stretch my legs, grab a coffee and a pastry from a local cafe and back we go for the second film of the day. In The Quarry is a Uruguayan thriller that starts with a fumbling, steamy sex scene in a car, in the bright South American sunshine. We find out quite quickly that this couple, Alicia (Paula Silva) and Tincho (Rafael Beltrán), are not officially together and are out for a day of beer and barbecue with two others who are waiting for them about 15 minutes walk away from the car park – Tola (Luis Pazos), who is Tincho’s best friend and Bruno (Augusto Gordillo), who is Alicia’s current boyfriend. What follows is a taut 80 minute thriller that examines toxic masculinity, elitism and gender violence. It’s no real spoiler to say that there will be blood in this movie – the tension is there from the first 5 minutes, and it’s really a case of when and what form the violence will take, rather than whether it will happen.

I found this a difficult watch at points, but the setup and payoff are handled really well, and we have 4 strong performances by the main characters. I really like films that build tension throughout, as long as it’s believable within the internal logic of the world in which it exists, and this does it well. The way in which it exposes and handles the themes already mentioned and the acting on display take this into an 8 out of 10 category for me.

Sea Fever

A much-needed walk in the fresh air and a drink to steady the nerves after the previous film and we move on to the 3rd offering, this time an Irish seafaring ‘creature feature’, with a couple of well-known leads in Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, who play the married owner-operators (Freya and Gerard) of a small fishing vessel on the west coast of Ireland. On a trip that has to be successful to save their business and the livelihoods of their small but loyal crew, they have agreed to allow a marine scientist aboard to do some studies. When the student Siobhan, played by Hermione Corfield arrives, the crew are upset that she is a redhead, as this is deemed to bring bad luck to the trip. We are at a horror festival so everyone knows that this is your classic ‘portent of doom’ – when Freya and Gerard find out, they consider removing Siobhan from the vessel, but can’t do so as they have spent the fee they have received – now we have reached ‘point of no return’. As the movie progresses there are a few more classic tropes pulled into play, but none of them feel forced, and the characters all behave as you would expect them to. Things indeed do take a bad turn, and we get a very interesting take on not only a creature feature, but also an isolation theme that seems very prescient as I write this, in early May 2020. I enjoyed this film quite a bit, and have rated it as a 7 on the Skelpometer.

Prior to the screening of Sea Fever, there was supposed to be a chat with the famous composer Simon Boswell, however for some reason he couldn’t attend, so instead we had a charmingly shambolic competition to win a signed copy of his Sante Sangre soundtrack album – this sort of thing happens a lot during the festival and for me it really adds to the experience, especially as I was there alone. I think after the movie there may also have been a Q&A with the writer / director of Sea Fever Neasa Hardiman, but I didn’t hang around as I was hungry by then, and wanted to take advantage of the break to get something substantial to eat – I learned from my first year at FrightFest that you have to prioritise meals, otherwise you end up just snacking – there’s only so far you can go on crisps, popcorn and nuts!

A Ghost Waits

Suitably refreshed, drink in hand, I take my seat again (if you buy a festival pass you have the same seat for both days) for the penultimate film of Friday, and it’s a cracker! Introduced by the director Adam Stovall, A Ghost Waits is a micro-budget black and white comedy horror that pushes all of my buttons – it is genuinely funny, has a solid emotional core and, for a while at least, has a fair amount of creepiness. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot so all I’ll say is it turns the haunted house genre on its head while working through some personal demons of the filmmaker. The performances by the two leads (MacLeod Andrews as Jack and Natalie Walker playing Muriel) are nothing short of mesmerising, and there is an improvised section that is comedy gold. This movie is a great example of a personal project brought to life with passion and determination. I loved it. A solid 9 on the Skelpometer.

After the screening there was a Q&A with Adam Stovall, and he spoke honestly and passionately about how this project ‘saved his life’, how it was realised and also gave some great insights into how certain stylistic decisions were forced on him – in this video he touches on these as well.

The Mortuary Collection

Another short break, and it’s time for the final film of the first day, and it is introduced by the director Ryan Spindell and this is when my heart sank a bit as he explained that it was an anthology movie. I have nothing against them as a concept, but in a cinema I prefer a full-length story, something that has a defined arc and at least some character progression. With an anthology, even those that have an underlying story connecting them then this is difficult to achieve. Also it is unusual  for every one of the stories to be grade-a material. It turns out that The Mortuary Collection has a reasonably strong connecting story, with a very good lead character played by Clancy Brown, revelling in the role as the creepy undertaker and teller of tales. I would love to watch a feature film with him as the main character without it being broken up with some variable quality short films.

In the plus column this film looks great and it has a consistent visual style throughout as well as being technically well put together. There are some great visual FX and some great acting. In the negatives it just felt too long, the ending seems to go on forever and it kinda left me cold, and not in a good way.

Biggest budget film of the day. Also most likely to be a hit with a wider audience. Not for me though – 5 Skelpometer points

All in, apart from the final movie, the Thursday and Friday of FrightFest 2020 were highly enjoyable. The 6 films shown were all different, they all had something to offer and were interspersed with good interviews and introductions. With a packed Saturday in store, and the first film due to start at 11am, it was straight home to bed for me! I will upload the Day 2 reviews in a few days, so check back soon.

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Why Don’t You Just Die! (2018) review

Why Don’t You Just Die! is the grammatically incorrect but perfectly accurate English title for this 2018 Russian comedy-with-blood. Lots of blood!

From the first scene we know what territory we are in, as a young man rings the doorbell of a flat whilst hiding a hammer behind his back. As he does so the lift arrives at that floor, a lady with a large barking dog exits and walks behind the young man, holding the dog back from attacking him. This is shot in a confident, stylish way. We can see the nervousness of the young man rising quickly – you can tell this isn’t something has done before. When the door is eventually answered, we find out the young man is called Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) and he is calling at the home of his girlfriend’s parents, Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev) and Tasha (Elena Shevchenko). This initial encounter between the father and the boyfriend is tense. Very tense! It doesn’t take long before this boils over, and when it does the movie leaps into overdrive – we have swinging camera shots, fast edits, blood, flying household items, blood, weapons and more blood but this violence is cut through with a razor-sharp wit and some excellent comic timing from all involved. How we got to this point is told through some well placed flashbacks, and we discover some truths that place doubt on the moral character of our protagonists. Then we have more blood!

I loved this movie. The director is obviously a fan of genre films and this has elements of samurai movies, heist films, Edgar Wright-esque cuts and framing but also has its own style. The shifting morals and sharp comedy kept me on my toes throughout, and I found my sympathies moving from character to character as each plot-point was revealed. If you like your films funny and bloody, then you will definitely enjoy this, and I am going to give this 9 Skelpometer points for doing both these things really really well.

Why Don’t You Just Die! is available to view on Arrow Channel on Amazon Prime

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Ringu (1998) mini-review

Rewatched this after about an 18 year gap. Not as scary as I remembered it to be, and a lot more stupid. There’s a couple of really clunky exposition speeches that totally passed me by when I watched it before. 6 points on the Skelpometer nostalgia scale for ‘that’ scene

Facebook mini-review first posted 7th April 2020

Posted in 6/10, Horror, Mini reviews, Movies | Leave a comment

The Void (2016) mini-review

80s throwback body-horror with well done practical effects. Adequate acting (mostly) but this can be forgiven as there are enough ‘eeew’ moments to keep you engaged. 7 S-Points.

Facebook mini-review first posted 4th April 2020

Posted in 7/10, Horror, Mini reviews, Movies | Leave a comment