Tag Demons

Night of the Demons 2 (1994)

Night of the Demons 2 (1994)

No one leaves this party. Ever.

Six years after Angela’s party at the haunted Hull House went wrong and a group of teenagers were slaughtered, her sister Melissa is now living at a religious school. When a group of her friends decide to visit the house on Halloween, Melissa has reservations about joining them. Whilst there, they accidentally resurrect Angela who wants to reunite her family and turn Melissa over to the dark side too.

 

1988’s Night of the Demons was the perfect embodiment of an adult Halloween party flick – a campy low brow fright fest which piled on the genre staples to deliver a lot of mindless fun but was fairly forgettable. A crash course diet in junk food horror summed it up best. Night of the Demons 2 feels like a second course with even more cinematic sugar and fat thrown in. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith (who has Leprechaun 4: In Space on his list of credits so you know what you’re getting yourself in for) serves us more of the same junk food here and it’s a blast, although not as satisfying as the original. Sometimes you just need something inoffensive and innocent to pass the time.

I’m surprised to see that this was made in the mid-90s as Night of the Demons 2 has the same 80s feel as the original all over it, save for the hairstyles and fashion. A bunch of big-boobed and six-pack laden twentysomethings standing in as teenagers at a Catholic school in America has obvious warning signs written all over it and yet the film manages to keep its daft premise in check as much as possible. It’s simple, straight-to-the-point and doesn’t really care less about a lot of things such as well-developed characters or common-sense storytelling. This is a story you’ll have seen countless times before, just replace demons with a guy in a mask and a machete and you know exactly the sort of scenarios the characters will face. Night of the Demons 2 runs like clockwork but has a lot of fun in doing so, partly played for laughs and partly played seriously. There is a thin line which the film sometimes goes too far over one way or the other.

Night of the Demons 2 moves the bulk of the action away from Hull House to the school campus and with it, a lot of the atmosphere of the original is lost. Hull House’s spooky ambiance was one of the key reasons why the original worked so well in the scare stakes – the long, dark corridors, and broken and boarded-up windows bathed in eerie moonlight were perfect Halloween locations. The school campus is less effective in conveying this demonic threat, although Night of the Demons 2 does pick up significantly more steam when it moves back to Hull House for the final third. There is more focus on comedy in this one, as the first half of the film and the ridiculous Porkies-style sex humour demonstrates as well as some silliness involving holy water and water guns. But once The Evil Dead-style roaming POV shots, the dry ice and the blue lighting kick in, you soon forget that this was being played out as a comedy. The jokes stop and it looks like everyone tries to play it seriously, despite some of the set pieces they’re put through.

There is some effective make-up on display and the demons all look nice and, well demonic, when they’ve transformed – long, gnarled teeth and puss-dripping sores add to the nastiness. Night of the Demons 2 isn’t particularly gory and what you do get to see (a decapitation springs to mind) is done more cartoony than realistic. Case in point comes when a voluptuous young lady’s exposed breasts turn into a pair of hands and burn her would-be groper. The lipstick from the original returns, though the scene involved is nowhere near as memorable. The sad thing is that it takes nearly an hour for all of the good stuff to be wheeled out, and some viewers may have already tuned out by that point.

Amelia Kinkade returns as Angela and it’s apparent that the producers of the series were trying to create a female supernatural villain to compete with the likes of Freddy and Jason – Angela is one-liner central, equally at home with a cutting barb as she is with a cutting blade. She’s not in this one as much which is a shame as both the character and actress had a lot of mileage left. The rest of the cast fill the token roles of the slut, the jock, the nerdy kid, etc. The cardboard cut-out characters simply come pre-programmed with traits that you’ll be familiar with and they all play according to type. The performances aren’t bad, nor are they particularly good. This is hardly an actors’ film, so the cast just do what they need to do in between getting ripped to shreds by demons. Future Mrs Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, is one of the bitchy girls (and I’m sure she pretends this isn’t part of her CV) and Bobby Jacoby is here as the demon-obsessed nerdy kid (forever to be known as Melvin from Tremors for me). Its Jennifer Rhodes as the Meryl Streel lookalike nun who steals the show, playing the part as straight as possible whilst clearly being in on the fact that this is a jokey movie.

 

Night of the Demons 2 is a daft, silly sequel which does deliver the requisite genre goods and is a faithful follow-up to the original, even if it does stick too closely to the same storyline and approach. I’m not sure what anyone could possibly expect from a film like this other than the obvious T&A and gore and mindless cheese.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doorway, The (2000)

The Doorway (2000)

…to hell

Four friends are given the chance to renovate an old, abandoned house after they find out that the owner is willing to pay a lot of money for someone to do it and allow them to stay there rent-free whilst they carry out the work. But what they didn’t realise is that in the basement is a doorway which leads straight to Hell.

 

The Doorway only stuck out from the mountains of low-grade rubbish on offer in the horror section in my local video store because of Roy Scheider’s name plastered on the front cover as ‘the star’ of the film. I’ve liked the guy since Jaws and he’s a criminally underrated actor (check out The French Connection for further proof). It’s a pity he was typecast as Chief Brody because the man had so much more to give as an actor. Unfortunately Scheider’s name also obscured the fact that Roger Corman was producer. Whenever Corman attaches himself to a project, you know that the results are going to be low budget and, in ninety-five percent of the cases, pretty rubbish. Clearly designed to capitalise on the ‘haunted house’ fad of the early 00s with The Haunting and House on Haunted Hill, the only scary thing is how much time you won’t get back after watching.

The Doorway is ultra-low budget which tries to do a lot of usual genre work but without half of the impact due to the lack of money. The house isn’t very big and sparsely decorated, Scheider aside there are no known names in the cast, there’s little in the way of special effects and some hokey gore in the final third. It’s not really bank-busting material and certainly something that doesn’t really do its plot justice. If you’re going to have demons and ghosts populating your film but don’t have the budget to show them, then you need to think creatively about how to scare people without showing them a lot – Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead tops the list when it comes to something like that. The Doorway fizzles out most of it’s scares, turning into unintentional laughter when you realise that these characters are terrified of things that are happening in the house, yet the audience hasn’t had much to go on. With a title like this, you’d expect some sort of Doom-style eruption of demons from Hell, not a few horny ghosts.

The Doorway saves most of its ‘top’ material for the second half around the time that Scheider shows up. I say ‘top’ material as it’s not riveting in the slightest at any point. The sad state of affairs is that you’ll get more excitement out of the copious number of sex scenes in the film.  The abandoned house wasn’t so abandoned a long time ago and it’s where demons had massive orgies. There is plenty of sex and nudity thrown around. Characters have sex with each other a lot and they also have sex with this female demon who does the rounds. She’s a bit of a tart. This is virtually the first half of the film. There are a few failed scares and attempts to generate some suspense and atmosphere but the amateurish production design really harms the mood.

I was wrong to be duped into thinking that someone like Roy Scheider wouldn’t accept a role in something as low budget as this. I can’t believe that he was that desperate to feed his family that he’d star in something like this but, unfortunately, I’ve been proven wrong. Scheider is the best bit of the film by a clear mile yet he has little to do and it’s little more than a glorified cameo. He’s in the film for a total of around fifteen minutes tops and gets his face ripped apart for his troubles. Scheider was in his twilight years here and was accepting roles in all manner of low budget action and horror films including Dracula II: Ascension and Dracula III: Legacy. His presence in this is solely to attempt to give the film some sort of credibility and to be fair to the guy, he does just that in his limited screen time. They should have stumped up some more money to give him a few more minutes.

The Doorway does have a decent script which seems like a contradiction given how badly I’ve been bashing it. The characters aren’t saddled with doing stupid things like going upstairs to investigate mysterious noises. In fact when they find out that the house is haunted, the first thing they do is leave! To prove my script theory wrong, they promptly return but at least they bring a ghost hunter with them to attempt to get rid of the demons. So common sense prevails and logic – you still wouldn’t get me going back anywhere near that house. They actually talk like real people too. It’s not a lot, but it’s something

 

I’m not much of a fan of haunted house films and The Doorway is no exception. Low budget and lame, there’s nothing to recommend in the slightest. Someone please close the door, there’s a nasty draught coming in!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Demons (1985)

Demons (1985)

They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.

A pair of students decide to ditch their evening class after being given two free tickets to an unknown movie at the recently re-opened Metropol Theatre in Berlin. During the screening of the movie about people turning into demons after opening a tomb, one of the attendees cuts themselves on a prop metal mask from the film that is being displayed in the theatre foyer. This causes them to be transformed into a demon and they start slaughtering members of the audience, who in turn become demons too. When the other people in the audience try to escape, they find that the exit doors have been sealed and that they are now trapped inside the theatre with a horde of demons after them.

 

Demons was one of my first forays into Italian horror – I think Zombie Flesh Eaters was first – and I certainly had no idea what to expect. Growing up on a strict diet of British (good old Hammer) and American horrors, it can be a little jarring to dive into the world of Italian horror cinema, where plot is less rigid, logic is not as strictly adhered to, and writers aren’t confined by well-established tropes. Demons is the perfect embodiment of everything that made the Italian horrors of the 80s so ridiculously entertaining, yet so perplexing and puzzling at the same time.

Director Lamberto Bava cited this as his personal favourite out of all of the films that he has directed and it’s easy to see why. The simplistic plot, sort of like a Night of the Living Dead-style siege flick with demons instead of zombies, is easy to follow though incomprehensible to fathom out. Its utterly absurd, with the writers using literally anything they can think of to write themselves out of a hole and expecting the audience to buy it (the helicopter crashing through the roof for no other reason than to provide the survivors with a way to escape is the obvious example). Even the characters make no sense – a shifty-looking usherette appears to be ‘in’ on the whole thing at the start with a load of dodgy close-ups only to fall victim to the demons like everyone else, whilst don’t even get me started on why there’s a blind character going to the cinema. Even the story itself radically changes direction at the end, from a Night of the Living Dead-style siege flick with demons to a post-apocalyptic nightmare in the final scenes. But until you get to that point, Demons has a cracking pace and is full-throttle for the majority of its running time. It does sag a little in the middle once the demons have taken over the theatre and killed off a lot of people but picks the pace back up considerably towards the end where everything-but-the-kitchen-sink is thrown at the screen.

Bava does creating some striking images throughout the film. Used on many of the film’s posters and DVD covers, there’s a brilliant slow-motion shot of the demons walking up the stairs, shrouded in dry ice and eerie blue lighting; their yellow eyes glowing in the dark. The filmmakers used a closed-down movie theatre to shoot inside and it really adds to the production, giving it a sense of scale and grandeur that studio sets would have inhibited. Bava clearly learnt a lot from his famous director father, Mario Bava, and his cinematography is generally atmospheric. Neon lighting, dry ice and shadows and darkness are all used effectively to create plenty of tension and suspense within the confines of the theatre. It’s hardly a film that is going to be known for its atmosphere though and Demons has become an ultimate crowd-pleaser in the gore stakes.

Demons is gruesome and gory, with violence being the name of the game. People don’t just instantly turn into demons, but the transformation is slow and painful. Close-ups of fingernails being forced out of cuticles and teeth being brutally pushed through by sharp fangs will have you squirming. The demons are slobbering monsters, dripping blood and green goo, with pulsating neck wounds, and that scratch and claw away at their victims, ripping apart throats and, in one particularly nasty scene, the eyes of a victim and the scalp of another. The gore is cheesy in some places, but it’s far more convincingly brought to life than plenty of the zombie and cannibal films that Italy was churning out during this time. The body count is high, and the kills are all evenly paced out to keep things exciting and unpredictable. Some characters meet earlier demises than you’d expect. A standout set piece involves a demon hatching through someone’s back – certainly as impressive as any sort of transformation sequence you’d get from Rob Bottin or Rick Baker.

The energetic performances from the cast are embodied by the scene-stealing turn from Bobby Rhodes as a pimp who is only too quick to take charge when things go from bad to worse. I’m not sure whether it’s just the dubbing job done to his character but he’s so aggressive and assertive right from the first scene until his last. Rhodes would return as an unrelated character in the sequel and steals the show again. The two young couples who form the bulk of the main cast are all decent in their roles given the circumstances – trying to comment on acting in a film which is dubbed is a tall order!

Demons not only has a terrific original soundtrack from Claudio Simonetti, one of my favourite Italian composers, with some really catchy tunes (including the title music which is a real earworm), but it also has a bizarre collection of 80s rock and heavy metal from the likes of Motley Crue and Billy Idol which doesn’t quite fit in with some of the sequences they’ve been matched up with. There is an extended sequence featuring a guy on a motorbike with a samurai sword whilst a thundering heavy metal song blasts away in the background.

Like many Italian horror films of the late 70s and 80s, Demons has spawned a ridiculous number of ‘sequels’ – only one true sequel but a whole host of other films which have alternate titles using ‘Demons’ in them.

 

Demons is one of my favourite guilty pleasures – an immensely entertaining horror film with lots of spark and ideas, utterly ridiculous and beyond fathoming at times, and buckets of blood and grisly special effects. A roller coaster ride of epic 80s Italian splatter at it’s finest.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies (1999)

Evil has been summoned

During an attempted robbery of an art museum, Morgana accidentally unleashes the evil Djinn from the fire opal she attempted to steal. Released into the world once again, the Djinn starts to accumulate the wishes that he needs to become powerful and allow the rest of his kind to inherit the Earth. Deliberately getting himself incarcerated in prison, the Djinn quickly begins to harvest souls desperate for one wish.

 

1997’s Wishmaster was a creative and pacey horror flick made by a bunch of guys who had been around horror for a while and knew their stuff. Featuring a one-liner spouting supernatural villain in the mould of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger,  it was inevitable that a sequel would show up to really put the focus onto the evil genie. It was no surprise to see Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies go straight-to-video as well, more-or-less consigning the Djinn’s moment of fame as a potential breakthrough horror villain into the history books.

That may not be such a bad thing in all honesty as, like many of the big horror franchise sequels, too much focus is placed on the Djinn in Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies. He’s virtually the star attraction here, working his way through the prison with relative ease, dishing out wishing to people who clearly have no idea what they’re getting themselves in for. In many ways, this sequel just turns into a showcase for the Djinn and his wish-twisting abilities – there are far more set pieces involved in this one than the first film. Basically rehashing the story of the original, the film sees the Djinn freed by a woman who must then find a way to defeat him before making three wishes and letting loose all hell.

It’s a recycled story from the original but then the novelty of an evil genie quickly wears off once he starts getting people to make wishes virtually every scene that he’s in. Director Jack Sholder, most famous for helming A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the first sequel to Wes Craven’s classic horror, gets the ‘honour’ to follow in Craven’s footsteps (Craven producer the original Wishmaster) once again by taking the reins here. But it appears that Sholder forgot to hire a script writer along the way and had to do it himself! It’s an appalling mess of horrible dialogue, terribly-written characters, pseudo-Christian sub-themes. Despite some attempts to turn the story into something fresh, it’s obviously a lesser man’s reworking of the original film.

The only returnee from the original is Andrew Divoff, back again as the Djinn. Divoff has got such a smarmy face that it’s hard to not want to punch it in this one as his mouthy character provokes people into making unfortunate wishes, all the while maintaining a smirk and sense of ‘you can’t touch this’ about him. Divoff saw sense and bailed for the following two sequels but he’s the main man here, almost the protagonist of the proceedings. You’d much rather see him tricking the inmates and watching the carnage that ensues than with Morgana and her efforts to find a way to stop him. He’s not exactly an anti-hero yet in the way that Freddy turn into with the later A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels but the intent is clear to see. He does have some very poor one-liners to spew, some of which will make you cringe.

Nothing will make you cringe like the rest of the cast though. The original sported the likes of Robert Englund and Tony Todd in small roles to really boost the star power. This has no such look. Holly Fields, as Morgana, is an awful leading lady without any presence or ability to emote. I won’t even bother breaking down the cast of characters in the prison. Safe to say that like all American film prisons, the ethnic diversity is ridiculously spot on – Russian mobsters, Asian martial artists, Latino thugs and even burly prison officers.

The make-up department earn their pay once again. Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies features some excellent practical effects, including the remarkable sequence in which the Djinn is resurrected at the start of the film. Perhaps the most painful-looking is the unlucky chap who wishes to walk through the doors of his prison cell, only to literally squash his way through the narrow gaps between bars. There are some silly moments though, including one lawyer who has sex with himself, and a daft scene in which a woman at a casino farts out a load of coins. They’re juvenile moments which hint at the daft direction in which someone could have taken the idea of wishes being twisted out of context – frat-boy style!

 

Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies has some decent moments but that’s all this film feels like – a collection of moments rather than a full blown narrative with them in. The story is bitty, the acting is pretty dire (with the exception of Divoff) and even the wishes seem to have lost their charm. It’s a fair timewaster if you were a massive fan of the original but other than that, it’s a no-brainer to see why this series quickly crashed and burned.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser (1987)

Demon to some. Angel to others.

Larry moves into his brother’s old house with Julia and daughter Kirsty. When Larry cuts himself and bleeds into the floorboards, he resurrects his brother Frank, who had previously solved an ancient Chinese puzzle box and was drawn into a nightmarish world of sadistic demons known as the Cenobites. Their eternal vision of pleasure crossed disturbing boundaries with pain and Frank was left a mess of bones and bile. Given a new lease of life, Frank enlists the help of ex-lover Julia to murder innocent victims so that he can continue to restore his body. No one has ever escape from the Cenobites and a chance encounter with them leads Kirsty to making a deal in order to send Frank back.

 

After he was disappointed in the way that a couple of his previous novels had been adapted for the big screen, horror writer Clive Barker stepped up to the director’s chair to turn his own best-selling novel, The Hellbound Heart, into a film that did justice to the source material. Thus in 1987, Barker unleashed Hellraiser upon the genre and, with it, the nightmarish world of the Cenobites. Considering how horror was on a downward spiral in the late 80s with the likes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street outstaying their franchises and the slasher sub-genre as a whole being on life support with scores of nonsensical teenagers being sliced and diced without a second thought, Hellraiser came along like a sucker punch to the gut with its graphic adult content and seriousness. This wasn’t play time in the summer camps anymore – the ‘dead’ horror genre was given an energetic jolt of Britishness in the form of Clive Barker’s seminal classic.

Hellraiser was dabbling in the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre long before Saw and Hostel came along, exploring the fine line between pain and pleasure and highlighting humanity’s primal urges and cravings and constantly giving in to primitive temptations. These are adult themes and are explored in some detail, which might be why this film went way over my head the first time I saw it when I was a lot younger (and which is probably why it never really found its audience until years later). Now as a mature viewer, I can appreciate the messages and the undertones that the film is attempting to establish.

Hellraiser isn’t quite the film you’d expect after seeing a lot of the promotional material and the first half plays out like some quasi-slasher with a romantic subplot latched alongside. Grounded in a very character-driven story, the film does slow the pace right down between Frank’s flesh feasting. The strongest part of the screenplay is in the complex relationship between the four main characters: Frank, Larry, Julia and Ashley. Though the film depicts Pinhead and his ‘friends’ as the villains, in reality it is Frank, and to a lesser extent Julia, who are the villains. I can’t give too much away about how each of the characters interacts with each other as that would give too many of the plot twists away but the story never feels forced. Though there are a few hiccups along the way, the majority of the narrative is solid and it will keep you engaged. Most importantly, the script treats the audience with intelligence, assuming we can figure out a lot of what is going on but without over-explaining and spoiling everything.

Hellraiser belongs to Clare Higgins, who plays Julia as one of cinema’s biggest ultra-bitches. Compelled to assist Frank because of her carnal lust, Julia soon goes about doing all of his bidding, luring in horny men so that Frank can use their bodies to continue to resurrect himself. She starts off as an uptight, rather distant and unloving stepmother but as the film progresses, she becomes more and more cold, and more sinister. Higgins’ performance is so underrated – it’s so easy to hate on her for her actions but the character is given far more depth than just being a one-note villain and the back story she has allows her just the faintest hint of humanity. Maybe it’s another of Barker’s ideas of human weakness, but Julia feels driven to obey Frank due to some primal instincts rather than her love for him. Andrew Robinson is equally as good, playing loving father and husband Larry with oblivious sincerity before events in the film cause him to change gears.

Hellraiser isn’t afraid to pull the punches with its content. From the sexual and sado-masochistic undertones, to the gore content, the film pushes the ratings system as far as it can go. It’s a very bloody affair, quite graphic at times, and relishes every minute of it. For a start, Frank’s heap of blood and goo form in the early part of the form is a masterpiece of practical effects work and stop-motion animation and his eventual resurrection into skinless form is a sight to behold. Years later and the practical effects stand up as well as they ever did. The film’s tour-de-grace is the finale which involves one character famously being torn apart by hooks and chains – the image which has become synonymous with the Hellraiser franchise.

Though he didn’t have a name in this one, Barker was responsible for introducing cinema to one of its most sadistic and recognisable villains: the iconic Pinhead. He is credited only as ‘Lead Cenobite’ and has little screen time, with even fewer lines, but his image was that startling that it was a no-brainer he would become a horror favourite. With his pale blue bald head covered in jewelled pins that had been intricately driven through to the skull, his black S&M-style clothing and a number of open wounds ripped with hooks down his chest, the character was something out of the darkest nightmares. The fact that he is so ably portrayed by actor Doug Bradley just adds to his aurora – Pinhead’s lines are Shakespearian-esque and morality-driven soundbites, far from the hokey one-liners that Freddy Krueger was spouting at this point in his career.

The rest of the deformed Cenobites are some of cinema’s most magnificent creations. With their pale complexions, skin twisted and contorted in all manner of ghastly ways and hooks and other sharp implements stuck into their bodies, they are truly the creatures of nightmares. We’re only given little insights into their history and their world but it’s enough to pique your interest. Clive Barker was, and still is, a modern day Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, with his wild imagination conjuring up all manner of supernatural and extradimensional horrors that can’t simply be explained by reason or science. The Cenobites sit firmly at the top of that warped brain of his.

 

Unleashed into a bland world of Friday the 13th wannabes, Hellraiser was and still is a breath of fresh air to the genre. Highly imaginative and deeply unsettling, it gets better with age in my opinion. Certainly one of the most unique and disturbing horror films of all time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Demon’s Rook, The (2013)

The Demon's Rook (2013)

Hell is hungry

As a young boy, Roscoe claims to be visited by a demon friend who eventually takes him away from his family into the demon underground. Dimwos, the demon, raises him as if he was his own son and tutors him in the ways of magic. Around fifteen years later, Roscue emerges from the underground and discovers that the world is under threat from invading demons who turn people into zombies. Hooking up with his childhood pal Eva, Roscoe realises that this was what he was trained for as only he can stop them.

 

A throwback/homage to the 80s make-up effects-driven horror films that were released straight onto VHS, The Demon’s Rook checks all of the boxes that so many of Its forefathers did with a passion back in the glory days of low budget horror. There are practical make-up effects (hardly a drop of CGI in sight and all the better for it), a synthesised music score, eerie artificial lighting (which can illuminate anything to be scary when used right) and plenty of dry ice. I think back to some random films off the top of my head like The Keep, The Video Dead, Re-Animator, Night of the Demons and Prison to name a few and see how many of the above boxes they all ticked.

The problem with so many of these homages is that modern filmmakers are trying to recreate what those people in the 80s were doing using modern techniques. But what they forget to include is the heart and soul – those filmmakers from the glory days of low budget horror films were innovating with what little money they had and had to be as creative as possible. Nowadays, filmmakers think that they can just showcase some corn syrup, a few fake prosthetics, a bucket of entrails and that they have the next big thing. The Demon’s Rook certainly has the nuts and bolts to make a good go of it but there’s something sorely missing – a sense of fun. The Demon’s Rook is clearly made by fans of the old classics but they spend too much time making it all overblown and serious rather than being something tongue-in-cheek and affectionate. It lacks a mischievous edge, something which the older films had and the thing that keeps audiences flocking back to them.

The sketchy plot does little to help matters and there’s hardly any exposition, with the film allowing the images to explain the story. The narrative virtually consists of two side-by-side storylines – one of Roscoe’s re-appearance in the real world and the other of the demons committing acts of carnage. Five to ten minutes of one storyline and the film switches focus onto the other one. It’s a very frustrating approach because we learn very little of the characters and in classic horror form, most of the non-characters get maybe one or two lines in a brief scene before they’re killed off. Whilst it does showcase the excellent gore and make-up effects on a regular basis, these scenes add little to the film except to pad out the running time with more carnage. I wouldn’t mind if these were characters we knew and cared about but seeing the eighth non-character get ripped to shreds doesn’t really affect the audience.

At an hour and three quarters, The Demon’s Rook overstays its welcome long before the credits roll. As I’ve already said, there are plenty of random scenes, many of which could have been trimmed. We also spend too much with Roscoe as he struggles to come to terms with what has happened or see his training through a copious amount of flashback footage. He’s not a talkative guy either, in fact not many people in the film are. There are loads of scenes without dialogue, just music in the background or the demons or zombies growling away. Having more than just two main characters to be invested in, or at least having some meaningful dialogue, would have helped these long, drawn-out sequences.

It can’t be disputed that The Demon’s Rook contains some superb prosthetics. The demon masks and costumes, hell even the zombies, look brilliant in all of their latex glory. The zombies reminded me of some of the best creations from The Return of the Living Dead and the demons looked like something out of, well, Demons. They really look the part and I wished they did a little more than just snarl and growl most of the time. Both the zombie flesh-ripping and the slasher-style kills are effectively brought to life with plenty of realistic blood and guts.

 

There’s a good film in here waiting to come out but unfortunately the finished product of The Demon’s Rook is just not that. Too repetitive, not involving enough for audiences and with a rather bland finale (given everything that had gone on before it), The Demon’s Rook can at least showcase some superb make-up effects work to prove that even if big budget horrors have converted to the dark side of CGI, at least the old techniques are still alive and kicking in the lower doldrums of the genre.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Keep, The (1983)

The Keep (1983)

THEY WERE ALL DRAWN TO THE KEEP. The soldiers who brought death. The father and daughter fighting for life. The people who have always feared it. And the one man who knows its secret… THE KEEP Tonight, they will all face the evil.

In 1942, a detachment of the German Army is sent to guard a mysterious Romanian citadel located on a strategic mountain pass. When soldiers begin to be mysteriously murdered, the SS arrives to deal with what is thought to be partisan activity and take over proceedings. Enlisting the help of a Jew to help translate inscriptions, what they actually find is an evil force trapped within the keep which will do anything in order to escape.

 

Director Michael Mann has helmed some fantastic films in his career including Manhunter, Collateral, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider amongst others and has been consistently ranked up there as one of the greatest directors of the past couple of decades. Like many famous directors (Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott, with sci-fi horror Alien, spring to mind), Mann has his early roots firmly in horror. The Keep was only his second feature film and his only real foray into the genre.

Originally clocking in at over three and a half hours long before producers told Mann to cut it down, The Keep is the perfect example of style over substance – an art house horror film which has been cruelly held back from realising its potential. Adapting from books come with their problems to begin with but when a director’s original vision is then restricted even further, the end result is not a true reflection of what could have been. The Keep is very much the personification of that. There is a huge swathe of ideas floating around here and lots of sub-plots which begin to develop but are cut short or are simply thrown in without any explanation whatsoever. I’m guessing the original cut explained a lot more because The Keep finishes with lots of unanswered questions and answers a lot of questions that were never asked in the first place.

Case in point being Scott Glenn’s mysterious stranger character who arrives in the town shortly after the evil inside the keep has been released. We kind of get the idea of who is he and what he’s doing (and these ideas come to fruition in the finale). But he’s a sketchy character who has no real story and feels tacked on in the current cut of the film. He shows up and has sex with Alberta Watson’s token female character (poor lass has just survived a rape by some German soldiers to boot!) and we’re meant to just shrug our shoulders and go with the flow? There’s also lots of slow-motion sequences, loud music, fancy purple lights and about a year’s supply of artificial fog in the finale where Glenn doesn’t say anything, allowing his facial expressions and actions to tell us the story. It’s all very interpretative and gets the audience to join the dots themselves rather than being spoon fed…well, just about! Those who prefer spoon feeding from their horror films won’t like this at all. Glenn’s character isn’t just the only underdeveloped aspect to the film but it’s the most blatant.

Apart from the long-winded “what the hell is going on?” narrative, The Keep’s other underlying problem is finding a protagonist to sympathise with. That’s the problem with a lot of these horror films based around Nazis – who are we meant to root for? Yes, some of them may be written more appealing to the viewer but at the end of the day, they’re still Nazis and it’s difficult to get on their side. You’d think Ian McKellen’s Jewish scholar would fare better but he’s pretty unlikeable: a bitter, selfish old man who is harsh even to his close friends and daughter. She’s not exactly the main focus of the plot either. So do we sympathise with the demon Molasar in this case, the evil spirit waiting to be unleashed from his tomb? It’s a puzzling scenario which isn’t helped by a rambling narrative that never knows which direction to go.

So despite the muddled script, it’s to Mann’s credit that he manages to keep The Keep so gripping. I can’t put my finger on it because there’s not a lot of action, many scenes lack dialogue and rely on imagery and audio alone and there are too many plot holes lying around which throw you off track. But there is something that prevents you from switching off. The Keep is like few horror films I’ve ever seen before in that watching is almost like experiencing the keep for yourself. It’s a visually impressive film, with some fantastic cinematography, striking imagery and a superbly ominous atmosphere assisted by a creepy and haunting soundtrack. The dimly-lit, smoke-shrouded sets are the stuff of bad dreams. One particular scene featuring Gabriel Byrne’s SS commander staggering around a large room full of his dead soldiers is one of the most nightmare-inducing scenes I’ve seen. The first appearance of Molasar, the evil presence, is impressive, with the creature being made up of smoke and lights and backed by chilling music. The synthetic score by Tangerine Dream goes against the grain when it comes to soundtracks: it’s not there to accompany the scenes with music cues but rather act as an extension of the mood, acting as ambient noise. It’s a superb soundtrack though one which isn’t readily available to purchase.

I’ll say one thing for Mann and that’s he always assembles a fantastic cast. Ian McKellen, Gabriel Byrne, Scott Glen, Robert Prosky (you may not recognise the name but you’ll recognise the face) and Jürgen Prochnow are all on hand. It’s a male-heavy film as the nature of the war setting naturally calls for. I’m sure if this was remade nowadays, there’d be a female SS commander or something similar. Byrne is the evil Nazi, Prochnow the more reasonable one, Prosky a local priest and Glen is the Van Helsing-like hunter. Most of them are wasted in the roles but at least they add some much-needed star power. One appearance I chuckled at is that of German actor Wolf Kahler as some lowly SS soldier who has a brief cameo role. He’s been demoted since his face was melted away in Raiders of the Lost Ark!

The Keep is a genre from which Mann never returned to and it’s a pity. Whilst this is largely an incoherent mess of ideas, its potential is breath taking and the surreal atmosphere and art house audio and visuals will leave an indelible mark upon you. Stylish but unsatisfying, it would have been interesting to see Mann’s three-hour director’s cut of the film and whether that just prolonged the confusion or sorted it out.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Night of the Demons (1988)

Night of the Demons (1988)

Angela is having a party, Jason and Freddy are too scared to come. But You’ll have a hell of a time.

On Halloween night, a group of teenage friends decide to hold a secret party at Hull House, an abandoned funeral parlour. Here, they gather together in front of a mirror to hold a séance but unwittingly unleash an evil force which begins to take them over one-by-one.

 

Night of the Demons represents the ultimate best and the worst of 80s horror. If you’re looking for a complex plot, interesting characters, stunning cinematography and serious approach then you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. Coming off as more of a goofy teen version of The Evil Dead, Night of the Demons is a definite crowd-pleaser, full of scares, gore, nudity and a dose of sickly black humour all touched up with a truly 80s vibe. It received a limited theatrical release but found its following on home video during the glory days of video rentals and has become something of a definitive 80s cult classic. You’ve got to love the 80s and the home video market for opening up a whole new world of entertaining and fun horror flicks that just wouldn’t have been made otherwise.

It’s a party night film, that’s for sure. Probably best watched with a group of preferably drunken mates, Night of the Demons wins awards purely for being something so innocent, so watchable and so enthusiastically entertaining. It’s not intending to be The Exorcist or The Shining. There are no real intentions to seriously scare and get under the skin. It’s not Shakespeare for the horror crowd. It’s there to provide some thrills, spills and a few gags like you’d get on a visit to a classic Halloween haunted house. The opening animated title sequence with a classic 80s synth-rock soundtrack should prove what sort of credentials that this is aiming for. Though it does owe a lot to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, probably more than it would like to admit.

Director Kevin Tenney virtually steals Raimi’s ‘demon POV’ cam with long, sweeping forays through the house when the demons are unleashed.  There are 360° camera shots, clever camera tricks involving mirrors and shots from other innovative angles. He does well to use these shots as Hull House looks fantastic inside with a vast array of basements, staircases, corridors and rooms for the characters to fumble around in. Dimly lit and decidedly creepy, Hull House is the perfect setting for such a film and the camera makes excellent use of every dark nook and cranny, with demons popping up left, right and centre off-camera to startle the viewer. Tenney’s camera tricks and use of visuals to generate some suspense is highly skilled and if I’m being blunt, deserving of a more respectable film. Cheap scares they may be but they are effective at conveying the moody vibe.  However the film isn’t all about the cheap scares and flits between some serious scaring and outright joking around on occasion, with the uneven balance never really clicking in favour of either.

Night of the Demons doesn’t set out to break the mould though it’s happy to live up to genre expectations and so the gratuitous overindulgences which genre fans have come to love are on full display here. The gore and nudity is at the forefront of Night of the Demons charm and you won’t find too many better examples of 80s excess than here. The make-up effects are superb with hideous demon transformations, eyes being gouged out, tongues bitten off and, in the film’s coup-de-grace moment, a possessed teenager manages to make a tube of lipstick disappear into her exposed nipple. The practical nature of the special effects adds to their charm. The best non-gore special effects moment is reserved for Angela, the goth girl who gets possessed, as she floats down the halls and corridors of the house. It’s a weird, unnerving effect which adds to her supernatural aura.

The majority of the nudity is supplied by Scream Queen Linnea Quigley, who provides the breasts for the aforementioned lipstick moment (undeniably two of the reasons why Night of the Demons has become such a cult 80s classic for teenage boys). Cast-wise the film is near enough spot on. All of the performances are stuck in the 80s with their dated portrayals but like everything else, this adds into the charm. Cathy Podewell is Judy, the virginal girl who spends most of the film dressed as Alice in Wonderland. Podewell is unbelievably cute and emits a nice innocence about her, even if she is somewhat a little bland at times. Hal Havins as Stooge makes for an annoying and obnoxious loudmouth and the other actors fit firmly into their stock 80s teenage character roles: the preppy good guy, token black guy and so on). Amelia Kinkade is worth a mention as Angela, turning her into some Freddy Krueger-like puny-spouting horror figure who would return in the next two sequels.

 

Night of the Demons works perfectly well as what it sets itself out to be from the start – a campy low brow fright fest which relies heavily on genre staples to deliver constant mindless fun. Though it has dated somewhat with the 80s hairstyles, clothes, music and character stereotypes, Night of the Demons should be required viewing at Halloween parties.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cabin in the Woods, The (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

If you hear a strange sound outside… have sex.

Five friends head off for a weekend at a secluded cabin in the woods. As they settle in for the night, the door to the cellar mysteriously swings open. Deciding to investigate, the group head down where they find a startling array of old artefacts, ornaments and antiques. But after one of them reads out a passage from a journal, they awaken a family of undead killers who used to live in the cabin. But they are the least of the problems that the group will encounter over the course of the night.

 

To go into any other detail regarding the plot as this stage would be to defeat the object of watching The Cabin in the Woods, quite simply one of the most unique and genre-bending horror films of recent memory. Believe the hype because if you’re a genre fan, you’re going to love this film. Written and produced by Josh Wheldon, the fan boy favourite behind the likes of cult TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and, more recently, the big budget blockbuster The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods continues his fandom-pandering, genre-deprecating sense of humour with a film that can be appreciated on so many different levels. At its core, we have a film that has two simultaneous stories running along side-by-side and it’s up to you to try and piece together the links (before the film does it for you in the final third). But there’s so much more going on underneath.

I don’t think I’ve ever found a review as hard to write as this one. The Cabin in the Woods is best viewed without any faintest hint of what happens in it and, since the bulk of the enjoyable experience is to be constantly screaming “what the hell is going?” at the screen when things take an unexpected turn between the two concurrent stories, then it’s best if you don’t know anything. No spoilers. No clues. Nothing. Even the trailer gives away too much in my opinion. So trying to talk about a film without revealing anything or even given faint hints is really hard and I’m going to purposely avoid talking about one of the stories for that matter as I feel it would give too much away.

The Cabin in the Woods is a clever film, or at least thinks it is for the most part, which will surprise you, shock you and appease the horror nerd inside of you. For genre-busting meta-horror films, I’d say this was up there with Scream for its attempts to break through the fourth wall, only this works a lot better than Craven’s film in many aspects. Though by the sheer insanity that fills up this film’s final third, I can’t imagine wave of copy cat films coming hot on its heels like the post-modern slasher craze which followed Craven’s classic. Co-writer Drew Goddard seems to be as knowledgeable as Wheldon when it comes to horror and together the two craft a film which is high on clichés and even higher on manipulating and breaking them. It requires audience awareness of such clichés in order to succeed and even then, spells some of them out in plain English so that non-genre fans could ‘get’ the film.

But this isn’t done at the expense of the integrity of the film, far from it. This is a film which unleashes the clichés for the viewer, playing upon audience expectations of them in a way which hasn’t been done before but at the same time continuing to put the characters in serious jeopardy. It may be a game for the audience but it’s certainly not a game for the characters who have to try and survive this nightmare ordeal. With one of the major twists of the film, the audience suddenly realise they have become complicit in something that only the five characters are unaware of.

At first, The Cabin in the Woods smacks of been there, done that, got the t-shirt – a bunch of good-looking, stereotypical twentysomethings head off to a remote location for some shenanigans and hanky panky, bumping into the local whackjob on the way who warns them against going. Then of course, his predictions of doom come true and they find something that they shouldn’t really be messing with. The first third of the film is very reminiscent of The Evil Dead film with its whole ‘cabin in the woods, reading a supernatural verse and being trapped with the confines of the valley’ structure. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s just a self-aware re-tread. To say anything else on that matter would be to do you a disservice if you watch it.

Taken on its own merits without the genre in-jokes and twists and turns, the film works reasonably well as an effective horror film. There are some unexpected moments of terror, the film has a decent creepy atmosphere (though there are specific reasons for that!) and there is enough gore to keep fans happy. Some of the make-up effects are brilliantly done, including the zombie Buckner family who come alive to terrorise the teenagers. The teenage characters appear to fall into stereotype at the start but over the course of the film, they develop into fully fledged characters who defy any real stereotyping. Again, to divulge more would be to ruin the enjoyable of the film.

So there you have it – a review which doesn’t say too much about the film, only that you should expect plenty of twists, turns, unexpected happenings, predictable outcomes. Everything you can think will happen, will happen. And everything you think will happen, won’t happen. It sounds confusing but sit down, watch it and let it all pan out. It will make sense then.

 

The Cabin in the Woods is definitely a one-watch only deal as once you ‘get it’ then you’ll find little to go back over, save for perhaps spotting all of the genre references. But your first run-through with it will provide you with some of the most entertaining horror moments that cinema has had to offer for a long time. Ingenious at times, infuriating at others, The Cabin in the Woods is going to be a hard act to follow.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Two friends are given a mysterious puzzle box by a vagrant in Mexico and disappear after solving it. Three years later, their grieving families get together for a remembrance dinner but are interrupted when one of the missing teenagers turns up on the doorstep with an extraordinary tale of pleasure, pain and the Cenobites.

 

Rumours of a big budget remake/reboot for Hellraiser have been filtering through channels for years but it’s never got off the ground in one way or another and whilst the likes of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween receive modern-day reboots, Pinhead and his sadomasochistic buddies have been left to rot in limbo. In order to retain their rights to the franchise, Dimension Films actually needed to use the damned thing otherwise the rights could revert back to someone else (like Clive Barker for instance or another studio interested in doing a reboot). So this is a sequel for sequels sake – the ultimate definition of a cash cow. Its sole purpose is to satisfy the legal needs of a system so that its owners can continue to own the rights to the franchise. There’s no interest in making a decent film here. There’s no love for the franchise shown here. It’s just purely a money thing so that they still own the rights and can do the remake if they want to in future. And that makes me sick because it says everything you need to know about this film. So it’s no surprise to find out that Hellraiser: Revelations is like the bastard child that nobody ever wanted but we have to accept that it lives.

I might just add that I found out about the rights issue after I had watched it so wasn’t going in with any pre-judgments. The last few sequels had been enough to dampen my enthusiasm for any further instalments in this franchise on their own merit! Hellraiser: Revelations looks more like a fan-made internet spoof or a music video for a Scandinavian death metal band than a proper Hellraiser film. It follows virtually the same story as the original as one unlucky character opens the Lament Configuration box and is drawn into the world of the Cenobites and it’s up to another character to provide them with fresh bodies so that they regenerate themselves. Only this time there’s no Andrew J. Robinson sliming it up as Uncle Frank, no Claire Higgins sleazing her way across the screen as Julia and no Doug Bradley speaking like some sort of demonic prophet as Pinhead.

The entire thing has been filmed on one or two sets so its best not to get your eyes accustomed to them too early because they’ll soon get bored. The budget for this thing must have been miniscule as production values are almost non-existent. Everything looks too glossy for a start and there’s no real suspension of disbelief when you’re watching these people on the screen. The film looks like a film if you get what I mean – at no point do you think anything is happening because everyone looks and acts like actors in front of a camera. You can be watching a live action theatre play – there’d be little difference between the quality of the two. Literally the film features sixty minutes of people sitting around a table in a house arguing and discussing the most inane things. Every now and then there are brief snippets of Pinhead and the Cenobites walking around their dimension, biding their time for their next ten seconds of screen time. But for the most, it’s just the same couple of actors sulking, moaning, crying, arguing and sitting in the same two or three rooms of a house. Boring is not the word.

Recasting one of the most iconic roles in horror history is a cardinal sin. Fair enough if the series was to receive its much touted remake, then a new actor would need to assume the mantle set out by Doug Bradley and his infamous portrayals of Pinhead over the years. I mean, Bradley is getting on in age and if a remake was to take off, the same actor would be required to reprise their role in future sequels. But this isn’t billed as a remake, just another sequel to the original canon. Even Bradley saw where the script for this one was heading before the ink had dried and he declined. Now I’m not here to knock the new guy, Stephan Smith Collins, because that would be too easy. Let’s face it: anyone who steps into such an iconic role is going to have a hard time when die-hard fans of franchises think they know best of who to cast. Collins at least looks the part but as soon as he opens his mouth – dear me. Pinhead would have worked better as a mute in this one because the script is atrocious and the delivery is even worse.

The last couple of Hellraiser sequels have featured blink-and-you’ll-miss-him appearances by Pinhead where he comes on-screen, preaches about pleasure and pain in only the way he can and then disappears. Here his screen presence seems unnecessary – it’s as if some scenes were shot simply so that audiences could say “hey look, its Pinhead.” As I’ve said, Collins at least looks sinister enough and the make-up job is pretty solid. But the whole film is too bright and any deficiencies in the make-up effects are evident. Both he and the other Cenobites look just like fans going to a convention. Darkening their scenes and concealing them a little more would have greatly enhanced their presence. But in a film where you’d find better special effects at your local Halloween haunted house attraction, this is an impossible ask. Shot in about three weeks for a budget of around $300,000, every last second of the film smacks of cheapness. Admittedly, the film picks up in the finale when Pinhead and the Cenobites are summoned to the house but it’s simply a rehash of the original and even the film’s gruesome set piece of a person being hooked by the infamous chains looks worse now than it did in the 80s.

 

Clive Barker disowned it. Doug Bradley wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. Hellraiser: Revelations is the ultimate nadir of a franchise which hit rock bottom with a colossal thud. Instead of putting it out of its misery, Dimension Films has simply kept the series on life support for its own demented pleasures. I really hope fans of the Hellraiser films stay well clear of this and send a clear financial message to the studio – make something as inept as this again and we’ll stop filling your coffers with our cash.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆