Tag Demons

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.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Hellraiser - Bloodline (1996)

This year, the past, the present and the future will all meet at the crossroads of hell.

In 2127, Dr Merchant leads a team of scientists on board a space station in attempting to permanently close the gates of Hell for good, having been opened back in 18th century France by one of his ancestors. For centuries, his descendants have been trying to find a way to reverse the Lament Configuration Box and now he believes he has found a way. But Pinhead and the Cenobites do not want the gateway closing.

 

The last of the Hellraiser films to obtain a cinematic release, Hellraiser: Bloodline was a misguided attempt to revive the flagging fortunes of the series. Like many horror franchises (Leprechaun, Friday the 13th, even Critters), when all other potential storylines had been exhausted, there was always the opportunity to blast their villains into outer space. The third instalment wasn’t overly thrilling but that didn’t stop the money men from milking the cash cow. Director Kevin Yagher, going under the infamous Alan Smithee pseudonym to officially disown his film, was involved in many arguments with the studio over this sequel and it shows in the final product. Hellraiser: Bloodline isn’t perhaps the total dud that it’s made out to be.

The main problem with the Hellraiser sequels, save for the first one, is that they all progressively moved further away from the dark taboos that Clive Barker had dreamt up. The whole pleasure-pain and Heaven-Hell binaries, films full of sadism, torture and moral choices – these were exactly the sort of ingredients needed to make thought-provoking horror. With a greater focus on the ready-made horror icon Pinhead, the sequels shifted away from this, turning into little more than glorified supernatural slashers. Hellraiser: Bloodline is the perfect example of this – a film which is top heavy with Pinhead, features plenty of gruesome set pieces and a cast of undeveloped fodder to feed to the Cenobites when needed. There are still signs of Barker’s original visions but they’ve been papered over with generic horror clichés and turned into more of a fast food horror film than a thinking man’s.

The story on its own is decent. Seeing how the numerous generations of Merchants have tried to deal with the Lament Configuration Box sounds solid in theory but less so when it is all put together. The jumps from the past to the future are too frequent and the loose structure allows for little connection between the three separate stories. The two stories set in the past are much more interesting, particularly the one in France as its nice to see horror films set in period settings without the trappings of science, knowledge and a couple of bullets to deal with the monster. As the story moves forward in time, so the interest diminishes. The whole staging aboard on the space station in the final third just seems like a poor man’s retread of Alien, only with Cenobites stalking the soldiers in the dark. It’s hardly inspiring stuff and you’ll have seen it done before.

Though Pinhead was grossly overused in the sequels (he wasn’t even given a name in the original), turning into another Freddy Krueger-like talking villain, it’s still nice to see him in his prime before the following sequels turned him into a running cameo. Doug Bradley is comfortable in the role at this point, relishing the lines he has to deliver and speaking with gusto and malice. The character gets some of his best lines in this one like “I am pain” and “Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” He still gets too much screen time but as he’s the best thing on display by a mile here, it’s the lesser of two evils. The rest of the cast are pretty dire although Valentina Vargas acts with her body at times.

The gory set pieces have been given the focus in this one. Whilst the original featured its fair share of flesh ripping, the sequels tried to out-do it in terms of gratuitousness. There’s a scene in which a pair of cops are hideously mauled together and their heads and bodies twisted and contorted together to form a single Cenobite. Later on, the twins absorb another victim. In the final third where the soldiers are picked off one-by-one, there are the usual chains and hooks as well as a fancy mirror death. It’s all very imaginative stuff but the deaths are quick. There’s no suffering. There’s no drawn out agony. Pinhead preaches a lot about suffering and pain yet his goons decide to kill their victims within a heart beat rather than draw out a long, lingering death. Kevin Yagher was a make-up effects guy before he stepped into the hot seat and it shows, delivering a series of sterling gore moments.

 

Hellraiser: Bloodline is nowhere near as bad as people would have you believe. There is enough gore, a quite high body count, plenty of flesh-ripping hooks and special effects to keep horror fans interested, and of course, there is always Pinhead. But messy editing, poor acting and a poor script spoil it. I would like to have seen Kevin Yagher’s original vision for the film as there was potential in here but the studios think they know best, not the guys who actually make the film.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled (2002)

Leave no soul unturned

A young woman who has a boyfriend crippled in a motorcycle accident accidentally releases the evil Djinn from his prison. The Djinn takes on the appearance of the lawyer who was trying to settle the compensation case and who also has the hots for the young woman. Will she make 3 wishes and inadvertently release the Djinn and the rest of his kind? Will they stop churning out these sequels? Does anyone actually watch them bar me?

 

Though entertaining enough on its own, Wishmaster was not a classic horror film. It had some good ideas, plenty of gore and gruesome set pieces, a few in-references to the genre and was watchable enough without ever reaching the next level and becoming a must-see horror – and it was hardly sequel-worthy. But with the unique title character, the money men saw an iconic horror villain with whom they could churn out successive sequels and here we have the third sequel, Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled. The first sequel was rubbish but at least it still had Andrew Divoff as the title character as well as one or two novel death scenes amidst a mountain of twaddle. The second sequel gave us less thrills, some poor death sequences and tepid Jason Connery assuming the mantle of the evil genie in human form.

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled doesn’t deviate from the formula that the series has grasped onto like a lift raft – the Djinn is released, he grants backfiring wishes in the pursuit of whoever set him free and he attempts to bring about the end of the world before being imprisoned again at the end. Only whereas the original had a reasonable budget to be able to give adequate life to the backfiring wishes in the form of gory set pieces, the successive sequels have all been done on lower and lower budgets. This one looks like the bargain basement entry it is, shot back-to-back with the second sequel to save on costs. The wishes, at least the only worthwhile things to mention from the sequels, are toned down due to the lack of money. A couple of them had potential but the end results are worthless. The same goes for the grand finale and the ending – the film clearly has a bigger vision in mind for them but the results are underwhelming and distinctly dull. If you cut the cash, its time to cut the script and show what you can afford, not what you want to be able to afford.

Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled evidently knows its target audience (i.e. adolescent males) and kicks off proceedings with a gratuitous sex scene. Talk about a cheap way to get the audience interested.  Tara Spencer-Nairn looks great in the lead role and has a habit of shedding her clothes for the camera throughout the rest of the film (not that I’m complaining). When a horror film has to rely on sex to sell itself, you know they’ve hit a totally new low. But there’s little else to get excited about, if you’ll pardon the pun. The Djinn assumes human form once again, taking over the body of a smarmy lawyer in order to get closer to the person who released him. There is also a sub-plot about a Djinn hunter being awakened once the third wish has been granted but it’s literally a padding device, designed to throw in another character and kill a bit more time (funny how it was never mentioned in the previous three films either!). The hunter doesn’t do much and is completely unnecessary to the eventual outcome of the story.

At its core, the film is more about human drama than outright horror and at least the actors manage to keep things ticking over the best they can. The already-mentioned Spencer-Nairn can back up her body with her acting ability and Michael Trucco makes for a decent human version of the Djinn. John Novak is a terrible Djinn when he’s in his creature form, overacting with the passion of a Shakesperian Thespian. But the film skimps on the creature version and instead has the Djinn assume the form of one of the human characters for the majority of the film, thus saving on expensive make-up effects.

 

Spare yourself the trouble and avoid this lame third-rate sequel to a ‘franchise’ that was already struggling to find the breath to make a wish, let alone put the wish into motion. Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled at least fulfils the cinematic prophecy that straight-to-DVD sequels are pale imitations of their big budget brothers.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

Hellraiser - Hellworld (2005)

Evil Goes Online.

A group of friends, who log onto the Hellworld.com website, open a computerised version of the Lament Configuration box and are invited to a secret Hellworld party with other users. Here they are greeted by a creepy host who tells them that they can drink and indulge in pleasures of the flesh all they like. Their troubles have only just begun though when they begin to experience nightmarish hallucinations and begin to get picked off one-by-one.

 

The Hellraiser franchise has to have suffered one of the worst track records when it comes to horror sequels and general destruction of its own self from within. The series’ fall from grace from being a shocking journey into pain and pleasure in the superb original to being little more than a gimmick for seemingly stand alone horror films is rather pathetic and disheartening. Granted all horror franchises suffer from diminishing returns as their sequels progress – it can’t be helped because it’s the same thing over and over again. The trouble with Hellraiser is that the last couple of sequels were not written exclusively as sequels – some Einstein decided to slap a bit of Cenobite action into some generic horror scripts so that fans of the originals would shell out hard cash to see what Pinhead and co. were still up to in the 00s. It’s clear as day that this has been the case and it makes for uneven viewing. Hellraiser: Hellworld probably gets the worst rap out of the lot of the sequels (well until the abomination that was Hellraiser: Revelations) but I don’t mind it.

Marginally better than the previous couple of Hellraiser flicks, Hellraiser: Hellworld only scores points in that it moves slightly away from the standard mind warping plots of “is it real or isn’t it?” into something a little more modern. Hellraiser: Hellworld is infinitely more watchable than the last few sequels put together because it ditches the confusing nightmare and dream sequences and gets back to basics. The film has come in for a lot of negative pres and you have to ask why?

Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first Hellraiser film to become self-aware. Like Freddy Vs Jason added the Scream-style self-awareness to its respective franchises, this is the first time that the characters in a Hellraiser film actually know what is happening and what to expect. They expect to see Pinhead when they open the box. They question what is happening to them when they haven’t been impaled with chains. They understand the mythology surrounding the Lament Configuration Box. But they don’t believe it all. That’s the crucial point. They think that it’s only a stupid online RPG game that they’ve been playing even though the audience knows better. This is a more straightforward plot which doesn’t allow for a lot of scope but I was getting sick of the previous sequels attempts to confuse and contradict the viewer. It’s time to simplify this franchise and that’s what this instalment does, for better or for worse.

There’s some quick plot explanation at the start to set us up for the party and once the main characters arrive, it basically turns into a haunted house flick where they all separate and are killed off one-by-one. Cue your modern horror obsessions with rapid editing, plenty of strobe lights, rock music, smoke machines and all of the trimmings. It may all look fancy but there’s not a great deal of substance to it. We know what is coming from the set pieces. We know which characters are going to survive and which aren’t. Predictabilty is this film’s second biggest problem after the unnecessary addition of the Hellraiser label and forced inclusion of the Cenobites.

Whilst we’re at it, we might as well talk about them. Pinhead and the Cenobites are back here, although his screen time is once again limited to a few clichéd lines (he practically says the same thing in every film) and he’s nowhere near the demonic leader he was before. Though the Cenobites manage to get down-and-dirty for a change and actually do the killing themselves (since when did they become slashers?) The original two films had the Cenobites portrayed as sado-masochistic creatures from another dimension with some strange religious connotations and a desire to inflict pain upon people for their pleasure. Now they have become no better than Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers – simply gimmick figures who kill people in ludicrous ways. The loss of their aura and mystique is one of the main reasons why the series went rapidly downhill after the first two films. Any shred of integrity had long gone from the characters so I don’t see the problem in attempting to give them something new to do here. The Cenobites had already been sent into space, so why not send them into cyberspace?

I’ve been harsh on Lance Henriksen for starring in films like Mind Ripper before and most of his recent work has just been bit parts in tacky horror films like Mangler 2: Graduation Day but his presence here is most welcome and he gives the film a truly menacing tone as the creepy host of the party. The teen cast is your usual array of good-looking twentysomethings with no personalities whatsoever although Kathryn Winnick is amazing. I just love this woman. Beautiful and a talented actress t boot – just a pity she’s starred in a few of these low budget horror films (Amusement anyone?)

In fact it is probably this teen actor element that has turned many of the fans hostile towards this film – the Hellraiser series could always be relied upon for mature characters getting into bother with the Cenobites. So it’s somewhat refreshing to see Pinhead hook up with some teenagers for a change (instead of obnoxious adults) and show Jason and Freddy a thing or two. Doug Bradley makes his swansong as Pinhead and it’s a bit of a poor way to go out considering how good the character was in the first two films.

 

Hellraiser: Hellworld is a decent film on its own feet and it’s the only the addition of the Hellraiser tag and the presence of the Cenobites which is getting it so much hate. It’s a refreshing change of direction from the previous couple of instalments, arguably the most original sequel since Bloodline and is definitely a lot better than other critics are ranting about.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆