Tag New Wave British

Lighthouse (1999)

Lighthouse (1999)

The brightest light hides your darkest fear

A prison transport ship carrying some notorious criminals, including serial killer Leo Rook, runs around during a storm and the crew are forced to abandon ship. The few survivors, a mixture of guards and prisoners, manage to take shelter at a nearby lighthouse but Rook also managed to escape from the ship before it sank. Now with no way off the island, the survivors are slowly picked off one-by-one.

 

A British film with a prolonged production? That’s not something unusual in an era where it seems to be harder and harder for talented British filmmakers to get their foot onto the bottom rung of the movie making ladder. Lighthouse started development in 1994, began shooting in 1998, was eventually finished by 1999, was released in the US in 2000 as Dead of Night, and finally ‘came home’ for the first time in 2002 for a cinematic release. That’s a crazy production schedule so it’s a good job that, for the most, Lighthouse comes out as respectable as it does. Well, as respectable as another generic slasher flick could be.

Lighthouse‘s main strength is its cracking location. The lighthouse and surrounding island is the perfect place to set a horror film. Set at night, the film does a great job of turning this environment into an intimidating, inhospitable place where the only light source is the constantly-rotating lighthouse beam. Inside is no better, with damp, dingy rooms and spiralling staircases leading to all manner of possibilities for the characters to play hide and seek with the killer. At times, director Simon Hunter is in danger of lavishing too much style into the film – this is a slasher after all, not some art house flick. But once this gets a little overbearing, Lighthouse ditches it all in favour of more routine slasher trickery.

It’s these early scenes with the characters exploring the island, blissfully unaware that Rook has beaten them there, which are the film’s strongest point. Before the decapitating gets underway in earnest, Lighthouse protracts the tension with a series of scenes which will get right under your skin: the highlight scene being where the ship’s alcoholic captain ventures off in search of the toilet only to have the killer enter a few minutes later, unaware of the potential victim hiding in the cubicle. What follows is a nerve-wracking few minutes where the captain peeks underneath the cubicle to see a pair of blood-splattered feet pacing up and down.

It’s good to see a British slasher try and deviate from the norm a little by choosing not to populate the film with teenage characters, instead giving us a selection of adult characters to root for (with a bunch of British character actors assuming the roles). Unfortunately just because they’re adults doesn’t mean to say that we’re going to like them any better and Lighthouse seems to go out of its way to make these survivors as bland and as lacklustre as possible. The leads, James Purefoy and Rachel Shelley, are saddled with particularly worthless characters. Thankfully, despite the victims providing little in the way of human entertainment, Christopher Adamson’s Leo Rook killer more than makes up for the short-change. He’s a sinister-looking character, physically imposing to boot, and more than capable (and willing) to kill and decapitate his victims. He likes to keep the heads as trophies. No attempt is made to give him any sort of back story other than the fact he’s a notorious killer but once he escapes, there’s no real need to turn him onto a multi-layered character. He’s a killer, plain and simple, in the classic mould of Michael Myers.

Novelty value of the setting aside, Lighthouse falls into many of the same pitfalls as its American cousins. Once the first couple of kills have taken place, Lighthouse drifts into a repetitive series of “is he there or isn’t he?” moments where the survivors are trying to guess where Rook is hiding. The atmosphere and tension from the first half gives way to predictable plotting, unnecessary explosions and forced romantic sub-plots. The dull characters begin to make silly decisions such as splitting up or venturing outside in the dark. As the number of survivors starts to dwindle and the creativity dries up, Rook begins to grow stronger and stronger, surviving the inevitable electrocution, burning and stabbing that the Final Girl throws his way. No amount of gore and rolling heads can make up for the stupidity and shoulder-shrugging nature of the script in the second half of the film.

 

Lighthouse is a slightly better-than-routine slasher, a bit more violent and gritty than most, set inside a novel location and with some decent technical skill surrounding it. Due to the nature of the material, it is never able to break out in the way that it should and the sub-genre conventions end up swamping the film towards the end. A solid effort from the Brits but nothing that will be rocking the foundations of the sub-genre.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Two no-hopers. One cursed village. One hell of a night!

Best friends Jimmy and Fletch decide to get over girlfriend and job worries by going camping to a place chosen at random. They arrive in Cragwich where they learn that a curse was put upon the village by the vampire Carmilla in which every girl there becomes a lesbian vampire when they turn eighteen. Directed to stay at a remote inn, the duo befriend a group of female tourists but soon they all fall prey to the lesbian vampires who roam the forest. Jimmy and Fletch must join forces with the local vicar when it turns out that Jimmy is a descendant of the lord who killed Carmilla in the first place.

 

In an era of ridiculously straightforwardly titled films which feature exactly what they promise in the title (no ambiguity here!), I’m guessing that someone thought of this title first and then came up with a plot to write around it. Lesbian Vampire Killers has exactly the sort of shock title that would draw anyone to it in much the same way that something like Zombie Strippers or Snakes on a Plane has. Though I’m guessing the more ‘lurid’ elements of this and the Zombie Strippers title are the main attractions to the majority of its clearly male-orientated fan base.

Lesbian Vampire Killers desperately wants to be Shaun of the Dead. Featuring a flavour-of-the-moment comedy duo from TV and pitching the film along similar not-so-serious comedy-horror veins, the film falls flat trying to be funny and never features anything remotely scary. I’m not an avid viewer of anything that James Corden and Matthew Horne have made on British TV so my opinions on them were unbiased going into this. I’ve heard of them but I rarely watch anything on TV nowadays so have never been exposed to the brand of comedy that Corden and Horne provide. I can’t say that I’m overly impressed. Horne comes off the better here, the more likeable of the duo whilst Corden is simply playing up the irritating fat man stereotype to perfection. Maybe with a better script I’d have found them funny but with the exception of a few throwaway lines here and there (“gay werewolves” springs to mind), the laughs are hard to come by. I guess if you’re a fan, then their brand of comedy would appeal to you. However I faced the same issue going into Shaun of the Dead, having never seen anything with Pegg and Frost, but that script was genuinely funny and didn’t rely on me ‘getting’ Pegg and Frost’s comedy shtick.

Lesbian Vampire Killers isn’t that bad in truth but that’s coming from a huge fan of the old Hammer horror films. From a technical standpoint, the film reeks of the same Gothic vibe that the late 60s and early 70s Karnstein trilogy films had and it’s like a modern day throwback. I think they lost a trick here as the film isn’t designed to be a deliberate parody or send-up of anything like Shaun of the Dead was for the zombie genre. Although there are a few weak references to the sub-genre, Lesbian Vampire Killers is played straight, well almost as straight as the barrage of schoolboy humour jokes will allow. There are some amusing moments but there’s nothing side-splitting and the most it’ll get out of you will be a smile or two. British comedy-horror has been getting a revival over the last few years with the lad’s mag culture being the target audience. The likes of this and Doghouse are clearly aimed at the ‘boozy geezer’ crowd where the idea is to get a bunch of mates around and watch in a group setting with a few cans and maybe a curry or burger afterwards. Crude, low brow humour where women are the focus of sexual innuendos and genitalia jokes is the name of the game here and whilst I’m up for a laugh and don’t mind a bit of this type of banter, the jokes soon outstay their welcome. Jokes about penile-shaped swords may be funny the first time but not the tenth time.

If you’re marking the film on what the title delivers then you’ll be disappointed. It’s got vampires in it. It’s got lesbians in it. But those expecting a gratuitous orgy of flesh and blood will be sorely disappointed. Nudity is almost non-existent so you’ll have to make do with the buxom ladies wearing revealing clothing for the most (a major crime considering how hot some of the girls are). And gore-wise, the film is hardly going to set tongues wagging. In fact the older Hammer films contained far more nudity and gore. But this is the underlying problem of Lesbian Vampire Killers – it never knows what it wants to be from the start and tries to do too many things and cover too many bases at once, never fully realising the potential of any of the directions it tries to take.

 

One can’t help but compare Lesbian Vampire Killers to the far superior Shaun of the Dead as two British TV comedy duos attempt to conquer the big screen in comedy-horror settings. Unfortunately, this one tries to hard to sell itself on its title alone and the end result is relatively poor false advertising: it never goes far enough with the laughs, the gore or the nudity and ends up turning into a safe but very lacklustre comedy-horror.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dead Wood (2007)

Dead Wood (2007)

4 Friends. 1 Stranger. No Hope

Four friends looking to escape the madness of the city head out into the woods for a peaceful camping trip. However events take a turn for the worst when a cold and frightened girl turns up at their camp site looking for her boyfriend. From then on, the idyllic weekend turns into a nightmare as the friends are stalked by a deadly force.

 

I got just a little taste of The Blair Witch Project when I had finished watching this. Whether that’is a good thing or a bad thing obviously depends on whether you liked The Blair Witch Project or not. For me it was a bit ho-hum and the same can be said about Dead Wood. It doesn’t do an awful lot in eighty-five minutes and isn’t really engrossing enough to warrant a repeat viewing. But there are one or two signs that some of the people involved here have some talent and a bigger budget may have helped matters dramatically.

It also helps that this is a British film which means that we do our own thing and don’t go with the times simply to cash-in on current trends. Torture porn is where it’s at the moment so it’s nice to see the UK horror scene is bucking the trend and just making whatever horror films it wants instead of rehashing Hostel or Saw like so many American filmmakers are content to do.

With a reasonably short running time, you’d expect the film to kick in pretty quickly but after the inevitable opening death scene to set the stall, the film drags its heels for what seems like forever. The characters trek off through the woods and the film is padded out by plenty of wildlife shots of weasels and deer. There’s even the token ‘we’ve got no mobile phone signal’ moment which every modern horror set in the middle of nowhere has decided to include. The characters seem very unnatural as if they were told to improvise their dialogue on the spot instead of rehearsing a script. You don’t really get to feel for any of them so when they start to disappear, you don’t miss them. Not a great deal happens even when the first person goes missing. They just wander around the woods aimlessly looking for a way out. I know it’s set in the woods but did they have to be walking/running through at almost every given moment?

Even when the ‘action’ kicks in the force starts picking them off one-by-one, the film never seems to have an urgency to pick up the pace. The story doesn’t really go into much detail about what is going on so you’re almost left to think for yourselves. Looking at it, Dead Wood just doesn’t get you involved in the film at all. There are no major hooks. The story doesn’t do a lot. The characters are just bland and dull. Suddenly the short running time of eighty-five minutes turns into a gruelling marathon of endurance and whether you can last until the end before you give up.

Actually you shouldn’t give up at the half-way stage. Despite clichés like shadowy outlines jerking across the camera, rustling trees in the woods to indicate something otherworldly is coming, flashlights going out at inappropriate moments, characters falling over when being chased, characters splitting up in the middle of nowhere, etc. there are a few moments of skill and vision. The up-close-and-personal camera work does add an element of panic to the stalking and chase scenes. Lots of close-ups of scared faces in the woods fill the end half of the film which totally reeks of The Blair Witch Project. Noises in the distance. Flashlights shining into the dark abyss of the woods looking for something. There’s even a few scenes borrowed from The Evil Dead in which the survivors find an old shack in the woods and barricade themselves in from the menace outside, which charges towards them in a nauseating The Evil Dead-style POV shot. I guess that I should be crediting the cameraman on The Evil Dead then for his fine work, not the plagiarist here.

The limited amount of special effects are excellent when they are used and it’s clear that with a bigger budget, more could have been made of this. The ‘deadly force’ has a tendency to absorb it’s victims into trees which leads to all manner of awesome moments of people being slowly turned into bark. In all honesty, these effects are that good that they deserve to be in a better film.

 

Dead Wood is quite simply an inferior cross-breed between The Evil Dead and The Blair Witch Project. I’m not trying to knock the hard work that has gone into an indie film like this but borrowing elements from two massively successful films isn’t going to make a decent flick. When you read highly positive reviews from across the world before you sit down to watch and it turns out this uninspired and dreary, it’s a big let down. Thankfully I’m here to set the record straight.

 

Outpost (2008)

Outpost (2008)

You can’t kill what’s already dead

In war-torn Eastern Europe, a team of mercenaries is hired to protect a mysterious businessman on a journey into no-man’s land. He leads them to an old military outpost used by the Germans during WWII. Here they experimented on their own soldiers in a series of bloody and gruesome tests based on some of Einstein’s theories. Soon the mercenaries realise that they have unwittingly awakened a terror that will turn their mission from protection to survival as a mysterious enemy emerges from the outpost.

 

There should be more horror films about Nazis. They are a criminally underused enemy, if somewhat clichéd to use. The list of horror films with Nazi soldiers is pretty slim but each one has their own pluses. Shock Waves back in the 70s dealt with zombie Nazis. We had The Keep in the 80s which opted for a more paranormal approach. More modern efforts include The Bunker and Deathwatch, both not exceptionally great films but showed that giving history’s most infamous villains supernatural powers is one way to create a kick ass horror film if done in the right manner. Outpost doesn’t exactly prove that point 100% but it makes a damn good effort of it.

The atmosphere in Outpost is second to none. Right from the start you know this film isn’t going to take any prisoners of war with its bleak setting. The colouring in the film has been bleached and saturated, giving it an almost dead appearance. The only colours you’re going to see here are grey and red! The bunker is the main setting for most of the film and as soon as the mercenaries head down there, you’ll be gasping for the fresh air of the surface. This is one claustrophobic place you wouldn’t want to get stuck in with murderous Nazi ghosts lurking. It’s superbly lit meaning there’s always just enough light to see around but not enough to provide sanctuary for the mercenaries. Hiding in every dark corner, in every pitch black corridor and behind every unopened door you really get the sense that they’re being watched and stalked from the moment they set foot inside.

I like the fact that this is a group of mercenaries, not a bunch of whiny teenagers who have stumbled upon the bunker by mistake. Having the mercenaries as the heroes makes the enemy seem all that more realistic and deadly. This is a trained group of armed men who have gone through a lot together yet have never faced anything like this. Think of Predator and the way Arnie and his team equip themselves to deal with their threat. Realism is the key to success here because they don’t do anything stupid. Apart from Ray Stevenson, none of the other mercenaries do much to distinguish themselves from one another. This is a bit of a shame given the room that the film gives to characters. Ray Stevenson is a decent actor who found his fame on Rome and he’s well suited to the role of the gruff commanding officer.

Pacing is a big problem though. There’s a massive build up throughout the film – each discovery or revelation about the outpost adding more and more tension. Unfortunately this goes on for a little too long and it seems like the mercenaries have been exploring the bunker forever. There is not a lot of meat after their initial discovery and it does drag a bit. It does feel like an eternity has passed when the enemy first shows up. But when they do, the film goes all out to impress and quickly you’ve engrossed once again. The first sight of the undead soldiers standing on the hill, shrouded in fog and illuminated by some ghostly light reminds me of the original The Fog. It’s a chilling moment which sends the spine into overdrive.

From here on the film builds to a crescendo that it clearly will never reach and the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, given that the mercenaries have already proved that the Nazis can’t be killed. The story itself is solid and based on fact. The Nazis were known to dabble in the occult – anything to give them the edge in the war. I don’t want to reveal too much about the film as part of the fun and excitement is finding out what happened in the bunker – needless to say that it’s all very plausible. The Nazis look pretty damned good too although the sight of a battalion of crack SS troops marching over the hill towards you wouldn’t exactly need much to make it look scary. And above all, the film has a real mean streak to it just to give modern fans of things like Hostel something to get their teeth into. These Nazis are pretty extreme in their methods of execution, torturing one poor fellow before stabbing him in the eyes. Their silent and stealthy approach leads to some scary moments (note when digging a trench – make sure you check there are no undead Nazi soldiers buried in the soil).

 

Outpost is a thrilling combination of the atmosphere of The Fog, the style of Predator and the gritty approach of Dog Soldiers. It’s one of the best horror films I can recall in the last few years. Tense, chilling and downright scary at times, proving correct the age old myth that gore and extreme violence are no substitute for good old fashioned atmosphere.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Basement (2010)

Basement (2010)

Face your deepest fears

On their way back from an anti-war demonstration, five friends stop briefly in the countryside where they find a hatch in the middle of the forest and decide to explore. The hatch seals shut behind them, trapping them in a dark series of corridors and rooms. The underground maze is the worst of their troubles when they discover that their situation is far worse than first imagined.

 

I had no idea what to expect from this flick. “Starring Danny Dyer” didn’t fill me with confidence, especially as his output has been on the feeble side of late. Even worse is when I clocked the running time at a measly seventy-four minutes. That’s never a good sign when a story can’t even string itself out for at least eighty to ninety minutes. The basic idea to the film sounds simple enough. It’s hardly an original idea but I was prepared to give it a go and see what the director could do with the old ‘people trapped in a confined location’ chestnut. And it even received a limited theatrical release which must count for something. So why does everything go horribly wrong with Basement right from the start?

Basement is one of the single most uneventful films ever. There’s nothing I can recommended about it in the slightest. No scenes spring to mind. No plot twists. No lines of dialogue. No thrilling moments. Not even an atmosphere. Just absolute nothing. It’s almost as if nothing happens throughout the film. The story is all over the place or at least what story we get. We’re given scraps to put together an overall picture but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s badly drawn out, even at seventy-four minutes. The characters walk aimlessly around the same few rooms and corridors for what seems like most of the film’s running time. In fact it is most of the film. I think they just re-used the same shots over and over again and flipped them around so instead of walking to the left, the characters walked off to the right instead. They do a bit of talking, walk a bit, do a bit of arguing, do another bit of walking, etc. The sets aren’t well lit either and not particularly interesting to look at which lends the film a grungy monotony. Apart from one novelty room featuring a mirror and a sink, the rest of the rooms are just empty spaces with dripping walls.

Aside from a few moments of curious tension when the group first explore the underground complex, the rest of the time they’re walking around there is no atmosphere. You never get the sense that they’re actually trapped down there. You never get the sense that they’re in danger. We don’t even get a sense of claustrophobia that these people are trapped underground. Even the climatic scenes when the ‘shocking’ plot twist has been unveiled lack any sort of dramatic gravitas. Such is your interest in the film at this point, they could have had a dancing pink elephant quoting Shakespeare and I wouldn’t have given a toss. Films need events in them to generate something: be it a scare, a laugh, a tear….anything. Without anything happening on screen, how first time director Asham Kamboj can expect to create any sort of atmosphere or scares is beyond me.

The cast is dreadful. Danny Dyer can pull a performance out of his ass when he needs to (Severance anyone?) but his delivery here makes him sound hung-over. It’s like he filmed this between happy hours on a night out in London. His usual laddish approach has gone and instead Dyer goes the opposite direction, turning in his most subdued performance ever. Jimi Mistry is someone else who has starred in bigger films (The Guru….yeah I know but it was a modest hit) but on this basis, he’ll be hard pressed to get another bit role, let alone leading part. He tries to act with more conviction than the rest of the cast and tries to give the script a bit of punch with more assertive delivery but because the writing is dreadful, his lines come out as if he’s overacting terribly. His Mockney accent is atrocious too and does him no favours. To be fair to them and the rest of the cast, the characters they have to work with hardly exist. We know their names, that they’re all anti-war and that one of them is pregnant. But that’s really it, we’re literally told nothing else. Once they’re underground, they follow the usual pattern of slowly starting to crack up and turn on each other. We don’t care though.

 

Basement is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s just a complete nonentity of a film which serves no purpose at all except to prove that boredom does exist. It’s got no life in it and in fact it drains it from you every minute you watch. I can’t call it the worst film I’ve ever seen because nothing happens in it for me to make that claim but it comes close.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Severance (2006)

Severance (2006)

Another bloody office outing

When Hollywood decides to make a film based on the killer dolls of Chucky and Tiffany, their long-lost son, Glen travels there to see if he can find his parents. He eventually resurrects them but is horrified when Chucky wants him to follow in his murderous footsteps, whilst Tiffany is more worried with the actress portraying her in the film.

 

Ever since the release of Shaun of the Dead, nearly every British horror-comedy gets unfairly labelled with the tag of “the best one horror-comedy since Shaun of the Dead” and pretty much all have failed miserably to get anywhere near it’s genius. Severance is arguably the closest anyone has come. Mixing horror and comedy is a tough ask and usually one side gets a little more focus and therefore weakens the impact of the other. Here the balance is just about right – a mix of crazy bad taste comedy, some truly horrific violence and plenty of comic interplay and witty one-liners between the cast. The film works better as a dark comedy though and there are some memorable sight gags including the best use of a mini-freezer you’ll ever see. It’s gory slapstick at its best and definitely one of this country’s better exports of recent years. More famous offerings like The Descent may receive all of the plaudits and headlines but there is a steady stream of reasonable low budget horrors invading foreign markets. British horror has never been as strong as this for years, since the prime days of Hammer in fact. Severance is leading the charge with severed head and leg in hand.

Severance does take a little time to click into gear though and the opening half certainly goes through the traditional motions on more than one occasion as we’re introduced to the characters and the setting. After a promising opening scene featuring two semi-naked European chicks trapped in a bear pit, I became a little worried at times that the film was heading nowhere fast. Thankfully I was proven wrong later and the opening was just a taste of what is to come (in fact the film goes full circle to reveal why two semi-naked European chicks are trapped in a bear pit). It doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, even when the film gets nasty later on. The humour is on board to relieve tension and make the situation seem a little less deadly than it is. There are no scares to be had unless it’s your first horror film and a lot of the standard slasher clichés are here ready to be unleashed. But they’re not unleashed in the usual manner.

The script seems derivative at first and the characters one-dimensional (smarmy boss, token asshole, nerd, stoner, etc). But as the film moves along, each cookie-cutter character develops a personality and the film doesn’t stay on the same well-worn slasher track, throwing in plenty of curveballs (and oddballs too). It all makes for a refreshing change and credit must go to the writers for being able to switch the tone of the film quite easily without upsetting the balance.

The cast is excellent. Toby Stephens, more used to playing serious roles, gets his teeth into the token ‘office asshole’ who everyone hates. Tim McInnerny, more famous from his Blackadder days, is a right hoot as the smarmy manager of the group who is constantly putting his foot in it by saying the wrong things. Danny Dyer plays himself again – the Cockney chav with sharp wit, an eye for the ladies and basic all-round ‘geezer.’ He plays to his strengths here which is being himself as opposed to acting as someone else. In fact every one of the main actors is decent in their roles and they all bring their characters to life. Thankfully the script does all of the characters justice and it’s nice to be able to root for a group of people for a change. Granted not all of them deserve to live but the film does a great job of making us care for most of them so that when some shocking deaths occur, you can’t help but feel a little sad and gutted.

The deaths come through a variety of unique means including bear traps and flamethrowers. It’s brutal, over-the-top at times and quite gory as you’ll see heads getting severed and you also get a good close-up of the damage done by the aforementioned bear trap. Without the earlier humour to lighten the mood, you’d wonder why the film is as nasty as it is and it could quite easily stand on it’s own as a serious horror. The film even manages to throw in the couple of semi-naked European chicks which comes totally out of left field but at least shows that the director knows his target audience well enough to pamper them.

 

If you’ve got a warped sense of comedy or like your bad taste in big doses then Severance is definitely one to watch. Kudos to the writers for making everything click into place. Not perfect by a mile but I’ll take Severance over any mainstream American remake, sequel or J-horror re-imagining any day of the week.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Doghouse (2009)

Doghouse (2009)

The battle of the sexes just got bloody……….

In order to help their mate get over his divorce, a group of friends organise a lads weekend away in the country to a remote village where the women apparently outnumber the men three to one. However when they get there, they find that the women have been infected by a virus which turns them into rabid zombies.

 

There’s been a wave of ‘boozy Brit horrors’ recently – films where you can imagine the target audience being solely men who think that they are “geezers” and enjoy the finer things in life like their lager and curries on a Friday night. Unfortunately since Shaun of the Dead, almost all of the recent British horror-comedies have tried and failed to mix horror and comedy properly and think that they’re funny or scary but they’re not.

Doghouse is the latest entry into this sub-genre and fares a little better given the ‘named’ cast including rent-a-Cockney Danny Dyer, Stephen Graham (who must have a contract to appear in every single British gangster film since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Noel Clarke who’s probably best known for being one of the assistants on Doctor Who. But at the end of the day, it’s still unable to mix both comedy and horror to any degree of success and falls flat on its face too many times just when you think it may get going.

Doghouse takes a rather dim-witted and misogynistic outlook towards females and spends most of its running time featuring men finding ways to batter, beat and humiliate the zombified women. It also makes the silly mistake of killing off the few ‘nice guy’ characters and having the cocky, bigoted, women-hating assholes survive. Where are the morals in this? The film isn’t that funny despite being labelled as a ‘horror comedy.’ Sure enough there are one or two funny lines or some quirky moments of black humour but in the most, it’s clearly designed to be funny when you’re drunk or if you find the sight of a zombie woman hairdresser hilarious. The jokes are spread out too thinly when they do arise.

The film isn’t scary either or gory for that matter. Again there’s a fair sprinkling of blood and gore in some scenes and a few of the kills are decent enough but given that the director was behind the low budget splatter fest Evil Aliens, you’ll be a bit disappointed to find the levels toned down dramatically here. One good thing is that the zombies in the village are all given their own unique identities. In much the same vein that George A. Romero liked to imbue a few of his featured zombies with a gimmick (the Hare Krishna from Dawn of the Dead, the tambourine zombie from Land of the Dead, etc), the female zombies here are given their own characters. There’s the leather-clad, sword-wielding owner of the occult store, the zombie hairdresser, the bride in her undies and the obese woman.

The light-hearted tone of the film kills any attempts at creating atmosphere or scares though. The opening shots of the empty village are promising enough but as soon as the zombies reveal themselves, the film does little to recapture that mood. There’s no gradual unmasking of the threat they face. There’s no real build-up to all hell breaking loose. The guys get to the village, get attacked and spend the rest of the film running from the ‘Zombirds’ and thinking of ways to get out of the village. This cycle quickly grows a little tiresome and it sums the film up brilliantly to say that’s a bit too eager to get to the good stuff when a little apprehension and holding back would have worked wonders.

The characters are what the film clearly perceives as your typical young men: those who watch football every week, go out drinking, have a curry or burger and chips and like the opposite sex (ok most guys like all of these things but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all of human existence as this film would have you believe). Danny Dyer continues his typecasting so if you’ve seen him in any other film, expect more of the same. I honestly don’t mind his routine though – he was quality in Severance – but he’s only as entertaining as the script lets him. His Cockney wide-boy schtick grows tiresome when the script isn’t funny and he’s bearable here but only because he’s supported by some people who can act. Noel Clarke fires off some of the best one-liners in the film and the other male actors at least provide their limited roles with some life and energy.

The chemistry between the cast is excellent and you buy into the fact that this is a group of mates out for a good time. There’s friendly ribbing, blokey banter and some awkward emotional moments, all of which any guy would be able to associate with. The problem I have with most of these characters is that their attitudes towards women leave a lot to be desired so are we supposed to relate to them and cheer for them? Having one sexist may be acceptable enough for a horror film but a group of them will kill off a good proportion of their likeability before they’re even in trouble.

 

Doghouse is crude, primitive male filmmaking which may have gone down well back in the days when women just had to sit and do housework all day (who is that shouting that they should still be doing that?) but nowadays, it’s an unwelcome relic and another weak Shaun of the Dead wannabe.

 

Wilderness (2006)

Wilderness (2006)

It’s not about revenge. It’s about punishment.

A group of young offenders are sent away to a military boot camp on a remote and supposedly uninhabited island to be taught some serious lessons after one of their number commits suicide, brought on by months of bullying. However they don’t realise that a psychopath waits for them on the island – someone trained and equipped as experienced hunter and determined to make them pay for what they have done via a serious of gruesome booby traps.

 

It’s good to see the UK film industry finally getting back on track with horror films. I mean after all, the British gave the world Hammer Horror, which revolutionised the way we looked at horror films back in the late 50s. With the demise of Hammer and the rise of more splatter orientated flicks in the 70s, British horror suffered a dramatic death which it has only begun to claw its way back from. Like them or not, I’ll at least applaud the efforts of the likes of Dog Soldiers, Creep, The Descent, 28 Days Later and many others to try and rekindle that old magic using different approaches and methods of execution. All of them look to have minor budgets but that’s no barrier for creative and passionate people in front of and behind the camera.

You can tell a good British horror apart from its American counterparts as, on the whole, they’re not as insulting to your intelligence. They’re reasonably believable (Dog Soldiers did such a good job of creating believable werewolves, you’d have thought the species actually existed), have decent scripts on the whole and generally try and avoid as many of the clichés as possible (how many of the recent British horror flicks have a young cast of Hollywood types that plague American horrors?) and make the best use of the tricks of the horror trade as opposed to just throwing as much money into the film as possible.

Slotting in to the whole equation is Wilderness, the second directorial effort from Michael J. Bassett who brought us the interesting-but-shallow Deathwatch. Wilderness isn’t going to win any awards for originality and runs like a cross between Dog Soldiers, Saw, Deliverance and Scum, weaving elements from them together to create a patchwork horror flick. It starts off harshly enough inside the prison where the young offenders are given their character development so that you know who to really boo later on in the film. Foreign viewers may have a hard time understanding some of these guys as well – the skinheads with ropey accents so commonly associated with our prisons. The script doesn’t do them any favours either, with lots of street dialogue that upper-crust residents of this island would have trouble understanding. With the exception of Sean Pertwee and Alex Reid, the rest of the cast seems to have limited acting experience, which actually helps in this situation because the characters aren’t overacting or thinking too hard about how they’re coming off on camera. Their inexperience greatly adds to the realism that the remoteness of the island brings. I like to see a film which really makes good use of its location and, just like Dog Soldiers, the woodland setting here is top notch. The eerie silence is golden and a clear sign of their distance from help and the woodland comes alive with shadows and all sorts of mirages. Think you see something lurking in the distance? There’s a good possibility that you have.

But come on, it’s time to get down to the crunch. All of the quotes on the cover proclaim it to be brutal, gory, etc. Well it is! It’s not as nasty as I was expecting but there’s some great gore including the killer sending his hungry dogs to dish out their own brand of justice on one of the characters (and there’s not a great deal left to the imagination). There’s also a nasty moment involving a minefield of bear traps into which one unfortunate character falls into. The booby trap aspect isn’t as evident as I was expecting either but you can see the influence of Saw on modern horror with the harsh tone it takes towards death. No longer do guys in these films run around killing people with machetes or axes, it’s all about being as creative and as nasty as possible and showing all of its glory on the screen.

However whilst the film tries to get creative, it fails to live up to its potential. The ‘hunted becomes the hunter’ theme throughout the final third doesn’t sit that well with the rest of the flick and the unveiling of the killer and his motive isn’t really that shocking. You don’t need to be Einstein to work out the whole revenge plot from the start so at least the film spares us the indignity of pretending to play ignorant with us. The characters, whilst believable and well-acted, are just a pack of bastards. Kudos to Stephen Wright who makes his skinhead rebel to be one of the most obnoxious and horrible characters I’ve seen for a long while. But when there’s no one to root for, who are we supposed to be gunning for? The hunter who wants revenge for his son being bullied or the bastards who bullied him? Some of the characters’ transformations when they are forced to get primitive are a bit far-fetched too, including the main guy who suddenly develops into a better hunter than the ex-soldier who is killing them!

 

Wilderness shows promise and is certainly a big step up from Deathwatch for Michael J. Bassett. It’s a lot more involving, very rough and gritty and throws out plenty of gore and brutality for shock value. Unfortunately we’ve already been there before and it lacks that little extra magic that would make you want to watch it again. However if his next film shows as much improvement on this as this did with Deathwatch, then I can’t wait.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Cottage, The (2008)

The Cottage (2008)

Sleeps six bloody comfortably.

A couple of inept brothers decide to kidnap the daughter of a mobster and hold her to ransom in a desperate scheme to make some money. So they whisk her away to a remote cottage in the countryside where they decide to stay low until the money is paid. However she escapes her bungling captors and heads into the woods. With the brothers in hot pursuit, all three inadvertently trespass onto the land of a deranged farmer who is only too quick to put the proverbial lambs to the slaughter.

 

Oh they don’t make comedy horror films like the British, do they? You can just instantly tell when a film is a British comedy as the humour is just quintessentially British with plenty of wit, sarcasm and low key humour which raises chuckles and smirks. We don’t like making things obvious and throwing in loads of silly in-jokes, fart gags or slapstick. We’re masters at laughing at the understated. When I sit down to a Brit comedy-horror flick, I’m already a little more entertained and intrigued than I would be watching an American flick. It’s biased as hell but it’s true. It’s probably because we don’t make that many films in the UK anymore so that when they do get released, it seems like more of a special event. You can tell that time, painstaking detail and a lot of love and affection goes into them simply for the fact that the people involved aren’t just on a conveyor belt of film production like they are in the studios in the States. The Cottage is the next in a recent wave of comedy horrors from the UK that have hit the market and comes off as a bit of a cross between From Dusk Till Dawn and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The film doesn’t really get into horror territory until the second half. The first half of the film is taken up with the kidnapping and typical ‘everything going wrong’ scenario in which our team main characters find themselves in. This is where the bulk of the comedy comes in as the hapless brothers make a complete mess of the kidnapping and their eventual escape into the countryside. It’s only later in the film where it shifts into more serious horror territory. The gear change isn’t sudden and the anticipation and slow build-up works quite well. The gags still run but they’re not as prevalent. The writers clearly realise that in order for the horror to work, it must be scary and in order to be scary, it can’t be silly. So the psychotic, disfigured farmer who shows up isn’t silly in the slightest. He’s big, brutal and savage and extremely violent. He’s only got one direction and that’s full steam ahead so get in his way and you’re screwed.

Although the character is played straight, the kills aren’t and there are some right beauties here with a variety of farming tools being used. The film is pretty gory but like the tone of the film, it’s not meant to be nasty and some of the more creative moments of goo will have you squirming and laughing in equal measure. But if you’ve seen any of the other recent Brit flicks (Severance, Shaun of the Dead, Doghouse, etc) then you’ll know what to expect in the gore stakes.

Andy Serkis has so much more talent than to be stuck as Peter Jackson’s regular motion capture actor and here he demonstrates why he is such a man in demand. Serkis is always watchable and brings enough tough talking to the table here to give his character a dark edge but also enough likeability and affection for his brother that he’s somewhat humanised. Reece Shearsmith plays his feeble brother who is scared of pretty much everything (in particular he hates moths) to perfection and the two feed off each other very well with some excellent banter. The bond between them may not be obvious but throughout the film you really get the sense of brotherly love and looking out for each other – which obviously doesn’t go down too well with a big assed farmer with a pitchfork after them.

Despite the script dishing out loads of physical abuse throughout the running time to Shearsmith’s character (and boy does this poor bloke go through the ringer), the problem is that they’re supposed to be criminals and we shouldn’t be sympathising with them because they are kidnappers! But even the victims and the innocents who die aren’t very sympathetic. Jennifer Ellison plays Tracy, the kidnap victim, and apart from displaying a lot of cleavage and swearing in her horrible Scouse accent every two minutes, she does little else. We should be rooting for her because she’s been kidnapped but as soon as she opens her mouth and starts swearing, the only thing you want to see is a big bucket of soap and water being dunked down her mouth! Doug Bradley (the immortal Pinhead) makes a small cameo here too but the scene is so small, insignificant and throwaway that I wonder if it was to say “we got a cameo from Pinhead!”

 

The Cottage isn’t the most original film and it’s certainly a bit derivative in places but its fun and entertaining throughout. When you’re dealing with the subject matter of a psychotic, disfigured farmer you can’t really ask for more than for it to be a good watch!

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Wild Country (2005)

Wild Country (2005)

The Chase Is On

After being forced to give her baby girl up for adoption, Kelly Ann decides to go on a hike across the Scottish Highlands with a group of friends. Things don’t go according to schedule when the group come across an abandoned baby in the ruins of an old castle. Deciding to take the baby to safety, the group heads off home but are soon attacked by a mysterious wolf-like beast that begins picking them off one-by-one.

 

It’s nice to see plenty of low budget attempts to get the horror bandwagon rolling again in the UK and Ireland. Over the last few years we’ve seen many varying efforts like Dog Soldiers, The Cottage, Isolation and Dead Meat attempt to bust the Hollywood and Asian monopoly on the genre. There is something refreshing about watching home-grown horror because we don’t just remake old films all of the time like Hollywood has a tendency to do right now. Granted, most of the films recycle tried and tested plots but when was the last time you saw a UK remake of a horror film made ten or twenty years ago?

The films aren’t made by ex-MTV editors looking to step into films. They have been made by people with love and respect for the genre. Even low budgeted titles such as this one benefit from the love that the director clearly has for the genre. With just the right amount of tension, action, comedy and drama, Wild Country does what it can with a limited budget and does it reasonably well.

Wild Country clocks in at a very slim seventy-two minutes which means there is little time to waste and director Craig Strachan does a pretty good job of getting us to the good stuff as quickly as he can without compromising his characters. It’s not exactly a film where past relationships are going to matter once everything goes tits up so what little development the characters are given does enough to warrant us caring a little about some of them. The Scottish actors do grind your ears a bit with their accents at first but once you get used to it, the accents aren’t that bad (although that’s coming from an Englishman living down the road from Scotland – Johnny Foreigner may have some trouble in understanding what they are talking about!). They also talk like they are having a proper conversation between mates and not just spewing out the script which does help with the film’s sense of realism. The scenes when they spend their first night on the Highlands will bring back memories of An American Werewolf in London and it’s a shame that more isn’t made of this setting early on instead of just letting the monster loose at the first given opportunity.

The werewolf has a lot to be desired though. It looks ok in the dark because all you can really see are sharp teeth and an odd glint in its eye. In fact the night attacks are well-staged. But the problem is that most of the creature action happens during the day! So you get to see the rather rubbish guy-in-a-suit-on-all-fours monster plodding around slowly like a pantomime horse. Quite how it is supposed to chase after the characters (as it was supposedly doing in the dark) remains to be seen.

It does kind of ruin the suspense that is built early on when you don’t actually get a good look at it and you conjure up all sorts of scary images. Dog Soldiers managed to give us some truly scary-looking werewolves on a limit budget so it’s a pity that more wasn’t made of these fur balls too. The scenes during the night are also very dark. I’m not trying to sound too stupid because I understand the need for realism and you’re not going to find any light on the Highlands but it’s a film and you need to see at least part of what is happening, not just presume from the noises and screams.

 

Wild Country is a decent stab at a werewolf film, made more remarkable given that it only had a £1m budget which is pittance nowadays. It shows that British horror is still alive and kicking – it just needs the money men to put more of their cash into the films to take them to the next level.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆