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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Year After Infection (2012) - Zombie Horror Film Review


The Year After Infection is a zombie film with a unique premise. It takes place the year after zombie Armageddon has wiped out much of the world and contains four separate stories, each one taking place in a different season (of course being spring, summer, autumn and, winter).

Spring - A naive young woman has been leading a peaceful life living out in the countryside, the arrival of a group of bandits brings disaster to her cheerful life.
Summer - A group of survivors who had avoided the zombie outbreak by being away at a retreat in the middle of nowhere decide they are going to make their way by small boats back to civilisation to see if anyone is left alive, but are ill prepared for the new world.
Fall (Autumn) - A stranger arrives at a well fortified safe house, however he is unprepared for the way his saviours treat the ill.
Winter - Marcus a traveller comes across a young boy hiding out in a house. Together they go south making the most of the chilly weather that keeps the undead frozen in their tracks.


Now things start off really quite badly if I'm honest. The first tale 'Spring' is utterly dreadful. What plagues the survivors of this world more than any disease is naivety, the woman heroine of Spring is completely deluded seeming to be at peace with the way things have gone. Her only company is a zombie that she is protected from thanks to two small pieces of wire that make up her excuse of a fence, this zombie in fact is the only one that appears in the first 45 minutes of this 2 hour piece. For a zombie film it starts off kinda failing, not helped by abysmal acting, terrible music and an obvious plot let down by damp sound effects. The sound throughout is really patchy and quite amateurish at times.

The next story 'Summer' is also full of really bad actors, but it actually has quite a novel idea of the group travelling down a river as zombies haunt the river banks, and floor as well as fling themselves off bridges at this idiotic group. Plot wise it makes sense this group are so naive and there are some decent parts but all in all a great idea is squandered by poor acting, or great if you think over acting is the place to be.


Now 'Fall' I quite enjoyed, it is weird how The Year After Infection plays out as each story is better than the last, both in terms of acting ability, as well as overall story and direction. Fall is full of black humour and features a great ending, Timothy Lantz as 'Doc' is one of the films stand out characters and while in general it is a bit too full of statistics features some fun flash backs.

The final short tale 'Winter' is by far the most moving and one in which I came to actually care about the characters. Marcus (played fantastically by Julian Thomas) and the boy he befriends have a beautiful relationship together, the conversations sweet, and the frozen zombies they see haunting in their immobility. Great classical music plays throughout this one (Beethoven's Symphony No.7 2nd Movement, a particular favourite). For all the greatness of this one though the ending while shocking and unexpected also felt like a giant unwelcome intrusion and a bad way to end it.


While it is obviously meant to take place over a whole year it is strange that characters in Winter have as just a clean appearance as those of Spring, everyone just looks too spick and span, the zombies don't seem to increase, the world gets no more destroyed, the people no more hopeless. I had hoped the stories would interweave somehow but apart from a very small bit they never did, it would have been nice to know what happened to the characters of each tale after their segments had ended. As I mentioned it is odd how each segment is better than the one previous, and how acting gets better. I'm going to be frank here; if you want to watch this film then please skip the first story, start watching at 35 minutes in, avoid the worst! It is a long film and would have been so much better with it cut into just three shorts.

There is a lot going for The Year After Infection, sadly it is let down by generally bad acting that really gets in the way of some decent stories, it shows some promise at times.

SCORE:

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter (2011) - Horror Film Review


I first heard of Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter a few years back, then a month or so back I got access to an online screener to watch for review. Now this really is not a film for everyone, it's average user score on IMDB for instance is 3.9/10, so please bear that in mind. At two and a half hours long this is a mission to get through, I myself watched it over about a period of three weeks, watching it in random chunks.

Acid Head is the name given Pheromone Labonza (Vivita) a troubled acid scarred goth girl who a year previous went on a murderous rampage in Buzzard Nuts County before vanishing. Now she has decided to return to the county. This is very much a side plot though, the main story concerning Butch (Tony Watts who also wrote the story, and directed) whose life is at risk if he doesn't pay his loans back to a local mobster. There are many other story arcs with the one opening the movie being a bank robber whose escape has brought him also to Buzzard Nuts.


First mention has to go to the visual style used. The entire film seems to run at 10 frames a second, as a result nothing looks fluid, everything appears as a very fast moving collection of static images, hard to explain but this is constant throughout. Added to this is the extreme saturation that occurs, all the colours of the film are bleeding and bright bringing to mind old video footage from the 1970's, also cracks and splits pop on the screen to also create this impression. If you could convert LSD into a film then I am sure this is what that film would be as it creates a drugged up feeling just watching it. Cartoon style sound effects are used constantly, from the 'glug glug glugging' whenever someone drinks to the monkey howling that occurs when male characters get a glimpse of a scantily clad females, again this is consistent.

Now Acid Head features a heck of a lot of female nudity, and it is there for gratification as most the female characters are attractive and their nudity exists for no possible reason. You get an extended scene of a pole dancer at a strip club, extended shower scenes, and even a ten minute interlude (complete with countdown timer) tastefully titled '10 Minute Beach Slut Intermission'. It would be easy to describe all these scenes as sexist, yet on the flip side male characters are universally shown to be sleazy, wretched people, in fact every single male is shown to be disgusting, or creepy, even the one handsome one is a contract killer. Females while usually with flesh on show come over far more strong willed and in command, with the males reduced to animals around them. The fact that the main killer is a female kinda points to this. Still nudity for nudity's sake is not for everyone and it does focus on these non event scenes for long lengths of time.


The fact that the Acid Head killer storyline is a sub plot was a bit strange what with her being the main cover image, I liked how it inter weaved with the other story lines going on but it still felt a bit out of place even in this messed up twisted world. The frequent TV interviews spread over the film while vile and disgusting do create a slight commentary on media's obsession with violence. Special effects are purposely terrible with cartoon effects used to simulate gun fire and blood flying around in bright cartoon style all over layed onto the manic scenes so that the sense of bizarreness is kept intact. I also must add how terrible the film ends, it is a shame after an utterly crazy 150 minutes it just appears to fizzle out, waiting that long for that payoff was unsatisfying even of some of the plot bleeds over into the end credits.

The acting is very patchy, apparently some of the actors were cast via You Tube videos they submitted, a lot of characters seem miscast, others seem perfectly cast, some can act, others not so much. This seems to be knowingly done as no effort is made to be serious, this can be seen via the use of comedy wigs that a lot of the characters wear, in no way realistic but add to the crazy charm. A lot of the music is well chosen and includes lots of classical music as well as original pieces that again adds to the cartoon vibe.

As I said at the start of this review Acid Head really is not for everyone, and to be honest I don't think I could have watched this all in one go. However as a piece of film to be dipped into every now and again it is perfect and strangely addictive. Vile, crude and often sleazy, full of drug, alcohol and sex references it nonetheless has a distinct style and sends you away to a unique place. The plot is bare bones and some of the characters borderline offensive but this just has something that set it apart from the pack for me, it just does not take itself seriously, now whether the director even cares what anyone watching thinks is another matter entirely.

SCORE:

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Killing Games (2014) - Horror Film News


I wrote a post about this film years back (here) when it came into trouble when it was refused entry to the Edmonton Film Festival in a in my opinion stupid move. Regardless of the quality of the film I don't like censorship and so was in support of The Killing Games by principal. Thankfully the film got picked up by other festivals (starting with the Calgary International Film Festival).

It is finally due to be released for public consumption on April 22nd 2014 via Apple iTunes, Google Play, and other outlets by Typhoon Films. It stars Yunona Anders as teenage girl Elysia who witnesses a brutal murder by two serial killers, who in turn see her and give chase. Meanwhile the girls Dad heads out to look for his missing daughter, and nearby a roving gang of criminals headed by Alex (Alex Sharpe) enter the area.

Featuring among its cast horror regular Kim Sonderholm (Little Big Boy, Sinister Visions) this has the potential to be a good film even if I was not taken with the original trailer.

Birth of the Living Dead (2014) - George Romero Documentary News


Sure there were zombie films before Night of the Living Dead, but have you seen them? White Zombie, Revolt of the Zombies, King of the Zombies all in my opinion pretty terrible. Before George Romero went off the rails with Land of the Dead (though some people such as my dear friend think that it was good!) he made a solid trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and my favourite zombie film of all time Day of the Dead. A new documentary is to be released chronicling the creation of Night, exciting news indeed.

Birth of the Living Dead features a host of new interviews that includes ones with Romero himself and exclusive new animations courtesy of Gary Pullin. While it can be laughable by today's standard Night of the Living Dead holds up as a timeless classic with the birth of zombie film conventions, some pretty brutal scenes for the time,  and a meddling with character roles that still feels fresh today. I actually own at least 4 copies of this film as well as the early 1990's remake, though have yet to see the 3D remake (featuring horror icon Sid Haig).


This documentary (rated 15) comes to DVD and VOD on 12th May from Solo Media, check out the trailer below...

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Quiet Ones (2014) - Horror Film Review


Usual story from me for this one, I saw the trailer, thought it did not look anything special, but then thought I should give it a watch as it is horror so might have some scares. I was really quite concerned that this film would fall into the 'creepy little girl' genre which I oh so hate but instead straddles the line between that (though the girl here is actually in her late teens), demonic possession, and even throws in some found footage for good measure.

Most horror films nowadays proclaim they are based on true events and The Quiet Ones is no exception, in fact it ends with the same trick The Conjuring did by having real photos from the actual event mixed in with the credit sequence. Set in the 1970's in Britain Jared Harris stars as Joseph Coupland; an Oxford University Professor who believes that paranormal activity can be explained as the physical manifestation of negative energy from troubled people. He has under his care a young girl; Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who is his test subject in what he dubs 'the experiment' in which he intends to prove his theory by creating a ghost from Janes energy. Several students are aiding him in his tests as well as a young cameraman brought in to record the findings. After losing his University funding Coupland relocates to a remote country house. While he is determined to prove his idea it starts to seem to everyone else involved that there really may well be real demonic supernatural forces at work.


For the first half of The Quiet Ones not a lot happens and I was in fact a little bit bored. It is slow and the methods used for creating scares are traditional and also increasingly irritating. Jump scares feature heavily, nothing special there as they are real obvious, but it is sound scares that really started to get to me. Over and over again scenes would either change from a noisy one to extremely loud ones, or a high pitched electronic buzz, or scream would start, and the amount of scenes that started with the cameraman doing a loud clap were too many to count. I did not find that to be an effective way of forcing viewers to react. Thankfully the second half of the film manages to change up the formula enough that by the end I was getting some decent chills, it is far more interesting when it appears real evil may be at play.

There are some decent special effects used, though also some poor ones such as ectoplasmic goo that appears like a tentacle out of Jane's mouth at one point (bad C.G.I). Later there is better effects used thankfully with some sometimes gruesome images. The acting is also not bad, though the sub plot of cameraman Brian falling in love with Jane is stupid what with her being a monotone mess for much the film's 98 minute running time, I realise she is meant to be emotionless but it doesn't endear you at all to the character.


I thought the idea of splicing together traditionally filmed footage along with shaky camera worked well, the transition was usually really quite smooth and the camera footage was lit well enough that there wasn't much confusing out of focus swirling as is often the case. The plot was decent enough if a little too convoluted at times, and some of the heel turns were really quite obvious but it ended fine enough I felt. As for the chills themselves there are some effective seance scenes, and the often used people being dragged around by invisible forces was in full force here. I have to say a later film fight between two characters was pretty awful to watch.

All in all The Quiet Ones is saved by it's second half, in no way an essential horror to watch but this modern Hammer Horror effort was entertaining enough, it could have been a whole lot worse.

SCORE:

Danger Zombies - Horror Stationary


I was in a Pound Shop the other day which as its title suggests is somewhere where everything costs £1. I happened to notice these striking zombie themed stationary sets and just had to buy some of them. I picked up a notepad, as well as a pencil, pen, sharpener and pencil case. Also for sale were a larger pencil case, a zombie themed colouring book as well as zombie felt tip pens.

These products are all aimed at school children which I found to be quite strange as they are full of blood, brains and intestines, albeit in a cartoon style, still for someone whose school banned Garbage Pail Kids cards when I was a nipper I can't imagine they would have been happy with gore soaked stationary.


For £1 it is cheap and cheerful, though I actually really like the notepad, and the sharpener is pretty good as well, the pencil case is made of a very cheap shiny plastic so I probably wont be using that. I love how popular zombies are at the moment, I hope they never fade! Talking of zombies the town was really busy with people last Saturday, mild panic set in as I contemplated just what I would do if they were all undead rather than regular humans...

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 4 (2013-14) - Zombie Horror TV Review


For some people The Walking Dead has got as stale as the undead corpses inhabiting that world. I just do not understand these people, especially as in my eyes season 4 was a strong one. My early concerns that the show had run out of ideas were utterly unfounded as time and time again ideas of a genius nature are featured. Now this is season 4 so there are going to be spoilers for previous seasons, you can read my reviews of those ones here, here, and here. I will try my best to keep spoilers for 4 to a minimum.

Having defeated the Governor and his cronies at the end of season 3 Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group at the prison have settled into a relatively peaceful existence, but this is ruined by the outbreak of a disease that spreads like wildfire infecting and killing many among the survivors. To make matters worse the dead come back to life as zombies and soon chaos reigns, especially with the reappearance of familiar faces.


To say any more really would ruin this season as there is such a curve ball thrown halfway through that it would be too much of a spoiler to reveal. Basically The Walking Dead Season 4 feels like two different mini series, the mid season finale was really epic and in my opinion even outclassed the actual season finale. On the subject of season end I disagree that it was a poor one as I have read in some places, for me it was more that it ended on such a huge cliffhanger that the thought of having to wait until October to find out what happens next left me feeling distraught!

Season 3 experimented in the fantastic episode 'Clear' with the idea of having self contained episodes featuring just a few characters from the main cast, I am very pleased to see this carried on as season 4 has a lot of episodes that do this with a whole host of characters leading to some really exciting, as well as heartfelt and touching moments, and some that blew me away with just who was featured.


The zombies just keep on looking more and more horrific and twisted, the zombie make up is fantastic. There are burnt up ghouls, squashed, trapped, maimed and icky ones. There is just no shortage of the ways the undead are made to seem a real threat, whether it be coming under assault in thick mist, disease afflicted one, or even zombies literally raining down from the heavens. There is a lot of violence here with throats torn out and much more. The comics I eventually gave up on as the idea of making the zombies a back ground concern while a unique one did lead to boredom, the show realises this though so even during the most mellow episodes there is always at least one high action zombie sequence.

While I have been waxing lyrical this season is not without its faults. With the liberation of Woodbury a massive host of new people turned up in the show, it seems rather than make these into anything interesting they instead might as well all be wearing red shirts as anytime things go south you can guarantee that the ones getting killed will be people you don't recognise or care about. It is almost humorous how many of these background characters suffer horrific fates while the main cast are pretty much untouchable at times (though there are some big shocks). The same goes for any people discovered out in the wilds, they seem to exist only to get killed the second any of Ricks people discovers them. Attempts are made to flesh out some of the main characters, the ever excellent Michonne (Danai Gurira) now gets a back story that while interesting did seem to suddenly pop up out of nowhere. As a last gripe my suspension of disbelief was severely tested when Glenn appears to just teleport off screen, showing up somewhere he shouldn't be just for a story beat.


The acting is fantastic, the direction, effects, and even the choice of music is near perfect, this may well be the best series yet and I highly recommend watching it. This season goes to some extremely dark places, but it also finds time to have more light hearted times, it is a strong balance that works well.

SCORE:

Monday, 7 April 2014

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)


I heard Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a scary game, this made me excited to play it as scary games seem to be rare nowadays. Finally with a laptop able to run it I eagerly gave it a go.

Amnesia is a first person survival horror in which you start the game in a strange castle with no memory of how you got there, or who you are other than your name; Daniel. A letter near where you lay is from your past self, it instructs you to head to the inner sanctum of the castle and kill a man called Alexander. As you explore the castle you start to remember bits of your past that involved finding a mystical orb in some ancient ruins, and an unspeakable evil that is hunting you down as a result.


Amnesia is set during the last third of the 19th century, as a result there is non of the modern tools you would usually find in a survival horror. In fact there are no weapons at all in the game, upon discovering a monster your only option is to flee and hide. Darkness drains your sanity meter, the longer you spend in darkness the more you begin to hallucinate. To combat this you have a torch that must be kept topped up with oil, and there are hundreds of wall mounted torches and candles around the castle that can be lit.

Initially I was concerned by how much variety there would be in the games world. The castle is not particularly special looking and truth be told kinda bland. There are various areas of the castle including prisons, sewers, and living quarters but none of these locations were interesting in design. The main bulk of Amnesia is solving simple puzzles that can be anything from piling up a load of boxes to reach an out of reach platform, or throwing a rock at a suspended chain, or collecting various items for use on a particular thing (such as using a hammer and chisel to break a floor open). More interesting are the various documents spread around the mansion. A lot of these are diary entries from yourself that give context for what has happened, also a cool idea was that loading screens provide back story.


I played this in the dark with headphones, and at night where possible but I just did not find it that scary. Sure random walls collapsing in the distance freaked me out slightly, but the atmosphere just wasn't there for me. Darkness irritated more than frightened, and this went for the enemies too. A cool twist is that even looking at the enemies drains your sanity meter. They themselves were not that well designed and didn't inspire fear so much as annoyance when they killed me. A few chase sequences were more fun, one that had me desperately slamming doors shut behind myself as I ran was cool, and a brief jaunt through some flooded rooms where touching the water alerted an invisible monster to my location was good.

I think my problem is that so many people had said how scary this game was that I hyped it up too much in my head. I had fun with it but is not a game I could see myself going back to. The story whilst straight out of a H.P Lovecraft tale just did not engage me, I did not find it that interesting. Not bad, but certainly not a classic. I wanted creeping dread and instead got occasional thrills.

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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Pontypool (2008) - Zombie Horror Film Review


Now I just do not know how to start my review for Pontypool, the idea behind it is so hard to grasp, even by the films end I really am not sure I get it. Rather embarrassed I have to say for the longest time I thought this film took place in a Welsh town rather than the Canadian one it actually takes place in (obviously as both are called Pontypool).

On Valentines day, during a blizzard DJ Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) arrives for his morning slot on the local Pontypool radio station he has recently joined. As the morning goes on he starts to get strange reports from roving reporter Ken Loney about huge groups of people acting violently. It seems that large majorities of the town have gone insane inexplicably. With no official word on what is happening and with rumours of the military blocking off access, Mazzy, along with his producer Sydney, and assistant Laurel-Ann decide to stay on air to try and discover just what is going on. It appears that somehow a new virus has came into existence, one that spreads itself via the English language...


The idea of a virus spread by speech is so hard for me to wrap my head around that this particular plot point fascinated me. The irony of a film about a speech virus that takes place almost exclusively in a talk radio station (a place where talking is the focus) was a great decision. By talking on the air, by trying to warn people could you in fact be helping spread the virus? It is an idea that is handled well keeping you guessing just if the main characters themselves may be infected or not. Apart from the first five minutes the film takes place completely in the studio, much of this has the characters sitting in chairs talking. A zombie film (for this is what this is) that occurs from the view point of people not actually experiencing the madness first hand is unique, I guess Orson Wells radio play of H.G Wells The War of the World is the closest thing.

At times it seems like Pontypool wants to devolve into a comedy of sorts, sometimes McHattie's character gets bizarrely animated, and the eye witness accounts he gets are so outlandish and hard to imagine that it seems almost like a spoof. The disease emerges in the victim repeating a phrase or noise over and over again like a mantra, they get stuck in a loop which leads to them becoming increasingly violent as they fight to break this cycle. Reports of a crowd of people all imitating the sound of window wipers, or a dying man making noises like a baby in his breath come across as kinda funny rather than disturbing. Very effective was when one of the main characters becomes infected, shown by them suddenly imitating a boiling kettle, it does sound silly but on screen it really chilled my marrow.


Now the zombies are not traditional ones at all, they do make an appearance here but they mostly are not that scary and easily tricked, but their unnerving habit of repeating back in various tones of voice whatever anyone says did make some creepiness, though this is more effective with isolated zombies (or conversationalists as director Bruce McDonald coins the infected) who act more random than the herd like groups. There is a small amount of gore here but mostly the horror is created through suspense and thrills. The small cast do their jobs well but sometimes their actions seem a bit strange, they don't appear that terrified of the madness sweeping their town even when it seems like the end is coming. One part in particular in which a character is utterly drunk in one scene and then the next appears back to being sober with not much time having passed irked me.

Pontypool has a lot of great ideas, and does a good job at taking a stab at a really confusing subject matter, it's sometimes dip into black humour (such as the obituary section of the film) is not entirely unwelcome though that uneven balancing between serious and darkly comic, along with some inconsistent character actions stops this being a top tier horror. Nonetheless this is solid, thoughtful stuff.

SCORE:

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Silent Hill: The Escape (2009) - Horror Videogame Review (iOS)


The Silent Hill franchise is one of my most beloved, I just love the idea of a cursed town which draws damned souls and then torments them with their own hidden fears. I got an iPhone earlier in the year and seeing this on the store I had to purchase even though I had a very strong inkling it was not going to be very good.

You play as someone who has become trapped in Silent Hill, or more specifically a series of mazes. There is not really much story other than sentences after every few levels saying how you need to escape. Once complete you get an ending of a kind, but a pretty stupid one.


Each level takes place in a different location and is a maze, a bland maze from which you must first find a key, and then find the elevator exit. You first explore mist world Silent Hill before going onto hell world Silent Hill but apart from a more mesh like view there is not much to tell the two apart. Locations include a hospital, sewers, train station, hotel and more but each location is very bland and featureless.

Played in first person you touch to move your character around clumsily. The levels have enemies from the Silent Hill games such as zombie nurses, possessed wheelchairs, hulking brutes and giant insects but they look terrible and don't really do much. You have a gun that can be used to kill these though you get more points for avoiding the creatures. The gun sight and the reload function look hideous and completely out of tone with the rest of the games bear minimal art style.


The main problem with The Escape is that it is extremely boring, each and every level pretty much the same with no sense of fear or horror you would expect. When you die your character screams, that's about it for scares. Once you complete the game you can play it using an Alien armed with a ray gun, but this was just as boring.

The best thing about this is the music which grinds and grates and feels Silent Hill like, but in total this is a waste of time, tedious, shallow and so very bland. Avoid.

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