Monday 27 November 2023

Emanuelle's Revenge (2022) - Thriller Film Review

Growing up pre-internet, the Emmanuelle series of French erotic films were something that teenagers often spoke about in hushed tones. I can't say they ever appealed to me, and they still don't. That is a good thing, as while on the surface Emanuelle's Revenge (also known as Do Ut Des) appears to be a modern day re-invention of that series, it is in fact a remake of Joe D.Amato's 1975 erotic thriller Emanuelle e Françoise (Le sorelline). I spoiled myself by reading the synopsis for that one, as this goes along the same lines but not as far.

The prologue shows a young woman, Francesca (Ilaria Loriga) committing suicide by jumping off a bridge. It is then up to the first act of the movie to show how she came to be in the mindset to do that. Francesca had met a rich man, Leonardo (Gianni Rosato), whose pushy ways and gift buying soon lowers her defences enough where she decides to be with him. A year later, and lesbian novelist Emanuelle (Beatrice Schiaffino) has a seemingly chance encounter with Leonardo, who soon becomes determined to find out more about this mysterious and alluring woman. Under a pretence of needing material for a new book, she enlists his aim for a special project, something the lustful man is more than happy to do. As the film's title implies however, it seems that Emanuelle may well have revenge on her mind, perhaps for that incident with Francesca a year previously.

The 1974 film went to far more dark places, which isn't to say that there aren't some dark implications here, just that the synopsis for the other one sounded more chilling. With the whole first act dedicated to Francesca's nightmare, it wasn't even vaguely hidden that Emanuelle had ulterior motives for the slimy Leonardo. The middle act played out in a fashion that reminded me of cult Japanese horror The Audition, with it leading to a similar situation. When they are alone at her house and she reveals a secret sex dungeon, I was a little disappointed initially that it wasn't actually a secret kill room. This is a thriller, but I wouldn't go quite as far as to say it is a horror, as once Emanuelle's trap is sprung, it is far more psychological than physical in fashion. Leonardo is never shown as anything other than a rotten man, maybe his only good quality being the love for his daughter, Giulia (Miriam Dossena). His ugly interactions with his friends, and the disposable way he treats women makes him someone plainly not meant to be liked. Emanuelle was far more of a blank slate, though I did find it interesting that she hasn't made her long term girlfriend aware of what she is doing, so this causes conflict in her relationship. She is also willing to go to some nasty places for her revenge, happy to bring in innocents as tools to use.

Special effects are minimal, with not much really needed on screen, there was a feeling of eventual threat, and I did wonder how the film would neatly tie things up. I can't say I quite understood where this ended, with the contents of a hand written note going over my head. As an erotic thriller there were a fair few sex scenes, thankfully not to much in depth, there are plenty of breasts, and some nudity at a distance, thankfully these sex scenes were over with swiftly, not being as essential to the story as I had feared they might.

Emanuelle's Revenge wasn't a film tailored to my particular likes, and that is perfectly ok. As such however, I knew this would have a hard time appealing to me. I liked where this revenge thriller eventually went to, and I thought Rosato and Shiaffino both did good enough jobs with their characters, but I can't say I had the most exciting time here. Emanuelle's Revenge is due to be released on DVD and VOD/Streaming on December 14th from Cinephobia Releasing.


Friday 24 November 2023

The Red Tide Massacre (2022) - Horror Film Review

Red tide is a real life event in which toxic algae proliferates in the water, leading to deaths of many types of fish, while also posing a health risk to humans. The Red Tide Massacre was released in 2022, a year after Florida's last red tide incident. Directed by John A. Russo (My Uncle John Is a Zombie!), Gavin Peretti, and Joseph M. Setele, this light hearted eco-horror keeps its scary moments on a tight leash, with the focus squarely on the characters.

This takes place in a small beach side town in Florida, in which a red tide event has resulted in the beaches being closed off, and people advised against going in the water. It is during this time that Al (Rich Sands) escapes from prison, he is shot by Sheriff Tom Fuller (Michael Paré - Bridge of the Doomed, Captors, Bone Tomahawk), but manages to escape after falling into a lake. His luck is short lived however, as the red algae infects the convict, and slowly it begins to mutate him into a monstrous half-fish/half-human creature who goes on a killing rampage. With the body count rising swiftly, Fuller, with the help of his men, and his son Tommy (Sam Schweikert), is determined to stop the menace.

While this was a bit light on actual horror, the characters to be found here were mostly all likable, people who I did not mind following around. Ignoring the antagonist obviously, the characters all seemed like easy to like people. I didn't mind that much the screen time is dedicated to characters talking and hanging out due to how likable they were, as there were plenty of kills, even if these were often very brief disjointed scenes. Over the course of the movie, Al mutates more and more, though never losing his orange prison jumpsuit. By film's end he reminded me a lot of a The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers type monster of the week, that isn't saying the effects looked bad, and the kill scenes were quite bloody. Deaths include drowning, decapitation, plenty of people getting their insides sliced open, and a great clawed hand bursting out of a chest, which did look CG, but was still entertaining to see. There are a fair amount of named characters who get killed, but often the short death scenes introduce new characters only to kill them off moments later, so become a bit predictable. 

Away from the monster, I found Tommy to be a fun protagonist, he had the potential to be too chilled and laid back, but instead he came across as really earnest and wanting to help the people of the town he loves so much. When a subplot began with him getting closer to a local news reporter, Rio Lee (Susan Elle), I figured this would be where things got less innocent, that she would use him to get closer to the case she was trying to report on. Instead, she was another really likable character. Tom Fuller was another decent character, figured he would be a grumpy stereotypical sheriff, but again, he came to be someone I really enjoyed spending time with.

I enjoyed watching The Red Tide Massacre, despite creature features not being my favourite genre of horror. I thought the make-up effects for the monster were good, and more than anything, I just really enjoyed the characters here. It leads up to some obvious moments, but it never loses sight of the lightness it holds, and culminates in a satisfying way. I did also like the epilogue that gives a little bit of text on what happened to each of the key characters after the conclusion of the story, was a nice touch. The Red Tide Massacre was due for release on 30th October by High Fliers Films. A lot of likable characters and lots of kills, maybe a bit simple, but quite inoffensive.


Thursday 23 November 2023

The Rotting Zombie's News Anthology for Thursday November 23rd 2023

Salutations, I am back with another small news trilogy for a shorter odd-day post. With my inbox currently sitting at a large hundred and seventy five emails I really need to get on top of this! In 'me' news, I am currently playing through the sequel to Distraint, Distraint 2 (obviously). This feels like a fever dream compared to the already bizarre first game, I am digging it. I am also still playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Zombies, equal parts addictive and stressful. Then, there is the remake of Dead Space, I was loving it despite the overwhelming familiarity to the original. Onward to the news.

As it includes the undead, I had to mention upcoming Australian comedy horror film Zombie Plane. The bonkers synopsis states that a secret government agency has recruited celebrities to be undercover agents, and they assist in saving humanity from a zombie outbreak. Amusingly, this features many celebrity cameos, with the people all playing fictional version of themselves. These include Australia's Sophie Monk, Chuck Norris (as Commander Chuck Norris), and even 90's pop icon Vanilla Ice (whose music features in the soundtrack). Zombie Plane was shot earlier this year with the support of Screen Australia. Directed by Lav Bodnaruk and Michael Mier, executive producer Shaked Berenson says of the film "...uses comedy, the zombie genre and 90's nostalgia as a vehicle, to comment on pop-culture as much as it feeds it, creating unforgettable one-liners and situational comedy 'to the extreme'."

Harlow's Haunt comes from director Terry Jarrell and stars John Dugan, Aimee Rolfsen and Braille Babcock. This horror takes place over two different time lines, one in 1926 in which the origins of the horror of Harlow Greer's evil is shown, and one in present day, in which a group of lifelong friends decide to confront the evil that has shadowed them their entire lives, ever since they played with a Ouija board as children. Harlow's Haunt has recently been released on Vudu and Blu-ray via Bayview Entertainment.

Finally for today, Gothic rock duo, The Palace of Tears released a new single and video in October, the title track from their sophomore album, Veiled Screen, Woven Dream. The single is a more synth-heavy ambient mix, as well as shortened, as an adaptation for their self-produced music video. The press release states it is about "...reuniting after prolonged seperation and isolation, and the intensity that accompanies the experience, sometimes as a blissful revelry, while at other times it is almost painfully sweet. So sweet that it hurts, as if your heart were going to burst. On the arcane level, it speaks to those who have passed on, and our desire to commune with those we love and miss beyond the veil, and when you might meet again in another form". 'Veiled Screen, Woven Dream' was released on October 15th, the anniversary of vocalist L.V's brotherls death, who died suddenly last year, and the track can be found on all major digital outlets, including Bandcamp.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

They Wait in the Dark (2022) - Horror Film Review

Written and directed by Patrick Rea (Enclosure, Nailbiter), They Wait in the Dark is a horror film with a difference to the norm, mainly that it intelligently blends two different genres of horror, with both a supernatural threat and a physical threat for the two protagonists to be up against. It kept me guessing where this would head throughout, and I have to admit I can't say I saw its eventual route coming, with a third act that had some genuinely unexpected revelations for me, despite the hints threaded throughout.
I actually have a code for an iTunes giveaway of the movie, details on how to win this can be seen at the end of my review!

Amy (Sarah McGuire - The Stylist) and her young adopted son, Adrian (Patrick McGee) are on the run on the back roads of America. A chance encounter with a childhood friend, waitress Jenny (Paige Maria), leads to Amy revealing why the pair are so scared. It turns out that Amy adopted Adrian alongside her former girlfriend, Judith (Laurie Catherine Winkel - Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope video game voice work). Judith had a bit of a psychotic streak and during an argument stabbed Amy with a knife. The pair have traveled to a remote house that once belonged to Amy's parents, hoping they will be safe there due to Judith not knowing its location. The woman however, is hot on their heels, determined to claim Adrian for herself. That isn't the only issue the two face, as it turns out the home might contain an angry spirit, which might be related to her father's murder of her mother when she was a young girl.

This began really strangely, and I don't know if it is down to me not understanding the culture of America more. The film begins with Amy and Judith sleeping on the shop floor at the back of a petrol station as if it was the most normal thing in the world, something became even more odd by a motel being nearby, that Amy did have the money to afford a room. Thankfully after this weirdness the film settles down into something that felt more logical. With a split between the supernatural and the physical, I didn't know which of these would become the dominant focus, for the longest time it felt like the whole Judith plot was a red herring. She is shown getting ever closer to the pair, and she is shown to have a crazy streak, such as when she stabs a redneck purely because he was cat calling her, but the threat of the evil spirit at the house is what is occupying the protagonists. In a neat way, the spirit is virtually invisible for much of the movie, it's indicated Adrian can see the spirit, but for Amy it is an unseen force that has the ability to attack her seemingly at will. I loved the random nature the spirit came into being. Jenny mentions that teens had used the abandoned house as a party place over the years, and some of what they had done was try out black magic in the basement, it is indicated that Amy accidentally disturbing the left over chalk markings may have caused the spirit to manifest. The spirit is slowly revealed to the viewer little by little over the course of the whole film, I thought the makeup effects for this creature looked pretty decent. Mainly the special effects were of a good quality, and the blood and wounds looked good also. My biggest complaint came towards the end of the movie, when a character who was definitely dead could be seen blinking very blatantly not once, but twice in the background, I wish either CG had been used to cover up the blinking, or that the scene had been re-shot, as it was very distracting, getting in the way of an otherwise potentially powerful scene. 

The protagonists I found to mainly be interesting, if not likable. Adrian was a character I was constantly going hot and cold on, sometimes McGee delivered his lines perfectly, but then there would be occasions when his character appeared to changed emotive states halfway through a scene, making him seem a bit artificial. He is a child, so its a bit unfair to be too harsh on him. Amy was a weirdo, but this is slowly explained due to constant flashbacks showing her mother's cruel treatment of her as a child, which explains the nasty streak that kept surprising me by bursting out of her. As the movie ran on, it started to seem more and more that she is not as entirely innocent as she first appeared she might be. I have known people in real life who had an abusive parent, and then in turn became abusers themselves, so this aspect of her character did feel realistic to me. The only other key characters were Jenny (a bit of a blank slate), and Judith, someone who seemed evil for evil's sake, she felt like a threat, though there wasn't really any reason given for why she was the way she was.

I thought They Wait in the Dark had some great ideas to it, it isn't often that I am taken by surprise by the way a story changes. In hindsight it might have been more obvious than I thought, but it was lovely to have expectations tipped on their head so late into a film. They Wait in the Dark was released in the UK on November 13th.


Competition time!

I believe this may be my first ever competition. For a chance to win a UK iTunes download code for They Wait in the Dark, simply email with 'A', 'B' or 'C' as an answer to the following question:

What is the name of Amy's son?

A) Adrian

B) Rocky

C) Creed

A correct answer will be picked at random on Saturday 25th November 2023.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III Zombies - Horror Video Game Mode First Impressions

used to be the very best mode in the first person video game shooter Call of Duty, it was so important to me and my best friend that it was often the sole reason we would buy the game each year. Tellingly, the only ones in the series we ever skipped since Zombies became a key mode were Call of Duty: Ghosts (that replaced zombies with aliens) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (that didn't have a Zombies mode at all).
Then Call of Duty: Vanguard came out, it featured a Zombies mode so gosh darn awful that it near destroyed us. That mode was dreadful, getting rid of the classic round-based mode in favour of a tiny variety of identical feeling tiny challenges accessed from a central hub-area that extremely quickly became soul distressingly boring. Even the late addition of two actual round-based maps couldn't save the day. While the remake of 'Shi No Numa' was decent enough, the second of these maps was a lazily altered version of 'Terra Maledicta', which was the second of the terrible hub-area maps. This second round-based map had a new name of 'The Archon', but was identical to that other map, just with a palette swap.
The sole good thing to come out of this (quite possibly purposeful) self sabotage was that me and my best friend began to get into traditional Call of Duty multiplayer, even buying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II despite it having no Zombies mode. Towards the end of that game's one year life, I really began to get into multiplayer, helped by the latest (and current) Battlepass that is Halloween themed and includes a lot of Spawn based skins and items.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is this years entry, and is one that has been getting a heck of a lot of criticism. Apparently, it was originally designed to be downloadable content for Modern Warfare II, but got changed into a full price game. Personally, I am really enjoying multiplayer, and embarrassingly enough I don't even mind the hacked together single player campaign, despite it being obviously patched together in a hurry, being made up of mostly areas ripped out of Warzone, rather than lovingly crafted levels. The game also includes a Zombies mode, something that neither me or my friend thought would be any good whatsoever.
It is certainly no classic Zombies, but I was surprised to find I am actually having more fun with the mode than I expected to, even if it is not without its faults. This new Zombies mode is a combination of Modern Warfare II's DMZ extraction mode and Call of Duty: Cold War's Outbreak mode. The DMZ mode from last year had you dropping into a small section of the Warzone map, here, you could complete contracts, battle other players, and collect weapons. The sting in the tail was that in order to keep all your loot, you had to call in a helicopter and ex-fill. I only played this once, the stress of possibly being killed by other players kept me away from playing it anymore. Outbreak was a Zombies mode that took place on large open world maps, again, the aim was to complete missions and ex-fill, with the option either to leave the game entirely, or head to a new map that featured tougher and more numerous enemies each time.

The intro cut-scene for the mode has some terrorists retrieving these strange vials from the basement of a hotel in the middle of a city. Upon becoming surrounded by the specialist crime fighting units, the terrorist leader smashes one of the vials, which immediately begins to transform all dead in the vicinity into brain hungry ghouls. A few weeks later, as part of a task force, you are tasked with infiltrating the sealed off city, in order to assess the situation and try and find a way to bring the zombie outbreak to an end.
Blissfully, Modern Warfare III's Zombies mode is players versus enemies rather than players versus players and enemies. You can only enter the mode as a team of up to three people, but twenty four players in total can be in the open world at any time. Players not in your team are able to assist should you stumble across them, even being able to revive you if you have gone down, or giving you the option to join up with them to complete missions.
The game world is the biggest Zombies map yet, I don't play Warzone myself (for my sins I much prefer Fortnite), but I believe that the mode is set in the new Warzone map that is due to release later this year. The map is split into three concentric circles, with you starting on the edges of the map, a place where zombies are weak and easy to kill. As you head towards the centre of the city the rewards increase, but so does the strength of the undead, and more and more special boss monsters appear. Currently, me and my friend have stuck to the outskirts, our very brief journeys into the second circle swiftly saw us fleeing in terror at the much stronger zombies.
Our very first go of this mode was a disaster, heading towards a contract we had activated, we were woefully unprepared for the presence of human A.I enemies. Zombies are the main enemy type, but there are human encampments, and these soldiers will quickly wipe you out if you are not prepared. Like DMZ, the only way to keep weapons found is to ex-fill, a few times we have been wiped out and lost all our equipment, extremely frustrating, as it means the next time you play the mode you start with just your bare fists rather than guns of any kind! Extremely annoyingly, one of these times we lost our weapons it was down to the game crashing, rather than any fault of our own, while the second time we died, we both had really good weapons, and so were crushed to lose them, especially due to dying to the frustratingly powerful human enemies.

What I really enjoy about this mode is how unknown things are, it makes each time feel like a real adventure where dynamic events can happen at seemingly any time. I have been in on my own a few times, where the lack of support makes the searching of buildings feel more tense (also giving a Dead Island vibe). Then random things can happen, such as me and my friend's last game we played (at the time of typing) in which a random group of players turned up and gave us a lift in the back of their trucks. When me and my friend called in the chopper to ex-fill, these players hung around to help fend off the undead while we waited for it to arrive.
The story missions currently seem very simple and achievable which is also a plus.

I guess my main concern is if they decide to change the game to be players versus players versus enemies, that, and it is possible that this mode could become quite boring once enough time has been spent playing it. Of course, this new open world Zombies is not a patch on the classic round-based maps of old. I have made peace with the fact that there likely may never be return for that beloved mode, so while this is nowhere near as fun as multiplayer (that I'm weirdly very good at currently), this still isn't a bad way to spend an hour (after forty five minutes the poison fog begins to come in, giving you fifteen minutes to reach an ex-fill site and escape). It has the potential to remain fun, but personally, I'm just glad they didn't find a way to go lower than the absolute train wreck that was Vanguard's Zombies mode.

Monday 20 November 2023

Artifacts of Fear (2023) - Horror Anthology Film Review

I've been looking forward to watching Artifacts of Fear for a while now, due to a busy schedule I haven't been able to fit it in. As I often say here, I do love anthology films, and this is the second one I have watched in recent weeks, with I Slay on Christmas being reviewed around this time last week. Written, edited, scored and directed by Rusty Apper (Hellbilly 58, Spirits of the Fall), the films contained within all suffer from similar pacing problems, but also all share a unified feel that made the anthology fit together better than ones that have segments directed and written by different people. An anthology always needs a good theme, here, the classic idea of having the shorts all set around Halloween is the one chosen, though that scary season is not the focus.

Alex (Luke Morgan) and Nathan (Cameron Patmore) are two teenage best friends who are planning a large Halloween party. Wanting something there that will scare the guests, they have decided to head to a little known antiques store on the edge of town, hoping to find something that will achieve their goal. Once there, they encounter the eccentric owner, Mr. Kosminski (Laurence R. Harvey - The Editor), after learning of the boys plan, he invites them down into his basement to see a recent acquisition of his. It is an old fashioned automated device in a glass case, much like the old fortune teller machines (such as seen in Big), this one instead has a radio in it, with an automated voice (Paul Kelleher - Alien: Isolation video game voice work) saying if a token is inserted then it will tell them a spooky story. Mr. Kosminski gives them some tokens to try it out, with the stories told being the shorts, with the antique visit of course being the wraparound segment.
I always appreciate a good wraparound story, and this one was maybe the best of the stories to be found here. Rather than an excuse for the anthology to happen, this was a decent length in its own right, with it being fifteen minutes before the first of the shorts even begins. I thought Harvey was fantastic here, effortlessly stealing all the scenes he was in with his creepy performance. While the in-between bits were quite short, the wraparound gets a nice ten minute conclusion to it at the end of the film.

The stories contained here were not titled, which was a vague annoyance, but they were all thematically different from each other, even if they did follow similar paths. The first starred Isabella Moore Richardson as Jess, a young female detective who was in charge of investigating a twisted serial killer case. One night she finds herself chased by a man wearing a creepy clown mask (Michael Moore), she doesn't think much of it at the time, but while reviewing footage the killer had left for the police to find, while at her apartment, she is disturbed to see that same clown mask in the recording, and it isn't long before she realises the killer has discovered where she lives. At around twenty five minutes long, this one did unfortunately outstay its welcome somewhat. The whole second half of this had Jess slowly walking around her apartment suspecting she wasn't alone, and this section went on for far too long. I wish it had been edited down. The initial chase sequence at the start of the story strangely petered out, with Jess getting away off screen, with just a text to her boyfriend to explain how she did that. This felt a bit odd. So too did the ending, a decent finishing shot, but the apartment invasion just cuts away without a resolution being shown. Rather than gloss over this poor finish, the teens at the antiques store actually point out how underwhelming and abruptly the story finished, making me wonder why it was decided to end it the way it did, if even fictional characters are complaining about it. The found footage sections were the highlight of this first story, with blood effects looking great. Throughout all the shorts, the blood always did look effective on screen.

The second short (at thirty minutes long) was perhaps the worst, but it did start off well. The prologue is set in 1614, with a woman suspected of witchcraft being chased through woods. Before she is killed, she promises that her curse will live on. Fast forward to present day, and a woman living on a farm (Willow, played by Annmarie Hodson), has come into possession of the skull of this supposed witch. She is visited by Rick Loomis (Nathan Head - Harvest of the Dead: Halloween Night), a writer for a paranormal magazine who wishes to study this reportedly haunted skull. The twists and turns along the way were varied, with it bouncing backwards and forwards over whether the skull was actually a thing of evil, or if it is various characters themselves who are mentally unhinged and projecting their madness outwards. Again, this one seemed to drag at times, I did enjoy the art-house style sequence in the middle when it appears the skull is affecting Rick's mind, and I did enjoy the ending of this one.
The final short film was the most confusing to follow, but weirdly kept my interest for a lot of its run time. Dealing with Satanism and devil worship, I felt echoes of The Omen in certain scenes, especially towards the end. Here, Mike (Mark Porter) is tasked with clearing out his father's house after his passing. The man was never close to his dad, and during the cleaning is increasingly alarmed at all the Satanist paraphernalia that he discovers. Eventually, he finds a cassette tape, which has a sinister confession on it. Mike becomes determined to help his late father right his wrongs. While Mike is virtually the only character here, the actor keeps things together well. I loved some of the effects used, such as a photo of the dad that keeps altering, and one scene in which a chair is suddenly flung at Mike from off camera. I will admit to not quite understanding the overall story here.

While I did have complaints with each of the shorts, I still thought they linked together well. I loved the set design, and the amount of various Halloween and horror themed objects around the locations. It was also nice to have a decent wraparound story for a change, and I especially liked the score, with the same piece of music appearing in all the shorts, but never in a way that felt like the tune was outstaying its welcome. On occasion I even found myself humming along to it. With decent blood effects, and some twisted stories, this might not have set my world on fire, but it didn't feel especially bloated, even with a near two hour run time. Artifacts of Fear has been released on VOD including Amazon Prime via Bayview Entertainment.


Friday 17 November 2023

Ghosts of the Void (2023) - Horror Film Review

I was originally provided with a screener of the Jason Miller written and directed Ghosts of the Void a few months back, but upon going to watch it for review the screener link no longer worked. Rather than do the logical thing and request a new screener link, I moved onto the next film on my list instead, and soon this faded out my mind. Recently, I was again offered a screener of the film, and so I have finally gotten a chance to check out this movie. You've heard of 'home invasion' movies, well this cousin of that sub-genre of horror falls into what I have dubbed 'car invasion', is nice to see The Strangers types are also accommodating to people living out of their cars!

Married couple, Jen (Tedra Millan) and Tyler (Michael Reagan - Lovecraft Country TV series) have fallen on hard times, with things getting so bad that they have recently become homeless altogether. Rather than use the last of their money on a motel room for the night, the couple have decided to drive to a remote car park near a country club, and spend the night there sleeping in their car. They have deep seated psychological problems as a result of their hardship, both suffering depression, with Tyler being a secret alcoholic with an angry streak, while Jen is suffering severe anxiety, prone to frequent all consuming panic attacks. Hearing strange noises outside late at night, Jen becomes alarmed that someone might be there, intending to cause them harm. This appears to be the case when she discovers someone has put a clamp on their car, and soon she begins to see masked figures off in the trees. The night swiftly turns to terror, with the pair fighting for their lives against these mysterious silent assailants.

Doing my usual thing of not bothering to read the synopsis, I assumed from the title this would be a supernatural horror, and there are early signs this could possibly be the case, such as when Jen hears a twisted message tailored to her coming out of the car radio. With a side character of a homeless man (Samuel Taylor) also encountering the masked figures, it become clear that while Jen might have an unhealthy dose of audial hallucinations, likely a result of her severe sleep deprivation due to worrying about debt collectors, the physical threat is real for the pair. Scenes are sometimes shown from an unreliable perspective, with events not always being as they appeared to be, occasionally having the actual reality being shown to the viewer as short swiftly edited inserted sequences. I had feared that this would fall on the tired trope of the couple actually being in some sort of hellish purgatory, but things were not as simple as that overused idea. The general plot wasn't bad, but it felt like there were parts around the edges which were not as explained as well.

Roughly a fifth of the film takes place via flashbacks that have the couple still living in their apartment. These are often short scenes never more than a few minutes long, and show the couple in slightly happier times, but with the rising debt already threatening to drown them. These brightly lit moments are in sharp contrast to the present day sections that take place in extreme darkness, it's good that the antagonists have white masks on as otherwise it may have been impossible to see them in the dark woods. Talking of those masks, they were suitably demonic looking, with the silence from these people adding to the creepy feel. Their actions, at least with relation to Jen, are not as nasty as in other films, but they are still certainly nasty people who have an ode of foreboding to them.
I don't know what it is about horror films I am watching lately, but it seems in vogue to have protagonists who are not just flawed, but actually unlikeable completely. It felt a bit harsh to think that, as these characters are in a very bad place, but they are both shown to be quite irritating. Tyler is a self destructive writer who is unable to look past his flaws. There was one flashback scene where Jen is on the phone to her mother who questions why Tyler won't just get a job outside of writing, I did kind of agree with her. Jen should have been a more likeable character, but she became super annoying, falling into panic attacks at the slightest provocation, while she too seemed unwilling to try and get a proper job, instead being an amateur photographer that charges 'whatever people can afford' to her clients. Their plight was fitting for the cost of living crisis that is affecting people at the moment, horror films often work wonderfully at being a mirror to the issues of the time they were made in, but these characters did feel like they were their own worst enemies. I think if the flashback sequences had also included scenes set before they started to get into debt it might have helped things. As it was, it just gave the impression they were always a dysfunctional couple. In addition to the cost of living crisis comparisons, more than anything this is a critique of the notion of the 'American Dream', the movie even begins and ends with the iconic quote from comedian George Carlin popping up on screen; "It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it".

I didn't like the couple, but I did think the film was well made, it had a great melancholic score, and the editing in particular was a strong part of this. The synopsis for the story also worked for me, Jen not being able to sleep, but being severely sleep deprived was a relatable horror as that is something that afflicts me sometimes (such at the moment actually), while struggles with bills is something that most of us can identify with in these bleak times. Comparatively not much really happens, but there is a tense feeling of persistent threat that maintained my interest throughout this bleak horror. Ghosts of the Void became available to watch on Digital and on Demand from November 7th.


Thursday 16 November 2023

The Rotting Zombie's News Anthology for Thursday 16th November

This month I've been busy putting up my own posts on the oddly numbered days, rather than my usual mini-news posts. Usually, with my anthology news posts I do a trio of stories, but this week I will keep going until I've done an hours worth of news stories in this here post!...which turns out to be the usual three stories, due to sorting out my cluttered inbox for much of that time.
In 'me' news, I have been playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III's Zombies mode. While it is certainly not classic round based Zombies, it isn't bad as its own thing, feeling more like a combination of the DMZ extraction mode from Modern Warfare II and Zombies. I can already tell it is going to be more fun than the awful Call of Duty: Vanguard's sorry excuse for Zombies! (which I generously awarded a 3/10 in my review at the time.

Back in May I mentioned in my news round-up that a short horror film titled Biters & Bleeders was coming out. Fast forward to now, and the company responsible, independent women-led New 32, have launched an Indiegogo campaign in order to raise funds to make a feature length version of this story. Included below is the trailer for the short film, which is about a couple (Tad and Penelope) who move into a stately family home left to them in the will of Tad's mother, hoping it will solve their marital issues. Instead, an infestation of bed bugs there threatens to push Penelope's fragile mental health over the edge.
The Indiegogo campaign launched on Halloween, and with nine days left, there is still time to contribute, with the usual range of rewards should you do so. Currently, the film has raised around 20% of its £73,632 goal. For more details, check out the Indiegogo page here.

Paranormal UK: UFOs, Cryptids & Hauntings has been released by Bayview Entertainment on Digital Platforms including Amazon Prime. Directed by Warren Speed, this documentary focuses on UK based paranormal events, including among its topics, one of the most haunted houses in the world, and the most infamous alien encounter in documented UK history.

Finally for today, on October 5th, a new horror came to ALLBLK TV, the David M. Parks (Static Codes) directed Deadly Desire. Starring Mike Ferguson (Amityville Uprising, Static Codes), this takes place at the bachelorette party of Sophia, in which her friends start dying one by one, with it suspected that her obsessed best friend Melody, might be behind the killings.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Macabre Mountain (2023) - Horror Film Review

The headline story for my monthly news roundup for September was the indie horror film Macabre Mountain. Directed by Anthony David, and with writing credits from Jake Ryan Baker, Xander Goldman, and Gregory Lamberson, this was a film that started off really well. I didn't even mind the long build up to the main event of the movie, but when that did arrive, my excitement turned somewhat to frustration with how bloodless the majority of this was.

Decades in the past, a cult leader was killed by FBI agent Robert G. Browning (Goldman) at the site of a haunted house attraction named Macabre Mountain, due to him and his followers kidnapping eleven young people and hunting them for sport. Now, a businessman has purchased the attraction with the intention to re-open it for one night only. This has brought a variety of people to the small mountain side town near where the attraction is based, including horror podcasters Monica (Kamarra Cole - Wolf Hollow) and Shelby (Ashley Rae), as well as Scream Queen, Lisa (Felissa Rose - Craving, Sleepaway Camp). Unknown to the visitors however, is that the new owner intends to recreate the cult's murderous game of sport, having brought in some rich clients who have paid to be part of the deadly attraction. It is up to Browning, now washed out and aimless (but strangely not looking to have aged a day since the cult leader killing), to once again put a stop to the hunt.

After a neat prologue that cleverly pulls an effective bait and switch, while also showing Browning stopping the cult leader, the film steps back a bit, with a long lead up to the meat of the movie, that begins in earnest with half an hour of the eighty two minute left to go. There is a bodycount even during this lengthy middle section, but all the kills take place just off screen so there is nothing really to see. I didn't mind this decision, as I was sure when the horror truly begins there would be plenty more bloody deaths to match a neat throat slice kill in the prologue. The characters that are introduced get a fair bit of screen time, though they aren't exactly full of development, other than Browning, who still holds himself responsible for the death of a girl he could have prevented if he hadn't hesitated in killing the cult leader all those years back. I thought it was a fun idea to have some of the cult members from that prologue still hanging around in town, their identities never having been revealed. These include a mountain of a man, played by Robert Allen Mukes (Bone Tomahawk, House of 1000 Corpses), who I couldn't help thinking would be the perfect casting choice for the role of Karl Heisenberg, should they ever make a film adaptation of horror video game Resident Evil: Village, as he looked the spitting image of that character here.

When the hunting contest began I was ready for a literal bloody good time, that idea is always fun in horror films, such as with Rob Zombie's 31. However, this whole essential part of the movie felt very rushed. Within around ten minutes the rich hunters have completely fallen apart into a mess of in-fighting and incompetence, and the kill scenes remained frustratingly tame, with every victim outside of gunshot kills either getting killed ever so slightly off camera or with zero blood effects. The awesome looking throat slitting from the start of the film gave a false impression of the effects to come, I assume that being an indie film it was felt it was cheaper to infer the kills rather than actually show them on screen. Also, the cool corn field from earlier in the film is exchanged with what appears to be a scrap yard, and some open fields. 
The story is fun in a dumb don't think about it too hard fashion, but it is full of holes, not restricted to the antagonists ill conceived hunting contest that would incriminate them immediately due to how poorly it is planned, as well as one of the victims being hunted suddenly appearing back in town, despite it having been established that they are around five miles away a few scenes previously. There is also the weird editing in of scenes of people getting killed by masked hunters at random points, with it not established just when those random kill scenes actually took place. I think all those moments were relatively present day, rather than back during the cult killings, but it is never made clear. It leads up to a surprise twist which has been done to death before. On the plus size, it is worth sticking around for the end credits as they feature not only a mid-credits scene, but an entertaining after credits scene which breaks the fourth wall to wonderful effect.

I did enjoy Macabre Mountain, but a lot of that was due to anticipation for what was to come. I have zero issue with the long lead up to the horror properly starting, or the brain dead storyline and wafer thin characters. As is probably obvious, my issues come from how bloodless this turned out to be. If even a few of the many non-gun related death scenes had taken place on screen rather than off, then this would have fared much better. As it was though, I was left wanting more than what was given, and couldn't help feeling disappointed.


Tuesday 14 November 2023

Silent Hill: Ascension (2023) - Horror Video Game/ Show - First Impressions

I would class the survival horror video game series Silent Hill as one of my all time favourites, I would even go as far as to say I am a pretty hardcore fan of the games. Ever since owning a phone I have had artwork from Silent Hill 4: The Room as my background image, I was one of the few who thought Silent Hill: Downpour was a good entry in the series, I have most of the graphic novels, and I even managed to have a go on the hard to find Silent Hill arcade machine once. I was quite happy when earlier this year they announced a bunch of new titles, the first to appear since Downpour back in 2012. Among these was a remake the most beloved entry, Silent Hill 2 by the team behind the good looking but dull The Medium, a mysterious title called Silent Hill: Townfall, and Silent Hill f, which appears to be set in 1960's Japan. In addition, a new film was announced, Return to Silent Hill, and the weird Silent Hill: Ascension.

Silent Hill: Ascension is described as a 'digital interactive streaming series', and was (thankfully) the one I was least looking forward to. nearly two weeks ago it went live, with each day three short scenes playing out at the same time each day. Watching live, viewers are able to make key decisions that shape how the story proceeds. In the UK, that time is 02:00, so it is going to be a rare day when I am up and about then. There was actually one day when the stars aligned and I happened to be awake, however the app is so confusing to navigate that I couldn't actually work out how to join the live video and ended up missing out due to the narrow window with which you can apparently join. Thankfully, each day you can 'catch up', playing the latest three episodes. Due to this going on for around four months straight, I wasn't going to wait until then to write about it, though, as I intend to watch every episode, a review will pop up then. So, having watched a week and a half (at the time of typing), is it any good?
The short answer is 'no'. In fact, it is kind of awful, featuring bland lifeless characters, and a drawn out story that is light on entertainment. Even more damning is its reliance on microtransactions for those wishing to make a genuine contribution to altering the path of the story.

It starts off terribly, with a video that serves as an advert, trying to get people to buy the ridiculously expensive battle pass, that comes in at a cool £20. As it isn't a game, all this gets you is some stickers to put in the chat window, and a bunch of XP. On the subject of the chat window, this was meant to be a place fans could discuss the story, but soon predictably became a cesspit of dick jokes. Currently you are only able to use stickers in this chat window, and I assume that is how it will stay. On the plus side, Ascension is a free download, with myself watching it via a app on the Apple store on my phone. The U.I is bad, frequently the touch controls to navigate the app don't work on first try, and sometimes when you've levelled up enough to get a reward (typically a cosmetic for your avatar you can make), you click onto the reward screen and its showing blank. Talking of avatars, you can apparently buy tickets to get a chance to feature your avatar and name as a character in the show, something which is distracting as most people's names are goofy, so stick out when they show up in such a dark show (my username on there is of course RottingZombie).

The star of Ascension is the show itself, aside from the first night which had around a twenty five minute run time, each of the three scenes each night clocks in anywhere between one to four minutes, making it something easy to stay on top of each day. The story takes place in two different unrelated locations, both of which are having the hellscape of Silent Hill bleeding in to them.Somewhere in remote Finland (I believe), Karl becomes the main suspect when his miserable bedridden wife dies mysteriously, no one believing him with his wild tales of having seen a monstrous figure in the room with her before she passed. Karl has a troubled relationship with his daughter, Astrid, someone who soon too keeps finding herself pulled into a twisted version of reality, which in turn affects her own relationship with her young son, Orson.
Elsewhere, on the other side of the world, a member of a cult called 'The Foundation' begins to see monsters emerging into the world. While her cult worship these beings, it is alarming to them all that they are appearing in the real world. After her friend, a new initiate, is killed during a ritual, the initiate's brother becomes determined to find out the truth.
Due to the bitesize nature, I don't really mind what is going on too much. It is all computer generated, and mostly it is fine, if nothing exciting. Where it does shine is its monsters, these have yet to appear anything other than great looking. The voice acting and script is drab and dreary, I think it may even be A.I generated, certainly sounds that way. The story hasn't gripped me in the slightest, but I will stick around for it all. XP gained by watching episodes and playing dull minigames can be used to contribute towards decisions that will affect the path of the story, with the creators saying even them themselves don't know where things will go. Being a 'free' user, I could never use enough XP to influence things, but I still do that part just for something to do.

As it currently stands, Silent Hill: Ascension is not a great experience, personally, not having put any money into this (nor intending to), its fine, but alarm bells are ringing already at this early stage due to how lifeless it all feels. I will leave with the most popular meme from the app to sum up my thoughts on how this is at the moment..."It's Trauma!".

Monday 13 November 2023

I Slay on Christmas (2023) - Horror Anthology Film Review

At the start of this year I reviewed Phil Herman's anthology film, Doomsday Stories, which as the theme might suggest, had the central theme of the post apocalypse. Now he is back with a new anthology film, I Slay on Christmas, which unsurprisingly uses the theme of Christmas to base its stories on. Much like the anthology I saw earlier this year, the budget here appears to be extremely low, but low budget thankfully doesn't equate with badness, at least for some of these short films included within the package. I had originally intended to review this last week, but being an idiot, I looked at the wrong week of my schedule when picking the films to watch!

Contained within the hour and twenty two minute film are four short films, as well as (bizarrely) two wraparound segments. The first layer is made up of 'Wraparounds' which is made up of a few disjointed segments. There is some effort to link this in with the ongoing zombie story that has been ongoing since 1992's Hell on Earth II: The Arena of Death, with the opening having a man watching a news report about a viral outbreak, as he himself slowly begins to transform into one of the undead himself. This zombie storyline comes back at the end of the film, but it doesn't seem related to anything else that happens here, so felt a bit out of place. Still, it had a good monologue sequence from Jaysen P. Buterin, appearing to be reprising his role from Doomsday Stories.
The actual proper wraparound segment was the titular I Slay on Christmas. This starred Herman as a man who finds himself wandering a snowy forest, with no real memory of how he got there. He encounters a spectral figure who gives him four pine cones, telling the man that each pine cone will reveal to him a nightmare from Christmases past. This worked fine as a uniting segment, and ends on a slightly clumsy, but functional ending.

The first short proper was 'All Chopped Up And Nowhere to Go'. This had a very mean man, Drudge (Joel D. Wynkoop - Doomsday Stories), someone who is physically and mentally abusive to his deaf son, and who hates Christmas so much that he flies into a rage even hearing the word said out loud. After his long suffering wife heads to her sisters with the child after one of his assaults, his wife's friend, Maddie (Vera Marlowe) visits looking for his wife. With the misogynistic brute looking for a good time, he tricks the woman into a dangerous situation, which results in Drudge's evil side completely coming to the forefront. The best part about this one was the title itself. While Wynkoop put in a spirited performance, the story didn't reach a satisfying conclusion, just seeming to end without the story being wrapped up neatly. This anthology has a lot of women hating characters in it, but they are always shown to be horrible people, and often, the female characters end up coming out on top, though not so much here. This first short, along with the second wraparound segment both featured nudity, something that doesn't appeal to me, but it was vaguely appropriate for the unpleasant story being told. 
Next up was 'The Best Company', directed by Marcelo Fabani (Doomsday Stories) which started off as a news report about the victims of a disturbing serial killer, before we are introduced to the killer, Luis (Walter Alonso). When he invites his new girlfriend to his apartment, it looks like she is due to be his next victim, but things don't exactly go according to plan. Sure, the twist here was obvious, but it was also a fun one, and the first sign of women not being here purely for exploitative reasons.

The third film was 'Re Gifting', written by and starring Debbie D (Doomsday Stories). This had a woman, Suzette (Debbie D) meeting up with her new boyfriend, having brought him a gift for Christmas, but his restrained behaviour comes to a head when he decides to give in to his violent desires. This was another one that didn't seem to end very well, the plot felt like it ended before there had again been any kind of proper resolution. The acting in this one was also some of the worst to be found in the whole anthology.
Thankfully, the saving grace of this film was the wonderful Derek Braasch directed 'Christmas Revenge'. It is always good when a great film turns up in an otherwise unspectacular anthology, and this one was the golden part. Taking on a more fantastical feel, a violently angry man, Curtis (Justin Bower) has managed to kidnap the real Santa Claus (P.J Laird) He mistakenly believes that as a child he caught his mum kissing Santa, and that this was what resulted in his father leaving him and his mum. Rather than a case of mistaken identity, the man kidnapped is the real deal, and with his supernatural powers given him a photographic memory, he is able to tell the troubled man what he really saw as a child. There are scenes of torture here, with some of the more gruesome effects to be found, but thankfully Santa does have a contingency plan in place for situations such as this. What I loved about this, outside of the fun flashback sequences that show events from an unreliable perspective, was the curveball of an ending, something that was so unexpected that it put a smile on my face when I saw it play out.

As a Christmas themed horror, there wasn't too much Christmas stuff going on. This is explained away from a news report at the start saying about a unseasonably warm winter, though I suspect it was actually down to the film not being filmed in the colder seasons. I think it was 'Re Gifting' that featured a classic Christmas tune made to sound more sinister, if it was, that was something that segment did do well. The quality throughout is low, and the acting sometimes not the best, but it was enjoyable, especially with the wonderful 'Christmas Revenge'. The final ten minutes did feel like they dragged a bit, with the actual film done with, but the zombie storyline from previous films tacked on. Overall though, this very low budget anthology was worth sitting through, with neat ideas dotted throughout. I Slay on Christmas was released on November 10th.


Friday 10 November 2023

Screwdriver (2023) - Thriller Film Review

Written and directed by Cairo Smith in his feature length directorial debut, Screwdriver is a paranoid psychological thriller that felt it was both an analogy as well as something that told a story in its own right. It was one of those movies where I sat there thinking that it was likely to cause me some headaches trying to write a review.

After the sudden implosion of her long term marriage, Emily (AnnaClare Hicks) seeks refuge with an old school friend, Robert (Charlie Farrell - American Horror Story TV show). He invites her to spend a few nights at him and his wife's (Melissa, played by Milly Sanders - The Daughters of Virtue) home. Both highly intelligent and driven people, the couple have their odd quirks, such as Melissa being very highly strung, but seem happy to have Emily stay. As the days pass, Emily begins to strangely act more and more passive and suggestable, while the couple both begin to increasingly gaslight and bully her, hidden beneath a veneer of love.

Outside of one small scene, the entire movie features just the three characters, with almost the entire film taking place within the confines of the rich couples perfect home. It was really hard to get a read on Robert and Melissa, their behaviours alter over the course of the film, and there seemed to be some sort of hidden friction between the two that is never explained. What is more clear is that they don't appear to have Emily's best interests at heart at all. It isn't even something as simple as Melissa being jealous of the closeness Robert shares with his former apparent best friend, as she feigns a lot of love for the girl also. Melissa seems committed to breaking down the girl's self confidence by her hot and cold behaviour, while Robert seems more involved with wanting to destroy Emily's strong religious beliefs. By the film's conclusion it is obvious what their plan for the girl was, without it being explicitly spelt out.
Normally in films like this, the protagonist will reach a breaking point when they realise something untoward is happening, but that doesn't happen here. As the viewer I was concerned with this character, especially with her behaviour changing so drastically by the second act, with it seeming she is secretly being drugged by the pair. I loved Hicks here, she has to change her character a lot over the course of the movie, and does so in a way that made you still care about her even when she is spiralling into almost madness. 

The tipping point of the film came during a therapy session that Emily has with Robert. He performs this thought experiment that made for the most unsettling part to be found (especially with how it feeds into later events of the film), with his cruelty coming to the forefront when he coldly states to the psychologically weakened girl that "God hates you."
I won't pretend to understand the analogy that the film was going for, but it seemed to be a statement perhaps about the treatment of women in modern society. Emily is a stand-in for women who are told to stay at home and not worry about anything out of the family unit, with the couple maybe representing society or government, reducing Emily to almost the state of a child. The abuse she suffers is never physical, but the way her defences are slowly ground down over the ninety minutes makes for a disturbing feeling, with heavy use of gaslighting and fake kindness and care. There were slight whiffs of Mother! to me, but this is far more story focussed than that mess of a movie.

I found the characters of Robert and Melissa to be a little too confusing to really understand. Elements such as the friction between the pair, and how they seemed to naturally fall into their abusive roles without having foreknowledge that Emily would be seeking Robert out in the first place went over my head a bit. It is slightly inferred that she isn't their first victim.
The film is full of long scenes of dialogue but this never felt like a slow burn, and while I can't pretend to have understood parts of this, the way it is paced out felt efficient, and the dialogue, which sounded a bit like characters were reading lines from an essay, even if what they were saying was interesting. With fantastic actors in the lead roles, and some great directing, this was quite the ride. Screwdriver becomes available across North America on Cable VOD and Digital HD today.