The Gallows

Director: Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff (2015)
Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
Find it: IMDB

Years after a kid dies in a school play related mishap, a drama class decides to take a second shot at the production as some misguided sort of tribute. As if that wasn't a stupid enough idea, the class asshole (classhole?) and his brainless friends decide to break into the school and trash the set. Several locked doors and an angry spirit later and we're in full-on shrieking death mode.

The Gallows is further evidence to my theory that the worst character in a found footage movie is always the guy holding the camera. That's especially true here, with the diabolical dipshit Ryan (Shoos) making up for what he lacks in face time with the worst voice and demeanor this side of a a hyperactive Nickelodeon cartoon character. His chums aren't much better either - particularly not perma-zonked Reese and the rubber-faced Pfeifer.

Not even these numpties can completely ruin the first half though, which at least provides a little mean-spirited amusement (Gallows humour) in throwing a football at a nerd and its effective opening sequence. This is easier to comprehend and deal with than the hoarse screaming bullshit of its predictable second half, which consists mostly of running around in the dark shouting either abuse or each others' names into the night - when it's not taking sneaky shots of Cassidy's sweaty boobs, that is.

For a film with such immediacy at its core, The Gallows is so very drawn out and tiresome. It takes an overplayed found footage cliche (character staring, snotty and terrified directly into camera during a rare moment of silence - then is suddenly dragged off into the darkness) and makes that the whole concept, washed out in ghastly green and red nightvision filters. It's an ugly film, both in its ideas and visuals, and, worst of all, hangs around far too long past its welcome.


Director: Steve Oram (2015)
Starring: Steve Oram, Holli Dempsey, Julian Rhind-Tutt
Find it: IMDB

Toyah Willcox, preparing a lovely dinner in the kitchen, pauses to take a shit on the floor. Dirty business done, turd disposed of into the bin, she resumes cooking. Minutes earlier, we watch as Smith (Oram) and best pal slash subordinate Keith (Tom Meeten) take a joint piss on a photograph of the former's ex wife. This done, Keith lovingly wipes Smith's bell-end dry with a piece of tissue. All the time, no dialogue - just a series of ape-like grunts and shrieks.

It's The Planet of the Apes in the most arthouse sense. Writer, director and actor Oram's Aaaaaaaah! (eight 'a's, counted aloud every time I type that title) depicts a world not unlike our own - save for the crucial difference that everyone in it talks and behaves like apes. Kitchen sink drama by way of David Attenborough, we watch fascinated/repulsed (delete as appropriate) as a narrative begins to form. Helen (Dempsey) is the heroine of the piece, trapped under the rule of Alpha Male Ryan (Rhind-Tutt). Enter Smith, whose gatecrashing of a party threatens to throw the whole family unit into disarray. The rest? You'll have to work that out for yourself, as half of the fun here is deciphering the story, relationships and the ways in which this world works.

Those familiar with British cult comedy should recognise most of the cast, from Sightseers' Oram (magnificent as ever, and curiously scary) to Green Wing's Julian Rhind-Tutt and The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barratt (plus Noel Fielding in a small but definitely memorable role). Oh, and Toyah Willcox too, who proves admirably game in the face of all this monkeying about. Its satire is offered without judgement, although the sad, weary expressions of the beleaguered womenfolk speaks volumes.

A divisive one, to be sure: a gonzo Shameless by way of Pink Flamingos, not everyone is going to be on board with 80 minutes of grown adults shitting, pissing and masturbating everywhere while screaming like monkeys in drippy Britain. Aaaaaaaah no, I certainly couldn't get enough. All that and the most poignant use of a battenberg cake in movie history, too.

Insidious: Chapter 3

Director: Leigh Whannell (2015)
Starring: Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney
Find it: IMDB

It's never a good sign, reviewing a sequel, when one has to Google one's own blog to check whether you've reviewed the previous films in that series or not (turns out I reviewed one of them - and wrote a Letterboxd thing for the other, back when I used Letterboxd). Even worse: the fact that I watched the entirety of Insidious: Chapter 3 without ever realising that it was a prequel to two movies I have already (allegedly) seen.

Which is the thing about Blumhouse movies (either that, or a thing about my shitty memory maybe). I know I've watched most of them, from Insidious to Sinister, from The Purge to any number of the sequels, but I couldn't tell you any of the specifics. It's some of the most forgettable horror franchising I've ever seen. Well, I think I've seen it, anyway.

Insidious: Chapter 3, then. I remember enjoying the first (although my review isn't as positive as I recall) and not enjoying the second (although my Letterboxd whine isn't as negative as I recall either) - but nothing else beyond Darth Maul, a spooky shadow dimension and evil Patrick Wilson at some point. Maybe Lin Shaye too, although I'd forgive myself for mistaking the Insidious series for The Conjuring, which I have definitely already seen and forgotten.

And yet, the fact that I have forgotten more or less everything about Insidious and its sequel turned out to be a good thing. Not knowing that the film I was watching was a prequel, I spent the whole film convinced that certain characters were going to die. Which left me genuinely surprised by certain survivals and developments throughout. Bravo my stupid memory/copy and paste Blumhouse filmmaking.

The plot, while I remember it: following the death of her mother, plucky teenager Quinn (Scott) seeks out the assistance of talented medium Elsie (Shaye), hoping to contact her in the afterlife. Alas, Elsie initially refuses, and Quinn winds up harassed and attacked by a vicious demon from the Nether Regions (not the proper term for it, but as good as any). Loud music and effective jump scares ensue as Quinn's clueless family try to deal with the problem. If only Elsie could hurry up, beat her own personal demons (both literal and not) and come save the day. No, really: hurry up. For all the jump scares and screaming, Insidious 3 is only interesting when Lin Shaye (and, to a lesser extent, her ghostbuster buddies) is around. Hers is a great role, giving the genre actress plenty to wrap her teeth around. I (just about) remember Patrick Wilson doing well enough when faced with the same situation in Insidious, but Shaye has him beat, like a spooky John McClane faced with Paul Blart Mall Cop: she's the real deal. Which makes me wonder, now I know this is a prequel, why they didn't just send Lin Shaye in to deal with Darth Maul.*

Being the only thing I am likely to remember about this film in a week or so.

This film of two halves - one dullish supernatural horror, one kick-ass Die Hard in the Nether Regions movie - is surprisingly smart and inventive at times**. It has a great star in Lin Shaye, and plenty of good villains in its various demons. While the story is nothing special***, it's pulled off with enough Blumhouse sheen and style that those who lap this sort of thing up should enjoy it well enough.

Who knows, I might even remember this one.

*Probably reasons I have forgotten, like I did everything else.
* *When Lin Shaye is around.
*** When Lin Shaye is not around.

The FrightFest Digest 2015

As anyone who is unlucky to follow me on social media will know (you're not missing much - self-promotion and live tweeting of really old Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes mostly), this year I attended London FrightFest on behalf of the wonderful Starburst Magazine. I saw a lot of films while I was there - twentysomething in total - and spoke to some pretty great people. The festival is a wonderful experience; a celebration of all things horror, new and old. Not for nothing is it described as 'The Dark Heart of Cinema.'

Highlights include the riotous Deathgasm, seasonal anthology movies A Christmas Horror Story and Tales of Halloween, creepfest Slumlord, the dark and brutal Bait, and the mesmerising Curtain. I saw some not-so-good movies too, but the great by far outweighs the rubbish. The same applies to these reviews, I hope.

A Christmas Horror Story - The most fun I've had with a Christmas movie while sweating my balls off in late August.

Awaiting (Starburst version) - Diana Vickers (yes, that one) is Tony Curran's daughter in this surprisingly bleak backwoods horror movie.

Awaiting (Horrortalk version) - Same synopsis, same score, different review.

Awaiting - Interview with Diana Vickers - She wore shoes throughout the whole interview. And was lovely.

Bait - Paddy from Emmerdale's fantastically dark Loan Shark Em' Up.

Bite -  Ew, on several levels.

Body (Horrortalk version) Oh shit, a dead body! Drunk girls try to tidy up a mess at Christmastime.

Body (Starburst version) - Take II.

Cherry Tree - Daffy as fuck, like The Witches crossed with Juno, plus body horror, burlap sacks and centipedes.

Curtain - The best horror movie about a shower curtain you will ever see,

Deathgasm - I laughed so hard I spilled my beer on my lap.

Demonic - Dull Blumhouse supernatural horror story crossed with equally dull police procedural. You know the type.

Hangman - Found footage, but good.

Howl (Horrortalk version) - The most fun werewolf horror since Dog Soldiers.

Howl (Starburst version) - Take II.

Inner Demon - A girl sits in a cupboard while the plot of a horror movie happens around her.

Landmine Goes Click - Technically proficient, terribly unpleasant sustained rape shit. I wish I had not watched that.

Night Fare - The Punisher meets Maniac Cop in a taxi.

The Nightmare - Don't have nightmares. Rodney Ascher would really, really like that.

Night of the Living Deb - Shaun of the Dead meets Bridesmaids.

Road Games - Too slow and melodramatic for me, although the final act livens things up.

Slumlord - Scummy take on One Hour Photo with a creep antagonist to rival The Human Centipede's Martin.

Some Kind of Hate - Smart and powerful: an angry It Follows.

Suspension -  Predictable Halloween rip-off with a twist which ruins everything.

Tales of Halloween - Finds the anthology movie in rude health. Neil Marshall's killer pumpkin tale is a highlight.

Tales of Halloween - Interview with Axelle Carolyn & Neil Marshall

Turbo Kid - Adorable, hilarious, and so very bloody. Michael Ironside is having a ball, and so did I.

We Are Still Here - Gentle yet effective horror with surprisingly shocking violence, beautiful retro violence and Barbara Crampton.

And so it ends. Until next year, anyway. Thanks to Starburst Magazine and for having me, and hosting my opinions (even the stupid ones). And thank you to Film4 FrightFest for yet another bumper year of treats and goodies. 2016 can't come fast enough.