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.


Director: Levan Gabriadze (2014)
Starring: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson
Find it: IMDB

As I rapidly approach what will be my thirtieth birthday - hello grey hairs and groaning whenever I sit down or stand up - I find myself feeling increasingly out of touch with the 'kids' and their antics in the movies I watch. Case in point, Unfriended, which is best described as a series of conversations between dickheads on Skype, Facebook and iMessage. Watching this felt like that one time I accidentally stumbled upon a sibling's MSN chat history, or my morning commute to work, where I often find myself surrounded by vapid imbeciles and their social media.

It won't appear on (m)any 'best of' lists come the end of the year, but if it's superlatives you're looking for, Unfriended might just be the most annoying horror film of 2015. Its squad of chums are the ones getting terrorised, but I was left feeling like the ultimate victim - trapped in a Skype conversation that just won't shut down with arseholes who just won't shut up.

Most of my least favourite sounds in the world are social media related - the Skype ringtone - Facebook notifications - anything that tells me I have a 'new message' - (make of that what you will, and stop talking to me) so Unfriended was always going to set me on edge. The rest tipped me over it, from the pre-horror banter to the hysterical screaming and wailing which comes during (although I did cheer during at least two murders). 'Why don't they put down the camera?' is a question I've always asked of found footage. Here I find myself begging that they hang up Skype and turn the fucking thing off.  Kids and their technology, I guess.

This all being ghost vengeance for a cyberbullying crime which ended in a girl killing herself. It's a very real issue and, frankly, the movie does a great job of selling just how awful cyberbullies are. In that respect, Unfriended is a resounding success. It commits to its concept and it commits hard; unlike the (far superior) The Den and (wacky but still better) Open Windows, there's no cheating - the entire thing takes place in real time, on one person's desktop. I don't like it (Facebook reference) but there's a surprising amount of respect there, for a movie I hated every single moment of. 


Director: Jen and Sylvia Soska (2015)
Starring: Dean Cain, The Big Show
Find it: IMDB

Heresy! As a fan of horror movies and the talent therein, it shames me somewhat to admit the fact that I am not a fan of the Sisters Soska. No member of the Twisted Sisters Army am I. That's not for want of trying - I've given everything they've done thus far a fair chance, but something about all of it has rubbed me up the wrong way, whether it's their overrated American Mary or unbelievably dull See No Evil 2.

I had no high hopes for Vendetta, then - the latest WWE feature helmed by the Soskas. When the best thing your studio has ever put out is the misogynistic Battle Royale rip-off The Condemned, audiences will tend to worry. Nevertheless, I like prison movies and I like the idea of the Soska sisters, so I decided to give this one a chance. Here, Dean Cain (yes, that one) plays a tough detective, pushed to breaking point when enormous criminal Victor Abbott (The Big Show) murders his wife. Launching into a vengeance fueled (but still illegal) killing spree, Detective Superman is arrested and locked up... in the same prison as Abbott, no less.

It's similar to the Jean Claude Van Damme STD feature Hell in that budgets are low and the action is restrained. Detective Danvers gets on about as well in jail as one might expect an ex-policeman to, being on the receiving end of several brutal beat-downs and dust-ups during his stay at the penitentiary. The (Big) showdown with Abbott is put off until the end, mostly while the screenwriters try to think up a way how Dean Cain could ever plausibly take The Big Show in a fight. Everyone else is just practice, letting Cain add a slightly chubby version of The Punisher to his superhero playbook (less good than his Clark Kent).

Vendetta is a fine addition to WWE Studios' film lineup, being one of the better movies they've yet released. As per a production house who tends to specialise in films about hench men punching each other in the head (plus really shitty slasher movies) it's not the most gender progressive - the only female in it gets one scene before being shoved unceremoniously into the refrigerator - so Orange is the New Black this ain't. As good a job as they do, it's a curious use of the Soskas' talents, who should by now truly be the heavy hitters that the horror community have always made them out to be. Taken on its own merits, Vendetta is just fine. As a WWE picture, it's above average. As a Soska movie, it's the one I've enjoyed the most. And that really shouldn't be the case.

White God

DirectorKornel Mundruczo (2015)
StarringZsofia Psotta, Body, Sandor Zsoter
Find itIMDB

True story: when I was roughly oh-say-eleven-or-so, holidaying at my grandmother's house in Dublin, one of the stupider things I had done thus far with my life was to bark at a neighbour's dog. I say neighbour's dog - it was an unaccompanied little fucker randomly wandering the streets. Like myself, I guess, parent or guardian-less as I was at the time. It was here and there that I took the decision to bark at said random dog - a good, solid (fairly aggressive) woof that could never have been anything less than a dumbfuck stupid idea. Needless to say, that dog took great umbrage, and proceeded to chase Baby Porkhead down the street, slathering (I assume) to rip the wee shite (I assume) to shreds. I would have deserved it. Thankfully I escaped by the skin of my teeth, leaping over granny's fence and landing flat on my face the other side, skinning my knee and bruising my face. What can I say - I would have deserved slathering death and I have, ever since, nurtured a grudging respect (and slight fear) of dogs.

It's this fairly universal fear that informs White God; the thought that these usually benign, cuddly creatures who live among us could turn on us at any moment - terrifyingly effective killing machines with a face full of knives and a dislike of being barked at. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs (I bawled like a baby at Jurassic Bark and certain Santa's Little Helper episodes of The Simpsons) but I'd be lying if I said I'd never wondered how I might kill a dog with my bare hands to save my life if I had to. Hey, you've seen Cujo.

The murderous dog movie and the Marley & Me weep-athon subgenres meet in White God, a film which is in equal measures terrifying and heartbreaking. We watch as young Lili (Psotta) and her trusty dog Hagen (Body) move in with her estranged father (Zsoter) - a situation no-one is particularly happy with. During one blazing row, dad chucks Hagen out in the street (not a local street either), traumatically separating the poor girl from her beloved pet. It gets worse from here as cuddly, friendly and loveable Hagen falls into the hands of various nefarious bastards, with the ultimate eye on turning the mutt into a drooling death machine. This they succeed in, but Hagen has no interest in dogfights, and it's not long before the hound is raising an army to wreak vengeance upon the city which has used and abused them so. This, by the way, is much less stupid than it sounds, using an entirely real cast of actual dogs. It's like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, except very real and mostly plausible.

Illustrated with Simpsons screencaps because less heartbreaking.

The film would make a great double bill with the equally powerful White Dogbeing just as politically and racially charged (it's all allegory, but that title) - and even more emotionally raw. White God is not easy viewing, then. Seeing the world tear Lili and Hagen apart is plenty hearbreaking even before we factor in seeing the cuddly canine beaten and abused while his doggy friends are shot at and murdered.

White God is expertly written, paced and cast. If it's a little on the long side, that's because it needs the space to breathe. And what (dog)breaths; it might just be the best film of the year. That's if you can bear to watch it all the way through. What? No, I just have something in my eye. A dog hair, maybe.


Director: Patrick Brice (2014)
Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Find it: IMDB

Weird Asshole: The Movie. In Creep, a freelance cameraman is hired out via a Craigslist advertisement to document a day in the life of a terminally ill man. That said terminally ill man turns out to be an unhinged psychopath (and not terminally ill at all) should come as no surprise to anyone in this post-Catfish age: he did meet him on Craigslist, after all.

Being a movie about some guys who decide to stalk a little girl they met online.
But it's fine because two creepy wrongs make a totally not at all creepy right (plus TV show).

Not the Creep about the London underground, then, and nothing to do with Radiohead. Patrick Brice's found footage horror film is an effective, intelligent and, yeah, creepy depiction of male stalking and obsession. We can tell that there's something not quite right with Josef (Duplass) from the off, not the least his insistence that the first bit filmed for his little documentary (intended to be shown to his son after his death, like that Michael Keaton movie) is him whipping his undies off and crying in the bathtub. It's not long before Aaron (Brice) and ourselves come to the conclusion that Josef is, frankly, a bit of a creep.

To say much more would be to spoil the various twists and turns the film has up its sleeve. While it does nothing at all to alleviate the age old question we always end up asking during these movies, it's more tolerable than most, employing its jump scares in a manner that feel organic and in service to the story. Duplass is tremendous as Josef - although we never really feel threatened by him like we should, we can't quite tell what the character might be capable of either. That lends the story a great sense of unpredictability and one particularly excellent bit of bait-and-switch. It's darkly funny too, which is always preferable to the dour misery of Paranormal Activity or relentless trauma headaches of its screaming imitators.

In spite of its subgenre trappings and the over-saturation of the market with films like it, I had a blast with Creep. If I may be predictable for a moment - it's special. So fucking special.

Terminator Genisys

Director: Alan Taylor (2015)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney
Find it: IMDB

Thanks to JJ Abrams and his 2009 Star Trek effort (which I thought was okay at the time, but really isn't), the reboot-quel is a thing. This, when it's at home, being an instalment in a franchise which rewrites previous entries but acknowledges that no, it did all happen - it just doesn't really matter anymore. At best, that gets us Mad Max: Fury Road (which, granted, barely counts). At worst, Terminator Genisys. And yeah, the lack of a colon in that title is bugging me too.

Disregarding the events of previous sequels, the story here sees John Connor (Jason Clarke) send best friend and secret dad Kyle Reese (Jai fucking Courtney) back to 1984 to save mother dearest Sarah Connor (the film's other, even worse Clarke) from the plot of Terminator. Only when he gets there, things are not as we remember them. Sarah is not only already savvy to the existence of Terminators, but has her own in tow - the aged 'pops', played by a returning Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just one or two Terminators isn't enough though, and it's not long before Sarah, Kyle and Pops are battling swathes of machines, new and old (including a digitally de-aged Arnie and a tacked-on T-1000). This being my own personal dystopia of movie blockbusters, that involves heaps of CGI, stupidly bloodless violence and big, loud action sequences so busy that it's impossible to tell what's going on most of the time. Not since Transformers 2 have I been so actively bored by a film with so many action sequences. And this is a franchise I actually like, most of the time.

Jai fucking Courtney is Kyle Reese: 
Truly, we are living in the darkest timeline.

There's a bit of amusement to be had in the earlier sections, which replay moments from the original Terminator with a nudge and a wink (the fight between old Arnie and de-aged young Arnie being a highlight) but that falls apart the moment the characters start speaking. Courtney and Clarke have no chemistry whatsoever, completely failing to sell the love story element. While we expect Courtney to be wooden, there's no excuse for Clarke (Emilia, not Jason), who fails to convince on every level of being Sarah Connor. She's not helped much by a script which turns Sarah Connor into a woman who uses the word 'like' as a form of punctuation. Like, not cool.

This generation's Michael B- No, I can't. Not even in jest.

By the time the film skips to 2017, fucking about with a Smartphone app, Matt Smith (simultaneously wasted and awful in a glorified cameo), and a time-travelling John Connor (not a spoiler), I had pretty much given up on Genisys. As Kyle and Sarah are arrested for the second time in one film, I was screaming at the movie to end already (it's three times for Kyle, who is arrested almost as soon as he gets to 1984). Only J.K Simmons and a wry Arnie manage to enliven matters, the latter even tugging a couple of heartstrings in spite of the contrivance of it all. It ends baiting a sequel (of course it does) but here's hoping that particular future can be averted. Now, where's that time machine at?

Terminator Genisys may be lacking a colon, but that doesn't stop it from being full of shit.

Knock Knock

Director: Eli Roth (2015)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas
Find it: IMDB

Knock knock. Who's there? Why, an Eli Roth film that doesn't massively annoy or largely disappoint, hopefully. No such luck with this one, which mostly manages to sidestep the latter (my expectations for Roth being fairly low at this point) but delivers on the former in spades. It's a Keanu Reeves horror film though! And for that, it deserves a look-in, at least.

Reeves plays loving dad and devoted husband Evan Webber, an American one-percenter with a house almost as beautiful as his wife and kids. Staying at home to work while said family take off to the beach for the weekend, Evan settles in for the night with only his old rock music, weed (it is an Eli Roth joint after all) and dog for company. And then there's a knock at the door...

It's here where Knock Knock is at its most fun - the bashful, confused but tempted family man battling against the attentions of two nubile damsels, both of whom seem uttery determined to do the dirty with the dim dad. It plays like a hilarious game of cat and mouse; a sexy farce in which Keanu keeps leaping out of seats, changing the subject and desperately trying to keep his cock in his undies while two very young, very beautiful young ladies offer him 'free pizza' on a silver platter. Keanu's words, not mine. Talking of Keanu's words: how much did Uber pay Eli Roth to get him to have Evan declare the taxi service 'the only reliable way to travel'?

Where it all dives into familiar tedium is after the deed is done, when Roth's horror inclinations are allowed to come out to play. What follows is like a cross between Hard Candy*, Fatal Attraction, Funny Games* and Sheri Moon Zombie's performance in House of 1000 Corpses*, intensified double via Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas. Trashing the house, drawing gigantic hairy boners on his wife's fancy artwork (alright, that did make me laugh) and acting like shrieking snot children, the duo give two of the most annoying performances I've seen in a horror film in years. Which would sort of be the point, I guess, so well done.

Which is more than we can say for Keanu, who is surprisingly bad at times. Fair play to the man for following up the wonderful John Wick with a film in which he plays a victimised idiot who spends almost the entirety of the second half tied to a chair, helpless and ridiculed. This he does gamely enough, but there's nothing about his performance which couldn't have been replicated by any number of less famous, lesser-paid actors. His presence is a gimmick - a gimmick which works well, but a gimmick nonetheless.

Knock Knock.
Who's there?
Keanu who?
Keanooooooo, not my ears!

Shorn of the expectation that comes with his enormously delayed Green Inferno*, this understated home invasion piece is short and sharp enough that it's hard to get into a tizz. Besides, it is pretty effective in its constant ratcheting of the tension, and admirably inventive in torturing poor Keanu. Like everything Roth has done so far, it has a tendency to go overboard, but it's worth a look at least. Even better, it finishes on one of the best laughs I've had from a horror film in years.

Knock Knock isn't a terrible film by any stretch, but it is Uber annoying.

*Which I also found to be tremendously irritating.

Pound of Flesh

Director: Eddie Barbarash (2015)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Darren Shahlavi
Find it: IMDB

You don't know it until you stop and think about it, but of all the old guard action heroes, the one doing best for himself - critically, at least - is the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Sly Stallone may have his Expendables franchise and Schwarzenegger his Terminator sequel (not to mention the promising Maggie and fun misfire The Last Stand) but none have been so quietly doing such good work as Van Damme, building up a fine collection of offbeat genre pieces and deftly cast little roles. JCVD, for instance, or the brutal In Hell. That's not even counting his film-stealing turn in The Expendables 2 or his wonderful beer adverts. Jean-Claude Van Damme may be few people's favourite action man, but there's no denying that he's one of the more versatile. Well, he tries to be, anyway.

His Straight to DVD latest is Pound of Flesh, a film best described as Taken, but with a kidney instead of Liam Neeson's daughter. Or The Merchant of Venice with... no, I can't even finish that sentence, not even in jest. Giving us a glimpse into what would have happened if Urban Legend had starred an aged action hero instead of a gaggle of dim college students, Pound of Flesh opens with poor Deacon (JCVD) naked and confused in an icy bathtub, missing a kidney. Complicating matters is the fact that Deacon's kidney was already promised to a dying relative, giving the miserable muscleman little choice but to hunt down his organ and the bastards who stole it... before it's too late.

The story is backed up by some decent action, including plenty of people being kicked in the face by Van Damme. The highlight being a bit of literal Bible bashing as Deacon doles out some serious Van Dammage to a gang of goons in a nightclub, using a Holy Bible as his weapon. The acting is surprisingly good too, with JCVD making good use of the glum actorly chops he displayed in JCVD and In Hell. It's too serious for its own good at times (occasionally playing like a morose old Crank) and its low-end budget is evident, but it's far more watchable than most films of its ilk these days. Rather this than anything Steven Seagal has done since, um, Machete, or yet another listless Taken sequel.

Look, it's not Shakespeare, but Pound of Flesh.... no, I still can't. It's Taken, but with a kidney and Jean-Claude Van Damme braining people with a Bible. What more do you need?

Jurassic World

Director: Colin Trevorrow (2015)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Dinosaurs
Find it: IMDB

As a male human being of not-quite-thirty with reasonably good taste in movies (okay, that last point is debatable) there's a part of me which is predisposed to always adore Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park; the summer blockbuster of my era. Marvel's Avengers and Independence Days may come and go, but for me, Jurassic Park will always be the one. With that in mind, its sequels have a lot to live up to.

Lost World managed it, but that did have Jeff Goldblum, the clifftop trailer sequence and my youth on its side. Also, it is genuinely good (shut up, it is). Jurassic Park III, less so. Jurassic World? To say I have mixed feelings would be an understatement. In Jurassic World, John Hammond's vision is up and running - a living, breathing, working Jurassic Park with attractions, a petting zoo and a Pandora outlet. It's been years since the last dinosaur attack, and the world is now not only used to the (re)existence of dinosaurs but bored of them too. "Bigger, scarier... more teeth," is the abiding mandate from new boss Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Hence the creation of its newest attraction - the man-made Indominus Rex (iRex, geddit). Suffice to say that Ian Malcolm would have a field day with this one.

It's no secret that Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park is responsible for at least 60% of the way I dress - and have dressed since I was old enough to say things like "fuck you mom, I want leather trousers" - and his Ian Malcolm remains among my top five movie characters of all time. Chris Pratt as Jurassic World's leading man feels like a good fit, then, seeing as I bought a red leather jacket and grew a face full of stubble just so's I could pretend Star Lord from off've Marvel too. Alas, this film does the actor few favours, giving him little to do beyond audition for Indiana Jones by rolling under a door and act like a creep towards Bryce Dallas Howard. He shouldn't feel too badly though: Jurassic World does nobody any favours, being a movie full of people that it's impossible to like. It's as though the six (six!) credited writers looked at that bit in Jurassic Park where Grant was a dick to kids, Malcolm hit on Ellie Sattler all the time and Tim and Lex were a pain in the ass, and just decided to go for their own approximation of that. Hence the parent divorce subplot and tacked-on family schtick, which feels more like an attempt to be Spielbergian rather than having its own reason to exist.

The story isn't much better, pulling in several different directions all at the same time, insisting on plowing ahead with bad ideas like military dinosaurs, iRex and Raptors being friends with Chris Pratt. Although, since all the characters constantly comment on what a terrible idea everything is, it does seem as though the filmmakers are aware of this too. It's a film that expects us to be awed by its dinosaurs at the same time as telling us that people are now bored of dinosaurs - two very different ideas, one of which does not sit well next to John Williams's majestic score.

At least the dinosaur attacks are on point, being remarkably cruel at times, for a family-friendly film. Its strikingly nasty Pteranodon attack brought me the movie's only belly-laugh (but what a belly laugh it was) while the Raptor attack sequence makes up for their mishandling elsewhere. The return of Henry Wu is welcome, while Howard does a sterling job with what little she has. Accusations of sexism aren't entirely inaccurate, but it does redeem itself somewhat with a good subversive gag for Lauren Lapkus (of Orange is the New Black fame).

It all falls apart again for the final fight - which is honestly even stupider than that of The Lost World - but at least looks good while it's doing it. Jurassic World isn't a complete waste - were I twelve or thirteen again, I would have loved this film. But then, thirteen-year-old me wore leather trousers, so what do I know.

The Human Centipede III: Final Sequence

DirectorTom Six (2015)
StarringDieter Laser, Laurence Harvey, Eric Roberts
Find itIMDB

Fair play to director and series creator Tom Six, having made three Human Centipede movies now, each time in the sandbox of a different genre slash style. Where the first one was a relatively silly backwoods body horror film (played fairly straight), and the second a black-and-white arthouse torture thing (played far too straight) the third... well, I'm not entirely sure what The Human Centipede III is, but it's definitely its own thing, to be sure. What it definitely isn't, is played straight.

This second sequel exists in a universe in which The Human Centipede 1 & 2 are fictional movies, which the characters can and do watch as entertainment. "Haw haw haw," I said (paraphrasing) in my original review of The Human Centipede II, "the funniest idea in this is the thought that anyone could ever develop an obsession with Tom Six's terrible movies!" Well, that turned out to be a load of hot nonsense, given my subsequent discovery of Fetlife (not that I would know what that is) and people who most definitely are obsessed with Tom Six's terrible movies. Again, fair play to Tom Six, I guess.

While the previous two entries definitely had a sense of humour, Six's Final Sequence swings the balance almost all the way to comedy, no longer even remotely pretending to scare people and only playing the gross-out schtick at half-mast for the most part. As sadistic prison warden Bill Boss, shaven headed gurning Dieter Laser is so loud and broad that even Will Ferrell might cringe at his antics. At times, it feels like more of a Movie Movie style approximation of a Human Centipede than it does a Human Centipede in its own right. Sadly, like its acquired taste horror, its comedy strikes just as wide of the mark on most occasions. Unless, of course, rape is hilarious, in which case The Human Centipede III is very funny indeed.

In setting the film inside a prison and constructing its centipede from 500 (!) inmates, there is more satire and social commentary than one might expect, even if it is of the mostly incidental variety. Real-life imbeciles who celebrate prison rape as a form of 'justice' or a joke should be okay with Bill Boss's plan to revolutionise the system by housing his inmates within the boundaries of a shared digestive organ. Right-hand man Laurence R. Harvey isn't much better, balking at Bill's cruelty but himself coming up with the centipede idea (with credit to Tom Six, playing himself... badly). How much cruelty, the film asks, is too much cruelty when it comes to our nation's prisoners?

"Now, fetch me Tobias Beecher."

That's framed within an incessant cavalcade of violence, torture and grotesque bodily transgressions. There's nothing on the same level as the previous film's sandpaper wanking or newborn squishing car escape sequence, but there's enough to turn most stomachs during its more intense moments. Those moments, however, seem few and far between, with the rest of the film more concerned with Laser's mad ranting and raving. A puzzled Eric Roberts briefly brightens the mood in his bookend appearances, while there are a few familiar faces among the supporting cast (most notably the big dude from The Dark Knight who threw the bomb detonator off've the boat) to keep it from getting entirely bogged down in its own arsehole-gazing. There's no hiding how surprisingly dull the film is though, running on a lack of ideas and excess of ego.

With The Human Centipede III, we witness a man in the process of creating his own one-person centipede: that is, Tom Six disappearing almost entirely up his own arse. The Human Centipede III is a lot of things, but what it is mostly, is the one thing a Human Centipede movie should never be: boring.

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

Director: Kiah Roache-Turner (2014)
Starring: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill
Find it: IMDB

There's few make genre movies quite as interesting as those of the Aussies. Their weird filmmaking prowess is such that there's a whole documentary dedicated to the exploits of Ozploitation (the itself-rather-fantastic Not Quite Hollywood). The Aussies have been relatively quiet in recent years, but they're back on the map with the critically and fanboy acclaimed zombie effort Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead.

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm sick and tired of zombies; especially so in no-budget cinema. I'll make an occasional exception for The Walking Dead, but only during its more interesting half-seasons and finales (Alexandria, basically). Otherwise, I could quite happily see the subgenre die off for a while before its next inevitable resurrection or (good) [REC] sequel. Wrmwood, however, is one of the better ones. I haven't had this much fun with a zombie film since the equally crazy Dead Snow 2. 

A lot of that isn't even down to the zombies; that'll be thanks to its frantic Sam Raimi/Edgar Wright esque direction, gory ultraviolence and Mad Max approach to zombie killing. Even better, its human villain is an actual mad scientist, and we don't get nearly enough of those in modern horror cinema. With his his syringes full of green gunk (how very Herbert West), zany dance routines and laconic bastardry, he makes what could have been a series of dull torture scenes seem colourful and exciting. Fair play to poor Bianca Bradey, who has to give most of her own performance through her eyes alone - tied to a wall with a strap over her mouth for most of the running time, I'd forgotten what her voice sounds like by the film's halfway mark. She does a great job though, managing to convey strength and badassery in spite of the fact that she spends more time tied up in this film than most bondage models do during a day's work (full disclosure: most bondage films are only about ten minutes long).

Hers is a more interesting story than the actual road trip element of Road of the Dead, which is pretty slow and meandering at times. Her onscreen brother makes a good working class action hero, but lacks character beyond the death of his family and some pretty entertaining rage fits. It's a little long, a little slow and a little lacking in momentum, but Wyrmwood is one of the better zombie films of recent years. With a sequel on the way, let's hope that next time we get a story worthy of the actors and the world their characters inhabit. Because what we have here, ultimately, is a road which doesn't really go anywhere. Sub pun: it's not great, but you know what they say about roads and good intentions.

Black Eagle

Director: Erik Karson (1988)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sho Kosugi
Find it: IMDB

That one time the KGB and Jean-Claude Van Damme had the snot beaten out of them by a massive nerd. With its beautiful Maltese location, cold war plot and selection of sinister bad guys, Black Eagle is one of the more obvious James Bond rip-offs ever made. Sho Kosugi, however, is no Sean Connery. Instead, Ken Tani (Kosugi) is more of a Roger Moore type secret agent; that is to say, an enormous geek. Thankfully, he's just as competent in a fight as he is in, say, a library, or pretending to be a bumbling scientist in order to throw the KGB off his scent.

The Jaws-like henchman to Kosugi's Bond, Van Damme is the film's muscle, casually murdering a captured CIA agent (via Bruce Lee style neck snap) before stopping to impress the crew with his haf-naked doing of the splits while throwing knives at a small target. It's a smallish, early role from Van Damme, but an entertaining one nonetheless.

Appreciating that Black Eagle is more Bond thriller than your traditional punchy, kick-fu Jean-Claude Van Damme action film should help viewers appreciate it more. There's not any actual proper action until over the halfway mark, with Tani spending most of his time scuba diving (minus the gear, being so hard and all) or taking his achingly dull children to the beach. That makes it only a matter of time before the kids are kidnapped and it becomes... personal.

Black Eagle is a little slow, a little underwhelming and a lot badly acted - particularly by Kosugi and Van Damme - but it does look good, and is unusual enough that one won't resent spending time with it. At the very least, it's better than the worst James Bond movies.

John Wick

Director: Chad Stahelski (2014)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
Find it: IMDB

Essentially Sad Keanu: The Movie. In John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays a slasher movie villain to a ruthless gang of Eastern European mobsters. The catalyst? Silly Alfie Allen, stealing John Wick's car and murdering John Wick's dog. That sort of behaviour would already be enough to justify a bodycount of Taken proportions, but silly Alfie was daft enough to have done it mere weeks after the death of John Wick's wife. Oops.

Yet another addition to the increasingly popular grumpy-old-white-man-with-a-gun-and-a-grudge subgenre so monopolised by Liam Neeson of late, John Wick, on paper, shouldn't be anything special. Its story is entirely basic, its villains generic Russian bad guys. And yet directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch inject the proceedings with such a certain je nai se qua that it transcends its story (man shoots grimy assholes in the face, gets beat up, repeat) to become something really quite special. A lot of that is thanks to the casting of Reeves as John Wick, his deadpan, purposefully vacant style of acting a natural fit for a man who has lost everything except for his guns.

Cannily, instead of a refrigerated girlfriend, John Wick has John Wick avenging his dog.

There's a vibrancy and rhythm to the action sequences that make John Wick's vengeance trip unfold almost like a dance routine; particularly during the mid-movie nightclub scenes, where John Wick is blasting people in the face almost in sync to the music. It's violent, angry and perfectly vicious. Were this a Liam Neeson or (old) Steven Seagal movie, I'd be bemoaning the lack of realism to John Wick taking down swathes of men all (mostly) on his tod, but here it works, thanks to Keanu's laid-back performance and the film's treatment of his character. John Wick is a far cry from 'realistic', but it is refreshing to see an action film in which characters have to pause to reload all the time, while it does a good job of establishing John Wick's vulnerability yet also letting him consistently and believably kick ass.

John Wick and Keanu are supported by a sea of recogniseable and likeable faces, most notably Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane (playing the same character Ian McShane plays all the time now, but still good) and Lance Reddick. Adrianne Palicki, Michael Nyqvist and, yeah, Alfie Allen are nicely hateable as the villains - particularly Nyqvist, reluctantly and resignedly taking on John Wick thanks to his dipshit son's dipshit actions. Allen is fine here, in the same way as he's good on Game of Thrones - getting beaten up and tortured enough that his being Alfie Allen is sort of okay. The schadenfreude school of acting (see also: Danny Dyer) where we enjoy their performances only to see them get the piss beaten out of them at every opportunity. And as Alfie starts out the film murdering a fucking puppy, that piss-beating can't come soon enough.

I blubbered like fuck.

John Wick is one of the best action films of recent years, not surfing on irony or PG-13 bloodlessness, but instead letting its gunplay do all the talking. Perhaps that's for the best, because whenever anyone does speak, roughly 60% of what they say consists of the name 'John Wick'. John Wick, like this review, is the sort of film in which everyone says the lead character's name all the time. Apart from Ian McShane, who gets to call him 'Jonathan' (surely it should be Jon Wick, then). The non-shooty scenes get slightly tedious and I'd have preferred more character development for the dog (although I was crying after about fifteen minutes, so maybe that's for the best) but I'll have John Wick over Tak5n anytime, thank you very much. Let's just hope they don't go and ruin it with a sequel.


Director: Alexandre Aja (2013)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson
Find it: IMDB

When I was roughly, oh-say-eight-or-so, I had one of the more troubling nightmares of my life. Like, top five, easily. Even more troubling than that one bad dream I had where it was my birthday and no-one wrote on my Facebook wall. Or that other one, where I got back with the mad ex girlfriend I'd split up with and spent months hiding from. No, in this one (which I still remember vividly, to this day), I woke up in the middle of the night and sleepily padded through to my parents' room, where I found them both sitting bolt upright in bed. "Go away," they told me (I'm paraphrasing - this was twenty or so years ago), "we don't love you. Never did." Oh.

Such nightmares are what informs Horns, the latest from occasionally great French horror director Alexandre Aja, adapted from a novel by Joe Hill. Suspected of his girlfriend's murder, Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) spirals into misery and despair. Everyone thinks he did it, from his girlfriend's furious dad to his fellow townfolk through, apparently, to his own family. However, when he awakes one morning to find he's sprouted a pair of honest-to-God horns out of his forehead, he finds that he might just have a chance at finding out whodunnit. It's like Gone Girl, except with Harry Potter instead of Daredevil and David Bowie instead of Trent Reznor.

One side-effect of said horns is that those around him suddenly feel the urge to offer up their darkest secrets, whether it's the local bully admitting his closeted homosexuality (of course) or his parents telling him that they wish he'd go away and that he's the less favoured son. Traumatic, but potentially useful in uncovering secret murderers in one's midst. Iggy needn't look very far, since the mystery element is the weakest part of the story, the perpetrator of the piece being entirely obvious from the outset. Where Horns works best is in seeing Ig interact with the various denizens of his small town, reacting to the horrible things they tell him. Although I witnessed a woman screaming abuse at her daughter ("what a wonderful advertisement for contraception you are, Lily!") simply by riding around on a bus for half an hour without the aid of horns, so I guess it just depends what the transport links in your city are like.

Horns is another very interesting piece from Aja. Not as good as his Hills Have Eyes remake but better than Switchblade Romance (which I loathed) or Mirrors and more substantial than Piranha (which I love). It has a wonderful soundtrack and great sense of style and, goofy as it is at times (and it gets pretty damn goofy) it reaches some really dark places, not least in the relationship between Ig and his family. Radcliffe delivers a strong performance as the talented young man, although many will dismiss it as the actor's attempt to dismiss his Potter upbringing in a film in which he smokes, drinks heavily, murders and repeatedly takes his clothes off in a manner the boy wizard would never dream of. Just like that time he fucked a horse on a stage. To dismiss Horns as such is to ignore a very good performance, even if his American accent is highly distracting. Also, it only makes one "feeling horny" joke, which is to be lauded.