Cheap Thrills

Director: EL Katz (2013)
Starring: Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, Ethan Embry
Find it: IMDB

Essentially, the movie adaptation of that stupid game you and your dipshit buddies used to play where you'd stand around asking each other questions like "how much would somebody have to pay you to chop off a finger?" and other such deep, existential dilemmas. This film is what happens when you throw Champ Kind from off've Anchorman and a serious amount of money into the mix.

In Cheap Thrills, down-on-his-luck dad Craig (Healy) hits a gloomy dive bar in order to drown his sorrows. There he runs into old friend Vince (Embry - looking a lot like Tom Hardy) and heavy drinking commences. There they encounter rich couple Colin (Koechner) and Violet (Paxton), out celebrating the latter's birthday. As you might expect from a drinking session with a man who resembles The Rich Texan from The Simpsons, a quiet night in the pub is not on the cards.

I had heard good things of Cheap Thrills, but still I approached with caution. After suffering through umpteen-or-so movies called Truth or Dare (or some variation thereof), I must admit to fatigue when it comes to films about people being forced to sit around mutilating themselves each other for some weird bastard's sadistic pleasure. Thankfully, Cheap Thrills is not that movie. Make no mistake, people do sit around mutilating themselves and each other for another's sadistic pleasure, but the story is infused with much more wit and energy than you'd get from any film called, say, Truth or Dare. 

Perfectly cast, frequently hilarious and even more frequently nasty, it delights in subverting expectations at every turn. To go into too much detail would be to spoil the fun - the highlights of which involves a dog, trying to take a shit and a crucial photo of David Koechner on the mantelpiece. Best of all, nobody is 'forced' to do anything. I had expected a scene in which Champ Kind pulls a gun and tells our heroes that "no-one can leave. Now cut off a testicle" - but it never comes. A lesser film would have the action descend into a nonsensical gorefest, but Cheap Thrills does a great job of handling its own logic and 'rules'. It's consistent, which is underrated, in this day and age.

A barnstorming bruiser of a movie, Cheap Thrills is tremendous fun. To employ the laziest of movie reviewing cliches, it's a film that does exactly what it says on the tin.    

Magic Magic

Director: Sebastian Silva (2013)
Starring: Juno Temple, Michael Cera, Emily Browning
Find it: IMDB

Mumblecore turtleneck hipster icon Michael Cera stars in this psychological horror film, driving poor Juno Temple around the twist over the course of what will surely turn out to be the worst holiday of her life. Visiting her cousin in Chile, the nervous young Alicia (Temple) is abandoned among a group of people she barely knows in a claustrophobic, remote country house.

Not-so-gradually, the already bewildered Alicia begins to lose her mind, bullied by the aloof Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and harassed by sleazy, weird Brink (Cera). Add to that a terrible bout of insomnia, definite mental health issues and chronic moodiness, and we're left with the most uncomfortable holiday since that one time I was trapped on a fucking houseboat with a cretin who identified himself as a standup comedian. Temple does a good job with a thankless role, but it's Cera who will win the lion's share of the applause. And rightly so; he's magnificently malicious in it, like a more drawn-out version of his role in This is the End.

Everything else is so purposefully odd that it almost hurts. This is horror for the mumblecore crowd - a darker version of Youth in Revolt. Sadly, Cera didn't bring the moustache back for this one, although he does rock a series of great jumpers. Browning is less effective as cousin Sarah, surrounded by terrible people and having little to do but look tired and react resignedly to her friends' shitty behaviour. Augustin Silva is cool as the only guy in the group who's not an unbearable arsehole, but that just makes his decision to hang around people who are seem all the more conspicuous.

Not being the sort of horror movie with ghosts or chainsaws or even horror, Magic Magic jumps to a Kill List change of pace in the third act, but it's no game changer. Those who hate the film will likely hate it even more, while those who were enjoying it will support its arty dive into nonsense.

Magic Magic is a convincing portrayal of a girl suffering a mental breakdown while surounded by shitheads and Michael Cera. It's grim and dirty in all the right ways and has a great villain in Michael Cera (as far as anyone can be anything in this sort of thing) but remains about as enjoyable as holidaying with a gang of bickering hipster numpties could ever be.

Which is to say, 'not very'.


Director: Riley Stearns (2014)
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
Find it: IMDB

A more serious version of that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer joins a cult and has to be de-programmed by Marge and Reverend Lovejoy. Well, slightly more serious anyway. Starring the always awesome Mary Elizabeth Winstead and That Guy actor Leland Orser, Faults is actually very funny also.

Their daughter apparently brainwashed by a mysterious cult named 'Faults', a pair of worried parents enlist disgraced cult expert and de-programmer Ansel (Orser) to help the girl see sense. Grabbed from the street, tied up and thrown in the back of a van, Claire (Winstead) is smuggled away to a quiet motel room where Ansel plans to spend the next few days undoing Faults' influence. We're soon left wondering, however, just who is in charge around here. Hint: probably not Ansel.

Faultlessly (geddit) acted, well-written and enjoyably surreal in places, Stearns' directorial debut is a fine piece of darkly humorous food for thought. Its work with Ansel is particularly impressive; a character who starts off reprehensible and pathetic before transforming before us into a figure both sympathetic and oddly likeable. Very well done to Winstead too, giving a subtle and nuanced performance which manages to be believable both in vulnerability and later strength. Lance Reddick also appears periodically, serving to boost the cool quotient even more.

Playing at Film4 Frightfest, Faults was one of the festival's more interesting releases - not horror, nor even really a thriller, with minimal violence and gore, it nevertheless emerged as one of the weekend's best. Sure, it's a little slow and even mildly predictable in places, but we can forgive its minor faults (get it!) when everything else is so well done.


Director: Jordan Rubin (2014)
Starring: Lexi Atkins, Rachel Melvin, Cortney Palm, Robert R. Shafer
Find it: IMDB

I hope you like 'beaver' jokes, because you'll be hearing a lot of them. Recovering from one of their number's bad breakup, a group of girls take off to a relative's cabin in the woods for a weekend of boozing, bitching and setting the world to rights. What they don't count on is the arrival of two groups of uninvited guests - their dipshit boyfriends and the titular zombeavers; zombie beavers.

Yeah, zombie beavers in a movie that is (a) not a fake trailer, and (b) stretched out to feature length. There are only a handful of filmmakers I can think of offhand capable of making a halfway watchable film out of such a concept. No matter the talent involved, there's no-one could make Zombeavers worth watching - not at 85 minutes, anyway - and Rubin doesn't disappoint in that respect; it makes the jump from harmless distraction to far too fucking long in a remarkably short space of time.

The plot, as it is, sees zombified beavers attack when a pair of careless truckers accidentally dump toxic waste in a river teeming with the little fluffy bastards. What follows is like American Pie crossed with Cabin Fever, complete with all of the stupid juvenile humour that entails. Expect, then, gratuitous nudity, an obsession with lesbians, brainless behaviour and endless 'beaver' gags. YES, I GET IT, BEAVER IS A EUPHEMISM FOR 'VAGINA'. Robert R. Shafer pops up to offer the film some of its few genuinely amusing jokes and the kids do die pretty horribly, but it's an otherwise worthless affair.

The beavers themselves look intentionally horrible and shoddy, but the joke is lost in translation by the film also being (unintentionally) horrible and shoddy. It's like the new Grindhouse movement all over again - you have to be very good to pull off a great bad movie, and Zombieavers is just a bad movie. Honestly, if it were between watching this again and Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie, I would give serious thought to the latter...

...before watching Zombeavers again, because fuck that noise.

In spite of any good intentions it may have had, Zombeavers is a wretched mess. Unfunny, irritating and badly made (both purposefully and not) it's a dam waste of time.

The Green Inferno

Director: Eli Roth (2013)
Starring: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Aaron Burns
Find it: IMDB

Enthusiastic horror frat boy Eli Roth returns to directing with The Green Inferno, his modern take on the jungle cannibal movie. I love Cabin Fever, mildly despise Hostel and quite like its sequel, so to say that I'm ambivalent towards Roth's work is accurate. There's no denying that his heart is in the right place, but that enthusiasm doesn't always translate to good horror. Still, I was pumped for The Green Inferno - the jungle cannibal subgenre is a personal favourite, and I was eager to see what Roth could do with it.

The answer, predictably, is to fill it with poo, weed and dick jokes. It takes less than ten minutes for one of the characters to describe something as 'gay' and the writing doesn't improve from there. The story sees naive college student Justine (Izzo) fall in with the wrong (or right, depending on your view) crowd - a collective of activists set on saving the Amazon rainforest. Hopping on a dodgy aeroplane, the kids travel to a particularly remote area of the Amazon where they hope to fuck up the corporate destruction they find there. Suffice to say, things do not go to plan.

Not unless the plan is to end up tied to a stick, dressed like some sort of sixties Star Trek extra.

A far cry from the gloomy torture basements and drippy alleyways of Hostel and its sequel, The Green Inferno looks incredible. Lush, verdant and beautiful, the jungle setting makes this one of the most visually compelling horror films I've seen in years. As a visual storyteller, Roth is King - he hasn't made a bad film yet, in that respect. The scene in which our young heroes are led into the cannibal village to their doom is up there with Hostel's big reveal - where Paxton is dragged, kicking and screaming into the dungeons - and, at that moment, I believed that The Green Inferno would turn out alright.

Sadly, 'alright' is as far as it goes. For everything it gets right - and there's a lot - there's just as much it gets very wrong. The Green Inferno is utterly fantastic as long as no-one is speaking at the time. Lorenza Izzo, Aaron Burns and Daryl Sabara (looking like a curly Jay from The Inbetweeners) do well as the most likeable ones in the group, but everyone else is short-thrifted by immature humour and curious lack of tension. The film lost me at its shitting-in-a-cage scene, and didn't do much to regain my interest from there.

The live-action version of The Simpsons left a lot to be desired.

Slightly racist in spite of its best intentions (there's an attempt at giving the cannibals justification, but only barely) and stuck with the stupidest ending this side of Hostel 2, this is ultimately a wasted opportunity. It possesses one truly great gore sequence and a lovely lead in Izzo, but fails to effectively utilise those elements. That's a shame, since The Green Inferno has room to be a modern classic.

Still, I hope that the film gets its release soon. Good or bad, it's a film that deserves to be seen - if only for its juicy visuals - and I'm eager to revisit it, without expectation. The Green Inferno isn't worth getting hot under the collar about, but it's an interesting oddity, all the same.

Sin City

Director: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (2005)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke
Find it: IMDB

One of the original 'good' comic book movies, coming from a time when most adaptations were Catwoman, Daredevil and Sam Raimi Spider-Men, created when Frank Miller was still a respectable name in comics and before Robert Rodriguez became a parody of himself. With its sequel finally inbound, what better time to pay a return visit to Sin City?

As before, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke's stories remain the best, while Clive Owen handles the filler in the middle just fine. It's the sort of movie in which every single man wears a leather trenchcoat, speaks like they've been gargling broken glass and talks... well, just like a Frank Miller character. The women, meanwhile, are either prostitutes, strippers or women of other professions who just so happen to act exactly like prostitutes and strippers. With Clive Owen referring to Rosario Dawson as a 'Valkyrie', hookers dressed like Zorro and half the cast wearing Converse, it's like a fifteen-year old's approximation of 'cool', filtered through Miller, Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

An exercise in reproducing a comic book as faithfully and literally as possible, Sin City is a resounding success. It's aged surprisingly well, and if The Spirit hadn't so completely stunk, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a whole slew of imitators follow it. Willis and Rourke are fantastic as the honest cop and the honorable thug, respectively, while Owen isn't bad as Dwight (to be played by the altogether better Josh Brolin in the sequel), with a whole host of great performances filling out the ranks. Nick Stahl and Elijah Wood are the best of the bunch, although there's something for everyone, from Rosario Dawson to Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen and Benicio Del Toro, to name a few.

Sin City is unashamedly daft, full of men jumping off rooftops like Batman and explosions which merely blow people over rather than, you know, up. Taken seriously, it's quite terrible and probably a little offensive. Viewed in the spirit (pun unintended - that's not an encouragement to watch Frank Miller's awful movie), it's a gleeful embodiment of Frank Miller's work at its gritty, pulped best.


DirectorRobert Schwentke (2013)
StarringRyan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon
Find itIMDB

Men in Black meets Ghostbusters by way of a typical Ryan Reynolds movie. KIA, BCPD officer Nick (Reynolds) is recruited by the RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) to carry on policing from beyond the grave. Tasked with bringing the so-called 'deados' to justice, Nick is teamed with obnoxious cowboy Roy (Bridges) who quickly shows him the ropes. It doesn't take Nick long to get into the swing of things, presumably because he saw Will Smith go through the exact same thing in Men in Black.

On paper, the idea of Jeff Bridges playing a loudmouth cowboy with an ankle fetish and an awesome beard is a great one - the dude abides, after all - but in R.I.P.D, he and his character just come across as extremely grating. It's an odd turn up for the books, to be watching a Ryan Reynolds movie and hating somebody in it who isn't Ryan Reynolds. And yet, that's the case here. The scenes in which Reynolds unloads his frustrations upon Bridge's face are the best in the entire film. 

The rest of it is ruined by an abundance of bad CGI, predictable storytelling and Kevin Bacon not being given nearly enough to do. As big-budget blockbusters go, you could probably do worse (anything with Transformers in the title, for example) but you could do a lot better too. Annoying, unfunny and predictably done, this POS is DOA. FML.

The Sacrament

Director: Ti West (2014)
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Gene Jones
Find it: IMDB

I feel as though I like the idea of Ti West more than I do any film the man has ever actually made. Starting his career with the underwhelming House of the Devil and a dud sequel to Cabin Fever, West has done nothing but disappoint this humble horrorhound. Sure, his films are pretty and steeped in love for the genre, but too often they lack a personality of their own - being too beholden to the past and the artifice of horror cinema. In theory, I should adore his filmography. In reality, I am left indifferent to it.

West returns with The Sacrament, a faux-documentary which sees a two-man documentary crew (of real-life team VICE) investigate the initiation of a man's sister into a mysterious cult. Travelling to the camp in an unnamed, very rural country, the three men quickly set about snooping. At first, everything seems idyllic; missing Caroline (Amy Seimetz) is happy and well, the villagers cheerful and friendly. Granted an interview with head honcho 'Father' (a magnetic Gene Jones) the guys are left almost convinced that everything is as Father would have it appear. Almost.

Predictably, affairs take a turn for the worse when a local girl comes begging to the guys for help. From there, a series of massive overreactions leads to exactly the sort of thing one has been expecting all along. Clearly taking its inspiration from the real-life Jonestown Massacre, the ensuing events are not difficult to predict, even if West wholly fails to make any of it feel plausible or justified by the situation and characters. His actors take up much of the slack - most notably Jones, a cross between John Goodman and Michael Parks in Red State. His smooth charisma makes it a little easier to believe that the events of The Sacrament could actually somehow happen. I mean, they really did, in Jonestown, but West isn't good enough to harness that in his storytelling.

The Sacrament is a compelling, oddly watchable toy documentary, made more valuable for its performances and visual flair. It's undeniably overhyped, but it bears investigation, nevertheless. 

Willow Creek

DirectorBobcat Goldthwait (2013)
StarringBryce Johnson, Alexie Gilmore
Find itIMDB

Searching for Bigfoot, an amateur documentary maker and his girlfriend travel to Sasquatch territory, hoping to find evidence of his existence. What they find instead is a host of kooky locals, a tasty-looking burger and all-too-real terror in the woods. It's The Blair Witch Project, but with Bigfoot. Maybe.

While not being massively aware of Bobcat Goldthwait beyond Police Academy (I'm probably too English), I had enjoyed his flawed but entertaining serial killer satire God Bless AmericaHe returns as director with Willow Creek, a found footage style horror film, played straight, for the most part. Buzz for the film had been good, leading me to expect something along the lines of Troll Hunter or VHS: that is, found footage that doesn't make me want to poke my own eyes out with Bigfoot-trodden branches. Alas, I found myself disappointed yet again.

Once more, we're left with a horror film which takes forever to get going and then spends the rest of its time either running around in the pitch darkness or cowering in a tent. Then there's a burst of action five minutes before the 'surprise' ending and why the fuck are they still filming this. It's virtually identical to The Lost Coast Tapes (not that I remember The Lost Coast Tapes) but will do much better thanks to its bigger-name director and nifty camerawork (one lingering static shot is particularly effective). While not bad, Willow Creek resembles at least fifteen other horror films I've seen in the last five years - almost as though Goldthwait wrote the script on tracing paper.

Reading reviews after having watched it, I gradually began to feel out-of-touch, cynical and like I was missing out on something. I feel like I watched a different film to those who raved about Willow Creek, saying things like "move over Godzilla" or "proves that there's life in found footage horror yet". Its climactic scene in the tent is very good and Alexie Gilmore has a wonderfully expressive face for horror films, but I saw nothing else that set Willow Creek apart from the rest. The song which plays over the end credits is the best thing about it.

Willow Creek is a disappointing misstep in an interesting and original directorial career from one of indie cinema's more exciting voices. Thankfully, enough people think that this film is groundbreaking, scary and good that Goldthwait should emerge from it completely unscathed.

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part 2 - Draconian Days

Director: Jake West (2014)
Starring: Lots of Talking Heads.
Find it: IMDB

A second instalment of Jake West's video nasty documentary, detailing the plight of horror fans and the movies they loved during the 1980s. Where Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape gave a good overall look at the furore, Draconian Days goes a little more in-depth, exploring the finer details of censorship and the various agencies responsible. And, like the first film, I got angry just watching it, so there's that too.

Draconian Days is a fair representation of why I don't read British tabloid newspapers. There are other reasons (Hillsborough lies, casual racism, telephone hacking scandals, casual misogyny and terrible writing being but a few) but, by and large, the newspapers' coverage of 'video nasties' in the 1980s is more or less representative of how the British right-wing press covers everything; with a web of fabrication, exaggeration, moral panic and loud outrage. That said, your mileage may vary, depending on how much you enjoy Page Three and cheap holidays.

Which isn't to say that horror at the time was doing itself too many favours. Lurid cover art, vivid titles and scenes of extreme violence did little to sway public opinion to the positive, giving such figures as Mary Whitehouse and the censors plenty of ammunition when it came to getting the things banned. Ex-head of the BBFC James Ferman is the film's antagonist focus - a complicated fellow who may have had his heart in the right place but fudged it through elitism and being out of touch (famously worrying about the effect a film like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre might have on the lower classes). Even he thought that the Child's Play/James Bulger connection was bullshit though - so he can't have been all bad.
Tip: Your Scum newspaper will probably burn easier.

For those unaware of this period in British history, Draconian Days should make for fascinating viewing. It's not quite as lively as its predecessors - and there's less star-power to its collection of talking heads - but it is well made, informative and passionate about its cause. Above all, it serves as a reminder of how dangerous moral panic and scapegoating can be. "Yo Joel," nobody asks me. "You watch all this horror shit, but what actually scares you?" Honestly? Nothing scares me as much as the mob mentality; that state of braindead zombification served up by those who would have us stop thinking, blindly idolise our military and live in constant terror of paedophiles and Muslims. Shut up, eat your free mince pie and look at the tits.

The tits.

For the sake of ALL our kids.... burn your tabloid newspaper today.

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards (2014)
Starring: Godzilla, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston
Find it: IMDB

Thankfully, Matthew Broderick takes the day off for this Bueller-free reboot of the giant lizard creature feature. You can see the studio hive mind at work in everything about Godzilla 2014 - a film which very noticeably does everything it can to distance itself from its notoriously shitty predecessor. Respected genre director Garth Edwards (of not-bad found footage Monsters acclaim) takes the helm, being about as far away from Roland Emmerich as one could get (short of hiring, say, Lars von Trier instead). In place of Broderick, they've gone with an actual good actor instead, and brought in Brian Cranston - because you don't get much more respectable than Breaking Bad these days.

Surprisingly, they didn't go with Aaron Paul as Cranston's onscreen son (Godzilla, bitch!), instead opting for Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the hero. Kick-ass? Sadly not. Alas, he's the film's weakest link, sticking out like a sore thumb among the likes of Cranston, Ken Watanabe and Elizabeth Olsen. Still, it's not as though Cranston is firing on full cylinders here either; continuing to disappoint in roles that aren't Walter White or Malcolm in the Middle's dad. The fact is, the actors and actresses are just set dressing, biding time until Godzilla and friends turn up.

Which they do, in a surprisingly convoluted manner. Eschewing 1998's simple Godzilla-on-the-rampage story, Edwards's version seems more inspired by Pacific Rim and older, traditional Godzilla movies - instead pitting 'zilla against a species of other giant monsters. Some will be disappointed by the film's lack of destruction and Godzilla trashing shit, but for everyone else, there's a genuinely interesting story and plenty of beast-on-beast action.

What's really surprising is that Godzilla isn't ashamed of its own B-Movie ancestry. I had assumed that this reboot would be the sort of film that never namedrops its own star ("the 'S' stands for hope") and instead strives for gritty post-Nolan realism in everything it does. Thankfully, this isn't the case (evidenced in its fun opening credits sequence) and Godzilla proves to be every bit as daft as it should be. If anything, Ken Watanabe says "Godzilla" too much for his own good.


Wait, what?

Escape From Tomorrow

Director: Randy Moore (2013)
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez
Find it: IMDB

Learning of his redundancy while on holiday, crap dad and husband Jim (Abramsohn) proceeds to have a mental breakdown in Disneyworld, Florida; getting shitfaced, sleazing on a pair of underage girls and bickering with his horrible wife. Temporarily losing his daughter and dragging his son around in pursuit of tween totty, Crap Dad is quick to learn that even the happiest place on Earth can be spectacularly shitty when the pressures of everyday life begin to seep in. 

Filmed on the sly in Disneyworld*, Escape From Tomorrow is as brave a horror/thriller/comedy as they come. Given Disney's reputation for being infamously sue-happy (and I'm not just talking about Mary-Sues), it's a surprise that this thing ever saw the light of day. Still, kicking up a fuss would likely give it even more publicity, so maybe The House of Mouse's letting it slide is for the best. Especially once you stop to consider how the film itself doesn't exactly live up to its own promise...

Make no mistake, it does some things very well. Its early depictions of Crap Dad losing his mind are particularly good - the audience discomfort felt simply watching a family holiday going awry is far more effective than the later surrealism and scenes of out-and-out fantasy. Abramsohn does well as Crap Dad, garnering audience sympathy even while doing some pretty terrible things (one of the young girls he sleazes upon even has braces, for Pluto's sake) and acting like a general tit. Schuber is given an even more thankless job portraying his wife - rarely presented in a sympathetic light, and often acting as the film's 'villain'. I had hoped for Mickey Mouse wielding an enormous chainsaw, but that's fine enough, even if Moore does go too far in his demonization of Emily.

Look, never mind the review. What follows is a selection of images which will guarantee you go away wanting to watch Escape From Tomorrow, regardless of my opinion on the thing:

Ultimately and ironically - considering the central message - Escape From Tomorrow suffers from too much imagination. It tries to do too much with too little, resulting in a messy final quarter and nonsensical ending(s). That's a shame, since it looks wonderful and has some really great ideas up its sleeve, not least its long overdue critique of the Disney corporation. An enjoyable if flawed oddity, Escape From Tomorrow is an impressive piece of semi-guerrilla Indie filmmaking. I mean, I'd rather watch Enchanted, but it's a nice distraction.

*Apart from the bits that weren't - shot either on traditional sets or in a studio, against green screen.

The Frozen Ground

Director: Scott Walker (2013)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens
Find it: IMDB

Nicolas Cage is almost-retired cop Jack Halcolmbe, working hard to bring serial killer Robert Hansen (Cusack) to justice after the man kidnaps, tortures and murders a number of young women, flying them away in his little aeroplane and burying them far away from prying eyes. When prostitute Cyndy Paulsen (Hudgens!) comes forward with evidence that could get Halcolmbe his search warrant and conviction, the cop must attempt to earn her trust before the killer can strikes again.

A true story about a real-life serial killer and his victims, starring Nicolas Cage as the man responsible for bringing Robert Hansen to justice? Fan as I am of The Cage, this could have gone terribly wrong - after all, serial killer biopics are hardly the place for bizarre screeching, gurning and bad hair. Thankfully, for respectability's sake, that's not what we get with The Frozen Ground. Cage gives his most restrained performance in years, playing Halcombe as grim, stoic but good-hearted. Even the hair isn't too bad. Cusack, meanwhile, fascinates as the monster of the piece, playing a role miles away from his usual comfort zone. This reunion doesn't have quite the same bombast or quotability as their Con Air, but both men are better here than they have been in years.

Cage and Cusack may be the stars, but The Frozen Ground doesn't skimp on its talent elsewhere. Indeed, its cast might be one of the most bizarre I've ever seen in a crime thriller. There's Vanessa Hudgens (actually very good) as traumatised Cyndy, Radha Mitchell (always great) as Halcombe's wife, Hank from Breaking Bad as another cop, Transformers dad Kevin Dunn as a police Lieutenant... and 50 Cent as Cyndy's pimp. Mister Cent is, of course, completely awful, but is only in about two scenes, so doesn't get to distract from much.

By cluing the audience and its hero in on the killer's identity from the start, there's a directness to the story and sense of urgency which remains throughout; well-paced and fraught with tension, even during the characters' downtime. Some Nicolas Cage aficionados may be disappointed in his dialing it back here, but in his doing so, The Frozen Ground becomes one of his best films in recent years.

Nymph()maniac: Volume II

Director: Lars von Trier (2013)
StarringCharlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Jamie Bell
Find it: IMDB

'Always go darker' is the general rule most films abide by when making a sequel or second volume of a story. This is true enough of Nymph()maniac: Volume II, which begins to explore the less pleasant elements of Joe's sex addiction (yes, even less pleasant than being bummed by a disinterested Shia LaBeouf). No longer able to achieve orgasm, the now-married Joe (Gainsbourg) is given permission by husband Jerome (LaBeouf) to try elsewhere. This she does, to the detriment of her marriage, health and general well-being.

Volume II introduces us to Jamie Bell's 'K', a sadistic BDSM maestro who shows fan-fiction wanker Christian Grey up for the vanilla pie he really is. As with LaBeouf and Slater, this is the best I've ever seen Bell, the act laying to rest his Billy Elliot ballet shoes once and for all. A relatively small part, it nevertheless ushers in Nymph()maniac's even darker sensibilities, spelling bad times ahead for poor nympho Joe.

Like Kill Bill: Volume II before it, the fun and the action (albeit a different kind of action) is toned down to make way for more dialogue, more metaphor and deeper pondering. Is von Trier 'slut shaming' his heroine here by having her so battered and defeated during this second volume? Or is it instead (as is suggested through the dialogue) a noble attempt at feminism, leaving its protagonist to be ultimately admired? Granted, feminism is not a word you'd usually apply to a film which depicts a man punching a lady square in the face, but von Trier is a filmmaker whose work tends to defy classification. Fluffy pink handcuffs this is not.

Nymph()maniac is the sort of film you either love or hate. It's long, pretentious and dubious in its sexual politics. It's also gratuitous, depressing and potentially very offensive to a lot of people. Forget about love; I adored it.

Nymph()maniac: Volume I

Director: Lars von Trier (2013)
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf
Find it: IMDB

You don't get much more pretentious than a four hour sex movie directed by a man with the affectation 'von' in his name. Split into two volumes, Nymp()maniac is Lars von Trier's Kill Bill. It is also precisely as pretentious as you would expect it to be. Employing such typical Trier techniques as splitting the film into chapters, portraying scenes of semi-hardcore sex and getting Charlotte Gainsbourg to take her clothes off a lot, this isn't a film for casual cinema-goers. Tune in expecting Transformers level Shia LaBeouf and you will be sorely fucking disappointed. Or thoroughly relieved, depending upon your perspective.

That said, it's a shame LaBeouf - or LaBuff, in this case - isn't famous anymore, since this is the best I have ever seen him. Not even the "eh, he wasn't too bad" of Lawless compares - Shit The Beef (or LaBeefcake) is genuinely, legitimately excellent in Nymph()maniac. The same goes for Christian Slater, who is good in theory, but has actually been in very few decent films over the course of his disappointing career. Here, he portrays the film's most sympathetic character and gives the story its tenderest moments. If the cast's two worst actors are excellent in this film, then it speaks volumes as to how good everyone else is in it.

When lonely scholar Seligman (Skarsgard) finds a woman savagely beaten in the alleyway by his home, he picks the poor dear up and shepherds her indoors to recover. Tucked up in bed, Joe (Gainsbourg) recounts her story, giving patient listener Seligman her account of a humble nymphomaniac and how she came to be beaten up and left, battered and bruise, in an alleyway. The story she tells will put hair on your chest. It's little wonder Skarsgard took all of his clothes off and went mad for Thor 2, listening to this bizarre, explicit tale.

Telling the story of Joe's life, from childhood to her marriage, Volume I covers a lot of ground - most of it disturbing and slightly unsavoury, but staged well enough that you'll experience the requisite downstairs stirrings if you're of an open enough mind. Volume I's highlights include oral sex on a train, a hysterical Uma Thurman and Seligman talking about fishing all the time (metaphors, see). The most powerful moments, surprisingly, come from Christian Slater while, well, there's a lot of shagging elsewhere. It's bizarre, disturbing and sexy in a way that only a Lars von Trier film can be. All that, and a Rammstein soundtrack too.

The Attic

Director: Josh Stolberg (2013)
Starring: Sterling Beaumon, Steven Weber, Raleigh Holmes
Find it: IMDB

What's the worst thing you've ever found in your attic? In the case of the home where I grew up, it was literally me. My bedroom was in the attic, see (not in a child abuse kind of way). Before that, it was a Barbie automobile, porn and somebody else's Christmas decorations. For the lovely, all-American Gates family, the answer to that question is a terrifying Steven Weber, bearded and aggressive. It could have been worse, I suppose - it could have been Jack Nicholson.

The film's hook is an effective one; unbeknownst to the Gates mom, dad and children, they share their home with its previous tenant; Aldon Webber (Weber) who lurks in their loft, watching from afar, occasionally showing his face to murder a babysitter or punch their eldest son in the face. Weber is a good pick as the film's villain; an underrated horror actor with a dramatic face and the presence needed to scare. Like David Arquette in The Tenant, he's an overlooked choice of psycho (overlook, like the hotel. Geddit) but can bring the chops when he needs to.

The Attic will win no prizes for its execution or constant, shameless attempt at jump scares, but the story is interesting enough that it's easy to forgive its flaws. It's nice to see a family in a horror film who don't spend their whole time bickering and do actually seem to love one another. Raleigh Holmes is good as the family daughter, well supported by her on-screen family. Even the child isn't too annoying, although there is one scene in which he does nearly shoot his own head off with a paintball gun. Also, there's David Koechner, who doesn't really do much, but is always a welcome presence.

If The Attic had been made in the seventies or eighties, it would have been directed by Tobe Hooper and starred David Hess. As it is, it's a little derivative, but creepy enough that you'll see it through to the end.

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings

Director: Jeff Burr (1993)
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye
Find it: IMDB

Sodding about in the woods as kids so often have a habit of doing in nineties horror movies, a gang of youths accidentally wind up resurrecting the demon Pumpkinhead. No, not the dude from A Nightmare Before Christmas, this is the gruesome Stan Winston creation to which I refer. His head doesn't look remotely like a pumpkin, but he's a force to be reckoned with, nevertheless.

I have a vague recollection of watching the original Pumpkinhead, years ago, late night on television. I remember Lance Henriksen being in it, a revenge story (maybe) and Pumpkinhead himself looking utterly stupid. Effects master Winston has brought us some magnificent designs in the past, but Pumpkinhead is not one of them. It doesn't help that I was literally expecting Merv Pumpkinhead from The Sandman, not some punk who looks like a cross between H.R Geiger's Alien design and the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.

Still, there is some fun to be had from this sequel. Andrew Robinson is enjoyable as the town Sheriff, although that could just be nostalgia, on my part, having liked him as the Cardassian tailor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There's also a brief appearance from one of the cannibals of Leatherface fame (a film also directed by Jeff Burr) and some surprisingly decent action sequences  - one of which comes with a country & western soundtrack.

Pumpkinhead II is a cult classic that dishes up plenty of the former but almost forgets about the latter. The Pumpkinhead franchise isn't without its fans though, many of whom will be thrilled pleased to pick this one up on DVD. It's not quite the grand pumpkin, but it has just enough guts (like a pumpkin, geddit) to make it a worthwhile watch.

The Small Print: follow me on Twitter for a chance to win Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings on DVD.  Liking the Facebook Page as well gets you a bonus entry, because I'm generous like that. Region 2 only, so make sure you can actually play the damn thing before you enter. Competition closes 09/05/14, winner picked at random. If I see you put the fucking thing on eBay, I won't be happy.