VERÓNICA (2017)

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

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Having been privy to articles from Ladbible and the likes declaring the latest Spanish horror on Netflix to be the most terrifying thing to hit our screens since Katie Hopkins, the Screaming Queenz were wondering if palms had been greased for such OTT superlatives to be thrown around. So with my eyebrow arched in its favourite cynical position I sat down to watch Verónica to find out for myself.

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Set in Madrid in 1991, the films follows its titular heroine as she struggles to help her work-all-night-sleep-all-day mum to raise 3 kids, whilst navigating the horrors of adolescence and awaiting her first period. Deciding life isn’t already grim enough Verónica takes to the school basement with her gal pals and plays around with a Ouija board during – you guessed it – a solar eclipse. Grieving the loss of her father, Veró wants to make contact. It won’t be the mother of all spoilers to tell you she doesn’t get hold of her dad – there’s someone or something much more dark and sinister on the line. And once she’s made contact, her demonic new friend isn’t going to leave without a fight…

So is the film indeed a shit-your-pants frightfest unlike anything we’ve ever seen before? Well… no. But for the rest of us out there once bitten twice shy after Netflix gave us the Cloverfield shitpile, I can reassure you… it’s actually not bad. In fact it’s quite good. Every demonic Ouija board haunting trope is thrown into Verónica. Troubled family life, recent bereavement, creepy kids drawing shadowy figures, there’s even a creepy old blind nun, not to mention nods to everything from Nosferatu to Paranormal Activity. But such clichés can be forgiven in a film that cranks up the emotional punch with sweet and quirky performances from its cast, primarily children who are neither terribly wooden or precocious.

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Veró’s battle with her burgeoning womanhood, high school politics and a largely absent mother are obvious but well-played. The horror of a girl’s first period is driven home with a surprisingly gruesome scene involving cannibal children that stands out like a blood-stained mattress. The film falls down with its use of dodgy CGI but then regains its scare factor with glimpses of the demon in the shadows, reflected in the TV screen (hello Signs) and leering through plate glass doors. And a decidedly downbeat ending draws the film back from the sentimental edge it teeters on just at the last minute.

So despite it being overhyped, Verónica is still worth your time. A few good scares, not to mention a synth soundtrack with more than a few nods to the original Nightmare on Elm Street score, and solid performances, mean it won’t disappoint.

While you’re here, have you heard our new podcast looking at Silence of the Lambs? If you like jizz jokes, bad Jodie Foster impressions and want to hear our opinion on whether the film is transphobic or not, click the link below:

JL

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GERALD’S GAME (2017)

Mild spoilers ahead…

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The hype machine has gone into overdrive for a certain Mr Stephen King in recent months. First ‘It’ opened to record numbers and became the highest grossing horror movie ever, then over on Netflix an altogether darker, more cerebral piece of work from the maestro of the macabre slipped in quietly to give us nightmares into the wee small hours. That would be ‘Gerald’s Game’, and what a game it is.

Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood star as Jessie and Gerald, who after eleven years of a slowly dying marriage, decide to head out to their lake house in the middle of nowhere to spice things up. What begins as an innocent sex game involving handcuffs and Viagra soon spirals into a rape fantasy and death. You only have to watch the trailer to know Gerald bites it pretty early on, keeling over from a heart attack and leaving Jessie chained to the bed with nothing but her personal demons and a very hungry rabid dog for company…

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I must admit, whilst looking forward to seeing Gerald’s Game I did wonder how they could spin out 1 hour 47 minutes of a woman chained to a bed. For the most part my worries were unfounded. Once Gerald drops dead things spiral pretty quickly. We go full throttle into Jessie’s psyche and no disturbing stone is left unturned.

One thing Stephen King has always excelled at is taking our primal childhood fears and making them a very real, terrifying reality. Fear of the dark. Monsters. The hand reaching out from under the bed. The nightmare flipside of the nuclear family. The horror of parents turning a blind eye when they should be protecting us. The desperate loneliness of insomnia where everything is at its blackest and most hopeless. All of these take centre stage.

But the true horror of this piece – and of Jessie’s life – is (mild spoiler) child abuse. With more than an echo of the wonderful film adaptation of Dolores Claiborne, we’re treated to a red-tinged flashback to a solar eclipse that heralded the end of Jessie’s childhood at the hands of her father. The nuanced performances and writing around this portion of the movie bring out the manipulative depths a child abuser will go to to keep his secret safe, and in a truly heartbreaking scene we see the trauma a young Jessie goes through as she’s emotionally blackmailed into keeping shtum. This is a rare thing indeed in any movie let alone a horror movie, to see writing and characterisation of such depth.

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Which is why it’s almost inexplicable that in the last fifteen minutes of the movie we’re treated to a script that suddenly is so schmaltzy and on the nose you start to wonder if it’s flipped into a parody of what we’ve been enjoying for the previous 90 minutes. Being a connoisseur of the camp, the trashy and the bad, I could appreciate some of the humdinger lines and wrap-it-up-in-a-pink-bow resolution in a tongue in cheek way. But seriously, having gone through the traumas we see Jessie endure for the majority of the movie, my jaw was on the floor at what the movie then became.

This in no way detracts from the film experience so don’t let that put you off. There were two moments during Gerald’s Game where I screamed and shouted in horror – you’ll know the moments when you see them. One that will put you off that burgeoning foot fetish for life, and the other that will make you wince in agony along with Jessie. The film GOES there with the horror. If you saw ‘It’ and, like me and the other Screaming Queenz, thought whilst it was a good movie it lacked the depths of horror that only Stephen King can bring? Well this movie has that in spades.

Of the two much-hyped King adaptations (I’m not even going there with Dark Tower), this one brings the pure horror that ‘It’ lacked.

Gerald’s Game is one worth playing. Just keep an eye out for The Moonlight Man…

JL

IT (2017) Review: the threequel 

Stephen Moore gives his pennyworth on Pennywise…

IT was the most highly anticipated horror of the year. IT failed to deliver on its promise of a truly scary version of the classic Stephen King novel. IT was still one of the most enjoyable films so far this year. IT was IT… you get IT.

In the lead up to the release of this film I was swept away down the storm drain by an effective trailer, a plot that is still as scary as when it when it was conceived and a heavy sense of nostalgia. This will no doubt lead to massive profits for the film and guarantee it receives it sequel but may also lead to one major criticism at least by seasoned horror fans. IT just isn’t scary.

I was really excited to be genuinely terrified and creeped out by the film but it never really got there and I think there are three major factors that contributed to the lack of scares.

The film’s premise means we tap into those early childish irrational fears such as clowns, creepy paintings and errrrr germs apparently? For the most part though people largely grow out of these early fears as they enter adulthood and unless you happen to have a phobia of one of these things many of the scares are unlikely to do more than gross or weird you out.

The film also has a heavy reliance on GI effects instead of practical, and some moments that are meant to be scary look a bit plastic and silly. Many a time I was left unsure if I was meant to be scared or supposed to laugh at ‘creepy picture woman’ chasing the children. Finally we have a reliance on jump scares over tension. I’ve come to accept jump scares are inevitable in mainstream horror now and can often let out a shrill shriek when one is particularly effective but in order to be scary I need to be put in a tense state… Something that really never happens. Every time the film starts to build up tension or scare it either pulls its punches like when it refuses to delve further into the horrific racially motivated arson attack on the Black Spot and with Beverly’s sexually abusive Dad… or it breaks the tension with a witty one liner or hilariously childish and perfectly crude dick joke.

Now I’ve got my main complaint out of the way let’s discuss what makes this one of the most enjoyable films of the year. In the previously definitive TV version of the novel the main star was undoubtedly the incredibly enigmatic performance of Tim Curry as Pennywise the dancing clown.

Bill Skarsgards incarnation is a perfectly respectable performance that separates itself enough from Curry’s version to keep me happy but he is not the shining star of the show in this version. Instead the main stars of the show are the extremely talented and funny cast of children. I don’t say that sentence lightly as my usual feelings toward child actors are less complimentary and more homicidal.

All of “The Losers Clubs” managed to impress me at different times and in their own way but the two leads Bill and Bev are both fantastic. Bill’s loss of his little brother Georgie both propels the story forward and grounds it at its most insane times. He is an engaging and believable hero and leader of the group with his endearing stutter just adding to the likability of his character. Bev the female of the group delicately balances her Tom Boy thrill seeking ways with her sensitivity and caring for others. One of my favourite character moments is when Bev discovers Ben’s (aka Tits) love for New Kids on the Block and she simultaneously mocks him and keeps his secret from the others.

I started this review by discussing how IT fails to be an effective horror film but what I didn’t explain is that this isn’t really a bad thing… it’s just not what I anticipated. Instead of a straight up horror film we have a fantastic summer adventure with friends, a coming of age story that just so happens to have a supernatural undertone in the form of a dancing murderous clown and to be honest I’m not that mad about that.

As the group bond and form stronger friendships you enjoy being with them for the summer and seeing all these relatable and sweet first moments of adulthood unfold. Although one particularly well played scene of the boys watching Bev sunbathe was a little different in my life.

There are lots of beautifully played child-becoming-adult moments like this, from first crushes to a funny and endearing scene where Bev tries to hide the fact she’s buying her first tampon from the boys. Saying that when coupled with a later scene involving a whole lot of blood in the bathroom It was perhaps a little too much of a menstrual cycle analogy than I was prepared for.

There are a few other flaws, such as the underuse of certain characters and a massively shortened research of the towns history that I would have like to have seen more of but overall the film is as fun as a good old rock fight. I’m overall impressed by the film, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the summer with our pint sized heroes and look forward to a rewatch. I am, however, skeptical of how the adult based sequel will capture my attention. It either needs to turn up the horror which I doubt it will or choose another genre to be based on with the horror once again being more incidental than the main attraction but I say bring IT on!

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SM

IT (2017) A Second Opinion!

Jonathan Butler chimes in with his thoughts on the new adaptation of Stephen King’s It…

It’s finally here, probably the most anticipated horror film of 2017. The expectations were high, the Tim Curry-starring mini-series being a childhood favourite of many horror fans, and Stephen King adaptations seemingly pretty hot at the minute. Now that it’s arrived what do we think?

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My feelings are mixed if I’m honest. It is a good film, but not really a good horror film if that makes sense. The greatest strengths of the film lie in the performances of the talented young cast and their interactions with each other. The performances are all superb across the board, and these genuine portrayals give a strong emotional backbone to the film.

I felt more like this film was taking its cues from the likes of The Goonies, Stand By Me and the films of Joe Dante than from anything closer to a horror film. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Stand By Me is a favourite of mine and I’ve spoken of my fondness for Dante’s work before so I don’t mention these as distinctly negative points, just more that I feel the horror suffered for the sake of the relationship side of the story.

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My real gripes come when we look at the horror elements. It’s just not scary, like, at all. There was a distinct lack of tension built during the film’s “scary” scenes, it all comes in short little bursts of a minute and invariably ending in a massively telegraphed jump-scare. This is something of a bug-bear of mine, it’s a shortcut to scares that is hideously over-used nowadays. Although they were at least used correctly in IT, in that the jump-scares do actually come from things the characters on screen and the audience are supposed to be scared of.

This brings me to another issue of the film. For me it all feels a bit safe and rather tame for a horror film. Perhaps that’s my fault though, my tastes do tend to run a little more on the extreme side. I was disappointed to hear the news that the film’s original director Cary Fukunaga had exited the project over the dreaded “creative differences”. I was a huge fan of his work on the recent series ‘True Detective’, the bleakness and grimness of it gave me hope that we could be getting something genuinely dark and disturbing from his version of IT. The outcome ended up being that Fukunaga did want to include many of the darker elements from the novel and this was evidently too rich for the suits at New Line / Warner who balked at the idea of filming a sewer based gang-bang. Interestingly though, Fukunaga does receive a writing credit so some elements of his script do presumably make it into the finished product.

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The directing of Muschietti is competent but never really breaks any new ground and he seems to rely on the same trick to get scares. He reuses the same speed-ramping, fake stop-motion effect quite a few times. You’ve probably seen it in the trailer. I think he used the same effect in ‘Mama’ in fact, which I wasn’t a huge fan of.

While I do mention the negatives don’t let that put you off from seeing it as it is a good film, just not the film I had expected. I was hoping for a darker, nastier vision of IT and what we got instead wasn’t that, it was a bit safer and more mainstream than I had anticipated. The finished product is still good, I just feel the director did a better job of getting the “80’s childhood adventure film” elements right than he did getting the actual horror elements right, which to be fair to him is probably exactly what the studio wanted.

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Nostalgia for the 80’s is hot at the minute – making challenging films, not so much.

JB

 

IT (2017) Review

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Vague spoilers ahead…

I’ll tell you this straight off the bat. I think the original TV mini-series of It (1990) gets away with murder thanks to nostalgia. We saw it at just the right time, and hit the TV airwaves at just the right moment, for it to somehow become iconic and deemed terrifying. Same goes with Salem’s Lot. But watch it now and you might have a different opinion.

So when it was announced that Pennywise would be returning for a new outing on the big screen I, for one, welcomed the idea. Having read the tome of a novel, which needs a damn good edit but is utterly enthralling and almost unbearably dark in parts, I thought that maybe the new film would honour it better than the TV version. I had high hopes. And for the most part I was not disappointed. I really hoped it wouldn’t be a shot-by-shot rehash of the ‘original’ as people call it. And evidently, the team behind ‘It’ (2017) felt the same way.

The movie goes out of its way not to look or sound or feel anything like the 1990 effort. From the very start, whilst Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) helps his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) build that paper boat, there’s a notable absence of ‘Fur Elise’ being played by mom on the piano, obviously an iconic moment from the mini series. The action is moved from the barrens to the sewers and the old house on Neibolt, with no mention of dam-building, and the updating of the action to the 80s are all obvious – and successful – attempts to distance the film from it’s 1990 counterpart. Whilst obvious similarities will be drawn when Georgie is chasing said boat down the street in torrential rain, all fears of a remake vibe are set aside when we’re introduced to Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Nobody is ever going to touch Tim Curry’s performance but what we have here is a whole different ballgame. As Pennywise toys with Georgie and offers him fun and frolics in a subterranean big-top, Skarsgård is clearly pulling out every trick in the book to separate himself from the shadow of Curry – and for the most part it works. It’s no massive spoiler to say Georgie meets his fate early on – but this is a more ferocious, fiendish death scene that doesn’t quite go where you’re expecting it to…

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Speaking of unexpected, in It we get that rare thing in a mainstream horror movie. The emotional gutpunch. Director Andrés Muschietti draws out performances from his young cast that are loaded with authenticity and heart. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard makes Richie Tozier loveable, annoying and hilarious in equal measure. He does a roaring trade in ‘your mom’ insults and swears like a trucker – you know, like real kids do. Jack Dylan Grazer is old before his time and riddled with anxiety as hypochondriac Eddie, and poor Ben Hanscom, awkward secret poet and christened ‘tits’ because of his chunky frame, is sweetly played by Jeremy Ray Taylor. But the standouts here are Lieberher as Bill – throwing aside the shadow of tragic Jonathan Brandis to give us a new hero we totally believe, and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh, who at fifteen looks about ten years older than some of the boys. Wasn’t that always the way in school? Whilst some of the boys seemed to actively recoil from puberty, the girls towered above them and strode into early adulthood ahead of the pack. And that’s Beverly, dealing with buying her first Tampax, taking on bullies at school, and absolutely flooring the boys with her sophistication and beauty… whilst dealing with the hideous reality of life at home with her abusive single father…

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And so comes the gutpunch. The reality of Beverly’s abuse, Bill’s grief at losing his little brother, not to mention Ben’s bullying and unrequited love, actually prevail over the horror of Pennywise. At its core the novel delved into the absolute trauma it can be to just grow up, make it into adolescence and come out the other side intact. And that is where this film flies high. The 80s nostalgia isn’t particularly overdone, but the truthful portrayal of the adventure – and the real life horror – of just being a kid, of that last summer you spent with your group of friends before everything changed, before shit got real – that’s what resonates in this movie.

So much so, the actual horror tropes suffer as a result. We get jump-scares, we get creaking floorboards and clowns hiding under dust sheets. The set-pieces evoke elements of Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, even more recent horror hits like The Conjuring and Insidious, and whilst some of the jumps are efficient and jolting, the horror element never quite matches the teen drama. With a lesser script, poor direction and a weaker cast, that could result in a muddled overblown mess of a film. But because you care so much for the characters and the overall package is so well done you forgive it. You go along for the ride – an epic one at two hours fifteen. But it never feels too long, nothing drags.

And yet in parts I felt like cuts had been made. After the George intro we’re introduced to Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs), with a story tweaked from the novel where he lives with an overbearing Grampa (Steven Williams looking mighty fine in his old age). But after his opening scene he vanishes for over half an hour. Similarly Stan (Wyatt Olef) is given hints of a story that then vanish and he’s ignored for most of the film. Also Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) slices and dices his way on to the screen but feels underused. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a three hour version out there somewhere, but given that I got through over two hours and could have watched more, I’d welcome that director’s cut.

Maybe it’ll have the darker elements only hinted at in this release? Pennywise offering Eddie a BJ, the real death of Patrick Hockstetter, the racially-motivated mass murder at the Black Spot? All were absent here. I also found it interesting that Henry Bowers was clearly an evil racist but never once used hate speech when attacking Mike – although ‘faggot’ was thrown around with (cough) gay abandon. So whilst I easily forgot the mini series I couldn’t quite let go of what was STILL missing from the novel…

So a flawed film but mainly brilliant. Go in with an open mind. Forget Tim Curry (I know, sacrilege), put your preconceptions to one side and revel in a film that for the most part is beautifully made and a luminous cast who will make you laugh and – if you’re a sap like me – cry too. Yes the frights are nothing we haven’t seen before, and it’s not quite as terrifying as it wants to be… but for a mainstream horror it delivers much more than you’d expect.

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That said, with a film that makes it through the gate mainly because of it’s young cast, I think for It, Chapter 2, they’ll have their work cut out to make anything as good as this. Bring it on, Pennywise…

JL

“WE ALL GO A LITTLE MAD SOMETIMES”

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So much about Pscyho fascinates me. A balls-out, in-your-face shocker from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, it hit the big screen in 1960 to very mixed reviews. It was seen as a cheap schlockfest, it was seen as scandalous in how it stuck two fingers up to the moral decency code that had made movies keep their clothes on for years, but most of all it thrilled the general public. So no matter how sniffy the critics might have been, it got bums on seats and became the blueprint for every slasher movie that followed over a decade later.

From its opening bars, literally coming at you thanks to the strings of Bernard Herrmann, you know you’re not in for a subtle time. Then the first scene, sliding through an open window on a hot Arizona day to find a couple of lovers half naked and post-coital, sets the tone for a film that is about sex and loneliness. Heroine Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) wants to be respectable and settle down to the life society thinks she should lead, but shock horror she’s in love with the recently separated Sam Loomis (John Gavin) who isn’t divorced yet. So like a pair of adulterers they’re forced to meet in hotel rooms that you rent by the hour for a little afternoon delight. Personally meeting John Gavin for a sex session every week in a stuffy hotel room would suit me down to the ground, but things were very different for an office working female in the 60s.

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She’s boiling over, desperate for escape, trapped in a rut by her financial situation and Sam’s. So when opportunity presents itself in the form of $40,000 waved under her nose by a rich Texan, she makes a snap decision that will change her life forever, and dare I say – SPOILER – end it.

Marion jumps from one trap into another, and when she stops at the Bates Motel she meets the shy, awkward but rather gorgeous Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). He’s trapped by his own circumstances – a domineering mother, a life unfulfilled, and his crippling shyness belies a desperate loneliness. In a fantastically written and played scene Norman and Marion compare battle scars of those who are trapped and alone, and Norman convinces Marion to turn on her heels and dig herself out of her hole. But before she can do that, she needs to take a shower. And Norman’s mother isn’t happy to find her son perving over this naked lady as she switches on the hot water and begins to cleanse herself of past mistakes.

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Anyone who doesn’t know the twist that comes when Marion hops into the shower has either been living under a rock their whole life or is very lucky. In recording this podcast, Martin was surprised to find his partner Matt was indeed one of the lucky ones. What an absolute thrill to be taken by surprise when the inevitable fate befalls our heroine. That’s the thing with Psycho, there is a sense of inevitability and doom that scores its entire first half. You’re asked to sit and watch as Marion makes mistake after mistake, when all you want to do is reach into the TV and shake her, tell her to keep driving or to go back. But she doesn’t, and that’s what is so shocking. Not only does it make you feel voyeuristic and helpless, it leaves you conflicted. Because when Norman’s got a mess on his hands, you kinda want him to get away with it. A film of two halves that set the bar for shock twists as, we tend to forget, not only does it have the shock shower scene… but there is another twist 10 minutes before the ending, when Mrs Bates shows her bony face.

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Hitchcock had a wicked old sense of humour. He took glee and relish in horrifying us whether it was a bird attack on the fabulous Tippi Hedren or a dead body in a trunk whilst the corpse’s loved ones sipped wine and wondered where he’d got to. In Psycho his wicked humour plays out like a carnival ghost train. He tips a wink to the audience whilst traumatising us, which is perfectly summed up in the comedic and macabre trailer for Psycho. Here Hitch takes us around the scene of a crime, beckoning us into darkened rooms, daring us to feast our eyes on the horrors within.

Many rumours exist over the making of Psycho. That Hitch shocked Janet Leigh with cold water in the shower scene, that Anthony Perkins drew from real life (and very disturbing) experience for Norman’s mother/son relationship, and that it was the first movie to ever feature a flushing toilet! Not to mention Marion’s license plate – was it on purpose? To find out give our new podcast a listen. It’s a feature length episode with clips and music aplenty, and one where we discuss everything from Pat Hitchcock’s tranquilisers to the sad death of Anthony Perkins from Aids.

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At the heart of it we talk about our love for the movie and just what makes Psycho a bona fide slasher movie to beat them all. Apologies in advance for my constant references to Gavin and Perkins indulging in sodomy. What can I say? They were made for each other!

Get the podcast via iTunes here:

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screaming-queenz-ep-36-psycho/id1070845275?i=1000384397368&mt=2

Enjoy. You might need a shower afterwards…

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(JL)

What is The Void?

In 2015 a trailer appeared online, you can see it below as well as a link to the original Indie Go Go campaign.

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The creators were looking to raise money to create a horror film. Not just any horror film, a horror film that does away with the tiresome, overused CGI in favour of real practical effects, a horror film that takes us back to the 80’s when John Carpenter was king.

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What are you looking at?

The film was successfully funded and began doing the rounds at the horror festivals in 2016. The buzz was all positive, descriptions in the vein of “Assault of Precinct 13 meets the Thing with a Lovecraft twist, with a dash of Fulci” had me very excited, being a Carpenter fan and also a Lovecraft fan too. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the finished product for some time, and finally I have!

The Void comes from the writing/directing duo of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski who have previously worked on a segment for “ABC’s of Death” and something called “Manborg” which sounds great if the title is anything to go by!

It takes place in small-town rural America, Marsh County if I recall correctly, a place where nothing much happens, the cops get to sleep on the job most nights and it seems to make no difference. Except this night is different. Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) finds an injured man in the road, covered in blood and not making any sense. Carter proceeds to take him to the local emergency room, staffed by a skeleton crew.

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Things take a sinister turn when the hospital is surrounded by evil cultists.

Part of this skeleton crew is a nurse named Allison, who also happens to be Carter’s wife or maybe it’s his ex-wife, it’s never really made 100% clear. Many things about the film remain enigmatic to be honest, which some will see as a strength and others will no doubt see as a weakness, I personally am fine with things left unexplained and mysterious.

The situation very quickly falls apart as cultists surround the hospital and the people inside begin turning on each other or turning into monsters! The acting across the board is all to a solid standard, with Aaron Poole as Daniel Carter doing a particularly good job as the reluctant “leader” of the group.

Fans of 80’s horror and Carpenter specifically will no doubt be in their element, the Carpenter love is strong throughout, from the siege element reminiscent of “Assault of Precinct 13” to the tentacled, unimaginable monstrosities that rampage around the hospital, all created practically with hardly a trace of CGI to be seen.

Fans of practical effects will get a thrill out of much of the film, things like puppets and prosthetics and costumes and make-up effects all make an appearance. I do personally get tired of the CGI overload sometimes so it’s massively refreshing to see. This helps add a sort of grimy authenticity to proceedings, there’s no cartoonish CGI invading the screen every two minutes. Anybody who enjoyed the recent practical effects driven sci-fi horror “Harbinger Down” should certainly check out The Void.

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Make-up test of creature from The Void

You’ll be surprised at the things you find when you go looking”

The influence of H.P. Lovecraft and his prominence in popular culture does seem to have been growing in recent years and The Void certainly has plenty of nods to Lovecraft and his weird fiction, which I’m sure will please Lovecraft fans.

The overall plot of the film is decidedly Lovecraftian, a sinister cult leader has summoned “a great force” to do his bidding. When confronted by Carter towards the film’s climax this cult leader is accused of playing God, to which he replies “Some things are older than God” perhaps hinting at one of Lovecraft’s Great Old One’s at work.

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We never see any obvious Lovecraftian monsters on screen, Cthulhu’s tentacles never slither on-screen or anything like that but I think this is to the film’s strength, it plays on the unknowable and imperceptible nature of most of Lovecraft’s work. What we do see however are occult rituals used to summon inexplicable monsters with the help of weird shapes and esoteric tomes, which also helps give the final third a bit of a Hellraiser vibe, not that that’s a bad thing.

Subtle nods or “Easter Eggs” as we apparently call them now can be seen throughout, the town itself I’m pretty sure is called Marsh County, referencing Innsmouth’s Obed Marsh perhaps? Even our main character Daniel Carter might be a nod to Lovecraft’s recurring character Randolph Carter. We do spot a mysterious book filled with weird shapes and diagrams and, one can assume, instructions for summoning this ancient power, perhaps collated by a mad person? We also see a storage container in the medical supply closet with the name of “West” on it, I wonder what that could be referencing?

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I may be biased because The Void takes inspiration from so much stuff that I love it almost seems like this film was made for me, it’s the perfect antidote to all the CGI driven nonsense that we get nowadays, a throwback to when a horror film was just a film, and not the start of an unending franchise with hundreds of inevitable sequels and spin-offs coming forever…

Giving a star rating on a film is always a little tricky, if like me you love practical effects and H.P. Lovecraft and Gory 80’s horror then it’s an easy 9 slimy tentacles out of 10 and I will call it highly recommended. Even casual horror fans should still get a kick out of much of the film. It’s a fun, gory throwback to a style of film making we don’t see much any more, with mind-bending imagery and a good dose of cosmic horror to get your head around.

(JB)

Cannibal Apocalypse (1980)

(aka Invasion of the Flesh Hunters and a lot of other titles)

(Spoilers ahead)

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I’ll be honest, I had two reasons to track down Cannibal Apocalypse. First up, with a title like that I was sure it would be quality exploitation trash – especially as it was one of the infamous Video Nasties. Secondly, I’ve got a major daddy crush on John Saxon. Ever since Nightmare on Elm Street he turned my head, then his brown-face ‘it’s OK it was the 80s’ portrayal of Rashid Ahmed in Dynasty sealed the deal. He’s a heaving hunk of man flesh.

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Cannibal Apocalypse delivered on both counts. Opening in the middle of the Vietnam War, where Captain Norman Hopper (Saxon) storms a POW camp to rescue a couple of soldiers, we’re not even five minutes into the battle when a Vietnamese lady is cannibalised by the POWs… tits first! And it’s not the only time a female character loses her boobs to the chomping of a hungry cannibal. In the middle of the carnage Norman manages to get himself bitten too, but survives the attack. He wakes sweating from a dream a year later, still traumatised by his time in Nam.

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Former POW cannibal Bukowski (John Morghen aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice of Cannibal Ferox fame) gets out of hospital and invites Norman out for a drink and a catch up. Bad timing, as Norman’s about to be seduced by jailbait neighbour Mary. A scene that can only be described as sleazetastic ensues, as Mary throws herself at Norman and… he bites her?

Yep, Norman got bit in ‘Nam, by Bukowski, and before long we find out that the bites are contagious. And if you survive a bite, you get carnivorous too! So having been stood up by Norman, Bukowski takes himself off to the local flea pit cinema where he watches a couple getting into some serious heavy petting in the next row. He decides to join in – only he takes it that step further by chowing down on the girl’s neck. All hell breaks loose from here on in…

The cannibal part of the title is more than justified, although when I saw the word ‘apocalypse’ I was thinking more Dawn of the Dead, end of the world type action. Instead we find Norman teaming up with the other cannibals and going on the run. In a strange twist we’re expected to sympathise with the cannibals and not the cops on their trail.

You can read as much or as little into this movie as you like. On the surface it’s a straight up hard-boiled video shop classic, with dodgy dubbing on almost everyone in the cast except Saxon, and some howlers in the script. Whilst Bukowski is holed up taking pot-shots at the cops, the police captain, hard-boiled in the old fashioned sense of the word, demands to know “Is he a subversive, a queer, a black, a commy, a muslim, what the hell is he?”

Cringes and laughs aside, part of me came away wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a metaphor for PTSD. We’re privy to the suffering of Norman and his bity comrades, but the psychological trauma they suffer is met with confusion, apathy and suspicion. They infect all they come into contact with, spreading madness and terror, the horrors they’ve encountered tainting those around them. They’re a lost cause, with no resources or understanding to address the suffering they’ve had all in the name of protecting and serving their country. Sounds familiar… Eerily in the final act, Norman dons his old army uniform and opts to put himself out of his misery so as not to drag out his suffering and that of his wife, Jane (Elizabeth Turner). In an added tragic twist Jane decides to die with her husband, and both hero and heroine go out in a suicide pact. But not to leave us totally depressed, a cheeky last bite comes when we realise jailbait Mary next door and her brother have succumbed to the spreading disease and have got their old aunt chopped up for later in the freezer.

So as an exploitation movie this stands up amongst the best. Director Antonio Margheriti also had a hand in Andy Warhol’s queertastic Frankenstein and Dracula outings. And for a macho blood and guts flick we get plenty of lingering shots on John Saxon in his boxer shorts and later in just a towel. We might actually see more of his tits than any of the ladies. As always he puts in a strong performance clothed or otherwise.

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So take from it what you will. A comment on the trauma of war and the devastating after effects on its cannon fodder, or a good old-fashioned beer-and-pizza cannibal flick? I’m happy to see it as both. But then I’m greedy. Now where did I put those entrails?

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As always, get me on twitter to vent if you disagree, or just kiss my ass if you love what I do! Either works for me! @jonnylarkin

JL

500 Days of Buffy Summers

When talking horror, often the big screen gets all the Glitz, Guts and Glory (holes)… but there’s another slightly smaller screen that can sometimes shine just as bright as Rihanna’s forehead. Television can be absolutely terrifying but if you turn off Piers Morgan there might be a great new horror show for you to sink your teeth into. Horror on TV continues to grow and grow with largely mixed results in quality. But when all is sliced and diced I just can’t help but think “why am I not re-watching Buffy right now?”

OK I realise I sound like I’m about to go on a “back in my day” rant here but…. back in my day we were spoilt by the best horror television show, like ever. I think of Buffy as my first introduction into what horror really is when you scratch the surface. It taught me how the horrors of life and film can in reality just be manifestations of our own fears, worries and doubts. If you feel like your mother is trying to live out her lost youth through you, then what’s to say she isn’t a witch trying to pull a Freaky Friday switch on you. If you feel like no one in school even realises or cares that you exist then maybe you literally will become invisible. If you do finally sleep with that caring loving boyfriend of yours and he suddenly becomes cruel and nasty then what’s to say he isn’t a 300 year old blood sucking vampire intent on killing you and destroying the world.

I could talk for days about the complexities of the characters, the wittiness of the dialogue, the sheer amount of pop culture references, the sense of female empowerment and the fact that Willow and Tara are in my opinion the most realistic portrayal of a gay couple on screen ever. But alas I digress…. it’s time to get back to the pointy end of the stake. What are the big shows of right now doing right and more importantly what are they doing wrong? The library is open.

So first up let’s talk American Horror Story. The acting is superb, the dialogue is witty and the women are fabulous. I am actually a fan, however it’s never good when your promos are better than the actual show. I appreciate that they want to let all of their talented ensemble cast shine but when you try and tell me 57 convoluted storylines in 12 short episodes it becomes hard work to even give a shit about most of the resolutions – which are all squished into the last two episodes anyway.

Then can we discuss that after a genius rendition of ‘The Name Game’ in AHS Asylum, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck thought they were back on the set of Glee. Suddenly this becomes a running theme and we get the fabulous Stevie Nicks appearing in Coven not once but twice just to shoe-horn in two of her greatest hits. We get Jessica Lange’s best David Bowie impression in every bloody episode of Freak Show and then finally we get Hotel, which as Jon Larkin has said previously on the podcast, is just an elongated Lady Gaga music video.

AHS prides itself on it’s reset refresh format from series to series. But as I’ve just highlighted above, so many of the same beats and themes have become repeated that for a show that tries to stay fresh it can fast become a little stale. Then when the inevitable ‘all- the-series-are-actually-linked-in-the-same-universe’ reveal came along it felt more like a kick in the teeth than something new and exciting to add.

The Walking Dead… if there was an award ceremony for generating overhype this show would take all the trophies. Hands up, I was sucked into the first series too. it does have some redeeming characters namely Carol, Michone and Daryl. I’ll even admit it has the best practical effects I’ve ever seen on tv. So now I’ve got the niceties out of the way let’s begin…

A Walking Dead season is typically 16 episodes in length but there are only four worth watching. The first, the two either side of the mid season break and the finale. The rest of the episodes are packed with more filler than The Best Of Nickelback (yes this album actually exists). It’s rather impressive how they have tricked the general public into watching that many episode where absolutely nothing happens and still have them return with the promise of a disappointing outcome to the latest overused cliff hanger. I’m starting to wonder if it’s all a big social experiment to see if The Walking Dead can transform the audience into The Watching Dead. Real people zombified by the banality of the show.

Alas this isn’t it’s only problem. I almost wish it was because there are much bigger flaws. Take for example its central character. Is Rick still good or has the harsh world turned him evil? That is the big question people debate about the show. Well It’s come to my attention that the he’s not switching between the two as he struggles with the concept and ramifications of good vs evil in a post apocalyptic world. No I believe it’s more the writers can’t make up their mind and just get him to behave in whatever way best suits the plot at that particular point even if it makes no sense to his character’s development. Oh and the most universally hated kid in the world is still alive in a show famous for killing all of its characters. They even shot him in the eye only to have him come back every week tempting me to claw out my own eyes… only stopping for the fact I’d be more like him.

And breathe…..

Ok so now I’ve ripped apart the two biggest shows is there actually anything worth watching and if so what?

Well I gave up on Supernatural after the brothers both died for the seventh time and it was apparent they were now solely writing the show for girls who write gay incestuous fan fiction.

I did thoroughly love Hannibal, and was very upset when it got cancelled. The show was beautiful but sometimes it did feel like it was having a self-congratulating jerk-off to its own stylistic approach.

You could watch the OA – it’s the defination of a Marmite show. It blends together sci fi, horror, fantasy in a modern setting and comes out with something rather unique and certainly worthy of a watch.

The Scream TV series was surprisingly good. Yes I’m biased about this as a massive Scream fan but I had no hope for it stretching out into a series and they actually managed it.

The other Screaming Queenz have been giving rave reviews of the Exorcist TV series but my controversial views on the original film have put me off this so far.

Jon Larkin is massive fan of Teen Wolf but as he refers to it as Teen Wank I believe his views are not entirely pure.

Perhaps my view has become more cynical as I’ve become more accustomed to horror. Perhaps I’m viewing Buffy through rose-tinted glasses. Perhaps Buffy really was just that good it’s spoilt me for life. Regardless of the answers I’m happy that If all else fails then I can head back to Sunnydale and dance with the hottest slayers in town…

Please send any hate for me slagging off your favourite tv show to @hste99 on Twitter. 😂😘

SM

Screaming Queenz 2: Martin’s Revenge

Welcome to Series 2 of Screaming Queenz. Listen to our new episode on ‘Neon Demon’ and you’ll be surprised to find that bitch Martin Fenerty has stolen my slot and is hosting the show! I plan to claw my way back, maybe take him from behind with a straight razor and gut him like a little gay fish.

I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t dirty my blade on him. We decided that for our second series we’d change it up. You’ll be hearing a whole lot more from Martin, Jon and Stephen as we go along.

Why did I decide to break the show up into series’ (or seasons you might want to say – that’s fine if you’re American) you might ask? No reason in particular, other than it being an excuse to find some new soundbites for the opening music and give us a reset button moment. A way to start again, go bigger and better. When I was a kid one of the queer nerdy things I used to love was waiting to see the new opening credits on a new series of Melrose Place, or Buffy, or The X Files (which never happened, well not until I stopped watching it and they brought in replacements). So this was my way of creating my own version of that. God I’m pathetic. And I love it.

Keen-eared listeners will spot familiar soundbites in there. Some not so familiar. You can think of the opening credits as a mission statement, an action plan, a promise, or maybe a threat, of things to come in the new run of shows. We’ve barely scratched the tip of the queer horror iceberg in series 1. So much still to cover.

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Psycho, for instance, the ultimate in repressed sexuality brought to startling life in bloody monochrome. The cross-dressing Norman declaring that “a boy’s best friend is his mother”. Bless him. We all know where he’s coming from. Even the queens who’ve lost their mother, through fate or through design, find a best friend in a patriarch. It could be Cher cooing you to sleep through a vocoder. It could be Auntie Mame cuddling you close as she gives you your first sip of a dirty Martini. Or, indeed, it could be the malicious bitch you just poisoned, skinned and stepped into to create a better, more glamorous version of Mummy. We need to talk about Norman. And we will. Once that psychiatrist gets through explaining the ins and outs of this weird little perversion he calls transsexualism. Of course we don’t think it’s perverted. Or maybe we do and that’s why we identify with it so much? We all go a little pervy sometimes.

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Speaking of pervy, just how many jockstrap references did Victor Salva squeeze un-lubed into his Jeepers Creepers movies? I mean seriously, a serial killing demon who likes to sniff the soiled underwear of teenage guys before ingesting their vital organs to make himself whole again? Anyone would think this stuff was written by a letchy old dirtbag. Oh. Wait. Either way we’re covering Jeepers Creepers 1 and 2 at some point down the line and we will leave no stone unturned in the debate that rages now in the horror community. Is watching these movies – and the imminent sequel – immoral in the wake of the scandal that surrounds their creator? Or should art be judged on its own merits and not those of the dirty old man behind the curtain? Which leads nicely to a love of mine I want to explore in the coming year.

Childhood horror the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Dorothy returned to Oz. When little Fairuza Balk – before she tore up the screen as uber-bitch-in-charge Nancy in The Craft – was strapped to a table about to be pumped full of electro shock therapy, the target audience cowered. The parents complained. The popcorn was ditched and eyes were shielded. But little horror-loving queens like me sat up and took notice. The promise of horror from Wizard of Oz’s Miss Gulch never quite delivered. I wanted her to track down Toto and make a little hot dog too. Anyone else? Just me? Okay I’ll take that. But what did you love as a child? What horrors crept out of that screen and thrilled you when all your friends were crying in the corner? And what went too far? That episode of ‘Hammer House of Horror’ with the hitch-hiker doppelganger and the long black fingernail STILL haunts me to this day. As does the phone-call to babysitter Jill asking if she’s checked the children in ‘When a Stranger Calls’. But it didn’t land me in therapy. It landed me in bed with my aunt and uncle terrified of the shadows but wanting more!

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If you’re reading this then I want you to send me your favourite childhood horror – whether it thrilled you or terrified you I want to know. So tweet me at @jonnylarkin, or email screamingqueenz@gmail.com. Or just comment below.

There’s a fabulous line in the new opening montage. “Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts!” It is, of course, an excerpt from the giallo ‘Bird with the Crystal Plumage.’ Giallo is something we all discovered quite recently at Screaming Queenz. We dipped our toe last year and our downloads went through the roof. Since then we’ve covered more gialli and the new series will be no different. In fact we’ll be covering so much Italian crime horror that we thought it only fitting to include the afore-mentioned snippet in our theme song. Not only did we find a subgenre oozing style and slightly misogynistic charm, we found a wading pool overflowing with campness and complex, sometimes problematic queer chops.

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For the uninitiated a giallo is an Italian pulp thriller with heavy gothic horror overtones. Mainly from the 60s and 70s and then petering out in the 80s, and hailing from Catholic, macho Italy, it’s no surprise these films are laden with women being sliced and diced and often falling into the category of victim, pervert or predator. Nothing scares a macho 70s heterosexual male more than a woman he can’t fuck, a woman he can’t save, or a woman who wants to bump him off!  But scratch the surface and there’s a much more complicated narrative to explore. To write these works of art off as cheap sleazy exercises in bigotry and misogyny would be lazy. And also a travesty if you like your horror camp, kitsch and genuinely shocking. You’d be missing out on so many treats – and one of the few subgenres of horror to feature gay men and women – and trans characters – in prominent roles. Admittedly the roles range from vacuous to offensive but there are gems to behold. And we’re here to pick them out just for you.

So we hope you’ll stick with us into our second series. I don’t want to give too much away at this point but we’ve got surprises planned, although we won’t be messing with the formula too much. If it ain’t broke, don’t cut the fucker up. But as ever want your feedback. Email, tweet, whatever. Get mad.

We all go a little mad sometimes…

(JL)