Tonight She Comes (2016)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

Tonight She Comes arrived with a festival buzz like a swarm of hornets. So, how is it? Plot paragraph …

A group of strangers find themselves fighting a supernatural evil in a remote cabin in the woods. As night falls dark magic must be invoked and extreme rituals performed in a desperate bid to end the madness but will anyone survive until morning?

I am happy to report that for me Tonight She Comes was deliciously deviant and divinely deranged. Like Raw from earlier this year Tonight She Comes is the very definition of a divisive movie. It has some intense insanity on display and moves so fast that many may feel out of their standard “Hollywood horror” comfort zone.

As I saw Tonight She Comes at a festival there were a number of critics and podcasters present. A few suggested afterwards that “there wasn’t enough back-story” and the filmmakers “threw everything at the screen just to be shocking”. I can see how they think that but I would humbly suggest that they are missing the point.

Backstory. Tonight She Comes drops the audience directly into the madness, just like the characters in the movie. This is a movie where a group of strangers (to both the audience and each other) are thrown together and have no time to think, only time to act.

Real life doesn’t always come with a neat little backstory, doesn’t always provide a ‘why’. Sometimes you just have to deal and hope you can figure stuff out in time. Accordingly sometimes the characters in Tonight She Comes make the right choice, sometimes (uh-oh) not so much.

Far from simply “throwing everything at the screen just to be shocking” I would suggest that writer / director Matt Stuertz knew exactly how far the characters in the story would need to go to accomplish their aims within the logic of their universe and was brave enough to go there. Kudos here to makeup effects team headed by Shae Spradley for making it happen.

I especially loved that all the ‘good’ characters were at best misguided and dumb or at worst unlikable assholes. It didn’t matter that I didn’t care for them. Tonight She Comes is all about endurance in the face of unimaginable madness.

For me the standout character was Felicity fearlessly played by Jenna McDonald. Her father Francis portrayed by Frankie Ray and brother Philip (Brock Russell) were also suitably off the charts. I also really liked the creepy asshat with issues Pete as brought to life by Adam Hartley.

Regarding the much talked about “gratuitous” gore, I would simply suggest that the story demanded it and the filmmakers were brave enough to step up. Kudos to them for doing so. Some may find the images shocking but, hey, when you’re dealing with ancient dark forces it ain’t always PG-13 pretty to look at.

People have mentioned The Evil Dead when speaking about Tonight She Comes and I think the comparison is valid. Like The Evil Dead, Tonight She Comes is grueling, dark, occasionally funny as hell, and has a reality all its own. The reality of this madness looks beautiful, even the nasty stuff, thanks to the brilliant eye of Cinematographer Chris Benson. Kudos to him and the crew.

Before I go I have to mention the awesome music from composer Wojciech Golczewski who penned the soundtrack for one of my top movies of last year We Are Still Here. The Tonight She Comes soundtrack is divine.

The only thing I am unhappy about is that I have to wait weeks or months to see Tonight She Comes again (and again). Despite the strength of Raw and other movies on the horizon for 2017, right now for me Tonight She Comes is far and away the best dark horror movie of the year.

I frikken loved it.

Two word review: Damned delicious.

Found Footage 3D (2016)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

Note: I saw this flat. I’ve heard the 3D really adds to the movie and as a lover of 3D, I can see how that could be the case. However, a movie must stand on its own 2D feet to be any good, so let’s move on.

Even the best Found Footage (FoFo) movies can be a chore if shaky cam brings on motion sickness, which it seems to do for a lot of people. Same with 3D. Some people enjoy, some just can’t sit through it. How wise then to create a “new” FoFo movie in 3D? Plot paragraph …

A group of seasoned filmmakers travel to a cabin in the middle of frikken nowhere (as you do) to make the world’s first 3D found footage movie. They also film the filming of the movie for a behind-the-scenes feature. Unaware that they are filming in a haunted house things soon go south as an evil “spectre” finds a way into their world by invading their behind-the-scenes footage.

From scene one Found Footage 3D is really, really funny. There are lots of ‘horror’ jokes here for gorehounds with name-checks of our favorite movies, horror tropes, and such. Director Steven DeGennaro knows his genre and his audience so horror fans can expect a lot of laughs.

One scene early on where the crew tries to enlist two locals into acting in the movie is priceless. It is clear early on that this is a comedy with horror, not a horror comedy. That distinction is crucial to enjoying Found Footage 3D.

If you go in expecting Blair Witch you will be sadly disappointed. If you prefer a cocktail of laughs, scares and shocks you have come to the right place.

The cast is small but strong throughout. Carter Roy, Alena von Stroheim, Chris O’Brien, Tom Saporito, Scott Allen Perry, and Jessica Perrin all feel right as their respective characters. I particularly enjoyed Scott Allen Perry as Carl the sound guy who plays the voice of seasoned horror movie reason whenever something spooky happens. It great to find a character in a situation who says what the audience is thinking.

Every rose has its thorn and the thorn for Found Footage 3D is that the most scary it got for me was a couple of fun jump scares. I appreciated the humor but as we all know funny and scary is hard to pull off. As The Night Watchmen, Shaun of the Dead, and any Peter Jackson movie you care to mention, proves it is far easier to be highly successful with funny and gory. Scary takes time. Scary has to build. This is where Found Footage 3D stumbled for me because it jumped too quickly from funny to scary.

I don’t want to rain on the SPX team but the FX seemed to fall at the last hurdle when the spectre is onscreen. Maybe it looks better in 3D but in 2D it looked clunky.

Ultimately Found Footage 3D is a fun ride that every horror fan should see because smart, funny self-aware horror is rare. Just know going in that its mainly big laughs with a twist of scary.

Two word review: Fun Footage.

The Night Watchmen (2017)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

“Let’s go kill some dead people!”

The tagline for The Night Watchmen tells you everything you need to know. This is a horror comedy. So is The Night Watchmen dead funny or does it die on its ass? Plot paragraph …

After a delivery van mix-up involving the dead body of Blimpo the Clown (don’t ask) a team of three veteran night watchmen, with a young rookie on his first night on the job, find themselves fighting against a growing army of vampires and clownpires (vampire clowns) and before long the fate of Baltimore hangs in the balance!

So is it any good? Here’s a clue … The Night Watchmen won the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival Best Horror Feature recently at the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival 2017. This is not the first award and I doubt it will be the last. Simply put, The Night Watchmen gives the audience what they want.

It delivers an avalanche of laughs and a flood of blood. Clever choices behind the camera from director Mitchell Altieri and the rest of the crew mean that the movie hides its low budget well. Smart editing from Brett Solem also means that The Night Watchmen doesn’t hang about, it’s fast and furious.

Ken Arnold leads a great ensemble of actors that jump right into the madness and push it forward. Luca (Dan DeLuca) and Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts) make up the trio of veteran night watchmen ‘heroes’ aided by rookie Rajeeve “That’s not my name” (Max Gray Wilbur). Office workers Karen (Kara Luiz) and Penny (Diona Reasonover) are hilarious. Cult movie icon James Remar (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Tales From The Darkside) plays a great dirty old man, and Scream Queen Tiffany Shepis (Tromeo and Juliet, Sharknado 2, Tales of Halloween) is perfect as a sexy vampire (no shock there!).

This is not, however, an ‘okay’ movie with a great cast covering up the cracks. From the make-up effects of Robert J. Haddy II and his crew, the special effects of Patrick Boyer, the cinematography of Amanda Treyzthough, through to the music of Kevin Kerrigan. It all comes together perfectly.

In case it’s not clear, I loved The Night Watchmen and it totally deserves full marks. I want to see it again, I want the blu-ray, and I want them NOW!

The Night Watchmen delivers. It is the horror comedy of the year.

Two word review: Bloody. Hilarious.

Lake Bodom (2016)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

The avalanche of movies we can see nowhere else continued this week with Lake Bodom from Finland. Plot paragraph …

In Finland in 1960 four teenagers went camping and before dawn of the next day three of them were dead while the sole survivor told a tale of how they were attacked by person or persons unknown. In the present day four teens head into the same woods hopeful to recreate the events of 1960 in an attempt to finally solve the mystery.

Sometimes movie reviews are hard because much of the joy / surprise / fun / meat of a movie is wrapped up in the twists and turns of the plot. I find that this is the case with Lake Bodom. To go too deep would be to start spouting spoilers.

Suffice to say that all is not what it appears, and things soon start to go badly wrong for our young campers. Well, this is a horror film after all.

Modern horror films are known to like a twisty turny plot. Sometimes twisty turny works and sometimes it doesn’t. For me Lake Bodom‘s choice of narrative structure felt clunky. The story appears to go in one direction and then, after a huge chunk of exposition, it goes off in another direction, and then another. sure, there were tiny breadcrumbs scattered earlier in the plot, but I still felt like we were taking a break from the current action for a large, obvious info dump.

In retrospect I can look back now and see how it all makes sense so I will not dismiss Lake Bodom out of hand despite the couple of times I thought, “Look, I’m willing to suspend belief but THAT just wouldn’t happen.”

One thing to enjoy is how gorgeous everything looks. Director Taneli Mustonen and Cinematographer Daniel Lindholm has delivered a beautiful looking movie in Lake Bodom. There are also some great set pieces, including a really exciting and unique car “chase” scene. Yes, a thrilling car chase in a horror movie, go figure.

Nelly Hirst-Gee as Ida and Mimosa Willamo as Nora are superb as the two unsuspecting young ladies brought in to help with the reconstruction of the crime. Mimosa Willamo won the best actress award at Screamfest in 2016 and it’s easy to see why. Her performance is killer. Don’t groan, it’s a slasher movie, I’m allowed to use crappy slasher puns.

So it looks good, sounds good, is well edited, the kills are good, and the film doesn’t outstay its welcome. On the down side the choice of plot twists might be a deal breaker.

Ultimately Lake Bodom has all the rights moves to be a decent entry into the overstuffed slasher genre but the great divider here for audiences is whether one is willing to suspend enough disbelief and just go with the narrative as it unfolds. I enjoyed parts, just not the whole.

Two word review: Knife. Twist.

Happy Hunting (2017)

Seen as part of the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Phoenix Film Festival 2017

Some reboots are rubbish, plain and simple. Calculated grabs for green by soulless money monkeys. Other reboots rock. Happy Hunting, taken as a reboot of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, absolutely, totally rocks! Plot paragraph …

After a drug deal goes badly wrong Warren, an alcoholic drifter, finds himself in the wrong small town of Bedford Flats at the wrong time. He goes from being one of humanity’s unwanted dregs to becoming a living prize (with a short shelf life) in a deadly game of hide and go seek. With a small group of other unwanted human ‘trash’ he is set loose in the desert late one night and given little more than a head start before the hunters start to follow …

While we’ve been here before with RKO’s adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game in 1932, Surviving The Game in 1994, and Brian Trenchard-Smith’s gore-tastic Turkey Shoot from 1982, to name but a few, Happy Hunting has more to offer than simply being a 21st century reboot.

Happy Hunting is bloody, bloody violent, and bloody good fun when you least expect it. The combination of horror and comedy is a hard line to successfully walk but Happy Hunting nails it. To be sure, writing / directing duo Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson have put together a hard hitting, white knuckle thriller with some brutal moments but it has lots of genuinely funny moments that, with the rising tension, kept me happily fixed to my chair.

It is wonderful to have a broken lead character who you care about despite his faults, here perfectly realized by Martin Dingle-Wall. The baddies are well fleshed out as people, sick people for sure, but people nonetheless. The madness of a small town with a sick side makes a kind of insane sense when seen through the eyes of Sheriff Burnside, wonderfully brought to life by Gary Sturm. Other actors worth a mention are Ken Lally, C.J. Baker, Liesel Hanson, and Sherry Leigh, who all play the bad ass crazy residents of Bedford Flats like they were born to it.

Another strength to note is the story. Without giving anything away it was a breath of fresh air to watch a horror movie where the filmmakers stick to the story’s own gritty, painful logic rather than going “all Hollywood” and safe when things got tough for the characters. As the small band of hunted gets smaller and smaller Happy Hunting repeatedly reminds us that the cavalry doesn’t always arrive when you want them to. Major kudos ladies and gentlemen behind the camera for kicking ass from the opening scene to the last.

It looks beautiful, sounds great, and is well acted. So what’s the down side? Nothing much. The only thing that seemed decidedly Meh was some of the digital effects. Given how beautifully the film was put together by Dietsch and Gibson, some of the effects looked way too cheap to be there. Thankfully this is nothing a few bucks won’t fix before Happy Hunting (hopefully) gets wider distribution.

Small Meh aside, ultimately Happy Hunting is a genuinely brutal, genuinely fun horror thriller that makes me look forward to what Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson come up with next. I unreservedly recommend Happy Hunting as a twisted good time. I cannot wait to see this again!

Two word review: Bloody. Funny.

Raw (2017)

The power of hype is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing

Here we are again with a movie that arrives in town a few days / weeks / months after a boatload of hype. There are lots of words being used to describe Raw, and it all makes it seem like we should expect the most [insert variant of shocking, sick, violent here] movie since the last one. So what’s the deal? Not yet! Here’s a plot paragraph …

Justine is going through her first week of college.  Being a Freshman at a Veterinary School there is lots of blood-spattered initiation rituals to endure.  As a vegetarian (from a family of vegetarians no less) Justine has a hard time adjusting, especially as her older sister Alexia is a couple of years ahead of her in the same school and treats her just like any other rookie.  After one ritual that involves eating raw meat Justine finds she has a taste for it. Her desire for flesh of all kinds starts her world slowly spinning out of control.

Initially I was disappointed but ultimately Raw made me a believer. Allow me to explain my disappointment in one word … Hype.

Being somewhat of a gorehound I was really ready for this French horror offering to bring some seriously off the wall insane bloodletting to the screen.  France, lest we forget is the nation that gave us Haute Tension, Martyrs, and Inside. They do like their unflinching close-ups of brutality. I decided that I needed to see Raw because of all the names that were being dropped in the coverage of it. Argento, Cronenberg etc.

So what’s it like?  Well, honestly, that kind of depends how many horror movies you’ve seen and how you deal with whats on display. Lots of people at the screening I saw were freaking out left and right with some of the visceral shenanigans going on up on the screen. The gore didn’t really register for me for while there is much that is horrific in Raw for me it was the insight into how abusive people are to themselves and each other in their daily lives that cut deeper.

Long before the blood flows in earnest we see the shame and pain of the sad, venal, selfish world we live in. Not that it’s all doom and gloom. Raw is often a fun (there is humor), thoughtful, coming of age story.  Again, there are scenes of brutality and stuff but to focus on that is to miss much of the strength of the movie.

I think the word semiotic was created for just such a movie.  It really is filled with imagery, signs, and symbols that allow your mind to ponder on many things that are left unspoken in the narrative itself. After it was over it left me thinking back to many disparate elements of the story turning ideas over in my mind. Why did she do X, what do you do if Y happens to you?  I loved that.

Director Julia Ducournau has created an amazingly accomplished first feature.  She’s not up there with Argento or Cronenberg ‘yet’ but this is a lovely piece of work.

Talking of a lovely piece of work I could watch Ella Rumpf, who plays the older sister Alexia, all day. Even with her arm stuck up a cow’s arse she’s a delight. Her toughness plays off wonderfully off her younger, initially more naive sibling Justine, portrayed by Garance Marillier. While there is kudos also to Rabah Naït Oufella as Adrien, Justine’s dorm room partner, when I look back at Raw it is the truly fearless acting of Garance Marillier that stays with me. She takes a tough role and really makes it happen. She it at turns naive, charming, scary, sexy, depraved. She covers it all. A brilliant performance which, when paired with the force of nature that is Ella Rumpf’s Alexia is worth the price of admission.

Raw is a very clever package because you may go expecting one thing (gore shocks etc) that may or may not deliver depending on how you are wired for violence, but I cannot imagine anyone failing to come away from Raw without being struck by the visual richness and depth of it all.

Ultimately Raw is bloody, bloody thoughtful, and bloody well made. I honestly cannot find anything to fault. It is a thoughtful provocative work so despite my initial hype-addled thoughts I give Raw full marks. it delivers.

Two word review: Bloody impressive.

The Belko Experiment (2017)

“All employees, lend me your full attention.”

I forgave Greg McLean for last years The Darkness because Greg gave us Wolf Creek, Wolf Creek 2, and Rogue. Does his new movie The Belko Experiment deliver a return to form? First, a plot paragraph …

In Bogotá, Colombia, American employees of non-profit Belko Industries arrive at work to find some new security guards turning away all the local employees for reasons unknown. Some time later, out of the blue, an ominous voice on the PA system tells them that in order to live the 80 employees in the building must kill two of their fellow office workers (in a certain amount of time) or die. Thinking it an elaborate hoax no-one does anything. At the alloted time The Voice on the PA system advises them that their time is up. While everyone stands around waiting to see who the practical joker is the heads of two of the people in the crowd suddenly explode. It seems the chip implanted in the backs of their heads to aide the authorities should they ever be kidnapped in Colombia contain small bombs that The Voice can activate. The Voice (yes, he is listed in the credits as The Voice) then tells everyone that 30 must be killed or 60 will die. Cue the madness.

Greg McLean is back and he’s also back in my good books. The Belko Experiment perfectly blends director Greg’s distinctive brand of visceral brutality with the dark, dark, humor of writer James Gunn as the office workers turn on each other desperate to avoid the fate of the Ultimate Headache.

The opening sweep through the office in The Belko Experiment swiftly shows who is who. We get to meet the security guard, the maintenance worker, the new employee, the office stoner, the hottie, the geek, the serious “here to work” type, the introvert, the extrovert, the creepy guy, The Boss, all sketched out just before the craziness begins. The genius of The Belko Experiment is that these stereotypes, while occasionally larger than life, will strike a chord with anyone who has every worked in Cube World reminding them of people they have worked with.

In the middle of the madness is every-man Mike Milch played by rising genre fave John Gallagher Jr.(Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane). If Mike was a real person his friends would probably call him “Nice Guy Mike”. He is down to earth, funny, caring and always tries to do the right thing. This proves increasingly difficult as everything falls apart at Belko.

What I liked about The Belko Experiment is that it does what it says on the box. You get exactly what you think you’re going to get here. Strong shocks and violence. It is a Greg McLean movie after all. Having said that there are some healthy handfuls of humor that pop in occasionally, most of it courtesy of stoner cafeteria worker Marty Espenscheid, played by Sean Gunn. The laugh one minute, scream or squirm the next helps to make Belko a real emotional roller coaster.

Helping to make it all work are a great cast. It says a lot about an actors abilities that in a brief couple of scenes you quickly get to know who they are and care about them, or in some cases hate them. Kudos to Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Rusty Schwimmer, Owain Yeoman, and Michael Rooker among others.

There have been a number of high profile reviews bleating about how mean-spirited, brutal, and dark The Belko Experiment is. This is because most general movie critics are somewhat misguided about what they are going to get with a Greg McLean movie. His movies are not violent in the safe Hollywood style of some PG-13 horror film, they are truly tough, uncomfortable and grim. That’s how he rolls. He pushes your endurance to make you go through the ringer with the protagonist. In The Belko Experiment there is no safe place to hide, nowhere to find comfort, it is hell all over.

As a gorehound I found the whole movie tough, tense, and terrifying. I also found it gratifying that early on in the madness the writers didn’t play favorites with the cast. You quickly understand that no-one is safe from the insanity and that everyone is a potential predator or victim.

Ultimately The Belko Experiment delivers on its promise of visceral violence and dark humor and while it may not be to everyone’s tastes I personally loved it.

Two word review: Tough job.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

We don’t belong here.

Here’s a big movie (hardy har har) with lots of hype so I won’t mess about asking if you’ve heard of it. Plot paragraph …

There’s an island called Skull Island. Kong lives there. People go there to have a look around. It doesn’t go well.

Sometimes we just need a simple premise done well to be happy. Such is the case with Kong: Skull Island. It won’t win any awards for character arcs but it does exactly what it says on the box. Big monsters go smash and it has never looked lovelier.

Despite the fact that this movie is Warner Brothers dipping their toe in the water of Toho mega monster franchise territory, so it’s basically a tester for more movies, Kong: Skull Island is consummate thrilling fun.

Of the main players present, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly are larger than life. John C. Reilly is pretty much worth the price of admission all by himself by the way. Supremely funny throughout. As the more straightforward good guy heroes Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are a little muted, squeezed into those brief scenes when mega monster madness is taking a break.

That’s okay because we’re here to see some crazy mega monster action not a reboot of Shakespeare. The key word here is fun. Right from the get-go director Jordan Vogt-Roberts drops our band of plucky heroes on the island and involves them in some fisticuffs with Kong that leaves the battered survivors spread out all over the place. The clock is ticking before the relief team arrives miles away across the mysterious island filled with unimaginable dangers. Now get out of that!

This is a movie for people who like their special effects with a small side order of plot and characters. As such it is easily the best big monster Hollywood movie that I’ve seen. Yes, its shallow and no, it doesn’t have the same depth of feeling as the original blah blah blah but it’s a different movie made in a different age. This is not a “love story” betwixt Kong and Brie Larson. This is Big monsters go smash.

Also, while we are on the subject of all the Kongs, this movie is not as bloated as Peter Jackson‘s 187 minute reboot from 2005. Coming in at just under two hours, Kong: Skull Island does not outstay its welcome.

The effects are quite phenomenal in parts and as much as I want to spoil it by talking about my fave scenes, I won’t. Suffice to say that Kong: Skull Island is wall to wall action. If I had to drop a silent but deadly in the elevator ride of this movie review, I’d say that it does start to feel a bit draggy before we get to the third act. There are a lot of moving parts going on with individual stories so there’s a little bit of drag as it all gets pulled together. Thankfully, we are over the hump quite quickly and back to the mega monster madness.

Ultimately, I’m going again this weekend because as far as big monster thrills go Kong: Skull Island totally delivers and is right up there with Shin Godzilla as the new gold standard for all mega monster movies. Kong: Skull Island is just too much fun to miss! Go see it!

Note: Do NOT leave the theater until you see the awesome post credit sequence. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

Two word review: All hail!

Class of 1999 (1990)

“The year is 1999. The gang-controlled areas have become known as Free-fire Zones. Kennedy High is located in the middle of a free-fire zone. The police will not enter. There is no law. The Department of Educational Defense has been formed to reopen the schools and control the gangs.”

I was out of school and making my way in the big world when Class of 1999 was released. Despite this I had enough relatively fresh memories of school to go see it. I liked it so much that I bought the VHS and re-watched it over and over until it was lost in the mists of the mid Nineties. Having not seen it seen it since I was somewhat apprehensive about revisiting it. Would it still be any good? Plot paragraph …

Former ‘yoof’ gang member Cody Culp is released from prison and sent back to Kennedy High School (hey, it’s 1999, that’s how they do things in the future!). Wanting to avoid trouble Cody has to navigate his gang the Blackhearts who want him back, rival gang the Razorheads who want him dead, and his growing feelings for new girl Christie who just happens to be the new Principal’s daughter. Unbeknownst to all the ‘yoof’ the Department of Educational Defense has deployed some new high tech android educators to keep the gangs in line. Android educators based on former military robots … what could possibly go wrong?

Class of 1999 has aged fabulously well if you like cheesy B Movies and have a relatively healthy PCT. At the time it was a silly, somewhat gory, B movie. Now it has evolved into a silly, somewhat gory B Movie with lots of retro treasure to share.

First there is the cast. We have Stacy Keach with bright white eyes and matching bleach blonde pony tail as MegaTech’s head scientist Dr. Bob Forrest, ass kicker Pam Grier as android teacher Ms. Connors, and Malcolm McDowell as hapless Principal Miles Langford. Back in the day they were B movie heroes, now they are B movie icons.

While not as iconic perhaps as Stacy, Pam, and Malcolm, Joshua John Miller who played Cody’s younger brother Angel is clearly a horror hero. His first film role was in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. After that he was in River’s Edge and Near Dark. All these years later Miller co-wrote the screenplay for the 2015 horror comedy The Final Girls. Nice!

Then there is the classic late Eighties look and feel. Big hair, big shoulder pads, and gang members that all look like extras from Mad Max dressed for a colder climate. Talking of colder climate, Class of 1999 was filmed in Seattle the year before Nirvana’s Nevermind exploded into popular culture and while there are no cameo appearances from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden et al (that we know of) it does all look gloriously ‘moment in time’ cold, wet, and grungy.

Then there is the script. Corny is not corny enough a word for some of the stuff we have on display here. “I’m going in there to waste some teachers!” Cody says to a bunch of gang members standing on the steps of the school. “Are you with me?”

Beyond the corn there is also the wonderfully weird disconnect one gets when adults try and portray young kids in school. The cheesy dialog often goes up to eleven as it was clearly written by someone who hadn’t been in short pants for a couple of decades. The dialog sounds like a clunky update of Westside story but all the players are early Nineties grunge-heads from Seattle. Its ozzum!

Then there are the special effects. We have gory effects a go-go with android teachers, I mean military robots, going loco with drills, rocket launchers, bullets, and flamethrowers.

Ultimately director Mark L. Lester will undoubtedly be remembered most for Commando from 1985 which is arguably the most Eighties Arnie movie that Arnie ever did. That’s fair enough as Commando stands tall in Eighties pop culture but for retro cheesy gorehounds like me I will always remember, and be thankful for, Class of 1999.

Two word review: Killer classes.

Horror Hospital (1973)

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth!”

If, as a film buff, one ventures into “Castle Horror” there is a small room atop one of the high towers in the West Wing with a door painted in a patchwork of lurid, hallucinogenic, colours (sic). There is a sign on the door that reads, Warning: Things are about to get very British.

This room is filled with piles of flared trousers, Afghan coats, beads, high heeled shoes for blokes, bright red blood that looks like cheap paint (because it is), and half-smoked joints. It is home to blokes with huge gypsy creams (sideburns to you), unruly beards, and yellow teeth standing at the bar drinking warm beer or scotch without ice. Fit naked birds smoking hand rolled cigarettes walk about being both fit and naked. The place smells of gasoline, incense and sex. There are long knives, axes, and power tools laying around so watch where you sit down. Welcome to “Retro British Horror Madness”.

It is in this room that you will find all the pieces of the Horror Hospital jigsaw. To call Horror Hospital “Retro British Horror Madness” is the very least one can do. The scripted insanity on display in Horror Hospital is glorious.

The first time I watched Horror Hospital it was quite disconcerting because it was all so bloody Seventies, so bloody awful, so bloody funny, and so bloody INSANE that I couldn’t quite believe what I was watching. Every scene was more wacky than the last and it starts off by being utterly nuts…

A Rolls Royce is parked in a forest. In the back of the Rolls, dressed in black, is brooding, stone-faced, Doctor Christian Storm, played by Brit Horror Royalty Michael Gough. Beside him sits a dwarf called Frederick played by Skip Wilson (Vampire Circus, Corridors of Blood, Masque of the Red Death). Be prepared, Skip steals every scene he is in. Two young, hip, groovy teens appear in the distance, running, running, running through the forest, all covered in blood. Doctor Storm nods to the driver. The Rolls glides forward.

“Make a clean job of it, Frederick,” warns Doctor Storm, “The car was washed this morning.”

Frederick pulls a lever and a huge blade swings out from the side of the Rolls. The two young, hip, groovy teens keep running, running, running, and then CHOP! both their heads fall into a basket, also hanging from the side of the Rolls. And we’re off (just like the heads)!

Despite what you may be thinking this is not a crap horror movie that is now unintentionally funny decades later. Oh no, no, no! This was a brilliant horror comedy that was meant to be as laugh out loud outrageous as it was and still is today. Here’s a plot paragraph (ooh crikey, that’s a big one!) …

Songwriter Jason (played by Brit 70’s sex comedy icon Robin Askwith) is fed up with being fed up so he takes a chance on visiting “Hairy Holidays”, a travel agency that specializes in out of the ordinary holidays (vacations to you). Here we get a cameo from the great and wonderful Dennis Price (Vampyros Lesbos). Jason takes a chance on visiting a health farm called Brittlehurst Manor. On the train journey there, it’s way out in the country you see, he meets Judy (a fit bird soon to be naked) who just happens to be going to the same place to find her long, lost aunt. When they get to the Manor they are met by Frederick (‘ere, wasn’t he the dwarf who cut off the heads?), Judy’s long lost Aunt, the mysterious Doctor Storm, and a bunch of silent, grey faced teens with fresh scars on their foreheads, who appear to do anything the good (bad) doctor tells them. What on earth is going on?

Considering the first scene that we went over just now, to suggest that the movie slowly spirals into madness would be a tad unhinged in itself. The movie is a swirling whirlpool of madness that we are fortunate enough to get dropped into and carried away with.

I recently revisited Horror Hospital (hence the reivew) and I’d forgotten just how much fun it is. Given all the bloody awful supposed to be serious utter crap horror we have to wade through every year, Horror Hospital is a joy to watch and re-watch.

Some may question whether Horror Hospital was meant to be funny but having Robin Askwith as the lead is a big clue that this was never intended to be serious. The star of Queen Kong, Carry On Girls, and all of the “Confessions” movies, this was Robin’s first starring role and, in retrospect, it can be seen as the blueprint for the roles that made him famous.

Robin Askwith is a Brit icon for me as his first movie was Lindsay Anderson’s If … and he also had parts in The Flesh and Blood Show, No Sex Please, We’re British, and Britannia Hospital (Lindsay Anderson again).

If you want more solid proof that it was meant to be funny, a quick listen to the commentary track on the DVD / blu-ray with producer Richard Gordon proves very enlightening. Gordon is clear to explain that the script was written as a comedy vehicle for Robin within the horror realm. Additionally, the crew behind the camera were some of the best in the business (who worked on 2001 A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, James Bond, you name it).

Upon its release the movie was hailed by ‘real’ film critics of the day (The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer et al) for it’s blending of the macabre and high camp. They’re not wrong. Coming a full two years before a certain Rocky Horror Picture Show hit the screens, Horror Hospital did fun, fresh, and freak-out mental in the British style first. It even starts with a song by a hairy Seventies rock band followed by a punch-up! What’s not to like?

Ultimately Horror Hospital requires a high PCT. It is also a movie worthy of creating a new category, that of Laughtastic, because it’s so bloody funny. Despite the earlier warning that ‘Things are about to get very British’ there is nothing too obscure or too “British” about Horror Hospital. Its madness can be enjoyed by any and all.

Horror Hospital delivers more laughs than The Wicker Man and more gore than The Railway Children.

Two word review: Retro gold.

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