Category Archives: Blu-Ray

Review: The Falling (dir. Carol Morley, 2014)

The Falling

The Falling
UK, 2014
Director/Writer: Carol Morley

Review by N Emmett.

Abbie (Florence Pugh) and Lydia (Maisie Williams) are two adolescent pupils of a girls’ school in 1960s England. Abbie is already sexually active, having slept with Lydia’s brother Kenneth (Joe Cole). She becomes pregnant, but never gives birth – she drops one day in the school hallway and dies shortly afterwards.

Following the death of her best friend, Lydia begins taking on some of Abbie’s mannerisms and behaviour. She even begins pursuing sexual relations with Kenneth, despite the two of them being siblings.

Is Lydia possessed by the ghost of Abbie? If so, she is apparently not the only one. All around the school, girls begin acting in strange ways; many faint, while others begin shaking and convulsing as though taking part in an animistic ritual.

A project of writer-director Carol Morley, The Falling is an ambiguous piece of work that can be read as a psychological ghost story. Even if the girls are not literally being possessed by Abbie’s spirit, her carefree, rule-breaking influence is clearly lingering on.

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Review: House of Mortal Sin, aka The Confessional (dir. Pete Walker, 1976)

House of Mortal Sin

House of Mortal Sin
UK, 1976
Director: Pete Walker
Writer: David McGillivray

Review by N Emmett.

A young woman named Jenny (Susan Penhaligon) is involved in an on-and-off relationship with a two-timing rogue named Terry (Stewart Bevan). In a fit of desperation, she visits a local church and speaks to the priest, Father Meldrum (Anthony Sharp), for advice; in the process, she confesses to having had an abortion.

Jenny departs from the confessional in a hurry, but soon finds that Meldrum has taken an obsessive interest in her. The men in her life begin to fall victim to brutal assaults, and the priest turns out to have recorded her admission to being involved in abortion – placing him in a position to blackmail her as he chooses…

As with Pete Walker’s earlier film House of Whipcord, House of Mortal Sin is a film about the conflict between cruel, hypocritical establishment and victimised youth. Father Meldrum is allowed to get away with his crimes because he is a trusted authority figure, while Jenny is dismissed as a mere hysterical girl by the police. Indeed, Meldrum is shown to have put other girls through similar treatment: in the prologue, one of his past victims returns home in tears and promptly commits suicide.

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Review: The Serpent and the Rainbow (dir. Wes Craven, 1988)

The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the Rainbow
USA, 1988
Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Richard Maxwell & Adam Rodman

Review by N Emmett.

It is 1985, and Haiti is under the regime on Jean-Claude Duvalier. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman), an American researcher, has suffered from nightmarish visions ever since ingesting an unknown concoction during a trip to the Amazon. He is sent to Haiti on a mission to investigate the alleged resurrection of a zombie, and try to find a rational explanation for the seemingly supernatural occurrence.

When he arrives in Haiti, Alan meets up with Dr. Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) who serves as his guide to the land of Vodou. He then finds out that he must tangle not only with zombies, but also with a secret police force which will stop at nothing to quash perceived radicals – such as Duchamp…

The Serpent and the Rainbow is one of those “based on a true story” horror films. This time, the source material is Wade Davis’ book The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies, and Magic, which posited a scientific basis for the legend of zombies.

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Review: Ouija (dir. Stiles White, 2014)

Ouija

Ouija
USA, 2014
Director: Stiles White
Writers: Juliet Snowden and Stiles White

Review by N Emmett.

A teenage girl named Laine (Olivia Cooke) uses a Ouija board in an attempt to get in touch with the spirit of her friend Debbie (Shelley Hennig), who died in an apparent suicide. Laine and her friends discover that Debbie did not kill herself but was possessed by a malicious spirit – and the Ouija board has left the door open for that spirit to extend its influence…

Ouija is a film that exists due to branding. Following the commercial success of Transformers, the toy company Hasbro set about licensing more of its properties to Hollywood. The 2012 film Battleship was the first attempt to bring a Hasbro board game to the big screen, and now we come to the second.

While there is nothing inherently wrong about making a film based around the Ouija board, the fact that this one was overseen by a toy company may go some way to explain how utterly soulless it is. Ouija is one mass-produced plastic chunk of a horror movie.

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Review: Tower of Terror (dir. Lawrence Huntington, 1941)

Tower of Terror

Tower of Terror
UK, 1941
Director: Lawrence Huntington
Writers: John Argyle and John Reinhardt

Review by N Emmett.

A young woman named Marie (Movita Castaneda) is on the run from the authorities in Nazi Germany. She escapes her pursuers by jumping from a harbour into the sea, and is pulled ashore by a hook-handed lighthouse keeper named Kristan (Wilfred Lawson).

It turns out that Kristan is mentally unstable, and rescued Marie because he believes her to be his dead wife. She is safe from the Nazis, for now – but for how long will she be safe from Kristan?

Tower of Terror’s utterly generic title belies the fact that the film plays with multiple genres. The British film industry did not pursue horror in earnest until the late fifties; before that point, however, horror motifs often bled into films of other types – creating entertaining oddities such as this one.

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Review: Oculus (dir. Mike Flanagan, 2013)

Oculus

Oculus
USA, 2013
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Review by N Emmett.

After ten years of therapy, a young man named Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) is released from a mental institution and reunited with his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan). It is then that the siblings’ traumatic childhood memories bubble to the surface…

Although the official police conclusion was that the Tim and Kaylie’s mother was murdered by their father, who was in turn killed by Tim in self-defence, Kaylie is convinced that the supernatural influence of an antique mirror is to blame for the deaths of their parents. In an attempt to prove her theory, she ropes Tim into returning with her to their childhood home and conducting an experiment in paranormal research. But is it really a good idea for her to place herself and her brother at the mercies of the malignant mirror?

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Review: Mark of the Devil, aka Hexen bis aufs blut gequ ält (dir. Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven, 1970)

Mark of the Devil

Mark of the Devil (Hexen bis aufs blut gequ ält)
West Germany, 1970
Directors: Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven
Writers: Michael Armstrong (as Sergio Casstner) and Adrian Hoven (as Percy Parker)

Review by N Emmett.

Sometimes, the story behind a film can be more interesting than the film itself. Mark of the Devil started life as a script by former actor Adrian Hoven entitled The Witch-Hunter Dr Dracula, which involved Dracula becoming a Matthew Hopkins-like witchfinder and travelling around the land in a coach driven by an Egyptian mummy. The project ended up in the hands of Michael Armstrong, a young British director, who rewrote the script from scratch and filmed it as Mark of the Devil. The movie ended up as something rather less silly but not necessarily more desirable: a third-rate knock-off of 1968’s Witchfinder General.

In comparison to its model, Mark of the Devil‘s most significant innovation is the presence of multiple witch-hunters, each of different a moral stripe. Reggie Nalder plays Albino, the closest in spirit to Vincent Price’s Matthew Hopkins: a brutal, sadistic man who cooks up false accusations purely so that he can get his jollies abusing women. Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) is a slightly more complicated character, possibly inspired by Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He comes across as being motivated at first by religious zealotry, honestly believing that his victims are witches; over time he grows increasingly corrupted by lust and insecurity over his implied impotence, and sinks to the same level of depravity as Albino.

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Review: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (dir. Stephen Chiodo, 1988)

Killer Klowns

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
USA, 1988
Director: Stephen Chiodo
Writers: Charles Chiodo, Edward Chiodo and Stephen Chiodo

Review by N Emmett.

Young lovers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) are in the outskirts of their small American town after dark when they make a terrifying discovery: a band of malicious alien clowns have landed, and are planning to wrap the townspeople in cocoons of deadly candy floss to use as food! Our protagonists must team up with Debbie’s cop ex-boyfriend and a pair of bickering ice-cream vendors to thwart this alien menace.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is part of a batch of colourfully daft horror-comedies that arrived in the eighties, fitting right in alongside Gremlins, Ghostbusters and Beetlejuice. Out of all these films, Killer Klowns is perhaps the most resolutely cartoonish. Its plot is deliberately paper-thin; its characters are stereotypes (the bumbling sidekicks, the gruff police chief, the damsel in distress) and its overall sense of humour can hardly be described as sharp or witty.

But with films such as this, of course, obviousness is all part of the fun.

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Review: The Quiet Ones (dir. John Pogue, 2014)

The Quiet Ones

The Quiet Ones
USA/UK, 2014
Director: John Pogue
Writers: Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, John Pogue and Tom de Ville

Review by N Emmett.

It is 1974, and Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is trying to cure Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a teenager who believes herself to be possessed by a spirit named Evey. Coupland argues that Jane is mentally ill, and has roped two university students – plus a cameraman, Brian (Sam Claflin) – into helping him with his unorthodox methods of treatment.

When Oxford University pulls funding from Coupland’s experiment, he decides to take it underground. He relocates his subject and cohorts to a remote building in which he can take total control of the proceedings. While filming the experiment, Brian is faced with the possibility that Jane is genuinely possessed – and that Coupland may have less than altruistic reasons for experimenting on her.

The seventies were a good decade for the occult. Fiction gave us The Exorcist, The Omen and The Stone Tape, while the ranks of allegedly real paranormal incidents were swelled by the Enfield poltergeist, the Amityville haunting and the 1972 Philip experiment. The Quiet Ones is based loosely on this last case, which attempted to create a spiritual entity from a fictional character, but succeeds in recreating the overall flavour of occult literature of the period. The opening titles show various early modern woodcuts of devils, the kind of images that will be familiar to anyone who has read contemporary popular tomes such as Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil and All his Works.

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Review: Night of the Big Heat (dir. Terence Fisher, 1967)

The Night of the Big Heat

The Night of the Big Heat
UK, 1967
Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Ronald Liles, Jane Baker and Pip Baker

Review by Katy Quigley.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing team up once again in this B-movie from the 1960s and unfortunately the results are disappointing.

It is November and on the remote island of Fara in the Scottish Highlands, the secluded inhabitants are doing the best they can to cope in an unusual heatwave. Inn owners Jeff and Frankie (Patrick Allen and Sarah Lawson) welcome two out-of-towners, one a mysterious scientist called Dr Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee), the other Jeff’s former lover Angela (Jane Merrow). Whilst Jeff battles with his feelings for Angela and tries to keep his infidelity a secret from Frankie, temperatures swell and as people start dying in mysterious circumstances suspicions turn to Dr Hanson. But he potentially has proof that Fara is the landing ground for an alien invasion…

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