Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Curse of the Witching Tree (dir. James Crow, 2015)

Curse of the Witching Tree

Curse of the Witching Tree
UK, 2015
Director/writer: James Crow

Review by N Emmett.

After her husband falls into a coma, Amber Thorson (Sarah Rose Denton) moves into a farmhouse with her children Jake (Lawrence Weller) and Emma (Lucy Clarvis) It turns out that the house was built near the Witching Tree, where a woman was hanged for witchcraft five hundred years beforehand.

Twelve-year-old Jake begins experiencing supernatural phenomena and concludes that the witch is still haunting the house. It is up to Emma, the eldest child, to convince their highly-strung mother that desperate measures are needed to solve the family’s problems.

With Curse of the Witching Tree, writer-director James Crow has delivered a half-intriguing, half-frustrating haunted house story. The film is stuffed with detail, so much that it seems rather longer than its modest 97 minutes, and some of that detail works very well.

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Review: The Sister of Ursula, aka La sorella di Ursula (dir. Enzo Milioni, 1978)

The Sister of Ursula

The Sister of Ursula (La sorella di Ursula)
Italy, 1978
Director/writer: Enzo Milioni

Review by N Emmett.

While staying at a luxurious Naples hotel with her sister, Ursula (Barbara Magnolfi) has visions of the other guests being brutally murdered. It turns out that these killings are actually taking place, and the hotel manager is covering them up so as not to harm his business. Will any of the guests survive long enough to expose the killer?

It is hard to pretend that The Sister of Ursula is a particularly well-written film. Its loose plot is assembled from giallo conventions, its characters are one-dimensional and its twist ending is utterly predictable. And yet, it has earned itself a place in giallo history. Why? Because of the sex.

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Review: The Living Dead Girl, aka La Morte Vivante (dir. Jean Rollin, 1982)

La Morte Vivante

The Living Dead Girl (La Morte Vivante)
France, 1982
Director: Jean Rollin
Writers: Jacques Ralf, Jean Rollin

Review by N Emmett.

A group of grave-robbers get more than they bargained for when they open the coffin of Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard), causing her to rise as a vampire and kill them. Catherine then heads back to her old home to meet her sister Helene (Marina Pierro).

As children, Helene and Catherine vowed that when one of them died, the other would follow immediately afterwards. Helene did not fulfil this promise, but she remains close to her undead sister – even going so far as to kill people so that Catherine can feed on their blood.

Jean Rollin had been making his own brand of vampire films since the sixties with pictures such as Les Frisson des Vampires, but with 1982’s La Morte Vivante (known under various English titles including The Living Dead GirlQueen Zombie, Lady Dracula and Scare: Dead or Alive) he adapts to the era of Tom Savini. The body horror begins with the film’s opening sequence, in which Catherine uses her sharp, lengthy fingernails to stab the eyes of one grave-robber and slit the throat of another (the third, meanwhile, has half his face burnt off following a mishap with some acid). The Living Dead Girl owes as much to the gut-munching zombie cycle as it does to the vampire genre – one scene in particular shows Catherine going well beyond neck-biting and indulging in out-and-out cannibalism.

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Review: Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (2011)

Bottled AbyssReview by Jaq D Hawkins

The original release of Bottled Abyss was nominated for the Bram Stoker award in 2012, and it’s easy to see why by the end of the first chapter. The 2015 re-release that I’ve read is described by the author as the “updated and preferred version.”

The prose is very descriptive and emotive. It actually gave me quite an emotional kick in the gut when the story started out with Herman and Janet reacting to the loss of their daughter, each in their own way. For Janet, that comes in the form of alcohol and suicidal tendencies. When Herman goes out to look for their missing border collie dog, the heartrending goes even deeper, then takes a sudden supernatural turn.

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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: Suck (dir. Rob Stefaniuk, 2009)

Suck

Suck
Canada, 2009
Director/writer: Rob Stefaniuk

Review by N Emmett.

Joey Winner (played by writer-director Rob Stefaniuk) is the lead singer of a band called the Winners – which is, ironically enough, not very successful. During a road trip, band member Jennifer (Jessica Paré) is turned into a vampire. Her newfound supernatural allure is a boost to the band’s fortunes – but how long can the other members cover up her habit of killing people?

Part vampire spoof, part road movie, part music video, part animation, part loving send-up of the rock business, Suck tries to be just a few too many things at the same time. This is evidenced by how, despite the straightforward nature of the plot outlined above, the first act of the film manages to be bewildering in its convolution.

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Review: Deadlands Volume One: Dead Man’s Hand by various (2015)

Deadlands Volume One: Dead Man's Hand

Deadlands Volume One: Dead Man’s Hand
IDW/Visionary Comics, 2015 (containing material published previously)
Writers/Artists: Various

Review by N Emmett.

Based on the Deadlands role-playing game, Deadlands Volume One: Dead Man’s Hand contains several short stories by a range of different creators. The tales are set in an alternate-history version of the American West, where sea monsters, zombies and occult powers are an accepted part of day-to-day life.

It is a setting with a lot of genre-mashing potential. Alas, the assembled writers have struggled to make anything of it…

Let us start with “Death was Silent”, by writer Ron Marz. This story features a mute gunman named Hoyt Cooper who communicates by making words magically appear on a blackboard that he wears around his neck. The concept turns out to be completely redundant: as this is a comic, all of the characters communicate though text, and the story never finds any way for Cooper’s condition to be anything more than a gimmick.

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Review: Chastity Bites (dir. John V. Knowles, 2013)

Chastity Bites

Chastity Bites
USA, 2013
Director: John V. Knowles
Writer: Lotti Pharriss Knowles

Review by N Emmett.

Leah Ratliffe (Allison Scagliotti), a reporter for a high-school paper, is frustrated both by a lack of newsworthy stories and by the reactionary politics of her local community, which she describes as “teabagger heaven”. She is spurred into action by the arrival of Liz Batho (Louise Griffiths), a pro-abstinence pundit who sets up a school organisation called the Virginity Action Group (V.A.G.)

Leah’s research leads her to discover that Liz Batho is the legendary vampiress Elizabeth Bathory, whose determination to procure virgins is most certainly not rooted in old-time Christianity. And when Leah’s best friend Katherine (Francia Raisa) develops a crush on Batho, it is up to the plucky teenage reporter to thwart the evil schemes of the Blood Countess.

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Review: Leprechaun’s Revenge, aka Red Clover (dir. Drew Daywalt, 2012)

Leprechaun's Revenge

Leprechaun’s Revenge
USA, 2012
Director: Drew Daywalt
Writer: Anthony C. Ferrante

Review by N Emmett.

Teenager Karen O’Hara (Courtney Halverson) finds a red four-leafed clover while on a hunting trip with her grandfather. She picks it, and unwittingly revives a leprechaun that had been carried over from Ireland during colonial times. Contrary to legend, the leprechaun is not a lovable mischief-maker in a green hat, but a murderous demon with an insatiable appetite for gold…

The plot of Leprechaun’s Revenge (also known as Red Clover) is by-the-numbers stuff: an evil creature awakens, and while the body countr grows the characters discuss ancient folklore – clearly made up on the spot by the screenwriter – before they run off on a MacGuffin hunt.

What makes the film stand out is not its story, but its bizarre execution. Moments of inspiration sit alongside stretches of outright incompetence.

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Review: Frankenstein vs. The Mummy (dir. Damien Leone, 2015)

Night of the Wolf: Late Phases

Frankenstein vs. The Mummy
USA, 2015
Director/writer: Damien Leone

Review by N Emmett.

This loose reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel portrays Victor Frankenstein (Max Rhyser) as a lecturer at a present-day American university, who is carrying on his experiments with reviving dead matter on the sly. Meanwhile, an Egyptology professor (Boomer Tibbs) at the same university unwittingly reanimates a mummy. Two undead monsters end up going on the prowl for bodies: one wants a more presentable body to house his brain, while the other hopes to find replacements for the sensory organs that were removed three thousand years ago.

The DVD cover for Frankenstein vs. The Mummy declares that “the epic battle has begun”, but in fact the film spends remarkably little time with its two monsters. This is not really a story about a conflict between Frankenstein’s monster and a mummy – it is a love story between Victor Frankenstein and youthful Egyptologist Naihla (Ashton Leigh).

And boy, what a pallid romance it is.

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