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Contents

Attack the Block

11-11-11

The Woman in Black (2012)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

The Thing (2011)

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ATTACK THE BLOCK

 

Joe Cornish is most well known for being one half of comedy duo, Adam & Joe. No, I’d not really heard of them either, but I’m a bit of an old fart!

Anyway, Joe’s directorial debut is Attack the Block and it’s a hell of a debut.

I can imagine Hollywood preparing to throw millions and millions of dollars at Joe for his services based on this excellent sci-fi horror romp.

So, what’s it all about? Prepare for major spoilerage ahead…

 

A young nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), is walking home one Guy Fawkes Night and is mugged by a gang of youths, led by Moses (an astonishingly good John Boyega). As Sam runs home, terrified, something screams down from the sky and destroys a parked car. Moses checks it out and is attacked by a weird, pale creature with sharp teeth. Moses kills the beast and they haul its body to the lair of local crime boss, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter).

As they smoke weed and chill out with Hi-Hatz’s marijuana gardener, Ron, more ‘meteorites’ fall in the area. The gang decide to go out and kill the ‘alien invaders’, seeing as the first one was so easy to despatch. Meanwhile, Sam has called the fuzz and is cruising in a police van to try and catch her attackers.

It soon becomes apparent that these aliens are not like the first and are larger and much more vicious. They are also impenetrably black, save for huge, glow-in-the-dark fangs!

The gang are soon being pursued by packs of these beasts and Moses stumbles across the police van with Sam inside and is arrested. The beasts strike and kill the coppers, blood spraying all over. The rest of the gang rescue Moses and Sam and they steal the van to escape. Unfortunately, they crash it into the car of Hi-Hatz, who isn’t very pleased and pulls a gun on the kids. An alien attacks Hi-Hatz’s bodyguard and the gang legs it.

What follows next is a siege movie, with the gang trapped inside their block of flats as the aliens munch their way through the cast one at a time. We lose several members of the gang and it is actually shocking because we’ve invested in them, despite their inauspicious introduction.

Eventually, they end up back with Ron in the penthouse marijuana farm. Unfortunately, Hi-Hatz is waiting for them, having lost more sidekicks to the creatures. He threatens to kill Moses, but several of the aliens burst through the windows and tear Hi-Hatz to pieces. The gang hide in the ‘weed room’, which is secured by a thick, metal door.

In the weed room, we find out that the aliens are following the gang because Moses has something on his clothes from the first creature, which is only visible under ultraviolet light. One of Ron’s customers, a posh kid called Brewis (Luke Treadaway), suggests that the first alien was a female and it produced a pheromone that is attracting the black males.

Moses decides that as he is the only one that has the pheromone on him, he is prepared to sacrifice himself to save the others and kill the aliens. They hatch a plan and Sam volunteers to go down to Moses’ flat and turn on all the gas taps on the cooker. As she has none of the pheromone on her, the aliens more or less ignore her. Once done, she runs outside and calls Moses on her phone, telling him to go ahead with his part of the plan.

Moses runs out of the weed room, the dead female alien strapped to his back. Immediately, the males are in pursuit. He careers down stairs and into his flat, which is now filling up with gas. He throws the dead alien close to the cooker and retreats to the window. The male creatures investigate their dead mate and then turn to Moses, who is desperately trying to ignite a firework rocket (Guy Fawkes Night, remember!) with a duff lighter. Just as the beasts strike, the rocket lights up and the flat explodes, Moses being blown out of the window.

The large crowd below gasps and then cheer as Moses is seen hanging from the balcony. He climbs into the flat below and is arrested by police. As he and his gangmates are bundled into police vans, Sam explains that the gang saved her and lies that they weren’t the ones that mugged her. As the crowd chant Moses name, he smiles for the first time in the film.

 

A really good, British mainstream movie, Attack the Block is the best UK action flick debut since Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers in 2002.

All of the characters are incredibly well-drawn and acted. John Boyega is a revelation as Moses and, surely, is going to become a huge movie star. The script has the right amount of action, horror and comedy and some of the dialogue from the gang members is hilarious. Their street slang is spot on, with one line having me howling with laughter just by its deadpan delivery: “You know what? I’m shittin’ myself, innit!”

Seriously, when Attack the Block is released on blu-ray and DVD on September 19th, 2011, go out and buy it. You will not be disappointed.

 

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

 

The original 1973 version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is one of my favourite TV movies. It was genuinely creepy, even though set in an old, yet totally non-Gothic mansion, and the creatures were truly shocking when you saw them. Apparently, it affected Guillermo Del Toro greatly and he wanted to remake it for years. Now he has, although it has been directed by somebody else, with Del Toro acting as producer.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!

 

The movie begins in 1910 and we see Emerson Blackwood smash out his maid’s teeth with a hammer and chisel. Uh oh… Luckily, the movie’s not a torture porn rip-off. The creatures that live in a fireplace (seemingly built over an ancient well or something) have taken his son and want teeth in return for him (this instantly made me think of the Tooth Fairies from Hellboy II). The maid’s teeth aren’t enough and they drag Blackwood into the fireplace.

In the present day, young Sally Hirst (Bailee Madison) is forced to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pierce), and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). No doubt the name is a reference to the original film’s star, Kim Darby. Incidentally, Bailee looks like a young Katie Holmes. Maybe that’s deliberate, maybe not. Anyway, they don’t get on at first. Alex is renovating the mansion we saw at the beginning. The groundskeeper of the mansion, Mr Harris (Jack Thompson) is a grumpy old duffer, whose grandfather worked for Blackwood.

Sally finds the basement and the now sealed fireplace. Whispering voices can be heard coming from the blocked grating. Later, Sally takes some of her dad’s tools and begins unscrewing the bolts on the grating. She must be stronger than she looks! Interrupted, she leaves the job half-done, but the creatures inside the fireplace continue unscrewing the final bolt from within.

For a while, we see shadowy forms skittering about and Sally gets blamed for stuff being vandalised or stolen. Sally tries to convince Alex and Kim that creatures from the fireplace did it. Mr Harris warns Alex that they should leave. Later, he gets attacked by the creatures and barely survives. Kim visits him in hospital and he tells her to look up the house’s history in the local library, which she does, learning about Blackwood’s obsession with small creatures that took his son. The creatures feed on teeth and kidnap people to turn them into their own.

Anyway, all hell breaks loose and the creatures attack Sally during a big dinner party. They tie her up and drag her down to the basement. Kim battles with the creatures and frees Sally, but gets pulled into the fireplace, her shins breaking. Ouch.

Sally kills one of the creatures with a heavy flashlight as Alex runs in and they escape.

Later, Alex and Sally return to the house, which is up for sale, and Sally leaves a drawing of Kim on the floor. As they leave, a breeze blows the picture down into the basement, where it is pulled into the once-more-sealed fireplace. We then hear Kim’s voice and the voices of the creatures, saying that they can wait for more people to come and that they have all the time in the world.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a good film with great special effects. Unfortunately, the creatures just aren’t scary. In the original, even though they were just little guys in costumes, they had a creepy factor about them. Here, they just look like CG monsters. Director, Troy Nixey, said that having the creatures as guys in make-up and using enlarged sets/props, would have been prohibitively expensive. It wasn’t for the original TV movie, was it?! Sure, the original only had three creatures, but why are there dozens of the creatures in this film? They’re not needed, in my opinion. In fact, when they are scurrying about the house, I was reminded of Joe Dante’s Gremlins.

I also was unsure of the semi-happy ending. The original finished on a real downer. Kim Darby was dragged to her doom. While the same happened to Katie Holmes, there was optimism in that Guy Pierce and Bailee Smith escaped. I’d have had the lot of them fall victim to the creatures. Sod happy endings!

The film has a lot of good scenes and there are some great scares. Sometimes, though, it ‘jumps’ when it should ‘creep’. I wasn’t really disappointed with the film, though, and I enjoyed watching it. It had great production values and the acting is pretty much spot on.

So, while I prefer the original (sadly, a common phrase these days!), I can recommend this new version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark if you want to see a decent little monster movie… I mean a decent movie with little monsters. Whatever.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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11-11-11

 

There are two films coming that bear the above title. One is from those masters of the mockbuster, The Asylum. The one being reviewed here was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, director of three of the Saw movies.

 

spoilers ahead!!

 

Successful thriller writer, Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs), is haunted by dreams of the tragic death of his wife and young son. A deranged fan had set fire to his home while he was away, resulting in the loss of his whole family. They died at 11:11pm.

Joseph constantly sees the numbers 11-11 all over the place. His wheelchair-bound brother, Samuel, was born on November 11th. His mother died giving birth to Sam. He has a serious traffic accident at 11:11am. The film takes place in the days leading up to November 11th, 2011 – 11-11-11.

Joseph learns that his father is dying and flies to the family home in Barcelona, Spain (no idea why Spain). Richard Crone and Samuel (Michael Landes) are preachers with a small congregation. Almost as soon as he arrives, Joseph begins seeing creepy hooded figures (usually at 11:11). They appear in reflections, through translucencies or on the house’s CCTV monitors.

As the fateful day approaches, Joseph is led to believe that at 11:11pm on 11-11-11, a gate will open and something terrible and demonic will cross over when Samuel is sacrificed. It is Joseph’s purpose to protect his brother, as he is some form of new messiah.

The time comes and Joseph saves Samuel from certain death at the hands of the demonic entities. Unfortunately, he was duped and Samuel is actually the harbinger of the Apocalypse. The woman who we think is on his side, Sadie (Wendy Glenn), is also a part of the conspiracy and it is clear that things in the world are going to get bad at some future date.

 

I really enjoyed 11-11-11. From the outset, it has a sense of gut-twisting dread. Something is terribly wrong with the world, but you can’t quite work out what it is. Figures are glimpsed at the edge of the screen or in the deep background. Are they demonic forms or just shadows?

Bousmann has crafted a deeply creepy movie that feels like it’s from another era. It has the feel of a European horror film from the 1970s. I’m sure that was deliberate, given the down-beat ending.

It’s not all perfect, though. After a terrific, tense, build-up, all that foreboding dissipates as Joseph rushes to save his brother and an FX-heavy climax.

Up to then, however, the movie is a belter. There are some great jump-out-of-your-seat scares and you find yourself scanning the screen to see if those demons are lurking in the shadows.

11-1-11 is, in my opinion, the best horror film since Insidious.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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The Thing (2011)

 

Most reviews of The Thing have mentioned the original movie from 1951, The Thing from Another World, or the 1938 short story upon which it was based, John W Campbell’s Who Goes There? No, I don’t know anybody who has read it either. That said, it is available to read on the internet (see here)

Anyway, my point is that when you mention ‘The Thing’, most people think of John Carpenter’s iconic movie from 1982. That film had Kurt Russell and a band of blokes, who didn’t really get on to start with, battling against the Antarctic Winter and a shape-changing extraterrestrial (sort of). It was an object lesson in suspense, paranoia and gooey special effects, with a career-best turn from make-up whizzkid (at the time, he was only twenty-one!), Rob Bottin.

This latest movie is a prequel to Carpenter’s flick. And a very worthy one it is, too.

In the first film, a sled dog arrives at an American Antarctic research base (where not much research happens, it seems). The dog is chased by a couple of Norwegians in a helicopter. It all goes wrong and the Norwegians end up dead. Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart fly out to the nearby Norwegian base, where they find everybody dead and the charred remains of something unspeakable (which they promptly shovel into a big bag and take back!). It seems, the ‘crazy Swedes’ (quoting Russell’s MacReady there, see?) had found a spacecraft that had been buried under the ice for over a hundred thousand years. They also found an occupant.

Cue this new film, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (no, me neither) and starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

 

The Norwegians follow a weird signal out across the Antarctic ice fields and discover the crashed spaceship and the alien body in the ice. Kate Lloyd (Winstead) is flown in from somewhere else by fellow Yank, Carter, so we have some Americans in the Norwegian group now to save the day. Hurray! Yeah, right.

So, they lug the alien, in its big block of ice, back to the base and it promptly bursts out and goes on a killing spree. As aliens tend to do, you know. Kate susses out that this alien can replicate anything with which it interacts, except for non-organic stuff, like metal fillings etc. If you’ve go metal fillings, you see, you’re not a Thing. Oh, earrings too…

Anyway, the group gets whittled down and we have some nice scenes that link this film to the Carpenter one. Kate and Carter follow the alien back to the spacecraft, where it tries to get it up and running. Indeed, the engines appear to turn on and start melting the ice above it (Hang on! Didn’t the Norwegians uncover the ship with thermite charges, as explained in the earlier film?).

Kate and Carter stop the beast, but Kate realises that Carter is one of the creatures (earring missing!!) and burns him to a crisp with a flamethrower. Go, girl!

The last thing we see is Kate setting of in a Snow Cat, presumably heading the nearest base, which is Russian and 200 miles away. Now, I don’t really know how fast helicopters can fly in Antarctica, but we were told that the American base is one hour’s flight time from the Norwegian camp. Would that be closer than 200 miles? Can’t be far off, you’d think. Maybe she didn’t know about it. You’d think Carter would, though, when he told her about the Russkie base. Maybe he was a Soviet double agent?

Whatever, as the credits roll, we see a Norwegian helicopter arrive at the burning base. A chap called Matias, climbs out and is accosted by the sole surviving member of the base, Lars. Look out! A sled dog jumps out and starts running away from them across the ice. Lars explains to Matias that it is no dog and they must chase it in the helicopter. Thus Carpenter’s film begins.

 

Despite a few niggles, I really enjoyed The Thing. It served as a decent set up for John Carpenter’s The Thing and it would be good to watch both films in the same sitting. The effects were good, but not as icky gooey as Bottin’s fantastic creations. They were more shiny than slimy, but they moved well and conveyed menace and danger. The acting was serviceable. Winstead held the whole film together, playing a decent heroine, without descending into gung-ho Ripley-esque gun-toting. She kept her head and worked things out rather than going in flamethrowers blazing, although she did exactly that once or twice.

Joel Edgerton as Carter was basically Kurt Russell as MacReady, the American pilot with a gruff voice and leadership qualities. He played it well.

The story was virtually identical to Carpenter’s film, but I suppose it would have to be similar, seeing as they were similar circumstances in both films. There were some nice links to the first film, such as the two-faced creature found by Mac and Copper, and the axe in the wall, to name but two.

All-in-all, I would recommend The Thing if you are a fan of the first film, but it also works if you’ve never seen Carpenter’s movie and may inspire you to seek it out.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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The Woman in Black

I first became aware of The Woman in Black when I saw the 1989 television version of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel. With a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, it was an effective ghost story with a terrifying moment well worth waiting for.

 

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

This new version stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a young widower who works for a London law firm. Leaving his young son and nanny behind, he is sent north to sort out the estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow, owner of (cue creepy music) Eel Marsh House. He makes arrangements for his son and nanny to join him at the weekend, so they can have a bit of a break away from the city.

On arriving, though, he finds himself somewhat unwelcome: the inn is claimed to be fully-booked and the locals eye him suspiciously.

Oh, by the way, in the film’s opening scene, we saw the innkeeper’s three daughters jump to their deaths as a silent, black-garbed figure looked on.

Anyway, Harry, I mean, Arthur ends up at Eel marsh House and we’re subjected to spookiness beyond belief: glimpses of the titular dark-clad lady and false scares galore. The tension is palpable.

Arthur learns that Mrs Drablow and her hubby forcefully adopted the son of her sister, Jennet. The boy was killed when the family buggy got mired and sank in the coastal marshes that border the causeway that is Eel Marsh House’s only link to the mainland. Jennet, wracked with grief and rage, hanged herself. She returned from the Beyond to exact vengeance on the children of the village, making them kill themselves in a variety of unpleasant ways.

Arthur, aided by wealthy local, Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), pulls the buggy from the mud and finds the preserved corpse of little Nathaniel. Hoping that giving her son a decent burial, Arthur prepares for a final showdown with The Woman and, afterwards is satisfied that she is at peace.

His son and nanny arrive on the train and Arthur tells them that they are heading straight back to London. As nanny sorts out some tickets and Arthur bids farewell to Sam, young Joseph sees something and slips away, climbing down onto the railway track. Arthur looks round and sees The Woman on the opposite platform. He leaps down and grabs Joseph just as a train rushes through the station.

I won’t spoil the ending…

 

I loved The Woman in Black. It is a good, old-fashioned chiller with some excellent scares (perhaps one too many, to be honest) and a great performance from Radcliffe. The cinematography is wonderful and the Eel Marsh House scenes are amazingly creepy.

The Woman herself is well depicted, but at her best when you catch fleeting glimpses in the background. Her close-ups, while often frightening, lessen her impact somehow. It’s when you see her for an instant or in a blurred reflection that she is at her most terrifying.

My favourite film of 2012 so far. Go and see it.

 © Steve JC Johnson - 2012

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Updated 21st February, 2012