Monday 6 March 2017

Poundland Lucky Dip Part 2: Reviews of World War Dead - Return of the Fallen aka Clash of the Dead (UK 2015), Ghost Boat aka Alarmed (USA 2014), Bunnyman Resurrection aka The Bunnyman Massacre (USA 2012), Forest of The Living Dead aka The Forest (USA 2011), Stitchface aka Stitch (USA 2013) and The Watcher aka Disciples (USA 2014)

Readers will be aware that I occasionally hoover up the horror related offerings from the shelves of Poundland on the off chance that there might be a gem for a £1. This particular haul of six spine tingling (ahem) movies comes courtesy of PL in Worthing, West Sussex. I've realised that in grabbing titles at random like this I'm hoping for some video Madeleine moment, recapturing some of the thrill that I used to get renting horror movies from my local VHS emporium back in the day. So what did I get for my £5.40?

World War Dead: Rise of the Fallen aka Clash of the Dead (UK 2015: Dir Freddie Hutton-Mills, Bart Ruspoli) Second time round for this one for me, and I have to confess to a sneaking regard for the film despite its silliness. It helps that directors Hutton-Mills and Ruspoli know how to put a film together - there are a number of nice flourishes, and some unexpectedly good acting and photography, which elevate this Found Footage movie above the average.

A group of documentary filmmakers, led by the ambitious if slightly unscrupulous Marcus (Ray Eastenders Panthaki), travel to the Somme in France to make a film about the infamous WW1 battle. Marcus has been known to embellish his previous work in the pursuit of ratings, so the crew suspect he might be up to his old tricks when they fish a long dead corpse out of the lake, complete with strange occult amulet which they liberate from the body. But there's nothing fake about the dead, flesh hungry Germans who rise from the grave, triggered by the discovery and theft of the amulet. The team must take refuge in the Somme's still existent trench system, outwit the rampaging zombies and somehow look for a way to return to the crew van.

OK it's a pretty stupid concept, and as most of the zombie attacks take place under cover of darkness it's pretty hard to work out what's going on. But the cast give it all they've got and. although it's not particularly scary, some tension is generated in the undead onslaught, helped by Peter Allinson's ominous score, which sounds like it's strayed in from a much bigger budgeted movie. Hutton-Mills and Ruspoli don't overexpose the zombies to scrutiny, and the initial glimpses of them are well done. There is the predictable amount of running around screaming, and the logic of filming is largely cast to the wind at the climax, but nevertheless this is entertaining stuff.

Ghost Boat aka Alarmed (USA 2014: Dir Mat Lofgren) First time director Lofgren bites off more than he can chew with this time shift 'ghost' story. Now I know that however baffling a movie seems to be, behind it there's a logical plot and a storyboarded approach to putting the thing together. So when a movie seems to make no sense, I'm generally willing to believe that it's probably because I just don't 'get it.' But there are some exceptions. Step forward Ghost Boat as exhibit A, m'Lud.

In the movie's prologue young Samantha has just been exonerated from the charge of murdering her entire family, and while justifiably relieved she has been psych evaluated, so there's clearly something not quite right. Five years later she takes a pleasure trip on her dead dad's boat with various friends and her estranged bloke (and, unbeknownst to her, the spirits of the murdered family). Sam and her ex wind up alone on the craft, which then exerts a powerful will on our heroine, locking her in its cabin and asking her to self mutilate - fingers, hand, larynx (!) - via messages on the intercom. Still reading? While her ex slowly dies outside, denied food and drinking water, every day Sam damages herself a bit more, although when she wakes up the following morning the dismembered bits seem to have re-attached themselves. What's going on? I honestly haven't a clue. Oh, and who's the sinister looking guy in the speedboat who motors by every day?

I wish I could tell you that the denouement nicely brings together the various bonkers strands of Ghost Boat, but I'd be lying. The director would probably tell you that the movie's all about friendship, love and trust. He'd be full of it. Nice boat though.

The Bunnyman Resurrection aka The Bunnyman Massacre (USA 2012: Dir Carl Lindbergh) Quite why this film title includes the word 'resurrection' is explained by the fact that this is a sequel to Carl Lindbergh's 2011 movie Bunnyman. This would explain why the film starts rather abruptly with no backstory as to why a couple of country killers, one of whom wears the adult bunny suit of the title, would be slicing and dicing their way through the backwoods of mid west America. And having watched this rather laboured hour and forty minutes of violence without context, I have no desire to seek out the first film, or the projected third which mercifully has sat in post production for the last few years.

Although purportedly based on a true story of a 1970 serial killer The Bunnyman Resurrection seems quite happy to make like a sleazy 1980s gorefest, only with the unwelcome modern addition of CGI blood spurts. I was reminded of a less competent Wolf Creek and at times - and specifically in the girl barrel rolling sequence - the anarchic antics of the rednecks in Herschell Gordon Lewis's 1964 'classic' Two Thousand Maniacs. Only a lot less fun.

But even the golden age of 1980s slashers featured at least one - final - girl who showed some resourcefulness in dealing with the various assailants that Hollywood threw at womenfolk in that decade. The victims in The Bunnyman Resurrection seem, without exception, almost kitten-like in the acceptance of their fate - this may serve to focus attention on the killers, but ruins any cinematic tension. Director Carl Lindbergh has said in interviews that he wanted to do something a little different in the horror genre, but suited to his own taste - however this is an unpleasant, relentless film with no real style or narrative drive. Just a load of people being killed off quite cheaply, and slowly.

Forest of The Living Dead aka The Forest (USA 2011: Dir Shan Serafin) Five years before Jason Zada gave us The Forest (which, confusingly, is the alternative name for this movie) here we are with another trip into Japan's Suicide Forest on the track of an avenging spirit, a location which also inspired Gus van Sant's 2015 film Sea of Trees.

I love low budget films that aren't afraid to chuck everything in. Forest of the Living Dead gives us Japanese travelogue, a fashion photography backdrop, police procedural, Mission Impossible style computer hacking, night vision scenes, ghostly visions, rubbish gore...the lot!

The woman on the DVD cover is sadly only barely glimpsed, but there's so much more going on (sometimes confusingly so) that she isn't missed. We're introduced to a group of models on location in Japan, here for a fashion shoot with Joachim Phoenix-a-like Jason. Jason has not long broken up with Ariana, who took her own life as a result. He's now shacked up with Nichole, who goes awol one night and ends up in Fiji hacking off a girl's hand. A clue on the victim's body leads Jason and a nosy detective to the Aokigahara 'Suicide' forest where it seems that Ariana has been possessed and is hell bent on killing as many people as possible to revenge her spurning by Jason.

I really loved this film, mainly because first time director Serafin didn't care that he had little budget ($2,300,00 apparently, although that sounds like quite a lot - I suspect most of it went on plane tickets) and just went ahead and made the movie he wanted to. It fairly zips along (there's a ghost in the first three minutes!) and just when you thought it might get a bit boring Michael Madsen turns up as a police chief, and does his usual afternoon's work looking pissed off. The cast might be fairly generic but I did like one of the models, foul mouthed Valerie (Christina Myhr) who has a great way with a profanity.

So 90p well spent. Oh and best credit is an audio one - Alec Chapman, who provides 'Howls of the Dead.' Whooooooo!

Stitchface aka Stitch (USA 2013: Dir Ajai) Continuing in the grand tradition of film distributors renaming films to entrap potential viewers into thinking they're getting something they're not, the addition of the word 'face' to this movie's original title suggests a serial killer flick, but nothing could be further from the truth. Stitchface is a wildly ambitious but wholly unsuccessful headscratcher by first time director Ajai (of whom little is known).

Edward Furlong - an actor whose roles following his debut as John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day back in 1991 have been a little on the ragged side - plays Marsden, who with his wife Serafina (Shawna Waldron, doyenne of cheap films) escapes to the desert, where a friend is to perform a healing ritual to help them get over the tragedy of the loss of their daughter in a car accident. But the ritual has the opposite effect. Add in some very soap opera-y plot machinations and a load of random images, some of which are to be fair quite startling, recalling Ken Russell at his bonkers best - Altered States or Lair of the White Worm say - and you have one weird and at times incoherent movie. The 'stitch' of the title refers to huge welts that suddenly and unaccountably appear on the actor's faces and bodies, crudely sewn up, with the characters seemingly feeling little pain, only bewilderment. There's a resolution of sorts towards the end which does nothing to explain most of the oddness on display over the previous hour and a bit. It would have been good to have had a director's commentary for this one just to satisfy my curiosity as to whether Ajai really was making it all up as he went along.

The Watcher aka Disciples (USA 2104: Dir Joe Hollow) My Poundshop haul spectacularly nosedives for the last offering of this batch. And what a shame, as the cast list is an exploitation fan's wet dream! Angus (Phantasm) Scrimm, Linnea (Creepozoids) Quigley, Debbie (Tromeo and Juliet) Rochon and of course Tony (Candyman) Todd. All in one movie. Correction, all in one dull, plodding, confusing movie. It's like director Joe Hollow got hold of an entire genre TV series and crammed all the various storylines into a one hour and a half movie.

Plot wise I don't even know where to start. Basically a number of demons serve a bad guy called Asmodeus. Some Italian woman turns up looking for a priest; there's a young couple called 'mother' and 'father' who are really old but never age, and some other woman looking for a chain on a beach. Linnea Quigley's a psychic in old lady makeup - she looks insane. I zoned out so many times that this summary is a pretty accurate representation of how I experienced the story.

The Watcher is pitiful. Only the horror 'veterans' give anything like a decent performances but they all have paycheck eyes so that's not saying much. There's quite a bit of nudity, lots of body ink and some clumsy gore. If that sounds like your sort of thing let me know and I'll tell you how to get to Worthing.

Until next time....

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