Don't Kill It (USA 2016: Dir Mike Mendez) I'm going to admit that the films of Dolph Lundgren have managed to pass by my film viewing, er, career - and I'm happy to have let that happen. So how am I ending up watching nigh on sexagenarian Dolph after a lifetime of avoidance? Because he's in a film about a shape shifting demon, that's why. Old Hans (for that is his real name) plays Jebediah Woodley, a demon hunter that's a cross between Crocodile Dundee and, well, Dolph really. Woodley turns up in the small town of Chickory Creek, Mississippi, where a spate of random murders have been taking place. And the twist is that all of the murderers and their victims are connected by association - it's almost as if someone...or thing...is moving between them causing the mayhem.
Don't Kill It is an almost sensationally violent film. I'm not easily shocked but the body count (and parts) in the first five minutes was probably higher than most films I've seen this year put together. Into this rather campily arranged carnage wades Dolph, introduced to the viewing audience via the good old 'deal-with-the-sex-pest-hitting-on-the-woman-in-the-bar' routine, then taking said woman - a lady of the evening - home, having his wicked way with her then almost refusing to pay her. What a rotter - although he vapes rather than smokes, presumably to show his sensitive side. Lundgren then smile/snarls his way through the rest of the movie, getting to the truth behind the killings quicker than the rest of the state police force. The truth is of course a riff on the old The Thing story - or more accurately the 1987 movie The Hidden - with an ancient demon replacing the alien.
So we have a demon who inhabits bodies, makes the hosts scream a lot, develop jet black eyes (when the FX team can remember to apply the CGI) and murder, murder, murder. At only an hour and a quarter Don't Kill It is terrific fun and although I've nothing to compare it with Dolph is clearly having a whale of a time - although I sense that, like William Shatner in the last pre-reboot Star Trek movies, his extended running days may be over. Exploitation regular Kristina Klebe, as his FBI partner in crime-solving Agent Evelyn Pierce, is clearly no stranger to the treadmill though, and makes up for Hans's fear of the fall by doing enough of her own stunts to help us forget when Mr L sits it out. Huge fun if dumb as a box of something very stupid indeed.
Katee Sakhoff, no stranger to exploitation fare but still bringing more class to the table than the movie deserves, plays Jess, a sculptress with an addictive past who is keen to re-connect with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton) from whom she has become estranged. Chloe has a dark past of her own, and there's oodles of back story which pours out of the script and dilutes from the reasonably interesting dysfunctional parent and child reunion through supernatural adversity theme, which has been used an awful lot recently (Under the Shadow, The Babadook etc).
This is a shame as there are some fine set pieces in Don't Knock Twice. The demon is brilliantly realised (having ancient origins via Baba Yaga woodcuts is a nice touch) and the whole look of the movie is decidedly sinister. But any tension generated by individual scenes is is lost in the sheer weight of exposition. Honestly, it's ok for some things to remain unresolved, particularly if your ending is less than tidy. Pity.
The Void (Canada 2016: Dir Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski) This film has been widely trumpeted as eschewing CGI in favour of good old latex effects and karo syrup. And while this is true, the fact that the FX have achieved advance notice top billing is something to do with there not being an awful lot else to congratulate the directors for apart from some rather icky modelling.
The Void has an interesting if hardly original setup: a group of hospital staff go about their business in a facility which is in the process of being closed down (giving the movie the atmosphere of some of John Carpenter's most claustrophobic work, like Assault on Precinct 13). Into their midst comes an agitated man and, later, two people who have been hunting him - it's not long before the dead don't stay dead and the basement's full of tentacles.
Sadly there are too many plot elements that don't really come together - like the white robed sentinels on hand throughout the movie, and the strange, mystic ending which comes in from absolutely nowhere - which reminded me of a whole load of other films, rather distracting me from the one I was watching. This film is, like it or not, all about the effects, but the creatures on display, impressive though they are, only served to evoke memories of Hellraiser, From Beyond, er The Beyond, and many others from the most recent golden age of the monster movie. Like some of The Void's predecessors from that time, the film kind of stops for the set pieces and then picks up again, rendering it an FX show reel with a (baffling) story attached. Ultimately it all runs out of steam, and while The Void aims high within its clearly minimal budget, it's just a bit too all over the place to satisfy.
So we have a young couple, Andrew and Megan. He's a successful writer and she's an artist (not specified but definitely struggling) who are relocating out into the country. On the way there, driving at night in the pouring rain (actually pouring - a particularly useless bit of FX work) Alex swerves to avoid a figure in the road and their car spins off the highway. The couple are unharmed, and make their way on foot to their country retreat. Thereafter things start to get a bit strange - shadowy figures appear to Megan. Alex starts to bleed from the nose. What's going on? Actually it's pretty flipping obvious.
Apart from the shadowy wraiths who pop up from time to time, this is basically a two hander - which might in itself set off some alarm bells. The reality is that the two actors playing the couple - the impressively named Bug Hall and Kat Steffens - are no great shakes, and an hour and twenty minutes in their company is almost more than the human frame can stand. Add in some really inappropriate soundtrack music and the constant rain which does not let up for the whole film - again, a bit of a clue - and the result is really quite poor. The denouement - which of course my blog policy forbids me to share - is one of those that invites you to look back and re-appraise everything that's happened. Believe me, if you do watch The Shadow People, don't do this - it'll just make you more annoyed.
Asylum of Darkness (USA 2017: Dir Jay Woelfel) Dwight Stroud is a patient at a psychiatric facility who's under constant assessment for his own particular psychosis. He wants to be well enough to leave hospital, but is clearly rather round the bend. Stroud does eventually manage to escape, trading identities with a writer called Artemis Finch via a car crash, with whom he also seems to swap personalities, even down to living in Finch's house and passing himself off as the real thing with Finch's wife (scream queen Tiffany Shepis), who can't believe the transformation from the real Finch, who was clearly a misanthropic sort.
But just as Stroud is settling down to enjoy his new life, figures from the past intrude to remind him of his new identity. Can Stroud find peace in his new body, or will he be forced to reconcile himself with his original form to rid himself of the demons that continue to haunt him?
The packaging of this film suggests, rather than the ruminative mind flip that Woelfel offers, a rather more straightforward spookfest. It would also seem (although I might be wrong) that the film is a repackaging of the director's earlier offering, 2012's Season of Darkness, which remained unreleased. Four years is a long time for a film to be languishing on the shelf...except in this case. It's a valiant attempt at something different, but its random editing, presumably intentional to serve the 'dissociative' nature of the movie. coupled with a somnambualatory performance by Nick Baldasare as our lunatic hero and a near two hour running length make this one a no no. Add in a deafening soundtrack cobbled together from what must be the director's top 10 classical pieces (you'll never want to hear Saint Saens again, believe me) and you have un grande dinde of a film on your hands. Different does not always mean good, unless it's good in its own right.
Which makes it rather refreshing that The Bye Bye Man has a lot going for it. Adapted from a supposedly true story of an urban legend (if that's not an oxymoron) 'The Bridge to Body Island', it's the story of three students, Elliot, Sasha and their best friend Colin, who rent an out of the way house in Wisconsin, only to find that it's been the site of multiple murders back in the late 1960s (disclosed in the movie's prologue). Uncovering the scratched words 'The Bye Bye Man' and a sheet of paper on which the phrase 'don't think it, don't say it' is endlessly scrawled, it isn't long before the three learn that to say the words 'The Bye Bye Man' summons a hooded creature - together with devilish hound - who wants nothing more than the soul and bodies of its victims. Through some assiduous research in the local record office the history of 'The Bye Bye Man' is revealed and the three students must find away to defeat the supernatural entity they have unwittingly summoned.
To be fair to the critics, there's seemingly little to differentiate The Bye Bye Man from the dozens of PG-13 horror lite films clogging up the world's movie streaming channels. But on closer inspection Title's movie does offer something rather more intense than the average. The flashbacks to 1969, so often a throwaway element of a movie like this, are well structured and intrinsic to the plot. This is also a lot nastier than many of its competitors - without giving the plot away, there is only one sure fire way to escape from the hooded terror, and it doesn't offer a happy ending. The central characters of the three students, while not necessarily fully fleshed out, are at least more interesting than the usual demon fodder, and the breakdown of their friendship over the course of the film offers a kind of offbeat boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl setup. So yes, I'd cautiously recommend this, if approached with the right adjustment of expectations.