Sunday 5 August 2018

Supermarket Sweep #2 - Reviews of Beyond the Woods (Ireland 2018), Anna (USA 2017), The House on Elm Lake (UK 2017), Straight From Hell (USA 2017), Carnivore: Werewolf of London (UK 2017) and American Bigfoot (USA 2017)

Beyond the Woods (Ireland 2018: Dir Sean Breathnach) Writer/producer/editor/director/special
effects/sound designer Breatnach's first feature - a 2016 movie dressed up as a new release - is an hour of people bickering and fifteen minutes of inexplicable horror featuring a rags wearing demon and some half hearted possessed people.

Honestly this movie runs for an hour and a quarter and took me two goes to get through it. A group of twentysomethings rendezvous at the Irish country house of Emma. Drinks are drunk. A illicit threesome is entered into. People feel guilty. More drinking occurs. A nearby sinkhole has opened up (from which the guy in rags eventually emerges) which gets smellier and smellier. Someone tries to escape by driving off but ends up where she started from.

Turns out the guy in rags is a soul collecting demon and the occupants of the cottage fulfil that requirement, courtesy of the axe that he wields. There's a nice scene towards the end where the final girl, Lucy, does a bit of a deal to escape, which is then ruined by an off screen sound effect. This is a really dumb, tedious film and everyone involved in it should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. I did love the imdb reviewer who wrote 'Sky TV had this down as 5/5, they need poking in the bloody eye.' Quite.

Anna (USA 2017: Dir Michael Crum) Ah a horror comedy about a possessed doll. Which is occasionally (shock) quite funny. Crum casts himself as Shawn, who along with his mate Jacob are a pair of paranormal investigating doofuses (doofi?). Together they hear about a doll, currently resident in a paranormal museum, who has the power to pull the soul of any person coming into contact with it into hell. Shawn and Jacob steal the doll from the museum and take it back to their shitty apartment, where after sacrificing a prostitute - accidentally - and courtesy of a local witch, the doll starts to do her stuff.

At over an hour and a half long this feels very drawn out and has all kinds of pacing issues. Plus it sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone. Things hot up briefly at the hour point, with some nice jump scares after the witch becomes possessed by the doll, effects clearly referring to The Thing. Shawn and Jacob are likeable idiots, and their larking about raises a few laughs, even if they do overplay the dumb and dumber hand a bit. But the whole thing needed to be a bit less amateurish and much more tightly edited to hold the attention. And let's face it, dolls just aren't scary. No, they're REALLY not.

The House on Elm Lake (UK 2017: Dir James Klass) Well done to the makers of this movie for actually finding a house by the lake in the UK - not a typical model for bricks and mortar building in this country - as the setting for this cheap and occasionally rather nasty riff on Amityville 2: The Possession. Houses by lakes are ten a cent in the US of course, and the waterside setting, redolent of many low budget American horror movies, suggests a desire to reap some income Stateside.

But quite what US audiences will make of this is anyone's business - it's overlong, very slow and very, very unscary. The House on Elm Lake is the story of a husband and wife, who, with their young daughter, rent a waterside retreat to make a new start in life, only to fall foul of a murderous presence in the house which has driven previous occupants to murder and suicide. This is actually a remake of a 2014 movie, Lucifer's Night, directed by one Henry W. Smith, who is also Second AD on this film. And the connections continue: The House on Elm Lake actually 'stars' a number of people who were in Smith's movie as the same characters, namely mum Hayley (Becca Hirani), daughter Penny (Faye Goodwin) and several of the ghosts. Lucifer's Night seems never to have received a home release - but we have the 2017 version at least.

Hirani (or Fletcher as she's sometimes known) is becoming something of a micro budget exploitation movie queen, having been in a few things last year: director James Klass's other horror film (12 Deaths of Christmas aka Mother Krampus); a 50 Shades ripoff called Darker Shades of Elise; and a remake of the 1982 video nasty Unhinged. While it's good to see this kind of home grown talent being nurtured, Ms Hirani and her chums in the film are no great shakes at the old acting, and the effects, although avoiding the CGI route, and fairly feeble. There are one or two scenes involving half glimpsed figures that work reasonably well, but, well, it's just not very good.

Straight From Hell (USA 2017: Dir Ryan Brookheart) Despite the 2017 packaging, this is actually a 2015 movie originally titled Trace. It's a surprisingly competent if desperately unoriginal piece, but as a first feature it's very watchable, not least because of the easy on the eye twentysomething cast; when we first meet them are shooting the breeze and drinking together, eventually arriving at that staple of dinner party conversation, EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon).

The group are the usual bunch of those up for it and those not, but nominal leader of the pack Nick leads everyone down to his basement recording studio, where he's been studying EVP, to invite them to a 21st century version of a good old fashioned seance. Before you know it, the group have summoned an invisible demon called Abigor, who tells then (via subliminal messages on tape) that he's going to pick the group off one by one, to enable him to rejoin the living.

The movie scores points for largely confining itself to closed spaces and for maintaining some tension as the members of the group die off. The critic who described it as 'goretastic!' must have been watching a different movie, but it's reasonably creepy in places, and refreshingly doesn't spend too much time on the demonic backstory. Generic but not unappealing.

Carnivore: Werewolf of London (UK 2017: Dir Simon Wells) At a future point some intrepid writer - maybe me, who knows? - will do some research on UK holiday cottage rentals used in low budget horror films, allowing the public the opportunity to walk in the steps of minor actors in search of a unique location experience - I can see a map with bloodspatters for 'X marks the spot' now. Simon Wells seems justifiably proud of having picked his woodland spot for Carnivore: Werewolf of London (although judging by the accent of the guy who looks after the cottage we are indeed some way from the big smoke), in that 80% of the scenes take place within the cottage's ultra modern interiors.

We're in the company of Dave and his young girlfriend Abi, away for a dirty weekend. Abi is American (I think; somebody called Atlanta Johnson who is a Brit and did not, I assume, have a US voice coach) and Dave is, well, a bit angry (a slightly Jason Statham like Ben Lloyd-Holmes). So the clothes come off and go back on again in a series of intimate moments that are probably more uncomfortable for the audience than the actors taking part. But someone (or something)'s watching them from outside the cottage and wants to get in, as Dave and Abi fight for their lives against the unseen menace.

Except very soon the menace makes itself very visible and is just a guy in a werewolf suit, a werewolf that is both pretty resourceless and gets turned on by watching outdoor sex. The werewolf is, pardon the phrase, seriously overexposed and less would most definitely have been more in terms of the creature effects. I'm going to guess that with the odd one liner and hokey situations the director doesn't want us to take this too seriously. But any attempt at a horror comedy falls flat; Johnson and Lloyd-Holmes aren't great at building tension and are saddled with a fairly terrible script. The reveal of the origin of the werewolf is delivered so slowly that I'm sure 90% of the viewing audience will have shouted it back at the screen before the truth is uttered. And as for the shameless nod to a much better werewolf movie in the title - well London location spotters, be prepared to go elsewhere, because the Capital is only briefly glimpsed in the movie. Next!

American Bigfoot aka Kampout (USA 2017: Dir Glenn Martin) According to imdb director Glenn Martin brought out a director's cut of this movie the year before Kampout was released (and for once the retitling of the film actually makes sense - Kampout?). Heaven forbid that it should have been any longer than the lumbering hour and a half of this mess.

Martin really doesn't know what he's trying to do here. It's ostensibly a Sasquatch comedy with added gore and lots of local 'colour' - all filmed in and around Nelsonville, Ohio, utilising real locations and even a bit of actual history; one of the movie's down on their luck characters owes his penury to the closure of the town's coal mines. It's possible that local people were recruited for some of the cast, as aside from the actors who one recognises (Zach Gremlins Gilligan and Clint Evilspeak Howard) pretty much everyone else is a dud in the acting department.

The story - a bigfoot family loses baby bigfoot when it's shot and decides to go on a murderous rampage - seems to get lost within the director's admittedly sincere wish to establish character, and as such there's a lot of pretty meaningless dialogue which all goes nowhere fast. So while there's nothing really wrong with American Bigfoot - it's quite well put together and the Ohio countryside looks beautiful - the Sasquatch costumes are awful, the comedy fails to deliver for the most part, and it has an open ended conclusion which is pitiful rather than thought provoking. It's just a very unnecessary film, but hey, you pays your £3, you takes your chance.

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