Thursday 6 December 2018

Supermarket Sweep #4 - Reviews of Curse of the Nun (USA 2018), The Legend of Halloween Jack (UK 2018), The Hatred (USA 2017), Tall Men (USA 2016), The Hybrid (UK 2014) and Scarecrow Rising (UK 2018)

More write ups of movies snatched (ok, ok bought) from UK supermarket shelves and reviewed for you, so in most cases you don't have to go anywhere near them.

Curse of the Nun (USA 2018: Dir Aaron Mirtes) I haven't seen Aaron Mirtes's previous feature Clowntergeist, but on the basis of this I'm inclined to check it out (hopefully it's still languishing on a supermarket shelf somewhere so I can include it in a future SS item).

On first appearances, Curse of the Nun feels like a rather cynical attempt to cash in on Corin Hardy's latest entry into The Conjuring 'universe' movies. At least there is a nun in this one - rather than, say, a film without a nun being repackaged with a new title (see SS reviews passim) - but within its financially strapped limits, this movie is rather interesting.

Anna (a very good performance from Lucy Hartselle) has come out of an abusive marriage and is rebuilding her life with new boyfriend Mike (Jonathan Everett) and daughter Claire (Kate Kilcoyne). They've been staying at Mike's aunt's house and are preparing to leave to set up in a new home. However, the current home has a resident ghost, that of sister Catherine, a nun who has been trapped in the house since death (which was previously a nunnery) and now needs to find a replacement, The Sentinel style, to allow her to ascend to heavenly rest. Of course we already know this courtesy of a prologue in which maintenance guy and part time paranormal investigator (the character is never really defined) KK (Brad Belemjian) gets trapped in the house, does battle with the nun and apparently meets his death. But when Anna is left on her own and the nun makes her appearance - with the clear intention of getting Anna to replace her - KK returns to help. Is he alive or dead? And is this all in Anna's head (she's had a history of drug abuse and mental instability)?

Stylistically very uneven - there are dashes of comedy which are quite unwelcome and the last half an hour is a muddled mess - and woefully cheap, I couldn't help but like this lively if bonkers movie, combining elements of the film from which it gets its name (the nun of the title is not badly rendered although as the whole thing takes place in daylight the effect is somewhat diluted), some neat little time loop tricks, an is-this-real-or-is-she-bonkers? plot and a lot of ambition. But a word to Aaron - if you want to suspend the viewers' disbelief, try not to have your crew reflected in shiny surfaces at least twice in the movie - you can get cheap software for that kind of thing, you know.

The Legend of Halloween Jack (UK 2018: Dir Andrew Jones) Ah, the movies of Andrew Jones. Director of eighteen features, his style has remained pretty much unchanged over the years: adopt an idea from an existing movie and turn it into a slightly different film  - The Amityville Asylum (2013), Poltergeist Activity (2015), The Curse of Robert the Doll (2016) for example; film it at home/at a mate's house/at the local village hall; keep it short (about 75 minutes should usually do it); and have it filled with reasonably talented actors sitting around talking for much of the film's running time. And hey presto, you have a movie. Or a lot of movies in Jones's case.

Jones' latest movie 'borrow' - or inspiration - is Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), which saw a wrongfully executed man, killed by a vigilante squad, returning from the grave to exact his revenge. So in this version, a killer, Kane, escapes imprisonment for murder on a technicality, and is set upon and done away with by a group including the family of the victims. But it turns out that Kane wasn't the killer, and so his spirit returns, inexplicably dressed up as a kind of scarecrow, to do away with them what did for him.

Jones has a habit of making his movies appear transatlantic, presumably to secure overseas sales. I really wish he wouldn't bother. The Legend of Halloween Jack is supposedly located in the US - there are references to 'Haddonfield' and 'Dunwich' as place names, and at least one of the actors attempts a US accent - oh and one of the families is called 'Tramer' - geddit? But unsurprisingly Jones is fooling no-one, and the rest of the cast's thinly disguised Welsh lilts are a bit of a giveaway; also if you want to convince audiences that this really is America, don't film one of your set pieces in the clearly labelled Pontlliw Vilage Hall.

Most of this is the director's business-as-usual approach. People sit around discussing the plot rather than it happening in front of us. To be fair this is one of Jones's slightly more lively features, and Welsh surf/Cramps band 'The Hangmen' turn up to deliver a few numbers at the Halloween hop, but generally the film is a low on gore, high on not much happening movie, and the use of public domain movie clips for no apparent reason is laughable. Honestly I don't know why Jones doesn't have the courage of his convictions, ditch all the references and make a straight up original film, as his go to cast aren't bad, and deserve more than this nonsense.

The Hatred (USA 2017: Dir Michael G. Keyhoe) In The Hatred's extended prologue, set in 1968, Samuel Sears is an ex member of the Third Reich (his real name is Siegfried) who has successfully hidden in plain sight, running a farm in rural America and subjecting his wife and daughter to strict rule. He receives a package through the post, direct from the Fuhrer, containing an Iron Cross style amulet, originally owned by the Knights Templar; the artefact is a storage vessel for pure evil and hate. He hides it in a hole in the wall of his barn, but not before the amulet exerts a satanic influence, causing Sears to murder his argumentative daughter Alice, only for his wife to murder him in return.

Cut to the present day and four women friends move into the same house, headed by Regan whose relatives have renovated it - or most of it; for some strange reason Alice's old room has been left untouched. Regan is here to babysit little moppet Irene,who seems to have developed a psychic connection with Sears's dead daughter. Pretty much as soon as the girls move in, tame spooky stuff begins to happen: shadowy figures are seen (unbeknownst to the mortal occupants); a hand shoots through a recently mouldy ceiling; rooms smell funny; and in one unintentionally funny scene, one character's phone sex session with her BF is interrupted by Nazi EVP - a real mood killer.

At the heart of all these supernatural shenanigans is the amulet, still embedded in the wall but working its mojo on the occupants of the house. But there's also the unquiet spirit of Alice, stalking the house and searching for...well I'm not sure exactly.

A prime example of PG horror so insipid as to be an insult to that rating, this does the usual first feature thing of cramming so many ideas into its 90 minute running time that none of them get any room to breathe or grow - it's like director Michael G Keyhoe realised he had only one opportunity to make a horror movie and threw it all in. The prologue is quite interesting, but falsely sets up the possibility that the movie might actually have a direction. The modern day elements are woeful, the build up of terror inept, and the four girls, Regan and her pals, are so much generic mall fodder whose valley speakisms and dreadfully delivered dialogue make their death scenes - all confusedly rendered by some weird editing - a blessed relief. Really really not good, and if you're interested the last shot suggests that the amulet is still in the wall, awaiting the next incumbents of the house. So now you're warned.

Tall Men (USA 2016: Dir Jonathan Holbrook) A salutary tale about the risks of overextending your credit, or a Lynchian parable of odd country folk and conspiracy theories? You choose, but this remake of Holbrook's debut movie, 2004's Customer 152, which I haven't seen (and nor have many by the paucity of coverage) looks like a thematic itch the director can't stop scratching. Clocking in a two hours and ten minutes, agreed it is way too long, but it's an idiosyncratic piece with some finesse that exceeds its micro budget.

Terence Mackleby (Bud Cort-alike Dan Crisafulli) is a man on the edge. Maxed out on his credit cards, he files for bankruptcy. But no sooner has he done this than he gets an invitation to sign up for a new credit company called The Card, which only charges 4% interest. A dream come true for the financially destitute young man, trouble comes after he buys a new car using the card, then subsequently loses his job (in a move which was clearly organised by shadowy figures behind the scenes at his employer). Mackleby's first statement shows that he owes the company over $30,000 dollars in his first month - turns out that the interest was a daily not monthly amount, plus 50% charge for each transaction. With Terence unable to pay, he receives a visit from three heavies (called Tic, Tac and Toe) who proceed to turn his life upside down in order to extract the outstanding monies, who may possibly be connected to the Babylonian Brotherhood, a race of shape shifting reptilians who transformed to humans around the time of Adam.

While considerably bloated running time wise, I quite liked this mix of the surreal, the comic and the horrifying (sometimes in the same scene); I think it's best read as a political polemic about the rise of the credit nation. "Aren't you just a bunch of loan sharks?" Terence questions as his fingers are being slowly broken by the debt collectors. "No, we're just hard working Republicans trying to make a difference," comes the reply. Not bad if you can stick with it, and full of lots of small imaginative touches, but would forty five minutes shorter really have hurt it?

The Hybrid aka Scintilla (UK 2014: Dir Billy O'Brien) Billy O'Brien is no stranger to bio horror. His 2005 feature debut, the gritty Isolation, dealt with the hideous results of experiments on cattle, set on a farm in Ireland. Nine years later he would return to the theme in the future thriller Scintilla, somewhat confusingly re-packaged this year as The Hybrid.

Powell (John Lynch) is sprung from a decidedly grotty jail (and the torturer's pincers) to form part of an extraction team; their goal is an underground facility in a civil war torn region of Russia, their mission the identification and removal of a scientist to a safe place. So far so Escape from New York, and the band of assembled mercenaries are authentically scuffed up. Once they have accessed the facility they witness the object of the experimentation - humans genetically spliced with alien DNA recovered from an ancient asteroid; named the Scintilla Project. Two specimens of the experiment, a young hybrid boy and girl - Goethe and Ali - who because of the injection of the DNA have attained full growth at the age of 5, are the focus of the scientist's work. They have advanced capabilities, including telekinesis and heightened vision because of compound eyes. One of the team is injected with the serum and mutates, while Goethe, driven into a rage because Ali is mercy killed by one of the soldiers, goes on the rampage.

The Hybrid is basically a sci fi exploitationer featuring the old B movie standby of people walking along corridors. What makes the movie more watchable than the average is the detail in the setting - although it was filmed in the north of England, it all looks authentically eastern bloc - and the bio stuff, like his work in Isolation, is rather nasty and quite plausible. Sadly the ending is a let down - nobody should end a film with a close up of a man eating a sandwich - but this is a strong UK science fiction film and well worth checking out.

Scarecrow Rising aka Bride of Scarecrow (UK 2018: Dir Louisa Warren) Honestly you wait years and then two killer scarecrow movies come along at once. I may have been fairly cruel about Andrew Jones's The Legend of Halloween Jack earlier on this page, but honestly Andrew, come back!

This monstrosity of a film opens with a very long written intro which witters on about the legend of the scarecrow and the abuse of justice back in 1910 that ended up with a farmer being crucified and his soon to be wife executed on trumped up charges of stealing, and the wronged man coming back from the grave for 48 hours every now and then, hunting for his lost bride to be, dressed as a scarecrow. Don't worry if you don't pick up all the details the first time round, the facts are repeated pretty frequently right through this turgid nonsense.

Amy Winhouse lookielikie May Sealey (Claire-Maria Fox), fed up with her work on a radio station, presenting a show called 'May the Dead Rest' (geddit?), gets a call out of the blue leaving her a country house in a distant relative's will. May and her boyfriend Darren, plus friends Anya and Chris, pack their things and go to stay in the house, which of course is the same place where the murdered farmer lived and where various unexplained murders have happened in the intervening years. What follows is an exercise in tedium as people get bumped off and May realises that her family connections have singled her out for attention by the ghost scarecrow. The same scarecrow seen leaning up against the wall in the stables or hanging on a post in the grounds then. While it's good to see women making genre films (Warren has made another scarecrow movie, Curse of the Scarecrow, this year too) this is just leaden cobblers.

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