Thursday 18 January 2024

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2022 #6: Reviews of Amityville Hex (UK 2022), Hounded (UK 2022), The Area 51 Incident (UK 2022), The Beast of Bodmin Moor (UK 2022), Killahurtz (UK 2022) and Reign of Chaos (UK 2022)

Amityville Hex (UK 2021: Dir Tony Newton) "I ask the dead, I call upon thee, let the Amityville Hex consume me; I offer you my soul, please take, Amityville Hex consume me now, make no mistake. I call out the number 666 three times and do so now; 666; 666; 666! May this hex take over me." 

This is the text of a viral curse, a 'creepypasta' that has been taking over the world wide web. The guy to blame seems to be 'Coolduder' (Shawn C Phillips), a perky vlogger who encourages a group of friends to recite the curse via a Zoom call; big mistake. Each of the people on the call and other social media personalities who follow in their footsteps are gradually taken over by the 'Amityville Hex' and go seriously off the rails, leading them to take their own lives, the lives of others or, in one case, die by getting run over by a possessed lawnmower, in successive scenes of cut price gore.

Director Newton appears as one of the haunted vloggers, and who unfortunately seems to have a problem pronouncing the word 'Amityville' correctly. Oh and sidebar; apart from the word, there's nothing to connect this film to the 'Amityville' franchise except from a brief reference via a fake news item (the newsreader being Ouijageist's John R. Walker). Probably the most surprising thing here is Phillips's performance; the normally perky gracer of many a low budget horror flick here presents a different side of himself, ever present baseball cap removed to show thinning hair, his topless rants about horror fans and the niche in which he's become stuck rather unnerving. 

Hounded aka Haunted (UK 2022: Dir Tommy Boulding) Four young people based in London - Leon (Nobuse Junior), his brother, college student Chaz (Malachi Pullar-Latchman), Vix (Hannah Traylen) and immigrant worker Tod (Ross Coles) - are looking to break out of their urban existence by making some money. Courtesy of a bent antiques dealer, the four land tipoffs as to where the posh keep their valuables, break in to their houses and liberate the goods, in return for some hard cash.

The four land their biggest challenge to date; purloin an antique dagger from a huge country pile whose occupants are out for the evening. But their plans go seriously awry when they are caught in the act by the owners, old money rural stock, including Katherine (Samantha Bond), her brother Hugo (James Lance) and old retainer Mallory (Nick Moran) who decide that the London guttersnipes should be hunted down like foxes; but they haven't reckoned on the resourceful foursome.

Boulding's debut rather unsubtly exposes the contrasts between the 'haves' and the 'have nots but are happy to help themselves', but does well to recover the audience's initial antipathy towards a bunch of thieving urchins by having the rich being far more objectionable. Some of the class war lines land better than others, like Vix's "There are more guns on my estate than yours" and "The aristocracy; they fear what they don't understand." But the movie retains a good pace despite its slender elements; at its heart it's a modern rework of The Most Dangerous Game (1932) but an entertaining one nonetheless.

The Area 51 Incident (UK 2022: Dir Rhys Frake-Waterfield) Two young graduate students, hard working Jenny (Megan Purvis) and son of someone in charge Trent (Scott Jeffrey, the movie's producer, taking a rare casting credit using his 'technical' rather than 'acting' name of Scott Chambers) are given a tour round the Area 51 facility courtesy of Trent's dad. Now you and I know that this historic site is located in part of Nevada, USA, so quite what a car with a British license plate is doing there is a puzzle (he wrote, a little sarcastically).

The boffins at the facility have discovered a wormhole connecting to the planet Keppler B, 640 light-years from earth; sensors sent into the portal have largely disappeared, but one has made contact. And now the occupants of the distant world have decided to visit. 

It doesn't take long before all of this exposition is jettisoned to make way for some CGI monsters stalking the cast in a bunker (somewhere in Wales I believe), a cast which now includes two women, previously seen pickpocketing soldiers in the facility's bar (Sian Altman and Heather Jackson, both Chambers/Jeffrey regulars) and some gung ho soldiers. The corridor running is largely kept to a minimum and there's an interesting side story in that the creatures are able to possess the dead, bringing them back to life to do their bidding (scenes which are the movie's most effective sequences).

The Scott Jeffrey house of monsters is getting more impressive in terms of overall production values, but the overall problem of getting everyone into a single (small) location and then having them strategise their way out while crying and shouting is getting a little tired; these films aren't tongue in cheek - the cast take it all very seriously - but in contrast while the CGI seems to be evolving past the 1990s PC game quality  - including an impressive last reel lightshow - the limitations of the budget still show.

The Beast of Bodmin Moor (UK 2022: Dir Adam Starks) The sixth (!) feature from 25 year old director Starks is an ambitious 19th century period adventure. 

Nicholas Felt (Starks) is an "author and investigator of the supernatural" who, with the assistance of ex policeman Jacob Crimsby (Joshua Copeland) has travelled to Bodmin to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances. The only clue to the mystery is the discovery of human bones, and locals believe the cause to be a mythical four footed beast.

Felt and Crimsby, who both have their own secrets, suspect that the truth is less fantastic than described, even after an encounter the seemingly helpful Beedlewood (Richard Linton) who supports the wild animal theory. But Beedlewood knows more than he's saying, and before long our investigators come face to face with the beast and a mysterious ghostly woman. What can it all mean?

TBoBM does extremely well to create a historic atmosphere - including a working steam train - and a nifty creature. Unfortunately the pace of the film is, to put it kindly, sedate, and neither Starks nor Copeland make for particularly engaging leads. The film is crisply photographed with some lovely countryside scenes, but isn't a jot scary; it's closer in tone to a 1970s BBC costume drama, but needs more script work. A valiant effort but not an entirely successful one.

Killahurtz (UK 2022: Dir Al Carretta)
"How do you OD on headphones?" Pretty odd question, huh? Well when you watch Killahurtz it's probably the least odd thing in the movie.

The brainchild of Al Carretta (who pretty much does everything behind the scenes on this, including the soundtrack, and casts himself as a beat poet style DJ), this is clearly a lockdown influenced movie which makes sense if you know that it was originally planned back in 2020 under the title 'Earwigger'. The story, as far as I can make out, is that kids in the USA, in a bid to find new ways to ingest the popular drug Fentanyl, have started putting it in their headphones so that they get high when the beats release it.

Somehow a trial supply of a new type of headphones, sent to the UK and sent out to various influencers, has become infected; whether it's because they were manufactured with the COVID virus mistakenly packaged inside, or something more sinister, isn't made clear. Around this 'drama' a number of characters circulate, whose brains may already have been altered by exposure to the narcotic. 

Killahurtz received its first screening at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe, and it's most likely in an arts setting that this film would be most effective. It looks slick but narratively it's willfully confusing, as if Carretta's aim was to unseat its audience. Well it worked; at an hour and a quarter it's still a slog to get through and its opaque approach, coupled with a rather flimsy central idea, alienates rather than absorbs.

Reign of Chaos (UK 2022: Dir Rebecca Matthews)
Another from the 'all-quantity-and-sometimes-quality' team of Matthews, producer Scott Jeffrey and writer Tom Jolliffe, this bargain basement fantasy film knows its limits and doesn't take itself too seriously.

In a mumbled prologue we learn that an ancient force, Chaos (embodied here by Mark Sears), has caused the world as we know it to break down via a virus or plague, which has turned many into ravening zombies. But hope is at hand; the descendants of a race of goddesses have acted as a balance to Chaos and his minions, although their numbers have dwindled. One remains, and her name is Nicole (Rebecca Finch). 

Nicole is unaware of her powers until she meets a kind of hero wrangler, Rhodri (Peter Cosgrove) who introduces her to two toughnut fighting women, Alina (Rita Di Tuccio) and Lindsay (Georgia Wood). Rhodri puts the women through their paces, leading to the final confrontation with Chaos, which Nicole must win, to stop the world collapsing into total darkness,

Reign of Chaos was filmed on the mean London streets of Redbridge and Camden; the budget didn't provide for zombie hordes - or indeed any extras - so the places the trio of avengers walk are strangely empty. The script would suggest some kind of superhero extravaganza but with resources being tight there's a quite a lot of chat instead, interspersed between the occasional bouts of chop socky. Some light relief is provided by a pub landlord (Du’aine Samuels) and his wife, and there's an extended montage of Rocky style training scenes as the women toughen up. There's also a really good electronic score by Rachel Shuttleworth to add a gloss to the proceedings. Short and sweet, I kind of like this, and a sequel is hinted at.

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