Blair Witch (2016) film review

Did horror fans think the Blair Witch franchise would have returned to the big screen earlier than this? With the infamous original film released in 1999 and the largely disappointing rushed sequel a couple of years later it has been a very long wait for some else linked to that story.

Has the wait been worth it? Could this next sequel be a much of a controversial intense rush as the first film?

As I understand we have had to wait such a long time for another sequel due to the problems relating to the directors of the original and what bigger studios wanted to do next with the story. Obviously, they have learned from the mistake of the original sequel which disposed with the handheld found footage format and was shot just like any other regular Hollywood horror flick mostly. It made sense to return to the original format which caused such a stir back in the late 90’s but there was the challenge of how to make something new with that this time around…

The story for Blair Witch seemed fairly obvious of course-younger brother of main character of Heather from the original decided to go looking for her in this new sequel or to at least find out what exactly did happen to her and her friends around twenty years ago. With a couple of concerned but supportive friends he travels back out to Burkittsville and they meet with two young and strange people who posted some intriguing information online. Together the group go back into the woods and encounter another series of unexplainable and terrifying events.

So then we have a new set of young people, in the same place of the original film. Do they get spooked? Of course they do. Is it confusing, terrifying, nerve shaking stuff?

Well remember…in the years since the original Blair Witch Project we’ve had very many films which had looked similar or used the ‘found footage’ technique. So worked, so didn’t. I remember going to see the original after seeing the repeated tv trailers which showed many traumatized cinema goers after coming out saying how freaked out they were and clips of them in the cinema almost jumping into the air in apparently genuine fear at what was on screen.

This was not really the case. The filmmakers really knew what they were doing with promoting and marketing their very extremely low budget movie, selling it on mystery and fear as a supposedly real documentary and collected footage of young filmmakers who really did disappear in the woods.

Years later of course, we know all of this and so we will watch any new similar sequel with a large amount of  skepticism. But if you’re a horror film fan, you might go along with it all. From the trailers and early pictures it seemed that the new filmmakers this time really wanted to take what the first film had and push it up to eleven. Do we get that?

Okay so it does feel very much like the original but how could it not? It is shot hand-held, it is a group of young twentysomethings going into the woods looking for signs of unusual activity. What we have this time almost twenty years on, are much better CGI special effects which are added into what still looks like a very realistic low budget movie. Like the original, it does take a good while for anything disturbing to actually happen, and even then it isn’t much. Eventually though the witch leaves her mark and then things get shaken up for the group.

Even though this time around the young characters have better internet, smart phones, even drone cameras at their disposal it all feel so much like the original until the last hour or so. This is where it goes full ‘haunted house’ spook-show. All out confusion, panic and fear is before us, the characters are lost, terrified plucked off one by one. We do get to see much more of what could be the actual legendary famous Burkittsville witch this time. I suppose that it does all work very well, and is pretty terrifying right in this last twenty minutes. If you’ve seen the original, probably just constant de ja vu. If you have not seen the original, I think this film really will probably work very well.

I would I like to have seen them do something very different with this sequel? They could have gone somewhere else with the story, looked elsewhere into the legend of the witch and Burkittsville maybe. We’ve had the first sequel Book of Shadows which most people really hated (wait for it…I kind of like some of it somehow…I know, sorry). Is this the sequel we should have had back in 2000? Maybe it is for a number of reasons it didn’t happen back then. Should we get another sequel soon? I would go back to Burkittsville but dig around for something else next time…

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops now and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published this October.

 

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Frankenstein (2015) Film Review

There have been so many films over the decades based upon the hugely influential and famous book by Mary Shelley. This new version I watched a week ago does change things around just a little and because of this does bring some new things to the story.

This Frankenstein film is directed by Bernard Rose (most famous for directing the first Candyman movie) and starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Xavier Samuel. The begins right away with the ‘birth’ of the monster, this time called Adam (played by Xavier Samuel). We see that he is created in secret by married scientists Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston. They run tests, try to teach him skills, and he starts life much like a naïve simple child. He does though possess a dangerous increased strength and eventually this almost has him terminated. After struggle, Adam escapes and runs away alone.

After this it moves along in similar fashion to the original story-the monster/Adam meets and accidentally kills a small girl, runs from police officers, blood is spilled as he runs on alone, confused and desperate.

The film is told from the point of view of the monster/Adam and set in our modern world. This does make it fairly more believable and more tragic in some ways. This does contrast in my mind with the large scale, big budget mid-90’s film version starring De Niro as the monster, with huge sets and costumes and set way back around the time that the original book was written.

Adam soon meets a friendly homeless blind-man on the streets who tries to give him advice and help him to understand people and how the world around them works. If you know the story, you can expect that eventually it all does again fall to pieces with increasing death and destruction around Adam. The end is more different to how the tale usually winds up and is trying to say something through the eyes of the monster this time.

Bernard Rose is a very talented director and while this film has a fairly low budget he does take care in crafting a very thoughtful and poetic film, while it does not shy away from explicit bloodshed and gore fairly frequently. It is probably one of the more bloodsplattered versions of Frankenstein on film but this does not ruin the film. Another director doing the same thing, with same levels of blood and gore may have put out a much more simplistic disposable movie. With this version of the classic tale, Rose opens out some different thoughts on man creating man or life in our modern technologically advanced times, but also how such an artificial being would exist, feel, struggle against our fearful, aggressive and shallow world.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both out now in paperback/ebook/hardback in all good bookshops internationally and online from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. His first horror novel will be published toward the end of 2017.

Flares and scares-1970’s Horror

We passed the ‘Summer of love’ but the long hair and flares were there with the prog rock and changes in filmmaking and what we could be scared by on the big screen. This period in time was during and through to the end of the Vietnam war and I believe this did have a strong effect on the films which came to us at this time. With indie film directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Dennis Hopper revolutionizing what could be a film and how it could be made, horror films soon followed in the same steps.

Over here in the UK we had the regularly successful Hammer studios still putting out their gothic flicks of macabre dread such as Countess Dracula but soon others would take things into our modern and urban homes.

Of course in 1968 George Romero gave us his first horror classic Night of the Living Dead which did seriously change horror films forever. Low budget, black and white, on the move. It seemed to feel like a live news television report almost. Even to watch it today that movie is very powerful in a number of ways.

So into the 1970’s we had Mario Bava and Jesus Franco overseas continuing with their arthouse styled horror and erotica suspense chillers but it would be Wes Craven with The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist and The Wicker Man in 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, David Cronenberg starting his run of body-horror movies with Shivers in 1975, Carrie, The Omen, To The Devil a Daughter from Hammer in 1976, in 77 Wes Craven and Cronenberg again along with Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria from Italy.

1978 was a big year when we had Romero return with the classic Dawn of the dead, but also Carpenter gave us the first Halloween. This was the one which I believe really got practically everything right on spot for a horror movie.

1979 gave us Ridley Scott’s ALIEN movie, science fiction melded into space horror. The Brood, Amityville Horror, Phantasm. There were many more in this decade but the films mentioned above each added something which made a focused change to what we were afraid of on screen and also said much about what we no longer feared.

It was this decade where the big studios were confused and afraid to take serious risks and indie filmmakers were getting serious with very creative physical special effects and props, shooting all kinds of almost radical and lurid scenes which none had dared do before. The fears of the president Nixon years and nuclear war were truly present and this was manifesting into cinema screens, even if at midnight showings. Film horror was no longer set centuries of decades in the past, in had reached the present and it was savage and on the loose.

 

James E Parsons is a SF/Horror author. His first horror novel is published later this year. His previous books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century are now available in all good bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Amazon.

 

 

PHANTASM: A TALL MAN CREEPING BACK AGAIN…

I’ve just recently re-watched the often maligned and underrated horror film series PHANTASM, seeing all four movies in order for the first time. I had previously seen the first two, the the latter sequels were new to me. For those of you who like your horror movies, but perhaps do not know too much about the films, they certainly are something very different to most other fear films.

Having in the past been a bigger fan of Hellraiser, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Halloween film series to name a few which continued on over several sequels and franchises, this series was one which I had never fully given my attention to while they were being released.

A long time back I did somehow firstly end up seeing I think the second Phantasm movie-why that before the first, I am not too sure, but I think a friend had the VHS-and just initially judged it to be a really confusing and unoriginal mess of a film, which brought down my expectations for a long time, having before seen the very iconic film posters featuring the deadly flying steel balls and the terrifying Tall Man.

For a long time, a then placed seeing the sequels and original quite low on my list of things to do, and it remained that way until only I think maybe three or four years back when I finally saw the original possibly on television. Then, I definitely had the opinion that it certainly was a very unique, strange and fascinating horror movie.

If you have seen it, you will know it to be a very unusual film, regularly confusing, dreamlike and irregular for a horror film in a number of ways. Yes, it is sometimes a bit goofy, plain weird, but viewed alongside other horror films of the past thirty or more years, Phantasm certainly was a very influential and original film.

It was not just simply a ‘horror film’. The director, Don Coscarelli created a personal film, which was very bold and creative for the very late seventies when it was released. It seemed to have possibly had a strong influence upon films including the Elm Street Wes Craven series, the Halloween films and many others. Initially it frustrated me as I watched, the narrative chopping around, sequences seeming to jump around, possibly dream or reality for the main characters. Very much like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, it should simply be taken as a thrilling experience firstly and then judge and debated much later.

The second Phantasm movie did seem to possibly try to mimic a number of popular bigger horror films around at the time it was released in the mid-to-late eighties which probably lowered the quality and originality though it was still a very fun and entertaining sequel. The first three movies at times do regularly seem to just throw in a good few sequences which aim to just add some crazed horror action, while lacking needed narrative logic but then the series does anchor itself in a strong dream/nightmare and otherworldly extra-dimensional atmosphere which can in ways always excuse this.

I remember thinking that even while not seeing all of the Phantasm movies until now, and before seeing any of them, the video posters and artwork was just so strong and powerful and promised so much in terms of terror and horror on screen, but at least with the the first two in some ways they let me down.

I think that I was possibly hoping for something, another epic and grand series similar to the Hellraiser movies which I also very much adore. While those were initially written and directed by creator Clive Barker,in his distinctive manner, the Phantasm series were impressively and very unusually repeatedly written and directed by Coscarelli, who had a very different but still focused vision in mind.

It can seem frustrating in at least the first two Phantasm movies, that very little is clearly revealed about the origins of the Tall Man, his helpers and the threat they pose. To some viewers that might just equally be pleasingly mysterious and bring them back, ready and waiting for answers next time but others who watch the films could very easily be so frustrated and hellishly confused very quickly.

By the third Phantasm movie, things do change quite a bit-the actual production levels and style of the movie has been brought up, as it was released at arguably a strong commercial height for mainstream horror, especially horror movies which featured clear strong iconic monsters or villains like the Tall Man himself.

Again, at times the plot goes a bit crazy, illogical and silly, while the actual sets, locations and special effects are the best yet in the series, at times genuinely very impressive and cool to witness. Possibly more logical than the second film, a bit funnier, and maybe better writing the third certainly also ends with a last half hour or so of very impressive plotting, finally revealing at least some answers to the continued mysteries of the series.

Finally we have the fourth movie sequel in the series, and it a number of ways it returns pleasingly to the stripped down mystery and atmosphere from the first film. I would say it even in ways definitely redeems the series, and is at times very thoughtfully plotted out. While for the first half hour or so it again follows on right after the previous sequel, it soon very impressively opens up, and challenges what we think we can expect and know about the world of Phantasm. If that is to be the very last movie in the series, then it is most certainly a very admirable final closing chapter.

While often neglected and ignored by many horror fans, viewed as cheap or derivative but as a whole surprisingly influential, entertaining and original this is a series which deserves to be seen by horror fans who like things a little different, unpredictable, weird and nutty.

The Phantasm, films may not always make clear sense, and may irritate or confuse, but they still scare and terrify as good as some of the other recent horror franchise series. Don’t just stick with Freddy, Jason, Pinhead or Jigsaw, look to see just how dangerous and mysterious the Tall Man can be.

SCREAM 4:REVIEW

So I sat down last night and watched the latest addition to the SCREAM series. It has been over ten years since the last almost unbelievably, but it does just about pick and go like there has been almost no time between.

Now in the long time that has passed since SCREAM 3, an awful lot has gone by in the world of horror movies. Good and bad things and SCREAM was a very wry intelligent series, very much known for referencing the cliches and motifs which crop up all too often and then plays around with our expectations at a hectic pace.

And this now film still certainly does. Almost comedically over the first five or so minutes before the title, it confronts and makes judgements on torture porn and the vacuous slew of dumb derivative horror such as SAW and HOSTEL, and defending good writing and directing in horrror.

Then it kicks off after the first murder. The known cast return-Sidney, Dewey, Gail when Sidney returns to her hometown for a book signing and the death and murder seems to follow her. Dewey and his new deputy begin the frantic investigation, while as Gail has writer’s block on her fiction decides to sneek back into the scene. We now meet Sidney’s young cousin Jill and her friends who make up the new young group being terrorized and attacked by Ghostface this time.

If you know the first three SCREAM movies-and if a fan of horror, you definately should by now-you know that the movie will keep you on your toes, pull out the expected direction of the plot and events as they move along dramatically with blood and shocks left right and centre. It must have been even harder to produce another script beyond SCREAM 3, which though good,  at the time moved far too much closer right into live action bloody Scooby Doo than desired. Here, it does move back toward the earlier style of the first movie, as if begining again, and it also has to take in many new additions of today’s culture not seen in the previous films- facebook, iphones, webcam live broadcast, but does this all detract too much from the pacing of the movie?

The writer-KEVIN WILLIAMSON- is a hugely talented legend in this genre, and then of course the whole franchise has been driected by the other horror legend WES CRAVEN, director of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, to only made two classics. It is almost certain that whatever they do with a SCREAM movie, it is gonig to definately for the most part be of an skillful impressive standard, even if they hit a few bad notes their work will be better than so many others.

Is it a scary movie? (Sorry, I know) The answer is that yes, it actually is sometimes. But to be honest, a great many love the SCREAM movies more for seeing just how the known tired cliches of repetitive lazy horror flicks will be addressed and turned on their heads. Is this sequel the best yet? I would still have to say no, that may still yet be SCREAM 2, which provided a more pleasing level of referential knowing parody and suspense and big style shocking thrills. This forth is very much a high quality and well crafted fast paced movie, well aware of the best and worst of the horror genre movies, and it does twist and turn surprisingly but at this stage I have to say that as a viewer I did become aware that there were only so many directions and possibilities for the narrative to go in. But then that is not the prime reason for the movie is it? This is a return to probably the most well produced post-modern inventive clever horror series, and it is great to at least see that CRAVEN and WILLIAMSON are still willing to go up against the latest changes to our culture, and the horror film genre.