The Complex Review


In 1998 Hideo Nakata set the world on edge with a cursed VHS tape. Ringu and its impact was serious, putting Asian shocks firmly into the spotlight, influencing an indefinite amount of ghostly narratives and inevitably causing a decade long rash of imitations and remakes. Of course very few film makers get close to the innovation and reach that Nakata initially achieved so it’s no wonder quite a few horror fans out there are lamenting his lack of clout since, save for his original Dark Water, Ringu 2 and taking the helm directing the Western sequel to The Ring remake. Ultimately though, none of those could be described as fresh in the wake of Ringu, which shaped the very genre we know as J-Horror.

With The Complex Nakata goes through the majority of stale beats from almost every J-Horror (and also K-Horror for that matter) while seemingly directing on auto-pilot. The film follows Asuka (Atsuko Maeda), a young nursing student who moves into an old apartment complex with her family. After hearing eerie noises coming from the apartment next door, Asuka discovers that her still-occupying neighbour died from starvation. Unsettled after discovering claw marks on the wall shared with her room, Asuka becomes further disturbed when the noises continue despite the old man’s death. Investigation not only brings about a confrontation with the spirits of her building, but also the consequences and knowledge that the complex has had many mysterious deaths over the years. And so ensues the overly tried and tested formula; the domestic set up, which in this instance has its scenes filled with cardboard cut-outs from a family friendly advertisement. Then the inevitable freaky noises and the exploring of the possibly vacated apartment next door, these are so predictable that they are stripped of any actual tension or atmosphere, barely even qualifying The Complex for its genre label. While one understands a need for varying degrees of fright and intensity in films, here flaying its horror elements down to their very bones and therefore of anything that could be considered frightening or a surprise simply renders a ghost story useless and worse still extremely boring.

Probably the only saving grace of this film is that it’s not found footage, but that doesn’t make it any more interesting as it is still littered with dull pauses, incredibly wooden acting and with only a sparse couple of volume-ramping jump scares to react to. Needless to say there is nothing entertaining let alone memorable to be found here. The languid pacing and efforts in general make for a very hollow watch, while hysteria or scepticism are often the go to in these sorts of domestic ghost stories the flat execution makes for a patience bashing slog, so even though the all too familiar set pieces come thick they certainly do not come fast. With some linear play The Complex almost threatens to become briefly interesting in its final stretch only to retreat back into its below average corner and then bow out with some half-hearted instances that wind up unintentionally funny. A prologue of the events leading up to the story (which I managed to forget as it was being so vaguely told) in The Complex is currently airing as a 12 part series in its native Japan and I care not to even hazard a guess at how tedious that must be to follow.

As a result of his latest it’s almost embarrassing to see the grand marshal of J-Horror retreading tropes that were already run into the ground several years ago. Even fans of paranormal-lite films must have moved on somewhat from cloudy contact lenses, scowling kiddy spectres and the lazy myths they all predictably meander around in. Frankly I had mentally checked out, even before the shot of a playground swing moving of its own accord.

 (Jan 2014)


ABCs of Death Review



26 film makers, each given $5000, 5 minutes and a letter of the alphabet…The ABCs of Death.

A: A semi effective opener, with a semi effective display of domestic violence that at least musters a semi effective context at the end. Dir: Nacho Vigalondo 2/5

B: This may be the least intense execution of a horror ever put to film. It’s certainly one of the most incompetent and during I suddenly became very grateful of the scant runtime. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

C: Managing to make 5 minutes feel like 5 hours, the creator appears to believe he has a mind bending concept on his hands as opposed to a rather dull concept on the bottom of his shoe. Timecrimes (2007) is the film this segment wants to be when it grows up, which was actually made by the director of the opening short. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

D: Essentially a well shot music video, but impressively staged with overtures of Fight Club here and Gaspar Noe’s anally penetrative short Sodomites there. Dir: Marcel Sarmiento 3/5

E: Likeable actress Ms. Bettis may want to remain in front of the camera. Cheap CGI spiders? Is that it? Yep that’s it! From the off it is completely void of the adequate creep needed to provide anything in the way or interest. Dir: Angela Bettis 0/5

F: Right on cue the first Japanese entry shows up with its fists full of crazy and poised to smear that crazy all over our faces.  Vastly silly but most jarringly introducing a running theme of bowel based humour that near sabotages any tone that the whole project might be trying to establish. The only exception to this ill-advised pattern begins with the letter T. Dir: Noboru Iguchi 1/5

G: Brace yourself for some contemporary POV action. Or rather sit in calm anticipation through 5 minutes of scenic lead up to next to nothing. Dir: Andrew Traucki 1/5

H: One of the more unique efforts but also a strong argument for why cartoon aesthetics translated into live action are a bit too unsettling. At its best displaying some weird humour and accomplished FX. Not bad for a fetishistic Furry’s wet-dream. Dir: Thomas Cappelen Malling 2/5

I: Now we’re getting somewhere. An entry that is in a sense is the thinking man’s torture porn but is also effectively horrific in its minimalism. And not a moment too soon in the running to finally witness some deft skill. Dir: Jorge Michel Grau 4/5

J: Continued J-sanity with samurai, mercenary gurning and giggly gore, it also surely deserves some imaginary award for being the first entry to make me audibly laugh. Dir: Yudai Yamaguchi 3/5

 K: A cartoon non-hilarity that tacks on an ill-fitting ending and generally misses any mark. This skit notably risks ruining things especially being placed amid some of the strongest entries. Really disappointing when you realise it’s by the director of the solid Danish animation film Princess (2006). Dir: Anders Morgenthaler 0/5

L: Otherwise known as Indonesian-crass-contest-of-doom pushes the realms of taste like a trooper and wades around in vile lunacy along with some seriously dark humour. Easily one of the best segments (if not the best overall), near unrivalled in the impact stakes and assuredly not for the sensitive. Short, sharp shock at its best. Dir: Timo Tjahjanto 5/5

M: ‘’Really now Ti West with this and your V/H/S instalment I am really starting to worry about you.’’ A vapid visual gross-out that is supposed to be a bit edgy but just isn’t. Dir: Ti West 0/5

N: A note of levity that while not unwelcome isn’t exactly inspiring. A simple a comedy sketch that while sort of mildly funny is overwhelmingly un-horror. Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun 2/5

O: Some pretence involving oddly subdued S&M innuendo and bubbles. Occasionally resembling something stylistically pretty (or should that be eighties) but an awkward fit in the run that leaves no impression other than a dated after taste. Dir: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani 1/5

P: A competent and refreshing break from some of the more puerile entries, not so much in complexity but in being a fair few notches up on the effective scale and having a far less by the numbers genre set up and conclusion. Dir: Simon Rumley 4/5

Q: Fellow V/H/S fault figure Adam Wingard goes all Meta with his effort, a dicey move that thankfully pays off in a vaguely satirical and satisfyingly funny manner. This will go towards you climbing off my anthology shit-list someday Wingard. Dir: Adam Wingard 4/5

R: An icky Cronenbergian art-house Frankenstein, hopefully those words make sense in some order as it’s basically what you have in this short. Either way its miles better than Spasojevic’s previous feature-length A Serbian Film. Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic 3/5

S: If there is one thing worse than terrible horror it is terrible exploitation, especially when aping an already derivative Robert Roderiguez on his laziest day. With an arsenal of self-conscious swearing and no vision, it appears leagues of people still believe that some celluloid reel after effect, stock girls with alternative hair, bad dialogue and plastic weaponry make for a wild ride. Embarrassing. Dir: Jake West 0/5

T: Managing to be quite funny and the most endearing. Partly due to its inclusion through winning a competition for the anthology and also being that it’s good old homely Claymation with a comically British approach. Dir: Lee Hardcastle 4/5

U: Regional zombie POV that doesn’t set the world alight but also doesn’t disappoint. It does provide a rare glimpse of empathy for the unseen ghoul and feels like a slightly fresher angle on the undead. Not bad after my none-more negative experience with Kill List (2011), especially with this seemingly filmed on location between Kill List’s scenes. Dir: Ben Wheatley 3/5

V: A weighty live action Playstation-4 cut scene with a few too many ideas than it’s able to convey in it’s short time. Robotic-pizazz and some interesting potential as either a superior video game or an average (or less than) genre film are positives but it does wind up feeling like a work in progress trailer for film investors. Dir: Kaare Andrews 3/5

W: Another attempt at being post-modern. Those behind the scenes step forward and aim for the chaotic charm of Troma but the results are a bit too scrappy and not quite funny enough. Dir: Jon Schnepp 2/5

X: Hooray for body horror, this holds as the most visceral entry and is every inch a Xavier Gans film namely with its innate ability to be stylish and graphically bleak, very in line with the current wave of French horror, explicit and evocative. Dir: Xavier Gans 4/5

Y: Eisener’s stand-out has a real glint in its eye, is unique and prods at taste levels with the Canadian’s vibrant signature style which we saw in the highly likeable funfair that was Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Dir: Jason Eisener  5/5

Z: Dr. Stranglove meets Tokyo Gore Police meets Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, or Nazi-Yakuza-Mutant-Rice-ploitation to coin a phrase. Although I had little to no clue of what was going on I did get that it is roundly Nishimura, visually memorable and if nothing else a decently hi-energy note to end on. Dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura 3/5

Aside from the grindingly weak toilet humour ABCs was better than I’d anticipated, the flow through of the collection wasn’t too much hard work and although there are several duds those being so brief definitely helps matters. The project is undeniably ambitious but unsurprisingly inconsistent. Still it falls closer to the positive than many recent horrors have and the international variation and handful of fresh ideas make for very welcome elements. The ABCs of Death is definitely a step in the right direction as far as horror displaying some imagination, let’s just hold out hope for this year’s other anthologies V/H/S-2, Sanitarium and The Profane Exhibit, although as Uwe Boll is the headlining director for latter best not to get too excited.

*I chose not to name the titles of each short as several serve as crucial spoilers.

(March 2013)

Maniac Review


A serial killer with a fetish for scalps is on the hunt. Frank is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates, it becomes clear that she has unleashed a recently-repressed compulsion. 

Being a remake Maniac retreads William Lustig’s grimy 1980 original, which despite sharing shelf space with the likes of Halloween and Friday 13th for 30 plus years was never nearly as revered. Unlike more commercially successful slasher titles Maniac version one was more in line with the cult films of Abel Ferrera and Frank Hennenlotter in its seedy shock which fell decidedly more into the horror underground with its departure from the suburbs and summer camps of other franchises at the time. This time round director Frank Khalfoun takes all the right cues from its source. In most ways this is still your average slice’em up with creepy mother issues and despatching of naïve female knife fodder but where it’s all too often a negative here the grimly back to basics style makes it more of a welcome film that creeps up on you despite usual expectations. In utilising POV for most of the violence and with it winding up in every scene throughout works effectively, lending a matter of fact intensity that is all too often lacking in contemporary slasher films. The stripped back to its roots approach gives makers the opportunity to pool their efforts where it counts in a film of this nature, after all the story is minimal at best and far from original. Instead setting the 80 minutes up as a viciously stylized experience is beneficial, especially the lack of clunky psychoanalysis (see Rob Zombie’s misguided Halloween re-mangling) adds to the appreciated briskness which serves its overall outcome very well.

Where the makers are concerned I have to give it to the French forces behind the scenes when it comes to delivering the red stuff in a lovingly striking fashion. Along with the POV shots the camera stalks, jars and judders with appropriate menace. The gore FX are simply flawless and for as questionable as it is to use the word subtle when describing this kind of in your face blade-happy violence I am referring to the seamless blending of the CG effects with the practical, it never looks anything but perfect and while this may seem a disposable point in a film this stark in its brutality it is potentially make or break, ultimately in Maniac how the kills are executed (pun unavoidable) is of the up most importance. L.A serves as a fitting backdrop, nicely replacing the original’s New York setting it manages to update the alleys, steaming grates and urban isolation, nicely recreating the seedy ambience that leaves one feeling alone despite the surrounding cosmopolitan pace. Adding to the successful unease is one of the best soundtracks I have heard for many a year, with its fittingly abrasive synthesized drone and perfectly pitched homage.

Elijah Wood appears very at home as shy serial scalper Frank; with his aptly incandescent eyes the actor uses his expected passiveness to channel Norman Bates to the hilt, showing a streak of murderous eerie that made him the only real menacing figure in 2005’s Sin City. As befitting of most horror nobody else is worthy of individual mention, through lack of screen time and character not actual incompetence. Maniac is a vicious little gem that deserves its own stab at modern cult status, refreshingly shirking any intent to pursue deadend sequels and gleefully in the spirit of the original. Fans of the original look out for a particularly fun shot evoking the infamous VHS ‘does what it says on the tin’ poster.

(Feb 2013)

V/H/S Review


As a whole V/H/S is pretty abysmal, as a collage of separate horror shorts it’s a patchy muddle of bad efforts. There is something infuriatingly regressive about the project that had potential to showcase a diverse group of horror creative’s who clearly have a love of the genre that made it a very tempting prospect. Regressive in the sense that a chaotic and obnoxious approach masquerades as an experimental and challenging one. A general air of atypical shallowness in horror is the most consistent element here alongside a blatantly lowest common denominator attitude.

While I am defiantly one of those horror fanatics who loves to wallow in the seedier DIY aesthetic, those films that shirk slickness in favour of a basement labour of love but I fail to see the labour or the love in V/H/S. Add to the disappointment the caliber of some of the people involved most notably Ti West who has impressed with his patient, empathetic and frankly refreshing takes on scary but here throws out a devoid entry that clearly pertains to be more innovative than it actually is; leaves V/H/S feeling lazier above all else.
Amateur Night is aptly titled, as it’s about as mindlessly teenage boy as horror gets. Some tits, some blood, a demon girl thing that happens to be all horny with some dudes with a camera that are all horny also. The issue isn’t with its simplicity but in its inability to surprise or scare. Its one saving grace is that it appears to be the shortest chapter and thanks to its own limitations manages to offend less than most of the others. 2nd Honeymoon is the afore mentioned bit directed by Ti West, assuming it elicits more empathy and intrigue than it executes; a vacationing couple are interrupted by a mysterious figure. Whilst feeling familiar isn’t necessarily make or break for a horror scenario being boring as hell is, especially when what the actions are leading up to is a numb reveal that seems to think it’s a deeply astounding twist.

Glitch Man, managing to be the worst chapter (not that there is much between each of them), sees a by the book horny youths in the woods slasher with a lone gimmick that falls almost humorously flat. The gimmick being a killer via technology that feels instantly dated (not throwback or homage) and plays out so dull and vague that is serves as an ugly 15 minute plot hole. Strange thing that happened to Emily is a great argument for why the Paranormal Activity series has done more bad than good ideas wise to the genre in recent years. All of V/H/S is roundly poorly acted but this short probably requires more acting skill (or at least some) than the others, played out through mind-numbingly insipid conversations between 2 video chatting lovers some eerie possibly supernatural stuff starts putting the frighteners on the girl of the couple. And then there is another exciting twist, except it isn’t exciting and for that matter it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, rendering it another standalone plot hole.

Haunted House is the only entry I could stand, being the only vaguely positive note of the anthology but still has that afterthought weakness that drowns the entire runtime. It manages one or two ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ flashes of flair but this was probably heightened due to it being the last entry and by everything that came before being so irritatingly predictable. The (Tape 56) interlacing found footage thread is just unconvincing frat-boyish static; incurring a vacuous strand of horror that often puts so many off and rightfully so as in this instance it provides next to nothing, warranting only eye-rolls and likely fast-forwarding to the individual events.
Overall V/H/S is barely coherent and left me feeling like I had thoroughly wasted two hours, its smug sensibility proving a void in fiendish creativity rather than a champion of it. A shame as in a landscape of glossy rehashes and safe generics horror made by horror lovers should provide an oasis of passionate ideas rather than a rushed and immature mess. I am frustratingly curious to see S-VHS which is the next jaunt later this year and wondering whether some different contributors (including excitedly and worryingly Gareth ‘The Raid’ Evans) might steer this formula in the right direction, in my view it can’t do much worse.

(Jan 2013)

Paranormal Activity 4 Review


Paranormal Activity 4 is bland and limited, often feeling more like an exercise in ‘horror marketing how-to’ than a narrative film. As a franchise sold on a fun and jumpy night out it succeeds to a large and broad set but for a film which owes masses to a genre it borrows so heavily from it frustratingly offers next to nothing back by way of progression or interest.

The jumbled premise is set five years after the second film after the disappearance of siblings Katie and Hunter; when a woman and a mysterious child move into a suburban neighbourhood the family next door begin to witness strange and gradually frightening events. I am not entirely sure if only seeing the first Paranormal Activity much affected the frankly flat experience I had watching the fourth entry in what is the most lucrative horror franchise this side of Saw. But my lack of investment in the through franchise arcs were overwhelmed by my lack of reaction to the stand alone events and the one-dimensional format.

The film’s non-committal tone assures that explanations are minimal and characters are dispensable; serving only to drive brief events, essentially being lower down on the priority list than Apple products. The acting is competent, thankfully the teen and child protagonists only annoy as much as they are supposed to being young and all, but overall the performances hang in limbo like most aspects of the film; neither here or there in making an impression but merely functional. As for flare the only seeming attempts are so coupled with product placement that any atmosphere is quickly marred by the consistent assembly line feel. Similarly shoving an eerie child into scenes that simply do not hold any of the skill or intensity  of  the greats such as ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Omen’ is painfully generic in this decade of copy-and-paste horror, saying that if you are that shaken by creepy kids who stare a lot and mumble to unseen companions then you’ll be likely to be pleased. The churned-out feel is further enforced by the clear rush job most noticeable in the unsure editing. Certain scenes feel half finished, if this is a push for ambiguity it does not work and adds to the shrug-inducing, confused by itself results.

It’s a safe bet that the crew behind Paranormal Activity, who initially took several cues from (like every found footage film since) The Blair Witch Project in regards to it’s rigid sticking to the first instalment’s formula. Less we forget (and many have) Blair Witch had a doomed sequel that strayed from its path in attempting something not found footage and gratingly meta that subsequently failed, killing off any potential for a franchise. This lot seem to have regarded Blair Witch as a practice run rather than a blue-print for their annual approach.

Paranormal Activity 4 is a dull and looping 90 minutes, if you’re a fan of the series or susceptible to scares that are essentially blurred shadows in backgrounds and cranking sound effects to 11 after some meandering quiet time (otherwise known as lazy scares) then you’ll likely get some fleeting satisfaction but otherwise a wholly forgettable and fidget in one’s seat experience that near crushes itself with it’s own repetitive formula and vagueness. If Paranormal Activity fan’s patience weren’t already waning by this entry then I would imagine that come the fifth they will be decidedly looking elsewhere for their jump scares.

(Nov 2012)

Truth or Dare Review


A group of college friends play a game of Truth or Dare at a party that leads to the humiliation of a geeky acquaintance. A year later the four friends reunite at a stately home on the promise of a party, but the celebrations soon turn sinister when their host forces them to play an altogether deadlier game of Truth or Dare.

Truth or Dare is an awkwardly British take on the usual horror clichés that ultimately continue to set back the genre by decades. The film has little in the way of creativity with several scenes styled aesthetically to imitate bigger and better efforts; drugged up party scenes are sped up and blurred in the manner of a hundred other films but play out like a sixth form media project rather than Requiem For a Dream. Cameras are placed at off kilter angles here and there riffing on The Evil Dead but serve as misplaced and ineffective without the presence of intensity. A shame considering the film’s strongest suit is its relatively decent technical quality, though the slick look also manages to detract somewhat from the gritty tone the film is aiming for.

The up and coming cast appear to do what is required of them but with a patchy script littered with stunted conversations and rushed emotions the characters are decidedly unconvincing, not to mention dislikeable. It is disappointingly common for horror and thriller films to revolve around dispensable eye candy to the point of tradition, but when the all the players warrant no empathy to this extent there is a distracting void that causes an audience to lose interest in who wins, loses, survives or otherwise. Truth or Dare has a mixed up attitude lingering somewhere between smug and unsure. It revels in its almost camp heavy handedness but also expects an audience to take it as suspenseful and dark without offering anything unpredictable or creative ro react to. A film relying on a single gimmick and set piece is not particularly admirable, resulting in an extremely poor man’s latter Saw entry.

Some of the film is frankly cringe-worthy; especially a very odd preoccupation with the characters accusing each other of being gay. Half used as a strangely misjudged plot point that unnecessarily turns up at the last minute and otherwise used to no avail during threats and outbursts missing context to seemingly shock viewers. Constant uses of Americanisms like ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ aren’t advisable from the mouths of characters with public school dialects; it just comes across forced and silly. The similar on several levels British film ‘The Hole’ wasn’t exactly a classic but did manage to work with its premise much better than Truth or Dare, proving that having hateful posh youngsters turning on each other in an isolated location can be entertaining and balance the lack of any heroes with some intensity and twists.

Truth or Dare isn’t any fun; only proving funny once or twice quite unintentionally, neither is it complex or cool. The attempts to inject some sex and jeopardy fail pretty badly. As for violence, though there is some low budget competence in the odd slap or stab anyone hoping for blood will be left short changed and those wanting subtle smarts in their thrillers will not be keen on the low road routes often taken. Many have done this better on straight to DVD and overall Truth or Dare is clumsy, unmemorable and boringly the same old thing with the same old flaws.

(Oct 2012)

The Innkeepers Review


For a film involving themes of death and lack of hope Ti Wests’ The Innkeepers makes for one intense breathe of fresh air. In the genre wastelands where mediocre repetition abounds this restrained but confident film virtually towers over most recent horrors, not through FX or shock gimmickry but through smart characters, dialogue and atmosphere.

In the last few day of a historic small town hotel, the two bored remaining employees set to unravel the hotels allegedly haunted past. (I’ll refrain from revealing much else so as not to spoil). From what is a somewhat formulaic set up unfolds as a sincere and intimate piece rife with snappy comedy and some neat if mild creepy jolts. The Innkeepers bypasses falling into an increasingly common trap of writing smart-mouth hipsters that often invite contempt from audiences by being too consciously aware, thankfully here we have two realistically fed up people (sarcastic yes, but not exactly rolling with the in-crowd) who are genuinely empathetic and fast giving up (on interactions, ambition and their own interests). Pat Healy and Sara Paxton are solidly cast, bringing a very believable companionship born through the go-nowhere setting of a barely tolerable job, an element that even I wouldn’t have assumed would play so brilliantly as the backbone of a paranormal horror! The pair’s bored lack of direction is so relatable and well-played that when it becomes a sort of reflection or instigation for some of the eerie goings on that we are right there with the two during the creepier turns. Their determination to experience ‘something’, even if it is supernatural rather than a more rational life achievement, becomes quite understandable and underpins proceedings uniquely. With gently barbed banter that is played with conviction and feels very natural, it certainly helps that both our leads are capable of being funny and generally fit in with the whole premise seamlessly.
I really liked House of the Devil, Ti West’s prior stand out film which lends itself to his emerging and welcome personal style, I’m not entirely sure if you enjoy one you’ll guaranteed to enjoy both, but there is a similar stripped back patience that links the two films, both relying nicely on subtle detail, creeping tone and personality. Special films are still far and few between in horror so although not a flawless film it definitely is a special one, it also reminded me of how pleased I was watching Session 9 and Burning Bright, two films which never received cinema releases but are both special in their efforts to show something different through human reaction and imaginative dread, forgoing predictable tropes and triviality. I don’t like the obligatory disclaimers about a horror’s lack of gore or shock in a review, as if a film lives or dies by how much blood is shed, frankly (and speaking as lover of watching unholy amounts of the red stuff) who needs guts when you’ve got a sharp and relatable script performed by a strong cast with the support of a director who just seems to get it? A wonderfully balanced and entertaining film that knows its strength’s and pushes them forth with insight and humour.

(May 2012)