Pet Sematary


Viewed – 10 April 2019. Cinema

I went into this with expectations dialled down mostly because I don’t consider the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel all that great. However, a remake is a chance to improve upon a concept so there’s every reason to hope this one fairs better. A doctor (Jason Clarke) and his family move to a rural town and soon befriend the kind old man across the road (John Lithgow) who eventually introduced them to the Pet Cemetery in the woods, located on the family’s land. However following an unfortunate incident involving the pet cat and a lorry, the old neighbour suggests burying the animal beyond the pet cemetery. So of course, the cat comes back and sets in motion a spiral of increasingly macabre events.

Pet Sematary

The movie quickly resorts to cliches like ‘we should never have moved here’ way before that sort of thinking seems reasonable. Also, John Lithgow surprisingly fails to have the screen presence of the originals Fred Gwyn with delivery for such iconic lines as ‘the soil of a man’s heart…’ and ‘sometimes dead is better’ coming off rather half-arsed. However Jason Clarke is decent aided by a memorable turn from Jeta Laurence as his daughter. Flashbacks to the wife’s memories of twisted-spine sister ‘Zelda’ is also cranked up in the freakiness and jump-scares department and really, turns out to be the movie’s most disturbing aspect. Also changes to the final act help explain-away some of the more ludicrous developments of the original, but also come off as even sillier somehow.

So this remake wasn’t terrible and at times genuinely scary, but like the original … I can’t help but feel that the concept is overall flawed.

Verdict: 3 /5

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Ring


Viewed – 22 March 2019. Blu-ray

Following the mysterious deaths of a group of students, a rookie female reporter investigates links to an urban legend revolving around a cursed video tape. The movie that started it all. An international sensation that spawned several sequels as well as an American remake. So how does this 1998 original hold up? Well, what Japanese horror does well and this does equally well is that ‘unsettling stillness’. Dark Water, by same director Hideo Nakata, avoids clichéd jump scares or gore, favouring gradual menace this movie cemented and made a genre all its own. Add influences from traditional Japanese folklore, and traditional detective stories as well as Japanese ghost stories spawned what we now know as J-horror.

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More an eerie drama than full-on scare-fest, this feels rather lightweight despite its reputation, even though that slow burning ticking clock plot device helps deliver a sense of dread that makes that famed, often satirised and copied ending all the more powerful. However, performances are largely only passable and often overly theatrical.  Thankfully, Nakata’s direction is restrained but suitably creepy, helped by a great sense of unease if avoiding full on chills mostly., and that incredibly effective, freaky soundtrack does crank up the horror.  Yet overall, this is rather dated today and the plot doesn’t make much sense, leaving many questions unanswered.  A girl trapped in a well, a curse, deaths but er… how does that connect to videotapes? It seems to me like a convenient plot device.  It’s also  to me this was a clear influence on recent cult hit ‘It Follows’ amongst other movies.

The new 4k restoration from Arrow Video boasts a decent picture with effective sound treatment in DTS HD master audio 5.1. The movie is rather stilted and bland to look at yet this only adds to it’s atmosphere. Extras consist of a fascinating commentary from film historian David Kalat. We also get a complete version of the cursed video (date you watch it?) and several worthwhile featurettes.  There are also trailers and a photo gallery. Decent treatment for a classic that whilst diluted by modern standards, still deserves its place in horror movie history.  And yes, I prefer it over its Hollywood remake.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3.5 /5

(the Blu-Ray)  4 /5

The House That Jack Built


Viewed – 05 March 2019. Blu-Ray

Matt Dillon, who first caught my attention following his star-making role in cult favourite Drugstore Cowboy returns after what seems to have been a long absence from the movie scene. Hats off to him for choosing such a controversial role as ‘Jack’ a man recanting five incidents during a twelve year history as a serial killer.

The House That Jack Built

One of those movies that instantly stirred up controversy following it’s Cannes debut. With a myriad of clever, baffling and disturbing references in an attempt to explore a damaged mind, both revered and reviled director Lars Von Trier’s movie is equal parts challenging, shocking and decidedly clever. Structurally with Jack’s repeated attempt to build a house whilst at the same time descending into madness is a work of ingenious symbolism. In amidst harrowing depictions of breast-slicing or strangulation there’s also a surprising and welcome amount of satire and dark comedy (returning a rigpr mortis-stricken body to the scene of the crime, OCD cleaning up), that comparisons to American Psycho or French thriller Man Bites Dog are valid. However, one scene involving a mother and her two little boys challenged even my admittedly far reaching boundaries.

Dillon is fantastic and very convincing as this unfeeling sociopathic killer and in different material (or if he was Anthony Hopkins) might have got the Oscar nod. Yes, Von Trier gets self-indulgent in his artistic flourishes, throwing in German expressionist-like imagery and footage from the holocaust as well as his own movies to hammer home various points about art and violence. Yet along with Jack’s narrated conversations with disembodied confidant ‘Verge’ … what we ultimately get is a very unique take on the serial-killer subject, meaning I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Velvet Buzzsaw


Viewed – 26 February 2019  Netflix

I think it can be agreed now that Netflix has become a force to be retconned with and now attracts Hollywood A-list talent to front it’s growing catalogue of original content.  So we come to this rather strange horror thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Toni Collette.  Gyllenhaal plays an art critic who works with various art galleries to put on exhibits.  However he is craving the latest big thing and after a mysterious elderly man dies, an undiscovered collection of weird paintings falls into his lap.  However something is very wrong with these paintings, and the gallery owners, employees and critics are about to discover exactly what.

UNTITLED DAN GILROY FILM

This was a strange one.  Firstly Gyllenhaal is probably my favourite actor, and here he’s playing a rather camp, self-absorbed bi-sexual character who at times comes off like two separate people (when he’s in critic mode, he’s effeminate and flamboyant, otherwise he’s quite serious and masculine). However like many of Gyllenhaal’s characters – he makes it work.  Russo is the rather bitchy gallery owner and not exactly a stretch from the last movie I saw her in, Nightcrawler, of which this is the same director.  Collette is nothing special and an appearance from John Malcovich is forgettable also.  Zawe Ashton as an ambitious gallery employee however, is just awful with robot-like line delivery making me think she was doped up on medication.  However the core idea of cursed artwork and the mystery of the deceased painter is intriguing, just a shame it goes nowhere in favour of a series of (admittedly imaginative) deaths. 

It may feel a bit lightweight and suffers from a TV movie-vibe but with quirky performances and a strong central idea I did have fun with this … but it’s far from essential viewing.  That title has little reference to the movie either. 

Verdict:  3 /5

Prince of Darkness


Viewed – 20 January 2019

In my ongoing quest to watch and review director John Carpenter’s back-catalogue, we come to this 1987 somewhat ignored entry in his filmography.  Starring genre favourite and Carpenter regular Donald Pleasence as a priest who stumbles upon a decades long secret held by a church, that has been housing a sinister, mysterious force in it’s basement.  On the death of the priest last given the task of keeping the secret er…secret, Pleasence turns to a college professor (Big Trouble in Little China’s Victor Wong) who recruits a group of students to monitor and understand the strange discovery.

PrinceOfDarkness

I’ve been a fan of this movie for a while, having caught it on TV numerous times.  However on viewing it recently it dawned on me that it’s night quite the sum of it’s parts.  Firstly the acting varies from passable to pretty bad, and dialogue is delivered like the cast are reading autocues, with a consistent lack of feeling.  The setting is at least creepy and unnerving and acts as a character of it’s own, and the weird vat of green mist / goo is suitably is ominous.  Also in the final act the movie cranks up the freakiness and proves effective especially once the evil presence starts taking affect on various characters.  The idea is probably a bit too ambitious for it’s own good and doesn’t quite deliver either in scares or concept, feeling half-finished.  It also takes itself way too seriously.  Not one of Carpenter’s worst, but not up their with his best either.

I didn’t manage to pick up the also available deluxe edition of this Studio Canal release that comes in the same packaging treatment as the recently released Escape from New York and The Fog, but we still get some decent extras.  This includes the always essential John Carpenter commentary, as well as interviews, scene analysis, trailers, behind the scenes featurette and a photo gallery.  The movie itself is in decent shape, with Carpenter’s eerie score proving especially effective in DTS HD 5.1.  Dialogue is also crisp and the movie looks good, if a little smudgy and overly soft in places.  Overall above average treatment for a fun if ultimately unsatisfying movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5