Saint Maud


Viewed – 13 February 2021 online rental

A rather talked about British horror from newcomer Rose Glass that has been getting some good word of mouth lately. So of course I thought I’d check it out. This tells the story of Maud, a young woman who comes to work as a full time carer for retired former dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) who is dying of cancer. It soon transpires that Maud is deeply religious and through caring for the woman, decides she may have finally found her ‘calling’.

Not your usual setup for a horror and initially I was wondering if I’d been sold the wrong movie. The portrayal of Maud and her beliefs is intriguing and as the story progresses, quite eye opening and unsettling. I personally am not religious although I believe in spirituality, and some of the things in this woman’s head are troubling. Such as how she self harms in an attempt to please God. Director Rose Glass transports is into Maud’s mind quite quickly and it’s a dark and disturbing place to be. She also fills the movie with a claustrophobic dread, using camera work, lighting and music effectively.

However, there’s only a hint of back story and the movie fails to even remotely explore why Maud is the way she is, which as her actions get crazier makes for a rather unsympathetic character. This is the movie’s only failing … it’s like we’re just getting a small part of the story, and I get it – a lot of what goes on is subjective. Yet performances are solid, especially Morfydd Clark as Maud and where the movie goes is quite shocking. Just a shame it’s mostly surface horror than anything deeper.

Verdict: Good

Cat People


Viewed – 22 January 2021 Blu-ray

I’ve had a yearning to watch some older ‘classics’ of late and have been looking to The Criterion Collection to quench my thirst with a few titles that have caught my eye. This 1942 horror themed drama stars somewhat lesser known starlet Simone Simon as Irena, a woman who believes an ancient curse means that any physical intimacy with a man, means she’ll turn into a black panther and devour him. So naturally when she falls for a charming business man (Kent Smith) who convinces her to marry him … Irena fears her animal side will reveal itself.

The beast within…?

A simple tale with an intriguing premise, this flirts back and forth between the notion that Irena may be some carnivorous creature within, or she’s just sexually repressed. It certainly has something to say about female sexuality, which is bold considering when it was made. It’s also shot with atmosphere to spare, and has three enjoyable performances that drew me in. The story focuses on what becomes a love triangle, and the jealousy that builds especially in the final act made for some effective moments (the swimming pool scene). It’s not a horror in a traditional sense, there’s very little violence or creature effects, and is generally subtle and suggestive. Also despite a short run time, it was quite slow going. Yet I still found myself entertained.

The Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection boasts a 2k restoration that’s detailed and pleasing with striking black & white photography, and an uncompressed mono soundtrack has clear dialogue and effective music cues that aid the often eerie mood. However the big bonus here is a lengthy documentary on famed producer Val Lewton which is narrated by Martin Scorsese and goes in-depth on the man’s career. Add to this a commentary from film historian Gregory Mark, interviews, a trailer and a booklet with an essay from film critic Geoffrey O’Brien. Quality treatment for a somewhat underrated classic. Worth checking out.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Relic


Viewed – 07 November 2020 online rental

A woman gets word that nobody has heard from her mother in a while, so concerned she decides to pay a visit, bringing her daughter along with her. However upon arriving at the elderly woman’s house, it transpires she is missing. As the elderly woman appears to be suffering memory loss and possible dementia going by reminder notes pinned around the house, concern for her safety quickly materialises.

This drama at first seems like a study of a family and the horrible effects of old age. However as it progresses, it appears something more supernatural could be occurring. This is a slow burner but well acted throughout, especially the often dependable Emily Mortimer. It takes its time to get going and much of the ‘horror’ aspects are in the final act, where things turn very weird. However it has a rather tense and creepy tone from the start, isn’t reliant on cheap jump scares to make the viewer uneasy, and plays with one’s imagination effectively.

However a lack of ‘answers’ is frustrating and what that ending is meant to mean, I couldn’t say. Yet as a debut feature, there’s enough promise here to make director Natalie Erika James one to watch.

Verdict: Good

An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 31 October 2020 Blu-ray

Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.

Beware the moon…

The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.

The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Essential

(the Blu-ray) Essential

The Babysitter: Killer Queen


Viewed – 17 October 2020 Netflix

I wasn’t exactly blown away with the surprise sleeper hit that was the first movie, but it was still fun if trashy entertainment with a break out turn from Samara Weaving. However it clearly was popular enough to spawn a sequel. Set three years after the first movie, nerdy kid Cole is now in High School and labelled a bit of a nutcase as he told a lot of people about his babysitter’s satanic blood cult. So yeah he’s having trouble fitting in. One day though his best friend invites him to a getaway on a boat out in the wilderness – yeah, isolated in the middle of nowhere, nothing bad is going to happen, right?

If looks could kill…

Directed again by McG (Terminator Salvation) this is trying sooooo hard to be a self-referential horror version of Scott Pilgrim vs The World. It has the crazy editing, video game references, and a funky soundtrack. Oh and plenty of CGI gore. The deaths in the last movie were a major plus, and the same goes here – even if they often look incredibly fake. This is not helped by a script that is painfully unfunny, which really needs to be funny. The cast, with many returning faces from last time, are constantly spouting what they think is clever, pop-culture fused dialogue but it has very forced delivery that just falls flat. It all screams of trying too hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some of McG’s movies in the past, and his style can work given better material … but this just feels lazy. There’s times when it looks like it’s happening on a cheap sound stage, and I could have sworn one bit looked like terrible green screen, and it even has a jump scare that makes zero sense (a peeing gag). The ending was a slight step up, with an interesting twist – but overall this really wasn’t worth it.

Verdict: Avoid