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

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The Fog


Viewed – 09 December 2018. Blu-ray

How am I only now just getting around to seeng this 1980 classic by one of my favourite directors John Carpenter? I think I actually saw bits of it as a child but it never really crossed my path since. So what’s this one about? A quiet fishing town hold an anniversary of the founding of the town following the fateful crashing of a ship against the rocks on its shoreline 100 years previous. However, on this anniversary an ominous fog descends on the town, bringing with it a supernatural threat.

This is a particularly eerie premise that’s done justice by Carpenters assured, pacey direction (hot off the heals of Halloween) and Dean Cundey’s very effective cinematography. A colourful cast of characters including screen legend Janet Leigh as a real-estate agent and real-life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis as a free spirited hitch hiker … bring plenty of personality to proceedings. I was soon intrigued by everyones varying situations, especially that of the town’s lighthouse based resident DJ. The ghosts who lurk in the fog were also unnerving and that thump-thump-thump they make as they knock on doors, only added to the tension and feeling of dread.

It’s all pretty tame by most standards and isn’t all that scary or shocking, but with a setting that resembles to good effect Jaws and even Hitchcock’s The Birds, this slight but effective genre-offering still proved very entertaining.

Studio Canal are releasing several of John Carpenter’s back catalogue in special editions and this one is very special. In deluxe gatefold packaging, this comes with a poster, art cards, a detailed booklet, with the movie on 4K UHD as well as Blu-ray. I didn’t get chance to sample the 4K disc, but the image quality on the Blu-ray, for a mostly night-set movie is very pleasing and offers up some good detail. The sound is presented in standard stereo or 5.1 DTS Master Audio which proves effective if naturally not a surround sound showcase. Extras are plentiful including an archive commentary from Carpenter and producer Debra Hill, along with another commentary from key cast and crew. On a second disc we get trailers, behind the scenes features, storyboards and a scene analysis by Carpenter amongst other bits and bobs. They even throw in the CD soundtrack. Exceptional treatment for a somewhat forgotten, but still worthy horror classic.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 5 /5

A Quiet Place


Viewed – 04 November 2018. Online rental

Few. I’m just trying to catch my breath. Well, if this wasn’t one of the most tense and gripping movie viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time, I don’t know what is. The always dependable Emily Blunt leads this sci-fi horror drama about a small family trying to survive in a wilderness where ravenous creatures (aliens?) hunt and kill anyone and anything that makes a sound. So this young couple and their children live a life of silence, sign language and dread. You see, to add to their plight the teenage daughter is deaf,which makes her highly vulnerable and Blunt is pregnant.

This is a film dripping with tension, impending doom and director John Kransinski squeezes every ounce of emotion and fear from the characters, making me care so very much for them. This movie does an incredible amount with hardly any spoken dialogue, relying instead on the rawest of human expression and the threat of death to pummel home its situation that only gets more desperate as the movie progresses. That labour scene alone is one of the scenes of the year for me. The sound here is also pretty much a character in of itself and a decent sound system is recommended to get the full experience.

Occasionally the characters do make some stupid decisions considering the situation and the creatures are nothing that imaginative. However for a concept where I went in expecting just another gory survival horror … what I got was a whole lot more. A must see.

Verdict: 5 /5

Hereditary


Viewed – 02 November 2018. Blu-ray

Its easy to be skeptical these days when a horror movie gets a lot of hype. However this was getting some very good word of mouth and even Oscar buzz for its lead Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense). So I took a leap of faith and picked up the Blu-ray. This story follows a family coming to terms with the death of the grandmother which casts a matriarchal shadow who’s passing proves polarising to family members, especially Annie (Collette) and youngest daughter Charlie. However as grief and tragedy sinks its claws in, a disturbing past reveals itself.

The directorial debut of newcomer Ari Aster this carefully observed and eerie family drama-come-horror feels like the work of a seasoned pro, not a relative newcomer. The camera work, shot framing, set design and atmosphere is all first rate. It’s a fairly simple tale and may not exactly go places we haven’t seen before, but boasts several top-tier performances and brilliantly staged scares. Toni Collette may be a tad OTT at times and well, Alex Wolf can’t cry for toffee, but with a subtle, understated but convincing dynamic of a troubled, dysfunctional family’s descent into madness … I was left punch-drunk as the credits rolled.

It gets a little hokey at times what with some bizarre CGI and some plausibility going out the window in the final act. Yet the writing plays cleverly with expectation and cliché, leading this viewer in one direction with genre staples like creepy kids and miniature model houses, before sending expectations spiralling to a conclusion filled with nightmare-inducing imagery. It however failed to completely get under my skin and isn’t as scary as it thinks it is … but in all other aspects this was incredibly effective.

Verdict: 4 /5

Veronica


Viewed – 11 November 2018. Netflix

A Spanish supernatural horror hyped as being so scary it caused heart attacks and for viewers to switch it off. I’ve had my fingers burned by similarly worded hype campaigns before, as I recall actually being cautious to see The Blair Witch Project back in the day and well, that turned out to be a pile of shite. However this also had Paco Plaza attached as director, one half of the duo that delivered the excellent [REC] and its equally impressive sequel.

Veronica, a school girl who pretty much runs the house, looking after her younger siblings whilst their single mother works all hours, holds a seance involving a Ouija board along with two friends in a bid to contact her dead father. Predictably things don’t go to plan and soon theirs some sort of demonic entity out to claim the souls of her brother and sisters. So Veronica has to find out how to banish the demon and save the day.

Paco Plaza’s direction is moody and stylish with some clever camera work and decent gradual build up of dread. Set-pieces such as hands coming out of a bed or some ravenous kids are well done but an over-familiarity with the subject matter quickly creeps in and makes this pale in comparison to similar fair like Insidious or The Conjuring. It’s just not all that scary. The principle cast do their job but are all more serviceable than particularly memorable. Not essential then, but if you’ve exhausted most mainstream horror offerings, then there’s still entertainment to be had with this.

Verdict: 2.5 /5