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

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Ghostbusters


Viewed – 16 July 2016  Cinema

(Updated: 18/07/2016) Possibly one of the most heavily criticised movies for a long time before anyone actually saw it.  Now that it’s out however, although public opinion hasn’t completely reversed it seems the movie might actually be worth your time … and I’ll say straight away that it certainly is.

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Is it OK to say I have a crush on Kristina Wiig?   The Bridesmaids star heads an all new female cast who join together to rid the city of New York from a supernatural phenomenon, despite government and the media struggling to take them seriously.  So far so very much the original plot, and this movie bares a very close resemblance to what came before along with many in-jokes and (a slight overkill) of cameo appearances from the original actors.  That being said this also has it’s own flavour – in the form of a great cast all doing a fine job bringing their individual personalities into the action.  Melissa McCarthy whose brand of often slapstick humour I feared might have been misplaced, is very good as are a somewhat unhinged Kate McKinnon and a fun Leslie Jones.  The effects for the various ghosts and creatures are above average and the ghost busting action itself is often thrilling, funny and utterly entertaining.

Inevitably comparing this to the original, I’ll admit the movie doesn’t hold up as well, replacing creepy atmosphere and characterisation with at times corny humour and an overdose of CGI (and gunge).  Yet taken on it’s own merits I enjoyed several fun encounters (slimer and mrs slimer?), it made me chuckle often and it was seriously feel good in places, making this more than a simple cash-in … and for a new audience it possibly works even better.  So I say give this a chance.  It does a lot right and everyone involved (including a dopey Chris Hemsworth) look like they are having a blast, which came across strong enough to this viewer to leave him with a big, satisfied grin.

Verdict:  3 /5

Poltergeist


Viewed – 25 June 2016  Netflix

I approached this fairly open minded despite my general dislike of remakes to classic horrors.  However my memory of the original Steven Spielberg penned / Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist is cloudy at best.  A family move into a house in a nice neighbourhood and soon find themselves troubled by weird goings on.  Yes, it’s nothing at all new and is pretty much following the blue-print of a wealth of other horror movies such as The Conjuring or anything with restless spirits in it.

Poltergeist

However with a likeable cast headed by Sam Rockwell (Moon, The Green Mile) and decent production values I still found myself entertained.  In an attempt to bring the idea into the modern era we get ghostly apparitions tinkering with cell phones and flat screen TVs as well as electricity and lighting to interesting effect.    There’s even a sequence with a drone robot going into a portal that proves pretty creepy.  Yet the movie’s key failing is not having any genuine scares (sorry, but clown dolls…again?) and apart from an alarming scene with a drill…it stays decidedly family-friendly throughout.  Good use of CGI and a fun if clichéd appearance by Jared Harris (Mad Men) kept me intrigued and some fun ghost pranks like kids being dragged up a staircase or a muddy puddle with a hand coming out of it made this a fun if uninspired evening’s viewing.  Characterisation was particularly lacking however (the parents are unemployed…but can still afford a swanky house!!?), the little girl as the focus of the movie just basically said her lines (with the blandest ‘they’re here’ ever delivered) and some better atmosphere wouldn’t have gone amiss instead of a reliance on effects and action.

I’m an old-school horror devotee and yes this left me wanting, but if you’re not as fussy as me or that keen on more hard-core frights … this was a competent if unimaginative remake that may still be worth your time.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

The Sixth Sense


Viewed –  April 2016  Blu-ray

Director M Night Shyamalan has certainly fallen from grace since the acclaim he garnered for this much loved supernatural drama.  Sitting down to watch it, I felt nostalgic for just how much buzz the director’s name created for a short while there.  Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist whose latest case involves a nine year old boy, Cole (Haley Joel Osment) whose bullied, an outcast in his community and a constant concern for his single mother, played by Toni Collette.  However Cole hides a secret; the fact he can actually see the dead walking around and often communicating with him, and this is something Bruce Willis tries to help him with.

The Sixth Sense

A slow burning but gripping with a stunning performance from Osment, truly one of the most gifted child actors of his generation.  He carries the movie brilliantly, proving both vulnerable, likeable and heart-breaking.  His plight of living with an ability that he can’t tell anyone about, least of all his mother is really incredible to bestow on the shoulders of such a young character … but Osment makes it utterly real.  Willis is also very good and conflicted, in a marriage that has obviously seen better days and fighting against his own demons.  Collette also gets time to shine and is especially good in the scenes with her and Osment (that scene in the car towards the end almost had me in tears).

bruce-willis-and-haley-joel-osmentThis is a very sad movie.  It’s bleak and moody and ominous, and also manages to be genuinely creepy, with Cole’s various encounter’s with different restless spirits.  M Night Shyamalan’s direction is faultless, full of little details and secrets – and that much talked about twist, which I won’t spoil is possibly one of the best.  I can totally understand why this movie is so regarded as it get’s everything right, standing out as a classic example of acting, writing and film-making coming together perfectly.  One of those movies everyone should see at least once … but to get the most out of it, see it again to view the movie in a different light.

The image quality is a little soft but suits the tone of the movie and colours, which are deliberately muted, especially help the use of red stand out.  Close-ups and street scenes are detailed though and overall it’s a good presentation.  Sound is also pleasing with clear dialogue, but apart from some decent ambient surround effects, is not about to be a 5.1 showcase.  Extras are plentiful however with a lengthy documentary ‘Reflections From The Set’ and a further doc on the supernatural called ‘Between Two Worlds’.  There’s also some shorter featurettes and a couple of trailers.  The lack of a commentary for this one is disappointing, but overall pretty good treatment for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(The Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

The Conjuring


Viewed – 04 September 2015  Blu-ray

I had wanted to watch this a while back, but for one reason or another never got around to it.  Horror movies of late it seems have a funny effect on me.  I have grown up loving the genre but the more recent obsession with supernatural subjects has never been to my liking – what can I say, ghost stuff scares me.  That being said it has been a while since one has had such an effect, and the last was probably Insidious.  Funnily enough by the same director as this supposedly based on true events movie.

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James Wan has made a bit of a name for himself; a relatively young director who has gained quite a reputation, starting out with the Saw movies and then the aforementioned Insidious (and it’s sequel) and now this.  A family move into an old farm house in the early 70s, a man and woman and their four daughters.  However its not long before they realise they are not alone and strange stuff starts to occur.  Step in demonologists Lorraine & Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who specialising in investigating the paranormal – and boy, have the family got a very unpleasant spirit for them.  Wan knows how to direct a horror movie, no doubt.  This is filled with tension, solid performances (with a stand out Lili Taylor) and slow burning atmosphere complete with quality camera work and a creepy setting.  I’m easily put on edge by movies like this, but this drew me into the characters and story, building up to the scares with genuine style and class.  We get an eerie sleep-walking girl, stuff going on in mirrors, glimpses of ghosts and a decidedly unsettling backstory.  As a subplot, we are also introduced to the possessed doll ‘Annabelle’ and the freaky looking thing gets to play it’s part … even if it seems under-utilised.

The movie is not without it’s clichés and there are riffs on The Ring, The Exorcist and Amityville – but the influences here are worn with pride and when the scares come – oh boy.  This was one of the most frightening horror movies I have seen in quite some time – it goes for the jugular where many recent horrors have chosen to play it safe (The Babadook).  A movie best watched with the lights down and the sound cranked up – as long as you don’t mind a sleepless night afterwards.

Verdict:  5 /5