Thir13een Ghosts


Viewed – 31 October 2014  Netflix

So how was I going to celebrate Halloween this year?  Well other than some people dressing up at work, a few trick or treaters knocking my door … the easy option was to settle down with a horror movie.  I was recommended this by a friend and it tells the tale of a family man, still mourning the death of his wife who inherits a house from an uncle he never had anything to do with.  Turns out this uncle was into the occult big-time and went about finding and imprisoning various spirits within his labyrinthine house.  So sets the stage for a haunted house horror with a twist, where the house it’s self is an elaborate puzzle box that said family man and his daughter (the yummy Shannon Elizabeth) and son have to figure their way out of.

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The casting here isn’t great.  Mostly TV actors along with Scream’s Matthew Lillard (still as annoying as he ever was) as well and Monk and the girl who liked to run around in her underwear a lot in Scary Movie and American Pie (Elizabeth).  But at least we get a brilliantly designed fairground attraction of a house complete with art-decor stylings and plenty of creepy mystery.  The various ghosts are also quite imaginative and boast some cool make-up effects (clearly where much of this movie’s budget went). 

What is sad however is just how tame it all was, and there’s only really one decent kill and a complete lack of genuine danger (the ghosts are fairly inept at actually harming anyone…acting more like circus attractions).  F. Murray Abraham lends a little bit of thespian weight to proceedings but overall this was a glossy, yet Saw-light sort of experience that failed to bare it’s teeth.

Verdict:  2 /5

Looking within…


Well this past week or so I have been playing The Evil Within.  This is Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s latest foray into the world of survival horror and marks a return to form for the genre following the poorly received Resident Evil 6 and the cut & paste Silent Hill reboots.  I am enjoying it a great deal and it really feels suitably freaky and gruesome.  Mikami is a master at videogame design and pacing and this has it in spades.

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Atmosphere is superb and the story, for what it is … is fairly vague and trippy (the game jumps from one hallucination to the next and levels don’t follow a linear path as far as narrative is concerned).  There is a hub level where you save your game but this is also weird … a hospital or mental asylum where only a single (sort of attractive) nurse keeps you company and you go back and forth from the various levels by looking into a mirror.  You can also upgrade your abilities and weapons here by sitting in a chair that locks you in securely and clamps some sort of thing on your head … very Saw.  This game borrows heavily from various sources but has influences from Saw, Japanese horrors like The Ring and The Grudge and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It’s like a greatest hits of horror – and I am loving it.

Take a look at this gameplay demo for a good idea of this game’s tone:

The game is fairly lengthy also and I am in chapter 7 so far and know there are at least 11 chapters in total along with a new-game plus mode which I’m guessing lets you replay chapters with all your upgrades intact.  The game keeps to the Resident Evil formula with you having very limited ammo, getting weak from running, you can die very easily and you need to scavenge for supplies by opening boxes or breaking crates.  There are also a few basic puzzles to keep you occupied.  The main draw here though seems to be the boss battles, something Mikami is especially good at, and so far I’ve faced such creations as a chainsaw wielding psychopath, a freaky spider-lady and a rabid mutant dog … shudder, all brilliantly staged with plenty of clever foreshadowing (you get to creep past the dog’s massive cage in one sequence as it sleeps, leading up to a very tough encounter with the angry mutt).

If you’re after a game that’s a real throwback to the heyday of survival horror but with the big-budget stylings of Hostel or Saw … this has it.  It’s not easy, will challenge you but if you enjoy this style of game you’ll love every second.

Insidious


Viewed – 03 May 2011  Cinema

I wasn’t expecting this.  Going completely blind into this one, and knowing nothing but the fact it was directed by Saw’s James Wan.  So what would you expect?  Clever twists?  Wall to wall gore?  Then I hope you are sitting comfortably.  A young couple with two boys and a baby girl, move into one of those clichéd big-ass American houses that seems creepy from the off set.  Of course it’s not long until things start going bump in the night and weird shit begins to go down.  I know what you’re going to say, this is just like Amityville or Poltergeist, which was certainly my impression, but as the story progresses it takes a much more weirder and disturbing path, and to say it scared the hell out of me, well…

Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, along with an appearance by the increasingly freaky Barbara Hershey (just see Black Swan, you’ll know what I mean), this is well executed and incredibly effective, with jump-scares that don’t take the viewer for an idiot, and a nail-biting tension, helped by the eerie lighting and mostly hand-held camera work, that kept this viewer permanently nervous.  Ok, some moments of comedy seem out-of-place and towards the end the movie did sink into an extended Ghost Train ride, but by then you’re already glued, and in a crowded genre of torture porn gore flicks, sequels and remakes, this was a breath of fresh air, and shows that James Wan clearly didn’t fluke Saw and his follow-up, Death Sentence, making him one of the most assured horror-talents in the business.

Verdict:  4 /5

Death Sentence


Viewed – 08 May 2008  DVD

Kevin Bacon is one of my favourite actors – a versatile former heart-throb (Footloose) turned often controversial character-actor (Sleepers, The Woodsman), although admittedly it’s his impressive thespian skills I applaud and not his choice of dodgy roles. So with this film, he really goes for the jugular.

Bacon plays a respected family man whose life is turned upside down after a tragedy (I wont spoil you with the details), and soon vengeance and retribution consume him as we are treated (if thats the right word) to a deeply stylish and very exciting, no-holds barred movie with plenty of bite.  Director James Wan follows up his impressive debut Saw with an equally dark and sinister jolt-to-the-spine with impressive camera work, plenty of dark and moody lighting and an atmosphere of pure dread that proves him the real talent behind the Saw franchise and not that Darren-guy who went on to ruin it all.  I will be very interested to see what he comes up with next!

My only gripe is more a matter of opinion, as some turn-of-events make you wonder if Bacon really would go to such extremes – yet this still grabbed me regardless.

Verdict: 4 /5

Saw IV


Viewed – 30 October 2007  Cinema

Just in time for Halloween, I find myself sitting down to view the latest entry in my favourite horror franchise, SAW.  Now the previous three all scored admirably and as I wasn’t quite sure if a fourth film was really necessary, after viewing this I think the whole saga does need to finish now.  I hear there is a fifth entry on the cards though, and the ending here does hint at further continuation – yet I also feel anymore Saw is about to turn one of the freshest ideas in the genre, ultimately stale.

(Warning:  Spoilers!!  if not viewed past Saw films):  Jigsaw, the genuis killer who places his victims in elaborate traps in a hope to change their way of life by forcing them to face death – is dead, yet his games continue as a world wiery cop struggles to track down a missing detective before its too late.  What we have here also, apart from a new, complex game is an origins story, which is much needed and adds plenty to the previous films (something each sequel has done in some shape or form), but as a genius architect, Jigsaw’s reasons to become a maniacle psychopath aren’t entirely convincing.  Seeing Jigsaw’s more human side is engrossing none the less.  Add to this some clever traps, some teeth-gnashingly nasty gore (a blonde being scalped for example), and this still works – even if the twist that is par of the course with this franchise doesn’t have the massive wallop of the other films and even seems to be re-using old ideas.  That said this is still gut-churning, clever and mostly gripping – but by the end, I was even becoming bored with Jigsaw and wished that droning voice of his would just quit now – once and for all.

Verdict:  3 /5