The Decent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent, written and directed by the brilliant Neil Marshall, was a revelation in 2005. It is begins with a shock to the system, or two, and rapidly turns into an exercise in claustrophobia. Watching it again tonight on DVD, I found it to still be a tight fit. One that manages to leave me feeling a tad panicky and breathless, despite having watched it numerous times over the years.

My daughter and I watched it initially and both of us were blown away by the mood and the many changes that Marshall manages to manufacture in the film. In terms of unique and “outside the box” horror, this talented maestro knocks it out of the metaphorical park. (The original viewing of this horror film was back in approximately 2007.)

(I will admit to being an unabashed fanboy of Marshall. This is, after all, the same man who brought us the wonderfully weird and and delightful Dog Soldiers, as well as my “go-to” sci-fi/thriller fix, Doomsday.)

Back to The Descent:  The ladies are an interesting bunch with Juno; (Natalie Mendoza) the one who seems to be guaranteed to be the “final girl,” Sarah; (Shauna Macdonald) whose mind is a myriad of mixed emotions and Beth; (Alex Reid) the observer who sets a certain chain of events in motion, heading up this ensemble effort. The dynamic between these three and its messy interlude, runs alongside the main plot, after it makes its appearance, and shows the true depth of this movie’s story.

Marshall allows us an “out,” if you will, early on in the film. The MyAnna Buring character talks of the dangers of Spelunking.  She mentions hallucinations, dehydration, and disorientation as just a few of the long list of problems that exploring deep under the earth can cause.  By the film’s end, it is all too easy to contemplate a scenario where Sarah has dreamed the whole thing up.

Juno’s affair with Sarah’s late husband, the blind and cannibalistic cave creatures, and the end battle between Juno and Sarah could all be a construct of a woman who still needs medication after the horrific death of her husband and child. Medication that she forgets to bring into the cave with her. Sarah does, after all, get stuck in that narrow and somewhat heart stopping passage between caves. Is it such a stretch to imagine that the poor woman remained trapped there and had an intense Bardo moment?

It is interesting to note that the entire film leaves one with a tight feeling in the chest, a certain breathlessness and a slight sense of panic. After that first “jump scare” (I still cannot follow a vehicle with a load of copper, or any type of, pipes in the back without an uneasy feeling that borders on paranoia.) to the final shot of Sarah’s apparent demise, the ride is incredibly tortuous and stressful. I am not, as a rule, claustrophobic. But Marshall’s offering, from start to finish, certainly puts me in that place.

Despite being over 15 years old, The Descent still manages to entertain and put the audience in a very uncomfortable place. It is available to watch, for free, on IMDB TV. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this, or for that matter, the other aforementioned Marshall films, I would highly recommend checking it/them out.

Tales of Halloween (2015): Anthology Fun (Review)

Still from Tales of Halloween The Weak and the Wicked

Netflix celebrates Halloween rather belatedly by adding Tales of Halloween to the roster a whole year and two months late. Instead of offering up this brilliant bit of anthology fun and games back in October 2016 they popped it on when they felt like it.

It is a shame that the film did not get aired on the day, or to be more accurate the night, of traditional trick or treat antics. The movie has a impressive roster of directors, actors and producers who have made more than their fair share of horror films.

Names like Neil Marshall (Doomsday, Dog Soldiers), Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!, Lavalantula) and Adam Gierasch (Autopsy, Night of the Demons) directed a number of well known names in the genre for this film. There were a total of  11 directors for the 1o segments, and 10 writers all whom directed a segment with the exception of Clint Sears.

The actor’s ranks were filled by notable performers like Adrienne Barbeau who worked as emcee and tied the segments together, a’la her DJ role in John Carpenter’s The Fog. Other actor’s who frequent the halls of horror included Lin ShayeKristina Klebe and  Pat Healy.

There were splendid cameos by John SavageJoe DanteJohn LandisFelissa Rose and the late Ben Woolf (American Horror Story, Insidious) who worked in two segments. In fact, Tales of Halloween has so many familiar faces in it that one needs to watch it twice to catch them all. 

The anthology segments ranged from the sublime to the sick. Each segment had something to offer the horror and film fan. The Weak and the Wicked (directed by Paul Solet and featuring the excellent Noah Seganfor instance had a spaghetti western approach. From the stance of the players at the segment’s climax to the faint harmonica Morricone-esque music, it felt a bit like a Leone tribute with a Dario Argento flair.

Mike Mendez took on the Friday the 13th mantle for his offering “Friday the 31st.” He was clearly poking fun at the slasher sub-genre and it included a nudge and a wink to science fiction “alien” films.

Neil Marshall also headed into homage territory with his “Bad Seed” segment, clearly spoofing the 1982 horror film “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” There were also a few more nods to other films in his offering.

Marshall’s segment also had more familiar faces than any other segment. Kristina Klebe playing a tough as nails homicide detective, John Savage as her boss and Pat Healy as Forensic Bob. It also had the brilliant director Joe Dante in the final moments of the segment.

The opening story;  Dave Parker‘s “Sweet Tooth,” was clever and fun. Gierasch’s “Trick” was almost horror perfection and included a twist that would have made O. Henry jealous.

“The Ransom of Rusty Rex” is the funniest by far (directed by Ryan Schifrin with John Landis and Ben Woolf as “Rusty Rex.”) and Darren Lynn Bousman‘s “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” starring Barry Bostwick (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, yes that Barry Bostwick) was easily the most slyly presented segment.

“The Grim Grinning Ghost” was the biggest “tease” and featured two women who are near legends in the field; Lin Shaye and Barbara Crampton.  “This is War” (directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp) really felt like a tip of the hat to Rob Zombie.

There were instances where the anthology had segments which “crossed over” and featured players from the other stories.  Fans of anthology films, which have gone through a bit of a resurgence with the two ABC’s of Death films, the VHS franchise and most recently “Holidays“, will enjoy this latest offering on Netflix.

Stop by and check this one out, it is well worth the trip and good enough for repeated viewings.

Mad Max: Fury Road Second Trailer with Battle Royale Music Equals Awesome

Mad Max: Fury Road Second Trailer with Battle Royale Music Equals Awesome

The 1979 cult classic Mad Max is one of those films, that despite the filmmakers deciding to dub Mel Gibson’s voice in U.S. theatres, falls into that sacred category of “should never be remade,” but the release of the second Fury Road trailer complete with the 2000 Battle Royale film music equals some kind of awesome. It also makes the argument of not remaking the film a moot point. When a trailer looks and sounds this great, it is almost fait accompli that the film is going to rock socks at the cinema.

Devil’s Playground (2010): Zombies, Zombies Everywhere…

The Devil's Playground (2010 film)
The Devil’s Playground (2010 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devil’s Playground  is director Mark McQueen‘s first venture into the feature film arena. Better known as the director of the “reality” television series The Only Way Is EssexMcQueen hasn’t done too badly in his maiden voyage.

Unfortunately the film feels an awful lot like the 2008 Brit-flick Doomsday but without the added benefit of director Neil Marshall or Rhona Mitra or Bob Hoskins. Playground does use a lot of the same actors though.

Sean Pertwee (and what would a low budget British horror film be without him), MyAnna Buring (who also was immune to the ‘virus’ that plaqued, sorry, England in Doomsday), and Craig Conway (who played MyAnna’s brother in Doomsday).

So okay we do have Colin Salmon (who has done the whole zombie bit before in Resident Evil 2002) and Danny Dyer (who is also an alumni of British horror because he played the drugged out prat in 2006’s Severance and he also did the 2009 horror film Doghouse), but, to the best of my knowledge Craig Fairbrass has never been in an apocalyptic zombie film before.

Interestingly enough the ruggedly good looking Fairbass got his start working on an English television show called London’s Burning. He went to America to work and Hollywood’s never really known what to do with him.

The basic plot of Devil’s Playground is not blazingly original. A chemical/pharmaceutical company is doing tests on people using an ‘enhancement’ drug that, apart from one test subject (Buring), is turning the participants into adrenalin fuelled scary zombies.

Craig Fairbrass plays Cole an armed policeman who is feeling a huge amount of guilt over the things he has had to do in the recent past.  His murdering a couple in their bed, with the woman being heavily pregnant, plays over and over in guilt ridden flashbacks.

Fairbass gets infected at the very beginning of the film while fighting zombies. He manges to get three injections that will hopefully stave off the virus long enough for him to find the ‘immune’ and also heavily pregnant Angela Mills (Buring).

Unfortunately, the film lacks a little in the believability department when everyone apart from Cole only have to get scratched by one of the infected zombies to be overcome by the virus. Those injections must be really good if not completely pain-free since he regularly doubles over in pain.

The other believability problem is the, unintentionally, funny instant Parkouring ability of almost every zombie. The infected folks can just naturally jump through open car windows and scale buildings like Parkour professionals. And while that is actually quite funny it speaks more of a limited stunt team who are using the same few stuntmen over and over.

The film is entertaining despite it’s similarity to many other apocalyptic zombie films already on the market. Craig Fairbrass alone  is worth the price of a DVD rental to watch this film.

Well that and seeing Sean Pertwee, sporting a huge moustache, run across a dock and steal the river police’s powerboat and speed off  into the distance.

I don’t know if he was escaping the approaching zombies or trying to get the hell out of the film.

A rating of one leisurely bag of popcorn, nothing special but still entertaining.

Doomsday (2008): Don’t Fear the Reaper

As the poster so clearly states: A New Film From Neil MarshallDoomsday is the third film to be written and directed by Neil Marshall. The first two, Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005),  I have written about before. These three films, if watched in the order they were made, show Marshall’s growth and  increased status as a writer/director. Each progressive film benefits from an increased budget and the calibre of actors goes up as well.  More importantly, each film’s scope is enlarged; the first two films were a cozy affair. Single locale, set number of actors and scenes, FX capable but not too flashy. Doomsday in terms of all the above mentioned items, scoops them both.

Filmed for an estimated budget of $30,000,000 Doomsday looks impressive. The cast comprises the usual Marshall regulars, Sean PertweeEmma CleasbyNora-Jane NooneMyAnna Buring, and Craig Conway (Conway gives a stand out performance as the mad-as-hatter ruler of a blood thirsty mob of survivors – Sol). The cast also includes some big namesBob HoskinsMalcolm McDowell (as Sol’s pop, you can see where Sol gets his personality from), Rhona Mitra, like I said big names.

In the not too distant future a killer virus known as The Reaper sweeps through Britain. The government decide to contain the infected behind a huge fortified fence that stretches from coast to coast, cutting off Scotland completely and leaving everyone trapped behind the fence to die. The United Kingdom is condemned by the rest of the world for their actions.

Jump ahead thirty years and two things happen almost simultaneously. Satellites that have been orbiting the  contaminated area north of the fence spies movement and The Reaper has made an unwelcome return. A small group of elite specialist are drafted into entering the contaminated zone. Their mission is to find  a research laboratory that was working on a cure for the virus before they were trapped in the containment area and to find out who has survived and how.

Rhona Mitra is one-eyed Eden Sinclair (this role so obviously got her cast in Underworld 3) who leads the team of experts into the area. Eden, whose “glass-eye” doubles as a camera with video recording capability, is hard as nails and  very independent. Once she and her team breach the wall and head into the laboratory, they get jumped by Sol’s people. They are captured and as part of Sol’s twenty-four hour madness, Sean Pertwee is again killed at the beginning of the second reel.

The film has a very ‘Mad Max‘ feel to it. From the outfits that Sol’s people wear, to the vehicles they use at the end of the film in a protracted Mad Max chase scene, the film feels like an English version of the Mel Gibson cult favourites. Marshall himself stated the the Mad Max trilogy inspired him and that he was paying his own homage to the films.

It was very nice to see Malcolm McDowell as Sol’s father, the lab scientist who has decided to remake the survivors behind the wall into his vision of Darwin’s theory. His madness dictates that he can willing sacrifice his own children if they do not obey him and his rules. Once Eden returns from the infected territory with a “cure” for the reaper virus, she  sets up the very people who sent her and her team to almost certain death. She puts in motion  the mechanics for their downfall.

Doomsday is a cracking film. It has a snappy pace and the actors all do well. The bigger budget shows in the end result and I am guessing the Marshall will have an even bigger budget for his next film.

Marshall’s next film is The Last Voyage of Demeter,  Dracula fans will recognise the name of the ship, it is the one that transports the Count to England in the book. It looks as though  Marshall is going back to his horror roots. The film is due to be released in 2013. I am looking forward to it.