The Ward


Director: John Carpenter (2010)
Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker
Find it: IMDB

A subdued return to the genre by horror maestro John Carpenter, The Ward is perfectly fine by anyone else's standards but a disappointment by his own. The Ward is to John Carpenter what Red Eye is to Wes Craven and The Toolbox Murders is to Tobe Hooper. All good films, but a million miles away from the masterpieces that made them famous.

Carpenter, mind, made his return to form years ago with Cigarette Burns - maybe the best Masters Of Horror episode (and proving himself worthy of that title) before losing it again with Pro Life (one of the worst). The Ward is no Cigarette Burns, but nor is it a Pro Life. It's simply another Ghosts Of Mars (shut up, I enjoyed it) or Vampires (ditto).

I don't know what Amber heard, but she didn't like it very much...

In The Ward, Kristen (Heard) is institutionalized after burning down a farm house. Unfortunately it looks like she's gone and found herself in a haunted hospital, since she and her inmates are regularly attacked by an ugly ghost woman who bumps them off one by one. But nobody believes her, because she's supposed to be crazy, see. It's like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest meets Halloween. Except The Ward is in no way as good as Halloween.

Despite a great location, a great lead actress and some creepy spook sequences, The Ward feels like something I've seen many times before. The plot is exactly the same as New Zealand horror-comedy Diagnosis: Death, whilst it robs elements from Shutter Island and a couple of movies I can't mention for fear of spoiling the twist. Suffice to say that by the time the end credits roll, you'll be thinking "oh. So he went there, did he." It ruins much of what came before - and none of that was all too good in the first place.

Furthermore, aside from the typically wonderful Amber Heard, it's a ward populated by horrendously irritating characters. As the script mistakes 'crazy' for 'pain in the arsehole', The Ward gives us Danielle Panabaker doing a silly Posh Slapper routine, Lyndsy Fonseca wearing massive glasses as being 'kooky' and a truly horrible character who sucks her thumb and talks in a babylike voice. Ugh. Heard's Kristen is a strong heroine in the tradition of Laurie Strode, but without her Michael, sympathetic supporting cast or any of Halloween's vicious originality, she's a little girl lost. Heard capably carries the movie; it's easy to see how she's the Scream Queen du jour of mainstream horror cinema.

Carpenter's skills as a director, whilst muted, elevate the movie's duller moments. The ghost stalking the asylum and its inmates is spookily realised, and the kill scenes are good if goreless. Scenes which have Kristen on the run from both her captors and the ghost are tense and thrilling. There are a couple of decent jump scares. But I'm making apologies for The Ward purely because it's a John Carpenter movie. By any standards, it's run-of-the-mill, let alone those of the man who brought us Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Assault On Precinct 13. Mildly watchable as it is, I can't help but be disappointed. After all, I was really looking forWard to this movie.

Burning Bright


Director: Carlos Brooks (2010)
Starring: Briana Evigan, Charlie Tahan, Garret Dillahunt, Tigers.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

I swear was going to review Burning Bright properly. I had every intention. With my critical faculties and everything. But something happened. Following Burning Bright's opening credits, something happened to sway and get me on side completely. In its very first scene, Burning Bright became The Greatest Movie Ever Made. This is what happened:


Anyone who knows me in the slightest knows that there are but three things I love more than horror movies about tigers: (1) Zooey Deschanel (2) Queen (3) Meat Loaf. Sadly, the first two aren't in Burning Bright. But the third is. And then, as if the awesome levels weren't high enough, Garret Dillahunt turned out to be in it too. Garret Dillahunt is practically a Terminator. Meat Loaf and The Terminator meat meet in a gas station and talk about Meat Loaf's psycho tiger which eats horses. Meat Loaf warns The Terminator that his psycho tiger is a very dangerous tiger. The Terminator buys Meat Loaf's psycho tiger. Bear with me here - sorry, poor choice of words. There are no bears in this movie - The Terminator wants to build a zoo in his garden. And Meat Loaf's psycho tiger is the star attraction.

Meat Loaf leaves at this moment, but we're left in good company with his psycho tiger and The Terminator. I suppose the two main characters are in it too, but they're not as much fun. Kelly (Evigan) is left to watch over autistic little brother Tommy (Tahan) after their mother dies. Sad times. Kelly is no Meat Loaf or Terminator, but she does walk around in her skimpies a lot, like Odette Yustman in The Unborn. The kid is annoying, hence a funny dream sequence in which Kelly smothers him with a pillow. Yes, I laughed.

Obviously the tiger which The Terminator just dumped on Kelly's front lawn manages to break free. And then into Kelly's house. Which is now escape-proof thanks to a bunch of anti-hurricane panels put over the doors and windows. What follows is like Panic Room but with a tiger instead of Forest Whitaker. Or Mercury Rising if Bruce Willis had decided to feed the autistic kid to a tiger. Or like Die Hard in a house with a tiger instead of terrorists. Evigan is barefoot throughout, which is probably not a reference to Die Hard, but I'll pretend it is. What commences is an epic battle of wits between a girl and psycho tiger.

My bet's on the tiger, who wasn't stupid enough to be in Step Up 2. It's a great performance from the tiger by the way (or tigers - three tigers were enlisted for the making of Burning Bright) - far better than the guy from The Hangover. Aside from Meat Loaf, the tiger(s) is the best actor in this movie. No disrespect to anyone else though.

The kid continues to be annoying, but never derailing the whole thing. He demands a sandwich whilst they're being attacked by a fucking tiger, and then he tells Briana Evigan to get dressed. I nearly smothered him myself at that. Thankfully the tiger attacks again before she can put any clothes on. There's a Halloween style wardrobe attack, crashing through walls and much more than you'd have thought possible from a movie about a woman fighting a tiger in a house. Burning Bright may have buttered me up with Meat Loaf, but I stayed put for the thrills, tension and action sequences.

It fails completely as an adaptation of William Blake's poem (dumbed down for the horror generation) but is an otherwise wonderful movie full of tigers, Garret Dillahunt, a pretty girl running around in her undies for ninety minutes and Meat Loaf. Burning Bright is rated thusly:

Bits of the movie with Meat Loaf in:


The rest of the movie:

Vinyan


Director: Fabrice Du Welz (2008)
Starring: Emmanuelle Beart, Rufus Sewell
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Classy cannibal horror for the broadsheet crowd. By which I mean, it's not properly horror and it's not strictly about cannibals. But it is kinda scary and someone does get their gut chomped. My point being that you can pick up a copy of Vinyan alongside your Guardian newspaper and nobody will bat an eyelid.

It stars Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Beart, who are always quite popular amongst the Guardian readers. Set in post-tsunami Thailand, it has them playing a married couple searching for their missing child. Lost, presumed dead in the aftermath of the tsunami, he's apparently sighted in Burma. Mummy and Daddy mount an ill-advised and very expensive search, which takes them deep into the dangerous jungle. Careful, thar be cannibals. Sort of.

It's nice to see a jungle cannibal movie that follows a different school of thought from the usual "they're savages... no wait, we're the savages" stuff, which had already been done to death by the mid 1980s. Vinyan takes a more personal approach. The parents have their own issues, see - and what they find in the jungle really accentuates that, slowly turning Mom and Pop against each other. There's tension from the start, but nothing strains a marriage like a jungle full of cannibals.

It's a bit of a slow burner in that the emphasis is firmly on Ma and Pa than everything else. And cannibals aren't the only threat - they're led deeper and deeper into the jungle by ominous seeming gangsters that we - and they - trust less and less. By the time that things take a turn for the worse(r), we're in little doubt that Mother and Father are utterly fucked. At this point, the movie has accumulated a deeply unsettling vibe. There's hardly any gore or violence at all, but rather a nightmarish streak of dread that says something like no, this can't end well.

I thoroughly recommend Vinyan alongside the less subtle cannibal classics. It's a sad, bleak but rewarding bit of jungle grue. All that and not a handheld video camera in sight.

Welcome To The Jungle


Director: Jonathan Hensleigh (2007)
Starring: Sandy Gardiner, Callard Harris, Nick Richey, Veronica Sywak
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Not to be confused with that Seann William Scott movie of occasionally the same name, Welcome To The Jungle sees two young couples head into the jungles of New Guinea for much bickering and terror. Terror at the hands of cannibals. Which is good. There's not been a decent cannibal horror movie in years.

Welcome To The Jungle sends its protagonists deep into the jungle in search of missing US Governor's son Michael Rockefeller, hoping they can find the feller and claim any reward money going. Why a bunch of idiot kids think they can succeed where a massive government manhunt failed is beyond me, but hey - the movie needs its plot. All I'm sayin' is that they should have visited Wikipedia first: Rockefeller was probably eaten by a crocodile. When a man's disappearance is explained by several kinds of horrible death, you might be best off not following in his footsteps. Welcome To The Jungle has our foolish kids fall foul of the nastiest of those possibilities. Which is fine, because I hate those foolish kids.

Like most other jungle cannibal movies, Welcome To The Jungle is filmed on cameras held by the characters. This, however, is more like Blair Witch than Cannibal Holocaust, since none of them record anything remotely interesting until about twenty minutes before the end. They bicker and cry and shout and misbehave something terrible. It's a relief when the cannibals turn up. Cannibals are always relatively quiet and well behaved, if you ignore the eating.

I understand why it's necessary to make characters in a cannibal movie act like assholes. You want to go to the jungle and have your characters get eaten, right? But you can't just claim that these indigenous people are all merciless cannibals - because that would be xenophobic and maybe a little racist. And since you're not HP Lovecraft, you gotta give the cannibals reason to be cannibals. And you have to have someone say something like "no man, we're the real savages here" (thankfully nobody says that in this movie) and make out that we're the assholes; have the eaten deserve their fates. Which is cool. I'm in no mood to watch racist cannibal movies. But it's tiresome spending a whole movie watching whiny bastards squeal and punch their way through an undeserving jungle that they have no business travelling through in the first place.

In Welcome To The Jungle, the tribe don't have as much motive as they do in other cannibal movies. The douchebag character who looks a bit like Chris Evans steals a skull, but I'm not convinced that its the reason he gets eaten. I think he just gets eaten because he's white and really noisy all the time. So it's probably a little more xenophobic in that respect, but at least we don't have to watch the kids raping shit or bullying the natives into eating them. They're edible trespassers so they got eaten. Simple as that. It's more simplistic, banal reasoning than you might get from a Deodato, but it has its merits.

Unfortunately, if you have seen a Deodato or a Lenzi, then there's no point in watching Welcome To The Jungle. It's less gory, less violent, less interesting, less good and not even as pretty. When you've seen the genre as explicit as it gets, there's little point in watching a watered down imitation. It's good for those building up to watch the greats - or who have never seen a jungle cannibal movie before - but dull and predictable to everyone else. The found footage gimmick doesn't really work and much of the endgame's violence is shrouded in pitch blackness. The ending is predictable.

Like most cannibal movies, it stays with the viewer for a while after watching. There's a primal fear that makes it such a worthy concept. Welcome To The Jungle is perhaps more watchable than the 'classics', but it's more of a starter than a main course. The cheese sandwich of cannibal movies, it's tasty, but will leave you hungry for something more filling.


Breaking Nikki


Director: Hernan Findling (2009)
Starring: Maria Ines Alonso, Oliver Kolker, Veronica Mari
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Following a traumatic breakup with his wife, Devon (Kolker) holds a hooker hostage and tries to train the poor ho (Alonso) up as her replacement. This being the day and age for that sort of thing, he does it with torture. Breaking Nikki is kind of like a Clockwork Orange or Pavlov's Dog sort of thing, only with a prostitute instead of a delinquent or dog. Her treatment at the hands of Devon is far harsher than being forced to watch TV or having to put up with a sodding bell. Devon tries to make Nikki truly believe that she is ex-missus Susan. This is achieved by submerging Nikki in a cold bathtub, locking her in a cupboard and doing bad makeup on her. There's also a use of clingfilm I've not seen before (well, outside of certain specialist material) and a number of surprisingly good twists.

Things to do with clingfilm no.101: The Ho Wrap

Breaking Nikki is a behavioral study. But it asks existential and philosophical questions too. If you leave a battered hooker in a locker for days on end, is that hooker dead or alive? Just like that question about the cat. I for one am glad it asks these questions, because I'd quite like to turn a hooker into my ex too. It's a how-to guide for psychopaths and people who like kidnapping prostitutes.

Competent direction, good acting and engaging characters save this from being the simple bargain basement bullshit that its Straight To DVD status might suggest. The torture is gruesome without overpowering the rest of the movie, and Nikki's plight is easy to sympathise with. It puts me in mind of The Loved Ones, only without that flick's sense of humour or awesome soundtrack. It's a grotty movie and more than a little misogynistic, but still a cut above the usual torture toss about prostitutes and stinky basements.

Gnaw


Director: Gregory Mandry (2008)
Starring: Hiram Bleetman, Carrie Cohen, Nigel Croft-Adams
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Just like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, only set in Suffolk, England. Watching Gnaw is an odd experience. It's like watching a movie made up of clips from other movies. And I'm not even hyping y'all. Due to the style of this review, there are massive spoilers within. But don't worry, you've already seen Gnaw, in a manner of speaking.

Gnaw opens with a girl running through the forest barefoot and in her underwear, pursued by an unseen force (Severance). Then she is captured, tied to a bed and menaced - sort of sexually - with a knife (Wrong Turn/The Hills Have Eyes 2). Cut to the opening credits, which is made up of newspaper clippings for missing persons (Wrong Turn).

Then we meet a group of friends and couples, none of whom seem to like each other very much. A small creature is accidentally run over (Leatherface) and then someone actually says "we've taken a wrong turn" (um, Wrong Turn). Eventually they reach their destination - a country lodge (Severance) where someone has baked a pie (Severance) for their delectation. Said pie is made of human (Severance) but the sympathetic Final Girl doesn't eat any, because she's a vegetarian (Severance). Then one of the characters finds a human tooth amongst the gravy (Severance). But continues eating anyway. This bit is not like Severance, because Severance characters stopped eating the pie at that point. The characters in Gnaw are actually stupider than characters in a Danny Dyer movie.

One by one, their numbers are relieved (Wrong Turn). One of the kids is caught in a bear trap (Severance/Backwoods/Dying Breed/The Hills Run Red) and the others are alternately murdered outright with a chainsaw (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or strapped down to a table and murdered with a chainsaw (TCM: The Beginning). An innocuous old lady character turns out to be in kahoots with the killer (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre/Wrong Turn 2/The Have Eyes 2). Final Girl jumps in a car and thinks she's escaped. But oh noes, the killer is sitting on the back seat (TCM: The Beginning). The end.

Gnaw is, if you've never seen any other movie in your life, possibly the only backwoods horror movie you'll ever need to see. The only thing it's missing is a bit in a service station. Not all of this is the movie's fault; the backwoods horror subgenre has been done, done and redone endlessly. I suppose there's only so many variations on the theme out there. And I'm glad someone is still bothering to try. The pull here is in seeing it all done with British accents and in the middle of Suffolk. Which, admittedly, isn't much of a pull.

But it's done with admirable skill, just as good as any American production. The acting is better than you'd expect from a cast of unknowns, and the kill scenes are fine. I had problems with the horrible characters (there's Jack, who brings his girlfriend and bit-on-the-side on holiday together) and the stupid decisions they make. They're such a band of thickies that they already come tied up - and in one case, blindfolded - for the killers' convenience.

Gnaw isn't a properly bad movie by any means. I've seen far worse. It's simply run of the mill. If you can cope with that - or you haven't seen many backwoods slashers in your time - then ignaw everything I've said here (sorry) and wrap your teeth around a meaty piece of homecooked horror.

Buried


Director: Rodrigo Cortes (2010)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

It's Ryan Reynolds in a coffin, and that's it. So one's enjoyment of Burial depends firmly on one's tolerance for Ryan Reynolds. Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds has grown upon me since ruining Blade Trinity. Although, to be fair, after Blade Trinity and Van Wilder: Party Cunt, I'd have been quite happy to have seen him buried underground, never to make another movie again.

But he has improved since then. No longer reliant on one-liners and his abs, Buried gives Reynolds a chance to bust some acting chops. A truck driver in Iraq, Paul Conroy (guess who) is kidnapped and dumped underground in a coffin in the desert. Like Kill Bill: Part 2 and the Tarantino CSI episode, but with less of anyone or anything else. Except maybe (SPOILER) a snake and some sand. Buried with nothing but a mobile phone and a few other basic items, Paul makes some frantic calls to try and sort out a rescue. What he wouldn't give for a Power Ring now, eh.

It's masterfully acted and directed, but dare I say it, I found Buried kind of dull. Perhaps if I suffered from claustrophobia it may have had more of an effect, but it's not much better a movie than Phone Booth. Aside from its central conceit and the impressive lead performance, Buried offers no surprises nor anything particularly original. I saw its ending coming a mile off and was left simply underwhelmed.

In all fairness, I think Kill Bill ruined stuck-in-a-coffin deathtraps for me. I spent all of Buried wondering why Reynolds didn't just punch his way out of the thing.

The Dentist


Director: Brian Yuzna (1996)
Starring: Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Ken Foree
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

Even as hardcore horror fans, we all have things that make us cringe and go "oof." For some, it's eyeball trauma, snipping of the achilles tendon or fingernail stuff. For others it's Megan Fox pretending to act. For me, it's the films of Rob Zombie. Sorry, I mean teeth. Anything involving teeth.

I think it stems from that one time my dentist shouted at me and told me to brush my effing teeth. Or even earlier than that, when I fell over walking in the Lickey Hills (it's kinda like Scotland, localized in Birmingham and not at all like Scotland) and chipped the fuck out of one of my teeth. Which caused trouble for years to come and ended with me wearing a brace. There's also that old stereotype of British people all having bad teeth. Whatever, I hate tooth stuff. I hate that bit in Marathon Man and that new Saw film and even Steve Martin in Little Shop Of Horrors is kinda icky. I have reoccurring dreams in which all of my teeth fall out and, what I'm trying to say right, is, this: I hate the shitting dentist.

So The Dentist, then, is one of the few horror movies that I find genuinely difficult to watch. Even when The Dentist (Bernsen) isn't doing evil things to people's mouths, I find myself cringing. I think that were this not a horror movie - say, a romantic comedy starring Christian Bale and Dame Judy Dench - I'd still be cringing. Where dentistry is involved, it doesn't take much.

Its scenes of oral violence (ha. I said oral) better any modern torture movie hands down. Brian Yuzna is the man who brought us(well, produced) Re-Animator, mind. Crazy-ass doctors are kinda his forte. Corbin Bernsen is fantastic as the dentist-driven-crazy (although I always forget he's in this movie and forever confuse it - and him - with Dr. Giggles. Despite my never having seen Dr. Giggles). You've also got professional movie asshole Earl Boen and the legendary Ken Foree in smallish roles. The Dentist is a proper psycho movie, like The Stepfather before it.

I've been needing to book an appointment with my dentist for a while now. After watching The Dentist again, I think I'll give it a miss thanks.

Lakeview Terrace

What could be safer than living next to a cop?
Not living next to Samuel L Jackson, for one.

Director: Neil LaBute (2008)
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington
Find it: IMDB, Amazon

True story: I find Lakeview Terrace a difficult movie to watch. Not because it's shit or anything, but rather because it actually happened. To me. In the same way that Maniac Cop elicits shivers from me every time, so does Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace. In this heated thriller, an angry cop (Jackson) terrorises and victimises his new neighbours (Wilson and Washington) right up to a predictably explosive showdown at the end. Such things which actually happened include the cop having Wilson arrested and wrecking their hedge for the sake of it. They left out that bit where he blocked my Patrick Wilson's driveway with his car for two weeks, and I don't remember there being guns involved, but otherwise Lakeview Terrace is pretty true to what actually happened. Thanks a lot, Neil LaBute. What next, a movie adaptation of that one time I got dumped in Starbucks?

Because Neil LaBute likes his big themes, Lakeview Terrace isn't just about a cop being a prick to his neighbours. It's made clear that Jackson's character is a racist, just like he was in Die Hard With A Vengeance. Not only does he disapprove of his neighbours' interracial relationship, but he's none too keen on their penchant for walking around half-naked or doing fucks either. He begins to unravel, both at home and work. There's an effort to make his Officer Abel Turner seem rounded and conflicted, but he's pretty much just a cartoon menace.

For what it's worth, I could see where he's coming from. Not with the racism, but Patrick Wilson is a bit of a penis. I'd probably wreck Patrick Wilson's hedges too, should he ever end up living next door to me. Lakeview Terrace is reminiscent of The Fireman and that Simpsons episode with George Bush. It offers very few surprises and little in the way of originality. Disappointingly, there's not even Nicolas Cage dropkicking women in the face. Officer Abel's racism is an interesting subtext, but nowhere near enough to hold a whole movie. Eventually the smouldering tension and building aggression climaxes, but only in a wholly predictable way.

Lakeview Terrace is a diverting psychothriller, improved only by its lead performances and amusing melodrama. Like I said, I'd probably have enjoyed it more had I not been living next door to my own mini Officer Abel at the time. Fucker ruined my hedge.