Thursday, 30 July 2015

RAW REVIEW: GHOUL

As I've mentioned here at Hickey's House of Horrors before, I've a penchant for watching serial killer documentaries. Perhaps it goes with the horror fandom, but there are few movies as shocking and horrific as the real life actions of the most depraved men to prey on society.
Arguably one of the most vile of these would be Andrei Chikatilo, the Soviet cannibal who slaughtered more than 50 women and children during his reign of terror.
Now director Petr Jákl is looking to incorporate Chikatilov into the mythos of a horror movie. It may be seen as insensitive to some but if you are going to base a tale on a real life monster few were as diabolical as this source material.
So does this one leave a bad taste in the mouth? Or is this a horror flick with real bite?

GHOUL (2015)


Dir: Petr Jákl
Starring: Jennifer Armour, Alina Golovlyova, Jeremy Isabella, Paul S. Tracey, Vladimir Nevedrov, Yuri Zabrodskyj, Debra Garza, Inna Belikova

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk. 

Three American filmmakers, reporter Jen (Armour), cameraman Ethan (Isabella) and director Ryan (Tracey) have packed their equipment and headed to the Ukraine to film a documentary, Cannibals of the 20th Century. The group have chosen the locale after hearing tales of how Stalin's cruel regime deprived the population of food during the Thirties, causing a famine so terrible that some were forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. 
Using what little funds Ryan has remaining, he needs this film to be a success, while his girlfriend Jen has a more pressing matter on her mind. However, local guide and driver Valeriy (Nevedrov) may well be offering the key to the film hitting the big time — a guaranteed meeting with suspected killer and cannibal Boris (Zabrodskyj). Boris has previously been arrested and imprisoned for his crimes, but his conviction was later overturned due to a lack of evidence. But the plot thickens when it emerges that under hypnosis Boris has since confessed to his crimes... and blamed them on possession by a demonic entity that forced him to murder and consume his victim.
Now, joined by timid translator Katarina (Golovlyova), much to the delight of a clearly interested Ethan, the group makes contact with Boris who agrees to sit down for an interview in the house in which the alleged murder took place, albeit for a significantly higher fee, paid in advance.
So, camera in tow, the filmmakers, Valeriy and Katarina set out for the ramshackle house in the countryside, forced to abandon their vehicle when the road becomes too treacherous and continue on foot to their destination, however now they are joined by local 'witch' Inna (Belikova). Valeriy and Katarina explain that locals may be a little reticent to speak with them unless they have somebody held in high regard in the community and the superstitious folk of the bleak Ukrainian countryside still hold a lot of faith in the old ways.
Upon reaching the farmhouse the group settle in and wait... and wait... and wait...
Boris doesn't show so the group eat a meal, then start to drink the large bottle of cheap vodka they discover in the cupboard. As the drink flows the group discover a large pentagram/ouija board carved into the wood beneath the tablecloth upon which they ate. Needless to say the group decides to conduct a seance to contact Boris' victim (despite Inna's warnings not to), then falls into a drunken stupor.
The next day the group awaken into a strange and foreboding atmosphere, Valeriy has disappeared and Inna warns them that now the group are trapped in a haunted house by restless spirits. At first sceptical, when they start to experience missing memories and strange, unexplained injuries the group is forced to accept that something terrifying is happening to them. Are they being stalked by a maniacal flesh-eater... or something even worse?


THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Easily one of the biggest positives that Ghoul has going for it is the grim and ominous sense of dread seeping out of every frame. Director Jákl and cinematographer Jan Suster ensure that there is a permanently overcast and drizzly feel to all of the external shots, the location work decidedly bleak, awash with storm-laden skies and dank mud. This builds a tremendous foreboding atmosphere and sets audiences on edge. There's also a real sense of isolation as our fish out of water main characters are thrown into a place where they don't speak the native tongue and, in a nice touch, it is only translated for us English speakers some of the time, leaving us as in the dark they are.
Of course achieving a suitable atmosphere is nice but doesn't do the job if the script and actors don't give us characters to care about. Thankfully the cast are all very good. 
Our three American leads are each great and bring a believability to the events that is so important when watching a Found Footage flick. I especially liked the work of Armour, a talented young actress who fleshes her character out wonderfully. 
I also loved the work of the 'local' actors. Nevedrov feels like he IS Valeriy, while Zabrodskyj instills Boris with a suitable level of creepy menace. The ladies also impress, with Golovlyova proving more than capable of handling the fourth main role after an introduction that leaves you sure she's cannon- (well, cannibal-) fodder. 
Belikova also does a sterling job, especially while delivering some material that could have seemed decidedly hokey in less assured hands. Some of her later scenes could have turned out disastrously but she tackles them with aplomb and really helps ratchet up the fear.
And that is ultimately what most horror movies will be judged on, the standard and sheer terror of its scares. And there are times when Ghoul totally delivers. The eerie mystery behind the characters' plight is unnerving and when the story starts to tie into the real life horrors of Chikatilo's reign of terror the frights hit a new level. Scenes involving mysterious scratches appearing on their flesh, Inna's slow turn towards catatonia and then something far worse, plus sudden debilitating nosebleeds and crippling pain striking our leads down as they attempt to flee the farmhouse all provide plenty of creeps. The obligatory scary seance hits all its marks, while the discovered film-within-a-film was a stomach-churning highlight for me (especially those disgusting sound effects!).  
Even the hackneyed first-person flight through the tunnels finale works, proving that even if something has been done before, if it's done well it can still make an impact. Here Jákl does it very well indeed.
As I've written before, it takes genuine skill to make a Found Footage film that feels authentic, yet Jákl manages it. That the crew are supposed to be filming a documentary is a tried and tested reason to legitimise the fact that the footage exists and the old 'torch on the camera to see in the dark'-trick is employed too, but they feel organic and not contrived, unlike many other films in the sub-genre. There are never any moments when the camera feels as if it catches events too fortuitously and Jákl ensures that the first person view is used to the best possible effect, relying just as much on what you cannot see beyond the frame's edge as what you can. He's a talented director and uses every trick to keep the audience unsettled, from superb framing of shots to an assured, slow-burn pace that takes its time to reveal its many mysteries and twists.
Jákl is also credited for the story of the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Petr Bok. The pair did a pretty good job too, coming up with realistic dialogue and characters and a story that blends plenty of creepy elements to give a decidedly unique (and VERY Eastern European) feel a to genre that has become over saturated and needs to work very hard to stand out from an ever-growing crowd. With some fascinating folklore combined with the real-life crimes and horrors of one of the most prolific serial killers in history, this is a heady horror goulash sure to whet most appetites.



THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I'm sure that plenty of you are sick and tired with the Found Footage formula. While it is far from the worst example of the sub-genre, Ghoul is not likely to win over those who have had enough with the massive number of Blair Witch Project knock-offs flooding the market. I praised the film for subverting a couple of expectations, such as how Katarina's character evolves to become a large part of the plot and the manner in which the historical murders become a part of the plot, but ultimately this is a film that treads a familiar path. It does it well, but that may not be enough for those whose patience has worn thin. Be warned.

Those historical murders may also prove a source of consternation for some viewers. The crimes of Andrei Chikatilo were sickening and to use them as the source material for what is, at heart, a rather inconsequential work of fun fiction could seem in poor taste. I've addressed this before, and while my opinion is that fictional versions of historical characters can be separated from their real life counterparts (I've seen arguably the most evil man of the 20th Century, Adolph Hitler, appear as a character in plenty of films, many of which have been great fun) I do understand that there are those who are sensitive to this sort of material, especially anybody who may have links to Chikatilo's victims. There is genuine archive footage of the man himself onscreen during some key expository moments that could cause serious upset. As such, viewer discretion is advised. Ditto, the references to the very real and horrific Holodomor, the man-made famine that claimed up to 7million lives. This is a sobering and heart-breaking historic event that may be better suited to more serious material than a Found Footage horror film.
Also, the depiction of the Ukrainian people could be deemed offensive to some. Jákl's story paints them as a superstitious lot that seem 'backward' or less civilised than the Western film crew who make a couple of jibes along these lines. However, this is a fictional representation of a very small part of the country that is being used for colour rather than real commentary. In much the same way that American backwoods hillbillies are often portrayed as stupid, violent, intolerant, incestuous rape-happy maniacs, this is merely a cliche deployed for effect and should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt. Furthermore, as the story unfolds it appears that these superstitious locals may well have the right idea about the horrors the leads encounter after all.
Also, while I admired the way the film used regional folklore to add an element of mystery, at times it felt a little muddled and could have done with further elaboration. The M.O., strengths, weaknesses and desires of the movie's supernatural menace went largely unexplained and at times seemed unclear. This could have been cleared up with just a few more lines from Inna to clarify them. I'm sure that the filmmakers had very clear rules that they stuck to, the only problem is that nobody ever takes the time to explain them to the audience. Oh well, I'd rather more mystery than being clubbed over the head with answers anyway.
Some viewers may find that the slow pace during the earlier scenes drags a little. I love the way that Jákl et al took the time to layer the atmosphere and scatter the breadcrumbs for the movie's terrifying latter scenes, but in truth, maybe it could have been trimmed back a little. The characters are realistic, but also a little dull. Their bickering does wear thin quite soon and they manage an odd mix of sticking around far too long after shit hits the fan AND overreacting very quickly. Luckily the cast are a likeable enough bunch and their interactions do lend themselves to the old premise of over-confident and clueless westerners find themselves out of their depth when confronted with old world ways. 



THE VERDICT: It may seem clichéd to compare a Found Footage movie to the seminal Blair Witch Project, but Ghoul really does look and feel a lot like that film. With tonnes of creepy atmosphere, a unique plot and an Eastern European flavour that helps it stand out from the crowd, it's easy to see why Ghoul has smashed box office records in Jákl's native Czech Republic. If you haven't yet had your fill of Found Footage, this is a movie that is well worth your time. 

Ghoul is available to watch On Demand in the United States but has yet to find a suitable distributor here in the UK. Here's hoping that happens sooner rather than later. In the meantime, why not check out Ghoul's official Facebook page here. Give it a Like too, I'm sure that that seeing a high level of demand for the film will help to convince distributors on this side of the Pond to put a suitable deal in place.


If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

RAW REVIEW: THE JOKESTERS

Remember when borderline suicidal stunt/prank shows such as Jackass and the UK's own Dirty Sanchez hit our screens a few years back? I vividly recall sniggering to myself as a group of professional idiots stuntmen risked maiming themselves for my entertainment.
Now, while these shows may not be as prevalent on the TV as they once were and Johnny Knoxville et al have moved onto other things, those looking for that sort of low-brow thrill can still find plenty of videos along those lines on the internet.
So, with Found Footage still riding a wave in the Horror genre, I suppose the only surprise about the release of AJ Wedding's The Jokesters is that it took so long for somebody to make this type of movie. 
So is this movie a killing joke for viewers? Or is the laugh on us?
Read on…

THE JOKESTERS (2015)




Dir: AJ Wedding

Starring: Dante Spencer, Nathan Reid, Gabriel Tigerman, Luis Jose Lopez, Jen Yeager, Jim Dowd, Jodie Bentley, Angie Simms, Caryn West, Alex Datcher, Sandra Luesse, Lyndsi LaRose, Ryan Ryans, Vanessa E Garcia

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.


Ethan (Spencer), Nick (Reid), Andrew (Tigerman) and Chris (Lopez) are the stars of Master Pranksters, an internet smash. The group regularly pull stunts and tricks on one another to earn the title Prankmaster.

After a montage of the show's greatest hits, we are shown that now Ethan is marrying the love of his life, Gabrielle (Yeager). The gang all agree to strike up a truce and make the wedding day prank-free to ensure that the lucky couple have a day to remember. As a gesture of goodwill Nick, Ethan's closest buddy, offers the pair exclusive use of his father's remote and peaceful cabin up in the woods.
However, on the big day Nick overhears that Ethan plans to quit the show and move away with his wife after the honeymoon. He is hit hard by this news, but he has a parting gift for his pal up his sleeve: one last prank to end them all, in which he recruits Andrew and Chris to scare the living shit out of the newlyweds on their honeymoon.
With the cabin already kitted out with hidden cameras, the three jokesters head there (via a detour in which the crew meet a group of attractive young ladies), then don cool as hell skull masks to commence terrifying their pals.
However, what starts as a series of jokes soon takes a darker turn... and then transforms into something far worse. As the twists and turns mount, the laughs dry up as terrifying events befall the gang. What is behind these horrors? Is anybody safe? And at which does a gag become something far more terrifying?



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I don't want to give away the various twists and turns in the plot of this movie, but by far the strongest element of the story is the lack of predictability in the tale. When events take their inevitable turn towards the horrific the audience. Is kept off balance as to WHAT the threat actually is. There are clues sprinkled throughout the film as to what the most dangerous thing is that these guys may encounter but the various detours that the plot takes ensure that you're kept guessing until the pivotal moment.
The story (written by star Reid) is engaging in all the right ways and the characters are written well enough to distinguish themselves from one another and propel the plot forward in an organic manner.
What is more, as a movie about a gang of jokers you may well expect a hefty serving of humour here and that is exactly what you get. From some suitably vulgar slapstick during the guys' pranks to some riotous oneliners, this is a film that squeezes in fun with its frights.
The realistic characters are due not only to the writing but to the stellar work from the cast. The leads are all excellent, but I feel Reid and Spencer are arguably the standouts. Given the bulk of the work, these two are more than up to the task, while Tigerman, Lopez and the very pretty Yeager lend their considerable talents to the project too.
In a relatively low-budget flick such as this one character work is vital — thankfully the script and cast deliver.
On the other side of the camera Wedding clearly knows his stuff and guides the picture with an assured vision. In less capable hands this could well have turned into a ham-fisted melodrama but Wedding delivers the goods. 
He actually has more acting than directorial credits to his name but he already shows plenty of flair for keeping a picture looking sharp and professional and shows some impressive talent with framing shots to maximum effect. This must be particularly tough when shooting a Found Footage flick, but Wedding (with assistance from cinematographer Leonidas Jaramillo)  hits the mark. Kudos, gentlemen!
Of course, what most of you are going to want know is how The Jokesters delivers on the horror front.
For the most part it's pretty damn effective. When the crazy finally starts to occur, the frights are delivered well (helped in no small part by the mysterious nature of the characters' plight) and there's even a couple of surprisingly effective gore moments later on. With camera work in some scenes that leaves plenty of nasty events offscreen so the audience's imagination can fill in some decidedly unsettling gaps, there are still some moments when Wedding is not afraid to show the grue. Both work extremely well.
Finally the movie delivers a chilling and memorable climax that pushes all the right buttons. I shan't spoil it, but take my word for this, it's well worth the wait.




THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Perhaps the biggest problem with The Jokesters is pacing. For a horror movie it goes an extremely long time before we get any scares. I understand the need to establish the characters and usually appreciate it when a film takes the time to set a scene and reveal its secrets, but the problem here is that there's very little dread or creepiness in the atmosphere until late on. In fact, with the crew pranking each other throughout it actually feels more like a comedy than a horror film. 
As a fan of Takashi Miike's Audition, I can dig it when a plot suddenly shifts lanes and takes an audience down an unexpected route after lulling them into a false sense of security, but not everybody will have the patience to stick with this one until the splatter hits the screen.
Also, while I liked the leads a great deal and had quite a few laughs at their exploits, they won't be to everybody's taste. If you're the sort of person who dismisses the Jackass gang as unfunny idiots, it's odds on that Ethan, Nick, Andrew and Chris will grate rather than ingratiate. These are guys' guys and pretty immature ones at that — they certainly won't be for everybody. Be warned.
On a similar note, I know plenty of you have had enough of the Found Footage genre. While this is a good Found Footage flick, it still has all the hallmarks that those disillusioned with this type of film have come to loathe. If you are sick of woodland chases, shaky cam and direct to camera monologues, you may be best advised to skip this one.
Finally there are lots of characters who have very tiny roles that ultimately go nowhere. The wedding guests, Ethan's intimidating father (played by the superb Dowd) and the group of babes that the pranksters encounter on their way to the cabin, ultimately they all contribute very little to the story. Perhaps they were included as red herrings but they really don't serve that purpose. The inclusion of the girls is perhaps the most egregious, smacking more than a little of a gratuitous hot chick moment. Perhaps, with a little more screen time and a bit more to do, these characters could have been taken a lot further. Instead, they serve as engaging but ultimately unnecessary distractions.



THE VERDICT: Found Footage movies are ten a penny these days and new ones are going to struggle to stand out from the crowd. The Jokesters manages this task. With it's cool and unique premise, engaging, well-written characters and some technically superb filmmaking, this is a film that feels fresh in a genre in serious danger of stagnating. It's clever, unpredictable and well worth your time. Check it out.

U.S. readers are in luck and can already get hold of the film through Amazon.com, so delay no further!
As for my UK audience, after speaking with the guys at Reinventing Films it seems that a distribution deal to bring the flick to our side of the pond could well be in the offing, so fingers crossed that we'll get to see the film sooner rather than later.
To keep up to date as to when that might happen, check out The Jokesters' official Facebook page here. Give it a like while you're there too, show some support!

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.




Friday, 17 July 2015

RAW REVIEW: MAGGIE

I think it's safe to say that, despite some great acting roles, Arnold Schwarzenegger's post-Governor film output hasn't set the box office alight.
Don't get me wrong, I get as big as a kick out of The Expendables movies as the next guy, and I really enjoyed the throwback action charms of Escape Plan and The Last Stand, but somehow the Austrian Oak hasn't brought in the cinema attendances that he used to.
I was greatly impressed by his 'serious acting' turn in Sabotage and it made me want to see more of this side of him. 
Elsewhere, unless you've been living under a rock, you can't help but notice that AMC's The Walking Dead has caused a huge surge in interest in intelligent, character-driven zombie movies.
Which leads me to Maggie. Arnie takes on an emotionally charged and complex role in a zombie flick.
Early word of mouth is that THIS is the movie that will cause Schwarzenegger's star to shine once again.
So can he show the sort of depth that such a pathos filled story demands?
Read on...

MAGGIE (2015)




Dir: Henry Hobson

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Aiden Flowers, Carsen Flowers, Jodie Moore, Douglas M Griffin, J.D. Evermore, Bryce Romero, Raeden Greer, Rachel Whitman Groves, Laura Cayouette

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

The world has fallen prey to a deadly epidemic, the Necroambulist Virus. People are contracting the disease and slowly but surely turning into ravenous, rotting undead. Once the disease has taken hold, there is no cure. To make matters worse there has been a bear catastrophic crop failure — the implication being that whatever has caused flesh to go bad is so virulent that it has spoiled the earth itself. The authorities have got control of the situation but the number of infected is still causing a huge demand on resources. As such, individuals with the disease are processed into horrific quarantine pens where their last few days are certain to end in agonising misery.
Maggie (Breslin) is a teenage girl who has contracted the virus. The movie opens with her father, Wade (Schwarzenegger) walking into a quarantine unit and taking charge of her. It seems that local doctor and family friend Vern (Moore) has pulled some strings to allow Wade to take Maggie home to spend some time with her family before the end.
Upon getting back to the house we see her half-brother Bobby and half-sister Molly (the Flowers siblings) bid her a sad farewell before they head off to live with their aunt. Quite understandably, Maggie's step-mother Caroline (Richardson) is concerned for their well-being but still wants to be there for her husband and the girl she has raised as her own in the tough times ahead.
Caroline isn't the only one to have her reservations, it soon becomes obvious that decent but frightened local lawmen Ray (Griffin) and Holt (Evermore) aren't pleased at the thought of a walking biological hazard in the community either.
What follows is a slow, in depth look at Maggie's life as she draws ever closer to what scientists call The Turn, dealing with both physical and emotional trials. As time passes and she reunites with key figures from her past including best friend Allie (Greer) and former boyfriend and fellow infected Trent (Romero), it becomes all too clear that she has no future.
But what will Wade do when his little girl is lost to him for ever? Will he allow the authorities to take her away? Can he bring himself to end her suffering? Or will he endanger his life and those of the people around him through his undying father's love?



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Perhaps the best thing I can say about Maggie is that it is nothing like I imagined it would be. When you imagine a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger you can't help but picture a campy, high-octane, blood, brains 'n' bullets action romp.
Maggie is not that film. 
This is first and foremost, a character study. It is barely a zombie film if the truth be told. A couple of heart-stopping encounters aside, there is very little on the way of cranium splattering undead hordes. Much like the Necroambulist virus itself with its six-to-eight-week incubation period, this is a film and story prepared to move at a slower pace than a lot of zombie horror movies.
It could be seen as something of a gamble casting Arnie in such a serious and demanding role, but a couple of clunky line deliveries aside, he is mostly up to the task of portraying the terrible turmoil his character is feeling. I think that casting Schwarzenegger was actually a very intelligent move. Lately his roles have openly acknowledged his age, and I can see some very good reasons behind this. Aside from the obvious (the visual signs of ageing are becoming increasingly difficult to hide), it's also worth looking at the big man's fans, among whose number I definitely consider myself. When he was at the height of his action mega star fame, we were teens and young men, drawn to his no-nonsense ass kicking. Now we've all aged ourselves, settling down, starting families and even perhaps losing some of our youthful energy. In taking roles in which Arnie reflects these changes we can still relate to him. Let today's youth have their new generation of free-running, flying roundhouse kicking action stars, us old-timers are more than happy to stick with creaky but still talented mountains of manly muscle such as Schwarzenegger and his peer Sylvester Stallone.
The rest of the cast are uniformly superb, but special praise must go to the excellent Moore as Dr Vern, the likeable and personable realist who is tasked with reminding Wade of the true ramifications of failing to act. He also serves to dish up exposition here and there, yet the film never falters as he does. The young Flowers children are surprisingly accomplished for such tender years and both Romero and Whitman Groves who each carry sizeable sub-plots on their shoulders. I also liked the dynamic that Evermore brought to the production, a fiery man of action amidst a cast of introspective and subdued characters.
However, the best performance comes from brilliant Oscar nominee Breslin. She should already be familiar to genre fans for her roles in Zombieland, Haunter and TV's Scream Queens, and for good reason — she is a revelation. Her chemistry with Schwarzenegger is astonishing and she is capable of portraying complex emotional processes with the subtlest of gestures, expressions and changes in posture or intonation. She really is the star of this film.
This is Henry Hobson's first feature directing gig and it is an impressive debut. He gives the plot plenty of time to breathe, yet tells its tragic story in a way that grips the viewer as it inexorably leads to the gut-wrenching climax.
The film is visually stunning, too. Cinematographer Lukas Ettlin gives the movie a washed out look, echoing the deathly pallor of the title character and there are some shots (such as one in which Shwarzenegger stands in silhouette against a field of flaming crops) that are framed in a way that is quite frankly beautiful.
There are interesting sub-plots along the way, especially those of Maggie's ex boyfriend and fellow infected Trent (Romero) plus Whitmore Groves' bereaved neighbour with an axe to grind, but at its heart this is a film about a father and his daughter. Yes, Maggie shares some very touching scenes with other characters (especially a scene in which she says goodbye to the excellent Greer's Abbie and so much goes unsaid) but THIS is where the weight of John Scott 3's story lies. It is on the success of this dynamic that the whole film hangs. With some superb performances to anchor this plot point, luckily this is the strongest part of the film and utterly captures the attention of the audience, getting us to invest emotionally in the characters and their fate.
Saying this is a sad film might be an understatement. A warning to parents: this hits hard and doesn't relent. I've never seen a cinema as morosely silent at the end of a film as I did when Maggie's credits started to roll. It is not a date movie, but it is incredibly powerful, thought-provoking and very, very moving.


THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warner): Calling Maggie slowburn is a little like calling the Sahara desert a bit warm. It moves at a VERY slow pace, taking the time to tell its story and fully flesh out its characters, their motivations and the world in which it is set. I admire this patient and thorough storytelling, but if you were after some Zombieland or Dawn of the Dead '04-style thrills, spills, blood and one-liners, this is most certainly not your film.
Equally, if you're the kind of zombie fan who thrills to buckets of gore and meaty wounds of Zombie Flesh Eaters, move along. It has a very low body count, with a couple of ouchy moments but this isn't a flick made to please the gorehounds. If you don't have the patience for a film which is a lot more about emotions than eviscerations, you may well find Maggie extremely tedious. Be warned.
Also, while I praised the fact that the characters were well-realised, not all of them get the arcs or perhaps the screen time that they deserve. Richardson is especially hard done-by, her arc ending very abruptly, and it feels a little like she may have had scenes that have been left on the editing room floor. Don't get me wrong, she does an absolutely tremendous job with what she has, making what could have been an unlikeable character sympathetic and well-nuanced, but I wish we could have seen more.
I'd also have liked to see a little more detailing the attack in which Maggie contracted the virus, although the nightmarish flash-cuts we get to that moment are truly horrifying. 
Also, I do question how rewatchable the film is. It's extremely depressing and emotionally draining, so I can't imagine it's a flick to which many people will choose to subject themselves for a second helping. The story is very linear, with little in the way of shocks, twists or surprises, so I can see little reward for giving it another spin.


THE VERDICT: Every now and then a film comes along that utterly restores your faith in the way that Hollywood views our beloved genre. Forget about contemptible derivative bollocks like the umpteenth pretty-teen Found Footage, 15 Cert crap-fest you'll find every other week at the cinema; Maggie shows that filmmakers with real vision and a daring willingness to contradict and confound expectations are on the scene. Not only are they out there, but they're packing enough clout to attract big names and production values to Horror. I can't tell you how much I want to see Maggie recognised with the year's film award nominations are released. THIS is the sort of film I've been waiting for. Maggie is released over here in the UK by Vertigo Films on 24th July, please go to see it — it will stay with you for a very long time.
I never imagined that Arnold Schwarzenegger's tears could possibly entertain as much as his muscles – Maggie proves that I was wrong.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

RAW REVIEW: THE THIN MAN

Young filmmaker Bayden Ray Redshaw may not be a name with which you are familiar. I came across his work (often in collaboration with his brother Dylan John Redshaw) on Facebook and it convinced me to check out his YouTube channel (here) where I saw a few of his very cool micro-budget shorts, including The Doll, Bed Time and The Thin Man trilogy. I'll wait here while you check them out, see you soon.
Back again? Pretty cool, right? 
Well now Redshaw has returned to his Thin Man mythos and given the story a feature-length outing. With a larger cast and more time to tell his story, can Redshaw flesh out the scares of the short films into an appetising movie? Or will the longer runtime just thin them out?
Read on...

THE THIN MAN (2015)



Dir: Bayden Ray Redshaw, Dylan John Redshaw
Starring: Bayden Ray Redshaw, Dylan John Redshaw, Jordan Stopforth, Keearna Lee Westcott, Rob Tomlinson, Alasdair Patton

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

The film opens with a young man, Rob (Tomlinson), performing a ritual in the dark woodlands on the outskirts of Albany, West Australia. Upon completing the ritual, ominous camera interference doesn't quite conceal the arrival of another individual, then the clip ends abruptly.
From here we meet our stars, Bayden (writer/director Redshaw) who has just returned home after a lengthy hospital stay. As an aspiring filmmaker he looks to recruit his dubious brother Dylan (star of The Thin Man shorts) and friend, yet-to-arrive Jordan, to investigate the viral video we have just seen and the local legend of The Thin Man. 
The Thin Man was originally a warlock in the 1800s who drew the ire of the Albany townsfolk for his ungodly ways. As a punishment he was confined to a cave and over time the locals neglected to feed him, causing him to slowly starve to death. It is said that the ritual depicted earlier in the film can summon his vengeful spirit.
Now the boys are looking to make a film on the Thin Man lore, notably whether it is true or to debunk it as yet another Bloody Mary-esque campfire ghost story.
Eventually Jordan arrives and tells his pals that his now ex-girlfriend Keearna (Westcott) has dumped him, due in no small part to his inability to hold down a job and willingness to drop it all for a fun time with the Redshaw brothers. In time-honoured tradition, the brothers decide to help him drown his sorrows.
However an excess of alcohol leads to not only a disastrous late-night Skype call to Keearna, but also the boys heading out to the nearby Oval to perform the ritual. When it seems to fail, the inebriated lads head back to the house to continue drinking.
But did things really go as unsuccessfully as it first seemed? Have the trio attracted unwanted attention? And if so, from what and at what cost?



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): To me one of the strongest points of the Thin Man films so far has been its compelling and decidedly creepy mythos. What at first sounds like it is going to be yet another shitty Slender Man rip-off is actually a very cool idea for a villain. Redshaw has invented an excellent piece of horror villainy that really does deserve to reach a wider audience. 
Speaking of Redshaw, as well as showing a promising flair for directing, he's also a pretty damn good actor. Yes, he's done some work on this side of the camera in the past, but this is the first time I've seen him at length. This is a capable and believable performance, as are those of Dylan and Stopforth.
One of the strongest sections of the film is the early introduction to these characters and the fact that the three are friends in real life really helps their dynamic. The camaraderie is palpable and the relaxed, natural-feeling improvisational nature of the dialogue only helps to draw the viewer in. The relationships and characters feel decidedly real so it is all the easier to care about their plight. 
I also like the fact that the Redshaw brothers devoted so much time at the beginning of the film to fully fleshing these characters out before throwing them into peril. All too often horror movies expect us to care about characters who, quite frankly, are little more than two-dimensional stereotypes. Here we are given a central trio whose actions and interactions give us a clear insight into who they are and what their motivation is. Well done, gentlemen.
Of course, as this is a horror flick what most of you will want to know is does this deliver on the scares?
I think the Thin Man trilogy of shorts manage some wonderfully atmospheric chills at times and this feels very much like an extended version of one of these films. Most notably, it felt a lot like the third film (which, incidentally, is my favourite). 
Arguably the most effective scare technique used in the short films is the memorable corrupted audio and video quality when the Thin Man is nearby. Like Silent Hill's chilling air-raid siren, it's a clever tension ratcheting tool that lets the viewer know something pretty damn creepy is imminent. The disconcerting grainy, static flecked visuals act as a nice cue for the horrors to follow. Furthermore, the sudden blaring sound of the corrupted audio, when combined with the abrupt manifestation of the shadowy Thin Man leads to some very effective jump scares.
Due to this 'interference' we rarely see the Thin Man, certainly not in much more than silhouette, but this works in the film's favour. The imagination can conjure far more nightmarish imagery than the Redshaw's limited budget could possibly have created.
What's more, the duo have a clear understanding of how to use the P.O.V. nature of Found Footage to cultivate a scare. The Redshaws use empty space and the areas we cannot see to craft some tension filled set pieces, keeping the audience on edge as the camera slowly creeps around corners or opens sealed doors to reveal the unknown. 
I've said before that it takes a lot of skill to make a Found Footage flick that feels like a genuine unscripted and unplanned documentary. Thankfully, this is something that Bayden and Dylan definitely have. The raw realism of the film is one of the movie's greatest assets and arguably its most invaluable tool when it comes to delivering effective and creepy scares. Kudos, gentlemen!




THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): It feels decidedly unsporting to pick at a micro-budget endeavour such as this. Either side of The Thin Man I've watched big budget efforts Insidious: Chapter 3 and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Maggie, so to find fault with any production values feels decidedly unjust. However, should you be less accustomed to lower budget Indie horror and more used to the types of title that I just mentioned, some of you may find fault with the look and sound design of the film. As this is meant to be a genuine YouTube project, I think these qualities add some authenticity to proceedings, but be warned.
Also, while I praised the effective dynamic that casting friends in key roles gave to the film, every now and then the cast's lack of experience would come to the fore. This was most noticeable during the times when scripted lines that act as key plot points arose. The natural ebb and flow of the improvised dialogue is superb, but every now and then line delivery did feel a little clunky. Unfortunately one character who appears later on in the film has dialogue that consists almost entirely of storyline exposition so his comes across as the weakest performance. Also, every now and then I did spot a little bit of corpsing. It's entirely natural that when you're having fun on a project with your friends you may smile or giggle, but it can negatively affect a scene. Yes, when confronted with the unknown and eerie it can be common to develop a nervous laugh, but I didn't get the impression that was the intended effect. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that these are not professional actors at work here, so, on the whole, I think the cast deserve a significant amount of praise for the fact that they do get it right so often rather than any criticism for the times in which they don't.
There could also be some complaints levelled at the way the guys react to some seriously messed-up stuff that happens later on. Then again, they were supposed to be drunk so we do have an instant get out for any dubious responses.
One other area in which the film may have benefited would have been a couple more takes of some scenes/shots or a little longer in the editing room. From what I understand, Redshaw spent a significant amount of time cutting the film down to its current runtime, which leaves me wondering whether certain scenes and moments could have been expanded upon better? For example, the Thin Man's backstory is delivered in a rather rushed manner and I actually prefer the level of detail given it in the very first Thin Man short. It feels a little like there's an assumed familiarity with the source material which may alienate some viewers. Regarding the editing there are also a couple of repetitive moments that could also have been trimmed or excised entirely. 
Strangely I was left with the feeling that it should be about 15 minutes shorter or a good 20 minutes longer. Having enjoyed so much of what is here, I really do hope to get to see a version running closer to Redshaw's original runtime. I think it'd be a blast!
Finally, I feel it necessary to mention the toad kicking scene. I think some viewers will be a little upset by this sequence, and while it does give a good indication of the way in which the lads are carefree, inebriated youngsters prone to the random moments of silliness to which, well, carefree, inebriated youngsters are, but it might have been better demonstrated via a scene less-likely to draw complaints.



THE VERDICT: I'm definitely going to recommend The Thin Man. It's an excellent low budget chiller from a genuinely talented pair of young up and coming filmmakers with plenty of passion and imagination for their craft. What's more, I hope that this film finds a larger audience so the Redshaw brothers can revisit this property in the future. The pair have already launched their own independent film label and with plenty more titles in the offing, including a feature length adaptation of The Doll, these guys are well deserving of your support and definitely a group of individuals to look out for in the future.
The film hasn't yet found distribution but to find out more about it head over to The Thin Man's official Facebook page here. To find out more about Bayden and Dylan's upcoming projects, check out the Redshaw Pictures page here too. Give them both a Like while you're at it, go on show some love!

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

RAW REVIEW: SCREAM MACHINE

The presence of godfather of gonzo Lloyd Kaufman in this indie anthology (yep, another one!) will be enough to make some of you stop reading right now while others will start frantically rubbing your hands together with glee.
The head honcho of the absolutely bonkers and wilfully trashy Troma Entertainment pretty much guarantees a distinctive flavour to a movie… and Scream Machine does not disappoint.
Fasten your seatbelts, here we go…

SCREAM MACHINE (2015)



Dir: Scarlet Fry
Starring: Tara Carlton, Brian Carr, Brutus Carr, Ramon Castillo, Tracy Ellegard, Scarlet Fry, David C. Hayes, Paul C. Hemmes, Lloyd Kaufman, Stephen Kessen, Sam Meier, A.J. Nada, Dean Nesland, Randy Robinson, Josiah Spargo, Tom Szczepanski, Gage A. Underhill, Kim Wagner-Hemmes, Sandra E Williams, Dineta Williams-Trigg

 SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

After a swift introduction by the always animated showman that is Lloyd Kaufman, we move on to the wraparound story set in the future after an ebola outbreak has decimated mankind. It features the plague-mask wearing Dr Fry (Um, Fry) and Dr Graves (Hemmes) a severed yet animated head. The pair are the sole remaining source of entertainment on the planet and they now air a film shared with them by an old friend before the fall of man (Kaufman).
That film consists of five ghoulish tales, each set to culminate in bloody, grisly gore…
SLEDGEHAMMER — The story of an aspiring baseball player (Fry again) who is poised to hit the big time due to his awe-inspiring fastball. However, as he shows off his incredible talent in front of scouts, tragedy strikes. Years pass and the ball player goes on to become a roaring success… but even as he reaches his career highpoint his past is set to come back to haunt him.
CANNIBAL PEN PALS: THE DAHMER OBSESSION — A hen-pecked husband (Robinson) houses a dark secret. Unbeknownst to his domineering wife, he is actually a homosexual who has become smitten with imprisoned serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In fact, the pair have been writing to each other regularly. However, now he is set to take his love of the deranged killer to the next level… eimitation.
APRIL FOOLS PARTY — A drug dealer (Ellegard) who enjoys his own merchandise a little too much gets pranked by a group of his junkie customers. As they torment him and his paranoia increases along with his drug consumption, something has to give…. 
SEPTIC SHOCK — An ailing man (Szczepanski) finds out that his scheming wife and disloyal doctor have been plotting behind his back. The poor man finds himself dumped into a sealed septic tank in the back yard and slowly loses his grip on his sanity as he is unable to claw his way out out of the filth.
DEADLY INDIE DRIVE IN — A disturbed woman (Wagner-Hemmes) attends a drive-in movie theatre and begins to receive strange messages over the radio and from the actor onscreen telling her that she must murder her date. As the communications increase in intensity and urgency the story builds to a surprising conclusion.



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): What you get with a movie like this is bucketfuls of fun. If you want plenty of humour and gallons of viscera, that is certainly what Scream Machine delivers.
The script involves plenty of crude, sweary one-liners and enough blood and gut splatter to keep most gorehounds very happy indeed. 
Most of the humour comes from the interaction between writers Hemmes and Fry in their roles as our hosts for the evening. There are plenty of crudely offensive exchanges between the two (with Hemmes' Dr Graves especially potty-mouthed). Those of you with a South Park/Porky's style sense of humour will get a kick out of these scenes.
However, another — perhaps unexpected — source of amusement is the often cartoonish level of violence and blood that each story descends into. More Evil Dead 2 than Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the bloodletting is more Tom & Jerry-esque slapstick than frightening. The horror may well disgust, but I guarantee that most of you will be belly-laughing even as the events on screen turn stomach-churning.
The budget for Scream Machine is positively minuscule (the IMDB estimates it as a mere $15,000!), yet the one area in which the budget was not a barrier was in the delivery of the great — and practical — special effects. The effects (also carried out by Fry, believe it or not, along with Laurence Holloway) really are excellent and I must commend Fry and Holloway for their work. One of the first areas to go wrong with most low-budget indie horror flicks is the effects department — either financial constraints or a lack of skill/imagination get in the way of bringing the director's vision to life. I'm very pleased to say that is most definitely not the case here.
The stories each show some nice variety — each has a distinctly different feel and storyline. This is nice to see as too many modern anthologies end up treading the same ground over and over.
From the slasher revenge style Sledgehammer, to the decidedly more Creepshow-esque Septic Shock, to the bizarre mindfuckery of Deadly Indie Drive In, each segment in the movie has its own unique flavour.
My favourites were probably Cannibal Pen Pals, which, controversial subject matter aside, told an interesting tale with a fine central performance from Robinson. Okay, it may go a little far with the depraved acts it depicts, but it makes sense considering the source of inspiration.
I also got a real kick out of Deadly Indie Drive In and would have loved to see the story expanded upon. Credit must go to Wagner-Hemmes for her stellar work here as well in the very good Septic Shock.
I've often written about how an anthology has a difficult balancing act to perform — I find that if a horror movie runs for too long audiences can lose interest and become desensitised to the horror, while an anthology needs to dedicate enough time to its stories to ensure that they are told properly. With a mere runtime of just 71 minutes (yes, that's less than an hour and a quarter!) there is no chance that the viewers will run out of patience with this flick.
Finally, one element that absolutely shines through here is that sheer amount of love and enthusiasm that everybody working on this movie had for the project. With several members of the cast and crew taking on multiple roles (not just jack-of-all-trades Fry) you can tell that everybody was utterly dedicated to seeing Scream Machine reach completion — it's a testament to the hard-work of each of them that I'm able to write this review today. I offer my sincerest congratulations to you all.   



THE WORST BITS (minor spoiler warning): It honestly feels unsporting to criticise a low-budget, trashy Troma-style horror movie for its shortcomings, especially those imposed by its lower levels of funding, but sometimes I have to.
As a microbudget flick this one is pretty good, but it does still fall prey to plenty of troubles that having less financial clout can bring.
With several of the cast having not much in the way of experience, I'm afraid that solid line delivery and convincing reactions come only intermittently. What's more, with several of the cast performing in multiple roles this problem is heightened throughout.
Of course, I'm not expecting Royal Shakespeare Company levels of thespian talent (that certainly isn't why most people sit down with this sort of flick!), so I'm prepared to give the guys behind a Scream Machine a little leeway, but it's worth reiterating that they definitely need it.
There are also times when the picture and sound quality dips. It's not terrible by any stretch but there are also times when it's most definitely not very good either. Again, these things are to be expected when the filmmaker has less money and time to spend in post-production, so it's not too big of a deal, but if you've become accustomed to big budget Michael Bay blockbusters, you won't be able to help but notice that this is a lot less polished.
Finally, you may remember that earlier I mentioned the tricky tightrope an anthology picture has to walk — too far one way and it becomes bloated and the audience can become fidgety, too far the other and the segments can become a little malnourished. At just 71 minutes, unfortunately a couple of the segments feel underdeveloped. It's a shame because, given a lot longer to tell their story and expand on their basic premise, every single one of these tales has a ton of potential and originality that you certainly don't see from the average cookie-cutter generic crap that gets churned out by the big studios. However, these stories are pared right down to the bare bones. The simplicity of story telling is refreshing but it means that each becomes very linear — a short series of events that culminate in a big bloody punchline. WIth a little more flavour and elaboration, all of them could have been well and truly special — Sledgehammer could have made a kickass slasher flick, especially with that extremely cool mask and killing method. Maybe if we're lucky Fry and co will expand upon it? If so you can definitely count me in!



THE VERDICT: If you enjoy the gonzo insanity of the likes of Troma's Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke 'em High THIS is the anthology for you. Cheap and nasty, it's also great fun made by a group of filmmakers who have thrown their all into giving you a grim, gory and at times very, very funny little ride. For the most part, they have succeeded. Sure, it's pretty simplistic and basically consists of a series of exceptionally well-executed gore gags at the end of some pretty amusing dark tales. For some of you, that will be enough. If you want a bit more depth and polish, Scream Machine may not hit the mark, but if you want to laugh and shriek at a movie with some buddies and a pizza, you could do a hell of a lot worse than starting right here. I have seen more than enough here to ensure that I'll be watching out for Fry and co's next effort — if it's half as much fun it'll be worth a look.

If you want to check out the movie, it is available to pre-order at Amazon right here. If you'd like a bit more info, check out the official Scream Machine Facebook page here. Give it a like while you're at it, these guys deserve some recognition for all their hard work!


If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors


Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Monday, 6 July 2015

RAW REVIEW: THE REDWOOD MASSACRE

I'm sure David Ryan Keith's The Redwood Massacre isn't the first Scottish slasher film, but it IS the first one that I've seen.
Taking the tried and trusted formula of a group of youngsters on a getaway to an isolated retreat, then transporting it to the Highlands is an astute move, but it takes more than admittedly breathtaking scenery to make a slasher flick resonate.
Has this one Scot what it takes? Or will you be desperate for everybody to hurry up and get kilt? (My sincerest apologies to my Scottish readers!)
Read on…

THE REDWOOD MASSACRE (2014)



Dir: David Ryan Keith
Starring: Lisa Cameron, Rebecca Wilkie, Adam Coutts, Lisa Livingstone, Mark Wood, Lee Hutcheon, Benjamin Selway, Alec Westwood, Liam Matheson, Morgan Faith Keith, Claire Bearn, Jamie Butler, Cheryl Bernard

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Bookish Pam (Cameron) heads into the woods with her best friend Jess (Wilkie) for a hike to an unusual destination, the infamous and abandoned Redwood House. The site of a gruesome family murder, Pam and Jess are heading to the farm for the 20th anniversary of that fateful date for a ghoulish getaway. 
As they make their way through the rugged Scottish terrain, the pair are joined by Jess' drippy ex Mark (Coutts) and his new girlfriend, bad-tempered and high-maintenance Kirsty (Livingstone). They are planning to meet some more friends at the site and love interest Bruce (Wood) is aiming to catch them up.
As tensions simmer and threaten to boil over within the group, it soon becomes clear that something else is lurking out in the wilderness. A looming and psychotic individual, sporting a scarecrow's burlap sack mask with an assortment of sharp and brutal weapons and some truly sadistic intentions.
Will the group make it to Redwood House? And if they do, what will be waiting for them?



THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Despite a pronounced downswing in quality and popularity over the Noughties, I am still a big fan of the slasher genre and I'm glad to see the recent resurgence of good, old fashioned slasher flicks. As a youngster I was raised on a diet of video store slashers and as such I still thrill to see a new masked maniac.
Slashers are movies that follow some far too familiar tropes, but they are all the more fun for it.
The makers of The Redwood Massacre clearly recognise the market for their film and they willingly embrace the expectations that come with it. Keith and co aren't trying to reinvent the wheel — instead they are trying to give us a decent, blood and guts, stalk and slash film, and they do a good job with it.
That's not to say that The Redwood Massacre just blends in with the crowd — it has a few distinguishing features that make it a bit more memorable. Obviously its Scottish location and cast stand out. In a couple of scenes the scenery is breathtaking (between this and Skyfall, I've been convinced that I need to go there), and even the forest has a decidedly British feel compared with the near-campground woodland of the U.S.-set Friday the13th and its various rip-offs. It feels denser, more dank, and has a more oppressive and foreboding feel. This is undoubtedly helped by the atmospheric cinematography, also carried out by Keith. 
I mentioned the Scottish cast, and one of the things I most liked was that they were actual adults, rather than unfeasibly perfect teenagers. That's not saying they're an unattractive bunch — far from it — but they seem more real, like actual people who've lived normal lives, rather than pretty, Hollywood-produced drones who are entirely unrelatable. 
For the most part, they're also quite accomplished thespians.
Cameron shoulders the burden of the lead and she's well suited to the task. She's likeable and gives her character a suitably earnest air. Her character really is put through the wringer and she does a good job of portraying the horrifying trauma that she is forced to endure. This is very good work indeed.
As our male lead and (what at first glance certainly seems like) the hero in the making, Wood is also very good.
He actually gets very little in the way of dialogue exchanges with the other characters, so Bruce's arc is told almost entirely through his actions and reactions to what he encounters. It's not easy but Wood pulls it off. 
Arguably the showstealer is Livingstone as the wonderfully moody Kirsty. I've often thought it must be more fun for an actor to portray an unlikeable character, and judging by the relish evident in Livingstone's delivery of each cutting, resentful line, this certainly seems to be the case. She appears to be having a ball, bitching and whinging, making Kirsty a huge pain in the arse in her earlier scenes. What is a bigger testament to Livingstone's talent is the way in which she actually manages to get the audience caring for her by the end of the film. This is no mean feat, so congratulations, Ms Livingstone!
Wilkie and Coutts have a little less screentime, but they prove capable and never let the side down.
Finally, both Selway and Hutcheon nail their roles. Selway portrays the villain, credited as Evil Highlander (although I prefer to call him Farmer Bagface) and he is awesome throughout. A silent role, Selway still fills his character with menace. The silent, setting masked maniac may be a genre archetype, but it's one that works. In The Redwood Massacre, the extremely intimidating Selway shows why.
Hutcheon plays another genre trope, what Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon dubbed 'the Ahab'. A character who has been wronged by the film's monstrous antagonist and is now its sworn nemesis. Hutcheon plays the role impeccably, he is tough, bitter, palpably damaged and all but consumed by the darkness he has seen. It's a fun character brought to life through an accomplished performance.
So the characters are decent and well realised by a talented cast, and the film looks good, but there's more to The Redwood Massacre than that.
Director Keith crafts some fine scares and doesn't shy away from some decidedly bloody gore sequences. Farmer Bagface pulls off some seriously sadistic acts with his victims, ranging from sudden brutal hack and slash deaths to slow, protracted and mean-spirited torture. That alone will be music to the ears of genre fans who have become starved of good old-fashioned slasher bloodshed in recent years.
Keith also wrote the story, which (while it doesn't exactly break any new ground) still gives us a couple of fine moments. One of those would certainly be the shockingly bleak flashback sequence to the original spate of murders at the Redwood House. With a great performance by Matheson as the insane (and quite possibly possessed) Farmer (pre-Bagface), it's an atmospheric and violent sequence that totally hits the spot.
Like so many other moments in the movie, here Keith shows that he knows exactly what he's doing. He's definitely a filmmaker to look out for in the future.



THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As a slasher film, The Redwood Massacre falls victim to many of the genre's shortcomings. The plot stretches credulity at time and the characters to continue to make decisions that will have you scratching your head at times.
The final confrontation between Hutcheon's Hunter and Farmer Bagface the Evil Highlander is an especially infuriating plot development. WIth so much good work immediately preceding it, the payoff was disappointing to say the least.
I mentioned that the story of The Redwood Massacre doesn't exactly stray from the formula and, to some viewers, that could be a serious black mark against it. I find the familiarity of a slasher film comforting, like a favourite, warm old jumper on a sunday afternoon, but if you're sick and tired of a sub genre that several people have already lost all patience for, The Redwood Massacre certainly won't change your mind.
It contains all the cliches that the genre can hold and the simplistic plot line is extremely linear. Furthermore, it's pretty damn predictable too. Within about 10 minutes of starting the film I'm pretty that most of you will be able to guess exactly what will happen, to whom, and in which order. These events are still presented in an entertaining way, but if you're after twists and turns, this is not the movie for you.
Some of the characters are given very little in the way of development. WIth such a rich backstory and several complicated relationships implied early on, it is a shame that less is sone with these characters. Obviously the 10 Little Indians-style, one-by-one death nature of a slasher film means that some characters have a shorter lifespan (and with it less screen time), but it would have been nice to see a little more interaction between them Farmer Bagface got down to doing his decidedly bloody thing with them.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that this is a low-budget effort. It does a pretty good job with what it has, but every now and then the picture, sound, effects and even the acting feel a little rough around the edges. This is certainly not as serious a drawback as I've seen in some micro budget genre efforts, and thankfully Keith and his crew never attempt to overreach beyond their means.


THE VERDICT: The Redwood Massacre is actually pretty good fun. It has a cool villain, a lovely setting, some deliciously depraved murder scenes and a talented group of homegrown talent in front of the camera. It's certainly not a gamechanger, but it does play the game well and if you're at all interested in checking out a movie that feels a lot like Dog Soldiers meets Friday the 13th by way of Charlie's Farm (and who wouldn't be!), this is the movie for you.
You can pre-order The Redwood Massacre at Amazon here for a very reasonable price, or check out the film's Facebook page for more info. Give it a Like while you're there too, show Scottish indie horror some love.


If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors


Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.