It works much better when you give a shit

A few weeks back I posted about the brilliant ONE CUT OF THE DEAD and how I thought that micro-budgeted madcap zombie meta-movie had a million times the depth and character of the boring, bloated, load of bollocks that was ARMY OF THE DEAD. It’s not a completely fair comparison, I’ll admit, but there’s a point to be made – for me to enjoy a movie, good characterisation and a cohesive plot are essential.

I saw another couple of films recently which prove the point, and that leads me to this weekend’s double movie recommendation.

I’m sure you’ve heard of GREENLAND. It’s a big budget Amazon blockbuster with a star-filled cast who find themselves staring into the abyss as the end of the world approaches. You might not, on the other hand, have heard of THE QUAKE – a Norwegian movie from a few years back which was, in fact, a sequel to THE WAVE, which I wrote about here.

Two relatively straightforward disaster movies, with two very different approaches. Can you guess which one I liked best?

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Saint Maud

In previous recommendation posts I’ve talked about my local cinema, which is literally a couple of hundred metres from my front door. In the brief time it was open between lockdowns last year, I managed to fit in a few visits, mostly to see re-releases of old movies on the big screen (DOG SOLDIERS and V FOR VENDETTA, if you remember). But there was one new release I’d been really keen to see which I didn’t quite manage to fit in. The film was SAINT MAUD, and over the course of the UK’s endless third lockdown, I watched a crumpled poster for the movie gradually fading in the winter sunlight outside the cinema. At the risk of sounding pretentious, it was as if Maud herself was constantly reminding me to watch. When the film popped up on Amazon Prime in the UK a short while back, I did just that, and I’m so pleased I did. What a magnificent film SAINT MAUD is.

Maud is a reclusive young nurse whose impressionable demeanour causes her to pursue a pious path of Christian devotion after an obscure trauma. Now charged with the hospice care of Amanda, a retired dancer ravaged by cancer, Maud’s fervent faith quickly inspires an obsessive conviction that she must save her ward’s soul from eternal damnation, whatever the cost.

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One Cut of the Dead

As you may have noticed, I’m doing my best to catch-up on a backlog of film recommendations I’ve built up. Today I want to recommend an absolute gem to you for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s a micro-budget marvel that goes to show that a great concept and copious enthusiasm are infinitely more important than a big budget and faultless special effects. Second, on a more practical level, I’m mentioning it today because if you’re in the UK, you can watch it for free on Channel 4 for the next couple of weeks.

The less you know about ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, the better. Here’s a spoiler-free synopsis and trailer, followed by a couple of (also spoiler-free) thoughts.

Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.

I’m going to keep these comments very, very brief – as I said, the less you know about ONE CUT OF THE DEAD, the more you’ll enjoy it. And I’m sure you will enjoy it. This film is a joy. Absolutely crazy, very funny, wildly surprising, and unexpectedly touching. I’ve read a lot of comments from people who switched off after the first half hour, but DON’T. After a few minutes you’ll probably think you know where the movie is going, and you’re likely very wrong indeed. Please just stick with it. The pay-off is so worth it.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD comes very, very, very highly recommended by me. It’s a love letter to zombie movies, and also to low budget indie film making in general. If you’re not in the UK, it’s currently streaming on SHUDDER and is available from all the usual places on DVD, Blu-ray and as a download.

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

When I started work on the new AUTUMN trilogy, and particularly throughout the writing of the recently released AUTUMN: DAWN, I gorged on zombie movies. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, but given the fact I’ve been writing about the undead for a long time, I think I probably watch these films through a slightly different filter than most folks.

If you’ve read my comments on ARMY OF THE DEAD from last weekend, you’ll no doubt have picked up on the fact that I hated pretty much every second of it. In hindsight that may have been, in part, because the zombie movie I’d watched prior to ARMY had a very similar set up and premise, but was infinitely more enjoyable. That film was TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS: PENINSULA. Crappy title – passable film.

I wrote about TRAIN TO BUSAN here in 2017, commenting that it was a ‘top quality action flick that just happened to feature zombies’. This second movie is not a sequel as such, but another standalone story set in the same world as TRAIN TO BUSAN, albeit four years later. Here’s the synopsis and trailer.

It’s four years since the outbreak of a zombie virus in South Korea. The infection has spread throughout the country and it has been sealed off from the rest of the world. On the promise of a better life, four Korean refugees in Hong Kong agree to sail through the blockade to the port of Incheon to recover $20 million US dollars sitting in the back of a truck.

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Army of the Dead

I feel kind of obliged to say something about ARMY OF THE DEAD which arrived on Netflix this week. I can definitely say something, but it won’t be positive. I despised pretty much every second of it.

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.

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’71

I recorded an episode of a podcast this week with my pal MARK GODDARD of Snakebite Horror and Bloody Good Reads. This time we were talking about movies, and CHILDREN OF MEN came up. I’ve written about CHILDREN OF MEN on this site before. I think it’s a spectacular film for a number of reasons, not least because of the way it’s filmed. Fluid camera work, subtle editing, and seamlessly integrated visual effects combine to bring an involving, almost documentary-like feel to scenes. I had that same feeling recently when I discovered another movie, ’71.

A young British soldier is accidentally abandoned by his unit following a terrifying riot on the streets of Belfast in 1971. Unable to tell friend from foe, the raw recruit must survive the night alone and find his way to safety through a disorienting, alien and deadly landscape.

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One Night Stand

Right, I’ve just finished another draft of AUTUMN: DAWN, so it’s time to catch up with a few posts. I thought I’d start with a film recommendation that I discovered over Christmas. Four years ago, back in the days when we were able to travel, my family and I saw in the new year in Australia. Here’s a pic of us outside Sydney Opera House welcoming in 2017.

Fast-forward to Christmas 2020, and I was searching for something to watch on Amazon Prime when I stumbled across an apocalyptic movie set in the Opera House on New Year’s Eve. I had to check it out, and I’m glad I did. ONE NIGHT STAND is by no means a great film, but the 1980’s Cold War setting, along with a wonderfully bleak ending, certainly make it worth a watch.

In Australia, four teenagers in a Sydney theatre are astounded to hear the news that a nuclear war has broken out in Eastern Europe. They try to figure out the best way they can survive the coming conflagration.

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DOG SOLDIERS

Just prior to the second national lockdown starting here, and in the absence of many new releases, our local cinema showed a series of classic horror movies. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned how close we live to a cinema before. It’s literally a five-minute walk from my front door, and in the eight or so years we’ve lived in this spot, it’s been a source of gainful part-time employment for three of our daughters. I love the place and have been keen to support it whenever its doors have been open during the nightmare which has been 2020. I managed to catch a couple of films, the first of which was NEIL MARSHALL’S werewolf classic, DOG SOLDIERS.

Here’s a quick synopsis from IMDB: A British Squad is sent on a training mission in the Highlands of Scotland against Special Operations squad. Ignoring the childish “campfire” stories heard about the area, they continue with their mission and come across the bloody remains of the Special Ops Squad, and a fierce howling is pitching the night sky… With two mortally wounded men, they make an escape, running into a zoologist by the name of Megan – who knows exactly what hunts them. What began as what they thought was a training mission turns into a battle for their lives against the most unlikely enemies they would have expected – werewolves.

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#ALIVE

If you’re in need of a quick zombie movie fix this Sunday afternoon (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), can I recommend #ALIVE, a South Korean movie which is available now on Netflix. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but I liked it quite a lot.

As a grisly virus rampages a city, a lone man stays locked inside his apartment, digitally cut off from seeking help and desperate to find a way out.

Here’s a very long trailer (actually the first five minutes of the film):

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Return of the Living Dead

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I’ve had a little trouble working recently. We lost our family cat, Tom, early on in lockdown, and our new kitten arrived this week. Lovely as he is, when everyone else went out and I was left cat-sitting, young Milo prevented me from doing anything constructive other than catching up with the latest issue of SCREAM MAGAZINE (which happens to contain a fantastic 5-star review of THE BLEED: RUPTURE – thanks Scream team).

One of the things I love most about SCREAM is the fact it spends as much time looking back as it does forward: as well as up-to-date news and reviews, the mag always also features articles on classic (and sometimes no so classic) horror movies. This issue has an excellent retrospective article on THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. So, stuck with the new cat, and with little prospect of getting any writing done, I decided a re-watch of RETURN was in order. And as I realised I’d never properly written about it for this site, I decided to put that right too.

When foreman Frank (James Karen) shows new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) a secret military experiment in a supply warehouse, the two klutzes accidentally release a gas that reanimates corpses into flesh-eating zombies. As the epidemic spreads throughout Louisville, and the creatures satisfy their hunger in gory and outlandish ways, Frank and Freddy fight to survive with the help of their boss (Clu Gulager) and a mysterious mortician (Don Calfa).

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