Man, if it ain’t sharks in a tornado it’s alligators in a hurricane. Alexander Aja’s Crawl is a million times better monster movie than Sharknado though, the buzz surrounding it peaked with Quentin Tarantino claiming it as his favourite film of 2019 and it definitely lived up to the hype. It’s a no frills creature feature in the sense that it arrives to get down to business, gets down to that business with ruthless efficiency and the slack pulled razor taut and then exits as soon as it showed up, kind of like the hurricane it’s set in. The storm descends upon Florida just as professional swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is searching for her dad (Barry Pepper, always awesome) in a neighbourhood that’s about to get hit bad. He’s been attacked by vicious hungry gators while patching up the crawl space and now they’re both trapped down there, with the winds outside, the water rising dangerously all around them and the beasts chomping at their every move. Oh yeah and they’re both severely injured too. It’s a wicked awesome setup and Aja makes good use of it, the gators look pretty damn photorealistic for CGI, the suspense lays on thick as fuck, the surrounding storm makes wonderfully cacophonous atmospheric textures and the gore is just this side of realistic enough to be uncomfortable and just bloody enough to ding the horror genre barometer. I also really appreciated both the acting and writing in our central father daughter relationship, I believed these two were family, cared for them and actually legit tensed up a few times when they almost get eaten alive. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a great horror movie.
It has often been my custom to seek out and devour everything an author has written….once said author’s work has completely overwhelmed me.
My first brush with the Popcorn King from Nacogdoches came in the form of a chap book in one of those slowly disappearing, (at least in Australia anyway) dust-ridden book exchanges. Where the yellowing pages of the regarded and discarded writers of ages are stowed. The store that I frequented with my Grandmother – the most voracious reader in the family – we would go to after she was done reading a great pile of books, looking to exchange them for new ones. Gran would always ask the proprietor to save some of the credit from her returns for me, to pick up an armful of comic books. Yay!
It was on a rainy day in February, three summers and a thousand years ago, that I went into that old store by myself, ready with a pile of freshly digested comics…..ready to swap them – for more. As I scanned the racks I saw, at far end of one of the shelves, wedged between two war comics, a thin, slightly discolored book entitled: On the far side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks. That title alone is a grabber – I don’t give a shit what you say. Eagerly I dove in and found myself so entranced, that it took the hand of the proprietor, shaking on my shoulder, to break the spell the story had on me. Turns out I had been standing there for a good forty-five minutes reading. Without hesitation I handed over the comics in my other hand and said I wanted nothing but the thin, little volume. The owner tried to tell me I could take it plus the comics, but I had neither need nor interest in comics that day. I shoved the Dead Folks into my pocket and cycled home as fast and as recklessly as I could. Once there, I read the incredible find over and over, till the weekend faded away.
Some weeks later, and after countless repeated readings of the Cadillac Desert, I found myself beset by another grey and rainy Saturday. I was rushing into the city library via the side entrance. My breath was all but gone as I had been racing, and narrowly escaping, the oncoming downpour. Dripping on the carpet with my hands on my knees I looked up. As my breath returned, at the bottom shelf of the aisle closest to me, I remember clearly staring at the row of books and noticing that they were all by the same author. The same guy who penned my glorious obsession, Dead Folks. I snatched up as many books as my library card would allow me to leave with, and the rest is history. My first encounter had been powerful, but now my love affair with Lansdale was really about to take flight.
And…at last…we have a cinematic valentine to that literary God among men. All Hail the Popcorn King, directed by Hansi Oppenheimer, is a perfectly balanced, passionate portrait of the man, who by some, is called the greatest writer…you’ve never heard of.
With collaborators like Don Coscarelli, Joe Hill and the man with a chin that could kill, Bruce Campbell, Popcorn King showcases Joe Lansdale the best way a filmmaker can: on his home turf, on his own terms, and in his own wondrous porch raconteur’s tone, that I’ve heard before – but still, it’s not nearly as cool as talkin’ to the legend his own self.
Enjoy this dynamic one-two punch of literary and cinematic awesomeness, I pray you. Be excellent…
I don’t know what they are putting in the water over there in Germany, but I have of late had the privilege of speaking with some of the country’s brightest indie stars. Starting with Dominik Starck and his action movie man-at-arms, Nico Sentner. Then, I stumble into the path of a couple more revolutionaries and fine gentlemen to boot, Erza Tsegaye and Nicolas Artajo – talking about their little gem of a movie, and as history will tell, the forerunner of a new wave in German horror films . . . SKIN CREEPERS. This country Germany seems to have more than just good beer on tap . . . seems the brew cool movie-makers too.
It’s the story (partially inspired by true events: where a Korean family performed an exorcism on a young woman who sadly lost her life) of two unsuccessful filmmakers who want to make a pornographic movie, and things go very, very wrong. See, their lead actress . . . . gets possessed by a demon.
It’s a film, although shot on a limited budget, that is already being recognized for its stunning visual effects and its old-school practical approach to film-making. Following a successful German theatrical run, the film is now celebrating its international release in the US, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland on multiple major VOD Platforms, including Amazon Prime and Tubi, among others.
Filmmaker Ezra Tsegaye, worked previously in commercials as a storyboard artist for Hollywood films such as “THE INTERNATIONAL,” and is also a successful comic strip artist, who was involved in the creation of the first original German superhero comic. This background as a comic book/storyboard artist is mainly responsible for the film’s unique visual style. The picture, produced by media entrepreneur Sebastian Wolf, started the project with the intent to revolutionize German Horror Cinema, putting it back on the map by giving this extraordinary movie the chance to reach the big screen.
So we chatted about the movie, of course. I heard what I would sound like – if dubbed for German audiences. There was talk of good beer, and a pub crawl in Berlin with the boys. How could this interviewer refuse?
SKIN CREEPERS, get out there and enjoy it…The Exorcist meets Evil Dead with a sexy twist!
I feel like Starz’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead doesn’t get enough love or praise. It was always going to be a tough task to update and fluidly continue a scrappy, deranged, hyperactive, genre pioneering classic from the early 80’s into contemporary long form storytelling, but damn they kind of nailed it. Raimi himself directs the first episode to kick the party into gear, and sets the stage for two knockout seasons of nostalgic bloody mayhem, new ideas and demons worked into the existing lore and more deftly written comedic dialogue than you can shake a boomstick at. This picks up decades after the original cabin massacre, which Ash has now himself been blamed for. That pesky necronomicon isn’t quite done with him though, and pretty soon he’s on an epic, gore laced quest to defeat evil with two awesome sidekicks, the sexy, fearless and spirited Kelly (Dana Delorenzo) and courageous, scrappy Pablo (Ray Santiago). Their adventures take them on countless endeavours, side-quests and tussles with every demon under the sun, and it’s the characters who ultimately make it worthwhile. Middle aged Ash is different from the jittery youngster of Evil Dead and even the reluctant avenger he became in Army Of Darkness. He’s kind of a goof, but a goof who gets shit done in the end and lives to swill a beer and tell a grossly exaggerated tale about it. There are some truly inventive monsters, demons and deadites on display here too, from your garden variety howling, decayed possesses corpse to full on legendary denizens right out of the bible, a haunted car in a cool shout out to John Carpenter’s Christine, a possessed cadaver that literally shits and pisses all over a very uncomfortable Ash as the deadite inside takes liberties with it’s bodily functions, and all kinds of other stuff including an an evil Ash hand puppet that has to be seen to be believed. Other great supporting turns come from Lucy ‘Xena’ Lawless as an immortal badass demon hunter, Ted Raimi as Ash’s ketamine guzzling high school chum, Lee Majors as his ladies man of a father and more. I’ve only seen the first two seasons so far, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about this show. It’s consistent with the tone and feel of Raimi’s original classic horror trilogy while building upon everything he did to blast new pathways into the Ash legacy. Punishingly, rewardingly gory, spectacularly hilarious at every turn, filled with loving references, deadites galore, this one is a keeper.
Andrew David Barker was born in Derby, England in 1975. He grew up with a love of films and writing. I suppose this is a common thread among those of us who seek to express ourselves through these mediums. Hoping against hope that it will be either one or the other that strikes first – one or the other that shall propel us out of obscurity and into the stratosphere in which we are allowed to create for a living.
It was horror films (the Video Nasties), but also the bombastic, high concept and blockbuster works of the 80’s that further fueled the young Barker to carry on his quest. Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese, but also Romero and Raimi fed him with images and blasted on the big screen the seemingly endless possibilities which lay in wait, destined to be unearthed by the daring dreamer.
Like all those that had come before, young Barker cut his teeth making short films and writing books and short stories – at times with friends. Then the time came – the time which calls to the fledgling auteurs and beckons them into the fray – time to put all accumulated knowledge to the test, and make that first film.
Thus A Reckoning was born. But through no fault of his own, young Barker was forced to sit by and see his film languish in obscurity. So, he took up the pen, and began to tell his stories on the printed page. Soon, he produced two fine works (see pictured above) and interest from the film industry power brokers soon came knocking.
Andrew is an eclectic storyteller whose visions are at once personal and profound. To talk to him about his journey, his influences and aspirations was a thrill. He is definitely a talent to watch, and, I for one, will be watching with great anticipation as to where his journey will take him next.
They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.
Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.
For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.
Crime doesn’t pay, and money is the root of all evil. There are countless stories of people who forsake such principles and venture down a dark, destructive path, but none quite so biting and tragic as Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. What haunts the viewer so much is not the fact that these characters suffer through horrific turmoil resulting from the promise of money, it’s that these are nice, good natured, everyday folks. These are the people next door, the blue collar, salt of the earth Americans, and it’s harrowing to see the downward spiral they fall headlong into. Bill Paxton is the mild mannered hardware store owner, Billy Bob Thornton his unemployed, dimwitted brother and Bridget Fonda his wife. Three regular people who could be any of us, until they find the money. Out in a snowy rural landscape, millions of dollars in cash is discovered by them, and that’s where the trouble begins. The three go to great lengths to keep their secret hidden from the local authorities, and eventually become paranoid, deceitful and hostile towards each other, leading to some truly heartbreaking outcomes. It’s not enjoyable watching these poor people go through this, because this isn’t some exploititive crime genre exercise. Although shades of noir are present, this film is set in the real world where human beings are neither good nor bad as a template, but have complex capacity for great evil or compassion. When something like the money gets in the way, though, that potential for malicious behaviour is dialed up considerably, and the resulting calamity looks something like what we see here. What’s scary about the whole thing is that it’s essentially their own fault; yes, the money turned up, and yes, its presence is what drives this wedge among them, but the money isn’t sentient, it doesn’t wish ill will, it’s simply *there*, leaving the characters to make decisions regarding it, decisions which in this case lead to their despairing downfall. What’s more, money is our own creation, not some outside influence eating away at them. This is surprising output for Raimi, who is the guy we know for rambunctious horror and genre pulp, but he shows a skilled and subtle hand with the down to earth material, letting his story be a window into a cold world of feverish greed, a world where plans are, in fact, anything but simple.
Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness completes his demented Evil Dead trilogy in high style, and with way more off the wall humour than the first two, which made you laugh while simultaneously going straight for the jugular with gore. Slapstick seems to be the theme here, as Ash and his trusty accessories of destruction find themselves catapulted straight into the heart of the Middle Ages, where the denizens of the Necronomicon have somehow once again found him. Joining forces with a medieval King, and hopping into bed with a shapely princess (Embeth Davidz), Ash uses his modern day know-how and sassy disposition to battle hordes of skeletal beasties and flying deadites, with occasional breaks for absurd humour and near surreal set pieces. My personal favorite is when he finds himself under attack from numerous pint sized versions of himself after setting off an ancient spell in the nearby dark forests. “Ramming speed” they chirp as they jab him in the ass with a metal fork and giggle like demonic Borrowers. Only in these movies, man. The change of setting from a cabin in the woods to a castle allows for a much larger scale of action, involving entire armies and much more moving parts. The deadite horde has a satisfyingly creaky, Harryhausen-esque way of moving, and look great when blown to bits by the ol’ boomstick as well. They also inherit the silliness and near constant mischief of the demons from the first two films too. Whether it’s trees, deer heads, zombies or skeletons, anything that materializes as a result of that book just seems to have a flair for bizarre and childish shenanigans, kind of like their trademark mode of behaviour. That too is what makes these films so distinct; they’re horror comedies, yes, but not in the sense that Scary Movie or Young Frankenstein is. They’re like a clown with ADHD prancing about the place and destroying things in their own special and unhinged way. Different from the other films in the series, no doubt, but a welcome and very successful departure.
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 is similar to Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado in the sense that it takes what was already there, in this case Evil Dead, and tells the same story once again, simply smoothing out edges, ramping up certain areas, using more money than it had before and generally giving the story a tune up. It also gets quite a bit funnier than Evil Dead, which although schlocky was pretty much outright horror. The sequel emphasizes comedy far more, and is the more definitive of the two in terms of the franchise’s legacy. The story is more or less the same: Ash (the eternal Bruce Campbell) and a group of friends venture to that creepy, archetypal cabin in the woods and foolishly set loose a rambunctious horde of unholy demons, zombies, cackling fiends, rapey trees and a mountable deer head with a disconcerting case of the giggles. This marks the first time Ash donned his now iconic chainsaw hand and picked up that ol’ boom stick to give the nasties a good whupping. And whup he does, like the smooth talking badass that he is. I love the aesthetic in these films; the monsters all have a devilishly mischievous attitude that provides endless laughs, always trolling, taunting and teasing the poor victims. Nothing beats the sight of Ash’s severed hand flipping him off before it scuttles off into the corner like an angry facehugger. That’s one key element which the 2013 remake ditched: I liked what they did in terms of special effects, but the pissy humour wasn’t there, the decayed, sarcastic ADHD madness that I came to love so much was replaced by something far too grim and somber. Bad move. No, kids, this is the ultimate Evil Dead flick, the most complete and entertaining entry into a franchise that has influenced every facet of the horror genre for decades. Ash is now a household name, a beloved halloween costume, a celebrated pillar of pop culture and still one of the most enjoyable protagonist’s to spend time with, as we now get to see with Starz’s terrific Ash Vs. Evil Dead. The original Evil Dead spawned it all, but this baby turned the dial up past eleven, tossed on the buckets of gore and has more than earned it’s place both in our hearts, and horror infamy.
Anyone who loves a good slice of southern gothic murder mystery should check out Sam Raimi’s The Gift, one of several films in the eclectic scoundrel’s ouvre which made a departure from his usual brand of chaotic horror. Cate Blanchett stars as Annabelle, a single mother with a very perceptive telepathic ability, which in rural USA is greeted without any skepticism by the locals. She is renowned for her gift, and often approached by people in need. The story sees her trying to locate young Jessica (Katie Holmes), who has gone missing, and discovering some nasty secrets about the people around her in the process, people she thought she knew better. Jessica’s fiance (Greg Kinnear) is desperate but clearly knows something he’s not saying. Also involved is battered housewife Valerie (Hilary Swank), her terrifying abusive boyfriend Donnie (Keanu Reeves), a local mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) who befriends Annabelle, and others. It’s an ugly tale contrasted by Blanchett’s striking beauty, which the cameras capture in all the right instances. She could be rearranging a bookshelf and still be compelling and elegant, and always is in whichever role she takes on. Reeves is a scary tornado of pent up rage and sickness, cast way against type and loving every rage fuelled second. As if the main cast wasn’t packed enough with talent, we also get stellar work from Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Rosemary Harris, a random cameo from Danny Elfman and a sly turn from J.K. Simmons as the county sheriff. What a cast, eh? Raimi puts them to good use, and each one gets their moment to shine. I’ve never seen a film by the director I haven’t loved; the guy just makes super fun, accessible genre treats that are irresistibly likable. Pair that with the evocative southern tone and Blanchett’s winning presence and you’ve got one hell of a little package. Very overlooked stuff.