Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Chicken Pi: Twisted Tales by S. Lawrence Parrish (2013) - Horror Audiobook Series Review

Chicken Pi: Twisted Tales is a collection of fifteen short horror stories written and spoken by S. Lawrence Parish (he of Where Evil Grows and Yog-Sothoth's Box fame), each one roughly twenty minutes in length. His previous audio books have been straight up narrations and featured him doing a variety of voices. The stories contained in Chicken Pi all have sound effects and music added which really gives them some added flavour.

Parrish gives all his audio work away for free and this is no exception and so the only aspect to look at is are these stories any good, and are they worth the listen? The resounding answer would be yes. I was very impressed with the variety and quality of these tales with only a few coming across as anything but excellent. While all the stories are different there are several themes that he keeps coming back to. A few of the stories concern demons and vampires while a fair few of them are post apocalyptic in nature. It is the apocalyptic ones in particular that had a real power of dread behind them.

Not all the stories in Chicken Pi were amazing, in particular I did not enjoy Givin' the Dog a Bone which was about an old man and woman trying to survive nuclear fallout, it was depressing from the start and ended a bit strangely. The other one which I did not think was as good as the others was final story Kitty Kitty about a witch and a very hard to kill cat. For that one I just straight up got confused as to what happened. That is not to say these are badly written, far from it, Parrish never disappoints with his style of writing and he is skilled at coming up with different voices for the characters in that particular unique voice of his.

On the other end of the spectrum the best tale by far is Current Events that brings real horror of nuclear Armageddon into play, it is harrowing throughout and ends in such an amazing and descriptive way that I got goose bumps hearing it, something very special there. The two parter The Prophet was also another stand out story. That one concerned a feudal based civilisation who are approaching end times and had a sense of urgency and frustration and again ended on such a blinder of an ending.

Most of the stories here finish badly for the characters being followed, it almost come to be expected that everything would go wrong and so I came to look forward to getting the ironic or deserved end to these people. A few curve balls are thrown also with the best oddity being A Fistful of Rubber that seems to be a post apocalyptic based yarn about the day after a wild party. The story is narrated by Stumpy who speaks in a very A Clockwork Orange way with his own little language that was fun to hear.

With stories set hundreds of years in the past and future, demons that crawl into people via their bottoms, aliens who can take over your mind with just a touch, Scanner style head explosions and exploding babies the variety is always consistent leading you to never know what is going to be next. This is essential listening if you are a fan of short horror stories, I cannot recommend it enough.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Tower Block (2012) - Horror Film Review

Tower Block was a film I decided to watch on the spur of the moment, the brief description for the film on Netflix caught my interest. It is a British thriller set in a tower block (as the title would suggest).

A tower block is set to be demolished but first all the council tenants in the building need to be re-housed. As such all but the top floor of this building is deserted of people. In the intro sequence a terrified young man is chased by two masked men into this place, his attempts to get assistance are met with silence by the inhabitants who don't want any trouble (with one failed exception) and he ends up being murdered by the two men. An unknown amount of time later (months at least) and the people of the block suddenly all get fired on by a deadly accurate sniper. The survivors of this initial attack make it out into the corridor but soon learn that any attempt to leave the building results in the sniper opening fire. Even worse is that many of the escape routes have been booby trapped and the exits sealed up. It seems someone is determined that everyone there is to die...

I really enjoyed Tower Block, it had a real sense of constant threat and fear that continued all the way up to the ending. It is not without its flaws though. One small annoyance is that there was no indication the prologue took place in the past, it was at least 45 minutes into the film that someone casually mentions that event in the distant past tense. A wide spectrum of poor people stereotypes all happen to live in the building. There are a pair of drug dealers, an arguing husband and wife, a single mother who abuses her children, an alcoholic, a nasty little chav and a fair few others. These initially all seem so one dimensional and also all so unlikeable that you don't really feel any worry for their well being and I found myself wishing the more annoying ones would get killed off. Sheridan Smith as Becky is the one truly likable character which is good seeing as she is the main one. As the film progresses though the survivors (there is a high body count here) really come into their own and show layers that initially they did not have. Kurtis (Jack O'Connell) as an example starts off as an angry bullying thug but as the bond with the survivors form he manages to become far more well balanced and offers some humour into what is otherwise quite a dark film.

With around 98% of the film set inside a mostly windowless building it is no surprise that the films set design is quite dank and gloomy, but it feels natural and I got flash backs to The Cube at times with such a small location used and the theme of strangers having to work together. The place is full of odd smiley face symbols that it seems the sniper has placed which made the dirty setting even more ominous (how no one noticed someone going around stencilling these things everywhere I do not know!). As mentioned before there is a high body count which even includes teens and children. With a large number of characters it keeps you on your toes trying to work out who you reckon will survive as death comes so swiftly by the sniper master (my friend pointed out it seemed a bit weird how the sniper could immediately kill anyone who shows their face regardless of where they appeared). The violence looks good and feels quite visceral, so no complaints with the special effects department.

The plot sang to me here, just wanting to find out just who the sniper was and why they were trying to kill everyone kept me glued to the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal. Without going too much into spoilers I feel it would have been better to have the prologue removed as I did feel that made the reason seem far too obvious. While the plot was quite simple the film managed to avoid becoming stale and did not outlast it's 90 minute running time. There was always something new happening and perfectly fitted into the time given. Any longer and I do feel my interest would have started to fade. Sometimes with thrillers and horrors it all ends with a dramatic, over the top finale, I was pleased to see this was not the case here though maybe it was a bit too understated (a great pay-off though).

While not without its flaws such as stereotypes and stupid blips (such as a teen who is able to identify the exact type of rifle used by the killer, as well as it's street value based purely on his experience with videogames!) I nonetheless found Tower Block to be a thrilling and addictive film and one I would certainly recommend.


Monday, 26 January 2015

Escaping the Dead (2015) - Zombie Horror Film News and 2015 Trailer

Escaping the Dead is a Danish zombie film that has been influenced by the real life drug Krokodil (previously mentioned here). For those who don't know this particular drug has the nasty as heck side effect of rotting the skin off of the users, it is the closest thing we will probably ever get to real life zombies.

In the film a new street drug is released that has the very bad side effect of turning its users into actual undead zombies. Stoner drug dealer David and his friend Ahmir get a hold of this new drug and mistaking it for cocaine they sell it at a concert with deadly effect. The film follows David as he attempts to escape the city that is quickly becoming over run.

A new trailer is included below, it looks quite low budget with some dodgy effects but who knows, it could be so bad it's good, and with zombie films you never need the biggest budget to create an enjoyable film. I was pleased to see Kim Sonderholm in the trailer; that man just gets everywhere. Also it was good to hear Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo in the film. The whole 'drugs turn people into zombies' set up has been done quite a fair bit before (Go Goa Gone and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave spring to mind) but as I always say, it can be pretty damn hard to make a zombie film that isn't somewhat entertaining. Escaping the Dead is due to be finished at the end of this year.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Stake Land (2010) - Horror Film Review

Now normally I'm not too keen on vampire films, but the trailer for Stake Land piqued my interest. This film shares far more in common with zombie films then a film about blood suckers normally would.

Stake Land starts with a mysterious man (Nick Damici) saving Martin; a teenage boy from a vampire attack which leaves the rest of his family dead. The man named as 'Mister' takes the boy under his wing and teaches him the skills needed to fight the undead. What started off as sporadic attacks out in the American countryside soon heads to populated areas and an unknown amount of time later vampire apocalypse (for a change) has swept the globe. Humans survived by banding together in barricaded townships, while the cold blooded feral like vampires roam the rest of the world. Mister is unsurprisingly a vampire hunter which earns lots of respect in this terrible new world. With rumours of an undead-less land up north (named New Eden) Mister and Martin head on the road trip to end all road trips. Along the way they collect new allies and make enemies with a powerful and dangerous cult known as 'The Brotherhood'.

A post apocalyptic vampire road movie then? It sure sets the scene well with no end of devastation and lots of bleak, sombre music that brought to mind elements of The Last of Us. The main characters are all a quiet bunch, Mister himself in particular being the understated figure head of silent suffering, while Martin's transition from scared kid to hunter is well handled. For a lot of the film there is little dialogue, the people who find themselves united together don't need deep conversations. The supporting cast also do a good job; pregnant Belle, the middle aged Nun; Sister, and the ex soldier Willie all bring something to the film. When good people die as is often the case their loss here is profoundly felt.

The vampires of Stake Land are different to the normal type. There are different types of vampire but for the most part they look very zombie like and are almost animal like in their behaviour; unable to speak and with limited intelligence they exist only to drink the blood of their victims. These creatures face all the usual weakness of their kind; sunlight burns them up, a stake through the heart stops them for good, while even garlic burns them. The special effects for the ghouls are pretty great, though that may also explain why there seems so few of them.

For a post apocalyptic world I sure did expect to see more vampires but I think the most you ever see on screen at once is around six of the things. That isn't to say there is not a lot of violence as there is a tonne of it and it doesn't shy away from having children and even babies becoming victims. As usual the real menace of this new world are the humans themselves, more specifically the Brotherhood led by Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) who is unwisely made into the films main antagonist. Loven is an over the top, unbelievable character whose screen time sucks out the quality and atmosphere built up elsewhere. It doesn't help his dialogue is all hammy and terrible.

It is all very well directed with some scenes in particular really standing out from other films as a whole. There is a very well shot scene involving a female vampire and a car for instance, while the appearance of a Santa Claus vampire later on was both messed up and darkly humorous in its framing and pay off. The human settlements offer hope into the bleak world of Stake Land with humanity banding together and singing and dancing in a way that you don't often see in the suspicious worlds of Armageddon aftermath. It made for a nice change even if these short brief interludes are all over too quickly and are a little too bit sweet and sugary to be taken seriously.

There is a lot to like with Stake Land, it shows vampires in an awesome new way and it knows how to pull (ever so gently) at your heart strings. Meanwhile the relationship between Mister and his young ward Martin is expertly handled, much better displayed by looks and actions than any amount of talking could ever do. Sad, poignant but also betrayed at times by what appears to be a low budget and an over the top antagonist, this is nonetheless well worth a watch.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse (2015) - Horror Web Series News and Interview with Justin M.Lesniewski

How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse aired its first episode on 12th January of this year. The series takes place ten years after a zombie apocalypse that swept the globe was ended and heralds the start of a second zombie apocalypse. The creators of the show have decided crowd funding is the way to go to get the rest of season 1 funded. I got an interview with the creator/writer/executive producer Justin M.Lesniewski to find out more about his vision for the show...

Can you sum up How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse in one sentence?

Sure. From a plot standpoint, here's our logline:

Ten years after the zombie apocalypse was supposedly averted, a new outbreak causes 18-year-old Norm Elman to learn the frightening truth of both the zombie threat and the safe haven that has kept him and others alive.

From a thematic standpoint:

It's the next evolution of zombies that makes us consider our humanity and why we live the way we do.

Why did you decide to do a web series about zombies when it could be said to be an over saturated genre?

With the technology that's available to create and distribute content, every genre is over saturated. Don't believe me? Go to Amazon and look at all the self-published novels. It's an amazing development in our civilization, but you can't let it stop you if you have an idea you love and want to make happen. That's why I made it--because I love it. And I believe that, with this production team, we can do it well.

Do you have the show already planned out, or are you looking to adjust it in line with feedback from fans should your campaign be successful?

I have it planned out, but plans change. Casting some of the roles caused me to reconsider and edit my outline. Sometimes things happen that cause you to reconsider your choices. Those occurrences are part of the beauty of creating a story over time rather than releasing it and being done with it. Viewer feedback and fan response could certainly have an influence. But it can go too far. I'm not an advocate for bringing Beth back in The Walking Dead, JK Rowling changing her original intended ending of Harry Potter, or how Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof handled Nikki and Paulo on LOST.

Would you say The Walking Dead is your biggest influence or is it the genre as a whole that inspires you?

My biggest influence is LOST, but the ramifications of that show on The Walking Dead are clear. As for the zombie genre in particular, my biggest influences are George A. Romero's films, as I think he used the creatures most effectively, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, and Danny Boyle's 28 Weeks series.

The promotions for the show mention you are looking to 'evolve the zombie'. What do you mean by this, or is this something that you would need to watch the show to find out? 

To understand it fully you'll need to watch the show as it's an integral part of the story, but I mean that I have a new addition to the concept that builds on, but doesn't contradict, the common definition of zombies. I don't want to say more as the specifics are revealed in the story, but the reveal is already shot. We just need to shoot all the other footage to get from Point A to Point B.

There seems to be a trend lately of people focusing on the characters rather than the undead threat they face in zombie fiction, do you plan to have a balance between introspective survival and all out action?

Yes, 100%. I love this question because I couldn't have said it any better. Balance is important in any story. Theme, character, plot, setting, and style all have to work together for a story to be effective. If you're privileging one of the others, you're hurting your story in the long run. LOST fell apart in its finale because it privileged the characters over the island. If the island isn't important, why set the series there and reveal so much of its history? The same is true for the zombie apocalypse. If people watch the series and think that the story would be the same if it were set in any other apocalypse, as can be said about The Walking Dead and many other zombie stories, then I've made a grave error in the writing process.

Your bio on the Indiegogo page says your favourite zombie film is the Dawn of the Dead remake, do you prefer running zombies to the traditional slow movers? What type are going to be used for your web series?

We're using running zombies. I think the type to use depends on the story you're telling, but it would be very difficult to use slow zombies these days. We live very fast-paced lives and can trend towards instant gratification, so I don't think audiences would understand slow zombies. There would be a disconnect there. In many ways, I think that's why Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, Boyle's 28 Weeks series, and Zombieland were so successful.

Lastly, what would you say to people undecided on whether to donate to your cause?

Did you enjoy the first episode and want to see what happens next? Then donate. Any amount helps. Seriously. We appreciate even $1. It's as simple as that. You have to understand that we're a completely independent project. We have no backing from anyone. The budget comes from our pockets. I'm doing this because it's what I live for. I love it and hope you do too. 

Need more convincing? Shoot me a tweet at the series account @how2zombie or my personal account @TheMidside or shoot me an email at

Currently the Indiegogo campaign has reached $812 of it's $10,000 goal but with 49 days left to go there is plenty of time for that to be reached. You can donate to the cause here as well as read plenty more about the show and the cast, as well as watch episode 1 of How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse. There can never be too many zombies in the world so I wish Justin and his crew all the best.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Craft (1996) - Horror Film Review

I'm about 95% sure I actually own The Craft on VHS somewhere or other, but watching it on Netflix the other day was my first actual time seeing it.

Sarah Bailey moves to a new town with her Dad to start a new life. At the local Catholic school she befriends three outcasts; timid Bonnie (Neve Campbell), bullied Rochelle, and mouthy Nancy (Fairuza Balk) who practise witchcraft together and invite her to be their fourth member. Soon after the magic spells they perform actually start working and each of the four girls gets their biggest wish to come true. With their new found power and confidence they set out to do greater and greater things but everything has it's price and soon it comes back to haunt them, Sarah in particular.

The best thing about The Craft is it's excellent 90's soundtrack (including Elastica, Portishead, and Siouxsie and the Banshees among others) it is used well also, appearing at appropriate times. Sometimes you just forget how good music was but it also has the adverse effect as marking this very much as a film of that time. The film is not actually horror per se, sure there are witches and there is a body count as well as some scenes of straight up horror (such as a house full to the brim with insects and reptiles) but this is more a teen high school flick, focusing on the different cliques that exist in the American school system.

The characters themselves are all interesting in their own ways, for the main four girls at least. They all have some depth to them, especially with crazy Nancy who yearns to get out of her trailer trash hell, and with the reasoning behind Bonnie's shyness. When these characters get evil they do a good job, Balk who goes overboard with the insanity is a real fun person to hate. For all their bad ways though they always seem a bit ineffectual, more likely to try and scare people than actually set out to do them harm (for the most part they just float around and laugh a lot), It is telling that there is not a single good male character to be found here. The boys at school are all horrid jock types, while the male parents are shown to be either abusive or missing. I guess this rode on the waves of girl power that swept the world around that time.

The Craft did seem to drag ever so slightly, around twenty minutes before the end the last real plot twist happens and from then on it is just lots of running around when things should have been tied up quicker. The final action scene is very well done though it has to be said and things all wrap up in a satisfying manner. It just seems stupid that these girls get access to working magic and are able to use it so freely with little real risk to themselves. All I will say is the magic shop lady has a lot to answer for!

Overall I really did not mind The Craft, it whiled away a few hours and entertained me and that is not a bad thing at all.


Monday, 19 January 2015

Motivational Growth (2013) - Horror Film News

Motivational Growth is a horror comedy that has won a few awards including best narrative feature, best comedy film, and best feature. It is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17th.

Ian Folivor is a depressed loner in his 30's who discovers a sentient growth living in his bathroom. This growth referred to as 'The Mold' offers to help Ian fix his life and seems to be doing a successful job. However signs start to appear that indicate The Mold may not be as benign as it claims to be...

The general set up for this film sounds similar to one of the tales I saw in a horror anthology many years ago about a creature found living in a loner guys fridge. It looks like it will be full of grossness and craziness but is certainly something that sounds interesting. Check out the trailer below.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Women in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014) - Horror Film Review

Now when I was younger I saw The Woman in Black stage production at a creepy old theatre and stuck in my mind as one of the scariest things I have ever witnessed. When Hammer Horror The Woman in Black film came out (starring Daniel Radcliffe) I never got around to watching it which is strange, especially seeing as my parents went and saw it despite them not even liking horror films. Going to watch the sequel I had a pretty strong idea in my head of what would have happened previously regardless.

Set in 1941 during World War II in England, and with London being bombed to pieces by the Germans children are being evacuated to the countryside where it is a lot safer. Angel of Death stars Phoebe Fox as Eve Parkins who is helping relocate one such bunch of youngsters to apparent safety. However for some weird reason it was decided the relocation spot would be a dilapidated, haunted mansion out in some marshlands that while safe from bombing is not without it's own peril. Soon Eve learns of a ghostly woman in black who is haunting the property and seemingly determined to kill all the children under Eve's care.

Angel of Death is a very dark film, and by that I mean it is almost devoid of colours with muted whites, greys, browns, and blacks being the order of the day. Interiors are dark and oppressive, while outside is no better with constant thick mist chocking the landscape. It is a scary film, the design of the titular ghost herself is effective with fleeting glimpses doing far more than constant exposure could ever achieve and yet most of the scares are of the jump scare variety which I always feel is a cheap way to make the audience shudder. There are so many of these jumps and they become more and more sign posted leading up to an entirely predictable twist ending. The set design is pretty robust with some locations that just scream 'get out of here' at you but a lot of the atmosphere of these places is squandered.

So while the special effects themselves were not bad the same cannot be said of the characters who at best were flat but always let down by bizarre actions. Jeremy Irvine as pilot Harry Burnstow had an interesting back story at least, but Eve's back story mostly revealed by bland dream sequences did not engage me. For a lot of the film no one believes Eve's somewhat sketchy evidence that the house they are at is haunted but then all of a sudden everyone does believe her with no real explanation given for this sudden change. With regards to plot characters appear as if by magic to push along the story. At three points during Angel of Death people miraculously appear by chance to save the day, that is three times too many in my book and further takes away the believability.

Usually in haunted house films characters resolutely refuse to leave the location the horror is occurring at and with the location here being an island that easily gets cut off from the outside world by rising marsh water I expected this would be used to contain events. I was surprised to see later in the film the plot move to a different setting which was a nice touch. That is about the only original thing that does happen. There is a creepy child who may or may not be possessed by the ghost who as is near always the case comes across as irritating rather than spooky, those dream sequences I mentioned earlier and those jump scares. I have seen it all done before and the story was just not engaging.  The main victims are children and Angel of Death doesn't shy away from showing the after effects of their brutal demises and I do admit when they later appear as messed up ghosts they were freaky.

All in all Angel of Death is just plain average. It has some decent set design and effects yet the plot is just not interesting and nothing I hadn't seen before. I failed to care about any of the characters and while I did jump a lot there was not any lasting horror to come out of this. I did feel that I was missing references to the first film in the series, so I am at least interested to go back and watch that one now.


Saturday, 17 January 2015

In the House of Flies (2012) - Horror Film News

While In the House of Flies has previously been released via digital means the 20th January marks it's first physical release. It has previously been an official selection of the British Horror Film Festival as well as spent three weeks in the iTunes Top 50 upon it's digital release there.

Set in 1988 a young innocent couple find themselves abducted by a mysterious figure (voiced by legend Henry Rollins). Locked up in a basement the figure begins a series of mind games against them.

It kinda sounds similar to Saw though with more mind torture than actual torture. The DVD release includes deleted scenes, director commentary and a documentary about the creation of the film. Check out the trailer below.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Fear Town, USA (2014) - Comedy Horror Film Review

Fear Town, USA is a comedy horror directed by Brandon Bassham and populated entriely with a group of film students. It is of course an indie film and often humour does not mix well with zero money.

Four geeks learn that there is going to be a wild party to celebrate St Blevin's day (a national holiday celebrating a pilgrim who drowned a load of Polish children). They decide to head to the party in the hope they will finally loose their virginity but along the way they cross paths with all manner of obstacles.  At the party itself a girl arrives with friends but she holds a dark supernatural secret that soon makes itself known. A psychic learns that the devil himself is also in attendance at the shindig and to top it all off in the nearby woods lurks a dangerous psychopath who has recently escaped from a mental asylum.

I was not sure what to expect of the humour but to be honest in a lot of places it is actually quite funny, only once did I actually laugh out loud but once is still an achievement. A lot of the comedy comes from silly scenarios and crazy characters. For instance the geeks get pulled over by a cop who it is discovered thought it was illegal to drink or drive rather than drink and drive, once learning his mistake he starts going over all the many innocent people whose lives he has mistakenly ruined. The geeks journey in total feels like a mini 'Dude Where's My Car?', they even get kidnapped by some lame cultists at one point just like in that film.

Meanwhile the other plot lines going on have more of a horror element to it. While it takes place in the background of the main storyline there are a variety of people killed by a figure dressed in black and wearing a welding mask, these scenes are the funniest as the characters that get killed are usually dispatched in kinda hilarious ways, from the guy in the pre credits sequence who accidentally shoots himself and his girlfriend dead while attempting to get the slasher, to the victim who is rooted to the spot screaming as the killer constantly fails to shoot him using a bow and arrow. One extended scene in which two stoners talk about how self aware they are as their friend is nosily being strangled to death in the background also was cleverly done.

Often the laughs fell flat for me, there are a few too many sexual jokes thrown in that just bounced off my humour style, they threaten to overwhelm at times especially during one protracted sex scene near the films end that had a real whiff of the bad side of Austin Powers films, there was also a joke about paedophiles early on that luckily had a nice ending to it but it was a bit uncomfortable for a time. Luckily the acting throughout is pretty solid for an indie, there are a lot of characters that appear and there were none where I thought to myself that they were terrible actors. It is always a pleasure to see a low budget film with good acting and good effects at times

For the most part Fear Town, USA is just too patchy to be an amazing film, the many different plot threads seem unrelated with sub plots that didn't grab my attention. The geek storyline was the most well rounded one but others such as the mystery of which person at the party was actually the devil in disguise were not that interesting or well done. It shows some decent nods to the horrors of the 70's and 80's summed up in one all too brief  funny scene that features special 3D (of the old style red and green variety no less!) and even sees fit to feature a medley song that was bearable.

Overall there are laughs to be had here, there is some low budget horror that is actually quite fun and features a high body count, but a few too many dick jokes spoil what is often a witty script. Still I would say if you want some horror comedy in your life then this is not a waste of 90 minutes and it is free to watch online at places such as YouTube.