31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 19- Dawn of the Dead (2004)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 19- Dawn of the Dead (2004)

A remake of the much loved and revered masterpiece Dawn of the Dead was always going to be sneered at by fans and film scholars alike when the project was announced.

I actually saw the film on it’s release when I was visiting Glasgow and was expecting to roll my eyes constantly whilst saying ‘Psst!’ under my breath a few hundred times (but not too loudly…) during the film’s running time. I was pleasantly surprised though. Whilst it was no worthy competition for Romero’s original film in terms of it’s coveted place in horror history, it was far from mediocre. In fact, it was really rather good!

The opening scenes show central character Ana finish a long shift as a nurse at her local hospital and return home. The next day a little girl from her neighbourhood comes into her house and shows that all it not well. She has changed into a zombie and fatally attacks her partner, ripping out a chunk of his neck with her teeth. Very quickly, he then springs back to life and also in a zombiefied state like the girl who attacked him.

Ana gets to her car and we then see that the very fabric of society has broken down almost completely. People are either dead and running around as zombies and trying to kill others, or they are still human but have either gone completely crazy (witness Ana’s neighbour armed with a gun) or are in ‘survival of the fittest’ mode with no regard for anyone else around them (someone attempts to hijack Ana’s car by trying to jump into it).

After running off the road, Ana crosses paths with cop Kenneth who, with other characters (one of them pregnant!), goes to the neighbouring mall for refuge.

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The mall is where the majority of the rest of the movie takes place just like the original. There’s even a nod to the first film with a sign for a shop called Gaylen Ross. The theme of a crisis bringing out the best and worst in a person’s character is explored well here with the security guards who are already in the shopping centre having marked it as their territory and only letting the new arrivals take refuge if they surrender their weapons and adhere to their rules and laws. This is very Lord of the Flies.

The next day even more characters are interjected into the narrative by way of a delivery truck and we now have our cast in place for the rest of the film. And this is one of the major strengths for the remake and that is that the characters are so brilliantly sketched and well rounded. There is a fantastic diversity and range within the characters with some changing by the time of the film’s conclusion so that our expectations are constantly being challenged and contradicted with seemingly vile people redeeming themselves and vice versa.

The film also perceptively displays human relationships at work. On first arrival most of the characters rub along pretty well. But being in a confined space together soon causes divisions and differences to develop and flare up. The film soon becomes something akin to events in a season of Big Brother but with, obviously, more at stake.

As well as great characterisation we also get great make up and effects. The special effects for the film were actually by the company owned by Heather Langenkamp aka Nancy Thompson from the Nightmare on Elm Street films! She should be very proud with the results as they are fabulous.

Scott Reiniger, Ken Foree and Tom Savini from the original all get cameos well as the Gaylen Ross reference/homage.

The zombies in this film move a lot faster than their blue-skinned counterparts from the original which massively divided fans with Romero himself saying that he didn’t like this aspect. I personally think it doesn’t really bother me as it’s something new just like the film itself. There’s also a new rule regarding the dead turning into zombies with there being a set time of a few seconds before the dead arise again. I thought this was also an interesting new aspect of this remake/reimagining.

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There is also some great humour in the movie also. Witness the ‘Celebrity Squares’ game that Kenneth plays with his gun shop buddy who is trapped on the roof of his business nearby. This also blossoms into a great moment of camaraderie and dare I say bromance between the two characters. Again, this echoes the same kind of relationship that Scott and Peter had in the original. I thought that it was great that this was reproduced in the remake.

I have to say though that on watching this film again for this review after seeing it on it’s original release brought diminishing returns this time around. It was almost like when you know what to expect with this remake half of the fun has gone.

This remake will never come close to the original film. But on first viewing it was interesting, innovative and had some artistic merit. It’s also a great rollercoaster ride that didn’t make me roll my eyes once.

***and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 18- Children of the Damned (1964)

A sequel to Village of the Damned which is less a continuation of the plot and instead like a film containing characters who possess the same powers as the children in the original but under different circumstances.

Whereas the original took part in a countryside idyll, the action within this film is based in London. A gifted child called Paul is studied and observed by the relevant governmental authorities. Other almost supernaturally gifted children are also discovered and brought to the city so that UNESCO researchers can witness them at work. They are brought from places as varied as China, Russia and Nigeria.

These gifted children then abscond from each of their respective embassies that they are staying in and take refuge in an abandoned church. It’s here that the authorities and the army find them and have to decide whether to try to coax the children out or destroy them if they pose a threat to humanity. It’s here that a tense standoff encroaches.

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This film as opposed to the original is firmly on the side of the children who we see as persecuted and in need of human support. The original depicted them as inhuman, devoid of emotion and empathy and very much as villains in a horror film. Children of the Damned elicits sympathy and compassion for the children who are shown as unjustly discriminated against, ostracised and treated as freaks in many ways. Having high levels of intelligence and other powers such as telekinesis are gifts but also hindrances. Witness the speech Paul’s mother shrieks at him that she should have destroyed him before she took him in her arms for the first time.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for this film before I actually watched it. The few examples I could find were derogatory and very unflattering. They were also wrong, in my humble opinion. Children of the Damned may not be as good as the original film it is a sequel to but is still a vivid, well written, engaging film that is well worth a view. The shots of 60’s London are beautiful. A special mention to Ian Hendry (Repulsion) who heads a stellar cast.

***and a half out of *****

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31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 17- Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 17- Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

The head of a theatre troupe Alan (think of a cross between Charles Manson and Timothy Claypole in lurid and very colourful 60’s clothing) takes his fellow thespians (who he refers to as his ‘children’) to an island which is used as a kind of graveyard for dead criminals. He then assumes the role of a religious leader, puts on robe he just happens to have brought with him and  proceeds to try and raise the dead using his knowledge of magic. Whilst this (seemingly) doesn’t work they dig up the dead body of a man called Orville. However later on in the film the dead do indeed rise again and get their revenge. They board the actor’s boat at the end of the film.

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The director of this film is listed as Benjamin Clark but is in fact Bob Clark who went on to make the masterpieces Dead of Night and Black Christmas. Allan Ormsby who plays Alan went on to direct the excellent Ed Gein biopic Deranged.

This film has an interesting vibe to it that is similar to the counterculture early 70’s vibe of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (but without the violence or genuine transgression). This is gritty low budget filmmaking that points to the drive-in but also to the arthouse realm.

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The colour palette of the cast’s wardrobe is like watching an acid trip with each character wearing a different very bright colour and when more than one cast member is in the frame together it’s a trip. In fact theres a shot in the movie of the cast members all lines up behind each other and it’s like a spectrum of colour. The audience members on certain substances must have loved this sequence.

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This is an interesting film but far from being some kind of 60’s classic. The title is very misleading also.

**and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 16- House of Whipcord (1974)

It’s 1974. A French starlet who isn’t averse to modelling with no clothes on is seduced by an enigmatic young man who asks to take her home to meet his parents. However, his home appears to be some kind of old institution like a long forgotten prison. And this is exactly what it is. His mother is the sadistic Governor of her own prison where her son takes flagrant examples of the new ‘permissive’ society so that they can be punished and even executed because of their lax ways.

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This is Within These Walls on steroids. I love the fact that there is a notice at the start of the film that reads “This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment.” This is obviously a film that is parodying and sticking up two fingers to the puritanical types who didn’t like that the society of the time was becoming more permissive and free, the ‘Bring Back Hanging’ brigade. Britain was moving away from it’s more conservative ways and some weren’t happy about this as they flocked to fill the letters pages of every national newspaper. Precedents were falling and were set to fall even further as during the 70’s. One prime example of this movement that directly affected film was Mary Whitehouse and her Caravan of Light both of which would try to get exploitation films like House of Whipcord banned. Whitehouse was massively active during the Video Nasties furore that would occur during the next decade.

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But within the film’s duration there are currents of dissent as prisoners held at the institution secretly plan to overthrow the evil wardens and hopefully escape this kangeroo prison. This film adheres to but also subverts the conventions of prison genres but especially the ‘women in prison’ genre and only excludes lesbianism which maybe for the time in Britain would have been a step too far for that still conservative time. Had it have been included then the film may have fallen foul of the BBFC. The theme of an uprising is one of the prime tropes of this genre and I love that this was so brilliantly depicted. But I also love the result of this which ironically delivers back to the prison the woman who had successfully escaped.

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Special mentions go out to Barbara Markham as the deranged Governor and Sheila Keith as one of the sadistic wardens. House of Whipcord was called Flagellations abroad. Quite. 

Another Pete Walker masterpiece. Now, can we have a Blu Ray boxset of his back catalogue please?

****and a half out of *****

 

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 15- Village of the Damned (1960)

Mysteriously one day everyone in the village of Midwich suddenly lapses into unconsciousness. After a few hours everyone just as mysteriously wakes up. Two months later every woman in the village who is able to become pregnant finds that they are pregnant.  Whats more the embryos are found to develop abnormally fast.

The children look eerily alike with blond hair and strange eyes. They are also shown to possess intelligence way beyond their years. As the children grown older they are shown to be able to control other’s actions through using their ‘stare’ in which their eyes seemingly glow and hypnotise their prey. They are also able to read other’s minds. As if that wasn’t enough, they display a telepathic bond between themselves also.

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There soon develops a separation between the ‘normal’ children and indeed people of the village and the ‘gifted’ children. The twain very rarely mix except within their respective families.

But then strange and unaccountable deaths of locals start to occur in the village. One example is of a villager who was an excellent swimmer suddenly drowning. Another example finds the children causing a man to crash his car into a wall at high speed. The dead man’s brother tries to avenge his death but is forced by the children to shoot himself instead.

The children appear to have a complete lack of empathy, compassion or indeed, humanity. They appear to be complete devoid of emotion or warmth.

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When dealing with such entities it is realised that drastic measures have to be taken as has been demonstrated by other countries who have also shown evidence of similar mutant children in recent years.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you! The ending is a real shocker! In fact this is a superb adaptation of one of my favourite books (The Midwich Cuckoos) by one of my favourite authors (John Wyndham- and if you haven’t read any of his books I implore you to read some NOW!)

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Amazing direction, perfectly acted, a great sense of tension until the shocking conclusion. This film wasn’t just taboo then but also feels taboo now, such is the power of the material. This was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.

There was a VERY funny parody of this movie within The Simpsons with a new movie called The Bloodening playing at a Springfield drive-in. Have a look on YouTube for the clip. It’s The Simpsons at their best.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 14- Schizo (1976)

This is another Pete Walker horror sleazefest (hooray!!!)

Figure skater Samantha is about to get married to wealthy businessman Alan. Her mother’s former partner has just been released from prison and starts stalking her, travelling from the North East to London to accomplish the job.

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‘Hello? Police? I think I’m being stalked…’

This film mines into the whole phenomenon of being followed, peeping toms and was ahead of it’s time in depicting stalking which wasn’t widely known about at the time.

The film also gives Hitchcock-esque psychological explanations as to what schizophrenia is (again, a term that was relatively unknown by many at the time) to help the audience better understand what they are going to see and the kind of mental condition which would drive the killer to carry out their plans.

But is all as it seems? In a word- NO! The film keeps us guessing as to the killer’s identity right up until the end and takes us on a voyage through 70’s locales to do so with impeccably decorated flats and the London streets of the time (again, Walker is so good at capturing the time and place that he sets his films within. Here we get gorgeous snapshots of a bygone era and a time capsule of London in 1976 whether it be the exterior of King’s Cross railway station, the inside of a supermarket or the grimy flophouses cum hostels of N1).

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The cast are all fantastic especially Lynne Frederick as Samantha and an early appearance by Stephanie Beecham as her best friend Beth. There’s even John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton and Queenie Watts in supporting roles.

Watch out for the literally eye-popping clairvoyant meeting scene which is both terrifying and very funny. Walker also has the ability of making something truly scary and unnerving but bookending this with dark observational humour. The character of Joy embodies this perfectly.

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Another Walker masterpiece. He really is worthy of more praise and to be reappraised as the King of 70’s British Horror.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 13- The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A novel twist on the ‘demonic possession’ sub-genre. This is more a courtroom drama regarding the priest who tried to save a girl (Emily Rose) from possession by a demon but which resulted in her death. Father Moore faces life imprisonment for his activities trying to save the teenage girl’s life.

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There are of course flashbacks to the actual possession and how it manifested itself and also the resulting exorcism ritual.

Any film that deals with this topic will of course draw comparisons with The Exorcist and any film going up against the 1974 classic will ALWAYS lose.

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But The Exorcism of Emily Rose is passable even if it employs the broadest brushstrokes and whilst it may look great, there isn’t a great deal of detail, nuance or depth to the events.

If you flicked onto this whilst channel surfing this is perfectly enjoyable. But don’t scratch too far beneath the surface because you won’t find much.

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**and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 12- Frightmare (1974)

***TRIGGER WARNING!!!*** This is a Pete Walker movie.

In 1957 Dorothy Yates and her husband Edmund are convicted of murder and cannibalism (!) and sent to an asylum until the film’s present day (1974). They are then released supposedly fully cured and living a quiet life. But are they? The answer, of course, is no! The film shows Dorothy not being cured at all but using the cover of giving tarot readings to people who she then kills and eats.

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The film also deals with Jackie (Edmund’s daughter from a previous marriage) who regularly visits the couple offering gifts of animal brains whilst falsely telling them that they are actually human remains and that she is actually killing people so that her stepmother doesn’t relapse and remains free. It is also revealed that her father had actually faked being complicit in the crimes and faked madness so that he could stay with his wife. Jackie lives with Debbie, a wayward 15 year old who is the actual daughter of the couple who was placed into an orphanage as a baby just after her parents were institutionalised. She has recently been expelled from there as she is too much for the authorities to deal with and so spends most of her time with her boyfriend who is the leader of a violent biker gang.

Wow. There’s a lot going on in this film that is typical Pete Walker fare in that it’s dark, violent and dares to go to the places that other milder horror films dare not go. Which is exactly why I love him. He knows exactly what horror fans want and he delivers it in spades.

But there is more than meets the eye. Frightmare is also blackly funny, almost (and intentionally) vaudevillian at times and extremely intelligent. This is not just a horror movie but also a funny and very perceptive satire on family values and blood (pardon the pun) being thicker than water.

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Add to that gorgeous cinematography, amazing locales (loving the London scenes and surrounding area shots) and a moment in time being captured not just on film but also regarding film (this was a boon time for British horror with Hammer, Tigon, Amicus and directors like Walker all making great horror movies which would do amazing business at the box office).

I love the scene where Jackie drags her new boyfriend out of a screening of Blow Up. What a great statement on art movies which were then in vogue in some quarters of the mainstream.

All of the characters are brilliantly drawn and portrayed fantastically well with Walker regular Sheila Keith playing Dorothy with twisted relish. She is also able to be completely nuts one minute and then change into a repentant innocent little wife persona when her husband has seen what she’s done.

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The magnificent Sheila Keith

Kim Butcher as Debbie is also great when it comes to portraying a young girl with the quality to make others do her evil bidding for her. This is shown when she tells her biker boyfriend about the barman who wouldn’t serve her but then embellishes the story. Her boyfriend and his biker friends wait for him after the nightclub they are in has closed up to give him a good hiding. She reminds me of Chris Hargensen from Carrie.

The film hits every target it aims for with a bullseye and is pretty much perfect. I honestly think Frightmare is a twisted masterpiece.

***** out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 11- The Sorcerers (1967)

A Tigon film from 1967 regarding Marcus, a doctor (played by Boris Karloff) who practices hypnosis. His wife Estelle is also part of his practice as they search for a suitable subject for their experiments. Step forward swinging 60’s hip-cat Mike Roscoe (played by future Saint Ian Ogilvy) who Marcus picks up in a Wimpy bar (it sounds well dodgy, eh?!) Roscoe follows Marcus back to his house and his hypnosis machine whilst being promised good times with no consequence before Marcus uses the machine on him.

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After undergoing the hypnosis machine (this sequence is very aesthetically pleasing. Think of the inner sleeve portraits of the band from The Velvet Underground and Nico album with the projectiles of dots over their faces and you’re almost there) we learn that Marcus and his wife are able to experience whatever Mike is experiencing (but this is a double-edged sword as any physical injuries that Mike sustains will also be inflicted on the couple) with the pair being able to influence this by planting thoughts in Mike’s mind to force him to do whatever they wish.

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But with such an ability to control someone’s life there comes great responsibility and you will learn the controller’s true intentions and characters. Marcus becomes almost like an angel on Mike’s shoulder whilst his wife Estelle becomes the opposite and it isn’t long before she’s forcing him to beat up and even murder those around him. She even destroys the hypnosis machine when Marcus suggest deprogramming Mike’s current mentally malleable state.

This film is terrific but I knew it would be as it’s directed by Michael Reeves who made the similarly amazing Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm in the States). A fantastic premise, engaging characters but also very poignant as London life in the 60’s is captured beautifully from the ‘new’ of the hip clubs Mike resides in through to the ‘old’ of the streets, pubs and newsagents of everyday life. This film is like a time capsule and photographed handsomely.

The cast are uniformly brilliant but it’s the covertly evil Estelle, the Lady Macbeth of the film who steals the show. Her performance is astonishing as her face and eyes seemingly mutate and become more evil as her character does.

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A classic.

****and a half out of *****

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

31 Days of Halloween 2020- Day 10- Bloody New Year (1987)

I knew very little about Bloody New Year prior to watching it for this review. I thought it might be another slasher movie themed around yet another public holiday just like New Year’s Evil.

How wrong I was! Every now and again I watch a film that is so ‘out there’ that I think to myself ‘What the hell was that?!’ Bloody New Year is one such film.

We see New Year celebrations at a small coastal hotel with the guests forming a conga and leaving the function room with only one woman remaining. The action then shoots forward to the 80’s whereby some young adults are at a funfair and see an American girl being harassed on the waltzers by some locals/carnies. They decide to rescue her but piss off the carnies in the process who chase after them. They all get into a boat and sail away to a small local island to escape them. They run aground and have to swim/wade to shore. Once there they see a small hotel in the distance and decide to go there to dry off and freshen up. Things turn increasingly weird when they get there.

This film is actually British made and feels like one of the Look and Read dramas that were made for schools in the UK in the 80’s. In fact I seem to remember seeing one which was called Fairground! (loving the exclamation mark!) in 1983. Its almost like this film was written for (and possibly by) a bunch of 8 years olds. That’s not to put the film down but just to point out that the whole film holds a remarkably non-jaded and innocent air to events that unfurl within the movie. 

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Notice the embossed video sleeve for the UK release. Maybe this is where the majority of the film’s budget went towards.

Bloody New Year is cheaply made, the special effects are sub-par, the events that happen within the hotel feel like a string of cliches. In fact, the film feels like a bunch of kids were given some video nasties to watch and then the film’s writers asked them what they had seen and noted their exaggerated recollections down and used them as the plot of this movie.

Whilst all of these points feel like criticisms, amazingly THEY’RE NOT! I watched it, was left with the feeling of ‘What the…?!’ when it finished but also realised that I had loved it! And that is one of the things about cult cinema- the film you hold dear might be completely inept and a poorly executed movie resplendent with shoddy production values. But it might have an air or an atmosphere to it that is specific to that film and that film alone. And Bloody New Year has this in spades. 

I love the fact that it is British made, with the male characters looking like contestants from a 1987 episode of Blind Date. They’re all mullets and C&A/Burton’s clothing. The fashions exhibited by the female characters is no better. It’s such a shame when they decide to change out of their clothes into the 1950’s togs they find at the hotel. 

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Mullets and clothes from C&A. One of many reasons to love Bloody New Year

The chain of events that happen in the seemingly possessed hotel feel like a million miles away from The Shining. In fact, instead of merely regurgitating the events from Kubrick’s film albeit with a fraction of the budget (although there are unavoidable similarities regarding past events being held in both locales), the film seemingly goes down the route of using The Evil Dead as a primary influence. This is interesting as the filmmakers must have seen the film, admired it’s low budget ethos (they knew that this was the route to go down for their film with it’s apparent lack of a sizeable budget) and how it worked admirably for Sam Raimi (and also how the film was absolutely huge and not just in the UK because of the video nasty furore and the film being banned but also worldwide) . Thus within Bloody New Year we get bodily dismemberment, characters turning into zombies/demons and even a male character who returns to the hotel only to then turn into a zombie/demon. There even a scene that takes place in the woods near the hotel in which they seemingly come to life and sounds of people’s laughter (in reality possibly a sitcom laugh track obtained by the filmmakers) being heard by the characters trying to escape this particular madness. There is even a POV shot with the camera rushing at the characters through the woods like Raimi used to great effect in his film. 

Then there is the make-up used for the effects in the film that looks like it was done by a GCSE art group. A trick within low budget filmmaking is not to focus on the make up or effects for too long especially if they were done on the cheap. This film bravely chooses to go the opposite route and focus on them in lingering shots. Potentially not a wise move but another quality of the film that makes it so endearing.

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The makeup and hair expertise of the film

I’m loving the fact that one of the deaths was seemingly inspired by The Exorcist with a character’s neck (one of the carnies from the beginning of the film who hated the group so much that they actually went to the trouble of finding another boat and sailing to the island after the youngsters to wreak revenge) being twisted around not just once but multiple times for added horror effect.

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Also within this mess is the fact that within the hotel seemingly inanimate objects have the power to come alive and attack the group (a fishing net and carved head on a bannister being but two), the character of a ghost chambermaid who reappears and then disappears numerous times during the film’s running time and a sequence involving all of the monsters/demons/zombies coming together to ask the two human characters to just give in and ‘join us’ (again, The Evil Dead influence resounds loudly!).

Look out for the scene near the end where the house seemingly gets bored of the couple of characters who are still human and just chucks them out of one of it’s windows. Hilarious.

Blend all of these ingredients together and you have a cheap horror movie made for the straight to video market in the UK where the whole ‘video nasty’ moral panic was going through a second wave (possibly because Sam Raimi had just released The Evil Dead 2, ironically). Bloody New Year should have been bogged down by it’s seemingly negative aspects and forgotten about.

But that’s the thing. Even though it should be rubbish, it’s not! One major plus is that it’s never boring. My interest never flagged during the runtime and I was gripped until the end. The film has so much wide-eyed innocence to it and that fact that it feels like an especially bloody ‘made for schools’ special or episode of Dramarama that it works. It also has heart. This is cult cinema at it’s purest and before you ask I would never call this ‘so bad, it’s good’ (I would never call any film that redundant term). It has qualities that any number of big budget horror films will never have. I’d see this again in a heartbeat. I think this is infinitely better than It and the recent Halloween reimagining put together.

And the strange thing is that others agree with me. I thought I was going mad at how much I enjoyed this film and so I did something that I rarely do- I search online for other reviews. Sure there were the idiots who said that this was trash. But there were others who loved the film also despite it’s flaws or limitations. I’m not mad after all! There’s even a Cinema Snob episode devoted to it.

I look forward to buying the Blu Ray release of this from the States on Vinegar Syndrome. Fortunately this film is also on YouTube here.

**** out of *****