THE RECKONING (2021)
Period thriller takes place in 1665 during The Great Plague of London. Pretty wife and mother Grace (Charlotte Kirk) is widowed when the sickness takes her husband (Joe Anderson). Her landlord Squire Pendleton (Steven Waddington) requests a lecherous way for her to pay her rent and when she refuses, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her arrested. In the dungeons, a battle of wills thus takes place as cruel and sadistic inquisitor John Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) tries to get a resistant Grace to confess to the false charges.
Violent and tedious flick is directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion) from his script along with star Charlotte Kirk and Edward Evers-Swindell. As such, it starts out interesting, but degenerates into a dull torture show, for the next hour, as Moorcroft gets crueler and crueler to get Grace to confess. There are some interesting nightmare sequences, which are effective, and like most Marshall flicks there is a healthy amount of blood and gore. There are even some feminist messages mixed in with all the cruelty, about the treatment of woman at that time and about abusive relationships. Flick does pick up a bit in the last act, when it turns into an action/revenge flick with Grace turning the tables and getting some payback. Charlotte Kirk and Sean Pertwee do give strong performances, which add a little weight, as does Christopher Drake’s strong score. Overall, kind of disappointing, considering Marshall’s previous flicks were all very entertaining to one degree or another and his Game of Thrones episodes were quite good, as well. Available on Amazon Prime, if you want to give it a look.
THE DESCENT PART 2 (2009)
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For those who have not seen Neil Marshall’s 2005 flick The Descent, sequel details will reveal crucial plot points for the original film. SPOILERS AHEAD!…
Neil Marshall’s The Descent made an impact when released in 2005 and is now regarded by some as one of the best horrors of the 2000s. No surprise that a sequel was eventually made, though Marshall opted to only executive produce. The story picks up two days later, but like the edited American ending, allows Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) to escape the caves. She’s found, as a search for the lost women is underway and hospitalized. Local Sheriff Vaines (Gavin O’Herlihy) decides to bring the traumatized Sarah back into the caves, to lead the search team in finding her companions. Obviously, the creatures from the first film await them.
This time around, the film is directed and competently by Jon Harris from a script by James McCarthy, J Blakeson and James Watkins. The good points are, while not nearly as consistent as the first film, there are still some very claustrophobic scenes, such as pretty rescue team member Cath (Anna Skellern) getting trapped, like a happy meal, inside a pile of boulders, with hungry cave dwellers waiting outside. There are some brutal action sequences, some really good and abundant gore and the film moves fairly quickly at 93 minutes. The cast are all good, especially Krysten Cummings as Deputy Rios, and the returning cast members from the original are solid in the reprising of their roles. On a pure entertainment level, it’s an efficient enough sequel. The downsides are mostly with the script and story. First off, it’s odd they fashioned the plot after the U.S. edited ending with traumatized Sarah escaping the cave system and here being hospitalized. It doesn’t seem necessary, as she goes right back into the caves anyway. They could have just found her in the cave and had the same effect and, to be honest, she isn’t much help once underground, anyway. She also becomes a suspect when they start to find bodies, but that plot point doesn’t even last long enough to have much effect. Next, it’s a bit farfetched that the sheriff would be allowed to remove a traumatized woman from the hospital to go spelunking in the very place that traumatized her. It’s also hard to believe that the same sheriff, who has grown up around the mines all his life, would fire a gun inside a cave system. It’s a weak and obvious plot excuse to trap our new group in a cave-in. Biggest plot annoyance…SPOILER ALERT!…is that after Marshall ended The Descent on the powerful note of Sarah getting revenge on the egotistical Juno (Natalie Mendoza), for sleeping with her husband and leaving Beth (Alex Reid) to die, the sequel finds a battle worn Juno still alive and even has she and Sarah basically putting aside their differences to become comrades in arms. It completely shites on what was a really strong emotional moment of payback in the previous film’s climax….END SPOILER ALERT! Finally, the WTF ending just doesn’t work and is again a weak attempt at giving us one last shock…and set up a part 3 that we never got.
Ultimately, the flick is a mixed bag. From an action/horror level it’s got a lot of attack sequences, some suspenseful moments, a bit of claustrophobia and some abundant and good gore. The critters are a bit familiar now, but are still effective and their make-up is good. In the negative, the story not only uses the less impactful, edited U.S. ending as a springboard, but people who have cave and mine experience also do stupid things to put our characters in harm’s way. Worst of all, it brings back a character whose fate gave the first film’s climax powerful resonance and in a way that reverses a powerful character moment between her and Sarah. Overall, it’s entertaining enough and worth a look for fans of The Descent, though don’t expect anything near an equal and some plot points may irritate you. The Descent Part 2 is streaming free on Tubi, if you are interested.
Rated 3 (out of 4) pick axes.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is back from comic book page to movie screen and unfortunately, without Ron Perlman and Guillermo del Toro. Not the conclusion of the previous film’s proposed trilogy, it’s a new origin story with a new cast and a far darker and somewhat less humorous tone. This latest incarnation finds Hellboy (Stranger Things’ David Harbour) dealing with both the truth of his destiny to bring about the apocalypse and the resurrection of the Blood Queen Nimue (Milla Jovovich), who’d love to help him. The heroic demon has to wade through an army of creatures and even some close to home betrayals to try and bring her down and save the world.
Reboot is directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall from a script by Mike Mignola and Andrew Cosby. As such, it is darker, edgier and more of a horror film than the PG-13 superhero films that preceded it. There are gallons of blood and gore spattered on the screen as Hellboy and allies, psychic Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane), were-beast Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) and his “father” Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) battle dozens of monsters, demons and mythical creatures. There is a lot of bloody action and while it lacks the charm and fun of del Toro’s flicks, it is entertaining enough in it’s own right. Marshall’s visual style is different than del Toro’s, but no less spectacular, as we are treated to all sorts of monsters including a wrestling vampire, the pig-like Gruagach (Stephen Graham), Slavic folk legend Baba Yaga and a trio of hungry giants. The film has it’s stumbling points, such as that it is rather plot heavy with elements of everything from monsters of myth to King Arthur, Merlin and Excalibur. We also get another retelling of Hellboy’s origin that isn’t different enough to make it necessary, though this flick does delve deeper into who he really is. We also once again get glimpses of his apocalyptic destiny that are very familiar to what we have already seen. Sure this is a reboot, but it recovers quite a bit of old ground without enough innovation to keep it fresh. The film feels a little overloaded with all that goes on, though ironically, the final confrontation with Nimue came across as a bit underwhelming. It’s over quicker than one would expect after a two hour build up. No it’s not del Toro’s Hellboy, but it’s not the train-wreck early word makes it out to be, either.
As for Marshall’s cast, Harbour is solid as Hellboy. He doesn’t quite have Perlman’s roguish charm and arrogant swagger, but he actually is pretty good in the role. McShane is a veteran actor and his Professor Bruttenholm is less the doddering old man than John Hurt’s interpretation and is given a bit more of a gruff, grizzled demeanor. Kim is also fine as the macho soldier with a ferocious secret in his B.P.R.D. operative Daimio. He and Hellboy butt heads at first, but we know they will bond at some point. Sasha Lane is cute and feisty as the psychic Alice and Jovovich is a suitable enough villain, though never really given strong enough material to let her unleash her inner Maleficent. She could have been a bit more over-the-top. The dozens of CGI supporting monsters are rendered well enough, though some appear a bit more cartoony than others.
In conclusion, this reboot is not as memorable as del Toro’s adaptations, yet is not an insult to them either. Neil Marshall has a heavier hand than Guillermo and this flick stretches it’s R-rated limits, but he also creates some impressive otherworldly sequences with a cool array of beasts and critters. The film is loaded with action, but also felt a bit bloated at times with a lot of plot elements. It has a decent cast and if we can’t have Perlman, Harbour isn’t a bad replacement. Not the mess early word has made it out to be, though not an equal to the previous cinematic incarnations that came before it.
Rated 3 (out of 4) rebooted Hellboys.
THE AXIOM (2017)
Indie horror finds pretty McKenzie (Hattie Smith) and her brother Mark (Zac Titus) traveling with friends to the expansive Cinder Park to find their lost sister Marylyn (Maria Granberg). They are told by local bar owner, Leon (William Kircher) that Marylyn has gone through a portal in the woods that leads to an alternate dimension called “The Axiom”. Desperate to find her sister, McKenzie follows his directions, despite her disbelief and soon she and her friends find out The Axiom exists and it is a dangerous place indeed.
Alternate dimension spin on the traditional cabin in the woods horror…and there is a cabin…is written and directed by the aptly named Nicholas Woods. It’s a low budget indie, but one that tries to freshen up the traditional deep woods horror with some inventive twists. It has some effective moments, as our group of five meet some strange beings in this otherworldly place and experience delusion and madness amongst themselves. There is a vague explanation as to how this portal got there and director Woods knows not to let his ambitions exceed his budget. There is some effective violence and bloodshed and the sparse seen occupants of The Axiom are well rendered, mostly with practical effects. The cast try hard, with Hattie Smith making a very suitable final girl. Add in murder, betrayal and a last act that goes in an interestingly different direction and it’s an offbeat and imaginative effort that’s definitely worth a look. Also stars Taylor Flowers, Nicole Dambro and Michael Peter Harrison as Edgar, Darcy and Gerrik, respectively, the rest of the group of friends.
You can fInd The Axiom on Amazon Prime.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray
Tales Of Halloween is a spooky fun 2015 Halloween anthology flick that has grown on me quite a lot since my initial review (see full review here) and has finally arrived on blu-ray a year later. This multi-story horror has been released by Epic pictures in a four disc special edition that is available from their website store, HERE.
As for the feature film itself, there is both a blu-ray and DVD version. As for the technical aspects of the blu-ray feature disc…
The picture is gorgeous, the colors vibrant and really represents well the visual styles of all the directors and their cinematographers on the ten tales told here. The disc is presented in the original 2.39.1 widescreen aspect ratio, preserving the film’s intended dimensions. The sound is in 5.1 surround sound with alternate 2.0 and basic stereo tracks for those without home theater sound systems. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. A nice presentation to enjoy this holiday horror!
Now on to the extensive extras which make this 4-disc set even more appealing!…
The extras start out with a production diary covering the 23 days of shooting that comes complete with interviews with cast and crew and some fun behind the scenes footage. In the bonus features, we get a behind the scenes reel…which does repeat a lot of what we saw in the production diaries…and an examination of the filming of one of the scenes from Mike Mendez’s gruesomely comic Friday The 31st, complete with storyboards. We also get a deleted scene from one of the best stories, Grim Grinning Ghost and are treated to replays of the segments Sweet Tooth, Trick, Ding Dong and This Means War all with additional bonus commentary, aside from the commentary track that accompanies the movie on the feature film discs. We also get eight short films from a few of the filmmakers involved, some of which are definitely worth checking out. There are also storyboards, a photo gallery, trailers and some pop-up video commentary that can be activated on certain stories on the feature blu-ray. A nice selection of extras.
The fourth and final disc is a CD featuring the film’s soundtrack which includes all the music from the segments and wraparound by artists like Lalo Schifrin, Christopher Drake, Joseph Bishara and more.
All of the discs are region free and can be played anywhere and the set also comes with two trading cards, too!
I really have come to appreciate and enjoy this flick beyond what my initial review reflects. It is now part of my traditional Halloween viewing, as it is loaded with Halloween spirit and imagery and I would love to see a follow-up with yet more filmmakers creating Halloween tales as in this film. If you liked this movie and have become endeared to it like I have, this 4-disc set is a must!
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Okay British horror has a young train guard (Ed Speleers) presiding over a late night passenger train heading out of London on a stormy night. While traveling through some dense woodland, a minor accident strands the train and it’s small group of passengers and crew, in the middle of nowhere. Being stuck in the woods is the least of their problems, as they soon find themselves stalked by some kind of vicious and hungry predator, one only heard of in fairy tales…and horror movies.
Despite the simple premise, this werewolf flick has four writers attached, including Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Game Of Thrones). But, it’s veteran special make-up effects man turned director, Paul Hyett that lets us down somewhat, as he fails to give the film any real intensity or suspense. The film does have some atmosphere, but with a savage beast lurking just outside the train cars, you’d think we’d be feeling a lot more dread or tension. The film is directed very by-the-numbers and is a bit too slow paced for it’s own good. The cast of stereotypical characters are all very bland, too, so we never really get endeared to anyone and our strongest reaction is to the wolves themselves and in hating selfish douchebag, Adrian (Eliot Cowan), who is the standard ‘sacrifice others to save himself’ character. Not to mention commonsense things like, don’t they keep track of their trains in England and so, therefor, why doesn’t anyone at HQ notice one of it’s trains has stopped in the middle of nowhere. The good points are that the werewolves are not only interestingly designed but well-rendered and look pretty cool onscreen. They make an impression and Hyett does give their attack sequences some ferociousness and there is plentiful, top-notch gore to represent their carnage. It’s a shame Hyett couldn’t keep the intensity going as the werewolf scenes succeed in what they set out to, but then the film settles back down into it’s less impressive motions until the next one, or till the moderately involving but predictable climax. There is some moody cinematography by Adam Biddle and an appropriate score by Paul E. Francis, but it doesn’t elevate this film above the mediocre flick it is.
In conclusion, the movie wasn’t terrible, just not nearly as involving as it should have been considering the setting of isolation and what’s lurking about. The werewolf scenes worked very well and had a viciousness to them, yet the scenes in-between were flat and concerned un-involving, common stereotype characters. The make-up and gore effects were top notch and the scenario itself was suitable for a fright flick had director Paul Hyett been better at managing the scares and intensity. Worth a look if you like werewolf flicks, but don’t expect another Dog Soldiers or Late Phases. Also stars Shauna Macdonald from The Descent and Sean Pertwee from Doomsday and ironically, the far superior Dog Soldiers.
TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)
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Tales Of Halloween is an amusing anthology flick that has ten stories told by ten different directors with the obvious reoccurring theme of Halloween. The stories are loosely connected by the presence of Adrienne Barbeau as a DJ, much like her Stevie Wayne character from The Fog and some shared characters.
Created by filmmaker Axelle Carolyn, this is a good idea that disappointingly has only four out of the ten stories really being successful. The tone of the stories vary with some being goofy like Mike Mendez’ fun Friday The 31st, which has a Jason-like killer squaring off with an alien who possesses the body of one of his victim’s and Carolyn’s own creepy Grim Grinning Ghost, which has a woman crossing paths with an urban legend. Those two hit their marks, though the best stories are the opening and closing tales. Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, begins the anthology and is another urban legend centric story of a boy that took his love for Halloween candy to a ghoulish level. The closer, Neil Marshall’s Bad Seed, is a fun and gruesome story about a murderous jack-o-lantern. Darren Lynn Bousman’s self-explanatory The Night Billy Raised Hell is moderately amusing, as is Lucky McKee’s Ding Dong, about a strange couple. With unsettling Hansel and Gretel overtones and uncomfortable themes of spousal abuse and infertility, McKee’s tale is the most bizarre one. Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom Of Rusty Rex is also somewhat amusing in it’s tale of a Halloween kidnapping gone very wrong. On the epic fail side, we have Adam Gierasch’s tale of murderous trick-or-treaters with a twist, Trick. It’s crude and violent without being scary or funny. Paul Solet’s tale of demonic revenge with a spaghetti western slant, The Weak and the Wicked, is just dull and has the least Halloween spirit while John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s tale of neighbors battling over competitive Halloween displays, This Means War, is just boring and predictable. Add that up and we have four stories that work really well, three that are pretty decent and three that basically fall flat. There are some nice homages along the way, the SPFX and make-up FX are pretty good and the visual style varies from filmmaker to filmmaker. It always has the look of Halloween, with jack-o-lanterns everywhere, even if the spirit isn’t quite captured by the tale being told. This anthology’s heart is in the ghoulish right place, though, if not completely successful in accomplishing it’s overall goals.
The cast is rather large and even in the weaker episodes they seem to get the tone of the material and are having a good time. We have genre favorites like Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Caroline Williams and Clare Kramer. There are some veteran actors like Barry Bostwick and John Savage and director cameos such as John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Adam Green and Joe Dante. Then there are also familiar faces like Some Kind Of Hate’s Grace Phipps, Cabin Fever’s Cerina Vincent, Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe, scream queen Tiffany Shepis and Adrienne Curry as herself, to name a few. Overall a good cast that helps the stories a lot, even when they don’t make the grade.
Tales Of Halloween is far from perfect and doesn’t succeed as much as we’d like. The stories that work are worth watching for and the middle ground stories are amusing enough to check out, too. Even the failures aren’t a complete waste of time and are short enough to be over mercifully quick. While not totally successful, it is a really good idea and hopefully next year, we get another and that one hits the ghoulish mark far more often. Not quite the Halloween classic hoped for, but when it hits it’s stride it’s ghoulish Halloween fun.
3 jack-o-lanterns as the stories I liked, I really liked.
DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
I am a big fan of writer/director Neil Marshall and while it is his The Descent which really sold me on him as a filmmaker, it was his freshman film Dog Soldiers which first got my attention. The film is a simple yet very effective and intense story of a group of British grunts on training maneuvers in the Scottish Highlands, who not only find their SAS opponents dead, but by the claws of what appear to be a pack of werewolves straight out of legend. With their Sergeant (Sean Pertwee) injured, stoic Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) takes control of the panicked group and attempts to get them to safety. They soon find themselves in the company of pretty Zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) who leads them to a small cottage where they decide to make a stand and fight against their lycanthropic pursuers. Thus begins a terrifying siege through the night as unbeknownst to our group of beleaguered soldiers, that when the moon is not full, the cottage is where these werewolves call home.
Sure Marshall’s werewolf flick does evoke Aliens with it’s soldiers v.s. monsters story, which even includes a bit of military conspiracy concerning the SAS unit’s true mission, but we let him slide because, he does it so damn well. Dog Soldiers is a very intense and sometimes very gruesome horror flick with a group of tough and likable grunts in the fight for their lives against supernatural creatures in the middle of nowhere and with no one coming to their aid. Unlike James Cameron’s classic, these guys also have to deal with their own who get bitten, as we all know what happens when the moon is full to those who get bit. There are moments of quiet to let the audience catch their breath, but Marshall then gives us sudden explosions of intense action and sometimes in some very tight places within the small cottage. Bullets and blood fly regularly, but it’s all the more effective because Marshall has given us enough time to get to know and like his besieged soldiers and he gives their canine opponents a real sense of menace…and an intelligent menace at that. These are cunning, vicious and powerful creatures and as the myths are true, the soldiers weapons are only a temporary inconvenience. This sets up a sense of not only dread but, of a growing hopelessness as our protagonists are running out of time, options and numbers in which to save themselves.
Marshall gets very good work from his cast, especially McKidd who is a strong and heroic lead. Cooper is a simple but smart and tenacious man who is not going to give up even when faced with opponents from out of a horror movie. We get a cute but very smart and spunky heroine from Cleasby as Megan and a tough but lovable sergeant from Pertwee. The rest all give their characters a personality and life beyond the printed script and the performers under the latex and fur give our lycanthropes some real threat. As for our wolves, the costumes are effective animatronics and prosthetics and since they are created on a low budget, Marshall keeps them effective by shooting them in quick shots and keeping them in shadow giving them an air of mystery, as well as, hiding any possible flaws from budgetary restraints. The rest of the gore and bloodshed is also quite well orchestrated and there is plenty of it!
While not perfect…there are a few plot holes, but most flaws come from a limited budget…Dog Soldiers is an atmospheric and action-packed tale of hard and tough men up against something even their steel nerves and military skills can’t handle. It’s witty and fast paced and takes a time honored siege story and really makes it work. A solid and scary horror/action flick that also has a bit of a sly sense of humor and is not without a few surprises too. Highly recommended! Also stars Liam Cunningham as sole surviving SAS Captain Ryan, a man with quite a few secrets of his own.
There has been continual talk for years about a sequel. but so far, nothing has yet to happen…and maybe that’s a good thing as we all know how the sequel to Marshall’s The Decent…which he didn’t write or direct…turned out.
3 and 1/2 bullets…which only annoy a werewolf since they are not silver!
Neil Marshall’s Centurion is a fictional film based on the legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion, who are said to have marched thousands strong into the Scottish wilds to conquer the land from savage warriors known as the Picts…and allegedly disappeared without a trace. This film takes this historical mystery and turns it into a tale that is a fast paced and bloody action adventure about the slaughter of Rome’s 9th and the remaining handful of soldiers who are now fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. Adding fuel to their already perilous situation is that one of them murdered the Pict King’s son while they were infiltrating the Pict village and trying to rescue their captive general (Dominic West). Now they are stalked relentlessly through hostile territory by vengeful Pict warriors lead by vicious and cruel hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) and must fight for their lives every step of the way. Leading the beleaguered band is centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a rescued POW who is now forced to take command of the surviving members of Rome’s 9th in an effort to get to friendlier soil with their throats uncut.
As directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, Centurion is a fast paced and savagely violent tale of survival on deadly ground. He gives us a group of noble heroes to root for and also instills the Picts with doses of savage menace making them a foe to be feared, as they hunt down the fleeing survivors. It’s a no nonsense action adventure that is filled with some gorgeous visuals courtesy of director Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy and a lot of fierce and brutal action. Marshall gives us a lot of tension and suspense to go along with the battles and keeps things moving, but not too fast that we don’t get to know our characters enough to care.
As for the excellent cast, including Fassbender, West, Kurylenko and Walking Dead’s David Morrissey, they do well taking the characters from the scripted page and making them very three dimensional, and thus giving the film some added emotional resonance as this small group of survivors become quite endearing. We root and fear for them, as they are mercilessly pursued and cut down one by one.
Beautiful Scottish locations are host to the blood soaked story and with a reported $12 million budget, the film is far smaller scaled then 300 or Troy, but is all the more better for it, as our focus is on our embattled band of soldiers than epically scaled war scenes. Neil Marshall crafts a solid and entertaining action/adventure with refreshingly minimal CGI and no pretentious overindulgence. Highly recommended for fans of action and historical based drama.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) war axes!