What to Watch on Shudder: Ginger Snaps and More

This week’s what to watch on Shudder features Ginger Snaps, The Innkeepers, and Innsmouth. Here’s more on this week’s picks…

What to Watch on Shudder: Ginger Snaps

2000’s Ginger Snaps is a great addition to the werewolf sub-genre. Director John Fawcett’s film focuses on two teenage girls in a suburban town. When Ginger is bitten by a creature, she starts to develop signs of lycanthropy. The film combines a coming-of-age story with a gory horror. It mixes teenage issues with mystical allegory in a way that is similar to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. Although, Ginger Snaps is light on the humour and heavy on the blood. Fawcett shows just how to make a modern werewolf film bite. Ginger Snaps is now considered a cult movie, and justly so.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Innkeepers

Supernatural horror The Innkeepers combines frights with laughs. The 2012 film, written and directed by Ti West, effectively balances humour with terror. Two members of staff at an inn decide to investigate the hotel’s supposedly haunted past. The focus remains on the two protagonists, and The Innkeepers is all the better for this. The film boasts a decent script, effective sound, and some good, sustained tension. Although the ending is a little disappointing, overall the film is a well worth watching for those who enjoy supernatural horror. Read a full review of The Innkeepers here.

What to Watch on Shudder: Innsmouth

Writer-director Izzy Lee’s 2015 short Innsmouth shows some promise. The film is about a police detective who travels to the town of Innsmouth after discovering a clue at a crime scene. The film takes inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft, with not only its setting but some facets of the story. A gentle build makes way for a strange middle and a startling conclusion.

To find out more and to sign up to Shudder, visit https://www.shudder.com.

What to Watch on Shudder: American Psycho and More

This week’s picks of what to watch on Shudder features American Psycho, Sun Choke, and short The Room at the Top of the Stairs…

What to Watch on Shudder: American Psycho

Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho is on of the best films of the 21st century. Purists may claim that the film misses key scenes from the novel. However, the film is pretty much a masterclass on how to adapt an unwieldy book for the big screen. Christian Bale is perfectly cast as the investment banker who hides his psychopathic tendencies behind a polished facade. A smart and entertaining satire on shallow, capitalist culture, the film does not shy away from brutal depictions of violence. Patrick Bateman is an iconic character, and proof that horror serial killers come in all packages. American Psycho will make you laugh, make you wince, and entertain throughout.

What to Watch on Shudder: Sun Choke

Writer-director Ben Cresciman’s 2015 film Sun Choke is a strange and intriguing mystery thriller. The film is about a recovering young woman who is made to carry out daily wellness rituals by her caretaker. The film exudes mystery; it is unclear initially what the source of horror is. As the film progresses, this aspect is truly interesting to watch. Sun Choke features a great performance by Sarah Hagan (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans may recognise the actress from the final season of the show). She is ably assisted by horror stalwart Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, You’re Next). Sun Choke is a well-paced and nervy watch.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Room at the Top of the Stairs

Briony Kidd’s 2010 short The Room at the Top of the Stairs has a haunting, gothic quality. The film is about a young artist who feels overshadowed by a girl she has never met. Rather than overt scares, writer-director Kidd deals covert fears and realisations. The Room at the Top of the Stairs is a promising short from the Tasmanian filmmaker.

To find out more and to sign up to Shudder, visit https://www.shudder.com.

Film Review: Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretal: Witch HuntersHansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters is a watchable action fantasy, even if it veers on the trashy side.  The film seems to be aiming for two different things and does not sit comfortably in either aspect as a result.

Having been lured to a candy-filled house as children, Hansel and Gretal manage to kill the witch who has imprisoned them. As adults, the brother and sister become bounty hunters who track down and kill witches. The pair are brought to a small village to find the culprit who has been kidnapping children…

Writer and director Tommy Wirkola attempts to inject new life into the Hansel and Gretal fairy tale. He does this by making them  witch hunters and action stars. It is not dissimilar to last year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. The children of the fairy tale have grown up and donned powerful weapons which they sling over their leather-clad shoulders.

The narrative of Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters is not exactly illuminating, but the pacing is good. The film features several archetypes of the fantasy genre, including the unrelenting villain, the ambiguous helper and the devoted love interest. The protagonists lack depth, but then the focus is on the action.

Wirkola’s film is strange in that it is period set, yet Hansel and Gretal appear overtly modern. They speak with American accents (unlike most of the cast who boast a Germanic lilt) and use conspicuously profane language. The accents are a little distracting and feed into the idea that the film is not certain of what it is aiming for. In its updating of a fairy tale it allows comparisons to Red Riding Hood, yet the language and violence suggest it is aimed at an older audience. However, it seems that the film would have had more appeal to a less mature audience.

The film features some very visceral deaths. Despite an abundance of gore, the CGI effects mean it never appears too authentic. The use of 3D is fine; it is not too distracting or gimmicky. The music is sometimes too abrupt, taking viewers out of certain scenes. The performances are adequate, with Jeremy Renner seeming to not take things too seriously. There is some humour, whilst the dialogue can be hokey.

Coming in at 88 minutes, Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters may not quite be successful, but never feels like a chore.

The Cabin in the Woods Interview

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take part in a roundtable interview with The Cabin in the Woods director and co-writer Drew Goddard and actor Jesse Williams, who plays Holden in the film. The Cabin in the Woods is a fantastic film, so it was great to be able to discuss it with Drew and Jesse.  Given the nature of the film, some of what was discussed contains spoilers. This part is safe for all to read, while next week’s part will contain some spoilers.

Drew, could you give us a summary of how The Cabin in the Woods ended up on screen, and how you ended up in the driver’s seat?

DG: I wrote Cabin in the Woods with my partner in crime Joss Whedon, I sort of started my career working for him on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We had honed our technique of working together over those years. We just enjoyed working together, so after those shows went away we were just calling each other saying “let’s find something else to do”. We thought doing a feature would be the easiest thing to do for us, just in terms of our lives. So we started kicking around ideas of what we wanted to do, and we just love horror movies, and we love cabin movies in particular. He had this spark, this initial idea for Cabin with this upstairs, downstairs quality of it. As soon as I heard it, I went “oh yeah, that’s great let’s do that”. We just started meeting, and over the course of about five months we fleshed out the story, and once we had that we said, “alright, let’s write this”. We’ve learnt with Buffy that we never had much time to write because we were always behind schedule and we’d have to write scripts over the weekend constantly. But there’s a real energy that comes about when you do that. We wanted that energy, so we said let’s lock ourselves in a hotel, and we’re not allowed to leave the room until we’ve got a script done. It was very much an experiment, but it worked. We found this nice hotel and just kept writing, from like 7am to 2am everyday, round the clock, passing pages back and forth. And in the end we had Cabin. We sensed we’d written it, but it was every much what it was. It was very much a labour of love; just two guys trying to entertain each other.

Do you think this film will have the same impact on cabin films as say Scream did on slashers, do you think this will be the film that other films will be referenced and compared to?

DG: I don’t know, I try not to worry too much about how it will be perceived in the pantheon. We just tried to make the best movie we could. The rest of that is for other people to decide.

JW: I think it’s hard to say right now, I mean it hasn’t even come out yet. We’ve seen it in a couple of theatres with people in it. Sure, that’s going to be a by-product, if it makes an impact, that people will make reference to it, so therefore it will have a lasting effect. We’ll start with one, and see if the math continues down that road.

How would you guys describe the film to somebody in a non-spoilery way?

DG: I would just talk about the genre itself, and how this is our love letter to the genre. It is very much about making the ultimate horror film, or at least what we knew how to do. We just love that horror experience. This came about because we love sitting in the theatre, and feeling that energy when you’ve got the type of horror film that’s fun. And you’re screaming as much as you’re laughing, and when you’re sort of doing both. That can only happen in certain types of films, and we very much wanted Cabin to be that. It’s tough, because we can honestly say that the less you know about Cabin the more fun you are going to have, but you also want to tell people that it is worth their time. So it is finding that balance. Luckily, one of the things that has been nice is that we’ve noticed that people who see the movie understand, and they sort of know what not to do. They sort of do that without us having to ask. I think it’s true of most people,  I think most people don’t like being spoiled, and want to spoil, they just want to talk about the things that excite them. I think that is true of not just this movie but of all movies. I feel like we are definitely seeing that happen here, which is refreshing.

JW:  Yeah, and I think also, the word spoiler is kinda lost, its meaning is kind of amorphous, some people mean it “don’t spoil the ending of some sitcom” it doesn’t even matter, it’s like little pieces to a story where they’re not deal-breakers. Whereas this I feel that people who’ve seen it are coming out and saying “we don’t wanna not spoil it for the sake of the director or the writer or the actor, we’re not gonna spoil it for the audience, we want you to have the best experience possible” and just throw back to before twitter and the information age when everything was just fun to show off, to flex how much information you had ahead of time. Not “Oh, I got to see it before you, and now I’m gonna f**k it up for you.” It’s just a little muscle flex, and that’s not what this is about, you see that  people wanna… Less is more. The first thing about The Cabin In The Woods is don’t talk about The Cabin In The Woods!

How do you feel about the casting, as you’ve ended up with a doctor and Thor?

DG: Its nice to be proven right, as definitely at the time, we had the future of Hollywood in our cast. It’s nice to see that come to fruition before we even came out.

JW: You had that spec script, “Dr. Thor”.

DG: We couldn’t get that made, so we made Cabin. It’s nice and gratifying, it’s what you always want for your actors. You always want them to do even better than before they  met you. It’s nice to feel justified.

Was using the Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer actors again a nod to the fans?

DG: Not really, it’s just because we love those actors and we wanted to use them. Joss has always… this energy he has created, it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like you’re getting your friends together and having a party and just sort of “let’s put on a show”. That’s the energy we like to feel, we like to feel that we’re this roving band of misfits, we just pick and pull and mix and match as we go, and I hope we keep this energy going forward.

Drew, with you directing for the first time, did you find there was a big change in perspective from writing and producing?

DG: Well, I certainly can’t blame the director anymore when things go wrong, which was the hardest part. Luckily I was really fortunate in my career to work for people like Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams who very much have a feature mentality to the television shows they’re working on, and they’re very much empowering the writers, and writing in general. Television is a writer’s medium. I was very comfortable doing things like talking to actors and working with guts and looking at budgets and all of those things but there is something rather harrowing about stepping on set the first day and realising there’s no one else to turn to, that all eyes are looking at you. And that takes a lot of getting used to, but there’s also good in that, it’s nice when you realise you’re in charge.

The release date of The Cabin In The Woods seemed to change frequently. How was it on your side?

DG: It was definitely frustrating but I was just concerned about protecting the film. Every time there’s new management, you’re never sure what’s going to happen. Very early on the other studios, they started screening their products. Because what happens when something goes bankrupt, they screen their assets and other people buy them. That’s why it took so long for The Hobbit and James Bond, they were all dropping with us as well. We were in good company, it felt like. The studios saw the film and started loving it and there was a bidding war, and Lionsgate called me, said ‘we love the movie, we’re gonna do everything we can to get it, we’re not gonna change a frame’, and once I knew that, it just became a matter of the red tape getting untangled, and that was fine. There’s worse things in life than having your film come out slightly later than you thought it would. Joss and I joke, but it’s been the best thing that could possibly have happened to us, we love Lionsgate, they’re wonderful to work with, our actors have gone on to become stars. Be careful what you worry about, because it ends up working out fine.

Read the second part of the interview next week. The Cabin in the Woods is released in cinemas on 13th April 2012.

Film Review: Fright Night

This new version of Fright Night does not match the 1985 original. Having said that, it is still tremendous fun, and one of better films in the recent spate of horror remakes.

High school student Charlie Brewster is dating the popular and beautiful Amy. He has left behind his geeky ways, much to the annoyance of former best friend Ed. When a new neighbour moves in next door, Charlie becomes suspicious of the things he hears in the night. He suspects that new neighbour Jerry is a vampire, but no one believes him…

Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon eschewed the option of producing a faithful update of Tom Holland’s 1985 film. Thankfully they chose to alter the screenplay significantly. The changes made offer a sense of unpredictability to those familiar with the 1985 film. Although the film seems a little preoccupied with the social hierarchy of high school, for the most part these alterations work well.

The characters have also been changed for this remake. Perhaps most interesting of the updates in Peter Vincent. Holland wisely chooses not to emulate the Roddy McDowell character in terms of stature and personality. Instead, the character is much younger and more comparable to Criss Angel than McDowell’s Vincent Price-type legend. This makes the film more distinguishable from its predecessor, which is only a good thing.

Fright Night offers the same blend of comedy and horror as the original. There are some jumpy moments in the film, as well as a healthy dose of gore. The comedy, however, keeps the tone of the film light for the duration. There are also some amusing references to Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even the original film, as well as a great cameo appearance.

The special effects are sometimes lacking, but even this is in keeping with the overall jovial tone of the movie. The 3D seems to have been employed purely for novelty value. Nonetheless, this doesn’t really matter, as it is fun in a throwback, schlock kind of way.

Colin Farrell is well cast as Jerry. The actor is perfectly suited to the role, bringing the right combination of menace and allure. Anton Yelchin once again offers a solid performance; the actor is quickly becoming one of the brightest young talents in Hollywood. David Tennant is wonderfully outlandish as Peter Vincent; he clearly seems to be having much fun with the role.

Fright Night should satisfy those with a hankering for comedy horror, and shouldn’t offend fans of the original film. An enjoyable watch.

Film Review: I Am Number Four

D.J. Caruso’s I Am Number Four is an enjoyable sci-fi adventure film. It is not strikingly original, but is entertaining nonetheless.

John Smith is a teenager with a secret. Although he appears to be a regular teenage boy, John is one of nine children saved from an alien planet. He is also the next target for enemies who wish to destroy him…

I Am Number Four is based on the novel by Jobie Hughes and James Frey (who write under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore). The film combines science fiction and action elements with a teen movie. It functions in a similar way as that grand progenitor Buffy the Vampire Slayer, albeit with less humour.

In some ways, I Am Number Four is a typical Michael Bay production. Although the film does not contain his usual excessive symbols of patriotism, several other hallmarks are present. The overblown action sequences are featured in I Am Number Four, as well as Bay’s usual character types. Moreover, the film is a paean to small town America, with its idyllic depictions of Sarah’s home town. This idealised version of the American small town becomes grating at times, given its fairy-tale like qualities.

The narrative is fairly run of the mill, with few surprises. The ending of I Am Number Four echoes Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman film. There isn’t the desired conclusion where all ends are neatly tied up. Instead, Caruso suggests further chapters to the story. It is slightly unsatisfying that details of the background are not detailed fully; these presumably saved for future episodes.

The production values of I Am Number Four are solid. Special effects are good, except the battle between the two monsters where the CGI is very obvious. The soundtrack is bursting with contemporary artists, intended to give the film an aura of coolness, in all likelihood.

Performances are varied in the film. Alex Pettyfer is a suitable lead, but seems to have been cast for his looks and physique rather than his acting skills. Dianna Agron and Callan McAuliffe provide adequate support as Sarah and Sam. Timothy Olyphant gives a well-rounded performance as John’s guardian, Henri. Teresa Palmer, however, is lacklustre as Number 6. Her delivery is poor, and her stilted portrayal is upstaged by an animated performance by the dog.

While I Am Number Four will leave audiences entertained, it is questionable how successful it will be as a franchise. It lacks the charisma to pull back viewers, though perhaps a future film will show more spark.