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Cold Prey (aka Fritt Vilt)
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First there was "Switchblade Romance" which showed that not only was the slasher alive and well, but that it could have a very bright future. Hard-hitting and tense like a hypochondriac with constipation. Then "Wolf Creek" took us through the Outback and several levels of Hell along the way. Crocodile Dundee jokes aside, this one pulled no punches.
Now, Norway's getting in on the action with the chilly "Cold Prey".
So what makes this film unlike other tired, dull slashers? Very much the same things that elevate "Wolf Creek" and "Romance": an abundance of style, complicated character relationships, psychologically realistic characters, attention to (even the most minute) detail, and the ability to know the thin border between the terrifying and the laughable. "Cold Prey" ticks all these boxes.
There are other slashers films about some teens that have went for a ski weekend and are massacred by an unknown madman. But "Cold Prey", right away, signals that it's different. Characters are real, if not always likeable, three-dimensional people you can believe in and not mere killer-fodder who must be disposed of before the Final Girl can walk away.
And yet, it does have all the classic elements of a slasher. The Final Girl rule is in effect, the killer comes from a troubled past, and teens will be teens won't they? But none of it is redundant, there's an almost post-modern awareness at work here. You know slashers, so does Roar Uthaug, so here's a really nicely done one.
An abandoned ski-lodge makes for an atmospheric locale, with lots of cold lighting, shadows, and rustic set pieces. Carefully plotted and as nerve-wracking as nails on a chalkboard. And for all Gorehouds out there, "Cold Prey" doesn't skimp on the violence.
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It stared out as a fairly decent concept for a low-budget horror movie. Seven teenagers, and old house, zombies, ghost, grave robbers.
It became, frankly, an utter waste of time.
Instead of seven teenagers you have seven bad approximation of teenagers, the kind so obsessed with sex they don't hear or see (or smell for that matter) a zombie in the room. You have rather pathetic attempts at making the undead look undead in almost all cases bar one: a naked girl zombie who rather strangely doesn't seem too vile.
This is a sad piece of soft-core porn masquerading as a horror film which, from its description, sounded like a piece of post-modern Halloween fun. It's nothing of the sort. You could watch it on fast-forward without missing a thing, though you're probably best just skipping it all together.
Read by Dawn
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Many of the tales in this collection of contemporary nightmares have a cinematic feel to them. They're short, sharp, and unsettling. Here are a few highlights:
Final Girl by Joel L. Murr: Trapped in a country house, an immortal, teen-slaying, redneck, deformed maniac outside; this post-modern slasher story is not one to miss.
Special Offer by John Llewellyn Probert: Incredibly unsettling tale of a members only late night shopping channel.
The Kylesku Trow by Stefan Pearson: Scotland's answer to "Saw" as a man is held captive and must solve three riddles to save himself, whist enduring horrific tortures.
The Face in the Glass by Brian Ross: A very brief story that has a massive, disarming effect.
The Little Girl Who Lives in The Woods by Ralph Robert Moore: Urban legend and child abuse are explored in this alarmingly graphic, startling story.
Popee by Justin Madison: Just an everyday family dinner while the world outside is overrun by the walking dead. Funny , touching, and strange.
The Bridge Chamber by Rayne Hall: Echoes of Poe abound when a young girl leads another two children into a tunnel under a bridge.
The Place of Revelation by Ramsey Campbell: A story about stories that open your eyes to the world others can't see. How lucky they are.
Bloodwalker by Michele Lea: Future-Horror where the occult and the mundane are as one, and the evil that persists is unmistakably human.
Ten Sorry Tales
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A celebration of the imagination, "10 Sorry Tales" is a collection of nasty, and heart-warming little fables accompanied by some rather striking artwork.
In his retirement an old man discovers the wonders of boat making, a bored school becomes convinced aliens have landed, two spinster sisters with a very odd collection, the art of reanimating butterflies, hermits, and girls with weird hobbies; there's no shortage colourful characters in this little book.
Jackson's tales have a wonderful simplicity to them, the pages uncluttered with excess information, and each tale flows magically; making the while book a joy to read.
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The hugely impressive Sarah Waters tale of Victorian spiritualism tells of the almost spinster lady Miss Prior, recovering from the loss of her father, entranced by the charms of Selina Dawes, a clairvoyant prodigy who may be very wrongly imprisoned.
Waters' plotting is careful and calculated, taking the form of diary entries "Affinity" unwinds at a slow pace and very subtly draws you into its world; her form mimics precisely the style and feel of "Victorian diaries/journals". Trickle fed information widens the plot's web and back-story. Unnerving occurrences and 'coincidence' are guaranteed to leave the reader with a very real chill.
"Affinity" oozes class like ectoplasm, but it's the book's sexual undercurrent that will keep you in it's thrall. If "Tipping the Velvet" was a real class act, "Affinity" is supernaturally sublime, every page simmering with passion.
The Thief of Always
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A quick read that will keep you occupied for an age, "The Thief of Always" is a nightmarish fantasy, a triumph of the imagination from one of the darkest minds in the business.
Bored with school and his life Harvey is all too happy when he's whisked away to Mr. Hood's Holiday Home, a place where all the seasons pass in the space of a day and Christmas comes every night. But beneath the gifts and cakes, the tree houses and the toys, something dark awaits.
Like Bradbury before him, Barker brings you on a metaphorical journey we've all taken before. The tragic realisations about the world's harsh reality and the inner search for the strength to stand up against it. It's an incredibly vivid book, even without the wonderfully nasty artwork by the author (look out for a Pinhead style mask), filled with a whole assortment of grotesque and charming characters.
As magical as Narnia, and as frightening as "Hellraiser". A joy to read and look at, again and again.
28 Weeks Later
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Fox Atomic are no strangers to political horror. First The Hills Have Eyes remake and now 28 Weeks later, a sequal to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's 28 Days Later (the pair return as executive producers and Boyle as 2nd AD).
Six months on from the original Rage virus outbreak a US led NATO force declares Britain safe again and begins the process of re-immigration. However the virus still remains and it's only a matter of time before a new outbreak occurs.
28 Weeks Later is not a film you simply watch. No, it assaults you. Every crescendo of sound, ever frantic camera jerk, it all builds and builds till you're ready to scream. It all feels so real. The opening sequence is just about as heart pounding as you can take and the film's gore level is beyond even Peter Jackson's - a helicopter and a field of the infected need I say more?
But it's not just a scary as hell thrill ride, 28 Weeks Later has an intelligent core. It goes without saying that the US military presence evokes America's presence in the Middle East; and while snipers hide in the dark everyday citizens live in completely exposed apartments, under surveillance at all times. But all this is subtext, it's there but not forced on you, leaving you free to enjoy the film if you don't care for your zombies with politics.
Black Snake Moan
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It's quite the male fantasy to wake-up and find a half naked girl lying just outside your door, and if you've ever wanted to see Christina Ricci run around topless now's your chance with Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan.
Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) is an ageing Blues musician who discovers tormented nymphomaniac Rae (Christina Ricci), near dead by the side of the road and takes it upon himself to "cure her of her wickedness" as a way to deal with his own issues. Sound idea, rather unorthodox method as Lazarus takes to chaining young Rae up in his living room in this slice of Southern Gothic melodrama.
The idea of chaining her up seems to be a bit hard to take for many viewers, but if you can get past the weirdness you'll find a story of a man who is the very incarnation of the Blues and a despised girl whose past pain and suffering is denied to her by all but a stranger.
It is a film about conquering pain. Lazarus must first acknowledge it and through Rae finds a way to move on. Rae must find strength within herself to resist her urges for the good of her lover Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) and herself.
And with some electrifying Blues numbers, including a few sung by Jackson himself, the films hardly wants for style or appeal. Black Snake Moan can be a bit difficult to get your head around but is an ultimately rewarding and sometimes moving film.
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A subtitled movie that even the most anti-subs moviegoer could enjoy.
It's tempting to liken "Them" to the fantastic French horror "Switchblade Romance" (aka "High Tension"). Nationality aside, both films are intense, unrelenting rollercoaster rides. And like "Wolf Creek" it boasts the "based on a true story" angle, and also like "Wolf Creek" it stays safely enough away from the "true story" TV movies that have made that title a "danger, danger" warning.
A simple, uncomplicated plot gives way to sheer cinematic terror. "Them" is nothing short of a thrill ride, making use of eerie sounds, original deployments of horror movie staples, and is haunted by an enigmatic plot that grips and doesn't let go.
The audience is placed firmly in the same position as the protagonists - without a clue as to what's going on. This is a masterful horror film that plays out like a full length scare scene. While it may lack in-depth plotting and complex character webs, it is wholly enjoyable and genuinely unnerving.
Darker Than You Think
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"Darker Than You Think" may date back to the 40s, the 20s if you count the original short story, but it's age has cost it none of it's potency. It's still one of the best books of it's genre. A story of lycanthropy and lust rooted in the science of psychology.
It's the tale of Will Barbee, reporter, and general epitome of the 1940s male, on the surface at least. His encounter with redhead vixen April Bell sets of an alarming series of events that drag up Will's past and puts it painfully on display.
Will's psychological state is masterfully portrayed in prose, reality is what he perceives it to be and it's frequently questioned. He is an emotionally intense, and vulnerable character who is very easy to connect with due to Williamson's gift for creating remarkably human characters.
Like "I Am Legend" would do a few years later with the vampire "Darker Than You Think" takes fantasy/horror myths, in this case that of the werewolf, and explains it via disturbingly believable, scientific means. Williamson's understanding of the lycanthrope legend is so convincing it really makes you think. And like "I Am Legend", the last few words have the power to alter your world view and pull the floor from beneath you in a heartbeat.