Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 668 reviews and rated 765 films.

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Doctor Who: New Series 11

I love wellies!

(Edit) Updated 29/08/2019

As a fan of Doctor Who for many years (since the Sea Devils stomped out of the waters to menace Jon Pertwee in the early 1970s in fact), I found this latest incarnation of the show quite good. There has clearly been a decision to cut back on the continuity so beloved of recent series (which some felt alienated viewers who didn't have an A Level in Time Lord history), and it is true to say the plots have been simplified a little in favour of reeling in new viewers. New Doctor Jodie Whittaker isn't as eccentric as some earlier incarnations, but she still has moments of delightful silliness. This is still very much Doctor Who, only Chris Chibnall-style, as opposed to Steven Moffat/RTD/JNT etc-style (tick as appropriate).

For anyone who sees this series as agenda-driven, or box-ticking, there are those who found fault in previous incarnations of the show (agenda-driven is an ongoing criticism, with each show-runner accused of a different agenda). At the heart of it, for me, there's a likeable new Doctor, three very appealing (and very 'real') time-travelling companions (or friends), and some great stories (The Woman Who Fell to Earth, Kerblam!, The Witchfinders and It Takes You Away), some good (Arachnids in the UK, The Ghost Monument, Rosa) and a couple of howlers (The Tsuranga Conundrum, Demons of the Punjab). So for all the change, in many ways, it's business as usual!

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Black Magic Rites

Mild Black Magic spoilers follow ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

Elongated scenes of gaudily coloured sacrifice, always involving manicured young women; the soundtrack of a hundred baying night-wolves; solemn, robed males; the blank-eyed corpse of the long-dead Isabelle; pulsating, recently removed hearts. It’s all here, folks, directed in a deliberately disorientating manner by Renato Polselli (who also wrote this), in a style very close to that of Mario Bava.

Isabelle (Rita Calderoni) has been burned to death, accused of witchery. A group of vampires keep her body, greyed and damaged, and sacrifice virgins in a bid to bring her back to life. Into the protracted maelstrom comes Laureen and her fiancé Richard Brenton and bless me! She’s the living embodiment of the long-dead Isabelle. Much wailing and screaming ensues – you needn’t worry too much about the storyline (there are many flashbacks outlining what is going on, but even then it is not made clear that they *are* flashbacks, which helps the dizzying incomprehensibility nicely). I found myself just enjoying the crazy exploitation style of it all, and basking in the long-gone European atmosphere. The very effective musical score from Romolo Forlai and Gianfranco Reverberi only serves the enhance this.

It’s difficult to comment on the acting. There’s not a lot of scope for emotion outside screaming and gnashing of teeth, all of which is entered into with gusto, and much of the moans bleed into the soundtrack. The women are invariably half-dressed and beautiful, the men fully-clothed and substantially less picturesque. There are some incredible, briefly seen Italian locations, and the set design leaves you in no doubt you are watching a richly gothic horror film. If you aren’t convinced, Dracula himself makes an appearance amidst it all. He gets everywhere, that old Count.

I quite enjoyed this for what it is. It’s loud and it’s relentless and some of the set-pieces are eerily effective – but after the brief end credits rolled, I was ready for something else.

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The Lodger

Much ado about next to nothing - mild spoilers ....

(Edit) 22/08/2019

Here's something I was not expecting to like. Two attractive young women sharing accommodation: one, studious and ambitious and the other, superficial and gorgeous. To begin with, I was hard-pressed to tell much difference between them. Both are casually stunning and appear very happy in their individual skins; and that is why I wasn't sure I would see this film through - I dislike such blemish-free catwalk characters being passed off as 'everyday'. It's a stereotype. It fuels people's paranoia about themselves. It presents a false image, and it annoys me.

Secondly, 'The Lodger/Roommate Wanted' is sold as a horror thriller. For a long time, I was waiting for anything horrific to show itself. By the end, I still think - despite some violence - I was somewhat mis-sold.

With all that out of the way, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. The two girls are exceptionally well-played and occasionally, it really seems as if the veneer exhibited by both of them (in their own ways) is about to be cracked - but it never really happens. The violence, nasty though some of it is, is cartoon-like. Any scars or blemishes dished out soon disappear. Even toward the end, after everything is superficially - that word again - trashed, they still speak to each other in cliché (early on, Janie professes to 'like' clichés), their stoically cutesy personality traits very much intact.

I would have liked to see the comedy antics - some of which are genuinely quite funny - gradually dissipate as their fight went on. I would have liked to see the violence - both physical and mental - go further, instead of just being sporadically addressed before the two of them call another short-lived truce. Even the ending lurches back into caricature humour, which undoes much of the good work that had been done stripping them of their bravado. Perhaps Director Rob Margolies and writer Aaron Edward just weren't interested in making that kind of film. A shame, because if events had become more serious and more extreme, this could have been a really interesting project. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Devil's Men

Land of the Devil's Men - mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

It is rare to discover a previously unheard-of Peter Cushing horror film. Even more so when it also stars Donald Pleasance, another genre icon. So just why has this Greek demon-worshipping thriller passed me by for so long?

Cushing plays Baron Corofax, a Hungarian with no trace of an accent; Donald Pleasence plays Father Roche with an Irish brogue. Luan Peters, who had been in 1974’s ‘Old Dracula’, 1972’s ‘The Flesh and Blood Show’ and a couple of latter-day Hammer films, appears as Laurie. Despite quite a CV, Peters remains rather unappreciated in my view. Certainly, this feature does her few favours – she’s there purely for show and to be rescued.

‘The Devil’s Men/Land of the Minotaur’ has a reputation for being a bit of a stinker. I quite enjoyed parts of it, but found it mostly deadly dull. I’ve never seen Cushing disinterested in a role before, but understandably, he seems pretty distracted here. Pleasence has rather more to work with and makes the best of it. Strange to think these two veteran actors were on the verge of two of their most well-known roles within a couple of years – The Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars, and Loomis from Halloween respectively.

There’s not a huge amount to say about this story. Corofax and his minions worship a giant stone Mintoaur that breathes flames through its nostrils and growls apocalyptic pronouncements. The legendary Brian Eno lends a few electronic burbles and flourishes in an incidental score that puts one in mind of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And yet, Kostas Karagiannis’s sluggish direction ensures things never really get going until pretty much the explosive climax (Karagiannis also stars as one of the main characters, tousle-headed hero-type Milo who, as luck would have it, has a stunning girlfriend, played by Jane Lyle in a pair of miniscule cut-off shorts).

I certainly don’t rate this as lowly as some other reviewers do. It tries something slightly different with its evildoers and boasts some terrific scenery. And yet the pacing is slow, and we never really get to know any of the characters, some of whom disappear for vast chunks of the running time with no particular reason for us to recall them when they do turn up.

Point of interest: I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning, in the DVD extras, ‘Christopher Lee remembers Peter Cushing’. Although Lee had nothing to do with the main feature, Marcus Hearn’s interview with him brings out some fond remembrances of Cushing as part of a truly moving tribute.

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Alleluia

Another exercise in suffering from Fabrice du Welz! (Spoilers...)

(Edit) 22/08/2019

Director/writer Fabrice du Welz really has become a name to look out for. He seems to deal with, and delight in, punishing, murky human misery – and if there is a horror element in there too, the more successful his vision is! In this follow-up to the grim ‘Vinyan’ from six years earlier, his appetite for the bizarre and the grim has not diminished. Every visual here is plastered with a fug of clammy, grainy atmosphere – every pore exposed, every blemish displayed.

The story, however, comes second place by quite a distance. That’s not to say the premise isn’t fascinating. Nice, shy Gloria (Lola Dueñas) is coerced by a well-meaning friend to put herself forward for a date with online lonely-heart Michel (Laurent Lucas). To begin with, it seems Lucas is an uncaring villain, only interested in sex and money. His hostile treatment of Gloria’s little girl is testament to that. Gloria, for her part, seems instantly blinded by love into stupidity, eagerly entrusting this new man with her finances and family. It seems Michel is every bit as bad as he seems, and that Gloria wants to join him in his unscrupulous adventures. After a while, we have to ask ourselves – who is the more unstable of the two?

The film is told in four acts. The first sets up the plot as outlined above. The latter three follow three of Michel’s money-fuelled seduction/murderous crimes – all of them foiled by Gloria’s violent jealousy. These three episodic stories follow the same path and ultimately seem to go nowhere. The finale, when it comes, doesn’t seem to have solved anything.

The story is based upon real-life criminal duo, the Lonely Hearts Killers. It is a pity there isn’t at least some sense of closure at the end, other than Michel realising how unhinged Gloria is – as we, the audience, have already seen for ourselves. Purely from a business point of view, Michel can’t have conned any money out of the potential victims he has seduced because Gloria does away with them all in a succession of mad frenzies (in one memorable scene, she stops to sing some tender love song – into which bleeds the incidental score - before getting down to the business of sawing the limbs of her first victim. It’s quite a moment).

The Belgian/French thriller boasts some extraordinary performances, especially from the two little girls – firstly Gloria’s daughter, whose innocence and isolation is told entirely through her eyes. Secondly, the daughter of Solange (Héléna Noguerra), who we meet in the final chapter, delivers some extraordinary moments, vocalising her intense dislike for the unscrupulous Gloria. You should have listened to her, Solange!

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Dark Feed

Familiar but enjoyable - mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

The very first scene of ‘Dark Feed’ made me wince. Involving a lip-ring and a mirror, it ensured I was watching behind partially closed fingers. There’s a later scene involving a stapler that had a similar effect on me – not bad for a wizened old horror fanatic like myself. Of course, the rest of the film could not hope to match these scenes, but despite an obvious low budget and some inexperienced actors, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Sometimes you are just in the mood to watch a crew of silly youngsters getting slaughtered.

Of course, the plot is as you might imagine from reading the premise. A group of young movie-makers collectively think it might be a good idea to film in a creepy old disused asylum. What do you think is going to happen? Whatever is behind the subsequent descent into blood and insanity is never comprehensively explained – some theories are touched upon and then summarily forgotten. Also, there are a whole lot of characters, most of which you never really get to know. I liked the special-effects guy, he had an element of death-rock craziness about him before things had even begun. I was willing both Mitch (Daniel Berger-Jones) and diva Rachel (Rebecca Whitehurst) to succumb to something dark and horrible. The writer of the amateur film being made (within this story) Chris (Andy Rudick) is the most likeable – everyone seems to pick on him, so he is immediately endearing.

There are problems with pacing here, and some explanation regarding the ‘dark feed’ of the title could have been more comprehensive (unless I missed it), but really, the atmosphere of the sprawling yet claustrophobic building is what sells this – kudos to directors/writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen for that. Some will mourn the lack of CGI or excess of gore, but it is pointless to criticise a low-budget project like this for not containing Hollywood theatrics. The fact is, films like this are being made and put together with a passion lacking in some more expensive production-line cinema-fillers. And that will never not be a good thing.

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The Other

Doesn't quite live up to it's reputation ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

Niles and Holland are twin brothers. They are actually played by twin brothers. This surprises me, because they are hardly ever in the same shot, so I just assumed one actor was doubling-up on both parts. The only reason I could come to why the two were visually separated in such a way is because one of them is dead, and only his twin could see him.

I like horror films that play against the conventions of the genre. This is set very much in wholesome Tom Sawyer country, amidst sprawling, open locations drenched in sunshine. So much so that it really doesn’t come across as much of a horror film at all. Although I try to avoid spoilers, I had read great things about ‘The Other’ and for the most part, I’m puzzled as to why it has been so well received. Even the ‘creepy’ Aunt Ada, who has taught Niles to ‘astrally project’, is a kindly and caring woman.

That’s not to say this is a bad film: it isn’t. The actors are excellent, especially young Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, who, unlike so many juvenile performers, are appealing and – even when misbehaving – don’t come across as brattish or irritating in the least. I can only assume Robert Mulligan took the decision to play against the horror aspect throughout, to heighten it only at the very end. As such – and this is no slight on anything – ‘The Other’ comes across like a supernatural, post-watershed episode of ‘The Waltons’

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Tenebrae

Stylish and sprawling ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

This is a stylish, sprawling giallo from Director Dario Argento. Writer Peter Neale is played by 50-something Anthony Franciosa, surrounded by a cheery, adoring gaggle of young ladies whenever he flashes his pearly whites. Unlike a lot of giallo leading men, however, Neale is likeable and a gentleman, at least most of the time, and Franciosca plays him very well. Some nicely paced set-pieces put the victims through their paces in a memorably punishing manner, often topped off with more than a splash of thick red blood.

Supporting players include the appealing Christian Borromeo as possible suspect Gianni, and the familiar face of John Saxon, who was prolific in film and television at this time, is Bullmer.

The star of the show though, is undoubtedly Argento’s wondrous directorial flourishes. The squealing, electronic prog-rock soundtrack is provided by the idiosyncratic band Goblin. Like their other incidental scores it is somewhat ‘full on’ at times, but nevertheless injects various scenes with a sense of perverse dread, and enters fully into the director’s somewhat gaudy style.

‘Tenebrae’ saw the welcome return of Argento to the world of giallo after delving into pure supernatural horror for his last few ventures. It proved he hadn’t lost his stylish approach to the genre and remains a favourite of mine. The ending, where there is revelation upon revelation, is particularly successful. If you are considering venturing into the world of ‘Tenebrae’ for the first time, I advise you to avoid spoilers! My score for this is 8 out of 10.

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My Best Fiend

When Herzog met Kinski - mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 22/08/2019

This is a documentary written and directed by the acclaimed Werner Herzog, and focusses on his tumultuous relationship with volatile actor Klaus Kinski. Volatile might actually be an understatement for, as the very opening shots reveal, Kinski was a man of unpredictable temper. And when he let go of that temper, well …

It is impossible to review this without at least touching on some of Kinski’s personal peccadillos. In the 1950s, he was diagnosed with psychopathy and was unable to secure film roles. As a result, he twice attempted suicide. His career recovered somewhat, but his schizophrenic behaviour didn’t. After his death, there were various allegations from family members of sexual abuse.

Herzog, despite being labelled a megalomaniac (and other things) by Kinski, has lead a less notorious lifestyle. He has married three times, and has continued to direct to this day.

Featuring much behind-the-scenes footage of Kinski’s rages, Herzog’s personal anecdotes also feature a more measured human being, even suggesting someone who would instigate his tantrums as means of making sure everyone’s attention was focussed on him. Herzog would even provoke his star before a take, ensuring he had got it out of his system in time for filming! Steering Kinski’s volatility could never always be successful, of course, and it is with a vein of black humour that Herzog recounts tales of actually intending to kill his ‘best fiend’.

Two fascinating characters, then, who were often capable of greatness as a result of their explosive relationship. It would, of course, have been fascinating to have had Kinski alive at this time to provide his own reminiscences. But we are left with remembrances from those he worked with, my two favourites featuring one time when his co-star Eva Mattes won an acting award, and Kinski did not. I don’t need such accolades, he is said to have replied: I know I am a genius! Secondly, the two men were at such loggerheads that Herzog threatened to empty eight bullets into Kinski’s head, leaving the ninth for himself!

Who hasn’t got a fiend like that?

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Dark Silence

Hellish misery for the underdog.

(Edit) 01/08/2019

There’s a lesson here; always persevere with a film past the first fifteen minutes. On first attempt this seemed very much to me like an Italian production (it is actually Italian/Canadian) trying too hard to emulate a wholesome American ‘family’ horror – which it is in a way – but the results go beyond that kind of blandness.

Following the death of his wife, Craig and his mute daughter Jennifer (Aaron Stielstra and Eleonora Marianelli respectively) move into a dilapidated home. Craig looks and dresses very much like ‘your average guy’, and uses American slang, but has an accent, as all characters do. He also has a slightly manic edge to him. Jennifer is a sweet child, terrifically acted. Her sense of fear and unsureness is conveyed entirely through her eyes, and I would hope Mirianelli has a successful future ahead of her. Craig’s sister Susan (Désirée Giorgetti) provides scant, and often pretty unhelpful support. In flashbacks, wife Helen is played, rather stiltedly, by Sofia Pauly.

Craig seems to be sinking into his own private hell, exacerbated by his daughter’s increasingly dark dreams. As we learn a little more about him, we find he has a catalogue of failures behind him. The dream-like figure of The Blind King (David White), a chatty mummy-like demon, appears to be orchestrating Craig’s anxieties through shared dreams and threatens to engulf him completely. Or so it seems to me – a lot of this is open to interpretation, despite much psychological dialogue. This appears to be the curse of the underdog, the black sheep of the family, the loser.

This is a dark journey that runs out of steam a little toward the end. My score is 6 out of 10.

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The Abominable Snowman

Cosy Hammer chiller.

(Edit) 01/08/2019

Hammer films made a massive impact with their horror output, beginning with 1957’s ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’, which made Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into household names. It is quite astonishing to me that ‘The Abominable Snowman’ was released only a few months earlier that same year, but it could have been ten years before. This is no form of criticism – it just shows how bloody and revolutionary the style of the Mary Shelley adaption was in comparison.

It can’t be easy to make a film about a group of abrasive characters travelling across unforgiving wastes in search of the deadly Yeti so cosy, yet this is what Director Val Guest manages to do. The Buddhist monks are compliant and cheerful, the British characters are clipped, polite and stoical and the Americans are gruff and loud. All very well played, Forrest Tucker manages to make the irreverent Tom Friend dependable and appealing. Second-billed Peter Cushing and Richard Wattis (as authoritative Dr. Rollason and Peter ‘Foxy’ Fox respectively) are fussily excellent, and Maureen Connell makes the most of her role as Rollason’s wilful wife Helen, the only female in the picture. Wolfe Morris, who plays Kusang, also played another effective and rather chilling monk in the 1967 Doctor Who story ‘The Abominable Snowman.’

I used the term cosy earlier: again, this is no criticism. The camaraderie of the characters, despite their differences, adds much to this, as is the ‘old fashioned’ respect and politeness on display (when the characters are not squabbling, of course). Certainly a modestly budgeted British studio’s interpretation of the savage landscape is beyond criticism. Establishing footage of the terrain meshes very well with the very detailed, expansive studio sets.

This is, however, a very talky film. Despite the fine performances, it would be nice to have seen a little more of the titular Bigfoot. We are teased throughout – 16 inch footprints, eerie sounds, and then a clawed hand. There is a genuinely growing sense of tension as the vengeful creatures (there’s more than one) echo across the snow-scape – and the climactic revelation is powerful and poignant. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Black Cat

Feline Fulci terror.

(Edit) 01/08/2019

I am not always a fan of the colourful, bright-red-blood-splashed world of director Lucio Fulci (or his fellow director of such films, Mario Bava) although it would be wrong of me to under-estimate how influential their projects have often been. Such extravagantly lit productions often rob the story of a sense of reality and, while they may be spectacular to look at, I can't always believe in them.

And so to 'The Black Cat'. Loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe story, this production could be seen as an exercise in restraint - and it all comes together beautifully. Police Inspector Gorley is soberly played by David Warbeck as a kind of Roger Moore/Ian McCulloch hybrid. Mimsy Farmer is Jill Trevers, initially a bit too sensible for a horror run-around starring an aggressive feline. Both actors play things very much as real, which gives what could be an occasionally ludicrous story a sense of gravitas, leaving Patrick Magee to really go to town with the character of mad old Professor Robert Miles, who has a kind of connection with the titular mouser: the question is, who is pulling the strings?

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this adaption. Fulci gives many scenes a looming, poetic quality without ever drifting into gaudy unreality. Various cats-eye views work well and the beautiful sleek feline(s) used here behave very well and genuinely have an unsettling edge (I say this as a cat lover). The enhanced sound of growling that accompanies the cat's every appearance also lets us know the creature is not to be messed with. All this, with various twists and turns and occasional shocking bouts of brief gore (with bright red blood of course), insures there is never an excuse to look away. Highly recommended, my score for this is 8 out of 10.

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The Sacrament

Paradise lost - mild spoilers.

(Edit) 01/08/2019

‘The Sacrament’ is one of those found-footage films that likes to push the boundaries of the formula. Or in other words, what we have here emerges as a hybrid of the found-footage convention and ‘traditional’ film-making. Scrutiny reveals that not everything could possibly have been recorded by AJ Bowen’s Sam Turner, despite imaginative efforts to get us to believe so. Equally, the addition of an occasional incidental score at moments of great tension seem to indicate either that the character’s added this in their own fictional post-production, or this is a regular project put through the found-footage ‘filter’.

I use the word ‘fictional’ – here again, nothing is that straightforward: although I didn’t realise it when watching, this is based on the 1978 Jonestown atrocity in which a charismatic cult leader orchestrated a mass ‘revolutionary suicide’. The leader’s name was Jim Jones; in ‘The Sacrament’, the actor playing the cult leader is Gene Jones. Ooyah.

I wouldn’t suggest that Jones was employed because of his name, however, far from it. His performance as ‘Father’, who benignly resides over the residents of Eden Parish, is excellent. Laconic and avuncular one moment, sharp and menacing the next. A tremendous character.

Amy Seimetz plays Caroline, who has transformed herself from a lowly world of drug abuse to the hippie heights of Eden Parish. Except, as her brother Patrick (Kentucker Audley) and film-maker Jake (Joe Swanberg) find out when visiting her, the gun-toting guards present an image that is anything other than peace and love. Jake’s wife at home, is pregnant. This informs the sympathy he feels a little mute girl who, alongside her frightened mother, implore the visitors to get them away from the place. As was ever pretty opbvious, there is an evil at the heart of Eden Parish.

Director Ti West makes an excellent job of this, with the cast all providing well-crafted and rounded characters, and a real sense of menace that makes the ‘tranquility’ enjoyed by all the collected waifs and strays perversely unnatural. The occasional moments of gore, mostly saved for the atrocities toward the end, are subtle and very effective. The sense of the scale of wilful disaster here is unsettling, all the more so as it is orchestrated by the caring resident nurse. An excellent film, not entirely surprising in the story it tells, but powerfully carried out. My score is 8 out of 10.

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Bundy and the Green River Killer

Well researched, low budget police procedural - mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 25/07/2019

Detective Dave Richards (Mark Homer) is watching ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space!’ ‘Plan 9’ is a notorious low-budget film by the derided Edward G Wood. Fifty years later, low budget film Director Andrew Jones and his North Bank Entertainment company have made a name for themselves for prolific, and often successful, filmic output. Lack of finance hasn’t hampered his films’ ambitions, which is either commendable or foolhardy: it’s up to you to decide. For example, early on here, we have a nightclub, frequented by a crowd of about three people; a trip to a bar, frequented by about three people; a press conference, frequented – well, you know the drill. Would it have been better to modify these scenes to locations requiring less need for extras who clearly aren’t there? Possibly. Having said that, ‘Bundy and the Green River Killer’ is one of Jones’ more successful projects. Unlike his ‘Robert the Doll’ series, which is frequented by less and less realistic characters, here we have much more believable, rounded people. Therefore we can identify with them, are drawn into the drama and less inclined to mind the low budget trappings.

The cast are mainly very good, with a fair approximation of American accents. Homer leads them well, and it is good to see he has become part of Jones’ repertoire. Of the protagonists, Richard Mark makes a fine job of Ted Bundy. He may lack some of the brooding charm the part requires, but it is a good, solid performance in what is a surprisingly peripheral role (his helping the police to gain favour inspired the tales of Hannibal Lecter). I’m not quite sure what to make of Jared Nelson as Gary Ridgway – in early scenes he seems ungainly, almost comical, whereas later on he is impressively measured and menacing.

Of course, the film is talky and not given to huge scenes of action, which is a trademark of Jones’ work. Much of the dialogue is taken from taped interviews with the real Bundy during his time on Death Row. There is a loose approximation of 1982 USA rather than something that survives intense scrutiny (plenty of ammunition for those who wish to bemoan inaccurate fashions and wrong-shaped plugs!). Some will appreciate this, others will not (the film opened at #1 in the HMV Premiere DVD chart). For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed this and as always, look forward to Jones’ next adventure!

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Robert Reborn

Robert flies high ...

(Edit) 20/07/2019

Andrew Jones’ prolific North Bank Entertainment dishes out another in the successful series featuring Robert the Doll. As with the previous couple of instalments his fictional creator, The Toymaker, has become a central character. It isn’t a great decision: Lee Bane is a mainstay of Jones’ productions and often turns in fine performances, but once again, he is buried under ‘old man’ make-up from which no-one could make much of an impression. The Toymaker’s look has been toned down, admittedly, but the character remains visually unimpressive and often absurd. Knowingly though, there is a thin line of dark humour present that invites the audience not to take things too seriously.

This is very much part of a series: there is little effort to explain any previous plot developments in the hope of converting those unfamiliar with Robert’s back-story. Events occur, but very little story seems to take place for a long while. Robert himself makes fleeting head-and-shoulders appearances (as do his friends, Cyclops and Kalashnikov), and any venue, whether it be theatre of public house, is noticeably free of people.

‘Robert Reborn’ is the fifth in the film series, and it appears to be the concluding chapter in wat has become the prequel trilogy (this is set in 1951). I’m not massively sorry about this. Robert’s origins could have made quite a pacey and entertaining story, but three films is stretching the idea beyond breaking point. And yet, this opened at #1 in HMV’s DVD Premier Chart, so it appears others are more enamoured of the little fellow’s beginnings than me.

I still think there’s mileage in the story. Images of a toy-room festooned with sightless, grinning mannequins will never not be creepy, and Jones’ productions have always bounced back despite occasionally uninspiring decisions.

‘Robert Reborn’ isn’t a bad film (the scenes aboard a plane heading for Moscow), but it exposes many weaknesses of a low-budget production without bringing anything particularly inspiring to the table this time around. My score is 5 out of 10.

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