Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 693 reviews and rated 793 films.

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The Asylum

Slow and steady.

(Edit) 01/02/2020

This succinctly titled chiller features the writing and directing work of Filip Maciejewicz. His story is a slow burner featuring a number of clever ideas and twists that award concentration from the audience. To appreciate them however, requires sitting through a fairly routinely directed production that sometimes borders on dullness.

As an independent film ‘The Asylum’ is to be applauded, but there needed to be a few more flourishes to keep the attention from wandering on occasions. A slow story directed in a slow manner does not make particularly riveting viewing, but the acting, which ranges from adequate to powerful, disinclines the audience to lose interest.

I have a great fondness for low budget films, but some, such as this, could really have benefitted from a little extra time to tighten up certain scenes and allow the occasional shocks and violence to work more effectively than they are allowed to here.

My advice would be, don’t go into this expecting anything particularly spectacular and, provided you stick around until the end, you will be suitably rewarded for 85 minutes. My score would be 6 out of 10.

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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Respectable horror with a few scares.

(Edit) 01/02/2020

Watching this prequel to the 2014 original puts me in mind of horror stories for the Disney generation. That is no criticism – the acting here is fine, and it is always a relief to find that the child performers are not at all like the petulant brats often found in these types of film. Perhaps children were better behaved in the 1960s, when this is set. Lulu Wilson is particularly good in her role of young Doris, youngest of the Zander family, a role for which she has rightly received much praise.

This is an entirely respectable production. There are a few creepy moments, but little that will thrill you beyond the few moments they are on screen. The period atmosphere is conveyed well, and although this leads directly into the following film, it is fairly enjoyable in its own right.

As with any family-friendly horror – and there is nothing here to unreasonably shock the viewer – it doesn’t go beyond superficial, which is fine. A couple of gory moments towards the end will make the younger viewers wince a little, but beyond that, it is undemanding stuff. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Island of Death

An acquired taste for sure, but I loved this.

(Edit) 01/02/2020

Back in the good old days, the UK coined the term ‘video nasty’. This was used to describe banned film productions that British censors, eager to be outraged by something, would attempt to ban them and inadvertently elevate them into essential viewing for those who like that kind of thing.

Director Niko Mastoriakis seemed more determined than most to ensure his film would offend as many as possible. Bestiality, rape, murder, kinky sex, drugs, sadism, racism and homophobia – they’re all here. And all beautifully filmed on location in the island of Mykonos. The surroundings are so impressive, the low budget is a lot less obvious than it otherwise would be. The Greek location is unusual for a horror film, and works very well.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Bob Bellings (alongside Jessica Dublin, who plays the extravagant Patricia) is probably the only professional actor here. He plays Christopher with a focussed determination and is very good. His partner Celia is played by Jane Ryall (sometimes known as Jane Lyle) who, like the rest of the cast, is not an actor. Although her performance improves over the course of the film, her line delivery is stilted, but in a way that actually defines the character. It doesn’t take long to realise that the husband and wife, as they make a point of introducing themselves, are deeply disturbed: Celia’s child-like demeanour belies her perversity and therefore makes it more marked. Jane was a model before and after this film, and it is likely her cute-as-a-button looks secured this role. According to the director, she was quite shy, and this filters into her performance: the resulting contrast between bull-headed Christopher and not-as-innocent-as-she-seems minx Celia is very effective.

There’s no let-up in the action. Christopher and Celia are keen to take photographs of every nasty thing they do – indeed the credits are shown to the backdrop noise of a camera clicking – and as the blood continues to flow for one reason or another, Celia begins to sicken of it all. There is a final twist but I won’t reveal it here, because it’s a good ‘un.

Apparently inspired by ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, this certainly delivers on the visceral unpleasantness. Every deed is accompanied by a variation of the theme tune, a handful of very catchy pieces written by Nick Lavranos. A quick word for the extras on this disc: a very informative and interesting piece from exploitation maestro Stephen Thrower, and two documentaries/interviews featuring Mastorakis. Both contributors are very personable, with the director especially allowing you to fall in love with his film all over again.

I really like this film. You can either have fun watching the relentless determination to shock at every turn, or be appalled by the antics of the main characters. I love the way Christopher’s murderous tendencies mostly mark him out to be a massive hypocrite among other things, but when encountering characters even less appealing than him, he is a kind of anti-hero. This makes the ending all the more poignant. You wouldn’t expect everything to be wrapped up nicely, and you would be right. This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but my score is 9 out 10.

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Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Faye

Dreamlike exploitation cinema.

(Edit) 01/02/2020

A ‘neglected Eurotrash classic’ apparently, this beautifully filmed French film has been compared to the works of Director Jean Rollin. To be honest, that is my main reason for watching. There are certain similarities – beautiful, scantily clad girls, luscious countryside, an elegant, crumbling castle and various softcore lesbian scenes.

However, whereas Rollin was always able to inject a certain indefinable fairy-tale quality into many of his works, ‘Girl Slaves’ falls into a trap Rollin never did, in my view – this film is sadly rather dull. Not a great deal happens, and when it does, it happens very slowly.

Thankfully, there is a strong cast here, bolstered by Alfred Baillou as the diminutive Gurth (Baillou appeared in a number of films for Jess Franco, his best known probably being Malou in ‘Plaisir à trois’, or ‘How to Seduce a Virgin.’).

Dreamlike it is, but there is little beneath the surface except for a fairly gentle tale involving lesbian exploitation. Nicely directed by Bruno Gantillon, but with little meat on the bone. My score is 5 out of 10.

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My Little Sister

The only real jump scare is as the end credits roll.

(Edit) 01/01/2020

This is an English speaking Italian horror/slasher film that contains some good moments, but is strangely devoid of any tension whatsoever. There’s a good cast for the most part: Saverio Percudani impresses as the titular killer, albeit a little too groomed for an outcast.

There are elements of Leatherface to the character of Little Sister and his various depictions of lunacy that are so disturbing because of the serene way in which they are directed (by Maurizio del Piccolo, Roberto del Piccolo – Piccolo also wrote). It turns out – in a spoiler – that the killer is just one of a family of mentally unstable untouchables.

Quietly effective, it is true to say that only real jump scare is at the end, when without warning, the death metal end theme music kicks in as the credits roll. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Curse of Halloween Jack

Moderate offering from North Bank Entertainment.

(Edit) 01/01/2020

I’m really at a crossroads with this, the latest film from Andrew Jones’ prolific North Bank Entertainment company. This sequel to 2018’s ‘Legend of Halloween Jack’, this production is a similar mix of the good and the not-so-good. The problem is, after so many projects, the not-so-good elements should be better than what we have here.

It is a step up from the previous instalment, however; Halloween Jack’s appearance has had a few tweaks, and his glowing scarecrow appearance looks pretty good in an eccentric kind of way. Any sound issues prevalent in previous films are absent, and the acting is all pretty decent.

However, we do get the usual mix of accents, which makes it difficult to pinpoint where the gruesome action is supposed to be located. Cockneys, RP, Welsh and American accents all rub shoulders together. The Americans in particular sound unconvincing to this UK ear, and must give genuine United Statesians toothache. The location is listed as Dunwich in Massechusetts, bit it might as well be Suffolk.

Halloween Jack’s motive seems to be to kill as many people as possible. The kills are spectacularly under-produced, with cap guns and a distinct lack of gore. I wondered if this film was supposed to be a family friendly horror, but the frequent profanities would indicate otherwise. There’s a massacre at a Halloween party, where a handful of people we’ve been made familiar with are knifed. The other partygoers respond by running around the living room and screaming, but make no attempt to leave the house. It is a masterpiece of understatement, and it gives the impression that no attempt has been made to create any tension at all.

After a brief chat to bearded weirdo Duke Tanner (Peter Cosgrove), Danielle (Tiffany Ceri) – whose previous most daring exploit was to defy her father and attend the afore-mentioned Halloween party – suddenly becomes what we are invited to imagine is a gun toting bass ass. Despite the prolific Ceri’s best efforts, it is a lukewarm transformation.

I like that North Bank Entertainment exists, and I am glad they have reached a level of success that allows them to make a growing number of UK/Welsh horror productions. But it frustrates me a little that they don’t progress artistically a little more. Their best film, in my view, remains their very early ‘Theatre of Fear (2014)’. My score is 6 out of 10.

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Pumpkinhead

Effective Eighties horror.

(Edit) 01/01/2020

This is a surprisingly effective film featuring an effortless star turn from the terrific Lance Henrikson.

In the first sequence, a young Ed Harley witnesses the murder of a neighbour by the legendry Pumpkinhead. Many years later, he’s a grown man (Henrikson) with a child Billy (appealing Matthew Hurley). All good so far, but then the Eighties Kids arrive and prematurely, my heart sinks. That’s not how they’re addressed in the film, it’s just my name for the scourge of many a horror fiction, the ‘group of teens’, often played as brattish nasties who are always stoned, drunk and/or horny – and very dislikeable. So it is a relief that they are all pretty decent and personable, except for Steve, who isn’t just a jerk, but a ‘jerk jerk.’ Joel Hoffman plays him well – he truly is a horrible piece of work, but that’s what he’s meant to be.

Against all sympathetic advice he’s given, Ed turns to the supernatural to avenge a particularly nasty tragedy, and following this careful groundwork, ‘Pumpkinhead’ becomes the sort of horror you want it to be. The blood and gore wouldn’t be as powerful were it not for the build-up, and Henrikson takes full advantage of the many-layered Ed Harley.

Things get a bit slasher-happy as the 83 minutes roll on, but it’s all done with the benefit of good characters and situations, and for a pre-CGI creation, the gargoyle-like titular monster is pretty impressive. Enjoyable. My score is 7 out of 10.

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House of Good and Evil

Effective horror marred by sound issues ...

(Edit) 06/12/2019

You know how in horror films there comes a point where everyone's phone stops working, or the electricity goes down, or someone discovers a mysterious locked door? Well, all that business is covered and out of the way in the first ten minutes of 'House of Good and Evil', so you know when unthinkable things happen, the young couple are entirely on their own. Half of the isolated new home Chris (Christian Oliver) and Maggie (Rachel Marie Lewis) move into is rented by a quiet elderly couple.

David Mun directs this atmospherically, but there are some sound issues. Chris and Maggie's whispered sweet nothings are barely audible much of the time, which is irritating but a common problem with low budget projects such as this. (At one point, elderly Mrs Anderson is talking with Maggie and complains her hearing aid needs new batteries - even she wants her to speak up!)

The couple have recently suffered a bereavement which has left Maggie emotionally unstable, so practically speaking, is it kind to buy such a remote house with no amenities, when Chris is required to leave his wife alone while he goes to work?

'House of Good and Evil' is mostly very enjoyable although too long. My biggest complaint remains the sound issues, which causes the viewer giving up trying to follow what is being said, even at moments of great tension. Cracking twist at the end though. My score is 6 out of 10.

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The Black Raven

Zucco owns this routine quickie!

(Edit) 06/12/2019

This is best described as a routine quickie notable mainly (to me) for the inclusion of top-billed George Zucco as 'TYhe Black Raven' himself, Amos Bradford, and future Frankenstein Monster Glenn Strange as, er, Andy.

With distant similarities to moments from 1932's classic 'The Old Dark House', this involves the comparatively mundane subject of murder and stolen money. The characters are all pretty thinly sketched, and the acting - apart from Zucco who is his usual implacable self - is suitably unenthusiastic. Prolific Wanda McKay as Lee Winfield, the token female, seems particularly uninterested. Strange is capable but his role is pretty thankless. Flash Gordon's arch foe Ming actor Charles Middleton plays the Sherriff.

There's a good, isolated atmosphere under the sheets of rain, however, albeit on a small budget. Sadly the story isn't really engaging enough to make much of this and at 64 minutes length, has no real interest in anything other than the functional. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Suspiria

Some impressive set-pieces, but ... (spoilers)

(Edit) 06/12/2019

Strange isn’t it, that with all the advantages and advancements of make-up special effects, when it comes to disguising a female as a male, the human voice is what breaks the illusion. The male/female character in this updated, reimagined version of ‘Suspiria’ is no more convincing than dear old Elspeth Dudgeon as Sir Roderick Femm in ‘The Old Dark House’ nearly ninety years earlier.

It reminded me in some of its many set-pieces, of the Japanese horrors that proved popular in the early 2000s, especially ‘Audition’ (unsurprising, really, given both films’ focus on dance classes). Some of the Mephistophelian set-pieces full of writhing bodies in the finale are akin to many scenes depicting hell in silent Hollywood films. These images, together with the rich and evocative cinematography of Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and directorship of Luca Guadagnino create some memorable scenes.

However, the moments in between are sadly dull – and there are many of them: there is absolutely no reason why this film has to be 2 hours and 32 minutes long. There is no reason why this story needs so much time to be told. And that proves to be ‘Suspiria’s’ undoing. It boasts a truly wonderful cast, looks stunning and has some eventful moments, but contains so much that is a chore to sit through, and scenes that contain little to justify themselves. I’m not even sure why such vast swathes of the narrative have to be spoken in (often un-subtitled) German, other than to authenticate the setting, albeit inconsistently.

I like slow burning films. I like films that look as impressive and European as this. I like stories that give the impression that they are written by people far cleverer than me. But this is far too much of all those ingredients without any great pay-off. It is a film that loves itself far more than the audience is given reason to. Watching it, I almost felt like a gooseberry at a mutual admiration party. This all sounds harsher than I want it to, but I don’t feel that this new interpretation of ‘Suspiria’, which has received widespread acclaim and therefore deserves to be palatable to a large general audience, has to be such a personal, un-inclusive one. My score is 5 out of 10.

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The Banana Splits Movie

Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork (mild spoilers ) ...

(Edit) 06/12/2019

Updating children’s favourites The Banana Splits from their late 1960s television show, into rampaging robotic killers, could have gone either way. As it is, I had a great 86 minutes with this, although the omission of the ‘Banana Vac’ character from the original (a truly creepy moose-head that hangs over the doorway with light-bulbs either side of his head) is a missed opportunity. He was the most frightening one of all!

The idea of making Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky into robots is a development I was in two minds about. Seeing them move in stilted ‘robotic’ ways looks awkward and unconvincing (I can’t believe I’m reprimanding a Banana Split for being unconvincing – and that’s the beauty of this; it’s almost critique-proof, so bizarre is the premise), but seeing them in half shadow, with half their faces ripped off, revealing a bright red robotic eye is the stuff true childhood nightmares are made of.

The balance is rather good. Lines like, “Tear those fuzzy b******s apart,” and “We’re about to go on-air, and I’m a Split short,” are laugh-out-loud funny, and some of the adult human characters are exaggerated to ridiculous lengths so their flaws and stupidity is more cartoon-like than the Splits themselves, but – and this surely can’t be a spoiler – kills occur, and when they do, they are played straight and treated seriously. And gruesomely. But because the characters are so extreme (some less pleasantly than others), you don’t feel too guilty about cheering when they are dispatched. The juveniles are appealing, which doesn’t always happen. Some of the grown-ups are intentionally irritating – but not for long.

The pacing sometimes flags, but when the characters are on screen – especially when they are committing atrocities in front of a live studio audience of screaming children – it’s difficult to look away. Great fun. 8 out of 10.

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Dracula

Bloodless but enjoyable.

(Edit) 23/11/2019

There have been so many versions and updates of this classic horror story that it is impossible not to ponder things like, how does Patrick Bergin’s version of the Count compare with that of Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi or, bless us all, Zandor Vorkov? He’s very good, actually, aided by some impressive ageing/anti-ageing make-up and plenty of directorial build-ups.

This two-part television movie takes full advantage of its beautiful Budapest locations by presenting a world that is timeless, in the sense that we have flash cars and mobile phones, but also horse-drawn carriages and candelabras. Rather than the production existing in any kind of vacuum, it instead inhabits an exotic ageless environment which aids the story nicely. There are many moments taken from the book, but fitted into an updated timeline. The various CGI effects are mainly very decent, with a few over-ambitious misfires.

Not everything is great. This is a faithful but bloodless adaption and, while spectacular, it is not remotely frightening – although Director (and co-writer) Roger Young’s ambition to create an epic, cinematic version of the famous story is laudable. I felt that the climax was very abrupt (nice twist at the end though).

The acting is terrific throughout, with Giancarlo Giannini is a rather under-used Van Helsing-like Dr. Enrico Valenzi and Muriel Baumeister as Lucy of particular note. My score is 7 out of 10.

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The Skull

A lesser Amicus offering ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

Robert Bloch’s short story is given the Amicus treatment in one of their early horror offerings. They’re probably better known for the anthology films that marked them out from stablemates Hammer, and you might be forgiven for wishing this was a shorter chapter alongside other stories. Certainly, I felt that way.

Milton Subotsky’s script adaption apparently ran somewhat short of the required running time, so it fell to veteran Director Freddie Francis to fill time be panning shots across rooms and padding out further scenes in order to reach 83 minutes. Once you know this, it is easier to forgive the leaden pace, even at dramatic moments, and perhaps find yourself more sympathetic to the usually excellent Peter Cushing, whose climactic moments go on for far too long.

Cushing shares the credits with Christopher Lee, who isn’t featured much, and Michael Gough, who is featured even less. Also in the impressive cast are Patrick Wymark, Patrick Magee, Peter Woodthorpe and George Colouris – all terrific actors, and all deserving more screen time.

The skull of the title is given the full horror treatment by Francis – hallucinogenic lighting effects and even some impressive ‘floating’ scenes. The power it exudes over the characters is well conveyed, and yet the film ultimately falls a little short of its contemporaries and remains, for me at least, a lesser Amicus offering. My score is 5 out of 10.

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Abandoned Dead

Eerie low budget project ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

I rather enjoyed this independent film concerning an over-worked Security Guard’s night spent in an inner-city medical clinic. Rachel, very well played by Sarah Nicklin, has an aversion to darkness (and therefore the night), so her enforced nightshift already sets her nerves on edge.

Director and writer Robert Adams, ubiquitous behind the scenes, supplies a very effective, minimalist electronic music score which adds greatly to the low-key atmosphere of murky horror.

I like this because it attempts something a little different and for the most part succeeds. While the idea of a young woman spending the night in a creepy building (seemingly) alone isn’t exactly new, this is a story atmospherically told, and not one that relies on ‘jump scares’, which has become a rather monotonous staple of many modern films. My score is 7 out of 10.

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Woyzeck

Bleak and compelling ...

(Edit) 23/11/2019

Made the same year as the peerless ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’, ‘Woyzeck’ again brings together the mighty partnership of Klaus Kinski and Director Werner Herzog. Whereas Kinski’s portrayal of the vampire remains a highpoint of understated power, here his intensity hits overdrive and crosses the blurred line between insanity and over-acting.

The story is a deceptively simple one. Woyzeck is a soldier who is forced to take menial jobs and perform degrading experiments in order to feed his family. This leads to his mental breakdown, which results in a shocking act at the film’s climax. As he loses his mind, you can believe in him totally, but that is partly because his frantic movements and extreme facial expressions indicate the grip of his senses is fragile to begin with. In true Herzog style, the film drinks up the main character’s flaws and falls from (lowly) grace without spectacle or glamour.

Although the relationship between director and leading man was always fractious, co-star Eva Mattes as Marie has always spoken fondly of Kinski and their time working together.

The film is typically bleak but compelling. My score is 7 out of 10.

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