Film Reviews by NP

Welcome to NP's film reviews page. NP has written 660 reviews and rated 757 films.

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The Amityville Terror

Nothing new to see here - spoilers follow.

(Edit) 04/04/2019

This film gets straight on with the business of introducing us to the new family moving in to 'the spooky house'. Within moments of Hailey (Nicole Tompkins), the sardonic teen daughter ('she's been through a tough time'), exploring a new neighbourhood she clearly feels is beneath her, mum Jessica (Kim Nielsen) and stepdad Todd (Kaiwi Lyman-Mersereau) have come close to having sex before it is revealed she is 'never in the mood'. Ah - domestic unease. Todd's sister Shae (Amanda Barton), who is renting the house to them, has a history of alcohol abuse and this sparks an argument. And all this before they've barely even closed the front door behind them!

I've never been hugely into the Amityville series. The first film I felt was lightweight and faintly ridiculous: an evil, sentient building is a great idea, but seemed more concerned with destroying a wholesome American family than generating anything interesting. And yet it was a very successful venture. Quite how subsequent projects have featured the 'Amityville' banner and been so amateur is puzzling. This isn't the worst venture into the franchise, but it isn't very involving and worse, doesn't attempt anything that hasn't been done many times before. The lack of aspiration on display allows you know exactly what you're in for only probably slightly less polished than you may be used to.

The acting is mostly fine, the effects few and far between, whereas the story is little more than a box-ticking exercise: wholesome love interest in the form of Brett (Trevor Stines) who reluctantly warns of the bad things that happened in the house (indicating that this is 'the' Amityville house, despite bearing little resemblance to previous building, despite the original featuring on the DVD cover for this), bad girl bullies, and an ending where (spoiler) everything has been forgotten and inexplicably covered-up as new residents arrive to carry on the franchise (whose fate is revealed at the beginning of this instalment).

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Requiem for a Vampire

Jean Rollin's further excursions into vampire fantasy - spoilers follow.

(Edit) 05/04/2019

French director Jean Rollin continues to indulge his fascination with the undead with his fourth film. Whilst not quite as rampantly weird as his previous 'Shiver of the Vampires', this nevertheless provides a very nice contrast between events in the ‘normal’ world as they drift into those of a hidden ‘other’ world.

In his career, he has demonstrated a liking for young female double-acts, and for clowns. Unsurprising then, that this opens with two young girls – apparently lovers – dressed as clowns, hopelessly on the run. Much time is spent with them as they survive various mishaps before stumbling on the biggest of all – a deserted chateau housing 'the last vampire' and his clan. Much chasing and recapturing happens next before the ending reveals the vampire to be surprisingly honorable and the alleged leading man, Frederic, something of a coward.

The nudity is more prevalent here than in earlier Rollin films, and a scene involving Marie being whipped by Michelle pushes boundaries further yet (apparently two versions of various scenes were shot - one clothed and one not - for foreign audiences who maybe shocked by the human form, including - unsurprisingly - the UK). As Maria, Rollin regular Marie-Pierre Castel gains a rare starring role – apparently her sister Cathy was originally cast, but proved unavailable. Her partner is played by Mireille Dargent, who also played a clown in Jean Rollin's 'Les Démoniaques/The Demoniacs'.

Despite typical Rollin moments of occasional unlikeliness, this is once again a curious dream-world spun into a dark fantasy where reality only occasionally bites.

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Halloween

Slain it all before - mild spoilers.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

We have two ‘iconic’ characters from the franchise now: Michael of course, and Laurie Strode, played by the mighty Jamie Lee Curtis: more mature now, but still very much in possession of ‘the body’ she was famed for back in the 1980s. Strode is now a self-confessed basket-case, which allows her grand-daughter plenty of opportunities to appeal to the teen-audience by dishing out life-advice for granny. “Get over it,” for example, in relation to her ongoing trauma caused by events in the original film. Another familiar face – and I realise this may be a minority thrill among this film’s fans – is that of Dr Sartain, who has been looking after Michael since Dr Loomis is now dead, like the actor who played him (we get a brief and very welcome voice-over from Donald Pleasance early on). Sartain is played by Haluk Bilginer, who was terrific – also in the 1980s – as roguish Mehmet in BBC soap EastEnders when it was at the height of its powers.

The associated teens here are as silly as you would expect. Quick witted, sexually arrogant and fashionably stoned. They don’t annoy too much, but the weightier material is reserved for two pod-casters who are eager to get inside the mind of Michael, Aaron Korey(Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees). They don’t have much time to achieve this.

I’ve never been massively into this franchise. I found the first film enjoyable and Rob Zombie’s 2007 reboot breathed new life into a fairly standard central character. All other sequels, or reimaginings, I have found incredibly tedious. This version, after giving Michael such a build-up, chooses to begin his latest mild killing spree in curiously muted fashion. There is no sense of occasion. That Michael always happens to go on a rampage on Halloween, and that he is referred to as ‘boogie man’ has seemed to me a blatant merchandise ploy. That said, when John Carpenter’s theme music kicks in, there’s no denying its power.

I found this rather lacklustre to be honest. Once again for example, a major moment of drama occurs because one teen kisses another teen. It is difficult to care because firstly, the characters are inoffensive but vacuous, and secondly, Michael’s strolling round leisurely hacking people up (often off camera, surprisingly and disappointingly). A sadly diluted environment for this much lauded return.

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Footprints on the Moon

Intriguing, but Kinski is wasted - mild spoilers follow.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

I was first moved to watch this because it been described as a giallo in several articles, and stars the fearsome Klaus Kinski. I came away from it deciding it is definitely not a giallo, and that Kinski’s involvement was far too brief.

There’s no black gloved killer, no nudity, no gore and no rousing soundtrack. What was interesting to me that I spotted that heroine Alice’s short hairstyle was in fact a wig (the join was given away in a close-up early on), and her longer hair – a wig in the film – seems actually to be actress Florinda Bolkan’s real hair.

That moment of self-congratulation aside, I found this to be an intriguing, rather artily-shot thriller. Luckily the moon shots are brief in total, leaving us more time to enjoy the elegant architecture and beautifully shot (this was director Luigi Bazzoni’s last film) locations in Rome and Turkey. In her bid to reclaim her memory, Alice runs into a little girl with piercing eyes, who looked familiar to me. Turns out little Nicoletta Elmi had also starred in ‘A Bay of Blood’, ‘Who Saw her Die?’, ‘Flesh for Frankenstein’ and ‘Deep Red’ (among others) by this time – not a bad resume for an 11 year old.

As for everything else, the occasionally muggy story is undoubtedly lifted by the acting. Bolkan is extremely good, and she is good company. Peter McEnery as Henry is also very good, never quite letting us fully believe in him as either a hero or villain.

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Kuroneko

A frightening tale.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

This Japanese ghost story, otherwise known as ‘A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove’ reminds me, in its early stages at least, of an Ingmar Bergman film. Everything is desolate and comfortless. There is minimalist music and settings, and an extraordinarily brutal opening scene is carried out without spectacle. When a group of Samurai soldiers rape and kill two women and then set fire to their home, it is carried out with the minimum of fuss, with the soldiers simply leaving to carry on with their day once the deed has been done.

The ghosts of the two women, Yone (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law Shige (Kiwako Taichi), cause problems for the governor, Minamoto no Raiko (Kei Sato) by seducing and the tearing out the throats of various soldiers, so he orders Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura) to find and destroy them. Inconveniently for all concerned, however, Gintoki finds that the two women are the spirits of his mother and wife, and they have made a pact to kill every Samurai they meet.

This engaging story is based on a supernatural folk-tale and is very nicely directed by Kaneto Shindo, who makes the most of the twin spectres’ sporadic appearances and utilizes subtle special effects to remind us they are not of this world. This is especially true when events take on yet darker and more fantastical tones, many of which involve cats.

Apart from being critically acclaimed (quite rightly), Nobuko Otowa won a Best Actress award, and Kiyomi Kuroda won an award for his cinematography.

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Beneath the Dark

A slow burning film with few concessions made to the audience - mild spoilers.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

A fairly annoying couple Paul (Josh Stewart) and Adrienne (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) are driving to a wedding. He doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to the road as he drives and she seems lazily determined to stimulate him into sex. They pull into the roadside ‘Roy’s Motel’ where they meet weird Frank (Chris Browing) and his even stranger wife Sandy (Angela Featherstone). They decide that things are not quite as they seem.

Throughout the film, we learn more about why the characters are the way they are. We also meet an unblinking fellow guest who claims to be The Son of God (Afemo Omilami). Only I’m not sure things are even quite *that* simple.

The pace is extremely slow, and there is a murkiness to the effectively isolated location and the characters who stay within it. I get the impression that writer/director Chad Feehan isn’t interesting in telling an ordinary, linear, or straightforward story and clearly feels the audience should share that viewpoint. There are no concessions to those who might want ‘Beneath the Dark’ to get on with whatever it is trying to say, and there are generally few standout moments – at least the cast are all very convincing and keep a certain interest. It takes far too long and too many unsavoury events for Paul to reason that he and Adrienne should leave, but again, that doesn’t seem something we are encouraged to be bothered about. Perceived failings within the film’s structure and pace seem to be a deliberate artistic decision.

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Possum

You might feel the need to shower after watching this - spoilers.

(Edit) 30/03/2019

If it is possible to enjoy the journey while the destination proves disappointing, then ‘Possum’ is a film that works very well. With a leisurely, artistic directorial style reminiscent of David Lynch (especially moments of ‘Eraserhead’), the 90 minutes running time doesn’t exactly progress the story; it dwells instead upon the stifling atmosphere experienced by Philip (Sean Harris), a mentally challenged puppeteer as he returns home after some undisclosed discredit, to face the wicked stepfather (Alun Armstrong) who abused him as a child.

There have been many horror films in which a paper thin plot is spread over a powerfully shot and persuasively acted canvas. ‘Possum; fits very well into that category. What spices things up is the regular appearance of a spider-like mannequin with a human head, created by Odd Studios, which had designed many such effects for other films including entries into the Alien and Star Wars franchise. With that in mind, it is no great surprise that the creature is extremely effective, prompting writer/director Matthew Holness to keep it hidden for much of the time. In certain scenes, it looks like the prop it is, and at others – for example, when only the head is visible – it looks uncannily real. Its sporadic movements are very rare, but are onscreen enough to convince.

The creature’s reluctance to disappear, despite Philip’s continued efforts to destroy it, fuels much of the story, falling on the old ‘is it real, or in his mind’ chestnut. Even after the finale, when the inevitable twist is revealed, we don’t have an answer to the creature’s true state. What we are left with is a fairly predictable outcome, with the lead-up proving to be far more entertaining. A true nightmare on film, the scenery is nevertheless beautifully shot, giving such urban landscapes and rainy outposts a real sense of visual poetry and the acting is excellent. The grimy, abandoned, unwashed feel of the settings is palpable: you want to hop into the bath after the credits roll. The atmospherics are also given a real boost by the excellent, murky electronic soundtrack by The Radiophonic Workshop (using occasional musical cues by Doctor Who theme-music maestro Delia Derbyshire).

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Dead Rising: Endgame

The living dead and political villainy (mild spoilers follow...)

(Edit) 30/03/2019

On occasions, you cannot beat sitting back and watching a society of the living dead getting massacred in graphic and bloody ways. Based on a video game, this sequel to 2015’s ‘Dead Rising: Watchtower’, begins with a gaggle of earnestly perfect-looking females assuring hero, square-jawed Chase Carter (played by square-jawed Jesse Metcalfe) that whatever happened in the previous film, he’s still a great guy. They are the core of a group of journalists who have stumbled upon a government secret, with a briefly seen Billy Zane popping up as the evil scientist Rand.

After an impressive pre-credits sequence, the pace slackens considerably. The direction, by Pat Williams, is first rate for a modestly budgeted adventure such as this, and ensures that, even during the extended periods when nothing of interest is happening, at least it looks good. But where are the zombies, you might be asking?

It takes a good while for them to appear, but when they do, the cinematography does them proud, although for such a project as this, the various impressive action sequences are light on gore – although what there is looks great.

I think the jokeless, daytime-soap earnestness that permeates every scene is my main issue with this. The actors are fine, but their characters have no real spark about them, nothing for the audience to latch onto or care about. Apart from this issue, I enjoyed ‘Endgame’. It could perhaps be described as an espionage zombie story, with as much attention paid to political villainy as there is to skull-like living cadavers having their brains splashed across the concrete.

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Doctor Who: New Series 11

I love wellies!

(Edit) 25/03/2019

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 pretty good. There has 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. And yet, this is still very much Doctor Who, only Chris Chibnall-style, as opposed to Steven Moffat/RTD/JNT etc-style (tick as appropriate.

For everyone that 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 showrunner 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, 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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Open Grave

Rewarding viewing, if you stick with it. Mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 03/03/2019

Jonah (Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a pit full of corpses. Stumbling into a nearby isolated house, he finds three testosterone-filled men and two women. There’s clearly some shared confusion here – the men determined to outstare each other, the women tense. And they all have piercing blue eyes – all except the oriental woman (played by Josie Ho), who is also mute.

The film seems to be attempting to be a mood-piece and succeeds to an extent. The cinematography, moments of gore and subtle use of incidental music do everything they can to convince us that something is very wrong. I think my initial problem with this is that the characters are all carved from the same wood – all intense, at the end of their tether. No-one is sure who they are or how they got here, and so form an uneasy alliance.

And yet I warmed to them due to the fact that events seem to be spiralling out of their control. Rather than clearing up the mystery of how they came to be here, and the reason for the scattering of stringed up corpses in the woodland around, things seem to be deteriorating, and the pressure seems to be having a psychological effect on them. Or is it something else …?

This begins with an intriguing premise and slowly builds upon it. The cast, especially Erin Richards as Sharon and Thomas Kretschmann as Lucas, are very good and convey the nerve-shredding frustration they share – as Jonah, Copley is excellent as (what could possibly be) the truth begins to dawn on him. And yet there is more than one truth they have to cope with. Filmed in Hungary and directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, ‘Open Grave’ is rewarding viewing, if you are prepared to stick with it.

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Cell

You probably won't watch it twice ... (mild spoilers)

(Edit) 03/03/2019

An adaption of one of Stephen King’s lesser-known books, ‘Cell’ wastes no time in getting things moving. Within minutes, the normal, rational, aggravating general public quickly become slavering, rabid killers. John Cusack, all Botox and hair-dye, stars alongside un-augmented Samuel L. Jackson as Clay and Tom, two bland but well-played people thrown together by the conflagration.

I haven’t read the book on which this is based, but I notice King is the screenplay’s co-writer. The reason for the mass transformation into zombie-types (they revert into twitching human-looking killers rather than the more impressive, rotting cadaver variety – Cusack’s plastic surgery makes him look a good deal less natural than the aggressors) is something to do with their cell-phones: hence the title.

To me, this is what it is: a fairly ambiguous thing to say, I admit. It’s just another zombie film, really. It boasts a decent budget, some effective set-pieces, some unconvincing effects and creatures that rely far too much on hordes of actors gurning than any particularly frightening make-up. It also gets deathly dull very quickly, I’m sorry to say. Little in the way of humour, and despite the lengthy bouts of dialogue, there’s no real character development. It’s all a bit strange and far from satisfying, as if despite King’s involvement, no-one knew what kind of film they wanted to make.

I was tempted to give up on this a number of times, but persevered in order to see if there was any kind of pay-off at the end. There wasn’t.

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Hush

Fast paced thriller/horror. Mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 03/03/2019

Will Ash is excellent as Zakes Abbot, a young man whose evening turns out to be worse than anything he has ever known. His girlfriend Beth (Christine Bottomley) spends most of the time yelling at him, and everyone he meets is pretty unpleasant. The man who drives the truck that crosses his path this particular rainy night is the worst of all, and some of the contrivances Abbott resorts to in order to escape his clutches threaten to topple into farce.

The details and motives of the faceless villain are kept deliberately vague, but through Abbot, we see enough evidence to know it is all pretty appalling, and the pace is kept nice and tight and full of tension. There is a degree of repetition, though, with the efforts made to evade Abbot’s ever-present threat of capture, but it all moves quickly and dramatically enough for us not to have to dwell on that unduly.

Director Mark Tonderai maintains the solid pace throughout with the speed of events engaging enough for us not to dwell on the fact that this is basically 90 minutes of Abbot escaping one life-threatening situation, only to topple headlong into another.

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The Nun

Solid, scenic horror ... mild spoilers.

(Edit) 03/03/2019

There is no waiting around in this refreshing gothic horror offering, for moments of horror are on display very effectively as soon as the 93 minute running time begins. The visuals are also stunning from the offset – I am put in mind of the faux-European feel of Hammer films, but with a massively increased budget.

A priest is sent by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a young Nun from a Romanian abbey, and uncovers a demonic power. The power has some connections with ‘The Conjuring (2013)’ and its burgeoning franchise. Luckily, however, you don’t have to be familiar with that series of films to understand much of what goes on here.

I would say that the film as a whole is solid rather than spectacular, interesting rather than essential. It does, however, contain some memorable set-pieces (including a very uncomfortable scene of someone being buried alive), some nicely shot moments and a good air of unholy evil courtesy of Director Corin Hardy.

Demián Bichir plays Father Burke, Taissa Farmiga is Sister Irene, Jonas Bloquet is Maurice "Frenchie" Theriault and Bonnie Aarons is The Nun – the acting is uniformly impressive and is never reduced to second place behind the myriad of horror effects.

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The Neon Demon

Stylish and unfathomable. Mild spoilers ...

(Edit) 03/03/2019

This is the story of a nice girl who enters into a nasty town and a dark business: of course, her modelling career is superficially bright white and pink neon. But when Jesse (Ellie Fanning) wanders into a studio photo-shoot, all fairy-tale dress and golden locks, and the Neanderthal photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) tells her to take off her clothes, the awkwardness is all consuming. She is 16 years old, has been told to tell anyone who asks that she is 19.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn takes his time with the atmospherics and gives us plenty of reason to feel for naïve Jesse. Cliff Martinez’s music is very Eighties, very electronic. But where is all this going, I wonder as I watch?

Smiling turns to sneering as other models become increasingly jealous of Jesse’s natural beauty and un-cynical personality. This is a cut-throat, production-line, cattle market catwalk trade. With that leisurely established, events are free to become more and ever more disturbing, gory and surreal. Previously dependable characters reveal themselves to have strange depths and perversions that border on unreality.

This film ultimately could be many things: a comment on the fashion world, the vagaries and obsessions with beauty and perfection, or simply the superficial silliness of human beings. What started as a fairly coherent story slides sideways into weird set pieces rather than going forward in any traditional way. The lack of depth to the characters and plot could be said to mirror the superficial business about which events revolve, or it could be attributed to a project that is more style over substance. It is not easy to categorise, nor is it meant to be, I suspect, but I quite enjoyed it as a horror film along the lines of David Lynch or JG Ballard. It doesn’t need to take so long to tell its story, I think, but the acting is first rate. Keanu Reeves, never a huge favourite of mine, is great as the deeply unpleasant landlord Hank, and Fanning excels as the burgeoning central character.

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All Hallows' Eve: The Reaping

Surreal and original anthology.

(Edit) 03/03/2019

Anthology films are few and far between recently. This project uses the structure as a way of showcasing nine often very short vignettes independently created by a different team and shown as a collection of unsavoury tales collected on a videotape. The tape falls into the hands, or rather is left at the door, of a young woman (Andrea Monia). The purpose of the videotape forms the enveloping story-line.

I won’t go into details about the instalments, because their originality is very satisfying and it would be a shame to spoil that. Sometimes, instead of any detailed story, they are simply moments, like in a dream, of surreal occurrences which are nevertheless detailed and grounded enough to satisfy on their own merits. There are moments that had me turning away due to the graphic special effects, but this is far from drenched in gore. Rather, each weird tale builds up an ambience that is deliberately uneven and unpredictable.

This is a sequel to the original ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ (2013), which was directed and produced by a different team. According to some reviews, the original was superior to this. This excites me, because I haven’t seen it, and for the most part, I found this refreshingly original and generally well made.

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