Thursday, 13 February 2020

DANIEL ISN'T REAL review

Now in cinemas and on VOD, Daniel Isn't Real sees Miles Robbins' Luke reconnect with his childhood friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). An encouraging but also toxic influence on Luke's life, Daniel pushes Luke into dangerous situations that he may not be able to come back from. Oh, also Daniel Isn't Real.



After a brief introduction to them as children where prankster Daniel arrives like a 21st century Drop Dead Fred before being locked away in a creepy doll's house (the result of trying to kill Luke's mother with an overdose of pills), the story picks up proper with Luke, now as a young man, trying to navigate his way in life whilst also caring for his sick mother (Mary Stuart Masterson). As his mother is institutionalised, he is advised by his psychiatrist to face whatever is haunting him from his past, leading to the re-emergence of his "imaginary" best friend, Daniel.

The temptation to liken Daniel Isn't Real to Fight Club is obvious, and there's clearly something of a demented Tyler Durden in Schwarzenegger's Daniel; all cocksure, confident and cool as fuck. He is everything Luke thinks he wants to be. But the film has more in common with the grimy, psycho-sexual world of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, the less-than-subtle conjoined twin shocker from the early '80s. In this, Daniel is Luke's very own Belial - a caged, impotent, rage-filled being, desperate to have the life his other half has.

Miles Robbins, first seen in Blockers and other supporting roles in Halloween (2018) and The Day Shall Come, has largely focused on comedic roles so far, but with his boyish looks he was destined for a lead role in a teen horror film (if that's what this is), and even bears something of a resemblance to Frank Henenlotter's lead from Frankenhooker, James Lorinz. His Luke is a likeable everyman character, and his pursuit of a romance with Sasha Lane's Cassie gives the film a much needed sweet side. Cassie is essentially an updated Marla Singer with a trendy boho loft apartment meets artist space, asking Luke important questions like "do you ever feel like you have no idea who you are?" at a modern art gallery before they destroy the art they find contemptible. In a film that is essentially about toxic masculinity against other men, Lane's character might struggle for screen time but is still the best she's been since American Honey.

As the flip side to Luke's character, Patrick Schwarzenegger's Daniel is the cooler, more attractive part of him, but also is a voyeuristic control freak, watching on as a romantic moment between Luke and Cassie turns into sex. Daniel is the incel inside who wants these moments for himself, eventually leading to a passing of conscience that gives Daniel an opportunity to act out his desires for sex and violence. Any questions you had about whether Daniel is just a part of Luke's psyche or a manifestation of something evil, allowing Luke to act how he really wants to act, are put to bed here; and this passing of conscience is in itself something near sexual, as Luke and Daniel's faces meld together before they break away, gasping.

As the good looking prankster Daniel, it's a strong turn from Schwarzenegger. Still on the verge of breaking out as a star of his own from under the weight of that surname, he's got the arrogance the son of the Austrian Oak and a member of the Kennedy clan should have. It's a great piece of casting that should act as a calling card for him going forward in his career.

As you might expect from SpectreVision, the production company who also gave us Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, there's a psychotropic quality to director Adam Egypt Mortimer's visuals that really work well for this film's big ideas. On top of some nasty body horror (there's that Henenlotter influence again), the film takes a trip into a nightmarish mind prison that's part Hellraiser and part A Nightmare on Elm Street, but also something completely different.

Daniel Isn't Real might owe a debt to some genre fare that has come before it, but it's a film packed full of ideas, and thankfully, most of them work.

Verdict
4/5

DANIEL ISN’T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020. For cinemas visit: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/Daniel-Isnt-Real
Order via iTunes here: https://apple.co/2FugjAo

Friday, 17 January 2020

A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE review

When self-help fanatic Lou (Katie Brayben) meets wannabe guru Val (Poppy Roe), the pair go on a road trip to experience different therapy sessions, leaving an unexpected trial of dead bodies in their wake. One of the crowd pleasers from last year's Frightfest in Leicester Square, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life in now available to rent.



Lou is a simple young woman who spends her time caring for her ungrateful mum, preparing her meals and washing her in the bath. She spends her days listening to self help CDs and attending seminars that are really nothing more than sales pitches for shysters trying to take advantage of the naive and vulnerable. It's at one of these seminars that Lou meets Val, an exorbitantly confident sociopath whose biggest ambition is to be the greatest life coach the world has ever known. Seeing in Lou someone whose life she can help turn around with her unorthodox methods, Val takes control of Lou's life and tries to mould her into a more confident, altogether deadly woman.

Following the trail blazed before them in films like Badlands and Thelma and Louise, there's something so appealingly British about A Serial Killer's Guide to Life that only adds to the charm. Comparisons to Sightseers (another British, coastal murder spree), are obvious, but the dynamic at the core of the film is different, and the story is laced with a not-so-slyly satirical dig at the self help industry. Split into chapters, the start of each accompanied by a monologue by Lou's favourite guru, Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the target of the film (and Val's victims) is the self-help entrepreneurs with their "alternative" medicinal therapies, and the middle class suburbanites who prescribe to them.

It's at these therapy sessions when ASKGTL (as no one's calling it) raises the most laughs, with a fantastically wanky married pair delivering "Sound Therapy" sessions and tuna sandwiches for the journey home the sort of people you can't wait to see killed. A Serial Killer's Guide (as most people are calling it) never pushes too hard for laugh out loud comedy, instead using the absurdity of its premise to raise the odd chuckle, as well as funny performances from the leads, innocent Lou (Brayden) and the icy cool Val (Roe).

Poppy Roe is a real star in the making with cheekbones sharp enough to kill. As well as co-starring, she's a credited producer and was co-editor alongside her husband Staten Cousins Roe; clearly a couple to keep an eye on. In fact, if any evidence of their dedication to their craft was needed, Cousins Roe was nearly late to the Frightfest world premiere of this film due to his wife giving birth the night before. Multi-taskers indeed.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life is a road trip that might visit a few thematic places we've seen before, but they've packed a boot full of charm and wit to go next to the dead bodies. If you're looking for personal growth don't expect to find a new way of life here, but if you like a bit of senseless killing as a cathartic exercise, this could be the film for you.

Verdict
3.5/5

A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE is out now on iTunes and Digital HD
www.aserialkillersguidetolife.com
https://apple.co/2RGlh4g

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

ASYLUM & THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD BLU-RAY reviews


Out now on blu-ray is two classic portmanteau horrors from the legendary British studio, Amicus. Starring a slew of British TV stars alongside more established and iconic genre actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, both Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood follow a similar structure in having a selection of short stories presented with one over-arching story to tie them (very loosely) together. Both of these titles were written by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, which should give you some idea of what to expect.

In The House That Dripped Blood, a Scotland Yard inspector arrives in town to investigate the disappearance of renowned horror actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee), only to discover that his residence has a long history of mysterious deaths with no apparent link between them; and in Asylum, a young doctor must prove his eligibility for a vacant position by deducing which of the patients on the ward is his predecessor and would be employer, Dr. B. Starr, now also one of the "incurably insane".

They're hammy and Hammer-y in a number of great ways that the modern British film industry could learn a lot of lessons from. Firstly, the cast in both films in incredible, tapping a rich vein of British TV stars eager to make a move into films, rubbing shoulders with established names and those whose star was on the wain. Charlotte Rampling, Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Magee, Denholm Elliott, Geoffrey Bayldon (one of these films features Catweazel, whilst the other has Worzel Gummidge, so, something for everyone); I'm just scratching the surface of the talent that appears. Genre legend Peter Cushing features in both films in small roles, with his Hammer co-star Christopher Lee also popping up in The House... as a strict father whose sweet little daughter might be trying to kill him with voodoo. What is most enjoyable here is that given a role he can really (and thematically) sink his teeth into, both men are overshadowed by an incredibly fun performance by Worzel Gummidge and Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee as an ever so serious thespian who starts to become a vampire. His segment, the grand finale of The House... is the campest and funniest one across both films which do have wildly differing tones from sequence to sequence, the effect best described as chilling rather than outright scary. Still, for films fast approaching 50 years old they still are remarkably effective at planting an idea in your brain that will linger for a long while. Of the two films, the fun of the Jon Pertwee story gives The House... the slight edge over the much more dour Asylum, although they work well as a double bill due to their fragmented structure.

It's been said countless times before about portmanteau horrors, but they're often wildly inconsistent from act to act and can (usually) be fairly judged by their weakest sequence. Thankfully, neither film attempts to wow us with a ridiculous number of stories (hello, ABCs of Death), keeping it down to four or five smaller films and one thread to tie them to each other. It's part of the fun that these stories clearly have nothing to do with one another and the writers have gone to very little effort to find thematic links (the stories in The House... all take place in - drumroll, please - a house), but there is an enjoyable layer of mystery to Asylum's wraparound, as Robert Powell listens to the story of each patient to work out who among them was once a renowned psychiatric doctor, now just another potential killer. It's a ridiculous premise and as over the top as you'd expect from the author of Psycho, but it's a guessing game you'll find yourself playing along with all the way to the demonic toys filled finale.

The special features on both discs are a beaut, a particular highlight being the short archive documentary on the Asylum disc that shows how Amicus was operated out of what was essentially a shed on the backlot of Shepperton Studios by two men with big ideas and tight purse strings, clearly a precursor to the Blumhouse model of filmmaking. Both discs not only come with director commentaries and a surprising amount of extras, but also come with reversible sleeves with fantastic new artwork from the legendary artist Graham Humphreys, although it's hard not to spin the cover of The House That Dripped Blood, if only for the incredible tagline "Vampires! Voodoo! Vixens! Victims!".

Clearly the work of madmen with a touch of genius guiding them, both of these Amicus blu-rays offer some genuinely creepy chills and thrills and are essential for anyone interested in the history of horror.

Verdict
The House That Dripped Blood 3.5/5
Asylum 3/5

Special Features
The House That Dripped Blood
- Reversible sleeve
- Audio commentaries
- A Rated Horror Film - vintage featurette and interviews with director Peter Duffell and stars Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt & Chloe Franks
- Radio spots
- Stills gallery
- Trailers

Asylum
- Reversible sleeve
- Audio commentary
- Screenwriter David J. Schow on writer Robert Bloch
- Two's A Company - vintage featurette that visits the Amicus office at Shepperton Studios
- Inside The Fear Factory - featurette with directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and producer Max J. Rosenberg
- Trailer