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REVIEW: In a Valley of Violence (2016)


When Ti West announced he would be moving from horror to western, many were surprised that it would be his next feature. Horror and westerns are centred around similar themes: vengeance, violence, masculinity and generally cynical in the past three decades. In a Valley of Violence is an interesting turn from a director whose authorial vision even leads to him editing his own pictures. Editing your own films can cause the risk of self-indulgence, especially when an outside pair of eyes can tighten everything, but this is a trap that Ti West doesn’t fall into. In all his feature films, brevity – if perhaps budget related – is prevalent and is in fact one of his directorial strengths. This proves that once again.

In a Valley of Violence takes you to a town, nicknamed the ‘Valley of Violence’, with Ethan Hawke as its mysterious stranger. With only a pet dog as a companion, one he confides to and is his only conversation, there is a sense of danger around him from the offset with actions early on. From there, the character is already well-defined and Hawke explores him to his full capacity. An act of violence takes Hawke’s mysterious stranger caving into his personal demons that want violent vengeance.

West is clearly romantic about the western genre, throwing in a reference with a classic western zoom early on and honing in on a well-told, well-worn story of a wayward stranger showing his true character to the arrogant town-folk, proud of their own masculinity through self-affirmation and intimidation. Hawke’s doesn’t fall to those demanding immediate fear, causing a competition to prove one’s self in an escalating rivalry. As the camerawork ogles the Old West with the same starkness of its 35mm predecessors, West pays homage all the while crafting an adept visual style. If anything, its visual style – which is perfectly fine – is a weakness in its own lack of creativity. Through the simplicity of its visuals, there’s a need for more interesting visuals to elevate it over the homages and give power to the picture through pictures.

In a Valley of Violence: John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan and James Ransone

The cast is strong, Taissa Farmiga a specific standout in the chattering, nervously confident hotel clerk with conflicted commitments.  Her exploration of her character is portrayed with precision, all the while remaining integral and interesting throughout the film. James Ransone plays a strong arrogant bastard with real gravitas to his scenes, his frame that’s thinner than the Eastwoods or Waynes of yesteryear manages to remain menacing through his dedication to masculinity portrayed through violence. The strongest standout is one that it’s a great relief, letting out a sigh and a potential hopeful ‘He’s back…’ rattling around your head. John Travolta plays the town’s sheriff, a complex coward who forces bravery and mindfulness to achieve a real resolution. Travolta’s performance is honest, strong, a little reminiscent of Stallone in Cop Land. The weakest, by quite a margin, is Karen Gillan who needs a director to tone her down as her performances sometimes lean into being inconsumable for over 1.6bn people in the world due to its hammy-ness. It works in Oculus, it’s passable in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s beginning to grate and needs working on since there is real talent there to explore.

Overall, In a Valley of Violence is a revisionist western in its cynicism as it is romantic about the films that inspired it. West explores the west and all of its themes with ease, allowing for a critical eye to find appetising food for thought while the narrative entertains and thrills. The casting is interesting and generally successful, especially with the Travolta comeback that’s felt overdue. Hopefully this is the first in a sleugh of the Trevolution (coining it now in case it catches on). The film’s visuals really do let it down from being a bit more excellent since their simplicity is the same downfall of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight – but at least this didn’t waste 65mm film on an indoor set to look so average and reverential. In a Valley of Violence is a thrilling, thoughtful revisionist western with an emptiness permeating from it that stops it from being truly special.

A trailer for Ti West's latest film, In a Valley of Violence, starring Ethan Hawke, John Travolta and James Ransone
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Review: Orion (2016)


I always leave my expectations at the door when watching a film – I tend not to read reviews or let other people’s opinions sway me into thinking that a certain film will be either amazing or something that can be scraped from the bottom of my shoe. So, with not really knowing what to expect, I did soon realise that I was soon to become a dribbling mess due to the onset of boredom and total confusion.

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REVIEW: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)


After the body of a woman is found partially buried in the basement of a bloody crime scene, a father and son team of coroners take on the task of examining the body to discover the cause of death. However, in peeling away the layers in search of the truth, increasingly bizarre anomalies arise in the post mortem, suggesting something beyond belief … something that is beginning to take a hold on the world around them, with a vengeful evil.

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REVIEW: The Windmill (2016)


Director Nick Jongerius delivers his first feature, The Windmill, and it is a total joyous massacre of bloody proportions. With old style mayhem, we are served up a decent dose of gruesome deaths that will surely reignite old passions for blood lust.

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REVIEW: Selling Isobel (2016)


In America, everything is for sale…

“Every year, at least 20.6 million adults and children are kidnapped to be bought and sold into the illegal sex trade industry world wide. To put things into perspective, in 2015 Burger King’s annual net sales came in at about $1.1bn. The annual estimated revenue for sex slavery is $”

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31 Review


31 follows a group of carnival workers who find themselves kidnapped and forced to play the game 31; the aim of which is to survive 12 hours in an underground hell with a gang of clowns.

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Review: The Neon Demon (2016)


Nicolas Winding Refn has become something of a cause celebre in the modern cinematic landscape. It’s tough to think of another director viewed so diametrically in the current climate; lauded by some as a genius, reviled by others as a snobbish hack.

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Review: The Conjuring 2 (2016)

The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 takes us back into the chilling real world of the Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) as they tackle one of their most terrifying – and most documented – cases of paranormal activity. The sequel moves away from the United States and drops us into a very rainy 1970s Britain and to the Hodgson family, who believe their home is being threatened by a malevolent entity.

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Marvelguy’s Favourite Horror Films of 2014


With Christmas only a few days away now is the perfect time to look back on what has been an interesting year for horror. Now I say interesting because this years calibre has been a bit of a mixed bag. There have been some incredible titles released this year that were shown in cinemas and on the festival circuit but there have been others like Ouija, Annabelle and Devil’s Due which all fell short and deserved to have gone straight to video sentenced to life in the deepest darkest corner of hell and forgotten about (if they haven’t been already).

I will say one thing though and 2014 has been a wonder for independent horror especially on the festival circuit as there have been some horror films that not only met expectations but exceeded them leaving me wishing that one day modern horror films will once again become scary and original again. The reason I say this is that thanks to franchises like Paranormal Activity and Saw which famously churned out sequels and their lesser somewhat cheaper imitations since have tainted the minds mainstream audiences making them forget what a scary movie actually is.

Call me a horror snob or not but I can’t stand it when a film tries to be scary by throwing a shedload of jump scares accompanied with a loud blast of music. This is not scary, it’s just annoying! As a genre fan I want to be creeped out, to have my level of acceptability challenged and have icy cold chills down my spine. Or I want to enjoy a solidly crafted slasher film or creative monster movie. I don’t however want to watch the same studio produced horror-by-numbers which is something I’ve seen a hundred time before. So reading this it should come as no surprise that the majority of titles in this list were seen during the UK festival circuit.

So which 2014 horror films ticked the boxes for me. Which ones stood out from the crowd and cemented their place in my black heart? You’re about to find out but before I start to list the ten films that I think deserve the title of Best Horror Films of 2014, here are three honourable mentions that are certainly worth checking out (when you get the chance to).

Director: Lowell Dean
Starring: Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, Sarah Lind, Jonathan Cherry
Seen at: Grimmfest 2014

One part dirty harry one part wolfman, Wolfcop is directed by Lowell Dean and stars Leo Fafard in the title role. The film follows an alcoholic cop who is called to investigate a disturbance in the nearby woods only to be caught up in a ritual sacrifice and is cursed to become a werewolf. A definite crowd pleaser, the film features some truly hilarious moments and a werewolf transformation that begins in a place you will never have imagined. It’s a Troma-esque film with a much bigger budget where every bit is enjoyable and inventive.

Director: Adam Green
Starring: Adam Green, Ray Wise
Seen at: Film4 Frightfest

He took us to the swamp to battle the villainous Victor Crawley in his Hatchet trilogy, he had us pinned to our seats when Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell were stuck on a chair lift in Frozen but in his latest project Digging Up The Marrow, Director Adam Green will have us pondering one question… do monsters exist? I refuse to reveal anything further about this film and with good reason as I believe without doubt that this is Adam Green‘s best film to date. It’s fun, It’s scary and is a must see for any self respecting horror fan. Look no further for spoilers online, just seek out the film, sit back and enjoy every minute of this gem that I am certain will become a cult classic.

Director: Eduardo Sánchez
Starring: Samuel Davis, Dora Madison Burge, Roger Edwards
Seen at: Film4 Frightfest

The Grandad of found footage, Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project) returns to the genre once more for his latest effort Exists. The film follows five friends who are on their way to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun. But, on their arrival they quickly discover that the cabin is located inside the lair of the legendary Bigfoot. Featuring outstanding special effects and a monster that seemingly has a sense of intelligence and rationality about it, Exists is thoroughly entertaining and twice as scary as last years Willow Creek. It also has one of the most effective jump scares i’ve seen all year round.

Now before we get to the films that I think deserve to be hailed as the best horror films of this year I want to remind our readers that this is based on my own personal taste and will most probably differ from others. That said, I would like to bring to your attention my favourites which I believe are the Best Horror Films of 2014 (in no order).

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Seen at: Grimmfest

This mockumentary from the team behind the popular TV series Flight of the Chonchords is best thought of as the Spinal Tap of vampire films. Not only does it stand neck and shoulders above other vampire films but does so with respect to the very material it plays homage to. There’s a killer Lost Boys reference that will have you howling like a werewolf at the moon and a joke that will change the way you think about a sandwich. But what is very pleasing about this film is that it possesses the ability to keep its flow of jokes consistent. That said, when you have Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement in front of and behind the camera you simply can’t go wrong. So if you like your horror with a double serving of comedy then What We Do In The Shadows is fangtastic and just for you.

2014_sacramentTHE SACRAMENT
Director: Ti West
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones
Seen at: Glasgow Frightfest

Inspired by the shocking events of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, Director/Writer Ti West teams up with Eli Roth for his stab at the found footage sub genre. With a solid script and superb direction, West commands attention from his audience quickly and holds it firmly in a vice-tight grip thanks in part to the sense of isolation and heightened anxiety that gradually develop into a terrifying sense of dread. It’s cast are equally as good. AJ Bowen delivers a solid performance but it is Gene Jone’s performance as the compound’s leader that steals the spotlight. He creates a villain with the ability to literally draw you in to his way of thinking as his motives come from a place of reason. Intriguing and harrowing, The Sacrament still holds its power on repeated viewings and it is for that reason I recommend you to check it out.

2014_latephasesLATE PHASES
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest
Seen at: Film4 Frightfest

When you discuss a werewolf film inevitably comparisons are made with such classics like An American Werewolf in London however very few manage to fully capture its sense of creativity or ferocity. Well in this case Adrian Garcia Bogliano comes incredibly close to doing so with Late Phases, a geriatric werewolf horror. Telling the story of Nick Damici (Stake Land) as a war veteran who moves into a gated retirement community only to survive an attack by a large wolf like beast. With his neighbours concerned over his sanity Ambrose (Damici) must figure out a plan to stop the monster from attacking again. Both Damici and Ethan Embry (Cheap Thrills) do a fantastic job to sell the realism of the film but the true star is its special effects. The wolf transformations are fantastic and are done mostly practically which I thought was amazing.

Directors: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Starring: Clif Prowse, Derek Lee, Michael Gill
Seen at: Glasgow Frightfest

Winner of Best Special Effects Award at the Sitges Fantasy Festival, Afflicted is the lovechild of Canadian filmmakers Clif Prowse and Derek Lee and sees the the duo play best friends that find their one in a lifetime trip thrown up in air when one is struck by a mysterious illness. In desperation to find the source, the duo must come to terms with what has happened before things spiral out of control and the chaos consumes them both. Utilising the conventions of the found-footage sub genre this film puts the audience right into the middle of the fray making the experience thrilling and that much more enjoyable. For example, a chase sequence on a rooftop perfectly blends CGI effects with filmed footage to create an unforgettable sequence that will leave your jaw on the floor. Simply put, Afflicted does for horror what Chronicle did for superheroes.

Director: Patrick Brice
Starring: Patrick Brice, Mark Duplass
Seen at: Celluloid Screams

If you were low on cash and came across this little ad in the paper offering $1,000 for a days filming would you do it? Director Patrick Brice does in his claustrophobic chiller Creep. Without using foul language, excessive gore or constant threat of violence to shock its audience, Creep instead builds its scares naturally through solid acting and some very out there moments that are simply unnerving. Speaking of acting both Brice and Mark Duplass show amazing chemistry on-screen demonstrating their true acting ability. As a typical Blumhouse film you can expect quite a few jump scares but fear not these only serve to heighten your vulnerability as its vice-tight grip on you never dissipates. Just keep an eye out for PEACHFUZZ.

Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar
Seen at: BFI London Film Festival

No one can ever accuse Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead of never delivering something different to your average horror film because they certainly do. Their previous effort Resolution was a real genre-bender and nothing changes with their latest effort Spring. Effectively combining the sweet romance of Before Sunrise with horror elements inspired by An American Werewolf In London, Benson and Moorhead have delivered a truly unique love story that you will remember for years to come. Benson’s script is intelligently written and his co-direction with Moorhead is superb. Together the duo show plenty of artistic flare that is difficult to resist as a genre fan. Overall, I absolutely fell in love with this film and I’m confident you will too.

2014_theeditorTHE EDITOR
Directors: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy
Starring: Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney
Seen at: Celluloid Screams

Inspired by such Italian Giallos as The Beyond, Opera and Tenabrae, The Editor is the latest project for the Canadian film collective Astron-6 who have written, directed and starred in this thoroughly enjoyable homage. Also starring Paz de la Huerta, Laurence R. Harvey, Tristan Risk and genre legend Udo Kier, the film utilises vivid colours, bizarre angels and throws in black-gloved killers and gruesome death scenes to perfectly capture the spirit and feel of the Giallo. Admittedly I am not a fan of the Giallo but it says something when a film as fun as this has made me want to return to the sub-genre to revisit a few more titles. Overall, The Editor is a satisfyingly fun film and truly deserves more viewers so check it out when you can.

2014_dersamuraiDER SAMURAI
Director: Till Kleinert
Starring: Michel Diercks, Pit Bukowski, Uew Preuss
Seen at: Film4 Frightfest

Till Kleinert‘s impressive German horror Der Samurai has been hailed as a gay liberation piece and features a fantastic performance from from Pit Bukowski as a sword wielding menace and from Michel Diercks as Jakob, the young police officer with the task of bringing him down. Packed with mystery and blood thirsty carnage, Der Samurai is expertly directed by Kleinhert and looks beautiful on screen. This film may have some very graphic visuals that might affect those of a nervous disposition but for me this film is a compelling thriller and it is for this reason that I recommend checking it out.

Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackoff, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane
Released: 13th June

Mike Flanagan‘s flair as a director and screenwriter is remarkable. With Oculus he has constructed a strong concept at its core which he executes masterfully catapulting his audience on a roller-coaster ride that is not easily forgotten. Yes there are a few jump scares scattered throughout the film but the intricacies of its interweaving timelines in the last hour make Oculus truly compelling viewing. The cast are fantastic. Karen Gillan is effective in the lead and it is great to see her in something other than Dr. Who. The real star of the film is Katee Sackoff as she delivers a solid performance and as such, I would love to see more of her on the big screen in future. Creepy and unsettling, Oculus for me was one of this years most strongest horror films.

2014_canalTHE CANAL
Director: Ivan Kevanagh
Starring: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Rupert Evans, Steve Oram
Seen at: Grimmfest

If you haven’t heard about this one yet then you will soon. Director Ivan Kevanagh‘s The Canal is one of very few films that truly managed to scare me. Following a film archivist whose life is turned upside down when his wife goes missing, The Canal is incredibly tense and unbelievably scary. Flawlessly directed and superbly acted by Rupert Evans and Steve Oram, this film is a whole package. Containing some of the most horrific imagery that still sticks to me to this day, I guarantee you that it will send icy cold chills down your spine as a result. The Canal is a highly engaging and incredibly tense horror and it is for this reason that it makes this list.

So there you have it ten of my favourite horror films of 2014. I would like to thank you for reading and before you go, I would also like to recommend that you to check out Chad Archibald‘s Splasher The DrownsmanZack Parkers shocking Proxy, Tommy Wirkola‘s excellent undead sequel Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead and Jennifer Kent‘s The Babadook which has a phenomenal performance from Essie Davis that can only be described as outstanding.

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Star Wars: Rebels – Spark of Rebellion


I never watched The Clone Wars.  There, I said it.  The idea never really did anything for me, and I’m a huge Star Wars geek that actually LIKES the prequels, but when I saw the trailer for the Clone Wars movie and saw a baby Hutt (apparently, Jabba’s son – I don’t even WANT to know how he made him!), I decided no thanks, and steered clear.  So when Star Wars Rebels was announced, I was sceptical, but the setting intrigued me, placed just 5 years before the events of Episode IV, the premise promised a much more Star Wars feel from my childhood, with the less flashy Old Republic designs and the more Imperial utilitarian feel to the ships, buildings and planets.  So I gave it a shot.

Best decision ever.

There are some great character designs.  I was expecting to find the main protagonist, Ezra, a 14-year old street urchin, to be incredibly annoying, as with most child/teenage characters, but he actually isn’t… In fact, none of them are, and each design evokes the Star Wars universe, in particular Zeb, the strong arm of the Ghost crew, who is based on a concept design for Chewbacca by the great Ralph McQuarrie.

The chase scene early in the episode is wildly entertaining, but feeling more like Indiana Jones than Star Wars, with even the soundtrack taking an Indy lilt as the titular Rebels weave their way through the city.  Speaking of the soundtrack, it is heavily reminiscient of the original trilogy’s soundtrack, taking several beats from Episode IV in particular, which helps to capture the magic and excitement of the movies.  The battle scenes throughout are just as exciting, with my fears of Disney making every skirmish with the Empire resulting in a hundred A-Team moments being completely unfounded (For those of you who don’t get that reference, then shame on you!  The A-Team was notorious for having no-one die.  A hundred bullets would be fired by the guys, but there wouldn’t be a scratch on anyone.  Cars would explode, and helicopters would fall out of the sky, but people would always get out).

The Star Wars accent game kicks in too, but instead of Asian Neimodians, we get the very, VERY English Imperials, with the higher the rank, the posher they become, but all the voice work of the principal characters is well done, feeling natural and fitting in well with the character they belong to, with the exception of a brief cameo from Obi-Wan Kenobi, which sounds like someone doing a poor impersonation of Ewan McGregor.

On the whole, if this episode shows only a small portion of what this series brings to the Star Wars table, I’ll be a very happy chappy indeed, as this might just tide me over until Episode VII’s release in December next year.

And in case you were waiting for the eye-rolling referential quote about what I thought about it;

The Force is indeed strong with this one…

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The Walking Dead – No Sanctuary


The Walking Dead is one of the few series I’ve managed to stick with all the way through.  I never made it all the way through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, I only made it 4 episodes into Lost, and as controversial as this may be, have only seen the first two seasons of Breaking Bad.

So that alone should demonstrate just how much I like this series, and therefore just how much it pains me to say that the last season was weak tea.  The overall season arcs didn’t seem strong enough to carry the entire season and so the fourth season seemed very anaemic.

But nevertheless, after the season close with Rick and the rest trapped in Terminus inside a train carriage, I was looking forward to seeing how they were going to escape and make good on Rick’s closing words of how the residents of Terminus were going to feel stupid when they find out they’re “screwing with the wrong people”.

It seems that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of disappointment with the previous season, with a few people falling by the wayside (Greg, I’m talking to you!), and it seems that the producers and writers have either heard, or thought the same thing when approaching season 5.

From the short resolution to the predicament season 4 closed on, all the way to the end of the episode, it seemed to never let up, making for easily one of my favourite episodes since season 3… Hell, maybe even the second season.

Themeatically, the episode seems to revolve around change and the loss of humanity.  Just what does it take to survive in this particular apocalypse?  How much of your humanity do you give up in order to cease being the prey and become the predator?  What does it take to instigate the change? And possibly is there any way back?  These themes best exemplified by Rick Grimes, the former police officer and moral compass for the last four years with a single line from him “Nobody gets to live today.”, and his decision to let any fallen members of Terminus to turn.  And of course Carol, who’s evolved from abused wife to legitimate badass who could probably take on John J. Rambo.  And this is one of the strengths of this series, and a reward for anyone who’s stuck with it, to see how these characters have changed so much since their introduction.

On a final note, some friends have mentioned to me how they feel that the Terminus leader, Garrett is just a carbon copy of last season’s Governor, so I’ll say here for posterity, they couldn’t be more wrong.  The Governor was a fantastic character, driven by grief, passion and more than a little bit of insanity.  Garrett however is a different kettle of fish.  He runs Terminus clinically, dispassionately because he has to for the sake of it’s residents, and so they don’t return to being, as he says “the cattle”.  As a famous villain once said, all it takes is one bad day…

Bring on the rest of the season.  I personally cannot wait.

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