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By midlandsmovies, Aug 1 2017 06:36PM

Hell rises at the Phoenix


On a sunny Monday night, Midlands based writer/director Steve Lawson brought hell down on the Leicester Phoenix thanks to the premiere of his latest movie 'Hellriser', produced through his own company Creativ Studios in conjunction with 88 Films, who are fast establishing themselves as the go-to label for cult and genre cinema.


Fans of independent British horror will recognise a whole host of faces, if not their names, as Hellriser stars Steven Dolton (Zombie Undead, Devil’s Tower and KillerSaurus), Charlie Bond (Strippers Vs Werewolves; Vendetta) and Nathan Head who has stared in way too many independent British horrors to name here.


The film itself follows a jaded alcoholic detective (Dolton) and his new, fresh faced partner; Detective Keyes (Bond) as they trail a mysterious killer who seems to be solving the local prostitution problem in their own bloody way.


Although things are not quite as they seem as the action soon takes an occult twist, with the introduction of the hammy German psychologist Dr. Unnseine, terrifically portrayed by Andrew Coughlan, and his patient Annie Dyer (Raven Lee – returning to her role from an earlier Steve Lawson film - however Hellriser is designed to work as a standalone film).


Some of the early scenes are evocative of several contemporary gialli, with this connection no doubt aided by the use of triggers such as black gloves and choice of lighting, while a specific murder torture scene reminded me somewhat of a similar set up in Dario Argento’s much (and rightfully so) maligned film ‘Giallo’ only here it is better executed and situated within a much better film.


Talking of the colour yellow, sorry for the poor segue, Hellriser manages to keep things fresh for the viewer with the injection of not only dark humour but also something a little brighter and eagle-eyed British viewers past a certain age will enjoy the nod to a certain author.


The ability to combine the thriller elements with the humour is why Hellriser works so well, Steve Lawson manages to pepper in intentionally humorous dialogue and moments without breaking the tonal consistency of the film and the result of this is a film that is comfortable with its limitations while maximising those areas that don't cost money - namely decent writing and great timing.


While special mention has to be made for the music by Kevin MacLeod, which on first listen came across as a mixture of Goblin (in particular Claudio Simonetti) and a less electronic Robin Coudert. Music can often make or break a film, and here it certainly plays its part in supporting a highly entertaining watch.


So it is unfortunate then that the film suffers from an anti-climactic ending; which despite being very slightly reminiscent of Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead fails to hit the mark. Perhaps part of the problem however is that we go from one terrific flesh melting death to that of a pretty easy and inconclusive final battle. Although for those that way inclined the ending is at least pretty easy on the eye.


Ultimately however, Hellriser is a highly influenced but never derivative fun film and writer/director Steve Lawson must be commended for the way in which he seamlessly weaves these references without disrupting the flow or impacting on the enjoyment of the more casual fan.


In a subgenre that is so easy to get wrong, Hellriser stands as a shining example that will undoubtedly please horror fans and hopefully will find its audience. Talking of which, before I headed off to the premiere I tried doing a bit of background research but found the title somewhat of a hindrance when I went online although I suspect that it was chosen for sales and marketing reasons as when you are browsing the shelves in their local store or the selection on a VOD service it’s similarity will peak enough interest to make this approach worthwhile.




Hellriser is available on DVD for pre-order on Amazon and will be released by 88 Films.


To keep up to date with the film and to find out more visit the Creativ Studios Facebook page.


Midlands Movies Marek

tWITTER: @cosiperversa


By midlandsmovies, Apr 14 2017 10:07AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog - Part 1


Passengers (2017) Dir. Morten Tyldum

This new science fiction film not only tackles space but focuses on questionable moral decisions as a star ship heads to a new planet before a malfunction sees Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wake from hypersleep 90 years too early. Despite his efforts, the isolated engineer is unable to fix his pod and with his only company being Michael Sheen’s android bartender, he decides to wake up another passenger for company.


Claiming her pod malfunctioned too, he revives Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora who accepts her inevitable fate eventually as well. The film’s interesting premise then turns to rom-com territory as they work together and go on dates even though he’s the instigator of her inevitable death sentence. A Best Production Design nomination at the Oscars is more than deserved as the mix of Apple-esque design along with a great swimming pool sequence keeps the deep space visuals suitably awe-inspiring.


[Spoiler]. Eventually the film returns to its darker roots as Aurora finds out the truth and their relationship becomes as doomed as the failing ship yet it’s too little too late. Having to work together to save both their lives they eventually fall back in love. And here’s where the problem lies. Indiana Jones-alike Pratt has forced a death sentence on another human yet the film feels the need to have a soppy wrap up that sees our heartthrob heroes fall back in love. It’s honourable to see an original script getting the green light in Hollywood whilst getting 2 of the biggest stars on the planet (natch) doesn’t hurt your chances. However, with complex themes and multiple thought-provoking ideas ditched in favour of blockbuster action and an amorous narrative, I found myself wishing for something a bit deeper than the glossy end product. A fine but frustrating trip. 6/10


Death Race 2050 (2017) Dir. G. J. Echternkamp

A satiric sequel to the 1975 original, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 attempts to recreate the black humour of the former but using his name alone is enough for most film-fans to know where this feature will be heading. The level of quality audiences can expect is obvious from such a combination and it is clear what will be delivered. And deliver on that level it certainly does. The first 20 minutes or so a TV presenter introduces each driver and their background which is reminiscent of wrestling characters and, if you didn’t already know, these contestants are awarded points for killing people with their racing vehicles. Tagging on a political angle that the cars are in fact a kind of population control, this idea is almost entirely ditched for awfully filmed and constructed “action” sequences and terrible green-screen car conversations.


The dialogue is abysmal and embarrassingly delivered but I suspect all these choices are completely intentional. Films such as this and the Sharknado series sadly miss the point of hilarious bad films – which are all the more funny when being earnest. These deliberate and ironic attempts to create an appalling film miss that point entirely. If I had to choose one highlight it would be Burt Grinstead’s Jed Perfectus, an antagonist so over the top that I couldn’t help but warm to his shallowness and campiness straight from depths of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.


As an aside, the Wikipedia entry for the plot runs to 650 words but boils down to ‘cars killing people for entertainment’. If that sort of thing done on a zero budget with sub-pantomime performances is your thing then you’ll probably enjoy Death Race 2050. For the rest of us it’s simply a case of judging how much alcohol and how many friends needed at your home in an attempt to even get through this movie. Deathly boring 4/10


The Void (2017) Dir. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie

With a background in producing low-budget, 80s-style horror-comedies, the directors ditch (some) of the more comedic elements from their previous outings to bring us The Void. This tale of terror follows a group of disparate characters holed up in a hospital after being surrounded by a KKK-alike clan of hooded menaces. The characters are a mix of criminals, vigilantes, cops, hospital workers and patients. These differences allow for a neat mix of conflicted drama as their separate personal journeys end up being tied together in their shared predicament.


With a focus on real-life special effects, the filmmakers wear their influences very much on their sleeve (obviously John Carpenter for a number of reasons) but their reliance on animatronic gore rather than CGI should be highly commended. This choice is not just for the retro-fans but modern audiences will hopefully get behind the real-life monsters rather than cartoony digital effects. Tentacles and facial disfigurements maintain the level of grotesqueness but as the film spiralled towards a more fantastical element, I began to lose interest. The acting is so-so and the story becomes too convoluted when I thought it could do with a dose of From Dusk Til Dawn straightforwardness.


Definitely aiming at the b-movie Carpenter crowd, the film should be praised for its originality as a new idea despite its HEAVY influences from the past. It’s also good to see its non-reliance on an existing franchise or named property. That said though, with so much harking back to the past, I felt the film’s ideas had been done better elsewhere and the conclusion’s mystical finale was a step-too far into the void for me. The Void ultimately becomes an honourable attempt that sadly fails to live up to the predecessors it borrows from. 5/10


Live by Night (2017) Dir. Ben Affleck

Based on the 2012 book by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), writer/director Ben Affleck tackles bootlegging in Florida as Irish gangster Joe Coughlin who walks a tightrope between warring factions in the 1930s. Coughlin throws himself in at the deep end as he falls in love with Emma (Sienna Miller) who is the mistress of a Boston gang boss played by a nasty Robert Glenister. When he is blackmailed by the mafia about their liaison, he ends up committing a bank heist before Miller sets him up for a beating. After a spell in prison and with few options left he joins the mafia’s bootlegging business in Tampa which is still fighting the Boston faction over turf. Keeping up?


Well, the movie actually does a good job of setting this up but in half an hour, things move very swiftly. In fact, sometimes this is far too swiftly as characters enact a series of narrative set pieces rather than developing naturally. As Affleck settles into Florida, we settle into the movie and I found the film hit solid ground once it simplified the story as he brings gambling and booze to the south. Crossing paths with the KKK, his problems never end and a rather strange side plot of redemption involving a Sheriff’s daughter (a suitably brilliant turn from Elle Fanning) barely affects the story in any meaningful way.


The film’s final shoot out is exciting and after 2 hours I was surprised to find how much I was on Affleck’s side after all his silly decision making. If anything, the audience may just want something positive to happen to his down-at-luck doofy dunce. More Gangster Squad than Goodfellas, Live by Night is a fine Friday night distraction but is ultimately unmemorable in most departments. It captures the sleaze and some morbid inevitability of the gangster genre and there are some gruesome sequences which may keep the more macabre fan in their seat. Overall though, with this, The Accountant and his so-far disappointing Batman-related movies, I couldn’t help but yearn for the simplicity and unfussiness of Affleck’s masterful Oscar-winning Argo. 6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 7 2016 08:13PM

The Purge: Election Year (2016) Dir. James DeMonaco


The Purge films (now a trilogy) about a near-future where for one day of the year all crime including murder is LEGAL for 12 hours, began its life with a low budget house invasion movie with Ethan Hawke in 2013. This was followed up by Purge: Anarchy that continued to carve out a b-movie niche as it flipped the original’s one-location premise to encompass a city-wide night escape (similar to Judgement Night or The Warriors).


Now on its third film, the Purge series ups the ante by setting the story against the politicians who introduced the concept, who covertly arrange an attack on a potential Presidential candidate who is in opposition to it.


What I like about the films is two-fold. Firstly, although not attempting to be high art they have a simple and solid idea at their core. A what-if scenario? What would society be like without rules? What is it like to be let off the chain, even just for a few hours? The film series has played on this set up from different characters’ point of views and is not necessarily bound by following an “arc”. The first sequel ditched the suburban family from the original as we followed a loner LA copy in the city who is drawn from seeking vengeance into protecting others which was a great switch by the writer-director, DeMonaco.


The second is the balance between the good idea and its low-budget schlock limitations. This concept allows the films to explore a number of serious ideas whilst still being a lot of fun with brutal violence, fighting and plenty of action. The director knows his limits however, yet makes the very most of them. Not contained by huge studio demands, DeMonaco has fun with costume designs, a cast of unknowns (who can be killed without fear of losing a “star”) and themes that typical “franchise” films wouldn’t dare take a risk with.


This film follows both of those notions as the same LA cop (Frank Grillo as Leo Barnes again) is now in charge of protecting a Senator who opposes the purge. Taking into account a wide range of society – we follow folks from shopkeepers, tactical SWAT teams, a Crips gang and some “founding fathers” – the diverse array of citizens again hint on bigger ideas whilst essentially not losing a fast paced group-on-the-run narrative.


Silly, preposterous and certainly not smart, the Purge is a superb low-budget success story and although I loathe to use box office figures in reviews (in fact never having done it before) it is great to see the series profit to the tune of 10xtimes its budget (!) in stark contrast to the billion dollar break-even points of bigger blockbusters.


If you failed to enjoy the other films, then you’ll find nothing more to satisfy you here, just more of the same nasty throwaway Saturday night thrills that are enjoyable if you take the frivolous fun at face value.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jul 6 2015 07:48PM

Killer Saurus (2015) Dir. Steve Lawson


“Why don’t you run through its legs...?”


This new Leicester creature feature from Creativ Studios is a fun b-movie inspired flick that uses a cloned dinosaur as its central theme in a story of secrets, horror and drama.


In a near future, we begin in a lab where Professor Peterson (Steve Dolton) works with his scientist colleagues to use innovative new bio-print laser technology to genetically recreate an ancient monster. We find out there have already been failed attempts by his favourite worker Kayleigh Ma (Helen Crevel) but sad news comes in the form of a telephone call in which the Professor is informed of the death of a loved one.


The film starts slowly but tension is soon ratcheted up as the project descends into chaos and heads begin to roll (literally). After an accident involving the death of a worker, we pick up 3 months later with Kayleigh and her journalist boyfriend Jed Bailey (Kenton Hall) who encourages her to return to her job in order to get some closure. However, he desperately wants to pick up an exclusive scoop to reinvigorate his career which is littered with a history of vilified conspiracy stories.


Back in the lab, they return to meet with Peterson who explains that the bio-print technology was originally developed to replace his amputated fingers before spiralling out of control. As he regales them with the previous failed attempts, we see he is working for a shady corporation who care even less about the lives they have ruined.


With laughs and silliness played off against melodramatic scenes, the film creates a great atmosphere that mocks and plays loving homage to its low budget influences. Good cinematography drenches the screen in futuristic Minority Report cool blues and blood-drenched reds whilst an intense booming soundtrack creates apprehension and worry at every turn.


Scenes increase their pace which help push the story along quickly and although the props and settings were quite sparse, they were well created and utilised. The interesting lighting choices through smoky camera shots helped overcome many gaps in the budget and the monster f/x were effective in their scope.


With more personal secrets uncovered, the film is a shaky mix of the sombre and the amusing with humorous lines vying for space with sinister scenes but the balance just about holds together and there were half a dozen or so true belly laughs as well delivered dead pan which made them even funnier.


Some lines of dialogue were cribbed from the most memorable monster movies (I spotted Jaws, King Kong and Jurassic Park) yet there’s action too. I find it easy to say that it’s genuinely great to see films come from your hometown and the talent from the Midlands still surprises me as innovative directors release films with ambition that far surpass expectations. KillerSaurus also has an impressive vibe straight from the grindhouse Planet Terror which both combine levels of daftness with disgusting make up to superb effect.


In summary, if Friday night beastly features are your thing then I can highly recommend you catching this noble and enjoyable film which hits colossal horror heights from a tiny budget.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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