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By midlandsmovies, Jan 16 2020 07:16PM



Midlands Review - The Haunting of Alcatraz


Directed by Steve Lawson


2020


High Flier Films/Creativ Studios



Can you make a film set on Alcatraz Island but film it around the Midlands? Well, Leicester-based horror director Steve Lawson attempts to give that a go in his new film The Haunting of Alcatraz.


With many legends set within the infamous walls over the years, we open up with a bloody bang of a beginning. An inmate manages to trick a guard who ends up giving him a blade (from a pencil sharpener no less) and a swift suicide leads to more mysterious deaths as the film progresses.


With Aura, Hellriser and Time, And Again under his belt Lawson again aims big with this film. He introduces us to Charlie Schmidt (Tom Hendryk) who comes straight out of college in 1937 to get a job as a prison guard. With the jailhouse routines explained by The Warden (Mark Topping excellently channelling some of the pious and cruel barbs of Shawshank’s Samuel Norton), he begins his shift.


But it isn’t long until Charlie’s bright young mind starts to investigate the strange deaths at the prison, yet despite warnings from a fellow guard (a very creepy Chris Lines) he continues to explore the bleak cellblocks.


Filmed at the disused Gloucester prison no less, Lawson does a more than admirable job convincing us this local made film is actually set in the bay of San Francisco. The British cast also do very well with American accents. So much so that I had to look up Chris Lines who is in fact from Stoke and not the US Deep South. And with good use of stock footage, it’s sometimes only the overcast UK weather that hints that we’re not in sunny California.


The film takes time to build its plot and Charlie eventually crosses paths with Helen Crevell’s nurse Sherry and together they begin an awkward bond of friendship, and perhaps more, which alleviates some of the more morbid aspects of the story.


Their relationship sadly leads into the middle third of the film which needed a few more scare scenes to keep the horror aspect at the forefront. And as it slows you start to notice the slightly functional camerawork – more variety in the shots could have helped visually – and some of the more cliched dialogue. Plus for a large prison, there seems to be very few inmates incarcerated. Almost none to be exact and a couple more tense scenes in this middle section sure wouldn’t have gone amiss.


However, the flashing lights and spooky sounds combined with a screeching soundtrack do just enough to keep you guessing at the film’s cryptic narrative and what could be lurking in the secretive “Cell 13”.


As Charlie uncovers further corruption, as well as possibly some supernatural goings-on, the movie definitely, and wisely, picks up the pace towards its conclusion. And later on Charlie’s enquiries into visions and voices leads to him unfortunately finding himself stuck in a cage (although not with The Rock alumni Nic Cage).


With traces of Shawshank and the Green Mile mixed with horror elements, The Haunting of Alcatraz’s does extremely well to create a convincing setting to hang its story around. Despite the obvious budget limitations, the film’s mix of penal punishment and cagey corruption drags it over the line before the illusion breaks.


And so, although you’re advised to stay well away from creepy “Cell 13”, it’s recommended you definitely head towards this disturbingly dark tale set at the infamous and sinister prison known as ‘the rock’.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 1 2018 08:03AM



Aura (2018)


Directed by Steve Lawson


Written by Steve Lawson (based on an idea by Jonathan Sothcott)


Hereford Films


Aura is a new film released by Hereford films and directed by local Leicester filmmaker Steve Lawson and tells the spooky tale of an ancient entity that can be exposed via a person’s aura.


Kirlian photography has appeared as a fictional element in numerous media and here the concept – a photography technique used to capture the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges – is refigured to show a person’s supernatural “aura”. The idea of these strangely-coloured emanations has been used in past horrors including the 1975 film The Kirlian Force, re-released under the more sensational title Psychic Killer.

We open this film in a dark room as a mysterious stranger takes photographs of a girl tied to a chair and so Aura begins with a very intriguing concept repurposed for the horror genre.


Cut to the present day and we get Shane Taylor as Mitch who, along with his girlfriend Diane (a superbly vulnerable Janine Nerissa), undertakes the most cliched of horror tropes by moving into a new house.


As they settle, Mitch uncovers the photos in a basement and speaks to his mother – a fantastic Jane MacFarlane as Elaine – who explains the tormented origins of the family’s past engagements.


Lawson has raised the quality of his film once again with Aura. From Killersaurus via Survival Instinct to his last film Essex Heist, Lawson has moved leaped and bounds beyond his zero budget roots but here he continues to tackle the terror genre with a few neat additions thrown in.


To find out more about the paranormal phenomenon, Mitch goes to visit psychic Rula Lenska as Ada. Lenska is a fine face from the past to give the film a bit of gravitas in a role that is typical of the genre and one that Blumhouse have built a company from - see Ouija, Inisidious et al.


Yet Lenska is also one of a number of the actors to use an American accent with Taylor himself appearing to deliver his lines using the voice of a 1930s New York street thug. Although there is a USA muscle car as well, the film is as American as Lawson’s previous Midlands film Essex Heist is from Essex.


However, despite that small personal annoyance, the actors do very well with their roles and Lawson uses off-kilter shots and Dutch angles to add to the film’s weirdness. As we move forward with the narrative it is uncovered that one of the children used in the photo experiments, Karen, voluntarily committed herself to a psychiatric ward. Mitch takes her home and it is here where the movie kicks up a gear.


The second half of the film ditches the table-based expository scenes – which to be fair provide useful backstory but fail to scare with their broad daylight location – and this is despite Jane MacFarlane’s excellent delivery of the soliloquies - and provides some much-needed chills


What is far creepier though are a smattering of horror scenes at night now that the disturbed Karen is released back into the couple’s care. Midnight wandering, nightmare visions and a demon-summoning séance gives the audience the scary thrills it has been building to. Throw in some Exorcist-infused possession and the film delivers some fearful sequences that fright fans will lap up.


Another huge step forward for the Leicester director, Aura has great acting and fantastic Hollywood cinematography. Sadly, the story is as old as the hills with its plot points of demon possession and a matriarchal psychic we’ve seen 1000 times before. However, with this and Nottingham feature Outlawed, we are now seeing feature films from the region that have the blockbuster sheen and weighty ambition that will see filmmakers like Lawson move even higher in the echelons of the industry.


Mike Sales



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