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Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Something's in the forest around Maiden Woods, and it's up to the grief-stricken sheriff and his former big city deputy to figure out what. Shot through an icy blue lens and set in a small town on the verge of a snowstorm, DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014) is as much a character study as it is a creature feature and is all the better for it.

Sheriff Paul Shields (Kevin Durand from Vikings, Real Steel, a whole ton of stuff) blames himself for the death of his young son, even though every single other person in town (including his estranged wife and other son) know it was a terrible accident. I've read other reviews that point out Durand carries the whole film on his shoulders with his performance, and I'm inclined to agree; though I'd say he wears it on his face more than anything. He spends the entire film looking knackered and on the verge of tears, yet holds it back with no small effort so he can concentrate on protecting his town...even though this is also something he doesn't, privately, feel equipped to do.

A dark shape stalks around the outside of his home at night, startling his son and leaving weird hoof-like prints that stretch from the woods all the way through town. Once the townsfolk wake up to these, they're suitably unnerved and straight away, the film's blanketed in a sense of unease as subtle as the gently falling snow. At first, the rational response is someone's taking a creepy prank too far, but once evidence starts piling up involving claw marks and dead bodies, Paul and his deputy (played by Lukas Haas, Touch) start to suspect old monster stories told by good-natured barman Earl (the always reliable Nick Damici, Stakeland) might have some basis in fact.

DARK WAS THE NIGHT may have a borderline generic title, and you could argue the plot itself follows familiar beats, but this doesn't stop it from being an atmospheric, occasionally tense film. Director Jack Heller (a producer on Bad Milo and The Scribbler) shows he knows how to handle suspense and the monster by giving us glimpses of it in the background and as it darts behind trees/into the surrounding darkness. I even got one really good, genuine jump scare out of the film that has everything to do with careful framing and delayed expectation, rather than a blast of loud music. Writer Tyler Hisel papers over any b-movie familiarity with strong characters and the clever decision to offer clues as to the creature's origin rather than a concrete reason.

The only two places the film stumbles are when Paul's wife talks about her son's death, and when we finally get a good look at the monster. Regards the wife's conversation, although it's not a deal-breaker, it does feel heavyhanded in a film that shows otherwise commendable restraint. The monster might elicit more than a groan, though. I like the design a lot (though I can't really picture it surviving in the freezing temperatures), I'm just not keen on the CG fx as it breaks the immersion (mainly through slightly wonky animation). It's a shame, too, because up until the end, the most we see of the monster is delivered through shadow-drenched practical effects, like this:

I won't reveal the creature here as that'd spoil half the fun of this film, but I do think it's pretty unique – in look, if not form. There're some nice gore fx that serve the story and you really get a sense that this monster is powerful, lithe and smart; in other words, a worthy enemy. For the human characters: aside from the Sheriff, Deputy Donny also gets just enough backstory to flesh out a good-natured personality that shows hints of a recent, troubled past. There's a lot to like about DARK WAS THE NIGHT, and I think it's a real testament to it that I already feel like watching it again. I'm sure I could have come up with a far snappier conclusion, but sometimes a perfectly solid sentiment is just as good, if not better. A bit like this film, really. Oooooh there we go.


Sunday, 9 August 2015


No, I'm not talking about the lumpy superhero one - who would surely sink a boat with his weight were he ever on one - though you'd be forgiven for thinking so, given that the latest Fantastic Four is now out and assaulting everybody's eyeballs with its apparent awfulness. I mean THIS Thing:

and I mean THIS boat:

I'm talking about HARBINGER DOWN (2015). I don't think I've been so angry/disappointed in a film for ages. With that lazy, but unfortunately accurate, post title, HARBINGER DOWN sets his sights both too high and too low and as such squanders any potential on derivation.

The plot, such as it is, follows university student Sadie, her professor, and a fellow student, as they track migrating whales. They hitch a ride aboard Sadie's grandfather's ship (the titular Harbinger) and settle in with the rest of the crew, as they go about their usual business of scooping up crabs from the Arctic sea. However, when Sadie dips a camera into the sea one night to video some nearby whales, she spots a blinking red light - some space junk is stuck in the ice! After it's brought aboard, they find a dead astronaut inside, and Russian markings. WEIRD!

We already know this set to happen after a intro sequence showing the astronaut hurtling to earth with pink goo dripping into the craft. In 1982. For no explicable reason, the film itself is set nowadays. I assume it's to explain the 'cutting edge' genetic testing equipment Sadie and company bring aboard, but that all feels ultimately rather perfunctory - there is nothing in this film, technology-wise, that couldn't have been done to a certain extent if the film was still set in the 80s. In fact, it would have made a lot more sense overall.

This is a low budget film with an emphasis on practical effects, which is certainly something to be applauded. Especially if you've grown up on a steady diet of 80s horror like me. I suspect HARBINGER DOWN wants to be a throwback, but it only succeeds at the very basic level. An underdeveloped script and ropey acting isn't surprising, but what is, is the utter lack of inspiration evident elsewhere, especially the effects.

Something happened on the Russian space craft that affected microscopic organisms aboard. These 'water bears' have developed a disgusting knack of absorbing the genetic code of whatever they touch and mutating the host/themselves into grotesque creatures. Nothing wrong with that idea at all; it's pure pulp sci-fi horror. When a sample of the creature/living pink goo is tested by Sadie, she comments that it's likely to have absorbed the genetic code of over 100 creatures as it lay frozen/hibernating in the Arctic sea. Immediately, we're being elegantly told that this monster can become pretty much anything, can form any number of horrific combinations.

So why does it largely appear as a formless quivering mass/worm thing/worm thing with tendrils? There is one instance when it appears as a spindly clawed person-thing that is obviously a puppet/person in a suit, but by god it's glorious. The film sets itself up to go balls-to-the-wall with weird/insane creature designs but it plays it safe 99% of the time.

It's not all bad - the clear highlight is Lance Henrikson as the ship's grizzled captain. He's known for phoning his performances in lately, but he certainly does not do that here, nor does the script squander him. He's a strong character with something approaching substance, especially compared to the pieces of furniture he's surrounded by. He also gets the film's one genuinely emotional moment. The lass who plays Sadie isn't bad, either. Close-but-no-cigar to the chap who plays her professor, who handles himself well right up until he goes HAM on the acting, in every sense. Also special mention to the 'not at all suspicious' Russian woman with the most terrifying eyes I've ever seen on a  human who isn't infected by killer goo:


But, sadly, this is all outweighed by the aforementioned derivation. Nothing wrong with being influenced by or tipping your hat to a cult favourite like THE THING (I'm pretty sure there are a few background nods in this film, including a Chess Wizard computer) unless...

Unless you're creating a facsimile. HARBINGER DOWN might look atmospheric in screenshots, and the occasional exterior shots in the film of the boat surrounded by ice, but that's all there is. Ridiculous scenes (a far-too-violent cabin fight between Creepy Eyes and the resident giant) and contrivances (why did Russia wait thirty years to recover their space junk IF THE BEACON WAS ACTIVE? AND why did they send an agent on a ship that COINCIDENTALLY happened to pass it? AND...oh it goes on and on) do more to sink this ship than any mutant creature ever could. Especially galling are the brief flashes of originality, such as the change wrought upon the first human victim, or the refreshingly diverse cast.

I wanted to like HARBINGER DOWN. More than that: I wanted to admire it, for professing an open love for a cult horror film and a reliance on practical fx over CGI (though I'm pretty sure there's a fair splash of these). Its DNA is ultimately too similar to its inspiration, and other 'horror on a boat' films (most notably the Jamie Lee Curtis film VIRUS) so that, despite the filmmaker's best intentions, HARBINGER DOWN is more throwaway than throwback.

And now some music:

Sunday, 2 August 2015


Yep. Like an ancient horror waking from its centuries old slumber, my influence is slowly spreading. I've reclaimed my TWITTER and FACEBOOK PAGE from Dr. Quincy, M.E - we're still on good terms, and he's happy to have me as his agent, but he's simply too busy solving murders and fighting City Hall to bother with the internet at the moment. I've also set up a DEVIANT ART site specifically for my current monster project (which I've dubbed 'Unfathomable Legs') and I've also, finally, figured out how to use INSTAGRAM on my PC since I don't have one of those new-fangled smartphones. Yes, I am from the 20th Century, what of it? I've also figured out how to get my music on here, you lucky freaks -->

More of this can be heard HERE and HERE!

And that's HOW for NOW!