Welcome to latest chapter in our series, as The Snooty Ushers trawl through the cast expanse of Netflix. Braving the unknown… discovering the hidden gems… risking the dire and the dreadful… all so you don’t have to.
First of all, this is not a Halloween Edition (don’t blame me, they’re not on Netflix, I don’t make the rules!). It’s a Halloween Edition. It’s time for the kids to go trick or treating, some overly serious types will complain either about it being a celebration of evil or a insult to a serious cultural festival, and horror film fans get another excuse to watch horror films! They are all over TV right now, so I’ve taken to Netflix to have a look at some of the horror/scary films available.
So, here we go…
See No Evil 2 (Jen & Syvlia Soska, 2014)
See No Evil is a pretty decent, if generic, horror film from 2006. WWE had made a few films with The Rock and had set up WWE Studios to start making films featuring their own wrestlers. Kane (real name Glen Jacobs) had been a top star for about a decade at this point, and having played The Devil’s Favourite Demon, a horror film was a good fit, as Jacob Goodnight, a serial killer who used a big hook and had a penchant for taking his victims eyes. A rather surprising turn where his behaviour seems to be down to an overbearingly religious mother.
This sequel picks up straight after the events of the previous film, but the 8 year gap between films basically is a way of telling a new story. Goodnight wakes up in the city morgue, where a birthday party is taken place for one of the workers. Predictably, Goodnight goes on a killing spree.
There some interesting kills in this film, the Soska Twins have a good eye for gore, but this feels low budget, and not in a good way. WWE Studios moved to straight to DVD films a few years ago, and though that will turn a profit, here it really tells. Repeated shots in the same corridors are really noticeable. I would love to see the Soska Twins with a bigger budget. Kane is decent in the role (he has had almost 20 years worth of playing this type of character), but it all feels a bit slow. Still, it’s a much, much better than the last WWE Studios film I watched… Leprechaun Origins *shudder*. And there’s a pretty cool bit where Kane has to put a mask on to hold his face together. I’d wouldn’t mind another sequel (threequel? 3 No Evil?) with Jacob Goodnight in a bigger world, we’ve seen him twice stalking people around an empty building, so maybe having someone chase him or just on a rampage would be good.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Flight of the Conchords star Jermaine Clement and rumoured Thor: Ragnorak director Taika Waititi write, direct, and star in What We Do In The Shadows, an improvised mockumentary about a group of vampires who share an apartment, in the run up to the biggest social event of the season, the Unholy Masquerade.
This is more comedy than horror, and plays out in the vein of the Christopher Guest comedies such as Best In Show or A Might Wind. It’s very funny, with good performances from all of the cast, especially Waititi as Viago. The reason for including it here is how the film plays with so many horror and vampire tropes. When the characters go on a lad’s night out, but can’t go into any of the nightclubs without being invited in, and when various bouncers won’t oblige, they have to go to a vampire owned nightclub… which is empty.
The four main vampires represent 4 classic “types”. Petyr (Ben Fransham) is 8,000 years old, a bald, point-eared “vampyre”, think Count Orlock from Nosferatu, who doesn’t have a line of dialogue but plays a crucial role. Clement plays Vladislav (Vladislav the Poker!) who is 862 and is a probably closest to a Dracula-type, including a brillaint visual gag at the beginning that show Vladislav in a “Brides of Dracula” orgy when first introduced, although once the door is reopened he is in a normal sized bedroom alone. Deacon (Jonathan Burgh) is 183 year old and the youngest of the group and basically plays it as a teenager, whereas Waititi plays Viago, a 379 dandy vampire that brings to mind Tom Cruise’s Lestat from Interview With A Vampire. Viagao is the centre point of the film, he is the one who brings the camera crew in, and arranges the very funny house meetings, and Waititi gives a brilliantly understated, nervous performance.
Throw in some very good cameo from Rhys Darby’s group of lycanthropes…
… and a hilarious visit from the police (“I can’t believe what I’m seeing… no fire alarms”), and this is a definite recommendation. Not a scary film, but if you are a fan of vampire films, you will enjoy this.
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
And now we come to an absolute gem. The Babadook is the story of a mother and 6 year old son, Amelia and Samuel, dealing with the grief of a car crash that killed Sam’s father. This happened whilst he was driving Amelia to give birth to Sam, so Sam has never celebrated a birthday properly. He is obsessed with monsters under his bed and in his closet, and builds his own weapons to protect him and his mother.
Sam will only sleep after Amelia has read him a nighttime story, but when he chooses “Mister Babadook”, Amelia stops reading half way through, as the story is about exactly the type of monster Sam is scared of. Sam’s behaviour gets more troubling, and when he takes a homemade weapon into school he is excluded, which only put more strain on Amelia. When the Babadook book returns after Amelia had thrown it away, she starts to believe that maybe the character in the book is more than just a children’s story.
Essie Davis is fantastic as Amelia, as is the young Noah Wiseman as Sam. They both give great, believable performances that are so realistic. Is Amelia simply a lonely woman struggling to cope with a difficult young son? Or were the monsters that terrify Sam real all along?
I don’t want to discuss more about the film for fear of spoilers, but this is a really special, interesting piece of work. It raises real questions that will have you thinking about the film for days afterwards. And not in a plot holes, “why did that happen?” way.
Truly original voices in horror are rare and need to be cherished. Any film that offers more than quiet, quiet LOUD repeat is a welcome change in modern horror cinema. This is the best film I’ve watched in a long time. Check it out as soon as you can.
Housebound (Gerard Johnstone, 2014)
And the trip down under continues. What We Do In The Shadows is a New Zealand made film, The Babadook is Australian (even the original See No Evil was shot in Australia) and we return to New Zealand for Housebound.
We open with two (hopeless) criminals trying to rob an ATM. The plan fails, one of them is knocked out and the other, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) get the car stuck on a speed hump. This leads to her being put under house arrest in her old home with her mother (Rima Te Wiata) and step father (Glen-Paul Waru). However, there are some ghostly goings on in the house (as you can tell by the poster) but it doesn’t play out the way you expect.
Like What We Do In The Shadows, the films plays with lots of horror film tropes. Characters react in terror to having to use dial-up internet (oh the horror!) and a prolonged conversation plays like a torture scene. Plus the best use of a cheese-grater since ECW was still around. This is a funny horror film, with both the comedy and horror being well judged. The script knows when to be serious and when to undercut the tension with a well placed joke. This isn’t Scary Movie spoofing, it’s a lot more subtly done. This is definitely a horror film first, but a very fun one.
A definite recommendation, as a horror comedy this is getting towards Shaun of the Dead levels of good. And it has a truly great final death!
John Dies At The End (Dan Coscarelli, 2012)
From the director Bubba Ho-Tep and Phantasm comes a film based originally on a web-comic. It’s the story of David and John, two drop-outs (that’s a cliche, but neither really has much character) who discover a drug (Soy Sauce) that has some very strange side effects. What follows is a horror/sci-fi/fantasy film that wears its cult status proudly.
Paul Giamatti plays a journalist who David has contacted to tell his story, and it’s through this conversation that the film plays out. The side effects of the drug involve the ability to set in and out of time and see other dimensions. This eventually leads to these two slackers having to try and save the world.
John Dies At The End is deliberately low key. The two “heroes” are irreverent to the point of almost not caring, which actually gets a bit annoying, undercutting not just the tension but also any interest in the story. It desperately wants to be a weird, indie, cult sci-fi film, and it definitely looks very good for a film which cost about the same as about 12 seconds of even an average Summer Blockbuster. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, which is usually a good thing, but as mentioned before, it’s difficult to care about these characters for 90 minutes. It’s good to see the real face of Doug Jones (Silver Surfer in the Fantastic Four sequel and the faun and The White Man in Pan’s Labyrinth) who has a small role.
There are a few creepy bits, and some cool sci-fi ideas, but it won’t commit to anything.
And that’s it for this special Halloween edition. Babadook is brilliant, there are two horror comedies that are definitely worth watching, and then two slightly disappointing films. There will be more Halloween stuff coming this week. You can check all of our Netflix columns so far by clicking the tab at the top, including our spin-offs Investigating the iPlayer and Perusing Prime, both of which are due for another edition. I hope to be Negotiating Netflix again soon. Until then, thanks for reading!
See you next time.