Krampus  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       98 Min        15

Comedy horror focusing on the travails of a family and their relatives one especially cold winter’s eve when Krampus, the pagan god of cramps, descends upon them, resulting in numerous involuntary and sudden spasms in the family members whilst they go to the bathroom and about their normal business of bickering, fighting, cooking and vaguely trying to be merry and pretend they actually like one another, often to comic effect. No, not really. Rather Krampus represents the sinister anti-Santa, thought to have originated in Austria and one of numerous similar figures in European folklore and tradition, he is usually represented as a horned, hoofed, towering menace, whisking misbehaving children off to some unknown, and presumably grim, chastisement, although oddly enough he doesn’t seem to have made it as far north as Scotland – he was probably deep fried and eaten by the same kids he came to collect.

Certain members of the principal family, basically all of them, have forgotten what Christmas is really all about, or rather their rotund gun-totting relatives staying over have steamrollered whatever seasonal cheer they had left, bringing the decidedly unfestive house to the initial attention of Krampus, who elects to pay them a little visit and pick them off one at a time along with the help of his animated companions: grisly werebears and despotic gingerbread men (and possibly women) and a sort of Christmasy version of The Thing. Nothing brings people together like common adversity – unfortunately common adversity also sometimes drives them further apart, and Krampus has a field day with nary a sensible decision made to stand in his way. In fact, he has such a good time, he decides to pay the neighbours a visit while he’s at it too.

Directed by Michael Dougherty (‘Trick r Treat’ 07) and co-written by him, Todd Casey and Zach Shields, the entire thing feels like there’s a really good movie constantly threatening to come out, but it never really does bar a few nice touches here and there, and although the cast, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Krista Stadler, all at least carry their roles, their characters simply have too many moments when they act in a horribly stilted way, pausing hopelessly when they need to finish off daemonic foes and always two or three steps behind what is clearly right in front of them. Similarly, the direction and writing continually show signs of promise but fall down too readily, with many action scenes difficult to view clearly – and the most promising characters dealt with too summarily. It’s a great concept though, which may witness ‘Krampus’ carry its weight a little farther than it really ought to.

Victor Frankenstein  (2015)    37/100

Rating :   37/100                                                                     110 Min        12A

A monstrous waste of time. This is from 20th Century Fox and so isn’t actually part of Universal’s relaunch of their ‘monsters’ back catalogue into a new franchise, as last year’s ‘Dracula Untold‘ was (interestingly, Charles Dance played the ancient vampire in the cave there, and here he appears briefly as Frankenstein’s father), although no doubt Universal will be keenly taking note of just how badly they’ve bludgeoned the hell out of the material – the primary problem, aside from terrible scriptwriting from Max Landis (‘American Ultra‘), direction from Paul McGuigan (‘Push’ 09, ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ 06) and acting from James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor) and Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin), is that it very much feels like a lame attempt to simply make more money from long since dead material, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Not that it couldn’t have been redone incredibly well, thematically it’s as compelling now as it was when Mary Shelley penned the novel in 1818, but we can gain some insight into the film’s many downfalls by looking at some choice quotes, mentioned here, from an interview with the director : “[Frankenstein] has always been a mad scientist with funny hair – and that’s it. He’s not really had a backstory.” Wrong. McGuigan has clearly never seen Hammer Horror’s classic ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (57), one of the most famous versions of the story, wherein loads of time is spent on building up Frankenstein’s backstory and character – one of the reasons it works so well. McGuigan continues : “… there’s not a reverence to the book… I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but it’s as dull as dishwater, man… If you love the book, you’ll hate the movie.” Well, why exactly are you adapting the novel again?

The film opens with the soon to be Frankenstein’s assistant Igor living as a hunchbacked circus clown, whose medical ability is unveiled after a somewhat predictable ‘No Sebastian, don’t try it without the net!’ moment and then bizarrely the circus imprisons him, before the curious and scheming Frankenstein initiates a rescue and they become wanted criminals for murder as the circus also decides to try and kill them in their flight and someone gets nailed, or knifed to be more precise, although the protagonists aren’t actually responsible, all before Igor’s hunch is cured and mysteriously all the traits Radcilffe was ‘acting’ also oddly disappear. It’s awful, and makes little to no sense, much like the remainder of the film.

McAvoy’s accent ranges heavily from something close to his own to a truly horrid English one, as he displays a sort of vaudeville crazy scientist routine that’s about as appealing as nails scratching on his blackboard would be (although in true modern Hollywood style he often prefers to write on the floor), whilst Radcliffe mopes around like a wooden monkey, pushed aimlessly around by his mentor and the equally whimsical screenplay. Jessica Brown Findlay appears in a love interest role that is really a hopeless distraction for the story, but her performance, and her beauty, is in such contrast to everything around her that she ends up being one of the film’s saving graces in the end.

Similarly, the final section that takes place at Dunnottar castle in Scotland finally begins to build something resembling visual tension (Dracula’s castle may have been based on Slains Castle which is also in Aberdeenshire, incidentally) but it’s not long before all is forcibly throttled down the privy once more. We see Frankenstein, for example, go up to his creation declaring in despair ‘it’s not life!’, well the thing just got up and walked toward you on its own matey it looks pretty alive to me, and then everyone goes into hysterics for no reason and, well, one very much sympathises with the monster who is likely smarter than everyone else combined. Tremendously realised sets and costumes (if you are ever in Edinburgh check out Frankenstein’s pub for more on the same theme) but overall this just feels like a bad TV episode they couldn’t be bothered even properly linking scenes together in.

Indeed, the movie is so poor that multiple people found checking their Facebook news feeds for the majority of it more interesting; normally I would suggest people who check their phones in the cinema should have their tongues superglued to the screen after the show, but on this occasion, I similarly found their Facebook news feeds more entertaining than anything happening in McGuigan’s lazy, disjointed, muck-fest of a movie.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse  (2015)    50/100

Rating :   50/100                                                                       93 Min        15

Woeful writing ruins what wasn’t a completely awful premise for a zombie comedy film. Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) are best friends and scouts who suddenly have to put everything they’ve learned whilst earning their badges into practice in order to try and survive their town being randomly overrun by zombies, although they appear to actually inaugurate the incursion by running over a deer near the beginning and somehow turning it into a member of the undead, which is at least original even if nothing much else in the film is.

Lame comedy, drama and character interplay are interspersed with loud jolts, as zombies pop up everywhere to irritatingly assault the senses, whilst the boys are the traditional fat kid, the one who thinks he’s way cooler than he is and the central straight guy in love with a girl he doesn’t know how to talk to. Precious little use of the theme and an all too traditional arc of ‘Scouts is lame … actually no, it’s pretty cool, and now I’ve realised how important our friendship really is’ leave this suffering from the same level of boredom as the likes of ‘Life After Beth‘ and ‘Warm Bodies‘. Although, as you can see from the pic above, Sarah Dumont in support does give teenage boys a pretty good reason to enjoy the film, not me you understand …

Crimson Peak  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     119 Min        15

Visually rich and well acted but lacking in almost every other department, Guillermo del Toro’s latest after ‘Pacific Rim‘ is a fairly traditional take on the horror genre with a 19th century haunted house mystery, except pointless gore predominates where there ought to be suspense and, critically, the entire premise is undermined by poor writing from the very offset. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, the virginal, one presumes, young beauty about to come to the attention of one Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and the cardinal sin of the screenplay is that it lets us know these two are up to no good all the way through, with nothing about their ultimate purpose proving to be very interesting nor surprising.

The sets and costumes are impressive enough, and as with the director’s other work he has overly committed to the aesthetic, albeit successfully, whilst not paying nearly enough attention to the storytelling (he was joined by Matthew Robbins for the screenplay). Everything simply plods along delivering nothing we haven’t seen before, apart from perhaps ghosts with all their flesh still on but minus the skin, simply for ‘shock’ value, all dancing around the loose thread of the siblings trying to mine the grounds around their crumbling English manor for the lucrative minerals in the earth surrounding it, and travelling to the States in the beginning to petition Edith’s business magnate father for investment. Fans of both horror and del Toro are likely to be disappointed, although the latter probably won’t completely hate it at least.

Paranormal Activity : The Ghost Dimension  (2015)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                       88 Min        15

Could have been one of the better instalments in the Paranormal Activity horror franchise, alas it’s just rubbish again, although thankfully it’s been announced as the last one they’ll do despite ironically setting up a decent plot thread for sequels. Following on from the previous ‘The Marked Ones‘, this is film number six and to be honest I wasn’t especially aware, despite having seen them all, that the series features the same characters in different time frames and locations, alarmingly highlighting the ubiquitous poor scripting. Here, some new cannon fodder are introduced, in a modern setting of 2013, who find recordings of the anchors for the overarching plot – sisters Katie and Kristi Ray, shortly after the events of part 3 while they were still kids, and an eerie conduit between the past and present is instigated by a malevolent spirit that plagues the new family of three, plus their two friends that are staying over to make up the numbers.

The basic story is actually fine and builds up something potentially interesting with people that are almost likeable for this kind of film – indeed, the rather attractive wife (Brit Shaw) comes onscreen to enliven things slightly before a distinct moment of ‘Jesus Christ!’ as her even hotter friend (Olivia Taylor Dudley), looking like a young, petite and very well endowed Patricia Arquette, saunters into shot – but precious little is made of them, either as characters, plot devices or eye candy.

Instead, the film suffers the same repetitive fate as its predecessors wherein the screenplay sets up various set-piece scares, and everything else in-between makes no sense, such as adults filming their daughter being visited by evil spirits in the night rather than really doing anything about it, and it’s nigh on impossible for a film to pull off being scary and dumb at the same time. Also with Chris J. Murray, Dan Gill and Ivy George as the youngster in need of better parents.

The Visit  (2015)    51/100

Rating :   51/100                                                                       94 Min        15

M. Night Shyamalan writes, directs and produces his attempt at the handheld horror genre with occasional success, as Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are shunted off to visit their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie) in their mother’s home town – minus the mother (Kathryn Hahn) though as she apparently did something heinous to them when she ran off with their father, who eventually ran off with someone else and hasn’t been seen since. The only problem is the grandparents are psychos and scare the living shit out of the kids, who are then determined to find out exactly what their mother did to them that was so bad.

In essence, Shyamalan has principally written a decent story, if not a screenplay, for the film but the delivery lacks any real tension – the kids are by turns likeable, and we see the after-effects of their parents divorce on them psychologically which was a rare nice touch for the genre, but then they are also really irritating; Tyler, for example, tries his hand at rapping and he’s no good, to put it lightly, but there are nonetheless three lengthy takes of him giving it a go. Perhaps worst of all, the film’s climactic moment is delivered with no real force whatsoever all but ruining it, and, well, it’s sandwiched between a lot of nonsense in terms of the regular scares together with the mere occasional moment of amusement, as the film continually threatens to ramp up both the comedy and the horror, and then simply doesn’t. Shyamalan reportedly had a lot of trouble editing the film as the final product kept flitting radically between genres – kind of suggests he didn’t really know what he was trying to do in the first place though …

Sinister 2  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                       97 Min        15

Surprisingly, an improvement on the original from 2012. The horror story surrounding the bogeyman (a monster myth that transcends multiple cultures worldwide incidentally, often being referred to as The Black Man, and always used to terrify children into obedience by their parents – the Slavic word ‘bog’, meaning god, is thought to have been one possible origin for the word ‘bogeyman’ as a devil and to have given rise to the likes of ‘bogle’, meaning hobgoblin in Scots, and ‘bugbear’, for example) continues with the police deputy from the previous film, played by James Ransone, now having left the force and on a mission to protect those still in danger from this ancient evil, specifically in this case Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two young sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan). Ransone and Sossamon together with the story really sell this film – forming a sympathetic core that allows what are fairly ordinary, albeit well executed, horror thrills to work, and deliver a modern film in the genre that is actually watchable because we care about the characters, as Bughuul attempts to recruit Dylan and Zach into his legion of undead kiddies who have all brutally murdered their parents (membership is quite exclusive).

Maggie  (2015)    46/100

Rating :   46/100                                                                       95 Min        15

A bizarre film starring Abigail Breslin and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as her doting father, in a blight infested world that sees infected people turn into zombies. Nothing remotely original about the concept then, but here the focus is on the human and familial trauma of dealing with a loved one who has been infected, in this case Breslin’s character, as families are permitted to look after the inflicted up until a certain point whereafter the dreaded quarantine, from which there is no hope of return, must be enforced before they start eating the neighbour’s chickens and defecating blood and teeth all over the freshly cleaned kitchen floor.

Naturally, many wait a little too long before bringing themselves to say goodbye once and for all, and despite the abundant scope for allegory (especially in the wake of the most recent, and deadliest yet, Ebola outbreak – although hopes are high a dependable vaccine has now been engineered) the artfully shot drama about a father’s, ahem, undying love for his daughter suffers the irredeemable sin of simply being flat-out-dull throughout. It’s an awful long time before we hear any substantial dialogue to make us invest in the characters and despite being a zombie flick there is very, very little in the way of tension in any sense, never mind action or excitement. The principal acting is good, so too from Joely Richardson as the step-mum, but first time director Henry Hobson is no Terrence Malick and the well meaning cinematography, that comes in multiple shades of grey, does not unfortunately make any real substitute for the void that exists where pace and story ought to have been drawing the audience in.

The Gallows  (2015)    35/100

Rating :   35/100                                                                       81 Min        15

Buddies Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing both wrote and directed this and one hopes they had a good time in the process as it’s highly unlikely anyone else is going to whilst watching their final product – a handheld horror film that couldn’t be any less artful if it tried. All set in a high school where a school play, ‘The Gallows’, went tragically awry in the nineties and one of the performers ended up actually being hung. Seeming to forget this incident, the school decide to put on the same play again in the present day, and when four of the kids get stuck inside the building late at night, three of them having been intent on sabotaging the sets because they’re little shits, questions of supernatural evil and the spirit of the deceased haunting the school begin to arise …

It doesn’t bode well for a handheld film when the person mostly behind the camera is incredibly annoying, and here he is joined by the obligatory couple of girls with sweaty uplifted cleavages and scares no more original than a camera looking one way before turning around and back again to reveal something new in view of the lens – at one point the camera sits by itself at rest for a moment and then one of the main characters purposefully jumps in front of it to surprise the audience. That’s the level of entertainment you’re looking at here. The story and concept aren’t completely terrible but what they’ve done with it, simply put, is. Starring Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos and Cassidy Gifford as the central four that get mired in bad acting and screenwriting.

This song isn’t in the film, but I’ve had it in my head since watching it nonetheless. And now you can too ….

Knock Knock  (2015)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       99 Min        18

The latest take on the home invasion scenario, from director Eli Roth and cowritten by himself, Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo. Roth’s involvement was for me slightly balanced out by Keanu Reeves’ appearance in top billing here, leading to the conclusion that this probably wasn’t going to sink to the lows that Roth’s ‘Hostel’ (05) did, for example, and that assumption proved accurate although much of this film simply doesn’t lead anywhere at all with a ratio of about twenty percent horror to sixty five percent flat nothingness with limp direction, writing and, at times, acting – having said that the other fifteen percent is occupied by some very convincing scenes of sexual tension thanks to the ‘invasion’ this time being carried out by two nubile, fit young women.

The pair, played by Lorenza Izzo (Roth’s wife, incidentally) and Ana de Armas, turn up unannounced at architect Reeves’ swanky house with their overtly soaked wet nips and a sorrowful tale of being late for a party and … actually I don’t remember the rest of their excuse, I was distracted – as is Reeves who lets them in to dry off whilst wondering what they might really be after. I have this problem all the time – the best thing to do is to tie them up and gag them as quickly as possible just to be safe, you cover all your bases that way. Needless to say, market research tends to bypass my cave these days but unfortunately Reeves isn’t quite so savvy when it comes to psychos, or teenage girls, and, well, he doesn’t get much work done over the weekend put it that way.

The film is a remake of 1977’s ‘Death Game’ and its troubles begin just shy of half way through when it all but runs out of steam and it becomes apparent there was no real thought given to the theme other than to replicate the sort of scenario better displayed in ‘Funny Games’ (97 & 07) and its imitators but with a visual overemphasis and indulgence on the aspect of sex appeal, where it is at least successful, and yet there was a lot of scope for development. A surprising lack of even traditional screw turning both relieves and disappoints and they could easily have put in a lot more black humour, just as it ought to be much more tense than it is – worst of all, though, are multiple moments where solutions to problems are presented and not acted upon, which any horror or thriller can only get away with for so long. Ana de Armas is the film’s best revelation with a largely believable delinquent romp and a body possibly worth enduring a certain degree of discomfort for, but even for male audiences her and her partner in crime’s charms won’t be enough to overlook the frayed narrative that occupies the latter half of the film.