Prisoners of The Ghostland – The Enigma

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Nicholas Cage, for better or worse, is an enigma. The closer he comes to pure genius, the more obscure and confusing the slew of throwaway schlock he frequently indulges in appears. For every Mandy (2018) we are permitted to gleefully enjoy, so are we forced to endure a Willy’s Wonderland (2021) or Kill Chain (2019). He is an actor who seems eager to show off his chops and bask in his own talent, while also perfectly happy to fund his more artistic endeavors by screaming maniacally through one cheap, talentless production after another. In 2021 he starred in Prisoners of The Ghostland.

Prisoners of The Ghostland (2021), the latest film by Japanese director Sion Sono, oddly lies directly in the middle of these two known Cage archetypes. With a distinct gonzo vibe, and a sense of humor that ranges from the campy to the downright absurdist, this latest experiment in Cage-rage feels like a hyper-vivid mashup of Mad Max (1979) and surrealist neo-western, all through a filter of feverish b-movie grit. Insane choices abound in production, the actors being forced to take a script seriously that sounds as though it was written by a film-obsessed, adhd-riddled pre-teen. If that sounds like fun to you, you’ll probably love this one. I am personally on the fence.

Prisoners of The Ghostland has a rather grandiose feel, as though we are viewing a classic epic from an alternate, altogether weirder, timeline. Taken for what it is, it can be a fun ride, though a lot of time is given to slow, sombre scenes that cut tiresomely into the film’s energy. We are forced to watch, on repeat, the tragic incident that led Cage’s character into his explosive predicament, without being offered much more information each time we are shown it. These particular scenes detract heavily from the campy, tongue-in-cheek edge that films of its ilk thrive on, leaving doubtful its ascension to cult classic status.

Prisoners of The Ghostland scene featuring a man with a spear arm fighting a man with a sword

Sion Sono has a penchant for the weird and seemingly random, and his teaming up with Cage should have been a match written in the stars. Sadly it more serves as proof that more than visual flair and an abundance of oddities are needed to make even a b-movie great. All the ingredients are there, though something in the execution is simply lacking in any kind of real engagement. Through awkward and drawn-out conversation we never learn enough about any one character to allow any kind of development, and most interactions seem to be intended to confuse rather than enlighten. It is the kind of picture one could watch at least five or six times before realizing the deeper meaning they were looking for is actually not there at all.

For those who can bask in strange without feeling the need to look much further, the vibrant and colorful visuals of Prisoners of The Ghostland coupled with its eccentric cast and true attention to madness should provide ample entertainment for a late-night viewing.

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Reboots, Remakes and Requels in Horror

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While new and fresh ideas are popping up all the time in the world of horror films, particularly amongst indie circles, some of the older nightmares can be just as potent. This is why films and franchises from as far back as the 1920s are to this day being graced with sequels, reboots and complete remakes. Of course it can be argued that to remake an old horror property is simply an attempt at draining the pockets of the nostalgia-susceptible, but a lot of creators go into such a process with a deep love of that original, be it Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead, or The Invisible Man. Sometimes people simply want to capture the essence of what made one of their favourite films great and share that with a modern audience, though a few recent entries have had trickier, cleverer ideas up their sleeves. As we are about to see, the line between ‘terrifyingly worthy tribute’ and ‘embarrassment to its predecessor’ can be a fine one, and not all make the cut.


Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)


Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was scary bordering on masochistic, and since then has been tarnished with a horde of shoddy sequels and rebooted more times than an 80s Macintosh. Filmmakers seem content simply chopping different bits off the original’s title each time they reset; first we had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and then Texas Chainsaw (2013), and now Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) horror remake. Many try to tack on enough lore just to fill and warrant their runtime, though our skin-masked maniac’s latest outing seems far more heavily focused on gore. Of course, gore isn’t what made Hooper’s masterpiece what it is, but it certainly helped. Sadly David Blue Garcia’s take utilises mainly CGI gore that can tend to look animated when it ramps up, and Leatherface himself never felt immediate enough to be actually scary. Olwen Fouere plays a returning Sally Hardesty (played originally by Marilyn Burns) in what seems like an attempt at the ‘returning leads in horror’ trend currently headed by Jamie Lee Curtis and most of the Scream (1996) cast, though Sally’s comeback was in no way as effective or as thought-out as the aforementioned. While it is worth a watch for gore completionists, Texas Chainsaw Massacre ultimately proves itself to be merely another in a lengthening line.


Scream (2022)

Scream 5 Horror remake


Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin got a lot of things right with Scream (2022); it was rife with the meta-awareness of its predecessors and aware of the change in their relatability as the years had gone on, perfectly willing to integrate itself into the new modern age and do so effectively. It brought back cast favourites from the very beginning of the franchise and even got so meta as to question what kind of addition to the franchise it really was, coining the term ‘requel’: not quite a horror remake, not quite a sequel.

Scream (2022) is a clever whodunit horror, though somewhere along the way it forgot to be scary. Aside from a couple of tension-building moments, most of the runtime is spent winking to the audience rather than actually being a horror film. Still, it is a funny, self-aware and welcome addition to the franchise, one that fans of any of the previous sequels will likely enjoy.


Friday 13th (2009)


Friday 13th (2009) is an example of a reboot that simply didn’t do enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors. While technically-sound and boasting plenty of gore, director Marcus Nispel’s (director of 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot) vision sadly followed too many of the same beats as practically every other film in the long-running franchise, proving that a sleek, modern look isn’t all that’s required to resurrect someone like the immortal Jason Voorhees.

The story does take some interesting turns, though all we are eventually left with are a handful of 00’s horror cliches and hollow half-scares. With a ‘reimagining’ like this, some expectations arguably have to be subverted, otherwise what is the production but an attempt to milk some more cash from the franchise? Unfortunately everything here that is expected to happen, happens, and the experience as a whole is forgettable, even in terms of late-stage Friday 13th titles.


Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2022)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2022) horror remake poster featuring people with guns


Welcome To Raccoon City is an indisputable homage to the golden era of the Resident Evil game series, though it also throws into question whether or not this is a good thing for a film. Paul W.S. Anderson’s take on the series was heavily flawed and received mostly negative feedback, especially as it went on, and one of the factors for this was always thought to be its departure from the plot and themes of the games in favour of the story of Alice, played by Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich. Now that we have a perfectly functioning cinematic version of the games themselves, complete with likeable cast, plenty of action and great callbacks to the originals, it becomes apparent that the problem may not have been wholly with Alice. Following the beats that the Resident Evil games did actually makes for quite a hollow cinematic experience, even when done with all the heart and care a fan can muster.


Wrong Turn (2021)


Here was a hell of a curveball in terms of horror reboots. While not by any means perfect, Wrong Turn (2021) completely reinvented the meaning of backwoods brutality by swapping out its predecessors’ cackling mutant hillbillies for The Foundation, a group who rejected modern society to live in the woodland, and who protect their way of life using savage measures.

Wrong Turn does lay it on thick in terms of political ideology, and it is odd to see a film in the series take itself so seriously. That being said, the film’s balance between being that of strong ideas and that of a strong body-count is what keeps it afloat for the majority of its runtime. Some truly haunting imagery and wince-inducing kills make up for the shaky pacing and ridiculous choices of its lead characters (it is a slasher after all). Anyone interested in seeing the effects of some gruesome woodland booby traps will find more than enough here to enjoy.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013) horror remake poster featuring a woman and red background


My personal favourite horror reboot. Evil Dead (2013) manages to capture perfectly the ferocious insanity of the original while also creating a uniquely dark spin on its story. Five friends spend a night in a cabin in the woods to cure one of their heroin addictions. When addict Mia (Jane Levy) begins facing demonic and invasive threats, she must convince her friends that far more than withdrawal is plaguing her before it is too late. Fede Alvarez manages to keep some key items as love letters to Raimi’s legendary films, such as that tree for example, and amps up the gore and violence to vomit-worthy levels. Faces are stabbed, hands are split, heads are chainsawed and all is done with a gleeful knowingness of what makes Evil Dead special. Let’s not forget the iconic Necronomicon, which makes an appearance as well. And with Evil Dead: Rise just around the corner, it’s nice to know there’s a future for such an uncompromising horror entity.

Halloween (2018)


Blumhouse’s Halloween reboot is one of their better horror films. What makes Michael Myers scary is the apparent randomness to his killings, and Halloween (2018) knew exactly where to go with it. After a shaky intro (what is even happening there? Does Michael have the ability to send the mentally ill into a frenzy?) we are then given a very solid setup involving a returning Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, her family, Michael’s foreboding transfer from psychiatric hospital to maximum security prison (what could go wrong?) and even a little self-awareness with the ‘by today’s standards’ quip. Instead of Laurie returning in the same brief way Sally Hardesty did, she and her family are key players in Michael’s latest bloodbath, showing Laurie’s preparation and the deadly results it yielded.

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Sacrifice – Lovecraftian Inspired

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Sacrifice (2021) (originally titled The Colour of Madness) is the sophomore effort of directors Andy Collier and Toor Mian, adapted by Paul Kane’s folk-horror novelette, Men Of The Cloth. Inspired heavily by the monstrous mythology of HP Lovecraft and, while not without its merits, frequently struggles to break through the earth’s-mantle barrier which limits most, if not all screen translations of cosmic horror

Sacrifice cosmic horror movie poster featuring a woman with a hood and people with torches

Young couple Emma (Sophie Stevens) and Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) return to Isaac’s Norwegian family home after a twenty-five year absence. The townspeople, including their sprightly sheriff played by horror heavyweight Barbara Crampton (of such masterpieces as Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986)), become increasingly familiar with Isaac as strange and terrible secrets about his family’s history unfold. In no time at all (from the first thirty seconds of the trailer in fact) we learn that the uncanny Norwegian folk worship an entity that early-horror aficionados will recognise as none other than Cthulhu himself. 

Having never read the source material, I was more than ready to enjoy an atmospheric horror with the A24-feel and Lovecraftian overtones the trailer hinted towards. In a sense I got what I wanted, though by the credits I had realised that in terms of ingredients I need a lot more than just those things. Sacrifice’s story unfolds through a series of meandering conversations and repetitive dream sequences that reduce its slow-burn to a dying spark of infrequent, moderately effective chills. True effort is shown by the handful of actors attempting to keep an ironically shallow script afloat as scene after scene of derivative half-scares trickle by, the surprise climaxes of which are likely to have dawned on you moments before they happen.

Conceptually this is my type of film, and there are elements here to enjoy. Isaac’s growing obsession with the cultish townsfolk and their customs is a great angle and offers some interesting visual and psychological ideas to be employed, even if he began to border on cartoonishly arrogant in the final act. Inspiration being taken heavily from Lovecraft’s work allowed some tantalising points regarding science, religion and cultism to be explored, though again not quite to the extent that might satiate true ‘intronauts’. These pondering breaks still offer enough intrigue to keep viewers guessing up until the climactic turnaround. Sacrifice’s ending is fun, though nothing too thought-provoking, and features a quietly effective final shot that would have been all the more powerful had I not seen an almost identical one in 2017’s Hagazussa.

Sacrifice offers some sharp and vividly colourful imagery aided by striking views and focused cinematography. While the editing can be erratic in places, and some instances of coloured lighting feel less purposeful than their inspirational counterparts, the film’s overall aesthetic does warrant the majority of its artistic choices. The lake itself is vast and ominous and many lines uttered by its worshippers are devilishly thought-provoking. The finished product sadly feels underdeveloped, had it not repeatedly fallen into the same handful of formulaic choices over its brief runtime, I’m convinced Sacrifice could have been an effective psychological horror about obsession with the deep, dark and unknown. 

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The Bloodhound from Filmmaker Patrick Picard

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The Bloodhound is the directorial debut from Patrick Picard, and is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Fall of The House of Usher (1839). The story follows a disenchanted young man who visits his elusive childhood friend at the request of a beckoning letter, and the uncomfortable terrors that follow.

Clocking in at only 72 minutes, this psychological slow-burn explores a few of the themes and ideas of its inspirational ancestor, using a few key plot points from the short story to present its ideas, though for the most part remains its own film completely. Inclusions such as the titular, and likely metaphorical, antagonist himself and the modernised setting of the Luret mansion enable a fresh horror to be invoked from the work while key themes retain what made the original so chilling. 

These themes are as relevant now as they were almost two hundred years ago; social isolation, mental health (with obvious correlations between the two), and obligations felt through different relationships. Although ideas of friendship are explored in some emotional ways, a rather cold atmosphere permeates the picture, aided by uncannily stilted performances from its two leads. These, along with beautiful, yet clinically-focused camerawork give the impression of looking into another universe at times.

The Bloodhound horror movie poster featuring a drawing of 2 men and a red doorway

As mentioned, this is another slow one, but if you’ve read any of my previous articles you should almost expect that by now. Rather than rely on scenery or atmosphere The Bloodhound is primarily dialogue-driven, as expected from a classic story adaptation. And it’s expertly handled by the two leads Joe Adler and Liam Aikan, both in delivery and consistent conviction until the final scene. You feel every pinch of Francis’ (Aikan) discomfort at the whims of the eccentric and disturbed Jean Paul Luret (Adler) and the growing distrust by both of them as each narrative intricacy reveals itself. 

The Bloodhound plays out much like an upper-class The Lighthouse (2019) in many ways, with a modernised dash of Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina (2014). With plenty enough detail within its short runtime to keep the most perceptive viewer engaged. It appears almost play-like with its limited cast, allowing plenty of opportunity for them to bounce off each other and get the most out of plot and setting. It revels in the confusion of the viewer, being that much of the information ascertained is unreliable, which bleeds through into our viewing experience as we start to doubt the things we are seeing are real. Those favouring familiar plots and more immediate scares may become frustrated. 

Even Francis, our initially implied connection with sanity, begins to act oddly. Where most would have undoubtedly left the Luret household after many of JP’s increasingly hostile antics, Francis stays to enact his own motives, leaving us all the more alone in the Luret mansion. The chemistry between these two characters is so engrossing at times that any ‘horror scene’ that does fall upon us is made all the more jarring because of it. This elevates the film from effective psychological horror to a testament to the importance of strong acting and direction within the genre. 

The Bloodhound is an intense, atmospheric and darkly comedic tribute to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and a strong first entry for Patrick Picard. If his work continues to exude the same unsettling nihilistic macabre as this debut offering then I for one am in for the long haul.

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The Head Hunter (2019) – A Dark Fantasy

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The Head Hunter (2019) is the first feature film from director Jordan Downey, following a number of short projects including Critters: Bounty Hunter (2014) and Techno Western (2016), the cult hit Thankskilling (2009) and the Kickstarter-breaking Thankskilling 3 (2012)

How far would you go to avenge the death of someone you loved?

The Head Hunter 2019

Compared to these The Head Hunter is a far more serious, ambitious and rather understated exercise in dread and atmosphere. Downey takes the age-old concept of revenge and tries to make from it something of-itself and flavorful, something in some ways very unique. The trailer suggests a slow burner dark fantasy to me instantly, though its themes and setting might fool some into thinking this will be an action-packed monster slaying adventure. Admittedly, I expected to see a bit of sword swinging myself and had to quickly acclimate to what did lay in store. 

Puzzle Box Horror Rating – The Headhunter 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Head Hunter Festival Poster Featuring a warrior standing on a pile of skeletons

IMDB : 4.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Fresh out of 100
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hr 12 min
Starring: Christopher Rygh, Cora Kaufman, and Aisha Ricketts

Christopher Rygh, though a little restrained at times, does well in his first feature film role to communicate the desperation of a grieving father, and the obsession of a man bent on vengeance. As the unnamed patriarch he carries out contracts delivered (by arrow) that order the deaths of monsters sighted in the castle’s surrounding forest. One of these creatures took his daughter and it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to guess where this brief (clocking at merely 72 minutes) ordeal will climax. 

While minimal in plot, the film is focused enough to portray its few ideas with some effect. This is aided greatly by some impressive cinematography and elevates itself above its budget by employing quality costumes and set pieces, as well as a grim visual filter which helps immerse the viewer in its medieval darkness. Much of the monster fighting is unfortunately off-screen, which makes sense for the budget, though I am very glad the good sense was used to employ practical effects whenever one of those horrors was on display. Some juvenile part of me really wanted to see this guy crack some goblin skulls, though the tense climax involving the genuinely unsettling arch-antagonist did just about enough to satiate my bloodlust. 

..The Head Hunter is rapidly gaining a cult reputation, and that’s well-deserved; this is an atmospheric, well-shot and artfully conceived number which looks great in its first UK blu-ray release..

Eddie Harrison – film-authority.com

The Head Hunter operates almost as a dark-medieval Blue Ruin (2013) with its careful drip-feed of information that keeps each snail-pace scene all the more engaging for attentive viewers. That being said, the feeling can’t be ignored that there is fat that could be cut and perhaps this particular tale would have worked better as a short film. While just scraping a feature film duration it feels as though a few ideas went underdeveloped and, although the slow pace works in its favor, a part of me persists in thinking that the third act of The Head Hunter could have been a halfway point, leading onto some obscenely violent madness. Though that could just be the idealist in me.

The Head Hunter is a tightly executed creature-feature with ambiguous implications of deep lore and hideous evil. It uses subtle foreshadowing and claustrophobic scenery to invoke palpable dread, though sadly fails to deliver enough of its promises and runs the risk of leaving viewers wanting much more. I only hope that Downey feels the same and that a similar, denser project could be on the cards. 

EXCERPTS:

The Head Hunter takes the age-old concept of revenge and tries to make from it something of-itself and flavourful, something in some ways very unique.

The feeling can’t be ignored that there is fat that could be cut and perhaps this particular tale would have worked better as a short film. While just scraping a feature film duration it feels as though a few ideas went underdeveloped and the third act of The Head Hunter could have been a halfway point.

Head Hunter 2019 Trailer

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