Australia is a sun-scorched hellscape upon which God’s most misbegotten creatures crawl. Cinema has tried to teach us this lesson time and time again, with Wake in Fright (1971), Razorback (1984) and Wolf Creek (2005) all offering extremely valid reasons to stay away from the outback. Well, apparently the Aussie marshland is a bloody nightmare too, that is if one heeds the warning inherent in Roger Smith’s The Marshes.
The Marshes takes the somewhat unusual premise of utilising classic Australian folklore as the premise for the scares. In this specific case “Waltzing Matilda”, and running with the concept of a swagman who “tucker bags” those who tread too close to his billabong (not even joking). This is one of those concepts you either run with or reject utterly, because it’s goofy as hell, but if you choose the former option there are grim thrills to be had here.
The main thrust of the story has academic Pria (Dafna Kronental), misanthropic Ben (Matthew Cooper) and student Will (Sam Delich) venture into the remote marshlands to take samples. This draws the initial ire of local rednecks who just hate those bloody city folk, which is unpleasant, but things get much worse when the swagman is summoned.
The Marshes will win no prizes for originality, it’s a pretty standard supernaturally-infused slasher flick, but what sets it apart from a lot of its contemporaries is how slick and well-shot the whole caper is. It genuinely looks like a million bucks, with gorgeous landscape shots juxtaposing with microscopic close-ups of blood flow and parasitic bugs, not to mention the sprawling marshland itself which looks forbidding and unpleasant.
Thanks to the mood and atmosphere a lot of the usual low budget horror foibles can be forgiven – flat performances, stilted script, illogical character decisions – although the constantly dour tone could have used a little work. Grimdark is fine, but it can become a little one note. Ultimately, The Marshes is a flawed but mostly engaging slice of low budget Aussie horror that will remind all right-thinking Australians that it’s probably a much better idea to just stay inside.
There’s much to be made about the opening shot of Shinichirô Ueda’s One Cut of the Dead, which is ostensibly a short wherein a film crew are attacked by zombies. As a 37-minute-long continuous shot that takes us in and out of warehouses and vehicles, it’s a technical marvel of low budget filmmaking which ends on a beautiful crane shot. But then there’s the little things that distract: gore splattered on screen is wiped off by a hand off camera, the cast miss their cues and in one instance, our hero calls for the director to cut. Taken on its own, this could be Ueda’s affectionate ribbing of when a filmmaker’s ideas just about out-reach their talent. It’s good, but it’s not great.
And then he flips the switch and One Cut of the Dead becomes something different entirely; a behind the scenes look at how the whole thing was put together.
It all begins with Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu), a director of news re-enactments and karaoke videos. Mild mannered and aware of where he sits in the pecking order of life, his creed is “I’m fast, cheap, but average”. At home, his wife, Nao (Syuhama Harumi), moves from hobby to hobby to distract from her real passion of acting, whilst his daughter Mao (Mao) is an overzealous wannabe director who routinely gets fired. Things start looking up when Higaurashi is asked to direct a short film for a new Japanese horror channel. The catch is it must be filmed live and performed in one take. From here One Cut of The Dead follows Higurashi as he tries to achieve what he thinks is the impossible, but which we, the audience, knows can and will be done.
Starting with the film within a film and moving backwards to show its pre-production allows Ueda to have a lot of fun with narrative flow, rewarding his audience with jokes that snowball. Things that seemed out of place earlier, begin to make more sense as the film progresses. The key is how Ueda banks on you being ahead of his characters. So, when the prim and proper actor Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) tells Higurashi that she won’t film anything to do with vomiting, the humour comes from knowing where this will eventually lead to.
However, not content with the pre-production and constructing a satirical stab at the politics of filmmaking, Ueda goes one step further by showing us the production of the short. And it’s here that Ueda’s cast really jump into the chaos feet first, with Higurashi having to keep every mishap and blunder off camera in order to keep his bosses happy. Those who’ve seen the play, The Play That Goes Wrong, which adopts a similar ‘show must go on’ motif will know what to expect.
Put simply, One Cut of the Dead is a cinematic jigsaw with all the disparate pieces falling satisfyingly into place. Ueda’s attention to detail and meticulous planning is to be applauded as he weaves a clumsy horror short into a tableau which celebrates imagination, filmmaking, and, perhaps most importantly, family; whether that be the one you’re born into or the one you accumulate in a sweaty warehouse covered in fake blood.
When we first reviewed Friday the 13th: The Game back in 2017 we enjoyed a lot of things about it, but we certainly had issues. Poor online connectivity, bugs galore and no single player content to speak of hampered a wonderful premise and a horror fan’s dream come true. Well, in the later months of 2018, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is here to hack and slash with renewed vigour, so how’s it go? Pretty good, with a few qualifications.
Friday the 13th: The Game is officially a hit. A hugely passionate online community and strong sales have really helped the title be all it can be. That means these days you can expect to experience better online performance (although still not perfect), a more balanced game and fewer bugs. That’s all well and good but what about the single player content fans have been clamouring for? Happily, you can now play Friday the 13th offline, wherein you take on the role of Jason Voorhees and butcher a bunch of horny teenagers – as is tradition. What’s wonderful about this mode is the ability to customise the look of your Jason and the counsellors, pick your favourite location and then use specific kills from the movies. Basically, you can unleash your inner Tom Savini and splatter those dang kids in suitably graphic and gruesome ways. Upload the results to Youtube and drink in the adoration of your fans, because here’s the somewhat sad news: Friday the 13th – both the game and movie series – are on hold at the moment because of a lengthy legal battle regarding ownership rights of the property.
That means no new movies, and no new DLC for the game. Hell, some of the advertised kills and modes for the game have been put on hold – with no obvious outcome in sight at time of writing. While this is certainly a bummer, it’s good to remember that the game as is ain’t exactly a slouch. A strong multiplayer mode, frequently hilarious single player slash-a-thon and, with the Ultimate Slasher edition, all of the emotes and outfits for your counsellors add up to a decent offering here.
For those who have been playing since day one, Friday the 13th: Ultimate Slasher Edition is probably not a must buy. However, if you’ve yet to experience the gleeful, albeit occasionally slightly shonky, thrills contained within, this is by far the best version of the experience. And if you can rope in a group of horror-loving mates to help you enact your Friday franchise fantasies? Then you’re in for a hell of a gory good time.
Forty years ago, a talented young director named John Carpenter made an inventive indie horror film for very little money. It was called Halloween. Using inventive camera techniques, superior tension building and a solid performance from then unknown actress Jamie Lee Curtis, the film went on to be a gargantuan hit. More than that, it helped change the face of contemporary cinema, ushering in an era of a new subgenre, the “slasher film”.
Halloween spawned seven (!) sequels of varying quality and was then remade by director Rob Zombie and that remake itself spawned one (staggeringly ill advised) sequel. Halloween (2018) is the eleventh movie in the series, but chooses to ignore all of the films since the 1978 original. In all honesty, that’s a pretty good policy. Not that there haven’t been some decent flicks in the franchise – Halloween II (1981) is a lot of fun, Halloween H20 (1998) is worth a look and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1984) is a bonkers standalone entry so bizarre it’s worth watching at least once – but the various continuities and character arcs are byzantine and often contradictory so a soft reboot/sequel was probably the best idea.
Halloween (2018) is set 40 years to the day (more or less) since the original film. Haddonfield has all but forgotten the so-called “babysitter murders” and why not? Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hacked and slashed a mere handful of young people, fewer than die in one of America’s semi-regular school shootings. As one character ponders, is Myers that much of a big deal anymore? This meta commentary is cleverly woven through three generations of Strode. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become a reclusive gun nut with PTSD, waiting for the day when Michael will return. Karen (Judy Greer) is Laurie’s daughter, who loves her mum but can’t quite forgive her for an awful, paranoid upbringing. Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen’s daughter and Laurie’s granddaughter, is coming of age and fascinated by her unconventional nan. These three characters represent the heart and soul of Halloween, and add a core of pathos to the proceedings. This is a smart move, because during the sections where we follow Michael himself the film takes on a dispassionate, almost clinical tone – which serves to illustrate the iconic antagonist’s shark-like need to stalk and kill without remorse or mercy.
You’ll notice we’ve avoided much in the way of story spoilers. There’s a reason for that, Halloween is a slasher movie therefore there’s not much story to spoil. That’s not a dig, one of the best elements of the 1978 original was the elegant simplicity of the narrative. This 2018 version isn’t quite as stripped back, but it’s very much a case of a premise reaching its inevitable conclusion. Michael Myers escapes, heads into Haddonfield and takes care of some unfinished business. What sets Halloween apart from lesser entries in the franchise is solid characterisation, decent suspense and an all-time great performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. She manages to evoke vulnerability and strength, giving us a damaged but capable version of the sensible teenager we met back in the late 1970s. Make no mistake this is Curtis’s best performance, and a stellar addition to a franchise that was all but dead. Nick Castle is also wonderful as the iconic Myers/Shape and director David Gordon Green really knows how to frame the lanky brute to squeeze every ounce of tension out of the scenes where he hunts his suburban prey.
Ultimately, Halloween (2018) breathes new life into a much-abused franchise. It’s not the equal of the frequently imitated original, but it’s one of the better sequels and a lovely, affectionate companion piece to that iconic classic. Jamie Lee Curtis offers a standout performance, David Gordon Green brings the tension and a reworking of John Carpenter’s score (by John Carpenter himself!) infuses the proceedings with a sense of familiar-but-agreeable menace. Halloween proves the boogeyman never truly dies, but rather follows you through the years, in the dark, staring at you with those black eyes, those devil’s eyes…