Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Sheltered

Directors: Martin Dallard, Gary Organ, Dean Eyre
Writers: Martin Dallard, Gary Organ, Dean Eyre
Producers: Martin Dallard, Gary Organ, Dean Eyre
Cast: Martin Dallard, Gary Organ, Dean Eyre (and some other people, to be fair)
Country: UK
Year of release: 2016
Reviewed from: YouTube

This amateur feature shot around Gloucester in 2012 completely escaped my notice when it had its one and only screening at the end of June 2013. Two and a half years later, it has popped up on YouTube, necessitating my watching it to check what it’s like.

I don’t think I’m being cruel in saying that this is a film that could only have any interest for members of three groups: family and friends of those involved; British horror completists like myself; or hardcore werewolf fans. Because yes, this is another in the surprisingly extensive field of modern British werewolf pictures. It certainly perks up when the werewolves finally appear, but by golly it takes a long time to get there.

The setting is a privately run hostel for homeless people, and we spend a full 50 minutes of this 86-minute film just watching what goes on there. There’s a Christmas meal. There’s an exercise class. There’s a slightly creepy ‘Circle of Trust’ meeting. I guess this is supposed to help us get to know these people, but we don’t, partly because there are way too many characters.  It’s nigh on impossible to work out all the positions and relationships here. It’s not even easy to tell sometimes who’s meant to be homeless and who’s meant to be a worker/volunteer as the ‘guests’ mostly dress quite well and have decent haircuts.

There’s a burgeoning romance between two of the homeless people, one of whom has arrived there with complete memory loss. In a bizarre scene, two staff attempt to find out his identity by taking some blood and scanning his fingerprints on an electronic box. There’s a second relationship between one of the staff and a homeless guy with OCD. But that’s about as much actual plot as you’ll find.

Eventually, the staff and ‘guests’ all go off camping in the countryside where the homeless people are split into three teams and sent off orienteering. Seems a bit needlessly cruel, that. Surely if someone has spent months walking the streets and sleeping rough, the last thing they want to do is walk across fields and sleep under canvas. Comfy bed and a roof over their head, that’s what they want.

That night, around the campifire, people tell each other spooky stories until the hostel manager (I think) announces that the really spooky thing is they’re all going to be killed and eaten. It turns out that all the staff (some of whom are, I think, related to each other in some way) are a pack of werewolves. The rest of the movie is the poor homeless sods running through the woods, being chased by the lycanthropes. It’s all shot day-for-night so it’s too dark to see what’s happening and, even if we knew who all these people were, we wouldn’t be able to recognise them. Eventually it all sort of ends with one survivor.

Let’s not kid ourselves: much of the acting here is awful. A couple of the actors are quite good, but much of this is so woodenly performed it’s barely watchable. People were clearly cast because they were friends or family, not because of actual thespian talent. Because this film isn’t on the old IMDB, it behooves me to include a list of the cast here: Paul Draper, Gary Organ, Graham Roberts, Trudi Hayden, Martin Dallard, Louise Broadley, Craig Eyre, Clare Bayley, Seth Holmes, Jemma Trinder, Dean Eyre, Adam Teague, David Hodges, Jamie Bayley, Kimberley Flook, Robert Hayden, Alena Mezzone, Siouxsie Organ, Tom Bayley, Paula Smith, Robert Myers, Emma Ford, Natalie Organ, David Perry, Andrew Bird and Mark Hough.

The actual credits are pretty sparse. The film was “Written, produced, directed, shot and edited by Martin Dallard, Gary Organ and Dean Eyre”, all three of whom you will notice are also in the above cast list. The make-up and effects, which are probably quite gory but simply can’t be seen properly, are credited to ‘D.E.A.D. FX’. And that, apart from a few extras and some music credits, is that.

There’s no real story, just the stuff at the hostel and the stuff in the woods, with a slice of ‘wandering through the countryside’ inbetween. Way, way too many characters means I couldn’t even begin to identify or name most of them. If this was drastically cut down to about 20 minutes, it might sort of work, and certainly wouldn’t outstay its welcome the way it does at this length.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really pleased that people are shooting films like The Sheltered, and even more delighted that they are then making them freely available online. This sort of grass-roots film-making is exactly what makes UK indie cinema in the 21st century so exciting. But this is only ever going to be a curio and it’s only my self-imposed determination to try and watch as many of these things as possible that stopped me from turning it off, or at least fast-forwarding.

MJS rating: D+

Monday, 8 February 2016

Nihan: The Last Page

Director: Tofiq Rzayev
Writers: Tofiq Rzayev, Mustafa Erdogan Ulgur
Producer: Tofiq Rzayev
Cast: Erhan Sancar, Alsen Buse Aydin, Sevgi Uchgayabashi
Year of release: 2016
Country: Turkey
Reviewed from: online screener

I’m a very busy man right now. Very busy. Too busy to write new reviews for this site at the moment. But… when a 14-minute Turkish short turns up unannounced in my inbox, what am I going to do?

Nihan: Son Sayfa is one of those short films where not much happens, making it almost impossible to review in any detail without giving away the entire plot. Except I’m not entirely sure what does happen.

This is the latest film from Tofiq Rzayev, whose previous work here was The Girl in the Woods. That was listed on the IMDB as an Azerbaijani film whereas Nihan: The Last Page is apparently Turkish. That was what confused me and is why I didn’t recognise Rzayev’s name at first.

So what is the film about? It’s mostly a discussion between a man and a woman about the man’s dead girlfriend, Nihan, and about the house they’re standing in. The man has nearly finished a book. I may be barking up completely the wrong tree but I think this is a ghost story of some sort. Although, truth be told, that’s basically a combination of ‘it’s about someone who has died’ and ‘I didn’t really understand that’. If it is a ghost story, then I iked it. If it's not a ghost story, then it's too obtuse for me and I don't know what's going on.

Apparently the film is influenced by the work of Tarkovsky and that’s certainly very visible. The first two minutes – out of only 14, remember – are just the man walking to his front door, turning and walking back again. The film has the languid pace and reflexive inaction of a Tarkovsky film, that’s for sure. This ain’t no Michael Bay picture.

It’s beautifully shot by Rzayev, who also edited, and the three actors (including Uchgayabashi, who is credited with the original story idea) are all very good. The subtitles are well done, which matters.

At just under a quarter of an hour, Nihan: The Last Page doesn’t outstay its welcome. It is thought-provoking and enigmatic in its paucity of narrative and I quite liked that.

MJS rating: B+

Sunday, 7 February 2016

interview: Helen Crevel

Helen Crevel, star of two of Steve Lawson's features, kindly answered some questions by email in February 2016, just ahead of the theatrical release of Survival Instinct.

What attracted you to Rites of Passage/Survival Instinct and how did you get the part?
"The audition for Stacey was definitely one of the more random I’ve landed. I actually initially contacted Steve touting for corporate work - which is an actor’s bread and butter (or mine at least!). We’d met a few years before and he remembered me and mentioned that I might be right for a feature he was planning later in the year. A few months later he sent me the script and I came in to audition. The audition was an improvisation of one of the most dramatic sequences in the film (when Stacey is trying to start the car) which was interesting because there is almost no dialogue so really open to actor interpretation."

How arduous/uncomfortable/tiring was the filming?
"The hours were long but I didn’t find it arduous at all. In film work in general, I usually find the hardest part the waiting around for shots to be set up before filming, but as Steve had to be efficient on a low budget, he had worked out a lot of the set ups beforehand – so minimum waiting around, maximum acting time – which of course, is the fun part!"

What do you think distinguishes Stacey from the generic ‘girl in peril’ horror heroines that litter the genre?
"When I first read the script, what stood out for me is that Stacey came across as a real person. Most of us don’t really know what we would do in that kind of life-or-death situation, and sometimes Stacey definitely makes mistakes in my eyes, but I can always see where she is coming from and why she does what she does. I’ve spent many films shouting at the TV going: 'Why don’t you just get your back against the wall and grab a weapon!' It was nice to play the kind of character who would actually do that."

What were the main differences for you, as an actor, between Rites of Passage and Killersaurus?
"Haha – you’re kidding, right? I wouldn’t say the two were on the same page at all. Although the situation in Rites/Survival Instinct was not an everyday one, one thing that Steve was always striving for was making it real and plausible – and of course that extends to the acting. Killersaurus was really just a bit of a lark.

"I’m a massive Jurassic Park fan and Steve promised me I could puppeteer a T-Rex – what more can I say? Although, even though it was silly premise, it would have been to nice to have more time to fit in some extra takes and play around with the scenes. We had a really tight schedule so unfortunately that just wasn’t possible."

What is your puppetry background and how workable was the dinosaur puppet?
"I learnt to puppeteer on several theatre jobs. I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with several styles of puppet – my favourites are bunraku-style puppets, where you work with two other puppeteers on the one character, and found object puppetry where you bring to life everyday objects. The dinosaur puppet wasn’t really a puppet at all but a toy – it was made of sturdy plastic and quite difficult to manipulate but I actually enjoyed that. One of the main things I have been taught as a puppeteer is to work with what the puppet gives you – the lack of give in the toy gave the dinosaur a certain quality of movement it wouldn’t have had otherwise and working with a toy that is not intended for performance feels like a very pure form of puppetry. We all instinctively ‘puppeteer’ our toys when we are children – it’s just one of those things that most of grow out of.  Not me."

What projects have you done since these films and/or have coming up?
"I have recently completed several short films and am also working on writing some of my own work (watch this space). I’m originally a theatre actor and although I am focusing on screen work currently, I have also been out on tour with a couple of plays in the last year. Commercial work always helps to fund the (usually) lower wages of more creative stuff and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll probably see me in a few TV ads."


Monday, 1 February 2016


Director: Gary Jones
Writer: Stephen Brooks
Producers: Boaz Davidson, Danny Lerner
Cast: Lana Parrilla, Josh Green, Mark Phelan
Year of release: 2000
Country: USA
Reviewed from: Festival screening (Cannes 2000)

Spiders holds a special meaning for me, as it was seeing this Nu Image movie at Cannes 2000 that led to my two interviews on British breakfast TV that week. It’s a very enjoyable giant bug romp and let’s face it, you simply cannot go wrong with giant bug movies. Even the bad ones are good and Spiders is actually a pretty decent movie.

Intriguingly, the publicity fliers distributed at Cannes carried a synopsis for a story entirely unrelated to the finished film, all about an Incan mummy and a ‘proton interferometer’. What actually happens is that a space shuttle crashes near a military base, releasing a spider which was being used in orbital experiments but has become mutated. The title Spiders is, incidentally, a bit of a misnomer as there’s only ever one spider - well, one at a time.

Lana Parrilla (Spin City) and Josh Green (Curse of the Puppet Master) are the young people investigating what’s going on, while Mark Phelan (who has a healthy career playing cops, doctors and security guards in the likes of MANTIS, Doctor Mordrid and 12:01) is the government agent opposing them. Some of the spider effects are, frankly, embarrassing, as hapless actors struggle with largely inanimate puppets like a 1950s Tarzan wrestling a rubber alligator. But stick with the movie, because once the spider becomes large enough to render in CGI it’s absolutely awesome! The giant arachnid rampages through the town, crushing cars and knocking down lamp-posts - that’s what we want to see!

Spiders has a decent script by Stephen Brooks (a former Visual Effects Supervisor who also wrote the otherwise unconnected Spiders 2) and is smoothly directed by Gary Jones, helmer of Mosquito (another giant bug romp), Crocodile 2 (another Nu Image nature-amok flick) and various Hercules and Xena episodes. Cinematographer Jack Cooperman was responsible for the underwater footage in Star Trek IV and also worked on Hill Street Blues. Also in the cast are Billy Maddox (Deep Freeze), Jack Ott (Night Wars) and Jonathan Breck who played the title role in Jeepers Creepers and its sequel.

The US DVD sleeve image has no discernible connection with what happens in this film.

MJS rating: B+
Review originally posted 22nd May 2005.

Spiders 2

Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writer: Stephen Brooks
Producers: Boaz Davidson, Danny Lerner, David Varod
Cast: Stephanie Niznik, Greg Cromer, Daniel Quinn, Richard Moll
Year of release: 2001
Country: USA
Reviewed from: VHS screener

This has no discernible connection with Spiders. On the other hand, unlike the first film, the story is roughly the one on the publicity fliers.

Our protagonists are Alex and Jason Paulsen (Stephanie Niznik: Star Trek: Insurrection; and Greg Cromer), a young couple whose yacht is wrecked mid-Pacific in a storm but who are rescued by a passing cargo boat, among whose crew are the slimy Captain Bigelow (Daniel Quinn: Scanner Cop I and II) and the sinister Dr Grbac (cult favourite Richard Moll, from House, Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn and other memorable pictures).

Jason discovers that the radio isn’t broken, as the Captain claims, that the containers on deck are empty, that the ship is sailing in circles - and that there are dead people on meathooks in the freezer. Alex puts this down to hallucinations brought on by the constant antibiotic injections administered by Dr Grbac.

In fact, Grbac is conducting experiments in increased human immunity by combining human and spider DNA. He does this using unwilling victims kidnapped from passing boats by Bigelow and his crew; the victims are forcefully injected by the ovipositor of a giant (three metres or so) spider, and are then kept in sleep capsules until a baby (18 inches or so) spider bursts from their abdomen. This scientific side doesn’t actually make a lot of sense and is really just an excuse for some gruesome scenes and some cool giant spider shots. There’s no explanation of where the giant spiders originated - possibly they are descended in some way from the beastie in the first film, although that seems unlikely.

Spiders II (released in the USA as Spiders II: Breeding Ground) is an ambitious film which uses its limited budget well, especially with regards to depicting the mid-Pacific, given that the whole thing was shot in landlocked Bulgaria! The CGI spider effects by Scott Coulter, Chris Manabe and others are very good - more so than the puppet spiders - and the monsters are sensibly restricted to glimpses and partially hidden shots until the all-out arachnofest finale. Apart from a few crewmen, there are really only four characters, all of whom are well-acted, though Moll’s doctor is rather stereotypical (he even has an Igor-like assistant!). South African director Sam Firstenberg (Cyborg Cop I and II, whose second unit work on Crocodile got him this gig) keeps the pace going and builds tension, even though - apart from a pre-credits teaser - we don’t actually see any spiders until more than halfway through.

The mostly Bulgarian cast also includes Peter Antonov (a terrorist in Octopus), Dimiter Kuzov (a tugboat captain in Octopus 2) and Gerald Henderson, whose scenes in King Cobra were deleted - which many would consider a lucky escape. Special effects supervisor Willie Botha also worked on both Octopus films and cinematographer Peter Belcher lit the second one.

A fun romp this one, with some thrills, some shocks and plenty of eight-legged horrors.

MJS rating: B
Review originally posted 22nd May 2005.