Sunday, 30 August 2015


For those who don't know, Jason Vail is a pretty popular guy here at The House.
From his sterling work in Tommy Faircloth's Dorchester's Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head AKA Dollface, to his creepy role in Faircloth's The Cabin by way of his grieving hunter in Valley of the Sasquatch, Vail is a guy who always brings his A-game.
So I was very excited to hear that Vail will be appearing in Brian Lonano's highly-regarded micro-short, Crow Hand!!! which screened during Film4 FrightFest's Shortfilm Showcase this afternoon.
At less than three minutes long the film has still managed to make quite the impression with viewers.
Is this another Vail victory? Or will somebody be eating crow?
Read on…

CROW HAND!!! (2014)

Dir: Brian Lonano
Starring: Jason Vail, Caitlin McPhail 

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: This is a short so I'll try not spoil too much, but continue at your own risk.

As a cheery, all-American couple (Vail and McPhail) leave a supermarket and return to their car laden down with shopping, the man notices a strange item on the floor. Upon closer inspection, he realises it is an intricately carved crow totem.
His wife tells him to ignore it and hurry to the car but his curiosity gets the better of him and he can't help but scoop it up off the car park floor.
However, there is more to this creepy keepsake than meets the eye and soon both of them find themselves regretting his hasty decision...  

WHY IT WORKS: In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy: 'Boy, that escalated quickly!'
Crow Hand!!! is goofy, almost a pastiche of traditional horror films, with its ancient cursed artefact and shockingly extreme gore. You wouldn't have thought that a film running at a mere 152 seconds (including credits!) could go from zero to 'Holy fuck, what the Hell did I just see????', but Crow Hand!!! nails it.
It's a very fun film, one that feels a lot like a truncated segment from a splattery Eighties anthology such as Creepshow or Tales From The Darkside. It's a simple story with a very linear plot line, has plenty of silly charm and, more importantly, builds to the most barking of climaxes.
The charm comes in the cheesy dialogue and wilfully gonzo reactions of Vail and McPhail (not to mention Vail's awesome attire). They chew up their lines and spit them out with self-aware relish, whether they be deliberately downplaying their responses to some seriously messed-up events or embracing the craziness and going hilariously melodramatic. The script, by director Lonano, gives his leads plenty to work with, and the pair utterly run with it.
Vail is as awesome as ever, while McPhail matches him every step of the way. The pair have some nice chemistry and bounce their delivery off one another wonderfully. They also show a real talent for the physical side of their comedy and throw themselves into their work admirably.
Lonano doesn't just write well for his actors, he also shoots them brilliantly. With some great angles and zany camera work, Lonano infuses proceedings with a deranged dynamism, while cinematographer Josh Skierski ensures that the film looks fantastic.
It might seem far-fetched to think that such a short film could have such a visual impact but Crow Hand!!! has tonnes of style that really help it to stand out from the crowd.
Of course, it's not just the production values of the visuals that impress — no, along with Vail and McPhail the third star of this film is the tremendous special effects work from Nik Morgan and production designer Blake Myers, along with Jeff Jenkins' digital effects.
I don't think it's too big of a spoiler to reveal that later on in this film there is a lot of gore, nor to say that most of it comes from a diabolical 'crow hand'. However, I imagine plenty of you will be shocked and surprised to see just how splattery and gooey things get. Plus, the titular Crow Hand manages to be both laughably campy and genuinely unnerving — often at the same time! Well done everyone!
The very game actors end up pretty much covered head-to-toe in fake blood (plus some surprisingly polished prosthetics) and as increasing extreme acts of wanton violence take place onscreen, you can't help but grin despite yourself.
Sometimes all you want from a film is a bit of entertainment — and that is something that the folks at Robot Hand Films have packed into this short. It's an absolute riot and a film that I thoroughly recommend to all fans of blood and the bizarre.  

SO WHERE'S IT AT? The film is now available to watch for free at vimeo
Check out the film's official Facebook page for more information. Give it a Like while you're there too, show some love!

UK readers at the Film4 FrightFest had the pleasure of catching the film during Short Film Showcase 2 on Sunday 30th August.

10 WORD WRAP UP: A brisk two-minute explosion of effects, gore and laughs 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers hereStung hereNight of the Slasher here and Invaders here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Friday, 28 August 2015


One of the things a good short film does that few feature-length movies can match, is telling a joke, hitting its mark and getting out of there before wearing out its welcome. Think of it like a sketch show rather than a full length sitcom — the whole point of a joke (or a spooky tale in many cases) is to get to the satisfying conclusion. Interest can only be held so long in a simple tale, so a shorter runtime is perfect. Now combine horror and comedy and you can see exactly why there are so many short films that merge the two.
Which leads us to Invaders, Jason Kupfer's tongue-in-cheek look at the 'strangers-in-the-house', Home Invasion sub-genre, a short film which also just so happens to be opening the first Film4 FrightFest Shortfilm Showcase.


Dir: Jason Kupfer
Starring: Jordan Woods-Robinson, Ricky Wayne, Larry Bukovey

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: This is a short so I'll try not spoil too much, but read on at your own risk.

One cold, dark Thanksgiving night a happy family sits down for dinner oblivious to the danger lurking outside.
For, in a car parked outside the house, two armed and dangerous criminals are planning their invasion of the family home. But these axe-wielding psychos aren't just formulating a strategy to subdue their victims — this is a far more indepth look at the planning the sort of villains from You're Next, The Strangers or The Purge would have needed to carry out. Chief among which? That all important decision on a spooky as hell costume.
As the pair debates the artistic merits of the classic balaclava vs Venetian masquerade headgear or latex animal masks, the clock ticks down to the moment at which stark violence and shocking bloodshed become inevitable...

WHY IT WORKS: The wave of Home Invasion horror flicks in recent years is one primed for parody — with plenty of tropes and enough titles in the field to ensure an audience is familiar with the injokes it makes, a film like Invaders has been a long time coming.
Luckily, it has been well-worth the wait. There are few things as amusing as looking behind the curtain to see a more real-life version of familiar horror stock characters — especially when we're looking at the villains, the true stars of the genre.
Much like the very, very cool Torturous did with the Torture P0rn sub-genre, Invaders is hilarious because it reduces the creepy masked boogeymen of these films into mundane and actually pretty dorky bunglers. It's very hard to suppress a giggle as a man brandishes a hunting knife while wearing a latex squirrel mask and excitedly exclaims: 'YOU SEE?!?! That's some nightmarish shit right there!'
As you may have guessed, it is the two titular invaders that the short focuses on and the characterisation here is hilarious. Passenger (Wayne) is the serious, long-suffering one of the two, an exasperated professional who wants to just skip the bells and whistles and get on with the job at hand. Driver (Woods-Robinson) on the other hand is the excitable one and seriously digs the cool aesthetic touches that he feels are just as important as the actual task. His excitability proves a liability early on, the pairs' clumsiness and lack of planning a fantastic source for some black-as-Hell slapstick and witty, amusing quips and retorts while the two bicker.
Director Kupfer wrote the script as well and that is one of the strongest elements of the film. It unfolds like a relentless gory farce and the key to its success (along with familiarity with the Home Invasion flicks it lovingly pokes fun at) is the strong character work. 
Kupfer is a talented writer and he is helped no end by the two superb leads. Wayne and Woods-Robinson make for a brilliant team and have palpable chemistry. Each has impeccable comic timing and both are excellent in their roles. These are two extremely talented gentlemen.
However, it's not just those in front of the camera who should feel proud of their work — director Kupfer, production designer Brent Fesen, editor Mike Quinn Jr, art director Poldo Ramirez and cinematographer Marco Cordero give us a visually rich and impressive film that oozes quality. From framing to lighting, from cutting to the entire look of the piece and everything on screen, this is a film that looks a million bucks. There are also some wonderfully wacky camera angles that I found really grabbed the attention and added one more reason to believe that this is a team of filmmakers destined to go a very long way.
Of course, one element that I mentioned earlier that I’m sure plenty of horror fans will have picked up on was the violence and gore. Trust me when I say the effects work when the splatter starts to spray is absolutely top-notch. It goes to a place that I certainly didn't see coming during the gentler moments at the beginning of the short and delivers a visceral 'punchline' that is guaranteed to have gorehounds howling with pleasure. No spoilers but that final scene that plays out over the end credits is an absolute riot and the effects team prove they have just as much talent as the others I've singled out for praise here. 
Well done, guys!

SO WHERE'S IT AT? The film is currently touring on the festival circuit, so check out the film's official Facebook page for more information as to where you can catch it and further updates on its upcoming November web release. Give it a Like while you're there too, show some love!

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on Discovery Screen 2 during Short Film Showcase 1 on Saturday 29th August.

10 WORD WRAP UP: A humorous and fun take on the Home Invasion genre 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers hereStung here and Night of the Slasher here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


It's been far too long since I covered a fun horror short here at the House. These tend to get fewer readers than my feature reviews, but I have no intention whatsoever of cutting shorts from my genre coverage because, as I've said before, short films feature some of the most talented, imaginative and downright brilliant up-and-coming horror filmmakers.
In recognition of this fact, this weekend's Film4 FrightFest is featuring not one, nor two but THREE short film showcases with a dizzying number of titles on display from all around the world. Joining the likes of the amazing El Gigante (which I reviewed before, right here) is Shant Hamassian's Night of the Slasher, a self-aware horror tale with a fresh slant on the 'dead babysitter' genre.
Intrigued? You should be.


Dir: Shant Hamassian
Starring: Lily Berlina, Scott Javore, Adam Lesar, David Swann, Eve Constance

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: This is a short so I'll try not spoil too much, but read on at your own risk.

Jenelle (Berlina) is a pretty, but troubled young woman who seems determined to carry out the most self-destructive course of action she can. Hard drinking, abusing drugs, even meaningless, unprotected sex with her sweet but dorky classmate (Javore), Jenelle seems hellbent on making the worst decisions possible.
However, Jenelle hides a dark secret, as evidenced by a large and unsightly recent scar across her throat. What caused this gruesome injury? Has it finished with Jenelle? And more importantly, is Jenelle done with it?

WHY IT WORKS: Ever since the smash-hit success of Scream, meta-slasher flicks have been all the rage. Scream heralded in a new era of slasher in which pop-culture savvy teens idly discussed the unwritten rules of horror movies, all while falling prey to a mysterious masked maniac, an idea expanded upon in the amazing Behind the Mask: The Rise Of Leslie VernonNight of the Slasher takes up that mantle and spins it off into a new and exciting direction. It's full of that self-aware genre introspection, but this time turns it into a key part of the plot rather than window dressing. 
The story, written by director Hamassian, seems simple and fun at first, an easy way to wring some humour from in-jokes that fans of genre classics such as Halloween will gobble up. The humour is certainly there, however, as the story progresses it transforms into something far richer, with a lot more nuance. 
I've had the pleasure of communicating with the very amiable Hamassian and he informs me that this short is actually just a segment of a far longer script that he intends to film at feature length. The sheer amount of thought and creativity in this script makes it clear that that the story has legs far beyond this brief (but satisfying) 11 minute runtime. That isn't to say this feels undernourished or truncated, far from it, it just has a lot more depth than many other genre shorts.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the characterisation of the lead. At first a clichéd traumatised bad-girl, it soon becomes apparent that Jenelle is so much more. Irreparably changed by her own brush with a monster, she has transformed into something every bit as dangerous in her own quest. This is very smart writing, bringing to mind kick-ass horror heroines along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cassie Hack from Tim Seeley's brilliant Hack/Slash comic series or the enigmatic Red from the Mycho film Slasherhouse (a review of which shall be appearing here very soon). The characterisation is undoubtedly helped by the tremendous work of Berlina in the role. She's a fantastic scream queen in the making, showing plenty of range — from hard-eyed, tough-as-nails slasher-slayer to vulnerable, heart-broken victim, she does it all — and it certainly doesn't harm her cause that she is such an attractive young lady. When Night of the Slasher takes the leap to feature-length I really hope Ms Berlina returns for the ride.
Of course, Berlina isn't the only actor in the film to deliver the goods. Javore lends great support as The Bait (no prizes for guessing what might happen to him). Softer and more vulnerable than the battle-toughened Jenelle, Javore's character gets to add a more human character with whom to sympathise. He's nerdy, dorky, clearly unpopular with his peers, but he's also decent, gentle and thoughtful — something that probably can't be said for our heroine.
Javore also gets to add to the levity, delivering some rib-tickling lines with superb comic timing. His line about getting teased by his fellow high-schoolers for looking like he's 30 is a wonderful in-joke at the expense of some of the less convincing 'Teen' characters in Eighties slasher classics.
As good as this gag was, my favourite genre in-joke of the whole film was in the appearance of the titular Slasher. Those of you who know the story behind the iconic Michael Myers will be sure to take as much pleasure as I did upon seeing that Lesar's silent maniac is sporting a Star Trek Spock mask painted white. THAT is genius right there, readers.
Speaking of Lesar's killer, he is another member of the cast that impresses. His is a role without dialogue but he has mastered the art of creepy body language. From the trademark detached amble of the Eighties slasher villain to sudden frenzied violence, Lesar brings his character to life in a nightmarish manner.
That may come across as rather surprising considering how strongly I've stressed the humour in the plot, but while there are plenty of laughs, this is still a horror short. The jokes are there but expect plenty of chills and thrills. There's some pretty spectacular violence and some nice moments of creepiness (Lesar's rolling, crouching shuffle is decidedly unsettling).
Now for one key detail that I've decided to hold on to until this point — the entire film is shot as a continuous take.

Read that again, I can wait.

That's right, while the 11 minute film contains plenty of movement and some decidedly complex sequences, the entire film is presented as if it is one single take. Now, I can't confirm that it was all definitely shot in one go, but if there are any cuts they are masterfully hidden — itself a tremendous achievement, as evidenced in the iconic opening scene of the aforementioned Halloween. This gives the entire film some added dynamism and transforms it from a tremendously clever idea on paper to downright magnificent film-making. Getting past the technical aspects of superb lighting and framing that must have taken FOREVER to plan out, it also turns the film into a real white knuckle thrill ride. The constant and relentless camerawork echoes the unflinching and icy determination of the slasher, injecting a sense of realism as well, making the audience feel as if they are there witnessing the events of the film as they unfold.
With tonnes of imagination and wit in the script, it's truly a joy to see that same level of ingenuity on display in the filming process as well.
It may sound like I'm over egging the pudding here but trust me, Night of the Slasher offers a fine example of the type of gifted talent currently plying their trade in short films at the moment. This is the type of film that horror fans will love — you really would be daft to miss it.

SO WHERE'S IT AT? The film is currently working the festival circuit, so check out the film's official Facebook page for more information as to where you can catch it, further updates on a web release or the eventual feature. Fingers crossed that'll arrive sooner rather than later!

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on Discovery Screen 2 during Short Film Showcase 3 on Monday 31st August.

10 WORD WRAP UP: A brilliant concept executed flawlessly, this is a must see 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare hereWind Walkers here and Stung here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015


Who doesn't love a good old-fashioned 'nature run amok' creature feature? Aside from campy, low-budget fun flicks from SyFy along the lines of Sharknami or Megagatorcrocasaurus (or something) this is a genre that has actually fallen by the wayside in recent years.
However, that is all set to change, as attendees to the opening night of the Film4 FrightFest in London this weekend will discover. For Stung, the American-German collaboration from Rat Pack Filmproducktion, boasts giant wasps and Lance Fucking Henriksen.
Game on, guys. 

STUNG (2015)

Dir: Benni Diez

Starring: Jessica Cook, Matt O'Leary, Clifton Collins Jr, Lance Henriksen, Daniele Rizzo, Eve Slatner, Florentine Lahme, Cecilia Pillado

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Ambitious party-planner Julia (Cook) heads to a sprawling country manor in which wealthy elderly client Mrs Perch (Slatner) is holding her latest exclusive annual gathering for her equally well-off friends. Upon arrival Julia has some worries, not least due to the questionable work ethic of her slacker barman Paul (O'Leary) and the skittish behaviour of Mrs Perch's odd, nerdy, heavy-drinking son Stanley (Collins).

However, as the guests arrive, including louche Mayor Carruthers (Henriksen), Paul proves more reliable than she suspected — probably because he is desperate to impress her and move their relationship from professional to something more romantic.
As the awkward night goes on, things seem to be going well... until a nearby wasps' nest is disturbed. This would be an unpleasant event by itself, however, unbeknownst to the attendees this vicious breed of wasp is one that injects its young into a living host to grow. Now, after becoming exposed to a highly-illegal form of fertiliser, these wasps have mutated, and their young is able to grow exponentially inside its host until said body can hold it no longer.
As the first stings cause wide-spread panic, things take a drastic turn for the worse when 6ft wasps start to burst out of the flesh of their hapless victims. Holed up inside Mrs Perch's isolated home, Julia, Paul and a ragtag group of fellow survivors must find a way to escape the dogged and determined marauding insects before they become food... or something worse.

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): It may not be entirely necessary to explain this following on from that synopsis, but Stung is a fun film. It feels like a real throwback to the splattery effects-driven genre features of the Eighties, combined with the campy fun of older creature feature B-movies. These influences can be seen dotted throughout writer Adam Aresty's script, as there are plenty of genre in-jokes for the eagle-eyed viewer. Director Diez has built his reputation as a VFX guru and this is certainly one of the strongest areas of the film. With some wonderful practical effects used to bring the monstrous wasps to life (plus some ghoulishly gooey gore effects to highlight the sticky fate of their unfortunate victims), as well as some polished digital effects for some full body and flying shots of the wasps, visually the film is a treat.

It's not only the effects that please the eye either, as the cinematography by Stephan Burchardt is quite stunning at times. From exquisite lighting to sharp and artistic framing, Stung LOOKS like an expensive film. When a picture is built around such an arresting visual conceit, it is always a pleasure to see the execution match the filmmakers' ambition. 
Of course, great visuals (and these are great indeed) are not enough to make an entertaining flick — characters and wit are also necessary.
Thankfully Aresty's story provides enough of both to keep the audience engaged. Sure the characters are a little one-note, but compared to the no-note shiny hipsters that seem to be filling up the cast in most recent Found Footage teen horror releases, they really are a breath of fresh air. This is helped by the performances of a very strong cast. 
Lance Fucking Henriksen is a living legend, a genre star who's very appearance is often enough to elevate whatever he's in to watchable at the very least. He's superb here (as expected) playing a suave lush of a mayor, quietly confident of re-election and coasting by on charm and free booze. Signing an actor of Henriksen's ability was a major coup for the production team and it was definitely one that has paid dividends. 
Equally as impressive a casting decision was that of veteran, multi-award winner Collins. He's another tremendous character actor and he shows such range with his portrayal of Stanley that he may well steal the show. From sadly pathetic to totally frightening, he's a true force to behold on the screen. Utterly, utterly magnificent.
It's not just the supporting players that hold their own, our leads are also impressive. Cook and O'Leary are inherently likeable, a vital factor when a film gives us everyman characters to root for.
Cook gives us just the right amount of feistiness and resolve to not come across as a weak damsel in distress or cold and insensitive pain in the neck. Likewise, O'Leary's Paul is laid back and easygoing without ever coming across as a layabout or liability. These factors give the couple's burgeoning relationship some obstacles to overcome, but they also add to the element of surprise/contrast when the pair show another side, be it more sentimental and passionate or driven and determined. Yet more simple but incredibly effective writing.
And that, ultimately, is Stung's greatest saving grace. Sure, it'll make for a killer VFX showreel for the team that assembled the movie's monster hornets, but it is the heart present in the script that really lingers. There's plenty of humour on display, both in the dialogue and the actions of the characters, that guarantees the film entertains. However, there's also some characters that keep your attention as more than a source of gags and even a romantic sub-plot that you kind of can't help but root for.
Who'd've thought that a flick about killer mutant wasps could actually have a little emotional depth too?

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): While I love the fact that Stung delivers laughs along with its character work and chills, it does feel a little bit like it's stuck somewhere between the two. Ultimately, this means that it never quite goes for the jugular as batshit, screwball comedy or chilling horror flick. Dare I say that by aiming for too many targets it never really hits the bullseye at any one?
That isn't to say that it under performs — far from it, as the movie is very entertaining and totally satisfying. It's just that with a little more focus it could well have taken the film to whole new heights. With a bit more drive it could well have become a cult-classic splatter flick or gross-out comedy, instead it feels a little like it finds a comfortable groove quite early on and never really ventures out of it.
Elsewhere, while I liked the character work on those that the film deemed worthy of attention, the scale did feel a little small. There was a whole party full of guests at the point that the wasps crash Mrs Perch's bash. I can't help but feel that if just one or two more had made it into the mansion they could have added something to the dynamic, while also upping the ante in the various stalking scenes once the malevolent insects make their way inside. The shame here is that seeing the great work done with the leads and main supporting cast, I can't help but feel that Aresty could have given us some more great characters to dig. 
Finally, in a related note, while I loved the great gore work we do get, I'd have loved to see a bigger body count. Sure we get the party massacre scene but that doesn't actually give us anywhere near as many gruesome splattery deaths as you might expect. With just a couple more characters making it inside (or circling the house), we could have got some more gore gags and innovative kill sequences that could definitely have boosted the pace during the more quiet, talky second act. I'm not implying that it drags, but like my previous qualms, with just a little more focus and effort it could have truly shone.

THE VERDICT: Stung is a great Friday night flick — think beers, a few buddies, the greasy snack of your choice and plenty of fun. The cast is marvellous, the effects sterling and the gags and kills are guaranteed to have you squealing for all the right reasons. Diez and Aresty make quite the team and I can't wait to see what the pair come up with for genre fans in the future. For now though, if you want your horror with plenty of throwback charm, Stung is a movie you will not regret tracking down. Check it out.

Stung will be released in the UK on DVD on 26th October. Pre-order it at Amazon here.

In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page for more information.

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on the Main Screen on Thursday 27th August.

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension hereThe Nightmare here and Wind Walkers here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Mythology, from all corners of the globe, offers some truly fantastic sources of inspiration for genre movies. Not just the swashbuckling Harryhausen Greek legend romps such Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans, but as an inspiration for deeply unsettling horror too. 
From modern Scandinavian efforts such as Thale and Trollhunter to J-Horror classics such as The Grudge and Ring's terrifying onryo, via Judeo-Christian tales such as the Dibbuk box of 2012's The Possession and the dark unnerving folktales of Celtic mythology at the heart of The Hallow, the influence of ancient mythology is still ever-present in horror.
As a comparatively young nation, America's folklore tends to come from the old countries of the early settlers. However, there are legends indigenous to the land — those of the Native American people. There have been some quite accomplished genre films based on Native American mythology (particularly the Windigo) and the latest is Russell Friedenberg's Wind Walkers.
Will this one blow you away? Or will you tell it to keep walking?
Read on…


Dir: Russell Friedenberg
Starring: Zane Holtz, Glen Powell, J. Larose, Kiowa Gordon, Phil Burke, Castille Landon, Russell Friedenberg, Tsulan Cooper, Rudy Youngblood, Christopher Kriesa

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East, traumatised soldier Kotz (Holtz) has been consigned to a desk job following an incident that has left him and his good friend Matty (Youngblood) deeply troubled. In fact, since their return to Florida, Matty has disappeared, a victim of his own insanity.
As Thanksgiving comes Kotz is reunited with familiar faces: close friends including Matty's father Neelis (Saw and Insidious' Larose), mother Sue (Cooper) and younger brother Jake (Gordon); joker Kelly (Burke); decent and reliable David, or 'Doc' (director Friedenberg); 'frenemy' Sonny (Powell); and fiancée Lexi (Landon). The group gather at Neelis's home for an annual traditional barbecue where they sit around the campfire and tell stories, however, events disturb Sue and she becomes hysterical, a sad occurrence attributed to the pressure she feels over her eldest son's disappearance.
The following day the group of men embark on a hunting trip deep into the Everglades. Here they discover that something or someone has ransacked their cabin. Settling in for the night the hunters again tell stories by the fire, one of which is an old Native American legend about the Wind Walkers, dangerous shape-shifting beasts that were summoned to dispatch the invading waves of white settlers that plundered the land. 
The following day tragedy strikes. Afterwards Kotz tries desperately to cope with the emotional burden of his horrific combat experiences, try to both mend his fragmented relationships and survive the events in the swamp. What is stalking the mangrove forests seeking fresh meat? Can the men overcome their own issues to face this threat? And what demons are awoken by war — both within the hearts of men and without?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Wind Walkers is a fascinating film with plenty of unique and compelling elements that ensure you can never predict what is to come. The story by director Friedenberg uses these seemingly disparate elements wonderfully, combining them to create its own enthralling mythos. With elements of a Black Hawk Down-style 'war is hell' story, crossed with the backwoods horror of Deliverance or Southern Comfort, by way of a supernatural monster movie (which in turn leads to a whole other very popular genre that I don't want to give away here, but feels fresh due to the way it is incorporated), this is a wonderfully crafted and imaginative tale. 
It would be easy to just throw a load of random horror tropes at the screen and see what sticks, but this is not the case. These elements feel like natural extensions to the storyline, the plot progresses exactly as it should and these separate strands are also used to deliver a particularly ballsy message. The implication that a demonic identity is unable to tell the difference between the plundering white men who first settled in the United States and Western soldiers deployed in the Middle East has some very hefty implications when examined a little more closely — just one of a number of extremely brave and intelligent points the film makes, all while never forgetting to entertain.
Of course, the story itself is only as good as the teller and here Friedenberg delivers. The film feels and looks excellent, with cinematographer Harrison Sanborn ensuring that the dank, dripping swampland is shot in a tremendously atmospheric manner. This down and dirty feel is helped no-end by an absolutely brilliant soundtrack of bluesy, country-influenced swaggering rock tracks that add an element of dynamism and darkness to key scenes. I don't often single out the soundtrack when discussing the movies I review here at The House, but this is one so good that it positively DEMANDS to be recognised. It really is superb.
It's not just the work that went into the way Wind Walkers looks and sounds that is worthy of praise. The cast are strong too. 
Holtz (who will be familiar to genre fans for his role as Richie in El Rey's From Dusk 'Til Dawn series) is a handsome lead who manages to keep his emotionally distant, shellshocked character interesting. This is no mean feat.
Powell shines as the love-to-hate-him Sonny. With a role in The Expendables 3 and several upcoming film and TV parts, he looks set to break out as a star very soon. After seeing his work here in Wind Walkers I can very much understand why.
Equally impressive is genre stalwart LaRose. Probably most familiar to horror fans for his work in the first two Insidious movies and playing Troy from Saw III, he has an impressive body of work to his name. Here LaRose gets to play a more sympathetic and human character than I'd seen before and his experience shows as he adds some serious gravitas to proceedings. He's fantastic.
Elsewhere Friedenberg demonstrates that he has talent in front of the camera too, while Twilight's Gordon adds capable support, as does livewire Burke. Meanwhile Apocalypto's Youngblood adds a chilling element to the story with his unhinged and bestial work. He's a real force of nature in the role and makes for a mesmerising screen monster. 
As for the ladies, both Landon and Cooper more than hold their own.
But once again I return to the writing: not just of the plot but in the characterisation. These actors are able to bring the characters to life because the characters are well-rounded and fleshed out enough to give them something to work with. There are a series of complex, believable relationships between the characters and these are where the heart of the story lies. By giving us characters to empathise and believe in, Friedenberg provides an emotional framework upon which to hang his more outlandish, imaginative and intelligent story points. This is where Wind Walkers best hits its mark, with some superb characters engrossed in an atmospheric and thought-provoking plot.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As is so often the case with a movie that is thick with atmosphere, Wind Walkers does sometimes suffer a little with pacing. It may seem strange to say that, especially with so many elements to juggle at once, but now and then some of the key moments lack a little dynamism. There are lengthy scenes in which the characters argue and suspect one another's motives which, unfortunately, do become a little repetitive at times. While I admire compelling and well-rounded character work in genre films, I do wonder if maybe some of these could have been excised or combined to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.
Also, while I enjoyed the eclectic mix of plot lines and genre tropes that made up the basic story for the movie, I do feel that maybe some of them could have been taken to the next level. Some story elements, especially the one hinted at during the closing moments of the film, could have given us a huge and really satisfying climax. Instead Friedenberg et al took their feet off the gas and stepped back, giving us a smaller, more personal ending. I'm sure this was done on purpose — so much of the writing was spot on and excellently crafted that I find it hard to believe there were any accidents in this story-telling process — I think a bigger finish could have hit all the much harder, especially as so much of the film up to that point had been personal and more low-key. Please don't interpret this as criticism of the somewhat open ending Friedenberg gives us — I love a story in which we are left to draw our own conclusions as the end credits start to roll, but I know some people do not find this sort of finale agreeable. If you are one of these, be prepared.
Finally, while the ambition of the film is to be admired, particularly with some of its action set-pieces and its gory visual effects, I do feel that the film was pushed right to very limit of its not inconsiderable budget. Perhaps at times it tried to overreach its means and might have been better off devoting its time to fewer but bigger set pieces. It's not to say that those that were in the movie were poor by any stretch, just that not all of them managed to reach the incredibly high-quality thrills and imagination of the script.

THE VERDICT: Wind Walkers is the sort of film that serious horror fans need to get behind — it shows real intelligence and imagination as it takes what could be familiar plot devices and combines them in such a way as to make everything feel fresh. The cast are great and the screen practically drips with swampy, bluesy atmosphere. With heart and brains, plus some great scares, this is one to catch.

Wind Walkers will be released in the UK on DVD and download on 25th September. In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page for more information.

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on Discovery Screen 1 on Friday 28th August. 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special reviews for Suspension here and The Nightmare here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


It's pretty rare for me to cover a documentary here at Hickey's House of Horrors (by pretty rare, read: I've NEVER covered one). At first this may seem obvious, but when you think about it, why wouldn't I cover a film just because the acts and subject matter are true? Surely there are few things as genuinely horrifying as real life? There are phenomena in this world that are more spine chilling than any campfire fiction.
One such phenomenon is the mysterious Sleep Paralysis. A medical condition endured by people all around the world, Sleep Paralysis sees sufferers experience extremely lucid and nightmarish visions while losing full control of their bodies. This is the subject of Stephen Ascher's controversial and critically acclaimed documentary, The Nightmare.


Dir: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Yatoya Toy, Nicole Bosworth, Siegfried Peters, Elise Robson, Steven Yvette, Age Wilson
Kate Angus, Forrest Borie, Christopher Bleuze-Carolan, Ana Malagon, Stephen Paynter, Jeff Reed, Korinne Wilson, Connie Yom

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.

Director Ascher sits down and speaks with eight individuals regarding their experiences with Sleep Paralysis. From a variety of backgrounds (although all but one of the subjects is a US resident), each speaks candidly about the physical symptoms that each bout brings, most notably the sensation of being awake and aware of their surroundings, yet utterly unable to move. However, beyond this initial simple symptom, they also recount several other side effects including some startling and downright terrifying sensory phenomena.
From eerie sounds to nightmarish visions, these are also recreated using actors and some impressive effects work.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of these accounts is the amount of shared details, including similar visions of looming, demonic shadow men. 
What could cause seemingly unrelated subjects to experience the same phenomena? Why do these people face a seemingly unending battle to rid themselves of their nightly torment? And are we, the unaffected, as safe as we think we are from Sleep Paralysis?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): First and foremost, the subject matter of The Nightmare is fascinating. Whether a legitimate medical condition or a strange form of mass hysteria (I'm leaning toward the former btw), whatever the truth is behind these experiences they are interesting at the very least, if not downright horrifying.
Ascher is a skilled documentarian, to which viewers of Room 237 — his study of Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining — will attest. Here he wisely focuses on his eight subjects, giving each plenty of screentime to tell their stories and artfully interweaving them to stress key observations. These observations, plus the key moments of each individual's account are presented in fantastically stylised and wonderfully shot dramatisations, bathed in deep reds and blues and featuring unsettling black-clad nocturnal visitors. These scenes are genuinely frightening, even managing to squeeze in the odd jump scare and are the key element of the film that has seen it embraced by horror genre fans. The film's director of photography Bridger Nielson ensures that these sequences are evocative and emotive, using bold, visually striking colour and rich, dark shadows to capture an otherworldly fever-dream atmosphere. Should Ascher and Nielson ever join forces to create an out-and-out horror flick, these sequences are more than enough to suggest that they could conjure up genre gold. 
It may seem as if I'm over egging the pudding somewhat here, but trust me: these nightmare sequences are among the most terrifying moments I've ever seen committed to film.
The real-life subjects of the film are something of a mixed bag, some certainly have more credibility than others, but I have to applaud Ascher's decision to open the film up and include Stephen P, based out of Manchester, England. This gives the film a wider sense of scale, showing that Sleep Paralysis occurs in an array of locations across the globe. That isn't to say that the American interviewees are any less interesting, just that without Stephen's inclusion the film's focus could have felt very narrow. However, it is with the US subjects that the most entertaining moments come, specifically the frankly barking Forrest, whose hippyish stories feel like the product of a seriously bad trip, and the witty, world-weary Chris are definitely among the standouts.
In truth each of the eight: Forrest, Chris, Stephen, Ana, Kate, Korinne, Jeff and Connie, is a decent story-teller and, more importantly, each has an interesting tale to tell. As the viewer listens to their stories (edited together into a polished and easily comprehensible whole by Ascher along with Saul Herckis) it is impossible to avoid wondering 'what if?' — what if this is all true? What if this were to happen to you? And what if these shared experiences hint at something far darker under the surface?
The fear of Sleep Paralysis striking the viewer is certainly not aided by anecdotes stating that merely hearing about Sleep Paralysis has been enough to instigate cases, while theories for the deeper, darker meaning underneath are idly banded around by the victims and addressed by Ascher himself. These include some frightening similarities between accounts of Sleep Paralysis and alien abduction. Equally chilling are the supernatural inferences that maybe these shadow people could be demonic or malevolent forces from another dimension. Fans of horror fiction will lap these up with relish, another plus that may see the film find a more appreciative audience among genre fans than with those who expect  a more indepth scientific analysis of the condition.
I also enjoyed the brief segments that discussed possible historical cases of the disorder and their influence on mythology — such as succubi and night gaunts — and popular cinematic works. Films as varied as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Communion, Jacob's Ladder and Natural Born Killers are examined (albeit briefly) for sharing key elements with Sleep Paralysis sufferers' visions.
However you feel about the stories these individuals tell, whatever the reason, each is deeply tormented by their experiences and that real-life, human side to The Nightmare is the area in which it strikes deepest. The real anguish in their voices as they recount times in which they felt they were close to death while being menaced by shadowy visions is100 times more horrifying than any state of the art Hollywood CG could ever hope to be.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As I said before, one of the largest problems with The Nightmare is that not all of the subjects come across as entirely reliable. From inferred hard-living to fantasy prone personality disorders via way of personal gain from their experiences, a handful of the subjects do lose some credibility under closer inspection. Of course these motives are fascinating in their own right, but they can prove detrimental to the message of the documentary and to any attempts to treat the Sleep Paralysis phenomenon as a serious subject.
Of course, another drawback to the documentary format and getting real people to describe their experiences in their own words is that the dialogue is not always too clear, the lines a little clunky and the delivery doesn't always sparkle like it does when coming from a trained actor. The sheer number of 'Like's and 'You know's makes this a far more natural sounding exchange but not everything that is said is as clear as it can be.
Finally, the documentary itself doesn't feature any input at all from qualified medical professionals, sleep therapists or even psychologists. While it's undoubtedly enthralling to listen to each of the subjects recount their experiences, it would have been nice to hear an expert in the field offer us some scientific reasons for the phenomenon alongside the more far-out speculation that is presented in the film. Ultimately it is better to look at the documentary as the stories of eight individuals rather than an all-encompassing in-depth look at the condition they all share. From this angle just about every complaint that a viewer may have is erased as the film becomes far more personal and with it, far more scary. 

THE VERDICT: A chillingly personal look at the plight of eight everyday people, The Nightmare is an enthralling and compelling film. With some genuinely horrifying recreations and a dark, disturbing subject matter, this is a film sure to haunt you in those moments before you drift off to sleep. Ok, it doesn't give us any real answers, but perhaps that is because there are no answers to be found. Few real-world horrors have the ability to chill like the stories of Chris, Stephen, Korinne and company. Horror fans will love this and even those who don't enjoy the genre may well find themselves being drawn in by the smart, stylish film making on display.

The film will be released in the UK on 9th October. In the meantime, check out 
The Nightmare's official Facebook page for more information.

UK readers planning to attend the Film4 FrightFest will be delighted to hear that the film will playing on Discovery Screen 1 on Saturday 29th August. 

Read my previous Film4 Frightfest special review, Suspension, here.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House@HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.