Thursday, 29 October 2015


I recently met talented young British film-maker Damon Rickard at a genre event thrown by the London Horror Society. It didn't take long for me to work out that this is a man who clearly knows the genre and I was delighted when he was kind enough to offer me access to not just his already released (and very successful) short film, The Tour (which will be reviewed here VERY soon), but also his brand-new short, The Package, which reunites Rickard with The Tour's leading man, Tom Gordon.
Is this film the gift that keeps giving? Or is it best kept under wraps?
Read on…


Dir: Damon Rickard

Starring: Tom Gordon, Dan Palmer

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

The Package is the story of two men, former colleagues who conduct shady business for an unnamed but shadowy organisation, who now find themselves on opposing sides.

One of them (Palmer) has taken an item (the titular 'Package') forcing the other (Gordon) to turn to increasingly desperate measures to discover its whereabouts.
After Gordon's character is able to subdue and capture his former partner, the men become embroiled in a brutal clash of wills.
Will the torturer convince his victim to spill the beans? What HAS the thief done with the package? And what could it contain that is important enough to warrant this bloodshed?

WHY IT WORKS: The Package is an extremely intelligent piece of film-making that walks the line between thriller and horror. I don't want to spoil the plot here, because a huge amount of the enjoyment of this film comes from the way in which it manages to shock and surprise. However, I am prepared to say that it cleverly plays with expectations and flips what the audience thinks it knows several times. It's an enthralling tale that is content to take its time revealing its mysteries. That it builds to a genuinely surprising conclusion is a testament to the skill involved in crafting the tale.

The story (by director Rickard) is surprisingly simple but told in such a way that it hints at much, much more.
Pretty much constrained to a single location for the vast majority of its 14 minute runtime, and focusing on the interaction between two leads, it's pared back and lean story-telling, but that doesn't mean it comes without depth.
The characters have their motives and the interaction between Gordon and Palmer is riveting. 
Of course it doesn't hurt that the two are both sterling actors. Gordon is a very handsome man and he has some serious acting chops to go with his good-looks. I liked his work in The Tour and he's just as good here. As the character who seems most desperate he should be the most sympathetic, but as he systematically and relentlessly tortures his victim he becomes utterly chilling.
On the other side of the coin we have Palmer, who will be recognisable to genre fans for his work in Stalled, Small Town Folk and Evil Aliens. Palmer is a great actor and he understands how to manipulate audience reactions with the simplest of gestures and changes in expression. As the subject of the stomach-churning violence in the film, Palmer is given plenty to work with and he remains utterly believable throughout. 
As Palmer's character grimly resists his former colleague's work, Rickard also toys with his audience, taking our sympathy and turning it on its head.
As I mentioned before, the film primarily takes place in a single location, but what a location it is. Shot in an abandoned Victorian fort just outside Portsmouth, it's a fantastically atmospheric setting and Rickard and his director of photography Richard Bell know exactly how to capture that gloomy atmosphere. Alternating between grim, stony walls and rich deep shadows, the fort reflects the look (and personality) of Rickard's characters.
Now, despite the praise I've already heaped on this extremely accomplished short, some of you may be wondering how this tough-guy thriller qualifies as a horror film?
Simply put, the gruelling and violent torture section of the film is every bit as horrifying as any slasher flick and feels as hard-hitting as the likes of Hostel. However, unlike a lot of torture-p0rn flicks on the market, the gore and violence serve a greater purpose than to simply titillate the more blood-thirsty genre fan — the depths to which the characters are prepared to sink and the trials they are prepared to endure are a vital part of the game of cat and mouse at the very heart of the film. Yes, there is blood — but there's also plenty of brains too.

SO WHERE'S IT AT? The Package is touring the festival circuit at the moment. Get yourself over to the film's official Facebook page for more information on when it may be coming to a screen near you. Give it a Like while you're there too, Rickard and his team deserve it.

10 WORD WRAP-UP: A bloody and brutal character-driven thriller with real bite

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, 27 October 2015


It may not have been the first slasher movie, but Friday the 13th is certainly among the most influential films in the genre.
Without Sean Cunningham's seminal 1980 movie we wouldn't have had the wave of summer camp slaughter-fests that have come to epitomise slashers.
As a film that established so many of the 'rules' that meta-slashers such as Scream have popularised, it seems surprising to me that it's taken until now for a film like The Final Girls to hit our screens.
It's a rare thing for me to say this, but I'm going to implore you all now — if you have not yet seen the movie, PLEASE just buy/rent it straightaway and watch it totally blind. You're so much better served going in without a clue as to what it's about. Once you've seen that, come back and read this review. 
It'll still be here, I promise.


Dir: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Alexander Ludwig, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Nina Dobrev, Adam Devine, Angela Trimbur, Chloe Bridges, Tory N. Thompson, Lauren Gros, Dan B.Norris

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: Once again, if you've not seen the The Final Girls I urge you to check it out before reading on. I'll try not to spoil too much but continue at your own risk.

Max (Farmiga) is the teenage daughter of actress Amanda Cartwright (Akerman), a talented starlet who never quite broke out after her scene-stealing turn as Nancy in classic Eighties slasher movie Camp Bloodbath. Still, she has done a good job of raising her daughter as a single mother and the pair share an extremely close bond — until tragedy strikes one night and Amanda is killed in a car accident.
One year on and Max is getting by, thanks to the support of her friends, including feisty Gertie (Shawkat), and things look up when hunky classmate Chris (Ludwig) shows an interest.
However, when Gertie's film-dork stepbrother Duncan (Middleditch) learns who Max's mother was he pleads with her to attend a special cinema double-bill of Camp Bloodbath and its sequel.
At the cinema things take a turn for the worse when Chris's possessive ex Vicki (Dobrev) arrives, then it explodes into a full-grown catastrophe when a fire breaks out. 
Desperate to escape, Max and her friends tear a hole in the screen and flee... straight into the woods surrounding the fictional Camp Bluefinch, stalking grounds of Camp Bloodbath's masked psycho, Billy Murphy (Norris, who does a wonderful job of channeling Kane Hodder).
Initially — and understandably — confused, the group are soon enlightened when a camper van of teenage camp counsellors arrives and takes them to the camp. On the way they become familiar with horny jock Kurt (Devine), easy good-time girl Tina (Trimbur), token nice guy minority Blake (Thompson) and, of course, doomed inexperienced Nancy.
Max is blown away by this second chance to spend time with her mother and super-fan Duncan is absolutely delighted to be able to witness the events of his favourite movie first-hand, stating that they'll be fine as long as they follow tough final girl and chief counsellor Paula (Bridges).
But when it becomes clear that nobody is safe from the machete of Murphy, the group are forced to write their own story, trying to keep themselves and the original victims safe as they seek to reach the end credits alive.
Can they convince their stereotypical new friends to ditch the behaviour that equals instant death in a slasher movie? Will Max be able to keep her mother alive this time? And herself?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Wow, I did not see The Final Girls coming. It's a fantastically clever and funny meta horror story, taking elements of both Scream and The Cabin in the Woods with lashings of Eighties nostalgia. This is one of the most unique plots I've seen in some time and really does play out as a love-letter to slasher movies — especially the ever-popular Friday the 13th.
The witty script, penned by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, combines so many elements — the most obvious being a straight up slasher movie, but it also adds elements of fish-out-of-water comedies (as our modern day and the Camp Bluefinch teens suffer a real culture shock in their interactions), satire (in which genre tropes are lovingly portrayed as irresistible universal truths), a regular teen comedy (Duncan and the acidic Vicki could have wandered straight in from the likes of Mean Girls or American Pie) and a surprisingly moving character driven drama.
Of course it is the nods to the genre that stand-out in the memory — characters hearing a familiar synthetic echo sound each time the hulking Murphy is nearby, certain phrases causing colour to drain from the world as the characters are propelled back in time in flashbacks, rock solid subtitles that our leads have to step over and hilariously realised slow motion in which puzzled would be victims can't understand why they're unable to run. What's more, cinematographer Elie Smolkin includes plenty of more subtle stylistic flourishes that utterly fit the film-making techniques of the mid Eighties while ensuring the modern day scenes look and feel as polished as any big studio release.
It's a rarity for somebody to take a concept and mine it for every single cliche and possible laugh, but director Strauss-Schulson hits every single target perfectly.
However, as thorough as he is with his deconstruction of the slasher genre, it never feels mean-spirited or as if this is a film that thinks it is above the subject matter. No, this is a loving, gentle homage, celebrating the tropes it skewers, willfully turning expectations on their heads by twisting and subverting these rules, especially when it comes to the surprisingly rich characters
And it really is the characters that are vital to the success of most of The Final Girl's plot elements.
It is the characterisation and the sterling cast that really drive the film along between its satirical set-pieces.
Each character has a clearly defined role in the plot, yet each is capable of surprising us at key moments in the plot — and many of them do. 
Perhaps the most straightforward is Farmiga's Max. A character whose whole existence is almost entirely defined by the traumatic event at the onset of the movie, her motivation is not just understandable, it's a built in cause for sympathy. Farmiga, who will be familiar to genre fans for her roles in TV series American Horror Story, is fantastic, using her naturally sad eyes as a perfect tool to establish the turmoil and grief at her character's heart. Her delivery is impeccable and she ably takes on her character's tougher side later in the film. It is her burgeoning relationship with Nancy that becomes the main focus of the film, more so than her blossoming romance with Chris or established bond with Gertie.
Thankfully, Akerman is also wonderful as the other part of this double-act. She runs with both sides of her dual-role. She impresses with her (admittedly brief) turn as Amanda, Max's ill-fated mother, where she is warm and heart-felt. She's a cool mum, the sort whose career proves both embarrassing and a source of admiration for her daughter. She's extremely likeable, even if she may be a little too youthful in her appearance to truly play an Eighties scream queen.
However, it's in her second role of Camp Bloodbath's Nancy that she really impresses. She's earnest, sweet, naive — a bookish girl ready to finally offer up her virginity, and with it her life.
Malin Akerman has stunning good looks, but because of this it feels as if people often overlook her acting talent. It's a shame because she is a very, very good actress and her work in The Final Girls is no exception.
The supporting cast are all very good, but special praise must go to the more colourful characters among their number.
Middleditch is great and shows some superb comic timing during his key scenes. He's a dork, but loveable with it, and he performs one of the very finest pratfalls I've seen in some time. 
Equally hilarious is the scene-stealing Devine who has at least half of the best lines in the film. Bringing lunkish, one-dimensional Eighties alpha-male Kurt to life with just enough tongue-in-cheek charm and (very deeply buried) sweetness to keep him entertaining, Devine's work is a riot. He is at the centre of some of the best scenes in the film, and he (along with Tina) are the ones with the most to learn from their latterday companions.
Speaking of Trimbur's Tina, she is also hilarious, literally twitching to get drunk and start cavorting nakedly, forcing our heroes to dress her in unwieldy layer upon unwieldy layer to protect her modesty and with it, her life.
Another hit among our ladies is the gorgeous Dobrev (of Vampire Diaries fame). A self-centred, high-maintenance bitch, Dobrev's flawless mean girl delivery shows comic timing that I haven't seen from her before. What's more, rather than remain a one-dimensional stereotype (like the joke characters of Camp Bloodbath) she's actually given a clearly defined arc and has a legitimately moving moment late on in the film.
This is possibly the most surprising element in a film that delights in providing plenty of unexpected twists and turns — among the stabs and sniggers it has plenty of heart too. Sure the laughs and in-jokes are what draw you in, but by the time the strains of Betty Davis Eyes starts to play during the climactic scene, it is the genuine emotional investment you've made in Max, Rachel and the other hapless victims of Billy Murphy that will keep your eyes riveted to the screen.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I've seen some negative reviews of The Final Girls, and universally, the main problem with each of them seems to be that the movie is too much comedy, not enough horror.
It's true that there are decidedly more laughs than screams, but it doesn't totally forget to include the slasher jolts we've come to know and love. Go in knowing it's laughs with some slasher horrror along the way rather than vice versa and you'll be ok.
On a similar note, the film was not R rated in the States, and lots of old-school slasher fans have bemoaned the lack of nudity and violent gore.
I understand where people are coming from, but do feel a need to point out the real paucity of naked flesh in the first Friday the 13th. Sure, certain characters are portrayed in such a way that they would almost certainly get naked in a mid-late Eighties slasher movie, but I for one don't think that bare boobs are the only difference between a good and a poor film.
As for blood, I'm in two minds here. I think some of the kills could have been more graphic, especially some of the later ones during the ill-fated attempt to trap Billy, but I'd argue that the car accident provides a spectacularly gruesome image, and there are other suitably bloody touches scattered throughout the film. Just a couple more really could have made the world of difference.
I've also heard some people pick on the hilarious Devine, claiming he doesn't have the look of an Eighties jock.
Ok, maybe he isn't as muscular as the genre's blonde-mulleted alpha males (such as The Burning's Glazer) but he carries the role with so much swaggering attitude that he TOTALLY pulls it off. 
On a final note, I found the ending a little predictable, but that's not the end of the world. Here's hoping that it means we can expect more from this series.

THE VERDICT: If you have even a passing interest in the classic slasher heyday of the 1980s, you NEED to see The Final Girls.
Even if you don't, but you fancy some laughs instead of straight-up scares, you really should check it out. Well-shot and acted, witty, moving and utterly hilarious, this love-letter to our genre is worthy of affection in its own right. It's absolutely fantastic. 

The Final Girls is available to buy here in the UK right now! Buy it at Amazon here.
Visit the film's official Facebook page for more information. Give it a Like while you're there too, share the love!

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.

Monday, 26 October 2015


Horror comes in many forms — books and films are obviously long established sources of frights, but now there are far more immersive experiences for those seeking thrills and chills.
In recognition of this blossoming trend, I'm going to attend as many of these attractions as I can throughout the year and I'll post a brief review of my experiences here.
First up, a local Haunt — Apsley's Scarenation: Frightmare.


Location: Frogmore Paper Mill, Apsley
Tickets: £25

Now in its 5th year, the annual Scarenation event returns to last year's site, Frogmore Paper Mill.
However, unlike last year's long, continuous maze, this year the team behind the attraction have opted for five separate Haunts — Hollywood Horrors; Infested; Afterlife; Freak Show; and The Puppeteer.
After a brief wait outside the tremendously atmospheric building (the world's oldest mechanised paper mill) the Hickey's House of Horrors party were granted access to the site. From outside we were able to see each of the five entrances (and, more importantly, spot which Haunt attracted the largest group of rowdy teens), then, after a brief chat with a ghoulish, urbane host in a victorian-style suit, we made our first choice — Freak Show.

Coulrophobes need not apply! After a brief introduction from an intimidating lace and leather-clad ringmistress, we were led into the funhouse-style interior of the maze. Numerous grease-paint and mask sporting clowns were on hand to ensure we were never able to relax, regularly peering through windows or popping through curtains when we least expected it, while a brief sojourn through a ball pool was a fantastic addition, as too was a great and startling flourish towards the end.
In retrospect, this may have even been my favourite of the mazes and rest assured, whether you're the fearless leader or 'cowering-at-the- back' type, nowhere is safe from the clowns.

From here we popped straight next door to Infested, where a fantastic creepy little host did a superb job of getting us all on edge before we'd even walked through the door (singling out the female in our party for 'special attention') before revealing the creepy backwoods/countryside theme of the attraction and then sending us inside.

Starting in narrow winding corridors filled with weeds and overhanging branches, the constant drone of flies makes the initial stages of the Haunt pretty nerve-wracking… but that's nothing compared to the point at which you are plunged into total darkness and have to navigate your way through a twisty, turning course using a length of hosepipe as your only guide. Needless to say, you aren't alone in the dark and a sudden appearance from a torch-wielding scarer with a mass of spiders on her face caused one of the most memorable jumps of the night. It was a pretty good section of maze, however, a group of girls behind us seemed to reach hysteria pretty quickly and I felt the actors went a little easy on us all from that point.
However, Infested is not just one maze. After a brief pause in a waiting room during which another wonderfully creepy host warned us about the 'freaks' in the following section, we were sent on our way once more. This time there was lighting and if the actors had gone easy on us before, the hooded, insect covered young man who served as both guide and chief-tormentor on this section was certainly not as restrained. He clearly knew his craft and had the leader of our group (ahem) yelping and cowering multiple times. This section also boasted arguably the most striking nightmarish image of the evening, before finishing with another top drawer flourish.

Back into the open air and time for another chat with the devilishly good, grey-suited Victorian host. He suggested a change of pace — maybe we should give Hollywood Horrors a go?
Who were we to argue?

Inspired by iconic films that have haunted moviegoers for decades, this maze (which was possibly the most well-lit of the Haunts) boasted a series of recognisable horror movie scenes, all with a little added interactivity.
The host for this Haunt was the most chatty (and least in-character) who gave us a brief rundown of the rules (plus a series of risque gags, including a couple which poked gentle fun at my physique!) before sending us on our way.
I shan't spoil the films from which this Haunt drew inspiration, but will say there are some very well-known titles here. There was a small disappointment when it seemed as if a certain character was sadly absent from the scene in which he should appear, but this was more than made up for by the superb bit of misdirection in another section that had all of our group asking as one: 'Where the Hell did SHE come from?'. 
What's more, there were a pair of great actresses who managed to freak out EVERYBODY who crossed paths with them. The final scene also deserves praise for the effortless way in which it incorporates the industrial setting to maximum effect.
This was good fun, but slightly less extreme than the other mazes of the evening. It's great for film-buffs and is the Haunt that I'd suggest attendees visit first on a trip to Frightmare.

Three down, two to go, and now we decided to brave the 'most extreme' of the mazes — Afterlife.
As we stood there, all more than a little anxious about the 'extremity' of the maze, our bespectacled creepy bug host from Infested once again made an appearance, proceeding to scare the living daylights out of a young girl in the queue ahead of us. Top work!

We were warned in advance that any physical impairments or claustrophobia could make this one unbearable, then kitted out in kneepads and work gloves.
Needless to say, we were pretty nervous. 
Then the leader of the group with which we were travelling was fitted with a head-torch and a small hatch was slid open at ground level.
You see, Afterlife is a Haunt through which you are forced to crawl on your hands and knees.
At first this was pretty terrifying, with actors lurking behind curtains and growling, howling and croaking (as well as seizing hands and other extremities when you least expect it). However, a small flaw was soon exposed. Our group was combined with another to make it a more appropriate size. Alas, the first group (including the torch wearer) shot away into the maze of tunnels, leaving the stragglers of our group far behind. 
Soon we became hopelessly lost in total darkness. This was definitely creepy, however, I became so discombobulated that I ended up taking one of the tunnels for the scarers and wound up lost behind the scenes!
Eventually it became a bit of a slog and a maze that should have taken just 10 minutes took me closer to 25 to successfully navigate! 
A great idea for a maze, some superb frights (there are holes in the ceiling that the scarers use to full effect) but perhaps some kind of harness or 'hold the ankle of the person in front' rule could be utilised to prevent those as dopy as myself from wandering astray!

So, sweaty from the exertions of Afterlife we made our way out into the cool night air once again before heading to our final maze — The Puppeteer. A friendly security guard chatted with us, filled us in on the rules of the Haunt, then sent us into the plastic wrapped domain of The Puppeteer and his creations.

A more typical Haunt, consisting of security fencing to create a 'track' wrapped in sheets of plastic (with plenty hanging down to obscure the way ahead), this haunt used a clever combination of grisly mannequins and actors to keep the attendees on edge. The actors here all took on far more deranged and lively personas than in the other mazes, regularly singing, shrieking and laughing hysterically. What's more a highly efficient scare section involving strobe-lighting and a pigtailed 'dummy' that doesn't want to be left behind was genuinely creepy and had me shuffling forward a little faster than I needed to! 
In fact, here, more than anywhere, the person at the back had the most to deal with as the Puppeteer's creations love their new playmates so much they regularly fall in behind the group and continue tormenting you.
The final reveal of the Puppeteer was perhaps a little underwhelming, but the set-up of the last scene was such that it gave us all one last jolt before we burst out into the cold October night air.

Scarenation: Frightmare is a fantastic attraction and each of my group spoke glowingly about our experience afterwards.
With refreshments and toilets on site, basic amenities are taken care of and, at a little under two-hours, you get plenty of 'Boo!' for your buck. This was my first time at a Scarenation event, but it's safe to say that it won't be my last. For those of you in the area, this is a fantastic seasonal scare and well worth your time. Check it out!

Scarenation: Frightmare is running until Saturday 31 October.
You can buy tickets to the attraction at the official Scarenation website here.
Visit their official Facebook page for more info. Give it a Like while you're there too, share the love!

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, 20 October 2015


Horror stories that focus on biblical events, such as The Exorcist and Omen movies, make up some of the most effective and popular films that the genre has ever produced.
Taking faith, a human trait that brings comfort to many, and subverting it, dealing with the decidedly grimmer tales of the Bible or even the horrendous acts carried out in the name of organised religion, is a powerful tool and rarely fails to unnerve.
This leads me to Gus Krieger's The Binding, a film that has yet to find a distributor and is instead making the rounds on the festival circuit.
Is this a movie that would keep me bound to the screen? Or would I just want to break free?
Read on…


Director: Gus Krieger
Stars: Josh Heisler, Amy Gumenick, Max Adler, Leon Russom, Catherine Parker, Larry Cedar, Max Adler, Stuart Pankin, Kate Fuglei, Virginia Welch, Kevin Stidham

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

Sarah (Amy Gumenick) and Bram (Heisler) are a devout religious couple in a small town, overjoyed at the birth of their first child, Scaia. This joyous event is celebrated by the church community where Bram is a pastor, and senior clergyman Father Uriel (Leon Russom) is among those to add his congratulations.
Life is good for the pair (even if Sarah’s beliefs mean she feels a little uncomfortable towards her homosexual neighbours) — right up until Bram reveals that he has been having a recurring dream, a nightly vision in which God himself appears to Bram and says that he must sacrifice Scaia to avert the End of Days.

At first Sarah thinks this is something that the pair can cope with together, praying side by side and united as they face Bram’s crisis. However, she soon realises that Bram’s visions are intensifying and, under their relentless influence, her husband is starting to become swayed by these powerful messages.
Turning to multiple sources for aid, both in the church and the field of medicine, the increasingly desperate Sarah uncovers several long-buried secrets involving mental illness, miscarriages and addiction.
Can she protect her daughter from the man she loves? And at what cost?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): The Binding (written and directed by the extremely impressive first-timer Krieger as his premiere feature) is a compelling story driven by a fascinating central dilemma — can faith go too far?
It’s an intelligent plot, featuring likeable, believable characters that draw us into the complex web that Krieger weaves. The film takes its title from the biblical Binding of Isaac, in which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. For those unfamiliar with tale, at the Lord's behest, Abraham bound Isaac and took him to the future site of Temple Mount where, at the point he was about to strike, an Angel intervened, preventing the sacrifice. There are obvious parallels with the plot of this film, but the title takes on a deeper meaning when looking at the themes of Krieger’s story. Bram is bound by his vows to the Lord and his own struggles with alcoholism, but it is the manner in which Sarah is bound to Bram as his wife and as the mother of his child that is key to the entire plot.
Sarah (brought to life with a brilliant performance from the talented Amy Gumenick) and her struggles with her faith, her role of mother and her perceived responsibilities as a wife, are at the heart of the story. It is impossible to fail to feel for her, watching as her preconceptions about her role not just in the church but in her family are torn down. It’s committed and flawless work from Gumenick, not shying away from her character’s flaws and showing us glimpses of the terror and fragility beneath the surface.
Josh Heisler’s Bram is also wonderful, Heisler playing the part just right to avoid any melodrama. It would have been easy to veer into hammy, cartoonish lunacy, but Heisler instead provokes sympathy, showing us that this devout clergyman is no caricature. Instead he is a man that is struggling. With a history of mental illness and alcoholism in his family, it becomes easy to see how guidance from religion could have helped him to find the right path for his life. That this very same faith should now be the source of his anguish is heartbreaking and Heisler nails this with his sterling performance.
Elsewhere the excellent Leon Russom and Catherine Parker provide great support. Russom's Uriel is enigmatic, filling his every scene with gravitas and utterly commanding the screen each time he appears. The lively Parker has less screen-time but makes the most of what she has, playing her character Sam as a barely existing victim and frightening warning of what could well await Sarah in her immediate future.
However, as impressive as the supporting cast are, make no bones about it, this is primarily the tale of our leads.
And what a tale it is, raising plenty of questions but never preaching to its audience — there are no heavy-handed criticisms of organised religion or bull-headed proclamations that only Christ can save us. Instead the issue is dealt with respectfully and thoughtfully, examining the themes on an individual basis rather than making sweeping generalisations. This is the story about one person's role within the church and her struggles as she replaces what she thinks she knows with the truth about her place in the world.
That Kriegler’s thought-provoking story is presented in an eye-catching and clean fashion by gifted cinematographer Jeff Moriarty — especially during some genuinely frightening nightmare sequences — is just another boon for the film.
It is these nightmare sequences, often preying on a parent's insecurities and neatly giving us an indicator as to the emotional state of Sarah, that offer some of the most chilling moments in the film. As these so often segue into scenes in which the dangerously unravelling Bram roams the house, seemingly not under his own control, they make for an effective one-two punch for building frights. Cleverly using light and darkness, plus a very effective and understated score by James Raymond, these scenes are the ones most likely to have the greatest impact on fear-seekers.
The Binding is not heavy on jump-scares, nor is there a huge body-count or fountains of gore. Instead there are some superb twists and turns (and not a few red herrings along the way) and, despite the somewhat sedate pacing, the mounting sense of dread so exquisitely crafted by Kriegler and his team builds to a truly gripping climax.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning: Like I said before, The Binding is a cerebral horror film. This means that it's a lot less flashy and moves at a slower pace than your average Friday the 13th sequel. I think this is to be applauded, not least because it gives Kriegler more time with which to introduce his characters, solidify their relationships and, most importantly, it gives us more time to come to care for everybody before the real horrors hit the screen.
However, precisely how scary you'll find these horrors very much relies on how much you are prepared to work with the film, to concentrate on its subtleties and ponder its many intricacies. I have no aversion to this, and I can be patient if the film will ultimately reward this patience, but I do understand that there are some readers out there who may find The Binding moves a little too slowly for them.
Also, as mentioned above, while the main characters in the film are very nicely fleshed out, the film's very narrow focus gives us surprisingly few people to care about. There are some characters who pop up now and then for exposition purposes, but outside of the central pair, very few of them are given much time or material to make any real impression.
Finally, the ending. Obviously I don't want to spoil it here, so I shall be very careful in what I say, but I think it might have hit me a little harder had there been more ambiguity with what is very, very strongly implied. It's a clever trick and I don't hate the reveal per se, but it does jar a little with the film that has gone before it. This is just my opinion of course and I certainly don't expect many of you will agree. It certainly wasn't a deal-breaker and, in truth, it's a fun finish to a movie that has been almost oppressively dark until that point.

THE VERDICT: The Binding is a mature film and, if you are prepared to work with it, a film that is as likely to keep you awake at night pondering its weighty themes as through its effective scares. With a pair of towering performances from the leads, and a superb and assured vision from the director, The Binding shows that imagination and skill can easily overcome the budgetary constraints of indie film-making. Here’s hoping that it finds the audience it deserves on the festival circuit, and with that, the means to make its way to our screens sooner rather than later.

In the meantime you can find out more about the film here at its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too!

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, 16 October 2015


I'd better be honest up front here — I love the films of Guillermo del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is one of my favourite films ever, while I think both The Devil's Backbone and Cronos are masterpieces, and I'm one of those people keeping all my non-essential extremities permanently crossed in the hope that, one day, we'll see the final epic chapter of the Hellboy trilogy. Even GdT's less popular titles such as Mimic, Blade II and Pacific Rim have a special place in my heart, whether it be for sheer visual invention or witty, cool uniqueness scattered throughout each of them.
So what I'm saying is that I went in to the advance screening of Crimson Peak expecting to be pleased. That this is del Toro's take on a Gothic ghost story (a genre I absolutely adore) only heightened those expectations.
Would I be disappointed?
Read on...


Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Bruce Gray, Burn Gorman

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

As a girl Edith Cushing experiences a terrifying encounter with the spectre of her deceased mother, an encounter in which the spirit urges her to 'Beware Crimson Peak'. Later, Edith (Wasikowska) has become an aspiring writer in late 19th Century New York. Her father, Carter (Beaver) is a hardworking wealthy businessman, who entertains her ambitions, even if he would love to see her experience true love, just once.
One day Carter has a meeting with a dashing young Baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), who needs investment from Cushing and his friends to create a device that will restore the clay mine beneath his stately home in Cumbria, Allerton Hall, to its former glory.
Cushing takes an instant dislike to the privileged young Englishman, however, soon romance starts to blossom between Edith and Thomas, much to the chagrin of her father and family physician Dr Alan McMichael (Hunnam), a childhood friend of Edith's who loves her dearly.
As the couple's relationship progresses, Cushing hires a PI, Holly (Gorman) to investigate Thomas and his icy sister Lady Lucille (Chastain). Upon discovering a scandalous secret about the Sharpes, Cushing orders them to leave.
However, the following morning Cushing is brutally slain, a tragedy which only drives Edith into the arms of Thomas. Soon the pair are married and return to the Sharpes' family home, a spectacular but rundown mansion atop a mound of red clay. 
A crimson peak.
Shortly after moving in, Edith begins to suspect that the Hall is home to several horrifying spirits.
But are they trying to hurt her... or warn her of a far greater danger? 

THE BEST BITS (minor spoiler warning): Where to start? I suppose with my initial reaction to viewing the film — del Toro has always had a fantastic eye for creating rich, dark but beautiful visuals. Crimson Peak may just be his most sumptuous film yet.
From the set design of the spectacular Allerton Hall, to the beautifully utilised motifs of red and yellow against the bleak black and green house, right down to the dreamlike snowstorm climax, it is utterly breathtaking. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen ensures each frame is seeped in Gothic atmosphere, while production designer Thomas E. Sanders and art director Brandt Gordon have packed every scene with some beautiful details that I'm sure will reward repeat viewings.
I'm not normally one to praise costumes, but these (designed by Kate Hawley) are equally fantastic, making strong use of blocks of colour to really catch the eye.
Quite simply, Crimson Peak is beautiful.
But admittedly gorgeous visuals aren't enough to make a film. Plot is the most important element to creating a truly captivating movie.
It's here that I need to point out that, despite what the marketing seems to be claiming, Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. It is a Gothic-romance with elements of horror scattered throughout. Much as lead character Edith explains multiple times regarding her manuscript, 'it's not a ghost story, it's a story with a ghost in it'.
In truth it's more of a twisted drama, with some extremely dark moments. The plot is not particularly complex, there are no gamechanging twists, instead it sets up a few mysteries early on, then gently reveals the answers one after the other. Honestly, most can be guessed quite early in the movie and there's very little likely to shock throughout.
But this really doesn't matter because it is a story about characters, notably our core trio of Edith, Thomas and Lucille, and their complex relationships with one another.
First we have Wasikowska's Edith, the undoubted heroine of the piece. She's feisty, independent, a headstrong young woman in a time that was not prepared for such a fiercely spirited lady. At the start she views men as condescending obstacles to her own success, with an even stronger view of men of privilege. This makes her burgeoning relationship with Thomas all the more compelling, we are seeing her world view change, her deeply held beliefs turned on their head by a mysterious and seductive stranger. Wasikowska is excellent in the role, keeping Edith soft enough that you sympathise with her through her ordeals (especially the frankly terrifying haunting sequences), while still imbuing her with enough steel at her core that she never comes across as a simpering, irritating damsel in distress. With her large emotive eyes, she's an excellent choice for leading lady.
As for leading man Hiddleston as Thomas, he too is fantastic. Sharpe is the most complex character in the film, a mysterious anti-hero whose motives can never be truly trusted. It's obvious that he and Lucille have chosen Edith for some nefarious purpose, but at the same time, as he romances Edith, there are several hints that the feelings he expresses towards her may not be entirely feinted. After taking the high-profile role of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it isn't much of a stretch for Hiddleston to play a charming, erudite, villainous and misguided aristocrat, but by golly, he does it so well.
It's a fantastically restrained performance, which really pays off in the latter stages when you get to catch a glimpse of the turmoil within. Bravo, sir!
Finally we come to Chastain's enigmatic Lucille. Two-time Oscar nominee Chastain has been winning plenty of plaudits for her standout performance in Crimson Peak. And for good reason too — her brittle Lucille is a wonderfully realised character, one who isn't given a huge amount to do until quite late in the film, but takes every opportunity to draw you in with each second that she has. Alternating between icy glares, hateful smirks and anguished longing, she has totally captured the essence of a character who could only exist in Gothic fiction. It falls just short of hammy, yet is still so delightfully sinister you can't help but titter while she talks about dying butterflies with relish or describes the manner in which she nursed her ailing mother back to health following a violent assault by her brutish father. In a film packed with tormented spectres and haunted mansions, it is the flawless work of Chastain that creates the biggest chills.
Which brings us to those spooks. For, despite what I've said about the film not being a true horror movie, it still has plenty of moments that are utterly horrifying. There are some stomach-turning moments of brutal and shocking violence that provoked squeals from the audience with whom I viewed the film. But it is the terrifying ghosts that stand out. Still bearing the awful wounds that sent them into the afterlife, they are decomposing, distraught, desperate lost souls. They bear plenty of the hallmarks of del Toro's work, whispy tendrils of ether trailing away from their skeletal frames, their gaunt, frail bodies reaching out to grasp the subject of their attentions. That they are brought to life by the phenomenal Doug Jones and Javier Botet just adds to their eeriness, utilising two of the most recognisable and talented body actors out there.
This pays dividends too — in a film that rarely falls back on jump-scares, the sudden appearance of these heart-stopping entities is more than enough to cause sufficient jolts.
But for all the scares I return to the characterisation as the best part of the script. From the towering central trio, to able and stirring support from Supernatural's Beaver and the impressive and handsome Hunnam —plus Torchwood-alumni done-good Gorman in a lovely extended cameo — the cast bring these characters to life wonderfully, while the story by del Toro and Matthew Robbins gives them plenty to do. Quite frankly, it's a triumph.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Honestly, it feels churlish to attempt to find fault with such an accomplished and ambitious motion picture.
First I'll address a key problem that plenty of viewers have discussed since seeing the trailer — the dreaded CGI.
There is a fair amount of CG used in the film, either to create or to enhance elements, and, in all honesty, it's not always a hit.
The moths (a del Toro staple) are excellent, however, at times the ghosts are less so. They reminded me a bit of the titular spirit in the del Toro-produced Mama (unsurprising considering Botet was used in that movie as well). The effects work has improved since it was used in Andrés Muschietti's 2013 film and is always fantastic in shadow or at a distance, but it suffers somewhat when in extreme close-up, especially when animating facial features. Respect must go to del Toro and the effects team for attempting to use puppets and actors in costume as much as possible, but there are times when they struggle to reach the scope of del Toro's substantial imagination and CG must be used. Sadly, there are also times that CG strains to match that imagination too.
Next up, and I've said this before but it bears repeating — Crimson Peak is not an out-and-out scare fest. There are a couple of very well-executed shocks, some decidedly nightmarish imagery and savage blood-letting that would put some slasher flicks to shame, but Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. Instead it's a dark and twisted adult fantasy. As such it moves far slower than fans of the likes of Friday the 13th, Hatchet or Saw may be used to. Personally I loved it for what it was, but this is a warning to those who may get annoyed at the movie for what it isn't.
Finally, a small peeve on my part. It's obvious that del Toro is a real fan of the time in which the story is set, and he loads it with plenty of authentic period touches. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have the same faith in us, his audience, because every time Edith stumbles across forgotten technology from the era she states exactly what it is in an off-putting unrealistic manner i.e. 'Wax cylinder recordings' or 'a gramophone'. I get that he may have thought people may not recognise them (they're not exactly everyday items after all), but there must be a better way to demonstrate what they are without just stating their name.

THE VERDICT: Let's keep this simple — Crimson Peak is one of my frontrunners for film of the year. It looks amazing, it sounds fantastic, has a genuine A-List cast and totally encapsulates the feel — and thrills — of Gothic fiction, itself one of the strongest influences on the genre we love. Guillermo del Toro has done it again, this movie is magnificent. 
Crimson Peak is released in UK cinemas today — watch it.
In the meantime you can find out more about the film here at its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too!

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.