Tuesday, 6 October 2015


There's something inherently eerie about empty public buildings. It's the alien concept of subverting the norms, showing normally bustling spaces, those that one is used to seeing full of people, bare and seemingly abandoned. 
Horror movies have developed a tradition for the effective use of empty schools, libraries and especially hospitals, perhaps most memorably utilised in Halloween 2.
Less common, but every bit as effective, is the use of an isolated, vacant police station, as proven in both John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and the video game Resident Evil 2.
Which brings us to Anthony DiBlasi's Last Shift (originally titled Paymon: King of Hell, then wisely renamed), a movie that has intrigued me for some time.
Was it much cop? Or would I want to throw it in the slammer?
Read on...


Dir: Anthony DiBlasi
Starring: Juliana Harkavy, Hank Stone, Erica Lea Shelton, Randy Molnar, J. LaRose, Joshua Mikel, Natalie Victoria, Sarah Sculco, Kathryn Kilger, Mary Lankford, Matt Doman

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

Jessica Loren (Harkavy) is a rookie police officer who has joined the force to follow in the footsteps of her father (Molnar) who died on duty a hero.
However, her first shift is not particularly glorious — she is assigned to an old station that has recently relocated to another precinct. Closed to the public, Loren's job — as she is reliably informed by her gruff superior, Sgt Cohen (Stone) — is to watch over the building until a team can come to collect the crime scene evidence kept in storage.
Left to her own devices, her night takes a strange turn when a homeless man (LaRose) wanders in and urinates in the lobby, then she receives a series of panicky phone calls from a distressed young woman called Monica (Shelton) who is being held captive on a farm.
As the night goes on, Loren comes to realise that the mysterious events could have something to do with a notorious old case involving a murderous Manson-esque cult, led by the diabolical and now deceased John Michael Paymon (Mikel).
As the decidedly creepy occurrences (including visions of hooded, bloody figures) escalate, Loren is torn between fleeing for her own safety and the shame of disgracing her father's memory by abandoning her post. 
What is going on in the empty hallways? What links Loren to the Paymon family? And will she last the night?

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I chanced upon Last Shift with very little in the way of expectation — however, when I saw that it was from the director of Dread and Cassadaga, two great horror flicks, that soon changed and I eagerly looked forward to watching it.

Luckily, I was not disappointed.
The story (co-written by director DiBlasi and Scott Poiley) is simple, but effective, slowly feeding us the information we need to make sense of the spooky goings-on but using those same scares to keep us hooked. What's more it's a story that makes sense and when explanations are given for the unexplainable, you don't find yourself screaming abuse at the screen. All too often explanations kill the mystery and with it, most of the scares, but if anything, these explanations just up the chills. With a complex backstory involving a murderous, Manson family-like cult and the supernatural, giving the story a little room to breathe allows it to sink its hooks in before ratcheting up the nastiness.
Of course, a key part in building a suitably dread-soaked atmosphere is in the look of the film. Thankfully the cinematography by Austin F. Schmidt is superb, while DiBlasi's eye for framing makes for some extremely tense moments and some effective, well-worked jumpscares.
What's more, these are legitimate, well-earned jumpscares. Tension is built the old-fashioned way, through giving us a character worth caring about, then placing her in genuinely unnerving situations, emphasising darkness and isolation in the shot with lots of empty space, then promptly filling aforesaid space with nightmarish visuals. These are proper horror frights, no spring-loaded cats, deafening telephones or ninja-like colleagues who inexplicably remain utterly undetected until appearing in bathroom mirrors. The frightful imagery with which DiBlasi chooses to jolt the audience — bloody, masked assailants and unrecognisable, brutalised victims — are well worth the visceral response their unexpected appearance provokes.
I mentioned that we have a protagonist worth caring about and that is thanks to the superb characterisation and an awesome performance from Harkavy. Walking Dead fans will recognise the stunning Harkavy from her stint on the show and her work in Last Shift gives us a very good indicator as to why she was granted such a high profile gig. She's a very talented actress, which is absolutely vital considering that she carries the bulk of the film on her shoulders. Make no bones about it, Harkavy is the star of this film, everybody else is supporting cast. She's the one through whom we witness the story unfold and it is her arc that we follow. 
It's actually refreshing to see a horror heroine who isn't a simpering victim who turns her fortunes around — Loren is a strong capable heroine who could just as easily been male. I also loved the character trait in which her profession acted as a substitute for her faith. In the scenes during which she's terrorised, Loren recites her police oath as if it were the Lord's Prayer to fortify her resolve. She also carries a battered old book for times of crisis, however instead of a Holy Bible, this is a Law Enforcement Handbook. It's a nice touch that helps to strengthen the sense of the character's dedication to her work and, with that, strengthening her motives to stand by her post, which Harkavy carries off effortlessly. She's quite fantastic.
However, just because Loren is the lead, that doesn't mean that the rest of the cast are any less impressive. LaRose (who I loved in Windwalkers) is unrecognisable in his role and makes a lasting impression. Shelton's voice work is also very impressive, however, the real scene stealers have to be the utterly terrifying Paymon family. 
Mikel is superb, charismatic but manic, unhinged but seductive — everything you'd expect from an insane cult leader.
As his two most devout followers Sculco and Kilger utterly nail it, veering from naively childish to deranged at a moment's notice. The creepy interrogation footage of the trio calmly discussing the ritualistic murder of doubters and innocents is every bit as chilling as the spectres roaming the station.
And, ultimately, it is the scares that define the success of a horror film. This is one area in which Last Shift really delivers. From the heart-stopping jumps to the twisted psychological scares cultivated through character and the isolated sets, by way of some spectacularly gruesome effects and set pieces from Jeremy S Brock and Jason Murphy (the Elm Street-esque 'dragged' body is a particular ghoulish highlight and the grisly make-up work on the extremely unnerving Bashed Face Betty, when combined with Lindsi Jeter's truly frightening performance makes for serious nightmare fuel) Last Shift brings the fear. 
Finally, as gorgeous as the film is on the eyes, it would be remiss to overlook the wonderfully atmospheric score by Adam Barber. A vital part in cultivating dread, Barber's work is utterly flawless and, combined with the recurring use of the Paymon family's hymn, totally hits the spooky spot.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): I've read a few reviews of Last Shift and one area in which I've noticed some criticism is a perceived lack of realism with regards to how long Loren remains at the station in the face of some seriously disturbed shit.
I get where that argument comes from, but it totally overlooks a huge part of the character's mindset. Under tremendous pressure to live up to her father's reputation, Loren is utterly driven to not fail him. Without that drive, we lose our lead's key motivation. 
What's more, we're given plenty of extra reasons for her to stick around, not least the series of phonecalls she receives from a distressed young girl in mortal peril. Loren is led to believe that she may be all that stands between Monica and a terrible fate and the weight of responsibility hangs heavy on her. Also, after taking LaRose's homeless station invader into custody, Loren is burdened with a duty of care for her captive. As if that's not enough, we are also shown that at one point she has reason to believe that she is being subjected to a hazing prank pulled on rookies, and finally, by the time all of the other factors have been removed, she has been subjected to a severe psychological ordeal and deliberate insidious manipulation, so quite understandably, her head is not in the right place to be making any decisions. 
So, long story short, the main problem that most people seem to have with the plot really isn't a problem under more careful inspection.
While I praised the characterisation of the lead and the work of the supporting players, it is worth reiterating that outside of Loren, the characters are quite thinly sketched. As the story focuses on Harkavy's character and the events around her this isn't too big of a deal but there are times at which characters are introduced only to be promptly dropped and never seen or heard from again.
Finally, while I liked the way in which DiBlasi took his time telling his story, the movie did feel as if there were points at which it became a little repetitive. What's more the pacing was further skewed by the abrupt ending which also flares from a quietly suspenseful character piece to an out of left-field shoot-out sequence. Perhaps some tweaking in the editing room might have helped out here and made the transition between the second and third acts less jarring?

THE VERDICT: Last Shift was a really pleasant surprise. Playing out like a diabolical mixture of Assault on Precinct 13 and Silent Hill, it looks and sounds fantastic, tells a compelling story and delivers big time when it comes to memorable scares. With a great lead and seriously talented director, this is definitely one to watch. Consider me a part of the Last Shift cult!

For those of you who want to check the film out (and you really should!) it is available TODAY (6th October) in the States from Magnet Releasing, on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD. I shall let my UK readers know as soon as we get a release.
In the meantime, check out the film's official Facebook page here. Give it a Like while you're there too, this is a movie that deserves your support!

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.

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