Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Elle Callahan
With summer break just beginning a reluctant Evan (Isaac Jay) heads to Joshua Tree to spend the weekend with his estranged brother Peyton (Cooper Rowe). Meeting a group of other twenty-somthings he captures the eye of photographer Zoe (Ashleigh Morghan). With sparks beginning to fly between the two Evan accepts an invitation to party with Zoe and her friends, leaving Peyton behind. As the night wears on and the drinks continue to flow they all settle around a fire and tell scary stories around a campfire. Without a story of his own Evan goes online and finds a poem entitled Hisji. As he reads it to his new friends he accidentally unleashes a deadly being unlike anything he could ever dream of.
The latest in the quickly growing Creepypasta-based movie subgenre writer-director Elle Callahan deviates from the norm by creating her own urban legend. A mix of The Babadook and The Thing, the Hisji is a humanoid that can shape shift and look like other people. Slowly infiltrating groups of five it ritualistically stalks them before forcing them to commit suicide. Callahan and co-writer Michael Nader give audiences just enough of the Hisji’s lore to keep audiences hooked. A similar level of care can be seen behind the camera.
Stylishly capturing the desolate California desert in her feature debut Elle Callahan shows a technical skill that belies her time behind the camera. Despite Head Count‘s limited budget Callahan is able to deliver some blockbuster scares with things as simple as camera tricks or gradually building tension to its breaking point. She possesses the kind of skills that lull audiences into a false sense of security from a drunken game of Never Have I Ever and turn it into one of the best jump scares of the year. It’s a talent doesn’t necessarily extend to other aspects of the film.
As interesting as Head Count can be on a technical level it stumbles as an actual story. Although performed well by Isaac Jay, Evan can feel unbearable at times. Either afraid or angst-ridden for the majority of Head Count the only time Evan shows any real life is when he is with Zoe. Portrayed by Ashleigh Morghan (Snowfall, The Land) she is able to bring a cheeriness out of Evan that is sorely missing most of the movie. The second-too-long stares, the awkwardness around your significant other’s friends, Jay and Morghan do a marvelous job capturing the awkward yet magical feeling you get when you fall for someone. The same can’t be said of the rest of the supporting cast. For the most part Zoe’s posse, while well performed, come off as beyond cliché. Whether it’s the alpha male Max or the constantly stoned Nico they feel more like Degrassi extras than actual characters.
The other thing holding Head Count back is the film’s lack of budget. Not to say you necessarily need Avengers money to make a good film but Head Count clearly had some pretty big ambitions for its third act. After meticulously crafting a creeping, subtle terror it rushes as fast as it can to the finish line leaving as much chaos in its wake as it can muster. Culminating with a less than impressive CG Hisji it feels out of place in a movie that felt so deliberate in its choices before. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the film but it makes for a jarring change of pace.
As a film, Head Count is a step above most of its contemporaries. With an intriguing lore for the Hisji and a skillful hand behind the scenes, Elle Callahan’s first feature shows that the director has a lot of potential. So does that make Head Count a good movie? Not quite. Despite being good on a technical level an indie level budget, paper thin characters and a too predictable sequel hook hurt the film to outright recommend. But if it’s any indication of Callahan’s future then her next film Witch Hunt, now in pre-production, should be one to look out for. Just don’t go in a group of five.
Links : IMDB
Head Count is now on VOD and in select theaters
Retro Horror Films (Part 1)
For many years I have ignored black and white films. Not because I thought they were extremely bad or uninteresting. Maybe it was because they seem so dated and mostly terribly slow compared to movies of our time. But thanks to a “Horror Challenge” and the encouragement of a like-minded person, I started watching movies from the old days. And to be honest, after a while I started to appreciate them. Admittedly they are dated and some of them are terribly slow. Yet they radiate a certain charm and you can consider many films from that time as the foundation for later films.
Hence this first episode with a summary of watched horrors from days long gone.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Well, you always come across this one somewhere at the top of a horror list. Apparently it’s mandatory to watch this ancient movie. Historically of inestimable value. But not my dada, such a silent film. Though, it does have an original design for its time. The sepia colors, the abstract and avant-garde design of the sets.
The illustrious figure Dracula. A classic and I think the first time that Bela Lugosi takes on the role of this blood-sucking count. A suitable person for this role with his imposing eyebrows and diabolic look. It’s strange, however, that this vampire’s razor-sharp fangs do not come into view for a moment. And not a drop of blood can be found. Also, I found it weird that Renfield runs loose every once and a while in the so-called psychiatric institution. Furthermore, I thought John Harker was a kind of a stick-in-the-mud who acted overly nerdy. Edward Van Sloan was brilliant as the infamous Van Helsing. Add to that the atmospheric and dark sets and you get a hell of a movie.
Most famous monster in movie history. And probably Boris Karloff’s most famous role. To think that a whole series of movies have been made starring Frankenstein’s monster. Most, however, cannot rival the original movie.
The Mummy (1932)
A pretty meek and super slow story about Imhotep, an Egyptian prince buried alive, who comes back to life and somehow wants to be reunited with his wife. The only thing that impressed me was Boris Karloff’s face with a skin that looks like parchment.
This one had been on my wish list for a long time because it kept popping up in some Horror list. I’ve always put it off for myself because of the year 1932. I was already expecting blurry images, a terrible soundtrack (or no sound at all), and wooden acting in this almost 100-year-old film. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I saw the quality of all the listed aspects. Perfect picture quality and the way it’s portrayed. This film was way ahead of its time. And the acting was simply formidable. No exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. No wooden characters and forced dialogues. And a bizarre world was sketched. So hats off. The only thing I have a problem with is the horror label. I’d call it a drama with a moralistic slant. According to IMDb, the most confronting scenes were left out. Apparently, there was a scene where Hercules was neutered and then showed up at the end as a member of the freaks with a high-pitched voice. Maybe it would have been a bit more horror then after all.
King Kong (1933)
Finally, I’ve watched the original King Kong movie. Probably a breathtaking spectacle for the public at that time. Now it looks quite dated. The stop-motion technique worked, but the perspective was sometimes not so perfect. The close-up of Kong’s face also caused hilarity. It seemed as if this bloodthirsty primate kept grinning. Still quite daring for that time in my opinion. The monster was not exactly mild to its victims. And the lead actress sometimes wore little disguising clothing. In the end anyway when Kong ripped off her clothes and she made frantic attempts to cover certain body parts. I can imagine that the female public was quite outraged about this. All in all, a pleasant experience to watch this piece of film history.
The Invisible Man (1933)
A real classic. For such an old film, it’s fantastic how they achieved those special effects. Admittedly. The acting is a bit wooden and over the top. It seemed like Comedy Capers at times. The hysterical screaming of the inn’s owner was just hilarious. And you can’t really call it horror. Am convinced it was unbelievably scary and thrilling for the audience at the time.
The Black Cat (1934)
Two icons from classic horror films, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, playing in the same movie. You’d expect fireworks. Well, they used blanks in my opinion. First of all, I didn’t really think this was a horror. Second, I wondered why this was called “The Black Cat” as this beast didn’t really play a major role (besides the fact that Bela is terrified of it). There’s only the terrifying gaze of Karloff. The story itself can be described as thin and quite sober. In my opinion, the changing of bedrooms felt like slapstick. No, this was a minor setback. Fortunately, it was a short movie.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
After the great success of the first Frankenstein film, a sequel was destined to be made. “Bride of Frankenstein” picks up where the first story ended. This film is not really more exciting. The humor level was increased considerably. You can see how the monster learns to talk, smoke, and drink. The only downside for me was the fact that what the film is initially about (namely the bride) is only briefly included in the story. I thought this was a missed opportunity.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
It’s a pity that after 7 years no real progress had been made in the field of special effects. It looked almost identical to the first movie. Only now Vincent Price had the honor of playing the invisible man. There were no real comic situations here. And strange but true. In the first movie, it was monocane that made you invisible. Here it was duocane.
To be continued …
We’re so glad to have
you in the building.
It was two months. Two months that I didn’t feel the urge to write down a nuanced and honest opinion about a movie I’ve seen. Maybe it was a lack of motivation because of the limited feedback on my previous writings. Maybe it was because of the enthusiasm with which I threw myself into a “Horror Challenge”. A “Challenge” in which I finally watched 89 films in a period of about 7 weeks. And after these 7 weeks, I realized that I really enjoyed watching 50s and 60s horror. Coincidentally, the movie “1BR” passed during this event and there were words of praise for this horror. Enthusiastically I accepted the invitation from Alok Mishra (one of the producers) to send me a link to a screener. And of course, I’ll be doing something in return by writing this review. So first of all, thank you Alok for forwarding the link.
Believe me, I’m being honest.
Now some will claim that I’ll write a positive review out of gratitude for having obtained a free link. Or because it’s that time of the year where people ought to be mega-kind. However, nothing is less true. If “1BR” was a complete crap movie, I would describe it like that without any problem. Before Alok suffers from a panic attack, I will immediately reassure him. “1BR” is a decent film with a surprising twist. Despite the lack of too gory moments or demonic, paranormal revelations, it turned out to be a frightening film. One where you feel uncomfortable about the whole situation. However, I cannot tell much about the story itself. That would only spoil the fun. It’s best that you watch this film without knowing anything, so it’ll hit you without warning. What Sarah (Nicole Brydon Bloom) doesn’t realize when she moves into an apartment of “Asilo del Mar” is that her situation will look very different real quick. Sarah is a timid young adult who wants to start a new life in L.A. far from her family. She wants to make it as a fashion designer and is determined to leave her past far behind. A lopsided relationship with her father caused her to travel to the city of angels. Something that becomes clearer later in the film.
No need to wait. It escalates quickly.
As a spectator, you don’t need to wait really long before it starts to escalate. After 30 minutes, the mood changes from pleasant to downright unpleasant. There is no indication that Sarah walked into the lion’s den. The other residents of the complex are helpful, hospitable, and over-friendly. To be honest, I thought that actually felt scary. I can’t imagine such a community in our current narcissistic and self-centered world where everyone suffers from extreme navel-gazing. The atmosphere in this building is of a high “Melrose Place” level. There’s even a central swimming pool, around which all residents can enjoy social gatherings and cozy barbecues. Those residents are introduced to you in slow motion at the start of the film and are a mixed bag of people. Including the retired actress Edie (Susan Davis) whose health is clearly deteriorating. The helpful, attractive neighbor Brian (Giles Matthey) for whom Sarah immediately has an attraction. And even the landlord Jerry (Taylor Nichols) does his utmost best to make Sarah feel at home in her new home.
There are only a few disturbing factors, according to Sarah. First of all, the creepy Lester (Clayton Hoff). A resident who keeps an eye on her like a one-eyed pirate. Then there are the disturbing noises at night. She was told this is due to poorly maintained pipelines. And then the main fact that no pets are actually allowed in this building, which means that Sarah is forced to keep her cat Giles carefully hidden. Something that does not go unnoticed and is the beginning of a kind of psychological terror. The unknown actress Nicole Brydon Bloom delivers an excellent acting performance and is the most defining person in this film. She shows a range of emotions throughout the whole film. First enthusiasm. Then bewilderment. And after that, desperation and resignation. And in the end, the bold survival instinct emerges suddenly. Not only Bloom’s acting is sublime at times. Also, the way the side characters play their split personality is simply magnificent.
It surprised me.
Once again, the fact a screener was sent to me, isn’t the reason for my positive comments. Believe me, This movie managed to surprise me. It looks slick. And to be honest, I didn’t know which way it would go until the last minute. The uncomfortable feeling I had is partly due to the realistic image that is being created. The feeling you have when you end up in a situation and you don’t know how to rescue yourself from that terrible predicament. The only (minuscule) minus I could cite is that the denouement immediately reminded me of “The Invitation”. But that’s such a negligible element that I can only say you should definitely check out this intriguing movie.
My rating 7/10
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula Review
After 2016’s hit Train to Busan wowed audiences around the world, the highly-anticipated sequel has finally arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint. Whilst it’s not quite as sharp as the first film, it still very entertaining and there’s still plenty of great zombie action to keep you engaged.
Peninsula is set 4 years after the zombie outbreak and after the first film. It’s a standalone sequel so you don’t need to have seen Train to Busan– although you really should seek it out because it’s great and it’s probably the best zombie films ever made by someone other than George A. Romero. Peninsula follows soldier Jung-seok played by Gang Dong-Won who receives an enticing offer to return to the quarantined peninsula to retrieve an abandoned truck filled with money. The mission goes wrong and Jung-seok and his friend get ambushed by a mysterious militia called Unit 631. All sorts of zombie chaos arise as Jung-seok must find a way to escape the peninsula once and for all.
Let me get straight out there and answer the question that’s on the minds of all Train to Busan fans, “Is Peninsula as good as the first film?”. No. Peninsula is definitely a step down from Train to Busan but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, far from it. The 2016 film had set the bar so high that it was very unlikely that Peninsula would be better. Train to Busan is one of my favourite zombie films of all time and whilst Peninsula isn’t as good, I still had a great time with it and thought it was very good.
The sequel definitely isn’t as sharp as the first one and it does suffer a bit from sequelitis as it feels like it must be bigger and bolder than its predecessor when, in fact, it doesn’t need to be. Train to Busan had lots of great zombie action scenes as well as scares but it was also very character-driven and had much more to it than zombies and blood. That’s where Peninsula falls down unfortunately. Whilst this isn’t a problem if you just want to watch an entertaining zombie film, the film is slightly disappointing if you were hoping it to be on the same level as Train to Busan. It gets a bit ridiculous in some of the action scenes, particularly in the final act, with it almost turning into a Fast & Furious film; perhaps a more appropriate title for it would have been 2 Train 2 Busan.
Saying that, the film doesn’t need to be compared to its predecessor. If you don’t expect it to be as good as the first film, you’ll have a great time with it. I definitely preferred Peninsula to the 2016 animated prequel Seoul Station and even on its own, I really enjoyed Peninsula and was very entertained by all the great action scenes. The film goes all out on trying to up the spectacle on the first film and if, like me, you love some good zombie mayhem there’s no reason you won’t really enjoy it. There’s action throughout and even though it’s more cartoonish this time around, it’s really good entertainment and great fun.
Overall, Peninsula isn’t as tight a film as Train to Busan but that’s alright, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the zombies here and I had a thrilling time and it’s probably one of the best zombie films since its predecessor.
Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula will have limited cinema screenings due to cinema closures but it will be available on digital download from November 23rd and on all other formats from November 30th in the U.K.
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