Halloween Countdown : Lights Out

Another recent and wildly successful horror release, raking in almost $150million at the box-office from a lowly $5million budget. But does a healthy return mean it's actually any good?

Lights Out (David Sandberg, 2016) has a nifty premise: the malevolent entity menacing a family can only be seen, and can only hurt them, when the lights are out. So you would just keep the lights on, right? Well, not if you exist in a horror film. Hands up if you think there's likely to be a power cut? Or a faulty torch? Or people peering into dark shadows when they should really be GETTING THE FUCK OUTTA THERE!!!?? Yes, this is heavily reliant on using dimly-lit scenarios to generate its jump-scares, but these shocks are all expertly delivered - one in particular caught me massively unawares. So it's pretty good fun when it's trying to make us jump. It is less successful when it's trying to make us care, though, with some clumsy moments of exposition, as it throws light on the back-story of the characters. It means there's not much emotional connection to the characters compared to those in the superficially similar, but much superior The Babadook from a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, at only 82 mins this won't run down your batteries and may just be the perfect excuse to get your loved one clinging to you in the dark shadows. But if that's still too long for you, why not try the 2min short film (also called Lights Out) which got Sandberg his big break after it went viral online. Watch it below.

Halloween Countdown: Don't Breathe

We continue our countdown to Halloween 2016 with a recent box-office hit - is it as good, or as scary, as they say?

Don't Breathe (Fede Alvarez, 2016) is about three small-time burglars who target the house of a blind man who has apparently a large stash of cash hidden away. But - UH OH! - the man may be blind, but is also a psychopathic army veteran who isn't going to let his disability stop him fighting back. It's a good set-up that reminded me a little of the recent Hush, which had a deaf protagonist using her other senses to compensate. And for the most part it's a similarly snappy, functional home invasion thriller, with jump-scares, tense situations and a smattering of gory moments all competently and enjoyably delivered. But towards the end it strays into somewhat dodgy territory with a rape-but-not-rape-but-actually-it-is development. Presumably this was an attempt to fashion a 'shock' talking-point that would set itself apart from the crowd, but it only ends up leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. Ched Evans' defence team would probably love it.

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Halloween Countdown : The Thing From Another World

As we countdown to Halloween for another year, it is truly scary how much Christmas stuff has appeared in shops BEFORE HALLOWEEN HAS EVEN ARRIVED!!  Anyway, to keep the premature Christmas celebrations at bay the plan over the next couple of weeks is to watch as many horror films as possible. Let's call it the Halloween Countdown 2016. Proceed....if you dare.

The Thing From Another World (Howard Hawks, 1951) has a place in movie history as a famous and iconic sci-fi horror B-movie, so it's a bit of a let-down to find it's quite a creaky one. It has an intriguing set-up as a team of scientists and military personnel excavate a UFO from deep in the Arctic ice, only to set something loose (Spoiler: It's the Thing). Disappointingly, however, the Thing itself takes an inordinate length of time to turn up, and when it does it lurches about unconvincingly - one character even describes it as a super-carrot, which doesn't exactly strike fear into the heart. Perhaps that explains why the various scientists and military personnel react to the threat by looking mildly surprised, rather than terrified, as they discuss politely how to deal with it. Still, it has intelligent dialogue, a good last line ("Watch the skies!") and is notable for having the first full body burn stunt in the movies. You can sense the panic in that scene alright as the stuntman within The Thing costume (Tom Steele, doused in gasoline, set alight and breathing from a highly combustible oxygen canister) is moving pretty damn fast indeed! Still, all in all, you'd be better off with the excellent John Carpenter remake The Thing (1982).

A full list of films in the Halloween Countdown 2016 is here

Zootropolis (Howard, Moore & Bush, 2016)

What's it about? Plucky rabbit Judy (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) becomes a cop in the animal-populated city of Zootropolis. To prove her worth, she must team up with sly fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) to investigate a spate of missing person....er......missing animal cases.

Is it any good? A fun mix of animal animation, social commentary and crime story. As you might expect the animation is glorious, with several sight gags and inventive action sequences. The story offers up a spin on the classic LA detective story, albeit with a cast of animals instead - not so much neo-noir as eco-noir, eh? Amirite?! And there's a moral message about the dangers of stereotyping, racism and xenophobia, which is slightly muddled in what it's trying to say, but at least it's trying to say something, goddammit. At least it's doing that. Ultimately, it's not quite the stuff that dreams are made of, but it's got Idris Elba as a water-buffalo and that's alright by me, baby.

I don't trust you. What do others think? At the time of writing , it's one of the most successful films ever made, breaking the $1billion dollar threshold to break into the Top 25, not a bad showing for a film with no in-built guaranteed audience. Rather amusingly, given the genre it apes, it also goes under the alias of Zootopia, presumably because it's got a deep, dark secret it's trying to run away from.

What does the Fonz think? Can I call it an animated film noir? Or is that being racist?

Buy it on Amazon

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)

What's it about? A juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison) and his reluctant foster father (Sam Neill) form an unlikely bond after they become the subjects of a manhunt in the New Zealand outback.

Is it any good? *counts syllables on fingers as he goes*

A sweet little film /
It brought a smile to my face /
I had a good time

(That review will make a lot more sense if you've seen the film)

I don't trust you. What do others think? It's the little feel-good film that could of 2016. From humble, low-budget beginnings, strong word of mouth has made it the most successful New Zealand film of all time, with audiences and critics alike falling for its quirky qualities and gentle charm. There has been much acclaim for the appealing performances of Dennison and Neill as the mismatched buddies, but writer-director Waititi has also come in for praise, with high hopes that he can now infuse the upcoming big-budget Thor:Ragnorak with similar heart and lightness of touch. And not content with writing and directing, he also turns in a very funny cameo as a church minister.

Anything else I should know? I was all set to review this as a kind of gently comic First Blood remake, only with an old man and a fat kid going all commando in the woods, instead of a muscled-up Rambo. Only for the the film itself to make that very joke about halfway through! Which means I'm as smart and as funny as Taika Waititi. So why isn't anyone paying me millions to make a Marvel film? Anyway, I had to resort to a haiku instead. 

What does the Fonz think? All good, bro!