Film reviews

Fright / Killer Sofa / Itsy Bitsy / And Soon The Darkness / Holiday Hell – Horror Round-Up

Fright (Blu-ray)

Sometimes a little known genre film comes along and surprises you. This is the case with 1971’s British horror, Fright. The surprise element comes from the fact that you don’t see it mentioned amongst the classics or regarded as an influential film despite it doing the whole “terrorised babysitter” thing seven years before John Carpenter released Halloween in 1978 which set the stall for the 80’s slasher scene in general and all the imitators that followed. But ideas come from somewhere and everyone borrows from everyone at some point, so you can’t help feel that Fright must have been viewed at least once by somebody connected to what eventually became known as the slasher movie.

Fortunately for horror fans, Studiocanal have released Fright as part of their Vintage Classics Collection, so people can now visit, or revisit, a film that may have done quite well at the time of release but is perhaps unfairly ignored when it comes to mentioning some of the most important and influential films of the genre.

The story itself will be familiar to horror fans: a pretty young babysitter, Amanda (Susan George) arrives at the family home of Mr and Mrs Lloyd (George Cole and Honor Blackman) to look after their young son while they go out for an evening meal. It’s not long until strange noises are heard around the old house and Amanda thinks she sees someone watching her from the living room window. Is it just her loveable rogue boyfriend (Dennis Waterman) or is someone/something more disturbing lurking in the bushes around the Lloyd residence?

Although the above might look all too familiar, in 1971 there certainly wasn’t much like it, and director Peter Collinson (The Italian Job, Up the Junction) does a great job creating the feeling of fear and building tension throughout as it reaches its exciting climax. Although the formula would be much improved in later films such as 1974’s Black Christmas, and of course Halloween, Fright has an air of suspense throughout thanks to its likeable female lead and classic British cast giving strong performances, and Collinson’s interesting and at times captivating shots.

Extras for this release include interviews with star of Fright, Susan George, and critic Kim Newman plus a behind the scenes stills gallery. – Adam Massingham

Fright is released on Blu-ray by Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection on 14th October.

READ MORE: 3 From Hell – Blu-ray Review


Killer Sofa

The title says it all, though it should be pointed out that the poster art makes this thing look way more deadly than it actually is.

So how do you screw up a movie about a killer armchair? Well, mainly by trying to play it deadly serious while not having a cast with the acting chops to really pull it off. At its core, the idea is one that could have been fun. A creepy stalker with an interest in the occult decides that if the object of his affection won’t give him the time of day, then he’ll just have his soul put into something innocuous and have it delivered to her home so he can watch her and be close to her. This leads to the creation of what’s called a “dybbuk” and things go from there. There’s some voodoo tossed in, past lives, and weird attraction powers, but all in all it’s just a bit of a mishmash of ideas. Oh, and there’s a twist ending, because of course there is.

All sorts of chair based shenanigans could go on here, but sadly there’s actually precious little. The serious tone they attempt to strike just doesn’t work when trying to convince an audience that they should be scared by a piece of furniture. There’s a couple of good chair kills (how often do you get to write THAT in a movie review?) but all in all the film is just very flat and, well – kind of boring.

The design of the evil recliner itself is well done, with a surprising amount of personality being communicated through such a blocky design. There’s also some decent practical gore which is always worth an extra star on a review from me (have I mentioned how much I detest CGI blood?) but beyond that it’s difficult to even recommend this as a film to invite friends round to see.

The cast do try to sell the concept of a deadly recliner, but it just doesn’t work when the underlying premise is just so daft. Nathalie Morris, playing Maxi, is one of the high points of the film. Jed Brophy is also rather good as Inspector Gravy but none of the performances are likely to blow your socks off, with character revelations and motivations being casually tossed into conversation with as little impact as the infamous “I definitely have breast cancer” line from the now-infamous The Room.

A movie about a demoniacally possessed killer sofa SHOULD NOT BE BORING but sadly that’s the only takeaway here. This film is unfocused, not particularly well acted and commits the cardinal sin of being a slog to get through. In the words of Angry Joe “You done fucked it up.” – Shaun Rodger

Killer Sofa is out now on digital release.

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Isty Bitsy

When a young mum drags her family from New York to the Mid-west after a nursing job offer gives her the opportunity to escape memories that have been haunting her, it seems like a perfect time to re-invent herself and give her and her two kids a fresh start.

Sadly for Kara (TV regular Elizabeth Roberts) she hasn’t got a clue about the history of the place she’s going, and that the ancient relic that is being held in the house is a beacon to an evil entity wanting revenge for the theft of its artefact. The entity, taking the form of a not-so itsy bitsy spider, takes it upon itself to terrorise the family and Walter (Bruce Davison – X-Men), the man that brought the family to his home.

Directed by Micah Gallo – who worked on visual effects on Hatchet and FrozenItsy Bitsy has a pedigree behind it that should elevate it a little amongst a sea of low budget independent horror films. Unfortunately, all the cool monster effects – and they are pretty cool –  can’t rescue the film from some flat script writing and performances that would make B&Q jealous for the amount of wood on screen.

Essentially a haunted house movie that substitutes ghosts for a giant eyeball eating arachnid, Itsy Bitsy flies through the indie horror playbook in a paint-by-numbers fashion. Is there a thing under the bed? In the wardrobe? Kids hiding under the covers and not believing the warnings they’re getting. It all adds up to a film that telegraphs every story beat and every scare. It’s not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t do anything original or memorable and being this bland and all but forgettable may be a worse crime than making something terrible. – Andrew Brooker

Itsy Bitsy is out now on digital release.

READ MORE: VIFF 2019 – Week Two Round-Up


And Soon The Darkness (Blu-ray)

Suspense/mystery horror, And Soon The Darkness is the second 70’s British horror Halloween release from Studiocanal. Set in France, in complete daylight and in wide open spaces, And Soon The Darkness takes a Hitchcock-ish approach to an extent: it includes lots of mystery, suspense and red herrings, and uses the nice French countryside surroundings to its advantage.

Two young nurses, Jane and Cathy (Pamela Franklin and Michelle Dotrice) are on a cycling holiday in France. When they end up rowing, Jane leaves Cathy to her own devices. However, when Jane comes looking for Cathy later, she seems to have vanished. Could this be down to the handsome stranger (Anders Eles) they see at a café in the opening scene who appears to follow them? A series of strange meetings and events make Jane’s search all the more confusing and eventually terrifying.

And Soon the Darkness works as it becomes more suspenseful. As it goes on we are introduced to interesting and sometimes odd characters that will have the viewer guessing throughout. There aren’t any real jump scares or much in the way of gore, but like its rerelease partner, Fright, And Soon the Darkness relies on its air of mystery and tension to get viewers’ attention. There are a few scares however, and these are mostly well done thanks to its somewhat realistic feel. A highlight of this is director Robert Fuest’s (Wuthering Heights, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again) decision to not use subtitles in the French speaking scenes within the film. This helps us relate to the confusion of our lead characters, and with the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia Jane and Cathy must feel in a country you assume is previously unknown to them.

With its exciting, slightly brutal and far from happy ending, which itself still carries that air of mystery into the end credits that we’ve had throughout the majority of the film, And Soon the Darkness might not be a brilliant film but it’s certainly an intriguing watch and well worth checking out.

Extras for this release include an interview with genre critic Kim Newman and audio commentaries with writer Brian Clemens and director Robert Fuest, as well as one with film historian Troy Howarth. – Adam Massingham

And Soon The Darkness is out now as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection.

READ MORE: The Village in the Woods – Review


Holiday Hell

It seems that every aspect of Christmas has been featured in a horror film, with killer snowmen and rampaging Saint Nicks all there for the viewing. Sometimes something new can surprise but more often it just repeats what’s come before. Holiday Hell is just that. A rehash.

This horror anthology is framed by a woman searching for a present in a creepy curiosity shop. The shopkeeper is played by the always spookily-delightful, Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), and the brutal truth is that he is the only saving grace of the entire film. His performance, as he tells the stories behind certain objects for sale, is entertaining, but there is precious little of him, and all that is left are some remarkably bad attempts at horror.

‘Dollface’, set on Valentines Day (which was confusing given how the rest were wintery offerings), had some of the better jump scares, but the acting was universally poor and the deaths caused howls of laughter. If it was meant to be comedic then it succeeded but it seems unlikely that it was. ‘The Hand that Rocks the Dreidel’ is a Hanukkah tale that features the overused killer doll trope. The doll is creepy, but the deaths are again laughable, and the build up slow and dull.

‘Christmas Carnage’ is more what you’d expect from this sort of film. Downtrodden man goes on a murderous rampage, dressed as Santa, after taking some untested dementia medication. ‘Room to Let’ is a little better than the rest, but its attempt at a Wicker Man feel ends up leaning more toward the Nic Cage version rather than Edward Woodward’s. Not much can be said about this one without being too spoilery, but it’s perhaps the least abysmal.

To sum up, fans of Combs will get a kick out of him camping it up in all the scenes he’s in, but the rest of the film falls flat, lacks any true horror and is far more miss than hit. – Helen Balls

Holiday Hell is available on Digital and DVD from 5th November.

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