Reporting back on the annual onslaught of splatter, suspense and downright depravity that is the UK’s premier horror weekend, we at the Horror Asylum present our top four recommended choice cuts. Scalpel, please…
Hot on the gore-drenched heels of shock horror sensation V/H/S comes another unrestrained orgy of supernatural carnage that finds its directors’ creative juices in full, unflinchingly visceral flow. Featuring an acclaimed array of talent whose respective credits number such genre hits as The Blair Witch Project, You’re Next and The ABCs of Death, V/H/S/2 sees two private investigators unravel the sinister truth behind the disappearance of a college student. Revealed through a mysterious collection of sinister video tapes, this awaited sequel far surpasses the shock value of its predecessor, with its evidently larger budget having been put to violent, visually arresting effect.
But however generously steeped in gore this found footage video nasty may be, there’s equally no shortage of visionary substance to be savoured in its thick and fast assault of robotic eyeballs, zombies, murderous cults and alien abductions. As heavily festooned with entrails as it is rendered with impeccable comic timing, Ride in the Park sees a zombie outbreak lay waste to a merry woodland jaunt in a chaotic rampage of gore and hilariously observed slapstick. Penned around the intriguing premise of a mechanical eye that offers its owner a terrifying glimpse into the spirit world, Phase I Clinical Trials winds up on a supremely violent finale that’s leaves viewers squirming throughout the auditorium.
But it’s Gareth Evans’ deliriously twisted Safe Haven that forms the indisputable standout of the four segments when a team of Indonesian reporters set about making a documentary on an incestuous commune. With its chilling apocalyptic visuals and free-flowing gore recalling a touch of Silent Hill’s delectably dark atmospherics, Evans’ intelligent use of restraint and explosive special effects guarantees an epic and overwhelmingly chilling climax. Followed by an altogether weaker storyline in the hare-brained shape of Slumber Party Alien Abduction, such outstanding quality is scarcely consistent throughout. But even within these patchier moments, V/H/S’ trademark combo of mockumentary gore and depravity is nothing short of relentless.
NO ONE LIVES
Having been responsible for more than their share of straight-to-video stinkers, WWE Studios’ reputation for quality horror can hardly be described as sterling. But with No One Lives’ outrageous, ever-twisting plot and hilariously acid-tongued parody masquerading behind an apparent overload of genre clichés, appearances are seldom what they seem as Midnight Meat Train director Ryuhei Kitamura unleashes his latest genre-defying vehicle. In an artful move that features wittily-observed nods to the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, a gang of violent rednecks come to regret targeting an ingenious psychopath as their latest intended victim. As these slow-witted hunters soon become the hunted at the merciless hands of this superhumanly skilled assassin, a thick and fast assault of absurdly elaborate death scenes ensue to intensely gory, entertaining effect.
With this razor-sharp onslaught of harpoons, revolving blades and meat-grinders being rivalled only by the killer’s drily sarcastic repartee, Luke Evans’ softly-spoken psycho offers up an uncommonly intelligent glimpse into serial killer psychology. And with each despicable, oftentimes cowardly supporting character only enhancing his coolly calculating charisma, No One Lives blurs the boundaries between good and evil into something altogether more intriguing.
The nauseating, no-holds-barred insanity for which Cheap Thrills is fast becoming notorious may be the stuff of sadistic nightmares, but the real-life horrors of recessionary poverty from which this ripping yarn is spun make for an infinitely more affecting dynamic. And while mainstream critics will likely pigeonhole E.L. Katz’s stunning debut as uncomplicated torture porn, the harrowing desperation simmering beneath the movie’s ultra-violent exterior leaves a lingering impression on those who care to dig a little deeper.
Centred on society’s ruthless power struggle between the impoverished masses and the privileged few, the uncomfortably relatable beginnings of the story see failed writer Craig (Pat Healy) plunge into fresh depths of despair after losing his livelihood. Facing eviction and at a helpless loss to support his young family, Craig seeks solace at the nearest local watering-hole where he encounters old high school buddy Vince. As the downtrodden pair reminisce about bygone days, their nostalgic reflections take an incredibly twisted turn when a wealthy couple with a sadistic streak challenge the duo to a series of outrageous dares in exchange for cash. But what begins as seemingly playful, drunken tomfoolery soon escalates into increasingly sinister territory as we witness Craig sacrifice every last shred of dignity in his desperate pursuit of profit.
Furnished with razor-edged lashings of dark-hearted gallows humour, the question of how drastically poverty could compromise the moral fibre of even the most honest, law-abiding citizen is one that resonates only too well in today’s grim economic times.
WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
Not since Silence of the Lambs has cannibal horror been so intelligently orchestrated as in Jim Mickle’s intensely atmospheric retelling of Jorge Michel Grau’s art-house original, with the acclaimed Stake Land director defying this gratuitous but invariably brainless trend. In elegantly shot cinematography whose every mirthless, rain-sodden second is steeped in oppression and longing, We Are What We Are opens on the theatrically explosive death of the Parker family matriarch. Having instantly ensnared the viewer, Mickle takes ample time to unravel the many tantalising threads of this smouldering American gothic as surviving daughters Iris and Rose are ordered by their draconian father to continue a macabre family tradition.
But when an overflowing river begins revealing incriminating evidence of the Parkers’ cannibalistic activities, the family’s fragile, ritualistic world soon begins to crumble around them as slow-burning tensions escalate between its guilt-ridden daughters and their controlling patriarch. With its evocative, string-laden score and unforgivingly stark camerawork reeking of the dreamlike, emotional numbness of grief, these visually haunting atmospherics form a flawless backdrop for the movie’s tense, impeccably organic theatrical performances.
Exercising instinctive restraint that guarantees grippingly suspenseful viewing throughout, it’s only We Are What We Are’s clumsy, uncharacteristically gratuitous finale that might leave more discerning viewers with something of a bitter aftertaste.