Thursday, 28 December 2017


The Christmas come and gone, but there’s a way to prolong the atmosphere. Here’s my 5 favourite Christmas themed horror films that will plunge you into the dark world of Santa impersonators, dark carols and blood on snow.

5. BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006 remake)

The original BLACK CHRISTMAS of 1974 predated HALLOWEEN by four years and was officially the first movie featuring a prank calls killer. There were so many of those in the years to come! But here I wanted to talk about the 2006 remake,a flim with cheesy gory fun, inventive kills, dumb victims and a killer twist!
The plot is simple – several hot female students are haunted and being dispatched one by one by a killer called Billy who had killed and ate (!!!) his mother many years ago on Christmas Day. Now he has escaped the mental hospital and is back to his old tricks. Crawling between the walls he relentlessly stalks his victims and in his imagination, by killing them, he turns them into the members of his future family.
The story is predictable, but there are few surprises in store. While the identity of the killer is never in question, there’s one WTF moment towards the end that I didn’t see coming. 
The clever set pieces are the strongest part of the film. The murders are inventive, with tricky cinematography. The kills are gory, but the gore is somewhat less on the screen than is implied. The weakest part is the suspense and some annoying personalities, but they all are dispatched before you know it. 
The BLACK CHRISTMAS remake is too shallow to be a horror classic and even with the geeks it has a bad reputation. It has outstanding production qualities, clever cinematography, and an interesting twist that I never saw coming.
Above all this film is just very entertaining and in my department it’s a job well done!

4. SILENT NIGHT (2012 remake)

Satirical, clever and scary this SILENT NIGHT remake is light years better than the original. A killer Santa anyone? Wearing a plastic mask and a fake beard this ogre-like killer punishes the sinners of the small town on Christmas day.
The main focus of the film, however, is on the local police constable Aubrey. Jamie King in the role is a breath of fresh air as a grief stricken detective who fights her inability to act in stressful situations. All the other characters are bordering on satire, including a miscast Michael McDowell, who looks too upper class and out of place as a small town sheriff.  None of the victims are particularly good people, apart from Aubrey’s father, and the reason why he is targeted by the killer will not be revealed until the very end. 
SILENT NIGHT at its core is a cop-movie, and it produces a good mystery where you don’t expect one. There is plenty of tension and horror on display and the kills are out of control brutal, with buckets of blood thrown at the viewer. The faults? All the victims are totally expendable, hard to care for, which is really a good thing, because they are being taken out in a pretty gruesome manner.
The movie improves when it is watched again, and is one of my favourite slashers of all time. A solidly made, suspenseful film, it has as much ability to shock you, as to make you laugh.


Getting to the top of the list we may be going into the territory of much better quality movies from a critical point of view, but these movies are actually much more fun.
RARE EXPORTS tells the story of a young boy who faces off with a demonic re-incarnation of Santa, but the film has a tone of a dark fantasy (similar to Gremlins) rather than horror. In the plot, an excavation site uncovers the ancient burial site of a demonic ogre Joulupukki, a creature from Finnish folklore who inspired the modern Santa. At the same time children around the countryside start disappearing… To stop the monster’s awakening and protect the children, including his best friend, little boy Pietari has to come up with a crazy and outrageous plan…
To say more would be a spoiler. 
RARE EXPORTS is a film from Finland, and reading the subtitles turned many viewers away. However over the years it earned itself a sort of a cult status.
RARE EXPORTS has a great sense of adventure, it has very little violence and there’s no gore, but it is scarier than SILENT NIGHT and BLACK CHRISTMAS put together. It is a bittersweet story of growing up and accepting the truth that Santa is not real… Or not quite what it’s meant to be.

2. KRAMPUS (2016)

KRAMPUS is as close to being a family horror movie as is possible. Written and directed by Michael Dogherty whose upcoming project is 2019 GOZILLA movie, it is a tale of a family terrorised by KRAMPUS (an evil demon who comes instead of Santa for Naughty families) and the army of his demonic servants.  Mostly done for laughs this satirical tale has many jump scares and is famous for its inventive monsters done with puppetry and practical effects, instead of CGI. 
New Zealand WETA STUDIOS did a fantastic job, each one of the creatures including Cherub, Christmas Bear and Gingerbread men deserve a movie of their own.
While KRAMPUS is mostly played out for laughs it still delivers plenty of horror, with family members, including children, being taken one by one straight to hell. The finale offers you to make a choice, and depending on what ending you want it can be a dark or a happy one.
KRAMPUS turns intense when you least expect it to and the monsters are so cool it seems strange this flick was under the radar for so long.
KRAMPUS is now available on NETFLIX, so it is about time to give this great movie some justice.


Here is the newest entry, and probably the most original Christmas horror film I have seen. It is also full of satire and dark humour (just like all of the above entries, why is that do you think?). 
In the story a young boy seeks the attention of his babysitter as his parents are out for Christmas dinner. Soon enough a stranger calls and some intruders break in. The kids have to survive by any means possible… 
seem familiar? You are wrong! Half way through, the movie makes a 180 degree turn, and this is its strongest and the weakest point. 

YOU BETTER WATCH OUT is a blend of HOME ALONE and Michael Heneke’s FUNNY GAMES. It is as funny as the first and as harrowing as the second. The young cast is fantastic, especially Levi Miller (last year’s PAN) who is at the centre of it all. By the end of the film you may feel that you have watched something you had not signed up to, but without a doubt YOU BETTER WATCH OUT is one of the most original horror flicks of the year.

And what is your favourite Christmas movie (horror or not)?
Please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 23 December 2017



Here is an unusual love story. Misako is a film interpreter, who writes a visual description for visually impaired moviegoers. Masaya is a famous photographer whose sight has almost completely deteriorated.

She is an artist, he is a critic. When their personalities collide something special is born.

The director Naomi Kawase has excelled at making documentaries, and her latest film RADIANCE, whilst being fiction, has adopted the documentary style. The ever shaking camera struggles to find focus, but it is a perfect approach to the story about visually impaired people. By the end of the film you get a little taste of what it’s like to not be able to see the world clearly or even see it at all.

The story is slow and the dialogue is minimalistic, apart from the scenes where the visually impaired viewers criticize Misako’s work, and when she and Masaya go head to head over scene interpretations. The romantic plot unfolds naturally and the chemistry between the characters, while fragile, is genuine. Their raw and vulnerable relationship is what holds the film together.

Kawase has created an interesting movie that celebrates endings rather than beginnings. Just like the characters of the movie struggle to find the right words to describe a scene, the director is searching for the meaning of loss, delivering her message in one word in a near perfect finale.

RADIANCE is a Japanese film, therefore is slow to unfold. Add the unusual visual style – and it can test the patience of an unprepared viewer. There are also multiple subplots (one of them includes Misako’s dementia suffering mother) that never find a proper resolution. The film could have benefitted from a tighter storytelling, but the end result is a somewhat dreamy exploration of life and love and the beauty of all things that are bound to end.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017



Kokone lives parallel lives. When she is awake she is a high school student, who is getting ready for her exams and making the next big step in her life. When she is asleep she is a magical princess, Ancien, who can make any wish come true by typing them into her magical tablet. When these two worlds collide, family secrets are revealed and the past comes knocking at her door.  Kokone has to reconcile her two worlds, and find the place where she truly belongs.

This is first feature length theatrical film of Kenji Kamiyama, who came from directing many TV anime, his previous works being Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East. He worked as a character designer for many projects, and has a unique, recognisable style. His storytelling, however, can be confusing for the unprepared. In a long running series there is plenty of time to fill in the gaps, in a single feature things unexplained can create confusion.

Switching between the real and the magical worlds the story often jumps forward, leaving things unresolved in both realms, just like an impatient reader would skip through pages, missing out important details. The other problem is the target audience. In the movie theatre beside me sat a woman with two kids. The five year old was bored to sobs and the thirteen year old was only vaguely interested. Despite the characters being high school and university students there is too much kindergarten grade magic involved. Wouldn’t a young adult have better things to do than chasing magic tablets and roaming around in a flying motorcycle a la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

The film is beautifully executed with the characters perfectly fleshed out. But while being incredibly entertaining it struggles with its identity - whether to be a low key family drama or an action blockbuster. The ending throws at you giant robots, Godzilla type monsters and massive destructions. And the finale is too sugar coated and far fetched to be satisfying. 

Boasting great production values and delivering very well written characters ANCIEN’s narrative is too inconsistent and too predictable to be involving.  Catering for a broader audience, the over the top ending, with no high stakes at hand, delivers to no one, making it just another well produced and expensive, but an average anime film.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017



A suspect in a double homicide is on the run. Police knows his identity, but it seems the man they are looking for has undergone extensive facial surgery and has changed his name. With the storytelling split between three suspects we get a charismatic hitchhiker, a dock worker and a gay man, all with mysterious pasts… but the story is not about them, it's about people beside them. Three tales of love, suspicion and mistrust. And murder, of course.

Based on a successful novel, RAGE is a perfectly structured piece of work. The only connection between the three sets of characters is the murder we are introduced to in the beginning. There is a father played by Ken Watanabe, who will do anything to save his daughter from her shameful past, but can any man truly love her unless he has something to hide?

A successful businessman hiding his gay persona  is reluctant to fall seriously  in love, but when a mysterious stranger comes along he struggles with trust issues. Will he be able to overcome them and accept who he really is?

And a young boy entrusts his newfound friend with a terrible secret. Is a betrayal of trust, by a friend, more hurtful than the one of a lover? And with what consequences?

It is amazing how a simple murder mystery can bring together so many dramatic elements, so many characters and feel so complete at the same time. What can be achieved in a novel often cannot be translated on to the screen, for many reasons; the short running time is one of them. This is why quality TV nowadays feels at times more satisfying than a film. RAGE has a superb script that divides attention equally between its many characters. There are some fantastic performances on display, many from the acting ensemble  have been nominated for prestigious movie awards. RAGE is hard to watch at times because of some disturbing sequences; it can also be manipulative, throwing melodrama at you, but all is properly measured and is never over the top. 

This is a thinking persons’ movie that succeeds in highlighting serious issues and delivering first class entertainment at the same time. Would you be quicker to accept that the one close to you is a dangerous psychopath, than fully trust him?  RAGE can be a very personal film. I was deeply touched by it, so will you be. 

Monday, 4 December 2017



Tanaka and Mitsuko are brother and sister who are trying to reconcile their terrible past. When Mitsuko is imprisoned for neglecting her baby daughter, Tanaka throws himself into the investigation of a terrifying murder case. A family of three has been slaughtered a year ago and the culprit is still at large. Interviewing one person after another, looking for a hidden clue that could be a motive for the murder, Tanaka slowly but gradually approaches the terrifying truth...

TRACES OF SIN is a labyrinthine movie that examines many characters who represent many levels of the social ladder in Japanese society. Focusing on the lives of the outcasts and the choices they have to make to adapt, the story slowly unravels the motives behind the crime, leading to some spectacular revelations. 

There could have been much gore in the film, but the filmmakers have chosen to “tell” rather than “to show”, focusing on the characters’ emotions instead. This creates far more unsettling moments than buckets of blood ever could.

On the acting front, Satoshi Tsumabuki’s performance of the damaged and secretive Tanaka carries the film forward and serves as a link between the many storylines and flashbacks of the movie. 

TRACES OF SIN is a typically Japanese dramatic storytelling, devoid of action, a slow burner and it takes all your attention to put the pieces together. The film requires concentration and will benefit from multiple viewings, although the slowness with which the story is unfolding may turn away some viewers. Not all the answers are given in the end, but it is an ending that delivers multiple twists that are well worth the time.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017



In a city of 10 million people Mika and Shinji keep on stumbling into each other. Is it fate or one of the meaningless coincidences of life? Mika is suffering from internal pain over the suicide of her mother and is obsessed with death. Shinji can barely see with his left eye and it gives him the impression that he can only see and discover half of the world. Can these two “damaged”people make each other complete? 

Director Yuya Ishii has based this movie on a poem, telling the story of two different people who do not belong anywhere. The film is a vivid portrait of modern Tokyo, it is shown as a place of isolation, where even in the midst of a crowd, one’s individuality dissolves. For the characters of the film it is both a terrifying and a liberating feeling.

During Q&A Ishii said that the first focus while working on the film was the sound, which is crucial to his work. In TOKYO images come first. They naturally transition into one another, and the short animated sequences are designed to throw you off balance and mark the conclusions and beginnings of the story parts.

The movie has many elements and ideas, some of them come to a resolution, some of them are just thrown into the mix, but the final result is a somewhat surreal painting, not just of Tokyo,  but of the modern world where the individual is exposed to too much tragedy and struggles to cope with everyday life. 

Mika and Shinji are one of a kind.  What they are both lacking is replenished by their humanity and their extreme sensitivity to the world. And even though both of them hate Tokyo no one understands it better than they do.

TOKYO is not your typical romantic movie. It does not flinch from the darker sides of life that are usually invisible to the naked eye. Dealing with themes of loneliness, death and isolation makes it one of a kind; a strangely uplifting love story.

Yuya Ishii during Q&A after the screening at ACMI,
Melbourne 26/11/2017

Monday, 27 November 2017



Steven has everything a man could aspire to - he is a successful surgeon, is rich and he has a beautiful wife and two children. But when he strikes an odd friendship with the young son of one of his patients things quickly spin out of control, leading to terrifying results.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is an eerie piece of cinema that is designed to shock, and when you think you get over it, it throws you off balance once more. 

It starts as a few awkward scenes between an older man and a young boy and, although their conversations seems quite innocent, it is easy to imagine the worst. Needless to say that where it’s all going will challenge expectations. 

Director Yorgos Lanthimos applies his signature style of dialogue, previously seen in his feature LOBSTER. It is intentionally detached and expressionless, but somehow it makes the viewer pay closer attention. The way the characters deliver their lines creates a dreamlike atmosphere, similar to the dark fairy tale world of The Brothers Grimm. 

All the performances are impeccable, but Nicole Kidman is a standout in the role of a pragmatic wife whose maternal instincts easily take a backseat when the circumstances require it. 

The movie gradually builds the atmosphere of subliminal terror until the gut-wrenching finale, which leaves you out of breath, but is ultimately satisfying. Some films project the light by visiting the darkest places. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is such a film.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017



The city morgue is flooded with new victims. A blood sample of a famous serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw is found under the fingernails of one of the corpses. While the law enforcement officers  are trying to cope with the idea that John Kramer came back from the dead, five people are fighting for their lives in one of the JIGSAW traps. Who is the new killer and who will survive?

If it’s Halloween it must be Saw. For seven years I had seen a Saw movie on the first day of its release, and this time wasn’t an exception. JIGSAW is the 8th instalment in the series that boasts extreme violence and promises a great final twist. The new chapter does not disappoint.

If you were hoping for a breath of fresh air for the franchise, JIGSAW will not deliver that for you, but it is a solid SAW movie the way some remember them. The gore is turned down a notch, and is shot with style. I personally believe that what you don’t see usually leaves a more lasting impression as one's imagination works overtime. 

As in many previous chapters before it, JIGSAW is a puzzle within a puzzle. One refers to the mystery of the five men involved in the JIGSAW game (this time it focuses on their whereabouts) and the second is the identity of the new JIGSAW killer. The film plays with the idea that John Kramer could have come back and goes quite far with  this premise, to say more would be to spoil the twist.

The final revelation is simple but elegant. It is not completely unexpected but trust me, even if you figure out part of the mystery, you will not get everything before the end.

The reliable score of Charles Clouser is a delight and will make great stand alone listening. Spierig Brothers had made a very wholesome SAW movie. It does not defy expectations but delivers on all fronts.