Monday, 19 June 2017

Strong opening weekend for 47 Meters Down

Johannes Roberts' shark pic 47 Meters Down, which I make no apologies for constantly plugging, took $11.5 million in its opening weekend according to Box Office Mojo.

It was the third highest opener after Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me and, inevitably, Cars 3 (both of which are aimed at very different audiences) and the fifth highest grosser overall with Wonder Woman and The Mummy still performing predictably strongly.

Entertainment Studios Founder, Chairman and CEO, Byron Allen said: "We are very happy with our first wide release, 47 Meters Down. The movie is perfect for the summer, and an absolute crowd-pleaser as indicated by our outstanding per-screen average."

This is the biggest US opening weekend for a British film since Spectre in November 2015.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Johannes Roberts - a retrospective

With ten(-ish) features under his belt, Johannes Roberts can lay claim to being one of Britain’s busiest and most successful horror movie directors. This Friday, his shark film 47 Meters Down – starring Claire Holt, Mandy Moore and Matthew Modine – opens on 2,270 screens across the USA (having already taken nearly half a million dollars at the Italian box office). Here’s a round-up of how Jo got from microbudget indies to the (well-deserved) big time. (Dates are first English-language release.)

Sanitarium (2003)
Co-directed with James Eaves (Bane, The Witches Hammer) this microbudget tale of unethical drug trials and weird goings-on in a hospital was shot in 1999. I actually saw this in Manchester in 2000 in its original two-hour cut entitled Diagnosis. The released, retitled version was heavily re-edited, incorporating new footage starring (bizarrely) Uri Geller.

Hellbreeder (2004)
Another joint effort with Jim Eaves, this is a confusing, clown-filled tale of a woman hunting a serial child killer. The cast includes Dominique Pinon (Delicatessen) and West End star Darren Day. It’s a re-edit of an unreleased film called Alice which the IMDB confusingly lists as a separate production.

Darkhunters (2004)
In Jo’s first solo picture, Pinon is a dead teacher being hunted by two demonic private eyes, one of them played by Jeff Fahey. Special effects by Tristan Versluis and Tim Berry. Shot as The Chosen and the Damned. Ernest Riera, now Jo’s regular co-writer, first worked with him on this film, co-directing the Making Of.

Forest of the Damned (2005) – US title: Demonic
Young people travelling in a camper van get attacked by ‘fallen angels’ (naked women with fangs). This is my least favourite Johannes Roberts film, not because it’s any worse than the preceding three but because it’s generic and formulaic. Cameo by Tom Savini as a random nutter. Shot as The Forbidden Forest. Most notable for launching the careers of British horror regulars Eleanor James and Marysia Kay.

When Evil Calls (2006)
I think this is Jo’s least favourite of his creations. It started life as a series of clips on mobile phones, documenting the spread of a Monkey’s Paw-style curse in a school. The cast includes Jennifer Lim, Lois Winstone, Chris Barrie, Marysia Kay and Shaun Hutson (as a zombie). Sir Sean Pertwee filmed a series of linking monologues as a caretaker to string this into a feature, released on DVD in 2008.

F (2010) – US title: The Expelled
There’s a clear dividing line between Jo’s first four (or five) features which are (over-)ambitious, wild DTV B-movies and his later films which are much more controlled, slick and powerful theatrically released features. This dark, school-set hoodie horror has an embittered teacher (David Schofield) and his teenage daughter trapped by faceless, supernaturally athletic, murderous youths (played by parkour athletes). While the media was talking about “demonising young people”, Jo was taking the idea literally. Scary and gripping, this showed his talent and re-invigorated his career.
Roadkill (2011)
This American TV movie for SyFy is the one Johannes Roberts feature I haven’t seen (yet). Some kids get cursed by a gypsy and attacked by a giant bird, apparently.

Storage 24 (2012)
Noel Clarke wrote and starred in this enjoyable monster movie about a group of people trapped in a self-storage facility with an alien beastie that has escaped from a crashed military transport plane. Unpretentious sci-fi/horror fun.

The Other Side of the Door (2016)
Set and shot in India, this Monkey's Paw-influenced ghost story has a grieving American mother travel to a temple where she can be temporarily reunited with her drowned son. She is under strict instructions to talk to him through the door but not open it. Of course, she does and something evil comes through. Terrifically spooky, this was produced by Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance, Hills Have Eyes remake) and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It was released on 330 screens in the UK and 550 in the States.
47 Meters Down (2017)
And so we come to this brilliantly scary and gripping shark movie in which Ms Moore and Ms Holt are sisters on an unlicensed cage dive and Mr Modine is the skipper who hasn’t checked his chains recently. At one stage this was going to be released straight to DVD as In the Deep, but at the last moment that release was pulled and distributor Entertainment Studios decided this should be seen on the big screen, which it absolutely should.
Future projects
Johannes is currently directing the sequel to 2008 hit The Strangers. He is also developing Hearts, an adaptation of the main story in Stephen King’s collection Hearts in Atlantis, and The Plague in which an unstoppable disease sweeps the planet. Meanwhile Paul Hyett is attached to a Roberts/Riera script called The Pool (‘Cujo in a swimming pool’, apparently!).

I’ve known Jo Roberts for quite some time now. It’s been a pleasure to follow his career and it was an honour to publish the first review of 47 Meters Down last year. I hope it’s a huge success and that Jo continues to provide us with some of the very best British horror films around.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Almost here at last - Spidarlings

I first ran a teaser for Spidarlings way back in March 2012, since when it has been not only on my British Horror masterlist (in the Coming Soon section) but also on my unofficial Looking Forward To list.

Salem Kapsaski's long-awaited punk horror comedy musical finally gets a VOD release next month - courtesy of my dear old mate Lloyd Kaufman. A handful of British films have been distributed by Troma in the past, including Alien Blood, Dark Nature and The Evolved Part 1. But Spidarlings looks easily the most Tromatic and is a perfect fit for Uncle Lloyd's venerable corporation.

Here's the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
  
New York, N.Y., June 3, 2017 - Greetings from Tromaville!

Troma Entertainment, the longest running truly independent film company in American history, is proud to announce the acquisition of Salem Kapsaski's punk rock musical Spidarlings, World Premiere on Troma Now July 1st, it was announced today by Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and creator of The Toxic Avenger.

Poverty stricken lovers Eden and Matilda have enough trouble just getting through the days...Their Landlord is trying to terrorize them and strange things seem to be going on at "Juicy Girls", the place where Matilda works...but when Eden buys a pet spider the real troubles start.

While creating Spidarlings, Director Salem Kapsaski drew inspiration from his own real life experiences with financial struggles, a ruthless landlord, and relentless threats to his family from an unstable individual. These real life experiences mixed with influences from John Waters, I Love Lucy, Lloyd Kaufman, Peanuts cartoons and an amazing musical score by Jeff Kristian are what makes Spidarlings a totally original, remarkable independent film.

Spidarlings will premiere on Troma Now, Troma Entertainment's exclusive content streaming service, July 1st!

Spidarlings stars Sophia Disgrace (whose numerous BHR credits include David VG Davies' Monitor and Animal Soup plus Three's a Shroud (also for DVGD), The Shadow of Death, Paul TT Easter's Thumb N It and the as yet unreleased Rock Band vs Vampires); model/actress/painter Rahel Kapsaski  (sister of director Salem); Lee Mark Jones aka Gypsy Lee Pistolero (Theatre of Fear, Bella in the Wych Elm and currently-in-post Werewolves of the Third Reich); former Jawa Rusty Goffe (more recently in assorted Harry Potters) and Uncle Lloyd himself.

You can find out more on Facebook. Meanwhile, here's the trailer, complete with glorious Troma ident:

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Why 47 Meters Down could be the biggest British horror film ever

Obviously it’s not being marketed as a horror film. Or indeed as British. But that’s no reason for us not to celebrate a genuine homegrown success that has the potential to be a huge commercial hit.

Twelve months ago I reviewed Johannes Roberts’ shark thriller 47 Meters Down which I had the good fortune to see at an industry preview. I’ve been following Jo’s career since Sanitarium and, after he upped his game with F, I’ve been seriously impressed by his output. It’s great to see somebody go from shooting micro-budget DTV silliness like Darkhunters and Hellbreeder to name-cast, well-budgeted, well-promoted theatrical releases. (Discover Jo's film history here.) And 47 Meters Down will be the biggest yet.

Seventeen years ago, the sole ‘big screen’ outing for Diagnosis (the original, longer cut of Sanitarium, without Uri Geller) was a VHS tape and a projection TV in a Manchester hotel suite. Jo’s latest will open on 16 June across 3,000 US cinema screens courtesy of Freestyle Releasing, part of Entertainment Studios. To put that in context, the last British film to get a release like that was Bridget Jones’ Baby. [In the end it was 2,270 screens - MJS]

Entertainment is putting a huge amount of money behind this release, which means they expect/hope that this will be a big hit, eclipsing last year’s The Shallows and other recent entries in the non-dumb shark movie genre.

Is 47 Meters Down a horror movie? Hell, yeah. The old IMDB lists it as ‘horror/thriller’; a recent Variety story called it “this summer’s open ocean survival horror” and it’s getting coverage on lots of horror websites. So yes, it’s a horror movie.

Is it British? By George, yes. Although it has three American stars, the film was made by a British production company. James Harris and Mark Lane were the producers and their firm is quaintly called the Tea Shop and Film Company. Bournemouth-based Outpost Effects provided the CGI sharks. Where is more British than Bournemouth?

Most of the film was shot in a water tank in England (Basildon, apparently). As The Chamber demonstrated recently (set off Korea, shot in Cardiff), once you’re underwater, your actual location on the globe is irrelevant. An English or Welsh water tank looks no different from any other. That said, the sunny bits of 47 Meters Down on the beach and on the boat were shot in the Dominican Republic. Because, you know, Basildon…

Unused DVD sleeve, from Amazon.
Slightly complicating matters is that 47 Meters Down almost went straight to video. Which is of course not the sign of a poor film (just as a theatrical release isn’t a sign of a good one, which is why Transformers sequels still play cinemas). Dimension were all set to release the film on DVD and VOD, retitled In the Deep (ironically the working title of The Shallows), via Anchor Bay on 2nd August last year. At the last moment, Entertainment offered to buy the rights and Dimension pulled the release, but not before review screeners had gone out. Which is why some people say they have seen the film already.

The IMDB also lists release dates for the Netherlands and Singapore. No word on a UK release yet. I guess it depends how well the movie does in the States.

In terms of British horror films, the over-rated The Woman in Black, which claims to be the biggest-grossing UK frightflick of all time, had a US opening weekend of $20.1M on 2,855 screens. Let’s see if Jo and his team can knock that pompous rubbish off the top spot.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Boots on the Ground - exclusive stills

My old mate Louis Melville (The Last Horror Movie, Man Who Sold the World) has sent me some exclusive stills from his new war/horror film Boots on the Ground. Plus some info. The film is now deep in post, just finishing the sound design and starting on the final sound mix. Expect a trailer next month and an exclusive first review here in due course.

Press release:
Boots on the Ground is a ground breaking British horror film, making cinema history by being the first British film to be shot entirely by its actors wearing 4k head cameras, replicating the video technology used by modern combat troops to record real-time action footage. The film mirrors the style of 1st person shooter video games and combat documentary footage seen in TV shows such as the BBC series 'Our War'. Add to this visual mix a good dose of classic chiller horror in the vein of 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'The Haunting', and what emerges is Boots On The Ground.

Synopsis:
Hindu Kush, Afghanistan October 2014. War ends at midnight, all five British soldiers have to do is stay alive till then. After surviving a firefight the five British soldiers try to find a safe haven to sit out the rest of last night of the Afghan war. Trekking through woodland they come across a large imposing British fort dating back to the first British Afghan war of the early 19th century. On nearing the entrance to the fort they see five other British soldiers entering. With great relief they also enter the fort but find it eerily unoccupied. Where have the other British troops gone, did they really see them?

As the night unfolds and their mission is finally explained to them, they find themselves engulfed in a labyrinthine nightmare of seemingly un-combatable forces from another realm. Time itself seems to move in inexplicable ways to the point where they question their own reality. Who will stay alive till midnight, will any?

Jeezus! That;s the single most horrifying thing I've ever seen!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

British slasher Clown Kill (formerly Lock In) out in May

Three years ago I reviewed Lock In, the debut feature by Mark J Howard. It was a fun slasher about a woman trapped in an office building with a psycho dressed as a clown. The film was available on VOD via the VHX website, and also played at the 2014 Horror-on-Sea.

Lock In has re-emerged, rebranded with the more obviously exploitative title Clown Kill, and is scheduled for release on both sides of the Atlantic next month. Wild Eye Releasing put out the US disc on 9th May. Left Films release the British DVD the following week.

The British sleeve features the actual clown from this film. Dunno who that is on the US sleeve. British clowns deemed not sufficiently creepy for American audiences presumably.


One reason for the film’s revival is that lead actress Jessica Cunningham is now a reality TV star. She was on The Apprentice last year and in January she was briefly on Celebrity Big Brother. Apparently.

You can find out more about the film at www.clownkill.com or on Facebook.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Can't wait to see... the new Dr Blood's Coffin remake

There haven’t been many remakes among recent British horror films. There’s been the odd one, like Stalker, which was a remake of Exposé aka Trauma aka The House on Straw Hill aka whatever, and Beast in the Basement which is a little-known remake of Beast in the Cellar.

Now here comes another one. Producers Arnold Basket and George Brain of Basketcase Productions have commenced principal photography on a remake of 1960s classic Dr Blood’s Coffin. Slightly retitled as Dr Bludd’s Coffin.

Here’s the synopsis: In a remote Norfolk village, people are disappearing and the dead are walking! Could either of these mysteries be connected with Dr Peter Bludd who has recently returned to his home after being thrown out of medical school for unethical experiments? Hazel Parker, secretary to Peter’s neurosurgeon father Sir Arthur Blood, investigates – and finds more than she was expecting…

So roughly the same plot, albeit transposed from Cornwall to Norfolk. The script is by Charlie Roper and Harry Parsons and the director is Bert Handy, all making their feature debut.

Arnold Basket (Dracula in Dunstable) stars as Peter Bludd with Bill Boosey (Hoodie Hellfire) as his father and Vic Flange (also in the recently announced Strippers vs Werewolves sequel) as Hazel Parker. The cast also includes George Russell, Charlie Hawkins, Harry Sutton and Frank Wilkins.

Dr Bludd’s Coffin is now in post and should hit the festival circuit exactly one year from now on 1st April 2018.