Another week, another round up of my reads and views of late. The reading was a little light this week due to editing work taking priority, but still got to read some cracking books for pleasure. And watching movies really does take the edge off for me… so let’s get cracking…
#Russelreads w/c 14/08/23
The Suffering by MJ Mars: When are kids ever going to learn not to conduct séances in houses with a history of horrible events? When a Halloween séance unleashes trapped spirits in a cursed house-share, the students who live there find themselves by five terrifying spirits who are determined to do harm to the living… Can they end the curse before it ends up killing them? This Brit-horror from Mars covers all the spooky bases with its creepy old house, and some really nice set-pieces designed to set the reader on edge. Its a little bit of a chaotic start, and at times the large cast can add an overstuffed feel to events, but once it settles into its groove, this unnerving tale is sure to satisfy those looking for UK horror along the lines of James Herbert’s David Ash books.
Clown in Cornfield 2: Frendo Lives By Adam Cesare I mean, how could you resist any book with the title Clown in a Cornfield, knowing its a horror novel? I certainly couldn’t, and the first book by Cesare satisfied my inner Slasher movie fan, as a group of teens took on what seemed to be a killer clown but soon discovered that the mystery of Frendo was part of the town where they lives in ways far more disturbing than they could imagine. Now, a few years later, the Clown is back — but who are the people behind the masks this time, and what is their obsession with the survivors of the original terror? Cesare’s sharp novel kicks off at a hell of a pace and doesn’t let up till the end. Yes, its marketed as YA, but if you love your slasher movies, you’re going to want to pick up both books.
#Russelwatches w/c 14/08/23
The Witch Part One: Subversion (2018, dir. Park Hoon-Jung) A South Korean movie that somewhat defies description. Part thriller, part horror, part science fiction, the film focusses on a young woman with amnesia who realises she may have been part of a top secret project to create people with extraordinary powers. But this isn’t a superhero film, and suddenly layers of twists play with our expectations leading to a massively violent, thrilling and occasionally chilling finale. Is it a little overloaded? Probably. Is it tremendous fun? Definitely. I already have Part Two lined up and ready to watch soon… (viewed via VOD on Shudder.com)
Papillon (1973, dir Franklin J. Schaffner) One of those movies I always feel I should have seen, and yet for some reason never got the chance to until now. And, honestly, I realise now what I was missing. Based on the true story of Henri Charrière, a safecracker wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp in 1933 and sentenced to life imprisonment, this film is a showcase for the sheer presence of Steve McQueen and proof that he was more than just “the king of cool” (although, he was that, too) as he truly puts himself through the wringer acting-wise during an extended sequence where Charriere is put in solitary confinement. His escape attempts are thrilling, with some brilliant extended set-pieces amping up the tension in several places and the film finding some unexpected heart in the relationship between Charriere and fellow inmate, Louis Dega (played with nervy energy by Dustin Hoffman) that twists and turns through the film. Add to all that that it still looks absolutely stunning, and its easy to see why this is an enduring classic of film. (Watched via VOD on Prime Video)
Serpico (1973, dir. Sidney Lumet) Staying in 1973, this brutal based-on-a-true-story cop drama sees Al Pacino on top form as a cop who genuinely believes in the job getting a brutal reality check when he discovers that there is systemic corruption within the NYPD. Serpico risks his life, his reputation, and his relationships to try and root out the bad cops from the department and change a system that no one else is willing to question. This is 70s film-making at its most powerful, with a down-on-the-streets feel that captures the grit of the era, and a sense that the movie isn’t judging its characters as much as it is simply showing them for who they are. More than that, it isn’t afraid to accept that there are no easy answers to the question it poses; something made all the more powerful by the fact we are still dealing with a number of the issues raised in the movie. Provocative, powerful, and thrilling, this one’s just been re-released in cinemas for it’s 50th Anniversary. If its on a big screen near you, get out and see it the way it was meant to be seen. (Watched on the big screen at Glasgow Film Theatre)
The Pope’s Exorcist (2023, dir. Julus Avery) Okay, I’m a sucker for a possession movie. I’m also a sucker for a movie that leans into its own sense of madness, and while The Pope’s Exorcist — allegedly based on the real life writings of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Pope’s personal Exorcist — could have gone full in earnestness, it instead leans more towards the pulpy madness of its very premise, helped by a full throated immersive performance from Russell Crowe (speaking both Italian and heavily accented English that feels a lot more authentic than his Nottingham accent in Robin Hood) as the Vespa-riding, joke cracking Exorcist who goes to exorcise a young boy in Spain and uncovers a conspiracy that strikes at the heart of the Catholic Church. Along the way, he indulges in a spot of what is essentially tomb-raiding, confronts his memories of war, and chews all the scenery he can possibly get his chops around. It’s hardly new ground, and it is at times so ridiculous it fails to scare, but it is entertaining, and once again shows that Crowe is at his most entertaining when he’s allowed to show a little levity. (Viewed VOD via Amazon)
That’s it for this week, folks. Hopefully you might find a few things in here you’ll want to seek out yourself. Hopefully I’ll be back next week talking about some more of the books and movies I’ve been checking out when I really should probably be doing some more productive…