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(Directed by Christopher Smith)

'Homeless people don't go missing, homeless people *are* missing.'

The problem with remakes and same-named films is that online searches and talking to people won’t necessarily get you the results you expected. For instance, someone discussing either Halloween or The Thing could be talking about one of three films, all released in different decades and by different directors. Nuts, isn’t it? No wonder Scream went back to numbers for Scream VI. Likewise, Chris Smith’s directorial debut in 2004 has been unfortunately overlooked in recent years because of Patrick Brice’s (admittedly excellent) film of the same name in 2014, as well as its sequel. That’s a shame because it is an excellent spiritual successor to Death Line, Gary Sherman’s seminal London Underground horror from 1972. Horror movies set primarily in human-made train tunnels are few and far between, which is odd as urban explorers love the shit out of them and they’re generally as scary as hell when deserted. It’s the first feature-length film to be written and directed by Christopher Smith, who also gave us the cult-ish Triangle several years later, along with other interesting Brit horrors such as Severance, Black Death, and the recent Shudder offering The Banishing.

Starting with a prologue of two sewage workers finding hidden spaces in the underground and being attacked by something unseen, it quickly moves to the bustling streets of the capital city, where we meet Kate (played by well-known German actress Franka Potente). During a night out and travelling to a party, she drunkenly falls asleep on the platform of Charing Cross station. Waking up and realising that she’s been inadvertently locked in, she stumbles onto a late-night train heading for the depot. Bad luck is definitely dogging her because she’s then attacked by a slimy work colleague who’s been unknowingly stalking her. “Luckily” he suffers the same fate as the sewage workers, which accidentally rescues Kate from his grimy clutches. From that point, she’s set on a nightmare journey where underground workers and members of the homeless community both help and hinder her. She is pursued throughout by the deformed titular character, the lone survivor of a medical facility hidden in the labyrinthian depths, who kills victims in bloodthirsty ways for food, shits, and giggles.

Creep is a low-budget Brit horror that punches well above its weight and provides a satisfying experience for genre fans. It played the Frankfurt Fantasy Film Festival that year, as well as getting a Frightfest special screening. The fact that it is a co-German production probably explains the choice of Potente in the lead role, but it is a very effective casting decision. As well as giving a slightly fish-out-of-water quality to Kate, she also gives extra depth to the role which could have been a generic “final girl”. Initially presented as a slightly aloof and arrogant city worker who has little time for empathy or the welfare of others, she is gradually stripped of her less-admirable qualities as her yellow party dress gets grubbier and more blood-stained. This results in a final scene that is as ironic as it is satisfying.

Genre fans may also be interested to see nuanced character actor Sean Harris in the title role. Perhaps best known for his villainous role in the Mission Impossible films (Solomon Lane), horror buffs will be well aware of his unique style of acting from such recent cult films as Possum and The Green Knight. Apparently, he scared the bejesus out of Potente and the rest of the cast by staying in character and full make-up for the majority of the production. Whilst it took four hours for Harris to apply the FX for the look of the sun-starved cannibal, it’s not wildly gross or unrealistic. But it's the mannerisms and actions of the character that gets under the skin. The most disturbing moment occurs during a genuinely queasy sequence that sees the Creep performing a mock “operation” on a victim (including fake hand-washing), as he imitates medical procedures he glimpsed in an earlier part of his life. Except it consists of a large knife being rammed where it shouldn’t be!

The plot is quite atypical of low-budget horror, with a fair amount of subtlety being given to the origin of the antagonist. Incidentally, we learn his name is the distinctly unscary “Craig” due to a medical bracelet, which is a nice touch. Whilst his history is ambiguous, his actions are definitely not. Some victims are dragged into the darkness, but others are gratuitously cut or mauled, and there is a crackerjack slaying at the end which involves chains, throats, and trains! Overall, although it might be categorised as exploitation horror, with some grimy scenes leaning towards so-called “torture porn”, it feels mature and inventive for the most part. Making Kate an initially dislikeable character and having her make questionable decisions, without resorting to the old “screaming-and-tripping-over” tropes, is a smart move. As are the scenes that fill in the details of “Craig”, without stopping the story, dumping exposition, or spoon-feeding the audience.

It's a brisk and likeable horror, which never outstays its welcome or its premise. Although Smith swears that it is more based on the Underground scene in An American Werewolf in London, and not Death Line, it feels thematically similar with the subterranean grime and gore ramped up for modern tastes. It should be better known and more appreciated than it currently is, as a good example of what can be achieved when the right amount of direction and innovation is merged with a good cast and a great premise. In the cold light of day, some of the narrative is blatantly daft (it would be next to impossible to get locked in a tube station overnight, even 20 years ago with less sophisticated CCTV), but that’s beside the point. Look it up and find out why people hate waiting for that last train.

Fun Fact: Ironically, the original film posters were initially banned from being displayed on the London Underground, because the image of a bloody hand on a train window was seen as “too disturbing” in context. The producer Julie Baines hilariously mocked this decision by saying that it was “… not based on real events - if it is, we’re all in trouble.


(Directed by Zak Penn)

'They say show me the evidence. I say show me the non-evidence.'

Despite “Nessie” being one of the world’s most extensively documented and beloved cryptids, there have been very few effective genre films based on this underwater “horror”. They’ve either been family movies where cuddly plesiosaurs befriend kids (Loch Ness in 1996), documentaries, or absolute schlocky crap-fests such as The Loch Ness Horror (complete with inflatable dinosaur head), Beyond Loch Ness (Brain Krause), or The Evil Beneath Loch Ness (Patrick Bergin). In all honesty, this probably does not stand on its own as a horror film as such, but it certainly contains enough genre elements to make it worthy of attention for this year. Incident at Loch Ness is actually a “mockumentary” and satire on the movie business more than anything else, but carries an element of found-footage horror with it, as well as more cheeky narrative layers than a cheap frozen lasagne. Directed by Penn, who has plenty of inside knowledge of movie-making having scripted Marvel films and made real documentaries, this is a massive in-joke and wink at the film industry. The trailer makes it look like a news-worthy debacle during a National Geographic-type production, but it’s much more complicated than that. Occasionally pretty damned chilling as well.

Starting with an ambiguous shot of a “body” floating in the water, it sets up the main premise with excerpts from a documentary about Werner Herzog. Yes! That Werner Herzog. And he’s the lead character in the film. It’s Werner Herzog playing (a version of) himself. Turns out old Werner has a bit of an obsession with the existence of Nessie, but he thinks it’s purely a psycho-visual creation rather than a physical beastie. Typical Herzog. Anyway, he works with Penn (also playing himself) to produce a documentary called “Enigma of Loch Ness”. As the shooting commences, tension arises between Herzog and Penn as it becomes clear that the rookie producer is aiming to turn the project into a more “profitable” exercise by hiring actors to play experts and “comic reliefs”, as well as a hint of subterfuge with a potentially FX-created creature. However, when they go on location at the Loch, they seem to be capturing “real” footage of a “real” creature and are potentially putting themselves in extreme danger.

Again, it’s worth noting that this is a playful effort and not meant to be taken seriously. But believe it or not, the lake sequences and associated scenes are genuinely scary. Rather than show animatronics (or cheap CGI), the presence of the monster is adequately shown by physical water wakes and a leathery hump in the water, which may or may not be “real”. An outstanding set of scenes shows characters being thrown into the ice-cold and misty lake, with one being apparently “attacked” by Nessie. Another specific scene (*slight spoiler*) has a wet-suited Herzog floating on the Loch’s surface and filming, apparently catching a glimpse of a monster as it barrels past him underwater. For all the tricksiness and humour in the film, these moments capture a real sense of uneasiness that has never been captured by any other lake monster film so far, similar to the guerrilla filmmaking that Spielberg used in the classic Jaws when the animatronic shark model played up. For that reason alone, it is worth catching. In addition to all that, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you get.

In addition to the typical genre influences and found-footage horror aspects, film fans (and we all come into that category, don’t we?) will get a kick out of the sheer bravado and meta qualities shown by the film. Herzog takes the piss out of his own persona, Penn plays a believable shifty and amoral version of a film producer, some industry faces make cameos (such as Jeff Goldblum in a Hollywood party), and the whole plot revolves around a film in a film about something that may or may not be faked. It might not be for everyone and even the trailers are misleading, portraying it as a real-life drama that occurred during a shoot. As long as you are aware of all this, it’s an entertaining watch and the verbal sparring between Herzog and Penn seems to be a bit too realistic to be entirely faked.

It’s something of a “lost” film with physical copies being incredibly hard to get hold of, although it does pop up periodically on some streaming channels such as Amazon and others. A lot of people are not even aware of its existence or Herzog’s leading role in it. An acquired taste maybe, but a fascinating and fun one. If nothing else, it proves that an excellent found-footage film of Nessie could easily be made. Can someone get to it?

Fun fact: Playboy model and actress Kitana Baker plays a supposed sonar expert on the crew’s boat, who is later revealed to be Playboy model and actress Kitana Baker. In later interviews, she allegedly offered to provide some full nudity in the role to “help video sales”, but Penn politely declined her generous proposal.


(Directed by Yong ki-Jeong)

Not to be confused with several other films of the same-ish name and DEFINITELY not to be confused with the many, many entries in the Puppet Master franchise or Annabelle rip-offs, this is an effective South Korean horror film. The best-known examples of K-horror are wonderfully creative films such as The Wailing, I Saw the Devil, and of course Train to Busan. But this neat minor feature is as close to a Korean version of gothic fear as you’re liable to get and one which neatly exploits the uncanny-valley quality of mannequins as well as children’s toys. Featuring a K-cast and crew that you will probably never have heard of or will see in anything again, it nonetheless produces a frisson that is ideally suited for late-night viewing.

Set up with a typically unsettling version of a folk tale, 60 years in the past a talented dollmaker creates a figurine in the likeness of his beloved wife, who always wore a red kimono. However, after she is murdered, he is accused of the crime and killed by vigilantes. The spirit of the murdered wife is believed to have inhabited her doll and kept watch over her husband’s grave. Spinning forward several decades to the present day, an eclectic bunch of K-teens arrive at a dilapidated doll museum with the impression that models of them are going to be sculpted and produced. Cue mysterious deaths, Scooby-Doo running about, and the classic revenge-from-the-grave framework. But perhaps all is not what it appears.

Arguably, this is overly complicated for a general Western audience, especially with some of the spiritual beliefs and the elaborate narrative. Having said that, this is nonetheless worth seeking out for those looking for offbeat K-genre, which seems to have been as inspired by Giallo and old-dark-house movies as much as local mythology. It is especially notable for the truly creepy life-size dolls and the ambience of the whole film as much as anything else. As expected, the “museum” is a gothic mansion with very little light. But thunder crashes, lightning strikes, and people hide terrified in dark closets. It’s almost like a Hammer horror in Korea. There’s also a pleasing twist in the tale, with the spook in the Kimono not necessarily playing the part in the proceedings that you would guess, nor do the potentially-possessed dolls.

What it really gets right though is the “ick” factor that comes with larger dolls and the feeling of uneasiness that they provoke in most of us. Joints creak subtly, heads move nearly imperceptibly, and feet slip slowly from beneath kimonos. One outstanding sequence has a character hiding in a darkened cupboard from an antagonist. In the darkness beside them, a life-size doll’s face gradually emerges from the pitch-black, pauses, the eyes slowly roll to meet their victim, and an inhuman hand slides across their mouth to stop their scream. Text-book terror. You’re getting the creeps just from that description, aren’t you? Admit it.

Not well-known at all, this was actually an impulse buy for one of us but exceeded expectations. If you like your dolls to be creepy and gothic, rather than Chucky and stabby, this could be right up your street. Hell-oh! Dolly.

Fun Fact: The film cheats a bit by stating that the dolls on display are decades old. However, many of them featured are modern ball-jointed dolls which would only have been made fairly recently. This includes some of the first models that would go on to be the basis for some of the familiar AI “robots” that are now freely available on the market and seen in various tech presentations.


(Directed by James Wan)

'Let the game begin!' James Wan is perhaps the most successful horror film-maker of the 21st century. Peele, Aster, Eggers, Shyamalan and West and co may have made some individually excellent genre movies but in terms of successful output over the last twenty years, Wan is King. Although he has gone on to dabble with action (Furious 7) and comic book fare (Aquaman), most younger horror fans will probably associate Wan with his supernatural ghost train movies like The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious (2010), with the former kicking off a whole series of loosely connected films known as The Conjureverse – which have gone on to make huge bucks. Wan's last genre offering was 2021's Malignant, a completely barmy love letter to B-movie body horror. But Wan's roots were not grounded in ghosts and spectres. Quite the opposite. The film that catapulted him into the big time was also one that birthed a whole new (often maligned) sub-genre, torture porn. And that film was 2004's smash hit, Saw.

After they had finished film school together, James Wan and writing partner Leigh Whannell decided to fund and make their own film. Inspired by the success of ultra low budget sensation The Blair Witch Project, they agreed that the most affordable way to shoot their own feature would be with a minimal cast in one self-contained location. Initially they had mused the concept of shooting a story in an elevator but Wan then pitched his friend an idea of two men chained up on opposite sites of a room, with a dead body laying in the middle of the floor – with the two protagonists then trying to piece together how and why they were there and most importantly, how they get out. And that's effectively the set up for Saw. Adam (played by Whannell himself), a photographer, wakes up to find that he's chained up to a manky old bath tub. Opposite him is Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), a successful oncologist and between them lies the corpse of an apparent suicide victim, clutching a microcassette recorder. When both Adam and Lawrence find a tape in their back pockets, they attempt to retrieve the recorder. But when they listen to their recordings, they realise that this isn't just some extreme prank. They're very lives are at stake...

We've had so many sequels now, each progressively ramping up the levels of gore and torture, that it's easy to forget that Saw is actually relatively restrained in comparison. Yes there are a handful of scenes of brutality but the genius lies in the innovation behind the traps and life or death choices our protagonists are forced to face. There is also a real sense of mystery to it too. We are in the dark as much as Adam and Dr Gordon. In fact, even more so, as there are clearly things that these two are hiding and holding back. It's a whodunnit and a whydunnit. And although for the majority of the film we are in an escape room type situation, the story is allowed to breathe through flashbacks (a couple of which are genuinely nightmarish and an indicator of the type of horror that Wan and Whannell would go on to do) and through Danny Glover's obsessive detective character, who is searching the city for the person(s) behind the spate of recent killings. And then there's the ending. Some critics have incorrectly labelled Saw as torture porn, when in reality it is an occasionally nasty thriller loaded with twists and turns and none are more jaw dropping than the final denouement.

The profit margin of these movies is breathtaking. All nine Saw movies to date have been made at a total cost of under $100m, yet they've raked in over $1bn worldwide. Even 2021's disastrous Spiral made a profit. This October will see the release of the tenth instalment of the franchise (Saw X). Whilst we can't realistically hope that it matches the original in any way, if it manages to recapture just a little of what made it so great, it'll be worth watching.

Fun fact: Fun fact: Director James Wan built the Jigsaw doll for the film.


''Sometimes, spirits long for their loved ones...'

By 2004, Asian horror and its influence on the genre was still very much being felt. Late nineties and early noughties titles such as Ringu, Kairo, Audition, Dark Water and Grudge had made a big impact and we were in the early stages of seeing a cycle of American remakes. Gore Verbinski's The Ring had been a huge box office success and The Grudge (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar) would also go on to make a tonne of cash too. Most of the gems that were being unearthed from the east were predominantly from Japan (J-Horror) and Korea (K-Horror). Thailand wasn't really on the horror map however. Sure, there had been a couple of half-decent genre films (including Nang Nak) but it wasn't until 2004 that western audiences sat up and took notice. Whilst Art of the Devil, also released in 2004, deserves some recognition, it is Shutter, directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom that stands out.

On their way home from a party, a young couple, Jane and Tun, are involved in an road accident. I mean, there's always a risk of that when you insist on pratting around and not looking at the road when you are driving. Anyway, they hit a woman and although Jane wants to get out and help, Tun talks her out of it – telling her that their lives will be over if they go to prison (very I Know What You Did Last Summer). So instead of doing the responsible thing, they drive off. Bloody kids eh? They try to go back to their normal lives. Tun is a photographer and gets a bit of a fright when he's in his dark room one day (ahh, dark rooms. Remember those?) and notices some odd shadows and faces in some of his photos. Jane thinks that they may be images of the girl they ran down and left for dead. Tun is having none of it but when people in his life start dying, he and Jane begin to realise that maybe they are being haunted by a vengeful spirit...

If the uncanny frights offered up by the big dogs of J-Horror (Ringu, Grudge) are your thing then Shutter will go down a treat. Like all good variations of these types of genre films, there is a procedural element in the middle where our main character(s) try to work out just what the hell is going on. And it's also got that desaturated, washed out aesthetic that we've all come to expect as well. But perhaps more so than its contemporaries, Shutter feels as if it much more concerned with just lashing on the dread and scares at every opportunity. You think that they might lose their effectiveness, but the film manages to haunt us in a variety of ways. A lot of them are camera related as you'd expect, with unseen apparitions appearing on polaroid photos just seconds after they've been taken being one of the most used (and delightful) tropes used. There is one great scene about halfway through where we see a batch of photos from 'real life' hauntings that are genuinely skin crawling. The film also manages to make its antagonist genuinely frightening. There's an almost pervasive atmosphere of unease throughout most of the running time and that's because when we do see the malevolent spirit, her physical appearance alone is enough to make you recoil.

And then there's the ending. Man alive. It's foreshadowed quite smartly a couple of times earlier in the film, during a couple of moments that seem notable yet not carrying any real significance. But the reveal is completely stomach churning and presents an image that's not easy to shake. Technically, Shutter is a solid movie. The acting is sound, the direction assured, but it's the sheer abundance of scares and carefully crafted atmosphere that make this a stand out. Pair it with Ringu and you'll have a hell of a double bill (and probably a bit of a sleepless night).

Fun fact: The film was the biggest box-office hit in Thailand in 2004, and was also a hit in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brazil.


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