Censorship is the Very Definition of EVIL! “Censor” reviewed! (Magnet Releasing / Digital Screener)



British film censor, Enid, views video nasty after video nasty day in and day out, certifying ratings based on the realism of the violence, and receiving public hellfire when a gruesome murder is vilifies her approval of a film.  After viewing one in particular that strikes a familiar nerve, one involving around the circumstances of her little sister’s disappearance from years ago, she digs deeper into the filmmaker’s background, piecing together a puzzle that her sister may still be alive.  With her parents given up hope declaring their youngest deceased and under mounds of criticism pressure from inside and outside of work, Enid’s lone rove through distasteful filmic horror and probing the crew involved sends the censor into a frantic frenzy between what’s real and what’s not. 

For the record, just so we’re clear between you and I, film censoring is a complete crock that limits artist expression and can negatively alter the tone of work far from the original message or effect.  I can see where censorship is necessary for the greater good when considering public television that aims to evade young eyes from extreme violence, gore, nudity, and harsh language while still appeasing adults with a semi-intelligible cut of the film, but to have the MPAA, or any censor board for that matter, do what they do in order to classify and certify a rating to meet a criteria is a slap in the face of personal responsibility.  Yes, some individuals need a rigorous structure to tell them what to do, but you know comical and asinine when there are three different cuts of a film in the U.S. market, not to forget to mention all the various versions around the globe to sate countries distinct regulations and requirements.  Luckily, Prano Bailey-Bond’s immersive reality checking horror, “Censor,” makes no assumptions on the matter and we can just enjoy the dark side of story based off the UK filmmaker’s 2015 short entitled “Nasty.”  The story, set in the 1980’s at the height of violent and gory VHS movies known as video nasties, is co-written by fellow “Nasty” writer Anthony Fletcher and is produced by the London based, female operated and story-driven Silver Salt Films as the company’s first feature credit and is financially supported by the Film4, Ffilm Cymru Wales, and BFI.

If not for Irish actress Niamh Algar in an virtuous cyclone encompassing lead of Enid, a stern censor agent, the dismal atmospherics whirling around Enid’s processing of possible new evidence in her sister’s vanishing wouldn’t be as timorously potent.  The “From the Dark” and “Raised by Wolves” actress embodies a strong stoic stance of not only a censor with a target on her back every time the public blames her for ill-fated news involving the extreme films she approves, but also as a woman in the workplace who is subjected to subtle objectifying by male coworkers, in which some are more privately outspoken than others, and male film producers with a diminutive eyesight of her professional demeanor by making unwanted advances in lieu offering their support to make their films depicting rape and murder of usually female victims more approachable and marketable to the censor board.  Algar perfectly poises Enid in her ticks, the abrasive fidgeting of her nails against each other or the slight rolling back of her shoulders that makes an awful, unnatural cracking sound, sharpen Enid’s complexion.  Even Enid’s hard gulping is felt in unison of the tension of a woman on a verge of sudden collapse.  Clearly the film’s one and only frontrunner as we dine off Enid’s sole perspective, Algar runs off with “Censor’s” gloomy tone by her performance of unwavering convictions blended with throbbing agitation in her character’s repressed explosion trajectory.  Supporting players do their part living in Enid’s unique vision with Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Clare Homan (“Afraid of the Dark”), Andrew Havill, Guillaume Delaunay (“Victor Frankenstein”), Richard Glover, Clare Perkins, Danny Lee Wyner, Vince Franklin, Nicholas Burns, and Michael Smiley (“The Nun”) as a topnotch sleazy extreme film producer rounding out the cast.

Performances all around are stellar and the idea is sound as I can see a video nasty censor of the 1980’s fall victim to the job because of an unclear and checkered past, but problems with pacing jet Enid from composed posture to immediate wreck in a blink of an eye without much of a fundamental development for unravelling being greatly depicted other than the jarring movie that sends her spiraling for answers.  This doesn’t hurt “Censor’s” main theme of the inconclusions of what really drives the murderous animalistic qualities in all of us regarding nature versus nurture.  The longstanding idea that video nasties promote influential violence and sordid behaviors has been the talk of controversy for decades and science, at least none of that I’ve read, hasn’t 100% proven that extreme films dictates the mind’s will other than those impressionable in the sponge-like children.  Bailey-Bond decides not take a stance in declaring a clear cut opinion, merging both assumptions together in a mesh of madness still leaving the theorists spinning their notions and evangelical nuts spewing their anti-liberal arts sermons.  What really sells “Censor” for me personally is the tell all climatic finale of Enid’s disturbing outcome in a warped contraview, flipping back and forth through the static of the back button during the times of higher numeral, unsubscribed pay-per-view channels where glimpses of picture pop into the frame for a split second.

“Censor” is nowhere near what’s consider a video nasty, but the Prano Bailey-Bond psychological thriller still has the grip of an inexorable depth for what’s to come, for violence, far from hitting the cutting room floor as the film heads to theaters June 11th and on demand one week later June 18th from Magnet Releasing. Shot in two aspect ratios, more so in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio than in the pillarbox 1:33:1 to reflect the video nasty format in the time period, Bailey-Bond and director of photography, Annika Summerson, continue to stay as true as possible to the Golden Age of 80’s horror by shooting in 35mm in a handful of various style to blend Enid’s reality with the fiction of lurid dreams and the daily grind of workplace hazards (which, to me, watching horror movies all day long sounds like a dream job! The censoring part, no so much). Runtime clocks in at 84 minutes with no wiggle room for bonus scenes during or after the credits. The Brits have always had a hell of a go with film censorship, weaponizing and vilifying for political gain, as films become the lamb for the slaughter for public outcry against social-economical woes, even arts bedeviled by the harsh censors of it’s own country, and “Censor” aims to be the carrier wave of that historical downspout of misguided judgement while also shredded the thin moral fabric of one woman’s reality into tiny bits of off the rocker guilt.

One Can’t Just Pray Away EVIL in “The Banishing” reviewed! (Shudder – Vertigo Releasing / Digital Screener)

Set in a backdrop of Great Britain on the very brink of world war against Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a small English community has nearly lost it’s entire faith in the Catholic church after the last priest suddenly and mysteriously died.  When a young vicar is offered a generous stipend, the village parish, and a large estate by the region bishop to restore a congregational foothold, he brings with him his new wife and stepchild to make the house their home, but the house has a dark history that might have played a role in the previous vicar’s death and a lone, eccentric occultist urges the family to vacate the premises immediately before the house swallows them into grave danger at the haunted hands of sadistic monks, ghastly visions, and a tormented soul roaming the corridors. 

If the prim-and-proper social class structure of Julian Fellows’ “Downton Abbey” collided with the volatile and tormented spirits of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” then Christopher Smith’s pre-wartime staged haunted house feature, “The Banishing,” would be the outcome.  The period piece horror marks the latest installment into the genre from the Bristol, English-born Smith who made a name for himself with 2004 dark subway corridor heartstopper, “Creep,” and went on to make cult favorites amongst genre fans with the workplace violence satire, “Severance,” and the medieval bubonic plague film, “Black Death” starring Sean Bean and Eddie Redmayne.  “The Banishing,” a term used as the practice within the supernatural ambit of dark magic to ward off negative spirits, is a UK feature co-written between David Beton, Ray Bogdanovich, and Dean Lines.  Maya Amsellem and Sharon Harel-Cohen serve as producers under the London-based WestEnd Films production banner with “The Banishing” marking their fifth completed feature film product and with the nearly worldwide distribution rights landing with AMC Network’s popular horror streaming service, Shudder, in partnership with Vertigo Releasing in the UK.

“The Banishing” revolves mainly around Marianne, the newly-wed vicar’s wife with a young girl along for the ride, played by Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey,” “Victor Frankenstein”). Findlay endows Marianne with vitality as a woman who must meet the vicar’s standards of Godliness, but still be a strong mother to her child despite disreputable social standing. The priest Linus (Essex-born John Heffernan) lacks experience in the field of his cleric position, lending to question why the region bishop would appoint him to a muster a flock of faithful Christian followers during turbulent times. The husband and wife dynamic between Linus and Marianne is marred by dissonance backgrounds of a priest who doesn’t know to be with a woman and a woman who can’t escape her socially unflattering past. Heffernan and Findlay ignite as repellants of the same magnetic currents when the harder they try to extend their relationship, they push each other way, with Findlay giving a fervent performance. Speaking of performances, Sean Harris bares the most intriguing and rollicking local occultist. The “Mission Impossible: Fallout” actor parades around as Harry Price, a likable, straight-shooting outcast and a believer in the supernatural with extensive, and ghastly, historical knowledge on Linus and Marianne’s new home. As Price aims to extract the hapless from danger, he butts heads with a headstrong region bishop, a stern and solemn role secreted with distrust from John Lynch who has worked on a Christopher Smith film previously in “Black Death.” “The Terror” actor juxtaposes starkly against Harris as a character who dons a likeness to the clown prince of crime in costume than a dull agent man of the cloth…with secrets to uphold. “The Banishing” rounds out with a supporting cast in Adam Hugill, Jason Thorpe, Jean St. Clair, James Swanton, and Anya McKenna-Bruce as Marianne’s daughter, Adelaide.

Set convincingly in a quaint, 1930s English town, Christopher Smith transports the audience back in time to the predated anxious moments before World War II that would upheave turmoil across all across Europe, but though that fretted lingering of war is set as the backdrop for “The Banishing,” and is coiled around every man who served in the first Great War that brought up more than once, the root of the narrative ultimately becomes the house Linus and Marianne have come to call their home.  Haunted house films surmise the house as a built-in principal character because of either the way the architecture affects the mental or physical wellbeing of it’s flesh and bone counterparts or if the abode is actually possessed and set to harm the inhabitants in a personification of pure evil, as such with various films of this caliber (“House,” “The Haunting,” etc,). Yet, Linus and Marianne’s estate failed to become a part of the narrative limelight despite the immense grounds that compromised of a large greenhouse and a robust library complete with fireplace and the disconcerting labyrinth of a dungeon-esque basement full of barred enclosures and close quartered corridors.  Nearly every interior shot felt like a new section of the house hat kept extending upon, what would be assumed, a grand mansion that had a longer rap sheet by reputation in being a former religious torture chamber run by sadistic monks hellbent on whipping the sin out of the mentally tormented. Smith always had an eye for the unsettling visuals and sustains that feng shui by allowing time and space to be the inner horrors of a funhouse, but doesn’t evoke clean, unadulterated terror that continues to profusely bleed into the film’s climatic cause-and-effect unraveling. There is a lack of a transformative realization and a small hurtle of sedated possession to figure out that the main presence in the house, amongst the other more malevolent presences, wants something and the characters are spoon fed each and every morsel to get them up to speed. The final scene of the bishop meeting with the Nazi regime intended to leave the story open for supernatural possibilities, but felt like a more poignant and compelling crux leading into Nazi occultism, hinted by the eccentric resident occultist Sean Harris.

Morosely dramatic and haunting, “The Banishing” is an aggressive salvo of facing shame head-on, creeping into UK cinemas and digital platforms on March 26th courtesy of Shudder and Vertigo Releasing. Director of photography Sarah Cunningham has an remarkable ability to engulf the actors in the space of the shot, making them seem diminutive to the rooms that feel like a giant hand looming overhead, and with the bare, hard lighting, the cinematography is really where “The Banishing” shines as gothic cladding without a stodgy spot to speak visible. Cunningham adds all the hallmarks of a horror film with titled angles, brilliant reds, and tight shots on tense faces to garner a more anxiety that never actually pans out by the end. The organic electro duo TOYDRUM score the 97 minute film with a single note droning hums at various pitch levels that can really get inside your head. The “Prevenge” composers set up scenes with a ill-founded fears when nothing presently visible is intended to fright. There were no bonus scenes during or after the credits, but one scene to note is Sean Harris waltzing with an uncredited woman during the opening credits that seems out of place but speaks to the aberrated decorum of his character. “The Banishing” works tirelessly to discredit shame by confronting truth and while we’re being beat over the head by the message, the overlay of horror is lost despite some brilliant and engrossing performances from Findlay and Harris who usher us through to the imperfect conclusion.

Closer to Evil and God. “A Frankenstein Story” review!

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Victor, a pioneering and experimental genetic scientist, has done the impossible, cloned a living human baby and named the girl Elizabeth.  Obsessed with learning from his creation, Victor works tirelessly, neglecting his wife and two children.  He also neglects a dark secret from his past that threatens everything he’s worked for and achieved.  Religious group and lawful prosecutors blind him from the underlining and he continues with his research, diving deeper into the mysteries of Elizabeth.  When Victor’s dark past catches up with him and reveals itself, he becomes forced into protecting his family and his creation Elizabeth from harm.
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The Billy Senese sophomore written and directed film about the inevitable consequences of cloning shares a familiar similarity to being an adult version of Larry Cohen’s monster baby macabre “Its Alive.”  Instead of hideous and murderous Davies baby, “A Frankenstein Story” caters more to realism with a deformed, genetically developed child growing up in pain and in secret.  Senese tunes into a style that’s comparable to the likes of “Contagion” director Steven Soderbergh, soaked in a contrast of composure and slightly solemn.
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The “A Frankenstein Story” title is a UK title.  In the USA, the film goes more recognizably under “Closer to God,” which is a line withdrawn from the film, and while I do think “Closer to God” is a more suitable title, the gothic-like title has holds water in an off color way.  Aside from a man creating a human out of biological genetics instead of using body parts and electricity, the Senese film homages the old Mary Shelley tale in some other respects.  Lead actor Jeremy Childs plays Victor and we all know Victor is a the first name to the titular character Victor Frankenstein in Shelley’s story.  Also, Senese, wether intentionally or not, has envisioned and dressed Childs as the creator and the monster.  Victor is toweringly tall, freakishly broad shoulders, and has a square like face, making him appear like The Creature.
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Senese’s narrative has promise at the very beginning and the very end with everything else in between being quite stagnant in developing and displaying Victor’s awfully well hidden secret.  There also isn’t any exposed motivation between Victor, and some of the other characters, in behind the laboratory conceiving of Elizabeth.  The only conclusion that’s explicit is that Victor becomes obsessed with being God, a very fine line between being human and the Almighty, putting the science more in the background and putting his fatherly strides first in defeating nature.
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The High Fliers Films DVD hit retail shelves in the UK this past Tuesday, January 25th.  The disc was a DVD-R review screener and contained just the film so I can’t speak upon or review the bonus material or the film’s quality.  However, we’re not totally sold on Billy Senese take on the mad scientist genre, even with a semi-favorable review.  The last 15 minutes is intense, tragic, and compelling that the second act needed so desperately to keep interest and to keep the story developing along.

Evil Science! Frankenstein: The True Story review!

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Frankenstein’s Creature hasn’t receive much love lately. The piece by piece monster hasn’t seen much screen time fame since the 1970s and the latest big screen installment didn’t fair too well in theaters with highly Underworld rip-off film I, Frankenstein. To get any good Creature action, we have to travel back in time to the 70’s when Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee dominated the Hammer horror gothic scene and take a good look at the British tele-movie Frankenstein: The True Story.

With the loss of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s young brother William, Frankenstein looks for ways to cheat death. He embarks back to medical school where he meets the unethical physician Dr. Henry Clerval and together they create a new species of man from the body parts of several tragic accident victims including the mind of Henry Clerval who collapses and dies before the Creature’s “birth.” Frankenstein soon learns that his creation is nothing more than abomination that continues to decay and tries to disconnect from the whole situation until Dr. John Polidori takes upon a new creation of man.
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The two part television movie series from 1973 can really suck you in for multiple reasons. For starters, the Jack Smidght film has a fair amount of graphic content from severed arms and separate heads from their necks; a great assumption scene. Secondly, Frankenstein: The True Story is right smack in the middle of the Golden Age of the Gothic horror era and though the cast doesn’t include Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, the tele-cast is full of life and vigor. A young Jane Seymour plays the young, beautiful tragic leading lady, David McCallaum who you might know as the doctor from NCIS and, who ironically enough, portrays a mad doctor in this film, and 1966’s Romeo & Juliet star Leonard Whiting.

The setting yells period piece and this the production value dried up that budget to the bone. The extravagant sets lends a hand to the epic nature of Frankenstein and his Creature, but this sets don’t include the natural and standard definitions of a Frankenstein mythology. For instance, yes, there is a laboratory overloaded with machines and mechanisms, but instead of electricity to bring the Creature to life, the use of the sun’s energy becomes harnessed for life which has been unchallenged by any other film (or literature) that I am aware.
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The story doesn’t following conventional storytellings. The Creature is shown as strong yet child-like, fairly usual, but then as the Creature is being discarded from society and his creator, he wonders on his own and learns how to love. With a twist catalyst in the second half of the film, the Creature’s compassion turns human and tragic. Michael Sarrazin’s portrayal of the Creature is fair to say at the least with some unintentional humor elements. I found myself chuckling at times rather than feeling compelled in a purposefully compelling scene. The child-life Sarrazin more than likely is suppose to be a bit funny and I don’t fault his portrayal to the extent as it may seem in this write up.

Second Sight release of Frankenstein: The True Story is a great edition to the label. Enriched with Technicolor and soaked with Gothic details, the film’s orgasmic battle between the creator and the creation is great symbolism between man and his creator. Though I believe the release to be heavily edited, this is still a great release.