Decapitated By A Letter Opener: Dr. Lauren & Darren Review SoHome Festival Part III – Day Two’s Feature Films

Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. Lauren is currently binge watching Season 1 of The Mandalorian and by the time this goes to press she will be binge watching Season 2. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth

Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren is probably going to be kicked out of a watch party group fairly soon because his suggestion for an upcoming movie is The Severed Arm. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

THE USUAL WARNING FOR SPOILERS APPLIES HERE BUT THERE’S FAR LESS BAD LANGUAGE THAN USUAL – IN FACT, THE ONLY RUDE WORD HERE IS “WANKY”. OH, JUST MENTIONED THAT, APOLOGIES FOR THE BAD LANGUAGE. IT’S NOT REALLY BAD LANGUAGE THOUGH, IS IT?

Not content with bringing the horror crowd not one but two online horror festivals in 2020, Soho Horror Film Festival supremo Mitch and all-round lovely person Mitch Harrod only went and confounded our already pretty confounded expectations by springing a THIRD – count it! – festival on us!

Spoiling us all rotten with three more days of features and shorts, it’s no surprise that SoHome “veterans” Dr. Lauren and Darren were once again ready to sample more horrific delights from the comfort of their respective sofas, several miles apart, in accordance with lockdown rules. Settle back as our two horror hosts guide you through the feature films of Day Two, beginning with…

DANNI AND THE VAMPIRE (dir. Max Werkmeister)

Darren: The first time of Day Two was Danni And The Vampire which you missed but I saw.

Dr. Lauren: I’m sad that I missed this because I saw everyone talking about it on Twitter later on. It seemed as though this got a good reception.

Darren: It did. I think it was just about my favourite of the weekend.

Dr. Lauren: Really? What was it about?

Darren: Danni has made a bit of a name for herself by investigating otherworldly or paranormal phenomena. Her recent claim to fame is that she caught and killed the Jersey Devil.

Dr. Lauren: Okay.

Darren: She’s approached by two different investigative groups. One very much wants to kill them, another faction wants to save them. It turns out – and this isn’t a plot spoiler as you get to know this early on – Danni hasn’t killed the Jersey Devil, she let it go. The non-murderous faction want her to rescue a vampire from the more murderous one. She breaks the vampire out and they go on a road trip because Danni realises she has purpose in her life again and she can help the vampire achieve what he wants to. It’s a very strange mix of horror and indie relationship comedy/drama. There’s so much about this that couldn’t possibly work and yet it does.

Dr. Lauren; Right.

Darren: It’s sweet, it’s funny, the horror stuff isn’t totally full on but it’s still definitely horror. It doesn’t shy away from the bloodletting. It’s quirky and not in that way when people say quirky when they actually mean “wanky”.

[Dr. Lauren bursts out laughing]

Darren: It’s anchored by a brilliant performance from Alexandra Landau. She’s so good and her character is so strange. The story runs the risk of you possibly not liking her because she can be quite self-centred despite her vampire project. She makes some terrible decisions. Some of the things she does are utterly misguided. Even so, your sympathies are still with her through pretty much the entire movie. The end hits you properly in the feels, probably because it has quite a light touch up to then and hits you with….well, I won’t say.

[Dr. Lauren hasn’t gone to sleep – she’ll be back in the review shortly]

Darren: Also, the supporting cast is given stuff to do and have backstories. They’re not just the bad guys who show up every so often to remind you that Danni and her vampire are being pursued. They’re not even such bad guys but I’ll leave that for people to find out when they watch this.

[Get ready, Dr. Lauren is coming back to the chat imminently]

Darren: It’s really well written and I loved it. I hope Alexandra Landau goes to appear in loads more movies after this. Yes, everyone’s good in this but she carries the movie and she’s just great. Deservedly won the Best Actress award for the festival. I’d recommend it. It’s probably edging into my Top Ten horror movies of the year.

Dr. Lauren: Oh wow! Okay. That’s one to keep an eye out for, then.

Darren: Yes. It may not be for everyone as it’s a strange mix but it’s nice to see something which takes a number of different approaches and mixes them so successfully. It runs for an hour and forty-five and to be honest if you see a horror movie with that running time you do take a step back and think “Oh, hang on” and there’s that feeling that it’s probably going to drag but it doesn’t. There’s a lot going on. It’s funny. It’s sweet. It was a winner.

MEDUSA, QUEEN OF THE SERPENTS (dir. Matthew B.C.)

Dr. Lauren: Moving on to the second film of the day. I did catch this one.

Darren: Oh.

Dr. Lauren: I have to say, this did not do it at all for me.

Darren: I agree. After Danni And The Vampire, this was a bit a drop off.

Dr. Lauren: It’s a shame as the premise was interesting. It’s about a strange brothel which has been set up in a caravan park somewhere in Kent.

Darren: Yes.

Dr. Lauren: The main character, Carly, gets herself into a situation where she’s bitten by a snake and she’s somehow the reincarnation of Medusa and the queen of some weird snake cult.

Darren: On a strange level, it should work but for me I don’t think it did.

Dr. Lauren: I would have rather watched a slightly downbeat drama about what was going on with the brothel because that was really interesting. All the stuff about the snake was baffling and not very well done.

Darren: I would have preferred the horror to come from Carly having to turn to prostitution again and have it evolve from there. The monster and the body horror angle wasn’t needed. It came across as two different movies smashed together.

Dr. Lauren: That’s almost what it is. Listening to the director, there was what sounded like a more generic snake movie and then the Medusa angle was retrofitted to it. It did seem to be getting a lot of love, didn’t it get the Silver Award for Best Film?

Darren: It did.

Dr. Lauren: I’m glad people got something out of it but it didn’t do anything for me at all. I thought you could tell that there’d be last-minute changes made.

Darren: It did take turns in the plot that came from leftfield. As the cult came into it, it was as if they’d literally wandered in from another movie.

Dr. Lauren: Yes!

Darren: They were shooting a different movie about a cult in the next field and they strolled into this one. I can see the film’s intentions and I was really trying hard to get on with it but unfortunately I couldn’t.

Dr. Lauren: I was more interested in the drama about the girls working in the prostitution ring. That was quite well done but I’m not sure about them shoehorning the snakey body horror in there. I wouldn’t even class it as a body horror because any changes the lead character was undergoing were so sporadic. When you see something like The Fly, the changes undergone by the character are usually permanent things. Jeff Goldblum’s character’s diet changes and his behaviour changes and so on. In this film, it was so random as to what was happening. One minute she had snake eyes, then not. One minute her skin was going crusty but you didn’t really see any more of that for ages.

Darren: You didn’t see the deterioration that features in a lot of body horror movies and that gradual loss of humanity. Here it just seemed to switch on and off. I was expecting her to transform into full snake mode over the course of the movie and although that kind of happens eventually it’s not dealt with in a particularly consistent way.

Dr. Lauren: No. The bit at the beginning with the woman in the cult with the snake face, the special effects were limited so it was shot in the dark and they’d put a scarf over some of her face. That didn’t look good at all. It was an absolute misfire. Also, the main character’s transformation was complete when CGI snakes came out of her head at the end.

Darren: That was the money shot at the end of the movie but it felt as if there was something big needed to close it all off rather than it earning the payoff and the visual didn’t work for me. It did work for a lot of people but I was left a little thrown by what it wanted to be.

Dr. Lauren: I was kind of glad when it was over to be honest/

Darren: Alison [Darren’s inexplicably tolerant wife and horror widow for all of October and half of November] drifted into this while it was screening and she wasn’t grabbed by the way it was shot or the way it was acted or the pacing of it so from a non-horror fan’s perspective it didn’t land either.

THE RETURNED (dir. Laura Casabé)

Dr. Lauren: From something that didn’t work to something that really did – The Returned.

Darren: Yes. We’d both seen this previously at Abertoir and this was a fine piece of programming by Mitch. It’s an Argentinian horror film which delves into the effects of colonialism on that society, the huge gap between the haves and the have nots and the lengths to which those with the wealth will go to perpetuate or further their lifestyles. Or, in one case. one woman’s quest to have a child and how that all plays out.

Dr. Lauren; There’s a local folklore element in there as well and there’s witchcraft. Have you seen La Llorana on Shudder?

Darren: Yes, I have.

Dr. Lauren: There’s shades of that. It’s not the same by any means but it has shades of that. It’s dark and gritty and it’s not an easy watch.

Darren: Also, and I’ve heard this from you recently, it features one of the most, if not the most, realistic decapitations on film.

Dr. Lauren: I said that when we watched it at Abertoir. I stand by that assertion. There’s one decapitation in this movie and it’s hideous. You see everything, it’s awful and for my money I would say that’s the most realistic decapitation ever committed to film.

Darren: It isn’t the usual “one swipe and the head’s gone”. This goes on, and on, and on.

Dr. Lauren: I saw Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula the other week and when Winona Ryder decapitates Gary Oldman at the end of that it looks like she’s got a letter opener. She just whisks his head off with one hand.

Darren: If those letter openers are available to buy, they should take them off the shelves. There’ll be all sorts of accidents with those. You’ll have people saying things like “I’ve gutted the person who was standing at the side of me” or “I’ve chopped my fingers off, why have you made this so sharp?”.

Dr. Lauren: “I tried to open my council tax bill and I’ve chopped my hand off”.

Darren: That whole sequence is so grim and I stand by your view of it. The guy’s just hacking away at it. It’s absolutely gross. Really effective.

Dr. Lauren: The Returned is definitely worth catching but I’d also say you probably need to be in the right frame of mind to watch it,

Darren: It’s not the cheeriest movie you’ll ever see. For me, The Returned is very well shot and I love the look of it all and the atmosphere. The middle dragged a little for me because you know where it’s heading and it slows down to almost a crawl before it picks up towards the end. It suffers from that middle act sag a lot of movies do. The pacing is fairly gentle so that slowdown is even more pronounced. I wasn’t getting bored but I was waiting for the last act to kick in as well.

Dr. Lauren: It definitely does sag in the middle but that doesn’t take away anything from it, it’s still worth a watch.

SURVIVAL SKILLS (dir. Quinn Armstrong)

Darren: This is another one which was vying for my film of the weekend. This is a VHS-era training video for a police department which heads off in some non-training video directions.

Dr. Lauren: I can not believe that there’s been more buzz about this. It’s so odd but so well made that I can’t believe more people don’t know about it or that it’s got more traction on social media.

Darren: It has played somewhere else, maybe LFF, I can’t recall. I saw a couple of people saying it was divisive but you should see it and apart from that I’ve seen very little discussing it. It’s a unique piece of work and I agree, it’s not for everybody. Some might be put off by the way it’s shot or the way it’s put together but for anyone willing to stick with it, it is rewarding if more than a little uncomfortable. I loved it.

Dr. Lauren: This did drag slightly in the middle and I did start to wonder where it was going but overall it’s so unusual. The guy in the training video is presented as a typical, happy-go-lucky, all-American young cop who’s doing his first year of the job. He’s got his white picket fence and his lovely wife but what the film’s about is how even the best people can be worn down and broken by working within a corrupt system. We see how this guy changes over the course of the film as a result of things he’s forced to deal with as part of his job. It has a lot to say, especially about what’s going on in America right now and what’s maybe going on in law enforcement right now. It does make a very serious point.

Darren: It does confront issues which people may not be comfortable with seeing on screen. It’s about the way the guy’s life pretty much collapses. At the start, he’s almost robotic in the way he’s so cheery about everything. He’s partnered with a disillusioned veteran cop who warns him about the job and he takes no heed of what she says. It shows how everything falls apart and it’s heartbreaking to see where he finds himself towards the end of the movie. You’re dreading it but it’s also something you’re expecting. Also, a mention to Stacy Keach who’s the guy presenting the training video. He’s absolutely brilliant in this. He should be in more movies again.

Dr. Lauren: This is definitely a curiosity and I don’t think this is going to be for everybody.

Darren: No.

Dr. Lauren: It’s so unusual and so different to what everyone else is putting out there, it’s definitely worth trying to catch it.

Darren: You may ultimately not like it but you have to see it. It’s very much out there on its own, I’m not sure there’s anything out there like it.

STRONG LANGUAGE AND VIOLENT SCENES PODCAST – LIVE!

Darren: We should mention the Live episode of Strong Language and Violent Scenes in which Andy, Mitch and Mitch covered rock horror movie Trick Or Treat which was a big favourite of mine back in the VHS days. My sister and I rented Trick Or Treat numerous times. My sister also had the soundtrack by Fastway so I know the soundtrack quite well.

Dr. Lauren: I must admit, I’ve never seen it.

Darren: It’s worth tracking down. It’s very much of its time but it parodies the American hair rock genre quite well and it has a great cameo from Ozzy Osbourne as an evangelical type warning against the dangers of metal.

Dr. Lauren: Is Gene Simmons in it as well?

Darren: Yes, Gene Simmons is in it. It’s a fun movie. It’s not going to the best film you ever saw but as an entertaining, slightly throwaway piece of 80s horror you can’t go far wrong. The main points of the movie were covered very well in the discussion.

Dr. Lauren: Do we know whether or not this is going to go out as an episode?

Darren: I think they may have recorded it but I don’t know if it will be an episode. It was entertaining and it would work as a normal episode. I hope it does get out there, if only to flag up Trick Or Treat to more people.

Dr. Lauren: Also, a special mention to Andy and Mitch Harrod’s efforts as to their look. Also, a huge, huge fail for Mitch Bain with his lack of make-up!

Darren: As someone said at the time, Mitch Bain had dressed as the concerned dad and Andy and Mitch Harrod were his kids who were about to go out on Halloween made up like that.

Dr. Lauren: If discussion of potentially terrible films is your bag and you haven’t listened to the Strong Language And Violent Scenes podcast yet, then you should.

Darren: Absolutely. They cover far worse films than Trick Or Treat. There are certain things in the movie which you could point to as being a bit creaky but this is heading towards the unseen gem rather than the utter trash end of the scale.

DEATH TO METAL (dir. Tim Connery)

Darren: This is about a troubled priest who is involved in a toxic waste accident which transforms him into a supercharged avenger who wreaks revenge on sinners who listen to metal.

Dr. Lauren: Now, I thought this was fine but I also thought this wasn’t as good as Deathgasm and I spent a lot of the movie thinking it was fine but that I’d rather be watching Deathgasm.

Darren: I was also thinking of other metal-based horror movies and although the set-up of this one is quite fun it seemed to be treading water a bit before the confrontation in the last act. Some of the deaths seemed fairly inconsequential and seemed to be there just to keep the body count ticking over before the final showdown at the rock festival the bad guy was drawn to.

Dr. Lauren: It was okay but I don’t think it’s one I’d rush back to.

Darren: Yeah, I had a reasonably good time with it but as you said there are better metal-based horror movies out there. Deathgasm is more fun, it’s more gory and it’s better written. Some of the kills in this were a little flat, they upped the body count but I could have done with more creative and fewer kills.

That’s your lot for Day Two, folks! Don’t panic, though, as Dr. Lauren and Darren will be back to cover Day Three on this very website!

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Happy to chat with you on your podcast/whatever if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

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