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Movie Review: UPGRADE (2018)

Movie Review: UPGRADE (2018)

Even if you’re not familiar with the name (and as a horror fan, you should be), there’s a reason why LEIGH WHANNELL is on everyone’s radar at the moment. As a director/producer/writer/actor, together with frequent producing partner JAMES WAN (who I know you’ve heard of), Whannell’s had a hand in the creation of some of the most successful horror efforts from the last two decades, including the franchises for SAW, INSIDIOUS, THE CONJURING and ANNABELLE, be it in front of or behind the camera. (And in some cases, it’s been both.) So it should come as no surprise whatsoever, that this talented man’s ever-creative brain spat out the concept for the remarkable sci-fi/action/horror thriller, UPGRADE.

Grey Trace (potential Tom Hardy stand-in LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN from PROMETHEUS, SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING and DEVIL) isn’t just your everyday, garden-variety Luddite in the not-all-that-distant future. He’s not seeking to ‘destroy the system’ that controls this world, but he sure as hell isn’t going to be a part of it. He listens to gut-bucket blues while he works on restoring ‘analog’-based cars, for very rich people who collect them. But he doesn’t love his cars or his music half as much as his beautiful wife, Asha, (MELANIE VALLEJO), and no, he doesn’t mind at all that she’s the “pants-wearing breadwinner” of the family.  Alas, the ‘happy-life’ set up must end, as they all must for a movie like this to work, and thanks to a malfunction in the cab that’s supposed to be bringing them home, the lovebirds instead end up in a really bad part of Grey’s old ‘hood, where a band of thugs decides to kill Asha, and leave Grey permanently paralyzed instead of dead.

Wouldn’t you know it, though: there’s an app for that. One of the rich people he sold a refurbished car to is a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-type technological wunderkind named Eron Keen (HARRISON GILBERTSON). Yes, his appearance is foreshadowing that’s about as subtle as a Keith Moon drum solo, and yes, he does turn up again after Grey’s ordeal, to give him a way to walk again, but more than that, a means by which avenging his crippling and his wife’s murder will be a breeze.

That way is a computer chip called ‘STEM,’ but calling it a “computer chip” is like calling Mount Kilimanjaro a molehill. STEM not only helps operate Grey’s damaged central nervous system and thereby his arms, legs and the rest of his body, but it can help him do some pretty incredible things…like, kick the living shit out of bad guys. And then we and Grey soon realize…he’s not the only ‘modified human’ running around out there. And when he’s not looking for them, they are most certainly out to get him!
However, as wondrous technological developments always do in movies like this, STEM is not without its own set of problematic glitches and side effects, and to say anything more than that would reveal some devastating Act Three spoilers, including the most important twist of all in the story, which isn’t ‘early M. Night Shyamalan’-badass, but pretty close.

I don’t know how much training Marshall-Green had in physical conditioning and movement before shooting, but however long and/or grueling it was, the end results were more than worth it.  His performance is incredible, especially the way he defines Grey’s bodily control under STEM’S influence as totally and spell bindingly different than it is under his own steam.  And all without the aid of CG or other special visual effects, save for some dazzling angles that Whannell employs, thanks to the amazing camera work of DP STEFAN DUSCIO, and also in no small part to the stunt team, led by coordinator CHRIS ANDERSON, with stunning fight choreography by CHRIS WEIR.

BENEDICT HARDIE (HACKSAW RIDGE, NEKROTRONIC) makes a great anti-heroic counterpart for Grey as Fisk, the ‘bad guy’ seemingly responsible for everything that happens, though you discover in pretty short order, that his motivations are far beyond those of the kind of average thug-villain who’d usually be playing this role.  I also love the obvious nod to the late Douglas Rain’s voice performance as “HAL 2000” in Kubrick’s “2001”. If there’s any justice in this world, the smooth, even and undeniably creepy tones of SIMON MAIDEN’S “STEM” voice will become just as iconic.

There’s no way to herald anyone on this picture without including the eye-popping work by the makeup FX team here.  The impressive key sequences would have come across so much better if they hadn’t already been ‘spoiled’ in the “Red Band” version of the trailer.  Even having said that, they’re still amazing as hell when you see them in context.

There aren’t a whole lot of complaints I have about this one, but there is one aspect that bears mentioning: I know the previews sell this as a testosterone-fueled, dystopian thrill ride for the ‘dudes’, and yeah, I’ll admit that was part of the allure for me. But that also means the female characters get short shrift…again. The death of Grey’s wife, Asha, pretty much propels the entire plot into motion, although Vallejo gets to do little more than look pretty…even when her character is dying.

I can understand the casting of BETTY GABRIEL as Det. Cortez, the cop who begins to realize there’s more to her ‘crippled’ suspect than meets the eye.  Between her spellbinding performance in Jordan Peele’s GET OUT, plus her growing resume of appearances in other genre movies like UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB and THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR, she’s quickly becoming the next “IT-Girl” for horror and sci-fi fans. But I really wished they’d given her more to do because hers is the kind of character you want to know more about. The antagonistic-yet-empathetic relationship between her and Grey could have been developed much more extensively than it was.

The one place where the minimal development of female characters works comes about, when at a crucial moment in the story, Grey hooks up with a mysterious uber-hacker named “Jamie” (KAI BRADLEY). In their scene together, which probably is all of about three minutes in length, we are completely captivated by her, not just because of the interesting aura she projects, thanks to Bradley’s performance, but because of several things she says to Grey and about him, throwing hints out there about what’s going on – there’s more to this story than we think there is, Jamie warns us. And that has me looking forward to a sequel, which I hope Whannell intended. Which I also hope includes Jamie’s return.

I’m glad that my concerns about Whannell were completely groundless. Though I’ve enjoyed his work as both an actor and a filmmaker, I was wondering if he considered his niche to be splitting time between the writer’s room, producer’s desk, and acting. UPGRADE is only his second film where he took over the director’s chair (his first time was in 2015 with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3), but if UPGRADE is any indication of where he’s going with his creative knack, I’m looking forward to the UPGRADE sequel…or wherever he decides to go next. Count me in! And please accept four out of five bone-crushing stars of gratitude!


Posted by Samuel Glass in GORE OR EXTREME HORROR, MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, SCI-FI HORROR, THRILLER, URBAN DECAY/DYSTOPIAN FUTURES, 0 comments
INTERVIEW: Ben Young, Writer/Director of Hounds of Love (2016)

INTERVIEW: Ben Young, Writer/Director of Hounds of Love (2016)

Following the huge international success of Australian writer and director Ben Young’s film Hounds of Love (2016), the House of Tortured Souls’ own Michelle MIDI Sayles had the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding his films, cast, changes in his life since the release of Hounds of Love, and the Australian Film Industry.
House of Tortured Souls: Recently you have gained a lot of success with your brilliant film Hounds of Love. How has that felt coming from such humble beginnings in Western Australia?
Ben Young: It’s truly is very surreal. At best I hoped perhaps the film would get in a festival or two. It was a real surprise and very humbling to have it premiere at Venice and receive the response it did. Less than a year after shooting, I was in Serbia making a US production with 20 times the budget and actors whose work is been admiring for years. Feels weird even to think about the crazy ride!
Hounds of Love (2016)

Emma Booth as Evelyn White and Stephen Curry as John White in Ben Young’s Hounds of Love (2016)

HoTS: The direction and plot of Hounds of Love echoes the infamous Birnie’s case and other profiles of killer couples, how much of an interest in the element of true crime do you have yourself?
BY: It’s not based on any particular crime/s. I read a book on woman serial murderers and found the psychology of female killers to be very different from that of males. In further research, I found 9 cases involving couples who killed together. It was a subject I hadn’t seen explored in film before so decided to give it a crack. I’m interested in realism on screen so for that reason and often drawn to true crime. For me, a story is all the more engaging if there is an element of truth to it.
HoTS: Your stars Stephen Curry, Emma Booth, and Ashleigh Cummings each have been very kind and praising towards your approach to them throughout the filming process, and it is very well reflected in their amazing performances. How did you find such phenomenal talent for Hounds of Love?
BY: I was lucky really. I wrote the film for Emma. We’ve been buds for 20 years and I truly believe her to be one of the greatest acting talents on the planet. She initially turned the role down but for one reason or another changed her mind at the last minute.
Steve was never [who] I thought of [for the part] but was suggested by our wonderful casting director Anousha. I right away loved the idea because he does not come across like your typical serial killer, which in reality most of them do not. He wanted to do the role and he and I had a long chat. He’s gracious and charming and agreed to audition. After his first take, it was pretty clear I was going to be lucky to have him.
Ashleigh was the last to come to the party. Strangely I’d used pictures of her from Puberty Blues (2012) in my pitch document but thought she was a little old for the character. When she came in and tested I was speechless. There’s something so artificial about the audition process, but somehow Ash was able to transform immediately and deliver a take worthy of the film in that bright little room in Sydney just minutes after meeting me. She was so good, I thought it worth changing the character a little for.
HoTS: Hounds of Love has received some impressive accolades so far already, especially for your leading ladies and yourself. Why do you think so far Stephen Curry (whose performance was equally beyond amazing) hasn’t received the same?
BY: All awards are a lottery! It depends on who you’re against, who’s judging and what kind of a mood they’re in. I think a film like this about women is not so common, so the female themes may have distracted from him. Also, it was a phenomenal year for Australian film with strong male performances in many bigger films that received much wider distribution. It’s hard for the little guy to be noticed!
Hounds of Love (2016)
HoTS: Do you plan to continue making films in Australia or will we see you moving to LA in the future?
BY: I’ve been in LA for the better half of a year working on the new film, BUT I’ll be back in Australia very soon to work on a film I’m very excited about.
HoTS: You’re currently working on your newest project Extinction, can you tell us a little bit about it?
BY: It’s a story about a dude who must reconnect with his family emotionally if he’s to save them from an otherworldly invasion. We shot in Serbia during the first half of 2017 and I’m just finishing it up now. I worked with Michael Pena, Lizzy Caplan, Emma Booth, Mike Colter, Israel Broussard and many other great actors on it. It was fun to try my hand at science fiction and together with the team, I’ve tried hard to make something a little different which I hope an audience appreciates.
Ben Young, writer/director, Hounds of Love (2016)

Ben Young, writer/director, Hounds of Love (2016)

HoTS: What do you think of the Australian movie scene itself, and its rise in popular culture within the last decade through filmmakers like Greg McLean, Leigh Whannell and James Wan and even the likes of Joel and Nash Edgerton?
BY: I think it’s really hard to make films in Australia. It’s really great to see filmmakers like those you’ve mentioned really making a name for themselves internationally. I hope it continues that way. In Australia, you’re very unlikely to get rich from film, so I feel like the filmmakers we have a driven by passion which comes across in their work ethic.
HoTS: What advice can you give to any filmmaker around the globe working on projects right now, within the independent film market?
BY: Be bold. Make choices that are risky and be true to your own vision. No one wants to see another version of Hounds of Love or anything else so find your own story and tell it in a way that only you could. To break through your film must have an element that makes it stand out amongst others in its genre. This will come from bold choices.
It might sound obvious, but cast good actors and pay them. Even if you don’t pay yourself. One off performance and the whole world you are creating will come tumbling down.
Posted by Michelle MIDI Sayles in INTERVIEWS, SLASHERS AND BAD HUMANS, STAFF PICKS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: Insidious Chapter 4 (2018)

MOVIE REVIEW: Insidious Chapter 4 (2018)

Whenever we see the name James Wan appear, we already know that we are in for a special treat, considering that Mr. Wan makes quality flicks. Everything from Saw (2004) to the highly anticipated Aquaman heading to cinemas December 21, 2018. So, when a third sequel to the Insidious franchise was announced last year, hopes already started to rise sky high.

Writer Leigh Whannell, who wrote and co-starred in all the Insidious films takes us on yet, another dark trip into the further, and it was a lot of fun.

We open in New Mexico, 1953 and we are introduced to a young Elise Ranier (Ava Kolker) and her family. Her mother accepts the fact that she has an ultra-rare gift and can communicate with the dead, whilst her father seems to have a hard time and doesn’t believe in her ghosts stories, so he punishes her severely over and over again. This causes her to leave home to make a fresh start for herself and continue her life with her gift by becoming a paranormal investigator and solving undead puzzles.

One afternoon she receives a phone call from the property she once lived at and decides that she has to return home to face her fears and try to stop the ongoing evil that has been haunting the house for years. Oh, and we can’t forget about her two assistants, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), who both deliver quick quirky one-liners that cause the audience to burst out with laughter ever so often. When Elise and her duo pals arrive, she already knows that the house is full of spirits and that’s when the heart-pounding moments being to increase heavily and they don’t stop until the last frame of the film.

Even though this is a prequel, there is a lot of fun to be had while watching this film. Lin Shaye is once again superb and it shows the very second she is in frame. You can tell that she put her blood, sweat, tears, and heartbeats into her character and also had fun doing so. Lin Shaye was most definitely the best part of the entire movie. I had more fun watching her act throughout the film then the film trying to make me jump and spill my popcorn.

With that being said, the film has some minor flaws and pacing issues here and there, but we are introduced to a new form of evil and he’s pretty bad ass to look at.

Insidious: The Last Key may not take home any awards or be the best horror film of the year, it certainly won’t be the worst. Insidious: The Last Key was what I expected, a dark adventure into the further with jump scares, funny moments, cool looking creatures and most importantly, the amazing Lin Shaye.

Do yourself a favor and checkout Insidious: The Last Key before it leaves cinemas.

Posted by Jonathan Hughes in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments

THIS JUST IN: Insidious: Chapter 4 Is On Its Way


By Jonathan Patrick Hughes

In 2010, writer Leigh Whannell and Director James Wan made an independent film entitled, Insidious which, to me, felt more like a modern day Poltergeist with pulse-pounding moments and a clever way to take a audience on a trip into the further. Since then, the franchise has exploded giving the audience a true scarathon. James Wan directed the first two films as well as The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 and left the writer, Leigh Whannell in charge of directing the 3rd film in the franchise.

With 2017 just around the corner, a new chapter is gonna take us even further into the further. Once again, Leigh Whannell wrote the screenplay and the director of The Taking of Deborah Logan, Adam Robitel is sitting in the director's chair ready to give us a continuation that is going to take on levels that we have yet to experience.

“It takes place right after the end of Insidious: Chapter 3, when she walks off with Specs and Tucker and they’re starting their company, Spectral Sightings, and they are now living at her home. They’re like her two sons, her two bad sons.
“So it starts out in a very jovial, happy place and then goes downhill from there,” she adds. “And downhill meaning uphill, though. It’s a fantastic story and it took me back into what made Elise who she is. You meet my family, my mother, my father—we go back to my hometown, which is in New Mexico. And so that’s where this takes place and her quest to find the bad guy that’s been haunting her. It’s a really wonderful story. I think the fans will really, really enjoy it. And it’s scary on levels they’re not going to expect.”

As a fan of the franchise, I, for one, am excited to see where this will take us. I have yet to be disappointed with any of the films and I welcome a fourth chapter of Insidious. 2017 is shaping up to be a solid year for horror films.

Posted by Jonathan Hughes in HORROR NEWS, 0 comments
The Nun – The Conjuring 2 Spin-off Coming

The Nun – The Conjuring 2 Spin-off Coming

Conjuring Up A Spin-off

By Dixielord

The Conjuring 2 is still in the theaters and already a spin-off is officially in the works with The Nun. The will be the second movie spinning away from the series based (somewhat) on the real life (somewhat) adventures of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The original Conjuring film lead to the spin-off demon dolly film Annabelle and is itself is in line for a sequel.

The Nun is coming.

The Nun is coming

The Nun Is Coming

It's still very early in the process, but as of now Conjuring director James Wan is only aboard as a producer. David Leslie Johnson (The Conjuring 2) is attached to write the script, but that's pretty much it as no director or cast has been named this early. Bonnie Aarons (Drag Me to Hell) portrayed the nun in The Conjuring 2 but there is no word on whether she will reprise the role or not.

We do know that the story will follow the demonic nun from The Conjuring 2. We can only assume, and it's a fairly safe assumption, that it will delve into the back story of the demon Valak or the nun whose form he took. Most likely both.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the nun was actually a late addition to The Conjuring 2. Initially, Wan planned on a horned demon representing Valak. However, Lorraine Warren told him of an experience where she had encountered a swirling vortex with a hooded figure inside. Thus, Wan decided to combine the hooded nun figure with the demon Valac. The demonic nun was born, and the seeds were planted for The Nun spin-off.

Who Was Valak?

Valac looks nothing like The Nun

The Conjuring 2 demon Valac as he is pictured in demonology

The demon Valak was not a creation for the film but actually exists. At least in the world of demonology and The Lesser Key of Solomon if not in our reality. In the Lesser Key of Solomon, Valak, or Valac is a President of Hell. Now there are several presidents, Kings and other royalty among the 72, so apparently there was a lot of power sharing in Hell. In the grimoire, Valac is the diviner of great secrets and can be summoned by worthy magicians. His physical form resembles a small winged boy astride a two-headed dragon. There are no reports of him using shitty CGI, which was my main complaint with The Conjuring 2 (The Crooked Man).

The Nun from the Blues Brothers

What's more frightening than The Nun from Conjuring 2? The Penguin!!

The Nun actually has some material and potential. If they go at it hardcore and don't worry about trying to make a film for the masses. Give us an old school nun possessed by the devil with sleaze, sex, and abominations! We believe in you! Actually, nah, that's not likely to happen. It's probably going to follow the lines of Annabelle and play it fairly safe. While I enjoyed both Conjuring films, the first more than the second, Annabelle bored me. I hope The Nun is closer to its cinematic parents than its cousin.

Posted by Allen Alberson in HORROR NEWS, 0 comments
MOVIE REVIEW: The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Haunting

MOVIE REVIEW: The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Haunting

By Dixielord

James Wan returns with a follow up to his hit The Conjuring with The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Haunting. Like the original, The Conjuring 2 is based on a case investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists and paranormal investigators. The Warrens are probably most famous for their investigation of what would become known as The Amityville Horror and the movie based on it. Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) and Patrick Wilson (The Ruins, Insidious) return to star as The Warrens.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring 2

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring was a hit, both at the box office and with horror fans. Sequels, however rarely love up to the original. While I ended up enjoying The Conjuring 2, I do feel it was a step down from the first film. The Conjuring earned its R rating due to a pervasive sense of dread that ran through the entire film, a dark, oppressive feeling that left me uneasy, and made me fear for the main characters, even though I know in real life they survived the incident.

Upside down, the way you turn me The Conjuring 2

Upside down, the way you turn me
The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2 never achieved that level of unease. That's not saying it didn't have it's moments. There were scenes, especially involving the kids that were genuinely scary. The possession scene near the end reminded me a lot of Reagan's possession in The Exorcist. But the scenes, especially in the first half of the film were too far and in between to keep that dread going. It needed that to keep me at a heightened sense of unease, to keep me on the edge of my seat. That's when a jump scare really works. It's when all scares really work in a film.

The demonic nun was fun, and I'll admit I jumped a few times with her scenes. She was visually impressive and the effects were well done. However the “crooked man” CGI was really bad. It reminded me of animation from The Wall, or a Monty Python skit. That's not knocking those two properties, both were great in their time, but neither was horror, and it's a good 30 plus years since either s prime. The ending two was a bit of a let down for me. Sorry but as a horror and possession fan, that ending is all too common and clichéd.

But I still enjoyed the film. Mostly because of two reasons. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. This was as much a movie about the Warrens, and their scenes made the film. I have a feeling that I like Vera and Patrick's version if the couple more than I would like the real couple. My one real experience with the real Lorraine Warren makes me think she is far more of a religious zealot than her movie counterpart. But I guess when you are dealing with demons from hell, it's best to not be wishy washy about your beliefs.

The real Ed and Lorraine Warren subjects of The Conjuring 2

The real Ed and Lorraine Warren subjects of The Conjuring 2.

Between the love story of the Warrens, and the couple of really bad CGI scenes, there were some good scares. There were some honestly creepy scenes involving the kids, especially Janet ( New Orleans resident Madison Wolfe). It just doesn't hold the fear and tension throughout the entire film.

Janet's just exorcising her rights in The Conjuring 2

Janet's just exorcising her rights in The Conjuring 2.

The Conjuring 2 isn't a bad film, I don't consider it a waste of my money, but as a horror film, it is a bit of a let down. When compared to the original, that let down is even harder. Fans of the Warrens will still want to see it. Fans of Vera and Patrick will really enjoy it, as will casual horror fans who don't like more extreme or unnerving films. But as a scary, disturbing horror film, it fumbles pretty hard. Unless you are a real fan of the Warrens, or more so Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, wait till it hits Linnet.

Posted by Allen Alberson in MOVIE REVIEWS, REVIEWS, 0 comments
This Just In: Saw VIII Announced

This Just In: Saw VIII Announced

Just When You Thought
It Was Safe to Start Gaming Again
Saw: Legacy

By Woofer McWooferson

Saw II

Saw II

When the first Saw, written by Lee Whannell and directed by James Wan on a budget of only $1,200,000, grossed over $55,000,000 in two months, it was immediately clear that sequels would follow. Each new film introduced increasingly violent and gore-filled traps, something that was understated in the first, and the franchise became known as part of the burgeoning torture porn phenomenon. Though the sequels were directed by others, such as Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed the immensely popular Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV, Whannell and Wan remained active in the series as producers. By the seventh film, however, the budget was over $20,000,000 but the gross in the first month was only $45,670,855. Not a good return on investment in Hollywood books. This makes the announcement of a new installment both surprising and intriguing.

Saw III

Saw III

Since Saw 3D (2010) tied together everything from movies I through VI, it seemed the franchise might actually be complete and Jigsaw would be laid to rest. Not so. Another Saw film is in the works according to sources at Lionsgate. Josh Stolberg (Crawlspace) and Pete Goldfinger (Clown) will be writing the eighth Saw film, with director Wan and screenwriter Whannell returning as executive producers. No word yet on what the story will be – origin (there’s been quite a bit of that in the series already), reboot  (really?), or sequel (which is what the tentative title suggests (seems  a bad idea given how Saw 3D, wrapped up the series) – but it’s a safe bet that it will involve the elaborate traps for which the franchise is renowned.

Saw IV

Saw IV

There has also been no word on who will direct or whether franchise star Tobin Bell will return as Jigsaw, but a Saw film without Jigsaw is like a Hellraiser without Pinhead – disastrous.

House of Tortured Souls will keep you updated as more details are released.

Posted by Alan Smithee in HORROR NEWS, 1 comment