REVIEW: RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY (2021, Sony)

Paul W.S Anderson’s 6-film live action series came to an end in 2017 with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. While the video games continue to progress across generations of consoles, the live action films appeared to have died. However, British director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, The Strangers: Prey At Night) embarked on an ambitious project to reboot the original film and bring Resident Evil back to the big screen. Now in 2021, while he fight out our own pandemic, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is released in cinemas nationwide.

The film starts by showing Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) and her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) who are living as children at Raccoon City Orphanage run by Umbrella Corporation scientist Dr William Birkin (Neal McDonough). Claire is visited late at night by a creepy figure who her brother tells her to ignore. Claire’s curiosity gets the better of her as she wants to find out more, leading to her first acquaintance with Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa), a tortured soul with a heart wrenching back story which will change her opinion of Umbrella forever…

The scene cuts out and we move to 1998 and the opening scene of Resident Evil 2 video game is recreated in all its guts and glory. As a fan of the video games since my childhood I was instantly in awe seeing my gaming memories being brought back to life on screen. The locations looks exactly how I remembered them especially the Police Station, Mansion and the streets of Raccoon City. The attention to detail in the location sets has to be commended for its accuracy and closeness to the video games. Watching the film was like playing the game albeit with less backtracking and puzzle solving…

The film tries to stay as close to the source material of the games as much as possible, something Paul W.S. Anderson failed to do with his efforts. However, Johannes Roberts tries to combine the storylines of two video games into one standalone movie with a few unique twists and turns. For the most part it works, there is never a dull moment and the plot is constantly moving. Unfortunately, sometimes it moves so fast between characters and locations that you aren’t given much time to admire the scenery or look for hidden easter eggs. Resident Evil (2002) had better pacing but Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City (2021) has a better storyline and wears the source materials closer to its skin…

I was eagerly anticipating seeing the next room and scenarios as the film progressed but also sad to be leaving at the same time. Welcome To Raccoon City is a blast with its frantic pace, stunning locations and impressive CGI but I kept wanting it to slow itself down and give itself a moment to catch its breath. Despite its fast pace and action heavy sequences there is still plenty of horror and solid character development. This is quite possibly the best live-action survival horror adaptation of the Resident Evil franchise I’ve seen and I hope it stays true to its horror roots in the subsequent sequels which will no doubt follow.

In terms of the characterisation, most of the cast are portrayed well against their video game counterparts but there are a few mis-castings along the way. I thought Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Dr William Birkin (Neal McDonough) were the real stars of the show with amazing performances. Former Skins actor Kaya Scodelario was good as Claire Redfield but the performance felt flat during some of the key scenes. Robbie Amell was good as Chris Redfield but lacked intensity. The film really dropped the ball with Jill Valentine (Hannah-John Kakem) & Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia) who looked like terrible cosplayers and barely resembled who they were supposed to be. Leon is portrayed as a useless rookie; yes, it is his first day in the job but he was never as daft as this in the games…

Welcome To Raccoon City is by no means a perfect movie but it crammed in so many references to the game that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I normally favour practical effects over CGI but this is a rare instance where I thought the special effects looked so good that I wasn’t disappointed. There are plenty of zombies and zombie dogs with plenty of rounds fired to deal with them. The licker looked fantastic and very creepy; something which the original film failed to do.

The music stayed true to the time period, as did the phone’s being used by the actors and the weapons at their disposal. It felt like a trip down memory lane and I absolutely loved it. It took me back to late late sessions playing the games. I felt the film served its purpose and gave as much as it could to please fans of the franchise. Infact, at times it may have given too much in its first outing.

Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a fine tribute to the source material and gives fans of the franchise something to enjoy. Johannes Roberts has taken a dead-horse live action film series and given it a new lease of life. You won’t need herbs to enjoy this one, it is a glorious reboot that will hopefully give birth to many new sequels. Long live Resident Evil.

Score: 4/5

A Beginners Guide To Spaghetti Westerns (By A Beginner)

When you start watching films from a different genre it can be daunting, especially when the genre is so large as Spaghetti Westerns is…but once you find your footing everything else falls into place!

Westerns to me are like horse-operas, saddle-sore dramas and full-scale revenge stories. I’m addicted to the tales of retribution and deep characterisation and the pure escapism it provides!

The Spaghetti Western is a sub genre of western films produced in Europe. While the majority of Spaghetti Westerns were made by Italians there is also a strong Spanish contingent involved too. The films were mainly filmed in locations such as Almeria and Madrid in Spain and Central and Southern Italy and aimed to replicate the Wild West in a European setting.

I could list all the directors and key actors but I really don’t want to spoil the surprise. That said, if the directors first name is Sergio or the cast includes Franco Nero, Giuliano Gemma, Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood, or Klaus Kinski you know you are onto a winner!

Dive in and discover them as you watch the finest movies to come out of the 60’s which most of your friends won’t have a clue about!

Finding where to start is the hardest part, but once you are in you are fine. Luckily, in 2021 most films are actually easily accessible thanks to boutique distribution labels and vast supply and have stunning restorations.

A good place to start is Arrow Video, titles like The Grand Duel (1972), Cemetery Without Crosses (1969), Day of Anger (1967), Django (1966), Texas Adios (1966) are all top-tier Spaghetti westerns. Then, if you want to explore further and invest more of your hard earned money, the Sartana & Vengeance Trails box-sets are great value for money. With the Vengeance Trails set you are treated to 4 lesser known western films by known directors (like Horror legend Lucio Fulci for example) and Massacre Time (1966), My Name Is Pecos (1967) and Bandidos (1967) are all worth the price of the set alone.

Do what I didn’t do, make sure you watch Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy as early as possible; A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965) & The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966). All 3 films have Clint Eastwood at his very best. In addition to these it is also worth mentioning the masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West (1968); it is a long film at nearly 3 hours long but ticks all the right boxes. Just be aware that it sets the bar extremely high and everything else you watch after it may not compare…

Imports are actually pretty accessible and cheap depending on where you shop. Wild East Productions (USA) releases are Region Free on DVD & Bluray and their library is crammed full of forgotten gems. Infact, if you want to up-skill yourself and fast track your knowledge, building up a collection of WEP titles is a great way to do it! Most films can be sourced new from Strange Vice or eBay. I highly recommend The Ugle Ones (1966), A Bullet For The President (1969) & Death Rides A Horse (1967). Just be aware, some of the harder to find OOP titles tend to go for big bucks in eBay auctions…

Eureka have an extensive range of incredible transfers for the cream of the crop films on bluray including The Great Silence (1968), Sabata Trilogy (1969), A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) and many many more! I can almost guarantee that if you buy a spaghetti western bluray from Eureka you will be satisfied.

88 Films have a limited range of spaghetti western titles but I highly recommend you pick up all of them. Especially Navajo Joe (1966) & The Mercenary (1968) which are classics.

Watching the films is probably enough for most people but I’m obsessive and throw myself deep into the things I like. The standard of books out there is very high and they serve a purpose as a reference point after watching films or as a prerequisite too. I’m really enjoying reading the Spaghetti Western Digest (Michael Hauss) issues which act as standalone books crammed full of reviews and interviews. I’ve found Howard Hughes books to be a great informative source too, namely Once Upon A Time In The Italian West & Spaghetti Westerns.

Follow the Spaghetti Western Database on Facebook to learn literally everything for free. The page really is a bible for the genre.

I’ve been collecting for only a few months, I’m still a novice to the genre but I’m loving everything I’ve watched so far. If you are sitting on the fence, now is a good time to hop on the horse!

REVIEW: NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS (1975, TetroVideo)

Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders is one of those films that most people have heard of but never seen. Rejected by the BBFC in 1976 then banned as a Video Nasty in 1983, the film was only granted a full uncut release in 2008 when it was released by Shameless Entertainment. Now, in 2021 the film is released on bluray for the first time by TetroVideo.

Two young girls take an overnight train from Münich in Germany to Italy with the intention of spending Christmas with their family. A scenic train journey descends into a nightmare when the train is boarded by two petty criminals who are out to make people’s lives misery…

Similar in tone (but certainly not identical) to Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972), Night Train Murders is a notorious and savage revenge horror thriller which was way ahead of its time. When I think of Video Nasties, Night Train Murders is always on my mind and it had a lasting effect on me the first time I watched it and it is a rare example of one of the nasties which you could understand why it was banned back in the day.

There is nothing worse then being stuck on a train with a bunch of rowdy strangers late at night and it portrays this fear perfectly. It is the fear of the unknown which is in the air on every carriage on the train and you don’t know what is around the corner.

Aldo Lado assembled a fine cast of exceptional actors including Flavio Bucci (Suspiria) , Macha Mèril (Deep Red), Irene Miracle (Puppet Master) and enlisted the legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Thing, Dollars Trilogy) to provide an epic score. The production values are incredibly high at every turn and it has the class and suave of a euro-crime thriller.

The film is shocking at times and really goes as far as it can to villainize the criminals and their newly met companion who humiliate and abuse two innocent teenage girls. Every scene is structured in such a way that every actor is involved or sells their behaviour traits, there are no background extras used just for the sake of it. There is even some slapstick humour thrown in at the strangest times to remind you it is just a movie. The acting is fantastic across of all of the cast, and the reason it hits you so hard is because it all looks so real and believable.

When Night Train Murders gets into full swing it is uncompromising. The seediness is turned up to full and it batters the morale compass repeatedly. It isn’t worth discussing the key plot points in this review is it will water down the effect of the on screen shocks. Much like I Spit On Your Grave (1978) you have to stick with it and it is worth watching it until the end credits. With any revenge thriller you have to sit through the bad stuff to get to the good stuff.

Night Train Murders is a movie which hit me hard long before I dabbled with the extreme genre, but going back to watch it all these years later made me appreciate it so much more. It is rare to watch a Video Nasty which has such a powerful impact in today’s times. Hopefully this is the first of many nasties to find its way onto the TetroVideo range.

Score: 5/5

Night Train Murders is available to pre-order on bluray from TetroVideo and is due for release on 15th December 2021.

REVIEW: THE GIRL WITH THE CUTTER (2021,TetroVideo)

Spanish extreme director Mikel Balerdi (Larva Mental, Vore Gore) returns with a double bill of short films due to be released by TetroVideo. Influenced by a true story where an unknown German woman was addicted to automutilation and posted the photos online, The Girl With The Cutter depicts what happened and the psychological and physical dangers.

Before proceeding with this review I would like to give very strong trigger warnings. The film is about self destruction featuring very graphic self mutilation using hyper realistic practical effects and very convincing acting. While it is not real, it is still extremely disturbing, hence why no photos are used in this review and there is flash imagery used which might be triggering for a-lot of people.

A woman is interested in the anatomy of the human body and particularly what lies beneath the skin. She is addicted to self-mutilation and pushing both her body and her mind to its limits. Unlike Balerdi’s previous film Larva Mental (2021), The Girl With The Cutter starts slow but it still manages to weed its way through 5 chapters of physical and psychological pain infliction which will test the boundaries of most viewers.

The film slithers like a snake and it’s bite is never far away. A nauseating synch soundtrack picks away at your nerves and really gets under your skin. If you are familiar with Balerdi’s work, you can ‘almost’ know what to expect but there is always an element of danger and you know you will be exposed to things that make you feel uncomfortable; that is the aim and purpose.

The pain and suffering the lead character goes through is very unsettling and hard to watch but it focuses heavily on the psychological element of the woman and her fight to stop what she is doing to herself. The film isn’t made to exploit or profit from the subject matter for the sake of being edgy, instead it puts everything on display for the viewer with nothing watered down.

The film lacks dialogue for most of its 51 minute run time and while there is good use of inner voices (in the woman’s head) more lines could have been used to understand the character more and build up more of a connection with the story. With that said, the acting by the lead woman (Cofi Valduvieux) is excellent and she really displays the series of emotions the character goes through with precision and integrity.

The visuals are excellent throughout with solid cinematography and lighting. There is clever use of flash imagery and strobe lighting during disturbing set-pieces. The practical effects are brilliant with very realistic body parts and wounds which made me feel very uneasy. The blood was done using a very bright red paint to allow the pain to seep through on screen.

Balerdi’s work is extreme human art. Much like most great art, it is all down to perception and Balerdi covers strong subject matter in such a direct way that it is uncomfortable to watch but worth persevering. The Girl With The Cutter doesn’t shy away from its strong subject matter and certainly doesn’t glorify it; it explores the human aspect of why and the repercussions which follow.

Score: 4/5

The Girl With The Cutter is due to be released as part of a double feature with Gorgota on DVD. Preorders due to commence December 2021 via TetroVideo.