THE LITTLE VAMPIRE

Cert U 82mins Stars 2

This bloodless animation offers thin pickings for all but the most undemanding cinema-goers.

It’s a cross-cultural bromance between two 13 year old boys, a Transylvanian vampire with punk hair, and a fresh-faced US holidaymaker on a creepy castle tour of Europe with his family.

They team up to rescue the vampire’s clan from a pair of inept villains. The head baddie is voiced by Jim Carter, best known as Downton Abbey’s butler, Carson. 

The only other recognisable names the budget stretches to are Miriam Margolyes and Tim Pigott-Smith, with not much left over for the animation, and even less for the script.

Mixes magic spells with some mechanical contraptions such as the Infra-dead vampire locating device, and I could have done with much more of the weaponised vampire-cow poo,

It’s so insubstantial it won’t cast a shadow in your memory, but it’s harmless and doesn’t totally suck. Though it’s probably best saved for the rainiest day of half term.

TRUTH OR DARE

Cert 15 100mins Stars 2

There’s not much to be scared of in this supernatural horror based on the teen party game.

It manages to play safe and break its own rules, making for a dull and confused experience.

Fresh from TV’s Pretty Little Liars, Lucy Hale leads a group of hot young students are inadvertently involved in a deadly game of truth or dare, masterminded by a malevolent Mexican spirit. 

If they lie, fail a date or refuse to play, they will die. Despite this rock solid premise, the script foolishly messes with the formula.

Despite the high premium on looks during casting, this is an oddly sexless affair, while the bad guy’s lack of a physical presence makes him anonymous.

Plus it’s wildly derivative of movies such as Final Destination, Saw and many more, while failing to be as entertaining as any of them.

Increasingly silly without ever being scary, grisly of funny enough, it’s a lesson in selfishness for narcissistic millennials.

 

MONSTER FAMILY

Cert PG  93mins Stars 1

An early contender for the worst family film of 2018, only the naughtiest kids should be exposed to this monstrously poor animated horror show.

A lovelorn Count Dracula orders a witch to magically transform a married mother of two  into a vampire so he can woo her.

Unfortunately her stupid bickering family are also changed into various legendary creatures such as Frankenstein’s monster, and they’re no best pleased.

Pratfalls and fart jokes pad out the script of this repetitive, joyless and charmless mind-numbing drivel.

It’s brought to zombified life by feasting on the creative blood of far superior films such as Pixar’s Incredibles and Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania films, which have sequels out this summer.

Horrifyingly, this is even worse than Tom Cruise’s recent version of the Mummy. 

Emily Watson, Nick Frost, Celia Imrie, Jason Isaacs and Catherine Tate are the British voice talent putting a stake through the heart of their credibility for an easy payday.

 

THE RITUAL

Cert 15 94mins Stars 3

Get back to nature and discover your inner pagan with this British supernatural horror.

Four middle aged mostly middle class friends go on a hiking holiday to northern Sweden, they’re on a guilt trip to honour a recently deceased friend.

It’s a majestically clean and beautiful landscape, chosen presumably because its remoteness denies the walkers access to the internet. When they’re forced off route it becomes a terrifying journey of self discovery.

Equipped with a low budget and lacking star power, they are possessed by a director intent on maximising his resources.

Spooky thrills are summoned by some cracking creature design, tremendous sound mixing and an interestingly prickly performance by Rafe Spall in the lead role. 

The script sticks to the  familiar path and sightseeing features a cabin in the woods, strange symbols carved on trees and grisly blood offerings. However by utilising local folklore we’re led to a satisfyingly dark psychological destination.

IT

Cert 15 135mins Stars 3

The previous adaptation of a Stephen King novel I had to endure was the astonishingly dull sci fi bomb, The Dark Tower.

This new version of his famous horror story is excellent in many ways except in the most important, it fails to scare.

A superb coming of age take ruined by the frequent inclusion of supernatural silliness. Everything would be much improved by removing the stupid monster.

Pennywise is a psychopathic spirit who takes the form of a freak show circus clown who feeds on fear but isn’t terrible effective in tormenting his young victims.

Tim Curry played Pennywise in a memorable 1990 TV miniseries, here we have a very physical performance by Bill Skarsgard who indulges in much alarming leaping. I kept worrying he’d put his back out.

There is handsome production design and first rate performances from the younger cast members. Jaeden Lieberher plays Bill, who leads an adolescent band of social misfits on a search to find his younger brother whose been missing for a year.

Self styled as ‘the losers club’, their camaraderie is wonderfully believable, sweet and funny. Sophia Lillis is tremendously affecting as the token girl member.

Though sinks explode with blood, mattresses ooze gunk and severed heads bob about in sewers, the ordinary real life dangers facing the teens are far more scary.

Bullies, beatings, abusive parents and the struggles of talking to the opposite sex carry more emotional weight than all the spooky shenanigans.

All the best moments call to mind the superior King adaption, Stand By Me, such as when The Losers Club are tormented on their journey around town by a car driving bunch of high school hoodlums. 

Three writers are credited on the script which draws heavily on King’s excellent ear for dialogue, strong characterisation, and stresses the importance of loyalty and friendship. 

However the threat of a sequel is the most terrifying on screen moment they can conjure.

 

ANNABELLE: CREATION

Cert 15 108mins Stars 3

There’s no escape from the blood dripping, knuckle crunching terror in the most scary of the fourth film in the Annabelle franchise.

A prequel to 2014’s Annabelle and the two related Conjuring films, Creation tells the origin of the demonic dead eyed doll, Annabelle.

Half a dozen orphan girls are bussed to a new farmhouse home, it’s owned by the craftsman who handcrafted Annabelle for his now deceased daughter.

The house has a deep well, a creaking dumb waiter, and a mask wearing mad woman locked in her room.

Prior to this episode the formula has led to the series making £680m from a combined budget of £51m.

And the producers stick rigidly to their successful financial formula by keeping the action to a single location, casting largely unknowns and using old school physical effects to keep the costs low.

But there’s no skimping on the horror and the shocks are as well crafted as the wooden girl herself.

A GHOST STORY

Cert 12A 92mins Stars 3

This supernatural melodrama sees best actor Oscar winner Casey Affleck hiding the light of his talent not under a bushel, but under a bed sheet.

Affleck is at his most furrowed and mumbling even before his character suffers an early death. The actor spends most of the movie hidden in the classic kids costume of a bed sheet with two holes cut out and not saying a word. 

Occasional moments of black humour break out as Affleck communicates with the ghost next door. 

Tastefully somber, this mournful meditation on the meaning of life is almost provocative in its refusal to engage in anything as crowd pleasing as drama.

But as Affleck spends an eon mourning for his lost love played by Rooney Mara, I began longing for the grubby pleasures of Demi Moore and her potters wheel from 1990’s weepie, Ghost.

For all the grand cosmic sweep and the literary influences, like it’s main character there’s not much going on underneath.

 

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

Cert 15 86mins Stars 2

Despite the intriguing premise of this supernatural horror, the rigor mortis it reveals will leave you bored not scared stiff.

Following a multiple homicide, a local cop deposits the cadaver of an unidentified and beautiful young woman in the care of the local mortuary.

Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are curiously cast as the father and son owners. And as the girlfriend, Ophelia Lovibond completes the trio of underwritten characters.

They’re tasked with establishing the cause of death of the mysterious ‘Jane Doe’, and begin to take her apart in order to piece together a picture of her life .

There’s an enjoyable reliance on old school effects such as smoke, mirrors, prosthetics and and sound effects. But sadly the most scary aspect of this poorly thought out exercise is the alarming lack of narrative vigour. And it’s painfully obvious where it’s all headed.

Jane Doe is probably best left dead and buried.

THE MUMMY (2017)

Cert 15 110mins Stars 1

This big budget action adventure lumbers into cinemas and begs to be put out of its torment. Long before it ended, so did I.

Though the world is threatened when an ancient terror is unleashed, a directorial dead hand can’t muster a sense of fun, danger, mystery or suspense.

It’s only brought to a semblance of life by the spark of Brit actress Annabelle Wallis and the dogged determination of Tom Cruise.

He stars as Nick Morton, an impish US soldier and blackmarketeer who is cursed when he opens a tomb in the Iraqi desert.

To save himself he must reunite a ceremonial dagger with a jewel discovered in a London grave.

He’s accompanied by a shouty, face slapping Egyptologist called Jenny, played by Wallis.

They stagger through a script which exhumes the dead bits of better movies and wraps them up in murky CGI.

Aeroplane and underwater stunts are airlifted in from Cruise’s last Mission Impossible film. And scenes from An American Werewolf in London are humourlessly reanimated.

Meanwhile a resurrected Egyptian mummy wants the knife to rule the world, or something.

Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella spends her time either chained in rags or parading across the desert in the style of a 1980’s Turkish Delight advert.

This stumbling mess is intended to be a franchise starter for Universal Studio’s Dark Universe. It’s a series of connected films rebooting classic movie monsters such as the Wolfman.

So our heroes also encounter Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, lurking in a lair of Bond villain extravagance.

Years of good living hang heavy on the 53 year old Crowe and he makes the 54 year old Cruise seem even more remarkably well preserved.

Next year we’ll have a new version of The Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp has been announced as the Invisible Man.

After this dull horror show, that’s a truly terrifying prospect.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: SALAZAR’S REVENGE

Cert 12A 129mins Stars 3

The supernatural swashbuckling franchise returns to chart a course through familiar waters, but there’s a new star to light the way.

After 2011’s ponderous adventure On Stranger Tides, this adventure moves at a fair clip along its formulaic route of spectacular CGI sea battles and big scale stunts.

The special effects, costumes, sets and locations are a treasure dazzle us, but outshining them all is newcomer Kaya Scodelario. The Brit actress brings fresh life to the regular skeleton crew as a feisty astronomer turned treasure hunter.

Carina is the only woman of note in an ocean of men, and it’s a pity she’s saddled with Brenton Thwaites as a romantic interest. As Henry, he’s a suitably bland son and heir to Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner.

They team up with Johnny Depp’s hapless pirate, Captain jack Sparrow. Though Depp’s pantomime performance becomes more tiresome with every appearance, the troubled actor needs this film to rescue his badly listing career. 

Sparrow features heavily, but through judicious editing, stunt work and stand-ins, there’s a lot less Depp than we’re supposed to believe. 

Bloom and Keira Knightley briefly reprise their roles and Paul McCartney continues the series’ rum tradition of rock star cameos.

A ruddy faced Geoffrey Rush does a spot of acting as Captain Barbossa and gives his one legged pirate some real welly. And one time James Bond villain, Javier Bardem harries everyone amidships as the revenge seeking Salazar, the matador of the sea.

The scattershot script pays lip service to its own plot which involves the Trident of Poseidon. The reappearance of pirate galleon The Black Pearl, brings closure to a major character.

This week Depp was confirmed as the Invisible Man in Universal Studio’s new ‘Dark Universe’ franchise. If his career continues its downward spiral, he won’t need special effects to play the part.