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  • 03/22/18--15:53: Egomaniac

  • d./w. Kate Shenton; p. Kate Shenton, Sidney Malik; cast: Nic Lamont, Adam Rhys-Davies, David Wayman, Simeon Willis, Laurence R Harvey, Dan Palmer, Loren O’Brien

    A whip-smart script, a rock-steady lead performance, a solid supporting cast of genre vets and a jet-black streak of righteous cynicism make this a must-see for fans (and makers) of indie horror. Director Catherine wants to follow her documentary debut with a zombie horror romantic comedy but must negotiate a bullshitting producer, inappropriate actors and a sleazy executive who looks like Harvey Weinstein (though this July 2015 production predates his fall from grace). Fantasy sequences see Catherine converse with her zombie lead character while she struggles with demands to write a talking dog into her script. Eventually she snaps; an effective bloody finale slightly undone by an unnecessary splash panel prologue. Unlike Le Fear and its sequel, this accurately depicts how independent film-making really works (or doesn’t). Premiering at Frightfest 2016, Egomaniac was championed by Lawrie Brewster (Lord of Tears) who released it on YouTube as the debut title in his ‘Hex Presents’ series. Before that, it was apparently available on Amazon as Hollywood Patriarchy v My Movie!

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  • 03/24/18--16:14: White Goods

  • d. Bazz Hancher; w. Bazz Hancher, Richard Robotham; p. Bazz Hancher, Michael Walcott; cast: Bazz Hancher, Richard Robotham, Adam Woodhouse, Mark Lee Jones, James JT Taylor, Vicki Clarke, Tom Rutter, James Underwood

    This decidedly non-PC, sub-Troma, amateur horror comedy won’t be to everyone’s taste, but among the tired jokes about queers, trannies and toilets are some genuinely clever moments that will make you spit out your tea with delight. A dim-witted cowboy electrician becomes possessed by a demon when he helps a TV psychic (punk legend turned Brit horror regular Jones) stage a séance. Everyone he subsequently visits is killed by electrical equipment, most notably an impressive death-by-tumble-drier. The acting is as bad as the wigs but there’s a cheesy charm to the picture and surprisingly acceptable production values including some basic CGI. Hancher previously made numerous shorts (collected on DVD as Blast from the Past and Films from a Broken Mind) and a documentary feature about a local pub. With Feast for the Beast director Rutter as one of the séance participants, a fourth wall-breaking narrator, and a demonic clown at the end. Filmed in Kidderminster in April 2016.

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  • 04/08/18--03:15: The Ferryman

  • d./w./p. Elliott Maguire cast: Nicola Holt, Garth Maunders, Pamela Ashton, Shobi Rae Mclean, Frank Mathews, Azz Mohammed, Philip Scott-Shurety

    Bleak and miserabilist (in a good way), The Ferryman is the sort of dour, oppressive horror that the UK does so much better than anywhere else. After her mother’s death, Mara attempts suicide and subsequently finds herself living with the father she never knew whom she initially hates (and who confusingly only looks about ten years older than her). Two further bizarre deaths – one off-screen, one very gory one on-screen – shatter Mara’s already fragile mental state, a situation compounded by necessary police questioning. She’s being stalked (or thinks she is, at any rate) by a personification of the Greek ferryman Charon, although it’s not really clear why. Well-directed and acted, the photography and lighting give no clue that this was shot on an iPhone although the sound suffers occasionally. Maguire boosted his on-screen production values by blagging access to a TV studio in Manchester via his day-job as a security guard on the Coronation Street set. Not to be confused with the identically titled 2007 Anglo-Kiwi sea-bound soul-swap psycho shocker.

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  • 04/20/18--13:54: Ghost Stories

  • d./w. Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman; p. Claire Jones, Robin Gutch; cast: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

    Ghost Stories was a popular success based on a name cast, the reputation of Dyson and Nyman’s West End play, and a massive marketing budget. When finally watched however, it’s an embarrassing disappointment: a swirling morass of clichés and jump scares belaboured with a staggeringly terrible score and topped by the most underwhelming, unimaginative ‘twist’ since The Others. Touted as an Amicus-style anthology, it’s nothing of the sort. Nyman (co-writer of much of Derren Brown’s work) plays Goodman, a professional sceptic challenged to solve three ‘unexplainable’ cases (by a heavily made up actor we’re not supposed to recognise). He interviews three people and we see their stories as flashback vignettes, but since there’s no material evidence to any of them there’s nothing unexplainable. The last act goes off on a tangent about Goodman’s own childhood traumas before ‘explaining’ everything (or rather, showing nothing needs explaining) with a revelation that is at least 98 years old. Shot in Yorkshire, it premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2017. Sigh.

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  • 04/26/18--10:53: Dark Matter

  • d./w./p. Mol Smith; cast: Dominic O’Flynn, Gina Purcell, Jamie-Jodie Shanks, Sharon Lawrence, Mel Mills

    This creepy, trippy sci-fi horror was the promising directorial debut of the writer-producer behind Tainted Love. Scientist James, taking time out to recover from losing his wife in a car crash, finds a meteorite in his garden and receives strange downloads on his PC. Using these – and a bathtub of hot water – he somehow creates a mysterious young woman who must be taught from scratch like an infant but learns very quickly. His friend and former colleague Valerie has some secrets of her own, including a teenage abortion. A blue guy later appears from the same bathtub while James experiences horrifying visions of his wife’s death and frequent ‘timeslips’ to other realities, including one where he and Valerie are married with kids. There are CGI spaceships in orbit because ‘dark matter’ has destroyed their home galaxy, or something. Frankly, if you can figure out the mind-scrambling third act you’re doing better than me. Smith acknowledged his debt to A for Andromeda, which is more than the makes of Species ever did.

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    A few weeks ago I delivered a presentation at the Fear2000 academic horror conference at Sheffield Hallam University.

    My paper, 'Horror Beyond Measure: The Exponential Rise of British Horror Cinema', was a statistical analysis of UK horror cinema production and release since January 2000. I can't deny: I was very pleased with how well it was received, especially as everyone there were clever academics and I'm just a marketing dweeb/ex-journalist.

    I have recorded an audio version of the Powerpoint, which is now available to download from Scribd, along with a PDF of the handout I produced.

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  • 05/07/18--07:58: The Shadow of Bigfoot

  • d./w./p. Philip Mearns; cast: Ben Shockley, Joe Simmonds, Keith Eyles, Hugo Myatt, John Rackham, James Payton, Kirsty Cox, Maria Thomas, Lindsay Groves

    True to the title, this micro-budget chiller sensibly restricts the eponymous cryptid to ominous shadows and the occasional glimpse of fur. Two believers and one sceptic head into the forests of North Carolina where the most obsessive of the trio shoots a sasquatch, determined to claim its carcass as proof, after which the humans are prey to a tribe of vengeful hominids. Although the forest exteriors could be anywhere, the opening scenes in an ‘American’ university are so obviously UK-set as to be borderline surreal. A brief glimpse of a US police car is the only clue (apart from some distinctly variable accents!) that we’re supposed to be in the States. The film’s strength lies in the performances as personal bonds break down in the face of imminent brutal death. Ostensibly intended as ‘tongue in cheek’ – which doesn’t really come across – you’ll either enjoy this as a solid cryptozoology adventure or mock its cheapness, although there are many far, far worse bigfoot movies than this. Shot in Kent in 2012. You can watch it for free on YouTube.

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  • 05/25/18--10:23: Home Videos

  • d./w./p. various; cast: Jason Impey, Jessica Hunt, Martynna Madej, Martin W Payne, Donna Hamblin, Luc Bernier, Kieran Johnston, Daiane Azura, Dean Allem, Clare Crumpton, Simon London, Suzy Weatherall, Adam Jones

    This found footage flatpack anthology from Trash Arts is distinguished by Jason Impey’s contribution ‘Case 019684’ which takes up most of the first half-hour. Stock footage of Impey as his ‘Jack Hess’ snuff film-maker character is combined with clips from his parents’ home movies, documenting Jason/Jack’s life from baby to boy to accomplished and busy indie horror film-maker/psychopath. The result is an extraordinary quasi-auto-biopic, structurally somewhere between Boyhoodand The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, which deserves to be extended to feature length. The remaining 60 minutes is the usual mishmash, the highlights being Sam Mason Bell’s ‘Scratchy Eyes’ (which uniquely manages to misspell its own title!), an effective silent, fake super-8 film of an 8th birthday with a creepy supernatural clown lurking at the back of shot; Stephen Longhurst’s ‘The Watcher’, a short, rural take on The Last Horror Movie; and Adam Jones’ vampire sketch ’The Interview’. Other contributions either drag on far too long or are barely there at all.

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  • 05/26/18--04:41: The Howling

  • d./w. Steven M Smith; p. Steven M Smith, Paul G Andrews; cast: Maria Austin, Jon-Paul Gates, Tiffany-Ellen Robinson, Hans Hernke, Tony Fadil, Eirik Knutsvik, Elizabeth Saint, Jeremy Hill

    Though it still has faults (not least the ridiculous, distributor-mandated title), this Universal homage is easily Smith’s best feature to date with moments that are genuinely impressive. Three friends searching for legendary mad scientist Rathbone and his rumoured coterie of monsters find what they’re looking for and soon regret it. Though promoted as a Frankenstein/werewolf mash-up this owes more to Dr Moreau. Its biggest strength is Alex Harrison’s corking monochrome photography (with occasional well-judged colour moments), evoking the post-Universal, pre-Hammer Euro-style of Freda or Franju. A superb sequence of Rathbone re-animating his disfigured wife then dancing with an idealised fantasy version of her leads into a brief but beautiful Bava-esque nightmare as an accidental witness (Robinson, who is just fantastic) runs past caged experiments. On the downside, the script is full of narrative gaps and unexplained motivations, and Gates’ accent provokes unintended giggles, wobbling between Bela Lugosi and Colonel Klink. End theme by Dr and the Medics, with a cameo by lead singer Clive Jackson.

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  • 06/21/18--10:10: Mrs Wiltshire

  • d./w. Neil Morris, Gary Smart; p. Neil Morris, Gary Smart, Christopher Griffiths, Stuart Conran; cast: Doris MF Bohnam, Bruce Jones, Stanley Rawlings, Simon Bamford, Ray Skeemer

    In 2017 Gary Smart, creator of books and documentaries on various 1980s horror classics, began making narrative films under the banner ‘Dark Ditties’. The Offer, a 48-minute sub-feature reuniting several Hellraiser cast including Bamford and Jones, was followed by this extraordinarily powerful social/supernatural horror. It’s essentially an extended monologue by an old lady, clearly suffering from dementia so that we’re never certain how much of what she experiences is real. Over the course of 65 expertly-judged minutes, we learn about her husband and what he did to her, and to their two children. Her son pleads with her to leave the house full of bad memories while her husband’s angry ghost bullies her into staying. Northern lower middle class pride melds with twisted supernatural fear in a superb production that feels like John Carpenter directing an Alan Bennett script. Terrific prosthetics by make-up legend Conran are the finishing touch on what is actually an important film about domestic abuse. Sit through the credits for a surprise. Finders Keeperswill be next.

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    d./w. Richard Mansfield; p. Richard Mansfield, Daniel Mansfield; cast: Jennie Fox, Darren Munn, Daniel Mansfield

    Mansfield Dark rides the current ‘creepy doll’ wave with this unnerving James-ian ghost story which, if anything, suffers slightly from under-using its off-the-shelf creepy doll. Single mum Rose, enjoying a week of solitude while the kids are with their dad, discovers a Walkman and some cassettes in her cellar which prove to be recordings of a psychologist interviewing a possessed child. There are two spirits at work, ‘Socks’ and ‘Mr Sheets’, although the story is unclear about their relationship. Fox is terrific in the lead role, her long hair and wide eyes evoking memories of 1970s horror victims, not least Shelley Duval in The Shining. Mansfield Dark regular Munn is the handsome young vicar who helps her; we’re left to wonder whether the sexual tension between the two has contributed to the supernatural situation. As usual, Richard Mansfield wrings fear from simple effects: a door opening, a duvet lifting, an indistinct figure in a white sheet. Originally released in February 2018 as The Demonic Doll, this shares a basic premise and location with Mansfield Dark's most successful movie so was retitled as an ersatz sequel in June.

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  • 07/09/18--11:48: Football Horror 1: Kick
  • d./w. Marcus Warren; p. Nick Hocart; cast: Daniel Bayle, Rik Young, Richard Strange, Pete Lee Wilson, Kellie Shirley, Steve Lorrigan

    Two friends find themselves locked in a building overnight with a deadly killer. This film’s unique take on that well-worn premise is that the building is a Premier League football stadium, where Dan and Steve took part in an unauthorised fan match orchestrated by a corrupt security guard. When they’re not out by ten, they find doors locked, corridors unlit and a couple of dead bodies that leave them in no doubt they’re in danger. Remarkably, this accurate take on the British passion for soccer was written and directed by an American. Young is particularly good as Dan, a dirty player on the pitch who can’t be relied on off it. Commendably taut at just 76 minutes, this doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it feel the need to explain everything. Filmed in 2012 at the homes of Doncaster and Leyton Orient, with some exteriors at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Kickpremiered at a film festival in Florida one week before its German release. It remains inexplicably unavailable in the UK.

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    d./w./p. John Mitchell; cast: Chris Ball Hero, Ann Maddern, Ben Carroll, Kung Fu Tony, Hugh Pincott, Spooky Lee Norton, Jonathan Lea, Warren Baker, Chris Woodward, Louis Thomsen

    There’s a real Attack of the Killer Tomatoes vibe to the straight-faced silliness of this amateur comedy about a demonic football… which sadly squanders whatever naïve charm it can muster by running a soul-sapping 135 minutes. Some Satanists curse a football which keeps landing in their garden and it then goes on a killing spree. Loser Dylan sets out to destroy the ball after being visited by the ghost of his brother, one of the first victims. He is helped by a goth chick (the only decent actor) and hindered by a camo-clad hunter (two planks of wood). Day/night continuity is just something that happens to other films apparently, but the ball’s animation – throwing/rolling it from offscreen plus judicious editing – works surprisingly well, and a few moments are genuinely funny (“Now stop wanking and avenge my death.”). Shot around Plymouth over six years for £300, this screened at a festival in New York in June 2014.

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  • 07/15/18--15:28: It Lives

  • d./w./p. Richard Mundy; cast: Andrew Kinsler, Peter McCrohon

    This terrific psychological horror/sci-fi feature about an isolated man interacting with a creepy AI brings to mind the more unsettling parts of 2001. In 2024, Roy is a lone technician managing a nuclear bunker in readiness for the arrival of selected individuals when needed. His only companion is Arthur, a computer that passes the Turing Test in its text screen conversations (avoiding a cheesy voice was an excellent decision). When the balloon goes up and no-one arrives before the doors lock, Roy finds himself trapped with an apparently sentient Arthur and some unexplained events. Paranoia understandably sets in: is he losing his mind, or not alone, or being manipulated by an electronic monster? Perhaps the whole ‘bunker’ scenario is fake and he’s just some psychological lab rat. Kinsler delivers a blistering, award-worthy solo performance, accentuated by great sets/locations (I recognised the Gosport Submarine Museum!) and Nick Barker’s cracking photography. Shot over three and a half years, this premiered at the BIFF in May 2016 under its original title Twenty Twenty-Four. The new title has major relevance and anyway, there are already two British horror films called The Bunker…

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  • 08/07/18--09:45: Apocalyptic Horror
  • d./w./p. Mike Tack; cast: Keith Eyles, Darren Steer, Richard Nock, Clive Ashenden, Kyle Parke, Neil Martin, Louise Tack, Geoff Brotherton, Ryan Parke, Adam Rabbit, Sam Hall, Darran Duglan

    Don’t expect zombies in this impressive flatpack anthology – the title references Tack’s production company, Apocalyptic Conservatory Studios. The first of seven shorts is the weakest: eight minutes of torture porn with a weak gag pay-off. Then a customer takes violent revenge on a dodgy car salesman; a Government minister is a literal demon; and a scarecrow avenges an old man, killed on his allotment. Story 5 is an impressive expansion of no.2, revising our sympathies and featuring some startling gangster violence. This is followed by an honest-to-goodness werewolf western (partly shot on a Colorado dude ranch) and finally a documentary about a horror cosplayer. Each short has full credits; copyrights range 2013-2016 and running times 4-16 minutes. Production values are remarkably high, especially in the western tale which features steam trains and horses, and Tack’s rep company are all solidly capable. But it’s Tim Richards’ top-notch gore effects which really stand out, giving this an enjoyably nasty 1980s vibe at times.

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  • 08/08/18--13:13: Aura
  • d./w. Steve Lawson; p. Jonathon Sothcott, Richard Watts-Joyce; cast: Shane Taylor, Janine Nerissa Sothcott, Rula Lenska, Denise Moreno, Jay Sutherland, Steven Dolton

    Mitch and Diane, an Anglo-American couple with a baby on the way, move into a house inherited from Mitch’s creepy uncle, despite the disapproval of his fundamentalist Christian mother. Old ‘Kirlian’ photographs inspire Mitch to rescue his long-incarcerated sister from an asylum. The actual ‘aura’ schtick is somewhat underused and largely incidental to what is, rather, a commendably solid tale of demonic possession – bolstered by a great turn from Lenska as a psychic trying to dispel the evil presence. For the first product from his Hereford Horror label, Sothcott offered capable microbudget helmer Lawson (Hellriser, Killersaurus– but not Dead Cert) a step up the budget ladder. Lawson still uses his restrictions well, with limited cast and locations, but better actors and an actual crew (and a set that isn’t a Loughborough lock-up!) allow him to concentrate on fluid camera-work and smooth performances. Moreno is particularly creepy as the sister. Lawson regular Dolton plays the uncle in a prologue. Shot in the USA in December 2017. Sothcott and Lawson swiftly reteamed for Pentagram.

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  • 08/25/18--08:17: Killer Gimps

  • d./w./p. Jason Impey, Kieran Johnstone; cast: Jason Impey, Kieran Johnstone, Martin W Payne, Mathis Vogel, Amber Lee, Sammie Lei, Murdo Yule, Max Todd, Katie Johnson , Kaz B

    Shared flatpack anthology with each director helping the other in various capacities on both sides of the camera. Kieran’s segments are Underworld: The Dark Web (mockdoc of policeman investigating body parts smuggling), Disorder (newly pregnant policeman’s wife raped and murdered by man in gimp costume), Boxing Day (Yuletide found footage), Nightman(gasmask-wearing killer murders policemen, with Slasher House director MJ Dixon as an additional victim) and two brief vignettes. Jason contributes Two Tales of Terror (brace of faux silent movies, incorporating footage from Sick Bastard), Lust (woman fucks skeleton then gives herself home abortion in the bath), Inner Voice (bulimia) and Gimp. This last, in which Impey plays himself (he says he’s working on Troubled), has an undead gimp take revenge on a sleazy film distributor who has dressed as a Nazi officer to entrap a dominatrix(!). Repeated use of actors and locations (mostly the director’s homes) give this an almost Twilight Zone weirdness. First released on limited VHS in September 2017 (minus Inner Voice) as Necrophiliac and the Killer Gimps, it popped up - retitled and expanded - on DVD the following March.

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  • 08/26/18--09:35: The Vampire Controller

  • d./w./p. Simon Black; cast: Mark Blackwell, Martin Daniels, Vera Bremerton, Tasha Wilton, Simon Boswell, Johnny No, Sophia Disgrace, Thomas Williamson, Suzy Wong, Katerina Samoilis

    Not listed on IMDB, barely even findable on Google, never reviewed anywhere and only released in a limited run of 100 DVDs sold through eBay, this 54-minute sub-feature – the bastard stepchild of Jean Rollin and Cradle of Filth – is arguably the most obscure British vampire film ever released. A Lugosi-esque black magician (Daniels, also credited with the original idea) orders two female acolytes (singer Bremerton and performer Wilton) – who we only know are vampires because we’ve read the sleeve – to seduce, kidnap and abuse a priest (Blackwell). That’s about it as far as plot goes, with director Black (A Girl) more interested in imagery and sound. Artsy and gothic, this manages to be both impressionist and expressionist and would probably function better as a video installation in a gallery or nightclub rather than as a narrative feature. Composer Boswell (Lord of Illusions, Dust Devil) plays a Monseigneur in occasional cutaways, with model/performer Disgrace (Spidarlings) as his cleaning lady. The discordant soundtrack features cuts from Noise Collector, Salapakappa Sound System, Serpentina, Silencide and others.

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  • 08/29/18--13:36: Craving

  • d./w. Christian Edwards; p. Tom Richards; cast: Mark Grinham, Julie Gilmour, Steve Garry, Lauren Pressdee, Victoria Hopkins, Nick Stoppani, Les Richards, Marysia Kay, Christian Edwards, Amelia Tyler, Penny Bond, Jason Impey, Alexander Bakshaev

    Shot in June 2008 with a bundle of recognisable names and faces, Edwards’ only film nevertheless managed to remain in complete obscurity for a decade before coming to accidental light. Hopkins is half of an Anglo-Aussie couple whose relationship is in trouble. Her philandering hubby is preyed on by a vampire whore and her human pimp but escapes, though not without taking a bite and suffering the effects. The film’s biggest problem is that it’s never clear which is the main story: the breaking-up couple or the tragic vampire (Gilmour) who has some good dialogue on the loneliness of immortality. Kay is a nurse tending to the guy’s ill father; Impey and Bakshaev have cameos as earlier victims. Music by Preteneraturalhelmer Gav Chuckie Steel. Shot in black and white and (bizarrely) what appears to be Academy ratio, this was released on YouTube in July 2011 as a seven-episode serial.

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  • 08/31/18--12:51: The Bad Nun

  • d./w. Scott Jeffrey; p. Scott Jeffrey, Rebecca J Matthews; cast: Becca Hirani, Thomas Mailand, Tiffany-Ellen Robinson, Mika Hockman, Cassandra French, Patsy Prince, Lucy Chappell

    Passable slasher from Proportion Productions with an original, if unconvincing, plot held up by a brace of strong performances. Aesha (Hirani, aka producer Matthews, formerly Becky Fletcher) is sent by her mum to stay in an isolated B&B run by cheery Dan. He goes out for the night, leaving Aesha in charge of an unseen poorly daughter. Later, a nun comes knocking at the door but Aesha is sensibly reluctant to let a stranger into a house that’s not hers. The nun’s identity is screamingly obvious from the start (well, not the very start – there’s a 12-minute splash panel prologue) and since she evidently has access to the house, it’s unclear why she spends so long asking to be let in. Nevertheless, these scenes of Aesha talking through the front door are the tense, uncomfortable heart of the film. The distinctly wobbly story (and some frustrating continuity errors) are ameliorated by good photography and sound and Lee Olivier-Hall’s tense score. Originally announced as Knock Knock, it was filmed in March 2018 as The Watcher.

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