There have been a few landmark movies since Victor Halperin launched the undead sub-genre with White Zombie in 1932. Among the most notable are Jacques Tourneur's Val Lewton-produced chiller, I Walked With a Zombie (1943), George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), the Spanish duo of Jorge Grau's The Living Dead At the Manchester Morgue (1974) and Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's [Rec] (2007), Peter Jackson's Braindead (1992), Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), Robin Campillo's Les Revenants (2004) and Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland (2009). Many would credit Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004), as a turning point in zomcom history. But its plodding plotting and humdrum humour are exposed by the invention and audacity of writer-director-editor Shinichiro Ueda's debut feature, One Cut of the Dead. 

Director Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is furious with leading lady Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) for needing 42 takes to show convincing terror at being stalked by the zombie being played by her lover, Ko (Kazuaki Nagaya). During a break, make-up artist Nao (Harumi Syuhama) tries to reassure the stressed actress that she is doing her best and that Takayuki is being unreasonable. As they are filming in a disused water filtration plant, Nao confides that the Japanese military used the premises for secret rejuvenation experiments and the pair are spooked when they hear what sounds like a shriek coming from outside. 

As the camera follows the boom operator outside, we see assistant director Kasahara (Hiroshi Ichihara) being attacked in bright sunshine by a real zombie he mistakes for an extra. His arm is wrenched off and tossed back inside, where Nao is wondering whether it's a realistic prop before Kasahara comes looking for it. Ko manages to usher the assistant and another zombie outdoors, but Takayuki is delighted by Chinatsu's response to the attacks and he urges the cinematographer to keep filming so that he can get some authentic fright reactions. 

On hearing someone calling for help at one of the doors, Chinatsu lets them in and, when they turn out to be a ravening monster, Nao decapitates them with a single swing of an axe and urges the lovers to make for the car. Once inside, however, they discover that Kasahara has the keys and Chinatsu has to fight him off and flee along a dark corridor with a twisted ankle in order to get hold of his satchel in the hope of finding the car keys. Ko rescues her from an ambush and Nao allows them back inside the plant via the back door.

As Chinatsu is limping and has a cut on her calf, Nao decides she is a threat and chases her with the axe. Bursting through the door, Chinatsu seeks sanctuary on the roof and is relieved when Koo overpowers Nao and buries the blade in her skull. However, with Takayuki still following her to capture her expressions, Chinatsu hides out in a tool shed. While cowering behind a barrel, she realises that the gash on her leg is actually a special effect and she peels it off with a sigh of relief. But she is quickly confronted by another zombie and hurtles into the sunlight to find her boyfriend. 

He is still on the roof and Chinatsu finds herself re-enacting the scene she couldn't get right, with Takayuki urging her to feel the fear. She beheads Ko and turns the axe on her director (in a savage off-camera assault) before stumbling through the grounds of the filtration plant. Suddenly, the title and closing credits appear on screen and the brilliantly bravura first act ends, with Chinatsu standing in a pentagram daubed on the roof and looking up impassively into the camera. 

A call of `Cut!' takes us back a month, as Takayuki is approached by two executives from the newly formed Zombie Channel, Shinichiro Kosawa (Shinichiro Osawa) and Yoshiko Sasahara (Yoshiko Takehara), to make an hour-long live film in a single take. He thinks they're joking, even though he has earned a reputation while making ads and pop promos for being `fast, cheap, but average'. But they are deadly serious and we pass through the opening credits for Ueda's film before we discover that Takayuki and wife Harumi (Harumi Shuhama) have a daughter named Mao (Mao), who has just lost her job with a film crew for mishandling the mother of a little girl required for a crying sequence. In a bid to cheer her up, Takayuki casts her favourite actor, Kazuaki Kamiya (Kazuaki Nagaya), in his zombie movie after seeing her reaction to a TV interview. 

Despite Nao having misgivings about the project, Yakayuki signs up and meets Kazuaki and pop star leading lady Aika Matsumoto (Yuzuki Akiyama) at the run through. However, he is wholly unimpressed with the actors cast to play the dorky assistant Hiroshi Yamanouchi (Hiroshi Ichihara), alcoholic cameraman Manabu Hosoda (Manabu Hosoi), diarrhoea-suffering sound man Shunsuke Yamagoe (Shuntaro Yamazaki) and the pair playing himself, Daigo Kurooka (Satoshi Iwago), and his make-up woman, Mai Aida (Kyoko Takahashi), who has had to bring her baby into work because she couldn't find a carer. While they take a break because the infant is bawling, Aika reveals that her agency won't let her be covered in blood or vomit, as it will be bad for her pop princess image. Kazuaki also has a problem with one of the zombies using an axe, as the undead are not supposed to be able to handle tools. 

Yakayuki tries to look as if he's in control, as he takes the cast and crew through the storyboards and rehearses some camera moves with cinematographer Taniguchi (Takuya Fujimura) and his assistant, Saki Matsuura (Sakina Asamori), who keeps making suggestions about using zoom shots and offering to operate the handheld rig because he has back ache. Meanwhile, Harumi is learning self-defence from a video course (which encourages the use of the word `pom' whenever executing a move) and Mao tells her that she should take up acting again because she always gets bored when she attempts a new hobby. 

Back on the set, Shunsuke checks with assistant Junna Kurihawa (Ayana Goda) that there will  be adequate toilet facilities at the location, while Kazuaki keeps finding flaws with the script. Yakayuki also gets chatting to Manabu, who is attempting his latest comeback after problems with alcohol. He is touched by his struggle and sobs into his own hooch that evening, prompting Harumi to exploit the fact he is feeling vulnerable to ask him for a favour. 

Having persuaded her husband to let her and Mao watch the shoot, Harumi finds herself being cast as the make-up lady and Yakayuki has to step in and play the director after Daigo and Mai (who are secretly having an affair) are involved in a car crash en route to the location. Meanwhile, Manubu gets the shakes just before the broadcast begins, while Shunsuke gets the trots. Taniguchi also has back spasms and Saki offers to take over the camera, but he insists he is fine. Shinichiro and Yoshiko are fine with the switches and commend Yakayuki on his intensity in the scene in which he admonishes Chinatsu for requiring 42 takes. 

It doesn't take long for things to start going wrong, however, as Manabu finds a bottle of booze and is too drunk to respond to his cue. Therefore, Harumi is forced to improvise the business with Nao showing Chinatsu and Ko her self-defence moves (complete with the exclamation, `Pom!'). But Yakayuki gets Manabu upright in time to attack Kasahara and the liquid that sprays his face is genuine vomit, which leaves the actor playing the AD squealing in distress as he is fitted with his severed arm. Shunsuke then tries to bale out of his scene because he needs the loo and Yakayuki has to block his path, while remaining in character and relying on assistant Junna and continuity clerk Miki Yoshino (Miki Yoshida) to keep the show on the road. 

However, when Miki starts to flounder, Mao jumps in and suggests that Shunsuke should be turned into a zombie to take advantage of the fact that he is moving awkwardly having just soiled himself. He blunders through a door in time to have his head sliced off and Saki gets her chance to take over the camera when Taniguchi puts his back out and she makes extravagant use of shaki-cam and zooms during Chinatsu's fight with Kasahara over the car keys. 

Meanwhile, Mao reveals that her mother had to quit acting because she would lose herself in roles and ditch the script. As she speaks, Harumi knocks Yakayuki out of the way to charge on to the roof after Ko and Chinatsu and Saki has to keep the camera fixed on the latter screaming while Yakayuki incapacitates his wife and leaves her with an axe buried in her head to keep her from ruining the last part of the film. Using cue cards to give the actors instructions, he gets round the fact that the crane for the final shot has been pushed off the roof by forming the cast and crew into a human pyramid and passes the camera to Mao at the summit to get the top shot down on to the bemused Chinatsu. 

As the show ends, producer Yoshiko claps her hands in glee at how well it all went, while the cast and crew beam at each other with relief. Having had the pyramid brainwave, Mao shows her father a treasured photograph of her younger self holding a camera while being perched on his shoulders and he grins with pride. The credits roll and we see shots of Ueda's crew beavering away behind the scenes to position dummy corpses, apply fake gore and guide the camera around the set to ensure that, while this may be fast and cheap, it is anything but average. 

Played with unassuming alacrity by a cast that never betrays the fact it's in on the joke, the action slows down a touch in the central section following the impeccably choreographed 37-minute `found footage' opening. But Ueda is wise to take his time over setting up the characters and situations that pay such rich dividends in the prolonged reveal, which feels like a magician delighting in letting the audience in on the secrets of a particularly extravagant trick.

Abetted by the committed thesping of Harumi Syuhama, Takayuki Hamatsu and Yuzuki Akiyama, the nimble camerawork of Takeshi Sone and canny make-up effects created by Kazuhide Shimohata, Ueda has created one of the boldest, slickest and most amusing horror comedies of recent times. Such is the deftness and intricacy of the conceit that a single viewing does insufficient justice to the ingenuity of the structure and the precision with which the gags are set up and executed. As writer and editor, Ueda has complete control over the organised chaos unfolding on screen and it will be fascinating to see what he comes up with for his notoriously tricky second picture.

British horror has long had an active DIY sector and Iain Ross-McNamee follows up the micro-budgeted The Singing Bird Will Come (2015) with Crucible of the Vampire, a Gothic shocker rooted in the lore of such venerable operations as Hammer, Amicus and Tygon, which dominated the genre in the 1960s and 70s. Co-scripted by Darren Lake and John Wolskel, this virgin in peril saga may not be particularly original. But Ross-McNamee makes effective use of locations across Shropshire, including a splendid wood-panelled manor house that becomes a key character in its own right.

In a 17th-century prologue designed to recall Michael Reeves's Witchfinder General (1968), Matthew Hopkins's trusted assistant, John Stearne (John Stirling), accuses Ezekiel Fletcher (Brian Croucher) of brewing a potion to revive his dead daughter, Lydia (Lisa Martin), and cleaves the necromancer's cauldron in twain with his sword before hanging him from a tree. Leaping forward several centuries, museum director Professor Edwards (Phil Hemming) sends assistant curator Isabelle (Katie Goldfinch) to Shropshire to assess whether the half-cauldron discovered in the basement of a stately home matches the artefact in their collection. 

Uncertain whether she is adequately qualified for such a mission, Isabelle is greeted with cordial scepticism by Karl Scott-Morton (Larry Rew), who had been expecting a senior official to conduct the investigation. He introduces her to his wife, Evelyn (Babette Barat), who had once designed costumes for the theatre, and their skittishly intense daughter, Scarlet (Florence Cady). Over supper, Isabelle learns that the house had been built by a recusant Catholic family and that the Scott-Mortons hope to sell the cauldron to complete their renovations. Evelyn gives Isabelle a torch to light her way to the bathroom, as there is no electricity on her corridor and she is disturbed by noises in the small hours and the sight of a spectral figure in the shadows. 

The next morning, Isabelle comes across Scarlet dancing and asks if she had been moving around in the night. She denies everything, but rummages through Isabelle's bag while she is working in the cellar and steals a pair of her panties. That night, Evelyn brings Isabelle a tonic to drink and she has a strange dream, in which a Scarlet rides a white horse while a long-haired woman rocks on a garden swing. She is still feeling unsettled when Karl asks her about her love life and quotes a passage from St Augustine's Confessions before recommending she consults the copy in the library. 

Pleased with her progress, Karl encourages Isabelle to visit the local pub, where she meets Robert (Neil Morrissey), the gardener at the hall, who tells her the gruesome story of how his predecessor was found with his throat ripped out by barbed wire. Veronica the barmaid (Angela Carter) confides that the Scott-Mortons keep to themselves and inquires whether she has a boyfriend. Sipping on her vodka tonic, Isabelle explains that she is getting over a break-up caused by her strict Catholic views on premarital sex. On her way home along a woodland path, Isabelle is followed by Tom (Aaron Jeffcoate), who warns her not to linger at the house and is thrashed across the face by Karl for his impertinence and for trespassing on his land. 

Wandering into the library the next morning, Isabelle finds a document written in 1807 by Jeremiah Kane (Charles O'Neill), who had discovered the Stearne cauldron by the banks of the river and had been driven out of the property by the recurring sound of pipe music and the apparition of a staring woman. She keeps the account to herself, however, as she wanders to the village to use the payphone (Scarlet has stolen her mobile) to inform Edwards that Karl refuses to let the cauldron off the premises and insists on the other half being sent by the museum so she can confirm they match. 

Frustrated by what he considers to be money-grabbing tactics, Edwards agrees and Isabelle returns to the hall, where Robert explains that Tom is the son of his predecessor and has it in for himself and Karl. He urges her to take care. But, as she sleeps, Isabelle is woken by Lydia prowling around the room and she seeks sanctuary in Scarlet's bed. She proceeds to tell her a ghost story and seduce her, with Isabelle being seemingly powerless to resist, even as Scarlet nuzzles her neck and bears her fangs. 

Checking for marks on her throat the next morning, Isabelle comes down to breakfast and is being questioned about her dreams by Evelyn and Scarlet when the other half of the cauldron arrives in the post. Karl seems excited, but takes umbrage when Isabelle mentions ghosts and Robert again warns her about offending her host. Undaunted, she gets up in the night and uses an organ in the hall to play the melody that Kane had recorded in his memoir and she seems surprised when the notes summon Lydia, who not only places a clammy hand on the keyboard, but who also confronts Isabelle, as she returns to her room by torchlight. 

Despite only having half an hour before her train the next morning, Isabelle agrees to try a pressée that Karl has concocted and again seems taken aback when she loses consciousness and wakes to find herself lashed to a mattress in a fly-filled attic. He explains that he was never interested in selling his half of the cauldron, as he needs it to revive Lydia so that she can bestow the gift of immortality to her disciples. Isabelle manages to wriggle free, but she is captured by a group of hooded figures that includes Veronica, who proceeds to draw the syringe of her virginal blood that Karl needs for the resurrection ritual.  

However, Isabelle manages to turn the table and turns Karl into a fireball with a thrown candle before she stabs Evelyn and caves in Veronica's head with the cauldron. As she attempts to flee, however, she is pursued by the knife-wielding Scarlet, while Lydia dispatches Robert when he tries to protect Isabelle. After a protracted chase through the upper part of the house, Scarlet plunges over the staircase balustrade, while Lydia perishes in a ball of flame after she follows Isabelle into the daylight. Yet, she still seems to have learnt nothing from her experiences, as Isabelle wanders back indoors, as the image is tinted blood red. 

While the storyline might lurch between contrivances and some of the support playing leaves a lot to be desired, Ross-McNamee manages to generate a palpable sense of unease in this serviceable chiller. Punctuated by some rather pompous chapter headings, the action lacks suspense. But an air of menace pervades proceedings that are made all the more unsettling by the atmospheric use of Acton Reynald Hall, as Richard Carlton's camera prowls around the creaking corridors to the accompaniment of Michelle Bee's ominous score. 

Ross-McNamee's editing isn't always as sharp as it might be, while he ends too many scenes with close-ups of puzzled expressions that recall what Matt LeBlanc called `smell the fart' acting in an episode of Friends. Clearly, Neil Morrissey is the most familiar face on show, but he is very much of secondary significance, as the onus falls on sophomore star Katie Goldfinch to convey the requisite blend of dread and vulnerability required of a horror heroine. Larry Rew is hammily threatening as her host, while the debuting Florence Cady camps it up as best she can in homage to Ingrid Pitt in Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers (1970). Doubtless she and Goldfinch will go on to better things. But, while he is still very much a neophyte, Ross-McNamee does enough to suggest that he has potential. 

It's not always easy to fathom the rationale behind a remake, especially when the original has more than stood the test of time. Dane Michael Noer's version of Henri Charrière's memoir, Papillon, would be considered a solid piece of work were it not so obviously in the shadow of Franklin J. Schaffner's imposing 1971 adaptation, which not only sprawled to an impressive 150 minutes, but which also boasted the presence of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in their pomp. Thus, while Noer takes the tale at a brisker clip and Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek deliver creditably non-stellar performances, it's too tempting to play the comparison game and find this inessential return to French Guiana wanting in almost every regard. 

It's 1931 when safecracker Henri `Papillon' Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is framed for the murder of a pimp and sentenced to life in an escape-proof penal colony. Despite the fact his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson), is able to vouch for his alibi, Papillon (who has earned his nickname because of a butterfly tattoo) has made too many enemies in the underworld for justice to be done and he finds himself on a boat to South America with counterfeiter, Louis Dega (Rami Malek). 

During the first night at sea, Dega has to pretend to be asleep when he is woken in the night by a couple of desperadoes slicing open the stomach of the man bunking next to him because he has swallowed some money. Despite the fact he is also suspected of having a secret stash of cash, Dega proves more convivial than the other inmates and Papillon saves his life when an attempt is made to rob him and he is punished by the guards for causing a fracas. In gratitude for his intervention, Dega promises that he will use his contacts to help Papillon escape once they reach French Guiana. 

Conditions under Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen) and his deputy, Brioulet (Nikola Kent) are brutal and Papillon and Dega try to keep out of the firing line. However, when they are ordered to remove the corpse of a guillotined prisoner, Papillon seizes a rock and attacks the guard who is whipping Dega and he makes a desperate dash into the jungle in the hope of getting away. However, it's impossible to survive in the wild and he is recaptured and sentenced to two years' solitary confinement. Dega smuggles him food and Barrot cuts his rations by half and plunges his cell into darkness when his supply is discovered. But Papillon takes the additional punishment rather than betraying his only friend. 

When Papillon finally emerges, Dega promises to help him escape because he still has access to his money because he is protected as Barrot's assistant. As they hit upon a plan involving the infirmary, Papillon begins to feign signs of madness and is placed under observation. Dega schemes with Celier (Roland Møller) to get hold of a boat and they reluctantly agree to allow the sexually abused Maturette (Joel Basman) to join them. 

On the night of the getaway, Dega gets the guards drunk and they scale the walls. However, Dega breaks his ankle in the fall and Celier wants to abandon him because he is slowing them down. A storm blows up and it becomes evident that they are not going to be able to cross to the mainland in a tiny craft. Celier suggests killing Dega to reduce their numbers, but he is the one to perish in a fight. Pressing on, Papillon, Dega and Maturette reach a convent run by Colombian nuns and hope that the Mother Superior (Veronica Quilligan) will give them sanctuary. However, she is law-abiding, as well as God-fearing and she betrays the fugitives to the local soldiers and Papillon is given another five years in solitary for his refusal to knuckle under. 

By the time he is released to a facility on Devil's Island, Papillon is older, but no wiser. Dega, on the other hand, has resigned himself to dying behind bars, as he is still plagued by his leg injury. Peering down from the high cliffs, Papillon sees a cove whose currents could sweep a raft to safety. He tries to convince Dega that they could leap holding sacks of coconuts, which would not only break their fall when they hit the water, but would also provide the buoyancy they would need to survive the waves. Degas refuses to go and warns Papillon against the risk. But he takes the plunge and a closing sequence shows him enjoying his freedom many years later, after he had been invited to return to France following the publication of his bestselling memoirs. 

Noer has already proved himself to be adept with prison pictures, having directed the grittily uncompromising R: Hit First, Hit Hardest (2010). But, while he is aided by production designer Tom Meyer and cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski to convey the starkness of the bagne, Noer is rather let down by screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (who has also been behind bars before in Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners, 2013), even though he draws on the 1973 script penned by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr., as well as Charrière's tome and adds the scenes in which Papillon's innocence is established beyond any doubt. The bond between Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek is too sketchily established for them to seem anything more than allies of convenience rather than die-hard buddies. This makes it more difficult for the actors to create characters who are distinct from those fashioned by McQueen and Hoffman in the original, even though Hunnam impresses with his physical transformations. 

As one might expect, the standout set-pieces from the Schaffner picture (which the great Jean-Pierre Melville was keen to direct) have been faithfully recreated. But, shooting on Malta and in Serbia and Montenegro, Noer struggles to achieve comparable levels of spectacle, although he considerable increases the savagery of the violence meted out to the prisoners. Once again, however, mediocre characterisation leaves Yorick van Wageningen looking like an identikit sadist who has watched too many movies about German POW camp commandants. David Buckley's score prevents the action from going too gung-ho. But, while it succeeds on its own terms, this awkwardly allegorical tribute to the indomitability of the human spirit will leaves its deepest impression on those who haven't seen the McQueen-Hoffman version.