Friday, 14 December 2018

TOP DOG

CONTAINS SPOILERS. WOOF.

In that same spirit of two or more big movies on the same theme just happening along at the same time independently of each other (Deep Impact and Armageddon, Antz and A Bug's Life, Dante's Peak and Volcano), 1989 gave us two buddy cop movies in which one of the partners was a dog. Neither K-9 nor Turner And Hooch were anything more than okay amusements, and the trend didn't go much further than that - so it's weird that a full six years later Chuck Norris did the same thing to almost no effect. Maybe he saw the Belushi or Hanks films on late night TV and decided that sort of thing would be his next project (despite the fact that Chuck Norris is the go-to guy for light comedy the way I'm the go-to guy for a Charleston.) Sadly, or perhaps not, it didn't work: the mixture of cute dog slapstick, Norris kicking scumbags in the head and white supremacy terrorist whackjobs simply never fits together.

Chuck Norris is a tough, no-nonsense cop in the Chuck Norris mould; for comedy reasons he's partnered with Reno, a dog who witnessed the murder of his former partner/handler and will recognise the killers if he sees them again. It's all down to a cabal of neo-Nazi racist maniacs planning a bombing spree in San Diego and they'll kill anyone, even dogs, cops or dog cops, who tries to stop them....

In the event the film's failure wasn't entirely their fault: Top Dog opened in the USA nine days after an actual terrorist bombing (Oklahoma City), although they could have pulled the release until a decent interval had passed, the way Arnie's meh terrorism thriller Collateral Damage was held back for several months after September 11. Even allowing for all that, however, it's still not very good: fans of vintage Norris knockabout like Missing In Action and (my favourite CN film) Lone Wolf McQuade will have to put up with the cutesy stuff and relatively bloodless action sequences. Like the Hanks and Belushi films, it's pleasant enough and generally harmless, but that's really not what you want from Chuck.

**

Sunday, 9 December 2018

MARIANNE

DOESN'T CONTAIN MUCH IN THE WAY OF SPOILERS

Okay, okay, it's not terrible. We're not talking the depths of genuine rubbish here: we're not talking Ted V Mikels here. But it is ultimately a mostly boring family drama from Sweden with only a light dash of the supernatural about it and a couple of brief appearances from Peter Stormare. Other than that it's pretty dull and about twenty minutes longer than it needs to be, and someone really should have taken a pair of garden shears to it.

Mostly Marianne concerns a man failing to communicate with his sulky teen goth daughter in the aftermath of (and indeed before) the death of his wife in a car smash, the exact details of which are kept hidden until the end. Is he being stalked in his sleep by a Mare, a vengeful spirit of Swedish folklore, or is it just a manifestation of grief and guilt over the accident and his broken family?

Stormare is usually good for some agreeable hamming, but not in this case: Marianne is a quiet, sombre and frankly miserable drama, it's not a horror movie and there's little fun to be had with it, so the performances are quite rightly restrained and non-theatrical. As a drama about grieving and family it's fine, and more successful than the horror movie it veers towards every often, but crucially it's advertised as horror and not gloom and glumness, and it's hard enough to care very much anyway given that our lead is not terribly likeable. Of minor interest.

**

Saturday, 8 December 2018

WHEELS OF FIRE / THE SISTERHOOD

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

One of the problems with putting old trash movies onto the streaming services is that on many occasions the print quality is absolutely terrible. They're frequently sourced from VHS tapes (and not even first generation by the look of some of them, which might make for a warm nostalgic feeling for the days of bootlegged copies of copies) and more often than not are cropped to four by three. Sometimes they're windowboxed into the middle of the screen. Happily, sometimes you get a nice widescreen film print to look at, with the added bonus of all the footage the BBFC snipped out in their more scissor-happy days.

Two slices of prime 80s macho trash from Cirio H Santiago have turned up on Prime recently, dating from the Mad Max era when anyone with access to a desert, some pimped-up stock cars and a wardrobe full of leather bondage gear could royally rip it off. Both take place in a barren post-holocaust wasteland where armies of disposable thugs roam around in dune buggies, picking off travellers and abducting the womenfolk for the usual sordid reasons. (As you'd expect, there's little indication where they get an apparently inexhaustible supply of gasoline.) Wheels Of Fire has a man tracking down his sister, kidnapped by a gang leader and holed up in a fortress for the big final reel showdown. The Sisterhood is far less petrol-driven, with an all-female community (all of whom have superpowers such as healing or telekinesis) at risk from the usual biker/buggy gangs.

Despite the desert setting and the curious plot contrivance of a female character having the ability to communicate with birds, the two films aren't connected in any way. Of the two, Wheels Of Fire is easily the better film, if only for the fact that it's blessed with an early score by Christopher Young, later to emerge as an A-list horror composer (Hellraiser, The Fly II) although in this instance he seems to been told to emulate the sound of Brian May's scores to the first two Mad Max films. By contrast, The Sisterhood is saddled with an unlistenable Fisher-Price plonky keyboard score that makes a two-octave Bontempi sound like the London Symphony Orchestra by comparison. (It does, however, include Lynn-Holly Johnson, the barely legal ice-skating nymphomaniac from For Your Eyes Only.)

Neither of the films are masterpieces: the car action obviously lacks the insane verve of the Mad Max movies, the acting is pretty basic and the plots sometimes veer off in weird diversions such as underground communities and hidden bunkers full of weapons. The fixation on rape is an uncomfortable callback to a less enlightened mindset, which is hopefully something that even trashy exploitation movies have grown out of now. It's nice to see they're still available, and as a special treat Wheels Of Fire probably includes the two minutes plus that the BBFC removed for its VHS release a third of a century ago, but unless you've a soft spot for this kind of junk (I kind of enjoyed 2019: After The Fall Of New York, and I do want to rewatch the likes of Bronx Warriors and The New Barbarians at some point) they're neither of them essentials.

***
**

Sunday, 25 November 2018

ROBIN HOOD

CONTAINS SPOILERS. YES, AGAIN

Yes, again. Yet another trip to Sherwood Forest with the Merrie Men and the boo-hiss Sheriff and comely Maid Marian, reimagined for another generation after the tedious slog of the Ridley Scott version with Russell Crowe and his internationally roaming accent. Happily the results this time are a lot better: a comicbook romp of anachronistic dialogue, reinvented characters, impossible whizzbang action sequences that must at some point have been conceived with 3D in mind, and a sense of fun that Scott and Crowe completely discarded. It's still not very good, and the spectre of Guy Ritchie (specifically King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword) hangs over it, but as big-scale popcorn nonsense goes it zips along and probably has more chance of a followup than King Arthur did.

Despite Robin's opening voiceover telling you to forget what you think you already know, the first half of Robin Hood follows the familiar story: Robin Of Loxley (Taron Egerton) returns home from the Crusades to find his mansion a ruin, his beloved Marian (Eve Hewson) missing and the Sheriff Of Nottingham (Ben Mendelsohn) crushing the peasantry underfoot in the mines. He's helped by a Moor (Jamie Foxx) whose name roughly translates to John, who stowed away in the ship back to England when Robin heroically tried to stop prisoners being pointlessly executed. John teaches him the astonishing archery skills necessary to get their revenge of the Sheriff and the whole corrupt establishment....

What this amounts to, essentially, is a Batman story: by day he's landowner and philanthropist Sir Robin Of Loxley, but by night he's The Hood, fighting for justice for the people because ineffectual wannabe politician Will Scarlett (Jamie Dornan) isn't strong enough. (He's also Marian's new partner, setting up the love triangle and ultimately positioning him as the new villain in any potential sequel.) The opening war scenes are basically Full Metal Quiver, with a squad of British squaddies pinned down by a sniper with a mechanical archery device (I'm sure one of the poor Tommies even called out "Incoming!" at one point). Personally I'm still on the fence about Egerton, but Mendelsohn is magnificently evil, easily out-Rickmanning everyone else in the film. Comedy relief is supplied by Tim Minchin as Friar Tuck, blimey-it's-him surprise star value is supplied by no less than F Murray Abraham as a scheming Cardinal.

It's fun enough, and it's very silly, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's certainly not the worst of the film versions (which for me is still Ridley Scott's, a film which made me wonder whether I wanted to even bother with mainstream, general audience cinema any more). The endless concessions to the modern audience, extending to a thudding rock song over the closing credits which is way, way worse than Everything I Do from the Costner version, are only to be expected these days and they don't get in the way of a decent enough superhero action movie.

***

BLOOD FEST

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND WAKE ME WHEN IT'S OVER

Once upon a time, horror movies were mainly full of dumb Americans who'd never seen a horror movie in their lives and kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed because they didn't know any better. Then Scream came along and suddenly horror movies were full of dumb Americans who knew all about horror movies and how to survive them but still kept wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. Now suddenly horror movies are full of dumb Americans who not only know and understand horror movies on the nerdiest of levels, but spend their Halloweens wandering around horror theme parks in which people dressed as monsters and maniacs actively leap out at you and chase you round generic, non-copyright installations - and still keep on wandering into darkened rooms and getting killed. How meta and postmodern and fourth wall ironic are we going to get?

In just a few years it's become as much of a subgenre (Ruin Me, American Fright Fest, The Funhouse Massacre, and Hell Fest, easily the best of the bunch) as the original slashers it's riffing on, to the extent that they're already blurring in the mind: a bunch of idiots visit a theme park full of actors dressed as generic, non-copyright screen maniacs, except that one or more of the maniacs is actually a real maniac and that's a real knife and no-one's going to believe the kids until it's too late. Sadly Blood Fest overeggs the recipe by upping the body count into the hundreds and layering on an absurd conspiracy plot, the mechanics of which are far-fetched even by wacko horror movies. Facing off against "vampires" engineered with drugs and surgery, "zombies" realised by corpses fitted with remote controls and "slashers" who are actually genuine homicidal maniacs unleashed against the guests, a handful of teens must face off against a mad film director creating his (ugh) found-footage masterpiece by editing the park's surveillance feeds. But who's really behind it all?

Two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, killing dozens of extras off doesn't make for a better film. We don't know them, we don't care about them, they're collateral damage. They don't matter any more than the innocent drivers mown down in the last Die Hard movie, the doomed prom night revellers at the end of Tragedy Girls or (worst example) the train passengers in the tiresome Wanted. What the hell, let them all die. Secondly, given the amount of blood and splat on show, the 15 certificate is absurdly lenient even by the BBFC's own frequently wonky standards, when less gloopy and graphic films are saddled with the dreaded 18.

Briefly on the list for this year's FrightFest but withdrawn after it showed up in advance at other cinemas, Blood Fest is mostly dull, despite the stupidity of the plot and the bloody excess. I'm usually a sucker for no-brain bloody slasher movies but this doesn't cut it.

**

Saturday, 24 November 2018

SUSPIRIA

MOTHER OF SPOILERS

So it's here. The first official, credited and acknowledged remake of a Dario Argento masterpiece is finally with us after years on the Maybe pile. And whatever else Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria might be (and at a stonking hundred and fifty two minutes it's lots of other things), it's definitely not Argento. If you want the bright lights, pretty colours, wild music and full-on horror craziness then stick with the 1977 film because you're not going to get any of that stuff here. (Quite rightly: why should Guadagnino simply repeat Gus Van Sant's Psycho experiment?) Instead it's deliberately muted for the most part, with a colder colour scheme and frequent trips into other, apparently less relevant territory.

The basic thrust of the original film is there: in 1977, young student Suzy (Dakota Johnson) turns up at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin, which is actually a front for a coven of ancient witches who are planning Something Horrible. She catches the eye of legendary dancer and choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and almost immediately wins the key role in her most famous contemporary ballet production. One of the other dancers (Chloe Grace Moretz) confides her fears in her elderly therapist Klemperer: when the girl disappears, he seeks to investigate, although she may be involved in terrorist activities (this is around the time of Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction)...

I'm sure there's a reason why Tilda Swinton is also playing octogenarian Klemperer (under the name Lutz Ebersdorf) and Madame Markos, the coven's bloated leader, both under a ton of prosthetics to the point where she is completely unrecognisable. I could have shared a Turkish bath with both of them (somehow) and never realised either of them was Tilda Swinton. I'm sure there's also a reason why they explored Klemperer's background at such length, including the loss of his wife in the German camps. (She's played as a possible fantasy figure, figment of the imagination and/or witch-implanted hallucination by Jessica Harper, Suzy in Argento's original.) But I don't know what those reasons are, beyond having some fun with the acting and focusing down on a peripheral character who isn't even in the 1977 film, probably because Luca Guadagnino is closer to an arthouse director than a horror movie director. This isn't a bad thing, obviously: I'm still hoping for the Marvel and DC universes to hire wild card choices like Peter Greenaway or Lars Von Trier, to stretch them as well as the genre a little.

As a horror movie, though, Suspiria 2018 works well, with a couple of agreeably nasty set-piece sequences, a blood-soaked climax and that old favourite, the bone-sticking-through-the-broken-leg routine. The death of Olga in a mirrored rehearsal room is the undoubted horror highpoint of the movie and, if I bothered to rank such things (which I don't, because that would be insane), would be very high on the list of Kills Of The Year, Top Three easily. But the horror component of Suspiria does feel diluted by the additional material: somewhere inside this 152-minute curiosity is a terrific 100-minute shocker that can't get out.

None of which is to say that it's a bad film or even a so-so one. There's more than enough going on and it's all interesting, and I was never bored or counting the minutes. It's simply that personally I'd have liked either a full-on Suspiria remake or a wholly non-Suspiria film devoted to all the other stuff, and for me shuffling them together into the same film diffuses and defuses both of them. It's a shame that it's disappeared off the circuits so quickly as I think this is one of those films that does merit repeat viewings, and even though they're mentioned I'm not sure that Maters Tenebrarum and Lachrymarum will get their standalone outings. Which would be a pity.

****

Saturday, 17 November 2018

THE INTERIOR

CONTAINS .... I DON'T KNOW, SPOILERS?

It's hard to know how to respond that's nominally a horror movie yet spends the first third of its running time as a quirky modern urban loser comedy (that isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to me on a wry deadpan level) and then spends the remaining 50 minutes or so following aforementioned urban loser on a steadily more hellish camping trip (that also isn't funny, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a dumb-idiot-having-a-lousy-time level) into the woods that may or may not contain something evil lurking in the darkness (which isn't scary, though I'm guessing it's supposed to be on a something-evil-lurking-in-the-darkness level).

Frustrated with modern life in an advertising agency working for a useless boss who understandably rejects his commercials idea involving holograms of Stalin and Charlton Heston playing shuffleboard, James quits and starts working for a cleaning service. That doesn't work out, so he breaks up with his girlfriend (in an unbroken three-minute static shot of him looking out of the back window, her looking off to the right with her back to him) and heads off into the woods. But is he alone? Is the occasionally glimpsed guy in the red jacket just another camper? Is he something more sinister? Is it a Don't Look Now reference? Who or what is prowling around outside his tent in the middle of the night?

Part of my problem with rubbish horror movies has always been that I'm a sucker for an enticing pullquote, and the trailer for The Interior includes a caption from Montreal-based web magazine Forget The Box claiming this is "scarier than ANY [his caps] studio horror film of the past decade". Sold! Look, opinions and all that, but it just isn't. It's not even the scariest wandering-around-in-the-woods movie, whether from a major studio or micro independent: even the found footage ones (and they're among the absolute worst, truly the Cillit Bang adverts of horror cinema) can occasionally rustle up a bit of creepiness or dread amongst the babbling and seizure visuals, which is a hell of a lot more than The Interior manages.

*

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

LADY BLOOD FIGHT

CONTAINS OUCH SPOILERS

Or, if you want to be facetious, Chickboxer. Chris Nahon's deeply moving tale of hot babes getting royally lamped is basically a vintage Jean-Claude Van Damme movie with fit (in all senses of the term) ladies instead of pumped, impressively sculpted blokes: they're still beating the living tar out of each other but they don't take their shirts off like JC used to do. Other than that it's the same old song, beat for beat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing if you happen to like that song regardless of who's warbling it.

Selected fighters, kill-crazed maniacs from round the world, and fresh young pupils of established martial arts trainers convene in Hong Kong for an all-girls Kumite tournament, in which the starting sixteen are whittled down through Mortal Kombat beatdowns to the final two for a no-rules fight to the death. Obviously, because they're the only ones we've spent any character time with, the Grand Finale is between the two pupils of rival trainers: one a local street kid with talent, the other an American whose father disappeared after a Kumite some years ago. In between, there's the friendly Australian one who's obviously doomed to be pulped in Round Two, the unstoppable Russian killing machine, lots of blows to the head and snapped bones....

Lady Blood Fight (it's three words on screen, whatever the IMDb or the artwork might suggest about it being Lady Bloodfight) is twaddle, quite obviously. But it knows exactly what it's doing and it does it efficiently enough for a simple beer and pizza rental. It's not innovative, it's not particularly surprising, it's not an era-defining cinema game-changer. It's a hundred minutes or so of wallops, thuds and shrieks of pain. If that's all you want from your streaming selections, then go for it. Switch your brain off, you won't be needing it.

**

Saturday, 3 November 2018

HAUNTED / HAUNTED

CONTAINS SPOILERS / CONTAINS SPOILERS

Horror - indeed, cinema in general - tends to go in cycles. Sometimes erotic thrillers are the main attraction, five years later everyone's making werewolf movies, and five years after that you can't move for shoddy CGI shark films or naturist Westerns. Superhero knockabouts have been the major studios' big thing for quite a while now, but sooner or later we'll get bored of them and they'll have to do something else. On a vastly smaller scale, there also appears to be a run on haunted house movies: the streaming services are heaving with mysterious noises from the attic or the cellar and creepy apparitions looming out of the darkness seeking resolution for past crimes.

It's not entirely surprising: Boo! scares are easy and cheap, and for the most part these only require one or two locations and a small cast. Here are two recent examples of spooky cattle-prod horrors in which Bad Stuff happened in the house a while back and supernatural forces are now at work: one's kind of okay, one's bloody awful, and both are stuck with the most generic possible title for such a film (and in neither of them do the main characters do the sensible thing and get the hell out of the haunted house). The Norwegian Haunted, from 2017, has a woman driving off into the frozen winter to clean out her late father's holiday home for a quick sale. But there's a mysterious young child hanging around, the never-mentioned aunt who disappeared years ago when just a child, the strange and forgotten death of her mother...

If this had been made in the days before M Night Shyamalan and his honking great trademark plot twists, you might be forgiven for not figuring what the strange little girl really is (I got it half-right). It's pleasantly creepy in the right places, and the snowbound setting is quite beautiful to look at, but it's all very ho-hum, we've seen it all before and it doesn't do anything particularly exciting with it. Fair enough: it's not really trying to rewrite the haunted house subgenre: it's working in fairly familiar territory and doing its fairly familiar thing solidly enough to pass the 80 minutes or so fairly painlessly.

It's doing its thing considerably better than the Italian film of the same name from the previous year, however. Here a charmless screenwriter wrestling with a horror script housesits for his sister and nephew but finds a variety of increasingly sinister and scary demons hiding upstairs, looming out of the dark, banging on the door and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Can he, his idiot best friend and the world's most underwhelming exorcist banish these evil presences?

Shot in English with heavy accents, much of 2016's Haunted consists of Roberto D'Antona (younger brother of writer-director Eros) wandering endlessly around the house and being freaked out by spooky noises off, spooky faces leering out of his computer screen, spooky drawings and spooky apparitions appearing out of nowhere. Again, it shouts Boo! in your ear efficiently enough, jabbing you with the sharpened scare stick every few minutes, but it's really not enough: the two leads are playing everything too comedically (and clearly in the wrong language, which affects the performances), and the exorcist who turns up in the third act is an absolute nothing. It's not even nicely shot: at least if they'd made it as a found footage film the drab visual aesthetic would have been appropriate. And the online artwork of creepy dolls has absolutely nothing to do with the film; a picture of Tom Cruise clinging to a plummeting helicopter would have been about as relevant.

***
*

Saturday, 27 October 2018

DOWN AMONG THE Z MEN

CONTAINS NOTHING, NOT EVEN SPOILERS

Terrible cheapo British comedy from the early 1950s in which Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan arse about to surprisingly little effect, with the end result being 70 minutes of sludge that's on a comedic and cinematic par with Old Mother Riley. Who knows whether it would have anywhere near half watchable if more than three and sixpence ha'penny had been spent on it, if they'd taken more than a fortnight to shoot it, or if Milligan and other Goon writers had been involved in the script?

Insofar as anything Goon-related is plot-driven, Down Among The Z Men has Secombe as an imbecile shop assistant who accidentally gets hold of mad scientist Bentine's secret formula for something or other: they both end up at an army barracks run by Sellers with Milligan as idiot Private Eccles. A couple of crooks and a glamorous MI5 agent are on the trail of the formula. Every so often a shapely dance troupe show up and do a routine, and Sellers and Bentine both do comedy skits at a barracks concert (because....?).

In case it wasn't clear, it's not very good. Secombe and, strangely, Sellers are mostly playing straight while Milligan and wild-wigged Bentine go the other way with silly walks and silly voices, and the musical interludes don't get in the way only because there's nothing for them to get in the way of. The comic highlight is probably Secombe throwing a dead badger at a sentry.

*

Sunday, 21 October 2018

HALLOWEEN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Let's get the suspense out of the way very quickly and state that this all-new Halloween is a disappointment. I mean, it's obviously not as bad as Rob Zombie's two stabs at the Myers mythos, because few things are, and it's better than Halloween 4 and the really terrible one with Coolio in it (I'll reserve judgement on how it stacks up against Halloween 6 because I haven't seen it since the VHS years), but it's certainly not "up there" with the first direct sequel Halloween II or the surprisingly decent Halloween 5. But then this is a film that goes back to the end of John Carpenter's original and pretends that every Halloween film we've seen since didn't happen: despite the simple Halloween title it's technically Halloween 2A, following an alternative timeline in which Michael Myers was immediately carted off back to the institution and has stayed there ever since. Until now...

Now Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, who's never going to escape these films) is a recluse living behind electric gates and security cameras with a secret basement full of shotguns. Inevitably, forty years to the day after the original movie's rampage, Michael engineers a bus crash while being transferred to a new hospital for plot contrivance purposes, and heads back to his old slashing ground of Haddonfield on Halloween night, messily slaughtering a whole bunch of incidental characters on the way. These include a couple of garage workers and two women in their homes, none of whom we know, for no good reason beyond grisly money shots. There's also a pair of supremely idiotic true crime researchers (who I frankly couldn't wait to see the back of) who arguably started the whole thing off in an irresponsible attempt to break Michael's silence by retrieving his battered old Shatner mask - and that's before he gets within stabbing distance of the three generations of Strode: Laurie, her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).

Cue that instantly recognisable 5/4 theme music - Carpenter's principal onscreen contribution to the film and as much of a musical signature as Harry Manfredini's shrieky strings sound for the Friday The 13th movies. Also cue the carved pumpkins, skeleton decorations, trick-or-treaters, disposable babysitters, and way too much dumb teenage boy/girl stodge I honestly didn't care about at all because Jamie Lee Curtis' embittered, twisted, basket-case survivor of 1978 is much more interesting character with a deeper, sadder history, sadly sidelined for too long in favour of the youngsters.

Obviously there's no Donald Pleasence figure this time: Dr Loomis is mentioned a few times but Michael's new doctor (Haluk Bilginer), who has somehow had a 20-year career studying him despite not getting a single word out of him, turns out to be utterly demented himself and closer in amorality to Malcolm McDowell's version of Loomis in the Rob Zombie films. But it's hardly necessary to bring a new monster onto the pitch when Michael Myers is no longer the scary bogeyman/boogeyman figure of seasonal bedtime stories but an indiscriminate mass-murdering sociopath butchering everyone he encounters for no reason. I was never a massive fan of the original Halloween anyway: back in the 80s I was always on Team Jason because they were more overtly cruel and vicious whereas Halloween was almost sedate in its near-bloodless restraint: it was a teen slasher movie you could watch with your parents because it had no swearing, very discreet sexual naughtiness and minimal gore. Not now: heads are twisted and smashed, necks are slashed and broken, blood flows freely - and yet to surprisingly little effect beyond easy Boo! and Yuk! moments.

But, but, but.... back in the day we enjoyed My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler and Prom Night and all those other cheesy old slashers without caring about the characters or wayward plot logic: what did they do right that Halloween 2018 does wrong? Well, maybe there should be more to a Halloween movie than a cheesy old slasher, seeing as Halloween 1978 was the one that kicked it all off in the first place, and particularly with Carpenter and Curtis involved (and Nick Castle as The Shape). Maybe it's an annoyance at the reboot structure that dismisses all the other films as never having existed and changes the ending from the first film, yet still includes a credit acknowledgement for the masks from the standalone Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Maybe it's less a nostalgia for the cheesy 80s slashers themselves and more a nostalgia for the me that saw them at the time, nostalgia which I obviously can't feel for the new film. If this hadn't been an official Halloween movie but Generic Slasher #724 perhaps I'd have liked it more. I could also do without callbacks to earlier movies, specifically a reversal of a moment from Halloween 1978 which is undone in the new timeline anyway (you can get away with callbacks in something like the Scream series because that's what they're about; Halloween isn't).

It's not terrible: it's solid, well-mounted and assembled, it looks great and and it does have some nice flourishes, such as a bit of business with motion-sensitive floodlights and Michael ghosting up out of the darkness. Judy Greer has a terrific moment towards the end, and Jamie Lee Curtis is great, of course. And it's nice to see Will Patton in anything. But there are so many holes: it just happens that Michael's being transferred precisely on the fortieth Halloween anniversary AND he's able to get his old mask back AND Allyson just happens to lose her phone (in the most ludicrous way possible) at a key moment AND Laurie's woodland fortress only appears to be fenced from one side (separately, Allyson and Michael both manage to get to the front door unimpeded). I didn't mind it, and I certainly don't object to it (I have no issue with sequels and remakes and reboots in principle and I don't regard any movie as a sacred text which shall not be interfered with), but I just don't feel anything towards it.

**

Friday, 19 October 2018

BLOOD THEATRE

EXIT PURSUED BY A SPOILER WARNING

More unwatchable horror garbage dug out of the vaults of yesteryear for no good reason. After the soul-crushing tedium of Manos: The Hands Of Fate had set a new baseline by which lousy movies could be judged, my very next streaming selection had me struggling to gauge whether that baseline could already be lowered. The result is a movie that's leaving me struggling to maintain even slight enthusiasm for genre movies: not just cheesy exploitation trash from the Z-list but mainstream, professionally produced offerings from people who know what the hell they're doing.

To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with Blood Theatre (kudos for at least not spelling it Theater) in the first place had it been set anywhere other than a cinema, but for all its relevance it might as well have been set in a spanner factory. The Spotlite multiplex chain have acquired their latest location: a former stage theatre closed after numerous mysterious deaths, and anyone who has subsequently attempted to reopen the place has died soon after. Nevertheless, a small crew are assigned to get the place ready for opening....

Performances are atrocious even by cheap horror movie standards (hell, they're atrocious by primary school nativity play standards): even Mary Woronov can do nothing interesting with it. The kill scenes are astonishingly badly staged and have no impact, the characters are uniformly hateful, there's nowhere near enough gore, and the stabs at comedy just die on the screen. Auteur Rick Sloane (who went on to the giddy heights of no less than six Vice Academy movies) inserts footage from his early short consisting of fake trailers for such joke titles as Chainsaw Chicks and Clown Whores Of Hollywood, but that gag footage looks indistinguishable from Blood Theatre itself: cheap, stupid, shoddily made and with more than a flavour of Troma about it. (Worse, it reminds you how immeasurably better the fake trailer idea was when Tarantino and chums did it in Grindhouse.)

So what was gained? Another horror obscurity ticked off, another director added to the list of filmmakers I never want to hear from again, another hour and a half that would have been less of a waste if I'd spent the time ripping my toenails out with pliers or ingesting half a pound of crack cocaine. Maybe, though, this is the kind of bargain basement crap I actually need to wean myself off cheap horror movies: completism means you have to see everything and I'm increasingly of the opinion that it's just not worth the effort any more. Blood Theatre certainly isn't: I hate myself for watching it, I hate Rick Sloane for making it and I hate my TV screen for showing it to me.

*