Saturday, 24 January 2015

THE APPEARING

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND YEAH, WHATEVER

Not to boast, but most horror movies don't really scare me. Sure I'll jump at a loud noise, like pretty much any sentient lifeform that isn't looking to become extinct very quickly, but I very rarely get spooked to the extent of not turning the lights out or walking the streets alone at night. The exceptions (Insidious, The Exorcist, Lake Mungo, The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh) are worth savouring, perhaps because they come along so infrequently, but they're usually well-done exorcism movies or well-done ghost stories, and a masked slasher or monster movie never seems to actually scare me that deeply, no matter how well it's done.

So it's not illogical to assume a demon/exorcism movie that also has ghosts in it would be doubly terrifying. Yet The Appearing actually turns out not be very scary at all, perhaps because on neither front is it particularly well done. Following the accidental death of their young daughter, a big city couple move out to the sticks. Michael (Will Wallace) is the new deputy sheriff and immediately gets involved in a young woman's disappearance; meanwhile his wife Rachel (Emily Brooks) is either seeing ghosts or imagining things. No-one wants to talk about where the missing girl might have actually gone, or what happened up at the old Granville house in the woods years ago....

It's all fairly perfunctory, completely unremarkable, and if you don't see it you're really not missing out on anything. There's certainly nothing here that screams Un Film De Daric Gates or that sends you off to the IMDb to hunt down whatever other Daric Gates films are out there. Bits of it are just silly - Rachel's backstory is absurd, and this is yet another movie where the Devil reveals an Alucard-like fondness for anagrams and writing things backwards. Neither terrible nor any good at all. this is also a footnote in the annals of Movies With Brothers Of More Famous Actors In Them - in addition to Don Swayze as the grizzled sheriff, we get Joe Estevez for three scenes as a ranting loony.

**

THE HEADLESS EYES

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND TEDIUM

The first time I ever heard of this miserable grindhouse cheapie was in an article in marvellous 80s fanzine Shock Xpress: a list of The 50 Most Boring Films Ever Made. It never troubled the BBFC (though the DPP apparently showed some interest in the pre-cert video release), I certainly don't recall ever seeing it on the shelves of any of the local VHS rental palaces of the time, and it hasn't (yet) been dug out and remastered by one of the retro specialist labels, though there is a US DVD release. The thing is, while it is available online (legitimately), its absence from British shelves may not entirely be a bad thing.

The Headless Eyes is a cheerless and shoddy slice of incompetent grot and senseless, incoherent bellowing with the occasional sight of eyeballs. Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin) is a homicidal maniac who goes around murdering people and gouging their eyes out for use in his artworks, following an incident where he burgled a house and a terrified woman took one of his eyes out with a spoon. He rants and shouts a lot, argues with his ex-wife, begins a tentative relationship with an art student - but every so often he has to go out and get some fresh eyes...

It's horrible, sleazy, amateurish and mostly dull; it's technically pretty ropey and generally badly put together, with terrible music, rotten acting and poor sound recording making a lot of Malcolm's ranting hard to make out sometimes, assuming you can be bothered to try. And it's no fun: it's grim, humourless and depressing. Fans of early 70s Z-grade grindhouse splatter movies might get a kick out of it but the only noteworthy aspect is that auteur Kent Bateman later turned up as the producer of Teen Wolf Too, an early vehicle for his son Jason Bateman (now of course a proper Hollywood star in proper Hollywood movies). And that is about as noteworthy as it gets. Drivel.

*

Friday, 2 January 2015

LIST: THE WORST FILMS OF 2014

This list was actually a lot easier than the Top Ten, because I deliberately avoided a lot of the films that would normally have annoyed me. (Hey, I'm not a professional critic. If you want me to see whatever incompetent drivel the likes of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen have been up this year, give me banknotes. Otherwise: my dollar, my rules.) Still, the following managed to slip through the net:

10. MAPS TO THE STARS
David Cronenberg hasn't made a genuinely interesting movie for a very long time and this certainly isn't bucking the trend. Not as rubbish as Cosmopolis, but who are these people and why should I care? Might not have made the list if they'd cut the scene of Julianne Moore trying to take a dump.

9. WOLFCOP
Just because you have an absurd nostalgia for all those terrible Howling sequels from the 1980s is no reason to go out and make your own. Kudos for old-school practical effects work rather than shiny new digital ones, but that's it.

8. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
Yet more kaboom thud bang kaboom idiocy in which giant metal things destroy everything; matters are improved by not having Shia La Boeuf in it, but not much. Michael Bay directs with his boner, as usual.

7. RIDE ALONG
Idiotic cop comedy full of idiots and Laurence Fishburne.

6. MAGIC MAGIC
Intolerable psychological horror/drama/indie. I like Juno Temple, but this was a tiresome grind of a film.

5. THE CANYONS
Miserable sex drama in which everyone has a thoroughly rotten time, which is fair enough because they're all tedious whiners or obnoxious scumbags. Or both.

4. UNDER THE SKIN
A bad story, badly told, this cataclysmic bore was accompanied by a critical attitude of "if you didn't like it, you're clearly not intelligent enough to understand it". Worthless, artless and pretentious drivel, but incredibly it wasn't the worst Scarlett Johansson film of the year.

3. PLASTIC
An episode of Hustle with a bunch of repugnant leery scumbags trying to pull a massive con in order to pay off a gangster who I spent the entire film hoping would kill absolutely everyone, preferably with pliers. A film without a stroke of merit from start to finish and the worst British film in several years.

2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES
I thought I'd poke my head round the door and see if the found-footage subgenre had managed to achieve anything remotely interesting in the last year or so. It hasn't.

1. HER
In a good-looking future, Joaquin Phoenix (with an inexplicable comedy moustache) is surrounded by glamorous and beautiful women but falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system (an unseen Scarlett Johansson). Irritating and stupid beyond measure. I ended up swearing at my TV set so much it sounded like The Wolf Of Wall Street.

As I mentioned, I missed a lot of the obvious crud (why on Earth would I submit myself to films like Pudsey and Postman Pat which hold absolutely no appeal for me?), so there aren't even any runners up although there's a special mention for Grudge Match, a dead-on-the-screen waste of Oscar-winning talent from which neither of the major stars escapes with credibility intact.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

LIST: THE BEST FILMS OF 2014

It's that time of the year again: my Top Ten Films Of The Year. As usual, this is for films that had a UK premier theatrical release in the calendar year, according to Launching Films' schedules, thus movies that played festivals only and/or went straight to disc aren't eligible. (American Hustle might have made it but its official release date was December 31, 2013 and is therefore disqualified.) I didn't manage to catch all of these in the cinema - some only played a couple of West End shoeboxes for a week, which is arguably no better than having no theatrical release at all. Also, for various reasons I missed a lot of A-list titles entirely - 12 Years A Slave, Belle, A Haunted House 2 - and still haven't caught up with them. But at year's end, this is how they stack up:

10. THE ONE HUNDRED YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED
Nobody seemed to like this one but me, but it's my list so there. This is a film that came out of nowhere and I giggled pretty much consistently throughout.

9. '71
Which also caught me by surprise, as I went in expecting glum British social realism, and instead I got an exciting chase thriller that never let go. More of this sort of thing, please, British film industry.

8. THE LEGO MOVIE
Which I missed at the cinema but rented the Blu after my twitter feed buckled under the weight of everyone raving at how great it was. And they were right. Mostly enjoyed the hell out of it, and the first Will Ferrell film in ages where I haven't wanted to punch him. (Still think the song is annoying, though).

7. EDGE OF TOMORROW
Okay, so it's Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day, which turns out to be no bad thing. Big, loud, well put together and thoroughly entertaining.

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
One of the best of the big summer blockbusters: a demented romp in which anything goes, up to and including the casting of Vin Diesel as a talking tree. Loved it.

5. GODZILLA
Speaking as one who has little time for the original Japanese rubbersuit stompfests, and as one who didn't loathe and detest the Roland Emmerich incarnation....this new one is great, bringing Zilla back to his original purpose and with devastation that isn't pornographically relished.

4. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Immortality might seem like a good idea, but wouldn't you get bored after a thousand years of having to live off the grid and only mix with your own kind? Dark, very enjoyable.

3. THE RAID 2
Two and a half hours of Indonesian maniacs beating the tar out of each other in a series of dizzying, dazzling, utterly insane setpiece fight sequences in which quite clearly no stuntman was allowed to leave the set if he could still stand up. It's what cinema was invented for.

2. INTERSTELLAR
I waver on the subject of Christopher Nolan, but his seriousness and lack of humour is absolutely perfect here (unlike his Batman movies which are crying out for some levity). This is bold, mind-bending stuff: gripping, never dull, visually rich and tossing ideas around like confetti.

1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
I've never been a huge fan of Wes Anderson either, but this one is easily my favourite of the ones I've seen so far: consistently funny, surprising and charming as well as marvellous to just sit and look at.

Honourable mentions to a perfectly decent set of runners-up in no particular order: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grand Piano, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Fury, Ouija (shut up, I liked it), Locke and The Equalizer.

Monday, 22 December 2014

SEE NO EVIL 2

SPOIL NO MOVIES

Back in 2006, porno veteran Gregory Dark made one of his occasional forays into the world of "proper films" with See No Evil, a generic but occasionally quite nasty teenkill slasher epic in which an indestructible homicidal maniac gouges out the eyes of a bunch of more than usually deserving young scumbags: annoyingly, the only male to make it to the end alive was the drug dealing rapey one. It was efficiently done, but that's pretty much it. Quite why this, of all Lionsgate's extensive catalogue of DTV horror movies, was deemed worthy of a sequel is only slightly less of a mystery than why they waited eight years to try and develop it into a franchise.

Supposedly dead mother-fixated religious fundamentalist serial killer and eyeball collector Jacob Goodnight (again played by wrestler Kane but this time billed as Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs) comes back to life in the morgue and goes on another rampage. That's the entire plot of See No Evil 2. At least the roster of meathook fodder and reluctant cornea donors are less odious than the juvenile delinquents of the original: here we have Danielle Harris as Amy, one of the mortuary's three staff members, and her frankly dimwitted friends who are more interested in going at it like hammers in the least romantic of settings. (At least the mortuary tables are likely to be a more hygienic humping ground than the first film's abandoned hotel full of rats and mutilated corpses.) In what is probably the silliest sequence in any slasher of the millennium so far, Goodnight's awakening is apparently triggered by insanely kinky Katharine Isabelle flirting and cavorting with his cadaver; meanwhile, will good-natured but shy Seth finally pluck up the courage to ask co-worker Amy on a date? And will her brother stop interfering with her life and get it on with his own floozie?

It's directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, which means that you should really expect something more after the far more twisted American Mary (though admittedly not so much after Dead Hooker In A Trunk). But it feels more like a gun(s)-for-hire job: an unremarkable but enjoyable enough slasher movie with characters less hateful than usual and enough grisly deaths to keep it interesting in its brisk running time. In terms of franchise horror it's the holding pattern equivalent of something like Friday The 13th Part 4: a more than watchable rehash of the existent formula, professionally enough put together (supposedly not by the Soska themselves) but containing no great surprises. Entertaining but scarcely groundbreaking.

***

ENEMIES CLOSER

AVEC SPOILERS

How long has it been since Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg made a really good movie? Some might suggest "never", and maybe they've got a point, but looking at his IMDb page I'd suggest the rot started in with Sudden Death back in 1996. It's a fun Die Hard clone (set in an ice hockey stadium) with lots of violence and top production values, but since then it's been a slow decline and his recent offerings have been mediocre at best. (The Expendables 2 was kind of meat-headed fun, but that's more of an ensemble piece.) UFO, aka Alien Uprising, was absolute garbage, he was the funniest thing in the not-funny-at-all Welcome To The Jungle, and the likes of Assassination Games and Until Death are cheap and disposable straight-to-video B-movies that don't showcase Jean-Claude's undoubted headkicking skills to any notable degree. But like Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, he just keeps on going.

It's an even sharper decline from Sudden Death when you look at director Peter Hyams, because Enemies Closer is absolutely not the kind of thing you expect from the director of what I almost hesitate to call "proper films" like Outland and Capricorn One. Or even The Relic or End Of Days. A light aircraft crashes into the waters around an island off the coast of Maine, a squad of uniformed Mounties (led by Van Damme) show up to offer the US Customs people their assistance in finding the plane. But when they refuse, Van Damme kills everyone in the room and reveals himself as a boo-hiss evil drugs trafficker and not a Mountie after all! Meanwhile, the island's Park Ranger (who handily used to be in the military and trained as a frogman) is confronted with the vengeful brother of a young soldier who died in Afghanistan when a mission went wrong, and the two of them have to reluctantly team up against the drugs gang....

It's cheap, mostly dull and takes place almost entirely at night so the fight scenes aren't anywhere near clear enough to become exciting (and I don't think it's the TV settings at fault). Jean-Claude is now 54 and perhaps no longer able to do the leaping splits without his hip creaking, which is perhaps awkward if he's trying to sneak up on people, but he's clearly having fun overplaying as a fearsome gangster with a terrible comedy hairdo, and some of the action scenes look like they might be entertainingly painful if you could actually see what was going on. Generally pretty poor, though odd moments amuse.

**

Thursday, 4 December 2014

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME

THE SHAPE OF SPOILERS TO COME

I've waited no less than thirty-five years to see this film. The first time I ever heard about it was a crushing review by "Bobby Dupea" (shamefully, it took me years to get the reference) in a very early edition of Starburst magazine. The film never played my local and I wouldn't have gone anyway, but the title has stuck with me ever since. Strangely, I never managed to catch the pre-cert VHS or the later PG-rated tape; perhaps less surprisingly it has never been granted a British DVD release (there is a Region 1 DVD available for import, but why would you?). And then suddenly, there it was, available to stream. How could I not?

The Shape Of Things To Come has absolutely nothing to do with HG Wells beyond giving him a meaningless possessory credit at the start, and retaining one character name (not even spelled the same) in an entirely different role. Otherwise they've done a Moonraker and ditched everything from the source material in favour of their own aberrant silliness. Now Things To Come is no longer a terrifying work of prophecy about the future of the human spirit, but a cheap Star Wars knockoff where the producers clearly thought they could grab themselves some Lucas dollars by tossing in spaceships, explosions, rebels, an evil Emperor and some ungainly comedy robots. After the great robot wars, Mankind has now largely abandoned a radiation-riddled Earth and has either spread out through the galaxy or holed up on a moonbase, but everyone's dependent on life-saving drug Radic-Q-2, which is only available on one planet in the entire cosmos. Trouble is, the planet (which appears to have no native population) is ruled by mad Jack Palance who wants absolute power or he'll withhold Radic supplies....

How come the moon has clouds and a sea (visible from ineffective senator John Ireland's office windows yet not visible from outer space)? How come children have been left to scavenge the empty and radioactive wastelands of Earth? Why the hell has Palance installed an explosive device capable of blasting his entire planet to smithereens? Why indeed can't Radic-Q2 be manufactured anywhere else? Why have the rebels on Delta Three - all twelve of them - decided on identical red jumpsuits as their uniforms? Were those waddling stumpy robots the best that super-engineer Palance could design? How is dying Earth scientist Barry Morse supposed to be Palance's old mentor when they're practically the same age (there's only eight months between the actors)? Why did no-one proofread the opening caption scroll and corrected the debatably bad spelling (dependant vs dependent - admittedly not a problem in America but this is Canadian) and the misplaced apostrophe (it's vs its)? And that's a problem: less than a minute in and already I'm distracted by bad grammar in the scene-setting crawl.

I waited thirty-five years to see this film and it wasn't worth the wait. To be honest, if it had been thirty-five minutes it still wouldn't have been worth the wait. It's not even as much fun as Aldo Lado's idiotic The Humanoid, which at least had Barbara Bach in it, and even Jack Palance's overacting can't even raise The Shape Of Things To Come to the level of terrible but enjoyable. Whatever you might think of Star Wars now (and I still like all three original films), it was great at the time, hugely entertaining and caught the imagination like few other films. This is just rubbish: it has no interesting ideas, and it doesn't have anywhere near the resources required to bring off the ideas it's swiped from George Lucas. It looks like TV, it's got the feel of an old episode of Star Trek. Except that Shatner would have sorted the whole thing out in half the time and with eighty per cent less silliness. Executive produced by veteran rubbishmeister Harry Alan Towers and directed by George (Frogs) McCowan.

*

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A NEW YORK WINTER'S TALE

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND EH? WHAT?

If you're in the market for some serious weirdness from a major Hollywood studio with Big Stars attached, you could do a lot worse than A New York Winter's Tale, an unseasonal oddity (centred around New Year's Eve, but released to cinemas in February and DVD in November) which seems to be aiming for grown-up romantic fairytale but ends up as a bit of a mess. Yet it's a fascinating mess: too long, mostly silly, hugely implausible, occasionally almost magical, never boring. I've no idea who the target audience might be; it certainly isn't me, and yet I rather enjoyed it.

At the turn of the last century, a young couple are refused immigration into the USA because of a pulmonary condition, and sent home. To protect their baby son from whatever unspoken fate might await him back home, they abandon him to the waters around New York. He grows up to be a petty thief and crook working for Irish gangster Russell Crowe, but after a disagreement over the level of violence necessary, Farrell needs to get out of town fast. In this he is aided by a magnificent white horse, which won't actually carry him until he does one last job at William Hurt's family home. He's away at the time, but Farrell finds and falls in love with Hurt's daughter Jessica Brown Findlay, who is dying of consumption.

I forgot to mention that the horse is apparently omniscient, which is handy when Crowe turns up to take Findlay hostage for Farrell's return. Also, the horse can fly. Also, Crowe isn't just a gangster but an actual demon in human form, and has to seek permission from The Judge, aka Satan himself (Will Smith) to pursue Farrell beyond the city limits. But Farrell's destiny turns out not to be to save his beloved from her terminal condition after all, and tragedy leaves him an amnesiac drifter, apparently wandering the city in a daze for the next ninety years. And in the present day, he finds himself drawn to Grand Central Station, and the shoebox of relics he left there decades ago. A chance meeting with a small child and a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) fill in some blanks in his memory, but more importantly Russell Crowe is still on his trail....

There's a lot of absolute hogwash about everyone having a special destiny and fate and miracles, which makes no sense when you think of all the people in the world casually killed, beaten and generally mistreated - where are their miracles? What kind of miserable pre-ordained fate is that? Farrell's eventual purpose doesn't make much sense either: if The Unseen Fates have really engineered things so that he can ultimately fulfil that particular destiny, they've gone to a great deal of unnecessary trouble to achieve something that could surely have been a lot easier and simpler. Very odd, but a sweet and feelgood concoction, and I liked it far more than I'd expected, given the kind of film it is. Directed by Akiva Goldsman, scribe of various Ron Howard movies and Joel Schumacher's two Batman atrocities.

****

Bizarre:

Thursday, 20 November 2014

SPACE STATION 76

CONTAINS GROOVY SPOILERS

So I'm literally at a loss to know exactly what's wrong with this bizarre nostalgic retro pastiche (yes, another one) exercise in impeccable period detail at the expense of a plot, and by extension a film, that makes any sense at all. It's either a film from 2014 in which the human race had either developed long distance space travel back in the 1970s, or a vision of a possible future in which everyone behaves like they're in the 1970s for absolutely no reason. Rather than an imagined future that's now slipped into the past (2001: A Space Odyssey or TV's Space 1999) and got all the details wrong without the benefit of hindsight, maybe this is an imagined alternate past which gets the details right (because of hindsight) but can only make sense as a film if viewed from an even earlier past which can somehow access a pseudo-historical film from the future. Either that or it's just a massive cultural backstep into the gaudy fashions, attitudes and music of the mid-seventies. Either way, there's also the thorny subject of it not being any good at all.

Space Station 76 is less a science-fiction movie than a 70s sex comedy in the vein of Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice, except it doesn't have any jokes in it. Most of it's devoted to the sexual hangups and dysfunctions of the small group of people living and (presumably) working on a deep space refuelling station, as they go from adultery and jealousy to depression to therapy. The station's useless captain (Patrick Wilson) is wrestling with his homosexuality and frustrations after the departure of his Number 2 and the arrival of replacement Liv Tyler - making this the second Liv Tyler film with an imminent meteor attack.

The terrific production design looks back to the shiny white spacecraft of "old" SF rather than the dark, metallic ships from Alien onwards, there's a Neil Sedaka song on the soundtrack and marijuana plants grown in the biodome. But none of it's funny: it's as if they've decided the seventies ambience is enough to carry the movie and they don't actually need to do anything else. Indeed, it just leaves you wondering whether it was supposed to be a comedy in the first place (presumably it was, given the presence of a cryogenically frozen dog and an old lady in a stasis pod) or merely a fond look back at days gone by. If it's the former then there simply isn't enough humour there, and if it's the latter why bother with the space trappings? There are more than enough movies out there that don't just have the styles and fashions of the 1970s, they have the authenticity of the 1970s because that's when they were made. Why settle for a reproduction unless it's at least as good as its inspirational sources?

**

Monday, 17 November 2014

WOLFCOP

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND I'M SORRY BUT I JUST DON'T GET IT

It's a peculiar thing to have done in 2013: to make a film that looks and sounds and feels exactly like a movie from the mid-1980s. This kind of nostalgic retro pastiche can work: I still like and defend Death Proof in its evocation of the spirit of grindhouse, even though it's thirty minutes too long and the dialogue is far too obviously Tarantino-speak, Robert Rodriguez' Machete movies are enjoyable enough nonsense though too highly-budgeted for the kind of trashy exploitation it's celebrating, and Ti West's The House Of The Devil is a marvellously detailed recreation of 70s TV-movie which works beautifully as a horror film in its own right. Against that, something like Anna Biller's Viva manages to bring the horrid fashions, decor and attitudes of the 1970s to life, but it doesn't make it as an interesting film, and something like The Disco Exorcist is not just best left unmentioned but unwatched (if not unmade).

Wolfcop look like precisely the kind of thing that you'd have found on the rental shelves from Guild or Medusa in about 1987, an old-fashioned werewolf movie with rubbery gore effects, a high level of silliness and a low level of ambition. In fact, if they'd told you it was a long-forgotten and recently discovered entry in the largely unconnected Howling franchise, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise. Lou Garou (the film's only real joke, which doesn't make sense anyway) is a small-town deputy sheriff who mysteriously hasn't been fired for drunkenness or incompetence: one night, when out actually doing his job, he's attacked and subsequently becomes a werewolf. And then people start dying bloodily.... Might it have something to do with the death of Garou's father many years ago?

Why bother? Why go to all the trouble of deliberately crafting a movie to look exactly like something you wouldn't have been overly impressed by thirty years ago? It's not like they were aiming high and missed: recreating the feel of a rubbish horror video from the last century isn't by itself enough, and consciously designed cult movies never work. I wouldn't mind the 80s ambience if, as with House Of The Devil, the end result had been a decent movie in its own right. Sure it's not completely worthless, and it's nice to see werewolf transformations and gory splatter sequences using old-fashioned prosthetic effects work instead of clean but unconvincing CGI, but if it's a spoof it's not funny (it's not that I don't get the jokes, it's that I don't think there are very many in there) and if it's a straight horror it's certainly not scary. Either way, the prospect of a Wolfcop 2 as promised at the end isn't an exciting one.

**

IN THE BLOOD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BOREDOM

The first time I saw Gina Carano was in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, essentially a Cynthia Rothrock movie that somehow just happened to have major A-list talent behind and in front of the camera: the likes of Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor did the acting and Carano punched everybody spectacularly in the head. Even more spectacularly, she also got to beat up Michelle Rodriguez in the deliriously enjoyable Fast And Furious 6. Against those films, what a contrast to this shoddy, atrociously shot cheapie that conspicuously fails to showcase former mixed martial arts champion Carano's ability to pound seven bags of soot out of people.

In The Blood has newlyweds Carano and Cam Gigandet honeymooning in the Dominican Republic (it's actually shot in Puerto Rico); with the exception of a fight in a nightclub run by Danny Trejo, they're having a pretty good time until Cam falls from a zipwire and the ambulance never brings him to any of the hospitals. Kidnap? Murder? The police even think she might have arranged it to inherit his money (he's rich, she isn't, and they both had a history of drug addiction). Obviously she has no alternative but to track her missing husband down by herself, which inevitably leads to several scenes of her inflicting pain on a succession of increasingly obnoxious villains....

It's directed by John Stockwell, who has a track record of efficient action thrillers in exotic locales: Into The Blue (the Bahamas), Paradise Lost (Brazil), Dark Tide (South Africa). By contrast, In The Blood is drab: it has a cheap digital look to it, and the numerous fight scenes are very poorly shot which is a pity because Gina Carano is very good at fighting. You wouldn't shoot elaborate dance numbers like this, so why grace an equally intricately choreographed combat sequence with the production values of the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD? It throws away the one thing the film had going for it, killing it stone dead.

*

Thursday, 13 November 2014

OUIJA

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SURPRISES

It's perhaps expecting too much of modern horror B-movies aimed at the multiplex trade to pull any surprises, but this one has a doozy during the end credits. For most of the time it's a perfectly decent little movie in the creepy rather than gory traditions, following the domestic scares of Insidious and The Conjuring (and their less effective followups): more than enough of those "can't look, must look" sequences in which teens poke around in the recesses of one of those improbably large American houses, to which it was all I could do to not shout out "Don't go in the attic!", "Don't go in the basement!" or "Don't wander off down that scary underpass!".

Or indeed, "Don't play with the ouija board in the house where your best friend died mysteriously after playing with the very same ouija board!" Ouija has a very simple set-up in which a group get together to summon the spirit of their recently departed friend Debbie - however, it's not her they make contact with, but a young girl known as DZ, still lingering in the house and apparently still terrorised by her mother. Were these ghosts responsible for Debbie's unlikely suicide? And can they cleanse the house of its evil past, even as they get bumped off one by one?

There aren't any real surprises in Ouija: it's a formulaic Boo! effort straight from the template and it has no interest in doing anything other than making you jump every so often, which it manages more than adequately. (Granted, it's a pity no-one in the film knows how to pronounce ouija properly, referring to it throughout as weegie.) One pleasant development is that somehow they've managed the trick of making a modern horror movie without gracing any of the characters with negative traits. No-one swears, takes drugs, starts fights, gets drunk or cheats on their partners, no-one behaves like a swaggering sexist douchebag or a hyper-sexualised bitch. They're all reasonable people, which pays dividends in terms of audience sympathies when it comes to killing some of them off because you don't actually want them to die.

But the big surprise comes at the end. Because they started the film straight away with just the Universal logo, and left off the obligatory handful of animated production company idents, it wasn't until the credits ran at the end that I realised this was a film from Platinum Dunes, the company behind the recent rash of wildly variable horror remakes including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th (not variable between good and bad, but between bad and very bad). Yes: Ouija is a film that has the sticky fingermarks of Michael Bay on it yet still manages to not stink the building out like a decomposing skunk. I enjoyed it already but hell, it gets an extra star just for achieving that.

****