Saturday, 8 September 2018

THE NUN

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND NUN REFERENCES

Creepy nuns, old convents lit only by candles, figures lurking in the darkness, graveyards, demons, darkness, faces looming out of the darkness, catacombs, mildly blasphemous imagery, dry ice, nods to bonkers Italian gore classics, nods to vintage British gothic, creepy demonic nuns hovering in the darkness in old convent corridors: in horror movies, these are a few of my favourite things. Happily the latest entry in the Conjuring/Annabelle franchise (the one that isn't Insidious) boasts all of these things and much more besides; but it's a shame that the end result isn't much more than just another perfectly enjoyable but functional shocker that lays its atmosphere on very thick, both visually and musically.

The Nun might refer to the young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), assigned to accompany the Church's in-house Mulder, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the suicide of a nun at an unfeasibly remote convent in the Romanian hills in 1952. Or it might refer to the spectral, unnamed nun possessed by a particularly nasty demon named Valak after wartime bombing runs cracked the Satanic portal which bound it; Valak has supposedly been kept in check by the nun's perpetual prayer ever since. But right from their arrival Irene and Burke, along with their French-Canadian guide, are confronted with spooky visions, scary dreams, creepy voices, weird nuns and full-on screaming horror...

Sure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Taissa Farmiga's sibling resemblance to Vera Farmiga seems to suggest Sister Irene eventually grows up to become Lorraine Warren from the Conjuring films, especially as The Nun opens with a clip from The Conjuring 2, but this doesn't appear to be expanded upon, and there's a rare instance of the handy-plot-point-via-crossword-clue device. But the mood and atmosphere is agreeably Hammerish, with its creaky old castle and graveyard full of wafts of dry ice: with a slight rewrite you could easily imagine Peter Cushing in the Demian Bichir role, and the film even features a local tavern that's straight out of the old Dracula pictures and is only lacking Michael Ripper. Strange then that the premature burial sequence is less out of the old Corman/Poe cycle and more from Lucio Fulci's thoroughly bonkers City Of The Living Dead.

The Boo! moments obviously work because they're the easiest and simplest ways of making you jump, and some of the creepy atmosphere is helped by Abel Korzeniowski's offputting score of dissonant orchestra and low, growling throaty vocals, as dark as the unnecessarily murky setting (seriously, a bit more light here and there would not have gone amiss). But most importantly the horror doesn't stay with you: it's not nearly as scary as it should be and just a few days later it's already fading. The film is fun enough while it's running, but it doesn't linger much in the mind the way Insidious did, and for all the horrible demon faces the nun herself isn't as persuasively unsettling as the Annabelle doll. I enjoyed it to a degree but it's overall a disappointing and disposable addition to the series. Interesting to note that it doesn't end with a post-credits teaser for the next episode.

***

Friday, 7 September 2018

SLENDER MAN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Poking its head into UK cinemas very briefly, before the abyss of DVD and a pretty thoroughly deserved obscurity, comes this mildly contentious and entirely unremarkable teen horror that does absolutely nothing interesting with its supernatural bogeyman figure or its central quartet of young, pretty idiots. A few impressive shots and effects don't distinguish it from the pack, leaving it lagging behind such fare as the Ouija films, Truth Or Dare, Wish Upon, The Drownsman, Friend Request and scores more. Some of those movies were decent enough but Slender Man gets just about everything wrong and the end result is a mess.

The titular Slender Man is a demonic figure of folklore summoned by a group of halfwits by watching a spooky online video. One of the group disappears into this air on a school field trip, another is rendered catatonic after a disastrous attempt at a ritual to get her back; while her friends manage to make contact with a chatroom character who proves to be of no real help. Is there any way to defeat the Slender Man and restore their comrades?

It might have helped if we were actually getting the complete film: at least two death scenes have been dropped completely, possibly because of legal cases surrounding a genuine attempted killing supposedly linked to the Slender Man (even though it's known that the character is an openly Photoshopped fiction invented on an online forum and has no basis in the real world). As it is, the ending if the final release version feels rushed, tacking on a sudden voiceover that suggests it's covering up a lot of footage that got scrapped. What's left is a bland, nonsensical and murkily shot horror movie with gaping holes in it, in which everyone wanders stupidly around in the dark without turning the lights on for no reason beyond the belief that it's scarier, and which has to resort to sudden Boo! moments because there's nothing else it can do.

Despite having another of Javier Botet's weird (and by now over-familiar) monster performances on display, the character doesn't work because his rules of engagement seem vague and variable and it's not clear what he wants or what he can and cannot do to achieve it. Sure, the Boo! jump scares work, but it's a lazy, uninteresting technique: former Environment Secretary John Selwyn Gummer could elicit precisely the same response if he leapt out of your wardrobe in front of you without any warning. Nonsense, and not even trashily entertaining nonsense either.

*

SUMMER OF 84

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Assuming we're all still here: what's going to happen in thirty years' time? Specifically (I'm not thinking about flying cars or moonbases or brain transplants) what will horror cinema look like given that there's a huge thread of nostalgia for the eighties right now? We've had Netflix's Stranger Things (which I haven't watched) and last year's It, and this year's FrightFest was so 80s-heavy the opening night even had a dress-up theme (in which I obviously did not indulge). In film-making terms it's great, if only because the movies can avoid plot problems created by GoogleMaps and cellphones by simply backdating them. But what are the nostalgic film producers of 2045 going to do? Loving homages to the Wan/Whannell school? Reboots of Saw? Will found footage make a triumphant comeback?

Summer Of 84 (also listed in the credits as Summer Of '84) is probably the best of the current run of throwbacks, with more likeable characters than The Ranger and lighter and funnier than It. Over the summer holidays, a quartet of suburban kids investigate whether the guy next door is actually the serial killer who's been abducting and killing off teenage boys in the area. Where does he go every night? Why the large purchases of soil and gardening tools? What does he keep in his garage across town? Or is there a perfectly harmless if unlikely explanation? The problem is that the suspicious-acting neighbour is actually a cop....

Mostly it's a lot of fun: an appropriate synth score, lovingly detailed period recreation of that idyllic summer with no schoolwork (or neighbourhood bullies) to get in the way, effective suspense sequences. The teen cast, as much the gang from The Goonies or the amateur film-making team from (the criminally undervalued) Super 8 as the Losers' Club from either version of It, or indeed junior versions of the cast of The 'Burbs, are agreeable heroes, and the film flips efficiently between whether the man is guilty or not. But eventually it has to pick a side and the ending involves a too-sudden change in tone, as if an album by The Carpenters unaccountably concluded with a Sex Pistols track or a chunk of Mahler. Some people went with the sudden gear switch but for me it was too much of a jolt.

It also means that with its sudden lurch towards the bleak and graphic the film suddenly becomes unsuitable for the young teen audience who up to that point would probably have appreciated it more. But if you're in the older age group, if you can remember the eighties first hand, it's like a nice warm bath in childhood memory juice. Very enjoyable.

****

Sunday, 2 September 2018

THE RANGER

CONTAINS SPOILERS

For some unknown reason, this year's FrightFest opener didn't seem to go down to well. Maybe it was because as generic 80s throwback slashers go it simply didn't have any of the charm of the genuine originals. Maybe it was down to a thoroughly unlikeable bunch of potential victims that you were hard pressed to rustle up any sympathy for them once the mad killer belatedly set about his business. Maybe it was due to said mad killer not being terribly interesting as either remotely plausible human being or a horror bogeyman character except for his near-comedic obsession with reciting the National Park rulebook.

Whatever, the response was sadly lukewarm for a film that for all those faults was, at the very least, not terrible (and let's not forget that the cheesy outdoors slashers like The Final Terror and Just Before Dawn were hardly any better than "not terrible" at their very best). A group of loathsome punks on the run after a drugs raid hide out in a mountain cabin belonging to the late uncle of one of the girls, but the behaviour and antics of her friends (loud music, spraying paint on the trees) soon attract the homicidal ire of The Ranger, who knows our heroine of old (cue backstory flashbacks)....

It looks nice: only in the night scenes does it look like cheap digital rather than a decent stab at recapturing the look and feel of film, and it doesn't settle for endless boring scenes of bickering halfwits wandering around in the woods. It's also reasonably bloody when it needs to be. But the hooligans themselves are hateful and they don't die nearly quickly enough, even in a film that's only 77 minutes long including credits. As a disposable teenkill quickie it works efficiently enough while it's on, and it's always fun to see horrible teen idiots being messily killed, but it's not particularly memorable and probably won't lead to a Ranger franchise.

***

Thursday, 30 August 2018

CRYSTAL EYES

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you'll know I like a bit of giallo every now and again. Not all of them - like every genre and subgenre there are good and bad and sometimes the bad ones are very bad indeed, and I'd rather watch a good action movie than a rubbish giallo - but the best of them are some of my favourite films and even the second and third stringers usually have something memorable about them. The bonkers plotting, excessive violence, gratuitous nudity, vivid colours and cheesy lounge soundtracks can make for a pretty irresistible cocktail if you're in the mood for it. Attempts have been made to keep them going with films like Tulpa (which didn't really work but wasn't as hilariously terrible as the audience response at FrightFest 2012 suggested), Eyes Of Crystal and the Argentinian Francesca, but the traditional giallo has rather been out of fashion for a while and it seems the only way to bring it back is through nostalgia: meticulous recreation of the style and techniques as well as the genre's most familiar tropes and imagery.

Crystal Eyes (nothing to do with the aforementioned Eyes Of Crystal) is also Argentinian but it has the look, feel and sound of mid-80s giallo: not the Bava and Argento greats of the 1970s, but films like Nothing Underneath, the kind of direct-to-video fare that used to turn up on the rental shelves from Avatar Video. And they've gone to a lot of trouble to replicate that style, to the extent that if you didn't know it had been shot in 2017 then you couldn't tell it from the genuine article by looking. Setting it in the world of fashion and modelling (the stalking ground of so many gialli, from Blood And Black Lace to Strip Nude For Your Killer to The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) gives them the opportunity to go retro crazy with the terrible clothes and hair of the period as well as the electronic score.

A year after the accidental electrocution of colossally bitchy supermodel Alexis Carpenter in a freak champagne accident (giallo has never been the most rigorously realistic genre), her magazine is preparing a tribute to her...but her clothes are stolen and members of the fashion house are being viciously killed off by a masked maniac. Who could be responsible? In the end it doesn't really matter who the killer is: the joys of Crystal Eyes come from the art direction and production design achieved on a tiny budget, and not the smug satisfaction of having beaten Poirot to the correct solution. It works as a mystery anyway, with a few red herrings scattered around that I fell for, but its principal attraction is as a pin-sharp tribute to a genre gone by and on that level it's as much fun as I could have wanted.

****

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

CLIMAX

*

Let's start at the end, shall we? Such a very Gaspar Noe thing to do, to begin (as this one does) with the end credits scrolling downwards and finishing with the title, in the same way that I've started off with the star rating and left the spoiler warning till the end. Such a wacky maverick is our Gaz, such a japester: putting erupting 3D willies in Love (a film I kind of enjoyed), colossally long single takes in Enter The Void (a film I didn't much like), telling the whole story backwards in Irreversible (a film I absolutely hated)...and what now? Oh, let's have the last half hour of the film upside down. Let's do everything in dreamlike long takes. Let's back everything with a thudding, throbbing club soundtrack. Why? Because this is Un Film De Gaspar Noe.

Very few films have compelled me to bellow 15-certificate profanities into the howling wastes of Leicester Square within seconds of the lights going up, but Noe's newie managed it. Watching Climax left me feeling like I'd been poleaxed: subjected to the evil brain-mangling technique from The Ipcress File. I can't recall the last time I left a cinema so thoroughly battered and so thoroughly angry about it - probably Aronofsky's hideous Mother! (which I still refuse to put in lower case). I can't recall the last time I had the urge to just get up, walk out of the screening and not look back. Maybe I should have; I'm still wondering.

Climax, like all of Gaspar Noe's films (possibly excepting Seul Contre Tous because I haven't seen it), is not a plot-based movie. The shooting script was only five pages long and to be honest it wouldn't surprise me if the pages were A5 or A6 size because frankly you could get the whole thing on one sheet of foolscap and still leave lots of room for porny doodles. Following a successful rehearsal, a dance troupe wind down with a party, which would be great if someone hadn't spiked the sangria with LSD. From that point on, once the drugs take effect, everyone goes crazy as the party and the film spend the next hour descending into a sexual, violent and/or terpsichorean hell.

It has to be said that the young troupe fling themselves around the room and across the floor with precision and endless energy and, like a genuine stage performance, the big intricately choreographed dance number is done in one single take with no edits, and technically it's a very impressive opening. But Climax climaxes very early on with that third shot of the film: the first is a woman crawling through snow, the second is a static shot of a TV set playing interviews with all the characters (the screen is surrounded with books and VHS tapes that mirror or reference what happens later in the film). And having exhausted itself (and us) very early on it still has an hour or so of hysterical shrieking, deliberately nasty violence (including the brutal kicking of a pregnant woman) and the constant pulse of the soundtrack. You could also suggest that there are way too many characters to keep track of, none of whom are interesting and several of whom you'll want to royally slap the tar out of, but Climax isn't a character-driven film any more than it isn't a plot-driven one (we never find out who actually spiked the punch in the first place, because it doesn't matter).

Let's be fair: maybe there is a level of political allegory involved: the mixture of ethnicities, races, sexualities and attitudes could be a microcosm of French (or world) society as it breaks down - two of the black dancers bring one of the white dancers to the floor and draw a swastika on his forehead. Or maybe there's a religious allegory going on: the DJ is God and humanity/society stops dancing to his/His beat once the sangria (sang = blood) has been polluted? I mean....maybe. But wondering what it means and what things represent just reminds me of Mother! all over again.

And I don't come from the Climax background anyway. Clubs and drugs have never been part of my life and never will be. I also have no connection to that sphere of music: even if some of the names in the endless scroll of music credits were familiar to me (Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, Daft Punk), the tracks themselves certainly weren't. The world of Climax is not my world. But the worlds of most movies aren't my world either: that's the point of movies, but the makers usually allow me a way in. Noe doesn't. So it's not surprising that the film feels like an ordeal: deliberately offputting, deliberately uncomfortable, deliberately and meticulously constructed to make me not like it. If that was the intention, then congratulations: you more than succeeded.

CONTAINS LES SPOILERS

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

GOLD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ROGERING

I love Gold. Not the Matthew McConaughey one, which I haven't seen yet but possibly might get round to at some point if there's not much else going on that day (it's really not high on my priority list), but the Roger Moore one from back in the 70s. I'll absolutely accept that it's not the greatest film ever made, it's probably not in anyone's Top Hundred... but for all the things wrong with it it will always be a film I have an entirely unreasonable soft spot for.

Well, maybe not entirely unreasonable. Having spent some childhood years in Malawi in the 1970s, and having enjoyed brief stops in coastal South Africa itself, I suppose such fondness is perfectly logical and only to be expected. At the time Gold played (censored) in Malawi cinemas I wasn't allowed to see it as I was only ten years old, and the film was obviously compromised on its later British VHS video release (the cut UK cinema version, cropped to 4:3 and atrociously pan-and-scanned) and screenings on ITV, where it was also cut. So it wasn't until recently, when an uncut widescreen DVD turned up (given away free on the front of the Daily Mail, of all things), that Gold could be properly appreciated.

There's a lot to enjoy, certainly: the magnificent Sir Roger Moore at his "how much more Roger Moore could he be?" peak, the gorgeous South African locations (including a flight through Oribi Gorge which always brings back memories of having been there and having stood on the Overhanging Rock), excellent villainy from the great Bradford Dillman, a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein that for me at least easily surpasses his more popular soundtracks such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape and is probably my favourite of his scores, the architecture of 1970s downtown Jo'burg, and love scenes between Rog and Susannah York that are slightly raunchier than those from his Bond films (and as much the reason for the 12 certificate as the slightly more grisly level of violence). There are Bond connections to enjoy beyond Moore: credits by Maurice Binder, three sets of song lyrics from Don Black, direction by Peter Hunt, 2nd Unit and editing from John Glen.

Okay, you can perhaps set against all that the controversy surrounding the film's production, openly shot in apartheid South Africa against the accepted standards of the time, but frankly it's too long ago to stay angry about it. It's mostly about the white guys but apart from just one full-on bellowing racist maniac character the colour issue is pretty much ignored (though it's odd to note that the one signifncantly featured black character gets a special annual pension for heroism that's less than Moore's character's monthly paternity bill). There's also some nastiness to the plotting, in which John Gielgud's international syndicate of bastards engineers a mine disaster to boost their shares in rival gold suppliers, and he casually arranges a parcel-bomb for a family Christmas breakfast because one of the members had offloaded his shares early (thus blowing up an uncredited Patsy Kensit) which leaves a sour taste, and beyond his scheme failing he doesn't get his comeuppance. Yes, but you know what? I don't care. There's so much good stuff I like about it, even if a lot of it is down to the location and period and personal nostalgia, that I can put up with the dodgy bits. Moore was always worth watching even in rubbish films, and for me Gold is one of his better ones.

****

LET THE CORPSES TAN

CONTAINZZZZZ ZZZZZPOILERZZZZZ

Disclaimer: I might have fallen asleep. I don't generally (although I thought I had when I saw Joseph Kahn's Detention at a late FrightFest screening, only to rent the DVD months later and find that I hadn't nodded off at all, it was actually like that) unless I'm really, genuinely, cataclysmically bored out of my head - and I'm afraid that I may well have been drifting in and out of this one. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have always gone for visual style rather than narrative content: the films are absolutely, astonishingly beautiful, with pretty much any frame being worthy of a gallery wall. Amer had no plot to speak of, just a trio of isolated, inconsequential moments in a young girl's life brought to the screen with the sublime visual artistry of peak Argento. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears had the starting point of a story, with a husband arriving home to find his wife missing, but then broke down into the illogic of dreams, albeit magnificently designed and photographed.

The problem with Let The Corpses Tan is that it has a much more obvious narrative but this time the visual style gets in the way. It still looks great, but this time around there's an actual drama you're supposed to be interested in - and I wasn't. Too busy looking at it to get involved. A gang of thieves with a quarter of a ton of bullion hide out in a coastal villa, but they're not the only ones there: an author and his muse and a couple of local gendarmes. (This last sentence had to be constructed with the help of the IMDb because in all honesty the film's plot has largely drained out of my memory, leaving only fragments like last night's dream.)

A compilation soundtrack from Morricone, Cipriani, Fidenco and Frizzi make for some compensation, but it doesn't work dramatically: the music gives the film some feeling of Eurocrime and vintage Italian exploitation but the photography and pacing have none of the required grit, energy and urgency. Similarly, the crisp facial closeups and dazzling teal skies suck you into the film's beauty, but they act as a distraction from the narrative that includes graphic gunshot violence and bloody gore shots. I really wanted to like it, hoping that a strong A-Z story would thrive under Cattet and Forzani's visual eye, but the end result is a film that doesn't seem to know what it is: art movie or action thriller. A pity.

*

Monday, 25 June 2018

HEREDITARY

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND YES, OF COURSE IT'S A HORROR FILM

But is it though? We're in one of those ages where any horror movie that's actually recognised as a quality piece is somehow not a horror movie - a post-horror, a psychological thriller, an elevated genre film. Thus Get Out wasn't a horror film, It Follows wasn't a horror film, It Comes At Night wasn't a horror film, even though they quite obviously were. Because they were good movies and people don't appreciate or admire horror: they might enjoy them in a Friday night popcorn way but They're Not Any Good. Horror seems to be the only genre that is widely identified by its worst attributes - The Silence Of The Lambs is excused as a thriller, Misery is excused as a thriller and Pan's Labyrinth is excused as a dark magical fantasy because horror is Cheerleader Hacksaw Massacre 3 - whereas no-one would think of identifying comedies primarily as Deuce Bigelow films or fantasy adventures as Hawk The Slayer or Prisoners Of The Lost Universe. Horror is sleazy and disreputable downmarket junk which young directors might have dabbled in on the way up the ladder to becoming Proper Film-Makers, but it's no place for a respectable artist.

Hereditary is clearly a horror film, although it feels like two movies shuffled together, only one of which is overt, outright horror. The other is a drama about a family's stifling grief, with parents Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne coming to terms not only with the death of her mother but the loss of their young daughter in a senseless road accident (the film's only moment of bad taste, almost-but-not-quite funny gore) at the weed-afflicted hands of their older son. Against this are the hints of something supernatural going on: appearances of the departed, symbols and strange words on the walls and elsewhere, suggestions that may be real or merely imagined in their emotional pain.

The result is a film of brilliantly uncomfortable and creepy moments that work superbly as isolated scenes but don't entirely hang together as a narrative. The first two thirds or so is unsettling, with the twisted family history expressed in Colette's miniature tableaux recreations of the family home (aided by some exteriors that have that tilt-shift effect of making everything look like tabletop models) and a constant nagging sense of wrongness, evoking dread as effectively as that moment behind the diner dumpsters in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. For the last act, however, the film has to decide whether to stick with the weird and uncomfortable, or resolve the story with a proper conclusion, and they opt for the latter, pushing the film into much more generic territory and making into much more of a regular horror movie. It's still a good one, and while I'm still old-fashioned enough to like traditional start-middle-and-ending structures, this was one of those occasions where I might have preferred a more open conclusion.

***

AVALANCHE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND AVALANCHES

The run of disaster movies in the 1970s, most famously brought to the screen by Irwin Allen, mixed all star casts with grand scale catastrophe and spectacle. One thinks obviously of Allen's own productions The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, or Airport (and its increasingly weak sequels) and Earthquake; perhaps less fondly of The Swarm or Allen's last hurrah, the genuinely bewildering When Time Ran Out. Inevitably, as with any major box-office trend, there were the lower-budgeted, lower-powered versions and Roger Corman got in on the action with one of the few natural disasters left.

In fact Avalanche isn't too bad: it looks and feels like a TV movie with only the occasional mild oath and moments of easily edited nudity to stop it playing on a Saturday afternoon. Rock Hudson has put most of his money on the line for a luxury Colorado ski resort; Hudson's ex Mia Farrow is making eyes at Robert Forster, who has environmental concerns about the project (not limited to the likelihood of an avalanche), and an assortment of other supporting characters not played by name actors - skiers, figure skaters - have their own sexual shenanigans going on. Meanwhile the weather is closing in and the avalanche is only a matter of time....

Too much of that time is spent on relationships and personal problems we don't care about, and it feels like an (ice) age before the mountain finally goes and the avalanche stock footage of varying age and quality is intercut with people falling over while the effects guys throw lumps of Styrofoam and polystyrene at them from the lighting gantry. When disaster eventually does strike it's actually quite watchable fun, and something of a relief from the soap opera dramatics, with a child stranded on the ski lift, Hudson's mother trapped in the collapsing hotel, and assorted brightly clad idiots buried upside down by superimposed snow. Little of it makes sense (why does Hudson have a colossal gun aimed at the gathering snow on the mountaintop if not to start an avalanche?) but there's moderate amusement to be had.

**

Friday, 25 May 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS CONTAINS SPOILERS

It's too much. The nineteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which doesn't count other Marvel series such as Deadpool, X-Men or the Fantastic Four) is a colossal thumping, thudding mess with too many characters, too wide a scope, too much happening, too many story threads, too large a villain and too high a prize at stake. Dragging in all the original Avengers ensemble (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow et al) as well as more recent additions (Vision, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther), then shoehorning in the Guardians Of The Galaxy gang, it runs for two and a half hours and doesn't reward either your patience or your backside with a satisfying conclusion as it's all acting as mere set-up for an (presumably) even bigger conclusion next year with even more characters.

The other trouble is that it does demand some basic level of familiarity with the MCU line-up: personally I've seen them all once on their theatrical release (except for a few which I caught up with on DVD) but I can't be bothered to marathon them all every time a new one comes out: unlike the Saw or Fast And Furious series it frankly seems too much like homework. There's little point in a synopsis: all you really need to know is that super-evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) is searching for the six Infinity Stones with which he can control time, space, death and reality and fulfil his destiny of slaughtering half the Universe, because nonsense. Thor bumps (literally) into the Guardians Of The Galaxy; Vision and Scarlet Witch have gone off grid, and Black Widow and Captain America have to track them down; Tony Stark and Peter Parker team up with Dr Strange, and the whole thing ends in a huge pitched battle in Wakanda.

Flitting around the world (New York, Scotland, Africa) and assorted alien planets, Avengers: Infinity War alternates the flip, sitcom character banter of the established characters (Stark and Peter Parker, and the GOTG mob, especially) with the now inevitable scenes of destruction and CGI superheroes smacking one another repeatedly through brick walls and/or flying through space. But for all that apocalyptogeddon spectacle and mass carnage, it's completely unengaging and in places quite dull: we've seen it so many times before and this time it's being yelled at us rather than merely shouted. It's not actually explained why Thanos needs the Infinity Stones anyway: to all intents and purposes he's already a god (a cursory Google suggests he's anything up to 2000 years old already), he's more than capable of wiping out half the population wherever he goes, and he's easily able to keep multiple superheroes at bay before he acquires the stones. Even his minions are more than capable of thwacking the heroes aside. Presumably he only wants them because it'll make his great genocidal quest easier.

Most of the characters get their acting or action moment in the spotlight, making the film an impressive juggling act of satisfying each individual's fans; the Black Panther cast get less opportunity, mainly because the action doesn't shift to Wakanda until the third (fourth?) act. In a pleasingly ballsy move, the film actually steps up a gear in its final stretch and kills off more than a couple of regulars, leaving no suggestion that they'll somehow be resurrected for another film or two (although they'll doubtless be recast for all-new standalone reboots in a few years time, because they always do). "Thanos Will Return", claims the end credits crawl, but several much-loved heroes will not. Sure, there's some pleasure to be had, but that's mostly in the character backchat. To be honest, it was more fun when Tom Baker's Doctor Who spent an entire series seeking the six segments of the Key To Time. On this scale, at this cost ($315,000,000 according to Google), with this much stuff going on (no less than twenty four featured characters on the poster artwork and twenty seven star names in the credit block, the order and relative prominence of which must have been a negotiating nightmare), it's just too much.

**

Friday, 20 April 2018

PROM NIGHT

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Yet another example of the eighties slasher ripoff: after Halloween and Friday The 13th came a whole string of weak duplicates and very slight variations of very familiar themes. A few were actually pretty decent and managed to find something in the subgenre's bag of tricks; more were just incredibly dull and unrewarding despite a level of technical competence (remember that some didn't even have that). The weird thing about this 1980 slasher is that while it's mainly notable as one of Jamie Lee Curtis' immediate run of post-Halloween horror movies (along with Terror Train and The Fog) much of it owes less of a debt to Halloween than to Carrie, only without the telekinetic fire and fury, the dazzling filmmaking skill, the brilliantly orchestrated set pieces or the high level of acting and writing.

Six years after a young girl died in an abandoned convent after a game of hide and seek went very badly wrong, the four now-teenaged perpetrators start receiving mysterious phone calls from an anonymous heavy breather. A sex offender who was (wrongly) convicted of the girl's death six year ago has now escaped from the asylum and may be in the area. Meanwhile, the school's bitchy Queen Bee Wendy (one of the four) is planning to humiliate Prom Queen Kim (Curtis) because Wendy's boyfriend has dumped her....

Prom Night is a sub-standard assemblage of slasher tropes that's frankly no better than Final Exam and a long, long way behind something like Rosemary's Killer or even Happy Birthday To Me (which was rubbish). After the opening set-up sequence, there's no slashing for almost an hour as the film instead focuses on the most thumpingly obvious of red herrings and the achingly uninteresting soap opera of high school romance and petty idiocy leading up to the big dance. No-one cares about your squalid love lives and relationships: we bought tickets (or clicked the Watch Now button) for a high school slasher movie and for far too long that's not what we ended up watching. Granted, in the end the killer gets down to some proper slashing and we do get a half-decent severed head out of it, but that's nowhere near enough. And the big reveal of the Mystery Mad Axe Murderer has no effect because their identity is pretty obvious (admittedly I've seen it before, but that was over thirty years ago and I'd long forgotten who it was: I usually can't remember where I left my car keys half an hour ago).

Prom Night really isn't any good: it's one of those titles that has somehow survived the years, with three in-name-only sequels (none of which troubled the inside of a British cinema) and an absolute nothing of a remake, an entirely forgettable teenslash with not enough slash, never interesting enough to become worth watching, never shocking or grisly enough to become memorable. Even the mighty Leslie Nielsen in a straight role as the school Principal can't elevate it. Made in Canada by Paul (Humongous) Lynch.

*